Republicans Block FEC From Publishing Rule On Foreign Election Interference

FEC Chair Ellen L Weintraub had to tweet out the entire FEC weekly digest after Republicans blocked her from publishing it because it contained a draft rule banning foreign election interference.

Weintraub tweeted:

Here is the summary of the draft rulethat Republicans blocked from publication, “The Federal Election Commission is summarizing its interpretation of the prohibition on foreign national contributions, donations, expenditures, and disbursements in connection with a federal, state, or local election, as well as the prohibition on soliciting, accepting, or receiving a contribution from a foreign national, under the Federal Election Campaign Act and Commission regulations.”

To summarize, a Republican FEC commissioner blocked the publication of the commission’s entire weekly digest, because he did not want the draft rule on banning foreign nationals from donating and candidates from accepting their donations and assistance to be printed.

Donald Trump isn’t the only Republican who is taking help from foreign nationals. At some point, the American people are going to find out that the Republican Party runs on illegal foreign money. 

It is becoming clear that Republicans might not be able to win elections without illegal foreign cash, and keep the money coming they will try to silence any elements big or small who try to enforce or educate about the law.

[Politics USA]

White House press secretary says daily briefings aren’t coming back any time soon

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Monday that she is not likely to conduct a White House press briefing anytime in the near future, deriding the once-regular sessions as an act of “theater” for reporters seeking “to get famous” during the televised news conferences.

“Not right now,” Grisham told the hosts of “Fox & Friends,” when asked whether the White House will resume its daily press briefing, a longstanding practice under President Donald Trump’s predecessors.

“I mean, ultimately, if the president decides that it’s something we should do, we can do that, but right now he’s doing just fine,” she continued. “And to be honest, the briefings have become a lot of theater. And I think that a lot of reporters were doing it to get famous. I mean, yeah, they’re writing books now. I mean, they’re all getting famous off of this presidency. And so, I think it’s great what we’re doing now.”

Grisham, who has rarely participated in on-camera interviews since becoming press secretary in June, praised her boss as “his own best spokesperson” and claimed he is “the most accessible president in history, as all of the media knows” — citing Trump’s frequent informal gaggles with the White House press corps.

Grisham also suggested that reporters’ criticisms of the president’s previous press secretaries, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, played a role in Trump’s decision to discontinue the briefings.

“I think that it’s so important that, you know, the spokesperson for the president can adequately speak to his policies and get his message out there, and I think the president saw that that’s not what was happening,” she said. “It had become, again, theater, and they weren’t being good to his people. And he doesn’t like that. He’s very loyal to his people, and he put a stop to it.”

Spicer was widely mocked for his combative and sometimes stumbling performances during the daily White House news briefings, which memorably became a subject of parody by actress Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live.”

Sanders oversaw the end of the daily briefings amid mounting questions from journalists regarding her credibility. She opted to develop a regular presence on cable news programs, especially “Fox & Friends,” where she would bludgeon the president’s detractors.

Grisham has been largely reluctant to advocate on-air for the administration’s priorities, but she weighed in Monday on the controversy surrounding Trump’s summer conversation with Ukraine’s president that is quickly consuming the White House and Capitol Hill.

“The president made it very clear he did absolutely nothing wrong. This is just another reason for Democrats and for the media to attack and look for things that just aren’t there,” she said.

The Wall Street Journal initially reported on Friday that Trump urged newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy roughly eight times during a July 25 phone call to work with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.

Trump confirmed Sunday that he discussed Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, during his call with Zelenskiy.

“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place,” he told reporters outside the White House. “Was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”

[Politico]

Trump sues Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance over subpoena for his tax returns

President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Thursday against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm for eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns earlier this month.

The subpoena stems from Vance’s criminal investigation into the Trump Organization about hush money payments made to two women who have alleged affairs with the president. Trump has strongly denied the affairs.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, names Vance and the president’s tax preparer, Mazars USA, as defendants. It argues that the Manhattan district attorney should not receive Trump’s tax returns because “‘[v]irtually all legal commenters agree’ that a sitting President of the United States is not ‘subject to the criminal process’ while he is in office.”

“The framers of our Constitution understood that state and local prosecutors would be tempted to criminally investigate the President to advance their own careers and to advance their political agendas,” the lawsuit adds. “And they likewise understood that having to defend against these actions would distract the President from his constitutional duties. That is why the Framers eliminated this possibility and assigned the task to supermajorities of Congress acting with the imprimatur of the nation as a whole.”

Jay Sekulow, the president’s lawyer, commented on the constitutionality of Vance’s probe in a statement Thursday, saying, “In response to the subpoenas issued by the New York County District Attorney, we have filed a lawsuit this morning in Federal Court on behalf of the President in order to address the significant constitutional issues at stake in this case.”

Vance’s spokesman Danny Frost said in response to the lawsuit,”We have received the plaintiff’s complaint and will respond as appropriate in court. We will have no further comment as this process unfolds in court.”

Vance’s office is probing hush money payments made during the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom have alleged affairs with Trump, which he has denied.

In addition to Trump’s company, Vance’s office has also subpoenaed the publisher of the National Enquirer, The New York Times has reported. The publication was involved in negotiations with adult Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Giffords, and paid $150,000 to silence McDougal, according to federal prosecutors.

The president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, admitted in August of last year to making an illegal $130,000 payment to Daniels in order to keep her quiet in the days ahead of the 2016 election. Cohen is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion, bank fraud, breaking campaign finance laws with the hush money payments, and lying to Congress.

Prior to his congressional testimony earlier this year, Cohen released copies of two checks with the president’s signature, which he said was used to reimburse him for his payment to Daniels. NBC News has previously reported that Cohen was cooperating with prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Last year, American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, entered into a nonprosecution agreement with federal prosecutors and admitted that it worked with the Trump campaign to buy the rights to the women’s stories in order to silence them. The practice, known in the industry as “catch-and-kill,” involves paying for the exclusive rights to stories with the intention of never actually publishing them.

At his sentencing last year, Cohen said that “time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up [Trump’s] dirty deeds.”

Trump tweeted after the sentencing that he “never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid.”

[NBC News]

Trump attacks actress Debra Messing after she pushed to out his donors

President Donald Trump on Thursday amplified accusations of McCarthyism leveled at actress Debra Messing after the “Will & Grace” star made a public plea for a list of Trump donors in Hollywood and disparaged black Trump voters. 

“Bad ‘actress’ Debra The Mess Messing is in hot water,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets, claiming Messing wants to create a “‘Blacklist’ of Trump supporters, & is being accused of McCarthyism.”

Last week, Messing stoked controversy when she reposted a news article about an upcoming Trump fundraiser in Beverly Hills, Calif., asking for a list of attendees. Her “Will & Grace” co-star Eric McCormack echoed the call, saying he wanted to be aware of who he no longer wants to work with. 

Amid backlash from both sides of the aisle who argued that the pair were unfairly targeting private individuals and promoting intolerance of different political views, Messing defended her plea earlier this week. 

Noting that political donations are public, she denied ever calling for a blacklist of Trump donors in Hollywood but argued that “I as a consumer want to know where MY Money is going when I pay for entertainment” and that Trump voters similarly are free to choose not to watch her show. 

Trump also seized on a separate tweet from Messing that sparked a firestorm this week, one in which she applauded a sign in front of an Alabama church suggesting black voters who supported the president had mental illnesses. Messing on Wednesday apologized, tweeting that she regrets “recklessly” sharing the sign.

Her apology came as #RacistDebraMessing trended on Twitter. “The use of the term ‘mentally ill’ was wrong & hurtful,” she wrote of the church sign, though she doubled down on her criticism of incendiary rhetoric from Trump and his supporters. Trump on Thursday slammed the “terrible things she said about blacks and mental illness.”

The president also complained Wednesday that there was a double standard at play, invoking actress Roseanne Barr, a vocal supporter of the president who was fired from her eponymous sitcom reboot last year for making racist comments about a former Obama aide.

“If Roseanne Barr said what she did, even being on a much higher rated show, she would have been thrown off television,” Trump contended, noting Barr’s firing and asking whether “Fake News NBC allow a McCarthy style Racist to continue?”

[Politico]

Reality

Donald Trump promised his supporters greater transparency, but when actresses Debra Messing suggested releasing the names of his donors at a private Beverly Hills fundraiser filled with the same elites he claims to be against, he attacked Messing.

Trump administration invokes privilege again, blocks intel committee from classified Mueller docs

The Trump administration has been quietly engaged in an escalating tug-of-war with the House and Senate intelligence committees over sensitive documents from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the latest in a series of attempts to stymie Congress, including with claims of executive privilege, sources have told ABC News.

“The scope of confidentiality interests being asserted by the executive branch is breathtaking,” said Andrew M. Wright, an expert on executive privilege who served as a congressional investigator and as a White House attorney in two Democratic administrations. As is “the lack of accommodation and compromise,” he added.

Members of the Senate intelligence committee sent a letter in mid-April to the CIA and other covert agencies asking them to share copies of all the materials they had provided to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over the course of their 22-month investigation, according to sources familiar with the request. The requests were referred by the intelligence agencies to the Department of Justice, which has custody of all of the records gathered as part of the Mueller probe.

Though Mueller’s report does not discuss the classified intelligence gathered during the investigation, congressional investigators believe the team was given access to a range of materials that could include intercepts, secretive source interviews, and material shared by the spy agencies of other foreign governments.

More than three months later, the attorney general’s office has still not produced them. Sources told ABC News that Justice Department officials have argued that they are, for now, shielded by the same blanket privilege they initially asserted in response to a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee for the entire trove of special counsel records.

Trump administration attorneys declined to comment on the matter, and the Department of Justice has not responded to questions. Experts said the response was part of a pattern.

A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee said the DOJ did produce a subset of underlying documents related to the special counsel’s investigation to their members for review, “although it has failed in recent weeks, despite repeated requests, to produce key materials central to the Committee’s oversight work.”

The House committee said Justice Department lawyers did not invoke privilege with them when refusing the requests. “None would be warranted given the Committee’s jurisdiction,” a committee spokesman said. “The Committee remains engaged with DOJ to ensure it complies fully and completely with the Committee’s duly authorized subpoena.”

Experts have been monitoring the conflict between branches as it has escalated.

“The way the administration has been using executive privilege has been extraordinary,” said Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School and a co-founder and co-editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog. “It’s a level of non-cooperation with Congress that has been striking. We’ve never seen it to this degree.”

Congress and the White House have been locked in a range of disputes over records and testimony that the administration has withheld – covering a variety of subjects that includes the president’s personal finances, his tax returns and the administration’s policy on the census. Just Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over their refusal to produce documents concerning the addition of a citizenship question to the census.

In May, the Trump administration invoked executive privilege for the first time in response to the request from Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, for the un-redacted Mueller report and the entire trove of investigative documents.

“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the attorney general’s request, the president has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the time that members of Congress were exercising their proper authority to review the Mueller material on behalf of their constituents.

“This is not about Congress or any committee of Congress,” Pelosi told ABC News at the time. “It’s about the American people and their right to know and their election that is at stake and that a foreign government intervened in our election and the president thinks it is a laughing matter.”

This latest stalemate – over sensitive materials gathered in connection with the 2016 elections — has frustrated leaders on the intelligence committees, sources told ABC News. In part, that is because the committees have sweeping oversight powers when it comes to the secretive agencies. The National Security Act says “congressional intelligence committees [must] be kept fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.”

The congressional committees have invoked such powers during a range of sensitive probes. Congress fought for and received intelligence documents during its investigation into the Iran-Contra affair during the late 1980s. And more recently, the senate prevailed during a review of allegations that the agencies engaged in torture during the interrogation of terror suspects. After a protracted fight, the senate received the documents and drafted its scathing report.

One Trump administration source familiar with the matter told ABC News that the stand-off is temporary – with the response to the intelligence committee on hold until the Department of Justice finishes releasing Mueller-related materials to the Judiciary Committee.

In early June, the DOJ and House Judiciary Committee reached an agreement allowing committee members access to some of the documents that underpinned Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. Members and some committee staff were also allowed to see a less-redacted version of the full Mueller report, with the exception of grand jury material that was included.

The DOJ is in the midst of reviewing the special counsel documents, and under an agreement with the Judiciary Committee, has pledged to turn over documents they believe do not run afoul of their assertions of privilege.

As the review process for the House Judiciary Committee grinds forward, an administration official familiar with the effort said that may free up some of the documents in the subset of materials requested by the intelligence committees. But, the source said, the intelligence request will have to wait until the negotiations with Judiciary are resolved.

Congressional sources told ABC News they believe Justice Department officials have no grounds to hold the intelligence records, and are merely stalling.

Experts said the stand-offs between branches of government may ultimately force the third branch of government – the judiciary – to get involved.

“A lot of it is going to get resolved in court,” said Wright, the expert on executive privilege who served in two Democratic administrations. “But some may only get resolved at the ballot box.”

[ABC News]

Trump asserts executive privilege over subpoenaed census docs

President Trump has asserted executive privilege over congressionally subpoenaed documents on the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The announcement comes as the House Oversight and Reform Committee is set to vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas for the documents.

“By proceeding with today’s vote, you have abandoned the accommodation process with respect to your requests and subpoenas for documents concerning the secretary’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

“The executive branch has engaged in good-faith efforts to satisfy the legislative needs of the committee. Moreover, until the committee’s abrupt decision to seek a contempt resolution, the department was prepared to provide a significant number of additional documents responsive to the committee’s April 2, 2019 subpoena.” 

“Unfortunately, rather than allowing the department to complete its document production, you have chosen to go forward with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote.”

Boyd wrote that Trump has asserted executive privilege over some of the subpoenaed documents, including drafts of a letter sent from the Justice Department to Commerce Department officials requesting that the citizenship question be added to the 2020 census.

Cummings blasted the administration over the assertion, saying that he has been asking for the documents at hand for more than a year and questioning why the departments didn’t send their letters until moments before the vote was scheduled to be held.

“This does not appear to be an effort to engage in good faith negotiations or accommodations,” he said.

The chairman said that he would delay the contempt vote until this afternoon to allow members to review the letters on executive privilege.

The announcement came one day after Boyd sent a separate letter to Cummings, warning that executive privilege would be invoked if the House panel moved forward with the contempt votes for Barr and Ross. The Justice Department official also asked Cummings to delay the vote as Trump weighs whether the documents fall under the scope of executive privilege.

“As I indicated in my letter to you yesterday, this protective assertion ensures the president’s ability to make a final decision whether to assert privilege following a full review of these materials,” Boyd wrote Wednesday.

The Commerce Department on Wednesday also sent Cummings a letter notifying him that Trump has asserted executive privilege over some of the documents subpoenaed from that agency.

“The department regrets that you have made this assertion necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote,” wrote Charles Rathburn, the acting assistant secretary for legislative and intergovernmental affairs at the Commerce Department.

In a letter sent Tuesday night, Cummings offered to delay the contempt vote if the two agencies handed over unredacted copies of certain documents requested by the lawmakers.

Boyd wrote in the letter Wednesday that the “department has explained to the committee on several occasions that these identified documents consist of attorney-client communications, attorney work product, and deliberative communications, and a federal court has already held many of these documents to be privileged in litigation.”

Wednesday’s move is the latest effort by the White House to assert executive privilege over documents sought by Democrats investigating Trump and his administration.

[The Hill]

Trump: ‘Mueller should not testify’

President Donald Trump said on Sunday that Robert Mueller “should not testify” before Congress, hours after a Democratic lawmaker confirmed that the House Judiciary Committee was still seeking to schedule a hearing with the special counsel for later this month.

“Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!” the president wrote on Twitter, after excoriating Mueller’s 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in a previous post.

“After spending more than $35,000,000 over a two year period, interviewing 500 people, using 18 Trump Hating Angry Democrats & 49 FBI Agents — all culminating in a more than 400 page Report showing NO COLLUSION — why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller to testify,” Trumptweeted.

“Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion? There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION,” the president added.

Attorney General William Barr previously told Congress that he has no objection to Mueller, who is a Justice Department employee, testifying before lawmakers. Peter Carr, the special counsel’s spokesman, declined to comment on the president’s tweet.

Earlier Sunday, a Judiciary Committee member, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), told “Fox News Sunday” that Mueller was tentatively scheduled to testify on May 15, but he later walked back that remark on social media.

“Just to clarify: we are aiming to bring Mueller in on the 15th, but nothing has been agreed to yet,” Cicilline wrote online. “That’s the date the Committee has proposed, and we hope the Special Counsel will agree to it. Sorry for the confusion.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has said the committee is eyeing May 15 for Mueller to testify. The committee did not immediately respond to Cicilline’s comments.

The White House, Cicilline said in the Fox interview, has indicated it would not interfere with Mueller’s attempt to testify and “we hope that won’t change.”

As recently as last month, the request for Mueller to appear before the House Judiciary Committee was bipartisan; the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, wrote to Nadler in April encouraging him to invite the special counsel to testify.

Trump’s tweet — if interpreted by the attorney general as a direct order to stifle Mueller’s testimony — could set up the most consequential legal question related to the special counsel’s probe: whether executive privilege can be used to stop an executive branch employee from testifying about an investigation into the president.

The president’s post also aggravates a partisan fight over Mueller’s findings that was already under way Sunday morning when Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) criticized the special counsel for not revealing sooner that he had not found that the Trump campaign and the Kremlin criminally conspired to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

“It couldn’t have taken Bob Mueller that long to find that out,” King told a New York radio show. “The reports we get are that they knew a year ago there was no collusion. Well, didn’t he have an obligation to tell the president of the United States that? To let the world know?”

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, later tweeted a news report on King’s comments, adding: “More evidence that Mueller probe was part of a political plan,ie., insurance policy, to remove or hurt ⁦@realDonaldTrump⁩. They failed because people wouldn’t lie.”

It is possible that Mueller could also appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, after Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked him in a letter Friday whether he “would like to provide testimony regarding any misrepresentation” by Barr concerning an exchange he had with the attorney general about the special counsel’s report.

Barr already faces a torrent of criticism from congressional Democrats after his testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. At that hearing, he was grilled by lawmakers about a letter he received from Mueller that expressed disagreement with the way the Justice Department handled the release of the special counsel’s report.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday accused Barr of committing a crime by lying to Congress about similar concerns by Mueller’s investigators, and Nadler on Friday threatened to hold Barr in contempt of Congress if he did not grant access to Mueller’s unredacted report and its underlying documents by Monday morning.

The scrutiny of Barr is likely to intensify in the coming days, as Democratic lawmakers await a potential response from the attorney general to the president’s tweet.

The issue of executive privilege has featured prominently in debates concerning Mueller’s report since the special counsel concluded his investigation in mid-March and submitted his findings to the attorney general later that month.

Trump waived the privilege during the probe, allowing former White House counsel Don McGahn and other figures in his administration to cooperate with Mueller’s team of federal prosecutors. But it is now unclear whether the president will try to assert the power to block those officials from publicly testifying.

Asked on Wednesday whether he had any objections to McGahn appearing before Congress, Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that McGahn was “a close adviser to the president” and remarked: “We haven’t waived executive privilege.”

Trump said Thursday that he did not want McGahn to testify.

“Congress shouldn‘t be looking anymore,” the president told Fox News. “This is all. It‘s done.”

[Politico]

Trump, Trump Organization sue House Oversight’s Elijah Cummings to block subpoena

President Trump and the Trump Organization filed suit against House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings in federal court on Monday in an attempt to block Cummings’ subpoena of Trump’s longtime accountant, Mazars USA LLP.

The big picture: Cummings wrote last week that the subpoena — for all of Trump’s financial records — is a result of testimony from Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who claimed that the president “altered the estimated value of his assets and liabilities on financial statements.”

  • Trump’s suit claims that Cummings and House Oversight are “assuming the powers of the Department of Justice, investigating (dubious and partisan) allegations of illegal conduct by private individuals outside of government” solely to dig up dirt ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

State Department bars press corps from Pompeo briefing, won’t release list of attendees

The State Department on Monday said it would not be distributing a transcript or list of attendees from a briefing call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held that evening — a call from which the department’s press corps was excluded and only “faith-based media” allowed.

The afternoon phone briefing was to discuss “international religious freedom” with the secretary — who rarely participates in such calls — ahead of his trip to the Middle East. One member of the State Department press corps was invited, only to be un-invited after RSVPing. That reporter was told that the call was for “faith-based media only.”

CNN also RSVP’d to organizers, asking to be included, but received no reply.Despite repeated inquires and complaints from members of the press corps who are based at the department, the State Department on Monday night said they would not be providing a transcript of the call, a list of faith-based media outlets who were allowed to participate or the criteria to be invited.

Officials would not answer questions about whether a range of faiths was included.A reporter with EWTN Global Catholic Television told CNN they were not originally invited to take part in Monday’s call with Pompeo but had asked the State Department if they could take part. The reporter was then invited to a different call involving faith-based organizations and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback that took place Tuesday and was organized by an outside group.

An article from Religion News Service — which notes that it “is not a faith-based media organization, but rather a secular news service that covers religion, spirituality and ethics” — said participants in the Pompeo briefing “were not told that the call was limited to faith-based media.””While it was not clear which outlets were part of the call, questions were asked by Religion News Service, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Algemeiner, World Magazine and The Leaven, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. America Magazine also participated in the call,” according to RNS.On Tuesday evening, one of the participants shared a transcript of the call with the press corps. That transcript showed that Pompeo faced questions about the Israeli election, terrorism and the omission of the word “occupied” when describing the Golan Heights and the West Bank.Pompeo did take part in an on-the-record briefing with the traveling press en route to the Middle East, where he was asked similar questions and provided similar responses.The State Department told the press traveling with Pompeo that the department does not release transcripts for print roundtables. However, they typically release transcripts for all of the secretary’s public press engagements. Former State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who is a CNN Global Affairs analyst, said “it is typical practice that any on the record interview in which a Cabinet official participates is transcribed and published at the earliest appropriate opportunity.””These officials are public servants. What they say — in its entirety — is inherently of public interest. It’s inappropriate and irresponsible not to observe that obligation,” he told CNN.Kirby said he has “certainly seen times when particular journalists or columnists have been targeted for inclusion on given topics.” However, “to exclude beat reporters from something as universally relevant as religious freedom in the Middle East strikes me as not only self-defeating but incredibly small-minded,” he said. “It’s perfectly fine to ensure faith-based media have a seat at such a table. But it’s PR malpractice to cut off access to the broader press corps. I wish I could say I expected more from this crowd,” Kirby said.A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that some press engagements — “Department press briefings, teleconferences on a myriad of policy issues, briefings and sprays by the Secretary of State and other officials— are open to any interested domestic or international press.”

[CNN]

Trump cancels Obama policy of reporting drone strike deaths

In the latest step toward rolling back Obama-era rules for targeted killings, President Donald Trump will no longer require U.S. intelligence officials to publicly disclose the numbers of people killed in drone strikes and other attacks on terrorist targets outside of war zones.

Trump ended the reporting requirement by signing an executive order Wednesday. The move had been expected since the administration last year failed to release an annual accounting of civilian and enemy casualties required under an order signed in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama.

The order signed by Trump revokes a specific requirement that the administration release an unclassified summary of “the number of strikes undertaken by the United States government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities, as well as assessments of combatant and noncombatant deaths resulting from those strikes, among other information.”

Obama dramatically expanded the use of targeted strikes with drone strikes against al Qaeda and the Islamic State group. He also sought to put in place a set of rules designed to promote accountability and encourage policymakers to minimize civilian casualties. Critics said those rules placed unwarranted constraints on counterterrorism operatives.

Among the rules was a requirement that there be a “near certainty” of no civilian casualties before the CIA launched a strike. That rule did not apply in war zones, where the standard is less strict. It’s unclear whether that rule remains in place.

The reporting requirement was the first-ever effort by the U.S. government to account for how many people have been killed in targeted strikes in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Obama’s first report in 2016 said the U.S. launched 473 strikes from Jan. 20, 2009, until Dec. 31, 2015, killing 2,372 to 2,581 combatants and 64 to 116 noncombatants.

Outside groups have much higher estimates for the death toll in American drone strikes.

That requirement is now repealed.

Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at the Human Rights Watch, called Trump’s decision “deeply troubling.”

[NBC News]

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