The EPA Will Dissolve Its Science Advisory Office

The Environmental Protection Agency will eliminate the Office of the Science Advisor, an entity within the agency that works to ensure its policies and decisions are based on quality science. The New York Times reports that the scientific advisory position, which currently reports directly to the head of the EPA, will be merged into another office — the Office of Research and Development. “It’s certainly a pretty big demotion, a pretty big burying of this office,” Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the publication. “Everything from research on chemicals and health, to peer-review testing to data analysis would inevitably suffer.”

This is just the latest in a series of moves that have weakened the EPA and shifted its focus from science-driven policy to a relaxing of environmental protection regulations. The agency pulled information on climate change from its website after the Trump administration took over. It also stopped sponsoring the Climate Leadership Awards program, prohibited its scientists from giving talks on climate change and has proposed severe restrictions on what research can be used to inform regulations. Further, under the leadership of a climate change denier, it has made moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan and roll back fuel efficiency standards.

These actions haven’t gone without push back, however. A number of states have sued the EPA over both its decision to lift a ban on ozone-damaging hydrofluorocarbons and its gutting of fuel efficiency standards. The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board also voted earlier this year to review many of the agency’s proposals.

When asked about the decision to dissolve the Office of the Science Advisor, an EPA spokesperson sent the New York Times a statement that said the move would “eliminate redundancies.” Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, who currently serves as both the agency’s science advisor and the deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Research Development, has been with the agency since 1981.

In a prepared statement Orme-Zavaleta said the move would “combine offices with similar functions” and that “the assistant administrator for [the Office of Research and Development] has customarily served as the EPA science advisor which will continue to be the case.” The EPA currently does not have an assistant administrator for that office. Among the programs housed by the Office of the Science Advisor, whose fates now remain unclear, are the Science and Technology Policy Council and the Scientific Integrity Office.

In a separate move, the EPA also put the head of its Office of Children’s Health Protection on administrative leave, a decision it said was not disciplinary. In an email obtained by CNN, the office’s director, Ruth Etzel, said the action was intended to “cause chaos” and undermine the office’s work.

[Engadget]

Trump regrets not firing Comey when Obama was still in office: ‘I should have fired him the day I won the primaries’

President Donald Trump displayed a deep misunderstanding of his own authority Tuesday, bemoaning that he didn’t fire FBI Director James Comey back when he won the Republican primary, or at least after the Republican convention, in an interview with the Hill.

Barack Obama was still President during both of those events and vested with the power to fire Comey.

“If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries,” Trump told the Hill. “I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don’t want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don’t want him there when I get there.”

Trump also mentioned that he is ordering the declassification of documents related to the Russia probe because exposing it as a partisan “hoax” would be a “crowning achievement” of his presidency.

“I hope to be able to call this, along with tax cuts and regulation and all the things I’ve done … in its own way this might be the most important thing because this was corrupt,” he added to the Hill.

He went on to say that his own FBI is working against him and trying to undermine his presidency.

“What we have now is an insurance policy,” the Trump told the Hill. “But it has been totally discredited, even Democrats agree that it has been discredited. They are not going to admit to it, but it has been totally discredited. I think, frankly, more so by text than by documents.”

He concluded that he hoped to “expose” the FBI as “truly a cancer in our country.”

[Business Insider]

Don McGahn to leave job as White House counsel, Trump says

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Don McGahn will leave his job as White House counsel this fall following Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“White House Counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his position in the fall, shortly after the confirmation (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!” Trump tweeted.

McGahn’s departure will close the book on a tumultous relationship that has been both a boon for Trump’s agenda and a test of the limits of Trump’s executive authority. McGahn has been the key architect of Trump’s successful efforts to reshape the federal courts — sealing a lasting part of Trump’s conservative legacy — but he has also repeatedly clashed with the President over his attempts to interfere in the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference and any collusion with the Trump campaign.

That strained relationship once again resurfaced earlier this month with the disclosure that McGahn has cooperated extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, participating in several interviews spanning 30 hours over the last nine months. The conversations unnerved Trump, who didn’t know the full extent of McGahn’s discussions, two people familiar with his thinking said.

Trump’s announcement comes as Mueller’s investigation continues to consume much of the President’s focus amid questions of potential obstruction of justice into the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But McGahn’s departure was anticipated before the disclosure of his extensive cooperation with Mueller’s team. Earlier this month, sources close to the White House said McGahn was likely to leave his White House post after Kavanaugh’s confirmation — with McGahn hoping to first notch a second successful Supreme Court nomination.

Emmet Flood, who now directs the Russia legal strategy from inside the White House, is a potential replacement, CNN reported last week. McGahn fought to bring Flood onto the team and likes him very much, a source close to the White House said.

The news of McGahn’s eventual departure comes amid the advancement of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, which is set to start in less than a week and last three or four days, according to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.

[CNN]

Trump Blasts Cohen: ‘Flipping’ to Get a Plea Deal ‘Almost Ought to Be Illegal’

During his extensive interview with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, President Trump praised Paul Manafort while tearing Michael Cohenapart for implicating for implicating him in his campaign finance violations.

Even though Cohen’s secretly-record audio of Trump indicates that his ex-boss was involved in his 2016 hush money schemes, Trump insisted that he only found out about the payments “later on.” After complaining that this wasn’t a violation of campaign finance law because the money “came from me,” and he also said ” almost everybody that runs for office has campaign violations, but what Michael Cohen pled to weren’t even campaign related. They weren’t crimes.”

To that point, Earhardt asked him why Cohen accepted a plea deal with federal prosecutors if what he did wasn’t illegal. After saluting Manafort – who was found guilty in his trial this week – because he didn’t flip, Trump said that such deals like the one Cohen made shouldn’t be allowed.

“This whole thing about flipping, they call it. I know all about flipping, for 30, 40 years I have been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair, because if somebody going to spend five years like Michael Cohen or 10 of 15 years in jail because of a taxicab deal, because he defrauded some bank. Campaign violations are considered not a big deal, frankly. But if somebody defrauded a bank and he is going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail but if you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you will go down to two years or three years, which is the deal he made, in all fairness to him, most people are going to do that. And I have seen it many times. I have had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal. You get 10 years in jail. But if you say bad things about somebody, in other words make up stories, they just make up lies…They make up things and now they go from 10 years to they’re a national hero. They have a statue erected in their honor. It’s not a fair thing. But that’s why he did it. He made a very good deal. For what he did.”

[Mediaite]

Trump cites ‘massive’ Obama campaign finance violation.

President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday that the campaign finance violations his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to in federal court are equivalent to campaign finance violations committed by Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.

“If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation, but he had a different attorney general, and they viewed it a lot different,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business.

Earlier Wednesday the president had tweeted: “Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!”

But there is no comparison, experts told NBC News. Cohen’s admitted campaign finance law violations are indeed a crime, and they are not similar to the campaign finance violations made by Obama’s 2008 campaign. Election law experts said that more minor violations are treated as regulatory or civil matters, while egregious and willful campaign finance violations are treated as criminal acts — no matter who the attorney general is.

“What Michael Cohen has admitted to doing is absolutely a crime,” said Mitchell Epner, a former federal prosecutor who is now of counsel at Rottenberg Lipman Rich P.C.

Cohen, who was Trump’s longtime lawyer, pleaded guilty to violating two campaign finance rules — willfully causing a corporate finance violation and making an excessive campaign contribution. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and involved hush-money payments to two women who said they had relationships with Trump.

[NBC News]

Trump slams Cohen, lauds Manafort after twin legal blows

U.S. President Donald Trump, in tweets about the stunning legal setbacks involving two of his former lieutenants, on Wednesday attacked the one who has turned on him and defended the one who has remained loyal.

Trump lashed out at former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen in a Twitter post by saying the campaign finance violations Cohen pleaded guilty to in federal court in New York on Tuesday were “not a crime” – even though prosecutors and Cohen agreed that they were. Trump made the claim without offering any evidence.

In another tweet, Trump said, “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen.”

At the same time, Trump on Twitter praised former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on Tuesday of multiple counts of fraud, as a “brave man” for not cooperating with federal authorities.

Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. He told a federal court in Manhattan that Trump directed him to arrange payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had affairs with Trump.

Fox News released excerpts of an interview conducted with Trump on Wednesday in which the president said he knew of the payments “later on” but did not elaborate.

After first denying that he knew anything about the payments, Trump earlier this year acknowledged that he reimbursed Cohen for payments he made in late 2016 to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Daniels has alleged she had a relationship with Trump.

The president has insisted he paid Cohen out of personal funds and that the payments were not intended to benefit his campaign but to resolve a personal matter.

“They’re weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing,” Trump said in the Fox interview. “They didn’t come out of the campaign; they came from me.”

[Reuters]

Reality

This is a lie.

Trump was heard on a secret recording by Michael Cohen proving he knew at the time illegal hush payments were being made.

Trump considered revoking Obama’s security clearance last year but was talked out of it by McMaster.

At the time, some of Trump’s most fervent supporters in the White House saw former Obama Administration officials as powerful enemies who threatened the new President’s rule, and they agitated for punishing them by revoking their security clearances. The idea was rebuffed by the national-security adviser at the time, H. R. McMaster, who signed a memo extending the clearances of his predecessors at the N.S.C., Republicans and Democrats alike. As Trump stepped up his public and private attacks on Obama, some of the new President’s advisers thought that he should take the extraordinary step of denying Obama himself access to intelligence briefings that were made available to all of his living predecessors. Trump was told about the importance of keeping former Presidents, who frequently met with foreign leaders, informed. In the end, Trump decided not to exclude Obama, at the urging of McMaster.

[The New Yorker]

Trump Threatens to Pull Clearance For CNN’s Phil Mudd After Seeing Him on TV: He’s ‘In No Mental Condition’

President Donald Trump is adding CNN contributor Philip Mudd to the list of intelligence officials who might lose their security clearance for criticizing him.

Mudd, a former CIA officer, attracted a lot of attention last week over his explosive showdown with pro-Trump commentator Paris Dennard. The two debated whether Trump is using security clearance revocation to punish his foes, and Mudd blew up after Dennard accused officials like him of profiting from their clearance by securing media commentary positions.

As it were, Fox News’ Sean Hannitymade fun of Mudd’s “complete meltdown” on his show tonight, and obviously, Trump was watching.

Should Mudd’s clearance actually be pulled, you can add it to the list of Trump’s decisions influenced by Fox News programming.

[Mediaite]

Reality

Our part-time-president Donald Trump was busy watching Fox News during his “Executive Time” when he saw Fox play a CNN clip of former intel official Philip (not “Phillip”) Mudd becoming visibly frustrated with a lying Paris Dennard.

Trump has added Mudd to his authoritarian-style “enemies list” and threatened to pull his security clearance.

Trump Continues to Hammer DOJ Lawyer Bruce Ohr: ‘A Total Joke!’

President Donald Trump is once again targeting DOJ lawyer Bruce Ohr, who reportedly had some connection to the compilation of the Steele dossier.

Trump went on to say that Ohr is “at the center of FALSE ALLEGATIONS” which led to the Russia investigation:

Trump singled out Ohr before in a press pool outside the White House, calling him a “disgrace” and saying he “suspect[s]” he will revoke Ohr’s security clearance “very quickly.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Dares John Brennan to Sue: ‘Worst CIA Director’ Will Have to Reveal Texts, Emails and Documents

President Donald Trump tweeted once again about former CIA director John Brennan after revoking his security clearance.

Trump went on to say that Brennan is a “political ‘hack’”:

Brennan has been extremely vocal in his criticism of Trump, even before his security clearance was revoked. Several former White House officials who have criticized the Trump administration have had their security clearance taken from them in the past few weeks, raising concern that Trump is looking to silence his political enemies.

[Mediaite]

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