Trump Claims Power to Bypass Limits Set by Congress in Defense Bill

When President Trump signed a $716 billion military spending bill on Monday, he claimed the authority to override dozens of provisions that he deemed improper constraints on his executive powers.

In a signing statement that the White House quietly issued after 9 p.m. on Monday — about six hours after Mr. Trump signed the bill in a televised ceremony at Fort Drum in New York — Mr. Trump deemed about 50 of its statutes to be unconstitutional intrusions on his presidential powers, meaning that the executive branch need not enforce or obey them as written.

Among them was a ban on spending military funds on “any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea,” the Ukrainian region annexed by Moscow in 2014 in an incursion considered illegal by the United States. He said he would treat the provision and similar ones as “consistent with the president’s exclusive constitutional authorities as commander in chief and as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs.”

The statement was the latest example of Mr. Trump’s emerging broad vision of executive power. His personal lawyers, for example, have claimed that his constitutional authority to supervise the Justice Department means that he can lawfully impede the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election no matter his motive, despite obstruction-of-justice statutes.

Signing statements, which are generally ghostwritten for presidents by Justice Department and White House lawyers, are official documents in which a president lays out his interpretation of new laws and instructs the executive branch to view them the same way.

Once obscure, the practice became controversial under President George W. Bush, who challenged more provisions of new laws than all previous presidents combined — most famously a 2005 ban on torture championed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. (Democrats are pressing for access to any White House papers of Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, related to that statement.)

Mr. McCain is now fighting brain cancer, and Congress named the new military law in his honor. But Mr. Trump pointedly did not mention his name when signing the bill, the latest slight in the long-running acrimony between the two men. Mr. Trump’s signing statement also quoted only part of the bill’s title, evading any acknowledgment of the senator.

Last month, Mr. McCain issued a statement calling Mr. Trump’s Helsinki summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

The American Bar Association in 2006 took the position that presidents should not use signing statements, but should instead veto legislation if it has constitutional defects so that Congress has an opportunity to override that veto if lawmakers disagree. But presidents of both parties, including Barack Obama, have continued to use them, with current and former executive branch lawyers arguing that the focus should be on the credibility of the legal theories that presidents invoke when they make their objections.

Mr. Trump’s new statement relied upon a mix of theories, some of which had greater support in Supreme Court precedent than others. For example, in 2015, the court upheld presidents’ constitutional authority to disregard a statute requiring American passports to say that Jerusalem is part of Israel, which could support Mr. Trump’s claim that he could recognize Crimea as part of Russia if he wanted.

But many of Mr. Trump’s challenges invoked his purported powers as commander in chief, a type of objection that the Bush administration frequently made but that the Obama administration generally shied away from.

For example, Mr. Trump also declared that he could bypass a provision in the bill that extended restrictions on certain bilateral military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Russia.

He also challenged a provision requiring the Pentagon to create a senior civilian position charged with coming up with uniform standards for counting — and reducing — civilian bystander deaths as a result of American military operations, and a provision that would halt certain in-flight refueling of Saudi and Emirati aircraft over Yemen unless those countries took more steps to bring an end to the civil war there and to reduce civilian suffering and collateral damage from their airstrikes.

And the president said he could disregard a restriction against reducing the number of active-duty troops stationed in South Korea below 22,000, unless Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis were to certify that doing so would be in the national-security interest of the United States and would not undermine the security of regional allies like South Korea and Japan.

In May, Mr. Trump had ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down troop levels in South Korea ahead of his Singapore summit meeting with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un. But later in June, Mr. Mattis said that current troop levels of about 28,500 would remain in place.

[The New York Times]

Trump rips McCain hours after signing bill named after him

President Trump hit Sen. John McCain in a speech hours after signing a defense bill named after the Arizona Republican.

Trump, speaking at a New York fundraising event, sarcastically referred to McCain as “one of our wonderful senators,” and referenced McCain’s key vote against a proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“ObamaCare, we got rid of the individual mandate, which is the most unpopular aspect,” Trump said. “I would’ve gotten rid of everything, but as you know, one of our wonderful senators said ‘thumbs down’ at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

The comment prompted a small chorus of boos from the audience.

Trump earlier in the day did not mention McCain during his signing of the defense bill, a $717 billion piece of legislation that is officially titled the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

The omission sparked backlash among frequent Trump critics, including former Secretary of State John Kerry, who called it “disgraceful.”

[The Hill]

Trump offers White House staffers a special perk at his golf club

There’s an under-the-radar perk being offered to staffers in President Donald Trump’s administration — discounts on Trump-branded merchandise sold at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club.

White House staffers who have a Secret Service hard pin identifying them as administration officials can flash it at the pro shop — where Trump-branded driver headcovers retail for $40 and a Trump golf polo tee sells for $90, according to the online Trump store — and receive the same discount available to club members, who pay a reported $350,000 to join the club.

Those discounts range from 15 percent off of any merchandise sold in the store, to 70 percent off clearance items, according to two staffers and a receipt reviewed by POLITICO.

The practice is the latest indication that being a public servant in this administration comes with special perks to sweeten the deal. The discounts available at the Bedminster club were originally pitched by the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and the president himself as a nice gesture to aides, according to the recollection of someone familiar with the setup. (White House officials denied Ivanka Trump’s involvement and said she was not even aware the discount existed.)

But ethics experts say the arrangement only highlights how Trump remains more entangled in his commercial properties than any president in American history. Those blurry lines between his government work and his private business, from which he never divested, are perhaps most fuzzy when the president is spending time with government officials on the grounds of his own properties.

Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and a former associate counsel in the Obama and Clinton administrations, said the practice of offering any discounts to people identified by their Secret Service pins was “absolutely wrong.”

Discounts are not prohibited by the Office of Government Ethics if they are available to all government employees, or if it’s a standardized discount. But if they are not, the discount is considered a gift. Federal officials are also prohibited from accepting gifts in excess of $20 and are urged to decline any gifts “when accepting them would raise concerns about the appearance of impropriety.”

“It’s prohibited under the standards of conduct for any government employee to accept a gift because of their official position,” said Canter. “The fact is, people’s access to that facility is extremely limited. It’s not open to all government employees. It’s limited to staff who have access to the facility and second of all, who are given access to the Secret Service pin. It’s not OK.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not comment about the discount.

But getting perks in the pro shop goes beyond White House staffers.

Trump has pilfered his own store to charm Republican lawmakers and their aides, whom he frequently invites to join him for rounds of golf at his properties in Sterling, Virginia, and Palm Beach, Florida. GOP aides have been directed to the pro shop to pick up golf apparel — gratis — when the president saw they were not outfitted for golf. It was not clear whether Trump later personally picked up the tab or the business ate the extra expense.

The discounts remain under the radar even within the White House. One former senior administration official said he never knew about the price chop and had always paid full price for pro-shop merchandise. “I overpaid, big time,” the former official said. “Part of me wishes I knew. Part of me is glad I didn’t.” Other aides said they learned of the discount through the grapevine only after having paid full price.

The discounts are also not available across-the-board at all Trump clubs — each pro shop sets its own rules, and staffers who recently shopped at the Turnberry resort in Scotland while working for the president on his most recent foreign trip said they were expected to pay full price for the goods they brought home.

POLITICO reviewed a recent receipt that showed a current White House official receiving a 70 percent discount on a piece of merchandise that was a clearance item, and a 30 percent discount on an item from the current collection.

Norm Eisen, who served as the ethics czar under former President Barack Obama, said Trump’s habit of doling out discounted goods from his personal business is an abuse of office.

“It does have an effect on how Trump tries to secure personal loyalty and woo people away from what should be their primary and their only loyalty — to the Constitution, to public service and to the people of the United States,” Eisen said. “This is another small inducement, apparently contrary to federal law, that he uses to bind his staff to him personally.”

Trump, who throughout his life has been accused of regularly stiffing contractors and failing to pay his debts, is often a fan of generous gestures when he’s relaxing at one of his own properties. If he sees a table of staffers dining, he’ll often send over a dessert on the house, or pick up the check, another aide said.

Those gestures would be allowed if he, himself, is paying out of his own pocket to cover the meal. But they would also be prohibited by federal gift rules if he simply charged those meals to the club.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, Amanda Miller, did not return calls and emails for 12 days.

Trump Blames ‘Unpopular’ John Kasich for ‘Tamping Down’ Balderson ‘Enthusiasm’

Donald Trump and John Kasich are fighting again, this time over probable Ohio special election winner Troy Balderson, and the President tweeted about it on Monday. Calling Kasich “unpopular,” “failed,” and unpopular again, Trump used the tweet as another red meat pitch to Ohio Trump voters for November.

“Tamping down enthusiasm” isn’t your typical Trump complaint, but otherwise true-to-type as he bashed Kasich’s failure to win in 2016 and referred to a narrow squeaker as a “big win.”

Balderson has essentially won, and declared victor, but the results are not technically official yet. Regardless, the narrowness of the margin is the subject at hand in a criticism from Ohio Gov. Kasich on Meet the Presson Sunday (echoing remarks he made to CBS the day after the election). “It wasn’t a good night,” said Kasich regarding last Tuesday’s vote, “because this is a district that you should be winning by, you know, overwhelming numbers.”

That’s an analysis made by many political observers, but the reason for that razor edge is what really has Trump worked up. Many, including Kasich, blame Trump.

Kasich said it is a “message from the voters” to “stop the chaos” and “stop alienating people.” He also offered broad critiques shared by other Trump-critical Republicans, such as arguing against “protectionism” and Trump’s treatment of NATO allies.

And that is why on Monday the President returned fire in a tweet.

A win for Balderson is only a temporary salve should Kasich be proved correct about the sentiment of the voters; he faces the same Democrat challenger again in the regular election in November. In an effort to hold the House majority, the party and particularly the president certainly must and will make the case that Balderson is what Ohio voters are looking for, repudiation-free.

Kasich, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016, has not ruled out a 2020 run and, to anyone who observes Kasich, is in fact practically a lock to put his hat in the ring.

[Mediaite]

Trump encourages boycott against Harley-Davidson

President Donald Trump said it’s “great” that consumers might boycott Harley-Davidson if it moves some motorcycle production overseas.

The President tweeted about the potential boycott on Sunday

“Many @harleydavidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas. Great!” Trump wrote. “Most other companies are coming in our direction, including Harley competitors. A really bad move! U.S. will soon have a level playing field, or better.”

Harley-Davidson did not respond to request for comment on Sunday.

Trump’s remark came after the President hosted “Bikers for Trump” supporters at his golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey, over the weekend.Dozens of bikers descended on the posh club house, where Trump shook hands, posed for selfies and delivered an enemy-bashing speech to a cheering crowd, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Tensions between the administration and Harley-Davidson have brewed for months.

It started when Trump imposed hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports earlier this year in an effort to bolster domestic manufacturing. The European Union responded by pledging to raise tariffs on a list of goods that are imported from the United States, including Harley motorcycles.

American demand for motorcycles has waned while foreign interest has grown. So, that wasn’t good news for the Wisconsin-based bike manufacturer.
Harley said it stands to lose as much as $100 million a year, and the company pledged to shift some of its production abroad so that it could avoid the added tariffs on motorcycles sold in the EU.

Trump accused Harley of using the European retaliatory tariffs as “an excuse” for moving manufacturing abroad. Trump, echoing a top union for Harley workers, claimed the company planned to shift some operations to Thailand before the tariffs were announced.

Harley acknowledged it already had been moving some production abroad, but said moving more production overseas was the “only sustainable option” in the face of a trade war.

The President also said last month his administration was “working with other Motor Cycle companies who want to move into the U.S.”

[CNN]

Trump Trolls Democrats: ‘Please Do Not Distance Yourselves From Nancy Pelosi’

On Friday, President Donald Trump trolled the Democratic Party with a snarky tweet praising House Minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a frequent lightning rod for his criticism of the party.

“Democrats, please do not distance yourselves from Nancy Pelosi,” Trump wrote. “She is a wonderful person whose ideas & policies may be bad, but who should definitely be given a 4th chance. She is trying very hard & has every right to take down the Democrat Party if she has veered too far left!”

Trump has repeatedly bashed Pelosi, calling her — along with fellow frequent target Rep. Maxine Waters — “the unhinged FACE of the Democrat Party” and repeatedly using her name to throw shade at Democratic challengers in key races.

It is unclear what exactly prompted today’s tweet, however, it followed a long segment on Meet the Press talking about both Pelosi and the Democratic Party.

[Mediate]

Trump doubles tariffs on Turkey

President Trump said Friday that the U.S. will double tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Turkey, as relations between the NATO allies worsen.

Trump tweeted Friday that he authorized raising tariffs on Turkish steel to 50 percent and on aluminum to 20 percent as the country’s currency falls rapidly against the U.S. dollar.

“I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!,” Trump tweeted.

“As he stated, the president has authorized the preparation of documents to raise tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Turkey,” said White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters in a statement.

“Section 232 tariffs are imposed on imports from particular countries whose exports threaten to impair national security as defined in Section 232, independent of negotiations on trade or any other matter.”

The lira dropped 11 percent against the U.S. dollar Friday as Turkish President Recep Erdogan warned of a global economic war against his country. Trump’s tweet brought the lira down another 3 percentage points, according to CNBC.

Turkish financial markets have panicked over concerns about the country’s fiscal health, the souring of U.S.-Turkey relations, and Erdogan’s economic policy, according to the Associated Press.

Erdogan said the currency drop was the result of a “campaign” to injure Turkey and called on citizens to convert their U.S. dollars, euros and gold into lira, according to the AP.

“If they have their dollar, we have the people, we have Allah,” Erdogan said.

The U.S.-Turkey alliance has become increasingly strained since 2017, reaching new lows this month over the imprisonment of an American pastor.

The Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on the Turkish interior and justice ministers after the government refused to let detained Christian pastor Andrew Brunson return to the U.S.

Brunson had spent 23 years as a pastor in Turkey before he was detained more than a year ago. The Turkish government alleged that he was involved in a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, and Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric Erdogan blames for the failed revolt.

The Turkish government transferred Brunson from prison to house arrest in July, but refused his and the U.S. government’s requests to return to America.

Tensions also flared in May 2017 after Erdogan’s personal security forces attacked demonstratorsprotesting his visit to the U.S. at the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C.

Trump imposed tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on imported steel and aluminum respectively in March. The White House issued those tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, which empowers the president to impose duties on imports to protect U.S. national security.

Key U.S. allies such as Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, which includes Turkey, were exempted from the tariffs until May. Those nations have responded with retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports.

[The Hill]

Trump Wants You to Choose a Space Force Logo… for the Merch He’ll Sell You

No one but defense contractors and their accountants knows why America needs a Space Force. But moments after announcing the new U.S. military branch, the Trump campaign gave us a hint at this arguably idiotic idea’s true purpose: Lining the campaign’s pockets.

At this point, it’s a tired cliche to claim the president is just trying to distract us from his scandals when he does something really stupid. As we speak, he’s trying to make it easier to poison our kids, his secretary of commerce appears to be a world class grifter, his former campaign manager is probably going to jail for what can best be described as “crimes,” and he can’t stop building an obstruction of justice case against himself. That’s just stuff that happened this week. But no, I don’t believe the Space Force initiative—which will only happen if Congress funds it—is a calculated distraction. It appears to be more of a fundraising con game.

In an email sent out to supporters following Vice President Mike Pence’s speech announcing the formation of the agency dedicated to protecting space (?), the Trump campaign team asked people to vote for their favorite Space Force logo. Six options are displayed and one would be forgiven for thinking this is a great chance to be a part of history. After all, what if you had cast the deciding vote that made the NASA logo what it is today?

Alas, the details are in the fine print—or in this case, the non-bold print in an easy to read, four-sentence email. “As a way to celebrate President Trump’s huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear,” the line reads. It’s followed by, “first we have to make a final decision on the design we will use to commemorate President Trump’s new Space Force—and he wants YOU to have a say.” Choosing a logo takes you to a confirmation page that gets a little data from you, and it finally lands on a donation page asking for some money now before you have that sweet new line of gear.

The worst part of this is that not only is Trump, once again, personally profiting from the federal government, but he’s cutting into NASA’s merch game. In fact, the only logo that doesn’t look like it was made by Dan Scavino’s intern using MS Paint is one that is a direct ripoff of NASA’s logo.

A final logo looks suspiciously like some art from the video game No Man’s Sky and tells us “Mars Awaits.” We don’t know what Space Force has to do with Mars—it’s a defense agency tasked with protecting U.S. satellites, not traveling to other planets—but the planet is out there, just waiting to get its ass kicked.

We reached out to the Trump campaign to ask when this “line of gear” will be available to the public, if the logo will become the agency’s official seal, and how the profits of sales will be used. We did not get an immediate response, and we don’t expect one. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “We choose to grift! We choose to grift and do the other things, not because it is hard, but because it is easy.”

[Gizmodo]

Trump Suggests FBI Kept Carter Page’s Russia Ties Secret to ‘Spy’ on His Campaign

President Donald Trump suggested that the FBI may have tried to use Carter Page as “an excuse to SPY” on the Trump campaign, as they did not inform the then-candidate about Page’s ties to Russia.

“’Why didn’t the FBI tell President Trump that they had concerns about Carter Page? Is there a double standard here?’” Trump tweeted on Thursday, quoting comments made by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Fox News.

Trump then jumped in with his on commentary on the matter: “They told Senator Diane Feinstein that she had a spy – but not Trump. Is that entrapment or did they just want to use Page as an excuse to SPY?”

Just days before the election in 2016, the FBI filed a surveillance application on Page that said, “The FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.”

Page responded to the allegations by denying his involvement with the Kremlin.

“I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of the imagination,” the former Trump campaign adviser said.

[Mediaite]

Reality

First, Carter Page left the Trump campaign in September 2016, the FBI sought another FISA warrant in October 2016 after Page left.

Second, the FBI informed Trump the Russians were trying to infiltrate his campaign in July 2016.

Trump is a liar.

Trump Starts Sunday Morning Saying Press is ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Sick’ and They ‘Cause War’

At his rally on Saturday, President Trump divided the media into two groups: Fox News, and Fake News.

On Sunday morning he blasted Fake News, meaning all non-Fox News, as the “enemy of the people” once again, and said that they are “dangerous”, “sick”, and “cause war.”

“The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE,” he Tweeted, obviously catching the Sunday morning news and seeing reporting on his comments from Saturday’s rally. “I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People.”

On Saturday, Trump called MSNBC “disgusting” and “corrupt”, and the crowd chanted “CNN sucks.”

[Mediaite]

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