By Robert A. Vella
Oh, Billy-Bob! What a day!
On the heels of Roger Stone’s arrest (he’s been released on $250k bond and travel restrictions) and the news today of airport delays due to the government shutdown, President Trump has announced he will support a bill to temporarily reopen government without any border wall funding. Although such a bill – if passed by Congress and signed by the President – could trigger another shutdown in mid-February or a national emergency declaration, the move represents a capitulation by Trump on his border wall demand.
The reality of this situation was bound to force Trump’s hand sooner or later. The pain inflicted upon the American people by his hostage-taking ploy has reached critical mass. The personal hardships suffered by federal workers and their families, growing crises in security, safety, and economic concerns, and the damaging public relations image of a haughty administration unconcerned about the lives of ordinary people, became too much for Trump’s Republican allies to bear.
Republican senators clashed with one another and confronted Vice President Pence inside a private luncheon on Thursday, as anger hit a boiling point over the longest government shutdown in history.
“This is your fault,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at one point, according to two Republicans who attended the lunch and witnessed the exchange.
“Are you suggesting I’m enjoying this?” McConnell snapped back, according to the people who attended the lunch.
Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel confirmed the confrontation. He said Johnson was expressing frustration with the day’s proceedings — votes on dueling plans to reopen the government, both of which failed to advance.
WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner’s application for a top secret clearance was rejected by two career White House security specialists after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him — but their supervisor overruled the recommendation and approved the clearance, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The official, Carl Kline, is a former Pentagon employee who was installed as director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017. Kushner’s was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, the two sources said. They said the number of rejections that were overruled was unprecedented — it had happened only once in the three years preceding Kline’s arrival.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information, said the Trump White House attracted many people with untraditional backgrounds who had complicated financial and personal histories, some of which raised red flags.
President Trump, his eldest son, and his former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, were among a roster of rich and powerful people who received gun licenses from the New York Police Department in return for special favors, a former lieutenant has claimed in court papers.
The former lieutenant, Paul Dean, said the men received permits to carry guns in New York City without the proper paperwork after donating to two charities with close ties to the department. They were among a list of other well-connected people who Mr. Dean said benefited from a “systematic culture of corruption” that stretched from the department’s gun licensing division to the upper echelons of the department.
WASHINGTON — Nearly three months after deeming Russia in violation of a chemical weapons law, the Trump administration has yet to impose tough new sanctions on Moscow required by the law and triggered by the poisoning last year of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Even as the European Union moves ahead, punishing four Russian officials this week in connection with the poisoning, the U.S. has not moved forward with its own penalties. The delay comes as the Trump administration faces intense congressional scrutiny over a Treasury Department deal to lift sanctions on companies that had been controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
The United States will be challenged in coming years by nations that exploit “the weakening of the post-WWII international order and dominance of Western democratic ideals” and “increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West,” according to a new intelligence document published Tuesday.
The document, known as the National Intelligence Strategy, cited Russia as seeking to flex its geopolitical muscle in order to challenge the United States “in multiple regions.”
Meant to set U.S. spy agencies’ priorities for the next four years, the language echoed the intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion, released in 2017, that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election in order to “undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”
(Bloomberg) — Secretary of State Michael Pompeo ordered most U.S. government employees to leave Venezuela on Thursday, acknowledging the safety threat posed after the Trump administration declared President Nicolas Maduro an illegitimate leader.
While Pompeo initially scoffed at a demand by Maduro that all U.S. diplomats depart by Saturday afternoon, the State Department issued an advisory late Thursday that “non-emergency U.S. government employees” should leave.
The American Embassy in Caracas will remain in operation with a skeleton staff, but the State Department warned Americans in the country that their government “has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Venezuela” and that they should “strongly consider departing” the country.