By Robert A. Vella
Budget deal reached
A bipartisan group of legislators have reached a budget deal to avoid another federal government shutdown which would begin on Friday if the bill fails to pass both houses of Congress, or if the President vetoes it and Congress is unable to override. However, such a failure seems highly unlikely because the prevailing political sentiment strongly opposes another costly shutdown.
President Trump is not happy about this deal, and the right-wing media – who have been pushing him hard to build a border wall – is even more displeased. And, after Senate Republicans warned Trump about declaring a national emergency to build the wall without congressional appropriations, a new scheme is being considered inside the White House which would redirect funding authorized for other purposes without a national security declaration. Such an autocratic move, if undertaken, would surely trigger an even bigger backlash of condemnation.
Key lawmakers announced a tentative deal late Monday that would avert another government shutdown at the end of the week while denying President Trump much of the money he’s sought to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Hurdles remained, and Trump’s ultimate backing was in doubt after quick opposition emerged from conservatives. But lawmakers on both sides said they were motivated to find agreement by the looming specter of another government shutdown Friday night, three weeks after the last one ended.
The deal includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fences along the border, compared with $5.7 billion Trump had sought for more than 200 miles of walls. The deal omits a strict new cap Democrats had sought on immigrants detained within the United States — as opposed to at the border. At the same time, it limits overall levels of detention beds maintained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, although GOP aides said ICE would have enough money and flexibility to maintain its current detention levels and add more when needed.
National Enquirer update
In the ongoing saga between Amazon head Jeff Bezos and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, the source of the leak which exposed an extramarital affair by Bezos has reportedly pinpointed the mistress’ brother; however, it has not been revealed how he might have obtained Bezos’ private communications and photos. That Saudi Arabia is still under suspicion as the hacker, and that Pecker is now being investigated for breaking the conditions of his non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in the criminal case against Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, makes this story much more than a salacious sex scandal; for it involves alleged crimes of bribery and extortion as well as political intrigue between a national news organization, a tabloid magazine, a foreign country, the state-sponsored assassination of a journalist (Jamal Khashoggi) and possibly the President of the United States.
The brother of Lauren Sanchez, the former Los Angeles news anchor who has a romantic relationship with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, reportedly leaked the couple’s embarrassing texts and photos to the National Enquirer.
Multiple persons inside American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, said Michael Sanchez was the source of the texts, The Daily Beast reported. Another person who has “been in extensive communication” with AMI execs also confirmed that Sanchez had supplied the texts to the Enquirer, the news site reported.
The battle between Bezos and the National Enquirer began after the Enquirer’s publication last month of racy text messages shared between the Amazon CEO and Sanchez. That came just days after Bezos posted a note on Twitter that he and MacKenzie Bezos, his wife of 25 years, were divorcing.
In a post published Thursday on Medium, Bezos alleged the Enquirer and AMI threatened to post embarrassing photos if Bezos did not publicly state that the publication’s coverage of their relationship was not politically motivated. AMI CEO David Pecker has supported President Trump, who has repeatedly criticized Bezos, owner of The Washington Post.
Pecker and AMI reached a non-prosecution agreement in December with him admitting to federal prosecutors he paid an unnamed former Playboy model $150,000 to suppress her story about an alleged affair with Trump during the 2016 campaign.
In his Medium post, Bezos also accused Pecker and AMI of having ties to the Saudi Arabian government, potentially through a pro-Saudi publication released in 2018.
The company that publishes the National Enquirer was concerned enough that it may have acted as an agent of Saudi Arabia that it asked the Justice Department last year whether it needed to register as a foreign lobbyist, a person with knowledge of Saudi Arabia’s lobbying efforts in the U.S. confirms to NBC News.
Communications between the Justice Department and American Media Inc. offer the fullest picture to date of interactions between the tabloid publisher and the Saudis ahead of AMI’s release last year of a fawning magazine about Saudi Arabia’s young leader. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has accused AMI of blackmailing him with intimate photos, has questioned whether Saudi Arabia may have been involved, a claim the kingdom denies.
A July 2018 letter from Justice Department lawyers to AMI and posted to a government website shows that the Justice Department’s National Security Division ultimately told the publisher that, based on AMI’s own statements, it did not need to register. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people or entities that work to advance a foreign country’s political interests in the U.S. must disclose their specific activities and register as foreign lobbyists.
“Taking into account the facts stated in your submission, and limiting our evaluation only to the facts stated in your submission, we find that there is no agency relationship between [U.S. corporation] and any foreign principal,” the Justice Department wrote, referring to AMI.
Speaking of Michael Cohen, he has postponed today’s testimony before the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee which, by the way, announced that it could not find any “direct evidence” of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. Obviously, plenty of circumstantial evidence does exist, and any direct evidence which Special Counsel Robert Mueller might possess wouldn’t be shared with the committee while its investigation is still in progress.
Related story from: Poll: More Americans have confidence in Mueller than Trump
More Americans are confident in facts presented by special counsel Robert Mueller than President Donald Trump, according to a recent poll by The Washington Post and George Mason University’s Schar School.
The poll, conducted Feb. 6-10, showed 56 percent of respondents were more inclined to accept Mueller’s version of the facts, as opposed to 33 percent who put more trust in Trump’s accounts. Respondents were randomly selected and identified as 32 percent Democrat, 39 percent independent and 26 percent Republican.
Mueller is currently leading an investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian agents interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has repeatedly denounced Mueller’s efforts as a “witch hunt,” obliquely saying during his State of the Union address that “ridiculous partisan investigations” were holding back American progress.
GOP defies Utah voters
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday signed legislation adopting a limited expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, defying voters who in November approved the full Obamacare program through the ballot.
Under the new GOP-written plan, Utah will ask the Trump administration for permission to implement unprecedented restrictions on the health coverage program for the poor, while insuring about 60,000 fewer people than the Obamacare expansion would have and initially costing the state tens of millions of dollars more.
Australia’s conservative government rebuffed
The Australian government has lost control of the parliament for the first time in almost a century, losing a major vote on a bill to help evacuate critically ill refugees from offshore processing centers.
The ruling Liberal National coalition was firmly opposed to the legislation, which it said would endanger national security, but it passed Australia’s lower house by a vote of 75 to 74.
The opposition Labor Party and a group of independent MPs supported the legislation.
It is the first time an Australian government has lost a substantive vote in the House of Representatives since 1929, according to the parliament’s website.