White House walks back Nikki Haley’s Russia sanctions talk

President Donald Trump walked back U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s assertion on Sunday that the administration would be imminently announcing another round of sanctions against Russia.

A White House official told POLITICO Monday that Trump had not signed off on the sanctions, despite Haley’s Sunday comments on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that they would be announced as soon as Monday.

The administration had reviewed a series of options as part of the response to the chemical attack in Syria earlier this month, including the sanctions on Russian entities, but Trump had not officially approved them, the official said.

"The sanctions were always something that was just under consideration," the official said, adding, "We would not have rolled out sanctions through somebody saying them on a Sunday show."

The official added that Trump had not totally ruled out additional sanctions, but was not prepared to move Continue reading “White House walks back Nikki Haley’s Russia sanctions talk”

Trump strikes Syria

President Donald Trump made good on his threats to attack Syria Friday night, launching what he called "precision strikes" against three chemical weapons sites in a military action certain to enrage Russia and raise new questions about his Middle East strategy.

Trump announced the strikes in a somber televised address less than a week after what U.S. officials call a poison gas attack on civilians conducted by Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s regime.

"These are not the actions of a man," Trump said, referring to Assad. "They are crimes of a monster."

"The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons," Trump said.

Though more substantial than an April 2017 attack Trump ordered on a Syrian airbase—also as punishment for the gassing of civilians—Friday’s action did not open a new phase of American involvement in Syria, where Continue reading “Trump strikes Syria”

Pruitt and allies launch campaign to save his job

EPA chief Scott Pruitt and his allies in the administration are on a mission to save his job — making their case to friendly media outlets while separately accusing a former agency staffer of a cascade of damaging leaks.

It’s all part of a larger campaign from Pruitt and his defenders at the EPA to create a narrative that he’s the victim of Washington forces fighting President Donald Trump’s agenda, even amid growing signs that top White House officials are losing patience with the negative headlines.

The defensive strategy combines exclusive interviews with conservative media, supportive statements in the broader press from trusted allies, and deflection that compares his activities and spending with past EPA administrators’. His staff has also taken steps to keep mainstream reporters away from him — declining or ignoring requests from numerous news organizations, including POLITICO, to attend an event at EPA headquarters Tuesday announcing a Continue reading “Pruitt and allies launch campaign to save his job”

Trump and Kelly phone Pruitt as damaging reports pile up

President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly each phoned Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt over the last 24 hours amid a series of damaging reports that have raised the possibility that Pruitt could be fired.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump spoke with Pruitt Monday night and Kelly talked to him Tuesday morning, but she declined to get into the substance of their conversations.

A White House official told POLITICO on Tuesday that Pruitt’s future in the administration was uncertain, with the EPA chief facing mounting questions about his travel expenses, high security costs and the $50-a-night lodging he secured for several months last year in a lobbyist’s Capitol Hill condo. On Tuesday, the Atlantic reported that Pruitt went around the White House to secure raises for two of his staffers.

POLITICO reported Monday that Kelly has discussed the possibility of Continue reading “Trump and Kelly phone Pruitt as damaging reports pile up”

White House considered firing Pruitt

White House chief of staff John Kelly has considered the firing of embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt in the coming months as part of a wave of ousters of top officials causing headaches for the president, a senior administration official told POLITICO.

Pruitt is still hanging on for now, in part because Kelly wanted to wait for an upcoming EPA inspector general’s report into his expensive travels, the senior official said. Another possible reason: Pruitt is doing the job President Donald Trump wants — including an announcement Monday that the agency will reverse the Obama administration’s attempt to tighten fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

Multiple people close to the president still argue that Pruitt is one of Trump’s most effective Cabinet members in making policy, despite the steady drumbeat of headlines about his lavish travel expenses, high security costs and, most recently, the $50-a-night lodging he Continue reading “White House considered firing Pruitt”

White House appears to shift explanation on whether Shulkin resigned or was fired

The White House appears to be shifting its explanation about the departure of former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, now saying he was offered “the opportunity to resign” after previously saying that he “resigned from his position.”

The changing narrative comes as Shulkin has refused to go quietly, saying he was fired and accusing the White House of politically knifing him.

“I came to Washington with the commitment to make our system work better for veterans. That’s the commitment that I went to work every day. I continue to feel strongly about that. There was no reason why I would resign,” Shulkin said in an interview on CNN on Monday, adding that he was fired as a result of President Donald Trump’s tweet last week announcing his replacement.

The dispute raises the stakes in an obscure, but potentially consequential debate over Trump’s ability to appoint Shulkin’s replacement. Trump bypassed Continue reading “White House appears to shift explanation on whether Shulkin resigned or was fired”

Federal workers spill on life in Trump’s Washington

One Health and Human Services employee swore off online dating after potential suitors repeatedly got upset that he worked for the Trump administration. An Education Department fellow eagerly returned to teaching after listening to Betsy DeVos bash public schools. And one Environmental Protection Agency official said staffers are distraught at having to personally dismantle regulations they spent years crafting.

This is Donald Trump’s government 14 months into his presidency.

Interviews with nearly three dozen current and recently departed workers across the ideological spectrum and across the federal bureaucracy — from the State Department to the Interior Department — show that Trump’s presidency has fundamentally altered the lives of government workers in ways big and small.

Trump’s frequent attacks on the “deep state” have engendered deep distrust between career and political employees, pushing many long-time civil servants toward the exits and raising the possibility of a government-wide brain drain.

And while Continue reading “Federal workers spill on life in Trump’s Washington”

Trump slow-walks effort to replace Hope Hicks

White House communications director Hope Hicks is leaving the West Wing this week, but there’s little urgency to fill the position and prospects have cooled for the rumored contenders.

That means President Donald Trump, who views himself as his own best strategist, is poised to at least temporarily fill the void left by one of his most trusted advisers.

“He’s his own comms director, so there’s not really a need,” said one former administration official.

Trump often has a handpicked successor ready to go weeks or even months before his top aides depart. The president, for instance, long ago lined up candidates to take over the State Department, National Economic Council and the National Security Council.

But that has not been the case with Hicks, who joined Trump’s campaign in 2015 and has served as a dogged defender during his presidency. In the president’s mind, nobody can fill Hicks‘ shoes, Continue reading “Trump slow-walks effort to replace Hope Hicks”

Census to add controversial question on citizenship status

The 2020 U.S. Census will include a controversial question about citizenship status, the Commerce Department announced Monday night, a move that is set to spark outrage from Congressional Democrats, civil rights groups and liberal state attorneys general.

Critics have warned the administration against including the question because they fear it would result in a massive drop in response rates from immigrants who worry the information could be used to deport them.

According to the statement from the Commerce Department, having such data will "permit more effective enforcement" of the Voting Rights Act.

The decision to add the question follows up on a request from the Department of Justice, which ProPublica first reported asked for the inclusion in order to better enforce voting rights law.

Experts worry that a drop in participation would result in an inaccurate count of the full U.S. population, which could have massive ramifications for Continue reading “Census to add controversial question on citizenship status”

Trump aides are ‘at their wits’ end’

Forget senior White House staffers, outside advisers, friends and others “close” to the president. There’s only one person who truly knows what Donald Trump is thinking at any given moment: Donald Trump.

The president’s surprise Friday morning tweet threatening to veto a $1.3 trillion government funding bill — and subsequent reversal in a matter of hours — capped another week in which Trump’s impulsive decisions undermined his exasperated staff.

Tensions were running high in the White House on Friday, especially on the communications team, as staff scrambled to figure out whether the president really intended to veto the bill or was just blustering. There is growing concern in the West Wing that the president’s unpredictable behavior is undercutting staffers’ credibility, according to two people who have spoken to White House officials in recent days.

"The press and comms team, more than others, are at their wits’ end,” a former Continue reading “Trump aides are ‘at their wits’ end’”

Kelly furious over Putin ‘DO NOT CONGRATULATE’ leak

White House chief of staff John Kelly is furious over the leak of briefing materials prepared for President Donald Trump’s call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a White House official told POLITICO on Wednesday, as the West Wing faced another wave of damaging news coverage following the revelation.

Trump was instructed in briefing materials “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” before his call with the recently reelected Putin, but congratulated him anyway, according to the Washington Post’s report on Tuesday night. He also ignored a recommendation to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom, which the Kremlin has been accused of orchestrating, according to the report.

It’s not clear, however, if Trump read the briefing notes instructing him to not congratulate Putin.

Still, White House aides were reeling about the fact that the briefing materials were leaked, and were left wondering who would provide such sensitive information Continue reading “Kelly furious over Putin ‘DO NOT CONGRATULATE’ leak”

White House plans China trade crackdown Thursday

The White House is preparing to announce on Thursday a plan to eventually hit China with tariffs and other trade restrictions, according to two administration officials.

President Donald Trump is slated to outline the results of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s investigation into allegations that China violates U.S. intellectual property rights by forcing American companies to transfer valuable technology to Beijing.

Lighthizer’s office has determined that the United States loses at least $30 billion a year to China’s alleged forced technology transfers. As POLITICO reported last week, the administration is weighing a package of tariffs equivalent to that amount of Chinese imports or more.

Trump’s senior advisers have been debating which remedies to impose in response to the investigation for months, and they have drafted proposals for tariffs, investment restrictions and even visa limits aimed at China.

But it’s unclear whether the president will unveil specific retaliatory measures Continue reading “White House plans China trade crackdown Thursday”

Trump originally planned to put Cohn at CIA, but changed his mind

Former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn reached a tentative agreement with President Donald Trump to become his CIA director — but lost out on the role after Trump abruptly changed his mind.

Cohn, who resigned in early March amid a fight over tariffs, told associates at the time that he would consider rejoining the administration if Trump called and offered him “the right big job,” but he did not elaborate on what that job would be. In fact, according to three people close to the president, Cohn had already talked with Trump about taking the helm of the CIA, a job that suddenly opened up last week when Trump nominated his spy chief, Mike Pompeo, to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

Trump, these people said, informally offered Cohn the position, telling him he thought he’d be a good fit for the job, and Cohn had agreed to Continue reading “Trump originally planned to put Cohn at CIA, but changed his mind”

Trump’s adversaries steal the spotlight after wild 24 hours

Donald Trump’s supporters want to see porn actress Stormy Daniels and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe silenced and sidelined. But after an explosive 24 hours that featured an unprecedented legal threat from a sitting president against Daniels and the public firing of McCabe Friday, Trump’s two troublesome adversaries have a bigger platform than ever before.

By Saturday, Daniels and McCabe were the subject of wall-to-wall cable news coverage — much of it unflattering to the president. And the White House was back on the defensive, facing uncomfortable questions about whether the president’s repeated criticism of McCabe influenced Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to fire him, and whether Trump was directly involved in efforts to silence Daniels.

The sequence of events began late Friday night, when Trump, through his personal lawyers, weighed in for the first time on the legal fight stemming from allegations that he had an affair with Continue reading “Trump’s adversaries steal the spotlight after wild 24 hours”

Trump lawyer calls for end to Mueller investigation

President Donald Trump’s lawyer on Saturday called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shutter special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s influence over the 2016 election.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” John Dowd wrote to the Daily Beast.

He initially told the news outlet that he was speaking in his official capacity as Trump’s lawyer. But he later retracted that statement, saying he was commenting in his personal capacity.

The statement comes just hours after Trump gloated on Twitter Friday night about Attorney General Jeff Session’s decision to fire former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men Continue reading “Trump lawyer calls for end to Mueller investigation”

Trump lawyer calls for end to Mueller investigation

President Donald Trump’s lawyer on Saturday called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shutter special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s influence over the 2016 election.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” John Dowd wrote to the Daily Beast.

He initially told the news outlet that he was speaking in his official capacity as Trump’s lawyer. But he later retracted that statement, saying he was commenting in his personal capacity.

The statement comes just hours after Trump gloated on Twitter Friday night about Attorney General Jeff Session’s decision to fire former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men Continue reading “Trump lawyer calls for end to Mueller investigation”

Trump lawyer calls for end to Mueller investigation

President Donald Trump’s lawyer on Saturday called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shutter special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s influence over the 2016 election.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” John Dowd wrote to the Daily Beast.

He initially told the news outlet that he was speaking in his official capacity as Trump’s lawyer. But he later retracted that statement, saying he was commenting in his personal capacity.

The statement comes just hours after Trump gloated on Twitter Friday night about Attorney General Jeff Session’s decision to fire former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men Continue reading “Trump lawyer calls for end to Mueller investigation”

White House weighs rehiring fired Trump aide McEntee

Senior White House officials are mulling bringing President Donald Trump’s personal aide and body man John McEntee back into the administration just days after he was abruptly escorted out of the West Wing.

White House chief of staff John Kelly told aides during a Friday morning senior staff meeting that there are tentative discussions about finding a role for McEntee in the administration, according to a person familiar with the meeting. The person added that Kelly and others in the West Wing believe McEntee has been unfairly maligned in the media.

A second administration official and a person close to the White House confirmed that aides have talked about rehiring McEntee, though it’s unclear how advanced those discussions are.

White House aides were shocked when McEntee, one of Trump’s most trusted aides, was let go earlier this week. In a sign of his status with the president, he was immediately Continue reading “White House weighs rehiring fired Trump aide McEntee”

Trump flips his own script when it comes to Stormy Daniels

President Donald Trump has adopted a time-honored strategy for coping with allegations that he had an affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels: Ignore them.

The president and his top aides have said nothing publicly about the controversy this week, even as Daniels’ lawyer has engaged in repeated provocations, including revealing that she had an interview with the prime-time news show “60 Minutes”.

Trump hasn’t directly addressed the Daniels saga since the story surfaced earlier this year, instead letting White House staffers and his personal lawyer deny allegations that she was paid hush money before the 2106 election to keep quiet about their affair.

The muted response is unusual for a president who has rarely shied away from a fight. More than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. The president has refuted those allegations — often loudly.

“A woman I don’t know and, to the best of my Continue reading “Trump flips his own script when it comes to Stormy Daniels”

Trump says he helped Republican in Pa. special election

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the final outcome of the Pennsylvania special election would have been much worse for Republicans if he had not campaigned in the district.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know [Republican candidate Rick Saccone] came up a lot in the last few days,” Trump told donors during a closed-door speech in Missouri, according to audio obtained by POLITICO. “We went there. We made a speech. The place was packed and we’ll see what happens.”

Noting that Democrat Conor Lamb, the apparent victor, will only serve in Congress for the rest of this year and that the district map is being redrawn, Trump said “it was a lot of work” for a lawmakers who is only guaranteed to be in office for a short time.

Trump also suggested Lamb won by pandering to GOP voters. “He said very nice things Continue reading “Trump says he helped Republican in Pa. special election”