Cotton upends prison reform negotiations

Multiple law enforcement groups say Sen. Tom Cotton’s office approached them about opposing a bipartisan prison reform bill — a key legislative priority for President Donald Trump — according to emails reviewed by POLITICO.

Cotton’s office says it made no direct request for groups to oppose the bill. But the outreach from the Arkansas Republican, one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, has left supporters of the prison reform effort suspicious that he is trying to tank the Trump-backed legislation before it reaches the Senate.

Cotton is a stalwart critic of broader criminal justice overhaul proposals but has yet to publicly come out against the narrower, prison-focused approach that Trump is backing.

However, the emails reviewed by POLITICO show at least two leading law enforcement groups discussing a call by Cotton’s office this week for letters of opposition on prison reform ahead of a Friday White House summit on the Continue reading “Cotton upends prison reform negotiations”

Trump taps Wilkie as next Veterans Affairs secretary

President Donald Trump on Friday announced he would tap current acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to be the department’s next permanent leader, joking that he had “ruined the surprise” for the previously unaware Wilkie.

A former aide to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Pentagon official, Wilkie must be confirmed by the Senate before becoming the VA’s permanent leader.

When Trump attacks, Democrats shut their mouths and pray

Jon Tester was on his farm in rural Montana when his phone rang with the news: It was his chief of staff, informing him that the president of the United States had just called for his resignation on Twitter.

The Montana Democrat briefly considered President Donald Trump’s latest attack on him, then fired up his tractor and went on his way. Tester wasn’t going to get into it with Trump over the senator’s role in bringing down the president’s Veterans Affairs nominee, Ronny Jackson.

“It’s spring planting on the farm. Would I have liked to have been out pushing back on some of this? Sure. But I couldn’t, I was farming,” Tester said in an interview. “Truthfully.”

After laying into Tester in late April, Trump is reveling in a new round of attacks on the 10 senators up for reelection in states that the president won in 2016. Always Continue reading “When Trump attacks, Democrats shut their mouths and pray”

Trump gives senators lesson on how to filibuster

President Donald Trump showed a roomful of long-winded senators how to wage a filibuster on Tuesday.

Trump showed up to the Senate for a rare confab with GOP senators and spoke for nearly an hour, essentially uninterrupted. He managed to sidestep all controversy — namely, his aide’s joke last week about John McCain’s vote not being needed on CIA Director Gina Haspel because he’s “dying anyway.”

Instead, Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill was something of a campaign rally, for an audience of 50 VIPs.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he wanted to bring up the White House aide’s disparaging comment about McCain but wasn’t given the opportunity.

“There was no time. There were two questions. He spoke for a long time. All of us had our hands up ready to ask questions but ran out of time,” Flake said.

Trump diverged from talking points distributed to White House Continue reading “Trump gives senators lesson on how to filibuster”

Haspel secures enough Senate support for confirmation as CIA director

Gina Haspel has locked in the necessary support to win confirmation as President Donald Trump’s CIA director, as two critical undecided Democrats — Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — announced Tuesday that they would support her nomination.

Haspel has now won votes from four Democratic senators, allowing her to overcome any potential remaining opposition from either side of the aisle.

Haspel disavows CIA interrogation program in letter to Dem lawmaker

Gina Haspel portrayed the CIA’s post-Sept. 11, 2001, interrogation program and its harsh treatment of detainees as a mistake in a letter to the Senate intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, whose support she is courting ahead of a committee vote set for Wednesday.

Haspel’s Monday letter to Warner amounts to a significant criticism of the George W. Bush-era CIA’s use of tactics subsequently deemed torture, and it goes beyond what she said about the program during her public confirmation hearing last week. During her testimony then, Haspel vowed not to start a similarly harsh interrogation program if confirmed as President Donald Trump’s CIA director, but she stopped short of disavowing a program that she said produced "valuable information."

Haspel stood by her judgment that the CIA interrogation program generated helpful leads from suspected terrorists, but her letter to Warner — who remains publicly undecided on her Continue reading “Haspel disavows CIA interrogation program in letter to Dem lawmaker”

Trump’s CIA nominee heads to Hill as confirmation appears likely

Gina Haspel is headed back to the Senate this week for meetings with still-undecided senators ahead of an expected committee vote Wednesday, as she appears increasingly likely to win confirmation to lead the CIA.

Haspel lined up support over the weekend from a second red-state Democrat facing reelection, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, but she is trying to win public backing from a few more members of the minority party — a necessary step before her camp can breathe easily about confirmation by the full Senate.

One swing vote, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), described herself as still undecided ahead of a Monday afternoon meeting with the spy agency veteran tapped by President Donald Trump to be its next director. Haspel already has won the support of two red-state Democrats, and a third, Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, described his stance as "kind of like right here" while aiming his Continue reading “Trump’s CIA nominee heads to Hill as confirmation appears likely”

McCain unlikely to tank Trump’s CIA pick

When John McCain speaks, his fellow senators listen. Yet his call to reject Gina Haspel may not halt momentum for her bid to lead the CIA.

The Arizona Republican declared that Haspel’s “refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying” as he urged the defeat of President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee. As a decorated veteran who endured brutal interrogations as a prisoner of war, his moral authority has an undeniable hold on still-undecided senators.

But Haspel’s prospects for confirmation had already significantly brightened before McCain spoke out. Just hours earlier, she secured two critical swing votes from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who were pleased with her performance at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing.

In order to bring down her nomination, Haspel critics now have to keep other politically vulnerable red-state Democrats in the “no” camp and convince one more Republican to join Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in Continue reading “McCain unlikely to tank Trump’s CIA pick”

McCain urges Senate to reject Haspel for CIA

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday night came out against Gina Haspel’s bid to become CIA director and urged colleagues to join him, providing possible political cover to other undecided senators in both parties even as her nomination gains momentum.

McCain’s absence from the debate over the Haspel nomination as he receives cancer treatment in Arizona has been keenly felt by her critics at civil and human rights groups, who share his concerns about her role in the George W. Bush administration’s use of brutal interrogation tactics against detainees. Opposition to the nomination from McCain, a decorated veteran and Senate legend who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years and tortured, promises to deeply influence his colleagues.

“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” he said in Continue reading “McCain urges Senate to reject Haspel for CIA”

Haspel faces make-or-break moment in CIA bid

Gina Haspel will face a confirmation hearing Wednesday that is almost certain to tip the scales one way or the other for her embattled bid to lead President Donald Trump’s CIA.

Most Senate Democrats remain resistant to Haspel, even as the three-decade CIA veteran continued to make the rounds in the chamber, but GOP leaders remain confident in her prospects for approval as soon as this month. Still, given the Senate’s razor-thin partisan divide, and the already-declared opposition of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the Democratic support Haspel will need to get confirmed may well depend on her performance before the intelligence panel.

The central concern for Democrats, and some Republicans, is Haspel‘s role in the use of harsh interrogation tactics against detained terrorism suspects during the George W. Bush administration. Haspel plans to address that issue directly before Intelligence Committee senators on Wednesday, while promising that she would not Continue reading “Haspel faces make-or-break moment in CIA bid”

Republicans: Haspel will be confirmed

Senate Republican leaders and White House officials are confident they will be able to confirm Gina Haspel to lead the CIA by the end of the month, barring any explosive revelation at her confirmation hearing this week.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is considered highly likely to support her, said a White House official. The moderate Democrat up for reelection this year posed for a photo alongside Haspel after a private meeting on Monday and said he “appreciated so much, Gina coming and speaking with me.”

And Republicans believe they can get a handful of other Democrats to push Haspel across the finish line to get the 50 votes needed to confirm her.

“Gina Haspel will be voted out of the Intelligence Committee on a bipartisan basis and she will be confirmed by the full Senate on a bipartisan basis. I hope that will happen [before Memorial Day] so Continue reading “Republicans: Haspel will be confirmed”

ACLU demands internal CIA records on Haspel push

The ACLU on Friday filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking internal CIA records on the spy agency’s push to get Gina Haspel confirmed as its new director, the latest sign of civil rights and liberal groups ramping up their bid to defeat Haspel’s nomination.

Haspel’s confirmation prospects remain murky amid bipartisan concerns in the Senate about her involvement in the use of brutal interrogation tactics against detained terrorist suspects during the George W. Bush administration. With that in mind, the ACLU’s request for documents specifically asks the agency to clarify whether Haspel — who now serves as acting CIA director after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s confirmation — has the power to decide on requests to declassify material related to her own background.

The group’s letter to the spy agency alleges a CIA “campaign to influence the legislative branch’s consideration of” Haspel, whose past experience as an agency Continue reading “ACLU demands internal CIA records on Haspel push”

CIA’s latest push for Haspel slammed by left

The CIA on Tuesday released a broad timeline of Gina Haspel’s career, part of an ongoing push to coax her imperiled nomination to lead the spy agency past undecided senators in both parties.

But the new information is only fueling further pushback from liberal and human rights groups outraged over Haspel’s role in the George W. Bush administration’s use of brutal interrogation tactics on detained terrorist suspects.

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ultimately won over five of the 15 Senate Democratic caucus members who had previously backed him as CIA director, but Haspel has no similar base of support — and a more target-rich background for the left.

The latest two-page CIA timeline offers basic job titles for Haspel ahead of her May 9 confirmation hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Its release follows the declassification of a 2011 internal memo that absolved her of impropriety in the Continue reading “CIA’s latest push for Haspel slammed by left”

GOP leaders shun debate on Trump’s war powers

Republican congressional leaders support President Donald Trump’s decision to strike Syria. But they aren’t ready to put the president’s military strategy up for a vote anytime soon, according to senators and aides.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) struck a deal Monday on a new proposal that would grant Trump broad powers to wage war against terrorists but give Congress far more input and checks on the president than it now has.

The bipartisan authorization for the use of military force, which would wipe out current authority for the administration, is likely to be considered by the committee later this month. It’s the closest Congress has come in years to voting on the United States’ ongoing wars in the Middle East.

But the measure is currently not supported by Republican leaders who don’t want to do anything to restrict the president — Continue reading “GOP leaders shun debate on Trump’s war powers”

Pompeo dodges questions on Mueller probe

Mike Pompeo sidestepped a series of questions Thursday about the investigation into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia during a tense confirmation hearing on his bid to become secretary of state.

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee used the hearing to repeatedly press Pompeo, who currently serves as CIA director, to reveal his perspective on the Russia probe.

That effort was largely to no avail — but Pompeo, who currently serves as CIA director, did confirm previous reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has interviewed him. And he said that he would not resign his post if Trump fired Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s work.

"My instincts tell me no — my instincts tell me that my obligation to continue to serve as America’s chief diplomat would be more important" than stepping down in protest against potential Department of Justice firings, Continue reading “Pompeo dodges questions on Mueller probe”

As Trump allies slam Rosenstein, Grassley offers some support

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday expressed confidence in Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general in charge of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but tempered his support with heated criticism for the Department of Justice.

Rosenstein has increasingly come under fire from President Donald Trump’s allies after he reportedly authorized an FBI raid on Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney. He also has been the target of Republican lawmakers’ ire for not more quickly turning over an unredacted version of the two-page document that the FBI used to initiate its investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts.

When asked on Thursday if he was supportive of Rosenstein, Grassley told reporters: "Yeah, I think so. But that doesn’t mean that I think he’s doing the right thing."

The Iowan went on to raise his voice in warning DOJ officials of all stripes to take their responsibilities Continue reading “As Trump allies slam Rosenstein, Grassley offers some support”

RNC pressures red-state Dems to back Pompeo

Mike Pompeo won’t have his Senate confirmation hearing until Thursday, but the Republican National Committee has already launched a pressure campaign aimed at coaxing politically vulnerable red-state Democrats to support his nomination for secretary of state.

Pompeo won votes from 15 Senate Democratic caucus members last year for his nomination to be CIA director, giving the GOP hope of winning at least a handful of Democratic votes for President Donald Trump’s bid to move him to the State Department.

Pompeo will need Democratic buy-in to clear the narrowly divided Senate, given that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) plans to oppose his nomination.

With an eye to swaying swing votes, the RNC plans to dispatch surrogates on TV and radio in red states where incumbent moderate Democrats previously backed Pompeo to lead CIA, according to a copy of its plans shared with POLITICO.

The RNC also plans to run a war Continue reading “RNC pressures red-state Dems to back Pompeo”

RNC pressures red-state Dems to back Pompeo

Mike Pompeo won’t have his Senate confirmation hearing until Thursday, but the Republican National Committee has already launched a pressure campaign aimed at coaxing politically vulnerable red-state Democrats to support his nomination for secretary of state.

Pompeo won votes from 15 Senate Democratic caucus members last year for his nomination to be CIA director, giving the GOP hope of winning at least a handful of Democratic votes for President Donald Trump’s bid to move him to the State Department.

Pompeo will need Democratic buy-in to clear the narrowly divided Senate, given that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) plans to oppose his nomination.

With an eye to swaying swing votes, the RNC plans to dispatch surrogates on TV and radio in red states where incumbent moderate Democrats previously backed Pompeo to lead CIA, according to a copy of its plans shared with POLITICO.

The RNC also plans to run a war Continue reading “RNC pressures red-state Dems to back Pompeo”

Bipartisan Senate bill to protect Mueller set for release Wednesday

A combined version of two bipartisan Senate bills designed to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s job is set to be released Wednesday, marking lawmakers’ latest political warning shot to President Donald Trump as he entertains firing the man investigating him.

The new Senate legislation is the product of months-long talks among Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), who introduced similar versions of Mueller protection bills last year. The success of their bipartisan talks was confirmed by two sources familiar with the discussions.

The senators’ final product would give any special counsel 10 days after a termination to challenge the move in court.

While the agreement among Graham, Tillis, Booker and Coons represents a key step forward in the legislative effort to deter Trump from firing Mueller, the legislation remains short of buy-in from Judiciary Committee Continue reading “Bipartisan Senate bill to protect Mueller set for release Wednesday”

Former CIA chiefs endorse Haspel nomination

Senior intelligence officials who served in Republican and Democratic administrations — including six former CIA directors and three former directors of national intelligence — on Monday endorsed Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the nation’s premier spy agency.

The group of officials lauded Haspel in a letter to the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee as her bid to lead the CIA remains on shaky ground. One GOP senator is already opposed and at least three more are undecided on Haspel, leaving her likely to require Democratic support to win Senate confirmation.

Among the more than 50 signatories to Monday’s letter are John Brennan, Leon Panetta, and Michael Morell, all of whom helmed the CIA during the Obama administration; James Clapper, who served as DNI during the Obama administration; and former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who served as the intelligence panel’s top Democrat.

"Those who have served alongside Ms. Haspel Continue reading “Former CIA chiefs endorse Haspel nomination”