TOWOIT #42

February 27, 2017…. Day 39

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Radio alarm: Someone from the National Review (a conservative publication) talking about the difference between liberal media bias (which he could happily rail on about at length, he said), and this ginned up “fake news” thing Donald Trump has been going on about lately. I can see why conservatives like to go on NPR even though it is perceived as leaning left. They’re almost always allowed to make their point peacefully and at length. Now that I’ve been watching more cable news programming on TV, I realize how interrupty it gets.

“Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

— Donald Trump, today

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A dystopian-sounding tweet after a butane tanker crashed into two other cars and tipped over on the freeway just south of downtown Seattle today.

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I am here for all things C-Span. This morning, C-Span’s Washington Journal featured Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters. They were talking about the press’s relationship with the administration. The program basically consisted of real Americans calling in and saying enjoyably blunt and folksy and sometimes angry things, and then the host (John McArdle) and Jeff Mason responding by saying vague, milquetoasty things. BUT, if you saw the program without sound… all you would know is it was two very handsome bald men. I thought they had some chemistry too.

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John McArdle and Jeff Mason. Come on you two…. are you TRYING to get America to ship you?

These were the best screen shots I could get without falling completely down the rabbit hole. And obviously I don’t know if they are gay, I just find them really quite handsome and fun to talk about.

“The President always gets something.”

–Sean Spicer, with a little smirk on his face

The hand that rocks the cradle: A coworker told me rather gravely that since the election, his wife had swung from “hardcore Republican” to “totally liberal, like you.” He said all the moms in the neighborhood had. I asked if it was just the moms. He said, “well, you know–the guys are pulled a little to the center from the right, but the women are just waaaaayyy out to the left now.” 

George Bush went on the record today saying he believes that an independent press is important to curb “the addictive power of the presidency.” He also said we should have a full investigation into the Russia thing.

The budget talk today has been dark, dark, dark. 

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In the White House press briefing today, Sean Spicer stressed that recent anti-Semitism has been totally unacceptable. He also said, “Early reports out of Kansas are equally disturbing” (meaning the Indian-American men who were shot in a bar). People are still roundly criticizing the “day late and a dollar short” aspect of their recent words, but to me the administration seems like a robot learning to act human. No less chilling, but evolving in tone.

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From Reuters: The U.S. State Department on Monday issued and then deleted a congratulatory message for an Oscar win by a prominent Iranian director who criticized President Donald Trump’s travel ban as “inhumane.”

Breitbart: President Donald J. Trump told Breitbart News in an exclusive Oval Office interview that the “intent” of the New York Times in its negative coverage of him is “so evil and so bad” and that “they write lies.”

“So you’re confident in your assertion that there is no evidence that these three people have talked to Russian agents, even though you have not done your own investigation into it?”

–Reporter to Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee

Reporters’ questions today, to Representative Devin Nunes (Russia investigation), OMB Director Mick Mulvaney (budget stuff) and Sean Spicer (yikes):

Questions to Rep. Devin Nunes:

  • Mr. Nunes, can you say categorically that there were no contacts whatsoever between any officials affiliated with the Russian government and the Trump campaign?
  • And also, why would you agree to talk to reporters at the behest of the White House, knowing that you’re still looking into this matter?
  • Is it compromising in anyway?
  • What’s your response to that?
  • Well, you’re investigating this matter, and the White House is urging you to knock down these stories…
  • Is there anything you have learned in the course of this investigation that really conflicts with public reporting?
  • How big is the circle of individuals who have access to those transcripts?
  • Just to follow up, because you said no contacts with the Russian government–as I’m sure you’re aware, there are many Russian businessmen, oligarchs, etc., that report back to the Kremlin–that’s part of their circle of intelligence gathering–have you eliminated that possibility? That the people that Trump advisors were speaking with have connections to the Russian government, even if they aren’t officially working for the government?
  • You’re still investigating, then, communications between Trump advisors and Russians?
  • Are you saying then that there were Clinton advisors speaking to Russians?
  • And by “Americans,” do you mean Michael Flynn?
  • Are you referring obliquely to Flynn?
  • And do you have all the evidence at this point that you expect to receive, or would you say that you’re still in the preliminary stage of receiving evidence?
  • I just want to be really clear here — so the FBI specifically told you that they have found no contact between the Trump administration and Russian officials?
  • But you’re still looking into it?
  • But have you asked for it?
  • When you say there is no contact with Russians, do you mean direct contacts, for instance Mr. Manafort had contact with Ukrainians who worked closely with the Russian government.
  • You just said that “many people” have told you this. Can you be more specific?
  • If you’ve been told that there’s nothing there, why are you specifically investigating whether there are any links?
  • Just to follow up, have you seen the transcripts of Mike Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian ambassador?
  • When the White House asked you about talking to this reporter, did you know they had also asked Senator Burr to do the same thing, and did it feel to you like a coordinated effort to push back?
  • Are you saying the FBI has not supplied you with that evidence, or that the FBI has told you there is no evidence?
  • But they have not told you that that evidence does not exist? There’s a difference there.
  • Why not just name a special prosecutor to take away the notion that this could be tainted by politics somehow?
  • You had written a letter to the FBI about the leaks. Can you give us an update on what you hope to get out of that?
  • Is your committee committing resources to investigating these leaks?
  • (inaudible) the last administration unmasked Flynn, and was it appropriate?
  • When the intelligence community begins presenting evidence to you, will that evidence be turned over to your committee or will it continue to be housed at the agencies?
  • Have you seen any evidence at all about anyone in the White House instructing Mr. Flynn to discuss issues with the Russian ambassador?
  • But did President-elect Trump at the time tell Flynn to talk about sanctions?
  • Are you going to release the scope of investigation? And do you plan to coordinate with the Senate side?
  • But are you going to coordinate interviews with the Senate so you don’t muck up the record?
  • Is there a difference between the White House asking you to call a reporter and asking the FBI to knock down a particular story?
  • Can you give an idea of how far along you are in starting this investigation? How many people are involved?
  • You say there’s no evidence right now, but you also say that you’re  just in the scope-gathering stage of the investigation–
  • But you expect to obtain more evidence as the weeks go by?
  • How extensive was the Obama administration’s wire-tapping of the transition team? Was it just Flynn? [why doesn’t this guy know that it wasn’t Flynn who was surveilled?]
  • If there was ongoing contact between the Russians and the Trump campaign, wouldn’t other names pop up inadvertently?
  • If you call it a “major crime” for leakers to discuss classified information relating to these communications, why is it not inappropriate for the White House and you and Senator Burr to call reporters and give your own interpretation of a continuing investigation that contains classified information? Isn’t that a counter leak?
  • But the message coming from you was “we’ve looked at the information and nothing was there” and that was based on classified information.
  • Jim Comey, the FBI director was on the Senate side just before the recess. Has he appeared before your committee? Have you asked for him to come?
  • Do you disagree with calls for the attorney general to recuse himself?
  • Because of his relationship with the Trump campaign, they’re calling for him to —
  • Speaking of Reince Priebus, do you have any concerns with him talking to the FBI to bat down stories about this–
  • Based on your briefings, has anything in the Trump dossier been verified?
  • Going back to what the WH was telling you earlier, you said it was not about knocking down the New York Times report. So what DID they —
  • What was the guidance from the White House? Did they give you any guidance?
  • On the Flynn phone call, I’m not sure I fully understand the distinction you made between the Ukraine sanctions and the sanction President Obama imposed. If General Flynn telegraphed to the Russian ambassador that those sanctions would be eased or lifted, would that not be concerning?
  • But you realize there were sanctions imposed–
  • Lawyers call them that–
  • That’s what they’re called–
  • That’s what they were called by the White House–
  • But the question was, did General Flynn in any way suggest to the Russian ambassador that Vladimir Putin didn’t have to worry about these sanctions, because President Trump would ease or lift them?
  • Regardless of that, that does sound like he was telling the Russian ambassador, “don’t worry about what the President just announced, we’re gonna do something different”
  • Isn’t that one U.S. administration negotiating–
  • I didn’t mention the Logan Act, I just said if one U.S. administration–
  • Are you planning to subpoena Trump’s tax returns–
  • When answering the question about if Jeff Sessions would recuse himself, you said “I don’t know why he would” as if there were no investigation — is the FBI not investigating leaks?
  • Your Democratic colleagues are not here at this briefing today, we learned they were not aware of this happening. Why should Americans be confident that this investigation is in fact bipartisan?
  • North Korea has been in the news a lot this week, what’s your assessment of how    large a threat North Korea is to national security, and how it compares to Russia.
  • And how does it compare to Russia?
  • Has the Russian cyberactivity continued since the election, and if so — what’s the intensity?
  • At this point do you think that you now know as much as the FBI knows as far as Trump and Russian intelligence?
  • You said this was an expansion of a year-long investigation? How would you characterize the expansion?
  • What was the scope of the previous expansion?
  • Is this early days and evidence might come in?
  • You said that you didn’t want the initial investigation to go public, how public will the end result be?
  • So how much of that aspect of it — the distrust of the Russian government — have you shared with the President?
  • I’m confused. So, once again, you say the the FBI or the intelligence community have give you the “high points” of the evidence. But you’re also saying you’re at the beginning stages at the expansion of this investigation. What else is there to do?
  • So you’re confident in your assertion that there is no evidence that these three people have not talked to Russian agents, even though you have not done your own investigation into it?
  • Are you any closer to understanding why the President praises Vladimir Putin?

White House Press Briefing without Sean Spicer (or Mick Mulvaney):

  • In order to get to your top line on the rest of the discretionary budget, if you’re not gonna touch veteran’s benefits, you need to slice about 12% off of the rest of government. Can you do that without affecting the services that government provides?
  • But we’re not talking about two or three percent. We’re talking about double digits here. That’s A LOT.
  • One quick follow on, on foreign aid — Foreign aid accounts for less than one percent of overall spending, and i just spoke with an analyst who said even if you zero that out it wouldn’t pay for one year of the budget increases, so how do you square that. And the other question is, why not tackle entitlements when Republicans have said for years that they need to be tackled?
  • Why not address entitlements, which are the biggest driver of spending?
  • So down the line, so could we see some type of attempt to deal with entitlements?
  • On rebuilding the military, can you go into the breakdown on that?
  • You’re gonna increase the military budget, but are you going to at least the people in the defense department to look at their budgets and see where can we at least cut?
  • Does this account for spending for the president’s wall?

[end Mick, beginning Sean]

  • There’s a report this morning that your reached out directly to the CIA director, did you directly contact Director Pompeo and ask him to knock down the New York Times story?
  • You don’t think there’s something strange about the White House Press Secretary getting the CIA director on the phone to knock down a newspaper story about an investigation?
  • Should there be a special prosecutor? Darrell Issa has called for a special prosecutor.
  • To look into the whole Russia connection.  I mean, Sessions was PART of the campaign.
  • Russian interference.
  • Can you now categorically deny that there were no contacts between Russians and the campaign? Thats what the investigation would look at.
  • Just to be clear. Did you personally reach out to Pompeo?
  • I’m sure people will come back to this, but I have a budget question. During the campaign, the President said he was not going to touch medicare and social security. It sounded like the OMB Director was leaving it open. What is the state of that promise?
  • Ok. What is the state of the promise? In other words, what is the promise?
  • But what is the promise? Those near retirement? Everyone?
  • An executive order on religious freedom had previously been in the works and if it does will it extend beyond the Johnson Amendment?
  • The issue of tax reform. How close is the administration to a border adjustment tax and is there concern that there won’t be enough Republican support for that?
  • On the Isis strategy, can you talk about the timeline, what happens. And the report that there’s $54 billion more in the defense budget, does that cover the ISIS plan?
  • First, I read your statement to Gov. Malloy of CT, and he responded “Sean didn’t read a thing that I said.” He said in CT they were already working to get criminals out. His objections as that going into warming centers and schools would frighten children. Your response to the governor.
  • For 58 years, when presidents have gone to Rome, they’ve always met the Pope. One year ago this week, Candidate Trump had a disagreement with this Pope and an exchange of words. When he goes to Rome in May, will he meet with the Pope?
  • Two budget questions. Mr. Mulvaney just said that what the administration is putting forward doesn’t add to the current deficit projection, but he didn’t say it would significantly drop from that either — is the administration comfortable putting something forward that might rack up deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars?
  • Let me get a quick reaction to Nancy Pelosi. She said “five weeks into his administration, President Trump has not created a single jobs bill.”
  • Is there concern in the administration that a large-scale military build up will appear threatening to other countries and lead to an arms race build-up?
  • Father of Ryan Owens said to the Miami Herald said that the government owes his son an investigation. Is the President open to an investigation of the raid in Yemen? The father of Ryan Owens said that it was a “stupid mission.” Is there something you would tell him to persuade him otherwise?
  • As you said, an investigation is standard procedure. Is there anything the President is particularly curious about with this mission? Does he believe in the main that it was carried out well?
  • As you’re aware, to undo the defense sequester, you have to get 60 votes in the Senate. Are you confident with these numbers and with the heavy discretionary cuts, you can get the 60 votes to change the law? Because without that change in law, the proposal is just that. It doesn’t become operational.
  • At the press conference Pres. Trump talked about the fix for inner cities. What is the investment in this budget for a fix for inner cities?
  • That’s what he said.
  • But see, he talked about health care, education, and crime. He continues to talk about Chicago and law enforcement. So you don’t have any budgetary numbers?
  • HBCUs. Some of the 80+ presidents of HBCUs are very concerned about what this executive order looks like. What is the commitment that this president is trying to make when it comes to HBCUs–to ensure their future or deal with funding for research projects, what have you, or moving them out of the department of education and under the White House’s purview. What is the commitment?
  • The President has repeatedly called for a major infrastructure plan to the tune of a trillion dollars. Can you explain where that money will come from, how it fits into the budget, and what the timeline is?
  • And so how does he square that with the need to tighten the belt, as he also talked about today?
  • And just related to that, he mentioned today that when he drives through the Lincoln Tunnel he worries about ceiling tiles falling — is that just a fear of his?
  • Because the OMB director was signaling that the complete budget would be ready in early May, and the Pres. said today he has discovered how complicated health care repeal and replace has become, can you describe when it is that the President would present his framework for an overhaul of healthcare? Would it be included in the budget so we would see it before May?
  • Because not every ingredient of the ACA can be handled in reconciliation–so we will see some of those?
  • Is the President going to address the American public in his speech tomorrow night to specifically describe and defend the immigration ban? And when will we see the revised executive order?
  • Where’s the next order?
  • An internal report in 2015 identified wasteful spending in the pentagon, so how can you justify adding $54 billion?
  • The ninth circuit court of appeals has just denied your request to suspend proceedings regarding the initial executive order. So do you plan to continue defending your first executive order in court? And what’s the purpose of doing that as opposed to rescinding and issuing another one?
  • I mean the rescinding it question still stands–
  • It does–
  • For what reason?
  • But the point that some of us are trying to understand is, if you have a new executive order that addresses the concerns of the many courts who have weighed in, why continue to defend —
  • So you’re trying to prove a point.
  • Is there anything the federal government can do to protect Jewish institutions? Are there any leads on who has been doing this?
  • On the budget, I understand this is a blueprint. Why does he think it’s the right move to break with years of Republican orthodoxy, house speaker Paul Ryan who has said that any sensible long-term budget needs to address entitlements?
  • But if you talk to some economic analysts, they say social security and medicare won’t be there in a certain number of years if we don’t do something–
  • Is there an internal leak inquiry right now?
  • First of all, since Pres. Trump took office, China sent his very first official state councillor to meet the President today. What is the White House’s expectation of the visit. [state councillor is equivalent of NSC director]
  • Just this morning, Pres. Trump mentioned about his pick for ambassador to China. How confident is the President that the Governor will be confirmed in the senate?
  • A lot of people voted for Donald Trump because they agreed with him that U.S. was getting ripped off by China. After the election he made the call to Taiwan, which he was praised for. Then he told Fox news, he didn’t know why we needed to be bound to the One-China policy unless we get something in return. Then he reaffirmed the One-China policy. What did he get in return?
  • But did he get something? Can he assure the American public that he got something?
  • What was it?
  • First of all, I noticed earlier today there were a lot of Republican governors, but not a lot of Democratic governors. Is this administration actively trying to reach across the aisle?
  • I wanna clarify something that happened about Thursday and Friday, as far as the public enemy statement. Are you saying that all of the press is a public enemy? All of the people who didn’t vote for him? Just the people in this room? Or is it just Bill Maher and maybe Warren Beatty? Can you clarify what we’re talking about?
  • As you know, more than 60 Democrats boycotted or skipped the President’s inauguration. What kind of reception do you think the President will get tomorrow night when he addresses the House and the Senate?
  • Couple follow ups on the Isis review. Can you give us a timeline for when specifically President Trump will be involved? What were the other cabinet secretaries involved?
  • Palm Beach County has said it’s costing $60,000 in overtime pay every day that the President is in West Palm Beach. He’s slated to go there again this weekend. Is he taking any steps to ensure that taxpayers aren’t saddled with the tremendous costs of his travel habits, especially given how critical he was of his predecessor?
  • So no briefing tomorrow?
  • Will it be here?
  • Is it going to be a gaggle like last Friday or is it going to be a briefing?
  • Will it be open to everyone this time? (Not answered as he left)

 

 

 

 

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