TOWOIT #63

March 20, 2017… Day #6o

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I think I will always be obsessed with government now, for the rest of my life, no matter what happens. They just cannot be trusted to hum along without our vigilance.

“What was Hillary Clinton’s role?”

—-Sean Spicer, spinning like a top after the FBI said it had been investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia since last July

Very important C-span stuff that all happened today:

  • At the House: Comey & Rogers go to public hearings about the Russia investigation
  • At the Senate: Gorsuch begins confirmation hearings for Supreme Court
  • At the White House: Amazing double-speak and doubling-down by Sean Spicer
  • At the State Dept: Press secretary grilled about China, Germany and the Koreas
  • Also at the White House: Trump meets with Iraqi Prime Minister
  • In Louisville, Kentucky: Trump holds yet ANOTHER “Maga Rally”

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Other things in the news:

Reuters and CNBC reported that Rex Tillerson will skip a NATO meeting in early April, and visit Russia in late April.

Retired North Carolina police chief Hassan Aden detained for 90 minutes at the border because of his name (He was actually told that it was because of his name).

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Ivanka Trump will get a West Wing office, security clearance, and a special communications device (??)

File this tragic injustice under Everything Is Political & Our Society is Rotten:

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you can guess the rest of that headline.

A friend snapped this in Seattle on her way to work this morning:

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New York Magazine headline: Trump said to have political aides monitoring the loyalty of cabinet secretaries.

Guardian headline: No African citizens granted visas for African trade summit in California

Women dressed as handmaids from the creepy feminist Margaret Atwood classic filed into the Texas legislature to sit silently in rows in the balcony.

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File under sign of the times, I guess:

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“Being white is a helluva drug”

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Questions reporters asked today (including some eye-opening and/or funny questions at the State Dept. press briefing–guys, we will NEVER live all this down):

Questions asked to Sean Spicer today:

  • Sean, does the President still have complete confidence in FBI Director Comey?
  • You said — wait, hold on —
  • He said that there is no information to support the allegations that the President made against President Obama.
  • So is the President prepared to withdraw that accusation and apologize to the President?
  • The director also said he’s investigating the links and the possibility of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Given that the President just this morning said that the Democrats made up the Russia story, why would the FBI director be investigating a story if it’s simply —
  • No, no, he did.  He said that he’s investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether or not there was any coordination.
  • You’re talking about the Roger Stones and the Carter Pages.
  • Sean, I just had two quick questions on the hearing today. Does the President — now that we know there is an ongoing investigation by the FBI — does the President stand by his comments that he is not aware of any contacts that his campaign associates had with Russia during the election?
  • And then the second one is: Has anyone from the White House —
  • Sure.
  • Right, particularly during the campaign, before the election.
  • He was the chairman of the campaign —
  • Paul Manafort didn’t play a “limited role” —
  • Are you saying then that the President is aware of contacts that Manafort had during the campaign?
  • Understood. And then the second thing is, anyone from the White House, up to the President, been interviewed by the FBI as part of this investigation?
  • You said that — you made a point of saying that Comey refused to say whether he had briefed Obama about the investigation. And also, the President, on his official account, tweeted the same thing today. Comey made a point today of saying, please do not draw any conclusions from my ability to confirm or deny anything, but you are drawing a conclusion from that.
  • (Inaudible.)
  • So you’re looking forward to this investigation —
  • But the reason that I’m asking this question is you said that they are going to come to the same conclusion of everybody else–
  • –so you already know what the conclusion is?
  • Right, but you said it’s fine to look into it, “but they are going to come to the same conclusion of everybody else” — that this collusion doesn’t exist.  So you already know —
  • — investigation is finished —
  • Thanks, Sean. Two quick ones. First — briefing with the President, do you expect the invitation to President Xi to that summit that’s being reported on for next month to be — was that extended on that trip? And do you expect that to be taking place early April, the 6th, 7th and 8th?
  • And back to the previous topic. I was hoping you could square the circle a little bit. You said in the case of the President’s tweets, on this an ongoing investigation, that more things will come out that may justify that. But in the case of the Clinton charges, you listed all the people who have said (inaudible) investigation there. Why, in one case, is that sufficient to say that there is no — you could rule out collusion now, versus in the other case you’d say, oh, there is going to be more information coming out that will prove these tweets?
  • You can say the same thing about tweets.
  • Wiretappings.
  • Thanks, Sean. On a slightly different topic:  In his first eight weeks in office, President Trump has made at least 10 trips to the golf course. He regularly used to criticize President Obama for spending time on the course. How is his golf game any different?
  • I know he did meet with Prime Minister Abe on the course, but we’re not getting a lot of details on other high-level meetings that are taking place.  If he is having these productive meetings on the course, why isn’t the President and his aides being a little more forthcoming about what he’s doing?
  • Does the President believe the FBI will do a fair job of investigating any sort of links to Russia during the election?  And then I have one more for you.
  • In a follow-up, the President tweeted this morning a question about a potential DNC connection to Russia during the election. Is he under the impression that the Clinton campaign had inappropriate contact with Russia during the election?
  • Sean, what constitutes conclusive evidence for the President on this front when you say there’s more to come forward? You’ve got the FBI director saying ‘nothing to back up the President’s tweets about wiretapping,” the former head of the DNI, House Intelligence Committees. I mean, you’ve had a series of officials. So when does this end for the President?  Is it March 28th?
  • I’m sorry — “who it was” ?
  • The wiretapping of the President, that’s the claim.
  • So are you saying the President has evidence that we have yet to see in public?
  • Who does the President trust to provide those answers if not the heads of all those agencies?
  • So Burr and Nunes, he does trust them to provide —
  • The President said he had a lot of meetings over the weekend on North Korea.  Who were those meetings with?  And what was his reaction to North Korea’s test of this new rocket engine?
  • And did Tillerson get a promise from China to weigh in more on North Korea?Given the talk last week about the budget, the priorities for the American tax dollars, the need to cut programs like — or make cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels, is the President going to consider curbing some of his trips to Mar-a-Lago that the GAO estimates could cost $3 million for the President to Palm Beach? Is he planning to cut those back at all given his feelings about the priorities for the Americans’ tax dollars?
  • So to your point that all Presidents travel, no President has traveled so often and so early to their own private residence, so–
  • Not this often and this early–
  • Thank you, Sean. Turning back to the meeting with Chancellor Merkel on Friday, did the President and the Chancellor discuss the economic crisis in Greece at all?  And given the appointment of two officials to the Treasury Department who have been critical of the International Monetary Fund, does the administration see a new or different role for the IMF in resolving the Greek economic crisis?
  • Thank you.  Are you aware of any White House officials that are under investigation by the FBI?
  • Okay. And you mentioned the “hangers-on” in the campaign earlier and Carter Page, but there was also a question about Roger Stone. Was he also in that category? Is he someone that the President is still in frequent contact with? Because he’s often called an informal advisor to the President and a confidante of his.
  • Sean, in the meeting this morning with Gates, did the President’s cut in NIH funding come up? And how does he square meeting with Gates and sort of focusing on this whole need to continue medical research and then at the same time want to cut medical research funding by such a large amount?
  • Sean, I want to go to a couple of topics. One, back on wiretapping, Comey said he had no information supporting that President Obama wiretapped President Trump. So with that, you have Schiff saying things like “there are half-truths coming from this President… no truth… it’s dangerous… we’re alienating our allies… we need to be able to trust our President.” And with that, I’m going to ask you — and I need an answer for this — how do you regain trust, as some view him as the boy who cried wolf?
  • But you have Comey saying —
  • What about Comey saying there is no information? How do you regain the trust at that —
  • Wait, I’m not finished. I asked on the budget. On the budget. How — and this is kind of going back to —
  • Not really; it’s number two, thank you. How is the President contributing to his own role of reducing spending, the deficit and the debt, and his management of spending here at the White House?
  • What about salaries?  We know three people here are not taking salaries. But what about salaries? I’m talking about since he’s making these massive cuts, is the hurt going to come here as well?
  • Three,
  • Three.
  • How many?
  • The President met with Dr. Emanuel, as you pointed out, a short time ago. He’s probably one of the fiercest critics of what the President is trying to do of anybody out there. He’s made it quite clear that he believes that this will take us back to worse than we were before the Affordable Care Act came in. What did the President hope to gain by meeting with Dr. Emanuel today?
  • The Speaker wants to get this in front of the House maybe by Thursday. How much will the plan change between now and then compared to what we saw voted on in the first two committees?
  • And is the President going up to the Hill tomorrow morning?
  • How much does he think is going to change between what we saw voted on by Ways and Means —
  • Thanks, Sean. There are a number of the President’s supporters on the Hill and elsewhere who worry that the President’s refusal to drop the whole wiretapping issue will eclipse some of his other accomplishments. What message does the President have for his supporters who worry that this could be a rabbit hole that might diminish the other things he’s trying to, like healthcare?
  • You dismiss Paul Manafort as sort of an incidental figure in this campaign.  But he worked for the campaign for five months, he was the campaign chairman, he was there for a number of pivotal decisions.  So I’m wondering how is that insignificant, and is the White House aware of any contacts between Paul Manafort and Russian operatives or suspected Russian operatives?  And is that cause for concern?
  • So are you saying it wouldn’t be cause for concern if we found out that Paul Manafort was in contact with Russian operatives or suspected operatives when he was the campaign chairman?
  • And is the White House aware of any contacts between Paul Manafort and Russian operatives or suspected Russian operatives?
  • He joined in March. Sean, you’ve been really critical of reports that are based on sources in the past. Today it seems like the two headlines that we got out of the committee were, one, an official confirmation directly from the FBI and the Justice Department that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into whether associates of the sitting President had contacts with Russia and Russian operatives, and whether there was any coordination between those.  And the second headline being that there is an official — you had questioned in the past, Priebus a couple weeks ago, when there were reports in our paper and others that the FBI director was indicating that there was no support for President’s tweets, you said, well, those are just reports; those are not coming from his mouth — he hasn’t said it.  Okay, we’ve now got it from his mouth directly, in open testimony, that there is no evidence that he has to support the President’s tweets.  I guess the question is, do those two facts, which are now on the record and not attributed to anonymous sourcing — does that cause this White House any concern?  And how come you treat the one — the latter, the one about wiretapping — you want to say that’s just in the early stages, but on the former one, you want to sort of come to the conclusion that the investigation has sort of gotten to the point where you don’t have to worry about that because that’s all said and done and everybody has come to the conclusion on that?  So that seems like you’re treating both of those pieces of news very differently. 
  • I don’t think that.
  • Are you looking for a job?
  • But can I just ask, does the President need to take no for an answer in the same way that you’re urging the news media to on this?
  • Director Comey didn’t focus on wiretapping. He focused on the question of surveillance.
  • And you –
  • The President made the allegation.
  • I’m sorry, I’m curious — the implication of that is what?
  • I understand the question.  But —
  • But you won. You’re here.
  • I’d like to try to clarify two things. In the future, when you, from that podium, read from news articles or cite news articles, can we assume that you’re vouching for the accuracy of those articles?
  • It doesn’t put a White House —
  • The second thing is, when you talked to the British about the GCHQ thing, did you tell them that the White House would not raise that again?  Or can you talk about that conversation?

Questions reporters asked Mark Toner at the State Department:

(the reporters seem like they could run the state department much better than the people actually running it)

  • I just have a technical question about NATO funding, given statements from the White House. How much exactly is Germany in arrears?
  • I’m sorry. It appears there’s at least one other building in town that thinks it *IS* appropriate to speak to that.
  • Two things about that. One, that money, the 2%, what percentage of that goes directly to fund NATO operations?
  • Aside from the contribution each country provides–the maintenance, the upkeep–in Brussels itself–how much does that 2% defense budget goes to NATO.
  • Mark. You used to work at NATO.
  • I’m not trying to argue. I’m trying to ask how much Germany is in arrears.
  • Did they agree to do a 2% funding of their defense budget by 2015.
  • Oh. That’s seven years from now. So even if countries are not yet spending the 2% GDP on their defense this year, in 2017, is it correct to say that they’ve fallen behind on meeting that commitment?
  • I’m not asking you to speak on behalf of Germany. I’m asking you if it’s correct that “Germany owes vast sums of money to the United States” or NATO?
  • Fine. That’s not my question.
  • All right. I’ll drop it there.
  • I’ll follow up on that one. You say you don’t know, but I’ve already spoken to NATO. They’re not in arrears on maintenance of NATO. And as you’ve just noted, there was a 10-year plan to go up to 2% so they haven’t fallen behind on that. The President’s tweet was very clear. He thinks Germany owes some money to somebody. The United States apparently. To whom does Germany owe money?
  • In Beijing, Secretary Tillerson twice used language that was identical to Chinese leaders on the U.S.-China relations tweet. Past U.S. administrations have declined to do that. So what signal is he sending to the Chinese by using that word-for-word identical language?
  • Was he sending a signal? This isn’t just generalized agreement. This was word for word. The Chinese place a high degree of important on the specifics of language. It was identical wording, in phrasing that was very important to them. Was he sending a signal to them, or was this not intentional?
  • Is he aware of the significance? Or is his staff aware of the significance?
  • So, the Chinese media is portraying this visit as a BIG win, and they’re citing the use of that specific language as part of the win. So on the U.S. side, what kind of win was this? Did he get some assurances from China–and especially on the islands?
  • Yeah, I mean would you say that this moved the needle at all in cooperation in pressuring North Korea, and also the island activity.
  • Well, does Tillerson–in his confirmation hearing he had a fairly forceful bit where he said “The island building stops.” Does he still feel the same way about that?
  • To what extent was that discussed on this trip?
  • Follow up on Secretary Tillerson’s language again. When he was in Japan last week, he said Japan was an important alliance to the United States, and South Korea was an important partner. What does he mean by the difference?
  • Was there any reason why Secretary Tillerson did not have dinner with South Korean foreign minister?
  • Was that a diplomatic gesture, or?
  • He had dinner with the foreign minister in Japan. Why was he skipping the dinner in South Korea?
  • Even if he was tired, he had to do. For diplomatic reasons.
  • I just want to come back to Nick’s question about the language. You said that Secretary Tillerson was aware of the language he used and used it deliberately. In the Chinese language, the phrase “mutual respect” means something related to Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan — it indicates their belief that the U.S. should stay out of issues and areas that Beijing believes are its own purview. So I’m wondering, is he signaling some kind of shift on Taiwan, or Tibet, or —
  • Can I follow up with a Korea-related question. The representative of the six-party talks met in China with officials and the Chinese readout said the talks were “extremely frank.” I wonder if you could tell us more about those talks.
  • In addition to not scheduling the dinner in Korea, there was nothing on the schedule about visiting the embassies in the three cities concerned. He wasn’t able to find any time on this trip, and i don’t think he’s ever found any time on his trips, to meet with U.S. diplomatic staff in their missions abroad. Is this something he hopes to do? Does he accept that some diplomats might be disappointed after preparing these trips, that he didn’t meet with them and their families?
  • On the U.S. boycotting U.N. discussion on Israeli human rights abuses, you issued a statement saying the U.S. strongly and unequivocally opposes this human rights council agenda item. Are you saying there are no human rights violations in Israel? What are you so unequivocally opposed to?
  • Well, isn’t there an occupation?
  • Independent of targeting Israel, you do acknowledge there’s an occupation, you do acknowledge there are 700 checkpoints and have been abuses–why are you unequivocally opposed?
  • Independent of the council, you acknowledge there are Israeli human rights abuses toward Palestinians–is that right?
  • Have you ever boycotted the entire discussion and announced before the vote on the agenda item, that you would vote against everything in it?
  • I don’t think you boycotted the vote. You always voted no. But I don’t think you’ve ever boycotted the actual debate about the item before. Are you saying that if you haven’t before, it was because the vote and the debate have been on the same day in the past? But in the past, the U.S. has registered its objections within the meeting itself and not in a statement.
  • The Israelis are prosecuting one Palestinian poet and one Palestinian journalist for posting things on Facebook about the right to resist occupation and calling that incitement to violence–
  • Could you comment on the Israeli raid on Syria near Damascus–
  • If the previous administrations have actually sat in on the debate and participated in the debate, why did this administration make the decision to not even take part? Is it because the previous administration’s objections were never heard by the council or was it some other reason.
  • The Iraqi prime minister is here with a delegation, and their meetings include with Secretary Tillerson. What are the main issues on the agenda with these talks and what are your goals in these discussions?
  • On the political reforms, I assume the building has some ideas on that. Would they include decentralization of authority and power within Iraq?
  • When you say “unified Iraq” is that a message to the Kurds that sometimes, especially in the spring, they are claiming to have a separation or independence from Iraq. Second, Iraqi officials several times asked for reactivating the strategic agreement with the United States — is there willingness on your side to do that?
  • As Iraqi forces have increasingly turned to air strikes and artillery in Mosul, we’ve seen more reports where airstrikes have hit houses not only where ISIL is located but also nearby buildings, killing many civilians. Tell us what you are doing to change the manner in which these air strikes are being carried out?
  • On their website, there haven’t been updates in the last month (DoD website).
  • So yes to the question — the question was does the United States do anything to change the manner in which the bombings are carried out?
  • So in one instance, an airstrike hit a house, killed three people, severely injured a five year old girl, in Mosul, and her father said it took them three days to get them to the hospital. With that, I want to ask, what does the U.S. do to help people exit the fighting and get help.
  • Global ministers conference–can you talk bout why this is happening now, and do you expect a shift from the Obama administration strategy?
  • Where does Mr. Tillerson and the administration feel that the current approach isn’t working?
  • How does this fit into the realignment strategy?
  • An LGBT group has accused the Center for Family and Human Rights of violating federal ethics laws for using their position as part of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women conference to solicit donations. Do you have any comment on that? And who actually made the decision to allow this group, which has been designated a hate group, to be included in this delegation?
  • Couple questions about European relations. UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson will be in the building for the ISIS conference. I understand he will also have a bilateral meeting with Secretary Tillerson. Will he be taking this opportunity to bring up concerns that British intelligence services bugged Trump Tower?
  • I’m asking his spokesman.
  • No, I’m asking if Secretary Tillerson will bring up the concerns.
  • And over the weekend it was reported that Marine Le Pen’s campaign is saying that they met with U.S. officials in recent days. Obviously you don’t have an ambassador to France, or to anywhere, really. But who met with Marine Le Pen? At what level?
  • Oh, how many ambassadors have you appointed to the 76 open positions? Is it more than zero?
  • Isn’t the answer to his question “one” ?
  • Speaking of White House relations, I’m just wondering about this tweet that the President sent out while Tillerson was traveling that China hasn’t done much to help on the North Korea situation. It was related to his statement that North Korea has been a bad actor. Did that affect Tillerson’s communications while he was there? Did he need to explain that tweet or talk about that tweet? Because we’ve seen things like a single tweet affecting his conversations like other places, like Mexico. Was this a similar situation?
  • This is a budget question. I realize that we just had the top-line, the blueprint and that a lot of stuff needs to be gone through in detail. But one thing that we do know in addition to the Israel carve out, is that he climate change funding has been eliminated. The whole initiate itself, but including the green climate fund. When he was asked about this at a WH briefing last week, the OMB director said simply “we’re not gonna pay for that anymore.” You speak for a building that for the last 8 years made climate change a priority, I’m curious whether you think the administration generally and the state department specifically thinks that climate change remains a threat, or is a threat.
  • So this administration agrees with the previous administration that climate change is a threat, but just doesn’t want to pay?
  • At least the previous administration and in particular this building in the previous administration, thought that the Green Climate Fund was of big importance. Do you still think that helping developing nations meet their emission targets as agreed to in Paris is an important goal? Or no, they should pay for it themselves? Or you don’t think it’s a problem?
  • The budget director said, flat out, we’re not gonna pay for that.
  • I think the question he was responding to was the climate initiative more general.
  • What climate program are you keeping? You said you weren’t eliminating all climate initiatives?
  • The budget outline says the entire initiative is going to be removed.Including the Green Climate Fund.
  • So the question is why. Not just that you don’t want to pay for it anymore. But why. If it’s still a problem.
  • Are you still gonna be up here when the full budget comes out?

 

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