Headlines: January 14, 2019
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Two bombshell news reports over the weekend has President Donald Trump on the defense once more regarding the Special Counsel’s investigation. The New York Times on Friday revealed that the FBI had begun investigating Trump in early 2017 when he fired then FBI Director James Comey, just weeks into his Presidential tenure. According to the Times, “law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” Additionally, “The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence. The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.”
In an interview on Fox News with Jeanine Pirro on Saturday President Trump railed against the New York Times report that the FBI had opened an investigation into him after he fired James Comey.
And then on Sunday the Washington Post reported that, “President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials.” Trump has essentially prevented detailed record keeping of his face-to-face interactions with Putin over the course of 5 meetings in the first two years of his presidency. High-level cabinet members in his own administration are unable to have access to the details of his interactions with Putin. According to the Post, “Former U.S. officials said that Trump’s behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments.” Trump was also asked to respond to the Post’s report on Fox News over the weekend.
During the same interview Trump railed against his former attorney Michael Cohen who will be testifying to Congress this week. On Sunday three high-ranking Democrats warned President Trump to refrain from commenting on Cohen ahead of his testimony. House oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) wrote a joint letter to Trump saying, “Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress.” The warning letter was highly unusual and strongly worded.
In other news, the partial government shutdown has entered its fourth week, and has broken records for being the longest in US history. Many federal workers continue to work without pay and Trump is increasingly under pressure from conservatives and some members of his own party to declare a national emergency to obtain his border wall funding and end the shutdown. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Fox News, “I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug. See if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers.” Meanwhile, three other Senators, Cory Gardner, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – all Republicans – have said they want the shutdown to end without the funding for a border wall.
A CNN poll has found that a majority of Americans blame Trump for the shutdown more than the Democrats, and a majority oppose funding for the wall – 56% to 39%. Trump’s approval rating has dropped down to 37%. According to CNN, “The increase in disapproval for the President comes primarily among whites without college degrees, 45% of whom approve and 47% disapprove, marking the first time his approval rating with this group has been underwater in CNN polling since February 2018.”
Los Angeles public school teachers will go on strike on Monday – for the first time in 30 years. The nation’s second largest school district has been unable to convince the teachers union that it cannot tap into its record reserve of $1.86 billion in order to reduce class sizes, hire more support staff such as counselors and nurses, and more. About half a million children will be impacted as more than 30,000 teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians and other staff walk off their jobs, tired of two years of failed contract negotiations. Here is Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of the United Teachers of Los Angeles on Sunday announcing the strike. Thousands are expected to gather in the pouring rain on Monday in Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles to launch the teachers strike.
And finally the Wall Street Journal reported that top White House officials asked the Pentagon for options on launching an air strike on Iran last year. The President’s National Security Advisor John Bolton apparently made the request, which shocked Defense department officials. One senior administration official told the Journal, “It definitely rattled people… People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.” According to the paper, “The Pentagon complied with the NSC’s request to develop options for striking Iran, the officials said. But it isn’t clear if the proposals were provided to the White House, whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a U.S. strike against Iran took shape at that time.”