Tag: Donald Trump

Trump Considers Tying Criminal Justice Reforms to Border Wall Funding

The FIRST STEP Act might get shoved into an end-of-year spending bill.

There appears to be enough bipartisan backing to pass some modest reforms to federal prison conditions and mandatory minimums. Even the Fox Broadcasting Company has put out a statement of support for the FIRST STEP Act. Yet the bill is still stuck in the Senate, and the future of federal criminal justice reform legislation remains unsettlingly cloudy.

President Donald Trump formally announced his support for the law in November, and it has already passed the House. But Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) says it might not get a floor vote until January. McConnell is being pressured by fellow conservatives who back the bill and say they know they have the votes to pass it, but a group of Republicans is apparently trying to remove some “safety valve” provisions that permit judges to deviate from mandatory minimum sentence guidelines in some cases. That safety valve has the potential to reduce the sentences of more than 2,000 defendants a year.

Trump reportedly has a plan to get the law passed. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), the president wants to shove the FIRST STEP Act into a year-end must-pass spending bill. Lawmakers just passed a stop-gap bill to continue funding the federal government for a couple more weeks. But that runs out right before Christmas.

Senator Graham tweets:

In other words, Trump is trying to tie the FIRST STEP Act to funding for his border wall. He wants $5 billion to start the wall. Senate Democrats have said that they’re willing to fund $1.6 billion for more border security but that they’re not going to give Trump all the money he wants. And obviously, once the Democrats take over the House they’re not going to give him the funds.

Republican Senators have introduced legislation to give Trump $25 billion for the wall, but that bill has no chance of going anywhere at all.

Trump’s tactic here is not terribly unusual. Year-end “must pass” omnibus spending bills have become a depository for unrelated legislation when congressional leaders are struggling to pull together votes. Some of these bills wouldn’t survive public scrutiny. Back in 2016, Reason.com explored several of the unrelated pieces of legislation that got dropped into a $1.1 trillion spending bill passed before the end of 2015.

So the big question here is whether the two demands can be separated. Could the FIRST STEP Act get tossed in the spending bill even if Democrats refuse any consideration of more border wall spending? And will Trump still support it in that case? If he’s stubborn, could that actually cause politically ambitious Democratic senators like Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to turn against the FIRST STEP Act so they can use it as a bludgeon against Trump?

UPDATE: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who had been opposing the FIRST STEP Act (after previously supporting it) says he’s back on board after an amendment was added to “exclude violent offenders from being released early.”

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Republicans and Democrats Find Common Ground: Sessions Resigns

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has resigned as attorney general effective immediately after being asked to do so by President Trump, ABC News has reported.

“At your request, I am submitting my resignation,” Sessions wrote in an undated letter to the president.

“Since the day I was honored to be sworn in as Attorney General of the United States, I came to work at the Department of Jusitce every day determined to do my duty and serve my country,” Sessions wrote. “I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice.”

Trump tweeted that Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, will serve as acting attorney general.

On Twitter, Trump thanked Sessions for his service and announced that Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, will serve as acting attorney general and that a permanent replacement will take place at a later date.

Previously, Trump would not say whether Sessions — who he has repeatedly criticized throughout his tenure — would be safe in his job after the midterm elections.

“I just would love to have him do a great job,” Trump told Bloomberg News on Aug. 30.

“I’d love to have him look at the other side,” Trump added, underscoring his demand for Sessions to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton and the origins of the Russia investigation.

Earlier in August, in an interview with Fox News, Trump lashed out at Sessions, saying he failed to take control of the Department of Justice.

In his most forceful public rebuke to date, Sessions hit back shortly after, saying he “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump confidante, predicted Sessions would be out of his job in the near future, but insisted Trump should wait until after November’s midterm elections.

“The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham said at the time. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.”

Tensions developed between Trump and Sessions in March 2017, when Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein took over.

Rosenstein soon appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia probe, angering the president.

Trump repeatedly called on Sessions to end the probe on Twitter and TV interviews.

“…This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!” Trump tweeted on August 1st.

Sessions was the first sitting U.S. senator to endorse then-candidate Trump.

Sessions parlayed that support to become attorney general, a role he held at the state level in Alabama.

The president’s priorities and Sessions’ mirrored each other. Both tough on immigration, the opioid crisis, and crime, both men have a pro-law enforcement perspective.

Aside from the president lashing out at him, Sessions’ tenure as attorney general has largely been focused on carrying out the policies of the administration and most notably, the zero-tolerance immigration policy which lead to the separation of families on the U.S.-Mexico border.

When Attorney General Sessions announced the policy in May, he warned those coming to the country illegally that the administration would prosecute them.

“I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” he said at an event in San Diego.

The policy was criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Sessions also sent more judges and prosecutors to the southern border to help with processing illegal border crossers.

The attorney general also focused on pro-law enforcement priorities and often echoed the president in touting law enforcement’s objectives.

“Let me say this loud and clear: as long as I am the Attorney General of the United States, the Department of Justice will have the back of all honest and honorable law enforcement officers,” Sessions said at the 25th Annual Top Cops Awards in May.

Sessions was also a regular steward for rigorous opioid prosecution. Just recently, in Cleveland, Sessions announced four opioid cases, each targeting the selling and distribution of opioids, something that he stressed was important to the president.

It has been commented upon by many that Sessions’ actions as attorney general in regards to treatment of federal sentence reform legislation and his draconian approach to treatment of immigrants already within America’s borders may have cost the Republican party control of the House in yesterday’s elections.

Election Results: Democrats Gain Control of House But Republicans Cling to Senate

After two years of Republicans being in complete control, Congress is once again split in the Capitol.

After two years of Republicans being in complete control, Congress is once again split in the Capitol.

Democrats will take back control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, but Republicans held their Senate majority as voters rendered a mixed verdict in the first nationwide election of Donald Trump’s turbulent presidency.

Poll results are still coming in but the Democrats picked up more than the 27 seats they would need to take control of the House of Representatives.

It was a historic night for women in the House of Representatives, as more than 100 won their races. The previous record was 84.

It was also a historic night for first-time female candidates, with several political newbies flipping GOP-held congressional seats, according to ABC News’ analysis.

Perhaps the biggest new political star among them is New York’s 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal firebrand from the Bronx. Also among them are the first two Native American women elected to the House – Democrats Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico – and the first two Muslim-American women, Rhasida Tlaib of Michigan and Minnesota’s Ilhan Oman.

Despite major victories in the House, other results allowed room for the GOP to also call the night a success. The results highlighted an extraordinary realignment of U.S. voters by race, sex, and education. Republicans maintained their strength in conservative, rural states, while Democrats made inroads across America’s suburbs.

President Slams Democratic Party For Casting Stones In Glass House

President Trump turned the tables on Democrat credibility amid the Supreme Court showdown.

At last week’s fiery hearing probing sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal lectured the Supreme Court nominee on the implications of telling even a single lie.

“Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus,” Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Kavanaugh, reciting a Latin phrase. “It means ‘False in one thing, false in everything.’”

But Blumenthal’s own difficult history with the truth is coming back to haunt him amid the Kavanaugh fight, with President Trump and Republican senators slamming him for inflating his military service during the Vietnam War.

In the 2000s, when Blumenthal served as Connecticut’s attorney general, he began to claim that he served in the Vietnam War. Blumenthal, repeatedly, has touted his experience during the war.

“When we returned [from Vietnam], we saw nothing like this,” Blumenthal reportedly said in 2003.

“We have learned something important since the days I served in Vietnam,” The New York Times quoted Blumenthal as saying in 2008.

“I served during the Vietnam era,” Blumenthal reportedly said at a Vietnam War memorial in 2008. “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even the physical abuse.”

But Blumenthal didn’t serve in Vietnam. He reportedly obtained at least five military deferments between 1965 and 1970. He eventually served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, but did not deploy to Vietnam.

In the wake of Blumenthal questioning Kavanaugh — who faces multiple sexual assault or misconduct allegations, which he denies — Trump and fellow Republicans have not let him forget his own past statements.

“You have the great Vietnam War hero—who didn’t go to Vietnam—[Sen. Richard] Blumenthal,” Trump said at a rally Monday evening. “How about Blumenthal? We call him ‘Da Nang Blumenthal.”

Blumenthal, last week, said Trump’s initial reluctance to demand a FBI supplemental background probe of Kavanaugh was “tantamount to a cover-up.” Blumenthal hit Kavanaugh during the hearing on questions related to his high school yearbook entries, calendar entries and drinking habits.

“For 15 years as the attorney general of Connecticut, he went around telling war stories,” Trump said. “’People dying left and right—but my platoon marched forward!’ He was never in Vietnam. It was a lie. And then he’s up there saying, ‘We want the truth from Judge Kavanaugh.’ And you’re getting the truth from Judge Kavanaugh.”

During the Kavanaugh hearing, Blumenthal said “the core of why we are here today really is credibility.”

Kavanaugh is accused of sexually assaulting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford while at a high school party 36 years ago. Ford, who also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, alleged Kavanaugh pinned her down and tried to remove her clothes. Her attorney says Ford believes this to have been an “attempted rape.”

Kavanaugh also faces allegations from Deborah Ramirez, who claims that while freshmen at Yale University, the Supreme Court nominee exposed himself to her at a dorm party in the 1980s; and Julie Swetnick, who is represented by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti and claims that Kavanaugh  was involved in or present at “gang” and “train” rapes in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the allegations.

Amid the hearing, though, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, hit Blumenthal for his credibility.

“.@SenBlumenthal lied for years about serving in Vietnam, which is all you need to know about his courage & honesty. Maybe he should reconsider before questioning Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility,” Cotton tweeted.

Blumenthal’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

In 2010, Blumenthal admitted to giving misleading statements about his service.

“On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service,” Blumenthal, as quoted by The New York Times, said, adding that he served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. “And I regret that and I take full responsibility. But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.”

Trump Attacks US ‘foolishness’ Heading Into Putin Powwow

President Donald Trump headed into his first summit with Vladimir Putin on Monday determined to forge a personal bond with the Kremlin chief and adamant that only “stupidity” by prior administrations had brought US-Russian ties to their present low.

Hours before the Helsinki summit, Trump was asked if he would press Putin over Russia’s alleged manipulation of the 2016 election that brought the mercurial property tycoon to power. He said only: “We’ll do just fine.”

Democrats had called for the summit’s cancellation after new revelations surrounding the election meddling. But Trump has insisted it is “a good thing to meet”, as he attempts to replicate with Putin the sort of personal rapport he proclaims with the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.

If his instinct proves right and the pair find common ground, then the summit may take the heat out of some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts including Syria.

But the Washington-Moscow rivalry has rarely been more bitter, and there are many points of friction that could yet spoil Trump’s hoped-for friendship.

Trump began the day’s talks by meeting Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, who has loaned his harbour-front palace for the occasion. But first he took a moment to fire a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the investigation into Russian election meddling.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.

After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of cosying up to Putin while undermining the alliance.

But, over breakfast with Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.

With Washington and Moscow at loggerheads over Ukraine, Iran and trade tariffs as well as Syria, even Trump has cautioned that he is not approaching the Putin summit “with high expectations”.

The 72-year-old brash billionaire has been president for 18 months, while the former KGB officer, 65, has run Russia for the past 18 years.

In an interview with CBS News that aired before he touched down in Helsinki, Trump admitted that Russia remains a foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic and diplomatic rivals.

The Kremlin has also played down hopes that the odd couple will emerge from their first formal one-on-one summit with a breakthrough.

Putin, who played host at the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday and was due to arrive in Finland later Monday, has remained terse in the run-up to the summit.

On Friday his adviser Yuri Ushakov also played down expectations, saying: “The state of bilateral relations is very bad…. We have to start to set them right.”

– Giving up ground? –

Indeed, after the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of the Helsinki meeting.

Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on various countries, including Russia.

European Union President Donald Tusk called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to cool the global trade tensions, warning that they could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos”.

For their part, protesters have been on the streets of Helsinki to denounce the policies of both Trump and Putin. Greenpeace draped a giant banner down a church tower urging: “Warm our hearts not our planet.”

Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve agent poisoning of four people in the city of Salisbury.

One of the victims, Dawn Sturgess, has died and her 19-year-old son Ewan Hope told the Sunday Mirror newspaper: “We need to get justice for my mum.”

– Extradition demand? –

Many fear that Trump — in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite US political opposition — may give up too much ground.

Ahead of the talks, Trump has refused to personally commit to the US refusal to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climb-down linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.

If Washington were to de facto accept Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of US policy and send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.

And there will be outrage at home if Trump does not confront Putin over the election scandal.

But the US leader would not say whether he would demand the extradition of 12 Russian intelligence officers who were indicted last week by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller, for allegedly hacking Trump rival Hillary Clinton’s computer server.