Day: March 2, 2017


Trump, Huntington Ingalls CEO discussed how to build carriers 'smarter' during shipyard visit

President Trump talked on Thursday with Huntington Ingalls Industries CEO Mike Petters about how to “buy these things smarter,” continuing his mission of working with defense industry to bring down prices.

Petters, who met with Trump during the president’s visit to Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, declined to get into details of the discussions between the two men, but said it was a “very exciting day.”

“We talked about how can you buy these things smarter,” Petters told the Washington Examiner. “He was very engaged in meeting sailors and shipbuilders and what the ship can do and how it operates.”

Trump on Thursday addressed sailors and shipyard workers from aboard the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford. Petters said the president also met with those who are building and operating the ship and toured some other spaces on the carrier, which has not yet been commissioned.

The first-in-class, which will cost about $13 billion, has faced a number of setbacks, including engine trouble and delivery delays. Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in October that the Ford program is “a textbook example of how not to build a ship.”

Trump has taken on two other high-cost Pentagon acquisition projects since taking office. He secured a personal promise from Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg that the program to build two new Air Force One planes will cost less than $4 billion. Trump said last month that he saved about $1 billion on the $4 billion program with just an hour of negotiations.

Trump has also met multiple times with Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson about ways to bring down the cost of the F-35 joint strike fighter. When the contract was awarded for the most recent lot of F-35s, Lockheed said in a statement that Trump’s “personal involvement” in the program “accelerated the negotiations and sharpened our focus on driving down the price.”

Military analysts and budget experts have said that Trump took credit for cost savings that were already going to happen.

Melania Trump reads 'Oh, the Places You'll Go' to children in hospital

Also from the Washington Examiner

The first lady — decked in black stilettos and a cobalt-blue sweater — visited the children on Thursday.

03/02/17 5:08 PM

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Sessions: 'I should have slowed down' and mentioned Russia meetings

Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted Thursday that he should have told the Senate Judiciary Committee in January that he met with the Russian ambassador twice last year.

“In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said I did meet with one Russian official a couple of times, and that was the Russian ambassador,” Sessions said Thursday at a press conference.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked Sessions in January what he would do if it became clear that Trump surrogates and Russian intermediaries were exchanging information. Sessions replied, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

Sessions and the Trump administration said his answer was honest and that it was meant to answer the question about campaign contacts. Sessions said Thursday that his answer was honest but incomplete, and said he would supplement the answer in a written statement to the Senate soon.

“My reply to the question of Sen. Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time,” Sessions explained.

Sessions denied that any of the conversations he had with Russian officials — specifically Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — were about the Trump presidential campaign. The former Alabama senator spoke with Kislyak twice in 2016, including in September amid suspicions that Russians hacked Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

According to Sessions, he made his decision to recuse himself from any current or future investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election after meeting with Justice Department officials in the less-than-24-hours since the revelations.

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Schiff: Comey isn't telling us everything about Russia

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said FBI Director James Comey is not providing lawmakers trying to probe Russian interference in U.S. affairs enough information to do their job.

“In order for us to do our investigation in a fair and thorough way, we’re going to need the full cooperation of the FBI,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Thursday. “At this point the director was not willing do that,” he said after Comey briefed committee members.

Comey wouldn’t answer lawmakers’ questions about what the full scope of their investigation into matters involving Moscow is, Schiff said.

“It is unclear if that was a decision he was making on his own or a decision he was making in consultation with the Department of Justice,” Schiff said. “That cannot persist. If we are going to do our jobs, the FBI has to fully cooperate with us. And that means that the FBI can’t say, ‘we will tell you this but we won’t tell you about that.'”

Schiff said that the FBI still hasn’t fully briefed the “Gang of 8″—House and Senate leaders who receive the most sensitive national security information—about what Russia may or may not have done in terms of hacking Democratic officials’ emails, attempting to influence the presidential election, or initiating contact with Trump campaign or administration officials.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t have that briefing today,” Schiff said.

“We hope we get a different answer from the director the next time we meet,” he added. “We know less than a fraction of what the FBI knows.”

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Be honest: You'd never accept Sessions' defense if it came from Eric Holder

Jeff Sessions is under fire today for reportedly meeting twice with the Russian ambassador last year, but it looks like the newly confirmed attorney general has some wiggle room.

Unfortunately, Sessions’ carefully parsed wiggle room is the sort of thing Bill Clinton relied on heavily during his presidency, and it’s not the sort of thing I want to see from the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

The basics of this story are this: Sessions allegedly met twice in 2016 with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The former senator then said during his confirmation hearing in January that he, “did not have communications with the Russians.”

A number of GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, have called on Sessions to recuse himself from an ongoing investigation into Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have taken it a step further by calling on Sessions to resign. Others have accused the AG of perjuring himself.

Let’s unpack this story.

In July 2016, Sessions spoke with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, during a luncheon sponsored by the State Department and Heritage Foundation. An estimated 50 ambassadors attended the event.

Sessions not only delivered an address at the Heritage-sponsored event, but he was also introduced as “a senior national security adviser to Trump,” Politico reported, citing a senior campaign adviser.

At the conclusion of Sessions’ speech, he was approached by a gaggle of ambassadors, including Kislyak. The two spoke only briefly.

House Judiciary Democrats demand FBI criminal investigation into Sessions

Also from the Washington Examiner

Every Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on Thursday asking FBI Director James Comey for a criminal investigation into Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Efforts by Attorney General Sessions to assert that his testimony was not false or even misleading because he met with the Russian ambassador in his capacity as a senator, rather than a campaign representative, appear to be disingenuous at best as the questions put to him did not in any way ask if the meeting was campaign related,” the Democrats wrote.

In response to a question during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he “did not have communications with the Russians” during the Trump campaign.

03/02/17 12:49 PM

That was the senator’s first verbal interaction with the Russian ambassador during the election.

Their second meeting reportedly took place in the senator’s office in September, according to the Washington Post.

If that’s confirmed as true, it would mean their second interaction took place amid reports Russian hackers had broken into the personal email accounts of Democratic National Committee staffers and into the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

This brings us to Sessions’ testimony before the U.S. Senate, and accusations he lied under oath.

In one exchange in January, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked Sessions the following question:

Frank Pallone, Rand Paul go off on secret Obamacare meeting

Also from the Washington Examiner

Lawmakers unhappy that replacement bill is being shown only to GOP committee members, in a basement.

03/02/17 12:24 PM

CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week, that included information that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” … if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

Sessions responded thusly, Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., also submitted the following question in writing, “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?”

Sessions wrote a simple: “No.”

Though several Democratic lawmakers and journalists say Sessions’ responses prove he clearly perjured himself, it’s important to note the questions he answered were framed in terms of whether members of the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians.

Sessions can claim no, and still be telling the truth so long as he notes his reported interactions with the Russian ambassador occurred in his capacity as a U.S. senator, and not as a campaign surrogate.

This is exactly what the AG is doing.

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” during the confirmation process, noting that he had over 25 conversations with ambassadors as a member of the Armed Services Committee,” Sessions’ spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, said in a statement Wednesday.

She added, “He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”

The AG himself added later that he’d, “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

These defenses appear to be accurate. They also don’t inspire me with total confidence in the nation’s top lawmaker.

I understand Sessions answered only what was asked of him, and that he responded within the specific boundaries of whether the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians during the election. But offering replies that come with the silent disclaimer that, yeah, he actually talked to the Russian ambassador, but he was wearing his senator’s hat then, and not his campaign surrogate hat, is the sort of legalese that defined much of the Clinton years.

I’m about as fond of “I did not have communications with the Russians*” [*except for when I did, but that was in my capacity as a senator] as I am, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

The AG’s answers don’t appear to be wrong, and they appear to be legally correct. But they don’t come across as honest. They look like he’s being withholding, which is about the last thing I’m looking for in a law enforcement officer.

All I’m asking here is for the same people defending Sessions’ very carefully parsed answers to answer this question: Would you accept similar defenses from former AGs Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch if they were found in a similar situation?

Be honest with yourself.

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Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond denies his joke about Kellyanne Conway was sexual

Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, facing criticism online, is claiming his joke Wednesday night about senior White House Kellyanne Conway and an Oval Office couch was not meant to be sexual.

“Since some people have interpreted my joke to mean something that it didn’t I think it is important to clarify what I meant,” Richmond said in a statement. “Last night was night of levity. Where I grew up saying that someone is looking or acting ‘familiar’ simply means that they are behaving too comfortably.”

“I decided to use that joke due to the large social media backlash over her inappropriate posture considering there were more than 60 HBCU Presidents in the room,” Richmond added.

Referring to the infamous photo of Conway kneeling on an Oval Office couch this week, Richmond quipped at the annual Washington Press Club Foundation congressional dinner on Wednesday: “I really just want to know what was going on there. I won’t tell anybody, and you can just explain to me that circumstance because she really looked kind of familiar in that position there.”

Richmond found himself under fire on social media earlier Thursday.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper didn’t buy Richmond’s excuse.

“Congressman Richmond’s ‘joke’ was sexist and inappropriate and his denial of what he was suggesting is insulting,” he tweeted.

New York Times editor: Trump's speech showed has an 'obsession' with 'adulation'

Also from the Washington Examiner

Anna North, an editor for the New York Times editorial page, dipped into President Trump’s psyche and said the most remarked upon moment of his first joint session speech revealed an “obsession” he has with being liked.

In a column published Wednesday, North said when Trump paid homage to slain Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, whose wife attended the address, it demonstrated his “willingness to say whatever he needs to say” to get applause.

“When he imagines a deceased veteran gazing down from heaven at his widow, the president and the assembled Congress, he sees that veteran measuring the length of his own ovation, and patting himself on the back for breaking a record,” she said.

03/02/17 12:09 PM

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Senate sets up final vote on Rick Perry's confirmation

The Senate on Thursday advanced the nomination of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be President Trump’s energy secretary, and set up a final vote that could happen as early as today.

A number of Democrats voted against Perry when his confirmation was put to a vote on the Senate energy committee. Ten Democrats supported Perry in the final 62-37 vote, including Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

There has been none of the political wrangling that has surrounded the appointment of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who was confirmed ahead of the Presidents Day recess.

Democrats on the environment committee attempted to block a vote on Pruitt at the committee level, while also attempting to use an emergency court hearing in Pruitt’s home state to stall the Senate vote on the floor until thousands of emails were released from his office.

A lot of the problems that many Democrats have with Perry stem from news reports that Trump is considering major cuts at the energy agency, including plans to scrap a number of the offices at the department.

A number of green activist groups have been lobbying lawmakers to vote against Perry as energy secretary because of his stance on climate change. Perry said at his confirmation hearing that the Earth’s climate is changing, but to what extent it is changing, and what is causing it, is a subject for further debate.

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Tweets suggest McCaskill met with Russian ambassador, despite denials

Tweets by Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democratic member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggest she met with the Russian ambassador at least twice during a period she denied doing so.

McCaskill, as she built her case Thursday for Sessions’ resignation on the heels of reports that the Republican attorney general had met twice with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign, tweeted she had never contacted the Russian ambassador while serving on the committee.

But a pair of old tweets began circulating on social media shortly afterward that showed the Missouri Democrat had indeed met with the Russian ambassador during her decade of service on the Armed Services Committee.

In 2013, McCaskill took to Twitter to announce she was “off to [a] meeting” with the Russian ambassador to lodge complaints about Moscow’s decision to ban Americans from adopting Russian children that year.

Two years later, McCaskill tweeted that she planned to place a phone call to the Russian ambassador over the Iran nuclear agreement.

Sessions denied during his confirmation hearing earlier this year that he had met with the Russians during the campaign. Democrats have accused President Trump’s associates of maintaining inappropriate ties to Russian officials, but the White House and Trump’s aides have denied the allegations.

Ted Cruz defends Jeff Sessions: Russia news is a 'nothing burger'

Also from the Washington Examiner

“He was simply doing his job,” said Cruz.

03/02/17 9:04 AM

McCaskill’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Ryan Zinke rides horse to work on his first day as interior secretary

New Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rode a horse to work on his first day on the job.

A photo tweeted Thursday morning by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement showed Zinke, a former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL veteran, riding a horse in jeans and a hat with two U.S. Park Police officers.

Other photos posted on Zinke’s official account showed him shaking hands with officers, on the ground.

Zinke was confirmed Wednesday morning in a 68-31 vote, with most Democrats voting against him.

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Ted Cruz defends Jeff Sessions: Russia news is a 'nothing burger'

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Thursday defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions for failing to tell a Senate panel he met with the Russian ambassador twice in 2016.

The meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak were a “nothing burger,” Cruz said on MSNBC.

“He was simply doing his job,” said Cruz, who added that the political dustup is “nothing but political theater.”

A Sessions spokeswoman has said the contact between the two was simply in the former senator’s capacity as a senator and “member of the Armed Services Committee.”

Cruz added that through he has never met with the Russian ambassador as a member of the Armed Services Committee, meeting with ambassadors is part of a senator’s job.

“If the Russian ambassador had called and asked for a meeting, I imagine I’d taken the meeting,” he said, adding he’s met with “six ambassadors in the last five months.”

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Sessions: 'I will recuse myself' from investigations when appropriate

Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated Thursday that he would recuse himself from any investigation into Russia’s ties to President Trump when “appropriate.”

When asked by NBC News outside his home about the matter, Sessions said he never talked about campaign matters with the Russians.

“I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign. And those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false,” he said.

But Sessions opened the door to recusing himself from any Russia-related investigations.

“I’ve said that whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

Sessions is under fire for failing to disclose two contacts he had with Russian officials during the campaign, after telling the Senate in January he had no contact.

Sessions’ staff has said one of those contacts was brief, and the other was in his office on matters related to his job as a senator at the time.

But Democrats say his failure to disclose is a problem, and House Republicans are also saying Sessions should remove himself from any probes related to Russia.

Jobless claims plunge to lowest level since 1973

Also from the Washington Examiner

Jobless claims plunged to the lowest level since 1973 in the last week of February, the Department of Labor reported Thursday morning, providing an encouraging sign about the health of the labor market.

New applications for unemployment benefits fell to 223,000 for the week, well below investors’ expectations for 245,000.

The last time that few workers applied for unemployment benefits, there were fewer than 90 million people total in the workforce. Today, there are almost 160 million, illustrating just how rare jobless claims are.

Low jobless claims are seen as a good sign because they indicate that layoffs are relatively infrequent.

03/02/17 8:35 AM

“I think [to ensure] the trust of the American people, you recuse yourself in these situations,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told NBC News.

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