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Still waiting on pay, funding delayed, business approvals stalled

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By Dareh Gregorian

With the threat of another government shutdown looming Friday, government workers, federal agencies and private sector businesses are still trying to dig out from the damage of the last one.

While the majority of 800,000 affected federal employees have been able to collect the wages they lost during the record 35-day partial government shutdown, some still have not received any of their back pay — and some government contractors have not been able to return to work two weeks after the partial closure ended.

There are other lingering problems as well — backlogs at federal agencies and the possibility of another shutdown are causing delays on everything from the approval of new craft beers to stalling major companies’ plans to go public.

“There’s still a lot of work to do before we can get to anything close to back to normal,” Alan Chvotkin, executive vice-president of the Professional Services Council, told NBC News.

The council represents 400 companies with government contracts, and Chvotkin said many are still waiting on payments for work done before the Dec. 22 shutdown. “There are millions and millions of dollars waiting to be paid out,” he said.

And some contractors given “stop work” orders during the shutdown still haven’t got the green light to return to work.

And while President Donald Trump signed legislation giving federal employees back pay and Congress has pushed for the payments to go out as soon as possible, some workers have received only a fraction of what they’re owed — and some haven’t gotten anything.

“We have people who are missing 25 to 30 percent of their pay,” said Dave Verardo of the National Science Foundation, a federal agency. “We have one guy who was paid three times in one day and still came up short.”

Officials say the problems are a result of “systems issues” at the National Finance Center, which is responsible for handling most of the paychecks for the 800,000 employees who were affected by the shutdown.

They added that about two percent of the Department of Homeland Security’s employees were hit by the pay problem, including some civilian Coast Guard employees.

“The Coast Guard is aware that approximately eight percent of our civilian workforce received pay for only one of the two missed pay periods during the lapse in appropriation. Additionally, approximately 0.2 percent of the civilian force did not receive either paycheck,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Lisa Novak.

“The NFC is now processing all time cards associated with the missed pay periods. Originally, the Coast Guard and the NFC announced that all corrections would be made by Feb. 4-5; however, it now appears that it may take until Feb. 11-12 to correct all deficiencies and deliver the requisite paychecks,” she said

Bradley Bishop, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, told the Associated Press earlier this week the Trump administration had taken “unprecedented steps to ensure federal employees impacted by the shutdown received back pay within a week.” He didn’t respond to questions about how many people still hadn’t been paid.

Most of the estimated 1.2 million government contractors who were affected, meanwhile, aren’t getting any back pay, although Chvotkin said he was hopeful Congress would pass legislation authorizing that pay before the next shutdown deadline. “It’s the first time this many members of Congress had talked about it,” he said.

Hangovers from the shutdown are also hampering private businesses.

Bill Butcher, founder of Port City Brewing in Alexandria, Virginia, testified at a congressional hearing this week that his business is still reeling because of a shutdown-caused backlog at the little known Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The agency signs off on labels and formulas for craft beers — and the brewers can’t sell new beers without a Certificate of Label Approval.

He said the process for getting a COLA typically takes two weeks, but the backlog has pushed the wait up to almost two months.

“On Dec. 18, we submitted a label for a beer we were planning to release in the spring. Until we get that approval, we can’t sell that beer and the entire supply chain is on hold. The uncertainty isn’t just impacting my business, it’s impacting everyone I do business with,” including wheat farmers, he told the House Committee on Small Business. “We are just one of the thousands of small businesses who are dealing with these repercussions.”

Another agency dealing with a significant backlog is the Securities and Exchange Commission, which reviews initial public offerings for companies. It reportedly had a backlog of 40 IPOs at the time the shutdown went into effect, and major companies that had been planning on going public in the beginning of the year are now holding off because of the possibility of another shutdown, said John Coffee Jr., director of the Center on Corporate Governance at the Columbia Law School.

“The SEC has not caught up on its backlog. The backlog is already there,” Coffee said, noting the procedure takes time. “It’s a process of 3 to 4 weeks of SEC evaluations and then three weeks of negotiations … we’ve had 35 days where nothing happened.”

And while analysts were hoping for a string of valuable multibillion-dollar companies to go public, those companies are now in a wait-and-see mode.

“They want to wait for the optimal moment. Who’s going to be encouraged if the government shuts down? It’s like a ‘Groundhog Day’ trap,” Coffee said, referring to the classic Bill Murray movie in which the main character lives the same day over and over again.

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White House officials concerned about being exposed by Mueller report

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By Carol E. Lee, Hallie Jackson and Kristen Welker

WASHINGTON — Some of the more than one dozen current and former White House officials who cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller are worried that the version of his report expected to be made public on Thursday will expose them as the source of damaging information about President Donald Trump, according to multiple witnesses in the investigation.

Some of the officials and their lawyers have sought clarity from the Justice Department on whether the names of those who cooperated with Mueller’s team will be redacted or if the public report will be written in a way that makes it obvious who shared certain details of Trump’s actions that were part of the obstruction of justice probe, people familiar with the discussions said. But, they said, the Justice Department has refused to elaborate.

Of particular concern is how Trump — and his allies — will react if it appears to be clear precisely what specific officials shared with Mueller, these people said.

“They got asked questions and told the truth and now they’re worried the wrath will follow,” one former White House official said.

Some of those who spoke with Mueller’s team, such as former White House counsel Don McGahn, witnessed Trump’s actions up close and were privy to key moments in the obstruction investigation and spent many hours with investigators.

One person close to the White House said there is “breakdown-level anxiety” among some current and former staffers who cooperated with the investigation at the direction of Trump’s legal team at the time.

There is also concern that new facts in the report could be disclosed that do not reflect favorably on the president, two people familiar with the discussions said.

“You have a whole bunch of former White House officials and current White House officials, but especially former White House officials, who were told to cooperate,” the former White House official said. “So people went and did that, and now the uncertainty is just how much of that information is going to be in that report and how identifiable to individuals is it going to be. And nobody knows.”

Attorney General William Barr has indicated he will make redactions before releasing the Mueller report to Congress, including classified information Congress has said it needs to see.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Another person familiar with the discussions said the officials who are worried are those who said negative things about Trump. This person said the “million-dollar question” swirling around Trump world is how much of the report will be redacted, specifically if it will be a “net plus or minus” 100 pages of the more than 300-page report.

Fueling officials’ concern is that Attorney General William Barr hasn’t been clear about what the report might entail. Barr has said he wants to make as much of the report public as he can, while also making clear parts of it will be redacted for grand jury testimony, classified information and material that could affect ongoing investigations. He also said information that could “infringe on the personal privacy” and reputations of “peripheral third parties” could be redacted, a phrase unclear to some witnesses in the investigation.

“Even if names are redacted or names aren’t in the report to begin with, it could be situations people were asked about and they answered truthfully that at least for some people — specifically the president — would be identifiable because the situation applies to just one person,” the former White House official said. “Nobody has any idea what this is going to look like on Thursday.”



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Trump campaign raises $30 million in first quarter

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By Monica Alba

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s campaign raked in $30 million in the first quarter of 2019 and had more than $40 million cash on hand, amassing a record war chest and far outpacing the field of Democratic candidates heading into the 2020 race, according to the campaign.

Combined with $46 million raised by the Republican National Committee, the full Trump re-election effort is expected to have a grand total of $82 million in the bank, with the campaign doubling what it had at the end of last year.

Trump’s total is more than the top two Democratic candidates combined — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who pulled in $18.2 million for the quarter and California Sen. Kamala Harris, who took in $12 million.

In all, the eight Democratic campaigns that have reported their totals ahead of Monday’s filing deadline have raised a combined $65.8 million, although none of those candidates started raising money as early as the Trump campaign.

As the incumbent, Trump already has certain advantages when it comes to raising money. But the fundraiser-in-chief has taken this traditional benefit further than any of his predecessors. He is the only president to ever file re-election paperwork the evening he was inaugurated, and his team has been steadily seeking donations ever since.

By comparison, former President Barack Obama had not announced his 2012 re-election plans until after the first quarter had passed in 2011. Over the first two years of the Trump administration, his campaign had brought in nearly $130 million, easily beating out any other sitting president at this stage.

The Trump-Pence ticket has a head-start over the crowded field of Democrats vying for their party’s nomination, something the campaign is quick to point out. After a primary campaign, “we expect them to be bruised, battered, and broke,” a senior campaign official told NBC News. The bigger fundraising picture for the Trump effort will be revealed once the campaign files its quarterly report with the FEC Monday, including details about how much and where the campaign has spent thus far.

Trump’s 2020 setup is far more traditional than his first presidential bid, when he even pledged to self-fund his run. “I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich,” he said during his 2015 launch, after coming down the escalator at Trump Tower.

Now, with the full support and resources of the RNC, the president’s campaign is planning to launch a “bundling” program for super-donors to help bring in more money from wealthy supporters in their circles.

Trump’s entire 2016 campaign brought in $333 million. At this pace, their second attempt will easily outraise that. Campaign manager Brad Parscale believes they may spend $1 billion this time around, which would be three times more than what it cost last cycle.

Aides attribute the huge first quarter haul, in part, to the end of the Mueller investigation and Attorney General Bill Barr’s four-page letter that stated the special counsel did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials to influence the 2016 election.

Immediately after it was released, Trump’s 2020 staffers launched a strategy to capitalize on the positive headlines for the president. They blasted fundraising emails, text messages, new videos and even created new merchandise for the campaign website featuring the top-line summary from Barr.

“We typically do not give numbers on individual fundraising pushes, but the fundraising in the aftermath of the Barr letter ranks among our very strong fundraising efforts. Our supporters were rightfully frustrated by two years of Democrat lies,” a Trump campaign spokeswoman said.

The timing also likely played a part. The first quarter deadline ended March 31, well before any version of the Mueller report was sent to Congress or made public. The redacted, nearly 400-page version is expected to be released in the coming days.



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2020 Dems stand by Omar as she’s hammered for 9/11 comments

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By Allan Smith

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have come to the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., as she was blasted for comments about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Muslim civil rights at a recent conference.

While speaking last month at an event hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Los Angeles, Omar discussed how Muslim Americans had their constitutional rights and freedoms infringed upon following the 9/11 attacks, making a comment that some saw as minimizing the terrorist act.

“CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties,” she said, incorrectly stating the organization’s history. The group was actually founded in 1994, although it became much more active following the terror attacks.

Most prominent among her critics was President Donald Trump, who tweeted a video of the Twin Towers being hit by airplanes and burning down interspersed with a cut of Omar saying “some people” did “something” when speaking about the terror attacks. His video echoed criticism of Omar on the front page of Thursday’s New York Post, which included the headline “Here’s Your Something” over an image of the Twin Towers burning.



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