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Inside his veto fight with the GOP, Trump may have found ‘a gift’

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump promised to fight Democrats and Republicans in Washington, and, with his first-ever veto Friday, he did just that.

“Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it,” he said as he sent a measure that would have terminated his declaration of a national emergency — and the transfer of billions of dollars to build his promised border wall — right back to Capitol Hill.

The day before, a dozen Republican senators had joined with Democrats to pass the measure, an unusually large number of GOP defections from Trump’s line.

While Trump played down the fracture Friday — “I didn’t need the votes,” he said — it showed that by engaging in a battle with Congress over the power of the purse, he has weakened institutional support for the wall, and for his authority, among Washington Republicans.

That is, even some Republicans who say they’re for the wall are drawing the line at Trump declaring a national emergency and seizing spending decisions from Congress to do it.

But some Republicans say that may not be a bad thing for Trump as he heads into the 2020 election.

On the surface, it suggests he’ll have a much tougher time winning budget battles with a Congress that is obviously increasingly inclined to assert its own prerogatives and restrain his. But Trump doesn’t have any domestic policy agenda items that approach the political importance of the wall, and he wants to campaign against Washington again.

It’s all the better if he can run, at least a little bit, against both parties, said Matt Schlapp, a Trump ally and chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“They gave him a gift,” Schlapp said of Congress sending him the resolution. “The president is at his strongest when he is fighting and he is seen as credible when he is fighting members of his own party…especially when the principles are on his side.”

Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and frequent Trump critic, noted that the president said Friday he wasn’t upset with Republicans who defected. Steele said he sensed a little bit of public theater playing out on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the boulevard that runs between the White House and the Capitol.

“On the vote itself, there’s a lot of high-minded drama about what these senators did,” he said, noting that there was no chance of the president’s veto being overridden and that most of the Republicans who defected aren’t up for re-election next year. “I’m not convinced.”

As for Trump, Steele added, “he loves the fight, he doesn’t care who he’s fighting, it doesn’t matter if it’s Republicans or Democrats … for him, politically, it reaffirms for his base why they sent him to Washington.”

Ultimately, the courts will decide whether Trump’s spending gambit passes constitutional muster. For now, Democrats and some Republicans argue that his decision to grab money from existing projects and rededicate it to build the wall is a violation of Congress’ constitutional primacy in spending matters.

“The House and Senate resoundingly rejected the President’s lawless power grab, yet the president has chosen to continue to defy the Constitution, the Congress and the will of the American people,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement released after the veto.

Some Republican critics of the president’s methods, including Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have raised constitutional concerns, while others have simply worried that a future Democratic president would use the precedent set by Trump to spend money on pet projects not approved by Congress.

Rachel Bovard, the policy director at the Conservative Policy Institute and a former aide to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who cited constitutional concerns in voting against the president Thursday, said that the emergency declaration doesn’t violate the separation of powers principle.

“The Constitution is not in crisis. The border is,” Bovard said in a text exchange with NBC. “The president’s declaration follows the law that Congress passed. They’ve appropriated money and authorized a law that allows this wall to be built. If Congress wants to change the law that disallows future presidents from taking this action, they are well within their rights to do so.”

To Bovard, the question is a political one, not a legal one.

“Trump is using the power that Congress gave him to secure the border — which is more than Congress is apparently willing to do,” she said. “So what’s truly at stake is whether or not Republicans are going to be united on border security going into 2020.”

The movement of power toward the executive branch, and away from Congress, is a long-running trend, said Mack McLarty, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.

While he sees Trump’s use of executive power in this instance — including the veto and the original decision to shift money around — as “unique” because it “interferes with Congress’ rights …in terms of appropriations funds,” he said Friday’s action makes sense in the context of the emphasis Trump has put on the wall.

“This is a priority issue for him, and this is why he’s using the veto pen,” McLarty said.

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Bank CEO Stephen Calk charged with soliciting Manafort for Trump admin job

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By Tom Winter, Joe Valiquette and Adiel Kaplan

Bank CEO Stephen Calk tried to exchange $16 million in loans to Paul Manafort for a top position within the Trump administration, according to an indictment against the banking executive unsealed Thursday.

Calk, the president of the Federal Savings Bank, approved millions in “high-risk loans in an effort to secure a personal benefit, namely to an appointment as Secretary of the Army, or another similar high-level position in the incoming presidential administration,” said Deputy U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss of the Southern District of New York.

Stephen CalkThe Federal Savings Bank

Federal investigators were probing last year whether Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair, promised Calk a job in the White House in return for $16 million in home loans, NBC News first reported in February 2018.

Calk, who surrendered to the FBI Thursday morning, allegedly approved multiple high-risk loans for Manafort, who urgently needed them to avoid foreclosure. While the loans were pending approval, Calk allegedly provided Manafort with a ranked list of positions he desired. At its head were the two top positions at the U.S. Treasury, followed by Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Defense. The list also included 19 high-level ambassadorships, among them ambassador to the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.

Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City, Virginia and the Hamptons. The three loans were questioned by other officials at the bank, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News last February.

The loans raised red flags at the bank in part because of Manafort’s history of defaulting on prior loans and that the size made Manafort’s debt the single largest lending relationship at the bank, according to prosecutors. Calk was required to authorize an unusual lending scheme to avoid passing the lending cap to a single borrower.

In exchange, Manafort provided Calk with personal benefits, prosecutors said. The bank CEO was appointed to Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016, just days after the bank approved a proposed $9.5 million loan to Manafort.

According to the indictment, Manafort and his son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, approached the bank in an effort to refinance loans tied to a construction project in Los Angeles.

During a meeting held on July 27, 2016 — while Manafort was Trump campaign chairman — Calk allegedly broached the idea of him joint the Trump campaign. By the next day, the first loan of $5.7 million was approved. Less than a week later, Manafort offered Calk a position on the economic advisory committee for Donald Trump, according to the indictment.

Calk issued another loan for over $9 million later in the fall of 2016. Then, Calk reached out to Manafort asking him if he was involved in the Trump presidential transition following the election, according to the indictment.

Manafort allegedly responded, “total background but involved directly.”

Shortly after the election, in November or December 2016, Manafort recommended Calk for an administrative position, leading to a formal interview of Calk for Under Secretary of the Army at the transition team headquarters in Trump Tower in 2017. When Manafort made the recommendation, he had more than $6 million in loans pending approval at Calk’s bank.

Calk ultimately was not hired for the position.

Months later, the loans to Manafort were downgraded by the banks regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Calk allegedly lied to regulators, telling them he never desired a position in the presidential administration.

A November 14, 2016 email Calk sent to Manafort that included his resume and list of desired positions in ranked order was as exhibit in the Manafort trial.

Charlie Gile contributed.



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European elections UK results time: What time is the result of EU election due?

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THE EUROPEAN elections kicked off in the UK this morning, with polling stations open from 7am. What time is the result of the EU election due?

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Trump lashes out at Rex Tillerson for saying Putin out-prepared him

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By Allan Smith

President Donald Trump lashed out at Rex Tillerson on Thursday morning after his former secretary of state reportedly told a House committee that the president was ill-prepared for a 2017 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Rex Tillerson, a man who is ‘dumb as a rock’ and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany,” Trump tweeted. “I don’t think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!”

The tweet followed a Washington Post report that Tillerson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Putin out-prepared Trump for the meeting at the 2017 G-20 summit. Tillerson said Putin’s higher level of preparation put Trump at a disadvantage during the meeting.

The U.S. had anticipated a shorter meeting between the two leaders, but it instead turned into a two-hour plus discussion of geopolitical issues, committee aides told the Post. Tillerson spoke before the committee for seven hours in a closed-door session on Tuesday.

“We spent a lot of time in the conversation talking about how Putin seized every opportunity to push what he wanted,” a committee aide told the Post. “There was a discrepancy in preparation, and it created an unequal footing.”

Tillerson spoke with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and staff at the request of the panel’s chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the newspaper reported. Unlike Trump’s solo meeting with Putin in Helsinki last summer, advisers — including Tillerson — were present alongside him at the meeting with the Russian president in Germany.

Tillerson and Trump had sparred for months before the president fired him in March of last year. The former secretary of state nearly resigned in the summer of 2017 amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, NBC News reported, citing senior administration officials. As tensions came to a head, Tillerson called Trump a “moron” following a meeting at the Pentagon with Cabinet officials and members of Trump’s national security team, three officials familiar with the incident said.

In December, Tillerson told CBS News that Trump was “undisciplined,” didn’t read much and tried to do things that would violate the law. In response, Trump said Tillerson “didn’t have the mental capacity needed” to be secretary of state.

“He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough,” Trump tweeted. “He was lazy as hell.”

In hiring Tillerson to run the State Department, Trump pointed to the former Exxon Mobil executive’s “vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments” and called him “a world class player and dealmaker.”

“He will be a star,” Trump tweeted after Tillerson was sworn in.



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