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BREAKING NEWS: Sean Spicer Apologizes For ‘Insensitive’ Reference To Holocaust

By KEN THOMAS and JILL COLVIN

  Related video: Spicer says Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” (courtesy of Reuters)
WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sean Spicer is apologizing for making an “insensitive” reference to the Holocaust in earlier comments about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Spicer says in an interview with CNN that he mistakenly used “an inappropriate, insensitive reference to the Holocaust.” He says there was no comparison and “it was a mistake to do that.” He adds, “It was my blunder.”

Spicer said during a White House briefing Tuesday that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” That drew instant rebuke from Jewish groups and critics who noted it ignored Hitler’s use of gas chambers to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.

Spicer was attempting to discuss the horror of the chemical weapons attack last week in Syria.

This is a breaking news update. Check back later for more.    (REUTERS)

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Ivanka’s Job Is Nepotism, Says Obama White House Ethics Lawyer

 

Brooke Seipel
The mystery of Ivanka Trump                          © Provided by The Hill The mystery of Ivanka Trump  

Former White House ethics lawyer to President Obama Norman Eisen said Wednesday that he and the former ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush see Ivanka Trump’s role as an adviser to President Trump as a violation of nepotism laws.

“My view… is that the nepotism statue does apply to the White House,” Eisen said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” of the announcement that Ivanka Trump would receive an official role in the Trump administration. “For decades the Justice Department held ‘yes’ the nepotism statue applies to the White House.”

Eisen conceded that the “reasonable minds can disagree” on whether the statue should apply.

“President Trump got an opinion from the Justice Department that the nepotism statute doesn’t apply to his White House,” Eisen continued. “We don’t agree with that opinion.”

Earlier Wednesday, it was reported that Ivanka would be an official government employee and serve in the White House as an unpaid senior adviser to her father. She currently has a West Wing office, but initially said she’d work with in her father’s administration in an informal advising capacity.

She appears to have changed her plans after critics pointed out that an informal role would allow her to avoid certain ethics rules and required disclosures that come with serving in the government.

The role has caused some critics to raise the possibility that the role is in violation of the nepotism law passed in 1967, which says no public official, from the president down to a low-level manager at a federal agency, may hire or promote a relative.  (The Hill)

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White House Install Political Aides At Cabinet Agencies To Spy For Trump

 

Lisa Rein, Juliet Eilperin
The network of political appointees reports to Rick Dearborn, left, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, according to administration officials. At center is Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.© Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post The network of political appointees reports to Rick Dearborn, left, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, according to administration officials. At center is Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.  

 

The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials.

At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the commissar,” according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It’s a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.

Most members of President Trump’s Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries’loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.

This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.

These aides report not to the secretary, but to Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, according to administration officials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mashburn, leads a weekly conference call with the advisers, who are in constant contact with the White House.

The aides act as a go-between on policy matters for the agencies and the White House. Behind the scenes, though, they’re on another mission: to monitor Cabinet leaders and their top staffs to make sure they carry out the president’s agenda and don’t stray too far from the White House’s talking points, said several officials with knowledge of the arrangement.

“Especially when you’re starting a government and you have a changeover of parties when policies are going to be dramatically different, I think it’s something that’s smart,” said Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser. “Somebody needs to be there as the White House’s man on the scene. Because there’s no senior staff yet, they’re functioning as the White House’s voice and ears in these departments.”

The arrangement is unusual. It wasn’t used by Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. And it’s also different from the traditional liaisons who shepherd the White House’s political appointees to the various agencies.Critics say the competing chains of command eventually will breed mistrust, chaos and inefficiency — especially as new department heads build their staffs.

“It’s healthy when there is some daylight between the president’s Cabinet and the White House, with room for some disagreement,” said Kevin Knobloch, who was chief of staff under Obama to then-Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

“That can only happen when agency secretaries have their own team, who report directly to them,” he said. “Otherwise it comes off as not a ringing vote of confidence in the Cabinet.”

The White House declined to comment about the appointees on the record, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters and internal operations. But a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, contested their mission of holding agencies accountable and said they technically report to each department’s chief of staff or to the secretaries themselves.

“The advisers were a main point of contact in the early transition process as the agencies were being set up,” the official said in an email. “Like every White House, this one is in frequent contact with agencies and departments.”

The advisers’ power may be heightened by the lack of complete leadership teams at many departments.

The long delay in getting Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue (R), confirmed means that Sam Clovis, who was a Trump campaign adviser, and transition team leader Brian Klippenstein continue to serve as the agency’s top political appointees.

“He and Brian Klippenstein are just a handful of appointees on the ground and they’re doing a big part of the day-to-day work” said Dale Moore, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s public policy executive director.

Every president tries to assert authority over the executive branch, with varying degrees of success.

The Obama White House kept tight control over agencies, telling senior officials what they could publicly disclose about their own department’s operations. Foreign policy became so centralizedthat State Department and Defense Department officials complained privately that they felt micromanaged on key decisions.

After then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made some political gaffes, Obama aides wanted to install a political aide at the Justice Department to monitor him. But Holder was furious about the intrusion and blocked the plan. Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates pushed back against a top official the White House wanted at the Pentagon to guide Asia policy, wary of someone so close to the president in his orbit.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a Trump adviser, said the president needs to dispatch political allies to the agencies to monitor a bureaucracy that’s being targeted for reduction.

“If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators,” Gingrich said.“These people are actively trying to undermine the new government.And they think it’s their moral obligation to do so.”

At the Transportation Department, former Pennsylvania lobbyist Anthony Pugliese shuttles back and forth between the White House and DOT headquarters on New Jersey Avenue, according to an agency official. His office is just 20 paces from Secretary Elaine Chao, the official said.

Day to day, Pugliese and his counterparts inform Cabinet officials of priorities the White House wants them to keep on their radar. They oversee the arrival of new political appointees and coordinate with the West Wing on the agency’s direction.

The arrangement is collegial in some offices, including at Transportation and Interior, where aides to Chao and Secretary Ryan Zinke insisted that the White House advisers work as part of the team, attending meetings, helping form an infrastructure task force and designing policy on public lands.

Tensions between the White House and the Cabinet already have spilled into public view. Mattis, the defense secretary, and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly were caught unaware in January by the scope of the administration’s travel ban in January. The president has been furious about leaks on national security matters.

Trump does not have long-standing relationships or close personal ties with most leaders in his Cabinet. That’s why gauging their loyalty is so important, said officials who described the structure.

“A lot of these [Cabinet heads] have come from roles where they’re the executive,” said a senior administration official not authorized to publicly discuss the White House advisers. “But when you become head of an agency, you’re no longer your own person. It’s a hard change for a lot of these people: They’re not completely autonomous anymore.”

Many of the senior advisers lack expertise in their agency’s mission and came from the business or political world. They include Trump campaign aides, former Republican National Committee staffers, conservative activists, lobbyists and entrepreneurs.

At Homeland Security, for example, is Frank Wuco, a former security consultant whose blog Red Wire describes the terrorist threat as rooted in Islam. To explain the threat, he appears on YouTube as a fictional jihadist.

Matt Mowers, a former aide to New Jersey Gov. Christie (R) who was Trump’s national field coordinator before landing at the State Department as senior adviser, said through a spokesman that he “leads interagency coordination” among the White House, agencies and the National Security Council and “coordinates on policy and personnel.”

Mowers sits at the edge of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s seventh-floor suite, dubbed Mahogany Row. But neither Tillerson nor his chief of staff are his direct boss.

Many of the advisers arrived from the White House with the small groups known as “beachhead teams” that started work on Jan. 20. One of the mandates at the top of their to-do list now, Bennett said, is making sure the agencies are identifying regulations the administration wants to roll back and vetting any new ones.

At the Pentagon, Brett Byers acts as a go-between between Mattis’s team and the White House, largely on “bureaucratic” matters, said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel issues.

Career officials who work near the “E” ring offices occupied by senior Pentagon staff, suspicious that Byers is not directly on Mattis’s team, came up with the Soviet-era moniker “commissar”to describe him, someone familiar with their thinking said.

Elsewhere, resentment has built up. Pruitt is bristling at the presence of former Washington state senator Don Benton, who ran the president’s Washington state campaign and is now the EPA’s senior White House adviser, said two senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.

These officials said Benton piped up so frequently during policy discussions that he had been disinvited from many of them. One of the officials described the situation as akin to an episode of the HBO comedy series “Veep.”

Trump’s approach may not be so different than Abraham Lincoln’s. Coming into the White House after more than a half-century of Democrats in power, Lincoln worked swiftly to oust hostile bureaucrats and appoint allies. But he still had to deal with an Army led by many senior officers who sympathized with the South, as well as a government beset by internal divisions.

Gettysburg College professor Allen C. Guelzo described Lincoln as “surrounded by smiling enemies,” which prompted him to embed his friends into army camps as well as some federal departments.

“I think that presidents actually do this more than it appears,” said Guelzo, adding that Lincoln dispatched Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army Montgomery Meigs to circulate among the Army of the Potomac to pick up any negative “doggerel” or insults officers made about him.

The Washington Post

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Trump Wrote Off $100 Million In Losses In 2005, Leaked Forms Show

 

By PETER BAKER and JESSE DRUCKER
President Trump, at the White House on Monday, refused throughout the campaign to release his tax returns.© Stephen Crowley/The New York Times President Trump, at the White House on Monday, refused throughout the campaign to release his tax returns.  

WASHINGTON — President Trump wrote off more than $100 million in business losses to reduce his federal taxes in 2005, according to forms made public on Tuesday night: a rare glimpse at documents that he had refused to disclose since becoming a candidate for the nation’s highest office.

Mr. Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes on reported income of $150 million, an effective tax rate of 25 percent, according to forms disclosed on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. By claiming losses, Mr. Trump apparently saved millions of dollars in taxes that he would otherwise have owed.

The White House responded without even waiting for the show to air, issuing a statement that seemed to confirm the authenticity of the forms even as it defended Mr. Trump and assailed MSNBC for publicizing them. “Before being elected president, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world, with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the statement said.

The White House described the business losses as a “large-scale depreciation for construction,” but did not elaborate. In addition to the federal income taxes in 2005, the statement said, he paid “tens of millions of dollars in other taxes, such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes, and this illegally published return proves just that.”

Mr. Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public during the campaign broke with decades of tradition in presidential contests and emerged as a central issue. That drumbeat has continued since he entered the White House, particularly from critics who contend that his returns may shed light on various aspects of his business practices, including whether he has done business with Russian companies and banks.

Nothing in the two pages produced on Tuesday night suggested any ties with Russia. Nor did they provide much information about his businesses that was not previously known. But they showed that the vast bulk of the federal income taxes he paid in 2005, $31 million, was paid under the alternative minimum tax, which Mr. Trump wants to abolish.

That tax serves as a backstop to the ordinary income tax and is intended to prevent wealthy Americans from paying no income tax at all. Without it, Mr. Trump would have paid about $5 million in regular taxes, plus nearly $2 million in self-employment taxes, on $153 million in income in 2005.

“Trump’s return shows that he’s pushing tax changes that benefit multimillionaire heirs like him, not the middle class,” said Lily Batchelder, a tax law professor at New York University and former majority chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee. “His proposal to repeal the A.M.T. would have slashed his own tax burden by $31 million, and his income tax rate would be lower than the average rate paid by families earning $75,000 to $100,000.”

Edward Kleinbard, a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California, said, “It’s disturbing that he is pushing to eliminate the only tax that really bit him in that year.”

The White House castigated MSNBC for reporting on Mr. Trump’s taxes. “You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago,” its statement said. “The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the president will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans.”

The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. suggested that the disclosure only demonstrated his father’s business acumen. “Thank you Rachel Maddow for proving to your #Trump hating followers how successful @realdonaldtrump is & that he paid $40mm in taxes!” he wrote on Twitter.

Democrats pounced on Tuesday night’s report, arguing that the White House’s decision to release details of Mr. Trump’s 2005 taxes before Ms. Maddow’s show undercut his past refusal to release any such information.

“If they can release some of the information, they can release all of the information,” Zac Petkanas, a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement. “The only reason not to release his returns is to hide what’s in them, such as financial connections with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin.”

The tax forms were sent to David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times reporter who covered tax policy for years and has written a book on Mr. Trump. Appearing with Ms. Maddow, he said he had received the forms “over the transom” at his home and did not know who had sent them. He suggested that they might even have been sent by Mr. Trump himself. Because he did not solicit the forms, Mr. Johnston said it was not illegal to receive them.

The forms showed that Mr. Trump made $67 million in real estate royalties, $42 million in business income, $32 million in capital gains, $9 million in taxable interest and $998,599 in salary in 2005, for a total of nearly $153 million. After writing off $103 million, he reported adjusted gross income of nearly $49 million. In the end, he had to write a check for $2,450,597, including penalties and interest for late payment.

In October, The Times published three pages of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax returns, which showed a $916 million deduction that could have allowed him to legally avoid paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years. The forms disclosed on Tuesday do not say whether the $103 million in losses were left over from that 1995 loss.

The 1995 deduction was derived from the financial wreckage of some of the companies Mr. Trump drove into bankruptcy years ago, including his Atlantic City casinos, and would have allowed him to cancel out taxable income for an 18-year period. A tax code provision benefiting real estate developers, which took effect in 1993, permitted businesses like Mr. Trump’s to take tax deductions for losing other people’s money.

Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Trump was able to deduct $39.1 million from his federal income taxes in 2005 by pledging not to build on a New Jersey golf course he owned.

However, it was unclear how much of a deduction Mr. Trump actually took. The I.R.S. has challenged such deductions, known as conservation easements, saying that taxpayers overstated the value of their transactions.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump initially promised he would release his tax returns. “I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful, and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time,” he said in a January 2016 television interview. He then backpedaled, saying he would wait until the I.R.S. had completed its audit. In May 2016, tax lawyers for Mr. Trump released a letter saying that his personal returns had been “under continuous examination” by the I.R.S. since 2002, and that examinations of his returns from 2009 on were continuing.

The I.R.S. has not confirmed that Mr. Trump’s taxes are, in fact, under audit.

Few people outside Mr. Trump’s inner circle have seen his tax returns. One person who has is Timothy L. O’Brien, another former Times reporter, whom Mr. Trump sued for libel after Mr. O’Brien published a book that argued that Mr. Trump’s net worth was $150 million to $250 million, rather than several billion dollars, as Mr. Trump had claimed. The suit was ultimately dismissed.

Limited information about Mr. Trump’s tax returns from other years has surfaced in court and regulatory records. A 1981 report by New Jersey regulators assessing his fitness for a casino license stated that he had paid more than $71,000 in federal income taxes on about $218,000 of taxable income earned from 1975 to 1977.

But in the next two years, 1978 and 1979, Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes. The New Jersey report explained that, by taking advantage of deductions available to real estate developers and claiming losses from partnerships, he was able to report a “negative income” of $406,379 in 1978 and $3.4 million in 1979 — thus avoiding any tax liability for those two years, a time when he claimed to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Tax court records indicate that Mr. Trump also avoided paying federal income taxes in 1984. In 1991 and 1993, when his Atlantic City casinos were in deep financial trouble, casino commission reports show he claimed losses that would have allowed him to avoid paying income taxes in those years, too. Mr. Trump may have been able to use those losses to reduce or eliminate his federal tax bill for years to come.

During the presidential debate, Hillary Clinton suggested that Mr. Trump was refusing to release his tax returns to hide the fact that he did not pay federal income taxes. “That makes me smart,” Mr. Trump retorted during one debate.

In response to The Times’s disclosure that Mr. Trump could have used a $916 million tax loss to avoid paying years of federal income taxes, Mr. Trump and his surrogates said the revelation merely proved his “genius” at legally avoiding that burden.

(New York Times)

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Kellyanne Conway ‘Meant No Disrespect’ With Viral Oval Office Photo

 

Rebecca Savransky

Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday she meant “no disrespect” after a photo of her perched on a couch in the Oval Office sparked debate on social media.

“I was being asked to take a picture in a crowded room with the press behind of us,” Conway explained in an interview on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

“I was asked to take a certain angle and was doing exactly that. I certainly meant no disrespect, I didn’t mean to have my feet on the couch,” she said.

The photo of Conway sitting on her knees on the couch in the Oval Office while President Trump met with leaders of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) circulated widely on social media.

Some Twitter users criticised Conway for putting her shoes on a couch in the Oval Office, while others posted photos of former President Barack Obama with his feet up on the Resolute Desk.

Conway said Tuesday the president had the “largest gathering of men and women to date in the Oval Office for a picture.”

“These are the presidents and other leaders of the historically black college and universities and they came to visit the White House,” she said.

“Of course, just today, the President signed the executive order on HCBU’s and I had an occasion to speak at length to many of those leaders before that picture and after that picture and again today,” she continued.

“And I really want to thank so many of them for coming to my defence because they were in the room and they know.”

Conway 'meant no disrespect' with viral Oval Office photo                 © Provided by The Hill Conway ‘meant no disrespect’ with viral Oval Office photo  

Conway said the photo came from a journalist “who is not happy” that Trump is president.

“But I just want people to focus on the great work of the HBCU presidents,” she said, “and how honoured we were to have them here.” (The Hill)

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CNN: FBI Refused White House Request To Refute Stories About Russian Contact

 

Matt Shuham
National Intelligence Director James Clapper, left, and FBI Director James Comey, center, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian Intelligence Activities.© AP Photo/Cliff Owen National Intelligence Director James Clapper, left, and FBI Director James Comey, centre, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian Intelligence…  

CNN reported Thursday that the FBI and other federal agencies rejected the White House’s request to refute stories about contact between members of the Trump campaign and Russian nationals, including members of the Russian intelligence community.

CNN’s report was based on multiple unnamed U.S. officials briefed on the matter.

The New York Times and CNN reported last week that members of the Trump campaign and Russian nationals were in repeated contact during the campaign.

Trump affiliates mentioned in the Times’ story all denied that they knowingly had untoward contact with Russians during the campaign. Some, including Roger Stone, later denied any contact categorically.

This article was written by Matt Shuham from Talking Points Memo and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

(TPM)

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White House Punts New Travel Order To Next Week |The Republican News

 

Jordan Fabian
White House punts new travel order to next week        © Provided by The Hill White House punts new travel order to next week  

The White House is pushing back the release of a revised executive order on travel and refugees until next week, an official said Wednesday.

No explanation was given for the delay, and it remains unclear how the White House will tweak the travel ban to avoid future legal pitfalls.

“Fundamentally you’re going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” White House policy adviser Stephen Miller said on Fox News on Tuesday night.

He said the new order will largely resemble the old one, but that the changes will be “mostly minor technical differences.”

President Trump said last Thursday he would unveil a more tailored travel ban this week after his initial directive was blocked by a federal court.

White House officials have been scrambling to draft a new executive order, while stressing they are taking steps to ensure a smoother rollout than the last one.

The initial ban temporarily blocked travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and suspended refugee resettlement for at least four months. It indefinitely blocked Syrian refugees from entering the country.

Chaos ensured after the ban was handed down on Jan. 27, as hundreds of travelers were stranded at airports around the country amid confusion about whether the policy applied to people in transit and legal permanent residents.

The Department of Homeland Security days later clarified the order did not apply to permanent residents.

But that did not stop a federal judge in Washington from issuing a nationwide restraining order halting the ban, which was later upheld by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The White House has signaled it intends to continue the legal fight even though Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing the administration planned to rescind the initial order.  (The Hill)

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