Defense bill would curb Cabinet control of nuclear agency

WASHINGTON (AP) — The agency that supervises the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile would essentially lose direct Cabinet oversight under legislation that Congress is negotiating.

The little-noticed provision in a defense policy bill is opposed by the Trump administration and senior lawmakers from both parties, but efforts to scrap it have not overcome resistance from staffers on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

At issue in the Senate-approved bill is whether the National Nuclear Security Administration remains under the direct control of the Energy Department, where it’s been since its creation in 2000.

The bill would empower that agency to act nearly on its own, freed from what a report by the Senate committee calls a “flawed DOE organizational process” that has led to “weak accountability … insufficient program and budget expertise and poor contract management.”

That report cites a series of delays and cost overruns at the agency, including a contentious project to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium and uranium into fuel for commercial reactors. The cost of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina has ballooned from $1.4 billion in 2004 to more than $17 billion and completion is decades away. The Energy Department has moved to cancel the project, but it remains open — at a cost of $1.2 million a day — amid a legal challenge by the state of South Carolina.

The White House and Energy Secretary Rick Perry strongly oppose the reorganization, saying it would usurp Perry’s authority to set policy in crucial areas and make the nuclear agency’s general counsel independent of the Energy Department’s legal division.

The White House said in a statement that the bill would block the energy secretary from directing civil and national security functions at the agency and “degrade” the secretary’s ability to protect the health, safety and security of employees and the public.

A Perry spokeswoman, Shaylyn Hynes, called the plan “misguided” and said it would “weaken national security efforts by limiting DOE’s critical role in managing America’s nuclear weapons capabilities.”

“It is in the best interest of the safety and security of all Americans to remove this provision from the bill and continue NNSA to be represented by a Cabinet-level official, allowing DOE and NNSA’s complementary relationship to remain strong,” Hynes said.

The NNSA said in a statement that while intended to improve efficiencies, “the changes put forward by the Senate committee would significantly limit the secretary’s ability to fulfill his nuclear security missions and … lead to unnecessary duplication of effort at NNSA for work already being carried out by DOE.”

The leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said the plan was “a major step backward.”

“To reduce the secretary’s authority in such a sweeping way …. raises serious questions about the long-term consequences,” Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Murkowski and Cantwell supported Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provision during Senate debate on the defense bill last month. A later Cruz effort also failed on procedural grounds.

Criticism of the nuclear agency isn’t new.

A congressional commission led by a former Army undersecretary and retired Navy admiral concluded in 2014 that it had failed in its mission and relied too heavily on private contractors that had turned it into a massive jobs program with duplicative functions and a “dysfunctional management and operations relationship.”

The commission, however, did support the current oversight arrangement.

A Senate aide familiar with the reorganization plan contended it was “a straight-up power grab” by staffers at the nuclear agency and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Agency staffers, frustrated by delays that occur as the Energy Department’s general counsel and other officials review their work, took their case to Senate committee staffers, according to the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.

The committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been away from the Capitol since December as he fights brain cancer. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has led the committee in McCain’s absence but has not played a role in the nuclear agency dispute.

In its staff-written report, the committee said the proposal was not “an indictment of the current Energy secretary” but rather an effort to “address a number of structural impediments” that have “damaged the NNSA’s ability to carry out its mission.”

A committee spokeswoman declined to comment, as did representatives for Inhofe and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s top Democrat. Spokesmen for leaders of the House Armed Service Committee also declined to comment.

Perry told Congress this year that there have been “historically questionable expenditures of dollars” on the MOX project and other NNSA contracts, but said officials were working to ensure taxpayers “are getting a good return on our investment.”

“We will give good oversight,” Perry told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in May, pledging to make the NNSA and other DOE agencies “as transparent as we can and try to get us the results that this committee wants.”

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, a New Mexico-based watchdog group, said the proposed changes would begin “dismantling civilian control over the nuclear weapons enterprise.”

Corporate contractors “have already captured NNSA. These changes would gut what remaining oversight and external control there is,” Mello said.

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Online:

National Nuclear Security Administration: https://www.energy.gov/nnsa/national-nuclear-security-administration

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Follow Matthew Daly: https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC



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The Teen-Agers Fighting for Climate Justice

On Saturday, hundreds of teen-agers—loud, pensive, stubbornly determined—marched through Manhattan. They represented a movement that other teen-agers had started, last year, called Zero Hour. They were gravely concerned about politicians doing almost nothing for climate justice, and they had created a list of demands—including, most importantly, achieving negative carbon emissions by 2030. All across the country, other kids were marching, too, with the biggest group in a rainy Washington, D.C., where the movement’s founders led the way down the National Mall, around the Capitol, before ending with a rally in Lincoln Park. In New York, the route wound through midtown, from Columbus Circle to the United Nations headquarters, below some of the luxury skyscrapers that account for only two per cent of New York’s nearly one million buildings but a full half of the city’s emissions.

As the march passed a TGI Fridays, on Seventh Avenue, I talked to Puneet Johal, seventeen, who was at the back of the crowd. She had braces and wore checkered Vans. “I mean, this is our reality,” she said. “Our politicians? They should be embarrassed that they’re not doing anything.” Her friend Benjamin Hu was beside her, wearing a T-shirt with a cartoon kid popping out of a volcano. “People are scared of how difficult the change could be—the trade-off between renewables and non-renewables. Changing their mind-sets is hard. My parents are verbally supportive, but they don’t know what to do. They’re busy with their lives.”

Juhal and Hu are both rising seniors, at Bronx Science and Stuyvesant High School, respectively. Both want to study computer science after they graduate and remembered first learning about climate change in “Arthur” and “The Magic School Bus” cartoons. Their biggest concern is sea-level rise. “Especially because we’re both from Queens,” Johal said. “We live on an island. It’s really scary to think it won’t exist in the future.” (By the end of the next decade, sea-level rise around Queens could be greater than a foot.)

Emmanuel Mendez, a quiet fourteen-year-old with wire-framed glasses and a halo of black curly hair, had never participated in a political march before, and none of his friends had either, but he decided to join after hearing about Zero Hour’s cause. On Saturday, he took a bus to New York from Allentown, Pennsylvania, with a volunteer group that helps kids build bikes. “People keep believing climate change isn’t real,” he said. “It’s just their way of life.” One of his personal concerns is water pollution—he was disturbed by what happened in Flint, Michigan, he said. “Seeing images of coastlines littered with garbage makes me feel disgusting.”

On Forty-eighth Street, a football-field-sized empty lot, scattered with broken bricks, gave view to the steep oxidized spire of a cathedral a block south. A group holding signs (“Youth for the Sanity of Science,” “Stand up Now! Or Drown Later!”) chanted, “Divest! Defund! These fossil fuels have got to go!” A one-year-old named Asher Brody, seated on the shoulders of his father, Noah, stared resolutely forward. I told his mother, Jessie Austrian, that he appeared unusually calm, considering all the commotion. She smiled. “It’s not his first march.”

Nearby, Avery Tsai, an eight-year-old who attends P.S. 325, in Hamilton Heights, held a hand-made sign that read “Mother Nature is Crying.” Her portrait showed Earth in a shower of tears. I couldn’t quite see her T-shirt (it was behind the sign), so I asked her what it read. “I can change the world,” she said, in a tiny, electrifying whisper. (“That’s her activist T-shirt,” her mom, Elizabeth Payne, said, sotto voce.)

Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker
Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker

Around 1 P.M., the march arrived at the United Nations, where Kai Franks, sixteen, was working the megaphone. Their T-shirt read “The Supremes” and had drawings of the four women who have served as Supreme Court Justices. Franks got involved in the march thanks to their friend Sylvana Widman, who runs the Youth Progressive Policy Group, based in Park Slope. Widman, also sixteen, cited the high-school students from Parkland, Florida, as an inspiration. But, for her and her friends, the most motivating factor is, simply, “growing up in this time period.” Her group is lobbying the New York State Assembly to pass a bill (sponsored by the assemblyman Bobby Carroll) that would lower the statewide voting age to seventeen, mandate that every high school offer a civics course, and register students (who don’t opt out) to vote. Standing under a nearby birch tree were the lead authors of the bill, Eli Frankel, seventeen, and Chris Stauffer, eighteen. I asked how long it took them to write it. “One night,” Stauffer said. “Well, it was a two-week process,” Frankel said. “But then we wrote it in a night,” Stauffer repeated. They pointed out that other groups run by kids are lobbying for similar bills in San Francisco, Berkeley, Washington, D.C. And, they added, two other cities either have, or soon will have, a voting age of sixteen: Takoma Park, Maryland, was the first city in the United States to lower the age, in 2013, and Northampton, Massachusetts, just approved such a measure, although it hasn’t yet made it through the legislative process.

One of the speakers at the post-march rally was Leela Sotsky, who wore a bright-yellow-leather backpack and had long lavender nails. She called out one of her teachers at her high school in Fresh Meadows, Queens, where she will soon be a senior. “It was snowing in April, which is kind of odd,” she said. “He said it was evidence that global warming isn’t real. And I had to talk to him about it, explain that it was not evidence—that weather and climate are not the same.” Sotsky sits on the youth advisory council for the Climate Museum, which organized a large cohort for the march. (The museum runs climate-change programs and exhibits throughout the city, and is in the process of establishing a physical New York home.) She also works at the New York Hall of Science, doing demonstrations on air pressure and other atmospheric phenomenon. “Kids know so much,” she said. “But they don’t always know what to do, or think anyone cares what they say. It’s a little sad—they’re too quiet. So that’s what we’re trying to change, and why I’m here.”

Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker
Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker

Toward the end of the rally, I met Ilana Cohen, the New York march’s co-head organizer, who was wearing a ponytail and a black T-shirt. “Climate change is the greatest threat of the twenty-first century. Obviously,” she said. “We have the highest per-capita carbon emissions in the world. The way we live our lives is affecting people everywhere.” I asked what scared her the most about the future. “The climate refugee crisis,” she said, before listing an impressive number of statistics off the top of her head—like how there will be an estimated two hundred and fifty million climate-induced refugees by 2050. Cohen, who has been interested in politics since she entered Manhattan’s Beacon High School—(“participatory budgeting is my main issue,” she said, straight-faced)—started organizing in May, right before she graduated. She was inspired by an environmental-politics class, “taught by Bayard Faithfull, who’s right there,” she said, pointing at a grinning man nearby.

I walked over to Faithfull, who was wearing an orange “volunteer marshall” T-shirt. He told me that his class studied the history of environmental negotiations, nationally and internationally. The challenge, he said, was “not depressing kids with the facts, because they’re startling and scary.” But at least six of his students were at the march. For him, that showed a “real balance” between “a pessimism of the mind and an optimism of will.”

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Spicer rips media for Trump-Putin furor, as half of Americans disapprove of Trump’s job in Finland

President Trump’s former Press Secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged on Sunday that his former boss should have been quicker in clarifying his comments during a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week about Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, but blamed the media for blowing the issue out of proportion.

Speaking to Howard Kurtz on Fox News’ “Media Buzz” on Sunday, Spicer said that Trump had admitted to fumbling his words when he appeared to side with Putin and cast doubts on U.S. intelligence conclusions about Russian meddling, but added that Trump in the past had spoken very clearly about Russian hacking.

More on this…

“I think the issue is the degree and intensity with which they went after him,” Spicer said of the media. “There was this fury from the media that a lot of folks thought they had to react to.”

Spicer added: “Most Republicans, most Americans, are glad that he made it clear.”

While Spicer is correct that most Republican voters across the country approve of Trumps handling of the summit in Finland with Putin, recent polling shows that half of Americans do not.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday, 50 percent of Americans disapprove of how the president dealt with his summit with Putin, with only 33 percent approving of it. When asked about Trump casting doubts about U.S. intelligence in regards to Russian meddling, the number jumped to 56 percent disapproving to just 29 percent approving.   

Trump’s public doubting of Russia’s culpability for interference in 2016 — though he tried to “clarify” his remarks a day later — sparked bipartisan condemnation in Washington and sparked congressional lawmakers to look once again for ways to tighten sanctions on the longtime U.S. foe.

By the time Trump arrived back in the U.S., the parade of critical statements had become a stampede, leaving the president the most isolated he’d been in the White House since last year’s controversy over white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville.

Trump waited 27 hours, sent five tweets and sat for two television interviews after his initial comments in Helsinki before claiming he’d used a confusing “double negative” and meant “would” instead of “wouldn’t” in a key sentence at his press conference about who was responsible for election meddling.

“The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia,” the president said Tuesday before a meeting with Republican members of Congress.

The next day brought a fresh challenge. Trump appeared to answer “no” to a reporter’s question asking whether Russia was still targeting the U.S. While hours later, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders emerged to say Trump had merely tried to put a stop to the questioning by saying “no,” although he continued discussing Russia after that.

And Sanders created a fresh headache for the administration when she said the White House was still reviewing a proposal from Putin to allow access by Russian law enforcement officials to Americans whom the Kremlin accuses of unspecified crimes in return for U.S. access to interrogations of Russian agents indicted for their alleged roles in interfering in the 2016 election. The State Department, by contrast, rejected the proposal — which Trump days earlier had called an “incredible offer — as “absurd.”

Despite the blowback inside the Beltway for Helsinki, the new poll suggests that it has done little to shift attitudes toward Trump overall. An average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics finds that just under 53 percent of Americans disapprove of the president compared to just over 43 percent who approve.

President Barack Obama saw 46 percent of Americans having
favorable views of him at the same point in his presidency, July 2010, while 46 percent disapproved. Similarly, 69 percent of Americans approved of President George W. Bush in July 2002, while 24 percent disapproved.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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How Long Will The Supreme Court’s Conservative Bloc Survive?

Somewhere high up in the news stories (ours included) about President Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee, there’s often a sentence that goes like this: Brett Kavanaugh is relatively young, and his confirmation could therefore alter the makeup of the high court for decades to come.

This article is an expanded, FiveThirtyEight version of that sentence. It is, by nature, a morbid exercise.

The Founding Fathers, in their 18th-century waistcoated wisdom, decided that Supreme Court justices ought to serve for life. This was meant to insulate justices from certain “encroachments and oppressions” that could threaten the judiciary. But it also gives the court — and thus the laws of the land — an unpredictable flavor, one susceptible to the whims of the circulatory, respiratory and nervous systems of nine middle-age-to-quite-old people.

Supreme Court justices aren’t around forever.

Which leads to some questions. About how long can we expect each current justice — or the new nominee, Brett Kavanaugh — to get up and put on their black robe and sit in their black leather chair? And assuming that Kavanaugh is confirmed, how long can we expect the court’s new five-member conservative bloc to stay together?

I’m not a medical doctor, and this is not a medical diagnosis of the high court. Rather, it is a rough, but statistically grounded, empirical assessment written on the back of a cloth napkin. The illustrations below are based solely on mortality probabilities from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — accounting exclusively for each justice’s gender, race and current age. The analysis does not take into account, for example, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vigorous workout regimen or Kavanaugh’s fondness for spending time outdoors.

The over-under — that is, the point where there are equal chances both before and after — on the new conservative majority cohort all staying alive is just about eight years. The over-under on the liberal minority cohort all continuing to draw breath is about five years.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, congratulations: As the youngest Supreme Court Justice, you are expected to be with us for the longest. There is about an 11 percent chance that nearly-51-year-old Gorsuch is still alive and kicking in 2060 and a better than 50 percent chance that he gets to 2048. Set the over-under for Ginsburg — the oldest justice, at 85 — at around 2025. Kavanaugh, the 53-year-old would-be court alterer, may or may not make it past 2047, with about equal probability.

Of course, what happens next to the court should the end befall any of these justices depends entirely on timing. If there’s a death within the next couple of years, Trump will likely fill the seat with a conservative. That means that if Kavanaugh has been confirmed and a conservative is being replaced, the court’s 5-4 conservative majority will be maintained. If a liberal is being replaced, it could mean a shift further to the right for the court. If a death happens after a couple of years, the likely outcome is anyone’s guess.

Note, too, of course, that death is an upper bound on the date of a justice leaving the court. Retirement is always as option — one exercised recently by Justice Anthony Kennedy (age 81) and one rumored to be under consideration by Justice Clarence Thomas (age 70). From our point of view, retirement is even less predictable than death, and there are so few of these berobed folks that it’s hard to detect real patterns. But historically speaking, of 113 justices dating back to 1789, 18 left the court because of “advanced age” and 20 because of “declining health,” according to the work of scholar Lee Epstein and others. Fifty died in office, and only two retired “before physical or mental health could decline.”

That puts the average age at departure from the court at 69.7, which is heavily influenced by the average age at death: 73.9. Two of the current eight justices, both liberals, are older than that.

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FBI used anti-Trump media to obtain spy warrants on Carter Page, campaign

The FBI continued to tell judges that dossier writer Christopher Steele wasn’t the source of a news article the bureau used to corroborate a wiretap application when in fact Mr. Steele had publicly acknowledged he fed the anti-Trump story.

This chronology is contained in four heavily censored Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents also show the FBI relied as evidence on mainstream media stories critical of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

The warrants were submitted by the FBI for surveillance on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page from October 2016 to September 2017. The FBI told surveillance court judges Mr. Page was an illegal foreign agent of Russia. Mr. Page has repeatedly denied this and has not been charged.

The applications are heavily redacted. The FBI’s central piece of evidence in the unreacted parts is the dossier compiled by Mr. Steele, a former British spy hired by Fusion GPS with money from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. In other words, the FBI was relying on partisan opposition research to target Mr. Page for a year of intrusive phone and electronic intercepts.

Mr. Steele’s dossier made several charges against Mr. Page. The paramount one is that, during a public-speaking trip to Moscow in July 2016, he met with two U.S.-sanctioned Kremlin figures, Igor Sechin and Igor Divyekin. Mr. Steele said Mr. Page discussed sanctions relief for bribes.


SEE ALSO: Carter Page subject of ‘targeted recruitment’ by Russia, FBI documents reveal


To bolster Mr. Steele, the FBI presented to the judges as an independent source a Sept. 23, 2016 article by Michael Isikoff in Yahoo News. It reported the same supposed Sechin-Divyekin meetings.

The applications state, “[Steele] told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate [Fusion] and the FBI …. The FBI does not believe that [Steele] directly provided this information to the press.”

But in fact, he did. Mr. Isikoff has acknowledged that his source was Mr. Steele. And the FBI by June 2017, the date of its final application, had a way to know this.

The Washington Times first reported on April 25 2017 that Mr. Steele filed a declaration in a libel suit against him in London. He stated that he had personally briefed Yahoo News and other media in September 2016 before the story appeared.

The Times produced his declaration in the story, which was repeated by other news media. But the FBI two months later continued to tell judges that, “The FBI does not believe that [Steele] directly provided this information to the press.”

The Republican majority of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has previously stated that the FBI knew at the time, but did not disclosed to the judges, that the dossier was funded by the Democratic Party.

Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, has accused the FBI of abusing the FISA process by relying on the opposition research of the other party.

The only reference to possible bias comes when the FBI is discussing a “U.S. Person” who matches the job description of Glenn Simpson, the Fusion co-founder who hired Mr. Steele.

“The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit candidate #1’s [Trump‘s] campaign,” the application said.

The FBI cited other mainstream media stories to augment the wiretap application. Several referred to a platform plank at the Republican National Convention dealing with defending Ukraine.

The liberal media narration was that Trump people watered-down the language to please Russia, which is backing separatists in their war against Kiev. The FBI cited this angle.

But Trump aides said the stories were inaccurate. They say that actually the final language was tougher on Russia than the first draft. A single delegate proposed adding a sentence that endorsed “lethal” aid. A compromise was struck by adding a sentence that pledged military support, a less provocative way of saying lethal aid.

In the end, the Trump administration sent state-of-the-art Javelin anti-tank missiles to the Ukraine last May.

The FBI also cited stories about then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reed. The Democrat sent a letter to the FBI calling for a probe of the Trump campaign based on Steele dossier tidbits showing up in the media.

“The FBI’s use of politically charged media reports to surveil political opposition is tyrannical,” said J.D. Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesman and senior campaign advisers. “It’s fundamentally un-American and those responsible must be brought to justice.”

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on House intelligence, has been defending of Mr. Steele, reading his charges into hearing transcripts

“Looking more and more like the President cannot separate fact from fiction,” Mr. Schiff tweeted on Sunday. “FBI had good reason to believe Page was an agent of a foreign power, and the FISA was lawfully approved by 4 different judges. If the President isn’t compromised, why does he continue to act this way?”

Mr. Page lived in Moscow as an energy investor in the 2000s and has a string of contacts with Russian business people.

In 2013, a Russian spy posing as a United Nations diplomat made contact with Mr. Page in New York. It is standard operating procedure for Russian intelligence to try to recruit American business contacts.

Mr. Page was later informed by the FBI that the Russian was an agent. He said he cooperated in the investigation and was never charged.

He has testified under oath that he never met the Russians named by Mr. Steele.

Mr. Steele’s dossier also accused Mr. Page of coordinating Russian election inference, which included hacking of Democratic Party computers, with campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Mr. Page testified he has never met nor spoken with Mr. Manafort. No evidence has surfaced to rebut his testimony.

The FBI fired Mr. Steele in late October after he went to Mother Jones magazine with his dossier stories. In future applications, the FBI continued to vouch to judges for his honesty.

His dossier cites unnamed Kremlin sources, leading Republicans to charge that if any one is guilty of election year colluding with Moscow it is the Clinton campaign.

At the time of all four FISA applicants, the FBI probe was led by Peter Strzok, the agent known for his dislike of President Trump in text messages to his lover.

In August 2016, before the first Page application, he texted that “We’ll stop it” referring to the Trump campaign.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired Mr. Strzok in July 2017 after being briefed on the text messages by the Department of Justice inspector general.

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FBI has tapes of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump discussing payment to former Playboy model: Report

The FBI has a secretly taped conversation of President Trump and his former longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen discussing paying hush money to a Playboy model who had alleged an affair with Mr. Trump, The New York Times reported on Friday.

The bombshell report said that Mr. Cohen secretly recorded conversation just two months before the 2016 election. It was seized by the FBI when they raided his offices earlier this year, according to the Times.

In the recording, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump are said to be discussing a payment to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with Mr. Trump in 2016.

Hope Hicks, a former Trump campaign spokeswoman, said in 2016 that Ms. McDougal’s allegations were “totally untrue.”

Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s current attorney, confirmed to the newspaper the recording’s existence, but said the payment was never made. He also said the recording is under two minutes and proves he did nothing wrong.

“Nothing in that conversation suggested he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Mr. Giuliani told The Times.

Mr. Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, said the tape would not hurt his client.

“Obviously there is an ongoing investigation and we are sensitive to that,” Mr. Davis said in a statement. “But suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen. Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape.”

Federal authorities are probing whether Mr. Cohen paid off two women who alleged affairs with Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

Mr. Cohen made a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, to prevent her from talking about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump. Ms. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen for libel. She has a separate lawsuit against Mr. Trump over a nondisclosure agreement she signed in exchange for the money.

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Trump tweets it looks like his campaign spied upon illegally

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Sunday it was looking more and more like his campaign for the 2016 presidential election had been illegally spied upon.

U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Trump issued the tweet after saying documents about his former presidential campaign adviser Carter Page confirmed with little doubt that the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation had misled the courts.

The FBI released documents on Saturday related to the surveillance of Page as part of an investigation into whether he conspired with the Russian government to undermine the election.

Page has denied being an agent of the Russian government and has not been charged with any crime.

In his tweets, Trump also took aim at defeated Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, her party’s governing body.

“Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC,” he said, referring to the Democratic National Committee. “Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!”

Referring to the Carter Page documents, he said: “As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of “Justice” and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!”

The 412 pages, mostly heavily redacted, included surveillance applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and warrants surrounding the investigation into Page.

“The FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government,” the surveillance application filed in October 2016 said. The documents released include applications and renewal warrants filed in 2017 after Trump took office.

The documents released said “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” Trump’s campaign. It added Page “has established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers.”

Republican lawmakers have contended that the FBI made serious missteps when it sought a warrant to monitor Page in October 2016 shortly after he left the Trump campaign.

Last week, a federal grand jury charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016, in the most detailed U.S. accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the presidential election to help Trump.

Earlier this year, 13 other Russians and three Russian companies were indicted on charges of conspiring to interfere with the election.

Reporting by David Stamp; editing by David Goodman and Jason Neely

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Russia Mania Is the Birtherism of the Left

The birther movement that assailed President Obama represents one of the most unsavory themes of American politics over the last decade.  The slurs emanated first from the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008, which smeared then-Sen. Obama as “fundamentally not American.”  To his discredit, Donald Trump also took up the cause. Thankfully, he did not mention this issue as a presidential candidate in 2016 until he unequivocally, and properly, put it to rest, fully acknowledging President Obama’s birth citizenship. As a campaign surrogate, I regularly denounced the whole birther theme, both in print and on television.

Now, I forcefully denounce a new birtherism, this time from the left via an entrenched and hysterical fixation on Russia and President Trump.  Like the Obama birtherism, there are enough fuzzy facts for totally biased people to convince themselves there is some merit to the fanciful concoction.  After all, Trump seems unwilling to vigorously condemn Putin’s misdeeds.  Trump also was hesitant to enact harsh sanctions against Russia.  Perhaps most importantly, he seemed unduly deferential to Putin in the Helsinki press conference, a criticism I myself levied.

But, the leap from “Trump is too soft on Russia” to “Trump is a compromised Russian agent” is indeed a giant one, and illogical as well.  According to the new birthers, the total lack of evidence regarding Trump and his supposed fealty to Russia matters little; instead, only their suspicions and mistrust matter, especially since so many media and political elites still have not recovered from so badly missing the tectonic political shift of the 2016 election.  Rather than introspection or discernment regarding their own biases, the chattering class of Acela corridor bigwigs would rather create a myth that the president did not really win, at least not legitimately.  The new birthers would rather sell us the lie that the Russians altered the vote to install their man in the Oval Office to do Vladimir’s bidding. 

Such thoughts are hardly consigned to the wackier outposts of the radical left. Instead, this liberal birtherism is fully embraced by the most prolific and credentialed elites of American government and media.  For example, James Clapper, unbowed despite his very public perjury under oath regarding mass surveillance of Americans, declared, “I really do wonder whether the Russians have something on him [Trump].” CNN security analyst Asha Rangappa tweeted out that a former FBI colleague advised her: “when are you going to say it on air: he’s a controlled asset of the Russian government.”

Trump’s critics seem astounded, and aggravated, by his continued success in office despite the howls of the “resistance.”  The economic Trump Boom accelerates, confidence pervades, and most non-politically obsessed Americans remain far more interested in the security and prosperity of Moscow, Idaho than Moscow, Russia.  Sadly, this success seems to drive Trump critics even further into the fringes of politics in an attempt to discredit him.  Formerly serious news anchors and politicians have transformed, through their hatred of Trump, into the new Alex Joneses.  Both the old and the new birtherisms are bad for America.  We are better than this nonsense as a country.

Steve Cortes is a contributor to RealClearPolitics and a CNN  political commentator. His Twitter handle is @CortesSteve.

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Little public support for Trump in doubting Russian interference (POLL)

A majority of Americans disapprove of Donald Trump casting doubt about U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in the 2016 election, with relatively modest support for the president even in his own party and among conservatives in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.

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The public by a 17-point margin also says America’s leadership in the world has gotten weaker, not stronger, under Trump. And just 33 percent approve of his handling of his summit with Vladimir Putin last week, with four in 10 saying he went too far in supporting the Russian leader.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, FILE
President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018.

Fifty-six percent disapprove of Trump, in a post-summit news conference with Putin, expressing doubt about U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia tried to influence the U.S. election; just 29 percent approve. Indeed, 41 percent disapprove “strongly,” vs. just 14 percent strongly approving.

Just 51 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of conservatives approve of Trump questioning U.S. intelligence on the matter, tepid levels of support in his base. In the political center, 59 percent of independents disapprove, as do 68 percent of moderates. Indeed, disapproval of Trump on this issue is as high among moderates as it is among liberals.

In terms of intensity of sentiment, the survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that 70 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of liberals strongly disapprove of Trump questioning U.S. intelligence on the matter, while just 28 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of conservatives strongly approve.

Trump walked back his comments after returning to Washington, saying he misspoke when he questioned U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia in fact tried to influence the election. But he also seemed to equivocate, saying, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

Trump’s challenges on this issue are made clear by the more typical partisan and ideological divisions on the broader question of whether he’s strengthened or weakened U.S. leadership in the world. Overall, 47 percent of Americans say America’s leadership has weakened under Trump, 30 percent say it’s grown stronger and 20 percent see no change. While 80 percent of Democrats see a weakened United States, 74 percent of Republicans say it’s stronger.

Again, though, Trump loses the middle, with independents seeing weaker rather than stronger U.S. leadership by 47-22 percent (as do moderates, by 54-17 percent). Moreover, while 72 percent of liberals say the United States has grown weaker in terms of world leadership, fewer conservatives say the opposite, 55 percent.

Better for Trump is that views on U.S. leadership under his presidency haven’t worsened despite the uproar over the Putin meeting. Last November, 53 percent said U.S. leadership had grown weaker; it’s in fact slightly lower now.

In terms of the Trump-Putin summit overall, 50 percent disapprove of how Trump handled it, while, as noted, 33 percent approve. (The rest, 18 percent, have no opinion.) Again Trump has comparative difficulty in his base; 66 percent of Republicans approve while 83 percent of Democrats disapprove, and 58 percent of conservatives approve while 73 percent of liberals disapprove.

In the middle, independents divide by 33-46 percent, disapproving by a 13-point margin. Among moderates this swells to a 45-point margin, 19-64 percent, approve-disapprove.

Lastly, 40 percent say Trump went too far in supporting Putin; 15 percent say he didn’t go far enough and 35 percent say he handled this about right. The partisan divisions are more balanced: Sixty-eight percent of Democrats say he went too far, 68 percent of Republicans say he handled it about right and independents are essentially divided on the question.

Methodology

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone July 18-20, 2018, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 464 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 5.5 percentage points for the full sample, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 32-24-38 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS of Glen Mills, Pa. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

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Republicans pick Charlotte to host 2020 convention – The Denver Post

By STEVE PEOPLES and TOM FOREMAN Jr.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Charlotte, North Carolina, celebrates being chosen Friday to host the 2020 Republican National Convention, an undercurrent of concern about the potential for violence runs through the Democratic-leaning city.

The GOP’s national committee selected North Carolina’s largest city over Las Vegas as hundreds of party activists gathered in Austin, Texas, for the committee’s summer meeting.

“The city that I represent has truly established its place on the national stage, and I want to thank you again for the opportunity to showcase our city and showing the world how special we are,” said Mayor Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s first black female mayor. “We’re a growing center of diversity and inclusiveness in the New South, and we’re going to show you the true meaning of Southern hospitality.”

Under Lyles’ predecessor, Jennifer Roberts, Charlotte passed an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance in 2016 that included allowing people to choose whichever bathroom corresponds to their gender identity. The Republican-led General Assembly responded with House Bill 2, which prevented other local governments from passing similar laws and directed transgender people in schools and government buildings to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates.

A protracted battle marked by corporate pullouts and sports boycotts ended when state lawmakers rolled back the restrictions, but not enough to satisfy LGBTQ advocates.

Lyles led the campaign to bring the convention to Charlotte and said in a newspaper column that it would be a chance for the city to show its inclusiveness. At a public hearing Monday, more than 100 residents spoke for and against the proposed bid. The City Council voted 6-5 to extend the bid, and Lyles emphasized that the vote wasn’t an endorsement of President Donald Trump.

“I’m going to call for unity,” Lyles said after Monday’s vote. “Unity doesn’t come easily. It comes with hard work, and we’re trying our best to make that happen.”

Throughout the city council meeting, opponents of the bid said the convention would put Charlotte residents at risk. Tens of thousands of political activists, protesters and journalists are expected to converge on Charlotte in two years.

“I do not believe that something like ’68 is going to happen in Charlotte,” said Larry Shaheen, a Charlotte-based Republican consultant, referring to the violence at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, where Vietnam War protesters fought police in the streets.

Given recent events in the city, he said, it would be wise for Charlotte convention organizers to begin building civic unity now for the event despite political divisions to avoid a spark “fanning into the flame.”

The Rev. Amantha Barbee, one of speakers at Monday’s meeting, cast a dire view of what lies ahead. Part of her prediction stems from two nights of violent protests in downtown Charlotte after the shooting of a black man by a police officer in 2016.

“You can look at what happened in Charlottesville. You can look at what happened here in Charlotte. You can look at Ferguson,” Barber said. “And you can go overseas and see what happened when the president was visiting. I am afraid that people will be hurt or killed, and there’s not enough money on the planet to replace someone’s life.”

Barbee also chastised city leaders, saying the bid was “more of a financial concern versus a community concern.”

In North Carolina, Republicans will lavish money and attention on a swing state that backed President Barack Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016.

The state’s African-American community is viewed as particularly influential. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 22 percent of North Carolina’s population is black, a higher percentage than any other presidential swing state. The city hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

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