Trump makes false claims about US nuclear arsenal

KOREAN PENINSULA, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 08: In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber (top) fly with South Korean jets over the Korean Peninsula during a South Korea-U.S. joint live fire drill on July 8, 2017 in Korean Peninsula, South Korea.

Hours after warning North Korea that it will meet “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if its leader, Kim Jong Un, continued to provoke the United States, President Donald Trump said the U.S. nuclear arsenal is “stronger than ever before.”

“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

 

He did not order the modernization of the nuclear arsenal. President Barack Obama did that in 2014, despite calling for a “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons” just five years earlier.

The plan, expected to cost $400 billion through 2024, would upgrade nuclear weapon production facilities, refurbish warheads and build new submarines, bombers and ground-based missiles. It will likely cost more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years, according to outside estimates.

Because the sprawling nuclear enterprise will take so long to rebuild, the arsenal is more or less at the same level of strength than when Trump took office seven months ago.

Trump did launch a top-to-bottom Nuclear Posture Review to determine what the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy should be, just like each of his recent predecessors did when they took office.

The review has not yet been completed, and it wasn’t Trump’s first order. The directive was issued a week after Trump took office, and was preceded by more than a dozen orders on other topics.

The U.S. nuclear weapons strategy rests on a triad of delivery systems — bombers, submarines and land-based missiles — developed early in the Cold War. The three legs of the triad were designed to ensure that even in a massive surprise attack, at least one leg would survive to deliver a retaliatory strike.

In addition to the review of the nuclear force, the White House has also proposed a $1.4 billion budget increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons enterprise. That money has yet to be allocated.

It’s unclear what Trump meant when he said that the nuclear arsenal is stronger than before. The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau has written at length on the deteriorating state of various aspects of the nuclear enterprise.

In addition, the U.S. military is limited in how many weapons can be deployed under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 2010. That agreement requires Russia and the U.S. to reduce deployed intercontinental missiles to 700 and the overall number of warheads to 1,550, each by 2018.

Russia and the U.S. currently meet those limits, according to the latest data released by the State Department.

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Legal Expert Says Trump’s Texts to Mueller Could Be Construed as Intimidation

 

<span style="font-size:13px;">[Screengrab via ABC]</span>Donald Trump‘s texts to Robert Mueller are not only unusual, but could be the basis of an obstruction of justice accusation. Jimmy Gurulé, a law professor at Notre Dame University and a former U.S. Assistant Attorney General under the first president Bush, told LawNewz.com that the texts leave the president vulnerable, legally speaking, because these could be construed as intimidation.

Grand jury subpoenas issued in relation to Russian lawyer, Trump Jr. meeting

Trump chief counsel John Dowd told USA TODAY on Tuesday that POTUS “appreciates what Bob Mueller is doing. He asked me to share that with him and that’s what I’ve done.” Dowd described the messages as showing “appreciation and greetings,” and that texts were sent “back and forth.”

Bad idea.

Gurulé said that anything Trump tells him could be used against him in the Russia collusion investigation. Also, the texts themselves could be construed as an attempt to influence the probe.

“‘I’m watching you.’ How else could it be interpreted?” Gurulé said. ‘ Thank you for conducting an investigation into my campaign. Thank you for conducting an investigation into my son and my son-in-law.’”

If nothing else, this sort of thing leaves the president vulnerable.

“I can’t imagine he would do it again, and if so, he does it at his legal peril,” Gurulé said.

Joe Conason, the editor-in-chief at The National Memo, has also suggested this could play into an obstruction case against the president.

“You know and I do that the obstruction case is being built,” he told MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber in a panel Tuesday evening. “This is all part of the context of that case.”

George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley has a different take on this.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” he told LawNewz.com. “It is not common for a potential target to convey such words of appreciation, however, nothing about this commonplace. There appears to be an concerted effort to dampen down the rumors that Trump was considering a termination of Mueller.”

Nonetheless, he wasn’t convinced about a hypothetical obstruction allegation: “If sending ‘appreciation and greetings’ is potential criminal intimidation, Hallmark executives are virtual serial killers.”

Mueller is investigating the Trump campaign for alleged collusion with the Russian government during the 2016 election. The president has repeatedly, publicly called the Special Counsel’s probe a “witch hunt” pushed by Democrats.

LawNewz.com has predicted that Trump will soon terminate Mueller.

The president has draw criticism before for allegedly speaking with investigators. FBI Director James Comey claims the president asked him in February to drop a federal investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. In March, Comey revealed that the feds were investigating Russia collusion efforts. Trump fired Comey in May, ostensibly for doing a bad job.

Critics have accused Trump of obstruction of justice for allegedly telling Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, and for firing him during the Kremlin probe.

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7 things the Trump team denied, and then later confirmed

President Trump.

The White House directly contradicted President Trump’s own attorney on Tuesday. It confirmed that the president was involved in that misleading Donald Trump Jr. statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer after Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, had issued two unmistakable comments asserting Trump wasn’t.

But this was hardly the first time that the Trump team has appeared to confirm something it previously denied. Below are seven examples.

1. That Trump was involved in Donald Trump Jr.’s Russia statement

The denials

“I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.” — Sekulow on NBC News on July 16

“The president didn’t sign off on anything. … The president wasn’t involved in that.” — Sekulow on ABC News on July 12

The confirmation

“The president weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.” — White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, after The Washington Post reported that Trump had changed the statement at the last minute to be more misleading.

2. That Trump is thinking about pardons

The denial

“Pardons are not being discussed and are not on the table.” — Sekulow on July 21

The confirmation

President Trump.

3. That Trump decided unilaterally to fire FBI Director James B. Comey

The denials

“No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.” — Sean Spicer on May 9

Asked whether Trump had already decided to fire Comey and asked Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and the Justice Department to craft a justification for it: “No.” — Huckabee Sanders on May 10

“He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, who oversees the FBI director. … He has lost confidence in the FBI director, and he took the recommendation of Rod J. Rosenstein.” — Kellyanne Conway on May 10

The confirmations

“I was going to fire Comey … Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” — Trump on NBC News on May 11

“On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input.” — Rosenstein on May 19

4. That Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation

The denials

“That’s not what — let me be clear with you — that was not what this is about. That’s not what this is about.” — Vice President Pence on May 10

Rosenstein’s memo contained no mention of the Russia investigation and instead focused on Comey’s unusual announcements about the Hillary Clinton investigation during the 2016 campaign: “I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.” — Rosenstein on May 9

“Based on my evaluation, and for the reasons expressed by the Deputy Attorney General in the attached memorandum, I have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI.” — Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a letter May 9

The confirmation

“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” — Trump to NBC on May 11

5. That Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador

The denial

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia. … What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” — Pence on Jan. 15

The confirmations

Asked whether Flynn discussed sanctions related to Russia’s alleged 2016 election interference: “Right.” — Spicer on Feb. 14

“So just to be clear, the acting attorney general informed the White House counsel that they wanted to give, quote, ‘a heads-up’ to us on some comments that may have seemed in conflict with what he had said to the vice president in particular. … The issue, pure and simple, came down to a matter of trust, and the president concluded that he no longer had the trust of his national security adviser.” — Spicer on Feb. 14

“What I would tell you is that the vice president became aware of incomplete information that he’d received on February 9, last Thursday night, based on media accounts.” — Pence spokesman Marc Lotter

6. That Trump’s navy secretary nominee was going to withdraw

The denial

After CBS’s Major Garrett reported that Navy secretary nominee Philip Bilden was likely to withdraw, Spicer tweeted on Feb. 18:

The confirmation

“Mr. Philip Bilden has informed me that he has come to the difficult decision to withdraw from consideration to be secretary of the Navy.” — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Feb. 26

7. That Trump shared classified information with Russian leaders in the Oval Office

The denial

“The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false.” — national security adviser H.R. McMaster on May 15

The confirmations

“It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did.” — McMaster on May 16

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Republicans are in full control of government — but losing control of their party

President Donald Trump, flanked by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), right, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), talked about health care at a lunch with GOP senators at the White House on Wednesday.

Six months after seizing complete control of the federal government, the Republican Party stands divided as ever — plunged into a messy war among its factions that has escalated in recent weeks to crisis levels.

Frustrated lawmakers are increasingly sounding off at a White House awash in turmoil and struggling to accomplish its legislative agenda. President Trump is scolding Republican senators over health care and even threatening electoral retribution. Congressional leaders are losing the confidence of their rank-and-file. And some major GOP donors are considering using their wealth to try to force out recalcitrant incumbents.

“It’s a lot of tribes within one party, with many agendas, trying to do what they want to do,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) said in an interview.

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The intensifying fights threaten to derail efforts to overhaul the nation’s tax laws and other major initiatives that GOP leaders hope will put them back on track. The party is still bogged down by a months-long health-care endeavor that lacks the support to become law, even as Senate GOP leaders plan to vote on it this week.

With his agenda stalled and Trump consumed by staff changes and investigations into Russian interference to help win election, Republicans are adding fuel to a political fire that is showing no signs of burning out. The conflict also heralds a potentially messy 2018 midterm campaign with fierce intra-party clashes that could draw resources away from fending off Democrats.

“It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President,” Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday afternoon, marking the latest sign of the president’s uneasy relationship with his own party.

Winning control of both chambers and the White House has done little to fill in the deep and politically damaging ideological fault lines that plagued the GOP during Barack Obama’s presidency and ripped the party apart during the 2016 presidential primary. Now, Republicans have even more to lose.

“In the 50 years I’ve been involved, Republicans have yet to figure out how to support each other,” said R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., the founder of the American Spectator, a conservative magazine.

On Capitol Hill, many Republicans are increasingly concerned that Trump has shown no signs of being able to calm the party. What Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) called the “daily drama” at the White House flared again last week when Trump shook up his communications staff and told the New York Times that he regretted picking Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general.

“This week was supposed to be ‘Made in America Week’ and we were talking about Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” Dent grumbled in a telephone interview Thursday, citing White House messaging efforts that were overshadowed by the controversies.

As Trump dealt with continued conflicts among his staff — which culminated Friday in press secretary Sean Spicer resigning in protest after wealthy financier Anthony Scaramucci was named communications director — he set out to try to resolve the Senate Republican impasse over health care.

President Trump claps with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other House members after passage of a health-care bill in May. The legislation is now stalled in the Senate.

The president had a small group of Republican senators over for dinner last Monday night to talk about the issue. But the discussion veered to other subjects, including Trump’s trip to Paris and the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for most legislation, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will not end. That didn’t stop Trump from wondering aloud about its usefulness.

“He asked the question, ‘why should we keep it’?” recalled Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who attended the dinner.

Trump team seeks to control, block Mueller’s Russia investigation

Two days later, some Republican senators left a White House lunch confused about what Trump was asking them to do on health care. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the next day that while the president “made very clear” that “he wants to see a bill pass, I’m unclear, having heard the president and read his tweets, exactly which bill he wants to pass.”

The White House says the president prefers to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. McConnell has also raised the prospect of moving to only repeal the law. Neither option has enough votes. Nevertheless, McConnell plans to hold a vote early this week and bring the push to fulfill a seven-year campaign promise to its conclusion, one way or the other.

“One of the things that united our party has been the pledge to repeal Obamacare since the 2010 election cycle,” said White House legislative affairs director Marc Short. “So when we complete that, I think that will help to unite” the party.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill have described the dynamic between the White House and GOP lawmakers as a “disconnect” between Republicans who are still finding it difficult to accept that he is the leader of the party that they have long controlled.

“The disconnect is between a president who was elected from outside the Washington bubble and people in Congress who are of the Washington bubble,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who works closely with the White House. “I don’t think some people in the Senate understand the mandate that Donald Trump’s election represented.”

Trump issued a threat at the Wednesday lunch against Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who has not embraced McConnell’s health-care bill. “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump said in front of a pack of reporters as Heller, sitting directly to his right, grinned through the uncomfortable moment.

Heller is up for reelection in a state that Trump lost to Hillary Clinton and where Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) was the first Republican to expanded Medicaid under the ACA. He later brushed the moment off as “President Trump being President Trump.”

But some donors say they are weighing whether to financially back primary challengers against Republican lawmakers unwilling to support Trump’s agenda.

“Absolutely we should be thinking about that,” said Frank VanderSloot, a billionaire chief executive of an Idaho nutritional-supplement company. He bemoaned the “lack of courage” some lawmakers have shown and wished representatives would “have the guts” to vote the way they said they would on the campaign trail.

It’s not just the gulf between Trump and Republican senators that has strained relations during the health-care debate. The way McConnell and his top deputies have handled the effort has drawn sharp criticism from some GOP senators.

“No,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), when asked last week whether he was happy with the way leadership has navigated the talks.

As he stepped into a Senate office building elevator the same day, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) would not respond to reporter questions about how good a job McConnell has done managing the health-care push. He flashed a smile as the door closed.

McConnell has defended his strategy, saying the process has been open to Republican senators, who have discussed it in many lunches and smaller meetings. Still, when it came time to write the bill, it was only McConnell and a small group of aides who did it. There was no outreach at all to Democrats, who have been united in their opposition.

In the House, the prospect of passing a 2018 budget this summer and a spending bill with funding for the Mexican border wall that Trump has called for remain uncertain, even though Republicans have a sizeable majority in the chamber. GOP disagreements have continued to flare during Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s (R-Wis.) tenure. There are also challenges in both chambers to achieving tax reform, which is expected to be among the next major GOP legislative undertakings.

Trump critics said the ongoing controversies over Russian interference in the 2016 election and probes into potential coordination with the president’s associates would make any improvement in relations all but impossible in the coming months, with many Republicans unsure whether Trump’s presidency will survive.

“The Russia stories never stop coming,” said Rick Wilson, a vocal anti-Trump consultant and GOP operative. “For Republicans, the stories never get better, either. There is no moment of clarity or admission.”

Wilson said Republicans are also starting to doubt whether “the bargain they made — that they can endure Trump in order to pass X or Y” can hold. “After a while, nothing really works and it becomes a train wreck.”

Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate, said Trump’s battles with Republicans are unlikely to end and are entirely predictable, based on what Trump’s victory signified.

“His nomination and election were a hostile takeover of the vehicle of the Republican Party,” Stone said. He added, “When you talk to some Republicans who oppose Trump, they say they will keep opposing him but can’t openly say it.”

Many Republican lawmakers have struggled to talk about the president publicly, fearful of aggressively challenging their party leader but also wary of aligning too closely with some of his controversial statements or policy positions. Instead, they often attempt to focus on areas where they agree.

“On foreign policy, I think he very much is involved in a direction that’s far more in alignment since he’s been elected with a bulk of the United States Senate than during the campaign,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Amid the discord, there are some signs of collaboration. The Republican National Committee has worked to build ties to Trump and his family. In recent weeks, Trump’s son Eric, his wife Lara, and RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, among other RNC officials, met at the Trump International Hotel in Washington to discuss upcoming races and strategy.

That meeting followed a similar gathering weeks earlier at the RNC where Trump family members were welcomed to share their suggestions, according two people familiar with the sessions who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Nevertheless, the friction is building. Even among Trump’s defenders, like VanderSloot, who said the president is “trying to move the ball forward,” there are concerns he is picking too many fights with too many people. “I think he’s trying to swat too many flies,” VanderSloot said.

The broader challenge, some Republicans say, is to overcome a dynamic of disunity in the party that predates Trump and the current Congress. During the Obama years, it took the form of tea party-versus-establishment struggles, which in some cases cost Republicans seats or led them to wage risky political fights.

“There was a separation between Republicanism and conservatism long before he won the White House,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “The glue has been coming apart since Reagan.”

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Trump team seeks to control, block Mueller’s Russia investigation

FILE - In this Friday, March 31, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with the National Association of Manufacturers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

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Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.

With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.

A conflict of interest is one of the possible grounds that can be cited by an attorney general to remove a special counsel from office under Justice Department regulations that set rules for the job.

The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller’s probe could reach into his and his family’s finances, advisers said.

Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.

Trump has repeatedly refused to make his tax returns public after first claiming he could not do so because he was under audit or after promising to release them after an IRS audit was completed. All presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns.

Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

“If you’re looking at Russian collusion, the president’s tax returns would be outside that investigation,” said a close adviser to the president.

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s private lawyers, said in an interview Thursday that the president and his legal team are intent on making sure Mueller stays within the boundaries of his assignment as special counsel. He said they will complain directly to Mueller if necessary.

“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow said. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”

Sekulow cited Bloomberg News reports that Mueller is scrutinizing some of Trump’s business dealings, including with a Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Trump for $95 million in 2008.

“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

The president has long called the FBI investigation into his campaign’s possible coordination with the Russians a “witch hunt.” But now, Trump is coming face-to-face with a powerful investigative team that is able to study evidence of any crime it encounters in the probe — including tax fraud, lying to federal agents and interference in the investigation.

“This is Ken Starr times 1,000,” said one lawyer involved in the case, referring to the independent counsel who oversaw an investigation that eventually led to House impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. “Of course, it’s going to go into his finances.”

Following Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey — in part because of his displeasure with the FBI’s Russia investigation — Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in a written order. That order gave Mueller broad authority to investigate links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” and any crimes committed in response to the investigation, such as perjury or obstruction of justice.

Mueller’s probe has already expanded to include an examination of whether Trump obstructed justice in his dealings with Comey, as well as the business activities of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

Trump’s team could potentially challenge whether a broad probe of Trump’s finances prior to his candidacy could be considered a matter that arose “directly” from an inquiry into possible collusion with a foreign government.

The president’s legal representatives have also identified what they allege are several conflicts of interest facing Mueller, such as donations to Democrats by some of his prosecutors.

Another potential conflict claim is an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011, two White House advisers said. A spokesman for Mueller said there was no dispute when Mueller, who was FBI director at the time, left the club.

Trump also took public aim on Wednesday at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein, whose actions led to Mueller’s appointment. In an interview with the New York Times Wednesday, the president said he never would have nominated Sessions if he knew he was going to recuse himself from the case.

Some Republicans in frequent touch with the White House said they viewed the president’s decision to publicly air his disappointment with Sessions as a warning sign that the attorney general’s days were numbered. Several senior aides were described as “stunned” when Sessions announced Thursday morning he would stay on at the Justice Department.

Another Republican in touch with the administration described the public steps as part of a broader effort aimed at “laying the groundwork to fire” Mueller.

“Who attacks their entire Justice Department?” this person said. “It’s insane.”

Law enforcement officials described Sessions as increasingly distant from the White House and the FBI because of the strains of the Russia investigation.

Traditionally, Justice Department leaders have sought to maintain a certain degree of autonomy from the White House as a means of ensuring prosecutorial independence.

But Sessions’s situation is more unusual, law enforcement officials said, because he has angered the president for apparently being too independent while also angering many at the FBI for his role in the president’s firing of Comey.

As a result, there is far less communication among those three key parts of the government than in years past, several officials said.

Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. But if Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.

“This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,” said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question.

The power to pardon is granted to the president in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the commander in chief the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means pardon authority extends to federal criminal prosecution but not to state level or impeachment inquiries.

No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it. Although Kalt says the weight of the law argues against a president pardoning himself, he says the question is open and predicts such an action would move through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.

“There is no predicting what would happen,” said Kalt, author of the book, “Constitutional Cliffhangers: A Legal Guide for Presidents and Their Enemies.” It includes chapters on the ongoing debate over whether presidents can be prosecuted while in office and on whether a president can issue a pardon to himself.

Other White House advisers have tried to temper Trump, urging him to simply cooperate with the probe and stay silent on his feelings about the investigation.

On Monday, lawyer Ty Cobb, newly brought into the White House to handle responses to the Russian probe, convened a meeting with the president and his team of lawyers, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Cobb, who is not yet on the White House payroll, was described as attempting to instill some discipline in how the White House handles queries about the case. But Trump surprised many of his aides by speaking at length about the probe to the New York Times two days later. Cobb, who officially joins the White House team at the end of the month, declined to comment for this article.

Some note that the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a president from pardoning himself. On the other side, experts say that by definition a pardon is something you can only give to someone else. There is also a common-law canon that prohibits individuals from serving as a judge in their own case. “For example, we would not allow a judge to preside over his or her own trial,” Kalt said.

A president can pardon an individual at any point, including before the person is charged with a crime, and the scope of a presidential pardon can be very broad. President Gerald Ford pardoned former president Richard M. Nixon preemptively for offenses he “committed or may have committed” while in office.

Devlin Barrett and  Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.

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Top Senate Intel Dem fears Trump will pardon those convicted in Russia probe

Top Senate Intel Dem fears Trump will pardon those convicted in Russia probeThe top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (Va.), said one of his big fears in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is that President Trump would issue pardons should anyone be convicted.

“I asked Attorney General Sessions what I thought would be the ultimate softball when he testified. I said – I may not have said it this way – at least you got to tell us that there has been no discussion of pardons at this point. And he did not answer,” Warner told Vox in an interview.

“The possibility of presidential pardons in this process concerns me and also would be, I think, a really, really bad move,” he added.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has an ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow during the election.

Warner’s interview comes after Donald Trump Jr. released a stunning chain of emails this week detailing his conversations about setting up a campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer.

The information “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” reads one of the emails from Rob Goldstone, who acted as an intermediary to set up the meeting.

The New York Times first reported the meeting on Saturday.

Warner said earlier this week that emails published by Trump Jr. showed “black and white” that the Trump campaign was involved in Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.

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With 40 months to go, Trump holds re-election fundraiser

Protesters yell at patrons at the outdoor seating area at the Trump International Hotel, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, in Washington. President Donald Trump is attending a fundraiser at the hotel. President Donald Trump is attending a fundraiser at the hotel. President Donald Trump was whisked a few blocks from the White House to his hotel on Wednesday night for his first re-election fundraiser. But reporters were barred from hearing his remarks

Security was tight at the Trump International Hotel, where guests in long gowns and sharp suits started arriving around five.

The president’s motorcade was greeted by do

zens of protesters outside hoisting signs with slogans like “Health care not tax cuts” and chanting “Shame! Shame!”

First-time candidate Donald Trump got a late start on fundraising in 2016, holding his first big-ticket donor event only five months before Election Day. That won’t be the case this time.

Some 40 months ahead of his next election, the president holds court at a $35,000-per-plate donor event Wednesday night at his hotel in Washington. About 300 people are expected to attend an event that will pull in about $10 million, said Lindsay Jancek, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Breaking the tradition of his predecessor, Trump isn’t allowing reporters to hear his remarks to the group of donors — despite an announcement earlier in the day that a pool of reporters would be allowed in to hear the president’s remarks.

“It’s a political event and they’ve chosen to keep that separate,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked why the event is closed to the media.

After reporters complained, Sanders announced that the president’s remarks would be opened to the press — only to reverse herself hours later.

“Unfortunately there was some confusion with the RNC, and due to the logistical challenges bringing in the press at this late moment is not going to be possible,” she said in an email. Sanders also said there was nothing unusual about raising political cash so early.

“He’s raising money for the party,” she said. “I don’t think that’s abnormal for any president.”

Sanders’ statement that Trump is raising cash for the GOP tells only part of the story, though.

The first cut of the money raised goes to Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. The rest gets spread among the RNC and other various Republican entities. Having multiple beneficiaries is what allows Trump to ask for well above the usual $5,400 per-donor maximum for each election cycle.

Those contribution limits are likely to change because this fundraiser is so early that new donation limits for 2020 have not been set by the Federal Election Commission.

Trump’s historically early campaigning comes with benefits and challenges.

In the first three months of this year, the Trump campaign raised more than $7 million, through small donations and the sale of Trump-themed merchandise such as the ubiquitous, red “Make America Great Again” ball caps.

The RNC also is benefiting from the new president’s active campaigning, having raised about $62 million through the end of last month. The party has raised more online this year than it did in all of 2016 — a testament to Trump’s success in reaching small donors.

Trump’s re-election money helps pay for his political rallies. He’s held five so far, and campaign director Michael Glassner says those events help keep him connected to his base of voters.

The constant politicking, however, means it is challenging for government employees to avoid inappropriately crossing ethical lines. Some watchdog groups have flagged White House employee tweets that veer into campaign territory. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says the employees work closely with lawyers to avoid pitfalls.

Walters also says the White House takes care to make sure that Trump’s political events and travel — including the Wednesday fundraiser — are paid for by the campaign and other political entities.

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Trump and Democrats blame Obama over Russia meddling

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 28, 2015.: Then-President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are shown at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2015.

President Donald Trump and senior Democrats joined in blaming Barack Obama for not doing more to stop Russia interfering with the 2016 presidential election.

In an early morning tweet, Trump appeared to acknowledge that Russia had meddled in the election. He has previously decried multiple investigations into alleged collusion between his officials and Russia as a “witch hunt.”

Special prosecutor to meet Senate committee leaders

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as well as House and Senate committees, are investigating Russia’s interference in the election and the alleged complicity of Trump officials. The president encouraged greater scrutiny of the Obama administration, tweeting Thursday: “By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn’t they stop them?”

Trump’s Democrat rivals also criticized the former president on Friday, after the Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence briefed Obama in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally ordered a campaign of interference to help elect Trump.

Democrat Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, criticized Obama for being excessively cautious.

“(The response) was inadequate. I think (the administration) could have done a better job informing the American people of the extent of the attack,” he said.

Others accused Obama for failing to sufficiently sanction Russia once the election was over and the Trump administration was preparing to take power.

In October, the Obama administration accused Russia of hacking emails from Democratic Party servers in an attempt to discredit Hillary Clinton and sway the election. Two months later, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. in retaliation for the hacking, but, according to the Post report, the administration ruled out releasing information potentially embarrassing to Putin or enacting harsher sanctions. Democrat Jim Himes, another House Intelligence member, called the penalties “barely a slap on the wrist.”

In a previously undisclosed measure, the Post reported that Obama also authorized cyber attacks against Russian infrastructure when he left office in January.

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, former director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said evidence of Russian hacking had been uncovered by the FBI last August, but said the Obama administration was reluctant to respond for fear of being accused of partisan attempts to influence the course of the 2016 election.

According to the PostObama and key advisers were concerned that Russia could launch a potentially crippling attack on U.S. voting systems before Election Day.

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In Words, and Actions, Tough Posturing From Trump to Allies

President Trump and the United States delegation met with European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday.BRUSSELS — President Trump on Thursday punctured any illusions that he was on a fence-mending tour of Europe, declining to explicitly endorse NATO’s mutual defense pledge and lashing out at fellow members for what he called their “chronic underpayments” to the alliance.On a tense day when Mr. Trump brought the “America first” themes of his presidential campaign to the very heart of Europe, he left European leaders visibly unsettled, with some openly lamenting divisions with the United States on trade, climate and the best way to confront Russia.

The discord was palpable even in the body language. When Mr. Trump greeted Emmanuel Macron, France’s new president, the two leaders, jaws clenched, grabbed each other’s hands in an extended grip that turned Mr. Trump’s knuckles white. When the leaders lined up to pose for the traditional photograph of leaders at NATO headquarters, Mr. Trump appeared to push aside the Montenegrin prime minister, Dusko Markovic, to get to his assigned place in the front.

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The split was starkest at NATO headquarters, where Mr. Trump used the dedication of a soaring new building to lecture allies on their financial contributions. Far from robustly reaffirming NATO’s mutual defense commitment in the way that many members hoped he would, Mr. Trump repeated his complaint that the United States was shouldering an unfair burden.

“Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense,” Mr. Trump declared, as the leaders shifted uncomfortably behind him, shooting one another sidelong glances.

“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States,” he added. “And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.”

Standing before a large piece of twisted wreckage from the World Trade Center that will serve as a memorial at the headquarters, Mr. Trump promised to “never forsake the friends that stood by our side” in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks — a pledge that White House officials later said amounted to an affirmation of mutual defense.

But to European allies, Mr. Trump’s words fell far short of an explicit affirmation of NATO’s Article 5 clause, the “one-for-all, all-for-one” principle that has been the foundation of NATO since its establishment 68 years ago, after World War II.

“I think he was stingy with the U.S. commitment and very generous with his criticisms,” said Fabrice Pothier, a former head of policy planning at NATO and a senior associate at Rasmussen Global, a political consulting firm.

President Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France at the United States Embassy in Brussels.Emmanuel Macron of France at the United States Embassy in Brussels.White House officials said Mr. Trump’s message on financial contributions had galvanized NATO to confront the issue of financial contributions. At a closed meeting after his speech, they said, the leaders unanimously approved a resolution on burden-sharing and on fighting terrorism.

“To see unanimous support for the two main priorities of the president is a great way to start it off,” said Sean Spicer, the press secretary. “When you have an entire meeting that is focused on the president’s agenda, that shows the power of his message.”

Publicly, though, the other leaders appeared less gratified than bewildered. During a photo-taking session, none of them spoke to Mr. Trump, except for the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. Afterward, several surrounded Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has emerged as the strongest counterweight to the president.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump, a blunt critic of the European Union during his campaign, received a chilly reception from his European counterparts as they began meetings in Brussels.

His first meeting with the Continent’s leaders began with officials from the United States and Europe saying nothing to each other. After being welcomed to Brussels, Mr. Trump said, “Thank you very much,” but he was otherwise silent as he gazed at the cameras across the room.

Donald Tusk, who represents leaders of the bloc’s 28 member states as president of the European Council, made it clear after the morning meeting that there had been several areas of disagreement.

“Some issues remained open like climate and trade,” Mr. Tusk said after the meeting at the European Union’s lavish new headquarters. “And I am not 100 percent sure that we can say today — ‘we’ means Mr. President and myself — that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia.”

In the talks, Mr. Trump and Mr. Tusk differed over the intentions and policies of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private. That reflects growing anxiety in Europe over what appear to be Russia’s efforts to meddle in elections here and in the United States.

The subject of Russia did not come up in a broader meeting between American and European officials, said Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council. But Mr. Anton said he could not speak for a smaller meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Tusk and the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The White House put a more positive spin on the day, saying the leaders discussed ways to deepen cooperation in fighting the Islamic State and reaffirmed “the strong bond between the United States and Europe, anchored in shared values and longstanding friendship.”

Climate change is another bone of contention, however. European leaders are turning up the pressure on Mr. Trump not to withdraw from the Paris climate accord that was ratified last year.

The campaign began on Wednesday at the Vatican, when Pope Francis gave Mr. Trump a copy of his influential encyclical on protecting the environment, and the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, urged the president not to withdraw from the accord.

Mr. Trump told Vatican officials that he had not made a final decision about the issue and that he was not likely to do so until after a Group of 7 meeting this weekend in Taormina, Italy, according to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. The president’s senior advisers have been deadlocked for months over whether the United States should withdraw

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada was among those who said he planned to press Mr. Trump on climate change.

“One of the things that we understand in Canada is that investing in clean energy and investing in fighting against climate change is going to help us,” Mr. Trudeau said, citing efforts by governments and businesses to find ways to avoid polluting the planet.

Mr. Trump’s handling of Article 5 epitomizes the gulf between him and other leaders. His steadfast refusal to endorse it as a candidate, and later as president, has raised fears among NATO allies about whether the United States would come to their defense in the event of an attack.

Other American officials have offered reassurances. Mr. Tillerson told reporters traveling on Air Force One this week, “Of course we support Article 5.” But until Mr. Trump speaks those words, leaders of other NATO nations seem bound to remain concerned.

Instead, Mr. Trump criticized the other leaders for not contributing 2 percent of their countries’ gross domestic product to their defense, as they have agreed to do but have often fallen short. He even took a shot at the new headquarters, a vast glass-and-steel edifice that looks like a series of interconnected airplane hangars.

“I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost,” Mr. Trump said. “I refuse to do so. But it looks beautiful.”

In 2014, NATO members agreed to increase their defense spending gradually to meet the 2 percent of G.D.P. goal, with 20 percent of that spending on military equipment. Those commitments have not changed, and after flat defense spending in 2015, spending increased last year among non-American alliance members.

The alarm in Europe over Mr. Trump’s presidency has diminished since the days immediately after his election, in part because emissaries like Mr. Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have reaffirmed American support for NATO and the European Union.

But Mr. Trump — who once described Brussels as a “hellhole” overrun with radicals — remains an object of deep suspicion in the city. For some of the European leaders, testing Mr. Trump seemed to be as important as finding common ground with him.

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Lawmakers Declare Trump Budget ‘Dead on Arrival’

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers rejected President Donald Trump’s proposed budget blueprint even before it was formally released Tuesday, saying that the cuts are too steep and the accounting is too unrealistic. Lawmakers said the document, which reflects the president’s broad vision, will go nowhere in Congress.

Trump’s proposal, which is the more complete version to the “skinny budget” the White House released in March, seeks to dramatically cut programs for low-income Americans while exponentially increasing defense spending. It also makes drastic cuts to environmental protection programs, agriculture and a host of other programs that senators say go too far.

Sen. John Cornyn, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, called it “dead on arrival.”

“Almost every president’s budget proposal is basically dead on arrival, including President Obama’s,” Cornyn said, making the point that such proposals are more statements of priorities than legislation. He added that Trump’s budget “may find a similar fate.”

Image: Senator John Cornynbetween a series of votes at the U… Image: Senator John Cornyn

Democrats immediately criticized Trump and his budget, saying the president who ran as a populist has gone against his campaign promises to help the most in need.

“It’s not good for West Virginia,” Sen. Joe Manchin, R-W.V., said of the proposal. “All the cuts for all the services for some of the neediest people in this country — I have quite a large delegation in my state. They’re going to be hurt.” Trump won West Virginia by nearly 42 percent in November.

Related: Trump Budget Would Cut Safety Net Programs, Boost Defense Spending

The budget disproportionately impacts lower-income Americans. It proposes an additional $600 billion in cuts to Medicaid, beyond the proposed $800 billion worth of cuts to low-income health program proposed in the Republican American Health Care Act, which passed the House this month. Trump pledged not to cut Medicaid as a candidate last year.

Additionally, Trump’s proposal adds one-quarter of a trillion dollars of cuts over ten years to low-income assistance programs, such as food stamps; the food program for women, infants and children, WIC; health insurance for low-income children, known as S-CHIP; and welfare, or TANF. It also adds work requirements for all three programs, saying it will “replace dependency with dignity of work.”

Another rural state Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, said Trump’s budget is “not good” for rural residents. “It’s especially cruel, quite frankly, to people who are up against it and need a hand up.”

Tester acknowledged that Trump won the majority of votes among rural Americans last year, saying the proposed proposal creates “an interesting dichotomy.”

Republicans are also taking issue with some of the cuts. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that despite the proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending, the proposed 29 percent cut to the State Department budget is a major security concern.

“If we implemented this budget, we’d have to retreat from the world or put a lot of people at risk — a lot of Benghazi’s in the making if we actually implemented the State Dept cuts,” said Graham. “So this budget is not going to go anywhere.”

Sen. John Hoeven, D-N.D., criticized the proposed reductions to agriculture programs. He said Congress has already cut $100 billion to such programs for the next ten years and that further reductions will harmful.

“It has some good ideas but we’ll write our own budget,” Hoeven said. “I’ll call this a starting point.”

And Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, criticized cuts to a flood protection system that Louisiana relies on.

“I strongly oppose,” the proposed reductions, Cassidy said. “Our coast line — we just need to that to keep another Katrina from bashing our state.”

Despite Trump’s massive proposed cuts to Medicaid, he kept the two other major entitlement programs – Social Security and Medicaid – largely untouched. (He did proposed cuts to recipients who receive Social Security because of a disability, however.)

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said that the deep cuts are a good start and that Trump has started “a very important discussion,” but he believes Social Security and Medicare should also be looked at.

“I think that right now those all fall into a group of things that are unsustainable. We gotta figure out how we help people who need help,” Tillis said.

The proposal claims that it will save $1.2 trillion dollars in the next ten years with the help of three percent growth to achieve that, something lawmakers say is overly optimistic.

“It’s looking a little light on that right now,” Manchin said of the prospects of 3 percent growth.

House Speaker Paul Ryan refrained from criticism but said that he supports the president’s broader objective.

“Clearly Congress will take that budget and work on our own budget, which is the case every single year. But at least we now have common objectives — grow the economy, balance the budget. So now we are on common ground and we will have a great debate on the details of how to achieve that,” Ryan said.

The entire document wasn’t criticized, however. Republicans largely support a $54 billion in crease in military spending. And Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., chair of the transportation subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee, praised a proposed $200 billion in infrastructure spending.

“I am very interested in what he’s doing with the $200 billion in transportation,” In hofe said.

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