The Department of Veterans Affairs is carrying out politically motivated reassignments of career staffers ahead of the confirmation of Trump-appointed Secretary Robert Wilkie, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, demoting more than a dozen long-serving officials because of their perceived political loyalties.
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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that she was “not aware” of any recording made of President Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Was there a recording made of their one-on-one meeting? Does that exist?” CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Sanders at a press briefing Wednesday.
“I’m not aware of one,” Sanders replied.
Democrats were critical of Trump’s decision to meet privately with Putin without any other foreign policy officials in the room. Now, some lawmakers are calling for the American interpreter present during the meeting to testify before Congress.
A federal magistrate in Washington D.C. Wednesday ordered Mariia Butina held in detention until her trial on charges of failing to register as an agent of Russia and conspiring against the United States.
Butina also pleaded not guilty during the preliminary hearing. She was indicted by a federal grand jury in the nation’s capital Tuesday following her arrest there Sunday.
Federal prosecutors argued that Butina was an “extreme flight risk” who should not be allowed to go free pending trial. The government, represented by Erik Kerenson, argued in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson that if Butina went to a Russian embassy or was picked by a diplomatic car, there would be nothing law enforcement could do about it, and Russia also could legally provide her with a passport that would allow her to leaved the country.
Butina, represented by Robert Driscoll, was seeking to be released on bail, and contended that she had already been cooperating with various inquiries prior to her arrest.
After the hearing, Driscoll told reporters that he respected but disagreed with the court’s order.
“She’s been aware of a criminal investigation into her conduct for months and made no attempt to flee, nor has the government, which has had her under surveillance for the entire time, alleged that she has,” he said. “We remain confident that she will prevail in this case”
Driscoll told the court that she had been contacted by the Senate Intelligence Committee in the fall of 2017 and testified before the committee for eight hours in April behind closed doors. She also provided the committee with some 8,000 pages of documents, Driscoll said.
Driscoll also revealed that that in March 2018 the Federal Election Commission inquired with her about certain contributions.
FBI agents searched Butina’s residence on April 25, Driscoll said, adding that she and her attorneys were present for the search.
He said that her attorneys then reached out to the U.S. Attorney in South Dakota, which was referenced in the search warrants for her home, to offer them information.
Kerenson countered this claim by arguing that Butina’s offer was to assist in a fraud investigation into an individual referred to in court docs as U.S. person 1. To his knowledge, he said she was never told that she was the subject of the investigation.
U.S person 1 is, based on corroborating details, believed to be Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based longtime GOP operative. Later in the hearing Driscoll referenced that Butina’s boyfriend lived in South Dakota, and that Butina this summer planned to move with him.
Kerenson’s presentation to the judge went through some of the details in a motion the government filed ahead of the hearing, but he also made new claims about her activities in the U.S. He said it was “absurd” for her attorneys to claim she was simply in the United States as a student.
He recounted an alleged December 2014 text exchange Butina had with whom Kerenson desribed as a wealthy Russian businessman. The businessman told Butina that he wanted her to work in the United States, according to the prosecutor, “not go on a tourist trip.”
He described alleged notes found on a thumb drive obtained at U.S. Person 1’s residence, under a folder titled “Maria Butina” that referenced laying a “groundwork,” according to Kerenson, to influence high-level politicians.
Kerenson presented a photo, referenced in the court docs and exhibited for the courtroom, of Butina with a male individual he described as a suspected Russian intel operative. Driscoll argued that Butina was unaware of the individual’s ties to the FSB, Russia’s security agency, and said that they were simply two Russian nationals sharing a meal.
After Driscoll claimed that there was no evidence that Butina had ever visited the Russian embassy or been in a diplomatic car, Kerenson alleged the existence of a photograph of Butina with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Driscoll argued that Kislyak was already the former ambassador when the photograph, at a movie screening at a Russian cultural center, was taken.
When asked about the arrest of Mariia Butina, the Russian national charged with acting as a foreign agent, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pivoted to the brief frenzy of speculation earlier this week that Butina was present during an Oval Office meeting with President Trump.
“But just to clarify, there was massive media hysteria yesterday over confusion between that individual and a White House staffer, which I think shows, frankly, the outrageousness and the desire to find the negative in everything that this President does,” she said after dodging the question.
“Just because somebody is redheaded, they were accused of being some sort of spy for Russia. I think that this has gotten totally out of control,” she continued. “You guys need to take a little bit of a step back, slow down, and quit going after the Trump administration on every single thing that takes place.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that President Donald Trump was saying “no” to additional questions from journalists, not “no” to the existence of a threat from Russia when he spoke to the press on Wednesday.
“ I had a chance to speak with the President after his comments and the president was — said thank you very much and was saying no to answering questions,” she told reporters Wednesday. “The President and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past and as we have stated.”
On Wednesday, Trump responded “no” to questions from reporters about whether Russia is still targeting the U.S. That response appeared to contradict statements from his intelligence director last week. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Friday that the U.S.’s digital infrastructure was “literally under attack.”
The clarification comes just one day after Trump made a rare correction to his own remarks. He told reporters he meant to say “wouldn’t” not “would” during a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t or why it wouldn’t be Russia,’” he told reporters Tuesday.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders returns to her podium Wednesday afternoon, a spot she has not occupied since July 2.
In June, she was there only five times to deliver her “daily” White House press briefing.
The relative wealth of May still boasted only eight briefings plus one Sanders-led gaggle and one briefing led by her deputy, Raj Shah.
Granted, President Donald Trump has been traveling, and granted, he sometimes takes questions en route to Air Force One or after Cabinet meetings.
But the low point in face time with the press secretary coincides with some awfully big developments for the administration.
Since Sanders’ absence, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt resigned, Trump wreaked havoc at the G7 Summit, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stepped down and Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for his spot, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) was accused of negligence and lying about sexual assault by nine people, 12 Russians were indicted for hacking the 2016 election and, of course, Trump refused on an international stage to disavow the leader of the country that oversaw the hacking.
Those all seem like things reporters should have a chance to ask about without shouting over the shoulders of press aides desperately ushering them out of the Cabinet room.
It’s unclear why Sanders has been so absent. The new communications chief Bill Shine came aboard June 5, so perhaps he had a hand in her new, empty, schedule.
And Sanders herself has had a rough go of it lately — she was booted from the Red Hen in late June and earned an extremely lackluster defense by her boss, surfacing reports that Trump is souring on her. After days of being hammered by the press corps about her false statement on the infamous Trump tower meeting and defending the brutal family separation policy, rumors started to swirl that she was eyeing the exits (she has denied this).
Well, at least she hasn’t missed much. It should be a nice day back.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Former Ohio State University wrestling coach and current U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan was interviewed by the law firm investigating allegations that a now-dead team doctor sexually abused male athletes there decades ago, his spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
The Ohio Republican spoke Monday morning with the firm looking into allegations against Dr. Richard Strauss and how the school responded to any complaints about Strauss, said spokesman Ian Fury, who declined to discuss details of the conversation.
“He told them the same things he’s told everybody in the press,” Fury said. “You know, the story stays the same because the truth doesn’t change.”
Jordan has publicly said he was never aware of abuse when he was an assistant coach from 1987 to 1995, and he has repeatedly denied some former wrestlers’ claims that he knew they were inappropriately groped by Strauss.
A watchdog group and a former special counsel to President Barack Obama have soughtan ethics review of the congressman, who is a founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus and potential contender for House speaker.
A string of former coaching colleagues and ex-athletes have spoken up in defense of Jordan, with some of them also saying they never knew of abuse while at Ohio State. House Speaker Paul Ryan also defended Jordan, calling him “a man of integrity.”
Jordan had said he would cooperate with investigators and that victims deserve justice if abuse occurred.
The university announced the independent investigation months ago and has said the allegations against Strauss now involve male athletes from 14 sports, as well as Strauss’ work at the student health center and his off-campus medical office.
Former wrestlers this week have filed two federal lawsuits against Ohio State alleging that it ignored concerns raised about sexual abuse by a now-dead team doctor during the two decades he worked there. The lawsuits were brought by a total of five former wrestlers who allege they were victims of sexual misconduct by Strauss.
Both lawsuits seek unspecified monetary damages and propose to represent all Ohio State students mistreated by Strauss.
Ohio State has said the university response to concerns about Strauss is a key focus of the independent investigation.
Former wrestling team captain Dave Mulvin has said he raised concerns to another doctor at the student health center back in the late 1970s after Strauss fondled him during an exam. Mulvin said the other doctor shrugged it off.
Strauss was employed by the university for two decades until he retired in 1998. He killed himself in 2005.
His family has said they were “shocked and saddened” to learn of the allegations and want to know the truth.
Ohio State has said more than 150 former athletes and witnesses have been interviewed so far, and the school has urged anyone with information to contact the investigators from the Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie.