(Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Image)
President Trump won’t try to use executive privilege to block former FBI chief James Comey from testifying this week, the White House said today, ruling out an option that legal experts said would have been nearly impossible to carry out.
For several days, White House aides had kept alive speculation that Trump might try to invoke executive privilege to block Comey’s scheduled appearance before a Senate panel this week.
But White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders officially called a halt to the talk on Monday, declaring that "the president will not invoke executive privilege."
Despite the widespread speculation about executive privilege, many legal experts said the idea bordered on absurdity.
The doctrine of executive privilege holds that under certain circumstances, the president can order government officials not to talk to Congress about confidential advice they have given. The executive branch can use the privilege as a shield to prevent officials from being forced to testify against their will.
But Comey is no longer a government official, since Trump fired him, and is testifying voluntarily. To invoke executive privilege to block him, the White House would have had to go to federal court and convince a judge to issue an order forbidding Comey from talking.
An order of that sort almost certainly would have been challenged as a violation of Comey’s right to free speech as well as Congress’ right to hear testimony about public policy. It also would have been politically unfeasible.
President Trump plans to lay out his vision for overhauling the nation’s air traffic control system on Monday, outlining his goals to privatize the system in a White House speech.
Trump will push for the separation of air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration, embracing an approach long championed by U.S. airlines, according to White House officials. Joined by airline industry executives, Trump is expected to point to the changes as a way of accelerating a more modern air traffic control system.
“We’re really moving into the modern decade of technology in air traffic control. It’s a system where everyone benefits from this,” White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said in a conference call with reporters. Trump’s budget plan released this year called for the changes, placing air traffic operations under an “independent, non-governmental organization.”
There are about 50,000 airline and other aircraft flights a day in the United States. Both sides of the privatization debate say the system is one of the most complex and safest in the world.
U.S. airlines have been campaigning for more than two decades to separate air traffic control operations from the FAA. That effort picked up steam last year when the union that represents air traffic controllers agreed to support a proposal by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) to spin off air traffic operations into a private, nonprofit corporation in exchange for guarantees that controllers would retain their benefits, salaries and union representation.
Airlines have been lobbying vigorously for the change, saying the FAA’s NextGen program to modernize the air traffic system is taking too long and has produced too few benefits. The changes would involve moving from the current system based on radar and voice communications to one based on satellite navigation and digital communications.
Airlines and the controllers union say that the FAA’s effort to modernize the air traffic system has been slowed down by the agency’s dependence on inconsistent funding from Congress and occasional government shutdowns and controller furloughs. As a result, the FAA has had difficulty making long-term commitments with contractors.
Union officials have complained that the FAA has been unable to resolve chronic controller understaffing at some of the nation’s busiest facilities and pointed to the modernization effort’s slow progress.
But FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has said the agency has made progress during the past decade in updating its computers and other equipment in order to move from a radar-based to a satellite-based control system.
Winning congressional approval would still be an uphill battle for Trump. Democrats have largely opposed the changes, warning that the proposed board overseeing the estimated 300 air traffic facilities and about 30,000 employees would be dominated by airline interests.
They have also pointed to the unprecedented safety under the current system and noted repeated computer system failures in recent years by U.S. airlines, questioning whether they are ready to handle complex technology modernizations.
Trump’s plan would also eliminate taxes on airline passengers in favor of a system of user fees. Key members of tax-writing committees have questioned whether corporations can legally impose fees, which can be viewed as taxes, on air traffic system users.
Business aircraft operators, private pilots and nonhub airports have also expressed concerns they may need to pay more and get less service under a private corporation even though airlines have promised that won’t happen.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
Many of the office suites reserved for top civilian officials at the Pentagon sit empty or have temporary fill-ins while Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis worries about North Korea and Iran.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin lacks appointed loyalists in any of the 17 top spots below him as he rewrites the nation’s byzantine tax code. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson similarly relies on a skeleton staff to conduct global diplomacy, with dozens of jobs open.
And in the White House, President Trump still depends on a communications director who resigned last month — because he hasn’t found a replacement.
More than four months after taking office, the president who built his brand telling people “You’re fired!” is having a hard time staffing up.
President Trump’s lawyers found themselves undercut by their client Thursday when the chief executive tweeted that he wanted a “travel ban” and “not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted” to the Supreme Court.
Last week, the Justice Department filed a lengthy appeal at the high court that sought to minimize the impact of Trump’s travel order. They said it called for a limited and “temporary pause” for certain travelers from six countries, not a travel ban.
But in his tweets on Monday, Trump said he did not agree with his Justice Department or with how they characterized what he planned to do.
NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, who was Norway’s prime minister during a mass shooting there in 2011, said Sunday that the terrorist attack in London was an assault on open, free societies.
“The terrorists, they want to change the way we live," he said on CBS’ "Face the Nation." "They want to attack our open, free societies."
He urged people to "continue to live the lives we want to live, because then the terrorists will lose.”
Stoltenberg said the London attack underscored the importance of using many tools against terrorism: fighting the ideology of extremism, taking political and diplomatic steps, and using the military, as is occurring in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
President Trump struck a discordant note Sunday in his response to the terrorist attack in central London that killed seven people and injured scores more.
In a series of tweets Sunday morning, Trump disdained the gun debate in the United States, slammed London Mayor Sadiq Khan and lambasted “politically correct” attitudes as an impediment to security.
Most world leaders had confined their messages to solemn expressions of sympathy and support for the victims, the British people and the government of Prime Minister Theresa May.
As the attack was unfolding Saturday night, the president tweeted an unconfirmed account of events and renewed his call for his travel ban – rejected by lower courts and now under appeal to the Supreme Court – to be reinstated.
Trump’s initial tweet Sunday implied that safety considerations were being overridden by too-careful sensitivities for issues like ethnicity and religion – although May responded to the attack with a call Sunday for tougher measures to fight Islamic extremism.
The president next took aim at Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, a Briton of Pakistani descent. Khan, who like Trump often uses Twitter to communicate with constituents, had told Londoners and visitors not to be alarmed by the heavy and visible police and security presence, saying it was necessary for public safety.
Trump took that as a false reassurance.
The president also conflated the London attack with debate that flares up periodically in the United States when guns – sometimes military-grade weapons – are used in mass shootings. Trump and many of his supporters adamantly reject any efforts to restrict access to weaponry through tighter registration requirements.
(Bruce Smith / Associated Press)
When President Trump announced Thursday that he was withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, he never said whether he believed in the science of global warming or if he still considers it a hoax, as he has said in the past.
At least one of his aides, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, insists that Trump has accepted that the climate is changing and carbon emissions are partly to blame.
“President Trump believes the climate is changing,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” which airs Sunday. “And he does know that pollutants are a part of that equation.”
The Paris agreement sets nonbinding targets for greenhouse gas emissions for the 194 countries that signed it. The U.S. joined only Syria and Nicaragua in rejecting it.
“Just because we got out of a club doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the environment,” Haley said.
Haley didn’t say how she knows Trump’s views. She previously has voiced positions at the U.N. that were at odds with what Trump had publicly stated or tweeted.
Haley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina, restated Trump’s argument that the Paris agreement was disadvantageous to some U.S. companies.
“I knew that as a governor,” she said. “We know that now. The jobs were not attainable as long as we had to live under those regulations. It wasn’t possible to meet the conditions under the Paris agreement had we even attempted to do that.”
She added: “We’ve got a president who is going to watch out for the environment. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. We’re going to continue to be a leader in the environment.”
Administration officials have been unable to say with confidence since Thursday’s announcement whether Trump believes in the science of global warming or still considers it a hoax.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer, asked at Friday’s press briefing whether Trump thought climate change was a hoax, said: “I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.”
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort
The Associated Press has learned that the special counsel running the U.S. investigation into possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia’s government has assumed oversight of an ongoing investigation involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller may also expand to look into the roles of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein in the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey.
The Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Manafort, who was forced to resign in August amid questions over his past business dealings in Ukraine, predated the election and the counterintelligence probe investigating possible collusion between Moscow and associates of Trump.
The move to consolidate the matters indicates that Mueller is assuming a broad mandate in his new role.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sparred with NBC’s Megyn Kelly during a wide-ranging panel discussion Friday that at times turned intense and fiery as Putin once again denied that Russia tried to interfere in last year’s U.S. presidential election.
“It’s just some kind of hysteria, and just doesn’t stop! Someone needs to give you a pill or something!” Putin said in response to Kelly’s question about new allegations that President Trump’s election campaign tried to create back channels of communication with the Kremlin. “Does someone have a pill? Seriously.”
Putin’s comments drew laughs from the audience, which had gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia, for an annual economic forum held over three days. Kelly moderated Friday’s panel, which also included Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Earlier during Friday’s event, Putin called on a group of senior American business executives to help reverse the worsening of relations between the two countries.
"Help us restore normal political dialogue," Putin said.
Kelly directed most of her questions at Putin, asking him to respond to allegations in the ongoing U.S. investigations of possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence to presidential election.
Kelly said the U.S. intelligence community and “even some of your defenders” believe that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. “Are they all wrong?” she asked.
Putin said that evidence presented so far was “nothing concrete, only assumptions.” When asked about the meetings between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and members of Trump’s campaign team, Putin appeared frustrated and defensively laughed off the allegations.
“It’s his job, he gets paid for this,” Putin said about Kislyak’s meetings with Trump’s team. “He must meet, discuss current affairs, negotiate. That’s what he’s there to do!”
Putin’s intense responses were unusual for the Russian president, who is typically calm and steady in his speech. The event comes two days before a scheduled airing of Kelly’s one-on-one interview with Putin on Sunday.
After fielding several questions about Russian involvement in U.S. elections, Putin fired back and accused the U.S. of conducting active meddling in Russia’s domestic politics.
"You should see what your colleagues have been doing here,” he said. “They poke their nose into our domestic affairs trying to get a foothold in them, and they fuss around and never hesitate to walk over you."
"We’ve had enough," Putin added.