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Analysis: The president can't hide the special counsel's findings — and he may not want to — but no matter what they are, he will frame them as a vindication.
By Jonathan Allen
WASHINGTON — Like any master showman, President Donald Trump surely knows the goods can't stay hidden from the audience forever. The Mueller Report will come out. There's pressure from Trump's presidential rivals and Congress — the House voted unanimously for its release. The president himself has said he favors putting it out. And there's a long history of government documents, from the Pentagon Papers to the Iran/Contra report and the Starr report, making their way into the public domain through authorized release, congressional dump and just plain old leaking. Like Trump himself said, that might be exactly what he wants. If he's exonerated, he'll be the first to yell "NO COLLUSION!" from the Twitter mountaintop and from campaign rallies in the valleys of the Midwest. "Without an indictment against him, Trump is going to hammer home the waste of time, taxpayer money and resources to prove that he was right all along and that he did nothing wrong," said Ron Bonjean, a veteran Republican strategist who helped shepherd Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch through his Senate confirmation process. Trump may do that even if the report casts brutal aspersions on his activities and those of his family and friends — or if it delivers a mixed bag of reasons that special counsel Robert Mueller declined to prosecute certain individuals in the Trump orbit. After all, Trump's no stranger to spin. The bottom line for him, and for GOP voters, is that Mueller didn't file charges against him.

By Alan Rappeport
WASHINGTON — President Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday by announcing that he was rolling back North Korea sanctions that it imposed just a day ago. The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration and represented a striking case of a White House intervening to reverse a major national security decision made only hours earlier by the president’s own officials. “It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!” Mr. Trump appeared to confuse the day that the sanctions were announced, saying the move occurred on Friday rather than on Thursday. The Treasury Department on Thursday imposed new sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies that it says have been helping North Korea evade international sanctions. The sanctions linked to North Korea were the first that the Treasury Department had imposed since late last year and came less than a month after a summit meeting between Mr. Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, without a deal. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said the decision was a favor to Mr. Kim. “President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary and one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal aides, personally signed off on the sanctions and hailed the decision in a statement accompanying them on Thursday. “The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related U.N. Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Mr. Mnuchin said in the statement. Tony Sayegh, a Treasury Department spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Trump’s tweet on Friday. Treasury and State Department officials, including career staff members and political appointees, spend months carefully crafting sanctions based on intensive intelligence gathering and legal research. Current and former Treasury Department officials were stunned by Mr. Trump’s decision on Friday. Some said they wondered if the move was planned in advance, as a gesture to Mr. Kim. Others feared that America’s vaunted sanctions regime had been compromised. “For an administration that continues to surprise, this is another first — the president of the United States undercutting his own sanctions agency for imposing sanctions on Chinese actors supporting North Korea,” said John E. Smith, the former director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, who left the department last year. “It’s a win for North Korea and China and a loss for U.S. credibility.” The department did issue a new round of sanctions against Iran on Friday, targeting a research and development unit that it believes could be used to restart Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. It also announced new sanctions on Bandes, Venezuela’s national development bank, and its subsidiaries, as part of its effort to topple the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

By Daniella Cheslow
The Trump administration has backed Israel's claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The move comes weeks before Israeli general elections and reverses the position U.S. administrations have held for decades. President Trump made the announcement via tweet Thursday. "After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!" the president wrote. After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2019. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed the territory, a move not recognized by the U.S. or the international community. For years, the U.S. has tried to broker a regional agreement that would involve Israel exchanging captured territory for peace. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has repeatedly endorsed controversial Israeli positions. In early March the U.S. closed its Jerusalem Consulate, which has been the lead diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, NPR's Daniel Estrin reported. It folded that job into the U.S. embassy to Israel. Last year the U.S. moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and backed Israel's assertion that the city is its capital. Palestinians claim part of the city as the capital of their future state. Previously, the U.S. held that the status of the city would be determined in peace talks. After the U.S. moved the embassy, Palestinian leaders cut contacts with the Trump administration. Washington has also shut off most funding to the Palestinians, leaving unfinished school and sewage projects in the West Bank.

It’s actually about power — specifically, the conservative attempt to seize it on college campuses.
By Zack Beauchamp
President Donald Trump gleefully pressed on another culture war hot button Thursday afternoon, issuing an executive order that’s supposed to address allegedly serious threats to free speech on America’s college campuses. The order itself does very little in practical terms: As my colleague Ella Nilsen explains, it basically amounts to reminding universities about existing law. But that doesn’t mean the order is insignificant. It reflects, instead, the degree to which the conservative movement, joined by a few prominent anti–political correctness crusaders, has created a panic about the limitation of free speech on college campuses — as Trump demonstrated in his signing statement for the order. “Under the guise of speech codes and safe spaces and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity, and shut down the voices of great young Americans,” he said. But there is no campus free speech crisis. Certainly, campuses are not perfect havens of free speech — it really is true that conservatives are underrepresented in campus political discussions — but a few problems do not warrant a major panic. Most of the conversation about campus censorship and free speech violations stemmed from a handful of high-profile incidents, inflated by right-wing campus watchdogs and breathless media coverage about the kids these days, in a country with thousands of college campuses and millions of college students. But the fact that Trump issued the executive order at all shows just how central universities are in the conservative cultural imagination, and how devoted the current right is to a political vision in which radical professors and left-wing students are responsible for America’s problems. They are so concerned, in fact, that they are willing to endorse the federal government interfering to punish universities they deem insufficiently friendly to conservatives. That’s because this isn’t a battle about free speech. it’s a fight over political power and cultural control.

The phantom free speech crisis
The relevant portion of Thursday’s executive order instructs 12 federal agencies to ensure that the universities receiving research grants “promote free inquiry.” What this means in practical terms was left unspecified. The order doesn’t change existing law or regulation. It just sends a message to schools to be extra-careful that they’re following “all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies” if they want to keep getting federal dollars. But when conservatives raise the alarm about a “campus free speech crisis,” they don’t speak in terms of violations of federal law. Instead, they allege that dissenting voices are being muzzled on campus in softer ways: conservative speakers disinvited from campus engagements, or professors fired for expressing controversial opinions. Certainly there are instances of political censorship on campuses. But the evidence that they are a major problem, one requiring presidential-level attention, is quite thin. The best work on this front, to my mind, has been done by Acadia University’s Jeffrey Sachs. In a piece published by the center-right Niskanen Center, Sachs marshaled a wealth of data to show that the number of free speech-threatening incidents on US college campuses is small and actually declining. Sachs’s chart of data on campus speaker disinvitations shows that last year, such incidents were at their lowest number in 10 years.

The president said Thursday that American students and values are 'under siege' and universities are 'anti-First Amendment'
By Jonathan Allen
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday that would withhold federal research and education funds from colleges if they don't certify that they will protect free-speech rights on campus. "We’re here to take historic actions to defend American students and American values," Trump said at the White House. "They’ve been under siege." Colleges and universities spend as much as $40 billion in federal research and development dollars annually, according to the National Science Foundation, a total which doesn't include higher education grants that would also be subject to the executive order. A senior administration official said federal financial aid for tuition would not be affected by the action. Public colleges and universities are already required to abide by the First Amendment. Trump took a similar approach to try to cut off Justice Department grants to so-called sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. But that executive order has been ruled unconstitutional by multiple federal courts. The idea that universities are cracking down on conservative thought and speech has become a cause celebre on the political right, and one that Trump has taken up as a major political issue as he heads into his re-election campaign. In recent weeks, he has focused attention to an altercation on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, in which an organizer for the conservative group Turning Point USA was punched while "tabling" — or providing information — to students on campus. Neither the student who was punched nor the person charged in the incident, who pleaded not guilty, are students at the school. The university has called the discussion around the incident "willfully distorted and inaccurate."

By Manu Raju and Lauren Fox, CNN
(CNN) House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said Thursday his committee has obtained new information that several senior White House officials have used personal email and messaging accounts to conduct government business, asserting that President Donald Trump's son-in-law communicated with foreign leaders through a private messaging application that appears to lack adequate safeguards. In a Thursday letter to the White House, the Maryland Democrat alleged that Jared Kushner, who is also a senior White House adviser, had been using WhatsApp, a popular messaging application, to "communicate with foreign leaders" -- something he said that Kushner's attorney had confirmed in a private meeting. He also contended that Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, also a senior adviser, may be in violation of the Presidential Records Act by her use of private emails. The allegations from Democrats that some of Trump's closest confidants -- as well as former officials Steve Bannon and K.T. McFarland -- used personal email come as Trump continues to attack Hillary Clinton for using a private email system when serving as secretary of state. In the letter, Cummings revealed that his panel learned the new information in a private meeting in December with Abbe Lowell, an attorney for both Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Lowell referred inquiries to the White House and National Security Council about whether Kushner communicated classified information through WhatsApp, something that Cummings said would constitute a "major security breach." "For example during a meeting with Mr. Kushner's attorney, Abbe Lowell, Mr. Lowell confirmed that Mr. Kushner has been using the messaging application WhatsApp as part of his official White House duties to communicate with foreign leaders. Mr. Lowell could not answer whether Mr. Kushner's communications included classified information," Cummings wrote. According to Cummings, when pressed how Kushner was backing up his communications in order to assure that he wasn't violating the Presidential Records Act, Lowell responded that Kushner took "screenshots" and forwarded them to his official White House email account or to the National Security Council. According to Cummings, when Lowell was asked if Kushner ever communicated classified information on WhatsApp, Lowell responded, "That's above my paygrade." The Oversight Committee began looking into the use of personal email at the White House in March 2017, when Republicans still controlled the committee. The committee launched a bipartisan investigation into the use of "personal email and messaging accounts" by "non-career officials at the White House," but Cummings says in the letter that even after he followed up in December 2018 requesting documents on the cusp of becoming chairman, "the White House failed to produce any additional documents" and "failed to provide the promised briefing during this timeframe."

Trump exaggerated his role in handling funeral arrangements for McCain, who could not thank him because he was dead
By Shira Tarlo
President Donald Trump on Wednesday continued — and escalated — his unrelenting attacks on former Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has remained one of the president's most prominent targets seven months after his death. In an appearance in Lima, Ohio, Trump claimed McCain"didn't get the job done" for veterans — even though McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sponsored the Veterans Choice Act in 2014 to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand veterans' access to healthcare and make it easier for department officials to handle misconduct. McCain fought to expand the program after it was first signed into law in 2014 — and Trump signed the expansion into law in May 2018. Trump also complained he did not receive proper gratitude for handling arrangements for McCain's funeral last September. "I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve," Trump said. "I don't care about this, but I didn't get a thank you. That’s OK. We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain." "I have to be honest, I never liked him much – hasn't been for me. I've really – probably, never will," the president added. Trump authorized the use of military transport to carry McCain's body to Washington, but he only ordered the American flag to be flown at half-staff at the White House and other public buildings after facing criticism from his own staff, veterans groups and lawmakers. Other elements of McCain's funeral were not decided by the president. McCain was lain in the Capitol Rotunda – a decision formally approved by Congress. The president's repeated denunciation of a senator from his own party, who passed away in August after a months-long battle with brain cancer and has been hailed as a "maverick," is significant even for a president constantly at war with those he sees as challenging him. It also comes amid a wave of statements in recent days praising McCain in the wake of Trump's attacks. However, while many Republican lawmakers stepped up their defense of McCain, few called out Trump for his insults. "I just want to lay it on the line that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better," Sen. Johnny Jackson of Georgia told The Bulwark, a conservative news site, in an interview published Wednesday. "I don't care if he's president of United States, owns all the real estate in New York or is building the greatest immigration system in the world." Trump recently reignited his years-long offensive against the Arizona Republican, lashing out at the late senator on Twitter and telling reporters in the Oval Office that he remains "very unhappy" with McCain. The president voiced his frustration over the late senator's famous late-night thumbs down vote against legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Trump called McCain's pivotal "no" vote against a so-called "skinny" repeal measure of the Affordable Care Act "disgraceful" and claimed McCaine sank efforts by Republicans to repeal the healthcare law, among "other things" which have left him angered. In addition to his 2017 healthcare vote, the president took aim at McCain, who passed away in August after a months-long battle with brain cancer, for his reported role in passing a salacious dossier full of damning allegations about Trump's ties to Russia to the FBI. BuzzFeed News published the 35-page dossier in full in January of 2017, with the disclaimer that the dossier was "not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors." Many of the claims in the document have been confirmed, but the most explosive claims remain unverified.

by Quin Hillyer
One can spend several days trying not to overreact to President Trump’s latest, unprovoked tweetstorm against the late Sen. John McCain R-Ariz., yet still conclude that there is something sick and twisted about Trump’s obsession with the singular American hero Trump disparages. Tom Rogan already in these pages has eloquently explained why, fake heel spurs or no fake heel spurs, Trump could never be fit to wear McCain’s discarded shoes. And lawyer George Conway, husband of top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, has presented a persuasive case that Trump’s fulminations about McCain and other bizarre eruptions are signs of a personality disorder. What remains, though, is a reminder that on facts as well as fulminations, Trump’s flip-out against McCain is full of falsehoods. First, as many others have noted, Trump repeatedly accused McCain of trying to spread the so-called “Steele dossier” as a way to block Trump’s election, but the undisputed evidence shows McCain didn’t even become aware of the dossier until after Election Day. (Plus, McCain did exactly what a senator should do when provided such material: He turned it over to the FBI, without prejudice. But that’s beside the point about Trump’s dishonesty.) What has not been as adequately refuted is Trump’s allegation that McCain voted against a bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and that McCain’s vote was a big surprise. Neither element of that story is true. First, by the time a healthcare bill finally reached a vote in the Senate, it was in no way, shape or form a “repeal and replace” bill. In reality, it was a shell of a bill known as “skinny repeal,” which did next to nothing other than keep a title and fulfill a promise to repeal the individual and employer mandates from Obamacare. The bill, in short, was an absolute sham. On its own terms, as even most of its supporters admitted, it made no sense, but would have thrown the healthcare market into absolute turmoil. Instead, skinny repeal was meant only to keep alive the anti-Obamacare effort until something could be concocted behind the closed doors of a conference committee with members of the House. As neither the House nor the Senate versions had been vetted in open committee hearings, and as the Senate’s skinny repeal was such a sham anyway, McCain reasoned that whatever emerged from conference committee would be seen by the public as illegitimate. He may or may not have been right in that assessment, but it was not unreasonable. And, as skinny repeal itself was a fraud, McCain was indisputably not breaking his pledge to support a repeal of Obamacare combined with a free-market replacement. Not only that, but he believed, correctly, that the one substantive element of skinny repeal, the elimination of the individual mandate, could be accomplished anyway — as, indeed, it was, in the GOP tax reform bill that later became law. Thus, McCain’s vote effectively blocked no GOP progress on that front, none at all. Finally, it is just a lie to say McCain had not signaled his intentions, and his reasoning, well in advance. Two days earlier, in his tour de force of a major floor speech upon his return to the Senate from his initial cancer treatment, McCain signaled quite clearly where he stood [with my emphases in Italics]: “I will not vote for the bill as it is today. It's a shell of a bill right now. We all know that. I have changes urged by my state's governor that will have to be included to earn my support for final passage of any bill. I know many of you will have to see the bill changed substantially for you to support it. We've tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it's better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don't think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn't.” And he continued in that vein for several more paragraphs. - Only a dirty, scandalous low life would attack the dead.

By Brian Naylor
Amid signs that special counsel Robert Mueller will soon complete his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, President Trump says that he looks forward to seeing the report and that it should be made public. Answering questions from reporters on the South Lawn of the White House prior to traveling to Ohio on Wednesday, Trump said of Mueller's report, "Let it come out. Let people see it — that's up to the attorney general." Federal law requires Mueller to present Attorney General William Barr with a confidential report upon the completion of his work. By an overwhelming vote last week, the House called on Barr to release whatever report Mueller submits to the Justice Department. During his confirmation hearing in January, Barr said his goal "will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law," regarding Mueller's final report, but stopped short of promising to release it. Trump again on Wednesday insisted, "There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no nothing." He added, "I want to see the report, and you know who will want to see it? The tens of millions of people that love the fact that we have the greatest economy that we have ever had." Trump also criticized, although not by name, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the Russia probe, leaving Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee Mueller's work. Rosenstein appointed Mueller, a former FBI director, to conduct the investigation. On Wednesday, Trump said that Sessions "didn't have the courage to do it himself" and said that it was interesting "that a man out of the blue just writes a report," before again recalling his Electoral College victory in 2016.

By Ted Barrett and Devan Cole, CNN
Washington (CNN)Sen. Johnny Isakson said President Donald Trump's criticism of the late Sen. John McCain is "deplorable," and the Georgia Republican promised to continue speaking out against Trump if he continues to speak ill of the deceased war hero and former GOP presidential nominee. "It's deplorable what he said," Isakson told Georgia Public Broadcasting on Wednesday afternoon when asked about a series of critical comments Trump has made about McCain. "That's what I said on the floor of the Senate seven months ago. It will be deplorable seven months from now if he says it again and I will continue to speak out." Isakson continued "There aren't Democratic causalities and Republican casualties on the battlefield, there are American casualties. And we should never reduce the service that people give to this country including the offering of their own lives to any political fodder in Washington, DC, or anywhere else for that matter." In the wake of McCain's death last year, Isakson gave a Senate speech at the time that said "anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping because most of those who would do the wrong thing about John McCain didn't have the guts to do the right thing when it was their turn." Isakson told the station Wednesday, "we can't talk about our veterans in any way but to thank them for the service they render for the job that they do." "If my kids started talking John McCain not being a hero, or because he was a prisoner of war didn't make any difference, they would have a serious conversation with me and I would have it with them," Isakson continued. Isakson previewed his comments Wednesday in remarks to The Bulwark, where said in an interview Tuesday that "I want to do what I said that day on the floor of the Senate." "I just want to lay it on the line, that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better, I don't care if he's President of United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world. Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us," Isakson told the news outlet from the conservative Defending Democracy Together Institute. Isakson has previously made clear his reluctance to criticize Trump.

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