As it happenedended1557869311

Trump news: Judge to rule on whether accountants must release president's financial records, as trade war with China escalates

Follow along below from our coverage of Washington, as it happened

Clark Mindock
New York
,Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 14 May 2019 14:44
Trump says Orban doing 'tremendous job' during White House visit

A federal judge has cast doubt that US courts would intervene to limit Congress's ability to investigate Donald Trump saying that it would be highly unusual for such an intervention, as the first case over House Democrats' subpoenas for evidence was heard on Tuesday.

Judge Amit Mehta with the US District Court for the District of Columbia was in charge of that Tuesday hearing, which concerned whether House Democrats can obtain financial records held by an accounting firm representing the president. In their arguments, the case quickly centred around the American government's separation of powers.

“Am I right there isn't a single Supreme Court case or appellate case since 1880 that has found a congressional subpoena overstepped its bounds?” Mr Mehta, who will not issue a ruling until next week, asked Mr Trump's lawyer during questioning. “I agree there are outer limits, but it's not clear to me what they are.”

The court battle over those financial documents came as other controversies in Washington continued to smoulder. Before those arguments were heard, it was reported the Trump administration planned to have Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents round up and arrest thousands of Central American migrant families in cities across the US last month, as a brutal show of force before it was blocked by ex-Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former ICE director Ron Vitiello.

Mr Trump also oversaw an escalating trade war with China on Tuesday, after the president imposed further tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese imports.

On the 2020 campaign trail, a new poll has meanwhile put both of the leading Democratic presidential challengers, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, ahead of Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups, with either man projected to beat him by an eight percent margin at the ballot box.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 08:24

Donald Trump planned to have Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents round up and arrest thousands of Central American migrant families in 10 cities across the US last month as a brutal show of force, according to The Washington Post.

Kirstjen Nielsen – then-secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – and ICE director Ron Vitiello both objected before being forced out of office. The pair "instinctively thought it was bad policy and that the proposal was less than half-baked," a DHS official said.

According to the newspaper, the administration wanted to target the crush of families that had crossed the US-Mexico border after the president's failed "zero tolerance" prosecution push in early 2018. The ultimate purpose was apparently to send a message that the United States was going to get tough by swiftly moving to detain and deport recent immigrants - including families with children.

The sprawling operation included an effort to fast-track immigration court cases, The Post says, allowing the government to obtain deportation orders against those who did not show for their hearings - officials said 90 percent of those targeted were found deportable in their absence. The subsequent arrests would have required coordinated raids against parents with children in their homes and neighbuorhoods.

But Vitiello and Nielsen blocked the measure, expressing concern about a lack of preparation by ICE agents, the likelihood of public outrage and worries that the undertaking would divert resources away from the border.

Senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller (who else?) and ICE deputy director Matthew Albence were reportedly especially keen on the idea, eager to execute dramatic, high-profile mass arrests that they believed would help deter the growing influx of families.

The plan, which "remains under consideration", would have initially targeted 2,500 people, rising to 10,000, and have taken place in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, among other large cities.

"The proposal was nowhere near ready for prime time," the anonymous DHS official said, explaining Nielsen and Vitiello's objections.

"There was concern that it was being hastily put together, would be ineffective, and might actually backfire by misdirecting resources away from critical border emergency response operations."

Melissa Mark-Viverito, president of the Latino Victory Project, summarised the whole affair accordingly: "The level of depravity in terms of this administration has no bounds. It's just insane. It's inhumane. There is no sense of the understanding what the implications are for the greater society. There is no consideration that these families are making positive economic contributions to these cities. It is about fear-mongering to the nth degree."

Here's Samuel Osborne's report.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 08:57

A new Emerson poll has meanwhile put both of the leading Democratic presidential challengers, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, ahead of Trump in 2020, with either man projected to beat him by a comprehensive eight percent margin at the ballot box.

Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris would all beat him to the White House, according to the survey of voters.

No wonder Trump is so keen to go after "Sleepy Joe" and "Crazy Bernie".

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 09:10

The New York Times meanwhile reports this morning that Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr had no choice but to issue a subpoena last week to Donald Trump Jr - to the consternation of his Republican colleagues, who branded him a turncoat - after the president's eldest son twice agreed to sit before his panel on a voluntary basis, only to then back out.

He was expected to appear for interviews in both March and April but failed to do so, resulting in the first subpoena issued to a member of the Trump family.

The committee is seeking to "tie up loose ends" in its investigation into possible election interference into 2016 (independent of the Mueller report) and needs to hear from Don Jr regarding the meeting he held at Trump Tower in Manhattan on 9 June 2016, in which a group of influential Russians allegedly offered the Trump campaign team "dirt" on rival Hillary Clinton. Junior, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort are known to have been at the gathering with at least five other people, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Among those Republicans backing Don Jr's right not appear before the committee - along with the likes of Thom Tillis, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz - is zealous Trump convert Lindsey Graham, who suggests he pleads the Fifth Amendment.

“You’d have to be an idiot as a lawyer to put your client back into this circus, a complete idiot,” Graham told reporters.

Burr's committee took a renewed interest in Trump Jr after his father's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told the House Oversight Committee in February he had briefed Trump Jr approximately 10 times about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow before the presidential election. This contradicted his own statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017 that he was only "peripherally aware" of the proposal. 

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 09:25

In the wake of the Mueller report, the Trump administration is pressing ahead with its revenge mission to examine the origins of the Russia investigation within the Justice Department.

Attorney general William Barr (booo!) has appointed a US attorney to determine if intelligence collection involving the Trump campaign in 2016 was "lawful and appropriate".

Barr has appointed John Durham, the US attorney in Connecticut, to conduct the inquiry.

Durham's appointment comes about a month after Barr told members of Congress he believed "spying did occur" on the Trump campaign in 2016. He later said he didn't mean anything pejorative and was gathering a team to look into the origins of the special counsel's investigation. 

Barr provided no details about what "spying" may have taken place but appeared to be alluding to a surveillance warrant the FBI obtained on a former Trump associate, Carter Page, and the FBI's use of an informant while the bureau was investigating former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos

Trump and his supporters have seized on both to accuse the Justice Department and the FBI of unlawfully spying on his campaign.

Ex-CIA operative Valerie Plame has this to say of Barr's stance on the matter:

The inquiry, which will focus on whether the government's methods to collect intelligence relating to the Trump campaign were lawful and appropriate, is separate from an investigation by the Justice Department's inspector general. The agency's watchdog is also examining the Russia probe's origins and Barr has said he expects the watchdog report to be done in May or June. 

Congressional Republicans have also indicated they intend to examine how the investigation that shadowed Trump's presidency for nearly two years began and whether there are any legal concerns. 

The recently concluded investigation from special counsel Robert Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin to tip the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. 

Durham is a career prosecutor who was nominated for his post as US attorney in Connecticut by Trump. He has previously investigated law enforcement corruption, the destruction of CIA videotapes and the Boston FBI office's relationship with mobsters. 

In nominating him, the White House said Durham and other nominees for US attorney jobs share Trump's vision for "making America safe again." 

Durham was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2018. At the time, Connecticut's two Democratic senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, called Durham a "fierce, fair prosecutor" who knows how to try tough cases. 

In addition to conducting the inquiry, Durham will continue to serve as the chief federal prosecutor in Connecticut. 

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 09:40

Trump yesterday met with far-right Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban at the White House to talk trade, energy and national security.

Trump of coursed praised his fellow anti-immigrant populist as "highly respected".


Orban was an early Trump advocate in 2016 and is known for building a razor wire fence at Hungary’s southern border to stop refugees travelling from Serbia and Croatia during the peak of the refugee crisis.

Last week David Cornstein, the US ambassador to Hungary, suggested Trump's was envious of Orban's "illiberal democracy".

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 09:55

He also had these remarks for the White House press corps.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 10:10

Here's Elizabeth Anora for Indy Voices on Trump's decidedly problematic praise for Orban.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 10:25

With the US and China apparently no nearer to resolving their trade dispute, Beijing has retaliated as promised by increasing tariffs on $60bn (£46bn) of American goods, an increase of 10 percent to 20-25 percent on items from alcohol and clothing to liquefied natural gas.

Trump - the billionaire business genius who lost a whopping $1.17bn (£897m) in the 1980s - started the fight by increasing tariffs on more than 6,000 Chinese consumer goods to 25 percent or $200bn (£153bn).

He has since engaged in angry rhetoric against China on Twitter, saying it "loves ripping off America", apparently not appeased by the "beautiful" letter Xi Jinping sent him last week to soothe matters.

Here's his latest:

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 10:40

Elsewhere on Twitter on Monday, Trump attacked Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib accusing her of "tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people", just as he previously went after her colleague, Ilhan Omar, on similar grounds.

More surprisingly (for this administration, that is), he made a belated attempt to talk up his laughable environmental credentials.

Remember, this is a man who considers global warming a "hoax", withdrew the US from the 2015 Paris accords, has attempted to revive domestic fossil fuel production and roll back regulations, mocked the Democrats' Green New Deal and even appointed a former oil industry lobbyist, David Bernhardt, to be his secretary of the interior.

Perhaps he'd seen Bill Nye the Science Guy's message for him on climate change.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2019 10:50

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