Donald Trump has told reporters he had not seen or read a report produced by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Speaking on the White House lawn before departing for a trip to Texas, the president told media “I won” while claiming he did not care to read the conclusion from the special counsel’s findings.
His comments arrived as Attorney General William Barr arrived on Capitol Hill for another day of testimony in front of Congressional lawmakers, saying Wednesday he thinks “spying did occur” against the president’s 2016 campaign.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Mr Barr said, calling the type of spying he believed took place as “unauthorised.”
“Yes I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump's acting interior secretary, David Bernhardt, attempted to conceal meetings with fossil fuel lobbyists and representatives of timber, mining and other natural resources industries from his official schedule, according to reports.
The president was set to announce further bad news for environmentalists during a trip to Texas on Wednesday when he signs an executive order designed to make it harder for states to scuttle unwanted pipeline projects and other energy initiatives by denying permit permissions on water quality grounds - a loophole regularly exploited, according to Republicans.
And to cap it all off, the president is facing legal action from Warner Brothers after using an excerpt from composer Hans Zimmer's score for the Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises (2012) for a campaign video without permission.
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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.
Donald Trump is jetting out for Texas today where he will announce an executive order that could make it harder for states to scuttle pipelines and other energy projects they object to by raising concerns about the potential impact on water quality.
Trump has made it a priority to expand energy development in the United States, particularly by rolling back government regulations, and the new measure follows complaints by Republican politicians that states like Washington and New York have exploited the permitting process as a means of blocking initiatives they disapprove of.
A senior administration official told reporters there are problems with the way some states are interpreting Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Under that section, companies must obtain certification from the state before moving ahead with an energy project.
Washington state blocked the building of a coal terminal. New York regulators stopped a natural gas pipeline when they determined it failed to meet standards to protect streams, wetlands and other water resources.
Trump's executive order calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to consult with states, tribes and relevant agencies and issue updated guidance for the states to follow to comply with the intent of the landmark act.
The order will also call on the Transportation Department to propose a rule that would allow liquefied natural gas to be shipped in approved rail tank cars.
The second executive order Trump will announce on Wednesday streamlines the process for energy infrastructure that crosses international borders.
Currently, the secretary of state has the authority to issue permits for cross-border infrastructure such as pipelines. The executive order clarifies that the president will make the decision on whether to issue such permits.
The move follows Trump's decision last month to issue a new presidential permit for the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline — two years after he first approved it and more than a decade after it was first proposed.
Elsewhere in the crazy world of Donald Trump, Warner Brothers is taking legal action against his campaign over the unauthorised use of Hans Zimmer’s score from The Dark Knight Rises (2012) for a promotional video.
The track “Why We Fall” was used in a video posted on the president’s Twitter account on Tuesday, which was quickly taken down by administrators after social media users pointed out the lift from Christopher Nolan’s superhero blockbuster, which turned out to have been carried out without permission of the copyright holder.
The film’s star, Christian Bale, recently called President Trump “a clown” but warned: “Clowns can do a lot of damage”.
The melodramatic video in question featured aerial shots of Washington and a montage of Hollywood stars who had spoken out against Trump – including Rosie O'Donnell, Bryan Cranston, and Amy Schumer – as onscreen text proclaimed: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they call you racist."
Trump is clearly a big fan of The Dark Knight Rises, his inauguration speech in January 2017 bearing a strong similarity to a speech made by the film’s villain, Bane.
Here’s Jacob Stolworthy’s report.
Following his meeting with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the White House yesterday, the president continued to rant about immigration, his primary obsession in the wake of Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen’s departure on Sunday.
"We have the worst laws of any country anywhere in the world," he told an astonished press corps.
"You have to fix the asylum situation that's ridiculous. You have people coming in claiming asylum. They're all reading exactly what the lawyer gives them... And some of these people are not people you want in our country," he added.
He went on to suggest that the controversial policy for which Nielsen became a reluctant figurehead – the separation of children from their parents at border detention centres – was actually begun under Barack Obama, a lie so brazen it was even debunked by Shep Smith on Fox News.
He continued the theme on Twitter well into the evening.
Here's Clark Mindock's report.
At the border, the Pentagon has already handed out $1bn (£765m) in wall construction contracts, with work due for completion in October 2020.
Texas company SLSCO have received $789m (£604m) from the Army Corps of Engineers to begin work in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, while Montana's Barnard Construction have been paid $187m (£143m) to erect barriers in Yuma, Arizona, according to The Hill.
Department of Defence spokesman lieutenant colonel Jamie Davis said the first contract would see "30-foot bollard fencing and a five-foot anti-climb plate” built and second "18-foot bollard fencing and a five-foot anti-climb plate".
The money is separate to the $3.6bn (£2.75bn) in federal funds President Trump now has access to after declaring a state of national emergency.
With President Trump placing such emphasis on the illegal immigration "crisis" to the south, the Democrats are under pressure to offer their own solutions.
The opposition are honing proposals to address the surge of families entering the US, a problem they say the president's restrictive immigration policies are inflaming.
House Democrats plan to introduce legislation soon addressing the recent waves of Central American migrants reaching the border while Senate Democrats are pursuing multiple tracks, including exploring whether talks with the White House might be feasible.
The House measure, described by politicians, aides and lobbyists, would stand virtually no chance of winning approval by the Republican-led Senate, let alone getting Trump's signature. But it would let Democrats show voters they're responsive to the rush of migrants that has overwhelmed federal officials and left border communities struggling to cope - rather than simply objecting to Trump's moves.
The bill, which participants said is still being finalised, is expected to increase federal resources at border entry points for processing refugees, counseling children and treating people needing medical care. It would create centers in Central America where asylum applications could be processed and provide aid to reduce poverty and violence in the region so fewer people would flee.
"You don't just wait for people to show up at the border. It's the worst way to deal with it," said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, who's working on the legislation with House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler and party leaders.
The measure represents Democrats' effort to find the sweet spot between addressing a burgeoning humanitarian crisis and not lending credibility to Trump's assertion that hordes of immigrants are invading the country. They say Trump has exacerbated the situation by aggressively detaining migrants caught entering the US illegally and slowing the processing of asylum seekers, which can take months or longer.
"This is a manufactured crisis," said Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona.
Trump has accused Democrats of "obstructing." He complained on Tuesday about their refusal to tighten asylum laws, restrict legal immigration by relatives of migrants already here or ban the release of detained migrants until their court dates — a practice used by recent administrations, including his own.
"They don't want to act," Trump said.
In the Senate, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a senior member of the Judiciary committee, said she plans to introduce a bill that would beef up immigration courts to reduce a huge backlog of cases and prohibit separations of migrant families. The measure would face an uphill climb.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said Democrats were in early discussions about what legislation to craft and were trying to arrange meetings with the White House on the issue. But he cautioned that last year's collapse of immigration talks with Trump did not bode well.
"This president is not an easy person to work with on this subject," said Durbin.
No one disputes that the number of migrants seeking entry into the US is swelling. Authorities were expecting to prevent 100,000 people, mostly families, from crossing the southern border last month, the most in 12 years.
In response, Trump has moved to cut nearly $500m (£383m) in aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, whose citizens have trekked toward the US in growing numbers. He has curbed the number of asylum applications that authorities process. He has been blocked by a federal court from forcing refugees to wait in Mexico while their cases are decided. And he has warned he'll close the southwest border, a threat he's intermittently eased and renewed.
Frustrated with his team's resistance to carry out some of his policy proposals, he's also ousted his homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and moved to purge other top officials at the department. Democrats, joined by many Republicans, said Trump's shake-up was unwise.
"He doesn't like the law," said House majority leader Steny Hoyer. "And he's firing people who are determined that they have to act within the confines of the law. I think that's very dangerous."
Trump says the US faces a security and humanitarian calamity. In a letter to politicians last month, Nielsen asked for "immediate congressional assistance" to address "a system-wide meltdown." She requested funds for more detention beds, medical teams and processing facilities but specified no dollar amounts.
Democrats are sceptical of such requests.
"They've already taken and transferred money from things to their ridiculous wall," said Representative Pramila Jayapal, referring to Trump's effort to build a border wall that Democrats have mocked as ineffective.
"It's pretty difficult for me to say I'd give them more. I'd have a lot more accountability built in, and I'd cut the amount we're giving to Homeland Security until they can show us they really need it."
Democrats contend that Trump's goal is to rile up his conservative voters as his 2020 re-election campaign gets underway.
"He's shown that over and over, he's just anti-immigrant. And this is a campaign talking point for him," said Congresswoman Nanette Barragan.
Republicans say Democrats are simply out to block Trump.
"They don't want to give Trump any victory on anything, ever," Republican Congressman John Katko, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The House Ways and Means Committee's chairman, Richard Neal, last week set a deadline for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to hand over President Trump's tax returns dating back six years.
That deadline passes today.
Should Neal find himself empty-handed at the end of play in Washington, the matter is likely to descend into a lengthy court battle. If Democrats don’t receive the tax returns by their requested deadline, they are likely to take additional steps to try to obtain the documents, such as sending another letter to the IRS or issuing a subpoena.
Trump is the first president in decades not to release his tax returns but insists his hands are tied because he remains under audit.
IRS commissioner Charles Rettig told a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday he and Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin had had a "brief discussion" about how to respond but had not reached a conclusion.
Mnuchin said the White House had discussed the tax return issue with the Treasury’s legal department before Democrats had ever asked for the documents. Mnuchin said he personally had not spoken to Trump over the tax returns.
Mnuchin later got himself into a testy exchange with Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, who asked him whether he feared for his job in the wake of the Kirstjen Nielsen resignation/sacking.
“I’m not afraid of being fired at all. Having said that, I said that we will follow the law,” Mnuchin responded.
They also sparked over when exactly Mnuchin would be allowed to leave the hearing to attend a meeting.
Here's more on the Trump administration's bid to "toughen up" it's approach to the border.
Trump's acting interior secretary, David Bernhardt, attempted to conceal meetings with representatives of fossil fuel, timber, mining and other industries from his official calendar, according to an investigation by Roll Call/CQ.
Recently posted versions of Bernhardt’s daily schedules contain at least 260 differences from his original schedules, with the newest records showing meetings previously described as “external” or “internal” were actually with natural resources firms.
Events left out of the original calendars but since discloesd or elaborated upon include a keynote address at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for the industry group Domestic Energy Producers Alliance and encounters with executives at Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell.
According to Roll Call: "[The] Interior quietly posted the new documents on 2 April, two days before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved his nomination to become the secretary in a non-acting capacity. The full Senate could vote on his nomination as soon as this week."
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