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Trump news: President blocks action on gun control weeks after deadly mass shootings, as Fox News poll suggests he will lose in 2020

Chris Riotta
New York
,Andrew Buncombe,Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 19 September 2019 23:50 BST
Donald Trump threatens San Francisco with federal action over homelessness problem

Donald Trump has angrily denied reports he made a promise to a mystery foreign leader during a phone call from the Oval Office that so troubled one US intelligence official they felt compelled to file a whistleblower complaint about it, predictably dismissing the story and asking: “Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate?”

The precise nature of the pledge is currently unknown, according to The Washington Post, but, despite the matter being deemed of “urgent concern”, the president’s acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has so far refused to pass it on to House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, even after a subpoena was issued.

With a new Fox News poll finding him lagging behind the 2020 Democratic front-runners, Mr Trump returns from California where he visited his US-Mexico border wall on Wednesday, hailing the construction project with characteristic bluster as a “world-class security system”.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump asked a federal court to block an effort by New York prosecutors to obtain his tax returns as part of a criminal investigation, opening another front in the president’s efforts to keep his financial information private.

The president’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr, who recently subpoenaed the president’s accounting firm for eight years of his state and federal returns as part of an investigation into payments made to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Mr Trump.

They called the subpoena a “bad faith effort to harass” Mr Trump and said Mr Vance, a Democrat, had overstepped his constitutional authority.

“Virtually ‘all legal commenters agree’ that a sitting President of the United States is not ‘subject to the criminal process’ while he is in office,” Mr Trump’s lawyers wrote.

“Yet a county prosecutor in New York, for what appears to be the first time in our nation’s history, is attempting to do just that,” they added.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, asks US District Judge Victor Marrero to declare the subpoena unenforceable until Mr Trump leaves office.

The president’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said the lawsuit is intended “to address the significant constitutional issues at stake in this case.”

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A spokesman for Mr Vance said his office had received the lawsuit “and will respond as appropriate in court.” Mr Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, declined to comment.

Additional reporting by AP. Please allow a moment for our liveblog to load


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

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 09:25

Donald Trump made a promise to a mystery foreign leader in private that so troubled one official in the US intelligence community they felt compelled to file a whistleblower complaint, The Washington Post has reported. 

The Post said it was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or precisely what he pledged to deliver but the pledge is understood to have been made during a phone call.

Intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint was credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of "urgent concern," a legal threshold that requires notification of congressional oversight committees.

But the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has so far refused to share details about the complaint with Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee, stalling by disputing the definition of “urgent” and asserting that the subject of the complaint is beyond his jurisdiction.

Schiff raised the alarm earlier this week when Maguire first refused to comply with his subpoena.

Atkinson is scheduled to appear at a closed hearing of the committee on Thursday and Maguire has agreed to testify before the panel in open session a week later, Schiff said in a statement.

Here's Zamira Rahim's report.

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 09:35

Trump was in California on Wednesday to visit his US-Mexico border wall, which he hailed with characteristic bluster as a “world-class security system” that he insisted will be virtually impenetrable.

Trump toured a section of the border wall in San Diego's Otay Mesa area. It was a return trip for the president, who traveled there in March 2018 to see border wall prototypes that authorities later destroyed to make way for 14 miles of steel, concrete-filled bollards currently under construction.

Before construction began, the border in San Diego was protected by an initial layer of sheet metal that was easily blow-torched and a second, more formidable layer that could be compromised with powerful, battery-operated saws.

"It was like a sheet metal and people would just knock it over like just routinely," Trump said, referring to the initial layer that was replaced. He stood with construction workers and top Customs and Border Protection, Army Corps of Engineers and Homeland Security officials.

Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, defended the project, dismissing critics who call it the "president's vanity wall."

"I'm here to tell you that's false," he said, telling reporters that the president reached out to border experts to find out what they needed. "You listened to the agents," he told Trump.

Trump highlighted features of the wall, which he said have been studied by three other countries. He said the wall absorbs heat: "You can fry an egg on that wall." The concrete goes deep into the ground to prevent tunneling. And agents can see through it to spot possible threats on the Mexican side of the border, he said.

"When the wall is built, it will be virtually impossible to come over illegally, and then we're able to take border control and put them at points of entry," Trump said.

He heaped praise on the Mexican government, especially for sending tens of thousands of troops to its northern and southern borders to help slow the flow of migrants headed toward the United States. He said the country's president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador "has been great."

"We're all thrilled," Trump said. "You know Mexico has never done anything to impede people from pouring into our country and now they're doing just the opposite. They've really been incredible."

The president reveled in details of construction, saying Border Patrol and military officials persuaded him to adopt more expensive designs. He said he dropped a preference for solid concrete, instead opting for concrete-filled steel bollards that allow agents to see through to Mexico to spot assailants throwing rocks or other projectiles. He agreed to go along with barriers that are 30 feet high and double-layered in heavily traveled areas.

"It's the Rolls-Royce version," Trump said.

When Trump asked Army Corps lieutenant general Todd Semonite to explain how technology embedded in the wall alerts agents to illegal activity, he was told, "Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing it."

Semonite offered new details on the pace of construction that underscored how quickly the administration plans to move.

It has built 66 miles so far, has 251 miles in various stages of construction at 17 sites and contracts for 163 miles planned in the next 90 days, the general said. Additional land on private property is expected to take more time.

Crews are installing 270 panels a day, each one with eight bollards.

Trump, whose construction targets have shifted, said he expects to build up to about 550 miles of wall along the 1,954-mile border and said the administration will pause at about 400 miles to assess what more is needed.

Trump said cost concerns led him to put aside his preference to paint the wall black, which absorbs heat. He said the wall was "a good, strong rust colour" and could be painted later.

Trump is riding a string of wins on the wall and on immigration in general. Arrests on the Mexican border arrests plunged in August, well beyond the usual summer dip, from a 13-year high reached in May. Arrests are still relatively high, topping 50,000 in 10 of the last 11 months, compared with only eight months over the previous decade.

Last week, the Supreme Court gave Trump a green light to deny asylum to anyone who passes through another country on the way to the US border with Mexico without having first sought protection in the third country.

The Pentagon recently diverted $3.6bn (£2.8bn) from 127 military construction projects to build 175 miles of barriers on the border. Trump had promised during the 2016 presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Here's Clark Mindock.

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 09:50

On Twitter afterwards, the president duly posted these stern and rather dystopian threats warning would-be illegal immigrants away from his vanity-project-that-is-definitely-not-a-vanity-project.

How thoughtful to tweet it in both English and Spanish.

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 09:55

These cheery posts were bookended by new assaults on the Federal Reserve...

...and a scramble to downplay talk of his impeachment, still ongoing on Capitol Hill.

Here's Chris Riotta's report on the battered and beleaguered Jay Powell, now accused of lacking guts, sense and vision.

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 10:10

Trump said yesterday he has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a notice to the city of San Francisco on its homeless and other issues.

Trump said there is "tremendous pollution" going into the ocean from the city "including needles."

"They have to clean it up. We can't have our cities going to hell," he told reporters aboard Air Force One. "They are in serious violation."

Trump continued to pick fights with the blue state throughout his two-day visit, the primary purpose of which was to hoover up cash from wealthy Republican donors.

On Wednesday, he issued his long-expected challenge to California's authority to reduce car emissions...

...prompting the state's Democratic governor Gavin Newsom to publicly call out the Trump White House for a lack of "moral authority" and lamented the state's "unfortunate relationship" with the president.

The president and many Republicans see little downside to him making the nation's most populous state a ready villain.

"The voters that he's targeting in rural America look at California as an out-of-touch liberal state," said Republican consultant Alex Conant. "There's no political cost to him bashing California."

Trump and the Democratic-led state have battled throughout his two and a half years in office, with state attorney general Xavier Becerra filing more than 50 lawsuits against the Trump administration. They cover the president's initiatives on immigration, healthcare and the environment and have slowed and occasionally stopped the administration altogether.

And it's not just the president's agenda that California has gone after; the sparring has gotten personal, too. The state passed a law that requires candidates for president and governor to release five years' worth of tax returns to appear on the state's primary ballot, a pointed slap at Trump, who veered from historical precedent by declining to release his tax returns.

With all sides acknowledging the state's serious problems with homelessness, the issue stands as a vulnerability for Democratic leaders and one that Trump can use as part of his broader effort to paint Democrats as out of touch and extreme. The president has yet to provide any specifics on how to deal with the complex homelessness problem, though.

Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein allowed that Trump was "right that homelessness is a big problem in California. But how he explains the situation is wrong and raises significant concerns that his so-called solutions will only make matters worse."

Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump wasn't bashing his home state but pointing out the shortcomings of Democratic leadership that has dominated California politics for years, especially as the Golden State has become the forefront of the Trump resistance.

"When he's talking about homelessness and solving that problem, and affordability, that goes across party lines," McCarthy told The Associated Press. "Drive around - every community, even in Bakersfield - homelessness is the number one issue."

"They want to try to attack him, but you see how much support he has out there?" he said. "I think Californians are getting tired of the governor just fighting this president instead of trying to work with him. You don't have to agree with him all the time, but you can find common ground."

Protesters flew a giant Baby Trump balloon next to the hotel where the president was holding a fundraising lunch in San Diego yesterday (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Newsom, in return, said he wants to work with Trump but is determined to "push back when he tries to go after our dreams" on diversity, reproductive rights and more.

"I don't think the attorney general wakes up looking for a lawsuit," but most of the cases involved are an attack on the state, he said. "And so it's an unfortunate relationship."

That may not be unfortunate for Trump politically, though.

Tim Miller, a former spokesman for Jeb Bush and a longtime Trump critic, said that when Trump talks about the homeless problem in California and criticises its political leaders, "he's not speaking to California Republicans. He's speaking to Republicans and independents nationally. I anticipate he'll continue that through 2020."

Trump's presence in California and his attacks on its policies and politics were a welcome boost for the state's Republicans. "My Republican friends in California keep their heads down and think the place has lost its mind," Conant said. "It's not as if he's going into South Dakota and attacking the state's politics."

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 10:25

Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Muslim immigrant who has become an alt-right hate figure since taking office, has called on Twitter to act after The Donald yesterday tweeted another racist conspiracy theory against here, this time from Terrence K Williams, the same man who suggested the Clintons were behind the "murder" of billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Williams himself deleted the offending tweet, which used recent footage of her dancing shot at a Congressional Black Caucus event on 13 September to falsely claim she partied on the anniversary of 9/11 - potentially endangering the life of a woman who already regularly receives death threats from Islamophobes. Trump's message is still up though.

“They have a responsibility and they set community standards and clearly the president has shown many-a-times that he has violated their community standards,” Omar said of Twitter in an interview with Politico. “I don't even know why his account is not fully suspended - why he's not deplatformed.”

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 10:45

Trump's nominee to run the Labor Department faces a Senate confirmation hearing, even as Democrats argue that they haven't had enough time to scour his record of legal work for corporate interests.

Although Trump tweeted in mid-July that Eugene Scalia was his pick, the committee didn't officially receive the nomination until 11 September, the week before Thursday's hearing. The Republican GOP-led Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee panel has set a vote on the nomination early next week.

A Democratic aide said party lawmakers see the compressed timeframe as not allowing senators to properly investigate Scalia's history as an attorney for dozens of clients. But a Republican aide said all of Scalia's required paperwork, which would include his financial disclosure and ethics agreements, has been available for committee members to review since late August.

Trump's nomination of Scalia is opposed by the AFL-CIO, which has described him as a union-busting lawyer who has eroded labour rights and consumer protections. But business groups are squarely behind Scalia, viewing him as a reliable opponent of regulatory overreach and red tape. If Scalia is confirmed by the Senate, he'll be the seventh former lobbyist to hold a Cabinet-level post in the Trump administration.

Scalia, 56, served for a year as the Labor Department's top lawyer, its solicitor, during the George W Bush administration. But most of his career has been spent as a partner in the Washington office of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm, where he has run up a string of victories in court cases on behalf of business interests challenging labor and financial regulations.

On his financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics, Scalia listed 49 clients who paid him $5,000 (£4,000) or more for legal services, including e-cigarette giant Juul Labs, Facebook, Ford, Walmart and Bank of America. Disclosure records show Scalia was registered in 2010 and 2011 to lobby for the US Chamber of Commerce.

Scalia is likely to be questioned about changes the Labor Department is making to an Obama-era rule on overtime pay. The Obama regulations were scheduled to take effect in 2016 but were put on hold by a federal lawsuit.

A revised proposal issued in March raised the annual pay threshold at which workers would be exempt from overtime to $35,308 (£28,500) from the current $23,660 (£18,900), expanding overtime pay to roughly 1 million workers. The Obama plan set the threshold at more than $47,000 and would have affected an estimated 4.2 million people.

Senator Chuck Grassley expressed concern on Wednesday over Scalia's record on protecting government whistleblowers. Grassley said on a call with reporters that while serving as Labor's top lawyer Scalia argued not all disclosures made to Congress are protected under federal whistleblower laws and that the separation of powers doctrine prevents whistleblowers from disclosing certain information to Congress.

Trump's previous labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned in July. He'd come under renewed criticism for his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead last month in his cell at a federal jail in Manhattan after a July arrest on sex trafficking charges.

Deputy labor secretary Pat Pizzella has been serving as acting secretary until Scalia is confirmed.

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 11:05

House speaker Nancy Pelosi has let it be known that she thought Trump's ex-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski's disrespectful behaviour before the House Judicary Committee on Tuesday was "beyond the pale and contemptible" and sufficiently disdainful that "he could have been held in contempt right then and there".

If you too found his refusal to answer questions and insistence he was under no obligation to be honest with the media insufferable, you might enjoy this recap of the whole session sped up.

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 11:20

John Bolton - recently ousted as Trump's national security adviser - attended a private lunch at the exclusive Le Bernadin restaurant in Manhattan on Wednesday for the Gatestone Institute, a conservative think tank, and reportedly launched into a scathing critique of the president's approach to foreign policy.

The mustachioed hawk said the aborted plan to invite the Taliban to Camp David earlier this month sent a “terrible signal” and that it was “disrespectful” to the victims of 9/11 because the group had harbored al-Qaeda, according to Politico.

Bolton also said Trump's hopes of talks with rogue states North Korea and Iran were "doomed to failure" and speculated that, had Trump gone ahead with his airstrikes on Iran, the Saudi oil refineries since targeted, apparently by Tehran, might have been spared and an overt "act of war" averted.

“He ripped Trump, without using his name, several times,” said one attendee.

The president unveiled Bolton's successor, hostage negotiator Robert O'Brien, on Twitter yesterday before presenting him to the press on the airport tarmac in Los Angeles.

Trump subsequently said this of Bolton at the border wall in San Diego:

“Well, I was critical of John Bolton for getting us involved with a lot of other people in the Middle East. We’ve spent $7.5trn (£6trn) in the Middle East and you ought to ask a lot of people about that.“

“John was not able to work with anybody, and a lot of people disagreed with his ideas. A lot of people were very critical that I brought him on in the first place because of the fact that he was so in favour of going into the Middle East and he got stuck in quicksand and we became policemen for the Middle East. It’s ridiculous.“

Joe Sommerlad19 September 2019 11:35

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