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As it happenedended1550700603

Trump news: President launches new attack on 'enemy of the people' media amid fresh claims over Saudi nuclear deal

Chris Riotta
New York
,Clark Mindock,Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 20 February 2019 22:21 GMT
Former White House ethics chief, Richard Painter: Donald Trump is 'mentally unwell'

Donald Trump has lashed out at The New York Times after the paper reported he asked his then-acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker whether an investigator of his choosing could be put in charge of the investigation into “hush money” payments handled on his behalf by ex-fixer Michael Cohen.

With that report dominating cable news coverage throughout the day on Tuesday and into Wednesday, Mr Trump responded with an angry tweet on Wednesday, branding the newspaper as "a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE."

That attack, which follows after more than two years of attacks by Mr Trump on the media, was among several different major news developments of the week. In addition to the attack on the media, Mr Trump and Washington grappled with several other notable concerns, including:

  • The Democratic-led House Oversight Committee announced that it is launching an inquiry into a US bid to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, reportedly involving companies with ties to the Trump family
  •  Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who is on a tour to promote his new book, said it is “possible” the president is a Russian asset.
  • The special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election could be finished, with Attorney General William Barr set to announce that end as soon as next week, according to CNN.
  • A judge announced that Mr Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen can report to prison later than previously required, so that he can testify before Congress. Mr Cohen's lawyer said earlier this week that his client plans on discussing a decades' worth of experience working for the Trump Organisation.

All of these developments come as Mr Trump plans his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un next week in Vietnam. It is not clear if that information might impact whether Mr Barr will hold off on sending the Mueller report to Congress for fear of impacting diplomatic talks abroad.

And, of course, all of this news comes as more and more Democrats join the 2020 primary field, with the hopes of removing him from office.

Please allow a moment for our liveblog to load


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

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 10:09

Wow, where to start?

Scandal No. 1 comes from a New York Times report, entitled “Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigation Encircling Him”, which suggests the president called his acting-attorney-general, Matthew Whitaker, and asked him to appoint Geoffrey Berman, a Trump ally, to oversee the investigation into Michael Cohen’s alleged “hush money” payments dished out to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal on Mr Trump’s behalf to stay quiet about their alleged extramarital affairs with him.

Mr Berman, a US attorney for the Southern District of New York, has recused himself from the FBI’s sweeping investigation into Russian election meddling.

It is “unclear” whether Mr Whitaker - who succeeded Jeff Sessions - acted on the request, according to the report, but he emphatically told the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month he did not discuss any investigations with President Trump.

"At no time has the White House asked for, nor have I provided, any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel [Robert Mueller's] investigation or any other investigation," he said.

The NYT report raises the possibility that Mr Whitaker, who once said his job was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, may have misled Congress in making the above statement.

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 10:17

Scandal No. 2 sees a new congressional report accusing senior Trump administration officials of pushing a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia - ignoring the objections of ethics officials.

Citing whistleblowers within the US government, the report by the Democrat-led House Oversight Committee alleges “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors across the kingdom. 

The report says the nuclear effort was pushed by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in early 2017 and is awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.

And the move may have benefitted, among others, a company called Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, which struck a deal in August 2018 to rescue the 666 Fifth Avenue tower in Manhattan from massive debts.

The property's owner? The family of one Jared Kushner, AKA the First Son-in-Law.

Here's Tom Embury-Dennis to unpick this knotty little affair.

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 10:30

One of the concerns surrounding the US-Saudi deal is its possible destabilising effect on the Middle East.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has already issued this strong response, alluding to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 10:40

Meanwhile, ex-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe is continuing to cause discomfort to the president on his media blitz to promote his new book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.

Asked by NBC's Savannnah Guthrie on Today about whether Donald Trump was working for Russia, Mr McCabe said it was possible.

He repeated the remark when asked by Anderson Cooper on CNN: "Do you still believe the President could be a Russian asset?"

"I think it's possible," Mr McCabe replied. "I think that's why we started our investigation, and I'm really anxious to see where [FBI special counsel Robert] Mueller concludes that."

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 10:48

Mr McCabe provoked a furious response from Donald Trump on Twitter after appearing on 60 Minutes on CBS on Sunday.

He revealed in that interview he and other senior FBI officials had discussed removing the president by invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution following the firing of James Comey in May 2017 and that deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein had offered to wear a wire to record White House conversations.

Republican Senate intelligence Committee chair Lindsey Graham pledged to investigate that first claim, which he characterised as a "bureaucratic coup".

The president meanwhile unleashed a torrent of angry tweets, of which the below are typical:

Loyal White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has since joined in the attack on Mr McCabe's credibility, branding him "a liar and a leaker" on CNN.

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 11:01

Speaking of Rod Rosenstein, President Trump said on Tuesday he intends to nominate Jeffrey Rosen, a longtime litigator and deputy transportation secretary, to replace him as deputy attorney-general.

In his current post, the 60-year-old Mr Rosen serves as the Department of Transportation's chief operating officer and is in charge of implementing the department's safety and technological priorities. He rejoined the department in 2017 after previously serving as general counsel from 2003 to 2006. 

From 2006 until 2009, he was a senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Management and Budget. He also worked as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center. 

Mr Rosen held a variety of positions, including senior partner, at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the same law firm as the new attorney general, William Barr. He spent nearly 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis in a variety of management roles, including acting as the co-head of the firm's Washington office, he told senators at his confirmation hearing in March 2017. 

"His years of outstanding legal and management experience make him an excellent choice to succeed deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, who has served the Department of Justice over many years with dedication and distinction," Mr Barr said in a statement. 

Mr Rosenstein is expected to leave his post in mid-March. His departure had been expected since Mr Barr was confirmed as attorney-general last week. 

Rod Rosenstein began overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation after then-attorney-general Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation. William Barr now has control of Mr Mueller's probe.

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 11:14

Michael Cohen, President Trump's estranged ex-lawyer and right-hand man, is promising to reveal some "chilling" details about his time working at the Trump Organisation when he testifies before Congress.

"You’re going to hear personal, front-line experiences of memories, and incidents, and conduct, and comments that Donald Trump said over that 10-year time period behind closed doors that, to me when I first heard Michael tell me all this, even as much as I knew about Trump that was negative, was chilling,” promises Mr Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis.

“He treats people badly,” Mr Davis said of Mr Trump. “He has no moral character in defrauding people in his businesses, and going bankrupt, and taking cash out, and putting people out of work. He lacks the moral compass that we expect in our presidents.”

Here's Clark Mindock in New York.

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 11:35

All this and we haven't even made it to California.

The blue state, which is spearheading the legal challenge to the national emergency declaration the president issued on Friday as part of a coalition with 15 others, has long been a thorn in the side of Donald Trump - never popular on the West Coast.

In looking for alternative sources of cash to get his Mexico border wall built, the president last week turned his ire on the state's pricey 220mph bullet train project, which is intended to link Los Angeles and San Francisco by 2030 and cost as much as $77bn (£60bn) in total.

The Trump administration said on Tuesday it plans to cancel the $929m (£713m) awarded to the Golden State for the high-speed rail line and wants it to return the $2.5bn (£1.9bn) it has already spent. 

California's new Democratic governor Gavin Newsom vowed to fight to keep the money and said the move was an act of revenge in response to the national emergency lawsuit.

"This is clear political retribution by President Trump and we won't sit idly by," Mr Newsom said in a statement. "This is California's money and we are going to fight for it." 

As House speaker Nancy Pelosi once said, “I don’t think the president would be that petty, do you?"

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 11:54

The FBI reportedly had a back-up plan to safeguard the paperwork compiled by the Russia investigation in the event that it was canned by the Trump administration following the firing of James Comey.

Joe Sommerlad20 February 2019 12:08

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