Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

As it happenedended1550616224

Trump 'asked Whitaker to put prosecutor of his choosing in charge of Cohen probe'

The White House has also launched a major campaign to end criminalisation of homosexuality

Chris Riotta
New York
,Clark Mindock
Tuesday 19 February 2019 22:43 GMT
Former White House ethics chief, Richard Painter: Donald Trump is 'mentally unwell'

Donald Trump’s White House faced another day of turmoil as a new Congressional report alleged senior administration officials attempted to share information on nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia.

The House Oversight Committee announced a new investigation into the accusations, in which whistle blowers within the president’s administration described “abnormal acts” between the White House and the Middle Eastern kingdom.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump continued to lash out against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe after the official confirmed he launched a counterintelligence investigation into the president.

Mr McCabe was fired last year after the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that he had misled officials about his role in a news media disclosure. He has denied the allegations, described his firing as politically motivated and, in a series of interviews this week, has said he plans to sue the Justice Department over it.

Mr McCabe also said in an interview with “60 Minutes” that the FBI had good reason to open a counterintelligence investigation into whether Mr Trump was in league with Russia, and therefore a possible national security threat, following the May 2017 firing of then-FBI Director James Comey.

The controversies continued erupting throughout the day when an explosive New York Times report alleged the president asked his then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put a prosecutor of his choosing in charge of an investigation into his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Mr Trump’s turmoil arrived a day after protests erupted across the country on President’s Day in opposition to his national emergency declaration.

“Trump is the national emergency!” chanted a group of hundreds lined up Monday at the White House fence while Trump was out of town in Florida. Some held up large letters spelling out “stop power grab.” In downtown Fort Worth, Texas, a small group carried signs with messages including “no wall! #FakeTrumpEmergency.”

At least 16 states have sued the president over the declaration.

Please allow a moment for our liveblog to load


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

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 09:15

The president's decision to call a national emergency from the White House Rose Garden on Friday, immediately after signing a government funding bill to avert a second shutdown, is continuing to draw fire.

California is spearheading the Democratic legal challenge on behalf of 16 states against Donald Trump's invocation of emergency powers, which allow him to reallocate federal funds to pay for his long-promised 2,000-mile Mexico border wall without needing to seek approval from Congress.

While the Democrats, led by House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, argue the problem of illegal immigration from Central America does not amount to a crisis, many of President Trump's fellow Republicans fear the precedent being set by his actions.

Three Texas landowners and Public Citizen, an environmental group, filed the first lawsuit against Mr Trump’s move on Friday, saying it violated the constitution and would infringe on their property rights.

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 09:24

Those opposed to Donald Trump's manoeuvre are meanwhile busily arguing it amounts to an abuse of presidential power, which provided one of the grounds for impeachment against Richard Nixon drawn up by the House judiciary committee in 1974.

In an editorial for NBC, for instance, columnist Michael Conway, who served as counsel to the committee during Watergate, cites Alexander Hamilton's definition of an impeachable offence from 1788 and writes:

"It is the constitutional role of Congress to appropriate (or, in this case, refuse to appropriate) public funds for a specific purpose. Congress voted not to fund $8 billion [£6.2bn] to build a wall, earmarking only $1.375 billion [£1.1bn] for that project; Trump’s announcement is an effort to usurp their constitutional authority."

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 09:33

Conway also cites Nixon's dubious calling of a state of emergency in 1971 (five years before the current National Emergencies Act was introduced) as evidence that federal courts are usually disinclined to question a sitting president on the matter.

Nixon called one that year over America's financial reserves, before adding a 10 percent surcharge to certain imports. This was challenged by Japanese corporation Yoshida International, who sued the administration and won, only for the US Court of Customs and Patent Appeal to reverse the original trial court's ruling.

“Though such a broad grant may be considered unwise, or even dangerous, should it come into the hands of an unscrupulous, rampant president, willing to declare an emergency when none exists, the wisdom of a congressional delegation is not for us to decide,” its decision read.

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 09:50

Yesterday President Trump visited Miami, Florida, to speak on the political crisis in Venezuela, warning the country's military it would "lose everything" if it did not abandon its support for Nicolas Maduro and back self-declared president Juan Guaido, former head of the national assembly in Caracas.

Mr Maduro responded angrily on state television, accusing the US president of speaking in an "almost Nazi style" and asking, "Who is the commander of the armed forces, Donald Trump from Miami?... They think they're the owners of the country."

Here's Andrew Buncombe.

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 10:00

The 16 states taking Mr Trump to court over the national emergency are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Michigan.

"We're suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the office of the presidency is not a place for theatre," California's Democratic attorney-general Xavier Becerra said yesterday.

Mr Becerra has form in this area, having filed at least 45 lawsuits against the Trump administration previously. 

The White House has so far not commented.

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 10:15

Donald Trump has been on erratic form on Twitter overnight, even by his own high standards.

He lurched from promoting his speech on Venezuela to retweeting praise from the bereaved father of a child killed in last year's Parkland school shooting by way of a viral video of a woman doing keepy-ups with a football. "Amazing!" he says of the latter.

Obviously still stung by ex-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe's comments over the weekend on CBS and NPR, the president has also been retweeting support from his friends at Fox News and issuing frankly childish insults to discredit the veteran official:

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 10:30

Andrew McCabe's suggestion that he and Rod Rosenstein discussed having the president removed from office under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution caused a stir over the weekend, with Republican senator Lindsey Graham, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, pledging an investigation.

That same clause has also been cited by George W Bush's former White House ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, who says Donald Trump's decision to call a national emergency is "clearly illegal".

"The president is not well at all mentally. I think he’s an extreme narcissist. He has been denied what he wants, his wall, and he is having a hissy fit," Mr Painter says.

The professor though believes the only way to unseat the president is at the ballot box in 2020 and is backing former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, who is seeking the Republican nomination after running for the Libertarian Party in 2016.

Here's Tom Embury-Dennis with more.

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 10:45

And of course there's the FBI's Russian election hacking investigation.

Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, has contradicted his counterpart in the Senate, Richard Burr, by telling CNN's State of the Union:

“You can see evidence in plain sight on the issue of collusion, pretty compelling evidence. Now there’s a difference between seeing evidence of collusion and being able to prove a criminal conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Here's Clark Mindock in New York.

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 11:00

Eccentric political consultant and Trump ally Roger Stone - he of the Dick Nixon back tattoo - is in further trouble after posting a picture of US district judge Amy Berman Jackson with the crosshairs of a gun sight imposed on her head on his Instagram page.

Judge Jackson is presiding over Mr Stone's criminal trial in which he has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying about his efforts to gather information about hacked 2016 Democratic Party emails that were published by WikiLeaks.

She had imposed a gag order on him on Friday, warning Mr Stone he could not make statements to the media about his case at the federal courthouse in Washington.

Joe Sommerlad19 February 2019 11:15

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in