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Trump news: President asserts executive privilege over subpoenaed documents as he rages over humiliating polls

Another day of chaotic news stemming from the White House

Chris Riotta
New York
,Joe Sommerlad,Chris Stevenson
Wednesday 12 June 2019 22:10
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Donald Trump reveals 'secret' Mexico deal by waving around piece of paper

California senator Kamala Harris, one of the leading Democratic candidates to challenge the president in 2020, has said the Justice Department would have little choice but to pursue criminal obstruction charges against Donald Trump if she were elected to the Oval Office.

President Trump has meanwhile lashed out on Twitter suggesting reports about internal polling indicating he might lose next year’s race are “Fake numbers” and the work of the “Fake (Corrupt) News Media”.

In Washington, the House Intelligence Committee is staging a hearing on lessons learned from the Mueller report while the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, is due to appear before the equivalent Senate committee behind closed doors.

The president was meanwhile joined on Wednesday by Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, when he announced he will send 1,000 more US service members to Poland as part of his broadening security and economic alliance.

Mr Trump said the Polish government will pay for the infrastructure to support the additional troops, and he praised Poland for increased defense spending to meeting its NATO commitments.

Earlier in the Oval Office, the president said the United States has based tens of thousands of troops in Germany for a “long, long time” and that he probably would move a “certain number” of those personnel to Poland, “if we agree to do it.”

Mr Trump also said Poland is buying more than 30 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets from the US. In recognition of that purchase, a single F-35 flew over the White House on a sunny afternoon. Mr Duda looked up and waved as the jet passed.

“They’re going to put on a very small show for us and we’re doing that because Poland has ordered 32 or 35 brand new F-35s at the highest level,” Mr Trump said.

US officials also said earlier this week that Mr Trump, in addition to the additional troops, would send a squadron of Reaper drones to Poland to aid its self-defense amid concerns about Russian military activity.

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

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 10:00
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Former FBI special counsel Robert Mueller is in negotiations with the House Judiciary Committee to testify about his 22-month investigation into the Donald Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia and will appear before the end of summer, according to chairman Jerrold Nadler.

Mueller's only public appearance to discuss his 448-page report so far came on 29 May, when he spoke from a Justice Department podium to announce his retirement and say that his work - which found no evidence of conclusion but at least 10 counts of possible obstruction of justice by the president - spoke for itself.

House Democrats fear the Trump administration has been allowed to control the narrative surrounding the complex dossier, which explicitly does not exonerate the president of wrongdoing.

Its handling by attorney general William Barr saw him publish an executive summary of his own assessment of its conclusions weeks before he finally published a heavily redacted version of the report itself, throughout which time Trump and his supporters have loudly crowed about its "No Collusion" conclusion and branded the investigation a "Witch Hunt".

Unsatisfied with Mueller's retreat to private life, Nadler told MSNBC's The Beat with Ari Melber he expects to see the FBI man before his panel "way before" the end of summer but could not give an exact date.

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 10:10
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The House meanwhile voted 229-191 in favour of a resolution on Tuesday empowering its committees to go to court to enforce subpoenas against Barr and ex-White House counsel Don McGahn after they refused to comply with congressional probes as part of the administration’s stonewalling tactics.

The session had originally been called to vote on holding the pair in contempt of Congress but this was averted by the Justice Department striking a deal with Chairman Nadler, agreeing to hand over some redacted material from the Mueller report in exchange for refraining from its vote.

The House Oversight Committee will, however, stage its own vote on Wednesday on holding Barr and commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt over their refusal to comply with subpoenas related to the additional of a prejudicial citizenship question to the 2020 US census.

The Trump administration is threatening to invoke presidential powers to withhold key documents unless Chairman Elijah Cummings drops that contempt motion too.

In a letter to Cummings, President  Trump's Justice Department accused the committee of failing to follow constitutional norms by refusing to negotiate over the scope of census-related material the panel seeks to examine. The letter described as "premature" Cummings' decision to schedule the vote against Barr and Ross over their failure to turn over the materials.

Assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd, who signed the letter, said that given the threatened contempt vote, Barr "is now compelled" to ask that Trump "invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials" the committee has subpoenaed.

"I hereby request that the committee hold the subpoenas in abeyance and delay any vote on whether to recommend a citation of contempt," pending a determination by Trump whether to assert executive privilege, Boyd wrote.

Boyd said the Justice Department had already given the committee 17,000 pages of documents on the census issue and allowed two Justice Department officials to appear for committee interviews.

In a statement, Cummings said his panel would still vote on Wednesday on holding Ross and Barr in contempt and condemned the administration for having "delayed, stonewalled, obstructed, and challenged the authority of Congress to even ask questions."

Later on Tuesday, however, Cummings sent Barr a letter saying he would postpone the scheduled contempt vote if the Justice and Commerce Departments turned over specific documents the committee requested by Wednesday.

Last week, committee Democrats released a memo alleging that the Trump White House had "interfered directly and aggressively" with an attempt by the panel to interview Kris Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, about an administration plan to add a citizenship question to the census.

Committee Democrats said that documents showed Ross "began a secret campaign" to add the citizenship question shortly after taking office and months before being asked to do so by the Justice Department.

Ross has said the question would help enforce the Voting Rights Act, but critics argue it would scare immigrants and Latinos into abstaining, which could disproportionately undercount Democratic-leaning states.

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 10:24
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Also taking place on Capitol Hill on Wednesday is a House Intelligence Committee hearing on the Mueller report's ramifications for counterintelligence and a personal appearance by Donald Trump Jr, the president's eldest son, who will meet with the Senate intelligence Committee behind closed doors.

The meeting with Don Jr comes after the committee's Republican chairman, North Carolina senator Richard Burr, subpoenaed him as part of the panel's Russia investigation.

Burr received considerable blowback from some of his GOP colleagues for the move but told fellow senators that Trump Jr had backed out of an interview twice, forcing the committee to act.

Senators want to discuss answers Trump Jr gave the panel's staff in a 2017 interview, as well as answers he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in a separate interview behind closed doors that year.

President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a House committee in February that he had briefed Trump Jr approximately 10 times about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow before the presidential election. Trump Jr told the Judiciary panel he was only "peripherally aware" of the real estate proposal. 

The panel is also interested in talking to Trump Jr about other topics, including a campaign meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer that captured the interest of special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller's report, released in April, examined the meeting but found insufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime. 

Trump said in May he believed that his son was being treated poorly. 

"It's really a tough situation because my son spent, I guess, over 20 hours testifying about something that Mueller said was 100 percent OK and now they want him to testify again," Trump told reporters at the White House. "I don't know why. I have no idea why. But it seems very unfair to me." 

It's the first known subpoena of a member of the president's immediate family, and some Republicans went so far as to suggest Trump Jr. shouldn't comply. 

Burr's home state colleague, Senator Thom Tillis, tweeted, "It's time to move on & start focusing on issues that matter to Americans."

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a GOP member of the panel, said he understood Trump Jr's frustration. Cornyn's Texas colleague, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, said there was "no need" for the subpoena. 

But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has defended Burr, saying "none of us tell Chairman Burr how to run his committee." 

Still, McConnell made it clear that he is eager to be finished with the probe, which has now gone on for more than two years. 

It's uncertain when the intelligence panel will issue a final report. Burr told the Associated Press last month that he hopes to be finished with the investigation by the end of the year. 

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 10:40
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The president himself was in Iowa on Tuesday – as was his likely 2020 challenger, Joe Biden – and delivered a rambling address touching on broadband-deficient tractors, why poor forest management is to blame for California's wildfires rather than climate change and the “mental weakness” of “Sleepy Joe”.

Trump visited an ethanol plant in the town of Council Bluffs and took the opportunity to attack Biden, saying: "People don't respect him. Even the people that he's running against, they're saying: 'Where is he? What happened?"

"He makes his stance in Iowa once every two weeks and then he mentions my name 74 times in one speech. I don't know. That reminds me of Crooked Hillary [Clinton]. She did the same thing."

He had already told reporters on the White House lawn before setting out for the Midwest: "I'd rather run against Biden than anybody. I think he's the weakest mentally, and I like running against people that are weak mentally." 

Biden - speaking in Ottumwa in Wapello County, a meat-packing and agricultural manufacturing centre - made a nonsense of Trump's claim to have fought "for the American farmer like no president has fought before."

"I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event because Iowa farmers have been crushed by his tariffs toward China," the candidate said. "It's really easy to be tough when someone else absorbs the pain, farmers and manufacturers." 

Biden resumed his criticism in Davenport while Trump attended a Republic Party dinner in West Des Moines, calling him an "existential threat to America" and accusing the president of "breaking down the barriers that constrain his power".

Here's Andrew Buncombe's report.

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 10:55
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Trump was up late after all that excitement in Iowa, quoting Fox host Tucker Carlson in a rant about Barack Obama and liking a tweet about pop star Rihanna's work-life balance. No really.

Here's Tom Embury-Dennis with the full story.

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 11:10
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Before departing the White House on Tuesday, President Trump brandished a sheet of paper declaring it was the text of the agreement signed by US and Mexican officials on Friday in which the latter vowed to take stronger action on illegal immigration from Central America in exchange for Washington not imposing escalating tariffs.

An enterprising Washington Post photographer was able to zoom in and read precisely what it said thanks to the bright morning sunshine.

His images reveal Mexico appearing to pledge to enforce specific domestic laws if the Trump administration is not satisfied with the results of its first efforts. The country's government is deploying 6,000 National Guardsmen to reinforce its southern border and is expanding its policy of taking back asylum seekers as the United States processes their claims.

If, after 45 days, the US government "determines at its discretion" that the results aren’t enough, the agreement says, "the government of Mexico will take all necessary steps under domestic law to bring the agreement into force." The document gives Mexico another 45 days to achieve that.

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 11:25
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Earlier this week we heard the sad news that the oak sappling the Trumps planted on the White House lawn as a "friendship tree" with Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron of France last April had died after struggling to adapt to the Washington soil.

Intended to commemorate the the Battle of Belleau Wood in the First World War, it was supposed to be “a reminder at the White House of these ties that bind us”, according to Macron. American forces suffered nearly 10,000 casualties in the fight of June 1918.

"It's no big drama," Macron now says, promising to send over a replacement. "The symbol was to plant it together." 

Here's Jon Sharman's original story.

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 11:40
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Trump is due to meet with Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, at the White House this afternoon.

In other foreign policy news, the Donald said on Tuesday he had received a "beautiful" letter from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, defending the leader by insisting he had "kept his word" on suspending nuclear testing, saying that the resumption of short-range missile blasts were insignificant and did not violate the agreement they made in Singapore exactly one year ago today.

Trump recently drew fire after endorsing Kim's criticism of Joe Biden, whom he mocked as a "low IQ individual", during his four-day state visit to Japan to meet the country's new emperor, angering patriots by siding with a foreign power while out of the country on Memorial Day.

Asked about whether Kim's late brother Kim Jong-nam was a CIA informant, Trump answered: "I saw the information about the CIA with respect to his brother, or half-brother, and I would tell him that would not happen under my auspice that’s for sure. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices."

Kim Jong-nam was murdered after being exposed to the toxic nerve agent VX at Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia in 2017.

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 11:55
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House speaker Nancy Pelosi says she's "done" with the president's insults after he began calling her "Nervous Nancy" on Twitter and at a D-Day anniversary event in Normandy, saying she was a "nasty, vindictive, horrible person".

“I’m done with him. I don’t even want to talk about it,” she said at an event held at the Peter Peterson Foundation in Washington.

“My stock goes up every time he attacks me, so what can I say. But let’s not spend too much time on that because that’s his victory, the diverter-in-chief, the diverter-of-attention-in-chief.”

Joe Sommerlad12 June 2019 12:10

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