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January 12, 2017

"I wish circumstances were different and I didn't feel the need to make public remarks today," said Walter Shaub, the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE), to begin his address Wednesday at the Brookings Institute about government ethics and why President-elect Donald Trump should take them more seriously. "You don't hear about ethics when things are going well. You've been hearing a lot about ethics lately." Trump had laid out his plan to distance himself from his business interests to avoid conflicts earlier in the day, and Shaub said that plan is "wholly inadequate." "Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts," he explained.

The point of speaking publicly about the fixable ethics shortcomings of the incoming administration, Shaub said, is to defend the post-Watergate ethics structure built to safeguard the public good and to urge Trump to change course. "I've been pursuing this issue because the ethics program starts at the top," he said, and it is hard to persuade other officials to comply if the president does not.

And he's been trying to get his message to Trump, particularly. He started with some tweets, Shaub said, because "I was trying to use the vernacular of the president-elect's favorite social media platform to encourage him to divest." His speech on Wednesday included Biblical scripture, an appeal to patriotism, and the advice of Trump's favorite Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia:

Back when he was working for the Justice Department, the late Antonin Scalia also wrote an opinion declaring that a president should avoid engaging in conduct prohibited by the government's ethics regulations, even if they don't apply. Justice Scalia warned us that there would be consequences if a president ever failed to adhere to the same standards that apply to lower level officials. [Shaub, Brookings Institute]

At Trump's press conference, his conflicts-of-interest lawyer, Sheri Dillon, had noted that "the conflicts of interest laws simply do not apply to the president or the vice president and they are not required to separate themselves from their financial assets." That's true. But as Shaub noted: "The sheer obviousness of Justice Scalia's words becomes apparent if you just ask yourself one question: Should a president hold himself to a lower standard than his own appointees?" The jury is still out. Watch below. Peter Weber

1:11 p.m. ET

The evidence that occasioned the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead a probe into Russian election meddling efforts and alleged Trump campaign involvement was illegitimate, President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on CNN Sunday, arguing that therefore the entire probe is illegitimate.

"I'm not saying Mueller is illegitimate; I'm saying the basis on which he was appointed was illegitimate," Giuliani told State of the Union host Dana Bash, pointing to James Comey's leaked memos and "spygate" as the sources of illegitimacy.

Bash sought to clarify Giuliani's view of the probe's legitimacy, as distinct from Mueller as special counsel and the probe's origins. "So you think that the Mueller probe is legitimate?" she asked. "Not anymore," he replied. "I don’t. I did when I came in." Watch Giuliani's comments in context below. Bonnie Kristian

11:32 a.m. ET

Hawaiian officials have urged complete evacuation of the Leilani Estates neighborhood in the path of lava flows from the still-active Kilauea volcano on the Big Island.

"I don't know what's going to be left of Leilani," said resident Steve Gebbie. "I really think it might be wiped out."

So far, the lava has covered 2,200 acres, destroyed 82 structures, and made another 37 structures inaccessible. There were 90 earthquakes near the summit Friday, and tremors have continued over the weekend. Lava flows now threaten a nearby geothermal plant, which has been shut down as a precaution. Bonnie Kristian

11:17 a.m. ET

President Trump went after The New York Times on Twitter Saturday, revisiting his usual critiques of the paper's ethics and commercial viability. He also claimed an unnamed senior White House official the Times cited in a report on the North Korea summit was fabricated:

In reality, as recorded audio of a White House background briefing has demonstrated, the source is National Security Council official Matt Pottinger, and he was speaking in a White House-arranged conference call:

Other news organizations were present in the briefing and reported stories citing the same source. "I mean, every reporter on the call knows who this official was, and this official exists," said Mike Warren of the conservative Weekly Standard. "And we all heard the official say it." Bonnie Kristian

10:46 a.m. ET

President Trump was working his way through a fairly typical weekend tweetstorm about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election meddling efforts when things took a ... strange turn Sunday morning. Amid lots of more usual fare — "the crooked highest levels of the FBI or 'Justice,'" "#SPYGATE & CONFLICTS OF INTEREST," "13 Angry Democrats," and so on — Trump posted this:

In a follow-up tweet, the president did not explain what "young and beautiful" people he has in mind. He is 71. Bonnie Kristian

8:37 a.m. ET

The approach of Subtropical Storm Alberto has prompted the governors of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi to declare states of emergency, warning residents and Memorial Day tourists of forthcoming heavy rain, high winds, storm surges, and flash flooding. "Remember, the track of these storms can change without notice," said Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). "Do not think that only areas in the cone will be impacted."

Alberto is expected to make landfall sometime Monday, gathering strength as it moves northward through the Caribbean and up the Gulf Coast. Hurricane season officially begins June 1, and experts are predicting a fairly normal year despite this head start. Bonnie Kristian

8:09 a.m. ET
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is still very much committed to his maybe on-again summit with President Trump in Singapore on June 12, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday. The two Korean leaders met Saturday for an unannounced discussion of how to keep the summit and inter-Korean relations on track after Trump's surprise Thursday cancellation of the scheduled negotiations.

Moon also reported Kim reaffirmed his promise to pursue "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." Kim's uncertainty, he said, "is not the will for denuclearization, but the concern that if [North Korea] denuclearizes, whether the U.S. can end hostile relations and guarantee the security of the [Kim] regime." Pyongyang has long cast its nuclear development as insurance against U.S.-orchestrated regime change, and in late April, Moon's government said Kim promised to denuclearize if the U.S. pledges not to invade.

Meanwhile, Trump told reporters late Saturday that if the summit proceeds, the time and location will remain unchanged. Bonnie Kristian

May 26, 2018

The Trump administration on Friday announced it has made a deal to help a Chinese telecom, ZTE, shuttered by a U.S. Commerce Department export ban. ZTE obtains about one quarter of its manufacturing components from American businesses, and it suspended operations earlier this month after the administration imposed sanctions as a penalty for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

On Twitter Friday evening, Trump used the deal as an avenue to criticize Democrats:

Trump's plan to get ZTE "back into business, fast," as he put it in an initial tweet on the subject earlier this month, has produced widespread confusion given his adversarial stance toward foreign manufacturers on the campaign trail. Some members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have suggested they may attempt to block the new arrangement on national security grounds. Bonnie Kristian

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