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Playing politics
August 14, 2018

If you're a Republican candidate looking to throw a fundraising dinner, the location of choice in 2018 is a Trump-branded property.

This was not so four years ago, a McClatchy analysis has determined. In 2014, political fundraisers spent less than $35,000 on events at Trump properties — and that's for the entire two years of the midterm election cycle. Fully $15,000 of that spending came from a single campaign's spending at Mar-a-Lago.

In the 2018 cycle, by contrast, about 125 GOP campaigns and other political organizations have already spent more than $3.5 million at President Trump's properties. That includes spending for catering for fundraising dinners, hotel stays, and especially meals at Trump's hotel restaurant in Washington. "The simple fact is that our supporters and friends are excited when we" host them at a Trump location, a representative of America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC, told McClatchy.

About $800,000 of that $3.5 million in political spending comes from Trump himself. His 2020 campaign has spent almost $700,000 renting space in Trump buildings, plus tens of thousands more on catering and hotel costs. The Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association, and the National Republican Senate Committee are major spenders as well.

Unsurprisingly, Democratic campaigns and organizations have steered clear. Bonnie Kristian

July 2, 2018

U.S. special operations teams are directing and engaging in combat raids with African troops in countries including Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, and Tunisia, Politico reported Monday, citing current and former American military officers and White House officials. These small-scale, secret wars are largely concealed by Pentagon obfuscation.

Functioning under a legal authority called Section 127e, such operations in Africa are "less, 'We're helping you,' and more, 'You're doing our bidding'" targeting suspected terrorists, an unnamed active-duty Green Beret officer told Politico.

Section 127e "funds classified programs under which African governments essentially loan out units of their militaries for American commando teams to use as surrogates to hunt militants identified as potential threats to American citizens or embassies," Politico explains. Joint U.S.-African commando teams go on raids together at American direction.

The mission in Niger that left four Americans dead in October was supporting a separate Section 127e operation. Two weeks after news of the deaths broke, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie claimed that U.S. troops in Africa are "not directly involved in combat operations" or "direct-action missions with partner forces." Per Politico's sources, that's simply not correct — at best, a case of "lying by omission."

The secrecy and confusion surrounding Section 127e operations is made all the more troubling by a lack of accountability measures to ensure effectiveness, Politico reports, as well as its mostly unnoticed elevation to permanent status in 2017. Read the full story here. Bonnie Kristian

June 16, 2018

President Trump believes he will have a stronger negotiating position in the immigration reform debate if his administration continues to enforce its deeply unpopular "zero tolerance" policy of separating children from their families at the border, The Washington Post reported Friday evening, citing unnamed White House officials.

Though he claims to oppose the separations, Trump himself alluded to the view the Post story describes in tweets Friday and Saturday accusing congressional Democrats of "forcing" him to split up immigrant families because they will not back an immigration reform bill that meets his specifications:

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families in April and May alone; some of these families crossed the border illegally, while others are legal asylum-seekers. The separations have been condemned even by typically stalwart Trump supporters like Franklin Graham. Bonnie Kristian

June 9, 2018

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Friday adopted a new rule that would exclude candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the runner-up of the party's 2016 presidential primary race. The rule says candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination must themselves be registered Democrats and must "run and serve" as Democrats. Sanders campaigned for the Democratic nod but is an independent.

Sources familiar with the rule change process told Yahoo News it was not intended to target Sanders personally, and that if he wishes to run in 2020, he can simply list himself as a Democrat to get on the ballot. Because Sanders runs for, but does not accept, the Democratic nomination for his Senate seat, the Democratic Party of Vermont considers him a de facto member. Other outsider candidates might have a more difficult time establishing their Democratic credentials.

Sanders' supporters slammed the rule change. "I really don't get the motivation for the resolution at all," said 2016 Sanders adviser Mark Longabaugh. "You know, Bernie Sanders got 13 million votes in 2016. Thousands, if not millions, of those votes were young people and independents he brought into the Democratic Party. And I'm just stunned that the Democratic Party’s rules committee would want to try to make the Democratic Party an exclusive club, for which we want to exclude voters and large segments of the American electorate." Bonnie Kristian

May 12, 2018

After news broke that AT&T paid President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, $600,000 to consult on the company's attempted acquisition of Time Warner, among other projects, the telecom labeled the partnership "a serious misjudgment."

Meanwhile, Trump and his new personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, responded by emphasizing the administration's opposition to the deal, suggesting Cohen's arrangement was not a big deal because he proved an ineffective lobbyist. The president made his comments on Twitter Friday evening:

Giuliani likewise said Friday "the president denied the merger," so "whatever lobbying was done didn't reach the president" and AT&T "didn't get the result they wanted." This defense apparently contradicts the Justice Department's narrative that Trump is uninvolved in the decision. "If Giuliani didn't misspeak, this is major news," said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti Friday. "It is highly unusual for the president to be involved in DOJ merger decisions." Bonnie Kristian

February 10, 2018

The White House sent a letter Friday evening to the House Intelligence Committee saying President Trump will not permit the publication of a memo compiled by committee Democrats unless it undergoes edits. "Although the president is inclined to declassify" the memo, wrote White House Counsel Don McGahn, it contains too many "properly classified and especially sensitive passages" and must be revised to "mitigate the risks."

This document is a rebuttal of the memo compiled under Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), also on the House Intelligence Committee, which was published without redaction earlier this month despite its classified content. The Nunes memo alleges FBI and FISA court misconduct in 2016 surveillance of a Trump campaign aide, Carter Page. The two memos rely on the same source material.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking committee Democrat, issued a statement condemning Trump's decision as partisan hypocrisy unmoored from real national security concerns.

The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release the Democratic memo. Committee members now must choose to work with the administration to make the changes the White House demands — or to override Trump's decision with a vote on the House floor. Bonnie Kristian

February 4, 2018

FBI Director Christopher Wray filmed a video message urging agents to "keep calm and tackle hard" amid the political controversy engulfing his agency following the release of the Nunes memo Friday, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

"You've all been through a lot in these past nine months, and I know that's been unsettling, to say the least. And the past few days haven't done much to calm those waters," Wray said. "So I want to make sure that you know where I stand, and what I want us to do." Since Wray's message was distributed, President Trump shared excerpts of a Wall Street Journal editorial citing the memo to denounce the FBI for becoming "a tool of anti-Trump political actors."

The FBI has long been accused of institutional misconduct, including constitutional violations, but it is unusual for the allegations to come from the right. Trump's embrace of the memo's charges, on which the FBI has attempted to cast doubt, has created new political fault lines in Washington. The agency is finding unusual bedfellows in the Democratic Party, while Trump has publicly criticized his own appointees in the Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI. Bonnie Kristian

November 25, 2017

The director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Richard Cordray, resigned Friday and named Leandra English, the agency's chief of staff, as his successor. But the White House had other ideas, and soon announced budget director Mick Mulvaney will serve as acting director of the CFPB until a permanent successor is confirmed by the Senate.

It is unclear who is in the right here, as the CFPB is just six years old and has never undergone a directorial transition before. The Dodd-Frank Act, which created the regulatory agency, stipulates that the director is succeeded by the deputy director, the position to which Cordray promoted English on his way out. However, it is possible that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act overrides the Dodd-Frank law in giving the administration appointment authority.

Cordray is a Democrat, and the CFPB has long been in Republicans' deregulatory crosshairs, with Mulvaney among its vocal critics. "I look forward to working with the expert personnel within the agency to identify how the bureau can transition to be more effective in its mission, while becoming more accountable to the taxpayer," Mulvaney said after his appointment. Bonnie Kristian

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