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    The probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections produced another indictment on Tuesday, as the feds charged a man with making false statements to investigators working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, also accusing the lawyer of deleting emails, and not cooperating with the probe. The initial document released by a Washington, D.C. federal court showed Alex Van Der Zwaan lied about his interactions with Rick Gates, who has already been indicted by Mueller’s office. Gates, who once worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign, already faces charges of a money laundering conspiracy, and failure to file as a foreign agent. Even though there were only two pages of information released on Tuesday morning, the details of the indictment raised a series of interesting items. + Van Der Zwaan was accused of secretly recording phone calls before the 2016 elections: A lawyer charged with lying to FBI agents in the special counsel investigation secretly recorded telephone calls with ex-Trump aide Rick Gates and another person in September 2016. pic.twitter.com/29oiGF68I0 — Brad Heath (@bradheath) February 20, 2018 + The mention of Rick Gates comes as Gates has reportedly been in discussions with the Special Counsel’s office about a plea bargain agreement. + This new indictment includes references to a “Person A” and a “Law Firm A.” The latest indictment came as the President again took to Twitter to talk about the Russia investigation. Back at the White House after a long weekend in Florida, Mr. Trump on Tuesday once more suggested that the Russia investigation was mainly sour grapes about his defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016: I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2018 “There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections, there’s no evidence that that has happened in the past or that it will happen this time, and so I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and make his case to get votes.” ….. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2018 ….The President Obama quote just before election. That’s because he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win and he didn’t want to “rock the boat.” When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2018 The New York Times had reported last September that the Skadden law firm in New York had been asked to produce information to the Mueller investigation. Reportedly at the urging of former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, the firm had helped put together a report on the political situation in Ukraine, which was used to help the country’s Moscow-backed leader.
  • The White House on Monday signaled that President Donald Trump is willing to back at least one bipartisan measure to strengthen the national instant check system for those who buy firearms, as Democrats in the House and Senate continued to argue that action by the Congress on gun violence is long overdue. “While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the President is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. In a written statement sent to reporters, Sanders said the President spoke to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on Friday; the Texas Republican has a bipartisan bill with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), which would force states and federal agencies to submit more information into the instant gun check system. Our churches and schools should be refuges where children and parents feel secure. Many of these shootings can be prevented. There's no reason not to advance #FixNICS to help https://t.co/0JpZDiLPOr — Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) February 15, 2018 Interesting morning. Two quick thoughts: 1/ Trump's support for the FixNICS Act, my bill with @JohnCornyn, is another sign the politics of gun violence are shifting rapidly. 2/ No one should pretend this bill alone is an adequate response to this epidemic. — Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 19, 2018 After a mass shooting last November in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 25 people died, the Air Force acknowledged that the killer – who received a ‘bad conduct’ discharge from the military – should not have been able to buy guns, but those records were never placed in the instant check system. “For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Cornyn said in November when he introduced this bipartisan gun measure.” Democrats had hoped there would be action on that measure – just like they had hoped there would have been action to ban “bump stocks” after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, action on the “No Fly, No Buy” measure after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, and then the “FixNics” bill after the Texas shooting. I know assault rifles. I carried one in Iraq. They have no place on America's streets. #Orlando pic.twitter.com/ibKQE2PpqF — Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) June 14, 2016 Last week’s shooting in Florida simply put all of those requests for legislation to deal with guns on repeat for Democrats. “We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “And so, I’m asking – no, demanding – we take action now.” Democrats would certainly like to do much more than the ‘FixNics’ bill, or banning bump stocks, as other ideas have popped up in recent days, like not allowing anyone under age 21 to buy weapons like an AR-15. But as the President returned to Washington on Monday evening from a long weekend at his Florida retreat, it wasn’t clear if his support for one bipartisan plan would actually mean action – as GOP leaders have not put such measures on the fast track to a vote in the House and Senate. On Sunday, when the President met with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Florida, the two men discussed a series of issues, including “the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida.” The White House statement on their meeting did not characterize whether legislative action was discussed. No action will happen on anything gun-related this week – as the Congress won’t be back on Capitol Hill for votes until February 26.
  • In the wake of a fresh round of indictments in the wide-ranging investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday and Sunday to repeatedly express his frustration with the probe, again proclaiming his innocence, attacking his critics, and demanding attention instead on actions of the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton. “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” the President tweeted on Sunday morning – though Mr. Trump has been very slow to embrace the concept that Russia was at fault, as he derided the investigations into Russian interference in 2016. “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow,” the President said on Twitter. “Get smart America!” Those were just a sampling of a number of tweets from this weekend, as the President let off steam on a number of fronts. I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018 If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018 Finally, Liddle’ Adam Schiff, the leakin’ monster of no control, is now blaming the Obama Administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 Election. He is finally right about something. Obama was President, knew of the threat, and did nothing. Thank you Adam! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018 The President even rebuked his own National Security Adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, over a point that Mr. Trump and his supporters have zeroed in on repeatedly – a lack of evidence that ties any Russian operation to the Trump Campaign. “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians,” as the President again tried to switch the attention of the moment to questions that the GOP has raised about Hillary Clinton, the Steele Dossier, and the Democratic National Committee. General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018 Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein stated at the News Conference: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2018 Funny how the Fake News Media doesn’t want to say that the Russian group was formed in 2014, long before my run for President. Maybe they knew I was going to run even though I didn’t know! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2018 “The Fake News Media never fails,” the President wrote on Saturday, repeatedly making the argument that any Russian interference in 2016 did not tip the scales of the election in his favor. “Funny how the Fake News Media doesn’t want to say that the Russian group was formed in 2014, long before my run for President,” the President added. “The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!” he tweeted. Critics of the President noted what was missing in his Saturday and Sunday tweets about the Russia investigation was any pledge by Mr. Trump to implement tougher sanctions against Russia which were approved by the Congress, or to order tougher measures to stop any Russian meddling. Last week, the nation’s top intelligence officials all agreed that Russia was going to try to repeat their 2016 effort in the 2018 election – asked by Democrats if there was any specific order from the President to focus on that threat, the intelligence chiefs only indicated that they were focused on the matter. “Look, this is pretty simple,” said retired Gen. Michael Hayden, a former head of the National Security Agency. “The Russians objective was to mess with our heads.” “Based on his late PM – this AM joint Twitter meltdown, it’s safe to say “Trump” is having a nervous breakdown as Mueller’s walls close in,” said John Schindler, a former U.S. intelligence official who has been highly critical of the President’s statements on the Russia probe. Late on Saturday night, the President also drew in the Russia investigation to criticize the FBI over the mass shooting at a high school in Florida last week. ” They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign,” the President said. Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018 Here is the latest Russia indictment from last Friday.
  • The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for President on Friday presented some of the first official government evidence of actions taken in the campaign, as a federal grand jury returned an indictment against 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities, alleging that they used social media to support President Donald Trump, and oppose Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The highly detailed 37 page indictment covered everything from social media ads taken out by the Russian ‘Internet Freedom Agency,’ to efforts to help with Trump rallies in Florida and other states – and even a post-election foray into anti-Trump events. Here is some of what we learned on Friday: 1. Russian interference no longer a “hoax.” For months, President Trump has complained that the Russia investigation is a hoax. But now, the feds have laid out a highly detailed indictment, alleging that 13 Russians and 3 different Russian entities used social media to buy political ads against Hillary Clinton (“Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison”), and for Donald Trump (“Trump is our only hope for a better future!”), organized actual rallies to support Mr. Trump (“Florida Goes Trump”), and much more. “If you had any doubt that Russia meddled in our 2016 elections, this is your wake-up call,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). Back in September, the President derided the idea that Russian groups had bought social media ads in the 2016 campaign. “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook,” he tweeted. But Friday, the President seemed to finally accept that there had been Russian interference. Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018 2. Rosenstein takes the lead on new indictments. While Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is officially the boss of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Rosenstein has not participated in any of the earlier indictment or guilty plea announcements. But today, the ‘DAG’ was front and center at the Justice Department. He laid out the basics of the indictments of 13 Russians and described the outlines of the effort to meddle in the 2016 election. Rosenstein took only a few questions. 3. Trump – and his supporters – proclaim “NO COLLUSION.” On Twitter, and then in a statement issued by the White House on Friday afternoon, the President made clear that the latest indictments showed nothing in the way of collusion between Russians and his campaign. (The all-caps “NO COLLUSION” was in the White House statement.) But what was really said by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein? “Now, there is no allegation – in this indictment – that any American was a knowing particpant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said, as he used “in this indictment” several times. 4. No names revealed of who Russians contacted. As the indictment detailed efforts by the Russians to set up events for Trump supporters in Florida, there were contacts made with people on the Trump Campaign. The indictment doesn’t list the names of those who were contacted by the ‘joshmilton024@gmail.com’ account – instead, they are referred to as “Campaign Official 1,” “Campaign Official 2” and so on. But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. Why not reveal who those people were? Is it really that big of a deal? 5. Mueller reveals some of his evidence. At one point in the indictment, the feds quote an email from one of the Russians, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, in which she said: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke).” While that jumps off the page of the indictment, it is also seems to send a message – that the FBI has a lot more information, from the social media accounts that were used by the Russians, to emails and more. Could some of this also be from intelligence efforts? We’ll see. This Mueller indictment is good stuff. I gather they got into the Russians' online accounts (likely w/warrants for US-based accounts) and reconstructed the whole arrangement. Well done. — Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) February 16, 2018 6. Hillary Clinton in a cage – Russian supported? In the indictment, it talks about how the Russians moved “to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting (Hillary) Clinton in a prison uniform. That jangled the memory of several reporters, who found stories about such a scene in Florida, during the 2016 campaign. And others remembered the Hillary-in-a-cage routine from other states. I remember a flatbed truck with a depiction of Hillary Clinton in a cage repeatedly drove by a Hillary Clinton rally site in Orlando in Sept. 2016 https://t.co/V5o3vruJXm — Steven Lemongello (@SteveLemongello) February 16, 2018 7. After the election, the Russians play both sides. The indictment also revealed that after the election was over – and President Trump had been declared the victor – the Russians even went into the business of anti-Trump rallies in New York and Charlotte, North Carolina. “Trump is NOT my President,” was the rally in New York – while at the same time, the group was organizing an event to “support President-Elect Donald Trump.” 8. Another guilty plea as well for the Mueller probe. Minutes after the indictments against the 13 Russians was released, the Special Counsel also revealed a recent guilty plea, from February 2, of Richard Pinedo, from California. Pinedo was charged with “Identity Fraud,” which may be related to efforts by the Russians indicted on Friday to use American identities while engaging in their work on the 2016 Presidential election. It wasn’t exactly clear how Pinedo fits in, though it seems that he is the first American to be charged with directly helping the Russian operation to influence the 2016 campaign – but there is no evidence presented that he knew that was happening. Documents show Pinedo could face up to 15 years in prison.
  • The office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced Friday that thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian groups had been charged with violating U.S. criminal laws for interfering with the 2016 election, detailing a string of efforts to help President Donald Trump’s campaign, and sew doubt about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. “Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences,” the indictment alleged, detailing efforts to buy political ads on social media. The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. earlier today, charged that the group first went after multiple candidates for President, and then fine tuned their message. “Defendants’ operation included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” In a highly detailed 37 page indictment, the Special Counsel’s office described a series of efforts to organize rallies to help Mr. Trump in Florida, Pennsylvania and New York. At one point, the indictment alleges that Russians posing as Americans, communicated directly with Trump Campaign staff officials about organizing efforts in Florida. There was no evidence presented in the indictment that campaign officials knew they were getting help from a Russian group.
  • With the Senate failing to make any headway on how to deal with the status of illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” lawmakers in the Congress went home for a ten day break Thursday with no clear path forward on the politically difficult issue of immigration, with a deadline to deal with DACA set by the President less than three weeks away. “It’s safe to say, this has been a disappointing week,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who repeatedly pointed the finger of blame over at Democrats for the lack of agreement in the Senate, as four different immigration plans were filibustered by both parties. I was hoping we could reach a bipartisan solution,” McConnell added. But the solution backed by McConnell and President Trump actually won the fewest votes in the Senate – just 39 – while a more limited bipartisan effort secured 54, short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. I am deeply concerned that @realDonaldTrump did everything he could to defeat a bipartisan agreement that would have protected Dreamers and strengthened our border security. I will continue working with the Common Sense Caucus and anyone willing to find a path forward. — Sen. Maggie Hassan (@SenatorHassan) February 15, 2018 “We’re not done with this,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who argues that the President’s plan is still the best course. While Perdue told me that the two sides really aren’t that far apart, there were already GOP Senators looking for something else, with a March 5 deadline barely over the horizon. “We have to do more work,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who voted for the main bipartisan plan, which netted 54 votes, 15 more than President Trump’s preferred option. GOP Sens. Thune, Portman and Moran are floating a fallback plan to protect Dreamers from deportation: An indefinite extension of administrative DACA in exchange for $25 billion for border security, capped allocation of $5 billion per year. — Alex Bolton (@alexanderbolton) February 15, 2018 But in the President’s camp, there were some who simply said it was time to pull the plug on immigration and move on to other issues. “We move on to confirming judges and banking reform,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), one of the more outspoken defenders of President Trump’s immigration plan, when asked what was next for the U.S. Senate. The White House late on Thursday night threw cold water on the idea of any new legislative effort on DACA in the Senate, instead turning its attention to the House, where Republicans have put together a bill that contains even more immigration enforcement measures than what the President supported in the Senate. “The next step will be for the House to continue advancing the proposal from Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman McCaul,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a written statement, as the White House blamed “Schumer Democrats” for the lack of action on DACA in the Senate. The Goodlatte-McCaul bill though could face the same problems as the President’s did in the Senate – not having enough votes to get to a majority. And as of now – that bill has not been scheduled for a vote in the House.  
  • Unable to find an acceptable middle ground on the politically explosive issue of immigration, and the future of well over a million illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” Senators of both parties on Thursday voted to filibuster a pair of plans from each side, as a high profile legislative effort achieved only failure. “This is it. This is your last chance to vote for a path to citizenship,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), just before the last of four votes, as the Senate failed to find a deal on DACA, with a March 5 deadline for action less than three weeks away. “Our interest was to try and find some common ground,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD). “Our goal is to give the President what he’s asked for.” But the President opposed both bipartisan efforts, as most Democrats returned the favor on a GOP plan that mirrored Mr. Trump’s DACA plan – leaving the Senate with nothing to show for their work on immigration. “I do not know a single Republican,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on the Senate floor, “who was elected on a promise of, ‘I will go to the left of Barack Obama on immigration.'” GRAHAM: 'After this crash and burn experience we'll do one of two things: We'll reconfigure the process to be able to get us to a 'yes' position where 70% of Americans reside, by the way, or we'll do what's happened for the last 35 years: punt. And I hope we don't punt.' — Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) February 15, 2018 Senators had advertised this debate as one that would be open and freewheeling. Instead, it turned into four days of finger pointing, with little in the way of actual legislating on the Senate floor. The Senate held four consecutive procedural votes on four different proposals – two bipartisan plans, and two from Republicans – but none of them garnered the needed 60 votes to force an end to debate. In the first vote, the Senate fell short of the 60 vote threshold in a 52-47 vote on a bipartisan plan backed by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). That allowed a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” but no money for the President’s border wall. A second plan from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), which only dealt with sanctuary cities, was 13 votes short of 60, on a vote of The Senate then fell short on the main bipartisan effort, which would have funded Mr. Trump’s $25 billion request for border security, in exchange for a 10-12 year path to citizenship. It received 57 votes – 3 shy of the 60 needed to force a final vote. By my count, there were 8 GOP Senators voting for cloture on Rounds-King DACA plan: Alexander, Collins, Flake, Graham, Gardner, Isakson, Murkowski & Rounds — Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) February 15, 2018 That left only a nearly $100 billion plan put together by Senate Republicans, which had the strong support of the President. “There is only one bill that has a chance to pass the House of Representatives, and a chance to get the President’s signature,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). But as with other plans, there weren’t enough votes to support that either, leaving the Senate in gridlock, unable to advance any legislation on DACA and Dreamers.
  • The mass shooting that killed 17 people Wednesday at a high school in Florida plunged Capitol Hill back into a debate over gun restrictions, as Democrats cried out for some type of legislative response, criticizing the response of President Donald Trump and GOP leaders in the Congress. “Mr. President, are you listening?” said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) on the House floor. “We need common sense gun safety legislation.” It was a familiar political reaction in the House and Senate, as Democrats gave anguished speeches, rattled off a list of horrifying mass shootings, and asked when there would be some type of government response. “All I can think is how many more times do we have to go through this?” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who repeatedly asked on the Senate floor, “When is enough, enough?” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson speaks on the Senate floor after the Parkland school shooting yesterday: 'At some point, we've got to say: enough is enough. At some point, we as a society have to come together and put a stop to this' https://t.co/1Ta76ZESYt — CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 15, 2018 On the House floor, Democrats cheered when Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) asked the chair, “can you tell us when the House may muster the courage to take up the gun violence?” “What will it take for this body to finally grapple with this issue?” said Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ). “Why is nothing happening?” asked Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), who cited the lack of action after the Pulse nightclub shooting in his hometown of Orlando. In terms of legislation, Democrats have pressed tighter background checks on gun sales, ‘no fly, no buy,’ which would prohibit people on the airplane ‘no fly’ list from buying weapon, along with other ideas like a ban on certain assault weapons. Democrats again pointed to the use of an AR-15 assault rifle in this latest school shooting, as lawmakers once more said there should be limits on the sale of those type of weapons. Another mass shooting. Reportedly another AR-15. My bill to ban assault weapons is ready for a vote. How long will we accept weapons of war being used to slaughter our children? — Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) February 15, 2018 “An AR-15 is not for hunting, it is for killing,” said Sen. Nelson of Florida. Just a few months ago, there had been talk of doing something about “bump stocks,” which were used in the mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas – but no legislative action has taken place. Democrats have increasingly criticized expressions of “thoughts and prayers” along with moments of silence, arguing those don’t do anything. “Today we didn’t even have a moment have a moment of silence, because the House knows those are meaningless acts,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). There had been a plan for a moment of silence on the House floor, but it was evidently scrapped after activists in the House galleries were loudly protesting approval of a piece of legislation related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Regardless of the calls for action, those in favor of gun control legislation face the same difficulty to move forward on their plans which has existed in Congress since the mid-1990’s – they don’t have anywhere close to the votes needed to approve such measures.
  • Veterans Secretary David Shulkin is facing increased scrutiny from Congress, after the release of an internal watchdog report today which found Shulkin’s 9-day government trip to Europe in the summer of 2017 was more like a personal vacation, as investigators said Shulkin’s top aide misled ethics officials, which allowed his wife’s travel costs to be paid for by taxpayers. The review accused Shulkin’s Chief of Staff, Viveca Wright Simpson, of altering two emails to ethics officials in order to have the VA authorize the travel costs of Shulkin’s wife, who joined him for the Europe trip. The report also found that the Secretary wrongly accepted a gift of tickets to Wimbledon, that a VA employee was basically used by Shulkin as a “personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities,” and that not enough documents were ever turned over to investigators to figure out the true cost of the trip to the VA. The details of the report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General drew quick reaction in Congress, where one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), wasted little time in demanding Shulkin’s resignation. “It’s exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans,” Coffman tweeted, as he said that Shulkin should resign from the VA. Meanwhile, the top members of the House and Senate committees which have jurisdiction over the VA issued a statement that stopped just short of calling for Shulkin to leave his post. “We believe that public officials must be held to a higher standard, and whether intentional or not, misusing taxpayer dollars is unacceptable,” read the statement from Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Jon Tester (D-MT), along with Reps. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Tim Walz (D-MN). “We’re counting on Dr. Shulkin to actively address all of the allegations outlined in this report,” the group said. “Our veterans deserve no less,” The IG review found that while the VA delegation spent nine full days in Europe, “there were only three-and-a-half days of meetings” on the official schedule, as the report declared the 2017 trip a “misuse of VA resources.” The release of the report came a day before Shulkin is scheduled to testify before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, where the subject is certain to be discussed. Shulkin isn’t the only Cabinet official in the Trump Administration who has faced scrutiny over travel; excessive travel costs was part of the reason that Tom Price resigned as Secretary of Health and Human Services earlier this year. Also, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have faced questions about their travel.
  • Pressing Democrats to accept an immigration plan along the lines of one endorsed by President Donald Trump, GOP Senators unveiled the details of their plan to address the future of illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” a 592 page, nearly $100 billion measure that focuses mainly on new efforts at border security, limits on family migration, and an end to the Diversity Visa Lottery program. The new GOP plan includes $25 billion for a “Border Security Enforcement Fund,” $18 billion for ‘tactical infrastructure’ improvements by the Border Patrol, and $50 billion in foreign aid described as “financial assistance for foreign country operations to address migration flows that may affect the United States.” The original outline released by GOP Senators on Sunday mentioned only the $25 billion in border security money. The nearly $100 billion in spending authorized under this GOP immigration plan could grow even larger, as the Republican DACA bill includes four different sections where “such sums as may be necessary” would be approved for various immigration changes. The DACA amendment was sponsored by a half dozen GOP Senators who want a plan that runs along the stated goals of President Trump. “Everybody in the room wants DACA,” Mr. Trump told a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday. “It would be a great achievement.” Republican leaders have said they want action this week on their DACA plan. “I said we would have an open and fair process,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “And the sooner we do that the better.” In one area, this new GOP DACA bill runs directly against Mr. Trump’s 2019 budget issued on Monday, which sought to eliminate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program – that popular program funnels money to states to deal with the cost of holding illegal immigrants in prison. The Trump budget predicted a savings of $210 million per year from that elimination – but this new GOP immigration plan would increase spending on the SCAAP program to $950 million – seemingly a $3.5 billion increase over a five year period. With a table of contents that runs six pages, the provisions dealing with DACA and illegal immigrant Dreamers are just one small part of a much broader immigration bill, which has already run into united opposition from Democrats. Democrats have said they could go along with Mr. Trump’s call for a $25 billion border security fund, in exchange for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant Dreamers – but have resisted extra provisions, arguing those are better dealt with in a broader immigration reform measure. Congress has tried repeatedly over the last 15 years to deal with immigration reform, but each effort has run into major controversy. The new GOP plan also includes a number of restrictions on federal judges, to keep them from overturning decisions made by immigration officials on visa revocations, naturalization applications, as well as other specific immigration decisions by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The GOP bill also has some provisions that are not related to immigration, like a section dealing with opioids, the “Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act.” There is also a section which would prohibit “flight training and nuclear studies for nationals of high risk countries.”  

News

  • The woman accused of screaming at a mother and her baby on a Delta flight last week has now been punished at work. >> Watch the video here According to Fox News, Susan Peirez, who claimed to work for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the incident, has been suspended from her job with the New York state government. >> DOT reveals which airlines ranked highest for complaints in 2017 “State employees are and must be held to the highest standard both professionally and personally,” said Ronni Reich, a spokesperson for the New York State Council of the Arts, where Peirez works. “We were notified of this situation and have commenced an investigation. This employee has been removed from the office and placed on leave until further notice and until the inquiry is resolved.” >> On Rare.us: Woman kicked off Delta flight for complaining about baby Mother Marissa Rundell captured the incident on camera, and the video quickly made its rounds on the internet. The footage shows an annoyed Peirez complaining about having to sit next to a “crying baby” on the plane even though it doesn’t appear the child was crying at the time. When a flight attendant informed her that she couldn’t change seats, she threatened to have the employee fired and was soon removed from the flight.  >> WATCH: United Airlines plane loses engine cover on way to Honolulu, makes emergency landing Delta responded in a statement, saying Peirez’s actions and behavior failed to meet the airline’s standards for passengers: >> Read more trending news  'We ask that customers embrace civility and respect one another when flying Delta,' the statement said. 'This customer’s behavior toward a fellow customer on a flight from New York to Syracuse was not in keeping with those standards. We appreciate our Endeavor Air flight attendant’s commitment to Delta’s core values and apologize to the other customers on board Flight 4017 who experienced the disturbance.
  • Latest updates, results, photo galleries and stories from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
  • A Minnesota man listening to emergency dispatch audio learned that his wife, a 911 dispatcher, was killed in a crash with a wrong-way driver as she headed for work, the Star Tribune reported. >> Read more trending news Jenna L. Bixby, 30, died Saturday night in the head-on crash in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park, authorities said. Her husband, Daniel Bixby, was listening to the audio that first reported the crash, according to Andrew Williams, who heads two Twin Cities scanner monitoring groups online, the Star Tribune reported. The crash was reported at 8 p.m. Two hours later, State Patrol troopers contacted Daniel Bixby and confirmed that his wife had died. “A few of us were listening at the same time last night and messaging back and forth,” Williams told the Star Tribune. “Maybe two hours later, Dan sent a message on the board that troopers came and told him it was his wife. Yeah, it’s tough.” The wrong-way driver was identified as retired minister Richard J. Shaka, 72, of Blaine. He was in critical condition, authorities said. Troopers said alcohol consumption by Shaka appears to have been a factor in the collision. Jenna Bixby worked the past 3½ years as a 911 dispatcher for the city of Minneapolis, according to city records. “Minneapolis’ Emergency Communications staff work day and night to keep people safe,” Mayor Jacob Frey said Sunday. “As a 911 dispatcher, that’s what Jenna Bixby did for years -- and what she was on her way to do at City Hall when her life was tragically taken late last night.” Shaka taught at North Central University in Minneapolis in the Bible and Theology Department from 1996 until he retired in 2011. Shaka also founded a Twin Cities nonprofit organization that builds orphanages and youth centers in his native Sierra Leone, the Star Tribune reported.
  • A substitute teacher at Western Guilford Middle School, in Guilford County, North Carolina, was fired after a video surfaced of him body-slamming a student. The student, Jose Escudero, told WGHP that the altercation started because of a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. >> Read more trending news  Jose said the teacher took the box, throwing it into a sink, WGHP reported. The 12-year-old said he waited until end of class to ask for the chocolate to be returned. Jose said he put them in his bag and the substitute teacher tried to grab the candy, WGHP reported.  Jose said the teacher then grabbed him and held him against the wall before throwing him over his shoulder to the ground. The student said he had bruises on his elbow, shoulder and back. Jose’s mother shared the video of Jose falling to the floor on Facebook saying she wants justice. Guilford County Schools spokeswoman Tina Firesheets told WGHP that the teacher is no longer a district employee. The Escuderos told WGHP that they’re looking into legal action against both the school and teacher, whose name has not been released. WSOCTV.COM contributed to this report.
  • The Latest on the deadly Florida high school shooting (all times local): 1:50 p.m. A group of students who survived the Florida school shooting have started their 400-mile trip to the state capital to pressure lawmakers to act on a sweeping package of gun control laws. The students left Coral Springs on Tuesday afternoon and expect to arrive in Tallahassee in the evening. They plan to hold a rally Wednesday at the Capitol in hopes that it will put pressure on the state's Republican-controlled Legislature. The fate of the new restrictions is unclear. Lawmakers have rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of the governor's office and the Legislature in 1999. But some in the GOP say they will consider the bills. Wednesday will mark one week since authorities say a former student killed 17 students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas High School. ___ 1:15 p.m. Three buses are preparing to take about 100 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students to Tallahassee so that they can pressure state lawmakers to pass more restrictive gun laws. Dozens of reporters and cameras swarmed the students as they prepared to leave. Many of the students wore burgundy T-shirts of the school's colors. They carried sleeping bags, pillows and luggage and hugged their parents as they loaded the bus for the 400-mile journey. Alfonso Calderon is a 16-year-old junior. He says he hopes that the trip will start a conversation between the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott and the students over commonsense laws on guns. ___ (Corrects to three buses instead of two) 12:20 p.m. Students from several Florida high schools have taken to the streets in a show of solidarity with students from a nearby school where 17 students were gunned down in their classrooms on Valentine's Day. Video footage taken from television news helicopter crews showed several dozen students who walked out of West Boca Raton High School on Tuesday morning, apparently bound for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland. Many of the students were wearing their backpacks. The distance between the schools is about 11 miles (17 kilometers). Several dozen more students gathered outside Fort Lauderdale High School, holding signs with messages that included 'our blood is on your hands.' On Monday, students at American Heritage High School held a similar protest. Former Stoneman student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. ___ Midnight A hundred Stoneman Douglas High School students are busing hundreds of miles across Florida to its capital to urge lawmakers to act to prevent a repeat of the massacre that killed 17 students and faculty last week. After arriving late Tuesday, they plan to hold a rally Wednesday in hopes that it will put pressure on the state's Republican-controlled Legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws. Shortly after the shooting, several legislative leaders were taken on a tour of the school to see the damage firsthand and appeared shaken afterward. Chris Grady is a 19-year-old senior on the trip. He said he hopes the trip will lead to some 'commonsense laws like rigorous background checks.
  • When an accused teenage gunman opened fire on his former classmates last week, he wore a maroon polo shirt emblazoned with the logo of the school from which he’d been expelled -- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The name Stoneman Douglas has become synonymous with the tragedy that ended with 17 people dead and the accused killer, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, charged with murdering them. But who was Marjory Stoneman Douglas? Douglas, who died in 1998 at the age of 108, was a journalist and advocate of the women’s suffrage movement. She may be most well-known, however, for her efforts to save the Florida Everglades, which are not far from the school bearing her name. >> Read more trending news Below are some of the details from Douglas’ remarkable life. Marjory Stoneman, who was born in 1890 in Minneapolis, showed a tendency for excellence early on. According to the National Park Service, she graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Wellesley College, where she was elected “class orator.” Following a brief marriage to a man named Kenneth Douglas, she moved to Florida in 1915 to reunite with her father, Frank Stoneman, who she had not seen since she was a child. The first publisher of the Miami Herald, Stoneman hired his daughter as a society columnist.  Moving through various duties at the Herald, Douglas established herself as a noteworthy writer, the National Park Service said. It was as a journalist that she embraced activism, fighting for feminism, racial justice and conservation of nature.  It was around 1917 that Douglas took on a passionate role in advocating for the preservation of the Everglades. NPR reported that most people at the time considered the Everglades “a worthless swamp,” but Douglas disagreed.  “We have all these natural beauties and resources,” Douglas said in a 1981 NPR interview, when she was 91 years old. “Among all the states, there isn’t another state like it. And our great problem is to keep them as they are in spite of the tremendous increase of population of people who don’t necessarily understand the nature of Florida.” Douglas in 1947 published her book, “The Everglades: River of Grass,” described by the National Park Service as the “definitive description of the natural treasure she fought so hard to protect.” Later that year, she was an honored guest when President Harry Truman dedicated the Everglades National Park, according to the National Wildlife Federation.   In the 1950s, Douglas railed against a major project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a system of canals, levees, dams and pumping stations designed to protect marshland -- now used for agriculture and real estate -- from flooding. The National Park Service credits Douglas with fighting the destruction of the wetlands long before scientists realized the effects it would have on Florida’s ecosystem. In 1969, she founded the nonprofit Friends of the Everglades, which continues to fight for the wetlands today.  Co-author John Rothchild, in the introduction to Douglas’ autobiography, described watching her speak at a 1973 public meeting regarding a Corps of Engineers permit: “When she spoke, everybody stopped slapping (mosquitoes) and more or less came to order. She reminded us all of our responsibility to nature and I don’t remember what else. Her voice had the sobering effect of a one-room schoolmarm’s. The tone itself seemed to tame the rowdiest of the local stone crabbers, plus the developers and the lawyers on both sides. I wonder if it didn’t also intimidate the mosquitoes. The request for a Corps of Engineers permit was eventually turned down. This was no surprise to those of us who’d heard her speak.” Douglas was inducted into the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame in 1999, and into the National Women’s Hall of Fame a year later.  When discussing the issue of mankind and humans’ attitude toward nature, Douglas pulled no punches. “I’ll tell you, the whole thing is an enormous battle between man’s intelligence and his stupidity,” she told NPR. “And I’m not at all sure that stupidity isn’t going to win out in the long run.” She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She later donated the medal to Wellesley College.  On the same day she received the medal from President Clinton, Douglas was invited to witness the signing of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, commonly called the Brady Bill, according to the Daily Beast. The bill, named for Jim Brady, the press secretary critically injured during the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, established a federal background check for those wanting to purchase a firearm. Cruz passed a background check in February 2017 when he legally bought the assault rifle used in last week’s massacre at Stoneman Douglas.