'an appalling and detestable lie.'
This week in Russia
Last Friday, during a joint news conference with visiting Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, President Trump called former FBI Director James Comey a liar and a leaker, escalating what the New York Times called “an extraordinary public feud,” and claimed he’d be willing to testify under oath regarding the events Comey spoke of in his testimony last Thursday.
On Tuesday Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding the Russia investigation and his role in Comey’s firing.
You can read Sessions' full opening statement right here.
Take a look at this piece from Colleen Shalby at the Los Angeles Times on the nine key takeaways from Sessions’ testimony.
Also on Tuesday: close Trump associate and Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy speculated on CNN that Trump was considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller “because Mueller is illegitimate as special counsel.” Following Ruddy’s statement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that “While the president has the right to [fire the special counsel], he has no intention to do so.” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also noted on Tuesday that he was the one with the authority to fire Mueller, and he’d seen no reason to do so.
Robert Farley at FactCheck.org answers the question “Can President Trump fire special counsel Robert Mueller?”
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Mueller’s investigation had expanded to include “an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.”
On Thursday, during his annual call-in show, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed “Russia was ready for a constructive dialogue with the United States,” and noted sarcastically that he was willing to grant James Comey political asylum.
Also on Thursday, the Washington Post was first to report that Vice President Mike Pence had hired high-profile lawyer Richard Cullen “to help with both congressional committee inquiries and the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia,” despite Trump’s lawyer’s insistence that White House staff did not need to hire their own lawyers. News of Pence’s hiring a personal lawyer broke as the Associated Press was reporting that CNN was suing the Department of Justice in order to gain access to James Comey’s memos detailing his conversations with Trump AND as the Senate was voting, near-unanimously, to impose new, stricter sanctions on Russia as punishment for meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
At the National Interest, Dimitri Alexander Simes asserts that Russia “is likely to retaliate” against the new sanctions.
The latest on North Korea
Otto Warmbier, the US student detained in North Korea since January 2016, was evacuated to a Cincinnati hospital on Tuesday, “gravely ill and in a coma,” according to the New York Times. In a statement on Thursday, North Korea said it had released Warmbier on ‘humanitarian grounds.’ Later on Thursday, doctors confirmed that Warmbier has severe brain damage, although they don’t know what caused it.
On Sunday, Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood in a non-binding referendum. The vote is the second time in Puerto Rico’s history that the small US commonwealth has voted for statehood (the first occurred in 2012), but low turnout – only 23% of eligible voters voted – may have skewed the results.
Ryan Zinke, the Trump administration’s Secretary of the Interior, is “urging the White House to reduce” the size of Bears Ears National Monument, “while asking Congress to take further action on tribal co-management and special designations for lands that would be ultimately removed from the monument.” The decision is seen as a compromise between the positions of Utah’s political leadership – which sought to rescind monument status entirely – and the five Native tribes in the region, which had originally petitioned the Obama administration to expand the monument’s size to its current 1.3 million acres.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced the Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement (COVFEFE) Act on Monday, which would amend the the Presidential Records Act to include social media. As The Hill reports, the new legislation “has the same acronym as an infamous Trump Twitter typo last month.”
The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against President Trump on Monday, accusing him of violating the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause “and seeking to uncover the tax returns the president has thus far been unwilling to release.” As POLITICO reports, “the suit focuses on the president’s continued ownership of his family’s business empire…far from the blind-trust standard adopted by past presidents, Trump continues to receive some information about the Trump organization, including profit reports, from his sons.”
On Wednesday, 196 members of Congress filed a similar lawsuit against Trump, “alleging that by retaining interests in a global business empire he has violated constitutional restrictions on taking gifts and benefits from foreign leaders.” As the Washington Post reports, the suit by members of Congress “is distinctive because of the special standing granted to Congress…[to] protect our democracy from foreign corruption.”
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Monday called the Gulf nations’ ongoing blockade against Qatar “a very complex situation,” even as Kuwait, acting as mediator in the dispute, has claimed that “Qatar is willing to hold a dialogue [and is] ready to listen to [the Gulf states’] concerns,” according to al Jazeera.
After an appearance before Congress on Tuesday in which Mattis claimed that “we are not winning the war in Afghanistan right now,” he was given the authority by President Trump to set troop levels in the embattled country, “two months after being given similar authority in Iraq and Syria.” Late on Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the US would send nearly 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, a man “who had expressed anger toward President Trump” on social media opened fire on Republican lawmakers during baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, wounding four people, including Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the third-ranking Republican in Congress. Scalise was in critical condition after undergoing a third operation on Thursday. Both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited Scalise in the hospital.
In what NBC News calls “a striking break from how Congress normally crafts legislation,” Senate Republicans are working on their version of a healthcare bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, but doing so behind closed doors: “there are no hearings with health experts, industry leaders, and patient advocacy groups” and the senators crafting the bill have not responded to questions about what’s in it.
According to a draft memo leaked on Thursday, “President Trump will announce efforts to restrict U.S. companies from doing business with Cuban ventures controlled by that country’s military and strictly enforce rules on Americans traveling to Cuba.” The restrictions would roll back the Obama administration’s progressive policy toward the island nation.