AG Jeff Sessions Lays Out Priorities To Optimistic Police Groups

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAR 15 2017, 6:17 AM ET

AG Jeff Sessions Lays Out Priorities to Optimistic Police Groups

In five weeks as attorney general, Jeff Sessions has taken fire for his testimony about past meetings with Russia’s ambassador and been criticized for the abrupt removal of dozens of politically appointed U.S. attorneys around the country.

But Sessions is getting a much warmer welcome among the nation’s law enforcement community, which has largely embraced his plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases, crack down on immigration offenses and ease up on suing local police departments accused of violating minorities’ civil rights.

Sessions will further explain his plans to realign the Justice Department’s priorities on Wednesday, when he addresses a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officers in Richmond, Virginia. He can expect an enthusiastic response.

“Happily for us, on vast majority of issues, we’re on the same page,” said James Pasco, a senior adviser at the Fraternal Order of Police.

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FEB. 28: Sessions: ‘We Don’t Need To Be Legalizing Marijuana’ 1:15

The Justice Department wouldn’t comment on what Sessions will say in Richmond. But a spokesman said his remarks will expand on a number of his recent actions, including a memo ordering a crackdown on violent crime and a speech that warned that a recent uptick in crime was “the beginning of a trend” that requires a “return to the ideas” that cut lawbreaking to historic lows since the 1990s.

Related: AG Sessions Says DOJ to ‘Pull Back’ on Police Department Civil Rights Suits

In that Feb. 28 speech to state attorneys general, Sessions blamed Mexican drug cartels for a record spike in heroin overdoses and suggested that he would reverse Obama administration policies that sought to reduce the prosecutions of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders on charges that carried mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Sessions said in the speech that from 2010 to 2015, the number of gun and drug prosecutions had dropped. “This trend will end,” he said.

Sessions, a Republican former U.S. senator and federal prosecutor from Alabama, also signaled a new approach toward police departments accused of discriminatory policing. He said that rather than “spending scarce federal resources to sue them in court,” federal money would be better used going after criminals.

Related: Trump Orders Crackdown on Drug Trafficking and Anti-Cop Violence

Michael Ramos, president of the National District Attorneys Association, said it was refreshing to hear Sessions promise to “get back to tough-on-crime.”

The Obama administration, Ramos said, went too far in seeking ways to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and get people out of prison. That lenience, he said, could be driving crime rates.

“We’ve gotten to a point where the pendulum is starting to swing back,” Ramos said.

Lawrence Leiser, vice president for policy at the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, said his organization opposed easing up on mandatory minimum sentencing and welcomed a return to earlier approaches.

He said he viewed Sessions’ take on law enforcement as “inspiring.”

Image: Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference in Washington
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on March 2, 2017. Yuri Gripas / Reuters

“Assistant U.S. attorneys are encouraged by the attorney general’s approach to combating drug trafficking and violent crime by using all of the lawful tools that are currently available to prosecutors,” Leiser said.

Related: Trump Administration Tells Remaining U.S. Attorneys to Resign

That said, law enforcement officials cautioned that the Trump administration is only a couple months old, and Sessions had yet to articulate how the new priorities would be put in place.

Ronal Serpas, a former police superintendent in New Orleans and chairman of the group Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, said he embraced Sessions’ focus on violent crime. But his group has also warned the administration against using jail and prison as the tools to attack crime more broadly.

Many nonviolent, first time offenders, particularly those suffering from mental illness or drug addiction, would be better served by alternatives, the group said in a set of recommendations for the new administration.

The group also urged Sessions to rethink his opposition to sentencing reform.

And it warned against rumored cuts to the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

“I’d like to see the attorney general focus narrowly on the issue of violent gun and drug crime and not get distracted by the big sweeping arrests we had in the 1990s,” Serpas said. “I argued for those things back then. But I saw that those massive arrest strategies don’t work. There’s tremendous collateral damage.”

Thomas Manger, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he was encouraged by the mere fact that Sessions was speaking directly to local law enforcement agencies so early in his tenure.

That’s important to many police officials who saw the Obama administration as being too critical of police during a time of eroding trust between cops and the public, he said. Much of those problems have been driven by increased scrutiny of shootings by police and an uptick in attacks on officers.

“We’re just trying to get off on the right foot and help influence things in a direction where the big cities around this country are providing the best service we can,” Manger said.

Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Trump Russia claims: FBI’s Comey confirms investigation of election ‘interference’
Media caption What FBI Director Comey said on Trump, Russia and wiretaps

FBI director James Comey has confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

However, Mr Comey said his agency had seen no evidence to back up President Trump’s claim that his phones had been tapped by the Obama administration.

He was giving evidence to the congressional intelligence committee.

The Trump administration said nothing had changed and there was “no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion”.

Russia has always denied attempting to influence the US presidential election.

The FBI investigation would examine possible links between individuals in the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mr Comey said.

The FBI would also assess whether crimes were committed, he said.

Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion.

“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

putinImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Mr Putin “hated Mrs Clinton so much” that he had a strong preference for her rival, Mr Comey said

National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers also appeared before the committee.

He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to harm the campaign of Mr Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.

‘No wiretap on Trump Tower’

Mr Comey said he had no information on unsubstantiated claims tweeted by Mr Trump earlier this month that former president Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower.

This was despite looking carefully for such evidence, he said. The Department of Justice also had no information, he said.


Analysis – BBC North America reporter Anthony Zurcher

FBI Director James Comey (L) and National Security Agency Director Mike RogersImage copyrightAFP

What FBI Director James Comey didn’t say during intelligence hearings today on possible Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was as important as what he did say.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians? No comment. Long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone, who reportedly had communications with individuals who hacked the Democratic National Committee emails? No comment. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after leaked evidence surfaced that he had communicated with a Russian ambassador about US sanctions? No comment.

“I don’t want to answer any questions about a US person,” Mr Comey said.

All of this is evidence that the investigation isn’t just ongoing, it’s substantive and far-reaching.

While Democrats will likely be encouraged by this, it was telling that Republicans pursued the White House line that the topic of greatest concern was the intelligence leaks that put this story in the headlines.

If Mr Trump can consolidate his party’s support, it will go a long way towards insulating the president against any fallout from this investigation.


Meanwhile, Admiral Rogers strongly denied that the NSA had asked Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency to spy on Mr Trump – a claim that had been repeated by Mr Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer.

The allegation “clearly frustrates a key ally of ours”, he added.

GCHQ has described the claim as “utterly ridiculous”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump at a press conferenceImage copyrightREUTERS
Image caption Mr Trump raised eyebrows after he suggested both he and Mrs Merkel had been wiretapped by Mr Obama

Mr Trump’s recent joke about how Mr Obama had wiretapped both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and him “complicates things” with an ally, Admiral Rogers added.

However, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said it was still possible that other surveillance activities had been used against Mr Trump and his associates.

What are the allegations?

In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing messages in order to help Mr Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

“That was a fairly easy judgement for the community,” Mr Comey said. “Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.”

However, late last summer the Russians concluded that Mr Trump had no chance of winning, based on polls at the time, and so focused on undermining Mrs Clinton, Mr Comey said.

Media caption Trump’s wiretap saga explained in two minutes

Both intelligence chiefs said that Russia had made its intervention in last year’s election campaign unusually obvious, perhaps to further its aim of undermining US democracy.

Mr Comey said Russia had succeeded in this goal, by sowing chaos, division and discord.

Mr Trump has since faced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he saw no evidence of any collusion, up until the time he left his post in January.

Which campaign members have been accused of deception?

Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.

Mr Flynn was fired last month after he misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser.

Michael FlynnImage copyright AP
Image caption Michael Flynn encouraged a softer policy on Russia and a harder line on Iran

He allegedly discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Mr Sessions was accused by Democrats of lying under oath during his confirmation hearing in January.

He said he had “no communications with the Russians”, but it later emerged that he had met Mr Kislyak during the campaign.

Mr Sessions denied any wrongdoing, but removed himself from an FBI inquiry into Russia’s alleged interference in the election.

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US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS PAPER ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

Korea

Beijing – The United States and China vowed to work together against threats of the North Korea’s nuclear program, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the situation has reached a “dangerous” level.

Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart’s language seemed more reconciliatory in light US President Donald Trump’s accusations that China was not exerting enough efforts to control its troublesome neighbor. Beijing had meanwhile accused the White House of causing tensions.

“I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now and things have reached a rather dangerous level. And we have committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any kind of conflict from breaking out,” Tillerson added during a press conference in Beijing with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Tillerson’s visit to China is the last leg of his Asian trip, where he made stops in Japan and South Korea.

He avoided using strong language during the joint press conference with Wang, who seemed to have reproached his counterpart for statements he had made earlier this week.

Wang urged the US to remain “cool-headed” and defended his government’s position, saying all international parties should seek diplomatic solutions while implementing UN sanctions against the regime in North Korea.

“We hope that all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision,” he added.

Neither parties announced any tangible future steps to solve the issue and Tillerson did not publically respond to Beijing’s calls for negotiations with North Korea.

Trump had increased the pressure on China, accusing it of not exploiting all means possible to control North Korea, whom he said considered Beijing to be its closest ally and economic benefactor.

“North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!” he tweeted.

The developments come after North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and launched missiles last month. The US considered the test-launch an attack on its bases in Japan.

The developments alarmed South Korea, spurring it to deploy the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD). The Chinese leadership had accused the US of aggravating the situation through military trainings with its ally Seoul and the deployment of THAAD.

China is hesitant to increase its pressure on North Korea, whose reactions can be unpredictable.

Washington and Seoul insist that the THAAD system is for defense purposes only, but Beijing fears it could undermine its capabilities to denuclearize North Korea.

Beijing had always called for diplomatic talks to denuclearize North Korea, which is barred by the UN from proceeding with its program.

Wang also said that the Korean peninsula nuclear issue is of interest to everyone, reiterating his country’s commitment to the goal of denuclearization

“We are for the settlement of this issue through dialogue and negotiations and the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula and the overall region,” he added on Saturday.

Wang reiterated that China, as a close neighbor of the peninsula and a major power, has devoted a lot of energy and efforts to seek a settlement to the issue. The tremendous important efforts China has made are visible to all, he said.

Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil before being appointed secretary of state, said that a military option is possible if Pyongyang intensified its work.

“We do believe that if North Korea stands down on this nuclear program, that is their quickest means to begin to develop their economy and to become a vibrant economy for the North Korean people,” the US officials said.

He added: “All options are on the table, but we cannot predict the future.”

Maybe one of the reasons for the calm American-Chinese rhetoric is the expected talks between US President Trump and Chinese President Xi during the latter’s upcoming visit to US next month, the first such summit between the two leaders.

Trump is expected to host Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on April 6 and 7 for an informal “no necktie” encounter. Experts hope this meeting will reduce tensions between the two officials.

China shares US fears of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition, but it makes sure not to provoke its neighbor.

In February, Beijing issued a strong position when it announced it will stop coal imports from North Korea until the end of this year.

North Korea expert at Beijing University Wong Dong said: “It is a mistake to think that China can control Pyongyang and it is not reasonable for Washington to accuse Beijing of doing nothing. The situation is complicated and sensitive and there is no magical solution.”

The Obama administration ruled out any diplomatic involvement with Pyongyang until the latter shows commitment to denuclearization.

The communist state insists on owning nuclear weapons to defend itself and executed its first test in 2006 despite international objection. It had done four other tests, two last year.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

Trump

Washington –President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Germany owed “vast sums of money” to NATO and the US, and that Berlin “should pay.”

Trump’s statements come following his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.

Trump took it to twitter where he said: “Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

The two leaders did not show any signs of agreement on several pending issues, including NATO and defense expenditures.

During a joint press conference with Merkel, Trump complained that other NATO members have not paid their dues for years. He insisted they pay for “their fair share of the defense they receive.”

NATO countries are asked to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to the alliance’s defense spending.

Merkel said that Germany agreed on the need for “increasing expenditure” to meet the 2 percent goal.

Trump then criticized the way the media had dealt with the meeting saying on Twitter also: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

Expenditure was not the only point of disagreement between the two. A German journalist brought up the case of wiretapping and Trump’s accusations that British Intelligence was working with Obama to spy on him.

Despite constant negations and absence of evidence, the US President continued with his allegations and even joked that Merkel had also been a victim of wiretapping.

Since his arrival at the White House, the Republican billionaire had written several controversial tweets, none of which had damaged his credibility as much as the one he wrote on March 4.

He tweeted: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism.”

Media reports reveal each day new findings on Trump’s or his close personnel’s contacts with Russia.

Trump had repeatedly denied any affiliations to the Kremlin, but he could not control the flow of information and therefore decided to attack his predecessor.

Since then, Obama, former intelligence director James Clapper and many democratic and republican officials have denied those allegations.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to apologize to the UK for press secretary Sean Spicer’s allegation that the GCHQ had spied on Trump Tower for Obama. Spicer almost caused a diplomatic crisis by defending the president.

On Thursday, Spicer quoted a series of articles that discussed surveillance. He referenced comments made earlier this week on Fox News TV by Andrew Napolitano in relation to Trump’s controversial claim that wiretaps had been installed at his New York residence.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ,” Spicer said in the press conference.

British officials were quick to comment on Napolitano’s claims, saying they were “rubbish”.

A government source reportedly said the claim was “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd”.

It told Reuters that under British law, GCHQ “can only gather intelligence for national security purposes” and noted that a US election “clearly doesn’t meet that criteria”.

“As for as wiretapping, I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said during his press conference with Chancellor Merkel, referring to reports that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel in 2010.

Such incidents do not reassure US Congressmen, including those in Trump’s camp. Trump promised to reveal next week new evidences that prove his allegations.

Chairman of the House intelligence committee, Devin Nunes confirmed Friday that the Justice Department had “fully complied” with the committee’s request.

He did not provide any further details.

FBI Director James Comey is set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

The public hearing is the first of several that the intelligence committees are expected to hold on alleged Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Trump The Moron At It Again: Saying Obama Got The British Intelligence Agency To Spy On Him

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

White House Seeks to Allay British Concerns Over Unfounded Wiretapping Claim

11:43 AM ET
White House officials tried to calm the concerns of British allies after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated an unfounded claim that the British spy service spied on President Trump. But the White House is stopping short of saying it offered an apology to its closest foreign ally.

“[British Ambassador to the U.S.] Kim Darroch and [National Security Advisor] Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster,” a White House official said Friday. “Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”

Several British outlets reported Friday that the White House apologized to the U.K. government, but the White House would not confirm those accounts.

The row began Thursday, as Spicer repeated the claim of Fox News personality Andrew Napolitano, who suggested that former President Obama had ordered GCHQ, the U.K.’s equivalent of the National Security Agency, to spy on his successor. For nearly two weeks the White House has been struggling to justify Trump’s assertion in a March 4 tweet that Obama had him “wire tapped.”

On Thursday, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee jointly stated they’ve seen no evidence of any surveillance of Trump Tower. Even Trump allies in Congress are staying away from the claim, though Trump maintained Wednesday in an interview with Fox News that he would be vindicated by new information “very soon.” The White House has argued that Trump’s use of quotation marks around the phrase wires tapped implied he meant all manners of surveillance against him, but hasn’t offered any official proof of the claim, beyond reports in the press.

Reading a long list of media reports that mentioned alleged signals intelligence about Trump and his ties to Russia, Spicer quoted comments.

“Last, on Fox News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement,” Spicer said during the daily White House briefing. “‘Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI, and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ, what is that? It’s the initials for the British Intelligence Spying Agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, “The President needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,” he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.'”

Within hours GCHQ responded in a rare statement calling the claim “utterly ridiculous.

“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense,” a GCHQ spokesperson said. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

Asked by a reporter whether the subject of GCHQ’s alleged involvement had raised between the two governments and whether it would affect the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K., Spicer backtracked.

“No, no, it has not been raised,” Spicer said. “But I do think that, again, we’re not — all we’re doing is literally reading off what other stations and people have reported, and I think that casts into concern some of the activities that may have occurred during the ’16 election. We’re not casting judgment on that. I think the idea is to say that if these organizations, these individuals came to these conclusions, they merit looking into.”

The claim is all the more incendiary given the close intelligence-sharing relationship between the two countries. The U.S. and the U.K., along with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, form the Five Eyes — a decades-old intelligence cooperative in which the countries share much of their signals intelligence and pledge not to spy on each another.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May told The Independent that the White House would not float the claims again. “We’ve made clear to the Administration that these claims are ridiculous and they should be ignored and we’ve received assurances they won’t be repeated.”

If You’re A Poor Person In America, Trump’s Budget Is Not For You

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

If you’re a poor person in America, Trump’s budget is not for you

March 16 at 11:40 AM

If you’re a poor person in America, President Trump’s budget proposal is not for you.

Trump has unveiled a budget that would slash or abolish programs that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts, including affordable housing, banking, weatherizing homes, job training, paying home heating oil bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters.

During the presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed that the solution to poverty was giving poor people incentives to work. But most of the proposed cuts in his budget target programs designed to help the working poor, as well as those who are jobless, cope.

And many of them carry out their missions by disbursing money to the states, which establish their own criteria.

“This is a budget that pulled the rug out from working families and hurts the very people who President Trump promised to stand up for in rural America and in small towns,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president of the poverty to prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington.

The White House budget cuts will fall hardest on the rural and small town communities that Trump won, where one in three people are living paycheck to paycheck — a rate that is 24 percent higher than in urban counties, according to a new analysis by the center.

The budget proposes housing “reforms” that add up to more than $6 billion in cuts while promising to continue assisting the nation’s 4.5 million low-income households. If enacted, the proposed budget would result in the most severe cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development since the early 1980s, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Trump’s budget plan, by the numbers

President Trump just released his budget plan for the next fiscal year, which proposes some big changes in government spending. Here’s a look at what agencies are helped and hurt by the proposal. (Video: Jenny Starrs/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

It would also eliminate the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response to homelessness across 19 federal agencies.

The administration’s reforms include eliminating funding for a $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, one of the longest continuously run HUD programs that’s been in existence since 1974.

The program provides cities with money to address a range of community development needs such as affordable housing, rehabilitating homes in neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosures, and preventing or eliminating slums and community blight. It also provides funding for Meals on Wheels, a national nonprofit that delivers food to homebound seniors.

Robert Rector, a senior fellow who focuses on welfare at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, calls the community block grants a “slush fund for urban government.”

The White House touts its cuts to what the administration characterizes as “a number of lower priority programs” as a way to “promote fiscal responsibility.” In actuality, it guts federal funding for affordable housing and kicks the financial responsibility of those programs to states and local governments.

Gone would be $35 million in funding for well-known programs such as Habitat for Humanity and Youth Build USA, fair housing planning, and homeless assistance, among other housing help for needy Americans.

Other targets include funding for neighborhood development and a home-buying program through which low-income individuals help build their own homes. Trump also plans to cut the Home Investment Partnership Program, the largest federal grant to state and local governments that is designed to create affordable housing.

“There is no coordinated plan for how to fulfill the same mission. Saying states, local governments and philanthropy are going to help is just passing the buck,” said a HUD official who is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official said workers at the agency Thursday morning were feeling “demoralized” and “worried.”

“This is just a tough, tough time,” the official said. “HUD is no different from any other domestic agency in just feeling as though these cuts are all very arbitrary and unnecessary.”

Poor people need not lean on community banks for financial help, either, because Trump plans to eliminate the $210 million now dedicated toward Community Development Financial Institutions. The program, administered through the Treasury Department, invests in community banks that provide loans and financial services to people living in some of the most distressed communities of the country.

“Cutting that program would be nothing short of a disaster, and the ripple effect would be felt in urban areas and some rural areas all over America,” said Michael A. Grant, president of the National Bankers Association, a lobbying group for black-owned banks.

The administration would also eliminate the Energy Department’s weatherization assistance program, which dates back to 1976 when Gerald Ford was president. Since then, it has provided states with grants that have helped insulate the homes of about 7 million families, using low-cost techniques that have large payoffs, saving money for those families and curtailing U.S. energy consumption. It has also helped establish weatherization job training centers in states such as Utah and New York.

Also on the chopping block: the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known widely by its acronym LIHEAP. This program, part of the Health and Human Services budget, helps homeowners cover monthly energy costs, or repair broken or inefficient furnaces and air conditioners. The program is usually underfunded; LIHEAP says that on average, only about 20 percent of the households that qualify for assistance receive benefits before the money runs out. Congress sometimes adds funding during emergencies or energy shortages when costs spike.

Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the Community Services Block Grant, a $715 million program within HHS that funds more than 1,000 local anti-poverty organizations around the country. The organizations provide services ranging from job training to food assistance to more than 16 million people in 3,000 counties. The grants also help communities respond quickly to natural disasters, plant closures and other economic shifts.

Without the grants, there would be little coordination between faith groups, local governments, private companies and nonprofits in addressing the needs of the poor — “just a few unconnected programs that don’t have nearly the impact they have now,” said David Bradley, who founded the National Community Action Foundation and wrote the legislation behind the grants in the early ’80s.

Bradley, though, is “absolutely confident” that Congress will reject the proposal.

“This is the work of a radical right that goes hard after anti-poverty programs,” he said.

The Trump budget would also target the Legal Services Corp., an independent agency that provided $343 million to 134 legal aid organizations for the poor who are tangled up in cases of wrongful eviction, custody disputes, child support or domestic violence.

Legal Services was launched as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty with the support of the American Bar Association led by Lewis F. Powell Jr., who later served on the Supreme Court. President Richard Nixon later created a free-standing corporation to administer legal aid funds.

“Here each day the old, the unemployed, the underprivileged, and the largely forgotten people of our Nation may seek help,” Nixon wrote in a 1971 message to Congress. “Perhaps it is an eviction, a marital conflict, repossession of a car, or misunderstanding over a welfare check — each problem may have a legal solution. These are small claims in the Nation’s eye, but they loom large in the hearts and lives of poor Americans.”

In 2015, Legal Services offices closed 755,774 cases — more than 100 for every lawyer and paralegal employed. About 70 percent of its clients are women, and the majority of its clients are white and between the ages of 36 and 59. The program provides lawyers only to people earning no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which is currently $15,075 for an individual and $30,750 for a family of four.

“We have a legal system that was created by lawyers for lawyers and assumes you have a lawyer,” said James J. Sandman, president of Legal Services Corp. “If you’re a tenant facing eviction and you’re up against a landlord who has a lawyer, if you’re the victim of domestic violence from someone who has a lawyer, you are not playing on a level field. Legal aid is about fairness in the justice system.”

Alaska’s rural poor get hit by the budget proposal, too, despite having two Republican senators. The Agriculture budget would eliminate the Denali Commission, designed to deliver services to remote, rural communities in Alaska, including Native Americans. The commission, established in 1998, contributes to the construction of health-care facilities, water and sewer systems, power generation and communication systems.

The budget would also zero out funds to help native Alaskan villages obtain access to clean drinking water and modern sewage systems.

Cuts to the Agriculture budget also eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority that encourage economic growth in distressed rural communities. And while the budget allocates $6.2 billion to “serve all projected participants” in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, that is $150 million less than USDA had budgeted.

The White House proposed shrinking Job Corps, a program administered by the Labor Department that provides education and job training to more than 60,000 young people and disadvantaged youth. The proposal called for closing centers that do a “poor job” of preparing students for the workforce, but did not elaborate on how many of the 125 centers nationwide would be targeted.

Job Corps, which was created in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s anti-poverty agenda, helps young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 earn high school diplomas and receive vocational training.

The program faced scrutiny several years ago for going over budget and has been forced to freeze enrollment multiple times since 2011 because of the monetary shortfalls. In 2013, a report from the Office of Inspector General found that the budgetary missteps were caused by inaccurate cost estimates and inconsistent monitoring of actual costs. But since then, the program has taken several steps to keep better track of costs and payments.

The Trump administration would also ax the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which aims to help low-income job seekers age 55 and up find work by pairing them with nonprofit organizations and public agencies. The loss of the program could serve as another setback for older Americans who are still struggling to find steady work after the Great Recession.

The unemployment rate for workers 55-plus was 3.4 percent in February, according to the most recent jobs report. But the rate rises to 7.1 percent if workers with part-time jobs who want to be working full-time, and those who have given up on the job search within the past year, are included, according the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School.

The goal of the senior employment program is to help participants find permanent work by providing them with training and job experience. Workers are assigned part-time jobs and paid the minimum wage, with the hope that the experience can help them find jobs that are not subsidized by the government. In its budget proposal, the Trump administration called the approach “ineffective” because up to one-third of participants do not complete the program. Of those who do finish, about half succeed in finding more permanent jobs.

Not everyone, though, believes the cuts will be a disaster for the poor.

Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, said the cuts cannot be evaluated in isolation when they represent less than 1 percent of the $1.1 trillion the government spent on more than 80 poverty programs last year.

“The basic line from the left is ‘this program alone is standing between the poor and destitution,’” Rector said. “We have a very large welfare state, and there is waste in that welfare state. It’s important to prune the waste and make these programs much more effective.”

Jonnelle Marte and Caitlin Dewey contributed to this article.

Read more on the budget: 

Wire Tapping Your Phone Lines, No Proof: The Biggest Habitual Liar: Hillary Or Donald The Quack?


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ABC NEWS)

The top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said today that there is no evidence that any wiretap took place at President Donald Trump’s building in Manhattan during the presidential campaign or transition.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that there is “no basis” for President Trump‘s accusations that President Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower “whatsoever.”

Schiff said it “deeply concerns me that the president would make such an accusation without basis.”

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”

Trump had alleged in a series of Tweets that former President Barack Obama had his phones tapped.

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

 “The challenge here is that the President Obama wouldn’t physically go over and wiretap and then you have to decide if you’re going to take the tweets literally, and if you are, then clearly the president was wrong.” Nunes said referring to the multiple tweets that President Trump sent on the morning of March 4 making accusations.

“But if you’re not going to take the tweets literally and if there’s a concern that the president has about other people, other surveillance activities looking at him or his associates, either appropriately or inappropriately, We want to find that out. It’s all in the interpretation of what you believe,” he said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer maintained that the president will be “vindicated” by evidence. On March 13, Spicer said that Trump was not talking literally or specifically when he accused President Obama of “wiretapping” his campaign.

“If you look at the president’s tweet, he said wiretapping in quotes. There’s been substantial discussion in several reports,” Spicer said.

“The president was very clear in his tweet, it was wiretapping. That spans a host of surveillance options,” he said. “The House and the Senate Intelligence Committees will now look into that and provide a report back. I think there’s been numerous reports from a variety of outlets over the last couple months that seem to indicate that there has been different types of surveillance that occurred during the 2016 election.”

Nunes said that there will be a public hearing about the issue in the coming weeks.

“Certainly at the open hearing that we have… we’ll be asking the director if he has seen any evidence that substantiates the president’s claim,” Schiff said.

Should The Middle-East Countries Negotiate With The Terrorist State Of Iran And Their Revolutionary Guard?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Should the Gulf Negotiate Iran or De Facto Aggressor: ‘The Revolutionary Guard’?

Iran’s elite revolutionary guard, an armed force intended to protect Tehran’s theocratic regime, has registered disruptive and intrusive activity in 14 regional states. The guards operations in Syria alone cost the cleric-led regime some $100 billion.

A paper written by two Brussels-based human rights groups presented, in detail, all unwarranted intrusions and funding of terror groups carried out by the guard in order to achieve the regime’s expansionist ambitions.

All the more, the research shows Iran’s elite guard stepping up its meddling in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon ever since Tehran went into its nuclear talks with the world’s super powers.

Anyone, party or nation who had firsthand experienced Iran’s bitter attitude and aggressive behavior hardly finds the abovementioned revelations a surprise.

And as positive indicative point towards the United States President Donald Trump seriously considering to enlist Iran’s revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization, it is very embarrassing for any party that still has faith in composed and rational talks being held between Gulf states and Iran.

Iran and Gulf states cannot be seen as counterparts to an argument, as one party orients itself towards delivering progress to its people and stabilizing the region whilst the other is a self-styled state that aims to destabilize the region, spreading terrorism everywhere. The latter cannot be simply rewarded a seat to negotiate what can possibly adhere to its hostility.

Struan Stevenson President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association, who’s body published the study on the revolutionary guard concluding that “[Iranian] meddling in the affairs of other regional countries is institutionalized and the IRGC (the revolutionary guard) top brass has been directly involved,” the report said, directly implicating the Iranian military and state apparatus in destabilization operations around the Middle East.”

The report also criticizes the guard for undertaking a “hidden occupation” of four countries, namely Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

The European study said: “Every month, hundreds of forces from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon – countries where the [Iranian] regime is involved in frontline combat – receive military training and are subsequently dispatched to wage terrorism and war.”

With all that being said, it is clear that the struggle with Iran is that the problem lies not with its people or its limited-power government or unproductive parliament, but with its guard serving a bellicose expansionist agenda as stipulated in the national constitution.

The guard is placed just under the upper hand of the supreme leader which positions it at a place of unconstrained jurisdiction and power and just above Iran’s national army.

More so, the study revealed that the guard operates some 90 dummy companies that control 90 Iranian ports – making up for 45 percent of national ports – and which run a whopping $12 billion in annual revenue.

The elite guard uses the very same ports to import arms to its militias in neighboring countries that upon delivery aid in further destabilizing security of their respective states.

It cannot be trusted that Iran is serious with its negotiations whilst it fosters a home militia (the revolutionary guard) that has literally been placed itself above the law.

Iran is far and foremost the greatest winner in the recent calls for negotiations with Gulf states.

After having exploited the talks, Iran will employ a stronger expansionist agenda, buying itself more time to extend profits it reaps from regional states.

More so, Iran will not stop at the talks failing but will relish in having branded itself a peaceful negotiable state as opposed to Gulf states being the ones having ‘refused’ to instate peace and stability.

Should we blame Iran? Of course not, its transgressions had gone beyond that– blocs that allowed for such a cliché and fruitless rhetoric to go into a vicious cycle are those who should be held accountable.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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President Trump Fires 46 Federal Prosecutors At The ‘Justice’ Department

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration moved on Friday to sweep away most of the remaining vestiges of Obama administration prosecutors at the Justice Department, ordering 46 holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately — including Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

The firings were a surprise — especially for Mr. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases and for investigating insider trading. In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told reporters afterward that both Mr. Trump and Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.

But on Friday, Mr. Bharara was among federal prosecutors who received a call from Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, instructing him to resign, according to a person familiar with the matter. As of Friday evening, though some of the prosecutors had publicly announced their resignations, Mr. Bharara had not. A spokesman for Mr. Bharara declined to comment.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an email that all remaining holdover United States attorneys had been asked to resign, leaving their deputy United States attorneys, who are career officials, in place in an acting capacity.

Continue reading the main story

The abrupt order came after two weeks of increasing calls from Mr. Trump’s allies outside the government to oust appointees from President Barack Obama’s administration. Mr. Trump has been angered by a series of reports based on leaked information from a sprawling bureaucracy, as well as from his own West Wing.

Several officials said the firings had been planned before Friday.

But the calls from the acting deputy attorney general arose a day after Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator who is a strong supporter of President Trump, said on his evening show that Mr. Trump needed to “purge” Obama holdovers from the federal government. Mr. Hannity portrayed them as “saboteurs” from the “deep state” who were leaking secrets to hurt Mr. Trump. It also came the same week that government watchdogs wrote to Mr. Bharara and urged him to investigate whether Mr. Trump had violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars federal officials from taking payments from foreign governments.

In Mr. Hannity’s monologue, he highlighted the fact that the Clinton administration had told all 93 United States attorneys to resign soon after he took office in 1993, and that “nobody blinked an eye,” but he said it became a scandal when the George W. Bush administration fired several top prosecutors midway through his second term.

Several Democratic members of Congress said they only heard that the United States attorneys from their states were being immediately let go shortly before the Friday afternoon statement from the Justice Department. One senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect the identity of the United States attorney in that state, said that an Obama-appointed prosecutor had been instructed to vacate the office by the end of the day.

Although it was not clear whether all were given the same instructions, that United States attorney was not the only one told to clear out by the close of business. The abrupt nature of the dismissals distinguished Mr. Trump’s mass firing from Mr. Clinton’s, because the prosecutors in 1993 were not summarily told to clear out their offices.

Michael D. McKay, who was the United States attorney in Seattle under the George Bush administration, recalled that even though he had already made plans to leave, he nevertheless stayed on for about three weeks beyond a request by then-Attorney General Janet Reno for all of the holdover prosecutors to resign. He also recalled at least one colleague who was in the midst of a major investigation and was kept on to finish it.

“I’m confident it wasn’t on the same day,” he said, adding: “While there was a wholesale ‘Good to see you, thanks for your service, and now please leave,’ people were kept on on a case-by-case basis depending on the situation.”

Two United States attorneys survived the firings: Mr. Boente, the top prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia, who is serving as acting deputy attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein, the top prosecutor in Baltimore, whom Mr. Trump has nominated to be deputy attorney general.

“The president called Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein tonight to inform them that he has declined to accept their resignation, and they will remain in their current positions,” said Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman.

It remains possible that Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions could put others on that list later.

It is not unusual for a new president to replace United States attorneys appointed by a predecessor, especially when there has been a change in which party controls the White House.

Still, other presidents have done it gradually in order to minimize disruption, giving those asked to resign more time to make the transition while keeping some inherited prosecutors in place, as it had appeared Mr. Trump would do with Mr. Bharara. Mr. Obama, for example, kept Mr. Rosenstein, who had been appointed by George W. Bush.

The abrupt mass firing appeared to be a change in plans for the administration, according to a statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once,” she said. “Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly this is not the case. I’m very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”

Still, the cases the various federal prosecutors were overseeing will continue, with their career deputies becoming acting United States attorneys in their place for the time being.

Mr. Bharara has been among the highest-profile United States attorneys, with a purview that includes Wall Street and public corruption prosecutions, including of both Democratic and Republican officials and other influential figures.

His office, for example, has prosecuted top police officials in New York and the powerful leader of the city correction officers’ union; they have pleaded not guilty. It is preparing to try a major public corruption case involving former aides and associates of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and is looking into allegations of pay-for-play around Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York.

But Mr. Bharara is also closely associated with the Senate minority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. Mr. Bharara was formerly a counsel to Mr. Schumer, who pushed Mr. Obama to nominate Mr. Bharara to be the top federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.

At the time of the November meeting at Trump Tower, Mr. Schumer was saying publicly that Democrats should try to find common ground and work with the president-elect. But relations between Mr. Trump and Mr. Schumer have since soured.

Mr. Trump has called Mr. Schumer the Democrats’ “head clown” and accused him of shedding “fake tears” over the president’s efforts to bar refugees from entering the United States.

For his part, Mr. Schumer has called for an independent investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and demanded that Mr. Sessions resign for having testified that he had no contacts with Russians even though he had met with the Russian ambassador.

The White House officials ascribed the reversal over Mr. Bharara as emblematic of a chaotic transition process. One official said it was tied to Mr. Trump’s belief in November that he and Mr. Schumer would be able to work together.

Continue reading the main story

Who Is Jon Huntsman President Trump’s Pick To Be The U.S. Ambassador To Russia?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) Former Utah governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has accepted President Donald Trump’s offer to serve as the next ambassador to Russia, several senior administration officials told CNN.

If confirmed, Huntsman would become one of the highest-profile US ambassadors, helming the diplomatic mission to a country that has seen its relationship with the US become increasingly strained in recent years. Huntsman would also take on the post amid ongoing questions about connections between Russians known to US intelligence and Trump campaign advisers — and just months after Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
The post would be the third ambassadorship for Huntsman, who previously served as US ambassador to Singapore and China. Huntsman was the ambassador to China during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Huntsman’s selection comes two weeks after the Utah Republican was first floated as a contender for a top diplomatic post.
One senior administration official said Huntsman was tapped because he is a “brilliant guy,” “tough” and understands what Trump wants.

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