Trump Surprised Newspaper Published Favorable Article About his Fundraising Abilities

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed surprise that The Washington Post — a newspaper Trump repeatedly has accused of writing inaccurate news stories about him — published a favorable news story about his fundraising prowess.

The Post reported Friday the Republican Party is on the verge of raising more money in small amounts than in more than a decade, thanks to Trump’s fundraising appeals to his supporters.  

Trump has regularly derided the Post and other U.S. media outlets as purveyors of “Fake News,” but he acknowledged Saturday he was pleased with the fundraising account.

“Can’t believe I finally got a good story in the @washingtonpost,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It discusses the enthusiasm of “Trump” voters through campaign ….

…contributions. The RNC is taking in far more $’s than the Dems, and much of it by my wonderful small donors. I am working hard for them!”

Citing the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, the report said nearly 60 percent of the $68 million in direct contributions to the Republican National Committee this year through August came in donations of $200 or less. That’s nearly twice as much as the Democratic National Committee raised during the same time period, giving Republicans a clear financial advantage as both parties prepare to fight for control of Congress in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Trump’s satisfaction with the Post article is in sharp contrast to remarks he made about the newspaper before the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, when he said it must have created fake news sources for a story about Russian meddling that mentioned nine former and current U.S. officials.

“There’s no nine people,” Trump maintained. “I don’t believe there was one or two people.”

Trump will help fill RNC coffers even more Saturday night when he attends a Republican fundraiser at the Greensboro, North Carolina, home of Republican mega-donor Louis DeJoy, the former CEO of New Breed Logistics.

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US House Committee Calls New Hearing on Kaspersky Software

A U.S. House of Representatives committee said Friday that it had scheduled a new hearing on Kaspersky Lab software as lawmakers review accusations that the Kremlin could use its products to conduct espionage.

Kaspersky Lab has strongly denied those allegations — which last month prompted the Trump administration to order civilian government agencies to purge the software from its networks — and agreed to send Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky to Washington to testify before Congress.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology announced the October 25 hearing a day after reports that Russian government-backed hackers stole highly classified U.S. cybersecrets in 2015 from a National Security Agency contractor who had Kaspersky software installed on his laptop.

The House science committee did not say who would be called to testify at the hearing.

Eugene Kaspersky last month told Reuters that the committee had invited him to testify at a September 27 hearing and that he would attend if he could get an expedited visa to enter the United States.

Classified session

That hearing was later canceled, though the committee held a closed-door classified session on Kaspersky software on September 26.

Kaspersky said in a statement on Friday that he hoped to attend the hearing.

“I look forward to participating in the hearing once it’s rescheduled and having the opportunity to address the committee’s concerns directly,” he said.

An appearance before Congress would mark Kaspersky’s most high-profile attempt to dispel long-standing accusations that his firm may be conducting espionage on behalf of the Russian government.

The investigation into the 2015 NSA hack is focused on somebody who worked at the agency’s Tailored Access Operations unit, a unit that uses computer hacking to gather intelligence, according to two people familiar with the classified probe.

Kaspersky anti-virus software was running on the contractor’s laptop at the time of the hack, and investigators are looking into whether hackers used the software to breach the computer and steal the data, said one of those sources.

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Just 24 Percent Say US Heading in Right Direction, Survey Finds

Just 24 percent of Americans believe the country is heading in the right direction after a tumultuous stretch for President Donald Trump that included the threat of war with North Korea, complaints about hurricane relief and Trump’s remarks about white supremacists. That’s a 10 percentage-point drop since June, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The decline in optimism about the nation’s trajectory is particularly pronounced among Republicans. In June, 60 percent of Republicans said the country was headed in the right direction; now it’s just 44 percent.

The broader picture for the president is grim, too. Nearly 70 percent of Americans say Trump isn’t level-headed, and majorities say he’s not honest or a strong leader. More than 60 percent disapprove of how he is handling race relations, foreign policy and immigration, among other issues.

Overall, 67 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing in office, including about one-third of Republicans.

‘A worse place’

Tracy Huelsman, 40, of Louisville, Kentucky, is among them. A self-described moderate Republican, Huelsman said she’s particularly concerned about the “divisiveness” she feels the president promotes on social media.

“It’s scary in 2017 that we are in what seems like a worse place in terms of division,” said Huelsman, who did not vote for Trump in last year’s election.

The assessments came after a turbulent summer for Trump that included a major White House shakeup, bringing the departure of his chief of staff, top strategist and press secretary. While the installment of retired Marine General John Kelly as chief of staff has brought more day-to-day order to the West Wing, the president has still stirred up numerous controversies, including when he blamed “both sides” for the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump has also raised the specter of a military conflict with North Korea over its nuclear provocations. He’s derided North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as “rocket man,” including during a speech at the United Nations, and has downplayed the prospects that diplomatic negotiations with Kim could yield results.

Despite his electoral success, Trump struggled as both a candidate and now as president to broaden his base of support beyond his ardent supporters. The loyalty of his core backers has been enough to keep Republican lawmakers largely in line, but party operatives are closely watching Trump’s support among GOP and independent voters ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when the balance of power in Congress will be at stake.

To be sure, lawmakers have their own problems to worry about. Americans have even less esteem for Congress than Trump, with just 18 percent saying they approve of the job being done by the House and the Senate.

Health bill failure

Republicans took another hit last month when they failed — for a second time this year — to pass an overhaul of the nation’s health care law. GOP leaders tried to rush votes on the complicated legislation, leaving many voters unsure of what was in the package.

“They never seemed to present a bill to people that you could actually look at the details of and the pluses and minuses of it,” said Dennis Cronin, 67, an independent from Wenham, Massachusetts.

The GOP failure on health care has irritated Trump, who promised voters that repealing “Obamacare” would be easy. Americans aren’t happy with his progress on health care either; 68 percent disapprove of his handling of the issue.

The president performs slightly better on the economy in the AP-NORC poll, but even there, 56 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing and just 42 percent say they approve.

On Friday, the Labor Department announced that the U.S. shed 33,000 jobs in September because of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which closed thousands of businesses in Texas and Florida and forced widespread evacuations. It marked the first monthly hiring drop in nearly seven years.

Ninety-two percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents said Trump understands the problems of people like them not very well or not at all well. Even among Republicans, only 42 percent say he understands them very well, while 32 percent say he does moderately well.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,150 adults was conducted September 28-October 2 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

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EPA Watchdog Expands Probe of Pruitt’s Travel

The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general is expanding an inquiry into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s frequent taxpayer-funded travel, the watchdog office said Friday.

 

The review will now include all travel by Pruitt through Sept. 30 as the office examines whether Pruitt followed EPA travel policies and whether those policies are sufficient to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Previously, the inspector general was focusing on Pruitt’s travel to his home state of Oklahoma through July 31.

 

A spokeswoman said Friday the scope of the review was expanded after requests by members of Congress.

 

EPA documents show Pruitt and his staff chartered a private plane for an Aug. 4 trip from Denver to Durango, Colorado, to visit the Gold King Mine, site of a spill last year. Pruitt also took three flights on government-owned planes to New York and North Dakota and for a roundtrip between airports in Oklahoma.

 

Letters released by EPA show the flights cost a total of $58,000 and were approved by the agency’s general counsel’s office.

 

The expanded review came as The Washington Post reported Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao used government planes instead of cheaper commercial airline flights seven times in the past eight months. The revelation was the latest involving Trump administration officials’ use of costly private or military air travel at taxpayers’ expense.

Tom Price resigned as Health and Human Services secretary last week amid criticism of his pattern of using private charter aircraft for official trips on the taxpayer’s dime, instead of cheaper commercial flights.

 

The Post reported Thursday that Chao used the government planes to fly to Paris for an annual air show and to Sardinia for a meeting of industrialized democracies. Other destinations included cities within an hour’s flight of Washington.

 

Meanwhile, the Energy Department released a series of memos late Friday indicating that Energy Secretary Rick Perry has taken at least six trips on government or private planes costing an estimated $56,000.

 

Three of the trips were on government planes, the memos said, including one on an Energy Department plane to the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, and two military flights to national labs in Idaho and New Mexico.

 

Perry also flew on private planes to visit a Pennsylvania coal plant and nuclear sites in Ohio and Kansas City.

 

Perry’s office released details about the flights late Friday to the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating non-commercial travel by the Trump administration.

 

Perry also has traveled aboard Air Force One with President Donald Trump, although those trips were not included in the report to the House committee.

 

Separately, a report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general says that Secretary Steven Mnuchin did not violate any law in the seven trips he has taken on government airplanes but did fail to provide enough proof of why he needed to use the more expensive modes of travel. Mnuchin’s travel requests included one, later withdrawn, for a government plane for use on his European honeymoon.

 

The EPA’s inspector general opened an inquiry last month into Pruitt’s frequent taxpayer-funded travel on commercial planes. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Pruitt often spends weekends at his Tulsa home.

 

An EPA spokeswoman said the trips were warranted.

 

Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, Diana DeGette of Colorado and Paul Tonko of New York requested the expanded review, saying Pruitt’s reported use of private aircraft “is just the latest example of repeated and blatant abuse of taxpayer funds by the Trump administration.”

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White House Chief of Staff’s Personal Cellphone Compromised, Politico Reports

White House officials believe Chief of Staff John Kelly’s personal cellphone was compromised, raising concerns that hackers or foreign governments may have had access to data on the phone, Politico reported on Thursday.

The suspected breach could have happened as long ago as December, Politico reported, citing three U.S. government officials.

Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, joined the Trump administration in January as secretary of Homeland Security. He became White House chief of staff in July.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

Politico reported that the suspected breach was discovered after Kelly turned his phone over to White House tech support this summer complaining that it was not working or properly updating software.

It was unclear what, if any, data may have been accessed, Politico reported.

Politico reported that a White House official said that Kelly had not used the personal phone often since joining the administration, instead relying on his government-issued phone for most communications.

 

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Trump Taps Coal Lobbyist for Deputy Role at EPA

President Donald Trump on Thursday named Andrew Wheeler, a coal industry lobbyist and former congressional staffer, as his pick for deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, prompting contrasting reactions from industry and environmental groups.

The Sierra Club, an environmental group, called his nomination, which is subject to Senate confirmation, “absolutely horrifying,” while a coal industry group and some Republican politicians said he was well- qualified for the job.

The EPA said in a statement Wheeler had spent four years at the agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as many years on Capitol Hill, including as counsel for conservative Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

It said he currently works as a principal at FaegreBD Consulting, “providing guidance on federal regulatory and legislative environmental and energy issues.”

Inhofe said in the statement that no one was more qualified than Wheeler to help EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “restore EPA to its proper size and scope.”

Nominee called ‘outstanding’

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry lobby group, called Wheeler extraordinarily qualified for the job, saying in a statement: “His understanding of a wide range of environmental policies and the policy development process — combined with his thoughtfulness, judgment and temperament — will enable him to be an outstanding deputy administrator.”

But the Sierra Club called Wheeler “a big-time lobbyist who has represented Big Coal for almost a decade, including in numerous lawsuits challenging the EPA. He is a friend to polluters, not to American families that rely on clean air and clean water.”

Pruitt led 14 lawsuits against the agency when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general, and has said he is not convinced that carbon dioxide from human activity is the main driver of climate change, a position widely embraced by scientists.

He was appointed by President Donald Trump, a climate change doubter, who campaigned on a pledge to boost the U.S. oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries by reducing regulation.

He also promised to pull Washington out of a global pact to fight climate change, which he did in June.

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National Tragedies Thrust Trump Into Role of Comforter-in-chief

For every U.S. president, there comes a time to assume the role of the nation’s comforter-in-chief, a leader who seeks to bring the country together and lift spirits in the midst of a national tragedy.

President Donald Trump found himself in that situation this week, consoling survivors of the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history and traveling to Puerto Rico to comfort those devastated by Hurricane Maria.

The day after the tragedy in Las Vegas, Trump sounded a somber note at the White House: “May God give us the grace of healing and may God provide the grieving families with strength to carry on.”

Later in the week, Trump traveled to Las Vegas, where he consoled the wounded and survivors and paid tribute to first responders who rushed to the scene.

“We stand together to help you carry your pain. You are not alone. We will never leave your side,” he said.

Help for Puerto Rico

A day earlier, the president had been in Puerto Rico, pitching in on the relief effort and meeting with residents.

At several points during his visit, Trump seemed determined to push back at critics who complained that his administration had been slow to respond to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.

“Most of the hospitals are open, or at least partially open, but most of them now are open,” Trump told residents. “And again, the job that has been done here is really nothing short of a miracle.”

The Las Vegas massacre and the hurricane aftermath in Puerto Rico presented the president with a new and decidedly different test of his leadership qualities.

Big shoes to fill

Trump follows in the footsteps of past presidents who have taken on the role of national healer, including President Bill Clinton, who comforted survivors and those who lost family members in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995.

“You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything,” Clinton said at a memorial service four days after the bombing. “And you certainly have not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.”

In September 2001, it was up to President George W. Bush to both mourn and unify the country following the terrorist attacks of September 11. “We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail,” he told a joint session of Congress.

In December 2012, President Barack Obama sought to bring comfort and unity at a prayer vigil for the 26 mass shooting victims — 20 of whom were children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. “God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory,” he told members of the Newtown community two days after the attack.

In 2015, Obama also led a gathering in singing the Christian hymn Amazing Grace at a memorial service for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of nine African-Americans killed by a racially motivated gunman at their church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Trump’s challenge

Trump was elected president as an agent of political change. But in the wake of a national tragedy, analyst John Fortier said he now faces a different test.

“There will be more divisiveness when the [political] parties disagree about what to do about the aftermath in Las Vegas, but I think the president has played that role traditionally in Las Vegas,” said Fortier, who is with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

He said Trump has demonstrated “less divisive moments” as president, particularly his deal with Democrats to put off a clash over the federal budget.

“Trump has assumed the traditional role, but it was marred a bit in Puerto Rico, with the controversy over the relief effort with local officials on the ground there. But the aftermath was broadly what we expect presidents to do. In Las Vegas, his role there has been more traditional,” Fortier said.

Some of Trump’s critics also seized on some of his comments during his visit to Puerto Rico, especially his eagerness to defend his administration’s response to the relief demands there and criticism of Puerto Rico’s precarious financial situation.

“Well, Puerto Rico, I thought, was typical Trump. It was about being divisive, not being a uniter,” said Jim Kessler with Third Way, a center-left public policy research organization in Washington.

“I think he is more comfortable being in the dividing role. I think that he feels it helps him personally, it helps his political agenda. This is how he got elected,” Kessler said.

Trump’s duties as “comforter in chief” may last a bit longer, but his next major political challenge is getting his congressional agenda back on track, beginning with tax reform.

Both Kessler and Fortier are guests this weekend on VOA’s “Encounter” program.

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Group of US Lawmakers Want to Rein in FBI Spying Capabilities

A group of bipartisan United States lawmakers wants to put strong new limitations on federal law enforcement agents’ ability to gather foreign intelligence within U.S. borders.

The bill, which will be introduced Friday by members of the House Judiciary Committee, would require the FBI to obtain a warrant prior to reviewing emails and phone-call transcripts of Americans gathered by the National Security Agency.

“The bill contains new accountability and transparency requirements to address the unmasking of US-person identities which has been a source of great concern for many members and their constituents,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

The new law would put limits on who can access information gathered under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amended in 2008, which House members and those in the intelligence community agree is useful for law enforcement.

Glenn Gerstell, the general counsel at the NSA, recently called Section 702 “the single most important operational statute” possessed by the spy agency.

While Goodlatte agrees about the usefulness of the authority, he said Thursday it is important to set strict guidelines on how and when the authority is used.

“The USA Liberty Act increases oversight of foreign intelligence collection, particularly under FISA Section 702. The bill contains a number of reporting requirements such as providing Congress an update twice a year on the number of US persons whose communications are incidentally collected,” Goodlatte said.

The law was originally passed in 2008 in order to give the NSA more latitude in gathering intelligence on foreign targets. Under the law, the NSA has the ability to target communications of foreigners while searching for counterterrorism and cybersecurity intelligence.

 

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US House Speaker: Las Vegas Gunman’s Firearm Accessory Should Be Examined

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan says a firearm accessory used by the gunman who killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others in Las Vegas, Nevada, should be examined, possibly leading to Republican consideration of gun control legislation.

“Clearly, that is something we need to look into,” the Wisconsin Republican said Thursday in an interview with MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt.

Shooter Stephen Paddock installed a device called a “bump stock” on 12 semiautomatic rifles in his hotel suite, which significantly increased the firing rate of his weapons to nearly match that of a machine gun. He opened fire Sunday on thousands of people attending a country music concert.

Ryan’s willingness to examine bump stocks appeared to mark a change of opinion. On Wednesday, Ryan said on WISN radio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that it was not the appropriate time to discuss legislation restricting the sale of the devices.

“What I don’t think you want your government to do is to lurch toward reactions before even having all the facts,” Ryan said. He added, “Bad people are going to do bad things.”

Republican interest

Wednesday, Texas’ John Cornyn, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, called for Congress to investigate bump stocks. Cornyn said later he asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, to convene a hearing on bump stocks and that Grassley was interested.

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida also said they would be willing to consider legislation on bump stocks.

Republicans, and some Democrats, have historically resisted efforts to restrict gun ownership, which is protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Civilian ownership of automatic weapons has been generally illegal for decades, but the availability of bump stocks has effectively circumvented the ban.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a strong advocate of gun control, announced Wednesday that she would introduce legislation to ban bump stocks, maintaining the devices exploit a loophole in existing law.

“No one should be able to easily and cheaply modify legal weapons into what are essentially machine guns,” she said during a news conference introducing the legislation.

Feinstein was joined by more than two dozen other Democrats who co-sponsored the bill. The fate of the measure, the first legislation introduced by Democrats following the mass shooting, is far from certain, given other priorities of the Republican-controlled Congress.

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US Lawmakers Want to Restrict Internet Surveillance on Americans

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers unveiled legislation on Wednesday that would overhaul aspects of the National Security Agency’s warrantless internet surveillance program in an effort to install additional privacy protections.

The bill, which will be formally introduced as soon as Thursday, is likely to revive debate in Washington over the balance between security and privacy, amid concerns among some lawmakers in both parties that the U.S. government may be too eager to spy on its own citizens.

The legislation, written by the House Judiciary Committee, is seen by civil liberties groups as the best chance in Congress to reform the law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, before its expiration on December 31.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials consider Section 702 to be among the most vital tools they have to thwart threats to national security and American allies.

Foreign suspects

It allows U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on and store vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States.

But the program, classified details of which were exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, also incidentally scoops up communications of Americans, including those with targets living overseas. Those communications can then be subject to searches without a warrant by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A discussion draft of the legislation, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, partially restricts the FBI’s ability to access American data collected under Section 702 by requiring the agency to obtain a warrant when seeking evidence of a crime.

That limit would not apply, however, to requests of data that involve counterterrorism or counterespionage.

The narrower restriction on what some have called a “backdoor search loophole” has disappointed some civil liberties groups. Several organizations sent a letter this week saying they would not support legislation that did not require a warrant for all queries of American data collected under Section 702.

Renewal for six years

The legislation would also renew the program for six years and codify the National Security Agency’s decision earlier this year to halt the collection of communications that merely mentioned a foreign intelligence target. But that codification would end in six years as well, meaning NSA could potentially resume the activity in 2023.

The spy agency has said it lost some operational capability by ending so-called “about” collection due to privacy compliance issues and has lobbied against a law that would make its termination permanent.

Republican senators introduced a bill earlier this year to renew Section 702 without changes and make it permanent, a position backed by the White House and intelligence agencies.

But that effort is expected to face major resistance in the House, where an influential conservative bloc of Republicans earlier this year said it opposed renewal unless major changes were made, reflecting disagreement within the majority party.

Separately, Senators John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California are working on Section 702 legislation that may also be introduced this week and include fewer reforms.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky are also planning to introduce a bill that would require a warrant for any query of Section 702 involving data belonging to an American.

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