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Russian election meddling: It’s showtime on Capitol Hill

FBI director James Comey, left, leaves a meeting

FBI director James Comey, left, leaves a meeting with members of Congress on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. He is set to appear at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Monday and expected to address President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims that Trump Tower was wiretapped by the Obama administration. Photo Credit: EPA / Jim Lo Scalzo

Toward a conclusion on collusion

Congress’ first hearings into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election start Monday. Of mischief by Moscow, there’s little doubt. On whether there was connivance with President Donald Trump’s campaign, the story is yet to unfold.

The top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee went on the Sunday talk shows and differed over where it’s all heading.

“Up to speed on everything I have up to this morning, there’s no evidence of collusion,” the panel’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said it’s too early to know.

“There is circumstantial evidence of collusion. There is direct evidence, I think, of deception and that’s where we begin the investigation,” Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

President Barack Obama’s last director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said two weeks ago on “Meet the Press” that he had seen no evidence of collusion up to the time he left the post, but added the caveat: “This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.”

A key question: Is there currently an active investigation into the possibility of collusion?

Trump jeered in a tweet early Monday: “This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!” He also railed about leaks and in knocking CNN, advertised some more for Fox News.

Catching up to wild goose

Lawmakers will ask FBI Director James Comey what the bureau reportedly has wanted to put on the record for more than a week: that there is no evidence for Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped on Obama’s orders during the campaign.

That’s already the word from Nunes and Schiff, who received closed-door briefings.

“We are at the bottom, there is nothing at the bottom,” Schiff said Sunday. “I hope we can put an end to this wild goose chase.”

It is not clear, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune, how much Comey will reveal on the broader questions about investigations, surveillance and leaks.

“This could be high drama,” said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a committee member. “I have no idea where this hearing is going to end up at the end of the day.”

The take-away: Get serious

Here’s something Trump needs to take seriously. On the world stage, his comments and tweets are going to be taken literally.

With U.S. allies baffled and irritated by his behavior and grave questions like North Korea’s nuclear buildup to deal with, Trump’s silly season needs to end. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Health bill promises, predictions

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he liked the chances of the Trump-backed American Health Care Act’s passage at the scheduled House floor vote on Thursday.

“I feel very good about it, actually. I feel like it’s exactly where we want to be,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

To meet some criticisms within the GOP, Ryan said Republicans are working on changes, including a work requirement for Medicaid and higher tax credits for older, lower-income people.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price acknowledged that concessions made to win support in the House might cost the bill votes in the Senate.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) denounced the plan as a $600 billion transfer of wealth to the rich from middle- and working-class Americans.

See David M. Schwartz and Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

GOP health plan: Users guide

While the Trump-backed plan is likely to undergo change and more change, health care consumers should find it useful to know where they stand now, so they can follow where it goes.

Here’s an in-depth look by Newsday’s Yancey Roy.

Sheriffs for Wall Street

New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman plan to use a powerful state law wielded a decade ago by then-AG Eliot Spitzer to try to counter rollbacks in Wall Street enforcement under Trump, reports Newsday’s Michael Gormley.

The state Martin Act is one of many “blue sky statutes” created by states to mirror or complement federal enforcement of Wall Street. If the federal law changes, New York’s measure remains in force for companies based in or operating in New York, which is most of Wall Street.

Last month, Trump signed an executive order to ease Obama-era regulations on Wall Street known as the Dodd-Frank Act.

What Jimmy Breslin saw in Trump

A scan of the late Jimmy Breslin’s column archives finds Trump was a frequent target. Breslin sized him up as a grand master of illusion and excoriated his enablers. Here are three gems, including this from 1988:

“Trump, in the crinkling of an eye, senses better than anyone the insecurity of people, that nobody knows whether anything is good or bad until they are told, and he is quite willing to tell them immediately. His instinct appears to tell him that people crumble quickly at the first show of bravado, particularly members of the media, which is the plural of mediocre.”

What else is happening

  • Long Island’s wind power proponents aren’t sure which way the gusts are blowing under Trump, reports Newsday’s Mark Harrington. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called wind power part of the energy “toolbox,” but Trump’s budget plan would eliminate green-energy programs,
  • Gary Cohn and Dina Powell — two former Goldman Sachs executives from New York — are key players in a relatively moderate faction emerging within the Trump White House aligned against Steve Bannon-led ideologues, who retain the upper hand, according to The Washington Post.
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will lead a bipartisan fight with allies such as Long Island’s King against the Trump budget’s plan for Homeland Security grants, saying it “would be devastating to New York’s efforts to protect itself from terrorism,” Newsday’s Laura Figueroa reports.
  • The Trump administration is seeking design proposals for the wall on the Mexican border, The New York Times reports. It calls for the side of the 30-foot-high barrier facing the United States to be “aesthetically pleasing in color, anti-climb texture, etc.”
  • Trump is expected to nominate George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, to run the Justice Department’s civil division, multiple reports said.
  • A hands-off policy on military strikes serves as a reminder that Trump has yet to unveil the promised new strategy on crushing ISIS, which may be the old strategy only faster, the Times reports. 
  • White House aides are sent to agencies to "monitor the loyalty" of secretaries purportedly running things, according to The Washington Post. Some call them "commissars."
  • Two new profiles of note: 1. New York Magazine’s cover story profile of Conway — “The True First Lady of Trump’s America.” 2. The New Yorker on Long Island’s Robert Mercer, the Trump mega donor, including a story on how he argued that (outside of the blast zones) the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 made people healthier.

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