Time for 'alternative laws'?
A federal watchdog picked by President Donald Trump urged him Thursday to fire his counselor Kellyanne Conway. She allegedly violated the federal Hatch Act by repeatedly using her government perch to issue “disparaging remarks” about Democratic candidates, as Newsday's Tom Brune describes here.
“Given that Ms. Conway is a repeat offender and has shown disregard for the law, OSC recommends she be removed from office,” the watchdog’s office said in a news release.
But Trump aides soon rolled out a trademark defense of Conway by trashing the work of the official, Henry Kerner. They called Kerner's recommendations "unprecedented" and "deeply flawed" and claimed they “violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.”
Kerner, a Harvard Law graduate with a Republican political pedigree, heads the Office of Special Counsel. This is not the same office Robert Mueller ran to probe the Russia scandal but a permanent agency that enforces four laws, including the Hatch Act barring partisan political activity by federal employees.
Career government officials found to have violated the Hatch Act can be fired, suspended or demoted, and fined up to $1,000. Conway baited Kerner's office by taunting: "Let me know when the jail sentence starts."
Conway is famous for coining the Orwellian phrase "alternative facts." In her official capacity, rather than as a campaign operative, Conway slings political mud on Trump's behalf — calling Sen. Cory Booker a sexist, Sen. Elizabeth Warren an appropriator of "someone else's heritage," and Joe Biden's intro video "dark and spooky." The special counsel's full report is available here.
There was no immediate comment on the Twitter feed of her spouse, George Conway, a Washington lawyer who has turned a unique public spotlight on their marriage by heatedly attacking Trump and calling for his impeachment.
GOP blowback for 'dirty' Donald
Other borders of political engagement became the Trump theme of the day on Thursday. After the president all but invited offerings of dirt dug up by foreign sources against his political opponents, the obvious objections weren't left for the Democrats to state, as Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez reports.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, said he spoke with the president after his bizarre ABC-TV interview and urged him to see it differently.
"The law is pretty clear. You can’t take anything of value from a foreign government,” Graham said he told Trump. “He says, ‘I didn’t say I did.’ I said: ‘Sitting down and talking to somebody’s not a crime, but it’s probably not a good idea. … I don’t agree with you.’ ”
“Accepting the work product of a foreign government or the effort of a foreign government to try and influence an election of one candidate or another? It simply strikes at the heart of our democracy,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told Politico. “It’s wrong. It’s antithetical to our democratic principles.”
Of course the Democratic condemnation was harsh. “Yesterday, the president gave us, once again, evidence that he does not know right from wrong,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “I believe that he’s been involved in a criminal cover-up.”
One whale of a reply
The president earned a new round of international ridicule on Thursday when, in defending his foreign-dirt comments, he said he talks with foreign dignitaries all the time — including the "Prince of Whales." The error was later corrected.
Trump also tweeted: "We talked about 'Everything!' Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again.
"With that being said, my full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media. They purposely leave out the part that matters." And so on.
Pompeo points at Iran
U.S. Navy ships responded to aid oil tankers attacked near the Gulf of Oman, and Iran is suspected of involvement. What may follow from the American side still appeared to be in flux on Thursday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited U.S. intelligence in pointing to the Tehran regime. "This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication," Pompeo said.
He said the U.S. would defend its forces and interests in the region, but gave no specifics about any plan for retaliation and took no questions. Trump tweeted: "While I very much appreciate P.M. Abe going to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal. They are not ready, and neither are we!”
Sarah Sanders sets sail
Sarah Sanders, Trump's press secretary, will leave at the end of the month after three years at the White House, Newsday's Figueroa reports. Trump said, "I hope she decides to run for governor of Arkansas. She would be fantastic."
Sanders' father, Mike Huckabee, a former presidential candidate, held the governor's job between 1996 to 2007.
What else is happening:
- Trump's company sold a Beverly Hills mansion that records show was purchased by a corporate entity linked to an Indonesian billionaire and Trump business partner, The Washington Post reports.
- The Democratic National Committee cut three candidates from its first debates: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam.
- A new UC Berkeley-Los Angeles Times poll found Biden leading with 22 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in California, but closely followed by Warren and Bernie Sanders at 18 and 17 percent, respectively.
- The wife of indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds. Hunter is due to be tried in September.
- Warren is urging government-owned mortgage financier Freddie Mac to provide details on its reported backing of an $800 million loan to the real estate firm owned by Jared Kushner’s family, Politico reports.