President Donald Trump with then-White House communications director Hope Hicks...

President Donald Trump with then-White House communications director Hope Hicks on March 29, 2018. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

The opacity of Hope 

Congressional oversight and constitutional fights shine in the spotlight again this week. Longtime Donald Trump aide Hope Hicks provoked an angry response from Democrats on Wednesday after showing up before the House Judiciary Committee and refusing to answer several basic questions on the advice of a White House lawyer.

Hicks, no longer at the White House, wouldn't even say behind closed doors where she had sat in the West Wing — or whether she told Russiagate investigators the truth. The Trump lawyer claimed an immunity that Democrats called made-up as they seek to study how Trump sought to stymie special counsel Robert Mueller's probe and decide for themselves if obstruction occurred.

“We’re watching obstruction of justice in action,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.).

“It’s a farce,” added Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Hicks, however, didn't hold out entirely. She gave limited responses to some queries about hush-money payments to women during the campaign. She did not later reveal what she told the panel. Hicks worked for Trump in private business, was press secretary for the 2016 campaign and later White House communications director.

The Mueller report mentions her name 180 times.

Trump complained as usual about congressional oversight on Wednesday. Without explaining his point, the president tweeted: "They gave Crooked Hillary’s people complete Immunity, yet now they bring back Hope Hicks." The clash is expected to go to court.

Nancy: No 'day at the beach'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington: "We intend to live up to our responsibilities to protect the Constitution when it comes to the checks and balances on the presidency.” 

But she ruled out a congressional censure of Trump as an alternative to impeachment proceedings. “I think censure is just a way out,” Pelosi said. She said that would be “a day at the beach for the president, or at his golf club, or wherever he goes to get that complexion.”

“If the goods are there,” she added, “you must impeach.”

In other words, not yet.

Keeping coal on a respirator

Addressing coal miners from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday hailed a new climate-rule rollback that he said will avert cost hikes to low- and middle-income Americans.

The new rule requires the energy industry to cut carbon emissions 35 percent over 2005 levels by 2030. Environmental experts say that's less than half of what's needed to avert "catastrophic warming of the planet," The Washington Post reports.

Despite Trump making the salvation of coal a key political plank, however, the industry continues to shrink. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that more coal power plants closed during Trump’s first two years in the White House than in Barack Obama’s entire first term.

Manse overboard

The Trump Tower condo forfeited by 2016 Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — who admitted committing wide-ranging financial frauds — is on the market for $3.6 million, Newsday's Tom Brune reports.

The 1,509-square-foot condo with one bedroom and 2½ baths at 721 Fifth Ave. hit the market Tuesday in a sale being conducted by a real estate broker on behalf of the U.S. Marshal's Office.

Manafort, 70, also had to forfeit a Brooklyn brownstone, a Soho loft and a sprawling property in the Hamptons when he pleaded guilty last year. The total value has been estimated at $22 million.

Rally response

Trump's rally Tuesday, serving as a formal candidacy announcement, evoked differing responses from would-be 2020 opponents on the Democratic side.

"It is going to take me a little while to settle down," said Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders, "because I just had the extremely unpleasant experience of actually watching Donald Trump in action for an hour and a half, and wow, that was certainly something.

"An hour-and-a-half speech of lies, distortions and total, absolute nonsense. It is quite an experience."

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the other potential challenger baited by Trump in his speech, said in a statement: "We can make Trump an aberration or let him fundamentally and forever alter the character of this nation."

Biden vowed to "restore the soul of the nation" and "deliver profound changes for the sake of future generations, to rebuild the American middle class — with everyone in on the deal this time — and to ensure that government has people’s backs.”

Biden meanwhile was facing backlash within the Democratic Party for citing two Southern segregationist senators as examples of people he disagreed with but "got things done" within the Senate.

What else is happening:

  • A Ukrainian businessman who sought access to Trump’s 2017 inaugural says in a lawsuit he was ripped off for $200,000, which he thought would get him VIP tickets.
  • A UN investigator found Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be investigated in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi based on "credible evidence" of responsibility.
  • The acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said his agency is preparing for new deportations of families here illegally. There's still no sign they'd number in the "millions" as Trump vowed.
  • The Federal Reserve on Wednesday said business investment is slowing amid uncertainty and hinted at an interest-rate cut.
  • Former Long Islander Felix Sater, the former Trump associate involved in the abandoned Moscow hotel deal, is now due to testify Friday before the House Intelligence Committee, Politico reported.
  • After an embarrassing leak of harsh poll data, Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale says polling is no longer reliable because America is too complex.
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