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Trump untouchable? His lawyers argue Congress can't probe for corruption

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before his departure from the White House on Tuesday enroute to Louisiana. Credit: Getty Images/Mark Wilson


Donald Trump's lawyers argued in federal court Tuesday that Congress has no power to investigate potential corruption by a president. The judge reacted with astonishment, according to The Washington Post.

The hearing was on Trump's suit to stop his former accounting firm from turning over years of his financial records that have been subpoenaed by the House oversight committee. It's the first of what are expected to be many courtroom battles over Trump's effort to stonewall probes by the Democratic-led House.

“Say a president was involved in some corrupt enterprise, you mean to tell me because he is the president of the United States, Congress would not have power to investigate?” Judge Amit P. Mehta asked Trump's legal team. He continued: What if “we’re talking about a presidential violation of a constitutional prohibition that only Congress has authority to approve,” such as the acceptance for emoluments or gifts from a foreign government?

Trump’s attorney William Consovoy said that's a job for "law enforcement," not Congress. 

Mehta asked whether under that reasoning, Congress was within its rights to have investigated cases such as Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation, and the Whitewater case involving President Bill Clinton. Consovoy avoided a direct answer, saying he would have to look at them more closely.

Consovoy accused Democrats of “assuming the powers of the Department of Justice” on a partisan crusade, arguing, “this is about the House being dissatisfied with the president, and wanting to prove by any means possible that he has done things wrong.” 

House lawyers told the judge that the Constitution gives Congress broad powers to investigate and that it doesn’t need to tie an investigation to a specific piece of legislation it is considering. The judge told Consovoy that there hasn't been a case since 1880 where the Supreme Court or an appeals court found that Congress overstepped its boundaries in issuing a subpoena.

Junior, lightly grilled

After balking at a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena to submit to a follow-up interview for its Russia investigation, Donald Trump Jr. agreed Tuesday to talk to them, up to a point.

A closed-door interview in June will be limited in the number of topics and in time, to four hours, several reports said. 

The subpoena from the panel's Republican chairman, Richard Burr, set off a battle inside GOP ranks. Some Trump-allied senators suggested Trump Jr. refuse to appear or invoke the Fifth Amendment on the questions, which were expected to center on the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project and his past testimony concerning a 2016 meeting with a Russian offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times described the maneuvering as straight out of his father’s playbook — set the terms of the debate at the most extreme end of the discussion by saying he would not appear, then cut a deal and look gracious.

A source close to Trump Jr. told ABC News that the president’s eldest son is “incredibly appreciative to the members that went to bat for him, and he will return the favor come the 2020 campaign.”

Military plans for Iran?

Trump dismissed as "fake news"  a New York Times report that his administration has been weighing a contingency plan to deploy 120,000 troops to the Middle East to confront Iran if tensions get worse. "Hopefully we don't have to plan for that,” Trump said. But he also said, "if we did that, we'd send a hell of a lot more troops than that."

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, urged on by National Security Adviser John Bolton, presented the plan Thursday as a potential response if Iran struck against U.S. forces or intensified its efforts to rebuild its nuclear weapons program, according to the Times, which cited more than a half-dozen national security officials as sources.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a floor speech, questioned the Trump administration’s strategy in Iran. “The administration just began a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions against Iran to squeeze its economy," Schumer said. "Doesn’t it make sense to see if your policy is working before preparing for potential troop deployments — particularly in such large numbers?"

For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Janison: MAGA-cal mystery tour

There's a sense of the unknown and the uncharted, and we're along for the ride. The Trump administration is traveling the foggiest of roads to resolving crises involving the Mexico border, Iran, Russia, China, and Venezuela, writes Newsday's Dan Janison

A secret plan to round up thousands of migrant parents and children from major cities was considered and then put on a shelf amid of logistical concerns, but could be dusted off again, The Washington Post reported. Trump is talking tough on Iran even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says, "We fundamentally don’t seek a war with Iran."

Whatever the outcome of the trade war with China,  Trump is an outlier even within his administration in talking up it supposed short-term benefits. The White House's ambitions for a swift regime change in Venezuela appear to be at a standstill.

'Spying' hunt makes Trump happy 

Trump's Twitter feed has been littered with his constant demands for investigations of those behind the Russia "witch hunt." On Tuesday, responding to news that Attorney General William Barr has put the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, John Durham, in charge of such an inquiry, Trump expressed surprise.

"I didn’t ask him to do that. I didn’t know it, but I think it’s a great thing that he did it," he said. 

Also, in case FBI Director Christopher Wray didn't get the message from his tweets, Trump ripped him again Tuesday in front of the cameras. The president is displeased that Wray separated himself under congressional questioning last week from Barr's remarks that the FBI's scrutiny of Trump's campaign amounted to "spying."

"I thought the attorney general answered it perfectly. So I certainly didn't understand that answer. I thought it was a ridiculous answer," Trump said.

In trade war line of fire

Trump's trade war could claim more U.S. consumers as collateral damage if he carries out his plan to extend 25% tariffs to nearly all Chinese imports not already hit with duties. The list includes toys, sneakers, shirts, alarm clocks, toasters and coffee makers — roughly $300 billion worth of products on top of the $250 billion targeted earlier, The Associated Press reports.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are scrambling to soften the blow to U.S. agriculture amid mounting anxiety from farm-state lawmakers that the battle could irreparably damage their local economies, according to AP. Senators were working with the administration to craft a $15 billion relief package for farmers and ranchers.

“If this is what it takes to get a good deal, I think people will hang in there, but at some point we’ve got to get it resolved,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “If this goes on for a long time, everybody realizes it’s playing with a live hand grenade.”

Bridge for sale

On a visit to Louisiana, Trump promised to rebuild an old and dilapidated interstate highway bridge in Louisiana — if he’s re-elected next year.

“It’s a very unsafe bridge, a lot of problems, and we’re going to give you a new one," Trump said of the Calcasieu River Bridge, a span on Interstate 10. They’ve been trying to do it for a long time, so we’re going to start planning and development right away and we’ll have it all set to go, day one, right after the election.”

What else is happening: 

  • A day after his "Green New Deal" rally at Trump Tower, Mayor Bill de Blasio continued a Twitter fight with the Trump sons Donald Jr. and Eric, reports Newsday's Emily Ngo. "I look forward to his presidential run being even less successful than his time as mayor," said Donald Jr. “I guess lying on Twitter runs in the family!” said de Blasio.
  • Trump Tower now ranks as one of the least desirable luxury properties in Manhattan, Bloomberg News reports, with most condo resales resulting in a loss. Security has turned the building into a fortress, the building hasn't been substantially updated in years and Trump's name has little appeal in the liberal-leaning city.
  • Some 2020 Democrats looking to connect with a different audience have done Fox News town halls (Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar) or are planning to (Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand).  Elizabeth Warren said she won't, denouncing the network as a “hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists.”
  • The latest entry in the Democratic race is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, positioning himself as the only one among nearly two dozen who won a state that Trump carried in 2016. A centrist, he said he governs with mainstream Democratic priorities.
  • Joe Biden told New Hampshire voters that Republicans would have "an epiphany" after Trump left office and find common ground to work with Democrats. The comment was met with skepticism by left-of-center commentators.
  • Visiting Russia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the U.S. "would not tolerate" a repeat of Russian election interference. President Vladimir Putin called the Mueller investigation "objective" and said it proved "there are no traces whatsoever of collusion."

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