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Democrats see FBI HQ switch as a Trump-protection racket

Law enforcement officers stand guard in front of

Law enforcement officers stand guard in front of the Trump International Hotel in Washington on June 30. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

Was Trump's 'interest' a conflict?

Donald Trump wants to keep the FBI close. But this isn't about the Russia investigation.

Emails made public Thursday show Trump got personally involved in a decision to scuttle a plan to move the FBI from its current headquarters in downtown Washington to the Maryland or Virginia suburbs and instead build a new structure on its existing site.

What's in that for Trump? The current FBI location is a block away from the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. If the FBI moved, that site would have been sold to developers, creating potential competition for the president's hotel. In 2015, before Trump announced his candidacy, a Trump Organization executive raised just such a concern with a congressional aide, according to The New York Times.

As president, Trump "should have avoided all interactions or communications relating to the FBI headquarters project to prevent both real and perceived conflicts of interest," Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote to the General Services Administration, which handles real estate for the federal government.

Correspondence describes a January Oval Office meeting about the FBI location and the stay-put plan as "what POTUS directed everyone to do." Another email describes steps that will be "necessary to deliver the project the president wants on the timetable he wants it done."

The Trump administration has a different story about what happened. A couple of stories, actually.

A GSA spokeswoman said it was the FBI, not the president, that made the decision to abandon a move to the suburbs. She said the emails were referring to deliberations about funding, not location. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged to Axios in July that Trump was involved. "POTUS is always interested in building because he knows it better than anyone and has been very successful in it," she said. 

Hostile workplace

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton squared off in a profanity-laced shouting match outside the Oval Office on Thursday, according to Bloomberg News.

The fight was about how to respond to a new surge of migrants at the Mexican border, with Bolton urging a more aggressive approach and complaining about Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a Kelly ally, Politico reported. Trump, who heard the start of the exchange, sided with Bolton, CNN said.

Sanders' post-fight spin: It's the Democrats' fault.

“While we are passionate about solving the issue of illegal immigration, we are not angry at one another. . . . However, we are furious at the failure of Congressional Democrats to help us address this growing crisis," she said in a statement.

Trump vented about it on Twitter, threatening at one point Thursday to close the U.S.-Mexico border if authorities there fail to stop the asylum-seekers. He then thanked Mexico for sending federal police to its border with Guatemala.

Janison: A pass on what's past?

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has straddled the timelines of before and after Trump became president. There's the question of collusion with Russia during the campaign. There's the matter of whether Trump tried to obstruct justice once in office.

In presidential scandals past, including those faced by Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, alleged transgressions committed as president have carried the biggest punch of impeachability, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. But there's no way to be sure if that tradition will hold.

On Saudis, braced for inconvenient truth

Trump seems to he giving up on going "rogue" in his theories about the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor.

His comments came after a session with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, just back from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where he heard Turkish officials' accounts of Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Asked if Khashoggi was dead, Trump said, "It certainly looks that way. . . . Very sad," reports Newsday's Candice Ferrette. In an interview with The New York Times, Trump expressed confidence in intelligence reports "from every side" that strongly suggest a high-level Saudi role in Khashoggi’s assassination. 

If so, Trump said reluctantly, the response to Saudi leaders "will have to be very severe," observing that the case "has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,”  he said.

Reporter assaulted? Ha ha

At a rally in Montana Thursday night, Trump offered kudos to Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in 2016 for attacking a reporter who tried to ask him a question about health care.

"I had heard that he body slammed a reporter. And he was way up ... and I said ... I said, oh, this is terrible, he's gonna lose. ... Then I said, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him. And it did," said Trump. The president went on: "Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of — he's my guy. I shouldn't say this." Watch video of Trump's comments here

Gianforte initially denied the assault, but there was an audio recording.

A pre-existential condition

Is Republican support to protect health care coverage for pre-existing conditions a pre-existing condition?

Trump tweeted Thursday that it is, but if it isn't, it will be.

"All Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions, and if they don’t, they will after I speak to them," Trump said, though congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are backing a lawsuit to undo the protection that became law under Obamacare.

Trump's tweet concluded: "Also, Democrats will destroy your Medicare, and I will keep it healthy and well!"

Tripped up

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the latest Trump Cabinet official to be called on the flying carpet for dubious travel practices at taxpayer expense.

Zinke sought to skirt or alter department policies to justify his taxpayer-funded trips with his wife, the agency’s inspector general found. He pressed Interior staffers to research whether his wife, Lola, could become a volunteer at the agency to get her free rides.

Zinke defended bringing his family along on travel, saying it had been cleared by ethics officials.

What else is happening:

  • The Trump Organization is suing to reclaim $90,000 in unpaid fees from a Trump Tower resident, Todd Brassner, who died in an April 7 fire in his 50th-floor apartment.
  • If Democrats win the House, three veteran New York members are in line to chair powerful committees, The New York Times writes. Rep. Jerrold L. Nadler would chair Judiciary, with the power to investigate Trump and his administration. Rep. Eliot Engel would head Foreign Affairs and Rep. Nita Lowey would lead Appropriations.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden said Democrats should not rush to impeach Trump if they take the House. I don't think there's a basis for doing that right now," Biden said on "CBS This Morning." He added, "Let's see where the [Mueller] investigation takes us."
  • Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani veered off-message when asked by the Times about his successor as mayor, Mike Bloomberg, mulling a challenge to Trump in 2020. He couldn't endorse Bloomberg because of his positions and "left-leaning" coterie, Giuliani said, "But would I be  comfortable that he is qualified  to be president? Sure.”
  • An inspector general is investigating past writings and comments by Eric Blankenstein, a Republican appointee overseeing anti-discrimination efforts for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Those include an allegation that most hate crimes were fake and contention that using racial epithets did not mean a person was racist.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency released a plan for 2019 that would triple its pace of eliminating regulations, Roll Call reported.

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