Vague on Venezuela
President Donald Trump keeps huffing and puffing about the humanitarian crisis in chaotic Venezuela. But as he stood beside Jair Bolsonaro, the freshly empowered right-wing leader of Brazil, the American president wasn't ready to say what, if any, direct action he and U.S. allies such as Bolsonaro might be planning.
Sanctions were imposed in January on the shaky, repressive left-wing regime of President Nicolas Maduro. On Tuesday, Trump said at the White House: "We haven't done the toughest of sanctions, as you know." He didn't suggest when that could happen.
So far, the administration hasn't tried pressing companies outside the U.S. to refrain from buying Venezuelan oil. As for military intervention, he held to the bromide: "All options are on the table."
Now there are signs of a crucial fight within Trump circles over how to approach the Venezuela mess — and it involves the U.S. posture on immigration.
Purportedly as a way to pressure Maduro, Venezuela envoy Elliott Abrams wants 70,000 Venezuelans living illegally in the U.S. to be given a break rather than banished into Maduro's wrecked country. But National Security Council officials refuse.
"We have absolutely got to avoid any noncriminal deportations while we sort it out. To send some family back to [Venezuela] now would make us all laughingstocks,” Abrams warned in an email cited by The Wall Street Journal.
Bullish on Brazil
Trump dangled before Bolsonaro the potential for nonmember NATO affiliation that could allow easier weapons purchases and military cooperation. But that merely sounds like chummy talk, especially given Trump's antagonism toward the alliance.
James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral who was the supreme allied commander at NATO from 2009 to 2013, noted to The Associated Press that Brazil does not qualify for full membership under the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949.
Bolsonaro, often called the "Trump of the Tropics" back home, even condemned "fake news" while in the Rose Garden. And he got to hear firsthand Trump express his posthumous distaste for the late Sen. John McCain and reject a Supreme Court expansion plan. Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez reports the details here.
... Speaking of Brazil ...
A contractor's orders to spare the Brazilian hardwood floors in an oceanfront East Hampton mansion used by Starbucks founder and possible presidential candidate Howard Schultz resulted in an electrician severely injuring his spine, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Riverhead, Newsday's Andrew Smith reports.
The electrician, Julio Guerrero of East Hampton, filed the suit against general contractor Bulgin & Associates of Southampton; the home's owner, a trust in Schultz's name; and the trustee in charge, Seattle accountant Loren Hostek. The suit does not specify damages.
"It's a tremendous home," said Guerrero's attorney, Edmond Chakmakian of Hauppauge. "Nobody begrudges him his Brazilian floors."
Fox News announced it will host a town hall featuring Schultz on April 4.
Cohen probe timing revealed
Federal investigators first got search warrants for the emails of Trump's ex-attorney Michael Cohen back in July 2017, newly released court documents reveal.
It turns out Cohen was targeted after taking on consulting deals with corporate clients worth more than $3 million that would utilize his longtime Trump connection.
Cohen did this without disclosing the income to business lenders from whom he was trying to get a break by citing cash-flow problems, according to the warrant materials, which Newsday's John Riley describes here.
In February 2018, special counsel Robert Mueller handed off the Cohen case to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. After that, campaign-finance violations were discovered implicating Trump. Cohen has since been sentenced to 3 years in prison after admitting to tax evasion, making false statements to a bank, lying to Congress and campaign-finance crimes.
What else is happening
- The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that officials can detain without a bond hearing immigrants with old criminal records years after they were released from custody. It marks a win for the administration.
- A federal appeals court panel sounded decidedly skeptical of a lawsuit that accuses Trump of violating the Constitution by profiting from his business dealings with foreign countries.
- Another court rebutted Trump on transgender troop limits.
- Presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Deputy Chief of Staff Anne Bradley is leaving next month, it was announced.
- Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke met with an Ohio auto union leader who responded strongly to an attack by Trump.
- Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged elimination of the Electoral College and a "conversation" about reparations.
- Tensions have grown between the U.S. and Iraq over certain Iraqi Shia militias getting support from Iran.
- The Pentagon gave Congress a list of military construction projects worth nearly $13 billion in all that could be stalled to fund Trump's border wall.