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June 16, 2017

A week which began with President Trump's Cabinet members pledging their loyalty to him is now wrapping up with the vice president abruptly sharing that "it is the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president to … Trump."

The tweet — which was repeated by Pence in Miami ahead of President Trump's Cuba speech — comes amid White House turmoil, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly in the hot seat.

Pence is walking a "tightrope" in the White House, Politico writes, with former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell describing the vice president as having "a very full and complex portfolio in his briefcase. And he has to carry it like there's a bottle of nitroglycerin inside." Jeva Lange

June 16, 2017

Another day, another Newt Gingrich quote to get folks riled up. This one was delivered at the National Press Club on Friday, when Gingrich reacted to the news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating President Trump for possible obstruction of justice.

"The president of the United States cannot obstruct justice," Gingrich declared.

That didn't go over so well:

Former President Bill Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury, charges led by then-Speaker of the House Gingrich. Fast forward nearly two decades, though, and Gingrich is no longer a fan of using such minor technicalities to spearhead presidential probes. "Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring," Gingrich tweeted Monday. "Time to rethink." Jeva Lange

June 14, 2017
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The Office of Government Ethics revealed in a letter sent Tuesday that President Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon's ethics waiver remains "unsigned and undated." The letter was sent in response to four Democratic senators' request for information about which ethics requirements pertain to Bannon.

An executive order signed by Trump specifically requires every appointee to sign an ethics pledge agreeing not to "participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to a former employer or client" for two years after their appointment. However, the agreement allows appointees to sign a waiver, freeing them from certain restrictions imposed in the ethics pledge. That waiver must be "'signed'" and "'shall take effect' after it is signed," the OGE explained in the letter.

Aside from not being signed or dated, Bannon's waiver "purports to have a 'retroactive' effect," the OGE noted:

These deficiencies are inconsistent with the language of Executive Order 13770. As discussed earlier, the order expressly provides that a waiver is effective only after it has been signed: "A waiver shall take effect when the certification is signed by the president or his designee." More importantly, the putative retroactivity is inconsistent with the very concept of a waiver, which is to take decisions regarding the appropriateness of an employee's participation in covered matters out of the employee's hands. By engaging in a prohibited matter at a time when the appointee does not possess a waiver, the appointee violates the rule. Although the White House may later decide that such a violation does not warrant disciplinary action, the subsequent issuance of a waiver would not change the fact that a violation occurred. [United States Office of Government Ethics]

The OGE emphasized that it does not know if Bannon "participated in any prohibited matter or whether he confined his activities to matters in which he was permitted to participate." Read the letter in full here. Becca Stanek

June 13, 2017

President Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, reportedly bragged to his friends that he played a major role in the firing of U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York Preet Bharara, ProPublica reports. Kasowitz reportedly egged on Trump's decision by warning him Bharara was "going to get you," people familiar with the culmination of events said.

Bharara had initially been asked to stay on at his job by President Trump last November, but was abruptly fired by the administration in March after he refused to resign at the request of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who asked for the resignation of 46 Obama-appointed district attorneys in the Justice Department. At the time, Bharara's office was investigating Trump's health and human services secretary, Tom Price.

"Those who know Kasowitz say he is sometimes prone to exaggerating when regaling them with his exploits," ProPublica writes. "But if true, his assertion adds to the mystery surrounding the motive and timing of Bharara's firing."

Kasowitz became a nationally recognized figure last week, after he acted as Trump's designated spokesman to respond to former FBI Director James Comey's landmark Senate testimony.

Kasowitz's claimed role in the Bharara firing appears to be a sign that the New York lawyer has been inserting himself into matters of governance and not just advising the president on personal legal matters. [ProPublica]

Bharara, for his part, seems to be taking the news just fine. Jeva Lange

June 13, 2017

On Sunday, Delta Air Lines yanked its sponsorship of a controversial performance of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in New York City, which depicts the titular emperor as a Trump-like figure. The corporate protest took specific issue with the play's famous assassination scene, which was criticized by Fox News for "appear[ing] to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities."

But in 2012, Delta Air Lines took no issue with sponsoring an Obama-inspired Julius Caesar performance in Minneapolis, Broadway World has discovered. From a review of that performance:

…Because Caesar is cast as a tall, lanky black man, the Obama inference is a bit too obvious. But it fits, sort of. Like Caesar, Obama rose to power on a tide of public goodwill; like Caesar, there were many in government who doubted Obama's leadership abilities; and now that Obama's first term has failed to live up to the messianic hype, there are plenty of people who — for the good of the country, you understand, not their own glory — want to take Obama down. [MSP Mag via Broadway World]

In fact, many presidents have been depicted in various productions as the betrayed emperor:

Delta said in a statement Sunday that "no matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of Julius Caesar at this summer's free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect [the company's] values." Bank of America also pulled its funding of the production. Jeva Lange

May 19, 2017
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President Trump's attorneys tried to get Trump excused from certifying that his 2016 personal finance disclosure is "true, complete, and correct," The Associated Press has learned based on letters obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. "Attorney Sheri Dillon said she saw no need for Trump to sign [and certify] his 2016 personal financial disclosure because he is filing voluntarily this year," the AP writes.

The documents include information about Trump's income and assets during much of the general election and transition period. They don't include information about his rate of income tax or charitable giving, as a tax document would show.

Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub refused the request of Trump's attorney, though, saying that the office would only work with Dillon "on the condition that the president is committed to certifying that the contents of his report are true, complete, and correct." Dillon apparently agreed, saying Trump would "sign and file" the documents by mid-June.

"President Trump welcomes the opportunity to provide this optional disclosure to the public, and hopes to file it shortly," she wrote. Jeva Lange

May 12, 2017

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was repeatedly and directly asked if President Trump is recording conversations in the Oval Office. Each time, Spicer refused to answer.

Earlier Friday, President Trump apparently threatened former FBI Director James Comey, tweeting: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Spicer's first question at the press conference was directly related: "Did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey?" Reuters' Jeff Mason wanted to know.

"I've talked to the president and the president has nothing further to add to that," Spicer said.

Mason continued to press Spicer, but Spicer wasn't budging:

A few minutes later, Time's Zeke Miller returned to the question: "Is [Trump] currently recording conversations taking place in the Oval Office?"

"I think that the point that I made, in respect to the tweet, is the president has no further comment on this," Spicer said, again refusing to take the opportunity to deny the allegation.

The possibility that Trump is taping conversations has sparked widespread alarm. Former President Richard Nixon's lawyer, John Dean, who was charged for obstruction of justice due to his role in Watergate, tweeted Friday: "Obviously President Trump is confused. He is the one who must hope there are no tapes. Honest people do not have problems being taped." Jeva Lange

May 12, 2017

President Trump's lawyers released a letter Friday concluding that Trump received no "income of any type from Russian sources" based on a review of his tax returns, which the lawyers did not release. Thus, aside from the exceptions the lawyers noted (the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, a property sold to a billionaire for $95 million), we have to take their word for it.

One last thought, though: The law firm that confirmed Trump's limited business interests in Russia was named "Russia Law Firm of the Year" in 2016.

This is not the only work Morgan, Lewis & Bockius have done for the president: The law firm has also been helping advise Trump on potential business conflicts of interest. Okay. Jeva Lange

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