March 16, 2018

Adult film star Stormy Daniels was allegedly threatened with "physical harm" in relation to her claims that she had an affair with President Trump in 2006, her lawyer told the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe on Friday.

"Was she threatened in any way?" co-host Mika Brzezinski asked lawyer Michael Avenatti, who confirmed "yes." Brzezinski followed up by asking, "Was she threatened physical harm?" Avenatti again confirmed "yes," although he stopped short at elaborating if it was by the president himself, or what exactly the threats were, and pushed for Americans to tune into Daniels' 60 Minutes interview on March 25 for details.

Daniels signed a nondisclosure agreement with Trump's attorney in October 2016, receiving $130,000. Trump has denied that the affair occurred. His attorney, Michael Cohen, has said he helped "facilitate" the payment to Daniels. Jeva Lange

March 7, 2018
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The inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs has concluded that there was gross mismanagement at three or more VA program offices when current VA Secretary David Shulkin was serving as undersecretary under former President Barack Obama in 2015 and 2016, The Associated Press reports. "Failed leadership at multiple levels within VA put patients and assets at the DC VA Medical Center at unnecessary risk and resulted in a breakdown of core services," said VA inspector general Michael Missal. "It created a climate of complacency."

The Washington D.C. VA Medical Center is the VA's second largest department, and the center of the inspector general's report. Missal and his team found "poor accounting procedures leading to taxpayer waste, citing at least $92 million in overpriced medical supplies, along with a threat of data breaches as reams of patients' sensitive health information sat in 1,300 unsecured boxes," AP writes.

Shulkin told investigators that he couldn't recall ever being told about the problems, and blamed a failure of the "usual" communication process. The review did conclude that "there was no finding of patient harm" due to the deficiencies, "largely due to the efforts of many dedicated health-care providers." The report also credits improvements at the Washington medical center following adjustments made by Shulkin, after an initial report about the problems came out in April.

The inspector general nevertheless blamed an "unwillingness or inability of leaders to take responsibility for the effectiveness of their programs and operations." The report comes as Shulkin is already in hot water, with the VA chief of staff apparently having doctored an email and made false statements in order to use taxpayer money to cover the overseas expenses of Shulkin's wife. Jeva Lange

March 6, 2018
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The European Union is preparing to apply 25 percent tariffs on $3.5 billion worth of American goods in retaliation for President Trump's proposed steel and aluminum tariffs, Bloomberg Politics reports. A number of products targeted on the EU's list seem especially chosen to put maximum pressure on lawmakers including bourbon whiskey, which comes from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) state, and jeans, with Levi Strauss' headquarters located in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) congressional district.

The EU tariffs would also target motorcycles, cosmetics, ladders, and T-shirts, as well as agricultural products and steel products. Even before the report about the EU tariffs, The New York Times estimated that more than 170,000 Americans could lose their jobs under Trump's tariff plan due to the higher cost of doing business.

Despite pressure from within his own party, Trump has publicly refused to compromise. "We're not backing down," he promised Monday. On Sunday, British Prime Minister Theresa May called to express her concerns about the U.S. sparking a trade war with the EU, and Trump privately said he had not reached a final decision yet, The New York Times reports. Jeva Lange

March 5, 2018
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An Illinois Democrat has doubled down on his praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, claiming he doesn't "spend all my time focused on" criticisms of the controversial commentator, Forward reports. "That's just one segment of what goes on in our world," Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) told The Daily Caller on Sunday. "The world is so much bigger than Farrakhan and the Jewish question and his position on that and so forth."

Farrakhan is described by the Anti-Defamation League as "an avowed anti-Semite who leads a group that traffics in hate not just towards Jews but also the LGBTQ community." Farrakhan "blames Jews for the slave trade, plantation slavery, Jim Crow, sharecropping, and general black oppression," the Southern Poverty Law Center writes. He has described Adolf Hitler as "a very great man" multiple times.

Davis praised Farrakhan as an "outstanding human being" in an interview with The Daily Caller last month, although the ADL said he had been misquoted. Davis seemed to dismiss that Sunday: "I think that was what they wanted to write," Davis said. "Nah, I don't have no problems with Farrakhan, I don't spend a whole lot of my time dealing with those kind of things."

In a new statement, the ADL said: "It is unfortunate that the congressman apparently can't muster up the courage to denounce Farrakhan's blatant anti-Semitism and instead chose to praise him instead. Hate should not be difficult to denounce. Once again we're calling on the congressman to denounce anti-Semitism and all forms of hate."

Other leaders have made efforts to separate themselves from Farrakhan, CNN notes, with a spokesperson for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) insisting in 2016 that "the right wing has been pushing these stories for years to drive a wedge between Congressman Ellison and the Jewish community." Jeva Lange

March 2, 2018

Jared Kushner looks "really beaten down," one senior official told The Washington Post, although that is perhaps to be expected. After losing his top-secret security clearance, facing a number of concerning reports about his family business, and being left by a number of close allies in the White House, even President Trump has allegedly mused it might just be better if his son-in-law and daughter called it quits and returned to their lives in New York City.

Kushner is increasingly isolated in Washington, D.C., with even his staff reportedly trying to avoid him. "Some of his administration colleagues are just more reluctant to have conversations with him or in his company because they're not sure if he's a witness or a target of the [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller investigation," an official said.

Another official likened Kushner's Office of American Innovation to The Onion. "This was once a forum for seeking ideas from the nation's top corporate executives, who served in advisory roles," writes The New York Times, although Kushner's inability to properly staff the office means it has had few victories.

"Jared has faded from the scene," said one executive, who noticed the withdrawal. "People haven't heard much from him in months." Jeva Lange

February 20, 2018

The majority of Americans at the prime age to serve in the armed forces are actually ineligible due to obesity, health concerns, education, or criminal records, Politico reports. In total, almost three-quarters of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are not fit to serve, putting a damper on the Trump administration's plans to beef up the armed forces.

"The U.S. military is already having a hard time attracting enough qualified volunteers," a new Heritage Foundation paper on the concerns concludes. "Of the four services, the Army has the greatest annual need. The Army anticipates problems with meeting its 2018 goal to enlist 80,000 qualified volunteers, even with increased bonuses and incentives."

Easing recruiting standards has been in consideration, although many are opposed. "We lowered the standards [in 2009], we signed more waivers for people who had acts of criminality than we usually did," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr. "We paid the price … The last place that we would go is to mess with the standards."

Still, even Spoehr notes that "obesity and the percentage of people overweight in the country has just skyrocketed in the last 10 to 15 years. Asthma is going up. High school graduation rates are still just barely acceptable and in some big cities they are miserable. Criminality is also not going away. We have to face the reality that these things in some cases are getting worse, not better."

That is to say nothing of the waning interest in joining the military. "Many of today's youth are not inclined to want to leave their family and friends," said United States Army Recruitment Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Bowers, as reported by Army Times. "Family and friends, they oppose them joining the military service." Jeva Lange

February 13, 2018

Former staff secretary Rob Porter was reportedly in active talks about a promotion, possibly to deputy chief of staff, when his ex-wives went public with allegations that he had physically and verbally abused them, CNN reports.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has claimed he demanded and got Porter's resignation within 40 minutes of fully understanding the severity of the allegations last week, although FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that he first briefed the White House on Porter in March 2017, and then several more times in subsequent months. Likewise, "multiple administration officials" told Politico and other news organizations that Kelly had known about the main points of the allegations against Porter for months, as had White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Porter's "anticipated elevation further highlights how top White House officials were willing to overlook indications from the FBI that there were potential abuse allegations in his background in exchange for professional competence in a tumultuous West Wing," CNN reports. Porter had reportedly expressed interest in speechwriting and trade policy positions as well.

"Kelly had told associates that Porter was one of the few competent professionals on his staff [and] wanted to ensure that he was being used to his full potential," reports CNN's David Wright. As The New York Times' Alex Burns adds: "There's a spiraling dynamic here: Many competent [Republicans] don't want to work in the [White House] for reasons including aversion to scandal, so they end up hiring staff that doesn't share that aversion, end up with more scandal, and have an even harder time hiring competent people than at the start." Jeva Lange

February 9, 2018

President Trump is reportedly blaming his communications director, Hope Hicks, for the unfolding scandal involving former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned this week after being credibly accused of abuse by two of his ex-wives. Trump is "increasingly frustrated" with Hicks for a "myriad of reasons," CNN's Kaitlan Collins reported Friday, including that he was allegedly "not consulted when Hicks and several other top aides ... at the White House drafted that first statement initially that defended Rob Porter."

"Secondly," Collins said, "the president feels that Hope Hicks has allowed her romantic relationship with Porter to really cloud her judgment and her decision-making here."

The report caught many by surprise, especially since Chief of Staff John Kelly was the one to hire Porter. Kelly additionally did not fire Porter after learning he was not going to be given security clearance, Politico reports. Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told Fox News on Friday: "The general is there to put in policies and processes and procedures, and in this case those didn't work and we need to find out why."

Watch the segment below. Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange

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