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Report: Special Counsel Is Investigating Trump For Obstruction Of Justice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for possible obstruction of justice, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing unidentified officials.

Mueller is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Former FBI Director James Comey told Congress last week he believes he was fired by Trump to undermine the agency’s Russia probe.

The Washington Post, citing five people briefed on the requests who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, and Richard Ledgett, the former deputy director at the NSA, had agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week.

The obstruction of justice investigation into Trump began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter, the Washington Post said.

ustice Department special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice, The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening.

Trump’s legal team quickly denounced the report on Wednesday.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the President is outrageous, inexcusable, and illegal,” a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, Mark Corallo, said.

A spokesman for Mueller’s team declined to comment.

Several legal experts told Reuters that Comey’s testimony last week that Trump expected loyalty and told Comey he hoped he could drop an investigation of a former top aide could bolster obstruction of justice allegations against Trump.

Comey would not say in his testimony last week whether he thought the president sought to obstruct justice, but added it would be up to special counsel Mueller “to sort that out.”

After Comey’s testimony, Trump said he had been vindicated because his former FBI director confirmed telling Trump on three occasions that he was not under investigation.

While a sitting president is unlikely to face criminal prosecution, obstruction of justice could form the basis for impeachment. Any such step would face a steep hurdle as it would require approval by the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland Nathan Layne; Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Howard Goller)

IMAGE: FILE PHOTO: President Donald Trump arrives at Newark International airport to spend a weekend at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, New Jersey, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Lawyer: Flynn Negotiating With Congress Over Testimony In Russia Probes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has offered to testify before congressional committees probing potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia but wants protection against “unfair prosecution,” his lawyer said on Thursday.

“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” said a statement from Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner.

Testimony from Flynn could help shed light on the conversations he had with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kisylak last year when he was the national security adviser for Trump’s presidential campaign.

Kelner said discussions had taken place about Flynn’s availability to testify with officials of the intelligence committees of both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Both committees are investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election campaign last year as well as possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russians.

Flynn was forced to resign as Trump’s national security adviser in February for failing to disclose talks with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office about U.S. sanctions on Moscow and misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

Questions remain about the scope of the discussions and what other contacts took place between other Trump advisers with the Russians. Earlier this week, the White House disclosed that Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser, Jared Kushner, met executives of Russian state development bank Vnesheconombank, or VEB, in December.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia hacked emails of senior Democrats and orchestrated the release of embarrassing information in a bid to tip the presidential election in favor of Trump, whose views were seen as more in line with the Moscow’s.

Russia has denied the allegations. Trump has dismissed suggestions of links with Moscow as Democratic sour grapes for losing the election.

The Wall Street Journal, citing officials with knowledge of the matter, reported on Thursday that Flynn had sought immunity from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the House and Senate intelligence panels in exchange for his testimony. The newspaper said he had so far found no takers.

The House committee denied the Journal report. “Michael Flynn has not offered to testify to HPSCI in exchange for immunity,” committee spokesman Jack Langer said in a statement.

The FBI declined to comment. The Senate committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kelner’s statement did not mention the FBI.

He said Flynn “is now the target of unsubstantiated public demands by Members of Congress and other political critics that he be criminally investigated.”

Kelner said Flynn would not “submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”Independent Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN he could not confirm the Journal report, but “if that turns out to be the case, that’s a significant development I believe because it indicates that he has something important to say.”

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)

Virginia Governor Vetoes Bill Defunding Planned Parenthood

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have blocked funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and other health services.

The bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature would have barred the state from providing funds to clinics that perform abortions not covered by Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, said the measure would harm thousands of Virginians who relied on Planned Parenthood healthcare services and programs. He vetoed a similar measure last year.

“Attempts to restrict women’s access to health care will impede the goal of making Virginia the best place to live, work, and run a business,” he said in a statement.

Advocates for the law had said it would underpin organizations that provide the widest range of services.

Planned Parenthood draws the ire of many Republicans because it provides abortions. Republican President Donald Trump has pledged to defund the organization.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by James Dalgleish)

IMAGE: Democratic nominee for Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe stands onstage during a campaign rally in Dale City, Virginia, October 27, 2013.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Outspoken General McMaster Named As Trump’s Security Adviser

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday named Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster as his new national security adviser, choosing a military officer known for speaking his mind and challenging his superiors.

McMaster is a highly regarded military tactician and strategic thinker, but his selection surprised some observers who wondered how the officer, whose Army career stalled at times for his questioning of authority, would deal with a White House that has not welcomed criticism.

“He is highly respected by everybody in the military and we’re very honored to have him,” Trump told reporters in West Palm Beach where he spent the weekend. “He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.”

One subject on which Trump and McMaster could soon differ is Russia. McMaster shares the consensus view among the U.S. national security establishment that Russia is a threat and an antagonist to the United States, while the man whom McMaster is replacing, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, appeared to view it more as a potential geopolitical partner.

Trump in the past has expressed a willingness to engage with Russia more than his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Flynn was fired as national security adviser on Feb. 13 after reports emerged that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about speaking to Russia’s ambassador to the United States about U.S. sanctions before Trump’s inauguration.

The ouster, coming so early in Trump’s administration, was another upset for a White House that has been hit by miscues, including the controversial rollout of a travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, since the Republican president took office on Jan. 20.

The national security adviser is an independent aide to the president and does not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. He has broad influence over foreign policy and attends National Security Council meetings along with the heads of the State Department, the Department of Defense and key security agencies.

Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a frequent Trump critic, praised McMaster as an “outstanding” choice.

“I give President Trump great credit for this decision,” McCain said in a statement.

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama, Michael McFaul, a Democrat, praised McMaster on Twitter as “terrific” and said McMaster “will not be afraid to question his boss.”

McMaster, who flew back to the Washington area from Florida with Trump on Air Force One, will remain on active military duty, the White House said.

Trump also said Keith Kellogg, a retired U.S. Army general who has been serving as the acting national security adviser, as chief of staff to the National Security Council. John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, would be asked to serve the administration in another capacity, Trump said.

“He has a good number of ideas that I must tell you I agree very much with,” Trump said of Bolton, who served in Republican President George W. Bush’s administration.

Kellogg and Bolton were among those in contention as Trump spent the long Presidents Day weekend considering his options for replacing Flynn. His first choice, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, turned down the job last week.

McMaster, 54, is a West Point graduate known as “H.R.,” with a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014, partly because of his willingness to buck the system.

A combat veteran, he gained renown in the first Gulf War – and was awarded a Silver Star – after he commanded a small troop of the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment that destroyed a much larger Iraqi Republican Guard force in 1991 in a place called 73 Easting, for its map coordinates, in what many consider the biggest tank battle since World War Two.

As one fellow officer put it, referring to Trump’s inner circle of aides and speaking on condition of anonymity, the Trump White House “has its own Republican Guard, which may be harder for him to deal with than the Iraqis were.” The Iraqi Republican Guard was the elite military force of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Trump relies on a tight, insular group of advisers, who at times appear to have competing political agendas. Senior adviser Steve Bannon has asserted his influence by taking a seat on the National Security Council.

McMaster’s fame grew after his 1997 book Dereliction of Duty criticized the country’s military and political leadership for poor leadership during the Vietnam War.

Trump’s pick was praised by one of the president’s strongest backers in the U.S. Congress, Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who called McMaster “one of the finest combat leaders of our generation and also a great strategic mind.”

In a July 14, 2014, interview with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia, where Fort Benning is located, McMaster, then the base commander, said: “Some people have a misunderstanding about the Army.

“Some people think, hey, you’re in the military and everything is super-hierarchical and you’re in an environment that is intolerable of criticism and people don’t want frank assessments.

“I think the opposite is the case. … And the commanders that I’ve worked for, they want frank assessments, they want criticism and feedback.”

That attitude was not always shared by his superiors, and it led to his being passed over for promotion to brigadier general twice, in 2006 and 2007.

On McMaster’s third and last try, General David Petraeus – who at one point was also on Trump’s candidate list for national security adviser – returned from Iraq to head the promotion board that finally gave McMaster his first general’s star.

Then a colonel, McMaster was commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment that in the spring of 2005 captured, held and began to stabilize Tal Afar on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

The city was held by Sunni extremists, a crossing point between Syria and Iraq for jihadists who started as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and morphed into Islamic State after he was killed.

McMaster’s preparation of the regiment is legendary: He trained his soldiers in Iraqi culture, the differences among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Turkomen, and had them read books on the history of the region and counterinsurgency strategy.

It was a sharp change from the “kill and capture” tactics the United States had used in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003, and to which the Obama administration returned in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The strategy was largely a success, although McMaster’s use of it and especially his willingness to acknowledge that Iraqis had some legitimate grievances against one another and the occupying coalition forces, did not endear him to his superiors and helped delay his promotion to brigadier general.

The strategy did not survive the departure of McMaster’s troops, with Tal Afar falling into the hands of Sunni militants. Along with the west part of Mosul, it is now a key objective in the battle to rid Iraq of Islamic State.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott and Sarah Lynch in Washington; Writing by Frances Kerry and James Oliphant; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Newly named National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster listens as President Donald Trump makes the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

 

Norma McCorvey, Plaintiff In Roe v. Wade Abortion Ruling, Dies At 69

(Reuters) – Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff known as “Jane Roe” in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, died on Saturday at the age of 69, a journalist close to McCorvey said.

McCorvey died on Saturday morning of heart failure at an assisted living home in Katy, Texas, Joshua Prager, a journalist who is writing a book about the ruling, said in an email.

Her lawsuit, filed under the pseudonym, resulted in the court’s 1973 decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

McCorvey lent her real name to supporters of the abortion-rights movement in the 1980s. She did an about-face and later spoke out on behalf of anti-abortion campaigners, however.

In an article titled “The Accidental Activist” published in Vanity Fair magazine in February 2013, Prager wrote that McCorvey had never set out to further a cause when the Roe v. Wade lawsuit was filed in Dallas, Texas, in 1970.

Unwed and poor, she simply wanted an abortion after becoming pregnant for the third time and could not get one in the state.

Prager, who retraced her life through family, friends, and advisers, said McCorvey told her doctor she did not want to bring the pregnancy to term. But she could not afford to travel to any of the six states where abortion was legal at the time: Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

McCorvey never actually had the procedure, Prager said.

Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented McCorvey when she supported abortion rights, said she was very proud to have been “Jane Roe.”

“Even though at the end of her life Norma thought women should be prevented from having an abortion and that abortion should be criminalized, her legacy will be Roe v. Wade, which has provided millions of women the legal right to choose abortion,” Allred said in a statement.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling has for decades been the focus of a divisive political, legal, and moral debate. It established that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of a woman to have an abortion until the point of viability.

The court defined that point as when the fetus “has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb,” generally at about 24 weeks into pregnancy. The court also recognized a right to abortion after viability if necessary to protect the woman’s life or health.

Efforts to overturn the decision are heating up with the election of Republican Donald Trump as president and a conservative U.S. Congress. Trump has said abortion should be largely banned and has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, a healthcare provider that draws the ire of many Republicans because it provides abortions, in addition to other services.

If the Supreme Court were to overrule Roe v. Wade, the procedure would remain legal only where state laws allow it.

(Reporting By Frank McGurty and Tom Brown; Editing by David Gregorio and Meredith Mazzilli)

IMAGE: Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff known as Jane Roe in the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in the United States, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee along with Sandra Cano of Atlanta, Georgia, the “Doe” in the Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court case, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. on June 23, 2005. REUTERS/Shaun Heasley/File Photo

John McCain: Suppressing Free Press Is ‘How Dictators Get Started’

MUNICH (Reuters) – Senator John McCain, defending the media against the latest attack by President Donald Trump, warned that suppressing the free press was “how dictators get started”.

The Arizona Republican, a frequent critic of Trump, was responding to a tweet in which Trump accused the media of being “the enemy of the American people”.

The international order established after World War Two was built in part on a free press, McCain said in an excerpt of an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that was released in advance of the full Sunday morning broadcast.

“I hate the press. I hate you especially,” he told interviewer Chuck Todd from an international security conference in Munich. “But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”

“If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started,” he continued.

“They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history,” McCain said.

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, told the conference on Sunday she was also concerned about Trump’s comments.

“The real danger is the president’s criticism of the media,” Shaheen told the conference. “A free press … is very important to maintaining democracy, and efforts on the part of a president to undermine and manipulate the press are very dangerous.”

The comments from U.S. lawmakers followed Trump’s tweet and came days after the president held a raucous news conference at which he repeatedly criticized news reports about disorder in the White House and leaks of his telephone conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized the importance of a free press at the conference on Saturday, saying, “I have high respect for journalists. We’ve always had good results, at least in Germany, by relying on mutual respect.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter and David Stamp)

IMAGE: U.S. Senator John McCain speaks at the opening of the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

Retired Admiral Harward Rejects Trump Offer Of National Security Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, has turned down the offer, a senior White House official said on Thursday.

Harward was offered the job after Michael Flynn was fired by Trump on Monday for misleading Vice President Mike Pence over his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

The White House official said Harward cited family and financial reasons for opting not to take the job. He is a senior executive at Lockheed Martin.

Two sources familiar with the decision said Harward turned down the job in part because he wanted to bring in his own team.

That put him at odds with Trump, who had told Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland, that she could stay.

Trump appeared to refer to Harward earlier in the day at a presidential news conference, saying: “I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position.”

The president also made clear why he asked Flynn to resign, saying it was because the retired lieutenant general had not been completely truthful with Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak.

“The thing is, he didn’t tell our vice president properly, and then he said he didn’t remember. So either way, it wasn’t very satisfactory to me,” Trump said.

(Reporting by John Walcott and Steve Holland; Editing by Eric Walsh and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward, commanding officer of Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435, speaks to an Afghan official during his visit to Zaranj, Afghanistan, in this January 6, 2011 handout photo.  Sgt. Shawn Coolman/U.S. Marines/Handout via REUTERS

Senate Narrowly Confirms Mulvaney As Trump’s Budget Director

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney to serve as White House budget director in a 51-49 vote that largely followed party lines.

Underscoring the rocky reception that President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees have had on Capitol Hill, the vote came as Republican Senator John McCain opposed Mulvaney along with 46 Democrats and two independents.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Wednesday he was concerned about Mulvaney’s opposition to defense spending.

An outspoken budget hawk who has been branded by Democrats as a threat to popular social programs including Social Security and Medicare, Mulvaney entered the House of Representatives as a Tea Party candidate in 2011 and is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Democrats have also criticized him for failing to pay more than $15,000 in taxes related to a household employee until after he was nominated.

Mulvaney was narrowly approved earlier this month by both the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee, where McCain provided a crucial ‘yes’ vote to move the nomination forward.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Chris Reese and Jeffrey Benkoe)

NY Times: Trump Campaign Had Repeated Contact With Russian Intelligence

(Reuters) – Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing four current and former U.S. officials.

U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said, according to the Times.

The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election, the newspaper said.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said they had seen no evidence of such cooperation so far, it said.

However, the intercepts alarmed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Trump was speaking glowingly about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergei I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, the Times said.

During those calls, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December. Flynn misled the White House about those calls and was asked to resign on Monday night.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment on the Times story.

The New York Times reported that the officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other Trump associates.

On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the Russian government outside the intelligence services, the officials told the Times. All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified, the newspaper reported.

The officials said one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine, the Times said. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls.

Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the accounts of the U.S. officials in a telephone interview with the Times on Tuesday.

Several of Trump’s associates, like Manafort, have done business in Russia. It is not unusual for U.S. businessmen to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly, in countries like Russia and Ukraine, where the spy services are deeply embedded in society, according to the Times.

Law enforcement officials did not say to what extent the contacts may have been about business, the Times said.

Officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, which Russian intelligence officials were on the calls, and how many of Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians. It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Trump himself, the Times said.

(Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Paul Tait)

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a translation during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. Believes Russia Deployed New Missile, Violated Arms Control Treaty

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia has deployed a new cruise missile despite complaints by U.S. officials that it violates an arms control treaty banning ground-based U.S. and Russian intermediate-range missiles, a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday.

Russia had secretly deployed the ground-launched SSC-8 cruise missile that Moscow has been developing and testing for several years, despite U.S. complaints that it violated sections of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, the official said, confirming a story first reported by The New York Times.

“We know that this is an old issue. The Russians have been building and testing these things in violation of the INF treaty going back to the Obama administration,” the official told Reuters, asking to remain anonymous to speak freely.

“The issue now is the things are deployed and it’s an even greater violation of the INF treaty,” the official added.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Times story.

The U.S. State Department concluded in a July 2014 arms control report that “the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310 miles to 3,420 miles), or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russia accused Washington of conducting “megaphone diplomacy” after the accusation was repeated by the State Department in 2015. Moscow also denied it had violated the INF treaty, which helped end the Cold War between the two countries.

The previous U.S. administration of President Barack Obama had protested in an attempt to persuade Moscow to correct the violation while the missile was still in the testing phase, the Trump administration official said.

Based on open-source information such as Russian bloggers, they were deployed in the central military district, the administration official said, adding: “We are reviewing it.”

Russia now has two battalions of the cruise missile, the Times report quoted administration officials as saying. One is located at Russia‘s missile test site at Kapustin Yar in the country’s southeast.

The other cruise missile battalion has been located at an operational base elsewhere in Russia, the Times quoted one unidentified official as saying.

(Reporting by David Alexander and Steve Holland; Editing by Susan Heavey, Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)

IMAGE: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a signing ceremony following the talks with his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool

House Tax Committee Will Not Seek Trump Tax Returns

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A congressional tax oversight committee will not seek U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax returns, despite calls from Democrats for a review to determine possible business ties to foreign countries including Russia, the panel’s Republican chairman said on Monday.

“If Congress begins to use its powers to rummage around in the tax returns of the president, what prevents Congress from doing the same to average Americans?” House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters.

“Privacy and civil liberties are still important rights in this country, and (the) Ways and Means Committee is not going to start to weaken them.”

The Texas Republican was responding to questions about a February 1 request from Representative Bill Pascrell, who asked him to obtain Trump’s returns from Treasury so the committee could review them in closed session and vote on whether to release them to the public.

Defying decades of precedent, Trump has long refused to release the documents, which Democrats say could show whether his sprawling business empire poses any conflicts of interest as he moves forward with initiatives on issues ranging from tax reform to foreign relations.

Elections Official Asks Trump For Evidence Of Voter Fraud

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A member of the Federal Election Commission on Friday called on President Donald Trump to share any evidence he has to support a statement that voter fraud caused him and former Senator Kelly Ayotte to lose in New Hampshire in the 2016 U.S. election.

“The scheme the President of the United States alleges would constitute thousands of felony criminal offenses under New Hampshire law,” FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said in a statement.

Trump blamed voter fraud for his and Ayotte’s losses in New Hampshire in November’s election while speaking on Thursday with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, saying that Ayotte’s re-election bid was spoiled by “thousands” of people from neighboring Massachusetts voting in New Hampshire, according to media reports.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton narrowly won New Hampshire’s four electoral votes by nearly 3,000 votes, while Ayotte, a Republican like Trump, lost by only 743 votes.

Weintraub, who was appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush, asked Trump to “immediately share his evidence with the public and with the appropriate law-enforcement authorities so that his allegations may be investigated promptly and thoroughly.”

Trump said on Sunday he would put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of a special commission to investigate voter fraud, despite numerous studies showing that such fraud is rare in the United States.

Trump has said that fraud may account for his loss nationwide in the popular vote to Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: A large arena sign shows the difference between Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the state of New Hampshire at her election night rally in New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Did Kellyanne Conway Break The Law By Plugging Ivanka’s Brand?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top White House aide on Thursday promoted the clothing line named after President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, drawing criticism from ethics experts one day after the president attacked a retailer for dropping her products.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff …I’m going to go get some myself today,” Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News in an interview from the White House. “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody.”

Norman Eisen, who served as an ethics adviser to Democratic President Barack Obama, said Conway’s comments amounted to an advertisement and violated government ethics law.

“It’s a violation of the rule,” Eisen told MSNBC. “It’s a serious matter.”

Former Office of Government Ethics chief Don Fox told the Washington Post Conway’s comments appeared to violate rules barring the use of public office for anyone’s private gain.

Ivanka’s brand was thrust into the headlines after her father on Wednesday attacked department store chain Nordstrom Inc for dropping her products, in a highly unusual move that drew criticism for his use of a White House twitter platform to intervene in a commercial matter.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment over the ethics issue regarding Conway’s remarks, and the Office of Government Ethics could not be immediately reached.

Other retailers that have dropped the Ivanka line include Neiman Marcus and HSN Inc, while Macy’s Inc, TJX Cos, Hudson’s Bay Co, which runs high-end chains like Lord & Taylor, and Dillards Inc still carry it.

An ongoing campaign called #GrabYourWallet encourages shoppers to boycott products with ties to President Trump and his family. Separately, supporters have launched an alternative social media campaign called #BuyIvanka.

Ivanka Trump has said she would step away from her company when her father took office in the White House. A spokeswoman for the Ivanka Trump brand declined to comment on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bernadette Baum)

IMAGE: An Ivanka Trump-branded blouse is seen for sale at off-price retailer Winners in Toronto, Ontario, Canada February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick Admits To Employing Illegal Immigrant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Labor Department has admitted to employing an undocumented immigrant as a house cleaner, according to multiple media reports on a revelation that has derailed previous Cabinet nominees.

Andrew Pudzer, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc, is one of several Trump nominees who faced strong opposition from Senate Democrats and progressive groups. He has criticized an overtime rule championed by the Obama administration and opposed raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

An aide for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions said a week ago that the panel would not “officially” schedule a hearing until it receives Pudzer’s paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics.

Some political strategists said that could signal trouble for the fast-food executive.

Several media reports quoted a statement from Pudzer late on Monday as saying he took action as soon as he learned that his housekeeper, whom he and his wife had employed for a few years, was not legally permitted to work in the United States.

“We immediately ended her employment and offered her assistance in getting legal status,” he said in the statement, which was cited by the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and other media. He said he and his wife paid back taxes for employing the maid to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and to the state of California.

Previous presidential appointees have run into problems over immigration issues.

Linda Chavez, nominated for labor secretary by President George W. Bush in 2001, allowed a Guatemalan woman who was in the United States illegally to live in her home and gave her spending money.

Zoe Baird, President Bill Clinton’s nominee for attorney general in 1993, withdrew from consideration after she admitted hiring two illegal immigrants as a driver and a nanny and not paying their Social Security taxes.

Another Bush nominee, former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, withdrew his name from consideration for homeland security secretary in 2004 after he disclosed that questions had been raised about the legal status of a former housekeeper and nanny.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump gestures as Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, departs after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Kremlin Wants Apology From Fox News Over Putin ‘Killer’ Comments

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Monday it wanted an apology from Fox News over what it said were “unacceptable” comments one of the channel’s presenters made about Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly described Putin as “a killer” in the interview with Trump as he tried to press the U.S. president to explain more fully why he respected his Russian counterpart. O’Reilly did not say who he thought Putin had killed.

“We consider such words from the Fox TV company to be unacceptable and insulting, and honestly speaking, we would prefer to get an apology from such a respected TV company,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Fox News and O’Reilly did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Trump’s views on Putin are closely scrutinized in the United States where U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of having sponsored computer hacking to help Trump win office, and critics say he is too complimentary about the Russian leader.

Trump, when commenting on the allegations against Putin in the same interview, questioned how “innocent” the United States itself was, saying it had made a lot of its own mistakes. That irritated some Congressional Republicans who said there was no comparison between how Russian and U.S. politicians behaved.

Putin, in his 17th year of dominating the Russian political landscape, is accused by some Kremlin critics of ordering the killing of opponents. Putin and the Kremlin have repeatedly rejected those allegations as politically-motivated and false.

Trump, who has said he wants to try to mend battered U.S.-Russia ties and hopes he can get along with Putin, was asked a question about some of those allegations by Fox Business before he won the White House.

In January last year, after a British judge ruled that Putin had “probably” authorized the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, Trump said he saw no evidence the Russian president was guilty.

“First of all, he says he didn’t do it. Many people say it wasn’t him. So who knows who did it?” Trump said.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

IMAGE: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference after a meeting with his Moldovan counterpart Igor Dodon at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool

U.S. Tech Firms File Legal Brief Opposing Trump’s Travel Ban

(Reuters) – Nearly 100 companies, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, banded together on Sunday to file a legal brief opposing President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban, arguing that it “inflicts significant harm on American business.”

The brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, included Facebook, Twitter, Intel, eBay, Netflix, and Uber, as well as non-tech companies such as Levi Strauss and Chobani.

Trump’s executive order of Jan. 27, the most contentious policy move of his first two weeks in office, faces crucial legal hurdles. A federal judge in Seattle on Friday blocked the move, and the Trump administration has a deadline on Monday to justify the action, which temporarily barred entry to the United States by people from seven mostly Muslim countries, as well as suspending the U.S. refugee program.

“The Order represents a significant departure from the principles of fairness and predictability that have governed the immigration system of the United States for more than fifty years,” the brief from the companies stated.

“The Order inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth as a result,” it added.

“Immigrants or their children founded more than 200 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list.”

U.S. tech companies, which employ many foreign-born nationals, have been among the most vocal groups in speaking out against Trump’s travel order, which he has defended as necessary to ensure closer vetting of people coming into the country and better protect the country from the threat of terrorist attacks.

Amazon.com and Expedia, both based in Washington state, had supported the Seattle lawsuit, asserting that the travel restrictions harmed their businesses.

Over the weekend, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied the Trump administration’s request for an immediate stay of the federal judge’s temporary restraining order that blocked nationwide the implementation of key parts of the travel ban.

But the court said it would reconsider the government’s request after receiving more information.

The government has until 3 p.m. PST on Monday to submit additional legal briefs to the appeals court in support of Trump’s executive order. Following that, the court is expected to act quickly, and a decision either way may ultimately result in the case reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: People hold protest signs during Friday prayers to show solidarity with the Muslim community at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles, California, U.S. February 3, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

U.S. Watchdog Agency To Review Implementation Of Trump Travel Ban

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A watchdog agency at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it is planning to review how President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order to temporarily suspend travel from seven majority-Muslim nations was implemented.

The review of Friday’s order was being planned “in response to congressional request and whistleblower and hotline complaints,” the DHS’s Office of Inspector General said in a statement late Wednesday.

The watchdog agency would also look at “DHS’ adherence to court orders and allegations of individual misconduct on the part of DHS personnel,” the statement said. “If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.”

The order triggered widespread protests and caused confusion for travelers around the world.

It also spurred several legal challenges, in particular over the initial detention or barring from flights of legal permanent residents who hold U.S. green cards.

The department does not comment on investigations by the Office of the Inspector General.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said on Tuesday that no member of the Homeland Security team knowingly or intentionally ignored a court order and that the department was in compliance with judicial orders on immigration.

In California, a federal judge in Los Angeles on Tuesday ruled that Trump’s administration must allow immigrants with initial clearance for legal residency to enter the United States despite the ban.

Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Washington state have also challenged the order.

The Trump administration has defended the order as critical to U.S. national security.

On Sunday, the Homeland Security Department said green card holders would be allowed on U.S.-bound planes and assessed upon arrival. The White House said on Wednesday it had issued updated guidance making clear green card holders would not need a waiver to enter the United States.

The OIG statement said it would provide a final report to Kelly, the U.S. Congress and the public after its review but didn’t say how long the review would take.

Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives planned a forum on Wednesday to discuss Trump’s order on refugees and immigration order.

The Department of Homeland Security includes the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Susan Heavey and Bernadette Baum)

IMAGE: Police block a security check point inside Terminal 4 at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kate Munsch