EPA Chiefs $50-a-Night Rental Raises White House Angst

  • Pruitt apartment questions follow first-class flight reports
  • Washington lease is compared to an Airbnb-style arrangement

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt leased a Washington apartment owned by a lobbyist friend last year under terms that allowed him to pay $50 a night for a single bedroom — but only on the nights when he actually slept there.

White House officials are growing dismayed about the questions surrounding Pruitt’s living arrangement, including his initial inability to produce any documentation about the lease or his actual payments, according to three officials. The landlord provided EPA officials with a copy of the lease and proof of the payments Pruitt made.

In all, Pruitt paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months, according to copies of rental checks reviewed by Bloomberg News. Those checks show varying amounts paid on sporadic dates — not a traditional monthly "rent payment" of the same amount each month.

That was because of the unusual rent schedule — not a single monthly amount, but a daily amount charged only for days used for a single bedroom in the two-bedroom unit just blocks from the Capitol. The building is at least partially owned by a health care lobbyist, Vicki Hart, via a limited liability corporation. Her husband J. Steven Hart, is also a lobbyist, whose firm represents clients in industries regulated by the EPA.

One person familiar with the lease compared it to an Airbnb-style arrangement, but Pruitt wasn’t a transient and instead made the apartment his home on nights he was in Washington. The lease — also reviewed by Bloomberg — says that he was charged $50 a night "based on days of actual occupancy."

Six Canceled Checks

Bloomberg reviewed six canceled checks paid by Pruitt totaling $6,100 from March 18 through Sept 1, 2017. He paid $450 on March 18, $900 on April 26, $850 on May 15, $700 on June 4, $1,500 on July 22 and $1,700 on Sept 1.

A sampling of current listings of apartments for rent near Pruitt’s temporary pad showed studio and one-bedroom offerings available for $1,350 to $1,975 a month. Some of the current Airbnb listings for rentals of single bedrooms inside apartments and homes on Capitol Hill ranged from $45 to $68 per night.

Justina Fugh, who has been ethics counsel at the EPA for a dozen years, said the arrangement wasn’t an ethics issue because Pruitt paid rent. An aide said the agency had not reviewed the arrangement in advance.

Pruitt’s Payments

The payments covered Pruitt’s room in the two-bedroom unit, but did not afford him liberal use of common areas, where the owners had dinner parties and other functions, according to a person familiar with the situation. According to the lease agreement, Pruitt’s bedroom could not be locked.

ABC reported Friday that Pruitt’s college-age daughter used another room in the condo while serving as a White House intern. An email to agency representatives seeking comment on the report were not immediately returned.

After ABC News reported the living arrangement on Thursday, EPA aides had to seek documentation from the building’s owners to prove he had paid rent, raising concerns at the White House, said two of the people, who asked not to be named discussing a sensitive matter involving a Cabinet secretary. Pruitt was in Wyoming on Thursday.

Related: Bumped? EPA Chief Signals He Will Be Flying Coach After Backlash

The disclosure follows revelations about Pruitt’s reliance on first-class flights to travel around the globe and a series of pricey trips, including a visit by Pruitt and agency staff to Italy that cost $120,249. EPA officials have defended Pruitt’s use of first-class flights on security grounds, but after a series of reports, he shifted to coach.

J. Steven Hart is the chairman of Williams & Jensen, a firm with a stable of energy industry clients including Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., which paid the firm $400,000 in 2017, according to data compiled from the Environmental Integrity Project from disclosure forms.

Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, has been an enthusiastic crusader against Obama-era regulations meant to combat climate change and limit air pollution. When Pruitt was in Oklahoma, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times.  

Hart’s individual lobbying clients include liquefied natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy Inc.
Pruitt traveled to Morocco to tout U.S. liquefied natural gas last December, though the Department of Energy — not the EPA — plays the major federal role overseeing LNG exports. It is not clear Hart had direct contact with the EPA on behalf of any of his lobbying clients in 2017, according to a Bloomberg News review of disclosures.

Other individual clients of his are the American Automotive Policy Council and Smithfield Foods Inc.

Hart, in a statement to the Associated Press, described Pruitt as a friend from Oklahoma with whom he had scant contact.

“Pruitt signed a market based, short-term lease for a condo owned partially by my wife,” Hart said in a statement. “Pruitt paid all rent owed as agreed to in the lease. My wife does not, and has not ever lobbied the EPA on any matters."

Critics said the unorthodox rental arrangement allowing Pruitt exclusive, reserved use of the room raised questions and could violate a ban on federal government employees accepting gifts valued at more than $20.

“At the very least, it doesn’t look good for the administrator of EPA to have rented an apartment from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist who represents companies regulated by EPA," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

The government watchdog group Public Citizen asked EPA’s inspector general to investigate.

"This appears to be a gift from a lobbyist to the EPA administrator," Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said in a news release. "Scott Pruitt seems to be renting at well below market value – from a family member of a lobbyist who has business before the EPA."

Messages left with the Inspector General’s office weren’t immediately returned on Friday.

Fugh, the EPA’s ethics counsel, said no gift was involved. It was a routine business arrangement between Pruitt and an individual, not a lobbying firm, she added.

"He paid a fair price for what amounts to just a room,” Fugh said. “So I don’t even think that the fact that the house is owned by a person whose job is to be a lobbyist causes us concern.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-30/epa-chief-s-50-a-night-rental-said-to-raise-white-house-angst

Sensible Gun Reform: Florida Will Now Require Anyone Carrying Out A School Shooting To Be Accompanied By A Therapist To Ensure Theyre Not Mentally Ill

Sadly, many students and teachers in America today live in constant fear that their school could someday be attacked by a deranged gunman. But after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida lawmakers have finally stepped up to pass legislation that will protect students in their state from experiencing a similar nightmare: Florida is now requiring anyone carrying out a school shooting to be accompanied by a therapist to ensure they’re not mentally ill.

Thank God. With this regulation in place, the possibility of a troubled person using a gun to carry out horrific violence will no longer be a daily concern for Florida’s schoolchildren.

According to the new gun safety regulations, anyone who opens fire on students, teachers, or staff at a Florida school must now be chaperoned by a licensed counselor, who will periodically administer an array of verbal and visual tests to the shooter to confirm that he or she is not experiencing symptoms of any psychiatric disorder recognized by the DSM-5 for the duration of the armed rampage. The therapist accompanying the shooter will be required by law to stay at his side for the duration of the attack and to monitor him from the moment he opens fire on his classmates and teachers to the moment he turns his gun on his final victim.

If at any point while firing on their classmates, the active shooter exhibits symptoms of psychosis, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or any other form of mental illness, the therapist will be legally obligated to report the ongoing massacre to both local police and the FBI, who will begin taking steps to neutralize the situation and to ensure the unstable shooter no longer has access to firearms.

Well done, Florida. This is commonsense gun reform at its best.

“We all know how dangerous it can be if a mentally ill person gets their hands on a firearm, so from now on, we will do everything we can to make sure any Florida resident who decides to use a gun to murder children inside a school is of sound mind,” explained Florida Governor Rick Scott. “We are confident that having mental health professionals present for all future school shootings will help us ensure that anyone carrying out a school shooting in the future is able to pass a psychiatric background check.”

This is incredible news. After the horrifying bloodshed of the Parkland shooting, it’s inspiring to see government officials work so hard to give students and parents some much-needed peace of mind. In a country where gun violence has become an epidemic, this is the kind of sensible problem-solving we need. Let’s hope this legislation finds its way to other states to help keep American children safe from the unhinged people who could potentially hurt them.

Read more: http://www.clickhole.com/article/sensible-gun-reform-florida-will-now-require-anyon-7446

Stephen Miller falls asleep during Trump conference on school safety

Stephen Miller nods off during Trump speech about school safety.
Image: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Between frothing about “cosmopolitans” or getting escorted out of CNN by security, it’s rare to capture Senior White House policy advisor Stephen Miller in a humanlike moment.

We take what we can. Like today for example, when Jim Lo Scalzo from EPA photos captured Miller asleep during President Trump’s wildly delusional over-an-hour-long briefing on school shootings.

I strongly encourage the Pulitzer committee or at least my mom to take a look at this person’s fine work. 

Image: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

I can correctly blame Miller for the downfall of our nation, but I can’t quite penalize him for falling asleep during Trump’s speech, which was particularly divorced from reality today.

Image: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Perhaps these quotes triggered the poor snowflake into sleep.

“We lose a lot with Canada.  People don’t know it.  Canada is very smooth.  They have you believe that it’s wonderful.  And it is — for them.  Not wonderful for us; it’s wonderful for them.  So we have to start showing that we know what we’re doing.”

“So we have to confront the issue, and we have to discuss mental health, and we have to do something about it. You know, in the old days, we had mental institutions. We had a lot of them, and you could nab somebody like this. Because, you know, they did — they knew he was — something was off.  You had to know that.”

Here’s what Twitter had to say.

Of course, Miller can in no way match Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s infamous nap during the State of the Union when she got a little white wine drunk.

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/26/stephen-miller-nap-trump-school-safety/

Trump offers a big thumbs up to school shooting victims instead of gun control

Trump flashes a thumbs up before boarding Marine One, destined for Florida where he will meet with victims and first responders after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

On Friday, President Donald Trump visited Parkland, Florida in the wake of a school shooting in a high school that left 17 people dead. But Trump has faced criticism over the way he carried himself during that visit.

After an awkward meeting with first responders, the president and first lady Melania Trump stood together for a friendly photo op, which in itself seems insensitive. Trump had a huge smile on his face in the photo, and flashed his now signature thumbs up.

Trump updated his Twitter cover photo with the picture from the meeting Friday evening.

Image: Twitter/Realdonaldtrump

Trump also visited Broward Health North hospital in Pompano Beach, where many of the victims received care after the shooting. On his official Instagram, a series of images posted in an album featured Trump wearing a large smile on his face, flashing a thumbs up in a photo with hospital staff.

The press asked Trump if he met with any victims at the hospital. Instead of speaking about the impact those meetings may have had on him as a president, as a human, Trump decided to fluff up the hospital.

“Fantastic hospital, and they have done an incredible job,” Trump boasted. “The doctor was amazing, we saw numerous people and incredible recovery. And first responders — everybody — the job they’ve done was in incredible.”

Trump then congratulated a doctor he was standing next to.

While yes, first responders and hospital staff should be thanked and praised for their hard work in wake of the shooting, congratulations here are completely tone deaf considering 17 people lost their lives in the attack. 

In any other presidency, this would be a time for mourning. But Trump is using it to boast and brag. 

Many were quick to criticize Trump for his demeanor on social media, with some pointing to Barack Obama’s reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre in December of 2012. In 2016, Obama also delivered a powerful and emotional speech on gun violence, in which he broke down crying

Obama’s official White House photographer, Pete Souza, who has made it his duty to criticize the Trump administration by way of his photography from the Obama era, uploaded a photo of Obama sitting alone in a classroom in Sandy Hook Elementary School. It captures the former president in a quiet moment after he met with families for hours, and before he attended a prayer vigil. 

While it often seems like President Trump’s actions couldn’t be more shocking, this type of behavior is disgusting, and the heavy criticism is merited. There’s a time for photo ops, and then there is time for mourning. This was not the moment for Trump to show off how great he’s making America.

America has a real problem, and Trump isn’t even trying to fake it.

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/17/donald-trump-parkland-smiling-thumbs-up-obama/

Donald Trump thinks not clapping for him is ‘treasonous’

(CNN)President Donald Trump wasn’t — and, apparently, still isn’t — happy that Democrats in Congress didn’t stand to applaud him in his State of the Union address last week.

“They were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.”
So, here we are. Again.
    Let’s quickly define “treason,” shall we?
    “The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family.”
    Trump loyalists will dismiss all of this as much ado over nothing. He was joking! He didn’t even say that it was treasonous! He was just agreeing with people who said it was treasonous!
    Fine. Also, wrong. And missing the point in a major way.
    The point? It’s this: Not standing during applause lines for the State of the Union isn’t treasonous or un-American. Not even close.
    If it was, all of the Republicans in that chamber are treasonous and un-American as well because when former President Barack Obama would tout his accomplishments in office — as Trump was doing last Tuesday night — lots and lots of Republican legislators would sit on their hands while the Democratic side of the aisle erupted in cheers. And so on and so forth for every president before him (and after).
    Then there is the fact that the specific “treasonous” instance Trump was referring to had to do with his touting of historically low African-American unemployment — a bit of a cherry-picked fact based off of a single month’s economic report. By the time the new report for January came out last Friday, black unemployment had ticked up almost a point and was no longer close to a historic low.
    Treason is Benedict Arnold. (Side bar: Read Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Valiant Ambition” about Arnold and George Washington.) Treason isn’t refusing to applaud when the President of the United States thinks you should.
    Like with many things Trump says or tweets, there’s a natural tendency to just shrug it off. To do that, however, is to miss something very important — and concerning — at work here.
    What Trump is saying is that dissent — which is what Democrats are doing when they choose not to clap for a line in his speech — is traitorous and/or un-American. That if these non-clappers really loved the country, they would be applauding when he touted how low black unemployment had dipped under his tenure.
    If you think that’s totally OK, flip the script. Put a Democratic president in office. And have him or her chastise Republicans as treasonous because they didn’t applaud for the fact that something close to universal health care has been achieved. Would that be a reasonable charge? Or is it possible that while Republicans agree that more people having health insurance is a good thing, they fundamentally disagree with the way in which it was implemented?
    You don’t have to imagine it. Because that’s what happened during several of President Obama’s State of the Union addresses. Except that Obama never suggested those non-clapping Republicans didn’t love America.
    Even the suggestion of criminalizing dissent should send a chill down the spine of anyone who counts themselves as a fan of democracy. The right to dissent — without fear of retribution — sits at the heart of what differentiates America from authoritarian countries around the world.
    When you have a president float the idea that not clapping at moments when he believes clapping is appropriate sends a very powerful message to the country about how we do (and should) deal with those who disagree with us. And that goes for whether he was “joking” or not.
    It’s a very bad message — no matter whether you agree with Trump or not.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2018/02/05/politics/trump-speech-treason/index.html

    #2020Vision: Shutdown politics; Harris vs. Booker in a clash of styles; Biden gets good polling news

    Washington (CNN)Our weekly roundup of the news, notes and chatter about the prospects for the next Democratic presidential race, from Eric Bradner, Greg Krieg and Caroline Kenny:

    A government shutdown is looming — and the Democratic senators seen as 2020 contenders all seem comfortable with it.
    California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and others all said they’ll oppose a funding measure that does not settle the fate of those who could face deportation after President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
      “Republicans control the House, Senate and White House,” Sanders said. “They have to pass an annual budget, not more one-month continuing resolutions.”
      “Why are we kicking the can down the road?” Booker said.
      Worth remembering: Harris has the most on the line. She was the first Senate Democrat to publicly declare she’d oppose any government funding bill unless Congress took action on the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a position now held by the vast majority of Democrats. It’s made her a hero among immigration activists, and it’s smart politics with both California voters and the 2020 primary electorate — but it could also make her a target for blame if a protracted shutdown hurts Democrats politically.

      News and notes:

      BIDEN’S TRAVEL SCHEDULE: Former Vice President Joe Biden is headed January 29 to Miami. He’ll appear at a fundraiser for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is up for re-election and waiting to see whether Republican Gov. Rick Scott will get in the race against him.
      — Biden also booked a trip to Montana. He’ll keynote the Montana Democratic Party’s annual Mansfield-Metcalfe Dinner in Helena on March 10. It’s a major event for the state party — and a clear stop on the 2020 trail. Last year’s speaker was Cory Booker. (The “Mansfield” here is Mike Mansfield, who was Senate majority leader when Biden first took office in 1973. For a glimpse at their relationship, these comments from Biden on how Mansfield taught him to get over his animosity for Jesse Helms are really worth a read.)
      — Biden also lent his name to a fundraising email from James Smith, a Democrat running for South Carolina governor. Smith’s primary opponent, Phil Noble, just picked up an endorsement from the Biden-backed new Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.
      HARRIS VS. BOOKER: The contrasting styles of California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker — who were just recently appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee — were on display as the two questioned Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen in a hearing this week. US News’ Dave Catanese points out that Harris, the former California attorney general, asked 23 probing questions in her 10 minutes, forcing Nielsen into some uncomfortable admissions. Booker, meanwhile, asked just two questions but delivered impassioned remarks, saying he had “tears of rage” when he heard about President Donald Trump’s remarks insulting African countries.
      — Harris is making a trip to Michigan in April. She’ll be the state Democratic Party’s guest speaker at its Legacy Dinner on April 14 — an event focused this year on women in politics. Viewed through the lens of 2020, this line from the state party’s release, from executive director Lavora Barnes, is interesting: “No longer is it the sole priority of women in positions of power to blaze a trail for the next generation. It is also our responsibility to expect, seek, and demand the power of these positions by running, winning, and leading according to no tradition or expectation other than our own.”
      — With all the buzz about Harris as a 2020 prospect, African-American Democrats aren’t sure what to do with the latest speculation about Oprah Winfrey. Per BuzzFeed’s Darren Sands, some African-American Democratic groups had already been pitching Harris to donors as the African-American female candidate to watch — so bringing Oprah into the equation throws them for a loop. As one Democratic strategist told BuzzFeed, “They don’t want to step on Kamala’s toes.”
      SANDERS GROUP PICKS A HORSE IN IOWA: Iowa Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Cathy Glasson has spent the better part of her campaign courting the Sanders loyalists in her state. On Thursday, it paid off. Our Revolution, the political organization spun out of Sanders’ 2016 campaign, endorsed Glasson in the hotly contested Hawkeye State Democratic primary.
      The decision wasn’t much of a surprise. Glasson is an Iowa City-based nurse and Service Employees International Union Local 199 president. The union, which backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, is now on board with Sanders, and has donated $1.8 million to Glasson’s campaign, most of it coming in December 2017. Her campaign also revealed that it was hitting the Des Moines TV market this week with a six-figure buy.
      To watch: Primary candidates need 35% to win outright, no given in a tight, seven-person race like this one. If no one crosses the bar, the nominee would be decided at the state convention — setting the stage for a nasty fight for the right to challenge GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds.
      GARCETTI TO THE PALMETTO STATE: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will head to Columbia, South Carolina, next month, according to The Sacramento Bee’s Christopher Cadelago. His visit to the capital city of the early primary state will be for his nonprofit organization focused with other mayors and business leaders on “innovation investments.” Garcetti’s nonprofit, called Accelerator for America, held its first meeting in South Bend, Indiana — home of Pete Buttigieg — in November. Garcetti has already visited other early primary states including New Hampshire and Nevada in recent months.
      WARREN TO CO-CHAIR WOMEN’S MARCH EVENT: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will serve as an honorary co-chair of the Women’s March “Power to the Polls” campaign alongside civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. The campaign is launching in Las Vegas this weekend on the one-year anniversary of last year’s Women’s March. The goal of the initiative will be to register 1 million voters. Warren will not be in attendance but will be featured in a video message that will be played during the event.
      Kamala Harris will attend the Women’s March in Los Angeles. She’ll also speak at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Breakfast.
      HEY, JOE! NEW POLL NUMBERS BUMP BIDEN: Quinnipiac put out a new poll this week with some telling takeaways on Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, former Vice President Joe Biden — and Oprah! Here are four quick takeaways:
      — All four are well above water on the favorable-unfavorable front: Sanders is at 76-11 with Democrats and 48-38 with all voters; Gillibrand is at 25-5 with Democrats and 14-11 with all voters; Oprah Winfrey is at 69-13 with Democrats, 47-33 with all voters; Biden leads the pack with a 78-6 spread among Democrats and and is 53-29 with all voters.
      — Only Biden scores well with a key part of Trump’s base — whites without college degrees: Sanders is at 35-51; Gillibrand is at 8-12; Biden just barely makes the grade, at 42-39.
      — But would you be “inclined” to vote for them? That was a separate question. And for good reason, apparently, because it yielded one weird stat: Among Democrats, it’s a YES for Biden (75-16) and Sanders (66-27). The numbers there track pretty closely with overall approval. But that does not hold for Gillibrand. She gets a NO (24-37) from her own party’s voters.
      — Black voters undecided: Biden (73-6) actually scores better on the favorability scale with black voters than Winfrey (70-15). And Sanders (70-10), breaking against the narrative about his supporters, receives similarly high marks from black voters. Gillibrand (13-8) is working from solid ground, but again, is still mostly an unknown on the national scene.

      View from the right:

      TRUMP’S TAKE ON 2020: According to a new dispatch from Politico’s Annie Karni, President Donald Trump is both unworried about his re-election prospects — and constantly talking about who’s going to run against him. From Karni’s report: “He’s always asking people, ‘Who do you think is going to run against me?’ ” said the Republican who heard the president’s assessment in December. Despite a bumpy first year and historically low approval ratings, this Trump ally said: ‘I don’t think he sees anyone, right now, being a serious competitor.’ ”
      Additional takes: Trump thinks Bernie Sanders, at 76, is going to decide he’s too old to run. Trump thinks Elizabeth Warren would be “easy to beat.” Trump does not think Cory Booker will get in the race. Trump doesn’t seem to know who Kamala Harris is … yet.
      The word from “Trumpworld” is more colorful. Here’s the money quote from a “former White House staffer”: “What we can’t let voters do is think they can get the same policies with someone they like better, like Joe Biden — someone who would fight for them but who doesn’t have the crass edge. I hope CNN has Kirsten Gillibrand on every minute of every day. Love it. Bring it. She’s easy to destroy. If you’re the president, or the RNC, you’re more worried about someone who looks like Biden — someone who has more mainstream appeal, who blue-collar workers could identify with.”

      Before you go:

      Anxiety is high in California — now a Super Tuesday primary state — over the immigration politics on Capitol Hill. … New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s re-election war chest is stocked with an eye-popping $30 million. … NJ.com sees seven signs Cory Booker is thinking about running for president in 2020.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/19/politics/2020-vision-shutdown-politics/index.html

      Trump: I’m a ‘very stable genius’

      Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump slammed reports questioning his mental stability in a series of tweets Saturday morning, writing he’s a “very stable genius” after the publication of an expos about his first year as President put the White House into damage-control mode.

      “Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence … ” Trump wrote, referring to questions raised about the mental fitness of the former President, who disclosed in 1994 that he had Alzheimer’s disease.
      “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” the President continued. “Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star … to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!”
        After his tweets Saturday morning, Trump told reporters at Camp David that Wolff is a “fraud” who doesn’t know him.
        “I went to the best colleges, or college,” he told reporters. “I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out and made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top business people, went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard, ran for President one time and won. Then I hear this guy that doesn’t know me at all, by the way, didn’t interview me, said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House. Didn’t exist, it’s in his imagination.”
        Trump continued: “I never interviewed with him in the White House at all; he was never in the Oval Office.”
        Wolff told “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie on Friday that he “absolutely spoke to the President” while working on “Fire and Fury.”
        “Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record,” Wolff said. “I’ve spent about three hours with the President over the course of the campaign, and in the White House. So, my window into Donald Trump is pretty significant.”
        The remarkable spectacle of Trump defending his mental stability comes after the President and some of his top officials spent the last few days countering claims in author Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury,” about Trump’s mental fitness to serve as President. The book, which went on sale Friday, also paints the picture of a President who neither knows nor cares about policy and doesn’t seem to perceive the vast responsibilities of his role.
        CNN has not independently confirmed all of Wolff’s assertions.
        Trump’s tweets also come after reports surfaced that a dozen lawmakers from the House and Senate received a briefing from Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy X. Lee on Capitol Hill in early December about Trump’s fitness to be president.
        “Lawmakers were saying they have been very concerned about this, the President’s dangerousness, the dangers that his mental instability poses on the nation,” Lee told CNN in a phone interview Thursday, “They know the concern is universal among Democrats, but it really depends on Republicans, they said. Some knew of Republicans that were concerned, maybe equally concerned, but whether they would act on those concerns was their worry.”
        The briefing was previously reported by Politico. Lee, confirming the December 5 and 6 meeting to CNN, said that the group was evenly mixed, with House and Senate lawmakers, and included at least one Republican — a senator, whom she would not name.
        Lee’s public comments are highly unusual given protocols from medical professional organizations — including the 37,000-member American Psychiatric Association — banning psychiatrists from diagnosing patients without a formal examination.
        The White House has taken issue with the claims in Wolff’s book since excerpts of it began to surface online ahead of its publication, with press secretary Sarah Sanders calling it “complete fantasy” and an attorney for Trump sending a “cease and desist” threat to the book’s author and publisher.
        Trump issued a scathing statement on his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, saying he had “lost his mind” after the book quoted Bannon making negative remarks about Trump and son Donald Trump Jr.
        The book quoted Bannon as calling a June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and the President’s eldest son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
        Bannon also reportedly told Wolff: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
        Trump lit into Bannon in a tweet Friday night, saying he “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.”
        “Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book,” Trump wrote. “He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”
        Wolff reiterated his belief that it is becoming a widespread view that Trump is unfit for presidency, telling BBC Radio in an interview overnight that it’s a “very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect.”
        “The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said in the interview. “Suddenly everywhere people are going, ‘Oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.”
        Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CNN in an exclusive interview on Friday he’s never questioned Trump’s mental fitness, despite reports he once called Trump a “moron.”
        “I’ve never questioned his mental fitness,” Tillerson told CNN’s Elise Labott. “I have no reason to question his mental fitness.”

        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/06/politics/donald-trump-white-house-fitness-very-stable-genius/index.html

        Sessions Ending Obama-Era Policy That Ushered In Legal Weed

        Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding an Obama-era policy that helped states legalize recreational marijuana, throwing a wet blanket on the fledgling industry during what could have been a celebratory week.

        The Justice Department will reverse the so-called Cole and Ogden memos that set out guardrails for federal prosecution of cannabis and allowed legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the U.S., according to two senior agency officials. U.S. attorneys in states where pot is legal will now be able prosecute cases where they see fit, according to the officials, who requested anonymity discussing internal policy.

        Shares of pot companies plunged as news of the policy change surfaced, though many began to rebound after investors weighed the potential impact.

        The change comes at a high point for the weed industry. California, the biggest U.S. state and sixth-largest economy in the world, launched its legal marketplace on Jan. 1. Sales in California alone are expected to reach $3.7 billion in 2018, according to estimates from BDS Analytics. 

        Seven other states and the District of Columbia have also legalized cannabis for adult use. Twenty-one additional states have voted to allow the plant to be used for medicinal purposes. The market is expected to skyrocket from $6 billion in 2016 to $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.

        Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, has long been opposed to marijuana, equating it with heroin. But this is the first action he’s taken that deviates significantly from the Obama administration. Many in the industry said the news is unsurprising but disappointing.

        “While dismantling the industry will prove impossible, the move by Sessions will sow more seeds of uncertainty in an industry that already has its fair share of risks and unknowns,” said Chris Walsh, vice president of Marijuana Business Daily. “Businesses could be in for a bumpy ride amid this uncertainty, and we certainly could see some types of regional crackdowns or delays in upcoming medical or recreational cannabis markets.”

        Shares Plummet

        The Bloomberg Intelligence Global Cannabis Competitive Peers Index dropped as much as 24 percent after the Associated Press first reported the Justice Department plan. Most companies in that group are small. Still, there are a few big names that could be hit by the changing policy. 

        Constellation Brands Inc., which sells Corona beer and Svedka vodka in the U.S., got involved in the cannabis industry in October when it acquired a minority investment in Canopy Growth, a Canadian marijuana company. Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has also made its way into the Green Rush. It fell as much as 5.7 percent after the news, the biggest intraday drop since May. 

        A tightening of enforcement also would be felt in Canada, where the cannabis industry has blossomed. Ontario’s Canopy Growth fell as much as 19 percent to C$29.06 in Toronto, while Aphria Inc. plunged as much as 23 percent to C$16.59. ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF, the first pure-play pot ETF to be listed in the U.S., dropped as much as 9.7 percent, the biggest intraday decline since May.

        Fear and Doubt

        Sessions’s policy may cause investors to think twice before putting their money into the Green Rush, according to Adrian Sedlin, founder of Canndescent, a marijuana cultivation and branded-flower company.

        “Fear, uncertainty and doubt will rip through our industry like a California wildfire because of this,” he said. “Whatever happens longterm, this will retard and limit capital flows into the industry for the foreseeable future.”

        The move is likely to sow confusion among consumers and state officials, and may spark a backlash if state-approved retailers are prosecuted. Sixty-four percent of the U.S. population now wants to make pot legal, according to a Gallup poll released in October.

        But it’s too late to stop the industry from growing, said Laura Bianchi, a partner and director of cannabis, business and corporate transactions and estate planning at Rose Law Group in Scottsdale, Arizona.

        “To undo this industry would be like closing Pandora’s box once it’s been opened,” she said. “It would be a Herculean effort that would undermine another Republican cornerstone, which is the importance of states’ rights.”

        Senators React

        Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, where marijuana is legal, said in a tweet that Sessions’s move contradicts what he told the senator before his confirmation.

        “I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me,” Gardner said.

        Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said Sessions’s actions are an affront to medical patients who need to use the plant as medicine. 

        “Parents should be able to give their sick kids the medicine they need without having to fear that they will be prosecuted,” she said in a statement. “This is about public health, and it’s about reforming our broken criminal justice system that throws too many minorities in prison for completely nonviolent offenses.”

        Still, the federal policy change may not actually hurt business much at all. Entrepreneurs starting marijuana businesses have already been working under risky circumstances. The plant has remained federally illegal, meaning most large companies — including banks — have shied away. Instead, the business has relied on state regulators, many of whom previously said they would defend the industry through any federal crackdown. 

        “We’re not overly concerned that a change in DOJ policy around cannabis will be meaningfully disruptive to legal adult use cannabis states, given the vocal support offered by these state-level AG’s,” said Vivien Azer, a Cowen & Co. analyst who covers the industry.

          Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-04/sessions-said-to-kill-obama-policy-that-ushered-in-legal-weed

          What Joe Biden’s Anita Hill apology tells us about his 2020 plans

          (CNN)The biggest tell to date of Joe Biden’s 2020 plans came this week, when he apologized to Anita Hill.

          Hill, you will remember, worked for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas when they were both at the Department of Education. During Thomas’ 1991 confirmation hearings, Hill alleged that he had sexually harassed her. She came under withering criticism from the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, which Biden chaired at the time.
          Biden, as the years have passed, has been widely perceived as doing too little to defend Hill in that hearing. The optics of a committee of all white men questioning Hill, who is African-American, also aged poorly.
            Amid the growing #metoo movement — and the series of politicians who have either resigned or lost races while battling allegations of sexual harassment — Biden’s past with Hill was sure to grow as an issue in the coming weeks and months.
            So he nipped it in the bud. For the second time in a month. (Last month, Biden was asked about the Thomas hearings and his role. “What I do feel badly about is the bad taste that got left in the mouth of some of the people around Anita Hill, and maybe even Anita, about whether or not the witnesses should have been called who were called and weren’t called,” he said.)
            That is not an accident. Biden, a 75-year-old white man, understands how the treatment of Hill was perceived by many women and, in light of the cultural movement around women speaking out about harassment, he is working to clear up any sort of misunderstanding or hurt feelings around it. He is clearing the decks, purging his past of anything that could be seized on by, say, a future political opponent.
            A future political opponent like, say, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has emerged as the leading voice of the #metoo movement on Capitol Hill. Gillibrand was the first senator to call for Sen. Al Franken’s resignation in the wake of a series of allegations from women that he groped and forcibly kissed them. And she is very much looking at running for president in 2020.
            So, too, is Biden. Witness this quote from his appearance on “The View” earlier this week:
            “If I were offered the nomination by the Lord Almighty right now, today, I would say no because we’re not ready, the family’s not ready to do this. If, in a year from now, if we’re ready, and nobody has moved in that I think can do it, then I may very well do it.”
            That’s not a “no.” Heck, it’s not even a “maybe.” It’s basically a “yes … probably.” Biden’s caveat — “nobody has moved in that I think can do it” — is the tell. He’s a politician. Who was a senator at 30. A two-time presidential candidate. And a two-term vice president. Looking at that résumé, do you really think he is going to conclude that anyone who decides to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020 is really more qualified to do the job than he is?
            None of that is to say that Biden is a lock for the race. He, more than almost anyone, knows the role that fate — and unexpected events — can play in a life, having lost his eldest son, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015.
            “I’m a great respecter of fate, but who knows what the situation is going to be in a year and a half?,” Biden told the “Today” show last month. “I don’t have any idea. I’m in good health now, I’m in good shape … but I just don’t know. Honest to God, that’s the truth.”
            What Biden is doing right now — with the Hill apology as the leading edge — is not (yet) running for president, but preparing to decide to run for president.
            To undertake such a gargantuan endeavor — and, remember that Biden’s two past presidential bids make him uniquely able to understand the challenges of a national campaign — is something that requires years’ worth of planning, plotting and thinking.
            Think of it this way: Running for president is like an iceberg. The part that you see above the water is the time from the announcement of the bid to its end — whether in victory or defeat. But that visible part is only a tiny fraction of the entirety of the actual iceberg that is floating below the surface. What Biden is doing right now is well under the water line — checking for cracks, shoring up weak spots and the like.
            If he runs, Biden almost certainly is the race’s Democratic front-runner — given his universal name recognition, his close relationship with Barack Obama (and the Obama political and money networks) and his personal story.
            But a Biden candidacy doesn’t clear the Democratic field. Not even close. With President Donald Trump’s approval ratings already in the mid-to-low 30s, there will be a loooooong line of ambitious Democrats who see the party nomination as a near sure-thing into the White House.
            And almost everyone in that 2020 Democratic race will be a fresher — and younger — face than Biden. What he cannot do is allow himself to be defined as a voice from the past before the race even begins. He knows that — hence the Hill apology.
            Make no mistake: Joe Biden is getting ready. And, given that, the expectation should be that he will run in 2020.

            Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/15/politics/joe-biden-analysis/index.html

            Poland Risks Being the EUs Rogue State

            Behind the noise of Brexit negotiations, the talk in the European Union this year has been that there’s potentially a bigger problem in the east. And the prospect of another rupture looks to be increasing.

            Poland’s de facto leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, hand-picked his second prime minister in two years, opting last week for western-educated Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as he seeks to boost the economy after revamping the judicial system. He is another Kaczynski acolyte who has backed the increasingly authoritarian Law & Justice party’s push to seize more control of the courts, a plan condemned by the European Parliament and European Commission.

            The mood in Brussels is that EU institutions can no longer stand by and watch a country that’s the biggest net recipient of European aid thumb its nose without paying some sort of price. Few people are discussing Poland following Britain out of the bloc, but a protracted conflict is getting more likely.

            Mateusz Morawiecki
            Photographer: Piotr Malecki/Bloomberg

            Concerns about the shift in Poland triggered calls to limit access to EU funds for countries disrespecting the democratic rule of law. At a ministerial meeting on Nov. 15 in Brussels, the issue was raised during a discussion about the 2021-2028 budget by countries including Germany, France and the Nordic states, according to two EU officials with knowledge of the matter.

            Poland’s refusal to take in mainly Muslim refugees was referred last week to the European Court of Justice along with Hungary and the Czech Republic.

            “There is a growing feeling in Brussels that solidarity cannot be a one-way street, and that it becomes difficult to justify the 10 billion-euro per year net transfers for a country that is increasingly at odds with the bloc’s values,” said Bruno Dethomas, a senior policy adviser at GPLUS consultancy in Brussels and a former EU ambassador to Poland. “It is high time the EU reacted, or it risks losing its soul.”

            ‘Sick Europe’

            Poles are accustomed to their government stirring up nationalist fervor with blistering attacks on the EU while welcoming the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. It’s railed against taking in Muslim refugees, claimed the country has been enslaved and snapped at criticism of its power grab this year.

            But even by Kaczynski’s standards, his speech on Nov. 10 to mark Independence Day pulled no punches. It’s up to Poles to show “the sick Europe of today the path back to health, to fundamental values, to true freedom and to the strengthening of our civilization based on Christianity,” he said.

            Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the man who pulls the strings in Poland.
            Photographer: John Guillemin

            The risk for the EU is that a country that was so key to its post-Cold War political and economic integration shifts closer to becoming a rogue member under Kaczynski, 68, a critic of Poland’s deal to enter the bloc in 2004. A breakdown would undermine the European project in arguably a more symbolic way than traditionally lukewarm Britain’s pending departure.

            The cost of Kaczynski’s stance has — so far — largely been counted in lost influence within the 28-nation bloc, which lacks the unanimity needed to up the ante and strip the Polish government of its voting rights at EU summits. 

            There’s been no hit to the 229 billion euros ($270 billion) in aid granted to Poland through 2022 and used for everything from new airports to sewage pipes.

            The narrative has changed, though. French President Emmanuel Macron said last month that Poland could pay a price if it continues to defy the EU on justice. The Dutch coalition government agreement, signed in October, specifies “subsidies should be reduced for member states that do not fulfill their obligations.”

            Nationalist Forces

            The Polish Parliament, meanwhile, is finalizing legislation to revamp the Supreme Court and Judicial Council, a powerful body that chooses which judges get promoted. Passage of the bills constitutes the removal of the “last fuses” on Poland’s democracy, according to Adam Bodnar, the country’s commissioner for human rights.

            Even some Law & Justice lawmakers have questioned the legality of the court changes. “I will vote in line with my party,” Krystyna Pawlowicz told a parliamentary committee. “But this measure is a glaring contradiction to the constitution.”

            Law & Justice has built on its popularity since winning an unprecedented parliamentary majority two years ago with promises of standing up for ordinary Poles. An ongoing EU investigation into the government’s behavior has played into the party’s them-against-us rhetoric.

            Some Polish politicians have been privately telling their EU partners that if bashing the Law & Justice government doesn’t stop, Poles will turn against the EU and nationalist forces will be emboldened, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

            Kaczynski’s DNA

            On Independence Day after Kaczynski spoke the day before, the traditional march in Warsaw became a demonstration for far-right groups claiming that “Europe will be white.” The government condemned the racists, though also blamed the media of focusing on some “fringe incidents.”

            A couple hold flares as as thousands gather for the nationalist march of Poland´s Independency Day.
            Photographer: SOPA Images/LightRocket

            Historically, Kaczynski has been cool toward the EU. He backed accession in the run-up to a referendum in 2003, when 78 percent of Poles supported membership. He warned at the time entry on the conditions that Poland had negotiated was a “threat to fundamental values including independence and democracy.”

            A reduction in funds that Poland receives from the EU would help shift public opinion against the bloc, said Marcin Matczak, a law professor at Warsaw University.

            “Hostility towards the EU is part of Law & Justice’s DNA, and if it was up to the party, Poland would leave the bloc,” said Matczak. “But Kaczynski knows he can’t do that because Poles are benefiting from EU membership. Hence, the party slowly builds a negative attitude towards EU — while declaring that Poland has no intention of leaving.”

              Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-10/forget-brexit-poland-risks-being-the-eu-s-real-rogue-state