raises

Attorney General Sessions Raises Stakes for Sanctuary Cities

http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/attorney-general-sessions-raises-stakes-sanctuary-cities-n786546

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned the nation’s cities Tuesday that they will lose millions in grant money if they don’t help federal agents deport suspected undocumented immigrants held in local jails.

It was the latest move in a series of actions directed at what are known as sanctuary cities, which provide less than full cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Far from stepping down — as some thought he might, given several days of criticism from President Trump —Sessions on Tuesday announced new rules for applying for money under a federal grant program that provides roughly $250 million in crime-finding aid to states and local governments.

Related: Fact Check: No Evidence Undocumented Immigrants Commit More Crimes

To qualify for the latest round of grants, local governments must agree that they will notify the Department of Homeland Security at least 48 hours before releasing inmates from local jails when DHS has asked for advance notification about them.

And local governments must allow DHS agents to enter local jails and interview inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.

“So-called sanctuary policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said in announcing the new requirements.

“This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states. And these long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer,” he said.

The Trump administration has been at odds with many major cities over federal detainer requests, issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, asking local police and sheriff’s offices to hold jail inmates for up to 48 hours after they have completed serving their sentences. The requests apply to people here illegally who are convicted of committing local crimes and could be deported after they are released.

On Tuesday night at a campaign-style rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump called for a crackdown on sanctuary cities, declaring they should be sanctuaries “for law abiding Americans…not for criminals and gang members that we want the hell out of our country.”

He praised immigration and border patrol agents for “dismantling bloodthirsty criminal gangs,” adding that they’re “not doing it in a politically correct fashion. We’re doing it rough.”

Trump went on to paint a graphic picture of “animals” who are in the U.S. illegally and commit heinous crimes, like taking young girls and, as Trump described it, slicing and dicing them with a knife “because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die.”

In April, a federal judge in California blocked the administration from withholding current grant money from cities that resist cooperation with ICE detainer requests.

Related: Conservative Cities See ‘Sanctuary City’ Term as Scarlet Letter

The policy announced Tuesday appears to avoid the legal battle over detainers, because it does not require cities to hold jail inmates after they have served their sentences. It requires, instead, advance notice before they are released.

Sessions announced the new policy a day after Massachusetts’ highest court delivered what immigration activists called a major defeat to the Trump administration, ruling that state and local law enforcement officials don’t have the authority to detain a “removable” immigrant simply because federal authorities ask them to.

Because deportation is a civil matter, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said Monday, continuing to hold an immigrant who hasn’t been charged with a crime amounts to an illegal arrest.

“The detainers are not criminal detainers or criminal arrest warrants. They do not charge anyone with a crime, indicate that anyone has been charged with a crime, or ask that anyone be detained in order that he or she can be prosecuted for a crime,” the court found. “There is no federal statute that confers on State officers the power to make this kind of an arrest.”

Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, called the ruling, the first of its kind in the nation, “an important precedent that we are a country that upholds the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Ali Vitali reported from Youngstown, Ohio.

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In Minneapolis, Unusual Police Killing Raises an Old Outcry: Why?

MINNEAPOLIS — There was something bad going on in the alleyway behind the house, she told her fiancé on the phone, someone who sounded as if she was in distress, maybe a rape. It was past 11 p.m., and most people on Washburn Avenue were furled in their beds.

Except Justine Damond, alone at home with the noises, her anxiety creeping into the loud Las Vegas casino where her fiancé had answered the phone.

They had met five years ago, when they lived 9,000 miles apart, beginning a courtship at first halting and then headlong. Now the wedding dress was ordered, the suit bought, the invitations sent, the ceremony set for an August weekend in Hawaii. But last Saturday night, they were separated again.

Her fiancé, Don Damond, told her to call 911. They stayed on the phone until she said the police had arrived. Stay put, he told her. Call me back, he told her.

“I have played this over in my head over and over,” Mr. Damond said on Friday in his first interview since that night. “Why didn’t I stay on the phone with her?”

The events of the next few minutes will be anatomized and argued over and, maybe, at some point, contested in court. But this much is established: As the squad car she had summoned slid down the alley, Justine Damond went up to the police officers inside, one of whom, for reasons still unknown, fired his gun, hit her in the abdomen and killed her.

Even to Americans now used to dissecting police shootings, the circumstances were an odd jolt: a black Somali-American cop, firing at a white Australian woman among the garages and green compost bins of an unremarkable strip of Midwestern concrete.

In Australia, where Ms. Damond, 40, grew up, there was agony and disbelief, the prime minister voicing bafflement, the tabloids in full cry. In the United States, there were questions about the officer’s failure to turn on his body camera, about firearms procedures, and about the role race has played in how officials responded. On Friday, the Minneapolis police chief was forced to resign.

And in interviews this past week in Sydney and Minneapolis, Ms. Damond’s friends and her fiancé were trying to fill in the blanks of her final night.

A week has passed. A cardboard sign at the end of the alleyway, propped amid the flowers laid there by friends and neighbors, asks the still-unanswered question: Why?

From Silence to ‘Yes’

Ms. Damond in 2015. She grew up in Australia before moving to the United States.CreditStephen Govel, via Reuters

She was the luminous Australian in the Fulton neighborhood of Minneapolis, leading meditation sessions, scattering her communications with rainbow emojis and greeting people with, “Hello, beautiful!”

One moment her friends remember her for is the time she rescued a flock of ducklings from a street drain, descending barefoot to scoop them up. It was only last month.

At one of the talks she occasionally gave at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, Ms. Damond, again barefoot, told the story: “You’ve never lived until you’ve had eight ducklings fling themselves into your lap because they’ve realized you’re trying to help,” she said. “So beautiful!”

Born in pre-revolutionary Iran to an Australian mother and an American father who was teaching English in Tehran, Justine Ruszczyk grew up on Sydney’s North Shore with an affinity for horses, a three-legged dog named Brad and any animal she could rescue and nurse to health in her home. Her mother was a nurse midwife; her father owned a bookstore.

She studied to become a veterinarian, but disliked that so much of the job consisted of spaying animals, said Sara Baldwin, her godmother. Then, when she was 22, her mother died of cancer. In pain and confusion, she went to an ashram, emerging from a three-week silent retreat with a determination to practice a different kind of healing.

“There was a time when I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay on the planet,” she wrote on her blog in August 2014. “It took me 13 years to come to where I am now — living with a deeply connected understanding of what it means to be a spiritual being in this very physical experience, a clear and grounded understanding of how this reality around me comes into being — and to be honest it was a pretty long and painful journey at times.”

She found what she was looking for in the teachings of Dr. Joe Dispenza, a chiropractor with a wide following for his ideas about changing lives through the power of the human brain. At a meditation retreat in Colorado Springs in 2012, she met Mr. Damond, a casino manager from Minneapolis.

“Hey, I just met my future wife,” he told a friend when he returned. “The only problem is, she lives 9,000 miles away.”

They chatted on Facebook for months, but when Mr. Damond declared his feelings for her, Ms. Ruszczyk went silent for more than a year. She told friends that she did not reciprocate until, having drawn up a list of the traits she wanted in a partner, she realized Mr. Damond was a match.

They met in Maui, in Australia, in San Francisco, impatient with happiness. The day he planned to propose, standing in the Marin Headlands with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, it was cold, and she kept trying to put her hand in his coat pocket where he had the ring. He had to keep grabbing her hand to stop her from finding it before he was ready to pull it out himself.

She said yes.

Reluctantly leaving Australia, Ms. Ruszczyk, who through her father was an American citizen, moved to Minneapolis in 2015.

Don Damond, Ms. Damond’s fiancé, in the meditation room at their home. CreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times

“She had her family there,” Mr. Damond said on Friday. “All her friends, lifelong relationships, and she moved here for one person.”

Though she took his name, they put off marrying, partly because a wedding with families on two sides of the world would be hard to organize, partly because Ms. Damond was so absorbed in a new project, creating training materials for Mr. Dispenza.

Someday, she told Ms. Baldwin, she hoped she and Don would return to Sydney.

It was not only the weather or her friends or family that drew her back.

“She didn’t like the guns” in the United States, Ms. Baldwin said. “She didn’t like the violence.”

‘We Think It’s Justine’

With Mr. Damond in Las Vegas for work, she had been sleeping on his side of the bed — the left, under a pair of dream catchers — when she heard a scream for help.

She walked over the white shag rug to the windows that overlook the backyard. She peeked past the massive oak tree. The noise was coming from near a neighbor’s garage on the right, she told Mr. Damond.

At 11:27, a call came in to 911.

“Hi, I’m, I can hear someone out back and I, I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped,” Ms. Damond reported, according to a transcript released by the Minneapolis police.

“We’ve already got help on the way,” the operator promised.

Eight minutes later, officers had not arrived. Ms. Damond called back, wondering if they had gone to the wrong place. They were coming, the operator reassured her.

Nearby, Officer Matthew Harrity, with a year on the force, and Officer Mohamed Noor, with 21 months, got the call.

Officer Noor had been the first Somali cop in the immigrant-rich Fifth Precinct, his hiring hailed by the mayor and Minneapolis’s Somali community. He was supposed to be a bridge, leaping over the chasm of ingrained suspicion between the community and the police.

Here, now, he was another officer, less than three hours from the end of a 10-hour shift.

They turned their Ford Explorer into the alleyway behind Ms. Damond’s house, driving south along a stretch of concrete and asphalt wide enough only for one car. Their lights were off. Under the street lamps, the detached garages on either side were pale in their vinyl sidings.

As they reached the end of the alley, Officer Harrity, who was driving, was startled by a loud noise near the squad car, he told investigators. Then Ms. Damond came up to his open window.

Officer Noor fired.

Past his partner, through the window, the bullet found Ms. Damond’s abdomen. The officers got out of the car, calling back to the dispatch center, as the operator’s computer recorded the first sign that lives were about to change on two continents: “ONE DOWN … STARTING CPR.”

In Las Vegas, Mr. Damond’s texts to his fiancée were going unanswered. Maybe she had just gone back to bed, Mr. Damond thought.

Around 12:45 a.m., the Minneapolis police called. There had been a shooting. A woman had died.

Mr. Damond told himself it must have been the woman being raped.

Then he asked who the victim was.

“We can’t give a positive I.D., but we think it’s Justine,” Mr. Damond said he was told.

He sat at a slot machine, hyperventilating. Had the rapist killed his fiancée? He was already at the airport when the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting, called to say that the person who had pulled the trigger was a police officer.

Mr. Damond got a seat on the 7 a.m. flight to Minneapolis. When he landed, a friend, a Delta Air Lines employee, was waiting. Hugging him, Mr. Damond heaved with sobs.

“There’s like a glitch in the matrix,” Mr. Damond recalled thinking. “ I just know I’m going to wake up from this nightmare.”

Outrage Down Under

On Monday afternoon in Sydney, news that a local woman had died overseas flowed into the offices of The Daily Telegraph, a tabloid that is part of the Rupert Murdoch news empire.

“It became very clear that it was the best story for us that day,” said the editor, Christopher Dore.

“You know, here’s this Aussie girl who goes over to find love,” he added. “And because of the complications of American policing and guns, she’s dead.”

Hundreds gathered on Thursday during a demonstration for Ms. Damond in Minneapolis.CreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times

The paper’s editors had a picture that they knew would pull heartstrings: Ms. Damond in a white blouse, smiling widely, her engagement ring sparkling on one hand.

At 6 p.m., a couple of hours to deadline, they began brainstorming headlines. They tried “Only in America,” but on the page, it looked off.

They settled on “AMERICAN NIGHTMARE.”

Mr. Dore insisted that the headline was not a judgment. “There’s no way in the world we’re going to lecture the United States about its Constitution or the right,” he said.

But the headline captured many Australians’ dismay over what, to them, seemed a peculiarly American phenomenon. There are tight restrictions on firearm ownership in Australia, and though police officers there carry guns, fatal police shootings are relatively rare.

“It would have never happened here,” said Michael Timbs, a mourner who showed up at a sunrise vigil at the beach near Ms. Damond’s childhood home on Wednesday.

That morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared on television to ask, “How can a woman out in the street in her pajamas seeking assistance from police be shot like that?”

One Shot, Many Questions

A year after a police officer in a Twin Cities suburb fatally shot Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black driver whose dying moments were streamed by his girlfriend on Facebook, some of the same questions have pursued the shooting of Ms. Damond.

What led Officer Noor to fire his weapon? The loud noise the other officer said he had heard? Fear of an ambush, as his partner’s lawyer has implied?

At this point, almost everything is conjecture. Neither officer had his body camera turned on, leaving investigators and the public blind, a fact that the Minneapolis mayor, Betsy Hodges, has called “unacceptable.”

Officer Noor, whose record included three civilian complaints and a lawsuit over his treatment of a woman while performing a mental health checkup, has declined to speak with investigators.

Both officers have been placed on leave, and on Friday, the mayor forced the police chief, Janeé Harteau, to resign. It was an abrupt end to a contentious tenure, during which Chief Harteau faced criticism over her handling of other police shootings, including the killing of a black man, Jamar Clark, that led to weeks of protests. Activists have also questioned why officials moved so decisively in this case to condemn the shooting, compared with other police shootings in which the victims were black.

But as in other cases, prosecutors might find it difficult to make a case against Officer Noor if he argues that he believed he was in danger.

A 1989 Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Connor, held that officers’ actions had to be judged by whether force was reasonable given what the officer knew at the time.

“There is this huge misunderstanding in this country about the rules surrounding police officers’ use of deadly force,” said Jim Bueermann, a former Redlands, Calif., police chief who is now the president of the Police Foundation, a research group. “People just say, if a person was unarmed, why would an officer have shot him or her?”

In fast-moving situations, police protocol often leaves little room for error.

Officers usually have a round chambered in their sidearms. And experts say they are generally taught to draw their guns when they feel they or someone else are in imminent danger. Even for many traffic stops, officers keep a hand on the weapon while it is in the holster.

Mr. Bueermann said he believed many officers were quicker to pull their guns than they would have been a decade or two ago. “There is constant messaging to police officers about the dangers of their jobs,” he said. “There’s a really common adage in policing: It’s better to be tried by 12 than carried by six.”

He also questioned whether Officer Noor might have accidentally discharged his weapon — a far more common event than many realize, he said.

What made this shooting particularly bizarre, to veteran police officers, was that Officer Noor fired at close range past his partner. Many officers would be furious or unnerved if a partner shot across them in any situation short of being attacked, said Vernon J. Geberth, a former New York City police commander and the author of “Practical Homicide Investigation,” a widely used textbook.

The officer’s partner might well be thinking, “You could’ve shot my head off,” Mr. Geberth said.

Personal Effects

Barefoot, on a beach in Kona, Hawaii, exchanging vows under a wooden arch trellised with Tibetan prayer flags onto which their guests would add prayers of their own: That was the plan. The wedding was set for Aug. 17.

Mr. Damond would wear a bright blue suit with an open-collar white shirt. Following tradition, he had never seen Ms. Damond’s dress.

Now last-minute wedding tasks had given way to the business of death. There was a cremation to arrange, her clothes and engagement ring to pick up from investigators.

And Justine’s dress. On Sunday, he said, he was planning to go to the bridal shop, where he would see it for the first time.

Secrecy Surrounding Senate Health Bill Raises Alarms in Both Parties

WASHINGTON — As they draft legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Senate Republican leaders are aiming to transform large sections of the American health care system without a single hearing on their bill and without a formal, open drafting session.

That has created an air of distrust and concern — on and off Capitol Hill, with Democrats but also with Republicans.

“I’ve said from Day 1, and I’ll say it again,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. “The process is better if you do it in public, and that people get buy-in along the way and understand what’s going on. Obviously, that’s not the route that is being taken.”

The secrecy surrounding the Senate measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is remarkable — at least for a health care measure this consequential.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton empowered the first lady, Hillary Clinton, to assemble health care legislation in private, with input from a group of more than 500 experts. That approach won scathing reviews from Republican lawmakers and others shut out of the deliberations. But it took place at the White House, not in Congress. Once the Clintons’ health plan reached Capitol Hill, it died in the public spotlight.

Republican leaders this week defended their actions.

“Look, we’ve been dealing with this issue for seven years,” said the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “It’s not a new thing.”

Mr. McConnell said there had been “gazillions of hearings on this subject” over the years — a less-than-precise tabulation that offered little comfort to Democrats who want hearings held now, in this particular year, on the contents of this particular bill.

In the summer of 2009, when Democratic members of Congress were defending their effort to remake the nation’s health care system, they were taunted by crowds chanting, “Read the bill, read the bill.”

Now Democrats say they would love to read the Republicans’ repeal bill, but cannot do so because Republicans have not exposed their handiwork to public inspection.

“They’re ashamed of the bill,” the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said. “If they liked the bill, they’d have brass bands marching down the middle of small-town America saying what a great bill it is. But they know it isn’t.”

The Senate’s decisions could have huge implications: Health care represents about one-sixth of the American economy, and about 20 million people have gained insurance under the 2010 health law, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement.

In theory, the bill-writing process is open to any of the 52 Republican senators, but few seem to have a clear, coherent picture of what will be in the legislation.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, offered a hint of the same frustration felt by Democrats seeking more information about the bill.

“I come from a manufacturing background,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’ve solved a lot of problems. It starts with information. Seems like around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn’t seem to be necessarily the most effective process.”

At a Senate hearing on Thursday, Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, said that he also had not seen the Senate bill.

Senate Republican leaders say the bill is still a work in progress, and they have not said exactly how it will differ from the one approved last month in the House. President Trump raised the stakes when he told senators this week that the House version was “mean.”

The Senate bill is likely to phase out the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaidexpansion more slowly than the House version. It is also expected to include larger tax credits to help older Americans buy health insurance.

The legislation will be considered in the Senate under an expedited procedure that precludes a Democratic filibuster and allows passage by a simple majority. But, Republicans say, Democrats will still be able to offer numerous amendments once the bill is on the Senate floor.

It is not unusual for lawmakers to draft major legislation in private, but they usually refine, debate and amend it in open committee sessions. The House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act did not receive a hearing, where outside experts could have testified. But lawmakers dissected its contents and were able to propose changes at three stages: in the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Budget Committees.

Senate Republican leaders evidently think their back-room approach gives them the best chance to devise a health care bill that can squeak through the Senate, given their narrow majority and the policy differences in their conference.

However Republicans feel about their coming bill — and they are far more comfortable criticizing the Affordable Care Act than talking up the virtues of their still-incomplete replacement — the process playing out in the Senate is quite different from the way Democrats went about passing the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate health committee approved its version in July 2009 after considering hundreds of amendments over 13 days. The Senate Finance Committee cleared its version in October 2009, after more than a year of hearings, round-table discussions and other spadework. A group of Democrats and Republicans from the Finance Committee had met for months behind closed doors, trying — but ultimately failing — to draft bipartisan legislation.

The full Senate passed the Affordable Care Act on Dec. 24, 2009, on the 25th consecutive day of floor debate.

While much of the Affordable Care Act was written in the open, some important provisions were hashed out in private, just before the Senate vote, by Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was then the majority leader.

Republicans complained bitterly at the time, and Democrats threw those complaints back at them this week.

“This massive piece of legislation that seeks to restructure one-sixth of our economy is being written behind closed doors, without input from anyone, in an effort to jam it past not only the Senate but the American people,” Mr. McConnell said in December 2009, using words that could be spoken by any Democrat today.

The repeal efforts this year have moved much faster, though not as quickly as Mr. Trump or Republican leaders might have hoped.

In March, days before House Republicans released their repeal bill, Democrats and an exasperated Senate Republican hunted around the Capitol for the elusive legislation. The senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, brought with him a copy machine, just in case he found his prize.

Asked this week about the Senate bill, Mr. Paul replied, “Have you seen it?”

Mr. Paul said he had no plans to bring out the copy machine again, but he suggested that the Senate’s current course left something to be desired. “My preference would be a more open process in committees,” he said, “with hearings and people on both sides.”

In February, the Senate health committee held a hearing on stabilizing the individual insurance market. But since the House passed its repeal bill and the focus shifted to the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republicans have done their work out of public view.

Their efforts drew unwanted attention early last month because of the composition of the working group they assembled to chart a path on health care: It consisted entirely of men.

Since then, Republican senators have shared bits and pieces of the ideas being mulled in their private lunches and meetings.

Asked his level of comfort with the process, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, cut off a reporter before he could finish his sentence. “None,” he said.

“We’ve got a divided caucus,” Mr. McCain said. “I listen avidly at lunch as we go over the same arguments over and over and over again.”

Comey Bluntly Raises Possibility of Trump Obstruction and Condemns His ‘Lies’

WASHINGTON — James B. Comey, the recently fired F.B.I. director, said Thursday in an extraordinary Senate hearing that he believed President Trump had tried to derail an investigation into his national security adviser, and accused the president of lying and defaming him and the F.B.I.

Mr. Comey, no longer constrained by the formalities of a government job, offered a blunt, plain-spoken assessment of a president whose conversations unnerved him from the day they met, weeks before Mr. Trump took office.

The James Comey who emerged during the hearing was by turns humble, folksy and matter-of-fact, but at the same time, he proved that underneath was a shrewd politician not afraid to play the Washington game by leaking information on his own.

In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he provided an unflattering back story to his abrupt dismissal and raised the question of whether Mr. Trump had tried to obstruct justice.

Answering that falls to the Justice Department special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Comey said he had given all of his memos about his interactions with the president to Mr. Mueller, who he believed would look into the possibility of obstruction. It was the first public suggestion that prosecutors would investigate the president.

“That’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards, to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense,” Mr. Comey said.

Firing Mr. Comey ignited an unexpected political fire for the president, and Mr. Comey acknowledged helping fan the flames. He said he had encouraged a friend to give The New York Times details from one of his memos, a move he hoped would lead to the appointment of a special counsel. It did.

Before firing Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump was dogged by the F.B.I. inquiry into his campaign’s ties to Russia. But he was never personally under investigation.

Now, he faces the prospect of an obstruction investigation, inquiries by emboldened congressional officials and questions from both parties about whether he tried inappropriately to end the F.B.I. inquiry into Michael T. Flynn, his former national security adviser.

Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, flatly denied any obstruction. “The president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone,” he said.

But Mr. Kasowitz’s involvement was itself a reflection of how Mr. Comey’s firing had deepened the president’s political and legal difficulties. Mr. Trump hired him recently to help contain the fallout.

The Senate hearing did not help that effort. It was the most highly anticipated and crowded congressional event in recent memory.

Over a long career, Mr. Comey has excelled at telling his story while tiptoeing around Washington’s bureaucratic minefields. He has been so at ease before Congress that some staff members have jokingly called him “Senator Comey.” But this time, he offered more frank, emotional introspection than he had before.

He set that tone from the beginning, opening with a goodbye to his former employees, to whom he was unable to personally bid farewell. And he said Mr. Trump had lied — a word that is often soft-pedaled in Washington — when he justified the firing by saying Mr. Comey had lost the confidence of an F.B.I. in disarray. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Mr. Comey said.

He said the president had defamed him, an apparent reference to Mr. Trump’s calling him a “nut job” in a private meeting with Russian diplomats.

And when Republicans asked why he had not told the president he was out of line for asking Mr. Comey to “see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Comey said perhaps he should have.

Senators Mark Warner, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Richard Burr, chairman of the committee, listening to Mr. Comey’s testimony. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

“I don’t want to sound like I’m Captain Courageous,” he replied. “I don’t know whether, even if I had the presence of mind, I would have said to the president, ‘Sir, that’s wrong.’”

But he said he had no doubt about Mr. Trump’s intentions. “I took it as a direction,” he said. If the president had his way, Mr. Comey said, “we would have dropped an open criminal investigation.”

Mr. Comey’s testimony forced Mr. Trump’s supporters into the uncomfortable position of drawing a distinction between suggesting that the F.B.I. close an investigation into a friend and outright ordering it.

“Knowing my father for 39 years when he ‘orders or tells’ you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means,” the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter during the hearing.

Mr. Mueller, the special counsel, is investigating Mr. Flynn along with the broad question of whether the Trump campaign helped Russian operatives meddle in the presidential election.

Mr. Comey placed the origins of the special counsel investigation squarely on Mr. Trump’s Twitter account, a frequent source of conflict for the president. Two days after Mr. Comey was ousted, The Times reported that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Comey to pledge loyalty to him. The president then tweeted that Mr. Comey had “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’” of their meetings.

That tweet inspired Mr. Comey to allow a friend to read portions of his memo to The Times. A day after The Times revealed the contents of that memo, which described the conversation about Mr. Flynn, the Justice Department appointed Mr. Mueller to take over the investigation.

The White House has not commented on whether recordings exist. But Mr. Comey repeatedly baited Mr. Trump to produce them if they did. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” he said at the hearing. “The president surely knows if there are tapes. If there are, my feelings aren’t hurt. Release the tapes.”

Mr. Trump has offered changing reasons for firing Mr. Comey. The White House originally cited Mr. Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, saying Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, had recommended he be dismissed. But Mr. Trump quickly undercut that argument, telling NBC News that he had been thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired Mr. Comey.

Asked why he was fired, Mr. Comey replied: “I take the president at his word — that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. Something about the way I was conducting it, the president felt, created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.”

Mr. Comey questioned why Mr. Sessions had been involved in the discussions about his firing, given that Mr. Sessions had recused himselffrom the Russia case after his undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States were revealed. “If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain?” Mr. Comey asked. “I don’t know.”

The Justice Department said Thursday that Mr. Sessions had been involved because the firing was related to concerns about Mr. Comey’s leadership and had nothing to do with any inquiry.

Mr. Comey also described his disappointment when the president asked that they be left alone after a meeting in the Oval Office with national security officials. Mr. Sessions stayed behind at first, but then left. “My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn’t be leaving, which is why he was lingering,” Mr. Comey said. He testified that he later told Mr. Sessions to never again leave him alone with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Kasowitz said Mr. Trump had never sought a loyalty pledge, as Mr. Comey told the Senate. And he portrayed Mr. Comey as part of a stealth campaign to undermine Mr. Trump. “It is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications,” he said. “Mr. Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers.”

Mr. Comey’s memo was not classified, and the White House did not assert executive privilege over his conversations with Mr. Trump.

Though Mr. Comey told Mr. Trump three times that he was not under investigation, he said others at the F.B.I. had argued against offering that assurance. Because the F.B.I. was investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, one official argued, Mr. Trump’s activity would necessarily be scrutinized. Nevertheless, Mr. Comey said, “I thought it was fair to say what was literally true: There is not a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump.”

But Mr. Comey said he had distrusted Mr. Trump from the first time they met, at Trump Tower before Inauguration Day. Mr. Comey ended the day in an F.B.I. vehicle, taking detailed notes about his conversations. “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” he said, “and so I thought it really important to document.”

Then, in February, when Mr. Trump cleared the Oval Office to talk about Mr. Flynn, Mr. Comey described an ominous feeling. “My impression was, something big is about to happen,” he said. “I need to remember every single word that is spoken.”

Neo-Nazi Blogger Raises Staggering Sum After Launching Harassment Campaign Against Jewish Woman

More than $150,000 has been raised to cover the legal costs of the internet’s most infamous neo-Nazi blogger, currently being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center for instigating a “harassment campaign” against a Jewish woman.

The money was contributed by supporters of Andrew Anglin, the man behind the Daily Stormer, a site dedicated to all things white power. Donors made their contributions via a right-wing crowdfunding platform called WeSearchr, which is sort of like a pro-hate-speech version of GoFundMe or Kickstarter.

According to the SPLC, Anglin encouraged readers to harass Tanya Gersh, a real estate agent in Whitefish, Montana. In a post on the Daily Stormer site, Anglin reportedly accused Gersh of trying to extort money from Sherry Spencer, who is the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer. The headline of the blog post, “Jews Targeting Richard Spencer’s Mother for Harassment and Extortion – TAKE ACTION!” was reportedly followed by a message from Anglin reading, “Let’s Hit Em Up. Are y’all ready for an old fashioned Troll Storm? Because AYO—it’s time, fam.”

Buzzfeed details some of the vitriol directed at Gersh in more than 700 individual attacks that followed. According to court papers, the abusive messages included emails stating, “Merry Christmas, you Christ killing Jew” and another that included the words “Death to Tanya” 100 times. “You should have died in the Holocaust with the rest of your people” a caller to Gersh’s home told her. A tweet directed at her 12-year-old son included a picture of an oven alongside the message, “psst kid, there’s a free Xbox One inside the oven.”

Aside from the court battle that awaits, the SPLC faces an additional challenge with its lawsuit: actually finding Anglin. The organization describes Anglin as currently being “in hiding,” making it impossible to serve him with court papers. SPLC president Richard Cohen told Buzzfeed that a process server has been dispatched “multiple times to multiple locations” to find Anglin, but hasn’t yet come across him.

“In at least one place in Ohio [our process server] heard voices inside,” Cohen told Buzzfeed, “but when he knocked nobody came to the door.”

A post on the Daily Stormer site links to the WeSearchr fundraising campaign. The headline on the entry reads, “SPLC is Suing Anglin! Donate Now to Stop These Kikes.”

WeSearchr is brought to you by Chuck C. Johnson, a right-wing blogger who Jezebel notes has previously “claimed that both President Obama and Emmanuel Macron are gay,” wrongly identified the woman he thought was ‘Jackie’ of the UVA scandal, and has demonstrated what Forbes called an overall “disregard for facts.” Johnson is perhaps best known for getting banned from Twitter for collecting funds to “take out” Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson.

In January, Forbes reported that Johnson was helping Donald Trump’s transition team “recommend, vet and give something of a seal of approval to potential [cabinet] nominees.”

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

Britain Raises Threat Level to ‘Critical,’ Says ‘Further Attack May Be Imminent’

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/manchester-concert-explosion/britain-raises-threat-level-critical-says-further-attack-may-be-n763811

 

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Tuesday that the terror threat in the country had been raised to “critical” — the highest possible level — one day after the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that killed at least 22.

May said that meant another attack “may be imminent.”

Speaking Tuesday night from Downing Street in a televised statement, May said that while investigations were ongoing into whether suicide bomber Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old British citizen, had acted alone, “the work undertaken throughout the day has revealed that it is a possibility we cannot ignore that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this attack.”

May said the country’s joint terrorism analysis center, which sets the threat level based on available intelligence, had been keeping the situation “under constant review.”

“It has now have concluded on the basis of today’s investigation that the threat level should be increased for the time being from severe to critical,” she said. “This means that their assessment is not only that an attack remains highly likely but that a further attack may be imminent.”

Sam Petulla / NBC News

The move marks the first time the country’s threat level has been this high in a decade. It was last declared critical from June 30 to July 4 of 2007, according to the United Kingdom’s Security Service.

May said that Tuesday’s change in the threat level meant additional resources would be available to police working “to keep us all safe.”

Image: Deadly Blast Kills 22 at Manchester Arena Pop Concert
Police forensic officers leave the Manchester Arena as they investigate the scene of an explosion in Manchester, England on May 23, 2017. Dave Thompson / Getty Images

She announced that the country’s Operation Temperer, an emergency plan that allows military personnel to support the police’s armed forces, was “now in full force.” Previous reports out of Britain have said that the secretive “Temperer” plan could unleash up to 5,000 troops on the streets of England.

May said that “armed police officers responsible for duties such as guarding key sights, will be replaced by members of the armed forces, which will allow the police to significantly increase the number of armed officers on patrol in key locations.”

Those military personnel may be deployed at certain events, May said, “such as concerts and sports matches” to help police keep the public safe.

The prime minister said Tuesday that the death toll from the attack stood at 22 and “59 people remain injured — and many of them have life-threatening conditions.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement late Tuesday that he wanted “to reassure all Londoners and visitors that we are doing everything possible to protect our city” in light of the increased terror level.

“Our emergency services prepare day in, day out for these situations,” he said in the statement. “Our plans are well rehearsed and well prepared. I would urge all Londoners and visitors to remain calm and vigilant, and to report anything suspicious to the police.”

Khan added that additional police officers and some military personnel would be present in London’s streets over the coming days.

May asked the public to be vigilant, but stressed that the nation stood “defiant” in the face of terrorism.

“While we mourn the victims of last night’s appalling attack, we stand defiant,” she said. “The spirit of Manchester and the spirit of Britain is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists.”

IRANIAN-BACKED MILITIA OFFENSIVE RAISES TENSIONS NEAR TURKISH BORDER OF IRAQ

 

An Iranian-backed Shia militia offensive in Iraq has cut off ISIS supply lines west of Mosul but risks exacerbating tensions with Kurds in nearby Sinjar who say the operation breaches an agreement over who would liberate the area.

The developments have made local Iraqis wary of creeping Iranian influence and Turkish intervention in an area already plagued by infighting and a combustible mix of ethnic and religious groups. A regional Kurdish commander accused Tehran of wanting to “open a corridor” through Iraq to Syria.

 

The fighting may also complicate American goals of seeking a smooth finish to the operation in Mosul without the controversy of any Kurdish-Shia fighting or Turkish problems, especially with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visiting Washington this week. Sinjar is increasingly a hinge that connects several conflicts in northern Iraq and the Yazidis who were victims of ISIS are once again victims of the regional politics.

The offensive in Iraq is the most important yet launched by the Iranian-backed Shia militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), since November, when they crossed 50 km. of desert to cut off Mosul and surround the Turkmen town of Tal Afar.

The militias aim to capture Qairawan and al-Ba’aj, two Iraqi towns held by ISIS that border Sinjar, which was liberated by Kurdish Peshmerga in November 2015.

Local news sources said the offensive has been dubbed named “Muhammad Rassol Allah 2”, and it is designed to cut off ISIS supply lines that run across the Syrian border. Since skirmishes began on Saturday the Shia militias have captured more than a dozen villages from ISIS and are within 40 km. of the Syrian border.

The fighting has a wider context. Iraqi security forces, backed by the US-led coalition, are close to conquering the last pockets of ISIS in Mosul. The PMU wants to strike Westward to bring attention to their role in the war effort. In January a PMU spokesman named Ahmed Assadi told CNN that “we’ve received information that [ISIS leader] Abu Baqr Baghdadi is hiding between the towns of al-Baaj and al-Qairawan, near the Iraqi-Syrian border.” PMU leader Abu Mahdi Muhandis was quoted by Rudaw, a local Kurdish channel, on Sunday that within 48 or 72 hours his forces would take Qairawan.

However the Shia offensive has raised eyebrows in the Kurdistan Regional Government. Peshmerga commander Sarbast Lazgin told reporters he was concerned that the PMU was advancing on former Yazidi villages near Sinjar.

“[President Masoud] Barani is aware of violations made by Hashd al-Shaabi [PMU] and informed us that Hashd should not be allowed in there,” tweeted Baxtiyar Goran, a reporter for Kurdistan24. “Any advance of Hashd al-Shaabi in Ezidi areas is a violation of Kurdistan-Iraq agreement and is not acceptable,” the Peshmerga commander said.

The Yazidi villages between Qairawan and Sinjar were the site of many ISIS atrocities in 2014. A woman from Tal Qasab told The Daily Beast that she was captured by ISIS and witnessed mass killings by ISIS. “I saw so many corpses on the road, it was terrible. I remember one of the saddest moments there, during those terrible months, was this little girl, twelve years old. They raped her with no mercy.” Now the PMU is on the verge of taking many of these villages, including Tel Banat, Kocho and others, including the site of suspected mass graves ISIS left behind.

A local Yazidi leader said that behind the PMU offensive they fear Iranian influence. The Peshmerga in Sinjar, who initially hoped to liberate the Yazidi villages, have been distracted over the last year by internal Kurdish clashes on Sinjar between the Kurdistan Workers Party and KRG Peshmerga. In late April Turkey bombed PKK forces on Sinjar and killed five Peshmerga in error. The local politician in Sinjar says that the current advance by the Iranian-backed PMU and the presence of the PKK “will give the Turkish government pretext to intervene under the pretext of the existence of PKK and occupy the region and the biggest loser of these international and regional situations are the Yazidi.”

The PMU offensive increasingly stokes fears of a “Shia crescent” or Iranian-backed plan to increase control in northern Iraq. From the PMU’s perspective they are only intent on killing ISIS and cutting of the route to Syria. But Turkey sees PKK flags in Sinjar and threats to Turkmen in Tal Afar and wants to intervene.

Trump raises stakes on government shutdown, demands border wall funds in spending bill

The White House said Thursday that it wants to see money for President Trump’s border wall included in the spending bill Congress must pass next week — a demand Democrats said sours negotiations and makes a government shutdown more likely.

The demands mark a reversal for the administration, which had been saying it found enough money to build prototypes this year and wouldn’t need a major infusion of cash until next year.

But White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that the wall and the money for more immigration agents are priorities.

“We know there are a lot of people on the Hill, especially in the Democratic Party, who don’t like the wall, but they lost the election. And the president should, I think, at least have the opportunity to fund one of his highest priorities in the first funding bill under his administration,” Mr. Mulvaney said.

The White House issued its demand just days after Democrats insisted that the spending bill include billions of dollars to prop up Obamacare. Democratic aides signaled that they wouldn’t accept a bill without the cost-sharing payments intended to keep insurers invested in the health care law.

With Mr. Mulvaney’s demand, both sides now appear to be entrenching.

Fed Raises Interest Rates for Third Time Since Financial Crisis

The Federal Reserve, which raised its benchmark rate on Wednesday for the second time in three months, this time to a range between 0.75 percent and 1 percent, is finally moving toward the end of its nine-year-old economic stimulus campaign, which began in the depths of the financial crisis.

But Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s chairwoman, said at a news conference after the decision was announced that the Fed did not share the optimism of stock market investors and some business executives that economic growth is gaining speed. It still plans to move slowly because the economy continues to grow slowly. She suggested that the Fed would have plenty of time to adjust its plans should President Trump and Congress cut taxes or spend massively on infrastructure.

Her announcement was full of confidence. But it certainly was not ebullient. “The data have not notably strengthened,” Ms. Yellen told reporters. “We haven’t changed the outlook. We think we’re moving on the same course we’ve been on.”

The Fed said that the United States economy continued to chug along, expanding at a “moderate pace.” Employers are hiring, consumers are spending and businesses — the laggards in recent months — are starting to plow a little more money into their operations, too.

The Fed’s sobriety did not appear to make much of an impression on investors. The stock market’s heady march that began after Mr. Trump’s election continued apace. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose 0.84 percent to close at 2,385.26 Wednesday, moving up sharply after the announcement. Some said the Fed was still a long way from doing anything that might hurt.

“The first four to eight rate hikes are the low-hanging fruit,” said Deron McCoy, the chief investment officer at SEIA, a Los Angeles firm. “The real test will be whether the economy can withstand positive real rates. And that still seems to be a 2019 topic.”

Some analysts said the Fed will want to see an impact from its actions. “Policy makers hike rates to tighten financial conditions,” said Ellen Zentner, the chief United States economist at Morgan Stanley. “If this easing of financial conditions on the back of today’s hike are sustained, that would tell policy makers they need to do more.”

Ms. Zentner said she expected the Fed to raise rates again at its June meeting. The Fed’s policy-making committee next meets on May 2 and 3.

She noted that the Fed’s longer-term outlook is less clear. Ms. Yellen’s term as Fed chairwoman ends in February, and Mr. Trump could then replace her.

The Fed, charged with maximizing employment and moderating inflation, is close to achieving both goals. The unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in February, consistent with the normal churn of people moving among jobs. And after several years of concern that prices were not rising fast enough, inflation is reviving. The Fed’s preferred measure rose 1.9 percent over the 12 months ending in January, close to its 2 percent annual target.

“The basis for today’s decision is simply our assessment of the progress of the economy,” Ms. Yellen said at the postmeeting news conference. “And it’s been doing nicely.”

The Fed, which had made more inflation a central objective, said on Wednesday that it was now focused on stabilizing inflation. Ms. Yellen took the opportunity to note that inflation may now rise a bit above 2 percent, just as it has been below 2 percent the last few years. “It’s a reminder 2 percent is not a ceiling on inflation,” she said. “It’s a target.”

The Fed’s increased confidence was reflected in a new round of policy forecasts it also published Wednesday. An increased number of Fed officials are expecting to raise rates at least twice more this year. Only three of the 17 officials who submitted forecasts expect the central bank to move more slowly. There was a similar coalescing around tighter policy for the following two years, marking the first time in recent years that the Fed’s quarterly economic forecasts have shifted toward a prediction of tighter monetary policy.

This is the third time the Fed has raised rates since the financial crisis. The first hike came at the end of 2015 and the second almost exactly one year later. This time the Fed waited just three months. The benchmark rate remains below 1 percent, a very low level.

People with credit card debt are likely to see an immediate increase of about a quarter percentage point in their interest rates. The effect on longer-term loans is less direct, but the average rate on a 30-year mortgage rose by half a percentage point over the last year.

The nation’s largest borrower, the federal government, will also feel the pinch of higher rates. The Congressional Budget Office expects federal interest payments, measured as a share of the economy, to double over the next decade.

Savers are unlikely to benefit immediately. Banks tend to raise interest rates on loans more quickly than they raise rates on deposits. Last week, the average rate on a six-month certificate of deposit was 0.14 percent. Last year at this time: 0.13 percent.

The Fed’s move to raise rates puts it on course for a slow-motion collision with President Trump, who has repeatedly promised to increase economic growth through policies including cuts in taxation and regulation and more spending on infrastructure and defense.

Fed officials have emphasized that the economy is already growing at roughly its maximum sustainable pace; faster growth would therefore lead to faster increases in interest rates.

Some economists and liberal activists argue that the Fed is raising rates too quickly. Narayana Kocherlakota, an economist at the University of Rochester and a former member of the Fed’s policy-making committee, noted that strong economic growth continued to pull people into the job market while wage growth remained relatively weak. That suggests, he said, that the economy has not yet returned to full employment.

“We should be seeing faster wage growth with this level of employment growth if we were close to full employment,” Mr. Kocherlakota said on Twitter before the Fed’s decision.

Mr. Kocherlakota’s successor as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, cast the sole vote against raising rates on Wednesday.

The Fed’s assessment of economic conditions remained quite measured. The economy expanded by just 1.6 percent in 2016, and there is little sign of an acceleration during the first quarter. Fed officials continue to forecast a Goldilocks economy, with the unemployment rate remaining at 4.5 percent and inflation around 2 percent for the next three years.

Ms. Yellen played down surveys showing a sharp rise in the optimism of consumers and business executives since the presidential election, noting there is little evidence that such surveys predict spending decisions.

She said that Fed officials spoke regularly to business leaders, and that many were undoubtedly in “a much more optimistic frame of mind.” But she added that many of those executives have adopted a wait-and-see attitude — just like the Fed itself.

Steady U.S. Job Growth Sets Stage for Fed to Raise Interest Rates

A wave of hiring in February — President Trump’s first full month in office — pointed to a strong foundation for the nation’s economy, providing further evidence for the Federal Reserve that the moment to raise interest rates has come.

The Labor Department reported a gain of 235,000 jobs and healthy wage growth in a month when even the weather cooperated. It was the last major data release before Fed policy makers meet Tuesday and Wednesday, when they have signaled their intent to increase the benchmark interest rate.

“The economy is riding a wave of bullish sentiment postelection,” said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor, a career website. “We’re seeing strong labor demand across the board and no sign of slowing right now.”

Republicans and Democrats quickly jostled for credit.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Trump had “jump-started job creation, not only through his executive action but because of the surge in economic confidence and optimism that has been inspired since his election.”

Mr. Trump, who, as a candidate, repeatedly dismissed the official jobs reports as “phony,” reposted a comment on Twitter from the conservative website Drudge Report that said, “GREAT AGAIN: +235,000.” Mr. Spicer later quoted Mr. Trump on his faith in the report, “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

The Labor Department repeated that it had not changed the way it collected and analyzed jobs data since Mr. Trump took office. “It’s business as usual,” said Megan Kindelan, director of public affairs at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Republican self-congratulation clearly irked Democrats. Tom Perez, labor secretary in the Obama administration and now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, countered that Mr. Trump had “absolutely nothing” to do with the job gains. “Trump inherited an economy from Barack Obama with the longest streak of private sector job growth in history,” he said.

Although the economic anxiety that helped put Mr. Trump in the White House remains, the official jobless rate is near what the Fed considers full employment — a threshold where, in theory at least, everyone who wants a job at the going rate can find one. The official jobless rate fell to 4.7 percent, from 4.8 percent in January, even as the overall labor force grew.

At the same time, jobless claims are near a 44-year low, and the stock market is surging. Revisions to previous estimates raised the three-month average of monthly job gains to 209,000 and annual wage growth to 2.8 percent, further bolstering the case for those who argue the economy is strong enough to withstand a rate increase.

The overall economic momentum received a push from February’s unusually warm weather, with almost a quarter of the jobs — about 58,000 — coming from construction. Manufacturing and mining rose too.

Also significant was the increase in the labor participation rate to 63 percent, a result of rising employment even among people without a high school diploma. “There’s got to be some optimism that these people are feeling they finally have a chance,” said Diane Swonk, founder and chief executive of DS economics in Chicago.

On the other end are employers who are seeing acute labor shortages. “They’re offering training programs now,” Ms. Swonk said. “They’re complaining about it. But that’s what tight labor markets do. It forces you to invest more to work with less.”

Bigger paychecks are something that most Americans are particularly eager to see, after years of stagnant wage growth. The Fed, too, has been waiting for an increase, but it is also wary of wages rising too fast. Its members want to head off incipient inflation without putting the brakes on hiring, especially because the benefits of the eight-year-old recovery have been so unevenly distributed.

The Labor Picture in February

Balancing those two goals is tricky.

Lauren Griffin, senior vice president at Adecco Staffing USA, said the scarcity of qualified workers had compelled employers to raise wages, strengthen benefits and improve amenities at the office. “We’ve got people in orientation classes,” Ms. Griffin said, “and they get up and leave because they’re contacted about another job that might be more money.”

At the same time, a broader measure of unemployment — which includes the millions of Americans who have given up looking for work or who are working part time but would prefer full-time jobs — dropped to 9.2 percent last month but is still high given how tight the labor market looks otherwise.

Cautioning the Fed against moving too quickly with a rate increase, Elise Gould, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, noted that, “Workers throughout the economy, including young workers, workers of color, and low-wage workers, need a chance to make up lost ground on wage growth.”

Many Americans who live outside urban centers also have been excluded from most of the rewards of the recovery.

Large metropolitan counties have had more than twice the annual wage growth of nonmetropolitan areas, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Higher-wage jobs might be following educated, young workers, who are increasingly living in dense, urban neighborhoods as other demographic groups move to the suburbs,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed, a job-search site. “Broader economic shifts also favor big cities: The occupations projected to grow tend to be more urban, while shrinking sectors like manufacturing and farming tend to be located outside large metros.”

That is disappointing for people with longstanding ties to smaller, more rural communities. “A lot of this has to do with mobility,” said Steven W. Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group, an insurance company. “People are going to have to move where the jobs are and not expect the jobs to come where they are.”

Although the Trump administration has had little time to make any substantial policy changes, the expectation of a reduction in taxes and regulations and the possibility of vast infrastructure spending have created optimism among employers and blue-collar workers.

Mr. Trump has promised to expand the economy by 4 percent a year, create 25 million jobs in the next decade, revive manufacturing and reduce the trade deficit.

Achieving all that would be difficult in the best of circumstances, let alone with the potential headwinds facing the White House. Dissension among Republicans and the unpredictability of Mr. Trump’s course in several policy areas could dampen job growth.

The future of the Affordable Care Act and a possible replacement is making hospitals and community health centers cautious about adding workers. A strong dollar and a potential backlash against the White House’s travel ban could slow tourism and hiring in the sector. And Mr. Trump’s across-the-board hiring freeze on federal government jobs, combined with declines at the state level, will probably reduce the total number of public sector employees.

The uncertainty extends to prospects for tax cuts. Some Wall Street analysts, expecting delays, have pared their growth forecasts for 2017, after recently raising them.

Certainly the snapshot of February’s labor market is good. The question is, if the economy does slow, whether Mr. Trump will accept the legitimacy of weak reports as enthusiastically as he does good ones.

Mr. Spicer suggested the president would. “Numbers are going to go up and down,” he said. “We recognize that.”