The White House reveals what next week’s ‘big announcement’ on taxes will look like

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/04/21/the-white-house-reveals-what-next-weeks-big-announcement-on-taxes-will-look-like/?utm_term=.fb4130f6613e

 

The White House will release on Wednesday the “broad principles and priorities” of their plans to overhaul federal taxes, a White House official said Friday night, downplaying expectations that the Trump administration would reveal key details underpinning the plan.

President Trump said earlier Friday that he would release new information about his plan to overhaul the tax code on Wednesday, a sign that he is trying to accelerate one of his most ambitious campaign promises even though key specifics remain undetermined.

“We’ll be having a big announcement on Wednesday having to do with tax reform,” Trump said Friday while visiting the Treasury Department. “The process has begun long ago but it really formally begins on Wednesday.”

Addressing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump said, “So, go to it.”

A White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Washington Post on Friday night that while the president did plan to make an announcement on tax reform next week, it will be broad in nature.

“[W] e will outline our broad principles and priorities,” the official said. “We are moving forward on comprehensive tax reform that cuts tax rates for individuals, simplifies our overly-complicated system and creates jobs by making American businesses competitive.”

Trump’s statement earlier on Friday had caught many congressional aides — and even some administration officials — off guard, as they thought they were working on a slower timetable.

With his unexpected comments, Trump has jolted the process forward as he tries to breathe new life into an effort that risked becoming bogged down like other campaign priorities.

But if he only issues the broad outline of a plan, he could further complicate lawmakers and many in the business community, who have been hoping the White House would weigh in on key questions, such as how it plans to tax imports or whether it will pursue the elimination of any tax deductions.

Trump plans a major cut in tax rates, focused on simplifying the tax code for individuals and families, lowering the corporate tax rate and a large tax cut for the middle class. He has also said he wants to create some sort of “reciprocity” tax that imposes a tariff-like tax on imports from countries that have tariffs against the United States.

Earlier Friday, Trump told the Associated Press in an interview that the tax cuts he would propose would be “massive” and perhaps the biggest of all time.

Mnuchin has worked on the tax plan for months, but details have remained fluid, with White House officials considering a range of options in how they restructure the tax code. White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn suggested Thursday that many of the details were still in flux during comments he made to the Institute of International Finance.

Trump has said a big tax cut will boost economic growth, help companies invest, and lead to more job creation. But Democrats and some Republicans have said any cut in rates should be offset by the elimination of tax breaks to prevent the changes from widening the budget deficit.

Trump comments on cutting taxes, border wall

Mnuchin said  Thursday that the tax cuts would essentially pay for themselves because there would be so much economic growth that it would bring in new revenue to the Treasury Department.

Both Trump and Mnuchin have promised that the overhaul of the tax code they are planning would be the biggest since the Reagan administration.

During the campaign, Trump proposed cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, and he also wants to cut the rates individuals and families pay. He has said he wants a big tax cut for the middle class, though many politicians define “middle class” differently.

“People can’t do their returns,” Trump said Friday. “They have no idea what they are doing. They are too complicated.”

Many congressional aides were caught by surprise from Trump’s announcement, as White House officials have expressed that they were working hard on a plan but nowhere near ready to provide new information. Lawmakers have been anxiously waiting for more details of Trump’s plan for weeks.

“I appreciate the President’s leadership and strong commitment to comprehensive tax reform,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) said Friday. “Ways and Means Republicans are ready to work with President Trump and his team on reforms that will grow our economy, create jobs, and increase paychecks.”

The release will come during a critical period for Trump. House Republicans are also working on plans to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act next week, and Congress must vote by Friday to continue funding the government or there will be a partial shutdown.

 

One reason overhauling the tax code is so difficult is because it is very difficult to do it without dramatically widening the deficit. Many lawmakers want to cut taxes, but cutting tax rates leads to a big drop in revenue, which makes the deficit larger unless there is a sharp contraction in spending. Trump has proposed to boost spending, at least in the short term, and many budget experts believe the tax plan he offered during the campaign would grow the federal debt.

President Barack Obama proposed lowering the corporate tax rate several years ago, but he also proposed raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans as a way to offset some of the lost revenue. This led to major blowback from many Republicans who saw it as a way of raising taxes. He also proposed limiting the deductions that the wealthiest Americans could claim, something that was also rejected.

Trump administration officials have said they will propose limiting some tax breaks, but this is not expected to be a big component of their plan. Instead, they are going to assume future economic growth caused by the tax cuts will create trillions of dollars in new revenue, a controversial assumption that many GOP congressional aides on Capitol Hill have cautioned against.

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White House confirms Trump congratulated Erdogan on referendum win

ANKARA, Turkey – US President Donald Trump called his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to congratulate him on winning the referendum boosting his powers, the White House confirmed on Monday.

The call was first reported by Turkish state media, one day after Erdogan won over 51 percent in Sunday’s vote.

“Trump called Erdogan tonight (Monday) and congratulated him on his success in the referendum,” Turkish presidential sources said, quoted by the government run Anadolu news agency.

The reaction from Trump contrasts with EU leaders who have been reserved in their reaction to the narrow victory while monitors expressed concern over the “unlevel playing field.”

The White House in a statement later on Monday said that the two leaders discussed a range of topics in addition to the vote in Turkey.

US President Donald Trump takes a question during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg  in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC, April 12, 2017. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

“President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory and to discuss the United States’s action in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons on April 4th,” the White House statement said.

“President Trump thanked President Erdogan for supporting this action by the United States, and the leaders agreed on the importance of holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable,” the statement continued.

“President Trump and President Erdogan also discussed the counter-ISIS campaign and the need to cooperate against all groups that use terrorism to achieve their ends.”

Trump-Abbas White House summit said set for May 3

A Palestinian official said Sunday that the much-touted first meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Donald Trump will take place on May 3 in the White House.

Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad also told the Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad that a Palestinian delegation will head to Washington on April 23 for preliminary meetings with the administration.

There was no immediate confirmation of the date from the White House or the Palestinian Authority.

“President Abbas will go to discuss the vital political and economic issue, with an emphasis on confirming the two-state solution, completely ending settlement construction and the occupation, and establishing a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with occupied Jerusalem as its capital,” al-Ahmad said.

Trump spoke to Abbas for the first time over the phone in March and invited him to the White House.

Abbas later told US special peace envoy Jason Greenblatt that he believed a “historic” peace deal with Israel was possible with Trump in office.

Greenblatt told Arab foreign ministers in late March that Trump was committed to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that would “reverberate” throughout the Middle East and the world.

In contrast, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said Saturday that the Israeli right had penetrated the American administration.

“We used to say there were settlers in the Israeli coalition born of the far right that detests Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. But today we say there are settlers inside the White House,” she said, in comments reported by the Ynet news website.

“The administration has adopted the extreme Israeli position to the right of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that supports the settlements.”

Greenblatt has made two trips to the region since Trump assumed the presidency in January in an effort to jumpstart the long-dormant peace negotiations.

During those visits, he met with multiple stakeholders in the conflict, including Netanyahu and Abbas. Trump hosted Netanyahu at the White House in February.

PLO official: Settlers (Jews) now inhabit the White House

As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas prepares to visit Washington to meet President Donald Trump, a top member of his administration lashed out at Trump’s team, saying the White House is inhabited by Israeli settlers.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said Saturday that the Israeli right has penetrated the American administration.

“We used to say there were settlers in the Israeli coalition borne of the far right that detests Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. But today we say there are settlers inside the White House,” she said, in comments reported by the Ynet news website.

“The administration has adopted the extreme Israeli position to the right of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and which supports the settlements.”

An exact date for the Trump-Abbas meeting has not been set, but a Palestinian advance team is reportedly expected to visit Washington DC later this month.

Trump spoke to Abbas for the first time over the phone in March and invited the Palestinian leader to the White House.

Abbas later told US special peace envoy Jason Greenblatt he believed a “historic” peace deal with Israel was possible with Trump in office.

Greenblatt told Arab foreign ministers in late March that Trump was committed to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that would “reverberate” throughout the Middle East and the world.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends the Arab League summit at the Dead Sea, Jordan, March 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Greenblatt has made two trips to the region since Trump assumed the presidency in January in an effort to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

During those visits, he met with multiple stakeholders in the conflict, including Netanyahu and Abbas. Part of the goal of those meetings was to reach an agreement that would limit Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank.

The Trump administration — which has held the position that settlements are not “an impediment to peace,” but at the same time do not “help to advance peace” — expressed approval of an Israeli decision to curtail settlement building to within existing settlement boundaries or, in most cases, adjacent to them.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu told the security cabinet in announcing the move.

The announcement came hours after the security cabinet approved the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank for families evicted from the recently razed Amona outpost.

The new settlement will be Israel’s first in some 25 years. While Israel stopped establishing new settlements in the early 1990s — after the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed — some outposts constructed since have been given retroactive approval, and existing settlements have expanded their geographical parameters.

White House Accuses Russia of Cover-Up in Syria Chemical Attack

WASHINGTON — The White House accused Russia on Tuesday of engaging in a cover-up of the Syrian government’s role in a chemical weapons attack last week, saying that United States intelligence had confirmed that the Assad regime used sarin gas on its own people.

A four-page report drawn up by the National Security Council contains declassified United States intelligence on the attack and a rebuttal of Moscow’s claim that insurgents unleashed the gas to frame the Syrian government. Instead, the White House asserted that Damascus and Moscow had released “false narratives” to mislead the world.

The document also urges international condemnation of Syria’s use of chemical weapons and harshly criticizes Russia for “shielding” an ally that has used weapons of mass destruction.

The release of the dossier at a White House briefing on Tuesday marked a striking shift by President Trump, who entered office praising President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia but now appears bent on pressuring him. The accusations came as Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, was preparing for meetings in Moscow on Wednesday, and as Congress and the F.B.I. are investigating potential ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“It’s no question that Russia is isolated,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. He said only Moscow and what he described as the “failed states” of Syria, North Korea and Iran disputed Damascus’s responsibility.

“This is not exactly a happy-time cocktail party of people you want to be associated with,” Mr. Spicer added. His choice of language in criticizing the Syrian government set off an intense backlash, after he suggested that President Bashar al-Assad was worse than Hitler — without acknowledging that Hitler gassed his own people during the Holocaust.

At the Kremlin on Tuesday, Mr. Putin spoke emphatically against the American accusations, saying he would request a formal examination by the United Nations and the international community and trying to cast doubt on the Trump administration’s conclusions. Mr. Putin compared the White House’s arguments to the erroneous intelligence findings on weapons of mass destruction that drew the United States into war with Iraq in 2003.

“To my mind, this strongly resembles what happened in 2003 when representatives of the United States showed in the Security Council what was supposed to be chemical weapons found in Iraq,” Mr. Putin said after a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy. Using an acronym for the Islamic State, he added, “A military campaign in Iraq ensued, and it ended in devastation of the country, growth of the terror threat and emergence of ISIL on the international scene.”

Mr. Trump on Tuesday defended the missile strikes after the chemical attack, even as he declared that United States involvement in Syria would be limited.

“We’re not going into Syria,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox News. “What I did should have been done by the Obama administration a long time before I did it, and you would have had a much better — I think Syria would have been a lot better off right now than it has been.”

That was a stark reversal from his position in 2013, when Mr. Trump implored President Barack Obama not to attack Syria, arguing there was “no upside and tremendous downside.”

Senior White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the declassified intelligence report, said Russia’s goal was to cover up the Syrian government’s culpability for the chemical attack. They asserted that the Syrian government, under pressure from opposition forces around the country and lacking enough troops to respond, used the lethal nerve agent sarin to target rebels who were threatening government-held territory.

During his daily White House news briefing, Mr. Spicer would not comment on the possibility that the Russian government had known in advance of Syria’s plan to carry out the chemical attack, or to launch a subsequent assault on a hospital that was treating victims.

“There’s no consensus within the intelligence community that there was involvement” by Russia, Mr. Spicer said.

But later on Tuesday, Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said she believed that the Russians had foreknowledge of the chemical attack.

“I think that they knew,” Ms. Haley told CNN in an interview.

Officials also noted that Russia, which brokered the 2013 agreement by which Syria agreed to surrender its chemical weapons, has repeatedly rejected evidence that Mr. Assad’s regime is still using them.

“Moscow’s response to the April 4 attack follows a familiar pattern of its responses to other egregious actions,” the report said. “It spins out multiple, conflicting accounts in order to create confusion and sow doubt within the international community.”

The tense back-and-forth between Washington and Moscow unfolded as Mr. Tillerson, in Italy on Tuesday, said that Mr. Assad’s reign in Syria was “coming to an end,” and warned that Russia was at risk of rendering itself irrelevant in the Middle East by continuing to support him.

He said Russia was either incompetent or inattentive in its failure to secure and destroy Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles. “But this distinction doesn’t much matter to the dead,” Mr. Tillerson said. “We can’t let this happen again.”

At the Pentagon, several officials said the presence of Russian personnel at the Al Shayrat airfield, used to launch the chemical strike, points to at least a possibility that Russia knew about the chemical attack. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday refused to make that direct accusation.

“It was very clear that the Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it and executed it,” Mr. Mattis said at a news conference, when asked whether Russia was involved. “We know what I’ve just told you. We don’t know anything beyond that.”

Mr. Mattis also declined to confirm reports that a Russian drone was flying over a hospital treating victims of the chemical attack last week, in advance of the hospital being bombed. While several United States officials have suggested privately that the hospital was targeted in an effort hide evidence of the chemical attack, Mr. Mattis appeared to be taking pains at Tuesday’s news conference to point his finger solely at Syria, at least for now.

“We have gone back through and looked at all the evidence,” Mr. Mattis said. “It is very clear who planned the attack, who authorized it and who executed it. There is no doubt at all.”

The Trump administration’s dossier appeared to suggest a broader effort to generate international consensus for a forceful response to the Syrian government’s actions. White House officials said they were eagerly awaiting action by the United Nations and the results of a fact-finding mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body charged with enforcing the global chemical weapons ban.

Britain, France and the United States are pushing for a vote as early as Wednesday on a draft United Nations Security Council resolution that would condemn the use of chemical attacks and remind the Syrian government to cooperate with international investigators. A verbal confrontation with Russia is likely, and possibly a veto.

Much of the White House report was devoted to rebutting Russia’s claim that the chemical attack last week, which it said killed as many as 100 people, including “many children,” was actually the result of a Syrian airstrike against a terrorist depot in the town of Khan Sheikhoun that contained chemical weapons. The report cited a video and commercial satellite imagery that showed that the chemical weapon had landed in the middle of a road, not at a weapons facility.

White House officials also said American intelligence agencies did not believe that the Islamic State or other terrorist groups had sarin gas.

The report also rejected Moscow’s claim that the attack was a “prank of a provocative nature” and denied Russian suggestions that the substance used might not have been sarin.

“Victims of the attack on April 4 displayed telltale symptoms of nerve agent exposure, including pinpoint pupils, foaming at the nose and mouth, and twitching,” the report said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Putin repeated his claim that opposition forces had essentially tried to frame the Syrian government by placing chemical weapons in civilian areas and blaming Mr. Assad’s forces.

“We have information from various sources that similar provocations — and I have no other word for that — are being prepared in other regions of Syria, including southern suburbs of Damascus, where they intend to plant certain substance again and accuse official Syrian authorities of using it,” Mr. Putin said.

But White House officials said antigovernment forces could not have fabricated the volume of evidence that points to the Assad regime’s responsibility.

In seeking to rebut Russia’s claim, the report went into detail about the carnage last week. It said social media reports placed the start of the attack at 6:55 a.m. in Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib Province. The United States’ assessment is that Su-22 bombers took off from the Al Shayrat airfield and delivered the chemical agent. It also asserts that “personnel historically associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program” had been at the airfield in late March preparing for an attack, and on the day it was carried out.

White House decries media ‘lack of interest’ in reports of Obama officials spying

The White House called on the media Monday to show more zeal in investigating allegations that Obama administration officials abused their access to intelligence to seek out and disclose potentially damaging information about Donald Trump’s campaign and transition.

Struggling to defuse ongoing investigations of alleged Russian interference in the election on behalf of now-President Trump, and to deflect reports of possible ties between Trump associates and Moscow, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he was “somewhat intrigued” at the media’s “lack of interest . . . in one set of developments versus another set of developments.”

But Spicer, in contrast to weeks of outrage he has expressed from the White House podium, said he would not comment on a new report that Susan E. Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, had requested that the intelligence community provide her with names of Trump associates whose conversations with foreigners were incidentally intercepted.

Conservative social-media agitator Mike Cernovich reported Sunday that the White House counsel’s office had “identified” Rice as asking for the names of “incoming Trump officials,” during an internal review of document logs. The report did not indicate whether conversations with Russians were involved.

Rice could not be reached for comment on the report.

Information from the review, according to White House officials, was turned over to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes subsequently announced that he had briefed Trump on the information.

Both the House and Senate intelligence committees, along with the FBI, are investigating the reports of Russian interference and possible collusion. House Democrats have said that Nunes, who also served as a Trump transition official, should step down as chairman. The standoff temporarily froze the committee’s hearings. On Monday, Nunes said the panel could resume interviewing witnesses in two weeks.

The administration has pushed back on the reports of Russia contacts by saying they stem from efforts by Obama officials to undermine Trump. That, the administration insists, should be the focus of investigations, rather than the information. Trump has charged, without offering proof, that his communications were intercepted under orders from Obama.

In a Monday tweet, Trump referred to “Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us . . . ‘Spied on before the nomination.’ The real story.”

“Unmasking” refers to revealing a name that has been blacked out in an intelligence report on surveillance. The law does not permit surveillance of U.S. persons without a warrant; if one shows up in authorized surveillance of a foreign person, it is “masked.”

According to a former senior national security official, top aides in all administrations are assigned an individual intelligence “briefer” who gives them a curated report each morning, including foreign surveillance reports deemed of interest to them.

The former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said that in a minority of cases, the recipient may determine that the context of a particular communication, especially if it deals with sensitive security or foreign policy matters, requires knowledge of the U.S. person involved. The official can ask the intelligence briefer to “unmask” that person. The request is considered and acted upon — or not — by the intelligence agency involved. The process is neither uncommon nor illegal.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he had no independent knowledge that Rice had unmasked Trump campaign or transition figures, but called the reports that she had “explosive” and called on her to testify before Congress. He also said he was considering a bill to reform the unmasking process to protect U.S. citizens caught in foreign surveillance dragnets.

Paul, who played golf with Trump over the weekend, said he raised the issue with Trump, but he did not detail the president’s views on the matter.

Trump’s White House struggles to get out from under Russia controversy

President Trump entered his 11th week in office Friday in crisis mode, his governing agenda at risk of being subsumed by escalating questions about the White House’s conduct in the Russia probe — which the president called a “witch hunt.”

Trump and his senior aides spent much of the day on the defensive, parrying the latest reports that senior administration officials had potentially acted improperly in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. elections and possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the actions of three senior White House aides who, according to media reports, helped facilitate the visit of the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), to the White House grounds last week to view classified intelligence documents.

“What he did, what he saw, who he met with was 100 percent proper,” Spicer said of Nunes.

The chairman later briefed the president on the information and declared publicly that the documents showed Trump campaign aides were swept up in U.S. intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals. That prompted the president to say he felt “somewhat” vindicated in his unsubstantiated allegations that President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him.

Trump, meanwhile, weighed in again Friday via Twitter by suggesting that he supported a request by his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, for immunity from prosecution in exchange for offering to testify in the probe.

“This is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems,” Trump wrote.

Spicer said the White House was not concerned that Flynn might reveal damaging information, even though Trump fired him in February over revelations Flynn misled senior officials, including Vice President Pence, over his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, called it a “grave and momentous step” for a national security official to seek immunity.

Schiff said the investigation “grows in severity and magnitude by the day,” and he said the committee has “much work and many more witnesses and documents” to review before any witness can be considered for immunity.

For the White House, it was another chaotic day in which its attempt to regain control of the political conversation — this time through two executive orders on trade — was relegated to an afterthought in Washington.

Trump aides have expressed growing frustration at their inability to gain control of Washington’s narrative, just over two months into the president’s tenure. And amid mounting attention on Trump’s frequent weekend jaunts to his winter retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., and attendant golf-course outings, aides said the president would remain in Washington this weekend holding meetings at the White House.

Flynn is asking for immunity. Here’s what he said about that before.

Trump has a lot to prepare for, with three world leaders — Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Chinese President Xi Jinping — due to meet with the president next week.

In many ways, the first weeks of the Trump White House have resembled a chaotic tech start-up. Inside the West Wing, according to White House officials, each new crisis and mishap, including the botched rollout of the president’s travel ban and the failure on the GOP health-care bill, has been viewed as a learning opportunity, to better understand what works and what doesn’t, as well as which staffers can perform under pressure — and, perhaps more importantly, which can’t.

On Thursday, the administration announced its first major staff adjustment, with Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh leaving to oversee an outside political group that supports the president’s agenda.

The official explanation was that after the health-care bill’s collapse, Walsh realized she could be of more value to the White House from the outside, helping guide a pro-Trump group that has provided almost no air cover for the president or his agenda.

But Walsh, one of the few top women in the West Wing, was never a likely fit in the Trump administration. A longtime confidante of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who had served as the Republican National Committee chairman, Walsh viewed Trump with skepticism throughout much of the campaign. And, in return, she was treated with suspicion by Trump loyalists who distrusted her background in mainstream Republican Party politics and thought she leaked information to the press, according to several administration officials.

The White House took the unusual move of having several aides gather a small group of reporters to insist, on background, that Walsh was not being fired and was simply leaving on her own accord.

By Thursday, senior aides were trying to beat back vaguely sourced reports on social media that Rick Dearborn, a deputy chief of staff who oversees legislative affairs, might also be on his way out. David Urban — who served as chief of staff to Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and helped run Trump’s campaign team in that state — was cited as a possible replacement. Urban’s name is often mentioned during times of turmoil, and he was previously floated as a possible replacement for Priebus.

Three White House officials insisted that Dearborn’s job was safe, and Cliff Sims, a Trump communications aide, lashed out at reporters on Twitter.

“Get a grip . . . And better ‘sources,’ ” Sims wrote.

But it was the Russia probe that continued to dominate the conversation in Washington, forcing the White House into a reactive posture for another day.

As the disclosures have mounted over communications between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials during the campaign and transition, the White House has sought to distance itself from the conduct of some members of the president’s campaign team.

But the revelations that three senior White House aides, including the top lawyer for the National Security Council, were involved in the handling of the files that were shared with Nunes has raised new questions about the conduct of the president’s staff.

“It’s shocking,” said Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration. “I used to work at the White House. I used to work at the NSC. . . . I never, ever briefed a U.S. congressman on anything in that capacity, and I’m not aware of anyone who did when I was there.”

Spicer dismissed suggestions that Nunes was granted carte blanche access to the White House’s 18-acre grounds, which includes the NSC headquarters in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door.

Trump’s White House looks to reset ties with Egypt

CAIRO (AFP) — After four years of tension with the United States, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi now has a fan in the White House and on Monday he meets President Donald Trump.

The American former reality television star and tycoon has made no secret of his admiration for the ex-army chief who overthrew his Islamist predecessor and cracked down on his supporters.

Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013, a year after he had won Egypt’s first democratic election, and the ensuing crackdown on Islamists prompted then US president Barack Obama to suspend military aid to Cairo temporarily.

But when Sisi meets Trump on Monday during his first state visit to Washington, he will see a counterpart who better appreciates his “mission” to fight Islamists and jihadists, without Obama’s hand-wringing over human rights.

“As a matter of fact President-elect Trump has shown deep and great understanding of what is taking place in the region as a whole and what is taking place in Egypt,” Sisi, who met Trump in September before his election, said in an interview.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a press conference, at the State House in Nairobi, February 18, 2017. (AFP/SIMON MAINA)

A senior White House official said Friday that Trump wants to “build on the strong connection the two presidents established” then.

Trump has been gushing about Sisi.

“He’s a fantastic guy. Took control of Egypt, and he really took control of it,” he told Fox Business of the period after Morsi’s overthrow which saw hundreds of Islamist protesters killed and thousands detained.

Over the past three years, Sisi has met a trickle of delegations from American think-tanks and other groups, drumming home the importance of supporting him.

“He made a passionate and convincing case for why all nations should stop working with Islamists,” said a member of one delegation who requested anonymity.

Egypt trying to reassert itself

Sisi often speaks of himself as though he were a Cassandra whose warnings go unheeded.

“We warned two years ago our European friends, the foreign fighters in Syria will return and commit terrorism in Europe,” he said during a 2016 visit by French President Francois Hollande.

Cairo is pleased by signals from Trump’s administration and Congress that they may consider blacklisting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, a move which also has its critics in Washington.

“America prepares to confront the Brotherhood,” read a banner headline in red in the official Al-Ahram newspaper.

“Beyond Sisi being thrilled that Trump replaced Obama, and the opportunity to turn a page, this is Egypt trying to reassert itself in a more central way to US Middle East strategy,” said Issandr El Amrani, the International Crisis Group’s North Africa director.

Egypt — one of two Arab countries to have a peace treaty with Israel — had traditionally played a central role in US regional alliances, in return receiving $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

Cairo has also mediated between Israel and the Palestinians.

Sisi’s office said he will broach the issue with Trump, who has confusingly suggested that he is fine with either a two-state or a one-state solution to the conflict.

Members of the UN Security Council vote in favor of condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at United Nations Headquarters. (Manuel Elias/United Nations via AP)

Sisi had already made a goodwill gesture on that front in January, retracting a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements after a call from the then president-elect who opposed it.

The resolution was reintroduced after objections by other Security Council members, and passed with the US abstaining.

“Egypt is one of the traditional pillars of stability in the Middle East and has been a reliable US partner for decades,” the White House official said on Friday.

Sisi’s trip comes ahead of Trump’s talks on Wednesday with King Abdullah II of Jordan and after a tentative invitation to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to visit.

US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt has been trying to build momentum for a deal that would be the ultimate achievement for a president who prides himself on his bargaining prowess.

Although Sisi may be delighted about having Trump’s ear, he may yet be disappointed.

“The focus (for Trump) is on areas where Egypt has little relevance, like Iraq and Syria,” El Amrani said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Sunday, July 10, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Egypt is part of the international coalition against the Islamic State group, but is bogged down fighting the jihadists’ franchise in the Sinai Peninsula, where they have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.

Western officials who requested anonymity say Egypt is primarily interested in advanced military hardware it believes Western countries are withholding.

Cairo also wants conventional equipment that Washington believes is not useful for a counter-insurgency campaign.

US Secret Service detains man with package outside White House

WASHINGTON — The US Secret Service detained a male suspect carrying a package and making “suspicious comments” near the White House Tuesday, according to an official who said the man was taken into custody and explosives experts were deployed.

A Secret Service official said the suspect had approached uniformed officers near 15th and Pennsylvania at around 10:15 a.m., a block from the White House.

In a series of tweets to its official Twitter account, the Secret Service announced that “members of the public and media are being moved to a safe distance.”

The man was separated from the package and detained in a police vehicle, a security perimeter was established, and “the package is now in Secret Service custody,” the official said, asking not to be named.

Fox News, citing an agency source, reported that the suspect had told officers he had a bomb in the bag.

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner: Rising Powers at the White House

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/ivanka-trump-jared-kushner-rising-powers-white-house-n739126?cid=eml_nnn_20170328

 

The speculation began almost immediately after Donald Trump was elected: Who would have the ear of the famously unpredictable 45th president?

For a time it appeared that White House adviser Steve Bannon, memorably depicted as the Grim Reaper on “Saturday Night Live,” was the power behind the throne. Another trusted aide, Kellyanne Conway, was also said to be an influential member of Trump’s inner circle. And then there were Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller — all skilled and ambitious political animals vying for the boss’ attention.

But two months into Trump’s presidency, it’s becoming clear that blood and family have trumped ambition on Pennsylvania Avenue with First Daughter Ivanka Trump emerging as a powerbroker in her own right, along with her husband Jared Kushner.

“Ivanka Trump is all powerful,” a source familiar with the inner workings of the White House told NBC News.

Some of that influence was on display Monday as Ivanka chaired a roundtable meeting for female small business owners in the Roosevelt Room. The president’s eldest daughter urged collaboration from the dozen women seated around the table, which included White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks, Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, and newly appointed Deputy National Security Adviser for strategy Dina Powell.

Empowering women is not her father’s issue, it’s Ivanka’s. And she’s making the most of her opportunity.

“She has these issues that she’s passionate about and has been for a long time, even before her dad started running for president, and she’s excited about the opportunity to advocate for these issues,” an administration official close to Ivanka told NBC News. “She is nothing but a positive influence on both the president, but also on the issue-set.”

In some ways, Ivanka is a chip off the old block.

“She is not unlike her father in that she’s a great negotiator,” the official said. But she brings to the table a “certain finesse.”

Consider the awkward first meeting between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While many fixated on the non-handshake between the world leaders, Merkel quietly invited Ivanka to attend the upcoming women’s empowerment meeting next month in Berlin, NBC has learned.

Both Merkel and Ivanka are “deeply interested in increasing women’s participation in STEM fields,” a source told NBC, using the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

Image: President Trump and Chancellor Merkel news conference March 17, 2017
Jared Kushner, counselor to President Donald J. Trump, waits for a news conference with the president in the East Room of the White House on March 17, 2017. Martin H. Simon / Redux Pictures

With Trump’s third wife, Melania, opting to stay in Manhattan with their son Barron, Ivanka has also taken on some of the ceremonial duties typically filled by the First Lady. She often serves as Trump’s “consigliere” and, in a White House filling with infighting, is “there to protect her father’s interest,” a source told NBC News.

Now with a West Wing office, she also has also been called on to serve as an adviser on issues not on her radar, most recently on Friday when the Trump-backed plan to replace Obamacare crashed and burned.

Meanwhile, the profile of Trump’s son-in-law is also on the rise. On Monday, it was announced that Kushner was tapped to oversee a new office called the White House Office of American Administration, whose mission is to make the federal government run more like a business.

“We should have excellence in government,” Kushner told The Washington Post, which broke the story on Sunday. “The government should be run like a great American company.”

Not lost on White House watchers was this — Bannon has no formal role in the new, high-profile entity. Neither does Pence, or Priebus, or Miller.

But with a higher profile comes great exposure for Kushner, as it has for Ivanka, with ethics experts raising questions about how she can fully separate her business interests — she owns a jewelry and clothing line — from her service in her father’s administration.

Kushner has agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and could face some tough questions from the panel looking into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian spies. Among other things, Kushner will be asked about his meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., at Trump Tower.

RELATED: Ivanka Trump to get West Wing office

Once fixtures on the Manhattan social scene, Ivanka and Jared have transformed themselves into a Washington “power couple” and they are using their clout and charm to push their own socially liberal but fiscally conservative agendas.

“They feed off one another,” the source said.

How much clout do they have?

Last month, Ivanka and Jared reportedly helped kill a proposed executive order that would have rolled back Obama administration protections for the LGBTQ community — protections that cultural conservatives like Pence very much oppose.

Neither of them are Republicans. She is an independent and called Chelsea Clinton a friend. He is a Democrat whose dad, Charles, was a bigtime donor to the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign.

By all accounts, 35-year-old Ivanka is a Daddy’s Girl. Trump’s daughter by first wife, Czech model Ivana Trump, little Ivanka clung to her father when her parents split. After graduating cum laude from her father’s alma mater, the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania (and a brief modeling career of her own), she went into the family business — the Trump Organization.

Jared, 36, is the eldest son of a Jersey-based real estate tycoon who was prosecuted in 2004 by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie for making illegal campaign contributions — and for retaliating against his brother-in-law by hiring a prostitute to seduce him. Charles Kushner wound up serving 14 months in a federal prison camp.

When Charles Kushner got out, the family business decamped for Manhattan where young Jared found a foothold in the media scrum by buying the influential weekly newspaper, The New York Observer, and soon became fast friends with the likes of FOX News mogul Rupert Murdoch.

RELATED: Jared Kushner to oversee government overhaul

Jared and Ivanka met in 2005 and when the New York tabloids got wind of the romance they dubbed the handsome young couple J-Vanka. Three years later, the couple split over religion. She was Presbyterian. He’s an Orthodox Jew. And his parents wanted him to marry in the faith.

But after Ivanka agreed to convert to Judaism, the couple tied the knot in 2009. They have three children whom they are raising Jewish.

During the presidential campaign, Ivanka became Trump’s ambassador to a key voting block he alienated with his boorish behavior — women. She was also a calming influence on the often-volatile candidate, unflappable and unfailingly polite even as her dad waged a scorched earth campaign against Clinton.

Kushner also became a key figure in the campaign and was appointed senior adviser after the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel ruled that the president’s “special hiring authority” allowed him to get around federal anti-nepotism rules.

After the election, the couple moved to Washington and rented a $5.5 million mansion in the tony Kalorama neighborhood where their new neighbors include former president Barack Obama and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

While Trump took the unprecedented step of seeking top-secret clearance for Kushner so he could attend Presidential Daily Briefings, Ivanka began testing the Washington waters.

One administration official close to her describes the First Daughter’s first weeks as a sort of listening tour around the nation’s capital, “meeting with people, listening, and just kind of getting a sense of what role she could play.”