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With An Early Morning Tweet, Trump Attacks Kerry And Appears To Confirm Iran Deal Withdrawal

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John Kerry speaks with Iran's Houssein Fereydoun and Javad Zarif in Vienna in 2015 (State Dept photo) / Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign rally (Gage Skidmore).

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2018 — With a single tweet attacking former Secretary of State John Kerry, President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to confirm that he will announce the United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal.

“John Kerry can’t get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it,” Trump wrote, adding that Kerry should “stay away from negotiations” and that the former senator and diplomat was “hurting [his] country.” According to the White House, Trump’s tweets are official statements by the president.

Trump’s allegation that Kerry “had his chance and blew it” regarding the Iran deal is the latest indication that Trump will announce that he will withdraw the U.S. from the JCPOA when he appears in the Diplomatic Room of the White House at 2:00 pm Tuesday.

The agreement, which was adopted in October of 2015 and went into effect three months later, requires Tehran to adhere to strict limits and prohibitions on practices and technologies that would enable development of a nuclear weapon, including a regime of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange, the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union — including signatory nations Germany and the United Kingdom — agreed to lift the economic sanctions that had been leveled against Tehran in recent years as a result of that country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Why Trump can pull the U.S. out of the deal

Trump’s ability to withdraw the United States from the deal stems from a provision imposed on the White House by the Senate, which requires the president to certify to Congress at 90-day intervals that Tehran is in compliance with the agreement.

That provision, sources say, was written into law in part to appease some Senators who were skeptical of the deal as a condition of winning their votes to approve it. While sources say some Republicans expected the provision to present a recurring opportunity to criticize Hillary Clinton — who was widely expected to win the 2016 election — each time she certified Tehran’s compliance, Trump’s unexpected victory in the 2016 election instead made the provision into a recurring opportunity to fulfill one of his major campaign promises.

Although he has defied expectations by acceding to the wishes of his national security team — particularly Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — in previously certifying that Tehran is in compliance with the agreement, those previous certifications came somewhat as a surprise to Trump watchers, as the mercurial president has long been expected to withdraw the United States from the agreement, which he has often criticized since his days as a candidate for the presidency, calling it “one of the worst deals ever made.”

Trump previously punted to Congress but Congress punted back

When another such deadline loomed two months ago, Trump announced that he was decertifying Iran’s compliance with the deal — against the advice of his national security team — but left the decision as to whether or not to reimpose sanctions to Congress, which had a 60-day deadline to do so. Congress also failed to address Trump’s concerns regarding the agreement’s “sunset provisions,” which allow some portions of the agreement to expire over the a period of years. Trump and other Iran hawks have expressed concerns that such an expiration would give Iran implicit permission to begin their nuclear weapons program anew, though Iran also agreed to implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s “additional protocol” requiring International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.

Other concerns expressed by Trump and other JCPOA skeptics include the deal’s failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program — which is covered by a separate U.N. resolution — as well as Iran’s military expeditions in Yemen and Tehran’s support for Hezbollah, even though none of those issues were germane to the deal, which was solely meant to address Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.

But Congress failed to act, and with today’s expiration of that 60-day deadline, that inaction means Trump now has the ammunition to please the more hawkish elements of the Republican party by withdrawing the United States from the agreement entirely.

Macron and Merkel’s stock falls, Netanyahu’s rises

Trump’s announcement that the United States will exit the agreement will be yet another chance for Trump to dismantle one of former President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishments. But it will also come as a rebuke to two of America’s strongest allies and supporters of the deal — French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who both lobbied Trump to stay in the deal during back-to-back visits to Washington last month.

However, America’s withdrawal will be a boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long been an opponent of the deal, to the point of delivering a politically-charged speech to a joint session of Congress in which he urged the Senate to reject it.

Netanyahu responded to Macron and Merkel’s charm offensive last month with a televised presentation — delivered in english and seemingly tailor-made for Trump, who is a voracious consumer of television news. That presentation revealed Israel had acquired evidence of the extent of Iran’s previous nuclear program, prompting a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stating that “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people.”

However, after it was pointed out that the evidence revealed by Netanyahu only showed Iran’s past efforts towards a nuclear weapon, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, the statement was later corrected on the White House website to read: “Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program,” though Sanders’ office notably did not send a corrected version to the White House’s press email distribution list.

Sanders also took to her podium Monday to denounce Kerry, who was recently reported to have met with Iranian officials at the UN in an effort to save the agreement. Responding to a question about another of Trump’s Twitter-based attacks on the former Secretary of State, who had urged President Trump to remain in the deal, Sanders dismissed Kerry’s counsel as unwanted and unlikely to swap the president.

“I don’t think we’d take advice from somebody who created what the President sees to be one of the worst deals ever made,” Sanders said. “I’m not sure why we’d start listening to him now.”

Sanders also declined to answer questions about reports that the Trump administration had engaged the same Israel-based private intelligence firm used by disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein to dig into the background of some of the Obama administration staffers who’d worked to put the deal together, including former National Security Council spokesperson Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, former Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.

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Andrew Feinberg is the Managing Editor and lead Washington Correspondent for Breakfast Media, and covers the White House, Capitol Hill, courts and regulatory agencies for BeltwayBreakfast and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has written about policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007.

Not So Fast, Mr. President

EXCLUSIVE: Congressman Who Teaches Constitutional Law Says Trump’s Latest Tweets Reveal ‘The Mind Of A King’

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WASHINGTON, June 4, 2018 – A Democratic congressman and constitutional law professor says President Trump’s latest tweets on the constitutionality of Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election meddling, his pardon power and trade deficits represent “a brazen expansion of the president’s monarchical pretensions.”

“The president has revealed that he has the mind of a king,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who has taught constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law since 1990. “Whether he’s a mad king or not is in the eye of the beholder.”

Raskin spoke with BeltwayBreakfast shortly after President Trump capped off a Monday morning tweetstorm by claiming the appointment of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as a special prosecutor was unconstitutional.

“The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally unconstitutional!” Trump wrote, adding that despite that, his administration “[plays] the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!”

Separate Tweets on pardon power and presidential authority on trade

In separate tweets – which the White House has said are official statements by the president – Trump also claimed that “numerous legal scholars” have said he has “the absolute right to pardon himself,” and that he will end trade deficits by negotiating deals to prevent “Mexico, Canada, China and others” from treating “U.S. farmers and other businesses” unfairly.

Raskin first weighed in on Trump’s claim that Mueller’s appointment was unconstitutional, noting that the tweet was so vague that it was unclear whether the president was arguing that only Mueller’s investigation was unconstitutional, or if he was referring to all investigations involving the appointment of a special prosecutor.

It would be hard for either argument to stick, Raskin said, in light of a 7-1 Supreme Court decision in 1988, Morrison v. Olson, upholding the 1978 Independent Counsel Act. That precedent empowered prosecutors like Kenneth W. Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

The 1978 law, Raskin said, was found to be constitutional even though it granted special prosecutors even more powers than Mueller, a mere special prosecutor, has under the regulations governing his appointment.

Trump’s claims are beyond that of the ‘unitary executive’ theory

Previous presidents have staked out an expansive view of executive authority under a constitutional theory known as the “unitary executive.” Such a theory claims that the constitution allows a president to directly control the entire executive branch.

But for Raskin, Trump’s latest argument amounts to a belief that “anything which offends him on any given day is unconstitutional,” which, to him, makes Trump sound less like George W. Bush and a lot more like France’s Louis XIV.

“Essentially we’ve arrived at the argument of ‘L’Etat, C’est Moi,’ he said.

In Raskin’s view, Trump’s assertions of such wide unfettered authority represent “a brazen expansion of the president’s monarchical pretensions,” and go against the very principles on which the United States was founded.

“The whole point of our revolution and our constitution was to reject monarchy. The president’s primary responsibility is to take care that the laws are faithfully executed,” he said.

“This president thinks that the laws simply don’t apply to him, and if he doesn’t like them, they’re unconstitutional.”

Legal scholars are not united in favoring Trump’s monarchical pretensions

Raskin further said Trump’s claim that numerous legal scholars say he has the absolute right to pardon himself was “clearly in contradiction of law and the constitution,” and that his proposed grant of clemency to disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was “chilling.”

“Now the White House is arguing that there are no limits to the pardon power. They are essentially arguing that they can sell pardons and can promise people pardons for criminal conduct,” Raskin said.

“The only question is whether the proper response to a corrupt pardon is impeachment or prosecution, but it is clearly wrong to say that the president can sell a pardon or offer a pardon for corrupt purposes.”

Trump’s “monarchical pretensions” also extends to his use of a little-used national security law to unilaterally impose tariffs on many of America’s allies, Raskin added.

“Even if you grant the president wide authority under the various trade provisions, there still has to be some rational basis for his actions, that means there’d have to be some rational argument that national security is implicated,” he said.

Raskin called particular attention to Trump’s claim that trade deficits are evidence of bad trade deals, noting that the president’s idea of a good trade deal appears to be one that forces other countries to buy American goods.

“Befitting a king, Trump wants to return our economic and trade policies to the mercantilism of the 16th and 17th centuries,” he said.

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Trump Tweets

White House Economic Advisers Defend Trump’s Job Numbers Spoiler

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WASHINGTON, June 1, 2018 — Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow on Friday defended President Trump’s decision to tweet about the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly unemployment numbers over an hour before they were to be released publicly.

The BLS normally releases its monthly jobs report for the previous month at 8:30 am on the first Friday of every month. Their release, which can significantly move markets, is carefully guarded under Office of Management and Budget rules set out in the innocuously-named Statistical Policy Directive N0. 3.

While OMB rules allow the president and others to be briefed on those numbers “so long as there is no risk of prerelease disclosure or use,” the rules also say agencies “must ensure that adequate steps (e.g., sequestering those granted access) are taken to prevent prerelease disclosure or use.”

Nevertheless, the president weighed on the monthly numbers on Twitter early Friday, writing at 7:21 am: “Looking forward to seeing the unemployment numbers at 8:30 am this morning.”

When asked about the president’s tweet, Hassett said Trump’s interest in the numbers is  “extremely appropriate” and defended the president by noting that he didn’t release the actual numbers early.

“[Trump] didn’t put the numbers in a tweet or anything, and I can tell you that he loves the economic numbers, we talk about them often, and the meetings go really, really long because he’s trying to help America’s workers especially, and so the jobs report is probably the most important thing for that.”

Hassett explained that Trump had been briefed on the jobs report Thursday night, but when asked whether the president had spoken to anyone about the numbers between the briefing and his tweet Friday, he said he hadn’t spoken to anyone about the possibility.

When asked whether it was appropriate for the president to tweet about the jobs report before its official release, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow responded: “Why not? He didn’t give anything to anyone.”

When it was pointed out that the jobs report routinely moves markets, Kudlow noted that short sellers might have concluded that the president was gaming him and not done anything with them and stressed that Trump did nothing wrong because he didn’t tweet out the actual numbers.

Asked whether Trump had violated the OMB policy directive, Kudlow denied it, repeating that the numbers had not been revealed to the public.

“No one revealed the numbers to the public,” he said.

When it was pointed out to Kudlow that the president would have no reason to tweet about a jobs report that was not positive and asked why Trump would’ve tweeted about a negative jobs report,” Kudlow dismissed the question as “a therapy thing.”

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Foreign Policy

Trump Tuesday Tweetstorm Confirms North Korean Official Coming To US; Lies About Mueller Probe Once More

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WASHINGTON, May 29, 2018 — President Donald Trump on Tuesday confirmed that a North Korean official is en route to the United States for summit talks.

“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!” Trump wrote in one of a series of tweets Tuesday morning.

Trump continued tweeting with a series of early-morning attacks on the Justice Department investigation into his campaign’s alleged ties with the Russian government, particularly the FBI’s use of a confidential informant to gather information on whether the Trump campaign was receiving “dirt” on his 2016 opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from Russia.

“The 13 Angry Democrats (plus people who worked 8 years for Obama) working on the rigged Russia Witch Hunt, will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections, especially now that Republicans (stay tough!) are taking the lead in Polls, There was no Collusion, except by the Democrats!” Trump wrote, adding later: “Why aren’t the 13 Angry and heavily conflicted Democrats investigating the totally Crooked Campaign of totally Crooked Hillary Clinton. It’s a Rigged Witch Hunt, that’s why! Ask them if they enjoyed her after election celebration!”

Both of Trump’s tweets regarding the Russia investigation were rife with falsehoods, however.

His assertion that the probe is being conducted by “Angry Democrats” and his invocation of Hillary Clinton’s election-night event appeared to reference an article from The Daily Caller, a news outlet at least partially owned by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson.

The article notes that one of the prosecutors working under former FBI Director Robert Mueller, Andrew Weissman, attended Clinton’s election-night party, and donated a combined $6,600 to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

While Mueller has hired several prosecutors who have made donations to Democrats in the past, he is a registered Republican, as are his supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Both Rosenstein and Wray were appointed by Trump.

Moreover, while Mueller is a political appointee, both Justice Department regulations and the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act explicitly prohibit him from taking a person’s political affiliation into account when hiring people to serve under him, as the people in those positions are considered “career” civil servants.

Another of Trump’s often-repeated assertions which turns out to be factually incorrect suggests that Democrats, and not his campaign “colluded” with Russia.

This refers to the so-called “dossier” compiled by Christopher Steele, an ex-British spy and Russia expert who was retained by opposition research firm Fusion GPS to dig into Trump’s alleged Russia connections.

Because Fusion GPS’ efforts — originally begun under contract to a conservative news organization — had later been paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Trump and other Republicans have claimed that the “real collusion” was between Democrats and Russia because Steele’s  “dossier” research obtained information from Russian sources.

 

 

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