Congress News, Analysis and Opinion from POLITICO en-us 2019 POLITICO Mon, 24 Jun 2019 18:15:53 GMT These 3 lawmakers know the secrets in Mueller's report They've got special access because they sit on both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees. Mon, 24 Jun 2019 16:46:01 GMT Andrew Desiderio

The fate of Donald Trump’s presidency may hinge on Congress’ handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report — yet just three rank-and-file members of the House are allowed to view Mueller's confidential files.

Reps. Val Demings (D-Fla.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) are the only members of the 435-member House that sit on both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, and so they have access to evidence that underpins both volumes of Mueller’s report — the one on contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign that the Intelligence panel is reviewing, and the one on Trump’s efforts to interfere with the investigation that Judiciary panel is exploring.

As lawmakers deal with the fallout of one of the most consequential investigations in a generation, these three lawmakers remain the highest-ranking elected officials with access to both sets of evidence — a result of complex and confrontational negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration — which could help determine whether lawmakers move forward with an impeachment inquiry against Trump. (Like all other lawmakers, they are unable to view grand-jury evidence, which by law cannot be disclosed.)

“We started off wanting every member of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, to be able to review the Mueller report and all supporting materials,” Demings said in an interview. “That’s what we wanted because we have to make some critical decisions moving forward, whether it’s to begin an impeachment inquiry or just continue the investigations. We are not able to do that as of yet.”

For Democrats, the limited access is a far cry from their demands that all 535 members of Congress receive access to Mueller’s complete report and underlying evidence. But it’s an arrangement that House leaders have reluctantly agreed to as they wrestle with a growing faction of Democrats — almost one-third of the caucus — demanding impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Demings and Swalwell both support an impeachment inquiry; Ratcliffe opposes impeachment, like all Republicans except Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.).

But all three have been granted a unique level of access as the Intelligence and Judiciary panels remain locked in grueling negotiations with the Justice Department over access to Mueller’s underlying evidence.

After several rounds of brinkmanship and false starts, both committees reached tentative agreements with the Justice Department to begin reviewing slices of Mueller’s files — so long as the lawmakers promise to keep a tight lid on what they see. The rules are so strict that members of the Intelligence Committee are prohibited from discussing what they see with members of the Judiciary Committee, and vice-versa.

The Justice Department recently wrote in a court filing that lawmakers and aides are to “strictly maintain the confidentiality of any information contained in the report and to use that information only for committee purposes.”

Those limits also create a difficult personal dynamic for the three lawmakers involved, who must self-censor their conversations with colleagues on each of the committees.

“It does come with the added burden of being extraordinarily responsible with the information,” Swalwell acknowledged.

“There’s just a weird way of how your brain compartmentalizes it,” Swalwell continued. “It’s not an accident that the Intel Committee is three floors under the Capitol. When you come upstairs — I don’t necessarily think about what I heard down there until I go back down there again. It’s just a physical, out of sight, out of mind. I don’t cross the two.”

The Intelligence Committee has begun to review confidential counterintelligence information about Russia’s effort to interfere in the 2016 election, as well as contacts between Russian operatives and members of the Trump campaign. The Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, has started to receive access to evidence that Trump attempted to interfere in the Russia investigation. That evidence includes contemporaneous notes and FBI witness interview notes.

Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney, says he’s been eager to review as much information as the Justice Department is willing to show him. “I’ve seen everything I can as quickly as they’ll let me,” he said. And he added that he wishes more colleagues on both sides of the aisle could have the same vantage point.

“I’m grateful that I’m one of the few that have had the opportunity,” Ratcliffe said. “I’m trying to take advantage of that for the benefit of educating not just Republican members of Congress but members of the public within the confines of not divulging information that I can’t for national security reasons.”

Ratcliffe noted that he’s similarly well-positioned to inform his colleagues and the public because he sat inside the room last year when the Republican-led Judiciary and Oversight Committees investigated the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. In those sessions, a handful of lawmakers directly interviewed many of the figures who played central roles in Mueller’s investigation, including James Comey, Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok.

Ratcliffe noted that even though he wishes more lawmakers could see the information he’s reviewing, many who already have access to portions of the report have declined to view them. Some of those members have declined on principle since all lawmakers can’t review the materials.

“I do think it would be helpful if more members had access, but I also think it’d be helpful if more members took advantage of the access that they had,” Ratcliffe said. “Frankly, on both sides there are folks that have the opportunity to look at information and they haven’t availed themselves of that opportunity yet, but it allows for a more informed discussion all the way around.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Oversight panel demands White House official testify on Trump-Putin docs Mon, 24 Jun 2019 14:31:10 GMT Andrew Desiderio

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is demanding that the White House’s records chief testify about President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to conceal documents detailing his private conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a letter to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the White House has ignored his requests for information about Trump’s compliance with the Presidential Records Act, which mandates that such documents be preserved.

“These actions do not serve the interests of the American people, and they obstruct and frustrate the committee’s review,” Cummings wrote in his letter, which comes just a few days before Trump is scheduled to meet with Putin at the G-20 summit in Japan.

Democrats have long been suspicious of Trump’s private conversations with Putin — most notably, after his meeting with the Russian president in Helsinki last year, when Trump bucked his own intelligence agencies by saying he had no reason to believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier this year, the White House rejected a joint request from Cummings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) for documents related to those discussions, which took place at various points throughout Trump’s first two years in office.

At the time, White House officials said Trump was concerned that the contents of those documents — including the interpreter’s notes — would leak to the media, prompting the president to safeguard them.

Cummings wants the White House records manager “or another official competent to address these issues” sit with the committee for a transcribed interview by July 8.

Cummings also asked the White House to answer questions about reports that Trump confiscated an American interpreter’s notes detailing his private conversation with Putin in July 2017.

The chairman did not threaten to issue a subpoena, but the White House has rebuffed a growing number of requests for information from House Democrats, including the Oversight Committee’s investigation into alleged abuses of the White House security clearance process.

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Adam Schiff: 'We're running out of time' to subpoena Mueller Mon, 24 Jun 2019 14:23:42 GMT Ocasio-Cortez and Steve King trade jabs over 'concentration camps' reference Sun, 23 Jun 2019 21:28:39 GMT (Bianca Quilantan) Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Sunday lashed back at Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) after he suggested she accept an open invitation from a Holocaust remembrance group to tour Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during summer recess.

“@AOC I went to Auschwitz & Birkenau with Eddie Mausberg & Jonny Daniels with In the Depths,” King wrote on Saturday. “I went with a deep understanding of the Shoah and had a profound personal experience. Please accept their offer.”

The New York Democrat, known for her Twitter ripostes, responded on Sunday: “The last time you went on this trip it was reported that you also met w/ fringe Austrian neo-Nazi groups to talk shop.”

“I’m going to have to decline your invite,” she tweeted. “But thank you for revealing to all how transparently the far-right manipulates these moments for political gain.”

Before declining the invitation, Ocasio-Cortez also took jabs at the Iowa Republican over his defense of the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” during a New York Times interview.

“Mr. King, the Republican Party literally stripped you of your Congressional committee assignments because you were too racist even for them,” she wrote on Twitter. “My Jewish constituents have made clear to me that they proudly stand w/ caged children who are starved, denied sleep & sanitation” — a reference to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The squabble follows Ocasio-Cortez’s comments in a video last week in which she compared Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers to “concentration camps.”

“The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border, and that is exactly what they are — they are concentration camps,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the Instagram video, sparking an online debate.

The term “concentration camp” predates the Holocaust by decades and became widely used during the Boer War in South Africa, when British troops rounded up and interned tens of thousands of people. Similar tactics were used by U.S. forces fighting against Filipino soldiers to defeat the independence movement in the Philippines.

King isn’t the first Republican to criticize Ocasio-Cortez over her border remarks. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) took to Twitter last week to rail against them, saying she was “happy to help educate” her Democratic colleague.

“Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust,” Cheney wrote. “You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”

On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez fired back at Cheney, as well.

“Hey @Liz_Cheney, you’re the GOP Conference Chair — perhaps you should come collect your colleague before more members of your caucus start saying the quiet parts loud,” she tweeted, referring to King.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

House Oversight threatens to subpoena Kellyanne Conway Sun, 23 Jun 2019 20:27:59 GMT Andrew Desiderio

The House Oversight and Reform Committee will vote to authorize a subpoena for White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday if she does not show up for the panel’s hearing on her alleged violations of the Hatch Act, according to a memo sent to lawmakers.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has cited Conway for multiple violations of the Hatch Act, and earlier this month, Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner recommended that President Donald Trump terminate her White House employment.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the committee, invited both Kerner and Conway to attend Wednesday’s hearing. Cummings asked Conway to inform the panel by Monday at 5 p.m. whether she plans to attend. As of Friday, according to the committee’s memo, neither Conway nor the White House had responded.

The Hatch Act bars federal employees from participating in political speech while performing their official duties. The OSC is an independent federal agency.

Conway has grown defiant over the multiple alleged violations of the Hatch Act. Last month, she brushed off the allegations, telling reporters, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work.” She also joked about the law, saying, “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

White House spokesman Steven Groves accused the OSC of trying to “weaponize” the Hatch Act, and said the OSC’s June 13 report disregards Conway’s First Amendment rights to free speech. Trump has said he does not plan to fire Conway.

The OSC first dinged Conway for Hatch Act violations after she commented on the Alabama Senate race in 2017. More recently, the OSC said, Conway was improperly using her White House position to weigh in on the 2020 presidential race.

“Ms. Conway’s advocacy against the Democratic candidates and open endorsement of the president’s re-election effort during both official media appearances and on her Twitter account constitute prohibited personnel activity under the Hatch Act,” the OSC’s June 13 report said.

The Oversight Committee has been investigating the Trump administration on a host of issues, including alleged abuses with the security clearance process and the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Tom Cotton said retaliatory strikes against Iran were ‘warranted’ Sun, 23 Jun 2019 14:09:37 GMT (Martin Matishak)

Sen. Tom Cotton on Sunday said militarily strikes against Iran last week were “warranted” and urged the administration to be skeptical when dealing with Tehran.

“Obviously I think retaliatory strikes were warranted,” the Arkansas Republican, a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

“What I see is Iran steadily marching up the escalation chain,” he added. “I fear that if Iran doesn’t have a firm set of boundaries drawn around its behavior, we’re going to see an attack on a U.S. ship or a U.S. manned aircraft.”

Cotton said he hoped that such an incident wouldn’t happen, but noted Iran has a “long history” of escalation in the region.

President Donald Trump has confirmed he called off a retaliatory strike on Iran after it downed an unmanned drone. The last-minute decision was made after learning of the strike’s potential death toll, according to Trump.

Cotton’s remarks come a week after he urged the White House to strike Iran for allegedly attacking two oil tankers. “Unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Cotton, who has offered a hard-line rationale for the president to take action, said one of the reasons Tehran is “lashing out” is because of the “maximum pressure” campaign the administration has put on the country, driving its economy to “near-depression levels of activity.”

He said the response to Iran’s threat to violate the enrich uranium beyond the limits set by the Obama-era nuclear deal is up to the European nations in the Iran nuclear deal. Cotton said the Europeans should consider Trump’s restraint last week as an “opening” to “double-down” on economic sanctions.

Cotton said the administration’s policy Iran to date has made “reasonable requests” but cautioned the White House against hoping the regime would completely change its behavior.

“A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted when you’re dealing with regimes like the Ayatollah‘s,” according to Cotton.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump can't hide from Senate debate on Iran Lawmakers will likely spotlight the president's moves on Iran next week when they take up the annual defense policy bill. Fri, 21 Jun 2019 21:19:42 GMT (Connor O’Brien)

President Donald Trump may not want a high-profile congressional debate on war with Iran, but he might not have much say in the matter.

Just as military tensions reach new heights with Tehran, the Senate is taking up its annual defense bill next week — a must-pass Pentagon policy measure that will put the president’s Iran approach in the spotlight.

And Democrats are seizing on the chance to try to rein Trump in — demanding a vote on an amendment that would require congressional approval for a military confrontation with Iran.

"One of the best ways to avoid bumbling into a war, a war that nobody wants, is to have a robust and open debate and for Congress to have a real say," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said this week.

The push marks the latest Senate attempt to restrain Trump’s authority when it comes to conflict in the Middle East. A bipartisan majority passed a resolution Thursday to block the Trump administration’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without congressional approval.

But the stakes with Iran are much bigger, with Democrats and some Republicans warning against stumbling into another endless and costly war in the Middle East without proper congressional approval.

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act is sponsored by Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, and has support from the rest of the Democratic caucus.

In an interview, Udall was optimistic his proposal could be adopted if it received a vote, noting that “we are on the brink of war.”

“We were 10 minutes from war last night,” Udall said. “And the president acknowledged that in his tweet. He was 10 minutes away from launching a missile that would kill 150 people that’s... a War Power hostility, it requires the action of Congress.”

Whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will allow a vote on Udall’s amendment is unclear.

The Kentucky Republican told reporters this week that the defense policy bill would be "open to amendment" and that he has “no desire to prevent amendments.” But he noted that in the Senate, cooperation from all 100 senators is required to get amendment votes scheduled. And the objection of just one senator could bring the process to a halt.

While many senators on both sides of the aisle are eager to have broad consideration of amendments — particularly in a legislative body that has not done much legislating lately — GOP leaders may also want to avoid contentious national security debates.

A Senate Democratic aide acknowledged that it’s up to McConnell and Republicans whether to allow a vote on the amendment. But simply having a floor fight over the prospect of the vote will elevate their opposition to a unilateral strike against Iran.

Democrats could also underscore their position by blocking a final vote on the defense bill, which has a 60-vote threshold to cut off debate, though Udall said they’re “not at that point yet.”

“We’re negotiating through all sorts of back channels every way we can to try to have an agreement, but we clearly have leverage,” he said.

The House is also considering attaching a proposal to limit Trump’s ability to wage war on Iran without congressional approval to its version of the defense bill. Progressives in particular have highlighted the issue as a top priority when the bill hits the House floor after the July Fourth break.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who will offer the amendment with Florida Republican and Trump ally Matt Gaetz, said Friday he hoped the measure would win broad support from both parties.

“We’re finalizing the language, then we’re going to circulate it,” Khanna told POLITICO. “My hope is that we’ll get a lot of the members who are opposed to endless wars on the Republican side.”

“I’ll just say that we’re close to something that has bipartisan support,” added House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Friday that in a meeting with Trump Thursday, “Democratic Leaders emphasized that hostilities must not be initiated without the approval of Congress.”

The Senate defense bill cleared its first procedural hurdle this week, with debate kicking off on Monday. Eleven Democrats, including Udall and 2020 Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota voted against moving forward.

While senators have said they want an open amendment process, one risk is that any senator can derail it. Some senators, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), expressed concern that Paul could block amendments if he does not get a vote on his legislative priorities.

“I have not had a conversation” with Paul, said Inhofe. “I find that I have better success with him when I don’t have a conversation with him. But he is doing kind of the same thing that he’s done in the past.”

Sergio Gor, Paul’s deputy chief of staff, said in an e-mail that the Kentucky Republican “would support a fully open amendment process” but noted that “an amendment process that is limited to the chosen amendments of leadership is a far cry from an open process and vastly different from previous years’ precedent.”

Udall predicted that negotiations around the Iran amendment would go into later in the week, when the Senate moves forward further with the legislative process.

“We get onto the bill, then we’re going to continue the negotiations with Majority Leader McConnell to say this is of such national importance that we’re entitled to vote,” he said.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Bobby Rush rips Biden as ‘woefully ignorant’ The civil rights activist’s statement to POLITICO shows how Biden is still struggling to contain the firestorm over his comments. Fri, 21 Jun 2019 19:39:25 GMT (Marc Caputo)

Rep. Bobby Rush issued a scathing rebuke of Joe Biden on Friday, calling him “woefully ignorant” of the black American experience, as the former vice president confronts a growing backlash over his comments about working alongside fervent segregationists.

Rush, a high-profile activist during the height of the civil rights movement, told POLITICO in an exclusive statement that Biden’s remarks at a New York fundraiser earlier this week were “wholly out of touch.”

“You would think that after eight years of serving as Vice President under President Obama, Biden would get it, that his frame of reference would be more audacious for the future and less on the obvious incrementalism of the past,” Rush said. “With his statement he has demonstrated that he is wholly out of touch and woefully ignorant of the nuances of the black American experience and that is, in itself, beyond disappointing.”

Biden’s campaign declined to comment and instead pointed to the numerous black lawmakers standing by him, including the congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis.

The controversy began after Biden talked about his productive work in the Senate with James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia — both known segregationists.

“At least there was some civility,” Biden said of that era and his work with Eastland and Talmadge. Biden also recalled that Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’”

Biden has not apologized for his remarks and stirred up more controversy when attempting to address criticism from his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls.

“Instead of being a bold agent of change — one who will fight to dismantle the remaining vestiges of segregation and other aspects of racial discrimination — he remains focused on an unacceptable pronounced ideology of racial incrementalism,” Rush continued. “It’s shocking, sad, and troubling that Biden just don’t get it. In the minds of die-hard segregationists, President Obama was — and will always be — a ‘boy’ to them and never ‘son.’”

Biden’s remarks about “son” and “boy” drew the sharpest rebuke from one of his Democratic rivals for the presidential nomination, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is black.

Booker called on Biden to apologize for “praising segregationists.” Biden said he wasn’t praising racists, doesn’t “have a racist bone in my body” and called on Booker to apologize instead.

Later Wednesday, Biden called Booker to talk about the matter and quell tensions. But Booker still wanted an apology and his campaign said it felt subsequently burned by Biden after his campaign leaked details of the call, which the sitting senator thought was confidential.

But a number of Congressional Black Caucus members have rushed to Biden’s defense since Tuesday night, arguing that Biden meant well and that his calls for a return to a more civil discourse are needed.

On Friday, Lewis joined those supporting Biden.

“I don’t think the remarks are offensive,” Lewis (D-Ga.) told reporters, recalling the distasteful people he’s worked alongside. “During the height of the civil rights movement we worked with people and got to know people that were members of the Klan — people who opposed us, even people who beat us, and arrested us and jailed us.”

In the immediate aftermath of Biden’s remarks, a number of Black Caucus members, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and House Democratic Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), backed the former vice president.

“I worked with Strom Thurmond all my life,” Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in Congress, said of the infamous segregationist.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, the co-chair of Biden’s campaign and a former leader of the CBC, said the controversy was created by the media and social media. Biden huddled with CBC members Thursday evening amid the backlash. But the meeting was scheduled before Biden made the remarks and members were discussing criminal justice reform.

Rush has been one of the few CBC lawmakers, outside of Booker, to directly and repeatedly blast Biden. The day after the former senator’s remarks, Rush told POLITICO that Biden needed to be more “deliberate” in his attempts to be inclusive. But Rush’s statement on Friday went further in condemning Biden.

The former vice president’s working relationship with segregationists has been no secret. Before and after he announced his candidacy in late April, Biden would mention as a point of pride how he worked with Dixiecrat senators like Eastland, Talmadge, North Carolina’s Jesse Helms and South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond, who held a record for filibustering civil rights legislation.

Throughout, Biden and his campaign have maintained that he worked with the segregationists only because he had to in order to do the business of a legislator, that he never supported segregation, and that he had successfully advocated for civil rights on the campaign trail and in Congress.

Biden, however, has downplayed the warm relations he had with those senators. He gave a eulogy for Thurmond that, in the eyes of critics, glossed over his racist record.

Biden also had a closer relationship with Eastland than his recent statements suggest. The Washington Post and CNN reported that before he entered the U.S. Senate, Biden in 1972 courted Eastland, according to letters provided by the University of Mississippi, which has an archive of Eastland’s papers. Biden also enlisted Eastland’s help in opposing busing policies designed to bring about school integration.

“I want you to know that I very much appreciate your help during this week’s Committee meeting in attempting to bring my anti-busing legislation to a vote,” Biden wrote on June 30, 1977.

Biden’s opposition to busing at the time earned him attention for being a “young liberal against busing,” according to the headline of an Oct. 12, 1975, Philadelphia Inquirer article that historian and author Rick Perlstein posted on his Twitter page Thursday. In the article, Biden made favorable comments about the populism of yet another segregationist, Alabama’s George Wallace, whom Biden has compared to President Donald Trump in recent months on the campaign trail.

“I think I’ve made it possible for liberals to come out of the closet. ... If it isn’t yet a respectable liberal position, it is no longer a racist one,” Biden said, according to the article. “I think the Democratic Party could stand a liberal George Wallace … someone who’s not afraid to stand up and offend people, someone who wouldn’t pander, but would say what the American people know in their gut is right.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

House Intel subpoenas Felix Sater after he fails to appear for testimony Fri, 21 Jun 2019 14:18:40 GMT Natasha Bertrand

The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to Felix Sater, a former business associate of President Donald Trump who was the chief negotiator for the defunct Trump Tower Moscow project, after he failed to appear for a voluntary interview Friday morning.

Sater told POLITICO that the interview is “being rescheduled.” Sater expressed frustration on Friday about how the committee handled the situation.

He said he was feeling ill and slept through his alarm on Friday morning, causing him to miss his scheduled appearance before the committee. His attorney, Robert Wolf, was already in Washington for the planned interview, Sater said.

But a committee aide appeared to dispute Sater’s account.

“Neither Sater nor his attorney advised the committee of his unexpected absence until moments before the interview was set to begin, and the committee is still not aware of any health reasons for his absence,” the aide said.

“In addition, Sater did not provide the committee with some requested documents in his possession prior to this morning’s interview, as repeatedly requested by committee staff,” the committee added. “For both of these reasons, the committee had no choice but to issue a subpoena for documents and testimony from Mr. Sater.”

Wolf maintained in a statement that Sater couldn't attend Friday's interview due to “unexpected health reasons” and said Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s decision to issue a subpoena is “entirely unnecessary.”

“Mr. Sater voluntarily testified before the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 and agreed to their more recent requests to voluntarily appear on numerous other dates, including Chairman Schiff’s request for public testimony on April 10, 2019, all of which were postponed by the committee,” Wolf said.

Sater was initially scheduled to testify before the panel in March, but the completion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation prompted Schiff to postpone the interview.

The Trump Tower Moscow project has been a central focus of the Democrat-led committee’s investigation into whether Trump is compromised by foreign actors.

Trump did not disclose the ongoing Trump Tower Moscow negotiations while he was running for president in 2015 and 2016, and repeatedly claimed during the campaign that he has “nothing to do with Russia.” His former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, is serving a three-year prison sentence in part for lying to the Intelligence Committee about the timing of those negotiations.

Democrats said Sater’s testimony is critical to their understanding of Trump’s ties to Russia.

“Mr. Sater helped spearhead President Trump's efforts to build a ‘Trump Tower’ in Moscow, including attempts to reach out to Vladimir Putin. He must come testify,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this story.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Democrats defy Waters on Ex-Im Bank restrictions Fri, 21 Jun 2019 13:06:24 GMT (Zachary Warmbrodt)

House Democrats are poised to challenge a deal negotiated by Rep. Maxine Waters that would impose new restrictions on the Export-Import Bank, the first show of resistance among members of the Financial Services Committee since she became chairwoman in January.

The new legislation that the California Democrat drafted with the finance panel’s top Republican, Rep. Patrick McHenry(R-N.C.), would renew the agency’s operations for seven years and expand its capacity to offer loan guarantees to foreign buyers of U.S. exports. Without action, the bank's charter would expire at the end of September.

But the proposal unveiled Tuesday night, which will be up for a committee vote as soon as next week, imposes limitations on the agency that are rattling some centrist Democrats. That includes disclosure requirements for large manufacturers like Boeing that benefit the most from Ex-Im's financial guarantees, as well as restrictions on their deals in China.

“Its premise seems to be basically hostile,” said Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), one of the bank’s fiercest advocates whose state has about 70,000 Boeing employees.

The clash over the bill is shaping up to be a major test for Waters, who as committee chairwoman has pledged to work with her GOP counterpart to pass legislation to maintain the Export-Import Bank, federal flood insurance and terrorism insurance.

The bill is bringing to the surface simmering frustrations among fellow Democrats who have complained that she’s at times leaving them in the dark about the direction of the committee and sacrificing their priorities as she takes the lead in striking compromises with the GOP.

By seeking deals with Republicans, Waters is trying to break down ideological barriers that prevented the committee from enacting major legislation under her conservative Republican predecessor, Jeb Hensarling.

As of Thursday, it was unclear how many Democrats would follow Waters' lead on her latest piece of legislation. One committee Democrat told POLITICO that "opposition is building." Another said, “I can’t go against Boeing."

“I’m a supporter of Ex-Im reauthorization,” Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) said. “I do have some concerns with the proposal as it stands right now.”

Heck, who has emerged as the most vocal critic of the bill, said he raised concerns directly with Waters, adding that she showed a willingness to consider members' issues.

Among his concerns is that the increase in the Ex-Im financing cap wouldn't be enough to keep pace with the economy and competition. The overall plan, he said, "is clearly anti-Boeing."

“We negotiated down to those who are opponents of the bank, as opposed to negotiating up with our allies across the aisle who are supportive of the bank," Heck said.

To be sure, the bill would provide long-term certainty to a beleaguered agency. The bank is just now returning to normal operation after being hobbled from years of attacks by conservative lawmakers, who argue that it engages in crony capitalism by giving an advantage to giant manufacturers and leaves taxpayers at risk, even though it has sent billions in profits to the Treasury.

Waters' predecessor as chairman, Hensarling, led efforts that forced the bank's charter to lapse for several months in 2015. Republican senators then refused to confirm appointees to its board until last month. In the interim, the board lacked a quorum necessary to approve transactions larger than $10 million — a blow to large manufacturers.

Now, the Trump administration is pushing to revitalize the bank as a tool to compete with countries such as China that have their own export-finance agencies.

With an eye toward neutralizing opponents that are still actively fighting the agency in Congress, a person with knowledge of the agreement said Waters wanted to reach a compromise with McHenry to increase the odds that the bank's skeptics would let the bill move, particularly in the Senate, where its Republican adversaries have a stronger hand to halt legislation.

"This took an enormous amount of compromise on both sides to get this far along," McHenry said.

Among the restrictions sought by McHenry were the bill's limits on transactions involving China's state-owned enterprises — a must-have for his support, sources said. In addition, the bill would create another hurdle for large manufacturers by requiring the bank to report to Congress on their diversity and small-business outreach efforts — a measure that one source said was a compromise from stricter limits floated by Republicans.

Boeing's recent safety lapses were a factor in in the negotiations, following fatal crashes of its 737 Max jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Waters sought a provision that would restrict an aircraft's ability to receive Ex-Im support if it had a poor safety record because of concerns that financing deadly products was a risk to the bank. The bill would prohibit transactions for planes that the federal government has grounded.

Priorities for Waters reflected in the bill include the seven-year reauthorization and a gradual increase of the bank’s $135 billion portfolio cap to $175 billion. The legislation also includes measures that would direct the bank to expand its support for small businesses, renewable energy and minority- and women-owned businesses. It includes a section that would create a temporary board manned by top administration officials if senators once again decline to confirm a sufficient slate of leaders.

Still, one senior Democratic aide familiar with discussions around the bill doubted the latest draft had the backing of the majority of Waters' caucus.

"If it does, it's very slim and will depend on Republican votes to get through committee," the aide said. "Members whose districts have businesses that use the bank weren't included in the process. Some of the provisions could threaten good paying manufacturing jobs in their districts."

Waters defenders countered that the committee has kept members and staff informed of the panel's agenda, calendar and legislative priorities through meetings, calls, caucuses and updates.

The deal appears to be enough to satisfy champions of the bank on the Republican side of the committee.

One of the committee's lead Export-Import Bank supporters, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), said Waters "cut a pretty good deal." Stivers said he planned to support the bill because he believed it would get a strong bipartisan vote and be able to move quickly. He said he expected no more than five Republicans to oppose it in committee and that some who voted against the bank in the past would support the bill this time.

Stivers said momentum and speed were important because the bill will probably need to be attached to another legislative vehicle like the National Defense Authorization Act. That's because the Senate is unlikely to devote floor time to standalone Export-Import Bank legislation.

"The alternative to this proposal, I believe, is a lapse," Stivers said.

The business community is uneasy with the bill but is still mulling next steps. Going into this year's debate on the future of the bank, industry representatives expected that they would have to swallow some new limitations for a long-term renewal to move through the Senate. In the legislation they saw this week, restrictions on sales to China are a top concern.

Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, said the group was reviewing the details but was pleased to see bipartisan agreement on a multiyear reauthorization.

"Manufacturers will continue working to ensure a robust Ex-Im Bank that strengthens manufacturers’ ability to compete in and with China and other countries that are aggressively using their export financing agencies to the detriment of workers in the United States,” she said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine