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National
Feds say family plotted terrorism while at N.M. desert compound
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Feds say family plotted terrorism while at N.M. desert compound

Feds say family plotted terrorism while at N.M. desert compound
Jany Leveille (right) and partner Siraj Ibn Wahhaj have been charged with plotting terrorism while staying a New Mexico desert compound. (Photo: Taos County Sheriff)

Feds say family plotted terrorism while at N.M. desert compound

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted five relatives from Atlanta, charging them with plotting terrorism after kidnapping a toddler and retreating to an isolated desert compound in New Mexico.

>> Read more trending news

The defendants, whose site was raided last summer, have long been accused by authorities of planning terrorism, but the indictment is the first time they’ve been formally charged with such allegations. The Clayton County boy, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, was found dead at the compound on what would have been his fourth birthday.

Previously, the relatives, who had lived around Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties in Georgia, were held in federal custody only on firearm charges. The new indictment doesn’t specify the group’s plans but says they intended to kill members of the FBI and the U.S. military.

“The superseding indictment alleges a conspiracy to stage deadly attacks on American soil,” New Mexico U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson said in a news release. “These allegations remind us of the dangers of terrorism that continue to confront our nation, and the allegation concerning the death of a young child only underscores the importance of prompt and effective intervention by law enforcement.”

Previously, attorneys for the suspects have claimed they were misunderstood because they are black Muslims.

Authorities have said they believe the boy may have died because, rather than giving him seizure medicine, his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, performed rituals to rid him of evil spirits. Due to trouble getting oxygen during birth, the boy, Abdul-Ghani, had many medical problems, including seizures as well as cognitive and developmental delays. Before Wahhaj went into the desert with four adult relatives and 12 of their children around December, at least one friend heard the man speaking of trying to rid the child of a “curse,” the friend told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year.

According to Abdul-Ghani’s mother, Wahhaj had said he was taking the boy to a Clayton County park one day in late 2017 and never returned. Instead, the child was found dead in a cave in the desert on Aug. 6, 2018.

Wahhaj was arrested at the compound with his wife, Jany Leveille, his sisters, Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhanah Wahhaj, as well as Subhannah Wahhaj’s husband, Lucas Morton. Their 11 children were taken into custody from the property by New Mexico child welfare workers.

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  • A shooting on a Dutch tram left at least three people dead and five others injured in Utrecht, according to authorities. >> Read more trending news  The city’s mayor, Jan van Zanen, said three people were killed in the attack, according to The Associated Press. Police said five people were injured in the shooting. Authorities have classified the incident as a possible terror attack. Update 2:55 p.m. EDT March 18: Dutch Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus told the AP the man arrested Monday on suspicion of opening fire on a Dutch tram has a criminal history. “The suspect was known within the justice department,” Grapperhaus told the AP. “He had a criminal record. That is indeed what we know. I can give no more details.” Police identified the suspect in the case as Gokmen Tanis, 37. Citing Dutch broadcaster RTV Utrecht, The Independent reported earlier Monday that Tanis had “a long history of run-ins with the police for both minor and major crimes, including a shooing in 2013.” Update 2:40 p.m. EDT March 18: Dutch Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus told reporters Monday that the suspect arrested in connection to the shooting “was known” to authorities, the AP reported. Grapperhaus did not provide additional details. Police said they arrested Gokmen Tanis, 37, during a raid in Utrecht’s Oudenoord neighborhood hours after he was identified as a suspect in Monday’s shooting. Authorities continue to investigate the incident. Update 2 p.m. EDT March 18: Utrecht police said the man taken into custody in connection to Monday’s deadly shooting on a Dutch tram was apprehended during a raid in the city’s Oudenoord neighborhood. Authorities said they apprehended Gokmen Tanis, 37, hours after they released an image of the suspect and asked the public’s help locating him. Update 1:50 p.m. EDT March 18: Utrecht police confirmed in a tweet Monday that authorities have detained a man suspected of opening fire on a Dutch tram. Dutch anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg said in a tweet that the country’s terror level was lowered from its highest level, 5, to level 4 following the suspect’s arrest. Update 1:40 p.m. EDT March 18: Police apprehended the man suspected of opening fire Monday on a Dutch tram, CNN reported, citing Rob van Bree, head of operations of the Central Netherlands Police. Update 11:45 a.m. EDT March 18: van Zanen withdrew advice for Utrecht residents to stay indoors  Monday, saying the recommendation was made on the suspicion that shots had been fired at another location in the city. However, he said, “That is not the case, as far as we know,” according to The Independent. van Zanen said earlier Monday that at least three people died in Monday’s shooting and nine others were injured. Police said in a statement that the actual number of injured people was five. Authorities have identified a man wanted in connection to the shooting as Gokmen Tanis, 37. Police continue to investigate the case. Update 10:25 a.m. EDT March 18: Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said three of the nine people wounded in Monday’s shooting were seriously injured, according to The Associated Press. “We cannot exclude, even stronger, we assume a terror motive,” van Zanen said Monday. “Likely there is one attacker, but there could be more.” Police have identified a man wanted in connection to the shooting as Gokmen Tanis, 37. Update 10:10 a.m. EDT March 18: Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said three people were killed and nine people were injured Monday in the Utrecht shooting, according to CNN and The Independent. Update 9:55 a.m. EDT March 18: Dutch police issued a correction Monday on the name of the man wanted in connection with the Utrecht shooting. Authorities said his name was spelled Gokmen Tanis. Officials initially identified the 37-year-old as Gokman Tanis. The Independent reported trains were not being allowed into Utrecht’s central train station in the wake of the shooting. Update 9:25 a.m. EDT March 18: Police in the Netherlands asked for the public’s help Monday locating a man wanted in connection to Monday’s shooting. Authorities warned against approaching the man, identified as Gokman Tanis, 37. Update 8:55 a.m. EDT March 18: The shooter behind Monday’s attack remained at large after the incident, according to Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, the Dutch anti-terror coordinator. “In Utrecht there was a shooting at several locations,' he said Monday at a news conference, according to The Independent. 'A lot is still unclear at this point and local authorities are working hard to establish all the facts. What we already know is that a culprit is at large.' Authorities continue to investigate the shooting. Original report: Utrecht police wrote Monday in a tweet that a “possible terrorist (motive) is part of the investigation” into the shooting, which occurred about 10:45 a.m. local time, according to CNN. >> See the tweet here The gunman remained at large Monday and may have fled the scene in a car, according to BBC News.  After the attack the country’s anti-terror coordinator, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, raised the terror threat level in Utrecht to 5, its highest level. Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • Conner Andrulonis likes to joke that he wouldn't leave his teaching job in the Putnam City school district even if he 'got mad at everybody.' That's because Andrulonis, 34, a math teacher at Putnam City West High School, likes the way the district takes care of his daughters Isabel, 3, and Lillian, 7 months, while he's at work. 'I'm happy where I'm at without this, but this is going to keep teachers here,' he said of the district-operated child care offered to teachers. 'It's going to keep me here.' Putnam City Schools is the only district in the Oklahoma City metro area and one of the few in the state to provide child care for teachers, a benefit that saves Andrulonis and others like him an estimated $4,000 annually and delivers peace of mind. The third-year teacher pays the district $150 a week to care for Lillian and $125 a week to care for Isabel. It's a bargain compared to the $900 a month he paid a day care provider for Isabel. 'When your kids love to be here, it's easy not to worry about them during the day,' he said recently to The Oklahoman. 'I'm so thankful for this place.' Longtime district employee Kelly Suchy oversees the center, which serves about 75 kids that range in age from 6 months to 3 years old. Most of the kids are teachers' children. The center also cares for the children of teen parents and those who attend the district's adult literacy program. 'We're a child development center, so we're definitely geared toward school readiness,' she said. 'It's not just babysitting. It's actually child development, and we look at every child and where they are and try to bring those kids along in literacy and social-emotional, in all of the areas that we feel will benefit them when they go to school. That's our goal for the center.' Suchy, who went to school in the district, saw a need to serve teachers with little kids and had the space to do so. 'We do things to try to retain teachers,' she said. 'We wanted a way to entice them because we do a great job of getting good teachers and training them. Some do leave for other districts, so we wanted our teachers to have a reason to stay that would benefit them in other ways.' Three years later, the program's popularity has resulted in a waiting list. This year, the district added child care rooms for infants and 1-year-olds at an elementary school north of the center. Plans call for adding care for 2-year-olds in the 2019-20 school year and 3-year-olds in the 2020-21 school year. Cari Warfle, a 38-year-old mother of three who teaches history at Putnam City High School, has been bringing her 2-year-old daughter Ava to the district's child development center since she was an infant. 'I love that this is so accessible,' she said. 'I love that I can come in and out and if I surprise them, they're never surprised. I can pop in and I don't feel like they're hiding anything. I don't feel stressed out leaving her with them because I know that people are coming in and checking and maintaining and making sure that everything's running smoothly.' Warfle relied on home day care for her other two children before they were old enough to attend school in the Putnam City district. 'I loved her, however, I've seen Ava progress, like with her alphabet and her counting and different things like that,' she said. 'I like the socialization aspect of it versus the in-home day care. This group has grown and fluctuated, so she's very social compared to my other kids.' ___ Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com An AP Member Exchange shared by The Oklahoman.
  • The genetic and molecular makeup of breast tumors holds clues to how a woman’s disease could progress, including the likelihood of it coming back after treatment, and in what time frame, according to a Cancer Research UK-funded study published this week in the journal Nature. >> Read more trending news  Scientists at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University examined the patterns of genetic changes within breast cancer tumors from nearly 2000 women and followed their progress over 20 years, including whether the cancer returned. They used this information to create a statistical tool that can better predict if, and when, a woman’s breast cancer could return. >> Related: FDA approves 1st immunotherapy drug to treat breast cancer “Treatments for breast cancer have improved dramatically in recent years, but unfortunately for some women, their breast cancer returns and spreads, becoming incurable. For some, this can be many years later — but it’s been impossible to accurately predict who is at risk of recurrence and who is all clear,” said Carlos Caldas, professor and lead researcher at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. “In this study, we’ve delved deeper into breast cancer molecular subtypes, so we can more accurately identify who might be at risk of relapsing and uncover new ways of treating them,” Caldas said. >> Related: Cancer death racial gap narrows, but still higher for blacks Earlier research by this group found that breast cancer is not just one disease, but rather 11 molecular subgroups. These subgroups have distinct clinical trajectories that vary considerably, even between tumors that seem to be alike. These trajectories can help doctors determine the likelihood of the cancer returning. >> Related: Major study identifies 72 new genetic risk factors for breast cancer “We’ve shown that the molecular nature of a woman’s breast cancer determines how their disease could progress, not just for the first 5 years, but also later, even if it comes back.” said Oscar Rueda, first author of the paper and senior research associate at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. “We hope that our research tool can be turned into a test doctors can easily use to guide treatment recommendations.”
  • A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics has found the rate of deaths linked to dementia has more than doubled over the past two decades. Based on nationwide death certificate data — which scientists with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note “underrepresent the true death rate from Alzheimer’s and other dementias” — the disease was found as the primary cause of 261,914 deaths in 2017, up from 84,000 deaths in 2000.  “Overall, age-adjusted death rates for dementia increased from 30.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 66.7 in 2017,” researchers wrote in the new issue of National Vital Statistics Reports. According to the CDC, “dementia is a general term for conditions that cause loss of memory severe enough that they may impact a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.”  >> Related: How women’s history of miscarriage, pregnancy could predict Alzheimer’s risk For the NCHS report, researchers examined four types of dementia recognized by the International Classification of Diseases, including vascular dementia, unspecified dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and others attributed to degenerative diseases of the nervous system. While there are several kinds of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. In fact, of the nearly 262,000 deaths attributed to dementia in 2017, 46 percent were due to Alzheimer’s, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The death rate from the disease has risen by 55 percent in recent decades and in Georgia, the number of deaths from Alzheimer's has increased by 201 percent since 2000, according to Georgia Health News. >> Related: U.S. Alzheimer’s deaths up 55 percent, CDC says “Part of what is likely happening is people are living to older ages, and those are the ages where your risk of dementia is the highest,” lead researcher Ellen Kramarow said in a statement to Healthday. “If you haven't died of heart disease or cancer or something else and you get to the very oldest ages, your risk for getting dementia is higher.” But some of the increases can also be attributed to changes in record-keeping and guidelines for coding. But again, even death certificates understate the numbers, researchers said in the study. Last year, the CDC revealed the country’s burden of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias will double by the year 2060. >> Related: How does Alzheimer's disease kill you?  The agency’s research, the first to factor in race and ethnicity in its forecast, suggests Hispanic-Americans will face the largest projected increase, largely due to population growth. Non-Hispanic whites are still expected to have the largest total number of Alzheimer’s cases. “Early diagnosis is key to helping people and their families cope with loss of memory, navigate the health care system, and plan for their care in the future,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said. The cause of Alzheimer’s is still not thoroughly understood, and the new report highlights the need for continued research, they added. >> Related: How to prevent Alzheimer’s: Sleep, drink wine and exercise, researchers suggest Emory University School of Medicine assistant professor Chad Hales, who was not involved in the report, told CNN that “diagnosing dementia begins with a good clinical history and exam, brain imaging and lab studies to ensure no other conditions are causing the symptoms.” But “the current gold standard,” he told the network, “is postmortem diagnosis with neuropathological confirmation,” meaning the disease is best diagnosed after death.

Washington Insider

  • Using his veto pen for the first time in just over two years in office, President Donald Trump on Friday rejected a special resolution from Congress which would block his national emergency declaration to shift money into construction of a border wall, a day after the GOP Senate joined the Democratic House in rebuking the President. 'Congress’s vote to deny the crisis on the southern border is a vote against reality,' President Trump said in the Oval Office. 'It's against reality. It is a tremendous national emergency. It is a tremendous crisis.' The measure now goes back to the House and Senate, where any effort to override the President's veto is far short of the necessary two-thirds super majority. 'On March 26, the House will once again act to protect our Constitution and our democracy from the President’s emergency declaration by holding a vote to override his veto,' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the President sternly disagreed. Here's the text of the President's veto message, as sent back to the Congress: To the House of Representatives:   I am returning herewith without my approval H.J. Res. 46, a joint resolution that would terminate the national emergency I declared regarding the crisis on our southern border in Proclamation 9844 on February 15, 2019, pursuant to the National Emergencies Act.  As demonstrated by recent statistics published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and explained in testimony given by the Secretary of Homeland Security on March 6, 2019, before the House Committee on Homeland Security, our porous southern border continues to be a magnet for lawless migration and criminals and has created a border security and humanitarian crisis that endangers every American. Last month alone, CBP apprehended more than 76,000 aliens improperly attempting to enter the United States along the southern border -- the largest monthly total in the last 5 years. In fiscal year 2018, CBP seized more than 820,000 pounds of drugs at our southern border, including 24,000 pounds of cocaine, 64,000 pounds of methamphetamine, 5,000 pounds of heroin, and 1,800 pounds of fentanyl. In fiscal years 2017 and 2018, immigration officers nationwide made 266,000 arrests of aliens previously charged with or convicted of crimes. These crimes included approximately 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 killings. In other words, aliens coming across our border have injured or killed thousands of people, while drugs flowing through the border have killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.   The current situation requires our frontline border enforcement personnel to vastly increase their humanitarian efforts. Along their dangerous trek to the United States, 1 in 3 migrant women experiences sexual abuse, and 7 in 10 migrants are victims of violence. Fifty migrants per day are referred for emergency medical care, and CBP rescues 4,300 people per year who are in danger and distress. The efforts to address this humanitarian catastrophe draw resources away from enforcing our Nation's immigration laws and protecting the border, and place border security personnel at increased risk.   As troubling as these statistics are, they reveal only part of the reality. The situation at the southern border is rapidly deteriorating because of who is arriving and how they are arriving. For many years, the majority of individuals who arrived illegally were single adults from Mexico. Under our existing laws, we could detain and quickly remove most of these aliens. More recently, however, illegal migrants have organized into caravans that include large numbers of families and unaccompanied children from Central American countries. Last year, for example, a record number of families crossed the border illegally. If the current trend holds, the number of families crossing in fiscal year 2019 will greatly surpass last year's record total. Criminal organizations are taking advantage of these large flows of families and unaccompanied minors to conduct dangerous illegal activity, including human trafficking, drug smuggling, and brutal killings.   Under current laws, court decisions, and resource constraints, the Government cannot detain families or undocumented alien children from Central American countries in significant numbers or quickly deport them. Instead, the Government is forced to release many of them into the interior of the United States, pending lengthy judicial proceedings. Although many fail ever to establish any legal right to remain in this country, they stay nonetheless.   This situation on our border cannot be described as anything other than a national emergency, and our Armed Forces are needed to help confront it.   My highest obligation as President is to protect the Nation and its people. Every day, the crisis on our border is deepening, and with new surges of migrants expected in the coming months, we are straining our border enforcement personnel and resources to the breaking point.   H.J. Res. 46 ignores these realities. It is a dangerous resolution that would undermine United States sovereignty and threaten the lives and safety of countless Americans. It is, therefore, my duty to return it to the House of Representatives without my approval.   DONALD J. TRUMP   THE WHITE HOUSE, March 15, 2019. 
  • Democrats in the U.S. House will try to send an unmistakable message to President Donald Trump on the issue of relations with Russia this week on Capitol Hill, bringing up a series of bills on the House floor dealing with Russia and Vladimir Putin, including a plan which demands the public release of any report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. 'This transparency is a fundamental principle necessary to ensure that government remains accountable to the people,' a series of key Democrats said about the resolution on the Mueller inquiry. The Russian legislative blitz comes as Democrats on a series of House committees have stepped up their requests for information from the White House and the Trump Administration on issues related to the Russia investigation and the Mueller probe. So far, Democrats say they aren't getting much in the way of help from the White House on any of their investigative efforts. 'It's like, zero,' said House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). 'We can't get witnesses, they don't want us to talk to witnesses.' Among the Russia-related bills on the schedule this week in the House: + The 'KREMLIN Act,' a bipartisan bill which would require the Director of National Intelligence - already reportedly in hot water with the President for saying that North Korea probably wouldn't give up its nuclear arsenal - to submit to Congress a new round of intelligence assessments on Russia and its leaders. 'The Kremlin’s efforts to sabotage our democracy and those of our allies across Europe are undeniable,' said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who has sponsored this bill with fellow Intelligence Committee member Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT).  Earlier this year, DNI Dan Coats said of Russia: 'We assess that Moscow will continue pursuing a range of objectives to expand its reach, including undermining the US-led liberal international order, dividing Western political and security institutions, demonstrating Russia’s ability to shape global issues, and bolstering Putin’s domestic legitimacy.' + The Vladimir Putin Transparency Act, a bipartisan bill which again asks the U.S. Intelligence Community to weigh in with evidence about the Russian government, and expressing the sense of Congress 'that the United States should do more to expose the corruption of Vladimir Putin.' 'I am proud to cosponsor this bill which aims to identify Putin and his allies for who they are: nefarious political actors undermining democracies,' said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who teamed up with Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) on this measure. 'Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia,' President Trump tweeted last July, after his controversial summit with Putin in Finland. 'They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!' + A bipartisan bill to block any move by the U.S. Government to recognize the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and Vladimir Putin. This is another measure meant to put public pressure on the President, who has been somewhat uneven in public statements on his feelings about Russia's move to take Crimea, as well as the ongoing proxy war being supported by Moscow in areas of eastern Ukraine, and how the U.S. should respond - even as his administration has leveled new economic sanctions against Moscow. In November of 2018, the President canceled a scheduled meeting with Putin at the G20 Summit in Argentina, after Russian naval forces seized several Ukrainian ships and their crews. + A bipartisan resolution calling for 'accountability and justice' surrounding the assassination of Russian activist Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed in Moscow in 2015. Lawmakers in both parties have urged the Trump Administration to sanction those involved in the murder, as the measure also calls for an international investigation into his death. 'Boris Nemtsov had a vision for a democratic and free Russia. Sadly, that put him right in Putin’s cross hairs,' said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). This not just a House effort, as there is a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). 'Putin's media and surrogates called Boris Nemtsov an 'enemy of the people,'' said Michael McFaul, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia under President Obama, and a frequent critic of President Trump. + Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.  While the four previous legislative measures have bipartisan support, the final piece of this 'Russia' week in the U.S. House might create a bit of a tussle on the floor of the House, as Democrats move to put GOP lawmakers on the record about whether they want to make any report from the Special Counsel public.  Under the Special Counsel law, there is no guarantee that the Mueller report will ever see the light of day - the Special Counsel submits a report to the U.S. Attorney General - in this case, William Barr - who is then authorized to summarize that to Congress.  That's different than back during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when independent counsel Ken Starr was able to send Congress volumes and volumes of evidence - knowing that all of it would be made public. In testimony before the Senate earlier this year, Barr did not expressly commit to releasing any report, saying 'my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law. I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision.
  • As President Donald Trump sent Congress on Monday a $4.7 trillion budget proposal for 2020, the estimates of his own budget experts predict that this spending plan will result in four straight years of deficits exceeding $1 trillion, with no budget surplus until the mid-2030's. After a deficit of $779 billion in Fiscal Year 2018, the President's new budget plan forecasts four more years of even higher levels of red ink. 2019 - $1.092 trillion 2020 - $1.101 trillion 2021 - $1.068 trillion 2022 - $1.049 trillion The White House budget document shows the deficit dropping to an estimated $909 billion in 2023. The higher deficit figures come even as the White House projected a growing amount of revenues coming in for Uncle Sam as a result of the 2017 GOP tax cut plan, as officials said the problem is not taxes, but the level of government spending. 'We don't think the tax cuts are going to lead to anything other than economic growth over the next ten years,' a senior White House official told reporters on Monday morning. After revenues were basically flat from 2017 to 2018, the official predicted the feds would see growth of 6 percent in money coming into the Treasury in 2020, as compared to 2019. Part of the President’s 2020 budget plan would make the GOP tax cut permanent for individuals - the business part of that tax package was permanent, but the income tax cuts and other items impacting individual taxpayers end in 2025. Still, for the President - and his chief aides - the big problem is spending, not tax revenues, as the White House said the 2020 budget was a ‘fiscally responsible and pro-American budget.’ While GOP supporters of the President like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) touted today’s budget plan - the declaration that the Trump budget will result in a balanced budget won’t be happening anytime soon. In the next ten years, the 2020 Trump budget estimates that another $7.2 trillion would be added in deficits, pushing the national debt towards the $30 trillion mark. “Under reasonable economic assumptions, we find it would add about $10.5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years,” said the watchdog group, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “It's quite an achievement for the President's budget to have fantastical economic assumptions, massive & unprecedented cuts to domestic discretionary spending, and *still* manage to end up with trillion dollar deficits for the next four years,” tweeted Shaki Akabas, an economic expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
  • With over $2 trillion added to the federal debt since he took office just over two years ago, President Donald Trump will deliver a spending plan to the Congress on Monday which is certain to spur a sharp debate with Democrats over proposed cuts in domestic spending programs, but won't come close to producing a balanced budget for more than a decade. 'It is time for Congress to join the president in his commitment to cutting spending, reducing bloated deficits, and getting our national debt under control. America’s future generations are depending on them,' said Russ Vought, the acting chief of the White House budget office. But, so far, President Trump's time in office has seen the growth in the deficit accelerate, from $584 billion in President Obama's last full year in office in 2016, to $779 billion in 2018. As of January, the deficit in 2019 was running 77 percent higher than a year ago, as even White House budget estimates have forecast a yearly deficit over $1 trillion in coming years. Here's some of what to look for in Monday's budget submission, which is titled, 'A Budget for a Better America.' 1. Domestic spending cuts, back door increase for defense. With no deal as yet to avoid budget caps from a 2011 deficit law, spending in 2020 would be limited on defense to $576 billion, and $542 billion for domestic programs. But the President wants much more for the military, so the Trump Administration will reportedly propose spending a massive $174 billion for the 'Overseas Contingency Operations' fund - an increase of $106 billion - for a total military budget of $750 billion. Budget watchdog groups say the idea is a big, fat budgetary gimmick, nothing but a slush fund for the Pentagon. 2. Trump to request $8.6 billion for the border wall. With no confirmed details yet on how the President will shift around some $6.6 billion in the Pentagon budget to fund construction of his border wall, Mr. Trump will reportedly ask Congress to approve $8.6 billion for the wall in 2020. Democrats had a simple reaction on Sunday. 'No,' said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). 'No,' said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). 'Dead on arrival,' said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL). Even after a 35 day partial government shutdown earlier this year, the President received $1.375 billion for barriers - but not a wall, and there seems to be little chance that dynamic will change for Democrats in the 2020 budget debate. 'Congress refused to fund his wall,' Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Sunday. 'The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again.' 3. Goal for a balanced budget would be 2035. Even if President Trump serves two terms in office, his own White House doesn't forecast anything close to a balanced budget. The last official budget estimates from the White House in July of 2018 - which will be updated with this new budget proposal - predicted the deficit would peak over $1 trillion for three years, and then finally get below $500 billion by 2027, adding almost $8 trillion in deficts along the way. More conservative Republicans in the House aren't worried by those details, as they say the President has shown 'fiscally conservative leadership,' even though the debt has already increased by more than $2 trillion during his two plus years in office. 4. Not all the details, and already behind schedule. President Trump was supposed to have sent this budget to Congress by the first Monday in February - but today will only bring the basic highlights, not all the nitty gritty details of the proposal. Part of the reason is that the 35 day partial government shutdown delayed a lot of work in government agencies. All of the spending work is supposed to be done by Congress each year by September 30 - but that's only happened four times since the budget process was reformed in 1974. Congress has six and a half months until the deadline - it's hard to see how lawmakers avoid more stop gap funding plans - and maybe another shutdown as well. 5. A new dynamic with divided control of Congress. In the first two years of the Trump Presidency, Republicans in the House and Senate were in charge - but now, Democrats will have first crack at the President's budget, and they are certain to take a much different road. In a sense, that's a good thing for Mr. Trump, giving him the chance to battle it out with Democrats more clearly on budget priorities. But it also amplifies the chance for a government shutdown on October 1. Speaker Pelosi likes to say that a budget is a 'statement of values.' After the Trump budget gets delivered to Congress, the next move will be up to Democrats in the House, to forge their on budget outline for 2020. There are political pitfalls ahead for both sides.
  • The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee took the unusual step Friday of publicly releasing a 268 page interview transcript with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, confirming reports that Ohr forwarded material to the FBI from his wife, and that former British Intelligence agent Christopher Steele warned during the 2016 campaign that Russian intelligence believed they had President Donald Trump 'over a barrel.'  'He (Steele) told me that the former head of - or he had information that the former head of the Russian foreign intelligence service had said that they had Trump over a barrel,' said Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who funneled information from Steele to FBI investigators. 'My interpretation is that that meant that, if true, the Russian Government had some kind of compromising material on Donald Trump,' Ohr told lawmakers in the August 28, 2018 deposition, as he defended the quality of information Steele had provided the U.S. Government in the past. 'Chris Steele has, for a long time, been very concerned about Russian crime and corruption and what he sees as Russian malign acts around the world, in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere,' Ohr told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). 'And if he had information that he believed showed that the Russian Government was acting in a hostile way to the United States, he wanted to get that information to me.' In the deposition, Ohr acknowledged that he forwarded information not only from Steele to the FBI - but also from his wife, Nellie Ohr, who worked at Fusion GPS, the company which had hired Steele to do intelligence work on President Trump from Europe. Ohr said he realized during 2016 that his wife was researching 'some of the same people that I had heard about from Chris Steele,' and that she provided her husband with a thumb drive of information, which he then gave to FBI investigators.  Republicans found the chain of events described by Ohr to be a bit difficult to swallow. 'I'm trying to envision this cold start to a conversation with 'Here, honey, here's a thumb drive,'' said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) at one point. Ohr, an expert in Russian organized crime, said he never looked at any of the information. 'I didn't want to plug it into my machine at work,' Ohr testified. 'I just gave it to the FBI.' The transcript of the deposition was released by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) on Friday; Collins said he took the unilateral action because he was frustrated that it was taking so long for the Trump Justice Department to make the transcript public. 'After many months, and little progress, our patience grows thin,' Collins said in a speech on the House floor on Friday morning. 'I intend to make other transcripts public soon,' Collins said, referring to interviews done with a variety of Justice Department and FBI figures when Republicans were in charge of the House in 2018. Collins said the transcripts were being held back because of questions over redactions, as he accused the Trump Justice Department of slow walking requests to make the testimony public. In 2018, House Republicans conducted a series of private interviews with different figures involved in the Russia investigation - not focusing on possible wrongdoing involving the Trump campaign - but instead looking at Justice Department and FBI officials, and how they came to start and conduct the initial investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  Other than a two day closed door interview with former FBI Director James Comey - who requested the release of his closed door testimony - none of the other private transcripts had been released publicly until Collins did so on Friday. While Ohr's testimony was in private, some highlights were immediately leaked to a series of news organizations back in August of 2018. 'AP sources: Lawyer was told Russia had 'Trump over a barrel,'' the Associated Press reported. 'DOJ official told Russia had Trump 'over a barrel,'' was the CNN headline at the time. The GOP inquiries for Ohr repeatedly sought to raise questions about a broader conspiracy of actions by officials at the Justice Department, as Republicans tried to paint a picture of a group of government officials doing everything they could to investigate Mr. Trump and his allies. Republicans also found it hard to believe that Ohr's wife got a job from Fusion GPS without his involvement. 'I don't remember who made the contact, whether she spoke with Glenn Simpson directly or whether there was another party or someone else involved. I just know it wasn't me,' Ohr said of his wife's job. “So when she came home and said, 'Honey, I got a job with Glenn Simpson,' what did you say?” asked Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) at one point. In the interview, Ohr was asked about an email from Steele in which Steele wanted to talk about 'our favorite business tycoon’ - which GOP lawmakers seemed to believe was a certain U.S. candidate. But Ohr repeatedly said that description wasn't a reference to President Trump, but rather to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was owed money by Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Republicans again and again pressed Ohr about how he handled information from Steele, and why he did not inform his bosses that he was handing over that material to the FBI. 'I have received information from different people about organized crime over the years, and in each case I've provided it to the FBI,' Ohr explained. Ohr said he did not have a personal relationship with Glenn Simpson, who had hired Christopher Steele for Fusion GPS, but that they had met several times through the years. Ohr defended his contacts with Steele, even after the FBI had terminated their relationship with the former British agent. “When I got a call from Chris Steele and he provided information, if it seemed like it was significant, I would provide it to the FBI,” Ohr said.