Weekend politics: Wiretaps, doughnuts and other ‘nonsense’ you may have missed

Posted at 7:51 AM, Mar 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-06 07:55:40-05

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump spent the weekend at his Winter White House and knocked out a string of controversial tweets.

Here’s a look at the political developments from the last couple of days that you may have missed.

Coffee and doughnuts

The back-and-forth over reports that Trump’s associates made repeated contact with Russians known to US intelligence during the campaign continued with Trump Friday tweeting out a 2003 image of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The pair are smiling over doughnuts and coffee on a U.S. visit by Putin. The two are pictured on a visit to a gas station owned by a Russian oil company.

Trump posted the image writing: “We should start an immediate investigation into @SenSchumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite!”

The New York Democrat, who has called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign over his contact with the Russian ambassador, responded on Twitter, “Happily talk re: my contact w Mr. Putin & his associates, took place in ’03 in full view of press & public under oath. Would you &your team?”

Trump then turned his attention to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi because of a photo reported by Politico where she is pictured at a table with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, current Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland.

He wrote, “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.”

Pelosi, the House minority leader, has also called for Sessions to resign.

Addressing her claim that she’d never met Kislyak, Pelosi said Sunday that the meeting pictured was with Medvedev. “The question is, have you met with him. No, I haven’t met with him, I met with the President of Russia. Who else was in his entourage? Who knows?,” the California Democrat said.

‘A lot of expletives’

Trump is extremely frustrated with his senior staff and communications team for allowing the firestorm surrounding Sessions to steal his thunder in the wake of his address to Congress earlier in the week, sources have told CNN.

The President was “hot” and exasperated Thursday night after Sessions’ recusal, a source familiar with the situation said, and there were “a lot of expletives” when Trump returned from a day trip to Virginia.

Trump is said to have taken his irate mood to Florida this weekend. In casual conversations at Mar-a-Lago. He complained that his well-received address to Congress was drowned by the continuing news stories about contacts between his associates and Russian officials, two people who have spoken with him told CNN’s Kevin Liptak.

But the communications between key Trump aides and Moscow officials are just some of the Russia-induced headaches for Trump that are threatening to overshadow his political agenda.

While some of Trump’s Russia issues are mere nuisances, others could lead to more serious political — and perhaps even legal — consequences for the administration, experts say.

‘Wires tapped’

Trump vented more anger early Saturday, tweeting: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

The missive was part one of a six-tweet tirade that began just after 6:30 a.m. No proof of any wiretapping of then candidate Trump was offered.

A senior administration official in Washington said colleagues learned of the tweet storm about Obama only after Trump had sent them. They were not expecting the President to make any news Saturday before golfing.

The official said they didn’t believe Trump is trying to get ahead of any particular story that’s about to come out, but rather that he was furious about how the Russia storyline is playing out.

The official pointed to a story on the conservative website Breitbart News, which followed up on claims Obama worked to undermine Trump’s presidential campaign and his administration.

That story infuriated Trump, the official said.

‘Just nonsense’

Several former senior US officials dismissed Trump’s allegations, calling them false. “Just nonsense,” said one former senior US intelligence official. Obama, through a spokesman, also rejected the claim that he ordered Trump’s phones tapped.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Sunday that the intelligence agencies he supervised did not wiretap Donald Trump last year nor did the FBI obtain a court order through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor Trump’s phones.

The FBI asked the Department of Justice to publicly refute the president’s claims, sources told CNN, because such wiretapping would be illegal since presidents cannot just order the eavesdropping of a US citizen’s phones. So far, the Justice Department has not said anything in reaction to Trump’s tweets on Saturday. Both the FBI and Justice Department declined to comment.

Trump is asking Congress to look into whether the Obama administration abused its investigative powers during the 2016 election, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement Sunday.

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the committee will investigate Russian actions during the presidential campaign, and will inquire into whether the government was conducting surveillance on any political campaign if the evidence warrants it.

Pelosi accused Trump of using “authoritarian” tactics in making the wiretap claim.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday, Pelosi called Trump the “deflector-in-chief — anything to change the subject.”

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham promised that he would “get to the bottom” of Trump’s accusation. “I would be very worried if, in fact, the Obama administration was able to obtain a warrant lawfully about Trump campaign activity with foreign governments,” the South Carolina Republican said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he’s “not sure what it is (Trump) is talking about,” but added it’s possible that “perhaps the President has information that is not yet available to us or to the public.”

Rubio pointed out that the Senate Intelligence Committee is already in the process of reviewing Russia’s meddling in the US elections last year and will eventually issue a public report.

‘She ain’t got no legs’

Sessions stayed in the limelight on “Saturday Night Live,” with Kate McKinnon turning the former senator from Alabama into the Tom Hanks’ character Forrest Gump from the 1994 hit film.

“Hello, my name’s Jeff, Jeff Sessions,” McKinnon’s Sessions, dressed as Gump, said with a southern drawl while sitting on a park bench waiting for a bus. “I’m the attorney general of the whole United States.”

Sessions as Gump spoke with people sitting on the bench about what it was like being in the government and showed a photo of “best good friend” counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway.

“She ain’t got no legs,” McKinnon as Sessions said showing a photo of Conway sitting in a crouched position on a couch in the Oval Office, which has gone viral. “We’re about as close as peas and carrots. She’s the best talker you’ve ever heard. They say she could sell stink to a skunk.”

Meanwhile Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, apologized to Conway on Sunday night for making crude remarks at a Washington dinner last week about the photo showing Conway sitting on her heels, looking at her phone, in the Oval Office, while President Trump met with more than 60 presidents from historically black colleges.

There was a backlash to Richmond’s comments which included support from an unlikely corner — Chelsea Clinton, who tweeted that the remarks were despicable.

Drumroll for the travel ban

Trump will be hoping the news agenda will clear for his updated executive order banning travel from certain Middle Eastern and African countries.

An administration official told CNN that the President planned to sign the order this week — possibly as soon as Monday, at the Department of Homeland Security. But the official cautioned that plans could change.

The new version of his court-halted executive order that banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US will exclude existing visa holders, sources familiar with the plan have told CNN.

Trump was scheduled to sign the order last Wednesday but pushed it back after his joint address to Congress received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

“We want the (executive order) to have its own ‘moment,’ ” a senior administration official told CNN last Tuesday.

Stand by.

Longer wait for visas

In the meantime, officials announced the US is temporarily suspending expedited processing of H-1B visas, eliminating the option of shorter wait times for the program that helps highly skilled foreigners work at US companies.

Under the current system, companies submitting applications for H-1B visas for potential employees can pay $1,225 extra to ensure they receive a response from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services within 15 days, as opposed to the usual three to six months.

The suspension is effective April 3, and could last up to six months, according to USCIS.

Immigration lawyers criticized the change, saying it would leave many companies in limbo as they waited for employees’ visas to be processed.

One lawyer told CNN Money that employers would be unable to “plan for their businesses and act accordingly.”