DC Roundup: Trump, Comey, Senate Intel Hearings

Developments in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday include President Donald Trump as he discusses infrastructure and his health care plan, while his top intelligence officials are questioned before the Senate Intelligence Committee, hours before fired FBI Director James Comey will be questioned by the same panel; the president also offers to mediate between Gulf nations in conflict.

Comey to Testify Trump Tried to Influence FBI Probe of Russian Election Meddling — Fired FBI Director Jim Comey will tell a Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday that President Donald Trump asked him for loyalty during White House conversations concerning the agency’s handling of investigations into current and former administration officials, including the president himself. The committee released an advance copy of Comey’s seven-page opening statement a day before his scheduled appearance. This came shortly after the Director of National Intelligence and other top intelligence officials refused to answer the committee’s questions about Comey and the Russia investigation.

Verbatim: Ex-FBI Chief Comey’s Recollection of Conversations With President — Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Comey was leading the agency’s investigation of Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election when Trump, frustrated by the ongoing probe, fired him last month. Here are several excerpts about Comey’s recollections, from his expected opening statement to the Senate panel.

Questions Comey Will Likely Face Before Senate Panel — Comey, who was fired nearly a month ago by Trump, will testify Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election, as well as any ties between Moscow and Trump’s inner circle. Here are some questions that will likely be asked of the former FBI head on Thursday.

Comey Is No Stranger to Controversy — Comey, who served as the seventh director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as at the center of the highly charged investigation into possible collaboration between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies � including the FBI � concluded in January that Russia attempted to meddle in the 2016 presidential election with the aim of helping Trump win the presidency.

Raise Your Right Hand: High Stakes at Congressional Hearings — This city knows how to do big hearings – even Titanic ones. Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras. A look at past high-drama hearings.

US Intelligence Chiefs Decline to Discuss Conversations with Trump — Two top U.S. intelligence officials told lawmakers they did not feel inappropriately pressured by Trump to publicly disavow possible Russian collusion with Trump aides in last year’s election. But Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers told the Senate Intelligence Committee they would not discuss details of their White House meetings with Trump in recent months. They refused to answer questions about whether Trump asked them to intervene to curb the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

Trump to Nominate Christopher Wray as FBI Director — Trump has selected Christopher Wray, a former federal prosecutor, as his nominee to run the Federal Bureau of Investigation. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday the nomination is based on Wray’s reputation and strong support across the political divide.

US Senate Works on New Iran Sanctions, Possible Russia Sanctions — The U.S. Senate has moved forward on a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran. The bill advanced on a procedural vote Wednesday. It now will be available for amendments before a final Senate vote.

Trump Offers to Mediate Qatar’s Diplomatic Crisis — In a call with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Trump offered to mediate the country’s diplomatic crisis with its neighbors.

North Korea Apparently Test Fires Land-to-Ship Missiles, South Korea Says — North Korea apparently has test launched several land-to-ship missiles, South Korea says. Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said several projectiles were fired early Thursday from the North’s eastern coast town of Wosan. It gave no other details.

Trump Calls for Infrastructure, Health Care Overhaul — Trump called for a bipartisan effort Wednesday to overhaul the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

US Swipes at China Signal a Micro Policy Shift in Disputed Sea — The U.S. government is challenging China over its dominant position in Asia’s major maritime sovereignty dispute, but those moves, after months of silence, are seen as aimed at reassuring nervous Southeast Asian countries rather than as a major anti-Beijing pivot. Trump has shelved the South China Sea issue for most of his nearly half-year term as he tries to get along with Beijing, especially seeking Chinese help in throttling missile and nuclear weapons development in North Korea.

How Many Refugees Will US Accept This Year? — U.S. officials still can’t confirm how many refugees will arrive this fiscal year, with less than four months left and an imminent increase in the works. The ambitious ceiling of 110,000, set by then-President Barack Obama shortly before the 2016 election has little chance of being met. It would require a massive surge of personnel to pull off in the 16 weeks remaining in this fiscal year, which is an unlikely prospect under an administration calling for significant cuts to the refugee program. And it likely won’t be as low as 50,000, the number demanded by President Donald Trump in two executive orders embroiled in legal friction.

Layer of Fear Hangs Over Immigrants in Rural Pennsylvania Town — “They took my brother.” The visibly frightened woman speaks from inside the doorway of a multifamily house as she describes how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents came at night, knocking on apartment doors, demanding to be let in. She’s not alone. Lately, the streets of the York Springs have been emptier and for rent signs have popped up in front of some buildings. A new layer of fear hangs over the rural Pennsylvania town and its large Hispanic population in the wake of recent sweeps by ICE agents.

Battle for Raqqa Pits US-backed Kurds Against Syrian Government-backed Militias — U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia forces chanted as they advanced toward the northern outskirts of the Islamic State-held town of Raqqa in northern Syria, attempting to set foot inside the city and dislodge the militant group from its so-called capital. The U.S. envoy to the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, said Wednesday in Baghdad that the battle for Raqqa would “only escalate,” as the group loses control of its northern Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. He added that the fight for Raqqa would be a “difficult and very long-term battle.”

EU Launches Defense Fund Amid US Pressure to Boost Spending — The European Union on Wednesday unveiled a new defense fund to get better value for money on high-tech projects like drones or robotics as European allies at NATO come under U.S. pressure to boost their military budgets. The European Commission said the fund would provide a total of 500 million euros ($563 million) in EU money in 2019 and 2020 to help buy and develop military equipment.

Obama says Paris Climate Agreement Still Has a Chance — The Paris climate agreement still has a chance despite the “temporary absence of American leadership,” Obama said Tuesday, adding that he was cheered that U.S. states, cities, corporations and others have decided to carry on with the Paris commitments. The former U.S. president made the remarks in a speech to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and got a round of applause from the business crowd for mentioning the Paris accord.

Obama Has Private Dinner with Trudeau in Montreal — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is tweeting his thanks to former U.S. President Obama after the two shared a private dinner at a Montreal restaurant.

Eyes on Russia Probe Leaves Washington’s To-Do List Undone — You’ve probably heard all about what’s happening in Washington. This is a story about what isn’t. The rapid-fire revelations about the Trump campaign and its Russia connections that are heating up this city are having a chilling effect in plenty of other ways. There are bills that have been pushed to the back burner. Diplomatic initiatives that aren’t fully initiating. Interest groups that can’t stir up much interest. Appointees that haven’t been appointed.

Lawmakers Decry Trump’s Proposed Cuts in Homeland Spending — Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is defending Trump’s proposed budget cuts, even as he tells Congress that the United States “cannot invest too much in security” after recent terrorist attacks in Europe. Trump proposed a budget last month that would cut nearly $700 million from grant programs for local first responders. Overall, Homeland Security would face a reduction of 3.2 percent.

Eric Trump Calls Father’s Critics ‘Not Even People’ — Eric Trump says critics of his father are “not even people.” Trump’s son told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday that he’s “never seen hatred like this” and “morals have flown out the window” when it comes to attacks against his father.

Eric Trump Calls Father’s Critics ‘Not Even People’ — Eric Trump says critics of his father are “not even people.” Trump’s son told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday that he’s “never seen hatred like this” and “morals have flown out the window” when it comes to attacks against his father.

Luxury Hotels Arrive in Cuba Despite Fears Trump May Hurt Tourism Boom — Towering cranes dot the Havana skyline as communist-run Cuba races to build luxury hotels, amid indignation among some residents and concern that Trump might reverse a detente that fueled the tourist boom. Swiss-based Kempinski Hotels S.A. will inaugurate its Gran Hotel Manzana in the heart of the capital on Wednesday, billing it as Cuba’s first true luxury hotel.

Trump Administration Wants to Make Internet Spying Law Permanent — The Trump administration supports making permanent a law that allows for the collection of digital communications of foreigners believed to be living overseas and which pass through U.S. phone or internet providers, a senior White House official said.

Madeleine Albright Pens New Book, Warns of Fascism’s Dangers — Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, is worried about democracy. Albright’s next book, Fascism, is a warning that democratic governments are fragile and the United States under Trump is enduring its own crisis.

Violence Warned Over US Dropping Conflict Minerals Rule — Increased violence and corruption in central Africa could be the result of the recent decision by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission not to enforce a rule requiring American companies to report their use of conflict minerals, warn Congolese civic groups, rights groups and U.S. senators.

Facebook Launches Features to Connect US Users, Elected Officials — Facebook announced three new features Wednesday that are intended to boost civic engagement among users in the United States on its platform by connecting them more easily with their elected representatives.

Trump Chooses Regional Banker as Key Regulator of US Banks — Trump has chosen a regional banker as his nominee for a key government position in bank regulation. Trump announced late Monday he is naming Joseph Otting as comptroller of the currency, heading a Treasury Department agency that is the chief overseer for federally chartered banks.

Source: Voice of America

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