Something So Wrong: May 2017 (UPDATED)

  • On May 3, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to repeal an Obama era rule that provided a safe harbor for states to set up retirement plans that automatically enroll workers (allowing them to opt out) if they work for an employer that does not offer a retirement plan. The rule clarified that such “automatic IRA plans” would not conflict with federal pension law. Trump is expected to sign the repeal legislation.
  • On May 4, the House voted 117 to 113 in favor of a revised version of the American Health Care Act after Speaker Ryan had scuttled the original version on March 24. The revised bill included provisions designed to win votes from the so-called Freedom Caucus.
  • On May 9, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. At the time, Comey was pursuing an investigation into possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the election. According to the White House, Comey was fired for his statements in July and October 2016 regarding the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email. In July, Comey had announced the FBI’s recommendation that that the Justice Department not pursue any charges against Clinton, although he called Clinton “extremely careless” in handling classified information. In October, Comey informed Congress that the FBI had reopened its investigation when State Department emails were found on a computer belonging to former Rep. Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton aide, Huma Abedin. Nine days later (and two days before the election), Comey announced that, based on review of the Weiner emails, the FBI had concluded that “we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July”—that no criminal charges should be brought against Clinton. President Obama appointed Comey in September 2013 to a ten-year term as FBI Director.
  • In an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on May 10, Trump revealed highly classified information related to an ISIS threat to use laptop computers to smuggle explosives onto aircraft. The intelligence had been provided in confidence by Israel, which had not consented to sharing the information with Russians. In the meeting with the Russians, Trump revealed classified details about the threat, including disclosing the identity of the city within the ISIS controlled territory where the information was detected. Trump defended his “absolute right” to reveal the information, which he described as “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”
  • When Trump met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador on May 10, he told them that firing FBI Director James Comey had relieved the pressure he had felt from the investigation Comey was pursuing into Russian meddling in the US election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Trump reportedly told the Russians, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” and he told them: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
  • On May 11, by executive order, Trump created the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” to study the registration and voting processes used in federal elections. The Commission will report to the president “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.” Trump appointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice-chair of the commission, which will be nominally chaired by Vice President Pence. Trump previously claimed that 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election to explain his trailing Hillary Clinton in the popular vote (Clinton led Trump by 2.8 million votes). Kobach has been an advocate for restrictive voting laws as well as harsh anti-immigration laws.
  • On May 17, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (as acting AG due to the recusal by Attorney General Jeff Sessions) appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel to investigate Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, including “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and…any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
  • On May 23, the Trump administration issued its proposed budget, entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness.” The budget would increase spending for Defense (up 10.1%), Homeland Security (up 6.8%) and the VA (up 5.8%), while making deep cuts to virtually every other federal agency, including the Environmental Protection Agency (down 31.4%), the Department of Labor (down 19.8%), Interior (down 10.9%), Education (down 13.5%), HUD (down 13.2%), and the State Department, including foreign aid (down 29.1 %). The budget would eliminate many government programs altogether, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, the Green Climate Fund and the Global Climate Change Initiative—among many others.
  • On May 27, The Washington Post reported that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December and proposed setting up a “back channel” between the incoming Trump administration and the Russian military to discuss Syria and other matters. The back channel would utilize Russian diplomatic facilities, apparently to make the discussions more difficult for US intelligence agencies to monitor—while making it easier for Russian intelligence. In response to the report, Trump’s economic advisor, Gary Cohn said, “We’re not going to comment on Jared. We’re just not going to comment.”

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