Here’s where things stand heading into Day 63 of the Trump administration:
On Wednesday, allegations about ties between the campaign of President Trump and Russia lurched into new territory.
Here’s what happened on several fronts.
The day opened with a report that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had agreed to advance Vladimir Putin’s political interests beginning in 2006 under a multimillion-dollar contract with one of the Russian president’s key allies.
By confirming another link between Trump’s world and the Kremlin, the report from the Associated Press directed further interest toward the FBI investigation of possible collusion between the two sides ahead of the election.
That was the first development.
Next came House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who stunned observers by lobbing an unproven accusation against U.S. spy agencies of gathering and sharing information about Trump and his transition team before the inauguration.
Nunes appeared to be referring to relatively routine cases of surveillance on foreign individuals that communicated with or mentioned Trump associates, our colleagues reported. But his allegations were soon embraced by Trump as a vindication of his baseless theory that former president Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the campaign.
“I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,” Trump told reporters.
As a reminder, Nunes is leading the House’s investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the election. The way he handled the information Wednesday was irregular for several reasons:
- Nunes said he received it from an anonymous source after criticizing the media for publishing leaks.
- He shared it with the press before his Intelligence Committee colleagues, including ranking Democrat Adam B. Schiff of California.
- He went to the White House to brief Trump about the material despite leading an investigation involving the Trump administration.
- He publicly discussed surveillance that at least one key senator described as seemingly classified.
Taken together, these actions suggested to some that Nunes’s discovery was “engineered to help the White House,” our colleagues wrote.
That was the second development.
Next came Schiff, who accused Nunes of compromising their investigation, then went further than he previously had in describing the possibility that political coordination took place between Trump aides and the Kremlin.
Nunes’s action “casts quite a profound cloud over our ability to do the work,” Schiff said in a statement calling for the formation of an independent commission to take up the investigation.
Later, speaking with MSNBC, Schiff raised eyebrows when he said there is “more than circumstantial evidence” that Trump associates colluded with Russia.
That was the third development.
Finally, Wednesday night closed with a report from CNN saying the FBI has “human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings” that suggest Trump aides might have coordinated with Russian operatives.
While the story was not definitive, it quickly went viral, closing out the day’s developments on a less-than-great note for Trump.
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE GOP HEALTH-CARE PLAN?
It remains unclear whether the House will go through with its plan to hold a floor vote on the Republican health-care bill Thursday.
If it does, however, you can bet that vote will be a nail-biter on account of conservative holdouts.
The process was plunged into chaos Wednesday after conservative Republicans confirmed their opposition to the bill would prevent its passage on the House floor by depriving GOP leaders of necessary “yes” votes.
This revelation prompted an 11th-hour signal from the White House that it was willing to rework the measure to mollify critics on the right. Opponents “agreed to keep working on a deal with the goal of holding a floor vote in the House by Thursday night,” our colleagues wrote.
These opponents would like to see the bill eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health plans cover a certain range of “essential benefits.”
“We’re not there yet,” conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Wednesday, “but we’re very optimistic that if we work around the clock between now and noon tomorrow that we’re going to be able to find some common ground.”
Changes to appease House conservatives could make the bill even harder to pass in the Senate, where many skeptics desire to preserve ACA benefits.
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE GORSUCH NOMINATION?
It looks like Neil Gorsuch will be successfully confirmed to the Supreme Court. At least, that’s what Republican senators seem to think.
By the end of Gorsuch’s second day of testimony Wednesday, members of the GOP weren’t even using all of their allocated time to ask him questions — a sign they thought his foray before the Senate Judiciary Committee had gone well.
At the same time, Wednesday’s hearing saw Democrats more aggressively question the nominee about his independence from Trump and his positions on issues such as abortion, money in politics and the Voting Rights Act. Gorsuch studiously avoided giving direct answers, which drew rebuke from some members of the minority party.
“You have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have ever seen before,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat.
The marathon confirmation hearing will continue Thursday with testimony from people who support and oppose Gorsuch’s nomination.
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE SECRET SERVICE?
Many people know Trump and his family’s frequent travel has become costly for the federal government. Now we have a sense of just how costly that travel is.
The Secret Service requested $60 million in additional funding for next year, nearly half of which would pay to protect Trump’s family and private home in New York’s Trump Tower, while the other half would be spent on travel costs for Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and “other visiting heads of state.”
The information was revealed the week after the administration proposed deep cuts to government programs in its budget and after Trump took his fifth post-inauguration weekend trip.
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