The Washington Post reported exclusively that the Justice Department informed Yates that much of her possible testimony could be covered by the presidential communication privilege and, thus, barred from discussion at a congressional hearing. Yates had played a key role in the investigation into former White House national security adviser Michael T. Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials, and she had made clear to government officials that her testimony could contradict some statements made by White House officials, The Post reported.
Trump fired Yates, an Obama administration appointee, in January after she spoke out against his first travel ban and said her department would not defend it in court.
The report prompted an angry denial from White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who stated at his daily briefing: “I hope she testifies. I look forward to it. To suggest in any way, shape or form that we stood in the way of that is 100 percent false.”
The episode was the latest twist in a story that has distracted and sidetracked the White House since Trump took office. The questions over ties between Russian officials and Trump’s campaign have taken time and attention away from Trump’s goals of overhauling health care, building a border wall and ensuring Congress approves a spending bill next month to keep the government open.
It also raised new questions about the handling of the House investigation by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who abruptly canceled a hearing Friday in which Yates and former intelligence officials were scheduled to testify. Nunes has rejected calls from Democrats and some Republicans to recuse himself or to hand over the investigation to a select committee to ensure impartiality.
ENDING THE ‘WAR ON COAL’
The White House had expected to spend the day focusing on Trump’s move to reverse Obama administration rules on carbon emissions by instructing the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants.
The president traveled to EPA headquarters to sign the document, which also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.
Trump cast his effort as a way to free businesses from burdensome regulations and boost the economy, but some of his measures could take years to implement and are unlikely to alter broader trends that are shifting the nation’s electricity mix from coal-fired generation to natural gas and renewables.
The order is silent on whether the United States should withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, under which it has pledged to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025 compared with 2005 levels. The administration remains divided on that question.
BILL ON INTERNET PRIVACY HEADS TO WHITE HOUSE
A bill to repeal a set of landmark privacy protections for Web users implemented two years ago is headed to Trump’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it. The repeal of the Obama administration rule was passed by the House on Tuesday after clearing the Senate last week.
The bill marks a sharp, partisan pivot toward letting Internet providers collect and sell their customers’ Web browsing history, location information, health data and other personal details.
Supporters of Tuesday’s repeal vote argued that the privacy regulations, written by the Federal Communications Commission, stifle innovation by forcing Internet providers to abide by unreasonably strict guidelines. Privacy advocates called the vote “a tremendous setback for America.”
“Donald Trump, by giving away our data to the country’s leading phone and cable giants, is further undermining American democracy,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
NATIONALS STRIKE OUT ON TRUMP FIRST PITCH
Trump has pledged to put “America first,” but he’s not embracing America’s pastime — at least not on opening day.
The Washington Nationals invited the president to throw out the first pitch Monday when they open the season against the Miami Marlins. But the White House turned the team down.
According to the Nats, the White House cited a scheduling issue.— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) March 28, 2017
Trump’s predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both took their turn on the mound, in 2010 and 2008, respectively.
On the other hand, it’s possible the White House is intent on shielding the president, whose public approval ratings are at historic lows, from the kind of boos that greeted Vice President Richard Cheney when he threw out the first pitch at RFK Stadium in 2006.