Trump claims video distributed by White House wasn’t altered
By DAVID BAUDER and JONATHAN LEMIRE
Friday, November 9
NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump claimed on Friday that a White House-released video depicting contact between a staffer and a CNN reporter wasn’t altered, and he seemingly threatened to revoke the White House press credentials of more reporters.
Trump insisted that the video distributed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was simply a “close-up” and “was not doctored.”
“Nobody manipulated it. All that is is a close-up,” said the president, who then attacked the reporter for asking the question and called him “dishonest.”
A frame-by-frame comparison with an Associated Press video of the same incident from Trump’s postelection news conference Wednesday shows that the video tweeted by Sanders appears to speed up CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s arm movement when he makes contact with a White House intern who was trying to take away Acosta’s microphone. The speedup appears to make the gesture more threatening.
Trump, in remarks Friday, also did not back off his administration’s decision to suspend Acosta’s press credential, which allows the CNN correspondent access to the White House grounds.
“He’s a very unprofessional guy. I don’t think he’s a smart person but he has a loud voice,” Trump told reporters in a testy 20-plus-minute exchange before he left for Paris and a World War I commemoration ceremony. “You have to treat the White House with respect. You have to treat the presidency with respect.”
The president said he had not decided if Acosta’s pass would be reinstated and he suggested there “could be others” who lose their credentials. He belittled several of the reporters gathered around him. He said one had asked “a stupid question,” and he singled out April Ryan, a correspondent for Urban Radio Networks, calling her “very nasty” and “a loser.”
Ryan, who is also a CNN contributor, tweeted in response: “I love this country and have the most respect for the Office of the President. I will continue to ask the questions that affect America, all of America.”
Trump’s latest attacks on the media came in the wake of his free-wheeling and contentious news conference two days earlier, and followed demands by several journalists and organizations — including the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the White House Correspondents Association — that Acosta’s press pass be reinstated.
“It is the essential function of a free press in every democracy to independently gather and report information in the public interest, a right that is enshrined in the First Amendment,” said Julie Pace, AP’s Washington bureau chief. “We strongly reject the idea that any administration would block a journalist’s access to the White House.”
The New York Times editorialized in favor of restoring Acosta’s pass, saying it signaled Trump’s view that asking hard questions disqualifies reporters from attending briefings. The newspaper said that if Sanders was so offended by physical contact, “what did she have to say when her boss praised as ‘my kind of guy’ Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana, who was sentenced to anger management classes and community service for body-slamming a Guardian reporter last spring?”
It’s rare for the White House to pull the media credentials.
During Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the Secret Service denied clearance to Robert Sherrill, a reporter for The Nation who had gotten into physical fights with government officials. During the George W. Bush presidency, Trude Feldman, who worked for various news outlets, was suspended for 90 days after security cameras recorded her looking through a press aide’s desk late one night. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon tried to get Washington Post reporters banned from the White House.
Despite losing his White House pass, Acosta traveled to Paris this weekend to cover Trump’s trip to meet with world leaders. He tweeted a photo of himself standing in front of the Eiffel Tower early Friday.
Abba Shapiro, an independent video producer who examined the Wednesday footage at AP’s request, noticed that frames in the tweeted video of the exchange at the news conference were frozen to slow down the action, allowing it to run the same length as the AP one.
Sanders, who hasn’t said where the tweeted video came from, noted that it clearly shows Acosta made contact with the intern. In her statement announcing Acosta’s suspension, she said the White House won’t tolerate “a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job.”
While the origin of the manipulated video is unclear, its distribution marked a new low for an administration that has been criticized for its willingness to mislead.
CNN has labeled Sanders’ characterization of Acosta’s exchange with the intern as a lie. Its position has been supported by witnesses, including Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason, who was next to Acosta during the news conference and tweeted that he did not see Acosta place his hands on the White House employee. Rather, Mason said he saw Acosta holding on to the microphone as the intern reached for it.
Associated Press writers Calvin Woodward and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
Trump on new acting AG: ‘I don’t know Matt Whitaker’
By ERIC TUCKER AND JONATHAN LEMIRE
Friday, November 9
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump distanced himself Friday from his new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, whose past business ties and comments on the Russia investigation and other topics have drawn scrutiny.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Trump said: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he was always extremely highly thought of, and he still is. But I didn’t know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions.”
That contradicted remarks Trump made on Fox News last month, when he called Whitaker “a great guy” and said “I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.
Trump elevated Whitaker to the post on Wednesday after forcing out Sessions, installing a Republican Party loyalist to oversee the special counsel investigation into possible ties between Russia and the president’s 2016 campaign.
Since then, Whitaker, who had been Sessions’ chief of staff, has faced pressure from Democrats to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller, based on critical comments he made about the investigation before joining the Justice Department last year.
Those include an op-ed in which he said Mueller would be straying outside his mandate if he investigated Trump family finances and a talk radio interview in which he maintained that there was no evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. There have also been reports about past comments questioning the power and reach of the federal judiciary, and about his ties to an invention-promotion company that was accused of misleading investors.
Legal scholars, meanwhile, have debated the constitutionality of Whitaker’s appointment, with some lawyers saying it is illegal because Whitaker has not been confirmed by the Senate.
Despite Trump’s distancing himself from Whitaker, two Republicans close to the president said he had enjoyed Whitaker’s TV appearances and the two had struck a bond. Those TV appearances included one on CNN in which Whitaker suggested that the Mueller probe could be starved of resources.
Trump told associates that he felt that Whitaker would be “loyal” and would not have recused himself from the Russia probe as Sessions had done, according to the Republicans, who were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
In his comments Friday, he said he had not spoken with Whitaker about Mueller’s investigation, which until now has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Of the scrutiny Whitaker is facing, Trump said: “It’s a shame that no matter who I put in they go after.”
“He was very, very highly thought of, and still is highly thought of, but this only comes up because anybody that works for me, they do a number on them,” Trump said.
In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he expects Trump to nominate a new permanent attorney general “pretty quickly.” McConnell said he expects Whitaker to be “a very interim” attorney general.
Trump has not said whom he will nominate to replace Sessions. That candidate, unlike Whitaker, would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is said to be a candidate, along with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, among others.
Trump told reporters he has not discussed the post with Christie, who he said was “a friend of mine” and “a good man.”
Acting attorney general has questioned Mueller investigation
By RYAN J. FOLEY
Thursday, November 8
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The man who will serve at least temporarily as the nation’s top law enforcement official is a relatively inexperienced Republican Party loyalist from Iowa who has called for limiting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Matthew G. Whitaker, 49, will become the nation’s acting attorney general following the forced resignation of Jeff Sessions. President Donald Trump announced the appointment Wednesday, saying on Twitter that Whitaker “will serve our Country well” and that a permanent attorney general will be nominated later.
The former federal prosecutor served as Sessions’ chief of staff for one year.
The bulk of Whitaker’s relevant experience came when he served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 2004 until 2009, a position for which he was recommended by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In that role, the telegenic former college football player managed attorneys who prosecuted federal crimes and represented the government in civil matters in half of Iowa.
Recent acting and permanent attorneys general have been longtime government lawyers or high-ranking politicians with more experience navigating Washington than Whitaker.
Critics worry that Whitaker may be unlikely or unwilling to defend the Department of Justice’s independence against political interference by the White House, given his history of partisanship and loyalty to Trump. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that Whitaker should recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation given his previous public comments that appeared to exhibit hostility toward the inquiry.
During a brief stint last year as a conservative legal commentator on CNN, Whitaker often appeared as a Trump defender, saying he saw no evidence the president colluded with Russians during the 2016 campaign or obstructed justice. He wrote last year on CNN.com that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation to stop him from delving into Trump’s finances.
“If he doesn’t, then Mueller’s investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition. This would not only be out of character for a respected figure like Mueller, but also could be damaging to the President of the United States and his family — and by extension, to the country,” he wrote.
He also said on CNN last year that he could see a scenario in which Sessions’ replacement doesn’t fire Mueller but “just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”
Asked whether Whitaker would assume control over Mueller’s investigation, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores said Whitaker would be “in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice.” The agency did not announce a departure for Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has closely overseen his work.
Des Moines attorney Guy Cook, a Democrat who has known Whitaker for years, called him a clear thinker and a “no-nonsense guy who is not to be underestimated.”
“But I think most importantly, from the president’s perspective, he’s loyal,” Cook said. He said that reasonable people can agree with Whitaker’s perspective on the Mueller investigation, but “I’m sure that’s something that got the president’s attention.”
Grassley said Whitaker “will work hard and make us proud,” saying that the department would be in good hands during the transition.
Most of Whitaker’s career has been spent in private practice, including at a Des Moines law firm he founded with other Republican Party activists in 2009. He has twice failed in bids for statewide elected office, most recently losing the 2014 GOP primary for the U.S. Senate to now-Sen. Joni Ernst.
After that campaign, Whitaker helped start and served for three years as executive director for the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a self-described “ethics watchdog” that often targets Democratic officials and groups with misconduct investigations and complaints. He has said that Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted for her email scandal as secretary of state and that Trump made the right call in firing FBI Director James Comey. He earned $402,000 in 2016, the group’s tax filing shows.
Whitaker has also cultivated close relationships with Republican leaders and activists during the Iowa caucuses, the first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contests that occur every four years. He served as state chairman during the 2012 election cycle for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s campaign. After Pawlenty’s bid fizzled, he served in the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns of Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who is now energy secretary.
Whitaker grew up in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny. He attended the University of Iowa on a football scholarship, playing tight end under the legendary coach Hayden Fry and catching a pass for the Hawkeyes in the 1991 Rose Bowl. He majored in communications studies as an undergraduate and was interested in broadcasting and film production. He later earned an MBA and a law degree from the school.
After starting his career in private practice, Whitaker first ran for office in 2002, losing a race for state treasurer to longtime Democratic incumbent Michael Fitzgerald. President George W. Bush appointed him as the U.S. attorney based in Des Moines in 2004.
During his tenure, his office was accused of having political motivations in bringing an extortion charge against then-Democratic state Sen. Matt McCoy, which stemmed from a dispute McCoy had with a business partner. Whitaker denied that accusation, and McCoy was acquitted at a 2007 trial.
Emergency protest to protect the Mueller investigation—today, 11/8
EMERGENCY PROTEST TO PROTECT THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION
Central Ohioans call on Acting Attorney General Whitaker to recuse himself
COLUMBUS, OH—Today, activists in Columbus—in conjunction with Indivisible groups from OH3, OH12, and OH15 Congressional districts—will join nationwide protests that support protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 election.
The protests come in response to President Trump’s decisions to remove Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and to install Trump’s longtime ally Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General. Whitaker will now oversee the Mueller investigation instead of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Protesters will demand that Whitaker recuse himself, given his conflicts of interest and his previous statements attacking the investigation. They will also demand that Congress act to protect the Mueller investigation.
More than 2,700 people signed up to attend an event in Columbus that would support the Mueller investigation. The nationwide protests are being organized by a coalition of hundreds of public interest organizations. More information can be found at TrumpIsNotAboveTheLaw.org.
WHAT: Protest to protect the Mueller investigation
WHO: Columbus-area citizens with Indivisible groups from OH3, OH12, and OH15
WHERE: Bicentennial Park, Columbus
WHEN: Today at 5pm—November 8, 2018