Whitaker rejected advice to recuse himself from Russia probe
By MICHAEL BALSAMO
Friday, December 21
WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker chose not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation even though a top Justice Department ethics official advised him to step aside out of an “abundance of caution,” a senior official said Thursday.
Whitaker’s past criticism of the Russia investigation has raised questions about whether he can oversee it fairly. The ethics official said this week that a recusal was “a close call” but suggested that Whitaker remove himself, even though he was not required to do so.
Whitaker decided not to take the advice.
Earlier Thursday, a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it publicly told The Associated Press that Whitaker did not have to recuse himself from overseeing the probe. But that wasn’t the full picture. Later, a senior Justice Department official provided a much more detailed account of the ethics consultation.
It showed that although Whitaker was not required to step aside from the investigation, the issue wasn’t so clear cut. That official spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.
Members of Congress have expressed concerns about Whitaker’s past criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The probe is looking at Russian interference in the 2016 election and ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had overseen the investigation until last month, when Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the probe, and appointed Whitaker. The senior official said Rosenstein continues to have day-to-day oversight of the probe.
The questions about Whitaker’s decision not to recuse himself will add to the controversies surrounding his appointment. Beyond the criticism about his comments on the Russia probe, Whitaker has also faced scrutiny for his involvement with the company that was accused of misleading consumers and is under investigation by the FBI and over questions about whether he violated federal law because a campaign committee set up for his failed 2014 U.S. Senate bid accepted $8,800 in donations this year.
He will almost certainly face questions from Congress if he is called to testify before a permanent attorney general is confirmed. President Donald Trump named William Barr — who was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush — to serve as the next attorney general, though Barr will have to be confirmed by the Senate.
When Whitaker was appointed, he formed a group of four Justice Department officials — led by a veteran U.S. attorney — to advise him on the transition and ethics process, the senior official said. That small group of officials met repeatedly with the Justice Department’s career ethics officials.
While working as a legal commentator for CNN, Whitaker once opined about a scenario in which Trump could fire Sessions and then appoint an acting attorney general who could stifle the funding of Mueller’s probe. His other past public statements have included an op-ed in which he said Mueller would be straying outside his mandate if he investigated Trump’s family finances. In a talk radio interview, Whitaker maintained there was no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
Whitaker was not required to solicit a recommendation from ethics officials, and it was at Whitaker’s discretion whether he should recuse, the senior official said. Ethics officials had also told Whitaker’s advisers that they had no precedent of another attorney general recusing himself or herself because of a perceived conflict.
Since taking office, Whitaker has not been briefed on specific developments of the special counsel’s investigation, and Rosenstein will continue to maintain day-to-day oversight for the foreseeable future, the official added.
However, the official said Whitaker can be briefed as the investigation moves forward, though there isn’t a set timetable yet on when that might begin.
Late Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Steven Boyd sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to lay out the ethics consultation. The Justice Department’s ethics officials had advised Whitaker that he should recuse himself because a “reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts likely would question the impartiality of the Acting Attorney General,” said Boyd in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
But Boyd defended Whitaker’s choice not to recuse himself, saying that he had praised Mueller as a “professional” and a “good man” and that Whitaker believes he is “fully acquainted with the ethical duties of a prosecutor.”
“Mr. Whitaker’s refusal to recuse is an attack on the rule of law and the American justice system, but it is undoubtedly consistent with what President Trump wanted – an unethical yes-man who will do his bidding rather than do what’s right,” Schumer said in a statement.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who will take over as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in January, said it was “unacceptable” that Whitaker didn’t inform members of Congress about his decision not to recuse himself and vowed to question Whitaker before the committee.
The question of whether an attorney general can or should recuse from a particular criminal investigation has long been politically fraught, and decisions in both directions have had far-reaching ramifications.
In 2016, for instance, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch opted not to recuse herself from the Hillary Clinton email investigation despite an impromptu chat with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at an airport tarmac in Phoenix. Lynch opted instead to accept the FBI’s recommendation on whether to bring charges. Former FBI Director James Comey has acknowledged being frustrated by that decision and went ahead days later with a controversial news conference at which he announced the FBI’s recommendation against charges.
Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation just days into his job as attorney general. He said it was because of his work as a campaign surrogate for Trump, but the announcement followed revelations that he had had multiple encounters with the Russian ambassador over the last year. Trump never forgave him and ultimately forced him from the job a year and a half later.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
Trump says a shutdown would ‘last for a very long time’
By LISA MASCARO, MATTHEW DALY and ZEKE MILLER
Friday, December 21
WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a midnight deadline to avoid a partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump said Friday a closure would drag on “for a very long time” and he tried to lay blame on congressional Democrats if there’s no deal over his demand for U.S.-Mexico border wall money.
Only a week ago, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government, which Republicans now control, in the name of border security. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down,” he asserted.
But with the hours dwindling before the midnight deadline, Trump sought to reframe the debate and make Democrats the holdouts to settling an impasse that threatens hundreds of thousands of federal workers on the eve of the end-of-the-year holidays.
And he exhorted the Senate’s Republican leader to corral enough Democratic votes to send a House-passed plan to the White House, even though the measure is almost certain to be rejected in the Senate.
“Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything. He will need Democrat votes, but as shown in the House, good things happen. If enough Dems don’t vote, it will be a Democrat Shutdown!” he tweeted.
Trump also encouraged McConnell, R-Ky., to change the Senate’s rules in order to pass the spending bill, lowering the threshold for ending debate on legislation from 60 votes to 51, as it currently stands for judicial appointments.
“Mitch, use the Nuclear Option and get it done! Our Country is counting on you!,” Trump tweeted, though McConnell has previously resisted the rules change.
The Senate has been called back into session to consider a package approved by House Republicans late Thursday that includes the $5.7 billion Trump wants for the border with Mexico.
Senators had passed their own bipartisan bill earlier in the week to keep the government running, with border security at existing levels, $1.3 billion, but no money for the wall. Both bills would extend government funding through Feb. 8.
The White House said Trump would not travel to Florida on Friday as planned for the Christmas holiday if the government were shutting down.
More than 800,000 federal workers will be facing furloughs or forced to work without pay if a resolution is not reached before funding expires at midnight Friday.
At issue is funding for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks and forests.
Many agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, are funded for the year and would continue to operate as usual. The U.S. Postal Service, busy delivering packages for the holiday season, would not be affected by any government shutdown because it’s an independent agency.
The shutdown crisis could be one of the final acts of the House GOP majority before relinquishing control to Democrats in January.
Congress had been on track to fund the government but lurched when Trump, after a rare lashing from conservative supporters, declared Thursday he would not sign a bill without the funding. Conservatives want to keep fighting. They warn that “caving” on Trump’s repeated wall promises could hurt his 2020 re-election chances, and other Republicans’ as well.
The GOP-led House voted largely along party lines, 217-185, to attach the border wall money to the Senate’s bill. House Republicans also tacked on nearly $8 billion in disaster aid for coastal hurricanes and California wildfires.
Some Republicans senators cheered on the House, but prospects in the Senate are grim amid strong opposition from Democrats. Even though Republicans have a slim majority, 60 votes are needed to approve the bill there.
One possibility Friday is that the Senate strips the border wall out of the bill but keeps the disaster funds and sends it back to the House. House lawmakers said they were being told to stay in town for more possible votes.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Kevin Freking and Catherine Lucey in Washington contributed to this report.
What’s the economic impact of a government shutdown?
December 20, 2018
Scott R. Baker
Assistant Professor of Finance, Northwestern University
Scott R. Baker does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
President Donald Trump and Congress are once again on the verge of a partial federal government shutdown. If they fail to reach an agreement, it would be the third shutdown in two years.
The immediate and most visible impact of a shutdown is in the government’s day-to-day operations. Some departments and offices, like the Internal Revenue Service, would be closed, and nonessential federal employees across the government would stay home.
But beyond the individual workers and families affected, could a short or lengthy shutdown affect the broader U.S. economy as well?
Constantine Yannelis, a business professor at New York University, and I examined data from the 2013 government shutdown to better understand its impact.
An economic speed bump
While a shutdown affects the economy in a number of ways – from delaying business permits and visas to reducing service hours at innumerable agencies – a primary channel through which a shutdown affects the economy is through withheld or foregone pay from federal employees who don’t receive their paychecks.
Since consumer spending makes up about 70 percent of economic activity in the United States, withholding pay from even some government workers could introduce a significant economic speed bump in the short run.
And that’s exactly what we saw in 2013.
Similar to the situation today, a partisan standoff in Congress led to a partial shutdown of the government that lasted a little over two weeks beginning on Oct. 1 of that year.
Well over a million federal employees were affected and didn’t receive a paycheck during the shutdown. Some were furloughed – sent home and told not to do anything related to their job. Those deemed “essential” or “exempted” – such as security personnel screening passengers at airports or border patrol agents – were required to continue working at their jobs, although they were not receiving paychecks. The government eventually paid both groups the money owed them, regardless of whether they worked, after Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement on Oct. 16.
My colleague Yannelis and I sought to understand how households responded by tracking how they behaved in the days leading up to, during and following the shutdown using detailed financial data.
We obtained this anonymized data from a personal finance website where people track their income, expenses, savings and debt. Using the paycheck transaction descriptions, we identified over 60,000 households that contained employees of federal agencies affected by the shutdown. These affected employees included both those who were asked to work without pay and those who were furloughed.
As a comparison group, we also identified over 90,000 households with a member who worked for a state government. That would likely mean they have fairly similar levels of education, experience and financial security, yet their paychecks were unaffected by the shutdown.
Short-term impact on spending
Our study led to two primary findings.
First, we found that the shutdown led to an immediate decline in average household spending of almost 10 percent. Surprisingly, despite the fact that most federal workers have stable jobs and income sources, they were quick to cut spending on pretty much everything, from restaurants to clothing to electronics, just days after their pay was delayed.
While households with less money in the bank cut their spending by larger amounts, even those with significant resources and easy access to credit reduced their expenditures.
Second, households with a member who was furloughed and required to stay home from work slashed their spending more dramatically – by 15 percent to 20 percent, or almost twice as much as the average of those affected. This larger decline reflected the fact that these households suddenly had a lot more time on their hands. Rather than going out to eat or paying for child care for example, they were able to spend more time cooking and watching their own children.
This behavior is what tends to spread the economic effects of a shutdown that affects a slice of the population to a wider group of businesses and individuals behind Washington, D.C. And in regions with substantial numbers of federal workers, these declines in spending can greatly hurt the health of the local economy in the short run.
Whether or not a shutdown has a longer-term economic impact depends on whether employees are paid their foregone wages after its conclusion – and how long the shutdown lasts.
In 2013, the government repaid even furloughed workers what they would have earned had the shutdown not happened.
This repayment, essentially increasing the size of their first post-shutdown paychecks, had significant and immediate effects on household spending. A sudden spike in spending occurred in the days after the paychecks were disbursed, largely erasing some of the most dramatic declines in spending during the previous two weeks.
The government has usually paid all its employees, “essential” or not, back pay after other past shutdowns, such as those in the 1990s. While Congress is legally required to pay federal employees who worked during the shutdown, there’s no law requiring the same treatment for nonessential workers.
In addition, the longer the shutdown lasts, the worse its impact. Households might deplete savings or hit their credit card limits as the impasse stretches day after day, giving them additional time to adjust their spending in ways that they could not do with only a few days’ notice. For instance, in 2013, bills for health insurance or tuition payments were largely unaffected. Had that shutdown persisted, households may have started to cut back here as well.
So if Congress refuses to offer furloughed workers back pay and the shutdown lasts weeks rather than days, the economic impact could be severe.
However, if a shutdown is resolved in a relatively short amount of time, with workers being paid back their regular income, the damage would likely be fairly contained.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Jan. 19, 2018.
TJ Martin: Additional consequences of a Government shut down from one who knows first hand having immediate family friends and associates ( none of which will be effected as they are all considered to be essential ) in the Federal government as well as having lived through a few myself . History has show ;
1) Inevitably shut downs back fire on every POTUS / administration that initiates them
2) In really not a dime is saved due to the fact that once the shut down concludes all those federal employees affected by law will then receive all the back pay due … while having done no work during the shut down
e.g. In the end they end up with an extended paid vacation
3) A shut down effectively closes every National Park , Monument , Historical monument , Museum etc al which directly impacts local tourism and economies
4) In light of the numbers of federal employees discretionary spending as well as obligatory ( bills mortgages insurance medical etc ) decreases exponentially well beyond what the author is claiming . Also depending on the length of the shut down many may fall into arrears on debt etc with many descending into bankruptcy and default especially in this age where the majority have little or no savings to fall back on
5) A little known fact . The majority of federal workers are ex and retired military the majority of which live paycheck to paycheck
6) Many essential services including welfare , SS checks etc are suspended or delayed
Then . Just to throw fuel on the fire of this potential shut down . Add to the above the 14,000 GM workers laid off a couple of weeks ago in addition to the H-D GE etc workers already laid off this year along with the impending 20,000 + in the works at Ford , FCA etc – et al – ad nauseam and all one can say is …
…. to all you Trump supporters in a moment of schadenfreude and “ I/We Told You So
Merry Christmas to you all . Brought to you by Father Chaos himself . Donald Trump .
And may your new year hopefully bring about a moment of realization and understanding of the truth of things
Because if it does not .. you’ll be immersed within the depths of an inferno of your own making quicker than you can say bad hair day .