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Trump considers rearranging the seats at his table

Palm Beach, Florida (CNN)The future of top White House staffers, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, is uncertain, as President Donald Trump is increasingly sending signals he is considering a major shakeup of his leading advisers.

The rise of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has only further isolated Bannon, the chief strategist, from the President and his inner circle.
The pressure has mounted as the President has begun openly questioning the makeup of his senior staff as he looks for a win that could reboot his presidency. Who ultimately prevails in the ideological standoff between blocs led by Kushner and Bannon could determine the trajectory of Trump’s term in the months or years ahead.
    He’s begun asking those outside the administration — including wealthy friends and longtime confidantes — whether they approve of the makeup of his staff.
    But it’s also not clear yet that Trump is ready to pull the trigger on any changes just yet, the senior GOP source said. Some Republicans think that Trump is not ready to make a change, even though they feel that Priebus, chief of staff, and Bannon should go.
    The White House issued a statement Friday pushing back on the speculation.
    “Once again this is a completely false story driven by people who want to distract from the success taking place in this administration,” said Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman. “The President’s pick for the Supreme Court (a decision that has generational impact) was confirmed today, we hosted multiple foreign leaders this week and the President took bold and decisive military action against Syria last night. The only thing we are shaking up is the way Washington operates as we push the President’s aggressive agenda forward.”

      Trump and China: What’s at stake?


    Seat at the table

    As Trump sat for dinner Thursday with his Chinese counterpart in an ornately frescoed dining room a Mar-a-Lago, the fresh divides seizing the White House staff were on full display.
    Seated next to President Xi Jinping’s wife — two seats down from Trump himself — was Kushner, the commercial real estate scion and husband of Ivanka Trump, who is quickly consolidating power just shy of the Trump administration’s 100 day mark.
    Further down the banquet table — sandwiched between two Chinese officials — was Bannon, the President’s controversial chief strategist who multiple administration officials now say is in open conflict with Kushner, leading to new polarization in the West Wing just as Trump hopes to reboot his presidency.
    To White House aides, the tableau was telling: While Bannon still has a seat at the table, his position seems to slipping. Kushner, meanwhile, appears ascendent, even as Trump continues to go to both men for advice.

      Bannon no longer on National Security Council


    ‘Unwinnable’ fight

    According to a person who have spoken with Bannon in recent days, the bomb-throwing former Breitbart executive has said he feels his entrenched battle with Kushner — and, by proxy, with Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and other moderate members of the administration — is “unwinnable” given Trump’s intense loyalty to his own family.
    He says he’s determined to continue pressing for key issues that helped propel Trump to the White House: cracking down on illegal immigration and scrapping the federal regulations he says compose an overbearing “administrative state.”
    But his standing in Trump’s inner-circle has been diminished. He was stripped of a post on the National Security Council this week, even as Kushner waded further into his father-in-law’s foreign policy affairs with a trip to Iraq and a leadership role in preparing for this week’s meeting with Xi.

      Critics slam Trump for moving Bannon to NSC


    Bannon’s ouster from the National Security Council Wednesday was only the latest sign of Kushner’s rise, sources said. While H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, has been working for weeks to find a way to rid the White House foreign policy operation of Bannon, it was ultimately Kushner’s influence that made it happen, sources said.
    Bannon deemed reports that he recently threatened to quit “ridiculous.”
    But it’s clear his position in the White House is in jeopardy. One Trump confidant predicted: “Bannon will likely be gone soon.”
    While Bannon’s influence has waned considerably inside the West Wing since the early days of the administration, he remains a powerful force outside the administration. Nowhere is that more clear than Breitbart News, his former power center that he is still closely aligned with.
    One Trump aide, who sits on the Kushner side of the divide, bluntly acknowledged this tension and said it could be a reason for the President to not throw Bannon overboard for fear of what he may do to the presidency he helped build.

      Trump: Assad choked out the helpless


    ‘America First’?

    On Thursday night, as Trump was weighing the most consequential national security decision of his presidency, it was the Kushner wing of Trump’s staff who appeared to win over their boss.
    Instead of leaning upon the nationalist worldview of Bannon — who has argued against US intervention abroad and was a key architect of Trump’s “America First” policy — Trump dove headfirst into a foreign conflict, ordering airstrikes in Syria to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad for its use of chemical weapons on civilians.
    The decision was made just ahead of Trump’s dinner with Xi. After landing in Mar-a-Lago Thursday, Trump huddled for a lengthy briefing from his top national security officials in a secure facility installed at the resort, going over options with Defense Secretary James Mattis, McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
    Bannon and Kushner sat in on the meeting as well. And while officials declined to detail the specific recommendations of Trump’s top aides, the strikes that the President ordered reflected a break from the nationalist stance he adopted as a candidate that was driven, in large part, by Bannon’s advice.

      Who’s near Trump in the new White House?


    The divide between Bannon and Kushner has extended beyond the two men themselves, who work from abutting offices just steps from the Oval Office.
    Rival factions have emerged, pitting those aides who consider themselves the nationalists — including Bannon and the controversial policy adviser Stephen Miller — against a more global-minded wing, led by Kushner, Cohn and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
    Both Cohn and Powell — who both came from the administration directly from Goldman Sachs — are viewed internally as close to Kushner, a dynamic that rankled those in the White House close to Bannon.
    Bannon’s faction has come to term Cohn as “Globalist Gary,” an insult for those aligned with the Bannon’s populist views.

      Steve Bannon makes rare public remarks at CPAC



    Priebus, the chief of staff, has himself grown touchy about the constant questions about his competence and stature in the White House. Priebus appears as uncertain in his post as ever as Trump grows impatient with how his presidency is being viewed, officials said.
    Possible replacements began circulating Friday morning, among them House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Gary Cohn, who has emerged as a trusted adviser to Trump as director of the National Economic Council. McCarthy has been an ally to the president since summer, but, as with Cohn, it’s unclear how deep Trump’s trust runs with them.

      Newsmax CEO: Preibus making things difficult


    “He knows how to build a coalition to get legislation passed,” one senior GOP source with knowledge of the list said of McCarthy, despite his inability to help pass the health care plan.
    Also on the short-list: Wayne Berman of Blackstone Group, who served as a former assistant Secretary of Commerce under President George H.W. Bush and David Urban of the American Continental Group, and a former chief of staff to the late Sen. Arlen Specter. Urban worked on Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania.
    Another longtime ally, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is a potential option, though sources close to Christie waved off the idea. Kushner, whose father was prosecuted by Christie, could also throw water on the move.
    Trump himself — who has wielded a management style based on staff divisions and chaos — downplayed talk of a staff shakeup on Thursday.
    Asked aboard Air Force One as he flew to Florida if a staff shakeup was coming, the president said he thought the administration had “already shaken things up.”
    “I think we’ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency,” he said.
    CNN’s Jim Acosta and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/07/politics/steve-bannon-jared-kushner-white-house-power/index.html

    Who’s who in the Trump White House

    Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, a man who ran his private company — beholden to no one outside his family — with a healthy dose of chaos, has brought that same management style to the White House. It’s an approach that’s led to widespread palace intrigue and near constant backbiting by people who sit mere feet from each other in the West Wing.

    Power centers at the White House are now shifting daily, a fact that not only affects the effectiveness of Trump’s presidency, but the ability for Republicans to actually make good on the promises they made for years on the campaign trail. To date, the results have been minimal.
    Here are is a list of the competing factions inside the Trump White House:

        First family shows new look at White House


      The family

      Jared Kushner
      Trump’s son-in-law appears to be the Secretary of Everthing. The President, according to a number of reports, has put him in charge of negotiating peace in the Middle East, dealing with the opioid epidemic, diplomacy with Mexico and China and reforming the criminal justice system. And that rising profile for the 36-year-old with limited experience has irked some closer to Trump, especially White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. A White House official told CNN Thursday that tensions between Bannon and Kushner are rising and that the senior adviser to the President helped orchestrate Bannon’s departure from the National Security Council.
      Ivanka Trump
      Donald Trump’s daughter became her father’s latest hire as a top aide last week, when she officially became an unpaid government employee. The first daughter is obviously close with Kushner, her husband, and is portrayed as a moderating force inside the West Wing, with a focus on issues such as women’s health, equal pay and affordable child care. Ivanka Trump’s influence can be felt outside those realms, too, though: Her top aide, Dina Powell, is now a deputy at the National Security Council.

        Meet Trump’s press-shy press secretary


      The lifers

      Hope Hicks
      Plenty of political operatives quietly snickered when Hope Hicks, who previously worked with Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, was named the real estate mogul’s campaign press secretary despite her lack of political experience. But Hicks survived countless shake-ups during the Trump campaign, and is now director of strategic communications. Most importantly, she is someone who has Trump’s trust and regularly communicates directly with people on the President’s behalf. In the White House, Hicks is considered a Trump confidante.
      Dan Scavino
      Scavino, a former caddie at one of Trump’s golf courses, holds the keys to the castle: Trump’s Twitter. As White House director of social media, Scavino helps Trump hone his reach on the social media platform that helped the reality TV star command media attention throughout the 2016 campaign. But Scavino’s own reach is limited at the White House: Sources with knowledge tell CNN that the aide doesn’t actually have control of @realDonaldTrump, the President’s personal Twitter account and the venue for many of his most blunt screeds. Scavino, however, told CNN those sources are “all wrong.” His own use of Twitter has also been a headache for the White House — ethics experts said Scavino ran afoul of federal law when he urged Republicans to beat Rep. Justin Amash in a primary.
      Keith Schiller
      Donald Trump values loyalty, and no White House staffer outside the President’s own family has demonstrated their allegiance to Trump longer than Schiller, the former New York Police Department detective who has been by Trump’s side for almost two decades. Schiller, who joined Trump’s team as a personal bodyguard in the 1990s, is now the President’s director of Oval Office operations. But the title belies the power. Schiller plays more of a body-man role to Trump and is regularly in the room when the President is making decisions, a powerful position given Trump’s tendency to ask anyone and everyone in the room for their thoughts.

        What you need to know about Steve Bannon


      The outsiders

      Steve Bannon
      Bannon, the outspoken former head of Breitbart News, vaulted to power inside the Trump campaign in the dog days of summer, when Trump’s chances looked bleak. He helped turn around the campaign and, in turn, was rewarded with the title chief White House strategist and, in an eye-raising move, was given a permanent seat on the National Security Council.
      Bannon’s worldview is self-described as “economic nationalism” and he’s hoping Trump will aid in the “deconstruction the administrative state.” That outsider approach has clashed with the likes of Kushner. But Bannon’s standing inside the White House could be changing. He was demoted from the national security panel on Wednesday, a sign that his world view could be falling inside the West Wing.
      Stephen Miller
      Miller, the 31-year-old former congressional aide with a sharp tongue and history of rankling moderate Republicans, was seen as a power center when Trump stepped into the White House in January. But after the bungled roll out of Trump’s first attempt at a travel ban — which Miller headed up — the policy aide’s wings have been clipped. Trump heralded Miller’s appearances on television in February, but the aide has been little seen since then.
      Julia Hahn
      Hahn, now a special assistant to the President, formerly covered immigration issues for Breitbart News. From an aggressively anti-immigration lens, Hahn hammered House Republicans, namely Speaker Paul Ryan, for what she argued was a soft stance on immigration. A headline Hahn once wrote: “Paul Ryan Betrays America.” The former journalist is closely tied with Bannon and the more nationalist wing of Trump’s White House.

        Trump picks Reince Priebus as chief of staff


      The insiders

      Reince Priebus
      There was a time when Priebus, as chair of the Republican National Committee, urged Trump to get out of the race. Then Trump won and Priebus was named White House chief of staff — the high point in his 2016 rollercoaster ride. Before even stepping into the White House, Priebus was the subject of rampant speculation about his standing. And the rumors haven’t stopped. His tenuous standing was made clear when Katie Walsh, a colleague of Priebus at the RNC and his deputy at the White House, departed the West Wing a week ago. “It was a shot across the bow to Reince — to strip him of his protector and top aide,” a Republican close to Priebus said.
      Sean Spicer
      Spicer’s daily press briefings have become appointment viewing for Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington. But the press secretary’s public facing role has also opened him up to rampant criticism and wanton speculation about his hold on the job. Spicer’s standing has somewhat stabilized in recent weeks, after Mike Dubke was hired as White House communications director, a role Spicer was filling in addition to press secretary for the first few weeks of the Trump administration. Spicer, who was formerly a senior strategist at the Republican National Committee, is closely aligned with Priebus, who headed the committee. Staffers who have long been with Trump — including during the campaign — are somewhat skeptical of Spicer because of comments he made that knocked comments Trump made during 2016.
      Don McGahn
      McGahn, Trump’s White House counsel, may have the most difficult job in an administration surrounded by ethics questions. The former campaign finance lawyer and general counsel with Trump’s campaign now regularly finds himself at the center of a series of political firestorms and that isn’t likely to stop, given Trump’s extensive business holdings, constant ethics questions and tendency to address hot button issues at all hours via Twitter.
      Kellyanne Conway
      No one’s tenure at the White House has been more of a rollercoaster then Kellyanne Conway, the former Republican operative who helped turn Trump’s campaign around when she took the helm in August. Conway was once Trump’s most ever-present aide, who regularly appeared on TV for the White House. But after a few high profile gaffes and misstatements, Conway’s power — and public standing — has fallen, with some White House aides openly wondering what she is doing regularly. Conway is said to be eying the White House podium by possibly ending out Sean Spicer, who currently holds the press secretary job.
      Sarah Huckabee Sanders
      Sanders, an Arkansas native and the daughter of the state’s former Gov. Mike Huckabee, worked for Trump during the campaign and now serves as the deputy White House press secretary. The folksy spokesperson has experienced a profile bump in the first weeks of the Trump administration, where she has gone on television somewhat regularly to push the administration’s views. Sanders is seen as a rising star in the White House.

        Wall Street doesn’t fear President Trump


      The Wall Street-ers

      Gary Cohn
      Cohn, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, is Trump’s top economic adviser and the head of his the effort to make tax reform a reality. The more hard-line members of Trump’s inner circle view Cohn skeptically, arguing that he is not entirely loyal to Trump and favors globalism over nationalism. Bannon has reportedly taken to calling Cohn “Globalist Gary.” Cohn is closely aligned with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
      Dina Powell
      Powell, a former Goldman Sachs executive who was brought to the White House to advise Ivanka Trump, moved to the National Security Council in March, yet another sign that Trump’s council will play a coordinating role between the arms of the federal government. In that hierarchy, Powell will be one of the primary interlocutors. But her role at the National Security Council doesn’t convey the breadth of her influence. Powell is incredibly close with Ivanka Trump and Kushner, and it seen internally as a rising star in the administration. Powell, who was deputy national security adviser for strategic communications under George W. Bush, also knows how Washington works, not an unimportant fact in a West Wing full of federal newbies.

        Trump names McMaster National Security Adviser


      The other guys’ guys

      H.R. McMaster
      McMaster wasn’t Trump’s first pick to lead the National Security Council. But after being tapped to lead the agency in February after Michael Flynn resigned due to undisclosed contacts with Russian operatives, McMaster has begun to become a power center unto himself. The former Army lieutenant general has begun to remake the national security body into a more traditional structure, with advisers saying McMaster will play a similar role to Brent Snowcroft, the former national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush who was more private than former advisers. One of the first moves to do that: McMaster helped orchestrate Bannon’s removal from the powerful body.
      Marc Short
      Trump has encountered a host of problems on Capitol Hill, all of which eventually falls on Short, his director of legislative affairs with deep ties to conservative politics. The legislative director is a key tie between Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, whom Short worked for when he served in House leadership. Short’s role is key for Trump, whose sometimes brash style has rubbed lawmakers the wrong way. It is Short who will be tasked with helping usher legislative through Congress, especially when it needs to be made palatable for conservative Republicans.
      Bill Stepien
      Stepien is the key vestige inside the Trump White House linked to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a close Trump confidante. In a saga Shakespeare would marvel at, Christie was axed from the Trump transition team in November as part of a power struggle orchestrated by Kushner, whose father was prosecuted by Christie in 2004 for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign contributions. Stepien, now the White House political director, formerly managed both of Christie’s successful gubernatorial campaigns. Christie himself has started to move back into Trump’s orbit: He was named to a council tackling the opioid epidemic in March.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/07/politics/donald-trump-white-house-staff/index.html

      Trump launches military strike against Syria

      (CNN)The United States launched a military strike Thursday on a Syrian government target in retaliation for their chemical weapons attack on civilians earlier in the week.

      On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched between 50-60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase where the warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks were based, US officials said.
      “Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Trump said during short remarks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago. “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
        He added: “There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.”
        A US defense official said the strike was targeted on runway, aircraft and fuel points. The missiles were launched from warships in the Eastern Mediterranean.
        Strikes are over “until another decision is made,” the official said.
        The strikes are the first direct military action the US has taken against the leadership of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s six-year civil war and represent a substantial escalation of the US’ military campaign in the region, which could be interpreted by the Syrian government as an act of war.
        There were Russians at the base that the US struck Thursday night, a US defense official. It was not said what the Russians’ role was at the base. In addition, according to the official, the US had multiple conversations with the Russians today to warn them of the coming attack.
        Separately, in an effort to tie the US strike to the chemical attack, the US military showed reporters an image of the radar track of a Syrian airplane leaving the airfield and headed to chemical strike area on Tuesday. A second image of bomb damage craters at the airbase was also shown to reporters at the Pentagon.
        Lawmakers generally supportedTrump’s decision to strike back against Assad Thursday night, but cautioned the President against unilaterally starting a war without first consulting Congress.
        A pair of defense hawks — Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — who have frequently been critical of Trump, roundly praised his decision Thursday night.
        “Acting on the orders of their commander-in-chief, they have sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs,” McCain and Graham said in a joint statement.
        But Sen. Rand Paul called on Trump to consult on Congress.
        “While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the US was not attacked,” Paul said.
        The US began launching airstrikes in Syria in September 2014 under President Barack Obama as part of its coalition campaign against ISIS, but has only targeted the terrorist group and not Syrian government forces.
        Trump met with his national security team before his dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago Thursday, where he made the decision to pull the trigger on the biggest military action of his presidency, an administration official says.
        He sat through dinner with the President Xi as action was under way.
        Defense Secretary James Mattis has been updating Trump about the missile strikes in Syria following his dinner with Xi, according to a US official.
        Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump’s national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster were with Trump at Mar-a-Lago at the time. Vice President Mike Pence remained in Washington, where he returned to the White House after dinner.
        Trump’s order to strike the Syrian government targets came a day after he said the chemical attacks — whose grisly effects were broadcast worldwide where videos captured in the immediate aftermath — “crossed a lot of lines for me” and said he felt a “responsibility” to respond.

          Tillerson: No doubt Assad is responsible

        MUST WATCH

        “I will tell you it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” Trump said.
        “When you kill innocent children — innocent babies — babies — little babies with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line, many, many lines,” Trump said.
        Trump’s decision to launch the strikes, the most significant military action of his young presidency, came nearly four years after the US first concluded that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons in Syria. The Obama administration concluded that Syria had violated the “red line” Obama had set a year earlier in discussing the use of chemical weapons, but ultimately decided against military action against Syria in favor of a Russian-brokered deal to extricate the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.
        Trump at the time said the US should “stay the hell out of Syria” and urged Obama on Twitter to “not attack Syria” in the wake of the 2013 chemical attack.
        “There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day,” he tweeted in September 2013.
        Trump repeatedly criticized Obama during his presidential campaign for not acting on his “red line” threat, but the real estate mogul also argued against deepening the US’ military involvement in Syria, particularly as it related to Assad.
        Trump argued last May in a TV interview that he would “go after ISIS big league,” but said he did not support targeting Assad’s regime, arguing the US has “bigger problems than Assad.”
        Syria’s six-year civil war has claimed the lives of at least 400,000, according to a United Nations estimate released a year ago. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country and more than 6 million more have been displaced internally, according to UN agencies.
        But guided by his “America First” ideology and rejection of the US’ propensity for “nation-building,” Trump did not argue in favor of stepped-up US intervention during his campaign for president.
        Instead, he signaled the opposite: He argued that the US should remain laser-focused on defeating ISIS and vowed to try and partner with Russia, which has heartily backed Assad’s regime, in order to defeat ISIS and bring the conflict to an end.
        Those views appeared steeped in his longstanding criticism of the Iraq War, which he called a “stupid” decision, lamenting the billions of dollars funneled toward that war effort instead of on domestic programs, like infrastructure spending.
        While Trump rejected the isolationist label some placed on him during the campaign, he made clear that his preference was for limiting the US footprint around the world and refocusing US foreign policy around core national security interests.

        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/politics/donald-trump-syria-military/index.html

        Eric Trump: Nepotism ‘a factor of life’

        Washington (CNN)Eric Trump defended his role at the head of the Trump Organization in an interview, revealing his thoughts on nepotism.

        “Nepotism is kind of a factor of life,” Trump told Forbes in his Trump Tower office in a February interview that posted Tuesday. He is currently running the Trump Organization in his father’s absence with his older brother, Donald Trump Jr.
        “We might be here because of nepotism, but we’re not still here because of nepotism,” he said. “You know, if we didn’t do a good job, if we weren’t competent, believe me, we wouldn’t be in this spot.”
          Eric is President Donald Trump’s third child, his youngest son from his marriage to Ivana Trump. Eric Trump told the financial magazine that he and his brother’s professional development over the past eight years made it possible for their father to hand over his business and pursue the White House.
          “I don’t know if (Donald Trump) could have done the presidential thing four years ago,” he said. “Certainly eight years ago, he couldn’t have. I think we probably would have been too big of question marks for him.”
          Eric Trump said that now he and his brother have proved themselves, with the “many of the deals that we’ve done.”
          “I think hopefully we earned our stripes. And I think that’s ultimately why we’re in the seat we’re in,” he said.
          And Eric and Donald Jr. aren’t the only Trumps in the family business — whether that’s real estate or, now, politics.
          It was announced last week that Eric’s wife, Lara Trump, a former associate producer at Inside Edition, was joining Giles-Pascale, the digital marketing vendor for the Trump campaign, as a senior consultant. The couple is expecting a baby in September.
          Donald Trump Jr. hinted last month at the opening of Trump Vancouver that their younger sister, Tiffany, was also “soon to be within the organization.”
          However, there are no formal plans for Tiffany Trump immediately join the company, as she is currently applying to law school, a Trump Organization spokesperson told CNN.
          And their sister, Ivanka Trump, was just named special assistant to the President, working out of a West Wing office. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is a senior adviser at the White House. Both are unpaid.
          The Justice Department concluded that Kushner’s post was not in violation of federal anti-nepotism laws.
          “In choosing his personal staff, the President enjoys an unusual degree of freedom, which Congress found suitable to the demands of his office,” said a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which serves as interpreter of federal law for the White House.

          Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/04/politics/eric-trump-nepotism/index.html

          Trump’s Secretary of Everything: Jared Kushner

          (CNN)As Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, descended into Baghdad on Monday, the highest-profile passenger aboard his military aircraft was neither a seasoned Iraq hand nor even someone who’d visited the country before.

          It was Jared Kushner, the 36-year-old commercial real estate magnate, whose marriage to President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter has thrust the otherwise inexperienced diplomat into the center of US foreign relations — and seemingly every top issue facing the administration.
          Kushner was visiting Iraq at Dunford’s invitation to receive briefings on the military campaign against ISIS, and planned to meet with US and Iraqi officials. Iraq is now the latest portfolio handed to Kushner, whose role as Trump’s senior adviser appears to be growing by the day, and whose influence over his father-in-law now extends into nearly every area of government.
            In some instances, Kushner’s involvement in his father-in-law’s administration has raised ethical questions, given the vast property and business holdings Kushner managed in his time running his family’s real estate empire. His ties to Russia during the presidential transition have also drawn scrutiny, and he’s due to answer questions from Senate investigators soon.
            “I said, ‘Hey, next time I go to Iraq, if you’re interested, come and it’d be good,’ ” Dunford told reporters on the flight to Iraq, according to Reuters. He said he’d invited Kushner weeks ago.
            Multiple White House and administration officials say Kushner has now eclipsed nearly all of Trump’s West Wing and Cabinet advisers in terms of influence, establishing himself as the key envoy for those outside the administration — including foreign diplomats, business executives and even some members of Congress — to direct their bidding. He’s also, by the way, running a government reform effort and spearheading criminal justice reform.
            The elevated position has caused some annoyance at the agencies and departments more typically tasked with carrying out American foreign policy. One ally of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the top diplomat as frustrated with Kushner’s diplomatic exploits. Officials said Tillerson intervened last month to delay a White House meeting with top Saudi officials over a plan to combat ISIS because he felt there was not enough planning for it.
            Other allies and aides deny any tension between the two men and say Kushner has been very helpful both in getting the secretary’s input and focusing the President’s attention on issues important to Tillerson.

              Source: Meeting was to ‘engage with’ Russia

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            Speaking Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Kushner was working jointly with the State Department to manage the administration’s foreign affairs.
            “There’s a lot of relationships that Jared’s made over time — Mexico being one of them — that are going to continue having conversations with him,” Spicer said. “That doesn’t mean by any means it’s being done without the coordination with the State Department. It’s quite, in fact, the opposite. He’s continuing to work with them and facilitate an outcome. But he brings a perspective to this, and began doing that during the transition. But again, it’s not a binary choice where he’s doing this at the expense of somebody else.”
            During last year’s presidential campaign, and later during the transition, Kushner was identified by Trump’s team as the principal point of contact for foreign governments looking to either congratulate the new US leader or begin diplomatic talks.
            The role has gained Kushner scrutiny in recent weeks when it was revealed he met with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, as well as the head of a Russia state-owned bank, Sergey Gorkov, in December. According to a source familiar with what transpired, Kushner’s interactions with Russians during the transition as a point man “looking for the right person to engage with on Russia,” further reflection of his elevated status within Trump’s sphere.
            Senate investigators are planning to question Kushner about the meetings as part of a larger probe into Russia’s influence in last year’s contest.
            As Trump enters his eleventh week in office, Kushner’s role has expanded to include a globe-spanning collection of foreign assignments — North America, the Middle East and China included. Even as Senate-confirmed foreign policy aides work to cement their influence within the administration and in foreign capitals, Kushner’s already established role has grown to include duties typically assigned to a national security adviser or even a secretary of state.
            Before his surprise trip to Iraq, Kushner had been preparing intensively for Thursday and Friday’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which will take place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Kushner has acted as a key conduit between the Chinese government and the White House in the lead-up to the two leaders’ talks, which Xi’s representatives requested take place at Trump’s Florida estate.
            In discussions with China’s ambassador in Washington, Kushner has sketched the agenda for the meetings and dictated some elements of the Palm Beach summit, according to people familiar with the planning.
            Kushner is seen as a moderating voice on US-China ties, which are becoming both more complicated and more vital as Trump begins his presidency. His daughter, Arabella, has played an unlikely role as well in softening Trump’s approach; video of the five-year-old presidential granddaughter singing in Chinese at a New Year’s celebration in Washington went viral in China.

            Arabella singing a song she learned for #ChineseNewYear. Wishing everyone an amazing year to come during these days of celebration.

            A post shared by Ivanka Trump (@ivankatrump) on

            But Kushner’s close involvement in planning the Chinese visit has also raised ethical questions. His family’s real estate company was recently in talks with China’s Anbang Insurance Group to redevelop a flagship property in Manhattan; the talks were recently called off after scrutiny from ethics watchdogs and Democratic lawmakers.
            Disclosure reports released by the White House Friday showed Kushner, along with his wife Ivanka Trump, could be worth more than $700 million. At one point he held a position in 267 separate entities, ranging from the Trump transition team to dozens of property holdings in New York and New Jersey, meaning more potential conflicts are likely to arise, even after Kushner has resigned from his business positions.
            His expansive responsibilities don’t end at foreign affairs. Last week the White House announced Kushner would lead a presidential office tasked with reshaping the federal bureaucracy. He’s preparing to meet with lawmakers to discuss criminal justice reform. And he’s taken part in discussions to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs and tackle the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic.
            As Kushner list of responsibilities grows, the limitations on his time are also becoming evident. As he traveled to Iraq Monday, Trump was preparing to welcome Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the White House for talks, a session Kushner would likely have attended if he wasn’t overseas on another assignment.
            White House officials said the meeting was likely to include a discussion of Middle East peace, another area Trump has charged Kushner with overseeing. Kushner, an observant Jew, has known Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for decades, and Trump has expressed rampant optimism at his son-in-law’s ability to broker an agreement.
            So, too, has Trump lent his support to Kushner’s attempts at managing friendlier ties with Mexico, even as the President continues his controversial plan to construct a border wall.
            The two men at times have seemed at odds; in February, as Kushner was meeting with Mexican officials in Washington to arrange a visit by President Enrique Pea Nieto, Trump tweeted: “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”
            Pea Nieto ended up canceling his visit.

            Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/03/politics/jared-kushner-donald-trump-foreign-policy/index.html

            WH financial disclosures: Kushner, Ivanka Trump could exceed $700M in worth

            Washington (CNN)The White House is stacked with advisers who raked in millions of dollars last year, including the President’s daughter, Ivanka, whose assets combined with her husband’s could exceed $700 million.

            Ivanka Trump and her husband, senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner, collected about $195 million in income, according to a new financial snapshot of about 180 of the men and women serving in Donald Trump’s White House.
            Other Trump aides with lucrative histories include Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn, the former president of banking giant Goldman Sachs, who netted up to around $75 million in the previous year. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon made up to $2.5 million.
              The financial background of President Donald Trump aides such as Kushner, Bannon and Cohn are detailed in new forms that disclose the assets that those aides held when they walked in the doors of the White House — before administration counsel advised them to resign from various postings, divest certain holdings or recuse themselves from future decisions. But the documents will nevertheless offer a portrait into the lives of several key White House aides, especially those who came from Wall Street or have other ties to the financial industry.
              Kushner, like Trump, a prominent real estate titan, held a position in 267 separate entities, ranging from the Trump transition team to dozens of property holdings in New York and New Jersey.
              Ivanka Trump, who just this week formally said she would join the West Wing after serving as an informal adviser to her father, has yet to file her own disclosure forms. But the White House said earlier on Friday that her documents would look largely similar to her husband’s.
              Bannon’s forms reveal numerous ties to various conservative organizations and sources funded by the family of influential Trump donors Bob and Rebekah Mercer, such as Breitbart News, which he led, along with Cambridge Analytica, a data firm used by many Republican clients. Other income sources for him are Bannon Strategic Advisors, a consultancy firm valued at as high as $25 million, along with Affinity Media Holdings, which could have awarded him capital gains of as high as $1 million last year.
              Bannon is also in the process of selling some of his stake in Cambridge Analytica and Glittering Steel, another Mercer-backed entity, according to the forms.

              Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/31/politics/white-house-financial-disclosures/index.html

              Bank that Kushner met with paid Russian intelligence agent’s legal tab

              (CNN)As federal prosecutors in New York prepared their case against a man accused of covertly working for Russian intelligence two years ago, they began raising questions about an unidentified “third party” paying the defendant’s legal bills.

              The defendant’s benefactor turned out to be VneshEconomBank, the same financial institution at the center of a recent controversy over its chairman’s meeting with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his top White House advisers.
              On the one it hand it should be no surprise that bank, also known as VEB, was paying for Evgeny Buryakov’s legal defense — Buryakov was one of its employees, after all.
                But what made the matter more complicated was that Buryakov was charged with illegally gathering intelligence on behalf of the Russian government and the Russian government owned the bank that provided his cover.
                Prosecutors were concerned about a potential conflict in which the interests of the entity paying the bill may outweigh the interests of the defendant, resulting in an unfair trial and perhaps creating the basis for an appeal. The case was closely watched at the time by a top official at the bank and representatives of the Russian embassy in New York, one lawyer familiar with the matter told CNN.
                The case offers a view into the murky world of Russian intelligence gathering at a time when that country’s efforts — and their potential intersection with the American political process — are under intense scrutiny.
                Prosecutors’ concerns in the Buryakov case were laid out in hearing transcripts and court documents, including a set of questions they sought to submit to Buryakov regarding his representation by a lawyer from the law firm White & Case.
                “Are you aware that VEB is a Russian state-owned entity?” one proposed question said.
                “Are you also aware that you are accused in this case of acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian Federation in the United States?”
                The situation creates a risk, prosecutors wrote, that Buryakov’s lawyers “have a financial incentive to act in the interest of the Russian Federation” rather than in the interest of Buryakov himself.
                The issue was debated in series of motions, letters and hearings spanning multiple weeks as the case headed toward trial.
                Scott Hershman, an attorney for White & Case, ultimately disclosed that VEB was paying for Buryakov’s defense, but assured US District Court Judge Richard M. Berman the arrangement did not pose a conflict.
                Berman, seated in New York federal court, at one point asked Hershman to provide him with a copy of the agreement White & Case had signed with VEB in Moscow.
                Hershman told the judge he’d have no problem obtaining the letter, but added, “It needs to translated, I think, because it’s entirely in Russian.”
                Hershman was not immediately available for comment for this story.
                Buryakov testified at a pre-trial hearing that he was aware of and fully understood the arrangement through which his legal bills were being paid. He said he was confident in his lawyer’s representation and waived his future right to appeal based on a conflict of interest claim.
                Following all the legal wrangling, Buryakov pleaded guilty in March 2016 to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation in the US. He was sentenced to two and half years in federal prison.
                Prosecutors said Buryakov used his cover as a bank employee to work for Russia’s SVR, the country’s version of the CIA.
                He traded coded messages and had clandestine meetings with other Russian agents, prosecutors said. In the summer of 2014, they added, he met multiple times an FBI informant and an undercover FBI employee purported to be working on a casino development project in Russia.
                During the meetings, Buryakov accepted documents “purportedly obtained from a US government agency and which purportedly contained information potentially useful to Russia, including information about United States sanctions against Russia.”
                Prior to sentencing, Buryakov presented a letter to the court from a colleague at VEB, where he’d worked since 2002, with stints in South Africa, Moscow and New York.
                The letter from Andrey Saratov, a bank executive, read like many others in a garden-variety white collar fraud case.
                Saratov praised Buryakov as a “man of integrity” who was “highly respected within VEB for his skills, knowledge and commitment.”
                The bank’s New York office had been struggling since Buryakov’s arrest, Saratov wrote, “because there is no one else as organized and as diligent as he is.”
                Buryakov’s former employer made headlines this week when the White House acknowledged that Kushner had an undisclosed meeting with VEB Chairman Sergey Gorkov in December 2016, at the request of Russia’s ambassador to the US.
                Gorkov is a graduate of the Russian academy of Federal Security Service, which trains people to work in Russia’s intelligence and security forces. He was appointed to his job at VEB by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
                The meeting raised questions because the bank has been under US sanctions since 2014 — and because Kushner spent years as a real estate developer and was trying to attract financing for a building project in Manhattan.
                The White House said Kushner attended the meeting as a Trump adviser, not as a private developer. But VEB, in a statement provided to CNN confirming the meeting, characterized Kushner as the head of Kushner Companies, not as a representative or Trump.
                The meeting will be scrutinized by congressional investigators in the ongoing probe of potential links between Trump associates and the Russian government.

                Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/29/politics/kushner-russian-bank-veb-agent/index.html

                Russian banker who met with Jared Kushner has ties to Putin

                (CNN)The Russian bank chairman who met with Jared Kushner in December isn’t your ordinary banker.

                His state-run bank has been under US sanctions for nearly three years.
                He was appointed to his job by Russian President Vladimir Putin after eight years at Russia’s biggest state-owned commercial bank.
                  And he graduated from the Russian academy of Federal Security Service, which trains people to work in Russia’s intelligence and security forces.
                  Sergey Gorkov’s meeting with Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, will be scrutinized by congressional investigators probing links between Trump associates and the Russian government. Gorkov is chairman of VneshEconomBank, or VEB, a Russian development agency that has been under US sanctions since July 2014.
                  The meeting is raising questions both because of the sanctions and because Kushner spent years as a real-estate developer and was trying to attract financing for a building project of his in Manhattan.
                  The White House said Kushner was acting as a Trump adviser — not as a private developer — when he met with Gorkov.
                  “He was a conduit and to — to leaders and that’s until we had a State Department, a functioning place for people to go,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday.
                  VEB confirmed the meeting with Kushner in a statement to CNN, though described Kushner in his role as head of Kushner Companies, not as a representative of Trump.
                  “During 2016 the bank’s management repeatedly met with representatives of the world’s leading financial institutions in Europe, Asia and America … including the head of Kushner Companies, Jared Kushner,” the VEB statement said.
                  A spokesman for the Kremlin said Tuesday the Russian government was not aware of the meeting, calling it “absolutely the bank’s prerogative” and stressed that the discussion was one of dozens held to discuss the bank’s long-term strategy.
                  Senate Intelligence Committee member Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, told CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday morning that it was “interesting” that VEB “seemed to contradict” Kushner’s statement that he was acting as a campaign official when he met with the bank president.
                  “I’m sure that that will be an issue that we’ll try to clarify,” Collins said.

                  Close ties to Russian government

                  The meeting between Kushner and Gorkov does not violate the US sanctions, and it is not unusual for businesses under sanctions to meet with US officials, experts said.
                  “I don’t see any problem in having a meeting,” said Paul Saunders, executive director of the Center for the National Interest, a Washington, DC, think tank. “The prohibitions relate to doing business with the banks, not to talking to them.”
                  Trump said during his presidential campaign that he was open to reconsidering the sanctions against Russia. The sanctions weakened much of the Russian finance sector by barring Americans and US companies from buying the debt of Russian financial institutions, which limits their ability to raise money.
                  “Right after the election, there was an expectation on the part of Russia that sanctions will be lifted,” said Alevtina Guseva, a Boston University expert on Russian finance.
                  VEB is a state-owned Russian corporation formed in 2007 that is closely tied to the Russian government. Its chairman is appointed by the Russian president. The Russian prime minister is chairman of the bank supervisory board.
                  The bank has helped rescue financially troubled oligarchs and has financed infrastructure projects such as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi that are too risky for commercial banks. Last year, the bank restructured 200 billion roubles (roughly $3.5 billion) in debts that were affiliated with Sochi projects.
                  It was disclosed on Monday that Kushner agreed to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee for its inquiry into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government in its effort to sway the 2016 election toward Trump.
                  Lawmakers also want to question Kushner about his meeting in December with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.
                  President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russian financial institutions in 2014 after Russian annexed part of neighboring Ukraine.

                  Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/27/politics/kushner-meeting-russian-banker-tied-to-putin/index.html

                  Ivanka Trump to attend women’s empowerment summit in Berlin

                  (CNN)Ivanka Trump is making her first trip abroad since her father took office, representing the United States at a women’s empowerment summit in Berlin late next month.

                  The trip was first reported by the Associated Press.
                  “Looking forward to working together in Berlin next month to promote the role of women in the economy and the future of our workforce globally #W20,” Trump posted on Facebook late Sunday evening, linking to AP’s report. She will join four additional United States delegates at the gathering, which promotes the economic participation of women in G20 member states.
                    The summit builds on Trump’s stated commitment to women’s empowerment. While she spoke passionately on the topic on the campaign trail and at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July, she has not yet defined a platform or spoken publicly on the topic since her father took office more than two months ago.
                    This year’s summit, the third of its kind, will focus on labor market participation, access to finance for women entrepreneurs, and closing the digital gender divide, according to its website. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will participate in a panel on the final day of the summit.
                    While she doesn’t have an official White House title, Trump is moving into a West Wing office and obtaining security clearance, an administration official told CNN last week. She will also receive government-provided communications devices, although she will not draw a salary or technically be a government employee, per the official.
                    The President’s eldest daughter has long been a key trusted adviser to her father, through her young adulthood to her time as executive vice president of real estate development and acquisition at the Trump Organization, and, ultimately, during his 2016 presidential campaign.
                    Trump will continue to serve in that capacity, acting as the President’s “eyes and ears,” per her attorney, Jamie Gorelick.
                    “She will not be his only source of input and insight, obviously, but she may be able to provide insights into the concerns of people whom he might not meet as President,” Gorelick told CNN via email last week.
                    In the first several weeks of the administration, she’s already been on hand for key happenings, including roundtable discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Florida school visit with her father and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an Oval Office bill signing encouraging women in STEM, a visit to the National African American Museum of History and Culture and West Wing meetings on human trafficking and manufacturing, among others.
                    Trump’s participation in April’s summit will be her highest-profile public appearance during the Trump presidency to date, and the first time she will represent the administration outside of the United States.

                    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/26/politics/ivanka-trump-to-attend-womens-empowerment-summit-in-berlin/index.html

                    Ivanka Trump to get top security clearance and office, WH official says

                    Washington (CNN)Ivanka Trump will work out of an office in the West Wing and get a security clearance, a White House official told CNN Monday.

                    The official also confirmed Trump will receive government-provided communication devices, although she will not be a government employee.
                    The move places President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter — long one of his closest advisers — at the center of his administration.
                      Asked at a press briefing on Tuesday about the matter, White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded that Ivanka Trump would, by her own choice and at the advice of her attorney, follow rules prescribed for government employees despite being outside of government.
                      “Ivanka has taken on several measures to promote high standards of ethical conduct,” Spicer said. “Even though she’s not a federal employee, she’ll follow the restrictions that would apply if she were. She’s taken these steps with the advice of counsel and in consultation of the Office of Government Ethics.”
                      In the initial weeks of the Trump presidency, she has held no formal role but appeared alongside the President and senior staffers in major meetings with world leaders and business figures. She has also reportedly weighed in on policy issues and established a low-key presence in the White House.
                      Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, has been a senior White House adviser since the outset of the administration. The Department of Justice assessed at the time that the hire did not violate anti-nepotism laws.
                      CNN has reached out to Ivanka Trump’s attorney, Jamie Gorelick, for comment on the matter. Politico reported the development earlier Monday.
                      Trump, like her father, has business interests throughout the country and across the world. By gaining a position in the West Wing and getting access to classified information, she has drawn a new wave of scrutiny over conflicts in the administration between public roles and private interests.
                      Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway faced backlash after promoting Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on television, but the White House opted not to penalize her for the apparent ethical violation.
                      Like her siblings Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, Ivanka as taken an active role in her father’s business interests over the course of her life, both in his real estate empire and reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”
                      She made regular appearances on the campaign trail and has been by her father’s side during many major moments of his early presidency. The move into a West Wing office brings her role in the administration closer to formality and puts one of the commander-in-chief’s closest confidants on firmer ground.

                      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/21/politics/ivanka-trump-west-wing/index.html

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