Trump administration

The story of Russian election interference started long before 2017, but it took on new urgency after the inauguration of Donald Trump, the candidate the Russian government wanted to win.

Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday. It is the first visit to the country by the president or vice president under the Trump administration, and comes four months after Trump unveiled his strategy for the United States' role in the country.

"I bring greetings from your commander in chief," Pence told troops at the Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul. "Before I left the Oval Office yesterday, I asked the president if he had a message for the troops.

"He said, 'Tell them I love them,' " Pence said.

A viral video making the rounds Friday has one of President Trump's judicial nominees in an uncomfortable spotlight.

Matthew Petersen has been nominated for a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, one of the nation's most important federal courts. Petersen is now a member of the Federal Election Commission.

But his trouble began during Wednesday's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee when, among a panel of five nominees, he alone told Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., that he had never tried a case in court.

The New Year will bring a new test for President Trump and the United States' relationship with Russia.

Five years ago, President Obama signed a bill imposing sanctions on a group of powerful people there charged with involvement in the death of a Russian lawyer who uncovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme — and then died in government custody. The sanctions infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Updated at 7:18 p.m. ET

President Trump said thank you Wednesday evening to Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice contestant turned White House aide, who is stepping down from her post.

"I wish you continued success," Trump posted on Twitter.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is ready to talk about talking to North Korea.

"We're ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. And we're ready to have the first meeting without precondition," he said, in remarks Tuesday at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

In deep-red Texas, Republicans will have to fight for every seat in Congress during next year's midterm elections. For the first time in 25 years, Democrats are running in all of Texas' 36 congressional districts, according to documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State's office.

Those filings set a record for the number of Democratic challengers in an era of Republican dominance, says Mark Jones, political science fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute. It is a departure from 2016, he says, when eight Republican-held congressional seats went uncontested by Democrats.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein faces questions Wednesday on Capitol Hill about the investigation into Russia's election interference, he is certain to be asked about unflattering text messages exchanged by FBI agents about then-candidate Donald Trump.

In the text messages, seen by NPR's Carrie Johnson, between agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, Trump is referred to several times as an "idiot."

Updated at 5:49 p.m. ET

The anti-corruption organization Transparency International says Americans are expressing greater concern this year about wrongdoing within the U.S. government, and especially within the White House.

New CDC Director Questioned About Financial Conflicts

Dec 12, 2017
David Tulis / AP Photo/File

A U.S. Senator is criticizing the director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for an apparent financial conflict of interest that the senator says may prevent the director from doing her job.

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald became director of the Atlanta-based CDC in July, and was required to sell a range of stocks she owned, including beer and soda companies, the tobacco company Philip Morris International, and a number of health care companies such as vaccine manufacturers and health-care companies.

This week In the Russia investigations: Downshift from strategic war to knife fight, top G-Men on his back foot as lawmakers engage in oversight, Trump Jr. clammed up in Congress.

Now, a knife fight

Not long ago, this saga was about Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's surveying the battlefield like a general and with one swift coup — getting Michael Flynn to turn state's evidence — changing the whole strategic picture.

White House deputy national security adviser Dina Powell will resign from her position early next year, the first of what could be several departures expected around the one-year anniversary of President Trump's swearing-in.

Powell has been deeply involved in the Trump administration's Middle East policy and has accompanied him on his trips overseas, sitting in on meetings with world leaders and offering counsel.

The Trump administration has been eliminating some protections that allow more than 300,000 people to live and work in the U.S. under what is known as temporary protected status. Many could face deportation when their status expires.

An estimated 50,000 of them work in the construction industry, concentrated in areas like Texas, Florida and California that are recovering from hurricanes and wildfires and where labor shortages in construction are especially acute.

Updated at 6:10 a.m. ET

President Trump has delayed signing a waiver to a U.S. law that would otherwise set in motion a move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a White House spokesman says.

"We will share a decision on the waiver in coming days," White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters on Monday aboard Air Force One as it returned the president from a visit to Utah.

Hours later, in a fiery speech, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called any such move by Washington a "red line" for Muslims.

Updated at 8:10 p.m. ET

The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the Trump administration to fully enforce its revised ban on allowing entry to the United States by residents of eight countries while legal challenges are heard by a federal appeals court.

Six of the countries — Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad and Somalia — are majority-Muslim nations. The other two are North Korea and Venezuela.

Since President Trump came into office, U.S. troop numbers have been edging up in the three countries where the U.S. is most deeply involved in fighting — Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. forces totaled just over 18,000 in these three countries at the end of last December, just before President Obama completed his term, according to the Pentagon's Defense Manpower Data Center.

The combined figure was about 26,000 as of the end of September, the most recent data available from the Pentagon.

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET

A federal court has denied a request for a temporary restraining order sought by an Obama-era appointee seeking to block the Trump administration from assuming control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly is a victory for President Trump, who appointed White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to take charge of the CFPB after the resignation of its previous director, Richard Cordray.

The Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates at its December meeting, Jerome Powell, President Trump's pick to be Fed chairman, signaled Tuesday.

"I think the case for raising interest rates at our next meeting is coming together," Powell told the Senate Banking Committee at his confirmation hearing.

It's back to work this week for President Trump and Republicans after Thanksgiving — and they have a lot to do.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau effectively has two leaders right now, which should lead to a confusing Monday morning back from the Thanksgiving holiday — and eventually a battle in court.

Both the departing head of the CFPB, Obama appointee Richard Cordray, and the White House have named interim leaders of an agency that has been engulfed in partisan politics since its inception as part of the Dodd-Frank regulatory reform bill in 2010.

The agency was created to be a watchdog for consumers when they interact with almost all kinds of financial institutions.

President Trump told the leader of Turkey that he has instructed U.S. generals to stop supplying arms to Kurdish fighters in Syria, according to Turkey's foreign minister.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, spoke with reporters Friday following a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a statement about the call, the White House did not confirm Cavusoglu's remarks about the Kurds, but it could have been alluding to a shift when it said:

A few days after Donald Trump was elected President, more than a hundred people packed into a church sanctuary in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. to hear a presentation about refugee resettlement in their town.

It didn't go well.

To the many mysteries swirling around the investigation of Russian election interference and the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, add this one: Why is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein continuing to supervise the investigation?

Rosenstein is the Justice Department official who pulled the trigger and named special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the probe in May, only days after President Trump fired Comey under questionable circumstances.

A federal judge in Maryland has temporarily blocked all of President Trump's would-be ban on transgender Americans serving in the U.S. armed forces or receiving transition-related health care through the military.

The decision comes just weeks after another federal judge, based in Washington, D.C., blocked most of the policy change.

The Department of Homeland Security leadership is withholding an internal watchdog's report detailing the government's messy rollout of President Trump's travel ban, including the violation of two federal court orders.

The executive order banning people from seven mostly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. was suddenly implemented on Jan. 27.

The DHS inspector general found that the leaders of Customs and Border Protection, the agency charged with implementing the order, "had virtually no warning" the order was to be issued or of its scope and was "caught by surprise."

The African elephant is a threatened species, according to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Their status led to a ban on sport-hunted elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia by the Obama administration. Now that protection is in question.

The Trump administration wants to expand its network of immigrant jails. In recent months, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has called for five new detention facilities to be built and operated by private prison corporations across the country. Critics are alarmed at the rising fortunes of an industry that had fallen out of favor with the previous administration.

Good-government types may look askance, but Donald Trump now has a new place to cash in on his White House role.

The Trump Organization recently started a website, TrumpStore.com, to sell Trump-branded merchandise such as T-shirts, baseball caps and coin banks.

It's not to be confused with Trump's other website, DonaldJTrump.com. That site sells a lot of the same kind of merchandise, but its profits flow to Trump's presidential campaign.

When President Trump announced Monday that the U.S. intends to designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, he said the U.S. will also announce the imposition of additional sanctions on Pyongyang.

The Trump administration is increasingly using economic sanctions to try to influence behavior, but experts warn the strategy doesn't always work — and can backfire.

Updated at 4:12 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is putting North Korea back on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. President Trump says the move "supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate this murderous regime."

President Trump told reporters on Monday that the Treasury Department will officially announce additional sanctions and penalties on the North Korean regime on Tuesday.

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