CAFE Brief 09/13: Scottish resort, spy extraction and Bolton’s ouster

CAFE Brief 09/13: Scottish resort, spy extraction and Bolton’s ouster

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No sign of the news cycle slowing down, and we’re on top of it. Let’s dive in!


WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. President Donald Trump (R) references a map held by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan while talking to reporters following a briefing from officials about Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office at the White House September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. The map was a forecast from August 29 and appears to have been altered by a black marker to extend the hurricane’s range to include Alabama. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


Andrew McCabe’s indictment

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the Justice Department has authorized federal prosecutors in Washington to indict former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for lying to investigators. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen notified McCabe’s legal team on Wednesday that the Department had rejected their appeal of the DC U.S. Attorney’s decision to bring charges. The grand jury overseeing the case was recalled this week, after a months-long hiatus, but it was ultimately released, sparking speculation about the status of a potential indictment.

Trump’s Scottish resort 

The New York Times reported on Monday that the Trump Organization entered into an agreement in 2014 with the struggling Prestwick Airport in Glasgow to have the Trump Turnberry Hotel and Golf Course added to a list of hotels to which the airport would send aircrews, despite the resort’s higher prices and distance from the airport. This revelation further fuels the controversy around an over night stay in March at Turnberry by a U.S. Air Force crew refueling at Prestwick. Meanwhile, the Air Force has ordered a review of overnight accommodations on international layovers, and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has requested documents from the Defense Department related to post-election military stops. Since the President took office, the number of refueling stops by Air Force planes at Prestwick airport rose significantly, further suggesting a potentially improper relationship between the Air Force and Turnberry.

Extracted Russian spy

On Monday, the New York Times reported that the CIA extracted an allegedly high-level spy from Russia in 2017 amid fears that his cover was about to be blown. The CIA reportedly recruited and cultivated a mid-level Russian official who rapidly advanced through the Kremlin’s ranks, ultimately making him one of the CIA’s most important Russian assets. The informant confirmed key facts about Russia’s election interference campaign, offering intelligence that President Putin personally ordered the operation. On Tuesday, the Russian Kommersant newspaper identified the alleged spy as Oleg Smolenkov, and revealed that he was recently spotted in the Washington, DC area. The paper reported that Smolenkov disappeared in 2017 during a family vacation to Montenegro and that he may have been working as an agent for the U.S. government.

Politicizing the weather

The New York Times reported that the President directed his staff and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to force the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—an agency within the Commerce Department—to publicly “correct” a September 1 tweet by National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters in Birmingham that contradicted Trump’s statement that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian.

Ross allegedly phoned the acting administrator of NOAA, Neil Jacobs, last Friday threatening to fire top NOAA employees if the agency didn’t publicly back the President. Later that day, NOAA released an unsigned statement rebuking the NWS Birmingham office for contradicting Trump’s Alabama warning.  The circumstances surrounding the NOAA statement are now under investigation by the Commerce Department’s Inspector General and by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Bolton out

President Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he asked John Bolton, his third national security adviser, to resign, less than two hours before Bolton was scheduled to appear at a briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. Trump and Bolton frequently disagreed over foreign policy, including Trump’s now-canceled plans for Camp David talks with the Taliban and Afghan government leaders. Bolton tweeted a different account of his departure: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’” On Wednesday, the President publicly said that he “got along very well” with Bolton, but that Bolton had “made some very big mistakes” and he “wasn’t getting along with people in the administration.” Although no successor has been named, officials are reportedly considering having Pompeo do both jobs.

Guiliani’s Ukrainian interference

On Monday, three House Committees launched an investigation into reports that for nearly two years, the President and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have pressured the Ukrainian government to assist the President’s re-election campaign by pursuing politically-motivated investigations of his possible 2020 opponent—former Vice President Joe Biden and his family—under the guise of anti-corruption activity. The Committees also intend to investigate whether recent reports that the Trump administration is threatening to withhold security assistance from Ukraine are linked to Trump’s alleged efforts to coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch these investigations. In May, Giuliani told the New York Times that there was “nothing illegal” about his actions on behalf of the President, adding that they were “meddling” in an investigation and not an election, which they “have a right to do.”

House resolution outlining impeachment probe

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 24-17 along party lines to approve a resolution defining the parameters of the Committee’s impeachment probe. The resolution, which does not need to be approved by the full House, adds formality to the investigation, granting additional powers to the Committee to pursue the inquiry and clarifying how the information obtained will be treated. However, the Democratic leadership continues to dodge questions about whether the Committee’s probe is an impeachment inquiry.

New asylum rule

In a brief, unsigned decision issued on Wednesday, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to enforce a new asylum rule while the legal fight makes its way through lower courts. The rule, issued on July 16, prohibits almost any foreign national who arrives at the southern border from seeking asylum if they crossed through another nation to get to the U.S. The rule—with limited exceptions—effectively makes migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador ineligible for asylum if they try to enter the U.S. through the southern border. In their dissent, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor wrote: “Once again, the Executive Branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution.”

Purdue and Sackler family settlement 

Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, have reached a tentative multi-billion-dollar settlement agreement with legal officials in 27 states and lawyers for over 2,000 cities and counties for the company’s alleged role in fueling the opioid crisis. Under the terms of the settlement, Purdue would file Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company would be dissolved, and another company would be created to continue selling OxyContin, although those profits would be used to pay the plaintiffs. The Sackler family would pay $3 billion in cash over seven years, and no admission of wrongdoing would be required.

However, at least 21 other attorneys general who are suing the drug company told NBC News that they have not agreed to the deal and vowed to push for better terms.

A facsimile of the ticket of admission to the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson March 13, 1868.

Further reading

“Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen cooperating with New York prosecutors in probe of whether Trump Organization falsified records,” CNBC, 9/12/2019

“House panel says Flynn failed to comply with subpoena,” CNN, 9/9/2019

“Democrats to question Corey Lewandowski as they investigate possible obstruction by Trump,” The Hill, 9/9/2019

“Israel accused of planting mysterious spy devices near the White House,” Politico, 9/12/2019

“How Trump’s Plan to Secretly Meet With the Taliban Came Together, and Fell Apart,” The New York Times, 9/8/2019

“Trump lawyers ask judge to dismiss suit for president’s tax returns,” Politico, 9/6/2019

“Current, former FEMA officials among three charged with fraud tied to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico,” The Washington Post, 9/10/2019

“Trump dismisses idea of allowing Bahamians into U.S. after Hurricane Dorian,” NBC News, 9/9/2019

“Four automakers bucked Trump policy on emissions. Now they are under antitrust investigation,” CNN Business, 9/6/2019

Stay Informed,

Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team: Tamara Sepper, Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, David Kurlander, and Aaron Dalton

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