Jeff Sessions was confirmed as President Trump’s Attorney General, wrapping up another bitter, racially charged battle between Republicans and Democrats. The Alabama Republican survived a near-party-line vote of 52 to 47, with no Republicans breaking ranks. He brings a sharply conservative bent to the Justice Department, promising to push a “law and order” agenda with tougher enforcement of laws on immigration, drugs and gun trafficking. Democrats, still angry about Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts being barred from speaking on the floor the previous night, have accused Sessions of racial insensitivity and worry that he will reverse steps taken by the Obama administration to bring more accountability to police departments, state and local governments, and employers. Advocates point to his history of votes against various civil rights measures. - NEW YORK TIMES
The President will sign three executive orders today aimed at "restor[ing] safety in America." Trump spoke with reporters this morning about the "menace of rising crime and the threat of deadly terror" before announcing the new initiatives. The first takes aim at "criminal cartels," the second creates a violent crime reduction task force and the third calls on the Justice Department to create a new program aimed at curtailing crimes against law enforcement officers. Though many in the press have fact checked and criticized recent Trump comments about the murder rate in the US, in today's comments, CNN verified that he repeated all accurate statistics, including the point that the overall murder rate in the 30 largest US cities has climbed by "double digits." - POLITICO
According to a variety of anonymous U.S. officials "with knowledge of the call," President Trump denounced the 2010 treaty known as New START in his first discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On the January 28 phone call, Trump apparently told Putin that he felt the treaty was poorly negotiated by the Obama administration, and unfairly favored Russia. The treaty gives both nations until February 2018 to cut their number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to fewer than 1,550, as well as limiting deployment of land and submarine-based nuclear weapons. During his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed support for the agreement. The report also implies that Trump asked aides for details about the treaty during the call. - REUTERS
Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, called the president’s criticism of independent judges “demoralizing” and “disheartening” in private remarks to Senator Richard Blumenthal. His statements come on the heels of Trump lashing out at the federal appellate judges who are considering a challenge to his “travel ban” executive order, and a tweet in which he derided a Seattle circuit court judge as a “so-called judge.” Gorsuch expressed his disappointment as he paid courtesy calls on Capitol Hill, and an account of the discussion was confirmed by an anonymous White House advisor working to advance the Gorsuch confirmation. Experts call this disagreement between a president and his nominee “highly unusual.” This morning, Trump accused Blumenthal of misrepresenting Gorsuch's comments. - NEW YORK TIMES
President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries went before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. Three judges grilled lawyers for the Department of Justice and the state of Washington over the Trump administration’s appeal of a nationwide temporary restraining order of the ban issued on Friday. The administration asserts that the restraining order is “vastly over broad” and an improper judicial encroachment on the authority of the president. In one key point, Washington state’s solicitor general, Noah Purcell, argued that the ban is motivated by religious discrimination against Muslims. Senior Circuit Judge Richard Clifton challenged that assertion by pointing out that the EO affects only a small percentage of Muslims worldwide. - ABC NEWS
Trump tweeted a harsh criticism of Nordstrom on Wednesday after the retailer said it would not be buying his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line for this season. The president said Ivanka “has been treated so unfairly” by Nordstrom and that it was “terrible,” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the company’s move “a direct attack on his policies and her name.” For its part, Nordstrom denies that the decision was due to the brand’s performance and not due to a #GrabYourWallet protest campaign, and says it informed Ivanka of its decision in early January. Trump’s tweet was sent at 10:51 AM, 21 minutes after the president’s daily intelligence briefing was scheduled to start, and it was later retweeted by the official @POTUS presidential account. Spicer said the president was “free at the time” when he tweeted. - NBC NEWS
Yemen wants the US to reassess its counter-terrorism strategy after a raid that reportedly left more than 30 civilians dead. The Navy Seal operation, aimed at gathering intelligence on al-Qaeda, resulted in the death of Navy Seal Ryan Owens and the eight-year-old daughter of al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki. According to local villagers, 31 people died including women and children. Yemeni foreign minister Abdul-Malik al-Mekhlafi denied reports that his government had ordered a halt to all ground operations by US troops in Yemen, but added that the government is “involved in talks” with Trump’s administration. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that the raid was a success and said anyone questioning its success owed an apology to Owens’ family. - GUARDIAN
ON TRUMP'S REMAINING TIES TO HIS FAMILY BUSINESSES
Before the current kerfuffle between the Trump administration and Nordstrom began over the Ivanka Trump clothing line, even before his actual ascension to the presidency, there had already been heated discussions about the President's ongoing connections to the family businesses.
There have been a number of attempts, in the past few weeks, to collect information about all of Trump’s business interests in one place. Wired gathered them all in one “astoundingly complex visualization.” Time plotted them on a world map. CNN catalogued just those that intersect with Russia or Russian companies.
Initially, the president had vowed not to enter into any new foreign deals, and to appoint an ethics adviser who would have to approve new domestic deals. (The head of the Office of Government Ethics called these moves “meaningless.”)
Later, despite Trump’s resignation from positions at the Trump Organization, and filing paperwork which turns the companies over to his children, a number of documents published by nonprofit ProPublica revealed ongoing, direct ties between the President and his businesses. Though the purpose of a trust is to create a firewall against potential conflicts of interest, Trump himself remains the sole beneficiary of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, which contains a mix of profits from stock sales, intellectual property tied with the Trump brand and properties like the Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed a lawsuit against the President, alleging that he is in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. CREW cites Trump’s continuing ownership of properties like New York’s Trump Tower, and business ventures in a variety of foreign countries, as examples of violations.
The group plans to use the lawsuit to press for the release of Trump’s tax returns. Trump has called the lawsuit “totally without merit.” In Quartz, CATO Senior Fellow Walter Olson argues the lawsuit will fail because CREW must prove it suffered “some sort of direct, concrete and particular injury” not experienced by other Americans in order to sue the president.
The question remains: Are these ongoing ties to his businesses troubling because of the appearance of a conflict of interest? Or are they genuinely affecting his decision-making as president? There are some indications that it could be the latter, but so far, no hard evidence.
Many noted that countries where the Trump Organization is active were left out of the President’s recent “travel ban” executive order.
The Atlantic points out that, when members of Trump’s family travel and stay at Trump Organization properties, the taxpayers end up funding security and staff for the trip. (A recent Eric Trump visit to Uruguay cost the American people about $97,000.)
The Department of Defense is apparently looking into renting space at Trump Tower so that it can keep vital national security procedures close to the President when he’s staying there.
Recent FEC filings confirm that Trump’s presidential campaign paid $12.8 million to his own companies.
Talk of impeachment, largely in response to these alleged violations, has already started in some corners. A survey from the left-leaning but highly regarded Public Policy Polling found that 40% of Americans “support” impeachment. Over 600,000 Americans have signed a petition at ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org. Former White House Counsel John Dean, who served under Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, told The Atlantic that Trump already blows his former boss away in terms of “the level of corruption.”
When asked about the impeachment chatter by Breitbart News, press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to the “support that the president’s receiving for his policies throughout the country."