WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump expressed displeasure on Tuesday at a deal by congressional negotiators on border security that denied him funds for his promised U.S.-Mexican border wall, but did not reject it outright as fellow Republicans urged his support.
Trump, who triggered a 35-day closure of about a quarter of the federal government with a December demand for $5.7 billion from Congress to help build the wall, said he had yet to decide whether to back the agreement reached on Monday night by four key Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Nevertheless, Trump signaled he did not expect another shutdown and hinted again at bypassing Congress to get his wall built. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and a host of other agencies is due to expire on Friday under the stopgap spending measure passed last month by Congress to end the longest federal shutdown in U.S. history.
“I have to study it. I’m not happy about it,” Trump told reporters at the White House about the tentative funding deal, which would need to be passed by the Democratic-led House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate and signed by him.
The deal included border security provisions and money to keep the affected parts of the government funded through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
Congressional Republicans have shown little appetite for another shutdown after taking heavy criticism over the prior one. “I hope he’ll decide to sign it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, even though Trump did not get everything he wanted. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy also touted the deal.
Trump sent mixed messages about another shutdown.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a shutdown,” Trump said, but he added: “If you did have it, it’s the Democrats’ fault.”
Congressional sources said the agreement included $1.37 billion for new fencing – about the same as last year – along 55 miles (90 km) of the border but only with currently used designs such as “steel bollard” fencing. It also addressed capacity at immigration detention facilities, specifically the number of beds for people awaiting possible deportation.
Trump previously threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress did not provide money specifically for the wall, an action under which he might redirect other funds already provided by Congress to pay for wall construction. Fellow Republicans have told Trump such a step would almost certainly prompt a legal challenge.
‘WE’RE BUILDING THE WALL’
On Tuesday, Trump signaled possible unilateral action.
“The bottom is on the wall: We’re building the wall,” Trump said, adding: “We’re supplementing things, and moving things around, and we’re doing things that are fantastic and taking, really, from far-less-important areas.”
Republican James Inhofe, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters that he urged Trump weeks ago not to raid Pentagon accounts to build a wall. Inhofe indicated Trump could try to use Army Corps of Engineers funds.
Trump made the wall a central 2016 campaign promise, calling it necessary to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking. He said Mexico would pay for it, but Mexican officials rejected that. Democrats have called a wall expensive, ineffective and immoral.
McConnell, who had counseled Trump against the previous shutdown, said Democrats had abandoned “unreasonable” demands. McCarthy told CNBC that Democrats had caved by allowing the new border fencing. The border barrier funding was far short, however, of the $5.7 billion in wall money Trump wanted and was less than Trump could have had in compromise legislation passed in December by the Senate.
Democrats said the formal legislation should be ready by Wednesday, leaving little time for Congress to pass the measure by Friday’s midnight deadline.
Senior Democrats threw their weight behind the deal and said both sides gave ground. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said: “I strongly urge the president to sign this.”
Tom Graves, a House Republican who serves on the congressional conference committee that worked on the issue, raised concerns about the compromise. But Mark Meadows, who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he expected Trump would sign it.
Trump retreated last month when he agreed to end the shutdown without getting wall money. The shutdown roiled financial markets and left hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors without pay. Trump will now have to decide whether to side with conservative commentators who have his ear including Sean Hannity of Fox News, who late on Monday called the deal a “garbage compromise.”
Democrats oppose the wall, but support border security efforts. The number of beds in detention facilities was a contentious part of the negotiations because it can either constrain or expand the administration’s ability to aggressively deport more immigrants, including those seeking asylum.
Congressional aides on Tuesday gave differing accounts on the number of beds the deal permitted, with some saying it would drop to 40,520 by later this year and others saying it could rise to 58,500. Democrats had sought to limit the number.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Steve Holland in Washington and Roberta Rampton in El Paso, Texas; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney
McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump’s a Russian asset
McCabe has said in the past that the FBI had a good reason to open up a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was working with Russia and a possible national security threat.
The former official was on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” when he was asked if he believes Trump may still be a Russian asset. He said he’s “anxious” to see the conclusion of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation.
He was also asked if he believes Trump is fit to serve and said it is not up to him to make the determination.
Gowdy challenges McCabe’s claim congressional leaders didn’t object to Russia counterintelligence probe
Former congressman and Fox News contributor Trey Gowdy disputed former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe’s claim Tuesday that congressional leaders didn’t object to the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation over President Trump’s Russia ties.
“The reason he’s doing it this way is that [Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.] and [former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.] are not allowed to discuss anything that’s said in a ‘Gang of Eight’ meeting and McCabe knows that,” Gowdy said on “The Story with Martha MacCallum.” “So he can level the accusation and Devin and Paul cannot refute him.” Nunes chaired the House Intelligence Committee from 2015-19.
McCabe, in an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning, said no members of the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders, including Nunes and Ryan, objected to the investigation.
“I told Congress what we had done,” McCabe told Savannah Guthrie.
“Did anyone object?” Guthrie asked.
“That’s the important part here, Savannah,” McCabe replied. “No one objected. Not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds and not based on the facts.”
Gowdy, formerly a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said he believed McCabe wasn’t telling the truth and that Nunes and Ryan did not know about a second investigation.
“There were three investigations into a duly elected president. The Peter Strzok one from July of 2016 and then McCabe started a counterintelligence [probe] and if he’s telling the truth, started a criminal probe into the president of the United States,” Gowdy told Martha MacCallum.
“I listened to Devin and Paul quiz the [Justice Department] and the FBI for hours on multiple occasions about the one counterintelligence investigation, we all knew about it. I find it stunning that they would know about a second one and not say a single solitary word.”
Gowdy also addressed former FBI Director James Comey’s May 2017 firing and McCabe’s belief that the president was trying to shut down the Russia investigation.
“If thinking that Jim Comey is not a good FBI director is tantamount to being an agent of Russia then just list all the people that are agents of Russia. [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein…,” Gowdy said.
Fox News’ Martha MacCallum contributed to this report.
Trump, Giuliani deny president tried obstructing Michael Cohen investigation
President Trump’s attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, denied a New York Times report that Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker whether U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, a presidential ally, could be put in charge of the investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Trump’s onetime personal attorney Michael Cohen.
“The president said today he had no such conversation with the acting AG, and I believe Mr. Whitaker issued a statement to the same effect,” Giuliani said in a statement late Tuesday. “The rest of the piece is just a regurgitation of previously refuted obstruction theories. They all fail as obstruction because as [Harvard Law] Professor [Alan] Dershowitz’s recent book and many other authorities make clear, all of the alleged actions were within the president’s sole discretion under Article II of the U.S. Constitution.”
The Times report said that Whitaker told Trump that he could not put Berman in charge of the Cohen investigation because he had already recused himself from that matter. The paper claimed that Trump “soured” on Whitaker and “complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.”
Trump denied the story at the White House Tuesday afternoon, referring to the Times report as “more fake news” and saying that he had a “very good” relationship with Whitaker, who was replaced last week by William Barr.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Whitaker. I think he’s done a great job,” Trump said. He said Whitaker was “a very fine man, and he should be given a lot of thanks by our nation.”
Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec referred to testimony Whitaker gave to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
“Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,'” Kupec said. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”
Berman was named acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in January 2018 by the AG at that time, Jeff Sessions. Berman was appointed to the position indefinitely by the panel’s judges three months later.
Prosecutors in the Southern District say Trump directed Cohen to make illegal hush-money payments to two women — adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — in order to keep them quiet about alleged sexual encounters with them dating back more than a decade and coming soon after he’d married his current wife, Melania. Cohen is scheduled to report to prison next month to begin a three-year sentence after pleading guilty this past August to campaign finance and other violations.
Cohen is also scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 28. His attorney, Lanny Davis, has said that Cohen also plans to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Oversight Committee before the end of this month. In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Fox News’ John Roberts and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.
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