WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump expressed displeasure on Tuesday with a deal by congressional negotiators on border security spending that offered no funds for his promised U.S.-Mexican border wall, but did not reject it outright and indicated he did not expect another government shutdown.
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 has yet to decide whether to support the agreement reached on Monday night by key Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
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 and Republican-controlled Senate and signed by him.
The tentative deal included border security provisions and money for the affected parts of the government funded through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
The Republican president 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 Republicans have shown little appetite for another shutdown after taking heavy criticism over the prior one. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments on the Senate floor touting the agreement reached on Monday night left little doubt that the top Republican in Congress wants Trump to support it.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer was more direct, saying, “I strongly urge the president to sign this.”
Congressional sources said the agreement includes $1.37 billion for new fencing along 55 miles (90 km) of the southern border but only with currently used designs such as “steel bollard” fencing. It also addresses capacity at immigration detention facilities, specifically the number of beds for people awaiting possible deportation.
Trump has threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress does not provide money specifically for the wall, an action he might take to redirect other funds already provided by Congress to pay for wall construction instead. Fellow Republicans have told Trump such a step would almost certainly face a legal challenge.
On Tuesday, Trump made comments that seemed to fit with the idea of declaring an emergency.
“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.”
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 the wall, but Mexican officials repeatedly rejected that. Democrats have called the project expensive, ineffective and immoral.
The tentative deal still requires congressional staff experts to write formal legislation, filling in details lacking in the broad outline agreed to late on Monday.
McConnell said he hopes his chamber can act on the legislation “in short order,” calling the agreement “certainly good news” and saying Democrats had abandoned “unreasonable” demands.
‘LOTS OF QUESTIONS’
Tom Graves, a House Republican who serves on the congressional conference committee that worked on the border security and other funding, raised questions about the compromise. Graves wrote on Twitter that he had not “signed off on the reported ‘deal’ nor have I seen it. Based on the reports, I have concerns. Lots of questions too.”
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will get this through,” Democrat Nita Lowey, who chairs the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, told CNN. “We cannot shut the government down.”
Lowey has said the legislation might be written by Wednesday, leaving little time for Congress to pass the measure by Friday’s midnight deadline. Lowey said the deal had the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats.
The president retreated last month when he agreed to end the shutdown without getting money for a wall. The shutdown roiled financial markets and left hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors without pay.
Trump now will have to decide whether to side with conservative commentators who have the president’s ear such as Sean Hannity of Fox News, who late on Monday called the deal a “garbage compromise.”
While Democrats oppose the wall, they support border security efforts. The number of beds in detention facilities has been a contentious part of the negotiations because it can either constrain or expand the Trump 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
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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