WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top four Democratic and Republican negotiators in the U.S. Congress on border security funding plan to meet on Monday in a bid to reach an elusive deal by a Friday deadline to avert another partial government shutdown.
FILE PHOTO: A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall is seen through the border fence between Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes/File Photo
The talks were scheduled to resume in Washington hours before Republican President Donald Trump plans a rally in the Texas border city of El Paso where he is expected to promote his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
An anti-wall protest will greet the Republican president, led by hometown Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman who in November lost a close election for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas to Republican Ted Cruz and now is considering seeking his party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
In Washington, the lawmakers hope to reach an agreement on Monday to allow time for the legislation to pass the House of Representatives and Senate and get signed by Trump by Friday, when funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies expires.
Negotiations broke down during the weekend over funding for immigrant detention beds and physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and the panel’s top Republican, U.S. Representative Kay Granger, will attend the meeting with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, and the panel’s senior Democrat Patrick Leahy, according to congressional aides. They were tentatively set to meet at 3:30 p.m. (2030 GMT).
Trump’s December demand for $5.7 billion to help construct a border wall triggered a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended last month without the president getting wall funding. Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow congressional negotiators time to find a compromise on government funding for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, to avert another shutdown on Feb. 15.
The disagreement over border barriers and making detention facilities able to hold more immigrants to be deported are at the heart of the dispute between Trump and congressional Democrats. Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has sought to crack down on illegal and legal immigration.
Trump made a border wall one of his central campaign promises in 2016, saying it is needed to curb illegal immigration, drug trafficking and other crimes. Democrats, who took control of the House last month from Trump’s fellow Republicans, oppose a wall, calling it ineffective, expensive and immoral.
Some negotiators last week held out the option of passing another stopgap funding bill to avert a shutdown and allow more time to reach a border deal. But one House aide said the goal of Monday’s meeting was to revitalize the negotiations for funding for the remainder of the fiscal year and not to discuss another short-term spending bill.
Democrats are opposed to the Trump administration expanding its capacity to hold more people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for eventual deportation. Republicans want to increase the number of beds in detention facilities to enable holding more people to speed up and expand deportations. A sticking point in the talks has been a Democratic demand for funding fewer detention beds.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Will Dunham
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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