White House calls U.S.-Mexico relationship ‘phenomenal’ as top Trump administration officials head across the border

WASHINGTON — Top Trump administration officials are on their way to Mexico to talk through their controversial new deportation guidelines, as the White House claimed in spite of evidence to the contrary that everything “is phenomenal” between the countries. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are on their way to meet with top Mexican officials and discuss the DHS’ new order to dramatically ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants — and try to mend fences after months of building tensions between the countries. Mexican officials are furious about the move, especially the orders that suggest deporting all immigrants who cross the Mexican border back to Mexico even if they’re from other countries. It's just the latest flare-up driven by President Trump’s repeated promise to build a wall along the entire border and somehow force Mexico to pay for its construction, his promise to force a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and his regularly harsh rhetoric toward Mexican immigrants. In spite of the tensions surrounding the trip, the White House claimed that everything is hunky-dory between the neighboring countries. “The relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday afternoon. “Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly are going to have a great discussion down there and … walk through the implementation of the executive order.” Democrats mocked Spicer’s comments. “Phenomenally challenged? Phenomenally damaged? My @MerriamWebster dictionary must be missing an update,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) tweeted. Even as Tillerson and Kelly traveled south (Kelly is stopping in Guatemala first), Mexico’s leaders made it clear they’re not thrilled with the Trump Continue Reading

Senior Obama administration officials knew Hillary Clinton was using private email address in 2009

WASHINGTON - Senior Obama administration officials knew as early as 2009 that Hillary Rodham Clinton was using a private email address for her government correspondence. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel requested Clinton's email address on Sept. 5, 2009, according to one of some 3,000 pages of correspondence released by the State Department on Tuesday evening. His request came three months after top Obama strategist David Axelrod asked the same question of one of Clinton's top aides. But it's unclear whether the officials realized Clinton, now the leading Democratic presidential candidate, was running her email from a server located in her Chappaqua, New York, home, a potential security risk and violation of administration policy. Clinton's emails have become an issue in her early 2016 campaign, as Republicans accuse her of using a private account rather than the standard government address to avoid public scrutiny of her correspondence. As the controversy has continued, Clinton has seen ratings of her character and trustworthiness drop in polling. The newly released emails show Clinton sent or received at least 12 messages in 2009 on her private email server that were later classified ``confidential'' by the U.S. government because officials said they contained activities relating to the intelligence community. At least two dozen emails were also marked ``sensitive but unclassified'' at the time they were written, including a December 2009 message from top Clinton aide Huma Abedin about an explosion in Baghdad that killed 90. Though Clinton has said her home system included ``numerous safeguards,'' it's not clear if it used encryption software to communicate securely with government email services. That would have protected her communications from the prying eyes of foreign spies or hackers. Still, Clinton's correspondence from her first year as the nation's top diplomat leaves little doubt that Continue Reading

Obama administration officials show senators Taliban video of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl that prompted President to make prisoner swap

WASHINGTON - Trying to calm angry members of Congress, the Obama administration on Wednesday showed senators a video of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl that apparently influenced the President to trade five Taliban for the captured American. Even some Republican critics of the swap said Bergdahl looked ill in the video, and spoke in a weak and “halting” voice as he recited information to verify his captivity. "He did not look good," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), an opponent of the prisoner exchange. "I would definitely think that it would have had an emotional impact on the President when he saw it, which is probably why the Taliban released it." It was unclear exactly when the video was made, but in it Bergdhal mentioned the passing of Nelson Mandela, who died on Dec. 5. It did not appear that the video or the briefing would end the criticism from Congress or dissuade lawmakers from holding hearings on the prisoner exchange. At least 60 senators attended the closed-door briefing in a basement room in the Capitol complex. The session began at 5:30 p.m. and lasted a bit more than an hour. A simliar briefing will be held for House members when they return to Washington next week. The senators heard from key administration officials, including James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Tony Blinken, a deputy national security adviser to the President. Senators said the tone of the briefing was subdued, not angry, even as lawmakers from both parties questioned the administration's rationale for trading Bergdahl for the five Taliban detainees being held by the U.S. at the Guantanamo Bay prison. "One of the key questions was, ‘Are any of these guys who were released involved in terror attacks against America?’" Kirk said. "They said no." "I think the question that we all had is will any of these guys transform the battlefield against the Americans who remain in Afghanistan," Kirk said. "They Continue Reading

ISIS was on White House ‘radar screen’ years ago: former top Obama administration official

The White House had the bloodthirsty ISIS jihadist group "on the radar screen" as early as several years ago, a former top administration official admitted Monday. But the savage band of militants that has quickly sucked up large parts of Iraq and Syria has "grown exponentially in terms of size, and capacity and capability," former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday, just in the months since she left the department in September 2013. "They were on everybody's radar screen," she said. Napolitano, who served as DHS Secretary for all of Obama's tenure until her departure last year, said the White House had actively discussed strategies to debilitate ISIS throughout her time in office, including finding ways to discourage people with American and European passports from traveling to train with the group. "The issue of travelers was already present," she said on MSNBC. "There were discussions with how do you get the region and the countries in the region to participate in a more vital and a more vigorous manner." But Napolitano, who now serves as the President of the University of California system, said the group, which has gruesomely beheaded two American journalists in recent weeks, was far from the administration's top priority then. "Were they the dominant source of conversation? Not at the time," she said. Her worrying comments come just a day after Obama pledged to combat ISIS, telling Americans that he'd give a big speech Wednesday — a day before the 13th anniversary of 9/11 — in which he'd outline a strategy to take out the group. "The next phase is now to start going on some offense," Obama said Sunday during a taped interview with NBC's "Meet the Press." "I will meet with congressional leaders on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I'll make a speech and describe what our game plan's going to be going forward." Obama said the campaign wouldn't involve ground troops, but Continue Reading

President Obama to nominate Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary, senior administration official says

WASHINGTON - President Obama will nominate Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary, a senior administration official said Sunday, choosing a former Senate colleague and a decorated Vietnam veteran and signaling he's ready for a contentious confirmation fight likely dominated by questions about Hagel's stands on Israel and Iran. Click for video Continue Reading

Suzanne Barr, top Obama administration official, quits post as ICE chief of staff amid sex harassment allegations

The party’s over for a top Obama administration official. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Chief of Staff Suzanne Barr resigned Saturday amid charges that she created a “frat house” atmosphere of boozing and sexual harassment at the agency. Barr’s decision to quit came two weeks after she took a leave of absence after new raunchy charges from a pair of ICE employees. One claimed that a hard-drinking Barr, longtime aide to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, approached him at a U.S. diplomat’s home with an offer of oral sex. A second worker detailed a 2009 meeting in the office of ICE Director John Morton where a leering Barr made inappropriate comments to a senior employee. “You a sexy mothaf----,” she purportedly purred before looking at his crotch and asking, “How long is it anyway?” Homeland Security Agent James Hayes filed a May lawsuit accusing Napolitano of hiring female friends who created a work environment that was hostile to men. Hayes claimed Barr cleared out the offices of three male employees and moved the nameplates, computers, telephones and other items into a men's bathroom at ICE headquarters. Barr also stole a male staffer's BlackBerry and fired off a message to his female supervisor indicating that he "had a crush on [her] and fantasized about her," the suit says. In her resignation letter, Barr wrote that the charges against her are “unfounded” and were “designed to destroy my reputation.” Barr served as chief of legislative affairs when Napolitano was the governor of Arizona. Napolitano was named the head of the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, and Barr was among her first appointments. “We are obviously very pleased with the agency's first step in rectifying this situation by accepting Ms. Barr’s resignation,” Hayes’ lawyer, Morris Fischer, said in a statement. Barr’s Continue Reading

Nuclear war with North Korea not ‘imminent,’ Trump administration officials say

Top Trump administration officials sought to assure Americans on Sunday that the nation is not on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea, despite the president's recent threats.National security adviser H.R. McMaster and Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said an attack by North Korea does not appear imminent, and that the threat of war is no closer today than it was last week."I think we’re not closer to war than a week ago, but we are closer to war than we were a decade ago," McMaster said on ABC's This Week. "The danger is much greater and is growing every day, with every missile test, with the consideration of possibly a sixth nuclear test. And so what we can no longer do is afford to procrastinate.""I’ve heard folks talking about [the U.S.] being on the cusp of nuclear war," Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday. "I’ve seen no intelligence that would indicate that we’re in that place today."McMaster said President Trump's references to the U.S. military being "locked and loaded" is an effort to maintain peace, not provoke war. The military has made no significant movement of troops or equipment in recent days to prepare to fight North Korea.“The United States military is always locked and loaded, but the purpose of capable, ready forces is to preserve peace and prevent war," he said. "George Washington said it: The most effective way of preserving peace is to be prepared for war.”The two officials spoke in the wake of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's threat last week to send missiles into the waters off Guam, a United States territory in the South Pacific. Such a flight would take 14 minutes, giving the U.S. little time to respond.Pompeo said it would not be surprising if North Korea sought to strengthen its nuclear arsenal and even test another missile. While the president wants a denuclearized Korean peninsula, he added on CBS' Face the Nation, he is unwilling to draw Continue Reading

Baseball hosts performance-enhancing drug seminar with Drug Enforcement Administration officials

In the ongoing effort to eradicate performance-enhancing drug use from professional sports, Major League Baseball hosted a meeting with Drug Enforcement Administration officials and sports league representatives Tuesday in Milwaukee.With the case of Toronto physician Anthony Galea heating up - he was named in a federal criminal complaint last month and is suspected of providing human growth hormone to pro athletes - sports leagues are facing pressure to keep pace with anti-doping efforts.Tuesday was the fourth time that MLB has hosted such a meeting. In addition to commissioner Bud Selig and MLB Department of Investigations senior VP Dan Mullin, DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joe Rannazzisi and NFL VP of Security Milton Ahlerich were in attendance at the commissioner's Milwaukee office. The NBA and NHL also sent officials."Major League Baseball is very pleased that these joint meetings with the (DEA) have been so been beneficial for each of the organizations in attendance," Selig said in a statement.Last week, NFL VP of labor policy and player development Adolpho Birch met with World Anti-Doping officials in Montreal to discuss numerous topics, including testing for human growth hormone. The NFL bans HGH use - as does MLB - but neither tests for growth hormone. There is no reliable urine test for HGH. Birch told the Washington Post that blood testing for HGH in football was one of the topics discussed."I am increasingly comfortable it could be done in a way in which any difficulties would not be too onerous," Birch told the paper. "It could be done." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Trump will carry over more than 50 Obama administration officials

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will carry over more than 50 key Obama administration officials after Inauguration Day as the president-elect tries to ensure continuity while putting his own team in place, the transition team said Thursday.Among them: Adam Szubin, the acting Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence whose nomination by Obama was stalled in the Senate for 20 months. He will serve as the acting Treasury secretary until Trump nominee Steven Mnuchin is confirmed by the Senate.Trump announced his intent to nominate former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue as Agriculture secretary on Thursday, the last of 21 cabinet-level nominations.But that also leaves more than 5,000 lower-level appointments to be made, including the important deputy and assistant Cabinet secretaries often charged with running the departments day to day. The incoming Trump administration emphasized Thursday that people would be in place to respond to national security threats or natural disasters."Make no mistake, we’re ready to go on day one," Trump press secretary Sean Spicer said.Among the Obama administration officials staying on: Dabney Kern, director of the White House Military Office; Robert Work, deputy Defense secretary; Chuck Rosenberg, acting Drug Enforcement Administration chief; Nicholas Rasmussen, National Counterterrorism Center director; Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition; Susan Coppedge, ambassador-at-large on human trafficking; Tom Shannon, the undersecretary of State for political affairs; Kody Kinsley, assistant Treasury secretary for management, and Adam Szubin, acting undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.The Senate's refusal to vote on Szubin's confirmation for nearly two years was a particular irritant to the Obama White House, given that Szubin has served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. But Spicer said Continue Reading

Top Obama administration official: Russia still providing arms to Ukrainian separatists

WASHINGTON — Russia is clearly violating a heralded ceasefire and continues to funnel military aid over its border to separatists in Ukraine, a top Obama administration official said Tuesday. "In just the last few days we can confirm new transfers of Russian tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery and rocket equipment over the border to the separatists," said Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. The disclosure by Nuland, at the tail end of an opening statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, quickly prompted a shaking of Chairman Bob Corker's (R-Tenn.) head. Both Corker and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) had underscored their doubts about U.S. policy and belief in the need to provide lethal military support to the Kiev government. The Obama administration has raised such a possibility but, in the minds of Corker and Menendez, simply had not taken that prospect seriously. The hearing also underscored that the administration has delivered only about half the $118 million in promised material and training assistance to the Ukraine, military and national guard. "I mean, what is going on with the administration?" asked Corker. "It's incredibly frustrating for all of us to think the administration truly supports Ukraine." "And, yet, it feels like they're playing footsie with Russia." Brian P. McKeon, the Defense Department principal deputy undersecretary, told Corker that "we share your frustration about the speed of delivery of our commitments." McKeon explained the delays as resulting from "a range of things, sir." "Some, it's a case of finding it in the stocks of the United States military. In the case of some equipment, we're purchasing it off the production line." McKeon said that in the case of counter-mortar radar, "We got them delivered, trained and fielded within two months." But, Continue Reading