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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump abruptly walked out of a closed-door meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday in the White House Situation Room after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she wouldn’t fund his border wall even if he ended the government shutdown.

“She said ‘No,'” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, adding that Trump slammed the table. “He said, ‘Then we have nothing to discuss’ …He just walked out of the meeting.”

Trump quickly confirmed Schumer’s version of events in a tweet, making the details of the testy exchange the only thing the president and his Democratic counterparts could agree on in their fight over reopening a partially closed federal government and funding a border wall.

At one point, a congressional aide familiar with the meeting said, Schumer asked Trump why he wouldn’t open the government to relieve the suffering of Americans hurt by it.

“Because then you won’t give me what I want,” Trump responded, according to the aide.

White House officials described the president as calm during the meeting and one said afterward that he felt that he had called their bluff by offering to end the shutdown immediately if Democrats would agree to his border-security demands.

Several federal agencies have been shut down since Dec. 22. Trump has demanded that Congress include $7 billion in border security and humanitarian aid — including $5.7 billion in money for the wall — in any spending bill to re-open the parts of the government that have been shuttered for nearly three weeks.

As he met with Republican and Democratic leaders and Vice President Mike Pence, the White House issued a threat to veto a series of House spending bills that would open individual agencies because they don’t include money for the wall. The threat said Trump’s advisers “would recommend” that he veto the bills, rather than using the stronger language that the “president would” veto the bills that the Office of Management and Budget sometimes uses.

Pelosi opened her remarks after the meeting by describing the discussion as frigid.

“It’s cold out here, and the temperature wasn’t much warmer in the Situation Room,” she said outside the White House.

Pelosi cast Trump, the wealthy son of a real-estate developer, as insensitive to the plight of government workers who are due to miss paychecks this week.

“He thinks they could maybe just ask their father for more money, but they can’t,” she said.

Vice President Mike Pence said Trump has been clear about his priorities all along and that Republicans will “stand firm” on keeping the government shut down until Democrats agree to build the wall.

“There will be no deal without a wall,” Pence said. “There will be no deal without the priorities the president has put on the table.”

And, though Trump had just walked away from the actual negotiating table, Pence said Democrats “should come back to the table” to work on a plan to build the wall and fund the government.

Trump is scheduled to visit the southern border near McAllen, Texas, on Thursday, and he has said that he is considering declaring a national emergency to give himself greater authority to direct his administration to build a wall if Congress doesn’t appropriate money for that purpose.

The Pentagon, which undertakes military engineering and construction projects, has $4 billion in authority to transfer existing funds if the secretary of Defense deems such a move to be in the “national interest” — regardless of whether the president declares an emergency. But there are conditions on shifting the money around that could turn the maneuver into a major political and legal fight between Congress and the White House.



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After vowing to strangle Iran’s economy, Trump admin divided over how far to squeeze Tehran

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By Dan De Luce

The Trump administration is divided over how far to pressure Iran with its sanctions campaign, as it weighs options that could bolster imports of medicine to Iran and permit some foreign governments to keep buying Iranian oil, according to former officials, congressional aides and sources close to the White House.

Republican hard-liners in Congress, including Sens. Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz, are pushing the White House to make good on President Donald Trump’s vows to place “maximum pressure” on Iran’s economy. But so far, the administration has held back from some drastic measures, with officials anxious to avoid triggering a spike in oil and gasoline prices, upsetting delicate trade talks with China or further alienating allies.

Trump reimposed economic sanctions on Tehran last year after pulling the United States out of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, including a ban on Iranian oil imports. But the administration issued exceptions for eight countries, allowing them to keep purchasing a limited amount of Iranian crude oil.

The administration also issued waivers allowing Iran to receive international assistance to convert nuclear sites to purely civilian uses. The oil waivers, and those for civilian nuclear cooperation, expire in May. The president will have to decide soon whether to renew the waivers, revise them or scrap them altogether, and officials are arguing about what should be done.

Officials in the administration are also debating a proposal from Switzerland to set up a humanitarian payment channel that would encourage Swiss banks to handle sales of medicine, medical devices and other items to Iran without fear of violating U.S. sanctions.

The sanctions imposed by the United States already allow for transactions in humanitarian-related goods. But the sweeping measures — and the Trump administration’s sharp warnings to European companies with ties to the Iran market — have had a chilling effect, spooking most foreign banks from handling any transaction with Iran, even ones allowed under U.S. law, former officials and regional specialists said.

As a result, Swiss officials have proposed to the Treasury Department to revive a model used by the Obama administration before the 2015 nuclear deal was clinched. This would involve Swiss banks handling transactions between Swiss or European firms selling medicine, food and other humanitarian-related goods to Iranian companies.

Swiss officials are looking for an additional level of assurance from the Treasury Department, removing any concerns for the Swiss banks handling payments for European firms exporting humanitarian goods to Iran, said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow in London at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

“This channel is basically meant to be as bullet proof of a direct banking system as you can get,” Geranmayeh said.

It remains unclear if the administration is ready to give the Swiss plan its blessing. The Treasury Department declined to comment. The Swiss Embassy also declined comment.

Iranian leaders have blamed U.S. sanctions for a sharp rise in prices for medicine and a shortage of some drugs, and accused Washington of targeting the country’s health sector.

The Trump administration has dismissed the accusations, saying the regime has mismanaged its economy and has plenty of money to buy medicine.

Citing U.S. laws that allow the sale of food and medicine to Iran, a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We understand the importance of this activity since it helps the Iranian people. It has never been, nor is it now, U.S. policy to target this trade.”

The Swiss humanitarian payment arrangement could “counter the propaganda from the regime that America is to blame for difficulties in buying humanitarian goods inside Iran,” said Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank that supports severe sanctions on Iran.

Critics of the administration say it should have planned to ensure humanitarian trade would not be affected indirectly by the sanctions, instead of waiting until it became an issue.

“What’s disturbing in this situation is the administration has reimposed sanctions, and is pursuing sanctions aggressively, yet they don’t seem to have given much thought to finding avenues to ensure our sanctions don’t cut off needed humanitarian supplies to Tehran,” said a Democratic congressional aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The Treasury Department declined to comment. The Swiss Embassy also declined comment.

While administration officials have yet to offer a public endorsement of the Swiss proposal, the administration quietly announced on Tuesday an extension of a 90-day waiver to Iraq to allow the government to buy electricity from neighboring Iran. The move caught members of Congress by surprise, and prompted frustration among Republican hard-liners, who argue the administration needs to take a tougher line in enforcing sanctions.

“You’ve got State trying to extend waivers. You’ve got Treasury brainstorming how to move money into Iran,” said a Republican congressional staffer, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “It’s like those people are running a full blown resistance campaign to undermine the president’s Iran policy.”

The divisions in the administration tend to pit Treasury and State Department officials against the White House National Security Council staff, which supports a harder line, former officials, congressional staffers and sources close to the White House said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last year rebuffed calls from hard-liners inside and outside the administration to cut Iran entirely out of the international bank messaging system known as SWIFT, heeding an appeal from European governments. The move angered some officials and members of Congress, as NBC News previously reported.

Now the administration is weeks away from a decision on whether to extend exceptions for countries buying Iranian crude, and the administration has sent out mixed signals. Officials say U.S. policy is to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, but they also have refused to rule out renewing some or all of the waivers.

National Security Adviser John Bolton has consistently argued for a no-holds-barred approach to economic pressure on Iran, and will almost certainly oppose major exemptions for oil sanctions or renewing waivers allowing Tehran to receive international assistance for its civilian nuclear work, said Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“I can’t imagine John Bolton being happy about any of this,” he said.

Asked about disagreement inside the administration over sanctions on Iran, a State Department official told NBC News: “Any decisions related to sanctions exemptions are at the discretion of the Secretary of State.”

Oil sanctions have put the White House in a bind, as the president does not want to see oil prices – and domestic gas prices — rise. But Trump also has made the sanctions campaign against Iran a top political priority.

The oil market was taken by surprise in November when Washington issued waivers to Iran’s top oil customers: China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey. Oil prices dropped as a result, as producers had anticipated a total ban on Iranian oil.

The 180-day waivers were meant to be a temporary step to help countries wean themselves off Iranian oil and avoid pushing up oil prices.

While some officials have indicated that removing Iranian oil from the global market would not have a major effect on oil prices, senior State Department official overseeing Iran policy, Brian Hook, struck a more cautious tone.

The president “has made it very clear that we need to have a campaign of maximum economic pressure … but he also doesn’t want to shock oil markets, he wants to ensure a well-supplied and stable oil market,” Hook said at an industry conference in Houston last week.

Sanctions so far have roughly halved Iran’s oil exports to about 1.25 million barrels of oil a day.

Advocates of a harder line are sending a clear message to the White House about what they want to see. “The Iranian regime uses its petrodollars to fund terrorism and sow chaos throughout the region. Going forward, the proper amount of oil exports from Iran is zero,” Republican Sen. Cotton of Arkansas said in a tweet on Monday.

Ali Arouzi contributed.



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Cast of characters in the Mueller drama

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By Lauren Egan

The special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller, who headed the FBI for more than a decade, was given the authority to look into any links or coordination between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Since the investigation began in May 2017, a lot has happened: 34 people and three companies — from Trump advisers to Russian nationals — have been indicted, resulting in seven guilty pleas, one conviction by trial, four incarcerations and four sentences.

There have been a lot of key players to keep track of as the investigation has unfolded over nearly two years. Below is a guide to help to do that as the inquiry has now come to an end.

  • Michael Flynn


    Michael Flynn

    Former national security adviser for the Trump campaign and former national security adviser to President Trump

    Flynn, whose tenure in the administration lasted less than a month, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions before Trump’s inauguration. Flynn announced his intention to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation and in a December 2018 memo, Mueller said Flynn had met with his team 19 times and provided “substantial assistance,” adding that a recommendation of no prison time is “appropriate and warranted.”

  • Donald Trump Jr.


    Donald Trump Jr.

    Executive vice president of the Trump Organization

    President Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was a top adviser to his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump Jr., along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, attended a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton that could be useful to Trump’s campaign.

  • Jeff Sessions


    Jeff Sessions

    Former attorney general

    During the 2016 campaign, Sessions, then a senator, met with Kislyak twice — once in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention and once in his Senate office. However, Sessions denied having any communication with the Russians during his 2017 confirmation hearing as attorney general. In March 2017, Sessions recused himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation — a move Trump interpreted as an act of betrayal.

  • Paul Manafort


    Paul Manafort

    Former Trump campaign chairman

    Manafort was indicted by the special counsel for various financial crimes and for failing to register as a foreign agent despite lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party. Manafort was initially scheduled for two trials, but he avoided the second by entering a plea deal and agreeing to cooperate with the special counsel. In November 2018, Mueller said Manafort had breached the plea agreement by lying to federal prosecutors.

  • Rick Gates


    Rick Gates

    Former deputy campaign chairman

    Gates, Manafort’s longtime junior business partner, was initially indicted along with Manafort. But in February 2018, Gates pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller probe in return for reduced charges. Gates became the leading witness in Manafort’s financial fraud trial.

  • Carter Page


    Carter Page

    Former campaign adviser

    In 2013, Page was put on an FBI watchlist for suspected inappropriate involvement with Russians. In the summer of 2016, the FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Page as part of its investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

  • Michael Cohen


    Michael Cohen

    Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer

    Cohen, Trump’s longtime confidant who once bragged that he would take a bullet for Trump, was sentenced in December 2018 to three years in prison for various crimes. These included paying off — at Trump’s direction, Cohen said — women who claimed they’d had affairs with Trump, lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings with Russia and failing to report millions of dollars in income. Cohen is cooperating with the special counsel.

  • Roger Stone


    Roger Stone

    Former campaign adviser and longtime Trump associate

    Stone was arrested in January after being indicted on seven counts: obstruction, witness tampering and five counts of making false statements. Stone is believed to have kept the Trump campaign informed on the timing of WikiLeaks’ efforts to publicly release damaging information on Hillary Clinton and her campaign leading up to the 2016 election.

  • George Papadopoulos


    George Papadopoulos

    Foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign

    Papadopoulos — the first person to plead guilty and go to jail in the Mueller investigation — was arrested in July 2017 for lying to the FBI about his contact with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 election. He received a 14-day sentence.

  • Jared Kushner


    Jared Kushner

    White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law

    Kushner is under scrutiny for meeting with Kislyak several times. In one meeting at which Flynn was also present, in December 2016, Kushner reportedly suggested setting up a secret “communications channel” with the Kremlin.

  • Konstantin Kilimnik

    Russian Army-trained linguist and associate of Paul Manafort

    Kilimnik is an Ukraine-based operative with ties to Russian intelligence. Paul Manafort met with Kilimnik multiple times while he was chairing the Trump campaign. Manafort reportedly shared 2016 polling data with Kilimnik and asked him to pass it along to a Russian businessman with connections to President Vladimir Putin. Mueller charged Kilimnik with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice.

Read the full timeline of Russia investigation.

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Democrats express caution on Mueller report as they ramp up own probes

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By Allan Smith

As Democrats wait to read special counsel Robert Mueller’s highly anticipated report to Attorney General William Barr, they’ve increasingly expressed caution and skepticism about what it might contain.

Whether because of fears the report won’t fully be made public or that Mueller was not able to be as thorough as they believe is warranted, key Democrats have ramped up their own investigatory efforts even as they await Mueller’s information.

Some of President Donald Trump’s critics have waited with bated breath for the better part of two years to find out whether Mueller’s final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign will offer a damning assessment of the president’s conduct.

“The special prosecutor is limited in scope, his job was limited in scope and limited to crimes,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “What Congress has to do is look at a broader picture. We have the responsibility of protecting the rule of law.”

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. and a member of the Judiciary Committee, told NBC News last week that he thinks people are “very sober” about what could be in Mueller’s report. But he also said he has the sense that Trump’s supporters are recently “feeling a little less anxious about” the report.

While many of the revelations over the past two years are “alarming and very concerning” on their own, Cicilline said Trump’s allies “seem to feel like, this is all out there already, and unless there’s some kind of smoking gun, then he’ll be able to survive this.”

“I just don’t know if they’re right,” he said. “I don’t have the same level of confidence that maybe there’s something that we just haven’t seen yet.”

On Friday, Mueller submitted his report to Barr, who is not required by the regulations governing the special counsel to notify Congress of more than “brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.” Barr said Friday he might inform Congress of Mueller’s “principal conclusions” as soon as this weekend.

Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet since the report was submitted, posting next to nothing on Twitter aside from wishing followers to “have a great day” on Sunday morning. He tepidly called for the report’s release last week, telling reporters on the White House South Lawn “let it come out, let people see it.”

Speaking to NBC News, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said Trump would “weaponize the Mueller report and bludgeon the opposition party media and the Democrats.”

Cicilline told NBC News that Trump is “going to try to diminish and undermine the rule of law, to undermine the law enforcement agencies responsible for the work, to denigrate the motivation of people doing the work,” he said. “I mean, we should expect the president continuing to do that.”

The House this month unanimously passed a resolution calling for the report to be made public. Following Mueller’s submission, Democrats widely called for the report to be released in full.

While Cicilline said he’s “very confident the report will be made public,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC News he doesn’t share the same confidence.

“I think all of us are assuming that he probably won’t release everything to the public,” he said. “So that’s why I think we’re all a little concerned about what’s going to happen here.”

Added Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. who is a member of both the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, “You know, we sent a pretty clear message to him, a pretty clear bipartisan message to the attorney general, that we expect to see every word, comma, period, of this report, that we don’t anything to be held back, that it is an investigation of the greatest magnitude, and Congress and the public should see it.”

Nadler, meanwhile, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the White House won’t be able to hide behind the power of the presidency if there are damaging findings in the report.

“It’s critical that everything in that report and the underlying evidence be public, be open to the American people,” Nadler said. “That transparency is key. America needs answers as to what’s been going on.

“As we learned from the Nixon tapes case, executive privilege cannot be used to hide wrongdoing.”

Mueller was tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials. Mueller’s investigation led to the indictment or conviction of 34 individuals, including major Trump associates like former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. But none of those charges included a direct allegation of colluding with Russians to swing the 2016 election.

Trump and his legal team refused to provide Mueller with any live testimony, instead giving written answers to questions about collusion. Mueller expanded the probe to include whether Trump obstructed justice by firing thenFBI Director James Comey, among other actions, but the president refused to answer any questions on that topic.

Earlier this month, Nadler launched a wide-ranging probe into possible “abuses of power” that he says will go far beyond the scope of Mueller’s investigation. In doing so, his committee — which is where possible impeachment proceedings would begin — requested documents from 81 individuals or entities connected to Trump.

Nadler told The New York Times that even without the Mueller report, there’s “a lot of evidence” Trump obstructed justice and “we may need to know a lot more than the Mueller report says.” In speaking with ABC’s “This Week” earlier this month, Nadler said “we can’t depend on the Mueller investigation” to provide the nation with all the information he believes is necessary.

Cicilline pointed to Mueller’s limited scope, saying it’s “incumbent” on Congress to “make it clear” that their work on obstruction of justice, corruption, and abuse of power — which Trump has labeled “presidential harassment” — is much different than Mueller’s focus on potential conspiracy between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., meanwhile, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” this month it would be “a mistake” for Mueller not to get in-person testimony from Trump. In response, Trump’s outside counsel, Rudy Giuliani, told NBC News, “I thought he trusted Mueller.”

Cicilline said Trump’s lack of live testimony to Mueller is “a glaring omission,” though it’s hard to know the impact of that omission without seeing all of Mueller’s evidence.

Trump’s legal team threatened to launch a bitter legal fight if Mueller sought to compel Trump’s live testimony through a subpoena.

Schiff, meanwhile, later told NBC News that Congress might call on Mueller to testify if the Justice Department does not release sufficient information on the report, adding that he is not convinced Mueller dove deep enough into Trump’s personal finances. Those concerns are shared by Krishnamoorthi, who said one of his biggest concerns is Mueller’s scope and what he “felt he was allowed to explore and what he wasn’t.”

As it stands, what Democrats are most concerned about in the immediate future is just being able to obtain the full report.

Swalwell told NBC News all he wants is “a through report that the public can see.”

“You know, I’m not rooting one way or the other,” he said. “I just want the public to know what happened in the 2016 election, whether any U.S. persons worked with a country that worked against us, and whether there was an effort by the president or anyone on his team to try and cover up what they did by lying or obstructing the investigation.”

But because of what he said were the Trump administration’s “efforts to obstruct the investigation,” Swalwell added he wants “to hear it from Mueller’s lips that” the special counsel “was able to pursue all the evidence and was never stopped from doing so.”

Kristen Welker contributed.



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