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White House: VA Nominee ‘Deserves A Fair Hearing’ As Senators Weigh Allegations

The president met Tuesday with Navy Rear Adm. Dr. Ronny Jackson, a White House official confirmed to NPR. The official said Jackson wants to keep fighting and that Trump supports his decision.

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The White House is defending President Trump’s choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, even as questions swirl around the nominee, White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson.

“Dr. Jackson deserves a fair hearing, and we are not going to write him off in any way before his hearing, and quite frankly neither should members of Congress,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Rachel Martin on NPR’s Morning Edition Wednesday.

Gidley said the FBI background investigation into Jackson “was clean and there are no issues in the background check whatsoever.”

Jackson’s confirmation hearing, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was indefinitely postponed. And even as Trump defended his nominee, he suggested Jackson might prefer to withdraw.

“What do you need it for?” Trump said he told Jackson Tuesday. “I don’t want to put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and too disgusting.”

Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who has served as personal physician to both Trump and former President Barack Obama, was already facing tough questions about whether he had the managerial experience to lead the VA.

Then, late last week, complaints surfaced about Jackson drinking on duty during foreign trips, improperly dispensing prescription medication, and overseeing a hostile work environment in the White House medical unit, according to Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

The complaints came from more than 20 active duty and retired military personnel who had worked for Jackson, Tester said.

“There’s a lot of smoke there,” Tester told All Things Considered‘s Ari Shapiro about the as-yet-unsubstantiated allegations.

Veterans committee member Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition Wednesday that “what’s concerning for this committee is the kind of information that has come forward, and we need to find out more about his ability to handle the second-largest agency in the entire government.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican on the committee, has said Jackson denied ever having a drink while on duty.

Reporters caught up with Jackson on Capitol Hill Tuesday on his way to Moran’s office. “I was looking forward to the hearing,” Jackson said in video captured by MSNBC. “Kind of disappointed that it’s been postponed, but I’m looking forward to getting it rescheduled and answering everybody’s questions.”

Asked whether he “categorically denied” the allegations against him, he said, “I’m looking forward to the hearings, so we can sit down and I can explain everything to everyone and answer all the senators’ questions.”

Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Tester sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday requesting additional documentation related to Jackson’s tenure as the president’s doctor and his role leading the White House medical team.

The letter requested information about rumored Pentagon inspector general reports said to detail allegations into Jackson’s conduct.

The White House says Jackson has never been the subject of an Inspector General’s report and pointed to glowing performance reviews he received from both Trump and Obama.

“Ronny’s positive impact cannot be overstated,” Obama wrote in 2015. “He is a tremendous asset to the entire White House team.”

Trump echoed that sentiment last year, writing, “Dr. Jackson is a great doctor + leader — ‘2 star material,’ ” in bold sharpie.

Jackson has served in the medical unit since 2006, caring for three presidents. He specializes in emergency medicine and served with a battlefield surgical unit in Iraq.

An administration official suggested the complaints may be fallout from Jackson’s rivalry with another doctor in the White House Medical Unit dating back to 2012.

The rivalry between Jackson and Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman prompted a “command climate assessment” of the medical unit that year, which found low morale.

“The staff characterized the working environment as being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce with one parent undermining and talking bad about the other,” according to a report of the findings.

The White House says it was Jackson who requested that assessment and hinted Kuhlman is behind the more recent complaints. Jackson “will certainly not be railroaded by a bitter ex-colleague who was removed from his job,” said a White House statement.

Trump caught many observers off guard when he picked Jackson to replace ousted VA Secretary David Shulkin. Unlike Shulkin, who had managed a large medical organization before joining the VA, Jackson has never overseen more than 75 people.

“I know there’s an experience problem because of lack of experience,” Trump admitted Tuesday. “But he is a man who has just been an extraordinary person. His family, extraordinary success. Great doctor. Great everything.”

Administration spokesman Gidley said, “The question is, does anyone ever have management experience for an organization this size?”

Jackson is also a blank slate on one of the key policy questions facing the VA: what role the private sector should play in providing veterans health care. Many of the large veterans service organizations are wary of what they see as a push towards privatization. Shulkin complained that he was fired, in part, for resisting that push.

Trump insisted he would stand behind his nominee, even as he suggested the political battle might not be worth it.

“I wouldn’t do it,” Trump also said Tuesday. “What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country? I really don’t think, personally, he should do it. But it’s totally his — I would stand behind him — totally his decision.”

The president met Tuesday in the Oval Office with Jackson, a White House official confirmed to NPR.

The official, who declined to speak on the record, said Jackson wants to keep fighting and that Trump supports his decision.

Former Obama administration staffers also defended Jackson’s character, even as they questioned whether he is the right choice for the VA job. One former Obama staffer who spent a lot of time around Jackson on official trips said he had never seen evidence that Jackson drank while on duty. The former staffer said that Jackson and other White House doctors provided Ambien, a sleep medication, when staffers requested them while on overnight flights to Europe and Asia.

NPR national politics correspondent Mara Liasson contributed to this report.

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‘I pray for Donald Trump, I do’: Bishop Michael Curry addresses US divisions

The preacher who shone at the royal wedding has returned home to the progressive Reclaiming Jesus movement

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘I pray for Donald Trump, I do’: Bishop Michael Curry addresses US divisions” was written by Lauren Gambino in Washington, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th May 2018 11.49 UTC

Faith leaders working with Bishop Michael Curry to turn his sermons of love into a movement see his invitation to preach at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a moment of divine intervention.

“God used a royal wedding to have the gospel preached probably to the largest audience at one time,” said Jim Wallis, a progressive Christian leader and a founder of the Reclaiming Jesus movement. “My dear friend Bishop Curry was just being himself in that pulpit. But God made that happen in all kinds of humorous and miraculous ways.”

For 24 hours after the ceremony at Windsor Castle last week, Curry rivaled Pope Francis as the most recognizable faith leader in the world. He was interviewed by major networks on both sides of the Atlantic. Fans asked for selfies. He was even parodied on Saturday Night Live.

Then the first African American leader of the Episcopal Church returned home, to embark on a new mission. He wants to address what he and other clergy behind Reclaiming Jesus call “a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches”.

“My hope and prayer is that what we’re really doing is helping the average Christian person of faith find their voice,” Curry told the Guardian. “We’re trying to find a way to bring people together and the values that we share is our starting place for doing that.”

The 65-year-old, who was born in Chicago and raised by his grandmother after his mother’s death, is the descendent of slaves and sharecroppers in North Carolina. His presence at Westminster Abbey, a reflection of Markle’s African American ancestry, was a symbolic moment for two countries riven by race and class. In his speech, Curry invoked Martin Luther King Jr and slavery, telling the couple: “Make of this old world, a new world.”

Bishop Michael Curry gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Bishop Michael Curry gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

That was the message he brought to Washington on Thursday, when he linked arms with prominent progressive leaders and led hundreds of Christians in silent procession to the White House. On the sidewalk facing the seat of American power, the elders read from a declaration as hundreds raised votive candles.

The Reclaiming Jesus movement, like other progressive religious groups, is asking people of faith to reject policies that ban refugees and immigrants from the US and equivocations on white supremacy – without joining a political side.

“We don’t tell people how to vote,” Curry said. “We don’t tell people exactly what policies they must stand for. We identify what are the values that will guide you in your life. But the rest? That’s between you and God.”

The lengthy founding document lists six core principles the co-signers hope will help shift the conversation around what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: a focus on the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. It does not mention Donald Trump by name but it does repudiate his policies and the forces unleashed by his election.

It calls on Christians to denounce the “resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership”, and rejects Trump’s America First agenda.

The response from Trump’s most ardent evangelical supporters has underlined how deep divisions are carved – and how difficult it will be to find common ground.

“There is nothing wrong with putting America first,” Robert Jeffress, a pastor at First Baptist Dallas and a prominent member of the president’s evangelical advisory board, told Fox News. “That is what a government is supposed to do. That is God’s responsibility for government. As individual Christians, yes, we put others before ourselves but government doesn’t do that.”

Jeffress said Curry was “sincere” in his message but also “sincerely wrong” in his understanding of what the Bible says about the role of government.

Curry said he had expected a strong reaction to the Reclaiming Jesus declaration.

“It’s a spiritual document and spiritual documents are moral and ethical statements so they have implications,” he said. “We identify cultural maladies – we’re not pointing the finger at anybody. We’re not blaming anybody.”

Asked if he prays for the president, Curry replied without reservation: “I pray for Donald Trump, I do. He’s a child of God, just like the immigrant is a child of God.”

Pastor Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump in Washington.
Pastor Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump in Washington. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If Curry had an audience with the president, he said, he would tell him the same thing he tells himself and anybody else he prays for: “Live by the practice of love for your neighbor.”

“Selfish, self-centered living by any or all of us is what the Christian tradition has meant by sin all along,” he said.

Before the vigil, Curry returned to the pulpit to deliver a soaring if brief sermon at the National City Christian Church.

“Love your neighbor,” Curry said, in the magisterial cadence now recognized around the world. “Love the neighbor you like and the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbor, your black neighbor, your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino neighbor and your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor! That’s why we’re here!”

Among those listening were John Carr, who runs the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. He said what he saw on Thursday was not a political movement but the “rise of the religious middle”.

“In these incredibly polarizing and frankly demoralizing times,” he said, “we need a moral message that’s anchored in faith not ideology and politics”.

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Rudy Giuliani admits ‘Spygate’ is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller

  • President’s lawyer gives meandering CNN interview
  • ‘It’s for public opinion’, he says of claims of campaign informant

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rudy Giuliani admits ‘Spygate’ is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller” was written by Tom McCarthy, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th May 2018 13.47 UTC

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday that his repeated imputations of a supposed scandal at the heart of the Robert Mueller investigation – which Donald Trump calls “Spygate” – amounted to a tactic to sway public opinion and limit the risk of the president being impeached.

“Of course we have to do it to defend the president,” Trump’s lawyer told CNN State of the Union host Dana Bash, who accused him of being part of a campaign to undermine the Mueller investigation. Trump has repeatedly called the special counsel’s work a “witch hunt”, despite its producing five guilty pleas, including by three former Trump aides, and evidence of Russian tampering in US elections.

“It is for public opinion,” Giuliani said of his public campaign of dissimulation. “Because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. And so our jury – and it should be – is the American people.

“So Republicans largely, many independents, even some Democrats now question the legitimacy of [the Mueller investigation],” Giuliani said. “Democrats I would suggest for their own self-interest, this is not a good issue to go into the midterms.”

As Giuliani acknowledged the political nature of his public campaign against Mueller, Trump advanced that campaign on Twitter, lamenting what he said were “young and beautiful lives … devastated and destroyed” by the investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“They went back home in tatters!” Trump wrote. It was unclear who he was talking about.

Trump, Giuliani and other allies claim reports that an FBI informant monitored linkes between Trump aides and Russia show there was a “spy” on the Trump campaign. Senior figures in the intelligence community have rubbished such claims.

On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, the Democrat Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said: “This is part of the propaganda machine. Let’s spread a completely fallacious story and then say it needs to be investigated, and give it a life of its own.”

Giuliani is a former US attorney for the southern district of New York. In his CNN appearance, he called former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, both fierce critics of Trump, “two clowns”.

“I have no regard at all for Brennan or Clapper. I think they’re two clowns…” Giuliani said. “They’re not civil servants as far as I know.”

Clapper told the same show: “In the space of a week I’ve progressed from being the dumbest intelligence officer on the planet, from President Trump, to a clown. So it’s progress, I guess.”

Michael Hayden, another former director of the CIA, told ABC Trump was “simply trying to delegitimize Mueller … and he’s willing to throw anything against the wall.

“From the outside looking in, from everything I know, everyone has handled this just about the way it should have been handled.”

Giuliani’s month-old job as a spokesman for the president has been marked by confusion, contradiction and scandal. He began by saying money used to seal a 2016 hush agreement with the porn actor Stormy Daniels had come from Trump, who had earlier flatly denied, on camera, any knowledge of the $130,000.

“We’re not changing any stories,” Trump told reporters. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.

Giuliani also said earlier this month Trump would have had his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pay off women in addition to Daniels “if necessary”. Giuliani told ABC he had “no knowledge” of any other payments to women.

Trump has repeatedly excused and praised Giuliani. “He started yesterday,” Trump said on 4 May. “He’ll get his facts straight. It’s actually very simple, there has been a lot of misinformation really.”

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Harvey Weinstein appears in court charged with rape and other sexual offences

Disgraced movie producer handed himself in to New York police on Friday morning over claims by two women

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Harvey Weinstein appears in court charged with rape and other sexual offences” was written by Amanda Holpuch and Jamiles Lartey in New York, for theguardian.com on Friday 25th May 2018 16.51 UTC

The disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein has been charged with rape, a criminal sex act, sex abuse and sexual misconduct for alleged incidents involving two separate women, after he earlier surrendered to authorities in New York.

During a brief court appearance on Friday, Weinstein remained quiet as his lawyers agreed he would post $1m (£750,000) bail and wear an electronic monitoring device. He also surrendered his passport, and agreed not to travel beyond New York and Connecticut.

A prosecutor told the judge that the investigation was ongoing, and that authorities have encouraged other survivors to come forward.

“The defendant used his position, money and power to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually,” she said.

Speaking outside court, Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said his client intends to plead not guilty. He called the charges “constitutionally flawed” and “not factually supported”.

It is the first criminal case to be brought against Weinstein since the revelations about him erupted last October and sparked the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein, 66, was led in handcuffs, with a detective on either side holding his arms, from the police station into a waiting car. A few minutes later he arrived at criminal court in Manhattan, and was marched in by the detectives to be arraigned on the charges. He has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.

Weinstein was stone-faced and sullen, and did not respond to questions from reporters.

A statement from the New York police department said: “The NYPD thanks these brave survivors for their courage to come forward and seek justice.”

Weinstein surrendered to police early Friday morning at the NYPD first precinct in Tribeca in lower Manhattan, where the Weinstein Company has its headquarters and where many of the alleged offenses are said to have taken place, either at the offices or a nearby hotel.

 

He stepped from a black SUV wearing a dark jacket over a light blue sweater and white open-necked shirt. He was carrying three books under his arm. He went into the police station before a crowd of news cameras. He did not respond to shouts of “Harvey!”

Two law enforcement officials told the Associated Press the case will include allegations by Lucia Evans, an aspiring actor who has said the Hollywood mogul forced her to perform oral sex on him in his office. She was among the first women to speak out about the producer.

One official said it was likely the case also will include at least one other victim who has not come forward publicly.

After Weinstein’s arrest, Rose McGowan, one of his most prominent accusers, told the UK’s BBC Radio 4: “It’s a concrete slap in the face of abuse of power. I hope we emerge victorious and, if anything, we have emerged victorious, no mater what, because people are listening now.”

Lucia Evans told the New Yorker in a story published in October that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex during a daytime meeting at his New York office in 2004, the summer before her senior year at Middlebury College.

“I said, over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t,’” she said.

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, had been under enormous public pressure to bring a criminal case against Weinstein.

A grand jury has been hearing evidence in the case for weeks.

In March, Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor, took the extraordinary step of ordering the state’s attorney general to investigate whether Vance acted properly in 2015 when he decided not to prosecute Weinstein over a previous allegation of unwanted groping, made by an Italian model. That investigation is in its preliminary stages.

More than 75 women have accused Weinstein of wrongdoing. Several actors and models accused him of criminal sexual assaults, but many of the encounters happened too long ago for any prosecution. Rose McGowan said Weinstein raped her in 1997 in Utah, the Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra said Weinstein raped her in her New York apartment in 1992 and the Norwegian actor Natassia Malthe said Weinstein attacked her in a London hotel room in 2008.

The statute of limitations for rape and certain other sex crimes in New York was eliminated in 2006, but not for attacks that happened prior to 2001.

New York City police detectives said in early November that they were investigating allegations by another accuser, the Boardwalk Empire star Paz de la Huerta, who told police in October that Weinstein raped her twice in 2010. She is not one of the victims in the case on Friday; hers was still pending, officials said.

Authorities in California and London are also investigating assault allegations. Britain has no statute of limits on rape cases; some of the allegations under investigation there date to the 1980s.

Two of the books Weinstein carried into the police station have been identified as Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution by Todd S Purdum, and Elia Kazan: A Biography by Richard Schickel.

Something Wonderful was published last month. Weinstein might see something of himself in the story of successful showmen impresarios credited with changing the cultural landscape.

There are also possible parallels in the story of Elia Kazan, the immigrant director of groundbreaking, multi-award-winning classics such as On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. Originally a communist, Kazan was later scorned by much of liberal Hollywood for testifying before the House committee on un-American activities in 1952. When Kazan was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1999, dozens of audience members chose not to applaud and 250 demonstrators picketed the event.

Schickel’s 2005 biography also documents Kazan’s many affairs. Three times married, he had affairs with many female actors and leading ladies including Marilyn Monroe. Yet Kazan’s reputation as a formidable Hollywood artist weathered political and personal scandals.

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