Seeking ‘Tougher’ Direction for ICE, Trump Withdraws His Nominee

Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Friday that he withdrew his nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement because he wanted the agency to go in a “tougher” direction, a surprise decision before the president’s trip to the southwestern border.

Ronald D. Vitiello, who was nominated last summer by Mr. Trump to run ICE, the agency that arrests, detains and deports people who are in the United States illegally, has been serving as the agency’s acting director since last June. He had planned to accompany the president on his trip to California, but was left behind.

“Ron’s a good man, but we’re going in a tougher direction,” Mr. Trump said to reporters as he left the White House en route to Calexico, Calif.

Mr. Vitiello’s nomination had been awaiting approval by a second Senate committee and confirmation by the full chamber. In an email to ICE employees on Friday afternoon, he signaled that he planned to remain at the immigration agency. No replacement has yet been named.

“While I will not become the permanent director of ICE, I look forward to working alongside you in serving the American public…

The Enigmatic Russian Paying Maria Butina’s Legal Bills

STR / AFP / Getty

In the murky world of Russian influence operations, a troll farm based out of St. Petersburg can flood American voters with propaganda and disinformation at a deniable distance from the Kremlin. A Russian gun-rights group can cultivate U.S. conservatives at arm’s length from Vladimir Putin. And an unregistered Russian agent being held in a Northern Virginia detention center can have her legal bills paid by an NGO that is partly funded, but not directly controlled, by the Kremlin.

Maria Butina, the first Russian to plead guilty to seeking to infiltrate and influence American policy makers in the run-up to the 2016 election, remains somewhat of a mystery. But her prosecution in Washington, D.C., last year shed light on yet another avenue through which Russia tried to influence American politics in 2016: namely, via an old-fashioned, on-the-ground operation, conducted not by experienced spies but by disarming political operatives. New revelations about Butina’s legal-defense fund in Russia shows that one of her backers has been trying to promote fringe separatist movements in the U.S. since well before 2016.

In 2018, Alexander Ionov, the founder of the NGO, called the Anti-Globalization Movement, began raising money for Butina through a fundraising website that says all proceeds will be “used to finance legal protection and to improve the conditions of Maria’s detention in prison.” To date, Ionov has raised about 2 million rubles (approximately $30,000) to help pay her legal fees, he told me in a recent interview. The Russian embassy, which has been advocating for Butina’s release, did not return a request for comment.

Butina was arrested in dramatic fashion in July, the day before President Donald Trump’s Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has since become enmeshed in the broader Trump-Russia story. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has been investigating a potential conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia, did not charge Butina as part of his probe—prosecutors in Washington did. (Butina’s longtime boyfriend, Paul Erickson, was recently indicted for shady business dealings that have nothing to do with Russia.)

The fact that Ionov—a 30-year-old Russian lobbyist with ties to the Kremlin—has inserted himself here seems to deepen the intrigue of Butina’s case. (Ionov denied to me that he works for the Russian government.) The Anti-Globalization…

Dispute dashes hopes on deal to avert shutdown

Clock ticking on compromise to prevent another shutdown

(CNN)America could be sliding toward a new government shutdown and President Donald Trump may face a fateful choice over his border wall as another knife-edge week opens in Washington.

Democratic and Republican negotiators last week seemed to be on course for a deal to fund the government and boost border security short of paying for a wall, and it seemed possible that Trump might grudgingly sign on.

But the talks ground to a halt over the weekend in a dispute over limits demanded by Democrats on the number of places available in detention centers used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations away from border areas.

The disagreement appeared to dash hopes that a deal could be reached by Monday to allow each chamber of Congress plenty of time to pass legislation well before a Friday deadline.

“I think the talks are stalled right now,” said Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the 17-member conference committee on “Fox News Sunday.”

If no deal is reached and no stop-gap spending measure emerges, a new government shutdown could be triggered, again subjecting 800,000 federal workers who could be furloughed or asked to work without pay.

The most recent shutdown, which was the longest in history, ended last month in victory for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who refused to fund the wall — and with a damaging political defeat for the President in their first significant clash since the midterm elections.

The unpredictable Trump could rattle the effort to avoid a second shutdown when he heads to El Paso, Texas, on Monday for his first political rally of the year — a context which seems unlikely to see him offer flexibility on the notion of building a wall.

Sudden pessimism over the conference talks between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate reflected the uncertainty and raw political nerves on Capitol Hill at the dawn of a new era of divided government.

It also reflected the excruciatingly tough task of seeking compromise on immigration policy, an issue with visceral power for both parties and which is almost an existential issue for the presidency of Trump.

Even if it turns out that the weekend’s hiccup is just a typical Capitol Hill delay en route to a deal, it could precipitate even more uncertainty, since the compromise is certain to fall short of $5.7 billion in money Trump has demanded for his wall.

In that scenario, Trump would again face a choice between climbing down on the central issue of his 2016 campaign and alienating grassroots supporters and conservative pundits or refusing to sign a bill passed by Congress.

If he digs in, the President could spark a new partial shutdown for which he would again risk being blamed.

Last week, Shelby had fueled optimism for an agreement after visiting Trump to update him on the process.

But on Sunday, he was more downbeat when asked if hopes of an agreement on Monday were realistic.

Two senior Republican aides told CNN that the cap demanded by Democrats on internal enforcement beds would force ICE officials to make impossible decisions about which immigrants…

Sheriff: End political vitriol, solve immigration, to honor Officer Singh

Corporal Ronil Singh, a police officer with the City of Newman (Calif.) Police Department, was a shining example of what’s good about immigration in America. A young man, full of life, devoted to his family and his community, always putting the needs of others ahead of his own.

He was committed to achieving his American dream by becoming a police officer. Immigrating lawfully and legally to the United States from Fiji, Ronil worked tirelessly to achieve his dream, even taking English speech lessons to overcome his accent in an effort to be better understood. He studied criminal justice in college, graduated from the police academy and took advantage of every opportunity to find a full-time job in law enforcement, finally getting hired with the Newman Police Department.

He was married with a 5-month-old son and shared a Christmas photo of his family on social media before leaving his home to protect and serve his community.

Soon after that, he was murdered in the line of duty.

Tragically and senselessly, his American dream was taken from him by a criminal illegal alien who was stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence. In a split second, the suspect used a stolen firearm to murder Cpl. Singh, who was simply protecting his community from harm.

The suspect, a known criminal and gang member, was present in the United States illegally. With prior arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, he was intoxicated yet again. Tipped by a witness, Cpl. Singh located the suspect driving and conducted an enforcement stop. Moments later, Cpl. Singh found himself engaged in a gunfight with the suspect and, as he lay on the ground, mortally wounded, he called on his radio: “Shots fired, I’ve been hit.” When other officers and deputy sheriffs arrived, Singh was unconscious and unresponsive. His colleagues desperately tried to save his life, but it was too late.

The Newman Police Department is a small agency in southwest Stanislaus County. Never in the history of the agency have they suffered a line-of-duty death, and the murder of Cpl. Singh was an overwhelmingly shocking experience. The Stanislaus Sheriff’s Office, the largest law enforcement agency in Stanislaus County, immediately allocated resources to the criminal investigation and the manhunt for the suspect.

Witness statements, and surveillance images from the convenience store camera system where the suspect purchased beer, gave us what we needed to pursue and capture the criminal coward who pulled the trigger, taking Cpl. Singh’s life. From the Sheriff’s Homicide Team, Sheriff’s Team Investigating Narcotics and Gangs (STING) and Special…

Leg or gizzard? Inside Texas Politics dishes 2018 ‘Turkey Awards’

2018 Turkey Awards – Segment one

Inside Texas Politics began with its decade-long tradition of presenting Turkey awards during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Turkey legs were given to politicians or political organizations that performed well, and gizzards were given to the ones who struggled during the year. Bud Kennedy from the Star-Telegram and Ross Ramsey from the Texas Tribune joined host Jason Whitely to give 18 deserving recipients either legs or gizzards. Those who received awards were Congressman Beto O’Rourke, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, Colin Allred and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and his brother former…

Portland’s Mayor Got Stuck in the New Landscape of Street Politics. A Closer Look at Ted Wheeler’s Very Bad Month.

Portland’s Mayor Got Stuck in the New Landscape of Street Politics. A Closer Look at Ted Wheeler’s Very Bad Month.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler celebrates Gov. Kate Brown’s reelection on Nov. 6, 2018. (Justin Katigbak)

He’s the top politician in a deep-blue city in the midst of a blue state. This summer, he refused for weeks to deploy cops to disband a protest at the offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, earning him the ire of the right wing. He’s been pilloried on Fox News and right-wing talk radio.

Over the past six weeks, Wheeler has tried to end the alarmingly violent street protests sparked by out-of-state Trump supporters. And last week, he attempted but failed to pass an ordinance through the City Council that would have given police more tools to restrict on the protests.

Though that effort fizzled, he did finish last week on a high note when, over the weekend, his police force calmly handled another round of dueling protesters.
But his behavior shows odd parallels to the Trump era he is defying. The day after Wheeler failed to pass his ordinance, he made news with a grumble: “I cannot wait for the next 24 months to be up.”

“It’s a very publicly tough week for him,” says Jim Moore, professor of political science at Pacific University. “There are times when the job doesn’t seem worth it.”

Here are five key moments that show the pressures the mayor faces—and how those pressures are affecting his decisions.

(Olya Belleri)
(Olya Belleri)

On Oct. 9, Fox News ran an eight-minute segment that labeled Wheeler a “cowardly mayor” for his alleged failure to enforce the law. “The mayor’s a nutcase,” Fox News piled on.

The proximate cause was a conflict between protesters and a Lexus, whose driver had pushed through the crowd. The larger context was Wheeler’s refusal to clear out the anti-ICE blockade in June.

Wheeler claimed not to care about his own image but instead defended the police. “I’m willing to take criticism all day long from Fox News, but I am not willing to accept criticism from Fox News of the men and women of the Portland Police Bureau,” he said.

On Oct. 15, after more national news stories on yet another street brawl, he rushed his protest ordinance out the door, giving colleagues only two hours’ notice.

Jim Pasero, director of the conservative group ActionPAC, says Wheeler had seen the TV clips and felt a need to…

Trump’s birthright plan: The legality, politics and history

New American citizens wave American flags while 'America The Beautiful' is sung during a naturalisation ceremony
New American citizens wave American flags during a naturalisation ceremony

President Donald Trump says he plans to end “birthright citizenship” in the US by executive order. Can he do that?

In an interview with Axios President Trump claimed that he was working on an end to birthright citizenship, the 150-year-old principle that says anyone born on US soil is an American citizen.

“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t,” Mr Trump said. “You can definitely do it with an Act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”

Mr Trump claimed that such an order is currently in the works, and not long after, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted: “I plan to introduce legislation along the same lines as the proposed executive order from President @realDonaldTrump.”

The president’s comments have ignited a furious debate about whether or not the president has the unilateral power to do such a thing, and whether the underlying premise – that birthright citizenship is exploited by undocumented immigrants – has any merit.

A draft of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, outlining the rights and priveleges of American citizenship, ratified in 1868.
The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1868

1) What is ‘birthright citizenship’?

The first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment establishes the principle of “birthright citizenship”:

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“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

Immigration hardliners argue that the policy is a “great magnet for illegal immigration”, and that it encourages undocumented pregnant women to cross the border in order to give birth, an act that has been pejoratively called “birth tourism” or having an “anchor baby”.

“The baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all those benefits. It’s ridiculous,” Mr Trump told Axios. “It has to end.”

A 2015 Pew Research Center study found that 60% of Americans opposed ending birthright citizenship, while 37% were in favour.

2) How did it come about?

photograph of Wong Kim Ark from an federal immigration investigation case conducted under the Chinese Exclusion Acts (1882-1943)
Wong Kim Ark was born in the US but denied re-entry after leaving

The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868, after the close of the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment had abolished slavery in 1865, while the Fourteenth settled the question of the citizenship of freed, American-born former slaves.

Previous Supreme Court decisions, like Dred Scott v Sandford in 1857, had decided that African Americans could never be US citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment overrode that.

In 1898, the US Supreme Court affirmed that birthright citizenship applies to the children of immigrants in the case of Wong Kim Ark v United States. Wong was a 24-year-old child of Chinese immigrants who was born in the US, but denied re-entry when he returned from a visit to China. Wong successfully argued that because he was born in the US, his parent’s immigration status did not impact the application of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“Wong Kim Ark vs United States affirmed that regardless of race or the immigration status of one’s parents, all persons born in the United States were entitled to all of the rights that citizenship offered,” writes Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. “The court has not re-examined this issue since then.”

3) Can Trump end birthright citizenship by executive order?

Most legal scholars agree that President Trump cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.

“He’s doing something that’s going to upset a lot…

FEMA head defends $10 million transfer to ICE, accuses Democrat of ‘playing politics’

The head of FEMA on Wednesday accused a Democratic senator of “playing politics” for claiming that the Trump administration had diverted $10 million from the agency to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to support immigration enforcement.

Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, defended the transfer in an interview on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” saying that it had nothing to do with response efforts and that the agency spends billions of dollars to manage disasters. FEMA’s annual budget is estimated to be $15 billion.

“Right now, that money has nothing to do with what you see behind us,” he said in an interview from the FEMA response center in Washington. “It does not pay for this response, it is not coming out of the disaster relief fund, it has no impact on our efforts to be prepared for Hurricane Florence. It’s just, unfortunately, we have a congressman that is playing politics on the back of Florence. There’s no story there.”

The story broke Tuesday night on MSBNC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” when Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., alleged that money earmarked for disaster relief and emergency response efforts had been taken out of FEMA’s accounts and shifted to ICE.

The transfer occurred…

The Key Lesson of Ayanna Pressley’s Victory

Ayanna Pressley supporters celebrate her victory on Tuesday.

Last night, in one of the most remarkable upsets of this remarkable political season, Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley clobbered longtime incumbent Representative Michael Capuano in the Seventh District of Massachusetts. It made me feel old.

It made me feel old because I remember a time, before redistricting, when most of the Seventh District of Massachusetts lay in the Eighth District. And it was in the Eighth District, as a 15-year-old in 1986, that I learned lessons about American politics that turn out to no longer be true.

That year, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who had represented the Eighth since before I was born, announced his retirement. And I began volunteering for an ardently liberal state senator named George Bachrach, who hoped to succeed him. Unfortunately for Bachrach, Joseph Kennedy II—Robert Kennedy’s son—soon entered the race, as well. Kennedy was among the least-qualified, least-impressive candidates in a crowded field. Yet in the campaign’s closing weeks, Boston’s power brokers closed ranks behind him. Kennedy won endorsements from O’Neill, Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, the Boston Herald, and The Boston Globe, and went on to win. (Gerald Sullivan and Michael Kenney tell the story in their book, The Race for the Eighth.)

The message seemed clear: At the end of the day, Bachrach—a New York transplant with Jewish roots—was an outsider. Kennedy may have been less qualified, but he was more Boston. In O’Neill’s famous dictum, all politics really was local.

But that maxim is now out of date. Capuano, Kennedy’s successor, was born in Somerville, in the heart of the Eighth (now the Seventh) District. Like generations of Massachusetts pols before him, he attended law school at Boston College. He served as an alderman in Somerville, then mayor. He garnered the endorsements of Boston’s top Democrats. In a recent profile, The New York Times described him as “talking knowingly about local issues with a range of leaders he has cultivated for years” in a “thick Boston accent.”

It didn’t matter. Yesterday, Boston, a city long known for its insularity and…

GOP seizing Mollie Tibbetts murder as political issue

MONTEZUMA, Iowa — The disappearance of a well-liked college student from America’s heartland had touched many people since she vanished one month ago while out for a run. But the stunning news that a Mexican man living in the U.S. illegally has allegedly confessed to kidnapping and murdering her thrust the case into the middle of the contentious immigration debate and midterm elections.

President Trump seized on the man’s arrest in the death of Mollie Tibbetts on Tuesday to call the nation’s immigration laws “a disgrace” that will only be fixed by electing more Republicans. Iowa’s Republican governor, facing a tough re-election challenge in November, blasted an immigration system that “allowed a predator like this to live in our community.” And Iowa’s two U.S. senators, both Republicans, called the death a tragedy that “could have been prevented.”

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of the 20-year-old Tibbetts, whose July 18 disappearance set off a massive search involving state and federal authorities.

Within hours, Mr. Trump noted the arrest at a rally in West Virginia on a day when his former personal lawyer and ex-campaign chairman both faced major legal problems.

“You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman,” Mr. Trump told the crowd in Charleston. “Should’ve never happened. Illegally in our country. We’ve had a huge impact, but the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are such a disgrace, we’re getting them changed, but we have to get more Republicans. We have to get ’em.”

CBS Des Moines affiliate KCCI-TV reports Iowa Gov….