Here's what's going on in Washington this week:
- President Donald Trump is spending yet another week attacking his fellow Republicans, tweeting criticism of Senators Mitch McConnell and Jeff Flake, as well as Speaker Paul Ryan.
- Trump has threatened to force a shut down of the federal government if Congress doesn't provide funding for his wall on the Southern border, despite repeatedly promising he would make Mexico pay for its construction.
- On Friday, amid Hurricane Harvey making landfall, Trump pardoned ex-Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. News also broke that Trump's controversial adviser, Sebastian Gorka, is leaving the White House.
- Days earlier at a rally in Phoenix, Trump lied about how he responded to last week’s white supremacist event in Charlottesville and blamed the media for the rise of racists and neo-Nazis in a rambling, almost 90-minute speech.
- Trump also laid out his administration's long awaited strategy for the war in Afghanistan on Monday.
Joe Arpaio's pardon didn't have to go through Justice Department
The Department of Justice's pardon office did not review former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio's pardon, a DOJ official confirmed to BuzzFeed News late Friday.
It didn't have to.
The US Constitution gives the president broad power to issue pardons and commute sentences, and there is no law requiring the president to consult with the Justice Department. President Trump is not the first president to issue a pardon that didn't go through DOJ, but he now joins the ranks of presidents who made controversial clemency decisions outside of the standard pardon process. And he did so with his very first pardon.
Read more here.
Former news editor at the right-wing outlet Breitbart resigns as Trump adviser
Sebastian Gorka, an adviser to President Trump, has exited the White House — though how and why remains unclear.
Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president, is known for his focus on Islamic terrorism and as a frequent presence on cable news. He previously worked as an international news editor at the right-wing outlet Breitbart, under the leadership of Steve Bannon — the one time chief strategist to President Trump who has since returned to Breitbart.
Amid a series of breaking news stories on Friday night, Gorka's exit from the White House was first reported as a resignation by The Federalist, which a source confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
A White House official, however, disputed that account and suggested that he had been pushed out. "Sebastian Gorka did not resign, but I can confirm he no longer works at the White House," the official said in a statement to reporters.
Read more here.
Trump rewards controversial former Arizona sheriff with pardon for violating federal court order
President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, rewarding a vocal political supporter who was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to halt a policing tactic to catch undocumented immigrants.
The controversial 85-year-old former Maricopa County sheriff, who lost re-election in 2016 after 23 years in office, was found guilty of criminal contempt in July for defying a federal judge's order to stop detaining people based on suspicion of their immigration status when there was no evidence that they had broken a state law.
Facing up to six months in prison for the misdemeanor offense, Arpaio's lawyers had said he would appeal. Instead, the White House cited his "exemplify selfless public service" in issuing the pardon.
Read more here.
Top Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn says the White House "must do better" in condemning white supremacists
Gary Cohn, a prominent economic adviser to the president, reportedly drafted a resignation letter following the president's comments that there was violence "on both sides" at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The New York Times first reported the drafted letter, following Cohn's criticism of Trump in an interview with The Financial Times Thursday.
In the interview, Cohn, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said that he did not want to leave his job, as a “patriotic American,” but that he felt "compelled to voice [his] distress over the events of the last two weeks."
The White House "can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally" condemning white supremacist hate groups, he said.
Cohn, who is Jewish, is among the most prominent members of the administration to publicly criticize the president's handling of the violence, though CEOs departed his business councils en masse and some members of the military made critical comments in the two weeks since the rally.
A former executive at Goldman Sachs, Cohn is also known to be a candidate for Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
“Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK," he told the Financial Times Thursday. “As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job."
-- Cora Lewis
Trump bashes filibuster rule, praises Kelly and touts accomplishments
In morning tweets, President Trump criticized GOP Senators yet again for not eliminating the filibuster rule, claiming "8 Democrats control the Senate," and blamed the procedure for the lack of his administration's legislative success.
He then touted his Chief of Staff's abilities, told the public not to believe the critical "Fake News," and claimed few, if any, administrations had accomplished what his has so far.
He then plugged a book, Retaking America, by commentator Nick Adams, and quoted praise of himself. It was not immediately clear what the origins of the quote were.
And Trump saved some ire for Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who last week said the president wasn't displaying the "stability" or "competence" needed for the office, following his handling of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.
Trump called it a "strange statement," adding that "Tennessee not happy!"
Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the comments "a ridiculous and outrageous claim that doesn't dignify a response from this podium."
-- Cora Lewis
Tangible signs that Trump and his allies are dashing into re-election mode
President Donald Trump is staging extraordinarily early re-election rallies, and his former pollster already is testing his strength against speculative primary challengers.
But the most tangible signs that Trump and his allies are dashing into 2020 mode are happening in a much quieter place: the Republican National Committee’s summer meetings here in Nashville.
Brad Parscale, a trusted adviser, served as the Trump family’s eyes and ears at a Wednesday budget session. He and Michael Glassner, the head of Trump’s campaign committee, were among the key aides seen chatting up RNC members in the halls and at the bars and restaurants inside the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross spoke at a Thursday lunch. Eric Trump, the president’s son, was scheduled to speak at a Thursday dinner.
In between, the new Presidential Nominating Process Committee convened for the first time.
Read more here.
—Henry J. Gomez
Pro-Trump media bristles as John Kelly limits what gets to the president's desk
Pro-Trump media personalities and websites are worried they may be losing a dear reader: President Trump.
New White House chief of staff John Kelly is limiting the flow of information to Trump's desk, including holding out articles from far right and anti-establishment sources, BuzzFeed News has confirmed.
"I'm scared that the military complex is taking over the formerly populist White House," said Lucian Wintrich, who writes for Gateway Pundit, one of the websites in the pro-Trump sphere, which has trafficked in conspiracies in the past.
Longtime Trump adviser and occasional Infowars guest Roger Stone said Trump's "news summaries have been sanitized, which means no Infowars, no Daily Caller, no Breitbart. As such, his views are shaped by CNN and FOX News. He watches network news as well, which is almost antiquated. That's why he's so mad about the Russia investigation."
"He's controlling every article that passes through the West Wing right now," pro-Trump media personality Mike Cernovich, who has broken news on the administration but also shared conspiracy theories in the past, said of Kelly. "This shuts out a lot of people."
Read more here.
—Adrian Carrasquillo and Charlie Warzel
White House dodges questions on border wall
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly dodged questions Thursday as to why President Trump is threatening a total government shutdown if Congress doesn't allocate funding for his wall on the southern border, despite pledging countless times in the past that Mexico would pay for its construction.
Speaking at the first White House press briefing in three weeks, Sanders said the wall was a priority for the president, but did not answer why he is threatening to tie its construction to funding for the federal government.
"The president's committed to making sure this happens and we're going to push forward," Sanders said.
Sanders did say, however, that she did not believe Trump was "abandoning" efforts to force Mexico to pay for the wall.
Sanders also had a terse response to a reporter who asked what the White House thought of Republican Sen. Bob Corker (who was once considered as a potential Trump secretary of state) criticizing the president as not demonstrating "the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful."
"I think that's a ridiculous and outrageous claim, and doesn't dignify a response from this podium," Sanders said.
After Trump signaled at a Phoenix rally on Tuesday that he was likely to pardon Joe Arpaio — the controversial former Arizona sheriff convicted of defying a federal judge's order to stop traffic patrols targeting suspected undocumented immigrants — Sanders said the president hasn't yet made a formal decision.
"I would imagine they go through the thorough and standard process, and when we have an announcement on what that decision is, after that's completed, we'll let you know," she said.
Trump criticized Congressional Republicans for failing to pass debt ceiling legislation
President Trump claimed Thursday morning that he had asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to tie debt ceiling legislation to a popular veterans bill, blaming them for a "big deal" and "mess" now that the bill passed without it.
"Now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval," he tweeted. "Could have been so easy — now a mess!"
Thursday morning, in the 6 am hour on Fox and Friends, a show Trump reportedly watches religiously, hosts similarly blamed Republicans in Congress for failing to pass a legislative agenda. Fox's Steve Doocy specifically said McConnell "has been unable to capitalize on getting stuff done."
"Unless Mitch McConnell and the United States Senate can get their act together and get things done," said Chaffetz, the debt ceiling will not be raised and other legislation will fail.
Sen. McConnell will be speaking in his home state of Kentucky at a ham breakfast Thursday morning.
Trump went on to retweet a meme of himself standing in front of a photograph of former President Obama, captioned "BEST ECLIPSE EVER," and then describe his prowess at shifting tones in speeches over the past several days: "Afghanistan (somber), the big Rally ... (enthusiastic, dynamic and fun) and the American Legion - V.A. (respectful and strong)."
He concluded by claiming the "Fake News Media" was complaining about the shifts and that the Democrats lacked someone with his skill. (He retweeted himself several times to correct 'their' to 'there' and 'to' to 'too.')
Trump then took to task the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who said Wednesday on CNN that he questions President Trump's fitness for office, calling his speech in Phoenix "downright scary and disturbing."
Trump tweeted that Clapper was "famously" caught lying to Congress, referring to his testimony in 2013 before the Senate Intelligence Committee that intelligence officials do not "wittingly" collect data on Americans, prior to revelations by NSA contractor Edward Snowden that they do so.
Later in the morning, Trump returned to his earlier criticism of McConnell, focusing on his inability to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — a failure also highlighted on Fox and Friends.
-- Cora Lewis
Latinos on possible Arpaio pardon: "For many of us, it's deeply personal"
Latino Republicans and Democrats say President Trump, who views life and politics as a scoreboard of wins and losses, simply doesn't understand the gravity of what a pardon of former sheriff Joe Arpaio would mean in Arizona.
Hispanic conservatives who spoke to BuzzFeed News this week continually made the argument that their moral and political high ground would be wiped away if Trump discards the Republican refrain that they support certain policies because of the rule of law by choosing to pardon Arpaio.
"A pardon of Joe Arpaio is only good if he pardons the 11 million who are here, if he shows the same grace," said Daniel Garza, the executive director of the Koch brothers-led LIBRE Initiative. "I don’t think he deserves it, this guy violated the law to violate the rights of individuals."
Read more here.
Rabbis pull out of high holidays call with Trump over his Charlottesville response
Several groups of rabbis are refusing to undertake an annual high holidays conference call with the president, declaring Donald Trump's recent handling of the violent Charlottesville rally – which featured Nazis and anti-Semitic chants – as "lacking in moral leadership and empathy."
A joint press release from the Central Conference of American Rabbis, The Rabbinical Assembly, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, announced that they were no longer organizing the annual conference call, which was held annually during Obama's terms.
"The President's words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazi, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels," they announced.
Here's the full statement:
The High Holy Days are an opportunity for reflection and introspection. As the leaders of major denominations in American Jewish life, we have been deeply engaged in both, considering the events of the Jewish year that is ending and preparing spiritually for the year to come. In so doing, we have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered whether to continue the practice in recent years of playing key roles in organizing a conference call for the President of the United States to bring High Holiday greetings to American rabbis. We have concluded that President Trump's statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year. The President's words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazi, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels. The High Holy Days are a season of t'shuva for us all, an opportunity for each of us to examine our own words and deeds through the lens of America's ongoing struggle with racism. Our tradition teaches us that humanity is fallible yet also capable of change. We pray that President Trump will recognize and remedy the grave error he has made in abetting the voices of hatred. We pray that those who traffic in anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia will see that there is no place for such pernicious philosophies in a civilized society. And we pray that 5778 will be a year of peace for all.
– Amber Jamieson
Trump criticizes Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, media coverage of his speech in Phoenix, and Senate Republicans
Trump called the junior Republican Senator from Arizona Jeff Flake "weak on crime & border" and declared himself "not a fan" Wednesday morning, following his speech in Phoenix Tuesday night. Flake has been an outspoken critic of the president, a self-declared "Never Trumper" despite their shared party.
The president then went on to criticize one of his favorite targets, the "Fake News Media," declaring the press didn't fairly cover his statements on Charlottesville. The news media extensively covered all of Trump's comments in the days following the white supremacist rally and ensuing death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, including his back-and-forth on declaring there was violence "on both sides."
Trump tweeted that "People got it!"
Finally, the president took aim at the filibuster rule in the Senate. Trump urged the GOP-controlled body to go to a simple majority rule, "which the Dems would do."
Trump has been fuming over the Senate's filibuster rules for months, even as Republicans have used a legislative procedure known as budget reconciliation to bring up bills that could pass without being subject to them.
Under Senate rules, while a simple 51 vote majority is technically all that's needed to pass a bill, most bills are subject to unlimited debate, which can be cut off by 60 votes. Republicans used the filibuster rule to block legislation under President Obama when they were in the minority in the Senate. Democrats eventually moved to change Senate rules so filibusters could not be used on most presidential nominees. Republicans tweaked those rules further earlier this year, making it so Supreme Court nominees are not subject to filibusters.
After the Senate failed to pass a health care bill last month, Trump tweeted that Senate Republicans "will NEVER win if they don't go to a 51 vote majority NOW." But the health care bill, which was operating under budget reconciliation rules, was not actually subject to a 60-vote threshold to cut off debate — the bill failed 49-51, with three Republicans voting with all Democrats.
The president's frayed relationship with Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell also made headlines earlier this week, with the Senator saying privately that Trump's presidency might be unsalvageable.
-- Cora Lewis
Trump paid lip service to unity, then ranted about the media during Phoenix rally
President Trump lied about how he responded to last week’s white supremacist event in Charlottesville and blamed the media for the rise of racists and neo-Nazis in a rambling, almost 90-minute speech Tuesday in Phoenix.
After paying lip service to unity and insisting he loved all Americans, Trump accused members of the media of not liking the US. He blamed the media — singling out the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN — for divisions within the US and accused them of giving a platform to hate groups.
"It is time to expose the crooked media deceptions and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions," Trump said, as the crowd at the Phoenix Convention Center cheered. "And yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and heritage. You see that."
Read more here. —Claudia Koerner
Phoenix Police deploy pepper spray on anti-Trump protesters
As Trump supporters made their way out of the Phoenix Convention Center Tuesday night, Phoenix police deployed pepper spray on protesters who remained gathered outside.
The initial clouds of chemical gas were met with confusion by protests, many of whom did not hear any order to disperse or see any act of aggression. In a tweet, Phoenix police said they were responding to "criminal behavior" in the area — people throwing rocks and bottles, according to ABC 15.
Read more about the protests here.
—Claudia Koerner and Brianna Sacks
Trump arrives in Phoenix as protesters confront supporters
The president arrived in Phoenix Tuesday afternoon as protesters heckled Trump supporters streaming into the the city's convention center.
The campaign-style rally comes as Trump continues to face criticism for his response to violence at the Charleston, Virginia, white supremacist rally.
Despite shouting matches outside the convention center, protesters and supporters appeared to remain peaceful prior to the president's arrival.
He was greeted on the tarmac by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
Supporters walking into the rally defended the president's response to Charlottesville, saying it was right for him to denounce hate on "both sides."
Shortly after a woman was run over and allegedly killed by a man suspected of attending a white supremacist rally, Trump criticized "hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides." Critics, including Republicans, denounced the president's comments for not singling out white supremacists.
But several Trump supporters in Phoenix told BuzzFeed News said the president's comments were on point, and that the backlash was fabricated by the mainstream media.
"I think the president is handling (Charlottesville) just fine," Rich, a Trump supporter who said he has attended eight Trump rallies, told BuzzFeed News. "I think the mainstream media is blowing it up out of proportion because he didn't use the buzz words they wanted."
— Salvador Hernandez
Trump won't issue pardon for ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio today
President Donald Trump won't be issuing a pardon for former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio when he addresses supporters at a rally in Phoenix, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
The ex-Maricopa County sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt in federal court in July after he defied a federal judge's order to stop detaining inmates on suspicion of their immigration status when there was no evidence of them breaking state laws.
Trump told Fox News he was considering a pardon for the controversial sheriff, who has been a loud and early supporter of Trump. But before the president's rally in Arizona, the White House put speculation of a pardon to rest — at least temporarily.
"There will be no discussion of that today at any point, and no action will be taken on that front at any point today," Sanders told reporters on Air Force One.
Arpaio, who was voted out of office, is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5.
Trump has always spoken his mind in Arizona — and that could be risky after Charlottesville
President Donald Trump is now without Steve Bannon, the man who most encouraged his hardline political instincts and helped turn Trumpism into a winning movement. But the president on Tuesday is returning to a different source of political and psychic comfort: Arizona, where he unveiled fiery immigration rhetoric and strict policies long before he was president.
Tuesday's border facility tour in Yuma and campaign rally in Phoenix — announced in the wake of his angry and defensive response to the white supremacist-fueled violence in Charlottesville, Virginia — brings the president back to the city he twice used to stabilize and grow his support during the tumultuous presidential campaign, and where he unveiled his campaign's most articulated immigration policy rollout.
Trump now returns to Arizona to show who he is without Bannon behind the curtain. For his supporters who rallied to his cause over immigration in particular, it will be a revealing moment. For those worried after last week's maligned Charlottesville response that the president is dwelling too much on his base to the exclusion of others, it is anxiety-inducing.
Read more here.
Pence praises Trump's Afghanistan war plan, defends his Charlottesville response
Vice President Pence praised President Trump's new strategy in Afghanistan, denounced neo-Nazi bigotry, and said he is in favor of "more monuments, not less monuments" in response to protesters tearing down statues commemorating the Confederacy in a Tuesday morning interview with Fox and Friends.
Following Trump's national address on the war in Afghanistan last night, Pence said in many ways the country has had "16 different years, 16 different strategies," over the course of the nation's longest war.
"In many ways we haven't had one strategy for all those years," he said. Now, he said, America will "provide the resources and the military personnel and the air assets necessary to support the Afghan army's efforts to defeat the Taliban," will "destroy terrorist networks that use Afghanistan and Pakistan safe havens," "call on Pakistan to step up and be a more effective partner in confronting the terrorist organization," and "engage India more effectively."
Pence said the US would not be engaged in "nation-building," but instead "let the Afghan people build their own nation," with a focus on increasing the security of the United States. He also said that the White House is "in a very real sense changing the rules of engagement so that American commanders on the ground can make realtime decisions."
"The president has taken off... limitations and let our commanders make realtime decisions on the ground," he said. "We believe that it's going to be effective."
Asked why a planned increase of troops — or "surge" — would be an effective military strategy this time — when the last time it was tried, by President Obama, it was ineffective — Pence said that the administration would not use an "artificial time line" for withdrawal, which could "embolden" enemies.
Pence said the message delivered to the president of Afghanistan from Trump was, "We are with you," but also that "Afghanistan needs to continue to step up, needs to continue to build a partnership, militarily, diplomatically, and economically with the United States of America."
Asked about criticism of the president and White House since the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Pence said it "comes with the job" and reiterated that the White House condemns "bigotry and hate and violence in all its forms," specifically denouncing "white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazi organizations."
On the removal and tearing down of Confederate monuments across the country since the protests, Pence said, "seeing people destroy public property in the name of any cause is just simply unacceptable."
"I hold the view that it's important that we remember our past and build on the progress that we have made," he said, adding that it's up to states to make decisions locally.
"What we have to walk away from is a desire by some to erase parts of our history... I'm someone who believes in more monuments, not less monuments... I can't help but think that rather than pulling down monuments, as some are want to do, rather than tearing down monuments that have graced our cities all across this country for years, we ought to build more monuments. We ought to be celebrating the men and women who have helped our nation move toward a more perfect union and tell the whole story of America."
Trump tweeted praise to Jerry Falwell, who said on Fox News that the president "doesn't have a racist bone in his body"
Trump tweeted praise to the president of Liberty University, who appeared on Fox and Friends to defend the president, saying he "doesn't have a racist bone in his body."
Jerry Falwell was a guest on the Fox News morning show Monday and defended Trump's comments from last week's press conference, where he angrily defense of the racists who sparked riots in Charlottesville.
"I think he was very clear who the culprits were because he called out the Nazis, the white supremacist, the KKK members by name," Falwell said. "He never mentioned Antifa. He made it clear there was no moral equivalence between the two, and I think he should be commended for that."
Falwell said that Trump "loves all people," but that he sometimes has an abrasive way of saying things.
Following Falwell's appearance on Fox News, Trump tweeted, "the Fake News should listen to what he had to say. Thanks Jerry!"
Since Sunday evening the president tweeted three times about "fake news," including a retweet from an account which posted that Trump "stands strong" against the "fake news media trying to take [Trump] down."
All 49 of the account's tweets are praise for Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and criticism of "face news" — many of which include the hashtag #MAGA.
—Mary Ann Georgantopoulos
Putin appoints new Russian ambassador to US
Russian President Vladimir Putin has replaced the country's ambassador to the United States, the AP reports. Putin has appointed a former deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, who is seen as a hardliner regarding the United States.
Antonov replaces Sergei Kislyak, the outgoing ambassador, who had been a player in the suspected Russian meddling with the US election. Michael Flynn, President Trump's first national security adviser, resigned after lying about contact with Kislyak and Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into possible Russian interference after it emerged he had also met with Kislyak. -- Cora Lewis
Trump expected to raise troop levels in Afghanistan
President Trump has landed on a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, according to a White House statement and officials who spoke with reporters Sunday.
In his first nationally televised address as president Monday, Trump will outline “a path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia," the White House said.
Though officials declined to give specifics on what the strategy would be, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly received authorization in June to send as many as 3,900 troops to Afghanistan, to expand and support US military efforts there.
Administration aides hinted to the New York Times that any increase in force levels would be paired with requirements that Afghans would do more to fight corruption or meet other new standards.
During his campaign, Trump frequently criticized US involvement overseas, including in Afghanistan. He has previously tweeted in favor of a "speedy withdrawal."
-- Cora Lewis