‘No Evidence’ On Trump’s Wiretap Claim, Says Top Democrat On Intelligence Committee

A day after meeting with FBI Director James Comey, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee declared Friday that he had seen no evidence supporting Donald Trump’s accusations that his phones were wiretapped during the presidential campaign by order of President Barack Obama.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was among the so-called “Gang of Eight” — House members who have access to the most highly classified information — who met with Comey Thursday evening. Schiff came away with no information supporting Trump’s claims, he told CNN. “I think when Sean Spicer isn’t even willing to talk about it, you know there’s a real problem.”

Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the Republican head of the committee, also said earlier this week that he had seen no evidence backing Trump’s accusation. He said after the Comey meeting that nothing had changed. Comey had earlier said there was no truth to Trump’s claim and had asked the Justice Department, now headed by Trump’s pick Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to make a statement to that effect, but the department declined.

Schiff made his comments the same day as a bizarre standoff between the president and an ABC reporter who repeatedly asked Trump if there was any evidence to back his claims. Trump completely ignored him.

Schiff said he believes Comey will answer questions about the issue at a committee hearing this month. “He certainly is prepared for the question,” Schiff told CNN. “I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t answer it. He might even welcome the opportunity.”

Trump unleashed his Twitter attack last Saturday from Mar-a-Lago, calling Obama “sick” for allegedly ordering wiretaps on his Trump Tower phones during the campaign. But when pressed later, Trump offered no further information.

GOP Congressman Claims Obama Stayed In Washington To Run A ‘Shadow Government’

A Republican congressman claimed that former President Barack Obama has chosen to stay in Washington in order to run a “shadow government” aimed at undermining President Donald Trump.

The Obamas have said they would keep living in the nation’s capital until their younger daughter, Sasha, graduated from high school.

But Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) saw more devious motives at work.

“President Obama himself said he was gonna stay in Washington until his daughter graduated. I think we oughta pitch in to let him go somewhere else because he’s only there for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to run a shadow government that is gonna totally upset the new agenda,” Kelly told a gathering in his home state on Saturday.

He suggested that the former president was somehow blocking the Republican agenda, even as the GOP controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.

“People sit back and they say to me, ‘My gosh, why can’t you guys get this done?’ I’m saying we’ve got a new CEO, we’ve got some new heads in the different departments, but the same people are there, and they don’t believe that the new owners or the new managers should be running the ship.” the congressman said.

Thomas Qualtere, a Kelly spokesman, tried to walk back his boss’s comments on Friday.

“Rep. Kelly delivered his remarks to an audience of fellow Republicans in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, last Saturday. He was sharing the frustration of everyone in the room over how they believe certain Obama administration holdovers within the federal bureaucracy are attempting to upset President Trump’s agenda,” Qualtere said in a statement. “He fully supports President Obama’s decision to stay in Washington until his daughter finishes school. He hopes the former president will continue to root for President Trump’s success as he said he would do last November.”

Obama has extended his successor the courtesy of not criticizing him, although he denied Trump’s unsubstantiated accusation that he’d ordered a wiretap on Trump’s presidential campaign. An Obama spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Later on Friday, Kelly’s office sent out a second statement to say that he does not believe Obama is personally operating a shadow government.

“Because of the extraordinary interest in Rep. Kelly’s remarks, it is worth clarifying that Rep. Kelly does not believe that President Obama is personally operating a shadow government,” the statement says “He does believe it would be helpful to the new administration if the former president would personally call for an end to all leaks and obstruction by personnel from his administration who currently serve in the Executive Branch under President Trump.”

Kelly’s “shadow government” remark echoes the thinking in conservative media that there is a “deep state” in the federal government working to subvert Trump. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued on Friday that government employees were still trying to advance Obama’s goals.

“I don’t think it should come as any surprise that there are people that burrowed into government during the eight years of the last administration and may have believed in that agenda and want to continue to seek it. I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anyone,” Spicer said.

The story has been updated with a later statement from Rep. Kelly’s office.

Paul Ryan Seems Excited To Kick People Off Medicaid

WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Paul Ryan sees repealing Obamacare as a historic opportunity to reduce the welfare rolls.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday, Ryan (R-Wis.) compared his legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act to the vaunted 1996 welfare reform law, which basically ended the federal government’s commitment to cash assistance for parents in poverty.

“This is so much bigger, by orders of magnitude, than welfare reform,” Ryan said.

Obama’s Affordable Care Act made more people eligible for Medicaid, which currently provides health insurance for nearly 70 million Americans. The Republican health care bill would roll back Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and also dramatically reform the way Medicaid works.

States currently administer Medicaid with a commitment from the federal government, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars per year, to help pay for as many enrollees as might be eligible due to low income. The Republicans’ American Health Care Act would limit that open-ended commitment by capping federal funding for states based on the number of enrollees rather than the cost of their medical claims.

As Ryan put it on Friday, “We are de-federalizing an entitlement, block granting it back to the states, and capping its growth rate. That’s never been done before.”

Indeed, the legislation’s per capita funding caps have never been tried in a public benefit program, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, a liberal think tank that generally opposes cutting antipoverty funds. Conservative policy wonks have argued that Medicaid’s funding formula doesn’t improve poor people’s health in part because of low compensation rates for doctors.

But Congress has done “block granting” before, just not on such a large scale. In 1996, amid a national debate over welfare fraud and the alleged pathologies of poor people, Congress overhauled the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, which since the 1930s had offered monthly cash benefits to single mothers and families in poverty. Congress renamed the program the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and capped its funding as a $16 billion “block grant” to states. Ryan was a congressional staffer at the time.

“Welfare reform is a $16 billion program,” Ryan said Friday. “We’re talking about trillions in the end here in this program.”

Key features of welfare reform included time limits on benefits and a requirement that recipients engage in “work activities” to remain enrolled. The real value of the program’s $16 billion block grant has eroded with inflation, and enrollment in the program, in absolute numbers and as a percentage of eligible families, has fallen significantly. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that as of 2014, only 23 percent of families in poverty received TANF benefits, down from 68 percent in 1997.

As the number of people on welfare has declined, conservatives have touted the reduction in childhood poverty and increases in workforce participation among women, though it’s hard to disentangle the law’s effects from broader economic forces.

A key difference between welfare reform and the new Republican proposal for Medicaid is that the latter’s per capita funding caps would be indexed to inflation and most of the reforms wouldn’t phase in for another several years. Nevertheless, early estimates suggest the overall policy would have similar results: fewer people getting help from the program.

Following reports last month that congressional Republicans were considering block grants for Medicaid ― Ryan has long advocated block granting social programs ― the Center for Law and Social Policy produced an analysis portraying TANF as a cautionary tale. The report said the program’s policies vary widely across states and that, in general, it responded poorly to increased poverty as a result of the Great Recession. In some states enrollment even declined as unemployment skyrocketed.

Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior policy analyst with the center, said at least Medicaid’s funding caps would be indexed to inflation under the Republican proposal, which she considers disastrous.

Roger Stone Says His Conversation With DNC Hackers Was ‘Completely Innocuous’

Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump’s and a former consultant on his 2016 campaign, told the Washington Times on Friday that his conversation with Guccifer 2.0, the person or persons believed to be responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee, was “completely innocuous.”

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 06: Roger Stone speaks to the media at Trump Tower on December 6, 2016 in New York City. Potential members of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet have been meeting with him and his transition team over the last few weeks. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

U.S. government officials have concluded that Guccifer 2.0 is likely an alias for hackers directed by the Russian government, and that their hacks were carried out with the intent of interfering with the 2016 election.

“It was so perfunctory, brief and banal I had forgotten it,” Stone said of his conversation with the hacker persona. “The content of the exchange is, as you can see completely innocuous and perfunctory.”

The conversation between Stone and Guccifer 2.0, which took place via Twitter direct messages, was first reported on Wednesday by The Smoking Gun. The report did not include details on what the conversations were about. However, citing two sources, The Smoking Gun reported that FBI agents investigating the DNC hack have obtained “detailed records” on Guccifer 2.0’s Twitter account.

Stone, saying The Smoking Gun report mischaracterized the conversation, then provided screenshots of at least some of his DMs with Guccifer 2.0 to the Washington Times and Salon. The conversations Stone provided took place in mid-August and early September, and do not indicate collusion between hackers and Stone.

However, the fact alone that the conversations took place could invite further scrutiny into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Stone is one of several Trump campaign officials reportedly under FBI investigation for possible links to Russia. Stone has dismissed the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

“I myself had no contacts or communications with the Russian State, Russian Intelligence or anyone fronting for them or acting as intermediaries for them,” Stone said in an email to Salon about The Smoking Gun’s report. “None. Nada. Zilch. I am not in touch with any Russians, don’t have a Russian girlfriend, don’t like Russian dressing and have stopped drinking Russian Vodka.”

In July, Guccifer 2.0 claimed responsibility for breaching DNC email accounts and providing the documents to WikiLeaks. Security experts and DNC officials immediately suspected the hack was the work of Russian government hackers. But in a Breitbart story published on Aug. 5, Stone pushed back on that suspicion and accused Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign of “dishonest blame-casting.”

“The DNC being hacked by one person didn’t look sinister enough,” Stone wrote. “Time for the victim card! Blame the Russians! Blame Putin! Blame Trump!”

Stone later faced scrutiny for seemingly-prescient tweets about other documents released via Wikileaks. For example, in August he tweeted “it will soon” be Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s “time in the barrel.”

Weeks later, WikiLeaks published 20,000 pages of emails allegedly from Podesta’s account.

Conservatives Craft Their Wish List On The GOP Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON ― As House Republicans prepare to bring their health care proposal to the floor, conservatives are demanding a slate of major changes that they say are necessary to bring them on board and, ultimately, pass the bill.

UNITED STATES – MARCH 7: From left, Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Mark Meadows, R-N.C., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, conclude a news conference with members of the House Freedom Caucus at the House Triangle where they criticized the House Republican’s new healthcare plan, American Health Care Act, March 7, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

According to members familiar with negotiations among the House Freedom Caucus, GOP leadership and the White House, conservatives are still demanding that the rollback of the Medicaid expansion begin in 2018, not 2020, as currently written in the Republican bill.

House Republican leaders have been emphatic that they can’t move up that date, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that the 2020 date to begin the Medicaid expansion phaseout was what President Donald Trump supported.

“It’s not a question of negotiation,” Spicer said.

But, based on their own conversations with the White House, conservatives believe it is still a question of negotiation.

“We had tremendous conversations with the president a couple of times yesterday,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Friday, “and we found him to be not only willing to negotiate, but a desire to really make this bill the very best it can be. His willingness to find common ground shows why The Art of the Deal is not just a distant memory of a previous life.”

Meadows was joined in the White House meetings Thursday by former HFC Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who also noted the receptiveness of the president to strike a deal.

“We’re still working on those changes that we think would make this bill consistent,” Jordan told The Huffington Post on Friday, adding that they hadn’t “settled” on any of their negotiations.

But based on conversations with members familiar with the negotiations, in addition to the Medicaid timeline, conservatives also want to allow insurance companies to offer plans that don’t meet the coverage standards of the Affordable Care Act, which means plans could have higher deductibles or offer gaps in coverages for lower premiums.

The Republicans legislation already does some of this by repealing the rule mandating that plans cover at least 60% of medical expenses. There is some concern that other provisions on coverage would break the reconciliation status of the bill, which means those provisions would take 60 votes in the Senate to pass, but members want to look for ways to increase the number of insurance mandates and rules that could be repealed while still not violating that so-called Byrd rule.

Freedom Caucus members also want to allow people to use health savings accounts to pay their premiums, instead of just using them for deductibles and other out-of-pocket medical costs. Making that change would introduce an element of a plan by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) to allow tax-free dollars to be used to pay for insurance, which would not quite blow up the entire current GOP bill.

Finally, members want a 20-hour work requirement for able-bodied adults who are on Medicaid. That would further cut some Medicaid costs, but the idea seems based more on stereotypes than on potential savings. The vast majority of people on Medicaid are ill, in school, already working or looking for work.

Freedom Caucus members still haven’t given up on overhauling a linchpin of the bill ― the advance refundable tax credits ― but some members now acknowledge that major changes to the basis of the replacement language would pretty much amount to Republicans starting over, which doesn’t look apt to happen.

Still, one caucus member noted that if Republicans were willing to negotiate on the tax credits, there would be a universe of items that conservatives could give up in exchange, perhaps even lengthening the term of the Medicaid expansion past the 2020 date.

If Republicans actually adopted the changes conservatives are advocating for, however, it would instantly present the House with vote problems from moderates ― and even more problems in the Senate.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), the chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, told HuffPost on Friday that if Republicans moved up the Medicaid expansion phaseout, it would be a “big problem,” and he indicated that a strong majority in the House ― probably every Democrat and a number of Republicans ― would oppose that change. “If there’s that discussion, they should allow an amendment on the floor to resolve the issue.”

The problem for House leaders is that even if Republicans agreed to the conservative wish list, there still would be Freedom Caucus members voting against the bill.

HFC member Scott Perry (R-Pa.) noted on Friday that everyone knows there are some conservatives who are going to oppose the bill. “But I think some members are more flexible,” Perry said, adding that leaders needed to show “some good faith” and make changes that are “meaningful and impactful.”

My calls are running 30 to 1 to oppose it. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.)

Among the conservatives who appear unwilling to negotiate are Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who is upset with just about every facet of the bill and the process for the legislation, and his non-HFC buddy Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has taken to calling the legislation “a stinking pile of garbage.”