FBI Director Comey confirms Trump/Kremlin probe
Monday, March 20, 2017 10:40 AM
By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis
1. A sensational week builds in Washington
FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency head Adm. Michael Rogers are testifying before the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference this morning. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings get underway, and the U.S. House is expected to vote on the epic American Health Care Act on Thursday. How’s that for a high-stakes week?
The RyanCare bill is the first big congressional test not only for President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and legislative liaison Marc Short, but also for Speaker Paul Ryan, who has a lot at stake. The White House is squeezing hard line conservatives. One convert is frosh U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, who met with President Trump at the White House with the Republican Study Group late last week. “While this legislation is far from perfect and not the Obamacare replacement plan I had hoped to support, it is a substantial improvement from the mandates, burdens and failures of Obamacare,” Banks said. “I committed to President Trump that I would support this plan if it contains the changes we agreed to today.” There don’t appear to be any defectors in the Indiana GOP delegation.
Mike Allen reports in Axios: The votes aren't there yet, but a Republican lobbyist tells me Speaker Ryan had to be The Gambler: "It was either call the hand, or fold." If it passes out of the House, the Senate is a completely different beast.
2. Comey testifying now, confirms Russian/Trump probe
Director Comey is testifying at this writing. You can watch the live stream by clicking here. Comey said in his opening statement: “Our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigation.” But, he said, the Russian/Trump campaign story is one of “unusual circumstances.” Comey said, “The FBI is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Please don't draw certain conclusions about the investigation because I say I can't comment.”
Comey impacted the U.S. presidential election twice last year, when he legally absolved Hillary Clinton, but gave her a rhetorical indictment. Then 10 days before the election, he changed the homestretch dynamic when he said Clinton emails ended up on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. So it will be quite interesting to hear what he has to say about the Kremlin connections to the Trump campaign, as well as President Trump’s wiretap allegations.
3. The price of budgets and repeal
The eye-lifting story late last week came via Indiana Public Media, which reported that Indiana’s research universities and businesses stood to lose some of the $225 million the National Institutes of Health spent in the state in 2016. The Trump budget cuts the NIH budget by 19 percent. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis received more than $130 million in NIH grants. And Indiana University and Purdue University received $31 million and $37 million, respectively
On the Obamacare repeal front, Axios reports that U.S. hospitals are girding for massive labor cuts after ramping up over the past three years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care added: 259,200 jobs in 2014; 438,800 jobs in 2015; 296,400 jobs in 2016. The problem: The new hires have started to take a financial toll on the hospitals. As for RyanCare, the deal Pence and Trump cut with conservatives is to cleave back Medicaid beginning in 2018, instead of 2020. We have no idea what potential impact that will have on Hoosier hospitals.
4. Donnelly won’t reveal Gorsuch stance
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly held a town hall with Ball State students on Sunday, and he was pressed on his coming confirmation vote for Judge Gorsuch. “What was done to [Garland] was wrong,” Donnelly said. “But my job is to evaluate judge Gorsuch.” The Ball State Daily News reported some in audience were not satisfied with the response and pressed Donnelly. “You’ve had 50 days to look over Neil Gorsuch," a student said. "Can you give the people of Indiana a clear answer on whether or not you are going to do your duty and vote ‘yes’ for Neil Gorsuch?” Donnelly responded that he never gives a direct answer to the yes/no demand.
5. The Trump wiretap story bleeds international
President Trump had a bizarre Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is now being widely identified as the “leader of the free world.” Trump mispronounced her first name, refused to shake hands, and joked about his unsubstantiated claims that President Obama had wiretapped him. “As far as wiretapping, I guess by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said, gesturing toward Merkel, who it was reported had been tapped by the U.S. in 2015. That was not a knee-slapper. Trump suggested that Fox News would back him up. The network didn’t, saying in a statement, “Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind, that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way, full stop.”
Swirling around all of this was the story that British intelligence were “livid” when White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggested it was the British who tapped candidate Trump. This is how the Trump administration is treating our top allies.
Congrats to Butler and Purdue for the Sweet 16 appearances. Have a great week. It’s The Atomic!,