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The Trump administration is “still on track” to get almost 500 miles of border wall built by the end of this year, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday, while denying reported testimony stating that less than two miles of the wall has been built.

“The Army Corps of Engineers, working with the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and the DOD (Department of Defense)  are putting together a tremendous amount of effort not just building a new wall, (but) taking down some of the barriers that have existed that are completely ineffective and putting in effective border wall,” Sanders told Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.”

Tuesday, a lawyer for the House of Representatives told a judge in Oakland, California, that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has put up just only 1.7 miles of fencing through the use of $1.57 billion appropriated by Congress last year, reports Bloomberg.

The judge is considering requests from attorneys general from 20 states and from the Sierra Club to block President Donald Trump from using funds that have not been authorized by Congress for the wall.

Meanwhile, Sanders called the death of a 16-year-old boy, who died of the flu at the McAllen, Texas processing center, an “absolutely horrible case” and something that should not have happened.

“The president and his administration requested funding, supplemental funding just two weeks ago to help with the humanitarian crisis at the border,” said Sanders. “Unfortunately this problem is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Source: NewsMax

The Pentagon has finally uttered the words it always avoided when discussing the possible existence of UFOs — “unidentified aerial phenomena” — and admits that it still investigates reports of them.

In a statement provided exclusively to The Post, a Department of Defense spokesman said a secret government initiative called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program “did pursue research and investigation into unidentified aerial phenomena.”

And while the DOD says it shut down the AATIP in 2012, spokesman Christopher Sherwood acknowledged that the department still investigates claimed sightings of alien spacecraft.

“The Department of Defense is always concerned about maintaining positive identification of all aircraft in our operating environment, as well as identifying any foreign capability that may be a threat to the homeland,” Sherwood said.

“The department will continue to investigate, through normal procedures, reports of unidentified aircraft encountered by US military aviators in order to ensure defense of the homeland and protection against strategic surprise by our nation’s adversaries.”

Nick Pope, who secretly investigated UFOs for the British government during the 1990s, called the DOD’s comments a “bombshell revelation.”

Pope, a former UK defense official-turned-author, said, “Previous official statements were ambiguous and left the door open to the possibility that AATIP was simply concerned with next-generation aviation threats from aircraft, missiles and drones — as skeptics claimed.

“This new admission makes it clear that they really did study what the public would call ‘UFOs,’ ” he said.

“It also shows the British influence, because UAP was the term we used in the Ministry of Defence to get away from the pop culture baggage that came with the term ‘UFO.’ ”

John Greenewald Jr. — whose website The Black Vault archives declassified government documents on UFO reports, “Bigfoot” sightings and other subjects — also called the Pentagon’s use of the term “unidentified aerial phenomena” unprecedented in its frankness.

“I’m shocked they said it that way, and the reason is, is they’ve seemingly worked very hard not to say that,” he said.

“So I think that’s a pretty powerful statement because now we have actual evidence — official evidence — that said, ‘Yes, AATIP did deal with UAP cases, phenomena, videos, photos, whatever.’”

Greenewald said he hopes that the Pentagon will release more information about the AATIP, either by voluntary disclosure or through requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

“But at least we’re one step closer to the truth,” he said.

The existence of the AATIP was revealed in 2017, along with a 33-second DOD video that shows an airborne object being chased by two Navy jets off the coast of San Diego in 2004.

At the time, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took credit for arranging $22 million in annual funding for the AATIP, telling the New York Times that it was “one of the good things I did in my congressional service.”

Reid’s home state of Nevada hosts the top-secret military installation known as “Area 51,” long rumored to be the storehouse for an alien craft that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

Reid, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Bruce Golding

Sixty-three percent of Americans support legal same-sex marriage, a new Gallup poll reveals.

The number is in line with the 64% who said they favored same-sex marriage in 2017 and the 67% who favored it in 2018.

Here is how the current poll breaks down:

  • 44% of Republicans say they support legal gay marriage
  • 79% of Democrats back same-sex marriage
  • 68% of independents support legal gay marriage
  • 63% of all Americans consider gay relations morally acceptable

The poll, conducted May 1-12, surveyed 1,009 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Source: NewsMax

President Donald Trump early Wednesday declared that his poll numbers would be much higher if it was not for special counsel Robert Mueller’s “illegal witch hunt” investigation into him and Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

“Without the ILLEGAL Witch Hunt, my poll numbers, especially because of our historically “great” economy, would be at 65%,” Trump tweeted. “Too bad! The greatest Hoax in American History.”

According to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released Tuesday, just 38%  approve of Trump’s overall job performance, compared to 41%  who approved of him in a May 2 poll. In addition, 71% said they rate the economy as excellent or good, but just 48% approved of how Trump handles the economy.

Earlier Wednesday morning, Trump posted several tweets complaining that Democrats had contributed to “two years of an expensive and comprehensive Witch Hunt” and that they now want a “DO OVER. In other words, the Witch Hunt continues.”

The tweets come as more Democrats call for impeachment proceedings to begin after Trump blocked his former White House lawyer from testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who prefers a more methodical approach to Trump, will meet with a small group of the House Democratic caucus to discuss strategy, as Democrats are pushing her and other leaders to act on impeachment.

Source: NewsMax

Legislation to stop tech companies from tracking users online is finding new momentum as Congress seeks to crack down on big tech’s privacy practices.

On Tuesday, Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: FCC Republicans backing T-Mobile, Sprint merger | Tech giants to testify on election security | GOP senator offers ‘Do Not Track’ bill | Researchers find coordinated anti-Trump campaign on Instagram GOP senator announces bill to block companies from tracking online activity Hillicon Valley: WhatsApp issues fix after spyware breach | Pompeo warns Russia against interference | Florida gov confirms election hacking | Federal labor board’s lawyer calls Uber drivers contractors | Graham zeroes in on 5G security MORE (R-Mo.) unveiled a “Do Not Track” bill with tough penalties for companies who break its protections, reviving a debate over whether users should be allowed to opt out of the tracking and data collection that comprise the core of many top tech companies’ business models. 

Efforts to create a Do Not Track registry have hit roadblocks for more than a decade, but consumer advocates and tech industry critics say Hawley’s bill could find better traction amid a larger backlash against tech behemoths including Google, Facebook and Amazon. 

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Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO and founder of privacy-oriented browser DuckDuckGo, told The Hill Americans are more concerned about privacy issues than they were a decade ago, when the first conversations about a Do Not Track registry gained prominence.

He said those efforts occurred before privacy became “mainstream,” pointing to a spate of highly public surveillance- and privacy-related scandals over the past decade. 

“There’s a pressure to pass something this year, I think, because there’s a will from people to do something,” Weinberg said. 

DuckDuckGo earlier this month released a Do Not Track proposal of its own, calling for legislation that would legally require websites to stop collecting data on users who opt out of certain kinds of “non-essential” tracking. 

The Do Not Track registry would be modeled after the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Do Not Call” list, which allows people to say they no longer want to receive telemarketing calls. 

Weinberg said he was approached by Hawley’s office, as well as a few other lawmakers, shortly after putting out the proposal, and supports the freshman Missouri Republican’s bill. 

Hawley’s bill breaks with DuckDuckGo’s proposal on some points, but the basic idea is the same: It would allow Americans to opt out of companies collecting their data beyond what is “necessary” for those services to run. And companies would face steep penalties if they fail to respect that decision.  

“It’s very simple: It just says that a consumer can make a one-time choice not to be tracked, not to have her data sent to these companies and to stop them from then selling that data to other companies,” Hawley said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. “I think we should make it compulsory and we should give it the force of law. … This puts the ball in consumers’ court, gives them ownership over their own data, gives them the right to control it.” 

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Hawley’s bill would put the force of law behind the list, threatening companies with fines of up to $1,000 per person for “willful or reckless” violations and $50 per day for “negligence.”  

Advocates have long pushed for a Do Not Track database.

In 2010, the FTC endorsed a Do Not Track initiative, and lawmakers including Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierGOP senator announces bill to block companies from tracking online activity Mueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? The Hill’s Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies MORE (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would have empowered the FTC to create the list. 

The efforts to create a federally enforced registry, though, never panned out amid enormous pressure from industry representatives, who could not come to an agreement over what “tracking” means in the first place. The working group tasked with coming to an agreement on how to implement the pro-privacy registry was ultimately unable to come to a consensus after years of wrangling. 

Weinberg said that at the time, the tech industry was singing a different tune on privacy. For the most part, the top companies were resistant to any form of federal regulation. 

But this year, Hawley is introducing the bill as companies like Google and industry trade groups are getting behind the calls for privacy legislation, seeking to get a seat at the table as efforts to craft a comprehensive privacy law ramp up on Capitol Hill. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), an ad business organization, was one of the most fervent opponents of previous Do Not Track efforts. The group, which represents advertising and marketing technology companies, sought to quash the effort entirely.

But IAB last week put out a blog post calling for “Do-Not-Track Plus,” meaning broader federal privacy legislation that imposes “penalties, civil and criminal, for illicit uses of data.” The group noted that they still believe a federal Do Not Track list would promote “an incorrect, noxious notion that consumers are de facto victimized by the use of their data,” but said broader regulations are needed to address the issue. 

But there are still questions about the path ahead. Some expected allies to Hawley’s push have not yet gotten on board. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), one of the leaders of the push to implement a registry in 2011, said they are still reviewing Hawley’s bill and declined to comment on Tuesday.

Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), in an emailed statement to The Hill called the Do Not Track concept “a straightforward approach to a real problem,” but noted that implementation can be “very tricky.” EPIC helped pioneer the “Do Not Call” registry. 

Joe Jerome, a policy counsel with the Privacy and Data Project at Georgetown University’s Center for Democracy and Technology, told The Hill that he and other privacy activists think Do Not Track legislation would be a “good step forward,” but the conversation about privacy has expanded exponentially. He mentioned that advocates will want bills that deal with third-party data brokers, internet-connected devices and the larger “non-browser” tech environment.

Do Not Track proposals have typically revolved around internet browsers.

“Do Not Track could be a really useful user control but it doesn’t really solve the entire problem,” Jerome, a leading voice on privacy, told The Hill. “It’s something we should’ve been doing 10 years ago. The fact we didn’t means we have a whole lot of other problems.” 

“I don’t think a federal Do Not Track solution is comprehensive enough to deal with all of the other political issues at play in the national privacy debate right now,” Jerome continued. “I don’t think it addresses some of the overarching data security, anti-discrimination, dark-pattern [concerns].”  

And it’s unclear whether other lawmakers will get on board with Hawley’s proposal.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a tech critic, and Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Senate Commerce chair to renew push for regs on self-driving vehicles MORE (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, told The Hill that Hawley had not yet approached them about the legislation. The Commerce Committee would likely have some jurisdiction over the bill, as the panel oversees the FTC. 

A spokesman for Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenIRS audit rate down in fiscal 2018 Oregon man sentenced after threatening to chop off Dem senator’s tongue House to vote on retirement bill next week MORE (D-Ore.), who included Do Not Track provisions in his draft data privacy legislation released last year, said the office is still reviewing Hawley’s bill. 

Blumenthal said he would be open to collaborating with Hawley, noting that he’s also supported Do Not Track efforts in the past, and Wicker said he is interested in it as well but hasn’t heard about it. 

Hawley’s office said they would have updates in the future about co-sponsors. 

Advocates, though, are hopeful for the effort, even as they caution that it is just one step in addressing privacy issues.

“I do think, again, a Do Not Track proposal with some teeth could make a meaningful difference for consumers’ privacy,” Jerome said.

“I don’t think it’s the end of the conversation.”

More Democrats are calling — and more loudly — for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump after his latest defiance of Congress by blocking his former White House lawyer from testifying.

A growing number of rank-and-file House Democrats, incensed by former counsel Don McGahn’s empty chair in the Judiciary Committee hearing room on Tuesday, are confronting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and pushing her and other leaders to act. Their impatience is running up against the speaker’s preference for a more methodical approach , including already unfolding court battles.

Pelosi summoned some of them — still a small fraction of the House Democratic caucus — to a meeting of investigators on Wednesday to assess strategy.

Trump on Wednesday repeated his mantra about Democrats contributing to a “Witch Hunt” against him.

“Everything the Democrats are asking me for is based on an illegally started investigation that failed for them, especially when the Mueller Report came back with a NO COLLUSION finding,” he tweeted in the first of a series of posts. “Now they say Impeach President Trump, even though he did nothin wrong, while they ‘fish!'”

“After two years of an expensive and comprehensive Witch Hunt, the Democrats don’t like the result and they want a DO OVER. In other words, the Witch Hunt continues!” he said in another tweet.

“The Democrats are getting ZERO work done in Congress,” he added. “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” he concluded.

Some Democratic leaders, while backing Pelosi, signaled that a march to impeachment may become inevitable.

“We are confronting what might be the largest, broadest cover-up in American history,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters. If a House inquiry “leads to other avenues including impeachment,” the Maryland Democrat said, “so be it.”

Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas and Diana DeGette of Colorado added their voices to the impeachment inquiry chorus.

“There is political risk in doing so, but there’s a greater risk to our country in doing nothing,” Castro said on Twitter. “This is a fight for our democracy.”

Tweeted DeGette: “The facts laid out in the Mueller report, coupled with this administration’s ongoing attempts to stonewall Congress, leave us no other choice.”

One Republican congressman, Justin Amash of Michigan, has called for impeachment proceedings. He said Tuesday he thinks other GOP lawmakers should join him — but only after reading special counsel Robert Mueller’s report carefully.

Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed Amash as out of step with House Republicans and “out of step with America.” And Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said wryly of Amash’s position, “I don’t think it’s going to be a trend-setting move.”

As Democrats weigh their options, Trump is almost taunting them by testing the bounds of executive power in ways few other administrations have. The White House contends that even former employees like McGahn do not have to abide by subpoenas from Congress.

A short time later House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler issued subpoenas for more Trump administration officials — former White House communications director Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, a former aide in the White House counsel’s office — for documents and testimony.

Trump’s former White House counsel is the most-cited witness in Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation report, recounting the president’s attempts to interfere with the probe. And that makes his silence all the more infuriating for Democrats.

Nadler gaveled open Tuesday’s hearing with a stern warning that McGahn will be held in contempt for failing to appear.

“Our subpoenas are not optional,” Nadler said. “We will not allow the president to stop this investigation.”

However, Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee, spoke scornfully of Nadler’s position, calling the session a “circus” and saying the chairman preferred a public “fight over fact-finding.”

Democrats are “trying desperately to make something out of nothing,” Collins said, in the aftermath of Mueller’s report.

A lawyer for McGahn had said he would follow the president’s directive and skip Tuesday’s hearing, leaving the Democrats without yet another witness — and a growing debate within the party about how to respond.

Nadler said the committee would vote to hold McGahn in contempt, though that’s not expected until June, after lawmakers return from the Memorial Day recess.

Democrats are encouraged by an early success in the legal battles , a Monday ruling by a federal judge against Trump on in a financial records dispute with Congress. Trump’s team filed notice of appeal on Tuesday.

But Pelosi’s strategy hasn’t been swift enough for some lawmakers. In particular, several members of the Judiciary panel feel they must take the lead in at least launching impeachment proceedings.

They say a formal impeachment inquiry could give Democrats more standing in court, even if they stop short of a vote to remove the president.

“I think that’s something a lot of members of the committee — and more and more members of the caucus — think is necessary,” said Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee. “I think an inquiry, as the Senate Watergate hearings were, would lead the public to see the misdeeds of this administration.”

Others, though, including some from more conservative districts, said they prefer the step-by-step approach.

“We want to make sure that we’re following all the legal processes, everything we’ve been given, to truly make the best decisions,” said Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, a freshman on the Judiciary panel.

Pelosi scheduled Wednesday’s meeting with lawmakers from the Judiciary and Oversight committees after some members confronted her during a meeting among top Democrats Monday evening.

At that time, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland led others in arguing that an impeachment inquiry would consolidate the Trump investigations and allow Democrats to keep more focus on their other legislative work, according to people familiar with the private conversation who requested anonymity to discuss it.

Pelosi pushed back, saying that several committees are doing investigations already and noting that Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the chairman of the Oversight Committee, already had won the early court battle over Trump’s financial documents.

With a 235-197 Democratic majority, Pelosi would likely find support for starting impeachment proceedings, but it could be a tighter vote than that margin suggests. Some lawmakers say voters back home are more interested in health care and the economy. Many come from more conservative districts where they need to run for re-election in communities where Trump also has support.

For Pelosi, it’s a push-pull exercise as she tries to raise awareness about Trump’s behavior without moving toward impeachment unless she knows the public is with Congress.

“We’ve been in this thing for almost five months and now we’re getting some results,” Pelosi told lawmakers Monday night. “We’ve always said one thing will lead to another as we get information.”

But other Democrats in the meeting, several of whom have spoken publicly about a need to be more aggressive with Trump, are increasingly impatient. They include Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California and freshman Joe Neguse of Colorado.

“We’re in a very grave moment,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, and “probably right now are left, with nothing but that we must open an inquiry.”

Tweeted Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas: Congress has made “accommodation after accommodation. I don’t think we should wait any longer.”

Source: NewsMax

 Nancy Pelosi may be forced into pursuing impeachment against Trump: Do You Think That’s Wise?

Pelosi facing increasing pressure to support impeaching Trump
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to have a special caucus-wide meeting of House Democrats on Wednesday morning as she faces growing calls within her party to impeach President Trump. Prior meetings involving Pelosi and top Democrats have escalated into heated exchanges, with the party torn over how to address Trump See More controversies. Pelosi has been reluctant to support impeachingTrump and has warned Democrats that impeachment could distract from the focus needed to win in the 2020 presidential election.

The House speaker has also warned colleagues that voters may not support impeaching Trump and that the party could suffer voter backlash if Trump was ultimately acquitted in the Republican-led Senate. Still, former White House counselDonald McGahn’s refusal, on Trump’s orders, to appear at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday has escalated tension between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration. A growing number of Democrats say they are dealing with a “lawless president” and that impeachment, not numerous investigations, may be the only way to hold the president accountable.

Joe Frontrunner versus ‘Crazy Uncle Joe’ 
Joe Biden might be leading the race for his party’s nomination now, but the former vice president is a “walking time bomb” and has to perform a “high-wire act” if he is to emerge from the crowded Democratic field in first place, according to Brit Hume, Fox News’ senior political analyst. “I like Biden on a personal basis, but I think he is a walking time bomb,” Hume said. “I think his age is an issue, I’m the same age as he is, my age is an issue, I think his is too… the filters don’t work as well, the memory isn’t as sharp. Hume made the comment while discussing Biden’s 2020 prospects on the latest episode of the Fox News podcast, “The Candidates with Bret Baier.”

Dozens of tornadoes slam the Midwest
Dozens of storms and tornadoes in the Midwest on Tuesday damaged multiple buildings — including a racetrack grandstand –but were expected to weaken by Wednesday. Missouri and parts of Illinois already have been hit with severe weather in the second consecutive day of severe storms and were blamed for at least two deaths. St. Louis was largely spared from the powerful stormsystem, but baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals called off their Tuesday game against their cross-state rivals, the Kansas City Royals, as the rumbling of an approaching storm could be heard downtown. The city’s Lambert Airport shut down for an hour Tuesday butresumed flights a short time later.

Beverly Hills tobacco ban advances
The exclusive community of Beverly Hills, Calif., took a step Tuesday toward becoming the first city in the United States to ban the sale of tobacco products. The city council approved an ordinance that would ban the sale of cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products at all retail locations within the tony Southern California city, including gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies and newsstands. However, hotels and several high-end cigar lounges — including the Grand Havana Room, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite cigar club – would be exempt from the rule. The second reading and final vote on the ordinance is expected to take place in early June. If passed, the ordinance will be reviewed by the council in three years. Beverly Hills wasn’t the only place to make history Tuesday: Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that allows the composting of human bodiesas an alternative to burials and cremations.

Cannes film poster depicts decapitated Trump
A B-movie poster courted controversy at the Cannes Film Festival’s Market by featuring a bikini-clad woman resembling first lady Melania Trump holding two decapitated heads — one of them a President Trump-like character wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap. The poster, for a 90-minute sci-fi thriller called “When Women Rule the World,” featured the tagline: “Meet the first lady of the future with her HEADS OF STATE!” The film was being promoted at the Cannes Market, part of the international film festival held each May in France.

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The Nevada Senate approved Tuesday a National Popular Vote bill on a party-line vote, sending the legislation aimed at upending the Electoral College to the governor.

Assembly Bill 186, which passed the Senate on a 12-8 vote, would bring Nevada into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement between participating states to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote.

If signed as expected by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, Nevada would become the 16th jurisdiction to join the compact, along with 14 states and the District of Columbia. The compact would take effect after states totaling 270 electoral votes, and with Nevada, the total would reach 195.

While the effort has been billed by organizers as bipartisan, Democrats have embraced the NPV in the aftermath of President Trump’s 2016 victory, which saw the Republican win the electoral vote but not the popular vote.

Leftist groups like Common Cause, Indivisible and Public Citizen cheered the Nevada vote.



“The movement to abolish the electoral college is winning,” tweeted Public Citizen.

The NPV would not eliminate the Electoral College, but would render it irrelevant by requiring electors to vote for the national vote-winner instead of the candidate capturing the most votes in their states.

Supporters argue that it would shift the focus of presidential elections away from a handful of swing states, while critics say it would concentrate power in states like California and New York with the largest population centers.

“If we go to a national popular vote, why would they even bother coming here? Our constitution says we’re a republic, not a democracy,” said Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler during last month’s debate. “I voted ‘no’ on the national popular vote because I don’t want Nevada to be a flyover state.”

Colorado, Delaware and New Mexico joined the compact in the 2019 legislative session, and other Democrat-controlled states are poised to follow.

Last week, the Maine Senate approved an NPV bill, sending it to the House. The Oregon bill has been approved by the Senate, and a House committee held a hearing Monday on the measure.

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FILE PHOTO - California Governor Jerry Brown's name and others are pictured on a railroad rail after a ceremony for the California High Speed Rail in Fresno, California January 6, 2015.
FILE PHOTO – California Governor Jerry Brown’s name and others are pictured on a railroad rail after a ceremony for the California High Speed Rail in Fresno, California January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

May 22, 2019

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – California and its high-speed rail authority filed suit on Tuesday to prevent the Trump administration from canceling a nearly $1 billion federal grant awarded in 2010 for a “bullet” train project hobbled by extensive delays and rising costs.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, claims the U.S. Transportation Department lacks authority to withhold the $929 million in question, which the Obama administration allocated nearly a decade ago but has remained untapped.

The court challenge seeks an injunction to keep the grant intact. The state also plans to petition for an immediate temporary restraining order to prevent the department’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) from redirecting the money to other projects.

In formally canceling the grant last week, the FRA said California had “repeatedly failed to comply” with terms of the allocation and “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”

But the suit, which was assigned to Judge James Donato, an appointee of President Barack Obama, argues the move stems from President Donald Trump’s “overt hostility to California” and its opposition to his initiative, so far unrealized, to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump first threatened to pull the high-speed rail funding after California Governor Gavin Newsom said in February that he wanted to scale back the $77.3 billion project, beset by rising costs, construction delays and management concerns.

Newsom later said the state remained committed to high-speed rail but would concentrate first on finishing a smaller segment of the line through California’s Central Valley.

In a speech last week, Trump called the project a “disaster” and “totally out of control.”

Beyond the unspent $929 million, the FRA said last week it was considering seeking the reimbursement of $2.5 billion in federal funds the state previously received for the project.

The clash is the latest in an ongoing battle between the Republican Trump administration and Democratic-controlled California over issues ranging from immigration to air quality standards.

The most populous U.S. state has repeatedly challenged the Trump administration in court, and the lawsuit to preserve California’s rail funding was expected.

The Trump administration first said it planned to withhold the money on Feb. 19, which California noted in its suit came one day after it joined 15 other states in suing Trump over his decision to declare an immigration emergency at the southern U.S. border.

The U.S. Transportation Department declined to comment on Tuesday.

California had planned to build a 520-mile (837-km) system that would allow trains to travel at up to 220 miles per hour (354 kph) from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the first phase, with full service beginning by 2033.

Newsom said in February the state would focus instead on finishing a 119-mile segment by 2028 between Merced and Bakersfield, which Trump described last week as running “from this tiny little town to another tiny little town.”

California voters approved the initial $10 billion bond for the project in 2008, and $3.5 billion in federal money was allocated two years later.

By March 2018, total costs projected by the state had jumped to $77 billion, with analysts warning the tally could ultimately exceed $98 billion.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by James Dalgleish, Meredith Mazzilli and Sonya Hepinstall)

Source: OANN

An internal draft memo at the IRS argues the agency should comply with congressional requests for President Donald Trump’s tax returns despite pushback from the White House.

The Washington Post obtained a copy of the 10-page memo, which was written last fall. The unknown author wrote that complying with Congress in regards to Trump’s tax returns, which he has refused to hand over because he said he is under audit, is “mandatory, requiring the [Treasury] Secretary [Steven Mnuchin] to disclose returns, and return information, requested by the tax-writing Chairs.”

The document says current law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met.

“[T]he Secretary’s obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee . . . to state a reason for the request . . . [the] only basis the agency’s refusal to comply with a committee’s subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”

The IRS told the Post the document does not represent the agency’s “official position” on the matter.

According to the Post, the memo was not signed and does not mention Trump.

In the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which cleared Trump of conspiring with the Russians to win the 2016 election but did outline potential areas where Trump might have obstructed justice during the two-year probe, Democrats are champing at the bit to find something on Trump that could be used in a potential impeachment trial.

Trump said during his 2016 presidential campaign he would not make his tax returns public because of the ongoing audit. He has resisted calls ever since to release them, including orders by Democratic lawmakers.

Source: NewsMax


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