The White House said Thursday that President Trump will invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Washington, D.C., in the fall. News of the invitation capped a week of damage control by the White House, after Trump said at a summit with Putin in Helsinki that he didn’t see any reason why Russia would have meddled in the 2016 election. Trump’s invitation to Putin appeared to catch top administration officials by surprise. This is NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, breaking the news to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats during the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Thursday.
Andrea Mitchell: “The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.”
Dan Coats: “Say that again?”
Andrea Mitchell: “Vladimir Putin coming to the”—
Dan Coats: “Did I hear you? Did I hear you?”
Andrea Mitchell: “Yeah, yeah.”
Dan Coats: “OK.”
Andrea Mitchell: “Yeah.”
Dan Coats: “That’s going to be special.”
Not everyone in the Washington, D.C., establishment is opposed to inviting Putin to the White House. Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering told CNN today, “The president we got is the president we got. The problems we have with Russia are the problems we have with Russia. … Not talking never gets you anywhere.”
Meanwhile, the White House on Thursday said it was no longer considering an unprecedented proposal that would have seen Russian interrogators question former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and other U.S. citizens—in exchange for allowing special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to interview 12 Russians indicted last week for allegedly hacking the emails of Democrats during the 2016 election. Trump was initially warm to the proposal, proposed by Vladimir Putin, calling it “an incredible offer.” But Trump reversed course Thursday after the Senate voted 98 to 0 for a nonbinding resolution opposing any such deal, and after current and former diplomats rallied to the defense of McFaul, saying Trump’s move would undermine the bedrock principle of diplomatic immunity. The resolution came after Republican leaders barred a vote on two other Russia-related measures. One, proposed by Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, would have demanded President Trump speak with special counsel Robert Mueller. Another resolution would have backed the finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. That resolution had the support of Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake.
Sen. Jeff Flake: “Mr. President, in his dystopian novel '1984,' George Orwell wrote, quote, 'The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their most essential—most final, essential command,' unquote. Well, we saw earlier this week in Helsinki what was truly an Orwellian moment.”
The Trump administration on Thursday announced plans to roll back the Endangered Species Act, ordering federal agencies to consider economic impacts before listing animals as protected under the law. The newly proposed guidelines by the Interior Department would allow corporations involved in mining, drilling or other forms of extraction to proceed with projects that would otherwise be prohibited. In response, the Natural Resources Defense Council tweeted, “This is unacceptable. The ESA is a wildly successful piece of legislation that has prevented 99% of the species it protects from going extinct.”
Aides to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt held a newly purchased office desk in storage to air out for days, after raising concerns that it contained formaldehyde. That’s according to Politico, which obtained an email showing staffers sought to shield Pruitt from the toxic chemical after he purchased the desk as part of a $9,500 redecoration of his office. Politico reports that just months later, the same aides blocked the release of a report on the health dangers of formaldehyde.
Declaring that healthcare is a human right, at least 70 Democrats have signed on to a new “Medicare for All” House Caucus. Speaking on Capitol Hill Thursday, caucus co-chair Congressmember Pramila Jayapal of Washington state said the U.S. could provide universal healthcare by lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to zero.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “We are united today by the common conviction that healthcare is a human right, that healthcare must be affordable and accessible to all residents of the United States, and that one of the best ways to ensure healthcare for all is to use the system that already exists for millions of seniors over the last half-century, and that is Medicare.”
Wells Fargo said Thursday it will refund hundreds of thousands of its customers after it tacked on tens of millions of dollars in fees for services they never requested, including insurance against identity theft and debt protection. This comes just months after federal regulators fined Wells Fargo $1 billion for forcing people to buy auto insurance policies they didn’t need, for improperly charging mortgage holders and for other financial crimes.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee grilled Kathy Kraninger, President Trump’s nominee to head the beleaguered Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an agency opposed by Republicans which has seen its operations severely curtailed under the Trump administration. This is North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp questioning Kraninger.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp: “Have you ever worked at a bank or a credit union?”
Kathy Kraninger: “Senator, I have not.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp: “OK.”
Kathy Kraninger: “And like many other”—
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp: “Have you ever had oversight or regulated a bank or a credit union?”
Kathy Kraninger: “No, Senator, I have not, like many other nominees.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp: “OK. Have you ever been responsible for oversight or leadership in supervising payday lenders?”
Kathy Kraninger: “No, Senator, I have not.”
Kraninger is a senior official at the White House Office of Management and Budget who’s proposed cutting nearly $150 million—or about a quarter—from the CFPB’s budget. She assisted the Trump administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and helped craft the “zero tolerance” policy at the U.S.-Mexico border that’s seen thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents. This is Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “You see the videos of some of these children being returned to their parents after long separations. They’re dazed. They’re unsmiling. They’re dirty. It’s like the life has been sucked out of them. These are innocent children who may be scarred forever by this policy. It is fundamentally immoral, and you—you—were part of it, Ms. Kraninger. It is a moral stain that will follow you for the rest of your life.”
Senator Warren’s comments came as federal officials reported Thursday that just 364 of some 2,500 families with children aged 5 and older have been brought back together, less than a week before a court-ordered deadline to reunite children and parents. We’ll have more on the emotional and psychological impact of the Trump administration’s immigration policies later in the broadcast.
In the Gaza Strip, one Palestinian was killed and three others wounded Wednesday after Israeli warplanes bombed a security observation post near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. Israel said it was targeting Palestinians launching incendiary devices on kites flown over Israel’s militarized border with Gaza, which it blames for burning crops on Israeli farms. In southern Israel, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said today Israel was preparing to launch a “large and painful military operation” that he said would rival the 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed over 2,300 Palestinians while leaving 17,000 injured. This came as Israel further tightened its blockade on the Gaza Strip, barring deliveries of natural gas and other fuels. In a statement, the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Israel's fuel blockade would exacerbate the already dire living conditions in Gaza, and raised concerns of collective punishment.
Back in the United States, at least 11 people drowned Thursday evening in Branson, Missouri, after their amphibious “duck boat” capsized on a lake, as wind gusts from a severe thunderstorm topped 60 miles an hour. The deaths came as more than two dozen tornadoes tore through central Iowa, injuring 17 people and tearing the roofs off buildings in the cities of Pella and Marshalltown.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday backed President Trump’s defense of violent white supremacists who attacked counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, saying “both sides” were to blame for attacks that left one counterprotester dead and dozens more injured. Nielsen made the remark at a forum organized by the Aspen Institute.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: “I think what’s important about that conversation is, it’s not that one side is right, one side is wrong. Anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate.”
Last August 11, hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists held a march on the campus of the University of Virginia, chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” The next day, members of the group attacked counterprotesters, firing at least one shot from a pistol and brutally beating 20-year-old Deandre Harris in a parking garage, before a neo-Nazi named James Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators, killing a local paralegal named Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
In New York City, the NYPD said Thursday it will immediately hold internal disciplinary hearings for sergeant Daniel Pantaleo, the officer filmed killing African-American Staten Island resident Eric Garner with a fatal chokehold in July 2014, while Garner gasped “I can’t breathe” 11 times. Another officer on the scene, Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, will also face a disciplinary hearing. Speaking on Democracy Now! on Wednesday, Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said she wants to see other officers involved in her son’s death held accountable.
Gwen Carr: “What I would like to see is that all of the officers that was involved in my son’s death that day be accountable and transparent, and that they get fired from the force, because they are the ones that is responsible for my son’s death.”
And in upstate New York, protesters gathered Wednesday outside the Troy Police Department to demand justice for Dahmeek McDonald, an unarmed African-American man who was shot last August during a traffic stop. The protest came after a grand jury voted not to indict Jarrod Iler, the police officer who shot McDonald in the head and arm. Protesters called for Governor Andrew Cuomo to appoint an independent prosecutor, and demanded that the city of Troy create a civilian review board, drawing comparisons to the national pattern of police officers receiving preferential treatment after extrajudicial shootings of people of color. This is Dahmeek McDonald’s uncle, Messiah Cooper, speaking Wednesday.
Messiah Cooper: “We have to call for change. We have to call on the governor to step in, and not only when there is a murder but in any aggressive force use by the police. If their firearm is discharged, the attorney general needs to step in and handle the case. It just can’t be if they kill us. And even when they kill us, we still receive no justice.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that Dahmeek McDonald was shot, not killed, by a Troy, NY police officer in August 2017.