Perdue’s motorcade involved in car accident, injuring three staffers

Sonny Perdue is pictured. | AP Photo

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (pictured) and House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway were in a separate vehicle and were not involved in the wreck, the USDA said in a statement. | Mark Schiefelbein/Pool/Getty Images

Two staffers for House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway and one from the USDA were taken to a hospital after a vehicle in Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s motorcade was involved in an accident in Texas on Thursday while surveying damage from Hurricane Harvey, the department said.

Perdue and Conaway were in a separate vehicle and were not involved in the wreck, the USDA said in a statement. The two House Agriculture Committee staffers were both conscious and talking at the scene, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who was also part of the motorcade but not involved in the accident, told POLITICO.

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The crash occurred in El Campo, Texas, southwest of Houston, as the caravan was leaving a listening session with agricultural producers, according to USDA and a report from the Texas Tribune. The paper reported that one of its photographers, Bob Daemmrich, witnessed the accident.

According to his account, an SUV in the caravan, which was carrying Perdue’s support staff, pulled onto the frontage road of Highway 59 in El Campo and struck a semi-truck. The truck and the SUV careened across the median and wound up on the other side of the highway.

A House Agriculture Committee aide said that one of the staffers taken to the hospital is a member of the press team. Further information was not immediately released.

Before the crash, Perdue tweeted: “Great to see folks coming together, just as in other places hit hard by #Harvey, #Irma & now #Maria.” Earlier in the day, Perdue toured cotton operations that suffered damage during Harvey.

“It is disheartening to see cotton wreckage left behind by #Harvey,” he tweeted. “But don’t mess with Texas. These folks will come back & @USDA will help.”

Sabrina Rodriguez contributed to this report.


Mueller requested phone records about Air Force One statement

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller is pictured. | AP Photo

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has also asked for documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his meetings with Russian officials. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

The special counsel has also recently made requests for documents concerning a statement made by Sean Spicer in the days preceding James Comey’s firing as FBI director.


Special counsel Robert Mueller has sought phone records concerning the statement written aboard Air Force One defending a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower last year that was set up by Donald Trump Jr., according to two people familiar with the investigation.

Mueller has also asked the White House for documents and emails connected to a May 3 press briefing where Sean Spicer said the president had confidence in James Comey as FBI director, these people said. The request seeks to determine what White House officials – particularly Spicer – knew about the president’s plans to fire Comey in the days before it happened, according to one of the people familiar with it.

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The requests, first reported by the New York Times, are the latest indication that Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is expanding to include what has happened in the White House since Trump took office, including questions of obstruction of justice.

Most of the requests, one of these people said, focus on what happened inside the White House after Jan. 20.

White House officials are expected to be interviewed in upcoming weeks by Mueller’s office, but the interviews have not been set, according to one of the people with knowledge of the investigation.

The special counsel’s office has also asked for documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his meetings with Russian officials, one of these people said.

Investigators are particularly interested in what happened inside the White House after former deputy attorney general Sally Yates told White House lawyer Don McGahn of the Flynn meeting with Russians. Flynn was said to have misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

A lawyer for Flynn couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. He hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing.

Mueller has also asked White House lawyers whether any documents related to Paul Manafort are in the White House, these people said. One White House official said there are few documents that even mention Manafort in the White House because he left the campaign in August.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment.

Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer, declined to comment “out of respect” for Mueller’s team.

He has told others in the White House he wants to speed up the investigation, and was recently heard by the New York Times telling other lawyers they needed to provide all documents, even though another White House lawyer is arguing otherwise.

The statement about the Trump Tower meeting, written on the return from a European summit earlier this year, touched off a frenzy inside the White House, with dozens of phone calls from Air Force One and back in Washington and New York.

It came as the New York Times was preparing to report about the meeting between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Manafort and Russians at Trump Tower, which was arranged after one of the Russians had promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. None of the people who attended have been accused of wrongdoing.

The statement sparked frustration from Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for the legal team, and Marc Kasowitz, a former lawyer, and partially led to Corallo’s resignation, because lawyers weren’t present and the president was involved.

Mueller’s request for documents surrounding the May 3 briefing from Spicer suggest he is trying to establish who knew what – and when – around the firing, according to legal observers and others involved in the case. He has requested any documents that would show Trump’s thinking, and who was involved. Spicer’s briefing followed Comey’s testimony earlier that day in which he said he was “mildly nauseous” at the thought of having influenced the outcome of the 2016 election.

Trump fired Comey on May 9. White House officials say the decision was made at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey the weekend after Spicer’s news briefing.

Spicer declined to comment.


Sources: Family court judge tops list to fill U.S. attorney post in Miami

The Mar-a-Lago resort is pictured. | AP Photo

The post is of keen interest to President Donald Trump because its jurisdiction includes his self-styled winter White House, Mar-a-Lago. | AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

MIAMI — A Miami family court judge is emerging as a new favorite to become the next U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, a post of keen interest to President Donald Trump because its jurisdiction includes his self-styled winter White House, Mar-a-Lago.

Circuit Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan in recent days has risen to the top of a crowded pack of potential nominees and has the backing of Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott, one of Trump’s most loyal supporters. Scott appointed her to the bench in Florida’s Eleventh Circuit Court in 2012 before she was reelected without opposition in 2014.

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“Governor Scott was glad to appoint Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan to the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in 2012,” said Scott spokesman John Tupps in an email to POLITICO Florida. “The Governor believes that Judge Fajardo Orshan has served the families of South Florida faithfully during her time on the bench.”

Fajardo Orshan, who gave POLITICO a “no comment” when called about the buzz over her possible nomination, also has the support of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, a fellow Miami Republican who served as the top prosecutor in the South Florida district under President George W. Bush, according to sources familiar with the nominating process. Acosta was also dean of Florida International University’s law school, where Fajardo Orshan is an adjunct professor.

Fajardo Orshan has a “very good reputation” in the White House, a source familiar with the process told POLITICO.

However, considering the stop-and-start nature of Trump’s nominating process, no one is willing to say that the job is Fajardo Orshan’s. As a family court judge, she doesn’t have the typical background of a U.S. attorney, a post often filled with former federal prosecutors. Fajardo, however, had worked as an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade County.


But none of the other names for Trump panned out.

This spring, it looked as if Trump were leaning toward two other potential picks initially offered by Rubio: state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (a former contestant on Trump’s “Apprentice” show) and attorney John Couriel, a Harvard friend of Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.

But then, backers for attorney Jon Sale, another Rubio recommendation who counts former New York mayor and prosecutor Rudy Giuliani as a friend, fought him back into contention. Sales soon stalled, as did another pick favored by some in the Justice Department, Roy Altman.

As the process dragged on, Diaz essentially withdrew his name from consideration to instead run in a crucial special state Senate election in Miami. Then, amid a whisper campaign, Couriel fell out of favor as soon as word reached Trump circles that Couriel did not vote for the billionaire businessman in November but instead wrote in Jeb Bush’s name, even though the former governor had dropped out of the GOP presidential primary months earlier.

“Our Republican base hasn’t known quite what to do with Donald Trump,” Couriel told the Los Angeles Times in November.

The Southern District of Florida doesn’t just include Mar-a-Lago — it also was the backdrop for a minor controversy after Trump nominated Acosta to become Labor secretary. During his confirmation, questions arose about how Acosta, as prosecutor in the district, once declined to prosecute billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, a Palm Beach resident and acquaintance of both Trump and former President Bill Clinton. The investigation centered around Epstein’s alleged involvement with underage girls more than a decade ago.

Acosta allowed the case to be resolved in state court in 2008. Epstein pleaded guilty to two charges: solicitation of prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. He served 13 months in a county jail and paid financial settlements to more than three dozen women.

The district is awash in money from overseas investors, including a number of wealthy Russians, who could play a role in the special investigation of the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia’s government.

“There’s no guarantees about anything or who gets the job until there’s an announcement,” a source said in April when the nominating process first heated up. “This is important to the president. He’s paying attention to this. He cares about New York and the Southern District the most. You see he spent more time in Palm Beach than New York or anywhere else since he became president.”

UPDATED at 4 p.m. with statement from Gov. Rick Scott’s office.


Trump to host conservative groups for tax talks Monday

Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

With tax reform, the White House is keen to keep the conservative groups in the loop in hopes that they bolster the administration’s message with ads in support of the legislation. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

President Donald Trump will host leaders from 10 to 15 conservative grass-roots groups for dinner at the White House on Monday to lay out his pitch for tax reform, even though the details are still in flux, according to a senior administration official and another person who plans to attend.

Two days later, the House Republican Conference will host a half-day retreat in Washington to iron out how to sell tax reform to voters.

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“Tax reform is the most important thing we can do right now to help American families get ahead, and as we move forward we want to make sure members have ample opportunity to talk through our framework, ask questions and offer feedback,” said Nate Hodson, spokesman for the GOP conference.

While the details of the plan have yet to be finalized, with sticking points such as where to set individual income tax brackets and rates, the White House is hoping to get conservative interest groups on board early since these outside groups could either tank or sell the plan.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Marc Short, head of the White House legislative affairs office, has acknowledged that the White House didn’t do enough during the early attempts in Congress to repeal Obamacare to engage conservative groups such as The Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth.

“One of the things that we can learn from the last battle was that in many case, we did not get all of our allies on board with the path forward and so therefore the Republican base was splintered and some of the reform packages were tagged early on as Obamacare-lite,” he said during a breakfast with reporters in September.

With tax reform, the White House is keen to keep these groups in the loop in hopes that they bolster the administration’s message with ads in support of the legislation.

White House officials including senior adviser Kellyanne Conway recently met with staffers and leaders of conservative groups and Republican pundits in two separate White House meetings. Outside conservative groups already spent money in August to build public support for tax reform.

“If the plan looks like what the White House wants, the conservative groups will be in love with it,” said a senior administration official, adding that conservative groups would be less pleased if the plan falls short of an ambitious overhaul.

Individual tax rates have remained a major sticking point. The White House has considered keeping the top rate for individuals at 39.5 percent, rather than reducing it to 35 percent, as Republicans have proposed. Some involved in the talks also would rather focus on slashing corporate tax rates.

Tax reform supporters hope that, with all eyes on the Senate’s vote on its latest effort to repeal Obamacare, they will have some leeway if all the details aren’t settled this week, one person familiar with their thinking said.

“The health care vote helps them go under the radar screen; they don’t want attention on the sausage-making,” said a person familiar with their thinking. “They now have an excuse if they can’t give details.”


Facebook to release to Congress Russian-purchased ads linked to 2016 election

Facebook logo is pictured. | Getty Images

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on the deal. | Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook has struck a deal with Capitol Hill investigators to release advertisements purchased by Russians to influence the 2016 campaign and some associated information with them, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Facebook did not respond for comment.

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The move comes amid mounting pressure from Congress to release the Russian-related ads, particularly criticism from Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat of Virginia.

The company is also turning over the information to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team but had previously only shown some of the ads to members on the Hill in a private session — and had not released extensive information about the ads.

The ads have become of increasing interest to Mueller and his team, according to people familiar with the investigation, because they could show Russian efforts to interfere — and who was behind them.