Charlie Crist dropped by Salomon Melgen’s house, Melgen’s wife testifies

In 2010, then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was an uninvited house guest of Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.

That’s according to Melgen’s wife, Flor Melgen, who told the unusual story about how Crist showed up to her house unannounced during her Tuesday testimony in the corruption trial of Melgen and Sen. Robert Menendez. Crist was running as an independent for the U.S. Senate at the time.

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“He was looking for my husband. He knew that my husband was Bob’s [Menendez] friend, and he was wondering if he might be with him,” Flor Melgen testified. “I didn’t know he was going to spend the night at my home and I wasn’t prepared.”

The Crist visit happened on the weekend of October 9, 2010. On that same weekend, prosecutors charge, Melgen bribed Menendez by paying for his commercial flight from New Jersey to Florida, and then flying him back on a chartered private jet.

With the jury out of the room, defense attorneys said the purpose of the testimony was to show that the purpose of the trip was political and that it should have been reimbursed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez chaired at the time, and not Menendez himself.

Prosecutors charge that Melgen supplied the Democratic senator with private jet flights, hotel stays, lavish vacations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for official favors.

But even though Menendez was in Florida at same time as Crist, he was not at the Melgen’s house with Crist. In fact, Crist didn’t even see Melgen until later that night. Instead, he dined with Flor Melgen, her daughter and her son-in-law, who she had pick up food from The Capital Grille.

“I had to order food because there was no food prepared at my house,” Flor Melgen said. She said Salomon Melgen got home after they ate.

The next day, Crist wrote the Melgens a $100 check to cover his visit.

“I was very surprised when he gave me the check,” Flor Melgen said. “I asked him why, and he told me it was because of the dinner and because he spent the night at my house.”

Although Crist was running as an independent, the Democratic candidate for Florida Senate, Kendrick Meek, withdrew from the race just before he showed up at the Melgens’ door. Republican Marco Rubio easily won the election later that year. Four years later, Crist ran unsuccessfully for governor as a Democrat.

Prosecutor Monique Abrishami drew an amused rebuke from Judge William Walls’ after she cross-examined Flor Melgen.

“This is a check from Charlie Crist to your husband?” Abrishami said.

“Yes,” Flor Melgen said.

“So at least this politician knows how to pay you back for things?” Abrishami said.

Defense attorneys immediately objected, leading Walls to instruct the jury to disregard Abrishami’s last question.

“What lawyers from time to time [do] … is engage in the practice of a ‘throwaway question.’ A throwaway question is one that the questioner knows obviously is objectionable and he or she wants to make a point, and he or she does it by this throw away question,” Walls said. “You’ve just had evidence of a throwaway question. And I give [Abrishami] credit for being such a young practioner of the art.”

Trump takes credit for ISIS ‘giving up’

President Donald Trump is pictured. | AP

“I totally changed the attitudes of the military and they have done a fantastic job,” President Donald Trump said. | Evan Vucci/AP

President Donald Trump claimed credit Tuesday morning for successes in the ongoing campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq, telling a radio host that he had “totally changed the attitudes of the military.”

“It had to do with the people I put in and it had to do with rules of engagement. We weren’t fighting to win. We were fighting to be politically correct,” Trump told radio host Chris Plante, a seeming dig at the Obama administration. The president’s remark comes on the same day that Islamic State militants were pushed from the capital of their self-described caliphate, the Syrian city of Raqqa.

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Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. military advisers and airstrikes, have made significant gains against the Islamic State in recent months, forcing it from the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported on the surrender of more than 1,000 Islamic State fighters fleeing the Iraqi city of Hawija.

Trump made combating the Islamic State a key component of his 2016 presidential campaign, arguing that former President Barack Obama had been too soft in going after the militant group and that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would have done the same. As president, Trump has delegated some battlefield autonomy to military officials on the ground, a step he said has improved efficiency. In other areas, his administration’s strategy has remained largely similar to that of Obama’s.

“I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military and they have done a fantastic job,” Trump said. “Yeah, ISIS is now giving up. They’re giving up, they’re raising their hands, they’re walking off. Nobody’s ever seen that before.”

“Why did that happen?” Plante asked Trump.

“Because you didn’t have Trump as your president. I mean, it was a big difference. I mean, there’s a big, big difference if you look at the military now,” the president replied.

Trump ‘surprised’ by ‘dishonesty in the media’

President Donald Trump is pictured. | AP

“I thought after I won, the media would become much more stable and much more honest. They’ve gone crazy,” President Donald Trump said. | Susan Walsh/AP

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was “surprised” by what he perceived as the media’s continued antipathy towards him after last year’s election, characterizing CNN and NBC News “a joke” and “a total joke,” respectively.

“Actually, dishonesty in the media is one of the things that surprised me the most. I thought after I won, the media would become much more stable and much more honest. They’ve gone crazy,” Trump told radio host Chris Plante Tuesday. “CNN is a joke. NBC is a total joke. You watch what they report, it bears no relationship to what I’m doing. But the media is absolutely dishonest and frankly, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

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Trump has sparred regularly with the media, often pinning a “fake news” label to outlets whose coverage he does not like. The president has previously suggested he would seek to loosen libel laws, allowing him to sue outlets whose coverage he believes is inaccurate or unfair.

More recently, Trump has lashed out specifically at NBC News, who reported this month that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron” following a meeting last summer nearly resigned over frustrations with the president. Tillerson held a press conference hours after that report was published to deny that he had ever considered resignation. He did not directly deny calling the president a “moron,” although a State Department spokesman later did so on his behalf.

A subsequent NBC News story reported that Trump had sought a tenfold increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal, a report that both Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis said was untrue.

“But The New York Times, The Washington Post, they write whatever they want to write. You know, they have an agenda. We’ll have to figure out what their agenda is, but they do have an agenda,” the president said Tuesday. “I think that’s one of the biggest surprises, is the level of dishonesty. Interestingly, after I won, I said ‘well now I’ll bet the media starts to shape up, and you know, it’s over, so now’ – and it actually has gotten worse than during the campaign.”

D.C. Circuit nominee says he worked on White House response to Mueller probe

Greg Katsas is pictured. | Getty

“I did not work on the dismissal of James Comey,” said Greg Katsas, who is seen here in Washington in 2012. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Katsas also acknowledged he gave advice on travel ban, DACA, voter fraud commission.

President Donald Trump’s first nominee to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said Tuesday he worked on the White House’s response to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s judicial pick, current White House Deputy Counsel Greg Katsas, also disclosed that he worked on many of the administration’s most controversial policy initiatives, including the travel ban executive orders, a new voter fraud commission, and the president’s decision to phase out protections for young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

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During a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Katsas said that while he has provided legal advice about how to response to the Russia probe, he wasn’t involved in Trump’s firing earlier this year of James Comey. That decision to push out the FBI director eventually led to the appointment of Mueller to oversee the investigation.

“I did not work on the dismissal of James Comey. In fact, I first learned of that dismissal when I saw it announced on television,” Katsas said.

As Sen. Mike Lee led the questioning of Katsas, the Utah Republican sought to head off questions by Democrats by prompting the nominee to take certain issues off the table. One of Lee’s early questions was whether Mueller has sought to interview him. The special counsel has begun speaking to current and former White House officials as part of his investigation into whether Moscow had U.S. help in meddling with last year’s election.

“I have not been interviewed by the special counsel, nor have I been asked to be interviewed,” Katsas said.

However, under questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Katsas said he’d dealt with legal issues related to the Mueller probe.

“I have given legal advice on a few discrete legal questions arising out of the investigation,” he said. “I have no knowledge of any underlying facts regarding Russian interference,” he added.

“Can you tell us what those legal questions were?” Feinstein asked.

“I’m sorry, I cannot,” Katsas said, arguing that the specific topics were confidential and covered by attorney-client and executive privilege.

Trump could authorize Katsas to discuss any or all of those matters, but Katsas said he has made no such request of the president.

“I have not discussed the matter with the president,” Katsas said.

Trump invokes death of John Kelly’s son in furor over calls to fallen soldiers

Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images

President Donald Trump was adamant Tuesday that he’s called the family of every fallen service member. | Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The president also says he doesn’t feel a need to clarify his claim that Obama didn’t always call the families of slain service members.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday invoked the death of the son of his chief of staff, John Kelly, as he defended his claim from a day before that Barack Obama and other past presidents didn’t always call the families of slain service members.

Trump also said he doesn’t feel a need to clarify his remarks.

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“There’s nothing to clarify,” Trump said Tuesday morning during an interview with Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade, as he blamed CNN, which he called “fake news” and “just a bunch of fakers.”

“So they ask me that question, and for the most part, to the best of my knowledge, I think I’ve called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make, and I said it very loud and clear yesterday. The hardest thing for me to do is do that.”

“Now, as far as other representatives, I don’t know,” he continued. “I mean, you could ask General Kelly did he get a call from Obama. You could ask other people. I don’t know what Obama’s policy was. I write letters, and I also call.”

Kelly’s son, 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, died in November 2010 in Afghanistan when he stepped on a land mine. A representative for Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has faced an onslaught of criticism — most notably from former Obama aides — since making the accusation against Obama on Monday afternoon in a Rose Garden news conference when asked about his silence regarding the death of four Green Berets related to an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.

“The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls,” the president alleged without evidence Monday. “A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”

Obama’s former aides chafed at the comment. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, called the president’s claim “an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards” and noted on Twitter that it was Trump, not Obama, who attacked a Gold Star family that had been critical of him.

Alyssa Mastromonaco, Obama’s former deputy chief of staff of operations, was even more direct, tweeting, “that’s a f—— lie. to say president obama (or past presidents) didn’t call the family members of soldiers KIA – he’s a deranged animal.”

In an attempt to clarify the president’s comments, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump “wasn’t criticizing his predecessors, but stating a fact,” and insisted that past presidents never “called each family of the fallen” because they sometimes sent letters or met with them in person in lieu of phone calls.

“I think what the president was saying is that there are many different ways to reach out to these families,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway explained Tuesday in an interview with Fox News. “The president, I think, made very clear there what he meant and what he was saying.”

Trump was adamant Tuesday that he’s called the family of every fallen service member.

“It’s very difficult to be able to do that, but I have called, I believe, everybody. But certainly I’ll use the word ‘virtually’ everybody, where during the last nine months something’s happened to a soldier I’ve called virtually everybody,” the president said. “I’ve gone to Dover [Air Force Base]. I’ve seen what takes place at Dover. It’s an incredible scene and very, very sad — one of the saddest things you’ll ever see.”

He cautioned, however, that he speaks for himself, not past presidents. “I don’t know what Bush did. I don’t know what Obama did,” he conceded. “You could find out easily what President Obama did. All you have to do is ask the military people. But I believe his policy was somewhat different than my policy.”

Trump said his policy is to call the family of every fallen soldier, though his rhetoric Monday suggested he only calls “when it’s appropriate” and “when I think I’m able to do it.”

“You have to let a little time go by. You can’t just call immediately,” he said, explaining why he has yet to reach out to the families of those killed in the Niger ambush. “But I will be calling, have called and will be calling the parents and the loved ones, wives, etc., of the soldiers that recently were killed.”

Edward-Isaac Dovere contributed to this report.