House Intel Republicans shoot down hearing with Zuckerberg

Reps. Mike Conaway (left), Chris Stewart and Devin Nunes are pictured. | AP Photo

Reps. Mike Conaway, Chris Stewart and Devin Nunes leave a meeting of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Spokespeople for Nunes and Conaway did not immediately respond to a request for comment on their vote against a hearing with the CEOs of Facebook and other tech companies. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted down a Democratic proposal to hold a hearing with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs, according to the panel’s ranking member, Adam Schiff.

The Democratic effort came amid a firestorm over revelations that Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained information on some 50 million Facebook users.

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Schiff, however, said House Intel Democrats are finalizing plans for an interview with Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower in the Cambridge Analytica case.

Spokespeople for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and the panel’s top Russia investigator Mike Conaway didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

House Intelligence Republicans also voted today to end their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, declaring that a string of contacts between Donald Trump’s associates and Russian government affiliates fell short of collusion.

Earlier today, leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee became the first in Congress to say they will summon Zuckerberg to testify about Cambridge Analytica.

Asked about the Facebook controversy today, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte declined to comment, referring questions to his staff. A Judiciary Committee aide also declined to comment on the prospect of a Facebook hearing.

John Hendel contributed to this alert.

Stormy Daniels seeks Trump Organization documents related to payout

Stormy Daniels is pictured. | Getty Images

Porn star Stormy Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is one of three women suing Trump over his alleged sexual behavior | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The attorney for adult film actress Stormy Daniels has asked the Trump Organization to preserve records related to a $130,000 payment that President Donald Trump’s lawyer made to Daniels just weeks before the 2016 election.

In letters sent Thursday to the Trump Organization, First Republic Bank and City National Bank, Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Daniels, asked that all documents connected to the payment be preserved, including emails and communications with Trump family members. The demand is part of a civil lawsuit Daniels filed this month seeking to void an October 2016 nondisclosure agreement in which she was paid in return for her silence about an alleged affair she had with Trump nearly a decade earlier.

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Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is one of three women suing Trump over his alleged sexual behavior. While the lawsuits are in their earliest stages, they threaten to embroil the president in years of litigation that could expose embarrassing details of his alleged sexual relationships, uncover evidence of possible hush-money payments and draw the scrutiny of federal campaign finance regulators. Ultimately, the president himself could be forced to testify or give depositions under oath.

Avenatti said Thursday’s letters are just the beginning.

“We intend on using all legal means at our disposal to uncover the truth about the cover-up and what happened,” Avenatti said in an emailed statement. “This is but one of many tools we will use. When we are done, the truth will be laid bare for the American people.”

A lawyer for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for First Republic said the bank had no comment on the letter while a spokeswoman for City National Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Weeks before Election Day 2016, Michael Cohen, a former lawyer at the Trump Organization now serving as Trump’s personal attorney, created a company, Essential Consultants LLC, which entered into a contract with Daniels just as Trump‘s campaign was reeling from the release of an “Access Hollywood“ tape in which Trump bragged about grabbing women.

The agreement gave Daniels money in return for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump. The contract included a signature line for Trump that was left blank. Cohen has said the president denies any having any relationship with the porn actress.

Cohen has said he made the $130,000 payment to Daniels himself without Trump’s knowledge, drawing down on a home equity line of credit to get the cash.

On Oct. 26, 2016, Cohen used his Trump Organization email to facilitate the payment from First Republic Bank to City National Bank, into an account controlled by Daniels’ former lawyer.

Citi becomes first big bank to press clients to restrict gun sales

The Citibank logo is pictured. | Getty

The policy “is not centered on an ideological mission to rid the world of firearms,” Ed Skyler, Citi’s head of global public affairs, said in a blog post. | Getty

Citigroup Thursday announced a new policy aimed at pushing its clients to place restrictions on the sale of firearms, becoming the nation’s first large lender to take action on guns.

The move by Citigroup, the fourth-biggest U.S. bank by assets, comes two days before major nationwide rallies on gun control are scheduled to take place.

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The bank will require retail clients to only sell guns if the customer has passed a background check, to restrict sales to people under 21, and to refuse to sell bump stocks or high-capacity magazines. Bump stocks enable a semiautomatic rifle to fire faster.

The policy “is not centered on an ideological mission to rid the world of firearms,” Ed Skyler, Citi’s head of global public affairs, said in a blog post. “That is not what we seek. There are millions of Americans who use firearms for recreational and other legitimate purposes, and we respect their constitutional right to do so.

“But we want to do our part as a company to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands,” said Skyler, who served under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City for eight years. Bloomberg is a leading gun-control advocate.

Citi says it will no longer do business with clients who decline to go along with the policy.

“We know our clients also care about these issues, and we have begun to engage with them in the hope that they will adopt these best practices over the coming months,” Skyler said. “If they opt not to, we will respect their decision and work with them to transition their business away from Citi.”

The bank will apply these requirements across the firm, he said, including to small businesses, commercial and institutional clients, and credit card partners, Skyler said.

The First National Bank of Omaha announced last month that it would end its relationship with the National Rifle Association. It had issued NRA-branded cards as part of its business.

Opinion: It’s time for the EU to get real

BERLIN — Europe doesn’t need any more lofty speeches. What it needs is a stiff dose of pragmatism. It’s important to remember that in a time of growing mistrust toward the European Union and its institutions, the basic idea of Europe as a Western community of shared values enjoys enduring support. But it’s equally important not to delude ourselves: The many millions of people who have voted for Euroskeptic parties in France, Poland, Germany and Italy will not be persuaded by proposals such as the creation of a eurozone finance minister or the introduction of transnational lists for the European parliament.

The dream held by some leaders on the Continent of melting nation states into a “United States of Europe” is simply not supported by a majority of citizens and governments. Any attempt to impose a utopian vision will only further divide — rather than unite — the European Union.

Closer cooperation might be necessary in the future, but right now it’s time to concentrate on solving the concrete problems facing the citizens of the EU.

Taking back control

The issue that clearly causes the most anxiety with voters is migration. As long as human traffickers, rather than border officers, decide who sets foot on European soil, we put at risk one of the greatest achievements in European integration: the freedom of movement.

It is said that countries with a shared currency do not wage war against each other. Surely this must apply even more so to countries with joint military units.

Europe needs a truly European border protection. With just 300 staff and a rapid reaction pool of 1,500 national border officers, the personnel resources of the European border agency Frontex are limited, to say the least. What is required is far greater numbers of European officers in the Mediterranean — including personnel from the German police and armed forces.

We as the European Union need to decide who can enter our common free travel area, for what reason and under what conditions. On this issue Europe can and must take back control in concrete terms.

Europe also needs to make progress on the defense union. The launch last year of the Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defense (PESCO) — whose aim is to increase European synergies in shared armaments projects and to gradually establish permanent EU-wide units and capabilities — can be hailed as a major achievement. But a lot of work remains to be done. The overall defense spending of EU member countries represents around one third of the United States’ spending in this area, and our military capabilities lag behind as a result.

The EU’s current military missions, such as those in Mali and in the Mediterranean, have so far been financed from national budgets. Why should they not be financed in the future from the shared EU budget? Already today the Dutch have all of their battle tanks stationed on German soil in joint units. Who would have thought this possible 10 or 20 years ago? It is said that countries with a shared currency do not wage war against each other. Surely this must apply even more so to countries with joint military units.

Setting priorities

On financial matters, too, Europe needs to improve. We should use the upcoming negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget to finally anchor sensible priorities for the EU. In essence, this will mean making available more resources for border protection, security, for investments, infrastructure and digital issues.

There is a proposal to provide a four-week Interrail pass for all school-leavers | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Setting priorities means less indiscriminate distribution of funds and more tangible added value for Europe. It also means having the courage to develop institutions that can inspire faith in the European project. Previous examples include Airbus, the Galileo space program and the Erasmus student exchanges. We should for example create a European center for cutting-edge research and teaching in the fields of artificial intelligence, algorithms and blockchain.

Europe should also cooperate with industry to invest billions in a European cloud, with servers and computing capacity in the EU, instead of becoming ever more dependent on Google, Amazon and — in the not-too-distant future — Alibaba.

A recent proposal to provide a four-week Interrail pass for all school-leavers in the EU is intriguing, as it would help foster a connection to other Europeans. These are costly projects, yes, but they would allow us to make a positive — and distinctly European — mark on the world.

Resilience and competitiveness

The future of our shared currency, the euro, is also central to Europe’s future. Reducing the debt levels of member countries is vital, as is reinforcing the European Economic and Monetary Union and ensuring that actions and liability go hand in hand. Credibly enforcing the EU’s stability and growth pact is the key task. In this way, we can enhance member countries’ financial resilience and our ability to withstand the next crisis.

In order to make the euro-architecture more robust, the European Stability Mechanism should be further developed into a European Monetary Fund, as already proposed by former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Such a monetary fund would have to include better early-warning and prevention mechanisms for crises and credible procedures for debt restructuring in order to protect taxpayers.

Some sort of neutral internal governance — committed to compliance with the treaties, rather than political opportunism — will be vital. That would also enhance the attractiveness of the eurozone for those countries who have not yet introduced the euro.

A Frontex crew patrols the Aegean Sea | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Neither should we let enthusiasm wane when it comes to the single market. The European economy is growing faster than it has been for some time, investment and employment are picking up. But more is needed to ensure lasting competitiveness on the global stage.

The European Commission regularly issues tailor-made recommendations to each of the member countries on reforms needed, including, by the way, for Germany. In order to enhance the incentives to carry out these reforms, European structural funds should in the future only go to projects that strengthen the European economy.

Finance labor mobility — through the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, cooperation between national labor agencies and language courses — would be more effective than financing unemployment through an EU unemployment insurance scheme.

Layers of Europe

The EU should not forget it is not an all-encompassing state. As a supranational institution it is only responsible for those areas explicitly defined in the treaties. The creeping power grab by the European institutions must end. Brussels is supposed to serve the interests of long-term institutionalized cooperation between member countries, not its own interests. The Commission is not a government and it should not think of itself as one;  it is the guardian of the treaties.

When it comes to integration, the most frequently used image is that of a so-called multispeed Europe. This suggests that all countries have the same goal, but that some will achieve it more quickly than others. This is not true.

We Germans must acknowledge our special role as the bloc’s largest member, while always striving to understand the viewpoints of other members.

In reality, Europe is like an onion, with different layers and depths of integration. And we need more of them. The four fundamental freedoms — of goods, persons, services and capital — form the core of the onion. Other layers — Schengen, the euro and certain sections of security policy — do not involve all member countries.

New projects should similarly be open to all who want to join, but we should not have to wait for every last member country; the willing have to lead the way. Franco-German initiatives on corporate taxation, defense, research, or a joint venture capital fund are all possibilities for new layers of Europe.

We Germans must acknowledge our special role as the bloc’s largest member, while always striving to understand the viewpoints of other members — small or large, old or new. We must be ready to deepen EU cooperation, not on a platform of lofty rhetoric, but in a constructive fashion through concrete projects.

Only then can we strengthen our crisis-torn Union, show our citizens that we can indeed shape globalization, and ensure that Europe remains a success story in the 21st century.

Jens Spahn, a former state secretary at the federal ministry of finance, is Germany’s health minister and a member of the CDU’s presidium.