‘Trump is messing with the wrong woman’

Frederica Wilson is pictured. | AP Photo

The president is a “jerk” and a “liar” who “doesn’t know how to be a president,” Rep. Frederica Wilson said. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

The president has never feuded with a politician quite like Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Of President Trump’s many opponents in Congress, none looks or sounds remotely like Rep. Frederica Wilson, the Miami Democrat known for her bedazzled, sequined-blinged hats, her vibrant matching outfits and her reputation in Florida for never backing down from a fight.

But Wilson has never had an foe like Trump or a fight this personal, which began with the president’s condolence call to the widow of a young soldier the congresswoman helped steer away from Miami’s mean streets — only to see him die in a mysterious ambush in sub-Saharan Niger.

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Despite tough criticism and insults from the president and his allies — a top African-American Trump surrogate, former Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, characterized Wilson as “a buffoon” while White House Chief of Staff John Kelly teed off on her from a White House lectern — the 74-year-old Democrat hasn’t flinched, firing back with caustic responses honed by years of full-contact Miami politics.

The president is a “jerk” and a “liar” who “doesn’t know how to be a president,” Wilson said. She then mocked him for raising her profile.

“You mean to tell me that I have become so important that the White House is following me and my words?” Wilson laughed. “This is amazing. That’s amazing. That is absolutely phenomenal. I’ll have to tell my kids that I’m a rock star now.”

Yet the technicolor clothes and flashy demeanor belies the grim legacy that made her an icon in the African-American community in Florida and, now, the nation: her advocacy for young black men, particularly those who end up dead. Since her time in the Florida legislature, Wilson’s political identity has been forged by fights – often with a white, male-dominated establishment — to figure out what happened to them and why.

More than 11 years before Sgt. La David Johnson was killed with three other soldiers in Niger, a 14-year-old named Martin Lee Anderson died after he was beaten by guards at a boot camp in Panama City, a Deep South city in northern Florida.

The sheriff’s office ran the boot camp and was slow to investigate. So was the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Wilson, however, joining with other a bipartisan team of legislators, helped forced an independent investigation and an exhumation of the child’s body for a second autopsy. While the boot camp guards and a nurse were acquitted of charges, the state legislature ultimately changed boot camp laws and compensated the family for the teen’s death.

For the Anderson’s family attorney, Benjamin Crump, the public relations tactics that snagged statewide headlines — from a second autopsy to organized marches featuring Al Sharpton — became a template for drawing national attention to another death of another 14-year-old seven years later, Trayvon Martin, who was shot by a neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman.

Wilson stood by the side of the parents of Trayvon, who hailed from her district based in the heavily African-American city of Miami Gardens in the shadow of the stadium where the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes play.

“Black men are targets. The system has the scope aimed directly at our backs and Frederica Wilson has devoted a life to exposing that,” said Crump, who has allied with her in yet another case involving the shooting death of motorist Corey Jones by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer.

“From our first case with her, with Martin Lee Anderson, she was vocal. She would begin every press conference by saying, ‘it’s murder.’ She would not be quiet. She demanded the truth,” Crump said. “And it’s similar to La David Johnson’s case. She will not be quiet … Trump is messing with the wrong woman.”

Unlike all of the other high-profile cases Wilson has been involved with, Johnson’s death after an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger had a deeply personal dimension.

Johnson had enrolled in Wilson’s nonprofit, 5000 Role Models of Excellence, a program for at-risk African-American kids. His father had been a student when Wilson was a principal at a local school decades before. Johnson’s mother is a constituent, as well as a bus driver with the school district where Wilson has deep roots.

When the congresswoman and the family tried to find out what happened, Wilson said, the Pentagon gave no answers. She joined with her fellow Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, a Democrat and fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and penned a letter seeking answers. Still nothing. Wilson said she wanted to know not just why Johnson and his fellow soldiers were so at risk, but why Johnson appeared to have been left behind when the others were evacuated shortly after the attack.

“Why was he separated?” Wilson asked. “Was he kidnapped? Was he lost? Was he already expired? What happened to him? Why, 48 hours later, did we still not know where he was?”

Johnson’s family, meanwhile, had not heard from the president with a condolence call, either. When reporters finally asked about the attack in Niger, Trump, who had not acknowledged the deaths publicly, responded by inaccurately criticizing President Obama and suggesting his predecessor never called Gold Star families of the fallen.

“Throughout all this time, Trump had been tweeting and carrying on about NFL football players taking a knee and not one damn time did he say a word about Niger,” Hastings said. “But if he thinks someone like Frederica Wilson is going to let this go, he doesn’t know Frederica Wilson.”

On Thursday, it was Kelly’s turn with Wilson after the retired Marine Corps general denounced Wilson as a grand-stander who politicized what should have been a personal private call. It was an example of “empty barrels making the most noise,” he said, and falsely claimed that she gave a speech at the dedication of an FBI building in 2015 in Miami where she bragged about securing money for the facility due to her connections with President Obama. Video of her speech showed she made no such statement.

Wilson promptly attacked Kelly, a Gold Star dad himself, as someone willing to “say anything to save his job.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, said she thought the entire episode was a big misunderstanding. A persistent Trump critic, Ros-Lehtinen faulted the president because he “waited so long, so many golf days, for him to express words of condolences about these brave heroes’ deaths in an operation that is mired in controversy and secrecy.”

Ros-Lehtinen said Wilson won’t let go of issues important to her. In one instance, Wilson persuaded many of her fellow House colleagues to periodically wear red articles of clothing and post “#bringbackourgirls” tweets aimed at the terrorist group Boko Haram after it kidnapped 300 girls in Nigeria.

“I have five red jackets thanks to her,” Ros-Lehtinen laughed.

Like Hastings, she said Wilson has “stick-to-it-iveness.” And unlike others Trump has clashed with, Wilson probably won’t go away quietly.

“She will go toe to toe with President Trump and who knows who will stop tweeting and talking first,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I wouldn’t bet against her.”


Niger attack fuels new push for war vote

Sen. Bob Corker is pictured. | AP Photo

Committee Chairman Bob Corker said in a statement that current threats make it “perhaps more important than ever that we have a sober national conversation about Congress’ constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force.” | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Calls to update the 2001 authorization come as the Pentagon telegraphs more such missions in more places.

Some lawmakers, citing the deaths of four U.S. soldiers ambushed by terrorists in Niger, called on Congress on Friday to reconsider the broad war authority it granted in 2001 — as the Pentagon telegraphed that more such missions in more places are likely in the offing.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced it will hear testimony next week from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the 16-year-old Authorization for Use of Military Force that is now being used to justify military operations in numerous countries.

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Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in a statement that current threats make it “perhaps more important than ever that we have a sober national conversation about Congress’ constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force.”

For some on Capitol Hill, the attack in Niger highlights the need for updated legislation that takes into account the myriad operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups on several continents.

“The many questions surrounding the death of American service members in Niger show the urgent need to have a public discussion about the current extent of our military operations around the world,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), another panel member.

Such far-flung counter-terrorism missions are what critics like Kaine contend were never conceived of when Congress voted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to invade Afghanistan, where the Al Qaeda plot was conceived.

“The 2001 AUMF is not a blank check giving U.S. presidents the sole power to decide whether, where, and against whom our troops will fight,” said Ed Markey (D-Mass.), another Foreign Relations Committee member.

Kaine and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona are pushing a new authorization to govern the military campaigns against organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda and repeal the 2001 AUMF.

“For sixteen years, Congress has remained largely silent on this issue, allowing administrations to go to war anywhere, anytime,” Kaine added. “A new AUMF is not only legally necessary, it would also send an important message of resolve to the American public and our troops that we stand behind them in their mission.”

Lawmakers briefed by Mattis on Friday said one message they heard was to expect more such military operations in the future.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters that the Trump administration plans to step up its counter-terrorism operations and loosen its military rules of engagement.

“The war is morphing,” Graham said after meeting with Mattis. “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less. You’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less. You’re going to have decisions being made not in the White House, but out in the field, and I support that entire construct.”

“So the rules of engagement are going to change when it comes to counter-terrorism operations,” he added.

But while there is wide agreement among members of both parties that the 2001 AUMF has been stretched well beyond its intent, efforts to repeal it have fizzled with no clear consensus on a replacement.

Mattis and Tillerson, who testified at a closed Senate hearing in August, have said they have the appropriate legal authority to conduct military operations — though Mattis has called on lawmakers to pass a new resolution as a show of congressional support for the ISIS campaign.

Yet Graham, a leading hawk, said he wouldn’t support a new war authorization he considers “micromanagement.”

“There’s going to be an AUMF debate to come out of this because some people are going to say, ‘Wait a minute, you can designate anybody you want to designate [as terrorists]?'” Graham explained. “And here’s the answer: the Congress is not set up to be military commanders.”


45 After Dark: Lingering Questions edition

President Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

President Donald Trump and the White House continued to bicker with Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who argued on Friday that White House chief of staff John Kelly had misrepresented what she said at a 2015 dedication to an FBI facility. | Jonathan Ernst/AFP/Getty Images

The noise has led, almost inevitably, to comparisons with Benghazi.

What really happened in Niger?

As President Donald Trump and the White House continued to feud with a Florida congresswoman, core questions about the military operation that led to the death of four service members remain unanswered, POLITICO’s Wesley Morgan and Jacqueline Klimas report.

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“There are lots of questions, fewer answers, and a healthy dose of conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of four American troops in Niger earlier this month — a tragedy that has swiftly intensified into a fierce brawl over whether the Trump administration mishandled the mission.”

The noise has led, almost inevitably, to comparisons with Benghazi — the attack on a diplomatic compound under President Barack Obama that left four dead, including a U.S. ambassador, and dogged Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

Meanwhile, Trump and the White House continued to bicker with Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who argued on Friday that White House chief of staff John Kelly had misrepresented what she said at a 2015 dedication to an FBI facility. Kelly accused Wilson of grandstanding and bragging at an otherwise somber event.

The White House staunchly defended Kelly, even as video emerged that appeared to back up Wilson’s version of events.

Elsewhere in President Trump’s orbit:

FED UP?: President Trump hinted on Friday that he’s down to two candidates to serve as the next Fed chairman — Fed Governor Jerome Powell and Stanford economist John Taylor — and that he may make a decision soon.

WHY WAIT: The Trump administration is testing legal boundaries by having some appointees go to work even before they get Senate approval.

CAUGHT OP GUARD: President Trump’s announcement that he would declare an emergency on opioids this week set his staff scrambling as there hadn’t been any pre-planning.

UK NOT OK: There’s anger in the United Kingdom over President Trump’s tweet that attributed a rise in crime to “radical Islamic terror.” (BBC)

There you have it. You’re caught up on the Trump administration. Your weekend has arrived.


Financial industry worried GOP tax plan will change 401(k)s

Financial industry groups and Democratic lawmakers are concerned that Republicans’ forthcoming tax-reform bill could make a big change to the taxing of retirement funds.

Stakeholders say they’ve heard that Republicans are considering significantly lowering the amount of money people can tuck into their traditional 401(k) plans on a pretax basis.

Currently, people under the age of 50 can contribute up to $18,000 annually to their traditional 401(k) plans. Those contributions are paid before taxes, meaning people don’t pay taxes on the money until they pull it out of their account.

The potential change that people following the tax bill are hearing about would lower the maximum annual contribution to $2,400. Amounts over $2,400 could be put into Roth 401(k)s, where the money is taxed upfront but not when it’s withdrawn.

It’s unclear how seriously lawmakers are considering reducing the cap on pretax contributions to 401(k)s. But industry groups are worried that dramatically lowering it would reduce the amount that people save for their retirement.

Jill Hoffman, vice president of government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable, said that this option is “something that’s a cause of great concern” both for those managing retirement plans and for those who are recipients.

The tax framework congressional GOP leaders and the White House released last month said that legislation would retain tax benefits that encourage retirement security and that lawmakers were encouraged to simplify the benefits.

“Tax reform will aim to maintain or raise retirement plan participation of workers and the resources available for retirement,” the document states.

Emily Schillinger, a spokeswoman for House Ways and Means Committee Republicans, said that “members are developing pro-growth tax reform policies that will encourage and support retirement savings for all Americans.”

Lowering the cap on pretax contributions would raise revenue in the short-term, which would help lawmakers pay for lowering tax rates. Under the budget resolution that Senate Republicans approved Thursday, a tax-reform bill can’t add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.

But critics of a reduction in the 401(k) limit say that so-called “Rothification” is a budget gimmick that would raise revenue temporarily, but lower it in the long run.

While employers can currently give workers the option of choosing between traditional 401(k)s or “Roth” accounts, most workers choose the former, where the money is deposited on a pretax basis.

According to the Investment Company Institute (ICI), about 55 million Americans participate in 401(k) plans, and the plans hold about $5 trillion in assets. The group found that 80 percent of households with 401(k)s and other types of defined-contribution retirement plans think the tax treatment of the plans is a big motivator for contributing.

ICI, Financial Services Roundtable, the AARP and other groups have formed a coalition called Save Our Savings in order to fight to protect retirement savings in the tax-reform debate.

A person who works closely with the coalition said that there’s a fear that if Congress caps pretax contributions at $2,400, “then $2,400 becomes the new default.”

“That’s devastating for long-term retirement security,” the person added.

David Gray, senior vice president of workplace retirement plan solutions at Fidelity, said if Congress decides to move in the direction of limiting pretax contributions, the cap should be $9,000 annually or more, rather than $2,400. He also said that Congress should “enhance and expand” the current saver’s credit that low- and middle-income households can take for making contributions to retirement plans.

“From our perspective, we are supportive of a pro-growth, pro-investor package, and we understand Congress may need to look at some pay-fors for that tax reform,” Gray said. “We believe that any tax-reform proposal that impacts retirement savings needs to maintain the policy goal of encouraging and enhancing savings.”

The financial industry broadly supports tax reform and is trying to talk with lawmakers about the potential consequences of curbing pretax retirement contributions. The Save Our Savings coalition is holding a fly-in with CEOs and other leaders on Nov. 1.

Besides industry groups, Republicans’ consideration of a cap on pretax retirement contributions has garnered pushback from Democratic lawmakers.

A Wall Street Journal article Friday on the potential cap prompted a quick response from Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children’s health insurance | Puerto Rico’s water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents’ right to sue Crying on TV doesn’t qualify Kimmel to set nation’s gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.).

“Republicans are so determined to cut taxes on the wealthy that they’re willing to tax the retirement accounts of millions of middle class Americans,” Schumer said in a statement. “The GOP’s total devotion to millionaires and billionaires comes at the expense of every family using a 401(k) to save for a decent retirement.”

Last month, following reports that “Rothification” was under discussion, Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee spoke out in letters to GOP congressional leaders and Trump administration officials.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in early September pushed back on the idea that Republicans want to tax 401(k)s.

“Why would you punish people when they’re actually saving for their own retirement and they’re not looking to government?” he said in an interview on the Fox Business Network. “You want to incentivize that even further. Don’t punish people who actually save their own money.”


Financial disclosure shows unusual campaign setup for Pence chief of staff

Nick Ayers and Kellyanne Conway are pictured. | Getty Images

The vice president’s office described Nick Ayers’ work as perfectly legal. Ayers is pictured with Kellyanne Conway. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Nick Ayers volunteered as a top aide for the Trump-Pence ticket while doing paid work for other candidates.

Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff had a lucrative 2016 campaign season even as his high-profile work on the Trump-Pence campaign was classified as unpaid volunteer work.

Nick Ayers, a senior adviser to Pence during the presidential race and now his chief of staff, joined the 2016 team as a volunteer and never took a dime in salary from the Trump-Pence campaign even as he crisscrossed the country with Pence, then the Indiana governor. He served as one of Pence’s top aides and prepared him for critical events, including his debate with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

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But Ayers’ Georgia-based political consulting firm, C5 Creative Consulting, did receive a payment of nearly $75,000 on Aug. 25 from Pence’s gubernatorial reelection campaign, 40 days after Pence had been selected as Trump’s running mate and withdrawn from the governor’s race.

In addition to the compensation from Pence’s gubernatorial campaign, Ayers received significant payments from the campaign of Eric Holcomb, Pence’s lieutenant governor, who sought and won the Indiana governorship after Pence joined the national ticket. Holcomb’s campaign paid Ayers’ firm nearly $40,000 between August 2016 and March 2017. Ayers also received payments of more than $30,000 from Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign.

His work for multiple campaigns raises questions whether Pence’s gubernatorial reelection campaign was subsidizing, in part or in full, Ayers’ work for Trump — though the arrangement may have been perfectly legal, experts told POLITICO. Any payments from different campaigns for Ayers’ work on the Trump-Pence campaign would qualify as an illegal in-kind contribution, but there is no indication that this took place.

The data come from a POLITICO review of campaign finance disclosures and Ayers’ previously undisclosed financial disclosure form for his employment in the Trump administration, which was provided to POLITICO.

“You can see how a person like Ayers, who has a longtime relationship with Pence, would work for the Trump campaign without compensation,” said Brendan Fischer of the nonpartisan watchdog group Campaign Legal Center.

Still, he added, Ayers “would be pretty well extended while working for those three campaigns at once.”

The vice president’s office described Ayers’ work as perfectly legal.

“C5’s contract with the Pence re-elect covered only services and expenses related to the gubernatorial campaign,” Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said in a statement to POLITICO. “Once the Vice President joined the ticket, his legal counsel meticulously closed out contracts and services that were no longer being provided, including C5’s, which occurred within 45 days of the Vice President joining the ticket. C5’s services, including work performed by Ayers, for other campaigns had nothing to do with his relationship or duties to the Trump campaign.”

Experts raised their eyebrows at the setup but acknowledged that, while unusual, such arrangements are legal.

“Is it possible he could have legitimately been doing work for them at the same time? Yeah, it’s possible,” said Brett Kappel, a GOP campaign finance attorney and a partner at Akerman LLP. “You have to know how many hours he was spending on each one.”

If Ayers was being paid to work for the presidential campaign by the gubernatorial operation while volunteering for the Trump-Pence ticket, the money his firm received could constitute a violation of federal campaign finance law, said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at the watchdog group Public Citizen. The law limits the amount of payments, in the form of goods and services, that campaigns and companies can donate.

“If he was a genuine volunteer, that’s permissible, but if he was being reimbursed for his activity or financed for his activity [by another company or campaign], that’s an in-kind contribution,” Holman said. Such a contribution would be subject to the federal $2,700 limit on donations to presidential campaigns.

Ayers’ financial disclosure also revealed a lucrative career beyond his political consulting business, which helped elect Bruce Rauner as governor of Illinois in 2014. The firm also did consulting work for major firms like Coca-Cola and Aflac, according to the disclosure.

Ayers received a waiver from the White House allowing him to communicate with former clients, an arrangement that could otherwise constitute a violation of ethics rules. Like others issued by the Trump administration, Ayers’ waiver does not include a signature or date showing when it was created.

Ayers stepped down from his consulting firm in July. He also divested from and stepped down from his board seat at Media Group for America, which is the parent company of the conservative online publication IJR.

Ayers’ various investments, including in a range of health care and technology companies and real estate, coupled with his consulting work, have made him a wealthy man. He is worth between $12 million and $55 million, according to the disclosure.