Trump denies Pelosi military aircraft for war zone trip – CNNPolitics

The White House released Trump’s letter to Pelosi a day after she suggested the President postpone his planned State of the Union address, scheduled for later this month, until the government shutdown is resolved.
“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed,” Trump wrote Pelosi on Thursday. “We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over.”
Later, Pelosi’s spokesman said the stop in Brussels was mainly to allow the pilot to rest and that Egypt was not on her itinerary.
Even though Afghanistan — an active US combat zone — was one of the countries on her planned itinerary, Trump suggested she fly commercial.
“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” Trump wrote.
The President has the authority to direct the Defense Department to not use military assets to support a congressional delegation to military theaters. That includes air transport and additional security procedures.
White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, began discussing canceling Pelosi’s trip early Thursday morning, according to two people with knowledge of how the day unfolded. Aides felt caught off guard when Pelosi publicly released her letter calling on Trump to postpone his State of the Union address, or deliver it in writing, and felt canceling the military air travel would be an ideal response.
Trump’s penned retort amounted to his first public response to Pelosi’s Wednesday letter, in which she suggested “we work together to determine another suitable date after the government has re-opened” for the State of the Union address.
Trump and his aides — loathe to abandon a key evening of presidential messaging yet intrigued by a new opening to break tradition — have yet to strike on a path forward for the State of the Union speech. Trump’s letter to Pelosi did not address the scheduling of his address to Congress. And it did not offer any new incentives to return to negotiations on reopening closed-down agencies.
A Pelosi spokesman responded to Trump’s letter pointing out the President’s own shutdown trip to Iraq as well as one by Republican lawmakers.
“The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation & thanks to our men & women in uniform for their service & dedication, & to obtain critical national security & intelligence briefings from those on the front lines,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted. He said the stop in Brussels was also to have included meetings with NATO leadership.
Democrats responded angrily to the move.
“All too often in the last two years, the President has acted like he’s in the fifth grade. And to have someone who has that kind of character running the country is an enormous problem at every level,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who had been due to travel with the speaker.
As the drama unfolded, even some Republicans lamented a broken state of affairs.
“One sophomoric response does not deserve another,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top GOP ally of the President’s, wrote in a statement.
Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Republican leadership, bemoaned “too much childishness” in the shutdown fight between Trump and Pelosi.
Just as Pelosi pointed to security officials working without pay as a reason to delay his State of the Union address, Trump said he was postponing Pelosi’s trip “in light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay.”
Trump also used the letter to jab at some of the time Pelosi has spent outside of Washington during the shutdown, saying that “it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown.”
Trump has expressed confusion at why his attempts to pressure Democrats for border wall funding have yielded no progress. Meanwhile, some of his advisers worry the mounting consequences for unpaid federal workers could further erode support for Trump’s cause.
The State of the Union address, initially scheduled for January 29, was viewed as a potential turning point. One White House official said the administration had begun putting together a list of potential invited guests in the first lady’s box, including some “angel families” of people killed by undocumented immigrants.
Those plans were thrown into flux on Wednesday when Pelosi wrote Trump, citing concerns over security during the shutdown, which has forced Secret Service employees to work without pay.
Trump: Dems’ party hijacked by ‘radical left’
Trump: Dems’ party hijacked by ‘radical left’ 01:17
Upon receiving the letter, White House aides were initially unsure of how to proceed, people familiar with the matter said. The White House is weighing alternatives for the venue and style of Trump’s State of the Union, but doesn’t appear to have settled on a plan just yet, the people said.
GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, a close ally of the President’s who is in frequent touch with the White House, said Thursday he believed Trump will deliver the speech outside the House Chamber.
“I think he’ll give the State of the Union somewhere else, and Nancy’s politics will come back to bite her,” he said.
Trump himself viewed Pelosi’s the letter as a political stunt, according to a person who discussed it with him. He did not raise it during a lunch meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, and did not appear overly incensed by the move.
Some inside the West Wing have viewed Pelosi’s letter as an opportunity to finally break the traditional State of the Union mold — something previous White Houses have mulled but ultimately decided against. Others, however, are not in favor of a nontraditional State of the Union. And most believe they need more clarity from Pelosi before proceeding.
One Trump adviser told CNN’s Jim Acosta part of the betting around the deliberations is that Pelosi will “fold” and allow Trump to deliver his speech in the House of Representatives. The adviser described the battle between Trump and Pelosi as “King Kong versus Godzilla.”
Pelosi: Trump’s been very silent
Pelosi: Trump’s been very silent 01:20
Some advisers have pushed Trump to deliver the annual address from the Oval Office in order to continue projecting the message that he is sitting in the White House, waiting for Democrats to make a deal. That’s an argument the President has repeatedly pressed over the past weeks to little avail.
However, a prime-time address delivered from the Oval Office earlier this month fell flat, a memory that could deter the President from selecting the audience-less venue for an annual tradition he actually likes to observe.
Trump told people last week he disliked the address to the nation he delivered from the Oval Office, which he believed looked and sounded flat and lifeless. He told a group of TV anchors ahead of the speech he was unconvinced that it would change any minds, but allowed some of his advisers to talk him into it.
Before the speech he spent a long while — more than is typical for a President, according to a person familiar with the setup — with aides adjusting the camera framing and lighting so that it met his specifications.
Watching clips afterward, Trump was even more convinced it was a useless exercise. One person who was with him says he grimaced when he saw a clip on television, believing it looked stilted and robotic. He said he doubted it was worth the trouble. And polls seemed to prove him right — a Quinnipiac University survey this week showed only 2% of respondents’ minds were changed about the border wall by the speech.
“Nobody wins in a shutdown. Nobody does. A lot of Americans are hurt because of it,” said Marc Short, Trump’s former White House legislative affairs director and a CNN political commentator. “I do think that Democrats also risk the reality of when this is over, will Americans look at this and say there is one side pushing border security and one side wasn’t?”
Alternative plans
Is Pelosi’s move against Trump exactly the fight he wants?
Is Pelosi’s move against Trump exactly the fight he wants? 05:36
White House aides had already begun working on writing the State of the Union address, and had hoped to use it as an opportunity to hammer home the President’s warning of an immigration crisis from the loudest megaphone he has.
With an address in the House Chamber thrown into question, some have suggested to the White House that Trump simply deliver the State of the Union speech from the Senate chamber instead, because the Republican-controlled upper body could invite the President rather than the Democratic-controlled House.
But as of Thursday there were no plans among Senate Republicans to invite the President to speak. And doing so would still require a 60-vote majority among senators, meaning some Democrats would have to come on board. A senior Republican congressional aide said the White House has not yet given guidance on any changes to its plan for the State of the Union.
The White House is also considering doing a rally-style State of the Union, which would be coordinated through Trump’s campaign, a person familiar with the matter said. The idea is still preliminary, however, and formal plans have not been laid.
Many in Washington view the traditional State of the Union — delivered in the House Chamber — as a tired exercise. Aides to former President Barack Obama also considered taking the yearly speech on the road or delivering it in an alternative venue, though decided against it in the end.
Trump, however, has seen the speech as bolstering his presidential standing. He gained relatively positive reviews for his first two addresses to Congress, and enjoyed the applause that Republican lawmakers provided during his speeches.
For that reason, top aides are not moving forward with making firm alternative plans until they can gain some clarity from Pelosi about whether she has actually disinvited Trump from delivering the address.
As of Thursday morning it did not appear the two sides had spoken — Pelosi said she’d received “no response” from the White House to her letter. During her weekly news conference, she denied she was attempting to withhold from Trump a high-profile venue to address Americans.
“I’m not denying him a platform at all,” Pelosi said. “I’m saying, ‘let’s get a date when government is open.’ “

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TV actresses among 40 people charged in college entrance exam cheating plot

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March 12, 2019, 2:13 PM GMT  / Updated  March 12, 2019, 7:51 PM GMT
By Tom Winter, Pete Williams, Julia Ainsley and Rich Schapiro
Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among 50 people charged in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scheme, according to court documents unsealed in Boston on Tuesday.
The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.
Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin AP; NBC
Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children’s chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches to identify the applicants as athletes.
“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth, combined with fraud,” U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said.
“There can be no separate college admission for the wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either,” he said.
Lelling stressed that the colleges themselves are not targets of the investigation, which is ongoing. No students were charged, and authorities said in many cases they were kept in the dark about the alleged scam.
Federal prosecutors uncover massive bribery scheme to fast-track kids into top universiti March 12, 2019 02:15
Some of the parents spent between $200,000 to $6.5 million to ensure that their children received guaranteed admission at the schools of their choice, John Bonavolonta, FBI special agent in charge, said.
“Their actions were, without a doubt, insidious, selfish and shameful,” he added.
The scheme’s mastermind, William Rick Singer, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice.
“I am absolutely responsible for it,” Singer, 58, told U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel. “I put everything in place. I put all the people in place and made the payments directly.”
William “Rick” Singer leaves federal court after being charged in a nationwide college admissions cheating scam in Boston on March 12, 2019. Brian Snyder / Reuters
Singer, who operated a for-profit college counseling and preparation business, orchestrated the scheme and helped torpedo it when he agreed to wear a wire and cooperate with investigators, authorities said.
“In retrospect, looking at everything that occurred, he is remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life,” Singer’s lawyer Donald H. Heller said outside the courthouse.
Loughlin, best known for her role in the 1980s-90s sitcom “Full House,” and Huffman, who starred in the 2004-12 ABC hit show “Desperate Housewives,” were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.
Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to bolster their two daughters’ chances of gaining admission to the University of Southern California, court papers say. Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, paid $15,000 to get one of their daughters unlimited time for her SAT test, prosecutors say.
The FBI recorded phone calls involving the celebrities and a cooperating witness, according to the criminal complaint.
Loughlin allegedly told the cooperating witness that she would arrange for one of her daughters to be photographed on a rowing machine to bolster the false claim on the application to USC that her daughter was the crew coxswain for the L.A. Marine Club team, according to court papers.
In an email, Loughlin allegedly agreed to keep the acceptance of her daughter and the scheme “hush hush.”
Loughlin was out of the country for work when FBI agents arrived at her home Tuesday morning. She was scheduled to return to Los Angeles from Canada late Tuesday, and is expected to surrender to federal officials sometime in the next 24 hours, according to law enforcement sources.
50 charged in largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by DOJ March 12, 2019 02:02
Elizabeth Much, a representative for Loughlin, told NBC News she had no comment.
In addition to putting up $15,000 to get her daughter more time on the SATs, Huffman also explored a plan to boost the test scores of a second daughter, according to court papers.
In a recorded call Feb. 19, Huffman discussed the possibility of having a ringer take the SAT exam for her daughter, prosecutors say. But she raised concerns about the discrepancy in scores that could result from her daughter taking the SAT test in March but then allowing someone to take it in her place sometime afterward, court papers say.
“I just didn’t know if it’d be odd for [the tutor] if we go, “Oh, she did this in — in March 9, but she did so much better in May,” Huffman allegedly said on the call. “I don’t know if that’d be like — if [the tutor] would be like, ‘Wow.'”
Ultimately, Huffman and her husband decided against it, the court papers say. A representative for Huffman did not immediately return requests for comment. Macy has not been charged.
The plot involved students who attended or were seeking to attend Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, according to federal prosecutors.
Of the 50 people charged so far, 33 are parents and nine were college coaches. The others were a mix of standardized test administrators, a test proctor and Singer associates, authorities said.
“We believe everyone charged here today had a role in fostering a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for students trying to get into these schools the right way through hard work, good grades and community service,” Bonavolonta said.
Prosecutors said the the central figure in the scam was Singer, the founder of The Edge College & Career Network, LLC, also known as “The Key,” based in Newport Beach, Calif.
Parents paid Singer $15,000 to $75,000 per test for someone else to take the SAT or ACT exams in place of their college-age sons or daughters, according to the court papers.
Singer facilitated the cheating by advising students to seek “extended time on the exams, including by having their children purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain medical documentation that ACT, Inc. and the College Board typically required before granting students extended time,” the indictment says.
Prosecutors said Singer used the cash to bribe two people who administered the exams — Igor Dvorsiky, of Los Angeles, and Lisa “Niki” Williams, of Houston.
In exchange for receiving the payments, Dvorsiky and Williams allowed Mark Riddell, a Florida man hired by Singer, to secretly take the tests or to replace the children’s answers with his own, according to the indictment.
Riddell was paid roughly $10,000 per test, money that was often funneled through a charity account set up by Singer, the indictment says.
From 2011 to last month, parents paid Singer roughly $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators to “designate their children as recruited athletes, or other favored admissions categories,” according to the court papers.
In some cases, Singer’s associates created fake athletic “profiles” in an effort to improve the students’ chances of getting accepted by making them appear to be highly successful high school athletes.
Singer would then bribe college coaches to allot slots meant for incoming athletes to the children of the wealthy parents, authorities said.
In one of the most egregious cases outlined in the indictment, a set of parents agreed to pay Singer $1.2 million to get their daughter into Yale. Singer set the plot in motion in November 2017 when he passed along the applicant’s biographical information to an associate and instructed her to create a bogus athletic profile, court papers say.
“[C]ould you please create a soccer profile asap for this girl who will be a midfielder and attending Yale so she has to be very good,” Singer wrote, the indictment says. “…Need a soccer pic probably Asian girl.”
The fake profile was sent to the Yale women’s soccer coach Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, who agreed to designate the young woman as a team recruit even though he knew she did not play competitive soccer, according to the court papers.
After the applicant was accepted to Yale, Singer sent Meredith a check for $400,000, drawn on an account belonging to his purported charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation.
Meredith, 51, was charged Tuesday with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. He could not be reached.
Yale President Peter Salovey noted in a letter to students and staffers that Meredith no longer works at the university.
“We do not believe that any member of the Yale administration or staff other than the charged coach knew about the conspiracy,” Salovey said.
The coaches charged in the scheme also include Jorge Salcedo, a former professional soccer player who coached the UCLA’s men’s team, and William Ferguson, who was the women’s volleyball coach at Wake Forest. They were not immediately available for comment.
Word of the indictments sparked swift action at some of the schools. Stanford fired its head sailing coach, John Vandemoer, after he was charged with racketeering conspiracy. The school noted that neither of the two students, whom Vandemoer is alleged to have recommended for admission, came to Stanford.
USC said it has terminated the employment of Donna Heinel, the school’s senior associate athletic director, and Jovan Vavic, its former water polo coach, after they were indicted in connection with the alleged cheating scam.
UCLA, meanwhile, said it placed Salcedo on leave while the matter is under review.
“The conduct alleged in the filings revealed today is deeply disturbing and in contrast with the expectations we have of our coaches to lead their teams with honesty and integrity,” UCLA said in a statement. “If the facts alleged are true, they represent a grave departure from the ethical standards we set for ourselves and the people who work here.”
Besides the actresses, other parents implicated in the fraud include Gamal Abdelaziz, the former president and CEO of Wynn Resorts Development; Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP; and Gregory Abbot, CEO of the International Dispensing Company. They did not respond to requests for comment.
The investigation involved more than 200 federal agents who fanned out across six states. The probe was launched last May after agents uncovered evidence of “large-scale fraud” while working on a separate undercover investigation, the FBI’s Bonavolonta said.
“Following 10 months of intense investigative efforts using a variety of sophisticated techniques, the FBI uncovered what we believe to be a rigged system,” Bonavolonta said, “robbing students all over the country of their right at a fair shot to getting into some of the most elite universities in this country.”
Tom Winter
Tom Winter is a producer and reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit based in New York, covering crime, courts, terrorism, and financial fraud on the East Coast.
Pete Williams
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent who covers the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, based in Washington.
Julia Ainsley
Julia Ainsley is a national security reporter for NBC News.
Rich Schapiro
Rich Schapiro is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Jesse Rodriguez, Ezra Kaplan and Andrew Blankstein contributed.

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