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Burr: Flynn could be held in contempt

Sen. Richard Burr is pictured.

“You’ll just have to wait and watch. [Contempt is] certainly one of the avenues that we could pursue,” Sen. Richard Burr said Monday. | Getty

But Senate GOP leaders are reluctant to go after Trump's former national security adviser after he refused to comply with a subpoena.

By Austin Wright and Burgess Everett

05/22/2017 07:02 PM EDT

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr is not ruling out holding Michael Flynn in contempt of Congress as President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser continues to stonewall lawmakers.

Flynn’s lawyer informed the Intelligence panel Monday that Flynn would not honor a subpoena for a list of his interactions with Russian officials in the run-up to last year’s presidential election. And Burr said his committee has “plenty” of options to respond.

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“You’ll just have to wait and watch. [Contempt is] certainly one of the avenues that we could pursue,” the North Carolina Republican told three reporters on Monday evening. “It does us no good to have people insist on pleading the Fifth if you’re out trying to get information. The only thing I can tell you is immunity is off the table.”

Burr said Flynn’s denial of his request is nonsensical.

“All I’ve asked him for is documents. I don’t know how you can plead the Fifth on a document request,” he said.

Burr and ranking Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia will make the decision in tandem. Warner told reporters they are keeping “all options on the table.”

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Though Burr is loath to rule out anything, senior party leaders are more hesitant to trigger an intense fight between the former Trump administration official and Congress. Such a conflict could escalate tensions between the GOP Congress and Trump, who continues to speak highly of Flynn.

The issue of whether to hold Flynn in contempt is dividing Republicans — and also leading to comparisons with the hard-line stances many of them took against Obama administration officials who defied congressional requests for testimony and documents, including former Attorney General Eric Holder and former IRS official Lois Lerner.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, who called for Holder to resign in part for stonewalling Congress, said he could not find fault with Flynn’s decision because “you can’t criticize anybody for invoking a constitutional right.” He said Flynn’s decision was different than that of Lerner, who was found in contempt of Congress by the House for asserting her Fifth Amendment rights.

“The Fifth Amendment provides you an absolute right against self-incrimination, so it’s something he’s entitled to do,” Cornyn, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said of Flynn. “There’s a lot of different sources involving the Russian connection to the election, so we’re pursuing all available sources. We’re not going to be deterred by that.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a

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Judge won't move libel suit against BuzzFeed over Trump dossier

BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith is pictured.

BuzzFeed and its editor-in-chief Ben Smith asked that the case be relocated to New York City. | Getty

By Josh Gerstein

05/22/2017 06:45 PM EDT

Updated 05/22/2017 07:40 PM EDT

2017-05-22T07:40-0400

A federal judge has turned down BuzzFeed's request to move a libel suit over its publication of a dossier containing unverified allegations against President Donald Trump.

BuzzFeed and its editor-in-chief Ben Smith asked that the case be relocated to New York City, but Miami-based U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro issued a ruling Monday refusing to give up the case filed by Russian tech executive and entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev.

BuzzFeed took the controversial step of publishing the 35-page dossier in January, after press reports said it was mentioned in reports U.S. intelligence agencies circulated to top officials in the Obama administration and the incoming Trump team. Smith acknowledged that his reporters could not verify the accuracy of the facts in the dossier, but he said the public should be able to see it since it had circulated widely in Washington and was affecting policy discussions.

However, Gubarev — owner of a Dallas-based web hosting firm called Webzilla — sued in February over the inclusion of a reference to Gubarev and his companies using "botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership." (The report actually called him "GUBAROV.")

BuzzFeed apologized to Gubarev around the time the suit was filed. The news outlet also redacted the references to Gubarev from the version of the report currently accessible on its site .

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However, the Russian venture capitalist pressed on with his suit, targeting BuzzFeed and Smith over what Gubarev's attorneys caustically branded "one of the most reckless and irresponsible moments in modern 'journalism.'"

Gubarev's lawyers initially filed the case in Broward County, Florida, citing the fact that Webzilla is incorporated in Florida. A few weeks later, BuzzFeed moved the case to federal court in Miami and then sought to transfer it to federal court in Manhattan.

In a 30-page ruling , Ungaro waded through a complex set of factors used to assess such transfer motions and concluded that it made more sense to keep the case in Florida.

Like other media lawyers, BuzzFeed's attorneys warned that allowing the plaintiffs in the case to use the fact that news is distributed through the internet to pick virtually any forum in the country to bring the suit gave them an unfair advantage. However, the George H.W. Bush-appointed judge concluded that BuzzFeed's ties to Florida are "extensive."

"Based upon the evidence proffered by the parties, it is clear that Defendants do not passively operate a website that is merely accessible in Florida; rather, Defendants’ connections to Florida are extensive – Defendants regularly send reporters to Florida to cover Florida-based stories ... regularly

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Ryan bucks White House, setting up clash on taxes

Paul Ryan and the White House are barreling toward a tax reform show-down — a faceoff that’s becoming all but inevitable as the speaker continues selling a tax plan rejected by Trump officials.

At issue is a controversial pillar of the House GOP tax plan that effectively hikes taxes on imports.

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Top administration officials from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to chief economic adviser Gary Cohn have warned the speaker that they’re not exactly fans of the so-called border adjustment tax — hoping Ryan would take a hint and change direction.

But the Wisconsin Republican is refusing to back off, arguing in recent days that it’s “the smart way to go.” And over the weekend, his key ally on the matter, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), began circulating talking points encouraging panel members to sell the scheme.

The document , obtained by POLITICO, tries to tap into populist sentiments that carried Donald Trump to the White House, arguing that the provision would end a “Made in America tax” that hurts U.S. manufacturers. It even claims that 80 percent of Trump supporters back the Ryan idea, which the president himself has never fully embraced and even criticized at times.

“I obviously think border adjustment is the smart way to go,” Ryan said at a press conference last Thursday. “I think it makes the tax code the most internationally competitive of any other version we’re looking at. And I think it removes all tax incentives for a firm to move… their production overseas.”

Technically the House, not the White House, has the authority to write tax legislation. But White House officials who say Ryan fumbled the Obamacare repeal bill by not getting enough member input fear the same thing could happen with tax reform. Senate Republicans, after all, have panned border adjustment, and more than a few House Republicans have also voiced concerns.

“There is a piece of BAT that is appealing in theory but we don't really feel like it is something in its current form that works in tax reform or is worth the gamble with the economy right now,” said one senior administration official. “Mnuchin has been very clear, in its current form [it] does not work — end of story.”

Ryan’s office declined to comment for this story. But the speaker’s refusal to relinquish his idea is making for mixed messaging to say the least.

Cast in point: Cohn and Mnuchin have been assuring skeptical lawmakers that the controversial proposal, known by its acronym BAT, is dead, sources told POLITICO. Just last week, Mnuchin bashed the idea while huddling with centrist Republicans in the Tuesday Group.

Contrast that with the Ways and Means talking points first circulated to members Friday ahead of what’s likely to be a heated Tuesday hearing on the proposal. The document encourages members to pitch BAT as “ending the ‘Made in America Tax’” that “helps American workers and job creators.”

“Our current tax code favors foreign workers and products over

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Branstad confirmed as ambassador to China

Branstad confirmed as ambassador to China

The 82-13 vote makes Gov. Terry Branstad just the fifth confirmed ambassador in the Trump administration. | AP Photo

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Trump eyeing Lewandowski, Bossie as crisis managers

The White House is looking to wall off the scandals threatening to overtake the president’s agenda by building a separate crisis management operation.

President Donald Trump personally reached out to two of his former campaign aides – his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie – to sound them out about working with the administration as crisis managers, according to two people familiar with the situation. POLITICO previously reported that both men were spotted in the West Wing last week, before Trump departed on his overseas trip.

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The response tracks with the steps taken by previous presidential administrations when confronted with independent inquiries like the one now being conducted by former FBI director Robert Mueller, who was appointed by the Justice Department last week to investigate the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 campaign, including contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials.

No formal announcement is expected before Trump returns to the U.S. this weekend. A White House spokesman said there were no immediate plans to hire Lewandowski and Bossie inside the White House, and it is unclear that the rapid response operation would be housed in the West Wing. It is likely, one person familiar with the operation said that the work would be done outside of the White House.

Lewandowski didn’t answer several phone calls seeking comment but said in a text message he was not in “talks with anyone” to join the administration. He didn’t respond to further questions. Bossie declined to comment for this article.

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As the velocity of events – beginning with the president’s admission that he dismissed FBI director James Comey because he felt besieged by the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s involvement in the campaign – seemed to spin out of control, the president has pointed the finger at his communications staff, undermining their message and looking elsewhere for guidance.

The Trump campaign’s communications director, Jason Miller, who did not join the administration in January, was also in the West Wing last week.

Previous presidents have resorted to – and benefited from – developing a rapid response operation that relegates press inquiries to an office distinct from the White House’s official press shop. As the Whitewater scandal threatened to consume Bill Clinton’s presidency, his deputy chief of staff, Harold Ickes, tapped spin doctors Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, who came to be known as the “masters of disaster,” to handle the affair.

The scope and complexity of independent investigations has typically proved a challenge for regular White House staffers, who have struggled to juggle them with their day-to-day duties, and veterans of previous administrations say creating an independent operation can relieve some of the pressure on the press office. “In my experience it’s exactly the right thing to do because it allows you to the

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