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2017 'hit lists' show that team Trump has long eyed political opponents – CNN



A detailed account of the meeting was revealed for the first time to CNN by two former senior administration officials, who said that the April 2017 gathering included then senior strategist Steve Bannon and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
After being shown the list, the President told McMaster to deal with it, according to one of the officials.
McMaster and Bannon walked away from the meeting with different interpretations of Trump’s instructions, according to the two former officials and two other former senior officials in the President’s orbit who were briefed on the conversation.
Three of the officials told CNN that Bannon understood Trump wanted people fired, while the fourth said that McMaster believed the President’s direction was to deal with leaks in a systematic fashion, rather than a mass firing.
The political plotting in the early days of Trump’s presidency provides a window into a three-year effort by Trump and his loyalists to identify and expunge suspected “deep state” opponents from the White House and in some cases other parts of the government, a move that was kept at bay until recent weeks.
Removing government officials seen as disloyal to the President has unfolded in earnest since Trump was impeached but not removed from office and there are no signs the purges will let up.
The President expressed in public remarks last Saturday that he’s getting rid of bad people in government who are “not people that love our country.”
In recent weeks, Trump has expressed to aides that he wants fewer people working for him at the White House and only those identified as loyalists to hold key positions in his administration, leading to a fresh batch of lists from allies, the existence of which was first reported by Axios.
The existence of “deep state” lists in the early days of Trump’s presidency was widely talked about in the halls of the National Security Council and the State Department, according to multiple former White House officials, although several officials named on the list tell CNN they didn’t know that any such list really existed or that they were on it. The “deep state” refers to a right-wing belief that certain members of the federal bureaucracy are actively undermining the Trump presidency.
One contributor to the list that was collated and frequently updated in early 2017 was former NSC official and former Trump campaign aide Rich Higgins. He told CNN in an exclusive interview recently that from the beginning of his tenure he was convinced that leaks of minutes of highly classified meetings were from holdovers of the Obama administration and he suspected widespread resistance to some of the administration efforts.
Higgins is not involved in the current lists and does not have a current connection to the White House. The White House did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Bannon and McMaster declined to comment for this story.

The ‘hit list’ squad

Higgins, 45, a former Pentagon official who consulted for the Trump campaign in the 2016 election as a counterterrorism adviser, joined the NSC in February 2017 as director of strategic planning.
Higgins told CNN he arrived to find two senior NSC directors and fellow Trump appointees, Col. Derek Harvey and Ezra Cohen-Watnick, regularly meeting over coffee or gathering in their offices and joined them in a mission to find alleged leakers and those perceived as resistant to the Trump administration’s policies.
Two former senior White House officials told CNN they remembered seeing Harvey and Cohen-Watnick frequently meeting with Bannon in Bannon’s office and the duo made them aware they were collating lists of people they believed were disloyal. One former senior administration official described the group as “the Hardy Boys.”
Multiple senior administration officials told CNN that in early spring of 2017, Bannon gave a list of names of suspected leakers to Trump while McMaster was traveling.
McMaster became aware that Bannon wanted them fired and, irate, phoned then-White House chief counsel Don McGahn that night to complain and ask if what they were doing was legal, according to two sources. McGahn declined to comment for this story.
Higgins says that over the course of several months, the group worked off other similar lists that were circulating and created new versions that contained roughly four dozen people who they felt were politically opposed to Trump, including Obama appointees, those detailed to the White House and “Never Trumpers.” The list shrank or expanded in the following months depending on normal staff rotation, Higgins said.
CNN has obtained three of the lists that Higgins says the group collated and discussed. One is titled “Holdovers” and is dated July 2017. Another is titled “Personnel Policy Decisions,” with a subhead “Trump Administration NSC Appointments Not supporting Potus Vision and Expressed Intent.” It has seven names on it, along with their titles and a category marked “Justification.”
A third list, dated June 2017, has 39 names on it that included Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ current Middle East adviser Robert Malley, who left the administration when Trump took office, the former special envoy on ISIS Brett McGurk, and the person the White House believes to be the Ukraine whistleblower. When asked why Malley was on the list, Higgins told CNN, “We left him on by mistake.”
Malley and McGurk declined to comment for this story. Mark Zaid, the attorney for the whistleblower, told CNN that he’s unable to comment.

McMaster not having it

Higgins says the group was aware that McMaster would not approve of what they were doing.
In mid-April, Higgins says, he was asked to get the most current list to Bannon. According to Higgins, Bannon told him he showed the list to Trump on April 17, 2017, and the President had demanded McMaster take action.
When nothing happened, Higgins says, he wrote a memo that was reported on by The Atlantic titled “Potus and Political Warfare,” which Higgins says he then printed out, with the idea of having a group discussion among like-minded individuals.
“The memo was my estimate of the situation, explanatory but not certain. I wanted to generate discussion and awareness around me,” he told CNN.
The seven-page memo warned of threats from “globalist corporatists & bankers” and “Islamists,” as well as the “deep state.” It said the “narrative” that “Russia hacked the election” was “illegitimate” and was a deliberate effort to destroy Trump’s agenda.
“Recognizing in candidate Trump an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative, those that benefit recognized the threat he poses and see his destruction,” it reads.
“I didn’t write it by myself,” Higgins told CNN, adding that there were various people who were on the NSC staff then. “And I didn’t write it in one sitting. It was the product of hours of conversations.”
Higgins says he never learned if the President read his memo. But Higgins says Bannon told him that his efforts were discovered — and not appreciated by McMaster, who stood up at an NSC town hall on July 13 and told staff that “there’s no such thing as a hold-over,” Bloomberg reported.
Higgins says that on July 18, he was summoned to the NSC general counsel’s office and asked if he had written the memo. He said, “Yes.” On July 21, McMaster’s deputy, Ricky Waddell, told Higgins to resign, according to Higgins. Waddell did not respond to several requests for comment.
Two weeks later, around the end of July, CNN reported that both Harvey and Cohen-Watnick left the NSC under circumstances that were not clear. Higgins says the two were told to go. On August 18, Bannon also left the White House.
Harvey declined to comment for this story. A spokesperson for Cohen-Watnick told CNN: “At no time was Ezra involved in creating any political ‘enemies’ list within the Trump NSC, nor was he ‘fired’ from his position in the White House.”
Higgins went on to become a senior fellow at Unconstrained Analytics, a nonprofit think tank. In response to the impeachment, he recently wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal headlined, “The White House Fired Me for My Loyalty.”
Of the latest lists that have been drawn up by the President’s allies and of Trump’s vicious reaction to political enemies, Higgins told CNN, “It’s a positive development for the administration. Any president, not just this one, deserves to have people who are supportive of his general policy positions around him.”

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Politics Podcast: What Tuesday’s Primaries Could Mean For November – FiveThirtyEight





In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew reacts to the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Idaho and Oregon. The results were mixed in terms of which factions in both parties did well. The marquee Republican Senate race in Pennsylvania is still too close to call, and at least two Trump endorsees lost: North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn and Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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Politics Briefing: Jason Kenney steps down as UCP leader after receiving 51-per-cent support in leadership review – The Globe and Mail




Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is stepping down as leader of the United Conservative Party after receiving 51-per-cent support in a review of his leadership by the party he helped create.

It marks a political turning point for a leading figure in conservative circles in Canada, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister who has also been an outspoken critic of the federal Liberal government, particularly over its policies on the energy sector.

Moments after the results of the vote by members of the United Conservative Party were announced Wednesday evening, Mr. Kenney announced his plans to exit.

“The result is not what I hoped or frankly what I expected,” Mr. Kenney told supporters. “While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader.”

As a result, Mr. Kenney said he had informed the UCP president of his intention to step down as leader.

“We need to move forward united. We need to put the past behind us,” he said.

The question before the 59,000 Albertans who have UCP memberships was “Do you approve of the current leader.” A total of 34,298 votes were cast.

A total 17,638 voters – or 51. 4 per cent – said Yes, and 16,660 – or 48.6 per cent – said No.

Mr. Kenney had said that 50 per cent plus one would be a win in the outcome of the vote.

As energy reporter Emma Graney and Calgary reporter Carrie Tait reported earlier here, the vote marks the culmination of two years of open dissent within Mr. Kenney’s caucus from party members and MLAs unhappy with pandemic restrictions and Mr. Kenney’s leadership style.

After 19 years as an MP, Mr. Kenney resigned his parliamentary seat in 2016 to seek the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.

He won the leadership in 2017 after campaigning to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party. Once the merger came about that year, Mr. Kenney was elected leader of the resulting United Conservative Party and led the UCP to a majority government in the province’s 2019 general election.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.


FAST OUT AS CONSERVATIVE FINANCE CRITIC – British Columbia MP Ed Fast is out as official opposition finance critic over his support of former Quebec premier Jean Charest in the race for the leadership of the federal Conservatives. Story here.

INFLATION HITS 31-YEAR HIGH – Canada’s inflation rate hit another record in April as groceries and other everyday items escalated in price, a troubling development for many workers who aren’t seeing their wages keep pace and for central bankers trying to bring inflation back to target levels. Story here.

ROYAL TOUR UNDER WAY, WITH OTTAWA STOP – On Wednesday, Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, embarked on the second day of a visit to Canada, with stops throughout Ottawa designed to recognize pressing issues, including the displacement of Ukrainians because of Russia’s invasion. Earlier this week, Prince Charles acknowledged that the tour has arrived at a time of historic reckoning with Indigenous people. Story here. There’s a Globe and Mail Explainer on the tour here.

RUSSIA CLOSES CBC MOSCOW BUREAU – Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it was closing the Moscow bureau of Canada’s CBC and withdrawing visas and accreditation from the public broadcaster’s journalists after Ottawa banned Russian state TV station Russia Today. Story here.

TRUDEAU FACES SUPREME-COURT CHOICE – Globe and Mail Justice Writer Sean Fine looks here at Prime Minister’s Justin Mr. Trudeau’s options as he considers a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Michael Moldaver, who retires on Sept.1.

OTTAWA POLICE DIDN’T ASK FOR EMERGENCIES ACT – The Ottawa Police Service did not make a direct appeal for the invocation of the federal Emergencies Act, its interim chief says. Story here.

NO TIMELINE ON GENDER-VIOLENCE ACTION PLAN DESPITE GOVERNMENT COMMITMENT – Sixteen months after the federal and provincial governments issued a joint declaration that they would work toward creating “a Canada free of gender-based violence,” there is still no timeline for when the country’s first-ever national action plan to achieve that goal will actually be implemented. Story here.

UPTICK IN TRAVEL PLACES PRESSURE ON PASSPORT OFFICERS: UNION – The union representing Canada’s passport officers says its members are facing verbal abuse, stress and long hours as they continue to respond to an overwhelming surge in applications prompted by an uptake in travel after the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions. Story here.

ONTARIO ELECTION – The first edition of Vote of Confidence, the Globe and Mail’s new guide on learning the ins and outs of the biggest issues in the Ontario election is here.


TODAY IN THE COMMONS ‐ Projected Order of Business at the House of Commons, May 18, accessible here.

TOP POLITICAL BOOK – Toronto Star journalist Joanna Chiu has won the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for her book China Unbound: A New World Disorder, published by House of Anansi Press. She was named the winner at a gala on Tuesday night. Story here.

COMMITTEE MEETINGS – House of Commons committee meetings Wednesday include the standing committee on health holding a hearing on the Emergency Situation Facing Canadians in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic – details here. Also, the standing committee on national defence will be looking at Rising Domestic Operational Deployments and Challenges for the Canadian Armed Forces – details here.

GOVERNOR GENERAL IN B.C. – Governor-General Mary Simon, and her husband, Whit Fraser, will be visiting British Columbia between Friday and next Tuesday, with stops that include the Governor-General delivering remarks at a memorial event commemorating one year since the confirmation of unmarked graves at a residential school in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. It also includes meetings with Premier John Horgan and Indigenous leaders, and a meeting with University of Victoria students.

JOLY IN NEW YORK – Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is in New York City on Wednesday, beginning a two-day visit to attend meetings at United Nations Headquarters and with other foreign ministers to discuss a co-ordinated response to the global food-security crisis. The trip includes meetings with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and additional senior UN officials.

FREELAND IN GERMANY – Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, also the Finance Minister, is in Bonn to attend the G7 finance ministers and central-bank governors meeting and a working dinner,. The event is being hosted by German Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Deutsche Bundesbank President Joachim Nagel.


On Wednesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, wildlife pathologist Brian Stevens talks about this year’s deadly avian flu which has spread from poultry to wild animals, with reports of birds suffering from neurological symptoms, dropping dead from trees and twitching uncontrollably. Nearly two million birds have already died from the avian flu this year in Canada alone. Dr. Stevens talks about how this strain is different, what experts are watching out for, and how to prevent further spread. The Decibel is here.


The Prime Minister held private meetings, spoke to Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and attended the national Liberal caucus meeting. He was also scheduled to attend Question Period. As part of the royal visit, the Prime Minister was scheduled to have a private audience with The Prince of Wales., and to participate, with the prince, in a discussion on sustainable finance in combating climate change and building a net-zero economy. Also, the Prime Minister and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, were to attend a reception at Rideau Hall, hosted by Governor-General Mary Simon to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee.


Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet held a media scrum at the House of Commons regarding the royal visit and its costs as well as the protection of the French language. He also attended Question Period.

Interim Conservative Party Leader Candice Bergen attended Question Period.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended the NDP national caucus meeting, held a news conference on the cost of living and was scheduled to participate in Question Period.

No schedules released for other party leaders


The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on whether it is time to end Canada’s last remaining COVID travel restrictions: But we supported prudent, measured public-health restrictions. So did the majority of Canadians. In the fog of the pandemic war, mistakes were made, such as keeping schools in some provinces shuttered far too long. But many other impositions were the least bad options, under the circumstances. And they worked. Last week, the number of COVID-related deaths in Canada reached 40,000. It’s a terrible toll. But the same week, the United States reached one million, a death rate three times higher. Government and individual action made the difference – notably Canada’s vaccination rate, which is among the highest in the world. But Canadians’ acceptance of public-health restrictions was always dependent on the assumption that what would be asked of them would go on no longer than necessary, and would be based on the best science. As things change, policy would evolve.“

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on the Canada Infrastructure Bank: good idea in principle, bad idea in practice: “That the Government of Canada abolish the Canada Infrastructure Bank.” That was the striking recommendation of the Commons Transport committee in its recent report on the CIB – striking, both because of its finality (end it, don’t mend it) and because it was the only recommendation in the report. Not that anyone should have been altogether surprised, given the predispositions of the three opposition parties in support, who together make up a majority of the committee (its Liberal members dissented).”

Colin Busby (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Employment Insurance is a confusing mess in need of urgent reform: “One message came through loud and clear: the current EI system, with its many layers of complexity and glaring gaps in coverage, has become increasingly ineffective, especially when facing economic shocks. For many Canadians, EI is an extremely complex program to understand and navigate. The introduction and expansion of special benefits – such as maternity and parental benefits, sickness and caregiving leave – has created more than 200 ways in which all EI benefits can overlap with one another. This hodgepodge can confuse even the most informed citizens. And it’s one reason why simplicity should be an overarching principle to guide reforms.”

Ralph Heintzman (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on what we ignore when we talk about abolishing the monarchy: So, abolition of the Crown in Canada is simply not worth talking about, for least another generation, because it simply cannot be done. Efforts to generate such discussion are a waste of time – time that would be better spent examining the uses and potential of the institution we have, and will have for the foreseeable future.”

Huda Idrees (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Canadians should not be smug whenever there is pain and death to our south: “Diversity is our strength” is a catchy motto that leaders across all levels of government love to quote, but they’re empty words unless we challenge and change racist laws. We have to investigate the rise in hate crimes across Canada, and we have to stop normalizing obvious white supremacist trends disguised under the banner of “freedom.” A good first step on this journey would be to stop using the pain of victims of domestic terrorism in other countries as opportunities to gloat.”

Don Braid (The Calgary Herald) on MLAs jockeying for position ahead of results of a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership of the United Conservative Party: “While Premier Jason Kenney confidently talks about a majority win for his leadership Wednesday, some people in his caucus and government have another subject entirely. They’re speculating about who will be the new premier as early as Thursday, when a full UCP caucus meeting is scheduled at McDougall Centre from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.”

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Alberta premier Jason Kenney steps down as UCP leader after narrow leadership win



Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has stepped down as leader of the United Conservative Party after narrowly winning the party’s leadership vote.

Kenney received 51.4 per cent support in voting results released tonight in Calgary.

He told supporters that the number is not what he hoped for and is not enough for him to continue on as leader.

If Kenney had received less than 50 per cent plus one, he would have had to quit as per party rules and a leadership contest would have been called.

Normally, leaders consider 75 to 80 per cent — or higher — the minimum credible mandate to continue leading their party.

Kenney had earlier said he would accept a slim majority, because the voting pool was skewed by last-minute members interested only in scuttling his big-tent conservative party.

“While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader,” Kenney said.

“I’ve informed the president of the party of my intention to step down as leader of the United Conservative Party,” he said to gasps in the audience.

“We need to move forward united. We need to put the past behind us. And a large number of our members have asked for an opportunity to clear the air through a leadership election.”

The leadership review took on heightened importance over the past year as Kenney was buffeted by poor polling numbers, sluggish fundraising and open dissent from some in his party and caucus.

It was also punctuated by controversy. It had already been delayed by a year when it was set for an in-person ballot on April 9 in Red Deer, Alta.

When 15,000 members signed up — five times more than expected — the party said it couldn’t handle the logistics and moved to a mail-in ballot open to all 59,000 members.

Critics said the change was made to give Kenney the edge as it appeared he was going to lose the in-person vote.

Elections Alberta is also investigating allegations of illegal bulk buying of memberships in the review. And the party remains under investigation by the RCMP over allegations of criminal identity fraud in the 2017 contest that saw Kenney elected leader.

Kenney had made it clear that the vote and open dissent had become a “soap opera” distracting the party facing a provincial election next May.

He also said that if he got the required support, he would expect dissenters in his caucus to rally behind him or face unnamed consequences.

Two backbenchers who openly criticized Kenney last year — Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes — were voted out of caucus and sit as Independents.

Backbenchers Jason Stephan, Peter Guthrie and Brian Jean — who helped Kenney found the UCP — have been the most vocal. They openly urged the premier to resign for the good of the party.

Kenney has tried to downplay the dissent by tying it directly to unhappiness over COVID-19 restrictions his government bought in to try to stop the spread of the virus.

Opponents in caucus say the dissatisfaction is also over Kenney’s policies and management style, which they deem to be top-down, dismissive and undemocratic. They say Kenney has not done enough to gain a better deal for Alberta with the federal government on shared programs.

Conservative leaders in Alberta have not fared well after middling votes in leadership reviews.

Former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein left after getting 55 per cent of the vote in 2006. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford received 77 per cent in their reviews, but stepped down from the top job when the party pushed back.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.


The Canadian Press

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