Speier dismisses Trump’s response to Manafort indictment as ‘spin’

 
People surround a woman at a desk.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier addresses Peninsula Press reporters during an interview in her San Mateo office on October 30, 2017. (Amy Cruz/Peninsula Press)

U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-14th) said any attempt by Pres. Donald Trump to distance himself from his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was indicted on Oct. 30 on money laundering charges, would be just “spin,” since Manafort was in charge when there were reported contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“He is being charged now on conduct actually unrelated to the political campaign, and I’m sure the administration, particularly the president, will spin it that way,’’ Speier said in an interview. “But here’s the important part. He was in charge – the campaign chairman – during the most significant months of his campaign when there [were] examples of, or indications of, Russian engagement with the Trump campaign.”

Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman from May to August 2016, is accused of laundering more than $18 million from lobbying work done in Ukraine. Shortly after the indictment was made public, Trump tweeted: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.” Manafort has pleaded not guilty.

While the indictment doesn’t mention evidence of collusion with foreign governments, Speier noted that Manafort was campaign chairman during the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that included Trump’s son Donald Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Peninsula Press at her San Mateo district office Oct. 30, Speier also said that Democrats would have to accept some Republican demands if they want to protect undocumented youth immigrants from deportation, that she planned to introduce legislation to make it easier for Congressional staffers to file sexual assault claims and that social media companies could face regulation beyond laws forcing them to disclose political advertisers’ identities.

Papadopoulos an important “state’s witness”

Speier also predicted that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — who pled guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts – “will become a very significant state’s witness.” In a March 2016 interview with the Washington Post, Trump cited Papadopoulos as a key member of his foreign policy team and called him an “excellent guy.”

Speier reiterated her plea to have the Cabinet evaluate if Trump should be removed from office via the 25th Amendment.

“My message [to the Cabinet] is you have an ultimate responsibility to this country to evaluate whether the president continues to be fit to be the commander in chief,” Speier said.

The Cabinet’s “ultimate responsibility is not to the President of the United States, but it’s to the Constitution and the American people,” she said.

Speier seeks to combat sexual assault on Capitol Hill

Speier, 67, who last week shared in a video testimonial how she was sexually assaulted as a young congressional staffer, said she would introduce a bill to make it easier to report and take action in cases of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

“We’ve got to clean our own house,” Speier said.

The United States Congress Office of Compliance handles harassment claims for legislative branch employees. Speier says the reporting process in Congress is too long and ineffective in removing victims from hostile work environments.

Employees who submit a claim must do so within 180 days of the incident and must undergo 30 days of counseling before going through mediation, according to the compliance office’s website. Only after the mediation phase, can accusers file an administrative complaint and go through a confidential hearing.

Speier has proposed multiple bills on sexual harassment. On Oct. 12, she proposed the Title IX Protection Act – a bill that would turn university Title IX sexual harassment guidelines into law.

“This is an issue of power, and it’s an issue of closed environments,” Speier said. “So wherever you have a closed environment, it’s going to be much more prevalent.”

Silicon Valley – parts of which are in Speier’s district (an area that stretches from South San Francisco to Woodside) – was rocked by sexual harassment scandals this summer.

“I would argue that in the private sector, action is taken much more swiftly,” she said. “People are fired. They aren’t slapped on the wrist…so there’s actually, in many respects, more accountability in the private sector than there is in Congress.”

Democrats will have to “negotiate something we don’t want” for DACA deal

To prevent the possible deportation of 800,000 undocumented youth, Democrats are “going to have to swallow hard and accept some things from the Republicans that we don’t want,” Speier said.

President Barack Obama, via executive order, created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that shielded from deportation undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and had no criminal record. When Trump ended the program in September, he gave Congress a six-month window to address the issue before recipients start losing their protected status after March 5.

As part of negotiations, the administration and Republican Congress members are pushing to restrict legal immigration, incorporate funding for a border wall with Mexico and hire more immigration enforcement agents. These are conditions immigrant activists oppose.

“There are some within the DACA community who say, ‘No way’ — easy for them to say, but you’ve got 800,000 people impacted,” Speier said of those who would push for a “clean” Dream Act without compromise. “I don’t want 800,000 kids to have a bullseye on their backs so that the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] folks can come and rip them from their homes.”

Speier believes the Republicans will use their Congressional majority to start building a border wall regardless of any legislative fix for DACA. But Speier appeared open to wall funding as part of a deal. “Are we going to just say no and then have these 800,000 kids in jeopardy? I’m not willing to do that,” she said.

In June, Speier was one of only two California Democrats to vote in favor of a bill Trump promoted during his campaign to increase penalties for people who re-enter the country repeatedly without authorization.

“Sometimes you have to do what’s right in your heart even though politically you may see it as a disadvantage,” Speier said.

Kate’s Law, which awaits a vote in the Senate, is named after Kathryn Steinle, who was shot and killed in 2015 on a San Francisco pier. The alleged shooter, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who is currently on trial for second-degree murder, had re-entered the country five times and had multiple drug-related convictions.

“[The shooter] doesn’t have a right to be in this country,” Speier said, adding that she had met with the victim’s family who “wanted to make sure that no other family had to endure what they had to.”

“I’m of the mind that if you have committed crimes you don’t have a right to be here as an undocumented person,” she said.

Facebook, Twitter are “media” companies

Speier indicated she would support requiring social media companies to label political advertising like broadcasters do, but that more regulation would likely be necessary.

“I haven’t looked at it in its entirety, but anything that’s going to require disclosure is important,” Speier said of the Honest Ads Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of Senators Oct. 19. “But we probably need to go farther than that.”

On Nov. 1, representatives of Facebook, Twitter and Google will testify before the House and Senate Intelligence committees about how Russia used the platforms to influence the election.

Facebook has provided the House and Senate Intelligence committees with over 3,000 political ads purchased by Russians during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The company is headquartered in Speier’s district.

“I’m going to run through a lot of these ads,” Speier, who sits on the House committee, said of her plans to question the witnesses. “And I think they’re going to probably be disclosing that they underestimated the impact and the amount of money that was spent.”

Russia’s goal with Facebook and Twitter “was to try and create division in this country, to undermine the democracy,” Speier said. “And frankly they were pretty successful.”

Alerts for Northern California wildfires maybe would have saved “some lives”

After the deadliest wildfires in California history left 43 people dead and thousands homeless, the congresswoman said more effective use of cellphone alerts might have saved lives.

“I do think, now that we have mobile phones that can alert us so quickly, that we need to use them more effectively,” Speier said. “And I think the right to privacy has been a concern that local law enforcement didn’t want to impose on people. But in this case clearly it would have been helpful. Maybe some lives would have been saved.”

Neither Sonoma County nor Napa County sent out warnings through the federal Wireless Emergency Alert system, which sends alerts to all cellphones in a specific geographic area. Officials said they didn’t want to create panic in areas that weren’t in direct danger.

Sonoma County and Santa Rosa sent out warnings through their local alert services, but these require residents to register in advance to receive messages. “We need to create a better education opportunity so people will sign up,” Speier added.

Still she noted that it was a “very difficult situation,” and “law enforcement and first responders did an incredible job.”

Optimism on Gun Regulation 

Speier, herself a victim of gun violence, said she was optimistic Congress would pass legislation regulating the sale of bump stock, which was used by Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock in the Oct. 1 shooting that killed 58 people and wounded over 500.

Bump stock allows gun owners to increase the firing rate of their semiautomatic rifles to near that of a machine gun. The sale of machine guns is currently banned in the United States.

“I think we could get bipartisan support for bump stock,” she said.

CHIP extension “will be renewed”

Speier said she thought Congress would renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program that legislators let expire in September, a move that left coverage for nine million kids across the United States in doubt. California, which has about 1.3 million kids enrolled in CHIP according to The Mercury News, is projected to run out of its federal funding around the end of 2017.

“I think [CHIP] will be renewed,” Speier said. “I don’t think that we will allow kids to go bare.”

Although CHIP has enjoyed bipartisan support in the past, the bill to renew funding has encountered obstacles in the House, as Republicans push to use funding for the Affordable Care Act and Medicare to offset the cost of CHIP. The House is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

ACA town halls 

Speier announced that she would be holding town halls in which her constituents could sign up for the Affordable Care Act.

In April, the Trump administration announced that the enrollment period for 2018 sign-ups would run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, half as long as the enrollment period for 2017 sign-ups. The administration also announced in August that it would only spend $10 million to promote enrollment — a 90 percent drop from the previous year.

Speier said that it was “obvious” the Trump administration “want[s] to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.”

“This president is intent on killing the Affordable Care Act,” Speier said. “He has no understanding about the law. He has no understanding about health insurance.”

Flight noise fight

Concerning airplane noise from San Francisco International Airport, which has been an increasing concern for Bay Area residents since the introduction of new flight paths two and a half years ago, Speier said she has engaged the Federal Aviation Administration in trying to find solutions.

The new flight system is aimed at reducing flight time, fuel consumption and carbon emissions, but it caused more planes to fly on the exact same routes and at lower altitudes, with residents filing thousands of noise complaints per day.

“I think the fuel issue is bogus, and I don’t think that that should be part of the factoring for how these planes take off and land,” Speier said.

The FAA is “in the final steps” to approve changes to the flight system, Speier said. She is scheduled to meet the FAA administrator Michael Huerta, to discuss the possibility of rerouting night flights.

“People are rightfully frustrated,” Speier said. “I have [flights] coming over my home…I’m not happy with this any more than anyone else.”

With reporting by: Katlyn Alo, Jackie Botts, Amy Cruz, Christina Egerstrom, Dylan Freedman, Alec Glassford, Charlotte Kosche, Mark Lieber, Michael McLaughlin, Anthony Miller, Jacob Nierenberg, Marta Oliver-Craviotto, Kiley Roache, Isha Salian, Simone Stolzoff. Editors: Marnette Federis, Geri Migielicz, and Janine Zacharia