Diverting Pentagon dollars to build the wall would be illegal, Senate Democrats say

WASHINGTON — The Senate’s top Democrats overseeing the Pentagon said Monday that President Donald Trump has no authority to divert defense funds to pay for construction of a wall along the border with Mexico, and that administration officials might put themselves in legal jeopardy if they were to do so.

Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Jack Reed of Rhode Island outlined their analysis in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis. The senators requested that Mattis respond as to whether or not the Pentagon agrees.

“Based on a thorough review of appropriations law, the text of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2018, and the 2006 and 2008 appropriations made for the National Guard to conduct specific construction activities near the border, we conclude that the Department of Defense has no legal authority, with or without a reprogramming request, to use appropriated funds for the construction of a border wall,” Durbin and Reed wrote in the Monday letter.

In general, the ranking members on both the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee have the ability to stop reprogramming requests, as current Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona did during part of the administration of President Barack Obama.

But Durbin and Reed went a step further Monday, saying that not even a request to Congress could be sufficient given the particular legislative history of border security funding. They write that the Trump administration would risk running afoul of the Antideficiency Act.

That law bars the expenditure of federal funds for purposes for which money was not appropriated by Congress.

Trump had suggested moving funds from the Pentagon budget, which ballooned thanks to the 2018 omnibus spending measure he recently signed into law, to pay for the wall effort (which presumably would fall under the Department of Homeland Security budget).

—CQ-Roll Call

Trump appeals decision allowing ex-‘Apprentice’ contestant Summer Zervos’ suit to continue

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump is fighting a ruling allowing a one-time “Apprentice” contestant’s defamation lawsuit to move forward, contending he can’t be sued while he’s in office.

Trump insisted Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court filings that the U.S. Constitution protects him from a lawsuit filed by Summer Zervos, who had appeared on his reality TV show.

Zervos had claimed that Trump slimed her on the campaign trail after she publicly accused him of groping her in 2007.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter previously shot down Trump’s push to dismiss Zervos’ suit — which was based on claims of presidential immunity.

“No one is above the law. It is settled that the President of the United States has no immunity and is ‘subject to the laws’ for purely private acts,” Schecter ruled on March 20.

Trump’s lawyers are taking the same legal position in their notice of appeal, however, again arguing that the Constitution “bars state courts from exercising jurisdiction over a sitting President for reasons of federalism, comity, and local prejudice.”

Team Trump is also saying that the court should have put the proceedings on hold — and that any statements Trump made about Zervos are “subjective opinions.”

Zervos’ lawyer, Mariann Wang, said in an email, “We believe the court’s well-reasoned decision will be upheld, and look forward to proving Ms. Zervos’s claim.”

Zervos had filed her lawsuit against Trump in January 2017, charging that he groped her and “kissed her on the mouth repeatedly” without consent.

Zervos said Trump defamed her by claiming the allegations were made up and for “personal gain.”

—New York Daily News

Eagles of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes apologizes for slamming gun protests

Eagles of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes has issued a video apology for the inflammatory statements he made in the wake of the March for Our Lives protests a little more than a week ago, saying he “was not attempting to impugn the youth of America or this beautiful thing they’ve accomplished.”

Hughes has a unique role in the gun control debate as a supporter of gun rights who was also one of the victims of the November 2015 terror attack at the Bataclan theater in Paris, where 89 people died. His posts garnered significant media coverage.

“What I had intended to be a statement about the hijacking by any side of the aisle of the beautiful agenda of a movement of our nation’s youth came off seeming like a mean-spirited personal attack and slight of the youth themselves, and even a personal attack of its leadership,” Hughes said in the Sunday video.

“I truly am sorry. I did not mean to hurt anyone or cause any harm. As someone who’s watched their friends shot in front of their eyes and seen people killed that they love I should have handled this a lot more maturely and responsibly and I did not do that and I messed up.”

Hughes has since deleted his posts, which included a reference to a man cutting off his own penis to prevent rape. In one rant, he said, “As a survivor of a mass shooting I can tell you from first-hand experience that all of you protesting and taking days off from school insult the memory of those who were killed and abuse and insult me and every other lover of liberty by your every action.”

He continued (via Sky News): “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll … and may everyone of these disgusting vile abusers of the dead live as long as possible so they can have the maximum amount of time to endure their shame and be cursed.”

In the new video, Hughes pleaded, “I hope that you’re able to forgive me, but please know that I did not mean to do what it seems like it was I was doing.”

—Los Angeles Times