This week is on track to be as insane as last week in the Trump White House. Yesterday retired general John Kelly was sworn in as chief of staff, replacing Reince Priebus. Kelly apparently accepted the job from hell on the conditions that the entire WH staff would report to him and on the dismissal of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. But those stories were eclipsed last night by a Washington Post story about how Donald Trump Jr.’s initial statement about his June 9, 2016, meeting with Russian government representatives was formulated.
The Washington Post: Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer.
On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.
The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.
But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.
Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” [….]
The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.
As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.
Trump’s direct involvement in composing his son’s false statement could be more evidence of obstruction of justice.
Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.
Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.
“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.” [….]
Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.
That’s idiotic. Even if there is no underlying crime, which is unlikely, Trump’s behavior demonstrates obstruction–and that’s a separate crime
This morning NBC news has more details on the Scaramucci firing: What Really Happened to Anthony Scaramucci.
Two sources close to President Donald Trump said Scaramucci’s profane remarks last week to The New Yorker magazine “disgusted” and “offended” some close to the president, including Melania Trump, and — crucially — Ivanka Trump, who had initially advocated for Scaramucci’s hiring.
Scaramucci was ousted Monday, the first day on the job for Trump’s new chief of staff, the retired Marine general John Kelly.
One source said both Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner supported Kelly and his move to dismiss Scaramucci.
And it wasn’t just the expletive-filled interview: Some in the West Wing believe Scaramucci overplayed his hand altogether, believing he could do no wrong in the eyes of the president.
While the White House didn’t initially decry Scaramucci’s vulgar comments to The New Yorker, by Friday the president was getting an earful from confidantes outside the administration. The blowback built. Even for a president who’s no stranger to salty language, Scaramucci’s interview, with its f-bombs and anatomical references, apparently came off as too lowbrow.
By mid-morning on Monday, Scaramucci was sacked and Kelly, a 40-year Marine, had conveyed to the rest of the staff that the chain of command now runs through him.
Any bets on how long that will last? Can Kelly really block Ivanka and Jared from walking into the oval office?
John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton offered advice to Kelly: don’t take the job. The Washington Post: The best advice I could have given to John Kelly: Don’t do it!
First, discipline. There’s no doubt the decision to replace Reince Priebus with Kelly was based on the hope that a former four-star Marine general could get this menagerie in line. You don’t have to compare the Trump White House to no-drama Obama or the buttoned-down Bush operations to know there is simply no precedent in modern history for the current White House culture of factionalism, infighting and lack of respect among senior staff members. Of course, most of Trump’s team are simply modeling their behavior on that of the boss. His demeaning treatment of Priebus and Attorney General Jeff Sessions signals that there are no boundaries in Trumpland, leading to the unprofessional actions of now-former communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Indeed, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed the public that the president “encourages” such behavior.
Kelly is walking into a White House that looks more like a cock fight than an episode of “The West Wing.” (See Mooch, you can use that word without being profane.) The White House culture will have to be shaken to its core. Kelly must be able to fire anyone at will, including to enforce a no-tolerance policy for behavior unbecoming a senior government official. Scaramucci’s departure Monday is a good start, but Kelly will have to keep a tight rein on a White House staff that is used to few boundaries. And if there is going to be an exception for Trump’s relatives, Kelly should get an explicit commitment that even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump report through him — no end arounds.
The most difficult discipline problem for Kelly, though, will not be the staff but Trump himself. Early signs are not auspicious. The day after appointing Kelly, Trump ranted on Twitter against Senate Republicans for failure to pass their horrific health-care bill, which would have denied care to millions of Americans and raised costs for millions more. I have no doubt that Kelly, unlike Priebus, can say no to power, but whether power will listen is another matter.
Read about Kelly’s two other major tasks at the WaPo link.
Trump spent the weekend trolling Senate Republicans for their failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but Politico reports that Trump’s tweets aren’t having much effect: Republicans ignore Trump’s Obamacare taunts.
Senate Republicans have no plans to revive their party-line attempts to repeal Obamacare this summer, despite President Donald Trump’s increasing frustration over the chamber’s failed attempts last week to gut the law.
“Until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it’s over,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican. “Maybe lightning will strike and something will come together but I’m not holding my breath.” [….]
For one, they’re down one vote in the short term, with Sen. John McCain being treated for cancer in Arizona.
But as the collapse of the repeal effort in the Senate last week showed, even with McCain the GOP majority is so narrow that it may never be possible to pass major, partisan health care reform through the chamber. That increasingly appears to be the case despite White House efforts to promote a bill by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would send federal health care funding to the states in the form of block grants.
Privately, Republican aides said there is essentially no chance McConnell will take another shot at repealing Obamacare soon. On Monday, there was discussion among Senate staffers of a “hard pivot to tax reform,” one Senate aide said.
Foreign Policy reports that Jared Kushner made “off the record remarks” to Congressional interns yesterday, and they quickly obtained notes from the meeting. Anyone who doesn’t believe Kusher is the leaker, please raise your hand.
Donald Trump’s election team could not have colluded with Russia because they were barely talking to each other, according to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top White House advisor.
“They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” Kushner told congressional interns during a private talk at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington on Monday afternoon….
A source provided a copy of written notes on Kushner’s talk and question-and-answer session to Foreign Policy.
For investigators attempting to determine whether Trump’s associates knowingly worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a defense claiming chaos and confusion might be the key difference between criminal behavior and incompetence.
As chaos reigns in the White House, Russia is continuing to threaten its neighbors. The New York Times: Russia’s Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression.
WASHINGTON — Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir V. Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.
The troops are conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The drills will feature a reconstituted armored force named for a storied Soviet military unit, the First Guards Tank Army. Its establishment represents the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that so much offensive power has been concentrated in a single command.
The military exercise, planned for many months, is not a reaction to sweeping new economic sanctions on Russia that Congress passed last week. So far, Russia has retaliated against the sanctions by forcing the expulsion of several hundred employees in American diplomatic posts in the country.
But the move is part of a larger effort by Mr. Putin to shore up Russia’s military prowess, and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia. Beyond Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election in support of the Trump campaign, which has seized attention in the United States, its military has in recent years deployed forces to Syria, seized Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine, rattled the Baltic States with snap exercises and buzzed NATO planes and ships.
Read more details at the link.
Finally, Talking Points Memo has an interesting post about Trump’s Russian mafia pal Felix Stater: Stinger Missiles And Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner To Trump Has A Tall Tale To Tell.
In December 2015, an Associated Press reporter asked Donald Trump why he had appointed Felix Sater, a man who’d been convicted for stock fraud, his senior advisor. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told the AP. “I’m not that familiar with him.”
The feeling is not mutual.
“My last Moscow deal [for the Trump Organization] was in October of 2015,” Sater recalled. “It didn’t go through because obviously he became President.” Sater had told the New York Times that he was working on the deal that fall, but over the course of several conversations with TPM, he gave a slightly more detailed timeline. “Once the campaign was really going-going, it was obvious there were going to be no deals internationally,” Sater said. “We were still working on it, doing something with it, November-December.”
That deal was for “The Trump Tower, to develop in Moscow.” It was a similar proposition to the one Trump himself tried to broker with the Agalarovs, a family of vastly wealthy Russian oligarchs who brought Miss Universe 2013 to Moscow and were behind the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the President’s oldest son and an attorney said to work for the Russian government. Sater said he never worked with the Agalarovs on a Moscow deal for Trump, but did work with others who he declined to name. Those aren’t Sater’s connections, he said. “That’s not me. I don’t work with them and I’ve never worked with them.” When asked who he was working with, Sater chuckled. “A couple of people I’d like to continue working with, and that’s why I don’t want their names in the newspaper. People say, ‘I care about you and love you but why do I need my name in the press?’”
The Trump Organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TPM. But to understand Trump and the type of people his real estate empire did business, it’s worth trying to understand Sater, the Russian-American émigré whose connections span not only the worlds of Russian and Italian organized crime—which Sater said are in part a result of not being able to find legitimate work after two criminal convictions—but the FBI and, now, the presidency.
Read the whole thing at TPM.
What stories are you following this morning?
I know I’ve said this before, but it’s more true than ever: I don’t know how much more Trump bullshit I can take. This past week may have been the worst yet; how much worse can it get? I’m afraid that it can and will get a whole lot worse.
Last night Brian Williams ran this video that briefly summarizes the events of the past week. It feels to me as though Trump’s horrific speech to the boy scouts was a long time ago, but no. It was just a few action-packed days ago.
Oh, and this morning we learned that North Korea’s ICBM could reach Los Angeles or even Chicago. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Based on current information, today’s missile test by North Korea could easily reach the US West Coast, and a number of major US cities.
Reports say that North Korea again launched its missile on a very highly lofted trajectory, which allowed the missile to fall in the Sea of Japan rather than overflying Japan. It appears the ground range of the test was around 1,000 km (600 miles), which put it in or close to Japanese territorial waters. Reports also say the maximum altitude of the launch was 3,700 km (2,300 miles) with a flight time of about 47 minutes.
If those numbers are correct, the missile flown on a standard trajectory the missile would have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation.
However, the rotation of the Earth increases the range of missiles fired eastward, depending on their direction. Calculating the range of the missile in the direction of some major US cities gives the approximate results in Table 1.
Table 1 shows that Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and that Boston and New York may be just within range. Washington, D.C. may be just out of range.
It is important to keep in mind that we do not know the mass of the payload the missile carried on this test. If it was lighter than the actual warhead the missile would carry, the ranges would be shorter than those estimated above.
Many news outlets published stories about how bad the week was, often including even more horrible events that The 11th Hour video left out. Raw Story included the Anthony Scaramucci clusterfuck:
Thursday. New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci started off his day by delivering a rambling interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo in which he compared himself and Reince Priebus to Cain and Abel.
Later in the day, the New Yorkerpublished an interview with Scaramucci in which the new White House official ranted about Priebus — calling him a “f*cking paranoid schizophrenic” — and top White House political strategist Steve Bannon, whom he said regularly tries to “suck his own c*ck.” In the same interview, Scaramucci threatened to fire the entire White House communications staff, while vowing to “kill all the f*cking leakers” within the Trump administration.
Oh, and have you heard? Scaramucci’s wife has filed for divorce because of the relationship with Trump, according to gossip site Page Six:
Deidre Ball, who worked as a vice president in investor relations for SkyBridge Capital, the firm he founded in 2005 and sold to ascend to the White House, has filed for divorce from “The Mooch” after three years of marriage after getting fed up with his ruthless quest to get close to President Trump, whom she despises.
One source told Page Six, “Deidre has left him and has filed for divorce. She liked the nice Wall Street life and their home on Long Island, not the insane world of D.C. She is tired of his naked ambition, which is so enormous that it left her at her wits’ end. She has left him even though they have two children together.”
Scaramucci and Ball, 38, began dating in 2011 and are believed to have married in 2014.
The week had almost ended when the Twitter item crossed. Minutes before quitting time, less than an hour after the markets closed: Gen. John Kelly named White House chief of staff.
The secretary of Homeland Security was replacing Reince Priebus at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
After about six months and a week, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee had been removed as the No. 1 aide to President Trump….
Priebus had been embattled almost from the beginning. He was said to be at odds with senior adviser Steve Bannon, to be less than close to first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
He was too old school, too Midwestern, too conventional. When Anthony Scaramucci arrived as the new White House director of communications in mid-July, he was reporting directly to the president — not to Priebus. Bad sign.
So in Washington, among those who watch the White House, there could be little surprise. And yet the spectacle of the chief of staff sitting alone in a van in the rain at Joint Base Andrews on Friday evening — detailed in a pool report — was still, somehow, shocking.
We don’t know yet how Priebus found out. Did he read it on Twitter?
HuffPost included more about Trump’s trolling of Jeff Sessions. Yes, that was on Monday of this week.
Trump attacked Sessions again — this time in a newspaper interview [Tuesday]. The president told The Wall Street Journal that he’s “very disappointed” in Sessions, but stopped short of saying he’ll fire the early Trump loyalist.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Then on Wednesday:
For the third day in a row, Trump publicly humiliated his attorney general and the Justice Department. This time, the president questioned Sessions’ decision to not fire Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and falsely claimed McCabe’s wife had accepted a campaign donation from Hillary Clinton.
The Financial Times weighs in: Trump’s week staggers from bad to worse.
It was the week that Donald Trump’s new communications director was meant to reset the White House after six turbulent months. Instead, the fight-to-the-death between Anthony Scaramucci and chief of staff Reince Priebus framed a week that shed the harshest light yet on the chaos at the heart of the administration.
From Mr Trump’s tweeted attacks on his own attorney-general to the resignation of Mr Priebus, days of rolling controversy have shown up the divisions wracking the senior levels of his team and reinforced concerns about the trajectory of his presidency.
Having once welcomed Mr Trump’s November victory for putting the levers of American power in Republican hands, conservatives now are aghast at the disarray threatening the president’s agenda.
While the week of rancour was bookended by the departure of Mr Priebus on Friday afternoon, its lowest point may have come in the early hours of the day when Republican senator John McCain, suffering from cancer, cast the vote that killed the president’s dream of repealing Obamacare after weeks of Republican wrangling over the plans.
“I don’t think there’s a clear understanding of what the party is any more and what it stands for,” said Adam Brandon, head of FreedomWorks, a conservative group with close ties to the lawmakers.
The LA Times focused on the health care debacle: The week the wheels fell off in Trump’s Washington.
For six months and change, the Trump administration has careened down a bumpy road, seldom far from a crash. This week, the wheels fell off.
The precise moment could be seen on nationwide television by anyone still awake — 1:29 a.m. in Washington, as Sen. John McCain of Arizona walked to the well of the Senate, stood in front of the clerk’s desk, stretched out his right arm and turned down his thumb, squashing the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare.
For Trump, who had campaigned loudly, but ineffectually, for the repeal, the defeat jeopardized an entire legislative agenda. It came toward the end of a week in which his administration had never felt weaker or more riven with self-defeating factions.
More at the link.
We’ll probably learn more over the weekend about what happened with Priebus, but here’s one cringe-inducing anecdote about Trump’s methods of torture from The Washington Post:
Trump’s demeaning of Priebus came through in other ways, too. At one point, during a meeting in the Oval Office, a fly began buzzing overhead, distracting the president. As the fly continued to circle, Trump summoned his chief of staff and tasked him with killing the insect, according to someone familiar with the incident. (The West Wing has a regular fly problem.)
Click on the link to read much more about the Trump gang’s sadistic behavior.
That’s all I have for you today. I know this isn’t much of a post, but I was too exhausted after this hellish week to do any more. What stories are you following?
I’m still reading The Devil’s Bargain, the new book on Trump and Steve Bannon by Joshua Green. I should have finished it by now, but there has been so much news the last few days that I’ve been riveted to the internet and TV instead. Actually, yesterday I was struggling to concentrate on anything. This Trump nightmare is really getting to me. I need to find better ways to cope without completely zoning out.
Anyway, the book is both fascinating and horrifying. It turns out that Trump’s great wall was an idea that came from Roger Stone and his protege Sam Nunberg. They came up with the concept because they were trying to find a way to keep their cognitively impaired candidate talking about immigration.
Trump was vehemently pro-immigration back in 2012 when he attacked Mitt Romney for pushing “self-deportation.” Trump’s entire anti-immigration message was nothing but a carnival stunt to attract the rubes. And Bannon is the one who got Trump to keep talking about it. Trump wasn’t even interested in “the wall” until he brought it up in a speech at the January 2015 Iowa Freedom Summit and the audience went wild. So Bannon was a huge influence even back then.
I don’t know why I’m still shocked by this kind of cynicism, but I am. I wonder if Trump actually believed any of the garbage that comes out of his oddly misshapen mouth.
Now Trump has hired a new “communication director” who could be even more flamboyantly cynical–and stupid–than his boss. He’s not even supposed to be on the job yet, but he’s already making a very public fool of himself. Last night he sent out a tweet (now deleted) in which he seemed to accused Reince Priebus of leaking his publicly available financial disclosure form. Then this morning he called into CNN and ranted for about 30 minutes about White House leaks.
White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Wednesday he will contact federal agencies over the “leak” of his financial disclosures, which he called a “felony,” despite the forms being publicly accessible.
“In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45” Scaramucci tweeted late Wednesday.
The tweet followed POLITICO’s publication of Scaramucci’s financial disclosures filed in the course of his employment with the Export-Import Bank. The documents are publicly available on request.
Scaramucci subsequently deleted the tweet and replaced it with another disavowing widespread speculation that his message implied that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus should be investigated. “Wrong! Tweet was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks. @Reince 45.”
Speaking to CNN’s New Day co-host Chris Cuomo Thursday morning, Scaramucci acknowledged that the documents are available publicly but still denounced leaks.
Read CNN’s report on Scaramucci’s embarrassing call-in: Scaramucci: ‘If Reince wants to explain he’s not a leaker, let him do that.’
An even better and more succinct report in a thread from Yashar Ali on Twitter. Head over to Twitter to read the whole thing.
Also see this piece by Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Anthony Scaramucci Is Unclear on the Concept of the Legal System.
Despite possessing a degree from Harvard Law School, Anthony Scaramucci does not seem to possess an understanding of basic principles of the Anglo-American legal tradition. First, Scaramucci accused putative chief of staff and Scaramucci blood-rival Reince Priebus of having illegally leaked his disclosure form. (The leak was not illegal and turns out to have been a public disclosure notice.) Scaramucci’s embarrassment at this gaffe has not discouraged him from pursuing a quasi-judicial purge.
The new White House communications director has gone on television to boast that he is interfering with the justice system in violation of written rules:
More at the NY Mag. link.
Scaramucci’s outrage is over the revelation that he has a serious conflict of interest, because he is currently trying to sell his hedge fund business to a Chinese conglomerate and would need administration approval to do so. Here’s the original story at Politico: Scaramucci still stands to profit from SkyBridge from the White House.
Anthony Scaramucci finally has his White House job, but he still stands to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital.
The incoming White House communications director earned $4.9 million from his ownership stake in SkyBridge in addition to more than $5 million in salary between Jan. 1, 2016, and the end of June, when he joined the Export-Import Bank, according to a financial disclosure filed with the Office of Government Ethics….
The disclosure highlights the extensive wealth Scaramucci has accumulated in his career — much like many of Trump’s other top advisers and Cabinet secretaries — and also the challenge he faces in extracting himself from the potential conflicts his investments could pose.
The SkyBridge website continues to advertise Scaramucci as the firm’s managing director, despite the fact that he has been a government employee for more than a month. Speaking of a website, to make your website on the top of search results, consider the SEO services of Big Vision Marketing. A SkyBridge spokeswoman said Scaramucci stepped down from the executive post Jan. 17, when the company’s sale was announced. He remained an employee of the firm, collecting a salary, until starting at Ex-Im last month.
The investment firm, which Scaramucci founded in 2005, is in the process of being sold to RON Transatlantic and Chinese conglomerate HNA Group. The sale, set in motion in January when Scaramucci was shedding his holdings in anticipation of landing an administration job, has drawn the scrutiny of regulators and is taking longer than expected to close.
The interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is examining the deal to ensure that it carries no risk to national security. The panel’s review, which comes amid ramped-up scrutiny of business dealings with China, ultimately can be overruled by President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Trump himself just committed another impeachable offense by attempting to blackmail Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the citizens of Alaska through his Interior Secretary. From Alaska Dispatch News: Trump administration threatens retribution against Alaska over Murkowski health votes.
President Donald Trump isn’t going to just let go of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s no vote on Tuesday’s health care.
Early Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter to express displeasure with Murkowski’s vote. By that afternoon, each of Alaska’s two Republican senators had received a phone call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke letting them know the vote had put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.
The response follows Trump’s no-holds-barred style of governing, even when it comes to his own party. It is his first strike of retaliation against Murkowski, however, despite her tendency to stray from the party line and the president’s priorities.
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the call from Zinke heralded a “troubling message.”
“I’m not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop,” Sullivan said.
“I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans. … We’re facing some difficult times and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear,” Sullivan said. The Interior secretary also contacted Murkowski, he said.
Can this administration get any more chaotic? My guess is that, with Trump and Scaramucci working together, the answer is yes. Keep in mind that lesser chaos agent Steve Bannon was strongly opposed to the hiring of Scaramucci. He’s also opposed to firing Jeff Sessions, but apparently Trump family members are all for it, and Trump has forgotten all about the risks Sessions too by endorsing him early on. Check out this Business Insider article: Bannon convinced Jeff Sessions to endorse Trump, and Sessions worried his career in the Republican Party might end because of it.
As Joshua Green wrote in “Devil’s Bargain,” Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, was unsure if Trump could secure the Republican nomination, and knew that being the first senator to endorse Trump could further curtail his political future if Trump, the Republican frontrunner at the time, lost.
The day before Sessions endorsed Trump at a Madison, Alabama rally in February 2016, then-Breitbart News chairman Bannon told Sessions that it was “do or die” time and that “this is the moment” to endorse.
“Trump is a great advocate for our ideas,” Sessions told Bannon. “But can he win?”
“100%,” Bannon said. “If he can stick to your message and personify this stuff, there’s not a doubt in my mind.”
Sessions then noted that the GOP already denied him the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, and that “if I do this endorsement and it doesn’t work, it’s the end of my career in the Republican Party.”
“It’s do or die,” Bannon replied. “This is it. This is the moment.”
That moment was just days before what are known as the “SEC” primaries — a series of primary contests concentrated throughout the South. Bannon told Sessions that his endorsement could push Trump over the hump in many of those contests and essentially seal up the Republican nomination.
“Okay, I’m all-in,” Sessions said. “But if he doesn’t win, it’s over for me.”
No wonder Sessions is refusing to step down as Attorney General.
It looks like today is going to be another day of fast-breaking news. I hope I can keep myself from getting as stressed-out as I was yesterday. What stories are you following?
The Confederate Flag Debate in South Carolina
The South Carolina House has voted to remove the Confederate flag from the state capital grounds, according to The Charlotte Observer. The bill will now go to Governor Nikki Haley. Once she has signed it, I hope the flag will be taken down immediately.
The Confederate flag will leave the South Carolina State House grounds after five decades this week after the House overwhelmingly approved a bill to remove the Civil War icon early Thursday morning.
The House voted 94-20 to banish the flag from the Capitol after more than 12 hours of debate over the historic measure.
The bill now heads to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature. Haley started the call for removing the flag in the days after nine African-Americans were shot and killed in a historic Charleston church last month.
“It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state,” Haley said in a Facebook post.
If Haley signs the bill Thursday, the flag could be taken down Friday.
A two-thirds majority vote in the House was needed for final passage, a requirement of the the 2000 law that took the flag off the State House dome and put it next to the Confederate Soldier Monument on the north side of the Capitol.
The House gave final approval to the final two readings of the bill within minutes of each other at 1 a.m. Thursday. The Senate approved removing the flag on Tuesday.
Republicans fought tooth and nail, but
The House did not change the Senate bill after spending much of Wednesday considering amendments from Republicans who insisted on finding another way to honor the Confederate dead if the controversial banner was removed from the State House grounds.
More than 25 amendments were voted down or rejected before they came for a vote.
Democratic presidential contender Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia, sought Thursday to clarify his views on the Confederate battle flag, saying it has “long been due to come down” from the capitol grounds in South Carolina.
Webb’s position was more opaque in a Facebook posting last month in which he called for respecting “the complicated history of the Civil War” at a time when emotions were running high following the shootings at an historic African American church in Charleston, S.C.
During an appearance Thursday on “CBS This Morning” — billed as Webb’s first interview since declaring as a long-shot presidential candidate last week — he spoke approvingly of the South Carolina legislature’s overnight vote to take the flag down.
“It assumed a lot of unfortunate racist and divisionist overtones during the civil rights era,” Webb said.
I don’t see how the flag could have been more racist or divisive in the 1960s that it was 100 years earlier when it represented the fight to preserve slavery and secession.
Speaking again of the “very complex history of the Civil War itself,” Webb cited a statistic that only 5 percent of whites in the South owned slaves and that four slave states remained in the union during the Civil War.
“If you were a young person being called to duty during that period, this was a very complicated decision to make, and we should remember that,” Webb said.
Whatever. These days, only 1% of the population wants to turn everyone else into serfs, and they have quite a bit of power to control the public dialogue.
The GOP Clown Car
The powers that be in the Republican Party are struggling to get fake presidential candidate Donald Trump under control, and they are doing a very poor job of it.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called presidential candidate Donald Trump and asked him to pull back his rhetoric on immigration, a source familiar with the conversation told NBC News on Wednesday.
The source, who asked not to be identified, said Priebus made the request to “tone it down” during an almost hour-long conversation covering a wide range of issues when he returned an earlier call from Trump.
Trump disputed that account on Twitter, saying that Priebus said during the call that he was “doing well.”
Hahahahahahahahaha!!! They’re going to need someone a lot more powerful than Priebus to get Trump to STFU.
According to The Washington Post: GOP leaders fear damage to party’s image as Donald Trump doubles down.
The head of the Republican National Committee, responding to demands from increasingly worried party leaders, spent nearly an hour Wednesday on the phone with Donald Trump, urging the presidential candidate to tone down his inflammatory comments about immigration that have infuriated a key election constituency.
The call from Chairman Reince Priebus, described by donors and consultants briefed on the conversation and confirmed by the RNC, underscores the extent to which Trump has gone from an embarrassment to a cause for serious alarm among top Republicans in Washington and nationwide.
But there is little they can do about the mogul and reality-television star, who draws sustenance from controversy and attention. And some fear that, with assistance from Democrats, Trump could become the face of the GOP.
Rather than backing down from his comments about illegal immigrants — whom he characterized as rapists and killers, among other things — Trump has amplified his remarks at every opportunity, including in a round of interviews Wednesday.
He insisted to NBC News that he has “nothing to apologize for” in his repeated remarks about Mexicans. But he also predicted that, if he secures the GOP nomination, “I’ll win the Latino vote.”
OMG! ROFLMAF! The Republican Party’s “image” is already shot to hell. I’m not sure even keeping Trump in the Clown Car can make it much worse.
Dana Millbank: Donald Trump is the monster the GOP created.
It has been amusing to watch the brands — the PGA, NBC, Macy’s, NASCAR, Univision, Serta — flee Donald Trump after his xenophobic remarks. Who even knew The Donald had a line of mattresses featuring Cool Action Dual Effects Gel Memory Foam?
But there is one entity that can’t dump Trump, no matter how hard it tries: the GOP. The Republican Party can’t dump Trump because Trump is the Republican Party.
One big Republican donor this week floated to the Associated Press the idea of having candidates boycott debates if the tycoon is onstage. Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham and other candidates have lined up to say, as Rick Perry put it, that “Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party.”
But actually, he does represent the party’s views. He’s just more up front about them than the rest of the mealy mouthed GOP candidates.
But Trump has merely held up a mirror to the GOP. The man, long experience has shown, believes in nothing other than himself. He has, conveniently, selected the precise basket of issues that Republicans want to hear about — or at least a significant proportion of Republican primary voters. He may be saying things more colorfully than others when he talks about Mexico sending rapists across the border, but his views show that, far from being an outlier, he is hitting all the erogenous zones of the GOP electorate.
Anti-immigrant? Against Common Core education standards? For repealing Obamacare? Against same-sex marriage? Antiabortion? Anti-tax? Anti-China? Virulent in questioning President Obama’s legitimacy? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check and check.
More good stuff at the link. BTW, Trump is topping all other GOP candidates in the South Carolina PPP poll. What does that tell you?
PPP’s newest North Carolina poll finds that Donald Trump’s momentum just keeps on building. He’s the top choice of Republican primary voters in the state, getting 16% to 12% for Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, 11% for Mike Huckabee, 9% for Ben Carson and Marco Rubio, 7% for Rand Paul, 6% for Ted Cruz, 5% for Chris Christie, 4% for Carly Fiorina, 2% for Rick Perry, 1% each for Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum, and less than 1% each for John Kasich and George Pataki.
Trump’s favorability rating in North Carolina is 55/32, much higher than we were finding in national polls prior to his entry into the race. Trump’s really caught fire with voters on the far right- 66% of ‘very conservative’ voters see him favorably to only 24% with a negative view of him. Trump is polling particularly well with younger voters (29%) and men (20%).
Another racist homophobe has the highest favorability rating in SC–Mike Huckabee at 65/19.
Another popular Clown Car passenger, Jeb Bush, has put his foot in his mouth once again. In an interview with New Hampshire’s ultra-conservative Manchester Union Leader, Bush recommended that “people should work longer hours.”
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Wednesday that in order to grow the economy “people should work longer hours” — a comment that the Bush campaign argues was a reference to underemployed part-time workers but which Democrats are already using to attack him….
He was answering a question about his plans for tax reform and responded:
“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”
Already the Democratic National Committee has pounced, releasing a statement that calls his remarks “easily one of the most out-of-touch comments we’ve heard so far this cycle,” adding that Bush would not fight for the middle class as president.
Read about Bush’s “clarification” at the Washington Post.
More News (links only)
Reuters, via Raw Story: Same-sex couples to get federal marriage benefits: attorney general.
Talking Points Memo: Matthews Blasts Cruz: SCOTUS ‘Seized’ 2000 Election, ‘You Did Not Complain’ (VIDEO).
You have to hand it to Harry Reid. He has put Mitt Romney in a corner that he can’t get out of. As long as Reid doesn’t back down–and so far he hasn’t–Romney is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If Mitt gives in and releases his tax returns for the past ten years, the media and the Obama campaign will tear them apart to find out what he’s hiding. If Mitt continues to stonewall the speculation will continue to grow and overwhelm his campaign and the upcoming Republican Convention.
Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake wrote about Romney’s “Harry Reid Problem” this morning.
At its root, the problem for Romney on this matter is that he and Reid are simply not playing by the same set of rules. Here’s why.
1. Reid isn’t up for re-election until 2016 (if he even decides to run again, since he will be 76 years old that year). 2. His allegation against Romney only strengthens his hand among his Democratic colleagues — in and out of the Senate. 3. He’s not running for president and, therefore, isn’t subject to the same sort of transparency demands that Romney is. 4. He’s far less well-known than Romney, meaning that by engaging Reid, the Republican presidential nominee is punching down in a big way.
“He’s fearless and shameless,” said Jon Ralston, the leading political journalist in the state of Nevada and a man who has watched Reid’s career closely. “The most dangerous man is one who does not care.”
The shaming of Reid, which is clearly what Republicans — Romney included — are now set on doing, then, likely won’t work. Several close Reid allies insist he simply will never reveal the alleged source of the Romney tax information and, they argue, politically speaking he won’t ever have to, since the allegation — as we noted above — does little harm to Reid’s political career.
In politics, a charge unanswered is a charge believed. It’s why Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s (D) slow response to charges regarding his service in Vietnam — allegations Kerry clearly believed were beneath contempt — wound up playing a major role in his defeat in the 2004 presidential election.
“I just believe that this hurts Romney more,” said one senior Republican strategist who follows Nevada politics closely. “If he doesn’t produce his tax returns, this will probably continue. If he finally relents, then Reid just says ‘thank you.’”
So far, the Romney campaign response to Reid’s accusations has not been impressive. Yesterday, Reid’s accusation was the talk of the Sunday shows. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called Reid a “dirty liar,” and this morning he said he’s not a bit regretful.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Monday he would “triple down” on his charge that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a “dirty liar” and said the GOP won’t allow Democrats to “manufacture stories” and “steal an election.”
“There’s no triple down in blackjack, but I’ll triple down on my comments yesterday,” Priebus said on “Fox & Friends,” referring to the epithet he first leveled Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“It’s amazing to me that there can be any honor in a position that he holds, that he’s degraded so far down the tubes, Priebus continued. “It is what it is. He’s a dirty liar, and we’re moving on.”
Reince might be moving on, but no one else is. Yesterday, Lindsey Graham said that Reid is “making things up.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham strongly took issue with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s accusations that Mitt Romney has not paid taxes in 10 years, saying Sunday that the Democratic leader was “lying.”
“What he did on the floor of the Senate is so out of bounds. I think he’s lying about his statement, of knowing something about Romney,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Oddly, the one person who knows for sure what is in Romney’s tax returns didn’t turn up on the Sunday Shows this week–how often does that happen? John McCain got 23 years of Romney’s tax returns during the VP vetting process in 2008. Either McCain or some of his advisers know what’s in there.
So why isn’t McCain standing up and saying, “I saw Romney tax returns and he paid substantial amounts of federal income taxes in every year we looked at”? McCain did join his colleagues on the fainting couch last week, but only to give a weak rejoinder, saying “Reid may have ‘gone over the line.'” Why isn’t he defending the man who will be the Republican Party’s nominee?
Could it be that McCain doesn’t want to get caught in a lie if Romney is eventually forced to the secrets of his tax returns?
This morning Romney released his nastiest attack dog. John Sununu told Politico:
“Look, Harry Reid is a bumbling Senate leader,” the former New Hampshire governor said Monday on Fox News. “He hasn’t been able to pass a budget, he hasn’t been able to do anything about entitlement reform, he’s done nothing worthwhile except the bidding of the Obama administration. They have pointed out that Harry is lying, and the public is beginning to understand that Harry is lying.”
Sorry John, what the public is beginning to understand is that Mitt Romney is a lying tax evader. More whining from Sununu:
“It’s not Harry Reid, it’s President Obama and the Obama campaign doing what they always do,” he said. “The Obama campaign and President Obama are the ones that are behind this dishonesty and misrepresentation because they are trying to hide the failure of this abysmal presidency that we have had in office the last four years.”
He added: “It is, in my opinion, eroding the only asset he ever had, and that was a general, likable feeling that the public had toward him.”
The interesting thing is that all of these Romney defenders are doing the same thing they’re accusing Harry Reid of doing. They have no idea what’s in Romney’s tax returns or who, if anyone, told Reid that Romney didn’t pay federal income taxes for a decade. Only one of these guys knows for sure what’s in those returns, and John McCain isn’t talking–unless he’s the one who whispered in Harry Reid’s ear.