This could flip out Trump

Special counsel Robert Mueller has been assembling a team of legal heavy hitters for the Russia investigation. One of them, Andrew Weissmann, has a talent for flipping witnesses to the prosecution side, a Reuters profile notes.

Weissmann’s best-known cases include the 1997 conviction in Brooklyn of mob boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante and the investigation of fraud behind the collapse of energy company Enron in 2001. He also led the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal fraud section.

Trump surrogates have taken note, with alarm. Newt Gingrich, writing in The Daily Caller, complained Weissmann “has a record of overzealous prosecution.” He also called Weissman and two other Mueller picks who donated to Democrats “partisans.”

Dan Cogdell, a Houston lawyer for former Enron executives, told The American Lawyer that Weissmann “was the most aggressive ... prosecutor I’ve ever encountered,” but didn’t cross ethical lines that should disqualify him.

Mueller’s team has been virtually silent on its work — unlike Trump’s, which is mirroring his aggressive style, The Associated Press writes.

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West Wing mysteries

Some people — well, “Saturday Night Live” — call White House press secretary Sean Spicer “Spicey.” No one calls him “The Answer Man.” Among the seemingly yes or no questions still left hanging after Monday’s briefing:

Does Trump believe in climate change? Spicer said he hasn’t asked him, though reporters have been pressing him on it since the president pulled out of the Paris climate accord.

Are there tapes of Trump’s conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey? Trump will “probably” reveal that by the end of the week, Spicer said.

And Spicer offered a generic answer as to whether Trump still has confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — the target of an angry presidential tweet last week. Trump “has confidence in everyone who serves him,” Spicer said. See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

The next Spicer

Spicer is leading a search for his own replacement at the briefing room podium and wants to take a more senior communications position, Politico reports.

The take-away: Meaning what?

The White House press office has said Trump’s tweets speak for themselves.

Except now, when they don’t, based on the ever-shifting explanations of the president’s “I am being investigated” tweet.

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It’s a new turn in the crazy tale of how this government and its elected leader communicate with the people, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Syria tensions after shootdown

The White House is looking to cool down tensions with Russia, which threatened to treat planes in the U.S.-led coalition over government-controlled parts of Syria as targets after a U.S. F-18 shot down a Syrian warplane.

Spicer said the U.S. wants all parties in the conflict to know “we want to de-escalate the situation there ... and understand we’ll always preserve the right of self-defense.” The U.S. says the downed plane had attacked U.S.-backed rebel forces that are fighting ISIS.

North Korea denounced

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Trump offered condolences to the family of Ohio student Otto Warmbier, who was returned last week in a coma after being detained in North Korea for the past 17 months and died on Monday.

Trump called North Korea “a brutal regime,” and a statement said Warmbier’s death increases the “administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency.”

Keeping favorites close

Trump doesn’t trust career officials, and so is spending an unusual amount of face time with favorites among his Cabinet appointees, Politico reports.

The agency heads the president likes to hang out with the most include CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

They get a stronger voice in policymaking, but a downside is less time to devote to running their departments.

What else is happening

  • Mark Corallo, a GOP operative who recently signed up as spokesman for Trump’s outside legal team, has a long trail of tweets knocking the president, The New York Times reported. Two tweets even suggested that Vice President Mike Pence head the GOP ticket in 2020.
  • Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will travel to the Middle East this week to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in pursuit of peace negotiations.
  • For some reason, there's been a kind of cult interest in what Kushner sounds like, so his first recorded public statement goes viral.
  • Ex-Trump aide Paul Manafort's Bridgehampton house, valued at $5.6 million, happened to be financed in part by a bank then chaired by Kushner's father Charles, Bloomberg News reports. 
  • Trump sent three tweets touting Republican Karen Handel over Democrat Jon Ossoff in the special House election in Georgia Tuesday. Democrats are hoping Trump is unpopular enough in the suburban Atlanta district to flip the seat their way.
  • Trump met with Panama President Juan Carlos Varela and took a late victory lap on America’s behalf for the building of the Panama Canal, completed in 1914. “The Panama Canal is doing quite well. I think we did a good job building it, right?” Trump told Varela.
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, before joining Trump’s campaign, made a Middle East trip in 2015 to work on a joint U.S.-Russian venture in Saudi Arabia, and possibly had multiple contacts that he failed to disclose when seeking renewal of his security clearances, according to House Democrats.
  • Flynn's former business partner Bijan Kian has attracted interest from federal agents looking at foreign payments to the now-defunct Flynn Intel Group, including those from Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin.
  • An Oceanside man was arrested after he and another man stormed the stage in Central Park Sunday during the final performance of a “Julius Caesar” adaptation that depicts a Trump-like character being assassinated, Newsday’s William Murphy reports.