Trump bet: The opacity of ‘hope’

Donald Trump never suggested to FBI Director James Comey that he wanted him to ease up on Michael Flynn in the Russia investigation. Or Trump hoped he would, but so what? Both lines of defense are being tried by Trumpworld.

After Comey’s testimony on Thursday, Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz said his client “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that ... Mr. Comey ‘let Flynn go.’ ” Trump said Friday, “I didn’t say that.”

But Donald Trump Jr., in a Fox News interview on Saturday, didn’t dispute the words Comey recounted, just the interpretation. His dad meant: “You and I are friends: ‘Hey, I hope this happens, but you’ve got to do your job.’ That’s what he told Comey.”

Other Republicans are offering benign takes. This head-spinner came from GOP national committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel on “Fox News Sunday”:

“There’s a difference between saying ‘I hope you do your homework’ and ‘Go do your homework,’ ” she told “Fox News Sunday.”

Follow-up question: On what planet?

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Trump trashes ‘cowardly’ Comey

He has called Comey a “showboat” and a “nut job.” On Twitter Sunday, Trump added “cowardly” to his attack lines: “I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very ‘cowardly!’

It was unclear whether Trump was accusing him of additional leaking in the past or predicting more in the future. Comey himself said he had deflected Trump “in kind of a cowardly way” on a March 30 phone call by not telling him forthrightly he wouldn’t say publicly, as Trump wanted him do, that he wasn’t under investigation.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” wouldn’t clear up the mystery over whether Trump really has tapes of his conversations with Comey.

See Emily Ngo and Scott Eidler’s story for Newsday on Trump’s day on Twitter and more highlights from the Sunday talk shows.

The take-away: Newbie-do

Many Republicans are taking Comey at his word about Trump’s expressed “hope” about Flynn, but also cutting Trump slack — he’s “new to government,” as House Speaker Paul Ryan put it, and just didn’t know any better.

Newsday’s Dan Janison writes that the “rookie mistake” defense won’t work in the long run if the rookie doesn’t learn from his mistakes. But so far, Trump hasn’t conceded his approaches to Comey were the wrong way to go.

Sessions to be grilled

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is due to be questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee about his role in Comey’s firing — and why he was involved at all, given his recusal from the Russia investigation.

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“There’s a real question of the propriety of the attorney general participating in that in any way, shape or form,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said on “Fox News Sunday.” It remained unsettled Sunday whether the testimony would be in an open or closed meeting.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) invited Trump to testify under oath before the Senate about Comey and Russia. Schumer spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Report: Trump fears Brit fit

Trump may postpone or scrap plans to visit Britain this year because of his surging unpopularity there, especially since his tweets attacking the mayor of London right after the recent London terrorist attack, The New York Times reported.

The Guardian says Trump told British Prime Minister Theresa May in a recent phone call that he didn’t want to visit if there were going to be large-scale protests. A White House spokesman responded, “That subject never came up on the call.” May’s office said the invitation still stands.

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There’s an additional reason for Trump’s reluctance, according to the Times — he’d rather avoid the overseas travel and have foreign leaders visit him.

It’s not a buddy movie

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said on ABC’s “This Week” that, like Comey, he was fired after Trump tried, inappropriately, to “cultivate some kind of relationship” with him. Bharara said “There’s absolutely evidence” to explore whether Trump sought to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation.

But Bharara later cautioned on Twitter that special counsel Robert Mueller’s assemblage of a powerhouse legal team shouldn’t be taken as a sign to expect criminal charges.

“He’s amassing arsenal you’d build to make sure to find the full truth, apply the right law, and yield a just result. Charge or no charge,” Bharara wrote.

What else is happening

  • Democrats on Long Island have seen a surge in grassroots activism spurred by opposition to Trump and are seeking to build on it to wrest local, state and national offices from GOP hands. But Republicans say they don’t see a “seismic shift.” Read Newsday’s story by Carol Polsky.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Trump’s statements, as Comey described them, were not obstruction. But Graham had this message for Trump: “You may be the first president in history to go down because you can’t stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that if you just were quiet, would clear you.”
  • Delta Air Lines has withdrawn its sponsorship from New York’s Public Theater for its Shakespeare in the Park adaptation of “Julius Caesar.” Why? The title role was played by a Trump-like figure, struck down in a grisly assassination scene.
  • Trump plans to announce on a visit to Miami Friday that he will tighten some restrictions on those who travel to and do business with Cuba, Politico reports. Former President Barack Obama normalized diplomatic relations with the communist Cuban government in December 2014 and expanded trade.
  • Trump’s approval ratings are in the mid-30s, but he’s working more at reinforcing his base than expanding it. The Associated Press notes he has yet to hold a rally in a state he lost in November.
  • Kellyanne Conway was overheard at a party last week bad-mouthing some West Wing colleagues and doing an unflattering impression of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Politico reports.
  • First Lady Melania Trump and son Barron Trump have officially moved into the White House, five months into the new administration.
  • Personal business can drive Trump's foreign agenda since he hasn't taken adequate steps to separate himself from his profit-making ventures, attorney generals of Maryland and District of Columbia are ready to charge in a lawsuit.
  • Trump is a victim of unexpected "viciousness" and "ferocity" by the president's critics, first-daughter Ivanka told her friends at Fox.