Words that still matter

He doesn’t call it a Muslim ban any more. But Donald Trump did when he first raised the idea. Campaign adviser Rudy Giuliani talked openly about finding a way to do one without calling it one. And once again, the federal courts are telling Trump he can’t rewrite history.

“Are you saying we close our eyes to the sequence of statements before this?” U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson asked government lawyers during a hearing in Hawaii Wednesday.

The judge then put on hold nationwide President Trump’s second, narrower attempt at a travel ban — it targets six Muslim-majority nations instead of seven and goes easier on green card holders — hours before it was to take effect, Newsday’s Laura Figueroa reports.

'Makes us look weak!'

Watson said sections of the new travel order likely violated the First Amendment prohibition on government disfavoring certain religions.

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The judge noted past statements on a Muslim ban by Trump and Giuliani, as well as White House policy adviser Stephen Miller’s recent minimizing of the changes in the second ban as “mostly minor, technical differences.”

Those comments “betray the executive order’s stated secular purpose,” Watson said. (Click here for text of judge’s order.)

Trump, shouting at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, said he will fight for his ban “as far as the Supreme Court” and might go back to his first version. “We’re talking about the safety of our nation,” Trump said. The latest ruling, he said, “makes us look weak.”

Trump’s surv claim faulted

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence Committee agreed Wednesday they have no evidence that backs Trump’s claim that his predecessor wiretapped him. They said they’ll ask the FBI director next week for a definitive answer, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee chair and ranking member, respectively, said they’ll question FBI director James Comey at an open hearing Monday.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said meanwhile that he has given Trump no reason to believe that President Barack Obama wiretapped him.

Trump still won’t back down, though he took a sideways step in a Fox News interview aired Wednesday night, saying “wiretap covers a lot of different things.” That’s an adaptation of the more elastic definition of surveillance advanced recently by Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

“I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” Trump said.

The take-away: House of Canards

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Should Trump be taken literally? He demanded as much when he called for a congressional investigation of his claim — made first one Saturday morning on Twitter — that he was the victim of a bugging plot by Obama.

But Nunes told reporters: “Are you going to take the [Trump] tweets literally? If you are, then clearly the president was wrong.”

With a president who often adds the phrase “believe me” to statements of varying veracity, it’s hard to know when he’s not supposed to be taken literally. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Trump seethes at another Snoop

As a showbiz figure, Trump liked to hang with Snoop Dogg. The hip-hop star appeared on “The Apprentice” and a 2011 Comedy Central roast of Trump, who has called Snoop “a super guy.”

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No more. A new Snoop music video, “Lavender,” touching upon issues including police brutality, contains a jarring scene in which he aims a toy gun at a Trump-resembling clown named Ronald Klump and pulls the trigger. A banner with the word “bang” pops out.

Trump tweeted: “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!”

‘Hard-power’ budget

Trump’s first spending plan, set to be submitted Thursday to Congress, would bolster defense resources in what his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, called a message of “hard power” to allies and adversaries abroad, Newsday’s Emily Ngo reports.

The $54 billion boost for the Pentagon would be offset by a “dramatic reduction” of 28 percent at the State Department and slashed funding at other agencies. Some of those cuts are expected to meet resistance even in a Congress controlled by his party.

The budget plan also would funnel $1.5 billion this fiscal year and $2.6 billion next fiscal year toward the wall Trump proposed along the border of the United States and Mexico, he added.

Guzzler nuzzler

Trump told a receptive audience of auto industry workers and executives Wednesday in Detroit that his plans to roll back federal fuel efficiency standards would spark a revival of American-produced vehicles.

But Trump’s plan faces a legal fight with states such as New York and California, which have set their own tough standards and would resist any federal effort to override them.

From Detroit, Trump flew to Nashville, Tennessee, to lay a wreath at the grave of Andrew Jackson and host a campaign rally.

What else is happening

  • The Yahoo hacking case sheds light on ties between cyber-crooks and Russian officials, according to the Wall Street Journal (pay site).
  • Trump’s 2005 federal tax bill would have been less than one-fifth of the $38 million paid were it not for the AMT — the alternative minimum tax — that aims to keep high earners from paying too little. As president, Trump wants to eliminate the AMT.
  • Leaders from Ireland traditionally pay a friendly St. Patrick’s Day call on the White House. But immigration issues — including concerns for 50,000 Irish without documentation in the United States — could add tension when Prime Minister Enda Kenny meets Trump, Politico reports. Kenny labeled Trump’s campaign rhetoric “racist and dangerous.”
  • Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) lashed out at the Trump administration over the Russia probe, charging that its officials break promises to inform lawmakers on the topic.
  • New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, denouncing Trump’s deportation crackdown, said lawmakers are exploring ways to ban immigration agents from local courthouses and stop the NYPD from asking arrestees for their country of birth, Newsday’s Matthew Chayes reports.
  • Trump will nominate Goldman Sachs banker James Donovan as deputy Treasury secretary — the fifth veteran of the Wall Street investment bank picked for a senior post in his administration.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said “a great deal of skepticism” persists among Democrats about the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch. On Twitter, Schumer cited several rulings in which Gorsuch favored employers over workers. Confirmation hearings start Monday.
  • The president’s first ex-wife, Ivana Trump, has a book deal to write “Raising Trump,” a memoir about how they brought up Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric. It will be “about motherhood, strength, and resilience," said a Simon & Schuster news release.