Mueller’s squeeze play
A day after Donald Trump had to fire Michael Flynn for lying about his Russia contacts, the president met with James Comey, the FBI director. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Trump said of Flynn, according to Comey.
Comey did not drop the investigation of Flynn. Neither has special counsel Robert Mueller, who took it over after Trump fired Comey.
Now Mueller has gathered enough evidence to bring charges against Flynn, NBC News reported, citing multiple sources. The focuses of the probe include whether Flynn laundered money and lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts.
Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, who worked with his father at his lobbying firm and during the Trump campaign, also could be indicted, the report said.
That would add to the pressure investigators could exert to try to persuade the senior Flynn to cooperate as they scrutinize others in Trump’s inner circle, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. See Emily Ngo and Scott Eidler’s story for Newsday.
Stake a la russe
Newly leaked documents show that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a New York billionaire, has a stake in a company that does business with a gas producer partly owned by Kirill Shamalov, son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to records obtained by the International Consortium of Journalists, Ross is an investor in Navigator Holdings, a shipping firm that counts Russian gas and petrochemical producer Sibur among its major customers.
Ross is the Trump administration’s point man on trade and manufacturing policy. Commerce Department spokesman James Rockas said Ross “never met” Shamalov and has withdrawn from matters that could pose a conflict of interest.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) accused Ross of concealing relationships with Russian oligarchs when he was up for confirmation.
Vlad to lend a hand?
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump said he will seek to enlist Putin’s help in the nuclear standoff with North Korea. Both presidents are attending a summit for Asia-Pacific leaders in Vietnam starting Thursday.
On the first day of his visit to Japan, Trump played golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Hideki Matsuyama, the world’s fourth-ranked pro golfer.
The take-away: Celebrating early
Trump deemed the mere arrival of the House Republicans’ tax overhaul plan “a big, beautiful Christmas present” on its way to Americans.
But his celebration may be as premature as it was for the House’s heath care plan. Now, as then, the hurdles to get a majority of Republicans behind it in both houses of Congress may be too high. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Caught in the middle
Reports by Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation say some middle-class families would end up paying more taxes under the House GOP plan.
The counterargument from the Ways and Means Committee is that the analysis is just looking at the plan — not the predicted “economic boom” that would result from it, The Washington Post reported.
One provision little noticed at first: The House bill would completely eliminate a tax credit for adoptions of children. That drew fire from some conservatives and religious groups.
About two-thirds of Americans believe Trump lacks the personality and temperament to serve effectively as president, don’t think he’s accomplished much and say he’s not honest and trustworthy, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. Two-thirds also don’t trust him to act responsibly on North Korea.
Yet Trump still runs a dead heat with Hillary Clinton among 2016 voters in a hypothetical rematch. Also, 61% of Americans say Democratic leaders are mainly criticizing Trump, not presenting alternatives.
What else is happening
- Trump tweeted after the Texas church shootings: “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.” At a later event, he called the killings “an act of evil.”
- Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), speaking on ABC’s “This Week” about his opposition to the tax plan, said, “The main objection I’m getting in my district are from Trump voters” who would be hurt by its limits on state and local tax deductions.
- On his way to Japan, Trump refrained from counterpunching at criticism that appears in a new book from former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush. “I’ll comment after we come back. I don’t need headlines. I don’t want to make their move successful,” he said.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions should come back before the Senate Judiciary Committee to “clarify” discrepancies over his previous testimony about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
- First lady Melania Trump joined her Japanese counterpart on a visit to Mikimoto Pearl’s flagship store in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza shopping district.
- Indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has offered to pledge his Trump Tower condo in a package of $12.5 million of assets to secure bail.