Thar he blows
Donald Trump is the Old Faithful of rage-tweet eruptions — that’s nothing new — but the risks keep getting higher.
Washington is wondering again whether Trump might try to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, against the advice of aides who argue it would set off a firestorm and believe he keeps making his situation worse by lashing out over the scrutiny.
The latest blasts followed news that Mueller is now examining whether Trump sought to obstruct justice, Newsday’s Emily Ngo reports.
“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story,” said Trump’s first morning tweet, followed by: “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history — led by some very bad and conflicted people!”
He was back at it in the afternoon, asking: “Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?”
When spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether Trump has confidence in Mueller, she replied, “I believe so,” but added she has not spoken to him about that specifically.
The son-in-law and the law
Mueller is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, The Washington Post reported.
Pieces of the puzzle include Kushner’s meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the head of a state-owned Russian development bank while the Kushner family real estate company was seeking financing to relieve pressures from debt on its office building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Trump’s gesture to media
In between his tweet storms, Trump tried to stick with the less divisive tone he showed after Wednesday’s shooting attack on Republican members of Congress — offering a blessing to the media, which he more commonly attacks as dishonest and enemies of the people.
After an event in which he offered renewed prayers for Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and a lobbyist who were fighting for their lives, and signed an executive order promoting an apprenticeship program, Trump said, “everybody in this room, including the reporters, God bless you.”
Amid continuing recriminations Thursday between left and right about inciting political hatreds, a Republican congressman — Mark Sanford of South Carolina — said Trump is “partially to blame for demons that have been unleashed.”
The take-away: Standing apart
Though Republicans are in charge, the Senate is far from squarely behind all of Trump’s stances.
That became even clearer when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed through a bill that allows Congress to block Trump from curbing or changing sanctions against Russia. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Read the tea leaves
Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein issued a cryptic statement Thursday night that is unusual for its lack of explicit context or specifics. Here's the text:
"Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous 'officials,' particularly when they do not identify the country - let alone the branch or agency of government - with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated.
"Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-standing policy to neither confirm or deny such allegations."
Pence lawyers up
Vice President Mike Pence has hired a former federal prosecutor, Richard Cullen, as an outside lawyer to help him respond to both the congressional and special counsel Russia investigations.
Cullen, a Brooklyn native, worked as a counsel for members of Congress during the Watergate and Iran-Contra investigations, and was on President George W. Bush’s legal team during the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election.
The Washington Post notes an interesting connection: Fired FBI Director James Comey once worked with Cullen at his law firm, and Cullen is godfather to one of Comey’s daughters.
Nothing indicates Pence is a target of current investigations, but he is a potential witness. He pushed for firing National Security Adviser Mike Flynn for misleading him about Russia contacts.
Laughing at him Down Under
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull performed a mocking impression of Trump at a press dinner Wednesday night in Australia’s capital city, Canberra.
“The Donald and I, we are winning and winning in the polls. We are winning so much,” Turnbull said, channeling Trump’s speaking style. “ ... You know, the online polls. They are so easy to win. I have this Russian guy. Believe me, it’s true. It is true.” It was supposed to off the record, but a recording got out. (Click here to hear it.)
Early in his presidency, Trump and Turnbull had a testy phone call, but they got on better in a meeting in New York last month.
New Cuba restrictions
Trump on Friday will sign a directive to reverse parts of the Obama administration’s legacy of easing sanctions on Cuba by reinstating some restrictions on travel and commerce, Newsday’s Tom Brune reports.
Trump’s policy aims to shift the flow of U.S. money from the Cuban military that controls much of the economy flowing to the emerging private sector. It seeks to force Cuba to hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, and allow political and religious freedom.
But officials acknowledged Thursday that Trump would not completely reverse Obama’s opening to Cuba, saying, “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”
What else is happening:
- Russia’s Vladimir Putin seems to regard Comey as a snitch — calling it strange “when the chief of a security agency records his conversation with the commander-in-chief and then hands it over to media via his friend.” He joked he could offer Comey asylum, like he did with Edward Snowden.
- Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager and figure in the Russia investigation, is still working for foreign clients and claiming he can influence the Trump administration, Politico reported, citing people familiar with his dealings.
- Former NBA player Dennis Rodman, on a visit to North Korea, gave the country’s sports minister a copy of Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal,” a present intended for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The Trump administration says it has nothing to do with Rodman’s trip.
- Trump on Thursday ordered more money and a bigger role for private companies in designing apprenticeship programs meant to fill some of the 6 million open jobs in the U.S.
- The newest owners of Trump’s childhood home in Jamaica Estates, Queens, have decided to rent it out for between $3,500 and $4,000 a month, Newsday’s Michael Gavin reports.
- Town & Country magazine interviewed two couples whose weddings at Trump resort properties featured drop-ins by the president. They were more than OK with it.