Loose lips sink relationships?
White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried to explain Wednesday why President Donald Trump didn’t make a misleading statement when he left the impression last week that a U.S. Navy “armada” was sailing toward waters off North Korea. It was headed away from the Korean Peninsula at the time.
“The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula,” he told reporters. “That’s a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather.” Later, navigating again between verb tenses, Spicer said: “We said that it was heading there, and it was heading there. It is heading there.”
The wandering official accounts of movements by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its strike group hasn’t helped Trump’s credibility.
In South Korea -- the ally on the front line of potential confrontation with North Korea -- the presidential candidate for the ruling party was skeptical.
“What [Trump] said was very important for the national security of South Korea,” Hong Joon-pyo told The Wall Street Journal (pay site). "If that was a lie, then during Trump’s term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says.”
See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
Georgia on his mind
For Trump, it was a cause for celebration that the top Democratic candidate didn’t crack 50 percent in a special House election in suburban Atlanta -- a race that was seen as a test of whether the president has become a liability for GOP candidates.
Jon Ossoff fell about 2 percentage points short of what he needed to avoid a runoff and will face Karen Handel, the top vote-getter among Republican candidates, in a June runoff.
Trump is already touting Handel on Twitter, and she voiced hope he would come to campaign for her.
The take-away: Hidden treasure
The mystery of what’s in Trump’s income tax returns has inspired efforts, quixotic or otherwise, on how to get at them. But one such try launched in Albany could work, at least in theory, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
University of Chicago law professor Daniel Hemel argued last week in a Washington Post opinion piece that New York’s legislature could require the president’s home state to release the tax returns already in its possession.
Such a bill was, in fact, unveiled late last year by state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan). It now sits in the Investigations and Government Operations Committee, its prospects unclear.
Nasty fallout from ex-associates' falling out
Two businessmen with ties to both Long Island and Trump are now clashing in court -- leading one of them to warn that the resulting bad press could tarnish the president, the Wall Street Journal (pay site) reports Thursday.
Felix Sater of Port Washington is described as a former employee of Tevfik Arif at Bayrock Group LLC, developer of the Trump SoHo in Manhattan. The dispute involves $3.5 million in legal fees. Arif, a former Port Washington resident, resides in Trump Tower.
The Journal describes Sater's warning this way: "That a possible new lawsuit over the fees could bring attention to Mr. Arif’s alleged connections to organized crime figures and his business activities in Kazakhstan, where Mr. Arif was born, as well as attention to Mr. Trump because of their real estate deals together." Arif at one time was a trade official in the USSR.
Sater himself has a criminal past involving an assault and a "pump-and-dump" stock scheme, but since has been vouched for by Obama-era Justice Department officials as having helped as a witness in sensitive national-security probes.
Garden state of dread
Palm Beach’s loss is about to become New Jersey’s gain. And vice versa.
Mar-a-Lago will be closing for the season soon, and Trump’s weekend retreat of choice is expected to be the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Politico reports. That likely will mean street closures, traffic jams and extra local security costs.
Report: Russians’ Plan A and B
Three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters that a Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 election to Trump — but concluded near the end that he was likely to lose.
That resulted in a second plan, offered in October, that argued it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump “fake news” propaganda efforts and instead intensify messaging about voter fraud to undermine the predicted Hillary Clinton victory.
Trump had been preferred because it was thought he’d take a softer line on Russia.
No runaway from Iran deal
The Trump administration certified that Iran is complying with its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said a review will examine whether to stick with it.
“It only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state,” said Tillerson, adding: “An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it.” Trump denounced the accord during the campaign.
What else is happening
- Trump ally Rudy Giuliani stated in court filings that he is looking to resolve the case of his client, Reza Zarrab, an alleged Iran sanctions violator and money launderer, “as part of some agreement between the United States and Turkey that will promote the national security interests of the United States.”
- Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts has withdrawn as Trump’s choice for deputy Commerce secretary because of the difficulty of untangling his financial holdings to satisfy ethics rules.
- A month after ordering Obama-holdover U.S. attorneys to resign, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has yet to fill any of the jobs, The Washington Post reports. Key posts in the Justice Department also remain vacant.
- Trump will host Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on May 3, the White House said.
- Trump’s top aides have become well-recognized celebrities, thanks likely to the daily mini-dramas surrounding the reality-show-star-turned-president and spoofs on “Saturday Night Live,” Politico reports. Spicer has had paparazzi stakeouts outside his house, as have Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
- Trump will remember the federal judge assigned to hear the suit by a Dreamer who was deported by federal immigration agents, USA Today reports. It’s Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whose Mexican heritage came under attack by Trump because he was unhappy with rulings in the Trump University case.
- Trump welcomed the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to the White House. Absent were quarterback Tom Brady, who cited “family matters” for skipping the event, and other players who openly disapproved of Trump.