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Long IslandPolitics

The end of Hope, and Gen. Kelly is fading away

President Donald Trump with former communications director Hope

President Donald Trump with former communications director Hope Hicks just before she departed the White House on Thursday. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

Coming unglued?

House Chief of Staff John Kelly still has his job, but he doesn’t wield as much clout as when Donald Trump first brought him to the White House to impose some discipline.

Kelly is rarely on the line any more when Trump calls foreign leaders, Bloomberg News and CNN report.

His efforts to control the flow of information of Trump — and stop the misinformation — are also foundering as the president is spending more time talking with ex-aides whom Kelly considers disruptive, such as short-time communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Another force who tried to bring stability to the West Wing, albeit not always successfully, was officially gone Thursday, as Hope Hicks, who succeeded Scaramucci, completed her long goodbye. “She’s the glue to the entire place,” a source told CBS News.

Several Trump advisers have told him over the past week he requires neither a chief of staff nor a communications director, at least in the traditional sense. But he seems to need someone who, like longtime confidant Hicks, can be a sounding board.

In recent weeks, said CNN, Trump was heard calling out from the Oval Office “Hope! Hopey!” but she wasn’t there.

Zoning in on Amazon

Of all the tech giants to go after — think Facebook, for example, after revelations of its lax protection of user data — why is Trump again zeroing in on Amazon?

His tweet Thursday said Amazon pays “little or no” state and local taxes (it does collect sales tax but not from third-party vendors). Remember when Trump bragged not paying taxes “makes me smart?”

The tweet also said Amazon causes “tremendous loss’ to the Postal Service (It’s actually a big revenue boost for package delivery services) and has put “thousands of retailers out of business (as have big-box stores and warehouse clubs.)

A tweet from Brad Parscale — Trump’s 2020 campaign manager — drops a clue on why Amazon is singled out: “All that data and own a political newspaper, The @washingtonpost.” (It’s not Amazon but its CEO, Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post.)

Trump’s targeting of Amazon began amid the Post’s aggressive reporting about him during the 2016 campaign. Parscale, as it happens, was Trump’s data guru that year, working closely with Cambridge Analytica, the company accused of improperly using Facebook data.

Is that a threat?

In a later tweet, Parscale spoke of the stock market figuring out that a single “rule change” by the Postal Service “will crush @amazon’s bottom line.”

Amazon shares dropped as much as 4.6% after Trump’s tweet but bounced back to close up by 1.1 percent. It was still down 4.3 percent for the month.

Janison: Know it all

Trump mirrors his populist fan base in holding a skeptical view of experts, authorities and professionals, with some justification.

Bright Ivy Leaguers and technocrats helped bog us down in the Vietnam War and other disasters. Financial wizards assured us about practices that caused recessions. Casually prescribed drugs proved dangerously addictive.

But when spurning expertise becomes scornful and reflexive, Trump risks disregarding wise advice from people who may actually know what they’re talking about. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Wrong hostage?

Trump said that he may “hold up” a major trade deal made recently with South Korea to use it as leverage in negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program.

It’s unclear how holding up the trade deal with South Korea, one of America’s closest allies, could put pressure on North Korea. But Trump called it “a very strong card.”

Weaker fuel rules

The Trump administration is readying a reduction in greenhouse-gas and auto-emissions limits, bringing positive reviews from auto manufacturers. California is expected to bring the issue to court. Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard, said: "The result will be more gas-guzzling vehicles on the road, greater total gasoline consumption, and a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions.”

Shulkin: I bucked privates

Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed that he lost out to people within the administration who want the private sector to take over VA health services.

“I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans,” Shulkin said.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars joined the list of groups so far unconvinced that Trump’s choice to run the VA, White House physician and Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, has the right qualifications to run the government’s second-largest agency.

Sessions’ stand

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, under pressure from Capitol Hill Republicans, rebuffed their call to appoint a new special counsel to investigate their grievances on FBI and Justice Department conduct in Trump and Hillary Clinton investigations.

Sessions reiterated that he had directed a senior federal prosecutor, Utah’s U.S. attorney John W. Huber, to evaluate “certain issues,” including whether such an appointment is necessary.

Sessions remains in Trump’s doghouse, but said in a Time magazine interview, “I do feel like we’re advancing the agenda that he believes in.”

What else is happening:

  • A federal judge rejected, at least for now, efforts by Stormy Daniels’ attorney to depose Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about the $130,000 payout to the porn star. Judge S. James Otero called the request “premature.”
  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has talked with Trump about the president’s idea to have the Pentagon fund the border wall with Mexico, a Pentagon spokeswoman said. She didn’t describe the results of the conversation.
  • Trump says his $200 billion infrastructure initiative is “probably” going to be delayed until after the midterm elections. He accused Democrats of not wanting to give him “wins” before November.
  • Trump called Roseanne Barr to congratulate her on the ratings for the debut of her rebooted “Roseanne” sitcom on ABC, in which she plays a Trump supporter, as she is in real life.
  • Kellyanne Conway’s husband, George Conway, has deleted tweets he recently posted that are critical of Trump, CNN reports.
  • A legal-defense fund for fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe raised more than $213,000 on GoFundMe as of 7 p.m. toward a $250,000 goal, The Washington Post reported. McCabe’s team said money will be used to for “his defense of the allegations against him.”

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