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When Trump calls out bigotry, it's incredible

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), seen Wednesday, stirred controversy

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), seen Wednesday, stirred controversy by casting Israel's American supporters as pushing for "allegiance to a foreign country," thus echoing an age-old anti-Semitic attack. Credit: Getty Images/Mark Wilson

Not his tradition

Donald Trump, like Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, senses opportunity from the House Democrats' struggling and infighting over how to respond to remarks by a freshman member, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), that echo historic anti-Semitic themes.

"It is shameful that House Democrats won’t take a stronger stand against Anti-Semitism in their conference," the president tweeted Wednesday afternoon. "Anti-Semitism has fueled atrocities throughout history and it’s inconceivable they will not act to condemn it!"

What makes that statement striking is Trump's frequent unwillingness in recent years to clearly call out anti-Semitism, notoriously after neo-Nazis in Charlottesville chanted "Jews will not replace us." His Twitter account in 2016 featured an anti-Hillary Clinton graphic with the words "most corrupt candidate ever" inlaid on a Star of David and a pile of $100 bills, followed by the nonsensical explanation that the star was a sheriff's badge. When Election Days draw near, there are dog whistles about globalists and George Soros.

It all fit Trump's strategy of saying little that would dissuade alt-right haters from believing he was their champion, notwithstanding Trump's Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner; his daughter Ivanka's conversion to Judaism; and his strong alliance with Israel's rightist government.

Though few consider Trump personally to be reflexively hostile to Jews, he has trafficked in stereotypes not unlike Omar's. Early in his campaign, he told members of the Republican Jewish Coalition: “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians, that’s fine.”

A previous Trump tweet on Tuesday about the Omar controversy missed the point of what it's about, calling the episode "a dark day for Israel!" It's not Omar's criticism of Israel that touched nerves. It was the aspersion she cast on Israel's American supporters as pushing for "allegiance to a foreign country," thus echoing an age-old anti-Semitic attack line accusing Jews of disloyalty to the United States.

But while Trump's past assertions to be "the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen" are debatable, it also can be argued that he has made more offensive remarks about other groups, including Muslims, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans (remember the Trump University case judge) and immigrants from Haiti and Africa.

Janison: Wide of the goals

Trump kept boasting during his first year in office that he'd driven down illegal immigration — as indicated by a sharp drop in border apprehensions. But new Customs and Border Protection figures show the number of undocumented people crossing into the United States from Mexico last month was the highest for any February in 12 years.

It's not the only Trump policy statement that doesn't square with the results. Despite his proclamations of winning in the trade war, his Commerce Department revealed that the U.S. trade deficit in goods hit a record-high $891.3 billion in 2018, up 10 percent year to year.

Also, how's that end to the North Korean nuclear threat looking? See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.

Speaking of North Korea

Trump on Wednesday acknowledged reports that emerged since his failed summit with Kim Jong Un that North Korea is rebuilding a long-range rocket site, but he voiced hope they will turn out to be unfounded.

Calling it "a very early report," the president said, "I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim. I don’t think I will be, but we’ll see what happens. We’ll take a look. It will ultimately get solved.”

Analysts published satellite images Tuesday that show North Korea is rapidly rebuilding a site in Cholsan County. They said the activity began sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2. The summit broke down Feb. 28.

Trump greenskeeper lacked green card

The Trump Organization recently cut loose a Mexican immigrant who worked for 18 years as a greenskeeper at Trump's golf club in the Hudson Valley and moonlighted by tending to a private shooting range co-owned by Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. farther upstate, The Washington Post reported.

Juan Quintero is one of 33 immigrants interviewed by the Post who have worked for the president’s clubs without legal status. They said the company appeared to be concerned about violating immigration laws only in recent months.

Quintero, who fears deportation, said he has been stung by the president’s disparaging words about Hispanic migrants. “I want them to recognize the good that we do,” he said. “Eighteen years of working [at the golf club] should shed a light that we are not the people that he says we are: bad, rapist, drug dealers, the worst that they say that we are.”

A leak of their own

While the Trump administration talks tough on Venezuela, the special U.S. envoy for the South American country dismissed the possibility of American military action there in a recording made by two Russian pranksters.

Elliott Abrams said that while the administration's rhetoric is designed to “make the Venezuelan military nervous," Washington wouldn't use force against Nicolas Maduro's government unless it did something “completely crazy” like attack the U.S. Embassy.

The recording was made by two Russian comedians posing as a Swiss official speaking with Abrams about efforts to seize Venezuelan bank accounts. Russia supports Maduro.

Cohen delivers

Trump's ex-fixer Michael Cohen turned over documents to Congress Wednesday as he tried to back up claims that the false statement he delivered on Capitol Hill in 2017 was edited by the president's attorneys, two people familiar with the case said.

Cohen has said he believed the president wanted him to lie about how the pursuit of a Trump Tower project in Moscow lasted deep into the campaign, but he also said Trump never directed him to do so. The lawyers denied changing Cohen's statement "to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations." Cohen testified in private Wednesday to the House Intelligence Committee, his second appearance before the panel.

Meantime there is more complication on just what actions the Trump team took in reaction to investigations. It was revealed that lawyers with ties to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani were in contact with Cohen after his office and home were raided by the FBI, reportedly on the topic of whether Cohen would remain in a "joint defense agreement" with the president. 

What else is happening:

  • The White House has been saying Trump had no involvement with his 2017 inaugural committee, now under investigation by the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office. But sources tell Bloomberg News he was hands-on with numerous details, from tablecloths to concerns that some Radio City Rockettes were balking at performing.
  • Paul Manafort faces what, at age 69, could add up to a life term for the former Trump campaign chairman when sentenced Thursday in Alexandria, Va., on financial crimes. Will a Trump pardon nullify the result? 
  • Stop worrying about the Constitution, Trump tweeted at Senate Republicans who may vote to block his emergency declaration to build a border wall. "Senate Republicans are not voting on constitutionality or precedent, they are voting on desperately needed Border Security & the Wall," he said.
  • The Democratic National Committee barred Fox News from hosting any of its primary debates, citing its coziness with Trump. The president tweeted to his favorite network's defense: "I think I’ll do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats in the General Election debates!"
  • Trump revoked an Obama-era requirement that U.S. intelligence officials publicly report the number of civilians killed in drone strikes and other attacks on terrorist targets outside war zones.
  • Trump tweeted in December that he had just given out “a 115-mile-long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas.” But a government attorney defending the administration against an ACLU lawsuit said in Boston federal court that he was not aware of any such contract.
  • New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, fanning the ember of a prospective 2020 candidacy, is making a weekend trip to the early-primary state of South Carolina. For the names of the 14 Democrats who are already in, here's a list from ABC News.

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