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Trump’s Asia trip wrap-up: Stripes of a paper tiger

From left, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc,

From left, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President Donald Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, shake hands during The Association of Southeast Asian Nations' opening ceremony on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Noel Celis

Little ventured, little gained

As Donald Trump’s 12-day trip to Asia comes to a close Tuesday, it looks more notable for what he did not say or do than for any big achievements, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

While Pacific Rim nations bargained for a trade deal, Trump stayed on the sidelines.

What about China’s trade practices, which he once decried as “rape”? In Beijing, enjoying a lavish reception, Trump said “I don’t blame China.” It was his predecessors’ fault for making stupid deals, he said.

Trump talked tough on North Korea, but offered nothing new other than the taunt that Kim Jong Un is “short and fat.”

The White House said human rights came up “briefly” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose death squads have killed thousands in a fight against illegal drugs. A spokesman for Duterte, however, said, “From the body language of the U.S. president, he seemed to be in agreement” with Duterte’s policy.

In Vietnam, Trump chose not to follow in the footsteps of past presidents by visiting the Hanoi prison where American POWs, including Sen. John McCain, were held and tortured.

WikiLeaks’ Junior helper

Remember the Trump campaign’s denials that they were in cahoots with WikiLeaks? “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mike Pence said in October 2016.

Scratch that. It turns out Donald Trump Jr. had an active correspondence with WikiLeaks via Twitter private messages starting the previous month. The messages, turned over to congressional investigators by attorneys for the president’s eldest son, were obtained by The Atlantic.

When the group — the suspected conduit for Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails — first contacted him, Trump shared that news with other campaign officials, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner.

In early October, Trump Jr. asked about rumors of an imminent “leak.” Nine days later, WikiLeaks dumped a trove of stolen documents on the internet and messaged Trump Jr.: “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us.”

In 15 minutes, Trump tweeted: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!”

Anything but that

Trump Jr. often ignored WikiLeaks’ messages, such as this one: “Leak us one or more of your father’s tax returns.” It would help make WikiLeaks look impartial instead of pro-Trump, the message said.

Another, in December, said Trump should suggest that Australia appoint WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as ambassador to the United States.

A Pence statement released Monday night said he didn’t know until The Atlantic report.

So what about Hillary?

Trump has complained often, openly and ever more angrily about the Justice Department not investigating his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton.

Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking senior Justice prosecutors to look at a laundry list of possibilities, including a 2010 Russian uranium deal, Clinton Foundation dealings and the private email server investigation closed by since-fired FBI director James Comey.

Depending on what he hears back, Sessions might escalate the inquiry into a special counsel investigation, according to reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

The attorney general is due back before the House Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m. Tuesday, where he is expected to be asked about the Clinton matter and, of course, the further evidence of contacts between the Trump campaign and anti-Clinton Russians.

Trump: Cut tax rate for richest

Trump’s got a problem with both the House and Senate Republican tax plans: The top rate is too high. He urged in a tweet that it be reduced to 35% from the current 39.6% in the highest income bracket.

The Senate proposal calls for a top rate of 38.5%. The House version leaves it as is.

Trump also pushed for the tax bill to include a repeal of the Obamacare mandate that all Americans get health insurance or else pay a fine.

No lemonade from this lemon

Some White House officials saw potential opportunity in the debacle of embattled Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who faces snowballing allegations of past predatory behavior toward teenage girls.

What if there was a way for Sessions to take back his old seat? Not only would it save the seat for the Republican Party, it would clear the way for Trump to appoint a new attorney general who could reclaim control of the Russia investigation (Sessions had to recuse himself) from special counsel Robert Mueller.

But there’s a fatal flaw in the plan: Sessions isn’t interested, according to Fox News.

Ex-pharma exec tapped for HHS

Trump on Monday nominated Alex Azar, a former top pharmaceutical and government executive, to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Democrats voiced concern that Azar, a senior official at Eli Lilly and Co. until January, was too close to an industry regulated by the department. But Republicans said Azar has expertise in government health care regulation after serving in top HHS posts during the George W. Bush administration.

Trump’s first HHS secretary, Tom Price, was forced to resign in September after reports in Politico revealed he was too frequent a flyer on private jets at government expense.

What else is happening

  • In the past, Trump has gotten the upper hand in aggressive handshakes with world leaders. He momentarily struggled, however, with a traditional cross-body group handshake at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference. (Video here.)
  • Trump returned on Twitter early Tuesday to his favorite topic -- himself -- by trying to pump up a Rasmussen poll finding that his approval rating isn't as dismal as "Fake News" would have it.
  • The exhausted president tried to give the impression on his way back from Asia that he wasn't. 
  • While in Beijing, Trump asked for Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s help in resolving the cases of three UCLA basketball players arrested in eastern China last week on shoplifting charges, according to a White House spokesman.
  • Trump’s nomination of Brett Talley for a federal judgeship had already raised questions. Talley’s never tried a case and the American Bar Association rated him “not qualified.” Now The New York Times reports Talley failed to disclose that his wife is a top aide to White House counsel Don McGahn.
  • Trump’s picks for the courts have been 91% white and 81% male, an Associated Press analysis finds, reversing trends toward more diversity under the three previous presidents.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC’s “Today” show that he hasn’t ruled out seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
  • A U.S. Appeals court in California let Trump’s latest travel ban go partially into effect, ruling the government can keep out people from six Muslim-majority countries who lack U.S. connections. The countries are Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad.

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