Trump: The best seller
Donald Trump sicced his lawyers on Steve Bannon and author Michael Wolff with “cease and desist” threats. The president’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, ripped Wolff’s depiction of an off-the-rails presidency as “full of lies.”
Trump’s mute button isn’t working. The attacks may just be amping up the book’s buzz. The publisher of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” announced it would go on sale Friday — four days early — to meet “unprecedented demand.”
Take that as a “no” to a demand by Charles J. Harder, a private attorney for the president, to Wolff and publisher Henry Holt & Co. that they halt publication, issue a full retraction and apologize to Trump.
Bannon also got a cease-and-desist warning charging he violated a campaign-time confidentiality agreement by sliming Trump and family.
Will Trump follow through? Over the years, many besmirchers have been threatened, but fewer have been sued.
In the meantime, Trump — perpetually at war with mainstream news organizations — opened up a battlefront on the right. Sanders said Breitbart News should consider ousting Bannon, its executive chairman. See Newsday’s story by Tom Brune and Emily Ngo.
Bye-bye from Breitbart?
The Washington Post reports discussions have begun at Breitbart about possibly removing Bannon. He elevated the website’s profile by channeling voices from the alt-right and cheerleading for Trump and his agenda, but now he is on the wrong side of the president.
Rebekah Mercer, a minority stakeholder in Breitbart and long a financial angel for Bannon’s projects, along with her father, Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer, issued a rare public statement to rebuke him:
“I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected,” Mercer said. “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.”
Robert Mercer in November distanced himself from Bannon in a statement and sold his stake to Rebekah. The Wall Street Journal (pay site) said Bannon-hired Breitbart staffers fear getting swept out in a purge.
Pick a story
Ronald Klain, a top Democratic lawyer, tweeted unsolicited advice for Trump’s legal brain trust:
“An ex-staffer’s statement cannot both be (a) an inappropriate disclosure of a confidence, and (b) wildly false. No one is violating a contractual nondisclosure provision if they are disclosing things that you say didn’t happen. So, pick a theory.”
Janison: Out of control
For a president who claims strength as a leader, Trump seems to have a weak grip on his own White House, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Chaos and infighting are proving more a theme than a distraction for this administration.
The hostilities with Bannon, once a close adviser, suggests a wider problem establishing control from the Oval Office, where the buck supposedly stops. And a president who demands loyalty seems to be neither getting nor giving much.
Music to Trump’s ears
Sure, Trump is mad at Bannon for a lot of things, like calling his kids dumb and suggesting the Russia investigation is legit. “I don’t think there’s much gray area in what his feelings are,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
But flattery of Trump will never go unnoticed.
Bannon told radio listeners Wednesday night: “The President of the United States is a great man” and “I support him day in and day out.”
“He called me a great man last night, so he obviously changed his tune pretty quick,” Trump said Thursday during a brief session with reporters. But the president added: “I don’t talk to him. I don’t talk to him. I don’t talk to him, that’s just a misnomer.”
Dictionary check: It could be a mistaken idea, but it’s not a misnomer.
Wince and repeat
Wolff’s anecdotes have given new fodder to critics who have raised questions about Trump’s mental state.
“Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions,” Wolff said in a Hollywood Reporter article based on his book research. “It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes.”
He also failed to recognize a number of old friends on last month’s vacation at Mar-a-Lago, according to Wolff.
Some members of Congress — mostly Democrats but including one Republican — recently summoned a Yale psychiatry professor who has written of such concerns to privately provide briefings about Trump’s recent behavior, Politico reported.
Trump wanted Russia probe protection
Trump tried unsuccessfully to get White House counsel Donald F. McGahn to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Russia investigation in March because he believed the Justice Department chief should have been in a position to protect him, The New York Times reported.
Special counsel Robert Mueller also has notes from former chief of staff Reince Priebus backing up fired FBI director James Comey’s story about how Trump pressured him to say publicly that Trump wasn’t under investigation.
Another White House lawyer misled Trump in March about his power to fire Comey, fearing the fallout of such a move. When Trump in May voiced determination to get rid of Comey, a Sessions deputy started trolling for derogatory information on the FBI director, saying the attorney general wanted to plant negative stories about him, the report said.
Drill, baby, drill
The Trump administration on Thursday moved to vastly expand offshore drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic oceans. It would also open federal waters off the California coast to drilling for the first time in more than three decades.
A coalition of more than 60 environmental groups denounced the plan, saying in a joint statement that it would impose “severe and unacceptable harm” to America’s oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.
Some coastal state governors support drilling, but a Trump ally, Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, is opposed. “My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected,” Scott said.
What else is happening
- “Sloppy Steve” is the ever-scowling president’s new schoolyard taunt for Bannon, his new target and nemesis.
- With North and South Korea talking, the Trump administration agreed to delay joint military exercises with South Korea until after the March 8-18 Winter Olympics there. Trump, who has been skeptical of the dialogue, tweeted that he should get credit for it.
Critics of Trump’s voter fraud panel are withholding their applause over his decision to dissolve it, Newsweek reports. By moving its mission to the Department of Homeland Security, they say, the transparency of open meetings and records laws will be lost.
As Trump previewed with a tweet, the United States announced it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan for failing to take “decisive action” against Taliban militants targeting U.S. personnel in neighboring Afghanistan.
Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on the marijuana trade in states where the drug is legal. There were bipartisan protests from officials in those states, who said the Trump administration was reneging on hands-off promises.
China is gaining world influence at a faster clip because of Trump’s moves to reduce America’s role, according to The New Yorker. A Chinese major general told Communist Party officials that Trump “has given China a huge gift ... as the U.S. retreats globally, China shows up.”
Sessions named interim U.S. attorneys for New York’s Eastern and Southern districts — Richard Donoghue and Geoffrey Berman, reports Newsday’s Robert E. Kessler and John Riley. Donoghue is a veteran of the war against street gangs. Berman is a partner in the same Manhattan firm as Rudy Giuliani.