The fix wasn't in
During the 35 days that Donald Trump proudly shut down the government in a failed strategy to win more funding for his border wall, some of the effects were obvious: shuttered IRS offices, trash pileups in federal parks, airport delays and hundreds of thousands of workers going without pay.
Not as visible then was the halt behind the scenes to much of the vital work quietly performed every day at federal agencies for public safety.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the shutdown stopped work in late December and January on discussions between Boeing and FAA regulators about a software fix that was planned for the flight-control system of the 737 Max aircraft after preliminary results from the investigation of a Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.
The fix had been due in January, but differing views between the FAA and the aircraft maker had to be resolved, and discussions went on hold during the shutdown. The FAA concluded the delay was acceptable because its experts agreed with Boeing that there was no imminent safety threat, the Journal reported.
It's too early to assess whether the update would have made any difference in last weekend's Ethiopian Airlines crash, which claimed 157 lives. But the knowns and unknowns led Trump Wednesday to announce the FAA will ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 planes in the United States. “The safety of the American people, of all people, is our paramount concern,” Trump said.
The FAA, citing "new information," said similarities in the crashes five months apart "warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause … that needs to be better understood and addressed."
After the Journal's report, the FAA denied that the shutdown upset the timing for the new software. The FAA and Boeing say a software upgrade is now due in April that will give pilots greater control in case problems emerge with the planes' safety systems. For more on the grounding decision and its impact, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
The unpardonable Paul Manafort
Unlike the Virginia federal judge who sentenced Paul Manafort to 47 months in prison last week for crimes including bank fraud and tax fraud, Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington didn't think the former campaign manager had led an "otherwise blameless life."
Tacking on 3 1/2 more years to Manafort's time in lockup for conspiracy related to illegal lobbying in Ukraine, hiding the proceeds and witness tampering, Jackson said: “There's no question this defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing.”
In a nod to the alternative-facts culture of Trump's Washington, Jackson said: “Court is one of those places where facts still matter,” adding at another point: “If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work.”
Though Manafort's lawyers pointed out the charges against Manafort did not involve questions of election collusion with the Russians, Berman also said: “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate, because the investigation is still ongoing.” As if that would stop Trump from claiming otherwise, as he did with reporters Wednesday: "That was proven today. No collusion. There’s no collusion ... it was all a big hoax."
Trump said he felt “very badly” for Manafort but hadn’t given any thought to a pardon. But even if the president tried that, a get-out-of-jail card might not set Manafort free. Minutes after the Washington sentencing, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance announced a 16-count indictment charging Manafort with residential mortgage fraud, which could get a sentence of up to 25 years if he is convicted. Trump can't pardon anyone for state crimes.
Janison: The yada yada presidency
Trump's tweets can be entertaining, enraging or perplexing. They are not a dependable sign of what his administration does or is about to do, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
A day before the FAA grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8, Trump shared musings about modern flight technology but offered no clue why the U.S. had not yet followed dozens of other countries in grounding the planes.
Last year, Trump stood up for the family-separation policy on the border. He then canceled it. More recently, he announced the cutoff of FEMA funds for California's recovery from wildfires because he doesn't like the state's forest management policy. There was no cutoff.
His threats of regulatory action against Amazon and media companies also have proved of no consequence.
Wall vote: Trump shuts exit strategy
Trump rejected an idea that might have spared him from likely defeat Thursday when the Senate is set to vote on a resolution to terminate Trump's emergency declaration for border wall funding.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) floated a plan that would have given Republicans uneasy about Trump's move a way to side with him. The idea called for passing a separate bill that would curtail a president’s national emergency powers in the future, to limit encroachment on Congress' constitutional powers.
But Trump said no, and Lee joined four other Republicans who said they will line up with Democrats in favor of the resolution, giving it a majority. Trump complained in a tweet that the GOP senators who won't stay with him were “overthinking” the issue. See Tom Brune's story for Newsday.
Warm up the veto pen
Seven Republicans joined all the Senate's Democrats to pass a resolution that would cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war, which has brought mass hunger and bloodshed to the civilian population.
As with the resolution on the southern border emergency, Trump has already threatened to veto it.
Republicans have been upset by the administration’s response to the October murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
A pardon under the pillow?
Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani say Michael Cohen is lying when he claims that a possible presidential pardon was dangled after the feds raided him and before he decided to turn against the president.
But an email Cohen received could have left that impression. CNN reports that Robert Costello, an attorney who said he had just spoken with Giuliani, assured Cohen in April 2018 that he could "sleep well tonight" because he had "friends in high places," and added: "Some very positive comments about you from the White House."
Costello, a longtime Giuliani friend who was considering representing Trump's ex-fixer, told CNN that Cohen's interpretation is "utter nonsense." Giuliani said the message wasn't about pardons — "That was about Michael Cohen thinking that the President was mad at him."
The New York Times reports federal prosecutors have requested the emails and documents from Costello, and the request cited an investigation into “possible violations of federal criminal law."
Rudy's rough day in Splitsville
As if Manafort, Cohen, Roger Stone and others from Trumpworld aren't providing enough courtroom drama, here comes Giuliani's divorce case. With the ex-mayor and third wife Judith Nathan bickering over custody of their Long Island beach house this summer, an exasperated judge said Wednesday said a long and “unpleasant” trial looked likely.
Lawyers for Giuliani and Nathan argued over issues including Giuliani's alleged failure to pay a $21,000 nursing home bill for his mother-in-law; Nathan's alleged concealment of a bank account with $100; a landscaping bill; and a plan for a kitchen makeover, Bloomberg News reported. State Supreme Court Justice Michael Katz in Manhattan said he was “really not interested” in “micromanaging a kitchen renovation.”
Katz also chided Giuliani for an outburst in court, telling him, “You’re not the lawyer here."
What else is happening:
- A correction: Yesterday's 1600 said erroneously that House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff agrees with Speaker Nancy Pelosi that impeachment would be a mistake with an "extraordinarily clear and compelling" case. What he said is that it would be a mistake WITHOUT an "extraordinarily clear and compelling" case. To see the full item with the typo fixed, click here.
- Beto O'Rourke, in a Vanity Fair interview, suggested a journey of personal discovery (which included live video of getting his teeth cleaned) is leading him to seek the Democrats' 2020 nomination. “Man, I’m just born to be in it, and want to do everything I humanly can for this country at this moment," the ex-Texas congressman said. He told a hometown El Paso TV station: "I’m running."
- Pelosi didn't want to weigh in on the latest Manafort news, telling reporters she was doing “happy things” and didn’t want to be dragged into the “slime” of the day.
- Trump tweeted thanks for Pelosi's comments that impeachment, as of now, isn't warranted. "I greatly appreciate Nancy Pelosi’s statement against impeachment, but everyone must remember the minor fact that I never did anything wrong."
- Bill de Blasio said on Fox 5's "Good Day New York" that he won't step down as mayor of New York City if he decides to run for president.
- A UCLA study says political grudges and racial animosity are rife at U.S. high schools and that Trump's rhetoric has exacerbated the problem, Reuters reports. Pro-Trump students also have been targets of hostility. The findings come from a survey of 505 high school principals.