A presidency without borders
What did Donald Trump say that caused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's eyes to bulge out in surprise?
“It’s not like you’ve got China on your border,” Trump told Modi during their first meeting. India's border with China is more than 2,000 miles. They've fought wars over it.
The anecdote appears in "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America" by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig. Excerpts were published Wednesday by the Post, The Guardian, NPR and others depict Trump as erratic, narcissistic and, as one former senior adviser put it, "dangerously uninformed."
According to the book, a question from Trump stunned then-chief of staff John Kelly as they were about to tour Pearl Harbor: “Hey, John, what’s this all about?" The president understood it was a battle site, but he didn't grasp the fundamental history of the Japanese attack in 1941 that brought the U.S. into World War II.
The book also describes how the law got in the way of much of what Trump wanted. He tried to get Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's help to get rid of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, complaining, “It’s just so unfair that American companies aren’t allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas.” Trump was frustrated "because it restricted his industry buddies or his own company’s executives from paying off foreign governments in faraway lands," the authors wrote.
Trump was frequently abusive and made demeaning remarks toward his second Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen. It bothered him that at 5 feet, 4 inches, she wasn't physically intimidating. "She’s so short," he would say.
In angry calls late at night, he'd demand that she carry out ideas for border control that he heard on TV from Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs. She'd have to explain "We can't do it," usually because Dobbs' ideas were against the law.
Signed, sealed, delivered: Impeachment
In a dramatic procession across the U.S. Capitol, Democratic House leaders marched the formal articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate late Wednesday, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.
The ceremonial pomp and protocol by lawmakers moved the proceedings out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic-run House to the Republican-majority Senate. “This president will be held accountable," Pelosi said as she signed the documents.
Earlier, Pelosi named — and the House voted along partisan lines to approve — a seven-member team of impeachment managers to present the case. They will be led by Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff and Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler.
Trump complained anew it was all a “hoax.” The Senate will transform itself into an impeachment court at noon Thursday. Opening arguments are expected on Tuesday. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Janison: When contrition is an act
It seems to be a credo among Trump associates who got on the wrong side of the law: Even if you said you were sorry, you never have to stay sorry.
Newsday's Dan Janison recalls how former national security adviser Michael Flynn admitted in court two years ago that he lied to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian ambassador. Still up for sentencing, which was slated for Jan 28, he demanded this week to withdraw his guilty plea after prosecutors recommended jail time.
In October 2018, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about a conversation with a professor who told him the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days. Since then, he has claimed he'd been framed.
On Feb. 20, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone is due to be sentenced on his conviction for impeding investigators. He's let it be known he seeks a presidential pardon and blamed conspiracies. He also had to apologize to the judge he baited on his website.
Former Trump lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen, who turned on Trump, is trying to get his sentence reduced for cooperating with authorities. Said prosecutors: "Cohen never made a meaningful effort to engage in serious cooperation but instead engaged in a protracted public relations campaign, in which he sought to cast himself as both victim and hero."
Parnas: Trump, Giuliani knew
In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas asserted that Trump and Giuliani knew what he was up to in support of efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to yield to Trump's demands.
“President Trump knew exactly what was going on," said Parnas, who is facing charges for breaking campaign finance laws. "He was aware of all my movements. Why would Zelensky’s inner circle meet with me? Who am I? They were told to meet with me. And that's the secret that they're trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work."
Parnas said Giuliani instructed him to tell Zelensky’s top aide before Zelensky’s inauguration that the “relationships would be soured, that we would stop giving them any kind of aid” if they did not announce a probe of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. The next day, Vice President Mike Pence canceled his trip to the inauguration.
Giuliani’s response? “Who cares,” he texted a Washington Post reporter. "Believe him at your peril.” He didn’t specify what he was suggesting was untrue.
Were Rudy's guys running spies?
Documents turned over by Parnas to House impeachment investigators raise the question of whether he and Giuliani had former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch under surveillance as they plotted to get rid of her.
Communications to Parnas from Robert Hyde, a Trump donor from Connecticut, suggested he had Yovanovitch under watch and was tracking her movements.
Yovanovitch's lawyer called for investigations, and House Democrats said they would take a deeper look. The State Department had no comment. But Parnas' lawyer denied his client was working with Hyde to spy on Yovanovitch and added, “We believe Mr. Hyde’s activities to be a reflection on his dubious mental state." Hyde issued denials with vulgarity-peppered comments.
Hyde was hauled away by police for psychiatric evaluation after an incident last May at Trump's Doral resort near Miami. He was the subject of a restraining order in Washington obtained by a Republican consultant who said he was stalking her and her family, according to The Intercept.
Hyde also is seeking a Republican nomination for Congress and has posted photos of himself with an array of Trump world figures, including the president, Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump and Corey Lewandowski. Connecticut's GOP leaders have distanced themselves from Hyde since he tweeted a crude sexual remark last month after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) quit the 2020 presidential race.
In the Maddow interview, Parnas described Hyde as a barfly who hung out at Trump’s Washington hotel and who he didn’t take seriously.
Sexism, lies and audiotape
Perhaps a handshake between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren could have quieted the dispute over whether he told her privately in 2018 that a woman couldn't be elected president. But when Warren walked over to him in the moments after Tuesday night's debate and Sanders offered Warren his hand, she wouldn't take it.
The mics were off air, but CNN found backup audio and put it out Wednesday night. It sounded even worse than it looked.
"I think you called me a liar on national TV," Warren can be heard saying. “What?" Sanders responded. “I think you called me a liar on national TV," she repeated.
"You know, let's not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion," Sanders said, to which Warren replied, "Anytime."
"You called me a liar," Sanders continued. "You told me — all right, let's not do it now.”
The argument has prompted bitter feuding between partisans of each candidate and despair from progressives who like them both. Sanders' supporters filled Twitter with emojis of snakes to refer to Warren.
What else is happening:
- Senate Democratic leaders said they will fight a reported plan by Trump to divert $7.2 billion more in Pentagon funds for his border wall.
- Trump tried to describe the state of relations with North Korea in old-school gamer terms: "a very, very beautiful game of chess, or game of poker, or, I can't use the word checkers, ’cause it's far greater than any checker game that I've ever seen," he said during a ceremony for his partial trade deal with China.
- Giuliani wanted the gig, but Americans will see a lawyer with a different style leading Trump's defense in the Senate impeachment trial. White House counsel Pat Cipollone has an unassuming manner, and Trump calls him "the strong, silent type,” writes The Associated Press.
- Michael Bloomberg's campaign sent out a torrent of jokey and weird tweets during Tuesday night's Democratic debate, for which he didn't qualify. The postings included his face on a meatball and the statement: "Mike can telepathically communicate with dolphins."
- Long Island Republican Reps. Peter King and Lee Zeldin were named honorary state chairs for Trump's 2020 campaign in New York, reports Newsday's Figueroa. While both are locally successful, expect the state to remain blue.