A hail-to-the-chief storm
As president, Donald Trump’s reputation for craving flattery has gone global. It’s firmly rooted locally, too, at the White House. Which helps explain the spectacle of adulation around the table at Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting Monday, which was opened to cameras and pool reporters.
One by one, each of 24 officials gushed about the “privilege” and honor of serving Trump and his administration. Also, the “incredible honor,” “great honor” and “greatest honor of my life.” (Full video here.)
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a frequent target of the president’s shake-up scenarios, topped them all: “Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”
Trump set the tone by declaring that “never has there been a president, with few exceptions ... who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done.” The exception that Trump noted was Franklin Roosevelt, who “had a major Depression to handle.” As for legislation, the big parts of Trump’s agenda remain undone.
This imitation wasn’t flattery
A frequent Trump antagonist — or as the president prefers to call him, obstructionist — couldn’t resist making fun of the meeting.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) got tens of thousands of Twitter likes and retweets with a rapid-response parody video depicting his staff kissing up to him.
“Michelle, how’d my hair look coming out of the gym this morning?” Schumer asks one staffer.
“You have great hair. Nobody has better hair than you,” she replies. (Video clip here.)
Trump mulling Mueller firing?
Robert Mueller was named special counsel to conduct the Russia investigation less than a month ago to bipartisan applause in Congress. Now, according to a friend of Trump’s, the president is “considering perhaps” getting rid of him.
Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of right-wing Newsmax Media, made the comment in a PBS interview. Later, CNN reported that Ruddy based his Mueller comment on a television interview with one of Trump’s lawyers.
Asked for comment, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Chris speaks for himself.”
Some Trump allies have begun attacking the credibility of Mueller, a former FBI director and a Republican.
Big questions for Sessions
There are two reasons why Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon will be closely watched.
No. 1: Sessions is one of the Trump officials who forgot to disclose meetings last year with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, while he was an adviser to the Republican candidate.
No. 2: He faces questions on why he participated in the firing of FBI Director James Comey after recusing himself from the Russia investigations. While the first official explanations of Comey’s ouster said Russia had nothing to with it, Trump’s later comments indicated it had everything to do with it.
Not every question will necessarily get an answer. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said an executive-privilege claim on Sessions’ conversations with Trump was possible. “It depends on the scope of the questions,” Spicer said.
The take-away: Fans and foes
Democrats and Republicans alike were respectful when Comey appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.
Sharper partisan division is expected when Sessions takes his turn, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. All but one Democrat voted against confirmation of the 20-year Republican senator in February.
Sessions also likely will be looking over his shoulder at Trump, who has openly knocked his attorney general and the Justice Department’s handling of the travel ban case.
Trump sued over businesses
Trump and his lawyers say there is no unconstitutional conflict between his office and his business interests. The courts will get to weigh in on that, reports Newsday’s Emily Ngo.
The Maryland and District of Columbia attorneys general filed a lawsuit Monday alleging Trump’s “extensive business entanglements” have violated the anti-corruption emoluments clause of the Constitution. That’s supposed to insulate a president from outside influences bestowing money or gifts on him.
Spicer said the legal challenge is motivated by “partisan politics.” Both AGs are Democrats.
Tapes or no tapes?
The U.S. Secret Service, which operated White House taping systems for past presidents, told The Wall Street Journal (pay site) that it has no audio recordings or transcripts from inside the Executive Mansion since Trump became president.
That doesn’t preclude the possibility that recordings were made some other way. The White House on Monday again refused to say whether there are recordings — a question prompted by Trump’s threat that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations.”
Trump goes over some old ground in his Twitter rants earlyTuesday. Summary: The news media, Loretta Lynch and the Ninth Circuit are bad.
What else is happening
- Trump’s losing streak on his travel ban continues. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said it violated immigration law and that the administration didn’t provide a valid reason for keeping people from six mostly Muslim nations from coming into the country. The ban’s fate will rest with the Supreme Court.
- Spicer said that Trump meant he would talk to special counsel Robert Mueller — not necessarily Congress — when he said last week he was willing to speak under oath about his conversations with Comey.
- Ivanka Trump said on “Fox and Friends” that “there is a level of viciousness that I was not expecting” since moving to Washington and joining her father’s administration.
- Great Neck-raised Washington superlawyer Jamie Gorelick, long allied with the Clintons, has been called a turncoat and worse by friends for representing Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The Washington Post has the story.
- Trump’s disapproval rating in a Gallup daily tracking poll matched his all-time worst: 59%. His approval was 36%.
- New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office is looking into allegations of self-dealing by the Eric Trump Foundation that were raised by a recent Forbes magazine report, according to Politico.
- Senators struck a deal to codify sanctions against Russia, The Washington Post reported.