The watchdog barks
Donald Trump is no fan of lengthy reports, but among the 568 pages of a Justice Department inspector general’s review of the FBI’s politically fraught investigations before the 2016 election, there is reading for him to enjoy.
It echoes the official reason given for the president’s firing of James Comey — that the FBI director usurped the authority of his bosses and made other bad decisions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. (Though Trump later said the “Russia thing” was on his mind.)
It also found messages from five FBI officials that showed “hostility” to Trump, most notably from Assistant Director Peter Strzok — a figure in both the Clinton and Russia investigations. Strzok assured an FBI attorney who was also his lover that Trump wouldn’t become president: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
But the 17-month investigation by IG Michael Horowitz also concluded there was “no evidence” that political “bias or other improper considerations” factored in the decision to clear Clinton. That’s a letdown for Trump and the “lock her up” crowd.
Even though Strzok and others showed a “willingness to take official action” to keep Trump from winning, they didn’t. The Russia investigation remained under wraps until after the election, unlike the Clinton probe. The IG castigated Comey’s decision to reveal in the final weeks of the campaign that it had been reopened, which Clinton blames for her loss.
See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
So what about Mueller?
Special counsel Robert Mueller kicked Strzok off his team in July upon learning of the anti-Trump texts. But Trump’s partisans contend his conduct boosts their argument that the Russia investigation is tainted.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) tweeted that it “puts indelible cloud over Trump Russia investigation.”
Democrats pushed back. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted that the report has “no evidence to make any reasonable person conclude that the Mueller investigation is anything other than independent, impartial & just as important today as it was before this report was issued.”
To read the full IG’s report, click here.
A dis served cold
For Clinton and her supporters, the IG’s report was further confirmation that Comey’s decisions unfairly hurt her — and not just with his October 2016 surprise.
It faulted Comey for saying — in his July 2016 statement that cleared but criticized the Democrat — that it was “possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.” The statement was “based almost entirely on speculation,” the report said.
The report also revealed that Comey, flouting Justice Department policy, used a personal Gmail account to conduct FBI business on numerous occasions.
Clinton’s reaction? A retweet of that news with a terse, mocking comment: “But my emails.”
The gift of gimme
A suit by the New York attorney general’s office charges Trump’s charitable foundation was a serial violator of charity, tax and election laws.
Attorney General Barbara Underwood found a pattern of “self-dealing” and “illegal coordination with the Trump presidential campaign.” The foundation’s funds were used to settle legal claims against Trump businesses. (Click here to see a handwritten memo from Trump directing a $100,000 payment to settle a code violation with Palm Beach authorities.)
When Trump held a TV fundraiser for veterans before the Iowa caucuses, $2.8 million went to the foundation and was distributed by campaign officials to suit political purposes, the suit charged.
Trump tweeted the suit was “a ridiculous case” brought by “sleazy New York Democrats” and vowed “I won’t settle this case!”
He made a similar vow when New York sued him in the Trump University case. He settled.
Janison: Hot under the lights
It’s a hard reality for those who have stood close to Trump in his business, family and social worlds — it’s hard to hide from scrutiny.
For some, like fixer Michael Cohen, it’s potential exposure in a criminal investigation. For Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, it’s persistent conflict-of-interest questions. In Rudy Giuliani’s case, it’s extra buzz on the gossip pages about his love life.
Giuliani’s son Andrew isn’t spared, either — his career as a White House aide has sputtered and high-level power struggles may be in play.
See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Trump loves generals, but they’re usually his own. Previously unseen footage from the Singapore summit shown by North Korean state media Thursday caught his awkward effort to make nice with a general from that country.
At first, Trump extended his hand, but the general saluted him. Then Trump returned the salute as the general put out his hand. Finally, they shake hands. (Video here)
Military and intelligence experts said U.S. presidents typically do not salute military officials from adversarial nations — particularly ones with which we are still technically at war, according to Politico. It was just “common courtesy,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Trump’s Gold Star ghosts
Trump’s tweet that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea” may not be his most dubious comment on the results of his talks with Kim Jong Un.
Discussing Kim’s pledge to send home remains of U.S. troops killed during the Korean War, Trump told Fox News that during his 2016 campaign, “So many people asked for that. ... They said, ‘When you can, president, we’d love our son to be brought back home,’ you know, the remains.’ ”
The fighting stopped 65 years ago, in 1953. City University of New York historian Angus Johnston did the math: If a parent had a son at 18, and that son was killed at age 18 on the last day of the war, that mom or dad would have been 99 years old in 2016. It’s not likely that Trump heard from “many” Gold Star parents from that war, if any.
Ripped from the Bible
The heart-wrenching horror stories of children wrested from the arms of detained immigrant parents arrested at the Mexican border has Republicans in Congress uncomfortable.
“We don’t want kids to be separated from their parents,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. GOP House leaders circulated a proposal to end the practice as part of a broader immigration compromise.
Sanders was asked Thursday if she agreed with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who offered a biblical justification for the “zero tolerance” policy behind the separations.
“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law,” she replied.
It’s not the law making them do it. It’s their policy.
What else is happening
- It sounded like a threat straight out of Pyongyang when Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted Wednesday night: “Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.” She didn’t take it back Thursday, but said in a follow-up that her words “didn’t translate well.”
- New York’s top court, the Court of Appeals, rejected a bid by Trump to dismiss or halt a defamation lawsuit filed against him by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, Newsday’s Roy reports.
- Trump turned 72 on Thursday. Said Sanders in her briefing: “I don’t think he looks a day over 35.” By way of explaining her remark, she added: “A little sucking up’s probably never bad.”
- White House legislative director Marc Short has told colleagues he will leave the job as early as this summer, seeing chances fading of moving Trump’s agenda through Congress as midterm elections approach, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Sanders derided a CBS News report that she told friends she wants to leave her job at the end of the year. But she didn’t deny it.
- Bleeding staffers and having trouble filling vacancies, the White House hopes to find recruits at a conservative job fair on Capitol Hill Friday, according to Politico.