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Trump guards some secrets more than others

Madeleine Westerhout, President Donald Trump's personal assistant, outside

Madeleine Westerhout, President Donald Trump's personal assistant, outside the Oval Office in 2018. Photo Credit: EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

It's all over confidence

Donald Trump spoke and tweeted with a measure of kindness about personal assistant Madeleine Westerhout after she walked the plank for dishing under the influence about the president's family at an off-the-record dinner with reporters. "I fully understood and forgave her!" he said.

Oh, another thing. "Westerhout has a fully enforceable confidentiality agreement," Trump noted. "She is a very good person and I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it," he said in a tweet sent following a New York Times report that at least one publishing house was considering dangling a book deal in front of his just-departed Oval Office gatekeeper.

In case his meaning wasn't clear enough, Trump kept going: "Yes, I am currently suing various people for violating their confidentiality agreements. Disgusting and foul mouthed Omarosa is one … she went for some cheap money from a book." He was referring to Omarosa Manigault Newman, who went from "Apprentice" contestant to White House aide to tell-all author.

Most legal experts doubt whether private NDAs are enforceable for public employees. But Trump has demanded them of subordinates during his presidency just as he did during his business career. It's not the only tool he has used to try to keep personal information out of public view. There also were the $130,000 in payoffs to two women who claimed to have had affairs with him.

Trump guards different kinds of secrets as president, and he demonstrated anew on Friday he chooses to be selective on which ones to keep. He tweeted what appeared to be a previously classified high-resolution surveillance photo of an Iranian space launch site after a mysterious rocket explosion.

“We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do," Trump told reporters afterward. Critics said the photo could help adversaries know more about American spy-in-sky capabilities. But as he noted, presidents get to make those calls.

In the past, Trump reportedly told Russian White House visitors about secret intelligence on ISIS shared by Israel and he tweeted after that episode, too, that it was his "absolute right" to do so. He tweeted video of his meeting with Navy SEALs in Iraq whose presence there was generally considered classified. He intervened for his GOP House allies attacking the Russia investigation to declassify FISA warrant information despite objections it could compromise intelligence sources. It's his right.

Shots heard, Trump says

After the latest deadly mass shooting, Trump expressed a commitment Sunday to work with a divided Congress to “stop the menace of mass attacks.” But he also seemed to doubt the value of more thorough background checks for gun purchases, The Associated Press reported.

“We’re looking at the same things … It really hasn’t changed anything,” Trump said of the newest Texas killing spree. "For the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five [shootings] going back even five or six or seven years, for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it,” he said. “So it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem. It’s a big problem.”

Trump also said, “Congress has a lot of thinking to do.” Lawmakers have been waiting for a signal from Trump.

Janison: A hub of insecurity

The office of the national security adviser has not been an oasis of stability in the Trump White House, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The first one, Mike Flynn, didn't last one month after he was caught lying to the FBI about Russian contacts. The second, H.R. McMaster, told Trump too many things he didn't want to hear, such as it was a bad idea to quit the Iran nuclear deal.

When the third, John Bolton, came aboard, he seemed to be a hawk more to Trump's liking, but then got too aggressive for the boss. His role on Afghanistan has been so diminished that the National Security Council he heads has been kept out of strategy sessions on a subject that ordinarily would involve its leader.

Tariff-ic start to September

The United States and China on Sunday put in place their latest tariff increases on each other’s goods. Unlike the previous rounds, there will be a bigger impact in the cost to Americans on imported consumer goods.

The price for a lot of Apple products will be going up as a result of 15% tariffs, according to Bloomberg News. They include the Apple Watch and Watch bands, AirPods, HomePod, some Beats headphones and iMac computers. The iPhone is spared for now, but won't be as of Dec. 15 unless peace breaks out in the trade war.

Trump said U.S.-China trade talks were still on for this month. “We’ll see what happens,” he told reporters. “But we can’t allow China to rip us off anymore as a country.”

Hints taken and not

When Kirsten Gillibrand quit the Democratic presidential race last week after failing to qualify for the debates, she said, “It’s important to know when it’s not your time.”

Newsday's Emily Ngo writes on what it may take for others bringing up the rear to know it's hopeless.

Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic strategist who worked on former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, said two clues are "out of money and filing deadline.” The latter means not quitting too late to run for or retain another elective office. That's not a worry for someone like Bill de Blasio, who has nowhere else to go right away other than back to New York to finish a mayoral term that runs through Dec. 31, 2021.

Separately, Ngo writes that one presidential dropout, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, is preparing to run for a GOP-held Senate seat, and two other Democratic long shots could potentially do likewise. But Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke have insisted they won’t follow suit.

Messing around

A Trump tweet on Sunday targeted "Will and Grace" star Debra Messing after she called for publicizing the list of donors who are reportedly attending a Beverly Hills fundraiser where the president is slated to appear.

"I have not forgotten that when it was announced that I was going to do The Apprentice, and when it then became a big hit, helping NBC’s failed lineup greatly, @DebraMessing came up to me … & profusely thanked me, even calling me 'Sir.' How times have changed!"

The actress answered by urging the president to take action on gun legislation, quipping that she'd call him "sir" if he did so.

What else is happening:

  • Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort is in an area under a mandatory evacuation order for low-lying parts of Florida's Palm Beach County because of Hurricane Dorian.
  • Former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell apologized for posting a tweet "rooting for a direct hit" on Mar-a-Lago. Campbell, who led Canada for five months in 1993, also wished for the hurricane to “shake up Trump’s climate change denial.” She said her comments "were intended as sarcasm-not a serious wish of harm."
  • O'Rourke has let four-letter words fly about the shootings in his hometown of El Paso, and did likewise in discussing the Midland-Odessa shootings on a live CNN interview Sunday, without regret. "Profanity is not the F-bomb. What is profane is a 17 month-old baby being shot in the face," he tweeted.
  • Apart from Joe Biden, all the major Democratic 2020 contenders are siding with labor unions over tech giants in a California fight against companies like Uber and Lyft to classify workers as independent contractors, which costs them entitlement to the minimum wage and workers' compensation. Biden hasn't taken a position.
  • Trump's 2017 tax plan created opportunity zones advertised as an incentive for investment in low-income areas. The New York Times reports it has provided lucrative tax breaks for developments financed by and built for the wealthiest Americans, including Jared Kushner's family.
  • Because of Dorian, Trump canceled a trip to Warsaw for Sunday's solemn ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the Nazi German invasion that began World War II. Asked if he had a message to send, he told reporters: "I just want to congratulate Poland. It’s a great country with great people.”

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