Can we dig it?
New York and New Jersey members of Congress may be able to salvage federal funding for the Gateway rail tunnel and bridge project. It also could still go off the rails.
President Donald Trump demanded $900 million for Gateway be removed from the omnibus spending bill nearing completion in Congress — in part, many suspected, to zing his frequent nemesis, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
But a new version would make Gateway eligible for a $540 million share of $2.9 billion in U.S. Department of Transportation grants, reported NJ Advance Media. It wouldn’t be a sure thing — projects elsewhere could compete for some of the money. GOP leaders pitched that to Trump as a win for him, The Washington Post said.
Gateway was one of several touchy issues to navigate as Congress tried to get the bill passed by Friday. Another was Trump’s demand for $25 billion for Mexican border security, including his wall. The compromise bill includes only $1.6 billion.
Some Republican conservatives allied with Trump didn’t care for the prospective deal. Noting Trump’s campaign promise, House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said, “It is troubling when we get a tunnel and we don’t get a wall.”
Give sucking up a chance
It’s still not clear whether Trump ever saw the “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” tip from his national security team, but he made it clear Wednesday he did what he wanted on that call with newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump tweeted.
Actually, the opposition came from his own adviser in advance and from leading Republican senators afterward.
Trump continued: “They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race.”
There are scant signs of Russian cooperation on those fronts, and Trump skipped over the recent poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in England, but Trump said he is bringing more smarts, energy and chemistry to the task of wooing Putin than former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Janison: A mystery either way
Former CIA chief John Brennan voiced out loud the darker theory of why Trump unfailingly offers a sunny take on Putin.
“I think he is afraid of the president of Russia,” Brennan said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Why? “The Russians could have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.”
Newsday’s Dan Janison writes that if you are disposed to believe Trump and also find the Russia collusion story overblown, many possible explanations might spring to mind.
But Trump has not made a persuasive case that he knows what he’s doing.
DO NOT LEAK
Trump is said to be furious over the leak of the “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” caution that he cast to the winds.
A source told CNN the disclosure feeds his long-held belief there are individuals inside his administration — especially in the national security realm — who are trying to undermine him.
Another official told CNN the leak is “a fireable offense and likely illegal.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told a Senate hearing that her department has improved its capabilities to alert state election officials to cybersecurity threats. “The 2018 midterms and future elections are “clearly potential targets for Russian hacking attempts,” she said.
But senators from both parties worried the effort is falling short. “I hear no sense of urgency to really get on top of this issue,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Nielsen acknowledged that only 20 state officials out of a possible 150 had received necessary security clearances to date.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, “Perhaps most of all, we need a president who will acknowledge the gravity of this threat.”
Wray’s political firewall
FBI Director Christopher Wray told NBC News the firing of former deputy director Andrew McCabe was not politically motivated.
Wray said he is “utterly unyielding” in his commitment to run the bureau free from political influence, and doing things “by the book.”
He wouldn’t answer when asked about reports he threatened to resign when he previously came under pressure to oust McCabe.
Meanwhile, ABC News reports that nearly a year before Attornery General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe for a “lack of candor,” McCabe oversaw a federal criminal investigation into whether Sessions lacked candor when testifying before Congress about contacts with Russian operatives. An ABC source said Sessions didn’t know that when he fired McCabe.
That inquiry was later absorbed into Mueller’s probe, and Sessions’ lawyer said the attorney general’s statements during confirmation hearings are no longer under investigation.
No snow day for ‘witch hunt’
Trump kept up his grievance-tweet drumbeat over special counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump’s Wednesday installment featured a typo-ridden argument that the “Special Council” never should have been appointed, attributed to lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
What else is happening
- White House officials doubted the sweeping nondisclosure agreements that aides had to sign are enforceable, but they went through the motions anyway to placate Trump, The New York Times reported.
- Carrying out Trump’s wishes, Sessions sent a memo to U.S. attorneys instructing them to pursue the death penalty for drug dealers “in appropriate cases” under existing law.
- New campaign finance data shows the Republican National Committee spent more than $424,000 at properties owned by Trump and his family during the first two months of 2018, CNBC reported.
- The Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County is once again seeking permission to bring in foreign workers to serve as waiters, waitresses and cooks, BuzzFeed reports. The visa is designed to fill jobs when no qualified Americans want them.
- Kellyanne Conway is moving closer to agreeing to become Trump’s next communications director, if only on an interim basis, The Atlantic reports.
- HUD Secretary Ben Carson has pointed at his wife, among others, as being most responsible for ordering that $31,000 dining set for his office. Upstate Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney has another suspect: “Somebody in the deep state.”