Tillerson out; Pompeo to State
The big switch expected in Trump-land for months was revealed suddenly on Tuesday when Trump confirmed he was firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Gina Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, moves up into Pompeo’s post as the first female in that job. Tillerson continually contradicted Trump on various issues, although Pompeo, too, has been promoting Russia as a threat in contrast to the president. The shake-up news emerged hours after Tillerson pointed a finger at Russia over a nerve-agent attack on a spy in the U.K.
In another sign of White House chaos, Trump’s personal assistant John McEntee was canned and escorted out of the White House over an unspecified security issue.
Can’t pull the trigger
Less than two weeks ago, in a White House meeting on school shootings, President Donald Trump mocked a Republican senator for being “afraid of the NRA” — unlike Trump.
“They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it,” he said.
But faced with fierce NRA opposition to an idea he had seemed to embrace — raising the age to purchase guns from 18 to 21 — Trump backed down from leading the charge. His new role: bystander. He explained himself in a tweet:
“Watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).”
A late-February CNN poll found 71 percent support for the higher age limit — almost double the approval ratings for Trump. What Trump presumably meant is that the NRA’s hold on the Republican-led Congress remains strong, so Trump won’t try to break it. Instead, he talked up arming school personnel and stronger background checks.
“Right now, the president’s primary focus is pushing through things we know that have broad bipartisan support,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Stormy tease: Your money back
Porn star Stormy Daniels has a proposition: She’ll refund the $130,000 she was paid for agreeing not to tell her story about a sexual affair with Donald Trump. In return, she gets to talk about it.
It’s a limited-time offer: her lawyer gave Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, and Cohen’s lawyer, until Tuesday afternoon to respond.
The two sides are already in a legal battle over Daniels’ claim that the agreement isn’t valid because Trump never signed it. The Dallas Morning News reports Texas officials are investigating possible irregularities in the notary stamp on the document. USA Today said new complaints have been filed alleging potential campaign finance violations.
Daniels’ offer terms also call for her to be allowed to “use and publish any text messages, photos and/or videos relating to the president that she may have in her possession.”
If the Trump lawyers reject the offer, they risk that being seen as acknowledgment of an ongoing effort to keep her story, and any images she may have, from surfacing.
Janison: Best defense
Trump avoids speaking ill of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and usually has nice things to say about China’s Xi Jinping. But both countries were cast as threats to justify Trump’s push for increased military spending, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Undersecretary for Defense John Rood warned a House committee last week that the future ambitions of China and Russia form the “central challenge to our prosperity and security.” Both powers, he said, “ seek to reshape the world order and change territorial borders.”
‘Blame Russ--?’ ‘Shhhhhh’
British Prime Minister Theresa May said it is “highly likely” the Kremlin was responsible for the attempted murder in England last week of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, who were attacked with a nerve toxin and remain in critical condition. Scores of others were potentially exposed.
Sanders said the attack was an “outrage” and “We are standing with our U.K. allies.”
Reporters at Sanders’ briefing asked: Does the United States also blame Russia? She repeatedly refused to say, or even mention, Russia.
Later, flying home from Africa, Tillerson went where the White House wouldn’t go. The military-grade nerve agent “came from Russia,” he said.
Nothing to see here
The House Intelligence Committee is wrapping up its Russia investigation. A draft report by the majority Republicans concluded there was no collusion or coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
“We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment in taking meetings,” said Texas Rep. Mike Conaway.
Committee Democrats reject that conclusion and the decision to shut down the probe. “If Russians have leverage over the President, GOP has decided that it would rather not know,” tweeted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)
Senate investigations are continuing, as is the most crucial probe — that by special counsel Robert Mueller. Bloomberg News reported Mueller has almost finished examining whether Trump obstructed justice, but may sit on those results as he continues other parts of the inquiry.
Ivanka Trump went to the White House. Donald Trump Jr. stayed home. Both have business interests prompting new questions about potential conflicts of interest.
Ivanka — a senior White House adviser involved in domestic policy and foreign diplomacy — is collecting more than $1 million a year from businesses affiliated with the Trump Organization, which is developing luxury resorts around the world, according to McClatchy’s Washington news bureau.
Trump Jr. has previously undisclosed business ties to Gentry Beach, a longtime hunting buddy and Texas hedge fund manager, The Associated Press reports. They previously insisted their relationship was strictly personal.
Beach last year met with top National Security Council officials seeking an easing of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela to open up business opportunities for U.S. companies there. The West Wing instructed NSC staffers to take the meetings because of the friendship with Trump Jr., a former official told the AP.
What else is happening
- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — Mueller’s boss — proclaimed unqualified support for him in a USA Today interview. “The special counsel is not an unguided missile,” he said. “I don’t believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel.”
- BuzzFeed offers a lively profile of Felix Sater, the Russian-born convicted swindler, intelligence operative, Trump business associate and would-be broker of a Trump development deal in Moscow, who is now a figure in the Russia investigation. Sater recently decamped from LI to LA.
- Hillary Clinton told an audience in India that the U.S. did not “deserve” having Trump as presidency and that these are “perilous times,” the AP reports.
- GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone’s contacts with WikiLeaks fugitive Julian Assange continue to generate interest.
- White House officials were alarmed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ struggle to answer basic questions about the nation’s schools and her failure to defend Trump’s plans to stop gun violence in schools in television interviews Sunday and Monday, CNN reported.
- Trump blocked Asian chip manufacturer Broadcom’s $117 billion hostile takeover bid for U.S. rival Qualcomm because of national security concerns about China.
- Economic analyst Larry Kudlow, who appears frequently on CNBC, is the new front-runner to become Trump’s top economic policy adviser, but it’s not a done deal, Politico reported.
- A poll of a western Pennsylvania House district that Trump won by 20 points shows Democrat Conor Lamb ahead of Republican Rick Saccone in Tuesday’s special election. Trump campaigned for Saccone Saturday, but privately thinks he’s a terrible candidate, according to Axios.