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Trump is testing Lindsey Graham's obedience

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday. Credit: EPA/Michael Reynolds

Roll over. Fetch. Attack!

Sen. Lindsey Graham tries to be Donald Trump's best friend in Washington, but every now and then when he pulls on the leash, the president and his inner circle figuratively whacks him on the snout with a rolled-up newspaper. (Not The New York Times or The Washington Post — more on that later.)

The White House and Trump's allies have been pressing Graham to call Judiciary Committee hearings as a counterpoint to the House impeachment inquiry. Graham's current push for a Senate resolution attacking the House closed-door proceedings didn't satisfy them. A #WheresLindsey hashtag trended on pro-Trump Twitter.

Axios reported a "source close to" Donald Trump Jr. said: "If you’re going to talk the talk on Fox, you better walk the walk in the chamber. And a resolution is just talk. People expect action." The president tweeted praise of the House Republicans who crashed and disrupted an impeachment inquiry session Wednesday.

Graham resisted. “I’m going to do it the way I want to do it,” he told reporters. “I’m not going to turn the Senate into a circus. I can understand the frustration the Republicans have with the process in the House.”

Last week, swatting away Graham's bitter criticisms over U.S. abandonment of the Kurds in Syria, Trump said the South Carolina senator "should focus on Judiciary" and investigate Trump's foes.

Graham peeled back from comments earlier in the week comparing the Trump White House's anti-impeachment messaging to Bill Clinton's two decade ago. "I did not mean to leave some with the impression the White House needed to hire a new team to handle impeachment," he said.

Graham also needs to hope that his resolution passes and doesn't turn into a dog's breakfast of a mess that embarrasses him and Trump. He tweeted the names of 46 co-sponsors, including himself, from the 53 Republicans in the Senate. He needs more.

Arrested undevelopment

Some of the two dozen House Republicans who stormed a closed impeachment-inquiry hearing on Wednesday asked to get arrested, savoring the spectacle that would have ensued if they were marched out of the secure room and in front of news cameras in handcuffs, Fox News reported. But security officials did not oblige them.

About one-fourth of House Republicans are eligible to attend the sessions because they are members of the investigating committees or hold leadership positions. Among them, according to BuzzFeed, is Vice President Mike Pence's brother, Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana, a freshman who is assigned to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Janison: The deep end

Trump reflexively blames many of his troubles on the so-called "deep state," but his complaints look shallow when so many of its players are those he put in place, notes Newsday's Dan Janison.

He cried "deep state" following reports that Rudy Giuliani was under investigation. By who? By Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who Trump appointed.

A similar credibility problem arises for Trump in the impeachment inquiry. William Taylor, the veteran U.S. diplomat who gave blockbuster testimony on the Ukraine scandal, was put in his job by Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The top-flight government professionals Trump disparages know their jobs well, but that sometimes puts them in the way of his whims. Trump's "deep state" allegations have proved to be so empty and selfish that they could collectively give honest paranoid conspiracy theorists across the land a bad name, Janison writes.

Probe of 'witch hunt' escalates

The Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr has escalated the probe Trump demanded of the Russia investigation’s origins, The New York Times reported. It is now a criminal investigation, more serious than an administrative review.

The move gives the prosecutor running it, U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges.

The opening of a criminal investigation is likely to raise alarms that Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies, the Times said. It also creates an unusual situation in which the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into itself.

Kurds in the way

Trump is not known to be sympathetic to refugees, but he seems keen to create more of them.

In a tweet Thursday, he encouraged the Syrian Kurds who came into the path of a Turkish invasion to move. "Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!" said Trump.

That would mean leaving their homes, livelihoods and traditional homeland to relocate hundreds of miles away in a desert area that is getting some U.S. protection after the pullout from the Kurdish zone. CNN points out that the current population of the oil region, mostly Arab, is unlikely to welcome a sudden Kurdish influx.

Polls apart 

A day after a CNN poll showed Joe Biden with a big lead in the 2020 Democratic nomination contest, a Quinnipiac poll Thursday showed Elizabeth Warren on top by a significant margin.

Quinnipiac's rankings: Warren, 28%; Biden, 21%; Bernie Sanders, 15%; Pete Buttigieg, 10%; and Kamala Harris, 5%.

CNN's count: Biden, 34%; Warren, 19%; Sanders, 16%; and Buttigieg and Harris, 6% each.

Even the polls' margins of error (CNN's was larger) don't account for the discrepancy.

Keeping up with the Conways

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway took extreme exception to an item in the conservative Washington Examiner that noted speculation she could become Trump's chief of staff. That's not what set her off. It was the part that mentioned her husband George Conway's prolific and public Trump-loathing.

The reporter, Caitlin Yilek, recorded the call in which Conway berated her, mocked her, called her names and then threatened to investigate her personal life.

“Let me tell you something, from a powerful woman," Conway said. "Don’t pull the crap where you’re trying to undercut another woman based on who she’s married to. He gets his power through me, if you haven’t noticed."

She went on at length, her anger intensifying, and warned, “If you’re going to cover my personal life, then we’re welcome to do the same around here." Click here for audio from the call. There's also a transcript.

What else is happening:

  • Days after ordering White House staff to end print subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post, Trump is directing all federal agencies to do likewise, press secretary Stephanie Grisham told The Wall Street Journal.
  • If there was any doubt that Trump's tweet calling never-Trump Republicans "human scum" was the official position of the White House, Grisham put that to rest. They are "just that" and "deserve strong language like that,” Grisham said on "Fox & Friends."
  • New Jersey's attorney general is seeking to revoke the liquor license for Trump’s Bedminster golf club over a 2015 case where a man served too much to drink there caused a fatal car wreck, The Washington Post reported.
  • No matter what Trump's lawyers say, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the president would be arrested by the NYPD if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.
  • Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio hasn't made it to the Democratic debate stage since July, so it may have been surprising to some that he was still running for president. Until Thursday, that is. He got out.
  • A senior student-loan official in the Trump administration, A. Wayne Johnson, resigned and endorsed canceling most of the nation’s outstanding student debt, calling the loan system “fundamentally broken,” The Wall Street Journal reported. That aligns the Betsy DeVos appointee with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, whose plans DeVos called "crazy."
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is under investigation by the National Archives and Records Administration over the use of private email for official business, Politico reported.
  • Trump tweeted Thursday he was only joking during a speech in Pittsburgh the day earlier when, rattling off a list of places getting a wall, he said, "We're building a wall in Colorado." Ha-ha? But there were lots of laughs for meme-makers churning out Sharpie-altered maps imagining Colorado on the border.

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