Brawl in the family
America's divide over Donald Trump slices through the middle of Kellyanne and George Conway's household. She is the president's senior counselor who created "alternative facts" to defend falsehoods. He is the conservative lawyer-turned-never-Trumper who declares Trump too "mentally unstable" for office.
On Monday, the Conways' cold war turned hot. In a sharp escalation, they aimed fire directly at each other with weapons-grade Twitter snark.
In one exchange, Kellyanne tweeted a video of former Vice President Joe Biden telling children an awkward story about his leg hair with the comment: "Sleepy Joe is Creepy Joe. We need Ukraine's help to defeat THIS guy?"
George retweeted his wife with at observation: "Your boss apparently thought so" — a reference to the allegation at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. Conway-watchers said it was the first time George quote-tweeted Kellyanne in their feud over Trump.
A follow-up tweet from Kellyanne said, "The amateur armchair psychiatrists" — that means George — "ought to take a crack at Creepy Joe."
In the past, Kellyanne has suggested George has gotten attention by riding on the coattails of her fame. Vanity Fair reported its sources say George privately tells friends, "She’s in a cult." Trump calls George "a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!"
In October, Kellyanne tried to play down the battles, saying, “Like every couple I know, George and I disagree on many big things and agree on many big things.” Still, some of Kellyanne's 3 million Twitter followers and George's 800,000 are left to wonder how they stay together.
Nattering at NATO
Trump hit the ground running his mouth Tuesday as he arrived in London for a two-day NATO meeting.
Reacting to the hypothetical prospect of a censure instead of an impeachment, he said: “The Democrats have gone nuts, they’re crazy. And it is very bad for our country."
He called it "unpatriotic" to proceed against him.
Trump also signalled he could wait another year for a trade deal with China, saying "I have no deadline," which predictably sent stocks downward.
Reacting to French President Emmanuel Macron's recent statement that NATO is "brain dead," Trump called it "a very, very nasty statement essentially to 28 countries....It's a very dangerous statement for them to make ... I do see France breaking off."
Trump gets Paged
Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer, has ended her public silence after enduring nearly two years of Trump's ridicule. Her Trump-disdaining texts from 2016 with then-FBI agent Peter Strzok, with whom she had an affair, got Strzok bounced from the Russia investigation the following year and cast them as players in a supposed "deep state" plot against Trump.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Page called Trump's attacks "sickening" and said Trump's depiction at a rally of her and Strzok in a "demeaning fake orgasm was really the straw that broke the camel’s back.” (The video shows the president mimicking the couple in breathless passion.) More seriously, and without foundation, Trump has accused her of treason. "My heart drops to my stomach when I realize he has tweeted about me again," she said.
Page said she expects a forthcoming report by the Justice Department's inspector general will show "my personal opinions had absolutely no bearing on the course of the Russia investigations," though "I don't kid myself that the fact will matter very much for a lot of people." Those people include a president with "a very loud megaphone.”
Sure enough, Trump, while on his way to London for a NATO summit, fired off another tweet mocking "the lover of Peter Strzok" who "talks about being 'crushed' and how innocent she is."
But what do the Conways think? Kellyanne, on Fox News, belittled Page, saying "she feels really sorry for herself," adding later: “I’m not a woman who feels sorry for myself.” George tweeted at Page: "Good for you. Trump lied about you. He lies about everyone, and everything."
Barr to Trump's rescue, again?
Attorney General William Barr has told associates he disagrees with the Justice Department’s inspector general on key findings — that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation of members of the Trump campaign, The Washington Post reported.
That conclusion, due out in an upcoming report, would sorely disappoint Trump, who wants validation for his persistent "witch hunt" complaints. It’s not yet clear how Barr plans to make his objection to Michael Horowitz’s findings known, the Post said.
Before special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation conclusions were issued, Barr issued a summary spun more favorable to Trump than the report itself.
Janison: Trump's ghost deals
Trump calls himself a master deal-maker. There's a sports adage that the best deals are the ones never made. By that standard, perhaps Trump is a master.
On his Afghanistan trip last week, Trump said the U.S. was meeting with the Taliban again, that they want a cease-fire "and they want to make a deal very badly." Problem is, no one back home could corroborate the happy talk. Nor could either of the warring sides in Afghanistan, notes Newsday's Dan Janison.
The claim — that the other side is eager for a deal — has been a trademark of Trump's other negotiations-to-nowhere on North Korea, Iran, the Palestinians and the China trade war. In one sense or another, he's an artist.
Without fear of contradiction
Gary Cohn, Trump’s former chief economic adviser, says he's worried that no one is left at the White House who tries to get Trump to face facts.
“I am concerned that the atmosphere in the White House is no longer conducive or no one has the personality to stand up and tell the president what he doesn't want to hear,” Cohn said on The Axe Files podcast.
Trump's first group of senior aides "was willing to tell the president what he needed to know whether he wanted to hear it or not," Cohn said. “None of us are there anymore."
Is Trump's current predicament — facing impeachment — a consequence of surrounding himself with loyalists? “I don’t know, but it may be,” Cohn said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave an interview to Time magazine and three European publications. Trump's takeaway? "The Ukrainian president came out and said very strongly that President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong. That should be case over,” he said.
Trump's summary did not quite capture the tone of Zelensky's comments, which were as critical as he has been of the U.S. president.
“Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing,” Zelensky said. But the U.S. withholding military aid while Trump's emissaries sought investigations of political rivals grated.
"I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness."
Depicting Ukraine as corrupt was harmful, Zelensky said. “The United States of America is a signal, for the world, for everyone. When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals,” he said.
Rudy's guys may face new charges
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Monday that new charges are likely against two associates of Rudy Giuliani.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman already are indicted in a scheme to skirt campaign finance laws as part of a plot to oust the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. A new indictment could include additional defendants as well as more charges.
Giuliani has acknowledged that he worked with Parnas and Fruman to dig up dirt on the Bidens. Federal prosecutors have been investigating Giuliani’s business dealings.
Parnas has offered cooperation to House impeachment investigators, and his lawyer asked the court to release materials seized during his arrest to the House committees.
What else is happening:
- Lawmakers got their first look at the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report Monday night behind closed doors. Republicans issued an early rebuttal, labeling the proceedings a “hoax."
- Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), an early Trump supporter, will plead guilty to a campaign finance charge Tuesday. Another original supporter, ex-GOP Rep. Chris Collins of upstate New York, pleaded guilty to insider trading in October. When they were charged, Trump lashed out at then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
- Trump announced Monday that the U.S. will "restore" steel and aluminum tariffs on Brazil and Argentina because a "massive devaluation of their currencies" will hurt American farmers. He's also considering tariffs of up to 100% on some French imports, including cheese and sparkling wine.
- The latest Democratic 2020 hopeful to bite the dust is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who ended his campaign Monday. There at 16 left.
- The Trump campaign said it will ban Bloomberg News reporters from rallies after its top editor restricted journalistic investigation of Democratic 2020 candidates including principal owner Michael Bloomberg, but not of Trump.
- Trump debuted a new derisive Twitter nickname for Bloomberg: "Mini Mike."
- A Morning Consult poll found Bloomberg's support among Democratic primary voters has grown to 5%, placing him fifth. He has bought more than $30 million in TV ads since his late entry.
- Google and YouTube took down more than 300 Trump video ads for violating company policy, though it's not clear which policies were violated, CBS News' "60 Minutes" reported.