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Trump retreats from spotlight as nation mourns John McCain

Then-Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks

Then-Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks at a rally outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 3, 2008.  Photo Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

Grievances trump grief

If he kept to his usual TV-watching Sunday morning routine, Donald Trump could see it was not a day he could dominate the political news landscape, so he didn't make much of an effort. He retweeted a few of his own posts from Friday and Saturday, sent out a fresh one cheering the economy and headed for his golf course in Virginia.

America this week will be saying a long goodbye with pomp and circumstance befitting a statesman and national hero to Sen. John McCain, who died Saturday of brain cancer. From all indications, Trump wants no part of it, and those who were closest to McCain want no part of the president either. 

A perfunctory tweet from Trump offered "hearts and prayers" to the senator's family but contained not a word of tribute to McCain himself. White House aides had drafted a more fulsome tribute, but Trump nixed it, The Washington Post reported.

It's a case of grudge after death on both sides. The Arizona Republican senator, who worked with his family on funeral planning, reportedly directed that Trump be barred. Instead, as McCain requested, two former presidents whom Trump despises, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, will deliver eulogies in a service Saturday at Washington's National Cathedral.

McCain's antipathy to Trump and Trumpism was a defining feature of the final chapters of his political career. Accepting an award last fall, McCain decried “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.” Last month, McCain called Trump's Helsinki news conference with Russia's Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

The nation — much of it, anyway — has grown shock-resistant to Trump's behavior, but it was still a stunner back in July 2015 when Trump, campaigning in Iowa, belittled McCain's military service and sacrifice. Shot down over North Vietnam, the Navy pilot McCain endured 5 1/2 years of captivity and torture. “He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” 

Even through McCain's final days, it has been a standard feature of Trump rallies for him to complain, without saying his name, how McCain cast the decisive vote last year against a Republican plan to repeal Obamacare. 

One possible consolation for Trump as the nation pays its respects to McCain: a momentary shift of attention away from scandals that reached new intensity in the past week.

They speak for themselves

Though the president couldn't bring himself to say something nice about McCain, others in the White House did, including Melania Trump.

"Thank you Senator McCain for your service to the nation," the first lady tweeted.

Senior aide Kellyanne Conway wrote on Twitter: "Gratitude and respect for John McCain, who served the nation honorably and courageously as a Navy Captain, POW in Vietnam, and US Senator." Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a message to McCain's daughter Meghan: "He was a great American. God bless you and your family."

Vice President Mike Pence said, "We honor his lifetime of service to this nation in our military and in public life. ... God bless John McCain." Pence is expected to attend the funeral.

Early Monday, however, Trump still seemed to be paying his disrespects. Unlike the flag above the Capitol, the White House flag was no longer flying at half-staff two days after McCain's death. 

She begs, don't pardon

A pro-Trump member of the jury that found former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty of tax and bank fraud said she believes it would be a "grave mistake" for Trump to give him a pardon.

“Justice was done, the evidence was there, and that’s where it should stop," Paula Duncan told CNN. In a Reuters interview, Duncan said that sparing Manafort from serving a prison sentence “would look like President Trump was saying it’s OK that you broke the law. It’s not OK to break the law.”

Trump has portrayed Manafort as a fellow victim of special counsel Robert Mueller's "witch hunt."

Did Cohen mouthpiece blow smoke?

Lanny Davis, an attorney and spokesman for Michael Cohen, is now raising doubts about the reliability of information that he passed along — that Trump's ex-lawyer can tell investigators that the president knew in 2016 about Russian efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton.

Davis told The Washington Post that he is no longer certain about claims he made to reporters on background and on the record about Trump’s awareness of the Russian efforts. Davis did not rule out that his claims were correct but said he could not independently corroborate them.

Cohen, meanwhile, tweeted out an appeal for donations to a “Michael Cohen Truth Fund” to help with his legal expenses.

Steady as he polls

Trump's approval rating was little changed after the guilty plea of Cohen and the conviction of Manafort last week, according to an NBC News/The Wall Street Journal poll. The latest survey put it at 44 percent, with 52 percent disapproving.

But 56 percent of voters believe Trump has not been honest and truthful regarding the Mueller investigation, the poll found.

An Associated Press poll released Friday measured Trump's approval rating as 38 percent, with 60 percent disapproving. That survey was conducted before the courtroom action for Cohen and Manafort. His best mark — 51 percent — was for his handling of the economy.

What else is happening:

  • Defense Secretary James Mattis, paying tribute to McCain, said "We have lost a man who steadfastly represented the best ideals of our country . . . . Passionately committed to our country, Senator McCain always put service to the nation before self."
  • Mexico and the United States may be reaching a partial accord on trade stemming from NAFTA talks, officials told the Washington Post.
  • North Korea’s state-controlled newspaper accused the United States of “double-dealing” and “hatching a criminal plot” against Pyongyang after Trump called off a planned visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo because of a lack of progress in nuclear arms negotiations, Reuters reported.
  • A federal judge in Washington on Saturday struck down most of Trump’s executive orders limiting the power of federal employee unions, Politico reported.
  • Legal experts fear Trump's attacks on the justice system, including recent comments against the practice of "flipping" defendants to turn against higher-ups, is directly undermining the people and processes that are the foundation of law enforcement, The New York Times reported.
  • House Republicans have compiled a list of more than a dozen investigations that they figure Democrats will launch against Trump and his administration if they take over the House in the November elections, according to Axios.
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on CNN's "State of the Union" there isn't a strong enough case yet for impeaching Trump. "I don’t think we should be talking about it and embracing it before we’ve seen the full body of evidence," he said.


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