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Trump can’t admit he may already be winning on the border

Central American migrants line up for food in

Central American migrants line up for food in Mexico on Tuesday. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Victoria Razo

Borderline anxiety

In 2000, 1.6 million people were caught trying to illegally cross the border from Mexico. In the 2017 fiscal year, there were 303,916 — the fewest in four decades and a 26% decline over the previous year.

Immigration officials chalked up the improvement to “possibly reflecting an increased deterrent effect” after President Donald Trump ordered new enforcement measures.

So why doesn’t Trump just declare that he is winning? It may be because he has convinced supporters, and perhaps himself, that nothing less than a border wall will do.

Hard-liners in his base have grown more restive since Trump signed a spending bill last month that didn’t cover the wall’s $25 billion cost. In the past week, they’ve spread alarm about a “caravan” of Central American refugees in Mexico, some of whom hope to seek asylum in U.S.

That sent Trump into a three-day Twitter tirade, claiming the migrants were trying to take advantage of DACA (legally impossible). He threatened to blow up the NAFTA deal with Mexico and cut off aid to Honduras. “Our laws are so weak and so pathetic,” Trump said.

He announced plans Tuesday to put the military along the border “until we can have a wall and proper security.” See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.

Which boots on what ground?

Trump said he has spoken to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, but didn’t make it entirely clear what kind of military deployment Trump has in mind. The White House said Tuesday night that “the mobilization of the National Guard” is part of the plan.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama sent Guard troops to the border during parts of their administrations to support the border patrol. But a direct law enforcement role by the Guard or the regular military poses legal complications.

There also are questions over whether the states or the federal government would pay for Guard deployments.

Not on the hook, not off it

Special counsel Robert Mueller told Trump’s attorneys last month that he does not consider the president a criminal target at this point, The Washington Post reported, citing three people familiar with the discussions.

So he’s home free? Nope.

Mueller described Trump as a subject of his investigation into Russian election interference, the report said. Prosecutors view a subject as someone whose conduct is under investigation without sufficient evidence to bring charges.

But Mueller also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice.

Some Trump advisers note that subjects can become targets and fear Mueller wants to bait Trump into submitting to an interview that could put him in greater legal peril, the report said. But Trump thinks an interview with Mueller will help him.

Janison: Wall St.’s Trumpy ride

Only 90 days ago, Trump was taking a victory lap for a surge in the stock market. He built no credibility with which to now explain why its swoon, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Just as the corporate tax breaks drafted were touted as a driving factor for the up market, the administration’s recent exchange of hostile tariff moves with China was blamed for the latest falloff.

Trump’s attacks on Amazon and threats of moves against the online retailing giant caused its share price to fall, taking indexes down with it.

Toxic enough to dump yet?

In a phone call Monday, Trump told EPA chief Scott Pruitt “We’ve got your back,” administration officials told The Associated Press. On Tuesday, it was more like: Watch your back.

“I hope he’s going to be great,” Trump told reporters.

Pruitt has faced mounting ethics concerns over his first-class travel spending, extreme security demands and ties to Washington lobbyists.

Now The Atlantic reports Pruitt made an end run around White House officials who turned down his request to give two of his favorite aides big raises. Pruitt found a way to reappoint them to jobs that didn’t require a White House salary signoff.

Two House Republicans joined Democrats and environmental groups in calling on Pruitt to resign or be fired. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida tweeted Pruitt’s “corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the administration, and his conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers.”

Syria-sly?

Trump seemed to have blindsided his top advisers Tuesday by saying he wanted to remove U.S. troops from Syria “very quickly.”

As the president was speaking to reporters at the White House, high-ranking U.S. officials spoke elsewhere in Washington about the need to stay in Iraq and Syria, finish off ISIS and keep it from rising up again.

But Trump said, “We’ve completed that task.” He left open the possibility of staying longer if Saudi Arabia pays for it.

The name game

In a tweet about a poll, Trump said he compared favorably to “cheatin’ Obama.”

It’s surprising that it took him this long to give a nasty nickname to his predecessor after years of bogus birtherism on Barack Obama’s citizenship, unfounded accusations that the 44th president had his “ ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” and the trashing of Obama’s record nonstop.

Another name-calling taunt came in a tweet assailing CNN and its president, “Little Jeff Zuker” (he misspelled Zucker).

Zucker joins a short list of Trump targets mocked for their height — “Little Marco” Rubio, “Liddle Bob Corker,” “Little Adam Schiff” and “Little Rocket Man.”

What else is happening

  • Mueller’s Russia investigation has yielded its first sentencing: Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who lied to federal agents investigating former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was ordered to serve 30 days in prison and fined $20,000.
  • EPA staff invited only Fox News to bring a camera to Pruitt’s news conference Tuesday on relaxing auto emissions and didn’t tell the other networks. Fox didn’t go along with the freeze-out; it shared its video feed.
  • Appearing with leaders from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — the Baltic nations that suffered half a century of Soviet domination — Trump said, “nobody has been tougher on Russia” than him. He added that “getting along with Russia is a good thing,” but “there’s also a great possibility that won’t happen.”
  • Trump’s expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats last week doesn’t mean they can’t be replaced with the same number of personnel, the State Department said. The same applies to the Americans ordered out by the Kremlin.
  • China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, warned that Beijing says it will respond to any new trade tariffs by the United States with measures of the same scale and intensity.
  • Five sources told Bloomberg News that despite Trump’s threats, there are no active discussions about turning the power of his administration against Amazon. Its stock price recovered by 1.46% Tuesday.
  • Jessica Denson, a former employee of Trump’s 2016 campaign team, is suing to nullify a nondisclosure agreement. She also sued in November claiming she was discriminated against, harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment.

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