And Justice for Trump
The accelerated departure of Andrew McCabe as the FBI’s deputy director, reportedly under pressure from FBI Director Christopher Wray, comes as President Donald Trump’s White House is leaning harder on the Justice Department and the bureau to fall in line.
Chief of staff John Kelly conveyed Trump’s displeasure in calls and meetings with senior Justice officials on three days last week, according to Bloomberg News. Kelly ends such conversations with a disclaimer that the White House doesn’t expect officials to do anything illegal or unethical.
Trump has long insinuated that McCabe, a career FBI official, was biased against him and in cahoots with the Clintons. Wray indicated he asked McCabe to go based on an upcoming inspector general’s report on the bureau’s conduct during the 2016 election, including the Hillary Clinton email investigation, according to The New York Times and CNN.
Another source of Trump’s anger at Justice was its resistance, on national security grounds, to the release of a classified memo prepared by House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that alleges improper conduct in the Russia investigation. It would be “extraordinary reckless” to release it without an FBI and Justice review, a Justice official said.
The vote: Release the memo
On a party-line vote, the committee voted to make the memo public. Under the rules, Trump now has five days to review the document and decide whether to try to block it from going public. The White House has indicated he wants it put out.
The Times reported the memo targets officials including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller and is distrusted by Trump, for seeking a foreign intelligence surveillance warrant. The warrant’s target was Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, because of suspicions he was acting as a Russian agent.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), decried the decision: “That is apparently the standard now for the release of classified information. If it’s good for the president, then fine, regardless of its impacts.”
Some Trump GOP allies have been seeking to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “the White House has been fully cooperative” with Mueller and wants to “get this resolved.”
Say hello to Mrs. Loser
Trump’s suspicions about McCabe stemmed in large part from his wife Jill McCabe’s political activity. She ran for the Virginia State Senate as a Democrat with a fundraising assist from then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an ally of the Clintons.
After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, according to NBC News, the president called McCabe to complain that Comey was allowed to fly home on an FBI plane, according to NBC News. McCabe said he hadn’t authorized it, but would have approved it.
After a silence, Trump suggested McCabe ask his wife how it feels to be a loser, the report said. McCabe replied: “OK, sir,” and Trump hung up. A White House official who declined to be named disputed the report as “fiction.”
Melania’s fire and fury
Melania Trump was furious with her husband and felt blindsided following the report earlier this month of a $130,000 payment to silence a porn star who has told of an affair with Trump, The New York Times reported. The liaisons were said to have started while the Trumps were newlyweds.
But after keeping a low profile and dropping out of Trump’s trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, the first lady is expected to attend the State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
Trump returns to prime time
The president drew plaudits last year for the tone of his first address to a joint session of Congress, stoking expectations for a more unifying style of leadership. It didn’t last.
Within a week, he tweeted an unsubstantiated accusation that predecessor Barack Obama authorized a wiretap of Trump Tower during the campaign.
Trump will be back at 9 p.m. Tuesday for the State of the Union speech against the backdrop of the Russia investigation and the fight over immigration.
With a year in office behind him, reports Newsday’s Laura Figueroa Hernandez, Trump is expected to tout the strong economy and seek bipartisan support for an immigration plan. He will defend his vision for new immigration restrictions, a solution to DACA and border security, including the wall.
Of Dreamers and nightmares
Long Islanders whose stories are symbolic of two perspectives in the immigration debate will be in the House gallery for Trump’s speech, reports Newsday’s Figueroa and Víctor Manuel Ramos.
The parents of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, two Brentwood teenagers allegedly beaten to death by MS-13 gang members in 2016, will be there as guests of the president and first lady.
Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) invited a Dreamer — Nelson Melgar, 27, an immigrant from Honduras. Suozzi said he wanted to highlight immigrants’ positive contributions.
Sancts, but no sancts
The Trump administration, facing a deadline set by Congress, said Monday night it won’t implement Russia-related sanctions mandated by Congress last year.
The law called for sanctions against those who do business with Russian defense and intelligence firms. A State Department official said the threat alone was deterring such deals.
At the same time, the Treasury Department "named major Russian businessmen including the heads of the country’s two biggest banks, metals magnates and the boss of the state gas monopoly on a list of oligarchs close to the Kremlin," Reuters reports here.
What else is happening
- Fugitive Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks site is described by Trump's CIA as a "hostile non-state intelligence service," tried offering dirt on Democratic Sen. Mark Warner to Fox News' Trump defender Sean Hannity via Twitter. But the Hannity account turned out to be a fake.
- Hillary Clinton mocked Trump with a reading from the “Fire and Fury” book at the Grammy Awards, but it didn’t bait him into tweeting. He left it to White House spokesman Raj Shah to dismiss “the left and the elite centers of America” who “are frankly out of touch.”
- Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former “Apprentice” star whose White House communications gig ended tumultuously in December, is returning to reality TV in the new season’s cast of “Celebrity Big Brother.”
- Alex Azar, a former Eli Lilly and Co. executive, was sworn in as Trump’s second secretary of Health and Human Services. “He’s going to get those prescription drug prices way down,” said Trump, reviving a campaign promise.
- Trump said on Monday that he would oppose any negotiation with the Taliban after it carried out multiple deadly attacks in Afghanistan in recent days. There may be a time, but it’s going to be in a long time.
- CIA director Mike Pompeo told the BBC that the intelligence agency expects that Russia will target the U.S. midterm elections later this year.
- One of Trump’s Florida golf clubs is suing a Palm Beach County property appraiser, saying she overestimated its value as $19 million. However, Trump, in his federal financial disclosure lists the Trump National Golf Club’s value at more than $50 million.