Looks like Trump’s hand-picked top G-man isn’t going to be the yes man he wanted.
Always looking to discredit the Russia investigation, Trump hasn’t hidden his eagerness to make public a memo from his ally, Devin Nunes, the House intelligence committee chairman. Using classified material, Nunes purports to show FBI abuses in seeking a surveillance warrant on former campaign adviser Carter Page.
When a GOP congressman at the State of the Union speech urged him to release it, Trump was heard on a hot mic replying: “Don’t worry, 100 percent.” Wednesday morning, White House chief of staff John Kelly said on Fox Radio: “It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and the whole world can see it.”
Soon after came a remarkable public warning to Trump from the FBI: Don’t do it.
“We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” a statement from the bureau said. That signals FBI Director Christopher Wray is willing to cross Trump, who up until now has voiced confidence in his replacement for James Comey.
The Justice Department also has warned that releasing the memo would harm intelligence-gathering. See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Tom Brune.
It’s Trump’s move
The White House had no comment in response to the FBI statement. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN that a legal and national security review of the document was underway.
Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller continues to show interest in Trump’s efforts to get Justice and the FBI in his corner in the Russia probe. Mueller’s office obtained documents on the near-resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ABC News reported. In addition, there are new reports the president asked Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein if he was on his "team."
Trump angrily had demanded Sessions quit for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, but backed down after advisers said it would make the uproar over Comey’s firing worse.
There was also a new twist in the story of FBI agent Peter Strzok, bounced from Mueller’s team and a target of the president’s tweets for text messages critical of Trump. CNN reported Strzok played a key role in the October 2016, decision to reopen the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Democrat said that cost her the election.
Janison: Detente with GOP
Judging from the State of the Union address, Trump seems to have tamed his tendency to pick fights with fellow Republicans in Congress.
One reason is that bomb-thrower Stephen Bannon, who promoted insurgencies against the so-called GOP establishment, has left the scene, and Newsday’s Dan Janison points out another:
Trump may well regard House Speaker Paul Ryan and his colleagues as his key protectors against Mueller.
Trump’s appeal Tuesday night to bipartisanship in tackling immigration, infrastructure and other pressing issues quickly fizzled as Democrats criticized his speech and challenged his agenda, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized the address as divisive,” with an agenda that holds Dreamers “hostage” to harsh immigration measures and offers a “lame and puny infrastructure proposal.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump “stoked the fires of division instead of bringing us closer together.”
Early Thursday Trump returned to blaming the "out" party on immigration.
A bump for Trump
The tax plan passed by congressional Republicans two months ago is gaining public support, with Americans evenly divided on whether or not they like it, according to a Monmouth University poll. In December, just 26 percent approved of the bill and 47 percent disapproved.
Trump’s approval rating improved to 42 percent — up 10 points — in the poll, which was conducted Sunday through Tuesday.
CDC chief smoked
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, resigned Wednesday following a report in Politico that she bought shares in a tobacco company one month after starting the job.
The Trump administration’s top public health official resigned because she could not disentangle herself from financial conflicts of interest, Health and Human Services spokesman Matt Lloyd said.
Fake news watch
Back on Twitter early Thursday, Trump tried to claim the "highest number" ever to watch his annual address to Congress. Once again, the facts put him in a deficit with his predecessor Barack Obama, who got a bigger audience in 2010.
What else is happening
- Fact-checkers found much to dispute in Trump’s State of the Union speech, including his stats on job creation and his description of “chain migration.” Here are compilations from The Washington Post and FactCheck.org. Warning: They are not quick reads.
- The White House’s Sanders made fun of Pelosi’s stony expression at the speech. “I think she should smile a lot more often. I think the country would be better for it,” Sanders said on CNN. Pelosi’s spokesman shot back: Sanders “should lie less often. ... The whole country would be better for it.”
- It’s still unclear exactly how Trump’s infrastructure ideas — described in his speech as a $1.5 trillion investment — would raise the money. Generally speaking, it counts on state and local governments working with private investors to come up with much of the cash.
- Trump started his formal re-election campaign earlier than any of his recent predecessors, and it finished 2017 with more than $22 million on hand.
- Federal immigration authorities have formalized a policy to send deportation agents to federal, state and local courthouses to make arrests, dismissing complaints from judges and advocacy groups that it instills fear among crime victims, witnesses and family members.
- The Trump administration is expected to let nearly 7,000 Syrians remain in the United States for another 18 months, but won’t let more Syrian citizens apply for the special protection program, The Associated Press reported.