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The official White House line on Mueller probe: What, us worry?

George Papadopoulos, third from left, is seen in

George Papadopoulos, third from left, is seen in a photograph released on Donald Trump's Instagram account (@realDonaldTrump) on April 1, 2016, saying it was taken during a meeting on March 31, 2016. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

Put on a happy face

Some Donald Trump allies say he should fire Robert Mueller. Steve Bannon urged him to cut off funding for the special counsel’s office. But while reports depict a seething Trump and shaken staff, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insists the White House is just fine with how it’s going, and besides, it will be over “soon.”

“All they’ve done is come up with ways and shown more and more that there was no connection between the Trump campaign and collusion with Russia,” Sanders said at Tuesday’s briefing.

As relentless in casting Monday’s indictments in the sunniest light as Trump is in tweeting about “Fake News,” Sanders had a novel interpretation of a Mueller prosecutor’s comment during the guilty plea hearing for campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who admitted lying to the FBI about Russia-related contacts.

The court was told the Papadopolous case was “a small part” of “a large-scale, ongoing investigation.”

Sanders’ spin: “Maybe his reference is in looking more to come between the Democrats and the Clinton campaign.”

She wouldn’t say why she keeps predicting Mueller’s probe will end soon.

Small fry

Trump and the White House portrayed Papadopolous, who is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigators, as a nobody not to be trusted, reports Newsday’s Emily Ngo.

“Few people knew the young, low-level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar,” Trump tweeted.

But Papadopolous attended a meeting of Trump advisers and was introduced by Trump himself as “an excellent guy” at a March 2016, meeting with The Washington Post editorial board.

According to the Post, his campaign supervisor was national co-chairman Sam Clovis and he kept campaign manager Corey Lewandowski informed about his Russian relationship-building efforts. Also in the loop: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, both accused in indictments of various financial crimes related to lobbying for pro-Russian Ukrainian interests.

Response to terror attack

Trump praised first responders and pledged his administration’s full support to the NYPD through its joint investigation with the FBI after the deadly terrorist attack on a bicycle path near the World Trade Center.

In a tweet, Trump said, “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” He did not make specific reference to his travel ban efforts.

The suspect reportedly came to the United States from Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic that hasn’t been a target of the ban.

The take-away: Up the anti-

Trump’s not on the ballot in 2017, but you wouldn’t know it from Democrats’ ads and pitches in regional races seeking to capitalize on his unpopularity, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

One of them is Bill de Blasio. Sen. Bernie Sanders told a rally for the New York City mayor, “Everything that Mayor de Blasio is trying to do is exactly the opposite of what Donald Trump is trying to do. And you should be very proud of that.”

De Blasio retains his boogeyman status in Republican appeals outside of the five boroughs, including the Nassau county executive’s race.

Deductions a half-dead duck?

Nine House Republicans from New York were awaiting word on how the Trump administration will come down on the issue of state and local tax deductions, Politico reported.

Losing the deduction in the forthcoming tax overhaul plan will be a blow to high-tax states. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the House plan will keep the deduction for property taxes, but eliminate it for state and local income taxes.

Never one to undersell, Trump Tuesday predicted a grand signing ceremony before Christmas at “the biggest tax event in the history of our country.”

Fine folks on both sides, redux

White House chief of staff John Kelly, credited after he took the job for bringing order to the West Wing, is increasingly becoming a lightning rod, generating his own controversies.

The latest flap comes from a Fox News interview in which he praised Confederate general Robert E. Lee as an “honorable man” and blamed the Civil War on “the lack of an ability to compromise.”

Left unclear is where he saw a lost chance for compromise between Southern demands for the expansion of slavery in Western territories and Northern efforts to abolish it.

Kelly contended loyalty to states was more important than loyalty to country then, and “men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had made them stand.”

What else is happening

  • Clovis, who supervised Papadopolous for the campaign, is already facing opposition to his nomination as the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist. Foes say the climate-change skeptic and former conservative radio host is not a trained scientist.
  • Coal miners are shunning a retraining program in southern Pennsylvania as they express faith in Trump's unlikely promise of an industry revival, Reuters reports.
  • With Trump’s Asia trip near, Kelly tried to put the campaign-time China-bashing in perspective. “They beat us pretty badly in terms of trade. That doesn’t make them an enemy. ... I wouldn’t even consider them competitors, necessarily, just simply another world power,” he said in his Fox interview.
  • A senior administration official said Trump has “a warm rapport” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has sanctioned death-squad killings of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers. Trump will see Duterte on his final stop of the 12-day trip.
  • The White House confirmed that Trump will not visit the Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea during his trip.
  • U.S. Muslim political and advocacy groups say more Muslims are running for office in reaction to Trump’s attitude toward them, BuzzFeed reports.
  • The White House has released its official portraits of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. They will be distributed for display at post offices, federal agencies and other government buildings around the nation and available for sale to the public.

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