Mueller’s not done nyet
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is following the money into the lobby and up the golden escalators of Trump Tower.
Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents, including all records related to Russia, as well as other topics under investigation, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story.
Witnesses recently interviewed by Mueller have been asked about a possible Moscow real estate deal, the Times said.
A central figure in a 2015 discussion about building a Trump Tower in Moscow was none other than Michael Cohen, the Trump lawyer/fixer who also served as the hush-money paymaster for porn star and alleged Trump paramour Stormy Daniels. Cohen at one point reached out to a top aide of Vladimir Putin for help.
More significantly, Mueller’s investigation has been drawing closer to the president’s business interests and shows no sign of winding down. The Trump Organization said it has been voluntarily providing documents.
Last summer, when Congress authorized new sanctions on Russia to retaliate for election meddling, Trump bitterly blamed lawmakers for a worsening U.S.-Russia relationship.
On Thursday, the Trump administration imposed the sanctions. Its move even targeted the 13 Russians indicted last month by Mueller — a step that wouldn’t make much sense if Trump still wanted to deride election-interference stories as a hoax.
The administration also accused Russia of a concerted hacking operation targeting the U.S. energy grid, aviation systems and other infrastructure. The White House joined the leaders of Britain, France and Germany in a statement blaming Moscow for the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy living in England.
“It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it,” Trump said.
Is Trump’s hope for a bromance with Putin over? Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if Putin is a friend or foe. “Russia is going to have to make that determination,” she replied. See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.
Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), visiting New Hampshire, tells The Associated Press that he won't say a definite "No" to the extremely daunting task of trying to run a primary against incumbent Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race.
"It's not in my plan to run for president, but I am not ruling it out. Somebody needs to stand up for traditional Republicanism," Flake said. "Somebody needs to raise that, for nothing else than to give people hope that that decent party will be back. We'll get through this."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is another Republican considering such a bid.
Janison: Not true? D’oh!
It’s not news that Trump lies or that he likes to brag. But he broke new ground by bragging about lying.
Speaking to a fundraiser audience, Trump said that in a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he claimed Canada had a trade surplus with the United States when in reality, “I didn’t even know. ... I had no idea.”
On Twitter Thursday morning, Trump suggested it turned out he was right. But his own trade office said no — the trade balance with Canada favors the United States. Also, Canada’s National Post said officials there can’t figure out what meeting he was talking about — it may have been a phone call.
Trump was very serious during the fundraising speech in complaining that Japan puts up unfair barriers to selling U.S.-made cars there.
He said one car surmounted all the hurdles until “the bowling ball test. ... That’s where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car. And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify.”
“It’s horrible, the way we’re treated. It’s horrible,” he said.
Maybe, but there’s no bowling ball test. Call it an alternative anecdote.
“Obviously, he is joking about this particular test, but it illustrates the creative ways some countries are able to keep American goods out of their markets,” Sanders said.
Don’t send green bananas to ...
... Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin or HUD Secretary Ben Carson, whose futures look no more secure after Sanders’ comments at Thursday’s briefing.
Shulkin could be axed for a scandal over his wife’s travel expenses and infighting with White House-installed senior staff. “We’re continuing to review the system … to see if we need to make policy or personnel changes,” said Sanders. The Washington Post reports Trump is looking at “Fox & Friends” co-host Pete Hegseth, an Iraq War veteran, for the job.
Carson’s on shaky ground after emails surfaced that undercut his story that he had no role in obtaining a $31,000 dining set for his office. The White House is “looking into” that, Sanders said.
They’re the latest examples of Trump Cabinet members in trouble over allegations of living large at taxpayer expense, writes The Washington Post, though not the only top officials on thin ice, The New York Times reports.
Not that it takes irregular behavior to be marked for departure. The Washington Post reports Trump has already decided to oust H.R. McMaster as national security adviser but doesn't want to humiliate the three-star general and would line up a successor first.
He lost that bet
Trump’s personal assistant, John McEntee, lost his White House job and was hustled out the door earlier this week because an investigation found he was a frequent high-stakes gambler, which made him a security risk, The Washington Post reports.
A background investigation found that McEntee bet tens of thousands of dollars at a time. But Trump’s campaign is betting that won’t be a problem, hiring him as senior adviser for operations.
What else is happening
- The Environmental Protection Agency spent more than $43,000 to install a private, soundproof phone booth in Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office, ABC News reported. Pruitt said he needed the secure phone to communicate with Trump.
- Donald Trump Jr.’s wife, Vanessa, is seeking an uncontested divorce from the president’s son. The couple, both 40 years old, married in 2005 and have five children.
- CIA Director Mike Pompeo's road to become secretary of state could face obstacles — including one by the name of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Politico writes.
- Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he spent five minutes at a St. Patrick’s Day lunch personally appealing to Trump to drop his opposition to $900 million in funding for the Gateway rail project. What did Trump say? King wouldn’t say. See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency, responsible for responding to disasters like hurricanes and floods, has stripped the words “climate change” from the strategic plan meant to guide its actions for the next four years, Bloomberg News reports.
- Trump’s interest in building up U.S. military capabilities in space could be a boon for Long Island defense and aerospace companies, which will hear a presentation from an official of the U.S. Air Force Space Command next week, reports Newsday’s Ken Schachter.
- The Trump administration may be ready next week to unveil its long-awaited plan to confront the opioid crisis. Along with treatment measures, it is expected to call for the death penalty for some drug dealers, Politico reported.
- Stormy Daniels' lawyer claims rather vaguely she was physically threatened to remain silent over an affair with Trump.