Art of the ‘don’t deal’
Of all the former Donald Trump campaign officials and advisers charged by special counsel Robert Mueller, only Paul Manafort has refused to take a plea bargain and pledge cooperation.
A reason, according to CBS News: He’s betting on a pardon from Trump if convicted.
A report in The New York Times suggests it’s not the craziest gamble: Last summer, before Mueller brought the charges of money laundering and other financial crimes, Trump lawyer John Dowd told Manafort’s lawyers that the president might be willing to pardon him.
A similar overture was made to lawyers for fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, and Dowd has said privately that he did not know why Flynn later agreed to plead guilty, the reports said.
Dowd, who quit as a Trump lawyer last week, issued a denial — “There were no discussions. Period” — and a not-quite-denial: “As far as I know, no discussions.” The White House said — in present tense — “no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House.”
Legal experts told The Washington Post that prosecutors could view the dangle of pardons as a criminal effort to encourage noncooperation in the Russia investigation and obstruct justice.
A court document filed by Mueller says former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates had repeated communications with a former Russian intelligence officer during the closing months of the 2016 presidential race.
The Russian was a business colleague of Gates and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, according to the document. These details emerged in a court filing for the upcoming sentencing of Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who worked with Gates and Manafort.
Gates knew about the Russian’s intelligence connections, the documents said. Gates is cooperating with Mueller as part of a plea bargain deal.
Doctor’s out, doctor’s in
In his parting tweet for the Veterans Affairs secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, Trump thanked him for his service.
Trump fired Shulkin Wednesday and said on Twitter that he would nominate his presidential physician, Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, to take his place. One major veterans group — AMVETS — questioned whether Jackson had the right experience to run a $186.5 billion bureaucracy for more than 20 million veterans.
Shulkin came under fire for of a 10-day, $122,000 taxpayer-funded business trip to Europe sightseeing with his wife. He also clashed with more conservative Trump appointees.
Jackson, who also was White House physician for Barack Obama, impressed Trump with his performance during a January news conference in which he gave him a clean bill of health after a physical. Jackson said he president likely has “incredible genes.”
See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.
Janison: Bleeding blue
The Trump administration’s decision to have the 2020 census ask about citizenship is consistent with a persistent administration agenda — whacking blue states like New York and California, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
If critics are correct that the result will be an undercount of people in places with many immigrants, resources can shift to Trump-friendlier red states. The same dynamic emerged in the recent tax-law changes.
A federal judge is allowing Maryland and the District of Columbia to go ahead with their lawsuit accusing Trump of accepting unconstitutional gifts from foreign interests who patronize the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
Judge Peter J. Messitte said the case is strengthened by statements from foreign officials “indicating that they are clearly choosing to stay at the president’s hotel because, as one ... has stated, they want him to know ‘I love your new hotel.’” The states say the result is unfair competition for other local businesses.
Messitte dismissed the parts of the suit that targeted Trump properties outside Washington.
The bounds of silence
Stormy Daniels’ lawyer asked a federal judge to order Trump to testify in a deposition about the $130,000 she was paid just before the 2016 election to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.
The attorney, Michael Avenatti, said he wants up to two hours to interrogate Trump. The questions for Trump and his lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen include whether Trump knew about the hush agreement and favored it. The porn star is seeking to be freed from the deal.
If Avenatti wins the motion, it could lead to the first deposition of a sitting president since Bill Clinton in 1998 had to answer questions about his conduct with women.
Neither the White House nor Trump’s lawyers have answered clearly what he knew about the payment and whether Cohen was ultimately reimbursed.
What else is happening:
- George Conway — a high-powered conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne Conway — is trolling Trump on Twitter again. He had recent barbs about the pardon-dangling report — “flabbergasting” — and on Trump hanging his spokespeople out to dry by saying one thing and doing another.
- A day after former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens urged gun control activists to wage a long shot battle to repeal the Second Amendment, Trump vowed on Twitter it will never happen, Figueroa reports for Newsday.
- Trump also tweeted that he was looking forward to his own forthcoming meeting with Kim Jong Un, saying there was a “good chance” the North Korean dictator “will do what is right for his people and for humanity,” Figueroa reports.
- An Axios report that Trump would like regulators to go after Amazon on antitrust or other grounds sent the giant online retailer’s stock plummeting 4.4%. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.
- The Trump White House won’t weigh in on recent controversies over police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. “This is something that is a local matter and that’s something that we feel should be left up to the local authorities,” said Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
- The Trump administration is considering a proposal to deny legal U.S. residency to immigrants who take advantage of tax breaks such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, The Washington Post reported.
- China’s meeting with Kim Jung-Un increased the North Korea dictator’s prestige and gives him a stronger hand in any nuclear talks, the Times reports.
- In a new hint of his priorities, Trump called and congratulated supporter Roseanne Barr for high ratings.