‘How did this happen?’
A frustrated Donald Trump has been calling friends and allies to ask when the Rob Porter scandal is going to end. The word Wednesday from the Republican-led House: Not soon.
Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told CNN he has opened an investigation. He has a lot of questions for chief of staff John Kelly, White House counsel Don McGahn and others about Porter, whose two ex-wives told the FBI last year that he assaulted them.
“How ... was he still employed?
“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?
“How ... did this happen?
“I would want to know from Don McGahn and Gen. Kelly and anyone else: What did you know, from whom did you hear it, to what extent did you hear it and what actions, if any, did you take?”
Gowdy also wants to hear from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who debunked earlier White House accounts.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) agreed that the fiasco demands explanations. “There’s a breakdown in the vetting system and that breakdown needs to be addressed,” Ryan said.
This Storm’s not passing either
Porn star Stormy Daniels believes she is now free to tell her story of sex romps with Trump because his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, admits publicly he paid her $130,000, says her manager, Gina Rodriguez. Cohen’s statement appears to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement, Rodriguez said.
That’s not all that’s giving L’Affaire Stormy fresh legs.
Some experts think Cohen ran afoul of campaign finance laws, as the watchdog group Common Cause alleges in a legal complaint, because the payoff just before the 2016 election was aimed at removing a threat to Trump’s campaign.
Cohen — who says he reached into his own pocket for the money — left many questions unanswered: Did Trump know what he did? Was he ever reimbursed, and by whom? (Cohen’s statement said only that no money came from the Trump Organization or the campaign.) Has Cohen made similar payments to others to protect Trump?
The White House referred all questions to Cohen.
Trump finds the words
One week into the Rob Porter scandal, Trump finally said this, grudgingly:
“I’m totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that. And it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know.” He wouldn’t take follow-up questions. (Video here.)
Trump’s silence until Wednesday drew criticism from both parties, especially after his remarks and tweets praising Porter and wishing him luck; ignoring the ex-wives who told the FBI he assaulted them; and seeming to cast doubt on “mere allegations.” See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’ story for Newsday.
Janison: Can’t manage
Trump voters believed him when he said he had the background to run the government like a business. It’s worth remembering he ran a few of them into the ground.
The Porter fiasco is the latest example of the Trump White House letting what could have been a manageable personnel problem metastasize into chaos, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
When it comes to crisis containment, transparency and truth-telling isn’t part of the theory of response. A White House official told The Washington Post that conveying the accurate facts is “simply not in our DNA. ... We don’t even have a coherent strategy to obfuscate.”
Lords of the fly
More turbulence over the Trump Cabinet’s flying habits:
An inspector general’s report finds Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to create a pretext for taxpayers to cover expenses for the secretary’s wife on a 10-day trip to Europe last summer, The Washington Post reported.
When Shulkin himself claimed details of the travel were cleared ahead of time by ethics officials, that wasn’t true, the report found. Shulkin told USA Today he regrets mistakes.
“I relied upon my staff to do this, and in retrospect, I wish that I had asked more questions,” he said.
Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended his travel in first class instead of coach as driven by a need to avoid unpleasant interactions with other travelers. “We live in a very toxic environment politically,” the nation’s top environmental official told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Trump draws immigration lines
Trump endorsed Republican legislation that embodies his framework to tighten immigration laws and resolve the status of Dreamers while threatening to veto other bipartisan and narrower bills, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.
Trump weighed in before the Senate opened debate on a bill sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) — which addresses Trump’s four principles, including building a Mexican border wall, curbing family reunification migration and ending the visa lottery.
Other senators are working on bipartisan proposals that could get the necessary 60 votes to pass legislation this week in a chamber with 51 Republicans, and 49 Democrats and independents.
What else is happening
- Citing the Florida school shooting, The White House canceled Wednesday’s press briefing.
- Trump’s continuing gripes with McGahn include failed efforts to lean on other officials over the Russia investigation, The Washington Post reports. “Trump has always seen lawyers as facilitators for him. He doesn’t see lawyers as people who say no to him,” a person close to the counsel said.
- Trump expressed willingness to go along with a 25-cent hike in the federal gasoline tax during a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday about funding his infrastructure spending proposal, attendees said.
- Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, in an interview published in Vanity Fair, said of White House disarray: “Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50.” But despite the humiliation he endured at Trump’s hands, “I still love the guy. I want him to be successful.”
- Melania Trump’s parents from Slovenia have been in the U.S. for more than a year, but the White House won’t discuss their immigration status. The Washington Post reviewed the plausible possibilities, including legal permanent residence as a U.S. citizen’s parents — a category Trump’s proposal would end.
- Budget director Mick Mulvaney said the military parade that Trump wants to hold could cost between $10 million and $30 million.