Reason to disbelieve
Day after day, President Donald Trump’s White House has refused to give a full, credible accounting of who knew what and when about the wife-beating allegations that led to the ouster of staff secretary Rob Porter last week after a news report revealed them. The dribbled-out excuses aren’t holding up either.
On Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested FBI vetting was laggard: “The process for the background [check] was ongoing, and the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion.”
Yes it had, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate hearing Tuesday morning.
The FBI submitted a partial report on Porter in March, he said. The investigation was completed in July. Soon after, the FBI was asked for a follow-up. The bureau provided it in November. All the while, Porter’s security clearance was blocked.
Sanders’ new story: The FBI reports had gone to the White House Personnel Security Office, which “had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House.”
Was she saying the West Wing had no clue what was going on? Sanders hedged: “I’m not aware of any communication. I can’t say definitively.” See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Inside the White House, fingers are being pointed at chief of staff John Kelly for the Porter mess, with staffers disbelieving his claim to have acted decisively after learning only last week how bad the Porter allegations were, Politico reports.
Kelly, tasked with and — for a while — credited with bringing more discipline to the Trump White House, is increasingly isolated.
“The president has confidence in his chief of staff,” Sanders said. As for Kelly’s version of events, she didn’t exactly stake her credibility on it. “I can only give you the best information that I have, and that’s my understanding,” she said.
A White House official, calling Kelly “a big, fat liar,” told The Washington Post: “To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty.”
If Kelly goes, he’ll be following a well-worn path toward the exits. The Trump staff turnover rate is 34 percent after barely more than a year, higher than any White House in decades, The New York Times reported.
T and sympathy
In a way, the most consistent response to the Porter scandal has come from Trump. He has yet to say or tweet words of concern for the ex-wives who accused Porter, or on the broader subject of domestic violence.
Trump did not respond when asked by a reporter after he spoke at a law enforcement event Tuesday: “Do you have a message to domestic violence victims?” (Video here.)
Janison: Infrastructure illusion
The $1.5 trillion price sticker on Trump’s infrastructure plan looks detached from reality, and even the fraction of that total that the federal government would pony up looks shaky.
William Galston of the Brookings Institution notes the administration doesn’t say how it would raise the $200 billion in seed money, and the bigger number “makes what most experts regard as wildly unrealistic assumptions about the amount of state, local and private funding this modest increment will spark.”
That’s because state and local governments are asked to pay a large share of projects’ costs after Trump’s new tax plan makes it harder to go to state and local taxpayers. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
The Russians are coming
Three top intelligence officials confirmed Tuesday that they have seen evidence of Russian meddling in the upcoming midterm elections for Congress.
National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said there should be a national outcry — that people need to stand up and say, “We’re not going to allow some Russian to tell us how to vote, how to run our country.”
Democratic senators noted that Trump hasn’t been one of those people. He repeatedly has voiced skepticism about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And early Wednesday, CNN reported that the president is telling associates he remains unconvinced of it -- since to do so would suggest he didn't win the election on his own.
Omarosa’s deep dish
Four-time Trump fire-ee Omarosa Manigault-Newman, burning more bridges, told her reality-show housemates on “Celebrity Big Brother” that she finds Vice President Mike Pence scarier than Trump.
“I’m Christian, I love Jesus, but he thinks Jesus tells him to say things — I’m like, ‘Jesus didn’t say that.’ Scary,” she said.
Meanwhile, Trump friend and British TV host Piers Morgan, writing for the Daily Mail, said Omarosa was crudely abusive toward him when they were cast together on “Celebrity Apprentice” — and he is appalled that the president hired her “to spread her poison” in the White House.
“I don’t subscribe to the theory that President Trump is mentally unstable, but this particular decision severely tested my faith. ... In its way, that’s just as big a scandal as Rob Porter,” said Morgan.
What else is happening
- Democrat Margaret Good won an upset victory for a Florida legislative seat in a district that Trump carried in 2016.
- Police were investigating a possible shooting early Wednesday on the campus of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland.
- On at least one occasion, when it wasn’t so close to home, Trump has opined on domestic violence. From an Oct. 11, 2012 tweet: “If @rihanna is dating @chrisbrown again then she has a death wish. A beater is always a beater — just watch!”
- The much-anticipated Senate debate on an immigration bill appeared to be taking place in backrooms instead of on the chamber floor on Tuesday, with Republicans pushing Trump’s framework and Democrats urging a narrower measure, Newsday’s Tom Brune reports.
- A federal judge in Brooklyn said Trump’s administration didn’t offer “legally adequate reasons” for ending DACA, though he “indisputably” has the power to do so.
- Wray, at the Senate hearing, denied that there was any systemic political bias in the bureau. Trump allies have depicted the bureau as a nest of anti-Trump forces.
- A day after Trump unveiled his deficit-bloating budget, Coats, the national intelligence director, bemoaned spiraling federal debt as “threatening our ability to properly defend our nation.”
- A $2 million-a-year Trump Tower lease for a bank controlled by the Chinese government is one among many examples of foreign money pouring into Trump businesses, Forbes Magazine finds.
- Stormy Daniels, the porn star reported to have gotten $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair with Trump, has been booked for an April weekend at a strip club directly across the street from the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, the Palm Beach Post reports.
- Trump lawyer Michael Cohen told The New York Times Tuesday he paid the money to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, out of his own pocket. He refused to say whether he made Trump aware of it.