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Bad news, Mr. President: On Russia, Republicans aren't rushin' to your side

Former Trump campaign aide Carter Page exits a

Former Trump campaign aide Carter Page exits a federal courthouse in Manhattan on June 27. Credit: Charles Eckert

Fizzle of Trump's FISA reveal

On much that is Russia-related, consistency from Donald Trump is elusive. OK, OK, Moscow meddled. But it could have been someone else. Are they still targeting the U.S. No. Or yes. But one message remains: "WITCH HUNT!"

On that theme, Trump acted as if he had slam-dunk proof with the disclosure (with redactions) Saturday night of an FBI request for permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a onetime Trump campaign adviser, for suspected collaboration with Russian intelligence. 

"Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC . . . Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!" Trump tweeted. But Republicans didn't rush to line up behind him.

Trump and his allies contend the warrants were based on the Christopher Steele dossier, but the applications indicate there was plenty more, and Page had been on the bureau's radar since 2013. Trump's side complains the FBI hid Democrats' role in retaining Steele. The applications show the FBI told the court Steele's employers were probably looking to discredit Trump, but that Steele had been a reliable source in the past.

"I don't think they did anything wrong,” Sen. Marco Rubio said in Sunday talk show appearances of the FBI moves. “ . . . They laid out all the information ― and there was a lot of reasons . . . for why they wanted to look at Carter Page.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has been a stronger critic of the FBI, but also has disagreed with calling special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt." He said on Fox News Sunday, "We will never know whether or not the FBI had enough without the dossier." But Gowdy also said: "I don't have an issue with looking into people that have cozy relationships with Russia.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he didn't think surveillance of Page was justified — but neither are Trump's doubts about Russia's role: "This is completely different than whether or not the Russians interfered in our election — they did." For more see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and David M. Schwartz. To read the redacted 2016 warrant application click here.

Back to Red Square One

On Sunday night, Trump was back to Doubting Donald.

"So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election," Trump tweeted. "Why didn't he do something about it? Why didn't he tell our campaign? Because it is all a big hoax, that's why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!"

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Trump was referring to the investigation or the whole notion of Russian interference.

Welcome mat or doormat?

Trump again tweeted Sunday that he "had a GREAT meeting" with Russia's Vladimir Putin. What agreements or understandings they may have reached remains a mystery nearly a week later.

Lawmakers from both parties on Sunday expressed opposition to President Trump’s plans to host Putin in Washington this fall and panned Trump's performance in Helsinki.

"Russia is not our friend and they tried to attack us in 2016," said Gowdy. "... When you're the leader of the free world, every syllable matters and you really shouldn't be having to correct it when you're the leader of the free world."

Graham said Trump had not done enough to stand up to Putin. “Do you meet with this guy from a position of weakness?” asked Graham “If you were really tough with Putin, he would not be doing what he is doing.” 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted that Trump "must focus on coming clean on what happened in your private meeting with Putin . . . What secret deals did you make?"

Janison: Semi-tough

After passing on the chance to look tough with Putin at the start of last week, Trump wound it up on Friday with warning shots at other targets, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

In a CNBC interview he attacked the Federal Reserve for increasing interest rates and threatened tariffs on absolutely everything made in China — $500 billion worth. The stock market dipped accordingly.

From thousands of miles away, Trump even briefly jutted his jaw at his Helsinki partner. If things don't "work out," he told the network, "I'll be the worst enemy he [Putin] has ever had" — unlike “Obama . . . a patsy for Russia. A total patsy.”

Trump's Kim Jong funk

Talks with North Korea are bogged down, and Trump, who last month declared that country no longer posed a nuclear threat, is frustrated, The Washington Post reports.

Diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money and failed to maintain basic communications. Also disturbing: a missile-engine testing facility that Trump said would be destroyed is intact, and U.S. intelligence officials say Pyongyang is working to conceal key aspects of its nuclear program.

Two days after Trump said Russia had agreed to help, his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, accused Russia of blocking efforts to discipline North Korea’s illegal smuggling.

Road rage

Trump's threat to slap big tariffs on imported cars and auto parts are opposed by the auto industry, Republicans in Congress and some otherwise-tough-on-trade members of this own administration.

The next move may depend on whether European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, visiting Washington this week, offers concessions that would give Trump the chance to declare victory and back off, Politico reports. The tariff opponents inside the GOP worry about that higher car prices could destabilizing a thriving industry on the eve of the midterm elections.

Trade-war fears also are growing in Vice President Mike Pence's hometown of Columbus, Indiana, according to The Washington Post. The area's economy is the most dependent on exports of any in the nation, with slightly more than half of its output linked to foreign purchases. “I’m very worried,” said the CEO of Cummins Inc., a $20 billion heavy equipment manufacturer. Tariffs could raise costs for incoming parts and cause retaliation against its products by the countries Trump targets.

Zeldin sees Trump as his ticket

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has closely embraced Trump as he seeks re-election, and political analysts say he is banking that the president will remain popular in the eastern Suffolk district and help motivate Republicans to vote, Newsday's Schwartz reports.

Zeldin has stood with Trump's fiercest partisans against the Mueller investigation and has appeared with former Trump administration aides from its hard right, including Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. Zeldin said he has no fear of a Democratic blue wave washing over the First Congressional District because he is confident he will rally Republicans to turn out for him.

While his Democratic predecessor Tim Bishop, Zeldin asserted, was able to attract a quarter of the GOP vote, “No one is getting a quarter of the Republican vote from me.”

What else is happening:

  • Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said his "awkward" response to news of Trump's offer for Putin to visit Washington was not meant to "be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president." The statement followed a report that Trump was upset with Coats, who also reaffirmed conclusions about Russian election interference after the president sowed confusion.
  • A Washington Post-ABC News poll finds Americans by wide margins give Trump negative marks for his conduct during the summit with Putin and for casting doubt on U.S. intelligence conclusions of Russian election interference.
  • Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh can expect Senate questioning on comments at a 1999 forum that the high court may be been wrong in its unanimous 1974 ruling that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes. Kavanaugh wrote more favorably about the decision in a 2016 law review article.
  • The Pentagon was left in the dark about what if any agreements Trump made with Putin that affect U.S. military missions, but they may be getting used to that. Politico notes the military brass got little or no notice on major policy shifts such as Trump's transgender ban and orders for a military parade and a Space Force.
  • Former FBI Director James Comey weighed in on Twitter against the surge on the Democratic Party's left, warning it could help Trump: "Democrats, please, please don’t lose your minds and rush to the socialist left. This president and his Republican Party are counting on you to do exactly that. America’s great middle wants sensible, balanced, ethical leadership."

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