No hoax here
For some time, the biggest noise from Capitol Hill on the Russia investigation has come from a group of House Republicans, trying to drum up a case that it really is a witch hunt by special counsel Robert Mueller, aided and abetted by elements of the FBI and Justice Department.
More quietly, soberly and largely in bipartisan harmony, the Senate intelligence committee has moved along with its probe, and on Wednesday, it announced a major conclusion:
The intelligence community was right when it found Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the aim of helping then-candidate Donald Trump.
“The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated and ordered by President [Vladimir] Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton,” said a joint statement by the chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and vice chair, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.)
That contradicts the report last month by House intelligence committee Republicans, which challenged the finding that boosting Trump was a Putin motive. To Trump, the notion that Russia helped is a ploy to belittle his electoral achievement.
Still to come from the Senate committee is its assessment of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — the question that is also a prime focus, though not the only one, of Mueller’s investigation.
Having a Junior moment
Trump has boasted of having “the world’s greatest memory.” Donald Trump Jr., not so much.
The Senate committee released transcripts of its interview with Trump’s eldest son about the infamous Trump Tower meeting he hosted in June 2016 for a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Clinton.
Among the 54 things, by The Washington Post’s count, that Trump Jr. said he didn’t remember or recall were several emails and phone calls leading up to the meeting that have been found in records.
Trump Jr. said he didn’t talk to his dad before or afterward. But he also didn’t recall whether Trump could have been who he spoke to on a call to a blocked phone number. (His dad had such a number at his residence.)
Why that matters, according to USA Today: What Trump knew about the meeting could have a bearing on whether the president’s involvement in the failed effort last year to conceal its purpose is evidence of obstruction of justice.
Janison: Money for nothing
Trump has traded on his name as a synonym for winning, but it’s connected to a lot of losing we’ve learned about lately.
Novartis, the Swiss drugmaker, and AT&T were sold on hiring Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen as a consultant with the most inside of tracks to the president. They got nothing except embarrassed, and the chance to say goodbye to executives who got suckered.
The Stormy Daniels hush payment may have meant a short-term gain — silencing a would-be scandal before the election — but it’s bringing longer-term pain. It’s still unclear, too, if Putin has gotten what he bargained for after trying to tilt the field in Trump’s favor. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Cohen wanted cut from Qatar
It wasn’t just corporations that Cohen approached to cash in on his Trump connection, according to The Washington Post: Cohen also solicited a payment of at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in exchange for access and advice.
The approach came on the margins of a Dec. 12, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Persian Gulf state’s foreign minister and Michael Flynn, who became Trump’s first national security adviser, The Post reported. Qatar declined.
Cohen’s corporate clients came to light last week after the leak of a Treasury Department “suspicious-activity report” that had been filed by Cohen’s bank.
A law enforcement official has come forward to The New Yorker as the source of the leak. The reason, the official said, was concern after discovering other important reports on Cohen’s financial activity were strangely and suspiciously missing from a government database.
Nothing to hide ... any more
Continuing his retreat from the “I don’t know” fib about where Cohen got the $130,000 to pay off Daniels, Trump’s latest financial disclosure form shows a reimbursement to Cohen last year in the $100,001-$250,000 range.
David Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, told the Justice Department that Trump should have reported the payment to Cohen in last year’s financial disclosure form.
Apol said he was notifying Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “in connection” with a complaint from the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington over the previous failure to disclose. See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.
Was it just a summit fling?
With North Korea threatening to call off his June summit with Kim Jong Un, Trump tried to lower the temperature: “We will see what happens. Whatever it is, it is,” he told reporters.
A North Korean official signaled Pyongyang’s pique with comments by National Security Adviser John Bolton, who said the U.S. would push the “Libya model” for nuclear disarmament. Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi, who gave up its nuclear program in the early 2000s, met a violent end.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked back some of Bolton’s comments on “Fox & Friends,” saying she wasn’t “aware that that’s a model that we’re using. See Figueroa’s story for Newsday.
What else is happening
- Melania Trump tweeted that she’s “feeling great” and expects to return to the White House soon after undergoing kidney surgery earlier this week. Trump visited her at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a third day.
- Trump’s disclosure form showed his Washington hotel took in $40 million in revenue in 2017. It’s become a magnet for lobbyists, Republican fundraisers and some foreign governments looking to ingratiate themselves with the president and his interests.
- In a thinly veiled swipe at Trump, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that a crisis of ethics and integrity has put American democracy at risk. “When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth ... we go wobbly on America,” Tillerson told graduates at Virginia Military Institute.
- Trump said some dangerous immigrants who aren’t in the country legally “aren’t people” but “animals.” The remarks came during a White House meeting on sanctuary cities Wednesday, and it wasn’t the first time he’s used such terms.
- EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who said he flew first-class for security because he faced the potential of violent protesters in coach, drew ridicule at a hearing from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) “Nobody even knows who you are,” Leahy told him.
- Trump is bristling at the blowback he got for seeking to rescue Chinese telecom company ZTE from crippling U.S. sanctions. “Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal,” he tweeted. Trump hasn’t addressed concerns ZTE poses a security threat to U.S. communications networks.