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Who does Trump blame on Russia meddling? Hint: Not Putin

Russia's President Vladimir Putin with President Donald Trump,

Russia's President Vladimir Putin with President Donald Trump, seen here on Nov. 11, 2017. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Jorge Silva

That guy had no mettle

Trump’s Monday morning tweet had a novel tone: “Have a great, but very reflective, President’s Day!”

By afternoon, back at Mar-a-Lago after a golf course interlude, reflection time was over. Deflection time was back.

“Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election,” said a new tweet. “So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?”

He did, though some Democrats say Barack Obama should have done more. Former Obama aides said he took steps, including threatening Russia’s Vladimir Putin in September 2016 about hacking with retaliation.

But Obama, they said, was reluctant to do more, worrying it would play into Trump’s claims that the election system was “rigged” against him. In December 2016, Obama hit Moscow with sanctions.

Trump’s statement suggested a retreat from his professed skepticism about meddling now that special counsel Robert Mueller has charged 13 Russians.

There’s still no sign that Trump will take steps to protect the nation against future interference, or get back to Putin for assuring him there was no meddling. Back then, Trump said, “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

New charges: Mueller accuses lawyer

A lawyer who has been associated with the prominent firm Skadden, Arps in the United Kingdom was charged with making false statements to federal authorities in connection with conversations with ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's indicted longtime aide Rick Gates.

It is the kind of filing that typically precedes a guilty plea.

Alex van der Zwaan, the attorney, allegedly lied to investigators about conversations he had with Gates and another person involving a report he helped prepare. This report had to do with the trial of Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, as the criminal information states.

Years ago Tymoshenko accused Manafort of money laundering in connection with a pro-Russian Ukrainian political faction. Manafort faces charges first filed by Mueller in October.

Man of the world

Mueller’s interest in Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from Chinese investors during the presidential transition, CNN reported, citing people familiar with the inquiry.

The special counsel had already been looking at Kushner’s Russia contacts and his relationship with fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump OK on background check

Amid the outcry over the 17 shooting deaths last week at a Florida high school, Trump gave tentative support Monday to a stalled bipartisan bill aimed at fixing a lapse in federal background checks on gun buyers.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” a statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

The bill — supported by the National Rifle Association — would require federal and state officials to report criminal records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

A failure by the Air Force to pass on such data allowed a shooter to buy a weapon used to kill 26 people in a rural Texas church last November. See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Protests: Get used to them

In a preview of protests to come, teens from the Washington metropolitan area gathered in front of the White House to push for tighter restrictions on access to guns.

Survivors of the school shooting massacre in Florida last week are calling for a “March for Our Lives” in Washington on March 24 to demand action on gun control. Other groups are also organizing rallies.

Trump wants rumble with Oprah

Trump in 2012: “I adore Oprah.” Trump in 2018: He abhors her.

Oprah Winfrey managed to upset Trump by hosting a group discussion with voters — half who voted for him, and half who didn’t — on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday.

“The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect,” Trump tweeted. “Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!” He also called the self-made billionaire media mogul and actress “very insecure.”

Trump’s tweet didn’t make clear what set him off. Winfrey raised some subjects that aren’t his favorites, such as his fitness for office and sexual misconduct allegations. She didn’t bring up the subject he hates the most — Russia — and let voters do most of the talking. To read a full transcript, click here.

A case of Romney-sia

Trump gushed in a tweet late Monday that Mitt Romney, running for Senate from Utah, "has my full support and endorsement!" And he added: "He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch." Romney thanked him in kind.

It seems everyone is supposed to forget about two years ago when Trump called Romney "one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics."

And when Romney called Trump a phony and a fraud and urged the GOP to pick any of the other candidates. "His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University," Romney said later in 2016.

Seems like only December when Trump's then "wing man" Steve Bannon was even attacking Romney's sons for not serving in the military -- knowing full well that neither Trump nor his sons served either.

Tax law gaining popularity

The tax overhaul that Trump signed into law now has more supporters than opponents, buoying Republican hopes for this year’s congressional elections, according to a poll for The New York Times.

Overall, 51 percent of Americans approve of the tax law, while 46 percent disapprove, the survey found. Approval has risen from 46 percent in January and 3 percent when the law was passed in December.

What else is happening

  • A proposal in Trump’s 2019 budget to reorganize the World Trade Center Health Program could jeopardize the health and safety of thousands of 9/11 first responders, said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and two Manhattan House Democrats. See Robert Brodsky’s story for Newsday.
  • Some Trump backers are urging him to pardon all those charged already — or possibly later — in Mueller’s investigation, Politico reported. “I think he should pardon everybody — and pardon himself,” said Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer who made a name for himself going after the Clintons.
  • Donald Trump Jr. plans to deliver a foreign policy speech on a trip to India, during which he will also be promoting Trump real estate projects, The Washington Post writes. It’s another blurring of lines between the presidency and the family business interests.
  • A press van driver in the presidential motorcade from Mar-a-Lago was briefly detained by the Secret Service after he was found to be carrying a personal handgun. He said he forgot to leave the weapon in his car.
  • A New Yorker story looks in depth at how Trump used the Miss Universe pageant to boost business interests abroad and make connections with Russians that have since come under investigative scrutiny.
  • The New York Times chronicled the role of Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who arranged the $130,000 payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels, as a longtime fixer who used aggressive tactics to try to make sex scandals go away. Sample warning: “If you show those photos, I’m gonna take you down.”

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