Three stages of grievance
The U.S. and Russia together have more than 13,500 nuclear weapons. Since the Cold War, Washington and Moscow have treaded carefully when there was a risk of military confrontation.
Enter Donald Trump, tweeting Wednesday morning:
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Forty minutes later, the taunting trash talk gave way to a wistful lament:
“Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this ... we need all nations to work together ... ”
Stewing on it some more, Trump decided who’s really at fault for Russia and the U.S. not being friends. If you guessed Russia — for backing a bloodthirsty Syrian dictator, threatening a new arms race or seeking to undermine U.S. democracy — try again.
“Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation,” Trump tweeted.
The Kremlin’s response: “We do not participate in Twitter diplomacy. ... We continue to believe that it is important not to take steps that could harm an already fragile situation.”
Not ready to launch
You wouldn’t have known it from the “missiles will be coming” tweet, but White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Wednesday’s briefing that no “final decisions” have been made on a response to the suspected deadly chemical attack by the Russian-backed Syrian regime.
A “number of options ... are still on the table,” Sanders said. Does that include diplomacy? “Could be,” she said.
Trump’s missile threat was all the more striking because he regularly accused his predecessor of needlessly telegraphing military moves in advance.
Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, warned the United States and its allies that any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down. See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Watching Mueller’s back
With alarm growing that Trump might try to shut down special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, a bipartisan Senate bill designed to protect Mueller’s job is on track for a vote in the Judiciary Committee, Politico reported.
The new bill is the product of talks among Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). The committee chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), declared Tuesday that a Mueller firing would amount to “suicide” by Trump, but believes the legislation needs more work to meet constitutional concerns.
Trump’s tweet blaming the investigation for bad relations with Russia said it was “headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama.” Mueller is a Republican, as are Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
FBI’s Cohen grabfest
Among the items sought by FBI agents in their raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen were all records related to the “Access Hollywood” tape on which Trump made vulgar sexual comments about women, The New York Times reported.
The search warrant also sought evidence of whether lawyer Michael Cohen tried to suppress damaging information about Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, the report said.
CNN said that included communications between Trump and his associates regarding efforts to prevent disclosure of the tape.
In an interview to be seen Sunday night on ABC, former FBI Director James Comey compared President Donald Trump with a “mob boss,” according to a report by Axios.
A source present at the taping told Axios that the “20/20” interview will “certainly add more meat to the charges swirling around Trump.”
Comey, fired by Trump last year, will be promoting his upcoming book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies & Leadership.”
So long, goodbye, Ryan-ara
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to retire at the end of his term is a win-lose for Trump.
A win because it removes a Republican leader from Washington who occasionally stood against Trump’s populist, nationalist makeover of the party. “I’m an old Jack Kemp guy that believes strongly in inclusive, aspirational politics that are based on bringing people together and not exploiting divisions,” Ryan told Politico in an interview after his announcement.
A lose because it further complicates Republican hopes of holding onto the House, setting the stage for leadership battles when the party needs more than ever to unify. If the Democrats take the House, impeachment may be part of their agenda.
What else is happening
- Senate Republican skepticism is growing about Trump’s nomination of the White House physician, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, as Veterans Affairs secretary because he has little management experience, reports The Washington Post.
- Trump has signed an executive order that seeks tougher work requirements for people on public assistance and other benefit programs, including Medicaid, food stamps and public housing.
- The administration is considering a plan that would allow states to require certain food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing.
- California Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to deploy 400 National Guard troops at Trump’s request to combat transnational drug crime, firearms smuggling and human trafficking. Brown said they would not “round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life.”
- Trump’s leading liberal defender against Mueller on TV is retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, and Trump has been spending more time listening to him. Politico writes how they bonded in the 1990s over a stuffed bear stolen by Leona Helmsley.