Tough guy, bluff guy
One of Donald Trump’s stock phrases is “believe me.” On Thursday, after 41 days of mystery and silence, he provided another reason to interpret that as “it ain’t necessarily so.”
Trump admitted via Twitter that — contrary to what he implied in a threatening tweet aimed at FBI Director James Comey that he had tapes of their conversations — “I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” Newsday’s Emily Ngo reports.
The bluff backfired, bigly.
Comey, unintimidated, soon made it known that he had made notes of the encounters. They documented what Comey believed was pressure from the president to stop the investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, wind up the overall inquiry and pronounce Trump innocent.
Within days, special counsel Robert Mueller was named to run the investigation that has reportedly expanded beyond Russian election interference and possible collusion to the questions over whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.
It’s a ruse he could rue for a long time.
Until now, Trump has left it to allies to raise questions about Mueller’s impartiality. But he joined in during a “Fox and Friends” interview that aired Friday.
Trump said Mueller is “very, very good friends with Comey which is very bothersome” and, exaggerating, said the prosecutors he has hired were “all Hillary Clinton supporters.” But he strangely said Mueller is "an honorable man and hopefully he'll come up with an honorable solution."
Blather and rinse
The spin projected in the Fox interview and echoed in other Trump-friendly media is that by bluffing on "tapes," the president forced Comey to confirm that he'd told Trump -- before the firing -- that he wasn't under investigation.
But in fact, the obstruction question hadn't emerged until Trump pushed Comey to drop the probe of fired security adviser Mike Flynn -- and then canned the FBI director for reasons Trump himself has said were related to the Russia probe.
It’s all a ‘hoax’
Before the no-tapes statement, Trump sent out four tweets decrying the Russia investigation as “all a big Dem HOAX” -- while at the same time saying it was the Obama administration’s fault for not doing enough last year to “stop” Moscow’s interference.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told House investigators Thursday that Trump seemed obsessed with the Russia probe and repeatedly asked him to say publicly there was no evidence of collusion, NBC News reported.
Trump warms to health bill
Trump’s first comment after the unveiling of the Senate GOP’s health bill Thursday was that it needs “a little negotiation, but it’s going to be very good.” He was vague on the details of where he wants improvement, but tweeted later he was “very supportive.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell faces an uphill struggle to pass it. The GOP’s majority is only 52-48, and four conservative senators said they can’t support it as currently written.
But appeasing them could harden opposition from at least three moderate GOP senators, who object to proposed Medicaid cuts. Trump during his campaign pledged “no cuts” to Medicaid.
See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
The take-away: Unfollow leader
Long Island Rep. Kathleen Rice had little to risk, and maybe something to gain, when she stepped forward Thursday to urge pushing Nancy Pelosi aside to make way for new leadership of the Democrats’ hapless House caucus, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Their party’s loss in a special Georgia House election Tuesday shows, Rice said, that while the harsh GOP attacks on Pelosi in local campaigns “aren’t fair or justified,” Republicans will keep doing it “because they see that it works.”
Trump seems to think so, too -- a gloating tweet said: “I certainly hope the Democrats do not force Nancy P out. That would be very bad for the Republican Party ...”
Dem advantage for 2018?
Americans say by 50 percent to 42 percent that they want Democrats to control Congress after the 2018 midterm elections, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. It was the first time either party reached 50 percent on that question since 2008.
However, the national polling result can’t fully predict how the individual races would play out. Much depends on the appeal of the names on the ballots and how districts are drawn.
Trump’s approval/disapproval came in at 40 percent / 55 percent, not quite as bad as some other recent polls.
At his Iowa rally Wednesday night, Trump got big cheers when he called for a new law barring immigrants from receiving welfare for at least five years. He added that he wanted to pass legislation to that effect “very soon.”
But that’s already the law. A measure signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 prevents immigrants from receiving any “means-tested public benefit,” including food stamps, Medicaid and Social Security, for five years.
There are a few exceptions for children and pregnant women, refugees and active duty military or veterans. It’s unclear whether Trump aims to target them with even tighter restrictions -- a senior administration official who spoke to CNN did not say he would.
What else is happening
- Canada is managing its differences with Trump by finding ways to go around him when possible, such as dealing directly with state and local U.S. governments on environmental and trade issues, The New York Times writes.
- Trump has gone soft in his promises to take on China over trade issues, Sen. Chuck Schumer argues in an op-ed piece.
- Six hundred layoffs are expected at the Carrier plant in Indiana that Trump claimed to rescue at the end of last year, CNBC reports.
- Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manger, and his son-in-law are seeing real-estate deals they were involved in probed by the FBI, the Times reports.
- Lara Trump -- a daughter-in-law of the president and the wife of son Eric — has become a more active surrogate and consultant for the 2020 re-election campaign. McClatchy newspapers has a profile of her.
- Investigators on the Russia probe are looking at Bijan Kian, a former business partner of ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and whether payments from foreign clients to Flynn and his company were lawful, Reuters reported.
- Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus has been keeping an unusually tight grip on the Republican National Committee, where he was chairman, even while White House internal turmoil and a stalled legislative agenda have put his current full-time job in peril, Politico reports.
- White House social media director Dan Scavino was warned earlier this month not to engage in campaign politics from his official accounts. But he retweeted a plug Wednesday for a Trump campaign rally in Iowa, Mic reports.
- Trump will deliver a speech during his July 6 visit to Poland at the site of a memorial to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Nazi German occupiers, said an aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda.