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Trump’s favorite general sits out his war on ‘enemy’ media

President Donald Trump talks to reporters on board

President Donald Trump talks to reporters on board Air Force One as he arrived at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. Photo Credit: AP

So, ‘frenemy of the people’?

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s accusation that the “fake” news media is “the enemy of the American people.”

On a Middle East tour, Mattis said, “I’ve had some rather contentious times with the press. But no, the press, as far as I’m concerned, are a constituency that we deal with.” He added, “I don’t have any issues with the press myself.”

Since the former Marine general whom Trump refers to as “Mad Dog” wouldn’t bark, defense of the president’s remarks was left to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

“I think you should take it seriously,” Priebus said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” attacking as “bogus” recent stories such as a New York Times account of Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials.

Other Republicans on the Sunday shows parted ways — part way — with Trump.

“I hate the press ... but the fact is, we need you,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that “suppressing a free press” is “how dictators get started.”

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), on CBS, called the “free press” a “backbone of democracy,” but chided, “coverage against President Trump has been almost to the point of being hysterical.”

Priebus: No Kremlin connections

Priebus said there was “absolutely” no collusion between Trump’s team and Russia intelligence in disrupting the U.S. presidential elections.

“We don’t know of any contacts with Russian agents,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

Priebus also said there was nothing wrong with Michael Flynn discussing just-imposed sanctions with the Russian ambassador in December, though his denials to other Trump officials about it got the national security adviser ousted.

... But this is curious

Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, got together with a Ukrainian opposition lawmaker and a Russian-American former business associate of Trump with a record for stock manipulation to advance a Ukraine peace plan that included a lifting of the sanctions, The New York Times reported.

The Ukrainian, Andrii V. Artemenko, said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under the proposal, Ukrainian voters would decide whether the Crimea region, seized by Russia in 2014, would be leased to Russia.

While on a White House visit, Cohen dropped off the proposal at Flynn’s office a week before his resignation, the report said.

Once again: 'Don't delete emails'

The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked more than a dozen agencies, organizations and individuals to preserve e-mails and other communications potentially related to their probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, CNN reported Monday.At first glance, it's a bit of déjà vu from the Obama-Clinton days when the Congress probed the killings in Benghazi.

The take-away: ICE reset?

Trump and his administration are touting recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and roundups as a promised crackdown. It’s unclear whether enforcement actions have already cranked up beyond the level of the Obama years, though that may be coming. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Swedish story sounded fishy

Swedes were baffled and their embassy in Washington asked for an explanation after Trump, while warning during his Saturday rally in Florida about worldwide terror threats, mentioned “what’s happening last night in Sweden.”

Nothing happened Friday night in Sweden. A conservative former prime minister, Carl Bildt, inquired on Twitter: “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”

Answers came late Sunday afternoon from White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders and Trump himself in a tweet: Trump had seen a Fox News interview Friday night with a documentary filmmaker who linked refugees given asylum in Sweden to crime.

Trump got diplo-trolled in a Twitter reply from the embassy: “We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.”

See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

Stage to stardom

Gene Huber, a Hicksville-born former Ronkonkoma resident who now lives in Florida, became an instant cable-news sensation when Trump invited him onstage at Saturday’s rally. Trump had seen TV interviews with Huber, who had arrived at 4 a.m.

Huber told Newsday’s Lisa Irizarry that he keeps a life-size cardboard cutout of Trump in his Boynton Beach home.

“Every morning I salute him,” Huber said. “I ask him how he’s doing and say, ‘Mr. President, I pray for your safety and hope you have a wonderful day.’ ”

After Huber spoke at the rally, Trump said, “A star is born.” Huber said, “Before this, on Twitter I had like 200 followers, now it’s close to 9,000.”

Flynn successor search

Trump met with four possible replacements for Flynn during the weekend and may have additional meetings Monday, spokeswoman Sanders said.

Sanders said the candidates have been assured they could bring their own teams to the National Security Council. Control over staffing has reportedly been an issue for some possible Flynn successors.

There’s a fresh vacancy on the NSC staff. A Trump-appointed senior aide, Craig Deare, was sent packing after the White House learned he harshly criticized the president and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, at a private, off-the-record, think-tank roundtable.

What else is happening

  • A posh private fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago was not an event of which the president saw fit to inform the news media. 
  • One presumably knowledgeable wonk tells NBC that a dossier on Trump's psychological makeup is being prepared for Putin. 
  • Trump's replacement for the stymied immigration order targets the same seven mostly-Muslim nations, the Wall Street Journal reports. 
  • About 1,000 protesters rallied in Times Square against Trump’s immigration policies, including the ban on travelers and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries that was blocked in court, Alison Fox and Maria Alvarez report for Newsday.
  • Another rally sent a pro-science message.
  • Vice President Mike Pence visited the site of the Nazi-era concentration camp in Dachau, Germany, and tweeted: “We can never forget atrocities against Jews and others in the Holocaust.” Pence’s specific reference to Jews contrasted with a Holocaust remembrance statement from the White House last month that did not.
  • A call by Trump opponents to boycott Trump-branded wine at Wegmans supermarkets in Virginia seems to have backfired. Sales soared and two stores were sold out, a Wegmans spokeswoman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  • House Democrats are trying to tamp down grassroots calls to impeach Trump, saying there is no case — at least not yet. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “When and if he breaks the law, that is when something like that would come up.”
  • Trump played golf while staying at his Mar-a-Lago resort for a third weekend in a row.
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer urged Trump to relieve New York of its financial burden for protecting Trump Tower, amNewYork reported. Most of the $100,000-a-day cost is paid for by city taxpayers, and that number is expected to rise, he said.

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