Blood on all hands?
After Donald Trump took office, his supporters cheered the end of what they had ridiculed as Barack Obama's "apology tours." But under the 45th president, we are seeing the rise of the apologist tour.
The most vivid example in recent months has been the averting of Trump administration eyes from powerful evidence pointing to the role of Saudi Arabia's leadership, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the murder last October of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump's close confidant, billionaire real estate investor Tom Barrack, took it a step further during a conference in Abu Dhabi.
"Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal, or worse," said Barrack, who ran Trump's inauguration committee. "For us to dictate what we think is the moral code there — when we have a young man [bin Salman] and a regime that’s trying to push themselves into 2030 — I think is a mistake.”
Barrack's not the first Trumpworld figure to question the United States' moral standing to judge human rights abuses. Trump himself said as much in a 2017 Fox News interview on his relations with Vladimir Putin. When host Bill O'Reilly, alluding to the murders of journalists and opposition figures, described Putin as a "killer," Trump shot back: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”
Unlike Trump back then, Barrack rushed out a personal apology Wednesday (“I love America ... the greatest country in the world"), but he didn't retract praise for the crown prince. The statement played down royal complicity, maintaining "the bad acts of a few should not be interpreted as the failure of an entire sovereign kingdom."
Critics from both parties in Congress have accused the Trump administration of giving Saudi Arabia a pass on human rights for economic reasons. The White House last week ignored a deadline set by congressional mandate for a report on whether the crown prince was behind the killing of the dissident.
"This amounts to the Trump Administration aiding in the cover-up of a murder," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied the accusation and said the administration is still seeking more information.
House: Cut off Saudi war
The Democratic-led House bucked Trump by passing a resolution Wednesday to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
Lawmakers in both parties are increasingly uneasy over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and accusations that Saudis are indiscriminately using U.S.-supplied arms against civilians. The Khashoggi killing spurred heightened criticism of the oil kingdom. Trump has already threatened a veto if the House action is backed by the Senate, which passed a similar resolution last year.
Border bill not locked down
While Democrats and Republican negotiators agreed in principle on a border security bill, they are still skirmishing on details. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats want to include back pay for federal contractors who went uncompensated during the 35-day shutdown and Republicans are resisting.
Trump said Wednesday he'll be looking for "land mines" before deciding whether to sign the measure, but he didn't want another shutdown because it would "be a terrible thing." See Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Tom Brune.
Janison: Bluff guy
Trump did, as he warned he would, trigger the December-January shutdown. But to the relief of many, a lot of his most dire threats haven't come true, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Among the things he didn't do even though he said he might: Keep the shutdown going for months or years. Close the southern border entirely. Blow North Korea off the map. Pull out of NATO.
But don't dismiss Trump entirely as a toothless tiger. He did withdraw from the Paris climate accord, and he cut off Palestinian refugee aid after a UN vote chided Israel.
The unbelievable Paul Manafort
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort intentionally lied to special counsel Robert Mueller's team, the FBI and a federal grand jury in the Russia investigation.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson found there was sufficient evidence that Manafort broke his plea agreement, which could mean a longer prison sentence for multiple charges in his guilty plea and conviction. A key area in which he was found to have lied was his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime aide believed to have ties to Russian intelligence.
Earlier this week, Democratic leaders forcefully rebuked rookie Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for tweets criticizing congressional backers of Israel that echoed anti-Semitic tropes about Jews buying politicians.
Omar "unequivocally" apologized and thanked "Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history" of such language. But Trump Tuesday sought to keep the flare-up going, dismissing the apology as "lame" and calling for the Somali-born congresswoman to resign or be stripped of her membership on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
She tweeted back at him Wednesday: "You have trafficked in hate your whole life — against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you?"
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Trump and other Republicans still attacking Omar: "They do not have clean hands."
What else is happening:
- Trump bought a $50,000 room-sized "golf simulator" and had it installed in his personal quarters at the White House, The Washington Post reports. It allows him to play virtual rounds at golf courses around the world. Obama had one, too, but it was less sophisticated.
- The swamp has a new creature. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned in December amid scandal, has landed a senior adviser gig at Washington lobbying firm Turnberry Solutions. He'll work alongside Corey Lewandowski, who preceded Manafort as a Trump campaign manager.
- Brock Long, the face of the Trump administration's disaster relief efforts after devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, announced he is resigning as FEMA administrator. Long was ordered last year to repay the government thousands of dollars for using official vehicles without authorization for long-distance commutes.
- Corporate chiefs from Walmart, Apple, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Visa and Home Depot are among those signed up for a reconstituted Trump business advisory council, CNN reports. Trump disbanded two councils in 2017 after several prominent executives quit to protest his remarks following white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
- Whether he runs for president or not, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is preparing to spend at least $500 million from his own pocket to fight Trump's re-election bid, Politico reports, citing Democratic operatives familiar with his plans.
- The national debt on Tuesday topped $22 trillion. It stood at $19.95 trillion when Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017, reports Time magazine.