Trump's upside-down takes
There's the world according to Trump. Then there's the world according to the intelligence chiefs whose business is to know what's going on. It's a different planet.
The disconnect with a president who trusts his "gut" over others' brains was plain, as officials including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on their latest global threat assessment.
Trump keeps fanning expectations of an agreement with Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear arms. But Coats told the Senate panel that North Korea "is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival."
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal on grounds that Tehran wouldn't abide by it. So far, Iran has, though its leaders have begun to have second thoughts since the U.S. has reimposed sanctions, according to Haspel.
Despite Trump's declaration that ISIS has been defeated, Haspel said "they're still dangerous" and command "thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria." None of the officials mentioned any "crisis" on the U.S.-Mexican border for which Trump has considered declaring a national emergency to build a wall.
It's not just the intel chiefs with whom Trump is at odds on global perils. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appeared to be throwing a bucket of ice water on Trump's climate-change skepticism. That resurfaced in a Trump tweet about the arctic freeze gripping the Midwest that concluded with the tired joke: "What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!"
NOAA tweeted Tuesday to explain that weather and climate are not the same. "Winter storms don't prove that global warming isn't happening," it said. In a statement to CBS News, NOAA said the tweet was not made in response to Trump.
Shut down shutdowns forever?
With Democratic and Republican negotiators in Congress set to work on a border security deal, there is a growing bipartisan consensus behind one idea: Shutdowns are stupid and ought to be against the law, or close to it.
"I’d be open to anything that we could agree on, on a bipartisan basis, that would make them pretty hard to occur again,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference Tuesday. The Republican added: “I think this is an example of government dysfunction which should be embarrassing to everyone on a bipartisan basis.”
Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) both have introduced legislation. Instead of letting shutdowns occur, Portman's proposal would reduce funding by 1% after 120 days and again every subsequent 90 days if lawmakers haven’t reached a funding deal. Warner's would withhold funding for the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President, in an attempt to motivate lawmakers to negotiate.
Janison: Rich, but different flavor notes
Billionaire Howard Schultz and billionaire Trump match up in some ways but not others. Like Trump, the former Starbucks CEO would be a rookie candidate. Unlike the real estate scion from Queens, the Brooklyn-raised Schultz is genuinely self-made. Like Trump, he has an inglorious record as a sports team owner. Unlike Trump, Schultz reliably speaks in complete sentences.
Democrats fear, and the president seems to agree, that a Schultz independent run in 2020 would help re-elect Trump, but the history of third-party bids offers mixed evidence, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
It's going to be a slow-brewing potential candidacy, with no decision until summer or fall, Schultz aide Bill Burton told Bloomberg News. "He 100 percent will only run if he sees a viable path. There’s no chance he gets in this race if there isn’t a path," Burton said.
Buddy movie? No, movie buddy
A Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is demanding answers from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about his business dealings with an associate of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was just given relief from U.S. sanctions, BuzzFeed and The New York Times report.
The associate is Len Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born billionaire with whom Mnuchin co-owned a Hollywood film company, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, until 2017. Mnuchin had to divest from the company when he joined Trump's Cabinet and sold his shares to Blavatnik, reportedly for about $25 million.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) contends that Mnuchin’s relationship with Blavatnik and involvement in easing sanctions “is clearly a conflict of interest.”
Throwing the book
When a book hits the shelves, virtually all publicity is good publicity, but Trump couldn't restrain himself from tweeting an attack to his 57.8 million Twitter followers on Cliff Sims, his former communications aide, whose "Team of Vipers" is chock full of stories about White House infighting.
"A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction. He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer. He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess!" the tweet said. A Trump campaign official tweeted that the campaign was "preparing to file suit" for supposedly violating the agreement.
Sims was being interviewed on CNN when the tweet arrived, and he took it in stride. "Nice . . . there it is," Sims said. (See video clip here.) While Trump professes to barely know him, Sims tells of huddling with Trump in the study off the Oval Office to draw up an enemies list of what the president called "snakes" and "bottom-feeders" suspected of leaking. In retrospect, Sims said he had lost his “moral compass."
Chris Christie figures Jared Kushner froze him out of Trumpland for sending his father, Charles, to prison years ago, but he voices no regrets.
"If a guy hires a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and videotapes it and then sends the videotape to his sister to attempt to intimidate her from testifying in front of a grand jury, do I really need any more justification than that?" Christie said on PBS' "Firing Line."
"It's one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted . . . and I was the U.S. attorney in New Jersey."
What else is happening:
- Trump will spend the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the first time since the shutdown. He was last there during the Thanksgiving weekend.
- A pastry chef is suing Mar-a-Lago, charging he was laid off in retaliation for trying to stop managers from sexually harassing women in the kitchen. A Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller said the allegations were "completely without merit."
- Democrats have chosen Georgia's Stacey Abrams to deliver the party's response to Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday. Though she narrowly lost the governor's race in 2018, she is seen as a rising political star and may run for the Senate in 2020. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra give the Democrats' Spanish-language response.
- Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan sounds like he's not on board with Trump's plan to create a Space Force as a sixth branch of the military. "It's going to be small, as small as possible footprint, that's why I recommended it sits underneath the Air Force," Shanahan told reporters.
- An unusually subdued Roger Stone pleaded not guilty in a Washington courtroom Tuesday to felony charges in the Russia investigation. The appearance followed a media tour slamming his arrest and special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.
- An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 56% of adults say they won't consider voting for Trump in 2020. The answer to "who else then" is hazier, with 43% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents having no favored candidate and none of the party's hopefuls cracking double digits.
- A planned Senate Judiciary Committee vote on William Barr’s nomination to serve as attorney general has been delayed amid Democratic concerns he could try to suppress Mueller findings damaging to the president.