Locked, loaded, waiting
President Donald Trump is living up to his self-advertised unpredictability on what he'll do if Iran is declared responsible for the weekend drone attack that set oil facilities in Saudi Arabia ablaze and disrupted world supplies.
Trump said the United States could respond “with an attack many, many times larger.” But he also said, “I’m not looking at options right now.”
Asked whether Iran was behind the attack, Trump said, “It’s looking that way.” But he stopped short of voicing certainty that the culprit was Iran, which denies it, and not the Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen who claimed responsibility. “That’s being checked out right now,” he added.
Trump said that in military strength, the United States is “more prepared than any country … in any history" for war if necessary. “With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid it,” he added.
On Sunday night, Trump's "locked and loaded" tweet suggested he would take his cue from the Saudis. "We … are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" The notion that the Saudis would call the shots angered some lawmakers in Washington.
But on Monday, asked if he had pledged to protect the Saudis, Trump said: "No, I haven’t promised the Saudis that … We have to sit down with the Saudis and work something out."
The Saudis for their part don't appear eager to rush into a military confrontation, calling instead for international experts to visit and investigate. Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, said "locked and loaded" doesn't mean an itchy trigger finger. He called it "a broad term" that means the U.S. energy independence makes us “safer and more secure." But industry analysts said a spike in crude oil prices could mean a 20 cents-a-gallon jump for U.S. drivers.
At times of international tension like these, Trump's penchant for deceptive or delusional statements invites peril. It tells Americans — as well as the enemy, allies, even subordinates — that his word is perishable, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
He showed that again when he disputed having expressed a willingness, before the attacks on Saudi Arabia, to meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions. "Fake news," he says.
More like fake denial. To the whole world, in the East Room, Trump declared in late July: "No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet."
Last week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reinforced it. He said: "The president has made clear he's happy to take a meeting with no preconditions." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: "The president's made very clear, he's prepared to meet with no preconditions."
Iran said Monday to forget about it. A government spokesman said there now is “absolutely no chance” of a meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Trump at the UN General Assembly next week.
Laughing it up with Putin
As it happens, Rouhani and his foreign minister were in Turkey, meeting with its president and Russian President Vladimir Putin. While the main focus was Syria, the Iranians laughed as Putin, with a devious glint in his eye offered to sell Saudi Arabia Russian-made air defense systems, Politico reported.
Putin's comments were seen as a troll of Trump. Washington complained about Russia's sale of such defense systems to Iran, and again over Turkey's decision to buy from Russia instead of the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system.
Trump's Hispanic 'reachout': Judge for yourself
At his New Mexico rally Monday, Trump hailed an ally named Steve Cortes.
“He happens to be Hispanic, but I’ve never quite figured it out, because he looks more like a WASP than I do. But I tell you what, there is nobody that loves his country more or is Hispanic more than Steve Cortes.”
“Nobody loves the Hispanics more. Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics? ... He says the country. I don’t know. I may have to go for the Hispanics, to be honest with you. We’ve got a lot of Hispanics.
"We love our Hispanics. Get out and vote.”
We report, you figure it out.
Asterisk for that Kavanaugh story
The New York Times made a notable day-after addition to material adapted from a forthcoming book about a previously unreported sexual misconduct allegation during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's college years.
In an editor's note, the newspaper said a female Yale classmate of Kavanaugh's, portrayed by witnesses as a victim in the incident, declined to be interviewed by the authors, and her friends say she does not recall what allegedly happened. ABC News reports that when the woman was asked if other people can speak to her story, she replied, “All I can say is, ask Brett.”
The book by two Times reporters also said witnesses regarding that incident and an allegation by former Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez weren't interviewed by the FBI as Republicans pushed to wrap up confirmation proceedings last year. But the quick calls from some Democrats for impeaching Kavanaugh won't go anywhere soon.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said on WNYC radio that his committee is too tied up with "impeaching the president" at the moment. "That's going to take up our limited resources and time for a while," he said. When FBI Director Christopher Wray appears next month for a previous scheduled hearing, he will be asked about the thoroughness of the bureau's background checks on Kavanaugh.
All the news, all the fits
While en route to a rally in New Mexico, Trump tweeted, "I call for the Resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh SMEAR story, and while you’re at it, the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is just as phony!"
The Judiciary committee's impeachment inquiry may have started with allegations of obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation, but as Nadler described it, there's so much more.
“There are plenty of other things we have to look at,” Nadler told the Daily News. Among the allegations: “witness tampering, threatening witnesses, dangling pardons," he said, and his refusal to honor subpoenas.
To WNYC, he also mentioned violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution with his businesses, public corruption, obstruction of justice and abuse of power, as well as defying congressional subpoenas.
Nadler said, "Personally, I think the President ought to be impeached," but agreed with Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the House should not go forward with impeachment unless it has the public's support.
Not chill with Obama/Netflix
Venting on Twitter about the House Judiciary panel's scrutiny of his business and finances, Trump tweeted, "I have a better idea. Look at the Obama Book Deal, or the ridiculous Netflix deal."
After leaving the White House, Barack and Michelle Obama signed a joint book deal in 2017 worth a reported $65 million. Last year, they won a contract with Netflix to produce a film series. Such media agreements aren't unusual for ex-presidents, and no one — Trump included — has offered any legal basis to investigate them.
In contrast, the Trump investigations concern the flow into his businesses of taxpayer dollars and money from those seeking government favor.
ABC News reported an Air Force review found crews staying overnight in Scotland during refueling stops have made 39 overnight stays at Trump's Turnberry resort.
Warren takes a Village
Elizabeth Warren drew a crowd of thousands to an evening rally in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. The theme of her speech in Washington Square was a plan to end corruption, and the president was a target: "Let’s start with the obvious. Donald Trump is corruption in the flesh," Warren said.
Under her proposals, "anyone who wants to run for federal office will have to put their tax returns online," she said in another dig at Trump. Warren is also calling for a far-reaching ban on lobbyist money in politics. For more, see Newsday's story by Emily Ngo.
What else is happening:
- The labor-allied Working Families Party endorsed Warren, a switch from its support of Bernie Sanders in 2016, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy. Mayor Bill de Blasio, once a favorite of New York's WFP, was a weak also-ran.
- The Manhattan DA's office has subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm to demand eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns, The New York Times reported.
- Trump awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday to Mariano Rivera, the retired New York Yankees pitcher and Hall of Fame closer. For more see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
- Trump is expected to raise more than $15 million this week during a California fundraising swing Tuesday and Wednesday, reports The Associated Press.
- Among the top candidates to succeed John Bolton as national security adviser are Ricky Waddell, a former national security official in the administration, and Robert C. O’Brien, a presidential envoy for hostage affairs, Bloomberg News reported.
- Democratic long shot Tulsi Gabbard didn't make the cut for the last debate and might not be part of the next one, but she got more than 300,000 Twitter views for her workout video.