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WikiWhat? WikiWho? Arrest of Assange gives Trump a case of amnesia

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday. Photo Credit: Bloomberg News/Jim Lo Scalzo

Trump's lapse dance

In case you've forgotten, Donald Trump has boasted of having "one of the great memories of all time."

One could wonder if it suddenly failed him Thursday when the president was asked to comment on the arrest in London of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who got the heave-ho from the Ecuadorian Embassy that had given him sanctuary for seven years and now faces extradition to the U.S.

"I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not my thing," Trump said.

Oh, but he once had such a thing for them, back in 2016, when WikiLeaks was the purveyor of reams of documents stolen from the Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign. "WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks,” he said. "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” he said. "Boy I love reading those WikiLeaks," he said. MSNBC compiled a video of 141 times Trump mentioned WikiLeaks in the month before the election.

And Assange? "I know nothing really about him. It's not my deal in life," Trump said Thursday. Yet they had a mind meld of sorts in January 2017 when Trump tweeted about an interview Assange gave to his Fox News pal Sean Hannity in which called the U.S. media "very dishonest." Trump agreed: "More dishonest than anyone knows."

The U.S. indictment of Assange is unrelated to the election-year hacks, though if he chose to talk, he'd have an interesting story to tell. He is charged with conspiring to hack a Defense Department computer in 2010 as part of a cybersecurity breach that let WikiLeaks expose reams of secret American documents, much of them concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the U.S. conducted diplomacy.

Back then, whether he remembers or not, Trump was no WikiLeaks fan. "I think it's disgraceful, I think there should be like death penalty or something," Trump said during an exchange with Fox News' Brian Kilmeade dug up two years ago by CNN.

Janison: Wiki welcome worn out

Behind Trump's memory lapse is a political reality: The president's use for Assange and his organization is part of the past, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. They conquered a common enemy, Hillary Clinton, and Trump moved on.

Assange seemed to recognize the erosion of that alliance when he shouted as he was dragged out of the embassy: "The U.K. must resist this attempt by the Trump administration!"

Things are back to normal in a sense, with the U.S. government determined to punish the leaker. On such matters as protecting state secrets, the pressure now is on Trump to govern rather than agitate.

Trump and dump plan foiled

Trump pressured the Department of Homeland Security in February to release immigrants detained at the southern border into so-called sanctuary cities in part to retaliate against Democrats who oppose for a border wall, The Washington Post reported.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resisted and the DHS legal team eventually produced an analysis that killed the plan. It’s one reason Trump decided to get rid of her and the agency’s top lawyer.

A Trump favorite, Barr none

Trump on Thursday praised Attorney General William Barr for telling Congress he thinks intelligence agencies spied on the president's 2016 campaign.

"I think what he said was absolutely true, there was absolutely spying into my campaign," Trump said. What Barr said was less than absolute, but it sounds like Trump finally has an attorney general he likes.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Barr to retract his "spying" comment or "produce specific evidence to back it up."

For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Tom Brune.

A deal in stages with Rocket Man?

Trump on Thursday signaled he's open to "smaller deals" with Kim Jong Un that would make progress toward North Korea's nuclear disarmament until “the big deal" can be achieved.

As he was about to begin an Oval Office meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump said the two leaders would be discussing potential increases in humanitarian aid, including food assistance, to the North.

Trump insisted his meetings with Kim, including the Hanoi summit in February that ended abruptly, have been "productive." But he added, "This is not going to go fast … If it goes fast, then it’s not the proper deal.”

Hoosier vs. Hoosier

Pete Buttigieg's profile is rising in the Democratic race, with third-place showings in new polls from Iowa and New Hampshire. It may not hurt the openly gay South Bend, Indiana, mayor with grassroots Democrats that he's in an extended feud with Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor who clashed with gay rights advocates.

Speaking last weekend to an LGBTQ group, Buttigieg said, "I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand that if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my Creator.” Pence responded in an interview that aired on CNBC Thursday: "He’s said some things that are critical of my Christian faith and about me personally. And he knows better. He knows me.”

Pence said that as governor, he “worked very closely with Mayor Pete” and that they “had a great working relationship." Buttigieg wrote on Twitter that people “will often be polite to you in person, while advancing policies that harm you and your family.”

What else is happening:

  • Kellyanne Conway had the sarcasm ready over the indictment of former Obama counsel Greg Craig on charges related to his lobbying on Ukraine in tandem with Paul Manafort. "FINALLY! WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL INDICTED in connection with MUELLER investigation!" she tweeted. The amnesia must be catching: She forgot about former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn.
  • With Joe Biden's early record on civil rights facing scrutiny, CNN has uncovered he letters he wrote as a Delaware senator in the 1970s to segregationist Southern senators seeking their support for legislation to curb court-ordered busing for school integration. His allies included white supremacist James Eastland of Mississippi.
  • Trump triumphantly tweeted a Fox Business Network graphic that said a new poll gave him a 55% approval rating. The graphic was wrong — the 55% figure in a Georgetown Politics survey referred to voters who viewed Trump unfavorably. The network made an on-air correction. Trump's tweet stayed up.
  • The legal trouble facing Stormy Daniels' ex-lawyer Michael Avenatti got 36 counts deeper Thursday. A federal indictment accuses him of stealing millions of dollars from clients, evading taxes, committing bank fraud and lying in bankruptcy proceedings. Last month he was charged with an extortion plot against Nike.
  • The Senate voted 56-41 to confirm former lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Department secretary on Thursday. Democrats who opposed him cited conflict-of-interest concerns.
  • A fourth Republican senator, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, said he wouldn't support a Trump nomination of Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve. The nein-nein-nein-nein appears to have ended his chances.

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