An open, not shut, case
The question of who paid for the “Russia dossier” on Trump is now partly answered. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee footed the bill from April through October of 2016.
Still open is the question of who might pay, in the form of legal jeopardy, if some of its more explosive but unverified contents are found credible by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and help him build a case.
Trump Wednesday called the dossier “fake” and the Democrats’ funding role a “disgrace.” Reporters who previously looked into the funding say Marc Elias, a Clinton campaign/DNC lawyer, falsely denied his role.
The dossier depicts efforts to aid Trump and contends Moscow had amassed compromising dirt on him. The details weren’t widely reported before the election amid wariness about their reliability. But the dossier since has become part of the investigation into collusion, if not the central element.
Mueller’s team has spoken in recent weeks with Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy who helped compile the dossier, according to The Associated Press.
Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for Trump’s campaign, contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last year, seeking his help in uncovering Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails, The Daily Beast reported.
Assange said on Twitter that WikiLeaks was approached by Cambridge and rejected its request. Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah — megadonors who are close to Trump — are major investors in the company. Steve Bannon held an executive post at Cambridge before joining the Trump campaign in August 2016.
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that WikiLeaks was given hacked Democratic emails as part of a Russian government effort to interfere in the election to help Trump.
Trump self-grades his civility
He derides foes and critics as dogs, slobs and losers, not to mention weak, wacky, crazy and dumb, or crying and lying. GOP Sen. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake denounced his conduct as unpresidential and undignified.
But Trump, asked Wednesday if he should be “more civil,” said it’s the media’s fault if people don’t already see him that way.
“I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am. You know, people don’t understand — I went to an Ivy League college, I was a nice student, I did very well, I’m a very intelligent person,” Trump said. “The fact is, I think — I really believe — I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.”
The look of love
Aside from Corker and Flake, Trump said his meeting with Senate Republicans “was almost a lovefest. Maybe it was a lovefest.”
Trump also again opposed a proposal to curb tax breaks on contributions to 401(k) retirement funds.
But he said maybe they will be part of negotiations after he was told that the House Republican tax-writing chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), said on Wednesday the idea is still on the table. See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
No SALT, no budget?
Opposition from Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and other moderate House Republicans is creating uncertainty ahead of a scheduled budget vote that’s considered a crucial first step for the tax-overhaul legislation.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) said there are more than 20 House Republicans who would vote against the resolution if a “reasonable” compromise isn’t reached on preserving the state and local tax deduction in some form.
King said he will vote no. He complained that he and Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island) weren’t invited to several meetings with leadership to discuss the deduction. “They are trying to pick us off one by one,” he told Bloomberg News.
Trump and the widow
Once again, Trump stood by his version of the call last week to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was one of four soldiers killed in Niger. But he didn’t attack her as he has done to her friend, Rep. Frederica Wilson.
“I was extremely nice to her. She sounds like a lovely lady,” Trump said. “ ... I respect her. I respect her family.” But Trump contradicted her account that he struggled with her husband’s name. He said it “right from the beginning.” Pointing to his head, the president said: “One of the great memories of all time.”
Trump also told reporters Wednesday he did not “specifically” authorize the mission in Niger — his generals did. “I gave them authority to do what’s right so that we win. That’s the authority they have. I want to win and we’re going to win,” he said.
What else is happening
- Asked how long it will take to rebuild Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson responded with a joke: between “one and 100 years.”
- Trump’s not a details guy on policy, but he knows construction. He spoke animatedly on a Texas visit about using moisture-resistant Greenboard instead of ordinary drywall to give homes in hurricane-prone areas more protection from flooding.
- Trump said he’d “love” to do a DACA deal, but said it would have to include a wall — departing from the agreement that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said they had with him, Brune reports.
- Trump said he is “thinking about” keeping Janet Yellen on as chair of the Federal Reserve Board. He told Fox Business Network that when he interviewed her recently, “She was very impressive. I like her a lot.”
- Trump’s job approval has dropped to a low of 38% in a Fox News poll, down from 42% last month, while 57% disapprove. His ratings among Republicans held steady, but they fell among white men without a college degree, white evangelical Christians and independents.
- Schumer ripped Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s efforts to sell Trump’s tax plan. In a Politico podcast interview, Schumer said, “I don’t know if the man’s deliberately lying, but it seems so.” He said Mnuchin “seems to just want to ... suck up to Trump.”
- Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), asked on CNN whether he should speak up when he knows Trump is lying about something, replied: “That’s your job.”