A witch’s brew-hoo
President Donald Trump’s first words on the naming of a special counsel for the Russian investigation were mild and measured. Then he had a chance to sleep on it.
“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” said his wake-up tweet.
He repeated the complaint in an afternoon White House appearance with Colombia’s president, but expanded the victim pool. “It hurts our country terribly because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country,” he said.
Trump said “no, no” to a question on whether he asked now-fired FBI Director James Comey to drop his probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
But as he rejected suspicions of any campaign-time collusion with Russia, his jumbled syntax left room for uncertainty over whether the denial was as emphatic for his entire team as for himself.
“There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians — zero,” he said. (Video here.)
See Newsday’s story by Emily Ngo.
Trump is leaning toward accepting the advice of aides and associates to hire an outside lawyer amid new legal questions arising over his own actions, The New York Times reported.
It doesn’t really leave his troubles behind, but Trump will at least have a change of scenery as he embarks on his first foreign trip as commander-in-chief on Friday.
Among the stops over eight days is Israel, whose intelligence he apparently over-shared with the Russians; Belgium and Italy for multilateral meetings with world leaders uncertain about long-term U.S. commitments; Saudi Arabia, where he will try to put a friendlier cast on his stands on Muslims; and the Vatican to see Pope Francis, an open critic.
See Laura Figueroa’s story for Newsday.
The take-away: Worlds apart?
Trump is reported to be setting up a major Saudi Arabia arms deal — following up weapons sales made during the Obama administration.
That might surprise anyone who heard him talk last year about links between Saudis and the 9/11 attacks. But on that issue and others, it is tough to see a clear, sweeping reversal that one might have expected from his campaign rhetoric, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
After collecting $500,000 working for Turkey, Flynn asked the Obama administration in its last days to hold off on a plan to use Syrian Kurdish forces to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, according to McClatchy newspapers. Turkey opposes U.S. partnering with Kurds.
Trump eventually approved the Raqqa plan, but not until weeks after Flynn had been fired.
Flynn informed Trump transition lawyer Donald McGahn, now chief White House counsel, in early January that he was under federal investigation for his work for Turkey, according to The New York Times. The White House denies it.
Just can’t quit him?
Trump has already said Flynn was the victim of a “witch hunt.” The Daily Beast, citing sources close to Flynn and the administration, reports the president is still clinging to hope that when the investigation is over, Flynn could rejoin the White House in some capacity.
Flynn, after a dinner meeting with loyalists last month, told friends, “I just got a message from the president to stay strong,” according to a Yahoo News report.
Rosenstein: Die was cast
Senators leaving a closed-door briefing by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein say he told them he was aware of Trump’s decision to fire Comey before he wrote the president a memo saying he had lost confidence in the FBI director.
That further obliterated the original White House story. The first account was that Comey’s firing was made based on Rosenstein’s recommendation. Then Trump told NBC News last week that he decided to fire Comey “regardless” of the memo.
What else is happening
- Trump will propose next week that the United States can balance the federal budget over 10 years with substantial cuts to safety-net programs such as food stamps and other anti-poverty efforts, the WSJ reports (pay wall).
- Former Vice President Joe Biden said of Hillary Clinton on Thursday night: “I never thought she was a great candidate, I thought I was a great candidate."
- Comey was uneasy from the get-go about his encounters with Trump, according to stories in The Washington Post and The New York Times, and even rehearsed answers for inappropriate questions he expected to receive from the president.
- Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, is a top candidate for the FBI director job. Some Democrats objected, saying the job shouldn’t go to a former elected official.
- Almost six in 10 Americans think it’s likely that Trump dismissed Comey to hinder the Russia investigation, according to a Monmouth University Poll.
- Trump is considering scaling back press secretary Sean Spicer’s public role as he weighs a broader shake-up of the White House communications shop, Politico reports.
- Speaker Paul Ryan said House Republicans can still pursue their agenda amid the Trump distractions, while acknowledging that “Drama is not helpful in getting things done.”
- The Trump administration formally started the clock Thursday on a 90-day waiting period before talks can begin with Mexico and Canada to renegotiate NAFTA.
- Ex-FBI director William Mueller's takeover of the Russia probe could stall or complicate those purportedly proceeding in Congress.