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Team Trump’s Stormy story gets cloudier

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 27: Adult film

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 27: Adult film actress/director Stormy Daniels attends the 2018 Adult Video News Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 27, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ethan Miller

Too much to bare?

The White House admits to at least this much of a relationship between Donald Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels: legal adversary. An “arbitration was won in the president’s favor,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

An arbitrator’s temporary restraining order was obtained on behalf of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen Feb. 27 to stop Daniels from telling her story about a 2006-2007 affair with Trump and hold her to a hush agreement for which she was paid $130,000.

Oh, and did Trump know about the payout that Cohen says he made? “Not that I’m aware of,” Sanders said. That squishy answer seemed especially odd given that Sanders said she had spoken to Trump about the matter.

How about the $130,000 payment in October 2016, shortly before the election: Did Trump know about that? “Not that I’m aware of,” Sanders said.

But Trump is sticking to his story that there was no affair with the woman who was paid to keep quiet. “He’s denied all of these allegations,” Sanders said.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is suing to get the silence agreement declared invalid. “It’s time for her to tell her story and for the public to decide who is telling the truth,” he told NBC News.

What’s in a name

Just how the name David Dennison came to be used as an alias for Trump in this unusual agreement remains hazy. One real-life David Dennison, 58, from New Jersey, told People magazine: “If you are going to use an alias, isn’t John Doe or Fred Smith better than David Dennison?” Maybe John Barron, the fake name once used by Trump, would have been too obvious.

Relax, neighbors

Trump is considering exempting certain countries from a set of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that he was expected to authorize by the end of the week, including Canada and Mexico, Sanders said.

The reprieve for our northern and southern neighbors could be made permanent if there is an agreement on renegotiating NAFTA, trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox Business Network.

Other countries may also get spared, based on whether it serves U.S. national security interests to do so. It was unclear whether they could include U.S. allies such as the nations of the European Union, which has threatened retaliation against American products. See the story for Newsday by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Janison: One cheer for Trump

Trump’s tariff plan has been applauded as a positive by at least one big blue-collar union — the 860,000-member US Steelworkers — but it’s not likely the beginning of long political friendship.

Union president Leo Gerard said his members “got a lot of other things that they’re concerned about like a huge tax cut that’s going to the rich, like the dismantling of our health care system, like cutting back on safety laws at the workplace and a whole bunch of issues.

Likewise, the alignment of some red-state Democrats with Trump and free-trade Republicans against him is likely temporary. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Headed for the exits

The departure of top economic adviser Gary Cohn has sparked anxiety inside the White House of an even larger exodus that will make it even harder for Trump to advance his policy agenda, The Associated Press reports.

Multiple White House officials said the president has been pushing anxious aides to stay on the job. Vacancies abound in the West Wing, with some jobs never filled and others subject to repeat openings, such as communications director.

Kathryn Dunn-Tenpas of the Brookings Institution, who has been tracking senior-level staff turnover, said it has hit 40 percent in the Trump White House in just over a year.

The rise of Navarro

Steve Bannon’s exit from the White House last summer meant one less voice for populist hard-liners, but another has risen: trade adviser Peter Navarro, who had been kept on a short leash by ideological rival Cohn.

Navarro was recruited for the Trump team during the campaign when Trump asked Jared Kushner to do research on China to bolster Trump’s arguments, according to The Washington Post. Searching on Amazon, Kushner noticed the title of one book, ‘Death by China,’ co-authored by Navarro.

Navarro, a former economics professor, is now in the process of being formally promoted from “deputy assistant” to “assistant to the president.”

From the Mueller files

Special counsel Robert Mueller has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in the Seychelles just before Trump’s inauguration was an effort to establish a back-channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin, The Washington Post reports.

That seems to contradict statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Mueller has also learned of two conversations in recent months in which Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators, according to The New York Times.

The exchanges suggest the president has ignored his lawyers’ advice to avoid doing anything publicly or privately that could create the appearance of interfering with the investigation.

What else is happening:

  • Trump told a Hispanic commerce group he was “ready, willing and able” to approve legislation preserving DACA, and he faulted Democrats for not agreeing to his conditions to save the program, Newsday’s Figueroa reports.
  • Eleven Pacific nations are set to sign a trade pact Thursday without the U.S., the follow-up to Trump administration withdrawal from the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said he has “no disappointment” in his relationship so far with Trump, and “on a personal level he made a very good impression on me.” The comment came in a Russian television interview.
  • Trump dropped more than 200 spots on Forbes’ list of world billionaires this year, from 544th to 776th. His net worth dropped $400 million to $3.1 billion, attributed to declines in the retail real estate market in New York City and his “polarizing personality ... costing him business.”
  • A Veterans Affairs watchdog report faults Secretary David Shulkin for serious risks to patient safety at the Washington VA medical center during the Obama years, when he was an undersecretary at the department.
  • Valerie Huber, a senior Trump health official who has promoted abstinence, will be the final arbiter of which groups receive federal family planning funds, Politico reports. Women’s health advocates fear that the Trump administration will funnel money away from groups that provide contraception.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a one-week tour of Africa. Part of his mission is cleaning up the damage from Trump’s January remarks about “shithole countries” on the continent.
  • Forty-one percent of American voters polled by Quinnipiac said Trump is the worst president since World War II.

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