Trump voters remain unwilling to admit they got fooled

 

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The untouchable Hope Hicks, a ‘souvenir from Trump Tower’

Politico reports: Hope Hicks was celebrating a family wedding at a Bermuda golf club the weekend after Donald Trump was elected president when she overheard members of another party expressing dismay about his victory.

The young press secretary was off duty, but she couldn’t help inserting herself into the conversation at the next table. “I promise, he’s a good person!” Hicks chimed in, begging them not to worry, according to multiple people who witnessed the exchange.

Hicks’ instinctual defense of the president is emblematic of how she views her role in the White House: as someone who deeply understands Trump, but also understands why, in her mind, people misunderstand him. The polite, soft-spoken 28-year-old newbie to Washington politics holds the lofty title of director of strategic communications, pulls down the top White House salary of $179,700 – the same as strategist Steve Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus – but operates outside of any organizational chart.

She is protected, in a world of rival power centers, by the deep bond she shares with the man at the top. He affectionately refers to her as “Hopester.” She still calls him “Mr. Trump.” And she views her job, ultimately, as someone who is installed where she is in order to help, but not change, the leader of the free world. [Continue reading…]

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Read Anthony Scaramucci’s old tweets. You’ll understand why he deleted them

The Washington Post reports: New White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci hasn’t always shared the political views of the administration he now serves.

In previous tweets, the Wall Street financier called Hillary Clinton “incredibly competent” and appeared to be at odds with his new boss on issues such as gun control, climate change, Islam and illegal immigration.

But on Saturday, the day after he became Trump’s communications director, he announced on Twitter that he’s deleting his old tweets, which he said are only a distraction. [Continue reading…]

As predictable as it is that social media now revels in Scaramucci’s old tweets, it’s worth asking this: Which is preferable? That the only people close at Trump’s side are true believers, or that he should also include those whose support appears disingenuous? I’d say that the more there are of dubious loyalties, the better.

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Trump claims he has ‘complete power’ to pardon

The New York Times reports: President Trump on Saturday asserted the “complete power to pardon” relatives, aides and possibly even himself in response to investigations into Russia’s meddling in last year’s election, as he came to the defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions just days after expressing regret about appointing him.

Mr. Trump suggested in a series of early morning messages on Twitter that he had no need to use the pardon power at this point but left the option open. Presidents have the authority to pardon others for federal crimes, but legal scholars debate whether a president can pardon himself. Mr. Trump’s use of the word “complete” seemed to suggest he did not see a limit to that authority.

“While all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us,” he wrote on Twitter. “FAKE NEWS.”

The Washington Post reported in recent days that the president and his advisers had discussed pardons as a special counsel intensifies an investigation into whether associates of Mr. Trump and his campaign conspired with Russia to intervene in the 2016 presidential campaign. [Continue reading…]

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Can the president be indicted? A long-hidden legal memo says yes

The New York Times reports: A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted?

The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office.

“It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr office memo concludes. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.”

Mr. Starr assigned Ronald Rotunda, a prominent conservative professor of constitutional law and ethics whom Mr. Starr hired as a consultant on his legal team, to write the memo in spring 1998 after deputies advised him that they had gathered enough evidence to ask a grand jury to indict Mr. Clinton, the memo shows.

Other prosecutors working for Mr. Starr developed a draft indictment of Mr. Clinton, which The Times has also requested be made public. The National Archives has not processed that file to determine whether it is exempt from disclosure under grand-jury secrecy rules. [Continue reading…]

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Congress reaches deal on Russia sanctions, creating tough choice for Trump

The New York Times reports: Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House’s argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.

The new legislation sharply limits the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions — a remarkable handcuffing by a Republican-led Congress six months into Mr. Trump’s tenure. It is also the latest Russia-tinged turn for a presidency consumed by investigations into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian officials last year.

Mr. Trump could soon face a decision: veto the bill — a move that would fuel accusations that he is doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — or sign legislation imposing sanctions his administration abhors.

“A nearly united Congress is poised to send President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies, and we need President Trump to help us deliver that message,” said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The White House has not publicly spoken about the compromise legislation. But two senior administration officials said they could not imagine Mr. Trump vetoing the legislation in the current political atmosphere, even if he regards it as interfering with his executive authority to conduct foreign policy. But as ever, Mr. Trump retains the capacity to surprise, and this would be his first decision about whether to veto a significant bill. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. investigators seek to turn Manafort in Russia probe

Reuters reports: U.S. investigators examining money laundering accusations against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort hope to push him to cooperate with their probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation said.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is examining Manafort’s financial and real estate records in New York as well as his involvement in Ukrainian politics, the officials said.

Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three New York properties, including one in Trump Tower in Manhattan. He paid for them in full and later took out mortgages against them. A former senior U.S. law enforcement official said that tactic is often used as a means to hide the origin of funds gained illegally. Reuters has no independent evidence that Manafort did this.

The sources also did not say whether Mueller has uncovered any evidence to charge Manafort with money laundering, but they said doing so is seen by investigators as critical in getting his full cooperation in their investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Trump assigns White House team to target Iran nuclear deal, sidelining State Department

Foreign Policy reports: After a contentious meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week, President Donald Trump instructed a group of trusted White House staffers to make the potential case for withholding certification of Iran at the next 90-day review of the nuclear deal. The goal was to give Trump what he felt the State Department had failed to do: the option to declare that Tehran was not in compliance with the contentious agreement.

“The president assigned White House staffers with the task of preparing for the possibility of decertification for the 90-day review period that ends in October — a task he had previously given to Secretary Tillerson and the State Department,” a source close to the White House told Foreign Policy.

The agreement, negotiated between Iran and world powers, placed strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for lifting an array of economic sanctions.

On Tuesday, Trump relayed this new assignment to a group of White House staffers now tasked with making sure there will not be a repeat at the next 90-day review. “This is the president telling the White House that he wants to be in a place to decertify 90 days from now and it’s their job to put him there,” the source said. [Continue reading…]

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How climate change denial threatens national security

Wired reports: In a cramped meeting room Wednesday on Capitol Hill, House Democrats hosted a roundtable to discuss climate change with several national security experts. In attendance were two former admirals, a retired general, a once-ambassador to Nigeria, and the former undersecretary to the Secretary of Defense.

Over several hours of questioning, they described how climate change would escalate instability across the globe and make it harder for the US military to conduct its operations. Nothing they said, however, was all that new. In fact, the Department of Defense has known about, and sometimes planned for, the security threats created by climate change for well over a decade. Congressional Democrats—minority members of the House Science Committee—called the roundtable as a plea to the Republican-led Congress to stop standing in the way of the military’s preparations for the heightened dangers of a warming world.

One of the key phrases here is “threat multiplier.” Coined about a decade ago by panelist Sherri Goodman, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, it means climate change will raise the stakes for existing conflicts, and push unstable communities toward catastrophe. Case study: the Syrian Civil War, rise of ISIS, and Syrian refugee crisis began in part because of a climate change-linked drought that began in 2006. “Droughts affected the Syrian harvests, compounded by historically poor governance and water management,” says Marcus King, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University. This caused migrations of farmers into the cities, where they had neither jobs nor food. The violent protests for both became rallying cry against repressive president Bashar Assad. The protests became riots, then insurgency, and eventually full-blown chaos.

The threat multiplier paradigm is appearing in other places. Guatemala already has problems with food security, and many regions are still left ungoverned after that country’s not-so-distant civil war. Rising seas are bringing saltwater incursion to Egypt’s Nile Delta, adding food insecurity to that country’s already tense political situation. And in Nigeria’s capital city of Lagos, nearly half of the 22 million residents live below sea level and will eventually have to relocate—unlikely to be easy or conflict-free. “This isn’t a political issue for the defense community,” says Ann Phillips, a retired admiral and an advisor for the Center for Climate and Security. “We in this community are pragmatic and mission-focused.” [Continue reading…]

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No, Trump can’t pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so

Laurence H. Tribe, Richard Painter and Norman Eisen write: Can a president pardon himself? Four days before Richard Nixon resigned, his own Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opined no, citing “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.” We agree.

The Justice Department was right that guidance could be found in the enduring principles that no one can be both the judge and the defendant in the same matter, and that no one is above the law.

The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal. It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution. That provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself. [Continue reading…]

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Anthony Scaramucci loved Hillary, gave to Obama, and deleted anti-Trump tweets

The Daily Beast reports: Anthony Scaramucci deleted tweets in which he previously criticized Donald Trump hours after accepting his new job as White House communications director on Friday.

Scaramucci also previously expressed support for his boss’s old rivals, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—even donating money to their campaigns.

In December 2011, Scaramucci referred to the “Trump spectacle” in a tweet about Mitt Romney. Two months later, the new White House pick tweeted a National Journal article about Trump endorsing Newt Gingrich in the 2012 race: “Odd guy. So smart with no judgment.”

The deleted tweets were spotted by freelance journalist Josh Billinson, who Scaramucci briefly blocked.

“I’m just shocked he hadn’t deleted them earlier,” Billinson told The Daily Beast. “That he could’ve been in the running for communications director and not even thought to check what he had publicly said about Trump in the past is wild to me.” [Continue reading…]

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Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show

The Washington Post reports: Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.

“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.

Current and former U.S. officials said that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

The apparent discrepancy could pose new problems for Sessions at a time when his position in the administration appears increasingly tenuous. [Continue reading…]

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Congress likely to tie Trump’s hands on Russia sanctions

Politico reports: A White House effort to secure changes to a Russia sanctions bill constraining President Donald Trump appears likely to fall short, in a major rebuff by the GOP-led Congress to the leader of its own party.

Senior Republican lawmakers and aides gave their clearest comments yet Thursday that the bill would ultimately move forward without changes sought by the White House, potentially undermining Trump’s ability to warm relations with Moscow.

The Senate already passed the bill on a 98-2 vote. And while it’s stalled in the House amid partisan finger-pointing, most Republicans are joining Democrats to support adding new sanctions while curbing Trump’s power to roll back the penalties against Russia.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has pushed back against the bill for not providing the administration with “flexibility” to deal with Vladimir Putin’s government, but his words don’t appear to be resonating. GOP lawmakers are loath to be seen as watering down efforts to punish Putin for meddling in the 2016 election, even if many brush off the growing controversy over the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

Tillerson is “a good friend, and I really love my relationship with him, but that’s not likely to occur,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said Thursday when asked about the White House’s request for changes to the sanctions bill.

Language empowering Congress to block Trump from any attempt to ease or end sanctions “is going to stay in this bill,” Corker told reporters. “And we’ve had very constructive meetings with the House — there’s no attempt whatsoever to move away from” that provision, the Tennessee Republican added. [Continue reading…]

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Trump in Paris — biggest celebration ever?

1944 liberation from Nazi occupation saw the biggest celebrations in Paris — prior to Donald Trump’s arrival


On MSNBC this morning, the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt described Trump as often being “hard to follow” during their White House interview on Wednesday.

As a reporter, Schmidt might feel obliged to maintain a facade of neutrality — as though he has no opinion about the state of this president’s mental health.

And yet, an insistent unwillingness to make judgments can mask a fear of making meaningful observations. In everyday life, as we read other people — through their words, demeanor, body language, and other indications — we use our powers of discernment to discriminate between delusion and deception.

A journalist doesn’t have to claim the capacity to read Trump’s mind in order to convey his or her sense of whether Trump actually believes the ridiculous things he so often says.

Trump is hard to follow because he’s hard to swallow.

The occasional probing interjection might provide some clarity during his otherwise meandering stream of consciousness. For instance, pointing out that the history of the Eiffel Tower stretches back to the Nineteenth Century would suggest that it had been the location of bigger celebrations than the one Trump claims he recently witnessed — leaving aside the fact that the throngs in question may have simply been the swell of tourists typically found in central Paris on a midsummer evening.

Does Trump generally assume that any crowd in his vicinity is most likely a crowd of admirers?

TRUMP: We had dinner at the Eiffel Tower, and the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looked like they could have never had a bigger celebration ever in the history of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, there were thousands and thousands of people, ’cause they heard we were having dinner.

[crosstalk/garbled]

HABERMAN: You must have been so tired at, by that point.

TRUMP: Yeah. It was beautiful. We toured the museum, we went to Napoleon’s tomb …

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: “No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.” [garbled] The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather? [garbled]

[crosstalk/unintelligible]

TRUMP: Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army.

[crosstalk]

But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. [crosstalk] It’s pretty amazing.

So, we’re having a good time. The economy is doing great.

And this snippet of Wednesday’s interview leads to another question about Trump’s second conversation with Putin at the G-20 — the one that Trump recounted as having amounted to little more than an exchange of pleasantries.

If the New York Times reporters found Trump hard to follow, how clear was he to the Russian president and his translator?

The fact that Trump initiated the contact — evident in hand gestures and a nod that were videoed — appear to show he knew what he wanted to say. An indication, perhaps, that Trump’s appearance of confusion may have less to do with his garbled thinking than with his desire to sow confusion.

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Sean Spicer resigns as White House press secretary

The New York Times reports: Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned on Friday after denouncing chaos in the West Wing and telling President Trump he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of the New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.

After offering Mr. Scaramucci the communications job Friday morning, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Spicer to stay on as press secretary. But Mr. Spicer told Mr. Trump that he believed the appointment of Mr. Scaramucci was a major mistake and said he was resigning, according to a person with direct knowledge of the exchange.

In one of his first official acts, Mr. Scaramucci, who founded the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital and is a Fox News contributor, joined Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mr. Spicer’s chief deputy, in the White House briefing room and announced that she would succeed Mr. Spicer as press secretary.

He said he had great respect for Mr. Spicer, adding, “I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.” But he acknowledged the awkwardness of Mr. Spicer’s resignation. “This is obviously a difficult situation to be in,” Mr. Scaramucci said. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon’s disappearing act

Politico reports: Steve Bannon has largely disappeared from the White House’s most sensitive policy debates — a dramatic about-face for an operative once characterized as the most powerful man in Washington.

Bannon, chastened by internal rivalries and by President Donald Trump’s growing suspicion that he is looking out for his own interests, is in a self-imposed exile, having chosen to step back from Trump’s inner circle for the sake of self-preservation, according to several White House advisers who spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering a colleague.

He was absent from Trump’s recent trips to Europe for the G-20 summit and from his visit with French President Emmanuel Macron. Bannon’s non-attendance is all the more noteworthy given his interest in European history and politics, particularly his antipathy to the European Union. [Continue reading…]

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Syrian rebels feel betrayed by U.S. decision to end CIA support: ‘It will weaken America’s influence.’

The Washington Post reports: Syrian rebel commanders said Thursday that they were disappointed in the Trump administration’s decision to end a covert CIA weapons and training program for opposition fighters, an initiative that began under President Barack Obama but fizzled out amid battlefield losses and concerns about extremism within rebel ranks.

“We definitely feel betrayed,” said Gen. Tlass al-Salameh of Osoud al-Sharqiya, a group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. Salameh and his deputies say that they have received CIA support to rout the Islamic State from areas of eastern Syria but that they have also fought battles against pro-government ­forces.

“It feels like we are being abandoned at a very difficult moment,” Salameh said. “It feels like they only wanted to help when we were fighting [the Islamic State]. Now that we are also fighting the regime, the Americans want to withdraw.” [Continue reading…]

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