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Trump allies come up with the wrong response to the Comey bombshell

05/17/17 10:57AM

The day after Donald Trump fired his national security advisor, Michael Flynn, he reportedly had a private chat with then-FBI Director James Comey. According to a memo Comey wrote at the time, the president said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

That, of course, sounds remarkably similar to obstruction of justice, leaving the White House to try to come up with some kind of defense. As of last night, Trump's communications team released a statement -- no official wanted to put his or her name on the document -- that said, "[T]he president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation.... This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."

This morning, however, reporters started hearing a slightly different defense. NBC News' Marianna Sotomayor‏ noted on Twitter this morning:
"A senior WH official tells @PeterAlexander that POTUS wasn't telling Comey to end Flynn investigation and suggest this is the way he speaks"
Politico's John Bresnahan‏ had a similar item, noting that he heard from some congressional Republicans last night that the president's comments to Comey were an example of Trump "just spouting off." The comments weren't a "serious attempt at obstruction."

If this is going to serve as the GOP defense, it's worth taking a moment to unpack it.
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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

National security officials try to accommodate Trump's attributes

05/17/17 10:10AM

The week of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, Donald Trump conceded he likes to have short intelligence briefings, with information on national security limited to one page. "I like bullets or I like as little as possible," he said.

Soon after, National Security Council officials said that while Barack Obama liked policy papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, Trump prefers one page, "with lots of graphics and maps."

As Trump prepares for his first overseas trip as president, Reuters reports today on the efforts to prepare a president with Trump's unique attributes.
Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.

He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.

National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in "as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned," according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.
I mean, really. What are we even supposed to say at this point? Nearly four months into this presidency, National Security Council officials have apparently learned that Trump is likely to stop reading important materials unless he sees his name, so they write "Trump" more than they'd like to in the hopes of keeping the president's attention.

Have I mentioned that we're talking about a grown man with the world's most difficult job?
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bows his head in prayer during an event on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

McConnell wants less 'drama' from Trump, but for the wrong reasons

05/17/17 09:20AM

Because Republican support for Donald Trump is key to the sustainability of his presidency, much of the political world suddenly finds itself paying very close attention to anything resembling GOP criticism of the White House. With this dynamic in mind, a Mitch McConnell quote received quite a bit of attention yesterday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wishes there was "less drama" coming out of the White House following reports that President Donald Trump revealed classified information during a meeting with Russian officials last week.

In response to questions, McConnell said that he has not lost confidence in the president and that he still trusts him with classified information.

"I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House," McConnell told reporters, not directly responding to the latest controversy flowing out of the executive branch.
"Ah ha!" the political world responded, Mitch McConnell must be growing weary of Trump World's constant stream of scandals and self-imposed crises, each of which are difficult to defend. The Senate Majority Leader must want the president and his team to get their house in order -- and stop doing things like leaking highly classified intelligence to the Russians for no reason.

But consider the quote with a little more context: "I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda, which is deregulations, tax reform, [and] repealing and replacing Obamacare."

It's the latter half of the sentiment that sounds more cynical than principled.
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Sen. Angus King, I-Me., leaves the senate luncheons in the Capitol, September 9, 2014. Photo by Tom Williams/Getty.

Independent senator raises specter of Trump's impeachment

05/17/17 08:42AM

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) does not have a reputation as a partisan bomb-thrower. He's one of only two independents in Congress, and he's widely seen as someone with a moderate, even-keeled temperament.

And with this in mind, when CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked the Maine senator yesterday whether he believes Donald Trump may soon face impeachment proceedings, King's answer raised more than a few eyebrows.
"Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say yes, simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense. And I say it with sadness and reluctance. This is not something that I've advocated for. The word [impeachment] has not passed my lips in this whole tumultuous three or more months.

"But if indeed the president tried to tell the director of the FBI, who worked for him, that he should drop an investigation -- whether it was Michael Flynn or some investigation that had nothing to do with Russia or politics or the election -- that's a very serious matter."
Soon after, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who's voted with Trump more than 92% of the time this year, told an International Republican Institute, "I think we've seen this movie before. I think it's reaching a point where it's of Watergate size and scale."

Part of the trouble for the Trump White House isn't just the "size and scale" of Watergate, but the eerie similarities.
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FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP)

Comey memo may prove to be a smoking gun for Trump

05/17/17 08:00AM

About a week after his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump had dinner with then-FBI Director James Comey, and at the time, the president reportedly asked about the investigation into the Russia scandal and sought a loyalty pledge from Comey. Given the circumstances, the dinner discussion looked a bit like obstruction of justice.

Later, when the president said he fired Comey because of Trump's dissatisfaction with the investigation into the Russia scandal, the admitted details looked even more like obstruction of justice.

New York Times' report, published late yesterday, appears to remove any sense of subtlety from the conversation about the scandal.
President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

"I hope you can let this go," the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.
It's important to note that the memo was contemporaneous with the events. This isn't a case in which an aggrieved fired official, eager to punish the president who ended his career, is reflecting on a discussion that happened months prior; rather, this is an instance in which Comey kept a paper trail, documenting developments as they occurred.

The White House, not surprisingly, is denying the accuracy of the report -- interestingly, the written statement from the West Wing wasn't attributed to any one individual official -- but given what remains of Trump World's shredded credibility, it's difficult to take the denials seriously.
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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.16.17

05/16/17 05:37PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Awkward diplomacy: "President Donald Trump welcomed Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday to the White House amid tensions over the U.S. arming Kurdish militias in Syria to help push ISIS out of Raqqa and Turkish extradition demands for Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric accused of organizing last year's failed coup."

* Seems reasonable: "A growing number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers are calling on President Trump to hand over the transcript of the White House meeting last week in which he revealed highly classified information to Russia's foreign minister and ambassador, according to current and former U.S. officials."

* Replacing Comey, Part I: "After interviewing to lead the FBI -- and the nation's investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia -- on Saturday, Sen. John Cornyn pulled his name from consideration Tuesday. He drops out amid a flurry of explosive reports that the president gave highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats."

* Replacing Comey, Part II: "Rep. Trey Gowdy took himself out of the running to be the new FBI director, saying Monday that he doesn't feel like he'd be the right pick."

* North Carolina: "Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vowed Tuesday to issue an executive order 'pretty soon' to increase protections for LGBTQ people in the state. The pledge follows the state's partial repeal of HB2, a law barring local governments from passing any anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people."

* All is not well at the State Department: "The White House issued a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after the publication of a Washington Post report saying that Trump had revealed highly sensitive intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the course of a conversation about ISIS. The only issue: State Department officials had no idea the statement had come out, learning about it only from CNN."
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