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Trump determined to punish the leakers he doesn't think exist

05/15/18 08:40AM

Almost immediately after Donald Trump's inauguration, newly installed White House officials seemed eager to share their bizarre experiences with the press. The president's outrage about the leaks from his own team was obvious.

He did not, however, know quite what to say about them. In February 2017, during an appearance at CPAC, Trump told conservative activists that the leaks aren't real; they're just made-up quotes from unethical and dishonest journalists. In the same speech, the president went on to say that he was furious that officials from his own team leaked real, sensitive information.

How did Trump reconcile the contradiction? By all appearances, he didn't seem to understand that the contradiction existed.

More than a year later, the president is still struggling, as a tweet from yesterday afternoon helped prove.

"The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible. With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!"

So, the leaks are not a problem, and they are a problem. They are invented, and they are real. The leakers don't really exist, and they very much exist.

Trump's had a year and a half to figure this out, and as of yesterday afternoon, those efforts don't appear to be going well.

Of course, we know the impetus for this latest Trump World anxiety. Last week, during a meeting on Gina Haspel's nomination to lead the CIA, a White House official mocked Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) failing health, deeming his concerns about Haspel irrelevant because "he's dying anyway." Kelly Sadler, the White House's director of surrogate and coalitions outreach, has not yet issued any kind of public apology.

But as the controversy grew over the incident, Trump World decided the real problem wasn't Sadler's comment, but rather, the fact that the public learned about Sadler's comment. What was leaked, the president's aides said, was less important than the fact that the quote was leaked at all.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump departs the White House

Trump takes steps to remind Pence who's boss

05/15/18 08:00AM

About a month ago, following a months-long search, Vice President Mike Pence hired Jon Lerner to serve as his national security adviser. The move, however, was short lived: Donald Trump discovered that Lerner had criticized him during the Republican presidential primaries two years ago, so the president told White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "to get rid of Lerner."

Three weeks later, Pence lost his physician, Dr. Jennifer Pena, reportedly because she'd raised concerned about Ronny Jackson, Trump's failed nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

With this in mind, it appears Trump may be asserting some dominance over his vice president by installing his allies on Pence's team: NBC News reported yesterday that Trump's first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has agreed to join the vice president's political action committee.

The decision to bring in Lewandowski comes against the backdrop of a New York Times article that reported on tension between the president's team and the vice president's political aides over the emergence of Pence as a political force in his own right.

It was Trump who asked Lewandowski to sign up with the vice president's team, according to a Republican source. Lewandowski's arrival sends a signal that, while Trump and Pence are aligned, Trump is the boss, said a second source, a GOP donor who had been informed of Lewandoski's plans.

At a distance, this appears to be a dynamic in which Trump wasn't satisfied with some of the members of Pence's team, so the president helped choose a new aide for the vice president.

Or put another way, Trump suddenly seems eager to remind Pence who's in charge.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 5.14.18

05/14/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Of course it did: "The White House on Monday blamed Hamas for the deaths of dozens of Palestinians in clashes between protesters and the Israeli military."

* Is the reward comparable to the risks? "The U.S. has added dozens of Marines to the security details at embassies in Jordan, Israel and Turkey because of concerns about unrest linked to the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, according to five U.S. defense officials."

* SCOTUS: "The U.S. Supreme Court acted Monday to bust Nevada's monopoly on legal sports betting, allowing more states to get in on the action and reap the tax benefits."

* Their concerns are understandable: "Members from both parties are reacting skeptically to President Donald Trump's intention to help troubled Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, saying they are concerned he is reversing his pledge to get tough on Beijing."

* I think we see where this is headed: "The Senate appears to be moving full speed ahead on confirming Gina Haspel as director of the CIA. The Intelligence Committee is expected to vote to advance her nomination to the floor during a closed business meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning, and a Saturday morning announcement by Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly further reduced the suspense."

* Oklahoma: "Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday signed a controversial bill that will allow private adoption agencies to refuse some child placements based on the agencies' religious beliefs."

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The Rev. John Hagee speaks during a news conference held at the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio on Friday, May 23, 2008.

Trump's other controversial pastor in Jerusalem today

05/14/18 04:16PM

In 2000, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran for president as a moderate, deliberately eschewing the religious right as a group of extremists he saw as "agents of intolerance." Eight years later, McCain moved sharply to the right and took steps to forge a partnership with radical social conservatives.

It didn't turn out well. The Republican senator welcomed the support of Pastor John Hagee, for example, right up until McCain was asked whether he agreed with many of Hagee's extremist comments targeting a variety of faith traditions. Ten years ago this month, the Arizonan found it necessary to denounce his newfound ally and condemn Hagee's hateful record.

A decade later, guess who Team Trump invited to deliver the benediction at today's ceremony in Israel at the opening of the new U.S. embassy.

Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, delivered the benediction at the ceremony.

"We thank you, O Lord, for President Donald Trump's courage in acknowledging to the world a truth that was established 3,000 years ago -- that Jerusalem is and always shall be the eternal capital of the Jewish people," Hagee said. [...]

A major proponent of the embassy move, Hagee said in a recent interview with conservative news site Breitbart that he told Trump he would win "political immortality" for moving the embassy from Tel Aviv.

In case anyone's forgotten, Hagee's lengthy record of extremism includes an instance in which he argued that Hitler was executing a divine plan from God. The right-wing pastor is also on record arguing that Jews have been persecuted over the centuries, but it's their own fault for not converting to Christianity.

This is the guy who was invited to deliver the benediction at the opening of our embassy in Jerusalem.

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Despite Trump's 'gut-driven' confidence, deadly violence erupts in Gaza

05/14/18 12:50PM

Donald Trump makes no secret of the fact that he has no use for subject-matter experts. By all appearances, the president is especially indifferent to the judgment of scholars and authorities in matters of foreign policy.

The Washington Post had an interesting piece last week on Trump's approach to international affairs, which is driven by his confidence in a "gut-driven" approach that he sees as effective, despite experts' warnings. In particular, his decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem is, in Trump's mind, a great example of his wisdom.

The article quoted on U.S. official saying that the Republican president heard "all kinds of warnings" about the move, including the prospect of violence, "virtually none of which have proven to be the case, at least thus far."

Even at the time, this seemed like a misguided posture. Palestinian officials, for example, no longer trust -- and will no longer speak to -- U.S. officials as a result of Trump's decision. It also was the unnecessary source of strained ties between the White House and European allies who urged the American president to choose a different course.

But even putting all of that aside, I can only hope Trump's confidence in his instincts was shaken by today's bloodshed.

At least 52 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and almost 1,960 others were wounded Monday after thousands of protesters converged on the razor-wire fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel as the U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem.

The Israeli Defense Forces opened fire on protesters approaching the barrier and accused Hamas of "leading a terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people," adding that "firebombs and explosive devices" as well as rocks were being thrown toward the barrier.

The report added the Gaza protest started in late March, though today's demonstration "was meant to express anger over the U.S. Embassy's inauguration."

As the violence continued, and dozens of Palestinians were killed, Donald Trump declared via Twitter, "Big day for Israel. Congratulations!"

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.14.18

05/14/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Facing the possibility of a lockout in some key California races, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is starting to intervene in some upcoming primaries, including throwing support behind Harley Rouda in Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's (R-Calif.) district.

* Remember the recent state legislative race in Virginia that was tied until a Republican prevailed when his name was pulled out of a bowl? A Washington Post  analysis found that 26 voters from that area "cast ballots in the wrong district," possibly changing the outcome of this race.

* Speaking of intra-party contests, tomorrow is Primary Day in four states: Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

* In one of those contests, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli is running as a Democrat in Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district despite his record of praising Donald Trump and condemning progressives. Morganelli now appears to have deleted many of his least-Democratic tweets.

* And speaking of the Keystone State, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) is widely seen as the favorite in tomorrow's Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania, but to help give him a boost, Donald Trump has recorded a robocall on the congressman's behalf. Among other things, the president touts Barletta's hardline views on immigration as a reason to vote for him.

* In a bit of a surprise, former Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Fla.), one of the leading Democratic candidates in Florida's gubernatorial race, said she'd consider former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) as a possible running mate.

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Image: FBI Investigates Trump's attorney Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen maintains RNC role, despite ongoing controversies

05/14/18 11:05AM

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's controversial "fixer," is in an unfortunate spot. Last week, new details came into sharper focus showing that the New York attorney received undisclosed lobbying payments -- through a shell company used to pay hush money to a porn star -- from corporate giants hoping to influence his client in the Oval Office.

The Wall Street Journal took a deeper dive into this story over the weekend, pointing to some companies Cohen approached that we hadn't heard about before.

When Michael Cohen came knocking after the 2016 election, touting himself as the president's lawyer, a man who could decipher the new administration, Ford Motor Co. said no. So did Uber Technologies Inc.

He managed to notch AT&T Inc. and Novartis AG. And Squire Patton Boggs, a law and lobbying firm, hired him for a sizable fee -- though he felt it wasn't enough.

Mr. Cohen talked to associates about building a huge practice. He mused about approaching foreign governments and foreign firms. But a broad review of his Washington dealings since they first surfaced last week shows his efforts were scattershot and met only with mixed success -- both for Mr. Cohen and his clients.

The WSJ report described Cohen's "blunt" pitch to prospective clients: they should fire their existing advisers and replace them with him. “I have the best relationship with the president on the outside, and you need to hire me,” Cohen reportedly told them.

The result was a rather brutal fiasco for practically everyone involved. Several of Cohen's former clients have had chats with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators, and Cohen himself is, according to one judge, "likely" to be indicted.

There's no shortage of questions related to Cohen's clients, his finances, other potential LLCs, what investigators were looking for when they raided his home and office, and what role Donald Trump may or may not have had in this mess.

But there's one question that shouldn't get lost in the shuffle: is there a point at which this becomes a problem for the Republican National Committee?

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

White House: Thanks to Trump, we are now 'respected,' 'feared,' and 'loved'

05/14/18 10:00AM

Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley has developed something of a reputation for delivering notable quotes. In February, for example, a day after the Justice Department brought criminal charges against Russian operatives who attacked our democracy, Gidley seemed eager to defend the Russians, saying it's Democrats and American journalists who were actually responsible for creating "chaos."

It was around this time that the president's deputy press secretary also described Trump as "a real-life Superman."

Over the weekend, Gidley presented us with a new gem.

"We are now respected, we are now feared, we are now loved because of this president. He has good relationships with our partners and allies. In fact, I would even argue they're stronger."

Stronger than what, he didn't say, though I suppose Gidley probably meant U.S. relationships with "our partners and allies" have improved as compared to the Obama era.

The trouble, of course, is that reality keeps getting in the way.

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