May, 2017

The Problem with Family in the White House

Rick Klein: “Office politics is a dangerous game when played White House style. A week that figures to be dominated by talk of staff changes and revamped teams has a twist: the problem-child staffer is the boss’ son-in-law – whom the president has expressed ‘total confidence in.’ Different rules apply when it comes to family, and the latest news on Jared Kushner would be complicated enough without the entanglements and conflicts-of-interest that the Trump family approach to the presidency invites.”

“What’s been alleged about Kushner and the Russians is inexplicable behavior, until or unless Kushner (whose voice has almost never been heard in public) explains himself. So yes, that explanation would fall to the embattled communications team – the one that people outside the White House are telling President Trump is failing him. This highlights what that team is up against: a series of overlapping scandals that keep expanding to add new players and circles – and in this case, reaching into an innermost circle. When you overlay a shakeup plan on that reality, you realize the problems aren’t with – and certainly aren’t exclusively with – those who can be fired.”

Russians Claimed to Have Dirt on Trump

“Russian government officials discussed having potentially ‘derogatory’ information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides in conversations intercepted by US intelligence during the 2016 election,” CNN reports.

“One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered on whether the Russians had leverage over Trump’s inner circle. The source said the intercepted communications suggested to US intelligence that Russians believed ‘they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.'”

Trump Communications Director Leaving

“Mike Dubke, President Trump’s communications director, is leaving the White House — the start of a wave of changes as the West Wing struggles to cope with burgeoning scandals and a stalled agenda,” Mike Allen reports.

“Dubke served for just three months before tendering his resignation May 18. He offered to stay through the overseas trip, and Trump accepted. He has been trying to help restructure the press and communications operation, and is parting on good terms… Insiders say Dubke came in with few patrons, and never gelled with the originals. His departure is a reminder of how hard it is for newcomers to thrive in Trumpland.”

From Duke to Trump’s West Wing

Vanity Fair profiles White House adviser Stephen Miller:

One former Duke student remembers Miller’s behavior in class more than she does his political views. In a freshman history course about the American Revolution, she recalls, “Just right away, he’d just walk in, put his head down, and go to sleep.” After giving Miller a few good-natured warnings, the professor kicked him out. “He’s got that sleepy-eyed, sloe-eyed look, but he’s just saying ‘Fuck you’ to the world,” she says.

Nunes Says Russia Investigation Is Just Excuse

Embattled House Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) “told hundreds of local Republicans at a recent private dinner fundraiser that congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election are about Democrats trying to justify Hillary Clinton’s loss,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

Said Nunes: “They want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that’s the reason that he won, because Hillary Clinton would have never lost on her own; it had to be someone else’s fault.”

He added: “They have tried to destroy this Russia investigation, they’ve never been serious about it, and one of the great things now that I’ve stepped aside from this Russia investigation, I can actually say what I want to say.”

Pence Hits the Road to Prep for Midterms

Vice President Mike Pence “is embarking on a cross-country summer campaign tour amid rising fears that the GOP, reeling from a barrage of Trump-fueled controversies, is headed for a midterm election disaster,” Politico reports.

“Pence is mapping out a schedule that will take him through several Midwestern battlegrounds and to traditionally conservative southern states like Georgia, where an unexpectedly competitive June special election runoff is alarming party strategists… The push comes at a time of growing consternation among senior Republicans who say the White House has given them little direction on midterm planning. Many complain that they do not even know who to contact about 2018 in an administration that has been consumed by chaos.”

Investigation Turns to Kushner’s Motives

Jared Kushner “was looking for a direct line to President Vladimir Putin of Russia — a search that in mid-December found him in a room with a Russian banker whose financial institution was deeply intertwined with Russian intelligence, and remains under sanction by the United States,” the New York Times reports.

“Federal and congressional investigators are now examining what exactly Mr. Kushner and the Russian banker, Sergey N. Gorkov, wanted from each other. The banker is a close associate of Mr. Putin, but he has not been known to play a diplomatic role for the Russian leader. That has raised questions about why he was meeting with Mr. Kushner at a crucial moment in the presidential transition.”

“The meeting came as Mr. Trump was openly feuding with American intelligence agencies and their conclusion that Russia had tried to disrupt the presidential election and turn it in his favor.”

For members: Follow the Russian Money

Trump Plans to Dismantle Civil Rights Efforts in Agencies

“The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights,” the Washington Post reports.

“The proposal to dismantle the compliance office comes at a time when the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices.”

GOP’s Biggest Ideas for Tax Reform Are Dead

“The boldest ideas for changing the nation’s tax code are either dead or on political life support, as the Republican effort in Congress to reshape the tax system moves much more slowly than lawmakers and their allies in business had hoped,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The clear winner, so far, is the status quo.”

“Republicans, who control both chambers, are scouring the tax code, searching for ways to offset the deep rate cuts they desire. But their proposals for border adjustment—which would tax imports—and for ending the business interest deduction and making major changes to individual tax breaks for health and retirement have all hit resistance within the party. The only big revenue-raising provision with anything close to Republican consensus is repealing the deduction for state and local taxes, and that idea faces objections from blue-state lawmakers in the party.”

Mueller Gets Off to Quick Start

Wall Street Journal: “Robert Mueller quickly got to work as special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election: building a team, designing a budget and forcing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to withhold from Congress documents he may be interested in—all in his first full week on the job.”

“Mr. Mueller’s team has been assigned office space in a nondescript building in downtown Washington that is home to the Justice Department’s civil rights and environment and natural resources divisions. Mr. Mueller and his colleagues have been spotted using their badges to enter the office, conspicuous for their formal attire amid the other Department employees, who adhere to a more casual dress code.”

Snubs and Slights Are Part of Working for Trump

Washington Post: “In Trump’s White House, aides serve a president who demands absolute loyalty — but who doesn’t always offer it in return. Trump prefers a management style in which even compliments can come laced with a bite, and where enduring snubs and belittling jokes, even in public, is part of the job.”

“Allies say the president’s quips are simply good-natured teasing, part of an inclusive strategy meant to make even mid-level staff members feel like family. But others consider Trump’s comments pointed reminders to those who work for him that he is in charge — barbs from the boss that keep aides on guard and off kilter, and can corrode staff morale.”

Texas Lawmaker Threatens to Shoot Colleague

Texas state Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) threatened to “put a bullet in one of his colleague’s heads” during a scuffle on the House floor over the state’s new anti-‘sanctuary cities’ law on Monday, the Texas Observer reports.

Rinaldi made the comment to Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D) during a dispute that began when Rinaldi told two Hispanic lawmakers that he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Senate Bill 4 protesters at the Capitol.

Do Republicans Run with Trump or Against Him?

New York Times: “The trick for Republicans and their allied outside groups is figuring out how to avoid conspicuously embracing the president without alienating conservative voters who would view any overt rebuff as a betrayal.”

Said GOP strategist Ralph Reed: “That is the question we are trying to answer right now. I don’t think you really look to broadcast him. You narrowcast him.”

Macron Blasts Russian State Media as ‘Propaganda’

French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a blunt greeting to Vladi­mir Putin, criticizing the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s Russian-backed government and blasting Russia’s state-run news media as “organs of influence and propaganda,” the Washington Post reports.

“Macron had invited the Russian leader to France to reset a relationship that has turned increasingly sour. Putin did more than any other foreign leader to undermine Macron’s legitimacy in this country’s recent presidential election, meeting with his far-right opponent during the campaign.”

Politico: “The new French president struck a firm, at times defiant tone. There was even a flash of anger when the subject of election hacking was brought up.”