May, 2017

Kushner’s Charmed Life Comes to Screeching Halt

Walter Shapiro: “Even under the benign theory that Kushner thought that a secret back channel was like a small boy’s tin-can telephone, his life in the coming months and maybe years will be a study in misery. He will probably spend more time with his personal lawyer, Clinton Justice Department veteran Jamie Gorelick, than with Ivanka or his children. Whether it is an appearance under oath on Capitol Hill or the inevitable FBI interview, every sentence Kushner utters will bring with it possible legal jeopardy.”

“Kushner may have once thought that he established his tough-guy credentials when he stared down angry creditors and impatient bankers over his ill-timed 2007 purchase of a $1.8bn Fifth Avenue office building. But the worst thing that can happen to an over-leveraged real-estate investor (as Trump himself knows well) is bankruptcy. When the FBI and special prosecutor Robert Mueller get involved, the penalties can theoretically involve steel bars locking behind you.”

Is This as Good as It Gets for Republicans?

Molly Ball: “Trump’s troubles have cast a long shadow over the 291 members of his party in the House and Senate, who see their agenda going up in smoke in what is generally a presidential party’s most productive year.”

“A flawed, unpopular health-care bill is stalled in the Senate, the president’s budget proposal has been dismissed out of hand, and hope is fading for other priorities such as tax reform and infrastructure. ‘How do you pack all that in?’ Senator John McCain asked last week, adding, ‘So far, I’ve seen no strategy for doing so. I’m seeing no plan for doing so.’ One Republican congressman suggested that what was needed was for the president to throw ‘a temper tantrum’ to get lawmakers to act—this congressman happened to be named Brat.”

“Meanwhile Democrats sit back and watch it burn, with no small amount of schadenfreude, and the Republicans who never liked Trump see their worst predictions fulfilled.”

Can the President Be Indicted?

“The Constitution does not answer every question. It includes detailed instructions, for instance, about how Congress may remove a president who has committed serious offenses. But it does not say whether the president may be criminally prosecuted in the meantime,” the New York Times reports.

“The Supreme Court has never answered that question, either. It heard arguments on the issue in 1974 in a case in which it ordered President Richard M. Nixon to turn over tape recordings, but it did not resolve it.”

Military Now Shaping U.S. Foreign Policy

“When President Trump’s top foreign policy advisers gathered ­recently at the White House to discuss plans to revamp the administration’s Afghanistan strategy, the makeup of those in the room was indicative of a significant turn in U.S. foreign policy,” the Washington Post reports.

“Seated front and center at the Situation Room table were four current or retired generals who dominate just about every big national security decision Trump makes.”

“The debate, however, was most notable for the voices that were absent. Intended as a crucial final debate session before the plan went to the president, the meeting took place on a day in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the president’s top diplomat, was in New York.”

McCain Says Putin Is Bigger Threat Than ISIS

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told an Australian TV station that Russian president Vladimir Putin is a great threat to democracy than the Islamic State.

Said McCain: “I think he is the premier and most important threat, more so than ISIS.”

He added that while ISIS “can do terrible things and I worry a lot about what is happening with the Muslim faith… but it’s the Russians who tried to destroy the fundamental of democracy and that is to change the outcome of an American election.”

Trump Suggests Spending More on Health Care

David Nather: “President Trump is back on Twitter, and tonight he tweeted about an intriguing idea that’s disconnected from pretty much all of the current Republican health care plans: he wants to ‘add more dollars’ to health care.”

Said Trump: “I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere. ObamaCare is dead – the Republicans will do much better!”

To Believe Trump You Must Believe Contradictory Things

Washington Post: “You must believe that there are a slew of leakers in the executive branch who are providing damning details to the press illegally, and who must be rooted out and punished.”

“You must also believe that the press makes up imaginary leakers simply to slowly and incrementally report false stories that are tangentially embarrassing to the president.”

“Trump, unlike most politicians and, frankly, most people, will nonchalantly argue two logically inconsistent points at the same time.”

Trump Is Not a Master Media Manipulator

Jay Rosen: “Trump does not care if he is shown to be a liar, idiot, ignoramus, clown, or monster. Most people are not built like that. Therefore he can generate media attention without caring about the consequences. Most people are not built like that, either. Trump is exceptional, but this is different from saying he is a masterful. In fact, he’s a compulsive. Which is the opposite of mastery. Everything explained by attributing to Trump some genius for the media arts is better explained by his utter shamelessness, his malignant narcissism— and his indifference to being the clown figure.”

“When journalists testify to Trump’s genius as a mover of media they are bragging in a way they don’t quite realize. For they are implicitly saying: genius is required to manipulate us. Sorry, it’s not. Anyone in a position of power willing to float a false accusation can get you to cover it— and subvert your intention to cover something else. Anyone eager to make a spectacle of himself can create lurid headlines. Anyone smashing to bits norms of democratic governance will dominate the news agenda.”

Trump Sees Himself as Victim of the ‘Deep State’

President Trump “has been aggressively working the phones since returning this weekend from his foreign trip, talking to friends and outside lawyers as he obsesses over the deepening investigations into his aides and Russia,” Politico reports.

“Two White House officials said Trump and some aides including Steve Bannon are becoming increasingly convinced that they are victims of a conspiracy against Trump’s presidency, as evidenced by the number of leaks flowing out of government — that the crusade by the so-called ‘deep state’ is a legitimate threat, not just fodder for right wing defenders.”

Said one outside adviser: “The more people talk to him about it, the more he obsesses about it.”

Kushner’s Relationship with Trump Tested

The New York Times notes that “in recent weeks the Trump-Kushner relationship, the most stable partnership in an often unstable West Wing, is showing unmistakable signs of strain.”

“That relationship had already begun to fray a bit following Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which Mr. Kushner had strongly advocated, and because of his repeated attempts to oust Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, as well as the president’s overburdened communications team, especially Sean Spicer, the press secretary.”

“It has been duly noted in the White House that Mr. Trump, who feels that he has been ill served by his staff, has increasingly included Mr. Kushner when he dresses down aides and officials, a rarity earlier in his administration and during the campaign.”

For members: Will Jared Kushner Be Sidelined?

Hastert Faces New Sex Abuse Accusations

Less than three months before former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-IL) scheduled release from prison, “a new accuser has come forward with allegations saying he was sodomized by Hastert decades ago,” the Chicago Tribune reports.

“The lawsuit comes nearly two years after an explosive indictment into secret hush-money payments brought down Hastert, a local coaching legend who became one of the country’s most powerful politicians. Federal prosecutors said the former U.S. House speaker touched at least five male students when he was a Yorkville High School coach from 1965 to 1981.”