Trump Adviser/Son-in-Law: “I Did Not Collude”

Kushner Offers Tidy Explanations For His Contacts With Russians

In a prepared statement released this morning, Jared Kushner details meetings with Russian officials but says “I did not collude.” The statement coming ahead of closed-door testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, and the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow.

• He says a meeting set up by Donald Trump Jr. with a Russian lawyer was such a “waste of time” he texted an assistant to call him so he’d have an excuse to leave.

• He says the portrayal of him trying to establish a “secret back channel” was nothing more than his asking Russian Ambassador Kislyak if there were existing communications at the Russian embassy that could be used to convey information from Russian generals on Syria that the ambassador was offering.

• And he says a meeting with a Russian banker amounted to little more than a bag of dirt, literally. Saying the banker gifted him a bag of soil from the hometown of Kushner’s grandparents.

Unfortunately, because Kushner’s live testimony will be behind closed doors, his statement represents the only side of the story we’re going to get right now. Here are some further takes/analyses. [Washington Post] [New York Times]

And Donald Trump, Jr. told Sean Hannity he’d be more than willing to testify before congress under oath. But now that it’s become a reality, it ain’t happening. Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort are expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, but behind closed doors and not under oath. Committee member Senator Al Franken says “that’s not good enough.”

Trump Expected To Sign Veto-Proof Russia Sanctions Bill

The President is expected to sign a bill this week strengthening sanctions against Russia (and also Iran and North Korea). Perhaps more importantly, it also limits the President’s ability to remove them.

The White House had been lobbying the House to deliver a softer version of the bill after it passed in the Senate several weeks ago. Trump’s new Communications Director echoed one of the President’s favorite lines of late, explaining that maybe Russia didn’t interfere in U.S. elections, because if they did “we wouldn’t know about it.”

Our prediction: Trump will sign, because he has no choice. It takes 67 votes in the Senate to override a Presidential veto. The original bill passed 97-2. Trump doesn’t like to “lose.” You do the math.

In A Huge Surprise This Morning, Poland’s President Vetoes Measure To Grab Control Of Judiciary

After massive protests, and threats of never-before-used sanctions by the EU, Poland’s President vetoed most of a set of controversial new laws which would’ve allowed the ruling Law and Justice Party to force the resignation of all judges they did not appoint, and then do all future appointments.

Tens of thousands of Poles protested, and perhaps it worked. President Andrzej Duda, against expectations, vetoed the new laws, saying he did not agree with their current “shape”.

Senators May Attempt To Do Health Care “On The Fly”

The Senate will at least vote this week to start debate on a health care bill: the question is, which bill? The first version of the Senate bill? The second version? The “repeal” only option? The 2015 repeal? The House Bill? Mitch McConnell seems to feel it doesn’t matter: just get something to the floor and then see what happens when Senators start tossing ideas around. Wow.

Both Senators Rand Paul and Susan Collins–for vastly different reasons–expressing extreme reluctance to even open debate. And unless we’ve got our math wrong, without John McCain there, unless one of the two changes their mind, it’s not going to happen. (Paul called the latest moves by Republicans to push a bill through a “monstrosity” and a “porkfest.”)

Still, that isn’t stopping Trump from turning up the heat (something he conspicuously did not do last week-end where he Tweeted about a golf tournament at one of his properties vs. health care by a ratio of 7 to 1.)

Trump will deliver an in-person message on health care this afternoon after meeting with what he describes as “victims of Obamacare.” In the meantime, more Tweets, including one that seems to indicate working on a bipartisan bill would not be acceptable to the President (Even though Fox News (!) says three-quarters of people in the country right now want a bipartisan fix, including a majority of Republicans.) 

And there are more signs Trump is already trying to “help” Obamacare die. The AP reporting the Trump Administration will stop funding in-person enrollment assistance for low-income people in Chicago and 17 other cities.

Anthony Scaramucci: Empty Vessel. Trump’s New Communications Director Spends His First Few Days Eliminating Or Apologizing For Large Chunks Of His Past Life

Like when when he called Trump a “hack” on Fox. Or Tweeted “the fact many people still believe CC [Climate Change] is a hoax is disheartening”. Or “enough is enough” in support of gun control. Now he says Trump’s a “very fun guy” with “great analytical depth”. Which makes us think he’ll fit right in: a guy who’s constantly reinventing himself working for a guy who’s constantly reinventing himself. (Although Trump’s never felt the need to erase any Tweets.)

Scaramucci says his first order of business is to stop up White House leaks, even if that means firing people on the spot. That’s definitely a problem. Only, that assumes all of the leaks come from underling staffers, when it’s pretty clear a lot of it comes from figures higher up than a Communications Director (and who opposed him getting the job). What’s he going to do then? Scaramucci also said he’d like to focus more on economic accomplishments in White House briefings, which makes sense given that he’s a Goldman Sachs alum.

Dems Destined To Dazzle With Their Newly Released Action Plan — Who Are We Kidding?

In what they’re calling “A Better Deal” (vs. “The Art Of The Deal”…get it?) Democrats say they’ll roll out a new agenda Monday, including a $15 minimum wage, expanded childcare and massive infrastructure spending. And they say that’s what’s going to carry them to victory in the 2018 elections. “We were too namby-pamby. This is sharp and bold”, said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.

Except a lot of it sounds like what carried Hillary Clinton to defeat. Vox enthuses it represents an unapologetic shift to the left for the party: with the objective of “stealing the label of economic populist from Trump.” If their future actions start showing that resolve, maybe we’ll start buying it. One thing they’ve got right: Democrats can’t succeed if their only message is “we’re against Trump.” Right now 52% of voters think that’s the way it is, and Trump keeps rubbing that in, in Tweet after Tweet referring to “obstructionist Democrats” (see above).

Editorial: Senate Republicans: Even If You Can Find A Way To A Health Care Agreement This Week, Here’s Why You Shouldn’t

We know you want to prove your mettle as true Conservatives. We know you want to get something done. Even if it’s as seemingly innocuous as just opening the floor to debate. And even though we don’t agree with your policies, we respect that. Just not now.

Why? Because Trump will take all the credit for a big win, and give you none. Even if you “win” at this late hour, it’s Trump’s win now, not yours.

Doesn’t it strike you as strange that he doesn’t care at all what’s in the bill that gets put on his desk? That his only requirement for signing is he has a pen and a hand?

Trump will belittle you, he will threaten you, say you were the knuckleheads for dilly-dallying, say it never could’ve happened without him. He’s really good at publicity. Better than you.

At this point it’s all about his glory, his getting a “win.”

As if to help us prove our point, as we were writing this, Trump tweeted:

How do you feel about that?

And on top of it, he’s calling you stupid?

Newly energized, he’s going to think you’re afraid of him, and that’ll turn up the abuse as you move on to the things you really want, like tax reform. You’ll find yourself passing all kinds of crazy things just to get him to stop yelling at you. You will lose your gravitas and your center of gravity.

Maybe some of you feel like you don’t care who gets the credit as long as you’re faithful to the party. Fine. Then let Trump have all the glory and sleep well knowing you “did the right thing” (aka denying lots of health care to people who really need it). Just be ready, because if whatever you end up passing turns out to be a disaster, you can be damn sure Trump will make sure you own it again, 100%.