New York Times: Trump Ordered Chief White House Lawyer To Talk Jeff Sessions Out Of Recusing Himself From Russia Investigation
Trump has done little to hide his fury about Sessions removing himself anyway (and at times, has gone public with it on Twitter). But the Times story goes deeper, describing Trump’s comments in the wake of Sessions recusing himself. According to the Times, the President expressed anger Sessions had failed to “protect him”. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Trump is said to have asked. (Cohn was a mentor to Trump, and in the 1950’s was Chief Counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare” Investigations).
According to the Times’ story, Chief White House Counsel Donald McGahn did as he was told, acting as both messenger and lobbyist to persuade Sessions (unsuccessfully) not to hand off the investigation.
Buried in the story is another astonishing revelation: the Justice Department itself may have been involved in a coordinated effort to discredit fired FBI director James Comey. It claims an aide to Sessions was digging around Capitol Hill for dirt on Comey, saying he wanted “one negative article a day” about Comey to appear in the media. Justice categorically denies the truth of that part of the story.
We have 1 question about this story: Who leaked it to the Times? On this day of all days?
Day Two: Trump Moves To Block Book, Only Bringing It More Publicity; Bannon Gets Shafted By His Patron
Trump commented briefly on his relationship with Bannon, saying “I don’t talk to him. That’s just a misnomer.” (sic) You can watch it here:
Meanwhile, his lawyers threatened to sue Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury” and the book’s publisher for libel if they released the book as scheduled. Trump threatened Wolff via Twitter:
It’s a brilliant move: that is, if you’re trying to market Wolff’s book. Trump should know better than anybody that every additional step he takes to try to block or discredit it will only lead to more and more sales.
The publisher’s response: releasing the book earlier than planned. In fact, it’s available today.
Wolff released a couple of more articles in various publications, this one in the Hollywood Reporter is particularly interesting, because it describes how he gained access to the White House and Trump’s inner circle. There’s another in GQ about Trump’s relationship with media and the people that speak for him to the media.
Meanwhile, Steve Bannon’s main source of financial support is pulling the plug:
Rebekah Mercer appearing to excommunicate Bannon from her ultra-Conservative circle, saying “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.”
Couple of things to remember:
• Bannon and Mercer came on to the Trump campaign as kind of a package deal. Prior to that, the Mercer family had supported Ted Cruz, and Paul Manafort was running Trump’s operation.
• Rebekah Mercer is also a big shareholder in Breitbart.
Question #1: In the “old days”, if an incendiary book or article came out, Trump and Bannon would simply have denied what they’re quoted as saying, then gone on the attack against the author, and eventually broadened it out to mostly all media. So why not this time?
Others trying to answer this same question came up with a couple of things:
- According to Axios, Michael Wolff has tapes of his interviews with Bannon and more. Still, Trump’s often denied saying things even if there’s actually tape of him saying them.
- Bannon went after Trump’s son. There could be some validity to this. Trump seems to be working overtime, at times, to protect Donald Trump, Jr. Trump’s reflexive reaction to protect his young may have happened so swiftly, Bannon didn’t have time to preempt or collaborate on a “team Trump” rebuttal. Some have also suggested Bannon had no choice but take Trump’s blow. The continued success of his own Breitbart brand is so tied in with the Trump brand, he couldn’t afford not to.
We think a lot of it has to do with what happened in Alabama.
Trump hates looking like a fool, hates losing, hates feeling like people are laughing at him. More than anything else. By putting up a weirdo candidate, and then cajoling Trump into supporting him, Bannon did just that. Even though this might seem to make the least sense of the 3 reasons we’ve suggested (and of course it could be a combination of all 3 and many others), we believe it’s a trigger for the way things are coming down this time around.
Question #2: Why did Bannon open his mouth in the first place? Hubris, probably. This is more difficult to explain; the Washington Post has some ideas.
2 More Big Rollbacks Of Obama-Era Policies
This is something Trump’s getting very good at.
First, he’s allowing new offshore oil leases including some places they haven’t been allowed for decades: Florida, New Jersey, California, heck, almost everywhere! Obama had ordered 94% of America’s outer continental shelf no-go for oil drilling. Trump’s ordering 90% opened back up to it. 19 leases would be offered off Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 in the Atlantic and 7 in the Pacific, mostly off the coast of California, where according to the New York Times, new drilling has been off limits since a disastrous Santa Barbara spill nearly 5 decades ago. In addition, Trump’s ordered underwater feasibility studies for drilling in even more areas.
As we told you last week, Trump has already proposed rolling back regulations on off-shore drilling put into place after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. So not only will there be more of it, it’ll be less safe.
This move is angering Republicans and Democrats alike (although it’s pleasing big oil) including staunch Trump ally Governor Rick Scott of Florida who’s lobbied to have his state excluded.
Bipartisan anger also coming after Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed an Obama-era policy to largely leave states alone that legalized marijuana on their own. Although it’s totally legal in 8 states right now (most recently California, just a few days ago), and decriminalized in many more, sale and possession is still a federal crime.
It’s not quite the “crackdown” some headlines are making it out to be, but it’s always been kind of a pet cause for Sessions, so one would assume U.S. Attorneys in various places will hear the message from their boss loud and clear.
Interestingly, the most visceral immediate negative response came from a Republican, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado (where pot is legal). He says Sessions made him a personal promise he wouldn’t do this. And he’s promising to attempt to block any Justice Department nominees until Sessions reverses his position. (However, Gardner is not on the Senate Judiciary Committee, so would not have a direct ability to do that).
There’s also a purely political component here: in states where pot is legal, it’s a huge local tax generator. With the new federal tax law putting a squeeze on states’ ability to raise income taxes, losing out on revenues from marijuana sales would only add to their difficulties. (And also their ability to contradict the federal government on policies they don’t like).
Some Other Stories That We Found Interesting, In Brief…
• Trump Takes Credit For Korea Talks That Exclude The U.S.:
Still, Trump took the unusual step of authorizing South Korea’s President–when he talks to North Korea–to pledge the U.S. would not conduct military exercises on the Korean Peninsula during the Winter Olympics there next month. That’s pretty extraordinary for Trump.
Meanwhile, talks Trump initiated on a “redo” of the U.S./South Korea free trade agreement begin today in Washington.
• U.S. Suspends Security Aid To Pakistan: saying Pakistan needs to stop sheltering terrorists, and militants causing trouble in Afghanistan, while at the same time claiming to be an ally of the U.S. In our opinion, this is not a bad move.
• Trump Doesn’t Want You? Know Who Does? China…As Trump considers making it harder for people born overseas to get visas allowing them to spend long periods of time in the U.S., even if they are considered experts in their field, China is making the exact same thing easier. It’s just started offering 10-year visas to post-doctoral students from elite Universities and other so-called “high-end foreigners”.
• Details Of Trump’s Proposal To Sell Health Insurance Through Small Groups Or Associations Are Out…And it ain’t all bad. While the policies offered would not cover all the “essential benefits” guaranteed by Obamacare, they do still prevent rejection due to pre-existing conditions, and would not allow insurance companies to charge people in the same group different premiums.
• One Crazy Ballot: That turned a one-vote victory for a Democratic candidate in Virginia into a tie with her Republican adversary. And now she’s lost. Giving Republicans control of the State Legislature. That’s because his name was drawn out of a bowl; hers wasn’t. There will be another recount. Here’s the ballot that was originally disallowed, but then O.K.’d by a panel of judges. You judge for yourself:
• And Finally, There’s This: If you’re on the East Coast, and you were in it, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. (More by clicking on the image).
But let’s leave you East Coasters with some good news: the Climate Prediction Center is forecasting above normal temps 7-10 days from now!