Christie has maintained a cordial and clear-eyed relationship with the president. Though he carries some political baggage from his time as governor, he had credentials that few of the others considered for the chief of staff position could offer — skills that Trump likely will need in the year ahead. Among them were
- executive experience,
- political experience,
- communications skills,
- independent political relationships and, above all,
- legal experience as a former U.S. attorney.
.. Christie apparently concluded this was no time to go inside the Trump administration and to work for a president who rarely takes the advice of his advisers and whose volatility and unpredictability could prove to be even more detrimental in the months ahead.
.. The decisions by Ayers, Christie and others underscore the precariousness of Trump’s position. At a time when he will need all the strength, wisdom, firepower and support directly around him, Trump presides over a White House that is thinning out rather than beefing up.
.. The White House Counsel’s Office is understaffed heading into a year that could bring multiple requests for documents from congressional committees and the possibility of impeachment proceedings, if what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ultimately reports rises to that level. So far that is an open question. Others already have moved out of the White House to jobs on the Trump 2020 campaign or the private sector. More could follow in the months ahead.
.. Some loyalists remain. Among them are
- Kellyanne Conway,
- Sarah Sanders, and the president’s daughter
- Ivanka Trump and son-in-law
- Jared Kushner.
But on the issue of fresh recruits, the question is: Who would want to come to work for a president at this moment, knowing that could result in sizable legal fees as a side benefit?
.. For Trump, a group of people he once counted as among his most trusted advisers has been turned into a weapon in the hands of prosecutors
.. Another person who once protected the president and is now on the other side is David Pecker, of American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer
.. Equally worrisome for Trump could be the role of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer and the person who must know as much as anyone about the inner financial workings of Trump’s empire. He has been granted immunity from prosecution in return for his cooperation.
WASHINGTON — For years, President Trump has used Twitter as his go-to public relations weapon, mounting a barrage of attacks on celebrities and then political rivals even after advisers warned he could be creating legal problems for himself.
Those concerns now turn out to be well founded. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the president about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to three people briefed on the matter.
.. Several of the remarks came as Mr. Trump was also privately pressuring the men — both key witnesses in the inquiry — about the investigation, and Mr. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry.
.. Trump’s lawyers said. They argued that most of the presidential acts under scrutiny, including the firing of Mr. Comey, fall under Mr. Trump’s authority as the head of the executive branch and insisted that he should not even have to answer Mr. Mueller’s questions about obstruction.
But privately, some of the lawyers have expressed concern that Mr. Mueller will stitch together several episodes, encounters and pieces of evidence, like the tweets, to build a case that the president embarked on a broad effort to interfere with the investigation. Prosecutors who lack one slam-dunk piece of evidence in obstruction cases often search for a larger pattern of behavior, legal experts said.
.. the nature of the questions they want to ask the president, and the fact that they are scrutinizing his actions under a section of the United States Code titled “Tampering With a Witness, Victim, or an Informant,” raised concerns for his lawyers about Mr. Trump’s exposure in the investigation.
.. “If you’re going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly and secretly, not in public,” Mr. Giuliani said.
.. federal investigators are seeking to determine whether Mr. Trump was trying to use his power to punish anyone who did not go along with his attempts to curtail the investigation.
.. Investigators want to ask Mr. Trump about the tweets he wrote about Mr. Sessions and Mr. Comey and why he has continued to publicly criticize Mr. Comey and the former deputy F.B.I. director Andrew G. McCabe, another witness against the president.
.. They also want to know about a January episode in the Oval Office in which Mr. Trump asked the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, about reports that Mr. McGahn told investigators about the president’s efforts to fire Mr. Mueller himself last year.
.. Mr. Trump has navigated the investigation with a mix of public and private cajoling of witnesses.
.. Around the time he said publicly last summer that he would have chosen another attorney general had he known Mr. Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump tried behind closed doors to persuade Mr. Sessions to reverse that decision. The special counsel’s investigators have also learned that Mr. Trump wanted Mr. Sessions to resign at varying points in May and July 2017 so he could replace him with a loyalist to oversee the Russia investigation.
.. Mr. Trump issued an indirect threat the next day about Mr. Comey’s job. “It’s not too late” to ask him to step down as F.B.I. director, he said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network. The special counsel wants to ask the president what he meant by that remark.
.. Mr. Sessions, his aide told a Capitol Hill staff member, wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey, a person familiar with the meeting has said.
.. By the fall, Mr. Comey had become a chief witness against the president in the special counsel investigation, and Mr. Trump’s ire toward him was well established. His personal attacks evolved into attacks on Mr. Comey’s work, publicly calling on the Justice Department to examine his handling of the Clinton inquiry — and drawing the special counsel’s interest.
.. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have pushed back against the special counsel about the tweets, saying the president is a politician under 24-hour attack and is within his rights to defend himself using social media or any other means.
.. The president continues to wield his Twitter account to pummel witnesses and the investigation itself, ignoring any legal concerns or accusations of witness intimidation.
just calling out deceit is insufficient. It is essential as well to understand why Trump tells particular lies at particular moments and to be hardheaded in judging how effective they are.
.. Republicans on the ballot this fall should be asked if they see Pelosi as an “MS-13 lover,” and if not, whether they will denounce Trump for saying such a thing. I am not holding my breath.
.. Yet sometimes Trump engages in a perverse form of transparency. He signaled clearly that the whole point of his screed — during which he also re-upped his claim that Mexico would pay for his border wall — was about the midterm elections. Immigration, he said, is “a good issue for us, not for them.”
.. Why immigration? It’s not the central concern of most voters. A Gallup survey in May found that 10 percent of Americans listed it as the most important problem facing the country. And Trump’s wall is not popular — in a recent CBS News poll, 59 percent of Americans were against building it... But currently, Trump and the Republicans aren’t focused on the majority of Americans. They are petrified that their own loyalists do not seem very motivated about voting in November... just 26 percent of Americans strongly approved of Trump’s job performance, compared with 41 percent who strongly disapproved... Trump and his party feel they need to screech loudly to get their side back into the game, and attacking immigration (going back to Mexican “rapists”) is the signature Trump talking point... Republican House candidates are following Trump’s lead, according to a USA Today study published Tuesday, “blanketing the airwaves with TV ads embracing a hard line on immigration.” By contrast, health care was the topic most invoked in Democratic spots. The GOP’s emphasis may shift some after the primaries, but Republicans seem to know that wedge issues are more useful to them than their record.
.. Political polarization has many sources, but the prime cause of it now is the president himself. Polarization defines Trump’s survival strategy, and it means that demagoguery —
- toward immigrants,
- toward crime,
- toward special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe,
- toward dissenting NFL players,
- toward anyone who takes him on— is what his presidency is all about... What thus needs exposing is not simply Trump’s indifference to the truth but also the fact that he depends upon the kinds of lies that will tear our country to pieces.
Will the vice president—and the religious right—be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?
Casting himself as the heir to the popular outgoing governor, Mitch Daniels, he avoided social issues and ran on a pragmatic, business-friendly platform. He used Ronald Reagan as a political style guru and told his ad makers that he wanted his campaign commercials to have “that ‘Morning in America’ feel.” He meticulously fine-tuned early cuts of the ads, asking his consultants to edit this or reframe that or zoom in here instead of there.
.. set about cutting taxes and taking on local unions—burnishing a résumé that would impress Republican donors and Iowa caucus-goers. The governor’s stock began to rise in Washington
.. In recent years, the religious right had been abruptly forced to pivot from offense to defense in the culture wars—abandoning the “family values” crusades and talk of “remoralizing America,” and focusing its energies on self-preservation.
..“Many evangelicals were experiencing the sense of an almost existential threat,” Russell Moore, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, told me.
It was only a matter of time, he said, before cultural elites’ scornful attitudes would help drive Christians into the arms of a strongman like Trump. “I think there needs to be a deep reflection on the left about how they helped make this happen.”
.. Coming into the game, Trump had formed an opinion of the Indiana governor as prudish, stiff, and embarrassingly poor, according to one longtime associate.
.. Pence asked what his job description would be if they wound up in the White House together. Trump gave him the same answer he’d been dangling in front of other prospective running mates for weeks: He wanted “the most consequential vice president ever.” Pence was sold.
.. “I knew they would enjoy each other’s company,” Conway told me, adding, “Mike Pence is someone whose faith allows him to subvert his ego to the greater good.”
.. Pence spent much of their time on the course kissing Trump’s ring. You’re going to be the next president of the United States, he said. It would be the honor of a lifetime to serve you.
Afterward, he made a point of gushing to the press about Trump’s golf game. “He beat me like a drum,” Pence confessed, to Trump’s delight.
.. Trump released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees with unimpeachably pro-life records and assembled an evangelical advisory board composed of high-profile faith leaders.
.. One of the men asked to join the board was Richard Land, of the Southern Evangelical Seminary. When the campaign approached him with the offer, Land says, he was perplexed. “You do know that Trump was my last choice, right?” he said. But he ultimately accepted, and when a campaign aide asked what his first piece of advice was, he didn’t hesitate: “Pick Mike Pence.”
.. Then, on July 12, a miracle: During a short campaign swing through Indiana, Trump got word that his plane had broken down on the runway, and that he would need to spend the night in Indianapolis. With nowhere else to go, Trump accepted an invitation to dine with the Pences.
.. In fact, according to two former Trump aides, there was no problem with the plane. Paul Manafort, who was then serving as the campaign’s chairman, had made up the story to keep the candidate in town an extra day and allow him to be wooed by Pence.
.. Pence spoke of Trump in a tone that bordered on worshipful. One of his rhetorical tics was to praise the breadth of his running mate’s shoulders. Trump was, Pence proclaimed, a “broad-shouldered leader,” in possession of “broad shoulders and a big heart,” who had “the kind of broad shoulders” that enabled him to endure criticism while he worked to return “broad-shouldered American strength to the world stage.”
.. Campaign operatives discovered that anytime Trump did something outrageous or embarrassing, they could count on Pence to clean it up. “He was our top surrogate by far,”
.. “He was this mild-mannered, uber-Christian guy with a Midwestern accent telling voters, ‘Trump is a good man; I know what’s in his heart.’ It was very convincing—you wanted to trust him.
.. Even some of Trump’s most devoted loyalists marveled at what Pence was willing to say. There was no talking point too preposterous, no fixed reality too plain to deny
.. When, during the vice-presidential debate, in early October, he was confronted with a barrage of damning quotes and questionable positions held by his running mate, Pence responded with unnerving message discipline, dismissing documented facts as “nonsense” and smears.
.. It was the kind of performance—a blur of half-truths and “whatabout”s and lies—that could make a good Christian queasy.
.. Marc Short, a longtime adviser to Pence and a fellow Christian, told me that the vice president believes strongly in a scriptural concept evangelicals call “servant leadership.” The idea is rooted in the Gospels, where Jesus models humility by washing his disciples’ feet and teaches, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
.. when he accepted the vice-presidential nomination, he believed he was committing to humbly submit to the will of Donald Trump. “Servant leadership is biblical,” Short told me. “That’s at the heart of it for Mike, and it comes across in his relationship with the president.”
.. “His faith teaches that you’re under authority at all times.
- Christ is under God’s authority,
- man is under Christ’s authority,
- children are under the parents’ authority,
- employees are under the employer’s authority.”
.. “Mike,” he added, “always knows who’s in charge.”
.. On friday, october 7, 2016, The Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape
.. Most alarming to the aides and operatives inside Trump Tower, Mike Pence suddenly seemed at risk of going rogue.
.. Republican donors and party leaders began buzzing about making Pence the nominee and drafting Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.
.. The furtive plotting, several sources told me, was not just an act of political opportunism for Pence. He was genuinely shocked by the Access Hollywood tape. In the short time they’d known each other, Trump had made an effort to convince Pence that—beneath all the made-for-TV bluster and bravado—he was a good-hearted man with faith in God. On the night of the vice-presidential debate, for example, Trump had left a voicemail letting Pence know that he’d just said a prayer for him. The couple was appalled by the video, however. Karen in particular was “disgusted,” says a former campaign aide. “She finds him reprehensible—just totally vile.”
.. Pence turns to a favorite passage in Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
.. “They thought they were going to be able to get him to drop out before the second debate,” said a former campaign aide. “Little did they know, he has no shame.”
.. Trump showed up in St. Louis for the debate with a group of Bill Clinton accusers in tow, ranting about how Hillary’s husband had done things to women that were far worse than his own “locker-room talk.”
.. In political circles, there had been a widespread, bipartisan recognition that Pence was a decent man with a genuine devotion to his faith. But after watching him in 2016, many told me, they believed Pence had sold out.
.. watching Pence vouch for Trump made him sad. “Ah, Mike,” he sighed. “Ambition got the best of him.” It’s an impression that even some of Pence’s oldest friends and allies privately share.
.. “The number of compromises he made to get this job, when you think about it, is pretty staggering.”
.. Pastor Ralph Drollinger, for example, caught Trump’s attention in December 2015, when he said in a radio interview, “America’s in such desperate straits—especially economically—that if we don’t have almost a benevolent dictator to turn things around, I just don’t think it’s gonna happen through our governance system.” Now Drollinger runs a weekly Bible study in the West Wing.
.. On one side, there are those who argue that good Christians are obligated to support any leader, no matter how personally wicked he may be, who stands up for religious freedom and fights sinful practices such as abortion. Richard Land told me that those who withhold their support from Trump because they’re uncomfortable with his moral failings will “become morally accountable for letting the greater evil prevail.”
.. On the other side of the debate is a smaller group that believes the Christians allying themselves with Trump are putting the entire evangelical movement at risk. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, has made this case forcefully.
.. only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”
.. One pastor compared Pence to Mordechai, who ascended to the right hand of a Persian king known for throwing lavish parties and discarding his wife after she refused to appear naked in front of his friends.
.. Pastor Mark Burns—a South Carolina televangelist who was among the first to sign on as a faith adviser to Trump—told me Pence’s role in the administration is like that of Jesus, who once miraculously calmed a storm that was threatening to sink the boat
.. Of the 15 Cabinet secretaries Trump picked at the start of his presidency, eight were evangelicals. It was, gushed Ted Cruz, “the most conservative Cabinet in decades.”
.. Pence understood the price of his influence. To keep Trump’s ear required frequent public performances of loyalty and submission—and Pence made certain his inner circle knew that enduring such indignities was part of the job.
.. “Look, I’m in a difficult position here,” Pence said, according to someone familiar with the meeting. “I’m going to have to 100 percent defend everything the president says. Is that something you’re going to be able to do if you’re on my staff?”
.. Trump does not always reciprocate this respect. Around the White House, he has been known to make fun of Pence for his religiosity.
.. During a conversation with a legal scholar about gay rights, Trump gestured toward his vice president and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
.. “They have moved to an ends-justifies-the means style of politics that would have been unimaginable before this last campaign.”
.. he thought it was so low class,” says the adviser. “He thinks the Pences are yokels.”
.. Social conservatives had been lobbying the president to issue a sweeping executive order aimed at carving out protections for religious organizations and individuals opposed to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and transgender rights. The proposed order was fairly radical, but proponents argued that it would strike a crucial blow against the militant secularists trying to drive the faithful out of the public square.
.. “Bannon wanted to fight for it,” says the Trump associate, “and he was really unimpressed that Pence wouldn’t do anything.”
.. But perhaps Pence was playing the long game—weighing the risks of taking on Trump’s kids, and deciding to stand down in the interest of preserving his relationship with the president.
.. What would a Pence presidency look like? To a conservative evangelical, it could mean a glorious return to the Christian values upon which America was founded. To a secular liberal, it might look more like a descent into the dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale.
.. What critics should worry about is not that Pence believes in God, but that he seems so certain God believes in him. What happens when manifest destiny replaces humility, and the line between faith and hubris blurs? What unseemly compromises get made? What means become tolerable in pursuit of an end?
.. Trump’s order merely made it easier for pastors to voice political opinions from the pulpit—a conspicuously self-serving take on religious freedom.
.. The faith leaders pulled out their smartphones and snapped selfies, intoxicated by the VIP treatment. “Mr. President,” Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, said at one point, “we’re going to be your most loyal friends. We’re going to be your enthusiastic supporters. And we thank God every day that you’re the president of the United States.”
.. “I’ve been with [Trump] alone in the room when the decisions are made. He and I have prayed together,” Pence said. “This is somebody who shares our views, shares our values, shares our beliefs.” Pence didn’t waste time touting his own credentials. With this crowd, he didn’t need to. Instead, as always, he lavished praise on the president.