Why Trump will look back fondly on the Mueller probe

It’s possible-to-likely that sometime next year, President Trump will look back on the Mueller probe with yearning and nostalgia — given what’s about to happen to his administration in the newly Democratic House of Representatives.

.. Of these 27 committees, by my count, 22 deal with substantive matters in which the Democrats have already expressed displeasure with, or horror at, or concern over, the behavior of the Trump administration.

Let’s go through a few of them, shall we? The House Armed Services Committee deals with the US military and the Pentagon. Questions have been raised about the politicized nature of the president’s deployment of troops to the US border to protect the nation from the migrant caravan.

I bet you haven’t heard of Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, who will chair the committee. But you will. Oh, yes, you will — when he hauls Defense Secretary Jim Mattis into a hearing to go over how much the mission cost and who ordered it and what the purpose was and whether Mattis himself agreed with the idea.

He will be on the front pages of every newspaper and his hearing will be carried live on the cable news channels.

How about the House Foreign Affairs Committee? New York’s own Eliot Engel will be chairing that one, and you can bet Engel will be interested in hearing from State Department officials about the goings-on behind the scenes between Saudi Arabia and the United States, including questions about the commingling of American foreign policy with Trump family business interests.

Oh, and let’s not forget the House Judiciary Committee, shall we? My congressman, Jerry Nadler, will be in charge of that one. And he’s already vowed to call Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as his first witness, over Whitaker’s “expressed hostility” to Mueller and the threat he represents to the “integrity of that investigation.”

But you can bet Nadler won’t stop with Whitaker. He’ll aim for Trump and those closest to him. He wants to look into Russian collusion as a possible preliminary to impeachment proceedings against the president.

Even a boring committee like Natural Resources has a fat target: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has had two different matters referred by the department’s inspector general for possible criminal prosecution.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned Ivanka’s e-mails. Or Jared Kushner’s family deals in China. Or about a hundred other controversial topics. And I can’t mention things that haven’t happened yet — weird new developments of the sort the Trump administration seems to generate every week and will certainly continue to generate in 2019.

Mueller’s probe has been mostly very quiet, except when indictments are issued and trials are conducted. It has also been largely confined to a single subject area. Most of the matters I’m talking about here will be discussed loudly and without restraint by those elected officials who will feel particularly emboldened by the midterm election results.

Those results not only showed a Democratic gain of as many as 40 seats in the House, but a national popular-vote margin of more than eight points over the Republicans in an off-year in which Democrats received nearly as many votes collectively as Donald Trump scored in 2016.

Making Acosta a Federal Case

Question: What does CNN’s Jim Acosta crave more than anything? If you said “attention,” go to the head of the class. It’s a mystery why the White House has given Acosta way more than that. By yanking his “hard pass” after last week’s press conference (don’t ask who was obnoxious; they all were), Acosta has literally become a federal case. CNN filed suit claiming that its reporter’s First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated. More than a dozen news organizations, including Fox, have filed amicus briefs supporting CNN, and even Trump-friendly Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano has opined that Acosta has a strong case. Mr. Showboat is just where he wants to be — the center of attention — but thanks to President Trump’s gratuitous swipe, he is also a free-press martyr.

Trump Weighs Replacing Chief of Staff John Kelly in White House Shake-Up

The first to go is expected to be the deputy national security adviser, Mira Ricardel, who has clashed with First Lady Melania Trump. Mr. Trump is also leaning toward the ouster of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who is a close ally of Mr. Kelly, White House officials said. The president has decided to replace Ms. Nielsen, but hasn’t finalized the timing, White House officials said, in part because there isn’t an obvious candidate to replace her.

.. The president often games out multiple staffing scenarios with advisers, including months of talking about whether to replace Mr. Kelly. While those discussions often signal impending changes, that is not always the case.This is how the president works,” one White House official said. “He’s doused a bunch of people in gasoline and he’s waiting for someone to light a match.”

.. A rift emerged after Mrs. Trump staff’s battled with Ms. Ricardel during the first lady’s trip to Africa last month over seating on the plane and requests to use National Security Council resources, according to people familiar with the matter. The first lady’s team also told Mr. Trump that they suspect Ms. Ricardel is behind some negative stories about Mrs. Trump and her staff.

The first lady’s office issued a statement on Tuesday calling for Ms. Ricardel to be dismissed. “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump.

.. Late Tuesday, one White House official pushed back against the criticism but offered no assurances about Ms. Ricardel’s job security.

“Mira Ricardel is one of the highest ranking women in the Trump administration,” the official said. And she “has never met the first lady.”

Ms. Ricardel also repeatedly clashed with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his Pentagon team over staffing decisions and policy differences, according to people familiar with the feud.

.. Ms. Ricardel has served as a vital ally for Mr. Bolton since he took the national security job in April. He resisted efforts by Mr. Kelly to force her out, including when the chief of staff cited Mrs. Trump’s concerns two weeks ago, the officials said. Mrs. Trump and her staff then discussed the issue with the president during the trip to Paris, White House officials said. Mr. Trump told his wife that he would have Ms. Ricardel removed, the officials said.Mr. Bolton, meanwhile, has been among those pushing for Ms. Nielsen’s ouster, officials said. The Washington Post reported Mr. Trump’s decision to remove Ms. Nielsen on Monday.

.. One reason: The White House has no one ready to nominate, and there are succession questions at Homeland Security. The administration has yet to replace Elaine Duke, who resigned as the deputy secretary in February.
.. Mr. Trump also has soured on Kevin McAleenan, who is commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
 .. One source of tension between Mr. Bolton and Ms. Nielsen stemmed from a plan she raised to deal with the migrant caravan heading to the U.S.-Mexico border. Ms. Nielsen raised the possibility of asking the United Nations refugee agency to set up camps on the Mexico side of the border to house the migrants, said to people familiar with the talks.Mr. Bolton pointedly dismissed the idea as unworkable and misguided, a response that irked Ms. Nielsen and triggered a forceful defense from Mr. Kelly, these people said. Mr. Kelly asked Mr. Bolton what he thought would be a better approach, and Mr. Bolton said he would discuss it directly with the president, one of these people said.

.. In a meeting in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump further aggravated Mr. Kelly by suggesting that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top adviser, use his contacts in the Mexican government to try to resolve the caravan issue. “Let’s get Jared involved; he’s our best guy on this,” Mr. Trump said.

.. In recent days, Mr. Trump referred to Mr. Ayers in the present tense as his chief of staff, one White House official said. Mr. Trump has told officials he expects to offer Mr. Ayers the job when Mr. Kelly leaves

 

A Week After the Midterms, Trump Seems to Forget the Caravan

For weeks before the midterm elections, President Trump warned ominously about the threat from a caravan of migrants streaming from Central America toward Mexico’s border with the United States. It was a fearsome mix of criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners,” Mr. Trump claimed darkly, one that constituted a genuine national emergency.

But since the election last week, Mr. Trump has tweeted about the caravan exactly once — to issue a proclamation preventing those who cross the border illegally from applying for asylum in the United States. Fox News, which faithfully amplified Mr. Trump’s warnings about the migrants, has gone similarly quiet on the subject.

There was little dispute, even before Election Day, that Mr. Trump was exploiting the caravan for political purposes. But analysts, historians and veterans of previous administrations said there were few comparable instances of a commander in chief warning about what he called a looming threat, only to drop it as soon as people voted.

While the caravan has faded from television screens, the costs of Mr. Trump’s response to it have not. Nearly 6,000 active-duty troops remain deployed from the Gulf Coast to Southern California, where they are putting up tents and stringing concertina wire to face a ragtag band that is still not near the border.

Now that the political utility of troops on the southern border to face a fictitious caravan invasion threat is over,” said Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former commander of the military’s Southern Command, “let’s hope the president will stand down the troops so they can be with their families — especially over the holidays.”

But some officials in the Defense Department worry that Mr. Trump could do the opposite — seek an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 law that prohibits the government from using active-duty troops to enforce laws inside the country’s borders.

.. voters who made up their minds in the last three days before the election said they voted for Democrats over Republicans 53 percent to 41 percent. That coincides with the period in which Mr. Trump redoubled his focus on the caravan, rejecting the advice of aides who wanted to air a commercial promoting the healthy economy.

.. At one campaign rally after another, Mr. Trump said the election came down to “the caravan, law and order, and common sense.” In Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 19, he said: “You got some bad people in those groups. You got some tough people in those groups. And I’ll tell you what — this country doesn’t want them. O.K.? We don’t want them.”

.. A day earlier, he tweeted about the “assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in.”

Mr. Trump posted footage of an undocumented immigrant on trial for killing a police officer, and his campaign organization produced an ad featuring migrants trying to scale a wall to dramatize the stakes of the election.

“I’ve never before seen an American president, after going all over the country about this national crisis, then the day after an election shrug,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.

The closest parallel that Mr. Brinkley drew was to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who seized on — and mischaracterized — two murky encounters between American and North Vietnamese warships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 as a pretext to accelerate America’s engagement in the Vietnam War. Still, he said, Mr. Trump’s response was of a different order.

It was a dangerous form of xenophobia, aimed solely for electoral purposes and had nothing to do in the end with real national security,” Mr. Brinkley said.

For the troops, so far, it has mostly been an expensive field trip. The cost of the deployment is not known, but budget officials believe it could reach $200 million if all 15,000 troops that Mr. Trump pledged are ultimately sent.

.. Defenders of Mr. Trump said the troops would take little notice of his sudden lack of emphasis on the caravan.

“Knowing the troops, knowing how busy they are, they’re not focused on him,” said Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who is a former vice chief of staff of the Army. “They’ve got a job to do.”

But other former military officers said the soldiers were well aware of the political motivation behind their mission. Lacking much else to do, they will quickly pick up on Mr. Trump’s loss of interest in the caravan, and it will add to their already depleted morale.