Upstairs at home, with the TV on, Trump fumes over Russia indictments

But the president’s celebration was short-lived. A few minutes later, court documents were unsealed showing that George Papadopoulos, an unpaid foreign policy adviser on Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI about his efforts to broker a relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The case provides the clearest evidence yet of links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

 .. But Trump’s anger Monday was visible to those who interacted with him, and the mood in the corridors of the White House was one of weariness and fear of the unknown.
“The walls are closing in,” said one senior Republican in close contact with top staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “Everyone is freaking out.”

Trump is also increasingly agitated by the expansion of Mueller’s probe into financial issues beyond the 2016 campaign and about the potential damage to him and his family

.. Trump and his aides were frustrated that, yet again, Russia steamrolled the start of a carefully planned week of policy news. Trump is preparing to nominate a new chairman of the Federal Reserve and is scheduled to depart Friday for a high-stakes, 12-day trip across Asia, and House Republicans are planning to unveil their tax overhaul bill.

.. Away from the podium, Trump staffers fretted privately over whether Manafort or Gates might share with Mueller’s team damaging information about other colleagues. They expressed concern in particular about Gates because he has a young family, may be more stretched financially than Manafort, and continued to be involved in Trump’s political operation and had access to the White House, including attending West Wing meetings after Trump was sworn in.

.. Some White House advisers are unhappy with Thomas J. Barrack Jr., Trump’s longtime friend and chair of his inauguration, whom they hold responsible for keeping Gates in the Trump orbit long after Manafort resigned as campaign chairman in August 2016

..  The president’s inner circle on Russia matters has tightened in recent months. In addition to his lawyers, Trump has been talking mostly with Kelly and members of his family, including Melania, as well as daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior White House advisers. Trump also leans on two senior aides, counselor Kellyanne Conway and communications director Hope Hicks, as well as some outside friends for advice.

.. On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, some of Trump’s allies are privately revving up their own version of a counterattack against Mueller. Several top Republican legislators plan to raise questions in the coming days about the FBI’s handling of a “dossier” detailing alleged ties between Trump and Russian interests. They intend to argue that Mueller’s team has become overly reliant on a document that was funded in part by Democrats, according to two people involved in the discussions. Mueller does not appear to have relied on the dossier for the cases revealed on Monday, however.

.. When the first pair of indictments came naming Manafort and Gates, there was palpable relief inside the West Wing. The 31-page document did not name Trump, nor did it address any possible collusion between Russia and the president’s campaign.

.. Moreover, aides were simply happy that the initial batch of indictments did not include Michael Flynn

.. Flynn had been intimately involved in both the campaign and the early days of the administration, and a Flynn indictment, most staff believed, would have been far more damaging.

.. Michael Caputo, a former campaign adviser who Trump praised on Twitter Monday morning for his appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” later called the indictments “one big, huge fail.”

Trump’s rhetorical schizophrenia is easy to see through

And so, on one day, we had an unhinged and divisive rant by President Trump in Phoenix. Then, the next day in Reno, Nev., a call for national unity and reconciliation. Multiple political personality disorder. Rhetorical schizophrenia.

The gap between Trump extemporaneous and Trump scripted is canyon-like. The normal role of a speechwriter is to find, refine and elevate the voice of a leader. The greatest professional victory comes when a president thinks: This is the way I would sound if I had more time to write and more talent with language. In these circumstances, speechwriting is not deception; it is amplification.

.. But what about speechwriting that is designed to give a leader a different voice? Here moral issues begin to lurk. Is it ethical to make a cynical leader appear principled? A violent leader seem pacific? A cruel leader seem compassionate?

.. Or maybe a speechwriter can hope a president will eventually rise to the level of his teleprompter.

.. he plays rhetorical games with the artificial (for him) constraints of being presidential. “Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator — who’s weak on borders, weak on crime,” he said of (conservative Republican) Jeff Flake. “Now everybody’s happy.” Here the “nobody” clearly included his own concerned advisers. Trump often uses speeches (and Twitter) to cut the strings of their counsel.
  • .. So it was the real voice that we heard in Phoenix, attacking a man with brain cancer — Republican Sen. John McCain — without any wish for his recovery.
  • The real voice defending a supporter who had been fired by CNN for writing “Sieg Heil” on Twitter.
  • The real voice making fun of a TV anchor’s height. The real voice again widening racial divisions by defending Confederate monuments as “our history and our heritage.
  • It was the real voice expressing greater passion in criticizing journalists than white supremacists.

.. his transparency reveals a disordered personality.

his Phoenix remarks indicate a loose connection to reality.

  • His response to the violence in Charlottesville was, in his view, “perfect.”
  • The North Koreans, he claimed, are learning to “respect” America (for which there is no evidence).
  • “I don’t believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months,” Trump claimed of himself. “I really do not believe it.”

What if Trump really believes what he claims? Then he would be not deceptive, but deluded.

.. Trump is not merely acting unpresidential; he is erratic and grandiose.

On the evidence of the Phoenix speech, Trump believes that a government shutdown is preferable to giving up on funding for the southern border wall. This involves a different type of delusion. Poll after poll demonstrates that about 35 percent of Americans support Trump’s wall. You can’t hold national parks and veterans’ payments hostage over an issue like this and expect to win.

..  “It also takes careful management of the levers available to the administration in a shutdown to keep it from becoming a nightmare immediately, and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] is not doing the work to prepare. Incompetence is the death of these guys over and over.”

.. The unified control of House, Senate and presidency means little when the president lives in a reality of his own.

Bannon’s departure is unlikely to calm the turmoil in Trump’s White House

Trump predicted Bannon would be “a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews . . . maybe even better than ever before,” adding: “Fake News needs the competition!”

.. Several friends and former co-workers said that they expect Bannon to use the platform to attack his political opponents, including those he has derided as “globalists” and Democrats inside the White House.

“I think Steve is going to be more effective on the outside,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a longtime friend of Bannon. “On the outside, if you are well-funded and you are feared and you have a platform, you are going to be a power player. Steve has all of that in spades.”

.. Trump and Bannon associates also expect Bannon to continue to have Trump’s ear, as has been the case with some other fired staffers such as Corey Lewandowksi, Trump’s first campaign manager, who periodically shows up at the White House.

“With Donald Trump, once he likes you, you’re either in his inner orbit, or you’re in his outer orbit,” said Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. “You never leave altogether.”

.. “What it does not do is remove the person who’s creating the most drama in the White House, and that’s Donald Trump,” the strategist added. “He’s going to continue to do what he’s going to do.”

.. On most of these issues, there is no evident strategy among Republicans on either side of Pennsylvania Avenue for bridging divisions and bringing Trump and congressional Republicans together.

.. Trump has grown increasingly unhappy with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and rarely mentions House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in private conversations, blaming both for his legislative troubles

.. a flurry of bravado-filled interviews with Bannon appeared on various websites, including one in which he said he felt as if “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons” and was prepared to “crush the opposition.”

.. Advisers to senior congressional Republicans were taken aback that none of the combative language was countered by the White House.

“They just sat out there,” said one Republican aide. “That told me everything about whether the White House actually cares about making clear it’s on our side.”

.. Ever since Priebus left, many Republican officials have found it harder to engage the White House and to feel assured that the administration “understands the language of Republicans,”

All the President’s Advisers

Steve Bannon all but dares Trump and Kelly to fire him.

Some conservatives deride Mr. Cohn as a Wall Street Democrat, but he has assembled a first-rate policy team with free-market views. They are crucial to pulling off tax reform in the autumn and to holding off destructive ideas like withdrawing from Nafta.

.. Then there’s the national-security team that is trying to navigate the dangerous world they inherited from Barack Obama. Jim Mattis at Defense, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are clear-eyed about the threats posed by Russia, Iran and North Korea. Whatever their policy differences, they know the value of alliances and diplomacy backed by military power.

They’re also reassuring to a world that doesn’t know how to read Mr. Trump’s Twitter outbursts. There’s no evidence they plan to leave, but if they did it would send a political shock that would ignite calls for Mr. Trump’s resignation.

.. Mr. Bannon has a Manichean view of politics, at home and abroad, that is sure to become destructive. “To me,” he told Mr. Kuttner, “the economic war with China is everything.”

.. Most striking is Mr. Bannon’s willingness to undercut Mr. Trump’s policy of pressuring China by saying there’s “no military solution” on North Korea. He said he’d consider a deal in which North Korea freezes its nuclear program with verifiable inspections in return for U.S. withdrawal from the Korean peninsula. But this would be a strategic windfall for China and North Korea, leveraging the nuclear threat to push the U.S. out of East Asia.

.. Mr. Bannon says he didn’t realize his chat with the journalist was on the record, which is hard to believe given his years of media experience. We almost wonder if it’s a dare to Mr. Kelly to fire him.

If Mr. Trump retains Mr. Bannon after such a public declaration of disdain for his colleagues, the President will risk other departures. And if Mr. Trump rejects such a request from Mr. Kelly, the chief of staff will have to wonder whether he can do his job.

  •  They see a rare moment of united Republican government to move in a better direction on domestic policy.
  • Or they want to correct the erosion of American power and influence that accelerated during the Obama years.

Every person has to decide how long he or she can serve in good conscience. But we hope the best stay as long as they can for the good of the country.

 

Trump’s Remarks Rattle His Staff, Threaten Agenda

Top advisers are said to be frustrated over the president’s comments about the violence in Virginia

Gary Cohn, was upset by the remarks and the trajectory of a news conference Tuesday that was supposed to showcase the White House’s infrastructure plans, aides said. Instead, the event was dominated by Mr. Trump’s fiery commentary about the violence in Charlottesville that left one person dead… John Kelly, the newly minted White House chief of staff who was brought in last month to impose discipline in a fractious West Wing, was also frustrated to see Mr. Trump equate the white nationalists who had chanted “Jews won’t replace us” with the actions of counterprotesters, an administration aide said.

.. Some of the GOP president’s allies said Mr. Trump’s foray into the combustible politics of race will make things tougher as Congress confronts a series of difficult legislative challenges, including lifting the nation’s debt ceiling, passing a budget and changing the tax code.

.. Mr. Trump’s relationship with important congressional allies has already soured. He recently attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in tweets for the collapse of the GOP health-care legislation.

.. Blackstone Group LP Chief Executive Stephen A. Schwarzman, who led the Strategic and Policy Forum, called the president on Wednesday to inform him the group was being disbanded, according to people familiar with the call.

.. Various U.S. military leaders at the Pentagon issued their own statements denouncing bigotry, while the Navy said it may consider changing the crest of a ship commemorating one of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s victories.

.. Mr. Kelly doesn’t have the same command over White House communications. On Wednesday, the administration installed Hope Hicks, a longtime press adviser to the president, as interim communications director while it searches for a permanent replacement.

Speaking to staff at one point earlier this month, Mr. Kelly told the White House team that the best job he ever had was as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. After one week at the White House, he joked with them, that hadn’t changed—yet.

John Kelly cannot make Trump effective

First, this administration has zero legislative accomplishments and seems unable to negotiate with members of its own party. Kelly, who has been openly scornful of Congress, is unlikely to help in that regard.

.. (“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,’’ he said about congressional critics of immigration enforcement. “Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.’’)

.. as the administration faces deadlines for the debt ceiling and the budget. Ironically, Trump needs help to close deals, and Kelly doesn’t have those skills.

.. Second, the president refuses to learn in office or master any level of detail. He therefore is far less influential in pressing lawmakers to pass his initiatives. Without understanding individual lawmakers’ objections, his ability to persuade and cajole them is limited to repeating empty talking points. The same problem that afflicted him in the health-care debate will be evident no matter what the topic.

..  it seems no one — not even Trump’s relatives and lawyers — can prevent him from digging himself a deeper hole.

.. Fourth, Kelly is more likely to accentuate Trump’s alienation from Republicans. Already strained because of health reform, the president’s serial outbursts and the Russia scandal, the relationship between Congress and Trump seems more like that between a president and the majority of the other party. In point of fact, Trump’s never really been a Republican

.. Kelly has no particular ideological leanings, no ties to the conservative movement and no experience in domestic policy. That leaves Trump even less tethered to his party than he was at the onset of his term.

.. Fifth, Trump refuses to be disciplined. He rejects the overwhelming sentiment among voters that Twitter is a dangerous distraction. Trump doesn’t agree. He tweeted againTuesday: “Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!” Without a disciplined boss, the administration and Congress will be tied up in whatever controversy of the day Trump creates. Trump remains the obstacle that’s impossible to overcome. As long as he is there, effective leadership will be a fantasy.

Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for Counsel

Mr. Trump’s West Wing aides, like President Bill Clinton’s staff two decades before, say they sometimes cringe at the input from people they can’t control, with consequences they can’t predict. Knowing these advisers — who are mostly white, male and older — is a key to figuring out the words coming from Mr. Trump’s mouth and his Twitter feed.

.. Sean Hannity

Presidents always deploy surrogates to appear on television to spout their talking points, but Mr. Trump has expanded on that by developing relationships with sympathetic media figures like Mr. Hannity who also serve as advisers. Mr. Hannity, the Fox News host, defends Mr. Trump’s most controversial behavior in public, but privately, according to people close to Mr. Trump, he urges the president not to get distracted, and advises him to focus on keeping pledges like repealing the Affordable Care Act.

.. Chris Ruddy

The chief executive of Newsmax Media is a longtime Mar-a-Lago member and was a Trump cheerleader among conservative media well before the website Breitbart joined the parade. He employs writers and editors who tracked Mr. Trump’s career when they were at The New York Post.

.. Sheri A. Dillon

Ms. Dillon seemed out of place when she spoke at a too-large lectern in the lobby of Trump Tower on Jan. 11, describing the steps Mr. Trump planned to take to separate himself from his business. But Ms. Dillon, an ethics lawyer who worked out a highly criticized plan for Mr. Trump to retain ownership of his company but step back from running it, has repeatedly counseled the president about the business and made at least one White House visit.

.. Corey Lewandowski

Despite his “you’re fired” slogan, the president dislikes dismissing people. Mr. Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s hot-tempered first campaign manager, was fired in June but never really went away. A New England-bred operative whose working-class roots and clenched-teeth loyalty earned him Mr. Trump’s trust, he continued to be in frequent phone contact with Mr. Trump until the election and beyond. Friends of Mr. Lewandowski say that he can see the windows of the White House residence from his lobbying office on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that the view is even better during his visits to the West Wing

.. Thomas Barrack Jr.

Mr. Trump divides the people around him into broad categories: family, paid staff and wealthy men like Mr. Barrack whom he considers peers.

.. Under Mr. Barrack’s leadership, Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee raised a record $106.7 million, much of it from big corporations, banks and Republican megadonors like the Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Mr. Barrack also helped usher Paul Manafort, the international political operative now under scrutiny for his ties to Russia, into the Trump fold last year.

.. Phil Ruffin

Mr. Trump has 20-odd business partners, but none is closer to him than Mr. Ruffin, 82, a Texas billionaire who has lent his ear and private jet. The president was best man at the 2008 wedding of Mr. Ruffin to his third wife, a 26-year-old model and former Miss Ukraine. Mr. Ruffin has a knack for showing up when Mr. Trump needs him most and remains a die-hard defender.

.. Carl Icahn

Rounding out Mr. Trump’s roster of wealthy octogenarians is this 81-year-old corporate raider and real estate mogul, who occupies perhaps the most respected perch in the president’s circle of businessmen buddies. The affection is longstanding: The Queens-bred Mr. Icahn has known Mr. Trump and his family for decades. It’s also numerical: Mr. Icahn is worth an estimated $16 billion, a major plus in the eyes of a president who keeps score. Mr. Icahn serves as a free-roving economic counselor and the head of Mr. Trump’s effort to reduce government regulations on business.

.. Melania Trump

Mrs. Trump is uninterested in the limelight, but she has remained a powerful adviser by telephone from New York. Among her roles: giving Mr. Trump feedback on media coverage, counseling him on staff choices and urging him, repeatedly, to tone down his Twitter feed. Lately, he has listened closely, and has a more disciplined Twitter finger.

.. Chris Christie

Mr. Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and palace gatekeeper, has shown a capacity to hobble his rivals, but few have been finished off. The most durable has been Mr. Christie, whose transition planning, several West Wing aides now concede, should not have been discarded.