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Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
The president’s staff attempts to sway his opinion by strategically passing along articles that play to his ego and deep paranoia, even if they’re fake, according to a Politico report Monday.
The outlet cited a half-dozen White House officials “and others with direct interactions with the president” who described the consequences of Trump’s unusually porous Oval Office.
Politico cited four instances of individuals close to the President offering reading material to further their own agendas; two instances included fake or unproven claims.
In one, Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland gave Trump an image showing two Time magazine covers; a recent one about global warming, and one from the 1970s warning of a coming “Ice Age.” The latter cover is an internet hoax, but, Politico reported, “Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy.”
In another case, well-known conspiracist Charles C. Johnson alleged without any evidence that deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh was “the source behind a bunch of leaks.” Walsh has since left the White House. Politico reported that “Trump read the article and began asking staff about Walsh.”
The unblinking support of Trump’s often-unsupported whims by staff eager for his favor recalled an interview by PRI with the authors of an Economist interview with Trump on Friday. One of them, David Rennie, noted that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin actually echoed Trump’s falsehood that China stopped manipulating its currency in response to his criticism during the campaign. (Actually, it happened years ago.)
Rennie recalled that Mnuchin, who had an extensive career as an investor before joining Trump’s Cabinet, said: “Oh yeah. The day he became president, they changed their behavior!”
Politico noted two other instances in which a well-placed article caused major changes: Trump reportedly personally intervened to stop the hiring of Elliot Abrams as deputy secretary of state after someone in Trump’s “orbit” showed him Abrams’ criticism of him in the Weekly Standard.
And, after former advisers to Trump wrote an op-ed in the New York Times supportive of a tax overhaul, Trump immediately made it a top priority. Two days after its publishing, “startling his own aides who had not yet prepared such a plan,” according to Politico, Trump told the Associated Press to expect an announcement on taxes by the following week — the result was a one page outline of a plan, in time for Trump’s 100th day in office.
The former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York urged public servants to “say no to the President.”
Preet Bharara, who President Donald Trump fired when he refused to tender his resignation along with the rest of the Obama-era U.S. attorneys in March, was Wall Street’s top cop in his last position, and was reported to have been investigating Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price at the time of his ouster. Bharara has been outspoken in his criticism of Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post published Sunday evening, Bharara recalled another instance of executive overreach into the realm of prosecutorial independence: the U.S. attorney firing scandal of 2006 and 2007, in which federal prosecutors were fired for what were later determined to be political reasons.
“When the actions became public, people suspected political interference and obstruction,” Bharara wrote. “Democrats were the most vocal, but some Republicans asked questions, too. The uproar intensified as it became clear that the initial explanations were mere pretext, and the White House couldn’t keep its story straight. Public confidence ebbed, and Congress began to investigate.”
“In response, the Senate launched a bipartisan (yes, bipartisan) investigation into those firings and the politicization of the Justice Department,” he added. The investigation led to the resignation of nearly a dozen Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
“For me, the past week has been deja vu all over again,” Bharara wrote, outlining three necessary steps to restore “faith in the rule of law”: a “truly bipartisan” investigation of Russian interference in the 2o16 election, an FBI director who is “apolitical and sensitive to the law-enforcement mission” and “an independent and uncompromised special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.”
“Given the manner of Comey’s firing and the pretextual reasons proffered for it, there is no other way,” he wrote.
President Donald Trump on Friday was vague on the future of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, saying that Spicer was “doing a good job, but he gets beat up.”
He also emphasized, in light of criticism of the White House’s continually changing narrative regarding former FBI Director James Comey’s ouster, that he could simply severely limit press conferences and do them all himself.
“Is he your press secretary today and tomorrow? Will he be tomorrow?” Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro asked Trump in an interview the network partially aired Friday afternoon, referring to Spicer.
“Yeah, he is. He is,” Trump said, before hedging: “Well, he’s doing a good job, but he gets beat up.”
“Will he be there tomorrow?” she asked again.
“Yeah, well, he’s been there from the beginning,” Trump said.
“Is he in the, in the – What do they say, is he in the woods?” she asked.
“He’s getting beat up,” Trump said. “No, he just gets beat up by these people and again you know they don’t show the 90 questions that they asked and answered properly. I’m saying if they’re off just a little bit, just a little bit, it’s the big story.”
“When will you make a decision as to whether or not you’re gonna keep having him?” Pirro asked. Trump didn’t answer.
Earlier, Spirro asked if Trump was “moving so quickly that your communications department cannot keep up with you.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Trump interrupted her.
The White House has faced harsh criticism since Comey’s abrupt firing Tuesday for its changing narratives about the firing.
“What do we do about that, because— ” Pirro began to ask.
“We don’t have press conferences,” he said.
“You don’t mean that,” she said.
“Just don’t have them,” he said after pausing. “Unless I have them every two weeks and I do it myself. We don’t have them. I think it’s a good idea.”
Trump tweeted Friday morning that “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!”
“Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???” he added.
Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, the White House floated the possibility that it would move the press briefing room out of the West Wing. The press ultimately stayed put.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not deny on Friday that President Donald Trump recorded his conversations with ousted FBI Director James Comey. Spicer also wouldn’t rule out that the President still records conversations in the Oval Office.
Trump abruptly fired Comey on Tuesday. The White House has since changed its justifications for the firing multiple times, amid rapid-fire reports surfacing new details of the dismissal.
On Friday morning, Trump tweeted a warning to the former director, apparently responding to unflattering reports:
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
“Does anybody in this White House have an audio recording of what unfolded during the Jan. 27 dinner between the former FBI director and the President of the United States?” one reporter asked Spicer at his daily briefing Friday.
“I’m not aware of that,” Spicer said.
Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt on Thursday that Comey had asked to him to dinner on Jan. 27, and that at the dinner he had requested that he not be removed from his post. Multiple anonymous sources told the New York Times and NBC News that, in fact, Trump had summoned Comey to the dinner, and that Trump had asked Comey for his loyalty.
Comey reportedly declined to commit as much. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Friday that Trump’s account of Comey’s actions seemed “out of character” for the ousted FBI director.
During the briefing, Spicer refused to elaborate on Trump’s “tapes” tweet to Reuters’ Jeff Mason, except to say that it was “not a threat,” but rather a simple stated fact.
“The tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on,” Spicer said.
Spicer was asked later: “Is the President of the United States currently recording conversations taking place in the Oval Office?”
Spicer refused to clarify.
“I think the point that I made with the respect to the tweet is that the President has no further comment on this,” he said before moving on.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Friday denied that President Donald Trump threatened ousted FBI Director James Comey when he wrote on Twitter: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will evaluate the President Donald Trump’s nominee for FBI director, said Thursday that he expected Trump would not nominate anyone to lead the bureau who had a connection to his campaign or presidential transition.
In an appearance on CSPAN’s “Newsmakers,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was asked by Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski if he would be concerned if Trump’s nominee to take over from Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe “was someone who may have to recuse themselves from the Russia investigation because they were advising Trump on the campaign or were somehow otherwise involved in the transition?”
“I think the President and the people close to the President don’t want to emphasize that anymore. They’re going to get somebody entirely away from that, as far as I can tell,” Grassley said.
He noted that he would withhold judgment on any potential nominees until he got further indication from the White House. Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday.
Grassley said earlier in the interview that both Democrats and Republicans would ask of the nominee, “how are they going to handle this investigation?” referring to the investigation, confirmed by Comey under oath, of possible coordination between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
“They’re going to want to know that there’s independence from the President of the United States,” he said.
The senator noted that, given the circumstances, “it will be more difficult,” to find a consensus nominee, but that it would be easier “if they can find somebody that’s had some — in other areas — some Senate confirmation, or have a very independent approach to what they do, like maybe a former judge, like a former Judge Webster”
William H. Webster served on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals from 1973 to 1978, when he was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to become FBI director.
“Somebody that comes from the judicial branch of government, I think has some credibility just because that’s been their working environment,” Grassley said, adding: “Everybody, including this senator’s going to make sure that they are independent.”
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Friday directly contradicted President Trump’s claim that ousted FBI Director James Comey had asked Trump to have dinner a week after the President’s inauguration to ask to keep his job. He said that Comey told him he was “uneasy” about attending the dinner.
Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt on Thursday that Comey had requested to have dinner with him, and that he asked Trump at the dinner to keep him in his post as FBI director.
Multiple unnamed sources told the New York Times and NBC News after that interview that not only did Trump summon Comey to dinner on Jan. 27 and not the other way around, but also that Trump had asked at the dinner for Comey to pledge his loyalty to him. Comey reportedly refused.
Clapper told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Friday about a farewell ceremony Comey had hosted for him earlier the same day, Jan. 27.
“And Jim and I spoke briefly before the ceremony and he mentioned that he had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the President, and that he was uneasy with that because of even compromising the — even the optics, the appearance of independence, not only of him, but of the FBI,” Clapper recalled.
“But he was going that very night to the dinner. Did he explain why he felt he had to go?” Mitchell asked.
“Well, I think anyone who is serving office in the government, and you’re asked by the President for dinner, I think as professional courtesy, you’re in a difficult position to refuse to go,” Clapper said. “But I do know he was uneasy with it, just for the appearance of compromising the independence of the FBI, which is a hallowed tenet in our system.”
Mitchell asked about Trump’s claim that Comey had asked Trump to keep him in his job at the dinner, and that Comey had told Trump at the same dinner that he was not under an FBI investigation — one of three times Comey told him, according to Trump.
Comey has never said himself that he told Trump he wasn’t under investigation. Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that “legal minds” and attorneys had said it wasn’t inappropriate for Trump to ask Comey whether he was being investigated — despite the question clearly violating Justice Department protocol.
“I would find that very inconsistent with what I know of Jim Comey,” Clapper said, noting that he wasn’t at the dinner and couldn’t know what was said.
“Moreover, anyone who’s in a position that’s subject to Senate confirmation — presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, which his is, mine was — understands that you serve at the pleasure of,” Clapper said.
“And it would really be, I think, inappropriate, and certainly in Jim’s case, out of character, for him to ask to stay on,” he continued. “I couldn’t imagine doing that myself, nor can I imagine him doing that either.”
Actress and comedian Melissa McCarthy was spotted touring New York City atop a mock White House podium Friday.
McCarthy, whose impersonation of White House press secretary Sean Spicer for “Saturday Night Live” reportedly angered Spicer’s boss (because McCarthy’s a woman), hinted on Tuesday at a return of the communications chief. She’ll host the show this weekend.
CNN’s Brian Stelter noted the show was filming outside the network’s building.
"SNL" taping right outside CNN NYC… Looks like they're in between takes right now… this was a few minutes ago 👇🏼 https://t.co/JmYtDlnYoo