Are We Down to President Pence?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

(Which will come first concerning Donald Trump, Impeachment or/ and, ‘Lock Him Up’?)(trs)

 

Photo

At the United Nations, President Trump threatened on Tuesday to destroy North Korea.CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

Donald Trump’s visit to the United Nations has resurrected the question of whether we’d be better off with Mike Pence.

We haven’t mulled that one for a while. Lately, Trump’s stupendous instability has actually been looking like a plus. There he was, telling Democrats that he didn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. Trying to find a way to save the Dreamers, having apparently forgotten that he was the one who put them all in jeopardy of deportation.

If Pence were president we wouldn’t be able to live in hopes of the next flip-flop. The Republican Congress would be marching through its agenda behind a committed conservative who, you may remember, forced so many Planned Parenthood clinics to close when he was governor of Indiana that it triggered an H.I.V. epidemic. Better insane than sorry.

Then came the U.N. speech, and the reminder that the one big plus on Pence’s scorecard is that he seems less likely to get the planet blown up.

You’ve heard about the big moment, when the president threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” adding, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

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Trump, who has a history of giving opponents insulting nicknames, loves calling Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, “Rocket Man.” Nikki Haley, our U.N. ambassador, argued that the president’s speech was a diplomatic win because “every other international community” has now started calling Kim “Rocket Man,” too.

Does this sound like a triumph to you, people? It’s perfectly possible Kim takes it for a compliment since he does like rockets. And I’ll bet he likes Elton John songs, too.

But about the “totally destroy North Korea” part: I believe I am not alone in feeling that the best plan for dealing with a deranged dictator holding nuclear weapons is not threatening to blow him up.

We tell ourselves that the president is surrounded by men who are too stable to let him plunge us into a war that will annihilate the planet. But Trump’s U.N. speech was a read-from-the-teleprompter performance, not a case of his just blurting out something awful. People in the White House read it and talked about it in advance.

It would have been so easy to avoid the crisis with a rewrite. “As the president said yesterday, the United States has great strength and patience, but all options are on the table,” Pence told the Security Council later. No, that’s not what the president said. But it is how you expect the head of the most powerful country in the world to deliver a message without scaring the pants off the public.

Maybe that’s what this country needs — a president who can make diplomacy boring again. We’re back to the dream of impeachment, or the sudden news that Trump is retiring to spend more quality time with his defense attorneys.

The most positive interpretation of the U.N. performance is that it was just a show for the base back home and had nothing whatsoever to do with anything in the real world. That seems possible, since the bulk of it was just sort of … undiplomatic. Urging his audience to do something about North Korea, Trump said: “That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.” Truly, when you’re addressing an international organization of which your country is a founding member, it’s a little weird to refer to it as “they.”

The president also kept saying he was always going to “put America first,” which is of course true. But at a U.N. venue, it was a little like going to the first meeting of the PTA and repeatedly pointing out that you only care about your own kid.

While Trump spent a lot of time denigrating the U.N. during his campaign, the White House clearly put a big premium on his debut. The whole Trump team was making the rounds. Poor Melania gave a speech about protecting children from cyberbullying while the audience silently contemplated the fact that her husband recently retweeted a meme of him slamming Hillary Clinton in the back with a golf ball.

The president was much more affable in smaller venues, but he still sounded … wrong. He tried to be super-nice at a luncheon with African leaders, assuring them, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.” At a gathering for the secretary general, he offered a toast to “the potential, the great, great potential, of the United Nations.” He kept talking about “potential,” like a relative attempting to say something positive about a teenager who had just gotten kicked out of junior high.

The big takeaway, however, was that the president of the United States had threatened to destroy a country with 25 million people.

Maybe we would be better off with Pence in the White House. Even though he won’t drink in mixed company unless his wife is present, or dine alone with a woman he’s not married to.

Really, there are some choices we just shouldn’t be required to make.

Trump lashes out at Russia probe; Pence hires a lawyer  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Trump lashes out at Russia probe; Pence hires a lawyer

June 15 at 9:39 PM
A heightened sense of unease gripped the White House on Thursday, as President Trump lashed out at reports that he’s under scrutiny over whether he obstructed justice, aides repeatedly deflected questions about the probe and Vice President Pence acknowledged hiring a private lawyer to handle fallout from investigations into Russian election meddling.Pence’s decision to hire Richard Cullen, a Richmond-based lawyer who previously served as a U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, came less than a month after Trump hired his own private lawyer.

The hiring of Cullen, whom an aide said Pence was paying for himself, was made public a day after The Washington Post reported that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is widening his investigation to examine whether the president attempted to obstruct justice.

A defiant Trump at multiple points Thursday expressed his frustration with reports about that development, tweeting that he is the subject of “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history,” and one that he said is being led by “some very bad and conflicted people.”

Trump, who only a day earlier had called for a more civil tone in Washington after a shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., fired off several more tweets in the afternoon voicing disbelief that he was under scrutiny while his “crooked” Democratic opponent in last year’s election, Hillary Clinton, escaped prosecution in relation to her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Special counsel investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice
The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials to determine whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said. (Patrick Martin,McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

Before the day ended, the White House was hit with the latest in a cascade of headlines relating to the Russian probe: a Post story reporting that Mueller is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-law and adviser.

“The legal jeopardy increases by the day,” said one informal Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss conversations with White House aides more freely. “If you’re a White House staffer, you’re trying to do your best to keep your head low and do your job.”

At the White House on Thursday, aides sought to portray a sense of normalcy, staging an elaborate event to promote a Trump job-training initiative, while simultaneously going into lockdown mode regarding Mueller’s probe.

At a previously scheduled off-camera briefing for reporters, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy White House press secretary, was peppered with more than a dozen questions about ongoing investigations over about 20 minutes.

In keeping with a new practice, she referred one question after another to Trump’s personal lawyer.

Sanders, for example, was asked whether Trump still felt “vindicated” by the extraordinary congressional testimony last week by James B. Comey, the FBI director whose firing by Trump has contributed to questions about whether the president obstructed justice.

“I believe so,” Sanders said, before referring reporters to Marc E. Kasowitz, Trump’s private attorney.

As Trump’s No. 2 and as head of the transition team, Pence has increasingly found himself drawn into the widening Russia investigation.

Pence — along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kushner, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Counsel Donald McGahn — was one of the small group of senior advisers the president consulted as he mulled his decision to fire Comey, which is now a focus of Mueller’s investigation.

He also was entangled in the events leading up to the dismissal of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who originally misled Pence about his contact with Russian officials — incorrect claims that Pence himself then repeated publicly.

The vice president was kept in the dark for nearly two weeks about Flynn’s misstatements, before learning the truth in a Post report. Trump ultimately fired Flynn for misleading the vice president.

There were also news reports that Flynn’s attorneys had alerted Trump’s transition team, which Pence led, that Flynn was under federal investigation for his secret ties to the Turkish government as a paid lobbyist — a claim the White House disputes. And aides to Pence, who was running the transition team, said the vice president was never informed of Flynn’s overseas work with Turkey, either.

On Capitol Hill on Thursday, Russian election meddling and related issues were a prominent part of the agenda.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats spent more than three hours in a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee, just days after he refused to answer lawmakers’ questions in an open session about his conversations with Trump regarding the Russia investigation.

Several GOP lawmakers said they think Mueller should be able to do his job — including probing possible obstruction by Trump — but added that they were eager to put the probe behind them.

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, said he retains confidence in Mueller and that he’s seen nothing so far that would amount to obstruction by Trump. His assessment, Cornyn said, includes the testimony last week by Comey, who said he presumed he was fired because of Trump’s concerns about the FBI’s handling of the Russian probe.

“I think based on what he said then, there doesn’t appear to be any there there,” Cornyn said. “Director Mueller’s got extensive staff and authorities to investigate further. But based on what we know now, I don’t see any basis.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he didn’t find news that Mueller is exploring obstruction of justice particularly surprising given it’s clear he is “going to look at everything.”

“There has been a lot of time spent on the collusion issue — 11 months by the FBI and six months by Congress — and both sides agree they haven’t found anything there,” Thune said. “I hope at some point all this stuff will lead to an ultimate conclusion, and we’ll put this to rest.”

In the meantime, the Republican National Committee appears to be girding for a fight.

“Talking points” sent Wednesday night to Trump allies provided a road map for trying to undercut the significance of the latest revelation related to possible obstruction of justice.

“This apparent pivot by the investigative team shows that they have struck out on trying to prove collusion and are now trying to switch to another baseless charge,” the document said.

The RNC also encouraged Trump allies to decry the “inexcusable, outrageous and illegal” leaks on which it said the story was based and to argue that there is a double standard at work.

The document said there was “an obvious case” of obstruction that was never investigated against former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch related to the FBI investigation of Clinton’s email server.

In his afternoon tweets, Trump picked up on that argument. In one tweet, the president wrote: “Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, ‘bleached’ emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?”

“Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?” Trump said in another.

Trump restricted his musing Thursday on Mueller’s investigation to social media, passing on opportunities to talk about it in public.

The president did not respond to shouted questions about whether he believes he is under investigation as he departed an event Thursday morning designed to highlight his administration’s support of apprenticeship programs.

That event was part of a schedule that suggested no outward signs of concern by Trump about his latest troubles.

He was joined at the apprenticeship event by several governors, lawmakers and other dignitaries. Before turning to the subject at hand, Trump provided an update on the condition of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot Wednesday during the attack on Republican lawmakers at an early-morning baseball practice.

Attempting to strike a unifying chord, Trump said: “Steve, in his own way, may have brought some unity to our long-divided country.”

Later in the afternoon, Trump and the first lady traveled to the Supreme Court for the investiture ceremony for Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

Among the questions Sanders deflected Thursday was to whom exactly Trump was referring as “bad and conflicted people” in one of his early morning tweets.

“Again, I would refer you to the president’s outside counsel on all questions relating to the investigation,” Sanders said.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the outside counsel, did not respond to an email and phone call seeking comment on the questions Sanders referred to him.

Earlier this week, one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr., highlighted on Twitter an op-ed in USA Today that argued that Mueller should recuse himself from the Russia investigation because he has a potential conflict of interest, given his longtime friendship with Comey, a crucial witness.

The piece, which Donald Trump Jr. retweeted, was written by William G. Otis, an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University who was a special counsel for President George H.W. Bush.

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Christopher Ruddy, a friend of Trump’s, made headlines this week when he said during a PBS interview that he believed Trump was considering firing Mueller.

The White House didn’t immediately deny that notion but made clear that Ruddy was not speaking for Trump. The following day, Sanders said Trump had no intention of trying to dislodge Mueller.

Sanders was asked again Thursday whether Trump still has confidence in Mueller.

“I believe so,” she said, later adding: “I haven’t had a specific conversation about that, but I think if he didn’t, he would probably have intentions to make a change, and he certainly doesn’t.

Ed O’Keefe, Karoun Demirjian and Abby Phillip contributed to this report.

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