Trump Aides, Seeking Leverage, Investigate Mueller’s Investigators

Via The New York Times:

President Trump’s lawyers and aides are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused, according to three people with knowledge of the research effort.

The search for potential conflicts is wide-ranging. It includes scrutinizing donations to Democratic candidates, investigators’ past clients and Mr. Mueller’s relationship with James B. Comey, whose firing as F.B.I. director is part of the special counsel’s investigation.

The effort to investigate the investigators is another sign of a looming showdown between Mr. Trump and Mr. Mueller, who has assembled a team of high-powered prosecutors and agents to examine whether any of Mr. Trump’s advisers aided Russia’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election.

Some of the investigators have vast experience prosecuting financial malfeasance, and the prospect that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry could evolve into an expansive examination of Mr. Trump’s financial history has stoked fears among the president’s aides. Both Mr. Trump and his aides have said publicly they are watching closely to ensure Mr. Mueller’s investigation remains narrowly focused on last year’s election.

During an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he was aware that members of Mr. Mueller’s team had potential conflicts of interest and would make the information available “at some point.”

Mr. Trump also said Mr. Mueller would be going outside his mandate if he begins investigating matters unrelated to Russia, like the president’s personal finances. Mr. Trump repeatedly declined to say what he might do if Mr. Mueller appeared to exceed that mandate. But his comments to The Times represented a clear message to Mr. Mueller.

“The president’s making clear that the special counsel should not move outside the scope of the investigation,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said during a news briefing on Thursday.

Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the special counsel, declined to comment.

For weeks, Republicans have publicly identified what they see as potential conflicts among Mr. Mueller’s team of more than a dozen investigators. In particular, they have cited thousands of dollars of political donations to Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, made by Andrew Weissmann, a former senior Justice Department official who has expertise in fraud and other financial crimes. News reports have revealed similar donations by other members of Mr. Mueller’s team, which Mr. Trump’s allies have cited as evidence of political bias. Another lawyer Mr. Mueller has hired, Jeannie Rhee, represented the Clinton Foundation.

To seek a recusal, Mr. Trump’s lawyers can argue their case to Mr. Mueller or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. The Justice Department has explicit rules about what constitutes a conflict of interest. Prosecutors may not participate in investigations if they have “a personal or political relationship” with the subject of the case. Making campaign donations is not included on the list of things that would create a “political relationship.”

The examination of Mr. Mueller’s investigators reflects deep concerns among the president’s aides that Mr. Mueller will mount a wide-ranging investigation in the mold of the inquiry conducted by the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr during the 1990s. Mr. Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton began by reviewing an Arkansas land deal and concluded several years later with the president’s impeachment over a lie about a sexual affair.

By building files on Mr. Mueller’s team, the Trump administration is following in the footsteps of the Clinton White House, which openly challenged Mr. Starr and criticized what Mr. Clinton’s aides saw as a political witch hunt.

More here.

With health-bill collapse, Republicans face uncertain electoral future in 2018

David Weigel, reporting for the Washington Post:

As the seven-year Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act crashed on the threshold of the Senate, President Trump offered his party a rescue strategy. Step one: Blame Democrats. Step two: Win more seats and try again.

“We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it,” said Trump. “In ’18, we’re going to have to get some more people elected. We have to go out and get more people elected that are Republicans.”

Trump made explicit what Republicans had been hoping since the repeal fight started — that whatever happened, voters would blame the Democrats for their health-care costs. It’s an audacious strategy that flies against current polling and electoral history. It counts on messaging, distracted voters and a built-in electoral advantage to guide the party past the rocks.

“The worm’s kind of turned on this issue,” said Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who ran the party’s House campaign group in several cycles. “Republicans might have gotten a break by not seeing an unpopular law go into effect. Sometimes, having no law is better than having one that people perceive as bad law.”

By the time the Better Care Reconciliation Act tanked late Monday, Trump had repeatedly predicted that the “disaster” of the ACA would collapse, forcing Democrats to the bargaining table. The administration’s indecision on whether to keep funding subsidies for plans bought on ACA exchanges had been cited by many insurers announcing rate hikes or canceled plans — announcements that the administration cited as proof of collapse.

Polling, however, found most voters ready to blame Republicans for the rate hikes. An April survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 60 percent of voters opposed to using the subsidies as bargaining chips; even 28 percent of Republicans were opposed. Seventy-four percent of voters said they wanted the administration to “make the law work,” and 64 percent said that “President Trump and Republicans in Congress” would be accountable for “any problems.”

Even some Republicans who wanted to force Democrats to negotiate said that six months of negotiations had sapped the party’s momentum. “I advocated collapse and replace for months,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “But we’re so deep into this thing right now, I don’t even know if that’s a viable option.”

In interviews Tuesday, Democrats who face re-election in 2018 expressed disbelief at the idea that they, not Trump, would be held accountable for problems with the health-care system.

“I have a bill in that will stabilize the individual market, if they’d just allow the Senate to work,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee. “Let the committee chairs tackle this.” If premiums spiked, said Kaine, voters would look to “the party that’s governing, that refuses to allow a process that would bring premiums down.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who may be challenged by longtime ACA opponent Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), said that he was eager to work with Republicans on shoring up the subsidies. Voters back home, he said, clearly saw the Trump administration as the impediment to fixing the law.

“Let me tell you, people are coming out of the woodwork,” said Nelson. “I go to the Tampa Bay Rays game, I throw out the first pitch, and people are begging: Don’t let them take away my health care. People are onto this.”

Nelson is one of 10 Democrats up for reelection in states won by Trump last year, a factor that Republicans once thought would scare incumbents into making deals. Instead, Democrats have grown more confident about their 2018 chances, with few top-tier candidates jumping into “Trump state” races, and credible Democrats running for seats in Nevada and Texas.

In all of those races, it’s not clear how “Obamacare” will play, or how Republicans will play it. From April through June, the GOP played a perfect game in four special House elections, winning by single digits in typically Republican districts. Yet for the first time since 2010, Obamacare repeal was not a focus of Republican ads and attacks.

Instead, Republicans moved closer to attacking Democrats on what they might want to build on top of the ACA. In Montana’s special election, that was the Medicare-for-all plan favored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In a series of statements this month, the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee went after Democrats on the estimated cost of creating a single-payer system, similar to Canada’s, in the United States. In districts where vulnerable Republicans had cast votes for repeal, putting them on the record for Medicaid cuts and high estimates of lost health insurance, Republicans would warn that Democrats wanted socialism.

“Their House primaries are starting to look like a ten-car pile-up and the activist base is screaming for Democrats to run on single-payer health care,” wrote NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt in a press release just hours before the Senate repeal push collapsed.

“They don’t want to get us off of the Obamacare train; they want to double-down on a failed system that is in the middle of a collapse,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “Ultimately, it’s very clear that they’re more interested a single-payer system which means government-run health care. Government-run health care is not in our nation’s interest.”

Other Republicans suggested that the health care issue could fade as the election approaches — an advantage for the party, so long as it doesn’t fumble on anything else it has promised.

“It’s more important for Republicans to do something on taxes,” said Davis. “If they can’t produce on that, then I think they have a problem.”

Senate Republicans’ effort to ‘repeal and replace’ Obamacare all but collapses

Via The Washington Post:

Senate Republicans all but admitted defeat Tuesday in their seven-year quest to overturn the Affordable Care Act, acknowledging that they lacked the votes to make good on their vow to “repeal and replace” President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment.

Hours after GOP leaders abandoned a bill to overhaul the law known as Obamacare, their fallback plan — a proposal to repeal major parts of the law without replacing them — quickly collapsed. A trio of moderate Republicans quashed the idea, saying it would irresponsibly snatch insurance coverage from millions of Americans.

“I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” tweeted Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who joined Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) in opposing immediate repeal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who spent weeks trying to knit together his fractious caucus in support of the original GOP legislation, said he would nonetheless schedule a vote “early next week” on the repeal plan. But he appeared to acknowledge that it seemed doomed.

“This has been a very, very challenging experience for all of us,” McConnell told reporters. “It’s pretty obvious that we don’t have 50 members who can agree on a replacement.”

The collapse of the effort marks a devastating political defeat for congressional Republicans and for President Trump, who had pledged to roll back the Affordable Care Act on “Day One” of his presidency.

It also leaves millions of consumers who receive health insurance through the law in a kind of administrative limbo, wondering how their care will be affected now that the program is in the hands of government officials who have rooted openly for its demise.

On Tuesday, Trump told reporters in the White House’s Roosevelt Room that he now plans to “let Obamacare fail. It will be a lot easier.” That way, he said, his party would bear no political responsibility for the system’s collapse.

“We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it,” the president said. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us” to fix it.

But Trump’s comments appeared to ignore the many Republican lawmakers who are anxious about depriving their constituents of federal benefits on which they now rely. The president invited all 52 Republican senators to join him for lunch Wednesday at the White House to try to get the repeal effort back on track.

Senate leaders have been struggling to devise a plan to overhaul Obamacare since the House passed its version of the legislation in May, a flawed bill that some House members openly invited the Senate to fix. With just 52 seats, McConnell could afford to lose the support of only two members of his caucus — and even then would rely on Vice President Pence to break the tie.

The measure he produced would have scaled back key federal insurance regulations and slashed Medicaid deeply over time. But it did not go far enough for many conservative Republicans, who wanted to roll back more of the ACA’s mandates on insurers.

And the bill went much too far for many moderates, especially Republicans from states that had taken advantage of the ACA’s offer to expand Medicaid eligibility. The bill would have cut Medicaid funding and phased out its expansion in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Some senators worried that their states would be saddled with the unpalatable choice of cutting off people’s health coverage or shouldering a massive new financial burden.

“This is the Senate. Leadership sets the agenda, but senators vote in the interests of their states,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) offered a blunt assessment of why the effort fell short: “We are so evenly divided, and we’ve got to have every Republican to make things work, and we didn’t have every Republican,” he said.

Two Republicans — Collins, a moderate, and conservative Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) — declared late last week that they could not support the latest version of the bill. Late Monday night, as six of their colleagues talked health-care strategy with Trump over dinner at the White House, conservative Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) announced that they, too, would oppose the bill, and the measure was dead.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), whose job is to count votes, said he had “no idea” Lee was defecting until he left the White House meeting — though he had gotten a heads up from Moran.

Much more here.

 

Two more Senate Republicans oppose health-care bill, leaving it without enough votes to pass

Sean Sullivan and Lenny Bernstein, reporting for the Washington Post:

Two more Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to the latest plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, potentially ending a months-long effort to make good on a GOP promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and been a top priority for President Trump.

Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped measure. The sudden breaks by Lee, a staunch conservative, and Moran, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), rocked the GOP leadership and effectively closed what already had been an increasingly narrow path to passage for the bill.

They joined Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine), who also oppose it. With just 52 seats, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes to pass their proposed rewrite of the Affordable Care Act. All 46 Democrats and two independents are expected to vote against it.

In a pair of tweets Tuesday morning, Trump decried the defections, called for letting the Affordable Care Act “fail” and vowed to keep pushing for a GOP plan.

“We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans. Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!” he wrote in the first tweet.

He followed that with: “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

Republicans, who have made rallying cries against President Barack Obama’s 2010 health-care law a pillar of the party’s identity, may be forced to grapple with the law’s shift from a perennial GOP target to an accepted, even popular, provider of services and funding in many states, which could make further repeal revivals difficult.

Meanwhile, Trump and other Republicans will confront a Republican base that, despite fervent support for the president, still seeks a smaller federal government and fewer regulations.

All of these forces remained vexing factors Monday as senators bailed on the bill. And no evident solution was offered by the White House — which has been limited in its sale of the GOP plan — or from McConnell, for how to bring together a party in which moderates and conservatives are still deeply divided over the scope of federal health-care funding and regulations.

McConnell did announce late Monday that he plans to push for a vote in the coming days anyway, but with a catch: senators would be voting to start debate on the unpopular House-passed bill. McConnell has promised to amend the bill to a pure repeal, but with no guarantee that such an amendment would pass.

“In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations,” Lee said in a statement.

Moran said the bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs.”

The two senators timed the release of their statements and made clear that modest tinkering around the edges of the legislation drafted by McConnell would not be enough to meet their demands.

They joined a pair of GOP colleagues in calling for a complete redrawing of the legislation that would take many months, short-circuiting McConnell’s wish to end the debate this month.

The news threw the effort to pass the legislation into turmoil, with additional Republicans weighing in on Twitter about a flawed process that must take a new direction. Trump tweeted that “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan.”

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) called for a “new approach” while Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.) tweeted, “Time for full repeal.” White House aides, meanwhile, said they still plan to press ahead.

Much more here.

Game of Trump

Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times:

Wicked siblings willing to do anything for power. Secret deals with sworn enemies. The shock of a dead body. A Wall. Foreign bawds, guns for hire, and snakes. Back-stabbing, betrayal and charges of treason. Little birds spying and tattling. A maniacal mad king and his court of scheming, self-absorbed princesses and princelings, swathed in the finest silk and the most brazen immorality, ruling with total disregard for the good of their people.

The night in Washington is dark and full of terrors. The Game of Trump has brought a pagan lawlessness never before seen in the capital.

So far in life, Donald Trump has survived and thrived on the same philosophy espoused by Littlefinger in “Game of Thrones”: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”

But is the rampant deception and corruption in his gaudy, jangly realm about to engulf the Emperor of Chaos? Is this the grisly endgame for Cersei in King’s Landing and Donald in Washington? A talent to distract on Twitter, our Joffrey-like president will learn, is not the same as the ability to walk through fire.

The crowds are swelling, yelling: “Shame. Shame. Shame.”

Hugging their tattered brand, the family tried for a respite this weekend. Ivanka and Jared fled to Sun Valley to hang out with the global elite at Herb Allen’s conference. After escaping to the City of Light for Bastille Day — poor battered Sean Spicer had to settle for a party at the French Embassy here — Trump and Melania were going to his Bedminster club to attend the U.S. Women’s Open being held there. (Some women protested, saying the Open should be closed to Donald Trump.)

Trump always inflates his numbers, using his own special brand of ego arithmetic. But Don Jr. and Jared have been busy deflating their numbers.

Don Jr. pooh-poohed the meeting revealed in The New York Times’s scoop that he met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with Kremlin contacts, and Rob Goldstone, a publicist who represents a Russian pop star who featured Trump in his music video. But it later turned out there was more to the picture.

First we learned there were six, not four, people in the meeting, including a lobbyist who just happened to be a former member of the Soviet unit dealing in counterintelligence. Then we found out there were eight. Next, we’ll find out Putin was FaceTiming from Moscow.

Don Jr. was not ashamed that he had gleefully met with Russians to collect dirt on Hillary Clinton. He was only annoyed, as he told Sean Hannity in the womb of Fox News, that the meeting turned out to be “a nothing” and “just a wasted 20 minutes.” The thought that it was improper has not entered his mind.

* * *

And who possibly could concoct Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz? According to ProPublica, after a man watching Rachel Maddow emailed Kasowitz Wednesday telling him to “Resign Now,” the lawyer shot back with a bunch of nasty messages, such as “Watch your back, bitch” and “I already know where you live, I’m on you. … You will see me. I promise. Bro.”

Kasowitz, ProPublica reports, has a drinking problem that could hamper him getting a security clearance. He has grown increasingly frustrated by Trump’s lack of discipline as the president sulks and rages in his tent over the Russia labyrinth, according to The Washington Post.

So this lawyer is the one trying to instill discipline in that president?

In an interview with reporters on Air Force One on the way to Paris, President Trump once more tried to deflect blame from Russia for the election hacks. “And I’m not saying it wasn’t Russia,” he said. “What I’m saying is that we have to protect ourselves no matter who it is. You know, China is very good at this. I hate to say it, North Korea is very good at this. Look what they did to Sony Studios.”

Much more here.

Trump Goes on Attack as Russia Revelations Appear to Take Toll

Mark Landler, reporting for the New York Times:

President Trump unleashed a new fusillade of tweets on Sunday morning, defending his son Donald Trump Jr., slashing the news media and tarring his long-vanquished opponent, Hillary Clinton.

After a leisurely Saturday afternoon spent at a women’s golf tournament at his club here, where he waved to the crowd from a glassed-in viewing stand, Mr. Trump awoke with a familiar list of grievances.

“HillaryClinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News media?” he tweeted shortly before 7 a.m. Forty minutes later, he posted, “With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country.”

In between those posts, Mr. Trump thanked people who had turned out to cheer him at the United States Women’s Open, which is being played at Trump National Golf Club despite calls from women’s groups for it to be moved because of his record of degrading behavior toward women.

A small knot of protesters formed Saturday afternoon as well, but the police kept them well away from the club. “Thank you to all of the supporters, who far out-numbered the protesters, yesterday at the Women’s U.S. Open,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Very cool!”

Mr. Trump has gone through one of the rockiest stretches of his presidency since the disclosure of a meeting in June 2016 between his son and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also attended, as did a Russian-American lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin.

Besieged by the headlines about Russia and Mr. Trump’s eldest son, the White House planned to repackage the president’s economic message with a string of “theme weeks.” The first, this week, will be “Made in America,” focusing attention on American workers and goods they produce.

But on Sunday, the subject largely remained Russia. The top Democrats investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election said that emails that Donald Trump Jr. sent about the meeting appeared to confirm that members of the Trump campaign had intended to cooperate with Russian officials.

“This is about as clear of evidence you could find of intent by the campaign to collude with the Russians, to get useful information from the Russians,” Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wanted to speak with those who attended the meeting. “You saw not only willingness, but actually glee from the president’s son, as well as involvement of the campaign manager and the president’s son-in-law to say, in effect, yes, bring it on,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

But the president tweeted his thanks to a former campaign adviser, Michael Caputo, “for saying so powerfully that there was no Russian collusion in our winning campaign.”

On Friday, Mr. Caputo testified before a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee. He emerged to say that he had witnessed no collusion between the campaign and Russia.

Jay Sekulow, who is part of Mr. Trump’s outside legal team, appeared on several Sunday morning talk shows to defend the president, saying that he had nothing to do with his son’s meeting.

“The president has said that he was not aware of it, wasn’t involved in it, and there’s been no indication otherwise,” Mr. Sekulow said on CBS.

Still, there is evidence that the drumbeat of Russia revelations is taking a toll on the president. A poll published Sunday showed that Mr. Trump’s approval ratings have eroded further in recent weeks, dropping to a level never before seen for a president during his first six months in office.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll said the president’s overall approval rating was 36 percent, down from 42 percent in April. His disapproval rating rose to 58 percent, and 48 percent of those polled said they “disapprove strongly” of his performance, citing a loss of American leadership abroad and the Republican health care bill, which remains bottled up in the Senate.

More here.

By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans prefer Obamacare to Republican replacements

Philip Bump, writing in the Washington Post:

Republicans racing to pass a bill that would overhaul the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) certainly understand that their efforts aren’t polling well. In survey after survey, a majority of respondents view their legislative proposals unfavorably. At the same time, survey after survey shows Obamacare as more popular than not.

In the new Post-ABC News poll released Sunday, we decided to ask the question directly: Which do you prefer, Obamacare or the Republican replacement plans?

By a 2-to-1 margin — 50 percent to 24 percent — Americans said they preferred Obamacare.

There’s a split by party, as you might expect, with Democrats broadly favoring the existing law and Republicans the latter. But that split wasn’t even, with 77 percent of Democrats favoring the legislation passed in 2010 by their party and only 59 percent of Republicans favoring their party’s solution. Independents in this case came down on the side of the Democrats, with 49 percent favoring the existing law vs. 20 percent backing the GOP alternative.

What’s more, roughly 6-in-10 Democrats and a third of independents strongly prefer Obamacare. Only 43 percent of Republicans strongly prefer their party’s proposal.

Some respondents, unprompted, said they preferred some other proposal, or neither. One-in-10 Democrats offered one of those responses, while about 2-in-10 Republicans and independents did.

More worrisome for Republicans hoping to pass a new bill is how the support broke out by demographic. Only among Republicans, conservatives, white evangelicals and white men without college degrees did more Americans support the GOP bill than Obamacare. In every other group analyzed, including older respondents and white women without college degrees — an important part of President Trump’s voting base in 2016 — backed the existing law by some margin.

Much more here.

Poll finds Trump’s standing weakened since springtime

Scott Clement and Dan Balz, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump’s standing with the American people has deteriorated since the spring, buffeted by perceptions of a decline in U.S. leadership abroad, a stalled presidential agenda at home and an unpopular Republican health-care bill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Approaching six months in office, Trump’s overall approval rating has dropped to 36 percent from 42 percent in April. His disapproval rating has risen five points to 58 percent. Overall, 48 percent say they “disapprove strongly” of Trump’s performance in office, a level never reached by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and reached only in the second term of George W. Bush in Post-ABC polling.

Almost half of all Americans (48 percent) see the country’s leadership in the world as weaker since Trump was inaugurated, compared with 27 percent who say it is stronger. Despite the fact that Trump campaigned as someone skilled at making deals that would be good for the country, majorities also say they do not trust him in negotiations with foreign leaders and in particular Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Just over one-third of all Americans say they trust the president either “a great deal” or “a good amount” in any such foreign negotiations. Asked specifically about Trump-Putin negotiations, almost 2 in 3 say they do not trust the president much, including 48 percent who say they do not trust the president “at all.”

Perceptions about the role of Russia in the 2016 election and possible collusion or cooperation with Trump campaign associates continue to be a drag on the president, though like many other questions, results show a clear partisan divide.

The Post-ABC poll finds 60 percent of Americans think Russia tried to influence the election outcome, up slightly from 56 percent in April. Some 44 percent suspect Russian interference and think Trump benefited from their efforts. Roughly 4 in 10 believe members of Trump’s campaign intentionally aided Russian efforts to influence the election, though suspicions have changed little since the spring.

Americans’ views on Russia’s role in the election continue to divide along partisan lines. Among Democrats, 8 in 10 believe Russia attempted to influence the election and more than 6 in 10 think members of Trump’s team attempted to aid their efforts. But among Republicans, one-third think Russia tried to influence the election outcome, and fewer than 1 in 10 think Trump’s associates sought to help them.

Last week, information was revealed by the New York Times that Donald Trump Jr. and two other senior campaign officials met with a Russian lawyer and others after being offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton and told that the information was part of a Russian government effort to help Trump.

Asked about this revelation, more than 6 in 10 Americans say the meeting was inappropriate, with just about a quarter saying it was appropriate. But almost half of all Republicans call the meeting appropriate.

More here.

A Conspiracy of Dunces

Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times:

Here is a good rule of thumb for dealing with Donald Trump: Everyone who gives him the benefit of the doubt eventually regrets it.

This was true of clients and contractors and creditors throughout his business career. It was true of the sycophants and opportunists before whom he dangled cabinet appointments during the campaign and then, oh, never mind. It has been true of his cabinet members and spokesmen, whose attempts to defend and explain their boss’s conduct are gleefully undercut by the boss himself. And it should be true — for the sake of their souls, I sincerely hope it’s true — of the Republican leaders whose reputations for probity and principle he has stomped all over since winning their party’s nomination.

And now it’s true of me.

The benefit of the doubt I extended to Trump was limited, but on a rather important subject: I thought that direct collusion between his inner circle and Russian officialdom during the 2016 campaign was relatively unlikely and the odds of ever finding proof of such a conspiracy vanishingly low. A lot of weirdness around Trump and Russia, I argued, had a more normal explanation — he had made business deals with Russians, he still harbors a 1980s-era vision of superpower cooperation, and as a foreign-policy neophyte he clutched the idea of détente like a security blanket even as the Russians separately made moves to help him win.

You can read my argument in full here; it’s a mere six weeks old. It’s also no longer operative, because we know now that Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and his campaign manager all took a meeting in which it was explicitly promised that damaging information on Hillary Clinton would be supplied as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The meeting’s existence does not carry us all the way to the maximal collusion scenario, in which Trump himself was aware of Russia’s role in the hack of the Democratic National Committee and ordered his aides to conspire with WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence to time the drip-drip-drip of hacked emails and maximize their impact.

As the hapless Don Jr. — the Gob Bluth or Fredo Corleone of a family conspicuously short on Michaels — protested in his own defense, the Russian rendezvous we know about came before (though only slightly before) the WikiLeaks haul was announced. So the Trump team presumably assumed that it involved some other Hillary-related dirt — some of the missing Clinton server emails that Trump himself jokingly (“jokingly”?) urged Russian hackers to conjure and release, or direct evidence of Clinton Foundation corruption in its Russian relationships.

With that semi-exculpatory explanation in hand, you can grope your way to the current anti-anti-Trump talking point — that Don Jr. and company were just hoping to “gather oppo” to which a foreign government might happen to be privy, much as Democratic operatives looked to Ukraine for evidence of the Trump campaign’s shady ties.

More here.

‘Category 5 hurricane’: White House under siege by Trump Jr.’s Russia revelations

Philip Rucker and Ashly Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

The White House has been thrust into chaos after days of ever-worsening revelations about a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a lawyer characterized as representing the Russian government, as the president fumes against his enemies and senior aides circle one another with suspicion, according to top White House officials and outside advisers.

President Trump — who has been hidden from public view since returning last weekend from a divisive international summit — is enraged that the Russia cloud still hangs over his presidency and is exasperated that his eldest son and namesake has become engulfed by it, said people who have spoken with him this week.

The disclosure that Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney, believing he would receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s effort to boost his father’s candidacy, has set back the administration’s faltering agenda and rattled the senior leadership team.

On Wednesday, in his first Twitter posts since the email disclosures, Trump defended his son by repeating past claims that his administration is the subject of a “witch hunt” fueled by leakers.

“My son Donald did a good job last night,” Trump wrote, referring to his son’s appearance on Fox News. “He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

Trump also took aim at anonymous leaks from “sources” — even though Trump Jr. gave a step-by-step email chronology of the plans for the meeting with the Russian lawyer in 2016.

Even supporters of Trump Jr. who believe he faces no legal repercussions privately acknowledged Tuesday that the story is a public relations disaster — for him as well as for the White House. One outside ally called it a “Category 5 hurricane,” while an outside adviser said a CNN graphic charting connections between the Trump team and Russians resembled the plot of the fictional Netflix series “House of Cards.”

Vice President Pence sought to distance himself from the controversy, with his spokesman noting that Trump Jr.’s meeting occurred before Pence joined the ticket.

Inside a White House in which infighting often seems like a core cultural value, three straight days of revelations in the New York Times about Trump Jr. have inspired a new round of accusations and recriminations, with advisers privately speculating about who inside the Trump orbit may be leaking damaging information about the president’s son.

This portrait of the Trump White House under siege is based on interviews Tuesday with more than a dozen West Wing officials, outside advisers, and friends and associates of the president and his family, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

The makeup of Trump’s inner circle is the subject of internal debate, as ever. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser; Jared Kushner, her husband and another senior adviser; and first lady Melania Trump have been privately pressing the president to shake up his team — most specifically by replacing Reince Priebus as the White House chief of staff, according to two senior White House officials and one ally close to the White House.

The three family members are especially concerned about the steady stream of unauthorized leaks to journalists that have plagued the administration over the nearly six months that President Trump has been in office, from sensitive national security information to embarrassing details about the inner workings of the White House, the officials said.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, said: “Of course, the first lady is concerned about leaks from her husband’s administration, as all Americans should be. And while she does offer advice and perspectives on many things, Mrs. Trump does not weigh in on West Wing staff.”

Lindsay Walters, a deputy White House press secretary, disputed reports about Priebus’s standing. “These sources have been consistently wrong about Reince, and they’re still wrong today,” she said.

After this story first published, Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman, said in a statement on behalf of Kushner and Ivanka Trump: “Jared and Ivanka are focused on working with Reince and the team to advance the President’s agenda and not on pushing for staff changes.”

Trump recently publicly praised Priebus’s work ethic, and the chief of staff’s allies note that Priebus has done as good a job as can be expected under the unique circumstances of this administration. Defenders of Priebus have long said they expect him to make it to a year in the position, and Trump is said to be hesitant to fire him or any other senior staffer amid the escalating Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The mind-set of Trump Jr. over the past few days has evolved from distress to anger to defiance, according to people close to him. He hired a criminal defense attorney but maintains that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. After his tweets commenting on the matter drew scrutiny, he agreed to his first media interview — with his friend Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity on his show on Tuesday night.

Much more here.

White House tries to play down meeting of Trump Jr., Russian lawyer as new details emerge

Via The Washington Post:

The White House on Monday was forced to shift from denying contact between the Trump campaign and Russia to defending a meeting that President Trump’s eldest son had in the midst of the presidential race with a Russian lawyer purportedly offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

The White House sought to play down the significance of that encounter even as new details emerged indicating that it had been arranged at the behest of a Russian family that has ties to the Kremlin and a history of pursuing business deals with President Trump — including preliminary plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow.

The controversy deepened late Monday with a new report that Donald Trump Jr. had been informed via email that the information on Clinton was part of a Russian government plan to help his father’s campaign. The New York Times, which broke the story, cited three unnamed people who had seen the email.

The revelations put the Trump administration again on the defensive about its relationship with Moscow, and they seemed to add to a pattern of not disclosing Kremlin contacts or providing false information about them.

The latest information centers on Trump Jr., whose concession this week that he took part in the June 9, 2016, meeting contradicted statements he had made in recent months. It comes as investigators in Congress and the special counsel’s office probe the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the president had learned of his son’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya only “in the last couple of days” and sought to play down its significance.

“The only thing I see inappropriate about the meeting is the people that leaked the information about the meeting after it was voluntarily disclosed,” she said.

She appeared to be referring to updated federal disclosures filed by Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, acknowledging that he had attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower.

Asked whether the president was concerned about the encounter, Sanders said no and described such meetings as routine occurrences during campaigns. “Don Jr. didn’t collude with anybody to influence the election,” she said.

But Sanders offered no explanation for why Trump officials had not previously disclosed the meeting publicly or why their account of the meeting’s purpose had shifted so dramatically in the past several days.

Trump Jr. said in an interview earlier this year with the New York Times that he had not participated in any “set up” meeting with a Russian individual. Then, after learning that the Times planned to publish an article about his meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr. provided evolving explanations for what had been discussed.

At first he said the talk centered on policies restricting the ability of U.S. families to adopt Russian children. Then, on Sunday, he issued a statement acknowledging that the premise of the meeting was that Veselnitskaya claimed to have potentially damaging information about Clinton.

Trump Jr. said that Veselnitskaya failed to deliver and that “it quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.” But his participation on those terms, as well as the attendance of Kushner and then-Trump campaign aide Paul Manafort, amount to fresh evidence that the Trump campaign was willing to consider accepting help from a Russian source tarnishing Clinton.

Emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee were posted online shortly after the meeting. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia orchestrated the hacks with the intention of helping to elect Trump.

On Monday, New York lawyer Alan Futerfas confirmed that he had been hired to represent Trump Jr. in the Russia probes.

Much more here.

Trump accuses Comey of illegally leaking classified information

Ashley Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump accused former FBI Director James B. Comey of illegally leaking classified information to the media, part of an angry, early morning Tweetstorm on Monday as the president faces new allegations about his 2016 campaign’s contact with the Russians.

“James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media,” Trump wrote, referring to the FBI director he fired in May. “That is so illegal!”

Testifying before Congress last month, Comey revealed that a Tweet by the president — incorrectly suggesting he may have had taped his conversations with Comey — prompted the former FBI director to ask a close friend to leak to the news media private memos he had kept recounting his interactions with Trump.

The president also used Twitter to push out several a “Fox & Friends” clips Monday morning, including one accusing Comey of having his friend leak top secret information, and another accusing the media of not representing half of the country.

And later in the morning, he retweeted a missive by Fox News host Sean Hannity, which attacked Hillary Clinton, seeming to refer to her private email server as secretary of state and saying, “HRC mishandles and destroys classified info-NO PROBLEM!”

Trump’s frustrated, frenzied tweets — at times, he basically seemed to be live-tweeting “Fox & Friends” — came amid reports in the New York Times this weekend that the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr. — as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign manager Paul J. Manafort — met with a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties during the 2016 campaign, after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

The president then urged lawmakers to pass legislation to repeal and replace President Obama’s signature health care bill before leaving for the August recess.

“I cannot imagine that Congress would dare to leave Washington without a beautiful new HealthCare bill fully approved and ready to go!” he wrote. 

Much more here.

It sure looks to me that Trump is in a major meltdown in his tweets.

‘Time to Move Forward’ on Russia, Trump Says, as Criticism Intensifies

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, reporting for the New York Times:

President Trump tried without success on Sunday to put the matter of Russia’s election meddling behind him, insisting that he had “strongly pressed” President Vladimir V. Putin on the matter twice in a private meeting last week and declaring that it was “time to move forward.”

But if Mr. Trump believed his willingness to raise the election interference directly with Mr. Putin would quiet questions about whether he could be trusted to stand up to Moscow — an issue that has shadowed his presidency — he grappled instead on Sunday with the reality that the meeting might have raised more suspicions than it quelled.

Lawmakers in both parties said Mr. Trump had appeased the Russian president by failing to insist that he was responsible for the breach or threaten any consequences, and empowered him by appearing willing to partner on a cybersecurity effort to prevent future incursions.

“You are hurting your ability to govern this nation by forgiving and forgetting and empowering,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said of Mr. Trump, calling his meeting with Mr. Putin “disastrous.”

“The more he talks about this in terms of not being sure, the more he throws our intelligence communities under the bus, the more he’s willing to forgive and forget Putin, the more suspicion,” Mr. Graham added in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I think it’s going to dog his presidency until he breaks this cycle.”

As if to underscore the point, the White House confronted reports later Sunday that Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son, was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the campaign last year. The accounts of the meeting, by three White House advisers briefed on it and two others with knowledge of it, represent the first public indication that at least some people in Mr. Trump’s campaign were willing to accept Russian help.

Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, had played down that meeting during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” calling it a “nothing meeting,” and a “big nothing burger.”

President Trump’s account of his lengthy and closely scrutinized closed-door meeting with Mr. Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting came in a series of Twitter posts the morning after he had returned from the gathering in Hamburg, Germany. They appeared to be an attempt to move beyond the controversy after Moscow characterized the election discussion as a meeting of minds rather than a showdown between the American president and his Russian counterpart.

Administration officials knew that Mr. Trump’s much-anticipated meeting with Mr. Putin was risky and in some ways a no-win situation. The tangle of investigations into his campaign’s possible dealings with Russia raised the stakes and created a damaging backdrop for Mr. Trump, while Mr. Putin’s well-earned reputation for outfoxing and manipulating adversaries suggested that he would stage manage the meeting for maximum advantage, making himself appear to have the upper hand.

On Sunday, it appeared that Mr. Putin had to some degree succeeded in doing just that, after Mr. Trump’s refusal to answer questions about the encounter essentially ceded the narrative to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Trump broke with tradition and declined to hold a news conference at the end of the G-20 summit meeting, instead sending three top officials to brief a small group of reporters on Air Force One as he was returning on Saturday to Washington. None of them would address the claims of Mr. Putin and Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, that Mr. Trump had seemed satisfied with Mr. Putin’s denial of involvement in the hacking.

More here.

Republicans thought they could force 2018 Democrats to cut deals, but Trump keeps sliding in polls

Paul Kane, reporting for the Washington Post:

Senate Republicans began this year thinking that they had leverage over some Democrats, particularly the 10 up for reelection next year in states that President Trump won in the fall.

Those Democrats, some GOP strategists believed, would want to work with the president to appeal to enough Trump voters to win their states in November 2018.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Trump’s standing has slipped in many of these states. The president has faced legislative gridlock and a deepening investigation of his campaign’s connections to Russia. His focus, in public appearances and on social media, has regularly drifted away from the policy agenda on Capitol Hill.

That’s left Senate Democrats feeling stronger than they expected to be eight months after their highly disappointing showing in 2016, which left them in the minority and heading into 2018 defending 25 seats compared with Republicans’ eight.

If Trump had spent his first six months increasing or even maintaining his popularity in these states, he might have struck enough political fear in these 2018 Democrats to compel them to support some of his initiatives.

That’s looking more and more like the sort of negotiation that will happen only if Democrats can command a good deal in return.

The dynamic is sure to test Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the months ahead, particularly if Republicans fail to muster the votes solely from their side of the aisle to repeal chunks of the Affordable Care Act. McConnell has warned that such an outcome will force him to work with Democrats to shore up imploding insurance markets.

“No action is not an alternative,” McConnell said Thursday while in Kentucky.

Beyond the health-care fight, McConnell has also made clear that there are many other agenda items that will require the traditional 60-vote threshold to choke off filibusters, meaning he needs at least eight Democrats to move legislation such as annual government funding bills and an increase in the government’s borrowing authority.

But the bargaining table is different now.

Take Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), whose state delivered a critical victory for Trump, the first by a GOP presidential nominee since 1984.

A staunch liberal, Baldwin began the year expecting her 2018 reelection bid to be a 50-50 prospect. Her state had voted Republican three straight times for governor and in two of the past three Senate races.

Trump has used the presidential bully pulpit to focus on the Badger State, making three trips there since November. But his visits have done little to boost his standing.

Just 41 percent of Wisconsin voters approved of Trump’s job performance in late June, while 51 percent disapproved, according to a poll by Marquette Law School.

On basic popularity, Trump is easily the most disliked politician among Wisconsin voters, with 54 percent holding an unfavorable view of him and 40 percent a favorable one.

Baldwin’s image is not great, but it is far better in Wisconsin’s eyes than Trump: 38 percent have a favorable view and 38 percent unfavorable.

It’s the same in Michigan and Pennsylvania, both states Trump narrowly won. In Michigan, just 35 percent of voters approved of his job performance in a late May poll conducted by EPIC-MRA, with 61 percent disapproving. In Pennsylvania, 37 percent supported his job performance while 49 percent did not, according to a May poll by Franklin & Marshall College.

More here.

Despite Deep Policy Divides, Europe Trip Seen by Buoyant Trump as High Point

Glenn Thrush, reporting for the New York Times:

The rumble of police helicopters and armored riot trucks shook President Trump’s suite deep inside the convention center, but his staff found unexpected comfort as they watched on TV as protesters rampaged through the streets of Hamburg.

The anger outside, they noted with relief, was mostly directed at globalism, the Group of 20 and European leaders, not at Mr. Trump.

The president’s second trip to Europe since taking office was, on its surface, a turbulent and disquieting couple days. He visited a continent scrambling to cope with a profoundly altered power dynamic under his disruptive leadership, as the United States challenges the region’s liberal governments on climate change, defense, trade and immigration. Cars burned, diplomats fumed.

Yet to Mr. Trump and his battered band of advisers, the discord inside and around the complex housing the summit meeting was someone else’s problem.

It was by no means an unqualified success.

Mr. Trump’s hard-line policy against abiding by international limits on greenhouse gas emissions made him an outlier among many of the other G-20 leaders here. His pressure on Germany over its contributions to NATO and his positions on immigration and trade have made him wildly unpopular here. His threat to impose tariffs on foreign steel prompted European officials to float the idea of taxing American bourbon imports. And he continued to flout tradition by trashing American institutions overseas, criticizing the press in the presence of leaders who have cracked down on the media in their own countries.

“This trip puts into stark relief how the U.S. has relinquished its role as the indispensable nation,” said Brian Fallon, the press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

To much of the rest of the world, the gathering underscored the administration’s growing distance with, and isolation from, the other G-20 members.

But from the perspective of Mr. Trump’s team, the trip to Poland and Germany turned out to be a surprising early high point in his presidency, providing a brief but welcome respite from the forever wars in Washington. It left the president, who had been less than enthusiastic about coming, buoyant and feeling that there might still be a market for his hard-edge brand of conservative nationalism in supposedly inhospitable Europe after all.

“This week’s trip gave the country a very clear sense of the president’s foreign policy philosophy and reiterated the long-term objective of restoring America’s greatness on the world stage,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign aide who still advises the president and his staff informally.

Mr. Trump returns to a deteriorating domestic situation, facing months of investigations into whether people in campaign colluded with Russia and what appears to be the decreasing likelihood that a deeply divided Senate majority can quickly pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But he’ll always have Warsaw. The apex of the trip from the president’s perspective — and one of the most personally satisfying episodes of his term so far — was Mr. Trump’s powerful invocation of Western exceptionalism to a crowd of like-minded Polish nationalists on Thursday.

The speech was a blunt expression of Western defiance in the face of radical Islamic terrorism. It cast Mr. Trump as a modern-day inheritor of that struggle, a willing warrior in a clash of civilizations.

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” said Mr. Trump, dwarfed by a huge monument to ragtag Polish partisan army soldiers wearing helmets taken from dead German soldiers. “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

More here.