Sunday, July 15, 2018

As Trump's overseas trip ends, crisis grows at home (w/video)

President Donald Trump headed home Saturday to confront a growing political and legal threat, as his top aides tried to contain the fallout from reports that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is a focus of investigations into possible collusion between Russia and the president's campaign and transition teams.

As Trump ended a nine-day overseas trip that aides considered the most successful stretch of his presidency, he was returning to a crisis that had only grown in his absence. The White House canceled a presidential trip to Iowa in the coming days and was putting together a damage-control plan to expand the president's legal team, reorganize his communications staff and wall off a scandal that has jeopardized his agenda and now threatens to engulf his family.

Trump's private legal team, led by his New York lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, was preparing to meet in Washington to face fresh questions about contacts between Kushner and representatives of President Vladimir Putin of Russia. The president may meet with Kasowitz as early as today, and aides have recruited a series of prominent Washington lawyers with experience in political investigations for Trump to interview in hopes that they might join the legal team.

Kushner, who organized the president's Middle East stops at the start of the foreign trip, chose to return to Washington with several days yet to go and has been unusually subdued since then. But he has no plans to step down from his role as senior adviser or to reduce his duties, people close to him told the New York Times.

Still, there are signs that Kushner is tiring of the nonstop combat and the damage to his reputation. He has told friends that he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have made no long-term commitment to remain by Trump's side, saying they would review every six months whether to return to private life in New York.

Kushner's troubles are only one facet of the crisis. Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, also dropped off Trump's trip early, in part to return to deal with the political furor over the Russia investigations and the decision to fire James Comey as FBI director.

The White House was trying to figure out how to respond to reports that Kushner had spoken in December with Russia's ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, about establishing a secret channel between his father-in-law's transition team and Moscow to discuss the war in Syria and other issues. The Washington Post first reported on the suggestion Friday, and three people informed about it confirmed it to the New York Times.

The discussion took place at Trump Tower at a meeting that also included Michael Flynn, who served briefly as Trump's national security adviser until being forced out when it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about a separate telephone conversation he had with Kislyak. It was unclear who first proposed the secret communications channel, but the idea was for Flynn to speak directly with a Russian military official. The channel was never set up.

As reports emerged about investigators' focus on Kushner, he and Ivanka Trump discussed the possibility of having Donald F. McGahn, the White House counsel, issue a statement denying that McGahn had been contacted by federal officials about Kushner. McGahn, who has been increasingly uneasy in his role since Trump ignored his advice to delay Comey's dismissal, said he was not the person to write such a statement, suggesting that doing so would create a precedent requiring a response to each new report. Kushner's private lawyer issued a statement instead.

The reports about Kushner dominated an end-of-trip briefing for reporters in Taormina, Italy, where Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser, and Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser, declined to comment specifically on Kushner but sought to play down the significance of the disclosures.

Trump's sons Don Jr. and Eric, who now run the family business, have grown frustrated by the lack of a solid support system or effective surrogate operation to combat the spate of negative reports, three people who have spoken with them told the New York Times. The sons spent Thursday at the Republican National Committee headquarters, and they had a discussion with at least one Republican operative about beefing up communications at the campaign committee. The meeting was first reported by the Post.

Republican strategists said it was vital for Trump to focus on advancing a legislative agenda to show voters that the administration could deliver policy changes and allay lawmakers' simmering fears that the president's troubles could damage their re-election chances.

Comments
Sacha Baron Cohen still knows how to punk America, but his new show erodes what little trust we have left

Sacha Baron Cohen still knows how to punk America, but his new show erodes what little trust we have left

Sacha Baron Cohen’s return to incognito trickery is, in current conditions, a little like pouring rubbing alcohol into the nation’s open wounds.Employing the same ingenious commitment and subterfuge that made him famous in the guise of Ali G., Borat ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Trump tweets, hits links before high-stakes Putin meeting

Trump tweets, hits links before high-stakes Putin meeting

TURNBERRY, Scotland — Two days before a high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump played golf and tweeted Saturday from one of his namesake resorts, blaming his predecessor for Russian election meddling and lash...
Published: 07/14/18
Scott taps former Pinellas GOP chair to fill commission vacancy left by late John Morroni

Scott taps former Pinellas GOP chair to fill commission vacancy left by late John Morroni

Gov. Rick Scott appointed real estate investor and former Redington Shores Mayor Jay Beyrouti to the Pinellas County Commission on Friday, filling the vacancy created when Commissioner John Morroni died of cancer in May.In a short news release, the G...
Published: 07/13/18
His Ph.D is from a diploma mill. But candidate stands by his work

His Ph.D is from a diploma mill. But candidate stands by his work

The three letters were displayed prominently on George Buck’s campaign website, right after his name: Ph.D. Check his campaign finance records and those, too, display his doctorate. There’s no question that Buck, a Republican primary ca...
Published: 07/13/18
March column: Transit petition has

March column: Transit petition has "steep hill"

Leaders of an effort to put a Hillsborough County transportation sales tax referendum on the November ballot say they’re confident they’ll gather enough petition signatures in time.But they may have to work fast. As of Thursday, All for Transportatio...
Published: 07/13/18

Fiat workers call for strike after owner buys Cristiano Ronaldo

Fiat factory workers in Italy can think of a few things they’d rather see their owner spend $130 million on than Cristiano Ronaldo.A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles union in the south of the country called for a strike to protest the purchase of star playe...
Published: 07/12/18
Carlton: Forget politics — we’ve got a mayor-governor bromance going here!

Carlton: Forget politics — we’ve got a mayor-governor bromance going here!

There’s a difference between Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.And no, I don’t mean the fact that Buckhorn is a Democrat who stuffed envelopes in the fourth grade for Robert Kennedy and later stumped for both Bill and Hillary. And ...
Published: 07/10/18
Updated: 07/11/18
Hawkes, Compton lean on public service roles in Pasco’s only contested judicial race

Hawkes, Compton lean on public service roles in Pasco’s only contested judicial race

Of the five Pasco County judgeships up for election this year, voters will decide only one race: a lone contested showdown between the Sheriff’s Office’s top civilian employee, Jeremiah Hawkes, and former Zephyrhills city councilman Kent Compton.Hawk...
Published: 07/10/18
Trump picks Kavanaugh for court, setting up fight with Dems

Trump picks Kavanaugh for court, setting up fight with Dems

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh, a politically connected conservative judge, for the Supreme Court Monday, setting up a ferocious confirmation battle with Democrats as he seeks to shift the nation’s highest court further to ...
Published: 07/09/18
‘Viciousness’: Trump aides endure public fury toward president’s policies

‘Viciousness’: Trump aides endure public fury toward president’s policies

Just after arriving in Washington to work for President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway found herself in a downtown supermarket, where a man rushing by with his shopping cart sneered, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself! Go look in the mirror!""Mirro...
Published: 07/09/18