Mar 01

The Russian Connection: It’s Getting Harder To Keep Up.

Yesterday was a busy day for news coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It started with Donald Trump meeting with a bipartisan group at the White House to discuss passing comprehensive gun legislation. While it had Democrats smiling, it didn’t make the Republicans in the room very happy.

In 2016, NRA-endorsed Republican candidate Donald Trump won the presidency after many months of insisting that his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton was going to grab your guns.

In February 2018, President Trump publicly called for a subversion of due process, and for the government to “take the guns first.”

During a televised meeting with lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, the president and assembled legislators spent the hour riffing on ideas for securing schools and curtailing gun violence in America. Trump ping-ponged between various policy positions and postures, invariably making unforced interjections that would make his staunchest pro-gun supporters cringe.

When Vice President Mike Pence talked about how those who are a “danger to themselves or others” should have their firearms taken away, but also afforded due process, the president jumped in to one-up Pence.

“Or, Mike, take the firearms first, and then go to court,” Trump said, breaking with his own vice president on live TV. “Because that’s another system. Because a lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures.”

The president continued, sounding like the caricature of “gun-grabbing” Democrats he’d once warned against: “I like taking the guns early. Like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida… To go to court would have taken a long time. So you could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”

He didn’t stop there:

He endorsed legislation first pushed by the Obama White House to expand federal background checks for private gun sales, shot down GOP efforts to expand the rights of concealed carry permit-holders, and even suggested reviving a Democratic measure to ban “assault weapons.”

Trump wanted everyone in the room to be, in his words, “very, very powerful on background checks.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has pushed an assault-weapons ban for years, was visibly giddy as the president suggested including that measure in congressional gun-control legislation. “We’re gonna get it passed,” the president then declared.

Never mind due process and the Fourth Amendment. Totally not relevant. Yikes!

Then late in the afternoon, Communications Director Hope Hicks tendered her resignation one day after telling the House Intelligence Committee that she sometimes tells “white lies” for her boss. I suppose no one ever told her that a “white lie” is a lie. Besides being the fourth communication director to leave in just over a year, Hicks was also Trump’s closest confidant.

In announcing her resignation Wednesday, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks created yet another gaping hole in a West Wing senior leadership structure littered with them. But the most consequential effect of her departure may be that it deprives the White House of an aide who knows President Donald Trump better than any other colleague.

Sources in and out of the White House say that Hicks’ absence from day-to-day operations will almost assuredly further isolate Trump at a time when he has a dwindling roster of aides whom he fully trusts. [..]

Hicks’ departure may prove more significant than the others. She served alongside Trump at his business empire, on the campaign trail, and in the White House. Along that path, she earned a reputation for keeping a low profile and for her abiding loyalty to her boss.

The trust worked both ways. President Trump heavily leans on Hicks for counsel, validation, personal assistance, and comfort—to the point where her unofficial job as “Trump whisperer” typically overshadowed her official title of communications director. The president has a great deal of affection for Hicks, and has nicknamed her “Hopey.” And that affection was shared by his children as well.

“The family had come to really rely on her since the number of people there they like and trust is so small,” the former White House official said.

Hicks has already met with Special Counsel Robert Mueller III back in December. She was interviewed for two days. If what she told the Intelligence Committee wasn’t something she told the Mueller’s investigators, she may be making a return trip to his office.

That wasn’t the end of the bad news for the White House

Donald Trump’s beleaguered son-in-law Jared Kushner said that he would divest himself of his family’s real estate business, take no pay for his position in the White House and fully concentrate on the business of running the country. Two of those three things are lies. Jared doesn’t get paid to work for his father-in-law but he has been conducting his family’s business in the White House so he isn’t totally invested in running the country. The New York Times broke this story last night.

Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House.

Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris.

The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.

Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities filings show.

It was one of the largest loans Kushner Companies received last year. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.

That loan was made in the spring of 2017, shortly after Mr. Kushner met in the White House with Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, according to people briefed on the meeting. The two men talked about financial and trade policy and did not discuss Mr. Kushner’s family business, one person said.

There is little precedent for a top White House official meeting with executives of companies as they contemplate sizable loans to his business, say government ethics experts [..]

Mr. Kushner’s tenure in the White House has been dogged by questions about conflicts of interest between his government work and his family business, in which he remains heavily invested. Mr. Kushner steers American policy in the Middle East, for example, but his family company continues to do deals with Israeli investors.

This blurring of lines is now a potential liability for Mr. Kushner, who recently lost his top-secret security clearance amid worries from some United States officials that foreign governments might try to gain influence with the White House by doing business with Mr. Kushner.

Investigators working for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election, have asked questions about Mr. Kushner’s interactions with potential investors from overseas, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Kushner’s firm has sought investments from the Chinese insurer Anbang and from the former prime minister of Qatar.

One of the NYT reporters who wrote the article, Jess Drucker spoke with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reminding her, and us, that while Kushner had resigned his position with Kushner Companies he kept his ownership stake in the companies, Not exactly what you would call divesting.

Mueller is following the money and Kushner is leaving quite a trail. Hang tight, that was only Wednesday’a news.