The attorney general is normally happy to quietly appear complicit — on slow-walking the Mueller report, Trump’s demands that his conspiracy theories be investigated, whatever — but he drew the line Thursday at Trump’s tweets.
But let’s recall Barr’s slow-walk release of the Mueller report, from which he cherry-picked the parts most favorable to Trump. His words must be considered carefully. And context is key here.
What set all this off was the Justice Department’s decision to undercut its own line prosecutors on their sentencing recommendations for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who was convicted last year of lying and witness tampering, after Trump tweeted his objections.
Barr did not, in what ABC released from the interview, criticize Trump’s interest in the criminal case. And he agreed with Trump’s argument that a sentence of seven to nine years sought by the prosecutors was too harsh.
Who is Barr’s audience?
Whose side is McConnell on?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s response in a Fox interview: “I think the President should listen to his advice.”
The Senate ignores Trump
Interestingly, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the Republican who voted to remove Trump from office just days ago, sided with the President on this issue.
The vote was 55-45. According to CNN’s report, the Republican ayes were: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Todd Young of Indiana, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Jerry Moran of Kansas.
One former aide speaks, again
By frightening, cajoling, threatening, bullying and just generally seeking to diminish the people who speak out against him, Trump has managed to muzzle the very long list of former aides and Cabinet secretaries he fired, pushed out or wore out.
“Having seen something ‘questionable (in the call),’ Vindman properly notified his superiors,” Kelly said at an event at Drew University, according to The Atlantic. “When subpoenaed by Congress in the House impeachment hearings, Vindman complied and told the truth.”
“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” he said, according to the magazine. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”
The Atlantic wrote this up as “John Kelly Finally Lets Loose on Trump,” but Kelly’s comments at Drew University were far from scorched earth. As far as disassociations go, this was as milquetoast as they come.
He also thinks Trump got played. Kelly also admitted, regarding North Korea, that he “never did think (Kim Jong Un) would do anything other than play us for a while.”
Which, duh. Kelly also said he doesn’t think the press is the enemy of the people. Which, thanks. That’s also true.
Kelly’s comments drew angry tweets from Trump, who belittled Kelly as “over his head” at the White House and who said Kelly had a “a military and legal obligation to” “keep his mouth shut.”
Other aides stay silent
Others with a clear gripe against Trump have spoken out even less than Kelly.
Every top adviser seems to reach some kind of breaking point. But it’s remarkable for Trump that they have acknowledged that but still kept relatively quiet.
Why the whistleblower really mattered
The most damaging truth-telling from inside Trump’s White House has come in the anonymous variety.
The Ukraine whistleblower followed the law to tell Congress about political favors Trump tried to exact from Ukraine and kicked off the impeachment effort, but has maintained confidentiality despite an all-out online assault by Trump’s allies and repeated efforts by Republican lawmakers to unmask him or her.
Then there’s the anonymous White House staffer who in a New York Times op-ed argued bureaucrats stomped on Trump’s more frightening whims but in a book, “A Warning,” argues Trump should not be reelected. There’s been much conjecture about who Anonymous is, and we still don’t know.
Hope Hicks gets a fresh start
Silence and loyalty are rewarded in Trump’s world. He’s alienated many of the people who worked in the administration, but others stayed loyal and quiet and are headed back to the White House.
- Hope Hicks returns. The former communications director resigned in 2018 after admitting in testimony that she had lied on Trump’s behalf. She went to Los Angeles to work for Fox Corp. but will return to Washington to work with Jared Kushner.
- Johnny McEntee is back too. The former body man who couldn’t get a security clearance and was escorted out of the White House in 2018 is back and in charge of the White House personnel office.
By the way, Trump now admits sending Giuliani to Ukraine
Trump, emboldened after his impeachment acquittal, now openly admits to sending his attorney Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to find damaging information about his political opponents, even though he had strongly denied it during the impeachment inquiry.
In their interview, Rivera asked Trump: “Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?”
Don’t forget about the Democratic primary
What are we doing here?
The American system of government has been challenged to deal with a singular President and a divided country that will decide whether he should get another four years in the White House.
Stay tuned to this newsletter as we keep watch over the Trump administration, the 2020 presidential campaign and other issues of critical interest.