The Morning Briefing: Trump After Six Months, Robert Mueller, THE JUICE IS LOOSE
Good Friday Morning —
It's been one roller-coaster of a week, and everyone's looking at the clock, waiting for Happy Hour. A minute ago, it was 2:52 a.m. Come on, 5:00!
For the second day in a row, I will be your temporary captain, guiding you through the muck of the news on this fine Friday. Liz Sheld is on full-time angry mob duty, but don't sweat it because she'll be back on Monday.
The tense six-month review.
As of yesterday, President Donald Trump has held the White House for six months. (Has it really been that long? At least three and a half more years to go...)
Politico's Danny Vinik gave Trump poor marks, saying "Obama's legacy is proving more resilient than even some in his administration expected." Obamacare has not been repealed or replaced. Trump just recertified that Iran was complying with Obama's nuclear deal. The Paris climate accord? U.S. withdrawal isn't official until November 2020, making climate an issue in the next presidential election.
PolitiFact (!) proved far kinder. John Kruzel laid out six major promises, and found that Trump has already kept three of them: slashing regulations, nominating Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Both the "big beautiful wall" on the southern border and the ban on travel from terror-prone countries are "in the works," and only the repeal of Obamacare has been "stalled."
CNN's Gregory Krieg went "by the numbers." While Trump has a pitiful 38.3 percent approval rating, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found his approval holding at 50 percent in counties he won last November. Trump has signed 42 bills into law. Naturally, CNN had to mention the 991 tweets: "Fake" news got 82 mentions, "Jobs" took 46, "Obamacare" 45. Trump has spent 21 of the first 26 weekends at properties bearing his name, and he has visited 16 states (compared with 14 states for Obama and 32 states for George W. Bush, in the first six months).
Trump's self-evaluation (available here on WhiteHouse.gov) is even more lengthy. He touts restoring accountability to government, spurring job creation, cutting regulations, opening up energy, balancing trade, restoring law and order on immigration, helping veterans, and foreign policy victories.
The president has indeed achieved a great deal. The confirmation of Gorsuch is hard to overstate, although it came at the cost of the "nuclear option." After at least seventeen major scandals at the VA under Obama, Trump signed a major reform bill and VA Secretary David Shulkin announced he had fired more than 500 bad actors since Trump's inauguration.
President Trump signed a powerful executive order on religious freedom (although it was weaker than it could have been). The president delivered a powerful message about Western civilization in Poland. All the same, it's too much to call Trump a "dream president" for evangelical Christians.
Trump has made significant gains in pulling back the administrative state. His executive order requiring two regulations erased for every one new one was brilliant. His administration has even cut down on "regulatory dark matter." Under Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has started to cut down on Obama's college campus "rape culture" tribunals.
But a great deal of work remains undone. The repeal and replace of Obamacare remains unfinished. Far too many presidential appointments remain unfilled. Trump's vacations to Mar-a-Lago are indeed worrisome to fiscal conservatives. Then there's Russia, for which the media takes most blame, but both Donald Trump Jr. and Rex Tillerson seem to have hidden dealings with Russians in the past, which plays into the (mostly unfounded) narrative that Trump colluded with Putin to win in November.
The biggest change in the past six months has been the worsening of cultural political polarization. The Left is increasingly going for dangerous violent rhetoric, even after the shooting of Steve Scalise. Under Trump, we have learned new terms: "Deep State." "Alternative Facts." "Fake News."
Pray for the peace of the city.
And pray for Sean Spicer.
It seems Trump's much-maligned press secretary (brilliantly mocked on SNL by Melissa McCarthy) will yet again be displaced. The Associated Press (AP) reported Thursday night that Trump is expected to announce that Anthony Scaramucci will be the new White House communications director.
"Scara ... who?"
"Mooch," as he's known to friends, is a major Republican donor who supported Trump during the general election campaign — after fundraising during the primaries for Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. He frequently appears on Fox News and is a longtime friend of Sean Hannity.
Scaramucci recently sold his stake in his hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, but was left stranded after an initially planned job in the White House didn't materialize.
The former communications director, Mike Dubke, resigned in May, and Spicer has been handling the role's duties in Dubke's absence. Trump's plans to appoint Scaramucci reportedly surprised Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who discovered the plans after they'd already been made.
Then again, that should not be surprising given the accuracy of these statements about Trump's relationship with Spicer:
The President has frequently disparaged Spicer's performance to friends and associates, but he does that with many of his staff. He also says Spicer is a "nice guy," who gets unfairly beaten up by the press. Spicer is expected to stay on, though it's unclear how his responsibilities will fit alongside Scaramucci's.
Commentary editor John Podhoretz had the best response.
Robert Mueller crosses the red line.
In the words of The Washington Times' Wesley Pruden, "The Swamp Strikes Back." In remarks to The New York Times Wednesday, President Trump said that his finances were off-limits to special counsel Robert Mueller. Reportedly, Mueller took that as an invitation to "play the voyeur among the president's business ventures."
Indeed, Bloomberg reported that "FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trumps involvement in a controversial SoHod evelopment in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump's sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008." The investigation also picked up on a money-laundering probe into Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Trump lawyers said Mueller's investigation is limited to Russia and the 2016 campaign, but it seems the special prosecutor has taken a wide interpretation of his mandate.
In his Wednesday New York Times interview, the president also warned that Meuller's office had widespread conflicts of interest — a move sources told CNN was in the works long before that Times interview. Indeed, Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich launched into Mueller Thursday night, pointing out how many contributions his firm sent to Hillary Clinton last year.
Trump is also reshuffling his legal team, with attorney Marc Kasowitz pulling back and John Down taking the lead, with Jay Sekulow close behind. These attorneys' position outside the White House will protect their relationship with Trump under attorney-client privilege, a source told CNN. Attorney Ty Cobb will lead from inside the White House when he starts work on July 31.
While The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Trump's legal team is seeking to undermine Mueller's investigation, a source told CNN the intention is to "cooperate fully." Mark Corallo resigned from his position as spokesman and communications strategist for Trump's legal team.
One last development: Trump's legal team has investigated the president's pardoning powers, but not in the context of Trump pardoning himself. New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait wrote, "Trump Is Mobilizing For War Against the Rule of Law." What a narrative.
The Juice is loose! And responsible for Trump?
O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel heist, ESPN reported. The former football star was convicted of robbery in 2008, but he became truly notorious for the 1994-1995 murder trial, in which he was found not guilty. The 70-year-old Simpson could leave prison as early as October 1, after serving the minimum nine years of a 33-year sentence.
But The Hollywood Reporter's Michael J. Socolow explained that today is "O.J. Simpson's world, we're just living in it." He noted that CNN was estimated to have made more than $200 million in 1994 and 1995 due to the trial, which was the first legal event to be streamed live on television in its entirety. It became the centerpiece of what Vanity Fair called "the tabloid decade." The trial played a role in the launch of Fox News.
"The O.J. Simpson trial proved that very cheap programming can deliver unprecedented returns," giving birth to reality television. "Reality television, in the form of NBC's The Apprentice, made possible the realization of Donald Trump's political ambitions," Socolow added. "Though Trump flirted with politics long before his program delighted millions, the character he played made everything that followed possible."
"It's difficult to imagine a counter-factual, but without the expansion of cable news — and subsequent rise in sensationalism leading to the profusion of reality television — I think it's safe to say our politics would look very, very different today." So true.
A tragic farewell.
Chester Bennington, the 41-year-old frontman for Linkin Park, passed away Thursday, as his bandmate Mike Shinoda confirmed on Twitter.
As a millennial, I will always remember Linkin Park's hit songs from the 2000 and 2003 albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora, especially "In the End," "Numb," "Crawling," and "Somewhere I Belong."
That's all for now. Back to waiting for happy hour...