The Open Thread for April 13, 2018

The New York Times reviews James Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty, in which he calls the Trump presidency a “forest fire” that is doing serious damage to the country’s norms and traditions. Writes Comey: “This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

“Decades before he led the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, Comey was a career prosecutor who helped dismantle the Gambino crime family; and he doesn’t hesitate in these pages to draw a direct analogy between the Mafia bosses he helped pack off to prison years ago and the current occupant of the Oval Office.”

“The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned book are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law.”

Further, “within minutes of his firing in May, former FBI director James Comey received a call from John Kelly, then the head of the Department of Homeland Security and now the White House chief of staff, the Daily Beastreports. “According to Comey’s account, which is set to appear in his highly-anticipated forthcoming memoir, Kelly was ’emotional’ over the manner in which Comey was let go… Kelly, Comey recalls, said he was ‘sick’ about the situation and ‘intended to quit’ in protest. Kelly ‘said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people,’ referring specifically to President Trump, who appeared to be upset at the FBI’s persistent investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials.”

“According to sources, Comey writes in his book that he encouraged Kelly to remain in his post, saying ‘this president,’ more than his predecessors, needed people of principle and integrity around him.”

“President Trump wanted James Comey to investigate the infamous ‘pee tape’ allegations — to reassure Melania that he hadn’t actually paid Russian hookers to urinate on a hotel bed, the former FBI chief claims in his upcoming book,” the New York Post reports. Writes Comey: “He brought up what he called the ‘golden showers thing’ … adding that it bothered him if there was ‘even a one percent chance’ his wife, Melania, thought it was true… He just rolled on, unprompted, explaining why it couldn’t possibly be true, ending by saying he was thinking of asking me to investigate the allegation to prove it was a lie. I said it was up to him.”

The Washington Post reports Trump “strongly denied the allegations, asking — rhetorically, I assumed — whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women, and seemed to have memorized their allegations.”

“The White House is preparing talking points designed to undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s credibility,” CNN reports.  “The plan calls on President Donald Trump’s allies to cast Rosenstein as too conflicted to fairly oversee the Russia investigation.The talking points are still in their preliminary form, and not yet finalized.”

President Trump’s allies “are preparing an extensive campaign to fight back against James Comey’s publicity tour, trying to undermine the credibility of the former FBI director by reviving the blistering Democratic criticism of him before he was fired nearly a year ago,” CNN reports.

“The battle plan against Comey, obtained by CNN, calls for branding the nation’s former top law enforcement official as ‘Lyin’ Comey’ through a website, digital advertising and talking points to be sent to Republicans across the country before his memoir is released next week. The White House signed off on the plan, which is being overseen by the Republican National Committee.”

Federal investigators have requested all communications between two top execs. at American Media Inc. — which publishes the National Enquirer — and Michael Cohen, NBC News reports.

The Feds might also have something very valuable now: Cohen “sometimes taped conversations with associates… and allies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen’s office and residences this week,” the Washington Post reports.  “Cohen was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues.”

Benjamin Wittes: “Many people will not shed tears over Rosenstein if Trump, in fact, pulls the trigger. After all, Rosenstein played a shameful role in the firing of James Comey. He’s tried to keep a lot of masters happy in his year in office, and one risk of serving multiple masters is that none of them emerges fully satisfied. You risk ending up looking like a weasel.”

“I understand the instinct to treat a Rosenstein firing as different from a Mueller firing. I have been fiercelycritical of Rosenstein in the past. But today is the wrong day to dwell on Rosenstein’s vices and errors—because those vices are not the reasons Trump is persecuting Rosenstein. Instead, Trump is persecuting Rosenstein because of the deputy attorney general’s virtues.”

“And it is because of those virtues that defending Rosenstein is now a critical imperative for everyone who is concerned about the Trump administration’s erosions of the independence of law enforcement. His removal, if the president can effectuate it with impunity, would shatter long-standing expectations of what federal law enforcement is, what it isn’t, and how presidents can and cannot properly use it.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “insisted on staying in luxury hotels that were costlier than allowed by government standards, while also pushing to fly on an airline not on the government’s approved list so he could accrue more frequent flier miles, one of his top former deputies at agency has told congressional investigators,” the New York Times reports.

“The new allegations are detailed in a scathing six-page letter signed by two senators and three House lawmakers — all Democrats — whose staff members met this week with Kevin Chmielewski, who served as the E.P.A.’s deputy chief of staff until he was removed from his post after raising objections to this and other spending.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “has used four separate agency email addresses since taking office, according to Senate Democrats and an EPA official, prompting concerns among agency lawyers that the EPA has not disclosed all the documents it would normally release to the public under federal records requests,” the Washington Post reports.

“Pruitt’s four email addresses include one in the conventional agency format,, as well as three others:, and, an apparent reference to the University of Oklahoma, whose football team Pruitt follows closely.”

“President Trump told top administration officials Thursday to look at rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multi-nation trade agreement he pulled out of shortly after taking office,” the Washington Post reports.  “It would be a major turnabout as Trump escalates a trade conflict with China.”

“A regretful President Trump wants to roll back spending in a massive omnibus bill he signed into law, but Republicans who helped craft the legislation are in open revolt,” Politico reports.

Said House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ): “My attitude is, your word is your bond.”

“Frelinghuysen is among more than a half-dozen appropriators who have voiced skepticism about the Trump administration’s proposal to cancel billions in spending. Nearly all said they feared that it could erode the GOP’s bargaining power in future budget talks. Their objections represented another low point in an often-tense relationship between the cost-cutting White House and GOP members of Congress who write spending bills.”

Wendy Vitter, one of President Trump’s judicial nominees, refused to say whether the landmark civil rights case Brown v. the Board of Education was correctly decided, CNN reports.

The seminal opinion held that state laws requiring separate but equal schools violated the Constitution. Said Vitter: “I don’t mean to be coy but I think I can get into a difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions — which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with.”

Washington Post: “The Twitter disruptions were emblematic of a president operating on a tornado of impulses — and with no clear strategy — as he faces some of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, including Syria, trade policy and the Russian interference probe that threatens to overwhelm his administration.”

“Many of the guardrails that previously helped stabilize the president — from West Wing aides to clear policy processes — have been cast aside, with little evident organization or long-term strategy emanating from the White House.”

Said one West Wing aide: “It’s just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them. Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen’s office. Oh, my God, we’re going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to, and there is no proactive strategic thinking.”

James Hohmann: “In an alternative universe, Paul Ryan is vice president. It’s his sixth year in the White House, and he is the presumptive Republican nominee to succeed Mitt Romney in 2020. In another intriguing counterfactual, Eric Cantor is speaker of the House and Ryan is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.”

“Romney’s struggles to secure the GOP nomination in 2012 over a historically weak field of has-beens and Cantor’s unexpected downfall in a 2014 primary both offered early warning signs of the potent forces that would propel Donald Trump to the presidency.  Ryan, who not long ago was considered both the GOP’s ideological standard-bearer and its future, has become a stranger of sorts in his own party.”

David Hopkins: “It’s impossible to understand Ryan’s speakership without understanding the bizarre circumstances under which he came to power. “

Playbook: “Think about it: outside of the chaos inside the White House, you’re now going to have a different flavor of chaos on Capitol Hill. Will Paul Ryan remain speaker through the election? Will Kevin McCarthy or Steve Scalise make a move? Will Republicans keep control of the House, and if they don’t, will Nancy Pelosi become speaker? Will anyone challenge her? Will she win a floor vote in a tight Democratic majority? Will the president shut down the government in September over lingering policy issues?”

One source close to House GOP leadership tells Axios: “Scuttlebutt is that Paul will have to step down from speakership soon. Members won’t follow a lame duck, he’ll have no leverage to cut deals, and the last thing they need in this environment is 6 months of palace intrigue and everyone stabbing everyone else in the back.” Said another senior GOP House member: “He will be gone by the end of July.”

Rick Wilson: “Ryan and his caucus hoped to run on the tax cut, the economy, and infrastructure. All of these messages now will be swept aside. Ryan owns his share of the blame; too often, he behaved as if he was some deferential junior VP at a Trump resort and not the leader of the House of Representatives in a co-equal branch of government. The idea, popular among the House leadership, that a diet of ass-kissing and deference would make Trump into a normal President who didn’t need the political equivalent of Depends was always a strategic mistake.”

“Ryan is now paying the price. The rest of his caucus will pay in the fall.”

John Harwood: “The business model of the modern Republican Party does not produce real-world budget discipline. So today, GOP lawmakers turn to make-believe.”

“Within the last four months, the Republican president and party leaders in Congress took two actions that dramatically expand federal deficits. On a party-line vote, they cut taxes by $150 billion a year, then increased spending by $150 billion a year in cooperation with Democrats.”

“Now, as the Congressional Budget Office projects the return of $1 trillion annual deficits, congressional Republicans plan a gesture for constituents alarmed by rising debt. The House will vote on Thursday on a constitutional amendment requiring lawmakers to balance the federal budget.”

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