Kelly’s agonizing relationship with the press

White House chief of staff John Kelly has declined all requests to appear on the Sunday show circuit, even though the president loves seeing his staff mount combative defenses of him on TV.

But he was willing to sit down with a National Public Radio reporter he has known for years – John Burnett, who forged a good relationship with Kelly when he spent time embedded with the four-star general in Iraq, sources said – for an extended stemwinder that circumvented the Washington reporters Kelly has come to view with a mix of distrust and disdain.

Kelly still stumbled. He said that undocumented immigrants seeking to enter the country “don’t have the skills” to assimilate and called them “overwhelmingly rural people” in comments that sounded derogatory. But that wasn’t all.

“Certainly the president is, you know, somewhat embarrassed, frankly,” the chief of staff said of the Russia probe. “When world Continue reading “Kelly’s agonizing relationship with the press”

Pompeo puts State back in the Middle East mix

Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Jared Kushner has served as the administration’s point person in the Middle East, eclipsing even the secretary of state in some meetings with foreign leaders.

But when it comes to the historic opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, a move Kushner championed behind the scenes, the president’s son-in-law will be on the ground as an attendee of the U.S. delegation, not as its leader.

That position will be filled by deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. It is “normal protocol” for the highest-level official in attendance to act as the leader of the delegation. And Sullivan technically outranks Kushner, a senior White House adviser.

But the line-up for Monday’s embassy opening – a signature Trump policy that makes good on a campaign promise but could threaten an already moribund peace process – was interpreted by tea-leaf readers in the region Continue reading “Pompeo puts State back in the Middle East mix”

Giuliani falls back in line

After Rudy Giuliani called Jared Kushner “disposable” in his off-the-rails interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity earlier this week, the president’s son-in-law watched the clip himself to see what all the fuss was about.

Kushner — newly determined to stay in his lane and not meddle in the president’s legal strategy — decided to downplay a comment that raised eyebrows among other White House officials, instead mitigating potential tension with Giuliani by laughing it off.

As long as his wife didn’t call him “disposable,” he joked to people, everything was going just fine.

Less than 48 hours later, it was Giuliani whose “disposable” status was more of a question mark. His position as Trump’s shiny, new penny — confident enough to take an odd shot at a family member on prime-time television — appeared to be in jeopardy on Friday, when the president distanced himself from the newest addition to Continue reading “Giuliani falls back in line”

Trump’s fixers revolt

Looking the part has always mattered to President Donald Trump.

The president’s preference for people who look like they came from “central casting” has become a well-known part of how Trump makes personnel decisions. The president said as much when he nominated Ronny Jackson — the square-jawed White House physician with a full head of hair thick enough to hold a side part — to be secretary of Veterans’ Affairs.

But behind the scenes, there’s another set of characters who populate Trump’s world: loyal fixers who lie for Trump, and clean up his messes in the shadows, where their looks count less than their loyalty.

It’s a dichotomy that’s well-known in Trump’s inner circle. One former adviser described it succinctly:

“Central casting for ‘front porch’ jobs, trolls for the real work.”

But in recent weeks, there has been tension in the natural order of Trump’s world, because his not-made-for-prime-time Continue reading “Trump’s fixers revolt”

The real reason Mueller hasn’t called Ivanka Trump

She was in Bedminster, N.J., with President Donald Trump the rainy June 2017 weekend when he decided to fire FBI director James Comey.

She was a passenger on the plane flying home from the G-20 conference in Germany the next month, strategizing about how to manage the fallout of her brother Don Jr.’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer peddling “dirt” about Hillary Clinton.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and West Wing adviser, also spoke briefly at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and a lobbyist who was present for that meeting during the campaign.

Yet the family member closest to the president – and the woman who as a key campaign figure helped lobby her father to hire Paul Manafort, a man who is now under indictment on money laundering and fraud charges, as campaign manager – has yet to be called in for questioning by Continue reading “The real reason Mueller hasn’t called Ivanka Trump”

Extreme secrecy surrounds Comey book manuscript

James Comey’s book is getting the Harry Potter treatment.

“A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” the upcoming memoir from former FBI director James Comey, is set for publication on April 18 — and with anticipation rivaling that of the cult children’s favorite, the publisher is taking extreme precautions to prevent potentially explosive revelations detailing Comey’s interactions with President Donald Trump from leaking.

Instead of circulating multiple print drafts among the editors and agents working on the book, the publisher, Flatiron Books, has implemented a password-protected electronic system so that only those involved in the project have access to it.

The project is stored under a code name so that staffers who are not involved in the project wouldn’t know where to find it if they tried. At warehouses that will ship out copies of the book, workers are being asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to people familiar with Continue reading “Extreme secrecy surrounds Comey book manuscript”

Melania Trump’s ‘volunteer’ rankles White House staff with her all-access pass

First Lady Melania Trump’s friend and special adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has enjoyed a unique and eyebrow-raising set-up over the past year: in her status as a “contracted volunteer,” the Manhattan socialite has a government-issued phone and computer, as well as a blue badge that grants her total access to the West Wing.

But unlike other administration officials, the former Vogue event planner continues to live in New York City and only pops into the White House every few weeks, where her on-paper job is to consult with the First Lady on her initiatives, according to two White House officials.

That special arrangement has soured colleagues in the White House, who have long seen Wolkoff as a person capitalizing on her relationship with the First Lady while offering little in return. “One thing that grates at people is she is supposed to work at the White House, but she still Continue reading “Melania Trump’s ‘volunteer’ rankles White House staff with her all-access pass”

Tina Brown on Trump: ‘I came to think he was very silly’

Donald Trump was once a comical figure to Tina Brown, a big personality who made her chuckle when he bragged to her over breakfast at the Four Seasons about the results he was seeing from the Atkins diet.

Now, decades later, the legendary former magazine editor views the man inhabiting the Oval Office as someone totally transformed from the likable con artist she first encountered in the 1980s, when she was a rising star in the Conde Nast media empire. Back then, Trump and his gold-plated tower were also establishing themselves as icons of New York, and he was eager to win her approval.

For a period of time, he did. “There’s something authentic about Trump’s bullshit,” Brown writes in “The Vanity Fair Diaries,” the recently published collection of daily observations she kept during her time as Vanity Fair’s editor-in-chief, between 1983 and 1992.

Brown, the British-born magazine editor who Continue reading “Tina Brown on Trump: ‘I came to think he was very silly’”

McMaster makes his pick to replace Powell on the NSC

The White House has settled on a new deputy national security adviser to succeed Dina Powell, the inner-circle adviser who left the building last week — but while the title will match Powell’s, the role is expected to change.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster has chosen Nadia Schadlow, a current member of the National Security Council and the lead author of the administration’s National Security Strategy, for the role of deputy national security adviser for strategy, according to multiple White House officials. But her new role has yet to be announced by the White House.

In plucking Schadlow to succeed Powell, McMaster is making a switch that brings a longtime colleague with a rare academic background into President Donald Trump’s West Wing. Schadlow holds a doctorate from the Johns Hopkins Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. The last West Wing aide who went by “Dr.” was former adviser Continue reading “McMaster makes his pick to replace Powell on the NSC”

The Democrat Trumpworld fears most

In early December, as President Donald Trump’s approval rating reached a new low of 32 percent, the commander-in-chief was rating the 2020 Democratic field from behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who had recently bested Trump in a poll that tested the two septuagenarians in a head-to-head match-up — wasn’t a serious threat and would be easy to beat, Trump told a Republican with close ties to the White House who was in the room.

It wasn’t the lefty politics of the self-described socialist that Trump thought were a losing proposition. Instead, according to the person in the room, Trump was hung up on Sanders’ age, arguing that Sanders, now 76, wouldn’t have the energy to run another national campaign.

Sanders wasn’t the only potential presidential candidate that Trump, 71, brushed off as a non-threat. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the woman he has Continue reading “The Democrat Trumpworld fears most”

Where was Oprah in 2016? Another what-if for Hillary alumni

Oprah Winfrey’s viral Golden Globes speech sounded, to many viewers, like a soaring convention speech – if not her own, then certainly the spotlight-stealing speech delivered as a surrogate for someone else.

Which led to a wistful question, posed by Hillary Clinton fans watching the Oprah 2020 frenzy play out this week: where the heck was Winfrey in 2016?

Busy with her own business interests that made a full-throated Clinton endorsement too much of a conflict, is part of the answer, according to former campaign aides. And she was simply not as personally invested in Clinton’s candidacy as she was in the historic run made by her personal friend and fellow Chicago native eight years earlier — when some economists credited her with helping Barack Obama secure 1 million votes in the Democratic primary alone.

But it wasn’t for lack of trying from Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters.

In June of 2016, Continue reading “Where was Oprah in 2016? Another what-if for Hillary alumni”

Ivanka tries to have it both ways: Trump’s daughter and #MeToo supporter

Days after her father’s inauguration last January, new-to-Washington Ivanka Trump tweeted a picture of herself clad in a $5,000 silver Carolina Herrera gown, en route to a black-tie dinner.

After she was widely criticized for her let-them-eat-cake moment – President Donald Trump’s daughter looked terrifyingly tone deaf vamping for the camera while thousands of travelers sat stranded at airports because of her father’s sloppily imposed travel ban – Ivanka Trump admitted to friends she had made a clumsy P.R. mistake.

Almost a year into her transformation from striving Manhattan lifestyle guru to Washington power player, Ivanka Trump on Monday night proved what many of her colleagues acknowledge privately about the player behind the controlled façade: she is still prone to rookie political mistakes. And she seems blind to her circumscribed position as a self-professed champion of women who is simultaneously an unquestioning aide to a president who’s been accused Continue reading “Ivanka tries to have it both ways: Trump’s daughter and #MeToo supporter”

Bannon finds his regrets aren’t good enough for Trump

Steve Bannon, like his onetime brother-in-arms President Donald Trump, is known as someone whose instinct is to double down, not kiss up.

That made his belated attempt on Sunday to de-escalate mounting tension with the commander-in-chief — who has been publicly and privately raging about his former chief strategist all week — notable to many of his allies, one of whom called it a “huge step for Steve, one of the most stubborn people on Earth.”

But inside the White House, Bannon’s 297-word statement of contrition about comments he made in Michael Wolff’s "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" was seen as too little, too late for an operative unaware of the self-inflicted damage his hubris could cause.

It did nothing to quell Trump’s rage at his former chief strategist or the anger of Bannon’s former West Wing colleagues, according to multiple administration officials, who said the Continue reading “Bannon finds his regrets aren’t good enough for Trump”

The Mooch’s gift to Trump staff: A taxpayer-funded stylist

She may be the most lasting legacy of Anthony Scaramucci’s 11-day stint in the White House.

Professional stylist Katie Price, who has previously worked as a hair and makeup artist for Russia Today and CNN, is now a full-time White House official with a desk in the press office and the title of “production assistant,” which includes her daily duties getting press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, counselor Kellyanne Conway, and other White House staffers coiffed and camera-ready.

That position was created for her last fall thanks, in part, to public praise from “The Mooch” for Price’s briefing room stylings, which include loose curls and dark eye shadow on the women and what appear to be heavy layers of pancake makeup heaped on the men.

In his brief moment in the spotlight, the smooth-talking Long Island financier went on CNN last July to give Price’s work his seal of Continue reading “The Mooch’s gift to Trump staff: A taxpayer-funded stylist”

Washington’s growing obsession: The 25th Amendment

Lawmakers concerned about President Donald Trump’s mental state summoned Yale University psychiatry professor Dr. Bandy X. Lee to Capitol Hill last month for two days of briefings about his recent behavior.

In private meetings with more than a dozen members of Congress held on Dec. 5 and 6, Lee briefed lawmakers – all Democrats except for one Republican senator, who Lee declined to identify. Her professional warning to Capitol Hill: “He’s going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.”

In an interview, she pointed to Trump “going back to conspiracy theories, denying things he has admitted before, his being drawn to violent videos.” Lee also warned, “We feel that the rush of tweeting is an indication of his falling apart under stress. Trump is going to get worse and will become uncontainable with the pressures of the presidency.”

Lee, editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Continue reading “Washington’s growing obsession: The 25th Amendment”

Pro-Trump singer files assault claim against Lewandowski over butt-slap incident

The woman accusing President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, of unwanted touching at a Trump International Hotel party last month has filed a sexual assault report with the Metropolitan Police Department detailing the incident.

Joy Villa, 31, a singer and Trump supporter who is exploring a congressional bid in Florida, says Lewandowski slapped her on the butt hard, twice – even after she voiced an objection.

Villa said she provided the names of two eyewitnesses to the police department when she filed her report the day before Christmas, after POLITICO published details of her account.

She said that she told a detective she wanted to file a sexual harassment claim – but was informed that the incident she was describing was considered a misdemeanor and that it belonged with the sex assault unit.

“The detective I talked to said that sexual harassment is what happens in the workforce,” Continue reading “Pro-Trump singer files assault claim against Lewandowski over butt-slap incident”

What happens when Trump targets you on Twitter

Five Americans named by the president on social media talk about the unexpected fallout in their real lives.

Trump-supporting singer claims Lewandowski slapped her butt at recent party

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has been accused of unwanted touching by a singer and longtime Trump supporter whose potential “MAGA”-inspired congressional bid in Florida has been endorsed by the president himself.

Joy Villa – who drew headlines for wearing a “Make America Great Again” dress to the Grammys earlier this year – was celebrating the president’s first year in office at a holiday party at the Trump International Hotel in Washington in late November when he slapped her behind. After she objected, he dismissed her concerns and slapped her behind again, Villa said in an interview Friday.

Villa, 31, said she was circulating in the ballroom of the invite-only party with a friend, who brought her over to introduce her to Lewandowski, whom she had never met. Her first impression, she said, was that he seemed dismissive of her, and rolled his eyes when he thought Continue reading “Trump-supporting singer claims Lewandowski slapped her butt at recent party”

Trump-supporting singer claims Lewandowski slapped her butt at recent party

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has been accused of unwanted touching by a singer and longtime Trump supporter whose potential “MAGA”-inspired congressional bid in Florida has been endorsed by the president himself.

Joy Villa – who drew headlines for wearing a “Make America Great Again” dress to the Grammys earlier this year – was celebrating the president’s first year in office at a holiday party at the Trump International Hotel in Washington in late November when he slapped her behind. After she objected, he dismissed her concerns and slapped her behind again, Villa said in an interview Friday.

Villa, 31, said she was circulating in the ballroom of the invite-only party with a friend, who brought her over to introduce her to Lewandowski, whom she had never met. Her first impression, she said, was that he seemed dismissive of her, and rolled his eyes when he thought Continue reading “Trump-supporting singer claims Lewandowski slapped her butt at recent party”

Trump eyes former aides as West Wing staffers depart

President Donald Trump is basking in the first big legislative victory of his presidency — but the strong end to a shaky first year in office hasn’t stopped him from privately ruminating on potential changes he could make to his inner circle in 2018.

Speculation about additions to the cast of characters in Season2 of Trump’s West Wing has ramped up as the administration braces itself for a wave of staff departures expected in the coming weeks, according to a dozen White House aides and outside advisers who have spoken with the president.

In recent weeks, these people say, Trump has been particularly high on Larry Kudlow, an outside economic adviser to the president and a former adviser to President Ronald Reagan. He helped lobby senators on the tax bill and was on hand at the White House on Wednesday for the South Lawn celebration after it passed.

Kudlow has Continue reading “Trump eyes former aides as West Wing staffers depart”