Regrets? Chris Christie Has a Few.

TRENTON—Chris Christie had some thoughts on how I should write this article.

“You should break out of leading with ‘the most unpopular governor in galactic history’ and all this other shit that everybody hits F2, F3, F4 [on and] bang, bang, bang, the paragraphs flip in,” the outgoing New Jersey governor said on a recent afternoon, tapping his conference room table like a keyboard. “You should do something different.”

Christie had spent almost three hours reminiscing on his meteoric political rise, the bridge saga, his failed 2016 campaign and his controversial Donald Trump endorsement, his subsequent White House adventures and some of his more infamous misadventures, like sitting on a beach he had ordered closed and being caught by a photographer’s long-lens camera.

So, with 68 days left in his governorship and the interview winding down, he urged me to forget all that and focus on the good things Continue reading “Regrets? Chris Christie Has a Few.”

Kushner still waiting on permanent security clearance

Jared Kushner is still working with an interim security clearance 10 months into President Donald Trump’s administration, according to White House officials and others with knowledge of the matter.

The top adviser and Trump son-in-law, who joined Trump for part of his Asia tour this month, has continued to work on sensitive foreign policy issues and other matters while his application for a permanent clearance remains under review, these people said.

On Thursday, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein—who jointly oversee the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Russia probe—requested documents from Kushner including “transcripts from other committee interviews, additional documents from previous requests, communications with (former national security adviser) Michael Flynn and documents related to his security clearance.”

Grassley and Feinstein said Kushner, citing confidentiality, declined to produce documents connected to his security clearance application, which includes a form that has been repeatedly amended to list Kushner’s contacts with foreign officials.

Continue reading “Kushner still waiting on permanent security clearance”

Inside the ‘Lewandowski embassy’

Corey Lewandowski has a new base of operations in Washington: an elegant, century-old rowhouse that resembles his own version of the “Breitbart Embassy.”

Just as Steve Bannon does at the rowhouse a dozen blocks away where Breitbart News sometimes holds meetings and hosts parties, Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, stays upstairs when he’s in town, according to five people familiar with the arrangement. The lower floors serve as his workspace, as well as the offices of Turnberry Solutions, a lobbying firm started this summer by another Trump campaign veteran.

Lewandowski has said he has nothing to do with Turnberry, but the firm lists the rowhouse’s address on all of its lobbying disclosures, and a Turnberry nondisclosure agreement recently sat on a desk in the front room. Signs of Lewandowski’s presence also abounded when a POLITICO reporter visited the house last month, including framed copies of articles about Lewandowski Continue reading “Inside the ‘Lewandowski embassy’”

Trump faces wrenching call on Moore

President Donald Trump is returning from Asia to a political maelstrom in the United States — one that could force him to decide whether to push out Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a Hail Mary attempt to save the Alabama Senate seat Sessions once held.

Trump spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Asia last week and the Senate leader made an urgent plea: Please help push Moore out of the contest. On Monday, as a new female accuser emerged, the Republican leader discussed the Alabama situation with White House chief of staff John Kelly and Vice President Mike Pence. The conversation centered on tax reform, but the Republican leader also proposed a dramatic idea: that Sessions run as a write-in candidate or be appointed to the seat he held for two decades.

White House officials plan to convene a meeting to talk through their options soon, and Trump Continue reading “Trump faces wrenching call on Moore”

GOP megadonor Adelson publicly breaks with Bannon

Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the GOP’s most prominent mega-donor, is publicly breaking with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon over his efforts to oust Republican incumbents in 2018.

“The Adelsons will not be supporting Steve Bannon’s efforts,” said Andy Abboud, an Adelson spokesman. “They are supporting Mitch McConnell 100 percent. For anyone to infer anything otherwise is wrong.”

The public pronouncement comes about a month after Adelson met with Bannon in Washington.

Bannon has been huddling with major Republican contributors across the country in hopes of building a war chest to take on party lawmakers. Bannon aides said they were not surprised by the news, given that Adelson has a long track record of generously backing establishment causes. They said they never expected Adelson’s financial support.

The former White House chief strategist appeared before the Zionist Organization of America annual dinner on Sunday night. ZOA is Continue reading “GOP megadonor Adelson publicly breaks with Bannon”

White House bracing for another staff shakeup

The White House is bracing for another staff shakeup upon President Donald Trump’s return from Asia, with senior-level staff moves that could further consolidate chief of staff John Kelly’s power in the West Wing.

Deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn — a former top Jeff Sessions Senate aide who played a central role during the presidential transition — is expected to be reassigned to the Commerce Department or another federal agency, according to multiple administration officials and outside advisers familiar with plans for the staff change.

Dearborn’s portfolio over the past year has covered high-level assignments, including helping to organize the president’s schedule. But that job has since been passed to another deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin, while Dearborn has become increasingly marginalized internally since Kelly’s arrival in late July.

Dearborn’s departure would make him the latest in a growing conga line of West Wing aides who started on Continue reading “White House bracing for another staff shakeup”

Senate tax bill expected to delay corporate rate cut until 2019

The Senate tax reform bill expected today will likely include a delay in the implementation of a lower corporate tax rate until 2019, two people familiar with the mater said.

The change from the House bill, which would institute a 20 percent corporate rate in 2018, is likely to upset President Donald Trump and the White House, which wants the change to happen as soon as possible.

The effort to reduce the corporate rate is the centerpiece of the GOP plan to lower tax rates and spur faster economic growth. But the Senate is trying to limit the revenue impact to allow a bill to pass with just 51 votes and avoid a possible Democratic filibuster.

Senate tax bill expected to delay corporate rate cut until 2019

The Senate tax reform bill expected today will likely include a delay in the implementation of a lower corporate tax rate until 2019, two people familiar with the mater said.

The change from the House bill, which would institute a 20 percent corporate rate in 2018, is likely to upset President Donald Trump and the White House, which wants the change to happen as soon as possible.

The effort to reduce the corporate rate is the centerpiece of the GOP plan to lower tax rates and spur faster economic growth. But the Senate is trying to limit the revenue impact to allow a bill to pass with just 51 votes and avoid a possible Democratic filibuster.

Senate GOP to unveil tax bill that diverges from House plan

Senate Republicans plan to unveil a bill to rewrite the tax code that sharply diverges from the House GOP’s plan, including by not fully repealing the estate tax.

GOP leaders will brief the conference on the details of their long-awaited tax overhaul legislation on Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m. in the Strom Thurmond room at the Capitol, according to two sources.

The session is meant to walk senators who are not on the tax-writing Finance Committee through the intricacies of the GOP’s tax bill before unveiling it to the public.

The plan is expected to have significant differences from the House legislation.

For instance, the Senate plans to ax the state and local tax deduction — which will deeply disappoint House Republicans from high-tax blue states — in their bill, according to multiple sources familiar with the measure.

Sources said not repealing the estate tax entirely is in part Continue reading “Senate GOP to unveil tax bill that diverges from House plan”

Omarosa’s West Wing bridal adventure highlights broader dysfunction

One Saturday in early April, Omarosa Manigault caused a stir in the White House.

The Apprentice villain turned senior White House official brought members of her 39-person bridal party to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for an extended wedding photo shoot, catching fellow senior aides and some security officials by surprise in her bridal attire. They loudly wandered around, looking to snap photos in the Rose Garden and throughout the West Wing, according to four current and former White House officials.

While it’s unclear if she received any formal permission for the photo shoot, at least some lawyers and other senior aides were not briefed in advance, the officials said. They quickly banned Manigault, the director of communications for the Office of the Public Liaison, from posting the pictures online, citing security and ethical concerns.

The incident — which created buzz in the West Wing for weeks — did little to help Continue reading “Omarosa’s West Wing bridal adventure highlights broader dysfunction”

Trump advisers try to focus the president’s attention on Asia trip

President Donald Trump has been holed up in a series of rapid-fire briefing sessions on his upcoming 12-day, five-country tour through Asia — an effort the White House hopes will help avoid the kind of diplomatic snafus that have dogged his presidency.

The trip — Trump’s longest yet — comes at a tense moment in Asia, with the threat of the North Korea nuclear program looming. But some of Trump’s advisers believe the time away from Washington will offer the president, who leaves Friday, a brief respite from the Russia-related revelations that have consumed him in recent days.

Trump’s top advisers — including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer — have met with the president in recent days to go over details of the trip, including in an hourlong briefing Friday in the Oval Office, according to administration Continue reading “Trump advisers try to focus the president’s attention on Asia trip”

Mueller schedules interview with Hope Hicks

President Donald Trump’s longtime aide and current communications director, Hope Hicks, is scheduled to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in mid-November, following the president’s trip to Asia, multiple people familiar with the schedule told POLITICO.

Mueller’s team is also expected to interview three or four other current White House officials as early as this week, according to an administration official.

Mueller’s team already has interviewed former aides, including Trump’s first chief of staff Reince Priebus and former press secretary Sean Spicer. But the latest round of interviews appears to mark a new phase of the investigation — hauling in current administration officials for daylong depositions.

“Nothing about recent events alters the White House’s commitment to fully cooperate with the office of the special counsel,” White House lawyer Ty Cobb, said Tuesday in an interview.

The White House currently expects Mueller to wrap up his interviews by Thanksgiving.

Hicks, Continue reading “Mueller schedules interview with Hope Hicks”

Mueller schedules interview with Hope Hicks

President Donald Trump’s longtime aide and current communications director, Hope Hicks, is scheduled to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in mid-November, following the president’s trip to Asia, multiple people familiar with the schedule told POLITICO.

Mueller’s team is also expected to interview three or four other current White House officials as early as this week, according to an administration official.

Mueller’s team already has interviewed former aides, including Trump’s first chief of staff Reince Priebus and former press secretary Sean Spicer. But the latest round of interviews appears to mark a new phase of the investigation — hauling in current administration officials for daylong depositions.

“Nothing about recent events alters the White House’s commitment to fully cooperate with the office of the special counsel,” White House lawyer Ty Cobb, said Tuesday in an interview.

The White House currently expects Mueller to wrap up his interviews by Thanksgiving.

Hicks, Continue reading “Mueller schedules interview with Hope Hicks”

Inside White House, a sense of both danger and relief in Mueller’s first moves

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s first charges in his sprawling Russia investigation were a one-two blow that partially caught the White House off guard but also offered a measure of relief, according to several of President Donald Trump’s aides, advisers, lawyers and others close to the case.

The indictments of former campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates didn’t mention Trump or the campaign. And George Papadopoulos, who cut a plea deal, was a low-level adviser who had long separated from Trump’s orbit and was unknown to many senior officials.

But Mueller’s moves also provided some of the strongest evidence yet of potential collusion between the campaign and Russia and created a new layer of issues in an unfolding probe that has helped keep the president’s approval ratings below 40 percent, driven him periodically mad and distracted from a cohesive agenda.

Mueller on Monday accused Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, of Continue reading “Inside White House, a sense of both danger and relief in Mueller’s first moves”

Trump relishes fighting enemies in his own party

Senators left Tuesday’s lunch with President Donald Trump relieved. He read from notecards. He praised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He spoke about his brother’s death from an overdose. He didn’t diverge into his usual tangents and stuck to orthodox positions. He boasted less than usual.

“I was really impressed with him today,” said Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.

But the rest of the day was filled with intra-party skirmishes. Trump spent the morning whacking retiring Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker on Twitter, calling him “incompetent” – drawing a sharp rebuke from Corker, who said he regretted supporting Trump. In the afternoon, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake took to the Senate floor to announce his own retirement and decry the president, drawing a stinging retort from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said she thought it was “probably a good move” for Flake to go.

Those who know Trump best Continue reading “Trump relishes fighting enemies in his own party”

Priebus says he will rejoin his Wisconsin law firm

Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is rejoining his former law firm and signing with the Washington Speakers Bureau, he told POLITICO Tuesday.

Priebus, who led the Republican National Committee for six years before spending a little more than six months serving as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, will return to Wisconsin-based Michael Best and Friedrich LLP as president and chief strategist. He worked there before leaving for the RNC.

He will lead the firm’s government affairs group, consulting for corporate clients, but Priebus said he will not do any lobbying work and doesn’t plan to register as a lobbyist. Priebus also said he won’t work for foreign governments.

He says he sees his role as helping clients understand how to make progress with Trump, on Capitol Hill and in government agencies — all people and places he was intimately intertwined with until this summer.

“I look Continue reading “Priebus says he will rejoin his Wisconsin law firm”

Graham and Trump become buds after campaign of insults

Once upon a time, Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a "jackass." Never to be outdone in the put-down department, Trump labeled the South Carolina senator a "lightweight" and an "idiot" who “seems to me not as bright as Rick Perry.”

Two years after that campaign smackdown, Trump and Graham act like longtime friends, hitting the links and plotting legislative strategy together. The two have formed a surprising kinship even as Graham’s best friend, John McCain, is chilly toward a president who once mocked his capture in Vietnam.

In a sign of the dramatic turn in their relationship, during a flight back from South Carolina last week, the president turned to the South Carolina senator and asked if he’d like to take a helicopter back to the White House with him, offering Graham a guided tour.

“How can you not like that?” Graham said in a lengthy interview. Continue reading “Graham and Trump become buds after campaign of insults”

John Kelly’s big challenge: Controlling the tweeter in chief

President Donald Trump’s White House and Defense Department lawyers had warned him against the transgender military ban for days. They were concerned about the ramifications of the policy, how military officials would respond and what legal backlash it could cause, two West Wing officials familiar with last month’s discussions said. The lawyers thought there would be plenty of time for more discussions and were analyzing arguments.

Frustrated with being “slow-walked,” in the words of one White House official, the president took to Twitter last week — jarring many in the West Wing out of complacency and startling his lawyers, Defense Department officials and West Wing aides, who learned of the change in a series of tweets.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump Continue reading “John Kelly’s big challenge: Controlling the tweeter in chief”

Kelly cracks down on West Wing back channels to Trump

When new White House chief of staff John Kelly huddled with senior staff on his first day at work, he outlined a key problem in President Donald Trump’s White House that he planned to fix: Bad information getting into the president’s hands.

Kelly told the staff that information needed to flow through him – whether on paper or in briefings –because the president would make better decisions if given good information.

Kelly, a retired Marine general, faces an uphill path when it comes to his stated goal of instilling order in the White House, from aides who have directly reported to the president and don’t want to see their power curbed to Trump’s own itchy Twitter finger. In talks with congressional leaders, friends and longtime associates, he has bluntly described how serious the problems he faces in the West Wing are, according to more than a half-dozen people familiar with Continue reading “Kelly cracks down on West Wing back channels to Trump”

Kelly cracks down on West Wing back channels to Trump

When new White House chief of staff John Kelly huddled with senior staff on his first day at work, he outlined a key problem in President Donald Trump’s White House that he planned to fix: Bad information getting into the president’s hands.

Kelly told the staff that information needed to flow through him – whether on paper or in briefings –because the president would make better decisions if given good information.

Kelly, a retired Marine general, faces an uphill path when it comes to his stated goal of instilling order in the White House, from aides who have directly reported to the president and don’t want to see their power curbed to Trump’s own itchy Twitter finger. In talks with congressional leaders, friends and longtime associates, he has bluntly described how serious the problems he faces in the West Wing are, according to more than a half-dozen people familiar with Continue reading “Kelly cracks down on West Wing back channels to Trump”