Week 22: Trump Singes Fingers Trying to Torch Dossier


Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Swamp Diary

Questioning who paid for the salacious document, the president reveals his real fear of its contents.

Like a poker player whose flagrant tell gives him away, President Donald Trump telegraphed a twitchy bit of direction to Trump Tower scandal-watchers this week. Or was it indirection? After the founder of the oppo-research company Fusion GPS that commissioned the infamous Steele Dossier told the House Intelligence Committee he would take the Fifth Amendment if subpoenaed to testify, Trump responded with a brain-bender of a tweet that thrust the dossier to the center of the stage again.

“Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?” Trump’s tweet said.

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Like many Trump tweets, it proved more difficult to untangle than a mound of last night’s dried out spaghetti. Why was Trump screaming about the dossier now? Does he sense that investigators are closing in on him and he needs to divert them? BuzzFeed published the 35-page smutty and salacious document, which purports that the Russians had compromised him personally and financially, more than nine months ago. Was it because the dossier had floated back into the news because Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson had refused to testify and he’s a reflexive beast? Or because he worries that the investigations may be used to unlock his secrets? Or is it just a new tactic in his campaign to undercut its origin?

Trump may claim that the contents of the dossier have been discredited, but as Reuters’ Mark Hosenball wrote last week, elements of the dossier may have been denied but none of it has been disproved. Trump reliably affixes the “fake” label to every utterance he dislikes or finds threatening, and the dossier abounds with potentially damaging assertions like, “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years.” By jumping up and down with the fury of a Yosemite Sam, is Trump really confirming the accuracy and potency of the dossier?

Even if you sympathize with Trump’s position that the dossier is fake, the rest of the tweet makes no sense. It resembles the “broken wing act” that killdeers put on to deter beasts of prey from attacking their newly hatched chicks—lookee here, lookee here, not over there! Logically speaking, in what universe could the Russians have paid a former British spy to compile the dossier? Trump likes Putin. Putin likes Trump. In what hall of mirrors would it make sense for the Russians to hire Fusion GPS to produce a file that documented or purported to document how it had compromised Trump? And if Trump has acquired evidence of such skullduggery, shouldn’t he be goosing his attorney general with it instead of fashioning it into an early morning tweet?

And what gives Trump the idea that the FBI paid for the dossier? We know he takes a fluid approach to the facts, adapting bits and pieces from true stories into fresh lies. Remember back in March when he accused President Barack Obama of having wiretapped him in Trump Tower? We have since learned that he inflated a true story—that his one-time campaign director, Paul Manafort had been subjected to a FISA surveillance warrant—into the claim that Obama wiretapped him.

We can find a sliver of truth in Trump’s “the FBI paid for the dossier” line, but it’s as sturdy as a wet Kleenex. The FBI did pay the former British spy for information in October 2016 to further its understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 election, but hell’s bells, that’s not remotely close to having the FBI bankrolling the whole project. Trump remains the guy who deliberately confuses lightning bugs with lightning to get himself out of a jam.

Similarly, Trump’s belief that the Democrats are behind the dossier contains a dram of truth. The dossier’s murky provenance seems to indicate that its original client was a “wealthy Republican donor who opposed” Trump, but that once Trump locked up the party’s nomination, the Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton became the new patrons. Nobody seems to know their identities for sure except Glenn Simpson and he ain’t talking—he refused to tell the Senate investigators in August. But how on earth could the Russians and the FBI and the Democrats have teamed up on the dossier, as Trump surmises? How exactly would an international conspiracy like that work?

By stitching all of these unmatched remnants into a hypothetical conspiracy, Trump seeks to undermine not the investigators on Capitol Hill or those working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, but the public. He’s like a kid with a box of kitchen matches riding his trail bike through a dry forest, stopping every 100 yards to play pyromaniac and then bicycling on. He had better hope that the winds don’t shift and fires end up crisping him.

“The whole Russia thing was an excuse for the Democrats losing the election,” Trump said at the White House this week before calling for Mueller’s investigation to wrap. “So there has been absolutely no collusion. … They ought to get to the end of it because I think the American public is sick of it.” Of course, as the Washington Post reported, Mueller’s job covers more than just collusion, including obstruction of justice and other possible crimes. Is political arson conducted with words instead of matches a crime?

Trump wasn’t alone this week in taking liberties with the Russia facts. His CIA director, Mike Pompeo, alleged that U.S. intelligence had determined that Russian interference in the 2016 had not altered the outcome when that’s not what the intelligence community stated in its January 2017 report. The report was agnostic on whether the Russians changed the outcome. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions projected a “What, me worry?” attitude about stopping future Russian intrusions into the American political process. “So what steps has the department taken” to prevent a replay of 2016, asked Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). Sessions, who had famously trouble getting his story right about when and why he met with the Russian ambassador, offered nothing of substance to Sasse. Call him the arsonist’s accomplice.

Trump moved this week to reduce investigative pressure on him by personally interviewing two candidates for U.S. attorney positions in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“It is neither normal nor advisable for Trump to personally interview candidates for US Attorney positions, especially the one in Manhattan,” tweeted Preet Bharara, former Manhattan U.S. attorney who was sacked by Trump earlier this year. These jurisdictions would have authority to bring indictments against Trump, noted Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), saying that the moves “seems to smack of political interference.”

Isn’t it always the guy who with a bad kitchen-matches habit who ends up ordering an asbestos suit?


Lightning bug with lightning—I lifted that from Mark Twain. Send live lightning bugs to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts believe everything they read, my Twitter feed is a Russian bot, and my RSS feed has seceded from the column.

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.


Trump says he’ll allow the release of classified JFK assassination files

President John F. Kennedy addresses members of the Peace Corps staff and other officials at a meeting in Washington on June 14, 1962.

President John F. Kennedy addresses members of the Peace Corps staff and other officials at a meeting in Washington on June 14, 1962. | Harvey Georges/AP

President Donald Trump on Saturday said that “subject to the receipt of further information” he will release classified files related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.” the president tweeted at 8:34 a.m.

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The long-secret files are scheduled to be released by the National Archives next week as the 25-year deadline set by Congress expires.

Whether Trump chooses to release the files – or select information from the likely heavily redacted documents – has been a matter of some speculation.

Administration officials have said that releasing the files might expose information pertinent to American law enforcement operations in the recent past, with potential ramifications for national security and foreign policy.

White House spokeswoman Linsday Walters told POLITICO Magazine that the administration was working “to ensure that the maximum amount of data can be released to the public” by next Thursday, Oct. 26.


Trump: Wilson ‘killing the Democratic Party’ amid gold-star family feud

President Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

“I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!” President Trump tweeted Saturday morning. | Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images

The controversy follows Trump’s own remarks to reporters that previous presidents were remiss in their treatment of gold-star families.

President Donald Trump on Saturday continued the White House’s ongoing war of words with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) over his response to the deaths of four U.S. troops in Niger.

“I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!” President Trump tweeted Saturday morning.

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The tweet follows a week of back and forth between Wilson, Trump, White House chief of staff John Kelly and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders over the president’s condolence call to the widow of a Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush on U.S. troops in Niger.

At a White House press briefing Friday, Sanders made a reference to Wilson as “all hat, no cattle.”

Sanders came under fire after the briefing for saying it was “inappropriate” for the media to challenge Kelly’s Thursday account of Wilson’s 2015 dedication of an FBI field office, in which he alleged she sought credit for securing funding for the building.

“You know, I feel sorry for Gen. Kelly. He has my sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can’t just go on TV and lie on me,” Wilson said Friday on CNN’s “New Day.”

Kelly, a former Marine Corps general whose own son was killed in action in 2010 in Afghanistan, told reporters Thursday that he was “brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing,” accusing Wilson of politicizing Johnson’s death.

The controversy follows Trump’s own remarks to reporters that previous presidents were remiss in their treatment of gold-star families.


Madrid unveils plan to take direct control of Catalonia

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks during a press conference after an extraordinary cabinet meeting at Moncloa Palace on October 21, 2017 in Madrid | Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Rajoy says Catalan cabinet will be dismissed and elections held within six months.

MADRID — The Spanish government has hit back hard in its battle with Catalonia’s pro-independence leadership.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Saturday Madrid will dismiss the whole Catalan cabinet, assume all the powers of the regional executive, limit the powers of the Catalan parliament and call regional elections within six months.

Rajoy’s decision is the latest move in a power struggle with the Catalan government, following a disputed independence referendum on October 1. The Catalan government says the vote gave it a mandate to declare independence; Madrid and the country’s courts says the referendum was illegal and invalid.

Rajoy unveiled the unprecedented plan to take over the running of Catalonia’s government under the framework of article 155 of the Spanish constitution after an urgent meeting of his cabinet that approved the measures to be sent to the senate.

The upper chamber of the parliament will start processing Madrid’s petition the same day and is expected to give the green light in a plenary session in the coming days.

Rajoy blamed the secessionist Catalan government led by regional president Carles Puigdemont for the “exceptional” situation, saying the regional executive had sought “confrontation.”

“I’m under the impression that … some wanted to reach this situation,” he said. “It wasn’t our intention.”

It is not immediately clear how Puigdemont will respond. In a letter this week, he suggested the Catalan parliament could approve a formal declaration of independence in response to the central government’s actions. Others have suggested a reshuffle of the regional cabinet or a snap election.

Puigdemont has insisted that the referendum on October 1 provides a “mandate” to break with Spain. According to Catalan government figures, which have not been verified by an independent body, 43 percent of Catalans cast a ballot and 90 percent chose secession in the vote.


Spanish cabinet meets to revoke self-government in Catalonia

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is pictured. | Getty Images

Speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting, Rajoy said his government had no choice after Catalonia’s separatist government acted in a way that was “unilateral, contrary to the law and seeking confrontation” in holding a banned independence referendum. | Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

BARCELONA, Spain — The Spanish government is activating a previously untapped constitutional article to take control of the Catalonia region in a bid to stop a rebellion from separatist politicians.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Cabinet is meeting Saturday to outline the scope and timing of the measures the government plans to take under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.

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The article allows central authorities to intervene when one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions fails to comply with the law.

Rajoy could force the removal of Catalan officials and call early regional elections for as soon as January.

Opposition parties have agreed to support him in revoking Catalonia’s autonomy. The specific measures need approval from the country’s Senate.