FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
March 13, 2017

President Trump can (and did) make Preet Bharara vacate his office as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York — firing him on Saturday after Bharara refused to resign. But he can't make him go quietly.

The Moreland Commission was set up by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in July 2013 to investigate corruption in state politics — then abruptly disbanded by Cuomo in March 2014 after, The New York Times reports, "Cuomo had hobbled its work, intervening when it focused on groups with ties to the governor or on issues that might reflect poorly on him." Bharara — who successfully prosecuted more than two dozen New York politicians of both parties for corruption, including the leaders of the state Assembly and state Senate — looked into Cuomo's handling of the Moreland Commission but ultimately concluded there was not enough evidence to prove a federal crime.

So Bharara's tweet on Sunday suggests that he was fired while he was investigating either Trump or his allies. On Sunday's This Week, House Government Oversight Committee ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) touched on that possibility:

Without clarification from Bharara, there's only speculation as to what he meant. Bharara had a lot of enemies and critics: on Wall Street, in government, abroad — the leaders of Russia and Turkey had targeted him — and at Fox News, which Bharara was reportedly investigating, along with its former chief, Roger Ailes. The top name floated to replace Bharara is Marc Mukasey, a white-collar defense lawyer who once worked as a prosecutor in the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office; he's also the son of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and a member of Ailes' legal team.

CNN's Jeffrey Toobin also noted on Saturday night that Bharara "has been involved in a lot of investigations that are at least peripherally related to Donald Trump," apparently including "some investigations that involve the Trump Organization and Russia." The ongoing investigations in Bharara's office are expected to continue with minimal interruption under career prosecutors, at least for now.

A White House aide criticized Bharara's refusal to resign, telling The Wall Street Journal that all 46 sacked U.S. attorneys were treated in the same way and "45 of the 46 behaved in a manner befitting the office," while "Preet wants everything to be about Preet." Reached for comment, Bharara responded: "It was my understanding that the president himself has said anonymous sources are not to be believed." Peter Weber

12:30 p.m. ET
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The company that owns the right to manufacture and distribute Ivanka Trump's clothing line has been secretly relabeling garments as "Adrienne Vittadini Studio" and selling them to discount retailer Stein Mart, The Business of Fashion has learned. The relabeling occurred "without the knowledge or consent of the Ivanka Trump organization," a spokesperson for the distributor, G-III, said in a statement. It isn't immediately clear if Adrienne Vittadini was aware its labels were being swapped into the Ivanka Trump line.

Relabeling designer items for sale in discount stores is a normal, legal practice in the fashion world in order to protect brand names from being associated with less high-end stores. G-III could have theoretically been attempting to protect the Ivanka Trump brand, but with major retailers including Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus dropping the Ivanka Trump line, claiming weak sales, G-III might have possibly been trying to avoid associations with Ivanka Trump's name instead. "According to a source within Stein Mart, the retailer has received negative feedback from customers regarding Ivanka Trump products, with one customer spitting on a blouse in front of a cashier before storming out of a store," BOF reports.

Stein Mart's chief executive said the relabeling wasn't about politics. "We've had both labels for a while. We may see more Adrienne Vittadini in the short term," he said. "I've had an equal number of [customers] say that they don't want and do want [the Ivanka Trump merchandise] in the store. If we get it, we get." Jeva Lange

11:58 a.m. ET

Three hours later, President Trump finally let America know what could happen to the country if his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall doesn't become a reality. For those who haven't been hanging onto Trump's every tweet, he started his Twitter musings about the wall earlier this morning:

Mysteriously, he ended his tweet with what appeared to be the first word of a new sentence, foreshadowing a part two. But for three hours that sentence went unfinished, during which time Trump chatted with NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson about sending people to Mars, got grossed out at the thought of astronauts drinking their own urine, and presumably brainstormed the hashtag #BuildTheWall.

Finally, here's the rest of Trump's tweet about the wall — which he claims is the only real solution to America's drug problem. Becca Stanek

11:38 a.m. ET

It's apparently never too early to start pointing fingers. Ahead of Congress' deadline Friday to pass a budget or face a government shutdown, Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisted that it would be Democrats' fault if the latter happens because of their pledge to block any bill that includes funding for President Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall. "The way the system works is whenever the government is shut down, people blame the Republicans," Sessions said Monday in an interview on Fox & Friends. "But it will be the Democrats who shut down the government to block the funding for the wall. That's what the question is. Are they going to shut the government down?"

Sessions pointed to Democrats' opposition to Trump's plan to a multibillion-dollar wall as evidence the left isn't interested in addressing the nation's issues. "Whenever you come up with anything that actually fixed the problems, that is what does not pass," Sessions said. "They'll pass anything as long as it doesn't work."

Catch a snippet of Sessions' interview below. Becca Stanek

10:53 a.m. ET

President Trump video-called the International Space Station on Monday, as one does, and he had some pretty pressing questions he wanted answered. "Um, Mars," Trump began. "What do you see [as a timeline] for actually sending humans to Mars? Is there a schedule and when would you see that happening?"

On the other end of the line was astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has just broken the record for logging the most time in space of any American. Casually bobbing in the ISS, she told Trump: "Well, I think as your bill directed, it will be sometime in approximately the 2030s."

She added: "Unfortunately, space flight takes a lot of time and money, so getting there will require some international cooperation, to get it to be a planet-wide approach, in order to make it successful … but it is so worthwhile doing."

That wasn't cutting it for Trump. "Well we want to try to do it during my first term, or at worst during my second term," he said with a smile. "So we'll have to speed that up a little, okay?" Jeva Lange

10:36 a.m. ET

Space is really cool but it also definitely has its uncool parts, like having to drink your own urine. President Trump found that out the hard way when he called the International Space Station on Monday to talk to NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.

"Water is such a precious resource up here that we are ... cleaning up our own urine and making it drinkable," Whitson explained to the commander-in-chief. And because you were obviously curious, she added: "It's really not as bad as it sounds!"

The camera cut back to a giggling Trump. "Well that's good, I'm glad to hear that," he said. "Better you than me." Jeva Lange

10:35 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama announced in December that the Iranian-born prisoners released under the Iran nuclear agreement were "civilians" who were "not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses." But a Politico report published Monday revealed that might not have been the case:

In reality, some of them were accused by Obama's own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran. [Politico]

The prisoners were released in exchange for the freedom of five Americans. In addition to the seven men who were released, court filings reveal the Justice Department also "dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives," Politico reported. Three were charged with trying to lease a Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that allegedly supports Hezbollah; another was accused of attempting to buy and import thousands of assault rifles into Iran; and another was believed to have helped a network in "providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED." But "the biggest fish," Politico reported, was Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who was charged with getting "thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China," including "hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran."

Experts contend the Obama administration went ahead because it was so concerned with the success of the Iran deal. "There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime," said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate. "The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage."

Read more at Politico. Becca Stanek

10:15 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

How do President Trump's first 100 days stack up against the presidents of yore? Not so great, as it turns out. Presidential historians who spoke with NPR ruled Trump "an entry-level president" and practically unfit to even be a White House intern.

"This man is without experience, and it's showing," said historian Robert Dallek, who has studied leaders ranging from Roosevelt to Reagan. "Particularly in his dealings with Congress, he's been an utter failure in the sense that he's gotten nothing passed. He's issuing all sorts of executive orders, like immigration limits; they're failing. The attempt to get health-care reform failed. I'd give him failing marks for his 100 days."

Richard Norton Smith has written several presidential biographies, including one on Herbert Hoover, who, like Trump, was a businessman before taking office. But "the problem with people who say we need a businessman is that the government isn't a business," Smith said, adding: "Profit-loss statements don't take into account the irrationality of Kim Jong Un. Corporate budgets don't have to allow for military defense. All these kinds of perfectly rational expectations that apply in a corporate world are rarely applicable in the less-than-rational world of politics."

The director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia, Barbara Perry, said it is even too generous to call Trump an "entry-level president." "Unless he would be an intern, he would not have a position in the White House — with no educational experience, no military experience, no government, no political experience, most of it was running for president."

She described his learning curve in office as "Mount Everest." "It's as steep as they come and ice-covered, and he didn't bring very many knowledgeable Sherpas with him," Perry told NPR. Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads