White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has severely mishandled the allegations of domestic abuse against former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, numerous White House aides and advisers told The Washington Post, so much so that one said it "amounts to dereliction of duty."
Last week, Porter's two ex-wives came forward and said Porter had physically and verbally abused them during their marriages. Kelly first defended Porter, and the White House eventually landed on a timeline that had Porter's background investigation ongoing through his departure. In front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray contradicted this version of events, saying the White House received a partial background report on Porter last March, with the full report sent in July.
Several people told the Post that in the wake of the Porter fiasco, President Trump has been asking about possible replacements for Kelly, and many senior staffers say they believe that Kelly told them to offer a misleading timeline about the Porter accusations. He's a "big fat liar," one staffer said of the retired four-star Marine Corps general. "To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty."
Kelly does not believe he should be blamed for the fallout, one confidant told the Post, and he thinks the White House communications office should take some responsibility. He also gets defensive when discussing the matter and complains that the media is making a bigger deal out of the allegations than is necessary, several people told the Post. When asked by the Post if Kelly could have been more transparent or truthful, one staffer responded: "In this White House, it's simply not in our DNA. Truthful and transparent is great, but we don't even have a coherent strategy to obfuscate." Read more about the debacle at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia
The Kushner Cos. confirmed Thursday it received a federal grand jury subpoena for information related to its paperwork on rent-regulated tenants in its buildings in New York City, The Wall Street Journal reports. The subpoena came shortly after The Associated Press reported that the company, which is run by the family of President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, routinely filed false papers with the city claiming there were no rent-regulated tenants in the buildings, even though there were hundreds.
The Kushner Cos. issued a statement saying it has "nothing to hide and is cooperating fully with all legitimate requests for information, including this subpoena." Harold Maass
Trump was reportedly furious with Michael Flynn for making Vladimir Putin wait 6 days for a return call
Former FBI Director James Comey's contemporaneous memos of his conversations with President Trump, leaked by Congress on Thursday, less than an hour after the Justice Department handed them over to lawmakers, contain a lot of new details but only a few new revelations. One of those bits of news is that Trump reportedly expressed doubts about short-lived National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during their Jan. 28, 2017, dinner in the White House Green Room. Comey wrote:
[Trump] then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn's judgment and illustrated with a story from that day in which the president apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [redacted] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the president was toasting [British Prime Minister] May, he was explaining that she had been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [redacted] had called (first, apparently). It was then that the president learned of [redacted] call and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment or after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the president that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [redacted] of a country like [redacted]. ("This isn't [redacted] we are talking about.") He said that if he called [redacted] and didn't get a return call for six days he would be very upset. In telling the story, the president pointed his fingers at his head and said "the guy has serious judgment issues." [James Comey memos]
When Forbes launched the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans in 1982, Donald Trump made the cut at $100 million. He and his lawyer Roy Cohn complained to Forbes that $100 million was too small, Jonathan Greenberg, an investigative journalist who interviewed Trump for the issue, recounts in The Washington Post, but decades later, he learned that "Trump was actually worth roughly $5 million" and "should not have been on the first three Forbes 400 lists at all." In 1984, when Trump was pushing to be labeled a billionaire, Greenberg got a call from "John Barron," who assured Greenberg that Trump owned virtually all of his father Fred's real estate assets.
We now know that "John Barron" was Trump's alter-ego — and that Trump is still obsessed with his Forbes ranking — and Greenberg writes that when he recently rediscovered the tapes, "I was amazed that I didn't see through the ruse." In fact, according to Fred Trump's will, he retained 100 percent ownership of his residential empire until his death in 1999. And instead of the 25,000 residential units Donald Trump claimed his family owned, valued at $20,000-$40,000 each, there were 8,000 to 10,000 units, each worth about $9,000, Greenberg said. He added that this deceit mattered:
I was a determined 25-year-old reporter, and I thought that, by reeling Trump back from some of his more outrageous claims, I'd done a public service and exposed the truth. But his confident deceptions were so big that they had an unexpected effect: Instead of believing that they were outright fabrications, my Forbes colleagues and I saw them simply as vain embellishments on the truth. We were so wrong. This was a model Trump would use for the rest of his career, telling a lie so cosmic that people believed that some kernel of it had to be real. The tactic landed him a place on the Forbes list he hadn't earned — and led to future accolades, press coverage, and deals. It eventually paved a path toward the presidency. [The Washington Post]
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal is now free to tell the world more about her purported 10-month extramarital affair with President Trump, and Stephen Colbert took a soft pass on Thursday's Late Show. But he had some thoughts on the debacle involving a Starbucks manager and Philadelphia police arresting two black men who had not purchased anything. The encounter, captured on cellphone video, prompted an apology from the CEO and chairman of Starbucks, and the Philadelphia police.
"That is a grievous racial injustice, and if you witness anything like this, for the love of God, don't film it in portrait mode!" Colbert aid. "Film it in landscape." Police released the 911 call, and it turns out the manager called in the complaint only 2 minutes after the men walked into the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks. "That's only 2 minutes later. 'Hello, 911, I'd like to report 120 seconds of sitting while being black,'" he said. "It's astounding that Starbucks employees would be so racially insensitive — after all, I'm pretty sure their logo is Beyoncé."
But Starbucks is dealing with the issue, closing 8,000 stores for an afternoon in May to instruct employees in "racial-bias education." "Eight thousand stores! That's almost all the locations on this block," Colbert joked. "I just wonder what this training session is going to be like for black Starbucks employees. 'Okay, guys, let's all settle down and listen while this nice white lady from HR tells us what racism is.'"
The Late Show also imagined a scenario in which not all black Starbucks customers would be thrilled with the training session, for a pretty obvious reason. Watch below. Peter Weber
On Friday, South Korea announced that it had set up and successfully tested a hotline that connects President Moon Jae-in with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "The historic direct telephone line between the leaders of the South and North has been connected a short while ago," said South Korean presidential official Youn Kun Young. "The test call went on for 4 minutes and 19 seconds starting at 3:41 p.m. with (officials from) both sides speaking to each other. ... The connection was smooth and the voice quality was very good. It was like calling the next door."
Moon and Kim did not participate in the test call, but they are expected to use it to converse sometime before their historic summit next week. The leaders of North and South Korea have met only twice before since the 1950-53 Korean War. Kim is also in talks to hold a summit with President Trump in early summer, and South Korean officials say Kim has shown genuine willingness to negotiate away his nuclear weapons program. Still, "North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of 'denuclearization' that bears no resemblance to the American definition," The Associated Press notes, and it is not yet known what Kim is willing to put on the table. Peter Weber
Everybody is talking about President Trump's peace efforts with North Korea, Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. "The president is busy preparing for the possible summit by not preparing," he said. "He's gonna wing it with a nuclear madman. That's like your surgeon going, 'We're just going to open you up and improvise.'" But if things don't go well with Kim Jong Un, Trump has an exit strategy. "What does he mean, he'll leave if the meeting is 'not fruitful'?" Colbert asked. "I mean, do either of these guys look like they know what a fruit is?"
Still, Trump may not have any plan when it comes to personal lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen, Colbert said. "Apparently, Trump and his advisers are increasingly worried that Cohen might be susceptible to cooperating with federal prosecutors. The obvious answer: Michael Cohen just pays himself $130,000 to shut up."
One of Trump's legal advisers wondered how many years in prison Cohen would have to face to flip, and Colbert found the upper range a little implausible: "Fifteen-years loyal? Michael Cohen disclosed Sean Hannity's name in court after being asked twice. He's not 5-minutes loyal. And let's just pause a moment to notice that they have jumped immediately to whether Michael Cohen will turn state's evidence against the president of the United States to avoid jail time — which everybody believes is coming for at least one of these guys. The word 'innocent' is nowhere in this conversation. Even Justice is like, 'I'm blind, but I can smell fear.'" He had some advice for Cohen, too, and it involved not fishing on Lake Tahoe. Watch below. Peter Weber
"Well, a coordinated smear campaign is underway against both Robert Mueller and James Comey, a joint effort by the president's supporters and Fox News, two groups which are increasingly indistinguishable from one another," Anderson Cooper said on CNN Thursday night. "The smear campaign includes a number of claims that are just plain false — the whole thing's frankly kind of weird, so stay with me here."
Cooper began with the quickly debunked claim by President Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski that Comey had been in charge of the FBI during the Boston Marathon bombing — a story that, when confronted, he changed to something about Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. Lewandoski was just trying to "grasp at another straw in this bale of B.S.," Cooper said, and he traced the Bulger thread back to Alan Dershowitz, who was talking about Mueller. Dershowitz walked back his Mueller claim, but "of course, by then, the genie was out of the bottle, and the president's supporters, hellbent on smearing the Russian investigation, have taken said genie and run with it," he added. "And you know what that means — enter Sean Hannity." You can watch Cooper walk through and pull down these two allegations below. Peter Weber