Posts Tagged ‘John Kelly’

Congressional leaders get briefings on Russia probe

May 25, 2018

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have gotten classified briefings about the origins of the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a highly unusual series of meetings prompted by partisan allegations that the bureau spied on Donald Trump’s campaign.

Democrats emerged from the meetings saying they saw no evidence to support Republican allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately, although they did express grave concern about the presence of a White House lawyer at Thursday’s briefings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News he had learned “nothing particularly surprising,” but declined to go into detail.

Still, the extraordinary briefings drew attention to the unproved claims of FBI misconduct and political bias. The meetings were sought by Trump’s GOP allies and arranged by the White House, as the president has tried to sow suspicions about the legitimacy of the FBI investigation that spawned a special counsel probe. Initially offered only to Republicans, the briefings were the latest piece of stagecraft meant to publicize and bolster the allegations. But they also highlighted the degree to which the president and his allies have used the levers of the federal government — in this case, intelligence agencies — to aide in Trump’s personal and political defense.

President Donald Trump says he wants transparency from everyone involved in the investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. Trump insisted Wednesday, “what I want is total transparency.” (May 23)

Video:

https://apnews.com/fc99009f9f0b42aba27a87ee0b2d19f2/Congressional-leaders-get-briefings-on-Russia-probe

Under direct pressure from the president, Justice Department officials agreed to grant Republicans a briefing, and only later opened it up to Democrats. The invite list evolved up until hours before the meeting — a reflection of the partisan distrust and the political wrangling. A White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly showed up for both briefings, although the White House had earlier said it would keep a distance, drawing criticism from Democrats.

“For the record, the president’s chief of staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the president’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing,” Sen. Mark Warner tweeted after the briefing.

The White House said the officials didn’t attend the full briefings, but instead delivered brief remarks communicating the “president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law” and relaying “the president’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government,” according to a statement.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats attended both meetings — the first at the Department of Justice and the second on Capitol Hill.

Trump has zeroed in on, and at times embellished, reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election. The president intensified his attacks this week, calling it “spygate” and tweeting Thursday that it was “Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”

It was unclear how much information was given to lawmakers. According to a U.S. official familiar with the meeting, the briefers did not reveal the name of an informant. They brought documents but did not share them, and made several remarks about the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The person declined to be identified because the briefing was classified.

In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn’t say what he learned, but said he looked forward to the “prompt completion” of the House Intelligence Committee’s work now that they are “getting the cooperation necessary.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, had originally requested the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. The original meeting was scheduled for just Nunes and Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but the Justice Department relented and allowed additional lawmakers to come after Democrats strongly objected.

Nunes and other Republicans already eager to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation used Trump’s complaints to obtain the briefing from the Justice Department, whose leaders have tried for months to balance demands from congressional overseers against their stated obligation to protect Mueller’s ongoing investigation into ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

Nunes attended both briefings Thursday. According to the U.S. official and another person briefed on the Capitol Hill meeting, Nunes did not speak at all during the briefing. The second person also declined to be named because the meeting was classified.

Democratic lawmakers declined to comment on the substance of the briefing, but gave a joint statement afterward saying their view had not changed that “there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”

The statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Warner and Rep. Adam Schiff.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr also attended the briefing but did not comment afterward.

The back and forth between Congress and the Justice Department has simmered for weeks.

The Justice Department had rejected Nunes’ original request, writing in a letter in April that his request for information could put lives in danger.

Negotiations over release of the information stalled but restarted when Trump demanded, via tweet, on Sunday that the Justice Department investigate.

In response to the tweet, the Justice Department immediately asked its inspector general to expand its ongoing investigation to look into whether there was any politically motivated surveillance of the campaign and agreed to hold the classified briefings.

It remained unclear what, if any, spying was done. The White House gave no evidence to support Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama’s administration was trying to spy on his 2016 campaign for political reasons.

It’s long been known that the FBI was looking into Russian meddling during the campaign and that part of that inquiry touched on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian figures. Mueller took over the investigation when he was appointed special counsel in May 2017.

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Jonathan Lemire, Lisa Mascaro, Chad Day and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

AP

https://apnews.com/fc99009f9f0b42aba27a87ee0b2d19f2/Congressional-leaders-get-briefings-on-Russia-probe

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Trump Should Get Details on Informant Before Mueller Interview, Giuliani Says

May 20, 2018

President’s lawyer seeks information about person said to have been used by U.S. investigators

Rudy Giuliani in November 2016.
Rudy Giuliani in November 2016. PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Donald Trump shouldn’t agree to talk with special counsel Robert Mueller without knowing more about a man said to have approached Trump campaign aides in 2016 as part of the U.S. investigation into Russian election interference, his lawyer said Saturday.

Rudy Giuliani said Mr. Trump could be “walking into a trap” unless federal prosecutors make clear the role played by the suspected informant and whether the person compiled any “incriminating information” about Mr. Trump’s associates.

Mr. Giuliani’s comments suggest the Trump legal team is seeking leverage in the latest rounds of monthslong negotiations with Mr. Mueller about the terms under which the president would testify.

“What we intend to do is premise it on, ‘If you want an interview, we need an answer to this,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview.

In recent days, Mr. Trump and his allies have been moving more aggressively to try to discredit the Russia investigation, edging closer to a collision with the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation. They have seized on reports about the informant as evidence in their view that the Russia probe is motivated by political animus toward the president and not Russia’s efforts to influence the election outcome.

In a tweet on Saturday, Mr. Trump suggested that federal agents had been “infiltrating” his campaign “for the benefit of” his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. For his part, Mr. Giuliani in the interview said before agreeing to talk, the Trump team would seek to learn more about what he described as a breach of the campaign’s “private communications.”

But former law-enforcement officials have said informants in a probe involving a presidential campaign could be used for law-enforcement or foreign-intelligence purposes, but not for political ends.

The suspected informant met with Trump campaign aides Carter Page and Sam Clovis. Mr. Page had been on the radar of U.S. counterintelligence officials for years over his dealings with Russia, and Mr. Clovis has met with Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors over his involvement with a onetime campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. Neither Mr. Page nor Mr. Clovis have been accused of wrongdoing.

Congressional Republicans are demanding records from the Justice Department about both the informant and other aspects of the investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign. Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Mr. Trump, has gone so far to threaten to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t supply information about the person—an extraordinary threat from a committee chairman to an attorney general of his own party.

Last week, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to turn over the requested information, a person familiar with the matter said. The Justice Department disputed that account of the meeting but declined to elaborate.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), who co-signed a letter to the president on Tuesday asking him to direct the Justice Department to release the records, said in an interview Saturday: “Any instruction that the Justice Department may have gotten from Gen. Kelly is consistent with where I’ve come to understand the president’s position to be.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Rosenstein has at times shown a willingness to meet congressional requests for information. But the department has resisted Mr. Nunes’s latest demand, even during a classified briefing with the congressman last week with intelligence officials. Mr. Nunes didn’t respond to an invitation from the Justice Department to meet with intelligence officials again this week.

Officials have told Mr. Nunes that providing him with the requested information would put lives in danger, hurt investigations and damage international partnerships.

A former senior Justice Department official familiar with the department’s thinking said the requests for information about confidential human sources are a red line for Mr. Rosenstein and others who believe providing such details would set a dangerous precedent.

FBI Director Christopher Wray and Mr. Rosenstein have been making increasingly pointed public statements about the dangers of giving too much access. Mr. Rosenstein has said the Justice Department wouldn’t be “extorted” or succumb to threats, and Mr. Wray this past week added that “the day we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.”

People close to the White House are dismissive of that argument, saying broadly that Justice Department is merely trying to suppress potentially embarrassing information.

Reports of a government informant have migrated in recent days from conservative news outlets to the mainstream press, with the Washington Post and New York Times publishing articles on Friday.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have spent the past several months discussing with Mr. Mueller’s team the parameters of a possible interview, which Mr. Trump had said he is eager to do. The special counsel is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Mr. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction, and Moscow has denied election meddling.

Mr. Page, who was a Trump foreign-policy adviser, said he met with a person who is now believed to be the informant in July 2016. The event, a symposium on the 2016 election, was held at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. on July 11 and 12.

The suspected informant asked to meet Mr. Clovis, a Trump campaign co-chairman who had initially helped assemble the foreign-policy team, in late August 2016, presenting himself as a professor and foreign-policy expert who wanted to help the campaign, according to Victoria Toensing, a lawyer for Mr. Clovis.

The two met just outside Washington, D.C., and discussed China, Ms. Toensing said. “Russia never came up,” she said. “The conversation was only about China.”

Write to Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com and Sadie Gurman at sadie.gurman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-should-get-details-on-informant-before-mueller-interview-giuliani-says-1526814000

Trump Considering John Kelly as Possible Candidate to Lead VA

May 1, 2018

Other candidates being discussed by administration include former GOP congressman Jeff Miller and the CEO of hospital giant Ascension

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly attends U.S. President Donald Trump’s infrastructure meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON—The search for a new Veterans Affairs chief is wide open, with President Donald Trump considering as potential nominees a former Republican congressman, a hospital executive and his White House chief of staff, John Kelly, people familiar with the matter said.

Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president’s doctor, pulled out of the running last week amid allegations of misconduct, and Mr. Trump has publicly said he wants someone with “political capability” to run the 370,000-person department. But another priority is picking…

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-considering-kelly-as-possible-candidate-to-lead-va-1525134722
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 Fox News
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The search for a new Veterans Affairs chief is wide open, with President Donald Trump considering as potential nominees a former Republican congressman, a hospital executive and his White House chief of staff, John Kelly, people familiar with the matter said.

Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president’s doctor, pulled out of the running last week amid allegations of misconduct, and Trump has publicly said he wants someone with “political capability” to run the 370,000-person department. But another priority is picking someone with a strong chance of winning Senate confirmation, a person close to the White House said.

Kelly, who took over as chief of staff last year with a mandate to bring discipline to a White House beset by infighting, is a retired Marine general who previously served as secretary of homeland security. The Senate confirmed him for the homeland security post 88-11.

“There have been discussions among the senior staff and the president directly about the possibility of Gen. Kelly going there [to the VA],” one person familiar with the matter said.

Trump has chafed at times under Kelly’s methods, finding ways to bypass him when talking to other White House aides.

Yet moving Kelly to a cabinet post would add disruption to a White House marked by record-setting turnover.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the president might tap Kelly for the job.

On Monday, NBC News reported that Kelly had insulted the president’s intelligence and called the president “an idiot.” Kelly put out a rare statement calling the story “total BS.”

“I spend more time with the president than anyone else and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship,” he said. “I am committed to the president, his agenda, and our country.”

The president sent out a tweet Monday night that appeared to back up Kelly. He made reference to a CNN story that quoted Kelly as calling the president “unhinged.”

“The Fake News is going crazy making up false stories and using only unnamed sources (who don’t exist). They are totally unhinged …” he wrote.

Another candidate in the mix for the VA post is  Anthony Tersigni, the president and chief executive of U.S. hospital giant Ascension, according to people familiar with the matter.

Tersigni, 68, has some backing inside the Trump administration. He was an early advocate of a program created by Congress in 2014 to allow veterans to get care outside VA facilities under some circumstances, following a scandal over wait times for veterans.

Tersigni called for “a solid public-private partnership” under the new program in The Hill days after former President Barack Obama signed the program into law. Ascension has since seen about 10,000 veterans through the program.

A spokesman for Ascension said Tersigni declined to comment. Tersigni’s consideration for the job was first reported by Modern Healthcare.

Also on the shortlist is former Florida congressman Jeff Miller, who supported the president in the 2016 campaign. Miller chaired the House Veterans Affairs Committee before leaving Congress in 2017 and was one of the president’s informal advisers on veterans’ issues during the campaign.

Miller declined to comment.

Meantime, Jackson’s future in the president’s orbit is for now uncertain. He gave up his position as Trump’s personal physician when he was nominated to be VA chief. Dr. Sean Conley, a Navy officer, took his place.

Jackson, after dropping his bid to win Senate confirmation, resumed his work at the White House Medical Unit, White House officials said. He has denied the allegations of misconduct, and aides said he planned to spend a few days discussing his future options with his family.

Before becoming the VA nominee, the Navy rear admiral had talked about retiring, officials said, and he could take that step. He could also ask to return to his role as the president’s doctor, though officials didn’t believe that to be a likely possibility.

Jackson has been nominated to the rank of two-star admiral. He remains a candidate for a second star, the Navy said, and is awaiting Senate confirmation.

 

The Jackson nomination fight has spilled into one of the battlegrounds in the midterm elections: the Montana senate race.

Democrat Jon Tester, who is up for reelection, first publicized allegations that Jackson had liberally dispensed prescription drugs, earning him the nickname, “The Candyman.”

The White House on Friday said its own review of relevant audits and police records showed no support for the claims.

Trump has called for voters to punish Tester by voting him out of office. In the 2016 presidential race, Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in Montana by about 20 percentage points.

“Tester should lose race in Montana. Very dishonest and sick!” the president tweeted over the weekend.

Appearing at a rally in Michigan on Saturday night, Trump described Tester as someone who could “destroy a man with innuendo …”

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/05/01/trump-considering-kelly-as-possible-candidate-to-lead-va.html

Trump was talked out of pulling U.S. troops from South Korea ahead of Pyeongchang Olympics, report says

May 1, 2018
Report: John Kelly talked Trump out of withdrawing US troops from South Korea

White House chief of staff and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly talked President Trump out of ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula earlier this year, according to a report Monday by NBC News.

According to two officials cited in the NBC report, Kelly and Trump had a “heated exchange” before February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, and Kelly strongly persuaded Trump to not order the withdrawal, which would have had historic implications on decades-old regional alliances and North Korean deterrence efforts.

Multiple officials said Kelly’s success in talking Trump out of undoing decades of U.S. foreign policy was another example of Kelly’s common refrain that, “I’m the one saving the country,” NBC reports.

“The strong implication being ‘if I weren’t here we would’ve entered WWIII or the president would have been impeached,’” one former senior White House official was quoted as saying in the report.

Kelly has made similar comments to legislators, and he has mocked what he views as Trump’s lack of policy and government knowledge, according to current and former officials, NBC reports.

The report also notes that Kelly has eroded morale in the West Wing and referred to Trump as “an idiot” multiple times, although other unnamed sources in the report dispute that.

While Kelly has cultivated a public image as a squared-away four-star general, NBC reports that he has been undisciplined and indiscreet as chief of staff.

Nine months into the job, Kelly could become the next high-level staffer to depart the Trump administration, according to the NBC report.

Monday’s report isn’t the first time that Trump’s attitudes toward U.S. troops in South Korea has come to light.

The Washington Post reported in March that Trump threatened to pull the roughly 30,000 U.S. troops out of South Korea if he didn’t get his way on trade.

“We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military,” Trump said at a fundraising speech. “We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2018/04/30/report-john-kelly-talked-trump-out-of-withdrawing-us-troops-from-south-korea/

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See also:

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/05/01/asia-pacific/trump-talked-pulling-u-s-troops-south-korea-ahead-pyeongchang-olympics-report-says/

Trump Is Said to Ask EPA Chief Scott Pruitt About Controversies — Will he be fired?

April 7, 2018

Bloomberg

By Margaret Talev and Jennifer A Dlouhy

  • President has seen condo lease documents, official says
  • As accusations swirl, conservatives rally to Pruitt’s defense
Scott Pruitt.Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

President Donald Trump asked Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about the controversies surrounding him during a White House meeting on Friday, an administration official said.

The official, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal administration matters, said that the president had also reviewed the lease documents for a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium that Pruitt had rented from a lobbyist last year.

The topic of the White House meeting was supposed to be federal fuel economy standards, and three administration officials said that were discussed as well.

Pruitt has also been under fire over his explanation of how two close aides secured raises worth tens of thousands of dollars a year over the White House’s objection, and reports that several EPA staff who questioned him were transferred to other jobs.

Pruitt’s former landlord, Vicki Hart, does not have clients with business before the EPA, but the lobbying firm of her husband, J. Steven Hart, has several corporate clients that do.

Pruitt has come under criticism as well for taking first-class flights and having a 24-hour security detail, which his predecessors did not have. At least 20 employees were placed on the detail, some of them reassigned from field work, according a letter from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat. The Associated Press reported on Friday evening that the security costs mran into the millions.

Yet even as accusations of ethical lapses swirl around the EPA chief, conservative stars have been coming out in force to save the job of a zealous advocate of their small-government movement engulfed by allegations of ethical lapses.

Prominent Republicans and leaders of the Tea Party movement — from publishing executive Steve Forbes to Senator Rand Paul — are writing op-eds, posting on Twitter, and picking up the phone to personally beseech the president to keep Pruitt at the helm of the EPA.

“He’s a conservative hero,” Dallas investor Doug Deason, whose family has given millions to right-wing candidates, said of Pruitt. “It would be a huge mistake to do anything other than come out and support him.”

High-profile business leaders including billionaire Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm have also been enlisted to make personal entreaties, and tell the president that Pruitt has done more than other top administration official to ease federal regulations standing in the way of manufacturing, mining, and drilling.

Right Versus Left

The right’s fondness for Pruitt is matched by the animosity he inspires among the political left. Environmentalists have campaigned against him since his confirmation in February 2017, casting him as an unabashed ally of corporate polluters who is dismantling regulations essential to safeguard the land, air and water.

Earlier: EPA Chief in Fox Grilling Denies Knowing Who Raised Aides’ Pay

“It’s a pretty sad statement of the priorities of these right-wing ideologues that they think someone who is clearly unethical and has no respect for taxpayers or the law is okay to keep around, as long as he pushes their dangerous agenda,” said John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s senior director of federal policy. “Pruitt has been nothing more than their puppet, putting public health at risk to help corporate polluter’s bottom line, and this is exactly why he needs to go.”

Publicly, Trump has offered praise for Pruitt, telling reporters Thursday that he had confidence in the embattled EPA chief and calling him “very courageous” amid a barrage of damaging revelations. Trump underscored that on Friday with a post on Twitter saying Pruitt “is doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege.”

Nevertheless, Pruitt’s standing at the White House is far from secure.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Trump last week that Pruitt needed to go but the president is resisting firing him, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Timesreported.

Forbes and Meese

The conservative counter-effort involves darlings of the right. Edwin Meese III, an attorney general in the Reagan administration, former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, and more than 100 other prominent leaders on the right issued a memoFriday highlighting Pruitt’s policy accomplishments and casting the EPA leader as instrumental to the president’s mission to slash through Washington bureaucracy.

Forbes, the millionaire chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media Inc. who ran for president in 1996 and 2000, wrote an opinion piece for Investor’s Business Daily arguing that Pruitt is under fire simply because he’s been too effective at “boldly redirecting the EPA” and reining in “a once-rogue agency that operated far beyond its constitutional authority.”

Kenneth Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate, lent his voice to a roundup of praise for Pruitt circulated by the powerful conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks. The group also is recruiting conservative voices to join the cause, with a Twitter campaign urging supporters to call the White House switchboard with endorsements of the EPA chief.

CRC Public Relations, headed by Greg Mueller, the communications director for Pat Buchanan when he ran for president, has joined the fray. The Alexandria, Virginia, firm, has circulated talking points and highlighted pro-Pruitt commentary.

At the same time, Pruitt’s defenders have been making a political argument, with some warning that Trump’s support in Republican presidential primaries two years from now could be undermined if he jettisons one of the most conservative members of his cabinet.

His supporters have also warned that getting any replacement approved by the Senate — much less one as dogged as Pruitt — could be impossible.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-07/trump-is-said-to-ask-epa-chief-scott-pruitt-about-controversies

What’s Driving Trump’s Attacks on Amazon? It’s Personal — “The president’s view is, ‘You want to play with me in the sandbox, then you better put on your helmet, pack a lunch and bring your flashlight.’”

April 6, 2018

President’s attacks on e-commerce company stem from its CEO Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post, which Trump says covers him unfairly, say people close to the White House

President Trump last year participated in a technology roundtable in Washington with executives including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, right, who also owns the Washington Post. In the middle is Microsoft CEO Satya Narayan.
President Trump last year participated in a technology roundtable in Washington with executives including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, right, who also owns the Washington Post. In the middle is Microsoft CEO Satya Narayan. PHOTO: CHRIS KLEPONIS/DPA/ZUMA PRESS

Early in President Donald Trump’s term, when White House officials heard him complain vociferously about Amazon.com Inc. they arranged private briefings in the Oval Office to make sure that he would talk knowledgeably about the company.

Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser, and other officials gave PowerPoint presentations and briefing papers they believed debunked his concerns that Amazon was dodging taxes and exploiting the U.S. Postal Service.

It made little difference. Mr. Trump persisted in attacks that ran counter to the material they had showed him.

“It’s not the narrative he wants,” one person familiar with the matter said of the White House briefings.  “He clearly didn’t find it persuasive because he keeps saying it’s untrue.”

In the past week, the president has turned what were sporadic and often private criticisms into a sustained volley of tweets against the company, often causing stock market fluctuations.

Fueling Mr. Trump’s ire is not so much Amazon, the online giant that is revamping the retail industry, but the company’s Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, people close to the White House say.

Mr. Trump sees Mr. Bezos’s hand in newspaper coverage he dislikes and is lashing out at Amazon as a proxy, these people said.

A Post spokeswoman, asked for a response, referred to quotes from the paper’s leadership in a story published Thursday. In that piece, publisher Frederick J. Ryan Jr. said that Mr. Bezos has “never proposed a story.”

“Jeff has never intervened in a story. He’s never critiqued a story. He’s not directed or proposed editorials or endorsements,” Mr. Ryan said.

Amazon declined to comment. But the company says it collects sales taxes on its own inventory in all 45 states that have this type of tax and has voluntarily started collecting taxes in some municipalities. Many small businesses selling products on Amazon’s site don’t collect sales taxes outside of the states where they are based.

Still, the president stepped up his attack on Thursday, tweeting about the company and telling reporters aboard an Air Force One flight home from West Virginia: “Amazon is just not on an even playing field. They have a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having the Washington Post, which is, as far as I’m concerned, another lobbyist.”

“Look at the sales tax situation,” Mr. Trump added, suggesting the company doesn’t pay its fair share of them.

Mr. Trump’s most recent statements prompted White House aides to go back to him this week to tell him his Amazon critique might be “missing the point,” a White House official said. In response, Mr. Trump has been “digging in,” this person said.

In past briefings, Mr. Trump’s advisers have told him how Amazon pays taxes, the person familiar with the matter said.

The president’s advisers similarly have presented financial data that shows the Postal Service’s financial woes are being caused by forces other than Amazon: notably that people are sending far fewer letters.

The Postal Service has suffered a decline in revenue from first class mail delivery of about 7% in the fiscal year that ended in November. Meantime, it has had strong growth in package delivery, the category that would account for Amazon and many other online retailers, with revenue growing 11% during the same fiscal year to November.

Mr. Trump’s disdain for the media isn’t limited to the Post. He also routinely denounces the New York Times, CNN and other outlets as “fake news.”

The president’s most recent flurry of tweets targeting Amazon has coincided with publication of Washington Post stories he dislikes.

Over the past week, Mr. Trump has privately complained about two particular Post stories, White House aides and others said: a March 30 article that documented problems at a White House office that vets political appointees and another the following day that depicted Mr. Trump acting more independently of chief of staff John Kelly and other “moderating forces.”

During a long weekend at his home at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump complained to his staff about the latter story, a White House official said. The president said it didn’t capture how he is growing more comfortable in the job.

The president had targeted Amazon the day before the first of the two stories appeared, and then sent off five more anti-Amazon tweets through Thursday, sprinkling in criticism of the “Fake News Washington Post.”

Privately, Mr. Trump has “talked about the fact that the Washington Post is solely owned by Jeff Bezos and he [Mr. Bezos] is using that same entity to take on the president and the administration,” said one person who talks to Mr. Trump regularly.

Another person close to the White House said: “Every time there was a bad story it [Amazon] would come up.”

Once Mr. Trump identifies a foe, he attacks, confidants said.

Asked about the president and Mr. Bezos, Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump, said: “The president’s view is, ‘You want to play with me in the sandbox, then you better put on your helmet, pack a lunch and bring your flashlight.’”

What’s not clear is whether Mr. Trump will take actions that would harm Amazon’s business interests.

The company is now vying for a U.S. defense contract potentially worth $10 billion to shift computer services from mainframes to the cloud.

The contract came up in conversation at a private dinner in the White House with Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor, who brought along Oracle Corp. co-CEO Safra Catz, an Amazon rival, a White House official said.

Before the Tuesday dinner, aides privately briefed Mr. Trump and told him Ms. Catz might want to talk to him about the defense contract. He was advised not to engage, but rather to tell her the contract was up to the Defense Department.

Ms. Catz brought the matter up, saying the Pentagon’s process seemed to favor Amazon. Mr. Trump replied that the contract wasn’t up to him but would be awarded by department officials, the White House official said.

Yet in his talk with reporters aboard the plane, Mr. Trump suggested some form of action against Amazon may be taken but didn’t specify what it would address.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “The post office is not doing well with Amazon. … The playing field has to be leveled.”

Write to Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-criticism-of-amazon-its-personal-1523007001

Trump calling his own shots — Be careful what you wish for…. moderating forces mostly gone

April 1, 2018

‘Tired of the wait game’: White House stabilizers gone, Trump calling his own shots

By  Philip Rucker and Robert Costa
The Washington Post

   White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly listens as President Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on March 8. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump is defiant and singularly directing his administration, making hasty decisions and bringing on advisers expected to encourage his instincts.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump began the past workweek cutting into steaks at the White House residence on Monday night with his political soldiers, including former advisers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, strategist Brad Parscale, and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

He ended it dining on the gilded patio of his Mar-a-Lago estate with eccentric boxing promoter Don King, who said he vented to the president about the Stormy Daniels saga. “It’s just utterly ridiculous,” King said he told a nodding Trump on Thursday evening as the president began his holiday weekend in Palm Beach.

Nowhere to be seen was John F. Kelly, the beleaguered White House chief of staff and overall disciplinarian — nor were the handful of advisers regarded as moderating forces eager to restrain the president from acting impulsively, who have resigned or been fired.

The gatherings neatly illustrated an inflection point for the Trump presidency. Fourteen months into the job, Trump is increasingly defiant and singularly directing his administration with the same rapid and brutal style he honed leading his real estate and branding empire.

Trump is making hasty decisions that jolt markets and shock leaders and experts — including those on his own staff. Some confidants are concerned about the situation, while others, unworried, characterize him as unleashed.


President Trump arrives Thursday at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida for the Easter weekend. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

President Trump has nominated Navy Rear Adm. and White House physician Ronny L. Jackson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

The president is replacing aides who have tended toward caution and consensus with figures far more likely to encourage his rash instincts and act upon them, and he is frequently soliciting advice from loyalists outside the government. As he shakes up his administration, Trump is prioritizing personal chemistry above all else, as evidenced by his controversial selection of Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The president is in an action mood and doesn’t want to slow-roll things, from trade to the border to staffing changes,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “He wants to make things that he’s been discussing for a while happen. He’s tired of the wait game.”

This dynamic — detailed in interviews with 23 senior White House officials and outside advisers, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments — is evident in multiple realms.

Trump is domineering his strategy regarding the expanding investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, in effect acting as his own lawyer. He is clamoring to reject the counsel of his attorneys and sit for an interview with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whom he has maligned by name.

On policy, Trump is making sudden decisions without much staff consultation, wagering that they will pay dividends — accepting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s invitation for a face-to-face meeting and threatening to veto before ultimately signing the most recent government spending bill.

On the stump, Trump is an improvisational showman. He swooped into the working-class Ohio town of Richfield on Thursday to pitch his infrastructure plan but diverged from his script to deliver surprise commentary on a medley of issues. He threatened to delay a newly renegotiated trade deal with South Korea and announced that the United States may soon withdraw troops from Syria.

 

The president’s unbridled eruptions continued Saturday in a pair of tweets hammering Amazon.com and falsely stating that “the Fake Washington Post” was acting as a lobbyist for the retail behemoth. The Washington Post operates independently of Amazon, though the newspaper is owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.

All the while, Trump is trying to keep in touch with the cultural zeitgeist. Trump called Roseanne Barr to congratulate her on the success of ABC’s “Roseanne” revival. “Look at Roseanne!” Trump bellowed in Ohio. “Look at her ratings!”

Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former New York mayor and longtime Trump friend, said the president is entering a new phase: “It took time for the president to discover how far he could move things and find the pieces that fit. Now, he sees he has an open field.”

To many beyond the White House, the Trump White House appears dangerously dysfunctional. Theodore B. Olson, a Republican former solicitor general, declined to join Trump’s legal team in the Russia matter.

“I think everybody would agree this is turmoil, it’s chaos, it’s confusion, it’s not good for anything,” Olson recently told anchor Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. “We always believe that there should be an orderly process, and of course government is not clean or orderly — ever. But this seems to be beyond normal.”

But people close to the president offer a different view.

“I don’t see anything under siege; I see it as the Big Red Machine,” incoming National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said, referring to the championship Cincinnati Reds baseball teams from the 1970s. “The only people under siege are reporters who don’t like President Trump — and those guys need some significant therapy. I could recommend some awful good people in New York.”

A quartet of senior West Wing aides who spent several hours a day with the president and were considered stabilizing forces are gone. Hope Hicks’s last day as communications director was Thursday. Gary Cohn was replaced as chief economic adviser by Kudlow. H.R. McMaster was dismissed as national security adviser. And Rob Porter departed as staff secretary amid allegations of spousal abuse.

Outside the West Wing Rex Tillerson often challenged Trump as secretary of state, but the president fired him and nominated as his successor CIA Director Mike Pompeo. He is known for agreeing with Trump, as is John Bolton, the incoming national security adviser.

“This is now a president a little bit alone, isolated and without any moderating influences — and, if anything, a president who is being encouraged and goaded on by people around him,” one Trump confidant said. “It really is a president unhinged.”

Other than Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the lone remaining enforcer is Kelly. But his power as chief of staff has been diminished. Officials said the days of Kelly hovering in the Oval Office morning to night and screening the president’s calls are over. Trump is largely circumventing Kelly’s strict protocols.

The president recently reached out to some people Kelly had sought to excommunicate, calling former communications director Anthony Scaramucci to banter about politics and inviting Lewandowski and Bossie to dinner in the residence.

“He’s rotating back to the people who actually like him and is more willing to take advice from those people,” Scaramucci said. “They’re more honest with him, and he’s more comfortable with them.”

Allies said Trump is reverting to the way he led the Trump Organization from his 26th-floor office suite at Trump Tower in Manhattan. There, staffers were functionaries or lawyers, and many of his advisers were outside the company — rival business leaders, media figures and bankers. Back then, Trump controlled his orbit himself from behind his cluttered desk, relying on assistant Rhona Graff to field calls.

Trump has welcomed friends to the White House recently, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who visited Tuesday and met with Bolton, among others. And the president has turned to outside surrogates to carry his messages. After consulting with Trump, Newsmax chief executive Christopher Ruddy went on ABC’s “This Week” on March 25 and revealed that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was expected to be removed. Trump fired him three days later.

“It was the direction [Trump] was always bound to take,” said Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official. “The phone book at the White House was filled by complete strangers. . . . But now he knows how the White House operates, and he’ll operate it himself.”

Ascendant in the West Wing are advisers who play to Trump’s gut: Kudlow on tax cuts and deregulation, Bolton on a muscular approach to foreign affairs, Peter Navarro on protectionist trade policies, Stephen Miller on crackdowns on undocumented immigrants and Kellyanne Conway on an open press strategy and tangling with reporters.

Like Conway, Bolton and Kudlow are seasoned cable news commentators who share Trump’s hard-charging instincts and have no illusions about his governing style. Officials said they are expected to cater to the president’s wishes and seek to avoid the internal knife fights that have befallen many a Trump aide.

Kudlow has told Cohn’s top deputies that he would like them to stay on in their posts, a gesture that West Wing aides described as a reflection of Kudlow’s respect for Cohn’s operation as well as his understanding of the difficulties he would probably encounter if he attempted an overhaul.

Kudlow, 70, is a generational peer of Trump and a staple of the New York business elite to which Trump has long aspired. Kudlow has privately told associates that the president has asked him to be an energetic salesman on television — by acting as a principal, with speeches and road trips — for the Republican-authored tax law ahead of the midterm elections, as opposed to functioning as a behind-the-scenes manager, according to people who have spoken with him.

“He’s squaring up his economic policy with the right adviser for him,” Giuliani said. “Gary was really good, but I don’t know if Gary ever embraced the Trump economic ideas. He was more of a traditional Democrat or moderate Republican. Kudlow is a real cheerleader for the tax cuts in a way Gary never was, although he helped get them passed.”

Bolton, meanwhile, has told allies that he may make major changes on the National Security Council staff but has been careful not to reveal his plans until he formally takes over later this month. He has been working to appear as a team player — touting his bond with Pompeo and lunching Tuesday with McMaster — despite his reputation as a sharp-elbowed bureaucratic brawler, officials said.

Trump has been frustrated by news stories of White House tumult and has ordered aides to contest the notion that there is chaos. He also has vented frequently about the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, griping that Congress did not fully fund his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and labeling Republican congressional leaders “weak negotiators.”

Meeting with advisers Monday in the Oval Office, Trump was alerted to a new CNN poll that showed his approval rating at 42 percent nationally, up 7 percentage points since February. Trump joked that CNN, which he generally views as hostile to him, paid for a survey that pleased him, according to officials briefed on the conversation.

Another issue that has drawn Trump’s ire — although he has not engaged publicly — is Daniels, the adult-film actress who alleged having a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and was paid $130,000 to sign a nondisclosure agreement shortly before the 2016 election. She and her attorney have not kept their silence, however, and the president has been bothered by the headlines they have generated.

The Daniels saga came up as Trump ate dinner Thursday night at Mar-a-Lago with his wife, Melania, and other family members. King — who is so controversial because of his 1967 manslaughter conviction (he was later pardoned) that he was barred from speaking at the 2016 Republican National Convention — joined the president and griped about the media.

“The top story, number one, is Stormy Daniels,” King said he told Trump. “I told him it’s utterly ridiculous. I just came back from Hamburg, Germany, and they were just laughing at us.”

King said that Trump nodded in approval and told him, “It’s meaningless.”

“If he denies it happened, that’s what it is,” King said. “Who cares what he does with some lady?”

“The president,” King added, “is a guy who we call in the vernacular of the ghetto, S.K.D., something kinda different.”

Costa reported from Washington.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/unhinged-or-unleashed-white-house-stabilizers-gone-trump-calling-his-own-shots/2018/03/31/19447ae2-343b-11e8-8bdd-cdb33a5eef83_story.html?utm_term=.b2b28cc1019b

Kelly Loses White House Clout as Trump Blazes Own Path

March 29, 2018

Bloomberg

By Jennifer Jacobs

  • Chief of staff out of loop for several key recent decisions
  • President and top aide at times now on different wavelengths
 Image result for John Kelly, Donald Trump, photos

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has lost some of his clout following recent missteps and wasn’t at President Donald Trump’s side for recent crucial decisions on staffing and policy moves, according to several senior aides.

Kelly wasn’t with the president last week when Trump abruptly decided to oust H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and replace him with John Bolton. Just two people were in the room for that decision: Trump and Bolton.

John Kelly

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

And Kelly is rarely on the line any more when Trump calls foreign leaders. Last week, when Trump spoke with President Vladimir Putin days before the U.S. decided to expel dozens of Russian diplomats, Kelly wasn’t on the call.

The chief of staff’s absence at those two key moments last week highlights his struggles in managing the White House for a president who has a penchant for unpredictability and often follows his own lead when making decisions. Kelly has seen his influence slip since a staffing controversy in February marred his credibility and damaged his image as an internal disciplinarian.

Even so, Trump has shown no recent signs that he wants to fire Kelly and has gone out of his way to publicly praise his chief of staff, including during a visit this month to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego where he told the audience Kelly is “doing a great job.”

Shulkin Phone Call

The chief of staff was in the loop on Trump’s decision to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin with Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, the president’s physician, an aide said. Trump and Kelly discussed the move several times, including in the Oval Office on Monday, and Kelly delivered the news to Shulkin in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, the aide said.

The picture of Kelly’s role emerges from interviews with seven White House aides and five former staffers and outside confidants. All requested anonymity to discuss internal matters. The White House communications staff declined to comment for this story.

A retired four-star Marine Corps general who served as Trump’s first Homeland Security secretary, Kelly entered the White House last July with a level of authority aides say his predecessor Reince Priebus never possessed. He moved quickly to impose order — most notably by restricting access to the Oval Office for subordinates as well as the president’s many friends, unofficial advisers and confidants.

The Porter Fallout

Those efforts paid off on the policy side, most noticeably with the administration’s victory in getting Trump’s massive tax cut legislation passed by Congress and signed into law before the end of last year.

Yet since early this year, the White House has been gripped by turmoil. In February, Staff Secretary Rob Porter was fired after allegations of domestic violence surfaced, an episode that put the White House process for issuing security clearances under public scrutiny.

Aides say Kelly mishandled Porter’s departure, first by revising a statement that praised the aide after news reports surfaced that he’d been accused of domestic violence, and then by giving reporters an inaccurate timeline of the events leading up to Porter’s dismissal.

Lately, Kelly is less aware of what’s on Trump’s mind and what he’s planning to do next, according to several aides, with one describing the men as sometimes on different wavelengths. Trump doesn’t seek his input on staffing or policy decisions as much as he used to, and Kelly is no longer as successful in blocking access to former aides Kelly has described as disruptive.

Access for Ousted

The president once again speaks occasionally by telephone with Anthony Scaramucci, the communications director Kelly fired last summer and blacklisted from the White House grounds.

Fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is also a presence in Trump’s inner circle. Trump dined with Lewandowski and four others Monday night in the residence. Kelly, who has previously said he wouldn’t allow Lewandowski on the grounds unless he personally escorted him, wasn’t there. But he was aware of the dinner and briefed on the discussion on 2018 politics, aides said.

Kelly favors communications aide Mercedes Schlapp to be the new communications director to replace Hope Hicks, whose last day is Thursday. Trump has said he prefers policy aide Kellyanne Conway for the role, aides said.

Maintains Broad Authority

Still, Kelly has broad authority and is trying to rein in mass upheaval within the staff ranks.

He is overhauling the internal policy process, aides said. At the senior staff meeting on Wednesday morning, Kelly’s newly-named deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, Chris Liddell, announced the plan, which includes new short-term and long-term structures for handling policy and reacting to news of the day, aides said.

Kelly has told the staff that whenever possible, new White House hires need to already possess the necessary national security clearance to do the job. That directive is being carried out. For example, when George David Banks had to leave his National Economic Council post after he did not get clearance because of past marijuana use, the White House brought in Wells Griffith, an Energy Department official who already has a high security clearance.

But aides say they’ve seen signs Kelly’s grip has slipped. Trump’s impromptu March 1 announcement of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum had aides wondering whether the president consults with Kelly before all major decisions since the chief of staff appeared not to have advance warning.

Information Gap

In mid-March, Kelly promised subordinates that there would be no imminent personnel changes in the White House. A week later, Trump replaced McMaster.

Some members of the staff said they no longer take Kelly at his word as they once did. However, some aides argued Kelly’s assurances that day were true in the moment — but it later became untenable for McMaster to stay on amid the whirlwind of media speculation that undercut his credibility dealing with foreign counterparts.

Trump has told confidants that the White House is the opposite of “chaos” portrayed in the media — it’s in danger of stagnation. He views replacing McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Shulkin as the best way to speed up progress on his agenda. Trump has brooded this week about inaction in Congress, arguing that the White House has too many guardrails and rules impeding his goals, an aide said.

Emboldened President

Many White House aides retain confidence in the Kelly, according to senior officials. Although he has lost some credibility with the staff, there is no sense of urgency to see him replaced, in contrast to the eventual impatience among some aides for Priebus to go.

Kelly still has some leverage with Trump, but after more than a year in office the president has grown increasingly confident in the role and making more decisions unilaterally, they said.

There are no indications Trump is seriously considering a third chief of staff, though he has mused about replacements with friends.

But he is known for snap decisions. In February, he chastised Kelly on Twitter after the chief of staff said in a television interview that the president had “evolved in the way he looks at things.” The interview followed a meeting with Congressional Democrats in which he reportedly said Trump was “uninformed” during the 2016 campaign when he promised a wall spanning the length of the Mexican border.

Trump tweeted that his plans for the wall had “never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.” Both McMaster’s and Tillerson’s departures were preceded by similar Twitter rebukes.

Kelly has told senior staff that although he doesn’t always agree with what the president wants to do, and Trump doesn’t always take Kelly’s advice, he expects to stay on the job.

— With assistance by Justin Sink, and Shannon Pettypiece

Includes video
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https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-29/kelly-is-said-to-lose-white-house-clout-as-trump-blazes-own-path

Donald Trump and John Kelly Reach Truce

March 16, 2018

White House chief of staff had made cryptic comments suggesting he may have been the next senior adviser to step down

White House chief of staff John Kelly, right, has settled tension with President Donald Trump, at least temporarily, as recent departures from the administration increased expectations that Mr. Kelly might step down soon.
White House chief of staff John Kelly, right, has settled tension with President Donald Trump, at least temporarily, as recent departures from the administration increased expectations that Mr. Kelly might step down soon. PHOTO: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly have settled on a truce, at least temporarily, as the latest round of staff tumult continues to ripple through the West Wing, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Jarred by the treatment of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom the president fired by tweet on Tuesday morning, Mr. Kelly suggested to colleagues that he may be the next to be pushed out of the White House. Mr. Kelly’s cryptic comments left several White House staffers with the impression that Mr. Kelly would force the issue with the president, and that they should start looking for new jobs, too.

The internal drama heightened when Mr. Kelly flew with the president to California on Tuesday, but returned alone and was working in his West Wing office on Wednesday morning. Mr. Kelly’s allies in the White House, however, said the chief of staff had always planned on flying the 4,500-mile round-trip between Washington and San Diego in less than a day.

But on Thursday, Messrs. Trump and Kelly had a productive meeting that left both men reassured. Mr. Trump told advisers afterward that Mr. Kelly was “100% safe.” Mr. Kelly told his associates that, at least for the moment, he and the president had patched things up. “I’m in,” Mr. Kelly told staff.

Asked about Mr. Kelly’s comments earlier in the week, and the meeting between the president and his staff chief on Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a five-word statement: “Kelly is not going anywhere.”

The back-and-forth between Mr. Trump and the chief of staff suggested that the easing of tensions may be more of a temporary detente than a ironclad peace agreement. The president and Mr. Kelly are well known around the White House for engaging in tense arguments, and Mr. Trump has made repeated public comments that manage to both underscore his satisfaction with Mr. Kelly, while also raising doubts about how long the two will continue to work together.

“He likes what you do better than what he does,” Mr. Trump told a group of Marines in San Diego about Mr. Kelly, a former four-star general in the Marines. “But he’s doing a great job. He misses you.”

The exchange between the retired four-star general and the prime-time TV star-turned president was just one storyline playing out in a particularly tumultuous week. The president has often said he encourages conflict among his staff, and has spoken favorably about the internal skirmishing. “They’re fighting over who loves me the most,” he said about his staff last summer.

The president has also told his team that he wants to replace Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser. But the timing of that departure was unclear, with one official saying it could happen “imminently” and another saying it could be weeks, even months.

Gen. McMaster had told associates earlier in the week that he believed he was safe, and that the president urged him to remain in the job until after the midterm elections in November.

Gen. McMaster attended a White House event Thursday evening honoring the Irish prime minister and joked with reporters there, including responding to one question that appeared to touch on his future by asking: “Have you heard anything?”

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-and-john-kelly-reach-temporary-truce-1521209445

Wall Street Journal: “H.R. McMaster’s position appeared increasingly precarious” — Expected to be fired by Trump soon — Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, others could be on Trump’s chopping block

March 16, 2018

Washington girded for further change in President Donald Trump’s administration, as national security adviser H.R. McMaster’s position appeared increasingly precarious and a series of staff departures prompted a U.S. senator to publicly urge the president not to fire his attorney general.

Mr. Trump has decided to oust Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and has conveyed that decision to John Kelly, his chief of staff, according to administration officials. The timing of a departure was unclear, with one official saying it could happen “imminently” and another saying it could be weeks, even months.

Mr. Trump doesn’t yet have a replacement in mind, and is unlikely to force a departure before he has one, the officials said. The president wants a more graceful exit for his national security adviser than he afforded Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state he fired via Twitter earlier this week, one official said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted Thursday evening that she had spoken to the president and his national security adviser and that “contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the [National Security Council].”

Gen. McMaster attended a White House event Thursday evening honoring the Irish prime minister and joked with reporters there, including responding to one question that appeared to touch on his future by asking: “Have you heard anything?”

The military is actively looking for a new job for Gen. McMaster, but it could take time to find a suitable position, U.S. officials said.

In recent days, Mr. Trump began discussing potential successors for Gen. McMaster, according to former Trump administration officials. Mr. Trump met last week with John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who has openly discussed his interest in the national security post.

Mr. Trump was expected to speak with other potential replacements this weekend, the former officials said, including Stephen Biegun, an executive at Ford Motor Co. , who previously served on the National Security Council. The president’s plan to oust Gen. McMaster was reported by the Washington Post on Thursday evening.

Following the recent departures of several senior staff members, Mr. Trump has signaled this week that he may seek to remove other officials. On Thursday, he played down predictions of a shake-up coming, but previewed some further changes.

“There will always be change, but very little,” he said. “I think you want to see change. I want to also see different ideas.”

Mr. Trump said earlier this week he was “very close” to having the cabinet he wanted.

The president’s constant criticism of Jeff Sessions has prompted speculation that the attorney general could be among the next targets, drawing pushback from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) said he “would not be comfortable” if Mr. Trump fired the attorney general. Mr. Grassley would oversee the process for confirming any new attorney general, so his concern about a potential dismissal of Mr. Sessions is significant. Last July, faced with rumblings about the possibility of Mr. Sessions being fired, Mr. Grassley warned that the Senate wouldn’t move to confirm any successor.

Mr. Grassley has been at odds with Mr. Sessions over sentencing legislation backed by the senator that would, among other things, cut mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. After Mr. Sessions attacked Mr. Grassley’s bill, the senator said he didn’t appreciate the comments and noted that he came to Mr. Sessions’ defense when Mr. Trump first criticized him.

Mr. Trump has spent months attacking Mr. Sessions’ recusal from an investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. That decision, plus Mr. Trump’s firing of James Comey as Federal Bureau of Investigation director, led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, which has ensnared several top Trump campaign associates.

On Thursday, in response to a question about whether Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt could become Mr. Trump’s new attorney-general nominee, a possibility that some have floated, Mr. Grassley said: “That’s speculation. I don’t even know whether that’s the real world.” He said he had had no conversations with the White House about Mr. Pruitt.

Mr. Trump’s advisers have warned the president for months against firing Mr. Sessions, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Mr. Grassley’s comments came amid questions over the status of another top official at the agency. Andrew McCabe, who was told to leave his post as deputy director of the FBI earlier this year, may be fired ahead of his expected retirement from the bureau on Sunday, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. McCabe was meeting Thursday with staffers in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s office in a last-ditch attempt to avert his dismissal for allegedly not being forthcoming in an internal investigation, one of the people said.

Ms. Sanders said that decisions about Mr. McCabe’s status should be left to the Justice Department but that the White House did acknowledge “some cause for concern.”

Besides Mr. Sessions and Gen. McMaster, administration officials whose futures appeared uncertain this week were Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Mr. Kelly, the chief of staff.

Mr. Shulkin on Thursday said before a congressional committee that he regretted “distractions” that travel costs have brought his leadership into question and pledged to move on, following a watchdog report last month that found he misspent taxpayer money and misused department resources on an official trip to Europe. Mr. Shulkin had gained bipartisan praises for his leadership before the travel issue was raised last month.

Mr. Trump also praised his chief of staff on Tuesday, saying Mr. Kelly was “doing a great job in Washington.” Yet he added to the uncertainty facing many of his top officials by telling Marines gathered in San Diego “that he’s doing a great job. [But] He misses you.”

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com, Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/chuck-grassley-says-hed-be-uneasy-with-firing-of-jeff-sessions-1521141593