Navigating Trump's America: The problem with Donald Trump's "nothing to see here" strategy

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

President Donald Trump has yet again dismissed every element of the Russia story clouding his White House as categorically untrue. In a tweet Tuesday morning, Trump said "the Fake News" were peddling false stories as "a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election."

The tweet came just hours after a New York Times report revealed that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner's meeting in December with a Putin-connected banker may have been part of Kushner and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak's effort to open a direct line of communication to Putin that U.S. intelligence could not access.

Trump's timeline, however, is challenged. Kushner has apparently attracted the attention of law enforcement and congressional investigators for activities that occurred after the 2016 election — as has former national security adviser Michael Flynn. But Kushner's reported closeness to Trump makes a focus on him more dangerous for the White House.

Trump has few options. Removing or distancing Kushner from the White House, as happened with Flynn, could send the signal that Kushner did something definitively wrong, though there's not yet any evidence of that. But continuing to deflect questions about Kushner's activities by blaming "fake news" and the Democrats being sore losers is hardly going to stem the tide of leaks about the ongoing investigation. (Trump has only issued a statement saying he has "total confidence" in Kushner.) Trump could also remove other staff — his communications director, Mike Dubke, has resigned, according to Axios — but that is unlikely to make the Russia story go away.

2016 redux: Meanwhile, Trump is considering hiring Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager whom he let go last summer, and David Bossie, his former deputy campaign manager who has run Citizens United since 2000 and who has close ties to Steve Bannon, to run a White House "war room" to handle fallout from the Russia story. Bossie's hiring would be particularly ironic: In the 1990s, he was hired as an investigator by Congressman Dan Burton, then the chair of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, to lead the myriad investigations into Bill and Hillary Clinton. Neither man is likely to make the president less combative over the investigation.

The investigations into the campaign will also continue. CNN reported Tuesday that, during the election, Russian officials discussed having possible "derogatory" information on Trump and his associates. That claim could be fabricated to sow confusion, or Russia could have information to blackmail the president.

A parting point: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, moved quickly in his first week, demanding documents from Congress and outlining a budget, the Wall Street Journal reported

This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America. Welcome to the political newsletter that hopes you had a relaxing Memorial Day. Think you had any especially prescient reflections? I'd love to hear them. Please email me at trumpsamerica@mic.com. 

Is the president missing the forest for the trees by dismissing post-election activities as "Fake News?" Email me at trumpsamerica@mic.com.

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What we're watching

Today: President Trump dismissed the latest Jared Kushner controversy as "fake news," but the investigation isn't going away.

More: Trump may pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement this week.

Even more: Capitol Hill Republicans are struggling to make any progress on major legislative promises, like tax and health care reform.

Trump's agenda today: Lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.

U.S. set to leave Paris climate deal?

Trump has said he will announce this week whether the United States will remain in the Paris Climate Agreement; he is widely expected to withdraw. The 2015 accord was signed by all countries in the United Nations climate group except Nicaragua and Syria, and the U.S. withdrawal could have long-lasting effects on both the environment and the international standing of the U.S. Trump has said the commitment to carbon-cutting to fight climate change hurts American industry, even though hundreds of major businesses have shown their support for the deal — especially companies that benefit from the accord's natural gas-friendly language.

The administration's priorities remain stalled

Republicans in the Senate are making little progress on health care reform, and remain unable to reconcile demands by the conservative and moderate wings of the party about provisions that are popular with many Americans but to which many conservatives are nonetheless ideologically opposed. Work has continued on the legislation among a select group of senators to craft a Senate Republican response to the House's American Health Care Act. We'll keep waiting.

Meanwhile, there is also no clear path forward on tax reform, another priority of Trump's. The tax code, full of tax breaks and provisions loved by corporate supporters and individual donors alike, is proving difficult to reform to everyone's satisfaction without blowing a permanent hole in the budget. Lawmakers were also hit by a surprise request to raise the debt ceiling by the end of July, months ahead of schedule; it could force a showdown on fiscal responsibility driven by conservatives.

News and insight you cannot miss:

•  The former dictator of Panama is dead at 83. He was deposed by the United States in 1989 during the invasion of Panama, America's largest military action since Vietnam.  

•  At least 15 people are dead after a car bomb detonated in Baghdad. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

•  House of Cards Season 5 came out on Tuesday morning. Here's our review.

•  ICYMI: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not host an event to celebrate Ramadan — breaking a 20-year tradition.

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Will Drabold

Will Drabold is a policy writer at Mic. He writes Navigating Trump's America, Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America. He is based in Washington, D.C., and can be reached at wdrabold@mic.com

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