Finally, officials figure the best way to deal with Trump: Ignore him

Donald Trump hasn’t been shy in recent weeks about publicly slamming his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, mocking him as “very weak.” Asked whether Sessions would remain at his post, the president was recently non-committal, saying only that “time will tell.”

And yet, new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly reached out to the attorney general directly over the weekend, reassuring Sessions that his position his safe, Trump’s rhetoric notwithstanding.

We don’t know exactly how Kelly put it, but given the circumstances, it’s likely the retired general told Sessions not to worry too much about what the president says. As CNBC’s John Harwood wrote yesterday, there’s a lot of this going around.

Increasingly, federal officials are deciding to simply ignore President Donald Trump.

As stunning as that sounds, fresh evidence arrives every day of the government treating the man elected to lead it as someone talking mostly to himself.

On Tuesday alone, the commandant of the Coast Guard announced he will “not break faith” with transgender service members despite Trump’s statement that they could no longer serve. Fellow Republicans in the Senate moved ahead with other business despite the president’s insistence that they return to repealing Obamacare. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “we certainly don’t blame the Chinese” for North Korea’s nuclear program after Trump claimed, “China could easily solve this problem.” And Vice President Mike Pence said the president and Congress speak in a “unified voice” on a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill Trump has signed, but not publicly embraced.

Trump — the World’s Greatest Deal Maker — is reduced to begging the President of Mexico to not embarrass him

One of President Donald Trump’s most famous campaign pledges from the 2016 election was to force the Mexican government to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

However, a leaked transcript of a phone call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto obtained by the Washington Post shows that Trump understood that he would never get Mexico to fully pay for the wall — but he nonetheless begged his Mexican counterpart to stop saying so publicly.

“On the wall, you and I both have a political problem,” Trump told Peña Nieto. “My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall,’ and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language… I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period.”

Peña Nieto, however, was resistant to this and again insisted that his government would not pay for the wall.

“My position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying that Mexico cannot pay for the wall,” he told Trump.

“But you cannot say that to the press,” Trump insisted. “The press is going to go with that, and I cannot live with that.”

Trump suggested that the two men agree to negotiate over how the wall would get paid for, and he said they could work out a deal where Mexico wouldn’t actually end up paying for it. Specifically, Trump told the Mexican president that funding for the wall “will work out in the formula somehow” and that Mexico’s share of the costs “will come out in the wash, and that is okay.”

Trump compared war in Afghanistan to remodeling a NYC restaurant

In a tense meeting with his national security team last month, Donald Trump compared his policy review of the War in Afghanistan with the renovation of a splashy Manhattan restaurant in the 1980’s, NBC News reports.

The meeting—which involved advisors and the president discussing the Trump administration’s approach to a war that’s spanned three presidents—took place over the course of two hours in the White House situation room. According to NBC News, the president lamented the lack of action from NATO, asked about mining Afghanistan for its estimated $1 million in rare minerals and at one point complained, “we aren’t winning.”

According to one official, Trump at one point said the situation in Afghanistan was similar to renovations that occurred at “21” Club. In the 1980’s, the elite New York City hotspot closed and “hired an expensive consultant to craft a plan for a renovation.”

“After a year, Trump said, the consultant’s only suggestion was that the restaurant needed a bigger kitchen,” NBC reports.

Officials who spoke with NBC said the president meant the comparison as a way to show that sometimes you don’t need to bring in experts to solve a problem. “He also said the tendency is to assume if someone isn’t a three-star general he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” NBC News reports.

The ’21’ Club closed for two months 1987 to undergo renovations, NBC News notes. It remains one of the best restaurants in New York City.

There is no way to verify Trump’s claim about the consultant . . . which is probably a lie.

Meanwhile, let’s not forget — Trump’s father sent him away to a military school in an attempt to get him under control.  Didn’t work.

Former CIA officers comment on Trump and Russia — “Innocent people do not behave this way.”

Two former CIA agents on Wednesday ran through the case for collusion between Donald Trump associates and Russian operatives during the 2016 election, explaining how the scheme might have transpired.

Penning an op-ed for the New York Times aptly titled, “Oh, Wait. Maybe It Was Collusion,” former chief of station for the CIA John Sipher and former CIA chief of Russian operations Steve Hall argue not only was the Russian government “running some sort of intelligence operation involving the Trump campaign, but also that it is impossible to rule out the possibility of collusion between the two.”

Pointing to their combined years of experience with the CIA, the pair note Russian intelligence probably launched a “multilayered” attack on the 2016 presidential campaign “as well as an effort to recruit insiders to help them over time.”

“The two are not mutually exclusive,” they say.

“It is entirely plausible, for example, that the original Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers was an effort simply to collect intelligence and get an idea of the plans of the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate,” the pair surmise, adding Russian operatives from there might have noticed an opportunity to infiltrate the election through Donald Trump Jr.’s stated willingness to collude with the Russian government.

Referring to the intermediary who set up the now-infamous meeting between Trump Jr. and a Russian emissary, the two former intelligence officers argue Russia might have used Rob Goldstone to approach the Trump campaign and “would have seen very little downside to trying to recruit someone on the Trump team—a big fish.”

“If the fish bit and they were able to reel it in, the email from Mr. Goldstone could remain hidden and, since it was from an acquaintance, would be deniable if found,” the pair note, pointing out the is “exactly what the Trump team is doing now.”

“Perhaps the most telling piece of information may be the most obvious,” the op-ed continues. “Donald Trump himself made numerous statements in support of Russia, Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks during the campaign. At the same time, Mr. Trump and his team have gone out of their way to hide contacts with Russians and lied to the public about it.”

Sipher and Hall then note Trump’s repeated attacks on the very institutions deployed to investigate potential ties between his campaign and Russia.

“He fired his FBI director James Comey, criticized and bullied his attorney general and deputy attorney general, denigrated the FBI and the CIA, and assails the news media, labeling anything he dislikes ‘fake news,’” they write.

“Innocent people don’t tend to behave this way.”

Read the full op-ed at the New York Times.

Trump’s White House beginning to resemble a mob war . . . “going to the mattresses”

The conservative Weekly Standard published a blockbuster expose on the escalating battle between National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Apparently, new White House chief of staff John Kelly is unable to stop the war, or is siding with McMaster against Bannon. The Weekly Standard says the two camps are, “going to the mattresses,” the famous phrase from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather on mob caporegimes setting up secret apartments with mattresses for soldiers to sleep on, “whenever a war between the Families became bitterly intense.”

McMaster has been on a firing spree of Bannon loyalists. Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council who provided information to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) about ‘unmasking’ during the Barack Obama administration, was ousted today. Derek Harvey was ousted last week. Rich Higgins was ousted two weeks ago. Former columnist Tera Dahl was ousted last month.

Bannon is responding with media allies outside the White House.

“On Wednesday, radio host Laura Ingraham tweeted a months-old article from the New York Times about McMaster’s ‘break with the administration on Islam,’” the Weekly Standard explained. “Meanwhile, blogger Mike Cernovich has been tweeting links to a website called McMasterLeaks, which contains a single blog post with multiple examples of how McMaster is undermining Trump.”

There’s now open speculation as to whether Steve Bannon could be the next Trump staffer to be ousted.

“For some time, Steve Bannon has been considering leaving the White House. One of Bannon’s closest buddies in the West Wing was Reince Priebus, now gone,” the Weekly Standard revealed. “A newly emboldened H.R. McMaster, purging Bannonites with the backing of John Kelly (and the president), could hasten his exit.”

Trump’s approval ratings continue to slide into the toilet

Donald Trump just keeps setting personal records. Sure, they’re records for unpopularity, but he doesn’t need to know that, does he? A new Quinnipiac University poll has Trump at just 33 percent approval, with 61 percent disapproving of his job performance.

Could it be just one bad pollster? Hmm …

Trump’s approval rating in three polls out today:

  • Quinnipiac — 33%
  • Gallup — 36%
  • Rasmussen — 38%

Quinnipiac is lower, but not by a lot. And Rasmussen puts Trump at 38 percent? Sheesh, ouch, and ha ha ha.

The bright spots Trump could sift out from the pile of bad numbers Quinnipiac offers up are that majorities of people still think he’s strong and intelligent. That said:

American voters say 54 – 26 percent that they are embarrassed rather than proud to have Trump as president. Voters say 57 – 40 percent he is abusing the powers of his office and say 60 – 36 percent that he believes he is above the law.

President Trump is not levelheaded, say 71 – 26 percent of voters, his worst score on that character trait. Voter opinions of most other Trump qualities drop to new lows:

  • 62 – 34 percent that he is not honest;
  • 63 – 34 percent that he does not have good leadership skills;
  • 59 – 39 percent that he does not care about average Americans;

And while 55 percent of people saying Trump is intelligent may seem like a solid, even generous, number for him, it doesn’t look as good when you consider that in November 2016, 74 percent of people thought he was intelligent. That’s quite a drop-off in less than a year.