Politico

Week 10: Donald Trump, Lion King

Written by Lisa

Our leonine president spent the week pawing and poking his downed prey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, licking the little man’s fur in great slurps with appetite-whetting tweets as he dillydallied about delivering the death bite and devouring his catch.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump tweeted on July 25. “Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend,” Donald Trump tweeted in a damning two-parter the next day. “I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself,” the president said at a news conference a couple of hours later.

Was it human sadism at work, an indication of how frustrated Trump has become at blunting the investigation into the scandal with no name? Or was it just Trump obeying the law of the savanna, which dictates that the strongest, largest cat with the most tufted mane and the most prolific seed shall dominate the pride at his leisure? According to Newt Gingrich, another subservient member of the Trump pride, the president doesn’t like to deliver the dispatching blow himself. “I think Donald Trump doesn’t like to fire people, period,” Gingrich told Fox News on July 25. Trump’s squeamishness about sacking people and his insistence that others do the deed has been long acknowledged, most saliently by my colleague Michael Kruse. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman asked two Trump insiders why he insisted on toying with his attorney general. “Because he can,” both said.

Trump prefers the suicide of resignation—provoked by nonstop, continued public humiliation—over actually sacking staffers. The younger lions in the Trump pride, watching from the short grasses, have taken to mimicking their leader’s displays of dominance. Anthony Scaramucci (who will first dare call him “Scar”?) has been playing a slightly less effective game of catch-torture-and-release, catch-torture-and-release, with his quarry, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Scaramucci used Twitter to threaten Priebus with an FBI and Department of Justice investigation, then deleted the tweet, denying Priebus would be targeted. In a profanity-laced conversation with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, Scaramucci made the vulgar Trump sound like a parson in comparison. He both promised bulk firings at the White House and used so many expletives to describe chief strategist Steve Bannon and others that newspapers and cable-news chyrons exhausted their hyphen stockpiles as they attempted to censor him. Scaramucci also accused Priebus of “cock-blocking” him—a new one to me, requiring a visit to the Urban Dictionary. I hope Mooch meant it metaphorically.

His hairdo matted with lion spittle, Sessions temporarily escaped to El Salvador for a photo-op about deporting MS-13’s bad hombres. He quivered like a baby wildebeest suffering PTSD when Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson caught up with him to inquire about the president’s scolding. Trump’s steady disparagement was “kind of hurtful,” a humbled Sessions squeaked, “but the president of the United States is a strong leader.” Beyond saying his decision to recuse himself from the Russia business was the correct one, Sessions offered nothing that would provoke renewed Trump attacks.

The Sessions and Scaramucci dramatics muted any news about the slow-moving investigation in Russian meddling into the 2016 election, of which there was very little this week. The leader of the pride’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, gave closed-door testimony on Capitol Hill in an attempt to untangle himself from the scandal. He told cameras afterward that he had never colluded with the Russians. What then, pray tell, was that Trump Tower meeting with four Russians, Donald Trump Jr., and Paul Manafort in which Russian kompromat to “incriminate” Hillary Clinton was on offer? So boring, he arrived late and sought an excuse to leave early, Kushner said in a statement.

Lost in the week’s histrionics was an NBC News piece sourced to the Department of Justice that connected former Trump campaign boss Manafort to an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime,” a connection Manafort denied. The Guardian made a similar effort to link Russian money to the Kushner real estate empire. At the Atlantic, Julia Ioffe stirred the scandal stew looking for meat, and found a pot roast hidden in plain sight as she tallied the many overtures Russians have made to those in the Trump pride. This is how Russian intelligence works, sending tendrils into cracks and expanding.

The New Yorker’s Lizza, who deserves some sort of bonus or promotion, hustled another bracing quotation this week, in a piece that complements Ioffe’s. Michael Hayden, former CIA and NSA chief, essentially told Lizza that Kushner’s Trump Tower confab was more like richly marbled antelope steak than nothing-burger. Through Hayden’s eyes, the meeting looked precisely like a Russian intel op—part of a patient, step-by-step effort by agents of influence, cutouts and front organizations to penetrate and compromise its target. If Hayden is right, his analysis helps explain why the Lion King roared so vehemently at little Jeff Sessions over the AG’s recusal this week.

“My god, this is just such traditional tradecraft,” the spook told Lizza.

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The search for a name for the no-name scandal conducted here over the past two months, continues. There’s still time to submit your nomination to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. This week’s honorable mentions: “Trump l’oeli,” (Larry Gordon), “Trump Cower,” (Lisa Green), “Kislyak and Tell,” (Jim Zien), “Irkutsk ‘a Been a Contender,” (Jim Zien), “Tsar-a-Lago,” (Keith Denoyer), “Arrested Developer,” (Daniel Nix), “Borscht in the USA,” (Alex Khachaturian), “Dossier-evsky,” (Alex Khachaturian), “Beyond the Valley of the Russian Dolls,” (Rana Buckner), and “Fast and Spurious,” (Teresa Miller). My email alerts have fired both my Twitter feed and my RSS feed. Readers will be the next to go.

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