June 05, 2017

1 big thing: The Comey conundrum

White House officials convey a sense of gloomy doom when they talk about fired FBI Director Jim Comey's public testimony on Thursday. They know his aw-shucks rectitude, combined with real-time written recollections, guarantee riveting testimony. Their hope is that it'll be more atmospherics than substance — how he felt, as opposed to any new facts about what President Trump said or did.

Here's the problem with that hope: Even if Comey didn't have a single new thing to say (unlikely, given his habit of writing memos about his conversations with the president and perhaps his aides), the rat-tat-tat of already-reported, tough-to-explain facts is astounding:

  • During a Valentine's Day briefing in the Oval Office, Trump asks other national-security officials — including Vice President Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room before saying of the investigation into Michael Flynn, the national security adviser Trump had let go the day before: "I hope you can let this go."
  • That meeting, by itself, could be fodder for years of investigations. But then, three months later — after talking for weeks about firing Comey, with several aides warning of the dire dominoes that the move could touch off — Trump does it anyway, taking many top aides by surprise.
  • That decision, by itself — with its echoes of Watergate's "Saturday night massacre" firing of a special prosecutor — might dog Trump for the rest of his presidency. But the next day, Trump meets in the Oval Office with two top Russians, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. U.S. media are barred, but a Russian camera is allowed, and Trump's guests quickly release the astonishing shots of Trump and the burly Russians appearing to yuk it up.
  • That, by itself, would be jaw-dropping, but then Trump is reported to have revealed highly classified information during the meeting. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had a notetaker at the meeting, cheekily offers to release a transcript.
  • All that might, by itself, might be hard enough to believe or explain. But then Trump sits down with NBC's Lester Holt and says that when he was pondering the firing of Comey, "I said to myself -- I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." Holt and his NBC News colleagues had war-gamed all kinds of ways to try to get Trump to say Russia was a factor, but he just said it — no cajoling required.

Be smart: Comey's testimony may add logs, but the fire is blazing.

Key concession ... Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) — top Dem on the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Comey will testify — to CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union": "We have no smoking gun at this point."

Go deeper ... with Jonathan Swan's "What we know, What we don't know" on Trump associates' Russian exposure.

2. London latest

"What we have learned," by BBC's Dominic Casciani:

  • "Three terrorism attacks on the UK in 75 days. Thirty-four people dead, many, many more injured. The five attackers all dead too."
  • "Both bridge attacks shared a methodology that's been repeatedly promoted by jihadist groups like the self-styled Islamic State/Daesh: a vehicle to knock people over and knives once on foot."
  • "Eyewitness have told how the police relied upon a tactic to protect the public in the event of a marauding attack. Officers tried to rapidly clear the area by telling people to 'run' to a safe area. Those they could not safely move — people in restaurants and bars — were told to 'hide.'"
  • "Eight minutes after the first 999 call, the killers, wearing what looked like suicide bombs, had been gunned down by specialist officers who fired 50 rounds."

The conversation ... WashPost A1, above fold, "Presidential response? Stoking fear and a feud," by Phil Rucker: On Twitter, Trump criticized London's "mayor — Sadiq Khan, a liberal Muslim and an old Trump foil — for not being tough enough protecting his citizens."

"With Trump spending another day at his private golf club in Sterling, Va., the White House's social media director, Dan Scavino, revived an old Trump-Khan feud on Twitter and scolded the mayor to "WAKE UP!!!!"

N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... Scooter Braun, manager of pop star Ariana Grande, praising the bravery of fans who showed up at yesterday's One Love Manchester benefit concert: "You looked fear right in the face and you said, No, we are Manchester, and the world is watching."

3. Hot online

A Twitter feed inspired by Obama alumnus Pat Cunnane, Real Trump Press Sec (@TrumpTweetsWH), repurposes Trump tweets "into official White House statements... because that's what they are."

  • NYT's Maggie Haberman had tweeted earlier: "calling them 'tweets' minimizes them. They're statements from the president made on Twitter."

4. Tweet du jour

Breaking ... Trump is tweeting this a.m.: "we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political! ... The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C."

5. Today in Trump

In the East Room at 11:30 a.m., President Trump will joined by executives from major airlines as he kicks off "infrastructure week" by unveiling his plan to reform the nation's air-traffic control system.

The most consequential provision: privatizing air-traffic control by transferring that power from the FAA to a non-profit entity, funded by user fees, over three years.

  • Why this matters, from Jonathan Swan: Trump is getting behind the single biggest priority of Bill Shuster, the Republican House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman. If Trump delivers this controversial privatization for Shuster, he can expect the chairman's loyalty and support on many of his other infrastructure priorities.

From Trump's plan:

"America's growing aviation system demands a new, independent, non-government organization to operate our Nation's airspace. The new entity should have access to capital markets in order to spur capital investment, technology adoption, and innovation faster, more effectively, and securely. Over the last 20 years, more than 50 countries have already successfully transitioned their ATC operations."

See Trump's principles here.

6. Climate change is here to stay, so deal with it

A truth bomb in Axios' Amy Harder's weekly "Harder Line" column on energy:

"The chances of reversing climate change are slim regardless of U.S. involvement in the Paris agreement. Countries, companies, U.S. states and cities and non-governmental organizations pursuing policies to address climate change should refocus their high-level political efforts on ways to prepare for the impacts that are already here and those still to come."

7. The talk of tech

Dan Primack nails it: "Peter & Palmer vs. Silicon Valley is gonna be a great graphic novel."

He was distilling this huge talker on the N.Y. Times Business front, "Oculus Founder Plots a Comeback With a Virtual Border Wall," by Nick Wingfield:

  • At age 21, Palmer Luckey sold Oculus VR to Facebook for $2 billion, then was pressured to leave Facebook months after news spread that he had secretly donated to an organization dedicated to spreading anti-Hillary Clinton internet memes."
  • 'Now Mr. Luckey [age 24] ... has a new start-up in the works, a company that is developing surveillance technology that could be deployed on borders between countries and around military bases."
  • "[T]he investment fund run by Peter Thiel, a technology adviser to Mr. Trump, planned to support the effort."
  • Luckey: "We need a new kind of defense company, one that will save taxpayer dollars while creating superior technology to keep our troops and citizens safer."
  • "A person who knows him described Mr. Luckey as a casual 'prepper,' someone who prepares for societal collapse."
  • "Luckey discussed the idea of using sensor technology on the Mexican border with Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump's chief strategist, according to a person familiar with the meeting."

8. "The upstarts have arrived"

Barron's, in its annual survey of investors, finds tech upstarts lead the list of The Most Respected American Companies:

  1. Alphabet (Google)
  2. Apple
  3. Amazon
  4. Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett)
  5. Microsoft
  6. Costco
  7. Johnson & Johnson
  8. Home Depot
  9. 3M
  10. Walt Disney

9. Covering the future

Robots could hobble developing countries ... The traditional exit from poverty for poor countries is to be the cheap labor for rich nations. But the robotics revolution could be foreclosing that route to the middle class, MIT economist Daron Acemoglu told Axios' Chris Matthews.

  • Among the potential losers: Vietnam, China and Indonesia
  • Why it matters: "[A]n increasing number of U.S. jobs are dependent on exports to those countries. If these countries can no longer rely on manufacturing as a source of jobs and productivity growth, it could deal a serious blow to the U.S. economy, too."
  • Read the rest, including video.

10. 1 fun thing

ESPN's World Fame 100 "combines endorsements with social media following and internet search popularity" to rank the most famous athletes in the world. The results:

  • 38 soccer stars, 11 golfers and zero Tim Tebows.
  • Tom Brady is #21.
  • No MLB or NHL player made the cut.