Mar 3, 2017

Trump enters the danger zone: "the smoke IS the fire"

Mike Allen, author of AM

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Good morning, Day 43 of the Trump presidency — a week from halftime of the 100 days.

I was chatting with a smart Republican about the White House's Russia issues, and he said: "This is the rare case where the smoke IS the fire."

What he meant is that even if the White House wound up being right that there's no "there" there (harder to see, with each day's revelations), the warning signs and botched reactions and mounting questions have themselves become huge problems for the President.

So many of the players — by slow-rolling, obscuring or trashing the facts — have made it LOOK like they have something to hide.

The Economist, granddaddy of smart brevity, distills it brutally in "Dazed and Recused": "Jeff Sessions met the Russian ambassador, then said he didn't."

Republicans close to the White House said events seem to be moving from the Distraction Zone to the Danger Zone. Democrats see that the scandal and investigative machinery that was used against them in the Clinton administration can now be cranked up to hobble this president, just as he heads into the months when he needs to be putting legislative points on the board.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews made a clarifying point, highlighted in Brian Stelter's "Reliable Sources" newsletter:

"[W]e're only learning the truth of all these endless meetings with the Russians because of good reporting ... We're getting great print coverage by the hour. And that's the only reason this administration is admitting things. Trump didn't act on Flynn until it was exposed by the press. The attorney general didn't recuse himself until today because the report ran in today's newspapers. This is an administration being driven by truth that's coming from somewhere else."

Top Trump officials tell us they authentically believe the Russian connection is less than meets the eye, and that their accusers and opponents are wasting their time and breath. But it now looks like it would take months, at the very least, for that to become clear — time carved out of the fabled 100 days and the first year, which is the best and often only chance for a president to pass big things.

This White House, so disruptive at campaigning, needs to do a self-oppo dive and get all the facts it possibly can, so it at least knows what it's dealing with and isn't reacting to media stories every night. Are the blanket denials true, or too lawyerly, or just wrong?

What can Trump and his team learn from past administrations that faltered or fell based on their mishandling of a storm like this? There's been this long parade into the White House of CEOs, labor leaders and activists. The next luncheon should be with historians.

Go deeper

Twitter, Google lead chorus of brands backing George Floyd protests

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Twitter and Google are among the dozens of brands over the past 24 hours that have taken public stances in favor of Americans protesting racial equality. Some companies have changed their logos in solidarity with the movement, while others have pledged money in support of efforts to address social injustice.

Why it matters: The pressure that companies feel to speak out on issues has increased during the Trump era, as businesses have sought to fill a trust void left by the government. Now, some of the biggest companies are quickly taking a public stand on the protests, pressuring all other brands to do the same.

NYPD commissioner: "I'm extremely proud" of officers' response to protests

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea in February. Photo: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a public statement Sunday that he is "extremely proud" of the New York City Police Department's response to protests over the death of George Floyd Saturday night, writing: "What we saw in New York City last night and the night before was not about peaceful protest of any kind."

Why it matters: New York City residents captured several instances of police officers using excessive force against demonstrators. In one video, two NYPD SUVs are seen ramming into protesters who were blocking a road and throwing traffic cones at the vehicles.

2 hours ago - Science

SpaceX capsule carrying astronauts docks with space station

The Crew Dragon just before docking on Sunday. Photo: NASA TV

SpaceX's Crew Dragon safely delivered two NASA astronauts — Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — to the International Space Station on Sunday after the company's historic launch Saturday.

Why it matters: This marks the first time a private company has delivered people to the space station, and it signals the beginning of the end of NASA's reliance on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft for flights to orbit.