Why Trump added a streetfighter to his legal team
A new addition to President Trump's legal team — Joe diGenova, a former U.S. attorney who is well-known in Washington and has argued for the president on Fox News — reflects three White House realities.
The state of play: (1) The White House is digging in for a fight that looks to be longer and messier than officials had expected. (2) This is another example of the president responding to televised cues. Trump has spent most of his adult life in litigation, and obsesses about legal positioning in the same way that he is consumed by his press coverage. (3) It's another pugilistic voice at the table, and suggests that this weekend's attacks on Mueller won't be the last.
David Ignatius, on "Morning Joe," said this shows Trump is moving toward more of a "scrappy ... cable news style defense."
The intrigue: In private conversations, the president has recently exhibited less confidence in his team.
- The WashPost says diGenova's "hiring caught many of [the president's] advisers by surprise, prompting fears that Trump is preparing for bigger changes to his legal team — including possible departures — as he goes on the offensive."
- If you read only 1 thing ... The Post adds: "Trump is not consulting with top advisers, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and chief White House lawyer Donald McGahn, on his Russia legal choices or his comments about the probe."
- "He is instead watching television and calling friends."
- A source close to the president who has direct knowledge of his thinking told Axios last night that Ty Cobb, the member of the team who's actually on the White House staff, is “100 percent secure” in his job.
- The WashPost calls him "a longtime antagonist of Bill and Hillary Clinton."
- DiGenova was named independent counsel in December 1992 in a scandal surrounding the search of passport files of then-candidate Bill Clinton by George H.W. Bush administration officials. After three years, diGenova ruled it “stupid” but not illegal.
- As U.S. attorney in D.C., he pursued corruption in Mayor Marion Barry's administration.
- Confirming the hire, Jay Sekulow, another member of Trump's team, told Axios: "Joe is an experienced Prosecutor and defense counsel. In addition he has served as a Independent Counsel and a Special Counsel. His experience and expertise is a great addition to our team."
The N.Y. Times said diGenova "has pushed the theory on television that the F.B.I. and Justice Department framed Mr. Trump," and "will serve as an outspoken player for the president."
- The Times reported that diGenova "has endorsed the notion that a secretive group of F.B.I. agents concocted the Russia investigation as a way to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president."
- DiGenova told Tucker Carlson on Fox News in January: “[T]here was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime. ... Make no mistake about it, a group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump [for] a falsely created crime."
- The Times points out: "Little evidence has emerged to support that theory."
Fun fact: DiGenova's father was an opera singer and professional singer. His son has an operatic voice and is a frequent "ringer" at the Gridiron Club's annual dinner, playing prominent politicians as part of the journalists' spoofs and skits.
Facebook reaches a tipping point
Of all the news crises Facebook has faced during the past year, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is playing out to be the worst and most damaging.
Why it matters: It's not that the reports reveal anything particularly new about how Facebook's back end works — developers have understood the vulnerabilities of Facebook's interface for years. But stakeholders crucial to the company's success — as well as the public — seem less willing to listen to its side of the story this time around.
The latest: The saga, which has been flooding cable news for days, got even worse Monday night when the New York Times reported that the company's chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, is leaving the company after clashing with colleagues on how to handle disclosures of Russian activity on Facebook. Stamos tweeted that he's still at Facebook, but his role has changed.
- Facebook shares fell nearly 7% at market close on Monday. Its stock hasn't seen this type of a drop in response to any of the major scandals its faced over the past year. Even during the Russia hearings on Capitol Hill, Facebook stock hit record highs.
- Republicans were unusually swift to call for action. GOP Sen. John Kennedy and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley calling on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress. Republican Sen. John Thune said he'd send questions to Facebook Monday night.
- In Europe, regulators are calling on Zuckerberg to testify before the U.K. Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The British Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said her office was "investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used."
- Consumers are balking at the news, with the hashtag #DeleteFacebook sweeping across Twitter, somewhat ironically.
- Media scrutiny is intensifying for Facebook, especially in light of the way it has responded to the news reports about the story. The story was the subject of cable news reports all day on Monday.
Facebook's response: The company responded with a rapid-fire defense with executive-penned blog posts and tweet storms — and sent out executives to let everyone know it was outraged.
- Facebook repeatedly explained how Cambridge Analytica was the real culprit— and that Facebook took appropriate action once it learned of the abuse of its platform.
- At a conference in New York on Monday, Carolyn Everson, Facebook's vice president of marketing, called Cambridge Analytica's reported actions "an incredible violation of everything that we stand for," per CNBC.
- It has hired a digital forensics firm to investigate Cambridge Analytica (which is cooperating).
- It has suspended the Cambridge whistleblower's accounts.
Yes, but: Facebook has played the "we didn't know this was happening" card before, causing stakeholders to grow impatient and making them less willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt.
- Zuckerberg admitted last September that he should have taken the fake news controversy during the the election more seriously. "‘Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it," he said in a blog post.
- The company repeatedly apologized in response to ProPublica reports last year that its ads system was abused by bad actors to target people based on nefarious religious terms, like "Jew hater," or to discriminate against people by race.
The long tail of the Russia investigation: The probe opened a Pandora's box about how Facebook works, how it uses data, and what its vulnerabilities are. With each new finding, Facebook is forced to deal with its demons from the past and reckon with the larger ramifications for democracy.