THE MORNING PLUM:
It is a cardinal fact about President Trump’s reckless approach to personnel and governing, his serial self-dealing and his assaults on the rule of law that one chamber of Congress — the House of Representatives — is not just overly compliant with all those degradations, but often actively enables them. That has left Democrats with little recourse other than to constantly prod their GOP counterparts to exercise real oversight, with little power to get results.
This morning, House Democrats released new information that suggests this may be happening on yet another front: the Rob Porter scandal.
Last night, Talking Points Memo reported that the White House is refusing to answer questions posed by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R), the chair of the House Oversight Committee, about what the White House knew and when about the domestic abuse allegations against Porter. Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray dropped the bombshell that the White House appeared to have learned of the alleged abuse from the FBI far earlier than previously disclosed, directly undercutting the White House’s shifting accounts to the contrary.
Gowdy, to his credit, demanded that the White House inform his committee of the date on which the White House learned of the allegations, who specifically learned of them, and why Porter’s interim security clearance nonetheless remained in place.
But the White House last night responded with a letter that merely extolled the steps taken to fix the clearance process — without answering those crucial questions about the Porter timeline.
This morning, Oversight Democrats released their own letter calling on Gowdy to get tougher on the White House’s stonewalling. Democrats are demanding that Gowdy subpoena the White House for answers to those questions.
But the Democrats’ letter also contains a key revelation: It claims Gowdy’s committee has still not scheduled any interviews with two key players in this scandal — White House counsel Don McGahn and chief of staff John Kelly — whose handling of the Porter fiasco has come under intense scrutiny.
Gowdy himself has said he wants Kelly and McGahn to account for their handling of it. On CNN in February, Gowdy flatly stated that he wants “to know from Don McGahn and General Kelly and anyone else: What did you know, from whom did you hear it, to what extent did you hear it, and then what actions, if any, did you take?”
That is the right line of inquiry. But now that the White House is refusing to answer, what will Gowdy do now?
The Porter scandal is still here
“Porter had access to sensitive secrets of our nation at a time when he was subject to blackmail,” Norm Eisen, the ethics czar under former President Barack Obama, told me this morning. “We can’t get a straight story out of the White House about what Kelly and McGahn knew and when. Given the scope of the scandal here — the risk to national security, and the gross malfunctioning of government operations — it’s time to schedule interviews with them.”
The Porter scandal is fraught with extraordinary sensitivity for Trump. It cuts to the heart of the White House’s handling of sensitive national security secrets and raises questions about whether Kelly — one of the “adults in the room” — protected one of the White House’s own despite shocking allegations of abuse. And in so doing, it has reminded us of Trump’s own history — the endorsement of accused sexual predator Roy Moore, the allegations of Trump’s own unwanted advances, and his open boasts about sexual assault.
It’s a measure of just how politically explosive this is that Gowdy, in that CNN interview, was so critical of Kelly and McGahn by name. But will there be any follow-through?
Let’s hope so. But precedent is not encouraging. Again and again, it has fallen to Democrats to highlight not just Trump’s serial degradations but also the GOP’s passive or active enabling of them. Democras have pushed Republicans to force transparency on Trump’s tax returns — to no avail. Democrats have released information demonstrating Trump’s refusal to act to safeguard our democracy from future sabotage. Democrats have smuggled info out to the public setting the record straight on the Nunes memo and on the bogus notion pushed by congressional Republicans that the Democratic-funded “Steele Dossier” was the genesis of the Russia probe — both of which were part of a broad effort to weaponize the oversight process in defense of Trump.
Now we are told Gowdy has not yet scheduled key interviews to get to the bottom of the Porter scandal. To be clear, Gowdy has a chance to get this right. He has asked the right questions. But will he try to get his own questions answered?
* QUESTIONS SWIRL ABOUT TRUMP’S NORTH KOREA GAMBLE: Trump has accepted an invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un to (maybe?) start talks about the future of North Korea’s nuclear program. Karen DeYoung says this is a short-term win for Trump. But:
By some assessments, this is really a victory for Kim, who for years has sought proof of his status and North Korea’s power by dangling the offer of leader-to-leader talks with the United States. Some analysts said it remains unclear what Trump is prepared to put on the table … “I think the real underlying questions are still what are they going to negotiate,” said Lisa Collins, a fellow with the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Meanwhile, experts note that this is coming at a moment when our diplomatic corps is depleted, and suggest that reversing this might be a good idea right about now.
* WHY TRUMP ACCEPTED MEETING: NBC News reports that the White House does not envision the meeting as even the start of talks — sanctions will remain in place — and explains why Trump accepted:
A senior administration official told reporters on a call after the announcement that “at this point, we’re not even talking about negotiations.” … Because of Kim’s consolidated decision-making power in the regime, the senior official said “it made sense to accept an invite to meet with the one person who can actually make decisions” instead of continuing with the “long slog of the past.”
Well, okay. Democrats are cautiously greeting this as an opportunity for progress, while urging Trump to refrain from the unscripted bombast toward North Korea on Twitter.
* ALLIES ‘BEWILDERED’ BY TRUMP’S TARIFFS: The Post takes stock of the international reaction to Trump’s decision to go forward with tariffs:
Bewilderment, along with anger and frustration, has rippled across the capitals of U.S. allies …. The consequences of Trump’s targeting other priorities — the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal chief among them — have not had an immediate, concrete effect. But the tariffs could soon put citizens in ally nations out of work, and if a trade war escalates, all sides could feel the pain, officials from Brasília to Brussels to Seoul say.
But that only means Trump is right, because we’re “winning” and they’re “losing.” Duh!
* LOSS IN PA-18 WOULD BE ‘EMBARRASSING’ FOR TRUMP: Bloomberg Politics reports that Democrat Conor Lamb has the momentum in the House special election in Pennsylvania and may actually win:
It would be an embarrassing defeat for the president and yet another sign of a weakened GOP … The southwest Pennsylvania district … has been solidly in Republican hands since it was drawn under redistricting in 2002. It’s 93 percent white … “It’s a good test of whether Democrats can break through in Trump country,” said David Wasserman, the House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
But as this blog keeps insisting, it will bode very well for Democrats even if Lamb comes close in a district Trump carried by 20 points.
* TRUMP IS UNDERMINING THE GLOBAL TRADING ORDER: Paul Krugman goes big-picture and notes that the post-war global trading order has been on balance a very good thing, and Trump’s tariffs will undermine it:
The overall effect of the evolution of the world trading system has been very salutary. Tariff policy, which used to be one of the dirtiest, most corrupt aspects of politics both … has become remarkably (though not perfectly) clean … global trade agreements are a striking and encouraging example of effective international cooperation. … So Trump is … throwing the world trading system under the bus. And if this escalates into a full-scale trade war, we’ll be back to the bad old days.
It’s another example of rule by the worst among us.
* AND BIPARTISANSHIP REIGNS ON INTEL COMMITTEE (NOT REALLY): CBS News reports:
A plan put forward by Republicans on theto of the two parties has been put on hold, multiple committee sources tell CBS News, reviving hopes that the committee may regain — or at least retain — some of its bipartisan tradition.
Great. Now maybe Chairman Devin Nunes can stop treating the committee as little more than a weaponized shield designed to protect Trump from accountability.