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Trump's public Russia comments could cause legal headaches for him — and his kids

President Donald Trump’s decision to talk off the cuff about the Russia probe to reporters allowed him to put out his version of events — but increased the legal risks to him, as well as to his children and the growing number of associates who have been pulled into the expanding investigation.

Every public statement by the president or others involved opens a line of questioning for special counsel Robert Mueller or lawmakers exploring the contacts between Trump associates and Russia during the 2016 election.

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Like the president’s tweets, his interviews can be used to establish facts or intent, offering investigators a gold mine of information but potentially creating conflicts for others that can lead to headaches for their various lawyers — or to criminal charges including perjury or obstruction of justice.

“The more attention that is given to this it harms everybody,” said Robert Bennett, a Washington lawyer who represented President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and is a longtime law partner of Ty Cobb, who the White House announced on Sunday will join the administration to handle media and legal strategy.

Bennett called the president’s remarks Wednesday to The New York Times a “real mistake” and “totally counterproductive,” especially the apparent warnings directed at Mueller to limit the scope of his work.

The New York Times interview published Wednesday night was Trump being Trump, an unvarnished expression of his disdain over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation, questioning Mueller’s impartiality and shifting to a “I don’t remember” defense instead of an outright denial regarding the details of a momentous February Oval Office conversation with then-FBI Director James Comey that has put the president himself in the cross hairs for a potential obstruction of justice charge.

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Others in the family have taken a similar approach. Donald Trump Jr. last week tried to pre-empt news stories about his June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer by tweeting out his own emails, confirming his enthusiasm for sitting down with the Russian and putting new information into the public record about how the meeting came about.

By contrast, the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who also attended the meeting, lay low, releasing carefully worded comments through his lawyer and referring questions to Trump Jr., who remains in New York overseeing the Trump Organization.

“You may be under the impression that there’s this very large organically and elegantly coordinated interaction between lawyers,” said Alan Futerfas, who signed on in June as Trump Jr.’s attorney. “At this point, that’s not my experience.”

The radically different responses of the brothers-in-law may ultimately drive a wedge between them as the federal and congressional investigations proceed.

“Trump Jr.’s decision to make those statements personally, instead of via an


Five Stories That Show Why People Love John McCain



There was something different about the torrent of grief, well-wishes and wistful anecdotes that greeted John McCain when his staff announced late Wednesday night that the Arizona senator had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Perhaps it’s because of the extraordinary heroism McCain showed as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Or maybe it’s his penchant for a delightfully barbed quip, or his habit of making shows of personal integrity in an age of partisan rancor. Maybe it’s because, unlike the scripted and staid politicians all around him, he “acts somewhat in the ballpark of the way a real human being would act,” as one scribe quoted in a famous Rolling Stone essay about McCain once put it. Maybe it’s because to many, he seems to be everything America’s current president is not.

All of the best stories about John McCain over the years have chipped away at this thing that made him feel like a different politician—authentic, an image his aides cultivated with the famous Straight Talk Express campaign bus; and honorable and brave, which the tales of his brutal torture at the hands of North Vietnamese and his refusal to leave his Hanoi prison without his comrades underscored. Here is a little bit of what has stuck with people about the maverick Arizona senator over the years—articles, videos and stories that all highlight a quality that seems vanishingly rare in American politics today:

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David Foster Wallace: “ The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain

The late David Foster Wallace plumbed the subject of McCain’s authenticity, and the inevitable question of just how authentic it was, in his 2000 Rolling Stone essay “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain.” Wallace was initially struck by McCain’s unique non-politician quality on the 2000 campaign trail, marked first by the contrast of his non-dweebiness in a sea of dweeby politicians: “a guy who graduated near the bottom of his class at Annapolis and got in trouble for flying jets too low and cutting power lines and crashing all the time and generally being cool.” Given the inherent inauthenticity of the other politicians and the campaign machine around them, Wallace asks:

And who wouldn't fall all over themselves for a top politician who actually seemed to talk to you like you were a person, an intelligent adult worthy of respect? … Who wouldn't cheer, hearing stuff like this, especially from a guy we know chose to sit in a dark box for four years instead of violate a Code? Even in AD 2000, who among us is so cynical that he doesn't have some good old corny American hope way down deep in his heart, lying dormant like a spinster's ardor, not dead but just waiting for the right guy to give it to?

In the end, it becomes an essay on the fight between a voter


McCain's absence leaves big hole in Senate

Just a day after the stunning announcement that Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and will be absent from Capitol Hill to receive treatment, the feisty Arizona Republican is vowing to return to the Senate quickly.

McCain's health is critical for President Donald Trump and Senate GOP leaders, who suddenly find themselves in the position of needing McCain’s support very badly, despite the often combative relationship between the president and the 80-year-old McCain.

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McCain’s sudden departure leaves a giant hole in the middle of the Republican Conference. On defense and foreign policy issues, McCain is among the loudest GOP voices, largely based on his own experience as a Vietnam War hero and prisoner of war. A hawkish interventionist utterly convinced of America’s undisputed place as the world's leader, McCain has pushed to expand the U.S.' presence overseas, not withdraw from it, which often put him in collision with the Trump-Bannon worldview. From Syria to ISIS to Iran to North Korea, McCain has pushed for hard-line U.S. policies, including military strikes if necessary.

On other controversial topics — Trump’s behavior, immigration, treatment of terrorism detainees, torture — McCain has been one of the few Republicans willing to speak out. Because of his own political stature, McCain has been able to say what other Republicans can’t or won’t.

“Well, John, as you know, is a bigger-than-life force around here on so many issues, and particularly national security issues,” noted Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I think that his absence is going to be felt. We’re going to miss him. W we hope he gets back."

With just 52 Republicans, not having McCain in place means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell loses a dependable vote on advancing a repeal and replace of Obamacare, even as the Kentucky Republican vows to try to bring up the GOP health care bill early next week.

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And McCain, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, may not be able to oversee completion of the annual defense authorization bill, which had been expected to be taken up on the Senate floor as early next week.

The Pentagon, too, loses one of its biggest allies in Congress, although one who is not above bashing admirals and generals when he feels they deserve it. McCain has long supported getting rid of the 2011 budget caps and adding tens of billions of dollars to the defense budget. That’s in line with what Trump wants to do as well.

In a statement Wednesday, McCain vowed to return to the Senate as soon as possible and thanked all his well-wishers. “I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support — unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I'll be back soon, so stand-by!” McCain said on Twitter.

Then McCain was, well, McCain. His


House Republicans try to revive ban on Pentagon transgender surgeries

Rep. Vicky Hartzler is pictured. | Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

"Steps must be taken to address this misuse of our precious defense dollars," Rep. Vicky Hartzler, the author of the proposal, said in a statement. | Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

Several House Republicans are working behind the scenes to revive a failed effort to bar the Pentagon from funding gender reassignment surgeries for troops.

A mix of GOP defense hawks and conservatives are urging Speaker Paul Ryan and his team to use a procedural trick to automatically include the controversial proposal in a spending package set for floor consideration next week.

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If Ryan doesn't go along with that plan, they want him to give them a second shot at passing the amendment on the floor — a prospect that would anger the proposal's opponents.

"Steps must be taken to address this misuse of our precious defense dollars," Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the author of the proposal, said in a statement. "This policy hurts our military's readiness and will take over a billion dollars from the Department of Defense's budget. This is still an important issue that needs to be addressed.”

Hartzler’s initiative would end a President Barack Obama-era policy that let the Defense Department pay for gender reassignment surgeries and treatments for transgender active-duty personnel. Last week, 24 mostly moderate Republicans teamed up with 190 Democrats to kill the effort to end the policy, voting 209 to 214 against Hartzler’s amendment to a defense authorization bill. Six Republicans did not vote on the measure at all.

But some Republicans can’t let it go. They’re urging leadership to tuck the provision into a rules package governing the GOP’s appropriation legislation, ensuring it would become part of the text without another vote. Or, if that won't work, they want leadership to let them try to pass it again.

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“The federal government has no business paying for that procedure,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), a supporter of the amendment who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. “A lot of us feel very strongly about that, and we want a chance to have that in the bill.”

Asked about the matter Wednesday, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, who supported the amendment on the floor, said, “I’m not prepared to discuss it because I’m not to a point that a decision’s been made.”

However, several senior Republican sources predicted leadership would reject the plea to add the Hartzler amendment to a House rule — namely because it would circumvent regular order. It’s unclear whether they would allow a separate floor amendment on the proposal.

There’s concern that the pitch could sink the entire appropriations package by triggering centrist Republicans to bring down the rule. Moderates who opposed the amendment, including Tuesday Group leaders Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Elise Stefanik of New York, are pushing back against the revived effort. They’ve argued that


The hole in the House GOP budget


How much should the United States spend on the nuts-and-bolts of government in 2018?

For years, Republicans have had an answer: less than $500 billion. Back in 2011, Paul Ryan, then chairman the House Budget Committee, proposed $454 billion in 2018 spending for “non-defense discretionary” items—which is Washington-speak for everything in the government that isn’t the military or required spending on programs like Medicare. And every year since then, the House GOP’s proposed nondefense spending for fiscal 2018 has hovered somewhere around that number.

But on Tuesday, when House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black unveiled her budget for 2018, they suddenly embraced a new, much higher figure: $511 billion.

What happened? For years, the GOP Congress has been making its budgets work with a kind of trick: It promises sharp cuts in nondefense spending in the future, but never actually executes them this year. That helps achieve a budget that theoretically balances within 10 years, a conservative priority since Ryan was Budget chairman. But when it comes to actual conservative goals of scaling back government for real, it kicks the can down the road.

The can they’re kicking—NDD spending, for short—is the most easily cuttable part of government for Republicans. GOP lawmakers shy away from cutting Medicare and Social Security, which are hot-button issues for older voters. And Republicans almost universally want more defense spending. So the soft underbelly of the budget is NDD, which really means everything else the government does, from national parks to veterans programs; from tax collection to teacher training programs.

For eight years, Republicans had an excuse for never really fulfilling their promises: Their budgets would be rejected by President Barack Obama anyway. But this year, they have some cover: President Donald Trump’s budget proposal was fairly severe, calling for $479 billion in NDD spending.

So why are they proposing more than $500 billion in 2018? Moderate Republicans have objected to huge NDD cuts, even though many have voted for past budgets that contained them. They have a good reason for such objections: The government’s nondefense programs are already pared to the bone, and even many cost-cutting Republicans aren’t willing to face the political costs of slashing them much further. In 2013, House Republicans passed a budget with just $414 billion in NDD spending and actually did try to allocate that money in individual spending bills—and it ended with a revolt among their members. GOP leadership eventually had to pull the transportation and housing spending bill from the floor. The message was clear: You just can’t run the government with the kinds of numbers they’ve been writing into the budget.

“Those discretionary numbers are set at unrealistic numbers from a policy point of view,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican and former head of the Congressional Budget Office. “So when they get to it, they say, ‘I can’t live with that’ and pop the number up.”

Said Holtz-Eakin, “Those are exercises for purpose of the budget resolution, but aren’t really policies.”

For the past 50 years, the

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