White House shake-up - What's Your Point?

- This week's panel: Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, Nyanza Moore - progressive commentator and Houston attorney, Bob Price – Associate Editor Breitbart Texas,  Tony Diaz- Chicano educator and activist,  Tomaro Bell – Super Neighborhood leader, Bill King - businessman, columnist and former Kemah Mayor

 

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump said Saturday that chief of staff John Kelly will leave his job by year's end amid an expected West Wing reshuffling reflecting a focus on the 2020 re-election campaign and the challenge of governing with Democrats reclaiming control of the House.

Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, is Trump's top choice to replace Kelly, and the two have held discussions for months about the job, a White House official said. An announcement was expected in the coming days, the president told reporters as he left the White House for the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

Kelly had been credited with imposing order on a chaotic West Wing after his arrival in June 2017 from his post as homeland security secretary. But his iron fist also alienated some longtime Trump allies, and he grew increasingly isolated, with an increasingly diminished role.

Known through the West Wing as "the chief" or "the general," the retired Marine Corps four-star general was tapped by Trump via tweet in July 2017 from his perch atop the Homeland Security Department to try to normalize a White House riven by infighting and competing power bases.

"John Kelly will leaving - I don't know if I can say retiring - but he's a great guy," Trump said. "John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We'll be announcing who will be taking John's place - it might be on an interim basis. I'll be announcing that over the next day or two, but John will be leaving at the end of the year. ... I appreciate his service very much."

Kelly had early successes, including ending an open-door Oval Office policy that that had been compared to New York's Grand Central Station and instituting a more rigorous policy process to try to prevent staffers from going directly to Trump.

But those efforts also miffed the president and some of his most influential outside allies, who had grown accustomed to unimpeded access. Kelly's handling of domestic violence accusations against the former White House staff secretary also caused consternation, especially among lower-level White House staffers, who believed Kelly had lied to them about when he found out about the allegations.

Lauding Kelly, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the country was "better for his duty at the White House." He called Kelly "a force for order, clarity and good sense."

Trump and Ayers were working out terms under which Ayers would fill the role and the time commitment he would make, the White House official said. Trump wants his next chief of staff to agree to hold the job through the 2020 election. Ayers, who has young triplets, had long planned to leave the administration at the end of the year, but he has agreed to serve in an interim basis through the spring of 2019.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.

Word of Kelly's impending departure comes a day after Trump named his picks for attorney general and ambassador to the United Nations, and two senior aides shifted from the White House to Trump's campaign.

In any administration, the role of White House chief of staff is split between the responsibilities of supervising the White House and managing the man sitting in the Oval Office. Striking that balance in the turbulent times of Trump has bedeviled both Kelly and his predecessor, Reince Priebus.

White House aides say Trump has developed confidence in Ayers, in part by watching the effectiveness of Pence's largely independent political operation. Ayers also earned the backing of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president's daughter and son-in-law and senior advisers, for taking on the new role, White House officials said.

The Georgia native's meteoric rise in GOP politics included a successful stint at the Republican Governors Association, time as campaign manager for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's failed White House bid and consultant work for dozens of high-profile Republicans, including Pence.

Ayers, 36, would be the youngest chief of staff since 34-year-old Hamilton Jordan served under Jimmy Carter. Kelly is 68.

Trump had discussed replacing Kelly on multiple occasions, including following the negative publicity surrounding Kelly's handling of domestic violence accusations against then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Some lower-level White House staffers believed Kelly had lied to them about when he knew of the allegations and when he made clear to Porter that he'd have to leave.

Trump had often tossed around potential replacements, but sensitive to charges that his administration has been marked by record turnover, he said in July that he would keep Kelly in the job through 2020.

But inside the White House, it was viewed largely as an attempt to clamp down on speculation about Kelly's fate during the midterm elections, rather than a true vote of confidence.

Kelly, too, made no secret of the trials of his job, and often joked about how working for Trump was harder than anything he'd done before, including on the battlefield. In private, Kelly, whom friends said took the job out of a sense of duty to his country, cast himself as safeguarding the public from an impulsive and mercurial president. Reports of those conversations infuriated the president, who is especially sensitive of attacks on his competence and perceptions he is being managed.

At an event celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kelly joked that he missed everyone in the department "every day," offering a deadpan eye roll and smile that drew laughs and applause.

"At six months, the last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of Homeland Security, but I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess," he joked.

Kelly, who had threatened to quit on several occasions, told friends he would be happy if he lasted until his one-year anniversary: July 28.

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Associated Press writers Michele Salcedo and Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

 

WASHINGTON (AP) - The more that special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors reveal, the darker grow the legal clouds over President Donald Trump.

Trump's own Justice Department has now implicated him in a crime, accusing him of directing illegal hush-money payments to women during his 2016 presidential campaign. Mueller keeps finding new instances of Trump associates lying about their contacts with Russia during an election the Kremlin worked to sway in the Republican's favor.

The president hasn't been charged with any crimes. He may never be. Whether a president can be prosecuted while in office remains a matter of legal dispute.

But Trump also hasn't been cleared of wrongdoing. Each new legal filing underscores that the president is a central figure in investigations that already have brought down several people who worked closely with him and remain a threat to others in Trump's orbit.

Even if the president is never charged with illegal activity, the months of investigations and legal wrangling have cast a pall over his administration and exposed the culture of lying that has surrounded Trump, both in and out of office.

Trump's moniker in some of the filings: "Individual-1".

Trump allies argue that if Mueller had information that Trump broke the law, the special counsel would have made his case against him by now. To the president and his supporters, the fact that the special counsel has been working for well over a year without making a direct accusation against Trump means the investigation is simply an effort to damage the president politically.

"AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!" Trump tweeted early Saturday morning.

Despite Trump's declarations, Mueller hasn't ruled out that the prospect of election season coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign, and only recently received written answers from the president about possible Russian interference. Mueller also is still pursuing whether Trump obstructed justice while in office.

Yet the most precarious legal situation for Trump appears to be separate from Mueller's inquiry: an assertion by federal prosecutors in New York that Trump directed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to make illegal payments during the campaign to silence women alleging extramarital affairs.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who will oversee the House intelligence committee next year, said that a new court filing on Friday "implicates the president very directly" in a crime.

"It puts the issue squarely before the Justice Department whether a sitting president should be indicted or whether the Justice Department has to wait until he's out of office," Schiff said in an interview.

Federal law requires that any payments made "for the purposes of influencing" an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing Friday makes clear that the payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal were made to benefit Trump politically.

Trump's only defense? Cohen, he says, is a liar.

The simultaneous investigations have infuriated Trump. Democrats, and some Republicans, fear Trump may ultimately try to silence Mueller or halt his investigation, though proposed legislation protecting the special counsel has stalled in Congress.

After going publicly silent in the run-up to the midterm elections, Mueller has roared back with a series of legal moves that suggest he is actively pursuing the central question of whether Trump's campaign illegally coordinated with Russia during the election.

In a filing released on Friday, Mueller revealed that a Russian national claiming close ties to the Kremlin reached out to Cohen to propose government-level "political synergy" during the election. The November 2015 outreach - which Mueller says Cohen did not pursue - appears to be the earliest known effort by Russia to build ties with the Trump campaign.

Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress about efforts by Trump's real estate company to build a project in Moscow as late as the summer of 2016, after Trump became the Republican nominee for president.

Mueller has not alleged that the president knew about these interactions with Russia.

Even so, some Trump supporters now believe the president is unlikely to emerge from the investigations unscathed.

Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and frequent defender of Trump, said Mueller appears poised to issue a report that will be highly critical of the president, though Dershowitz believes it will deal "more with political sin than a federal crime."

"It will be a very serious accusation of the president, but it will be more political," Dershowitz said.

Of course, political sin could still put Trump in a dangerous position, particularly now that Democrats are within weeks of taking over the House. The new Democratic majority will have broad subpoena power. Party leaders will be under pressure from some members to pursue impeachment, particularly if Mueller's report makes direct accusations of the president.

Schiff, who will oversee some of the congressional probes into Trump, said the swirl of investigations "tests the proposition that no one is above the law."

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