Friday, March 23, 2018

‘You should do it’: Trump officials encouraged George Papadopoulos’s foreign outreach, documents show

When a Russian news agency reached out to George Papadopoulos to request an interview shortly before the 2016 election, the young adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump made sure to seek approval from campaign headquarters.

“You should do it,” deputy communications director Bryan Lanza urged Papadopoulos in a September 2016 email, emphasizing the benefits of a U.S. “partnership with Russia.”

The exchange was a sign that Papadopoulos — who pushed the Trump operation to meet with Russian officials — had the campaign’s blessing for some of his foreign outreach.

Since Papadopoulos pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts during the campaign and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump officials have sought to paint the 30-year-old energy consultant as a low-level volunteer whose outreach to Russia was not authorized by the campaign — and in some cases was actively discouraged.

Emails described to The Washington Post, which are among thousands of documents turned over to investigators examining Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, show Papadopoulos had more extensive contact with key Trump campaign and presidential transition officials than has been publicly acknowledged.

Among those who communicated with Papadopoulos were senior campaign figures such as strategist Stephen K. Bannon and adviser Michael Flynn, who corresponded with him about his efforts to broker ties between Trump and top foreign officials, the emails show.

As late as December 2016, as President-elect Trump was preparing to take office, Papadopoulos tried to serve as a conduit for the defense minister of Greece, transmitting what he said was a proposal for a strategic alliance from the Russian-allied Greek official that was reviewed by Bannon and Flynn, then in line to be national security adviser.

The previously undisclosed emails paint a portrait of a young researcher who demonstrated an early and intense interest in joining Trump’s presidential bid, beginning in July 2015, just weeks after the celebrity mogul announced his candidacy — eight months before Papadopoulos’s name first publicly surfaced.

Thomas Breen, an attorney for Papadopoulos, declined to comment. A White House spokesman also declined to comment.

In a tweet after Papadopoulos pleaded guilty, Trump wrote that “few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.” Another Trump campaign staffer dismissed Papadopoulos as a mere “coffee boy” during the campaign.

Papadopoulos is the only Trump associate known to have told prosecutors he had advance warning the Russians held emails that could be damaging to Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. A London-based professor told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, according to his plea agreement.

It is not known whether Papadopoulos relayed that information to other campaign officials.

The young aide was not a central player in Trump’s inner circle. At times, he appeared as a supplicant to his superiors on the campaign, who occasionally ignored his notes or appeared to rebuff him, the emails show. Shortly after joining the campaign, Papadopoulos was rebuked by campaign officials for giving an unauthorized interview to a British newspaper, The Post previously reported.

The documents also indicate that amid Papadopoulos’s advocacy of closer ties to Russia, he retained access to top officials — even after Trump’s victory.
‘Excellent guy’

A former intern and researcher at the conservative Hudson Institute, Papadopoulos was living in London when the 2016 presidential race kicked off. Less than a decade out of college, he had never worked for a campaign before.

In July 2015, Papadopoulos contacted then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski about his interest in joining Trump’s campaign, according to an email he sent the following month to deputy campaign manager Michael Glassner, now executive director of Trump’s reelection effort.

“The reason for my message is because I have been in touch with Mr. Corey Lewandowski since early last month about obtaining an advisory role to Mr. Trump on matters of energy security and U.S. policy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he wrote to Glassner.

He corresponded for months with Lewandowski and Glassner, according to the emails. The two campaign officials responded politely but initially told him no job was available.
Glassner and Lewandowski did not respond to requests for comment.

In December 2015, Papadopoulos went to work for the campaign of neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was then challenging Trump for the GOP nomination.

After several months, Papadopoulos reached out again to the Trump campaign to inform them he would be leaving the flagging Carson campaign.

“I wanted to let you know that I stopped working as Ben Carson’s principal foreign policy adviser. I’d be interested in getting on board with the Trump team. Is the team looking to expand?” Papadopoulos wrote to Glassner early in March 2016.

At the time, Trump was surging in the polls, and the real estate developer was under increasing pressure to name foreign policy advisers to his team.

Glassner quickly connected Papadopoulos with campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis.

Clovis and Papadopoulos spoke by phone four days later, a conversation in which Clovis said improving relations with Russia was a top foreign policy goal of the campaign, according to what Papadopoulos later told prosecutors. Clovis, who did not respond to a request for comment, has previously denied that account.

Later that month, Trump himself named Papadopoulos among a list of five people advising his campaign on foreign policy during a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board. “Excellent guy,” the candidate said.

‘New chapter’ in relations

At the end of March, Papadopoulos attended a meeting of Trump’s newly named national security advisory group at the candidate’s not-yet-opened hotel in Washington. After introducing himself, the young adviser announced he could organize a meeting between Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Trump, according to court documents.

The following month, he intensified his outreach to new Russian contacts he had met through the London professor, Joseph Mifsud. They included a woman who had been introduced to him as a Putin relative and Ivan Timofeev, director of a Moscow think tank. Papadopoulos highlighted these contacts in numerous emails to campaign officials disclosed by prosecutors and described previously to The Post.

In May, Papadopoulos forwarded to campaign officials a note he received from Timofeev informing him that Russian Foreign Ministry officials were open to a Trump visit. That idea was batted down by campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who emailed his associate Rick Gates: “We need to communicate that DT is not doing these trips.”

Still, Papadopoulos persisted and was encouraged by Clovis in August to pursue meetings on his own “if feasible,” according to court documents. A lawyer for Clovis has said he was merely being polite and did not authorize Papadopoulos to represent the campaign abroad.

That spring, Papadopoulos spoke to a group of researchers in Israel, where he announced Trump believed Putin was a “responsible actor and potential partner,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
Several months later, Papadopoulos alerted the campaign that he had an opportunity to speak to the Russian news outlet Interfax.

“Received a request from Interfax Russian News Agency with Ksenia Baygarova on U.S.-Russia ties under a President Trump. What do you think?” he wrote to Lanza on Sept. 9, 2016. “If the campaign wants me to do it, can answer similar to the answers I gave in April while in Israel.”

Lanza gave the go-ahead, citing the conflict in Syria as a reason to work with the Russians. Papadopoulos then offered to send the campaign a copy of the interview after it was published.

“You’re the best. Thank you!” Lanza responded.

Lanza declined to comment.

In the interview, published Sept. 30, 2016, Papadopoulos told the Russian media outlet that Trump had been “open about his willingness to usher in a new chapter in U.S.-Russia ties,” specifically citing the need for cooperation in Syria.

According to prosecutors, Papadopoulos also sent the Interfax story to Mifsud after its publication.
Baygarova, the Interfax reporter who interviewed Papadopoulos, said in an email to The Post that she reached out to Papadopoulos after being assigned to interview a representative of both presidential campaigns. She said she sent messages to each person on a list of Trump foreign policy advisers. Only Papadopoulos responded.

She said he insisted on answering questions in writing, resisting edits even after they met in person in New York. During their meeting, she said Papadopoulos was “very nice and friendly.”

“I got the impression that he was not very experienced. However, he did seem to be very ambitious and sincere a Trump supporter,” she said.


Around the same time, Papadopoulos began communicating with Bannon about messages he was receiving from a contact at the Egyptian Embassy about that country’s interest in organizing a meeting between President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and Trump.

The emails show Papadopoulos was the first to alert the campaign to al-Sissi’s interest in meeting and that he then connected top campaign leadership to the Egyptian Embassy.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy confirmed that an embassy official contacted Papadopoulos as a way to reach the Trump campaign.

Bannon requested talking points from Papadopoulos for the meeting, sought a phone call with him to discuss it and ultimately asked Papadopoulos to contact the embassy to alert an official when a time was finalized, the emails show. Papadopoulos’s role in the meeting was first reported by the New York Times.

“This is a great move on our side. A home run,” Papadopoulos wrote to Bannon, in an email that has not previously been reported.

“Agree,” Bannon responded. “But very hard sell to DJT.”

Trump and al-Sissi met the next night at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The session put the GOP nominee on a par with Clinton, who had previously announced she would be meeting with the Egyptian leader while he was in town. Sessions and Flynn also attended the Trump meeting.

“We met for a long time, actually. There was a good chemistry there,” Trump told Fox Business host Lou Dobbs the next day.

William Burck, an attorney for Bannon, declined to comment.
Papadopoulos continued to position himself as a go-between for Trump’s top staff and key foreign officials after Trump’s victory.

In December 2016, Papadopoulos alerted Bannon that he recently had been in contact with Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, a pro-Russian Greek nationalist who has met with Putin.

“They want to sign a government-to-government agreement with the USA for all rights to all energy fields offshore, strategic foothold in the Mediterranean and Balkans,” Papadopoulos wrote in an email.

Bannon forwarded the message to Flynn and Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland.

“Will work this one,” Flynn responded.

It is not clear whether Flynn pursued the Greek offer. In late December, Flynn wrote in an email to Papadopoulos that he believed the young adviser’s suggestions presented “great opportunities.”

“We will examine these and determine if this is something we should take on early. Stay in touch and, at some point, we should get together.”

He signed the email “Mike.”

Robert Kelner, an attorney for Flynn, declined to comment. An attorney for McFarland did not respond to a request for comment.

In an interview, Kammenos said he did not seek Papadopoulos’s help in reaching Trump’s aides. He said that before the election, Papadopoulos sent him an energy proposal he thought had merit.
By Trump’s election, he said he had concluded Papadopoulos was not a major figure in Trump’s world and established his own contact with the presidential transition.

Kammenos added: “I think Mr. Papadopoulos is a very young person with dreams.”
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ex-Playboy Model Karen McDougal Details 10-Month Affair With Donald Trump

The former Playboy model Karen McDougal gave her first television interview about the affair she alleges she had with Donald J. Trump more than a decade ago, saying that he offered her money after their first sexual encounter.

“After we had been intimate, he tried to pay me, and I actually did not take that,” she told Anderson Cooper of CNN in an interview broadcast on Thursday night. “I looked at him and said, ‘That’s not me, I’m not that kind of girl.’”

As a security aide of Mr. Trump’s drove her home, she said, “I started crying, I was really sad — it really hurt me.”

But, she said, in spite of that encounter in 2006, “I went back,” conducting what she described as a 10-month, serious relationship that she finally ended when she could no longer bear the guilt of betraying Mr. Trump’s wife then-new wife, Melania.
Pressed by Mr. Cooper on what she would say to Mrs. Trump now, Ms. McDougal looked directly into the camera, tearing up, and said, “What can you say except, ‘I’m sorry — I’m sorry.’”

Ms. McDougal’s interview made for a jarring, split-screen news night, with the major presidential headlines toggling between the allegations about an extramarital affair from a former Playboy model and Mr. Trump’s decision to remove his national security adviser H. R. McMaster and replace him with John R. Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations.

The interview came despite an agreement Ms. McDougal struck during the 2016 presidential campaign with American Media Inc., which owns The National Enquirer, to sell it the exclusive rights to her story about Mr. Trump in a $150,000 deal — part of what is known as a “catch and kill” agreement in which a tabloid buys a story only to bury it. Mr. Trump is a friend of A.M.I.’s chairman, David J. Pecker.

Ms. McDougal filed suit earlier this week to get out of her deal with American Media, saying she signed it under pressure and false pretenses, effectively silencing her on the affair. (American Media has denied her claims, saying over the past couple of days that the contract is valid, it was not trying to silence her, and indicating the story “may be published” just yet). Many of the details Ms. McDougal shared in her interview with Mr. Cooper were included in a piece in The New Yorker magazine last month, based on handwritten notes she took about the relationship.

But an in-person, television interview is uniquely visceral, and Ms. McDougal’s appearance was clearly of a sort Mr. Trump’s allies would have wanted to avoid during the campaign. On Sunday, “60 Minutes’’ is planning to show an interview by Mr. Cooper with another woman who is suing to get out of a deal restricting her from speaking about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump, the adult entertainment star Stephanie Clifford. Mr. Trump’s representatives have denied that he had an affair with either of the two women.

Composed, unwavering, yet sometimes tearful, Ms. McDougal told a detailed story about a relationship that was based on love — “he always told me he loved me,” she said — and was facilitated by one of Mr. Trump’s bodyguards.

She described herself as a Republican and said she voted for Mr. Trump in November, describing him as “brilliant” and “charming” and someone she loved enough to even consider marrying. She said she was now eager to tell her story because it was already known and she wanted the chance to tell it herself.

Ms. McDougal said she first met Mr. Trump when he filmed an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” at the Playboy Mansion in 2006, where they struck up conversation and he asked for her number.

She said they had their first date that June, on Mr. Trump’s birthday, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Mr. Trump invited her for dinner, she said, so she was surprised when they entered the grounds from a rear entrance and went directly to a private bungalow. “We’re talking about his birthday, and then as the night ended, we were intimate,” she said.

What followed, she said, were dozens of dates and sexual encounters in which, she said in answer to a specific question from Mr. Cooper, Mr. Trump did not use birth control.

Many of those encounters, she said, took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel, but she also spent time with Mr. Trump at his other properties across the country. “I went to his golf course in California,” she said. “I went to his golf course home in New Jersey. I went to his home in New York.” At one party, she met his son Eric, and posed with him in a picture, she said. At another, at the Playboy Mansion, she posed for a picture with Mr. Trump, Melania Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and other people, keeping her distance from Mrs. Trump as best she could, she said.

Ms. McDougal said Mr. Trump had compared her, favorably, to his daughter. “He said I was beautiful like her and, ‘You’re a smart girl,’” she said.

Once, she said, she was even whisked to his apartment at Trump Tower, when Mrs. Trump and Barron were not home.

“I said, ‘Aren’t you afraid to bring me here?’ He’s like, ‘They won’t say anything,’” she said. While he gave her a tour, she said, “we passed a room and he said this is Melania’s room she likes to have her alone time.” But, she said, being in the apartment, “just puts a little stab in your heart,” and she could not wait to leave.

An unbearably guilty conscience prompted her to finally end the relationship in 2007.

Ms. McDougal said she was “disgusted” by the hot-mic “Access Hollywood” tape recording that came out late in the presidential campaign in which Mr. Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, just as she was “mortified” when more than a dozen women leveled sexual misconduct allegations at him. “I’ve never seen that side of him,” she said.

Asked about denials Mr. Trump’s representatives have issued about her allegations of an affair, Ms. McDougal said, “I think somebody’s lying, and I can tell you it’s not me.”


Beyond Gun Control, Student Marchers Aim to Upend Elections

On Saturday, Rebecca Schneid plans to pull on her sneakers, sling a camera over her shoulder and march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington with thousands of other students demanding an end to the gun violence that has cut through so many American communities.

But to Ms. Schneid, a survivor of the school shooting that killed 17 people last month in Parkland, Fla., the march is just the beginning — a moment of political awakening, she hopes, that will put the nation on notice that young people plan to be a greater, more organized force than teenagers and college students in the past.

“It’s going to look like millions and millions of people,” said Ms. Schneid, 16, who is the editor of the newspaper at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. “And it’s going to look scary to politicians.”

With more than 800 student-led demonstrations planned in the United States and internationally, the organizers of the March for Our Lives are aiming for a generational show of strength by a diverse movement united in a conviction that adults have failed them.
Still, for all their fierce energy, these liberal-leaning activists have yet to be tested in the arena of electoral politics. They face a political system that is historically resistant to major change, and a Republican president and Congress with a strong base of support among much older voters, many of whom have more conservative views on guns.

A major moment will come in the 2018 midterm elections: Some students will be eligible to vote in November, and have vowed to make gun laws a central issue. Many more hope to organize networks and lay groundwork to vent their frustration — about pervasive school violence, and an unjust political system they view as enabling it — in the next vote for president in 2020.


His Brother Was Shot in Chicago. He’s Marching With Students From Parkland.

Ke’Shon Newman’s brother was shot nine times on Chicago’s South Side, where gun violence is a daily threat. Now, Ke’Shon is heading to Washington to march with high school students from Parkland, Fla.
By SAMEEN AMIN and YOUSUR AL-HLOU on Publish Date March 22, 2018. . Watch in Times Video »

Whether the students of the post-Parkland movement become a disruptive force depends, in large part, on if they stay organized and register to vote. There is a big practical difference between tuning into politics and actually voting, political strategists and organizers say, and young people often vote at lower rates than older ones, especially in midterm elections.

Page Gardner, president of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, a Democratic-aligned group that focuses on mobilizing young people, minorities and single women, said the big question was whether teenagers’ activism would translate into votes. The gun issue, she said, had become a focal point for young people who are “just fed up” with the way government works now.

“They do think the system is rigged; this is just an example of it,” Ms. Gardner said of the gun issue. 

“They want to change it. Whether or not they register and vote to change it, is obviously the $64 million question.”

The students have come of age during a time of political tumult — starting with President Trump’s election and erupting in a new and more focused way with last month’s school shooting. Having already reignited the political debate around guns, they believe they have the potential to bend the ideological and partisan lines of American politics more decisively as they join the electorate.

Lane Murdock, 15, a high school student in Connecticut who is organizing a wave of school-walkout protests on April 20, said the combination of the gun massacres and Mr. Trump’s surprise win had jarred her out of political complacency.

“We were raised to let the adults do the work,” said Ms. Murdock, who is traveling to Washington to join the march there. “When I was growing up and Obama was president, I didn’t pay much attention to politics.”
She called Mr. Trump’s election a turning point: “I think kids are frustrated that they really couldn’t have a say.”

A number of the most prominent young activists from Parkland have already become familiar faces in Washington, and several arrived in the city early on Thursday to meet with students at Thurgood Marshall Academy, a school in Anacostia, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, to discuss gun violence.

Students at Thurgood Marshall Academy take a group selfie with the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student activists Alfonso Calderon, right, and Alex Wind wait to walk onstage at a rally against gun control on Thursday. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who has been meeting regularly with high school-age activists, said they stood out from other groups in their scorn for the political status quo. Mr. Murphy, who became a fierce advocate for gun control after the murder of 20 children in a 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., said he had urged the students to dig in for a long fight, on a historic scale — “like the Civil Rights movement or the anti-Vietnam War movement.”

“These kids are impatient,” said Mr. Murphy, who at 44 is one of the Senate’s youngest members. 

“This is a generation that is used to demanding immediate gratification, and they want it politically, too.”

The March for Our Lives is likely to echo other mass demonstrations that have sprung up since Mr. Trump’s election. Like the Women’s March, it is to be anchored in Washington with speeches from students from around the country, and complemented by satellite rallies in cities and towns as large as Los Angeles and as small as Pinedale, Wyo.

The National Park Service has approved a permit for the Washington march that estimates 500,000 people could attend, which would make it one of the most impressive displays of collective political will since the last presidential election — and the only one in which many or most of the participants have never been able to vote.

Marchers like Madison Leal, however, are aching to start.

Ms. Leal, 16, a student from Stoneman Douglas, said she would hold a sign at the march bearing 17 blood-red hands and the message: “How many more?” If elected officials do not act, Ms. Leal said, “I’m going to vote them out of office.”

“And so is my entire generation,” she added. “And they’ll be sorry then.”

Political organizers say students in the post-Parkland movement could be a disruptive force in the coming elections — if they stay organized and register to vote. Members of the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington listened to speakers at a rally against gun violence on Thursday. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times

Among some participants, the determination to defy an indifferent political system mingles with a persistent fear of disappointment. Dantrell Blake, 21, who was shot as a teenager in Chicago and plans to march in Washington, said he hopes to draw attention to gun violence in his hometown but knows that politicians could ignore the message. The mostly black victims of gun violence in Chicago, he said, had not drawn the attention of politicians the way the Parkland shooting did.

“It’s still rigged and they’re still going to do what they want,” Mr. Blake said of elected officials.
Those competing impulses — the drive toward political confrontation, entwined with skepticism that government will accommodate them — may come to define these students as voters. As a group, they combine liberal social beliefs with an intensely wary view of the existing political and economic order, opinion polls have found. While young people are not uniformly Democratic-leaning or supportive of gun regulation, they are well to the left of the middle in their views. They have moved further toward Democrats since Mr. Trump’s election.

Nearly three-fifths of millennial voters — a group slightly older than the high school-age marchers — identify as Democrats, according to a Pew Research Center study. That figure is much higher among women and minorities.

Conservative supporters of gun rights have watched the teenagers’ mounting activism with concern and skepticism. They have organized competing rallies this weekend in places that include Salt Lake City and Helena, Mont., but Bryan Melchior, 45, a Utah gun-rights activist, said he sees the “gun community becoming more of a minority.”

Mr. Melchior, who has been organizing a march in Salt Lake City, questioned the staying power of the Parkland movement.

“It’s not going to change anything about our laws,” Mr. Melchior said of the march on Washington. “What I see is children that are just plain confused.”

John Della Volpe, a pollster who studies young people’s political views for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics, said the gun issue was part of a larger array of social views that define the next wave of voters. While young people are largely liberal, he said they were united chiefly by their dissatisfaction with the existing political system.

“I think that’s what we’re seeing in this movement, in a raw form,” said Mr. Della Volpe, who met this week with some of the Stoneman Douglas activists.

And at least some of the students marching this weekend have already taken steps toward becoming voters.

Ms. Hill, who led a walkout at her school to protest gun violence this month, said she plans to march at a rally at the Colorado capitol this weekend. And her aspirations have swerved toward politics for the long term, too: while she once dreamed of becoming an author or an archaeologist, Ms. Hill now hopes to be a member of Congress or an ambassador.

“I thought, well, Trump,” she said. “If he can get into politics and if he can get elected, why can’t I?”


Trump’s Lawyer Resigns as President Adopts Aggressive Approach in Russia Inquiry

WASHINGTON — John Dowd resigned on Thursday as President Trump’s lead lawyer for the special counsel investigation as Mr. Trump signaled that he was prepared to ignore his advice and wanted a sit-down with investigators.

After days of uncertainty among the president’s lawyers about their status, Mr. Dowd ultimately broke with Mr. Trump over whether he should agree to be questioned in the inquiry, a person briefed on the matter said.

Mr. Dowd viewed an interview as too risky; the president reiterated shortly after Mr. Dowd resigned that he wanted to clear his name. “I would like to,” the president told reporters at the White House when asked about meeting with investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. “I would like to.”

Mr. Dowd’s departure cleared the way for the president to embrace a more aggressive posture toward the investigation and marked another reshuffling of personnel for Mr. Trump. In the most politically consequential investigation in decades, the president has refashioned his legal team several times, a revolving door that mirrors the high turnover among senior White House and campaign aides.
“I love the president,” Mr. Dowd said in a telephone interview. “I wish him the best of luck. I think he has a really good case.”

Now, as he weighs whether to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller, the president will be advised by a cadre of lawyers better known for their television and advocacy work than their courtroom triumphs.

This week, the president hired Joseph E. diGenova, a longtime Washington lawyer who has pushed the theory on Fox News that the F.B.I. and Justice Department framed Mr. Trump.

The former United States attorney in Washington, Mr. diGenova has been on television in recent years more than he has been in court. He has appeared in only three federal criminal cases in the past two decades, according to the national database of federal court records, and has not filed an appearance in a federal criminal case in eight years.

Mr. diGenova was brought aboard by Jay Sekulow, his longtime friend and the president’s other personal lawyer for the Mueller investigation.

Mr. Sekulow, a constitutional lawyer and radio host, has specialized in religious freedom and campaign finance cases and appeared in numerous civil cases, including filing lawsuits and amicus briefs in recent years against the Obama administration. Most notably, Mr. Sekulow sued the Internal Revenue Service over improper delays in processing tax-exempt status for conservative groups.

The president is also considering restoring Marc E. Kasowitz, his longtime personal lawyer, to a larger role. Mr. Kasowitz had run the legal team until he was pushed aside last summer, but he was still in contact with the president occasionally over the past several months and supports the aggressive approach the president is veering toward.

As his relationship with Mr. Dowd grew strained, the president sought top legal help in recent weeks, but his discussions with well-regarded lawyers — including Emmet T. Flood, who represented President Bill Clinton during impeachment — have yielded little fruit.

Mr. Flood is said to be interested in joining the White House but will not do so if Mr. Kasowitz returns to a significant role, two people close to the president’s legal team said.

He hired Mr. Dowd, Mr. Sekulow and Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer for the investigation, who all advised the president to be more cooperative with the special counsel, convincing him that it would hasten the end of the investigation. They also promised him at several points that the inquiry would be over by last December.

The president was said to be pleased with the resignation of Mr. Dowd, whose prickly personality had begun to grate on him and other members of the legal team, according to a person who spoke with the president. Mr. Trump had lost confidence in his lead lawyer in recent weeks and had spoken to the outside lawyers without directly consulting Mr. Dowd about hiring them, the person said.

Tensions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Dowd began to emerge publicly in January when the president told reporters that he was eager to be interviewed by the special counsel. Mr. Dowd, who had taken the lead in dealing with investigators about an interview, had been trying to persuade Mr. Mueller to allow the president to answer questions in writing or through recorded video. Mr. Trump’s declaration angered Mr. Dowd, who viewed it as undercutting whatever leverage he had over Mr. Mueller.

“I will make the decision on whether the president talks to the special counsel,” Mr. Dowd told reporters at the time. “I have not made any decision yet.”

Mr. Dowd, along with other lawyers on the team, recognized the risks of putting a client prone to hyperbole and inaccuracies in the same room with prosecutors. Mr. Mueller has already prosecuted several people for making false statements in the case.

Mr. Dowd, a former Marine Corps captain and seasoned Washington defense lawyer, was best known as leading the Major League Baseball inquiry into gambling accusations involving Pete Rose, baseball’s hits leader and the former Cincinnati Reds manager.

Mr. Dowd also represented Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, when he was accused of improperly meeting with federal bank regulators as a favor for a political donor. Mr. McCain was ultimately exonerated.

But shortly after taking over, Mr. Dowd committed a series of unforced errors that raised questions about his judgment. In August, he forwarded an email to journalists, government officials and friends that echoed secessionist Civil War propaganda and equated the South’s rebellion to that of the American Revolution against England.

A month later, Mr. Dowd and Mr. Cobb were overheard by a New York Times reporter openly discussing intimate details about the president’s legal strategy over lunch at a bistro near the White House.

In December, Mr. Dowd was forced to apologize for composing a tweet posted by the president suggesting Mr. Trump knew his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had lied to the F.B.I. Mr. Flynn had pleaded guilty a day earlier to the charge and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel.

Finally, last weekend, amid the fallout from the firing of a top F.B.I. official, Mr. Dowd called on the Justice Department to end the special counsel investigation. Mr. Dowd, who had forged relationships with the special counsel’s office, said at first that he was speaking for the president, but later backtracked.

The president was angered with Mr. Dowd’s handling of the episode, telling people that it was ham-handed and that Mr. Dowd should not have backed off his initial statement. Mr. Dowd has told people that the president had recently implored him to stay, but he was said to be considering quitting earlier this week.


Bumbling Into a Trade War

“Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” So declared Donald Trump a few weeks ago, after announcing tariffs on steel and aluminum. Actually, trade wars are rarely good, and not at all easy to win — especially if you have no idea what you’re doing. And boy, do these people not know what they’re doing.

It’s odd, in a way. After all, trade is clearly an issue about which Trump is truly passionate. He tried to kill Obamacare, but to all appearances his main concern was tarnishing his predecessor’s legacy. He wanted a tax cut, but more to score a “win” than because he cared about what was in it. But reducing the trade deficit has been a long-term Trump obsession, so you might expect him to learn something about how world trade works, or at least surround himself with people who do understand the subject.

But he hasn’t. And what he doesn’t know can and will hurt you.

In the case of steel, here’s what happened: First came the splashy announcement of big tariffs, ostensibly in the name of national security — infuriating U.S. allies, which are the main source of our steel imports. Then came what looks like a climb-down: The administration has exempted Canada, Mexico, the European Union and others from those tariffs.

Was this climb-down a reaction to threats of retaliation, or did the administration not at first realize that the tariffs would mainly hit our allies? Either way, Trump may have gotten the worst of both worlds: angering countries that should be our friends and establishing a reputation as an untrustworthy ally and trading partner, without even doing much for the industry he was supposedly trying to help.

But while his coterie mentions these issues, Trump seems fixated on the U.S. trade deficit with China, which he keeps saying is $500 billion. (It’s actually $375 billion, but who’s counting?)

What’s wrong with this fixation?

First of all, much of that big deficit is a statistical illusion. China is, as some put it, the Great Assembler: Many Chinese exports are actually put together from parts produced elsewhere, especially South Korea and Japan. The classic example is the iPhone, which is “made in China” but in which Chinese labor and capital account for only a few percent of the final price.

That’s an extreme example, but part of a broader pattern: Much of the apparent U.S. trade deficit with China — probably almost half — is really a deficit with the countries that sell components to Chinese industry (and with which China runs deficits). This in turn has two implications: America has much less trade leverage over China than Trump imagines, and a trade war with “China” will anger a wider group of countries, some of them close allies.

More important, China’s overall trade surplus is not currently a major problem either for the United States or the world as a whole.

I use the word “currently” advisedly. There was a time, not that long ago, when the U.S. had high unemployment and China, by keeping its currency undervalued and running big trade surpluses, made that unemployment problem worse. And at the time I was calling for the U.S. to play hardball on the issue.

But that was then. Chinese trade surpluses have come way down; meanwhile, the U.S. no longer has high unemployment. Trump may think that our trade deficit with China means that it’s winning and we’re losing, but it just ain’t so. Chinese trade — as opposed to other forms of Chinese malpractice — is the wrong issue to get worked up over in the world of 2018.
And here’s the thing: By bumbling into a trade war, Trump undermines our ability to do anything about the real issues. If you want to pressure China into respecting intellectual property, you need to assemble a coalition of nations hurt by Chinese ripoffs — that is, other advanced countries, like Japan, South Korea and European nations. Yet Trump is systematically alienating those countries, with things like his on-again-off-again steel tariff and his threat to put tariffs on goods that, while assembled in China, are mainly produced elsewhere.

All in all, Trump’s trade policy is quickly turning into an object lesson in the wages of ignorance. By refusing to do its homework, the Trump team is managing to lose friends while failing to influence people.

The truth is that trade wars are bad, and almost everyone ends up losing economically. If anyone “wins,” it will be nations that gain geopolitical influence because America is squandering its own reputation. And that means that to the extent that anyone emerges as a victor from the Trump trade war, it will be … China.


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