The Note: Trump Dodges Questions on Russia

PHOTO: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump shake hands during a joint news conference at the East Room of the White House, Feb. 15, 2017, in Washington.PlayWin McNamee/Getty Images
WATCH Trump calls Michael Flynn a 'wonderful man'

Trump’s First 100 Days with SHUSHANNAH WALSHE

Day No. 28

THE BIG STORY: Yesterday, as most days in this White House, was a day of contrasts. The president didn’t answer any questions about the biggest story: his campaign and associates having "repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials,” as the New York Times broke Tuesday night, but he did weigh in on Gen. Michael Flynn, speaking glowingly of the man he just fired. "I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media," Trump said at a joint news conference with the Israeli prime minister by his side. "I think it's really a sad thing he was treated so badly," Trump continued, calling his former national security adviser a "wonderful man.” Of course this is the man that just got forced to resign for misleading the vice president and others. The president essentially blamed the media, not the act, for his ouster. He also blasted the leaks plaguing his administration calling them a “criminal act” and saying they were “illegally leaked." Of course this is the same Donald Trump who espoused his love of Wikileaks during the campaign, calling it a “treasure trove” and even called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email. As long as the president continues with these contradictions, the press and public will continue to point them out. Of course, the contradictions are far from the worst of it: those calls for investigations on Capitol Hill are only growing louder.

THE SLEEPER STORY: It’s hard to imagine the ongoing, lengthy fight to fill Donald Trump’s cabinet as a sleeper story, but with the Russia and Flynn stories dominating, it isn’t the number one headline. Yesterday brought the first Trump nominee to fall: CKE Restaurants head Andrew Puzder formally withdrew from consideration, a victory for Democrats and progressive groups. But, even with help from the left, his fall was his own doing. Puzder came under scrutiny after admitting to employing an undocumented housekeeper for years and revelations his ex-wife alleged abuse before retracting the allegations. She even appeared on Oprah in 1990 detailing that abuse, a jaw dropping tape that was screened for senators, also helping to assure his downfall. Puzder is gone, but all eyes are on the nominees up next. OMB nominee Rep. Mick Mulvaney faces fierce resistance from Democrats, but yesterday brought the first Republican to go: Sen. John McCain. McCain announcing he will oppose Mulvaney over military spending. Of course, there needs to be more than one defection, but Mulvaney’s troubles and Puzder’s end all spell trouble for an administration already in turmoil.

THE SHINY STORY: It’s only day 28 of the Trump administration, but the president’s eyes seem to be on 2020. On Saturday, President Trump will be in Melbourne, Florida for a “campaign” rally being “run by the campaign.” What campaign you might ask since we just stepped off a long and nasty one. Well, yes they are talking about 2020. The president did file paperwork for his next election brawl on Inauguration Day and this weekend seems to be the time to start campaigning. Of course, previous presidents have held big rallies to try to sway support to different policy initiatives and those could at times feel like a campaign rally. This seems to be the earliest re-election campaign event in history, but maybe this administration is just being more honest about it. But, he certainly didn’t like it when he was recently running for president. On November 3rd, just three months ago and days before the election he tweeted “Looking at Air Force One @ MIA. Why is he campaigning instead of creating jobs & fixing Obamacare? Get back to work for the American people!” Expect that same criticism this weekend.

TLDR: The Russian connections and Gen. Michael Flynn firing still dominates the conversation with questions yet to be answered.

PHOTO OF THE DAY: A lighter moment took place on Capitol Hill yesterday featuring a longtime senator and a movie star. This photo was taken at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing where Ashton Kutcher testified yesterday on modern slavery and human trafficking. Sen. John McCain teased Kutcher on his looks, saying "Ashton, you were better looking in the movies.” He blew McCain a kiss before responding,"My wife says that too.” (Pool/ABC News)

PHOTO: Actor Ashton Kutcher blows Sen. John McCain a kiss at the start of his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Feb. 15, 2017, in Washington, DC. Pool/ABC News
Actor Ashton Kutcher blows Sen. John McCain a kiss at the start of his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Feb. 15, 2017, in Washington, DC.

THIS MORNING’S TRUMP TWEETS:

6:34 AM: Stock market hits new high with longest winning streak in decades. Great level of confidence and optimism - even before tax plan rollout!

6:58 AM: Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years. Failing @nytimes (and others) must apologize!

7:02 AM: The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!

NOTABLES

--TRUMP SLAMS MEDIA OVER TREATMENT OF FLYNN, DODGES QUESTIONS ON RUSSIA: President Trump ignored shouted questions Wednesday about his campaign's suspected communications with Russia before the election and blasted the news media for treating National Security Adviser Michael Flynn "very, very unfairly" before his resignation earlier this week. "I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media," Trump said at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that "illegal leaks" contributed to the end of Flynn's tenure, ABC’s RYAN STRUYK notes. http://abcn.ws/2lR4jNp

--SENATORS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER TRUMP CAMPAIGN'S CONTACT WITH RUSSIA: Senators from both sides of the aisle are expressing concern over reports that Donald Trump's campaign had contact with potential Russian operatives -- arguing this is further proof why thorough investigations are necessary. "More and more questions are coming out about this and it’s disturbing. It’s highly disturbing," said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. "Congress has a sworn obligation to get to the bottom of this and everything right now to me just further illustrates the urgency for investigating this thoroughly and exhaustively." "This issue has to be pursued and we have to follow it to its conclusion and do whatever is necessary to achieve that," said Republican Sen. John McCain. ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ, MARY BRUCE and VERONICA STRACQUALURSI have more. http://abcn.ws/2llb4KI

--HOUSE REPUBLICANS SEEK INVESTIGATION INTO POTENTIAL ILLEGAL JUSTICE DEPARTMENT LEAKS: The top Republicans on the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees have asked the DOJ inspector general to investigate potential leaks involving classified information at the department following the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to ABC’s BENJAMIN SIEGEL. While Democrats have uniformly called for investigations into Flynn's conversations, the White House's handling of the episode, House GOP leaders have instead focused on the leaks. In a Wednesday letter to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, requested an "immediate investigation" into the potential mishandling of classified information, citing reports ahead of Flynn's resignation about his discussions with the Russian ambassador to the United States about sanctions. http://abcn.ws/2lmi3mw

--TRUMP'S SECRETARY OF LABOR PICK ANDREW PUZDER WITHDRAWS NOMINATION: President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, has formally withdrawn himself from consideration for the position, Puzder announced Wednesday — a rare move for a Cabinet-level pick. Puzder came under scrutiny after admitting earlier this month that he had employed an undocumented worker for years and revelations that his ex-wife alleged in 1990 that he abused her. She has since withdrawn those allegations, and Puzder — whose confirmation hearing was set for tomorrow after being rescheduled four times — has denied wrongdoing. ABC’s RYAN STRUYK has more: http://abcn.ws/2l9dn0T

SPEED READ with ABC’s ADAM KELSEY

DEMOCRATS AND SOME REPUBLICANS WANT TO STOP TRUMP FROM LIFTING RUSSIA SANCTIONS. Democrats and a handful of Republicans are rallying around a bill designed to prevent President Donald Trump from lifting sanctions on Russia without congressional approval. The measure, introduced by House Democrats Wednesday and supported by at least three Republicans, would give Congress 120 days to block lifting any sanctions on Russia imposed in response to actions in Ukraine and Russia's efforts to interference in the 2016 election, writes ABC’s BENJAMIN SIEGEL. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said questions about the Trump campaign’s alleged communications with Russian officials ahead of the election makes the proposed legislation “all the more important.” http://abcn.ws/2kUcgno

FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER MICHAEL FLYNN’S SECURITY CLEARANCE SUSPENDED. Intelligence officials suspended Michael Flynn's security clearance on Wednesday just over one day after he resigned as White House national security adviser, report ABC’s JUSTIN FISHEL and ADAM KELSEY. Flynn stepped down amid revelations he misled administration officials about discussions he had with Russia’s U.S. ambassador. “We have taken the administrative step of suspending Mike Flynn’s access to classified information pending a review,” Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) spokesman James Kudla said. http://abcn.ws/2krJ5JW

TRUMP SAYS HE 'CAN LIVE WITH' EITHER ONE- OR TWO-STATE SOLUTION IN ISRAEL. President Donald Trump said that he is keeping his options open Wednesday about how best to reach a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation but urged Israel to hold back on settlement building in occupied territories, explains ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY. "I’m looking at a two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but...I’m happy with the one they like the best," Trump said while standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. http://abcn.ws/2lk6PyP

TRUMP SLAMS MEDIA OVER TREATMENT OF FLYNN, DODGES QUESTIONS ON RUSSIA. President Trump ignored shouted questions Wednesday about his campaign's suspected communications with Russia before the election and blasted the news media for treating National Security Adviser Michael Flynn "very, very unfairly" before his resignation earlier this week. "I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media," Trump said at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that "illegal leaks" contributed to the end of Flynn's tenure, ABC’s RYAN STRUYK notes. http://abcn.ws/2lR4jNp

SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE REQUESTS FBI, DOJ BRIEFING ON MICHAEL FLYNN. The leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Department of Justice and FBI Wednesday to brief their committee on the situation regarding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. In a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and Diane Feinstein, D-California, the chairman and ranking member of the committee, cite media reports indicating the involvement of the Justice Department and the FBI in the circumstances leading up to Flynn's resignation, write ABC’s ADAM KELSEY and ARLETTE SAENZ. http://abcn.ws/2kUEhuW

PRESIDENT TRUMP HOLDING 'CAMPAIGN EVENT' IN FLORIDA SATURDAY. President Donald Trump took office just weeks ago, but now he is set to travel to Orlando Saturday for what the White House has termed “a campaign event.” The event, which is listed on Trump’s campaign website, will take place at a hangar at the Orlando-Melbourne International Airport, the site of a previous Trump campaign rally in September. Trump repeatedly took aim at former President Barack Obama for his campaign efforts while in office, note ABC’s KATHERINE FAULDERS, ADAM KELSEY and RYAN STRUYK. http://abcn.ws/2lMWwEB

WHAT WE KNOW - AND DON'T KNOW - ABOUT THE TRUMP TEAM'S CONTACTS WITH RUSSIA BEFORE THE ELECTION. Possible links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials were a major point of contention during the 2016 election, and now information has come to light raising questions about the length and depth of the alleged connections. Sources familiar with the matter have confirmed to ABC News that in the time leading up to the presidential election, U.S. authorities were looking into communications between several Trump associates and suspected Russian intelligence officials. ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY has more: http://abcn.ws/2kTNF1V

MELANIA TRUMP, SARA NETANYAHU VISIT AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSEUM. Following the joint Trump-Netanyahu press conference in the East Room of the White House, Melania Trump hosted Sara Netanyahu on a visit to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, notes ABC’s DAVID CAPLAN. http://abcn.ws/2kN4sBj

IN THE NOTE'S INBOX

NEW TOOL TRACKS MIN. WAGE BALLOT INITIATIVES. The organization the Fairness Project has launched a new tool that tracks in real time the impact of minimum wage ballot initiatives that passed at the ballot box in 2016. The “Raise the Wage” tool lists the minimum wage in each state, the status of 2016 minimum wage ballot initiatives, and how the measure has adjusted state residents’ wages. http://www.thefairnessproject.org/

WHO’S TWEETING?

@JenniferJJacobs: Trump's short list for Labor secretary to replace Andy Puzder has: --a white woman --a black man --2 Hispanic men. https://t.co/uSFqJWscyg

@NeilMacFarquhar: Top U.S. diplomat #Tillerson keeps low profile heading into first encounter with #Russia counterpart https://nyti.ms/2lloXbo @GardinerHarris

@JoshuaHoyos: FBI posts documents related to 1970s Trump Housing Discrimination Investigation https://vault.fbi.gov/trump-management-company

@MikeaTurnerTV: Some of your favorite restaurants will be closed or have a limited menu today for the "Day Without Immigrants" boycott. Jaleo is one. #DC

@SerenaMarsh: .@POTUS holding 'campaign event' in FL Saturday... fwiw he's had job 26 days & has 1,357 days until next election