We begin today’s roundup with Margaret Hartmann’s analysis of the clown show that is Michael Cohen and his lawyer:
From his assertion that marital rape is legal to his insistence that a $130,000 preelection payment to Stormy Daniels doesn’t violate campaign finance laws because he paid it himself (which might actually be a bigger campaign finance violation), President Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen has offered up ample evidence that he’s not the sharpest legal mind. That makes sense, as Cohen was hired years ago to be Trump’s ultraloyal “fixer,” not an expert in litigation involving the president.
However, that doesn’t explain why Cohen’s attorney and spokesperson, David Schwartz, is doing such a poor job defending his client in the media — unless he was hired to be Trump’s fixer’s fixer, not someone with a good grasp on the law. […]
But that’s not all. Later in the interview Schwartz suggested Cohen regularly set up these sorts of agreements without telling his client — which seems to back up reports that Trump’s attorneys “took care” of dozens of women during the campaign.
Callum Borchers at The Washington Post:
Take, for example, lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump, beginning in 2006: In an elaborate act of distancing, the president has left the talking to White House spokesmen, who have referred reporters’ questions to Cohen, who has hired his own lawyer and spokesman, David Schwartz, who told CNN on Wednesday night and NBC on Thursday morning that Trump did not know about the payment for Daniels’s silence. Follow that? Good.
“No one believes that, David,” NBC’s Megyn Kelly told Schwartz.
“Lots of people believe it,” Schwartz countered.
If future evidence were to contradict Schwartz, Trump could add another layer of know-nothingness, contending that he did not know what someone so far down the chain would say about the president’s lack of knowledge. The plausible deniability in the Daniels saga is truly dizzying.
Next, The New York Times writes about the shakeup at the VA, with the appointment of Dr. Ronny Jackson as head of the department:
The man Dr. Jackson would replace as head of this long-troubled department, David Shulkin, whom Mr. Trump fired on Wednesday, was the highest-ranking holdover from the Obama administration and among the few Trump cabinet members with demonstrated ability at their jobs.
Dr. Shulkin had strong bipartisan support in Congress — he was confirmed 100 to 0 by the Senate — and was backed by almost all veterans groups. He guided important legislation through Congress, a rare accomplishment for this White House. These laws led to an expansion of the G.I. Bill for post-9/11 veterans, an easier process to remove bad employees and quicker appeals on disability benefits.
The department’s inspector general found “serious derelictions,” though, in the way Dr. Shulkin spent his time and taxpayer money during a European trip, during which he had improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon. That’s a serious problem. But it’s laughable to think that this would be a disqualification for a president for whom corruption is a continuing business model and who has watched some cabinet members treat self-dealing as a perk.
Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast:
Dan Scavino started off as Trump’s golf caddy, and ended up an assistant to the president. Hope Hicks did PR for Ivanka’s fashion line before becoming White House communications director. At one point, Trump put his personal pilot on the shortlist to head the Federal Aviation Administration. And I don’t think I need to reiterate the fact that Trump’s advisers also include his daughter and son-in-law. […]
The last thing we need is to risk another “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie” moment in the V.A. Haven’t these poor veterans been through enough already?
Trump likes to govern from the gut, but his hiring decisions of late seem to cut against what might have been a strength for him—his promise to “hire the best” people. The problem is the way Trump defines “the best.” It’s not people who have experience or expertise—qualities that might cause someone to occasionally think for themselves. It’s trusted loyalists.
Matthew Walther at The Week explains how flattery of the president is the top requirement for a cabinet position:
It’s really not that complicated. If you or I appeared on Fox and Friends tomorrow and said that Trump’s golf swing was looking terrific, we would probably find ourselves getting appointed ambassador to the Seychelles or Martinique or secretary of the National Endowment for the Humanities sometime next spring. […]
The fact that Jackson has been nominated by the president for cartoonishly self-involved reasons doesn’t mean he is going to do a bad job at the VA. Jackson is by all accounts a good doctor and a decent man. When he was mocked by Saturday Night Live for his press conference, he was defended by former colleagues in the Obama administration. “There is no one better than Ronny. No one. He is a saint and patriot,” said Alyssa Mastromonaco, one of Obama’s deputy chiefs of staff.
But there is also no reason to expect that he will be successful. If he fails it might not even be his fault. So right now he seems like a sensible competent adult professional? Yawn. Everyone said the same things about John Kelly, who now spends his days pretending that domestic violence is no big deal and firing cabinet secretaries while they are on the toilet.
And don’t miss Eugene Robinson’s take on the matter:
The man Trump has named to become secretary of veterans affairs, Ronny L. Jackson , happens to be the president’s personal doctor. More to the point, given Trump’s perpetual hunger for sycophancy, is the fact that Jackson showered the president with hyperbolic Dear-Leader-style praise during a widely viewed television appearance in January. […]
[I]t should be hard to get a job running any organization as big, complex and vital as the Department of Veterans Affairs. Perhaps Jackson has an innate genius for management that awaits only the opportunity to flower. If not, Trump will be doing a grave disservice to men and women who are owed the nation’s thanks and gratitude.