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behind the scenes
April 9, 2019

The Treasury Department is reviewing Congress' request for President Trump's tax returns, and its lawyers have communicated with the White House about it, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday.

Mnuchin testified before a House appropriations subcommittee that Treasury's legal department has spoken with the White House Office of General Counsel about Democrats' request for the president's taxes, NBC News reports. He said that he did not personally speak with the White House about the matter and that he hasn't been briefed on the discussions; however he described them as "informational," saying they "obviously had read in the press that we were expecting this" and that "this wasn't exactly a state secret," per CBS News.

The House Ways and Means Committee formally requested six years of Trump's taxes on April 3, citing a section of the tax code which says the Treasury secretary "shall furnish" anyone's tax returns when the committee requests them. Mnuchin had not previously acknowledged that the White House and the Treasury Department were communicating about this process, which The Washington Post notes "is designed to be walled off from White House interference."

This comment from Mnuchin also highlights, as The New York Times writes, "the seriousness with which the president is taking the request." Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had previously said that Democrats would "never" get their hands on Trump's tax returns. Brendan Morrow

August 9, 2018

National Security Adviser John Bolton demanded that officials finalize the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreement before President Trump arrived in Brussels for last month's NATO summit, U.S. and European officials told The New York Times.

In June, Bolton had Kay Bailey Hutchison, the American ambassador to NATO, let the other members know that Bolton wanted the communiqué completed before Trump landed in Europe, five officials said. In June, Trump refused to sign a joint communiqué with the other G7 leaders, and afraid that he might do the same thing in Brussels, all the NATO countries agreed to have the declaration finished by July 6 at 10 p.m. local time.

Two senior European officials told the Times that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis also wanted to avoid a repeat of the G7 fiasco, and the NATO declaration was finished ahead of schedule, establishing an Atlantic Command post and extending an invitation to Macedonia to join. When Trump did arrive in Brussels, he was shown only "broad outlines," not the entire 23-page document, the Times reports. Catherine Garcia

August 21, 2017

When President Trump finally settled on a strategy for the war in Afghanistan last weekend at Camp David, he went with the plan pushed by generals who understand the complexities of the situation and have battlefield experience, not what the non-interventionist faction in the White House wanted, several administration officials and Trump allies told The Washington Post.

Trump has spent months angry over the fact there's no quick fix for Afghanistan, the Post reports. He discussed yanking every U.S. troop out of the country, firing the commander, and even sending the controversial founder of Blackwater to Afghanistan to privatize the war, but finally, he settled on sending more troops after listening to Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, whose son was killed in 2010 while fighting in Afghanistan.

One way McMaster convinced Trump that Afghanistan could become a more modern place, the Post reports, was by showing him a photo from 1972, before the rise of the Taliban; in it, women are shown walking down the street wearing miniskirts. For years, Trump was very vocal about how pointless he thought the war in Afghanistan was, calling it a "total disaster" that is "wasting our money" in 2012, and saying in 2013, "We should leave Afghanistan immediately." He echoed these sentiments during the campaign, but now, the Post says, he just wants to be seen as "strong and decisive" when it comes to fighting the war. Read more about the strategy, and how former chief strategist Stephen Bannon faced off against McMaster, at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

August 1, 2017

Will White House Chief of Staff John Kelly be the man to tame President Trump? It's the question on everyone's minds as, after just one day on the job, Kelly has already ousted communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Judging by one recent conflict between Kelly and Trump, though, the new chief of staff isn't afraid to stand up to his boss when things get tense:

Raised voices could be heard through the thick door to the Oval Office as John Kelly — then secretary of homeland security — offered some tough talk to President Donald Trump.

Kelly, a whip-cracking retired general who was sworn in as White House chief of staff on Monday, had demanded to speak to the president alone after Trump complained loudly that the U.S. was admitting travelers from countries he viewed as high risk.

Kelly first tried to explain to Trump that the admissions were standard — some people had legitimate reasons to visit the country — but the president insisted that it was making him look bad, according to an administration official familiar with the exchange about a month ago.

Kelly then demanded that other advisers leave the room so he could speak to the president frankly. Trump refused at first, but agreed when Kelly insisted. [The Associated Press]

The New York Times reported Monday that "several administration aides" are already afraid Trump and Kelly are "on a collision course that could ultimately doom the unlikely partnership." Another question, then, might be: How long can Kelly last? Jeva Lange

November 2, 2016

A leaked Hillary Clinton email from 2009 has gone viral after it was shared in the wake of the renewed FBI investigation into Clinton's email server:

Some critics of Clinton have responded to the email with backlash due to the former secretary of state's support of the Saudi government, which carried out devastating bombings in Yemen and committed possible war crimes. Yet Clinton's email, sent to Melanne Verveer, who was then the ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, appears to offer a glimpse at a moment when Clinton's guard was down, as it is nestled in a batch of private emails that had never been meant to be seen by the public. Clinton's email was also apparently unprompted by anything other than Clinton reading the CNN story, as it is the first message in the chain of correspondence.

"Yes, I read the story yesterday and have been in touch with Glamour and our post. I think her family needs to be compensated in some way because they raise feeding her and transportation as expenses they can't meet in order to send her to school," Verveer apparently replied in the correspondence, which can be read in full here.

"I hope there's something we can do," Clinton wrote back. "Let's discuss soon." Jeva Lange

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