Trump won’t call for investigation of his own “promotional” leaks. Smart!
Who gets the leaks that promote Trump depends on whether friendly or unfriendly handling maximizes White House objectives.
If you still don’t believe the White House leaked 2 pages of Trump’s 2005 tax returns, you need to look at Benny Johnson’s “regular guy” promotion written for the Independent Journal Review (IJR) at the end of February . Inside Trump’s Secret Dinner: A Side of the President You Don’t Ever Get to See is Benny’s not so secret recounting of a “secret” dinner no one knew about except Benny, his unnamed “trusted source”, restaurant personnel, the entire Trump cast, and other actors with small cameo appearances.
I’d like to call a friend: Benny has not commented on whether his source sounded like Trump’s sidelined PR guy, John Miller (aka DJ Trump), but there’s good reason to believe it was Miller or his designate. Consider three things: (1) Publicly, Trump says he hates anonymous sources and leaks, often citing national security concerns; (2) In fact, Benny’s source put POTUS at tremendous risk by divulging his intended destination (the Trump Hotel in D.C), which would also imply his route from the White House to the hotel; and (3) After the article was published, the Senate, House, and Justice Departments were not asked to investigate Benny’s actions and sources. Curious?!
Believe me: Since we’re living in the twilight zone, we must acknowledge either or both of the following statements may be true: Benny was a willing Trump dupe, or the alternate fact, Benny is duping his readers about the setup and his role. In either case, the comments from many readers of his article indicate there’s still a HUGE opportunity to attract gullible middle Americans to attend a re-launched Trump University.
Puff pastry: Benny’s article was finely scripted to support the “regular guy” theme — that is, the “regular POTUS, billionaire, hotel owner doubling as property landlord” theme. Trump-lauding morsels were served so often during Benny’s dinner regurgitation, you’d have thought you were reading a brochure for the failed Trump Ocean Resort Baja Mexico. Once Benny got the heads-up from his source, all he had to do was score a reservation in the BLT Steakhouse close enough to get some good pictures of the show.
What luck? The table “directly next to where Trump would be dining” was available. And Benny’s luck would continue.
Benny exclusive: Benny reported Trump decided to keep the lone pool reporter assigned to cover him outside. So Jordan Fabian of The Hill was unable to compete for the headline or, more importantly, corroborate any of what Benny would eventually write. Still, Benny says “the lobby area and the restaurant remain open to the public. People freely come in and out of the building.” Evidently, “people” did not include anyone suspected of being a journalist because Jordan tweeted “WH staff told us we could not enter. Front entrance of hotel was blocked off by metal barriers. Secret Service”
Private dinner: In his report, Benny is so excited to view how Trump acts “in private” when there is “no press present.” The premise of a sneak peak is immediately blown because Trump has chosen to dine at his famous D.C. landmark hotel and at his regular table “in the back on the second level”. This forces the president to walk through the entire restaurant after “sneaking” through the hotel lobby with the secret service and his entire entourage in tow. Guess the owner’s private entrance and more discreet dining accommodations were not available.
Trump property promotion: As is routinely done with Mir-a-lago, there’s the strong suggestion you might see the President if you dine or stay at the President’s “new flagship property in D.C., the Trump Hotel”. Benny cites reactions from swooning women and other restaurant patrons, and IJR posts comments from article readers to drive this point very hard. Note: Trump has just returned from the 7th consecutive weekend at one of his Trump-branded properties. Clearly, “Meals on Wheels” is still in the Trump 2017 budget, but the poor are no longer the beneficiaries.
Big Tipper: Benny reports “Discreetly, Trump can be seen handing cash to one of the busboys for his table. The president handed the young man a $100 bill.” Somehow, Benny’s quick eye and camera were ready to get pictures of the oh-so-discreet transaction — one of which was the actual hand-to-hand transfer of the cash. (Note: The version of Benny’s article currently on the web has been updated from the original. For some reason, the busboy is no longer Latino as previously described, which was a nice touch. But the “tip” picture has been elevated to the #1 position in the article.)
Big joker: Benny relays comments from a waiter who (again) wished to remain anonymous. “It was hard to serve him because he is so funny and relaxed, it makes you laugh.” I wonder if Trump told the one about all those Trump University students who actually thought he hand-picked all the instructors. That was a good one!
Big bill: Rex Tillerson (also a regular guy) and his wife are at the same hotel and same restaurant for a date night. By Trump’s standards, Tillerson is nearly destitute since his estimated net worth is only $.25Billion; so the president magnanimously buys dinner for the struggling couple. No word on whether Trump put this gesture on his POTUS expense account.
Farage mirage: Nigel Farage, Brexit leader and Trump buddy, helps Benny conclude his article by providing a “regular guy” quote: “ He is a regular bloke. Truly. Just a normal chap. Upstairs at dinner, he spoke to the table like any regular guy out to dine with friends and family. There is no pretension at all.” Thanks Comrade Nigel. But it’s likely Trump still doesn’t know what Brexit really means except that it’s anti-immigration and aligns with Putin’s objectives for Europe and the West.
The reward for promoting the world’s greatest self-promoter.
Tillerson trip: Based on the rave reviews Benny’s “regular guy” promotion received from the Trump faithful, Trump rewarded the dependably codependent Independent Journal Review with exclusive coverage of secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to South Korea, Japan and China. Correspondent Erin McPike was the only journalist to accompany Tillerson on his trip. Since she had already written her own puff piece about Tillerson (which included obligatory shots at previous Democrat Secretaries of State), the White House felt she was eminently qualified. Just as Benny was trusted to write the “regular guy” promo, Erin could be trusted to provide the state-run version of Tillerson’s travel activities and accomplishments. Erin’s experience in the affairs of the state department — essentially none.
Related information: Based in Atlanta, Nick Ayres (above left) is a friend and ally of Mike Pence who advised the VP during the transition process after working on the 2016 Trump-Pence campaign. The fact that Nick is also an investor in the Independent Journal Review may have nothing to do with anything — especially, exclusives like Benny’s scoop and Erin’s state department travel log.
So why didn’t IJR get the Trump Tax Returns?
Can I call an unfriendly: On March 14, two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax returns were leaked. The chosen recipient was David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the nation’s most respected investigative journalists. Not only does Benny Johnson not fit this profile, but if the IFR gives Trump’s taxes the Benny and Erin treatment, the dynamics of this story change dramatically. Then, the news organizations Trump loves to hate would be accusing IFR and Trump of colluding to produce fake news. You can almost hear VP Pence trying to calm his friend Nick saying, “This is not the time to be greedy. We gave you the Trump dinner exclusive and the Tillerson trip exclusive. I still stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you!”
Trump twofer: The Trump team already knew execution of this plan could not be viewed as changing Trump’s position on sharing his taxes. And a defense to the certain accusation he leaked his own cherry-picked return needed to be in place. On the latter, Spicer indignation was considered good but an assist from Fox News would be better. As important as was the objective to put a positive spin on good-citizen Trump’s business success and tax situation, the opportunity to catch the “dishonest media” telling a politically-motivated story became equally important. The White House couldn’t have hoped for more when Johnston chose Rachel Maddow to broadcast their windfall with much fanfare. By the time these two investigative journalists, both with a penchant for exposing Trump financial irregularities and other misdeeds, come to the realization they’d been had, it was too late.
Trump ready: Based on how quickly the White House confirmed the data in the tax returns, some people believe the White House response was virtually done before Johnston called Spicer to tell him the leak had landed. It’s possible Trump could instantly verify Johnston’s information because he was carrying the 12-year old “client copy” of his tax returns in his jacket pocket — the same jacket he wore to visit Dr. Oz when he just happened to have his doctor’s glowing report on his health. Interestingly, the White House statement doesn’t include the word “leak” but, instead, uses the word “steal”. Ah, you can leak your own information, but by definition, you can’t steal it. Got it!
Trump kudos: We must applaud Trump’s strategy on this one. He not only anticipated how his foes would handle the story, but he also predicted how his supporters would react. Stoked by Don Jr’s tweet thanking Rachel Maddow for her role, gullible Trump fans tweeted their satisfaction with the 4 points made in the White House statement: (1) The president was a successful businessman who made a lot of money in 2005; (2) He paid a lot in taxes that year; (3) He intends to pursue tax reform for our benefit; and (4) He’s right about the dishonest media. Always part of Trump’s calculation is knowing his followers (especially those whose only news source is @realDonaldTrump) will not be interested in the rest of the story including this Fortune Magazine perspective.
Trump support: On Fox News, the President feigns outrage as he tells Tucker Carlson, “I have no idea where they got it … but it’s illegal … it’s a disgrace.” In a Sean Hannity (“I’m not a journalist, I’m a talk show host.”) interview, Newt Gingrich (the first Speaker of the House to be disciplined for an ethics violation) says, “It’s up to the president and his administration to follow through. It is a felony to release an Internal Revenue Service tax record.” But just as with the leak to friendly Benny Johnson, the leak to unfriendly David Cay Johnston is not being pursued. The last thing Trump needs is the embarrassment of FBI Director Comey finding these leakers while he’s investigating Trump and his team’s Russian connections.
In Trump’s own words: (at the president’s February 16 press conference)
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