House panel chairman says FBI declines for now to meet request for Comey-linked documents | Reuters

WASHINGTON The Federal Bureau of Investigation has declined for now to give the House Oversight Committee documents it had requested regarding communications between former FBI chief James Comey and President Donald Trump, the head of the panel said on Thursday.

The FBI said it was still evaluating the request, which had a committee-set deadline of Wednesday, in light of the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into the possibility of collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials seeking to influence the 2016 election, according to a letter released by committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz.

In a responding letter, Chaffetz said he still wanted any related documents that would be outside the scope of the special counsel’s investigation, and a list of documents found to be within the scope of the probe, by June 8.

“I am seeking to better understand Comey’s communications with the White House and Attorney General in such a way that does not implicate the Special Counsel’s work,” Chaffetz said in the letter.

Chaffetz made his initial request for documents after a New York Times report that Comey had written in a memo that Trump asked him to halt an FBI investigation into ties between former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian officials.

Chaffetz’s panel is one of several in Congress investigating alleged efforts by Russia to tip the election to Trump, and the possibility that Trump associates had coordinated with Moscow.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee made it easier on Wednesday for that panel to obtain documents for its investigation. Its chairman, Republican Richard Burr, told reporters that members had agreed unanimously to allow him and Mark Warner, its top Democrat, to issue subpoenas as they see fit, without a vote by the committee.

The controversy has engulfed Trump’s administration since he fired Comey on May 10. Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations and Trump denies any collusion.

The FBI letter’s to Chaffetz on Thursday noted the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller last week as special counsel to investigate the issue.

“In light of this development and other considerations, we are undertaking appropriate consultation to ensure all relevant interests implicated by your request are properly evaluated,” the letter said.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Peter Cooney)

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Trump officials under fire over vague tax proposals | Reuters

By Jason Lange and Diane Bartz
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Missing from President Donald Trump’s budget proposal this week was an annual report, known as the Green Book, that presidents have issued for many years to spell out their tax goals in detail, an omission that tax experts called telling.

The Green Book, named for the color of its cover in recent years, is not that big a deal as a document, but its absence this year shows that the Trump White House lacks a clear vision for what to do about overhauling the tax code, experts said.

“I think it’s as simple as no tax plan equals no Green Book,” said Donald Marron, director of economic policy initiatives at the Urban Institute, a liberal think tank.

Democratic lawmakers on Thursday in two Senate hearings criticized the president’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal, released on Tuesday, and some of its core tax components.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen called the budget proposal and its tax assumptions “fantasy flim-flam.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, appearing at one of the hearings, said the budget proposal did not consider how new tax laws would impact government revenues and the deficit because the Trump administration did not have a detailed tax proposal.

“When the president’s budget was done, we were not ready to have a full-blown tax reform plan,” Mnuchin said, adding that tax details would be worked out with Congress, then made public.

A Treasury Department official said separately it would not help to publish details while talks with Congress were underway.

“Releasing a Green Book of tax policy proposals as we work towards comprehensive tax reform would contradict that effort,” the Treasury official said in an email.

The last Green Book was issued by the Obama administration in February 2016 and ran 283 pages. Past Green Books going back to 1990 are available on the Treasury Department website.

As a candidate, Trump, in his 125th day in power, promised voters that he would work with Congress and seek passage in his first 100 days of “massive tax reduction and simplification.” He has not yet offered any tax legislation.

On April 26, the administration released a one-page list of tax proposals summarized in 12 bullet points. Tuesday’s budget repeated the one-page summary, including a proposal to end the estate tax on inheritances paid by a few wealthy Americans.

Despite this policy position, the Trump budget included a projection of $328 billion in estate tax revenues for 2018-2027.

“I’ve seen lots of tricky budgets before, but this may take the cake,” said Democratic Senator Mark Warner. “You assume abolishment of the so-called death tax, estate tax, but … you still count the revenues from the estate and gift tax, which is kind of a tricky thing. I would call that double-counting.”

(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)

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In blow to Trump, U.S. appeals court refuses to reinstate travel ban | Reuters

By Mica Rosenberg and Dan Levine

The decision, written by Chief Judge Roger Gregory, described Trump’s executive order in forceful terms, saying it uses “vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the government, which says the temporary travel ban is needed to guard against terrorist attacks, would seek a review of the case at the Supreme Court.

“These clearly are very dangerous times and we need every available tool at our disposal to prevent terrorists from entering the United States and committing acts of bloodshed and violence,” said Michael Short, a White House spokesman.

He added that the White House was confident the order would ultimately be upheld by the judiciary.

In its 10-3 ruling, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said those challenging the ban, including refugee groups and individuals, were likely to succeed on their claim that the order violates the U.S. Constitution’s bar against favoring one religion over another.

Gregory cited statements by Trump during the 2016 presidential election calling for a Muslim ban. During the race, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslim’s entering the United States” in a statement on his website.

The judge wrote that a reasonable observer would likely conclude the order’s “primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

The government had argued that the court should not take into account Trump’s comments on the campaign trail since they occurred before he took office on Jan. 20. But the appeals court rejected that view, saying they provide a window into the motivations for Trump’s action in government.

The appeals court questioned a government argument that the president has wide authority to halt the entry of people to the United States.

“Congress granted the President broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the President wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation,” the majority opinion said.

The Virginia-based appeals court was reviewing a March ruling by Maryland-based federal judge Theodore Chuang that blocked part of Trump’s March 6 executive order barring people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days while the government put in place stricter visa screening.

A similar ruling against Trump’s policy from a Hawaii-based federal judge is still in place. That ruling went farther than Chuang’s order, blocking a section of the travel ban that also suspended refugee admissions for four months. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is still reviewing that decision.

‘WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING’

Trump has lashed out at the judges and courts that have ruled against him, saying the 9th Circuit has a “terrible” record and calling its rulings on his policies “ridiculous.”

The March ban was Trump’s second effort to implement travel restrictions through an executive order. The first, issued on Jan. 27, led to chaos and protests at airports before it was blocked by courts.

The second order was intended to overcome the legal issues posed by the original ban, but it was blocked by judges before it could go into effect on March 16.

In an opinion that concurred with the majority on Thursday, Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote that the administration did nothing to distance itself from the first order, describing the revised ban as “the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Chief Judge Gregory, who wrote the majority opinion, was first installed in a recess appointment by Democratic President Bill Clinton and then nominated to the same post by Republican former president George W. Bush.

Nine other judges appointed by Democrats agreed to block the travel ban, while three Republican-appointed judges dissented.

“This to us is a complete win and overwhelming in terms of the votes,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case in the 4th Circuit.

The dissenting judges said the executive order was constitutional and a valid exercise of presidential authority, and that Trump’s campaign statements should not have come into play. The order itself “contains no reference to religion whatsoever,” Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote.

The White House also pointed to a dissent by Judge Dennis Shedd that said “the real losers in this case are the millions of individual Americans whose security is threatened on a daily basis by those who seek to do us harm.”

Two other 4th Circuit judges, both appointed by Republicans, were recused from the case.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg, Dan Levine and Andrew Chung; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Howard Goller and Tom Brown)

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U.S. lawmakers to fight massive Trump Saudi arms deal | Reuters

WASHINGTON U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday seeking to stop at least a portion of President Donald Trump’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Republican Rand Paul and Democrats Chris Murphy and Al Franken introduced a resolution of disapproval in the Senate to force a vote on whether to block part of the sale.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee received formal notice of the pending sale on May 19.

The Arms Export Control Act of 1976 allows a senator to force a vote on an arms sale, once Congress is formally notified of plans to go ahead. The same three senators introduced a similar resolution last year seeking to block the sale of $1.15 billion of tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia. That measure was defeated overwhelmingly.

Saudi Arabia was the first stop on Trump’s first international trip this week, and he marked the visit by announcing the arms deal in Riyadh on May 20. Saudi Arabia agreed to by $110 billion of U.S. arms, with options running as high as $350 billion over 10 years.

The lawmakers aim to block about $500 million of the sale, the portion including precision-guided munitions and other offensive weapons.

“Given Saudi Arabia’s past support of terror, poor human rights record, and questionable tactics in its war in Yemen, Congress must carefully consider and thoroughly debate if selling them billions of dollars of arms is in our best national security interest at this time,” Paul said in a statement.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives also took action on the planned sale on Thursday. Republican Representative Ted Yoho and Democrat Ted Lieu wrote to the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asking for a hearing to review the sale of precision-guided munitions to Riyadh.

Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration suspended the planned sale of precision-guided munitions in December because of concerns over the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and civilian casualties.

But Trump has said he wants to encourage international weapons sales as a way to create jobs in the United States.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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U.S. Senate committee passes bill to impose new sanctions on Iran | Reuters

WASHINGTON The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed legislation on Thursday that would impose new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile development, support for Islamist militant groups, weapons transfers and human rights violations.

The vote was 18-3 in favor of the legislation, paving the way for its consideration by the full Senate.

Lawmakers who backed the bill said they do not believe that its passage, which would require support by the House of Representatives and President Donald Trump to become law, would violate terms of the international nuclear agreement with Iran reached in 2015.

Both Republicans and Democrats have been clamoring for a response to Iran’s ballistic missiles development and other activities.

But the foreign relations committee waited to take up the bill until after Iran’s election on Friday, when President Hassan Rouhani was re-elected with 57 percent of the vote.

Rouhani broke the taboo of holding direct talks with the United States and reached the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.

Trump has criticized the nuclear deal, which was opposed by every Republican in Congress and several Democrats. But he has so far not moved to pull the United States out. Instead, his administration has said it would closely police Iran’s compliance with the bill and review it, with an eye toward possibly modifying it to make it stronger.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Grant McCool)

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Wilbur Ross seeks bigger budget for trade enforcement | Reuters

WASHINGTON U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday that a $5.5 million increase requested for the agency’s enforcement budget this year will have a “real impact” in cracking down on unfair trade practices and export security violations.

Ross told a House Appropriations subcommittee that an additional $4.5 million requested by the Trump Administration for the International Trade Administration’s enforcement and compliance section will fund 29 new positions whose primary focus will be the self-initiation of antidumping and antisubsidy investigations.

Ross has pledged to have the Commerce Department take the lead in launching trade cases on behalf of industries that lack the resources or the organization to pursue them.

“We will ensure that no country or foreign corporation can take unfair advantage of U.S. markets,” Ross said.

The enforcement increases are contained in the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget requests, which propose deep cuts to food assistance, health care and other social programs along with increases in military spending.

Commerce also would get a $1 million increase in funding for the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the division that enforces export controls on sensitive technologies. Ross said this would fund 19 new special agents at the division that took the lead in an investigation that led to a criminal fine of $1.19 billion against China’s ZTE (000063.SZ) for violating trade sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

“BIS took the lead in cracking this case open. So I am confident that these 19 additional agents, and the bandwidth they represent, will have real impact,” Ross said.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Lieberman withdraws from consideration to be FBI director | Reuters

By Tim Ahmann
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Former U.S. Senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has withdrawn from consideration to be the next director of the FBI, citing the potential for an appearance of a conflict of interest given President Donald Trump’s decision to retain an attorney who works at the same firm.

Lieberman works at a New York firm headed by Marc Kasowitz, who has been hired by Trump to represent him amid probes by the Justice Department and Congress into possible ties between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

“With your selection of Marc Kasowitz to represent you in the various investigations that have begun, I do believe it would be best to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,” Lieberman wrote to Trump in a letter dated Wednesday.

A copy of the letter, which was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, was provided to Reuters on Thursday.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Lieberman’s withdrawal.

Trump told reporters a week ago that he was “very close” to selecting a nominee to replace James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Trump fired Comey on May 9, a decision that set off a political firestorm given Comey’s central role in the FBI’s probe of Russian meddling in the election and potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials seeking to swing the vote in Trump’s favor.

The Department of Justice appointed a special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, to lead an independent investigation into the Russia matter.

While Lieberman is respected on Capitol Hill, many Democrats had made clear they would prefer someone with law enforcement experience to take the reins at the FBI.

Given Kasowitz’s role, Lieberman might not have been able to participate in the Russia investigation for a period of two years without a Justice Department waiver, Kathleen Clark, a professor of legal ethics at Washington University School of Law told Reuters on Wednesday.

A federal regulation restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year, a period that was extended to two years under an executive order signed by Trump in January.

CNN, citing a unnamed senior administration official, reported on Wednesday that Trump wanted to renew the search for an FBI director after having interviewed a number of candidates, including Lieberman.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; additional reporting by Jan Wolfe, Ayesha Rascoe, Doina Chiacu; editing by G Crosse and Grant McCool)

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Trump talks trade with EU, varied differences remain | Reuters

By Alastair Macdonald and Philip Blenkinsop
| BRUSSELS

BRUSSELS A smiling Donald Trump offered European Union chiefs assurances on security in Brussels on Thursday but EU officials did not conceal lingering differences with the U.S. president over Russia, trade and climate change.

In talks before a summit of NATO leaders at the Atlantic military alliance’s headquarters across town, an EU source highlighted that Trump had voiced fears that Brexit could cost U.S. jobs — a possible sign of second thoughts on support for the British vote to leave which stunned the bloc.

And Trump also agreed to setting up a joint EU-U.S. “action plan” on trade– an indication the new occupant of the White House is not as set on shunning free trade deals and promoting protectionism as some in Europe had feared he might.

Nonetheless, European Council President Donald Tusk indicated, there was something less than a meeting of minds on trade and other issues — despite the cordiality of Trump’s welcome at the new EU building which the former Polish premier informed him was popularly known as “Tusk Tower” in a nod to the former real estate developer’s signature New York headquarters.

“We agreed on many areas, first and foremost on counter-terrorism,” Tusk said after he and EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker met Trump for over an hour. “But some issues remain open, like climate and trade.”

European leaders have been urging Trump not to abandon the U.S. commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions made when his predecessor Barack Obama signed up to the U.N. Paris accord.

Tusk also said he did not feel he and Trump were on exactly the same page in terms of dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although they agreed on efforts to end conflict in Ukraine which the West blames on Moscow and which has resulted in both EU and U.S. economic sanctions on Russia.

A spokeswoman for Juncker, the president of the European Commission which had been negotiating an ambitious free trade deal with Washington known as TTIP before Trump’s upset election victory, said the two sides would work to increase trade.

“Intensifying trade cooperation which is a win-win situation for both sides,” the spokeswoman said. “It was agreed to start work on a joint action plan on trade.”

It was not immediately clear if that might include a revival of work on TTIP. Trump has made clear his dislike of multilateral trade agreements, pulling out of the TPP agreement with Asian states. However, European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have suggested he is warming to trade talks with the EU, which unifies trade rules for all 28 states.

BREXIT COSTS?

Trump irritated EU leaders during his election campaign last year by hailing Brexit and suggesting other countries might follow Britain out of the 28-nation bloc. Eurosceptic leaders said he would offer Britain a free trade deal once it left.

However, EU officials believe Trump has come to appreciate more since taking office the value of European integration to U.S. interests. U.S. businesses have taken advantage of its single market to reduce the costs of exporting to Europe.

An EU source said Trump had told Tusk and Juncker he was now worried that Americans may lose jobs as a result of Britain leaving the EU in 2019: He “expressed concern that jobs in the U.S. would be lost because of Brexit”, the source said.

EU officials said the meeting had been constructive and friendly. Tusk and Juncker joked with Trump about the EU having “two presidents” and being “too complicated”. The U.S. leader appeared to mix the two of them up during remarks in January, deepening concerns in Brussels that the reality TV star in the White House failed to take the European Union seriously.

Trump waxed lyrical about his first foreign trip, which has proved a welcome distraction to ethics questions at home, notably over alleged campaign ties to Russia. Pope Francis is “terrific”, Trump told Tusk and Juncker, and his welcome in Saudi Arabia was “beyond anything anyone’s ever seen”.

Tusk, a Communist-era dissident who once listed Trump among risks to the world order alongside Russia, China and Islamist violence, said he had tried to impress on the billionaire U.S. president a need for Transatlantic cooperation to promote “values” like human rights and not just selfish “interests”.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland, Camille Bottin, Robert-Jan Bartunek and Jan Strupczewski; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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In testing Montana vote for Trump, Republican caught up in brawl | Reuters

By Justin Mitchell
| MISSOULA, Mont.

MISSOULA, Mont. A Democratic political novice hopes to pull off a surprise victory in Republican-leaning Montana on Thursday in a special congressional race roiled on the eve of voting by allegations that the Republican candidate physically assaulted a reporter.

Democrat Rob Quist, a banjo-playing folk singer and first-time candidate, is facing off against Republican tech executive Greg Gianforte in a tightening race for the U.S. House of Representatives seat vacated when President Donald Trump named Ryan Zinke as secretary of the interior.

Republicans have held Montana’s lone House seat for two decades and Gianforte was still favored in a state that Trump won by more than 20 percentage points in the 2016 election.

But the race was jolted on Wednesday when a political correspondent for the U.S. edition of the Guardian newspaper said in a Twitter post that Gianforte had “body slammed” him in a confrontation at a campaign event in Bozeman in which the reporter’s eyeglasses were broken.

Hours after the incident, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office charged Gianforte with misdemeanor assault and issued him a citation. Gianforte has until June 7 to appear in a county court. He faces a $500 fine and six months in jail if convicted, the sheriff said in a statement.

“The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault,” Sheriff Brian Gootkin said.

The incident, capping a campaign seen as a bellwether for next year’s mid-term congressional races, occurred as Guardian correspondent Ben Jacobs was trying to ask Gianforte about healthcare, according to an audio tape captured by Jacobs and played on cable television.

Fox News Channel reporter Alicia Acuna, who said she and her crew were in the room preparing to interview Gianforte, wrote that she saw the candidate as he “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him to the ground”.

Acuna, her field producer and photographer then “watched in disbelief as Gianforte began punching (Jacobs) as he moved to on top of the reporter,” she wrote.

Gianforte’s campaign did not deny Jacobs’ allegation but countered in its own statement that Jacobs provoked an altercation by barging into the candidate’s office, shoving a recording device in his face and “asking badgering questions.”

“AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR”

“After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined,” campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon wrote. “Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.”

“It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” the statement concluded.

Acuna disputed that Jacobs was the aggressor.

“At no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte,” Acuna wrote on the Fox News website.

Quist declined to comment immediately. He has focused his campaign on sharply criticizing the Republican effort to repeal and replace former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

According to the audio tape, Jacobs’ encounter with Gianforte turned violent when he tried to ask the candidate if he supported a Republican healthcare overhaul bill after the Congressional Budget Office found the measure would cost 23 million Americans their medical insurance coverage by 2026.

A Democratic upset in the race would set off alarms for Republicans already worried about the effects of Trump’s unpopularity and the healthcare issue on their candidates in next year’s midterm elections, when Republicans must defend their 24-seat House majority.

It would also give Democrats grassroots momentum heading into two special House elections for Republican-held seats next month, in Georgia and South Carolina. Republicans had to sweat out a closer-then-expected special House election win in conservative Kansas last month.

Gianforte has touted his willingness to work with Trump, who is still relatively popular in Montana. But Quist, who reported raising $6 million for the race, has urged voters to send Republicans a message about healthcare. Gianforte says he supports the effort to repeal Obamacare but has not backed the Republican bill passed by the House.

“I will only vote for a repeal and replace that brings premiums down, protects people with pre-existing conditions, and protects rural access. I can’t make that guarantee to Montanans yet, so I haven’t seen a proposal that I can support,” Gianforte told a news station in Missoula on Wednesday.

(Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)

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On trip abroad, Trump stays on script, but will it last? | Reuters

By Steve Holland
| BRUSSELS

BRUSSELS He still has a chance for missteps, but so far on his maiden international trip, Donald Trump has managed to avoid major stumbles and has stuck to the script in a way his advisers have wanted him to do for months.

    The U.S. president’s rare display of discipline is in part a result of a desperate need for some smooth sailing. He began the trip in scandal mode, accused of impeding justice by firing former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey for not stopping a federal probe into his campaign’s Russia ties.

    Whether it will hold is unclear. He is in a portion of his nine-day trip, in Brussels for a NATO summit and later in Sicily for a Group of Seven conclave, where he will meet with European leaders who are at sharp odds with him on many issues.

    Trump’s change comes after increasingly loud alarm bells sounded from Republican congressional leaders, who say he must tamp down the tirades and tantrums that have contributed to a dismal public approval rating of about 38 percent.

Just in the past month alone, Trump used Twitter to issue a veiled threat to Comey, warning that he “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

And when he fired Comey, White House aides said the move was based on a Justice Department recommendation that said Comey had mishandled the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information last year.

Trump blew up that reason the next day, saying he had already decided to fire Comey when the Justice recommendation came in because the FBI man was a “showboat.”

Trump’s advisers planned the overseas journey trip in such a way as to keep the president busy with back-to-back meetings and appearances. This has given him little time for tweet storms and cable news watching. It sometimes has left him fatigued, as manifested when he canceled an evening forum with young people in Riyadh.

    As they normally do when he travels, staff members have managed to provide him with some creature comforts, like keeping bags of potato chips at easy reach.

    The president has limited his interactions with reporters, taking few questions. As a result, the Russia issue came up only once – during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Initial plans for an end-of-the-trip news conference in Sicily have been set aside, meaning there are fewer chances for him to veer off script, but less opportunity to promote his achievements.

When Trump has talked to the news media, his responses to questions have been fairly brief and non-substantive. Asked about his meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday at the Vatican, Trump kept it simple despite the differences between him and Francis on issues like climate change.

    “Great…We had a fantastic meeting…We are liking Italy very much, and it was an honor to meet with the pope,” Trump said.

   He has also reined in some of his hyperbole. After boasting earlier this year that finding a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians should not be all that hard, Trump acknowledged that maybe it would be hard after all.

    “I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all,” he said. “But I have a feeling we’re going to get there eventually. I hope.”

    Aides said most every word spoken was written carefully with some thought of the message that would be sent. Most speeches were performed with a Teleprompter to keep Trump from drifting off into his own ad libs.

    “He understands that even the slightest phrasing can have big implications,” said a senior White House official. “He’s worked really hard on being directly involved in the preparation.”

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that behind the scenes, Trump has been calibrating his style to fit the leader who he is meeting and the urgency of the issue he is discussing.

    “He tends to dial the urgency up and therefore the style dials up,” Tillerson, noting that when talking to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, “He was very energized because he does feel there’s a certain sense of urgency for these parties to finally get on with it.”

Trump has been on script before only to lapse. Privately, aides realize this could happen again.

    “He is who he is,” one aide said. “He’s definitely someone who speaks his mind.”

    Trump has found himself on this trip increasingly reliant on a core group of his inner circle: Son-in-law Jared Kushner, a top White House adviser; daughter Ivanka, who is Kushner’s wife; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; economic adviser Gary Cohn; national security adviser H.R. McMaster and deputy national security adviser for strategy, Dina Powell.

    The more disciplined Trump was a victory for Kushner, who organized the trip around some specific objectives, such as a $110 billion arms deal for Saudi Arabia and Trump’s visit to holy sites in Israel, including his visit to the Western Wall, a first for a U.S. president.

    “We’re very focused on the substance of the actions and then ultimately on delivering results,” said a senior administration official.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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