In the immediate wake of the Trumpster’s first foreign foray with little to show but enormous ($110 billion) arms sales to Saudi Arabia to kick start a Middle East peace process that no one has cracked for the last 100 years, and the tremendous thud of his subsequent clumsy European reception, perhaps the most observed, and may we say entertaining, results have been the worldwide focus on the marital handholding back and forth of the Couple Trump in public. As a delightful syncopated counterpoint to Trump.45’s continued solo hand-shaking foibles frequently noted since the beginning of his term.

Melania made plain her position in the matter: “When I say so buster, not when you feel like it for show”. Trump.45 is a gamer, however, and will not stop the pursuit no matter how poorly he performs in the near term. He is the original Energizer Bunny on getting his own way or appearing to do so.

Thus we have had the equally entertaining spectacle at other points in the trip of noticeable, if temporary, hand gripping engaged in by the first Family. They did it while leaving Sicily, and they did it again landing back home in the United States Saturday night walking across the South Lawn from Marine One at the White House.

See the evidence below. An impromptu but revealing photograph with a story to tell, carefully composed but on the fly. Hands held, center front in the shot and obvious, Trump’s on top, Black and white, light and dark, one with a smile and one with a frown. One a lithe walk, one a determined stomp in his step. Oh my, indeed.

Trumps Stroll Across South Lawn (White House) on Return from Sicily Holding Hands (May 27, 2017)

Whether these most recent signs of family comity (and one or two fleeting others from the back half of the overseas trip) are spontaneous gestures of good will, or rather negotiated truce conditions among stiff-necked marital partners not willing to cede the veil of public cooperation, is unknown outside the family confines just now.

This picture will serve as the last installment in the highly successful photo tour of Melania’s first extended sequential participation in the drama of the Trump presidency since inauguration, a nine day tour mostly in public.

By most accounts she performed near flawlessly in a sort of United Colors of Diplomacy with her cool collected appearance, in knockout designer clothes with a model’s grace and elegance for public events next to her frumpy, grumpy, clumsy husband. Even better, for the world’s audience she came across as genuine and sympathetic in her private non Trumpian visits with children, at hospitals. Even non-fans get the visceral sense she is a caring and engaged parent on her own. Not to mention a couple moments of religious devotion at the Western Wall and at the Vatican, where her private Catholic faith was revealed and confirmed later.

Some might quarrel with the rather over the top multicolored, floral hand embroidered jacket for a mere $51,000 she exhibited on arriving back in Italy in Friday, but nobody’s perfect. And that was perhaps the only quibble in an otherwise flawless First Lady Tour collection. Compared to the frequent and bone headed flops of her consort, Melania really did hit a First Lady Home Run.

Not to mention that she does not have the benefit of the world class strategic and PR brains at Trump.45’s beck and call to plan things out for effect: The two Steves, Reince, Spicer, Huckabee Sanders, Hicks, Shiller and so on. Less is more; class will show.

As for Trump.45, he can regard the whole hand holding Fake News flap as roundly resolved in his favor, since he won at the tail end, after the damage was done. He will write it down in his memory book as another example of his strict advice to himself and others in legal disputes: Never Settle, Always Fight.

Like his famous recent victory in the three Trump University civil fraud lawsuits where he got his jollies aiming at a Federal judge early on, and it only cost him$25 million to accept a loss before being forced to trial by that same picky judge. A clear and present win. The notion that if Trump.45 had just kept his big mouth shut and let the lawyers handle it, he might have settled the whole mess for a mere $8-10 million, along with oceans less bad printer’s ink heaped on his head, doesn’t seem to penetrate. Mark up another solid win for the always victorious Trump juggernaut.

Hand holding? Throw the dog a bone. He’ll gladly chase after it.

One final thought.

If this series of incidents didn’t cut so close to the question of Trump’s inherent manliness, one might be tempted to view it as a false flag diversion from the late stage wreckage of his imagined Home Run World Tour or the entwined distractions of multiple Russia investigations, the Flynn debacle, a Special Prosecutor rooting around unchecked, or Kushner’s new found sour pickles, or all of the above..

But Trump is so deeply invested in his own rigid pride that that particular brand of magical misdirection as a strategy seems out of bounds by a long shot. No, Melania fired an effective personal salvo, and Trump.45 soldiered on to a muddy negotiated armistice with a temporary ceasefire agreement, all the while acting like the Conqueror Triumphant.

Now back to work on the War Room and Trump.45’s existential fight against Fake News and all the adverse actual facts piling up in the corners.A War Room, by the way, that Trump.45 has graciously consented to pay for with 100% American taxpayer dollars, to fund this transparently claptrap effort to impede justice and obfuscate the underlying truth, whatever that is.

And Melania can avoid public appearances with the Big Dog for a bit, if she chooses to, taking the whole issue off the visible front burner, leaving just the indelible pictorial memories behind.

And life goes on in America, where real problems get to play second fiddle to the tawdry drama that is Trump.45’s careening path through our national landscape.

Makes one bless the notion of strict term limits. Eight years max, unless he manages to knock down some more critical national constraints in the meantime.

From the Washington Post (May 28, 2017)

Kushner ties to Russia questioned as Trump blasts media lies

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Sunday demanded to hear directly from top White House adviser Jared Kushner over allegations of proposed secret back-channel communications with Russia, saying the security clearance of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law may need to be revoked.

Trump, having returned from a nine-day overseas trip, immediately railed against administration leaks, calling them “fabricated lies,” in a flurry of tweets.

And his Homeland Security head defended the idea of establishing that kind of communication as a “smart thing” and said he didn’t see “any big issue here” for Kushner.

But to the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, it’s “obviously very concerning” that a key Trump campaign figure was possibly seeking secret communications with a country that intelligence experts say intervened in the 2016 election.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California said the government needed to “get to the bottom” of the matter and urged a review of Kushner’s security clearance “to find out whether he was truthful.”

“If not, then there’s no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance,” Schiff said.

The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Kushner in December proposed a back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team. Kushner spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about facilitating sensitive discussions to explore the incoming administration’s options with Russia as it developed its Syria policy. The intent was to connect Trump’s chief national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, with Russian military leaders, a person familiar with the discussions told the AP. The person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss private policy deliberations and insisted on anonymity.

Russia, a pivotal player in Syria, has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad, often at the expense of civilians and at odds with U.S. policy during Syria’s long civil war.

The White House did not acknowledge the meeting or Kushner’s attendance until March. At the time, a White House official dismissed it as a brief courtesy meeting.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, described the latest allegations involving Kushner as “serious” and called for a thorough investigation.

“He needs to answer for what was happening at the time,” Booker said. “What’s worrying me are the patterns we’re seeing. So one is this administration not talking about our values, cozying up to authoritarian leaders. And the other pattern we have is just a continuous drumbeat of inappropriate contacts with the Russians.”

Lawyers for Kushner said he was willing to talk with federal and congressional investigators about his foreign contacts and his work on the Trump campaign.

The disclosure of the back channel put the White House on the defensive. Just back from visiting the Middle East and Europe, Trump on Sunday dismissed recent reports as “fake news.”

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies,” Trump tweeted. He added: “Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names … it is very possible that those sources don’t exist.”

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he didn’t know if the news reports were true but described back-channel communications as a “good thing.” He was echoing the sentiment of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who declined to address the contents of Kushner’s December meeting with the Russian diplomat to reporters in Sicily over the weekend and suggested that back-channel communications were commonplace and not concerning.

“It’s both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable,” Kelly said. “Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us is a good thing.”

“I don’t see the big deal,” he added.

Kushner’s involvement in the proposed back channel was first reported by The Washington Post, which said he suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities for the discussions, apparently to make them more difficult to monitor. The newspaper cited anonymous U.S. officials who were briefed on intelligence reports on intercepted Russian communications.

The Post reported that Kislyak was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well for as the Trump team.

According to the person familiar with the Kushner meeting, the Trump team eventually felt there was no need for a back channel once Rex Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of state on Feb. 1.

Flynn served briefly as Trump’s national security adviser before being fired in February. Officials said he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he and the ambassador had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a phone call.

Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, told Congress this month that that deception left Flynn vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians. Flynn remains under federal investigation in Virginia over his foreign business ties. He was interviewed by the FBI in January about his contacts with Kislyak.

Kushner was a trusted Trump adviser last year, overseeing the campaign’s digital strategy. He remains an influential confidant within the White House as does his wife, Ivanka Trump.

Federal investigators and several congressional committees are looking into any connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, including allegations that there may have been collaboration to help Trump and harm his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has requested information and documents from Trump’s campaign dating back to July 2015, the AP and other news outlets confirmed.

Kelly appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” NBC’s “Meet the Press” and ABC’s “This Week,” Schiff also spoke on ABC, and Booker was on CNN’s “State of the Union.”