With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: The credibility gap — maybe chasm is a better word at this point — keeps widening for Donald Trump and his White House.
Two days after Trump’s victory, Russia’s deputy foreign minister told a reporter in Moscow that “there were contacts” between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. “Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” he said. That prompted a vigorous denial from Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who insisted there had been “no contact with Russian officials.”
- On Jan. 11, an NBC reporter asked Trump whether members of his staff were in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. “No,” he replied.
- On Jan. 15, Mike Pence was asked basically the same question on two Sunday shows. “Of course not,” he replied on Fox and CBS.
- Yesterday afternoon, Sean Spicer stood by Trump’s earlier denials during the daily briefing when questioned by ABC.
Fresh reporting continues to cast doubt on these and many other claims:
-- From the lead story in today's New York Times: “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials. American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee.… The officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump. On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the government outside of the intelligence services, they said….
“The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the hacking of the D.N.C. … As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews….
The Times reports that one of the advisers is Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and previously worked as a consultant in Ukraine for a politician backed by the Kremlin. The paper’s sources declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls.
Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the accounts. “This is absurd,” he told The Times. “I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.” He added, “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’”
The Times story notes that these intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael Flynn, who resigned as former national security adviser the night before last, and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States: “The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the calls between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed. … The F.B.I. has closely examined at least three other people close to Mr. Trump, although it is unclear if their calls were intercepted. They are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign; Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative; and Mr. Flynn.”
-- CNN published additional details, as well: “High-level advisers close to … Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, [according to] multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials.… President-elect Trump and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of the extensive communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business, according to US officials familiar with the matter. Both the frequency of the communications during early summer and the proximity to Trump of those involved ‘raised a red flag’ with US intelligence and law enforcement, according to these officials. … Investigators have not reached a judgment on the intent of those conversations.”
- “Adding to US investigators' concerns were intercepted communications between Russian officials before and after the election discussing their belief that they had special access to Trump, two law enforcement officials tell CNN.”
- “One concern was whether Trump associates were coordinating with Russian intelligence operatives over the release of damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign. ‘If that were the case, then that would escalate things,’ one official briefed on the investigation said.”
-- ABC News confirmed portions of both stories: “U.S. authorities were concerned with and probing communications between associates of [Trump] and suspected Russian intelligence officials in the leadup to the … election, [according to] sources familiar with the matter….”
-- The Post’s tick tock on Flynn’s fall has new information about just how deeply concerned Obama administration officials were about his Russia contacts. From Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima: “His unusual association with Russia — and the discovery of his secret communications with the Russian ambassador — fanned suspicion among senior Obama administration officials of a more sinister aspect to Russia’s interference in the election. Senior Obama administration officials said they felt so uncertain about the nature of the Flynn-Kislyak relationship that they took it upon themselves to scale back what they told Flynn and others on his incoming national security team, particularly on sensitive matters related to Russia. … ‘We did decide to not share with them certain things about Russia,’ a former senior Obama administration official said. ‘We just thought, who knew? Would that information be safe?’ … Susan E. Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, did not give Flynn advance notice of the sanctions that the White House planned to impose on Russia over its meddling in the election. Instead, Denis McDonough, who at the time was Obama’s chief of staff, waited until the sanctions were announced to inform his Trump counterpart…”
-- Alumni of Hillary Clinton’s campaign seized on the New York Times article:
From her press secretary:
Everything we suspected during the campaign is proving true. This is a colossal scandal.https://t.co/NythuqU4Cq— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) February 15, 2017
From her campaign manager:
I'd like the FBI to explain why they sent a letter about Clinton but not thishttps://t.co/9ExPo1Jedj— Robby Mook (@RobbyMook) February 15, 2017
From a spokeswoman:
That sound you hear is the rattling of hundreds of Clinton staffers' heads hitting the desk in frustration. https://t.co/Dqbge4mE7X— Christina Reynolds (@creynoldsnc) February 15, 2017
-- Trump reacted angrily this morning:
This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
-- John McCain responded to that last tweet by urging Trump to take a harder line:
THE LARGER CONTEXT MATTERS:
-- Flynn’s departure has lent new gravity and intensity to long-simmering questions about Trump and Russia. “There was already a cloud hanging over the administration when it comes to Russia, and this darkens the cloud,” said Eliot Cohen, who served as an adviser to the George W. Bush administration and has been a vocal Trump critic. “This is serious.”
That quote comes from a broader piece by Roz Helderman and Tom Hamburger on Trump’s long-term fixation on and admiration for Vladimir Putin, a brutal authoritarian strongman: “By the way, I really like Vladimir Putin,” Trump told the Russian-language magazine Chayka in 2008 as he debuted a new Trump-branded New York City condo project that was catering in part to Russian buyers. “I respect him. He does his job well. Much better than our Bush.”
“Trump has said he has done no deals there. But over 30 years, he has repeatedly visited Moscow and promised to one day build a tower bearing his name there,” Roz and Tom report. “He has also bragged about selling a mansion in Florida to a Russian oligarch for nearly $100 million, and Russian investors were key to the success of several Trump-branded buildings, particularly in Florida following the 2008 crash of the U.S. housing market.… ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008.… ‘We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.’”
WIDENING THE APERTURE FURTHER – MOSCOW IS TESTING US:
-- Russia’s escalation in Ukraine after Putin’s call with Trump is part of a broader effort to gauge how much Russia can get away with now that they have allies in the White House.
-- In the Black Sea last week, multiple Russian aircraft buzzed a U.S. destroyer on patrol in an incident that the captain of the American ship called “unsafe.” (The Free Beacon broke the story, and our guys tracked down some additional details.)
-- Even more alarming: Russia is secretly deploying a new cruise missile in violation of a treaty with the United States, watching to see if the White House pushes back. “The system substantially increases the military threat to NATO nations, depending on where the highly mobile system is based and how many more batteries are deployed in the future,” Michael Gordon reports in today’s New York Times. “The ground-launched cruise missile at the center of American concerns is one that the Obama administration said in 2014 had been tested in violation of a 1987 treaty that bans American and Russian intermediate-range missiles based on land. The Obama administration had sought to persuade the Russians to correct the violation while the missile was still in the test phase. Instead, the Russians have moved ahead with the system, deploying a fully operational unit. … The missile program has been a major concern for the Pentagon, which has developed options for how to respond, including deploying additional missile defenses in Europe or developing air-based or sea-based cruise missiles.”
-- Will Trump’s Russian reset survive Flynn’s ouster? The Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe, a keen Russia observer, bets yes: “As soon as news reached Moscow that [he] had resigned … hawkish Russian lawmakers began to hyperventilate.… It was a rather extraordinary display: Russian officials defending an American national security adviser as if he were one of their own. With Flynn gone, it would appear that Moscow had lost an ‘in’ to the Trump administration. But that would overstate the case. ‘They have other entrees,’ one senior State Department official told me. Flynn was just a messenger, in other words, and there are other people in the West Wing who are equally motivated to strike some kind of grand bargain with Putin.… And if Trump and Putin both want the deal done, it won’t be too hard to find another go-between.”
Russian parliament member Alexey Pavlovsky tells Julia that the one real problem is timing: “If the Kremlin and the White House don’t move quickly, ‘America and Russia could lose the opportunity to lower the pressure on the relationship,’ he said. ‘If there’s no agreement in six months, then it will never be reached because then our presidential campaign begins’ — Putin is up for reelection again in 2018 — ‘and Putin won’t be able to be soft.’”
-- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who received the Order of Friendship from Putin in 2013, is planning to huddle with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a Group of 20 meeting in Germany.
TRUMP’S LARGER CREDIBILITY PROBLEM:
-- This weekend brought yet another reminder that Trump’s claims can never be taken at face value. While flying to Palm Beach on Air Force One, the president told reporters he was “not familiar” with The Post’s report that Flynn had talked about sanctions with the ambassador. “I don't know about that. I haven't seen it. What report is that? I haven't seen that. I'll look into that,” he said.
We learned yesterday that, in fact, Trump had been told two weeks earlier that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, despite his denials. But he sat on the information. “Spicer said that Trump was responding only to a question about the Post report and was not speaking about the overall issue of Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador and his discussion of sanctions,” Karen DeYoung, Abby Phillip and Jenna Johnson report in a deeper dive on what has become “a full-blown crisis.”
A few hours after Trump played dumb on Air Force One, he privately expressed frustration during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago that Flynn was dining at a nearby table. Trump was “surprised” to learn that Flynn was dining at a nearby table, the Wall Street Journal reports. “What is he doing here?” the president reportedly said, describing the man who was once at the center of his political orbit as “very controversial.” Still, Trump kept Flynn close all weekend.
IT’S NOT THE CRIME. IT’S THE COVERUP:
-- From Walter Pincus’s column for the Cipher Brief: “What did the President know, and when did he know it? For those of us who went through Watergate, that question, first posed by Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), is the one most relevant today as the current White House drama unfolds.… At 6:28 a.m. yesterday morning, Trump wrote from the White House: ‘The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?’ That presidential tweet should make people uneasy, the way we felt nervous during Watergate about what military actions President Nixon might undertake as the truth began to threaten him personally. Trump was initiating what can only be described as a typical attempt to divert his roughly 25 million followers from paying attention to what he and his own White House has been caught doing.”
Walter, one of the wisest men in Washington, offers sage advice that the Trump high command might want to heed: “More than 50 years ago, on the very first day I showed up for work to run an investigation of foreign government lobbyists for Sen. J.W. Fulbright (D-Ark.), then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he told me, ‘Remember, it’s not what you did that counts, it’s what you did after you were caught.’ Washington, believe it or not, is a very forgiving town to government officials, including members of Congress, if they confess to misdeeds. But what has always brought people down is when they try to cover up what they have done.”
WILL REPUBLICANS CONTINUE TO STAND BY TRUMP AS HIS NUMBERS SINK?
-- It has become politically more difficult for congressional Republicans to walk in lockstep with the president. From Sean Sullivan, Karoun Demirjian and Paul Kane:
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that it was “highly likely” that the events leading to Flynn’s departure would be added to the broader probe into Russian meddling in the election.
- The top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), stood side by side to announce that the committee’s ongoing probe must include an examination of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.
- Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of Senate Republican leadership, told a Missouri radio station that the Senate Intelligence Committee should look into Trump’s Russia connections “exhaustively so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned, and shouldn’t reach conclusions before you have the information that you need to have to make those conclusions.” “For all of us, finding out if there’s a problem or not, and sooner rather than later, is the right thing to do,” he said.
-- A new Iowa poll from the Des Moines Register, which was in the field last week, pegs Trump’s approval rating at 42 percent, with 49 percent disapproving. While 82 percent of Republicans approve of the president’s job performance, only 39 percent of independents do. For context, Trump carried Iowa by nine points in November. The poll was conducted by Ann Selzer, who is considered the gold standard in the Hawkeye State.
The Register’s write-up quotes an independent voter who participated in the poll: “He scares me every time he tweets,” said Clarissa Gadient from Davenport. “I mean, really and truly, it’s about security, and I don’t feel it at all." Gadient, 58, a caregiver who’s been unemployed since last fall, said Trump’s early actions in office have left her “fatigued” and deeply uncertain about his readiness for the presidency.
-- A Fox News poll puts Trump’s approval rating at 48 percent nationally. Passions run especially high: 35 percent of registered voters “strongly” approve and 41 percent “strongly” disapprove. Overall, 49 percent lack confidence in Trump’s judgment and 45 percent say he is not a strong leader.
-- From a speechwriter in Bush 43’s White House:
Seriously, Republican congress members: you do not want to be covering for accusations of Russian penetration of US govt.— David Frum (@davidfrum) February 14, 2017
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Rumor, a female German shepherd, won best in show at the Westminster dog show. Karin Brulliard reports: “In the end, Rumor had it. … The herding dog was a favorite and finalist at last year’s competition, after which her owners decided her show life was over. But they brought her back this year, and her victory brought down the packed house at Madison Square Garden. Now she’ll retire for good, her handler and owner, Kent Boyles, told reporters.… What’s in her future? ‘Babies, I hope,’ Boyles said. And perhaps her favorite treat, he said — ribeye steak.” Other finalists: A male Irish Setter named Adrian, a female Norwegian Elkhound named Duffy, a male Pekingese named Chuckie, a female miniature poodle named Aftin. More of our team coverage here.
-- Federal immigration agents have detained and threatened to deport a 23-year-old immigrant who received protection under DACA, the Obama-led program that provides a work permit and deportation reprieve to those who were brought to the United States as children. The Los Angeles Times reports: “Daniel Ramirez Medina was sleeping at his father’s home near Seattle when agents arrived and arrested his father, for whom they had an arrest warrant, the lawsuit says. After the arrest, according to the complaint, the agents asked Ramirez, ‘Are you legally here?’ At that point, the complaint says, agents took Ramirez to a processing center in Seattle, where he again informed authorities that he had a work permit. “One of the agents stated: ‘It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country,’ the petition said.” His case has prompted swift backlash from immigration activists, who have expressed concern after hundreds of undocumented immigrants were arrested in a multi-state sweep last week.
-- Oklahoma lawmakers advanced a bill that would require a woman to get the written consent of a fetus’s father before obtaining an abortion. The Republican lawmaker who authored the bill prompted outrage after saying the bodies of pregnant woman are “hosts”: “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” he said of women. “I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant. So that’s where I’m at.” (Sandhya Somashekhar and Amy B Wang)
GET SMART FAST:
- A number of Pakistani salesmen found themselves at odds with national authorities after a court banned public observance of Valentine’s Day, on the belief that the holiday “celebrates Western vulgarity” and promiscuity. Still, many vendors defiantly set up shop for the February holiday anyway — representing a deepening national divide as the country becomes both more Western and more Islamic at the same time. (Pamela Constable)
- Health insurer Cigna said it will unilaterally terminate its $54 billion merger agreement with Anthem after it was blocked by a U.S. judge, announcing the decision just hours after Aetna and Humana also said they would abandon a blockbuster $37 billion merger.(Carolyn Y. Johnson)
- The man accused of supplying high-powered rifles to the San Bernardino terrorists has agreed to plead guilty for his connection to the 2015 shooting, and to plotting a mass killing with the gunman that was never carried out. Federal officials said that Enrique Marquez envisioned detailed plans — such as halting traffic on a major roadway with explosives and firing at trapped motorists — before he backed out of them. If convicted, Marquez could face up to 25 years in prison. (AP)
- The FAA is investigating another Harrison Ford aviation mishap while the movie star piloted his private plane on Monday. He reportedly missed the runway on which he was supposed to land and aimed for a taxiway instead — crossing over the top of a 110-person American Airlines flight before landing. Ford is an experienced flier but has crash-landed several aircraft. (Peter Holley)
- The CDC reported more evidence of progress against HIV this week, citing an 18 percent decline in the number of U.S. infections between 2008 and 2014, after numbers remained stagnant for more than a decade. The decline was even sharper among heterosexuals — at 36 percent — while intravenous-drug users experienced a 56 percent drop. (Lenny Bernstein)
- Two Native American tribes submitted a new court filing to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, making a last-ditch effort to vacate an easement filed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Unlike the previous filing, which made an argument on religious grounds, this one cites alleged violations of several statutes. (Steven Mufson)
- The son of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were taken in the 1950s without her consent and made her the unwitting progenitor of one of the most important cell lines in medical research, is seeking compensation from Johns Hopkins. Despite the fact that her cells have led to the development of amazing new medical techniques, including vaccines, cancer treatments and in vitro fertilization, he says the family has not received a dime. (Andrea K. McDaniels)
- Austrian authorities have arrested a man dressed as Adolf Hitler’s double. The 25-year-old was seen wandering around the Nazi dictator’s birthplace, introducing himself by the name of Hitler, and perusing the World War II aisles of a local bookstore before authorities intervened. (Amanda Erickson)
- A Connecticut man is on trial for murder after sending a cryptic text to the mother of his 7-month-old son — and then tossing the child off of a nearby bridge. "You're not a parent anymore," he typed, before attempting to jump to his own death as well. He was intercepted by authorities, however, and could face up to 70 years in prison. (Lindsey Bever)
- NBC News shook up its ranks on Tuesday, replacing company president Deborah Turness, the executive who presided over a number of high-profile controversies at the network, from the handling of Brian Williams to the "Access Hollywood" footage. She will become president of NBC News International, a new position. She will be replaced by Noah Oppenheim, the executive producer of the "Today" show and a former producer at MSNBC and CNBC. (Paul Farhi)
- A naked man assaulted another man at the entrance of NBC News’s Washington bureau, hitting and pushing him to the ground before running inside the building and biting another man who helped restrain him. (AP)
- The American Girl company announced the creation of its very first boy doll, Logan Everett. He will help bolster the collection of modern American Girl dolls, as the company moves to diversify move past the historical backstories that first made the dolls a household name. (New York Times)
DRIVING THE DAY:
-- Expectations were high as Trump prepared to visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, but if history is a guide, the symbolic united front they seek to display cannot last. Anne Gearan and Ruth Eglash raise the curtain:
- “On the U.S. side, the expectations could not be higher for a clean break from what Trump sees as the failures of [Obama’s] years and a bold stroke for Middle East peace.… Success hinges on Netanyahu’s cooperation in the near-certain event that Trump asks him to make political or other concessions.... It may also depend on Trump’s own reaction if, as participants in past peace efforts said is likely, Netanyahu attempts to get the better of the new U.S. dealmaker in chief."
- "On the Israeli side, Netanyahu is counting on the Trump administration’s aggressive and skeptical U.S. approach to Iran and the nuclear deal, as well as nearly unqualified support for policies toward the Palestinians that have brought international condemnation. And to his political right at home, an increasingly powerful Israeli political constituency wants carte blanche from the new U.S. administration to turn away from the once-shared U.S.-Israeli goal of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.”
-- A White House official told reporters last night that the United States won’t insist on a two-state solution. “Maybe, maybe not. It’s something the two sides have to agree to. It’s not for us to impose that vision,” the official said.
MOUNTING ETHICS CONCERNS:
-- The head of the Office of Government Ethics said there is “strong reason to believe” that Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway violated federal rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s eponymous clothing line during a interview, and he has urged the White House to investigate the matter and consider disciplining her. Matea Gold reports: “In a Feb. 13 letter to White House Deputy Counsel Stefan Passantino, OGE Director Walter M. Shaub Jr., wrote that Conway’s comments appeared to be ‘a clear violation’ of federal ethics rules that bar federal employees from using their public office to endorse a product. Shaub added that the ethics agency has not been notified whether the White House has disciplined Conway, even though [Sean Spicer] said she was ‘counseled’ [about the matter].”
The OGE response was praised by a bipartisan group of Capitol Hill lawmakers, with House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz calling on Trump to follow the agency’s advice. “I appreciate the quick response from OGE and hope the White House heeds their recommendation,” he said in a statement. His remarks were echoed by Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking committee Democrat, who described Conway’s remarks as “a textbook violation of federal ethics rules.” Ethics experts said that violating such rules can trigger a “variety” of disciplinary actions, including a multi-day suspension or loss of pay. For example, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees face a five-day suspension or termination for such a violation.
-- Chaffetz also asked the White House for information about security protocols at Mar-a-Lago, after Trump pored over documents related to North Korea on a table just steps away from fellow diners. Elise Viebeck reports: The request is significant as it marks the first time [the committee] has requested information from the Trump White House. “Discussions with foreign leaders regarding international missile tests, and documents used to support those discussions, are presumptively [sic] sensitive,” Chaffetz wrote in a letter to Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. “While the President is always on duty, and cannot dictate the timing of when he needs to receive sensitive information about urgent matters, we hope the White House will cooperate in providing the Committee with additional information.’”
-- Probably not a coincidence: Trump just "won" a trademark fight he's been waging for years in China. “His triumph in the fight to wrest back his brand for construction services in China could spell the end of more than 225 Trump-related products that don’t belong to him, including Trump toilets, … Trump pacemakers and even a ‘Trump International Hotel,’” the AP’s Erika Kinetz reports. “After a decade of grinding battle in China’s courts, an official finding in Trump’s favor expected this week could signal a shift in fortune for the U.S. president’s intellectual property. Also at stake are 49 pending Trump trademark applications — all made during his campaign — and 77 previously registered marks, most of which will come up for renewal during his term. Each win creates value for Trump’s business empire — and raises ethics questions about his administration.”
“There can be no question that it is a terrible idea for him to be accepting the registration of these valuable property rights from China while he’s a sitting president,” said former White House ethics lawyer Norman Eisen. “It’s fair to conclude that this is an effort to influence Mr. Trump that is … potentially very valuable to him, but it could be very costly for the United States.”
-- Who is Donald McGahn, the fiery lawyer at the center of virtually every Trump controversy? Matt Zapotosky and Sari Horwitz have a mini-profile: “McGahn — the fiery lawyer who has represented the president since before his election — is a consummate Washington insider, but like the man for whom he works, he has an independent streak ... On the [FEC], where he served from 2008 to 2013, McGahn repeatedly clashed with Democratic commissioners as he worked to loosen regulations on campaign spending and place limits on the commission’s ability to launch investigations of violations of campaign finance law. Democratic Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub said McGahn … resisted pursuing virtually all complaints of election-related wrongdoing. ‘One thing that does trouble me a little bit in the role that he’s in now is he was never someone who was open to new ideas or people challenging his views,’ Weintraub said.”
MORE WEST WING INTRIGUE:
-- Trump’s Pravda, formerly run by Steve Bannon, has trained its guns on Reince Priebus. The Atlantic's Rosie Gray reports: “Breitbart News has a target in its crosshairs following the departure of Mike Flynn: the White House Chief of Staff. Targeting Priebus, who leads the faction of Trump aides that is composed of experienced establishment political hands, is really just a stand-in for a larger conflict about the future of Trumpism in the White House. Breitbart News is treating Flynn’s ouster as the first salvo in a war against those in the administration they deem insufficiently loyal to Trump. Backing up Breitbart are legions of other Trump loyalists in the right-wing media sphere. And their angry reaction to Flynn’s exit signals the unpopularity of the move with a vocal segment of Trump’s base. At Breitbart … the narrative was set early … [with a story accusing] Priebus of knowing about anti-Trump ‘sleeper cells’ hidden throughout the government. [Bannon] himself called the story ‘absurd’ in an email. But the effort hasn’t tamped down anti-Priebus ardor.”
-- KEPT IN THE DARK AND OUT OF THE LOOP: If his version of events is to be believed, Mike Pence has less juice than previously believed. An aide said last night that the vice president did not learn Flynn had misled him until Feb. 9, a full two weeks after other White House officials were briefed on the matter. (Philip Bump made a useful timeline of the events we know about in the run-up to Flynn’s resignation.) Robert Costa and Ashley Parker explore this dynamic: “Pence has largely managed to avoid the infighting and warring factions of the young White House by keeping his head down and soldiering loyally forward. But the incident with Flynn reveals both the benefits and risks of his approach — he has emerged largely unharmed by the scandal that led to Flynn’s resignation, but his influence within the West Wing has come increasingly into question given how little he knew about his own situation. … Aides to both the president and vice president say the two men speak on the phone or in person multiple times a day. Yet in spite of their frequent communication, the president never told his No. 2 that he was possibly misled by Flynn — and that in defending him on the Sunday shows had put himself in a publicly compromising and embarrassing situation.” Several people close to Pence said he was “blindsided” and “frustrated.”
-- The continuing turmoil inside the National Security Council has rattled active-duty personnel in the U.S. military. Mike Shear reports in the Times: “Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, expressed concern about upheaval inside the White House. ‘Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,’ he said at a military conference on Tuesday. ‘I’ve never been so nervous in my lifetime about what may or may not happen in Washington,’ said Leon Panetta, a Democrat who served as chief of staff, secretary of defense and C.I.A. director during a 50-year career that spanned nine presidents …’I don’t know whether this White House is capable of responding in a thoughtful or careful way should a crisis erupt,’ he said. ‘You can do hit-and-miss stuff over a period of time. But at some point, I don’t give a damn what your particular sense of change is all about, you cannot afford to have change become chaos.’”
-- Trump communications official Omarosa Manigault says she has a recording of her dispute with White House reporter April Ryan, and she shared parts of it with journalists. Paul Farhi reports: The move comes after the two engaged in a heated exchange just steps from the Oval Office last week. Ryan claimed that she felt “physically intimidated” during the altercation, and that Manigault told her she was among a handful of journalists on whom the White House was keeping “dossiers” of negative information. Ryan said she was not aware that her run-in with Manigault last week was recorded. “I didn’t know she was taping it,” she said. “This is about her trying to smear my name. This is freaking Nixonian.” Manigault said White House press staff recorded the encounter and that video contents make clear she never threatened Ryan or mentioned “dossiers.” “She came in with an attitude,” Manigault said. “For her to characterize me as the bully — I’m so glad we have this tape … because it’s ‘liar, liar, pants on fire,’” in Ryan’s case, she said.
-- Trump signed a law rolling back an SEC disclosure rule for energy and mining companies, a measure that could presage the most aggressive assault on government regulations since Ronald Reagan. Steven Mufson reports: “The bill cancels out [an SEC] regulation that would have required oil and gas and mining companies to disclose in detail the payments they make to foreign governments in a bid to boost transparency in resource-rich countries. It’s a big deal,’ Trump said as he signed the measure in the Oval Office. ‘The energy jobs are coming back. Lots of people going back to work now.’ Hill Republicans are also seeking to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn regulations that would: prevent coal-mining operations from dumping waste into nearby waterways; restrict methane emissions by oil and gas operations on federal land; require federal contractors to self-certify that they comply with U.S. labor laws; require each state to issue annual ratings for teacher-prep programs; and introduce a planning rule for federal lands.”
-- Amateur hour: The White House posted inaccurate texts of Trump’s executive orders on its website, raising question about how thorough top officials have been about drafting some of his most controversial executive actions. USA Today’s Gregory Korte reports: “[A review] of presidential documents found at least five cases where the version posted on the White House website doesn't match the official version sent to the Federal Register. The differences include minor grammatical changes, missing words and paragraph renumbering — but also two cases where the original text referred to inaccurate or non-existent provisions of law. By law, the Federal Register version is the legally controlling language. But it can often take several days for the order to be published, meaning that the public must often rely on what the White House puts out — and that's sometimes inaccurate.”
-- Secret Service director Joseph Clancy is stepping down, leaving one of Washington’s toughest jobs after a little more than two years. Carol D. Leonnig reports: “In late 2014, President Barack Obama summoned Joseph P. Clancy, his former detail leader, back from the private sector amid a string of security breaches and employee misconduct in the agency. On Tuesday, Clancy said it’s time to retire for good. He leaves March 4, giving President Trump the chance to select a new director.”
-- “[Trump’s] zeal for extreme vetting has one glaring exception, one gaping blind spot: his own administration,” the New York Times’ Frank Bruni writes: Trump sold himself to Americans the way almost everyone who tries to make the transition from the private sector to public service does. Supposedly, he knew how to manage in a way that government bureaucrats don’t, because he was from a realm of ultimate accountability. [But] … the cornerstone of management is the assembling of a team that’s competent and trustworthy. Trump put his together in a cavalier fashion, enchanted by people who were high on energy even if they were low on sanity, decency, discretion, humility or some combination of the above. And so we got Flynn, Stephen Miller and others whose stridency makes for a good show … There have been so many embarrassments with so many nominees that a few who’d be in the foreground of the news otherwise have been spared the derision they deserve. Flynn’s fall was foreordained, predictable by anyone with the time, patience and fundamental seriousness to take an unblinking look at his past, brimming as it was with accusations of shoddy stewardship and instances of rashness.”
-- Andrew Puzder’s ex-wife said he “vowed revenge” after she made public spousal allegations, according to footage from a 1990 tape for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Politico’s Marianne Levine and Tim Noah report: “Puzder's hearing for labor secretary is Thursday, but the allegations of domestic abuse, which he's repeatedly denied, and his admission that he employed an illegal immigrant have put his confirmation in jeopardy. The details of the Oprah tape, which haven't been made public until now, could further erode his support in the Senate, where four Republicans have expressed reservations about his nomination. No Democrats are expected to support him. During the episode, titled ‘High Class Battered Women,’ Lisa Fierstein, Puzder’s ex-wife, said he told her, ‘'I will see you in the gutter. This will never be over. You will pay for this.’ Fierstein also said she called the police on him.”
-- A watchdog group is working to unseal Puzder’s divorce records before his hearing. Jonnelle Marte reports: “A watchdog group, Campaign for Accountability, on Tuesday received the bulk of the couple’s divorce records, which included widely reported allegations that Fierstein was struck 'violently” in the face, chest, back and neck. But the group is still working to make public a portion of the documents that have been sealed since the late 1980s and that they expect will contain more details of how Puzder allegedly treated his ex-wife.”
-- Labor Department employees are circulating a letter urging senators to vote against Puzder. The letter, posted on Facebook, says “three specific factors disqualify Mr. Puzder from serving as the head of an agency whose primary mission is to protect America’s workforce: (1) Mr. Puzder’s own business practices; (2) his derisive public comments about his restaurants’ employees and other low-wage workers; and (3) his equally troubling public comments and behavior towards women.” It is not clear how many people have signed the letter or if it was sent. (Joe Davidson)
-- OMB director nominee Rep. Mick Mulvaney is facing fresh GOP resistance ahead of his confirmation vote this week, with another veteran Senate Republican privately raising concerns about his nomination. CNN’s Manu Raju reports: “Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is concerned about Mulvaney's views about defense spending and is uncertain whether he'd be willing to support him … At the same time, John McCain has railed against Mulvaney's past support for a smaller military budget, and a source familiar with his thinking says that he continues to have concerns about Mulvaney ahead of this week's confirmation vote. If there are two GOP defections, it could force Pence to break a tie in the Senate."
-- Senior Democratic lawmakers, trying to avoid liberal protesters at their town hall meetings, pleaded with Bernie Sanders during a caucus lunch yesterday to urge his supporters to redirect their anger at Republicans instead of moderate Democrats. Ed O'Keefe and David Weigel report: “The request came … ahead of a congressional recess next week when lawmakers in both parties are expected to face large crowds stirred in recent weeks by President Trump’s early executive actions and ongoing Republican attempts to revamp the Affordable Care Act. Over the past two weeks, crowds — and conflict-hungry media crews — have swarmed town halls and protested at congressional offices. Republicans have gotten the brunt of it … But protesters have also gathered in blue states, marching to [Chuck Schumer’s] home in Brooklyn to demand the obstruction of Trump nominees, and showing up at the offices of safe-seat Democrats to demand that they filibuster Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. ‘Bernie has a voice, and if [protesters] want to be active, then direct them to where the problem may be or where they anticipate a problem,’ said Sen. Joe Manchin, who attended the Tuesday meeting.”
-- “Paul Ryan spent Tuesday on a door-to-door tour of the Capitol in hopes of salvaging his plan to repeal and largely replace the Affordable Care Act by spring,” Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis report. “The day-long blitz comes as Republicans in Congress have made virtually no visible progress in recent weeks on overhauling the health-care system ... That is largely because the party remains sharply divided over how much of the ACA should be repealed and how much — if any of it — should be replaced. The stalemate has lawmakers questioning whether the law known as Obamacare can be effectively gutted by Ryan’s self-imposed deadline of the end of March. Ryan’s efforts are being stymied by a host of factors, including a familiar revolt from his most conservative members, who want to keep their promises to eliminate Obamacare regardless of the pace of a replacement measure. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are not ready to act on any kind of repeal without a consensus replacement plan. The Washington infighting is playing out against a backdrop of rowdy GOP town halls across the country showcasing people worried about the impact on their lives of potentially losing their health insurance.”
Trump bomb from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.): “I don’t think you can fully repeal and replace it in that amount of time. It took months to write Obamacare, the original bill, and years to phase it in. It is going to take time to unwrite it and replace it with something else.”
-- Analysis: On Capitol Hill, Republicans are eager to talk policy – but Trump keeps getting in their way. From Paul Kane: “One by one, Republican lawmakers stepped to the microphone and talked about the topic that was not consuming Washington on Tuesday morning: overhauling the health-care system. It’s a sign of just how surreal things have become in the early days of the Trump administration that six GOP lawmakers preferred to discuss health care, the very thing that has bitterly divided them since the 2016 elections, than the more pressing news of the day: the resignation barely 11 hours earlier of [Michael Flynn] … The controversies affecting the Trump White House are consuming Capitol Hill, distracting from the GOP agenda and pulling the party’s congressional leaders into a daily vortex of new charges and countercharges regarding Trump’s latest actions … “It sucks the oxygen out of the room, it really does,” Sen. John McCain [told reporters]. “We should be talking about replacing Obamacare. We should be talking about tax reform, and we are talking about it, but that’s not the issue that is dominating the news, obviously.”
-- The head of ICE canceled a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus just hours before it was slated to occur on Tuesday – backing out of what would have likely been a tense conversation with lawmakers furious over recent deportation raids. HuffPost’s Elise Foley reports: “An ICE official said [ICE head Thomas] Homan canceled because the Hispanic Caucus tried to expand the number of attendees, and doing that without making the meeting bipartisan would break congressional rules ... ‘Bull[expletive],’ Rep. Grace Napolitano said ... when asked about ICE’s explanation for canceling. She and other members said they knew of no such rule and that administration officials frequently meet with non-bipartisan groups of members.” The move comes after ICE officers arrested more than 680 immigrants in more than a dozen states last week. Authorities have claimed the moves were part of “routine” and “targeted” enforcement actions, but immigration rights activists say they were more expansive than normal.
-- Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez told Politico's Gabe Debenedetti that he has 180 of the 224 votes he needs to become the next DNC chairman – underscoring the likelihood that the vote will go to multiple rounds of balloting.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
New York Times feature writer Jacob Bernstein apologized for remarks he made regarding first lady Melania Trump during a private conversation with model Emily Ratajkowski.
Ratajkowski, who was a big booster of Bernie during the Democratic primaries, tweeted details of their conversation on Monday:
Sat next to a journalist from the NYT last night who told me "Melania is a hooker." Whatever your politics it's crucial to call this out for— Emily Ratajkowski (@emrata) February 13, 2017
what it is: slut shaming. I don't care about her nudes or sexual history and no one should.— Emily Ratajkowski (@emrata) February 13, 2017
The first lady thanked her:
And then Bernstein, the son of Carl Bernstein, apologized:
This is a four part tweet. 1. I want to take ownership of a mistake I made.— Jacob Bernstein (@BernsteinJacob) February 14, 2017
2. Speaking at a party in what I thought was a personal conversation, I nevertheless made a stupid remark about the first lady.— Jacob Bernstein (@BernsteinJacob) February 14, 2017
3. My editors have made it clear my behavior was not in keeping with the standards of the Times, and I agree.— Jacob Bernstein (@BernsteinJacob) February 14, 2017
4. My mistake, referring to unfounded rumors, shouldn’t reflect on anyone else and I apologize profusely.— Jacob Bernstein (@BernsteinJacob) February 14, 2017
The NSA tweeted this early yesterday, which now seems doubly ironic:
One Democratic congressman invoked the word "treason" in reference to the Times story:
Treason: "Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States...adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort..." https://t.co/oJSsQm4DlW— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) February 15, 2017
The condemnation spanned the aisle:
Moscow... we have a problem. https://t.co/hu88ueQ3F9— mike murphy (@murphymike) February 15, 2017
I've never been more clobbered for a story than when I suggested communication between the Trump campaign and Moscow.— Franklin Foer (@FranklinFoer) February 15, 2017
Fox News pundits currently questioning integrity of FBI, NSA, call leaks the "real story" on Hannity— Charlotte Alter (@CharlotteAlter) February 15, 2017
President Asterisk. https://t.co/4eiKa5RtZI— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) February 15, 2017
Twitter mocked Paul Manafort's assertion in the Times piece that Russian intelligence officers don't wear badges:
No badges pic.twitter.com/r7ptbTwtfl— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) February 15, 2017
Journalists pointed out the role that journalism is playing in the early days of the Trump administration:
Washington Post and New York Times reporters are saving American democracy one story at a time.— david maraniss (@davidmaraniss) February 15, 2017
Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now: https://t.co/9NCmordowo— Dan Rather (@DanRather) February 14, 2017
A reminder from a CNN correspondent:
Harry Reid's Oct. letter to Comey said "you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination" between Trump camp and Russia— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 15, 2017
And lamented the nonstop news cycles:
Donald Trump has been president for only three weeks. pic.twitter.com/3PBMaBi6iw— Elizabeth Plank (@feministabulous) February 15, 2017
Me on Jan 1. vs me now. pic.twitter.com/XVONZKt6qn— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) February 15, 2017
Lots of shout-outs for Valentine's Day:
Since we all need a laugh:
Al Franken brought his granddaughter to work:
There's bipartisan support for my visitor in the Senate today. Glad my granddaughter Avery could accompany me to the Capitol for a vote. pic.twitter.com/CtqVrrZY2b— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) February 14, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Wall Street Journal, "It's Boom Time Again for America's Largest Banks: Goldman Sachs shares hit all-time high," by Liz Hoffman and Christina Rexrode: "Shares in America's banks are booming again, with Goldman Sachs Group Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. hitting fresh trading milestones Tuesday that seemed unreachable during the crucible of the financial crisis. Investor expectations of higher interest rates, lower taxes, lighter regulation and faster economic growth under the Trump administration have added $280 billion in combined market value to the nation's six largest banks since Nov. 8.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Kellyanne Conway Claims She Doesn’t Know Who Retweeted A White Nationalist From Her Twitter Account,” from Buzzfeed: “Kellyanne Conway wasn’t really feeling the love Tuesday morning, after [Matt Lauer] said her responses made no sense when she appeared to dodge his repeated questions about Gen. Mike Flynn’s resignation ... So when Twitter user, Lib Hypocrisy, complimented her for her ‘strength and resiliency in face of vile hatred, bigotry, & sexism of the unhinged Left,’ and said ‘Love you!’ Conway responded gratefully. Conway not only retweeted Lib Hypocrisy’s tweet, but also told the Twitter user, ‘Love you back’ and wished her ‘Hapless Haters’ a happy Valentine’s Day. Which was sweet and all, except that Conway expressed her love for a white nationalist. Lib Hypocrisy’s Twitter bio includes the hashtags ‘WhiteIdentity’ and ‘Nationalist.’ Conway told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday, “I don’t know who had access to my account.” ‘Let me see who tweeted that,’ she said. ‘That’s terrible.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Student Op-Ed: ‘Microaggressions Lead to Mass Shootings,’” from National Review: An op-ed titled ‘How Microaggressions Lead to Mass Shootings’ appeared in the official student newspaper of Quebec’s Concordia University on Tuesday, asking people to think about how their insensitive remarks might be leading to murder. In the piece, student Florence Lee argues that since ‘racial violence builds itself on top of its smaller forms,’ everyone shares responsibility for events like the January shooting at the mosque in Quebec City. Yep, Lee says, stuff like that all starts with a microaggression — which she defines as ‘a comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.’ According to Lee, subtle, “unintentionally” mean comments “alienate people and subconsciously start to form an insidious divide’ … which then leads to ‘discrimination,’ which then ultimately leads to murder.”
At the White House: Trump will participate in a listening session with the Retail Industry Leaders Association and member company CEOS. He will then host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife for a press conference, meeting, and working lunch. Later, he will speak to Argentinian President Mauricio Macri by phone. In the evening, he and Melania Trump will host Sen. Marco Rubio and his wife for dinner. Pence will join Trump for the meeting with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, as well as a bilateral meeting and working lunch with Netanyahu.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” Rand Paul told Fox’s Brian Kilmeade during a radio interview. “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Another breezy and cloudy day ahead, per today’s Capital Weather Gang forecast: “Mostly cloudy skies prevail this morning with some showers possible, mainly south and east of the District. Although an isolated shower, even a snow shower, is possible anywhere through early afternoon. And further south, steadier showers are likely from around Fredericksburg and St. Mary’s County toward points south. We’ll look for clearing skies by midafternoon as highs reach the mid-40s to near 50.”
-- District authorities demolished a homeless encampment near the Kennedy Center, bulldozing what was a small neighborhood of tents and barbecue pits that had become a mainstay for homeless men and women this winter. City officials said the location of the encampment was particularly problematic, and posed health concerns to both occupants and residents who live or work nearby. (Aaron C. Davis)
-- Fairfax County Executive Edward Long Jr. proposed a 2018 budget that would give county schools $61 million less than the amount they are seeking. He said the decision is just one of several hard that the wealthy suburb must make as it struggles with stagnant revenue and a public rejection of tax hikes. (Antonio Olivo)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
See all of the things that Fox News has covered since Flynn resigned:
*narrator voice*— Mдтт Иegяiи (@MattNegrin) February 14, 2017
MEANWHILE, on Fox News... pic.twitter.com/PnQGwMIWKs
Jimmy Kimmel reviews some White House V-Day cards:
Jimmy also invites us to visit Mar-a-Lago with Trump:
Seth Myers talks to Evan McMullin:
Conan talks to Jake Tapper about Flynn's resignation:
John Oliver blames Trump on Oprah:
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) read hateful tweets directed at him on the Senate floor: