Donald Trump salutes as he disembarks Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House last night. He returned from a weekend at his Palm Beach club. (Erik S. Lesser/EPA)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: It is easy to pooh-pooh Donald Trump’s predawn Saturday tweetstorm accusing Barack Obama of the worst political crimes since Watergate while offering no evidence  as an undisciplined rant from someone who has long embraced conspiracy theories.

That neither gives the president enough credit nor reflects the gravity of his unfounded accusations.

It is past time to dispense with the fiction that Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to distract us. And, at least this weekend, he succeeded.

Trump beelined for the Oval Office after arriving at the White House last night. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

-- The country’s chief law enforcement officer made a false statement to Congress, while under oath, about his contacts with one of this nation’s biggest adversaries. (Legal experts, including Republicans, note that others have been prosecuted for less.) When he got busted, Attorney General Jeff Sessions initially claimed through a spokeswoman that he couldn’t recall specifics of what had been said during his undisclosed sit-down with the Russian ambassador, except that it wasn’t political in nature. Then, with his job on the line, he miraculously remembered supposedly exculpatory details.

This is a big dang deal, no matter how hard Sessions tries to spin it. It’s such a big deal that, after weeks of  refusing to do so and with the president publicly urging him not to, the AG agreed to recuse himself from any investigations related to the 2016 campaign.

Last Thursday, Sessions said at his press conference that he would write the Judiciary Committee “today or tomorrow” to clarify his misleading testimony. It’s now been four days, and he has yet to formally clean things up. A spokesman said he’ll submit amended testimony later today. We’ll see. Either way, a delay this long only happens when one is trying to get one’s ducks in a row.

But the press didn’t spend this weekend talking about Sessions. He had confirmed to attend the Gridiron Dinner in Washington on Saturday night, but he skipped it and flew to Florida to be with Trump. The Sunday shows did not dwell on debates over the AG’s duplicity. Instead, everyone talked about whether Obama wiretapped Trump Tower last October.

And Trump was happy as a clam about that. A White House official told The Post that the president was in a brighter mood on Sunday morning than he was on Saturday because he was pleased that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story on cable and led the newspapers.

The president knows the media cannot ignore him when he says something so inflammatory, and he believes there will be no real consequences for him if it turns out that everything he said was nonsense. After all, there haven’t been up until now.

Moreover, Trump’s core supporters also got a new talking point. Whenever they’re confronted with the links between Trump associates and Russia, millions of people are now going to reply that the real story is Obama’s wiretapping — even if that claim is shown definitively to have no basis in reality.

HOW HE DECIDED TO TWEET:

-- The president was seething mad as he watched round-the-clock cable news coverage about Sessions. He was angry that the positive marks he received for his Tuesday speech to Congress, which made him jubilant, had been replaced by the Wednesday night news about Sessions. The Post’s Phil Rucker, Bob Costa and Ashley Parker have a tick tock on the fury that followed, based on interviews with 17 top White House officials, members of Congress and friends of the president:

  • “Inside the West Wing [on Wednesday night], Trump’s top aides were furious with the defenses of Sessions offered by the Justice Department’s public affairs division and felt blindsided that Sessions’s aides had not consulted the White House earlier in the process….
  • “The next morning, Trump exploded, according to White House officials. He headed to Newport News, Va., on Thursday for a splashy commander-in-chief moment. The president would trumpet his plan to grow military spending aboard the Navy’s sophisticated new aircraft carrier. But as Trump, sporting a bomber jacket and Navy cap, rallied sailors and shipbuilders, his message was overshadowed by Sessions….
  • “Then, a few hours after Trump had publicly defended his attorney general and said he should not recuse himself from the Russia probe, Sessions called a news conference to announce just that — amounting to a public rebuke of the president….
  • “Back at the White House on Friday morning, Trump summoned his senior aides into the Oval Office, where he simmered with rage, according to several White House officials. He upbraided them over Sessions’s decision to recuse himself, believing that Sessions had succumbed to pressure from the media and other critics instead of fighting with the full defenses of the White House…
  • “In a huff, Trump departed for Mar-a-Lago, taking with him only his daughter and [son-in-law], who is a White House senior adviser. His top two aides, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and [Stephen] Bannon, stayed behind in Washington.
  • “Stories from Breitbart News, the incendiary conservative website, have been circulated at the White House’s highest levels in recent days, including one story where talk-radio host Mark Levin accused the Obama administration of mounting a ‘silent coup,’ according to several officials.”

THIS IS TRUMP’S MODUS OPERANDI:

-- Whenever he is under fire for something in a sustained way, he makes a shocking claim or provocative declaration about something else to change the subject. He is a master practitioner at the politics of distraction. These five examples might jog your memory:

  • After struggling during the first GOP primary debate to explain his disparaging comments about women, he attacked Megyn Kelly. “There was … blood coming out of her wherever,” he said, ensuring that the media focused on the new Trump-Kelly “feud.”
  • When the 2005 Access Hollywood video came out, he brought Bill Clinton’s former accusers to St. Louis as his guests to the second debate.
  • In November, the morning after agreeing to settle a fraud lawsuit against Trump University for $25 million, he demanded that the cast of “Hamilton” apologize to Mike Pence.
  • Days after firing Michael Flynn, he held a rambling 77-minute press conference because he knew that it would get the Flynn story out of the news.
  • Perturbed when critics pointed out that he lost the popular vote, he claimed that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally.
Roy Cohn, Ed Kosner and Donald Trump in 1983. (Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)

ALWAYS ATTACK, NEVER APOLOGIZE

-- Trump’s approach to crisis management continues to be guided by the Roy Cohn playbook. “This is McCarthyism!” Trump said, as he attacked Obama for supposedly wiretapping him, on Saturday. There was great irony to this. Cohn, after all, was Joe McCarthy’s chief counsel on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations during the early 1950s. Two decades later, he became one of Trump’s biggest mentors during a formative phase of his life.

-- Cohn’s creed was to always be on the attack, to counterpunch whenever punched and to never apologize. Never, ever, ever apologize. He believed that you never yield an inch, even if you’re in the wrong, because your opponents will take a mile.

-- “The man who showed Trump how to exploit power and instill fear is how The Post’s Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg described him in a story last June: “Trump was a brash scion of a real estate empire, a young developer anxious to leave his mark on New York. Cohn was a legendary New York fixer, a ruthless lawyer in the hunt for new clients. They came together by chance one night at Le Club, a hangout for Manhattan’s rich and famous. Trump introduced himself to Cohn, who was sitting at a nearby table, and sought advice: How should he and his father respond to Justice Department allegations that their company had systematically discriminated against black people seeking housing?My view is tell them to go to hell,’ Cohn said, ‘and fight the thing in court.’ It was October 1973 and the start of one of the most influential relationships of Trump’s career.”

Cohn represented the Trumps throughout their protracted legal fight with DOJ. In 1973, looking to change the storyline, Cohn had a news conference to announce that Donald and Fred were countersuing the federal government for $100 million. He claimed the government was trying to force “subservience to the Welfare Department.” Ultimately, the Trumps settled without admitting guilt, which allowed them to declare victory.

-- Trump was even quoted in The Post’s 1986 obituary of Cohn, who died of complications from AIDS. "If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy,” he said.

-- This same approach is on display when Trump tries to repurpose the very attacks being leveled against him against his accusers. On Friday, he literally called for investigations into Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi for meetings they had with the Russian ambassador. It’s a slightly more adult version of, “I know what you are, but what am I?”

-- In Politico Magazine last April, Michael Kruse documented the many ways that Cohn was more than just Trump’s lawyer: “Over a 13-year-period, Cohn brought his say-anything, win-at-all-costs style to all of Trump’s most notable … deals. Interviews with people who knew both men at the time say the relationship ran deeper than that — that Cohn’s philosophy shaped the real estate mogul’s worldview and the belligerent public persona visible in Trump’s campaign. … He brokered the gargantuan tax abatements and the mob-tied concrete work that made the Grand Hyatt hotel and Trump Tower projects. He wrote the cold-hearted prenuptial agreement before the first of his three marriages and filed the headline-generating antitrust suit against the National Football League. … ‘He considered Cohn a mentor,’ Mike Gentile, the lead prosecutor who got Cohn disbarred for fraud and deceit not long before he died, said in a recent interview.”

-- Another reason the relationship with Cohn mattered: Roger Stone, his longtime political consigliere, first met Trump through Cohn. Stone seemed to have inside knowledge on the WikiLeaks document releases during the campaign….

-- Not much has changed in how Trump does damage control over the past four decades, but one big thing is different: He now controls the very Justice Department that he and Cohn once countersued….

Trump salutes on the tarmac after disembarking Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base yesterday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

BUT, BUT, BUT:

-- Here’s the rub: Trump is not as cunning as he thinks. He’s playing checkers, not chess. (Or maybe it’s Connect Four.) While he’s proven adept at manipulating the New York tabloid world for decades, as the first president in American history with no prior political or military experience, he’s a rookie at playing the inside game. And it is coming back to haunt him. Bigly.

Cohn’s chapter in Washington didn’t end well. He overreached with his witch hunt, prompting Dwight Eisenhower to come after him. After being bested in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, he escaped to New York. McCarthy died of alcoholism after his Republican colleagues in the Senate voted to censure him.

SIX MAJOR WAYS THAT TRUMP’S WIRETAPPING CLAIMS COULD BACKFIRE:

1. Turning the FBI director against him:

James B. Comey asked the Justice Department this weekend to issue a statement refuting Trump’s claim that Obama ordered a wiretap, but the department did not do so. “The revelation underscores the fraught nature of the FBI’s high-profile investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election,” Abby Phillip and Ellen Nakashima note. “A key question fueling that inquiry is whether Trump associates colluded with Russian officials to help Trump win. … It is not clear why Comey … did not himself issue a statement to refute Trump’s claims.”

“Mr. Comey's request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation's top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump's truthfulness,” notes the New York Times, which first reported the news. “The confrontation between the two is the most serious consequence of Mr. Trump's weekend Twitter outburst, and it underscores the dangers of what the president and his aides have unleashed by accusing the former president of a conspiracy….”

White House counsel Don McGahn (Albin Lohr-Jones/Pool via Bloomberg)

2. Prodding the White House counsel to take risks he otherwise would not:

Trump’s tweets caught his top aides by surprise, and they spent Saturday trying to figure out how to respond and looking for any backup.

A senior White House official told The New York Times on Saturday that Donald McGahn was working to secure access to what he believed to be an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing some form of surveillance related to Trump and his associates. “The official offered no evidence to support the notion that such an order exists,” Michael D. Shear and Michael S. Schmidt reported. “It would be a highly unusual breach of the Justice Department’s traditional independence on law enforcement matters for the White House to order it to turn over such an investigative document. Any request for information from a top White House official about a continuing investigation would be a stunning departure from protocols intended to insulate the F.B.I. from political pressure. It would be even more surprising for the White House to seek information about a case directly involving the president or his advisers.” After the Times story blew up, another administration official walked back the earlier statements.

Trump walks to Marine One on the South Lawn with his grandchildren last Friday. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

3. Trump has become the boy who cried wolf:

The president’s claims about Obama wiretapping were so indefensible that even his aides would not defend them directly, Aaron Blake notes, pointing to tweets from press secretary Sean Spicer and a Sunday show appearance by deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “Let's look into this,” Sanders said. “If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal.” Trump, of course, didn’t equivocate; he stated it as fact.

Trump has a very long history of making very serious allegations with no facts to back them up. Beyond his multi-year quest to prove Obama was not born in the United States, the president has said that his predecessor did not really attend Columbia University, insinuated last year that Obama bribed the New York attorney general to investigate Trump University and called him “the founder of ISIS.”

Among the other fallacious claims that Trump made during the campaign which he never offered any substantiation for:

  • The IRS might be auditing his tax returns “because of the fact that I'm a strong Christian.”
  • He suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was somehow involved with Lee Harvey Oswald.
  • He said there’s something "very fishy" about Vince Foster's death.
  • He trafficked in rumors that Antonin Scalia may have been a victim of foul play. “They say they found a pillow on his face,” Trump said in one radio interview, “which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”
  • He said vaccines may cause childhood autism.
  • He maintained that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the Sept. 11 attacks.
  • He insisted that a man who charged the security barricades at one of his rallies in Ohio was a member of the Islamic State. He based this false statement on a hoax Internet video he and his staff saw online.

What happens in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, during a natural disaster or amid an economic crisis? He’ll desperately need the American people to trust and rally behind him, but he will have drained the reservoir of goodwill. That is when Trump’s credibility gap is going to become a cataclysmic problem for his presidency and, frankly, for the country.

4. Making his White House look dysfunctional:

“Trump’s presidency has veered onto a road with no centerlines or guardrails,” Karen Tumulty writes in a smart analysis. “Trump’s response also has deepened doubts about his own judgment, not just in the face of the first crisis to confront his young presidency but in dealing with the challenges that lie ahead for the chief executive of the world’s most powerful nation. … The voice of a U.S. commander in chief carries much greater weight than that of just about anyone else on the planet. Trump’s detractors say the way he uses that platform has worrisome implications that go far beyond the sensation he creates on social media and his ability to dominate the news. … Nor does Trump appear to have a governing apparatus around him that can temper and channel his impulses.” Two quotes:

“We have as president a man who is erratic, vindictive, volatile, obsessive, a chronic liar, and prone to believe in conspiracy theories,” said conservative commentator Peter Wehner, who was the top policy strategist in George W. Bush’s White House. “And you can count on the fact that there will be more to come, since when people like Donald Trump gain power they become less, not more, restrained.

“When the president goes off and does what he did within the last few days, of just going ahead and tweeting without checking on things, there’s something wrong. There’s something wrong in terms of the discipline within the White House and how you operate,” said Leon Panetta, a White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton and CIA director during the Obama administration, on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Sen. Ben Sasse visits his Lincoln, Neb., office last month. (Nati Harnik/AP)

5. Emboldening conservatives to call for a full investigation:

Many congressional Republicans are already fatigued with having to defend Trump when he makes these kinds of claims, and the charges of illegal eavesdropping may prompt some to support something more aggressive than the ongoing probes by the House and Senate intelligence committees.

"I'm very worried that our president is suggesting that the former president's done something illegally," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said at a town hall meeting in his state on Saturday night. "I would be very worried if, in fact, the Obama administration was able to obtain a warrant lawfully about Trump campaign activity with foreign governments. So it's my job as a United States senator to get to the bottom of this. I promise you I will."

"We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the President’s allegations … demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in a statement. “A quest for the full truth, rather than knee-jerk partisanship, must be our guide if we are going to rebuild civic trust and health.”

“The president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on "Meet the Press.” “Look, I didn’t make the allegation. I’m not the person that went out there and said it.”

6. Ensuring, more broadly, that the Russia connections continue to overshadow his domestic agenda:

If they have nothing to hide, why haven’t they been forthcoming? Trump and his spokeswoman categorically denied that any communication took place between the campaign and any foreign entity. “In fact, it is now clear it did happen,” Rosalind Helderman notes. “The past few days have brought a growing list of confirmed communications between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials, with each new revelation adding to a cloud of suspicion that hangs over the White House.… It is unclear why the White House has consistently denied contacts with Russian officials if the meetings that took place were innocuous. As a result, the confirmations of the encounters have trickled out through a series of news stories that have proved increasingly damaging to the Trump administration.”

Tomorrow’s confirmation hearing for Rod Rosenstein to become deputy attorney general will now be must-see TV. Because Sessions has recused himself, he will now oversee anything that comes from election-related investigations. Democrats will press him hard on everything related to the recusal and Russia:

All of the heat on Trump is starting to have an impact on his foreign policy, as well: “Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve, at least temporarily, his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters,” the Associated Press’s Julie Pace reports. “The reconsideration of a central tenet of his foreign policy underscores the growing political risks in forging closer relations with Russia.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The Supreme Court this morning vacated a lower court’s ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student after the Trump administration withdrew the federal government’s guidance to public schools about the controversial bathroom policy. From Robert Barnes: "The justices were scheduled to hear the case later this month. But after the federal government’s position changed, the court said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit should reconsider the dispute between the Gloucester County school board and 17-year-old Gavin Grimm. The 4th Circuit had relied on the federal government’s guidance that school should let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with the student’s gender identity. The Trump administration withdrew that guidance, which was issued by the Obama administration. Both the school board and Grimm’s attorneys had asked the Supreme Court to let the case proceed, saying it presented a reading of the civil rights law Title IX that the court ultimately will have to settle."

Kim Jong Un visited a local school on "tree-planting day." (KCNA/via Reuters) 

THE WORLD IS ON FIRE:

-- North Korea launched four missiles on Monday morning, firing a provocative barrage that coincided both with joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises on the southern half of the peninsula  and with the opening of the annual National People’s Congress in China. Anna Fifield reports: “The launches follow a remarkable month in which Kim Jong Un’s regime tested a solid-fuel rocket that it says is part of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States and in which the regime is accused of assassinating the leader’s half brother. Both actions have angered allies and adversaries in the region, and Monday’s launches will only exacerbate that.” The government in Japan said three of the missiles landed “perilously close,” splashing down “within about 200 miles” of its coastline.

-- “Russian Hackers Said to Seek Hush Money From Liberal U.S. Groups,” by Bloomberg’s Michael Riley: “Russian hackers are targeting U.S. progressive groups in a new wave of attacks, scouring the organizations’ emails for embarrassing details and attempting to extract hush money, according to two people familiar with probes being conducted by the FBI and private security firms. At least a dozen groups have faced extortion attempts since the U.S. presidential election, said the people, who provided broad outlines of the campaign. At least some groups have paid the ransoms even though there is little guarantee the documents won’t be made public anyway. Demands have ranged from about $30,000 to $150,000, payable in untraceable bitcoins, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. The ransom demands are accompanied by samples of sensitive data in the hackers’ possession. Along with emails, the hackers are stealing documents from popular web-based applications like SharePoint, which lets people in different locations work on Microsoft Office files.”

A Marine patrols in Afghanistan. (Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Marine Corps is investigating allegations that an “unknown” number of current and former service members shared illicit and compromising photos of female colleagues on a private Facebook group. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
  2. Exposure to polluted environments is associated with more than one in four deaths among children younger than five, according to new World Health Organization reports. The research finds that some 1.7 million children’s deaths across the globe are attributable to environmental hazards such as exposure to contaminated water, pollution, and other unsanitary conditions. (Jia Naqvi)
  3. A severe drought in Somalia killed at least 110 people from a single region in the past 48 hours, striking down members of an already acutely malnourished population as livestock continue to perish. Hope is in short supply: U.N. officials estimate they need $6 billion in the next few weeks to thwart disaster. So far, they’ve received just half a billion dollars. (Amanda Erickson)
  4. Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the aftermath of her then-boyfriend Philando Castile’s fatal shooting at the hands of police in Minnesota, is back in the spotlight  but for much different reasons: She and an accomplice are accused of attacking someone with a hammer and bear spray. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  5. The size of Colombia’s illegal coca crop has exploded in recent years, and it could be to blame for a giant cocaine comeback on U.S. streets. Test samples show that 90 percent of cocaine for sale in the United States is of Colombian origin. Alarmingly, the number of young Americans who admit to trying the drug rose 61 percent from 2013 to 2015. (Nick Miroff)
  6. The State Department is slated to resume its daily briefings today, a department spokesman confirmed, ending a temporary communication hiatus from Foggy Bottom. (USA Today)
  7. A bluegrass guitarist and political newcomer won the Democratic nomination for the special election to replace Ryan Zinke in Montana, which basically ensures that the GOP holds the seat in the May 25 special election. (Great Falls Tribune)
  8. General Motors is selling its European car business to Peugeot, giving up brands Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in Britain to the French automaker in a $2.33 billion deal. The move marks the American company’s retreat from a major market and raises concerns about job cuts. (AP)
  9. A Michigan college is investigating a hazing incident in which a student with severe peanut allergies had a glob of the condiment shoved in his face at an off-campus party. The incident spurred a severe reaction. “He could have been killed,” she wrote, posting a photo of her son’s distorted face on social media. (New York Times)
Reince Priebus arrives for Trump's speech to Congress last Tuesday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

THE KNIVES ARE REALLY COMING OUT FOR REINCE:

-- Priebus has become a “singular target of criticism” in the Trump administration, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and Josh Dawsey report: “In interviews, over a dozen Trump aides [and] allies … described a micro-manager who sprints from one West Wing meeting to another, inserting himself into conversations big and small and leaving many staffers feeling as if he’s trying to block their access to Trump. They vented about his determination to fill the administration with his political allies. And they expressed alarm at what they say are directionless morning staff meetings Priebus oversees that could otherwise be used to rigorously set the day’s agenda and counterbalance the president’s own unpredictability. The focus on Priebus comes at a time of growing distress for the president …. Priebus did not accompany Trump on a trip this weekend to Florida, an absence that left many wondering if Trump …. had put his chief of staff in the doghouse."

-- Priebus is obsessed with his public image. From Rucker, Parker and Costa: When reporters began to hear about that Oval Office meeting at which senior staff got upbraided, the chief of staff interrupted his Friday afternoon schedule to dedicate more than an hour to calling reporters off the record to deny that the outburst had actually happened, according to a senior White House official. “Every time there’s a palace intrigue story or negative story about Reince, the whole West Wing shuts down,” the official said. Ultimately, Priebus was unable to kill the story. He simply delayed the bad news.

ICE agents make an arrest during a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles last month. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

IMMIGRATION WILL DRIVE THE DAY:

-- The White House is expected to announce an updated version of Trump’s executive order today, unveiling a revised version of his controversial policy which sought to bar entry to the United States from residents of seven majority-Muslim countries before it was blocked in federal court. The new rollout is expected to address of the concerns raised by federal judges, and comes after both Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary John Kelly — key players in the implementation of the order — met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Saturday. (Abby Phillip and Robert Costa)

-- Expect three changes in the new order: Among other things, it’s expected to exempt current visa holders — a significant departure from Trump’s first order. And it removes an exception to the refugee prohibition for religious minorities — which critics said was discriminatory because it allowed only Christians into the country. And, to soothe tensions with Baghdad, the new order will not include a blanket ban on citizens from Iraq. (Matt Zapotosky)

-- “It’s not just deportations and the border: Trump seeks to remake the immigration system,” by David Nakamura: “For half a century, U.S. immigration laws have favored family reunification, allowing immigrants who gain legal permanent residence to bring over their children, spouses, parents and siblings. Critics of the process have argued that so-called chain migration has … fostered an influx of those who are competing with native-born Americans for low-wage, low-skilled jobs. In Trump’s view, a new immigration system would curtail entry to the country among foreigners who cannot ‘support themselves financially,’ although he did not define what that means. … To immigrant rights groups, Trump’s talk of a merit system is code for slashing legal pathways into the country and focusing them on highly educated immigrants from advanced nations — a strategy that harks back to a 1920s backlash against a wave of immigrants who entered the country during the Second Industrial Revolution.” 

Mike Pence and Tom Price arrive at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport last week to have a "listening session" with small business owners. (John Minchillo/AP)

GOP DIVIDED ON OBAMACARE:

-- Is Tom Price being marginalized? From the Rucker, Costa and Parker story on tumult inside the White House: “The administration intends to introduce a legislative plan later in the week to repeal and replace Obama’s health-care law. … The rest of Trump’s legislative plan, from tax reform to infrastructure spending, is effectively on hold until Congress first tackles the Affordable Care Act. White House legislative staffers concluded late last week that the administration was spinning in circles on the health-care plan, amid mounting criticism from conservatives that the administration was fumbling. With Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on the road with Vice President Pence, a decision was made: Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, would become the point person, though officials insisted Price had not been sidelined. On Friday, Mulvaney convened a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with top administration officials and senior staff of House and Senate leaders to hammer out the final details of the proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act...

"On Capitol Hill, Price is seen by some Republicans as more knowledgeable about health-care policy than Mulvaney, given his experience as a physician and his time as chairman of the House Budget Committee. But Mulvaney benefits from the close relationships he has forged with Trump’s top advisers and with the House’s conservative wing." 

-- “Patience Gone, Koch-Backed Groups Will Pressure G.O.P. on Health Repeal,” by the New York Times's Jeremy W. Peters: “Saying their patience is at an end, conservative activist groups backed by the billionaire Koch brothers and other powerful interests on the right are mobilizing to pressure Republicans to fulfill their promise to swiftly repeal the Affordable Care Act. Their message is blunt and unforgiving, with the goal of reawakening some of the most extensive conservative grass-roots networks in the country. It is a reminder that even as Republicans control both the White House and Congress for the first time in a decade, the party’s activist wing remains restless and will not go along passively for the sake of party unity. The Koch groups are calling their campaign ‘You Promised,’ and are prepared to spend heavily, they said. The initial phase, which will cost in the low six figures, will include a nationwide digital advertising campaign featuring testimonials from people who say they were harmed by the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the groups will kick off the effort with a rally near the Capitol … [and] beyond that, Americans for Prosperity said it was prepared to bring ‘significant resources’ to bear as needed.”

The president of the Prince George's County chapter of the National African American Gun Association waits for his turn at the range. (Lawler Duggan/The Washington Post)

TRUMP'S AMERICA IS DEEPLY DIVIDED:

-- Sales of guns and ammunition in the U.S. have seen a sharp decline since Election Day, according to a spate of recent data from the FBI and consumer groups. BUT that overall decline has been accompanied by some unusual growth: Gun clubs and shops that cater to black and LGBT clients say there has been an uptick in interest in firearms since November among those who fear that racial and gender-based violence could increase during Trump’s presidency. T. Rees Shapiro and Katie Zezima report: "Philip Smith, president of the National African American Gun Association, said his group has seen a recent surge that appears to be driven by fear that the nation’s divisive politics could spiral into violence. ‘Trump is some of that reason, and rhetoric from other groups that have been on the fringe,’ Smith said. ‘It’s like being racist is cool now.’ Smith said the group has added more than 7,000 members since Election Day and new chapters are popping up all over the country."

-- Seattle-area police have been asked to investigate the shooting of a 39-year-old Sikh man as a suspected hate crime, after he was shot in the arm on Friday by a masked man who apparently told him, “Go back to your own country,” before pulling the trigger. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

-- Three Muslim students who tried to visit an Oklahoma lawmaker at the state capitol said they were surprised when they were told they must fill out a questionnaire before being allowed to make an appointment. They were then handed a list of “hateful, bigoted” questions that “intentionally misinterpreted ideas from the Koran to slander Muslims,” according to an officer with the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. One question invokes a Koran passage before asking, “Do you beat your wife?” (Amy B Wang)

-- A pro-Trump rally in Berkeley, Calif., turned violent this weekend after protesters clashed with the president’s supporters, leading to at least 10 arrests. Footage from the event showed police outfitted in riot gear and engaging in shouting matches with several hundred people in the crowd. Many could be seen kicking and hitting one another. Authorities confiscated metal pipes, baseball bats, two-by-four blocks of wood and bricks from the crowd. (Amy B Wang)

-- Conservative author Charles Murray said he faced down one of the most angry, chaotic crowds of his career as he attempted to give a lecture on his book “The Bell Curve” at Middlebury College in Vermont. School officials and witnesses said an event that began with several hundred organized protesters packed into a protest hall turned violent – ending with Murray being forced to cancel his lecture and later “swarmed” by an unruly mob as he attempted to flee the event. Witnesses said the confrontation said it felt as though it was edging “frighteningly close” to outright violence. (Peter Holley)

-- Concerns about traveling to the U.S. have spiked in India after a spate of high-profile violent incidents in recent days – including the recent shooting attack on two Indian computer engineers, as well as a convenience store owner who was fatally shot in South Carolina. (Annie Gowen)

-- A student born and raised in the Washington area has filed a federal lawsuit after she was reportedly denied a tuition assistance grant because of her mother’s immigration status. The suit alleges that the program unfairly discriminates against U.S. citizens with immigrant parents, including those in the U.S. legally – thus making it harder for them to receive a college degree. (Janell Ross)

-- Tens of thousands of immigrant detainees allege in a lawsuit that they were forced into labor by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- saying they were forced to work for $1 a day, or nothing at all, in violation of anti-slavery laws while held at private prisons. Kristine Phillips reports: “The lawsuit, filed in 2014 against one of the largest private prison companies in the country, reached class-action status this week after a federal judge’s ruling. That means the case could involve as many as 60,000 immigrants who have been detained. It’s the first time a class-action lawsuit accusing a private U.S. prison company of forced labor has been allowed to move forward...At the heart of the dispute is the Denver Contract Detention Facility, a 1,500-bed center in Aurora, Colo., owned and operated by GEO Group under a contract … to house immigrants who are awaiting their turn in court. The original nine plaintiffs claim that detainees at the ICE facility are forced to work without pay — and that those who refuse to do so are threatened with solitary confinement. GEO Group also is accused of violating Colorado’s minimum wage laws by paying detainees $1 day instead of the state’s minimum wage of about $9 an hour …. The lawsuit claims that the practice violates the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits modern-day slavery.”

THE DECONSTRUCTION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE:

-- “Leashes Come Off Wall Street, Gun Sellers, Polluters and More,” by The New York Times's Eric Lipton and Binyamin Appelbaum: “Giants in telecommunications, like Verizon and AT&T, will not have to take ‘reasonable measures’ to ensure that their customers’ Social Security numbers, web browsing history and other personal information are not stolen or accidentally released. Wall Street banks … will not be punished, at least for now, for not collecting extra money from customers to cover potential losses from certain kinds of high-risk trades that helped unleash the 2008 financial crisis.  And Social Security Administration data will no longer be used to try to block individuals with disabling mental health issues from buying handguns.… These are just a few of the more than 90 regulations that federal agencies and the Republican-controlled Congress have delayed, suspended or reversed in the month and a half since [Trump] took office.… The emerging effort — dozens more rules could be eliminated in the coming weeks — is one of the most significant shifts in regulatory policy in recent decades."

-- As Trump continues to jet off to sunny Mar-a-Lago each weekend, some are criticizing his recent rollback of an Obama-era water rule that could help his golf course. The AP reports: “The executive order calling for a review of a rule protecting small bodies of water from pollution and development is strongly supported by golf course owners who are wary of being forced into expensive cleanups on their fairways. It just so happens that Trump's business holdings include a dozen golf courses in the United States, and critics say his executive order is par for the course: yet another unseemly conflict of interest that would result in a benefit to Trump properties if it goes through. Trump's order targets a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule — released under former President Barack Obama in 2015 — that designates many smaller creeks and wetlands as protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. ‘The conflict is disturbing and his failure to completely step away from his business raises questions about his White House actions,’ said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight.”

German infantry fighting vehicles and other military equipment arrives in Lithuania last week. The deployment is part of a NATO mission aimed to support Eastern European allies. (Valda Kalnina/EPA)

THE WORLD ADJUSTS TO TRUMP:

-- “In the era of Trump, Germans debate a military buildup,” by Anthony Faiola: “As the Trump administration ratchets up the pressure on allied nations to shoulder more of their own defense, no country is more in the crosshairs than Germany. If it meets the goals Washington is pushing for, Germany — the region’s economic powerhouse — would be on the fast track to again become Western Europe’s biggest military power. Since the November election in the United States, the Germans — caught between Trump’s America and Vladimir Putin’s Russia — are feeling less and less secure. Perhaps nowhere is the prospect of a new future playing out more than here in Lithuania — where nearly 500 German troops, including a Bavarian combat battalion, arrived in recent weeks for an open-ended deployment near the Russian frontier. The NATO deployment marks what analysts describe as Germany’s most ambitious military operation near the Russian border since the end of the Cold War. Yet … the deployment is also offering a window into the risks of renewed German strength — as well as the Russian strategy for repelling it by dwelling on Germany’s dark past. In the 21st-century world of hybrid warfare, the first proverbial salvos have been fired.”

-- The New Yorker, “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal,” by Adam Davidson:Throughout the Presidential campaign, Trump was in business with someone that his company knew was likely a partner with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. … The Baku deal appears to be the second time that the Trump Organization has turned a blind eye to U.S. efforts to sanction Iran … [and] to this day, the Trump Organization has not provided satisfying answers to the most basic questions about the Baku deal…. More than a dozen lawyers with experience in F.C.P.A. prosecution expressed surprise at the Trump Organization’s seemingly lax approach to vetting its foreign partners. But, when I asked a former Trump Organization executive if the Baku deal had seemed unusual, he laughed. ‘No deal there seems unusual, as long as a check is attached,’ he said.”

-- Mike Pence is quickly becoming a major player in foreign policy. “The role and influence of the vice president, not enshrined in any law, is determined in any administration by three things: his direct relationship with the president, his building of a personal portfolio of issues, and the effectiveness of his team. When it comes to foreign policy, Vice President Pence is quietly succeeding on all three fronts,” Josh Rogin writes. “Pence, a traditional hawk influenced heavily by his Christian faith, is carefully and deliberately assuming a stance that fits within the president’s agenda while respecting the prerogatives of other senior White House aides who also want to play large foreign policy roles … [and] is seen by many in Washington as a figure who might stand up for the traditionally hawkish views he espoused while in Congress … It’s a tricky balancing act, but if Pence can keep the president’s trust, stay above the internal politics and build out his portfolio, he will be able to continue to increase his influence on foreign policy inside the White House and on the world stage.”

-- “Little-known governor runs as the hope and change candidate in South Korea,” by Anna Fifield: “He’s styling himself as the 'hope and change' candidate competing against an establishment figure in South Korea’s Democratic Party primary contest. So what’s An Hee-jung calling himself? ‘An-Bama,’ of course. At 52, An is a youngster by South Korean political standards, and his good looks and happy demeanor have fans comparing him to K-pop boy-band stars. He’s an active user of social media, posting photos of himself jumping in the air, hugging happy children or relaxing in his pajamas with his cat. In a nation of suits, he often wears turtlenecks, and he has proved to be a good sport on talk shows, even carrying a comedian onstage and ending up in a pile on the floor. …. The Constitutional Court is set to decide whether to impeach President Park Geun-hye … by March 13. If she is ousted, the election must take place within 60 days. ‘I think changing the public’s attitude from frustration and pessimism to excitement is the biggest gift that a politician can give to the people,’ An, a progressive positioning himself as a centrist on foreign policy, said recently."

Cedric Richmond, left, and Tim Scott, right, headlined the Washington Press Club Foundation dinner. (Photo by Tom Williams)

SUNDAY SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

-- Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) has finally apologized for a crude joke he made at a media dinner about Kellyanne Conway, implying that she “looked kind of familiar” kneeling casually on an Oval Office couch while attempting to take a photograph of attendees.. Richmond’s joke was “interpreted by many as having sexual overtones” – a characterization which the Louisiana Democrat continued to insist was not the case before ultimately delivering an apology, Emily Heil reports. "After a discussion with people I know and trust I understand the way my remarks have been received by many,” he said in a statement last night. “I have consistently been a champion for women and women’s issues, and because of that the last thing I would want to ever do is utter words that would hurt or demean them. I apologize to Kellyanne Conway and everyone who has found my comments to be offensive."

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deflected questions about Richmond's crudeness on Sunday, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper she was “unaware” of his comments, even as the host called them “sexist” and “disgusting.” “I wasn’t at the dinner,” she said. “I’m just finding out about this, but the fact is I’m still in a sort of a state of ‘What is going on here?’”

-- Conway minimized her “alternative facts” gaffe by comparing it to last week’s botched announcement over the “best picture” Oscar. She said both events were "just a mistake.” “Well, it was alternative information and additional facts. And that got conflated," she said on CBS Sunday Morning, seeking to explain her mistake. "I see mistakes on TV every single day and people just brush them off. Everybody thinks it’s just so funny that the wrong — the wrong movie was, you know, heralded as the winner of the Oscars."

Tiffany Trump attends a runway show during New York Fashion Week on Feb. 15. (Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Vivienne Tam)

-- “Elite law schools are really tough to get into. But what if you’re Tiffany Trump?,” by Roxanne Roberts: “Tiffany Trump wants to go to law school. If she gets in, the 23-year-old will join the very short list of presidential children who attended law school while their fathers were serving in the White House. Tiffany graduated from Penn … [and] her father has described her as ‘a great student,’ although she was not listed in the commencement program as … [receiving any academic honors]. If her name were, say, Tiffany Smith, she’d need stellar grades for a shot at any of the top-ranked law schools. Most of those admitted have college GPAs of 3.75 or higher and LSAT scores of 172 or higher out of a perfect 180.... ‘The issue is how much a school would be willing to deviate from their normal LSAT standards for a famous person,’ says [Above the Law website founder David Lat].… The most elite universities always make a few exceptions for wealthy donors, celebrity students and, yes, presidents’ kids. But even if Tiffany graduated from Penn with straight A’s and earned an impressive test score, most people will say that it’s all about her name — which has worked both for and against her.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

First, author Steven King trolled Trump on Twitter (fans of his novels will get the joke):

Lots of reaction on social media to the extraordinary weekend--

A former domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and Treasury Department official under George H.W. Bush:

Bush 43's speechwriter:

From the host of "Morning Joe" (a former Republican member of Congress):

From a Daily Show writer:

Thoughts from four journalists:

NYT:

CNN:

WaPo:

Politico:

Former Obama aides had a field day:

Favs piled on:

A Democratic congressman from Connecticut:

A Rhode Island Democrat:

A New York House Democrat:

Lots of comments on Sessions, who just recused himself from DOJ's Russia probe, greeting guests at Mar-a-Lago:

Funny, from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.):

Some humor from Mike Huckabee:

From Ivanka Trump:

SNL mocked Kellyanne:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The Wall Street Journal, "Charity Officials Are Increasingly Receiving Million-Dollar Paydays," by Andrea Fuller: " Charities are becoming a lot more generous with pay at the top. The tax-exempt organizations, which include many hospitals and colleges as well as traditional charities such as the United Way, provided seven-figure compensation to roughly 2,700 employees in 2014, an analysis of newly available data shows. While many of the big earners ran large enterprises, others were leaders of small charities, such as a couple who run an online ministry. Together, their $4 million in compensation equaled nearly half of the ministry’s revenue. The total is higher by a third than in 2011 …. [and] about three-fourths of the charities that provided million-dollar compensation packages in 2014 were involved in health care. About 10% were private colleges.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“‘The cleansing’ by ‘the Orientals’: Lawmaker uses offensive term to describe raucous town halls,” from Kristine Phillips: “In February 2016, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) voted on a bill to remove the term ‘Oriental’ from federal law, and to replace it with ‘Asian Americans.’    But a year later, he used the derogatory and antiquated term to describe the raucous town halls that have dogged conservative lawmakers. During a meeting with the editorial board of the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, Bost explained why he avoided in-person town hall meetings with constituents[:] ‘The amount of time that I have at home is minimal, I need to make sure that it’s productive,’ Bost … told the paper. ‘You know the cleansing that the Orientals used to do where you’d put one person out in front and 900 people yell at them? That’s not what we need. We need to have meetings with people that are productive.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“College Honors Program Pays Students To Take ‘White Privilege’ And BLM Courses,” from the Daily Caller: “An honors program at a public university gives students a scholarship and early course signup and lets them use laptops if they take classes on subjects like ‘white privilege’ and Black Lives Matter, which both have community engagement components. Sam Houston State University in Texas (SHSU) offers a scholarship of up to $2,800 to students who take these courses or others as part of its Elliott T. Bowers Honors College. Students who gain admission into the Honors College can sign up for courses earlier than their non-Honors peers, obtain access to a special computer center, and ‘automatically receive the Bowers Scholarship upon acceptance into the college.’ The Honors students also graduate with distinction and gain usage of cameras, video cameras, and laptops for their class projects.”

 

DAYBOOK:

-- At the White House: In the afternoon, Trump will be joined for lunch by Mike Pence before meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and FCC Chairman Aijit Pai. Later, Trump will lead a National Economic Council meeting and meet with VA Secretary David Shulkin, where he will be rejoined by Pence. In the evening, the President will have dinner with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney and the Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

-- On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 2:00 pm and resume consideration of H.J. Res.37.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"He just put another quarter in the conspiracy parking meter.” -- Mike Rogers, the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of Trump’s transition team, on the president’s wiretap claims

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- D.C. is finally slated to receive the February-like chill we never really experienced in February – at least for today, according to the Capital Weather Gang forecast: “ It’s a cold start to the day with most areas below freezing. Flow from the south (winds of 5 to 10 mph) tries to warm us up but a shallow wedge of cold air may interfere. So highs may struggle to get much past 50, especially in our northern areas. Partly cloudy skies in the morning become mostly cloudy in the afternoon.”

-- Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy is currently facing a potential four-game suspension for reportedly violating NFL policy on performance-enhancement drugs during his breakout 2016 season. The suspension is currently being appealed by Murphy, and, if upheld, would cause him to miss the first four games of the 2017 NFL season. (Master Tesfatsion)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

The same scientists who uncovered why zebras have stripes have turned their black-and-white research to pandas:

Check out Kate McKinnon as Jeff Sessions/Forrest Gump:

See Eric and Donald Trump Jr. on SNL's Weekend Update:

Watch SNL's version of a GOP movie trailer:

This "March 4 Trump" turned violent at Berkeley:

Watch Jimmy Kimmel's full interview with George W. Bush:

Watch Conan train as a "Luchador" (Mexican wrestler):

Conan also became the godfather of a Mexican girl at her 15th birthday: