President Trump, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, meet in the Roosevelt Room yesterday. (Shawn Thew/EPA)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Yesterday was supposed to be Chris Christie’s coming out party. After Donald Trump passed him over for vice president and dumped him as head of his transition team, the president tapped the New Jersey governor to lead a national effort to combat the opioid addiction crisis.

But as he was inside the White House, two of his former associates were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in a conspiracy to tie up traffic on the George Washington Bridge as part of a revenge plot against a Democratic mayor who refused to support Christie’s 2013 re-election bid.

“Bridgegate” illustrates how political scandals rarely fade away quickly and can dog an administration for years. It’s a lesson Trump’s team is beginning to learn as an FBI investigation and congressional inquiries into potential connections between Russia and the president’s advisers heat up. These, and what grows from them, may drag on for a very long time and undermine his presidency — even if a smoking gun never emerges to directly implicate Trump in any criminal wrongdoing.

Though Christie was never charged with any crime, and continues to plead ignorance to what his subordinates were doing, the scandal that derailed his political career has still not gone away. Almost four years later, it continues to rear its head at the most inopportune times and will forever taint his legacy.

Bridget Kelly, the former deputy chief of staff to Christie, speaks to reporters yesterday in Newark after being sentenced to 18 months. (Seth Wenig/AP)

William E. Baroni Jr., 45, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was sentenced to 24 months in prison, and Bridget Anne Kelly, 44, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, was sentenced to 18 months. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in one infamous email, setting in motion five days of gridlock that slowed emergency vehicles from getting dying patients to hospitals, buses from getting kids to school and commuters from getting to work.

Christie went on three morning shows yesterday to talk about his plan for fighting drug addiction. But what the anchors really wanted to talk about was Russia and Bridgegate. “The judge will do what the judge believes is appropriate,” the governor told Matt Lauer on NBC. “And it’s not my role or anybody else’s role, other than the judge in that courtroom, to pass sentence on people who have committed crimes.” His office declined to comment after the ruling.

Every time Christie has gotten a little distance from the scandal or appeared to turn the page, some new revelation has emerged to stomp on him. The drip, drip, drip of revelations big and small kept his presidential campaign from ever getting real traction. Donors always worried about which shoe would drop next. Even Christie himself has said the scandal was “a factor” in Trump passing him over for vice president, despite his early endorsement and their longtime friendship.

The seven-week trial for Baroni and Kelly last fall showcased just how fixated Christie and his operation were on laying the groundwork for his 2016 campaign. It also shined a light on a with-us-or-against-us culture inside the governor’s office. One of the prosecution’s key witnesses said under oath that he told the governor about the bridge conspiracy during a 9/11 memorial service. He testified that Christie laughed when informed of the plot. (Christie denies this.)

Trump himself, not long before Christie endorsed him, said it is inconceivable that the governor was out of the loop: “He totally knew about it!”

Bill Baroni leaves court after being sentenced to two years for his role in the scandal. He and Kelly must also serve 500 hours of community service. (Seth Wenig/AP)

And yesterday’s convictions are also not the end of the story. Both Baroni and Kelly promise to appeal. The Democratic-controlled state legislature conducted investigations, held hearings and issued subpoenas until the feds asked them to pause their efforts while they pursued a case. Now some Democrats are pushing their leadership to reopen those inquiries and to issue a fresh round of subpoenas targeting Christie.

Christie was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey before he ran for governor, so he knows first-hand how long these sorts of investigations and prosecutions take to play out. He also understands how hard it is to put a genie like Russia or Bridgegate back in the bottle.

Last summer, Christie called for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton: “We must get to the bottom of what looks like a pay to play scheme,” he said in a statement distributed by the Trump campaign. “Unfortunately, the only appropriate action for our compromised Attorney General is to appoint a truly impartial Special Prosecutor. … Our system of justice deserves nothing less.”

Now that Trump is the one potentially in jeopardy, Christie has completely changed his tune: "When a special prosecutor gets involved, the thing gets completely out of control," Christie said on CNN last month, rejecting GOP Rep. Darrell Issa’s call for one. “That doesn’t serve anybody’s purposes. We have a lot of important problems to deal with in this country. I’m not saying that’s not one of them. But I believe the Justice Department can handle it.”

Trump greets Christie at the clubhouse of his New Jersey golf course in November. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Meanwhile, the Garden State has turned hard against Christie. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll published Tuesday puts the Republican’s approval rating at just 20 percent and his disapproval rating at 72 percent. Two-thirds of voters think the state is on the wrong track.

It’s not just Bridgegate that’s driven his fall from grace. New Jersey's credit rating was downgraded again this week, the 11th time that has now happened under Christie’s leadership. “The state has increased pension contributions since 2012, but Moody's says they're still below recommended levels and that unfunded pension obligations are growing,” the AP notes.

Christie reiterated yesterday that he plans to serve out the final year of his term, but he’s keeping the door open to taking a formal role in the Trump administration early next year.

Sergei Millian attends the National Oil & Gas Forum. (Kirill Kallinikov/AP)

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP:

-- “Who is ‘Source D’? The man said to be behind the Trump-Russia dossier’s most salacious claim,” by Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger: “In June (2016), a Belarusan American businessman who goes by the name Sergei Millian shared some tantalizing claims about [Trump]. He had a long-standing relationship with Russian officials, Millian told an associate, and those officials were now feeding Trump damaging information about [Hillary Clinton] ... [that he said had proved] ‘very helpful..' Unbeknownst to Millian, however, his conversation was not confidential. His associate passed on what he had heard to a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, who had been hired by Trump’s political opponents to gather information about the Republican’s ties to Russia. While the dossier has not been verified and its claims have been denied by Trump, Steele’s document said that Millian’s assertions had been corroborated by other sources, including in the Russian government and former intelligence sources...

“By his own evolving statements, [Millian] is either a shrewd businessman with high-level access to both Trump’s inner circle and the Kremlin, or a bystander unwittingly caught up in a global controversy. An examination of Millian’s career shows he is a little of both. His case lays bare the challenge facing the FBI as it investigates Russia’s alleged attempts to manipulate the American political system and whether Trump associates participated. It also illustrates why the Trump administration remains unable to shake the Russia story[:] While some of the unproven claims attributed in the dossier to Millian are bizarre and outlandish, there are also indications that he had contacts with Trump’s circle. Millian told several people that during the campaign and presidential transition he was in touch with George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy adviser."

Jared Kushner attends a meeting with cyber security experts at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

SO MUCH SMOKE:

-- “Bank that Kushner met with paid Russian intelligence agent's legal tab,” by CNN’s Scott Glover: “As federal prosecutors in New York prepared their case against a man accused of covertly working for Russian intelligence two years ago, they began raising questions about an unidentified 'third party' paying the defendant's legal bills. The defendant's benefactor turned out to be VneshEconomBank, the same financial institution at the center of a recent controversy over its chairman's meeting with [Jared Kushner]. On the one hand it should be no surprise that bank, also known as VEB, was paying for Evgeny Buryakov's legal defense -- Buryakov was one of its employees, after all. But what made the matter more complicated was that Buryakov was charged with illegally gathering intelligence on behalf of the Russian government and the Russian government owned the bank that provided his cover. ... Prosecutors were concerned about a potential conflict in which the interests of the entity paying the bill may outweigh the interests of the defendant, resulting in an unfair trial and perhaps creating the basis for an appeal. The case was closely watched at the time by a top official at the bank and representatives of the Russian embassy in New York … [It also] offers a view into the murky world of Russian intelligence gathering...”

Richard Burr, accompanied by Mark Warner, speaks at a news conference yesterday to discuss their probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

THE INVESTIGATIONS:

-- Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and vice-chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said they will privately interview 20 people, beginning next week, as part of their inquiry into Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and possible ties to Trump officials. The joint appearance by the panel’s top Republican and Democrat stands in direct contrast to House Intelligence members – whose investigation is heavily embroiled in partisan rancor and has all but grinded to a halt. “Over the last month we’ve seen some progress,” Warner said. Later, with a hand on Burr’s shoulder, he added: “I have confidence in Richard Burr that we together, with the members of our committee, are going to get to the bottom of this.” “While much of the House Intelligence Committee’s political infighting has taken place in public, the Senate so far has conducted [nearly] the entirety of its Russia investigation behind closed doors," Karoun Demirjian notes.

“Burr said the Senate committee has dedicated seven staff members to the Russia investigation and is ‘within weeks’ of completing a review of ‘thousands of pages’ of documents the intelligence community has made available to them," per Karoun. "Burr added that although the committee is in “constant negotiations” with the intelligence community about access, it intends to request more documents — and expects to receive more — as the investigation continues. Most of the initial 20 interviews the committee will conduct are with ‘the people who helped put together the January report,’ Warner said, referring to a report that the intelligence community put out stating that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections with the purpose of trying to improve Trump’s chances of winning. Burr said that five of those interviews have already been scheduled, and the remaining 15 will be scheduled in the next 10 days…

“While Warner and Burr did not list additional people they hoped would testify before the committee, they hinted that they might include Michael Flynn, who resigned as national security adviser over conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that he failed to fully disclose to Vice President Pence, and former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who alerted Trump officials that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail" before being fired by the president.

-- The integrity of the House Intelligence Committee’s inquiry, meanwhile, continues to be more and more compromised. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza has laid out a very compelling case for why the White House was almost certainly aware of everything Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) was up to last week, and Philip Bump has constructed a useful timeline to track who said what and when.

-- FBI Director James Comey said last night that the bureau is “not on anybody's side, ever,” defending himself against accusations that he acted to help or hurt either presidential candidate ahead of the election. Most people "are wearing glasses that filter the world according to side,” he said, insisting that does not apply to him or his agents.

-- Andrew Napolitano, allowed back on Fox News, doubled down on his baseless claim: Nearly two weeks ago, the "legal analyst" was reportedly pulled from the air after he asserted without evidence that British intelligence officials spied on Trump at the request of Barack Obama. Yesterday, Napolitano was invited on. Host Bill Hemmer asked if he stands by the story. “Yes, I do, and the sources stand by it,” Napolitano replied defiantly. “And the American public needs to know more about this rather than less because a lot of the government surveillance authorities will expire in the fall and there’ll be a great debate about how much authority we want the government to have to surveil us.” It was his first appearance since March 16. A Fox News spokesperson told our Amy Wang that “the matter was addressed internally.” She declined to comment further.

Why is Napolitano so willing to sacrifice what little credibility he had left on Trump’s altar? Perhaps because he believes the president might appoint him to the Supreme Court. After meeting with Trump twice during the transition, the Newark-born television personality told several people that Trump said he was on the list of judges from whom he was selecting a nominee, Politico’s Eliana Johnson scooped last weekend. “He said, ‘Trump said I’m on the list,’” said a source who spoke with Napolitano shortly after one of his meetings with the then president-elect. “He’s been saying that since the transition.” Friends warned Napolitano not to take the president too literally – or seriously. “He'll take your call and invite you to the Oval Office, but he just wants you to say nice things about him on TV,” the source says he told Napolitano at the time. But that didn’t sink the ambitious judge’s hopes. He claims he’s submitted both academic and personal resumes to Trump aides, and that they’ve pored over the judge’s writings, including several popular non-fiction books.

Keep in mind: Napolitano, 66, was a New Jersey Superior Court judge, but he has not been on the bench since 1995. He is also a 9/11 truther.

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter.

Today's edition comes to you from an Acela train bound for New Haven. I'm speaking with Yale students in Walter Shapiro's seminar this afternoon about the future of political journalism.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Paul Ryan, with his leadership team, speaks to reporters after a Republican Conference meeting. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

-- Paul Ryan is trying to get the House Freedom Caucus to fall in line by warning that Trump will start working with Democrats if they don't. In a remarkable admission on “CBS This Morning,” the Speaker said he doesn’t want the president to negotiate with the opposition party on how to improve health care. "What I worry about is that if we don't do this, then he'll just go work with Democrats to try and change Obamacare and that’s not – that’s hardly a conservative thing,” Ryan said. When Norah O’Donnell pointed out that Trump said he would be willing to work with Democrats, Ryan responded: “I don’t want that to happen! You know why? I want a patient-centered system. I don’t want government running health care. The government shouldn’t tell you what you must do with your life, with your healthcare. We should give people choices.”

-- Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) slammed Ryan's comment:

-- Trump this morning declared war on the Freedom Caucus on Twitter:

-- And the moderate Tuesday Group apparently won't work with them either. From a reporter at National Journal:

-- HHS Secretary Tom Price said yesterday that he still plans to undo parts of the Affordable Care Act through regulation and non-enforcement, which ensures that the Trump administration will own future problems with the system. Juliet Eilperin and Mike DeBonis report: “Under intense questioning from Democrats, Price outlined how his department could make insurance plans cheaper by scaling back several federal mandates. And he refused to say whether the administration will keep providing cost-sharing subsidies for insurers participating in the federal marketplace. At one point, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) asked Price whether the administration wanted to ‘repeal or strengthen and improve’ the 2010 health-care law. ‘We believe that the current law has harmed many individuals,’ the secretary said. ‘So you will continue to move at repeal, is what I gained from that conversation,’ she replied.”

-- North Carolina lawmakers said they reached a deal late last night to repeal H.B. 2, rolling back the widely-scorned law restricting which public restrooms transgender people can use. Mark Berman reports: “The compromise was detailed by the state’s top Republican lawmakers, who have long supported the so-called ‘bathroom bill,’ and endorsed by the state’s Democratic governor, who has been a staunch opponent of that measure. But the deal was quickly pilloried by gay rights groups who argued that the compromise fell short, and it was not clear whether the new agreement would get the support needed to pass Thursday before a deadline the NCAA had set demanding changes. Since H.B. 2 was signed, North Carolina has watched as companies abandoned plans to expand in the state, entertainers canceled shows and sports leagues pulled some games and vowed to keep out more. The most recent such threat, coming from the NCAA, gave lawmakers until Thursday to change the law if it wants to host any college sports championships through 2022.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The State Department dropped “human rights improvement” as a condition for the sale of fighter jets to Bahrain, abruptly reversing an Obama-era decision that required the tiny island monarchy curb its human rights abuses and its crackdown on dissidents. (Carol Morello)
  2. The DEA has seized billions of dollars from people who were never charged with criminal activity, according to a new DOJ Inspector General. The agency has seized more than $4 billion in cash over the past decade, but 81 percent of those seizures were conducted administratively – meaning no charges were brought. (Christopher Ingraham)
  3. Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke is planning to challenge Ted Cruz for his Senate seat in 2018 -- setting up a longshot bid against the Texas Republican. O'Rourke has been less-than-subtle about his intentions to unseat Cruz, urging reporters to attend his announcement in his hometown of El Paso on Friday. (Houston Chronicle)
  4. Chelsea Clinton says she won't run for office, just like her dad and mom both did before they ran in 1992 and 2016. "I'm constantly surprised by the stories of me running for fill in the blank: Congress, Senate, City Council, the presidency? I really find this all rather hysterical because I've been asked this question a lot throughout my life and the answer has never changed," she told Variety. (CNN)
  5. North Korea appears to be getting ready for another nuclear test, new satellite images suggest. It is impossible to tell whether Pyongyang is putting on a performance for the satellites — a ploy it has sometimes used to raise tensions — or whether a sixth nuclear test is imminent. (Anna Fifield)
  6. Afghanistan defense officials announced this week than more than 1,000 army personnel – including several generals – have been fired in connection with corruption. They are trying to tamp down U.S. criticism and domestic anger following a deadly insurgent attack on a military hospital. (Sharif Walid)
  7. A group of Texas adults were en route from a church retreat Sunday when their van collided head-on with a pickup truck, killing 13 and leaving two more injured.  (Samantha Schmidt)
  8. The search party for a missing Indonesian man took a gruesome turn after villagers stumbled upon a massive -- and suspiciously misshapen -- python. Fearing the worst, they began slicing open the reptile, revealing first the man’s shoes, then his legs and then …. his entire body, left intact. The 23-foot snake swallowed him whole. (Amy B Wang)
  9. A London man participating in a BBC interview died tragically after his dog – a Staffordshire bull terrier, whom neighbors said he loved “more than he loved himself” – emerged and mauled him to death. (Derek Hawkins)
Donald whispers to Ivanka as Eric listens in during his January press conference to defend his refusal to divest. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

NEPOTISM WATCH:

-- Ivanka Trump said she will officially become an unpaid government employee, reversing course after initially insisting she would remain as an informal adviser to her father now that she has an office in the West Wing. White House officials say she will serve as an assistant to the president. Ivanka's attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said the first daughter will submit all financial disclosures and conflict-of-interest forms required of federal employees within 30 days. She will also seek a security clearance. (Abby Phillip)

Former Obama ethics counsel Norman Eisen said he and former Bush ethics counsel Richard Painter consider Ivanka’s new gig to be a violation of nepotism laws: "My view is that the nepotism statue does apply to the White House," Eisen said on CNN last night. "For decades the Justice Department held 'yes' the nepotism statue applies to the White House." He conceded that the "reasonable minds can disagree" on whether the statue should apply. (The Hill)

The Trump International Hotel in Washington could soon have a sister property. (Alex Brandon/AP)

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WATCH:

-- Trump’s company is “actively seeking” to open a second Washington hotel as part of a planned nationwide expansion, potentially creating another property where he stands to benefit from people doing business in the nation’s capital. Jonathan O'Connell reports: “Representatives of the Trump Organization, now run by the president’s adult sons, have inquired in recent months about converting one of several boutique, medium-sized hotels in upscale neighborhoods in and near downtown and reopening it under the company’s new Scion brand. Unlike the luxurious Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, which Trump and his family own, the more affordable Scion hotels would be owned by other developers who would pay the Trumps’ company for licensing rights and management. The addition of a more informal Scion Hotel in the District would provide a chance for less well-heeled groups to do business with the president’s company — albeit at a property that would not bear his name.”

-- A coalition of 22 nonprofits, liberal groups, professors and ethics experts penned a letter to GSA Inspector General Carol Ochoa, requesting that she review the agency’s decision to allow Trump’s company to continue leasing his D.C. hotel from the federal government while in office. “Preventing conflicts of interest is imperative to ensuring that taxpayer-owned buildings are not used to inappropriately provide private benefits to government officials at the public’s expense,” they wrote. The request comes after leading Democrats on Capitol Hill also pressed Ochoa to step in. She replied that she is “monitoring the issue.” Signatories include the Center for American Progress, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Public Citizen, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, as well as Obama- and Bush-era ethics officials. (O'Connell)

THE SWAMP IS NOT BEING DRAINED:

-- “After a quick tour through government service, a former appointee in [Trump's] State Department has registered to work as a lobbyist for the telecom and pharmaceutical industries, raising questions about the reach of an ethics pledge required by Trump," Matea Gold reports: Robert Wasinger, a former Trump campaign official and transition team member, served briefly as White House liaison to the State Department before joining McGuireWoods Consulting as senior vice president of its federal public affairs group last month. Last week, he registered as a lobbyist for Verizon and Inovio Pharmaceuticals … Wasinger, who served as director of Senate and gubernatorial outreach for Trump's campaign [said] he joined the State Department in a temporary capacity, which could mean that he was not considered a full-time appointee who had to comply with the ethics rule. He is the second known Trump appointee who left the administration without signing a pledge to limit his lobbying activities.”

Mitch McConnell speaks at the Capitol. (Cliff Owen/AP)

THE AGENDA:

-- “The daunting effort to salvage the Republican Party’s governing agenda has fallen suddenly and squarely on the shoulders of one man: Mitch McConnell.” Sean Sullivan reports: “While [Ryan] struggled as the chief advocate for the health-care bill primarily because of Republican recalcitrance, McConnell’s challenge is different yet no less difficult: persuading enough Democrats not to obstruct the plans of an increasingly unpopular president. Hunger for a victory and the belief that ambitious goals are still achievable are fueling McConnell and his team. But dim prospects for cooperation in the Senate … have forced him to ponder extreme measures, including a rule change known by insiders as the ‘nuclear option’ that would allow Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. … Such a move is likely to enrage Democrats heading into a fight over funding the government, in which McConnell will once again need the support of his Democratic colleagues to avert a government shutdown that would begin April 29 if Congress fails to pass a stopgap bill. The minority party has considerably more leverage in the Senate than in the House, making McConnell’s task as critical as it is challenging.”

-- A telling indicator of how difficult it will be to win over any Democratic votes: Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) is declining an invitation to meet with Trump’s top congressional aides, saying he sees little benefit in cooperating with a White House he views as extreme. The South Boston Dem, who represents a lot of unions types that were attracted to Trump last year, is among those who received a formal invitation to meet next week with the director of legislative affairs, Marc Short, as the White House makes a renewed push to cultivate moderate Democrats. “They said they were looking for ‘moderate’ Democrats – which I am. But under the circumstances I felt like they were trying to divide our party so I declined the invitation,” Lynch told the Boston Globe. “My feeling is that the Trump White House has taken a ‘scorched earth’ approach so far. I am usually someone who looks for middle ground, but Mr. Trump’s opening position, especially as reflected in his budget, has been so extreme that there is no middle ground. It’s a non-starter for me.”

-- Trump’s Education Department nixed an Obama-era grant program aimed at helping local districts achieve socioeconomic diversity within their schools. (Emma Brown)

-- EPA administrator Scott Pruitt will not implement Obama's ban of a commonly-used pesticide. Brady Dennis reports: “The chemical compound chlorpyrifos … has been used by farmers for more than a half-century to kill pests on crops including broccoli, strawberries and citrus. The EPA banned its spraying indoors to combat household bugs more than a decade ago. But only in recent years did the agency seek to ban its use in agriculture, after mounting scientific evidence that prenatal exposure can pose risks to fetal brain and nervous system development. Under [Obama], the EPA proposed in 2015 to revoke all uses of chlorpyrifos on food … [and] a federal judge had given the EPA until Friday to decide whether to finalize its ban of the pesticide.”

-- Harvard students blocked entrances to University Hall yesterday, demanding that the endowment fund divest from the coal industry. The movement is part of a broader national campus effort to force university endowments to stop investing in coal and other fossil fuels, but it has gained new urgency after Trump’s executive actions this week on climate change. (Susan Svrluga)

-- “Donald Trump, lost in Africa,” by The New Yorker's Alexis Okeowo: The president's budget calls for completely eliminating the African Development Foundation, a government agency that gives grants worth thousands of dollars, in the form of seed capital and technical support, to community enterprises and small businesses on the African continent. "The A.D.F. functions as a kind of alternative to the aid money that the U.S. regularly provides [and] was designed to encourage self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship, and it focuses on ventures by farmers, women, and young people, particularly those in post-conflict communities. Last year, it invested just more than fifty million dollars in five hundred active businesses … which in turn reportedly generated new economic activity worth eighty million dollars. The A.D.F.’s reach has been meaningful, though modest. But its proposed termination reflects a deeper apathy, and even belligerence, about Africa from Trump’s Administration, whose members have publicly wondered what the U.S. is doing on the continent, and why it is interested in parts of it at all.”

Employees of Rexnord Bearings in Indianapolis protest Rexnord's decision to move jobs to Mexico. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

IN TRUMP'S AMERICA, DEPORTATION THREATS PROMPT DESPAIR: 

-- John Kelly said the DHS “does not intend” to separate families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border – telling Democratic senators that his department would not be splitting up mothers and children unless there was an “extenuating reason” such as illness. CNN’s Tal Kopan reports: Kelly’s remarks come as a reversal from earlier this month, however, when he told Wolf Blitzer that he was considering the policy as a “deterrent.” "Yes I'm considering (that), in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network," Kelly said at the time. "I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents. ... It's more important to me, Wolf, to try to keep people off of this awful network."

Kelly’s softened rhetoric came during an hour-long meeting with Senate Democrats on immigration policy -- a meeting that prompted some members to leave in "frustration,” but which others characterized more positively. Sen. Dick Durbin, who organized the meeting, called it "positive" and said it offered more "clarity," but added: "what remains to be seen is what will happen next."

-- Meanwhile, White House officials indicated Wednesday that Trump could go along with a government funding bill that does not contain funding for his U.S.-Mexico border wall. The Hill’s Jordan Fabian reports: “Senate Republicans are not planning on including the funds in a measure to keep the government funded beyond the end of April. ‘That is our request,’ press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday when asked if the wall funding is a deal-breaker for a must-pass spending bill. ‘We will continue to work with Congress on the rest of the [fiscal 2017] budget,’ he said.”

-- A undocumented immigrant died this week after attempting to hang himself at an ICE detention center in California. Authorities say he is the fifth detainee to die in ICE custody this year. (Peter Holley)

-- An 87-year-old Holocaust survivor in Sacramento attended a town hall this week to share his experience in concentration camps, and to confront a U.S. law enforcement officer and the city’s sheriff, who is accused of helping U.S. officials in deportation efforts. “History is not on your side,” he said. (Kristine Phillips)

-- Contenders vying for leadership of Canada’s opposition Conservative Party are calling for drastic measures to halt the flow of asylum seekers fleeing the U.S. into Canada -- including deployment of troops to detain would-be refugees as they cross the border. It’s the latest sign of a “get-tough” approach from our neighbors to the north – and corresponds with a hardening of attitudes among some Canadians toward the asylum seekers and immigration in general. (Alan Freeman)

-- “‘There’s not a hope alive for us’: A factory Trump targeted begins its move to Mexico,” by Danielle Paquette: “The list came up Tuesday morning, near the assembly line. Twenty-three names. And two words everyone dreaded: TENTATIVE LAYOFFS. Brian Reed, 45, knew this would happen. But he didn’t expect it to twist his gut. He has worked a quarter century here, and his name topped the white piece of paper. The move, Rexnord told the local union … would allow it to ‘operate in a more cost-effective manner.’ In other words, Reed’s livelihood was just another casualty of old-school manufacturing’s steady decline, a dwindling driven by trade, automation and consumer demand. Then … Trump thrust a plant that would have otherwise shuttered quietly into the national spotlight. ‘Rexnord of Indiana is moving to Mexico and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers,’ he tweeted. ‘… No more!” But presidential criticism couldn’t stop Rexnord from packing up. Another factory, however, one about a mile from Rexnord, changed direction … In the weeks following the Carrier deal, Reed prayed Trump would step in and save the day. Then four months passed. ‘There’s not a hope alive for us,’ Reed said Tuesday. ‘We’re done.’”

MEET THE PEOPLE WHO RUN TRUMP'S WASHINGTON:

-- “Who is Julia Hahn? The unlikely rise of Steve Bannon’s right-hand woman,” by Ben Terris: “Over the previous year, [Julia] Hahn’s name had topped some of the most sharp-edged anti-immigrant and anti-establishment stories in conservative media. But Hahn’s increasingly watched byline was all the more extraordinary for her utter anonymity[:] Not only did she never appear on TV, she had no public social-media presence whatsoever. [Now], at 25, Hahn has taken her scorched-earth view of the world to the White House … [It’s] fair to say that nothing about Hahn’s time at Harvard-Westlake, a top prep school in Los Angeles, nor at the University of Chicago, one of higher ed’s great temples of liberalism, hinted at a future [job with Trump]. Friends who partied with her at the Coachella music festival, or decorated gingerbread houses with her …  recall a brainy and ambitious young woman who was unfailingly kind, [and who] organized a fundraiser to bring foreign orphans to the United States. So how, exactly, does an apolitical philosophy major from the Westside of L.A. end up working as a fire-breathing populist beside the most controversial figure in the most controversial White House of a generation?”

-- “Omarosa Manigault is in Trump’s White House because of her loyalty. But what is she doing there?” by Vanessa Williams: “[If] … devotion explains how [Omarosa] Manigault wound up in Trump’s White House as the highest-ranking African American in the West Wing, it is far less easy to explain exactly what she’s doing there. Some … already have concluded that she is ineffective, and she is routinely derided on social media as simply providing cover for a president deeply unpopular with African Americans. Some black Republicans were particularly critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the HBCU initiative, which included a White House meeting with the school officials that some viewed as little more than a photo op. … Manigault doesn’t publicly display a strong political or ideological identity; she was supporting [Hillary Clinton’s] presidential bid before Trump announced his candidacy. Neither does she have any strong public ties to any individual charities or causes. It is Trump himself who compels Manigault to his side, [as] she asks people to look at her as evidence that the president is inclusive and wants to see minorities succeed."

-- For Trump and his White House staff, celebrating Women’s History Month can be awkward. Jenna Johnson reports: “As Women’s History Month draws to an end, [Melania Trump] proclaimed ...that ‘wherever women are diminished, the entire world is diminished with them.’ Soon after, [Sean Spicer] said at a briefing that the ‘president made women’s empowerment a priority throughout the campaign.And later … [Trump] attended a women’s empowerment panel and jokingly asked whether anyone had heard of Susan B. Anthony. It was a discordant series of remarks given Trump’s history of controversial comments about and allegations of mistreatment of women over the years. This is a president who bragged during a conversation with an ‘Access Hollywood’ host that he could grab women without their permission, who allegedly burst into the dressing rooms of beauty pageant contestants and who was accused by 11 women before the election of inappropriately touching or kissing them. That history has cast a shadow of sorts over the administration’s commemorations of women’s accomplishments over the past month …”

-- Conservative news website IJR has hired controversial editor Jon Nicosia as managing editor of content, bringing onboard a convicted felon whose seven-year tenure at Mediaite was also characterized by a highly bizarre backstory. Former colleagues say Nicosia lied about his name and background during his time at the company, describing himself as a D.C.-area trauma surgeon and doling out medical advice to colleagues. His managerial role on the content team will likely position him very close to, if not directly under Benny Johnson, who was recently suspended for assigning an unfounded conspiracy theory about Obama’s trip to Hawaii. His colleagues also accused him of plagiarism in 2015. (Politico)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Britain formally triggered Article 50 Wednesday, setting into motion a two-year divorce process with the E.U. – and, of course, a whole new category of “Brexit” memes:

Author J.K. Rowling weighed in:

Across the pond, America reacted to Trump’s Susan B. Anthony comment: 

Viewers of “The Daily Show” were spooked Wednesday after Trevor Noah was briefly interrupted by footage of a spinning ballerina and Russian lettering:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- “How to lose friends and 'exfoliate' people,” by Business Insider's Alyson Shontell: “Liberals who knew (Jared) Kushner before his administration role have grown concerned. Trump, they seem to feel, is a black-and-white issue: You can be for or against his policies. But Kushner is an uncomfortable swirl of gray. … People ‘hate him right now,’ said one former co-worker. Another person, who attended Kushner's wedding in 2009, agreed that former acquaintances were ‘seething.’ Kushner has seen enough relationships break that he now has a word for it: exfoliation. He is shedding dead relationships like skin cells being scrubbed from a body.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Mike Huckabee on intelligence leaks: 'Is that not treason?'” from CNN: “Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Tuesday that leakers in the intelligence community are guilty of treason. ‘I don't understand why there isn't a great outrage over the leaking of information out of the highest levels of US intelligence,’ Huckabee, whose daughter is an aide to [Trump], told radio host Laura Ingraham. Huckabee continued, ‘This is of grave concern, because if people who are supposed to be guarding our secrets are letting them go -- Laura, I hate to use this word, but I don't know what else to use -- is that not treason? Is that not treason, when you work against your own government?’” Huckabee also criticized Sen. Lindsey Graham for comparing Devin Nunes to Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther. "I'm very disappointed in Lindsey," Huckabee said. "I sometimes wonder what uniform he puts on each morning when goes out to the field to play, and I'm not just talking about the partisan uniform."

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

Unwelcome plan for refugees shakes up Vermont city,” from the Boston Globe: “[Christopher] Louras had been trounced days earlier in his bid for a sixth term as mayor, and the reason seemed obvious to him.  ‘I can’t attribute it to anything other than refugee resettlement,’ [he said]. Like [Trump’s] surprising victory, the breadth of opposition to the refugee plan did not fully emerge until the ballots were counted. But the newly elected mayor sees the results differently. Instead … [David] Allaire said his landslide victory was partly due to Louras’ effort to keep much of the process out of public view. Allaire and others had accused Louras of a lack of transparency in the months-long talks, held in private, that eventually led to federal approval for 100 refugees to settle here. Even the city’s aldermen … were in the dark ... When Louras later opposed a citywide vote on the effort — ‘We just do not get to vote on who our neighbors are,’ he said — many residents turned against him. Instead of the humanitarian emergency that Louras described, his foes said they saw a clandestine end-run around grass-roots democracy.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will meet with Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin before hosting a legislative affairs lunch on opioid and drug abuse. Trump will then welcome Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark and meet with Prime Minister Rasmussen, and lead an expanded bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Rasmussen. Pence will join Trump for the legislative affairs lunch, as well as his meeting with Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“That was some weird sh*t.” – George W. Bush’s reaction to Trump’s inaugural ceremony, three people who were present told New York Magazine  

 

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

-- Back to cold(er) temperatures we go! The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “A shift to light winds from the east brings in cooler, humid air, and clouds should increase over the area. Highs struggle with the lack of sun, and most of the area only reaches the lower 50s.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert made fun of Trump's women empowerment event:

And ridiculed Congress for scaling back consumer privacy on the web:

And joked around about robots:

Seth Meyers riffed on Putin in his opening monologue:

And talked about how much Joe Biden loves National Puppy Day:

Morgan Freeman said people ask him to record their voicemail message all the time:

Samanta Bee talked about rape kits:

Trevor Noah mocked Trump's promise to end the war on coal:

A group of men wearing shirts that read "Jewish Defense League" beat another man with flag poles outside the AIPAC conference: