With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump believed he could convince China to pressure North Korea to stop its nuclear activities. Then President Xi Jinping tutored him on the history of the region.
“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized that it’s not so easy,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, recounting the session at Mar-a-Lago. “You know, I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power over North Korea. But it’s not what you would think."
This comment is funny because, in 2011, Trump claimed that he has read “hundreds of books about China over the decades,” including works by Henry Kissinger, American journalists and Chinese novelists. Looking to do more business with Beijing, he provided a list of 20 books about China to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, that he said had helped him understand the country, its politics and its people. “I know the Chinese. I've made a lot of money with the Chinese. I understand the Chinese mind,” Trump said six years ago. His list had some surprising titles on it, including “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”
Color me skeptical that Trump has read anything by Amy Chua.
-- Even if he has, the fact our president needed an introductory tutorial on Sino-Korean relations to understand how hard it is to contain Pyongyang is just the latest illustration of one of his blind spots: He and his inner-circle have very little sense of history.
-- It is a cliché, but there is truth to it: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- Trump has committed several small but memorable faux pas since the inauguration:
He mentioned Abraham Lincoln during a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee last month. “Most people don't even know he was a Republican,” Trump said. “Does anyone know? Lot of people don't know that!” (Most likely, every person in the ballroom knew and has attended at least one Lincoln Day dinner.)
On Lincoln’s birthday in February, Trump tweeted out an obviously fake quote from the 16th president: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years.” He later deleted it.
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice,” he said at a Black History Month event. (Douglass died in 1895.)
“Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony?” he asked at a Women’s History Month reception in March.
In January, Trump said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) – who is best known for almost getting beaten to death as he marched on Bloody Sunday in Selma – is “all talk, talk, talk - no action or results.” There are things Lewis could be fairly criticized for, but no one who knows anything about the civil rights movement would agree that being “all talk” is one of them.
-- Those four gaffes were tailormade to go viral on social media, but the president has made other comments that perhaps better underscore his lack of depth on U.S. history. Only someone who doesn’t understand the ugly history of the 1930s, for example, could have so wholeheartedly embraced “America First” as a mantra, let alone made it a rallying cry in his inaugural address. The slogan was first popularized by Nazi sympathizers.
-- Trump has embraced Andrew Jackson as his political idol, hanging his portrait in the Oval Office and even flying to Nashville on his 250th birthday to lay a wreath on his tomb. In a speech there, he identified with the seventh president because he took on the “arrogant elite.” “Does that sound familiar?” Trump said with a sly smile.
Yet the very next week, in Louisville, the president claimed the mantle of Henry Clay. "Henry Clay believed in what he called the 'American system,' and proposed tariffs to protect American industry and finance American infrastructure," the president said in a long riff. "Like Henry Clay, we want to put our own people to work. … Clay was a fierce advocate for American manufacturing. ... He knew all the way back, (in the) early 1800s, Clay said that trade must be fair, equal, and reciprocal. Boom!"
Anyone who has a passing familiarity with 19th century history knows how goofy it is to embrace both Jackson and Clay. “They were absolutely feral enemies," Fergus Bordewich, a Clay biographer, told Time after Trump’s speech. "They absolutely hated each other. They shared almost no views in common.”
-- Sean Spicer’s cringe-worthy comments this week that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s actions were worse than Adolf Hitler’s suggested a more endemic problem of historical illiteracy in the White House. The press secretary has since apologized for saying that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing.” He also referred to concentration camps as “the Holocaust centers.”
Because Spicer made his comment on the first day of Passover, the observant staff members at the Anti-Defamation League had their phones and televisions off. So they didn’t find out until Wednesday night what had happened. Leaders of the group reached out to the White House yesterday to offer a training session on the Holocaust. “The organization has taught classes on Hitler’s murderous campaign — which exterminated 6 million Jews and millions more LGBT people, Poles, socialists and others — to more than 130,000 law enforcement professionals and 35,000 teachers,” Julie Zauzmer reports. ADL is willing to offer a free session to Spicer or “anyone at the White House who may need to learn more about the Holocaust.” Spicer didn’t respond to an email about whether he’d do it.
-- Trump has admitted that he is not intellectually curious. In a moment of candor, he told The Post’s Marc Fisher last summer that he has not read any biographies of presidents. He said he would like to someday but never has time. Then he explained that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense.” Trump told Marc he is skeptical of experts because they can’t see the forest through the trees and lack his good instincts.
-- This is a break with many of his predecessors. Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all invited elite historians for private dinners at the White House. Each thought deeply about his place in history as he mulled weighty decisions. Bush, who majored in history at Yale, heavily employed historical analogies in his speeches. John F. Kennedy even hired Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to be his in-house historian.
-- Trump’s very dark world view is one of the ways his lack of historical perspective manifests itself. David Nakamura contrasts how Obama and Trump see the world in a piece for today’s paper:
“Addressing the United Nations last fall, Obama took a moment to highlight for fellow world leaders what he called ‘the most important fact’ about the state of global affairs: Human existence on planet Earth is good — and getting better. War is down, he said, while life expectancy is up. Democracy is on the march, and science has beaten back infectious diseases. A girl in a remote village can download the ‘entirety of human knowledge’ on a smartphone. A person born today, Obama concluded, is more likely to be safer, healthier, wealthier and better-educated — and to see a path to prosperity — than at ‘any time in human history.’"
President Trump does not inhabit this world: "To Trump, the world is ‘a mess,’ as he said during a White House news conference this week. ‘It’s crazy what’s going on,’ Trump said. ‘Whether it’s the Middle East or you look at — no matter where — Ukraine — whatever you look at, it’s got problems, so many problems. Right now, it’s nasty.’”
“President Obama constantly reminded us that our own times are not uniquely oppressive,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and author at Rice University. “There’s a feeling due to the 24-7 news cycle that everything is a crisis mode, when the fact of the matter is, Americans have it better now than ever before.”
During a town hall-style event with young people in Malaysia in September, Obama blamed the flow of information bombarding news consumers on televisions, computers and smartphones for making it appear “as if the world is falling apart.” “Everybody is shouting and everybody hates each other,” Obama said. “And you get kind of depressed. You think, ‘Goodness, what’s happening?’”
Trump, of course, consumes most of his news from cable television and Twitter.
-- Bigger picture: One important reason the new president has flip-flopped so much in recent days is because he has never grappled deeply or seriously with most issues. Trump has typically staked out whatever position was most politically expedient at that moment and then confidently argued for it, untethered by core convictions beyond a desire to make money, build his brand and win elections.
“He's learning the job,” Mitch McConnell told Newsmax TV in an interview that aired yesterday.
“Some of the things that were said during the campaign, I think he now knows simply aren't the way things ought to be,” said the Senate Majority Leader, who wrote his senior thesis on Henry Clay and hangs a portrait of him in his office. “I welcome adjustments that he makes from the campaign. A lot of things are said in the campaign by candidates and turn out not to be the way it works when you're actually in office."
-- Governing is hard, and Trump’s own associates acknowledge that he didn’t begin to fully grasp that until January. Every president faces a Herculean learning curve. Nothing can fully prepare anyone for the job. Trump, as our first president with no prior political or military experience, had more to learn than anyone before him. Not only does he lack a lot of historical knowledge, he is also missing institutional memory.
“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” he said in February to a group of governors who all understood exactly how complicated the subject is. “It's an unbelievably complex subject!”
That is the most memorable example in a growing list of things that he’s now publicly admitted are harder than he realized, including getting one’s nominees confirmed by the Senate and doing tax reform.
When Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin on the phone in February, the Russian leader raised the possibility of extending the 2010 New START treaty. Trump paused to ask his aides what the treaty was, Reuters reported at the time.
-- On the front page of today’s New York Times, Peter Baker recalls other good examples of just how much Trump was in over his head when he took office: “So much of this is new to Mr. Trump that only after he publicly accused Mr. Obama of having wiretapped his telephones last year did he ask aides how the system of obtaining eavesdropping warrants from a special foreign intelligence court worked. … He figured it would be easy to ban visitors from several predominantly Muslim countries and build a border wall while forcing Mexico to pay for it. He had never heard of the congressional procedures (known as reconciliation) that forced him to push for health care changes before overhauling the tax code…
“But as seasoned hands got access to him, he retreated from some of his provocative promises,” Peter notes. “He delayed his vow to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after King Abdullah II of Jordan rushed to Washington to warn him of a violent backlash among Arabs. He abandoned his intention to bring back torture in terrorism interrogations after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him it was ineffective.”
Another wrinkle: It’s not just Trump who is learning all of this as he goes. “His White House chief of staff, chief strategist, senior adviser, counselor and national economics adviser have no prior government experience of consequence,” the Times story concludes. “Nor do his secretaries of state, Treasury, commerce, housing or education.”
-- The Washington Post cares deeply about history. We’ve just launched a new history vertical called “Retropolis: The past, rediscovered.” The goal is to provide a little historical perspective on news of the day. Early topics include why Hitler refused to use sarin gas, the fake news that haunted George Washington and a Confederate spy who vanished after he was accused of killing Lincoln. To mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the Great War this month, Will Englund explained why Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, voted against it. John Woodrow Cox recounted how a Russian diplomat was shot in Baltimore, possibly by a German spy. Check out Retropolis here.
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- “Two Republicans running for Virginia governor repeatedly accused each other of lying Thursday while the third called their tax-cut plans disingenuous and even dangerous in the only scheduled TV debate of the race,” Laura Vozzella reports from Lynchburg: “Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, was the most aggressive during the hourlong event at Liberty University, taking aim at political strategist Ed Gillespie, the perceived front-runner because he has led in fundraising and endorsements. Stewart accused Gillespie of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants and of endorsing, in his 2006 memoir, the ‘individual mandate’ for health insurance — akin to a requirement under the Affordable Care Act. Gillespie said neither was true. ‘Google ‘Corey Stewart lies’ and you’ll be amazed at all that pops up,’ Gillespie said. Stewart dug in. ‘Page 245 of your book, Ed,’ he said, referring to the passage in Gillespie’s ‘Winning Right’ that he said endorsed the insurance mandate. ‘If you really want to find the truth, go to Establishment Ed,’ he added, referring to a website that mocks the former [RNC] chairman.”
-- North Korea lashed out at POTUS overnight, accusing him of “making trouble” with his “aggressive” tweets. Anna Fifield reports: “North Korea’s vice foreign minister said Trump was being ‘more vicious’ than previous presidents. ‘We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike,’ Han Song Ryol told the AP… Tensions have been steadily mounting in recent weeks, as North Korea prepares for what it is calling a ‘big’ event to mark the anniversary of the founder’s birthday Saturday, and the Trump administration warns all options are on the table. Expectations for a nuclear test or missile launch in the lead-up to Saturday’s celebrations in Pyongyang have not come to pass. Instead, there are signs that the regime is getting ready to hold a huge parade this weekend, perhaps showing off new missiles — something that would qualify as the ‘big’ event it had heralded.” The U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula region, and Mike Pence is slated to arrive Sunday in Seoul on the first leg of an Asia tour – where he will doubtlessly reiterate the U.S.’s strong alliances with South Korea and Japan and their determination to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
-- Former Naval Academy instructor Mark Thompson has finally admitted he lied for years about a sexual misconduct case involving a threesome with two young cadets. Ann E. Marimow and John Woodrow Cox report from Quantico: The Marine’s wrists and ankles were shackled Thursday night as two officers escorted him down a long hallway toward the car that would take him to his cell. Maj. Mark Thompson faced a military judge and pleaded guilty to charges of making a false statement and of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. For his crimes, Thompson was expelled from the Corps he’d served for two decades and sentenced to 90 days’ confinement. “I should have faced the entire truth,” he said, his voice soft but forceful. “I’m exhausted, broken in spirit and ready to pay what I owe.” At times tearful, he neither looked nor sounded anything like the once-audacious combat veteran who had always been willing to take risks.
GET SMART FAST:
- The passenger who was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight will likely sue the company for “unreasonable force and violence," which his lawyers say caused him to suffer a concussion, a broken nose, and the loss of two front teeth. David Dao, who has been released from the hospital, plans to undergo surgery to repair damage he says stems from the incident. He called the moment “more horrifying than when he fled Vietnam.” His attorneys filed an emergency bill of discovery to order United and the City of Chicago to preserve items linked to the incident, including video footage of the boarding process and cockpit voice recordings from the flight. (Lori Aratani)
- Conditions at the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center are so troubling that the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general released a rare statement announcing he is conducting a probe of the facility but does not want to wait for its completion to warn the public. At the main facility, doctors have had to halt operating room procedures and dialysis treatments in the past year because of a lack of supplies, nurses have frantically run through the facility hunting for nasal oxygen tubes during an emergency, and sterile surgical items have been left in dirty or cluttered supply rooms. (Aaron C. Davis)
- Two Secret Service officers were fired for failing to contain a White House fence jumper in March, allowing him time to scale a five-foot fence, an eight-foot gate, and a three-and-a-half-foot fence. By the time they caught up with him, he had set off multiple alarms and was on the property undetected for more than 15 minutes. (CNN)
- California has finally agreed to install netting on the Golden Gate Bridge after decades of advocacy – and a year that saw 39 suicides and more than 180 attempts. (Samantha Schmidt)
- At least 97 African migrants are missing and believed to have drowned after their Europe-bound boat sank in the Mediterranean. Emergency responders were able to rescue 23 people before the vessel – likely overcrowded and in poor condition – “completely collapsed” into the ocean, the Libyan coast guard said. (AP)
- Violence in Mexico’s drug war has soared – literally – to new heights. In a bizarre series of events, drug traffickers began tossing dead bodies from low-flying airplanes, sending corpses flying down from the sky, and, in one case, onto the roof of a public health clinic. Officials say the body was found with signs of torture and a bag over its head. (Joshua Partlow)
- Germany requested an arrest warrant for an Iraqi suspect in this week's bombing of a soccer-team bus. (Stephanie Kirchner)
- Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said he will not run for reelection in 2018. His numbers were weak, so the odds of Democrats holding the seat actually go up now that it's an open seat. (CNN)
- Donald Trump Jr. is embarking on a four-city tour across Montana to stump for Republican Greg Gianforte next week in the special election to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, with campaign stops in Kalispell, Hamilton, Billings and Bozeman. (Missoulian)
- Huma Abedin is seeking a $2 million advance for a book deal. The longtime Hillary Clinton aide has spent the last few weeks meeting with literary agents to discuss a book envisioned as a reflection on how her personal and professional lives entangled during the campaign. (The Hollywood Reporter)
- The Canadian government introduced sweeping legislation to legalize recreational marijuana throughout the country by next summer, moving forward on a campaign promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The bill's reach extends far beyond legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington state, allowing the Canadian government to change criminal law nationally, license growers, and set product standards. (Alan Freeman)
- Thirteen student athletes in Texas were arrested after allegedly participating in “sadistic” hazing rituals including sodomy and sexual abuse with Gatorade bottles, flashlights and the threaded end of a carbon dioxide tank. The scandal has affected so many people in a tiny town that the Texas attorney general’s office has taken over the investigation. (Katie Mettler)
- A Detroit-area E.R. doctor has been charged with performing genital mutilation on young girls, in what is believed to be the first criminal case of its kind brought by U.S. prosecutors. (Matt Zapotosky)
- A lawsuit accusing New York Giants employees of creating counterfeit memorabilia has taken a stunning turn after Eli Manning produced emails that allegedly incriminate him in the scheme to peddle “game-worn” gear. The plaintiffs claim that the two-time Super Bowl MVP breached a contract to provide authentic equipment to Steiner Sports, acknowledging he would rather have team staffers create “BS” knock-off versions rather than “give up the real stuff.” (Des Bieler)
- Christian Bale will play Dick Cheney in an upcoming biopic that will be directed by Adam McKay, who made “The Big Short.” He is expected to be joined by Amy Adams and Steve Carell. (Page Six)
- The daughter of a cop who died on 9/11 has been sworn in as an NYPD cadet. She was seven when her father, a sergeant, perished. Now she's 22. “Since I was very young, I grew up seeing heroes,” said Brittney Roy. “It was a true aspiration to be able to try and follow his footsteps.” (New York Daily News)
- A fossil found by an elk hunter in Montana nearly seven years ago has led to the discovery of a new species of prehistoric sea creature that lived about 70 million years ago in the inland sea that flowed east of the Rocky Mountains. The new species of elasmosaur is detailed in an article published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. (AP)
-- Behind closed doors, the president signed legislation allowing states to withhold federal family planning dollars from clinics that provide abortion services – a move that could deprive Planned Parenthood and several other groups of tens of millions in funding. Juliet Eilperin reports: “The move marked the 12th time that Trump has signed a resolution under the 1996 Congressional Review Act to abolish a rule issued under [Obama]. While congressional Republicans have overturned several Obama-era rules with ease under the CRA — which allows lawmakers to nullify regulations within 60 legislative days of enactment as long as the president agrees — the elimination of the Health and Human Services regulation was more controversial.” Abortion-rights advocates have warned that the funding measure would deny as many as four million Americans access to family planning services. Though almost all of these signing ceremonies have taken place before cameras, this one was closed to the press and the president made no statement. (I wrote last month about other things the president has signed and not wanted the public to see.)
-- The Trump administration halted an Obama-era regulation aimed at limiting the dumping of toxic metals from the power plants into public waterways. Brady Dennis reports: “Beginning in 2018, power plants would have had to begin showing that they were using the most up-to-date technology to remove heavy metals — including lead, arsenic, mercury and other pollutants — from their wastewater. Scott Pruitt wrote that the EPA plans to postpone compliance deadlines for the regulation … [which it said] would cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year to comply with. The move drew immediate condemnation from environmental groups, which called it a gift to the energy industry. They insisted that the Trump administration focused only on potential costs of the rule while ignoring its benefits, and that delays in compliance will endanger wildlife and pose health threats to families that live near coal plants, as exposure to heavy metals can cause problems with cognitive development in children, among other problems.”
-- Ben Carson toured a Miami apartment complex Thursday that one his hosts said would not exist without the help of a grant that Trump wants eliminated. From the Miami Herald: “‘This building wouldn’t have come to fruition without the HOME fund,’ Stephanie Berman, president of Carrfour Supportive Housing, said a few steps from Carson during his tour of one of the charity’s Miami properties ... Trump’s push for a leaner HUD has Miami’s local governments on edge, given the county’s loss of $6 million in homeless grants under the Obama administration and the millions more of housing and development funds that flow from Carson’s agency into municipal budgets. HUD’s $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program — commonly known as ‘CDB’ — also would end under Trump’s budget. That could mean a loss of $4 million a year in Miami alone, according to a city analysis.”
-- U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said the agency has $20 million in funding to support a U.S.-Mexican border wall – enough to construct just seven miles of the 1,000-mile border wall Trump promised during his campaign. Current estimates to build the wall have soared past $20 billion, with existing fence along the border costing roughly $2.8 million per mile. The remaining cash would need to come from Congress, where lawmakers have indicated they are unlikely to foot the bill anytime soon. Mexico is not going to pay for it either. (ProPublica)
-- Blue-collar Trump supporters from the Rust Belt are standing by him, even after he flip-flopped on China, Danielle Paquette reports: “As he softened on China, a manufacturer in Ohio stayed calm. Steve Staub, president of Staub Manufacturing Solutions, a metalwork firm in Dayton, said trade with the Asian giant today is unfair to American businesses, who struggle to compete with Chinese firms built on cheaper labor. But the Trump voter still believes the president will deliver on his promise to protect blue-collar jobs — even though Trump just backed down from his pledge to label China a currency manipulator on ‘day one.’ ‘I’m not an economist,’ said Staub, 47. ‘I’m just a guy in Ohio trying to make parts. I’ll wait and see what happens.’”
-- “Trump as a ‘conventional Republican’? That’s what some in GOP establishment say they see,” by Abby Phillip and John Wagner: “In recent days, the president has done an about-face and embraced many of the policy positions he once scorned as the trappings of a foolhardy establishment. … Among those heartened by the changes is Elliott Abrams, a former ‘never Trump’ Republican who later had a change of heart but was rejected for a senior post in Trump’s State Department because he was considered too much of an ‘establishment Republican.’ ‘I would say this is looking more now like a more conventional Republican administration,’ said Abrams, who served as a foreign policy adviser in Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. ‘To me that’s a very good thing.’ … One former Trump aide, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said that the president is known to form initial opinions based on instinct but then to later change his stance based on new information and the influence of his advisers.”
WEST WING SURVIVOR:
-- How Gary Cohn emerged as a power center in the White House, via Damian Paletta: “[The former Goldman Sachs president] is capitalizing on his new position as director of Trump’s National Economic Council to push a centrist vision ... In a White House short on experienced personnel, Cohn has found an edge by hiring two dozen policy experts, most with government experience … [who have produced] detailed proposals on overhauling the tax code, rebuilding infrastructure, cutting back financial regulations and restructuring international trade deals. He is widely considered a future candidate to be chief of staff."
Now Cohn finds himself in the awkward position of being praised by Democrats but shunned by strong Trump allies. “Cohn might be a newbie to policy and Washington, but you have to give him credit for one thing: While others seemed engaged in ideological and ‘House of Cards’-like staff warfare, he quietly and quickly focused on the first rule of governing," said former NEC director Gene Sperling (who worked for Obama and Bill Clinton). "He hired some competent, professional staff at the NEC, and it has paid off for him.”
-- Stephen Miller, originally aligned with Steve Bannon, hedged his bets by cozying up to Jared Kushner. Politico’s Josh Dawsey and Eliana Johnson report: “As the relationship between Kushner and Bannon has deteriorated, Miller has made sure his colleagues know he’s not on Bannon’s team. The 31-year-old speechwriter is now working closely with Kushner’s Office of American Innovation, as well as on family leave, child care and women’s issues with Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump. … Miller, who wrote Trump’s fiery ‘American carnage’ inaugural address, continues to work on the president’s speeches but takes direction from others on their tone. He’s also begun working on energy and regulatory issues, while focusing less on immigration, the issue about which he’s long been most passionate. The shifting and seemingly divergent fortunes of the president’s most ideologically committed advisers, both nationalist firebrands who forged their partnership working together to scuttle the 2013 ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration reform bill, illustrates the changing imperatives for those closest to Trump as he learns how to govern.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:
-- “Why Trump’s Lawyer Was Sued Over $350,000 He Says He Doesn’t Remember Cashing,” by BuzzFeed’s Anthony Cormier: “Long before he became [Trump’s] feared attack dog, or began to visit the White House as the president’s personal attorney, or took a position with the [RNC] … Michael Cohen ran a small legal practice in Hell’s Kitchen. He was a one-man show and handled a little bit of everything, from personal injury cases to a Ukrainian investment fund to a fleet of taxis to a trust account he managed for clients. One day in 1999, a check for $350,000 was deposited into that trust account, to be disbursed to a woman living in South Florida. As the lawyer in charge of the account, Cohen was supposed to ensure that she got the money. But he didn’t. Why not? And what ultimately happened to all that money? ‘I don’t recall,’ Cohen said in a deposition. The missing $350,000 — which has never been recovered — became the centerpiece of a 2009 lawsuit in Miami, where Cohen was accused of civil fraud. After years of litigation, Cohen prevailed, in part because the suit was filed past the statute of limitations. But Cohen’s own testimony in the case reveals that the man who is now the president’s personal lawyer failed to execute one of the core duties of an attorney — properly handling money placed in his trust — and was cavalier about that failure.”
-- Trump quietly tapped former Washington state senator Don Benton to run the Selective Service System that oversees the U.S. military draft, even though he’s never served a day in uniform. The Huffington Post’s Christina Wilkie reports: “Benton had originally been expected to fill a top position at the [EPA] where he was part of the Trump ‘landing team’ during the presidential transition. But this was before Benton began to infuriate his boss, the newly confirmed Administrator Scott Pruitt. Benton’s habit of interrupting policy discussions to make bizarre comments became so maddening … that senior staff began keeping him out of policy meetings. All of which posed a dilemma for the president: On one hand, Benton was an early Trump supporter and the chair of Trump’s Washington state campaign. Given how few Republican legislators were early Trump supporters, there was a real desire to reward each one. On the other hand, the agency where Benton was actually qualified to work, the EPA, did not want to hire him. So Trump’s solution was to give Benton oversight of the military draft.”
-- British spy agencies were the first to spot Trump team’s links with Russia last year, and played a “crucial” role in alerting their counterparts in Washington, The Guardian’s Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins report: “GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious 'interactions' between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents … This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added. Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump's inner circle and Russians, sources said. Australia, a member of the ‘Five Eyes’ spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US.”
THE MOTHER OF ALL BOMBS:
-- The U.S. military dropped a 22,000-pound bomb on Islamic State forces in eastern Afghanistan Thursday, Pentagon officials confirmed, unleashing America’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Erin Cunningham report: “Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the bomb was ‘the right munition’ to use against the Islamic State because of the group’s use of roadside bombs, bunkers and tunnels.” The bomb is known as the GBU-43 and is one of the largest airdropped munitions in the U.S. military’s inventory – for comparison, U.S. aircraft commonly drop bombs that weigh between 250 to 2,000 pounds. The last time it was almost used was 2003 in the opening salvos of the Iraq war.
"The U.S. has targeted similar complexes and dropped tens of thousands of bombs in Afghanistan, raising the question of why a bomb of this size was needed Thursday,” our colleagues write. “It was unclear what the GBU-43 strike accomplished, as the bomb is not designed to penetrate hardened targets such as bunkers or cave complexes.” The bomb comes just one week after the Pentagon ordered a high-profile strike in Syria.
-- Afghan officials said Friday that the bomb killed 36 Islamic State militants – a revelation that is likely to raise further questions about the decision to deploy the 22,000-pound device. No civilians were reported killed.
-- Trump praised the operation Thursday as another success for "MY military," a formulation that has alarmed some veterans who feel like the Armed Forces do not belong to any one man. “We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and frankly that’s why they’ve been so successful lately,” he said. Still, the president declined to say whether he personally approved the Afghanistan strike -- a question also dodged by Sean Spicer in Thursday's press briefing. “What I do is I authorize my military,” Trump told reporters.
-- The bombing also raises a bigger, more critical, question: what is Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan? “During the 2016 campaign, candidates scarcely mentioned the war in Afghanistan, [and] the Trump administration has yet to spell out its broader strategy in a conflict that U.S. military commanders have called a stalemate. … On Wednesday, Trump said his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, would be visiting Afghanistan soon. Central Command commander Gen. Joseph Votel has hinted at requesting thousands of more U.S. troops to help buoy the fledgling Afghan military.”
-- Meanwhile: Aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition accidently bombed friendly Syrian forces on Tuesday, the Pentagon said, leaving 18 dead in what is the worst confirmed friendly-fire incident in the war against ISIS militants. Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports: “The coalition said in a statement that the airstrike was requested by ‘partnered forces’ near the town of Tabqa who accidentally targeted a group of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. The partnered forces believed that the SDF’s position belonged to the Islamic State, the statement said. According to a U.S. official … an SDF unit in close proximity to the Islamic State defense lines reported its location incorrectly. When other SDF forces saw what they thought were Islamic State fighters, they ordered a strike–but it turned out to be on the SDF fighters who had provided the wrong location.” Before this week’s incident, U.S.-led forces had acknowledged two friendly-fire events in the fight against ISIS, occurring in December 2015 and January 2016. Pentagon officials said the coalition is reviewing the incident and will “implement appropriate safeguards to prevent similar incidents in the future.” Multiple nations, including Belgium, Denmark and Australia, participate in the air war against the Islamic State, and it is unclear whether any country besides the U.S. was involved in Tuesday’s errant strike.
-- “Republican House leader avoids selling GOP health-care plan at home,” by Paige Winfield Cunningham: “Rep. Greg Walden is one of the Republican House leaders who crafted the measure to overhaul the health-care system … But when faced with a large crowd of angry constituents in his district this week, the Oregon Republican seemed reluctant to claim the legislation as his own … [instead stressing the parts] of the Affordable Care Act that he wants to keep. That did not stop about 1,500 of his constituents who packed this liberal area at two town halls on Wednesday from slamming the congressman for wanting to overhaul Obamacare in a state that heavily relies on it. ‘Why don’t you go back to Washington, [and] in the spirit of bipartisanship, grow a pair, sit down with Nancy Pelosi and say, ‘Let’s fix Obamacare,’' said one middle-aged man … Like many House Republicans, Walden has spent the past seven years attacking Obamacare and promising to repeal and replace it if the GOP secured one-party rule in Washington. But now that Walden has his wish, eliminating Obamacare is proving extremely difficult and politically dangerous."
-- “Trump’s threat prompts Democrats to play hardball over Obamacare payments,” by Mike DeBonis: “Democrats signaled that they will seek to secure payments owed to health insurers under the Affordable Care Act as part of pending negotiations over a government spending bill Thursday — a new wrinkle in sensitive talks that emerged a day after [Trump] threatened to use the payments to force Democrats to negotiate a replacement for the ACA. The ‘cost-sharing reduction’ payments are meant to subsidize out-of-pocket expenses for low-income Americans who receive insurance through ACA marketplaces, and the payments are seen as a key factor in maintaining the stability of the market for individual insurance in many states. House Republicans sued the administration of President Barack Obama over the payments, and they have been tied up in litigation for months as insurers have warned that the impasse could threaten coverage for many Americans. Two Democratic aides … said Trump’s remarks have now put the issue among the party’s top priorities as they negotiate a spending bill. Current federal appropriations expire April 28, and a partial government shutdown would follow if Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on how to extend funding.”
PUNDITS WEIGH IN ON SYRIA:
-- Post columnist David Ignatius says Trump got a “taste of success” in Syria because he has assembled a competent national security team – and is listening to its advice: “There was a consensus among his top advisers for a quick, limited strike on a Syrian air base, and Trump took the recommendation. He didn’t amplify, augment or otherwise disrupt it with his own tweets. He allowed the process to work. Comity reigns in part because Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hammer out common positions before every meeting in the Situation Room. … [And] the Trump team, for now, is basking in self-congratulation. Yes, [Trump’s new approach] brings him closer to the foreign policy mainstream that he and Bannon derided during the campaign. But it also gives him a taste of the success he craves.”
-- Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer says “America demonstrated its capacity for swift, decisive action": “It took Trump 63 hours to make Assad pay for his chemical-weapons duplicity. ... And in defense, mind you, of an abstract international norm — a rationale that dramatically overrides the constraints of America First. The larger lesson is this: In the end, national interest prevails. Populist isolationism sounds great, rouses crowds and may even win elections. But contra White House adviser Stephen Bannon, it’s not a governing foreign policy for the United States. … This is not to say that things could not change tomorrow. We’ve just witnessed one about-face. With a president who counts unpredictability as a virtue, he could well reverse course again. For now, however, the traditionalists are in the saddle.”
FOR YOUR RADAR -- NINE DAYS UNTIL THE FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL VOTE:
-- New York Times, “Le Pen’s Inner Circle Fuels Doubt About Bid to ‘Un-Demonize’ Her Party,” by Adam Nossiter: “Little more than a week before France’s presidential election, Marine Le Pen remains a front-runner after working hard to sanitize the image of her party, the National Front, and to distance it from the uglier associations of Europe’s far right. But descriptions of the inner workings of her party by present and former close Le Pen associates, as well as court documents, raise fresh doubts about the success and sincerity of those efforts. Even before Ms. Le Pen’s remarks this week denying France’s culpability in a notorious wartime roundup of Jews, recent revelations in the French news media … revived nagging concerns about the sympathies of the woman who would be France’s next president. Two men in her innermost circle — Frédéric Chatillon and Axel Loustau — are well-known former members of a violent, far-right student union that fought pitched battles with leftists and took a turn toward Hitler nostalgia in the mid-1990s. They are longtime associates of Ms. Le Pen since her days in law school in the 1980s and remain among her closest friends.”
-- From The Economist: “[Le Pen] is unlikely to become president; France’s two-round system inoculates against extremist parties like her National Front. Polls find her losing the run-off by wide margins against all potential challengers. But like the meteor that wiped out Tyrannosaurus Rex, her victory would be a low-probability, high-impact event. … Ms Le Pen aims to withdraw France from the euro, the EU’s passport-free Schengen area, and possibly the EU itself. The EU can cope with small troublemakers like Hungary or Greece. But to lose a large founding member would throw its future into question. Betting markets rate her chances between 20-25%; the Eurasia Group, a consultancy, puts them at nearly 40%. These are not numbers that should let Europe sleep easy.”
-- “Big Sur usually can’t keep people away. Right now, it’s practically deserted,” by Sara Solovitch: An estimated two million tourists flock to Big Sur annually just to drive Highway 1, the route that cuts through Big Sur on California’s scenic Central Coast. “But today [they] are gone and Highway 1 is car-free, home instead to pickup basketball games, mothers pushing strollers, and skateboarders whizzing by … The ‘island’ of Big Sur — for that’s what this iconic stretch of coastline has become — is entering its ninth week of nearly total isolation, thanks to punishing winter storms, landslides and a failed bridge. The rain … left Highway 1 cut off from the rest of California, with few services for the 450 men, women and children who live here. That means no mail delivery, a limited supply of gasoline, and a single deli where you can buy eggs. Legendary restaurants and businesses have been temporarily shuttered and the majority of their staffs laid off. Workers are dipping into 401(k) accounts just to pay their rent. Even the resident monks have been forced to pass around the modern-day collection plate known as GoFundMe … For the time being, the only way in and out is a grueling hike, a pricey helicopter ride or an otherwise closed road to the south that is accessible briefly in the morning and again in the afternoon. 'To have your habits cut off so suddenly … There’s a nightmarish aspect to it,' says Peter Marshall, a gardener who has lived here 33 years."
-- Smart frame --> “There’s a word that no longer describes the federal appeals court in Richmond: Conservative,” by Anne E. Marimow: “A portfolio of Southern cases, genteel courtroom traditions and years of forceful conservative rulings shape the enduring image of the federal appeals court in Richmond. But the bench has shed its conservative label, undergoing a sea change in the past decade, and is poised to have an immediate impact on the fledgling Trump administration. Starting next month, the full court will take up the president’s entry ban for immigrants from some countries, followed by the case of a transgender teen whose battle to use a boy’s bathroom challenges the president’s new policy. Since taking office, [Trump] has harshly criticized federal judges … as in ‘chaos’ and ‘turmoil.’ Yet the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, a Richmond-based venue the administration might once have found reliably hospitable, now has a higher proportion of judges tapped by Democrats than most of the nation’s 13 circuit courts. A test of how far the 4th Circuit bench has tilted left will come May 8. The court announced this week that it would bypass the traditional three-judge panel and gather that day as a full complement en banc to review Trump’s entry ban.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in his first speech since taking over the agency, lambasted WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange -- calling the group a "non-state hostile intelligence service" that is often abetted by "state actors like Russia." Speaking Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Pompeo called Assange a "fraud," someone with no “moral compass” and a “narcissist who has created nothing of value.” (Fox News has more.)
Flashback: The president said this six months ago:
Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2016
Pompeo himself has deleted his tweet, but he also touted Wikileaks after it posted hacked emails:
Mike Pompeo was sharing Wikileaks documents on his Congressional Twitter account less than a year ago pic.twitter.com/cl5P6vnXSE— Jessica Schulberg (@jessicaschulb) April 13, 2017
Some commentary from a Hillary alumna on Trump's actions on abortion funding:
I hope the next recipient of a "leak" about Ivanka pushing her dad on women's rights remembers today's bill to let states defund PPFA.— Christina Reynolds (@creynoldsnc) April 14, 2017
This anti-abortion Republican group cheered the decision:
Democrats trolled Jared Kushner:
I've filled out SF-86 forms. If I omitted contacts w/ foreign agents, my security clearance would have been suspended pending investigation. https://t.co/34h26WcOo3— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) April 14, 2017
Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) was the latest Republican to face rowdy crowds at a town hall. Some tweets courtesy of The Arizona Republic's national political reporter:
More cheers when town-hall speaker tells Sen. @JeffFlake, "You sold my privacy up the river."— Dan Nowicki (@dannowicki) April 14, 2017
Crowd leaps to its feet when lady tells @JeffFlake she wants none of her tax dollars to go for a border wall. Chant: "No stupid wall!"— Dan Nowicki (@dannowicki) April 14, 2017
Flake says no matter how one feels about the abortion issue, taxpayer dollars shouldn't be used. Crowd gets angry again.— Dan Nowicki (@dannowicki) April 14, 2017
I'd estimate this crowd is 70-80% hostile to Flake. He can barely get a word out without audience drowning him out with boos and heckles.— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) April 14, 2017
Calling all United passengers:
Well, I'm sure this will go well. pic.twitter.com/3JYoIiM6eJ— Robert Mays (@robertmays) April 13, 2017
Check out the new NBC News line-up:
The new governor of West Virginia, Democrat Jim Justice, vetoed the budget that passed the legislature. For a photo opp, he brought cow dung to the Capitol and a hamburger with nothing inside:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Buzzfeed, “How Russia Hacked Obama’s Legacy,” by Hayes Brown: “No one from the Obama administration seems to remember when they figured out they were falling victim to one of the greatest intelligence operations in history. ‘This was the kind of realization that came incrementally,’ [said a former] State Department official … ‘There wasn’t a moment where you realized that Pearl Harbor had been hit by kamikaze or that the World Trade Center has been hit.’ Now, as two congressional committees and the FBI investigate Russia's role in the election, former Obama officials find themselves grappling with a new legacy, one that formed at the 11th hour of their time in power. As they looked toward a world where pariahs like Iran and Cuba were won over with diplomacy, they fell victim to a sneak attack by an old adversary. And they let it happen, offering up stern warnings and finger-wagging instead of adequately punishing Russia for achieving something that even the Soviet Union at the height of its power couldn’t manage: meddling in the US election and rattling Americans’ trust in their democracy.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Kansas Official Thinks Millions Of Non-Citizens Could Have Voted. It Took Him Two Years To Convict Just One,” from HuffPost: “Nearly two years after getting the authority to prosecute voter fraud, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced Wednesday he had obtained his first conviction of a non-citizen who had voted. Kobach, who has made the unsubstantiated claim that millions of non-citizens could be registered to vote across the country, said that Victor David Garcia-Bebek, had pleaded guilty to voter fraud and illegally voted in a 2012 special and general election, as well as a 2014 general election. Kobach had pushed for prosecutorial authority, arguing he needed it to crack down on voter fraud. However, from 1997 to 2010, there were only 11 confirmed cases of it in Kansas. There were 1,788,673 registered voters in the state … During a February interview on Fox Business Network, Kobach cited an unnamed ‘expert’ as saying as many as 18,000 non-citizens could be on the voting rolls in Kansas, but conceded that he believed only a fraction of that number were actually voting in elections.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“New York to provide lawyers for immigrants facing deportation,” from CNN: “Undocumented immigrants in New York who can't afford a lawyer and are facing deportation will soon have access to free legal counsel. The New York governor's office said last week that it is allocating $10 million in its fiscal 2018 budget toward creating a legal defense fund ‘to ensure all immigrants, regardless of residency status, have access to representation.’ Unlike U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants don't have the right to free legal counsel. Called the Liberty Defense Project, the funding is part of a public-private partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford Foundation. So far, the non-profit organizations have contributed $1.5 million, making the total funds available $11.5 million.”
Today is Good Friday. Trump has a quiet weekend at Mar-a-Lago. Mike Pence heads to Asia on Sunday. Congress is on recess.
-- D.C. Park Service officials said they are expecting thousands of people to flood Washington on Saturday for a “Tax Day” march calling for Trump to release his returns. Perry Stein has a preview: “An idea that sprung from a law professor’s tweet after [Trump’s] inauguration will unfold Saturday on the Mall, where thousands of protesters plan to call on Trump to release his personal tax returns. The demonstration is expected to be the largest of more than 100 affiliated protests planned across the country. The Tax March, which falls on the nation’s traditional April 15 deadline to file taxes, is expected to be one of the most high-profile demonstrations of the Trump era since protesters around the world participated in women’s marches — marches that served as an unprecedented rebuke to Trump’s presidency on his first full day in office. Marchers in Washington are expected to be joined by those in more than 100 other cities across the country and around the world, including New Orleans, San Antonio, Nashville and London, organizers say.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone explained how chief strategist Steve Bannon became so isolated: "I think Steve made an error by not spending any of his political capital to bring other Trump-ites and non-globalists into the White House circle. So now he's alone," Stone told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press Daily.” "Now he's alone and he's surrounded.” Stone said Trump surrounded himself with "establishment Republicans who I don't think understand Trumpism."
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- TGIF! More good weather coming our way, per today’s Capital Weather Gang forecast: “Looking decent, even with periodic clouds at times. High temperatures aim for the mid-60s to around 70. Light, generally easterly breezes around 5 mph may feel refreshing when walking on the (strong) sunny side of the street. If clouds really dominate, they may subtract a couple more degrees.”
-- The Capitals beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime to win the first game of the playoffs.
-- Every parent's worst nightmare: A felled tree struck and killed a two-year-old boy and seriously injured his five-year-old brother, after their father cut it down in the family’s La Plata yard, Charles County Sheriff’s officials said. Officers found the injured boys in the backyard of their home in the 8900 block of Turkey Hill Road about 6:20 p.m., said Diane Richardson, a spokeswoman. Authorities flew the brothers to a hospital, where the two-year-old was later pronounced dead. The older boy was hospitalized in serious condition. According to the initial investigation, the boys were watching their father cut down the tree from a distance of about 50 feet when the tree suddenly fell toward them, Richardson said. Police continue to investigate. (Clarence Williams)
-- Virginia health officials said that drug overdoses caused by fentanyl increased by 175 percent between 2015 and 2016, an alarming jump that helps explain why there were 1,400 overdose deaths in the commonwealth last year. (Patricia Sullivan)
-- A 27-year-old bicyclist was charged with disobeying a traffic device after police said he fatally struck Kiplinger editor Jane Bennett Clark as she tried to cross the street in Northwest Washington. It is unclear whether he will face additional charges in her death. (Peter Hermann)
-- The Virginia Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Fairfax County student who said a school board decision expanding anti-discrimination policies to protect LBGT students left him “traumatized” and in distress. (Moriah Balingit)
-- Fire personnel rescued 24 people from a glitchy roller coaster at Six Flags America in Maryland last night, using a cherry picker to bring down riders after they were abruptly stopped some 75 feet in the air. And it’s not the first time the high-speed thrill ride has caused problems – in 2014, riders were stuck atop “Jokers Jinx” for as long as five hours. (Justin Wm. Moyer and Clarence Williams)
-- A 20-year-old Annandale man is facing hate-related charges after he allegedly defaced a Jewish community center, a church and a community college with anti-Semitic graffiti and stickers. He is also charged with hanging anti-Semitic fliers on a college campus in March. (Justin Jouvenal and Justin Wm. Moyer)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
What does it mean to “make America great again”? In a little noticed but important speech to Christian pastors last week, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) – who earned a Ph.D. in history from Yale – decried the alt-right movement as inconsistent with America’s founding ideals. Yahoo’s Jon Ward, the only journalist who covered the speech, notes that the Breitbart crowd believes America’s greatness originated or resides in European or white Christian culture. Sasse made the case to a group called the Gospel Coalition that America’s identity is bound up in an idea, not a piece of land or any racial group. “American exceptionalism was never a claim about ethnicity. American exceptionalism was never a claim about Americans’ unique anthropology,” Sasse said in Indianapolis. “American exceptionalism was an understanding about the historical moment in which the American founding flipped on its head the relationship between rights and government. … That’s all American exceptionalism means.”
In which Jeffrey Lord compares Trump to Martin Luther King Jr.:
A Russian diplomat demands attention at the U.N.:
There's more to Trump's NEA cuts than meets the eye:
See how cartoonists are mocking Sean Spicer's comparison of Hitler to Assad:
Scientists say "SHERLOCK" changes the game:
Watch the California wildflower "super bloom:"
Conan shows us the strange SCOTUS hazing ritual:
Finally, watch kids tell the story of Easter: