With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: Sally Yates’s riveting testimony Monday raised far more questions than it answered. Most of all, it cast fresh doubts on Donald Trump’s judgment.
The former acting attorney general disclosed that, 18 days before Michael Flynn resigned, she unambiguously warned White House Counsel Donald McGahn that the national security adviser was “compromised by the Russians” and “could be blackmailed.”
Worried about the danger, Yates said she moved with great “urgency.” The FBI interviewed Flynn on Jan. 24th. Yates got a detailed readout on the 25th from the agents who talked with him. Early on the morning of the 26th, she called McGahn and asked to come over to discuss a serious matter that was too sensitive to talk about over the phone.
In a secure room, she revealed that Vice President Pence and other White House officials were making false statements to the public regarding Flynn’s conversations in December with Sergey Kislyak. Intercepts reviewed by U.S. intelligence officials showed that the national security adviser had indeed discussed sanctions, despite his repeated public and private denials.
Yates explained that “the underlying conduct General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself,” but she said the bigger worry among senior Justice Department officials was that “the Russians also knew what (he) had done.” “This was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information,” she told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. “And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.”
The next morning, McGahn phoned Yates and asked her to return. In her telling, the president’s lawyer wondered whether Flynn could and would be prosecuted. He also wanted to see proof. “One of the questions that Mr. McGahn asked me when I went back over the second day was essentially, ‘Why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another White House official?’” Yates recounted in her testimony. “So we explained to him that … the misrepresentations were getting more and more specific. … Every time that happened, it increased the compromise and, to state the obvious, you don't want your national security advisor compromised with the Russians.”
-- Yates’s no-nonsense testimony, delivered with the firmness of someone who spent 27 years at the Justice Department, underscored why the administration and its allies tried to block her from telling her story publicly until now. Devin Nunes canceled a House Intelligence Committee hearing that had been scheduled for last month, and Trump’s team tried to assert executive privilege before backing down under pressure.
-- Under oath, noting that she has a senior civil servant from inside the Justice Department’s National Security Division who will back her up as an outside witness, Yates outlined a version of events that is at odds with public statements made by the White House chief of staff. Reince Priebus has tried to downplay what Yates told McGahn. “Our legal counsel got a heads-up from Sally Yates that something wasn’t adding up with his story. And then so our legal department went into a review of the situation,” Priebus said on CBS “Face the Nation” in February. “The legal department came back and said they didn’t see anything wrong with what was actually said.”
-- The meetings and phone calls Yates described could have been ripped from a good spy thriller. McGahn asked Yates how Flynn had done during his FBI interview. “I declined to give him an answer to that,” she said. He also told her the White House was concerned that taking action might interfere with the FBI investigation. “And we told him, both the senior career official and I, that he should not be concerned with it,” Yates explained, “In fact, I remember specifically saying, ‘You know it wouldn't really be fair of us to tell you this and then expect you to sit on your hands.’” (Read the full transcript of the three-hour-and-15-minute hearing here.)
-- It appeared that there was a great deal more Yates wished she could share, but most of the information surrounding everything that happened remains classified. “Where there is smoke there is not necessarily fire. But there is so much smoke from the Trump-Russia probe that you can’t get near it without a respirator,” Dana Milbank writes in his column. “Monday’s hearing further pumped the bellows.”
-- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) drew parallels to Watergate: “Many years ago, an 18-minute gap transfixed the country and got everybody's attention in another investigation. In this case, we have an 18-day gap between the notification … and action being taken.”
-- With congressional inquiries and an FBI investigation ongoing, here are 10 significant and unanswered questions related to this scandal:
1. Did McGahn travel to the Justice Department to review the evidence against Flynn? If so, when? On Jan. 30, Yates let McGahn know that the intelligence he asked for was ready to be reviewed. She got fired that same night for refusing to defend the president’s travel ban. Thus she could not say either way whether the White House counsel ever came to review the material.
2. What exactly did the president know and when did he know it? Sean Spicer said during his briefing on February 14th that, "Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation, the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of senior advisors. The White House Counsel reviewed and determined that there is not a legal issue, but rather a trust issue.”
3. Assuming McGahn passed along to Trump what Yates had told him, why did the president choose to keep a “compromised” national security adviser in his inner circle? Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) speculated that Trump might have been protecting Flynn primarily to prevent more people from falling: “You ask yourself, why wouldn't you fire a guy who did this? And all I can think of is that he would say, ‘Well, we've got all these other people in the administration who have had contacts. We have all these other people in the administration who coordinated, who are talking.’ Maybe that. We're trying to put a puzzle together here, everybody. And maybe, just maybe, he didn't get rid of a guy who lied to the vice president, who got paid by the Russians (and) who went on Russia Today because there are other people in his administration who met secretly with the Russians and didn't reveal it until … they were caught. That may be why it took him 18 days, until it became public, to get rid of Mike Flynn, who is a danger to this republic.” After outlining this theory, Franken asked Yates: “Care to comment?” “I don't think I'm going to touch that, senator,” she replied.
4. What contacts did Flynn have with the Russians during the 18 days the White House knew he’d been compromised but he remained as national security adviser? Two days after Yates alerted McGahn about a threat from within, Flynn sat in the Oval Office with Trump as he talked to Vladimir Putin on the phone. During Flynn’s tenure, he had several follow-up conversations with Kislyak, and at one point Flynn even proposed that the two have lunch. “The Russian Embassy called repeatedly to collect on that offer, officials said, until Flynn was fired and the calls stopped,” Greg Miller and Adam Entous scooped last Friday.
5. Would Trump have ever acted if The Washington Post hadn’t broken the story that Flynn was not telling the truth? It appears no meaningful action was taken until The Post reported details on Feb. 9 of the Flynn-Kislyak conversation that contradicted what he had told his West Wing colleagues. Even then, it took four more days for Flynn to go. In that time, he traveled with Trump to Mar-a-Lago for a bilateral meeting with the leader of Japan. Who knows how long Trump would have tried to sit on what Yates had said if the truth had never come out via the press?
What’s more, why would Trump allow Flynn to save face by “resigning” – as opposed to “firing” him? Some White House officials insisted on the night Flynn got ousted that it was a resignation, not a termination.
Spicer refused to engage substantively on any question like this yesterday. All he would say is, “The president took appropriate action when he did, once he felt that General Flynn had misled the vice president. … I don't think we're going to re-litigate this. The president made the right decision back then and he stands by that.”
Since Flynn’s departure, the president has called Flynn a good man and characterized him as the victim of a witch hunt. He also reportedly told staff just this past Sunday to stop feeding negative lines about Flynn to the press.
6. Why did Trump completely dismiss Obama’s warning about Flynn? It emerged yesterday in the hours before the hearing that Barack Obama personally told his successor he should not hire Flynn during their sit-down two days after the election. The outgoing president had fired Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. The warning about Flynn “was not a prepared talking point,” a former Obama administration official told Philip Rucker, meaning it was not a subject that Obama had planned to raise with his successor: But as the two men discussed personnel, Obama expressed caution about putting Flynn in a high-level position. There were multiple reasons, including Flynn’s poor performance leading the DIA, his attendance at the RT event in Moscow and his controversial statements on Islam. “There wasn’t certainly at the time the thought that he’s compromised” by his association with Russia, the former official said. “It was more a confluence of red flags.”
Spicer confirmed that Obama warned Trump about Flynn, but he dismissed it as sour grapes from a sore loser. When a reporter asked whether Obama’s comment “gave (Trump) any pause at all,” Spicer said no. “He made it clear that he wasn't a fan of his, and I don't think that should've come as a surprise, considering the role that General Flynn played in the campaign,” the press secretary replied.
The previous questions have focused on the 18 days, but another way to think about this donnybrook is that it took 95 days from when Obama first raised red flags to when Flynn left the White House.
7. What exactly did foreign intelligence agencies turn over to their American counterparts? James Clapper, who also testified yesterday, was asked about a news report that Britain's intelligence service first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious interactions between Trump advisers and Russian intelligence agents. The same story also said multiple European allies passed along information in the spring of 2016. Asked if that is accurate, the former director of national intelligence replied: “Yes, it is and it's also quite sensitive. … The specifics are quite sensitive.”
8. What is the current status of the FBI investigation into whether any of the president’s associates coordinated with the Russians to meddle in the presidential election? James Comey has confirmed that the FBI is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and that this includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who chaired the subcommittee hearing, asked Yates if she had any evidence that would suggest that anybody in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government intelligence services. “Senator, my answer to that question would require me to reveal classified information,” she said. “So I can't answer that.” She circled back later to clarify, “Just because I say I can't answer it, you should not draw from that an assumption that that means that the answer is yes.”
9. Why is Trump still so cagey when it comes to assigning blame to Russia for election interference? Administration officials have taken a harder line on Russia since the chemical weapons attack in Syria, but the president himself has not always followed suit. Asked last week whether he now believes the allegations of Russian meddling in the election, Trump deflected. He said he’ll “go along” with the intelligence community’s consensus but then quickly added that it “could have been China.” “Could’ve been a lot of different groups,” he told CBS’s John Dickerson.
Clapper said it’s not helpful when people don’t acknowledge who was really behind the cyberattacks. “They must be congratulating themselves for having exceeded their wildest expectations,” he said of the Russians. “They are now emboldened to continue such activities in the future, both here and around the world, and to do so even more intensely. … If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundations of our democratic political system, this episode is it.”
10. Will Flynn face any criminal charges? Yates declined to say whether Flynn may face criminal charges related to what he said during his interview with the FBI in January. The retired general is also under investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general over $45,000 he accepted for appearing at a 2015 event in Russia and $530,000 his former consulting firm was paid for work tied to the Turkish government. NBC News reported yesterday that the Defense Intelligence Agency also didn't know Flynn had been paid nearly $34,000 by Russia Today when it renewed his security clearance in April 2016.
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- FBI Director James B. Comey overstated key findings involving the Hillary Clinton email investigation during testimony to Congress last week, according to people close to the inquiry. Devlin Barrett reports: “In defending the probe, Comey offered seemingly new details to underscore the seriousness of the situation FBI agents faced last fall when they discovered thousands of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s emails on the computer of her husband, Anthony Weiner. ‘Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information,’ Comey said, adding later, ‘His then-spouse Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him I think to print out for her so she could then deliver them to the secretary of state.’ At another point in the testimony, Comey said Abedin ‘forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information.’”
Neither of those statements was accurate, said people close to the investigation: “The inquiry found that Abedin did occasionally forward emails to her husband for printing, but it was a far smaller number than Comey described, and it wasn’t a ‘regular practice,” these people said. None of the forwarded emails were marked classified, but a small number — a handful, one person said — contained information that was later judged to contain classified information, these people said. Justice Department and FBI officials are considering whether and how to clarify the misstatements, said people familiar with the matter. The issue of the misstatements was first reported by ProPublica.”
-- Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban. From Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe: “The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table. The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and ‘start winning’ again. … The new strategy, which has the backing of top Cabinet officials, would authorize the Pentagon, not the White House, to set troop numbers in Afghanistan and give the military far broader authority to use airstrikes to target Taliban militants. It would also lift Obama-era restrictions that limited the mobility of U.S. military advisers on the battlefield."
- The plan envisions an increase of at least 3,000 U.S. troops to an existing force of about 8,400. The U.S. force would also be bolstered by requests for matching troops from NATO nations.
- Trump is expected to make a final call on the strategy before a May 25 NATO summit in Brussels that he plans to attend.
- The proposal faces resistance from some senior administration officials who fear a repeat of earlier decisions to intensify military efforts that produced only temporary improvements: “Inside the White House, those opposed to the plan have begun to refer derisively to the strategy as ‘McMaster’s War,’ a reference to H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser. (The general) was one of the architects of President George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq.”
-- The facts on the ground, via Pamela Constable in Kabul: “Seeking to capitalize on the death of a top Islamic State commander, Afghan forces have surged through districts in eastern Afghanistan long held by the radical Islamist group as warplanes have pounded militant hideouts in the past week. The offensive in Nangahar province is targeting Islamic State fighters at a time when their numbers are down and their leadership is in disarray after a U.S.-Afghan commando raid in late April killed the group’s senior regional leader, Abdul Hasib. It also underscores the intensifying focus on Nangahar, where on April 13 the U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on a complex of caves and tunnels used by the Islamic State, reportedly killing 36 militants. Nangahar, on the border with Pakistan, is a main route for militant fighters and supplies.”
BACK FROM THE BRINK:
-- The Washington Capitals were businesslike in their clinical 5-2 dismantling of the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, and they played with the poise of a team whose work isn’t done yet. Isabelle Khurshudyan reports: “The Capitals tied this Eastern Conference semifinal series at three games apiece to force a Game 7 in Washington on Wednesday night, staving off elimination for a second straight game. This win was the Capitals’ most impressive of the postseason as they controlled play the entire night and didn’t allow the Penguins to possess the puck long enough to score until the game was out of hand with less than four minutes left. Pittsburgh finished with just 18 shots on goal, tying its season low.”
- Barry Svrluga analysis: “The Capitals — not the Penguins — suddenly look like the team with all the answers.”
- Stat du jour, via Scott Allen’s “best and worst” column: “The Capitals have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in franchise history, most recently in 2009.”
- Jesse Dougherty previews what to watch for in game seven.
GET SMART FAST:
- Life expectancy in the U.S. is growing overall, but declining in some areas. A new study finds gaping new geographical disparities. Americans in some counties are expected to live more than 20 years longer than their fellow citizens in other counties. (Joel Achenbach)
- Archaeologists who discovered a new species of human cousin known as the Homo naledi in 2015 said this week that its bones are as recent as 236,000 years old – a stunning new finding that would place Homo naledi in Africa at roughly the same time as early humans. (Sarah Kaplan)
- In 2013, a ship carrying hundreds of Syrian refugees capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, causing more than 200 people to lose their lives in one of the worst tragedies of the European refugee crisis. But newly-leaked audio footage suggests Italian authorities had known about the refugees’ sinking ship for hours – choosing to ignore multiple distress calls from the desperate migrants in their final hours of life. (Anna Momigliano)
- Tiffany Trump will attend Georgetown Law School in the fall. It is ranked 15th by U.S. News. The first daughter toured Harvard, Columbia and NYU. Like her dad and half-sister, Ivanka, she attended Penn for undergrad. (Politico’s Daniel Lippman)
- Bill Clinton and James Patterson are writing a suspense novel together called “The President is Missing.” The unlikely duo will tour together after the book comes out in June 2018. The novel will provide readers with “behind-the-scenes global drama from the highest corridors of power." (NBC News)
- Best-selling author Curtis Sittenfeld announced hours later that she also has a Clinton-related piece of fiction in the works – imagining an alternate reality in which a young Hillary Rodham never agreed to marry Bill. It’s expected to hit shelves in 2019. (USA Today)
- Phoenix cops think they've caught a serial killer who has been terrorizing the city for more than a year. He was known to quietly stalk his victims in the dark before gunning them down outside their property. Authorities identified the suspect as Aaron Saucedo, a 23-year-old bus driver, but have provided scant detail about what motivated him or how they finally made a break in the case. (AP)
- Former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez belonged to the "Bloods" street gang and had been disciplined for having gang paraphernalia before he was found dead in his prison cell last month. (Cindy Boren)
- An Indonesian court sentenced Jakarta’s minority-Christian governor to two years in prison for allegedly “blaspheming” the Quran – a jarring ruling that set off scores of angry protesters, and undermines the reputation of the world’s largest Muslim nation for practicing a “moderate” form of Islam. (AP)
- Officials are investigating a freak “bouncy castle” accident in Spain. One child died and six others were injured after the inflatable structure inexplicably floated 70 feet into the air. (Peter Holley)
- Luxury handbag maker Coach is buying rival Kate Spade. The $2.4 billion deal would bring together two New York-based brands that have competed in recent years to win over younger customers. (Abha Bhattarai)
-- The Health 202 debuted this morning! The first edition explains why the hard part of the health reform debate is just starting. Sign up for future editions of Paige Winfield Cunningham's newsletter here.
-- Iowa Rep. Rod Blum, a Freedom Caucus member, walked out of a combative television interview Monday and into a crowd of hundreds of angry, screaming constituents – struggling, in two very different settings, to defend his choices amid outrage over the GOP health-care bill. Ed O’Keefe was there: “The way Blum struggled to explain his vote — through the loud boos of rowdy, impolite and infuriated constituents — is just a narrow sampling of the growing concern and confusion caused by Republican plans to revamp the nation’s health-care system. But it indicates the difficult balancing act many Republican lawmakers from swing districts will need to strike as the complex debate continues in Washington. With his wife and daughter in the crowd, people in the prescreened crowd shouted at Blum throughout the evening, complaining that he started late [and] didn’t immediately start answering questions about health care …” “You voted on this bill in a rush — there were no committee hearings,” one woman complained. “This pertains to my life. This is not democracy works and you know that. … What was the rush?”
Anticipating he would need to answer detailed questions about the health-care bill, Blum had a copy of the legislation with him on stage, plus charts and graphs explaining the changes. “This bill … is about the individual market only,” he began, “so if you’re in the group health insurance program through your employers … nothing changes.” “That’s not true! That’s not true!” people screamed from the bleachers, drowning him out and waving red pieces of paper to show disapproval. When Blum tried to explain his own frustrations with the process – “I told the president that we should not rush this, we should try to make it bipartisan,” he was met with more red sheets and boos.
Even though Blum called the legislation “Trumpcare” several times during the town hall meeting, he later referred to it in an interview as “Obamacare 2.0,” O’Keefe notes. “This isn’t a repeal and replace,” Blum said. “This is Obamacare 2.0. We’ve probably changed 10, 20 percent of the bill is all."
Footage of Blum’s combative television interview aired just before the town hall meeting. The reporter, Josh Scheinblum, had pressed Blum about why his staff was prescreening town hall attendees to ensure they lived in his district – asking, by way of comparison, if he would “take a political donation” from a Republican in a neighboring district. Blum smiled, stood up and removed his microphone. “This is ridiculous. This is ridiculous. He’s just going to sit here and badger me,” Blum said as he walked away.
-- “Obamacare cost him a seat in Congress. Can it make him Governor of Virginia?” by Fenit Nirappil: “An hour after House Republicans voted to gut the Affordable Care Act last week, Tom Perriello released a viral ad that showed him in front of an ambulance being compacted in a scrapyard, shouting above the din that he’d stop Republicans from crushing health care in Virginia if he is elected governor. Never mind that Perriello is competing for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against a pediatric neurologist, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports Obamacare as much as he does. Or that the GOP House bill may never become law after the Senate gets to work on its version. In a boomerang of politics and timing, Perriello — who lost his congressional seat in 2010 after he voted for the Affordable Care Act — is now using the same issue to mount a political comeback. He is counting on anger at Republican control of Washington — currently zeroed in on health care — to propel him into the governor’s mansion in Richmond. As one of just two governor’s races this year … the Virginia contest will demonstrate whether the federal war over health care is affecting state-level races and reshaping the electoral landscape as it did after the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.”
-- Democrats in South Carolina are leaning on the health care issue as they launch a long-shot bid to pick off the GOP House seat vacated by OMDB director Mick Mulvaney . David Weigel reports: “Archie Parnell arrived at the Black Cowboy Festival with an impossible mission — talking politics to people who had paid $20 apiece to eat barbecue and watch horses gallop around a track. He was the local Democratic nominee for Congress, but he’d never run for office before, and shaking hands did not come naturally. But after he found a rhythm, he won the vote of Reneth Jones, 59, by talking about the Republicans’ plan to gut [Obamacare]. ‘Man, when you take that away, people are going to suffer,’ Jones said. Parnell, a 66-year-old tax attorney, had been a candidate for South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District for [two months, but Democrats] … bullish on races in Georgia and Montana, had said almost nothing about it. In the wake of the House’s health-care vote, Parnell and South Carolina’s beleaguered Democrats are trying to make Republicans sweat in a district that isn’t making it easy: one drawn to elect a Republican, and with a substantial black population that Democrats struggle to turn out. While Democrats grow bullish on how a suburban ‘resistance’ can roll back Republicans, Parnell is testing whether black voters can be turned out with a warning that a Republican-dominated Congress is threatening the way they live.”
-- MSNBC’s Alex Seitz- Wald takes the pulse in Miami, where GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo was considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection next year even before he voted for the health care bill: “Almost two dozen interviews with voters this weekend from across the sprawling district — which stretches from southwest Miami down all the way to Key West … reveal a mix of opinions on his vote. But the voters with the most passionate responses were generally those who opposed the Republican plan. One resident, Judith Casale, vowed to do 'everything in her power' to stop Curbelo from winning reelection: 'I have never canvassed before, but I will ... crawl door to door to make sure you lose,' the otherwise mild-mannered 60-year-old told Curbelo in a tweet. 'I have called him pretty much every day. I have faxed. I have tweeted. I have Facebooked.' While the district is unique in many ways … [the interviews] offer a snapshot into the feelings of voters in a place that should be relatively low-hanging fruit for Democrats as they seek to win the 24 seats they need to flip the House from GOP control."
MORE 2018 NEWS:
-- Actor and outspoken Trump supporter Antonio Sabato Jr. is running for Congress -- mounting a challenge against Democratic incumbent Julia Brownley, according to new FEC documents. Sabato – who has recently appeared on reality shows including “Dancing With the Stars,” is best known for his roles in “General Hospital” and as a Calvin Klein underwear model. (LA Times)
-- GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins formally announced his candidacy for Senate in West Virginia, becoming the first major contender to challenge Democrat incumbent Joe Manchin. (Politico)
TRAVEL BAN UPDATE:
-- Trump’s lawyers argued before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that the president’s ban stems from national security concerns, rather than incendiary campaign-trail rhetoric. At issue for the court is whether to leave in place a Maryland court's decision saying the travel ban violates First Amendment prohibitions on government denigration of a particular religion. Ann E. Marimow and Robert Barnes report: "The entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was considering the case (en banc), and judge after judge asked Acting Solicitor General [Jeffrey Wall] about statements during the campaign and afterward in which Trump talked about a Muslim ban. Wall said the order … was simply to protect the country by increasing vetting of those who are potentially dangerous … [and said courts] should not look behind what the order itself provides. But Judge Barbara Milano Keenan said that could mean a candidate for president could call for a Muslim ban every day for a year, and enact a plan that accomplished that on his first day in office, and have courts disregard his purpose. When Wall said the executive order was neutral, Judge Albert Diaz asked, ‘In what sense is it neutral?’ The countries selected for the ban are almost all Muslim.”
How quickly the 4th Circuit will rule is not known: "To resurrect the administration’s policy in full, the Justice Department would have to win in Richmond and in its upcoming appeal of the Hawaii ruling at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — or eventually persuade the Supreme Court to intervene. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit has scheduled oral arguments for May 15 in Seattle.”
-- A press release touting Trump's plan to “ban all Muslim travel into the U.S.” was removed from his presidential campaign website on Monday, shortly after Sean Spicer told reporters that he was “unaware” the plan was still online. (CNN)
-- Montgomery County officials say they made a mistake in releasing a 19-year-old Salvadoran national who was arrested last week on charges that he brought an assault rifle into the parking lot of his high school -- despite a request from ICE agents that he be held for possible deportation proceedings. Dan Morse reports: “The suspect — Mario Granados Alvarado, a high school student also believed to have been driving a stolen car — was found the day after his release from the county jail and arrested by ICE agents, authorities said. The process created needless risk, federal officials said. ‘Keeping people safe means not tolerating the release of aliens that present a clear public safety threat back into our communities,’ said Dorothy Herrera-Niles, a Maryland field office director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations unit.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- South Korea will elect a new president today. Anna Fifield has a great preview from Seoul: “The man set to (win) has earned an unusual nickname on the campaign trail. One of his rivals was called ‘Sprite’ because he was considered refreshing and a female candidate was dubbed ‘Lovely.’ But Moon Jae-in has been called ‘sweet potato’ — because he’s considered stodgy and dense. But a sweet potato can be comfort food, and after the turmoil of the past six months — when a huge corruption scandal triggered the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye — South Koreans want a known quantity. Moon’s core policy proposals include job creation, with the specific pledge to create 810,000 public-sector positions; reducing long working hours; improving transparency in government appointments; and strengthening regulations on the huge conglomerates that dominate corporate South Korea … Although domestic issues have dominated this campaign, foreign affairs is much higher up the agenda than usual, in large part because of Trump’s election in the United States and the stance he has taken on both North and South Korea."
-- “Can there be serious negotiations so that diplomacy may end the growing threat of a military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula? Not yet, is my guess,” Walter Pincus writes in his column this morning. “Trump, since his April 6-7 meeting [with President Xi] has leaned on the Chinese leader to put greater economic pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile programs. … Trump’s wooing of Xi, combined with his threats to use U.S. military action against North Korea, seem to ignore that there is a long-standing mutual defense treaty between Beijing and Pyongyang. Further complicating matters is that while Trump sees Xi as a key ally in dealing with North Korea, Washington and Beijing have themselves been at odds in several areas, including Chinese militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea, arms sales to Taiwan, and increased U.S. military activities in South Korea.”
-- Wild: White House staff called the Canadian Prime Minister’s office last month to urge Justin Trudeau to call Trump to persuade him not to “tear up” NAFTA, according to an account in The National Post (a Canadian paper): “The unconventional diplomatic [maneuver] — approaching the head of a foreign government to influence your own boss — proved decisive, as Trump thereafter abandoned his threat to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally, citing the arguments made by Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as pivotal. But the incident highlights the difficulties faced by governments all over the world when it comes to dealing with a president as volatile as Trump. ... According to Canadian government sources, White House advisers pushing a more cautious approach then called Ottawa to ask for Trudeau’s assistance. ‘You never know how much of it is theatre, but it didn’t feel that way,’ said one senior Canadian diplomatic source. … ‘Maybe they’re just learning how to be a government. At least they were open to the conversation, and that stopped them doing something rash and destructive.’”
EARTH IN THE BALANCE:
-- The U.S. government sent just seven participants to a U.N. meeting on the Paris climate agreement this week — a smaller delegation than Zimbabwe’s – underscoring the new administration’s ambivalence about the historic agreement. Chris Mooney reports: “The meeting in Bonn, Germany, represents the first of two gatherings this week where international partners will pressure the increasingly recalcitrant United States to affirm its role in the agreement of more than 190 nations."
- White House officials are slated to meet today to further discuss the fate of the deal: "In recent days, White House officials have taken an apparent turn away from remaining ... with several administration officials arguing that the accord binds the Trump administration to the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goal promised by the Obama administration, or something even stronger. That interpretation is contested by many legal experts, however, as well as participants in past international climate negotiations."
- "A wave of international and domestic lobbying has intensified, with foreign allies and many corporations calling for the United States to stick with the deal, even as U.S. political conservatives push for a withdrawal — matching a similar tension between internationalists and conservatives within the White House itself.”
-- As the administration weighs whether to withdraw, a new scientific paper documents growing fluxes of greenhouse gases streaming into the air from the Alaskan tundra, a long-feared occurrence that could worsen climate change. More from Mooney: “The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that frozen northern soils — often called permafrost — are unleashing an increasing amount of carbon dioxide into the air as they thaw in summer or subsequently fail to refreeze as they once did, particularly in late fall and early winter.”
-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is “reviewing the charter and charge” of more than 200 advisory boards. From Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis: “He has postponed all outside committees as he reviews their composition and work. The review will effectively freeze the work of the Bureau of Land Management’s 38 resource advisory councils, along with other panels focused on a sweep of issues, from one assessing the threat of invasive species to the science technical advisory panel for Alaska’s North Slope. Greg Zimmerman, deputy director of the non-partisan advocacy group Center for Western Priorities, said in an interview that ‘it just doesn’t make any sense they would be canceling meetings as they do this analysis.’ BLM’s regional advisory councils include officials from the energy and outdoor recreation industry as well as scientists and conservationists. ‘The only reasonable explanation is they don’t want to be hearing from these folks,’ Zimmerman added. The moves came as a surprise to the agencies’ outside advisers.”
THE FUTURE OF FRANCE:
-- Trump personally congratulated French president-elect Emmanuel Macron in a phone call Monday, agreeing to meet with the newly-minted leader during a gathering of NATO leaders in Brussels this month. (Jenna Johnson)
-- Wy the populists lost, by James McAuley: Voters wanted change, but not the change Le Pen represented. There’s also less inequality in France than other Britain or the U.S.
-- The path forward, per Griff Witte: “Macron won from a precarious place: The middle. Governing from there could be even harder.”
-- The new narrative, via Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola in Brussels: “Macron’s victory buoys the European Union after a string of setbacks.”
-- Third Way argues that Democrats in the U.S. can learn some valuable lessons from the results: “Macron’s landslide shows that the best answer to rising right wing populism may not be a left-wing version of the same, but a bold and forward-looking centrism,” Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler write on Medium. “First, Macron positioned centrism as the radical force for change in France. … Second, he made his brand of centrism a cause, not a fallback. … Last, he made the central promise of Macron centrism about issuing a challenge to the established order, not simply forging a compromise — which is often how people view centrists. When you put it all together, Macron successfully made the French feel that voting for this unknown, soft-spoken centrist was casting a loud vote against politics as usual in France.”
THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES:
-- “In Colombia, a deal to bring peace has also helped to fuel its cocaine boom,” by Nick Miroff in Tumaco: “From a military helicopter high above the rolling hills of southern Colombia, the green rows of hearty plants look a bit like the vineyards of Napa. But that’s not zinfandel down there. Bushy fields of illegal coca blanket the countryside, ripe with the raw ingredients of the biggest cocaine boom in history. [Last year’s Colombian peace accord] committed the guerrillas to quit the narcotics business and help rural families switch to legal crops. But the cash benefits available through the peace deal appear to have created a perverse incentive for farmers to stuff their fields with as many illegal plants as possible. The result is a cocaine market so saturated that prices have crashed and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields, according to [defense minister] Luis Carlos Villegas. The days when U.S.-funded aircraft could douse coca plantations with herbicide are over. A problem that could once be attacked with blunt military force has morphed into a sociological, state-building challenge.”
When Colombia’s president travels to Washington to meet with Trump later this month, his country’s coca binge is likely to be a sore point: “Trump has cited drug smuggling as a growing national security threat and a justification for a wall along the border with Mexico. At a time when much of the nation’s drug fight has shifted to the opioid-abuse crisis, U.S. cocaine use is soaring. U.S. officials say the flood of cheap Colombian product is so large that it has quietly created its own demand.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN:
-- Hedge fund mogul and Republican megadonor Robert Mercer was sued for wrongful termination by a former employee, who claims he was ousted last month after blasting Mercer’s support of Trump and pushing back after the CEO went on a “racist rant.” Bloomberg’s Erik Larson reports: “The complaint by David Magerman, a research scientist who worked at Renaissance Technologies LLC for two decades, alleges he was wrongfully fired April 29 after his relationship with Mercer and his family became toxic. The dispute started on Jan. 16 when Magerman called Mercer and asked to have a conversation about his support of Trump … During the chat, Mercer said the U.S. had started going in the wrong direction ‘after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s,’ according to the complaint.” Magerman says his relationship with the family became increasingly hostile, and alleges that Mercer’s daughter and former Trump transition staffer Rebekah Mercer called him 'pond scum' at a celebrity poker tournament. The confrontation 'just shows the hostility that the Mercers had toward Mr. Magerman because he dared to challenge their political views,' his lawyer said in a phone call on Monday."
-- White House sources tell Bloomberg’s Eli Lake that Trump is growing increasingly disillusioned with H.R. McMaster as national security adviser: “This professional military officer has failed to read the president -- by not giving him a chance to ask questions during briefings, at times even lecturing Trump. Trump was livid … after reading [reports] that McMaster had called his South Korean counterpart to assure him that the president's threat to make that country pay for a new missile defense system was not official policy. These officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share. On policy, [Steve Bannon and his] loyalists … are convinced McMaster is trying to trick the president into the kind of nation building that Trump campaigned against. Meanwhile, [Reince Priebus] is blocking McMaster on a key appointment. … At the same time, White House officials tell me that in recent weeks, Trump has privately expressed regret for choosing McMaster."
-- Bannon's former Hollywood business partner and "passionate liberal" Jeff Kwatinetz defended his former colleague publicly for the first time in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, insisting that much of the criticism against the top White House strategist is "misguided," that Bannon is "not a racist" and has “great character": "Most of the senior executives in my company are flabbergasted by the negative portrayal of him. I had one former female executive literally crying on the phone with me: ‘Why are you letting people lie about Steve like this?’ … I mean, Steve worked his a** off and did good work. ... I know that he’s not anti-Semitic. I am absolutely positive that he’s not anti-Semitic or racist. ... I am Jewish, Roy Furman was Jewish, Andrew Breitbart was Jewish.”
FOLLOW THE MONEY:
-- Dianne Feinstein criticized an effort by Jared Kushner’s sister to offer U.S. visas to Chinese investors in Beijing as a “stark conflict of interest,” joining Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in reiterating calls for the elimination of the EB-5 visa program. Michael Kranish reports: “The California senator said that the program is ‘rife with fraud and abuse’ and has been ‘exploited by real estate developers to finance projects in the wealthiest parts of this country,’ even though it was designed to boost rural and distressed urban areas. The program requires that a $500,000 investment result in at least 10 jobs. An investor is allowed to live in the United States and can become a permanent resident after two years. Grassley said in a statement Monday that the program ‘must be reformed or scrapped entirely,’ noting that it had been extended ‘without needed reforms,’ and urged the administration to come up with a proposal to address the program’s ‘well-documented flaws.’”
The Kushners only got caught selling their access to the WH bc reporters were there. How many pitch meetings have there been w/o reporters?— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 8, 2017
-- “As House Republicans turn their attention toward a sweeping overhaul of the tax code, they’re struggling with two things: how much the package will cost and how much of that expense should be covered up front,” Tory Newmyer reports: “The answers will drive how deep rate cuts can go and whether they carry an expiration date or remain embedded in a newly streamlined tax code. ... The debate over how to get there exposes a long-simmering tension in the Republican Party over which deserves higher priority — lower taxes or a balanced budget. For now, House Republicans leading the process say they are committed to an overhaul package that doesn’t add to the deficit[:] ‘We’re going for the greatest growth for the greatest number of years,’ House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady. ... ‘That happens when tax reform is bold, when it is balanced within the budget, counting on economic growth, and when it’s built to last.’ [But] that puts the tax-writing committee at odds with the White House, which rolled out a plan in late April that relies on slashed tax rates unleashing explosive — and, most economists say, unachievable — economic growth to largely pay for themselves."
-- “35 of 37 economists said Trump was wrong. The other two misread the question,” by Max Ehrenfreund: “Trump's administration says his tax cut will pay for itself. It turns out it's really hard to find an economist who agrees. The University of Chicago's Booth School of Business regularly polls economists on controversial questions. In a survey the school published last week on Trump's tax plans, only two out of the 37 economists that responded said that the cuts would stimulate the economy enough to cancel out the effect on total tax revenue. Those two economists now both say they made a mistake, and that they misunderstood the question. ‘I screwed up on that one,’ said one of those two economists, Kenneth Judd, when asked about his response to Trump's tax claim. ‘I meant to say that this is a horrible idea, a bad idea — no chance in hell.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Two tweets from Capitol reporters yesterday nicely capture John McCain's sense of humor:
McCain walks by a yuge gaggle around @ChuckGrassley, laughs to himself and yells "Ethanol forever!" into the gaggle. Then just walks away— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) May 8, 2017
McCain, asked by @alanhe about the Senate GOP timeframe on health care, says: "12 years."— Manu Raju (@mkraju) May 8, 2017
In a morning tweet, Trump referred to his White House Counsel as a "Council." The dictionary corrected him:
counsel: ⚖ a lawyer appointed to advise and represent in legal matters— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) May 8, 2017
council: 🙋an assembly or meeting for consultation or discussion
Desperate to change the narrative, Trump went on an anti-Yates tweetstorm last night -- with posts that were misleading at best:
Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is "no evidence" of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
(What he actually said was that he didn't know of any, and that he was unaware of what the FBI counterintelligence investigation has found.)
Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today --- she said nothing but old news!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
(This is the president weighing in on an active FBI investigation into his associates.)
Biggest story today between Clapper & Yates is on surveillance. Why doesn't the media report on this? #FakeNews!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
(Trump badly wants the conversation to be about unmasking, not coordination.)
Today we have the strange spectacle of the president of the United States essentially heckling a congressional hearing.— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) May 8, 2017
Trump’s Twitter feed on today’s Yates/Clapper hearing, summarized. pic.twitter.com/oYWNmqnzaN— Julian Sanchez (@normative) May 8, 2017
Holly Hunter as Yates.— Lizzie O'Leary (@lizzieohreally) May 8, 2017
Jonathan Banks as Clapper.
Sally Yates was hired to US Attorney's office by conservative Republican Bob Barr under first Bush, later promoted under Clinton, GWB, Obama— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) May 8, 2017
In Cruz v. Yates, the Internet's verdict was Yates, hands down:
Sally Yates just shut down Ted Cruz on Constitutional Law. pic.twitter.com/ONlwEYm64D— jordan 🌹 (@JordanUhl) May 8, 2017
Ted Cruz doing his part here to help Sally Yates launch her political career, should she want one.— Josh Barro (@jbarro) May 8, 2017
A lot of thought leaders called Cruz pathetic for carrying water for a president who attacked his wife and father in such nasty, personal terms:
and Ted Cruz is asking questions about Huma Abedin in order to deflect scrutiny from the president who said Cruz's father helped murder JFK— Simon Maloy (@SimonMaloy) May 8, 2017
Words NOT said by @tedcruz during questioning of Yates: Russia, Flynn. This hearing is entitiled: Russian interference in 2016 US election— Dafna Linzer (@DafnaLinzer) May 8, 2017
This is so delicious it's better than the chocolate cake at Mar-A-Lago. Sally Yates is having Ted Cruz for lunch.— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) May 8, 2017
It's deeply satisfying to see Yates smack down that oleaginous carbuncle of a moral homunculus.— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) May 8, 2017
I'd pay $19.99 to watch an hour's worth of Sally Yates vs Ted Cruz on the travel ban— Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) May 8, 2017
For the record: Trump accused Obama of a felony. Rice of felony. Yates of felony. But General Flynn great guy who did nothing wrong.— Joe Trippi (@JoeTrippi) May 8, 2017
Yates got kudos from the chief strategist for George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign:
Sign me up for whatever Sally Yates wants to do or run for ahead in life. Impressive woman with integrity. Bravo.— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) May 8, 2017
After watching these hearings i am struck by how Sally Yates stood on Constitutional principle, and Cruz and Cornyn faulted her for that.— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) May 8, 2017
My loyalty is not to a person, a party or an ideology, but to the truth. And if the truth conflicts with any of those, then i am with truth— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) May 8, 2017
And this conservative writer:
Yates is going to be a Democratic superstar after this. And a few GOP senators prob delighted she skewered Cruz— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) May 8, 2017
This Republican Party would have destroyed the tapes for Nixon.— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) May 8, 2017
Off topic, but yes:
Hell is just two people debating "ACTUALLY, this is why Hillary lost" for eternity— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) May 8, 2017
Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) wishes happy birthday to one of his favorite economists:
Happy birthday, F.A. Hayek! pic.twitter.com/95Sqk1KHT9— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 8, 2017
One Republican had a good day:
Today I celebrated my 83rd birthday with the staff in my Washington office. Thanks for all of the decorations. pic.twitter.com/BEWI3wK9SR— Richard Shelby (@SenShelby) May 8, 2017
The Rock appreciated a shoutout from Elizabeth Warren:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The New Yorker, “We could have been Canada,” by Adam Gopnik: “The Revolution remains the last bulwark of national myth. And what if it was a mistake from the start? The Revolution, this argument might run, was a needless and brutal bit of slaveholders’ panic mixed with Enlightenment argle-bargle, producing a country that was always marked for violence and disruption and demagogy. … Academic histories of the Revolution … have been peeping over the parapets, joining scholarly scruples to contemporary polemic. ... One new take insists that we misunderstand the Revolution if we make what was an intramural and fratricidal battle of ideas in the English-speaking Empire look like a modern colonial rebellion. Another insists that the Revolution was a piece of great-power politics, fought in unimaginably brutal terms, and no more connected to ideas or principles than any other piece of great-power politics: America was essentially a Third World country that became the battlefield for two First World powers. ... Stirred into the larger pot of recent revisionism, these arguments leave us with a big question: was it really worth it, and are we better off for its having happened? In plain American, is Donald Trump a bug or a feature of the American heritage?”
-- Washingtonian, “The Billionaire and the Flood: How a Tragedy Transformed the Greenbrier Resort and the Blue-Collar Town that Depended on It,” by Elaina Plott: “One year ago this June, a historic flood lashed West Virginia, killing 23 people and crumpling homes. It also exposed the complicated relationship between a resort that draws Washington’s rich and powerful and the blue-collar town that houses the hotel’s staff. What happened afterward surprised everyone.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Mississippi’s richest county uses police checkpoints to enforce segregation, lawsuit claims,” from ThinkProgress: “Madison County, Mississippi, is among the most segregated places in America. Past court decisions have made note of its ‘racial isolation’ and ‘confluence of … geography and demography.’ Part of the reason the state’s wealthiest county remains so divided, according to a new class-action lawsuit filed Monday, is that county leaders want it that way — and are willing to use local law enforcement to enforce an unofficial cordon around the county’s roughly 40,000 black residents. The Madison County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) ‘has implemented a coordinated top-down program of methodically targeting Black individuals for suspicionless searches and seizures,’ the suit [says] … Plainclothes deputies typically wait in unmarked cars … the complaint says … [and locates] these camouflaged identification inspections in and around the few communities in Madison County where there is a concentrated black population.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“University faces backlash for anti-Trump course that promised to teach ‘strategies for resistance,’” from Kristine Phillips: “The course is called ‘Trumpism & U.S. Democracy.’ Its goal: To examine the rise of Trump and where the country goes from here. The course description did not mince words: ‘[Trump] won the U.S. presidency despite perpetuating sexism, white supremacy, xenophobia, nationalism, nativism, and imperialism. This course explores why and how this happened, how Trump’s rhetoric is contrary to the foundation of the U.S. democracy, and what his win means for the future. The course, which will be taught this fall to a small group of students, has angered some conservatives and propelled Butler University in Indianapolis to the national spotlight. Critics say they’re concerned by the course description’s anti-Trump language and the prospect of requiring students to participate in the resistance movement against the president. In response to the criticism, the private university … significantly softened the language, while still keeping the course title."
At the White House: Trump will meet with National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster. That’s the only item on his public schedule.
Pence will travel to the Capitol to meet with lawmakers and participate in the Senate Republican Policy Lunch. Later, Pence and his wife will be joined by McMaster and Ivanka Trump as they host military families at a celebration event recognizing National Military Appreciation Month and National Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal said he is looking seriously at running for sheriff in Henry County, southeast of Atlanta. “In 2020, I plan on running for sheriff,” he told Atlanta’s NBC affiliate. “This is not about politics. This is about bringing people closer together. When I was coming up, people loved and respected the police … I want to be the one to bring that back, especially in the community I serve.” (Travis M. Andrews)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- A very chilly start to the morning, again – but the sun should make this afternoon significantly more pleasant. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Chilly early-morning conditions warm up quickly with sunshine and low humidity today. Sunny skies should also dominate the afternoon as temperatures work into the middle to upper 60s for highs.”
-- A cabdriver was charged with multiple counts of abduction this weekend after he locked a group of Woodbridge women in his taxi – speeding away with the group for some 30 miles after they disagreed with him about the cab fare. Authorities said the women were ultimately able to escape by wrangling open a locked door and jumping from the moving vehicle. (Victoria St. Martin )
-- Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a Democrat-backed bill that would put a nonpartisan committee in charge of drawing state congressional districts pending agreement from five other states -- describing the measure as a “phony bill masquerading as redistricting reform.” His rejection of the measure sets up a veto override effort in the legislature next year. (Josh Hicks)
-- Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam called for a cap on campaign donations and a ban on corporate contributions, ramping up tensions in an already-heated Democratic primary race. (Fenit Nirappil)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
See Jimmy Kimmel slam his critics:
See John Oliver revive his signature net neutrality fight:
Watch a dozen anchors mispronounce "Macron:"
Congratulations, President-elect Emmanuel Macr...uh... pic.twitter.com/y1JvyHQVs4— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) May 8, 2017
Before she became the state superintendent of D.C. schools, Hanseul Kang was an ambitious high school student looking forward to getting her license and applying to college. Then she found out she was an undocumented immigrant and her dreams were put on hold:
1 ducking removed. Several more remain. Joint effort by D.C. FEMS, Animal Control, DC Water and MPD. pic.twitter.com/fFux9vm2Oy— DC Fire and EMS (@dcfireems) May 8, 2017