With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA:
NEW ALBANY, Ohio — Rep. Paul Ryan desperately does not want the dark cloud hanging over the White House to distract congressional Republicans from advancing their ambitious policy agenda. Yesterday showed that he may no longer have a choice.
Donald Trump called the speaker of the House to give him a heads up that he was going to fire FBI director James B. Comey, yet Ryan (R-Wis.) still waited more than 24 hours after the news broke to make any public statement.
Repeating the pattern of last year’s campaign, the president sucked up all the oxygen and put Ryan on the defensive. The 2012 GOP nominee for vice president rolled up in a long motorcade to a plant here in central Ohio as part of an effort to jump-start his push for comprehensive tax reform.
But Ryan could not escape the Comey news, and some Republicans back in Washington freely acknowledged that the growing scandal will make passing big-ticket legislation, including tax reform, much harder.
The congressman from Wisconsin sniffed a canister of walleye bait that gets packaged at the facility. “I spray my lures,” he explained to his tour guide. As cameramen pleaded with him to say anything on the Comey news, he replied: “I’m not doing questions right now.”
At a roundtable with small-business owners later, he said: “I want to tell my friends in the press I’ll be making some statements later about the questions that they all have. At another time. But, right now, we want to talk with the people here about the issues that they are facing.”
The president firing an FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians is apparently not one of those issues.
Finally, after dodging the reporters who flew here to see him, he went on Fox News last night and offered support for Trump’s decision. "It is entirely within the president’s role and authority to relieve him, and that’s what he did,” Ryan said. “The president made a presidential decision.”
The Ohio events offered a revealing window into the 47-year-old’s thinking. He explained that there is currently “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to simplify the tax code and cut rates for corporations. The last time the system got overhauled, he noted, was the year he got his first driver’s license. This has been his dream since coming to Congress two decades ago, and unified Republican control of the government has created a window to get it done. Left unsaid was that the Russia-Comey story, if allowed to get legs, threatens to prematurely close that window and stop him from getting what he cares about most.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Ryan’s counterpart in the Senate, also chose to defend Trump, even as some of his members expressed concerns. The speaker and the Senate majority leader each reiterated opposition to an independent investigation or special prosecutor. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Ryan, saying that the congressional intelligence committees should take the lead.
Both GOP leaders have been around town long enough to understand the risks of empowering an outside prosecutor who cannot be reined in by the president’s appointees. They saw what Ken Starr did to Bill Clinton and Patrick Fitzgerald did to Scooter Libby — and how those investigations brought Washington to a standstill.
-- “Only one GOP senator — John McCain — has definitively said he'd support an independent inquiry, a position he has held for months,” per Amber Phillips, who is now keeping a whip count. “At least one more GOP senator, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), is open to the idea. But supporters of an independent investigation have a long way to go before they have a majority in either chamber.”
-- Stipulating that they can withstand pressure for a special prosecutor, there are already strong indications that the fallout from firing Comey will make it harder to put points on the board:
- “This scandal is going to go on,” McCain (R-Ariz.) told a group of security experts after the Comey news broke. “This is a centipede. I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop. I can just guarantee it. There’s just too much information that we don’t have that will be coming out.” (Josh Rogin got permission from the Arizona senator to let him public comments that were initially made off the record.)
- “The only thing that is guaranteed right now is that the sense of chaos will continue, not only in law enforcement but also in Congress,” GOP strategist Kevin Madden, a veteran of Capitol Hill and the Justice Department, tells Karen Tumulty. “Every single lawmaker in the House and Senate is going to be pressured to take a stance.”
- “Comprehensive tax reform just got an awful lot harder, as did nearly every other challenge facing the nation, both foreign and domestic: infrastructure, health care, immigration, trade and others,” Michael Bloomberg argues in an op-ed for his eponymous news organization.
- Several Republican lawmakers made the same point to Politico: “I think it already has,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “Anytime you have a controversy like this, at least in the short-term, it will be a hindrance going forward with legislation — that’s just the reality,” added Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). “Health care is tough enough,” noted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
-- Comey’s termination has prompted some Republican rank and file to show additional independence:
- House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who is leaving Congress, asked the DOJ inspector general in a letter last night to investigate why Comey was fired.
- The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena yesterday to force former national security adviser Michael Flynn to turn over documents related to the panel’s probe. “It is the first subpoena the committee has announced in the course of its Russia investigation — a step Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) was long reluctant to take,” Karoun Demirjian reports. “But the chairman began signaling this week that if Trump surrogates did not turn over requested materials to the committee by Tuesday — a deadline that some missed — he and Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) might begin issuing subpoenas. ‘Everything has been voluntary up to this point, and we’ve interviewed a lot of people, and I want to continue to do it in a voluntary fashion,’ Burr said. ‘But if in fact the production of things that we need are not provided, then we have a host of tools.’”
- Last night, McCain and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) came out against Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative. “Unfortunately, your confirmation process has failed to reassure us that you understand NAFTA’s positive economic benefits to our respective states and the nation as a whole,” they said, imperiling his hopes of making it through.
-- Democrats are already slowing down the Senate to retaliate. Persuading eight of them to vote for legislation Trump wants becomes harder with each passing day. Even the senators from red states Trump carried overwhelmingly, like North Dakota, West Virginia and Montana, feel less pressure than they did a few weeks ago.
- This was a major factor in the Senate unexpectedly voting down a resolution yesterday to repeal an Obama-era environmental regulation restricting methane emissions from drilling operations on public lands. Democratic votes that GOP whips were counting on didn’t materialize at the last minute. It is the first time since Trump’s election that Republicans failed in their attempt to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn something Obama did. (Juliet Eilperin and Chelsea Harvey have more.)
- To press for a special prosecutor, Senate Democrats plan to begin slowing down the process of confirming lower-level nominees. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) put a hold yesterday on Sigal Mandelker, a Trump nominee for the Treasury Department. Wyden said he would maintain the hold until the agency provides lawmakers with more documents related to Russia and its dealings with Trump. Republicans can override Wyden, but it will eat up valuable floor time. (Don’t forget: Democrats will use the tax reform debate to score more points against Trump for refusing to release his tax returns.)
- As another form of protest, Democrats forced the postponement of some committee hearings yesterday.
THIS STORY IS NOT GOING AWAY:
-- Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe is testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee today in a public hearing.
-- Trump plans to go to FBI headquarters tomorrow as a show of his commitment to the bureau, the New York Times reports.
-- Comey has been invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next Tuesday. It’s unclear whether he’ll accept.
-- Whoever gets nominated to replace him at director is going to have a brutally tough confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
THE WHITE HOUSE'S STORY ON COMEY CONTINUES TO UNRAVEL:
-- The public rationale for firing the FBI director is that he committed “atrocities” in overseeing the investigation of Hillary Clinton. Trump's spokesmen also insist that the push to fire Comey initiated from within the Justice Department, and Trump merely signed off. Neither of these claims is true, Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sari Horwitz and Robert Costa reveal in a must-read tick tock:
“The private accounts of more than 30 officials at the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI and on Capitol Hill, as well as Trump confidants and other senior Republicans, paint a conflicting narrative centered on the president’s brewing personal animus toward Comey.
"Every time Comey appeared in public, an ever-watchful Trump grew increasingly agitated that the topic was the one that he was most desperate to avoid: Russia. Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr. He had long questioned the FBI director’s judgment, and was infuriated by what he saw as a lack of action in recent weeks on leaks from within the federal government. By last weekend, he had made up his mind: Comey had to go.
“Back at work Monday morning in Washington, Trump told Vice President Pence and several senior aides -- Reince Priebus, Stephen K. Bannon and Donald McGahn, among others -- that he was ready to move on Comey. First, though, he wanted to talk with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his trusted confidant, and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, to whom Comey reported directly. Trump summoned the two of them to the White House for a meeting.… The president already had decided to fire Comey.… But in the meeting, several White House officials said Trump gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive: to explain in writing the case against Comey. The pair quickly fulfilled the boss’s orders, and the next day Trump fired Comey….
“ROSENSTEIN THREATENED TO RESIGN after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation....
“Within the West Wing, there was little apparent dissent over the president’s decision to fire Comey, according to the accounts of several White House officials. McGahn, the White House counsel, and Priebus, the chief of staff, walked Trump through how the dismissal would work.… Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner — both of whom work in the White House — have frequently tried to blunt Trump’s riskier impulses but did not intervene to try to persuade him against firing Comey.”
Trump kept his press people out of the loop, but then he became “irate” at them for not managing the announcement better: “White House press secretary Sean Spicer and communications director Michael Dubke were brought into the Oval Office and informed of the Comey decision just an hour before the news was announced. Other staffers in the West Wing found out about the FBI director’s firing when their cellphones buzzed with news alerts beginning around 5:40 p.m. … When asked Tuesday night for an update on the unfolding situation, one top White House aide simply texted a reporter two fireworks emoji.… As Trump, who had retired to the residence to eat dinner, sat in front of a television watching cable news coverage of Comey’s firing, he noticed another flaw: Nobody was defending him. … Trump pinned much of the blame on Spicer and Dubke’s communications operation, wondering how there could be so many press staffers yet such negative coverage on cable news.”
-- Adding to the furor: Shortly before he was axed, Comey sought more resources for his investigation from Rosenstein. Sens. Richard Burr and Mark Warner met on Monday with Comey, according to several individuals familiar with the meeting. Later, at a regular meeting of Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner informed them that Comey had briefed the two committee chiefs about his request for more resources. “Although several Democrats confirmed that Comey had informed lawmakers of the request he made last week … the Justice Department denied those reports,” Elise Viebeck, Ed O'Keefe, Sean Sullivan and Paul Kane report. But no one believes their denials anymore.
IMPORTANT NUGGETS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The FBI’s probe was occupying more and more of Comey’s time in the weeks before he got fired. “Mr. Comey started receiving daily instead of weekly updates on the investigation, beginning at least three weeks ago,” the Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee report. “Mr. Comey was concerned by information showing possible evidence of collusion..."
-- Trump’s anger reached a boiling point when Comey refused to preview for top Trump aides his planned testimony before a Senate panel last week. From Reuters’ Steve Holland and Jeff Mason: “Trump, Sessions and Rosenstein had wanted a heads-up from Comey about what he would say at a May 3 hearing about his handling of an investigation into [Clinton's] use of a private email server. When Comey refused, Trump and his aides considered that an act of insubordination.… A former Trump adviser said Trump was also angry because Comey had never offered a public exoneration of Trump in the FBI probe into contacts between the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Sergei Kislyak, and Trump campaign advisers last year.” One adviser said Comey’s Senate testimony on Clinton reinforced in Trump’s mind that “Comey was against him.” "He regretted what he did to Hillary but not what he did to Trump," A former adviser added.
-- Another turning point: Relations between Trump and Comey began to deteriorate significantly after Trump accused Obama of wiretapping him. From the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, Michael S. Schmidt and Peter Baker: “[Comey] was flabbergasted. The president, he told associates, was ‘outside the realm of normal,’ even ‘crazy.’ For his part, Mr. Trump fumed when Mr. Comey publicly dismissed the sensational wiretapping claim. In the weeks that followed, he grew angrier and began talking about firing Mr. Comey. After stewing last weekend while watching Sunday talk shows at his New Jersey golf resort, Mr. Trump decided it was time. There was ‘something wrong with’ Mr. Comey, he told aides.… To a president obsessed with loyalty, Mr. Comey was a rogue operator who could not be trusted.… To a lawman obsessed with independence, Mr. Trump was the ultimate loose cannon, making irresponsible claims on Twitter and jeopardizing the bureau’s credibility. [But] Mr. Comey’s fate was sealed by his latest testimony.… Mr. Trump burned as he watched, convinced that Mr. Comey was grandstanding. He was particularly irked when Mr. Comey said he was ‘mildly nauseous’ to think that his handling of the email case had influenced the election, which Mr. Trump took to demean his own role in history.”
-- A source close to Comey told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he got fired for two reasons: He declined to provide Trump with any assurances of personal loyalty, and the FBI's investigation into possible Trump team collusion with Russia in the 2016 election was accelerating quickly.
-- White House lawyers have had to “repeatedly” warn the president against reaching out to Flynn as he is being investigated, cautioning him that direct contact with his former national security adviser could be seen as “witness tampering,” the Daily Beast reports: “Trump, angered by press coverage of the Russia investigation and Gen. Flynn, has asked senior staff and the White House counsel’s office multiple times if it was appropriate to reach out.… A White House staffer also stressed Trump’s personal affinity for his former aide. The president ‘clearly feels bad about how things went down,’ the staffer said.”
INSIDE THE FBI:
-- Many employees were furious yesterday about the firing (some others were fearful). There was agreement that the circumstances of his dismissal did more damage to the bureau's independence than anything Comey did in his three-plus years in the job. From The Post's DOJ beat reporters: "One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey’s firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are ‘attacks’ that won’t soon be forgotten. Trump had ‘essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI,’ one official said. ‘I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.’”
-- Comey sent a letter to all FBI staff last night: “I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t either. It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply. ... In times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independence.” Since returning from Los Angeles, Comey has been keeping a low profile. He was observed Wednesday puttering around in the yard of his Northern Virginia home.
-- Justice Department leaders have already begun interviewing candidates to be Comey’s interim replacement. Matt Zapotosky reports: “For now, Andrew McCabe, who had been [Comey’s] top deputy, is running the bureau, and Justice Department officials said it remains possible that he will stay in that post until a permanent replacement is selected. McCabe met with Justice Department officials Tuesday night and is scheduled to testify Thursday at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.” But Jeff Sessions and deputy Rod Rosenstein were also slated to meet with four other candidates on Wednesday: “They were Michael Anderson, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago division; Adam Lee, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond division; Paul Abbate, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch; and William 'Bill' Evanina, the national counterintelligence executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.... The four men are currently being considered to serve only as interim director, officials said, although it was possible they would be under consideration to fill the post permanently, pending Senate confirmation."
THREE BIG QUESTIONS WE STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN ANSWERS TO, from The Post’s lead story:
1. “Why was Sessions involved in discussions about the fate of the man leading the FBI’s Russia investigation, after having recused himself from the probe because he had falsely denied under oath his own past communications with the Russian ambassador?” (Politico’s Eliana Johnson reports that Trump has brought Sessions back into his inner circle recently after being angry at him for weeks when he recused himself.)
2. “Why had Trump discussed the Russia probe with the FBI director three times, as he claimed in his letter dismissing Comey, which could have been a violation of Justice Department policies that ongoing investigations generally are not to be discussed with White House officials?” (Glenn Kessler explores this question more.)
3. “How much was the timing of Trump’s decision shaped by events spiraling out of his control — such as Monday’s testimony about Russian interference by former acting attorney general Sally Yates, or the fact that Comey last week requested more resources from the Justice Department to expand the FBI’s Russia probe?”
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE ... OVAL OFFICE:
-- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak huddled privately with Trump at the White House for a meeting that Trump later described as “very, very good." Many are alarmed that U.S. news organizations were barred from attending the closed White House event, but a photographer from a Russian state-owned news agency, Tass, was permitted. "Lavrov fended off questions about Russian interference in the presidential election. And during a visit with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Lavrov professed mock surprise when asked whether Comey’s firing had cast a shadow over his visit. 'Was he fired?' Lavrov said, arching his eyebrows. 'You’re kidding! You’re kidding!'"
-- Former U.S. intelligence officials said the level of access granted to the Russian photographer could pose a potential security breach. Carol Morello and Greg Miller report: “The officials cited the danger that a listening device or other surveillance equipment could have been brought into the Oval Office while hidden in cameras or other electronics. Former U.S. intelligence officials raised questions after photos of Trump’s meeting with [Lavrov] were posted online by the Tass news agency. Among those commenting on the issue was former deputy CIA director David S. Cohen. Responding to a question posed online about whether it was a sound decision to allow the photographer into the Oval Office, Cohen replied on Twitter: ‘No it was not.’ The White House played down the danger, saying that the photographer and his equipment were subjected to a security screening before he and it entered the White House grounds.” But other former intelligence officials said allowing such access was undeniably a potential security lapse, noting that standard screening for White House visitors would not detect a sophisticated espionage device."
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Trump is expected to sign an executive order today establishing a “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity,” which would review alleged voter fraud and suppression in the American election system. ABC News reports: “[Mike Pence] and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will be announced as Chair and Vice Chair.… The commission, which will include Republicans and Democrats, will be tasked with studying ‘vulnerabilities’ in U.S. voting systems and potential effects on ‘improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting,’ according to one official with knowledge of the announcement. Administration officials would not provide a draft copy of the order … [but said the commission] is expected be broad in scope, and will not just address Trump's allegations about the 2016 election but also ‘systemic issues that have been raised over many years in terms of the integrity of the elections.'"
-- It was a bad night for D.C. sports fans:
The Capitals choked again: “The end of the season, and perhaps an era, was a death hard to watch, a 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference semifinal,” writes Isabelle Khurshudyan. They just cannot close.
The Wizards completely forgot their fundamentals, losing to the Celtics, 123-101, in Game 5 and plunging into a perilous hole, Candace Buckner reports from Boston. “As the Celtics snatched the 3-2 series lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal matchup, Washington stands on the brink of elimination, which could come as soon as Friday at home.” (More on the team’s lackluster effort here.)
A very small silver lining: The Nationals appeared on the verge of their fourth straight loss until Jayson Werth hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. At least someone can deliver in the clutch, Jorge Castillo notes.
GET SMART FAST:
- Aetna announced it will completely withdraw from all Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces in 2018, exiting Delaware and Nebraska amid what it said are lingering financial losses and uncertainty about the law’s future. The cascade of state-by-state decisions comes as a sharp pivot from the nation’s third-largest insurer, which initially entered 15 states’ marketplaces but last summer decided to slash its participation to just four. (Amy Goldstein)
- DHS is slated to announce a ban on laptops in the cabins of all flights from Europe to the United States -- extending a program that originally applied only to certain African and Middle Eastern countries -- amid fears that terrorists can build bombs into the devices. (Daily Beast)
- Federal regulators blocked work on a $4.2 billion pipeline in Ohio, barring Energy Transfer Partners -- which also constructed the controversial Dakota Access pipeline -- from beginning horizontal drilling after it reported 18 leaks and a 2 million-gallon spill of drilling mud. (Steven Mufson)
- The Marine Corps took a new step to stop sexual harassment in the service, requiring commanders to submit anyone involved in a substantiated case to be reviewed for possible separation from the service the first time they are caught. (Dan Lamothe)
- Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) isn’t ruling out a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) next year, but says he’s in no rush to make a decision. He's unveiling a new PAC, New Republican, in hopes of helping to rebrand the GOP to win over younger and minority voters. (Ed O’Keefe)
- An L.A. judge agreed to delay a deposition that former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny was scheduled to give in relation to an alleged sex abuse case involving the organization’s former physician and a team member. The reason for the delay? Penny’s legal team said he needs to attend the Indianapolis 500 race and other festivities in order to network for a new job. (Marissa Payne)
- Eighteen members of a now-shuttered Penn State fraternity are facing charges in connection with the hazing death of Timothy Piazza, a sophomore who reportedly consumed a “life threatening amount of alcohol” before falling down the stairs at least twice and dying, at some point, of a traumatic brain injury. His fraternity brothers failed to call an ambulance until the next morning – and prosecutors say actions by some of them may have worsened his injuries and suffering. (AP)
- Four Texas men are facing federal hate crime charges after they were accused of using the dating app Grindr to pose as gay men – luring and systematically targeting victims as part of a robbery scheme. The group – who reportedly spent weeks committing home invasions in Dallas-area suburbs, would assault their “dates” before restraining them with tape and making “derogatory statements” about their sexual orientation. The hate crime charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. (Katie Mettler)
- A 22-year-old Russian blogger was found guilty of inciting religious hatred and “insulting the feelings of believers” after using his phone to play “Pokémon Go” in a renowned Orthodox cathedral. He was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison – which is about half the time prosecutors could have tried to stick him with. (David Filipov)
SMART ANALYSIS OFF THE COMEY NEWS:
-- "Why Trump expected only applause when he told Comey, 'You're fired,'" by Marc Fisher: “If the president didn’t see that his precipitous firing of the man in charge of investigating the Trump campaign’s connections with the Russian regime might instead alienate some of his allies and outrage much of the public, that’s no anomaly. Rather, it’s an illustration of several of the president’s core character traits — a belief that the past doesn’t matter, a penchant to act swiftly and unilaterally, and a conviction that even the most unpopular actions can help build his brand. Trump has professed the belief that the public cares only about right now, and that only news reporters and his political opponents are bothered by ping-pong statements [that take him from praising Comey to firing him]...
"In moments of crisis, presidents tend to revert to the traits that got them to the pinnacle. Nixon, stubborn and righteous, dug in as the Watergate morass deepened. Bill Clinton faced his crises by flitting from anger and denial to deeply personal confessionals. … That’s never been Trump’s style. Throughout his business career, and now in the presidency, he has proudly lived by simple mottos: Never look back. No regrets. When you’re hit, hit back 100 times harder. At his darkest moments, such as when Trump faced financial ruin and a very public battle over his divorce, some business associates wondered how he managed to come to work each morning. But Trump showed no signs of distress: He ‘showed up every morning at 8 a.m.,’ one of his top executives said, ‘tie tied, suit pressed, focused and moving forward.’ His family coat of arms, a regal symbol featuring a lion and a knight’s helmet, carries this Latin motto: ‘Numquam Concedere.’ ‘Never Concede.’"
-- “That Trump believed he could fire the person leading law enforcement’s Russia investigation without a meaningful response from another branch of government is a sign of his unfamiliarity with the separation of powers, and, most perilous to himself, an enduring notion of impunity,” The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos writes. “Before entering the White House, Trump operated by a principle that, as he put it in a moment of ‘locker room’ candor, ‘When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.’ The Constitution disagrees, and, by firing Comey and making a baldly contestable claim to his motives, Trump has invited a new investigation into why he took that step, how he described his reasoning, and whether it represents an abuse of office.”
HOW VOTERS ARE REACTING:
-- Disapproval for the president reached its highest level yet, according to a Quinnipiac Poll that was in the field before Comey was fired. His favorable rating fell to an all-time low of 35 percent. He also sank to record lows on a number of characteristics such as temperament, values, and honesty. The Fix’s Aaron Blake has more: 33 percent say he’s honest, 56 percent say he doesn’t have good leadership skills, 64 percent of voters say he doesn’t share their values and 65 percent disapprove of how he has treated the news media. (When asked whether people trust him or the media, the media won out, 57 to 31 percent.)
Quinnipiac also asked respondents: “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump?” The results were not generally complimentary, as Phil Bump shows in this word cloud:
The most surprising number from the survey is that Democrats have a 16-point lead on the generic ballot. By a 54-38 margin, voters said they prefer the Democrats control the House to the Republicans. This is the widest margin ever measured for this question in a Quinnipiac University poll, exceeding a 5-point margin for Republicans in 2013.
-- “‘I wish he’d quit tweeting’: Many Trump backers say it’s time for him to put down his phone,” by Jenna Johnson in Florida: “On any given day, [Trump] is known to fire off tweets that grab the attention of those inside the Beltway. But nearly 1,000 miles south of Washington, in the bar of American Legion Post 221 in the Florida Panhandle, no one seems to notice. No one has a Twitter account — frankly, many aren’t even sure how Twitter works — although they do know it keeps getting the president into trouble. Many of those at the American Legion bar one night last week said they can’t keep straight which of the president’s comments were delivered in a tweet and which came in an interview, speech or formal statement. Everything melds together as they watch the news, listen to their favorite talk-radio shows or read articles posted on Facebook.
[And] here in Niceville — which replaced the town name Boggy in 1910 — questions about the president’s tweets were often met with shrugs. Many said they care more about some congressional Republicans not supporting the president’s full agenda, about liberals not giving Trump a fair chance and about the media seeming to ignore the victories that they see. “I’d rather hear honest and crude than unhonest and sanitized,” said Scottie Gontarek, 60 … ‘You might not like what he says, but he’s honest.’”
-- The New York Times’ Trip Gabriel, Alan Blinder, and Jack Healy spoke to Trump voters across the country on how they felt about Comey getting firing:
- In Media, Pa.: “(Ralph) Neary, a 61-year-old county maintenance man, had voted for Mr. Trump and liked his ‘vision for America.’ But now his mind raced back to his youth, and to the dark days of Richard M. Nixon. ‘Tricky Dick,’ Mr. Neary called him, dredging up memories of how Nixon ‘lied to the American people.’ ‘If it’s found true that President Trump is covering up,’ Mr. Neary said flatly, ‘then I think he should be impeached.’ The man serving up his frankfurter …could not have disagreed more. [Augie] Pantellas, 73, said Mr. Comey needed to go, plain and simple, for failing to recommend criminal charges against [Clinton] last year. ‘I really believe — you might think I’m going overboard — she was probably one of the biggest criminals in American history,’ Mr. Pantellas said.”
- In Dahlonega, Ga: “At Rusted Buffalo, an eclectic retail shop on the Dahlonega town square, Marie Garrett saw Mr. Comey’s dismissal as a necessary, inevitable product of Mr. Trump’s vow to clean house in Washington. Working one of her three jobs, Ms. Garrett, 40, said she merely wanted familiar figures like Mr. Comey gone from government, no matter Mr. Trump’s rationale. … Ms. Garrett said her support for Mr. Trump would not waver. She added that she had not given all presidents such backing.”
TWO MAGAZINES LANDED TRUMP INTERVIEWS FOR COVER STORIES:
-- Time, “Trump After Hours,” by Michael Scherer and Zeke Miller: “Trump has lived most of these first months alone in his upstairs palace, inhabiting 20,000 square feet … [and] catered to by a household staff that totals nearly 100. … And few rooms have changed so much so fast as his dining room,’” which he recently had gutted. “‘We found gold behind the walls, which I always knew. Renovations are grand,’ he says, boasting [about his contractors]. ‘Remember how hard they worked? They wanted to make me happy.’ But the thing he wants to show is on the opposite wall, above the fireplace, a new 60-plus-inch flat-screen television that he has cued up with clips from the day’s Senate hearing on Russia …. He watches the screen like a coach going over game tape, studying the opposition, plotting next week’s plays.
- “As the dinner goes on, he loosens up, but only a little. He admits a few small mistakes … And for the man who centered his campaign around the notion of ‘America first,’ he explains that he is deeply moved by the violence against children in Syria, particularly [Assad’s] use of chemical weapons on his people. ‘I mean, when he actually said they were child actors, who would even think of that?’ Trump says with disgust …. ‘I felt something had to be done.’
- “The powers of the presidency are vast, but Trump has discovered in these first months in office that they do not include much influence over how his words and actions are consumed by the American people. Among the many frustrations, none seems to burn quite as much as the disrespect he feels he has received from the press … To cope with this new reality, the President says he is trying a mindfulness trick: he has tried to tune out the bad news about himself. ‘I’ve been able to do something that I never thought I had the ability to do,’ [he will say later], listing off the networks he tries to tune out and the newspapers he struggles to skim.
- When asked if he feels his administration can be too “combative”: “It could be my fault. I don’t want to necessarily blame, but there’s a great meanness out there that I’m surprised at …”
-- In an interview with The Economist, Trump was asked to define “Trumponomics.” At its core, he said, “It really has to do with self-respect as a nation. It has to do with trade deals that have to be fair, and somewhat reciprocal, if not fully reciprocal. And I think that's a word that you're going to see a lot of ... I'm absolutely a free-trader. I'm for open trade, free trade, but I also want smart trade and fair trade."
- On health-care: “Look, Obamacare was a disaster. Under Obamacare, you get your doctor; that was a lie. You get your plan; that was a lie. With us, you get your doctor. You get your plan. With us you’ll get hundreds and hundreds of plans. You know, one of the insurance companies, one of the big ones came to see me yesterday. They’re so anxious to start going crazy and you know it’s going to be like life insurance. People that buy life insurance they’re inundated with carriers. All different plans. … And I said to them, ‘What do you think the good plans are going to look like?’ He said, ‘Mr President, we’re going to have so many plans. We’re going to have the low version, the high version,’ he used the word Cadillac …’”
- On whether his penchant for saying dramatic thing is a negotiating tactic: “No, it’s not, really not a negotiation. It’s really not. No, will I settle for less than I go in with? Yes, I mean who wouldn’t? Nobody, you know, I always use the word flexibility, I have flexibility.”
- On immigration: “I want to stop illegal immigration … I want people to come into the country legally. But I want people to come in on merit. I want to go to a merit-based system. Actually two countries that have very strong systems are Australia and Canada. And I like those systems very much, they’re very strong, they’re very good.”
THE NEW NIXON?
-- Bob Woodward talked with The Fix’s Peter W. Stevenson about the Trump-Nixon comparisons:
- On Trump’s denouncing of the Russia probe as “fake news”: “It's clearly a legitimate investigation, and Trump doesn't like it. We’ll see. … [But] what's worrisome to a reporter interested in getting facts is, this is so polarized, this is so emotional. This is driven by tweets and assertions from people who don't really know. It's too bad, we live in this Internet culture of impatience and speed, and it does not set us on the road to gathering facts.”
- On whether people rushed too quickly to Watergate comparisons: “Lots of people are alarmed by the Trump presidency, some people for partisan reasons, they're probably hyping this up. But this is pretty extraordinary. Don't dilute the moment when the president, kind of out of left field, says “I'm firing the FBI director, who has a fixed term, can only be fired for cause.”
- On the Saturday Night Massacre: “The Saturday Night Massacre was a giant, seismic event in Watergate. But … [at the time], John Dean, Nixon's lawyer, had already testified, a devastating four days of nationally publicized testimony, and Alexander Butterfield, a Nixon aide, had disclosed the taping system, so by the time you got to the point where Nixon fired the special prosecutor, there were voluminous accusations against [him] … So you had a firsthand witness, and in the Trump case, there's a lot of suspicion — genuine, well-founded suspicion, but no John Dean testifying with the kind of specifics.”
-- Nixon biographer David Greenberg argues that no presidential deed has ever rivaled Nixon’s “serial abuse” of presidential power until now: “Comey’s unceremonious firing brings to mind the Saturday Night Massacre of October 1973 … Nixon’s actions then were also technically legal. But as everyone could see, they constituted a blatant attempt to snuff out an investigation that was closing in on him. In that sense, the parallels with Trump’s firing of Comey seem striking. In both instances, the sitting president was suspected of having tampered with the machinery of our democratic presidential elections. In both instances, too, post-election investigations had amassed strong evidence of serious wrongdoing. And in both instances, it was vital to guarantee that the president not be permitted to unilaterally end an inquiry into his own misdeeds …In the parlous days of 1973, it fell to Congress to ensure that the system worked. Likewise, in the days ahead, Congress again will decide whether our nation’s democratic norms are upheld or whether, under Trump, America takes a step toward the model of Russia, Turkey or Venezuela — countries where some trappings of democracy still remain but the rule of law and the will of the voters have come to mean little.”
-- Many pundits are ripping McConnell in this vein today:
E.J. Dionne thinks that the majority leader is making “the most important mistake of his career” by protecting Trump: “Maybe McConnell figures he can reposition himself regarding Trump at the right time. But he missed his chance to stand up when it mattered.”
“Mitch McConnell is no Howard Baker,” Dana Milbank writes in his column. “Baker, the late Republican senator from Tennessee and GOP Senate leader in the 1970s and 1980s, became a profile in courage when he put country above party during the Watergate investigation, famously asking, ‘What did the president know, and when did he know it?’ … McConnell’s small-mindedness would be funny if the situation weren’t so grave. This is a serious threat, not to Republicans but to America. … During Watergate, there were many Republicans who bravely stood up to Nixon. Rep. Lawrence Hogan of Maryland, father of the current governor, Rep. M. Caldwell Butler of Virginia, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, Sens. Hugh Scott (Pa.) and Barry Goldwater (Ariz.) and others earned places of honor in history for that.”
TOWN HALL UPDATES:
-- Rep. Tom MacArthur held a town hall event in Willingboro, N.J., last night, facing voters for the first time since he co-authored an amendment that revived a nearly-dead Republican health-care bill. David Weigel reports: “The mood was toxic from the start. Protesters lined up outside the town’s Kennedy Center event hall for hours before the 6:30 p.m. start time: an assemblage of local activist groups [and voters] … Tax March, a group that grew out of protests demanding the president’s tax returns, inflated a balloon that approximated a chicken with golden, Trump-like hair; nearby, dozens of protesters lied down in a ‘die-in,’ as a man wearing a Trump puppet head pretended to tee off on them. In the sky, a plane flew by, trailing letters that spelled out ‘MacArthur Tax Cut for 1% No Care.’
- “District residents stood in line — at start time, it stretched as long as a football field — for one of the scarce seats inside. MacArthur entered the room through a curtain, with a sound system playing Coldplay’s anthem ‘A Sky Full of Stars.’ [But] despite some of the trappings of a rally, there was little applause. For more than five hours, MacArthur presented himself as an empathetic, pragmatic legislator who had to represent ‘one of the few real swing seats.’ But he rarely got a break. He opened with a story that, in other settings, would have been a gut punch — the decision to raise a daughter with special needs and to take her off life support when, at 11 years old, she passed away.” “We know about your daughter,” yelled one constituent.
-- “Hundreds of people booed, shouted and laughed derisively at Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) at his first town hall meeting since he voted with other House Republicans to dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act,” Laura Vozzella reports: “‘Everybody asks for town halls so we can have civil discourse,’ a frustrated Brat told more than 700 people at a suburban Richmond church on Tuesday night. ‘That’s what I’m trying to do. If we go this route, it’s going to be very hard to have rational civil discourse. I’m trying.’ Trouble began even before Pastor Stan Grant of Clover Hill Assembly of God finished his invocation. As he prayed to God that the discussion would go forth ‘in a way that will honor you,’ a handful of Brat’s critics stood holding small signs aloft. Nope,’ ‘Shame” and ‘Stop using the Bible as a weapon,’ they read. State Sen. Amanda F. Chase, who attends the church and helped organize the meeting, was heckled as she tried to introduce Brat. ‘Ugh’ someone yelled. ‘You guys are a tough crowd,” she said, before turning to Brat and pressing on. ‘I’ve known you for about 10 years.’ Then more heckling, and she gave up. ‘Dave,’ she said, ‘they want to hear from you.’ As the 90-minute meeting concluded, Brat’s critics sang tauntingly at him, “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
-- Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, whose father was the last FBI director ousted by a president, said Comey should have been allowed “to exit in a more gracious way.” "I always favor dialogue over firing,” Sessions told Dallas Morning News’ Keven Ann Willey. “Sessions said the president, in a face-to-face meeting, should have given Comey the opportunity to step down. That would have avoided the issue of ‘a firing.’ That word, Sessions said, is ‘a tag on a man who ... performed reasonably well and it got out of hand.’ Sessions recounted that President Bill Clinton gave his father, William Sessions, the opportunity to resign in 1993 and his father chose not to … [Clinton was the first and only president to dismiss an FBI director until Trump's firing of Comey]. [Sessions] described Comey as generally a good FBI director who made some errors. He affirmed that Trump had the authority to fire Comey, may have even had cause to do so, but suggested that the president should have given Comey the courtesy of a conversation, a face-to-face meeting, with opportunity to resign first: "I think you treat good people better."
-- “Mourning a soldier whose death could mark a new stage in America’s longest war,” by Michael E. Miller: “They had followed him across the country and back, from one military base to another. On Wednesday, Army Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar’s wife and five children followed him one last time: six figures, dressed in black, walking behind the caisson that carried his casket through Arlington National Cemetery. De Alencar, 37, was killed April 8 when his Special Forces unit clashed with Islamic State fighters in eastern Afghanistan. He was the first American killed in combat in Afghanistan in more than four months. Now his death could mark the beginning of a new stage in America’s longest war. Five days after he died, U.S. forces dropped a 22,000-pound explosive [near where De Alencar was shot] ... Since then, two more American soldiers have been killed fighting the Islamic State in the same area. De Alencar’s burial comes as the Trump administration weighs a re-escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which has lasted more than 15 years."
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump tweeted this last night:
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who Trump attacked on Twitter, responded yesterday:
President Trump - Your bullying won’t silence my calls for an independent prosecutor and investigation.— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) May 10, 2017
From Madeleine Albright:
The world is watching how America responds to the Comey crisis. Lets prove we are a real democracy through a truly independent investigation— Madeleine Albright (@madeleine) May 10, 2017
From a former top adviser to John McCain:
Words I thought I'd never say: the security of the United States might now depend on electing a Democratic Congress in 2018.— Mark Salter (@MarkSalter55) May 10, 2017
The former Ohio secretary of state tweeted this:
The news cycle keeps getting shorter and shorter:
Just tried to write "last week's French election," but of course, that was still this current week, which is only halfway done.— Katherine Miller (@katherinemiller) May 10, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- New York Times, “Hackers Came, but the French Were Prepared,” by Adam Nossiter, David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth: “Everyone saw the hackers coming. The [NSA] in Washington picked up the signs. So did Emmanuel Macron’s bare-bones technology team. And mindful of what happened in the American presidential campaign, the team created dozens of false email accounts, complete with phony documents, to confuse the attackers. The Russians, for their part, were rushed and a bit sloppy, leaving a trail of evidence that was not enough to prove for certain they were working for the government of [Putin] but which strongly suggested they were part of his broader ‘information warfare’ campaign. The story told by American officials, cyberexperts and Mr. Macron’s own campaign aides of how a hacking attack intended to disrupt the most consequential election in France in decades ended up a dud was a useful reminder that as effective as cyberattacks can be in disabling Iranian nuclear plants, or Ukrainian power grids, they are no silver bullet. The kind of information warfare favored by Russia can be defeated by early warning and rapid exposure. But that outcome was hardly assured on Friday night, when what was described as a ‘massive’ hacking attack suddenly put Mr. Macron’s electoral chances in jeopardy.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“White Cop Who Finds He Has African Ancestry Sues City, Chief Over Racism,” from HuffPost: “Michigan police officer Cleon Brown is suing his chief and the city after a chain of events that began when he took a genetic test through Ancestry.com in December and was surprised to learn he could trace 18 percent of his DNA to regions in Africa. Brown was also surprised by how his fellow officers in the Hastings Police Department reacted to the news. He said the police chief called him ‘Kunte,’ after the character in Alex Haley’s novel ‘Roots: The Saga of an American Family,’ while other officers whispered ‘Black lives matter’ when they walked past … Even the mayor, who has since retired, made cracks, according to Brown’s attorney …” “There was an instance where my client was talking to the mayor, and the mayor ― upon learning that my client was 18 percent African-American ― proceeded to tell him a racist joke” she said.
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“U of Arizona Is Hiring Students to Tattle on Others for ‘Bias Incidents,’” from the National Review: “The University of Arizona is hiring students to be ‘social-justice activists,’ and the job description demands that they ‘report any bias incidents or claims to appropriate Residence Life staff.’ In other words: These kids are being paid to tattle on other kids for anything they might consider to be a microaggression, and any students who gets these jobs should probably identify themselves so that other students will know to never invite them to their parties. According to the university’s website, the official title of the position is ‘social-justice activist,’ and it pays $10 per hour. They can expect to work about 15 hours per week, which … means that they will be making roughly $600 per month to behave like self-righteous, meddling nightmares.” In addition to reporting the potentially offensive behavior of their peers, other parts of the job include planning social-justice programs for the residence halls, increasing “awareness and knowledge of diverse identities and how they influence interactions.”
At the White House: Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing. That’s the only event on his public schedule.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price defended police who arrested a reporter at West Virginia’s state capitol, saying they “did what they felt was appropriate.” When asked if he felt the reporter, Public News Service journalist Dan Heyman, had been too aggressive and whether it was appropriate to arrest him, Price said: “That gentleman was not in a press conference.” (STAT)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- The rain is back – and so are the colder-than-usual temps for the next few days. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Mostly cloudy skies are with us from start to finish. Showers are likely to move into the area in the morning with heavier rains during morning/early afternoon. Showers remain possible through late afternoon. Winds are very light from the east and highs are mainly in the lower 60s.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Some late-night reaction to Comey:
Students at a historically black university in Florida loudly booed Betsy DeVos as she attempted to deliver a commencement speech, with many in the audience turning their backs on her or walking out. "Let’s choose to hear one another out,” DeVos said at one point. “I am here to demonstrate in the most direct way possible that I and the administration are fully committed to your success and to the success of every student across this great country.” At one point, the school’s president interrupted her to warn, "If this behavior continues, we can mail the degrees to you.” Susan Svrluga and Lori Rozsa have the story. Here's a video clip: