With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: The White House tried hard last night to downplay the significance of the Justice Department appointing a special counsel to investigate possible coordination between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials. Robert S. Mueller III, who spent 12 years as FBI director, will lead the probe.
In their account, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein called up White House Counsel Don McGahn at 5:30 p.m. to give him a head’s up that he was going to make the announcement half an hour later. A senior administration official told reporters that Trump was “unbelievably calm and measured.” The press office then put out this statement under the president’s name: “A thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”
Undercutting the party line a little, though, the president took to Twitter this morning to express frustration about the mounting investigation and once against present himself as the victim of a witch hunt:
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
-- Remember: There would be no special counsel if Trump had not fired James Comey (allegedly after asking him to end the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn) and then confessed that he did so with Russia on his mind. This is yet another reminder of just how badly the inexperienced president’s impulsive decision and its bungled rollout has backfired on him.
-- In the short-term, politically, this newest development might give Republicans and the White House a little bit of breathing room. They can offer support for the special counsel to deflect many of the difficult and important questions that remain unanswered. But, in truth, the long-term danger to Trump’s presidency from the Russia scandal is greater today than it was yesterday.
As long as Mueller’s probe drags on, a huge dark cloud will hang over the White House. Who knows just how high up this investigation might go? Or, very hypothetically at this point, who in the Trump orbit might turn state’s witness if offered a deal to avoid jailtime? And Mueller is respected enough (more on that below) that any attempt to neuter him, or even just rein him in, could lead to a Constitutional crisis. In that way, Trump just lost a little more control over the fate of his presidency.
-- How aggressive the Russia investigation will become is now up to Mueller. Rosentein’s order charges Mueller with investigating “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Mueller is also empowered to probe possible attempts to stymie his investigation. That language gives him leeway to interpret his mandate broadly if he chooses. It also might mean he goes after people who leaked classified information related to the bureau’s Russia investigation. He can continue his work however long he wants, and he is broadly “authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation.”
-- That means this could last for years – potentially through the president’s 2020 reelection campaign. Philip Bump explored how long the work of previous special prosecutors/counsels took:
-- The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, primarily concerned with advancing conservative tax reform though Congress, says Rosenstein made a “mistake” by “bending to political pressure” and worries it will hinder the GOP agenda: “These expeditions rarely end well for anyone … It opens up years of political risk to the Trump Administration … The manner of (Mueller’s) appointment and the subject he’s investigating make him de facto untouchable even if he becomes an abusive Javert like Patrick Fitzgerald … Mueller will be under pressure to bring criminal indictments of some kind to justify his existence. He’ll also no doubt bring on young attorneys who will savor the opportunity to make their reputation on such a high-profile investigation. … He is highly attuned to the political winds. As they say in Washington, lawyer up.”
-- Pete Wehner, a former senior aide to Bush 43 who was called to testify before a grand jury during the investigation into the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity, told Politico: “There’s always a mood in a White House. If you have a special prosecutor, that can dampen the spirit. It just changes things. It makes life more complicated (even) for people who are completely innocent. If you’re guilty, obviously it makes it much more difficult. People are fearful whatever they’ve done and transgression they’ve committed is going to be revealed.”
“The risk is that you lose control of your agenda,” added Robert Luskin, a Washington white-collar attorney who represented Karl Rove in the Plame investigation, as well as a pair of Clinton senior officials during Whitewater. “It’s an enormous distraction. It’s an energy suck. As long as the clouds hang over a presidency it becomes much more difficult to get anything else done.”
This is why White House officials and GOP leaders in Congress have so strongly resisted a special counsel until now.
Two days ago, @PressSec said this of a special prosecutor: "There’s, frankly, no need for a special prosecutor. "— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) May 17, 2017
-- Empowering Mueller is unlikely to contain the fallout from Trump firing Comey or stop the ongoing congressional investigations.
The leaders of the Senate and House committees conducting their own inquiries pledged last night to move forward, setting up a complex landscape of potentially conflicting investigations — and competing goals. From Sean Sullivan, Ed O'Keefe, Elise Viebeck and Mike DeBonis: “Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), whose panel is conducting one of five congressional probes that are directly or indirectly looking into Russian activity, was among those who hailed the news while also declaring that ‘our task hasn’t changed.’” The Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees also both asked the FBI for documents related to Comey, who was closely overseeing the Russia investigation until Trump fired him.
Democrats cheered the news, but many also said that there still needs to be an independent investigation. “An independent commission doesn’t govern the FBI investigation, an independent commission doesn’t make charging decisions,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “I think they’re complementary, not in competition with each other.”
The Washington Post Editorial Board says the special counsel should not let Congress off the hook and makes an important point about what an independent investigation can do that Mueller cannot: “The special counsel’s job is only to look for criminal behavior and, if he finds any, to prosecute the wrongdoers. His job is not to inform the public or to pass judgment on actions that may have been unwise, inappropriate or unethical — but did not violate the law. … A full accounting is likely to emerge only if Congress appoints a special commission like the one that investigated the 9/11 attacks.”
-- A frequently asked question: What’s the difference between a “special counsel” and an “independent counsel”? Matt Zapotosky explains: “The independent counsel was a position established by a law that has expired, in part because of dissatisfaction over the independent investigations of Bill Clinton. Unlike the special counsel, the independent counsel was formally appointed by a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and those judges oversaw the independent counsel’s work. … A special counsel has been appointed like this only one other time — when Attorney General Janet Reno named former senator (Jack) Danforth to review the events surrounding the law enforcement assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., in 1993.” (Fitzgerald remained U.S. attorney for Chicago during the Plame investigation, so he wasn’t totally outside of DOJ.)
IF YOU DON’T KNOW MUELLER:
-- He brings to this role a proven willingness to take on a sitting president. From a nicely-turned profile by Matea Gold, Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger: “In a high-drama episode in 2004, he and then-Deputy Attorney General Comey [who remains his friend] were preparing to resign from their positions if President Bush reauthorized the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretap program without changes. Bush backed down. Former colleagues said the ex-Marine Corps officer and former U.S. attorney, who was sworn in as FBI director a week before the 2001 terrorist attacks, is uniquely suited to the task. A former deputy attorney general who later did a stint prosecuting homicide cases in Washington, Mueller is a known as a no-nonsense, relentless prosecutor with a deep reverence for the rule of law. ‘The most devastating thing that can happen to an institution is that people begin to shade and dissemble,’ he told Washingtonian magazine in 2008.”
The former director has demonstrated an impressive, lifelong commitment to public service. Some quick biographical details: “Mueller grew up in Philadelphia and went to St. Paul’s School, the elite prep school in New Hampshire, where he played hockey with John F. Kerry … At Princeton, he was inspired to join the Marine Corps by a former student who died in Vietnam … He led a rifle platoon in Vietnam, eventually receiving numerous commendations, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. After graduating from the University of Virginia Law School, Mueller worked for a dozen years as an assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco and Boston. Mueller succeeded William Weld as U.S. attorney in Boston and then went to Washington in 1989 as an assistant to Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh, eventually rising to be chief of the criminal division. During his tenure, he worked on high-profile cases such as the prosecution of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega and the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.”
Mueller cares more about making his community safer than making a buck: “After a stint at a private law firm, Mueller took a big pay cut to work as a homicide prosecutor in Washington for U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. — a move that friends said showed how much prosecuting was in his blood. Holder told The Post that Mueller called him and explained he was ‘shaken’ by killings in the city and wanted a chance to be a line prosecutor and do something about it. Holder called the conversation ‘one of the most extraordinary calls I’ve ever gotten.’ Holder later tapped Mueller to serve as U.S. attorney in San Francisco…
“As a partner at WilmerHale, which Mueller joined in 2014, he was frequently tapped by major corporations and institutions to conduct complex, sensitive internal investigations. Among his recent clients was the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, which hired him to review the company’s security procedures after one of its employees was charged with stealing classified data from the NSA. Another was the National Football League, which tapped Mueller to examine how the league handled a domestic abuse case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.”
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY – ROD SAVES HIMSELF:
-- Rosenstein’s 6 p.m. announcement that Mueller has agreed to take on the duties of special counsel seemed timed, at least in part, to take some of the sting out of what is sure to be a contentious visit to the Hill today. Behind closed doors, he will give a classified briefing to the full Senate at 2:30 p.m. today about the firing of Comey, and he’ll return to brief House members tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.
He took charge of overseeing the Russia probe after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself because he had given false testimony to Congress about his contacts with the Russians.
Rosenstein, a Republican, was appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland by Bush in 2005. But the state’s Democratic senators, Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, asked Barack Obama to keep him onboard for the past eight years. With hundreds of hyper-ambitious liberals who would have killed for the U.S. attorney posting in a lawyer-heavy state like Maryland, his staying power in the Obama years was truly remarkable. This is how he got confirmed as deputy A.G. three weeks ago by a vote of 94-6, an unusual show of support in this polarized moment.
But last week Rosenstein squandered all the goodwill he had earned from the left over the years by writing the thin-gruel memo justifying Comey’s termination. Citing Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, it did not even read like something that was written by an attorney. That raised a host of questions about Rosenstein’s independence and judgment.
Making matters worse for him, the White House made a strategic decision to blame the Comey firing on Rosenstein as much as possible. Sources told The Post last week that Rosenstein threatened to resign if West Wing aides kept insisting publicly that the president acted only because of his recommendation.
Rosenstein, who grew accustomed to positive press coverage over the years, was buffeted by a relentless storm of negative commentary from the elite media and the legal trade press for the past eight days.
Dozens of senators came to seriously regret their vote. Chris Coons, who enthusiastically voted to confirm Rosenstein on April 25, said yesterday that his “credibility is on a very shaky foundation.” Dick Durbin told USA Today that Rosenstein let himself get “set up.” Richard Blumenthal said he was “used” and had “his reputation exploited” by the White House. All three of those Democrats sit on the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Justice Department.
“Former colleagues said Rosenstein’s move (last night) may help restore his battered reputation among current and former government lawyers,” Devlin Barrett, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky write. “He got absolutely pummeled by people that he knows,” said a former senior Obama administration lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. “I think this move, as so often happens in Washington, where there is the opportunity to wash away your sins, was a thorough scrubbing.”
“This is precisely what Rosenstein needed to do for all parties, but particularly for his own honor,” Dana Milbank argues in his column. “It’s often said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. On Wednesday night, Rod Rosenstein did something.”
Democrats say that they’re still going to push Rosenstein hard this afternoon and tomorrow about Comey, how his memo came to be and the scope of Sessions’s recusal. Why, for example, did the attorney general play a key role in firing Comey when he is not supposed to have anything to do with the Russia investigation?
-- Some Republicans also promise they too will ask tough questions. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told Paul Kane that still he needs to know if Rosenstein knew about Comey’s one-on-one interactions with Trump (the dinner and the Oval Office sit-down) before he agreed to write the memo justifying the director’s ouster.
THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- “House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump,” by Adam Entous from Kiev, Ukraine: “A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin. ‘There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,’ McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia. … Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: ‘Swear to God.’”
Paul Ryan immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy: The Speaker instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “This is an off the record. … No leaks. … This is how we know we’re a real family here.” (Read Adam's full story. Read a five-page transcript of the conversation.)
Why does no one trust politicians and their spinmeisters? Remember this paragraph the next time a lawmaker’s flack denies a Washington Post story: “When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: ‘That never happened,’ and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: ‘The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.’ After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: ‘This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor.’ … ‘This was a failed attempt at humor,’ said Sparks.”
-- Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs said his boss has been a consistent advocate of “working closer with the Russians” to combat radical Islamism: “The congressman doesn’t need to be paid to come to such a necessary conclusion.”
-- McCarthy found Rohrabacher on the House floor last night and told him the remark was not to be taken seriously. From Mike DeBonis and David Weigel: Rohrabacher compared the situation to a lunge at humor that had haunted him for years. “You have to be very careful when you’re using humor,” Rohrabacher said in a short interview. “I remember that I was trying to make fun of the scientists who claimed that cow farts make global warming. So at a hearing, I said, ‘Oh, do you think the dinosaurs disappeared because of dinosaur flatulence?’ To this day, you have these environmental wackos saying, ‘Dana Rohrabacher believes that flatulence killed the dinosaurs.’ It was humor, but you’ve got to watch out for it. Kevin didn’t mean any harm.”
-- Trump campaign operatives, including Michael Flynn, had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in the last seven months of the presidential race, Reuters’ Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel report: “The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference ... Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Flynn."
-- Flynn told transition team officials weeks before Trump took office that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, the New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti report: “Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies. Mr. Flynn, who was fired after 24 days in the job, was kept on even after the acting attorney general, [Sally Yates], warned the White House that he might be subject to blackmail by the Russians for misleading [Pence] about the nature of conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to Washington.” This news comes a day after the Times reported that Trump asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn a day after his resignation.
-- One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against ISIS was made by Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent, McClatchy’s Vera Bergengruen reports: "The decision came 10 days before [Trump] had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with [Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice], who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president. Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months. … Now members of Congress, musing about the tangle of legal difficulties Flynn faces, cite that exchange with Rice as perhaps the most serious: acting on behalf of a foreign nation – from which he had received considerable cash – when making a military decision. Some members of Congress, in private conversations, have even used the word ‘treason’ to describe Flynn’s intervention."
-- Flynn and Paul Manafort have emerged as key figures in the FBI's investigation, NBC News’ Tom Winter and Ken Dilanian report: “Officials say multiple grand jury subpoenas and records requests have been issued in connection with the two men during the past six months … The FBI, with the help of the Treasury Department, the CIA and other agencies, is examining evidence of possible contacts, money transfers and business relationships between a variety of Trump associates and Russian officials.”
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Roger Ailes, the architect of Fox News, is dead at 77. From Marc Fisher’s obituary: “His family confirmed the death in a statement. No cause or location was reported.”
-- We had a great conversation with Ben Sasse last night. (Watch the whole thing here.) Our next “202 Live” will be next Tuesday (May 23) at 9 a.m. with John Podesta. The former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign will talk with guest host Karen Tumulty about Trump’s first months in office, the Russia investigation, and the path forward for Democrats. (RSVP to attend or watch live stream here.)
GET SMART FAST:
- Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby was acquitted in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man who was killed outside his SUV last year. His death prompted a wave of protests across the country, especially after Shelby failed to check on Crutcher in the immediate aftermath. (Susan Hogan)
- The Chicago Police Department announced a sweeping change to its use-of-force policies, moving to adopt the concept of de-escalation during critical incidents to minimize officer-involved deaths. (Tom Jackman)
- The number of women living with advanced breast cancer is rising “substantially” in the U.S., researchers report in a newly-published study, reflecting an improved survival rates among all age groups. The study found that between 1992 and 1994, and 2005 and 2012, the five-year survival rate among women under age 50 initially diagnosed with advanced disease doubled. (Laurie McGinley)
- Infertile mice gave birth this week after scientists outfitted them with healthy “prosthetic ovaries” made using a 3-D printer. Researchers have hailed this as the “holy grail” of regenerative medicine, and hope to one day treat cancer patients and infertile women using the same science. (The Guardian)
- Delta announced it will begin rolling out a brand-new self-service bag drop station, which uses facial recognition technology to match passengers to their passport photos. Airline officials said the new technology can process customers’ bags up to twice as fast as a real human employee. (CBS News)
- A Girl Scout leader with a sweet tooth -- and an apparent criminal streak -- is on the lamb after taking off with thousands of dollars of cookies earlier this year. (Time Magazine)
-- A “near-final copy” of Trump’s first full education budget reveals deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice, as well as many other highly contentious cost-cutting initiatives. Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report: “Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives …The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies … The [budget proposal] is likely to meet resistance on Capitol Hill because of strong constituencies seeking to protect current funding, ideological opposition to vouchers and fierce criticism of DeVos.”
The cuts would come from eliminating at least 22 programs, some of which Trump outlined in March. Gone, for example, would be $1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are poor, and $2.1 billion for teacher training and class-size reduction.” Other targets include “a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program … two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs …”
“The cuts would make space for investments in choice, including $500 million for charter schools, up 50 percent over current funding. The administration also wants to spend $250 million on “Education Innovation and Research Grants,” which would pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools …”
-- “A Trump administration order took effect this week barring U.S. aid for global health organizations that discuss or provide referrals for abortion. But the new policy put another program in the crosshairs: America’s global HIV/AIDS effort,” Kevin Sieff reports from Africa. “Since 2003, the U.S. government has spent more than $70 billion to combat the global epidemic, with tremendous results. The annual number of AIDS-related deaths has fallen by more than 40 percent. Under [Trump’s] expansion of the so-called global gag rule, however, many HIV/AIDS organizations funded by the United States stand to lose their funding, putting at risk the possibility of eliminating the epidemic by 2030, a commitment established at the U.N. General Assembly last year … About $6 billion in U.S. HIV/AIDS funding could be affected.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN:
-- David Clarke, the divisive Milwaukee sheriff who has compared Black Lives Matter to the KKK and referred to anti-Trump protesters as “anarchists” who “must be quelled,” said that he will be appointed to a high-ranking position in the Department of Homeland Security. Wesley Lowery and Lisa Rein report: “Clarke said during a local radio interview Wednesday afternoon that he will be appointed as an assistant secretary in the Office of Partnership and Engagement, acting as a liaison between the agency and local police departments and likely pressuring them to enforce the Trump administration’s tough new crackdown on illegal immigration. The position does not require Senate confirmation.” Even without Senate confirmation, however, his appointment will need to be reviewed first by the White House Office of Presidential Personnel – at a minimum – and possibly other top White House officials, who would have submitted Clarke’s paperwork for vetting by the FBI and the Office of Government Ethics.
“In interviews and speeches in recent years, he has compared the Black Lives Matter protest movement to the KKK, and speculated that it will join forces with the Islamic State to overthrow the U.S. government … Black Americans, Clarke has said, sell drugs ‘because they’re uneducated, they’re lazy, and they’re morally bankrupt.’ And Clarke’s management of the Milwaukee County Jail has drawn national scrutiny. At least four people died in Clarke’s jail between April 2015 and November 2016, including a newborn baby born inside the jail without the jail staff knowing. Seven jail staffers could face the possibility of criminal charges in connection to another of those deaths … [after an inmate] died after being deprived of water for seven days."
-- “Clarke’s mind is organized around a worship of the virtues of physical force, combined with a seething intolerance for democratic dissent,” New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes. “In his book, Clarke proposes that the [DHS]— the department that he has been nominated to serve — assume police-state powers to round up internal enemies. “I suggest that our commander in chief ought to utilize Article I, Section 9 and take all of these individuals that are suspected, these ones on the internet spewing jihadi rhetoric … to scoop them up, charge them with treason and, under habeas corpus, detain them indefinitely at Gitmo,” he writes. Clarke estimates that the number of people to be rounded up in such fashion runs into “hundreds of thousands,” or “maybe a million.”
-- Here is a taste of Clarke's Twitter feed:
Before long, Black Lies Matter will join forces with ISIS to being down our legal constituted republic. You heard it first here.— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) October 28, 2015
-- Adding some intrigue, DHS pushed back on Clarke's own announcement:
Sr. positions are announced when made official by the Sec. No such announcement w/ regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.— Homeland Security (@DHSgov) May 17, 2017
-- Federal immigration agents are arresting more than 400 immigrants per day – a massive spike that mirrors Trump’s sweeping campaign rhetoric. Maria Sacchetti reports: “In Trump’s first 100 days in office, [ICE] arrested 41,318 immigrants, up 37.6 percent over [the last year] ... Almost 3 out of 4 of those arrested have criminal records, including gang members and fugitives wanted for murder. But the biggest increase by far is among immigrants with no criminal records[:] arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled to nearly 11,000, the fastest-growing category by far. ICE’s announcement showcased one of the Trump administration’s few victories on immigration this year, after federal judges halted parts of his entry ban and sanctuary-city crackdown … Advocates for undocumented immigrants say the numbers will add to the fears of longtime and otherwise law-abiding residents who felt spared from deportation under the Obama administration.”
-- Trump interviewed four candidates to replace Comey at the White House yesterday: former senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman; former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, who worked previously as a U.S. attorney and as the No. 3 official in the Justice Department; Richard McFeely, a former FBI official who spent more than two decades in the bureau; and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who has taken over for Comey in the short term. “Last Saturday, top Justice Department officials interviewed eight people — though Lieberman, Keating and McFeely were not among the names made public that day,” Matt Zapotosky and John Wagner report. “A Justice Department official said the attorney general has now also met with them. It was not immediately clear how many candidates Trump plans to interview.” Alice Fisher, a former Justice Department official, became the latest candidate to remove herself from consideration.
A SIEGE MENTALITY:
-- Trump was full of self-pity, oozing resentment and grievance, during a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. Jenna Johnson and David Nakamura report: “As Trump addressed 195 cadets ... he offered them some advice. ‘Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair,’ the unsmiling president said, leaning heavily on the lectern with his shoulders scrunched up. ‘You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve … But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up.’ And in case the cadets wondered if this was really advice for them — or simply a coded defense of himself — the president then made his intentions clear. 'Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,' Trump said, opening his arms as if for a well-needed hug. 'No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.'"
WEST WING INTRIGUE:
-- THE TOUGHEST GIG IN WASHINGTON RIGHT NOW? WORKING FOR TRUMP. “As [Trump] has grown increasingly angry and frustrated with his White House staff, the beleaguered targets of his ire have a quietly roiling gripe of their own — their boss, the president himself," Ashley Parker and Abby Phillip report: “In the nine days since he fired [Comey], Trump has lurched through a series of crises of his own making … And in his wake remain his exhausted aides and deputies, the frequent targets of Trump’s wrath as they struggle to control an uncontrollable chief executive and labor to explain away his stumbles. Some White House staffers have turned to impeachment gallows humor. Other mid-level aides have started reaching out to consultants, shopping their resumes. And at least one senior staffer has begun privately talking to friends about what a post-White House job would look like …
“For many White House staffers, impromptu support groups of friends, confidants and acquaintances have materialized, calling and texting to check in, inquiring about their mental state and urging them to take care of themselves. [One operative said] others are now sticking around purely for self-interest, hoping to juice their future earning potential. This Republican added that any savvy White House staffer should be keeping a diary. ‘The real question is: How long do you put up with it?,’ this person said. ‘Every one of those people could get a better paying job and work less hours.’”
-- How do aides deal with the president's short-attention span? "National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump’s name in ‘as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,’ according to one source," per Reuters’ Steve Holland and Jeff Mason. "And Trump likes to look at a map of the country involved when he learns about a topic.”
-- Trump, frustrated by his administration’s handling of the multiple scandals engulfing the White House, has turned once again to his team of former campaign advisers, including Jason Miller, David Bossie, and Corey Lewandowski. Politico’s Tara Palmeri reports: “While it’s not clear any of these old hands will ultimately land a job in the White House, Trump has been weighing a major staff overhaul … Bossie …sat in a meeting on Monday morning during which Trump blasted [Sean Spicer] and communications director Mike Dubke [for failing to contain Comey fallout] …” Meanwhile, Corey Lewandowski was spotted in the West Wing lobby on Tuesday: “A White House official said that Trump has floated the idea of bringing back his longest-serving campaign manager, who recently resigned from his lobbying shop Avenue Strategies amid allegations that he appeared to be selling access to the White House. He has told people that the president has asked him to ‘bring order’ to Trump’s feuding White House staff … Trump has also turned to his former campaign communications director Jason Miller for messaging advice, as his frustrations grows with Dubke, whom Trump believes is an ineffective defender and advocate."
-- John Yoo, who as Bush 43’s assistant attorney general authored the notorious “torture memos,” believes Trump’s purported comments to Comey “come close to obstruction of justice but don’t clearly cross the line.” The Berkeley law professor writes in an op-ed for today’s New York Times: “If Mr. Trump has truly impeded a valid investigation, Congress’s initial action should be refusal to enact his legislative agenda or fund White House priorities. If these measures fail, Congress can turn to impeachment, which allows for the removal of a president for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’
“Contrary to common wisdom, impeachment does not require the president to commit a crime but instead refers to significant political mistakes or even incompetence,” he adds. “This was the framers’ intent — as Hamilton explained in Federalist 65, impeachment was to tackle ‘the misconduct of public men’ or ‘the abuse or violation of some public trust.’ Such offenses, he wrote, ‘are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.’ The first step would be for Congress to form a special committee to investigate the Russia controversy and the Trump-Comey affair.”
Offering advice for how Trump can survive, Yoo urges the president to study Ronald Reagan’s response to the Iran-Contra scandal and immediately clean house: “After the revelations that his national security staff had traded arms for hostages held by Iran and transferred funds to the Nicaraguan contras, Reagan cleaned house and agreed to reforms of government oversight of covert action. After that, his presidency not only survived but also thrived. … Trump should emulate Reagan. He should fire his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and all the others who brought the chaos of the presidential campaign into the White House. He can replace them with more experienced government hands, much as he replaced Mr. Flynn with H. R. McMaster. He can appoint an independent presidential commission to get to the bottom of the Russia affair, copying the Bush inquiry into Iraq’s W.M.D. program."
GOP DONORS PANIC:
-- “Pangs of fear and frustration are rippling through the Republican donor and operative classes as Trump’s self-inflicted wounds threaten to fully derail the GOP legislative agenda and tarnish the party’s brand headed into the midterms,” McClatchy’s Katie Glueck reports: “At a Miami donor retreat and at a high-powered Washington dinner, on Capitol Hill and at political firms across the country, Republican donors and operatives this week watched the barrage of bad headlines about Trump with a mixture of awe, angst and anger, worrying about the political implications for their Republican majorities—and about the legal implications for the president. At a gathering of the Republican Governors Association at a Trump resort in the Miami area … donors were also anxious, consumed by the feeling that ‘it’s going to be impossible to get anything done,’ said one Republican operative in attendance. ‘People are in meltdown mode.’ Taken together, some Republicans have privately begun to doubt whether Trump will serve a full term[:] ‘I’m finding it hard to find people who say, ‘No, this isn’t that bad,’ said [another GOP operative] ... ‘It’s gradients of bad, [from] ‘we were wrong before, he’ll survive,’ to, ‘this is the beginning of the end.’ I’m not finding anyone who says this isn’t a problem.’”
THE SYSTEM IS RIGGED:
-- “Former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson routinely helped well-connected parents — including two senior aides to Mayor Muriel Bowser — bend or break the rules of the District’s notoriously competitive school lottery to enroll their children at coveted schools,” Peter Jamison and Aaron C. Davis report: "Henderson used her power as head of the school system to place the children of those with political clout at campuses they could not otherwise access through the random lottery, which every year leaves thousands of families on waiting lists for their desired schools. Henderson openly acknowledged in interviews with investigators that she gave special treatment to the children of government officials. Asked about the help she gave City Administrator Rashad M. Young … whose salary is $295,000, Henderson said D.C. officials ‘do not necessarily get paid as much as we should.’ The former chancellor bestowed such favors even as she dismissed pleas for special consideration from those with less influence, such as a deaf Vietnamese immigrant whose request that her daughter be allowed to attend a school where she could practice sign language was rejected.”
AN INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT:
-- Tuesday’s clash involving protesters and security guards for visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan prompted outrage by local and U.S. officials who accused the guards of using violence to quell what had been a peaceful demonstration in Northwest Washington. From Peter Hermann and Perry Stein: “D.C. police arrested two men, one from Virginia and one from New York, and said they are pursuing charges against additional suspects since the melee outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence at Sheridan Circle. Eleven people were injured, among them a police officer. Some were kicked and stomped, their heads bloodied. Included in the police search are members of Erdogan’s armed protective detail, according to two people with direct knowledge of the case. Police are working with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Secret Service to identify people seen on videos and obtain arrest warrants, even as they anticipated thorny issues involving diplomatic immunity or the special status afforded to those who guard visiting heads of state."
- House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) said “agents of foreign governments should never be immune from prosecution for felonious behavior.” In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he urged a quick inquiry and the filing of “appropriate criminal charges” before the security officers leave the country.
- In a statement, the State Department said “violence is never an appropriate response to free speech.” It added that the United States is “communicating our concern with the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms.”
- D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, whose department is leading the investigation, decried the violence. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said “police are working very hard with our partners to see if we can get to the bottom of this,” adding that “it was a pretty savage beating.” And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) added: “This is the United States of America. We do not do this here. There is no excuse for this kind of thuggish behavior.”
DECONSTRUCTING THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE:
-- The Labor Department yesterday suspended an Obama-era disclosure rule requiring companies to electronically report injury and illness records -- a move that effectively keeps these records from being publicly disclosed for the immediate future. Juliet Eilperin reports: “[Previously] OSHA had required about 180,000 establishments in high-hazard industries such as manufacturing and nursing homes to submit the summary data by mail. But the program cost $2 million a year to run, and officials decided to expand the requirement and transition it to an electronic system instead. The rule, which covered nearly 441,000 workplaces, took effect Jan. 1 and employers were obligated to send in their summary data by July 1. But OSHA never launched the website for companies to submit the information, and it posted language Wednesday with an existing fact sheet saying it “is not accepting electronic submissions of injury and illness logs at this time, and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information.’”
-- Federal regulators are moving to roll back one of the Obama administration's “net neutrality” rules this week, launching a new push to repeal a set of regulations guiding how Internet providers may treat websites and their customers. Brian Fung reports: “The vote on Thursday, led by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, will kick off consideration of a proposal to relax regulations on companies such as Comcast and AT&T. If approved by the 2-1 Republican-majority commission, it will be a significant step for the broadband industry as it seeks more leeway under government rules to develop new business models. [But] for consumer advocates and tech companies, it will be a setback; those groups argue that looser regulations won't prevent those business models from harming Internet users and website owners.”
TRUMP'S CARELESSNESS ON SECURITY:
-- ProPublica and Gizmodo --> “Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago,” by Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, and Julia Angwin: “Two weeks ago, on a sparkling spring morning, we went trawling along Florida’s coastal waterway. But not for fish. We parked a 17-foot motor boat in a lagoon about 800 feet from the back lawn of The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and pointed a 2-foot wireless antenna that resembled a potato gun toward the club. Within a minute, we spotted three weakly encrypted Wi-Fi networks. We could have hacked them in less than five minutes, but we refrained. A few days later, we drove through the grounds of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with the same antenna and aimed it at the clubhouse. We identified two open Wi-Fi networks that anyone could join without a password. We resisted the temptation. We have also visited two of [Trump’s] other family-run retreats [in Washington] and Sterling, Virginia. Our inspections found weak and open Wi-Fi networks, wireless printers without passwords, servers with outdated and vulnerable software, and unencrypted login pages to back-end databases containing sensitive information.
“The risks posed by the lax security, experts say, go well beyond simple digital snooping. Sophisticated attackers could take advantage of vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi networks to take over devices like computers or smart phones and use them to record conversations involving anyone on the premises. ‘Those networks all have to be crawling with foreign intruders, not just ProPublica,” said [cyber-security expert] Dave Aitel … when we told him what we found.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WATCH:
-- “Donald Trump Jr. traveled to Dubai and met a billionaire business partner in the city-state, discussing ‘new ideas’ as the Emirati’s real estate firm still lists possible plans for future joint projects while Trump’s father is in the White House," the Associated Press's Jon Gambrell reports: “The Trump Organization has said it won't make new foreign deals while Donald Trump serves as America's 45th president. That didn't affect the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai's opening in February, while a previously planned Trump-branded golf course designed by Tiger Woods is still being built nearby. Both projects are being built by Dubai's DAMAC Properties, owned by Emirati billionaire Hussain Sajwani. His company has paid the Trump Organization's subsidiaries between $1 million to $5 million for the projects."
-- "Ivanka Trump's apparel brand is facing criticism from a labor-rights group for relying on Chinese factories that it says force some employees to work long shifts at the equivalent of about a dollar an hour," Bloomberg's Stephanie Hoi-Nga Wong reports: “The nonprofit organization China Labor Watch said it investigated two Chinese factories that produce goods for Ivanka Trump's brand. It then shared its findings in a letter sent to the first daughter, saying employees are forced to work at least 12 1/2 hours a day and at least six days a week -- at a monthly salary of about 2,500 yuan ($363). China Labor Watch said it has yet to receive a response."
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
This pretty much sums up the feeling on Capitol Hill right now:
Asked a longtime House GOP staffer where things are headed. "This is like Reservoir Dogs. Everyone ends up dead on the floor."— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) May 17, 2017
Somehow mistakes like this slip through the White House press office every day. Professional communicators from both parties are baffled. What is their approval process?
Meanwhile, the White House just spelled the name of its own Commerce Secretary wrong in a press release. pic.twitter.com/LMnB6cQyor— Gabriel Debenedetti (@gdebenedetti) May 16, 2017
Good reviews on Mueller came pouring in --
From two respected national security journalists:
Bob Mueller is America's straightest arrow. I spent 3 years writing his biography, and there's no hint of partisanship or politics on him.— Garrett M. Graff (@vermontgmg) May 17, 2017
Some things you might want to know about Bob Mueller. This is very good news if you want to find the truth. https://t.co/uBtGluiPPo— Barton Gellman (@bartongellman) May 17, 2017
From the GOP chairman of the House Oversight Committee:
Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) May 17, 2017
The Democratic senator from Wisconsin:
Former FBI Director Mueller is a strong choice as special prosecutor to lead this investigation. Independence must drive this forward. https://t.co/B9mklSjTsm— Sen. Tammy Baldwin (@SenatorBaldwin) May 17, 2017
Other Democrats said the special counsel is insufficient:
The #Resistance continues:
Remember tonight - there would be no special counsel if not for the millions of Americans doggedly and persistently speaking truth to power.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) May 17, 2017
And it's only WEDNESDAY. Just keep repeating to yourself, "none of this is normal, none of this is normal, none of this is normal."— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) May 17, 2017
It's almost more interesting that Sessions was informed after Rosenstein signed Mueller order.— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) May 17, 2017
On Russia probes, Ds wanted Sessions to step aside. He did. They wanted Nunes recusal. He did. They wanted a special counsel. They got that— Manu Raju (@mkraju) May 18, 2017
It is telling that the White House didn't want any surrogates on TV last night, even with an especially friendly host:
Tucker Carlson just said on air that the WH asked to put Kellyanne Conway on air tonight then cancelled just before the show started.— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) May 18, 2017
Trump staffers and family members pushed back:
I was too! This entire thing is a witch hunt propagated by a failed political campaign. https://t.co/AhGBFdJjTI— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) May 18, 2017
Rosenstein was like, "Anyone? Anyone?.... Mueller? Mueller?"— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) May 17, 2017
A Republican operative from Florida:
This is unspinnably bad for Trump.— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) May 17, 2017
Mueller is serious, and a good man. This also signals that the FBI isn't playing games.
Dear Trumpers:— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) May 17, 2017
No tax cuts.
No Obamacare repeal.
No trade deals.
You. Get. NOTHING.
Nothing but months of pain.
A Democratic operative:
Somewhere Donald Trump is trying to invite former FBI Director Robert Mueller over for dinner right now— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) May 17, 2017
And former Mexican President Vicente Fox continues to troll Trump:
.@realDonaldTrump, don't go all weepy on me! You've got what you wanted: you're the center of attention, but not the kind you wanted, right?— Vicente Fox Quesada (@VicenteFoxQue) May 17, 2017
A reenactment of the newspaper wars:
A fun meeting for West Virginia's senator:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- New York Times, “Jimmy Fallon Was on Top of the World, Before Trump,” by Dave Itzkoff: “Ambling onto the Art Deco set of ‘The Tonight Show’ … Jimmy Fallon gave the crowd here at Studio 6B a warm, practiced welcome before trying out a new batch of jokes about the French election, the pop star Harry Styles and [Trump’s] definitions of medical terms. Then he stepped to the spot where he delivers his monologue each evening and noted that the stage mark was in the shape of a four-leaf clover. ‘I’m Irish,’ he explained, ‘and I need all the luck I can get.’ It was a throwaway, self-deprecating line, but also an accurate self-assessment from Mr. Fallon, 42, who is in his fourth year of hosting ‘The Tonight Show.’ … He is weathering the most tumultuous period in his tenure there — a predicament for which he has himself to thank, and one that raises the question of whether the multitalented but apolitical Mr. Fallon can ride out the current era of politicized, choose-your-side entertainment, when he just wants to have a good time.”
-- The Atlantic, “When Your Child Is a Psychopath,” by Barbara Bradley Hagerty: “[Staffers] recall their first few assessments. ‘The kid would walk out and we would turn to each other and say, ‘That’s the most dangerous person I’ve ever seen in my life,’’ Caldwell says. Each one seemed more threatening than the last. “We’re looking at each other and saying, ‘Oh, no. What have we done?,’” Van Rybroek adds. … What they have done, by trial and error, is achieve something most people thought impossible: If they haven’t cured psychopathy, they’ve at least tamed it.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“A conspiratorial tale of murder, with Fox News at the center,” from Paul Farhi: “The conspiracy-choked story of Seth Rich’s killing has made a sudden comeback thanks to Fox News, but the latest reporting seems to have generated more controversy than credibility. Rich’s family is demanding a retraction from Fox for airing unsubstantiated claims about the Democratic National Committee staffer, whose death last year generated a wild river of theories and innuendo about who was behind it. Fox’s latest reporting on the unsolved crime has an odd twist: Much of its work relies on a private investigator who is also a Fox News contributor. The investigator, in turn, is being funded by a frequent Fox News guest. Rich’s family slammed the Fox report as false, and Wheeler, a former D.C. homicide detective, appeared to back away from it on Wednesday.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“No, ABC says, ‘Last Man Standing’ was not canceled because of Tim Allen’s politics,” from Emily Yahr: “Of all the series that ABC recently canceled … there’s one that was particularly contentious. That would be ‘Last Man Standing,’ the sitcom starring Tim Allen as a conservative ‘man’s man’ who hated President Obama and scoffs at political correctness.’ In a conference call Tuesday to announce ABC’s fall schedule, entertainment president Channing Dungey said ‘Last Man Standing’ was canceled for ‘business and scheduling reasons,’ and a big part of her job is to ‘make the tough calls and cancel shows we would love to have on.’ Currently, a Change.org petition to save the show has about 108,000 signatures.” The ratings were actually pretty good, Allen notes.
At the White House: Trump will meet with Gary Cohn. Then he will welcome Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The two will meet and then hold a joint press conference.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams." -- President Trump
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- It’s going to be a scorcher out there! The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Plenty of sun can be counted on but some high clouds do keep it from being quite as intense. Unfortunately, the think clouds do little to mute temps with highs again reaching the upper 80s to lower 90s across the area. Dulles has another shot at a record (91) but Reagan National’s 96 is probably safe. Humidity is with us but not oppressive. There is the slight chance for a stray late day thunderstorm but most stay dry.”
-- The race between Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary is statistically tied, according to a new Post-Schar School poll, as the two battle it out in the final weeks before the June 13 primary. Perriello currently holds a two-point edge over Northam, 40 percent to 38 percent, though his lead is well within the survey’s range of sampling error. (Gregory S. Schneider and Scott Clement)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
See a DHS official caught on a hot mic joking about using a sword on the press:
Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists have their own ideas of what is going on, reports The New York Times's Jeremy W. Peters: "'They’re going to say that Donald Trump has Alzheimer’s,'" said the president’s friend and longtime associate Roger Stone, who made an online video laying out how the president’s own cabinet could trigger a never-used provision of the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to stage a coup on the grounds that Mr. Trump is mentally unsound. 'This is the game plan. Watch carefully,'" Mr. Stone swore. See the wild video below with Infowars's Alex Jones:
Here's a mashup of late-night comics on Trump's troubles:
Stephen Colbert walks through child proofing your home for a Trump visit:
Jimmy Fallon says people should be mad about his Trump hair tousling:
Finally, Trump's luxury island estate is up for sale: