With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: White House Communications Director Hope Hicks joined a growing list of administration officials on Tuesday who have pointedly refused to answer even basic questions from Congress about their interactions with President Trump.
Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee said after Hicks wrapped up a nine-hour, closed-door interview last night that she would not discuss anything from the inauguration forward.
Fights over executive privilege come up with every president — Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both lost significant court cases when they claimed it — but nonpartisan experts and veterans of previous administrations say Trump appears to be pushing the limits further than his predecessors and beyond what legal precedents allow for.
Hicks did not formally invoke executive privilege, but lawmakers said she told them that the White House asked her to only discuss events from the campaign. Later in the day, she agreed to answer some inquiries related to the transition. But she would not say anything about her 13 months in the West Wing, including the role she played in drafting a misleading statement aboard Air Force One about the June 2016 meeting between a Russian emissary and Trump campaign leaders.
“This is not the first administration to try to get the benefits of executive privilege without formally invoking it,” said Heidi Kitrosser, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who wrote a book on the subject. “What is new and really troubling … is that we’ve seen it quickly become routine that the administration sends out a witness who says, ‘I categorically can’t discuss this whole set of really important issues because I want to preserve the ability of the president to assert executive privilege.’ And then there’s no follow up by either the administration or Congress. Essentially, they are allowed to create the shadow of executive privilege, and then they sort of just hide under that shadow. … They don’t even have to elaborate on or really test the privilege. So far, the administration has gotten away with it with remarkable ease. So it’s not surprising they keep doing it.”
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon followed a similar playbook last month during a 10-hour interview before the same panel. He said the White House had only authorized him to answer 25 of the committee's questions and responded “no” to each of them.
NSA director Mike Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also declined to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee last June. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked Coats whether he had ever “been asked by the president or the White House to influence an ongoing investigation.”
“I'm not prepared to answer your question today,” Coats said, raising eyebrows.
“I’m not going to discuss the specifics of discussions with the president of the United States,” added Rogers.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly declined to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee last June and the Senate Judiciary Committee last October about what transpired before Trump fired James Comey as FBI director. He was asked eight times during the June appearance whether he was formally invoking executive privilege.
“I'm not claiming executive privilege, because that's the president's power, and I have no power to claim executive privilege,” Sessions said. “I am protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses.”
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has also been uncooperative with the House’s probe, even though he never even served in the administration.
Mark Rozell, the dean of the George Mason University public policy school, published a book called “Executive Privilege: Presidential Power, Secrecy and Accountability” in 2010. He says that he’s working to prepare a fresh edition “since Trump is giving me new material all the time.”
“The burden is on the president to make the case for withholding testimony and documents since the presumption in our system favors transparency,” Rozell emailed. “Further, executive privilege claims generally are weakest in cases of investigations of allegations of wrongdoing. The balancing test weighs very heavily against the president's claims of privilege when testimony is needed to attain information needed to conduct an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.
“Executive privilege does not exist as a tool to protect the president and his advisers from revelations that are politically damaging or embarrassing,” he added. “The whole purpose of the privilege is to protect the public and not the president's interests. If executive privilege is to stand, it must be because there would be some notable harm to the public interest if testimony were allowed or documents released. That's usually a tough case to make.”
Democrats on the panel tried to insist during the interview that Hicks be served with a subpoena. Republican members resisted.
“This is not executive privilege. It is executive stonewalling,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee. “That’s an overly broad claim of privilege that I don’t think any court of law would sustain, and I think the White House knows that.”
GOP lawmakers have been more willing to go after Bannon largely because the president broke so publicly with his former chief strategist. “The committee is weighing whether to hold Bannon in contempt for his continued silence, under subpoena, when faced with questions that the Trump administration had not approved regarding the transition period,” Karoun Demirjian reports. “Several Republican and Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee believe they must issue a contempt citation for Bannon to demonstrate to future witnesses that congressional subpoenas must be complied with.”
The decision depends on Rep. K. Michael Conaway (Tex.), the top Republican on the House’s Russia probe, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) reaching an agreement, but Conaway said the two have not yet met to discuss the issue. (Both Bannon and Hicks have reportedly been more cooperative with Robert Mueller's team than Congress, but what they revealed to the special counsel remains unknown.)
Hicks, just 29, is one of the president’s most trusted advisers and has been a constant presence at his side since before he announced his campaign in 2015. She reportedly acknowledged to investigators that her work for Trump over the years has occasionally required her to tell white lies. “But after extended consultation with her lawyers,” according to the New York Times, “she insisted that she had not lied about matters material to the investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links to Trump associates, according to three people familiar with her testimony.”
Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel during Barack Obama’s first term, said the Trump team is leaning on what he calls “pseudo-privilege.”
“Hicks did not invoke the privilege: it is not her privilege to invoke,” he emailed. “The President may invoke it to block her testimony. She simply refused to answer … and did not take the other available course of pleading the Fifth. … There is no basis for simply refusing to answer without claim of privilege. Normally, the White House seeks to balance conflicting interests through negotiation, a process of ‘accommodation,’ and absent resolution, through a claim of privilege.”
House Republicans voted in 2012 to hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt after he withheld documents that lawmakers demanded as part of an investigation into a flawed gunrunning operation, which was known as “Fast and Furious.” The Obama administration invoked executive privilege only after trying to negotiate a deal that would make some of the requested material available.
“Until the committee uses its actual enforcement powers, the president is going to continue to thumb his nose at Congress,” said Andy Wright, an associate White House counsel under Obama who now teaches at Savannah Law School. “You are not allowed to do blanket refusals to answer. The fact they’re being so categorical is not a tenable position to hold.”
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to confirm that Hicks was instructed not to discuss anything that’s occurred during her time in the White House. “I’m also not going to comment on leaks from what is supposed to be a confidential setting,” she said during her afternoon briefing. “There continues to be zero evidence of collusion, and we hope these investigations wrap up shortly.”
A White House spokesman did not respond to additional emailed questions related to executive privilege.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- In a special GOP primary to replace disgraced former congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Debbie Lesko defeated an early frontrunner who became embroiled in a sexting scandal during the final days of the race. Dave Weigel reports: “Lesko pushed past 11 other Republicans, including Steve Montenegro, a rising conservative star who had been endorsed by Franks and some national conservative figures [including Ted Cruz] … [O]n Feb. 21, the Arizona Republic obtained text messages between Montenegro and a female staff member, including a nude photo that the staff member had sent the married lawmaker. … Franks, who had been in the House since 2003, resigned last year amid the public fallout from his having urged a female staff member to bear his child as a surrogate. His resignation created a rare opening in Phoenix’s Republican-heavy western suburbs.”
-- The House Ethics Committee voted to establish an investigative subcommittee to look into the sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), a former member of the panel. “The investigation also will explore whether Brian Schubert, former chief of staff to Meehan, engaged in sexual harassment, retaliation or misuse of official resources,” Elise Viebeck reports.
-- Foreign officials from at least four countries — including China, Israel, Mexico and the UAE — privately discussed ways they could manipulate Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of political experience. Shane Harris, Carol D. Leonnig, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey scoop: “It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance … [national security adviser H.R. McMaster] learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report. The issue of foreign officials talking about their meetings with Kushner and their perception of his vulnerabilities was a subject raised in McMaster’s daily intelligence briefings ... Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was ‘naive and being tricked’ in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel … [Mueller] has asked people about the protocols Kushner used when he set up conversations with foreign leaders ...”
-- “Kushner was one of several White House officials who received a memo Friday announcing that because of their interim security clearances, their status was being downgraded from the ‘Top Secret/SCI’ level to the ‘Secret’ level, a far lower level of access to classified information,” per Ashley Parker, Dawsey and Philip Rucker.
-- The Rob Porter fallout continues: Four Commerce Department appointees who were working on interim clearances have lost their jobs. Leonnig, Damian Paletta and Dawsey report: “The department determined that the four appointees — including one who worked for the agency for nearly a year and served for several months as a senior adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — should not be given access to classified information[.]”
-- Senior White House communications aide Josh Raffel is leaving the Trump administration within the next two months. Rucker and Parker report: “Raffel, who joined the White House in April to help run communications for Kushner's Office of American Innovation, had become a point person internally for some of the most sensitive matters, as well as the Middle East peace process. He functions as a spokesman for [Ivanka Trump and Kushner] … but his portfolio is far more expansive, including foreign and domestic policies and day-to-day crisis management. Last fall, he was promoted to deputy communications director and worked closely with [Hope Hicks] ... The announcement of Raffel's exit, just shy of his one-year mark in the administration, is likely to prompt [even more] speculation about Kushner's status within the White House.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Trump struck a $3.9 billion deal with Boeing for the development of two new Air Force One planes. He requested that the planes be ready by 2021 — the beginning of what would be his second term in office — despite Boeing’s original deadline of 2024. “He wants to fly on that plane,” said one person familiar with the meeting. (CNN)
Dina Powell is returning to Goldman Sachs. Trump’s former deputy national security adviser will be a member of the investment bank’s management committee. (Bloomberg)
- Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States soared by 57 percent in 2017, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League. That's the largest single-year increase in more than two decades. There was an 86 percent rise in vandalism and a 41 percent increase in harassment. (AP)
- Polish Jews are reporting a growing sense of unease after lawmakers passed a new “Holocaust law,” which criminalizes any suggestion that its citizens participated in Nazi atrocities during World War II. Many have also accused the right-wing Law and Justice party of tolerating a surge of anti-Semitic rhetoric and threats since assuming control in 2015. (James McAuley)
- A German village voted to leave in place a 1930s-era church bell inscribed with a large swastika, as well as a Nazi phrase reading: “Everything for the Fatherland, Adolf Hitler.” Village leaders said they will install a plaque to describe the bell’s significance, but will continue to ring it in celebration of weddings and baptisms. (Amy B Wang)
- West Virginia teachers signaled an end to their strike and will return to work. The educators struck a deal with Gov. Jim Justice (R) for a 5 percent raise. (Sarah Larimer)
- Hundreds of Washington state residents have written to Gov. Jay Inslee (D) urging him to veto a bill exempting state legislators from Washington’s Public Records Act. State lawmakers approved the controversial measure 48 hours after releasing it, without a public hearing or floor debate. (Seattle Times)
- A 27-year-old Slovak journalist who had been investigating corruption was found shot to death in his home, along with his fiancee. Slovakian authorities vowed to investigate the murder, which is believed to be the first targeted slaying of a journalist in the country’s history. (New York Times)
- Two Ecuadoran men died after attempting to stowaway in the landing gear of an airplane bound for New York City. But the two tumbled from the plane shortly after takeoff, falling an estimated 1,000 feet to their deaths. (Alex Horton)
- Newly obtained emails reveal Bill de Blasio’s staff searching for an alarm clock to address the New York City mayor's chronic tardiness. He has previously admitted he wished the world operated around staying up late rather than getting up early because he’s “not a morning person.” (New York Post)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Russian operatives compromised the state websites or voter registration systems in seven states before the 2016 election, according to the U.S. intelligence community. NBC News’s Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin, Kevin Monahan and Ken Dilanian report: “Three senior intelligence officials [said] that the intelligence community believed the states as of January 2017 were Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin. … The officials say systems in the seven states were compromised in a variety of ways, with some breaches more serious than others, from entry into state websites to penetration of actual voter registration databases. While officials in Washington informed several of those states in the run-up to the election that foreign entities were probing their systems, none were told the Russian government was behind it, state officials [said]. All state and federal officials [also] agree that no votes were changed and no voters were taken off the rolls.”
-- Robert Mueller’s team has been asking questions about Trump’s activities in Russia as he considered a presidential bid. CNN’s Kara Scannell, Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Jim Sciutto report: “Questions to some witnesses during wide-ranging interviews included the timing of Trump's decision to seek the presidency, potentially compromising information the Russians may have had about him, and why efforts to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow fell through, two sources said. The lines of inquiry indicate Mueller's team is reaching beyond the campaign to explore how the Russians might have sought to influence Trump at a time when he was discussing deals in Moscow and contemplating a presidential run.”
-- The head of U.S. Cyber Command said Trump has given him no new authorities or capabilities to strike at Russian cyber-operations ahead of the midterms. “We’re taking steps, but we’re probably not doing enough,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also directs the National Security Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Vladimir Putin “has clearly come to the conclusion that ‘there’s little price to pay here and therefore I can continue this activity,’” Rogers added. “If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue.” Rogers said he has directed Cybercom’s National Mission Force, which protects the U.S. homeland from foreign cyberthreats, “to begin some specific work” but did not elaborate.
Quite an exchange, via Aaron Blake and Ellen Nakashima: “Asked by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) whether he’d been authorized by either Trump or Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to do more against Russian attacks, Rogers said: ‘No, I have not.’ When Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sought clarification, Rogers said he had taken additional steps within his purview, but ‘I haven’t been granted any, you know, additional authorities, capacity and capability.’ A frustrated Reed said, ‘We’re watching [the Russians] intrude on our elections, spread misinformation, become more sophisticated, try to achieve strategic objectives that you have recognized, and we’re just essentially sitting back and waiting?’ Rogers, who is retiring this spring, demurred. ‘It’s probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing.’"
-- Mueller’s team moved to drop 22 charges of tax and bank fraud against former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates as part of his plea agreement. Rachel Weiner reports: “The day before he [pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI] in D.C. federal court, Gates was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia along with [Paul Manafort]. As part of the plea, Gates agreed to cooperate with [Mueller’s] probe regarding ‘any and all matters’ deemed relevant to his investigation. ‘Under the terms of the plea agreement, the government agreed that it would ‘move promptly to dismiss without prejudice the charges brought against [Gates] in the Eastern District of Virginia …’ attorneys for the special counsel wrote in a court filing Tuesday.”
-- Manafort will appear in court for the first time today since Gates pleaded guilty. (Spencer S. Hsu)
-- The attorney general appeared to confirm a Justice Department investigation into the surveillance claims made in the memo written by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. "We believe the Department of Justice must adhere to the high standards in the FISA court and, yes, it will be investigated. And I think that’s just the appropriate thing," Sessions said at a news conference. "The inspector general will take that as one of the matters they’ll deal with," he added. (Politico)
SUCH A MYSTERIOUS CAST OF CHARACTERS:
-- Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who offered former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos “dirt” on Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails, has disappeared without a trace. BuzzFeed News’s Alberto Nardelli reports: “His biography disappeared from one university where he taught … His email and cell phones went dead. And politicians, colleagues and journalists can't find him. Neither can Anna, his 31-year-old Ukrainian fiancee, who says he is the father of her newborn child. And her story … offers a glimpse at the human collateral damage of an intelligence operation in which the mysterious Mifsud was allegedly a central figure. [BuzzFeed] first contacted Anna in October … She refused to talk then … Now, however, feeling deceived, she’s changed her mind.”
-- Longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone communicated directly with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, despite telling lawmakers under oath last year that his sole contact with the group was via an unidentified “intermediary.” The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand reports: “Private Twitter messages [show] that Stone and WikiLeaks … communicated directly on October 13, 2016 — and that WikiLeaks sought to keep its channel to Stone open after Trump won the election.” On Oct. 13, 2016, Stone sent WikiLeaks a private message on Twitter: “'Since I was all over national TV, cable and print defending [W]ikileaks and [A]ssange against the claim that you are Russian agents and debunking the false charges of sexual assault as trumped up bs you may want to reexamine the strategy of attacking me- cordially R.’ … The morning after [Trump] won the election, however, WikiLeaks sent Stone another message. ‘Happy? We are now more free to communicate.’”
-- A Belarus-born “model” credited with exposing ties between the Kremlin and Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska — Manafort's former patron — is pleading for U.S. help after she was detained in Thailand. In return for American assistance, she said she’s willing to share information on “missing links” between Trump and Russia. Anton Troianovski reports: “Anastasia Vashukevich, [who filmed a yacht trip with Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko, was detained in Thailand this weekend] in a police raid on her ‘sex training’ seminar. While still in custody on Tuesday, she published Instagram videos asking U.S. journalists and intelligence agencies to help her. 'I am the only witness and the missing link in the connection between Russia and the U.S. elections — the long chain of [Deripaska, Prikhodko, Manafort and Trump],’ Vashukevich said in a live Instagram video[.]”
MORE WEST WING INTRIGUE:
-- Trump has tapped longtime aide and former digital strategist Brad Parscale to manage his 2020 reelection campaign. David Nakamura and Anu Narayanswamy report: “The Trump campaign announced the appointment in an email to supporters, saying Parscale, who has been advising the [RNC], will help build out the campaign's infrastructure and be engaged in supporting candidates in the midterm elections this fall. [Jared Kushner] called Parscale ‘essential in bringing a disciplined technology and data-driven approach to how the 2016 campaign was run.’ Parscale is credited with helping exploit social media channels ... especially Facebook, where the Trump campaign spent roughly $70 million on advertisements.” “If you imagine the country as the haystack, Facebook is the needle finder,” Parscale told The Washington Post last year.
-- Parscale is connected to Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that is a key focus in the Trump-Russia investigation. From Vox News’s Sean Illing: “We don’t know how instrumental Cambridge was to Parscale’s online strategy … [but] what we do know is … part of [Russia’s] operation relied on manipulating Facebook’s algorithms to target specific voters. And this is precisely the sort of work that Cambridge Analytica and Brad Parscale were hired to perform for the Trump campaign …”
-- Parscale also has financial ties to a penny-stock firm with connections to a convicted fraudster, the AP’s Jeff Horwitz reports. “[Parscale] signed a $10 million deal in August to sell his digital marketing company to CloudCommerce Inc. As part of the deal, Parscale currently serves as a member of California-based company’s management team. … CloudCommerce’s operations have not turned a profit in nearly a decade, [obtained] records indicate. … And in 2006, a top executive at the company, which was operating under a different name at the time, was caught in an FBI bribery sting and later pleaded guilty to securities fraud."
-- Trump appears unlikely to fire John Kelly in the near future. Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman writes: “Trump has expressed concern that dismissing Kelly now would ignite days of negative news cycles at a moment when the White House is still recovering from the [Porter] domestic abuse scandal and his approval ratings have clicked back down. Trump also faces a more immediate problem that he doesn’t have a vetted person available to step in. The president feels he was too quick to appoint Kelly last summer when he forced out Reince Priebus. … Lastly, if Trump fired Kelly now, it would appear that the decision was made in part to benefit Kushner.”
But Trump keeps undermining his chief of staff’s authority by talking up controversial advisers Kelly has previously denounced, including The Mooch: “The president has in recent days told Kelly that he can no longer bar Trump loyalists like Corey Lewandowski, Anthony Scaramucci, and Dave Bossie from the White House. Last week … Trump held an Oval Office meeting with Kelly and Lewandowski. According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, things got heated when Trump informed Kelly that he needed to ‘get along’ with Lewandowski. After the meeting, Trump told Kelly that he wanted to ‘find a role’ for Lewandowski in the West Wing, a source briefed on the conversation said. Kelly … replied that Lewandowski couldn’t pass a security clearance.”
-- A completely unbiased opinion: Scaramucci thinks Kelly should resign. “He’s lost the locker room,” Scaramucci said at a forum in San Francisco. “The morale in the White House, on a scale of 1-10, is minus 15. You cannot run the White House through fear and intimidation.” (Axios)
-- More details emerged about HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s elaborate expenses to redecorate his office. Jack Gillum and Juliet Eilperin report: “Helen Foster, then HUD’s chief administration officer, wrote in an email that she had to answer ‘endless questions about why I won’t fund more than the $5000 limit’ for redecorating the office. ‘I do like 3 meetings a day on that,’ she wrote on Feb. 22, 2017. ‘I hate this.’ … Late last year, HUD spent $31,561 on a conference table set for a room where the secretary has lunch with guests. Federal records indicate the expense is for ‘secretary’s furniture procurement,’ but Williams said the table was ordered by career staffers in charge of the building — not as part of the redecoration of the secretary’s office — and replaced a table that was old and beyond repair.”
- The New York Times notes the table now sits “inside the secretary’s 10th-floor office suite.”
-- GOP leaders ruled out the possibility of acting swiftly on gun control, with Paul Ryan and other Republican lawmakers declining to commit to holding a vote on even a modest measure. Mike DeBonis and Seung-Min Kim report: “ The Senate is exploring passing Fix NICS as a stand-alone measure as soon as this week, but Ryan would not say Tuesday whether he would bring that or a bump-stock ban up for a vote. … Speaking on the Senate floor shortly afterward, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) — the [co-sponsor of the Fix NICS bill] — called on his colleagues to pass the legislation ... One Republican senator, Mike Lee (Utah), is blocking the bill from rapid consideration because of constitutional objections, while in the House, hard-line conservatives have similar concerns that could make it tricky for Ryan to move the measure through the chamber.”
-- Trump’s mixed signals have hampered the efforts. Kim and DeBonis add: “In advance of a bipartisan gun summit at the White House [today], lawmakers are searching for signals from the administration on how it wants Congress to respond to the [Parkland] shooting ... There is also an open question in Congress about how much Trump will actually affect the debate, with some Senate leaders pushing for more guidance from the president, given his continuing focus on the shooting, while other top senators are skeptical that any guidance from the mercurial president — such as during the stalemate on immigration — will ultimately matter much.”
-- Meanwhile, congressional Democrats sat down with gun-control groups to plot a strategy for the midterms. From Ed O'Keefe: “For years, Democrats have struggled to balance calls from the party’s base to push for stricter gun-control laws with electoral realities that see the party struggling to maintain support in rural areas of the country, where support for gun rights is stronger[.] … [Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.], who is among the Democrats often mentioned as possible future presidential candidates, conceded that the subject of gun control remains tricky for incumbent Democratic senators seeking reelection this year in Republican-leaning states where President Trump won in 2016. ‘Not every Democrat will run on banning assault weapons, but every Democrat should be running on background checks,’ Murphy said.”
-- Florida lawmakers advanced a plan to arm teachers despite opposition from the Republican governor and Parkland survivors. Valerie Strauss reports: “The House and Senate Appropriations Committees voted to approve bills that create a new program to arm teachers in classrooms, though details were different in the pieces of legislation. … The House bill creates a ‘school marshal’ program that would cost $67 million, most of it to be used for training, and would allow teachers to carry weapons in districts where the school board of superintendent supports it. … The Senate bill says a district can adopt the ‘school marshal’ program if the sheriff and school district officials both agree.”
-- Sign of the times: The House Administration Committee approved changes to the official members’ handbook that will, among other things, allow lawmakers to purchase bulletproof vests with taxpayer money. (DeBonis)
-- Students will return today to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for the first time since 17 of their classmates and teachers were gunned down. Moriah Balingit reports from Parkland: “[T]hey will start where they left off: fourth period. A guidance counselor was explaining this the other day to Bruna Oliveira. That’s when the freshman felt the grief well up, her mind floating back to when she was crouched on the classroom floor, praying she would be spared, eyes squeezed shut while her favorite teacher lay wounded. ‘My teacher is dead,’ Bruna told the counselor at a Sunday orientation. ‘And I don’t have a class.’ … Some students are too traumatized to return and instead plan to transfer schools or continue their education online, from the safety of their homes. But for those who witnessed the violence and plan to return, heading back is an act of defiance.”
-- “We studied thousands of anonymous posts about the Parkland attack — and found a conspiracy in the making,” from Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell: “Forty-seven minutes after news broke of a high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., the posters on the anonymous chat board 8chan had devised a plan to bend the public narrative to their own designs: ‘Start looking for [Jewish] numerology and crisis actors.’ … The posters on anonymous forums, a cauldron of far-right extremist politics, over the next few hours speculated about the shooter’s ethnicity (‘Hope the kid isn’t white’) and cracked off-color jokes. They began crafting false explanations about the massacre, including that actors were posing as students, in hopes of blunting what they correctly guessed would be a revived interest in gun control.”
-- The sports retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods will end sales of assault-style rifles and require all gun buyers to be at least 21. (New York Times)
THE REST OF TRUMP'S AGENDA:
-- Jeff Sessions announced a new task force aimed at targeting opioid distributors and manufacturers. Sari Horwitz, Katie Zezima and Lenny Bernstein report: “The Justice Department also said it would file a statement of interest in hundreds of lawsuits against drug companies brought by cities, counties and medical institutions seeking reimbursement for the cost of the drug crisis. Sessions said the Justice Department would seek repayment as well, arguing that the federal government has borne substantial cost ...
“Sessions’s announcement was part of a flurry of activity this week at the White House, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that may mark the beginning of an intensified federal effort to address the deadly drug epidemic[.] The White House is holding a drug crisis summit Thursday with Cabinet secretaries. Hearings on eight anti-drug bills in the House will begin Wednesday before the Energy and Commerce Committee. And the new secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, has embraced the expansion of medically assisted drug treatment.”
-- U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was repeatedly assailed by Trump in 2016 for his “Mexican” heritage, sided with the president in a lawsuit involving construction of his border wall. Matt Zapotosky reports: “In a 101-page opinion, [Curiel] wrote that the government had the authority to waive environmental laws and proceed with its border wall. Curiel wrote that he was ‘aware that the subject of these lawsuits, border barriers, is currently the subject of heated political debate in and between the United States and the Republic of Mexico as to the need, efficacy and the source of funding for such barriers,’ but that he could ‘not consider whether underlying decisions to construct the border barriers are politically wise or prudent.’ The decision granting summary judgment is an unequivocal win for the [DHS] and the Justice Department, although those who had sued to slow down construction said they would look to a higher court to intervene.”
-- ICE arrested more than 150 people during raids in the Bay Area but blamed Oakland’s mayor for not detaining others. Eli Rosenberg reports: “About half of the people arrested also had criminal convictions, according to [ICE]. … The arrests began Sunday, a day after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a Democrat, issued an unusual warning to her constituents that she had learned from ‘multiple credible sources’ that ICE was planning an operation in the Bay Area. … ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan seemed to blame her for the fact that a number of suspected undocumented immigrants were still at large.”
-- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States is considering rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The New York Times’s Alan Rappeport reports: “Mnuchin, speaking at an investment summit meeting sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that renegotiating the trade agreement was ‘on the table’ and that he had been in talks with other countries about what it would take for the United States to reverse course. … ‘I’ve met with several of my counterparties and other people, and we’ve begun to have very high-level conversations about T.P.P.,’ Mr. Mnuchin said, adding that Mr. Trump would still prefer to do one-on-one trade agreements first. ‘It’s not a priority at the moment, but it is something the president will consider.’”
-- New Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell went to Capitol Hill, where he reiterated the Fed’s intent to raise interest rates at a “slow and steady pace” and vowed to prevent an overheated economy. Heather Long reports: “The Fed ‘will continue to strike a balance between avoiding an overheated economy and bringing PCE price inflation to 2 percent on a sustain basis,’ Powell said. ‘Further gradual increases in the federal funds rate will best promote attainment of both of our objectives.’ His comments suggest he still thinks the Fed should boost interest rates three times in 2018, although he sounded upbeat about the economy. Wall Street traders and economists are overwhelmingly predicting a rate hike at the Fed's next meeting on March 21.”
THE ROAD TO NOVEMBER (AND 2020):
-- Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) confirmed that he will not run for reelection, ending months of speculation after he appeared to be reconsidering his earlier retirement announcement. Sean Sullivan and Josh Dawsey report: “Corker’s decision leaves Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) as the front-runner for the Republican Senate nomination. Many Democrats are pinning their hopes on former governor Phil Bredesen, who has the inside track for his party’s nomination.”
-- Sen. Jeff Flake is slated to visit New Hampshire on March 15, igniting speculation that the outgoing Arizona Republican and frequent Trump critic will mount a presidential bid in 2020. WMUR’s John DiStaso reports: “Flake will appear at a ‘Politics and Eggs’ event hosted by Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics and the New England Council, [according to] institute executive director Neil Levesque … Another [possible 2020 contender], Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is scheduled to visit New Hampshire on April 3.”
-- In Texas, Democratic early voter turnout continues to surpass Republicans “by a large margin” ahead of the state’s primaries next Tuesday. The Dallas Morning News’s Jackie Wang reports: “Through Sunday in the 15 Texas counties with the most registered voters, 135,070 people had voted in the Republican primary and 151,236 in the Democratic. Compared with the first six days of early voting in 2014, Democratic turnout increased 69 percent, while Republicans saw a 20 percent increase. The Democrats even surpassed their early voting totals from the 2016 primary — a presidential election year. Sen. Ted Cruz told a group of Republican voters this month that … ‘[We] could get obliterated at the polls,’ and ... Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign sent supporters an email Monday asking for donations to help him get out the vote, warning that the early voting numbers ‘should shock every conservative to their core.’”
-- The Cook Political Report moved Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district race from “Lean Republican” to a “Toss Up” district. The special election will take place on March 13.
-- The Democrat in the Pennsylvania race, Conor Lamb, raised $3.2 million in the first seven weeks of 2018, allowing his campaign to run over five times as many ads as his opponent. From Dave Weigel: “But when outside groups are added to the mix, the count shows 743 more ads for the Republican than for Lamb. Ending Spending Action Fund, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee have all spent seven figures on the race, totaling more than $7 million for Saccone; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $224,000 on TV ads but has been off the air since last week.”
-- Meanwhile, Democrats flipped two more state legislative seats, bringing their total number of pickups in the Trump era to 39. (Daily Beast)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The former FBI director's book will soon be released:
Lordy, this time there will be a tape. Audio book almost finished. pic.twitter.com/38LNOJdtw7— James Comey (@Comey) February 27, 2018
The House speaker sat down with survivors of the Parkland shooting:
I am grateful to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for sharing their story with me today. We had an important discussion about how to keep our kids and our schools safe. pic.twitter.com/s3w9KC4vwC— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) February 27, 2018
A former senior adviser to Obama responded to the NSA chief's comments about not being granted the authority to crack down on Russian cyberthreats:
This should be the biggest story in the land. A foreign adversary launches a cyber attack on America and the President refuses to protect the country because he is likely to benefit from another such attack https://t.co/8RQ5lIv5aC— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) February 27, 2018
The Democratic governors of Virginia and New York extended offers for a new Delta headquarters after Georgia Republicans threatened to kill the airline's tax break over its decision to cut ties with the NRA:
Trump issued some endorsements for Republican primaries:
.@SenatorWicker of Mississippi has been a great supporter and incredible help in getting our massive Tax Cut Bill done and approved. Also big help on cutting regs. I am with him in his re-election all the way!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2018
I want to encourage all of my many Texas friends to vote in the primary for Governor Greg Abbott, Senator Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton. They are helping me to Make America Great Again! Vote early or on March 6th.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2018
Cruz thanked his former campaign rival:
.@realDonaldTrump Thank you, Mr. President! Together, in 2017 we accomplished a lot for our country & we still have a lot of work to do: cutting taxes, reducing job-killing regulations, repealing Obamacare, and confirming constitutionalist judges who’ll defend the Constitution. https://t.co/MCJHCAi6uX— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 27, 2018
He also praised Judge Curiel's decision on his border wall, without mentioning the judge’s name:
Big legal win today. U.S. judge sided with the Trump Administration and rejected the attempt to stop the government from building a great Border Wall on the Southern Border. Now this important project can go forward!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2018
Trump tweeted his latest thoughts this morning:
I have decided that sections of the Wall that California wants built NOW will not be built until the whole Wall is approved. Big victory yesterday with ruling from the courts that allows us to proceed. OUR COUNTRY MUST HAVE BORDER SECURITY!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2018
From a national security reporter for The Post:
Trump called Judge Curiel “a Mexican” when he didn’t like his rulings in the Trump Univ suit. Now Curiel is a “U.S. judge.” https://t.co/mT4gWS4SZG— Nick Miroff (@NickMiroff) February 28, 2018
The Twitterverse responded to Trump's latest claim of the Russia probe being a "WITCH HUNT!" From the publisher of Crain's Detroit Business:
From an NBC News reporter:
All the times the president has tweeted about the "witch hunt" since his inauguration: pic.twitter.com/qPslg2QemJ— Carrie Dann (@CarrieNBCNews) February 27, 2018
From an MSNBC producer:
This must be the first witch hunt in history that’s resulted in 5 guilty pleas.— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 27, 2018
4. Van der Zwaan
From a House Democrat:
The WITCH HUNT! tweet by @realDonaldTrump makes me think more indictments are coming.— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) February 27, 2018
Keep in mind that guilty pleas & agreements to cooperate of Papadopoulos & Flynn were not done to prosecute Gates & Manafort. Mueller is using Papadopoulos & Flynn to go after other people. https://t.co/nZ2SUfhke1
An MSNBC host made a prediction about state gun laws:
We could soon be a nation where blue states ban assault weapons and red states encourage their proliferation everywhere (carrying a gun is legal in BARS in Georgia for example). Sane people and companies will be able to make decisions about where to live and locate accordingly.— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) February 27, 2018
The No. 2 Senate Republican expressed doubts about passing an infrastructure plan, per a Post reporter:
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) on infrastructure: "I don't know if we'll have time to get to it."— Heather Long (@byHeatherLong) February 27, 2018
(Cornyn finally says what most people in Washington and Wall Street have been saying for weeks)
A reporter for The Post replied:
Not clear why they wouldn't have time. What else are they going to be doing all year?https://t.co/7UiuCKVdgF— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) February 27, 2018
A New York Times reporter reshared a 2016 Trump interview after the vice president called him "the most pro-life president in history”:
Just a reminder of this April 2016 interview w/@maureendowd ––— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) February 27, 2018
When he was a swinging bachelor in Manhattan, was he ever involved with anyone who had an abortion?
“Such an interesting question,” he said. “So what’s your next question?”https://t.co/MSV4SJpjsD
A HuffPost reporter put the spotlight back on one House Republican:
GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold on the House floor this a.m.— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) February 27, 2018
Daily reminder that he 1) spent $84K of your money to settle a gross sex harassment lawsuit against him 2) is refusing to pay it back and 3) is hoping you'll forget. https://t.co/SfHs3sBEQg pic.twitter.com/abeKiUo72J
Obama appeared at a public meeting for his presidential center:
I got my start holding community meetings in Chicago, so it was fun to be home for one tonight. Michelle and I want the world to come together on the South Side at a place built with local ideas, values, and hopes. That’s the @ObamaFoundation and Presidential Center. https://t.co/ccwkqAY7P5— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 28, 2018
Yale announced its Class Day speaker:
HRC shared the announcement:
And two Senate Democrats shot some hoops:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Roll Call, “Wealth of Congress: Richer Than Ever, but Mostly at the Very Top,” by David Hawkings: “The people’s representatives just keep getting richer, and doing so faster than the people represented. The cumulative net worth of senators and House members jumped by one-fifth in the two years before the start of this Congress, outperforming the typical American’s improved fortunes as well as the solid performance of investment markets during that time. The total wealth of all current members was at least $2.43 billion when the 115th Congress began, 20 percent more than the collective riches of the previous Congress, a significant gain during a period when both the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose slightly less than 10 percent. Beyond that grand total, the median minimum net worth … was $511,000 at the start of this Congress … [or] quintuple the median net worth of an American household[.]"
-- Bloomberg Businessweek, “How Defective Guns Became the Only Product That Can’t Be Recalled,” by Michael Smith and Polly Mosendz: “The simple answer is that no government entity has the power to police defective firearms or ammunition in America—or even force gunmakers to warn consumers. … Only one product is beyond the government’s reach when it comes to defects and safety: firearms. Not even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can get defective guns off the market. If a gunmaker chooses to ignore a safety concern, there’s no one to stop it.”
-- New York Magazine, “Has the Operating System for the Western World Crashed?” by Park MacDougald: “[Recently], an accumulating list of crises and missteps by the country’s bipartisan and broadly liberal Establishment — the disastrous crusade in Iraq, the global financial crisis, and the whole complex of cultural and economic grievances leading to the election of Trump — has begun to crack open the liberal consensus. ... On both sides, a growing number of voices is asking whether it’s time to look beyond liberalism. Perhaps the most influential book to emerge so far from this anti-liberal ferment is Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed …. In it, [Deneen] delivers a scathing condemnation of American political culture, arguing that our current troubles may signal the final collapse of liberalism under the weight of its own contradictions. The rot is in fact so deep and fundamental, according to Deneen, that ‘we should rightly wonder whether America is not in the early days of its eternal life but rather approaching the end of the natural cycle of corruption and decay that limits the lifespan of all human creations.’”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“Infowars one strike away from YouTube ban,” from the Hill: “The channel said it received an alert from YouTube on Tuesday morning, saying Infowars received a second strike on a video about the [Parkland] shooting and will temporarily be unable to upload new content. ‘This is the second strike applied to your account within three months. As a result, you're unable to post new content to YouTube for two weeks,’ the alert said. … A channel that receives three strikes from YouTube within three months is banned from the platform. While Infowars has several other ways to promote its videos — including an online radio show, its own website, Twitter and Facebook — a ban would cut Infowars off from its YouTube subscribers, which number more than 2 million.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“DCCC Advised Candidates Not To Discuss Gun Control Policy Right After Vegas Shooting,” from HuffPost: “The morning after the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s press staff warned House candidates and their staffs not to ‘politicize’ the shooting that day. Politicization, according to the DCCC official, included talking about gun violence prevention policy. ‘You and your candidate will be understandably outraged and upset, as will your community. However, DO NOT POLITICIZE IT TODAY,’ DCCC regional press secretary Evan Lukaske wrote to candidates in the Northeast. ‘There will be time for politics and policy discussion, but any message today should be on offering thoughts/prayers for victims and their families, and thanking 1st responders who saved lives.’”
Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars, pleaded with a Parkland survivor to help him with the YouTube dispute:
After years of slandering the victims of Sandy Hook and other tragedies, Alex Jones begging a Parkland survivor to help him get back on good terms with YouTube. pic.twitter.com/p7QAe2859E— Chris Wilson (@realchriswilson) February 27, 2018
Trump, Pence and their spouses will attend the arrival ceremony for the casket of Billy Graham at the Capitol, where the legendary evangelist will lie in honor. The president’s meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on gun control, which Pence will join, will be at 3 p.m.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Let’s not forget that this happened under Obama,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said while taking questions about the NSA chief’s comments on Trump not authorizing a robust response to Russian cyberthreats. “If you want to blame somebody on past problems, then you need to look at the Obama administration.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Washingtonians could see some afternoon rain. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Partly to mostly cloudy skies could produce a passing shower during the afternoon. We’re quite pleasant temperature-wise, in the 40s this morning, with afternoon highs in the upper 50s to low 60s.”
-- The Wizards defeated the Bucks 107-104. (Candace Buckner)
-- The Capitols won against the Senators 3-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
-- An envelope containing an unknown substance was opened at Arlington’s Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, causing 11 people to fall ill. Three people were taken to a hospital, and several Marines were among those needing medical treatment. (Justin Wm. Moyer)
-- Maryland gubernatorial candidate Krishanti Vignarajah (D) chose Sharon Blake as her running mate, creating the state’s first gubernatorial ticket to include two women of color. (Ovetta Wiggins)
-- A D.C. probe uncovered widespread enrollment fraud at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Using a sample of roughly 100 students whose families claim Washington residency, allowing them to avoid the tuition fee for nonresidents, District officials concluded more than half may actually live outside the city. (Peter Jamison, Valerie Strauss and Perry Stein)
-- Cherry blossoms in D.C. are expected to reach peak bloom about a week early this year, according to the Capital Weather Gang. Forecasters predict Washington's famous flowers will bloom between March 23 and 27.
-- Street signs were unveiled in front of the Russian Embassy to honor Boris Nemtsov, a slain Putin critic. Fenit Nirappil reports: “Nemtsov, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been praised as an activist promoting democracy and human rights, and supporters believe that his work cost him his life. He was shot from behind while walking across a bridge near the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow on Feb. 27, 2015.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) celebrated the new signs:
3 yrs after Boris Nemtsov’s murder, the street outside the Russian Embassy was named in his honor. The greatest memorial to Boris will be a free Russia. Until then, America will gladly pay tribute to Boris & the millions of Russians who share his vision. https://t.co/Mx5Us53S3m pic.twitter.com/QCtQfVC9G5— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 27, 2018
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert criticized Trump's response to Russian election interference:
Seth Meyers checked in on how the Trump administration is addressing the opioid epidemic:
A confrontation broke out between Trump International Hotel staff and staff of the building administrator in Panama City:
Bill Clinton paid his respects to Billy Graham in North Carolina:
HuffPost obtained a video of far-right troll Chuck Johnson auditioning for “Survivor”: