with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
Navarro, the director of the White House’s Trade and Manufacturing Policy office, has become ubiquitous on television since last Thursday, in appearances that have been at turns triumphal and testy. His outspoken bluntness has quickly turned him into one of the biggest lightning rods in Washington.
Navarro, 68, is a professor emeritus at the University of California at Irvine business school. After getting sidelined and effectively demoted by Chief of Staff John F. Kelly last fall, many advisers might have looked for other jobs. But Navarro had nowhere else he wanted to go. So he stuck it out. Now he’s back in the room where it happens.
Conservative economists, business executives and Republican elites who support free trade hate him for that, and they now speak of Navarro like he is a boogeyman.
In a signal of just how much juice Navarro now has, several GOP leaders on Capitol Hill attacked him by name yesterday. “[Trump] has got a few days to think this through. And I think he will. But I totally disagreed with that one staffer down there who is, in my opinion, misleading the president,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the chairman of the Finance Committee, told reporters. “Navarro should know better.”
For conservatives who have embraced Trump, it’s politically safer to blame Navarro than Trump for the tariffs they hate. They risk less backlash from the president that way. These tariffs are completely consistent with everything Trump said on the campaign trail, but many Republicans who know better have been pretending the past few days as if this is something the president just dreamed up after talking to Navarro.
In that way, Navarro is now playing the role on trade that Stephen Miller did on immigration: the hard-liner who is seen by outsiders as enabling and egging on Trump’s most nativist and nationalistic instincts. Miller took much of the blame last month when Trump decided to torpedo a bipartisan compromise that could have saved the “dreamers” and secured funding for a border wall because it didn’t reduce the levels of legal immigration.
Guests on CNBC speculate in alarmed tones about Navarro’s influence over Trump and what it might mean for the stock market.
Canada’s most widely-read newspaper, the Globe and Mail, called Navarro “Ottawa’s worst nightmare”: “In the stiff-headed Navarro world view, free-trade talk is globaloney. Canadian officials have long shuddered at the nativist creed of the wiry and abrasive 68-year-old. And with good reason.”
Stateside, prominent economic voices on the right suggest that he may be up to something even more sinister. “Navarro may well want to undermine the entire global trading system — including the World Trade Organization and global supply chains — that has led to postwar peace and prosperity, and brought hundreds of millions of our fellow humans out of deep poverty,” writes James Pethokoukis, an economic policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “They are nationalists who may be willing to tolerate a poorer, more insular America in the name of greater sovereignty and less economic disruption.”
“It’s easy to cry ‘MAGA!’ and let slip the dogs of trade war; much harder to put them back into the kennel before a lot of people get mauled,” conservative columnist Max Boot writes in today’s newspaper.
Others have been even harsher. From the former Republican congressman who now co-hosts “Morning Joe”:
Peter Navarro is playing the role of Dusty in the Royal Tenenbaum, the bellman who pretends to be a doctor offering medical advice to family members. But Trump’s Navarro playing an expert on tariffs is deadly serious because it will anger allies and harm working class Americans.— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) March 4, 2018
Just as he’s become a villain in the eyes of the establishment, Navarro has also earned hero status among some of the president’s core loyalists. Breitbart News has portrayed him as a heroic figure who is helping Trump keep his promises. Appearing on Breitbart’s satellite radio show over the weekend, Navarro attacked the “hair on fire” reaction to the tariffs as the “biggest bunch of horse-puckey that you can imagine.”
“We can’t really have a country without a solid steel industry and without a solid aluminum industry, and right now, those industries are under siege,” Navarro told Breitbart.
-- Senior White House aides like Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council and the former president of Goldman Sachs, have not given up trying to convince the president to reconsider, even as their colleagues labor over the legal work needed to implement the import taxes. “White House officials still have not decided precisely how the tariffs will be applied,” David Lynch, Erica Werner and Damian Paletta report. “There is still a debate over whether Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom should be exempt from the measures, with some aides arguing that these long-time U.S. allies do not pose a national security risk.”
Trump hasn’t been swayed by these counterarguments — at least not yet. “No, we’re not backing down,” he told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, adding that the U.S. has been “ripped off by virtually every country in the world.”
While other advisers are trying to get Trump to change his mind, it’s seemed at times like Navarro is trying to box him in with various public comments that present the decisions as essentially finalized. He said on Sunday that Trump won’t exclude even close allies from the levies. “As soon as he starts exempting countries, he has to raise the tariff on everybody else,” Navarro said on Fox News. “As soon as he exempts one country, his phone starts ringing from the heads of state of other countries.”
But there are signs the persuasion campaign will persist until the final details are unveiled. Cohn has summoned executives from top American companies that depend on aluminum and steel to meet with Trump at the White House on Thursday. Bloomberg News reports that representatives will attend from beverage-can manufacturers, automakers and the oil industry. “Trump advisers who favor the tariffs want him to sign the paperwork while in Pennsylvania steel country on Saturday, but the signing location has not yet been decided,” per Jennifer Jacobs, Margaret Talev and Justin Sink.
Republicans leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan are also pushing the president to reconsider and even floating legislative action to block the tariffs. “We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong.
-- Navarro’s reemergence is a testament to the value of longevity and staying power in Trump’s orbit. The survivors who can stick it out long enough often wind up near the top of the pile. During the chaotic first few weeks of the administration, Navarro was often seen at Trump’s side. He stood behind the president as he signed the executive orders withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and blocking federal funds for groups that provide abortions. But he was marginalized over time as the globalists, corporatists and more traditional conservatives in the West Wing found their footing and worked together to sideline him.
Navarro suffered several public humiliations last fall when Kelly reorganized the White House economics team to place him under Cohn. “Mr. Navarro was required to copy Mr. Cohn, his new superior, on all emails. He was absent from some high-level strategy meetings on trade, as well as the president’s trip to China,” the New York Times’s Ana Swanson reported.
Trump decided three weeks ago to reverse these moves. “On Feb. 12, Trump called Navarro into the Oval Office and asked him why his administration’s trade policy wasn’t more aggressive,” Josh Rogin reported last Tuesday. “Trump told Navarro that this was the year he wants to move the trade policy forward. He then called in Kelly and told him to move Navarro and his office out of the NEC and restore the office’s independence.”
As staff secretary, insiders say Rob Porter controlled the paper flow and limited how much of Navarro’s work got through to the Oval Office. His departure last month, after both of his ex-wives publicly accused him of domestic violence, removed that barrier. (Porter denies wrongdoing.)
Navarro is now in the process of being formally promoted from “deputy assistant” to “assistant to the president,” which will put him at the same rank as Cohn. A White House spokeswoman on economic issues did not respond to questions about Navarro’s role.
Navarro clearly relishes his rising star and didn’t mind taking a little poke at his rival on CNN. “Gary and I basically have very differing opinions,” Navarro said Sunday. “The president loves that. He wants to hear all sides of the argument. So he's a valued member of the team. And it's up to Gary whether he goes or stays.”
-- Several of Navarro’s TV appearances have become contentious, and he’s appeared to enjoy mixing it up with his interlocutors. On Sunday, Navarro criticized the media for saying the president was launching a trade war. “I think what we need to do here is keep the rhetoric down,” he said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked about threats of retaliation. “It would be helpful if the media didn’t have all these crazy headlines about trade wars.”
Host Chris Wallace noted that Trump had tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”
“The talk of trade wars is not an invention of the media,” Wallace said.
“You guys are fanning flames here,” Navarro said.
“I’m fanning the flames?” Wallace replied. “I didn't write the presidential tweet!”
Navarro then argued that “downstream effects” of these tariffs will be “insignificant.”
“Navarro has earned a reputation for stalking the halls of the West Wing at night and on the weekends to find a moment to slip into the Oval Office to privately discuss trade with the president,” Politico reported last summer. “White House aides said Navarro has clashed with most of Trump’s senior staff at one time or another. Though he is often philosophically aligned with [Steve] Bannon … aides said they have sometimes groused about his no-holds-barred tactics, which one aide compared to ‘guerilla warfare.’”
When Wallace asked if he used “guerrilla warfare” to push through the tariffs, Navarro shot back: “I would say that sitting here on a Sunday with you, that's a bit of a cheap shot, that there's no facts and evidence to support that,” he said.
Navarro has had other testy interviews on Trump’s favorite cable channel. On Friday, he was asked for reaction to the Wall Street Journal editorial board calling the tariffs “the biggest policy blunder of [Trump’s] presidency.”
“We will take the heat,” he said, adding that the economy is booming.
When anchor Sandra Smith pressed him, he replied: “Do you want to push back, or are you just going to read that editorial? … Let me ask you a question. If you put a 10 percent tariff on aluminum, how much do you think that increase will impact a six pack of beer?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “You tell me.”
“One cent!” Navarro replied.
Smith asked why the auto manufacturers are so strongly against the tariffs if the impacts will be so minimal on their costs. “Look, they don’t like this,” Navarro said. “Of course they don’t. What do they do? They spin. They put out fake news. They put all this hyperbole out.”
-- One reason Navarro might enjoy being on TV is that most of his peers in the economics field do not take him seriously. “Navarro’s views on trade and China are so radical … that, even with his assistance, I was unable to find another economist who fully agrees with them,” the New Yorker’s Adam Davidson wrote in a 2016 profile.
Former Ronald Reagan economic adviser Art Laffer, of Laffer curve fame, said on Fox Business yesterday afternoon he hopes Trump doesn’t mean what he says and is only talking tough to extract concessions in negotiations. Asked for reaction to Navarro’s insistence on the network earlier in the day that tariffs are good for American workers, Laffer replied firmly: “I don’t agree with him on that.”
-- Navarro wound up in this spot partly because of serendipity. “At one point during the campaign, when Trump wanted to speak more substantively about China, he gave [Jared] Kushner a summary of his views and then asked him to do some research,” Washington Post reporter Sarah Ellison wrote for Vanity Fair last year. “Kushner simply went on Amazon, where he was struck by the title of one book, ‘Death by China,’ co-authored by Peter Navarro. He cold-called Navarro … who agreed to join the team as an economic adviser. (When he joined, Navarro was in fact the campaign’s only economic adviser.)”
The book was turned into a movie the following year. “The best jobs program is trade reform with China,” Navarro says in the film, which was narrated by Martin Sheen (a.k.a. President Josiah Bartlet).
It is one of more than a dozen books Navarro has published. Another, from 2001, was titled: “If It’s Raining in Brazil, Buy Starbucks: The Investor’s Guide to Profiting From News and Other Market-Moving Events.”
-- “Navarro got his start in politics at the local level — as a Democrat,” Steven Mufson wrote in a great profile last year. “He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of San Diego in 1992, city council in 1993, county supervisor in 1994 and Congress in 1996. … His opponent [in the mayor’s race], Susan Golding, launched three negative ads and he responded with an ad attacking Golding, whose ex-husband was convicted of laundering illegal drug money. Ahead in the polls going into the last weekend of the race, Navarro attacked her again in a televised debate. In tears, she called the attacks on her family unfair; Navarro accused her of rehearsing the response and came off as dismissive. He lost. Years later, he wrote that he still thought about ‘the one that got away.’
“‘He was almost the mayor,’ said Larry Remer, a political consultant who worked on three of Navarro’s campaigns after that one. ‘He flubbed it, is what really happened.’ Remer said … what undid Navarro as a candidate was his personality. ‘He would just burn through volunteers,’ Remer said. ‘He’s not quite as prickly as Trump, but he has the same ego issues.’
“In 1996, Navarro took on then-U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), hoping that the backlash to the Newt Gingrich revolution would sweep a Democrat into the House. … Discouraged, divorced and in debt, he moved on.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- North Korea is willing to sit down with the United States to discuss giving up its nuclear weapons, according to South Korean envoys who met with Kim Jong Un. Brian Murphy reports: “There was no immediate word from Washington on the prospects for such outreach with the North. But the offer, apparently endorsed by Kim himself, would mark a significant turnabout after years of nuclear tests and advances in missile technology that apparently puts the U.S. mainland within range. … The North would also agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests during the possible talks with the United States[.]”
-- Kim made the remarks while hosting landmark meetings between the two Koreas. Anna Fifield reports: “[Moon] dispatched a delegation led by Chung Eui-yong, his national security adviser, and including Suh Hoon, chief of the South’s National Intelligence Service. Chung, who speaks fluent English and regularly talks to his American counterpart, H.R. McMaster, was specifically chosen to lead the delegation because he would be viewed in Washington as a credible and trustworthy messenger … After returning to Seoul on Tuesday and briefing the president, Chung will immediately travel to Washington to tell Trump administration officials about the meeting.”
-- Hours after vowing to refuse Robert Mueller’s grand jury subpoena order in a string of surreal media interviews, former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg appeared to back off his defiant stance. He told the Associated Press and a handful of other reporters late Monday night that he’s likely “going to end up cooperating” with the special counsel.
-- But Nunberg spent most of the afternoon telling every journalist he could that he would not comply with Mueller’s subpoena. Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker report: “'Let him arrest me,’ Nunberg told The Washington Post[.] ‘Mr. Mueller should understand I am not going in on Friday.’ He also shared [a] copy of what appears to be a two-page attachment to his grand jury subpoena seeking documents related to Trump and nine other [current and former aides], including emails, correspondence, invoices, telephone logs … and ‘records of any kind.’” Among those on the list: Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon, Michael Cohen, Corey Lewandowski, and Roger Stone. “I’m not spending 80 hours going over my emails with Roger Stone and Steve Bannon and producing them,” Nunberg said.
After first speaking with The Post, Nunberg called into MSNBC and CNN for an all-out media blitz, detailing what he said he learned about the Russia investigation based on his private interview with Mueller’s team last month.
- In one surreal exchange, Nunberg told MSNBC’s Katy Tur that he suspects Mueller has concluded that Trump “may have done something,” based on the questions he was asked by prosecutors. He echoed this later on CNN, saying Trump “may very well have done something during the election with the Russians.” “The way they asked about his business dealings, the way they asked if you had heard anything even while I was fired … it just made me think that they suspected something about him.”
- He also believes Trump had prior knowledge of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. “You know he knew about it,” Nunberg told Jake Tapper. “He was talking about it a week before. ... I don't know why he went around trying to hide it.” (Bannon has also suggested Trump knew about the meeting, telling “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff: “The chance that Don. Jr did not walk these [people] up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero.”)
- Nunberg said prosecutors had sought to convince him to testify against longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, but he said he refused because Stone has “been a friend and mentor.”
Here's CNN's Erin Burnett telling former Trump aide Sam Nunberg that she can smell alcohol on his breath. He says he hasn't been drinking. pic.twitter.com/tryye9AiqA— Jim Dalrymple II (@Dalrymple) March 6, 2018
-- “‘By admitting that Trump ‘may have done something’ and that he may have specific knowledge about that something, Nunberg may have provided a probable cause tipping point that would allow Mueller to obtain a search warrant for all the information — i.e. email content — that Nunberg is presently refusing to provide,’” former FBI agent and cyber expert Dave Gomez told The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer. “[John Barrett, a former associate counsel in the Iran-contra investigation] said there may be an ulterior motive behind his appearance. Nunberg might be attempting to put his continuing loyalty to Trump on display, or encourage other potential witnesses to defy Mueller. He could be trying to goad the president into firing the special counsel by publicly announcing Mueller’s interest in Trump’s business practices. Or he may be auditioning for immunity, by convincing Mueller that he may possess information that the special counsel would find useful.”
-- The last person to serve jail time for rebuffing a grand jury subpoena is Susan McDougal, a former business partner of Bill Clinton. In 1996, she was ordered jailed for 18 months after refusing to testify in the Whitewater investigation. She told Matt Zapotosky that her advice to Nunberg would be: “Retroactively, if you don’t want to testify, don’t go on television and do these teaser interviews.” And if Nunberg thinks he is going to stop Mueller and his team from doing something, “they’ll do it anyway,” she added. “You’re not going to save anybody,” McDougal said. “If they have done something, you’re not going to save them.”
-- “It is an understatement to say that Sam Nunberg is playing with fire,” write Lawfare Blog’s Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes. “And before proceeding further on this jag, Nunberg might pause to reflect on the case of McDougal ... Federal prosecutors have robust powers to deal with recalcitrant witnesses, and special prosecutors in high-stakes matters involving the president of the United States have particular incentives not to tolerate contumacious conduct on the part of witnesses they subpoena.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Police arrested a man for allegedly attempting to steal Best Actress winner Frances McDormand’s Oscar. Terry Bryant is said to have grabbed the statuette at the Governors Ball following the awards ceremony. He posted a video of himself kissing an Oscar and telling people he won for music (“best producer”). (Elahe Izadi)
- Fox News didn’t like Jimmy Kimmel’s joke during his Sunday monologue. The comedian noted that the Oscars are 90 years old, which he said means Oscar is “probably at home right now watching Fox News.” A spokeswoman for the cable giant emailed over Nielsen ratings to point out that the median age of MSNBC’s viewers in primetime during the first two months of the year was 66, and Fox’s is 65.
- Oklahoma teachers are considering a strike next month after the state legislature voted down a pay raise. The action comes on the heels of West Virginia’s teachers strike, which will stretch into a ninth day today. (CNN)
- Fights broke out at Michigan State as white nationalist Richard Spencer delivered a speech on campus. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the venue where Spencer spoke, shouting at attendees, “Nazis go home!” (Simon D. Schuster and Susan Svrluga)
- A major Trump fundraiser accused Qatari agents of hacking into his email to plant negative news stories about him. The fundraiser, Elliott Broidy, owns a company that has hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to the United Arab Emirates. Qatar dismissed the allegations as a “diversionary tactic to distract from the serious allegations against himself and his client, the United Arab Emirates.” (New York Times)
- Huge waves emanating from this weekend’s nor’easter have arrived in Puerto Rico. A meteorologist raised on the island called it “one of the worst ocean swell events in recent decades.” (Angela Fritz)
- Down syndrome is front-and-center in the states' latest abortion battles. Utah’s legislature is debating a bill making it illegal for a woman to seek an abortion “solely” because the fetus has Down syndrome. The bill’s supporters argue it will prevent discrimination against those who have the condition, while opponents (including the ACLU and Planned Parenthood) say such bills are unconstitutional. (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
- Toronto police released a photo of a dead man they believe to be the latest victim of a serial killer. Authorities hope a member of the public will be able to identify the man. He is suspected to be a victim of Bruce McArthur, who has already been charged with the suspected deaths of six others. (Eli Rosenberg and Alan Freeman)
- Three 911 calls were made over the course of three days after people walked into glass walls at Apple's new corporate headquarters. The tech giant’s “spaceship” campus has since placed additional rectangular stickers on the walls to prevent more accidents. (Hamza Shaban)
- A judge ruled convicted fraudster and “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli must forfeit $7.36 million to the federal government as part of his sentence. Shkreli must give up, among other things, the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album "Once Upon on a Time in Shaolin." (CNBC)
FOLLOW THE MONEY:
-- Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels was flagged as suspicious by his bank and reported to the Treasury Department. From the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo and Michael Rothfeld: “[Cohen] wired the money to a lawyer for [Daniels] from an account at First Republic Bank ... The money was received on Oct. 27, 2016, 12 days before the presidential election, another person familiar with the matter said. It isn’t clear when First Republic reported it to the government as suspicious. Mr. Cohen said he missed two deadlines earlier that month to make the $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford because he couldn’t reach Mr. Trump in the hectic final days of the presidential campaign, the person said. … After Mr. Trump’s victory, Mr. Cohen complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment to [Daniels] ...”
-- The House Intelligence Committee appears unlikely to issue a contempt citation against Steve Bannon as the panel’s Republicans try to wrap up their Russia probe as quickly as possible. Karoun Demirjian reports: “[T]here has been zero urgency to pursue further action against Bannon or even discuss the matter with [Paul Ryan], whose buy-in is critical to issuing such a citation. On Monday, K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), the top Republican on the House’s Russia probe, said he would ‘maybe’ meet with Ryan to discuss contempt, but offered no timeline about when that conversation might take place. But with committee Republicans pushing for a fast close to the Russia probe, many panel members doubt that Ryan and Conaway will actually deliver on a contempt citation for Bannon.” (Read my Big Idea from last week about how administration witnesses are refusing to cooperate with Congress. They're doing so because they know Republicans don't have the stomach to hold them in contempt. This will only bolster that.)
-- Senate investigators are planning to question Reddit and Tumblr on Russian interference following new reports their platforms may have been used as a means to spread and amplify disinformation during 2016. Tony Romm reports: “Staffers for lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a briefing with Tumblr soon, and they’re seeking more information from Reddit after it acknowledged Monday it shuttered hundreds of suspicious accounts in 2015 and 2016[.] Reddit and Tumblr are the latest tech giants to field questions from congressional investigators. … Triggering the Senate’s new interest is a trove of documents [that] found least 21 accounts on Tumblr had ties to the [Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency].”
-- The panel's top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) said the new reports highlight the need for other tech companies to study their own platforms for vulnerabilities. “We have continually seen that the IRA’s sophisticated and extensive use of social media … shows a keen understanding of the power of social media in shaping public discourse,” he said in a statement. “I would encourage all of the social media companies to take a much closer look at how their platforms and services could be used to manipulate their users’ trust and attention.”
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- A jailed Belarusian escort with close ties to Oleg Deripaska — the Putin-linked billionaire and former patron of Paul Manafort — is offering to share with the United States “hours” of audio recordings that allegedly shed light on Russia’s election interference in exchange for asylum. The New York Times’s Richard C. Paddock reports: “[Anastasia Vashukevich] faces criminal charges and deportation to Belarus after coming under suspicion of working in Thailand without a visa at a sex-training seminar in the city of Pattaya. ‘If America gives me protection, I will tell everything I know,’ Ms. Vashukevich said … ‘I am afraid to go back to Russia. Some strange things can happen.’ … She said a Thai official had asked her to sign a paper saying that she believed she would be safe in Russia, but that she had refused.”
“In the interview at the immigration center on Monday, Ms. Vashukevich said that she had often recorded conversations between Mr. Deripaska and his associates, and that she had 16 to 18 hours of recordings, including conversations about the United States presidential election. ‘They were discussing elections,’ she said. ‘Deripaska had a plan about elections.’ … Some of the conversations were with three people who spoke English fluently and who she thought were Americans, she said.” “It is not only about me,” she said. “It concerns a lot of people in America and other countries.”
-- The Russians don't mess around: A former Russian national convicted of being a spy for MI6 is in critical condition in Britain after he was exposed to an “unknown substance.” He and another woman were found this weekend in Salisbury, slumped and unconscious, on the bench of a local shopping center. Authorities said Monday they both remain in the intensive care unit despite a lack of visible injuries. The incident is being investigated by multiple agencies. (BBC)
THE MAN BEHIND THE DOSSIER:
-- The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer dove deep on Christopher Steele, the ex-MI6 officer and longtime Russia expert who tried — perhaps to his own detriment — to warn America about Trump's ties to Russia: “For nearly thirty years, Steele had worked as a close ally of the United States [and] was stunned to learn that U.S. politicians were calling him a criminal. Steele compared it to the disorientation that he had felt in 2009, when his first wife, Laura, had died, after a long illness, leaving him to care for their three young children. … Because Steele is a former intelligence officer, much of his life must remain secret. His accusers know this and [used] secret evidence to malign Steele while providing no means for his defenders to respond … But interviews with Steele’s friends, colleagues, and business associates tell a very different story about how a British citizen became enmeshed in one of America’s most consequential political battles.”
- “Republican claims to the contrary, Steele’s interest in Trump did not spring from his work for the Clinton campaign. He ran across Trump’s name almost as soon as he went into private business, many years before the 2016 election. Two of his earliest cases at Orbis involved investigating international crime rings whose leaders, coincidentally, were based in New York’s Trump Tower … 'It was as if all criminal roads led to Trump Tower,' Steele told friends.”
- In September, Steele talked “at length” with Mueller's team of investigators: “It isn't known what they discussed, but, given the seriousness with which Steele views the subject, those who know him suspect that he shared many of his sources, and much else, with the Mueller team.”
- One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo he wrote in November 2016, based on a source described only as a “senior Russian official”: “The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. …. The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would cooperate on security issues of interest to Russia.”
THAD COCHRAN TO RESIGN:
-- Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), 80, announced that he will retire April 1 because of his deteriorating health, ending a congressional career spanning four decades and that earned him the chairmanship of the chamber’s powerful appropriations panel. Sean Sullivan and Paul Kane report: “Beyond shaking up the Senate, Cochran’s exit will affect the battle for the Senate majority. It gives Republicans another seat to defend at a moment of great uncertainty about the midterms. … There will be two Senate races in Mississippi this year because of Cochran’s departure. A special election for his seat will be held on the same day as the regularly scheduled Nov. 6 midterms. In the meantime, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will be in charge of appointing a replacement for Cochran. [Mitch McConnell] has asked Bryant to consider appointing himself to the seat, according to people familiar with their conversations. But Bryant has shown no signs he is gearing up to do that.”
-- “Cochran's health, mental acuity and future in the Senate have been a subject of intense speculation for months in Washington and back home,” note Politico’s Burgess Everett, John Bresnahan and Kevin Robillard. “[I]n recent days he's been voting under the close supervision of aides on the Senate floor. GOP senators and party leaders had privately [assumed] that he would leave after work is completed on a massive year-end omnibus spending bill this month. … Cochran's ability to run the committee was clearly in doubt, as his staff handled nearly all aspects of the work without much visible input by Cochran. [He] has not chaired an Appropriations Committee meeting since last year, and he has not made a speech on the Senate floor during this entire Congress.”
-- Republican leadership is now waiting to see if conservative insurgent Chris McDaniel, who recently announced a primary bid against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), will now target Cochran's seat. The New York Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jonathan Martin report: “Mr. McDaniel, a hard-line conservative with a history of making inflammatory statements, had remained silent about his 2018 intentions for months, waiting to see whether Mr. Cochran would resign. By waiting until Monday to reveal his intention to step down, Mr. Cochran effectively forced Mr. McDaniel to enter the race against Mr. Wicker. Yet even as he formally declared his bid last week, Mr. McDaniel did not rule out changing races.”
Setting McDaniel aside, “the governor is expected to consider [appointing] Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who is also thought to want to run for governor when Mr. Bryant becomes term-limited in 2019, and Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman. Other possibilities include the State House speaker, Philip Gun, and the state auditor, Stacey Pickering.”
-- On the Democratic side, former congressman Mike Espy announced his “strong intention to run.” From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s Geoff Pender: “Espy said that since he left Washington, he has ‘witnessed with dismay the continuing dysfunction.’ ‘I have proven that I can work with everyone as long as the goal is a better Mississippi,’ Espy said. Espy served as a Democrat in the U.S. House representing the 2nd District from 1987 to 1993 — the first African-American to hold a Mississippi congressional seat since Reconstruction, then served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration, the first African-American to hold that post.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Trump requested options last week for punishing the Syrian government following reports of chlorine gas attacks — raising the prospect of a second U.S. strike on the Assad regime in less than a year. Karen DeYoung, Missy Ryan, Josh Dawsey and Carol Leonnig report: “The president discussed potential actions early last week at a White House meeting that included [John Kelly, H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis]. One official … said the president did not endorse any military action and that officials decided to continue monitoring the situation. One senior administration official said that Mattis was ‘adamantly’ against acting militarily … and that McMaster ‘was for it.’ The prospect of renewed military action, even if tabled for now, underscores the explosiveness of a conflict that has become a battlefield for rivalries between Russia and Iran on one side and the United States and its allies on the other.”
-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House sidestepped any mention of the corruption inquiry faced by Bibi back home. From Ruth Eglash and Anne Gearan: “Netanyahu arrived at the White House early Monday afternoon, just hours after reports from Israel said a former media adviser and confidant has turned state’s witness in a far-reaching bribery case. In what appeared to be a sign of the political importance of the session to Netanyahu, the White House changed plans Monday morning and announced that reporters and cameras would be allowed into what had been an Oval Office meeting closed to the media. Netanyahu’s praise of Trump and his upending of U.S. policy on Jerusalem was meant as a sign of political strength at home — it aired during the much-watched evening news period in Israel — and it hinted at the stakes for the veteran leader.”
Addressing AIPAC last night, Mike Pence told attendees, “If both sides agree, the United States of America will support a two-state solution.” He added, “While any peace will undoubtedly require compromise, know this: The United States of America will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish state of Israel.”
-- A U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in Vietnam for the first time in nearly five decades. The four-day port call comes as part of the Pentagon's effort to bolster relationships and alliances in key regions across the globe, including Southeast Asia. (Alex Horton)
-- An ISIS video showing U.S. soldiers under attack in Niger may explain something about North Africa’s current terrorism landscape. Amanda Erickson explains: “Months [after the ambush], a group affiliated with the Islamic State claimed credit for the Oct. 4 attack, confirming a suspicion of U.S. officials.”
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WATCH:
-- The owner of Trump International Hotel Panama claimed victory in a legal battle over control of the hotel and had the president’s name removed from the property. Ana Cerrud and David A. Fahrenthold report: “On Monday, a Panamanian legal official visited the hotel with an escort of 15 police officers. After a long session in a back room, the legal official left without comment. … But, after meeting with her, [majority owner Orestes] Fintiklis was definitive. He said he had won. … The Trump Organization, however, disputed that it had been defeated. It issued a statement saying that the legal official had only shifted control of the hotel to a third-party administrator, while Fintiklis and the Trump Organization are still embroiled in court fights in the United States and in international arbitration. … Then, as reporters watched, a worker with a hammer and a crowbar removed the Trump name from the large sign outside the hotel’s entrance.”
-- The Trump Organization ordered new tee markers for golf courses emblazoned with the presidential seal, potentially violating ethics law. Katherine Sullivan reports for ProPublica: “Eagle Sign and Design, a metalworking and sign company with offices in New Albany, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, said it had received an order to manufacture dozens of round, 12-inch replicas of the presidential seal to be placed next to the tee boxes at Trump golf course holes. … An order form for the tee markers reviewed by ProPublica and WNYC says the customer was ‘Trump International.’"
THE DECONSTRUCTION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE:
-- The Trump administration granted Arkansas permission to impose Medicaid work requirements. Amy Goldstein reports: “ One of the few Southern states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, [Arkansas] told federal officials that it wanted to partly retreat. Instead of including people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, as designed in the ACA, Arkansas wanted to set its expansion limit at 100 percent of poverty — a change that would jettison an estimated 60,000 people from the program. In their joint announcement in Little Rock, the governor and [CMS head Seema Verma] said that part of the request was being denied. ‘We are continuing to work through the issues on that,’ Verma said[.]”
-- Two EPA political appointees received permission to collect outside income. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “ ... EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s special assistant Patrick Davis and the deputy associate administrator for the Office of Public Affairs, John Konkus, sought permission to work for private clients even as they occupied full-time federal jobs. Davis asked to work ‘as the sales director of Telephone Town Hall Meeting,’ according to a Feb. 3 letter from Justina Fugh, the EPA’s alternate designated agency ethics official, while the clients Konkus is consulting for were not made publicly available.”
-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke withdrew 26 parcels of land in Montana, his home state, from an upcoming oil and natural gas lease auction. Dino Grandoni and Juliet Eilperin report: “A cadre of local and national environmental groups had filed formal protests against the sale, contending that drilling would adversely impact the Yellowstone River and other areas. Interior will proceed starting next Monday with the auction of the remaining 83 parcels, which encompass nearly 46,200 acres. Zinke initially tweeted his decision before issuing a more detailed statement that said further study was needed before part of the sale could take place.”
THE PRIMARY SEASON KICKS OFF TODAY:
-- Texas will hold its primaries today, and the results could yield lessons for energized Democrats. David Weigel and Sean Sullivan report: “Emboldened by widespread anger with President Trump and wins in gubernatorial and Senate races last year, record numbers of Democrats are running for Congress ... These uncomfortable developments have raised questions about the party’s preparedness for the next stage of the campaign. It has also put new hurdles between Democrats and a top goal in November: winning back the House majority. 'The good news is that energy is not a problem,' said former congressman Steve Israel of New York, who chaired the House Democratic campaign arm. 'The bad news is you’re trying to manage the energy of a nuclear weapon — there’s so much of it.'”
-- Young gun-control activists, who feel called to action after the Parkland shooting, are focusing on the midterms. From Tal Abbady and Michael Scherer: “[T]he students are appearing at candidate events, mounting voter registration drives and threatening to haunt politicians who stand in the way of their demands. And well-funded professional organizations that have long focused on curbing gun violence are rushing to find ways to harness their energy for the fall election. … [Gun-control groups] have announced funds to encourage young voters’ mobilization around guns, including a $1 million donation from Democratic financier Tom Steyer, bankrolls for student protest groups and shifts in their own policy priorities regarding gun control to better align with the demands of the teenagers.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump blamed Democrats for the DACA impasse:
It’s March 5th and the Democrats are nowhere to be found on DACA. Gave them 6 months, they just don’t care. Where are they? We are ready to make a deal!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2018
He also accused the Obama administration of investigating Russian election interference to aid Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, an allegation that runs counter to The Post's reporting:
Why did the Obama Administration start an investigation into the Trump Campaign (with zero proof of wrongdoing) long before the Election in November? Wanted to discredit so Crooked H would win. Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate! Plus, Obama did NOTHING about Russian meddling.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2018
But most of Twitter was buzzing about Sam Nunberg's many television interviews.
From a New York Times reporter:
Nunberg TV is guaranteed to do two things - aggravate Mueller and infuriate Trump— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 6, 2018
From a former U.S. attorney:
I'm prepared to bet Special Counsel Mueller's team already has Sam Nunberg's emails— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 5, 2018
From George W. Bush's former communications director:
Asking the following for a friend- would it make one a bad person if she/ he followed Sam Nunberg from channel to channel on cable news today/tonight ?— Nicolle Wallace (@NicolleDWallace) March 6, 2018
From the Ohio newspaper columnist and wife of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio):
The journalist in me couldn’t stop watching. The mother in me wondered if anyone in his life is launching an intervention. https://t.co/jsdQ0HMHIe— Connie Schultz (@ConnieSchultz) March 5, 2018
From an SNL writer:
There is no better drinking story than blacking out, and then finding out you went on 8 cable news shows bringing down the Trump administration criminal by criminal #NunbergMeltdown— Zack Bornstein (@ZackBornstein) March 6, 2018
From an NPR host:
Have we made "Sam Nunberg" a verb yet? Can we do that? Because I really want to Nunberg a work meeting at some point in the near future.— Sam Sanders (@samsanders) March 5, 2018
From a HuffPost reporter:
Sam Nunberg's lawyers watching CNN right now. pic.twitter.com/2e4BCLeT7t— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) March 5, 2018
Another major player in the Mueller investigation tied the knot, per an ABC News host:
Mueller witness George Papadopoulos married Simona Mangiante on March 2 in Chicago civil ceremony pic.twitter.com/c6CVM26F9q— GeorgeStephanopoulos (@GStephanopoulos) March 5, 2018
A Post congressional reporter added this detail about the Cochran resignation:
With Cochran's resignation (effective April 1), Hatch not running for re-elect, Leahy will be only senator left who started in '70s.— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) March 5, 2018
Should Rs hold majority, Grassley will be pro tem next year. Leahy, if it's Dems.
From C-SPAN's communications director:
When Thad Cochran leaves the Senate on April 1, 2018, there will be four senators left who were in the Senate on Day One of Senate TV on C-SPAN2 (June 2, 1986):— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) March 5, 2018
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) marked a personal achievement:
2day marks 9000 days w/out missing a Senate vote the last vote I missed was July 1993 due to Iowa floods Longest time w/out missing a vote in Senate history Being on the job every day is important to the ppl of Iowa— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) March 5, 2018
A beer company warned against Trump's proposed tariffs:
The proposed 10% tax on aluminum threatens 20,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs that depend on the beer industry and raises taxes on American beer drinkers by $347 million per year. This tax hurts, not helps, American manufacturing.— Anheuser-Busch (@AnheuserBusch) March 5, 2018
A Fox contributor spent time with the president's family:
Spent a nice afternoon with #Ivanka & #JaredKushner two accomplished young people who only want the best for @realDonaldTrump & the country, but they work in a nest of snitches, vipers & rats AKA the #WestWing. My story exclusively on @seanhannity live at 9pm et pic.twitter.com/n4Hs9fOxnC— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) March 5, 2018
Rivera later added this:
Clarification: the negative characterization of the West Wing in my previous tweet is entirely my own, & based on the early days of the Administration, not today.— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) March 6, 2018
CNN's White House correspondent got into a Twitter spat with Trump's press secretary:
Third press briefing in a row that @PressSec did not take a question from CNN. #courage— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) March 5, 2018
Courage isn’t taking “a question from CNN,” Jim. Courage is combat veterans Sgt. Peck and Staff Sgt. Dwyer - the two heroes at the briefing. #itsnotaboutyou https://t.co/kp5rYrtMpt— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) March 5, 2018
Wish you had given them time to take our questions too. You just bailed from the briefing. https://t.co/ryTalMI58F— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) March 5, 2018
The Post's David Fahrenthold found an unusual real estate listing:
The most expensive condo sold last month in NYC was in a Trump-branded bldg: $30M. 3 beds. 8 baths. Who is using all those bathrooms? Are there bathrooms inside the bathrooms? https://t.co/s13unqQaTJ— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) March 5, 2018
This graphic, shared by a New York Times book review editor, made the rounds on Twitter:
The starkest and most damning graphic about how our culture works I’ve seen in a long time. pic.twitter.com/3H0GxqRq7O— Pamela Paul (@PamelaPaulNYT) March 5, 2018
And Merriam-Webster caught up with the times:
After considering its widespread and meaningful evidence of use, we've put 'dumpster fire' in the dictionary. Feel free to GIF it as you like. https://t.co/XImxk6c0EY— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) March 5, 2018
A take from The Post's White House editor:
Such a big day for so many of us pic.twitter.com/lH5bEFMMuF— Dan Eggen (@DanEggenWPost) March 5, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- BuzzFeed News, “Secret NYPD Files: Officers Can Lie And Brutally Beat People — And Still Keep Their Jobs,” by Kendall Taggart and Mike Hayes: “Secret files obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal that from 2011 to 2015 at least 319 New York Police Department employees who committed offenses serious enough to merit firing were allowed to keep their jobs. Many of the officers lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. At least fifty employees lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation. Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer, Jarrett Dill, threatened to kill someone. Another, Roberson Tunis, sexually harassed and inappropriately touched a fellow officer.”
-- New York Times, “A Famed Doctor, a Troubled Prosecutor and an Untried Case,” by Julie Bosman and Monica Davey: “Before Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar was imprisoned for abusing gymnasts, a prosecutor’s office in Michigan opted not to pursue charges. The prosecutor was busy keeping secrets of his own.”
-- Columbia Journalism Review, “The source: How hacked emails and a yacht in Monaco ended my career at The Wall Street Journal,” by Jay Solomon: “[H]aving now thought about this for months, I think I understand that I made serious mistakes in managing my source relationship with [businessman Farhad] Azima during my pursuit of the Iran story. I also blundered my initial conversations with the Journal, when the paper first started to grill me about my relationship with the businessman. I was scared and defensive, and lost my job as a result. The paper, from my perspective, was never straightforward in explaining who was targeting me, nor did it seem to want to help me defend myself. My hope is that walking through these errors will help other journalists avoid making the same mistakes.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“A middle school teacher led a double life as a white nationalist podcaster,” from Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: “For more than a year, [Dayanna] Volitich has been leading a double life. She is a popular white-nationalist podcaster known as Tiana Dalichov who espouses anti-Semitic conspiracy theories … believes that Muslims should be eradicated from the earth [and] believes that science has proven that certain races are simply smarter than others[.] And she is also a social studies teacher at [at a middle school near Tampa] — one who has said it’s her duty to expose her students to her version of the truth. By her own admission, she was a subversive presence who sought to not-so-subtly indoctrinate students assigned to her classes with her world view. And she bragged about her ability to do so without her employers or colleagues finding out.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“The ‘anti-Trump’ Oscars were a ratings disaster. Conservatives are delighted,” from Marwa Eltagouri: “The 90th Academy Awards on Sunday was two things: an evening of pointed political statements and one with record-low viewership. And many on the right have been quick to claim that those things went hand in hand. On Monday, the awards show’s low ratings were a hot topic on Fox News, discussed at the top of the hour on both Tucker Carlson’s and Sean Hannity’s evening shows. Piers Morgan’s column for The Daily Mail was a 10-point plan to save the Oscars. A headline on The Daily Caller’s website read, ‘The Ratings For Jimmy Kimmel’s Trump Hate-Fest Oscars Crater Towards All-Time Low.’ … Just 26.5 million people tuned in for Hollywood’s biggest night, a 20 percent drop from the 33 million who watched the 2017 awards show[.]”
Trump will meet with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and hold a joint news conference with the Scandinavian leader. He will also sit down with Swedish business representatives.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Echoing Trump’s comments over the weekend praising China for abandoning presidential term limits, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) described a sketch Stephen Colbert produced mocking Nunes’s controversial FISA memo as a “danger we have in this country.” He added to Fox News host Neil Cavuto, “The left controls the universities in this country, Hollywood and the mainstream media, so conservatives in this country are under attack, and I think this is great example of it.” (Amber Phillips)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- District residents could see precipitation in the afternoon. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Partly sunny in the morning turns mostly cloudy by the afternoon, with scattered light showers. Sleet or snow could mix with the rain, especially north and west of the city, but temperatures are too warm for accumulation.”
-- Washington has multiple opportunities for snowfall over the next 10 days. But accumulation is unlikely. (Jason Samenow)
-- Amazon officials toured sites across the D.C. region last week in its search for the company's second headquarters. Jonathan O'Connell reports: “There are at least nine sites in the D.C. area proposed for the tech giant’s expansion, dubbed HQ2. Officials from the firm toured sites in Northern Virginia early in the week, Washington, in the middle and Montgomery County at the end, according to the officials[.]”
-- Ousted D.C. Public Schools chancellor Antwan Wilson claimed Mayor Muriel Bowser knew about his daughter’s high school transfer months before it came to light. From Perry Stein and Peter Jamison: “Wilson’s account is at odds with statements by the mayor and her top aides that they didn’t know his daughter had been given a coveted seat at Woodrow Wilson High School, a campus in Northwest Washington with a waiting list of more than 600 students. That transfer bypassed the lottery used to award scarce seats in the District’s top public schools and violated a policy that bans preferential treatment for the children of government officials.”
-- The Virginia Democratic Party has decided to change the name of its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner to the Blue Commonwealth Gala. (Laura Vozzella)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert spent more than 10 minutes of his show last night recapping Sam Nunberg's interviews:
Trevor Noah broke down Trump's tariff proposals:
In his AIPAC speech, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer accused participants in the boycott movement against Israel of anti-Semitism:
New videos highlighted how much damage this weekend's nor'easter inflicted upon the East Coast:
And a California restaurant installed a robot to cook its meat: