With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.


PITTSBURGH — If Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone wins an unexpectedly close special election here next Tuesday, it will be on Donald Trump’s coattails. On the other hand, this race wouldn’t be competitive at all if the president was not so polarizing — even in a mostly blue collar, largely rural southwestern Pennsylvania district that he carried by 20 points in 2016.

This race should be a gimme for the GOP. Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate in 2016 or 2014. But public and private polls show the contest in the 18th district is now a toss-up, even after Republicans have poured in more than $10 million — about five times what Democrats have spent.

Court-ordered reapportionment means that the district will cease to exist in its present form come November, but a defeat here would nonetheless represent the biggest political humiliation for Trump since he went all in for Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama and lost anyway last December. That’s why the White House is sending the cavalry.

Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway flew here Thursday night to stump for Saccone at the Allegheny County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner. Her appearance was not scheduled until this week. She assured the crowd that the nominee will be “a reliable vote” for Trump.

“This should be easy,” she said, referring to the choice facing voters. “The Republican Party has shown the value of unified government.”

Conway, who managed Trump’s campaign in the fall of 2016, touted the tariffs the president had just formally enacted a few hours earlier. “He’s going to make sure we have steel and aluminum sectors that are strong and vibrant and fully employ people,” she said.

The crowd of 500 activists in a Doubletree hotel ballroom heartily applauded, a stark contrast to the opposition from most congressional Republicans.

Conway, who got standing ovations coming and going, called herself “the warm-up band” for the real star: Trump himself will hold a rally in a hangar at the Pittsburgh airport on Saturday night. Then the president’s son, Donald Jr., will campaign with Saccone on Monday.

White House officials have said over the past week that they think the new tariffs could help tip the race their way. The United Steelworkers union, which endorsed Democratic candidate Conor Lamb, says that 18,000 of its members live in the district. The president’s aides even discussed having Trump formally sign the tariffs during his rally on Saturday, but they concluded that this would make them look politically motivated. Afraid Saccone will lose, other White House aides encouraged the president to consider canceling his trip. But Trump wants to come. He likes to hold rallies in front of raucous crowds, and he’s excited when candidates for other offices are eager to appear with him.

Trump may help gin up just enough base turnout to put Saccone on top, although he’s such a lightning rod that GOP strategists privately acknowledge his visit could equally motivate his critics.

“The enthusiasm is on the Democrats’ side, as it is all around the country,” said Val DiGiorgio, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party. “We need everybody out there helping this weekend.”

This really is the epicenter of Trump’s geographic base. He carried the Keystone State because of his strength in western Pennsylvania. He got more votes from Allegheny than any other county in the state. This district stretches from the Pittsburgh suburbs to the state’s borders with West Virginia and Ohio, which were even more rabid for Trump two years ago.

POTUS already plugged Saccone when he came here in January to sell the tax cuts. He was scheduled to headline a rally in February but canceled because of the massacre at a high school in Florida.

Vice President Pence and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter who is also a senior White House aide, were able to make the trek in February for separate events designed to boost the GOP candidate.

The administration has even used old-fashioned pork-barrel spending to try dragging Saccone across the finish line. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to a small town in the district two weeks ago to announce a $301 million program to reclaim abandoned coal mine land. Not one for subtlety, Zinke signed a huge ceremonial check as the GOP nominee looked on. They were half a mile from an abandoned mine.

Saccone, a state representative, has returned the favors by constantly and effusively praising Trump. The Air Force veteran promises to be Trump’s “wingman” in Congress.

“You were President Trump before President Trump got here, my friend,” Speaker of the state House Mike Turzai told Saccone, who he’s served alongside over the past eight years, during a speech at the dinner.

Because it’s such a red district, there are few national Democrats who can effectively appear as surrogates. An exception is former vice president Joe Biden, who campaigned with Lamb on Tuesday at a union hall.

“It’s about everybody getting their base out,” said Doug Weimer, a seventh-grade teacher who is a township supervisor in Hempfield Township. “The Reagan Democrats here definitely voted for Trump, and I think they’ll continue to. … Conservatives don’t always put their yard signs out, but they’re still going to vote. Signs don’t vote.”

Valerie Gaydos, a Republican running for an open state House seat that is partially in the congressional district, acknowledged that it’s a tough environment to have an “R” after your name on a ballot. “People are being flooded by information and they’re confused,” she said. “People want to see both parties talk to each other again. People want to see government work. I don’t think they want to see career politicians.”

State Sen. Scott Wagner, an affluent businessman who is running for governor, got to speak at the start of the program because he was giving Conway a ride back to Washington on his private plane after she finished her speech. (Before Steve Bannon was banished, Wagner also gave the former chief White House strategist a ride.)

Wagner told the crowd that his campaign just conducted internal polling this week that showed Trump’s approval rating at 83 percent among Republicans in Pennsylvania, up from 78 percent in January. He chalked it up to the tax cuts. Wagner noted that he’s given bonuses to hundreds of his own employees since the law passed. “A lot of good things continue to come out of D.C.,” he said.

During a 24-minute speech, Conway noted about a dozen times that she was speaking in her “personal capacity.” Federal investigators publicly chastised her this week for twice violating the Hatch Act by offering support for Moore from the White House. “I took a vacation day today,” she said, to knowing laughter from the assembled partisans.

Conway spoke at length about Lamb’s opposition to a 20-week ban on abortion. “Amazing,” someone in the crowd yelled. “Yes, it is amazing,” she replied from the stage. “That’s not the word people use in focus groups, but you’re eating dinner.”

This area is heavily Catholic, and Republicans see curtailing abortion rights as a winning issue here. Tim Murphy, whose resignation prompted this special election, was one of the most outspoken “pro-life” spokesmen in Washington — right up until text messages emerged that showed the married congressman urging his mistress to get an abortion.

Republicans in Washington downplay a potential defeat by arguing that Saccone is a bad candidate. They say Lamb has a hard-to-beat resume and ran a smart campaign. The 33-year-old was a captain in the Marine Corps and served as a federal prosecutor. This is his first run for office so he doesn’t have much of a paper trail. Saccone’s representatives declined to respond to the criticisms from national operatives.

He has undeniably been a bad fundraiser. Lamb outraised Saccone about $4 million to $1 million. But that advantage has been offset, several fold, by national GOP groups.

This race, though, really is not about Saccone. Even he doesn’t think so. Last night’s Lincoln Day dinner, which an advisory said would begin at 5:30 p.m., finally started at 7:15 p.m. and didn’t conclude until just before 10 p.m. Saccone, 60, spoke last. He could read the room well enough to realize these Republican regulars wanted to go home. So he talked for less than five minutes, highlighting an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and noting that his son currently serves on active duty in South Korea.

“I don’t think southwest P.A. needs another downtown liberal in Congress,” he concluded. “It’s time to close the deal.”

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-- Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks by May — an extraordinary stride toward potential diplomacy following heightened nuclear tensions and months of bellicose rhetoric between the two leaders. Anna Fifield, David Nakamura and Seung Min Kim report: “Kim has also committed to stopping nuclear and missile testing, even during joint military drills in South Korea next month ... After a year in which North Korea fired [ICBMs] capable of reaching all of the United States and tested what is widely thought to have been a hydrogen bomb, such a moratorium would be welcomed … But there is also significant risk for Trump in agreeing to a meeting apparently without the kind of firm preconditions sought by previous U.S. administrations. There has never been a face-to-face meeting, or even phone call, between sitting leaders of the two nations because American presidents have been wary of offering the Kim regime validation of a leaders-level summit on the global stage.”

The White House confirmed that Trump had accepted Kim’s invitation, which came as a message from South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong at the White House. “[Trump] greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.”

Asked why Trump did not seek to establish lower-level talks as a prerequisite to a presidential summit, a senior administration official told reporters that lower-level engagement has been tried for 27 years: “That history speaks for itself.”

-- The development caught the State Department off guard as Rex Tillerson said just hours before there might not be any talks at all. From Paul Sonne and John Hudson: “The apparent lack of coordination marked a pattern of mixed messaging that has characterized the Trump administration’s North Korea diplomacy since Pyongyang launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile last year, sparking the Trump White House’s biggest national security crisis to date. Now the White House has committed to an unprecedented meeting at a time when the administration lacks a fully staffed cadre of diplomats and advisers.”

-- The breakthrough was touted as the biggest foreign policy win of Trump’s presidency so far. Karen DeYoung writes: “Even pessimists acknowledged that Trump’s hard line against Pyongyang, after decades of less forceful U.S. effort, played a significant role in moving one of the world’s most vexing and threatening problems in a potentially positive direction. But in the afterglow of the surprise announcement … questions were fast and furious. Were direct talks between Kim and Trump ... the best way to start what are sure to be complicated negotiations? Was the administration, whose thin bench of experienced experts seems to be growing slimmer by the day, ready to face those wily and untrustworthy North Koreans? … By some assessments, this is really a victory for Kim, who for years has sought proof of his status and North Korea’s power by dangling the offer of leader-to-leader talks with the United States.”

-- Trump added this over Twitter:

-- The U.S. economy added 313,000 jobs in February. The healthy numbers far exceeded expectations and kept unemployment steady at 4.1 percent. Danielle Paquette reports: “Average hourly pay grew by 2.6 percent from this time last year. The new year brought the first significant wage increase in months, said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at BankRate.com, a financial services firm in New York, and that trend is expected to continue as the labor market keeps tightening and more employers find themselves competing for workers. … But the share of Americans who are either working or looking for jobs last month fell to a dismal 62.7 percent — a steep drop from 66.2 percent in Feb. 2008.”


  1. Barack and Michelle Obama are in “advanced” talks with Netflix to produce high-profile shows allowing them to engage with hundreds of millions of subscribers on the streaming service. The number and format of the episodes has not yet been decided, but those familiar with the deal said Obama has talked about highlighting inspirational stories rather than responding to Trump and his allies. (New York Times)
  2. Senior Agriculture Department officials were made aware of sexual misconduct claims against U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke as early as September. The office of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) reportedly received a letter warning him that Tooke offered a newly created staff position to a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Isakson passed on the concerns to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. (Darryl Fears)

  3. Radio dispatches released by the Broward County Sheriff’s office revealed the deputy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High knew shots were being fired inside and told other officers to stay away. Deputy Scot Peterson previously said he didn’t enter the school because he thought the gunfire was taking place outside. (Miami Herald)

  4. Two conspiracy theorists who claimed the Sutherland Springs church shooting was staged were arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest. Jodi Mann and Robert Ussery were seen writing a message on a poster at the First Baptist Church, the site of the shooting, that read, “The truth shall set you free.” (Meagan Flynn)

  5. The Iranian government preempted an International Women’s Day protest by beefing up police presence on Tehran’s streets. A small number of Iranian women have recently protested the country’s cultural restrictions by removing their headscarves in public, a criminal act in Iran. (Erin Cunningham)

  6. The Justice Department sued Wisconsin’s Ozaukee County for forcing a nursing home employee to get a flu shot over her religious objections. The DOJ argues the county-owned Lasata Care Center practiced religious discrimination against the employee, Barnell Williams, who believes the Bible forbids her from putting foreign substances into her body. (Marwa Eltagouri)

  7. The State Department issued a security alert for the Mexican resort city of Playa del Carmen. The agency said the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City had received “credible information” about a threat to the destination. (Amy B Wang)

  8. McDonald’s sparked backlash for deciding to flip its iconic double arches upside down in celebration of International Women’s Day. McDonald’s critics accused the company of engaging in a “cheap PR stunt” instead of pursuing policies that would benefit women, such as raising wages. (Caitlin Dewey)


-- Trump signed an order imposing steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, despite intense opposition from business executives and Republicans. It will take effect in 15 days but exempts some U.S. allies, including Canada and Mexico, while NAFTA talks continue. Philip Rucker, David J. Lynch and Erica Werner report: “Other countries with a ‘security relationship’ to the United States may seek exemptions by opening talks with the administration on ‘alternative ways’ to address the threats the administration alleges their products pose to national security. The tariffs mark Trump’s most significant move to date to implement the protectionist agenda he promised during his [campaign] … But the plan differs significantly from Trump’s initial suggestion last week that he would apply the taxes to imports from all countries, a change that follows a week of pleas from his fellow Republicans to narrow the tariffs or abandon them entirely.”

“You don’t have steel, you don’t have a country,” Trump said during the signing ceremony. “Our industries have been targeted for years and years, decades in fact, by unfair foreign trade practices leading to the shuttered plants and mills, the laying off of millions of workers, and the decimation of entire communities. And that’s going to stop. It’s going to stop.”

-- Most U.S. allies are “bewildered” and insulted by the tariffs, Anna Fifield and Michael Birnbaum report. “ Even those leaders who have grown accustomed to the zigs and zags of the Trump White House say this could be different. The consequences of Trump’s targeting other priorities — the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal chief among them — have not had an immediate, concrete effect. But the tariffs could soon put citizens in ally nations out of work, and if a trade war escalates, all sides could feel the pain …”

“Trump’s order came hours after Japan and 10 other countries formalized a new Pacific free-trade agreement, notably without the participation of the United States,” our colleagues write. “The announcement also upended a Saturday meeting of the top U.S., E.U. and Japanese trade negotiators, who were originally scheduled to convene to talk about how to take on what they say is China’s unfair support for its steel industry. Instead, officials say, the meeting may turn out to be the first salvo in an unfolding and escalating trade skirmish.” “We will defend our interests” if necessary, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said. “Protectionism is not a good idea for the U.S. economy.”

-- A top E.U. official said the bloc would seek an exemption to the tariffs. Michael Birnbaum reports: “E.U. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that Europe shared American concerns about China’s support for its steel industry, but she said that [the tariffs] were the wrong way to address the issue. … Malmström will meet Saturday in Brussels with U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer and Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko for a meeting that was originally scheduled to discuss cooperation about Chinese trade issues but has now transformed into something more adversarial.”

-- Trump rolled out the tariffs in typical reality TV fashion, write Jenna Johnson, Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey. “In the morning, amid high anticipation, Trump took to Twitter with a tease. … The response inside and outside the White House: What meeting? There was no mention of the event on the president’s schedule, and the major focus of the day was supposed to be a discussion of gun violence in video games. A number of aides thought tentative plans for a tariff announcement had been called off. Soon, there were rumors that the teased event would be canceled or delayed. But at 3:30, the event was held as the president had promised.”


-- George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman cooperating in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, has told investigators that UAE intermediaries did not introduce Blackwater founder Erik Prince to a Putin-linked investor, Kirill Dmitriev, during the January 2017 Seychelles meeting — directly contradicting Prince’s earlier congressional testimony. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Aruna Viswanatha report: “[Mr. Prince] told the House Intelligence Committee in November that he had traveled to the Seychelles to meet with Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, and his associates to discuss ‘potential business in the future,’ according to a public transcript released by the panel … During his stay … Mr. Prince said he also met with [Dmitriev in a] short, chance encounter at the hotel bar … arranged by a member of Mr. Zayed’s delegation.”

“[However], Mr. Nader told Mr. Mueller’s investigators that he attended Mr. Prince’s meeting with the Emirati delegation and that the Emiratis didn’t make the introduction between Mr. Prince and Mr. Dmitriev, the people said. At the time of the meeting, Mr. Prince had close ties to the Trump team, which he maintained after Mr. Trump’s inauguration. [Meanwhile], Mr. Dmitriev was appointed to his role by Mr. Putin and meets frequently with the Russian president to brief him on the activities of his fund.”

-- The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (Calif.), wants the panel to re-interview Prince and to talk to Nader about the Seychelles meeting. Karoun Demirjian reports.

-- Meanwhile, Prince plans to host a fundraiser this month for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who is infamous for cozying up to the Kremlin and palling around with Vladimir Putin. From CNN’s Rebecca Berg: “Prince and Rohrabacher have been friends and mutual supporters for years: Prince interned for the California congressman on Capitol Hill in 1990, and Rohrabacher vigorously defended Prince when Blackwater faced congressional scrutiny during President George W. Bush's administration.”

-- A federal judge in Virginia set a July 10 trial date for Paul Manafort in one of two indictments he’s facing in the Mueller probe after he pleaded not guilty to 18 charges of tax evasion and bank fraud. Rachel Weiner reports: “During the hearing … Judge T.S. Ellis III put [Manafort] on home confinement, requiring him to wear a GPS monitoring device[.] Jurors will hear from 20 to 25 witnesses during a trial that will last eight to 10 days, prosecutors said. Manafort also pleaded not guilty last week in [Washington, D.C.], where he is set to go to trial on Sept. 17. In Washington, Manafort faces counts of conspiracy to launder more than $30 million, making false statements, failing to follow lobbying disclosure laws and working as an unregistered foreign agent. In Virginia, he is accused of hiding foreign bank accounts, falsifying his income taxes and failing to report foreign bank accounts.”

-- The judge’s conditions mean Manafort will now have to wear two GPS monitoring bracelets. BuzzFeed News’s Zoe Tillman explains: “US District Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled Manafort could be released pending trial, subject to home confinement and electronic monitoring, the same conditions he's under in DC. A Virginia probation officer explained to the judge that because of limits to the technology, she couldn't access the data from the DC bracelet, hence the need for two.”

-- Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski returned to Capitol Hill to testify before a closed-door session of the House intel panel, telling reporters he answered “every relevant question you could imagine.” But Schiff claimed differently, describing the three-hour interview as “contentious.” CBS News reports: “[Lewandowski] would not talk about the production of a false statement about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. Nor would he answer questions about conversations surrounding the firing of FBI Director James Comey, or any discussions he had with President Trump about [Mueller's] potential firing. Schiff told reporters that while Lewandowski did answer a set of questions concerning his time after the campaign, ‘Nonetheless, witnesses don't get to pick and choose when it comes to very relevant testimony to our investigation, so we have requested a subpoena.’”

-- The Senate campaign of former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen (D) fears it may have been hacked. The AP’s Jonathan Mattise reports: “In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, campaign lawyer Robert E. Cooper Jr. wrote that Bredesen’s aides became suspicious when someone pretending to be the campaign’s media buyer asked for money to be wired to an international account. The letter says the person used an email address nearly identical to the actual media buyer’s and knew about an upcoming TV campaign and its proposed dates. Cooper says the campaign hired a cyber-security firm that found the impostor emails were registered through an Arizona-based registrar.”

-- New federal rules aimed at preventing foreign influence on U.S. elections may not take effect before the 2018 midterm elections, FEC officials said.  Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Tony Romm report: “Since November, the commission has been negotiating new disclosure requirements … as a way to thwart foreign influence[.] The rules would apply only to ads paid for by a political committee or candidate or paid ‘express advocacy’ ads that call directly for the election or defeat of a federal candidate. Republican commissioners have called the rulemaking a crucial priority that ‘transcends partisan politics.’ But the 2018 primaries kicked off this week without an FEC proposal for the public to review. … ’The commission has been reluctant to change the rules of the game in the middle of the election season, so that would be something we would want to seriously consider,’ Chairwoman Caroline Hunter told reporters.”

-- John Sipher, a 30-year CIA veteran who ran the agency’s Russia program before his retirement, writes in Politico that the U.S. should “expect a new Russian meddling strategy”: “As those who study national security often point out, the U.S. has a tendency to prepare to fight the last war. Russia’s success in 2016 was unique and, knowing the U.S. is likely to approach 2018 with a renewed focus to uncover and defend its elections, the Russians are likely to look for new weaknesses to exploit … [Putin] will certainly continue weaponizing social media, seeking to stoke partisan fires and hardening views … He will certainly continue to exploit crises as they arise. … [But] changing actual votes buys Putin little that he doesn’t already have. The fear and uncertainty engendered by knowing he has the capability of changing votes would be enough.


-- The Justice Department’s priorities are rapidly changing under Jeff Sessions, according to a leaked draft of the department’s five-year strategic plan. Sessions is sidelining Obama-era goals such as civil rights enforcement while emphasizing a crackdown on leaks and gang violence. HuffPost’s Ryan J. Reilly reports: “A [copy of the draft] shows the Trump administration’s plans for the DOJ include cracking down on undocumented immigrants, aggressively prosecuting national security leaks, zeroing in on campus speech issues, targeting the MS-13 gang and restoring the ‘rule of law’ throughout the country. [DOJ] is a massive bureaucracy with more than 100,000 employees spread out throughout every federal district in the nation and within component agencies like the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service. Its strategic decisions affect millions. … That makes the draft strategy — a final version is due out soon — a reminder of the full scope of the Trump administration’s impact on the direction of federal law enforcement.”

-- The administration warned Idaho that allowing the sale of health plans that don't comply with Obamacare may violate the law. Amy Goldstein reports: “The warning, in a letter to Idaho’s governor and insurance director by the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), does not immediately block the state’s unique decision to encourage insurers to sell health coverage lacking some benefits required by the law, such as maternity care or certain coverage of preexisting conditions. The letter is a strong signal, however, that the Department of Health and Human Services is unwilling to allow Idaho to move forward on its own. As the controversy surrounding Idaho’s maneuver has spread from the state to Washington, many legal and health policy experts have called the state’s move illegal.”

-- A new report found premiums for Obamacare plans could jump by up to 94 percent within the next three years, Amy Goldstein reports. “The nationwide analysis, issued Thursday by California’s insurance marketplace, finds wide variations state to state, with a broad swath of the South and parts of the Midwest in danger of what the report calls ‘catastrophic’ average rate increases by 2021.”

-- Last-minute changes to the Senate bill watering down Dodd-Frank won't help certain big banks. Bloomberg News's Elizabeth Dexheimer and Jesse Hamilton report: “[Senate Banking Chairman] Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) specified that foreign banks such as Deutsche Bank AG and Barclays Plc won’t benefit from a reprieve in his legislation that’s intended to help regional U.S. lenders. Crapo’s revisions -- filed in an amendment -- also make clear that only custody banks, including State Street Corp. and Bank of New York Mellon Corp., will win relief from a key post-crisis capital requirement. Citigroup Inc. and other lenders had been pushing lawmakers to expand a provision in the original bill so they would also get a break. And Crapo declined to make changes to the Volcker Rule that firms such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. had been pressing for.”

-- Conservatives pressed Trump to crack down on violent video games in the wake of the Parkland shooting at a White House meeting. Tony Romm reports: “[S]ome participants urged Trump to consider new regulations that would make it harder for young children to purchase those games. Others asked the president to expand his inquiry to focus on violent movies and TV shows too. … Those who [joined] Trump said he appeared open-minded, seeking solutions from everyone — including executives from the video-game industry. It was ‘respectful but contentious,’ said Melissa Henson, program director for the Parents Television Council.”


-- The Interior Department is spending about $139,000 to upgrade three sets of double doors in Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office. The AP’s Michael Biesecker and Matthew Daly report: “Zinke was not aware of the contract for the work prior to a request about it from The Associated Press, spokeswoman Heather Swift said. The project was planned by career facilities and security officials as part of the decade-long modernization of the historic building erected in 1936 a few blocks from the White House, she said. ‘The secretary was not aware of this contract but agrees that this is a lot of money for demo, install, materials and labor,’ Swift said.”

-- VA Secretary David Shulkin has grown increasingly distrustful of his agency’s senior staff, going so far as to have an armed guard stand outside his office. Lisa Rein reports: “He has canceled the morning meetings once attended by several of President Trump’s political appointees — members of his senior management team — gathering instead with aides he trusts not to miscast his remarks. Access to Shulkin’s 10th-floor executive suite was recently revoked for several people he has accused of lobbying the White House to oust him. He and his public-affairs chief have not spoken in weeks. … [I]t has become clear that one side — whether it’s Shulkin, who is the only Obama administration holdover in Trump’s Cabinet, or his estranged management team — is unlikely to survive the standoff.”

-- A senior political appointee at HUD used his Twitter account to spread a false conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman, John Podesta, was a Satanist. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reports: “In August of 2017, [John Gibbs, a former conservative commentator] transitioned to the role of senior adviser, working in the office of the assistant secretary for community planning and development. … On Twitter, Gibbs made multiple references to a conspiracy theory started by far-right bloggers claiming [Podesta] took part in a satanic ritual. Tweets from Gibbs [show] him promoting the conspiracy four times between October 31 and November 5 of 2016, using the hashtag #SpiritCooking.”

-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is looking into loans made to Jared Kushner’s family company. Politico reports: “[Warren] -- along with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) -- sent letters to Apollo and Citigroup, asking about loans to Kushner Companies from just after Jared joined the White House. … [The letter] asks for the dates the loans were offered, conditions of the loan and a description of the process by which the Kushner Companies got the loans.”


-- A woman who accused Trump of sexual misconduct and who he claimed he didn't know was listed in Stormy Daniels’s settlement. CNN’s Scott Glover, Curt Devine and MJ Lee report: “When adult film star Jessica Drake accused [Trump] of sexual misconduct a month before the presidential election, Trump said through a spokesperson that he didn't know the woman and had ‘no interest in ever knowing her.’ Less than a week later, a woman named Angel Ryan was listed in a secret settlement agreement negotiated by Trump's personal attorney as having ‘confidential information’ about the then-Republican nominee. … Drake, the woman who accused Trump, and Ryan, the woman named in the non-disparagement agreement, are the same person[.] … The connection raises new questions about the circumstances surrounding the controversial agreement [with Daniels].”

-- Trump is frustrated with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for her handling of the Daniels story, per CNN’s Jim Acosta and Veronica Stracqualursi: “On Wednesday, Sanders told reporters that the arbitration was won ‘in the President's favor.’ The statement is an admission that the nondisclosure agreement exists, and that it directly involves the President. It is the first time the White House has admitted the President was involved in any way with Daniels. ‘POTUS is very unhappy,’ the source said. ‘Sarah gave the Stormy Daniels storyline steroids yesterday.’”

-- Michael Cohen has added another lawyer, described as a “pit bull” on his law firm’s website, to Trump’s outside legal team to handle the Daniels controversy. Lawrence S. Rosen will “aggressively fight and use his rhetorical and writing skills to get you a win,” according to the website for LaRocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha. It also says Rosen serves “high net worth individuals in a myriad of areas of business and commerce.” (ABC News)

-- Anderson Cooper taped an interview with Daniels for an upcoming “60 Minutes” episode. But it isn't clear when the interview will air. (CNN)

-- Right-wing media outlets have spent the week largely ignoring the Stormy story line, writes CNN’s Oliver Darcy. “There was not one article about the latest Stormy Daniels developments featured prominently on the Fox News homepage. A search in TV Eyes, a media monitoring search engine, returned only two segments in which the unfolding drama was discussed on the network Thursday morning. On the web, there was a similar blackout. The Drudge Report ... featured zero stories on the matter. Breitbart, the pro-Trump website previously headed by Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, had a pair of stories on its homepage, but they were not given prime placement.”


-- The House Majority PAC, the most prominent Democratic super PAC targeting House races, said it plans to reserve $43 million worth of TV ad time ahead of this year’s midterms. Mike DeBonis reports: “The [HMP’s] 33 media markets run the gamut from Los Angeles, where HMP is planning to spend $5.2 million to target vulnerable Republican House incumbents such as Steve Knight, Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters, as well as the open seat being vacated by Edward R. Royce; to Washington, D.C., where $1.9 million in spending is being squarely targeted at Virginia’s Barbara Comstock; to much smaller markets such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa … as well as Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle, Maine … The $43 million total gives the best indication yet of the Democratic super PAC’s 2018 fundraising ambitions. So far, the group’s fundraising has lagged its GOP counterpart, the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely aligned with [Paul Ryan], and has announced plans to spend $100 million for the 2018 cycle, although not exclusively on TV.” 

-- Trump dined Wednesday night with wealthy donors expected to help finance his reelection campaign. From the New York Times’s Kenneth P. Vogel: “The dinner was the latest in a series of donor events associated with a pair of independent groups — America First Policies and America First Action — that are aiming to raise $100 million this year, mostly in large donations, to support Mr. Trump’s agenda and the election campaigns of allied congressional candidates … The gathering was hosted by C. Boyden Gray, a Washington lawyer who served in top positions in both George Bush’s and George W. Bush’s presidential administrations, and who is known for hosting gatherings of the capital’s Republican elite.”

-- Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), facing a tough reelection, predicted Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire this year, boosting his electoral odds. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports: “‘Kennedy is going to retire around sometime early summer,’ Heller predicted in Las Vegas last week, according to audio of an event he spoke at[.] … ‘Which I’m hoping will get our base a little motivated because right now they’re not very motivated. But I think a new Supreme Court justice will get them motivated.’ The 45-minute recording of the media-shy Heller shows a senator defending [Trump] repeatedly, breaking only delicately with the president on issues like trade and gun control. … ‘I’m not going to sit here and criticize him,’ Heller said when asked about Trump’s flirtation with Democrats on gun control. ‘Because everything else he’s touched, like this economy, has been just incredible.’”

-- Philip Bump analyzed whether more liberal Democratic candidates in Texas will doom the party’s chances at picking up seats in the red state: “Of the 23 Republicans who won Clinton districts [in 2016], more than two-thirds were more liberal than an average Republican. The other 30 percent were more conservative. Of the 12 Democrats who won Trump districts? Every one was more conservative — that is, more moderate — than the average House Democrat.”


An ABC News correspondent talked to Trump about his announcement on North Korea:

What a difference five months make:

A Reuters reporter shared a photo of Trump's briefing with the South Korean delegation:

The Post's Tokyo bureau chief added this detail about the South Korean national security adviser:

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) took a shot at CNN while praising the North Korea developments:

Obama's former NSC spokesman criticized the administration's handling of the announcement:

An expert on the Korean Peninsula, who was seriously considered to become Trump's ambassador to South Korea, asked what the president would offer in the talks:

A CNBC reporter noted this when the president signed his order on tariffs:

A New York Times reporter called out Trump's understanding of NATO:

The House speaker sat down with another survivor of the Parkland shooting:

An ABC News reporter corrected Trump's report on passing gun regulations:

A former Hillary Clinton spokesman criticized the attorney general for targeting California:

Cindy McCain provided an update on her husband's health:

Russia's embassy in Britain offered a clarification to a news story about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, suspected of being carried out by Kremlin-linked actors:

A foreign policy consultant replied:

A reporter for Mic slammed Trump's reported frustration with his press secretary for her handling of the Stormy Daniels lawsuit:

Twitter celebrated International Women's Day:

From the vice president:

From a former acting attorney general:

From a former first lady:

Hillary Clinton recognized women she admires:

And Clinton's former running mate praised her:


-- New York Times, “Overlooked,” by Amisha Padnani and Jessica Bennett: “Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female. Charlotte Brontë wrote ‘Jane Eyre’; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.”

-- The Atlantic, “The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News,” by Robinson Meyer: “The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence — some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years — and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.”

-- Time, “'No One Is Safe.' How Trump’s Immigration Policy Is Splitting Families Apart,” by Haley Sweetland Edwards: “[Trump’s immigration] policy doesn’t affect only those who are in the country illegally. It upends a broad swath of American society, including the communities and families of undocumented people, many of whom are U.S. citizens. More than 4 million American kids under the age of 18 have at least one undocumented parent, and nearly 6 million live in so-called mixed-status households, sharing bedrooms with family members, like brothers and sisters, who are now targets for arrest.”


“Whistleblower had ‘no evidence’ Clinton helped Russia assume American uranium stake, Democrats say,” from Karoun Demirjian: “Democrats say a whistleblower central to a GOP-driven probe of a government decision that let Russia gain a foothold in the U.S. uranium market provided ‘no evidence’ that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was involved in the process, as President Trump alleged during the 2016 presidential campaign. William Campbell, the confidential FBI informant who congressional Republicans believed could link a multiagency decision to approve the sale of uranium company shares to Russia with payments made to the Clinton Foundation, ‘was unable to point to anything to support his claims,’ Democratic staffers wrote in a memorandum sent Thursday to members of the investigating committees. They also wrote that Justice Department officials told investigators Campbell ‘never provided any evidence or made allegations regarding Secretary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation[.]'”



“Dems denounce Farrakhan rhetoric amid pressure from GOP,” from Politico: “Several Democratic lawmakers denounced Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic rhetoric Thursday after facing pressure from Republican officials and religious groups to account for their past contacts with the controversial activist. ‘I’ve spent my life fighting discrimination in every form, from anyone. I unequivocally condemn Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic and hateful comments,’ Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) tweeted Thursday. … Farrakhan’s history of derogatory remarks toward Jews and white people resurfaced in recent weeks after it was reported that at least one organizer of the 2016 Women's March in Washington attended a February event at which the Nation of Islam leader proclaimed that ‘the powerful Jews are my enemy.’ Farrakhan bemoaned what he called the ‘satanic Jew’ and took aim at Caucasians, saying: ‘White folks are going down. And Satan is going down.’”



Trump has nothing on his schedule, besides receiving his daily intelligence briefing.

Pence is in Cleveland today, where he will give a speech at America First Policies’s “Tax Cuts to Put America First” event. (The nonprofit has been scrutinized for its close ties to the White House and the RNC.) The vice president will also participate in a campaign event for Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee.


“I’m not commenting on anything anymore,” Sam Nunberg told CNN after his whirlwind series of interviews in which he vowed to defy a subpoena from Mueller’s team. He added, “I don’t want to turn into Anthony Scaramucci.”



-- Washington will see gusty winds and possibly snow today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “This one is much like yesterday. A mix of sun and clouds, with probably more sun than clouds. Maybe some flakes, especially early. Blustery, too. Westerly winds could get to near 20 mph during the afternoon, with gusts around 30 mph possible. High temperatures may get into the mid-40s but dress for the 30s because of that wind.”

-- And the chances of a winter storm hitting the region Sunday have markedly decreased. But it’s still possible, so pay attention to weekend forecasts. (Wes Junker and Jason Samenow)

-- The Capitals lost to the Kings 3-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- The chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee backed away from plans to hold a hearing on the schools chancellor’s resignation. From Peter Jamison and Perry Stein: “Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) had issued a statement Monday saying he would call Bowser to testify under oath before his committee. … But on Thursday — after speaking to the mayor and one of her attorneys — Grosso reneged on his plan, saying his committee’s attention would best be devoted to other problems in the school system. It was a stunning about-face for the council member and a boon for Bowser … "


Stephen Colbert sat down with MSNBC's Chris Hayes to discuss the Russia probes:

Trump and a steelworker shared this awkward exchange:

Trump also praised Jeff Sessions's work to combat “sanctuary” jurisdictions:

Saudi women exercised their new right to jog in the streets in celebration of International Women's Day:

Vladimir Putin recited poetry honoring women to mark the holiday:

And a 14-year-old boy in California was arrested for allegedly impersonating a sheriff's deputy: