With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: President Trump often expresses admiration for authoritarian leaders, but perhaps never so much as this week.
-- On Monday, he proposed the death penalty for drug dealers, following months of privately praising Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killing of suspected drug dealers and Singapore’s policy of executing drug pushers.
“Take a look at some of these countries where they don’t play games. They don’t have a drug problem,” Trump said in New Hampshire, praising places with a “zero tolerance” policy as he rolled out his plan to combat the opioid epidemic.
-- On Tuesday, he called Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him for securing another term — even though national security advisers had pleaded with the president not to do so. In contrast, Trump never called German chancellor Angela Merkel when she won her fourth term. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the call during her briefing. “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” she said.
-- The same day, the president effusively praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House. MBS, as he’s known, has rounded up opposition figures as part of a purge to consolidate his own power. Last June, the prince ousted his cousin as crown prince and upended the line of succession to become next in line to the throne.
During a photo op in the Oval Office, Trump displayed posters showing recent Saudi weapons purchases from the United States. Later in the Cabinet Room, he criticized the Obama administration for having “strained” ties with the kingdom, which has long been a stalwart ally in the region. “We really have a great friendship, a great relationship,” Trump said.
The Intercept reported on Wednesday that the prince told confidants after meeting with Jared Kushner last October that Trump’s son-in-law, before he lost his top-secret security clearance and access to the President’s Daily Brief, discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince. Kushner’s attorney denies it.
Mohammed’s reception was very different on Capitol Hill than at the White House. Top congressional leaders in both parties raised concerns with the prince over the Saudi-led coalition’s role in the war in Yemen and the humanitarian crisis that’s created. Some also expressed anxiety about Riyadh’s continuing insistence that it has the option to enrich uranium.
-- On Thursday, Trump spoke by phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has systematically and dramatically rolled back democracy in his country. The readout released by the White House was uniformly positive: The president wanted “to reaffirm the importance of strong relations between the United States and Turkey, as NATO allies and strategic partners,” it said. “The two leaders committed to continue efforts to intensify cooperation on shared strategic challenges…”
News also emerged Thursday that federal prosecutors in recent months have dropped assault charges against several security guards for Erdogan who were involved in a melee last May outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington. “Video of the incident, which showed guards for the visiting Turkish president charging and beating protesters who had gathered outside the Sheridan Circle residence, sparked international condemnation,” Keith L. Alexander reports. “Fifteen guards were indicted in July, but federal prosecutors in the District dismissed charges against four members of Erdogan’s security detail in November. Last month, they dropped the cases against seven others. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the District declined to say why the cases were dropped.”
It does not take a master’s degree in international relations to guess what happened: The charges had infuriated Erdogan and chilled relations between the two countries. The U.S. ambassador in Ankara was summoned to the Foreign Ministry after the charges were announced and chastised.
-- Later in the day, Trump ousted H.R. McMaster. The president really soured on his national security adviser last month when he said at a conference in Munich that “the evidence is now incontrovertible” that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election. Trump even called out McMaster on Twitter:
General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
-- Trump also slapped tariffs on China Thursday, but that does not mean he’s stopped admiring Chinese President Xi Jinping. Speaking at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, Trump praised his counterpart in Beijing for consolidating power and ending term limits. “He's now president for life,” the American president quipped. “I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day!” The room of Republican donors laughed.
-- One Trump adviser said in December that “the three guys in the world” whom the president “most admires” are Putin, Erdogan and Xi. “They’re all the same guy,” the adviser said.
-- Conservative writer Bill Kristol noticed that Trump this week referred to the Russian dictator on Twitter with the honorific “President Putin” while referring to his American predecessors only by their last names as he insulted them.
-- Meanwhile, Trump continues to push the Pentagon to plan a massive military parade through the streets of Washington.
-- As Trump palled around with autocrats, new details emerged about the digital firm that the president paid millions to do work for his 2016 campaign. “Conservative strategist Stephen K. Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s early efforts to collect troves of Facebook data as part of an ambitious program to build detailed profiles of millions of American voters,” Craig Timberg, Karla Adam and Michael Kranish reported on Tuesday. “The 2014 effort was part of a high-tech form of voter persuasion touted by the company, which under Bannon identified and tested the power of anti-establishment messages that later would emerge as central themes in Trump’s campaign speeches, according to Chris Wylie, who left the company at the end of that year. Among the messages tested were ‘drain the swamp’ and ‘deep state,’ he said.”
“The only foreign thing we tested was Putin,” Wylie, the whistleblower, told The Washington Post at his lawyer’s office in London. “It turns out, there’s a lot of Americans who really like this idea of a really strong authoritarian leader and people were quite defensive in focus groups of Putin’s invasion of Crimea.”
-- This revelation came just a few days after Bannon, who served as White House chief strategist for most of Trump’s first year in office before getting fired, said in a magazine interview that he is fascinated by Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator during World War II. “Mussolini was perhaps the reason Bannon granted me an interview. It turns out he likes a book I wrote about the dictator years ago,” wrote Spectator magazine’s Nicholas Farrell.
“You put the juice back in Mussolini,” Bannon told him. “He was clearly loved by women. He was a guy’s guy. He has all that virility. He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that whole thing with the uniforms. I’m fascinated by Mussolini.”
-- To be sure, Trump has not yet followed through on some of the concepts he’s praised, such as killing drug dealers. And American democracy is still intact: Many of his executive actions have been blocked or held up in the courts, from the first travel ban to ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As Vice’s Harry Cheadle argued in January, “Trump might want to be an autocrat, and can certainly talk like one … But he's not popular or effective enough to actually bend the country to his will.”
-- Michael Gerson, a chief speechwriter in George W. Bush’s White House, says the leak of a secret briefing document that told Trump “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Putin “seems to have been motivated by desperation” on the inside. “Someone at the White House … has taken a large personal risk to call attention to Trump’s mysteriously cozy relationship with a strategic rival,” Gerson writes in his column for today’s newspaper. “This is extraordinary — and extraordinarily frightening. … In this case, an aide close to the president is expressing panic. He or she cannot explain the hold that Putin has over Trump. This leak is a cry for help from within the White House itself.
“The problem is Trump’s strange inability to confront Putin personally — about his oppressive rule, the disruption of America’s electoral process, human rights violations and even attempted murder on the soil of a NATO ally. Trump’s initial instinct is to explain such abuses away,” Gerson continues. “It deepens the mystery that all of Trump’s political interests push in the opposite direction. A president pulled into an investigation of improper ties to Russia might be expected to distance himself from disturbing Russian behavior. Such public criticisms are an easy and cheap form of damage control. But at every stage, Trump has been dragged kicking and screaming into the pursuit of self-interest.
“It is not enough to say, as he did in a recent tweet, ‘Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,’” Gerson concludes. “Ronald Reagan’s diplomatic engagement of the Soviet Union did not translate into fawning subservience toward a dictator. Such self-abasement actually emboldens dictators. … It says something that the most innocent explanation for Trump’s attitude toward Putin is authoritarian envy.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- The Senate passed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill early this morning, sending it to Trump’s desk and averting a shutdown with less than 24 hours to spare. Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis report: “Action by the Senate shortly before 1 a.m. capped a day of suspense, including the late-night revelation that the legislation had been stalled for hours partly because Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) objected to the renaming of a federal wilderness area after a deceased political rival. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also held out against the bill for much of the day Thursday, voicing objections to what he viewed as unnecessary deficit spending while keeping colleagues in the dark about whether he would delay action on the legislation and force a brief government shutdown. ... Finally, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) intervened personally with Risch and Paul and the Senate passed a measure striking the provision Risch disliked, both men relented. The Senate passed the 2,232-page spending bill 65-32, about 12 hours after the House had also approved the legislation on a similarly wide bipartisan vote of 256-to-167.”
-- Why did Risch nearly derail the deal over an old political rivalry? Erica and Mike explain: “Risch had been complaining behind the scenes, demanding that congressional leaders remove a provision in the bill naming the White Clouds Wilderness after former Democratic governor Cecil D. Andrus of Idaho, according to two congressional aides familiar with the dispute. Risch and Andrus, who died last year, had clashed when both served in state government, with Andrus quoted in a 2006 story published by NewWest.net describing Risch as a ‘mean, snarly little guy.’ … Ultimately the Senate passed a stand-alone measure making the change Risch sought, although Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) subsequently told reporters that the House was objecting to Risch’s change, meaning the renaming provision he objects to is likely to remain intact.”
RISCH declined comment— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) March 23, 2018
“No. What part of no don’t you understand? ...Do I have a problem with my English? I don’t have any comment.”
-- “At least tactically, Democrats have done a complete turnaround in just a few months," David Nakamura and Seung Min Kim report. "In January, enough caucus members were willing to vote against spending measures without protections for dreamers that the federal government endured a three-day shutdown over the deadlock on immigration. But now, a healthy number of Democrats are supporting the spending bill without those protections. Senior Democrats rationalize their shift with two main arguments: They fended off other Trump-backed immigration measures they said were harmful, and the 2,232-page spending bill contains several other policy victories for the party.”
-- Hypocrisy watch: Lawmakers were left with little time to read the mammoth bill. Paul Kane writes: “‘Read the bill, read the bill,’ GOP lawmakers chanted [on March 21, 2010] as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for a vote on the Affordable Care Act. … House Republicans abandoned their ‘read the bill’ ethos late Wednesday night — on the eight-year anniversary of the House passage of the ACA. … Many Republicans were left dumbfounded by a process that looked a lot like one they had won office criticizing. … ‘I never thought I would see the day when my party had a worse process than Obamacare did, but this was a worse process,’ Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) said after the spending bill vote.”
THE WHITE HOUSE SHAKE-UP CONTINUES:
-- Trump named former ambassador John Bolton as his new national security adviser, tapping the Fox News commentator and conservative firebrand to replace H.R. McMaster. “As national security adviser, however, McMaster never forged the kind of bond that would allow him to speak honestly to the president. At times, Trump, who complained that McMaster was stubborn, didactic and long winded, seemed to tune [him out]," Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey report. “His struggles with Trump were often personal. When the president would receive his morning schedule and see that he was expected to spend 30 minutes or longer with McMaster outside of his intelligence briefing, Trump would complain and ask aides to cut it back. ... At times, Trump would tell McMaster that he understood an issue largely to make him stop talking. ... 'I get it, General, I get it,' Trump would say, according to two people who were present at the time."
-- To describe Bolton as a hawk is an understatement:
- Three weeks ago, Bolton wrote that a preemptive strike against North Korea would be a “perfectly legitimate” course of action in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. He's been highly critical of direct talks with Kim Jong Un but modulated his position when Trump agreed to a meeting.
- Bolton told Fox News in January that Trump should pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal and work to overthrow the government in Tehran. In 2015, he called for bombing Iran in an op-ed for the New York Times.
- “During his brief run [as ambassador] at the U.N., Bolton was often at odds with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She told colleagues that Bolton undermined her and went behind her back to [Dick] Cheney, his old friend and patron,” Jaffe and Dawsey note.
-- Bolton’s selection alarmed U.S. allies in Asia and the Middle East. Anna Fifield and Loveday Morris report: “[T]he prospect that a hawk who advocates military action against North Korea and Iran would have the president’s ear put American allies on edge. Bolton for years has espoused bringing about regime change in Pyongyang and Tehran, through force if necessary. … Bolton’s move into the president’s inner circle comes at a particularly sensitive time in the world’s dealings with North Korea. The South Korean president is preparing to hold a summit with Kim Jong Un at the end of April, and Trump plans to follow suit in May.”
-- Bolton’s ascension creates the most “radically aggressive foreign policy team around the American president in modern memory,” argues the New York Times’s David Sanger. “Just a month ago, the prevailing wisdom in Washington was that the triumvirate of [McMaster, Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis] was the only restraining influence on Mr. Trump’s confrontational urges. Now only Mr. Mattis is left, and there are increasing questions about how long he will last. Even before the announcement [McMaster’s departure was announced] … it seemed likely that the president would follow his instincts and abandon the Iran deal. Now that seems inevitable. If so, this new team of hard-liners will be cast, in their first month together, into two of the most volatile nuclear issues of the post-Cold War era. The question is whether, once in office, they will manage America’s allies and adversaries by ultimatum or by diplomacy.”
-- “Six decades of Republican overreach and corrosive causes have … led to the rise of Donald Trump and a foreign policy run by John Bolton, an economy guided by Larry Kudlow and a legal team led by conspiracy theorist Joseph DiGenova,” Joe Scarborough writes in a Post op-ed. “Bolton’s elevation to the position of national security adviser is a fitting coda for a movement whose adherents spent decades throwing themselves on an endless array of ideological barricades while vilifying opponents whose responses to Soviet Russia or Islamic fundamentalism were deemed insufficiently harsh.”
-- Bolton could not have gotten confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, but this is one of the most senior jobs in government that does not require confirmation. Rand Paul had pledged to block him. The GOP only has 51 seats, and John McCain is gone. Every Democrat would have opposed him.
-- True story: Bolton didn’t get nominated to be deputy secretary of state, in part, because Trump was uneasy with his walrus-like mustache and thought he didn’t look the part. It’s not clear what changed. Bolton officially starts on April 9.
-- Another Trump adviser with Russia ties? NPR’s Tim Mak reports: “Bolton recorded a video used by the Russian gun rights group The Right to Bear Arms in 2013 to encourage the Russian government to loosen gun laws. … Russian politician Alexander Torshin helped establish The Right to Bear Arms and cultivate ties with American gun rights groups including the NRA. … [T]he FBI is reportedly investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016 … ”
-- The addition of Bolton, a Fox talking head, continues Trump’s trend of turning to television personalities as he shakes up his staff. (I wrote about this hiring pattern last week.) To be fair, the 69-year-old also had an important arms control job during Bush 43's first term, was an assistant secretary of state under George H.W. Bush and an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department during Ronald Reagan's final year.
-- The reality TV presidency: Bolton appeared on Fox News just minutes after the president announced his appointment on Twitter. He said he was surprised to receive the formal offer from Trump Thursday when the two met. “I think I still am a Fox News contributor,” Bolton told the host. “No, you’re not apparently,” she replied.
-- Trump’s rushed decision to fire McMaster has upended a plan by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to oust other top administration officials. Politico’s Eliana Johnson reports: “[Kelly] and other top aides were waiting for inspector general reports that they believed would deliver devastating verdicts on [VA Secretary David Shulkin and HUD Secretary Ben Carson], who have both been accused of racking up extravagant expenses. They were also debating whether several senior White House aides, including McMaster, should go with them. It’s unclear which other West Wing officials were possibly set to depart with McMaster, but the two senior administration officials said they believed it would be easier to manage the optics if multiple firings were made public in a single statement instead of drawn out. The announcement, though, was not expected for at least another week.”
-- The credibility gap widens: After my colleagues' scoop last week that Trump had decided to replace McMaster, the White House press secretary vigorously denied the story. It's a reminder not always to trust the official denials.
GET SMART FAST:
The teen shot at a Southern Maryland high school will be taken off life support, her family said. Jaelynn Willey, 16, is brain dead after her ex-boyfriend shot her before classes on Tuesday. (Marissa J. Lang)
Police shut down admission to the Sacramento Kings’ game due to protests over the death of an unarmed black man. Hundreds of demonstrators formed a human chain in front of the Golden 1 Center’s doorways to protest the death of Stephon Clark, who was shot 20 times by police after they mistook his iPhone for a gun. (Alex Horton and Wesley Lowery)
- A Wisconsin judge ruled Gov. Scott Walker (R) must call special elections to fill two seats in the state legislature. The seats were left open after two Republicans joined Walker’s administration. When the governor declined to call the elections, a group of Wisconsin voters sued with the help of former attorney general Eric Holder’s redistricting group. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
The psychologist accused of inappropriately sharing Facebook data with Cambridge Analytica worked closely with two of Facebook’s own data scientists on a research paper. As part of the research, which took place between 2013 and 2015, Facebook provided Cambridge University psychologist Aleksandr Kogan with data on 57 billion Facebook friendships. (Elizabeth Dwoskin, Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg)
- There's a new debate over whether to call Austin bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt a “terrorist.” Authorities have avoided the term; interim Austin police chief Brian Manley described Conditt instead as a “very challenged young man.” (Samantha Schmidt)
Rep. Kevin Cramer’s son Isaac died at the age of 35. The North Dakota Republican did not specify the cause of his son’s death, but he said in a statement, “Now Isaac feels no anxiety or urging for alcohol. He feels no pain and will never be depressed again.” (Sean Sullivan)
- The floating pile of trash in the Pacific Ocean now occupies an area three times the size of France, according to scientists, who used two planes and 18 boats to more accurately assess the staggering mass of pollution. Researchers found that the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” contains an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, and is continuing to increase “exponentially” due to human behavior both on and offshore. (Chris Mooney)
- A North Carolina mother was arrested after a video of her baby smoking a small cigar went viral — prompting viewers to alert authorities and help track down the woman. Raleigh police said the child was “likely” smoking marijuana and have since charged the mother with two counts of felony child abuse. (Marwa Eltagouri)
The No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago defeated Nevada, earning a place in the Elite 8. The team has become known nationwide for its most famous member: Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the 98-year-old nun who serves as the Ramblers’ chaplain. (Gene Wang)
TRUMP TARIFF FALLOUT:
-- Trump's announcement of $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods sent stocks plummeting amid fears of retaliation and a trade war between the world’s two largest economies. By the time markets closed for the day, the Dow Jones industrial average had plummeted by more than 700 points, and the S&P 500 dropped by more than 68 points. “[Trump’s actions] followed a government finding that China had treated U.S. companies unfairly by coercing them into surrendering trade secrets for market access,” David J. Lynch reports. “...By challenging China, Trump rejected the approach of his Republican and Democratic predecessors, gambling that China will bend before he does. ‘We don’t know how this is going to turn out,’ said Scott Kennedy, [a China expert] at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘It could be resolved in a few months, or it could spiral out of control into a broader strategic rivalry.’”
-- China threatened to raise tariffs on about $3 billion of U.S. imports if the trade dispute is not resolved. From David: “The Commerce Ministry framed its move as a response to a previous decision by the Trump administration to impose steep tariffs on [steel and aluminum], but the announcement came only hours after [Trump] announced his plans to target China. … The Commerce Ministry said it had compiled a list of 120 products worth nearly $1 billion, including fresh fruit and wine, upon which it would impose a 15 percent tariff if the two countries fail to resolve their trade differences ‘within a stipulated time.’ It also said 25 percent tariffs on other goods, including pork and aluminum, could be imposed …”
-- U.S. allies — including the E.U., Brazil and South Korea — expressed “cautious relief” after Trump issued a temporary reprieve on steel and aluminum tariffs just hours before they were slated to take effect. Michael Birnbaum reports: “The decision to exclude some of the United States’ closest trading partners from the import tariffs gave some space to those countries as they sought to negotiate permanent exemptions. But the wide scope of the exemptions — which now encompass more than half of the steel imported by the United States — raised questions about whether the tariffs would actually make a difference in supporting U.S. metal industries. The countries hit hardest by the steel tariffs when they take effect Friday will be Russia, Turkey and Japan. It was not immediately clear why Japan, a U.S. ally with a similar trade relationship as the countries with exemptions, was not included …”
-- The effects of the tariffs could hit Trump’s base the hardest. Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam explain: “In many U.S. stores, ‘Made in China’ labels and stamps are on tons of T-shirts, shoes, plastic Easter eggs and water bottles, among other goods. Tariffs are basically taxes that mean Americans will pay more when they shop. That's especially true for low-income families who spend a higher share of their paychecks on goods and often buy the cheapest products, families that Trump often thinks of as his base.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Trump's top personal attorney for the Russia investigation, John Dowd, has resigned. Now the president is struggling to recruit top-notch legal talent willing to risk their personal reputations to represent him. Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report: “Some law firms have signaled that they do not want the controversy of representing a divisive and unpopular president, while others have told Trump advisers they have clients with conflicting interests. … Several prominent white-collar lawyers also have declined requests to sign on with the president in recent weeks, including former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson. ... 'These major law firms have spent millions of dollars on their image,' said one Trump adviser. 'It’s political. They are saying that representing this president is just too controversial.'
“Dowd had been the president’s main point of contact with [Bob] Mueller’s office … [and had also] been negotiating the terms for the president to sit for an interview with Mueller’s team. ... Aides said Trump has proved to be a difficult client, as Dowd learned firsthand. Dowd complained to colleagues that Trump had ignored his advice and tweeted attacks on Mueller and other topics hours after Dowd and other advisers urged him not to. ... He and the president had been increasingly disagreeing over strategy, but especially so on Saturday. One Trump adviser said the president berated Dowd for not doing enough to highlight [the so-called] corruption and political bias in the FBI to undercut the legitimacy of the Mueller probe. … At Trump’s insistence, Dowd issued an emailed statement saying the investigation was corrupted by political bias [and called for Rod Rosenstein] to shut it down.”
Dowd also told people that he was personally insulted by Trump’s efforts to bring other lawyers onto the team. He was “blindsided” when the president interviewed former Clinton impeachment lawyer Emmet Flood and then again when Trump announced he was hiring Joseph diGenova, a Fox News talking head known for his anti-Clinton antagonism and attack-dog style.
-- “Trump’s new offensive is a sign that he’s unilaterally abandoning the go-along, get-along strategy advocated by Dowd and Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer overseeing the response to Mueller,” Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman writes. “The genial and mustachioed Cobb has always been somewhat of an odd fit for Trump, whose mental picture of a lawyer is Roy Cohn, his early mentor. Sources said Trump reluctantly conceded to allow Cobb to play good cop. ‘Trump is looking at this saying, I did it your way for months, now I’m ... doing it my way,’ a former West Wing official said. … Sources said Cobb is unlikely to be fired imminently — although with Trump you never know — but in the meantime, Trump is prospecting for a potential replacement. … Sources also said that Trump is considering hiring back Marc Kasowitz to serve on his defense team.”
-- Trump told reporters yesterday he would still "like to" sit down with Mueller. Trump has made similar comments before, but they have been walked back by members of his legal team – including Cobb. (CNN)
-- Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be the “lone hacker” behind the DNC email breach, was actually a Russian intelligence officer. The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman and Kevin Poulsen report: “[Mueller] has taken over the probe into Guccifer and brought the FBI agents who worked to track the persona onto his team. … The attribution of Guccifer 2.0 as an officer of Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency would cross the Kremlin threshold — and move the investigation closer to Trump himself. Trump’s longtime political adviser Roger Stone admitted being in touch with Guccifer over Twitter’s direct messaging service. And in August 2016, Stone published an article on the pro-Trump-friendly Breitbart News calling on his political opponents to ‘Stop Blaming Russia’ for the hack.”
-- A top Trump fundraiser offered to help get Russian companies off a U.S. sanctions list. Bloomberg’s Zachary Mider and David Voreacos report: “[Elliott] Broidy made the offer after an inquiry from Andrei Baev, an energy lawyer at Chadbourne & Parke LLP, both men acknowledged in [statements] this week. In a proposal sent to Baev shortly before Trump’s January 2017 inauguration, Broidy sketched out a potential campaign to influence top U.S. officials, according to a person with knowledge of the talks … The plan never went forward, Broidy and Baev said, and no such lobbying took place.”
-- The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the Justice Department for documents on the controversial Trump-Russia dossier, the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server and the firing of Andrew McCabe. From Karoun Demirjian and Sari Horwitz: “In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) complained that the Justice Department has been taking too long to produce the materials, some of which he and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) began asking the department for last October.”
-- The House Intelligence Committee voted to approve the Republican-drafted report on the panel’s Russia probe. Karoun Demirjian reports: “While the vote ends the Russia probe for the panel’s GOP majority, it only stoked the fury of Democrats. … [The report] will be sent to the intelligence community for redactions on Monday at the earliest, [Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who led the investigation,] added. … Conaway said Thursday he hopes the intelligence community can complete its redactions within two weeks so the panel can release the report when Congress returns to Washington in April following a two-week recess.”
-- A Democratic-aligned advocacy group issued a report claiming the House Intelligence Committee failed to look into 81 percent of known contacts between Trump officials and the Russians. NBC News’s Heidi Przybyla reports: “Another key finding, according to [the Center for American Progress's] examination: At least 22 high-ranking Trump campaign officials knew about the contacts during the 2016 campaign and the transition."
-- Trump touted the report’s findings in a tweet this morning:
House Intelligence Committee votes to release final report. FINDINGS: (1) No evidence provided of Collusion between Trump Campaign & Russia. (2) The Obama Administrations Post election response was insufficient. (3) Clapper provided inconsistent testimony on media contacts.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018
MARCH FOR OUR LIVES PREVIEW:
-- The anti-gun violence rally is expected to bring up to 500,000 people to the nation’s capital Saturday.
-- About 200 members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High community have already arrived in Washington. Lori Rozsa and Katie Zezima report: “The students’ trip to the District was organized by Giffords, a gun-control group that is also bringing in students from Boston; Baltimore; Chicago; Irvington, N.J.; Omaha; New York City and Tucson[.] … The organization has arranged for injured students and family members of shooting victims to come to Washington on the private plane of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.”
-- Survivors of the Parkland shooting held a media scrum at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Southeast Washington to call for stricter gun laws. Marissa J. Lang reports: “The Parkland students … met with a handful of the D.C. school’s upperclassmen before taking the stage. They said the meeting illuminated how much they had in common with students from some of the District’s most underserved neighborhoods. It also highlighted key differences, showing how survivors of school violence in more privileged areas are treated differently than students touched by violence in their neighborhoods. … When one of the Parkland teens asked to see a show of hands from those who had lost a friend or relative to gun violence, dozens of students lifted their hands into the air.”
-- The Parkland students are featured on this week’s cover of Time. The magazine’s Charlotte Alter writes: “Over the past month, these students have become the central organizers of what may turn out to be the most powerful grassroots gun-reform movement in nearly two decades. For much of the rest of the country, numbed and depressed by repeated mass shootings, the question has become, Can these kids actually do it?”
-- About 50 D.C. senior citizens are holding their own rally in support of the march. From Marissa J. Lang: “The most die-hard of the bunch will picket from 10:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. with signs that denounce the National Rifle Association, demand universal background checks for gun buyers and declare themselves ‘grannies for gun control.’ … They hope their demonstration brings attention to the fact that it’s not just children who care about this issue, but that it touches people of all ages.”
MEN BEHAVING BADLY:
-- Former Playboy model Karen McDougal sat down for an hour-long interview with Anderson Cooper to describe her alleged 10-month affair with Trump shortly after the birth of his youngest son. Eli Rosenberg and Beth Reinhard report: “McDougal spoke about a physical relationship she says began in 2006, alleging Trump offered her money the first time they were intimate and choking up as she recounted the guilt she felt for being a party to an affair. She reflected on the connection she developed with the ‘sweet’ man she said she fell in love with and unflinchingly recounting some of the romance’s most salacious details. ‘When I look back where I was back then, I know it’s wrong,’ McDougal said, choking back tears. ‘I’m really sorry for that.’ …
“For 10 months, the couple saw each other at least five times a month at hotels, at Trump’s golf courses, a property in Bedminster, N.J., and even at his apartment at Trump Tower, McDougal said. Whenever she booked a flight or a hotel, Trump would reimburse her, to prevent a paper trail she assumed, McDougal told Cooper. … She said that the president was very proud of his daughter Ivanka, and told McDougal she was ‘beautiful like her.’ She says she decided to end the relationship in April 2007 because it was ‘tearing’ her apart.”
-- Cooper’s interview with Stormy Daniels, who alleged her own affair with Trump, is slated to air this Sunday on “60 Minutes." The Fix’s Callum Borchers reports: "Cooper's double scoop might be traced to the night of Oct. 9, 2016, when his persistent questioning during a presidential debate led Trump to deny having ever kissed or groped a woman without consent, contrary to the boasts immortalized on a recording published two days earlier by The Washington Post.”
-- Daniels’s attorneys have asked the Trump Organization and two banks to preserve records related to the payout Daniels received from Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Mark Berman reports: “In a letter to the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, Daniels’s attorney argued that the company has ‘unmistakable links’ to [a lawsuit Daniels filed to get out of her nondisclosure agreement] and asked the business to retain any messages Cohen exchanged regarding Daniels, along with banking records, account histories and text messages or emails that could relate to Trump and Daniels’s alleged relationship. … [Daniels’s attorney] also sent letters Thursday to City National Bank and First Republic Bank asking them to retain records relating to the payment[.] ...”
-- Embattled Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) is waging an aggressive battle to save his political career after a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair accused him of attempted blackmail. Sean Sullivan reports: “Under indictment for felony invasion of privacy related to [the] affair, Greitens is seeking to discredit the Democratic prosecutor who went after him and battling back Republicans calling on him to step down. He has been abandoned or ignored by much of his party, including President Trump, who didn’t mention him on a recent visit to this state. … Greitens is getting a fierce blowback from fellow Republicans already fed up with his bare-knuckle politics and broken promises of the past year. Some attribute that backlash to the sheer shock over a politician once seen as squeaky clean.”
-- A former Fox News anchor who accused Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment is suing O’Reilly for defamation. Eli Rosenberg reports: “Laurie Dhue, who worked for the cable news network from 2000 to 2008, was one of five women whom the New York Times reported to have received settlements related to O’Reilly’s actions and behavior at the company in an April 2017 article. In the lawsuit, which she filed in federal district court in Manhattan, Dhue points to a series of public statements O’Reilly made after the Times article ran, saying the accusations were false and made maliciously. … Three other women who have reached settlements with O’Reilly have filed a similar lawsuit against him.”
-- Steve Wynn sold his remaining shares in Wynn Resorts as part of a deal with two long-term investors after the casino magnate was accused of widespread sexual misconduct. (Wall Street Journal)
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:
-- Rex Tillerson bid farewell to the State Department. Carol Morello reports: “Tillerson urged a few hundred employees gathered in the main lobby of the Harry S. Truman Building to show respect for each other and to undertake one act of kindness a day. He drew sustained applause when he added: ‘This can be a very mean-spirited town. But you don’t have to choose to participate in that. Each of us get to choose the person we want to be, and the way we want to be treated, and the way we will treat others.’ … In his speech, Tillerson did not mention Trump by name[.] ...”
-- Trump considered firing Chief of Staff John Kelly and not replacing him amid staff shake-ups this month, report NBC News’s Hallie Jackson and Carol E. Lee. “Trump has mused to close associates about running the West Wing as he did his business empire, essentially serving as his own chief of staff, [three] people said. In conversations with allies outside the White House, the president envisioned a scenario in which a handful of top aides would report directly to him — bypassing the traditional gatekeeper position. … Trump, who is said to always be reimagining his staff positions, appears to have tabled the suggestion for now.”
-- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appears to be the only Cabinet member capable of disagreeing with Trump while maintaining his job security. Eliana Johnson writes for Politico Magazine: “Last July, [Mattis and Tillerson] arranged a tutoring session at the Pentagon for [Trump] in the secure, windowless meeting room known as ‘The Tank.’ The plan was to lay out why American troops are deployed in far-flung places across the globe, like Japan and South Korea. … The secretary of defense walked the president through the complex fabric of trade deals, military agreements and international alliances that make up the global system the victors established after World War II, touching off what one attendee described as a ‘food fight’ and a ‘free for all’ with the president and the rest of the group. Trump punctuated the session by loudly telling his secretaries of state and defense, at several points during the meeting, ‘I don’t agree!’ The meeting culminated with Tillerson, his now ousted secretary of state, fatefully complaining after the president left the room, that Trump was ‘a f---ing moron.’”
-- CNN uncovered 140 additional tweets from Ken Isaacs, Trump’s pick to lead the United Nations' International Organization for Migration, showing anti-Muslim sentiment and support of conspiracy theories. Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott report: “[Isaacs] once wrote on Twitter that Austria and Switzerland should consider building a wall in the Alps to keep refugees out. … In several of the newly unearthed tweets, Isaacs shared a post that called climate change a ‘hoax,’ shared a story from the conspiracy-peddling website InfoWars about the ‘Clinton body count,’ and wrote ‘#Islam is not peaceful.’”
-- The imminent confirmation of a former top staffer to Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division is raising concerns about the independence of the Mueller investigation. From David Ignatius: “The leading skeptic about [Brian] Benczkowski’s nomination is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member who voted against Benczkowski in the 11-to-10 party-line vote that sent his nomination to the floor in January. Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney, worries that as Criminal Division chief, Benczkowski could have a ‘window’ on the Mueller investigation.”
-- The HHS official who approved former Secretary Tom Price’s charter jet flights is resigning. John Bardis's office has been at the center of a probe by the HHS inspector general over Price’s travel expenses. (Politico)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee slammed the decision to hire Bolton:
John Bolton once suggested Russian hack of DNC may have been a false flag operation by Obama Admin. He joins Joe diGenova, another Fox contributor, who thinks the FBI conspired to frame the President. Glad to see @POTUS surrounding himself with rational thinkers. Heaven help us.— Adam Schiff (@AdamSchiffCA) March 22, 2018
From a Post columnist:
Before you tweet it, Bolton is NOT a neocon. He’s a conservative hawk. There’s a difference.— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) March 22, 2018
From a writer for Slate:
From a Republican strategist:
I honestly won't be surprised if John Bolton is turfed out of the NSA job within 2 months. He and Trump just don't see eye to eye nearly enough for him to last. And everyone under him will want to kill him with a million leaks.— Liz Mair (@LizMair) March 23, 2018
The list of former Trump officials keeps growing:
A pun from a Time correspondent:
Wow they're really Bolton for the exits in the White House huh— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) March 23, 2018
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spent his day complaining about the omnibus spending bill over Twitter:
Well here it is, all 2,232 budget-busting pages. The House already started votes on it. The Senate is expected to soon. No one has read it. Congress is broken... pic.twitter.com/izvJlUEgUM— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2018
But Paul wasn't the only lawmaker using the lengthy bill as a prop. Here's Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.):
Trump lawyer John Dowd's departure caused this tweet from earlier this month to recirculate:
The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job and.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 11, 2018
A Cook Political Report editor commented on Trump and Joe Biden's digs at each other:
Where we are in 2018 political discourse: two, old white dudes boasting about beating each other up.— amy walter (@amyewalter) March 22, 2018
A Republican senator implied both Biden and Trump were "crazy:"
Total dysfunction. DC is about to add 1.3 TRILLION $ to your debt like it’s no big deal - and meanwhile both of our crazy uncles are fistfighting in the backyard. Happy Thanksgiving, America. https://t.co/qFfqdtJKkE— Senator Ben Sasse (@SenSasse) March 22, 2018
Loyola fans celebrated the team's unlikely March Madness victory. From a former Michigan congressman:
My sincere congratulations to @RamblersMBB standout senior Sister Jean.— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) March 23, 2018
From a Weekly Standard editor:
Sister Jean, John Bolton, Karen McDougal...the United States is a great and diverse country.— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) March 23, 2018
The president and first lady took in Washington's wintry weather:
And a bipartisan pair of senators faced off in a snowball fight on Capitol Hill:
Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton had theirs. @JeffFlake (Senator Jeff Flake) and I are having our version:— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) March 22, 2018
A snowball duel. Capitol East Lawn.
Who gets hit most,
buys other’s staff Pizza.
You Snow Who Is Going To Win!
Arizona doesn’t have much snow!
A Post reporter provided a play-by-play of the match:
Booker got taken down but used his lower leverage to return fire. Appeared to be a draw. “Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” one said.— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) March 22, 2018
“Don’t want one,” the other replied. pic.twitter.com/PjBxA08BaX
The competitors applauded each other's strategy:
And there was no escaping a snowflake pun:
I should have known this was a setup... lost this morning's snowball duel to a guy named Flake from Snowflake, Arizona! pic.twitter.com/A0TVajte4R— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) March 22, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- New York Times, “How the Las Vegas Gunman Planned a Massacre,” by Malachy Browne, Natalie Reneau, Adam Goldman and Drew Jordan: “Using exclusive surveillance footage, we pieced together the last days of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas gunman. He plays video poker, laughs with hotel staff and hauls bag after bag of weapons into his suite.”
-- Wall Street Journal, “Train Buffs Are Traveling Cross-Country in Super Luxe Railcars Hitched to Amtrak Trains,” by Nancy Keates: “When John Webb takes his family to California, Washington and Oregon for vacation from his home in Dutchess County, N.Y., they don’t fly or drive. They travel hooked to the back of an Amtrak train in a 1950s-era private railcar that Mr. Webb spent three years and nearly $1 million restoring. … The restored private railcars that travel today tend to be luxuriously decorated mini-mansions, with multiple bedrooms, private chefs, domed glass ceilings and observation decks.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“Jeff Zucker Hits ‘Propaganda Machine’ Fox News: ‘It Is Really State-Run TV,’” from the Hollywood Reporter: “CNN president Jeff Zucker lashed out at competitor Fox News at an industry conference Thursday afternoon, saying that the network ‘is really state-run TV. It is a pure propaganda machine, and I think does incredible disservice to this country.’ He said Fox News has changed substantially in the last two years, following the departure of late founder Roger Ailes. He described the change at the network as ‘shocking.’ ‘There are a handful of good journalists there, but I think they are lost in what is a complete propaganda machine,’ said Zucker, who claimed Fox News ‘has nothing on’ the Russian government-run TASS Russian News Agency. Zucker added: ‘The idea that it's a news channel, I think, is really not the case at all.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Two Illinois Democrats ordered to pay Treasury following congressional ethics probes,” from Elise Viebeck: “The House Ethics Committee asked two Democratic lawmakers from Illinois to pay the U.S. Treasury after investigations found one used office space in his district for nearly three decades without paying rent and the other paid a staffer turned contractor for work that was sometimes legislative in nature. In lengthy reports released Thursday, the ethics panel reproved Reps. Bobby L. Rush and Luis V. Gutiérrez for violating House rules and called on them to pay $13,310 and $9,700, respectively. The committee will consider the matters closed once the payments have been made, the reports said. The investigations took place after referrals by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics."
Trump has a morning meeting with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. He and the first lady will later travel to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump was asked what advice he would give to his 25-year-old self: “Don’t run for president,” he said. “I got the greatest publicity … until I ran for office.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Washingtonians will see more wind and cold weather Friday, with flurries possible but unlikely. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “If it weren’t for a couple of degrees ‘warmer’ and a touch less wind, we could call it a carbon copy of Thursday. We may even see fewer clouds. High temperatures aim for the mid-40s to near 50. … Wind chills may feel about 5 to 10 degrees chillier than the air temperature. An isolated flurry of snow or snow pellets can’t be ruled out completely, either.”
-- The Capitals beat the Red Wings 1-0. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
-- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) officially has no serious primary challenges for her reelection bid. Peter Jamison reports: “D.C. Council member and former mayor Vincent C. Gray (Ward 7) will not challenge [Bowser], clearing the way for Bowser to secure her party’s nomination — which in overwhelmingly Democratic D.C. typically presages a general election victory — without any serious opponents. … However, [Gray] would not rule out the possibility of running against Bowser in the general election — a move that would require him to change his party registration … ”
-- Maryland lawmakers approved the state’s full share of funding to Metro, providing a final “yes” for a historic revitalization of the transit system. Robert McCartney reports: “Virginia and the District have committed to provide their share for a total of $500 million a year in the dedicated funding that Metro says it needs for capital investments to ensure safety and reliability. With Maryland’s assent, and barring last-minute hitches, the system will receive a reliable revenue stream for the first time since its trains began rolling in 1976.”
-- The Charles Koch Foundation donated $5 million to George Mason’s economics department, allowing the university to create three faculty positions. (Sarah Larimer)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Late-night hosts mocked the war of words between Trump and Biden:
Trump praised his senior adviser Kellyanne Conway for her television appearances:
Barack Obama is visiting New Zealand:
And a kindergartner's fake weather report went viral: