National Political Correspondent

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: 

Lordy, there may be reports.

This week has brought several new clues that Bob Mueller views his charge as special counsel quite expansively.

Carol D. Leonnig and Robert Costa scooped last night that Mueller informed Donald Trump’s attorneys in early March that he is continuing to investigate the president but does not consider him a criminal target at this point. (A “subject” can always become a “target” later on.) Here’s an especially interesting passage from their piece that may foreshadow how the next few months might play out:

The special counsel also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice … Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe …

Mueller’s investigators have indicated to the president’s legal team that they are considering writing reports on their findings in stages — with the first report focused on the obstruction issue,” per Carol and Bob. “Under special counsel regulations, Mueller is required to report his conclusions confidentially to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who has the authority to decide whether to release the information publicly. ‘They’ve said they want to write a report on this — to answer the public’s questions — and they need the president’s interview as the last step,’ one person familiar with the discussions said of Mueller’s team.

“The president’s allies believe a second report detailing the special counsel’s findings on Russia’s interference would be issued later. … Some of Trump’s advisers have warned White House aides that they fear Mueller could issue a blistering report about the president’s actions.”

-- It goes without saying that the Mueller Reports would be the most hotly anticipated legal documents since the Starr Report in 1998.

-- Several legal experts speculated that Mueller’s plan to prepare reports might suggest that he does not believe he has the authority to indict a sitting president. It’s not settled law, but that was the conclusion of an opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1973, which was reaffirmed in 2000.

“The most interesting part of this piece is the revelation that Mueller wants to write a report on this,” tweeted Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent who now teaches national security law at Yale. “Let's say that his obstruction report details evidence he has gathered and he recommends that charges SHOULD be filed against the President. At that point, Rosenstein can either approve that request/recommendation, or decline it. It's likely that, since current DOJ policy is that a sitting President should not (or would not) be charged, Rosenstein would decline it. HOWEVER, here is the kicker: Under the special counsel [regulations], if Rosenstein *declines* a recommendation of [Mueller], he must then turn around and report this decision — and his reasons why — to the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary committees and the ranking members of those committees. … It ensures that what the [special counsel] found, if it merits charges, will see sunlight. … And part of the reason for requiring it to go to the ranking members is to make sure the controlling party can't bury it either.”

“Rosenstein can and surely will make the Mueller report public. It’s inconceivable that he’d try to stifle it, whatever its conclusions might be,” Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe tweeted.

“Biggest news to me here is that Mueller is writing an obstruction report,” added Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman during Barack Obama’s administration. “I’m not sure POTUS can actually be a target if Mueller doesn’t believe a sitting president can be indicted.”

“If Mueller believes he has sufficient evidence to indict Trump, but cannot indict a sitting President, expect the report he writes to be sufficiently politically damaging to make impeachment the only option,” tweeted University of Alabama law professor Joyce Alene, who served as a U.S. attorney during the Obama years. “The GOP didn’t turn on Nixon until his crimes were clear.”

Here’s what other smart lawyers are saying on social media:

-- The latest revelations offer a fresh reminder that the president’s culpability for any alleged wrongdoing would almost certainly wind up being a political matter decided by the legislative branch. That heightens the significance of the November elections.

Eric Columbus, a former senior counsel to the deputy attorney general at DOJ, wrote a helpful primer about the special counsel regulations in January: “The regulations don’t say what format that report must take or what happens next. If Mueller believes he has information that could warrant impeachment, he could weave it into a narrative like the Starr Report. But even if Rosenstein wanted to make the report public, he would be limited by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which imposes strict limits on the disclosure of grand jury materials. This rule, which has the force of law, is intended to preserve the integrity of grand jury investigations and encourage witnesses to testify fully and frankly.

“Rosenstein could, if he chose, issue a redacted report that conveys the gist of Mueller’s findings. Of course, given the president’s apparent displeasure with Rosenstein, it’s possible that by then Trump will have replaced the deputy attorney general with a more compliant successor who would not affirmatively disclose the report. Or Trump could achieve the same result by replacing [Jeff] Sessions with a new attorney general who isn’t recused from supervising Mueller.

Congress could likely subpoena the report in its entirety pursuant to recognized exceptions to grand jury secrecy, including a Nixon-era precedent in which courts upheld a grand jury’s decision to transmit evidence and a sealed report to the House Judiciary Committee. Indeed, Congress could procure not only Mueller’s report, but all investigative files that relate to the president. It could then make the material public if it so chose, as it did with the Starr report. The catch? Only congressional committee chairmen can issue subpoenas. With both the House and Senate under GOP control, Republicans could simply decline to do so. The 2018 midterm elections, therefore … may be crucial to determining whether and when Mueller’s Trump-related work sees the light of day.”

-- Quinta Jurecic and Ben Wittes argued on the Lawfare blog two weeks ago that most observers do not appreciate the many reasons that Mueller’s biggest findings might remain under wraps: “So far, Mueller has behaved like a traditional prosecutor. He has not made public statements beyond what he has argued in court. What the public has learned about his findings — at least what it has learned from Mueller’s shop — it has learned when he indicted people or reached plea agreements and facts emerged in the context of their prosecutions. This is the orthodox approach to federal prosecution. Prosecutors, after all, are not reporters. And federal investigations are not truth commissions. Remember the anger among many current and former federal prosecutors directed at then-FBI Director James Comey for announcing and discussing the evidence following his decision not to pursue charges in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Normally, when prosecutors finish an investigation and don’t bring charges, they say nothing, and the evidence they have collected stays secret.”

The Lawfare piece cited Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski as a possible model. He transmitted a referral of impeachment material related to Richard Nixon to the House Judiciary Committee in 1974: “Jaworski later characterized the document as a ‘road map’: 55 pages of bare-bones factual information intended to point committee members to the relevant evidence so they could draw their own conclusions,” they note. “[It] has never become public, as it contained grand jury information.”

-- The timing of the reports matters a great deal. The Mueller probe is still not top of mind for most voters. At least not yet. If everything is laid out before the fall elections in an authoritative and official report, perhaps with a lot of new details the public still does not know, it could increase the political saliency of the Russia affair.

For context, the independent prosecutor who investigated the Iran-Contra scandal took seven years to put out his final report. Lawrence Walsh found no credible evidence that Ronald Reagan had broken the law, but he argued that the former president had “knowingly participated or at least acquiesced” in the coverup. While Walsh also wrote that he found no evidence George H.W. Bush broke the law, he alleged that the then-vice president “was fully aware of the Iran arms sales.” This was essentially a moot point when he released it to the public in 1994, a year after Bush’s term as president ended.

-- Phil Mudd, who held senior jobs at the FBI and CIA, said the president should be much more worried than he appears to be about what Mueller told his lawyers. “If someone walked into my office and said I was the subject of a multi-year criminal investigation led by [Mueller], I’d wet my pants,” he said on CNN last night in response to The Washington Post’s story.

-- Tightening the screws: The first prison sentence was handed down yesterday as the result of Mueller’s investigation. London-based lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, 33, will serve 30 days in prison after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts in September and October of 2016 with a business associate of one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and with Manafort’s deputy, former Trump aide Rick Gates. “Prosecutors said van der Zwaan also destroyed emails the special counsel had requested,” Spencer S. Hsu reports.

“Mueller’s Men — there were 11 lawyers and investigators, none female, in court for the van der Zwaan sentencing — aren’t a cuddly bunch,” Dana Milbank observed in a colorful scene piece. “Van der Zwaan, with slicked hair, a tightly tailored blue blazer with brass buttons, French cuffs, a spread collar and a perfect half-inch of pocket square showing, offered a perfunctory presentencing statement (‘I apologize to the court . . . I apologize to my wife and family’). The judge noted that she had received written statements from the defendant’s parents, best friend, pregnant wife and wife’s doctor — but nothing from the defendant himself. At this, van der Zwaan looked reproachfully at his lawyer. His remorse is ‘somewhat muted, to say the least,’ observed the judge, Amy Berman Jackson.

“He’s the son-in-law of German Khan, who is worth more than $9 billion and is an owner of a Russian bank that figured prominently in the ‘dossier’ about alleged Russia-Trump collusion,” Dana notes. “Van der Zwaan also knew that Gates had been in contact during Trump’s presidential campaign with a person tied to Russian intelligence services.”

-- Someone to watch: Rosenstein has tapped Ed O'Callaghan to serve as the acting principal associate deputy attorney general, a post from which he could help oversee the Russia probe at the Justice Department. “A long-time federal prosecutor and counterterrorism expert in New York, O'Callaghan most recently served as the acting head of the DOJ's National Security Division,” CNN’s Laura Jarrett reports. “He raised eyebrows of some former DOJ officials earlier this year when he took to the White House podium to defend the Trump administration's use of contested terrorism figures to encourage changes to immigration policies.” Among those who previously held this powerful job, known internally as the Padag, are Chris Wray, Merrick Garland and Kathy Ruemmler.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Another big wake-up call for Republicans: Liberal judge Rebecca Dallet won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, defeating Michael Screnock by 11 points. “Both candidates and their supporters turned the race, which is technically nonpartisan, into a political referendum,” Dave Weigel reports. “Dallet ran early ads that accused President Trump of ‘attack[ing] our civil rights and our values,’ while Screnock portrayed himself as a ‘rule of law’ conservative endorsed by the National Rifle Association. By election day, more than $2.5 million had been spent on TV ads.” Democrats had not won an open Supreme Court seat election in the Badger State since 1995.

Her win is more proof that Democrats are riled upRemember, Democrats won a shocking upset in January in a special election for a Wisconsin state House seat. Trump had carried the district by 17 points in 2016, which was key to his narrow statewide victory. 

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is seeking a third term this year, is sounding the alarm and trying to galvanize conservatives. In a tweetstorm overnight, he repeatedly warned of a potential “blue wave” and asked volunteers and donors to step up:

-- H.R. McMaster used his last public remarks as national security adviser to denounce Russia and call for more action against Vladimir Putin. “Russia has used old and new forms of aggression to undermine our open societies and the foundations of international peace and stability,” he said last night at the Atlantic Council. “Some nations have looked the other way in the face of these threats. Russia brazenly, and implausibly denies its actions, and we have failed to impose sufficient costs.” His comments came just hours after Trump asserted “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have,” but McMaster argued: “We must recognize the need for all of us to do more to respond to and deter Russian aggression.” (Ellen Nakashima and John Hudson)

-- Nasim Aghdam, a prolific YouTube user, was identified as the suspect who killed herself and injured three others in a shooting at the company's headquarters in San Bruno, Calif. Hayley Tsukayama, Eli Rosenberg and Devlin Barrett report: “The violence began about 12:45 p.m. in a courtyard outside the company’s headquarters, just south of San Francisco. Witnesses described seeing a woman shooting a gun in the courtyard as others ran for their lives. … San Francisco General Hospital spokesman Brent Andrew said a 36-year-old man was in critical condition, while two women were being treated for injuries. One of the women was in critical condition, while the other was in fair condition ...”

-- Aghdam’s family said they told the police their daughter was missing and warned the authorities about her anger at YouTube. ABC10 News’s Anthony Pura and Marie Estrada report: “[Her brother] said his family began worrying about Nasim over the weekend. She was staying at her grandmother's home in 4-S Ranch, but she stopped answering her phone — and they reported her missing to police. Their concerns grew worse when police told them that her car was found in Mountain View. ‘I googled mountain view and it was close to Youtube headquarters. And she had a problem with Youtube,’ her brother said. ‘So I called that cop again and told him there’s a reason she went all the way from San Diego to there, so she might do something.’ He says police told the family they would keep an eye on her … but 12 hours later, the shooting happened.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Coverage of Trump’s “shithole” comments sparked over 160 indecency complaints to the Federal Communications Commission. The lion’s share of comments was directed at a favorite target of Trump’s: CNN. (Politico)
  2. An internal white paper at Facebook supported Trump’s claim his campaign made better use of the platform’s ad services than Hillary Clinton’s. The paper, published days after the election, reads, “Both campaigns spent heavily on Facebook between June and November of 2016. … But Trump’s FB campaigns were more complex than Clinton’s and better leveraged Facebook’s ability to optimize for outcomes.” (Bloomberg News)

  3. Newly filed documents show a Persian bank helped Iran evade sanctions for more than a decade. Between 2004 and 2015, the now-closed Future Bank routinely masked trade between Iran and dozens of foreign partners, according to a Bahraini government audit. (Souad Mekhennet and Joby Warrick)
  4. The city of Asheville, N.C., released body-cam footage showing an officer beating and choking a black jaywalking suspect. Johnnie Rush can be heard in the video screaming, “Help!” and “I can’t breathe.” The officer who struck him, Christopher Hickman, resigned in January. (Meagan Flynn)
  5. Celebrity chef Mike Isabella’s company allegedly used nondisclosure agreements to silence those who complained of sexual harassment. Lawyers for Isabella’s former manager, Chloe Caras, made the claim in an expanded lawsuit, asking the court to declare the NDA unenforceable. (Maura Judkis and Tim Carman)
  6. Tiffany Trump’s relationship with her father has hit new lows since he assumed the presidency. “Since the inauguration, Tiffany and her father have sometimes gone for months without speaking and she went a very long time without seeing him,” one person told People.
  7. Spotify raised $26.5 billion in its successful Wall Street debut. The company’s stock closed at a price of $149.01. (Hamza Shaban and Renae Merle)
  8. A new report found 36 percent of college students at 66 surveyed universities do not get enough to eat. Researchers blamed the increasing costs of attending college, along with inadequate student aid packages, for the problem. (Caitlin Dewey)
  9. Two American water park industry executives were arrested because a waterslide they helped design decapitated a 10-year-old boy in 2016. Prosecutors say the slide showed signs of rushed construction and a trail of negligence. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  10. An Ancestry.com DNA test allegedly revealed a fertility doctor had used his own sperm to artificially inseminate one of his patients. In a lawsuit, Kelli Rowlette accuses her alleged biological father, Gerald E. Mortimer, a now-retired OBGYN, of fraud and medical negligence. (Lindsey Bever)

THE LATEST ON IMMIGRATION:

-- Two of Trump’s senior advisers publicly broke with his stance on withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria. From the Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman: “‘We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission. That mission isn’t over. And we’re going to complete that mission,’ Brett McGurk, the State Department’s special envoy for coordinating the war against ISIS, said during a Tuesday afternoon forum at the U.S. Institute of Peace … Seated beside McGurk was Gen. Joe Votel, commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East. … Votel indicated his agreement with McGurk that the war remains incomplete.”

-- Meanwhile, the president threatened to deploy the military to secure the southern border following his broadside against immigrant “caravans.” Seung Min Kim reports: “It was not immediately clear why the U.S. Border Patrol would need help from the Pentagon at this time. The number of people crossing illegally into the country has plummeted over the past decade and is at the lowest level since 1971. … Later Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the administration’s plans include mobilizing the National Guard.”

-- The “caravan” of immigrants is currently making its way through Mexico, causing that country political headaches and stalling the Central American refugees at a soccer field. Joshua Partlow reports: “On Tuesday, several Mexican immigration officials began taking a census at the migrant encampment in the town of Matias Romero, in the southern state of Oaxaca. The migrants crowded around the officials and thrust out their IDs and documents. Several hours later, the officials returned and started calling people’s names over megaphones. The authorities handed those individuals temporary legal permits, giving them 20 days to leave Mexico. Several migrants said they would use that time to travel toward the United States. Others could receive 30-day permits to apply for asylum in Mexico."

-- Trump continued his recent anti-immigrant tweets this morning:

THE TRADE WAR IS ON:

-- China just announced tariffs on 106 U.S. products, including soybeans, airplanes and automobiles, in retaliation for Trump’s taxes on that country's imports. Emily Rauhala reports: “The plan, which was announced Wednesday, would see China slap 25 percent levies on a range of U.S. goods worth about $50 billion. Though China said the timing depends on U.S. moves, the news had an immediate impact on markets, including the soybean market.  … Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 2.2 percent and South Korea’s main exchange was down more than 1 percent. In Europe, all major markets opened lower, pointing to another expected slump when Wall Street opens. … Though a response from Beijing was widely expected, the speed of the announcement came as a surprise, deepening fears of a rapid escalation.”

-- The White House announced yesterday it would slap $50 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese electronics, aerospace and machinery products. From David J. Lynch: “Trump’s latest protectionist move threatens to upend global supply chains for corporations such as Apple and Dell, raise prices for American consumers who have grown accustomed to inexpensive electronics and aggravate tensions between the world’s two largest economies. … [I]f China responds to this latest tariff action on a dollar-for-dollar basis, it could damage more than one-third of total U.S. exports to China and Hong Kong, [a former Obama White House economist said].”

-- The increasing trade tensions could pose a political risk for the GOP. Michael Scherer writes: “Republicans have a new reason to worry as they struggle to hold their House majority in November’s midterm elections: The price in China of U.S. sweet cherries, raw almonds and frozen pig forelegs. President Trump’s emerging trade war with China is already shaking up U.S. politics, threatening local economies in parts of Washington state, California and Iowa and putting Republican seats in jeopardy. … Democratic candidates have blamed Republicans for the growing trade dispute’s impact on local farmers, and Republican leaders have been publicly pleading with Trump to pull back from the brinkmanship.”

-- Trump seems to believe the United States has already lost a trade war with China, according to his morning tweet:

THE REST OF TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- Seventeen states and the District sued the Trump administration to block a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. Tara Bahrampour reports: “The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, also includes six cities and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors and comes a week after California sued the administration over the same issue. … The suit names the Census Bureau and its acting director as well as the [Commerce Department], which oversees it, and [Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross. In announcing it, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman accused the administration of being ‘out to destroy’ the constitutionally mandated count. He said it would depress turnout in immigrant-heavy states and mocked [Jeff Sessions] for saying the question was necessary to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act, noting that Sessions has called the act ‘an intrusive piece of legislation.’”

-- One reason Latinos are afraid: Census data was used to target Japanese Americans for internment during World War II. Lori Aratani notes the history of abuse: “In 2000, [historian Margo J. Anderson of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and statistician William Seltzer of Fordham University] found documents that showed officials with the Census Bureau had provided block-level information of where those of Japanese ancestry were living in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Arkansas. … [Anderson and Seltzer] suspected that despite the bureau’s denials, it had also released ‘microdata’ — information about individuals, including names and addresses. In 2007, they found proof, uncovering documents that showed Census Bureau officials provided names and addresses of individuals of Japanese ancestry in Washington, D.C.”

-- Trump and congressional Republicans are considering cutting billions from the giant spending they just passed. Politico’s John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett report: “White House officials are working closely with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on the rescission package, said the sources. It’s not clear which programs could be targeted or when the House would vote … Under the 1974 Budget Act, a rescission resolution could pass the Senate on a simple majority vote. … But some Senate Republicans could balk at such cuts after they recently supported the omnibus spending bill.”

-- Obamacare enrollment did not dramatically plummet during the latest sign-up period, per new numbers. Amy Goldstein reports: “A total of 11.8 million Americans signed up for Affordable Care Act health insurance for 2018, a drop of just 400,000 from the previous year … In an uncharacteristic move, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced the fifth-year tally in a series of tweets shortly before the report was issued late Tuesday afternoon. The tweets were a blend of praise for what she called ‘the most cost-effective and successful open enrollment to date’ and the Trump administration’s characteristic naysaying about the marketplaces that were created by the sprawling 2010 health-care law it has been seeking to dismantle.”

-- Senate Republicans aren't likely to heed Trump's demand to abolish the legislative filibuster because it won't accomplish much. Paul Kane makes a good point: “Their reluctance is not just some longing for the better, bygone days of bipartisanship, but also a recognition that Republicans have passed just about all they can on a simple majority. Senate Republicans are too divided to pass party-line legislation, whether on a border wall or the repeal of the [ACA], and instead need Democratic support to get just about anything done. All of that makes the ‘nuclear option,’ as the heavily partisan way of changing Senate rules is known, pretty pointless. There’s nothing that they can’t pass with 60 votes that they can pass with 51 votes.”

SCOTT PRUITT IN THE HOT SEAT:

-- Trump does not appear ready to fire his embattled EPA administrator. From Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Josh Dawsey: “Trump appeared to stand by his EPA chief, voicing support for a man who has also proven adept at delivering on the president’s campaign promise to aggressively roll back environmental regulations. ‘I hope he’s going to be great,’ Trump replied, when asked by reporters whether he still supports Pruitt. Monday night, according to senior administration officials, Trump had called and told him, ‘Keep your head up, keep fighting. We have your back.’ Other Cabinet members have lost their jobs over controversies like Pruitt now faces, and history suggests that Trump’s support for him could change any day. Some close to the president say Pruitt is unpopular among senior White House aides and many of Trump’s friends.”

Two House GOPers added their voices to those calling for Pruitt’s resignation: “Two moderate Republicans in Democratic-leaning House districts — Florida Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — called on Pruitt to step down. Curbelo tweeted that Pruitt’s ‘corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the Administration, and his conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers.’ Others came to his defense, including Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a longtime supporter."

-- More bad headlines: Pruitt used an obscure water-safety provision to hire at least two former lobbyists. (he used the same provision to circumvent the White House and offer raises to two close aides.) Dino Grandoni reports: “[E]thics experts say hiring lobbyists through the provision breaks with some of Trump’s ethics rules, even if it’s not technically illegal. As part of his commitment to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington, one of the first things Trump signed after his inauguration was a far-reaching ethics directive, requiring those who join the government to sign an ethics pledge. Under the pledge, former lobbyists are banned for two years from working on any issue on which they lobbied. But EPA employees hired through the water-safety law do not have to sign the ethics pledge.”

-- Pruitt brushed aside the controversies in an interview with the Washington Examiner, blaming the fallout on Washington’s “toxic” culture. “There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” Pruitt said. “It’s toxic here in that regard.”

-- The EPA tried to limit press access to Pruitt’s news conference about his decision to rollback Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. CNN’s Clare Foran reports: “[M]ost reporters who cover the agency weren't in the room, and cameras were nearly non-existent. … EPA had attempted to allow television camera access to Fox News without informing the other four networks: CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox alerted the networks and a pool was established allowing networks equal access to the event. … [Pruitt] did not address the controversy or take any questions from reporters.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- George Conway, who is married to senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, is engaged in a counternarrative to his wife’s pro-Trump spin on his Twitter feed. From Karen Tumulty: “George Conway mostly retweets things that others have posted, with occasional commentary. After Trump horrified fiscal conservatives by signing a $1.3 trillion spending bill, Conway twice retweeted the growing national debt total. His feed frequently includes things that are being said on television about the president’s mounting legal troubles and the chaos in his White House. … Is the message that Conway is sending here aimed at his wife — or her boss? Is this his way of trying to sabotage her job — or rescue her from it?”

-- A Trump appointee at the Pentagon resigned after reports showed he posted birther conspiracies about Obama. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott report: “Todd Johnson is a former Trump campaign state director in New Mexico who joined the Department of Defense in 2017 as an advance officer, a Pentagon employee with the sensitive task of providing logistical support related to the secretary's events and appearances domestically and abroad. … [A review] of his social media found that Johnson posted birther conspiracies about [Obama] and shared a video that claimed Obama was the Antichrist.”

-- Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards writes in her new memoir that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump offered the organization increased federal funding if it stopped providing abortions. She writes in “Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead,” “If it wasn’t crystal clear before, it was now. Jared and Ivanka were there for one reason: to deliver a political win. … In their eyes, if they could stop Planned Parenthood from providing abortions, it would confirm their reputation as savvy dealmakers. It was surreal, essentially being asked to barter away women’s rights for more money.” (People)

-- A longtime opponent of the Endangered Species Act was selected to help oversee the Interior Department’s wildlife policy. From Darryl Fears: “Susan Combs, a former Texas state official[,] … compared proposed endangered species listings to ‘incoming Scud missiles’ and continued to fight the Endangered Species Act after she left government … Combs was selected by Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke as acting secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. Zinke made the move after his bid to make her an assistant secretary for policy, management and budget stalled in the Senate.”

THE MIDTERMS:

-- Uncertainty around John McCain’s health has Republicans preparing for the possibility of defending two Senate seats in Arizona, “something they are already doing in Mississippi as they seek to improve on their 51-49 advantage in the midterm elections,” Sean Sullivan notes. “McCain’s health has been shrouded in secrecy, leading many Republicans to privately wonder if he will remain in office beyond May 30. If he doesn’t, there would probably be a special election for his seat in the fall. … In public, influential Republicans have been reluctant to speculate about McCain’s future in the context of electoral politics out of respect to the Senate titan, who is beloved by many in the party. But privately, they have engaged in talks about who might replace him or run for his seat.

“From those conversations, which have occurred among strategists, officials and donors in Arizona and Washington, a long list of names has emerged of possible interim or long-term successors, including McCain’s wife, Cindy, and former senator Jon Kyl. … While some close observers contend there is gray area in the way the election laws are written, most agree that if May 30 comes and goes without any vacancy, there would be no election this year and the [Arizona governor's] appointment, should there eventually be one, would serve through 2020.”

-- Nancy Pelosi is coming to a TV screen near you. Bloomberg News's John McCormick and Arit John report: “[Pelosi] has been pictured or mentioned more than three times as often in broadcast television campaign spots for federal office when compared to the same point in the last midterm campaign four years ago. That’s roughly 7,000 TV ads so far this year, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political advertising. … She even figures in Republican primary fights. A challenger running for the party’s nomination against 12-term Republican Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina has also used Pelosi in his ads, as he’s tried to suggest the incumbent is too liberal for the district.”

-- Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.), who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz, raised a remarkable $6.7 million last quarter. The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports: “Cruz has not released his first-quarter fundraising numbers yet, but O'Rourke's $6.7 million total is on a different level than his previous hauls, which ranged from $1.7 million to $2.4 million. Those alone were good enough to outraise Cruz for three of the last four reporting periods. Furthermore, the $6.7 million total came from more than 141,000 contributions — another record-busting number for O'Rourke. … O'Rourke said about 70 percent of his first-quarter haul was raised within Texas and that the average donation was ‘a little over $40.’”

-- Hillary Clinton’s loss has powered a surge of Democratic women seeking office — and, notably, helped spark a wave of female campaign managers. From the New York Times’s Michael Tackett: “This year, 40 percent of the campaign managers for Democratic congressional candidates are women, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In contrast, Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, recalled excising data on female campaign consultants from a book she wrote in 2010 because the numbers were too small to be statistically reliable.”

50 YEARS WITHOUT DR. KING:

-- Today marks 50 years since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. The Post’s front page on April 5, 1968: “Dr. King Is Slain in Memphis.” From The Post’s report: “The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed by a sniper today when he strolled alone onto the balcony of his hotel. Gov. Buford Ellington ordered 4,000 National Guard troops into the city and a curfew was imposed. Unrest immediately broke out in the Negro district.”

-- The Post team is looking back at the unrest King’s death sparked in Washington and across the country. As Ann Gerhart, Danielle Rindler and Michael E. Ruane write, “His assassination ignited an explosion of rioting, looting and burning that stunned Washington and would leave many neighborhoods in ruins for 30 years.” Brandeis University professor Daniel Kryder and his students analyzed over 200 pages of reports from Secret Service and Justice Department officials to track the damage wrought by the chaos.

“By 2 a.m. Friday, hundreds of police had begun to regain control, but fires ignited again by noon and the riots intensified. The city’s mayor asked for federal troops to move in. … Stores were smashed and looted; hundreds of fires finished the job. Many never reopened.” One Secret Service report from April 5 reads, “Fire department is leaving the scene of a large fire because being shot at.”

In the aftermath of the rioting, one District resident compared the city to a “war zone.” “The damage was staggering — at least $175 million in today’s dollars. More than 900 businesses were damaged, including half of the city’s 383 liquor stores. Nearly 700 dwellings were destroyed, most because they were above or next to merchants. Police arrested 7,600 adults and juveniles on riot-related charges. Bustling blocks were reduced to rubble.”

-- 13 deaths were attributed to the rioting. Two black teenagers who died in separate fires were never identified. Two other black men — 15-year-old Thomas Stacy Williams and 20-year-old Ernest McIntyre — were shot to death by police. Most of the nine other deaths were attributed to the widespread fires that broke out. (Michael E. Ruane)

-- “The city did eventually recover from the destruction of 1968,” Ann, Danielle and Michael write. “Most of the riot corridors now brim with prosperity. But in many places, … redevelopment took more than 30 years. In the end, many black Washingtonians found that the rejuvenation did not include them.” 

-- DeNeen L. Brown examines Washington’s modern divides through one street: MLK Avenue. “Near the corner where Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue meets Malcolm X Avenue in Southeast Washington, a local artist has painted a mural of King on the brick wall of a convenience store. … But the “I Have a Dream” mural … has been marred with graffiti. … In some ways, the defaced mural captures all the promise and pain of MLK Avenue, which stretches 4.3 miles from Congress Heights to Anacostia, where the street ends near Good Hope Road. … Most of the District has recovered from 1968’s destruction. But much of MLK Avenue remains plagued by poverty, crime and a hunger for change that many residents say has been too slow to arrive.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

An alumna of George W. Bush's White House and State Department reacted to the latest revelation by CNN of a birther in a senior Pentagon job:

Tech leaders offered sympathy to the YouTube employees affected by yesterday's shooting. From the YouTube CEO:

Twitter's CEO apologized for misinformation about the shooting on his platform:

The shooting hit particularly close to home for one congresswoman:

A CNN anchor talked to a Trump voter about the tariffs:

There was lots of buzz overnight about the results in Wisconsin:

A funny observation from a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A reporter for the Madison Capital Times added this:

A correspondent for One America News posted an email in which Roger Stone bragged to Sam Nunberg about dining with Julian Assange:

A writer for The Atlantic pointed this out:

The president's daughter promoted physical activity for schoolchildren:

But an MSNBC anchor refocused Ivanka's argument on recent teacher protests:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered a word of support to protesting teachers:

Trump once again went after Amazon:

From the director of The Post's fact-checking unit:

Trump had dinner with a tech executive, per a Bloomberg News reporter:

From an editor for Bloomberg News:

A CNN reporter responded to the president's accusation of the network being “anti-Trump”:

An MSNBC anchor took over the network's Instagram:

The former FBI director went to the theater:

And a writer for the "Daily Show" received a reimbursement check from the Treasury:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Vanity Fair, “‘Journalism is not About Creating Safe Spaces’: Inside the Woke Civil War at the New York Times,” by Joe Pompeo: “Late in the evening on November 8, 2016, The New York Times newsroom was being whipsawed. Donald Trump, to the utter shock and horror of the coastal establishment, was winning. … From a journalistic perspective, that wasn’t exactly a bad thing. The new story, after all, was more fascinating, more chaotic — utterly unprecedented. And Trump’s election was the kind of Earth-shattering event that only comes around once or twice in a newsperson’s career. So for someone like Dean Baquet, the Times’s then 60-year-old executive editor, the dominant emotion was exhilaration about this new national epic. But it didn’t go unnoticed that, for some in the newsroom, the journalistic mission was not exactly front of mind. … [A source said,] ‘That was the first indication that a unified newsroom in the age of Trump was going to be a very difficult thing to achieve or maintain.’”

-- Bloomberg News, “Sinclair Employees Say Their Contracts Make It Too Expensive to Quit,” by Jordyn Holman, Rebecca Greenfield and Gerry Smith: “After Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. drew widespread criticism for having anchors read a statement taking aim at the integrity of other U.S. media outlets, many wondered why some of the company’s journalists didn’t just quit. The short answer is the cost may be too steep. According to copies of two employment contracts reviewed by Bloomberg, some Sinclair employees were subject to a liquidated damages clause for leaving before the term of their agreement was up: one that requires they pay as much as 40 percent of their annual compensation to the company.”

-- New York magazine, “It’s a Theyby! Is it possible to raise your child entirely without gender from birth? Some parents are trying,” by Alex Morris: “For a small but growing cohort of parents — ones who see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary — the unisex movement of the ’60s and the ‘gender neutral’ parenting trends that have followed have come up woefully short. For them, society’s gender troubles cannot be solved by giving all children dolls and trucks to play with or dressing them all in the color beige; the gender binary must not simply be smudged but wholly eradicated from the moment that socialization begins, clearing the way both for their child’s future gender exploration and for wholesale cultural change.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“GOP Rep. Rohrabacher on YouTube Shooter: ‘Could Be’ an ‘Illegal Alien,’” from the Daily Beast: “Appearing on the Fox Business Network to discuss immigration policy, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was asked by host David Asman to pivot to discussing the shooting in San Bruno, California. The congressman’s take was to connect the shooting — without a shred of evidence — to the Bay Area’s liberal immigration enforcement.  ‘You were going to talk to me about sanctuary cities and the sanctuary state movement, and it fits right into what you are talking about right now,’ Rohrabacher [said]. ‘Would anyone be surprised?’ The lawmaker blasted the state of California for failing to deal with the scourge of ‘criminal illegal aliens.’ Rohrabacher then continued: ‘Would anyone listening to you right now think, “Well, this certainly wouldn’t be an illegal immigrant there”? Well it could be!’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Vanity Fair distances itself from Kurt Eichenwald after journalist launches attack on Parkland student,” from the Hill: “Vanity Fair distanced itself from journalist Kurt Eichenwald on Tuesday after he called a Parkland, Fla., shooting survivor ‘in desperate need of psychiatric help’ in a series of emails that were published on Twitter. In emails to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, Eichenwald described himself as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair — a claim that set off a firestorm of criticism for the magazine … ‘Kurt Eichenwald is not a contributing editor at Vanity Fair,’ a spokesperson for the magazine [said]. Eichenwald, 56, emailed Shapiro in an effort to determine if the ‘Daily Wire’ founder was using Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv, who has established himself as a vocal opponent of gun control after the shooting, to ‘advance an agenda’ regarding Fox News host Laura Ingraham.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will have a private dinner with supporters tonight. He has no other events on his schedule.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Mitch McConnell criticized Trump’s tariffs while attending an event in his home state of Kentucky. “I'm not a fan of tariffs, and I am nervous about what appears to be a growing trend in the administration to levy tariffs,” the Senate majority leader said. “This is a slippery slope, so my hope is that this will stop before it gets into a broader tit-for-tat that can't be good for our country.” (Louisville Courier Journal)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- Washington will get a taste of spring today, but the city could see wet snow by the weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Could see a broken line of showers, and perhaps a gusty thundershower, move through from west to east this morning into early afternoon. That means some spots could get briefly soaked while others stay dry as a cold front tracks across the area. Temperatures start out on the mild side this morning, near 60 to the mid-60s, but then drop back into the 50s during the afternoon, as winds gust from the west-northwest around 40-50 mph.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Braves 13-6, ending their short-lived perfect season. (Chelsea Janes)

-- The Wizards lost to the Rockets 120-104. (Candace Buckner)

-- DHS has detected possible cellphone surveillance technology in the Washington area. Matt Zapotosky reports: “[DHS] has not been able to pinpoint who or what is causing it, the department revealed in a letter released Tuesday. The technology, a cell-tower simulator commonly known as a StingRay, has been deployed for years by federal and local law enforcement to pinpoint suspects’ locations, though its unauthorized use in the Washington area raises fears that foreign adversaries might also be taking advantage of it to spy on U.S. citizens.”

-- Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors barred federal immigration officials from participating in a discussion on arrests of undocumented immigrants. Antonio Olivo reports: “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials — already frustrated by Fairfax Sheriff Stacey Ann Kincaid’s recent cancellation of an interagency agreement that kept people wanted for deportation in jail past their release dates — sat fuming in the audience of what was supposed to be a routine discussion about law enforcement coordination.”

-- Howard University’s president is facing a “no confidence” vote from faculty, Joe Heim reports. “The referendum, which is not binding, comes at a critical time for Howard’s leadership, with the [student] takeover of the administration building stretching to nearly a week.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers hosted a debate on Trump's staff shake-ups:

Jimmy Kimmel explained private arbitration to his viewers:

Rep. Todd Rokita, who is running in Indiana’s Senate GOP primary, donned a MAGA hat in his latest campaign ad to show his loyalty to the president:

(I wrote last week about how support for Trump has become a theme of Republican primary ads.)

The Post's video team had a satirical take on the Sinclair marketing promo:

And a black bear in Montana awoke from a long slumber: