For now, the network led by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch still plans to spend between $300 million to $400 million on politics and policy during the 2018 cycle. But they’re growing impatient, rethinking their approach and signaling a willingness to work more closely with Democrats on areas of common ground.
“We're not going to sit back and wait, as we have in the past,” said James Davis, a senior official at the network who oversees communications. “We’ve also pulled punches in a lot of places where we didn't want to upset folks that we were going to be working with on other issues. … So we're going to have to come out and hold Republicans and Democrats accountable. … If they think they're going to wait out the clock for the rest of this congressional cycle, voters would be right to ask: ‘Why should I send these people back to represent me?’”
As Congress returns on Monday from a two-week Easter recess, watch for the constellation of groups funded by the network to ramp up pressure on the legislative branch for more action. There will be a paid media component and the mobilization of grass-roots affiliates, such as Americans for Prosperity.
“This is now a time for Republicans to call out Republicans and Democrats to call out Democrats and push them to work for the American people,” Davis said in an interview on Thursday. “Otherwise they retreat into their corners and wait out the clock and they're more focused on reelection than they are doing the job … That’s where we can play a significant role in turning up the heat …
“Neither party is really leading with a strong agenda to help the American people here,” he added. “There's a lot of rhetoric. People pay lip service to the shared concern about government spending, corporate welfare, a solution for dreamers or, more long-term, a solution for immigration. Yet they’re largely absent.”
-- 2017 was a red-letter year for the Kochs at the federal level, perhaps the best in the history of their 15-year-old network. After pointedly declining to support Trump during the 2016 campaign, the Koch network pragmatically embraced large swaths of the administration’s agenda and avoided confronting him too forcefully.
They not only spent more than $20 million to help pass the tax bill, which brought the corporate rate down from 35 percent to 21 percent, they also successfully torpedoed the border-adjustment tax that was initially the centerpiece of how Speaker Paul Ryan planned to pay for it.
Their massive push to repeal Obamacare failed, but the individual mandate was killed as part of the tax bill.
The administration did a great deal to deconstruct the administrative state, repealing and rolling back scores of regulations put in place by Barack Obama. Justice Neil Gorsuch is going to be one of the biggest allies for business, and a booster of outside political spending, during the decades he will likely spend on the Supreme Court.
-- But 2018 hasn’t gotten off to a great start, especially the two months since the major donors to the network gathered outside of Palm Springs at the end of January.
The Kochs tend to be more libertarian-minded, and the business community typically supports more immigration, so the network has been dismayed by the treatment of the dreamers and the new demands by the administration to reduce the levels of legal immigration into the country. They’re also unnerved that a deal couldn’t get done to appropriate money for a wall in exchange for protecting the 700,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“These folks are here and they want to contribute positively to our society, yet they lack certainty,” said Davis. “This is a pressing issue. This is one that Congress should have already and could have already tackled. This is a crisis because they've not taken action. … The labor participation rate is maxed out right now, and you haven't seen it budge much, while the economy is doing really well. … There's a human dignity angle to this, as well.”
The network opposed the $1.3 trillion package that passed last month to fund the government through September because it busted spending caps and ran up the debt. “Reckless spending has happened under both parties,” said Davis. “The American people know that we can't continue this wasteful spending and the trajectory we’re on. And if you ask individual members of Congress, they'll all say, ‘Oh yes. Spending’s a big problem.’ And yet they pass a $1.3 trillion omnibus. That can't continue to happen!
“What's even more concerning is ideas that have been tremendously beneficial to our country over time, such as free trade, are now under attack,” added Davis. “We want to see a more robust defense of those ideas as we move forward. … It's obviously clear we've seen a lot of good positives, but the reality is it's not nearly enough to change the trajectory of the country. … There's a consistent undermining, where Republicans and Democrats alike think they can score political points versus actually solve problems.”
-- Frustrated by these setbacks, Koch’s top advisers are signaling an expanding willingness to work more with Democrats on areas where they agree. “We’re bringing people together to solve problems where they agree, even if they differ on other issues,” said Brian Hooks, the co-chairman of the Seminar Network. “We can do a lot more of this to achieve better public policy … People are looking for bold leadership that puts petty differences aside. We’re ready to step up to that challenge.”
Several Senate Democrats supported the recent Senate bill to water down parts of the Dodd-Frank bill. A Koch-backed bill to overhaul Veterans Affairs by making it easier to fire employees also got bipartisan support.
One of the network’s top priorities for years has been changing the criminal justice system. Mark Holden, a longtime top lawyer at Koch Industries who is now the co-chairman of the Seminar Network, worked with the Obama White House and congressional Democrats to come up with a compromise in 2016, but they could never get Republican leaders to bring it up for a vote.
“We are going to expand and build on the success of the model we’ve used in pursuing criminal justice reform,” Holden said in an email. “We started with an outcomes-focused vision early on, working with anyone looking to achieve the same outcomes … And we continue to make progress in the same way — we’re starting with prison reform and we’ll work toward other needed reforms like sentencing.”
-- Bigger picture, the Koch network wants to become less reactive and more proactive. “We’ve played too much to the cadence of Washington and the congressional calendar and whichever leader or whichever party held the majority and their agenda,” said Davis. “Then we played marginally around … either pushing them to success or fighting them to defeat. … We haven't done enough to set the agenda.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- The U.S. economy added an underwhelming 103,000 jobs last month. Danielle Paquette reports: “The jobless rate stayed flat at 4.1 percent, and wage growth rose slightly, up just 2.7 percent from March 2017. There is now a job open for every unemployed person in the country, so heftier pay raises should be on the way, said Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America, a credit insurance firm. ‘It’s a pretty solid economic picture altogether,’ he said, although job creation slowed from February's unusually large burst of 313,000 positions.”
-- The Trump administration just handed down sweeping economic sanctions against specific Russian officials, oligarchs and businesses. John Hudson and Seung Min Kim report: “The new economic sanctions — the Trump administration’s most aggressive action against Kremlin-connected individuals — target 17 Russian government officials, a state-owned weapons trading company, and seven so-called oligarchs and 12 companies affiliated with them. … The list of sanctions targets include individuals with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including Igor Rotenberg and Kirill Shamalov, both major players in Russia’s energy sector.”
-- Trump threatened to impose tariffs on another $100 billion of Chinese products. Damian Paletta, David J. Lynch and Heather Long report: “The threat from Trump is the latest volley between the White House and Beijing in an exchange of trade attacks that continue to broaden in scope and severity. Trump’s latest move would impose tariffs on a significant share of imported Chinese goods that enter the United States — $505.6 billion last year. … It comes a day after China issued a list of tariffs against $50 billion in U.S. goods, including soybeans and small aircraft, in response to recent actions from Trump.
"Dow futures tumbled more than 300 points, a sign that markets are likely to open down Friday and that Wall Street traders believe a trade war is growing increasingly likely. ... National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow [has] suggested that these moves are all part of a grand negotiation that could result with no tariffs taking effect. But every time aides attempt to soften the edge of Trump’s trade threats, the president takes direct aim at Beijing and declares that he won’t back down ... Economists say it will be almost impossible to avoid hurting U.S. consumers with the additional tariffs that Trump is pushing for now.”
-- The Chinese offered a notably evenhanded response to Trump’s latest escalation. Emily Rauhala reports: “In the hours after the announcement, markets across Asia Pacific, including Hong Kong, held steady, the Communist Party-controlled press said little, and top officials were mum. Around midday, Asia time, China’s Ministry of Commerce published a short statement. … The statement said China ‘will listen and observe’ what the United States does next. ‘If the United States disregards the opposition of China and the international community, insisting on unilateralism and trade protectionism, the Chinese side will follow suit and fight at any cost.’”
-- “Hopefully the president is just blowing off steam again but, if he's even half-serious, this is nuts,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). “China is guilty of many things, but the president has no actual plan to win right now. He’s threatening to light American agriculture on fire. Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) just scheduled a hearing for next Thursday on the tariffs. “Our private sector witnesses will discuss the impact ... on their businesses ... and the effects of possible retaliation on U.S. exporters,” he said.
-- Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave interviews in which she attempted to justify the company’s handling of user data. NBC News’s Alex Johnson reports: “Users' data are the lifeblood of Facebook, and if they wanted to opt out of all of the platform's data-driven advertising, they would have to pay for it, [Sandberg said]. … Following the interview, Facebook clarified that the company does not offer a pay model for the social network and that Sandberg was only speaking in hypothetical terms. … Sandberg said Facebook doesn't sell or give away its users’ information, even though ‘our service depends on your data.’ So ‘we don't have an opt-out at the highest level,’ she acknowledged. ‘That would be a paid product.’”
-- Sandberg repeatedly acknowledged mishandling the Cambridge Analytica situation and admitted Facebook does not know whether the firm still has user data. In an interview with PBS NewsHour, she said, “We were given assurances by them years ago that they deleted the data. We should’ve followed up. That’s on us. We are trying to do a forensic audit to find out what they have.”
-- “We really believed in social experiences. We really believed in protecting privacy. But we were way too idealistic. We did not think enough about the abuse cases,” she told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. Sandberg added the company would begin Monday notifying the 87 million users whose data may have been obtained by Cambridge Analytica. But she said Facebook would not be reaching out to the roughly 126 million users who were exposed to Russian disinformation.
GET SMART FAST:
- Former South Korean president Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Park was found guilty on 16 of the 18 charges against her — including bribery, coercion and abuse of power. (Anna Fifield)
- Hundreds of former congressional staff members urged the Senate to take up legislation addressing sexual harassment. Congress Too, an advocacy group formed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, is circulating a letter demanding changes to the chamber’s system for handling complaints. (Elise Viebeck)
- The New York City Police Department settled a third lawsuit related to its surveillance of Muslim communities in the decade following 9/11. The police department will pay out more than $1 million in damages and legal fees, as well as develop policies for its Intelligence Bureau with input from Muslims. (Abigail Hauslohner)
- A newly uncovered report shows Royal Dutch Shell understood its large contribution to climate change as early as 1988. The report estimated Shell alone was contributing 4 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions. It also warned, “By the time global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation.” (Steven Mufson and Chris Mooney)
- Each of the three leading candidates in San Francisco’s mayoral race would be a “first” for the city. Supervisor London Breed would become the first African American woman to lead San Francisco, while Supervisor Jane Kim could be the city's first Asian American woman mayor. And politician Mark Leno would be the city’s first openly gay mayor. (Scott Wilson)
- Young Palestinians began burning tires near the fence with Israel to protest recent deaths in confrontations with Israeli forces. The demonstration, known as the “Friday of Tires,” has sparked fears of more violence. (Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash)
- A German court ruled against extraditing Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on a charge of rebellion. Spanish authorities want to prosecute Puigdemont, but the German court ruled the charge could not be honored “because evidence of ‘violence’ is not present.” The leader could still be extradited on another charge of having misused public funds. (New York Times)
- The body of a CDC researcher who disappeared in February was recovered. Timothy Cunningham's body was found along the bank of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta. He appears to have died by drowning, but it's unclear whether it was accidental or intentional. (Lindsey Bever and Alex Horton)
- Historian Alfred W. Crosby — who coined the term “Columbian exchange” to describe how diseases, plants and animals crossed the Atlantic — died at 87. His wife said Crosby’s work, which helped found the field of environmental history, was partly meant to show indigenous peoples were not innately inferior to their European conquerors but the victims of an ecological catastrophe. (Harrison Smith)
MORE TROUBLE FOR PRUITT:
-- Another day brought another string of devastating revelations about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the potential misuse of his position for private gain.
-- At least five agency officials were reassigned or demoted after questioning Pruitt’s judgment. The New York Times’s Eric Lipton, Kenneth P. Vogel and Lisa Friedman report: “The concerns included unusually large spending on office furniture and first-class travel, as well as certain demands by Mr. Pruitt for security coverage, such as requests for a bulletproof vehicle and an expanded 20-person protective detail … Mr. Pruitt bristled when the officials — four career E.P.A. employees and one Trump administration political appointee — confronted him …
“The political appointee, Kevin Chmielewski, was placed on administrative leave without pay … Two of the career officials, Reginald E. Allen and Eric Weese, were moved to jobs where they had less say in spending decisions and less interaction with Mr. Pruitt ... A third career official, John E. Reeder, joined American University as a temporary ‘executive in residence’ after being told by the E.P.A. to find a new job. And John C. Martin, who served on the security detail, was also removed from the team and had his gun and badge taken away after raising concerns about how Mr. Pruitt’s security was being handled.”
Weese was transferred from the agency leader’s security detail after he pushed back against Pruitt’s desire to use sirens to more easily navigate D.C. traffic: “Mr. Pruitt, who often ran late, wanted to use the lights and sirens to expedite local trips in Washington to the airport or to dinner, including at least one trip to Le Diplomate, a trendy French restaurant that he frequented. Such use was not consistent with agency policy, but Mr. Weese was unsuccessful in stopping it. … Mr. Weese was also reluctant to sign off on requests for Mr. Pruitt to travel in first class based on security concerns. Mr. Allen, Mr. Chmielewski and Mr. Reeder, too, questioned the use of taxpayer money to pay for first-class airfare. Only after Mr. Weese was replaced … did Mr. Pruitt regularly fly first class, agency staff members said.”
-- “Even as President Trump repeatedly expressed his support for Pruitt in public, top White House aides began to escalate their disapproval, suggesting the administrator has mischaracterized his role in boosting the salaries of two employees,” Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Josh Dawsey report. “On Thursday evening, two EPA officials confirmed that Pruitt endorsed the idea last month of giving substantial raises to senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt and scheduling and advance director Millan Hupp — although he did not carry out the pay raise himself. And Pruitt’s decision to ignore White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s warnings to be more cautious about giving public interviews only complicated his standing with many of Trump’s key aides ...
“At EPA headquarters, top aides strategized about how to protect Pruitt’s job even as they put the final touches on an executive order that would change the way the federal government ensures that states are meeting national air pollution standards. In a sign of Pruitt’s split-screen existence, according to administration officials briefed on the matter, Trump on Friday plans to sign the directive expediting air-quality permits. Yet the White House canceled an announcement event where the two were to appear together.
As for his controversial condo arrangement, Pruitt was charged $50 a night for a room co-owned by a lobbyist, but only paid for the time he physically stayed there — and his adult daughter apparently stayed in another bedroom: “Justina Fugh, a senior ethics attorney and agency veteran, said she learned of Pruitt’s unusual housing arrangement late last week when political aides called her while she was at the movies, told her the outlines of the lease and asked her for a quick ruling. She initially gave her approval based on the specifics they shared. Only later did she learn other details from news reports. ‘What they gave me was not the full picture … I was just too credulous,’ Fugh said Thursday. ‘Advice that’s given by an ethics official is only as good as the information that’s provided.’
“The rental deal has come under intense scrutiny because (the landlord’s) husband, J. Steven Hart, is chairman of the firm Williams & Jensen, which lobbies on energy issues ... A copy of the lease ... showed that Steven Hart’s name had been scribbled out as the legal representative and his wife’s name handwritten in. According to a senior administration official, Vicki Hart made the change. ... Despite the favorable $50-a-night rate he was receiving on the Capitol Hill condo, Pruitt still fell behind on his rent, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.”
-- Pruitt’s landlord denied the housing arrangement benefited his lobbying firm. “Any suggestion that Administrator Pruitt’s short-term rental … resulted in undue influence for the firm or its clients with business before the EPA is simply false,” Hart said. “I am confident in these facts, and certain that all fair and impartial assessments of the matter will conclude accordingly.” (Bloomberg News)
-- Even after this drip-drip-drip of bad facts, Trump went out of his way on a flight back from West Virginia last night to publicly defended Pruitt. “He’s been very courageous,” the president said yesterday. “I can tell you at EPA he’s done a fantastic job.”
-- Just this week, the president even floated replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Pruitt — who would then have control over Bob Mueller's Russia probe. CNN’s Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins report: “‘He was 100% still trying to protect Pruitt because Pruitt is his fill-in for Sessions,’ one source familiar with Trump's thinking [said].”
-- A third Republican lawmaker called on Pruitt to resign. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a vulnerable incumbent facing an already tough reelection in 2018, represents a district that includes the Adirondacks. It’s the kind of place where Trump’s rollback of environmental protections will be used as a cudgel against her in commercials. She joins two Floridians: Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (The Daily Gazette of Schenectady covered Stefanik's comments at a town hall.)
-- Reality check: Pruitt could not survive what's come out about him at this point in any traditional presidency. Just how much have the rules of political gravity been suspended in the Trump era?
TRUMP VS. THE GENERALS:
-- The president has clashed with military leaders over what “winning” looks like in 21st century warfare. From Greg Jaffe: “Those differences have played out in heated Situation Room debates over virtually every spot on the globe where U.S. troops are engaged in combat, said senior administration officials. … Trump’s words, both in public and private, describe a view that wars should be brutal and swift, waged with overwhelming firepower and, in some cases, with little regard for civilian casualties. … For America’s generals, more than 17 years of combat have served as a lesson in the limits of overwhelming force to end wars fueled by sectarian feuds, unreliable allies and persistent government corruption. … In the absence of a clear outcome, winning for much of the U.S. military’s top brass has come to be synonymous with staying put.”
One particularly revealing anecdote: “[Trump’s] impatience was evident on his first full day in office when he visited the CIA and was ushered up to the agency’s drone operations floor. There agency officials showed him a feed from Syria, where Obama-era rules limited the agency to surveillance flights … Trump urged the CIA to start arming its drones in Syria. ‘If you can do it in 10 days, get it done,’ he said, according to two former officials familiar with the meeting. Later, when the agency’s head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, ‘Why did you wait?’ one participant in the meeting recalled. ... On the campaign trail, Trump often said he would 'take out' the families of terrorists.”
-- Senior national security officials have been told to avoid discussing a “timeline” for leaving Syria. The AP’s Matthew Lee and Josh Lederman report: “Wary of charges of hypocrisy for publicly telegraphing military strategy after criticizing [Obama] for the same thing, the White House has ordered Trump’s national security team not to speak of a ‘timeline’ for withdrawal. That’s even after Trump made it clear to his top aides this week that he wants the pullout completed within five or six months.”
-- Syrian Kurdish officials warned a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria would be a “disaster” in the fight against ISIS. Liz Sly and Zakaria Zakaria report: “A complete defeat of the militants could yet be many years away, the officials said … The Kurds said they have received assurances from the U.S. military that the estimated 2,000 or so U.S. troops in northern Syria won’t leave imminently, and a White House statement on Wednesday indicated that they will remain until the Islamic State is defeated. That could take time, the officials say, because the Islamic State has been putting up stiff resistance in the last two pockets of territory it controls along the Syria-Iraq border. No progress has been made in months, and the militants are starting to reclaim some of the territory they had lost.”
MORE PALACE INTRIGUE:
-- Trump denied knowledge of a $130,000 payment from his personal lawyer to adult-film star Stormy Daniels to silence her about an alleged affair. Jenna Johnson, Emma Brown and Frances Stead Sellers report: “In his first public response to questions about the payment, the president said he did not know where his attorney, Michael Cohen, got the money, and he declined to say whether he had ever set up a fund for Cohen to cover such expenses ... Daniels’s attorney immediately suggested that Trump’s version of events would be shown to be untruthful if he is deposed in a lawsuit brought by the adult-film star. And Trump’s lack of knowledge about a hefty payment made in the final weeks of his presidential campaign could have implications for complaints now before the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department about the arrangement’s legality.”
-- White House budget director Mick Mulvaney has given huge raises to his deputies who help oversee the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The AP’s Ken Sweet reports: “Mulvaney has hired at least eight political appointees since he took over the bureau in late November. Four of them are making $259,500 a year and one is making $239,595. That is more than the salaries of members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, and nearly all federal judges apart from those who sit on the Supreme Court.”
-- White House staffers increasingly believe Kelly is working on borrowed time. The AP’s Jonathan Lemire and Catherine Lucey report: “[T]hose close to the president say that Trump has increasingly expressed fatigue at Kelly’s attempts to shackle him and that while Trump is not ready to fire Kelly, he has begun gradually freezing out his top aide. Trump recently told one confidant that he was ‘tired of being told no’ by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all … ”
-- Marc Fisher breaks down Trump’s animosity toward Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post: “Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos inhabit very different worlds. The president is a staunch bricks-and-mortar man who made his fortune building towers and dealing with blue-collar workers. The founder of the world’s largest store, by contrast, is a space enthusiast who experiments with robots and operates much of the cloud where the new economy’s data lives. Trump’s decision in recent days to zero in on Bezos and Amazon.com as his latest Twitter targets has highlighted a severe fracture in American society, a divide between concrete and steel and zeros and ones, a split that is as much philosophical as it is economic, as much about the fraying of communities as it is about the shape of commerce. …
“Some of Trump’s aides and allies say his beef with Amazon, Bezos and The Washington Post ... stems from Trump’s lifelong rivalry with billionaires who surpass him on lists of the planet’s richest people. … But others who have heard Trump rail against Amazon as a ‘monopoly’ say his central complaint is based more on a cultural gap than a financial one, deriving from the fact that the president has never been known to shop online and does not use a computer — and has therefore never experienced what has drawn so many Americans from local storefronts to Amazon and other online retailers. … And Trump believes Bezos is using The Post to damage him politically, even as Amazon benefits from its government contracts with the Postal Service and the Defense Department … ”
When asked about Amazon on Air Force One yesterday, Trump replied, “Amazon is just not on an even playing field. You know, they have a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having The Washington Post, which is, as far as I’m concerned, another lobbyist.” Trump added he was “going to take a pretty serious look” at Amazon because “the playing field has to be leveled.”
-- Both the president and his chief of staff recently gave interviews to Fox News host Jeanine Pirro for her forthcoming book on the Trump White House. Josh Dawsey reports: “The White House communications shop arranged the 30-minute interview with Pirro and [John Kelly] in the West Wing, two White House officials said. Trump gave her an even longer interview, one of these officials said. The president has also encouraged other advisers to interview with Pirro, officials said. … [A]ides say there are few shows the president fancies as much as ‘Justice with Judge Jeanine,’ a Saturday Fox News show that Trump makes sure to watch live or record, whether he is in the White House or at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. … In the White House communications shop, officials rotate going on Pirro’s show because they know Trump will be watching — and partially to prevent him from calling in himself, several officials said, as he did earlier this year.”
-- Trump backer Robert Mercer was a major donor to a nonprofit that targeted swing voters with anti-Muslim ads during the 2016 election. OpenSecrets’s Robert Maguire reports: “In one [ad], a woman with a French accent cheerfully welcomes visitors to the ‘Islamic State of France,’ where ‘under Sharia law, you can enjoy everything the Islamic State of France has to offer, as long as you follow the rules' … The group [that ran the ads], a social welfare organization called Secure America Now, worked hand in hand with Facebook and Google to target their message at voters in swing states who were most likely to be receptive to them.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Robert Mueller’s team has been tracking down Trump’s business partners for questioning. McClatchy’s Kevin G. Hall, Ben Wieder and Greg Gordon report: “Armed with subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony, Mueller’s team showed up unannounced at the home of the business associate, who was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump’s effort to expand his brand abroad, according to persons familiar with the proceedings. Investigators were particularly interested in interactions involving [Cohen], Trump’s longtime personal attorney and a former Trump Organization employee.” (The Post reported last month Mueller was examining incidents involving Cohen.)
-- Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski repeatedly swore at House Intelligence Committee Democrats while testifying in the panel’s Russia probe, CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju report. “I'm not answering your ‘f---ing’ question, Lewandowski shouted at one point. Democrats, including Rep. Jackie Speier, fired back at Lewandowski, who was not moved, multiple sources said. … Republicans sided with Lewandowski, saying he had spent hours before the panel answering questions pertinent to the inquiry. And in an interview this week, Lewandowski did not dispute using those words. ‘I had to repeat on multiple occasions that there was no collusion, cooperation or coordination because the Democrats couldn't understand my plain English way of speaking,’ Lewandowski [said].”
-- Newly obtained Twitter direct messages show WikiLeaks trying to obtain documents from Guccifer 2.0, the hacker persona linked to Russian military intelligence. BuzzFeed News’s Kevin Collier reports: “‘[P]lease “leave,” their conversation with them and us,’ WikiLeaks asked journalist Emma Best, who was also negotiating with Guccifer 2.0 for access to what it had teased on its blog as ‘exclusive access’ to hacked Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee files. ‘[W]e would appreciate it if you did not dump the docs and obviously archive.org will delete them anyway.’ … The messages between Assange and Best, a freelance national security journalist and online archivist, are the starkest proof yet that Assange knew a likely Russian government hacker had the Democrat leaks he wanted. And they reveal the deliberate bad faith with which Assange fed the groundless claims that [former DNC staffer Seth Rich] was his source, even as he knew the documents’ origin.”
THE TRUMP AGENDA:
-- Trump told reporters he wants to send 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops to the southern border. Seung Min Kim and Missy Ryan report: “It was the first time the administration put numbers on the scope of the new plan to dispatch National Guard personnel to the border, which Trump first disclosed this week ... As for how long the troops will be stationed there, Trump said that ‘we’ll probably keep them or a large portion of them’ until a border wall is constructed.”
-- DHS pointed to the surge in illegal border crossings last month as justification for the troops. Nick Miroff reports: “Federal agents arrested or denied entry to 50,308 unauthorized migrants in March, the highest one-month total since President Trump took office and a 200 percent increase over the same period last year, when crossings fell to historic lows. The monthly arrest figures are widely used as a gauge of illegal migration patterns, and the numbers typically rise each spring as demand for labor increase at farms and other worksites. But this year’s jump between February and March was the largest of the past five years, and driven almost entirely by migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.”
-- Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto delivered his strongest rebuke of Trump to date in response to the troops. “President Trump: If you wish to reach agreements with Mexico, we stand ready, as we have proved until now, always willing to engage in a dialogue, acting in earnestness, in good faith and in a constructive spirit,” Peña Nieto said. “If your recent statements are the result of frustration due to domestic policy issues, [due] to your laws or to your Congress, it is to them that you should turn to, not to Mexicans.” (Joshua Partlow)
-- Trump is struggling with a shift in immigration trends from lone Mexican men to Central American families fleeing their countries because of violence, David Nakamura writes. “The flow [of migrants] is increasingly dominated by families — including tens of thousands of unaccompanied children — seeking to escape criminal gangs, drug cartels and domestic violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. … The phenomenon presents a challenge for the U.S. legal system, which offers greater protections for these particular migrants, allowing them to remain in the country longer and preventing federal immigration agents from detaining them for lengthy periods. And it means that traditional enforcement tactics are inadequate.”
-- While visiting West Virginia to tout the GOP tax bill, Trump literally threw out his script and instead focused on the “caravan” while reviving charges of “millions” voting illegally in 2016. From Jenna Johnson and Seung Min Kim: “Trump — who has been fixated on a ‘caravan’ of migrants traveling north from Central America — charged that women on the journey are ‘raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before,’ despite no evidence in mainstream news reports backing up that claim. He complained about birthright citizenship, sarcastically noting: ‘If you have a baby on our land, congratulations. That baby is a United States citizen.’ … And the president repeated his false claim that millions of people voted illegally by voting repeatedly in the same election.
"‘In many places like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that,’ Trump said. ‘They always like to say, ‘Oh, that is a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people. And it’s very hard because the state guards their records.’”
-- Trump’s director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement has used his post to pursue an antiabortion agenda. The New York Times’s Jeremy W. Peters reports: “[Scott Lloyd] is responsible for the care of young, undocumented immigrants who enter the United States without their parents … He has instructed his staff to give him a spreadsheet each week that tells him about any unaccompanied minors who have asked for [an abortion] and how far along they are in their pregnancy. In at least one case he directed staff to read to one girl a description of what happens during an abortion. And when there’s a need for counseling, Mr. Lloyd’s office calls on someone from its list of preferred ‘life affirming’ pregnancy resource centers.”
-- Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) announced he would run to once again lead the state. Michael Scherer reports: “The decision shakes up what is already considered a competitive contest to replace Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton … Pawlenty served as governor from 2003 until 2011, and his reelection in 2006 was the last Republican statewide win in Minnesota. He will face several Republican primary challengers, including Jeff Johnson, the commissioner of Hennepin County ..." Another possible sticking point: Pawlenty withdrew his support from Trump after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, calling Trump “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit to be president of the United States.”
-- In Tennessee’s Senate race, a new poll showed former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen with a 10-point lead over Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R). The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports: “The poll, released Thursday, found 45 percent of 600 registered Tennessee voters said they would choose Bredesen ... Blackburn ... netted 35 percent, with another 17 percent of respondents saying they were not sure.”
-- Bookmark this story: Possible 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said she would serve her full Senate term if reelected. “Yes, that’s my plan. I’m running for the United States Senate in 2018,” Warren told reporters who asked whether she’d serve the full six years. “I am not running for president of the United States. That’s my plan.” (Politico)
-- Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s expected Senate bid has fanned tensions with fellow Republican Marco Rubio. Sean Sullivan reports: “Scott is poised to announce his challenge to three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday, after encouragement from President Trump and other Republican leaders. Rubio will not appear at the kickoff. He has also said he does not plan to ‘campaign against’ Nelson, whom he has praised as a partner. … Republicans close to Rubio said he has privately voiced his displeasure over attacks he faced in 2016 from a Senate primary challenger whose campaign was run by consultants who also work for Scott.”
-- At his West Virginia event yesterday, Trump invited only two of the three candidates seeking the GOP nomination in the state’s Senate race. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Siobhan Hughes report: “Trump was seated Thursday between Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. … The White House didn’t invite [Don Blankenship], a former coal executive who served a year in prison on a charge of conspiring to violate mine-safety laws before a 2010 mine disaster."
-- The number of women running for House seats set a record yesterday. The AP’s Geoff Mulvihill and Maureen Linke report: “[M]ost of [the women are] Democrats motivated by angst over [Trump] and policies of the Republican-controlled Congress ... [A] total of 309 women from the two major parties have filed candidacy papers to run for the House. That tops the previous record of 298 in 2012. … Even with the record numbers, women are still outnumbered by male candidates.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
A Weekly Standard editor expressed alarm over Trump's latest moves:
The president of the Council on Foreign Relations criticized Trump's stance on trade:
Democratic lawmakers called for Scott Pruitt's resignation. From Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.):
But two Republican senators came to the EPA administrator's defense:
The Republican governor of Kentucky used an old Spiro Agnew quote to defend Pruitt (it didn't end well for Agnew ...):
George W. Bush's former ethics czar urged his followers to demand Pruitt's ouster:
From a House Democrat:
From a reporter for ProPublica:
A reporter for NBC's Washington affiliate added this:
West Virginia's Republican senator thanked Trump for his visit to her home state:
But a CNN anchor criticized Trump's false statements in West Virginia:
The ACLU hit back against Trump:
A New York Times photographer captured these images of Trump's trip:
Trump once again went after Amazon and The Post:
From an editor for Recode:
Stormy Daniels's lawyer celebrated Trump's denial:
The president's hometown paper kept the Stormy news on the front page:
A Post reporter was sidelined by the news:
And baseball season has begun at Nats Park:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- HuffPost, “Trump’s Most Influential White Nationalist Troll Is A Middlebury Grad Who Lives In Manhattan,” by Luke O’Brien: “Twitter troll ‘Ricky Vaughn’ had a bigger influence on the 2016 election than NBC News and the Drudge Report. Here’s who he really is.”
-- New York Times, “The ISIS Files,” by Rukmini Callimachi: “Nearly all of [ISIS’s] territory has now been lost, but what the militants left behind helps answer the troubling question of their longevity: How did a group whose spectacles of violence galvanized the world against it hold onto so much land for so long? Part of the answer can be found in more than 15,000 pages of internal Islamic State documents I recovered during five trips to Iraq over more than a year.”
-- Vanity Fair, “‘You Don’t Attack A Kid’: Inside the Laura Ingraham Nightmare at Fox News,” by Gabriel Sherman: “When Fox News hired Laura Ingraham last September to join its prime-time lineup, executives knew she was a potential management headache. As a guest host in the past, Ingraham was well known for being volatile with producers. Her on-set blowups were so legendary that staffers in the newsroom would sometimes turn on the monitors and watch the unfolding drama on mute for fun. Efforts by management to rein her in were largely unsuccessful. ‘No one tells Laura what to do,’ one Fox executive told me. Last week, Ingraham’s volatility became not just a newsroom issue, but something of a crisis for the network.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“Amid new talk of criminalizing abortion, research shows the dangers of making it illegal for women,” from William Wan: “The idea of criminalizing abortions is not new, but a push has emerged recently among some antiabortion advocates for enacting strict penalties against women who have the procedure, and not just doctors and clinics that provide abortions. Research over the past decade, however, casts significant doubt on whether criminalizing abortion would reduce abortion rates. And data from countries where abortion is outlawed suggests it could have serious consequences on women’s health and safety. … A 2016 global study published in the medical journal the Lancet found that abortions occur just as frequently in countries with the most legal restrictions (37 per 1,000 women) as in countries with the fewest restrictions (34 per 1,000 women).”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Kevin Williamson loses Atlantic job after controversy over abortion rhetoric,” from Paul Farhi: “The venerable magazine pushed out Kevin Williamson, whose hiring last week sparked an appalled reaction after some influential Twitter users learned that Williamson had once commented that women who have abortions should be treated as murderers, subject to the death penalty. … [Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg initially] argued that Williamson’s antiabortion comment was made in an isolated tweet and that Williamson should be judged on the body of his work. … But Goldberg withdrew his support after the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America on Wednesday unearthed a 2014 National Review podcast. Williamson said on the podcast that he was ‘absolutely willing to see abortion treated like regular homicide under the criminal code,’ and that what he ‘had in mind was hanging’ for women who were convicted of it.”
Trump will receive his intelligence briefing. He has no other official events.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
In West Virginia, Trump criticized the state’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin for voting against tax cuts: “He talks. He grabs me; I grab him. He says hello; I say hello. But he votes against everything.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Washingtonians will see warm temperatures today before tomorrow’s snowfall. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s warm, but it’s also fairly cloudy and a bit windy by late morning. Shower chances are highest in the morning, but I wouldn’t expect much to dodge for long. You probably can get away without toting an umbrella. Surging warmth, riding on gusty 15-to-25 mph southwesterly winds, ahead of an approaching cold front, should boost us into the mid-60s to around 70.”
-- The Nationals lost their home opener to the Mets 8-2. (Chelsea Janes and Jorge Castillo)
-- The Wizards blew a 17-point lead against the Cavaliers, losing 119-115. (Candace Buckner)
-- The Capitals lost to the Predators 4-3. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
-- The Maryland Senate approved a bill requiring a resource officer or police coverage at every public school. Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Chason report: “But lawmakers do not know how much the mandate would cost or how it would be funded. … The measure, proposed after the shooting at Great Mills High School, is moving quickly through the legislature in its final days of the 90-day session. It now goes to the House of Delegates.”
-- Two American citizens were each sentenced to 366 days in jail for assaulting protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s D.C. residence last year. (Keith L. Alexander)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Jimmy Kimmel responded to Fox News's Sean Hannity, who recently went after Kimmel for imitating Melania Trump's accent:
South Korean marines conducted previously delayed joint military drills with the United States:
A former White House communications director argued in favor of crying at work:
And here's how to identify true cherry blossom trees, which hit peak bloom starting yesterday: