THE BIG IDEA:
With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
SAN FRANCISCO — When Mark Zuckerberg is under the klieg lights on Capitol Hill today, he will emphasize Facebook’s endorsement of the Honest Ads Act.
“We know some members of Congress are exploring ways to increase transparency around political or issue advertising, and we’re happy to keep working with Congress on that,” the founder and chief executive of the social networking giant plans to say, according to his prepared testimony.
Technology companies pride themselves on being insulated from the sorts of burdensome government requirements that apply to most other industries. So why on Earth would Zuckerberg support a new law that would be expensive to comply with and, thus, ostensibly hurt his bottom line?
Here are six reasons:
1. Desperate times calls for desperate measures.
Zuckerberg declined to come when Congress beckoned last fall, sending his general counsel to testify in his stead at a hearing on how entities tied to the Russian government used his platform to manipulate the American people during the 2016 election.
It seemed that would be sufficient at the time, but the Cambridge Analytica scandal has precipitated the worst P.R. crisis in Facebook’s 14-year history. The analytics firm, which received $5.9 million from President Trump’s campaign and played a key role in electing Republicans such as North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, improperly gained access to data on 87 million Facebook users, including 71 million Americans. Facebook then acknowledged last week that “malicious actors” took advantage of other tools on such a scale that most of the company’s 2.2 billion users were affected.
Now Zuckerberg is spending three days on the Hill and preparing like a presidential candidate for a debate. He’s even participating in murder boards. Famous for wearing T-shirts and hoodies, the 33-year-old Harvard dropout wore a suit and tie as he paid house calls to key lawmakers on Monday. Worth more than $60 billion on paper, Zuckerberg knows his net worth may go up or down a few billion bucks based on his performance before the Senate today and the House tomorrow.
2. Embracing incremental legislation will preempt something more onerous.
Facebook is desperate to avoid European-style regulation in the United States, which could undermine a business model that basically lets it mint money. A new data privacy rule goes into effect across the Atlantic next month that will fine companies which misuse data up to 4 percent of their global profits.
The Honest Ads Act would be a step forward, but its requirements are relatively modest and can likely be watered down behind the scenes. For all intents and purposes, it would make the disclaimer obligations for print, broadcast and cable apply to online ads. Digital platforms would be required to maintain a public record of political ads purchased by an advertiser who spends more than $500 in any 12-month period. And there is language that requires all advertising platforms to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure foreign nationals are prohibited from buying ads.
Zuckerberg is being advised by the best lobbyists and lawyers money can buy, and getting out front this way is a textbook approach when Washington turns on you. There is value in regulatory certainty.
“Zuckerberg and his top deputies have long held deep concerns about governments exercising more control of the technology industry,” explains Elizabeth Dwoskin, who covers tech for us from Silicon Valley. “For the past two years, senior executives have ‘been kept up at night’ by concerns that Facebook would be perceived as too powerful and invite more regulation, said a person who was involved with the discussions. Zuckerberg has … expressed worries, sometimes in jest, about the government shutting down Facebook one day, said two people who worked with him closely … But he also has embraced Facebook’s unprecedented role in the world, telling close colleagues that he would rather run Facebook than be the president of the United States …”
3. A new law would force Facebook’s competitors to spend more on compliance.
Zuckerberg will emphasize today that Facebook already has 15,000 people working on security and content review and plans to have more than 20,000 on board by the end of this year. “I’ve directed our teams to invest so much in security — on top of the other investments we’re making — that it will significantly impact our profitability going forward,” he will say.
It should not be surprising that Zuckerberg wants Google and Twitter to be required to spend just as heavily for the same purpose. His prepared testimony, released by the House Commerce Committee, includes a not-very subtle dig at his rivals. “Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform, and that’s why we support the Honest Ads Act,” he plans to say. “This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online.”
His appearance is already ratcheting up pressure on Google and Twitter to endorse the legislation. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who introduced the Honest Ads Act with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), sent open letters yesterday afternoon to the chief executives of both companies encouraging them “to follow Facebook’s lead.” “This lack of transparency has dangerous implications for our democracy,” the senators wrote.
4. Regulations might make it more difficult for smaller companies to take on Facebook.
When applied equally to everyone, regulations tend to benefit behemoths at the expense of the little guy because the costs of compliance are smaller as a relative part of the business.
New laws might create barriers to entry for start-ups who don’t have the money to hire thousands of people to review content.
Just how big is Facebook? The company reported $40.6 billion in revenue last year. Its policy and communications shops alone employ about 500 people.
5. Supporting a new law could improve Facebook’s standing with customers.
Yesterday the company began notifying users whose data was shared with Cambridge Analytica. Already, only 12 percent of people said they trust Facebook as a news source in a recent poll from the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC. The #DeleteFacebook campaign has gotten traction, supported by celebrities. The company’s stock is down 14 percent over the past three weeks.
The site’s future success depends on people posting personal information about themselves. If users conclude that Facebook is a bad corporate citizen, even if they don’t delete their accounts, that will be bad for business over the long-term.
6. It could help rehabilitate Zuckerberg’s own brand.
He risks transforming from a hero to a villain in the public imagination, and this possibility has clearly been on his mind as he’s embarked on a media charm offensive over the past 10 days.
The tricenarian is so obsessed with how he’s perceived that he has had a full-time personal pollster on staff to track even incremental shifts in his image. That’s a rarity for the chief executive of a public company.
Just last year as he traveled the country, including a visit to Iowa, Zuckerberg was talked about as a potential candidate for president. (This was always a fanciful idea.)
“One way he has maintained control over his image has been to largely confine his public appearances to friendly audiences,” Elizabeth notes. “In a meeting last year, he said he ‘felt sorry’ for Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick, who was ousted by the ride-hailing company’s board after months of allegations of mismanagement … His comment left colleagues dumbfounded … He’s also fiercely competitive: Even a mention of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whom Zuckerberg strongly dislikes and considers a rival, can get him riled up …”
-- The rare joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees, which begins today at 2:15 p.m. Eastern, will be a media circus. It’s happening in Room 216 of the Hart office building, a cavernous space typically reserved for special occasions like the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominees.
-- To be sure, Zuckerberg has lots of explaining to do. A new CNN story highlights the degree to which nefarious actors are still taking advantage of Facebook. “For at least a year, the biggest page on Facebook purporting to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement was a scam with ties to a middle-aged white man in Australia,” Donie O’Sullivan reports. “The page … had almost 700,000 followers on Facebook, more than twice as many as the official Black Lives Matter page. It was tied to online fundraisers that brought in at least $100,000 …
“Facebook has announced plans to make the people running large pages verify their identity and location. But it's not clear that the change would affect this page: Facebook has not said what information about page owners it will disclose to the public — and, presented with CNN's findings, Facebook initially said the page didn't violate its ‘Community Standards.’ Only after almost a week of emails and calls between CNN and Facebook about this story did Facebook suspend the page, and then only because it had suspended a user account that administrated the page.”
-- Here are 30 curtain-raisers that offer a taste of the saturation coverage in advance of the hearing:
- Brian Fung and Callum Borchers: “Read Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress, annotated.”
- Craig Timberg and Tony Romm: “How big could Facebook’s fine theoretically get? Here’s a hint: There are four commas, and counting.”
- Callum Borchers: “A dilemma for pro-Trump media: How to hit Facebook without dinging the president.”
- Jennifer Rubin: “Zuckerberg’s testimony will reveal Trump’s dissembling on Russia.”
- Lindsey Bever: “Why Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is joining the #DeleteFacebook movement.”
- Business Insider: “6 senators to watch when Mark Zuckerberg testifies.”
- Politico: “6 questions Zuckerberg still hasn't answered.”
- Vox: “9 questions Congress should ask Zuckerberg.”
- The Hill: “Five things to watch in Zuckerberg’s testimony.”
- USA Today: “Taxpayer-funded ads on Facebook for House offices topped $340,000 last year.”
- CNBC: “Sen. [John Kennedy (R-La.)]: I hope Mark Zuckerberg doesn't 'pull things out of his orifices' when testifying.”
- Recode: “Mr. Zuckerberg goes to Washington — so let’s stop acting like he can’t handle it. He can.”
- AP: “Is Facebook really changing? Or just trimming its data haul?”
- NPR: “The Rise — And Stall — Of Mark Zuckerberg.”
- The Atlantic: “Zuckerberg Says He’s Not Resigning.”
- Reuters: “Zuckerberg faces Senate hearing but little hope for action.”
- Wall Street Journal: “For Facebook’s Employees, Crisis Is No Big Deal.”
- New York Times: “Failed by Facebook, We’ll Return to the Scene of the Crime. We Always Do.”
- CNET: “Facebook employees donated big bucks to Congress members.”
- Slate: “The Civics of Facebook.”
- National Review: “Former Facebook Employee Warned in 2012 About Privacy Threats.”
- Breitbart: “Facebook Influencers Express Discontent with Platform.”
- Daily Caller: “Facebook Spent Millions Lobbying The Government Over The Years. Has It Been A Total Waste?”
- Fortune: “What [Zuckerberg] Can Learn From Other Tech Leaders Hauled Before Congress.”
- Harvard Business Review: “How to Testify Before Congress.”
- New York Magazine: “Here’s All the Things Congress Might Lecture Zuckerberg About.”
- Vanity Fair: “‘Can He Seem Repentant?’: Inside Zuckerberg’s Charm Offensive.”
- CBS News: “Facebook showing ads promoting sale of body parts from threatened wildlife, complaint says.”
- The Guardian: “Facebook data breach hits 63,714 New Zealanders after 10 people download quiz.”
- Bloomberg Businessweek cover story: “Instagram Looks Like Facebook’s Best Hope.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Chinese President Xi Jinping said he will take steps to reduce tariffs on auto imports. Simon Denyer reports: “[Xi] pledged Tuesday to significantly lower import tariffs for vehicles, ease restrictions on foreign investment in the auto industry and generally work harder to import more goods that his country needs … The pledges were not new but could be seen as an attempt by China to defuse a deepening conflict over trade with the United States. Only a few hours before, President Trump had tweeted about China’s unfair 25 percent tariffs on foreign autos.”
-- David J. Lynch explores the impact of the escalating trade conflict on average Americans through the lens of one Indiana family: “A trade war is bad news for farmers such as [Ryan] Rippy, 31, who raises soybeans, corn and cattle on a 1,500-acre farm outside this central Indiana town. But it’s good news for his father-in-law, Barry Burkhart, 50, a millwright in a local steel plant, whose job could depend upon the tariffs keeping steel prices high. As Washington and Beijing swap threats in their escalating trade dispute, this Indiana family shows how global commerce is marbled through communities across the country. Local residents compete with, sell to and work for foreign enterprises, a reminder that in trade wars, it’s hard to shoot at the enemy without hitting a friend.”
GET SMART FAST:
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) gave birth to a baby girl, becoming the first sitting senator to deliver a child. The Iraq War veteran is only the 10th female lawmaker to have a child while serving in Congress. (Paul Kane)
Seven top officials at Backpage.com were arrested on charges of money laundering, conspiracy and facilitating prostitution. The arrests were revealed in a newly unsealed federal indictment and come just a few days after the classifieds site — which has long been accused of facilitating child trafficking — was taken offline. (Tom Jackman and Mark Berman)
Mississippi's first female senator, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, was sworn in. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) appointed her to replace Thad Cochran (R), who resigned due to health problems. (Sean Sullivan)
Pope Francis published a new major document instructing Christians to care for the poor, the sick and immigrants “just as they care for preventing abortion.” Though the broader theme of Francis’s guidance to the Catholic Church was holiness, some scholars read the work as a response to his conservative critics. (Julie Zazumer)
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled “dreamers” are no longer eligible for in-state tuition at the state’s public universities. The decision could double or even triple tuition costs for DACA recipients. (Samantha Schmidt)
A state prosecutor revealed Bill Cosby paid Andrea Constand nearly $3.4 million to keep quiet about her accusations of sexual assault and end their 2006 legal dispute. Cosby’s defense team will likely use the figure in his retrial to paint Constand as greedy, while the prosecution will attempt to convince the jury to focus on the former pro women's basketball player’s accusations. (Manuel Roig-Franzia)
A Michigan State student filed a federal lawsuit accusing three prominent basketball players of raping her in 2015. The woman, who was not identified, claimed campus counselors discouraged from reporting the alleged rape to the police. (Samantha Schmidt)
Los Angeles County prosecutors said writer and director James Toback will not face criminal charges in five sexual misconduct investigations because the allegations are past the statute of limitations. Toback has been accused of sexual misconduct by “hundreds” of women during his decades working in Hollywood. (LA Times)
A 28-year-old woman in western Russia died from a routine operation after doctors mistakenly administered her formaldehyde instead of saline solution. The tragic mistake essentially “embalmed her alive.” (Lindsey Bever)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- FBI agents raided the Manhattan office, home and hotel room of longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen, seizing a variety of records about his clients and personal finances after a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller. Three people with knowledge of the case told The Post that Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Devlin Barrett report: “Among the records seized were those related to a 2016 payment Cohen made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels ... Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center[.] In a dramatic and broad seizure, federal prosecutors collected communications between Cohen and his clients — including those between the lawyer and Trump ...
“The Cohen raids required high-level authorization within the Justice Department. Under regulations governing the special counsel’s work, Mueller is required to consult with [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein if his team finds information worth investigating that does not fall under his mandate … Rosenstein, as the acting attorney general supervising Mueller’s work, has the responsibility of deciding whether to expand Mueller’s mandate to include the new topic or to refer it to a U.S. attorney’s office. Since Cohen is a practicing attorney whose communications with clients are considered privileged, federal prosecutors would have been required to first consider a less intrusive investigative tactic … That means the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, [who was appointed to his role by Jeff Sessions], as well as Justice Department officials in Washington, probably signed off.” Cohen attorney Stephen Ryan called the raid “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.”
-- The raids threw a spotlight on Cohen’s longtime boasts of being Trump’s “fixer.” From Michael Kranish: “Loyalty, [Cohen] has said, spurred him to regularly threaten lawsuits against those he perceived as threats to Trump. Loyalty, he said, prompted him to use a home equity line of credit to finance a payment of $130,000 to adult-film star Stormy Daniels for her silence. He even compared himself on Twitter to Ray Donovan, the fictional television character who goes to whatever lengths necessary to fix problems for the moguls he serves. Now, in the wake of Monday’s raid by federal agents on his law office, a looming question is whether Cohen went too far in seeking to solve Trump’s problems.”
-- As he began a meeting with senior military officials, Trump railed against the raids as a “whole new level of unfairness,” calling them an “attack on our country in a true sense.” The president decried the special counsel's team as “the most conflicted group of people I have ever seen” and declined to rule out the possibility of firing Mueller. “We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “Many people have said, ‘You should fire him.'" (Read the full transcript of Trump’s tirade here.)
-- “Aides said they viewed Trump’s [comments] as a necessary venting session,” Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report. “He had been grousing privately about [Rosenstein] … and stewed all afternoon about the warrant to seize Cohen’s records, at times raising his voice. Trump said that Rosenstein approved the warrant, that he wished Rosenstein was not in the job and there was no one making the prosecutors follow the rules ... Trump complained sharply about Sessions and Mueller and asked detailed questions about who was behind the move — and said that people would be more critical of such a warrant if it wasn’t intended to damage the president. Still, a senior White House official said late Monday that no ‘imminent’ personnel changes were expected.”
-- The FBI’s raid opens a “whole new front in the converging legal battles” currently ensnaring the Trump administration. Here’s what legal experts had to say about the Cohen raid:
- “This search warrant is like dropping a bomb on Trump’s front porch,” said Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama.
- “You can’t get much worse than this, other than arresting someone’s wife or putting pressure on a family member,” said Washington lawyer Mark S. Zaid. “This strikes at the inner sanctum: your lawyer, your CPA, your barber, your therapist, your bartender. All the people who would know the worst about you.”
-- Trump doubled down this morning:
A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
-- Mueller’s team is also investigating a $150,000 payment a Ukrainian steel magnate made to the president’s foundation for an appearance by Trump during the campaign. The New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report: “Investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization this year for an array of records about business with foreign nationals. In response, the company handed over documents about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance by Mr. Trump that month through a video link to a conference in Kiev. … The subpoena is among signs in recent months that [Mueller] is interested in interactions that Mr. Trump or his associates had with countries beyond Russia, though it is not clear what other payments he is scrutinizing.”
-- Court documents reveal one of Paul Manafort’s former employees led an FBI agent to a storage locker filled with Manafort’s financial paperwork. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff reports: “[The employee, whose name was redacted from the filings,] also gave the FBI agent ‘a key to the lock on Unit 3013 and described the contents of Unit 3013,’ according to the affidavit. That person also gave the FBI agent ‘written consent’ to search the storage unit, and opened it for the FBI agent. The FBI agent then looked into the storage unit and saw about 21 boxes of documents, as well as a filing cabinet. One box was marked as containing expenses, paid bills, invoices, and legal complaints. Another box said it contained ‘Ukraine Binders,’ as well information about ballot security, Georgia, research, and ‘Ukraine Campaign.’ … The day after seeing the storage unit, the FBI agent filed the affidavit — which was more than 20 pages long — with a magistrate judge.”
-- Campaign officials from both parties appear unprepared for the possibility Mueller could make major news in the middle of midterms season. McClatchy’s Katie Glueck and Alex Roarty report: “Many Republicans said it’s nearly impossible to prepare for the myriad Mueller scenarios, and they argue their time is better-spent dealing with current realities of the race. Those Republicans who have given the issue thought have wildly divergent views about how they would advise candidates to proceed if there is a Mueller verdict, from dismissing negative results as ‘fake news’ to pushing for a pivot to local issues. Democrats, meanwhile, are in their own messaging quandary, caught between a desire to seize on a potential one-of-a-kind scandal or stick with pocketbook issues such as health care. Some party operatives even think Democrats would be better off in November if Mueller’s investigation never existed in the first place.”
-- The condition of the former Russian spy attacked with nerve agent is improving, and his daughter was released from the hospital. Karla Adam and William Booth report: “Yulia Skripal, 33, recovered more quickly than her father, the 66-year-old Sergei Skripal, who is awake and responding well, said Christine Blanshard, medical director of the district hospital in Salisbury in southeast England where the attack took place. … As for Yulia Skripal’s prognosis after the attack, Blanshard said, ‘This is not the end of her treatment, but marks a significant milestone.’”
-- Trump said the U.S. will make a “major decision” in the next 24 to 48 hours about how to respond to the suspected chemical attack in Syria and insisted that “nothing is off the table.” “We are very concerned when a thing like that can happen,” Trump said. “This is about humanity, and it can’t be allowed to happen. ... If it’s the Russians, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out.” Asked if Vladimir Putin bears responsibility for the murder of innocent civilians, Trump replied: “He may, yeah, he may. And if he does, it’s going to be very tough, very tough.” (Anne Gearan and Carol Morello)
-- “Options include the sort of largely symbolic airstrike Trump ordered a year ago in response to a similar chemical attack blamed … or a wider and riskier assault.”
At the U.N., Nikki Haley joined her French and British counterparts to urge the Security Council to resume an independent investigation of Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Haley also rebuked Russia for supporting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, saying Moscow's hands were “covered in the blood of Syrian children.” “History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria,” she said. “Either way, the United States will respond.”
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russian aid workers visited the affected area and found “no evidence” of chemical weapons being used in the deadly attack.
-- Worth nothing: Trump’s attack on a Syrian military airfield last year has been one of his most popular foreign policy decisions to date. The Fix’s Amber Phillips writes: “Two-thirds of Americans approved, including nearly 90 percent of Republicans and a noteworthy 48 percent of Democrats, according to an April 2017 Fox News poll. … For a president who appears to thrive on approval from others, the public feedback Trump got last time from his ultimate decision to strike Syria is something he is almost certainly considering now as he weighs what to do.”
-- Syria and Russia’s accusation that Israel carried out a strike against a Syrian base raised fears of a dangerous escalation. Liz Sly and Erin Cunningham report: “More than ever, Syria is in danger of becoming an arena for the settling of scores among world powers. On Tuesday, Iran’s Tasnim news agency said seven Iranians were killed in the airstrike that left a total of at least 14 people dead. The Tasnim report — which could not be independently verified — raised the Iranian death toll at the base, which also houses Russians and members of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.”
-- Russia has figured out how to jam U.S. military drones in Syria, according to four U.S. officials. NBC News’s Courtney Kube reports: “The Russians began jamming some smaller U.S. drones several weeks ago, the officials said, after a series of suspected chemical weapons attacks on civilians in rebel-held eastern Ghouta. The Russian military was concerned the U.S. military would retaliate for the attacks and began jamming the GPS systems of drones operating in the area, the officials explained. … The Defense Department will not say whether the jamming is causing drones to crash, citing operational security. … But one official confirmed the tactic is having an operational impact on U.S. military operations in Syria.”
DROWNING IN RED INK:
-- The federal deficit is expected to balloon to $1 trillion by the year 2020, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, with the country’s debt projected to be on a “steadily rising trajectory throughout the decade.” Jeff Stein reports: “The federal deficit … will hit $804 billion in fiscal 2018, up 21 percent from 2017, the CBO said. … The tax law that [Trump and Republicans passed] will cut government revenue by $1.3 trillion from 2018 to 2028, the CBO reported. When the costs of paying interest on that debt are included, the tax cuts’ total addition to the deficit comes to $1.9 trillion, the CBO said. During debate on the bill, Republican leaders predicted that their proposal would spark massive economic growth that would limit — or even eliminate — additions to the deficit. But the CBO projected Monday that the bill would boost economic growth 0.7 percent over a decade — not enough to keep it from adding to the deficit.”
“The bigger the debt, the bigger the chances of a fiscal crisis,” CBO director Keith Hall said yesterday. “When do you start to fix a thing like this? The longer you wait, the more draconian the measures have to be to fix the problem. That’s the biggest warning.”
-- “To underscore how large the debt is getting, the CBO notes that by 2028, the debt held by the public will be at the highest level (as a percent of the U.S. economy) since World War II,” Heather Long writes. “A day of reckoning is likely to come at some point … Many Americans under 50 are likely to face some pain from this, and the under-35 population will likely be especially hard-pressed to pay more to the government while getting back far less than their parents and grandparents did. Spending on everything from Social Security to roads, research and schools could potentially decline.”
-- Trump’s reported push for a bill to scale back 2018 spending may already be dead after two key Senate Republicans expressed opposition. Mike DeBonis reports: “Two Republican ‘cardinals’ — powerful lawmakers who chair Senate Appropriations subcommittees — said Monday that they were perplexed by the talk of a rescission bill just weeks after the passage of the omnibus. ‘I’d obviously have to look at what’s in it, but I do not understand reopening a hard negotiation on a budget package that has just been completed,’ said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) … Asked Monday if appropriators were throwing cold water on the notion of pursuing rescissions, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, ‘Well, this one is.’ ‘Just off the top, my initial response is no,’ said Murkowski … Opposition from Collins and Murkowski — as well as the indefinite absence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — would mean that Republicans would be unable to muscle through a rescission bill on their own.”
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:
-- Lawyers for the Trump Organization wrote directly to Panama’s president last month asking for help in a legal fight connected to the company’s hotel in Panama City. Ana Cerrud and David A. Fahrenthold report: “The law firm, Panama-based Britton and Iglesias, wrote in Spanish to President Juan Carlos Varela on March 22 to ‘urgently request your influence in relation to a commercial dispute regarding the Trump hotel.’ … The request was extraordinary: The U.S. president’s company was asking the leader of a U.S. ally to intercede on its behalf, disregarding Panama’s separation of powers. It is the first known instance of the Trump Organization asking directly for a foreign leader’s help with a business dispute since Trump was elected. … ‘This situation is currently before the courts, but it has repercussions for the Panamanian state, which is your responsibility,’ said the letter … ”
-- Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned to longtime GOP donor Elliott Broidy, who was convicted in 2009 for his role in a public corruption case, for recommendations on U.S. attorney appointments. ProPublica’s Robert Faturechi reports: “Broidy was given a private Sessions email address to send his picks. … Broidy in late November used that email … to begin to push his selections. ‘Dear Senator Sessions,’ began an email sent Nov. 25, 2016, with a resume attached. ‘I have known Nathan J. Hochman for approximately 20 years and I highly recommend him for the position of United States Attorney for the Central District of California.’ Hochman, a former assistant U.S. attorney now in private practice, was at the time defending Lee Baca, the disgraced former Los Angeles sheriff who also happened to be a friend of Broidy’s. Hochman, according to news reports, made it onto the shortlist of finalists, but ultimately was not selected.”
-- Irony alert: The employee handbook at Trump’s Vegas hotel outlined strict regulations on hiring family members. From the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff: “The handbook bars relatives from working ‘under the direct or indirect supervision of a relative.’ It also bars relatives from working ‘in situations that create the possibility of conflicts of interest,’ without the written approval of senior management officials. This rule, however, clearly didn’t apply to the Trump family. The handbook includes photos of Trump himself, as well as his daughter Ivanka and his sons, Don Jr. and Eric. …”
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN AND WOMEN:
-- An internal email apparently contradicts EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s public account that he “didn't know” that some key aides got controversial pay increases. The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott reports: “In mid-March, Sarah Greenwalt, senior counsel to the administrator, wrote to HR in an attempt to confirm that her pay raise of $56,765 was being processed. Greenwalt ‘definitively stated that Pruitt approves and was supportive of her getting a raise,’ according to an administration official … The email ‘essentially says, “The administrator said that I should get this raise,"' the official [said]. The email began floating around the agency’s top ranks after the EPA’s Inspector General expanded its inquiry into Pruitt’s hiring practices … "
-- EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson took responsibility for the raises. “Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me,” Jackson said in a statement. He also justified the raises as reflective of a cost of living increase from Oklahoma to Washington. (Politico)
-- The acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics demanded that the EPA investigate Pruitt’s spending habits, housing arrangements and personnel decisions. Brady Dennis reports: “In a [letter, David J. Apol] took the atypical step of telling EPA officials that several recent ethics questions deserve further scrutiny … [citing actions including] Pruitt’s first-class travel expenses, round-the-clock security and steep salary increases that recently were granted to two top aides … He said Pruitt’s frequent trips to his home in Oklahoma, often at taxpayer expense, ‘raise concerns about whether the Administrator is using his public office for personal gain ...’ In addition, Apol wrote that reports that an aide at EPA helped shop for a house for Pruitt also may have been a misuse of his position. Apol called reports that Pruitt reassigned or demoted staff member who questioned his spending and other actions ‘extremely concerning.’ Apol said that his office “expects that EPA will review and analyze the alleged conduct …’ [and] ‘take appropriate action’ if it finds any violations. But it’s unclear how agency officials are likely to respond.”
-- Mike Pompeo has reached out to past secretaries of state – including Hillary Clinton – as he navigates the confirmation process. Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports: “As a sharply partisan Republican member of Congress, [Pompeo] tormented [Clinton] over her response to the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which Pompeo called ‘morally reprehensible.’ He also once liked a tweet that branded her successor, John Kerry, a ‘traitor.’ But now that Pompeo faces a tough confirmation process to become secretary of state himself, he has reached out to Clinton and Kerry, as well as every other living occupant of the office, to ask for guidance. Clinton, for one, has been willing to help. … During their talk, Clinton advised Pompeo to stem the flight of career diplomats who quit under Tillerson, according to a person familiar with the call.”
-- Gina Haspel received the endorsement of more than 50 former national security officials and lawmakers to be the next CIA director. CNN’s Jennifer Rizzo reports: “Former directors of the CIA and national intelligence, secretaries of state and lawmakers who have chaired the Senate and House intelligence committees make up the list of signatories [in a letter sent Monday to the Senate Intelligence Committee]. The top intelligence officials include former CIA Directors John Brennan, Leon Panetta, Jose Rodriguez, George Tenet, Michael Hayden and former President Barack Obama's Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.” The letter does not address Haspel’s role in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, which will likely prove her greatest barrier to confirmation.
THE REST OF TRUMP AGENDA:
-- The Pentagon clarified that National Guard troops sent to the southern border will not arrest migrants or carry out armed patrols. From Nick Miroff and Paul Sonne: “National Guard troops will provide air support through drones and light-, medium- and heavy-lift helicopters, Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement … They will also help maintain roads and other infrastructure, clear vegetation and assist with facility maintenance, in addition to operating surveillance systems, including cameras and blimps, Davis said. … Describing the mission as a support role for the Department of Homeland Security, Davis confirmed that the troops won’t necessarily carry weapons. … The Pentagon said troops would work on infrastructure projects but did not specify whether that would include wall construction.”
-- Trump suggested his proposed summit with Kim Jong Un could be pushed to June. South Korean officials who announced the meeting initially said it would take place “by May,” but the president already has international travel planned next month. He will visit Jerusalem for the opening of the U.S. Embassy there. (Anne Gearan)
-- Mick Mulvaney plans to seek a record fine against Wells Fargo, his first penalty as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. From Reuters’s Patrick Rucker: “The fine would fulfill Trump’s vow to come down hard on the country’s third-largest lender, which has been grappling with a sales practices scandal since September 2016. … Settlement terms have not been finalized but Mulvaney is pushing for a figure as high as $1 billion … A stiff penalty against Wells Fargo could burnish Mulvaney’s image as a tough regulator even as his agency has dropped cases against at least two payday lenders.”
-- The Trump administration rewrote Obamacare rules to give more power to states and make it easier to avoid penalties. Amy Goldstein reports: “People living in areas where only one insurer is selling plans in the marketplace now can qualify for a ‘hardship exemption.’ So can people who oppose abortion and live in places where the only available plan covers abortion services. … One of the most significant changes involves a set of 10 essential health benefits that the ACA requires of health plans sold through the federal insurance marketplace and separate state marketplaces. The new rules will not jettison any of the categories but will enable states to allow fewer doctors visits, for example, or to cover fewer prescription drugs.”
-- The Trump administration is calling for Harvard to reveal closely held information about its selective admissions process. Nick Anderson reports: “The Justice Department wants a federal court to allow internal information about Harvard admissions to be made public through filings in a lawsuit challenging the university’s use of race and ethnicity in weighing tens of thousands of applicants each year. A hearing on the Harvard case is scheduled for Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boston.”
-- Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced his Senate bid, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in what will be one of the year's most expensive races. John Wagner and Sean Sullivan report: “Scott made the announcement in a video distributed on Twitter, framing himself as an outsider to a ‘horribly dysfunctional’ Washington — a theme he repeated to a group of supporters in Orlando minutes later … Scott’s long-expected entrance into the race [will also] force Democrats to devote considerable resources they would otherwise be able to spend elsewhere as they try to wrest control of the Senate from Republicans.”
-- “Perhaps more than any other major Republican Senate candidate this cycle, Scott is uniquely tied to [Trump],” Amber Phillips writes. The governor was one of Trump's first mainstream GOP supporters, and headed a super PAC that raised some $20 million for his 2016 campaign. “But being buddy-buddy with Trump could be the last thing Scott wants in this electoral environment. Trump won Florida by a little more than a percentage point … Slightly more Florida voters disapprove of Trump's job so far as president [than approve, according to a recent poll] … Democrats are also spending significant time and resources to register displaced Puerto Ricans to vote in November, reminding them that the Trump administration decided to end humanitarian emergency aid to the island after a devastating hurricane.”
-- Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) shocked the nation in 2014 when he dethroned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — personifying the seismic shift taking place within the Republican Party. But as he faces reelection this year, Brat’s seat could be the target of another political rebellion. Paul Schwartzman reports: “A central question facing both parties is whether Republican incumbents in conservative suburbs can fend off Democratic challengers propelled by voter animosity toward Trump. An area ripe for that test is Brat’s 7th Congressional District, a swath of central Virginia that includes rural Republican enclaves west of Richmond as well as suburbs outside the state capital that have grown more Democratic in recent years. ... Sensing opportunity, the [DCCC] is targeting Brat’s seat. ... The challenges facing Brat … also include lingering resentment among Republicans who supported Cantor — a factor that makes Democrats competitive in the district ‘for the first time in memory,’” said the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman.
A money quote from a Republican strategist: “Instead of mending fences, all [Brat] has done is pour napalm on the fences and roast marshmallows over the remains,” former director of the Virginia GOP Shaun Kenney said. “Why would conservatives get off their couches and burn a weekend working for him?”
-- Outgoing Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) expressed support for Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s bid to take his seat. “Now that the Republican primary has essentially concluded, I am sending a contribution to Representative Marsha Blackburn’s campaign and wish her well in her race for the U.S. Senate,” Corker wrote on Twitter. The message of support comes after Corker reportedly wavered on his retirement, which has created a competitive race in Tennessee. (Sean Sullivan)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The stakes are high for Michael Cohen:
This tonight from a former FBI colleague:— Josh Campbell (@joshscampbell) April 10, 2018
“I’ve been an FBI special agent for 20 years and have only seen a handful of searches executed on attorneys. All of those attorneys went to prison.”
Democratic leaders warned Trump against firing Mueller over the raid:
If @realDonaldTrump is thinking of using the FBI raid to fire Special Counsel Mueller or otherwise interfere with the chain of command in the Russia probe, we Democrats have one simple message for him: don’t.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) April 9, 2018
President Trump’s utter contempt for the rule of law was clear in his disturbing attack on Special Counsel’s investigation tonight. The integrity of our democracy is at stake. @realDonaldTrump must get serious about our national security & allow Mr. Mueller to #FollowTheFacts.— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) April 9, 2018
Another House Democrat demanded legislation protecting Mueller:
.@SpeakerRyan it's time to do your job. Congress must act to protect Mueller & the rule of law before @realDonaldTrump acts to protect himself & his friend/personal lawyer. The American people deserve to know the facts. https://t.co/tPBpDdNa2G— Rep. Gwen Moore (@RepGwenMoore) April 10, 2018
A veteran news anchor pointed out the importance of the Stormy Daniels story:
The FBI raids the offices of Trump attorney (and bag man?) Michael Cohen. This is when the Stormy Daniels story officially ceases to be about what happened in the bedroom and very much about what could happen in a court of law. A very ominous development for the President.— Dan Rather (@DanRather) April 9, 2018
A Fox News contributor admitted the raid was a big deal:
Unfortunately for @realDonaldTrump-now confidential communications w his attorney @MichaelCohen212 have been seized-assuming seizure handled legally to honor attorney client privilege-then every & anything bad that’s ever been done between them can be fodder for a feast. Big Deal— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) April 9, 2018
A CNN reporter summarized Trump's comments on the FBI:
Here are a few terms the President of the United States used today to refer to the FBI lawfully executing search warrants:— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) April 9, 2018
"They broke into the office"
"An attack on our country"
"Attack on what we all stand for"
"Total witch hunt"
From the Weekly Standard's editor in chief:
A televised presidential tirade about an FBI raid on the offices of his personal lawyer -- investigating hush money secretly paid to a porn star, immediately before the 2016 election, to cover up an affair -- as POTUS contemplates an act of war. MAGA?— Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) April 9, 2018
The controversy caused this November 2016 tweet to recirculate (again):
When you're attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing https://t.co/SIoAxatCjp— Sarah Sanders (@SarahHuckabee) November 3, 2016
Others zeroed in on this 2015 tweet:
@HillaryClinton when you go to prison for defrauding America and perjury, your room and board will be free!— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) December 20, 2015
George W. Bush's former chief strategist criticized Trump's defenders:
It is such a disturbing thing to watch Trump defenders today, who seem to have lost all integrity, jettisoning the rule of law, accountability, and justice in order to defend the power the hold or the proximity to it. The truth will win out. Eventually.— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) April 10, 2018
But Cohen has kept one of his titles, per a Wall Street Journal reporter:
An RNC official says there’s been no change in Michael Cohen’s status as national deputy chairman on the committee’s finance team.— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) April 10, 2018
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) addressed his challenger:
I’ve always run every race like there’s no tomorrow —regardless of my opponent. While it’s clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I’ve always believed that if you wake up every day and if you try to do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself.— Bill Nelson (@NelsonForSenate) April 9, 2018
Two House Republicans with libertarian inclinations said Trump needs to get congressional authority to take action in Syria:
“The Constitution vests the power of declaring War with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorised such a measure.”— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 9, 2018
realGeorgeWashington was right. The President has no Constitutional authority to make war without Congress... this includes strikes against Syria. https://t.co/9IkLcfNDw9— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) April 9, 2018
From a CNBC correspondent:
since Reagan:— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) April 9, 2018
--all 3 GOP presidents left Oval Office w/higher deficits than when they walked in
--both Dem presidents left w/lower deficits than when they walked in
--per CBO estimate today, Trump on track for 2020 deficit 50% higher than 2017 https://t.co/XtWpQZjPbu
The White House stood by Scott Pruitt. From a CNN reporter:
And Sen. Tammy Duckworth welcomed her daughter to the world:
Bryan, Abigail and I couldn’t be happier to welcome little Maile Pearl as the newest addition to our family and we’re deeply honored that our good friend Senator Akaka was able to bless her name for us—his help in naming both of our daughters means he will always be with us. https://t.co/KXyNf65KxA— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) April 9, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Politico Magazine, “How John Kelly’s Boston Neighborhood Led Him to Trump’s Side,” by Ben Strauss: “The hierarchies of the Catholic Church and the military were revered institutions in Oak Square, but there was spillover from Boston University and Boston College, which weren’t far away. To the extent that Oak Square made Kelly the man he is today, it tugged him in two main directions: The traditionalist who reveres the military and rhapsodizes from the White House podium about how ‘women were sacred’ when he was growing up, and the hardened bureaucrat who may harbor few prejudices of his own, but doesn’t flinch at working for a president who denigrates immigrants and minorities.”
-- Wall Street Journal, “That Driver Is Jamming Traffic—He’s Probably Filming a Campaign Ad,” by Reid J. Epstein: “As if traffic wasn’t bad enough, there’s millionaire Andy Thorburn at the wheel of a rented Ford SUV, cruising along a Southern California freeway in a congressional campaign ad. Mr. Thorburn, a former insurance executive worth more than $50 million, owns a Tesla but the Ford rental better illustrates how he can simultaneously drive and grouse about Washington, just like any grass-roots constituent. … The driving gimmick is meant to convey a sense of accessible authenticity—someone caught by the camera in a workaday moment. The idea is to evoke trust and familiarity, a common touch. No candidate wants to make the same mistake as [Hillary Clinton] who acknowledged just before launching her 2016 presidential campaign that she hadn’t driven since 1996.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“Sinclair commentator resigns after crude tweet about Parkland survivor David Hogg,” from Eli Rosenberg: “A conservative commentator at a Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned television station in St. Louis has resigned after a statement he made threatening to sexually assault David Hogg drew harsh criticism and sparked the beginnings of an advertiser boycott. Jamie Allman, who hosts a nightly news show on KDNL, a Sinclair-owned ABC affiliate in St. Louis, as well as a morning FM radio show, wrote on Twitter that he was ‘hanging out getting ready,’ to sexually assault David Hogg with ‘a hot poker.’ ‘Busy working. Preparing,’ read the March 26 tweet, which is too vulgar to print here in full.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Sean Hannity to Jimmy Kimmel: ‘It’s over’ but if feud continues ‘I’ll punch back even harder,’” from Emily Heil: “Hannity on Monday night had promised to answer Kimmel’s attempt to end the beef. … In his ending monologue, Hannity grudgingly accepted the olive branch, though he called it a ‘forced, Disney apology.’ He invited Kimmel onto his show for a fuller debate, since Kimmel has taken on the administration’s positions on health care and immigration. ‘It’s over,’ Hannity declared of their week-long fight. But, in true tune-in-for-more spirit, he vowed that the drama could continue. ‘If you start up again,’ he said. ‘I’ll punch back even harder.’”
Trump will meet with the emir of Qatar at the White House and later host the 2017 NCAA football national champions, Alabama.
Pence will join Trump’s working lunch with the emir and then travel to Boston for an RNC fundraiser, which the state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, is notably skipping.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
The White House press secretary said Trump continues to doubt the 2016 election results: “The president still feels there was a large amount of voter fraud,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Washingtonians will see sun later in the day, with temperatures in the 50s. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Some dreary hangover cloudiness from our dismal Monday lingers this morning, but it should break apart toward midday and especially afternoon with more sunshine as temperatures muscle up to afternoon peaks in the middle to upper 50s.”
-- The Nationals beat the Braves 2-0. (Chelsea Janes)
-- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) vetoed a bill banning "sanctuary" cities, calling the measure “unnecessary and divisive.” From Laura Vozzella: “The bill was a single sentence: ‘No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.' Northam suggested the legislation would require Virginia cities and towns to shoulder the burden of enforcing federal immigration law, either by deputizing local police or by holding undocumented inmates in local lockups.” The General Assembly is unlikely to overcome Northam’s veto, given that the bill passed both chambers narrowly.
-- A D.C. councilman plans to introduce legislation lowering the District’s voting age to 16. Fenit Nirappil reports: “It would make the nation’s capital the first municipality to allow minors to cast ballots in presidential contests and the first major city to allow them to vote in local races. … Last month’s March for Our Lives rally for gun control and the D.C.-specific events show that young people deserve the right to help choose their leaders, [D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6)] said."
-- Howard University acknowledged six former employees misappropriated $369,000 in financial aid over five years. The figure provides the first official measurement of the scope of the scandal that set off student protests. (Danielle Douglas-Gabriel)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Late-night hosts made jokes at Michael Cohen's expense:
Former "Cosby Show" actress Nicolle Rochelle protested topless at the Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial:
An out-of-control train in India ran freely in reverse for miles:
And the demolition of a 170-foot silo in Denmark went awry: