National Political Correspondent

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: 

President Trump's pardon of Lewis “Scooter” Libby is the latest signal to his associates that he has the power and inclination to reward those who stay loyal during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“I don’t know Mr. Libby,” Trump said in a statement released midday, “but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

Libby was convicted of four felonies, including obstruction of justice and perjury before a grand jury, related to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame during his time as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000.

After talk of the pardon broke early this morning, Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics lawyer in George W. Bush's White House from 2005 to 2007, tweeted: “So what’s the message here? Lie to a grand jury to protect political superiors and you will get a full pardon?”

Remember, Trump’s lawyer reportedly told attorneys representing Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn last year that the president might be willing to pardon his former senior aides if they faced criminal charges stemming from the investigation into Russia’s election interference.

-- Trump has already rewarded one political ally with a pardon. Last August, the president used the power invested in him by the Constitution to pardon Joe Arpaio. He developed a kinship with the ex-Arizona sheriff when they were prominent leaders of the “birther” movement, which falsely accused Barack Obama of being from Kenya. Arpaio campaigned with Trump in Iowa before the caucuses and stayed loyal to him during the depths of the campaign, which might have been a factor in him losing reelection in November 2016.

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos. His deputies were detaining people simply because they suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. One reason the pardon was unusual is that it was handed down before Arpaio’s sentencing and the appeals process played out.

Arpaio thanked the president on Twitter at the time “for seeing my conviction for what it is: a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department!’”

A decade ago, many conservatives also described the prosecution of Libby as a “witch hunt.” “The right’s narrative about Libby — that he was railroaded by an overreaching, politically-driven special prosecutor — syncs with Trump’s view of his own predicament,” notes Kyle Swenson. “‘A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!’ the president has tweeted about the Mueller investigation.”

-- There’s a Comey connection here: Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame affair, which left the decision on how to proceed to then-Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey. Comey appointed his longtime friend and colleague Patrick J. Fitzgerald to become the special counsel. It was Fitzgerald who convicted Libby. There’s no way Libby’s defenders haven’t put this bug in the president’s ear.

Trump just called Comey a “slime ball” on Twitter. The ousted FBI director’s memoir comes out next Tuesday, and cable news this morning is dominated by coverage of what it says. (keep reading for much more on the book):

-- ABC, which broke the news about Libby, reports that “the president has already signed off on the pardon.” Several other outlets, including The Washington Post, quickly got confirmation. Two people familiar with the president’s thinking told our Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker that the pardon has been under consideration for several months. One senior administration official told them that Trump could always change his mind, and the timing for the formal announcement is unclear.

-- Bigger picture, Trump continues to be a do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do president. He constantly rails against leaks, yet he’s pardoning someone who was convicted of lying about leaking sensitive national security information. Judith Miller, then a reporter for the New York Times, spent 85 days in prison rather than disclose Libby was one of her sources.

-- A potential pardon once again puts into stark relief Trump’s bitterness toward the career professionals at the FBI and CIA, who the president sees as part of a “deep state” conspiring against him.

-- It’s also another data point of Trump’s disdain for the rule of law. Libby unsuccessfully appealed his conviction. He was convicted by a jury.

-- Furthermore, this shows Trump does not believe someone must be contrite to get a pardon. Historically, that’s been a requirement or at least a norm.

-- The president was late to embrace Libby’s cause. When a conservative reporter asked in 2015 if he’d ever pardon him, Trump appeared unfamiliar with the specifics of the case and dismissed the question as “not pertinent.

-- In that respect, this might be another indication of John Bolton’s growing influence: Proximity is power in any White House, but it’s especially true with Trump. Bolton, who started Monday as national security adviser, is close friends with Libby and a longtime Cheney loyalist. A 2009 story in the New York Times quoted Bolton on the record and said he had “broken with the president in recent years, in part over Mr. Libby’s case.” This may have been in the pipeline for a while, but it’s possible Bolton helped seal the deal.

Bolton continues to clean house. Deputy national security adviser Ricky Waddell just became the fourth official under his domain to call it quits this week. “Senior White House officials said other personnel changes could happen in the coming days on the National Security Council,” Josh Dawsey and Greg Jaffe report. “One former senior administration official called him a ‘steady hand and a workhorse.’ But he was not known to have a particularly close relationship with Trump.”

-- Another longtime, very vocal advocate for pardoning Libby has been attorney Joe diGenova. He was poised to join Trump’s legal team last month, but it didn’t happen after they had a face-to-face meeting. The two have stayed in touch, though, and diGenova said publicly that Trump should fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein this week – less than 24 hours after speaking with the president.

-- Libby avoided serving hard time because Bush commuted his prison sentence, but the then-president saw a pardon as a bridge too far. He resisted intense pressure from Cheney to pardon Libby during the final days of his term, which permanently soured their relationship. Bush was mindful of the blow his father’s reputation took for pardoning former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other former government officials involved in the Iran-contra affair after losing the 1992 election. He also remembered the blowback Bill Clinton faced for his 11th hour pardons of politically connected people like Marc Rich in 2001.

-- “A pardon of Mr. Libby would paradoxically put Mr. Trump in the position of absolving one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, which Mr. Trump has denounced as a catastrophic miscalculation,” Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman note on the front page of the Times. “Mr. Bush assigned White House lawyers to examine the case, but they advised him the jury had ample reason to convict Mr. Libby and the president rebuffed Mr. Cheney’s request. Mr. Bush told aides that he suspected that Mr. Libby had thought he was protecting Mr. Cheney, the real target of the investigation.

“Mr. Cheney snapped at Mr. Bush. ‘You are leaving a good man wounded on the field of battle,’ he told him when informed of the decision. Mr. Bush was taken aback. It was probably the harshest thing Mr. Cheney ever said to him during their eight years in office together and was meant to attack Mr. Bush’s sense of loyalty to his own troops in a time of war. ‘The comment stung,’ Mr. Bush wrote in his memoir.”

-- Apropos of something: Bush agreed to sit for an interview in the Oval Office as part of Fitzgerald’s probe. The president fielded questions from Fitzgerald and several assistants for 70 minutes in June 2004. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at the time that Bush was “pleased to do his part” to assist the investigation. “No one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the president of the United States, and he has said on more than one occasion that if anyone — inside or outside the government — has information that can help the investigators get to the bottom of this, they should provide that information to the officials in charge,” he said.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

LORDY, THERE MAY BE TAPES AFTER ALL:

-- “Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen’s office and residences this week,” Ashley Parker, Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Tom Hamburger scoop. “Cohen, who served for a decade as a lawyer at the Trump Organization, … was known to [record and store] conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues … ‘We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes,’ said one Trump adviser … ‘Now we are wondering, who did he tape? Did he store those someplace where they were actually seized? … Did they find his recordings?’ … It is unknown whether Cohen taped conversations between himself and Trump. But [one] associate said Trump knew of Cohen’s practice because the attorney would often play him recordings Cohen had made of his conversations with other top Trump advisers. ‘It was his standard practice to do it,’ this person said.” Another person said Cohen liked to tape calls to “use them later as leverage” and frequently noted that New York was a “one party consent” state.

During the 2016 race, Cohen — who did not have a formal role on the campaign — had a reputation among campaign staff as someone to avoid, in part because he was believed to be secretly taping conversations. In one instance, Cohen played a recording of a conversation he had with someone else to a Trump campaign official to demonstrate that he was in a position to challenge that person’s veracity if necessary … Cohen indicated that he had something to use against the person he had taped … One outside Trump adviser said Cohen may have begun recording his conversations in an attempt to emulate his boss, who has long boasted — often with no evidence — about secretly taping private conversations.”

Would the tapes be admissible? “Federal investigators would not automatically get access to any tapes that might have been seized in the raids. First, the recordings would be reviewed by a separate Justice Department team and possibly by a federal judge. The review is designed to protect lawyer-client privilege and to be sure that the conversations turned over are within the terms of the search warrant … [T]he privilege accorded to attorney-client communications does not apply if the conversation was conducted to further commission of a crime or fraud.”

-- Federal investigators are also examining Cohen’s interactions with a bank that loaned him money against his taxi business. Rosalind S. Helderman, Hamburger and Leonnig report: “The request indicates that prosecutors may have an interest in specific financial transactions that Cohen undertook while using his taxi business as collateral. Cohen has held taxi interests as a side business even as he worked as a top lawyer for Trump … Public records show he took out a business loan from [Sterling National Bank] in late 2014 for an unspecified amount using three taxi companies as collateral. Cohen also obtained a $1.98 million real estate loan with his in-laws from the bank in 2015, records show.”

THE COMEY BOOK:

-- Former FBI director James Comey isn't holding anything back in his new memoir, “A Higher Loyalty.” Relying on his now famous contemporaneous notes, Comey spares no details about his interactions with Trump — including the president's apparent attempt to get his law enforcement chief to investigate the most salacious details in a controversial intelligence dossier. The Post's Philip Rucker obtained an advance copy ahead of its Tuesday release. Here are some of the buzziest details from the book:

-- Comey's account describes Trump as obsessed with the unconfirmed allegations in the Christopher Steele dossier that Russians filmed him in 2013 watching prostitutes urinate on themselves in the same Moscow suite President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stayed in. Trump raised it at least four times, including once when he was president-elect: “Comey writes that Trump asked him to have the FBI investigate the allegations to prove they were not true, and offered varying explanations to convince him why,” Rucker writes. “'I’m a germaphobe,' Trump told him in a follow-up call on Jan. 11, 2017, according to Comey’s account. “There’s no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way.'" 

Later, in his early days as president, Trump told Comey it irked him if there was “even a one percent chance” Melania believed the account. “Comey writes that Trump told him to consider having the FBI investigate the prostitutes allegation to 'prove it was a lie,'" Rucker writes. 

-- 'You found there was no impact on the [election] result right?': After Comey and other intelligence officials briefed Trump on Russia’s election interference, he says Trump asked only that one question. “[James Clapper] replied that the intelligence community did no such analysis. With Clapper and [John Brennan] still in the room … [t]he Trump team decided they would emphasize that Russian interference had no impact on the vote — which, Clapper reminded them, the intelligence community had not determined.”

-- On the Jan. 27 “loyalty” dinner: “The table in the Green Room was set for two. The president marveled at the fancy handwriting … and seemed unaware of the term calligrapher[.] Comey writes that he believed Trump was trying ‘to establish a patronage relationship,’ and that he said: ‘I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.’” Instead, Comey says he stayed silent — and Trump broke the silence by speaking in torrents, “'like an oral jigsaw puzzle,’ about the size of his inauguration crowd, his free media coverage and the viciousness of the campaign. …”

-- On his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation — and Barack Obama’s private reassurances: “Comey writes that Obama sat alone with him in the Oval Office in late November and told him, ‘I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability. I want you to know that nothing — nothing — has happened in the last year to change my view.’”

-- “Comey is what Saul Bellow called a ‘first-class noticer,’” Michiko Kakutani writes in the New York Times. “He notices, for instance, ‘the soft white pouches under’ Trump’s ‘expressionless blue eyes’; coyly observes that the president’s hands are smaller than his own ‘but did not seem unusually so’; and points out that he never saw Trump laugh — a sign, Comey suspects, of his ‘deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad … and a little scary in a president.’ … The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned book are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law.”

Comey has questioned his decision to announce, days before the election, that the FBI was looking at more of Clinton's emails: “Comey notes here that he had assumed from media polling that Clinton was going to win. He has repeatedly asked himself, he writes, whether he was influenced by that assumption: ‘It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.’”

-- Comey describes then-DHS Secretary John Kelly as “emotional” about the way the FBI director was axed. The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng report: “Kelly, Comey recalls, said he was ‘sick’ about the situation and ‘intended to quit’ in protest. Kelly ‘said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people,’ referring specifically to [Trump] … Comey writes in his book that he encouraged Kelly to remain in his post, saying ‘this president,’ more than his predecessors, needed people of principle and integrity around him.”

-- The RNC is trying to diminish Comey's credibility ahead of the book's release. The centerpiece is a website that dubs him “Lyin’ Comey.” From John Wagner: “The website prominently features quotes from Democrats highly critical of Comey before his firing by President Trump ... RNC officials say their effort will also include digital ads, a ‘war room’ to monitor Comey’s television appearances, a rapid response team to rebut his claims in real time and coordination of Trump surrogates to fan out across other TV programs.”

-- Trump ordered an overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service’s business model in the wake of his false accusations that Amazon is cheating the system. Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey report: “Trump issued an executive order forming an administration task force, to be chaired by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and directed it to evaluate the Postal Service’s finances and operations. The order also directs the task force to issue a report outlining proposed changes within 120 days. The order states that the Postal Service has incurred $65 billion of cumulative losses since the Great Recession ended in 2009 and that it must make changes so that it operates under ‘a sustainable business model.’ … The order does not single out Amazon by name, but Trump has often railed against Amazon — in public and, more frequently, in private conversations with his advisers and friends … ”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Former Texas congressman Steve Stockman (R) was found guilty on 23 felony charges. He was convicted of defrauding two GOP mega-donors, a ruling that could land him behind bars for decades. Stockman was also accused of funneling the donations to pay for everything from a new dishwasher to “undercover surveillance of a perceived political rival.” (Texas Tribune)
  2. Information on Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment complaints was stored on an insecure server until February. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) demanded that the Office of Compliance improve its cybersecurity, which it did last month. (Elise Viebeck)
  3. Todd Rokita, a congressman and Senate candidate, likely violated local ethics rules as Indiana's secretary of state by “repeatedly” accessing a Republican donor database from his government office. (AP)
  4. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) will headline a Democratic fundraising event in New Hampshire. His appearance in the early-primary state is sure to further fuel 2020 speculation. (Boston Globe)

  5. Current and former pharmaceutical executives are slated to testify next month before Congress about their role in the nation’s opioid epidemic. Their companies have been accused of “flooding” communities with high-strength opioid painkillers, a phenomenon that has claimed more than 200,000 lives since 2000. (Katie Zezima and Scott Higham)
  6. The CEO of Backpage.com pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to facilitate prostitution and money laundering. Carl Ferrer will serve no more than five years in prison and agreed to testify against the co-founders of Backpage. (Tom Jackman)

  7. The tap water in hundreds of Chicago homes contains brain-damaging concentrations of lead, according to a new analysis from the Chicago Tribune. In addition, lead-contaminated water was found in 70 percent of homes tested during the past two years.
  8. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans experienced another blackout after a tree fell on an electrical line supplying power to San Juan. The power lines have failed multiple times in recent months as the island continues to recover from Hurricane Maria. (Marwa Eltagouri)

  9. A new survey found that the Holocaust is fading from modern memory in the United States. A startling 41 percent of adults — and 66 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds — cannot say what Auschwitz was. Fifty-two percent wrongly think Hitler came to power through force. And more than 30 percent believe 2 million or fewer Jews were killed. (New York Times)
  10. Michigan lawmakers advanced a bill that would slash funding by 10 percent for any universities that fail to comply with new regulations proposed in the wake of Larry Nassar’s sexual assault scandal at Michigan State University. (AP)
  11. Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre said he suffered “probably thousands” of concussions while playing football. The former Packers player has become increasingly outspoken about brain issues since retiring in 2010. (Des Bieler)

  12. A young sperm whale found dead off the coast of Spain had 64 pounds of garbage clogged in its digestive system. Local authorities said the animal died because it was unable to expel the extraordinary amount of human trash — which included trash bags, net segments and even a drum. (Kristine Phillips)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The White House is strategizing about how to undermine the credibility of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. CNN’s Sara Murray, Kevin Liptak and Pamela Brown report: “The plan calls on [Trump's] allies to cast Rosenstein as too conflicted to fairly oversee the Russia investigation. … One area of conflict the White House wants its surrogates to highlight: Rosenstein's role as a key witness to the Comey firing, sources said. … In a somewhat illogical pairing, the White House is also looking for Trump's allies to cast Rosenstein and Comey as close colleagues — even though Rosenstein helped provide the basis for Comey's firing. The White House is hoping Trump's defenders will use the notion that Comey and Rosenstein are close to argue that Rosenstein is approving an ever-expanding investigation against Trump and his associates as retribution.”

-- “Seven Takeaways From Trump’s Threats Against Rod Rosenstein,” by Lawfare’s Susan Hennessey, Matthew Kahn and Benjamin Wittes: “[T]he reasons for the president’s displeasure with Rosenstein are openly corrupt and self-interested: Trump doesn’t like the Russia investigation. He doesn’t like having his family and businesses investigated. He wants Hillary Clinton investigated instead. And he doesn’t like that Rosenstein is not facilitating these wishes. Whatever his other faults, Rosenstein has presided honorably over these investigations. He has worked to protect their integrity despite the president’s fervent efforts to undermine them and unrelenting congressional pressure. Rosenstein is not being persecuted for his vices. If Trump fires him, it will be for his virtues.”

-- A new Post poll shows a clear majority of Americans support Mueller’s probe. Scott Clement and Emily Guskin report: “Nearly 7 in 10 adults say they support Mueller’s focus on possible collusion with Russia. Sixty-four percent say they want the special counsel investigating Trump’s business activities. And a 58 percent majority supports investigating alleged payments by Trump associates to silence women who say they had affairs with him.”

-- Talks between Mueller’s team and Trump’s lawyers to negotiate a sit-down with the president collapsed after the Cohen raids. NBC News’s Carol E. Lee, Julia Ainsley, Kristen Welker and Hallie Jackson report: “On Monday Trump’s lawyers were discussing a possible interview with Mueller's team and had begun to hash out the final sticking points, including the timing, scope and length, according to people familiar with the discussions. … But the prospects for a presidential interview drastically dimmed once the FBI raided the home, office and hotel room of [Cohen], these people said. … Now, according to two sources, Mueller’s team may be able to close the obstruction probe more quickly as they will not need to prepare for the interview or follow up on what the president says.”

-- Dino Sajudin, the former doorman who received $30,000 from the National Enquirer to silence a rumor about Trump fathering an illegitimate child, stood by his story. From Carol D. Leonnig: “In an interview Thursday with The Washington Post, Sajudin dismissed claims that he had made anything up. ‘You know I took a polygraph test,’ he said, adding that he believes his story was buried as part of a larger strategy by the tabloid to quash negative articles about Trump. ‘It seems like the writing is on the wall about that, it’s pretty clear,’ Sajudin said. He said the story ‘had to come out’ … ”

-- The latest cover of Time: “Donald Trump Relied on Michael Cohen to Weather the Storm. Now The President Is On His Own.” The magazine’s Brian Bennett writes: “Trump was already facing a daunting challenge from the Mueller investigation, and Cohen opens an entirely new front. And each could spawn further probes as investigators, armed with court-ordered warrants, dig deeper into a world Trump considers private. ‘[Cohen’s] greatest danger is as bait to get Trump to aggressively move against Mueller or the Department of Justice,’ says Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School. … What happens next may in part depend on how strong that loyalty is. If Cohen is indicted, he could be offered a deal to flip on Trump. … ‘Having a cooperating fix-it man is the dream of any prosecutor,’ says Turley.”

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP FOR PRUITT:

-- The Senate confirmed a coal lobbyist as the second-in-command at the Environmental Protection Agency. Steven Mufson, Brady Dennis and Dino Grandoni report: “Andrew Wheeler worked at the EPA more than two decades ago and later served as an adviser to Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a high-profile critic of climate science who famously brought a snowball to the Senate floor as a prop. For the past nine years, Wheeler has been a lobbyist for a variety of companies, including Appalachian coal mining firm Murray Energy. … Environmental groups have sharply criticized the notion of installing Wheeler at the EPA in any capacity. But in recent days, as [Scott] Pruitt has faced scrutiny over allegations of wasteful spending and unusual management of the agency, attention has turned to the prospect that Wheeler could end up in charge of the EPA.”

-- Pruitt has used four different email addresses at the EPA since taking office — prompting concerns that it hasn't been totally responsive to FOIA requests. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “Two Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Tom Carper (Del.) — sent a letter Tuesday to the EPA’s inspector general asking the office to probe the matter. Pruitt’s four email addresses include one in the conventional agency format … as well as three others: esp7@epa.gov, adm14pruitt@epa.gov and sooners7@epa.gov, an apparent reference to the University of Oklahoma, whose football team Pruitt follows closely. Another EPA staffer said that Pruitt’s use of different emails has raised concern among agency lawyers responsible for scouring [Pruitt’s] official correspondence ... If there is an email account that was not searched for records in response to a FOIA inquiry, the official said, that ‘would be an enormous breach of the public trust.’”

-- A former top Pruitt aide accused the EPA chief of a litany of wasteful spending and unjustified expenditures. Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report: “Kevin Chmielewski, [who until] recently served as deputy chief of staff for operations to Pruitt, told congressional staffers that Pruitt routinely pushed for unjustified expenditures on his travel, lodging and changes to his office, and that he marginalized employees who questioned his directives. Chmielewski claims that Pruitt often chose travel destinations based on a desire to visit particular cities or countries rather than official business ... He said Pruitt also directed staffers to book flights on Delta, even when it was ‘not the federal government’s contract carrier …’ in order to accrue more frequent flier miles. He also said Pruitt routinely asked his staff to ‘find reasons’ … to travel to Oklahoma, so that he could then remain in his home state for long weekends ... Chmielewski has said he was removed from his position and placed on administrative leave after refusing to approve inappropriate expenditures.”

-- Pruitt’s chief of security has pushed back — literally — against critics of the EPA chief’s spending habits. The New York Times’s Kenneth P. Vogel, Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman report: “[The former Secret Service agent], Pasquale Perrotta, has clashed — at least once physically — with top E.P.A. officials who challenged Mr. Pruitt’s spending, and has steered at least one E.P.A. security contract to a business associate, according to interviews with current and former senior agency officials. Officially, Mr. Perrotta leads Mr. Pruitt’s protective detail, but he plays a far larger role at the E.P.A., offering security justifications for management, personnel and spending decisions, said the officials … Mr. Perrotta’s outsize influence has placed him at the center of inquiries by the E.P.A. inspector general’s office into excessive spending and possible violations of contracting rules by Mr. Pruitt’s administration …

Since taking over the protective detail weeks after Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation in February 2017, Mr. Perrotta has cheekily referred to himself as the agency’s sheriff and has whistled the distinctive tune made famous by the Western film ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,’ said two E.P.A. officials who worked with Mr. Perrotta. On occasion, he has worn a black cowboy hat and boots around the E.P.A. office, a move that some colleagues considered a lighthearted allusion to Mr. Pruitt’s home state, Oklahoma.”

-- The lobbyist who provided Pruitt with his controversial condo rental is being pressured to retire early from his firm. The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Sam Stein: “J. Steven Hart, the chairman of Williams & Jensen, had been considering leaving this year, four sources familiar with his thinking said. But the emergence of the scandal surrounding his association with Pruitt has expedited talk of his departure as officials at the powerhouse lobbying shop grapple with the resulting bad press. …

“The living arrangement caused headaches in real time as well. Pruitt was described by numerous sources as a disastrous tenant, with one comparing him to Owen Wilson’s character in You, Me and Dupree. According to three people familiar with events, Pruitt would not take out the trash during his time staying at the townhouse believing that a cleaning service would do it for him. There was no cleaning service that came with the apartment, however. And the garbage bags piled up to the point that Vicki Hart was forced to tell him to put them in the canister and to take that canister out to the street the next time he left the building. ‘Tenant from hell,’ said one source.”

TRADE WHIPLASH:

-- Trump has ordered top administration officials to look at rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It would be a stunning reversal from the president, who assailed the Obama-era pact on the campaign trail and rejected it three days after taking office. Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and Damian Paletta report: “An embrace of the TPP would give Trump more leverage in his escalating trade feud with Beijing. It also would give U.S. farms, retailers and other businesses better access to foreign markets if China makes good on its recent threats of new tariffs on U.S. goods. ... His comments were so unexpected that White House officials, lawmakers, business groups and others weren’t sure whether Trump had made a calculated overture or if it was another whimsical idea that he would cool on soon.”

  • Trump gave the new orders to Robert Lighthizer and Larry Kudlow during a White House meeting with lawmakers and governors. Trump instructed them to “take a look at getting us back into that agreement, on our terms, of course,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who attended the meeting. “He was very, I would say, bullish about that.”
  • But some are more skeptical that Trump will follow through — and one senior administration official said Trump has “not set any goals or deadlines” for when a new agreement should be reached: “Instead, the White House is approaching potential new talks as a way to signal that Trump is receptive to free-market proposals if he feels they can be reached in a way that advances U.S. interests, the official said.”

-- Trump set out some conditions for rejoining TPP in a tweet last night:

SYRIA LATEST:

-- Fears of a U.S.-Russian conflict in the Middle East began to recede after leaders from both countries issued a flurry of statements seeking to de-escalate the tensions. Liz Sly and Anton Troianovski report: “U.S.-led military strikes in [Syria] … remained a distinct possibility, but there were indications that efforts to head off a global confrontation are gathering pace. In Moscow, the Kremlin sought to tamp down fears of a looming conflict with the United States by signaling for the first time in days that it might not carry out threats to retaliate against any eventual U.S. strikes. Analysts in Russia said the focus now is on ways to ensure that any eventual strikes are limited in ways that don’t kill Russians. 

-- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis outlined the risks of military action. From Anne Gearan, John Wagner and Missy Ryan: “With Russia and Iran heavily invested in Assad’s survival, Mattis highlighted the risk of military action against the Syrian government. ‘We’re trying to stop the murder of innocent people, but on a strategic level it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that,’ the retired four-star Marine general told the House Armed Services Committee hours before meeting with the president.”

-- U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s deputy, Jon Lerner, will take on a second role as Mike Pence’s national security adviser. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times writes: “Lerner will also keep his job working for Haley, dividing his time between the two principals and coordinating between the two teams. That’s no accident. Over the past year, Pence and Haley have been coordinating closely on foreign policy, advocating long-held GOP foreign policy positions such as increased pushback against Russia, stronger pressure on North Korea, more resources for Afghanistan, a tougher position on the Assad regime in Syria and more. Now the two officials will have the same key adviser on national security.”

 

-- The son of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn suggested the U.S. could be behind the chemical attack on Syrian civilians. Flynn Jr. also had a role on Trump's transition. 

A former lawyer for the National Security Agency, who is now a Brookings fellow, responded:

POMPEO'S CONFIRMATION HEARING:

-- Trump’s secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo took a tougher stance on Russia but failed to convince some critics that he would be willing to stand up to the president. Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello report: “'My sense of his answers is that he won’t challenge the president, that he’ll be someone who will ultimately execute what the president wants, even if he is in disagreement,’ [said] Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) ... ‘On every front that I asked him, he just didn’t define what his own advocacy would be for a strategy.’ Several senators beseeched him to take advantage of his close relationship with Trump to confront the president when he is wrong. ‘It’s fair for our members to ask if your relationship is rooted in a candid, healthy, give-and-take dynamic or whether it’s based on deferential willingness to go along to get along,’ said the panel’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) … Pompeo told senators that he would consider reversing some of Tillerson’s ascetic budgeting policies … [and lift a hiring freeze to] begin recruiting more diplomats.”

-- Pompeo told the panel he has been cooperating with Mueller’s probe. “I spoke with special counsel Mueller, who interviewed me, requested an interview, I cooperated,” he said in response to a question from Menendez. From CNN’s Daniella Diaz: “He also said [Trump] has never asked him do anything ‘improper’ as it relates to the Russia probe during [Comey's] time as FBI director, but he declined to say if the President asked him to do anything about the Comey probe and could not ‘recall’ the nature of a March 2017 conversation where Trump reportedly asked Pompeo to get Comey to pull back. ‘I am not going to talk about private conversations I've had with the President,’ he said.”

-- Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) pressed Pompeo on his past suggestion that homosexuality is a “perversion.” “Is being gay a perversion?” Booker asked. “Senator, when I was a politician, I had a very clear view on whether it was appropriate for two same-sex persons to marry. I stand by that,” Pompeo replied. Eugene Scott notes: “When pressed on how he would treat gay couples within the State Department, Pompeo replied that he treated all couples within the CIA ‘with the exact same set of rights.’”

 

THE REST OF THE AGENDA:

-- The House's show vote to add a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution failed. Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis report: “[The measure fell] short of the two-thirds vote needed to advance. The vote was 233 to 184. … Not even its supporters had expected the balanced-budget amendment to pass the House. But congressional conservatives, many of whom opposed last month’s $1.3 trillion ‘omnibus’ bill over what they viewed as its excessive domestic spending, nonetheless pushed for the vote, presenting it as a necessary tonic after Congress’s recent budget binge. … Some Republicans [criticized] the vote as a pointless performance.” “What a joke. What a joke. It is the biggest joke in the world,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “It’s a way for people to hide behind making tough decisions. … We’ve got the House, the Senate and the presidency. If we wanted to figure out a way to balance the budget we could do it.”

-- Despite Republican opposition, the White House is moving forward with plans to cut billions of dollars from the omnibus spending bill passed last month. Politico’s Nancy Cook and Matthew Nussbaum report: “Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney — himself a former congressman — is taking the lead on developing the rollback proposal, according to eight current and former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House. The White House expects to release it around May 1, according to one administration official. These officials anticipate the White House could propose slashing anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion dollars from the $1.3 trillion dollar spending bill passed for this year — even as Republican lawmakers are openly asking the president not to re-open the negotiations.”

-- House Republicans proposed new work requirements for food-stamp recipients. Caitlin Dewey reports: “The plan, introduced as part of the 2018 Farm Bill over objections of Democrats, would dramatically expand mandatory state workfare programs in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Under the proposal, most adults between 18 and 59 will be required to work part-time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training to receive assistance. … Preliminary Congressional Budget Office estimates suggest the requirements would cut SNAP participation by as many as 1 million people over the next 10 years.”

-- The Interior Department scrapped its plans to massively increase entrance fees at some national parks amid broad public pushback. From Darryl Fears: “[Interior Department officials instead opted] for an across-the-board $5 increase at all parks that charge visitors to enter. 

-- Mattis also told lawmakers National Guard troops sent to the southern border would have “no contact” with migrants. Paul Sonne and Nick Miroff report: “Mattis deflected questions about whether he planned to keep troops there as political leverage to fulfill Trump’s vision [of a border wall], saying a number of factors could lead to the end of the reinforcement mission. Instead, he described the deployment as an effort to ‘buy time’ for the Department of Homeland Security and improve its enforcement capabilities.”

BATTLES WITHIN THE GOP:

-- Paul Ryan is resisting calls to resign earlier than planned to allow for a quicker transition to a new speaker. Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report: “A day after Ryan’s announcement, Republicans openly worried about how a lame-duck speaker and uncertainty in leadership would affect a party struggling to unify itself and raise money for midterm elections with the GOP’s House majority in jeopardy. Several Republicans and even some in the White House have raised doubts about whether Ryan (R-Wis.) could stay on the job through the end of the year. … Ryan moved to preempt an open succession scramble, telling reporters that he intended to ‘stay here and run through the tape’ until a new Congress is seated in January.”

-- Trump’s advisers are discouraging him from weighing in on the speakership race. From Mike and Seung Min: “But it is widely known that Trump enjoys a close relationship with [House Majority Leader Kevin] McCarthy, whom the president once publicly referred to as ‘my Kevin’ and has invited to weekend retreats in Florida. Ryan appeared to give McCarthy an implicit endorsement, praising the existing leadership team and saying that he was ‘encouraged’ that [House Majority Whip Steve] Scalise had made comments deferring to McCarthy.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump claimed widespread support of the border wall in a morning tweet:

Fact-check: Construction hasn’t begun on the wall.

He also expressed support for his legal team:

But a CBS News reporter shared this:

A Senate Republican advised Trump against dismissing Mueller:

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) replied to Newt Gingrich's comparison of the Cohen raids to the Nazi secret police:

The deputy attorney general paid a visit to the White House, per a Post reporter:

One lawyer analyzed the latest reports on the National Enquirer's payments to cover up rumors about Trump:

A reporter for the Orlando Sentinel provided a historical throwback:

Stormy Daniels’s lawyer made an explosive claim about Michael Cohen:

The president won't like this front page:

An alumna of Hillary Clinton's campaign, who is now at Emily's List, reacted to Comey's book:

A CNN reporter responded to Comey's admission of how the polls may have affected his decision on announcing the FBI was looking at more of Clinton's emails days before the election:

A House Republican denounced Greitens, her governor: 

Conor Lamb was sworn in to Congress. From a Bloomberg News reporter:

A Post columnist responded to Trump's potential reversal on TPP:

The secretary of defense expressed sympathy for Syrian refugees. From the Boston Globe's deputy Washington bureau chief:

And a presidential historian recognized a significant birthday:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- BuzzFeed News, “How YouTube’s Channel Recommendations Push Users To The Fringe,” by Craig Silverman: “Jonas Kaiser and Adrian Rauchfleisch’s research paper, ‘Unite the Right? How YouTube’s Recommendation Algorithm Connects the U.S. Far-Right,’ is the first large-scale analysis of the channels that YouTube automatically recommends users subscribe to and visit. They conclude that the channel recommendation algorithm pushes users to more fringe and extreme channels, such as Alex Jones of Infowars, while also elevating far-right voices above others.”

-- The Guardian, “Revealed: Secret rightwing strategy to discredit teacher strikes,” by Ed Pilkington: “A nationwide network of rightwing thinktanks is launching a PR counteroffensive against the teachers’ strikes that are sweeping the country, circulating a ‘messaging guide’ for anti-union activists that portrays the walkouts as harmful to low-income parents and their children.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Diamond & Silk Claim Facebook Never Contacted Them. Facebook Emails Prove Otherwise,” from the Daily Beast: “Pro-Trump vloggers Diamond & Silk found themselves the center of two high-profile congressional hearings this week as lawmakers obsessed over claims the duo were ‘censored’ by Facebook. At least five members of Congress asked [used the claim to illustrate] evidence of Facebook’s liberal political bias. In response, Zuckerberg stressed that the matter amounted to an internal mishap [and that his team has been in touch with them to reverse it] … Later that night, the duo [claimed on Fox News that no one from the company had reached out]. Internal Facebook communications prove otherwise. … Conservative pundit Erick Erickson on Thursday published several emails from Facebook officials confirming the company reached out to Diamond & Silk as early as Monday.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Proposal To Break California Into 3 States Could Make November Ballot,” from CBS Los Angeles: “Voters could get a chance to decide whether California should be split into three states this November. Venture capitalist Tim Draper, who authored an initiative to break up the Golden State, says it has received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. … The initiative proposes a central state that would consist of Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and San Benito counties; a southern state made up of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Fresno, Tulare, Inyo, Madera and Mono counties; and the 40 remaining counties grouped into a northern states. … Draper said he conceived the initiative out of a belief that ‘the citizens of the whole state would be better served by three smaller state governments while preserving the historical boundaries of the various counties, cities and towns.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will receive his intelligence briefing. He has no other official events.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation.” — James Comey in his new book

 

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

-- The temperature highs will stretch into the 80s. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “No layers are needed, warmth is present at all hours. Even the 10-20 mph south-southwest breezes are warm. Sun should dominate over any periodic clouds. Temperatures do their best springlike impression, heading into the upper 70s to lower 80s.”

-- The Capitals lost Game 1 of their playoff series to the Blue Jackets 4-3. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- The Nationals lost to the Rockies 5-1. (Jorge Castillo)

-- Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) returned to Capitol Hill this week after spending three months recovering from a knee infection. From Steve Thompson: “[T]he senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ... had been missing from the day-to-day action on Capitol Hill even as his staff continued to pressure the GOP-controlled House for oversight on President Trump.”

-- The second annual March for Science will be held in D.C. this weekend. Marissa J. Lang reports: “Organizers of the rally — a demonstration that will include presentations from scientists, technologists and researchers — are not trying to replicate the feverish feel of last year’s protest. They can’t. Instead, organizers said, they’re focused on keeping science and research top of mind for local and federal policymakers and showing the world that people still care — even if they don’t make the trek to Washington.”

-- Embattled Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick received a vote of no confidence from faculty members. Obtained documents show 61 percent of voting faculty members expressed a lack of faith in Frederick’s leadership following a student occupation over a financial aid scandal. (Sarah Larimer)

-- Metro promised its new payment app would be “remarkably elegant in its simplicity.” From Faiz Siddiqui: “The program is built around an all-purpose app that will serve as a ‘virtual SmarTrip’ card, allowing users to reload their fare cards on the go and swipe their smartphones at fare gates the way they wave their SmarTrip cards today.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert gushed over the excerpts from Comey’s book:

Trevor Noah speculated he could be Trump’s illegitimate child:

The Post fact-checked four assertions Mark Zuckerberg made during his Capitol Hill testimony:

And The Post's video department satirized the Zuckerberg hearings:

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) expressed confidence in the Russia investigation:

Fox News's Tucker Carlson dismissed the investigation: