Robert Costa authored the Big Idea in today's edition as James is on vacation. We have a full slate of Post authors for you this week before James returns on Monday.
With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: Let’s begin with a story about the White House correspondents’ dinner — but it’s not about Michelle Wolf.
It’s about a question that came up at my table at the event that evening, talking with guests of The Washington Post. They asked me about who was the most powerful person in a room full of seasoned politicians and national figures.
Looking around, I saw pundits and senators, actors and lawyers — and some people who overlapped a few categories. And then I found my answer sitting two tables away: Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing the ongoing special counsel probe.
Rosenstein, I told them, may not be the most famous person at the Washington Hilton, but he was perhaps the most powerful, in terms of raw political power at this moment. The fate of the Trump presidency may well rest in what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III eventually reports out — and Rosenstein is responsible for overseeing the investigation.
Heads nodded and then they turned to glance at Rosenstein, who ducked out before Wolf took the stage. (My guess: Rosenstein didn’t want to be caught on camera during the jokes.)
Rosenstein continues to play a pivotal role in the outcome of Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections because he’s engaged in an escalating battle with House Republicans. As I report with Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotsky in Tuesday’s paper, the deputy attorney general is also now facing the threat of impeachment proceedings from members of the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative bloc that’s closely aligned with President Trump.
Impeachment, of course is usually reserved for presidents in big trouble or federal judges who are accused of accepting bribes. Even the author of the draft of the articles of impeachment — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) — calls the proposal a “last resort” at this point. (Read the articles here.)
But the fact that the draft has moved from whispers to a document that’s being circulated in the House is significant because it reveals how the case against the Mueller probe, and in a related way against Rosenstein on various fronts, is only gaining steam as the Trump administration and many Republicans grow restless about what they call a “witch hunt.”
The inside-baseball squabble between Meadows and Rosenstein is about document requests related to the conduct of the federal officials working on the Russia probe — which is also examining whether Trump officials had improper contact with Russian officials and whether the president himself sought to obstruct Mueller's investigation. The investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server is another area of interest.
But the impeachment warnings are also about how little faith many Republicans close to Trump have in the Justice Department — and how charged the political climate has become. In such an environment, what was once thought impossible suddenly seems possible to many of my sources: the firing of Rosenstein or Mueller — or least a dramatic disruption of the probe just as it moves toward its next stage.
Democrats are alarmed. They tell me the impeachment talk and document clashes are all about crippling Mueller’s investigation. Meadows, meanwhile, insisted in an interview on Monday that his efforts are serious and argued that Rosenstein is his target in this back-and-forth — not that investigative sphinx, Mueller.
When Rosenstein ducks out this time is anyone’s guess — but his exit could do more to shape the rest of this midterm-election year than anyone else who was sitting in a tuxedo on Saturday night.
The Cybersecurity 202 is coming to your inboxes on May 9. Derek Hawkins will break down the latest news on election security, major hacks and what lawmakers are planning to do about it all in the newest member of our 202 franchise. Sign up here.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Mueller provided Trump’s legal team with at least four dozen questions he wants answered in an interview with the president — offering the most detailed look yet of the direction of the special counsel’s probe. The New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt reports: “The majority relate to possible obstruction of justice ... Among them are queries on any discussions Mr. Trump had about his attempts to fire Mr. Mueller himself and what the president knew about possible pardon offers to [Michael] Flynn. A few questions reveal that Mr. Mueller is still investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. In one of the more tantalizing inquiries, Mr. Mueller asks what Mr. Trump knew about campaign aides, including [Paul Manafort], seeking assistance from Moscow … No such outreach has been revealed publicly.”
- “The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president’s thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers. They deal chiefly with the president’s high-profile firings of [James Comey] and [Flynn], his treatment of [Jeff Sessions], and a 2016 Trump Tower meeting …”
- “But they also touch on the president’s businesses; any discussions with [Michael Cohen] about a Moscow real estate deal; whether the president knew of any attempt by [Jared Kushner] to set up a back channel to Russia during the transition; any contacts he had with Roger J. Stone Jr. … and what happened during Mr. Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow …” (Read the questions here.)
-- Trump addressed the report in a pair of morning tweets:
So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media. No questions on Collusion. Oh, I see...you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2018
It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2018
GET SMART FAST:
- Australian Cardinal George Pell was ordered to face trial over sexual abuse allegations, making him the most senior Roman Catholic official to go to court in the scandal that has swept the church. Pell pleaded not guilty. (A. Odysseus Patrick)
- U.S. officials began processing asylum claims from eight members of the Central American migrant caravan. But the Justice Department has filed criminal charges against another 11 of the caravan’s members for illegally entering the country. (Maya Averbuch and Joshua Partlow)
- A security officer at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad was charged with obstructing an investigation into a car accident involving an embassy vehicle. The incident comes a few weeks after the American Embassy’s military attaché, Col. Joseph E. Hall, allegedly ran a red light and killed a motorcycle passenger. Hall has evaded criminal charges due to his diplomatic immunity, causing street protests in Pakistan. (New York Times)
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) plan to host major fundraisers together over the coming months. The arrangement could boost McCarthy’s speakership bid as Ryan prepares to retire. (Mike DeBonis)
- The billionaire CEO and co-founder of WhatsApp is planning to leave after clashing with Facebook, the app's parent company. Jan Koum battled with Facebook over the social media giant’s attempts to use WhatsApp’s personal data and weaken its encryption. (Elizabeth Dwoskin)
- The Supreme Court took up the case of a Missouri prison inmate who claims the state’s form of execution will cause him to experience an excruciating death. Russell Bucklew, who suffers from a rare disease called cavernous hemangioma, claims a lethal injection will cause him to choke on his own blood. The court will hear his case in the term that begins in October. (Robert Barnes)
- Failed Senate candidate Roy Moore filed a defamation lawsuit claiming he was the target of what he called a “political conspiracy” in the run-up to Alabama’s special election. The complaint names four women who publicly accused Moore of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was an assistant district attorney. (Beth Reinhard)
- The FBI is investigating more than 50 unsolicited care packages sent to elementary school-age girls. The packages were sent by a so-called “Atur Bhuck,” who claims to be a 14-year-old mentally disabled boy from New Mexico, who asks the girls to email him. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
Brain scans of an alleged 9/11 plotter suggest he may have been abused in CIA custody. Khalid Sheik Mohammed could avoid the death penalty if his lawyers submit proof of a traumatic brain injury. (Miami Herald)
- Investigators used DNA recovered from one of the Golden State Killer’s crime scenes to find the predator’s great-great grandparents, who lived in the early 1800s. From there, detectives spent four months building out 25 family trees that eventually led them to Joseph James DeAngelo. (Justin Jouvenal)
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:
-- Current and former White House officials say John Kelly has eroded West Wing morale in recent months by insulting Trump’s intelligence, calling him an “idiot” and casting himself as the “savior of the country.” NBC News’s Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube, Kristen Welker and Stephanie Ruhle report: “The officials said Kelly portrays himself to Trump administration aides as the lone bulwark against catastrophe, curbing the erratic urges of a president who has a questionable grasp on policy issues and the functions of government.
‘He doesn't even understand what DACA is. He's an idiot,’ Kelly said in one meeting, according to two officials who were present. ‘We've got to save him from himself.’ … Some [said] they expect Kelly to leave by July, his one-year mark. But others say it's anyone's guess. What's clear is both Trump and Kelly seem to have tired of each other. ... In one heated exchange between the two men before February's Winter Olympics in South Korea, Kelly strongly — and successfully — dissuaded Trump from ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, according to two officials.”
-- Kelly immediately responded to the NBC report, saying in a statement that it was “total B.S.” “I am committed to the President, his agenda, and our country,” Kelly said. “This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to [Trump] and distract from the administration’s many successes.”
- “The Washington Post has not independently confirmed that Kelly called Trump an ‘idiot,’ but the chief of staff has occasionally referred to the president in derisive terms and has threatened to quit,” Josh Dawsey reports.
- Kelly’s deputy, Zach Fuentes, told the Washington Examiner his boss is on “solid footing” in the West Wing, and has “no plans to leave unless he’s asked to.” Gabby Morrongiello reports: “Fuentes accused unnamed colleagues who see Kelly ‘as an obstacle to their own agendas’ of trying to anger Trump by planting negative stories [in] the press. He likened the situation to the one Rex Tillerson faced … claiming the former Exxon executive was deliberately tormented by stories that infuriated Trump until the president ultimately fired him in March. ‘I think there are a couple of people here at the White House who would like to see him gone and every time things start to go right, they try to knife him like this,’ Fuentes said.”
-- Kelly is in the running to become Trump’s new VA secretary, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas. “Mr. Trump has publicly said he wants someone with ‘political capability’ to run the 370,000-person department. But another priority is picking someone with a strong chance of winning Senate confirmation, a person close to the White House said. … Yet moving Mr. Kelly to a cabinet post would add disruption to a White House marked by record-setting turnover. … Another candidate in the mix for the VA post is Anthony Tersigni, the president and chief executive of U.S. hospital giant Ascension … Also on the shortlist is former Florida congressman Jeff Miller, who supported the president in the 2016 campaign. Mr. Miller chaired the House Veterans Affairs Committee before leaving Congress in 2017 … ”
From a New York Times reporter:
To echo Swan, rarely is Fuentes on the record - and openly pointing to an attempted coup on Kelly is quite something. https://t.co/fxx3QqtMIs— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) April 30, 2018
-- The Pentagon’s inspector general has started examining allegations against Trump’s former personal physician, Ronny Jackson. Seung Min Kim and Dan Lamothe report: “[Defense Department spokesman Tom Crosson said the IG’s office] ‘is assessing what investigations and reviews have already been conducted related to these issues, any jurisdictional issues that may relate to the allegations, and the scope of the allegations and complaints related to these issues.’ From there, ‘The Inspector General’s office will determine what investigations or actions are warranted regarding these allegations and complaints,’ Crosson said.”
-- Mike Pence’s physician privately sounded the alarm about Jackson last fall — telling White House officials that Trump’s doctor may have violated federal privacy protections by “inappropriately intervening” in a medical situation involving the second lady. CNN’s Manu Raju reports: “[Pence's] doctor accused Jackson of overstepping his authority … as well as potentially violating federal privacy rights by briefing White House staff and disclosing details to other medical providers ... After [Karen Pence's] physician briefed her about the episode, she ‘also expressed concerns over the potential breach of privacy of her medical condition,’ the memo said. Karen Pence asked her physician to direct the vice president's top aide, Nick Ayers, to inform [John Kelly] about the matter. Subsequent memos from Pence's doctor suggested Kelly was aware of the episode. [Pence’s] physician later wrote in a memo of feeling intimidated by an irate Jackson … [and described] a pattern of behavior from Jackson that made the physician ‘uncomfortable’ and even consider resigning from his position.”
-- An EPA whistleblower accused Administrator Scott Pruitt of “bold-faced” lying to members of Congress in his testimony last week. ABC News’s Kyra Phillips, Stephanie Ebbs, John Santucci and Matthew Mosk report: “[F]ormer deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski said he was ‘100 percent’ forced out after raising concerns about Pruitt's spending on first-class travel. … Chmielewski said that when a manager told him Pruitt wanted him fired he said that he also wanted to place one of his aides, [Millan] Hupp, into the deputy chief of staff job. Hupp was one of the aides that was granted a controversial raise that Pruitt said he reversed and that he didn't know the specific amount. Chmielewski said the raise was ‘100 percent Pruitt.’ … When asked about Chmielewski's situation Pruitt said last week during congressional testimony that the former deputy chief of staff resigned, but Chmielewski says that he was fired and that the agency has been trying to discredit him.”
-- Meanwhile, the EPA granted a financial hardship waiver to the oil refinery of billionaire Carl Icahn, a former Trump adviser who is currently being investigated by DOJ for allegedly attempting to influence biofuels policy in his advisory role. Reuters’s Jarrett Renshaw and Chris Prentice report: “The waiver enables Icahn’s CVR Energy Inc (CVI.N) to avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs related to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program … [The exemption] prompted criticism from a corn state lawmaker and the powerful corn lobby, which has already accused Trump’s EPA of overusing the hardship waiver program in a way that hurts demand for ethanol.”
-- Acting ICE director Thomas Homan announced he will step down from his job. Nick Miroff reports: “Homan was named ICE’s acting director soon after Trump took office … and the tough-talking, barrel-chested former Border Patrol agent quickly became an unapologetic enthusiast for the administration’s more aggressive enforcement approach. Under Homan, immigration arrests surged 40 percent after agents scrapped an Obama administration policy of targeting serious or violent criminal offenders in favor of casting a wider net. Homan said those living illegally in the United States ‘should be afraid’ that his agents could be coming for them. Pleased with Homan’s beat-cop demeanor, Trump picked him for the permanent ICE leadership role in November.
But his nomination went nowhere and never reached a vote on the Senate floor. In recent months, Homan told friends and co-workers he felt increasingly sidelined by his boss, [DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen] … Homan informed Nielsen in early February of his plans to retire, but she urged him to delay the announcement because there was already so much turnover at the highest levels of the Trump administration[.]”
-- “Meet the Schlapps, Washington’s Trump-Era ‘It Couple,’” by the New York Times’s Elizabeth Williamson: “[Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union,] and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, the director of strategic communications at the White House, are the most visible in the city’s cadre of conservative Republicans who, faced with a populist Trump juggernaut, chose to scramble aboard. This past weekend they aired their disgust at [Wolf’s] takedown of Sarah Huckabee Sanders ... at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. ‘It’s why America hates the out of touch leftist media elite,’ Ms. Schlapp tweeted from a limousine en route to an exclusive after-party organized by NBC/MSNBC. … To some Republicans the Schlapps are a conservative ‘it couple.’ To others they’re opportunists. Either way, they’re symbolic of a deep rift within their party.”
-- CDC Director Robert Redfield wants to cut his $375,000 salary — almost twice what his predecessor earned — after critics raised questions about it. Lena H. Sun reports: “Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar agreed to Robert Redfield's request, an HHS spokesperson said[.] Redfield told Azar that he did not want his compensation to become a distraction for his work at CDC."
-- A national security panel scuttled a Chinese conglomerate’s planned purchase of SkyBridge Capital, the investment firm founded by Anthony Scarmaucci. From the Wall Street Journal’s Julie Steinberg, Kate O’Keeffe and Rob Copeland: “The multiagency panel, called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., privately told both firms it would only approve the deal subject to concessions that would have essentially left the two companies operating separately, people familiar with the matter said. Both sides decided to move on … The CFIUS panel, which can recommend the president block transactions, has grown increasingly wary of Chinese deals. Critics say such investments can pose disproportionate risks to national security because Chinese companies may be directed and subsidized by the government of China … ”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Trump announced another one-month exemption on steel and aluminum tariffs for Canada, Mexico and the European Union as he tries to extract trade-related concessions from the U.S. allies. Steven Mufson and Damian Paletta report: “The late announcement — the tariffs would have kicked in at midnight — is the latest unexpected directive in Trump’s four-month effort to upend the United States’ trade relationship with more than a dozen countries. Some countries have received preferential treatment by agreeing to early changes, such as South Korea. Others, such as Japan, have been rebuffed despite repeated overtures from their leaders. The administration has reached agreements in principle on the metals trade with Argentina, Australia and Brazil and is extending negotiations with Canada, Mexico and the European Union for a final 30 days, a modest reprieve.”
-- China plans to take a hard line on trade when a delegation from the Trump administration arrives in Beijing later this week. From the New York Times’s Keith Bradsher: “The Chinese government is publicly calling for flexibility on both sides. But senior Beijing officials do not plan to discuss the two biggest requests that the Trump administration has made over the past several months, according to people involved in Chinese policymaking. Those include a mandatory $100 billion cut in America’s $375 billion annual trade deficit with China and curbs on Beijing’s $300 billion plan to bankroll the country’s industrial upgrade into advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, semiconductors, electric cars and commercial aircraft.”
Trump expressed optimism about the Beijing talks in a morning tweet:
Delegation heading to China to begin talks on the Massive Trade Deficit that has been created with our Country. Very much like North Korea, this should have been fixed years ago, not now. Same with other countries and NAFTA...but it will all get done. Great Potential for USA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2018
-- Trump said he is considering holding a summit with Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone with South Korea because of the potential to have a “great celebration.” David Nakamura and John Wagner report: “Trump also disclosed that Singapore was a leading option, but he said he was intrigued at the idea of using ‘Peace House,’ a three-story South Korean building ... where Kim met last week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. ‘There’s something I like about it because you’re there,’ [Trump] said. ‘If things work out, there’s a great celebration to be had on site.’ But some Trump aides had been wary of having the president travel to meet Kim so close to his own turf, lest it appear too deferential and come off as a meeting between equally powerful world leaders. [And his embrace of the site could be risky since] a ‘celebration’ … could be premature.”
-- And South Korea has kept up its efforts to flatter Trump ahead of the summit: Moon said Trump “deserves a Nobel Peace Prize” for his efforts to end the standoff with North Korea. (Reuters)
-- “Nearly nine years after [Obama] was awarded the prize, a growing chorus of Trump boosters argue that the current president should receive it as well,” write Anne Gearan and Ashley Parker. “But even the prospect of a Nobel Prize for Trump has set off a fierce partisan debate over whether such an honor is deserved so early in negotiations — especially given North Korea’s long history of dangling promises regarding its nuclear capability upon which it later fails to deliver. … But Trump appears to delight in the prospect that he could collect the Holy Grail of statesmanship — and do it for fostering peace with a country he threatened months ago to ‘totally destroy.’”
-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country had obtained documents showing Iran lied about the history of its weapons program when it signed the 2015 nuclear deal. Loveday Morris and Karen DeYoung report: “In a televised speech from Tel Aviv, Netanyahu dramatically pulled a curtain away from a shelf of files that he said were copies of some of the 55,000 documents that Israel had obtained from Iran’s secret nuclear archive. Most of the documents, as described, dated from 2003 and before, when Iran had a clandestine weapons development program dubbed ‘Project Amad.’ In his remarks, Netanyahu said the cache contained evidence Iran had breached [the nuclear deal].”
Trump told reporters in Washington that Netanyahu’s claims “showed that I’ve been 100 percent right” in describing the nuclear agreement as the “worst deal” ever signed. “We’ll see what happens,” he said of a looming May 12 deadline regarding the deal.
-- Mike Pompeo expressed support for Israel’s response to deadly protests in Gaza, saying the United States is “fully supportive” of Israel’s right to defend itself. The New York Times’s Gardiner Harris reports: “Protesters in Gaza have massed along the border with Israel for five straight Fridays, part of a series of demonstrations intended to draw attention to the situation for Palestinians, leading up to a final demonstration on May 15, when perhaps tens of thousands of people might rush the fortified barrier with Israel. Initially advertised by Hamas … as peaceful protests, they have been marked by the use of homemade fire bombs by Palestinians and deadly force on the part of Israel.”
Pompeo pointedly also refused to fully endorse the two-state solution. “Mr. Pompeo called the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict ‘important,’ but he added, ‘So, precisely how to rank it among all the various challenges, I’ll defer on that. I know that it is an incredible priority for the United States to provide whatever assistance we can …’”
-- Trump indicated to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) he wanted to move to end the war in Afghanistan. From Michael Scherer, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey: “[Paul,] a rare noninterventionist Republican, was signaling that he would oppose Trump’s [secretary of state] pick, [Pompeo], a hawkish former congressman who had backed the Iraq War. But the more Trump and Paul spoke, including three calls April 23, the more assured Paul became that the president was moving back toward the noninterventionist worldview that Trump had championed on the campaign trail. The conversations left Paul with a particularly enticing notion: that Trump was prepared to end the war in Afghanistan. ‘The president told me over and over again in general we’re getting the hell out of there,’ Paul said in an interview … The two men discussed no exit dates and did not strike a written agreement.”
-- Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters he would not want to remove U.S. troops from Syria before securing peace (another break from his boss, who has said he also wants to exit Syria). “We do not want to simply pull out before the diplomats have won the peace. You win the fight — and then you win the peace,” Mattis said. (Reuters)
-- Britain’s home secretary resigned amid a scandal over deportation quotas for illegal immigrants. Karla Adam and William Booth report: “[Amber] Rudd first told Parliament that there were no national quotas, then amended her remarks and said that maybe there were some. Finally, the Guardian produced a private letter Rudd sent to May outlining her commitment to increase deportations by 10 percent, which included numbers and targets. … On Monday, her replacement was named: Sajid Javid, a successful investor, experienced government minister and the first member of an ethnic minority to hold the position of home secretary."
THE REST OF TRUMP’S AGENDA:
-- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized the GOP tax bill for disproportionately benefiting corporations. “There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” Rubio told the Economist in a recent interview. “In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.” A spokeswoman for Rubio later added, “As he said when the tax law passed, cutting the corporate tax rate will make America a more competitive place to do business, but he tried to balance that with an even larger child tax credit for working Americans.” (Jeff Stein)
-- Case in point: The heavy-machinery giant Caterpillar has used its cash from the tax bill to repurchase its own stock in order to return money to shareholders. The New York Times’s Matt Phillips and Jim Tankersley report: “[S]o far, hard evidence of [an acceleration in investment] has yet to appear in economic data, which show more of a steady investment roll than a rapid escalation. And while there are pockets of the economy where investment is picking up — among large tech companies and in shale oil business, for example — corporate spending on buying back stock is increasing at a far faster clip, prompting a debate about whether the law is returning money to the overall economy or just rewarding a small segment of investors.”
... MORE 'STORM' CLOUDS:
-- Stormy Daniels filed a second lawsuit against Trump, accusing the president of defaming her by dismissing her claim that she was threatened in 2011 after giving an interview to InTouch magazine about their alleged affair as a “con job.” Beth Reinhard reports: “[During a ‘60 Minutes’ interview in March, Daniels] said she was with her infant daughter when a man approached her in a Las Vegas parking lot, told her to ‘leave Trump alone’ and said it would be ‘a shame if something happened’ to her. Daniels never reported the incident to police. … But after [her ‘60 Minutes’ appearance], she released a sketch of the man two weeks ago. Trump responded on Twitter: ‘A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!’ Daniels’s lawsuit, filed Monday in the federal court in the Southern District of New York, said Trump’s tweet is ‘false and defamatory.’”
-- The Trump campaign has shelled out nearly $228,000 to cover some of the legal fees for Michael Cohen, raising more questions about whether his team may have violated campaign finance laws. ABC News’s Katherine Faulders, John Santucci and Soo Rin Kim report: “[FEC] records show three payments made from the Trump campaign to a firm representing Cohen. The ‘legal consulting’ payments were made to McDermott Will and Emery — a law firm where Cohen's attorney Stephen Ryan is a partner — between October 2017 and January 2018. It was those three payments, [sources said], that were related to Cohen’s legal defense. Cohen has said that he did not have a formal role in the Trump campaign, and it is illegal to spend campaign funds for personal use … Legal experts told ABC News that if the payments referenced in the FEC filings are related to the Russia investigation, they likely wouldn't violate campaign finance law ... If the payments are related to the Stormy Daniels matter, however, the campaign could have a problem.”
-- More costs for Cohen: New York hit Trump’s “fixer” with another $185,000 in state warrants for unpaid taxes on his cab companies. “Added to his previous tab, that brings the total to $282,000 owed to New York state by 16 taxi medallion-holding companies owned by Cohen or members of his family,” reports Bloomberg News's Bob Van Voris.
-- Actress Ashley Judd has sued Harvey Weinstein, who she claims cost her a major role after she rejected his sexual advances. The New York Times’s Brooks Barnes reports: “The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, involves [Peter] Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, the first of which was released in 2001. Mr. Jackson had wanted to cast Ms. Judd in a prominent role in the series. But Mr. Weinstein ‘torpedoed Ms. Judd’s incredible professional opportunity,’ according to the complaint, by falsely telling Mr. Jackson that Ms. Judd was a ‘nightmare’ who should be avoided ‘at all costs.’ If successful, the lawsuit could clarify sexual harassment protections for those in nontraditional business relationships.”
JOHN MCCAIN’S NEW BOOK:
-- In his memoir set to be released later this month, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) takes aim at Trump’s leadership. “The appearance of toughness, or a reality show facsimile of toughness, seems to matter more than any of our values,” McCain writes in the book, entitled “The Restless Wave.” The six-term senator adds Trump “has declined to distinguish the actions of our government from the crimes of despotic ones.” From John Wagner: “In the book, McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer and says he feels more free to speak out because he is not seeking reelection, writes that he has sometimes heatedly disagreed with all six of the presidents who have held office during his 36 years on Capitol Hill.”
McCain also argues that compromise is a virtue: “If a candidate for Congress pledges to ride his white horse to Washington and lay waste to all the scoundrels living off your taxes, to never work or socialize or compromise with any of them, and then somehow get them to bow to your will and the superiority of your ideas, don’t vote for that guy. … It sounds exciting, but it’s an empty boast and a commitment to more gridlock. … [The right candidate] modestly promises to build relationships on both sides of the aisle, to form alliances to promote their ideas, to respect other points of view, and to split differences where possible to make measurable progress on national problems.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump endorsed congressional term limits:
I recently had a terrific meeting with a bipartisan group of freshman lawmakers who feel very strongly in favor of Congressional term limits. I gave them my full support and endorsement for their efforts. #DrainTheSwamp— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
He later went after Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) again, this time on immigration policy (Tester exposed allegations against Ronny Jackson, effectively torpedoing his nomination as VA secretary):
The migrant ‘caravan’ that is openly defying our border shows how weak & ineffective U.S. immigration laws are. Yet Democrats like Jon Tester continue to support the open borders agenda – Tester even voted to protect Sanctuary Cities. We need lawmakers who will put America First.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
A Post reporter replied:
Tester is getting a prolonged presidential pummeling like we haven't seen in a while. https://t.co/1hgbqVFaba— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) April 30, 2018
Trump seemed to respond to allegations that John Kelly called him an "idiot" (which Kelly denied):
The Fake News is going crazy making up false stories and using only unnamed sources (who don’t exist). They are totally unhinged, and the great success of this Administration is making them do and say things that even they can’t believe they are saying. Truly bad people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
The White House is running very smoothly despite phony Witch Hunts etc. There is great Energy and unending Stamina, both necessary to get things done. We are accomplishing the unthinkable and setting positive records while doing so! Fake News is going “bonkers!”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
An MSNBC host and former communications director to George W. Bush replied:
“Truly bad people” - my amazing and brilliant colleagues who reported a story with 8 sources. I hope everyone who attacked Saturday night’s comedy act lets that sink in. https://t.co/Gu9Otxrllb— Nicolle Wallace (@NicolleDWallace) April 30, 2018
The former director of the Office of Government Ethics also responded:
While she lived, she reached heights magnificent and depths terrible; her gifts beatific, her crimes ghastly, she was not wholly good or bad, but awesome to behold. In the end...well, in the end, she slipped on a banana peel and died.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) April 30, 2018
Died 7:02 p.m. 4/30/18 pic.twitter.com/aKOGXOZKDa
George W. Bush's former press secretary applauded the Israeli prime minister:
This is one powerful presentation by @netanyahu.— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) April 30, 2018
Anyone who doesn’t think Iran was lying and still is lying doesn’t know Iran.
From a Post reporter:
Wasn’t Obama administration and Netanyahu Iran policy based on the assumption/evidence the Iranian program was for military use? Why is it revelatory to prove the lies you already knew were lies? The deal was reached on this basis. https://t.co/6WZAEnr4Us— Scott Wilson (@PostScottWilson) April 30, 2018
From a CNN executive producer:
Netanyahu is speaking in English, which I assume is because he's not trying to convince Israelis of the evidence he's found. He's trying to convince someone else who might pull out of the Iran deal in 12 days.— David P Gelles (@gelles) April 30, 2018
Michelle Wolf's performance at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner set a new record:
NOW NEW RECORD:— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) April 30, 2018
In under two days, the @cspan YouTube of @michelleisawolf performance at @whca dinner just became the most-commented-on C-SPAN YouTube ever...
Right now: 23,845 comments on her video.
Pushed down into the number 2 spot: Obama at 2011 WHCA dinner, 23,768 comments pic.twitter.com/5aTmm6343y
From a Daily Beast writer:
Spending the next few days arguing over Michelle Wolf’s WHCD speech is a great way for the media to show that we really have sound editorial priorities.— Sam Stein (@samstein) April 30, 2018
A New York Times reporter suggested an alternative format:
Modest proposal for WHCA:— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) April 30, 2018
—lose the cameras
—lose the roast
—celebrate the best of WH reporting
—instead of sources & celebrities, invite reporters working without the blessing of the First Amendment
—every year, pay tribute to reporters overseas who were killed for their work
Seth Meyers thanked Trump for referencing his 2011 performance at the dinner:
You remembered!!! Happy Anniversary, Boo https://t.co/CywS8bxz8b— Seth Meyers (@sethmeyers) April 30, 2018
Cecile Richards's daughter, who also serves as communications director to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), celebrated her mother's tenure as president of Planned Parenthood:
For 12 yrs, Mom has put her heart & soul into running Planned Parenthood. On her last day, it’s impossible to express what this org has meant to her & our family.— Lily Adams (@adamslily) April 30, 2018
We can’t wait to continue to support it as a few of the 11 million supporters across the country. #ThankYouCecile pic.twitter.com/T1NVQhfNip
-- “Crimes are no longer a disqualification for Republican candidates,” by Michael Scherer: “Former New York congressman Michael Grimm is a felon who has admitted to hiring undocumented workers, hiding $900,000 from tax authorities and making false statements under oath. To hear him tell it, that’s a reason Staten Island Republicans should vote him back into office. … Grimm has uncovered a new reality in the constantly changing world of Republican politics: Criminal convictions, once seen as career-enders, are no longer disqualifying. In the era of [Trump], even time spent in prison can be turned into a positive talking point, demonstrating a candidate’s battle scars in a broader fight against what he perceives as liberal corruption.”
-- Politico, “Baby Breitbarts to pop up across the country?” by Jason Schwartz: “In March, Congresswoman Diane Black … put out a campaign ad that seemed at first glance to be utterly textbook: a scene of [Trump] embracing her, [paired with headline from] the Tennessee Star. Close watchers may have had just one question: What is the Tennessee Star? Visitors to its website would have had a hard time figuring that out, [since] there was no information indicating that the Star is, in fact, a right-wing site, described by many as a ‘Tennessee Breitbart.’ … Launched in February 2017, the Star is part of a growing trend of opaque, locally focused, ideological outlets, dressed up as traditional newspapers. From the Arizona Monitor to the Maine Examiner, sites with names and layouts designed to echo those of nonpartisan publications — and with varying levels of credibility — have emerged across the country, aimed at influencing local politics by stepping into the coverage void left by the collapsing finances of local newspapers.”
-- The New Yorker, “The Digital Vigilantes Who Hack Back,” by Nicholas Schmidle: “American companies that fall victim to data breaches want to retaliate against the culprits. But can they do so without breaking the law?”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Documents show ties between university, conservative donors,” from the AP: “Virginia’s largest public university granted the conservative Charles Koch Foundation a say in the hiring and firing of professors in exchange for millions of dollars in donations, according to newly released documents. The release of donor agreements between George Mason University and the foundation follows years of denials by university administrators that Koch foundation donations inhibit academic freedom. ... The newly released agreements spell out million-dollar deals in which the Koch Foundation endows a fund to pay the salary of one or more professors at the university’s Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank. The agreements require creation of five-member selection committees to choose the professors and grant the donors the right to name two of the committee members.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“U.S. Secretary of the Interior gets hands dirty, helps jump-start Kodak woman's car,” from the Knoxville News-Sentinel: “Belinda Drew’s car was in the repair shop needing a new alternator, so Sunday morning she had to take her daughter’s car to get to work at the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg. Except, as she quickly learned, her daughter’s white Buick was nearly out of gas. So, Drew, a Kodak resident, pulled off [to refill the tank] … [But when] she got back in the car … it wouldn’t start. ‘I said, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.’ It was just dead,’ she recounted[.] It was then that Drew noticed two men standing outside of a Chevrolet Suburban parked with the rear facing the Pilot store. She asked the men if they had jumper cables. What she didn’t know but would soon find out was the car belonged to [Ryan Zinke] … ‘I wouldn’t expect someone like that to help me out … leave it to me, if it was President Trump I probably would have asked him too,’ she said laughing.”
Trump will present the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the U.S. Military Academy football team in the Rose Garden this afternoon. He will later welcome crew and passengers from the Southwest Airlines flight that suffered engine failure two weeks ago to the White House.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
In his new book, John McCain calls himself “a champion of compromise in the governance of a country of 325 million opinionated, quarrelsome, vociferous souls.” He adds, “There is no other way to govern an open society, or more precisely, to govern it effectively.” (John Wagner)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- D.C. will kick off May with a “Nice Day!” designation. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “[A] cool morning gives way to pleasantly warm conditions in the middle to upper 70s to even the low 80s. Light breezes blow from the west, while humidity stays very low.”
-- The Nationals beat the Pirates 3-2. (Chelsea Janes)
-- Certain Virginia towns will hold elections today for mayor, local councils and school boards. From Antonio Olivo: “In Northern Virginia, election campaigns in municipalities in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Fauquier counties have mostly centered on how to keep the character of smaller communities intact amid steady growth in the Washington region.”
-- Authorities continue to work to identify the three women whose remains were found in and near a Congress Heights apartment building. From Peter Hermann and Clarence Williams: “D.C. police and the medical examiner warned it could take some time to identify the remains and say how and when the women died. In addition to forensic work, detectives are scouring through missing persons reports, reaching out to current and past tenants of the apartment building and learning the property’s history.”
-- Virginia plans to adjust the pricing algorithm on the 66 Express Lanes to lower tolls that have occasionally topped $40. (Luz Lazo)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Late-night hosts defended Michelle Wolf's performance at the correspondents' dinner:
Margaret Brennan of “Face the Nation” sat down with Stephen Colbert to discuss her new role and reveal some “breaking personal news”:
Mike Pence visited the border between California and Mexico:
West Virginia GOP Senate candidate and formerly imprisoned coal baron Don Blankenship released an ad in which he calls Mitch McConnell “Cocaine Mitch”:
(From Politico: "[Blakenship] offers no context for the jab. But he may be referring to a 2014 report in the liberal Nation magazine that drugs were once found aboard a shipping vessel owned by the family of McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.")
And pictures of a VA clinic room filled with trash went viral: