With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: Look at how Kevin McCarthy spent his Wednesday to understand how the immigration debate could rip apart the Republican coalition.
-- The House majority leader began the day by pleading with Republican lawmakers at a closed-door meeting not to sign onto a discharge petition that would force an up-or-down vote on protecting “dreamers,” whose status has been in jeopardy since President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last year.
McCarthy warned members that passing a moderate immigration bill would make it much easier for Democrats to win control of the House — by depressing conservative base turnout and derailing the rest of the GOP agenda.
-- Disregarding this appeal, Reps. John Katko (N.Y.) and David Trott (Mich.) became the 19th and 20th Republicans to endorse the effort a few hours later. These vulnerable incumbents feel pressure back home to help the young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Assuming every Democrat signs on, which is expected, that means just five more Republicans are needed.
-- McCarthy then headed over to the White House for a roundtable on California’s role as a “sanctuary state,” which lets local governments withhold some information on immigrants from federal authorities. During the televised meeting, Trump urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate a Democratic mayor for obstruction of justice because she tipped off the immigrant community about an impending raid in February. “You talk about obstruction of justice — I would recommend that you look into obstruction of justice for the mayor of Oakland, California, Jeff,” Trump said.
The president also touted how aggressively he’s stepping up deportations of violent criminals and gang members. “We have people coming into the country — or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump said. “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
The language echoed the speech Trump used to announce his presidential campaign three years ago next month, in which he said Mexico was sending rapists and drug dealers to the U.S. It is just the latest example of the president using his bully pulpit in a way that guarantees immigration will be a top-tier issue in the midterms.
-- If it wasn’t enough to keep the moderates from jumping ship, McCarthy then faced threats yesterday afternoon from leaders of the House Freedom Caucus that they will hold up the passage of the farm bill this week if they don’t get a vote for a more conservative immigration bill they prefer, which was co-authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.).
-- McCarthy’s day ended in Paul Ryan’s office, where he and the speaker summoned leaders of the effort to protect the dreamers. “Their message, according to attendees, was that efforts were underway at the highest levels, including with the White House, to get immigration legislation on the House floor before the midterm elections,” Mike DeBonis reports. “Still, the 20 House Republicans who have signed the petition have made clear they are done waiting after years of hoping their party’s leaders would bring some immigration bill — any immigration bill — to the floor.”
-- This open rebellion really is extraordinarily unusual. These renegade Republicans risk retribution from party chieftains by signing onto this petition over the strenuous public and private objections of leadership. But these lawmakers feel caught between a rock and a hard place: They also realize that they may lose reelection in November if they do nothing.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who filed the “discharge petition,” is running for reelection in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 16 points.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who is another leader of the effort, represents a district Clinton won by three points. Responding to McCarthy’s warning that Democrats could win the House if they go through with it, Denham told DeBonis: “I also believe the majority is at stake if we do nothing.”
-- McCarthy’s home state of California is a useful case study. In 1994, California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson embraced Proposition 187 — which barred undocumented immigrants from getting public services — in a calculated effort to shore up support for his reelection campaign. This worked in the short-term, but more than anything else it guaranteed the GOP would become a minority party in the Golden State. Republicans have never recovered, yet the national party is in the process of following the same path.
Notably, one of the 20 signatories of the petition is David Valadao — who represents a Central Valley district in California that borders McCarthy’s. Trump lost his agricultural district, which is heavily Latino, by 16 points. “A lot of people voted for lots of members of Congress because they wanted something done on Dreamers, and they wanted something done on DACA, they wanted something done on immigration, and this would allow them that opportunity to do their job and have that vote,” Valadao told the Bakersfield NBC affiliate last night.
-- McCarthy is in a safely red district, and he’s much less concerned about winning reelection in nearby Bakersfield than he is about locking down the votes to succeed Ryan as the Republican leader in the next Congress. McCarthy doesn’t want to do anything that alienates his right flank, but he’s also being especially careful to not alienate Trump. Everyone on the Hill remembers how his last bid for speaker fell apart, but the conventional wisdom among GOP insiders is that McCarthy can win the top job so long as he has the president’s outspoken support. The high praise that Trump heaped on McCarthy at the White House yesterday shows the majority leader’s maneuvering is paying off.
-- It’s also worth looking at developments over the past week in two states that border California:
-- When Trump joined Senate Republicans for lunch on Tuesday, Nevada’s Dean Heller pleaded with him not to force a government shut down over funding for a border wall — at least until after the midterms.
The federal government will run out of money on Sept. 30. Trump is mad that he got rolled during the past few negotiations, and he has said he’ll play hardball to force Congress to pony up money for his wall. The president recently tweeted that the Senate should not take an August recess unless the border is secured.
But Heller is the most vulnerable GOP incumbent up for reelection this year, and a fight over the wall would galvanize low-propensity Hispanic voters at his expense. The president lost Nevada in 2016.
“We need to get this done,” a noncommittal Trump told Heller, according to Politico. “We’ll see what happens.”
-- In Arizona, meanwhile, the establishment favorite in the primary to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R) continues to tack right on immigration. Rep. Martha McSally, trying to fend off former sheriff Joe Arpaio, formally withdrew her co-sponsorship of a bill (introduced by Curbelo) that would grant a pathway to citizenship for certain dreamers brought to the country at a young age over 10 years.
-- Also on Tuesday, a Georgia state senator who is running for governor launched what he’s calling a “Deportation Bus Tour” in the run-up to next week’s GOP primary. Michael Williams, who co-chaired Trump’s campaign in the Peach State, said his tour aims to “shine a light on the dangers of sanctuary cities and the overwhelming problem of illegal immigration.” His campaign bus has been painted gunmetal gray and is now labeled “Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molestors, and other criminals on board.” (The campaign misspelled molesters.) “Follow me to Mexico” is painted on the bumper, and “PRO-TRUMP” is painted on the side.
“We’re not just going to track them (and) watch them roam around our state. We’re going to put them on this bus, and send them home,” Williams says in a commercial.
Williams has been languishing in the single digits in a five-way race, so this is a Hail Mary pass, but it is also the sort of stunt that just a few years ago would have led to widespread condemnations from national Republican leaders, who used to be much more concerned about the party’s standing with Latinos.
-- Even mainstream Republicans, like Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota, are making “sanctuary cities” the centerpiece of their campaigns (he’s trying to win a primary). Virginia has no such cities, but gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie — a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who once emphasized the need for the party to become more inclusive — seized on the issue last fall to try ginning up Trump supporters. It helped tighten the polls, though he still lost.
-- Remember: The business community, a core Republican constituency, wants cheap labor and historically supports more open borders. Executives are uneasy with the direction of the debate. On Tuesday, I wrote about a Kentucky landscaper who might be forced to go out of business because Trump has made it harder to get permits for guest workers. He supported the president but feels betrayed, and he’s resentful that Trump can still get permits to bring in foreign workers for his golf courses in Florida.
-- But Trump ensures the issue stays salient by talking about it all the time. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen reportedly drafted a letter of resignation last week after Trump berated her during a Cabinet meeting over a spike in illegal border crossings in recent months. She told him that federal law limits what she can do about it. During yesterday’s roundtable, at which he referred to some immigrants as “animals,” he said Nielsen is “doing a good job.”
-- What’s striking against this backdrop is the unanimity that now exists among Democrats. Immigration used to divide the party, but even red state Democratic senators up for reelection have come around to support protections for dreamers in the past few years. (I explored how DACA became a Democratic litmus test in a Big Idea last September.)
-- Finally, officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection said yesterday that they are evaluating whether to remove a painting of an upside-down American flag — a military distress signal — that deported veterans painted on a border fence separating San Diego and Tijuana five years ago. “Advocates say there are hundreds or thousands of U.S. military veterans who have been deported, but the specific number is unclear,” Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports. “Navy veteran Amos Gregory — a muralist who leads Veterans Alley, a project that includes murals about the realities of war on Shannon Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood — worked with deported veterans to create the border painting five years ago. He said it wasn’t until just recently that officials seemed to care about it, noting that veteran artists first started getting calls from border officers after President Trump recently visited the area to inspect border wall prototypes.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Michigan State agreed to pay $500 million to settle lawsuits filed by 332 alleged victims of disgraced former sports physician Larry Nassar, ending the university’s involvement in litigation over the former Olympic gymnastics doctor’s rampant sexual abuse of girls and women. (Will Hobson and Cindy Boren)
- Embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed that he has established a legal-defense fund. “It’s been set up,” he told lawmakers at a Capitol Hill hearing yesterday, allowing Pruitt to tap into funds from friends and allies to defray costs associated with the various investigations into controversies surrounding him. (The Hill)
- The Senate voted 52 to 47 to restore net neutrality, delivering a symbolic blow to the FCC’s rollback of the regulations, which is slated to take effect next month. The legislation is unlikely to advance in the House. The resolution passed with the backing of all 49 Democratic senators and three Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. (Brian Fung)
- Emissions of a banned, ozone-destroying chemical have climbed by 25 percent since 2012, suggesting someone may be secretly manufacturing the CFC pollutant in violation of a decades-old international accord. (Chris Mooney)
- Dallas police arrested a 25-year-old man after he spent nine months posing as a high school freshman and talented member of the varsity basketball team. Sidney Gilstrap-Portley claimed to be a Hurricane Harvey refugee and came to the school in October. They believe his primary motivation was to relive his glory basketball glory days – which he did, temporarily. (Des Bieler)
- Apple is quietly exploring the idea of opening a campus in Northern Virginia for about 20,000 workers. Sources said the tech company is seeking 4 million square feet of office space — nearly two-thirds the size of the Pentagon and about half of what Amazon is seeking in its search for a second headquarters. (Jonathan O'Connell)
- The Broward County sheriff's deputy who stayed outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Fla., during the massacre is receiving a $100,000 pension, outraging parents of the victims. The deputy, who Trump has called a “coward,” began receiving his monthly pension last month after the county attorney general found no charges against him that would justify withholding it. (Alex Horton)
- The U.S. surgeon general, Jerome Adams, was the “doctor on board” a Delta Air Lines flight that returned to the gate after a passenger illness. It was unclear what ailed the passenger, but Adams tweeted that he or she was doing fine after he stepped in to help. (Herman Wong)
- The FDA reversed course on a $4.25 million no-bid grant to a Duke University health policy center led by former commissioner Mark McClellan. The about-face comes amid complaints of favoritism and concern about McClellan's role as a paid board member for Johnson & Johnson. (Carolyn Y. Johnson)
THE PRESIDENT'S FIXER:
-- In new financial-disclosure documents, Trump reported reimbursing more than $100,000 to Michael Cohen last year — an apparent reference to the $130,000 in hush money that the president's longtime personal lawyer funneled to adult actress Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell report: “The information was included as a footnote in the 92-page form filed with the Office of Government Ethics, which said in an accompanying letter that Trump should have listed the payment as a liability in his previous financial statement and referred the documents to the Justice Department. But Trump’s attorneys said the president was disclosing the payment voluntarily, not because it was required but ‘in the interest of transparency.’ ... ‘I think this is very significant,’ said Larry Noble, [the former] general counsel to the [FEC]. ‘I am not aware of any other time when the Office of Government Ethics has referred a sitting president to the Justice Department for review of a possible filing of a false ethics report.’”
-- The whistleblower who leaked Cohen’s financial records says he decided to share the document with reporters after suspicious transactions began disappearing from a government database. The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow reports: “The payments to Cohen that have emerged in the past week come primarily from a single document, a ‘suspicious-activity report’ filed by First Republic Bank, where Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., maintained an account. The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or SARS, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen’s account ... Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the [whistleblower], these SARS were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN. The official, who has spent a career in law enforcement, told me, ‘I have never seen something pulled off the system. … That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.’
“Seven former government officials and others familiar with the [FINCEN] database expressed varying levels of concern ... Some speculated that FINCEN may have restricted access to the reports due to the sensitivity of their content, which they said would be nearly unprecedented. One called the possibility ‘explosive.’ … Nevertheless, a former prosecutor who spent years working with the FINCEN database … speculated that FINCEN may have taken the extraordinary step of restricting access ‘because of the highly sensitive nature of a potential investigation. It may be that someone reached out to FINCEN to ask to limit disclosure of certain SARS related to an investigation, whether it was the special counsel or the Southern District of New York.’"
-- Cohen “solicited a payment of at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016 in exchange for access to and advice about the then-incoming administration, according to the recipient of the offer and several others with knowledge of the episode,” per Karen DeYoung, Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman. “The offer, which Qatar declined, came on the margins of a Dec. 12 meeting that year at Trump Tower between the Persian Gulf state’s foreign minister and Michael Flynn, who became Trump’s first national security adviser.”
-- FBI agents are probing Cohen’s $150,000 deal last year with a South Korean aerospace firm and recently interviewed the California man who served as a translator for the arrangement. Shawn Boburg and Aaron C. Davis report: “Mark Ko said in an [email] that he spoke with the FBI about the arrangement ‘a few weeks ago.’ Ko declined to provide details about investigators’ inquiries and said he was unsure whether the agents were part of the probe led by [Mueller]. Ko’s statement is the first indication that federal authorities are examining Cohen’s contract with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) — one of several companies with substantial business before the U.S. government that hired Cohen [after] the 2016 election. It also suggests the investigation into the payments has continued into recent weeks.”
“KAI, whose majority owner is the South Korean government, is partnered with [Lockheed Martin] in vying for a major contract to provide the U.S. Air Force with trainer jets. The contract could be worth more than $16 billion.”
Rudy Giuliani on Russia investigation: "When I ran against [Democrats] they were looking for dirt on me every day, I mean, that's what you do...Nothing illegal about that. And even if it comes from a Russian or a German or an American, it doesn't matter." @IngrahamAngle pic.twitter.com/ddFaxZR44z— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 17, 2018
MUELLER WAS APPOINTED SPECIAL COUNSEL ONE YEAR AGO TODAY:
-- Rudy Giuliani said last night that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team told Trump’s lawyers recently that prosecutors do not believe they can charge a sitting president with a crime under Justice Department guidelines. “The special counsel’s conclusion signals that it would be left to Congress to address any finding of wrongdoing by Trump in the investigation,” Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig report. “Mueller indicated in a meeting a few weeks ago that he concurred with the view that a sitting president cannot be indicted under past legal opinions issued by the Justice Department, Giuliani told The Washington Post. Giuliani said that Mueller at first tried to be ‘coy’ when Giuliani asked the special counsel for his stance on the issue. One of Mueller’s aides responded that the special counsel would follow Justice Department guidelines, he said. A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.”
- “Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted mobsters in New York, said Mueller appeared displeased when the deputy spoke up. He compared the special counsel’s reaction to that of Vito Corleone, the mob boss that Marlon Brando played in the movie ‘The Godfather.’ ‘He didn’t seem to want to give the answer,’ Giuliani said. ‘It reminded me of that scene in ‘The Godfather,’ with Sonny and the Godfather, where he said, ‘Oh, you’re going to take care of us? We can take care of ourselves.’ One of his assistants broke in and said, ‘Well of course, we’re bound by Justice Department policies.’ Mueller looked at him like, ‘Don’t interrupt me.'’’
- “Giuliani described the standoff between the two sides over a presidential interview as increasingly tense. Mueller’s office is seeking to sit down with Trump for 2 1/2 hours, he said.”
-- Rudy also advanced a new argument for why the Trump campaign did not collude with Russians eager to elect Trump: they didn't use any information that might have been proffered — and everyone seeks dirt on their opponents anyway. From a Fox interview with Laura Ingraham last night: "When I ran against [Democrats] they were looking for dirt on me every day, I mean, that's what you do...Nothing illegal about that. And even if it comes from a Russian or a German or an American, it doesn't matter. And they never used it is the main thing,” Giuliani said. “Never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.'
-- What exactly is Mueller looking at? Five Post reporters made an impressive infographic running through the five areas his team is known to be examining: financial dealings, Russian interference, campaign coordination, transition contacts and obstruction of justice.
Trump celebrated the anniversary with an early morning tweet:
Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History...and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
THE CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS:
-- The Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee announced that it has determined the U.S. intelligence community was correct in its assertion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the intent of helping Trump. Karoun Demirjian reports: “'We see no reason to dispute the [intelligence community’s] conclusions,’ the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said [in a joint statement with] vice chair, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who added: ‘Our staff concluded that the ... conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping [Trump] and hurting [Clinton].’ This marks the second of four interim findings the intelligence committee has said it will disclose before tackling the more consequential question of whether Trump and his associates colluded with Russia to influence the election’s outcome … [The committee] is expected to publish a comprehensive final report this fall.” The Senate committee’s finding undercuts the report released by House Republicans last month and could complicate GOP messaging heading into the midterms.
-- The publicist who first contacted Donald Trump Jr. to set up the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower told the Senate Judiciary Committee he did so only after receiving assurances that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was “well connected” and had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Rosalind S. Helderman and Karoun Demirjian report: “Rob Goldstone told the committee that his client, the Russian pop star and developer Emin Agalarov, had insisted he help set up the meeting … overriding Goldstone’s own warnings that the meeting would be a bad idea. ‘He said, ‘it doesn’t matter. You just have to get the meeting,’’ Goldstone, a British citizen, testified. The intensity with which Agalarov and his father, the billionaire Aras Agalarov, sought the Trump Tower meeting, [was] revealed in more than 2,500 pages of congressional testimony and exhibits released by the Senate Judiciary Committee … The testimony shows that attendees at the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting largely agreed with Trump Jr.’s long-standing contention that [Veselnitskaya] did not transmit dirt about Clinton.”
- A Russian-American lobbyist who attended the meeting testified that Trump Jr. had opened the session by “getting straight to the point”: “’I believe you have some information for us,’” Rinat Akhmetshin recalled Trump Jr. telling Veselnitskaya.
- “Goldstone said [Jared Kushner] was one of just three people who spoke during the meeting, interrupting Veselnitskaya at one point to ask her to refocus her presentation. Goldstone said he recalled that Kushner stayed for the entire meeting — contradicting Veselnitskaya’s public assertion the president’s son-in-law left early and never came back.”
-- Don Jr. was cagey during his interview with the committee, claiming he could not recall whether he discussed the Russia probe with his father or whether he spoke with his dad on the day the meeting was arranged. “If there’s one thing Donald Trump Jr. cleared up with his congressional testimony, it’s that he doesn’t remember a lot of things,” writes Aaron Blake, who made a list of 54 substantive issues on which the first son cited his lack of a memory.
-- In his interview, Goldstone also detailed the elder Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow, where he says his team made “extensive” efforts to set up a face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin. Philip Rucker reports: “As soon as the deal was struck for Miss Universe to take place in Russia, pageant president Paula Shugart told [Goldstone], ‘Oh, God, he’s going to want to meet Putin.’ … ‘It was the gorilla in the room that had to be addressed, but there seemed to be no answer to address it,’ Goldstone [said]. Negotiations for a face-to-face meeting began with a written request from Trump Tower to the Kremlin, included a personal call with Putin’s top spokesman and ‘went down to the wire,’ Goldstone recalled. Trump and Putin did not end up meeting because, according to Goldstone, Putin was too busy receiving the new king of Holland. Still, newly revealed details about the American businessman’s failed courtship of the Russian autocrat illustrate the depth and tenure of Trump’s infatuation …”
-- The documents put out by the Judiciary Committee also suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association to provide a back-channel to Trump’s 2016 campaign — and might have secretly funneled money to support his bid. The Daily Beast’s Justin Miller reports: “The NRA spent a record $30 million on Trump and the FBI is reportedly investigating whether any of the money came from Russia. Two Russian nationals figure prominently in the alleged scheme: Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Kremlin’s central bank, and his then-deputy Maria Butina. Torshin met [Trump Jr.] at the NRA’s 2016 convention in Kentucky and hosted an NRA delegation in Moscow in 2015. Butina founded a pro-gun group in Russia before coming to the United States in 2015 …. Butina started a business with NRA member and GOP activist Paul Erickson. In May 2016, the same month Torshin met Trump Jr. at the NRA convention, Erickson emailed a Trump advisor about setting up a meeting between the candidate and Putin.” “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” he wrote. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.”
-- Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon sought to use personal information collected online to promote a “culture war.” Reuters’s Mark Hosenball reports: “Bannon, a former Cambridge Analytica vice president, ‘saw cultural warfare as a means to create enduring change in American politics,’ testified [Wylie], who says information about tens of millions of Facebook [users] ended up in Cambridge Analytica’s hands. Wylie … on Wednesday described discussions at the company about suppressing the vote, exploiting racial tensions, and testing campaign slogans in 2014 for use in the 2016 election. ‘One of the things that did provoke me to leave was the beginnings of discussions of voter disengagement, I have seen documents reference and I recall conversations that it was intended to focus on African-American voters,’ Wylie said.”
-- Mueller has subpoenaed social media specialist Jason Sullivan, who was hired by longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone to work for an independent PAC supporting Trump. Hosenball reports: “The subpoenas suggest that Mueller … is focusing in part on Stone and whether he might have had advance knowledge of material [hacked and published by WikiLeaks]. … Mueller also has been probing whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign may have helped [Julian] Assange or the Russians time or target the release of hacked emails[.] "
A TALE OF TWO FBI INVESTIGATIONS:
-- Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz notified lawmakers he has completed a draft report on law enforcement conduct in the Clinton email investigation, which will be reviewed by current and former officials before becoming public. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report: “The report is expected to blast [James Comey] … It also will probably take aim at others at the FBI and Justice Department, and provide [Trump] political ammunition to press his case that law enforcement has been out to get him. Those being given an opportunity to review a draft of the report include Comey, [Andrew] McCabe, former attorney general Loretta Lynch, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok … Page and Strzok were both key figures in the Clinton email probe, [who were later found to be], exchanging anti-Trump texts.”
-- Days after the FBI closed its 2016 investigation into Clinton, the bureau began probing ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia — an operation that began with a top-secret mission to London and was dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane.” The New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos write that the bureau “was even more circumspect ... than has been previously known”: “Agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation but risked revealing the existence of the case. Top officials quickly became convinced that they would not solve the case before Election Day, which made them only more hesitant to act. When agents did take bold investigative steps … they were shrouded in secrecy. ... [Underpinning] both cases was one political calculation: that Mrs. Clinton would win and Mr. Trump would lose. Agents feared being seen as withholding information or going too easy on her. And they worried that any overt actions against Mr. Trump’s campaign would only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- China hawk and Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro got into a row with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as the two returned from trade talks in Beijing a few weeks ago, according to Axios's Jonathan Swan: “Navarro exchanged sharp words with Mnuchin over his decision to participate in one-on-one talks with his Chinese counterpart Liu He. Navarro ... cursed at Mnuchin and fumed about being shut out of the talks ... 'It stems from his belief that Mnuchin is steering them down the wrong path, policy-wise, with China,' said a source familiar with their interactions.”
-- Liu He is in Washington today as the administration tries to negotiate a so-called mini deal with the Chinese that would rescue ZTE telecommunications company in return for trade concessions. He will meet with Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer — and though Navarro was initially shut out of the talks, he will now participate. "Following a Bloomberg News report Wednesday that Navarro had been excluded, the White House official -- speaking on condition of anonymity -- said that Navarro would indeed participate," Bloomberg News's Jennifer Jacobs reported.
-- Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson called “alternative realities” a “threat to democracy” in his first major address since being unceremoniously fired in March. Anne Gearan and Carol Morello report: “If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,” Tillerson said at the Virginia Military Insitute, never mentioning Trump by name. “It is truth that says to our adversaries, ‘We say what we mean, and we mean what we say.'”
More Trump trolling: “If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both public and private sector — and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector — then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years,” Tillerson said.
-- Trump has embarked on what one former Obama administration official dubbed “Diplotainment” in his foreign policy, especially concerning North Korea and expectations surrounding a planned summit between the two countries in Singapore next month. David Nakamura reports: “But as North Korean officials abruptly cast doubt this week on Trump’s planned historic summit with Kim [Jong Un] ... critics fear that a president determined to declare victory where his predecessors failed will allow his desire for a legacy-making deal to override the substance of the negotiations ... 'President Trump has forged a new category of international relations that I would call ‘diplotainment,’ and the Singapore meeting is going to demonstrate diplotainment at its pinnacle,' said Daniel Russel, who served as senior Asia director at the National Security Council ... 'Imagine the size the crowd is going to be in Singapore — it’s going to be ‘huge.’ But those are very different deliverables than, say, the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.'”
-- Was what Israel did in Gaza on Monday excessive use of force or “justified mob control?” Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report on the fallout of Monday's violence: “Israeli officials say the soldiers are operating within international law against a mob led by the militant group Hamas that wants to break into Israel and carry out terrorist attacks. About 1,360 Palestinians were shot over the course of about eight hours Monday, the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said. All the dead were shot on the Palestinian side of the fence, and the border fence, though damaged, was never breached. No Israeli soldiers were reported injured. ... Images and eyewitness accounts from the demonstrations appear at odds with Israel’s insistence that its military response has been precise, carefully calibrated and intended to kill only as a last resort.”
-- Meanwhile, Guatemala followed the U.S. and became the second country to move its own embassy to Jerusalem. Ruth reports: “Similar to the U.S. Embassy inauguration, the Guatemalan event brought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and prominent international supporters of Israel, including GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and a smattering of evangelical leaders.”
-- Venezuela's president, Nicolás Maduro, is widely expected to win reelection this weekend, despite a government in crisis driven by low oil prices, corruption and a “socialist system plagued by mismanagement,” write Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier. " ... as Maduro has sought to further consolidate power in the past 12 months, the economy, public services, security and health care have all but collapsed. Armed gangs and Colombian guerrilla groups are operating unchecked on Venezuela’s borders. Pro-government militias are terrorizing urban areas, while police stand accused of extrajudicial killings. Four of the 10 most dangerous cities in the world are now in Venezuela ...
“Saddled with a soaring inflation rate that has put food out of reach, Venezuelans, weakened and thin, are getting extraordinarily sick ... At the state oil giant, 25,000 workers — more than a quarter of its staff — quit last year in a mass exodus. Fleeing workers are joining a flood of humanity, at least 5,000 people a day, exiting the country. The outflow has left schools without teachers, hospitals without doctors and nurses, and utilities without electricians and engineers.”
Why are people still supporting Maduro? They hope the autocratic leader who succeeded Hugo Chávez will grant them some requests — and there is also food at the rallies, Anthony reports. “Euclider Guerra, a 35-year-old factory worker, came to ask for a wheelchair for his mother. Yennifer Gold, a 30-year-old mother of four, said she came in hope of getting government housing — and to make sure she kept receiving the subsidized, if ever smaller, baskets of government food.
-- “The revolution is real, but it's not clear whether Bernie is going to lead it,” David Weigel and Michael Scherer write after the victory of progressive candidates in Tuesday's primaries. “Democrats across the board are embracing the policies of [Sanders] — Medicare for all, legal marijuana and free college — but primary results underscore that the 2016 presidential candidate is struggling to emerge as a kingmaker in the party ... After 2016, Sanders was the hottest commodity in Democratic politics as he captured 43 percent of the primary vote and pushed eventual nominee Hillary Clinton to the left. But since then, his role in the party has become a bit more complicated. ... [T]wo House candidates backed by Sanders in Pennsylvania lost [on Tuesday] to candidates who supported his position of health care for all.
“Sanders-backed candidates are 10 for 21 this election cycle, while 46 of the 134 who had the support of Our Revolution, the group Sanders started after his presidential bid, triumphed. There have been some notable losses, including Tom Perriello in Virginia’s Democratic primary for governor last year and gubernatorial hopeful Dennis Kucinich in Ohio this month, who was backed by Our Revolution but not Sanders. The result is a bench of candidates who owe little to Sanders personally — and do not inherit his feuds with the party establishment — but endorse his strategy of motivating liberal voters instead of tacking right. Democratic strategists say that is partly by design, as Sanders has focused more on transforming Democratic orthodoxy than on promoting the party."
“Ideas that were fringe are now in the mainstream of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders’s 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver. “You see it not just in primaries around the country; you see it in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential campaign.”
-- Republican lawmakers are rebuffing Trump's retroactive request for $15 billion in cuts for programs affecting children's health and Ebola relief because they fear voting to do so would make them more vulnerable in November, Erica Werner reports. “'I worry about the messaging the Democrats will be able to do off it,' said Rep. Ryan A. Costello (R-Pa.), voicing a concern shared by numerous other lawmakers. 'Those ads write themselves' ... A vote for the $15 billion in spending cuts could be helpful for House Republicans facing upcoming primary challenges from the right in states including Alabama, California, Florida and New York. But other Republicans are balking, raising questions about whether the House will be able to pass the administration’s spending-cut request."
-- “Virginia Republicans at odds - and throats - in Trump era,” by the Associated Press: “Republican House candidate Shak Hill said he was unfairly attacked by a conservative media outlet friendly to his opponent, incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock, after a website he runs uploaded articles about penis enlargement without his knowledge. … A Senate hopeful said his young daughter was brought to tears because of online taunts that their last name — Freitas — sounds like it belongs ‘on the dollar menu at Taco Bell.’ And a different House candidate has publicly disputed claims that she does not like Thomas Jefferson. ‘The attacks have become so repeated, so constant, so malicious,’ said Cynthia Dunbar, a member of the Republican National Committee running for a House seat. ‘I would like to think that the Republican Party is above that, but clearly we are not.’ For the record, Dunbar said it's untrue that she dislikes Jefferson, who served as Virginia governor and founded the state's flagship university…”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Conservative commentator Bill Kristol questioned Giuliani stating Trump won't get indicted:
Doesn't Rudy trumpeting the (apparent) fact a sitting president can't be indicted tend to undercut the Trump team's excuse for his not testifying? It's not a perjury trap if you can't be indicted for perjury.— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) May 17, 2018
The New York Daily News fronts an article about a man flipping out because workers spoke Spanish at a Manhattan deli:
The chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus brought a pony piñata to Paul Ryan's office:
A HuffPost reporter had this thought on Ryan's efforts to block the discharge petition:
I know it’s how things work but it’s weird as hell that in our system leaders can just not allow votes on bills that could pass as if some voters’ elected representatives don’t count as much as others.— Elise Foley (@elisefoley) May 16, 2018
Social media had a lot of reaction to the release of documents pertaining to the Trump Tower meeting. From a guy who worked for the FBI by pretending to be a spy for the Russians:
Reminder that out of all the evidence, transcripts, leaks, convictions and public denials of collusion by our President we have yet to hear of ONE person reporting contact to the FBI. NOT. ONE. OF. THEM. https://t.co/pxWUWIrlRF— Naveed Jamali (@NaveedAJamali) May 16, 2018
A Wall Street Journal reporter's observation about Trump's financial disclosure:
European Union leader Donald Tusk had some strong words for Trump at a meeting of E.U. countries grappling with strained relationships between the U.S. and Europe:
Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) May 16, 2018
In Chicago, former president Barack Obama welcomed the first class for fellows working for his foundation:
@BarackObama’s in Chicago today, welcoming the @ObamaFoundation’s first Fellows class: “When Michelle and I asked ourselves how we could make the most meaningful contribution ... we wanted to invest in people like you who are already making change in your communities.” pic.twitter.com/rKZj42WjkU— Katie Hill (@KatieMHill) May 16, 2018
Seven of the 10 drunkest cities in the country are in Wisconsin:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Politico Magazine, “Republicans Are Still Running Against Colin Kaepernick,” by Ben Strauss: “Representative Todd Rokita was under attack. Facing two challengers in Indiana’s GOP Senate primary, Rokita was eager to burnish his conservative bona fides … But [boogeyman he invoked in his ads was not] not Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer[:] Instead, it was a clip of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem. Rokita is just one of a handful of Republican candidates across the country … who have incorporated the anti-player protest sentiment into their campaigns. While the protests themselves have slipped over the past six months from the front page back inside the sports section, the complaint about spoiled, rich athletes — a complaint the Trump administration has gleefully stoked time and again — has become a durable meme in the culture war, as powerful a symbol as the ‘welfare queens’ of the Reagan era.”
-- Vanity Fair, “’Ronan has a story to tell,’” Curiosity and agita inside 30 Rock as Ronan Farrow begins working on Catch and Kill,” by Joe Pompeo: “NBC is jittery as Farrow prepares to tell his side of the story about what went down at the network while he was reporting on Harvey Weinstein.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Massive Cookout Thrown In Park Where Cops Were Called On Black Family BBQ,” from HuffPost: “Two weeks after a white woman called the police on a black family for setting up a charcoal grill in an Oakland, California, park, area residents threw a massive cookout in the same park, flooding the area with music, food, dancing and unity. Videos taken at Lake Merritt on Thursday show people jumping rope, picnicking and even doing the electric slide while enjoying the public space. The celebration followed an April 29 incident in which a woman ordered a black family grilling along the waterfront to pack up and leave because their charcoal grill was in a grilling area where charcoal wasn’t allowed. After the family refused … the woman called the police and later accused one woman at the park of harassing her[.]” Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney also decried the incident as blatant racism: “Police are not private security for any white person that’s offended by the presence of black folks in our public spaces,” she said.
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“The government is incentivizing employers to hire foreign students over citizens, and the media is ignoring it,” from the Washington Examiner: “A government program that allows foreign students to stay and work in the country after graduation has grown rapidly over the last few years and has even surpassed the H-1B visa program for highly-skilled workers, according to [a Pew Research report]. The report shows over 257,000 foreigners were authorized to remain and work in the United States in 2016 through the Optional Practical Training program, which was created by [George W. Bush] for F-1 student visa recipients. Student visa holders may apply for OPT employment authorization before or after graduation. Several media outlets … reported on the program’s growth last week, but they left out an interesting fact: employers are incentivized to hire these foreigners over American citizens because they receive a tax exemption for doing so. Employers save money by hiring non-citizens over citizens because they are not subject to payroll taxes for these workers.”
At the White House: Trump will have lunch with Jim Mattis before meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The two will later participate in an expanded bilateral meeting.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.” — Rex Tillerson
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Rain, rain go away: “I think we can safely say the drought is over and, unfortunately, the flood watch is on. Locally heavy rains are likely at times starting later today and continue Friday and possibly into Saturday. Both today and Friday, daily rainfall records could fall. Showers are more limited by later in the weekend but tropical air surges in Sunday-Monday, leading to sauna-like conditions,” reports the Capital Weather Gang this morning.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
A Kent State graduate explains why she posed with a rifle:
The queen bestowed Prince Harry with a unique wedding present:
Watch “Deadpool” take over “The Late Show”:
And Michael Keaton had two important words for Kent State graduates: