With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: On “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump only fired 15 contestants each season. As president, he’s fired Cabinet secretaries and White House aides at a much higher rate.
The historically high level of turnover that’s characterized the past 16 months has created bad blood and future risk for Trump. Several people who got pushed out unceremoniously, including via Twitter, are now publicly, if implicitly, criticizing him. While most casualties of Trump’s chaotic administration have remained loyal, they are liabilities who could become land mines down the road.
-- Rex Tillerson’s commencement speech at the Virginia Military Institute underscores the potential peril. The former secretary of state, fired in March, did not mention Trump by name on Wednesday. He didn’t need to. “As I reflect upon the state of American democracy, I observe a growing crisis of ethics and integrity,” he said.
He did cite John 8:32 twice: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Free to speak his truth, Tillerson added: “When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth, even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America. If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society, and among our leaders in both the public and private sector, and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.”
The 66-year-old, who has mostly been at his Texas ranch since leaving “the swamp” of Washington, is now clearly thinking more about his own legacy than Trump’s political future.
“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. “This is the life of nondemocratic societies, comprised of people who are not free to seek the truth. … A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what the truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not, and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness, and demand our pursuit of America’s future be fact-based, not based on wishful thinking; not hopeful outcomes made in shallow promises; but with a clear-eyed view of the facts as they are and guided by the truth that will set us free to seek solutions to our most daunting challenges.”
Tillerson’s relationship with Trump was fraught. He was widely seen as a short-timer when NBC reported in October that he called Trump a “moron” after a meeting. Tillerson never denied making the remark.
There were conflicting accounts of how exactly he found out he had lost his job. The White House said he received a call from Chief of Staff John Kelly while traveling in Africa to cut short his trip. Tillerson said he received a call from Trump more than three hours after his firing was first reported by The Washington Post and announced minutes later via a presidential tweet.
He had agreed to speak at the school in Lexington, Va., several months ago — before his termination. Doubtlessly, he would have delivered a different message if he was still the nation’s chief diplomat. The comments also would probably have generated much more buzz if they hadn’t come on one of the newsiest days of the Trump presidency.
“An essential tenet of a free society, a free people, is access to the truth,” Tillerson said. “A government structure and a societal understanding that freedom to seek the truth is the very essence of freedom itself. … It is only by fierce defense of the truth and a common set of facts that we create the conditions for a democratic, free society, comprised of richly diverse peoples, that those free peoples can explore and find solutions to the very challenges confronting the complex society of free people.”
Referring to the military school’s strong honor code, he said: “Without personal honor, there is no leadership. But a warning to you as you leave this place — a place where the person sitting on either side of you shares that understanding. You will now enter a world where, sadly, that is not always the case. And your commitment to this high standard of ethical behavior and integrity will be tested.”
Tillerson urged the cadets to “carefully consider the values and the culture of the organizations in which you seek to work.” “Look for employers who set high standards for ethical conduct,” he concluded. (Watch his full speech here.)
-- Tillerson is not the first, and he will not be the last. David Shulkin went on a media blitz immediately after Trump fired him, also in March, as Veterans Affairs secretary. The holdover from the Obama administration submitted an op-ed to the New York Times decrying the administration’s push to privatize veterans care before appearing on NPR, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” CNN and more. He blamed his firing not on any ethical problems but clashes with Trump political appointees.
“Privatization leading to the dismantling of the department's extensive health care system is a terrible idea,” Shulkin wrote in his op-ed. “They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”
“As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought,” he concluded. “It should not be this hard to serve your country.”
Shulkin told NPR that being let go liberated him. The VA's inspector general had issued a report in February that blasted Shulkin for taking a fancy European trip with his wife on the taxpayer dime and accepting Wimbledon tickets as a gift. “I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House, who told me that they didn't want me responding,” Shulkin complained.
-- Omarosa Manigault-Newman appeared as a contestant on CBS’s “Celebrity Big Brother” just a few weeks after she was escorted out of the White House. The former “Apprentice” star said Trump’s tweets were worrisome and that she would never vote for him again: “Oh no, never. In a million years, never.” Asked if everything is going to be okay, she said: “No, it’s not going to be okay. It’s not. It’s so bad.”
“I'm thinking of writing a tell-all sometime,” Newman told her castmates in another episode. “I have to tell my truth. I'm tired of being muted.”
-- Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon got excommunicated by Trump over negative quotes he gave to Michael Wolff for his January book “Fire and Fury” about the president and his kids. Among other things, Bannon said Trump acts “like a 9-year-old.” Trump replied: “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
-- Reince Priebus certainly didn’t go as far as Bannon, but Trump’s first chief of staff made critical remarks about the president in an interview for another book. He said the disarray on the inside is even worse than the public knows. “Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” Priebus told Chris Whipple for the paperback version of his book “The Gatekeepers.” “The idea that he was suddenly going to accept an immediate and elaborate staff structure regulating every minute of his life was never in the cards,” Priebus said. Whipple wrote in a piece for March’s Vanity Fair that Priebus was nervous and repeatedly asked, “This is all off the record, right?” “He later agreed to be quoted,” Whipple added.
-- Sam Nunberg never worked in the White House, but the former Trump campaign aide still did a media blitz in March after talking with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors. He said the president “may have done something” illegal, but he’s not sure. Fired in 2015 over racially charged Facebook posts, Nunberg also complained to The Post that Trump — who he called an “idiot” — had treated him terribly and would come to regret it.
-- There are, of course, much more consequential officials who have been fired by Trump and publicly criticized him after leaving the government, but he didn’t choose them to be part of his team. First among them, of course, is former FBI director James Comey. But also in this category are people who have become Washington Famous, from Sally Yates to Preet Bharara. Then, in March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe a little more than 24 hours before McCabe was set to retire. McCabe responded days later in an op-ed for The Post.
-- Many other Trump veterans speak negatively about him on background to avoid drawing his ire. Perhaps others who have not criticized him publicly want to maintain access. Many who get fired later drift back into Trump’s orbit, after all. Corey Lewandowki, who Trump fired as his first campaign manager, is still lingering around years later. Perhaps another factor is that some staffers have been forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.
-- Others have not spoken publicly, but they could still undermine the president: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, for example, agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller as part of a plea deal. It’s still unknown what he offered up, but it could be more impactful than any tell-all.
-- Of course, there is a long history of former White House aides dishing dirt after they leave 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. After Trump disowned Bannon in January, the New York Times’s Peter Baker recalled six analogues from past administrations:
“In President George W. Bush’s last year in office, his former press secretary, Scott McClellan, wrote a tell-all book concluding that the Iraq War was a ‘serious strategic blunder’ based on the ‘ambition, certitude and self-deceit” of a White House that was not fully honest with the American people. …
“Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter, James Fallows, wrote a trenchant piece in the Atlantic Monthly called ‘The Passionless Presidency,’ portraying his former boss as a good man but an ineffective chief executive.
“Ronald Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, wrote a book describing an amiable but inattentive and unsophisticated president whose funny math disguised rising deficits. Perhaps more vexing for Mr. Reagan was the score-settling memoir of Donald T. Regan, his second chief of staff at the White House who was pushed out during the Iran-contra scandal. Mr. Regan’s revelation that Nancy Reagan had influenced the president’s schedule based on advice from her astrologer infuriated the president.
“ … [T]here was truth to the sometimes unsettling depiction of Bill Clinton’s White House by his former senior adviser, George Stephanopoulos, whose memoir described his disillusionment with a president who recklessly risked his policy agenda for extramarital sex. When that book was released, Mr. Stephanopoulos’s former White House colleagues stayed away from the launch party lest they risk Mr. Clinton’s ire.
“Leon E. Panetta may hold a record of some sort by writing two tell-all memoirs of his time in two presidential administrations 43 years apart. The first was a scathing description of his service as a civil rights official under Richard M. Nixon that ended when Mr. Panetta was pushed out. The second was a more respectful but at times unflattering portrayal of his experiences as C.I.A. director and defense secretary for Barack Obama, whom he deemed smart but vacillating and overly cautious.”
-- What’s unusual is that so many of these kinds of things have happened to Trump in his first year.
-- Many who closely followed Tillerson’s tenure criticized his commencement speech as rich and revisionist. A lot of journalists assigned to the Foggy Bottom beat noted that the secretary kept them at arm’s length, broke with tradition by not traveling with press and was unusually secretive.
From CNN’s senior diplomatic correspondent:
Fired SecState Rex Tillerson calls for a "fierce defense of the truth and a common set of facts." (However this is the guy who didn't want us on his plane)— Michelle Kosinski (@MichLKosinski) May 16, 2018
An editor at Der Spiegel:
If this is how he feels, why did he stay on as Secretary of State for so long? https://t.co/WXtm4Z6f0b— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) May 16, 2018
A Times reporter noted Tillerson’s pushback to stories that later turned out to be true:
Have to wonder if he doesn’t consider little lies like “there’s no discord between the SoS and the president” and “this NBC story is false” to be among them https://t.co/JKvSkvFpQa— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 16, 2018
A veteran of the last two Democratic White Houses responded:
Agree 💯. Calls for truth and character from people who served Trump -- and only stopped doing so because Trump fired them -- are not impressive. https://t.co/A4CvBr58Gl— Ronald Klain (@RonaldKlain) May 17, 2018
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Police shot and wounded what looks like an anti-Trump protester at Trump National Doral spa and golf resort in Miami-Dade, Fla. During a 1:30 a.m. incident, reports the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “A man who was firing shots, waving an American flag and ‘yelling and spewing some information about President Trump’ was shot and wounded by police early Friday,” the newspaper reported. “The man who was shot was seen sitting up on a gurney as rescue workers took him to Kendall Regional Medical Center … ‘He had an American flag that he did drape over the counter — that all will be part of the investigation, we’re going to take it from there and see what his real motives are,’” said Miami-Dade police chief Juan Perez.
#UPDATE: #MDPD and @DoralPolice responded to a shooting where a subject opened fire in the lobby of the @TrumpDoral. Officers exchanged gun fire, striking the subject. Thankfully, there were no shooting victims. An officer suffered a broken wrist. More information to follow. pic.twitter.com/u00I2Ju60R— Miami-Dade Police (@MiamiDadePD) May 18, 2018
-- Rudy Giuliani told CNN's Chris Cuomo this morning there may not be a secret informant from inside Trump's campaign that turned over information on links to Russia, despite Trump tweeting several times about an alleged spy. “I don't know for sure nor does the president if there really is one” Giuliani said of the FBI's source. “For a long time we've been told there was an infiltration.”
Regarding previous Trump allegations of a wiretap, Rudy said the president “may turn out to be closer to the truth than people thought ... We're told there were two infiltrations, two embedded people in the campaign.” When pressed by Cuomo about who gave the president's legal team that information, Giuliani replied: “The reporting corroborates what people have told us, off the record. You don't know if they're right or not.”
Watch the exchange:
Giuliani on President Trump's claims that there was an "informant" in the Trump campaign: "I don't know for sure, nor does the President, if there really was one” https://t.co/JUWUi4FCMG— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 18, 2018
Rudy also told Cuomo that Mueller has narrowed to two the topics he wants to question Trump about, excluding anything to do with Michael Cohen (that matter, the former New York City mayor believes, is being entirely handled by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York). He also indicated that Trump's story, if he talks to Mueller in the end, would not differ from what has been said publicly. “The president is not going to vary in any material respect from what he's said publicly … I guarantee you it won't be any different.”
GET SMART FAST:
- A New York appeals court rejected Trump’s request to stay proceedings in a defamation lawsuit filed by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, who accused Trump of sexual harassment. The decision is a legal blow to the president and could open him up to discovery in the case. (Mark Berman and Frances Stead Sellers)
- Fox News named longtime programmer Suzanne Scott as its new CEO, making her the first woman to run the network and the only woman in charge of a major TV news organization. But her promotion was criticized by some who said Scott played a role in helping thwart employees’ claims of sexual harassment under Roger Ailes. (Paul Farhi)
- Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted in an explosive event that sent boulders flying and shot ash more than five miles into the sky. Though the damage from the eruption was limited, scientists warned the volcano is still “dynamic” and that there could be more explosions to come. (Sarah Kaplan and Scott Wilson)
- Congo has confirmed the first Ebola case in an urban setting, meaning the disease could now spread more rapidly. The World Health Organization called the confirmed case “a game changer.” (Max Bearak)
- The Pentagon released drone footage depicting the recovery of a U.S. soldier's remains in Niger, where members of a Special Forces unit were ambushed and killed by ISIS militants last fall. In the video, U.S. troops can be seen carrying Army Sgt. La David Johnson's remains into a helicopter after he had been considered missing for two days. (Dan Lamothe)
- The U.S. has spent an estimated $2.8 trillion on the fight against terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, according to a new study from the Washington-based Stimson Center. Counterterrorism spending reached a peak of $260 billion in 2008 — an amount that accounted for more than a fifth of the federal government’s discretionary budget. (Wall Street Journal)
- NIH halted a $100 million study of moderate drinking funded in large part by the alcohol industry. It seems that a government official may have inappropriately solicited the study, which is now being investigated (Joel Achenbach)
- Less than a month before Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock massacred a crowd of Las Vegas concertgoers, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more, he had “ranted” about a government plot to confiscate guns, according to a man who says he met with Paddock after posting an ad to sell schematics for semiautomatic guns. The man’s statement was released this week under court order, along with several others — including a Mandalay Bay housekeeper who told police Paddock “made her uncomfortable.” (AP)
- California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D) was cleared to return to work following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by a former legislative staffer. Though assembly officials ended the probe without finding any wrongdoing, Garcia has been stripped of her posts on four legislative committees and must attend sexual harassment and sensitivity training. (LA Times)
- An Oklahoma woman was attacked and killed this week by a group of small dogs “not any bigger than your knee,” police said. Officers say the dogs involved in the attack included a border collie and what appear to be multiple terrier mixes. (BuzzFeed News)
- Carl Lauren, an 84-year-old Florida pet sitter, claims to know the mysterious identity of D.B. Cooper: his longtime friend, Walter R. Reca, a former military paratrooper and intelligence operative. The allegation wasn't vetted with the FBI, which is unlikely to open a new probe, and Reca died in 2014 at age 80. (Ian Shapira)
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Background on the FBI's source: “Trump’s allies are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign to undercut the Russia investigation by exposing the role of a top-secret FBI source,” Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey report. “The effort reached new heights Thursday as Trump alleged that an informant had improperly spied on his 2016 campaign and predicted that the ensuing scandal would be ‘bigger than Watergate!’ The dispute pits Trump and the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee against the Justice Department and intelligence agencies, whose leaders warn that publicly identifying the confidential source would put lives in danger and imperil other operations. The stakes are so high that the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source’s identity is revealed … [And] the bureau is taking steps to protect other live investigations that the person has worked on and is trying to lessen any danger to associates if the informant’s identity becomes known.”
- “Trump’s allies believe outing the source and revealing details about his or her work for the FBI could help them challenge the investigation and, potentially, provide cause for removing [Robert] Mueller or [Rod] Rosenstein."
- Giuliani told The Post that the president believes some law enforcement officials have been “conspiring against him.” “The prior government did it, but the present government, for some reason I can’t figure out, is covering it up,” Giuliani said, adding that confirmation of an informant could render the Mueller investigation “completely illegitimate.”
-- Paul Manafort's former son-in-law has cut a plea deal requiring him to cooperate with the government in other criminal probes, possibly compounding legal pressure on Trump's former campaign chairman to cooperate with Mueller. Reuters’s Nathan Layne reports: “Jeffrey Yohai, a former business partner of Manafort, was divorced from Manafort’s daughter last August. Yohai has not been specifically told how he will be called on to cooperate as part of his plea agreement, but the two people familiar with the matter say they consider it a possibility that he will be asked to assist with Mueller’s prosecution of Manafort. … As a close business partner, Yohai was privy to many of Manafort’s financial dealings[.] In addition to co-investing in California real estate, the two cooperated in getting loans for property deals in New York, Manafort’s indictments show. Mueller sent a team of prosecutors to interview Yohai last June, asking him about Manafort’s relationship with Trump, his ties to Russian oligarchs, and his borrowing of tens of millions of dollars against properties in New York[.]"
-- Giuliani also said Trump’s lawyers have begun planning summer prep sessions for the president ahead of a possible sit-down with Mueller. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn reports: “The planning meetings — to be held during off-hours at the White House and perhaps over rounds of golf at Trump’s private courses, Giuliani said — will mirror [Trump’s] 2016 debate preparation, in which aides briefed an impatient Trump in several brief sessions over many weeks. Giuliani said the briefings likely will begin after Trump returns from a June 12 summit [with Kim Jong Un] if a Mueller interview is agreed to. ‘You can’t take a president away to Camp David and just prepare him for two or three weeks,’ Giuliani said in an interview. ‘I think of it as the way we prepared him for debates,’ he added. ‘He never liked to be sitting down for long stretches. We’d do an hour here, two hours there. We’d end up doing 15, 16 hours of preparation, particularly for the first debate. But we’d … have to do it over the course of two or three weeks.’”
-- Giuliani told PBS NewsHour that Trump is “closer” to sitting down for an interview with the special counsel than he has been in recent days. “It would be going a little too far to say he’s going to sit down,” the former New York mayor and U.S. attorney said of his client. “But it looks more hopeful then it did a day or so ago.”
-- Mueller provided a federal judge in Virginia with an unredacted copy of a Justice Department memo outlining the scope of his investigation. Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports: “The document was filed [under seal] with the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of Virginia, where Mueller is expected to try [Manafort] on bank fraud charges. Mueller's decision to share the classified document comes two weeks after the judge, T.S. Ellis, demanded to see the full scope memo, authored by [Rosenstein]. Earlier this month, Ellis called for the document during a hearing on Manafort's attempt to toss out some of the charges against him.”
-- Politico’s Josh Gerstein has a deep look at the team of FBI agents handpicked by Mueller to handle one of the most sensitive federal investigations in a generation. “Many of the FBI agents assigned to Mueller’s team have never been publicly identified … [but] have résumés as exotic and high-powered as the prosecutors who capture the limelight. Those who said yes include Omer Meisel, a former [SEC] investigator who cut his teeth as a young FBI recruit probing the collapse of Enron ... Robert Gibbs, who’s worked Chinese espionage cases; Sherine Ebadi, who pursued a multimillion-dollar fraud at the U.S.’ biggest corporate jet maker; … and Brock Domin, a novice FBI agent with technology know-how, Russian language skills and experience on the ground in Moscow.
“On the more dramatic days, the FBI team gathers before dawn to swoop in and carry out search warrants[.] They appear, often unexpectedly, to serve subpoenas demanding that witnesses appear before a Mueller-run grand jury. As another witness steps off a plane, they’re waiting to subject them to a carefully planned series of questions or even place the witness under arrest. As another witness who lives abroad prepared to fly home from the U.S., the agents popped up at the gate unexpectedly.” “It was like, ‘We have an eye on you. We know what you’re doing,’” she recalled. “That was the message I got.”
FOLLOW THE MONEY:
-- A Canadian real estate firm said it is close to finalizing a deal to bail out the Manhattan office tower controlled by the family of Jared Kushner. Michael Kranish, Jonathan O'Connell and Karen DeYoung report: “The deal centers on 666 Fifth Ave., which … faces a deadline early next year for repayment of a $1.2 billion debt. The investor, Brookfield Asset Management, has a real estate arm that is partially owned by the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar. Brookfield said in a statement that ‘no Qatar-linked entity has any involvement in, investment in or even knowledge of this potential transaction' ... Brookfield officials said they planned to invest in the building through one of the firm’s investment funds rather than its real estate arm, which they said would prevent Qatari money from being invested in the project.”
-- On the same day as the third Republican debate in 2016, Trump signed a letter of intent to build the Trump World Tower Moscow. BuzzFeed News’s Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold report: “While fragments of the Trump Moscow venture have trickled out … this is the definitive story of the Moscow tower, told from a trove of emails, text messages, congressional testimony, architectural renderings, and other documents … as well as interviews with key players and investigators. The documents reveal a detailed and plausible plan, well-connected Russian counterparts, and an effort that extended from spearfishing with a Russian developer on a private island to planning for a mid-campaign trip to Moscow for the presidential candidate himself.
“Michael Cohen [and] Felix Sater, who helped negotiate deals around the world for Trump, led the effort. Whatever the significance of the negotiations to the election, the men took measures to keep the plans secret. Text messages often ended with a simple ‘call me.’ They communicated, at times, via Dust, a secure, encrypted messaging application. Sater once warned that they ‘gotta keep this quiet.'”
-- The Treasury Department’s inspector general is expanding a probe into leaked banking records related to Cohen following a New Yorker report alleging some records related to the president's longtime consigliere were mysteriously absent from a government database of suspicious transactions. Beth Reinhard and Emma Brown report: “Richard Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said investigators will now explore questions raised by the New Yorker after receiving a request from Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) ... In a letter Thursday, Wyden sought more information about ‘reported alterations’ in the SAR database related to Cohen and Essential Consultants, including ‘possible removal or sequestration’ of SARs. He also asked that ‘policies and procedures related to access to and management of the database’ be reviewed. …
- “On Thursday, Treasury officials sought to tamp down concerns, saying in a statement that since 2009 FinCEN has had the ability to restrict access to sensitive SARS. ‘Under long-standing procedures, FinCEN will limit access to certain SARs when requested by law enforcement authorities in connection with an ongoing investigation,’ Treasury spokesman Steve Hudak said.
- “Five former government officials and experts on financial crime [said] access to reports on [Cohen] could have been restricted over concern they were particularly vulnerable to leaking. ... 'I would be cautious about reaching a conclusion that something nefarious was going on,' said Carlton Greene, a former chief counsel of FinCEN.”
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- The Senate confirmed Gina Haspel as CIA director, 54 to 45, after several Democrats sided with Republicans following concerns about her role in the enhanced interrogation tactics used on terrorist detainees. From Shane Harris and Karoun Demirjian: “The agency launched an unprecedented public relations campaign to bolster Haspel’s chances. And she appears to have been helped by some last-minute arm-twisting by former CIA directors John Brennan and Leon Panetta, who contacted at least five Democrats, all of whom agreed to endorse her bid to join President Trump’s Cabinet, according to people with knowledge of the interactions ... She has been successful, to a degree, influencing the president’s stance toward Russia, whose aggressive and adversarial posture toward the West has become a top national security priority for the administration.” Trump wavered on the nomination but ultimately came around to supporting Haspel despite her attempt recently to withdraw from the confirmation process.
-- Trump is becoming increasingly “aggrieved” about what he believes is shabby press treatment and blames his staff for leaking generously to the press, resulting in the shrinking of a daily communications meeting and cellphones delivered to lockers in the West Wing, report the Times's Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers: Trump “blames his staff for not delivering better headlines on key initiatives, like tax cuts or a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea. And he sees leaks as a cause of the distractions that have helped deprive him of those headlines, according to interviews with several current and former White House officials ...”
- Trump was especially upset after the leak that a communications aide, Kelly Sadler, said that no one should be concerned about the opposition of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to the Haspel nomination because he is “dying anyway.”
- “In one case, a crackdown came after a junior aide was found to be taping meetings with Mr. Trump and playing them to impress friends, according to several people familiar with the episode.”
- “At the same time, Mr. Trump has a history of sharing closely held information with his friends ... During the campaign, Mr. Trump’s aides privately called him the 'leaker in chief.'”
THE TRUMP AGENDA:
-- Trump said he is not seeking regime change in North Korea as the price of a summit between the president, undercutting his new national security adviser. From David Nakamura and Philip Rucker: “Trump sharply contradicted national security adviser [Bolton], who had said the administration would ask North Korea to emulate the 'Libya model' from 2003 in which the Moammar Gaddafi regime fully relinquished its nascent nuclear weapons program ... 'The Libya model isn’t the model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea,' Trump said. 'In Libya, we decimated that country.' ... By contrast, Trump added, a deal with North Korea 'would be with Kim Jong Un, something where he’d be there, he’d be in his country, he’d be running his country, his country would be very rich, his country would be very industrious.'”
-- The White House will tie funding for health facilities to abortion restrictions, reports the New York Times’s Julie Hirschfield Davis and Maggie Haberman. “Clinics that provide abortions or refer patients to places that do would lose federal funding under a new Trump administration rule that takes direct aim at Planned Parenthood, according to three administration officials … The rule, which is to be announced Friday, is a top priority of social conservatives and is the latest move by President Trump to impose curbs on abortion rights.”
-- Meanwhile, Trump gave mixed signals about the prospect of success for trade negotiations between China and the U.S. as Chinese Vice Premier Liu He led a delegation to Washington. The Times reported the Chinese were prepared to offer a “mammoth package of promises to buy more American goods” amounting to $200 billion in order to narrow the trade deficit, but economists warned “any Chinese promises would be largely illusory, given the structural hurdles in China to buying more American exports. And critics say it could impair Mr. Trump’s more ambitious agenda to punish China for pressuring American companies to hand over valuable technology.” Before meeting with He, Trump said he didn't think that they would be successful because the Chinese, like the European Union, have become “very spoiled” because “they’ve always gotten 100 percent of whatever they wanted from the United States.”
-- In a possible goodwill gesture, China ended an anti-dumping probe into U.S. sorghum exports on Friday morning, reports Simon Denyer.
-- The deadline to send a renegotiated NAFTA deal to Congress passed yesterday with no deal in sight, report David J. Lynch, Damian Paletta and Erica Werner. Meanwhile, a House committee amended a spending bill to bar the administration from reversing a ban on Chinese-owned company ZTE. And U.S. Trade Representative issued Robert Lighthizer issued a statement on NAFTA negotiations, saying officials were "nowhere near close to a deal" and there were "gaping differences."
-- ICE has abandoned its plans to use “extreme vetting” software to predict which foreign visitors might commit criminal or terrorist acts, Drew Harwell and Nick Miroff report. Federal immigration authorities had sought an artificial intelligence program of some kind to mine social media applications like Facebook to predict visitor behavior, a desire which arose from Trump's January 2017 executive order mandating stricter screening rules. But now it looks like humans will do the screening instead. “An ICE official briefed on the decision-making process said the agency found there was no 'out-of-the-box' software that could deliver the quality of monitoring the agency wanted,” per Drew and Nick.
-- In Congress, the immigration wars continue, with Trump and House GOP leaders reopening negotiations on DACA and border security as pressure mounts before the midterms, this time from GOP moderates. From Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim: “In a days-long uprising, GOP moderates fearful of continued inaction ahead of the midterm elections employed a rarely used legislative maneuver to force Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and White House officials back to the negotiating table ... Ryan ... said Thursday that his goal is legislation acceptable to Trump, Republicans and some Democrats, a type of compromise that has been rare in the GOP-led House.' The question is, could we have a bill that has a vast majority of Republicans that some Democrats would support? What’s the combination?' Ryan said.”
-- But hard line House conservatives, who have tanked previous immigration compromises, are already starting to balk, seeking to hold up the farm bill unless their own version of an immigration overhaul is considered. From Politico's Liz Crampton, Helena Bottemiller Evich and Rachael Bade: “House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Thursday his members will not support the [farm bill] until after a vote is held on conservative immigration legislation ... Conservatives had long been eyeing the bill as a rare chance to enact a piece of a welfare overhaul. It’s the first farm bill cycle in decades where Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House.”
-- Mitch McConnell warns Republicans their Senate majority is “absolutely” in play in the midterms in an interview with The Post, perhaps seeking to counter the argument the House is the only real battleground in November. “I always think it’s better to be candid and not try to spin people into thinking this isn’t going to be a challenging election,” McConnell said. “I think the safest place to be is just to say that this is going to be a very challenging election, and I don’t think we know in May ... whether it’s Category 3, 4 or 5.”
“McConnell listed the states he believes the battle for the Senate will run through: Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida,” Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report. "'By any objective standard, those are the seats that are likely to be in play,' McConnell said. “Notably absent from his list were three states that were key to Trump’s 2016 win, in which Democratic senators are up for reelection this year: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. ... McConnell said there are 'credible candidates that could get onto the radar screen' in Ohio and Pennsylvania. But they are not yet in the tier of races he thinks will determine the majority.”
-- Puerto Rico has become a must-stop destination for Florida candidates as islanders come to the mainland in the wake of Hurricane Maria's devastation. The New York Times's Patricia Mazzei reports: “More than a million Puerto Ricans already lived in the state before the hurricane, and another 56,000 joined them in the first six months after Maria, according to an estimate by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. Perhaps not all of them will stay, much less vote: Puerto Ricans have tended to cast ballots less reliably than other Florida Hispanics.
“But if they do — perhaps driven by the slow response to [Maria] — they could emerge as a significant political force, and not just for Democrats. Though Puerto Ricans tend to lean left, many have also registered as Florida voters without party affiliation, giving Republicans an opening to make a play for their support. If Republicans are successful, they could grow their Hispanic conservative base beyond Cuban Americans.” (Read my Big Idea about the potential of the Puerto Rican vote here.)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
John McCain and his wife, Cindy, celebrated 37 years of marriage:
From Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking minority-party member of the House Intelligence Committee:
Just introduced a bill requiring any Executive Branch spending at Trump-owned businesses, like golf courses and hotels, be disclosed to the public. Americans deserve to see how their tax dollars are being used to enrich the nation’s chief executive and his family. pic.twitter.com/UWhTB7yiQq— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 17, 2018
Here's some perspective from a former senior Hillary Clinton aide on the length of the special counsel investigation under President Clinton:
Jan 1993: Bill Clinton inaugurated— Philippe Reines (@PhilippeReines) May 17, 2018
Aug 1994: Whitewater Opened
Sep 2000: Whitewater Closed
Jan 2001: Clinton leaves office
Republicans were more than patient when the Special Counsel went on for 77% of Bill Clinton’s presidency. https://t.co/2ANtGtZm95
More perspective from FiveThirtyEight:
The Fix tracked how the Trump team's spin has shifted regarding collusion with the Russians:
A collusion denial play, in 7 acts— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) May 17, 2018
1. No communication w Russia
2. No communication *we're aware of*
3. No *planned* communication
4. Planned meeting, but not re: campaign
5. Was re: campaign, but no good info
6. Collusion isn't crime
7. No info was usedhttps://t.co/BDQiNt1uIf
From an editor at Just Security:
The greatest witch hunt in American history was in Salem in the 1690s. I know because I took many field trips there as a kid.— Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) May 17, 2018
Mark your calendars. Steve Bannon will debate former Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis in Prague next week:
STEVE BANNON, who blasted the Clintons for accepting foreign speaking fees, will debate Clintonite @LannyDavis in Prague at an event sponsored by a Czech defense contractor. pic.twitter.com/VOn2cD5b1G— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) May 17, 2018
Jared Bernstein, the former Joe Biden aide, offered this surprising stat about retail:
I should be able to win many drinks at many bars by taking bets on the question "what share of retail sales are e-commerce?" Everyone would be like 50%, 90%! When it's...wait for it...9.5%. Though, depending on the bar, I might just get beat up. https://t.co/jcZm0W0A30 pic.twitter.com/Hnx9DOod0h— Jared Bernstein (@econjared) May 17, 2018
Planned Parenthood reacts to an interview with Bill Gates on meeting with Trump:
Carly Fiorina made her first trip back to New Hampshire since the 2016 presidential election:
2020 Watch: @CarlyFiorina trip to NH today (first since '16 election) to headline Rockingham County GOP fundraiser may fuel speculation she's mulling a primary challenge against @realDonaldTrump - Fiorina was accessible to the NH press in '16 cyle, but not today #nhpolitics #FITN pic.twitter.com/VIgqI3H6wJ— Paul Steinhauser (@steinhauserNH1) May 17, 2018
A senior fellow at the libertarian CATO Institute had this to say after Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president's comments referring to violent immigrants as “animals” “was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members”:
I’m going to try to summon the patience that wasn’t in me last night on the off chance there’s someone out there who sincerely imagines the context here to be exculpatory. pic.twitter.com/vdcuaBP1RU— Julian Sanchez (@normative) May 17, 2018
This is a textbook case of how dehumanizing and racist rhetoric works. The question references a hypothetical MS-13 member. Trump immediately pivots to a vaguer “people trying to come into the country” who we’re “taking out.”— Julian Sanchez (@normative) May 17, 2018
But, of course, MS-13 isn’t representative of either the “people trying to come in” or the people being “taken out.” The point of the dehumanizing language is to reassure you it’s not necessary to think about who those people actually are. https://t.co/CEbnAlY3tg— Julian Sanchez (@normative) May 17, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Here’s how big a rock you’d have to drop into the ocean to see the rise in sea level happening now,” from Philip Bump: “During a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Wednesday, Rep Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) pressed Philip Duffy, president of Woods Hole Research Center, to identify reasons that sea levels might be rising ... 'What about erosion!” Brooks exclaimed. “Every single year that we’re on Earth, you have huge tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, by the Amazon River, by the Nile, by every major river system — and for that matter, creek, all the way down to the smallest systems. And every time you have that soil or rock whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise. Because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up.'”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Professor tries to give female students better grades just for being women,” from the Washington Examiner: “A University of Akron professor inadvertently devised a creative new way to insult female students this week, all in the name of boosting gender equality. Liping Liu sent an email to his Systems Analysis & Design class outlining the ‘categories of students’ who may see their ‘grades raised one level or two.’ One of those categories was listed as ‘female students’ … Liu said the move was part of a ‘national movement to encourage female students to go [in]to information sciences.’ ‘Liu’s own classes have 'one or two female students' on average ... and they are 'not doing well,' [Liu said]. These women will probably have to 'repeat the courses or leave the program' without a grade boost.’ The university was not impressed. ‘While the professor’s stated intention … may be laudable, his approach as described in his email was clearly unacceptable,’ provost Rex Ramsier [said].”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"[Somebody] has to wake up the American public and get them to arm themselves. … Sometimes sacrifices have to be made.” -- Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock, as he purchased gun equipment outside a Las Vegas Bass Pro Shop one month before last year's Mandalay Bay massacre. (BuzzFeed News)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- MORE rain: “Keep your umbrella and rain jackets at the ready. Rain won’t wane until perhaps late tomorrow. Please don’t cross any floodwaters in the coming days. Turn around, don’t drown. You’ll be rewarded with sunshine returning a bit on Sunday and into next week — but we may stay steamy and sometimes stormy,” say our friends from the Capital Weather Gang.
-- The Capitals lost the Eastern Conference finals Game 4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 to 2, tying the series at two all. The next game is Saturday night.
-- An employee at a D.C. public charter school was charged with a sex crime. “Jimmon Watson, the special education coordinator of Parkside High School in Northeast, faces charges including first-degree child sexual abuse.” (Dana Hedgpeth and Wm. Justin Moyer)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Seth Meyers takes a closer look at the Trump Organization's potential business deals in Russia (and Michael Cohen):
Stephen Colbert looks at White House prep on the Mueller probe:
He also looks at Trump Jr.'s “I don't recall” answers:
The “Laurel” vs. “Yanny” debate reached the White House: