With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: The Trump administration doesn’t care about free and fair elections, except when it does.
In March, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether President Trump agreed with John McCain that Vladimir Putin’s reelection in Russia was a “sham.”
“We're focused on our elections. We don't get to dictate how other countries operate,” Sanders replied. “What we do know is Putin has been elected in their country, and that's not something that we can dictate to them, how they operate. We can only focus on the freeness and the fairness of our elections.”
Trump had ignored specific warnings from his own national security team — including a section in his briefing materials that said “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in all caps — when he congratulated Putin for securing six more years.
Yet, on Monday, Trump issued a strongly worded statement condemning the reelection of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro to another six-year term as illegitimate. He even signed an executive order to block the government from selling or collateralizing certain financial assets. “The United States remains committed to the Venezuelan people, who have suffered immensely under the Maduro regime,” the president said in a statement. “We call for the Maduro regime to restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people.”
Vice President Pence released a separate statement: “Venezuela’s election was a sham — neither free nor fair. The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela. … America stands against dictatorship and with the people of Venezuela.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added that the U.S. “will take swift economic and diplomatic actions to support the restoration of their democracy.”
-- In a conference call for reporters, senior administration officials struggled to square why Trump considers Maduro’s election fraudulent but not Putin’s. “The region has never seen a kleptocracy like this,” said one official, speaking on the ground rules that participants could not be identified. “We’ve never seen a country as wealthy in terms of its natural resources and human capital as Venezuela driven into such an economic death spiral so quickly, by such small groups of individuals determined to enrich themselves at the expense of millions of people.”
An estimated 1.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country, many to neighboring Colombia and Brazil.
“This is a true catastrophe, in every sense of the word,” he added. “The humanitarian suffering in this country is on a scale that we really don't see in other places. The exodus of the migrants is something paralleling Syria at this stage. … The effect on a close ally of the United States, Colombia, is enormous and is threatening to drag that country into the abyss from an economic standpoint as well.”
-- The Syria comment was striking because the Russians are propping up Bashar al-Assad and also bear a degree of responsibility for the continuing humanitarian crisis there.
-- ProPublica reports that the U.S. considered declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism after the chemical weapons attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England — but then backed off: “Soon after the March attack, Rex Tillerson, then the U.S. secretary of state, ordered State Department officials to outline the case for designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law. Experts in the department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism began to assemble what they thought was a strong case. But almost as quickly as the review began — within about two days — the secretary of state’s office sent new instructions to drop the initiative, according to State Department officials familiar with the episode. ‘There are a lot of issues that we have to work on together with Russia,’ a U.S. official said. ‘Designating them would interfere with our ability to do that.’”
-- Remember: Trump’s congratulatory call to Putin came after the chemical attack. In addition to congratulating Putin when he was advised not to do so, he also chose not to bring up the nerve agent that had been used on U.K. soil.
-- Putin is not the only strongman Trump has praised after a questionable election. More often than not, Trump has shown little concern about whether democracy is respected.
Trump called China’s President Xi Jinping in October to congratulate him his “extraordinary elevation” after Xi pushed the Communist Party congress to eliminate presidential term limits so that he can rule for the rest of his life. “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday,” Trump later quipped to Republican donors at his Mar-a-Lago Club.
Last April, Turkey held a referendum to weaken its constitution so that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could claim even more power. International observers identified many irregularities, voters were not provided with impartial information by state-controlled media and civil society organizations were blocked from participating. The State Department released a statement highlighting reports of irregularities and expressing concern. But Trump offered no such critique when he spoke to Erdogan by phone. He only congratulated him on winning.
Trump congratulated Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte the same month for his antidrug campaign, which includes the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug dealers.
He also welcomed Egyptian leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who took power in a coup, to the White House. “He's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” Trump declared during a photo op. “We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt. And the United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing. ... And I just want to say to you, Mr. President, that you have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me.”
-- To be sure, the United States has a long history of allying with authoritarian powers to advance American interests. But even when turning a blind eye, presidents from both parties have historically chosen their words carefully to avoid endorsing or legitimizing, to the extent possible, antidemocratic actions. George W. Bush made the promotion of democracy a centerpiece of his foreign policy.
-- Also: China and Russia are not U.S. allies.
-- In his defense, Trump has been consistent about Maduro. Last August, he declined a request from the leftist dictator to speak on the phone. At the time, Sanders cited the lack of “free and fair elections” as the reason.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- “These Capitals seem to save their best for when they are most desperate, and they staved off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night with a bruising, hard-earned, 3-0 win,” Isabelle Khurshudyan reports. “The Capitals’ Stanley Cup hopes were revived by Alex Ovechkin bulldozing through bodies and by Braden Holtby standing tall in net, by Chandler Stephenson hustling down the ice to negate an icing call and by Devante Smith-Pelly perfectly placing a shot through Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.”
- Signed for moments just like these, T.J. Oshie cashed in to keep the Caps alive.
- The Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy was brilliant once more, but he lost because his teammates were not.
- Game 7 is in Tampa on Wednesday.
-- The U.S. and China have agreed on an outline of a deal to bring back Chinese telecom ZTE back from the brink of collapse, The Wall Street Journal's Lingling Wei and Bob Davis report, citing people familiar with the matter from both countries. “If completed, the Trump administration would remove the ban on U.S. companies selling components and software to ZTE, a penalty that has threatened to put the company out of business. Instead, ZTE would be forced to make big changes in management, board seats and possibly pay significant fines, the people said. Beijing has also offered to remove tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. farm products as part of the negotiations, although one person said the White House didn’t offer any quid pro quo."
GET SMART FAST:
- The Supreme Court ruled that companies can bar employees from banding together to file class-action lawsuits against them and require them instead to accept individual arbitration to resolve wage and other workplace disputes. The 5-4 decision is a big win for big business. (Robert Barnes)
- Retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) declined the chance to become the next U.S. ambassador to Australia. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman said he had a “number of conversations” with both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “At the end of the day though … it just felt like it wasn't the right step,” he said. (The Tennessean)
- An attorney for the 17-year-old charged with killing 10 people at a Texas high school last week said he still has no indication of what motivated the massacre and said he was not sure there would ever be a clear answer. The local sheriff said officers encountered the gunman within four minutes, “keeping him contained and engaged” so that other law enforcement officials could evacuate students and staff from the school. (Todd C. Frankel, Tim Craig, Brittney Martin and Mark Berman)
- A judge ruled that a teenager who started a massive Oregon wildfire with fireworks must pay $36 million in restitution. (Marwa Eltagouri)
- A sociology professor was found guilty of spraying fake blood on the steps of the Alexandria, Va., home of National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox. Patricia Hill was ordered to pay a $500 fine, not contact the Cox family, and stay 500 feet away from their home. (Rachel Weiner)
- A Latvian man was convicted of running a service that helped cybercriminals avoid detection. The case shed light on the connections between the criminal underworld and Russian intelligence, which began working with the Latvian and his Russian-born partner as early as 2013. “Everyone cooperates — especially with the FSB,” the Russian said over a chat app that was read in court. (Rachel Weiner)
- An Israeli judge ordered the release of 19 Arab Israelis being held in police custody, capping a fraught weekend in the city of Haifa, where multiple protests broke out against Israel’s use of deadly force on the Gaza Strip. (Ruth Eglash)
- Barack and Michelle Obama announced a multiyear production deal with Netflix. They will produce television shows, films and documentaries through their company, “Higher Ground Productions.” The former president said he intends to steer clear of partisan rhetoric and will instead focus on highlighting issues and themes he pursued during his years in power. (New York Times)
- Ohio police responded to a late-night call from a man who claimed that he was being followed home by a pig. Thinking he was intoxicated or hallucinating, the officers obliged — only to find a very sober, very frightened man — who was, in fact, being tailed by a medium-sized pig. They loaded the animal into their police cruiser and have since returned it to its rightful owner. (CBS News)
SOURCES AND METHODS:
-- “The White House and the Justice Department have put off a high-stakes confrontation over the FBI’s use of a confidential source to aid an investigation into the Trump campaign, after top law enforcement and intelligence officials met with President Trump on Monday to discuss the brewing controversy,” Seung Min Kim, Matt Zapotosky, Carol D. Leonnig and Devlin Barrett report. “A White House spokeswoman said Chief of Staff John F. Kelly plans to convene another gathering between the officials and congressional leaders to ‘review highly classified and other information’ about the source and intelligence he provided. That could be viewed as something of a concession from the Justice Department, which had been reluctant to turn over materials on the source to GOP lawmakers demanding them. But it also could be a bureaucratic maneuver to buy time and shield actual documents.”
“The Monday meeting, which included Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, lasted about an hour. Trump personally called to confer with the officials, two people familiar with the request said, though White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the meeting was put on the books last week.
“The source at issue is Stefan A. Halper, a veteran of the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations and an emeritus professor at Cambridge University in England, according to multiple people familiar with his role. The Washington Post had previously confirmed Halper’s identity but did not report the information after warnings from U.S. intelligence officials that exposing him could endanger him or his contacts. Now that his name has been revealed by multiple news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine and Axios, The Post has decided to publish his name. The Daily Caller first reported on some of his contacts with members of the Trump campaign.
“Trump has not named Halper or produced any evidence that he infiltrated his campaign for political purposes. In the summer of 2016, Halper met with Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis for coffee in Northern Virginia, offering to provide foreign policy expertise to the Trump team. In September of that year, he reached out to George Papadopoulos, an unpaid foreign policy adviser for the campaign, inviting him to London to work on a research paper. He also had multiple contacts with foreign policy adviser Carter Page for talks about foreign policy.”
-- Robert Costa, Carol Leonnig and Shane Harris profile the 73-year-old: “Halper’s connections to the intelligence world have been present throughout his career and at Cambridge, where he ran an intelligence seminar that brought together intelligence officials of past and present. In 2014, Halper, along with Richard Dearlove, the former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service, sponsored a meeting of the seminar that drew then-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn … Since 2012, Halper has had contracts with the Defense Department, working for a Pentagon think tank called the Office of Net Assessment. According to federal records, ONA has paid Halper more than $1 million for research and development … The funds did not go solely to Halper, who hired other academics and experts to conduct research and prepare reports.
“Halper’s first wife was the daughter of the prominent former CIA analyst Ray S. Cline, who worked alongside President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and mentored Halper, introducing him to associates in the intelligence and political worlds, according to numerous people familiar with their relationship.
“After earning his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1971, Halper quickly ascended, serving on the White House domestic policy council for President Richard M. Nixon and then in the Office of Management and Budget before being tapped as an assistant to President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff. Halper later worked for Sen. William Roth (R-Del.) before joining the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1980 as national policy development director and then working for the Reagan-Bush campaign as national director of policy coordination. In the Reagan administration, he served as deputy assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs …
“After the 1980 race, Halper was caught up in a scandal concerning alleged political spying. Aides to Reagan, including Halper, were accused of having spied on (Jimmy) Carter’s campaign and obtaining private documents that Carter was using to prepare for a debate. Some Reagan White House officials later alleged that Halper had used former CIA agents to run an operation against Carter. Halper called the reports at the time ‘absolutely false’ and has long denied the accusations. ...
“Late in his career, Halper emerged as a vocal critic of President George W. Bush’s interventionist foreign policy. During classes at Cambridge, he often raised questions about Bush’s decisions and embraced a traditional Republican approach to foreign policy that emphasized long-standing Western alliances and limited foreign intervention ...”
-- During the presidential transition, Trump’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro recommended appointing Halper to a senior role in the administration. Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports: “[Navarro] recommended Halper, among other people, for ambassador roles in Asia. A White House official said Halper visited the Eisenhower Executive Office Building last August for a meeting about China. During the transition everyone involved in Trump’s presidential campaign were asked to submit resumes for administration positions. Halper, who already knew Navarro in the context of being a China scholar and interviewing for his anti-China book and film, pitched himself for an ambassadorship in Asia … Navarro says he submitted Halper’s name for the Asian ambassadorship … along with around a dozen other people for roles in the region.”
THE RULE OF LAW:
-- To protect the Russia probe, Rosenstein keeps agreeing to meet “increasingly onerous” demands from Trump and his allies in Congress, the New York Times’s Katie Benner notes: “But legal scholars and former law enforcement officials fear that the measures Mr. Rosenstein has resorted to could weaken the Justice Department’s historic independence, allowing the department to be used as a cudgel to attack the president’s political enemies. … Opening such an investigation could create a fear within the department that if F.B.I. agents act on valid intelligence they could someday be investigated for being at odds with the White House ... 'Rosenstein is in the very tricky position of supervising and protecting the integrity of an investigation of the president’s associates even though the president, his boss, possesses lots of constitutional power … and is trying to wreck this one,' said Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith.”
-- “Is Rod Rosenstein being too soft on Trump?” by The Fix’s Aaron Blake: “From the very moment the Mueller investigation began, Rosenstein has taken some questionable actions that seemed to hand Trump talking points: Initially, it was drafting a memo that was used to justify firing FBI Director James B. Comey — which, it was soon revealed, obscured the real reasons Trump fired Comey. He released the controversial text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to Congress before the inspector general's report was done (the texts then leaked out). He has done things the Justice Department generally wouldn't do during an investigation, such as sharing the document that launched the Russia investigation and allowing Congress the ‘extraordinary accommodation’ of viewing four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications used to monitor Carter Page. He said at a February news conference that the indictments of 13 Russians contained ‘no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election.’ Trump and his allies have repeatedly and implausibly used statements like this to argue that Russia didn't affect the election results.”
-- “Stop waiting for the constitutional crisis that President Trump is sure to provoke. It’s here,” columnist Eugene Robinson writes in today's paper. “Trump’s only rational goal is casting doubt on the [Mueller probe], which appears to be closing in. Trump’s power play is a gross misuse of his presidential authority and a dangerous departure from long-standing norms. Strongmen such as [Vladimir Putin] use their justice systems to punish enemies and deflect attention from their own crimes. … None of this is normal or acceptable. One of the bedrock principles of our system of government is that no one is above the law, not even the president. But a gutless Congress has refused, so far, to protect this sacred inheritance. Trump is determined to use the Justice Department and the FBI to punish those he sees as political enemies. This is a crisis, and it will get worse.”
FOLLOW THE MONEY:
-- Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, was hired as a consultant by a major Trump donor and helped him pitch a nuclear power investment to the Qatari sovereign-wealth fund. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus, Michael Rothfeld and Aruna Viswanatha report: “The donor, Franklin L. Haney, is seeking to complete a pair of unfinished nuclear reactors in Alabama known as the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, [and his] company is lobbying the Trump administration for an extension of tax credits … On April 5, Messrs. Cohen and Haney met with the vice chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority, Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohamed al-Thani, to seek an investment … The meeting took place at the Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club near Miami Beach, where a Qatari delegation, which was in town for a roadshow aimed at pairing U.S. investors with Qatari business executives, spent several days. There is no indication whether the Qataris have decided to invest with Mr. Haney. Mr. Cohen also pitched Sheikh al-Thani on a separate infrastructure project that didn’t involve Mr. Haney … The Atomic Energy Act prohibits the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from issuing licenses to nuclear operators that are ‘owned, controlled or dominated’ by a foreign corporation or government.”
-- “The princes, the president and the fortune seekers,” by the Associated Press’s Desmond Butler and Tom Lobianco: “After a year spent carefully cultivating two princes from the Arabian Peninsula, Elliott Broidy, a top fundraiser for [Trump], thought he was finally close to nailing more than $1 billion in business. He had ingratiated himself with crown princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who were seeking to alter U.S. foreign policy and punish Qatar, an archrival in the Gulf that he dubbed ‘the snake.’ To do that, the California businessman had helped spearhead a secret campaign to influence the White House and Congress, flooding Washington with political donations. Broidy and his business partner, Lebanese-American George Nader, pitched themselves to the crown princes as a backchannel to the White House, passing the princes’ praise — and messaging — straight to the president’s ears. Now, in December 2017, Broidy was ready to be rewarded for all his hard work. It was time to cash in. … It all might have proceeded smoothly save for one factor: the appointment of Robert Mueller…
“A new cache of emails obtained by the AP reveals an ambitious, secretive lobbying effort to isolate Qatar and undermine the Pentagon’s longstanding relationship with the Gulf country. … Neither Broidy nor Nader registered with the U.S. government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act … A lawyer for Broidy, Chris Clark, contended the AP’s reporting ‘is based on fraudulent and fabricated documents obtained from entities with a known agenda to harm Mr. Broidy.’
“Summaries written by Broidy of two meetings he had with Trump — one of which has not been disclosed before — report that he was passing messages to the president from the two princes and that he told Trump he was seeking business with them.”
-- “Cadre, a real estate technology startup co-founded and partly owned by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, is seeking an investment of at least $100 million from a private fund that receives much of its capital from the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Bloomberg’s David Kocieniewski and Stephanie Baker report. “A top executive of Cadre … has met privately in recent months with representatives of the SoftBank Vision Fund, a technology investment vehicle that gets almost half of its $100 billion from the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund. The United Arab Emirates has put at least $15 billion into the Vision Fund through its sovereign wealth fund as well. Kushner doesn’t play an active role in Cadre’s operations, company officials say when asked about the president’s son-in-law. But he hasn’t divested his Cadre stake, valued at $5 million to $25 million on his most recent financial disclosure form.”
-- Paul Manafort is calling for an investigation into a top lawyer on Robert Mueller’s team. Rachel Weiner reports: “Attorneys for [the president's former campaign chairman] filed a motion in Alexandria federal court Monday evening claiming that Andrew Weissmann may have leaked information to the [AP] in April 2017, before joining [Mueller’s team]. At the time, Weissmann led the Department of Justice’s criminal fraud division. Manafort’s lobbying on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine had been under investigation by the Justice Department in Alexandria for years before the special counsel took over the probe … A hearing is already scheduled for next month to hear Manafort’s motion[.]”
-- Twitter bots may have been influential enough to affect the outcomes of the 2016 Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election, according to a new economic study. Bloomberg News's Jeanna Smialek reports: “Automated tweeting played a small but potentially decisive role in the 2016 Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper showed this month. Their rough calculations suggest bots added 1.76 percentage point to the pro-‘leave’ vote share as Britain weighed whether to remain in the European Union, and may explain 3.23 percentage points of the actual vote for Trump in the U.S. presidential race. ‘Our results suggest that, given narrow margins of victories in each vote, bots’ effect was likely marginal but possibly large enough to affect the outcomes,’ according to authors Yuriy Gorodnichenko from the University of California at Berkeley and Tho Pham and Oleksandr Talavera from Swansea University in the U.K.”
TWO GREAT STORIES ON HOW THIS WHITE HOUSE WORKS:
-- “Trump’s tweets include grammatical errors. And some are on purpose,” by the Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey: “West Wing employees who draft proposed tweets intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president’s style, according to two people familiar with the process. They overuse the exclamation point! They Capitalize random words for emphasis. Fragments. Loosely connected ideas. All part of a process that is not as spontaneous as Trump’s Twitter feed often appears. His staff has become so adept at replicating Trump’s tone that people who follow his feed closely say it is getting harder to discern which tweets were actually crafted by Trump sitting in his bathrobe and watching ‘Fox & Friends’ and which were concocted by his communications team …
“When a White House employee wants the president to tweet about a topic, the official writes a memo to the president that includes three or four sample tweets, according to those familiar with the process. Trump then picks the one he likes best … Sometimes Trump will edit the wording and sometimes he’ll just pick his favorite for blasting out to his 52 million Twitter followers. … Some clues are still seen as reliable. Tweets that include photographs or videos are likely composed by staff. And ones that have hashtags are also likely staff-written.”
-- “Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance,” Politico’s Eliana Johnson, Emily Stephenson and Daniel Lippman report. “The president … has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use … The president uses at least two iPhones … one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites …
“While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was ‘too inconvenient,’ (an) administration official said.
“The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out. Obama handed over his White House phones every 30 days to be examined by telecommunications staffers for hacking and other suspicious activity … Trump’s call-capable cellphone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cellphones used by Obama. Keeping those components creates a risk that hackers could use them to access the phone …”
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- South Korea is blaming John Bolton for the recent hiccup in diplomacy efforts with North Korea — a wave of public criticism that comes as President Moon Jae-in prepares to meet with Trump today in Washington. Anna Fifield reports: “Officials now in senior positions in the Moon administration know the American national security adviser’s background all too well. Many served under pro-engagement president Roh Moo-hyun, at a time when Bolton was a strong proponent inside the George W. Bush administration … of regime change in North Korea. ... After meetings with top officials (in Seoul) last week, one American analyst remarked — only half in jest — that the South Koreans detested Bolton as much as the North Koreans.”
-- “Bolton created a mess by bringing up the ‘Libya model,’ which is deeply dreaded by Pyongyang,” said former South Korean unification minister Lee Jong-Seok.
-- Bolton is running a “shadow” National Security Council, a second-tier group of associates who assist him in his role. The New York Times’s Ken Vogel reports: “Drawn from the world of conservative politics, international consulting and defense contracting, and working out of the downtown Washington offices of Mr. Bolton’s political organizations, the group of advisers provided advice on [NSC] operations, while helping to vet prospective new hires for views that would be compatible with his own. Nearly two months into Mr. Bolton’s tenure, some people familiar with the N.S.C. say the influence of his associates can be seen in the agency’s effort to crack down on leaks, as well as an exodus of agency staff … One of Mr. Bolton’s longtime associates, Charles M. Kupperman, a former Reagan administration official and defense contracting executive, has taken a temporary leadership post on the N.S.C., while at least three others — Frederick H. Fleitz, Sarah Tinsley and David Wurmser — are believed to be under consideration for posts." Bolton’s continued reliance on longtime advisers has raised alarm among NSC veterans, who say it creates an “echo chamber” with little room for dissent.
-- Gina Haspel was sworn in as the new CIA director. Trump credited her for overcoming “very negative politics” that threatened to derail her confirmation. (John Wagner and Seung Min Kim)
-- An adviser to a pro-Trump outside group has suggested that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim and made several other anti-Muslim comments on Twitter. CNN’s Nathan McDermott, Andrew Kaczynski and Chris Massie report: “John Loudon is a policy adviser at America First Policies, a non-profit group tasked with promoting Trump's policy goals on a range of issues … [Mike Pence] regularly appears at fundraisers and events hosted by the group. A [review] of Loudon's Twitter account reveals that, as far back as 2009 and as recently as this year, he used inflammatory and derogatory language while discussing a wide variety of groups of people including women, Muslims and Democrats. In February 2015, Loudon called [Obama] an ‘Islamchurian Candidate,’ in reference to the book and film about a politician who is brainwashed into becoming an assassin for an international conspiracy."
-- Georgia, Arkansas and Kentucky are holding primary elections today. Texas has runoffs. David Weigel and Sean Sullivan have a great rundown of what to watch when the returns come in tonight: “While the Democrats’ race for governor of Georgia has earned the most attention, congressional contests in Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas may reveal more about the shape of the party in this year's midterm elections."
-- “The raging debate over the future of the Democratic Party will be on vivid display in (Georgia) on Tuesday,” Vanessa Williams reports: “Stacey Abrams, vying to become the country’s first black female governor, has surrounded herself with leaders representing women, labor, the LGBT community and other causes on the left … Stacey Evans, also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, has embraced a different view. She stood in a neighborhood cafe [this weekend] to say that her rival wanted ‘to huddle in a corner with folks who already identify as Democrats.’ Whoever wins the nationally watched Georgia primary on Tuesday will make history as the first female gubernatorial nominee from a major party in Georgia. Either candidate will probably face stiff odds in the November general election against the Republican nominee in this reliably conservative state.”
-- “Trump and McConnell, once adversaries, have realized they need each other,” by Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim: “On a Friday evening last October, Mitch McConnell was at Nationals Park watching a playoff baseball game when he looked down at his iPhone and discovered a missed call. It was President Trump. Trump and McConnell hadn’t made plans to talk … But later that evening they spoke … It was the kind of impromptu conversation that would become a staple of the president’s relationship with the Senate majority leader, which has improved considerably from a low point last summer. ‘He calls me and I call him multiple times a week, and sometimes at unusual hours,’ McConnell (R-Ky.) said in an interview with The Washington Post. ‘About half the time, it’s just on his cell to my cell, without any intermediary.’
“Their alliance is among the most fragile in American politics, built on recent victories, including the sweeping Republican tax law and a spate of successful Senate primaries. That winning streak needs to continue to preserve the detente, numerous allies said.”
-- White House budget director Mick Mulvaney acknowledged having discussions with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy about replacing Paul Ryan as speaker before he retires next year. From Mike DeBonis: “The Weekly Standard reported that Mulvaney made the remarks Sunday during a conference sponsored by the publication in Colorado Springs. Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier asked Mulvaney about the prospect of McCarthy succeeding Ryan this year, before the midterm elections, and Mulvaney suggested that it would become a referendum on the top Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi. ‘I’ve talked with Kevin about this privately but not as much publicly,’ Mulvaney said, according to the Weekly Standard. ‘Wouldn’t it be great to force a Democrat running in a tight race to have to put up or shut up about voting for Nancy Pelosi eight weeks before an election? That’s a really, really good vote for us to force if we can figure out how to do it.’ … [After the article published,] Mulvaney spokeswoman Meghan Burris said his remarks were ‘purely hypothetical’ and that he supports Ryan remaining as speaker …”
“Mulvaney’s suggestion that forcing a speaker election this year would put Democrats in a tight spot would seem to be at odds with electoral reality. While national Republicans think they can use the prospect of Pelosi (D-Calif.) returning to power to motivate GOP voters in November, very few of the incumbent Democrats who could be forced to take a speaker vote this year are locked in difficult reelection races. The Cook Political Report rates only 16 of 193 Democratic seats as being in any way competitive, and eight of those seats are open and will have a fresh Democratic name on the ballot in November. Furthermore, with Republicans in the majority, Democrats would be free to vote present or for any other speaker candidate with little consequence. Republicans, on the other hand, would risk a fresh bloodletting just as voters take stock of their effectiveness after eight years in power.”
-- Bill and Hillary Clinton have veered in sharply different directions on how they plan to involve themselves in elections this year, hoping to break a long-calcified public perception of them as a single political entity. The New York Times’s Alexander Burns and Matt Flegenheimer report: “Mrs. Clinton appears determined to play at least a limited role in the midterms, bolstering longtime allies and raising money for Democrats in safely liberal areas. Her husband has been all but invisible. And both have been far less conspicuous than in past election cycles … Mrs. Clinton is expected to break her virtual hiatus from the campaign trail this week, when she will endorse Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York in a contested Democratic primary … a move sure to enrage liberal activists seeking Mr. Cuomo’s ouster at the hands of Cynthia Nixon[.] Mrs. Clinton has also recorded an automated phone call endorsing Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic leader in the Georgia House, who is competing for the party’s nomination for governor on Tuesday. [Still, those interventions] are rare steps for the former secretary of state, who has rebuffed other requests for help and signaled even to close allies that she would not meddle in primary elections.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The Trump administration has already created a coin to commemorate the Trump-Kim summit:
Less than a month to Trump-Kim summit, White House Communications Agency (WHCA) releases its “trip coin.”— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) May 21, 2018
This is #74 of 250 made. pic.twitter.com/UTEJg1GyWv
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) praised Rosenstein's referral to the DOJ inspector general:
Determining who or what is investigated by the DOJ is not the President's call. Deputy AG Rosenstein's referral to the Inspector General is the right move. The White House should in no way hinder or impact the ongoing work of Special Counsel Mueller— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) May 21, 2018
Obama's attorney general also weighed in:
More DOJ norms being eroded. Trump-a SUBJECT of the investigation-wants access to material related to the inquiry. His Congressional supporters want evidence connected to an ongoing investigation. Time for DOJ/FBI to simply say no-protect the institutions and time tested norms.— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) May 21, 2018
Bernie Sanders announced he will seek reelection to a third Senate term this fall. He will formally launch his campaign next month with rallies across Vermont — and plans to focus largely on health care and infrastructure.
I have some important news to share, and I wanted you to hear it from me: Today, I am announcing my intention to run for re-election to the United States Senate in 2018.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 21, 2018
Trump's personal lawyer offered up this cryptic message:
The problem today is if you don’t watch the news on television/cable and/or read the newspapers, you are uninformed. However, if you do watch the news on television/cable and/or read the newspapers, you are misinformed. #TheTruthWillComeOut #HatersNeverWin #MAGA— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) May 21, 2018
The Onion posted a real email that Cohen sent the parody site a few years back:
Rob Goldstone, a central figure in organizing the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, said there was no collusion. But then he could not define what collusion means:
We had no contact of any sort with Russia.— Julian Sanchez (@normative) May 21, 2018
OK, there was contact, but not about the campaign.
Ok, there was contact about the campaign, but no collusion.
Well, look, nobody used the WORD “collusion.” pic.twitter.com/XnFdnlcnwk
A Slate writer faulted the media's "wishy washy" coverage of Trump's showdown with the Justice Department:
I’ve read 1000 stories today on Trump and the DOJ and my main takeaway is that if the identical thing was going on in a foreign country, the tone of the stories would be 100 times less wishy-washy.— Isaac Chotiner (@IChotiner) May 21, 2018
An exchange between conservative foreign policy scholar Max Boot and Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume:
The White House is the one that’s doing the stonewalling. As I write today, Trump is imitating a tried and true authoritarian tactic—investigate the investigators—to escape accountability: https://t.co/fB9vXk0RNo https://t.co/GkTAOsbYp1— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) May 21, 2018
Oh Max, where to begin. The FBI has already shown in the cases of McCabe, Strzok, Page et al that its conduct is quite worthy of investigation. That such a probe may tend to help POTUS does not change that. Trump is worth investigating and so are some of his investigators. https://t.co/zybUm7wfh2— Brit Hume (@brithume) May 21, 2018
So you’re ok with the President ordering an investigation of those who are investigating him? I’m not. This is a flagrant assault on the rule of law. Obstruction of justice in plain sight. An impeachable offense if Congress took seriously its constitutional responsibilities. https://t.co/hSUtYLYLqU— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) May 21, 2018
Some good perspective from Ted Cruz's former communications director:
We all agree that Bill Clinton's tarmac meeting with then-AG Loretta Lynch was bad bc of the active investigation. Tell me why the WH meeting today was different. Open line.— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) May 21, 2018
There has been A LOT of rain in the D.C. region over the past week:
Two months' worth of rain in eight days. https://t.co/6zVQUIOAKH— Steven Shepard (@POLITICO_Steve) May 21, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Washingtonian, “Political Insiders Plotted the Most Gerrymandered District in America — and Left a Paper Trail,” by Amanda Whiting: “Maryland is a ragtag jumble of mansions and mountain towns … But the people who live along the Youghiogheny River and the ones who take the Red Line into DC each morning have something in common: They are all residents of Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. Which means these strangers-turned-bedfellows share something else: They are the most gerrymandered people in America. … But the battle over Maryland’s 6th is different than other gerrymanders — and not just because Democrats are the culprits. The pols who rigged this district left behind a massive paper trail that lays out exactly how it all happened, an operation so fine-grained that mapmakers parked a district line less than a block from a candidate’s house. Look behind the doors this case has pried open and it’s easy to see why the court is now asking: Is enough finally enough?”
-- The Guardian, “'Jesus never charged a leper a co-pay': the rise of the religious left,” by Lauren Gambino: “As one group of faith leaders celebrates the fruits of a decades-long alliance with the Republican party, another is mounting a multi-faith challenge to the dominance of the Christian right, in an attempt to recapture the moral agenda. Frustrated by conservative Christians’ focus on culture wars over issues such as abortion and gay marriage, [Rev William Barber] leads an ascendent grassroots movement that is trying to turn the national conversation to what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: care for the poor, heal the sick, welcome the stranger. …” “There is no religious left and religious right,” said Barber. “There is only a moral center. And the scripture is very clear about where you have to be to be in the moral center — you have to be on the side of the poor, the working, the sick, the immigrant.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“White, straight and Christian: Dallas County candidate admits rewarding his kids if they marry within race,” from the Dallas Morning News: “Vickers ‘Vic’ Cunningham, a former criminal district judge now in a Republican runoff for Dallas County commissioner, acknowledged Friday that he set up a living trust with a clause rewarding his children if they marry a white person. [The trust was revealed] after his estranged brother [contacted reporters] saying his brother had been a lifelong racist. Vic Cunningham denied harboring racial bigotry but did confirm one of his brother’s primary allegations — that his trust includes a stipulation intended to discourage a child from marrying a person of another race or of the same sex. ‘I strongly support traditional family values,’ Cunningham said. ‘If you marry a person of the opposite sex that’s Caucasian, that’s Christian, they will get a distribution.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Cherry Hill principal apologizes for 'insensitive' prom tickets,” from The Courier Post: “The principal of Cherry Hill High School East has apologized for ‘insensitive’ language on tickets for the upcoming senior prom. The tickets urged students to ‘party like it’s 1776’ during the event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. But that prompted complaints from students who noted ‘not all communities can celebrate what life was like in 1776,’ Principal Dennis Perry said in a letter to the community Friday. ‘I am writing to apologize for the hurt feelings this reference caused for members of our school family,’ wrote Perry. ‘I especially apologize to our African American students, who I have let down by not initially recognizing the inappropriateness of this wording,’ he added. Perry said all prom-goers will receive commemorative tickets without the offensive language and vowed the school will make changes ‘to produce well thought out, appropriate communications.’”
DAYBOOK: The president has an intelligence briefing at 11 a.m. He meets with the president of South Korea at noon in the Oval Office and then they have lunch in the Cabinet room. Then Trump sits down with Mike Pompeo to debrief at 2:30 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., Trump delivers remarks at the annual gala of the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group, at the National Building Museum. Pence speaks to the National Association of Home Builders Executive Board Meeting at 10:45.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Howard Stern on what it was like to interview Trump: “He would get on, and no matter what I asked him, he would answer. In a very sincere and thought-out way. I’d say ... and I always called him Mr. Trump, he liked that, I’d say Mr. Trump, ‘Who are the great beauties? … He goes, first of all ― straight face ― the great beauties, Howard, are not actresses. It’s models ... Anyone works in the entertainment industry, really, I’ve only seen sixes and sevens.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Don't forget your umbrella for another rain day: We're expecting showers and storms today and possibly into tonight and tomorrow, according to the Capital Weather Gang.
-- Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that she adopted a newborn, becoming the first single mother to run the city. The announcement “surprised residents, political observers and some in her own administration,” Fenit Nirappil and Martin Weil report. “Bowser, who is 45, told WUSA Channel 9 it was the right time for her to start a family. 'I decided to start the adoption journey, just knowing that it was a great time in my life and I had so much to share with a baby,” she said. 'When you sit in the seat that I’m in, you’re used to being able to make things happen, and babies have a way of letting you know that they’re in control.'"
-- Parents with children at Duke Ellington School of the Arts sued the city. Perry Stein reports: They claimed the District “violated their rights and failed to properly notify families as it investigated widespread allegations of enrollment fraud at the prestigious performing arts school. The lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, comes in the wake of findings released earlier this month that more than 160 students — nearly 30 percent of the student body — appeared to be living outside the District yet were not paying the tuition required of those who live outside the city and attend D.C. public schools.”
-- The Nationals routed the Padres 10-2.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert: Trump hates White House leaks, according to White House leaks.
Seth Meyers took a closer look at Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Gulf emissaries:
Jimmy Kimmel made fun of Trump for misspelling his wife's name in a tweet:
Well-wishers welcome George H.W. Bush to Maine:
Trump calls Devin Nunes a “courageous man”: