National Political Correspondent

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump said Thursday that Rod Blagojevich “shouldn’t have been put in jail.”

After pardoning conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to violating campaign-finance laws, Trump told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One that he is considering commuting the prison sentence of the disgraced former Illinois governor and pardoning Martha Stewart, who was convicted of lying to investigators and obstructing justice related to insider trading.

Trump’s comments on Blagojevich got the least attention but, frankly, were the most startling. A jury of his peers convicted the former prosecutor of 17 counts of wire fraud, attempted extortion, soliciting bribes and conspiracy in 2011. He was impeached and removed from office almost unanimously. He left office with an 8 percent approval rating.

Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat that opened when Barack Obama became president to the highest bidder. Initially, he wanted to trade the appointment of Valerie Jarrett — who has been in the news this week because of Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets — in exchange for Obama picking him as secretary of health and human services. When the president-elect’s intermediaries rebuffed him, he turned elsewhere and wondered how much he could get for appointing someone else to the seat. He also thought about naming himself.

“I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden. And I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing,” Blagojevich said on a court-authorized FBI wiretap that was played during his trial.

Apparently referring to that tape, Trump told reporters: “If you look at what he said, he said something to the effect like, ‘What do I get?’ … Stupid thing to say. But he’s sort of saying … he’s gonna make a U.S. senator, which is a very big deal. If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado. … Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. He shouldn’t have been put in jail.”

At his trial, prosecutors laid out compelling evidence that Blagojevich sought to rescind $8 million in state funding for Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago because the chief executive of the hospital wouldn’t make a $50,000 contribution.

He refused to sign a bill that financially benefited racetracks until the owner of a racetrack cut a $100,000 check to his campaign.

Blagojevich’s scheming, a prosecutor said, “would make [Abraham] Lincoln roll over in his grave.”

After he was convicted on 17 wide-ranging counts, several members of the jury spoke to reporters. “We felt it was very clear he was trying to make a trade for the Senate seat,” one juror said. Another added, “We'd tried everything to find him not guilty, but the evidence was there.”

The Supreme Court has made it much harder to prosecute public corruption in recent years, but Blagojevich failed to convince even four justices to grant cert to review his conviction or the length of his sentence just this April. Trump’s own solicitor general, Noel Francisco, asked the high court not to take up Blagojevich’s “unwarranted” appeal.

-- Trump’s announcement that he’s considering clemency makes it seem like he thinks what Blagojevich did is just politics as usual. That it’s no big deal to make policy based on contributions. That a Senate seat belongs to the governor who gets to fill it, not the 12.8 million citizens of Illinois. That it’s “unfair” for the FBI to pursue an egregious pattern of corruption. Perhaps Trump would say putting it that way is unfair to him, but his public musings indicate a desire to diminish the seriousness of political corruption.

Remember, Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney confessed in April that he would only meet with lobbyists who contributed to his campaigns when he was in Congress. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you,” he told a roomful of banking lobbyists. The White House has yet to disavow these comments. Mulvaney is still a member of the Cabinet.

The president is mistakenly under the impression that Blagojevich was sentenced to 18 years. In fact, he got 14 years. But the 61-year-old has served just six years, and he’s not due to be released from a minimum-security prison in Colorado until May 2024. The former governor’s lawyers have not even formally asked for a pardon or commutation yet.

-- Defending his position, Trump noted that Blagojevich is a Democrat: “He's not my party. But I thought that he was treated unfairly.” Blagojevich is a Democrat, but so was Trump — until September 2009. Developing a Trump-branded hotel in Chicago at the time, the president donated $5,000 to Blagojevich’s 2002 campaign and another $2,000 in 2007.

The two men have a personal history, though. Blagojevich was a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010 — after he was indicted but before he was convicted. “Governor, you have a hell of a lot of guts, I have to tell you that,” Trump told him on the first episode of the season. “I have friends where things have happened to them. They crawl into a corner. They die. You're out there punching! I respect that.”

Trump fired Blagojevich on the fourth episode. Soon, he may more than make it up to him.

-- Patricia Blagojevich appeared last night on Fox News, the president’s favorite channel, to effusively praise Trump and argue that the feds are now trying to do to him what they did to her husband. “These same people that did this to my family — that secretly taped us and twisted the facts and perverted the law — are trying to do the same thing … but on a march larger scale. They’re emboldened. They took down a governor and now they have their sights much higher.”

The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on Monday from Rod Blagojevich that seemed like it was written for an audience of one, as well. “I’m in Prison for Practicing Politics,” he wrote. “Some in the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are abusing their power to criminalize the routine practices of politics and government. … When they can’t prove a crime, they create one.”

-- Robert Grant, who headed the FBI’s Chicago field office during the Blagojevich investigation, accused Trump of being motivated by spite and antipathy toward law enforcement. “It’s so disheartening to think that the president of the United States would overturn the evidence heard by a judge and jury, all out of an animus toward Bob Mueller, James Comey and [former U.S. Attorney] Pat Fitzgerald,” Grant, who is now retired, told Politico. “Blagojevich got caught by wiretaps and microphones and he was engaging in a practice that we believed he was taking part in for quite awhile. … I don’t think anybody who listened to those tapes would think anything but it was an incredibly corrupt governor who was dealing with corrupt associates. … When the framers of the Constitution framed that power, I don’t think they envisioned this.”

-- Republicans in the Illinois legislature were also taken aback by Trump’s comments. “If ever there was a political crime, that was one of the most egregious — certainly in our state’s history, if not the country’s,” state Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) told the CBS Chicago affiliate.

-- Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor who took over as governor when Blagojevich was removed from office, emphasized that his predecessor has never taken any responsibility for his misconduct: “He did infinite harm to the government of Illinois,” Quinn, a Democrat, told the New York Times. “We had a lot of remedial work to do after he left, including passing strong ethics laws and campaign finance laws — he didn’t do Illinois any good.”

-- The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board pleads with Trump this morning to leave Blagojevich in prison: “Presidents do have broad constitutional authority to commute sentences for federal crimes, and Blagojevich committed a lot of them. … But in Illinois, where law-abiding citizens have seen four of their last 10 governors frog-marched to federal prison, the next crooked pols surely are thrilled to hear Trump bloviate. They’d love to go back to the long era of gentlemen’s sentences for the unfortunates who get caught wallowing in the Illinois culture of political sleaze. We’ve never found joy in watching Blagojevich’s family — the people he victimized most — plead for mercy. We have, though, concluded that the sentence he earned not only is fair. It’s fair warning to other criminal pols here in Illinois, the State of Corruption.”

-- Trump didn’t just downplay the crimes of which Blagojevich was convicted. The president said that he pardoned D’Souza because he deserved nothing more than “a quick, minor fine, like everybody else with the election stuff.” D’Souza was sentenced in 2014 to five years of probation, including eight months living under supervision in a “community confinement center” and a $30,000 fine.

“There are some campaign-finance violations that are trivial, or that might be explained away as oversights. This was not one of them,” Paul Waldman explains on Plum Line. “D’Souza knew very well he was breaking the law, and took steps to conceal his actions. He devised and carried out a scheme to violate election laws. Specifically, once he and his wife had given the legal limit in contributions to a friend running for Senate, he wanted to give more money but was prohibited by law from doing so. He then instructed his assistant and his mistress (yes, his mistress) to also give the legal limit, and reimbursed them for their contributions, concealing the true source of the money. That is not an oversight; it was willful fraud.”

Don’t forget: Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible campaign-finance violations.

-- To be sure, Trump’s support for leniency does not extend to his opponents: He thought Hillary Clinton should be locked up for using a private email server. Before getting elected, the president often said in his stump speech that “no one is above the law.”

-- Trump might also relish the chance to undo big wins by people he perceives to be his enemies. Preet Bharara prosecuted D’Souza as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Comey prosecuted Martha Stewart and devoted a chapter to the case in his memoir. Fitzgerald, one of Comey’s best friends, prosecuted both Blagojevich and Scooter Libby, the former Dick Cheney chief of staff whom Trump recently pardoned. Trump fired Bharara and Comey last year. Both have emerged as vocal critics.

-- Trump’s story about how the D’Souza pardon came to be doesn’t add up. Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and John Wagner identify inconsistencies in the president’s version of events: “Earlier this spring, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) brought up D’Souza’s situation to Trump and personally lobbied him to consider a pardon, according to White House officials. The senator, who accompanied Trump to a political fundraiser Thursday in Houston, cheered the decision. Trump, however, told reporters that ‘nobody asked me to do it’ and claimed that he had never met D’Souza, although he said he has seen him on television. ‘I called him last night, first time I’ve ever spoken to him,’ Trump said.

“But Sam Nunberg, Trump’s former political aide, recalled that D’Souza visited Trump at Trump Tower in New York in 2012, shortly before releasing his film, ‘2016: Obama’s America,’ which was based on his earlier book, ‘The Roots of Obama’s Rage.’ Nunberg said that Trump agreed to help D’Souza promote the film. Trump sent three tweets about D’Souza’s movie that August, including one calling it an ‘amazing film.’ A White House spokesman said he could not immediately square the conflicting accounts of whether Trump had previously met D’Souza.”

-- Related: Trump has made at least 3,251 false or misleading claims during his 497 days in office, according to a new tabulation from The Washington Post’s Fact Checker team. That’s an average of more than 6.5 claims a day.

-- Coming attractions: A senior White House official said that as many as a dozen other pardons are under consideration by Trump, adding that most are likely to happen,” per Phil, Josh and John. “Traditionally, people seeking pardons apply through the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which reviews thousands of cases and advances some to the White House for the president’s consideration. But Trump has used his clemency powers in a more haphazard way, spurred by personal connections or political calculations.

“Most of the pardons are impulsive, according to a person familiar with the process, and are driven by his ‘seeing something on TV, reading something in a newspaper, hearing from a friend or someone lobbying him personally.’ … ‘With Sheriff Joe [Arpaio], there was no process, no examination of exactly what did he do, what did he deserve?’ said the person familiar with the process. ‘Someone said this is a miscarriage of justice on Fox News. Trump liked Sheriff Joe. That was it.’

“Actor Sylvester Stallone personally lobbied Trump to grant a posthumous pardon to heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, which the president did in May. And reality television star Kim Kardashian visited Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday to ask for a pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, who is serving a life sentence for a drug-trafficking conviction.

“Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate and his former political strategist, who has come under scrutiny by Mueller’s team, said the president sent a clear message. ‘It has to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert S. Mueller III: Indict people for crimes that don’t pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen,’ Stone said. ‘The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers.’”

And for a history of presidential pardons, check out this story from my colleague Steve Hendrix on Retropolis.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 percent, with a higher than expected 223,000 jobs added in May. Heather Long reports: “In a highly unusual move, [Trump] tweeted Friday morning that he is ‘looking forward to seeing the employment numbers.’ Trump's tweet made many on Wall Street wonder if the number would be far higher than predicted. The U.S. unemployment rate has not been this low since 2000. Many economists predict it will fall even further this year, potentially dropping to 3.5 percent, which would be the lowest rate since 1969. Wage growth ticked up slightly to 2.7 percent over the past year. Presidents have typically received an advance look at the jobs report on Thursday evening, but they refrain from commenting on it until after it releases because they don't want to be seen as influencing the markets. A long-standing federal rule forbids government employees from commenting on the jobs numbers until an hour after the release, but Trump has ignored that rule before.”

-- Investigators from the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office recently interviewed James Comey as part of a probe into Andrew McCabe, his former deputy — an indication that prosecutors are “seriously” considering whether McCabe should be charged with a crime. Matt Zapotosky reports: “Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz accused McCabe in April of misleading investigators and Comey four times — three of them under oath — about authorizing a disclosure to the media. Horowitz referred the findings to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office to determine whether criminal charges are warranted. Lying to federal investigators can carry a five-year prison sentence, though McCabe disputes that he intentionally misled anyone. Comey’s interview, while significant, does not indicate prosecutors have reached any conclusions, and people familiar with the process said it is not surprising given the allegations McCabe faces. A referral from the inspector general does not guarantee charges will be filed.”

“The U.S. attorney’s investigation into McCabe is likely to intensify partisan squabbling, pitting respected law enforcement leaders against one another and potentially giving Trump ammunition to attack … McCabe asserts that Comey knew he authorized the media disclosure, and Comey claims otherwise. Comey has said he ‘could well be a witness’ against McCabe if McCabe were ever charged and tried.”

-- Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was ousted from office due to corruption scandals. Pamela Rolfe and William Booth report: “He will be replaced by a leader of the opposition Socialist Party. The [no-confidence] vote was 180 to 169, with one abstention. Rajoy appeared in parliament Friday morning and in a brief speech said, ‘I will accept the decision.’ … Spain’s National Court handed down tough sentences last week to 29 individuals linked with [Rajoy’s Popular Party], including elected officials and business leaders. The court ruled that the Popular Party benefited from wide-ranging, systematic use of kickbacks from contracts. The crimes ranged from fraud and tax evasion to money laundering.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Federal prosecutors dropped charges against seven people charged with rioting during Trump’s inauguration last year after a D.C. judge determined that the government “intentionally misrepresented” information and withheld evidence. (Keith L. Alexander)
  2. Nebraska is pushing to carry out the country’s first execution using fentanyl. The state’s attorney general has asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to allow the use of the powerful, synthetic painkiller in the execution of Carey Dean Moore, first sentenced to death in 1980 for killing two Omaha cabdrivers. (Mark Berman)
  3. Paramedics were initially denied access to wounding and dying students immediately following the Parkland, Fla., shooting, according to rescue official Michael McNally. McNally said the Broward Sheriff's Office captain in charge of the scene repeatedly told him she “would have to check” before allowing paramedics to enter the school. (Miami Herald)
  4. FDA officials still have not traced the source of the contaminated romaine lettuce that triggered a massive E. coli outbreak. The outbreak, which began more than seven weeks ago, sickened 172 people and sent romaine sales plunging by nearly 50 percent. Consumer and advocacy groups are now calling on the FDA to pass mandatory record-keeping requirements for “high-risk foods.” (Caitlin Dewey)
  5. A Goldman Sachs vice president has been charged with insider trading after he allegedly made more than $130,000 by trading illegal information through a brokerage account of a friend living in South Korea. (Reuters)
  6. New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush will be allowed to keep his six-figure book advance despite being dropped from the Random House deal after misconduct allegations surfaced against him. Thrush was originally supposed to co-author the book with colleague Maggie Haberman. (Paul Farhi)
  7. Karthik Nemmani, a 14-year-old from McKinney, Tex., won the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The winning word was “koinonia,” a word with Greek roots meaning a spiritual communion. (Amy B Wang)
  8. Usain Bolt lost one of his Olympic gold medals after one of his teammates was accused of doping, costing the superstar sprinter his perfect Olympic record. Nesta Carter was found to have a banned stimulant in his system when he participated in the men’s 4×100 relay race at the 2008 Olympics. (Des Bieler)
  9. A 64-year-old Cleveland man is suing U.S. Customs and Border protection after agents seized his life savings from a carry-on bag — and then never charged him with a crime. It’s not against the law to carry large amounts of cash onto an airplane, but agents were operating under a controversial procedure known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows them to seize cash and property — even when those involved are never convicted or charged. (Christopher Ingraham)
  10. The family of a retired Marine colonel used his obituary to call out bad driving in the Washington area. A sentence from Col. Robert F. Gibson’s obituary reads, “A native of Northern Virginia for the last 30 years of his life, he hated how all of you were incapable of driving competently.” (NBC4)

THE TRADE WAR ESCALATES:

-- Trump imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminum against Canada, Mexico and the European Union — triggering retaliation from U.S. allies just hours before the economic penalties were slated to take effect. “The tariffs — 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum — [marked] a major escalation of the trade war between the U.S. and its allies,” David J. Lynch, Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta report.

“In response, the E.U. said it would impose duties ‘on a number of imports from the United States,’ referring to a 10-page list of targets for retaliation it published in March ... European leaders also vowed to proceed with a complaint to the World Trade Organization. The Mexican government said it would levy import taxes on U.S. exports of [multiple products, including certain types of] steel … And Canada levied a surtax on $16.6 billion of American steel, aluminum and other products, as [Justin Trudeau] pronounced Trump’s claim to be protecting national security an ‘affront’ to Canadians who fought alongside American GIs from World War II to Afghanistan.”

  • “It’s unprecedented to have gone after so many U.S. allies … and forcing them to retaliate,” said economist and trade policy author Douglas Irwin. “It’s hard to see how the U.S. is going to come out well from this whole exercise.”
  • Trump has said the tariffs are “necessary” to protect national security — but that claim was immediately disputed by leaders of the affected countries. “This is protectionism, pure and simple,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.
  • And some prominent Republicans also attacked the tariffs as “wrongheaded”: “This is dumb. Europe, Canada, and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents,” said Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. “We’ve been down this road before — blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression. ‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean ‘Make America 1929 Again.’”

-- Trudeau said that months of intense NAFTA negotiations with the U.S. “imploded” after a phone call in which Mike Pence made an ultimatum requiring any deal to expire automatically in five years. Damian Paletta reports: “Trudeau said he was prepared to travel to Washington this week to try to finalize a rework of [NAFTA], but Pence … said a meeting would occur only if the ‘sunset’ provision was agreed to in advance. ‘I had to highlight that there was no possibility of any Canadian prime minister signing a NAFTA deal that included a five-year sunset clause, and obviously the visit didn’t happen,’ Trudeau said[.] The sunset issue was one of several that the White House wanted ‘clarity’ on before any meeting took place … Trudeau said [that] he felt the United States, Mexico and Canada were on the verge of a renegotiated NAFTA that he described as a ‘win, win, win’ before the talks stalled after the Pence phone call.”

-- Trump’s advisers have been privately fighting over trade policy, with the argument recently spilling into public view. From Politico’s Ben White, Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook: “The week began with a statement that the administration would move ahead with trade levies on China, just days after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said a trade war with the world’s second-largest economy was ‘on hold.’ Trump’s senior trade adviser Peter Navarro publicly rebuked Mnuchin’s statement on Wednesday, calling it an ‘unfortunate sound bite.’ One senior administration official said privately this week that Navarro’s public scolding of the Treasury secretary was a ‘firing-level offense’ but held out no hope that Trump would take any action. The result of the infighting is a trade policy that’s nearly impossible for anyone to understand or predict and which risks undermining Trump’s economic and stock market gains.”

NORTH KOREA: 

-- As U.S. and North Korean officials continue efforts to revive the June 12 summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, South Korea has taken a different tack — expressing interest in a three-way summit involving its own president, Moon Jae-in. Michelle Ye Hee Lee and John Hudson report: “South Korean officials insisted [the meeting] would only materialize if supported by Pyongyang and Washington. [Moon] has said he hopes for such a meeting, which perhaps could take place immediately after the scheduled [Trump-Kim meeting]. A meeting of the three countries’ leaders could provide an opening for Moon to advance a long sought goal: a peace accord that formally ends the Korean War. Political allies and experts say Moon’s government views such a declaration as an incentive to North Korea to agree to denuclearization, and it’s a personal issue to Moon, the son of North Korean refugees[.]

“But the Trump administration is currently divided on whether agreeing to a peace treaty at the outset of the talks would give away a significant concession too early in the negotiations ... The concerns could create a potential rift with Seoul, which wants to remain involved in the negotiations in the long term but doesn’t want to be seen as inserting itself improperly too early.”

One Trump official said both Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been “eager” to play a role in the talks, but that the U.S. goal was to keep the initial summit limited to just Trump and Kim. “’The president is trying to keep them at arm’s length,’ the official said … [Trump’s] theory is that he can better build rapport with Kim and offer him the reassurance he needs in a one-on-one negotiation.”

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed optimism about salvaging the Trump-Kim summit, which he described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity." Carol Morello and Anne Gearan report: “Following two days of talks with Kim’s right-hand aide, Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, Pompeo spoke as though the summit Trump had canceled last week was likely to be reinstated, but still framed it as an ‘expected’ first meeting. ‘Our two countries face a pivotal moment,’ to work for peace, Pompeo told reporters after the unusual sit-down sessions with an official banned from traveling to the United States without a special waiver. ‘It would be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity to go waste,’ Pompeo said. Kim Yong Chol will travel to Washington on Friday to deliver a ‘personal letter’ from Kim Jong Un, Pompeo said, adding that he does not know whether that means a formal announcement is likely Friday that the summit is back on.”

-- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Kim in Pyongyang as Moscow seeks to expand its influence on the peninsula. CNN’s Steve George reports: “ ... Lavrov called for the phased lifting of sanctions on North Korea, suggesting that denuclearization would only be achievable if sanctions were scaled back. ‘As we start discussions on how to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula, it is understood that the solution cannot be comprehensive without the lifting of sanctions,’ Lavrov said.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened to expel U.S. troops from northeastern Syria by force, saying the United States should “heed the lessons of Iraq” and extract itself as his government seeks to reassert control in the area. “[We] are going to resort to liberating the area by force, with the Americans or without the Americans,” Assad said, adding, “The Americans should leave somehow. They are going to leave.” (Liz Sly)

-- Italian leaders reached an agreement on forming a government, which could avert an E.U. crisis. Stefano Pitrelli and Griff Witte report: “[N]egotiations Wednesday and Thursday yielded an unexpected breakthrough, culminating in a presidential announcement late Thursday night that the country’s new government will be sworn in Friday. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League will govern together, forming the first purely populist coalition to lead a core Western European country since the creation of the European Union. And they will get their preferred prime minister, the little-known law professor Giuseppe Conte.”

-- Hungary’s parliament is considering legislation that would target and punish individuals who provide help to undocumented immigrants. Under the “Stop Soros” bill — named after Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros — offenders could be sentenced to up to a year in prison for providing aid or protection for undocumented peoples. (Siobhán O'Grady)

-- The Danish parliament voted to approve a so-called “Burqa ban” — effectively outlawing both the burqa and the niqab, and subjecting offenders to fines of more than $1,000. An earlier version of the bill included an amendment that allowed violators to be jailed, but the provision was later removed. (NPR)

-- The United Nations said Mexico’s security forces are likely behind the disappearances of 23 people in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, blaming authorities for “arbitrarily detaining” victims — some as young as 14 — who were plucked from the streets. In a statement, the United Nations also reported that the Mexican government has made little progress locating the vanished residents, “despite ample information and evidence,” and added that “several witnesses have been subjected to threats.” (Joshua Partlow)

TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- Three Senate Democrats want the EPA inspector general to probe whether Scott Pruitt received an improper gift when an aide assisted him in a housing search. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: The senators cite “new emails that show the staffer corresponded with a real estate agent during office hours on her agency email account. The new emails, attached to a letter written by Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.), Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), detail how EPA director of scheduling and advance Millan Hupp worked with a private real estate agent in the summer to locate an apartment for Pruitt and his wife. … The lawmakers cite three different provisions in the federal government’s Code of Federal Regulation, including requirements that employees ‘use official time to perform their official duties’; that employees cannot use his or her official position ‘to coerce or induce anyone, including a subordinate’ to provide ‘any benefit’; and that employees cannot give a superior ‘a gift,’ which can include services.”

-- Companies took the first steps to drill for oil next winter in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge since Congress voted last year to open the pristine wilderness to petroleum exploration. Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report: “But while [Trump], congressional Republicans, the oil industry and Alaskan leaders have been pushing hard to develop the refuge … the Interior Department’s initial response to the consortium’s permit application was scathing ... the exchange over the permit highlights the difficulties of bringing to fruition a signature energy project of Trump and his fellow Republicans. … The oil services firm and project operator SAExploration said that ‘this partnership is dedicated to minimizing the effect of our operations on the environment.’ It said it would deploy sleds, smaller vehicles and biodegradable lubricants, and would construct ice roads. But the proposal for seismic work included two 150-strong teams of workers, airstrips, giant sleds and explosives to search for and map underground oil or natural gas reserves.”

-- The largest union representing federal workers sued the administration over a new executive order limiting the time employees can spend on union activity. Lisa Rein reports: “The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District by the American Federation of Government Employees ratchets up ­labor-management tensions that have simmered at federal agencies since [Trump] took office. … The restriction on what is known as ‘official time’ — which will ultimately have to be bargained through collective bargaining contracts at federal agencies — was one of three orders the president signed late Friday before the Memorial Day weekend to roll back long-held civil service protections for federal employees. … AFGE, which represents about 700,000 federal workers, argues in its lawsuit that the Trump administration has violated the union’s right to freedom of association, guaranteed by the First Amendment. The lawsuit claims the administration has singled out labor organizations for disparate treatment.”

-- Trump met with the family members of the Santa Fe shooting victims in Texas. The AP’s Jonathan Lemire reports: “Rhonda Hart, whose 14-year-old daughter, Kimberly Vaughan, was killed at the school, [said] that Trump repeatedly used the word ‘wacky’ to describe the shooter and the trench coat he wore. She said she told Trump, ‘Maybe if everyone had access to mental health care, we wouldn’t be in the situation.’ Hart, an Army veteran, said she also suggested employing veterans as sentinels in schools. She said Trump responded, ‘And arm them?’ She replied, ‘No,’ but said Trump ‘kept mentioning’ arming classroom teachers. ‘It was like talking to a toddler,’ Hart said.”

-- The Trump administration opening the door to Medicaid work requirements eased the passage of Medicaid expansion in Virginia, Amy Goldstein and Laura Vozzella write: “Three of four Republican state senators who defected from their caucus’s long-held opposition to expanding Medicaid cited the fact that the Trump administration is allowing states to impose work requirements for the first time in the half-century history of this central piece of the nation’s social safety net. … Under the bill, expected to be signed into law next week by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance must apply within 150 days for federal permission to join a growing number of states that are compelling able-bodied adults to work, prepare for a job or volunteer to qualify for Medicaid.”

-- Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s principal deputy solicitor, has played a key role in advancing Trump’s agenda at the agency, newly obtained records show. From Juliet Eilperin and Dino Grandoni: “In April 2017, pesticide industry officials were eager to meet with [Jorjani] about a provision in the Endangered Species Act they viewed as time-consuming and complex. Representatives from the agrochemical trade association CropLife America and an affiliate, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE), questioned the requirement that the Environmental Protection Agency consult with the two other agencies managing endangered species — Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service — before licensing pesticides. The industry groups appeared pleased with the reception [Jorjani] gave them … In January, the Trump administration formed an interagency working group to review the policy.”

TRUMP’S AMERICA:

-- Samantha Bee apologized for using a vulgar term to refer to Ivanka Trump on her late-night show. Bee said of the White House adviser on her show, “Do something about your dad's immigration practices, you feckless c---. He listens to you.” “I would like to sincerely apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers for using an expletive on my show to describe her last night,” Bee later said in a statement to The Post. “It was inappropriate and inexcusable. I crossed a line, and I deeply regret it.” The comment also triggered an apology from Bee’s network, TBS. Sonia Rao reports: “The video of the segment was taken down from YouTube and Facebook. As of early Thursday evening, Autotrader, an online marketplace for cars, and State Farm stated that they would be suspending their respective sponsorships of the TBS show. A number of Twitter users equated Bee’s words with Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett that eventually led to the cancellation of her ABC series.”

-- The White House condemned Bee’s comment, adding the “collective silence by the left and its media allies” was “appalling.” “The language used by Samantha Bee last night is vile and vicious,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement prior to Bee’s public apology. “Her disgusting comments and show are not fit for broadcast, and executives at Time Warner and TBS must demonstrate that such explicit profanity about female members of this administration will not be condoned on its network.” (Sonia Rao)

-- “Bee's slur crossed into coarser territory and raised, again, a question that liberals from pop culture to politics have not yet resolved in the Trump presidency: the high road or the low road?” Callum Borchers writes. “In a polarizing and at-times-profane stand-up routine at the White House correspondents' dinner last month, comedian Michelle Wolf quipped that she would have dragged the absent president to the event, ‘but it turns out the president of the United States is the one p---y you're not allowed to grab.’ As some in the crowd groaned, Wolf responded, ‘He said it first. Yeah, he did. Do you remember?’ Everyone remembers. But not everyone agrees that ‘he said it first’ is an excuse to emulate crassness.”

-- Trump called for Bee’s firing this morning:

-- The evangelical Liberty University is making a movie entitled “The Trump Prophecy” exploring whether God played a role in Trump’s victory. Lauren Markoe writes: “The film, which will be released in 1,200 theaters this fall, is Liberty’s largest production to date, and it pairs the university with an independent Christian filmmaker who raised $1 million for the project — a sum its director says could double with postproduction and distribution costs. Those who share Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s belief that Trump is a ‘dream’ president for evangelicals will probably make up a large part of the target audience — conservatives 55 and older. But others — including many evangelicals — call the project anti-Christian for what they see as its implicit endorsement of a president who fosters attitudes and policies toward immigrants, minorities and the poor that they think contradict Jesus’ teaching to prioritize the marginalized.”

-- “In a Georgia town, nine people explain their frustration and optimism on immigration,” by Jenna Johnson: “Gainesville, about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, has long been a destination for immigrants seeking work at poultry processing plants, construction sites and factories. More than 40 percent of the city’s 40,000 residents are Hispanic, and one in four was born in another country, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates. Some of the immigrants who call Gainesville home are in the country illegally. The city is also a conservative bastion. It is located in a county where [Trump] won 70 percent of the vote in 2016. … [The Post] traveled to Gainesville and asked dozens of locals how they would change the nation’s immigration system if they could.”

-- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has decided to boycott the NFL following its policy change on players’ national anthem protests. From Adam Kilgore: “[I]n trying to appease Trump and fans angry at protesting players, the league may have shifted unrest, more than eliminated it. On Twitter over the past week, the phrase #NFLBoycott has seen steady use. How much those tweeters will stay away, or how much NFL they watched in the first place, is unknowable. But as Ellison shows, some will stay away.”

THE MIDTERMS:

-- Gun violence continues to deepen political divisions — but maybe not for the expected reasons, according to a new Post analysis examining gun deaths across the country. Andrew Van Dam reports: “A distinct pattern emerged: In Democratic regions of the country, which tend to be cities, people are more likely to be murdered with a gun than they are to shoot themselves to death. In regions of the country won by Republicans, which tend to be rural areas and small towns, the opposite is true — people are more likely to shoot themselves to death than they are to be murdered with a gun. This pattern ... could partially explain differing partisan views on the issue of gun control, experts say, though they added more analysis would be necessary to prove a direct link. In the most Democratic regions, gun violence is more often committed against another, crimes that probably generate more news coverage and fear. In the most Republican areas, it is more often committed against oneself, suicides that may not attract as much attention.”

-- The leading Democrat in New Mexico’s gubernatorial race, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, profited from the state’s use of high-risk insurance plans, which critics say should have been outlawed under Obamacare. New Mexico holds its primary elections on Tuesday. Politico's Rachana Pradhan reports: “As most states were shuttering their subsidized health-insurance programs for people with pre-existing conditions because they could get coverage through Obamacare, a firm, [Delta Consulting Group], co-founded by Lujan Grisham and a close political ally received millions of dollars to run New Mexico’s program, even as she served in Congress. The state’s high risk pool is still open even though its premiums are higher on average than Obamacare — 10 percent higher this year … It also continued despite efforts by New Mexico Republicans to curtail the program.”

-- “Teachers Find Public Support as Campaign for Higher Pay Goes to Voters,” by the New York Times's Dana Goldstein and Ben Casselman: “A survey conducted in early May … found that nearly three in four adults — 71 percent — considered teacher pay too low, while just 6 percent felt it was too high. And two-thirds said they supported increasing the salaries of public-school teachers even if it meant raising taxes. Backing for teachers cut across demographic, regional and partisan lines. Even a majority of Republicans — 56 percent — said they would favor raising taxes to increase teachers’ pay ... The teacher walkouts began in deep-red states such as West Virginia and Oklahoma, where teacher pay has tended to be lower than in other states, and spread quickly to Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina, racking up a list of concessions from conservative lawmakers. The movement has the potential to influence congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative races, and could catch fire in additional states when the new school year begins.”

-- Nathan Larson, an independent congressional candidate in Virginia, admitted to being a pedophile. HuffPost’s Jesselyn Cook and Andy Campbell report: “In a phone call, Larson confirmed that he created the now-defunct websites suiped.org and incelocalypse.today ― chat rooms that served as gathering places for pedophiles and violence-minded misogynists like himself. … On the phone, he was open about his pedophilia and seemingly unfazed about his long odds of attaining government office. ‘A lot of people are tired of political correctness and being constrained by it,’ he said. ‘People prefer when there’s an outsider who doesn’t have anything to lose and is willing to say what’s on a lot of people’s minds.’ When asked whether he’s a pedophile or just writes about pedophilia, he said, ‘It’s a mix of both. When people go over the top there’s a grain of truth to what they say.’”

-- At least eight white nationalists are running for federal office this year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. (MSNBC reached out to them.)

-- The surge in female candidates this midterm season means many women facing off against each other in key contests. Kayla Epstein reports: “Dozens of such contests already have been held that elevate one woman and disappoint another, a reckoning that resumes June 5, when eight states hold primaries. … Some women running against other women said they found this new dynamic liberating in a cycle where Democrats have made clear at the ballot box that they want to send a woman to Congress, where men still outnumber women 5 to 1. … [T]he female faceoffs also can force voters to look beyond gender, to the issues.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Rick Gerson, a close friend of Jared Kushner’s, has caught Mueller’s attention for his proximity to controversial meetings. NBC News’s Carol E. Lee and Julia Ainsley report: “Gerson, a hedge-fund manager in New York, was in the Seychelles in January 2017, less than two weeks before [Trump's] inauguration and around the time Trump associate Erik Prince secretly met with Russian and United Arab Emirates officials, including Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, four [sources] said. While in the remote Indian Ocean island nation, Gerson met with Prince Mohammed — also known by his initials as MBZ — and communicated with a Lebanese-American businessman with close ties to the UAE, George Nader, who had organized the Erik Prince meeting … Gerson had met Nader just weeks earlier when Trump officials, including Kushner, gathered for a secret meeting with MBZ at a Four Seasons hotel in New York … ”

-- Months before Trump launched a full-scale attack on FBI source Stefan Halper as a “spy” who infiltrated his 2016 campaign, the White House publicly touted him as a supporter of Trump’s trade agenda. Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports: “In a White House press release from August 14, 2017, titled ‘Praise for President Donald J. Trump’s Memorandum on Chinese Trade Practices,’ Halper is a featured voice in support of Trump's call for an investigation of China's theft of intellectual property ... Halper — identified as a professor from the University of Cambridge — issued a glowing assessment of Trump's decision. It's unclear how Halper … came to be included among the academics and policy experts on the list. But his inclusion on the list came just two weeks after an email exchange with one of the Trump campaign officials he had reportedly contacted in his role as an informant: Carter Page.”

-- A Justice Department report revealed Mueller’s investigation has cost nearly $17 million so far. From NPR’s Carrie Johnson: “Mueller's team of prosecutors and FBI special agents has spent by far the most money on covering salaries, followed by rent and information technology services, the statement of expenditures says.”

-- Trump commented on the cost of Mueller’s investigation this morning:

-- NPR released audio of Michael Cohen's legal threats against political journalist Tim Mak during the 2016 campaign — which were made in an effort to halt his reporting on Trump and Ivana’s divorce proceedings. While working at the Daily Beast in 2015, Mak reported on Ivana Trump's since-retracted rape allegation against her then-husband. Cohen called Mak to try to quash the story, threatening the reporter and making the false claim that spousal rape is not illegal.”

Quote du jour: “Mark my words for it, I will make sure that you and I meet one day over in the courthouse and I will take you for every penny you still don't have, and I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said, according to a copy of the transcript. “[So] I'm warning you, tread very [expletive] lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be [expletive] disgusting. Do you understand me? Don't think you can hide behind your pen because it's not going to happen.” (Read the full transcript here.)

-- Stormy Daniels’s lawyer sought assistance from top Democratic operatives in his legal fight against Trump. The New York Times’s Kenneth P. Vogel reports: “[Michael] Avenatti contacted an official in the network of liberal groups led by David Brock, while someone associated with Mr. Avenatti’s law firm was in touch with two people connected to major Democratic donors, according to people familiar with the conversations. But the discussions do not appear to have led to any financial help … Mr. Brock’s groups decided not to donate to the efforts because they saw little value in spending money on a legal fight that was largely being waged in the news media, especially given Mr. Avenatti’s penchant for attracting press coverage, according to two Democratic political operatives familiar with the discussions. … The solicitations call into question Mr. Avenatti’s insistence that he and Ms. Clifford have never actively sought to raise money from major political donors because ‘we will not allow this to be politicized.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

D'Souza reacted to his pardon:

Bharara responded:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) applauded Trump's decision:

D'Souza's wife thanked Cruz:

From a former U.S. attorney in Birmingham:

From a constitutional law professor at Harvard:

From the editor at large of the Weekly Standard and a veteran of the Bush 41 White House:

A Wall Street Journal reporter:

From an NBC News reporter:

Here's one example:

From a CNBC reporter:

From a USA Today reporter:

From a conservative writer:

From a CNN commentator who worked in Bill Clinton's White House:

Republican senators criticized Trump's decision on steel tariffs:

From Politico's Capitol bureau chief:

Hillary Clinton called on the administration to boost its hurricane preparedness: 

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) went after Rudy Giuliani: 

A Post reporter noted this change in Trump's National Ocean Month proclamation:

Donald Trump Jr. claimed a "double standard" after Samantha Bee's comments about Ivanka Trump:

From an NBC News anchor:

Roseanne Barr appeared to reference the controversy:

From the former chief strategist for George W. Bush's 2004 campaign:

A former economic adviser to Bill Clinton and Obama replied to Dowd's tweet:

From a CNN host:

The publisher of the Federalist offered this throwback:

Ivanka Trump highlighted a sweet moment between her father and a young boy at a bill signing:

Meghan McCain returned home as her father battles cancer:

Cindy McCain commented on reports of how unaccompanied migrant children are being handled by the U.S. government:

Ken Bennett, who is challenging Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in the Republican gubernatorial primary, tweeted this:

Shooting has begun for “Top Gun 2":

#Day1

A post shared by Tom Cruise (@tomcruise) on

GOOD READS:

-- “How spies can use your cellphone to find you — and eavesdrop on your calls and texts too,” by Craig Timberg: “Surveillance systems that track the locations of cellphone users and spy on their calls, texts and data streams are being turned against Americans ... Federal officials acknowledged the privacy risk to Americans in a previously undisclosed letter from [DHS] to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) last week, saying they had received reports that ‘nefarious actors may have exploited’ global cellular networks ‘to target the communications of American citizens.’ The letter … described surveillance systems that tap into a global messaging system that allows cellular customers to move from network to network as they travel.” 

-- “The reach of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” by Peter Marks: “[Lin-Manuel Miranda] comes across as an impeccable prospect for charming the electorate: affable, knowledgeable, photogenic; devoted to family, impossibly in-demand and ridiculously amenable to interacting with his huge fan base. With his ever more aggressive use of the platform he’s been given to promote causes he believes in — like the March for Our Lives and relief for hurricane-pummeled Puerto Rico — the questions about ambitions that might take him far afield of Broadway and Hollywood don’t seem so far-fetched. As he puts it himself: ‘I’m a private citizen with a big megaphone.’ [But Miranda] is begging you. Don’t bug him about running for office.” “Please don’t make me be in politics,” he says. “I’m asked all the time. And I say, ‘Please, no, please, don’t make me, please let me write songs.’ Listen, my dad’s in politics. If you were the butcher’s son, you’d be a little like, ‘I don’t need a steak for dinner,’ you know what I mean? I’m the butcher’s son.”

-- New Yorker, “Marco Rubio’s Reboot for the Trump Era,” by Susan B. Glasser: “Rubio is a more interesting senatorial case study than most, especially because he is young enough—he just turned forty-seven this week—to envision a long political future after Trump, and already Rubio has spent much of the time since his devastating 2016 loss thinking about how to retool his message for today’s angrier era of politics. That reboot—The Economist recently called it ‘Marco’s makeover’—suggests how Rubio and other Republican establishment types may soon be trying to woo the unsettled voters who opted for Trumpian disruption over the Party’s old orthodoxies.”

-- New York Times, “‘I Don’t Feel Superhuman. I Feel Like a Mom Who Has a Career,’” by Cecilia Kang: “For the next several weeks, until Pippa goes to day care as a slightly older baby, she will join [Rebecca] Slaughter on the fifth floor, either in a gray bouncy seat behind a desk or nestled in a wrap attached to her mother’s chest. It was the imperfect but best solution for Ms. Slaughter, whose appointment in March to serve as an F.T.C. commissioner just happened to coincide with the birth of her third child.”

-- The Oregonian, “'The world is so cruel': MAX train attack witnesses grieve, heal, rage on anniversary,” by Andrew Theen And Shane Dixon Kavanaugh: “One year ago, a brazen attack shook this city to its core. Horror played out aboard a rush hour MAX train as it pulled into the Hollywood Transit Center. It was TriMet’s worst day, and one of Portland’s darkest. The immediate aftermath prompted soul searching from a shaken community. Most of the story is well-known. There were the three strangers brutally stabbed. There were the two teenage girls they sought to shield from one man’s racist rant. There was the suspected killer who had spewed hate before he began to slash. But some 113 people were on the train that day. … Eleven transit riders or passersby sat down for interviews with The Oregonian/OregonLive about the lasting impacts of the tragedy.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“ICE Deports Uncle Of Kids Recently Orphaned After Parents Died Fleeing Immigration Officers,” from HuffPost: “[ICE] detained and quickly deported an undocumented man on Wednesday, leaving behind his four children as well as his six nieces and nephews who were recently orphaned when their parents got into a car crash fleeing ICE. … On March 13, ICE agents went looking for Hilario Garcia, [an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record], and instead followed another man who fit his description: his brother, [who] was in the car with his wife … The two sped to get away from ICE, then veered off the road and crashed their car. Both of them died at the scene. The immigrant and farmworker communities in the majority-Latino city were outraged after the deaths … Some residents said they were afraid of leaving their homes after what happened.” By the end of the day, ICE had also deported the surviving brother, Hilario Garcia, back to Mexico.  

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Joy Reid's Blog Published A Photoshopped Image Of John McCain As The Virginia Tech Shooter,” from BuzzFeed News: “MSNBC host Joy Reid’s now-defunct blog published an image of Sen. John McCain’s head photoshopped onto the body of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, according to a newly discovered post reviewed by BuzzFeed News. The October 2007 post, titled ‘Baghdad John Strikes Again,’ discusses the infamous claim from McCain, then the GOP presidential nominee, that he would ‘follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell.’ The image appears at the end of the post, which was apparently penned by Reid. … It’s unclear from the post if the photoshopped image was created by Reid, shared by her from another source, or inserted by a hacker. Reverse image searches of the photo on Google and TinEye yielded no previously published matches elsewhere.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will participate in the U.S. Coast Guard Change-of-Command Ceremony at the service’s headquarters this morning. He will later meet with Mike Pompeo before departing for Camp David.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump Party. The Republican Party is kinda taking a nap somewhere.” Former GOP House speaker John Boehner, speaking at a policy conference in Michigan. (Amber Phillips)

 

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

-- The chance of heavy rainfall continues today and through the weekend in D.C. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “High temperatures in the upper 80s to low 90s seem possible. Somewhat refreshing (if you try!) southwesterly breezes are possible later in the day, as scattered showers and (strong?) thunderstorms begin to pop. We could see rain as soon as around noon, but chances increase as we get closer toward sunset. We still have a flood risk as well, so if your neighborhood sees a heavy downpour, please be careful and do not cross anything covered in water.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Braves 4-2, ending Washington’s brief hold atop the National League East standings. (Chelsea Janes)

-- A judge denied Democratic gubernatorial candidate Valerie Ervin’s request to block the Maryland State Board of Elections from using the ballots originally printed for this month’s primary. Arelis R. Hernández reports: “Judge Laura Sue Kiessling scheduled a hearing for Monday on whether the state must change its ballots to reflect that Ervin has replaced her former running mate, the late Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz, at the top of the ticket.”

-- An SUV stolen from a movie shoot near the Capitol crashed and caught fire while fleeing police, authorities said. Peter Hermann reports: “The morning rush-hour pursuit by U.S. Park Police and ensuing crash near Metro Center and the Grand Hyatt Hotel caused delays for motorists. … The police report says a bystander tried to help the man as he got out of the [GMC] Yukon, but the man hit that person and ran off. Police said they arrested a suspect in the 900 block of F Street NW, near Ford’s Theatre.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel accepted a basketball challenge from Ted Cruz:

Trevor Noah gave his take on why Trump pardoned D'Souza:

The Post explained why Kim Kardashian met with Trump at the White House:

A retired English teacher sent a letter back to the White House, correcting its grammar:

New Yorkers gathered for Manhattenhenge, one of two days a year when the setting sun aligns with the city's streets: