THE BIG IDEA: As he struggles to fend off a growing onslaught of challenges to the Justice Department’s independence, Rod Rosenstein traveled to Philadelphia this week to speak at the high school where his father was celebrating his 65th reunion.

The deputy attorney general, who is responsible for overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, mentioned “the rule of law” 17 times in 20 minutes during the alumni dinner at Central High School.

“The rule of law is our most important principle. Patriots should always defend the rule of law, even when it is not in their immediate self-interest,” he said. “If you like the rule of law, you need to keep it.”

The Tuesday night address included several not-very-subtle allusions to the intense pressure Rosenstein finds himself under from President Trump and his Republican loyalists in Congress.

 “Presidential appointees in the Department of Justice bear unique responsibilities,” said Rosenstein, a registered Republican who was appointed by Trump to the No. 2 job. “We are accountable for pursuing the president’s priorities, and we are obligated to do so while complying with laws, regulations and ethical principles that prohibit us from taking partisan political considerations into account when deciding what to do in individual cases. If we consider partisan factors, then judges can dismiss our cases, revoke our law licenses and order us to reimburse the defendant.”

The 53-year-old graduate of Harvard Law School, who was appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland in 2005 by George W. Bush, spoke extensively about DOJ’s “noble mission” and the requirement that prosecutors stay impartial.

“Our Constitution was designed to protect the rule of law,” said Rosenstein. “But the farther we get from the founding generation, the less we appreciate how much it depends on people rather than just words.”

It was heady stuff. The question, though, is to what degree Rosenstein will actually live up to the values he espouses. As John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s attorney general, once put it: “Watch what we do, not what we say.”

-- To wit: Last night, the Justice Department announced that it will no longer defend the Affordable Care Act against a legal challenge to its constitutionality. In practice, this could upend the health-care system and eventually mean that millions of Americans will no longer be able to get insurance for preexisting conditions — breaking an oft-repeated campaign promise. From a legal and historical perspective, this development is a break with the American tradition of the executive branch defending existing federal law, even if the party in power disagrees with it.

In a brief filed in a Texas federal court and an accompanying letter to the House and Senate leaders of both parties, the Justice Department agrees in large part with the 20 Republican-led states that brought the suit,” Amy Goldstein reports. “They contend that the ACA provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance soon will no longer be constitutional and that, as a result, consumer insurance protections under the law will not be valid, either.

“The three-page letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions begins by saying that Justice adopted its position ‘with the approval of the President of the United States.’ The letter acknowledges that the decision not to defend an existing law deviates from history but contends that it is not unprecedented. In an unusual filing just before 6 p.m. Thursday, when the brief was due, the three career Justice attorneys involved in the case — Joel McElvain, Eric Beckenhauer and Rebecca Kopplin — withdrew.” (Rosenstein’s role in the Obamacare matter is not clear.)

-- Rosenstein, though, has become a household name because of his role overseeing Mueller’s probe. The president rips Mueller’s team as a “witch hunt,” shames Sessions for recusing himself and uses Twitter to call for the prosecution of his political rivals.

Rosenstein wrote the letter early last year to justify Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, but the president soon acknowledged that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he decided to oust the FBI director. Some Republicans say Rosenstein should recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe because he’s a potential witness in the obstruction of justice portion of Mueller’s inquiry. Thus far, Rosenstein has resisted this pressure – which his allies see as an effort to put someone more pliable to Trump in charge of what’s supposed to be an independent investigation. Many legal experts agree that the relevant ethics rules do not require him to recuse. Trump loyalists on the Hill have even threatened to hold Rosenstein in contempt, or impeach him, if he does not turn over sensitive documents pertaining to the ongoing investigation.

It’s such a tense climate right now that at least three top-flight lawyers have now turned down the Trump administration’s entreaties about taking the No. 3 job at the Justice Department. This person would be at the center of the Mueller firestorm if Trump fires Rosenstein – or he recuses himself. Savvy and ambitious people, mindful of what happened during the “Saturday Night Massacre,” realize that taking this post guarantees a brutal confirmation fight and may wind up being a ticket to historical infamy or derailing a promising career.

A memo came to light last weekend in which Trump’s lawyers asserted, among other claims of impunity, that a president cannot commit obstruction of justice, by definition, because he controls the Justice Department. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed this week that the president could not be indicted even if he shot former FBI director James Comey. “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself,” Trump tweeted Monday, as he repeated his false claim that Mueller’s probe is led by “very Angry and Conflicted Democrats.” (Mueller is a registered Republican who was appointed FBI director by George W. Bush.)

Just yesterday, Trump made multiple comments on Twitter that would have been unimaginable from past presidents of either party in the modern era, or ever:

The president called for alumni of the Obama administration to be investigated by prosecutors over their dealings with Iran.

He also weighed in on a pending criminal case involving a former technology staffer for Democratic lawmakers. “Our Justice Department must not let Awan & Debbie Wasserman Schultz off the hook,” Trump wrote. “The Democrat I.T. scandal is a key to much of the corruption we see today. They want to make a ‘plea deal’ to hide what is on their Server. Where is Server? Really bad!’”

“The case surrounding Imran Awan and his wife has been the subject of interest among conservatives and conspiracy theorists for more than a year,” Devlin Barrett explains. “They were charged last year with conspiring to commit bank fraud and making false statements on a loan application and unlawful monetary transactions. … According to a recent court filing, the couple are nearing the end of plea negotiations with prosecutors. Awan’s lawyer, Christopher J. Gowen, called Trump’s statement ‘incredibly irresponsible’ and a violation of Awan’s due process rights.”

-- Rosenstein has been trying to thread a very thin needle. He’s often relented, at least in part, to the demands of Trump allies in the name of reaching a middle ground and for the apparent purpose of protecting Mueller’s work more broadly.

Two weeks ago, Trump tweeted that he would “hereby demand” the DOJ open a counter-investigation of the investigation into Russian interference. Rosenstein responded by referring the matter to the DOJ inspector general.

He also agreed to turn over text messages to Republicans between two FBI employees, for example, even though an internal investigation into their conduct was still ongoing. He let Republicans review the FISA applications used to surveil former Trump adviser Carter Page. In late May, Rosenstein briefed senior members of both parties about how the FBI pursued the Russia counterintelligence probe. This week he announced that there will be a follow-up briefing next week. It is part of an effort to satisfy Paul Ryan and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who publicly accuses the FBI of misusing its surveillance powers to go after Trump advisers.

-- Whether or not Rosenstein is practicing what he preaches about protecting the independence of his department, the president might still learn something from the very timely history lesson he delivered in Philly: “We use the term ‘rule of law’ to describe our obligation to follow neutral principles. The idea dates to the fourth century BC, when Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that ‘it is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens,’” he said. “As Justice Antonin Scalia noted, the rule of law is not just about words on paper. The rule of law depends on the character of the people responsible for enforcing the law. John MacArthur Maguire described law as a system of ‘wise restraints that make men free.’ The restraints preserve liberty because they are prescribed in advance, and they apply equally to everyone, without regard to rank or status.”

He talked about how John Adams, decades before he became president, defended the British soldiers who fired on a crowd of protesters in 1770. “His political views were firmly with the colonists … But Adams felt obligated to protect their rights under the rule of law,” said Rosenstein. “Adams wrote that in theaters ‘the applause of the audience is of more importance to the actors than their own approbation. But upon the stage of life, while conscience claps, let the world hiss.’ Adams endured harsh criticism in the court of public opinion. But in the court of law, he secured the acquittal of the British captain and six soldiers. … Years later, Adams wrote that his decision ‘procured me anxiety, and obloquy …. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.’”

The deputy A.G. quoted Abraham Lincoln’s “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” written in 1838. “At age 28, Lincoln was alarmed by rising political passions in our young republic,” Rosenstein said. “He worried about reports of people taking the law into their own hands: lynching suspected criminals and murdering political opponents. In his first published address, Lincoln argued that we can best preserve the Constitution by enshrining respect for law in the hearts of the citizens.Let reverence for the laws,’ he implored, ‘be breathed by every American mother … let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacks — let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.’”

The most interesting and least known example Rosenstein cited was former attorney general Robert Jackson’s 1940 speech about the duty of government officials to serve the public interest. “He said that ‘most … mistakes … [result from] failure to observe the fiduciary principle … the principle of trusteeship, without which our kind of society cannot long endure,’” Rosenstein explained. “Jackson reportedly directed his subtle criticism to the mistakes of two predecessors: Harry Daugherty, who failed to investigate the Teapot Dome scandal; and Frank Murphy, who made public comments about ongoing investigations and instigated criticism of Jackson. Jackson explained that lawyers ‘who sit temporarily in the position of government counsel, are subject to [obligations] that those outside the profession never’ face. He contrasted the special duties of government lawyers with what he called ‘the volatile values of politics.’”

Rosenstein praised Jackson for understanding that “[f]undamental things in our American way of life depend on … government lawyers.” Franklin Roosevelt’s attorney general, who would later sit on the Supreme Court, added that “lawyers must at times risk ourselves and our records to defend our legal processes from discredit, and to maintain a dispassionate, disinterested, and impartial enforcement of the law.”

“Jackson believed that although political tempers flare from time to time, any ‘temporary passion’ will eventually yield to ‘sober second thought’ about the rule of law,” said Rosenstein. “‘We must have the courage to face any temporary criticism,’ Jackson urged, because ‘the moral authority of our legal process’ depends on the commitment of government lawyers to act impartially.”

-- Rosenstein, a Philadelphia native, spoke in the city on the same day that the Eagles were supposed to appear at the White House for a celebration of their Super Bowl championship, but Trump uninvited the whole team the night before because so many players planned to skip the event in protest.

He nodded to the heavy burdens he’s facing by concluding with a quote from another famous Philadelphian: Rocky Balboa, the boxer played by Sylvester Stallone in the movie “Rocky.” In the 2006 sequel, Balboa tells his son: “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and … it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. … But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward...”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The Justice Department inspector general anticipates making public his report on June 14, reviewing how the FBI and the department handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. (Matt Zapotosky)

-- Investigators on the Senate Judiciary Committee are looking into former congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) for connections to both Russia and the Trump campaign, the Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand reports: “Weldon lost his re-election campaign more than a decade ago following an FBI probe into his ties to two Russian companies. He has ‘connections to both Russia and the Trump campaign’ that are raising suspicions among senators, a spokeswoman for Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said. Feinstein is the committee’s ranking member and wants to interview Weldon.”

-- Trying to placate his base, House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed there was “no evidence of collusion” between the president or his campaign and Russia. (Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian)

-- “‘Delete all your emails and then acid-wash’ your hard drives: Sean Hannity suggests Mueller probe witnesses should destroy their evidence.” (Business Insider)

-- “How Carter Page got tangled up in the Russian web,” by David Ignatius: “The biggest lesson I can find amid the contradictory statements is that the Kremlin can be very aggressive indeed in trying to cultivate Americans. This counterintelligence primer never seems to have been offered to members of the Trump campaign. … So how did this part-time academic and energy consultant find himself at the center of a web of intrigue? The answer is partly that, like so many others in the Trump-Russia saga, Page started off as a bit player — a former investment banker trying to parlay his contacts into useful connections.”

-- Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is pushing for the release of all Russia probe interviews. Nunes is blocking him. (NBC News’s Mike Memoli)

-- Mueller’s prosecutors do not seem to view Giuliani as a major legal player for Trump’s team. From Bloomberg’s Chris Strohm and Shannon Pettypiece: “He may be speaking loudly to the public but he’s not speaking the language of Mueller’s world, which comes in the form of legal filings, case law and investigative evidence. Giuliani has only met with Mueller once.”

-- MSNBC host and former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough: “Trump is hurtling toward a Nixonian ending.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions! Rick Maese reports from Las Vegas: “When time expired and the helmets and sticks were tossed into the air, the Washington Capitals poured onto the ice, and a celebration decades in the making ensued. The players hugged each other in joy and shook each other in disbelief. Team captain Alex Ovechkin was on the edge of the scrum, bouncing and screaming, trying to make sure his voice could be heard from Las Vegas to Washington to Moscow. As the trophy made its way onto the ice, some 2,400 miles away, a sea of red — jubilant Capitals fans who filled the streets in downtown Washington — erupted, too. The win was a season in the making for many on the ice, and a lifetime in the making for so many fans back home.

“The Capitals topped the final foe, the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3, in exciting fashion Thursday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. The comeback victory gave the Capitals a four-games-to-one series victory and secured the first National Hockey League championship in the franchise’s 44-year history — and the city’s first title in any of the four major American sports in more than a quarter-century.”

More team coverage:

Trump congratulated the Capitals in a morning tweet:

-- A former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer was arrested and charged with making false statements to the FBI. During an investigation of a leak of classified information, authorities seized years’ worth of phone and email records of New York Times reporter Ali Watkins who had previously been in a relationship with the staffer, James A. Wolfe. Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima report: “The government alleges that Wolfe lied to FBI agents in December 2017 about ‘repeated contacts’ with three reporters, including through the use of encrypted messaging applications. He is further accused of lying about providing two reporters with ‘non-public information related to matters occurring before the [committee.]’”

NYT’s Adam Goldman, Nicholas Fandos and Katie Benner report: “Mr. Wolfe’s case led to the first known instance of the Justice Department going after a reporter’s data under President Trump. The seizure was disclosed in a letter to the Times reporter, Ali Watkins, who had been in a three-year relationship with Mr. Wolfe. The seizure suggested that prosecutors under the Trump administration will continue the aggressive tactics employed under President Barack Obama.” “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said.

As Shane and Ellen note: “Under Justice Department regulations, prosecutors are required to exhaust ‘all reasonable steps’ to obtain information about a leaker from other non-journalistic sources before seeking a reporter’s private communications, which could reveal her confidential sources. It was not clear why investigators chose to take the extraordinary step of obtaining Watkins’s phone and email records and what other avenues they had pursued.”

-- Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has died at 61. CNN’s Brian Stelter reports: “CNN confirmed Bourdain's death on Friday and said the cause of death was suicide. ‘It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain,’ the network said in a statement Friday morning. ‘His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.’ Bourdain was in France working on an upcoming episode of his award-winning CNN series. His close friend Eric Ripert, the French chef, found Bourdain unresponsive in his hotel room Friday morning.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. U.S. suicide rates rose in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Nevada recorded a decline of 1 percent, while the rate in North Dakota spiked by more than 57 percent. (Amy Ellis Nutt)

  2. NASA has identified several complex organic molecules on Mars that could point to ancient life on the planet. The molecules were discovered by one of NASA’s robotic rovers, which also found that Mars’s methane varies with the seasons. (Sarah Kaplan)

  3. U.S. officials plan to release an American citizen accused of supporting the Islamic State back into Syria with $4,210 and a new cellphone. A federal judge will hold a hearing this morning on the intended release, which has been opposed by the man in custody and the ACLU, which calls it a "de facto death warrant." (Ann E. Marimow)

  4. The second trial against Inauguration Day protesters ended with no convictions. The jury delivered not-guilty verdicts on some counts against the four defendants and deadlocked on others. (Keith L. Alexander)

  5. Facebook disclosed that a system bug allowed the private posts of 14 million people to be shared publicly. The social media giant apologized for the error, which occurred amid Facebook’s attempts to redesign parts of user profiles that are always public. (Hayley Tsukayama)

  6. Google’s CEO announced the company is banning the development of artificial-intelligence software that can be used in weapons. The new guidelines follow a string of resignations and public criticism over Google’s contract with the Pentagon to help analyze drone video. (Drew Harwell)

  7. The number of American workers in the gig economy has actually decreased since 2005, according to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The findings – which show that the number of Americans in freelance jobs has decreased from 7.4 percent in 2005 to 6.9 percent in 2017 – suggest the existence of companies like Uber and Lyft has not resulted in a dramatic shift away from traditional employment. (Danielle Paquette and Heather Long)

  8. The United States just had its warmest May in history. The month’s average temperature of 65.4 beat the previous record of 64.7 degrees, set in 1934 during the Dust Bowl. (Jason Samenow)

  9. A group of engineers believe they have discovered how the Leaning Tower of Pisa has managed to survive at least four strong earthquakes since 1280. The engineers determined that the tower's height and stiffness, “combined with the softness of the foundation soil, causes the vibrational characteristics of the structure to be modified substantially, in such a way that the Tower does not resonate with earthquake ground motion.” (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump said at a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that, if things go well at his summit next week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he would invite Kim to the United States. From Anne Gearan: "Trump signaled that a grand bargain to reverse decades of enmity is not on the table for his unprecedented meeting with Kim on Tuesday in Singapore, but the president sounded upbeat as he described the North Korean leader as sincere about remaking the future for his impoverished country. 'We would certainly like to see normalization, yes,' Trump said ... That would come after what Trump described as a diplomatic process that could include an agreement to safeguard Kim from the threat of ouster at the hands of the United States. 'I don’t think it will be one meeting,' Trump said." On the possibility of a visit to the United States by Kim, Trump said: “I think he would look at it very favorably, so I think that could happen."

-- GOP senators say Trump has promised Congress a vote on any potential nuclear deal with North Korea. CNN’s Elizabeth Landers and Manu Raju report: “Giving Congress a say would be significant because it would pressure Trump to reach a deal that could be supported by a broad bipartisan majority in Congress. Behind the scenes, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have told various Republican senators that any deal they'd reach would be in the form of a treaty, which requires the support of two-thirds of the Senate for ratification, according to multiple GOP senators. Moreover, easing sanctions on North Korea would likely require congressional approval to change federal law, which would require the support of 60 senators to overcome any filibuster attempt in addition to approval in the majority-rules House.”

-- Speaking of deals with rogue nations, Trump claimed that Iran's leaders have changed dramatically since he ripped up the nuclear pact. “Iran is not the same country that it was a few months ago,” Trump said. “They’re a much, much different group of leaders." From the New York Times's Mark Landler: "But the president said his willingness to walk away from the Iran deal would set the tone for his negotiations with Mr. Kim over North Korea’s nuclear program. He pointed out that he had already walked away from the North Korea meeting once — a decision he swiftly reversed after the North issued a conciliatory response."

-- U.S. officials are preparing to combat Chinese spying efforts during the Singapore summit. NBC News’s Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee, Ken Dilanian and Andrea Mitchell report: “Chinese espionage against the U.S. has become more pervasive than that of any other adversary, current and former U.S. intelligence officials [said], and the Singapore summit is the latest spy-versus-spy battleground. The Chinese, who have been known to bug everything from hotel keys to the gifts given to American visitors, are expected to deploy their increasingly sophisticated repertoire of intelligence gathering techniques, both human and electronic, in Singapore. U.S. officials are concerned China has recruited informants among the waiters and other staff in Singapore’s restaurants and bars, who are paid to eavesdrop on American customers and report back to their Chinese handlers.”

-- If Dennis Rodman attends next week's Kim-Trump summit, his trip is being paid for by a cryptocurrency for marijuana. John Hudson has the story: "Now, a spokesman for the cryptocurrency PotCoin has confirmed that it is in discussions with Rodman to broker the potential trip, adding a new twist to what appears to be an elaborate marketing campaign on the sidelines of a high stakes summit between two nuclear-armed adversaries. 'The PotCoin team as a community has been incredibly supportive of Rodman’s peace mission from the beginning,' Shawn Perez, a PotCoin spokesman, told The Washington Post. 'We’re thrilled to see how the political climate has improved between North Koreans and the U.S. since he became involved.'"

-- Trump holds the same view as Jimmy Carter on withdrawal of troops from South Korea. Josh Rogin has more: "Less publicly, but still privately, Trump continues to say he doesn’t agree with the argument that U.S. troops in South Korea are strategically necessary, and he thinks the United States gets nothing back from paying to keep them there, according to administration officials and people who have spoken to Trump directly about the issue. He often asks his generals to explain the rationale for America’s deployments in Asia and expresses dissatisfaction with their answers. At Trump’s direction, the Pentagon has taken a hard line in ongoing negotiations with the South Korean government over a new cost-sharing agreement for U.S. troops there. If those negotiations fail, Trump could have another excuse to move forward with large reductions."

-- Some Korean Americans hope Trump’s summit with Kim will provide a pathway for them to reunite with long-lost family members. From Anna Fifield and Min Joo Kim: “Many families were separated during the Korean War, and that separation was cemented when the peninsula was definitively divided at the end of the conflict in 1953. During periods of rapprochement between the two Koreas, the North has sometimes agreed to allow brief family reunions in which South Koreans cross the border for a few hours. … But Korean Americans have been excluded from the more than two dozen inter-Korean reunions that have taken place since 1985. … Now, a group of young Korean Americans called Divided Families USA is urging the Trump administration to ask North Korea to allow reunions between members of their grandparents’ generation … ”

AMERICA ALONE:

-- French President Emmanuel Macron, who has developed a stronger rapport with Trump than other world leaders, threatened to join in rebuking Trump over his trade initiatives at the upcoming G-7 summit this weekend. Damian Paletta, David J. Lynch and Heather Long report: “Macron said Trump could be excluded from joining with other leaders in a joint declaration of unity at the end of a global summit here, a very unusual move that was meant to isolate Trump’s recent burst of trade threats aimed at numerous U.S. allies. ‘The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be,’ Macron wrote on Twitter. ‘Because these 6 countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force.’"

Trump tweeted his response:

-- The White House announced Trump would leave the G-7 summit early. From Politico’s Brent D. Griffiths: “Trump will be depart the summit in Quebec at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and head directly to Singapore, the site of his June 12 meeting with [Kim,] White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. The G-7 summit is scheduled to wrap up later on Saturday. … By pulling out early, Trump will skip sessions focused on climate change, the oceans and clean energy. He will also miss the traditional group-photo opportunity among fellow heads of state. The president may also miss the opportunity to host a summit-ending news conference, something world leaders traditionally do.”

-- Republican leadership is trying to stifle support for Sen. Bob Corker’s trade bill, which would subject tariffs to congressional approval. From Politico’s Elana Schor and Burgess Everett: “Corker's [R-Tenn.] pitch has support from a sizable number of fellow Republicans who are frustrated by Trump slapping trade penalties on U.S. allies — but allowing it a vote on the Senate floor in the coming days is a step too far for leadership. Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that the tariffs proposal ‘is entitled to a hearing and I would support a vote on it, but this is obviously a problem getting a vote on it on this bill.’”

-- Vladimir Putin told callers during a marathon call-in appearance on live television that Trump's tariffs on European nations are going to hurt so badly only because those countries had shown unusual deference to the United States. From Anton Troianovski in Moscow: "European leaders long ignored his warnings about the dangers of a world dominated by the United States ... With Trump’s new metals tariffs, Putin said, Europeans are now finally getting their comeuppance for showing excessive deference to Washington — and getting a taste of the way the United States had long treated Russia. 'In essence, these are sanctions,' Putin said of the tariffs. 'What, did they ‘annex Crimea,’ as many of our partners say?'"

-- Putin asked the Austrian chancellor to arrange a summit between him and Trump, an offer the White House is considering. The Wall Street Journal’s Bojan Pancevski and Peter Nicholas report: “Mr. Putin made the request during an official visit in the Austrian capital on Tuesday, [a European] official said. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz accepted the request and pledged to approach Mr. Trump, the person said. … Putin and Trump are both eager to meet, according to officials and diplomats on both sides, but Mr. Putin told Mr. Kurz this week that he didn’t want the encounter to take place in the U.S. capital and would favor a neutral location, the senior European official said. Mr. Putin told Mr. Kurz he would be ready to meet Mr. Trump in Vienna during the U.S. president’s planned Europe trip in July, when he is expected to attend a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels and visit the U.K.”

-- The administration reached a deal with Chinese telecom company ZTE, drawing criticism from Capitol Hill. From David J. Lynch, Simon Denyer and Heather Long: “The company will pay a $1 billion fine and fund a new in-house compliance team staffed by U.S. experts, [Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross] told CNBC. The move eases a seven-year ban on ZTE buying American parts, which Commerce levied in April. … ‘China is eating our lunch, and this president is serving it up to them,’ House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for Congress to reverse the decision, which is unlikely.”

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN AND WOMEN:

-- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt asked his round-the-clock security detail to pick up his dry cleaning and drive to multiple Ritz Carlton hotels for a specific kind of moisturizing lotion. Congressional investigators are already examining a number of Pruitt's spending and management decisions and this could provide further fodder. Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Brady Dennis report: "While EPA security agents are required to protect Pruitt at all times — while he is working and during his off hours — [two] individuals said the administrator had asked members of the detail to perform tasks that go beyond their primary function. In one instance, they said, he directed agents to drive him to multiple locations in search of a particular lotion on offer at Ritz-Carlton hotels. One other occasions, they added, he asked agents to pick up his dry cleaning without him." The EPA responded this way to questions about specific errands performed by Pruitt's security detail: “'Administrator Pruitt follows the same security protocol whether he’s in his personal or official capacity,' spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell said."

-- Pruitt aides also say he regularly sent them out during the workday to pick up his favorite snacks. The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng report: “‘I can’t tell you how many times I was sent out to get protein bars on the orders of [Pruitt],’ one person [said]. Beyond the protein bars, Pruitt also has a well-known sweet tooth, and often tells staffers to make a grocery run to get his preferred sweets, cookies, and Greek yogurt, among other items, sources say. Pruitt’s tastes in snacks are rather refined, according to former aides. He is particularly fond of finger food from the upscale eatery Dean & Deluca, according to a former EPA official. Pruitt is also particular about his coffee tastes, the former official said, and would often direct an aide to brew him pour-over coffee, which he prefers to more run-of-the-mill brewing methods.”

-- But Republican senators have stopped short of asking for Pruitt’s resignation. Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report: “Several Republican senators voiced concerns about Pruitt’s conduct, even as they praised the policy agenda he is spearheading. And they are carefully avoiding the question of whether he ought to step down, leaving that decision to [Trump] and his administration. … ‘Well, it’s not helpful to be sure, but the administrator serves at the pleasure of the president, and the Congress really doesn’t have a role once confirmation occurs,’ said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the second-ranking Republican senator, of Pruitt’s behavior.”

-- Meanwhile, EPA officials took steps to change how it calculates the economic impact of regulations. Dino Grandoni and Chris Mooney have more: "[T]he EPA announced it will solicit comments from companies, nonprofit groups and members of the public about how to do such cost-benefit analyses differently — bringing into the agency a long-running debate over how the government justifies new rules."

-- And Eric Lipton at the New York Times has a piece demonstrating that after heavy lobbying from the chemical industry, the EPA "is scaling back the way the federal government determines health and safety risks associated with the most dangerous chemicals on the market, documents from the Environmental Protection Agency show." The agency is no longer accounting for the presence of potentially toxic substances in the air, ground and water such as dry-cleaning products, paint strippers and substances by shampoos and cosmetics. "Instead, the agency will focus on possible harm caused by direct contact with a chemical in the workplace or elsewhere. The approach means that the improper disposal of chemicals — leading to the contamination of drinking water, for instance — will often not be a factor in deciding whether to restrict or ban them."

-- Trump's ambassadors to other countries have been opening their mouths and sticking their feet in them. Carol Morello reports: "At least four times in recent months — twice in the past week alone — ambassadors appointed by President Trump have said things that have made professional diplomats question whether the current crop of political appointees is getting adequate training and understands the norms expected of ambassadors ...

  • "U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell was accused of stepping over the line into partisan politics for saying in an interview with Breitbart News that he wants to 'empower' conservatives throughout Europe ... After the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear accord last month, he seemed to threaten German businesses investing in Iran by advising that they should 'wind down operations immediately.'
  • "David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador in Jerusalem, told the Times of Israel that Republicans in the United States, 'no question,' support Israel more than Democrats do.
  • "Peter Hoekstra, the ambassador to the Netherlands, was ridiculed by the Dutch media in January after he denied ever asserting that there were 'no-go zones' in the country’s Muslim enclaves ...
  • "And last October, Scott Brown, the ambassador to New Zealand, was counseled on the State Department’s standards of conduct after he told a woman at a celebration in Samoa that she could earn 'hundreds of dollars' in the hospitality industry in the United States."

-- Fox News host Jeanine Pirro has repeatedly expressed interest in becoming attorney general to Trump aides. Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Andrew Restuccia report: “Trump has dangled the possibility of giving her a top appointment. During a November meeting in the Oval Office, the president raised the possibility of nominating Pirro to a federal judgeship, according to a former administration official, though this person added that Trump was more likely engaging in flattery than seriously considering putting Pirro on the bench. … Two White House aides said they believe the president is not seriously considering bringing Pirro on to replace [Jeff Sessions] … ”

-- Stormy Daniels’s former lawyer, Keith Davidson, has filed a countersuit for defamation against the adult-film star, who accused Davidson of colluding with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Beth Reinhard reports: “Davidson’s legal missives in federal court in California — which did not include evidence of the alleged recordings — come one day after he declared that a lawsuit Daniels filed against him amounted to her waiving attorney-client privilege. Davidson also responded to that suit Thursday, rejecting her claim that he was not looking out for her best interest and arguing that he helped the porn star accomplish ‘her stated goals of monetizing her reported 2007 sexual relationship with Donald Trump.’” Davidson also accused Cohen of recording their phone conversations without his permission but did not provide evidence to back up the claim.

THE REPUBLICAN AGENDA:

-- After a private meeting with his rank and file, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) vowed to bring a compromise immigration bill to the House floor after his hand was forced by moderate Republicans looking to avoid deportation for young undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers." From Mike DeBonis: "Republicans huddled privately for two hours without a clear resolution on a seemingly in­trac­table issue that pits conservative hard-liners aligned with [Trump] against moderates frustrated with inaction ... Immigration has exposed the divide in the GOP, and leaders have warned that showdown votes five months before the election could cost the GOP its majority control of the House ... Several Republicans, including Ryan, said the discussion inside the meeting surrounded crafting a bill that would adhere to Trump’s January immigration framework, which called for a path to citizenship, but also a wall on the Mexico border and cutbacks to two existing legal immigration pathways."

-- About 1,600 ICE detainees are being transferred to federal prisons. From Reuters’s Sarah N. Lynch and Kristina Cooke: “An ICE spokeswoman [said] five federal prisons will temporarily take in detainees awaiting civil immigration court hearings, including potential asylum seekers, with one prison in Victorville, California, preparing to house 1,000 people. … Under former President Barack Obama, many immigrants without serious criminal records were allowed to await their court dates while living in the United States. Others were housed in immigration detention facilities or local jails. ICE has used federal prisons in the past but not on this scale, sources said.”

-- Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to protect the nine states and the District who have legalized marijuana from federal interference. Colby Itkowitz has more: "Gardner said he spoke with Trump earlier in the day and was confident the president would sign the bill. 'I have talked to the president about this bill,' Gardner said at a news conference. 'In previous conversations he talked about the need to solve this conflict. He talked about his support for a states’ rights approach during the campaign. Not putting words in the mouth of the White House, but I think this will be an opportunity for us to fulfill what is that federalism approach' ... But if Trump throws in his support for the bill, it would set up a conflict with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long been an impassioned opponent of marijuana."

-- The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Ryan Bounds to serve on the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, setting up the first confrontation in a century over the confirmation of a federal judge despite the objection of his two home-state senators, both Democrats. From Karoun Demirjian: "Bounds is only the latest controversial judicial nominee whom Republican leaders have pushed through the confirmation process on party-line votes over the objections of Democrats. In Bounds’s case, Democrats point to his track record of legal advocacy for conservative causes and clients and several opinions he published in college that disparaged minorities and sexual assault victims — articles Bounds has since tried to disavow. But Democrats say they find Bounds’s nomination particularly offensive because they believe it will set a precedent that lawmakers are powerless to influence the selection of federal judges in areas they represent."

-- Attorneys for NFL players Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid are considering seeking testimony from President Trump and Vice President Pence as part of their collusion grievance arguing NFL teams have conspired to prevent them from playing because of their anthem protests at games. Mark Maske reports: "Kaepernick and Reid would be expected to attend those depositions if they occur, said [one] person ... But the scheduling of such testimony could require significant legal maneuvering if the depositions are opposed by the White House."

-- A plan by the Housing and Urban Development Department would raise rents for low-income Americans by 20 percent, according to an analysis by the AP: "Overall, the analysis shows that in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, low-income tenants — many of whom have jobs — would have to pay roughly 20 percent more each year for rent under the plan. That rent increase is about six times greater than the growth in average hourly earnings, putting the poorest workers at an increased risk of homelessness because wages simply haven’t kept pace with housing expenses."

THE MIDTERMS:

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has yet to endorse his son’s congressional bid. From Eli Rosenberg: “Levi Sanders has a steep hill to climb to represent New Hampshire in Congress. He faces a crowded field of eight other Democrats in advance of the primaries in September; should he prevail, he will challenge a Republican in a Trump-leaning swing district. And he has not received a significant piece of help: an endorsement from [his father] … ‘Levi has spent his life in service to low income and working families, and I am very proud of all that he has done,’ Sanders said in a statement, first published by the Boston Globe, which did tout some of his son’s policy initiatives. ‘In our family, however, we do not believe in dynastic politics. Levi is running his own campaign in his own way.’ … The lack of an endorsement is even more surprising given that Levi’s campaign appears to embrace the more leftist liberalism that his father helped elevate, to the surprise of many, during the 2016 presidential campaign.”

-- Mitt Romney predicted Trump would win reelection in 2020. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “Addressing a group of major GOP donors, Romney — who bitterly collided with Trump during the 2016 campaign and implored his party to nominate someone else — also said Trump would easily capture the Republican Party’s 2020 nomination. He said Trump’s political fortunes would be bolstered by a pair of factors: an improving economy and the likelihood that Democrats would choose an outside-the-mainstream candidate. ‘I think President Trump will be re-nominated by my party easily, and I think he’ll be reelected solidly,’ Romney said.”

-- A new poll gives Democrats a 10-point advantage on the generic ballot, even as voters express satisfaction with the U.S. economy. From NBC News’s Mark Murray: “By a whopping 25-point margin, voters say they’re more likely to back a congressional candidate who promises to serve as a check on [Trump], according to a new national poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. And by a similar margin, they say they’re less likely to vote for someone who has supported the president on most issues. At the same time, six-in-10 are satisfied with the U.S. economy, and a plurality of voters give Trump credit for the economic improvement. Despite that economic optimism, however, the poll shows that 50 percent of registered voters [want] a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40 percent who want a GOP-controlled one.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump rejected Democrats’ advice on the North Korea summit:

Japan's prime minister accidentally retweeted Trump's insults to Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.):

Flake commented on the mistake:

House Republicans are not threatening Trump with impeachment after his ruminations about self-pardoning, per a HuffPost reporter:

A University of Michigan law professor criticized the Justice Department's decision to argue against Obamacare:

From a Vox reporter:

A former aide to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. John McCain apologized to Justin Trudeau:

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) criticized the Trump administration's decision on ZTE:

Lots of jokes emerged on Twitter about Scott Pruitt's lotion habit. From a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) :

From an editor for StateScoop:

A CBS News reporter replied:

FLOTUS is not onboard the Rudy train, per a New York Times reporter:

A former White House communications director defended Kelly Sadler, the press aide who was dismissed after making disparaging remarks about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):

The senator's daughter responded:

Stormy Daniels's attorney is sorry:

The Washington Post after the Capitals' Stanley Cup victory:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- New York Times, “‘It’s Horrendous’: The Heartache of a Migrant Boy Taken From His Father,” by Miriam Jordan: “The first few nights, he cried himself to sleep. Then it turned into ‘just moaning and moaning,’ said Janice, his foster mother. He recently slept through the night for the first time, though he still insists on tucking [two] family pictures under his pillow. … Since his arrival in Michigan, family members said, a day has not gone by when the boy has failed to ask in Spanish, ‘When will I see my papa?’ They tell him the truth. They do not know. No one knows. José’s father is in detention, and parent and child until this week had not spoken since they were taken into the custody of United States authorities.”

-- NPR, “The Quiet Rage Of Mazie Hirono,” by Nina Totenberg: “Mazie Hirono used to be known as the ‘good girl’ of Hawaii politics. She was seen as polite, never in-your-face, not a boat-rocker. But now, that view has changed. As one Hawaii columnist put it, she is a ‘badass.’ ‘I always was,’ Hirono [said]. ‘I just wasn't very noisy about it. I've been a fighter all my life. I just don't look like that.’”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Trump: Many Texans watched Harvey from their boats, requiring Coast Guard rescue,” from the Houston Chronicle: “Trump praised the Coast Guard for its heroics during Hurricane Harvey Wednesday, but credited the high number of water rescues to people taking their boats out to watch the storm roll in, baffling first responders. … The Coast Guard doesn’t ‘get enough credit,’ Trump said [during a conference call with state and federal leaders on hurricane preparedness]. ‘Sixteen thousand people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane,’ Trump said. ‘That didn't work out too well.’ Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took umbrage with the president’s remarks, crediting civilians with making an ‘extraordinary effort’ with their own boats to rescue neighbors, relatives and pets as Hurricane Harvey flooded the Texas coast with 52 inches of rain last year. “I didn't see anyone taking the approach that would reflect his comments,” Gonzalez said. 'I'll be sure to invite the president to ride out the next hurricane in a jon boat in Galveston Bay the next time one approaches,' he added.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Outgoing Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz rips Democrats for veering too far left: 'How are we going to pay for these things?'” from CNBC: “Many leaders in the Democratic Party are veering too far left and overpromising government programs that are not fiscally possible, Howard Schultz told CNBC on Tuesday. Without naming names, Schultz [said]: ‘It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, 'How are we going to pay for these things,' in terms of things like single payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don't think that's realistic.’ 'I think we got to get away from these falsehoods and start talking about the truth and not false promises' said Schultz, whose Monday announcement that he's stepping down as executive chairman of Starbucks is driving speculation that he may run for president in the 2020 election."

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will travel to Quebec Friday for the Group of Seven summit, where he will sit down with Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau. He will also participate in three summit sessions and a “cultural event.”  

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I think I’m very well prepared,” Trump told reporters of the upcoming summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. “I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about the attitude. It’s about willingness to get things done.”

 

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

-- It will be muggy in Washington today, with a chance of some afternoon rain. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We get pretty warm, pretty fast. Clouds and mugginess, luckily, increase a bit less quickly. We’ve only got a slight midday into late day shower/storm threat. South-southwesterly breezes are 5-10 mph. High temperatures top out in the mid-80s.”

-- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed the state’s Medicaid expansion on the steps of the state capitol. Laura Vozzella reports: “With his signature, Northam (D) brought a Medicaid battle that raged for four years under his predecessor to an upbeat, bipartisan close. Immediately afterward, he rewarded two senators who had been crucial to the bill’s passage — Democrat Richard L. Saslaw (Fairfax County) and Republican Emmett W. Hanger (Augusta) — with ceremonial pens used to sign the bill.”

-- Arelis R. Hernández profiles Rushern L. Baker III, county executive of Prince George’s County and one of the front-runners in Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial primary: “Baker loves to rattle off the numbers: 20,000 new jobs; $8 billion to $10 billion in new projects; No. 1 in the state in year-over-year job growth for five quarters. … He is itching to take on popular incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R), convinced that voters in the mostly Democratic state will respond to his pledges to find $2 billion more for education, invest in mass transit, expand recycling and composting throughout the state and eliminate gender pay gaps for state employees. But Baker’s campaign has struggled to take off.” Former governor Martin O’Malley (D) just endorsed Baker’s bid.

-- Maryland gubernatorial candidate Krishanti Vignarajah was sued over her eligibility to be in the race. From Steve Thompson: “Douglas Horn alleges in the lawsuit that time Vignarajah spent living and voting in Washington, D.C., disqualifies her because Maryland requires that its governor be a resident of the state for five years before the election. Maryland law also requires that a challenge to a candidate’s eligibility be filed quickly, however. Horn’s lawyer, Clarissa Jimenez, acknowledged Thursday that bringing the suit several months after Vignarajah filed her candidacy papers could be an impediment to the case.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert advised Trump to prepare more for his summit with Kim Jong Un:

Conan O'Brien imagined the phone calls between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin:

A high school senior in Texas crossed the southern border so her deported father could see her in her cap and gown:

The formation of a tornado was captured in Wyoming:

The man accidentally shot by a dancing FBI agent spoke about the experience in an interview:

And The Post's video team satirized Bill Clinton's much-criticized NBC interview this week: