With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: National security adviser John Bolton has been fretting privately that North Korea special envoy Stephen Biegun is too eager to cut a deal that President Trump could announce during his second summit with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi next week.
Bolton has complained directly to Biegun’s boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, about his approach and continues to believe that negotiations will fail, inside sources tell my colleagues John Hudson and David Nakamura.
Trump and Kim are scheduled to meet next Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi. Biegun arrived there last night for meetings with his counterpart, Kim Hyok Chol, in a bid to iron something out.
Hard-liners are leery of any agreement that eases sanctions, which have caused real pain in Pyongyang, unless it comes with massive and, more importantly, verifiable concessions related to denuclearization. On the other hand, Trump clearly wants to have something to show for flying across the world.
“Last month, in a lengthy speech at Stanford University, Biegun set out his vision for North Korea to dismantle its plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities in exchange for ‘corresponding measures’ by the United States,” Hudson and Nakamura report. “Among the incentives Biegun appeared to dangle was a potential peace declaration that would aim to put a formal end to the Korean War, which has been suspended by an armistice since 1953. Hawks such as Bolton have fiercely opposed this ‘step-by-step’ process in favor of maintaining maximum pressure …
“He’s not the only one who is concerned,” they add. “At a recent interagency meeting, senior officials from the Treasury Department and the Pentagon warned Biegun not to loosen sanctions or move too quickly to agree to an end-of-war declaration, according to a person with knowledge of the talks. … White House aides said there was no friction between Bolton and Biegun, but they declined to elaborate on their relationship.”
The 55-year-old Biegun, who most recently was a top lobbyist for Ford, spent 14 years as a Senate staffer, starting with Jesse Helms. He worked on Condi Rice’s National Security Council staff during George W. Bush’s first term. He advised John McCain’s 2008 campaign, where he got stuck with the unenviable assignment of trying to bring Sarah Palin up to speed on foreign policy.
-- Appearing live this morning on NBC’s “Today” show, Pompeo said compete denuclearization remains “the goal” of these negotiations. Asked whether there will be any compromises on that, the secretary said no. “To keep the American people safe, we have to reduce the threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea,” Pompeo said. “In turn, we can work on peace and security on the peninsula and a brighter future for the North Korean people.”
During the interview, Pompeo also announced that he has “ruled out” a potential 2020 bid for the open seat of retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). “I'm going to be the secretary of state as long as President Trump gives me the opportunity to serve as America’s senior diplomat,” he said.
-- To be sure, Bolton has become more circumspect in how he publicly talks about North Korea. Before the Singapore summit, he mused on a Sunday show about how North Korea might follow the “Libya model.” What he meant was that Kim would give up his entire nuclear program as part of a grand bargain. But the analogy spooked Pyongyang. When Kim heard Libya, all he probably thought of was former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, who was brutally killed in rebel custody after an uprising he couldn’t stop during the Arab Spring.
-- The national security adviser is heading to Seoul later this week to confer with his South Korean counterpart ahead of the second summit, per CNN.
-- There are signals that Trump’s instincts might incline him to offer concessions so that he can get something in return, however small, and thus claim victory here at home, especially with fresh signs that special counsel Bob Mueller might be wrapping up his probe and submitting a report to the Justice Department. “Chairman Kim and I have a very good relationship,” Trump said Wednesday at the White House. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see something work out.”
-- Playing the expectations game, however, Trump told reporters the day before that he’s in “no rush” to denuclearize so long as Kim doesn’t start testing nuclear or ballistic missiles. “I think I would like to see ultimately denuclearization of North Korea. I think we will see that ultimately,” he said. “I have no pressing time schedule.” The president also suggested he wants to use carrots to induce Kim to continue his tentative steps toward engagement with the international community. “I really believe that North Korea can be a tremendous economic power when this is solved,” Trump said, referring to denuclearization. “Their location between Russia, China and South Korea is unbelievable. I think that North Korea and Chairman Kim have some very positive things in mind. And we’ll soon find out. As long as there’s no testing, I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal.”
-- “Even if North Korea agreed to denuclearization, it would almost certainly take years to complete — up to a decade,” Adam Taylor reports. “That’s one reason critics of Trump worry he could act impulsively and offer major concessions in a bid to reach a grand new deal — and with it, a domestic political win. Many hope for a road map going forward: North Korea’s nuclear weapons program may well outlast Trump’s time in office, but the president has a real chance to chart a course for eventual denuclearization.”
-- The Korea Herald, a leading South Korean newspaper, accused Trump in an editorial yesterday of “trying to use the North Korean nuclear crisis to feed his greed for the Nobel Peace Prize.” The paper warned that the Hanoi confab “could end up becoming a geopolitical performance aimed at dazzling the Nobel committee,” which it worries will shortchange the South’s security. (The Telegraph of London has more on those fears in today’s edition.)
-- One key factor driving Trump’s disenchantment with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats's testimony last month that Kim is unlikely to ever agree to relinquish his nuclear arsenal. This contradicts the position that the president has staked out. Sources who have spoken with the president told my colleagues on Monday that Trump is still privately “enraged” by Coats’s testimony and the former Indiana senator’s job is in danger as a result.
Trump took a victory lap after Singapore last summer: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” he tweeted in June.
Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Jan. 29: “We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival. … Our assessment is bolstered by our observations of some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization.”
As senior GOP lawmakers expressed dismay about Coats’s potential ouster yesterday, Trump denied The Post’s report. “I haven’t even thought about it,” the president told reporters.
-- More truth-telling from the Pentagon: A top U.S. commander, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, testified last week that there is no evidence North Korea has slowed down its nuclear program since the Singapore summit. Abrams called the second meeting a “positive sign of continued dialogue,” but he told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “Little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea’s military capabilities. … The only observable change has been a reduction in the attention and bellicosity the regime layers onto its military activities. Since the end of 2017, Pyongyang has reduced its hostile rhetoric and halted media coverage of Kim Jong Un’s attending capstone events such as large-scale, live-fire training or special operations raids on mock-up alliance targets. It is, however, too soon to conclude that a lower profile is indicative of lesser risk.”
-- More previews of the summit:
- Reuters: “Kim will likely travel to Vietnam by train. It could take … at least two and a half days to travel the thousands of kilometers through China … That means he would have to set off later this week in time for his planned Feb. 25 arrival.”
- New York Times: “South Korea Proposes Joint Economic Projects to Prod North to Denuclearize.”
- Associated Press: South Korean President Moon Jae-in “is desperate for a breakthrough so he can continue engagement with the North.”
- NPR: The meeting is “likely to focus on North Korea's main nuclear weapons center at Yongbyon.”
- NBC News: “Top North Korean official says his country faces major food shortages, blaming weather and sanctions.”
- Voice of America: “Hanoi Summit May Advance North Korea’s Objectives, Experts Say.”
- CBS News: “Trump's rushed diplomacy with North Korea could trigger regional arms race, says Korea expert.”
- The Daily Beast: “North Korean Defector Thae Yong Ho Shows How Kim Makes a Chump of Trump.”
- BBC: “What might Kim learn from hosts Vietnam?”
-- Additional commentary:
- Former CIA director John Brennan’s op-ed for The Post: “Trump must listen to the North Korea experts, not his gut.”
- The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “Testing North Korea’s sincerity to take concrete steps toward denuclearization requires flexibility and innovation in the U.S. approach.”
- The Heritage Foundation: “Denuclearization talks are a good start, but President Trump must be careful not to jeopardize US interest in his attempts at a deal with Pyongyang.”
-- All politics is local: Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) is pushing Trump to bring back the Pueblo. From the Colorado Springs Gazette: “The USS Pueblo, an antenna-laden spy ship, was seized by North Korea in 1968 in a raid that killed one of the crew, Petty Officer Duane Hodges, and saw the rest interned in North Korean POW camps. Since then, the 177-foot Pueblo has been docked in Pyongyang, where the Communist government has used it as a tourist attraction. Tipton, whose district includes Pueblo, wants Trump to bring the Navy’s Pueblo home. ‘The Pueblo is the U.S. Navy’s only commissioned vessel that remains in captivity,’ Tipton wrote in a letter to Trump. ‘I appreciate any dedicated efforts by your Administration to ensuring that the Pueblo is returned home with the dignity and respect it deserves.’”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Pope Francis opened a historic summit on preventing clerical sexual abuse by saying church leaders have to take “concrete and effective measures” to deal with the issue. Chico Harlan reports from Vatican City: The Pope “called abuse a 'plague' and asked that bishops in attendance 'listen to the screams of the little ones asking for justice.' The pontiff’s brief address kicked off one of the most critical points of his papacy, a gathering of the world’s leading bishops to discuss a problem that the Catholic Church for decades has struggled to curb — and that has now damaged the pope’s own reputation. ... Francis did not specify Thursday what kind of concrete measures could result from the summit. ... Church officials have called the four-day meeting one phase in a long process, not a cure-all."
GET SMART FAST:
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the constitutional prohibition on excessive fines applies to state and local governments. Civil liberties organizations cheered the decision, which they said would help crack down on states and localities seizing property from suspects of crimes to bolster revenue. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who returned to the bench just a day earlier, announced the decision. (Robert Barnes)
The number of people covered by Medicare is expected to grow more rapidly than private insurance or Medicaid. An annual forecast of health-care expenditures says that without changes to federal policy, 36 million Americans will be uninsured by 2027. (Amy Goldstein)
A Philadelphia homicide detective was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting dozens of witnesses and suspects. But the Philadelphia Police Department has not explained why Philip Nordo was allowed to continue his detective work for 14 years after a suspect provided evidence of being sexually abused during a 2005 interrogation. (Meagan Flynn)
Lyft plans to go public around the end of March. The ride-sharing giant will list on the Nasdaq. (Wall Street Journal)
Police in California arrested a suspect in the murder of an 11-year-old girl 46 years later after live-tweeting the victim's last day. The suspect in Linda Ann O'Keefe's murder was arrested with the help of new technology, officials said. (Amy B Wang)
A fire in a centuries-old Bangladesh shopping district killed at least 81 people. The blaze lasted more than 10 hours and gutted an ancient part of Dhaka, the nation's capital. (AP)
Ben Carson's “signature” Housing and Urban Development initiative has gone nowhere. Public housing directors are saying that a program Carson touted eight months ago to create support centers for low-income residents is little more than the rebranding of work already underway. (NBC News)
A Wisconsin legislator is refusing to cut his hair until his bill on sign language interpreters for the deaf community is passed. State Assembly Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D), who learned sign language while working with two deaf interns in the Washington office of former U.S. senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), has not cut his hair since last February. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Archaeologists believe they have traced dozens of Stonehenge’s rocks to two quarries in Wales. The authors of a study in the journal Antiquity posit that the rocks were dragged 180 miles on wooden sleds to the well-known monument. (Ben Guarino)
- CBS is considering rebranding its flagship “Evening News” program. The network is reportedly planning to give Norah O'Donnell the anchor slot. (Variety)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Justice Department officials expect special counsel Bob Mueller to deliver a report on his investigation in the coming days. Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Matt Zapotosky report: “Mueller could deliver his report to Attorney General William P. Barr next week, according to a person familiar with the matter … Regulations call for Mueller to submit to the attorney general a confidential explanation as to why he decided to charge certain individuals, as well as who else he investigated and why he decided not to charge those people. The regulations then call for the attorney general to report to Congress about the investigation.
“An adviser to [Trump] said there is palpable concern among the president’s inner circle that the report might contain information about Trump and his team that is politically damaging, but not criminal conduct … How detailed either Mueller’s report and the attorney general’s summary of the findings will be is unclear. Lawmakers have demanded that Mueller’s report be made public, but Barr has been noncommittal on that point, saying that he intends to be as forthcoming as the regulations and department practice allow.”
-- Here are seven scenarios for how Mueller's probe might end. From Wired's Garrett M. Graff:
- “Mueller sends the attorney general a simple 'declination letter'": This would be a pretty anticlimactic but very Mueller-like end to the probe. In this scenario, Mueller would send a letter to Barr saying the grand jury has already charged all identified crimes worthy of prosecution.
- “Mueller compiles a detailed 'roadmap'": In this scenario, the special prosecutor would provide Congress with a map of sorts outlining any impeachment-worthy presidential crimes and misdemeanors.
- “Mueller authors a detailed novelistic narrative”: This document, much like the final report entered by the 9/11 Commission or Ken Starr's conclusion of the Whitewater hearing, would provide rich detail on the investigation and is what many Americans envision when talking about Mueller's work.
- “He offers both a final round of 'his' indictments as well as a detailed report like #2 or #3": The prosecutor's existing court filings show that he might be building an overarching conspiracy indictment, bringing together Americans who participated in the attack.
- “He offers a report, but not the report”: Which would look more like a progress report but would not offer a definitive end and would touch more broadly on all foreign interference in Washington rather than Russian meddling.
- “He closes up shop but refers numerous active cases to other prosecutors”: This scenario would ensure that his probe would live on for years. It would probably signal that he has answered most Russia-related questions but on the way uncovered other crimes that need further investigation.
- “He closes up shop but refers numerous active cases to other prosecutors:” Mueller seemingly piled up sealed indictments as a way to ensure that the case would live on in case he was fired. This scenario would see him unsealing these for further investigation.
-- Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen has agreed to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 27. “I am pleased to announce that Michael Cohen’s public testimony before the Oversight Committee is back on, despite efforts by some to intimidate his family members and prevent him from appearing,” Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement. Cohen added in a tweet: “The schedule has now been set. Looking forward to the #American people hearing my story in my voice!” (Felicia Sonmez)
-- A judge agreed to delay the start of Cohen’s prison sentence by two months. Cohen's attorneys said he was still recovering from shoulder surgery and preparing to testify before Congress, leaving him little time to get his affairs in order. Prosecutors did not object to the “one-time” delay, which will move the start of Cohen’s sentence to May 6. (AP)
-- Senate investigators want to speak to a Moscow-based American businessman and former Trump associate who could shed light on the president's dealings with Russia in the ’90s. CNN's Nina dos Santos reports: “The Senate Intelligence Committee … has been keen to speak with David Geovanis for several months, the sources say. Geovanis helped organize a 1996 trip to Moscow by Trump, who was in the early stages of pursuing what would become a long-held goal of building a Trump Tower in the Russian capital ... Years later, Geovanis worked for the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whose ties to Trump's 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort have also been of interest to investigators. ... When contacted by CNN via telephone, Geovanis declined to comment on his relationship with the President.”
-- Trump called former FBI acting director Andrew McCabe a “poor man’s J. Edgar Hoover.” Toluse Olorunnipa and Matt Zapotosky report: “‘I think Andrew McCabe has made a fool out of himself over the last couple of days,’ Trump told reporters Wednesday. ‘I think he’s a disaster and what he was trying to do was terrible, and he was caught. I’m very proud to say we caught him.’McCabe said in response on MSNBC: ‘You think someday you’ll get used to this, and on some level, you never do. I’ve been listening to the president lie about me since October of 2016, and he somehow finds new ways to do it.’ … While Trump has long been critical of McCabe … his attacks have escalated this week in the wake of McCabe’s book release and media tour.”
-- A former Trump campaign official filed a class-action claim to nullify all nondisclosure agreements the campaign made staffers sign. Jessica Denson, the former staffer who served as the campaign’s Hispanic engagement director, is arguing that the NDAs can be used as retaliation against employees who make legitimate workplace complaints. Reis Thebault reports: “Denson’s lawyers … estimated that in the Trump campaign alone, there were thousands of employees, contractors and volunteers who were forced to sign agreements that bound them to secrecy and prevented them from making any disparaging statements about Trump, his campaign or his family. Denson’s case, which has been in state court, federal court and arbitration, began when she filed a workplace discrimination and harassment lawsuit against the Trump campaign in 2017. … She then [allegedly] faced bullying, harassment and sexual discrimination."
THE NEW CONGRESS:
-- The son of the North Carolina congressional candidate entangled in an election-fraud scandal said he warned his father that a political operative hired by his campaign had previously used illegal tactics. Amy Gardner reports: “John Harris, now an assistant U.S. attorney in Raleigh, said he advised his father in conversations and emails that he believed Leslie McCrae Dowless was ‘shady’ and appeared to have illegally collected absentee ballots in 2016 while working for a different Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. … He conveyed similar concerns to the campaign’s chief strategist, Andy Yates, he said. Mark Harris hired Dowless despite his son’s concerns, which he said he expressed starting in the spring of 2017. ‘I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right,’ John Harris said about Dowless. ... Harris’s dramatic testimony undercut claims by both his father, a 52-year-old evangelical minister, and Yates … that they had not been aware of any red flags that Dowless might be breaking the law.”
-- Though she didn’t specify when, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last night that the House will vote “swiftly” on a resolution to formally reject Trump’s emergency declaration. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and is expected to sail through the Democratic-controlled House, though its fate in the Republican-dominated Senate is less certain. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) is so far the only Republican to publicly say she will vote to reject the declaration.
“While the resolution would need only a simple majority to pass the Senate, it is unclear how many GOP senators will actually rebuke Trump by supporting it," Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report. "Indeed, some of the GOP critics who said it would be a bad idea for Trump to make an end-run around Congress in recent weeks have since silenced their pushback — or even reversed course entirely — following the president’s decision to ignore their advice. Should the measure pass the Senate, Trump officials have already told surrogates that he will veto the bill. Congress is unlikely to have the numbers to override that veto.”
A DIVIDED AMERICA:
-- U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, a self-identified white nationalist, was allegedly planning a mass terrorist attack targeting politicians and journalists in D.C. but was arrested when federal investigators discovered his stockpile of weapons and ammunition. Lynh Bui reports: “Hasson called for ‘focused violence’ to ‘establish a white homeland’ and said, ‘I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth,’ according to court records filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland. Though court documents do not detail a specific planned date for an attack, the government said he had been amassing supplies and weapons since at least 2017, developed a spreadsheet of targets that included [Pelosi] and searched the Internet using phrases such as ‘best place in dc to see congress people’ and ‘are supreme court justices protected.’”
Officials described Hasson as a man obsessed with neo-fascist and neo-Nazi views. He’d been working at the Coast Guard’s Washington headquarters since 2016 and had served in the Marine Corps from 1988 to 1993 and in the Army National Guard for about two years in the mid-1990s: “A Coast Guard spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, said Wednesday that Hasson no longer works at Coast Guard headquarters. … Court documents do not detail what prompted federal law enforcement to begin investigating Hasson but contend that Hasson had been studying the 1,500-page manifesto of right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who unleashed two attacks in 2011 that killed 77 people in Norway, and echoed Breivik’s attack preparations.”
Hasson’s list of targets allegedly included prominent politicians and members of the media, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): “‘The defendant is a domestic terrorist,’ the government said in court filings, ‘bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct.’ In an email drafted in June 2017, he contemplated biological attacks and targeting food supplies, according to the court filings. He considered the merits of a ‘bombing/sniper campaign.’”
-- “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett faces a disorderly conduct charge in Chicago for allegedly filing a false police report accusing two masked men wearing Make America Great Again hats of physically assaulting him while yelling homophobic and racial slurs. Bethonie Butler, Sonia Rao and Alex Horton report: “Attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, who are representing Smollett, wrote in a statement: ‘Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.’
“The news of the felony charge comes just hours after the city’s police department announced that [Smollett] was being treated as a suspect in the criminal investigation. ... They said the information came up in interviews with two people who were arrested last week and released Friday without being charged. Police say at least one of the two men — who are brothers and of Nigerian descent — worked on the Fox drama with Smollett, but declined to say whether the actor knew them. … Several politicians initially spoke out in support of Smollett but have since adjusted their stances, including Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), who called for judgment to be withheld until the investigation has been completed. [Pelosi] deleted a tweet that referred to the alleged attack as ‘an affront to our humanity.’”
-- Trump tried to discredit a New York Times report that said he sought to place an ally in charge of an investigation into hush money paid to women during the 2016 election by tweeting that the newspaper is “a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.” John Wagner reports: “According to the Times report, Trump called [Matt] Whitaker shortly after he assumed his post late last year to ask whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and a perceived loyalist, could be put in charge of an investigation that included Trump’s role in silencing two women who alleged past affairs with him."
-- CNN assured the DNC that its new politics editor, former Jeff Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur, will not be involved in coverage related to the Democratic primary debates. From the Daily Beast's Maxwell Tani and Sam Stein: “According to sources, officials at the DNC were particularly concerned about Isgur’s alleged involvement in Fox News’ false reporting around the right-wing conspiracy theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks and was murdered in 2016 as a result. ... But the backlash to Isgur’s hiring has not just come from the DNC but from within the network’s political reporting unit as well. On Tuesday, one CNN staffer described the hiring as 'very bizarre' while another said political staff at the network were 'demoralized.' Three CNN staffers told The Daily Beast that some employees had considered drafting a letter to network head Jeff Zucker raising concerns about the hiring. And over the past two days, newsroom leaders have sought out reporters individually to clarify Isgur’s role.”
-- A 1971 interview in which John Wayne expressed support for white supremacy has recirculated on social media. “I believe in white supremacy,” the legendary actor, who died in 1978, told Playboy magazine. “We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks.” Wayne’s conservative politics were well known during his life, but the offensive comments went viral after they were tweeted by a screenwriter in Tennessee. (Eli Rosenberg)
-- A significant minority of Americans seldom or never meet people of a different race or background, according to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic. From the Atlantic’s Emma Green: “These survey results suggest that Americans are deeply ambivalent about the role of diversity in their families, friendships, and civic communities. Some people, it seems, prefer to stay in their bubble. … Just under a quarter of Americans say they seldom or never interact with people who don’t share their partisan affiliation. Black and Hispanic people were more likely than whites to describe their lives this way, although education made a big difference among whites: 27 percent of non-college-educated whites said they seldom or never encounter people from a different political party, compared to just 6 percent of college-educated whites. …
“Even Americans who are exposed to people from a different political party might not want to get too close. Almost one in five of the survey respondents said their interactions with people of a different political party are negative. … When asked how they would feel about their child marrying someone from the opposite political party, 45 percent of Democrats said they would be unhappy, compared with 35 percent of Republicans. … Roughly one out of five survey respondents reported that they seldom or never encounter people who don’t share their religion, and a similar proportion said the same for race.”
A COMMONWEALTH IN CRISIS:
-- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) canceled plans at the 11th hour to launch his “reconciliation tour” at a historically black college. The president of the student body asked Northam to stay away, saying the Democrat’s admission of wearing blackface would detract from the civil rights commemoration he was supposed to attend. Laura Vozzella reports: “The governor had been scheduled to visit Richmond’s Virginia Union University Thursday as it honors the Richmond 34 — students arrested in 1960 for holding a sit-in at the whites-only lunch counter at Thalhimers department store. In a letter to Northam this week, Student Government Association President Jamon K. Phenix suggested it would be better for the governor not to come [for now]. … Phenix, a Democrat who said he worked the polls for Northam and his ticketmates from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day 2017, took pains to strike a respectful tone in his letter.” Northam said he'll come to the campus at another time.
-- Virginia voters are split on whether Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) should resign over sexual assault allegations, while demands for the resignation of Northam appear to be subsiding. Jenna Portnoy and Scott Clement report: “Nearly all of Fairfax’s fellow Democratic elected officials have urged him to resign, but voters are divided, 36 percent to 36 percent, over the question, and 28 percent have no opinion, [according to a new Quinnipiac poll]. … A separate poll released Wednesday by Ipsos and the University of Virginia's Center for Politics found 35 percent of Virginia adults saying Fairfax should resign, compared with 25 percent who say he should not step down. Another 4 in 10 were unsure or report no opinion. Asked about Northam, 43 percent said he should not resign while 31 percent said he should.”
-- The Rev. William Barber II and former vice president Al Gore called on Northam to show he's serious about racial equality by opposing Dominion Energy’s plans to build a pumping station in a historically black area. Gregory S. Schneider reports: “The pair was touring the rural community of Union Hill on Tuesday afternoon to draw attention to the case against the pumping station, which is part of the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. … With the rest of the controversial, 600-mile pipeline hung up on delays and court challenges, opponents say Northam should step in on behalf of the residents of this rural community, which was settled by free blacks and former slaves just after the Civil War.”
-- Dozens of USA Today reporters scoured through hundreds of yearbooks in search of blackface photos. They ended up finding one published by their own editor. Nicole Carroll, the paper's editor in chief, served as the editor of an Arizona State University yearbook in which a reporter found an image of two white students wearing black makeup. (Tim Elfrink)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- European allies turned down a U.S. request to leave their troops in Syria after U.S. forces withdraw. Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan report: “Allies have 'unanimously' told the United States that they 'won’t stay if you pull out,' a senior administration official said. France and Britain are the only other countries with troops on the ground in the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State. ... French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that he was mystified by Trump’s policy. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that 'there is no prospect of British forces replacing the Americans' in Syria. European refusal to stay unless President Trump reverses at least part of his troop withdrawal order is one of several factors that U.S. military officials, lawmakers and senior administration officials have said should make Trump think again. ...
“Their concerns coincide with the administration’s failure, so far, to reach an agreement with Turkey not to attack the [Kurdish-led opposition Syrian Democratic Forces] ... President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the Turkish military, massed at the border, is prepared to move into northeast Syria once the Americans leave. … Russia, meanwhile, has proposed that Assad’s forces simply be allowed to take over the entire area now controlled by the United States and its allies. ‘No one, including the Kurds and the Turks, thinks the regime coming into the northeast is a good idea,’ the senior administration official said.”
-- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) upbraided acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan during a closed-door meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. “Are you telling our allies that we are going to go to zero by April 30?” Graham asked Shanahan, according to an account Graham gave to columnist Josh Rogin. When Shanahan replied that those were the president’s orders, Graham said he replied, “That’s the dumbest f---ing idea I’ve ever heard.” Shanahan, he said, agreed that likely consequences included a return of the Islamic State, a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces and an advantage for Iran. Graham wants to leave 200 U.S. troops in northeast Syria as a way to keep European allies engaged.
-- Trump said an American woman who joined the Islamic State would not be allowed to return to the United States. Felicia Sonmez and Michael Brice-Saddler report: “Hoda Muthana, 24, left her home in Alabama in 2014 to marry an Islamic State fighter in Syria. She now lives with her young son in a Syrian refugee camp. ‘I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!’ Trump tweeted Wednesday evening. … Earlier Wednesday, Pompeo said in a statement that she ‘is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States.’ … [But Muthana’s attorney] responded by tweeting a photo of his client’s birth certificate, which shows that Muthana was born in Hackensack in October 1994.”
-- Shamima Begum, a British teenager who joined the Islamic State four years ago and is now trying to return home with her baby, has lost her British citizenship. Karla Adam reports: “The government’s decision came as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, was losing the last of its territory in Syria and countries across Europe are struggling with what to do about their citizens who went to fight on behalf of the terrorist group. … Begum is living in a Syrian refugee camp, where she gave birth to a boy last weekend. Her baby also has potential claims of British citizenship.”
-- The White House is considering nominating failed Michigan Senate candidate John James for the vacant U.N. ambassador position. From Politico's Gabby Orr and Daniel Lippman: “A White House official said James, 37, was previously the 'runner-up' for the position last December before Trump nominated [Heather] Nauert. At the time, James met with several senior Trump administration officials, including the president, vice president and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. James is a 'favorite' of Vice President Mike Pence, added a senior White House official, and has won a stamp of approval from [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton] ... Trump is also considering U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell for the position, according to the senior White House official."
-- The U.S. and China are sketching out a deal to end their trade standoff. Reuters's Jeff Mason reports: “As officials hold high level talks on Thursday and Friday in Washington, they remain far apart on demands made by [Trump’s] administration for structural changes to China’s economy. But the broad outline of what could make up a deal is beginning to emerge from the talks, the sources said, as the two sides push for an agreement by March 1. That marks the end of a 90-day truce that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to when they met in Argentina late last year. ... Several Chinese government sources told Reuters that the two countries have basically reached a consensus on alleviating the trade imbalances, but there were still some differences on each other’s ‘core demands’ that they were seeking to narrow."
-- Trump is planning two trips to Japan later this year. Bloomberg News’s Jennifer Jacobs and Margaret Talev report: “The president will travel to Japan in May to meet with the new emperor, Crown Prince Naruhito, whose accession is May 1, the official said. He’ll return in late June for a summit of the Group of 20 industrialized nations.”
-- Three members of the British Conservative Party resigned over complaints that Prime Minister Theresa May has capitulated to hard-line Brexiteers. William Booth reports: “The Conservative members of Parliament who resigned will join a new ‘Independent Group’ of lawmakers formed earlier this week by eight legislators who quit the opposition Labour Party. The creation of a small but potentially powerful independent bloc of 11 — now composed of moderate rebels from both parties — suggests that seismic forces are at work in British politics. … At a news conference after their defection, [the Conservative lawmakers] said others were likely to join them.”
-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's two main rivals in the upcoming election have decided to band together against him out of “national responsibility” as the leader faces criticism for making a pact with an extreme-right party. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report: “Former army chief of staff and political newcomer Benny Gantz and Netanyahu’s long-time opponent, Yair Lapid, who have been polling in second and third place, announced that they would join forces to run on a joint party list, ramping up pressure on the incumbent leader as he battles corruption allegations.
“It came just hours after Netanyahu’s Likud party said it had succeeded in a surprising push to get three right-wing factions to join forces in a move Netanyahu hopes will ensure he can form a coalition in the next government. ... Israeli commentators and American Jewish groups immediately decried [Likud's] move, saying the faction was clearly an offshoot of Kahane’s Kach party, a group that is designated a terrorist organization by the State Department and banned in Israel. ... However, Netanyahu had argued that it was important that right-wing votes not be 'wasted' and that the three groups merge in order to pass the minimum threshold for seats in the Knesset, or parliament, making them a potential coalition partner.”
-- Venezuela's deputy U.N. military attache said he backs opposition leader Juan Guaidó, increasing pressure on President Nicolás Maduro to step down. The Venezuelan diplomat, Col. Pedro Chirinos, said Maduro's government was “illegally constituted.” (Reuters)
-- Venezuelans fleeing their nation’s crisis must take on a dangerous 125-mile journey over a 12,000-foot hike through the Andes Mountains with little more than their most basic possessions. The Times’s Nicholas Casey and Jenny Carolina González report: “‘It’s the coldest place I’ve known in my life,’ said Fredy Rondón, who had come from Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, with a single bag of belongings. Now, he was breathless at 10,500 feet, with a treeless steppe before him. ‘I thought I could take the cold, but this is too, too much,’ he said. His willingness to travel these twisting mountain roads speaks to the desperation in Venezuela. … ‘We are all scared it will get ugly between Maduro and Guaidó,’ said Norma López, who walked with her five children and 6-day-old infant. Her neighbors, she said, told her the government was ‘going to take away their teenagers to defend Maduro.’”
-- The Venezuelan government, meanwhile, shut down its border to three Caribbean countries in an effort to block aid organized by the opposition. Casey adds: “Vice President Delcy Rodríguez said that in addition to the border closure, the government would review its relations with the three islands, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, where the Venezuelan opposition wants to stage supplies. … Venezuela’s move against the three islands signaled a further tightening of borders before the opposition’s attempt on Saturday to break through the blockade. Mr. Maduro’s government has used shipping containers to block a bridge between Colombia and Venezuela where American aid arrived earlier this month. … Mr. Maduro has said that Venezuelans are not ‘beggars’ and will not accept the aid, despite an economic collapse that has led to widespread hunger in the country.”
BERNIE'S NEW BEGINNING:
-- Bernie Sanders's second campaign for the presidency is off to a successful start. Millions have watched his campaign announcement video, more than any of his rivals, and he's pulled in a very impressive fundraising haul. Sean Sullivan reports: “The initial surge and one-day receipts of $6 million reflect a resilience of support for the Democratic runner-up in 2016 and served notice to his competitors, who have so far been unable to create the same groundswell with their campaign launches. … 'This is truly remarkable,' President Obama’s reelection campaign finance director, Rufus Gifford, tweeted Wednesday about Sanders’s first-day haul. 'I was skeptical of his ability to match his 2016 grassroots $$ magic. I was wrong.'"
-- Trump yesterday revived his “Crazy Bernie” nickname from 2016 and wished the senator well in the race. Sanders responded swiftly: “What’s crazy is that we have a president who is a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and a fraud. We are going to bring people together and not only defeat Trump but transform the economic and political life of this country.” (John Wagner)
-- The Democratic Socialists of America are preparing to back Sanders’s campaign. The group is the largest socialist organization in the U.S. and has already proved successful in helping Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) get elected to Congress. “Sanders is the only presidential candidate that the group is considering endorsing, despite the large swath of progressives already in the 2020 campaign who support policies backed by DSA,” BuzzFeed News’s Ryan Brooks reports.
-- But Bernie will officially run as a Democrat and promises to sign a loyalty pledge required by the DNC. A new DNC rule requires Democratic candidates to affirm in writing that they are part of the party and will participate in debates and more. (CNN)
MORE ON 2020:
-- A disinformation campaign targeting 2020 Democratic candidates is already underway, and the effort shows striking similarities to the propaganda pushed by Russian trolls in 2016. Politico’s Natasha Korecki reports: “The main targets appear to be Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) ... Recent posts that have received widespread dissemination include racially inflammatory memes and messaging involving Harris, O’Rourke and Warren. In Warren’s case, a false narrative surfaced alleging that a blackface doll appeared on a kitchen cabinet in the background of the senator’s New Year’s Eve Instagram livestream. Not all of the activity is organized. Much of it appears to be organic, a reflection of the politically polarizing nature of some of the candidates. But there are clear signs of a coordinated effort of undetermined size that shares similar characteristics with the computational propaganda attacks launched by online trolls at Russia’s Internet Research Agency … An analysis ... by Guardians.ai found evidence that a relatively small cluster of accounts — and a broader group of accounts that amplify them — drove a disproportionate amount of the Twitter conversation about the four candidates over a recent 30-day period. … This is the same core group of accounts the company first identified last year in a study as anchoring a wide-scale influence campaign in the 2018 elections.”
-- Campaigns have started using smartphone data to track the movement of potential voters in order to surround them with political ads. The LA Times’s Evan Halper reports: “Campaigns don’t match the names of voters with the personal information they scoop up — although that could be possible in many cases. Instead, they use the information to micro-target ads to appear on phones and other devices based on individual profiles that show where a voter goes, whether a gun range, a Whole Foods or a town hall debate over Medicare. The spots would show up in all the digital places a person normally sees ads — whether on Facebook or an internet browser such as Chrome. As a result, if you have been to a political rally, a town hall, or just fit a demographic a campaign is after, chances are good your movements are being tracked with unnerving accuracy by data vendors on the payroll of campaigns.”
-- As former vice president Joe Biden inches closer to a 2020 decision, a serious concern remains: What happens if the president attacks Biden's family? From NBC's Mike Memoli: “No line of attack would be more reprehensible to the former vice president than one directed at his family and he and his team have been forced to consider that even as they also weigh the political dynamics. ... Biden told his closest aides this week he has a few final 'traps' to run before a final decision — including gut-check conversations with his children and grandchildren. ... Discussions among his inner circle have included simulating what would happen on the campaign trail if Biden were asked to respond to a fresh Trump tweet or public comment directed at Biden’s family.”
-- Harris has brought six women of color onto her campaign team, including former Hillary Clinton aide Emmy Ruiz and Cesar Chavez's granddaughter Julie Chávez Rodriguez. Politico's Nolan D. McCaskill reports: “These women are among more than a dozen women of color in senior roles in Harris’ campaign, including campaign chair Maya Harris, deputy national political director Jalisa Washington-Price, senior adviser Laphonza Butler and deputy national press secretary Kirsten Allen. The campaign said each woman will be involved in key decisions."
-- Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) announced his intention to run for Senate in 2020, becoming the first official Republican entrant into the Senate race. Byrne is challenging Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. (Al.com)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The Times responded to Trump’s latest attacks:
We stand by our investigation, which was rigorously reported and based on a review of confidential White House documents as well as interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to President Trump. https://t.co/yG4mDpHpnU— NYTimes Communications (@NYTimesPR) February 20, 2019
A #NeverTrump Republican linked the arrest of the Coast Guard lieutenant to Trump's rhetoric:
Weird.— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) February 21, 2019
It's almost....ALMOST...as if calling the press the "enemy of the people" makes some folks lose their minds. https://t.co/QiO4fLeIzT
A Post reporter made this observation on the case:
Reminder: Pentagon screening for immigrants went so far that it violated Constitutional protections, a federal court ruled recently, but the military still struggles to weed out white supremacists https://t.co/i1QlfpG37Q— Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX) February 20, 2019
From a reporter for the Capital newspaper in Annapolis:
As one of six survivors of our nation's only newsroom mass shooting, seeing generalized media-bashing tweets from the president makes me fear for my life. His words have power, and give bad actors justification to act. https://t.co/9NZ2WByB7i— Rachael Pacella (@rachaelpacella) February 20, 2019
Lawmakers from both parties expressed support for Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats after The Post reported that Trump has grown frustrated with his public statements and may soon dismiss him:
DNI Dan Coats is a good friend, former Senate colleague, and leader of integrity who has always served our country well. We are fortunate to have a person of his ability and candor to lead our intelligence community.— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) February 20, 2019
Dan Coats has been doing an outstanding job as Director of National Intelligence. He speaks truth to power and gives policy makers the best intelligence possible. He is loyal to the country and constitution, and that is as it should be. https://t.co/U7xQZkIApS— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 20, 2019
An Obama-era DOJ spokesman reacted to reports of how the new attorney general plans to handle Mueller's report:
Not surprised by the timing, but.....a summary? Won’t be good enough. https://t.co/Ic8RmIESTF— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) February 20, 2019
A Naval War College professor and onetime aide to a Republican senator worried that the report will be damning but met with a yawn:
In that sense, Trump accomplished what he set out to do: to make sure the GOP and 35% of the public will never accept SCO's findings, no matter what happens. But it gets worse: if the story is at all complicated and about money (and not about pee tapes), the public will yawn. /2— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) February 20, 2019
People keep asking "what will be in the Mueller Report?!" Guys, you already *know* what's in the report. The only missing piece is how much Trump directed or knew about, and how much leverage Putin has on him. (Not "if," but "how much.") /4— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) February 20, 2019
An LA Times reporter noted Trump appeared out of the loop on his administration's global effort to combat the criminalization of homosexuality:
Trump has no idea about his administration’s push to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, per WH transcript from today’s pool spray: pic.twitter.com/fkzzE8OMFb— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) February 20, 2019
The Post's Fact Checker highlighted a line from an opinion released this week by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in which he appears to liken slavery to abortion:
of note: Clarence Thomas equates Roe v. Wade with Dred Scott https://t.co/6CdWUftI38— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) February 20, 2019
Decision Desk HQ looked at how the counties along the Mississippi River have voted going back to 1976:
The Mississippi River featured heavily in @amyklobuchar’s announcement.— Decision Desk HQ (@DecisionDeskHQ) February 20, 2019
Aaron Booth (@actoraaronbooth) looks at the electoral evolution of the counties bordering the river and what it may tell us about the 2020 Democratic primary and general election.https://t.co/cKBtWWqlr6 pic.twitter.com/6itriPaV29
Kirsten Gillibrand laughed off the coverage about an Iowa woman who ignored the presidential candidate's campaign event in favor of ranch dressing:
Two important things I know about Iowa: The caucus-goers are engaged and wonderful, and never get between a Midwesterner and their ranch. Pizza’s on me during the next trip to Iowa City, @kinney0116! https://t.co/2K4SP0hqCX— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) February 20, 2019
And a House Democrat sought coffee away from Trump Tower:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- New York Times, “The Disappeared Children of Israel,” by Malin Fezehai: “Known as the ‘Yemenite Children Affair,’ there are over 1,000 official reported cases of missing babies and toddlers, but some estimates from advocates are as high as 4,500. Their families believe the babies were abducted by the Israeli authorities in the 1950s, and were illegally put up for adoption to childless Ashkenazi families, Jews of European descent. The children who disappeared were mostly from the Yemenite and other ‘Mizrahi’ communities, an umbrella term for Jews from North Africa and the Middle East. While the Israeli government is trying to be more transparent about the disappearances, to this day, it denies that there were systematic abductions.”
-- The Atlantic, “Trump's New Red Scare,” by David A. Graham: “There are a lot of people talking about socialism these days. Senator Bernie Sanders, who on Tuesday launched a bid for the Democratic nomination for president, calls himself a democratic socialist, and so does Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Public intellectuals are debating the label anew. And then there’s the most high-profile participant in the discussion: Donald Trump. The president, of course, is not a proponent. But he has moved 'socialism' to the center of his lexicon in February, deploying it in discussions of foreign policy as a weapon against domestic political opponents. He does so at a time when his political messaging has faltered and when the left wing is more energized than it has been in generations. How successful Trump’s attempt to revive an old but often successful line of attack is will be an important test, both for his reelection hopes and for the future of socialist ideas in this country.”
-- ProPublica, “Behind the Scenes, Health Insurers Use Cash and Gifts to Sway Which Benefits Employers Choose,” by Marshall Allen. “Human resource directors often rely on independent health insurance brokers to guide them through the thicket of costly and confusing benefit options offered by insurance companies. But what many don’t fully realize is how the health insurance industry steers the process through lucrative financial incentives and commissions. Those enticements, critics say, don’t reward brokers for finding their clients the most cost-effective options.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Arizona House speaker blocks repeal of law that allows lawmakers to avoid arrests,” from the Arizona Republic: “House Speaker Rusty Bowers [R-Mesa] has blocked a measure that seeks to repeal a law, commonly known as legislative immunity, which prevents police from arresting lawmakers while the Legislature is in session. … [Rep. Paul Mosley], a Republican from Lake Havasu City, was pulled over in March for reportedly driving up to 97 mph in a 55 mph zone. During the traffic stop, Mosley bragged he was driving earlier at 120 mph and sometimes drives up to 140 mph, an interaction captured on police body-camera video. He evoked the privilege to avoid a speeding ticket, but was charged with excessive speeding months later, after the video was publicly released.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Kamala Harris shamed by Jamaican father over pot-smoking joke,” from Politico: “Harris made headlines last week when she joked in a radio interview that of course she smoked marijuana in her younger years: 'Half my family’s from Jamaica, are you kidding me?' But the crack didn’t go over well with at least one Jamaican: Donald J. Harris, the candidate’s father. The elder Harris sent an unsolicited statement to Kingston-based Jamaica Global Online, where the emeritus professor of economics at Stanford wrote a recent essay on his family’s history. … ‘Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty,’” the elder Harris wrote.
Trump will receive his intelligence briefing and have lunch with acting interior secretary David Bernhardt. He will later participate in a reception for Black History Month.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Personally, I think he missed his time.” — Trump on Bernie's 2020 chances. (John Wagner)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Today's skies will be clearer, but prepare for a rainy weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Beware of some lingering slushy spots this morning, but the sun gradually reappears and some melting is on the agenda today. The sunny break is short-lived as clouds return Friday and a steady stream of showers arrives Saturday. Sunday is the glimmer of hope for spring lovers, with showers ending, skies clearing and highs in the 60s!"
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert is thrilled that Mueller is reportedly close to finishing his report — even if we don't know if and when the public might see it:
Trevor Noah tried to figure out who is to blame for America's opioid crisis:
Fox News host Tucker Carlson went after a Dutch historian he interviewed about proposals to increase tax rates for the rich:
Watch Fox News host Tucker Carlson call one of his guests a 'tiny brain...moron' during an interview. NowThis has obtained the full segment with historian Rutger Bregman that Fox News is refusing to air. pic.twitter.com/kERYPUaGLY— NowThis (@nowthisnews) February 20, 2019
Rapper 50 Cent claimed he was offered half a million dollars to attend Trump's inauguration:
50 Cent says Trump Team offered him $500,000 JUST TO COME to the inauguration — which he refused.— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) February 20, 2019
"All money is not good money. You got to be careful what you're doing publicly." https://t.co/OXChqY52qO pic.twitter.com/y4ZhCrwK5m
And CNN rounded up the dogs of the 2020 election: