With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: The Russians could use the looming Ukrainian elections as a proving ground to test innovative forms of interference that might, if successful, be weaponized against the United States during the 2020 presidential campaign.
“I consider Ukraine ground zero when it comes to foreign meddling in elections because a lot is at stake for Russia,” former NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an interview. “We don't know in advance which technologies Russia will use. We do know that they will come up with more and more sophisticated methods. That's why we need to be at the forefront by witnessing what they are actually doing.”
Rasmussen runs a group called the Alliance of Democracies. Its flagship initiative is the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, whose co-chairs include former vice president Joe Biden and former homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff.
The Alliance is deploying seven observers to monitor the Ukrainian elections. The first round of voting is March 31. Assuming no presidential candidate in the crowded field gets more than 50 percent, a runoff will be held on April 21.
The group’s goal is to draw attention to disinformation and to work with the private sector to combat the proliferation of new technologies that keep intelligence professionals up at night, especially “deep fake” audio and video files. These are doctored but appear amazingly authentic and can go viral on social media.
Rasmussen, who also formerly served as the prime minister of Denmark, led NATO in 2014 when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Five years later, Russian forces are still on the peninsula and Ukraine’s deadly conflict with Russian-backed separatists drags on.
“No doubt about it, we were taken by surprise when he attacked Ukraine,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t think we underestimate Russia any longer.”
We met for lunch at Sonoma on Capitol Hill after he testified before the House Intelligence Committee recently. Over hamburgers, he outlined machinations by Moscow that he worries are still going on under the radar and expressed hope that Washington elites can avoid viewing the response through a partisan lens.
“The whole purpose is not to strengthen left wings or right wings, but it's just to sow mistrust and lack of confidence in our democratic institutions and our democratic process,” Rasmussen said. “That would be true whether it was President Trump in the White House or someone else.”
There is strong evidence that the Russians have interfered to varying degrees during elections abroad by using traditional propaganda, manipulating social media platforms and in some cases illicitly funding allies. Rasmussen pointed to a recent report by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs that found Russia is responsible for 80 percent of disinformation activities in Europe and highlighted Microsoft’s recent announcement that it detected efforts by Moscow to phish the servers of European think tanks.
In Ukraine, the Transatlantic Commission has partnered with the Atlantic Council and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation to stand up an elections task force. It’s led by David Kramer, the former president of Freedom House and an assistant secretary of state under George W. Bush. The operation includes a rapid-response war room aimed at identifying evidence of interference in real-time by using sophisticated new software tools.
“We should not forget that in many Eastern European countries people say, ‘We did not get rid of communism just to replace Moscow with Brussels,’ so we have to carefully consider how we speak up,” Rasmussen explained.
Officials are on edge that agents of the Kremlin could try to hack into the networks of the various candidates or disable phones, electrical grids and maybe even airport control systems. Their intent could range from suppressing get-out-the-vote operations to making the government look incompetent at the most inopportune moments to simply creating mass chaos.
Western observers are also nervous that Russia will try to hack into the Ukrainian elections website to publish false results in a bid to cast doubts on the validity of the real results. This isn’t academic. It happened during their last presidential election. A pro-Russian hacking group called CyberBerkut deleted vote-tallying system files and leaked private emails from the Central Election Commission. The public-facing results website was also hacked. It falsely identified a far-right candidate as the winner until authorities could regain control of their servers.
Unlike in U.S. elections, the Ukrainians must also worry about the real possibility of Russia using conventional military force, whether harassing their ships in the Sea of Azov or massing troops along the border or activating sleeper cells inside Kiev to conduct sabotage and foment violence in the streets.
“We need to pay more immediate attention to Ukraine because it is not part of NATO … and they are in many ways a symbol of some of the things going on,” said former secretary of state Madeline Albright, who testified alongside Rasmussen before the House Intelligence Committee. “We are still underestimating Russia. Putin is just a flat-out dictator. I used to be a Soviet expert and I kind of look at my library and I think it’s archaeology. Nope! They are trying to rebuild the system, and they’re using these asymmetrical tools.”
-- After reading an op-ed Biden wrote that called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Rasmussen reached out to him about partnering on something more global. Last March, they unveiled the transatlantic initiative together. It has already monitored 10 referendums and elections, including the U.S. midterms.
They were especially alarmed to see what happened last September in Macedonia during a referendum on changing the country’s name, which might have sped up the country’s entry into NATO — a development Russia strongly opposes. There was a surge in new Facebook and Twitter bot accounts during the month before the vote that urged people to boycott, abstain and stay home. Rasmussen believes the Russians were trying to keep turnout rates below 50 percent so that the results would be invalid. Ultimately, turnout was only 37 percent.
Correctly attributing who is behind disinformation campaigns is not as easy as you might assume, especially because the Russians always deny that they had anything to do with these disinformation campaigns and often try to cover their tracks. Rasmussen said his group monitored Senate elections in four states last fall, for instance, but declined to name them on the record.
“We detected some unusual activity on social media, but it was a bit difficult for us to identify the origin, and this is the reason why we didn't make it public,” he said. “But we reported our results to the local authorities, the state authorities, so it’s for them to look into whether it was domestic meddling or whether foreign actors intervened. In general, the state of the midterm elections was much, much better than in 2016. But we also know that the Russians have become much more sophisticated so we have to keep up the pace.”
-- Don’t forget: One of the crimes Paul Manafort will be sentenced for by a federal judge in Washington today is his undisclosed work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Special counsel Bob Mueller’s team alleged last month that the former Trump campaign chairman was still working on Ukrainian political matters in 2018, even after his indictment. Manafort purportedly met with Konstantin Kilimnik to discuss a peace plan for Ukraine on more than one occasion, including in August 2016. This has long been a top foreign policy goal for Putin because a settlement is a prerequisite to the West to relax stiff sanctions on Russia. Prosecutors have also said that Manafort worked with Kilimnik on a poll of Ukraine just last year.
-- If you haven’t been following the Ukrainian presidential election, the front-runner is a comedian who plays the role of a president on a popular sitcom. The show is called “Servant of the People,” and Volodymyr Zelensky is running as the leader of an independent party called Servant of the People. Our Moscow bureau chief, Anton Troianovski, profiled the 41-year-old political neophyte on the front page of Sunday’s newspaper: “Just like his character in Season 2, Zelensky, the real-life candidate, has taken to addressing voters in selfie videos and recording himself talking to regular Ukrainians. Zelensky’s campaign videos on his YouTube channel include clips from ‘Servant of the People’ interspersed amid footage from Zelensky’s actual campaign. ‘People are voting for the plot of the show,’ said Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. ‘They want to bring the plot of the show to life.’
“Five years after the country’s pro-Western revolution, its people still thirst for change. Street protests in 2014 marked a decisive turn away from Moscow, but they did far less to modernize the economy or root out corruption. President Petro Poroshenko’s government and administration have been beset by infighting and state spending scandals. The economy, suffering from weak investor confidence and the war in the heavily industrial east, still hasn’t recovered from its near-collapse five years ago. The most prominent candidates heading into the election campaign represented the old guard: the incumbent Poroshenko, who is also a chocolate tycoon and one of Ukraine’s richest men, and the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“Zelensky’s true politics are a mystery. He says he’s in favor of Ukraine seeking to join [NATO] and the European Union, but that those moves should be endorsed by the public in a referendum. He says he’s ready to negotiate with [Putin] to end the war in eastern Ukraine, but he’s offered few specifics on how he would accomplish that without ceding any territory to Russia. … Some Western diplomats in Kiev say they worry Zelensky’s inexperience will be a particular risk when dealing with Putin. … Zelensky is a rare candidate who has managed to transcend the divide between East and West and Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers in the country. His image is as that of a young, pro-Western actor and entrepreneur, but he hails from Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking southeast.”
“We’re living in a parallel universe,” said a senior Western diplomat in Kiev, who has been catching up on the show. “People are confusing what’s real and what’s fiction.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- If you read one story today: Barack Obama's administration failed to act on dire warnings about fentanyl for years, as tens of thousands of Americans died of overdoses of the powerful opioid. Scott Higham, Sari Horwitz and Katie Zezima have the findings of a Washington Post investigation:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first published data about fentanyl in 2013, years before senior administration officials took concrete steps against the drug: “The first signs were detected in the spring of 2013 when overdose deaths spiked at the state morgue in Providence. Then-Rhode Island Health Director Michael Fine wondered: What was killing so many so quickly? Fine was surprised to learn when the toxicology reports came back that 12 people who overdosed between March and May had died from fentanyl. … On Aug. 30, 2013, the CDC in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report highlighted the unusual spike in Rhode Island. It didn’t attract much national attention.”
- Former attorney general Eric Holder received a briefing on fentanyl in June 2014 but didn’t take action: “Former DEA agents said they provided Holder with a personal briefing that included a 30-slide PowerPoint presentation about the dangers of fentanyl … While raising red flags, the PowerPoint presentation itself did not request any particular action. … [Holder’s] former spokesman said it was up to the DEA to ask the attorney general for specific action. … Ten months after the briefing, Holder left the administration. By then, fentanyl was spreading across the country.”
- Officials rejected a May 2016 plea from national health experts to declare the crisis a public health emergency: “The epidemic had been escalating for three years. The 11 experts pressed the officials to declare fentanyl a national ‘public health emergency’ that would put a laserlike focus on combating the emerging epidemic and warn the country about the threat. … The administration considered the request but did not act on it.”
- Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) personally warned Obama about the explosion of fentanyl in March 2016. But the president wouldn’t specifically call it out until his administration's final days: Markey joined “Obama on Air Force One for a trip to Atlanta, where both were scheduled to speak at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit. … The senator used the rare one-on-one time to tell the president about fentanyl. … On Jan. 11, 2017, in the waning days of the administration, Obama delivered his annual National Drug Control Strategy to Congress. Four years after the epidemic began in Rhode Island, the White House called fentanyl a national crisis.”
-- The Federal Aviation Administration is standing by its decision not to ground the type of Boeing aircraft that went down in Ethiopia. Michael Laris, Lori Aratani, Josh Dawsey and Toluse Olorunnipa report: “The Trump administration resisted bipartisan calls to temporarily suspend use of the Boeing 737 Max 8, even as President Trump consulted by phone with the besieged company’s CEO. ... With the European Union and others following China’s move to bar flights by some of the American aviation giant’s most important airplanes, former transportation safety officials said the [FAA] risked losing its status as the world’s aviation safety leader. … In a conversation with Trump on Tuesday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg argued to keep the planes in the sky, according to a senior administration official. The president has not made a final decision on what should be done in response to the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes, the official said, and is expected to have more meetings Wednesday. ...
“Former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood, who was a GOP congressman before being appointed by President Barack Obama, said current Secretary Elaine Chao should immediately ground the aircraft. … But acting FAA administrator Daniel K. Elwell said late Tuesday that his agency’s extensive review of ‘aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX . . . shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.’”
-- Chao flew on the Max 8 from Austin to Washington yesterday.
-- Meanwhile, a growing chorus of lawmakers from both parties is demanding the 737 Max 8 should be banned from U.S. airspace for now. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said the FAA should ground the planes “out of an abundance of caution for the flying public.” So did Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), the chairman of a Senate subcommittee on aviation and space, promised to quickly hold a hearing to investigate the crashes. (John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez)
-- Pilots repeatedly complained for months to federal authorities about a safety feature for months before Sunday’s crash. The Dallas Morning News’s Cary Aspinwall, Ariana Giorgi and Dom DiFurio report: “[A]t least five complaints about the Boeing model [were found] in a federal database where pilots can voluntarily report about aviation incidents without fear of repercussions. The complaints are about the safety mechanism cited in preliminary reports about an October plane crash in Indonesia that killed 189. … Records show that a captain who flies the Max 8 complained in November that it was ‘unconscionable’ that the company and federal authorities allowed pilots to fly the planes without adequate training or fully disclosing information about how its systems were different from previous 737 models.”
-- The decision not to ground the planes is the latest example of a passive Department of Transportation, writes the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney: “Thirty-five Congressional mandates sit unanswered, on everything from minimum seat space to secondary barriers protecting cockpits. The top job at the Federal Aviation Administration has been open for 14 months. Enforcement fines against major U.S. airlines have dropped 88% in the past two years, even as three-hour tarmac delays have more than doubled. The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao has seemingly been delayed on a number of issues important to travelers. Even with airlines begging for rules on emotional-support animals, and both Republicans and Democrats expressing concerns about swollen fees, shrunken seating and punitive airline policies, the DOT has been loath to issue new regulations. …
“Sales of Boeing planes have been important to President Trump’s trade and employment objectives. But pressure is mounting, and if investigators find the same system is responsible for both crashes, it will be increasingly difficult for the FAA and Ms. Chao to leave a plane with a fatal flaw in the air.”
-- Trump has a lifelong fascination with air travel. “Shortly before taking office, Trump threatened to cancel a contract with Boeing for a new Air Force One, saying the costs were too high. Trump, who reached a $3.9 billion deal with Boeing last year ... He also considered appointing his personal pilot to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, and he told a group of airline executives in 2017 that the federal government’s air-traffic-control system was 'terrible' and 'out of whack.'" Toluse Olorunnipa reports.
-- Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie promoted himself to the White House to be Trump’s next secretary of defense. Lisa Rein, Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey report: “Former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan, has been auditioning for the role as acting secretary since early January. ... [He] is widely expected at the Pentagon to be nominated as permanent secretary, but officials have said there’s no certainty about his elevation until a White House announcement. The president has been known to change his mind on personnel decisions. Shanahan’s limited foreign policy experience, particularly with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has prompted some uneasiness on Capitol Hill. … It’s unclear whether Trump has considered him as a serious candidate for defense secretary, although the president is said to hold him in high regard. VA spokesman Curt Cashour said in an email that Wilkie ‘remains 100 percent focused on his job as VA secretary.’ … Shanahan is scheduled to give his first congressional testimony as acting secretary this week, when he is sure to face tough questions about Trump’s defense policies.”
GET SMART FAST:
Australian Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years in prison for sexually assaulting two boys, making him the most senior Catholic official headed for jail. But the sentence, which could have been as high as 50 years for Pell’s five convictions, struck some victims’ advocates as too lenient. (A. Odysseus Patrick)
Thirty-seven percent of American Catholics are considering leaving the church over the sex-abuse crisis, a Gallup poll showed. This is a 15 percentage point jump since the last major crisis in the church in the early 2000s. (Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
A federal grand jury has issued subpoenas related to alleged ballot tampering in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. The jury’s activity represents the first public evidence federal prosecutors are investigating the alleged election fraud. (Amy Gardner)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will impose an indefinite moratorium on the death penalty in the state. The new governor said the cost, finality and racial imbalance among death-row inmates show the punishment is immoral and a public policy “failure.” (Scott Wilson and Mark Berman)
The Defense Department formally approved a new rule barring transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex. The new policy requires members of the military to serve in their birth gender. (AP)
The director of the National Cancer Institute will serve as the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Ned Sharpless’s appointment a week after Scott Gottlieb said he was resigning to spend more time with his family. (Laurie McGinley and Amy Goldstein)
Phoenix elected Kate Gallego as its new mayor, making her the second woman to win the seat in nearly 140 years. Gallego won the city’s runoff election after coming in first during a November first-round race. (Phoenix New Times)
In a newly released audio recording, Fox News host Tucker Carlson makes sexually explicit jokes about a 2007 Miss Teen USA contestant. He says the teen was “dumb” and also suggested, without evidence, that the teen was having sex with the pageant show’s host, Mario Lopez. (Reis Thebault)
The family of Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin, a Minnesotan who was studying at Stanford when she committed suicide, has donated her brain to a medical center studying the effects of concussions. Catlin’s family said she displayed severe behavioral changes after two crashes in October and December, which separately caused a broken arm and a concussion. (Cindy Boren)
- The flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators will pay a $33 million penalty for misleading investors about formaldehyde-laced laminate flooring. The company and federal prosecutors agreed to the penalty after a 2015 “60 Minutes” investigation revealed the high levels of formaldehyde, which could increase a person’s risk of cancer. (Rachel Weiner)
Dick's Sporting Goods will stop selling guns in 125 stores and will replace the firearms with other sporting gear. The move comes a year after CEO Ed Stack took assault-style weapons out of all stores and decided to stop selling guns to buyers under 21. (Wall Street Journal)
A “bomb cyclone” unleashed an intense storm over the western Plains that is predicted to continue through Wednesday. Blizzard conditions are expected to develop today in a big swath of the country. (Jason Samenow)
Colorado has already seen more avalanches than it usually does in an entire season. Prime time for avalanches is just beginning, but they have already killed eight people this winter. (Ian Livingston)
A Pennsylvania man was arrested in an investigation of the 2012 death of his wife, who allegedly took $3 million worth of his valuable gold coins. Hap Seiders was arrested last week. Authorities say that he killed and dismembered her in their home, but they have still been unable to find her remains. (Kyle Swenson)
The New York Giants agreed to trade their standout wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns in a blockbuster deal. The Browns will exchange for Beckham their first- and third-round picks in the upcoming draft as well as their safety Jabrill Peppers, whom many consider a rising star. (Mark Maske)
THE SYSTEM WAS RIGGED:
-- Fifty people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged for allegedly participating in a multimillion-dollar scheme to get their children admitted to prestigious colleges. Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report: “The allegations included cheating on entrance exams and bribing college officials to say certain students were athletic recruits when those students were not in fact athletes, officials said. Numerous schools were targeted, including Georgetown University, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and UCLA, among others. In Boston, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling called it the largest-ever college admissions scam prosecuted by the Justice Department. Of the 50 people charged in the FBI’s Operation Varsity Blues, 33 were parents, officials said, warning that the investigation is ongoing and that others could be charged. … Huffman appeared in federal court in Los Angeles on Tuesday and was released on $250,000 bond.” None of the students were charged in the case.
The scheme's main architect, William Singer, pleaded guilty and has been cooperating with investigators since September: “Officials described Singer as a well-connected college admissions adviser and say he disguised the bribery scheme as a charity, enabling parents to deduct the bribes from their taxes. Singer was charged with taking about $25 million from 2011 to 2018 — paying some of it to college coaches or standardized-testing officials for their help rigging the admissions process and pocketing the rest, according to the criminal complaint. … Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy charges for racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. … Prosecutors said that a month after he came to the government’s side, Singer alerted several people under investigation about the inquiry — which earned him the obstruction charge.”
After the charges were unveiled, several of the implicated coaches were fired or put on leave by their universities: “Prosecutors also charged Georgetown’s former head tennis coach, Gordon Ernst. Authorities said he made $950,000 promoting several students as potential tennis recruits — when they were not tennis players of that caliber. … After leaving Georgetown, Ernst was hired as the University of Rhode Island’s tennis coach. The school said Tuesday he had been placed on administrative leave. … Some of the money was directed to Donna Heinel, a USC athletics official, the complaint alleges. … Jovan Vavic, the former water polo coach at USC, was charged with taking bribes to pretend students flagged by Singer were recruits for the team. … USC said Tuesday that Heinel and Vavic had been fired.”
-- Stanford fired head sailing coach John Vandemoer after he agreed to plead guilty in the case. “We have no evidence that the conduct involves anyone else at Stanford or is associated with any other team. However, we will be undertaking an internal review to confirm that,” the university said in a statement sent to alumni.
-- The criminal complaint details how Singer, who is identified as Cooperating Witness 1 or CW-1, guaranteed admission to his wealthy clients for set prices. Nick Anderson reports: “In the transcript of one conversation, CW-1 tells a father that he can help his daughter get a certain SAT or ACT score if she obtains special testing accommodations for a learning disability. ‘I can guarantee her a score,’ CW-1 says. ‘If it’s ACT, I can guarantee her a score in the, in the 30s. And if it’s the SAT, I can guarantee her a score in the 1400s.’ The maximum possible scores are 36 for the ACT and 1600 for the SAT. The price for doing that, CW-1 indicated, was $75,000. In another conversation, CW-1 assures another parent that his daughter can apply to a university as a potential water polo player even though she was unqualified in the sport. The price for one step in that arrangement was $50,000. The parents asks: ‘Okay, so there’s no chance I give that 50 and then she’s not admitted?’ CW-1 replies: ‘You won’t send it until you get the letter.’”
-- If the students weren’t acing their admission exams, who was? Mark Riddell, a professional tennis player and a “really smart guy,” according to the feds. Isaac Stanley-Becker reports: “The brains behind the operation were provided by Riddell, 36, who is expected to appear in federal court in Boston on Wednesday. He was the one actually filling in the bubbles, prosecutors allege … Riddell has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering. He has been cooperating in the investigation since February of this year, prosecutors said, ‘in the hope of obtaining leniency when he is sentenced.’”
-- The NCAA is now investigating the college coaches who took bribes. Amy B Wang and Des Bieler report: “The allegations cast an ugly light not only on the often enigmatic college admissions process but on the world of college athletic recruitment. In the wake of the charges, the NCAA said it would investigate the extent of fraud and bribery alleged by the Justice Department. ‘The charges brought forth today are troubling and should be a concern for all of higher education,’ the NCAA said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. ‘We are looking into these allegations to determine the extent to which NCAA rules may have been violated.’ It’s unclear what violations those would include or which schools would be involved.”
-- Lori Laughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli’s role as a social media influencer attracted scrutiny after the scheme came to light. Sonia Rao and Emily Yahr report: “Olivia Jade, 19, has 1.3 million Instagram followers and 1.9 million YouTube subscribers, a substantial following that has also earned her the title of beauty vlogger … Judging by the comments on her YouTube videos, the vlogger’s followers are drawn to her perceived genuineness. … Her attitude toward her education has previously attracted criticism, however. In April 2017, she tweeted, ‘it’s so hard to try in school when you don’t care about anything you’re learning,’ but the apathy peaked about a month before she was set to enroll at USC in September. She posted a YouTube video in which she admitted she ‘didn’t know how much’ school she would attend.”
-- Ironically, Loughlin’s “Full House” character, Aunt Becky, stopped her fictional husband from lying to get their children admitted into an elite preschool during a 1993 episode. (Allyson Chiu)
-- This scandal is further proof that helicopter parenting has gotten out of hand. Amy Joyce, our On Parenting editor, has a smart take: “We have gotten to the point in today’s fast-paced, hyper-competitive society where parents of privilege are hiring multiple tutors for kids already on the honor roll. Parents write college essays, or hire someone else to do it. They’re overscheduling kids with extracurriculars that play to college admissions instead of their children’s actual interests. It sounds like overkill, and yet everyone else is doing it. ‘So why not me?’ they think. The reason: Our kids will grow up to be adults who don’t know how to do simple adult things.”
-- Lower-profile sports like volleyball, water polo and tennis are at the center of the scandal. These sports get little attention from fans or the press, but like football and basketball they often get reserved slots in a college’s incoming class. The Times’s Marc Tracy and Billy Witz report: “Unlike in football and basketball, there is little in the way of formal rankings or general knowledge about who might be good at what are seen as minor sports, so admissions officials usually have to take coaches at their word when they tell them that an applicant is worthy of a spot on a volleyball or soccer or sailing team, leaving them open to exploitation. … The practice of reserving spots for athletes in minor sports has grown in recent years, people involved with college sports say, as more colleges have committed to pursuing excellence in every activity, from the chemistry lab to the tennis courts.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Trump should probably be indicted after he leaves office for his involvement in crimes to which Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty. “It’s very difficult to make the argument that the person who was directed and was coordinated should go to jail, but the person who did the directing and coordinating should not,” Schiff said at a gathering of journalists. “So I think that that militates very strongly in favor of indicting the president when he is out of office.” From Karoun Demirjian: “[Schiff] continued to defer to the eventual judgment of the Southern District of New York, if prosecutors there have the evidence to prove the case. But after two days of closed-door sessions in which the intelligence panel interviewed Cohen, Schiff seemed confident that such documentary evidence exists, given that prosecutors’ indictment of Cohen ‘essentially names the president as an unindicted co-conspirator.’”
-- A newly released transcript of Lisa Page’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee showed how the former FBI lawyer defended the bureau against allegations of bias. Karoun Demirjian, Aaron Blake and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “Page, who came to prominence over anti-Trump texts she exchanged with former FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok while both were assigned to the Clinton and Trump investigations, stressed that senior bureau officials were also expressing anti-Clinton animus — but that neither affected how agents working those cases carried out their jobs. … Page’s transcript is the second released in the past week by the panel’s ranking Republican, Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), in an effort to make public the record of the now-completed GOP-led probe of how federal law enforcement agencies conducted the two probes.”
-- Paul Manafort faces his second sentencing at a D.C. court this morning. A federal judge could sentence Trump's former campaign manager to up to 10 years in prison for crimes related to unregistered foreign lobbying and witness tampering, which are unrelated to Manafort's work on the Trump campaign. (ABC News)
-- Bob Mueller said Michael Flynn has completed his cooperation with the special counsel's investigation. Trump’s former national security adviser, however, is still helping out with another federal probe. (Reuters)
-- Mueller may eventually produce two reports on his investigation, one focusing on crimes and another on alleged coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, former federal prosecutor Nelson W. Cunningham writes for the Daily Beast. “Significantly, unlike a final criminal report, a Mueller counterintelligence report cannot be bottled up. By statute it must be shared with Congress. … [I]t is Mueller’s counterintelligence report we should really be anticipating. Done well (and Mueller and his team seem to do everything well), it will provide a much richer, broader narrative description of Russia’s effort to interfere in 2016, the nature of any links or cooperation between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and whether Trump or his associates were witting or unwitting assets for the Russians (including by obstructing the investigation) — as well perhaps as conclusions for action.”
-- But ... a jittery Washington can’t wait any longer for Mueller to deliver. The New York Times’s Nicholas Fandos and Noah Weiland report: “Television crews have been positioned outside the offices of the special counsel, the federal courthouse and, at least before they were asked to leave, the McLean, Va., home of the new attorney general, William P. Barr. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are so desperate for hints that they are asking aides to call Justice Department contacts to beg for morsels. Publishing houses are scrambling to produce instant books of the findings. … Real information — actually, any information at all from Mr. Mueller’s astonishingly leak-free team — is almost nonexistent. … The result is energetic spinning from both parties, who have stepped into the void to try to frame the next chapter of Mr. Trump’s presidency.”
-- The New York attorney general’s subpoena of Deutsche Bank is related to three loans the bank approved for the president’s company and another loan Trump sought to buy the Buffalo Bills. David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell report: “Trump got $125 million to buy the Doral golf resort outside Miami. He got $170 million to create Trump International Hotel inside a federally owned building in Washington. And he got about $69 million from the bank in 2014 to refinance old Deutsche Bank loans on Trump’s tower in Chicago. In addition, the people said, the subpoena asks for documents related to Trump’s attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2013 — a deal that did not materialize.”
-- Michael Avenatti is no longer serving as Stormy Daniels’s attorney. Felicia Sonmez reports: “Daniels said in a tweet that she has retained Tulsa-based attorney Clark Brewster as her personal attorney and has asked him to review all legal matters involving her.”
-- Sergey Danilochkin, an alleged Russian mobster accused of taking part in a massive tax fraud linked to a historic corruption case, frequently partied at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The Miami Herald’s Nicholas Nehamas and Lily Dobrovolskaya report: While at a safari-themed party thrown at Trump’s beach club last year, “party-goers had no idea they were rubbing shoulders with a wanted man. While the guests sipped cocktails and studied photos of African wildlife, Danilochkin, who is also an aspiring journalist, filmed the bustling ballroom on a smartphone and posted the footage on YouTube. Holding a flute of champagne and wearing a dark suit, the Russian émigré addressed the camera in his native tongue, alluding to the uncanny way Russians seem to turn up in the president’s orbit. ‘The most interesting thing,’ Danilochkin said, ‘is that we met a lot of people here who speak Russian.’
Guests at the safari party included not only Danilochkin but also Israel Joffe, an official at the FDA, and Li “Cindy” Yang, the former owner of the massage parlor at the center of an investigation that snared Patriot owner Robert Kraft and others last month, illustrating “the way that Trump’s private clubs offer a lightly regulated channel into the president’s social circle.”
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- The White House and several Republican senators are negotiating a deal that could lead to the surprising defeat of a Democratic resolution rejecting Trump’s emergency declaration at the border. Seung Min Kim and Erica Werner report: “Key to quelling the GOP revolt is legislation drafted by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that tries to claw back some emergency powers to Congress and whether the White House endorses some version of it. That would give Republicans who are uneasy about the constitutionality of the Feb. 15 declaration — yet nervous about publicly rebuking Trump — some political cover to side with the president. Although four Republican senators have already announced they will vote to nullify the president’s emergency declaration, one of them — Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) — publicly indicated Tuesday after a private meeting with Vice President Pence that he could change his position if the administration and senators strike a deal on revising the National Emergencies Act. That would be enough to kill the resolution in the Senate, provided no other GOP senators oppose Trump’s declaration or alter their position.”
-- House Democrats presented a broad immigration proposal allowing more than 2 million immigrants the opportunity to apply for citizenship, including “dreamers” and those with temporary work permits who could soon be deported. Maria Sacchetti, Erica Werner and David Nakamura report: “It is unclear how many immigrants would benefit from the legislation, but congressional aides said the number of dreamers probably would be similar to the 2.1 million people who would have been covered under a bipartisan Senate measure that was proposed in 2017, according to the Migration Policy Institute.”
-- The proposal is another reminder that “dreamers,” once hidden in the shadows, are now taking a central role in the immigration debate and the 2020 campaign. David Nakamura and Maria Sacchetti report: “For House Democrats, the introduction of the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would offer the young immigrants green cards, is as much a political statement as it is a legislative initiative, given that the bill, if approved, would face steep odds in the Republican-controlled Senate. … Republicans have accused Democrats of using the fate of the dreamers as a cynical strategy to rally turnout among their liberal base.”
-- The Trump administration is planning to close all international immigration offices in the coming months. Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff report: “USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said in an email to staff Tuesday that he is working to transfer those duties — now performed by employees worldwide — to domestic offices and the State Department’s embassies and consulates. … Administration officials say the move will allow them to shift resources to slash backlogs in the United States, and they estimate the government will save millions of dollars each year by phasing out USCIS international offices. But immigration advocates worry it is another Trump administration effort to discourage foreigners from attempting to come to the United States, and experts say closing the offices will shrink the nation’s engagement with the rest of the world.”
-- Two-hundred forty migrants were sent back to Mexico under an experimental policy requiring Central American migrants to stay there while U.S. asylum claims are processed. Nick Miroff reports: “The policy, known as ‘Migrant Protection Protocols,’ has been expanded in recent days to the Calexico port of entry in California, said Department of Homeland Security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the implementation of the measures. … Immigrant legal advocates are seeking an injunction in federal court to block [the policy], which the Trump administration says is necessary to contend with a recent surge of border crossings.”
-- Trump’s continued demands for wall money ignore the difficulty that Customs and Border Patrol has had in hiring and retaining officers. The Cipher Brief’s Walter Pincus reports: “The ability to retain officers is affected by ongoing staff shortages which have required current CBP officers to work overtime. … Another major retainment problem has been that some officers are required to work for years in remote areas of the border where there are few schools and a lack of jobs for spouses. Recruitment is another story. In the past, only one out of 130 [CBP] prospects ever made it all the way through the process. Today, that figure is still only about three percent.”
-- In El Salvador, deportees from the United States continue battling the poverty, violence and crime they hoped to escape. National Geographic's Jason Motlagh and Moises Saman documented the deportation procedures of a group of Salvadorans for this month's issue of the magazine: “The deportees from the United States file out of the buses with their heads down, stripped of belts and shoelaces like criminals. Rounded up from immigration detention centers around the country, they’d been boarded onto an unmarked jet near the Texas-Mexico border early in the morning and flown more than 1,100 miles to an airport outside El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador. In just four hours a perilous journey north that had taken many of the migrants years to prepare for and weeks to complete was undone.
'Welcome,' a Salvadoran migration officer greets them in a new reception center built with help from the U.S. government. 'You are family here.' A hundred and nineteen blank faces stare back. One by one, names are called out, and the men and women come forward to receive their belongings, undergo health screenings, and collect bus fare to get them home.”
THE NEW CONGRESS:
-- Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reclaimed office space in the House that her predecessor Paul Ryan had given to Vice President Pence. NPR’s Susan Davis reports: “Republicans gave Pence, a former House member, a first-floor bonus office in the U.S. Capitol shortly after President Trump was inaugurated in 2017. The vice president rarely used the space, but it was a symbolic gesture of the warm relationship Pence enjoyed with Ryan and the House GOP. … While Pelosi revoked Pence's office privileges, the aide said she is providing new office space for the White House legislative affairs team that it did not previously enjoy under the GOP majority.”
-- Pelosi’s assertion that impeaching Trump wouldn’t be worth the ensuing political firestorm shines a light on the speaker’s cautious approach to oversight. Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report: “Pelosi’s allies believe her skepticism about impeachment protects her moderates in swing districts, gives her an exit strategy should [Mueller] find no wrongdoing by the president, and could even strengthen her leverage if something serious arises and Pelosi reverses course to impeach him later. Tamping down impeachment talk also enables Pelosi to keep the spotlight on the Democratic agenda, she told lawmakers in a private meeting Monday night. That’s critical amid Republican efforts to cast Democrats as obsessed with ousting the president, Pelosi allies argue. ‘Do we want to drag him down or do we want to lift people up?’ Pelosi asked a group of her peers during a Monday night huddle.”
-- Democratic lawmakers agreed to refrain from questioning Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s possible ethics violations during a hearing today on the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. He will instead be required to respond in writing. Rachael Bade reports: “Democrats agreed to the billionaire’s request about his 2018 financial disclosure form that a U.S. government watchdog said violated his ethics agreement, according to correspondence between the two parties obtained by The Washington Post. … Ross also tried in recent days to postpone the Oversight hearing to April 9, according to the correspondence. But Oversight investigators responded that the hearing had been scheduled for months and that Ross had plenty of time.”
-- Republicans voted on party lines to advance Trump’s judicial nominee Neomi Rao to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit. She once said women could avoid becoming victims of date rape by staying sober. Rao will receive her final confirmation vote today. (HuffPost)
-- After much public shaming, paid internships are a reality once again on Capitol Hill. Congress approved a maximum monthly salary of $1,800 for interns. Paul Kane reports: “Paying interns used to be common practice .... but it turned into an office-by-office decision when funds were cut for deficit reduction. … [A] 2017 survey showed that more than 90 percent of House offices did not pay interns, while in the Senate, 51 percent of GOP offices and 31 percent of Democratic ones paid their interns. … A year later, sufficiently shamed as cheapskates, Congress bowed to the pressure, approving $14 million as an initial down payment for interns.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- The British Parliament overwhelmingly rejected Theresa May’s Brexit plan, lowering the chances Britain will leave the European Union on March 29. William Booth and Karla Adam report: “Last-minute negotiations with E.U. leaders were not enough to secure the support of hard-liners in the prime minister’s Conservative Party — 75 Tories voted against their leader. The loss raises questions not only about May’s authority but also about how Britain will exit the trading bloc. With just over two weeks before the Brexit deadline, the options are narrowing. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the European Union on schedule, on March 29, without a deal … European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters ... that the union was not willing to reopen talks.”
-- Nicolás Maduro's regime in Venezuela announced that opposition leader Juan Guaidó is being investigated in connection with possible sabotage of the national electrical system that has left the country in a blackout for nearly a week. Mary Beth Sheridan and Anthony Faiola report: “Guaidó was already under investigation for ‘violent occurrences’ in the country since January, when his opposition movement took off. He brushed off the new allegations. ‘We know who is responsible for the tragedy that our country is living, and it’s Maduro,’ he said, appearing at anti-government demonstrations around Caracas. Analysts said they doubted that the popular opposition leader would be detained.”
-- Luis Carlos Díaz, the Venezuelan journalist detained by police on Monday night, was released after being charged with instigating crime. He’s barred from leaving the country without authorization and must show up to court in eight days. Bloomberg’s Patricia Laya and Jose Orozco report: “Diaz was grabbed Monday by intelligence police while biking home from Union Radio, according to his wife.”
-- A new document reveals the Navy and its industry partners are being held “under cyber siege” by Chinese hackers who have stolen national security secrets by exploiting critical weaknesses in U.S. cybersecurity systems. Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Dustin Volz report: “The 57-page document is especially scathing in its assessment of how the Navy has addressed cybersecurity challenges facing its contractors and subcontractors, faulting naval officials for not anticipating that adversaries would attack the defense industrial base and for not adequately informing those partners of the cyber threat. It also acknowledges a lack of full understanding about the extent of the damage.”
-- The Russian government is planning on sending delinquent youth to military, patriotic camps. The country will also install special software in school computers to block banned websites. From the Moscow Times: “President Vladimir Putin created a patriotic directorate inside the Russian army last summer, evoking memories of a Soviet practice that once taught soldiers the tenets of Marxism. Observers noted that Putin's move could signal the start of a wider renaissance in ideological education that would spread to schools and colleges.”
-- Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke are both signaling their almost certain entries into the crowded 2020 field, and their campaigns will inject the race with a reinvigorated sense of centrism. Matt Viser reports: “In targeting many of the same voters, O’Rourke and Biden could be on something of a collision course. They would present the party with the sharpest test yet of whether it wants an exciting but untested face or a more traditional, experienced standard-bearer to take on [Trump]. … Biden, speaking Tuesday to the International Association of Fire Fighters, was greeted with chants of ‘Run, Joe, run!’ He told the union members he appreciated their energy and urged them to ‘save it a little longer — I may need it in a few weeks.’ He added jokingly, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ … Even before their candidacies are official, Biden and O’Rourke have been honing messages that stress optimism and unity.”
-- The AFL-CIO criticized the Green New Deal as “not achievable or realistic,” which could threaten 2020 Democrats’ support of the proposal. Colby Itkowitz, Dino Grandoni and Jeff Stein report: “Support for the Green New Deal has become a benchmark for Democrats running for president. But the AFL-CIO throwing water on the plan complicates matters for Democrats who rely on labor support. Without the backing from unions or the business community, it will be a hard sell for Democrats to get it beyond grass-roots support. … [AFL-CIO leaders] urged the lawmakers to include labor in conversations related to climate change, but they said such work shouldn’t impinge on other priorities such as infrastructure.”
-- A Bernie Sanders aide apologized for questioning whether the “American-Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the state of Israel.” Politico’s Marc Caputo and Holly Otterbein report: Belén Sisa, Sanders’ national deputy press secretary, posted the question in a Facebook status in which she said she stood with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has recently come under fire for her own comments on America’s Jewish community: “At a time when so many communities in our country feel under attack by the president and his allies, I absolutely recognize that we need to address these issues with greater care and sensitivity to their historical resonance, and I'm committed to doing that in the future,” Sisa said.
-- Pete Buttigieg’s campaign said it saw its biggest fundraising day in the 24 hours after the mayor’s widely praised CNN town hall. CNN’s Dan Merica reports: “According to the Buttigieg aide, the mayor raised more than $600,000 from over 22,200 donations in the 24 hours after the CNN town hall. The number is even more significant, the aide said, because the committee employs 20 staffers, lean when compared to other Democratic operations.”
-- 2020 Democratic candidates are siding with the marijuana industry in the fight for marijuana legislation, writes Keith Humphreys: “Presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has introduced a bill removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, a proposal that has been endorsed by [several] fellow Democratic candidates … In a Democratic primary in which most candidates are trying to prove their left-wing credentials, it may be ironic that such a corporate-friendly form of legalization has caught on. But that may be because the implications of the proposal — and the less profit-driven legalization alternatives available — haven’t gotten much attention. Descheduling marijuana without conditions provides a handsome taxpayer-funded gift to the for-profit cannabis industry.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The president tweeted his thanks to Nancy Pelosi for dismissing the possibility of impeachment, but then reminded his followers that he “never did anything wrong”:
....a man who is considered by many to be the President with the most successful first two years in history, especially when he has done nothing wrong and impeachment is for “high crimes and misdemeanors”?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
He also weighed in other stories covered on his favorite morning show:
“Jay Leno points out that comedy (on the very boring late night shows) is totally one-sided. It’s tough when there’s only one topic.” @foxandfriends Actually, the one-sided hatred on these shows is incredible and for me, unwatchable. But remember, WE are number one - President!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers. Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
The just revealed FBI Agent Lisa Page transcripts make the Obama Justice Department look exactly like it was, a broken and corrupt machine. Hopefully, justice will finally be served. Much more to come!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
A Times reporter shared this letter from Michael Cohen’s lawyer explaining that this client could’ve been more clear in his testimony:
This 2016 tweet from actress Felicity Huffman, who was allegedly involved in the college admissions cheating scandal, has not aged well:
What are your best “hacks” for the back-to-school season?— Felicity Huffman (@FelicityHuffman) August 25, 2016
A Republican senator, who attended Harvard both as an undergrad and for law school, suggested that students who are struggling to get admitted to prestigious schools join the military:
Want your kid to succeed? Serve others with honor? Grow in integrity, maturity, & confidence? Learn skills? Make you proud? Here are five institutions you don’t have to bribe or trick or give a big donation to accept your kid:@USArmy@USMC@USNavy@usairforce@USCG— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) March 12, 2019
A CNN reporter, who also went to Harvard, reacted to the news:
Just a reminder that rich people are able to use their money and power to open elite doors for their mediocre children that, in turn, make it far more likely that they will succeed in life. Poor people and POC are expected to be exceptional. This is not a meritocracy.— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) March 12, 2019
From a Time editor at large:
Meritocracy isn't really a thing to begin with, because rich parents can so easily transmit to children the ingredients it takes to succeed in "meritocracy."— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) March 12, 2019
Nonetheless, a bunch of rich parents conclude that their kids can't even succeed in rigged meritocracy.
From a New York Times columnist:
This is outrageous. But let’s also acknowledge that even the perfectly legal things some parents can afford impossibly tips the scale in thier kids favor and creates a college admissions system completely tilted towards privilege and wealth. When will we have that conversation? https://t.co/sZDVMcvgZq— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) March 12, 2019
Trump complained after New York's attorney general subpoenaed information on his business:
New York State and its Governor, Andrew Cuomo, are now proud members of the group of PRESIDENTIAL HARASSERS. No wonder people are fleeing the State in record numbers. The Witch Hunt continues!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2019
The RNC chairwoman echoed his complaints:
The latest SDNY fishing expedition is another example of blue-state liberal prosecutors carrying out their vendetta against @realDonaldTrump.— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) March 12, 2019
Let’s be clear: These are investigations in search of a crime – and their harassment has gone on for far too long.
Donald Trump Jr. slammed Dick Cheney for criticizing his father's foreign policy:
Isn't it fitting that Cheney is the one mad that Trump is ending his reckless and endless wars? I never knew peace would be so unpopular!— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 12, 2019
Former VP Cheney challenges Pence at private retreat, compares Trump’s foreign policy to Obama’s approach https://t.co/NSvNagFViN
A former foreign policy adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations slammed the FAA's decision not to ground the Boeing aircraft linked to the Ethiopian Airlines crash:
Was to return today to Washington after my father’s funeral on Southwest. It was a 737 Max 8. Cancelled outraged by FAA’s refusal to ground and by what my father Sam might have said: Don’t be a shmuck. Take another flight.— Aaron David Miller (@aarondmiller2) March 13, 2019
A Post reporter highlighted a Boeing-related announcement Trump made in Hanoi:
A Republican senator tweeted out the AFL-CIO's letter criticizing the Green New Deal:
The @AFLCIO, which represents 12.5 million workers & includes 55 labor unions, slams the #GreenNewDeal in a letter to @SenMarkey & @AOC:— Sen. John Barrasso (@SenJohnBarrasso) March 11, 2019
“We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families.”
I agree with the AFL-CIO. pic.twitter.com/pEVhr9Ricr
One of the architects of the proposal replied:
We will continue to work and partner w @AFLCIO, who is right to say that “doing nothing is not an option”. But until Republicans say that climate change is real, caused by humans, and demands action now, the only people they are in agreement with are Big Oil and the Koch brothers https://t.co/I7QEygTk9C— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) March 12, 2019
A Bloomberg Opinion writer questioned some conservatives' arguments about low immigration rates:
2/In a single 18-month period between 1971 and 1972, there were about FIVE terrorist bombings in America EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN DAY.https://t.co/VUnLr2IDyt— Noah Smith 🐇 (@Noahpinion) March 11, 2019
The vice president's press secretary reacted to Joe Biden's speech before the International Association of Fire Fighters:
🤷🏻♀️... so is Mike Pence a “decent guy” again? https://t.co/1SDnYLgff7— Alyssa Farah (@VPPressSec) March 12, 2019
An NBC News reporter compared some of the male and female candidates in the 2020 Democratic primary:
All the women candidates in the Dem Party: I’m going to get out there early, work double time, develop a serious policy framework, and try to show I’m not horribly unlikable just b/c I’m serious.— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) March 12, 2019
The B-named Dudes: I’ll party all winter, throw a couple ‘bruhs’ out and cruise in.
NATO is celebrating some anniversaries:
23 days to go to #NATO’s 7⃣0⃣th anniversary#DidYouKnow? Today we celebrate another anniversary! 🇨🇿🇭🇺🇵🇱#OnThisDay 20 years ago, Czech Republic, Hungary & Poland joined @NATO.#WeAreNATO pic.twitter.com/SG52938yGR— Oana Lungescu (@NATOpress) March 12, 2019
A Virginia congresswoman celebrated the Girl Scouts:
Happy 107th birthday to the @girlscouts!— Abigail Spanberger (@SpanbergerVA07) March 13, 2019
58% of the women serving in the US House are Girl Scout alumnae. They include fellow first-termers @LaurenUnderwood and @HornForCongress!
(This explains the Girl Scout green @LaurenCoat.) pic.twitter.com/5S4TDoreJX
Mitt Romney celebrated turning 72:
My team surprised me with a cake made out of my favorite snack—twinkies! Looking forward to all this year has in store. pic.twitter.com/lQfyIrQ9Qe— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) March 12, 2019
And the Obamas wished a happy 110th birthday to Virginia McLaurin, whom they danced with at the White House:
What a great moment. Happy 110th, Virginia. https://t.co/FuNZV3RRV4— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 12, 2019
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- New York Times Magazine, “The Tragedy of Baltimore,” by Alec MacGillis: “In Baltimore, you can tell a lot about the politics of the person you’re talking with by the word he or she uses to describe the events of April 27, 2015. Some people, and most media outlets, call them the ‘riots’; some the ‘unrest.’ [Shantay] Guy was among those who always referred to them as the ‘uprising,’ a word that connoted something justifiable and positive: the first step, however tumultuous, toward a freer and fairer city. … But in the years that followed, Baltimore, by most standards, became a worse place. In 2017, it recorded 342 murders — its highest per-capita rate ever … With every passing year, it was getting harder to see what gains, exactly, were delivered by the uprising.”
Baltimore began construction of a center to treat people with substance-abuse disorders in a former hospital building. Meredith Cohn reports: “The crisis stabilization center will be the first of its kind in the city and one of only a few nationally. It aims to divert some of the 16,000 people who go to hospital emergency rooms in Baltimore every year because of drugs and alcohol even when they do not need acute medical care. In the works for several years, officials say the center will open in about a year and potentially help stem skyrocketing overdose deaths from the opioid epidemic. 'You see people standing on the corners and standing in the streets and wonder where they go and what we can do with them,' Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said during Friday’s groundbreaking event. 'We need to get these people back on their feet.'”
-- The Atlantic, “Minimalism Goes to Space,” by Marina Koren: “When the United States and the Soviet Union began sending astronauts and cosmonauts to space, capsules were small and cramped. Control panels brimming with switches, buttons, and levers covered nearly every inch of the interior. Life-support systems and other equipment crowded the single seat. If there were any nooks and crannies, they were crammed with wires. NASA astronauts, who couldn’t be more than 6 feet tall to fit inside, joked that 'you don’t get in it, you put it on.' Such utilitarian capsules were made to serve a single purpose: Put a man in orbit and then bring him home alive. There was no room for error, so there was no room for much else, either.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Read the ‘testicular bill of rights,’ one lawmaker’s answer to antiabortion legislation,” from Katie Mettler: “‘Ggggooooodddd morning!’ state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, a Georgia Democrat, wrote [on Twitter] Monday, introducing what she is calling her ‘testicular bill of rights’ legislative package. ‘You want some regulation of bodies and choice? Done!’ The tweet included an image of an email outlining her five-point plan: Require men to get permission from their sex partner before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication. Ban vasectomy procedures in Georgia and penalize doctors who perform them. Make having sex without a condom an ‘aggravated assault’ crime for men. … Kendrick’s testicular bill of rights is a direct answer to HB 481, the ‘heartbeat bill’ passed by her Republican colleagues in the Georgia House of Representatives last week. The bill would ban abortion in Georgia at about six weeks, when a detectable heartbeat is first found in a fetus.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Appeals court rules Ohio can defund Planned Parenthood,” from Politico: “A majority of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Ohio can cut state funding to Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions, overturning a lower court ruling that blocked the state from stripping about $1.5 million of annual support from the network of clinics. The case was one of several across the country addressing attempts to cut public dollars to Planned Parenthood and other providers who offer abortions in addition to a range of health care services. The 6th Circuit's ruling affects six state public health programs in Ohio, but doesn't touch Medicaid. … Four of the 11 Sixth Circuit judges who sided with Ohio in Tuesday's decision were appointed by [Trump]. … Eric Murphy, the attorney who argued on Ohio’s behalf for cutting funding to the clinics, has since been appointed by Trump to the court and was confirmed by the Senate in early March.”
Trump will receive his intelligence briefing and later be briefed on drug trafficking at the southern border. He will also meet with Republican senators on trade and participate in a photo op with the White House intern class.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump political adviser David Bossie, who became famous for his hard-edged crusades against Hillary Clinton as a Hill staffer, voiced doubts about whether this White House is prepared for House investigations: “Do I see a killer team that is ready for the impeachment proceedings that are potentially coming? ... Do I think the White House is ready? From a staff standpoint, I would say no,” Bossie said. “Do I believe they are in the process of getting ready? Yes.” (ABC News)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- It will be a little bit warmer today, but prepare for likely rains on Friday. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Today begins another warming trend, which really gets going tomorrow and Friday, when highs should reach well into the 60s to near 70. Scattered spring showers and a rumble of thunder may accompany the warmth on Friday, before a cooler but partly to mostly sunny weekend.”
-- A white student allegedly hurled a racist slur at three black classmates in a D.C. playground, forcing a public school with a mostly white and affluent population to address its discipline policies. Perry Stein reports: “The incident at Key Elementary in the Palisades neighborhood of Northwest Washington happened in October, but interviews and electronic communications between administrators and families shared with The Washington Post suggest the campus is still reeling from the aftermath. ... The student stated ''and I don’t care if I’m racist' after invoking the slur. The incident was reported to administrators, and the parents of the child who used the epithet were notified, but the student was not immediately disciplined, according to the investigation. ... Families from Key Elementary are grappling with how to move forward. Some families who were interviewed said they believe public and often tense conversations about race and privilege are necessary.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Trevor Noah called the bribery scandal the “biggest story to rock American colleges since the invention of the red Solo cup”:
Seth Meyers spoofed a Trump news conference:
Stephen Colbert poked fun at the way Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) blew out his birthday candles:
And Romney explained his candle-blowing technique to TMZ: