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The Daily 202: This is not ‘complete and total exoneration.’ 10 takeaways from Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian election interference is over. Here’s what we know. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

with Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Even when a story is great for him, President Trump still has a penchant for overhyping just how great.

He’s a billionaire, yet he inflates his wealth. Trump Tower is a tall building, yet he sprinkles in a few extra floors. He’s tall but overstates his height. Trump got elected president by winning the electoral college, but he insists without evidence that he also would have won the popular vote if millions of undocumented immigrants hadn’t cast ballots illegally. When the Islamic State was battered, he said it was eradicated. There are many more examples.

The same pattern is on display with his reaction to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of special counsel Bob Mueller’s report. “It was a complete and total exoneration,” Trump told reporters at the airport in Palm Beach, Fla., before flying back to Washington last night. “It's a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.”

The president then re-upped calls for his political opponents to be investigated. “This was an illegal takedown that failed, and, hopefully, somebody is going to be looking at the other side,” he said.

Barr, handpicked by Trump to replace Jeff Sessions, included only a handful of direct quotes from Mueller’s still-confidential report in his four-page letter to Congress. One of them explicitly undercuts the president’s assertion. Barr said the special counsel reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, opting instead to lay out the evidence on both sides of the question. “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mueller wrote, according to Barr.

Barr also quotes Mueller saying that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” as well as that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”

The remainder of the brief letter is essentially a summary in Barr’s own words of Mueller’s “principal conclusions,” and Barr’s view -- based on his reading of what the special counsel found — that the president didn’t obstruct justice. We cannot know how cherry-picked it is without seeing the full report or hearing from Mueller himself.

Here are 10 other takeaways from the news:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian election interference is over. Here’s what we know. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

1) Barr’s announcement is undeniably a political victory for Trump.

“No collusion” has shifted from a defiant mantra to a rallying cry for the president’s reelection in 2020.

The letter “removes one of the darkest clouds hovering over the Trump presidency,” Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker write. “They support his long-held stance about the Russia investigation, feed into his notion that the Washington establishment is out to get him and probably make it more difficult for House Democrats to investigate the president. The extent of his victory could be tempered, though, if Democrats succeed in their push for Mueller’s complete report to be released and the documents reveal questionable behavior by the president. Nonetheless, a feeling of euphoria swept over the White House staff Sunday as aides celebrated the end of the Mueller investigation.”

“For President Trump, it may have been the best day of his tenure so far,” Peter Baker writes in the New York Times. The BBC doesn’t qualify it. Its story calls Sunday “the best day of Trump’s presidency.” Many outlets are covering it this way, and that headline will certainly break through — especially to the president’s supporters.

2) Mueller was far more cautious than previous special counsels.

Ken Starr’s report made the case for impeaching Bill Clinton in its opening sentence.

“Mueller’s decision to forgo a conclusion as to whether the president tried to obstruct justice struck a discordant note with current and former law enforcement officials, who pointed out that was one of the primary reasons for appointing a special counsel,” Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report.

George Terwilliger, a former deputy attorney general who worked in the George H.W. Bush administration with Mueller and Barr, told them: “I think courageous people have the courage to make decisions, and those who don’t punt decisions.”

In Barr’s telling, Mueller chose to leave unresolved the question because of “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning the president’s actions and his intentions.

Columnist E.J. Dionne said he’s not surprised that Mueller, a former FBI director and top Justice Department official, played it safe. “He is not a bomb thrower,” E.J. explains. “He always defined his role narrowly. All of Trump’s attacks on Mueller … distracted from the fact that Mueller was not nearly as aggressive as he might have been — for example, by subpoenaing the president.”

3) Refusing to grant Mueller an interview appears to have paid off handsomely for Trump.

The president refused to sit for an interview in which prosecutors could have probed his motivations. Instead, they had to rely on written answers to their questions – which were carefully vetted by the president’s lawyers. Trump also refused to answer any questions about his activities in the White House. He responded only to questions related to the period before he became president. Mueller also didn’t interview Ivanka or Donald Trump Jr. in person.

“In the end, Trump’s mercurial behavior and relentless attacks on the FBI and special counsel probably extended the length of the probe — but the fact that many of his eruptions were in public view also may have made it more difficult to show he had ill intent, a key element in proving obstruction, legal experts said,” per Roz Helderman and Josh.

“Trump advisers often joked that the president’s actions made them think he was guilty, even as he said he was not. ‘Why would you behave that way if you’d done nothing wrong?’ said one former senior administration official … But Trump’s legal team long argued that Trump had no corrupt intent. … Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer who advised Trump in the investigation’s first months, told others that the president was merely thin-skinned and he lashed out because he could not stand the idea that he was under scrutiny.”

The president suffered no meaningful political consequences for answering questions in writing. The fact that this might have played a role in Mueller not reaching a conclusion on obstruction is likely to embolden Trump to assert executive privilege and limit compliance with demands from House Democrats. It’s also possible that future presidents will be disinclined from fully cooperating with special counsels because of this precedent. 

4) Barr’s letter is as much a political document as a legal one.

It is not at all surprising that Trump’s attorney general says he does not believe the president obstructed justice. In fact, it might have been a key factor in Barr getting this job in the first place. Just nine months ago, while in private practice, Barr wrote a 19-page memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who now reports to him, criticizing Mueller for pursuing a “fatally misconceived” legal theory related to obstruction of justice.

Barr argued that a president can be investigated for acts that would directly alter an investigation, such as destroying evidence, but he said the Justice Department shouldn’t investigate any president for acts that are allowed under his legal authority but that could, in theory, be done for the purpose of blocking an investigation. Specifically, Barr said that Mueller should not have been investigating Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director.

During his confirmation process in January, Barr acknowledged that he shared a copy of this memo and had discussions about it with several lawyers working on the president’s defense, from Emmet Flood to Pat Cipollone, Marty Raskin and Jay Sekulow.

Barr said in his Sunday letter that Rosenstein, also a Trump appointee, agrees with him that the evidence gathered by Mueller “is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

Rosenstein wrote the 2017 memo that outlined a legal justification for firing Comey, but Trump then told Russian diplomats in the Oval Office and NBC anchor Lester Holt that he actually had fired the FBI director with the Russia investigation in mind.  

It's unclear whether Mueller asked Barr to make a final determination about obstruction or if Barr took that task upon himself. Mueller’s spokesman declined to comment.

Since Robert S. Mueller III was appointed in May 2017 to investigate the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, President Trump has relentlessly attacked him. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

5) Mueller found no smoking gun of collusion, but he clearly has no doubts that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump.

Barr’s letter discusses Russian interference in 2016 as a given, but the president has previously rejected suggestions the Kremlin was trying to help him. He’s called it a hoax several times and suggested that a fat guy in his basement could have hacked the Democratic National Committee, refusing to accept the consensus of the intelligence community.

“Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere with our democracy are dangerous and disturbing,” Mitch McConnell said in his statement reacting to the letter, “and I welcome the Special Counsel's contributions to our efforts to understand better Russia's activities in this regard.”

Mueller found that Russian-affiliated individuals made “multiple offers to assist the Trump campaign,” Barr said, but the special counsel “did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts.”

“That’s a significant thing,” the editors of Lawfare write. “It means that, after as thorough an investigation as the United States government is capable of conducting, prosecutors couldn’t find any actual agreement — 'tacit or express’ — on the part of anyone associated with the Trump campaign to work with the Russians to undermine the U.S. election. Every American should be cheered by that conclusion; the ramifications of any alternative are difficult to contemplate.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized Attorney General William Barr's handling of the Mueller report on March 24. (Video: The Washington Post)

6) There is a lot we still don’t know.

Barr noted at the start of his letter that Mueller had the help of 19 lawyers and 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts and forensic accountants. The special counsel’s office also issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communications records, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence and interviewed around 500 witnesses.

This means we don’t know the identities of a lot of people Mueller talked with and looked into. There are others we know Mueller looked into, but we don’t know why he didn’t bring charges or what ever came from those lines of inquiry. Philip Bump highlights some of them: “Why, for example, wasn’t conservative author Jerome Corsi charged by Mueller’s team after being offered a plea agreement? … What happened when former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort gave poll data to Konstantin Kilimnik, who was believed to have links to Russian intelligence, an issue that in February a Mueller attorney described as getting at the heart of the Mueller probe? … Who were the Trump campaign staffers who were contacted by Russians working for the Internet Research Agency? Who was the Florida congressional candidate who sought and received hacked information about his or her opponent? Who was the senior Trump campaign official who asked Roger Stone to reach out to WikiLeaks after the initial document releases in July 2016 — and who told him to make that outreach?”

In Wired magazine, Garrett Graff outlines other lingering questions that the Barr letter doesn’t begin to answer. Among them: “Whatever happened to the extensive testimony Mueller sought and cooperation of would-be Middle Eastern power broker George Nader, dealing with questions of foreign influence related to the Middle East? What did Mueller mean with the various breadcrumbs he left scattered throughout his hundreds of pages of court filings, like how he appeared to single out that Russian hackers attacked Hillary Clinton’s email server ‘for the first time’ after Trump made his ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ comment? Was there any significance to the arrest of Russian spy Maria Butina and her ties to the National Rifle Association, which Mueller also appeared to be probing, or was that case totally unrelated? …

“What was Mueller’s interest in the political data firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked during the 2016 campaign with Trump’s then digital media director (and now 2020 reelection campaign director) Brad Parscale? What was the truth behind the efforts of Michael Flynn associate Peter Smith—who apparently committed suicide in the early days of Mueller’s probe—to contact Russian hackers during the campaign? Why was presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner trying to set up a secure communications backchannel with the Russian government that couldn’t be heard by U.S. intelligence?”

Democrats continued to demand the release of all underlying evidence in the Russia investigation while Republicans said the findings exonerated President Trump. (Video: JM Rieger, Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

7) Barr’s timeline for disclosing more information from Mueller’s investigation is vague and cloudy.

The AG reiterated on Sunday that his “goal and intent” is to release as much of the report as possible. Barr said he’s asked Mueller to help identify information in his report that cannot be released publicly because it’s related to grand jury deliberations or other ongoing investigations that have been referred to other offices. “As soon as that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining what can be released in light of applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies,” Barr wrote.

Based on how many people Mueller talked with, there’s clearly voluminous information to review. “If Barr decides to release any of the grand jury information, such a disclosure may have to be approved by a judge,” Fred Barbash notes. “Another factor is a Justice Department policy that directs prosecutors to withhold potentially negative information about people they have investigated but not charged. Those restrictions mean the report, when it’s finally released, could include many pages of blacked-out sections — a state of affairs unlikely to satisfy congressional Democrats.”

Assuming Congress then tries to get those records, the fight could literally take years to play out. Fred recalls one recent precedent: “In the Obama years, Republicans subpoenaed then-Attorney General Eric Holder for information he refused to provide on a botched operation targeting illegal firearms called ‘Fast and Furious.’ Holder invoked executive privilege. Congress, then controlled by Republicans, went to court to enforce a contempt of Congress citation against Holder, making arguments that Democrats may soon find themselves echoing. Ultimately, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who has also presided over the Mueller grand jury, ordered Holder to produce the materials — a precedent likely to be cited by Democrats in their pursuit of materials from the Russia probe. But the case ended with a settlement after Holder left office, so it was never adjudicated by higher courts. It took Republicans fully six years to enforce their subpoena in that case.” 

Democrats are pushing for continued investigation and transparency after the Mueller report, while Republicans are declaring vindication for President Trump. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

8) The battle now moves to Capitol Hill.

Congressional Democrats don’t trust Barr or his summary. The letter “raises as many questions as it answers,” Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement. “Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he wants Barr to testify before his committee as quickly as possible to explain what he described as “very concerning discrepancies and final decision-making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report.”

“It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the President in under 48 hours,” Nadler said in a joint statement released with House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “The Special Counsel’s Report should be allowed to speak for itself, and Congress must have the opportunity to evaluate the underlying evidence. These shortcomings in today’s letter are the very reason our nation has a system of separation of powers.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Beto O'Rourke used on March 23 their campaign rallies to demand the release of the Mueller report. (Video: Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

9) If anything, partisan divisions will only become more entrenched.

Historians and politicians who have studied past presidential scandals tell Marc Fisher that Mueller’s conclusions are likely to harden congressional Republicans’ wall of support for Trump and strengthen Democratic demands to hold Trump accountable but result in little change in public opinion. “Mueller’s conclusion … is likely to propel Washington into a period of prolonged and even more heightened partisan combat,” Marc forecasts. “The report … contains fuel enough for both sides to cling to their version of the truth about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, and not nearly enough for either side to alter their views.”

Republicans are already using the Barr letter as a cudgel against other congressional investigations. “The cloud hanging over President Trump has been removed by this report,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who spent the weekend golfing with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and has blocked consideration of a bipartisan resolution calling for the release of the full Mueller report.

“This case is closed,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “This should be a lesson to my Democrat colleagues that chasing imagined scandals and following a partisan investigatory agenda will not result in any meaningful change for the country. … It is time we move on for the good of the nation.”

10) But other investigations still hover. The Trump Organization, the Trump inaugural committee and some of his close allies remain under scrutiny by state and federal investigators, including in the Southern District of New York.

Trump fans gathered near a bridge in West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 23, to cheer the presidential motorcade as it traveled to and from Mar-a-Lago. (Video: Luis Velarde, Alfredo de Lara/The Washington Post)

-- How it’s playing:

RT, a propaganda arm of the Kremlin, looks like many pro-Trump sites this morning with the headline: “Mueller meltdown: #Resistance licks wounds, MAGA camp enjoys salty popcorn & memes.” The Daily Beast says the Barr letter has “Moscow in ecstasy.” Blake Hounshell wonders in Politico Magazine: “Trump didn’t collude with Russia. So why does he love Putin so much?

WaPo columnist David Von Drehle says “Trump owes Mueller an apology.Franklin Foer writes in the Atlantic that Mueller’s probe was “an unmitigated success.” Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh reports that “the Mueller backlash begins.” The Washington Post Editorial Board says Barr must release more information as quickly as possible.

From the right:Trump is vindicated on collusion, Mueller punts on obstruction, and the rule of law triumphs,” Ken Starr writes on Fox News’s home page. Conservative radio host and Trump critic Charlie Sykes explains on the Bulwark that “the failure to indict is not a finding of innocence.” David Frum, the former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, says “the question the Mueller Report has not answered” is “why?” Jim Geraghty asks a different question in National Review: “The hole in the collusion theory: Why didn’t America’s spies see it?” Paul Mirengoff criticizes “Mueller’s cop-out” on the PowerLine blog.

From the left: Neal Katyal, the acting solicitor general under Barack Obama, opines in the New York Times on “the many problems with the Barr letter.” Ben Mathis-Lilley wonders on Slate: “So, why did Mueller tell everyone about Paul Manafort’s buddy who had active ties to Russian intelligence?” Mary Pepenfuss reports for HuffPost: “Dejected Trump Twitter critics support each other in wake of Mueller report.

-- The Washington Post will stream a live show on our home page at noon Eastern to answer reader questions about the Mueller report. (Submit a question here.)

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  1. A second Parkland student has died of an apparent suicide. The death came one week after 19-year-old Sydney Aiello, another survivor of the mass shooting who was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, took her own life. The second student's name and age were not released. (Kayla Epstein)

  2. A note referencing the New Zealand shooting was left behind at a possible arson at a mosque in Southern California. Nobody was hurt in the fire, which members of the Islamic Center of Escondido extinguished, but the incident is being investigated as arson and a potential hate crime. (AP)

  3. Boeing has used its extensive lobbying operation to take over more of the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight responsibilities. Congress passed a law in October that included provisions giving Boeing more power to essentially oversee itself. (Michael Laris)

  4. The identity of a parent who paid $6.5 million in the college admissions scandal to get their child or children into prestigious universities is still unknown. At least 750 parents are believed to be part of the ruse, but the name of this specific parent has not been divulged because investigators couldn't find an account tied to the name. (Los Angeles Times)

  5. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has signed on as a visiting professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. He is teaching a two-credit summer course in England, and his colleague Neil Gorsuch will co-teach a summer class in Padua, Italy. Kavanaugh previously taught at Harvard Law School, but the university announced he would not return this year after hundreds of students and alumni protested in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford's allegations of sexual misconduct. (Politico)

  6. The Sweet 16 teams for this year’s March Madness have been set, and only two teams from outside the power conferences made it through. This year’s Cinderella team is No. 12 seed Oregon, which will play against No. 1 seed Virginia. (Cindy Boren and Des Bieler)

  7. The Powerball lottery has reached $750 million, the fourth-largest jackpot in U.S. history. No ticket matched all six numbers from Saturday night’s drawing, but some players won $1 million or $2 million prizes. (Kayla Epstein)
  8. The wealthy German family whose company owns a controlling interest in Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Panera Bread is donating 10 million euros to charity after learning of their ancestors’ support for Nazis. The Reimann family commissioned a historian to examine how Albert Reimann Sr. and Jr. were linked to the Nazis. This probe confirmed that the now-deceased father and son relied on forced laborers under the Nazis, including Russian civilians and French prisoners of war. (AP)

  9. Rafi Eitan, the Israeli Mossad spy who captured Adolf Eichmann, died at 92. Eitan led the 1960 mission to capture the “architect of the Holocaust” in Argentina, where he fled to and assumed a fake name after the Nazis lost. Eichmann was convicted of war crimes the following year and is still the only person put to death by Israel. (AP)

  10. “Us,” the second film from director Jordan Peele, smashed box office expectations by bringing in $70 million during its first weekend. The movie has already tripled its production budget of $20 million, giving it the second-biggest opening of the year so far, after “Captain Marvel.” (CNN)

  11. Rob Gronkowski, who helped the Patriots win three Super Bowl titles, announced that he’s retiring at age 29. The tight end has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Some speculate that he might try to take up acting. (Mark Maske)


-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is cutting his trip to Washington short after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit an Israeli home and injured seven. He will meet with Trump at the White House but no longer plans to speak at AIPAC. Ruth Eglash reports: “Of the seven Israelis injured in the house on an agricultural community, three were children and all were members of one family. Israeli media reported that their house will need to be destroyed because it is now no longer safe. In the hours following the rocket strike, Israel announced that it was closing the main border crossings into the Gaza Strip, a rare move indicating a response will soon be coming. … In a follow-up assessment, the Israeli military said it believed Hamas was responsible, with Israeli media reporting later that the army’s initial assessment was that the group launched the rockets by mistake.”

-- Accusations of corruption continue to mount against Bibi as the election approaches. Loveday Morris reports: Hours before flying to the United States, “Netanyahu made a surprise stop at the television studios of Channel 12, one of Israel’s largest broadcasters. … ‘I thought I would stop here because I would need to shatter this wave of lies,' Netanyahu told them. That ‘wave of lies’ relates to the investigation known as Case 3000. While the prime minister is fighting pending indictments in three corruption cases — 1000, 2000 and 4000 — it’s the third file that contains by far the most explosive allegations. That’s in part because of the sums involved as well as the subject matter: defense, sacred in security-obsessed Israel. … The prime minister, who denies any wrongdoing, has not been named a suspect in the case, but some of his closest aides have, including his cousin and former personal lawyer.”

-- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) vigorously defended the U.S.-Israeli alliance and implicitly rebuked Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) during a speech on Sunday at AIPAC’s conference. Paul Kane reports: “Hoyer, a longtime ally of Israel, came down squarely on the side of standing with Israel at a time when younger Democrats and some contenders for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination criticize Netanyahu’s rightward shift and his moves closer to [Trump] and Republicans. ‘I stand with Israel, proudly and unapologetically. So, when someone accuses American supporters of Israel of dual loyalty, I say: Accuse me. I am part of a large, bipartisan coalition in Congress supporting Israel. I tell Israel’s detractors: Accuse us,’ Hoyer said.” Pelosi and Schumer will also address the pro-Israel group later this week, as will McConnell.

-- Meanwhile, Omar accused Trump of inciting the kind of anti-Muslim hatred that caused the mosque massacres in New Zealand. “We all kind of knew that this was happening,” she said at a Muslim civil rights banquet in California. “But the reason I think that many of us knew that this was going to get worse is that we finally had a leader in the White House who publicly says Islam hates us, who fuels hate against Muslims, who thinks it is okay to speak about a faith and a whole community in a way that is dehumanizing, vilifying.” Her appearance also attracted protesters over her comments on Israel. (L.A. Times)

-- The Palestinian writer Atef Abu Saif had his fingers smashed by masked men in Gaza. The Guardian’s Oliver Holmes reports: “Comma Press, a not-for-profit publisher that worked with Abu Saif, said that the beating on Monday night had almost killed him. ‘He was hospitalised with a broken leg, broken arm, fractured skull, and lacerations to his face and upper body. Most notably, the assailants broke his fingers in right arm – a recognised punishment for writers,’ Ra Page, founder of Comma Press, said in an email. … A member of his family ... said he believed Hamas orchestrated the attack after Abu Saif’s recent criticism of their crackdown.”

-- Romania will move its Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem. Prime Minister Viorica Dancila made the announcement during a visit to Washington. The move goes against the European Union’s position that East Jerusalem is part of Palestine and signals a further strain in the relationship between Romania and the E.U. (Politico)


-- North Korean officials are back at work at a shared office with South Korea days after Kim Jong Un’s government pulled its staff members from the joint operation. The New York Times’s Chloe Sang-Hun reports: “Several North Korean officials showed up in the office on Monday, telling their South Korean counterparts that they have returned to work ‘as usual,’ the South’s Ministry of National Unification said in a statement. The North Koreans returned to the office two days after Mr. Trump tweeted that he ordered his government to withdraw ‘additional large scale sanctions’ against the North, though it was not clear if the two moves were connected ... The North Koreans did not explain why they withdrew from the office on Friday, or why it then reversed its decision.”

-- U.S. troops may be departing Afghanistan soon, but the war isn't over. The Times's Eric Schmitt, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper and Alissa J. Rubin report: “Thousands of American troops are helping the Afghan Army and security forces combat the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Armed American drones are hunting Islamic State cells in Libya. And American forces are advising and providing intelligence to local troops fighting the Islamic State in Burkina Faso and in the Philippines. Thousands of Islamic State fighters are also still at large in Iraq and Syria, biding their time to rearm and regroup to strike the same regions again. Many of them slipped out or surrendered when the final wave of civilians fled Baghuz, American commanders and intelligence analysts said. ... Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a trip to the Middle East, told reporters that the battle against extremists would continue even after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State.” 

-- The results of the Thai election won't come out until Friday, but an anti-junta party already claimed the win. Unofficial results, however, show that a military-backed party won the popular vote. (AP)

-- Algerians are seeking a revolution after two decades of rule by Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the nation's 82-year-old president, who has not said a word in public since 2013. The Times's Adam Nossiter reports: “The demonstrations, the largest in over 30 years, have grown larger every week and seem unstoppable. Algeria, the largest country in Africa and a rare pillar of stability in the Arab world, now faces an uncertain future. ... The protest has caught on across the country and among all classes of society, from bankers to bakers to truck drivers to teachers to waiters to students. 'It is extraordinarily diverse,' said Nacer Djabi, a sociologist. An offer by Mr. Bouteflika that he would not run for a fifth term, which the government portrayed as a major concession, was roundly rebuffed by the protesters because it fell short of their demand that he step down immediately and because it appeared to leave him in office indefinitely. The episode seemed only to energize them.”

-- The rapid rise of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who campaigned on a promise to “make Brazil great” and who has spent his career offending marginalized groups, continues to spark comparisons to Trump. The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson writes in a profile that posted this morning: “A former Army captain, Bolsonaro served seven undistinguished terms in the Chamber of Deputies, Brazil’s highest legislative body, representing four different political parties. … Like many autocrats, Bolsonaro came to power with a suddenness that alarmed the élites. He had run a low-budget campaign, consisting mostly of a social-media effort overseen by his son Carlos. … His allies, like Trump’s, at least feign exasperation at their leader’s rhetorical excesses. … Even Bolsonaro’s old friend Alberto Fraga was concerned that he was too divisive. Social media had helped him get elected, but, Fraga said, ‘it’s no way to run a country.’”

2020 WATCH:

-- A survey of Democratic Party county chairs in South Carolina indicates that Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, the two African American senators seeking the nomination, are considered the current front-runners by Palmetto State insiders. The Charleston Post and Courier’s Schuyler Kropf and Andy Shain report: “Harris was mentioned by 23 of the 30 chairs who responded as one of the top four interest-drawing candidate picks so far. Booker was mentioned by 26 of the 30. But there’s also a wild card named Joe Biden, the survey found. While the former vice president is not in the race — yet — he’s still getting hold-out consideration. Some county leaders see him becoming the outright leader in South Carolina once he commits to running, something that is expected next month.”

-- Booker is lurching to the left to compete against more liberal primary opponents, but the shift is testing his instinct to reach across the aisle to advance his agenda. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Natasha Korecki report: “As some of his 2020 competitors warm to dramatic reforms like eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote threshold and adding justices to the Supreme Court, the White House hopeful from Newark is plainly wrestling with whether to follow suit. … The 49-year-old senator has a reliably liberal record, though he’s clearly to the right of [Sanders] and Elizabeth Warren and has worked closely with some Republicans to advance his priorities. It’s a profile that could ultimately help him stand out among his 2020 counterparts — if his bipartisan leanings and campaign of ‘love’ can connect with primary voters eager to take down [Trump].”

-- The three Democrats the Trump campaign seem to fear the most are Biden, Harris and Beto O’Rourke. Biden, Trump advisers believe, is best positioned to take back Rust Belt voters. Harris has amassed large crowds that have impressed even Trump, who still doesn’t know how to talk about — and attack — her. O’Rourke, Trump’s camp believes, has the X factor that could cost the president a second round. (Axios)

-- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) made a campaign speech in front of the president’s New York hotel in an attempt to position herself as the most anti-Trump candidate in the field. Politico’s Elena Schneider reports: Gillibrand “stood outside the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan on Sunday to rail against the president for ‘tearing apart the moral fabric of our country’ and to tell voters that she’s compiled the most anti-Trump record, ‘more than anyone else in the Senate.’ … Gillibrand called Trump a ‘coward’ who ‘puts his name in bold on every building,’ and saying ‘he does all of this because he wants you to believe he is strong. He is not.’" She said the Mueller report must be made entirely public: “Nobody in this country, not even the president, is above the law or immune from accountability.”

-- Most of the youngest members of the House are among the most moderate of the entire Democratic caucus, but they’re not getting the same attention as their more liberal counterparts. The National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar reports: “The 29-year-old [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez gets more attention than her party’s own leadership. Rep. Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, a 30-year-old who won a seat crucial to the party’s House majority, is a virtual unknown on Capitol Hill. Include the 40-year-old Democrats, and you’ve got the moderate chair of the Blue Dog Coalition (Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida), one of the few freshmen who voted against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Rep. Anthony Brindisi of New York), and a former Marine Corps officer who has made a mission of electing like-minded moderates (Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts).”

-- Bernie visited a mosque in California to honor New Zealand victims. The L.A. Times’s Michael Finnegan and Melanie Mason report: “Sanders, 77, who acknowledges he does not like to talk about himself, shared memories of crying when he was a boy as he read about the Holocaust. … [He] bemoaned hate crimes, the rise of authoritarianism and demagogues picking on minorities. … Sanders followed the visit with a rally in Los Angeles. … A Los Angeles Fire Department official estimated the downtown rally crowd Saturday at about 12,000.”

-- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is attracting more attention from Democrats in early primary states, but he still faces significant hurdles to defeating his opponents, including a major fundraising and polling gap. NBC News’s Jonathan Allen and Ali Vitali report: “He's already millions of dollars behind the leading fundraisers, his staff is a comparative skeleton crew that can only operate on legal substances without reinforcements for so long, most voters have never heard of him and even some political professionals still can't come close to pronouncing his name … For now, though, Buttigieg, who told supporters on Friday he'd raked in $500,000 between Tuesday and Wednesday, is trying to pick up enough steam to get himself the platform he needs to make his case.”

-- Male presidential candidates who promise to choose a woman as their running mate run the risk of portraying accomplished female lawmakers as their props to win votes, columnist Monica Hesse writes. “Are these men doing exactly what feminists have always asked male allies to do, which is use their positions of power to reach down and help women up? Or are they doing something more crafty — handing out vice presidencies like reassuring pats on the head, while allowing voters to still put a man in the Oval Office? … Where is the line between condescension and inclusion? Where is the line between powerful men being a pathway to gender parity and just being self-congratulatory gatekeepers? Why are men being asked whether they’d choose a female VP instead of being asked whether they’d be a woman’s VP?”

-- The Supreme Court will once again take up partisan gerrymandering this week, but several states have already moved to take the power to draw district lines away from legislators. Robert Barnes reports: “It is an issue that has vexed the Supreme Court, and it returns to the justices this week in cases from North Carolina and Maryland. The court has never found that a state’s redistricting plan was so skewed by politics that it violated the constitutional rights of voters, and again last term it passed up the opportunity. Referendums in 2018 showed that voters are tired of waiting. … All the redistricting wins in 2018 were in states where citizen initiatives are an option. But in the majority of states, voters are not allowed to make changes without the legislature’s approval, which underscores the importance of the Supreme Court cases being argued this week.”

President Trump on March 19 accused social media and news networks of stifling conservatives, and cited his own impressions from using Twitter. (Video: The Washington Post)


-- Trump sent 52 tweets in 34 hours last weekend, capturing how he has relied on social media to communicate his message and try to control the news cycle. From Ashley Parker: “Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in the intimate fireside chat through his mastery of radio, and John F. Kennedy skillfully manipulated the new medium of television, Trump has redefined presidential communication with his use of Twitter. The 45th president has deployed the social media platform to fire Cabinet members, belittle his rivals, rally his base, befuddle world leaders and entertain, or infuriate, the masses. ... If Trump’s goal was to inject himself into the public debate last weekend, he unquestionably succeeded. But the sheer volume of his tweets — roughly one-and-a-half per hour, once he logged on and starting typing — was arguably almost as notable as the content.”

A team of Post reporters analyzed the impact of Trump’s dozens of tweets:

  • His criticism of GM forced CEO Mary Barra to hold a news conference touting an investment that had long been in the works. After Trump demanded that GM reconsider its decision to close a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, Barra held a news conference to announce an electric car was going to be built in Michigan, bringing 400 jobs with it. But the company has not budged on the closure of its Lordstown plant.
  • Jeanine Pirro will return to host her Fox News show next week. “Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro,” Trump tweeted after Pirro was suspended over comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country.”
  • Trump appeared to accidentally provide a boost to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which has previously sparked violent episodes. Trump retweeted a message defending Pirro, but the user who sent the original tweet had a profile picturing showing the letter “Q” wearing a Make America Great Again hat. After Trump’s retweet, the user’s number of followers doubled.
  • Trump’s attacks on John McCain prompted rebukes from some of his Republican allies, including Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Mitt Romney (Utah). The late senator’s family also lambasted the president’s harsh comments just seven months after McCain’s death from brain cancer.
  • Trump’s many messages directed at Mueller’s investigation appeared to give House Democrats more ammunition for their investigations. But most Democratic lawmakers, now accustomed to Trump’s running social media commentary, appeared to react to the tweets with a shrug.


-- Some Native Americans have been left stranded for nearly two weeks following days of intense flooding. The Times's Mitch Smith reports: "[At] the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota — a stunning stretch of land larger than Delaware — [an] overwhelming bout of snow and flooding has set off a humanitarian disaster that seems unlikely to abate soon. ... Officials with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which administers the reservation, say they lack the training, manpower and equipment needed to deal with such a large-scale crisis. And there’s a pervasive sense on Pine Ridge, a place of long-strained relations with the state and federal governments, that help has been woefully slow to arrive, and that few people beyond the reservation know or care much about its plight. ... While conversations about recovery were already underway in the hardest-hit portions of Nebraska and Iowa, where most roads have reopened and many rivers have started to recede, Pine Ridge, with a population of about 20,000, remained in a state of hour-to-hour chaos." 

-- About 1 in 7 mail-in ballots submitted by college-age voters from Parkland, Fla., were rejected or failed to arrive in time to be counted, a new report shows. Tim Craig reports: “Fifteen percent of mail-in ballots submitted by Parkland residents between ages 18 and 21 were never counted in the midterm election, far exceeding the statewide average. … More than half of those ballots, 3,458, were not accepted because they arrived after Election Day and could not be legally counted. Others were not signed, contained a mismatched signature, were signed by someone other than the voter, or returned to the election office as ‘undeliverable,’ according to country records. … About 250 Parkland residents ages 18 to 21 registered to vote between February 2018, when the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting took place, and Election Day. More than half of them voted, an unusually strong turnout among young voters in a midterm election, Smith noted. Many of the Parkland young adults whose ballots were rejected say state and local election offices are to blame.”

-- New Yorkers are still reeling from the revelation that only a small percentage of black and Latino students were accepted at the highly selective Stuyvesant High School. The Times's Ginia Bellafante writes that the problem goes beyond just that one school's practices: “The fixation with prestige that drives the mania around Stuyvesant is really no different from the status desperation that fueled the recent college admissions scandal in which dozens of wealthy parents were charged with bribing their children’s way into Yale ... Immigrant parents in Flushing, Queens, work hard and sacrifice and spend thousands of dollars on test preparation in the hope their children will have far better jobs and live in much bigger houses, while parents on the West Side of Los Angeles fall under the temptations of con men who have found creative ways of preying on the often inexplicable but deep-seated insecurities of the American upper class. What will shift the dynamic? In the case of New York City’s elite public high schools, it might help if educators and other officials worked to expand notions of prestige and success.” 


The ousted FBI director tweeted this after Barr issued his letter:

The president continued to overstate what Barr's letter actually said:

One of Trump's top advisers celebrated by tweeting a picture of herself on Fox News from early in the investigation:

Kellyanne's husband, George, pushed back on Sarah Sanders's statement:

Rudy also appeared to be celebrating:

As did the president's daughter:

From the president's flight back to D.C. last night:

From Obama's former acting solicitor general:

Democratic presidential candidates demanded the release of Mueller's full report:

Here's how Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) reacted:

A fellow at the Wilson Center criticized the president's son for going after the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine:

A new poll shows the pervasiveness of anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe:

The times, they are a-changin'. Mayor Pete spoke about his marriage in South Carolina:

Trolling his detractors, Beto O'Rourke shared a picture of himself standing on yet another surface: 


-- “A freed slave became a spy. Then she took down the Confederate White House,” by Michael S. Rosenwald: “In early 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Confederate President Jefferson Davis became a very paranoid man. His army was struggling against the Union, which was getting mysteriously better and better at predicting his moves. Davis suspected a mole somewhere in his government, leaking information. He was right — and wrong. There was, indeed, a mole. But it was a servant at the Confederate White House in Richmond — a freed slave with a photographic memory who, in addition to caring for his wife’s dresses, slipped the North valuable secrets from Davis’s own desk.”

-- New York Times, “Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good,” by Nellie Bowles: “Life for anyone but the very rich — the physical experience of learning, living and dying — is increasingly mediated by screens. Not only are screens themselves cheap to make, but they also make things cheaper. … The rich do not live like this. The rich have grown afraid of screens. They want their children to play with blocks, and tech-free private schools are booming. Humans are more expensive, and rich people are willing and able to pay for them. Conspicuous human interaction — living without a phone for a day, quitting social networks and not answering email — has become a status symbol. All of this has led to a curious new reality: Human contact is becoming a luxury good.”

-- The Atlantic, “Heartland Cities Are Stuck. Washington Can Help Them,” by Clara Hendrickson: “Today the notion that Washington should ‘help poor people, not poor places’—to the point of urging people in declining areas to move—has become conventional wisdom. With the exception of the modest 'opportunity zones,' a provision of the recent tax law that allows lighter capital-gains taxation for investors in certain troubled areas, place-specific aid has fallen out of favor. But troubled communities don’t just give up. Left to their own fate, state and local policy makers often end up shoveling money at companies in the hope of attracting future investment. It isn’t working. For today’s left-behind communities to bounce back, the federal government has to act.” 


“Trump’s U.N. pick showered key GOP senators with donations,” from Politico: “If Ambassador Kelly Craft ends up before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the ritual grilling of presidential nominees, she’ll be looking back at some of her favorite Republican senators. Craft, whom [Trump] has said he’ll nominate to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, gave $5,400 to Marco Rubio’s primary and general election campaigns for his 2016 Senate race. She also donated the maximum allowed — $2,700 — to Sen. Todd Young’s and Sen. Ron Johnson’s respective general election campaigns that year. … At least half of the GOP members of the panel, which would have to vet the current U.S. ambassador to Canada again should Trump officially nominate her, have received donations from Kelly or Joe Craft since the 2012 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.”



“Ocasio-Cortez still hasn’t paid tax bill from failed business venture,” from the New York Post: “Democratic darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez still hasn’t paid a six-year-old tax bill left over from a failed business venture. Weeks after The Post alerted the freshman Congresswoman’s office to the outstanding tax lien from 2012, she still hasn’t paid it, state records show. Brook Avenue Press, a company set up in the Bronx to publish books about city children, owes $1,877.56 in unpaid corporate taxes. … A spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, who has called for sweeping tax hikes on the rich, told The Post two weeks ago that the taxes would be paid right away. But on Thursday, her aide Corbin Trent said that the Congresswoman’s lawyers were looking into the matter. ‘I’m her congressional staffer, not her personal accountant,’ he said.”



Trump will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before welcoming the Washington Capitals to the White House.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized Trump’s decision to announce in a tweet that he would not put in place new sanctions on North Korea: “Frankly, look, I think people around the world would look at it and say from now on, when they hear about sanctions, they're going to ask for a double confirmation from the White House. … So, look, I wish it hadn't happened that way, and it shouldn't have happened that way.” (Politico)



-- It will rain a bit throughout the day, but springlike weather is finally here. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We’ll have some rain this afternoon and evening, but then we enjoy dry weather for much of the rest of the week. Chilly temperatures visit the region Tuesday into Wednesday, but then it’s nice and springlike Thursday through the weekend, with lots of 60s and even 70s on the way.” 

-- The Capitals beat the Flyers 3-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan

-- Mei Xiang, the National Zoo's female giant panda, is once again showing signs that breeding season is close. Martin Weil reports: “The breeding window, the zoo said, can be as short as 24 hours. On the upside, it stretches to 72. So far, the zoo said, the male panda, named Tian Tian, has shown great interest in Mei Xiang. But she has indicated, the zoo said, that she is not yet ready. Such natural handicaps have helped to make reproduction a challenge for the giant panda."


Passengers aboard a cruise ship that became stranded off Norway’s western coast during a violent storm recorded videos of furniture sliding across the floor and panels falling from the ceiling:

Videos recorded March 23 by witnesses showed a cruise ship adrift at sea off the west coast of Norway after an engine failure. (Video: The Washington Post)

Fox News hosts seem obsessed with freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But why?

Referring to Fox News’s coverage of her, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) asked Seth Meyers why so many grown men are obsessed with her. (Video: Blair Guild, Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

And Ronny Chieng, one of Trevor Noah's correspondents, talked about the teenagers behind an international fight against climate change: