With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: Julian Assange’s arrest in London this morning, Greg Craig’s looming indictment in Washington, Maryanne Trump Barry’s retirement as a federal judge and the pending sale of the National Enquirer can all be viewed as aftershocks of the 2016 election.
London police announced that Assange, the leader of WikiLeaks, has been “arrested on behalf of the United States authorities,” who have requested extradition. He was forcibly removed from Ecuador’s embassy by London police officers.
Technically, Assange appears to be in immediate legal jeopardy over something he did nine years ago. His lawyer Jennifer Robinson says he was indicted under seal by the United States in December 2017 on charges of conspiring with Chelsea Manning in 2010. Manning, formerly a soldier named Bradley Manning, provided secret cables to WikiLeaks, which the group posted on its website.
But his starring role in the 2016 election has been top of mind for the people in the government who have been pursuing him. WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, something the U.S. intelligence community said was orchestrated by the Russian government. When special counsel Bob Mueller indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers, he alleged that they “discussed the release of the stolen documents and the timing of those releases” with WikiLeaks “to heighten their impact on the 2016 presidential election.”
Moreover, President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, never tried to prosecute WikiLeaks out of concern that the group would defend its publication of government secrets as journalism. He feared the case could therefore create a problematic precedent. But the Trump Justice Department has a different theory of the case, per James McAuley, Karla Adam and Ellen Nakashima.
-- Meanwhile, attorneys for former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig said last night that he expects to face federal charges in the coming days over legal work he did for the Ukrainian government in 2012. Tom Hamburger and Roz Helderman report: “The expected indictment — which his attorneys called ‘a misguided abuse of prosecutorial discretion’ — stems from work Craig did with GOP lobbyist Paul Manafort on behalf of the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice in 2012. … Craig resigned from Skadden in April 2018 amid a building investigation into whether the firm’s lawyers failed to register as foreign lobbyists for their Ukraine engagement. Prosecutors have been investigating whether Craig issued false statements to the Justice Department in 2013 as officials made inquiries to the firm about whether its work required public registration.”
Just like with Assange, Craig is in legal trouble because of something he did before 2016. But it seems unlikely that he’d be facing these charges if not for Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the election. Manafort himself might not be in prison today, either, if he had not chaired Trump’s campaign chairman, which put him in the spotlight and drew unwanted scrutiny. Craig would be the first major Democratic figure charged as a result of the foreign lobbying investigation that grew from the special counsel’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 campaign. Manafort pleaded guilty last year to charges related to his Ukraine lobbying.
Craig’s firm produced a report that Manafort used to improve the standing of the then pro-Russian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych. “The Ukrainian government reported that Skadden was paid just $12,000 for the report, but prosecutors have said that Manafort used an offshore account to help route more than $4 million to the law firm to pay for the work,” per Tom and Roz. “Another Skadden lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to the FBI about his work on the report, agreeing that he had slipped an early copy to Manafort to assist in his pro-Yanukovych lobby efforts and later deleted emails related to the effort. He served 30 days in prison. …
“Mueller’s office referred Craig’s case last year to prosecutors in Manhattan as Mueller worked to bring his investigation to a close. … The case was then transferred back to prosecutors in Washington. … In a statement, attorneys William W. Taylor III and William Murphy said they expect Craig, 74, will be indicted by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington at the request of the Justice Department’s national security division. … Separately, prosecutors in New York have been investigating whether FARA rules were violated by two other prominent Washington figures: Tony Podesta, a Democratic lobbyist who once owned one of Washington’s leading firms, and Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman, who helps lead the Washington office of Mercury LLC.”
-- It also came out Wednesday that Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s older sister, stepped down as a federal appellate judge. This short-circuited an inquiry into whether she violated judicial conduct rules by participating in reportedly fraudulent tax schemes with her family.
“The court inquiry stemmed from complaints filed last October, after an investigation by The New York Times found that the Trumps had engaged in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the inherited wealth of Mr. Trump and his siblings,” the Times’s Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig report. “Judge Barry not only benefited financially from most of those tax schemes, The Times found; she was also in a position to influence the actions taken by her family. … In a letter dated Feb. 1, a court official notified the four individuals who had filed the complaints that the investigation was ‘receiving the full attention’ of a judicial conduct council. Ten days later, Judge Barry filed her retirement papers.”
The Old Gray Lady would almost certainly not have devoted the reportorial resources necessary to uncover the Trump family’s tax avoidance schemes if he had lost the 2016 election. It's likelier they would have been focused on exploring Clinton Inc.
“Judge Barry, now 82, has not heard cases in more than two years but was still listed as an inactive senior judge, one step short of full retirement,” Russ and Susanne note. “The status change rendered the investigation moot, since retired judges are not subject to the conduct rules. … Judge Barry did not respond to emails or telephone messages left at her Manhattan apartment.”
-- Even with the Mueller investigation formally wrapped up, other dominoes continue to fall. Federal investigators in New York, for example, have spoken to members of the president’s inner circle, including former White House communications director Hope Hicks, to gather more information on the hush money payments to two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump when he was married.
“They also spoke to Keith Schiller, Mr. Trump’s former security chief,” the Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Hong, Rebecca Ballhaus and Rebecca Davis O’Brien report. “Investigators learned of calls between Mr. Schiller and David Pecker, chief executive of the National Enquirer’s publisher, which has admitted it paid $150,000 to a former Playboy model on Mr. Trump’s behalf to keep her story under wraps. In addition, investigators possess a recorded phone conversation between Mr. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and a lawyer who represented the two women. … New details of the investigation — gleaned from interviews with 20 people familiar with the probe and from nearly 1,000 pages of court documents — show prosecutors had gathered information about Mr. Trump’s alleged involvement in the payments weeks before Mr. Cohen asserted it in open court.”
-- The National Enquirer is expected to be sold imminently due to continuing pressure its parent company, American Media Inc., is facing from its financial backers over the Trump donnybrook. Sarah Ellison and Marc Fisher report: “The decision to sell came after the hedge fund manager whose firm controls American Media became ‘disgusted’ with the Enquirer’s reporting tactics. … [AMI] has been under intense pressure because of the Enquirer’s efforts to tilt the 2016 presidential election in favor of [Trump], who is a longtime friend of [Pecker]. Pecker and his supermarket tabloid have also been embroiled in recent months in an unusually public feud with Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. In August, just as AMI and two of its top officers were finalizing a non-prosecution agreement with federal investigators, the company’s board of directors started looking for ways to unload the tabloid business ‘because they didn’t want to deal with hassles like this anymore.’”
-- Bezos plans to meet with federal prosecutors over his allegation that Saudi Arabia was behind the Enquirer story that exposed his extramarital affair and that the tabloid tried to extort him. CNN’s Erica Orden and Shimon Prokupecz report: “Plans for that meeting come as prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are seeking to obtain access to Bezos's electronic devices. ... They are attempting to examine Bezos's private investigators' allegation that the Saudis 'gained private information' from his phone, and that such information wound up in the hands of the ... Enquirer, which published Bezos's texts. Attorneys for Bezos, the world's richest man, have been engaged in negotiations regarding his electronics. In recent weeks, Bezos's attorneys and investigators turned over to federal authorities documents and other material from their own inquiry, but not his devices.”
-- Back to WikiLeaks, the saga is far from over. One question people who follow this stuff closely are wondering: Did British authorities get any of Assange’s equipment, including his laptop or any hard drives? That could be a boon for Western intelligence.
It’s hard to overstate how big a triumph nabbing Assange is for the U.S. intelligence and diplomatic communities. The government has dangled carrots in front of Ecuador to induce the country to evict him. The previous leftist president extended asylum to Assange seven years ago. But the new more moderate president has wanted to improve relations with the United States, and WikiLeaks has been the biggest obstacle. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was CIA director, called WikiLeaks a “nonstate hostile intelligence service.”
But the efforts by Pence and Pompeo to bring Assange to justice are at odds with Trump’s previous posture toward WikiLeaks. “I love WikiLeaks,” Trump declared during a Pennsylvania rally on Oct. 10, 2016, as he waved a printout with information from a stolen email. Three days after the disclosure of the “Access Hollywood” tape, Trump was eager to change the subject. In fact, Trump cited WikiLeaks by name 141 times at 56 events during the month before the election, according to a tally by NBC News. “This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable,” Trump said that Oct. 12 in Florida. “It tells you the inner heart. You’ve got to read it!” On Oct. 13 in Ohio, he added: “It's been amazing what's coming out on WikiLeaks.” On Oct. 31 in Michigan, he praised WikiLeaks as a “treasure trove.”
-- In a video, Ecuadoran President Lenín Moreno explained why he revoked Assange’s asylum. “The discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization against Ecuador and overall, his transgression of international treaties, have led the situation in which a point where Mr. Assange’s asylum is unsustainable and no longer viable,” he said.
The final straw, Moreno said, came when WikiLeaks leaked Vatican documents in January. “This and other publications have confirmed the world’s suspicion that Assange is still involved with WikiLeaks and therefore the organization’s interference in other nations’ businesses,” he said.
Assange installed electronic and distortion equipment in the embassy, blocked security cameras, mistreated guards and accessed embassy security files without permission, Moreno said. He also kept a cellphone while claiming to be kept disconnected from the Internet. “My government has nothing to fear,” Moreno said. “We don’t act under threats.”
-- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who sits on the Intelligence Committee, celebrated:
This arrest is good news for freedom-loving people. Julian Assange has long been a wicked tool of Vladimir Putin and the Russian intelligence services. He deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.https://t.co/LJAQeKhrj6 https://t.co/LQpoOoTv1y— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) April 11, 2019
-- WikiLeaks is trying to raise money off the arrest:
This man is a son, a father, a brother. He has won dozens of journalism awards. He's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2010. Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimize and imprison him. #ProtectJulian pic.twitter.com/dVBf1EcMa5— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 11, 2019
-- Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who disclosed sensitive surveillance programs in 2013, decried the arrest from Moscow, where he is a fugitive:
Images of Ecuador's ambassador inviting the UK's secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of--like it or not--award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom. https://t.co/ys1AIdh2FP— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) April 11, 2019
-- Irony alert: The Russian government accused Britain of “strangling freedom” by arresting Assange.
-- A final thought: How will Sean Hannity react? He interviewed Assange in 2017 and elevated WikiLeaks into a cause celeb on the pro-Trump right. “I believe every word he says, to be perfectly honest,” Hannity said of Assange on Fox News after their sit-down in the embassy.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Frustrated European leaders have abandoned hope that Britain will sort out its departure from the European Union anytime soon, slapping aside a proposal by Prime Minister Theresa May for a short delay and offering to extend Brexit until Halloween. “The decision avoids a chaotic departure by Britain on Friday,” per Michael Birnbaum and William Booth in Brussels. “It also might lock Britain into elections for the European Parliament next month — which would increase agitation for May’s resignation. May wanted an extension to June 30 to seal a deal with her own divided lawmakers. The European leaders, talking Brexit for at least the 18th time and exasperated by Brexit ‘emergency summits,’ wanted to free themselves from the chaos of British politics.
- “The Oct. 31 extension could end early if British lawmakers sign on to the E.U.’s unpopular terms of departure. Leaders also said they would review the membership in June. The extension is ‘long enough to allow the U.K. to find a solution,’ said European Council President Donald Tusk. ‘I have a message to our British friends. Please, do not waste this time.’
- “At the summit on Wednesday, May was peppered with 45 minutes of questions by European leaders. They demanded to know her political strategy. They were openly skeptical that her negotiations back home with the opposition Labour Party would produce a winning compromise.”
-- A coup in Khartoum: Sudan’s defense minister just announced that President Omar al-Bashir has been taken into military custody, ending his 30-year rule. Muhammed Osman and Max Bearak report: “A two-year transition government administered by the military would take over, the constitution would be suspended, and a three-year state of emergency would be put in place, he added. Sudan’s state media also reported that all political prisoners, including leaders of the protests that precipitated Bashir’s fall, were in the process of being released from jails around the country. The announcement by Awad Ibn Auf, who is also Sudan’s vice president, came after four months of nationwide street protests sparked by price hikes on basic goods but also reflecting a deep-rooted desire for the replacement of his regime.”
-- Authorities in southern Louisiana have arrested a suspect in a spate of fires that have burned three black churches in St. Landry Parish since last month. Multiple local media outlets have identified the suspect as a 21-year-old man who is the son of a St. Landry Parish deputy. (Tim Elfrink and Kayla Epstein)
Hundreds of investigators worked around the clock to capture the person suspected of being behind fires that recalled a dark history in our country of domestic terrorism against black churches. White people burned some churches before the Civil War because they feared slave uprisings, during Reconstruction to reestablish their social dominance and during the civil rights movement to instill fear. But the black church has persisted and prospered.
The resiliency and the faith of parishioners in the Pelican State has been on full display: Rev. Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which burned on April 2, noted that his congregation is more than 140 years old. But he pointed out that “the church is not that building. The church is the people.” “If we stay together as a congregation, the church is alive and well,” he told ABC News. “We can rebuild the building, as long as we stay together.” Keep preaching, pastor. Keep preaching!
GET SMART FAST:
Scientists captured the first direct image of a supermassive black hole. The picture of the black hole at the center of Messier 87, the largest known galaxy, comes from the Event Horizon Telescope. (Sarah Kaplan and Joel Achenbach)
Pope Benedict XVI, the once-quiet ex-pope, wrote a letter addressing sexual assault in the Catholic Church, a crisis he attributed to a breakdown of church and societal moral teaching. In a 6,000-word letter, Benedict described seminaries filled with “homosexual cliques” and lamented the secularization of the West. (Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli)
The bones of what appears to be a new human species have been discovered in a cave on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The discovery of Homo luzonensis, the fourth such finding this century, once again demonstrates the versatility of human evolution. (Ben Guarino)
The bomb cyclone that hit the Midwest last month was the country’s second billion-dollar weather disaster of 2019. Aon, the global insurer, estimates that it caused more than $4 billion worth of damage. The first was the twisters and flooding in the South in February. (Jason Samenow)
The Washington Post asked a federal court to dismiss a $250 million libel lawsuit from Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann. The high schooler claimed that coverage of his January interaction with an American Indian activist at the Lincoln Memorial was false and defamatory, but The Post said in its motion to dismiss that the paper’s articles were accurate and ultimately favorable to Sandmann. (Richard Leiby)
Kim Kardashian West revealed that she is studying to become a lawyer. She is taking advantage of a California rule that allows law students to sit for the bar without acquiring a law degree. Aspiring lawyers can instead become “law readers” and apprentice with a practicing lawyer, a project that Kardashian is pursuing with a San Francisco-based firm. (Sonia Rao)
Facebook is rolling out changes to help stop the spread of fake news. The social media giant released a number of updates to user news feeds that aim to promote more trustworthy news sources. (Wired)
Apple announced that 21 manufacturers in its supply chain have vowed to obtain all their electricity from renewable resources. The company’s step toward curbing climate-warming emissions would bring renewable energy to more than 40 percent of its supply chain. (Dino Grandoni and Steven Mufson)
- Amazon workers are hearing some of the things users tell Alexa in an attempt to help the voice-controlled assistant better respond to commands. Workers around the world review interactions and sometimes might catch parts of conversations that individuals might not want others to listen to. (Bloomberg News)
A Taiwanese woman who complained to doctors about persistent eye pain had four live bees pulled from her eye socket. The bees, known as “sweat bees,” had been feeding off the salt from the woman’s tears, a medical oddity that the woman’s doctor called a “world first.” (Timothy Bella)
Nikki Haley’s book will be published this fall. It will cover her time as U.N. ambassador and her six years as governor of South Carolina, as well as the “challenges” of working in politics as a woman, according to a statement from Haley. (AP)
Charles Van Doren, best known for his role in the 1950s answer-rigging scandal on the game show “Twenty One,” died at 93. As portrayed by actor Ralph Fiennes in the 1994 movie “Quiz Show,” Van Doren was a Columbia professor when he was recruited to beat then-champion Herb Stempel and eventually amassed winnings of $129,000, a staggering amount at the time. (David P. Marino-Nachison)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his department would not meet the deadline set by House Democrats for turning over Trump’s tax returns. Jeff Stein and Damian Paletta report: “Mnuchin said he was consulting with the Justice Department as to the constitutional questions raised by the Democrats’ request and appeared deeply skeptical of the lawmakers’ intentions. He did not flatly reject the notion that he might ultimately comply, but his letter to the House Ways and Means Committee suggested that Mnuchin would not hold himself to any timeline. … Mnuchin’s letter appeared to closely track the legal issues raised by Trump’s lawyers last week in a letter in response to the request made by Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.). Even though Neal addressed his letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig, Mnuchin said he would personally oversee the review. … Mnuchin’s decision to not reject the Democratic request outright could buy the Treasury Department more time, since courts might not want to get involved until such a decision is made.”
-- Attorney General Bill Barr told Congress that he believes intelligence agents conducted “spying” on the Trump campaign, a sensational and startling claim. Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian report: “Barr’s surprising comments echo unsubstantiated claims [Trump] has made about the FBI, and though the attorney general later clarified that he was concerned about the legal basis for surveilling political figures, his words provided fresh ammunition to those who have branded the Russia investigation an illegitimate attempt to derail Trump’s presidency. … ‘I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal,’ Barr said … Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked: ‘You’re not suggesting that spying occurred?’ Barr answered: ‘I think spying did occur, yes. I think spying did occur.’ The key question, he added, is whether that activity was legal or proper. …
“Later in the hearing, Barr offered a more tempered description of his concerns, saying that he wanted to understand whether there was ‘unauthorized surveillance’ of political figures. ‘I believe there is a basis for my concern, but I’m not going to discuss the basis for my concern,’ Barr said. ‘I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying I am concerned about it, and I am looking into it. That is all.’ … A person familiar with the attorney general’s thinking said he was not trying to provide conservatives with rhetorical red meat and was using the word ‘spying’ in the technical sense of collecting intelligence.”
-- Is the president risking a “Mission Accomplished” moment by claiming that Mueller's investigation totally exonerates him? Ashley Parker reports that White House insiders are afraid of that: “In 2003, President George W. Bush infamously landed on an aircraft carrier — against the backdrop of a huge banner trumpeting ‘Mission Accomplished’ — to announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq. The war would drag on for nearly another decade, and Bush’s overly confident phrase served as shorthand for the administration’s controversial conflict. … Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary during the ‘Mission Accomplished’ event, said that when he saw Trump’s response to the Barr letter, he thought the president ‘went too far.’”
-- Trump told reporters that he has survived the “attempted coup” of the Mueller investigation. “It was an illegal investigation. It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked. This was an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president, and we beat them. We beat them,” he said, per John Wagner. As Erik Wemple notes, the claim that Mueller’s investigation was started illegally is not true.
-- Nancy Pelosi said she is “very concerned” about Barr’s handling of Mueller’s report. “He is not the attorney general of Donald Trump. He is the attorney general of the United States,” the House speaker told the AP after the attorney general’s “spying” comments. “I don’t trust Barr. I trust Mueller.”
-- “Mar-a-Lago may present the worst counterintelligence nightmare the country has faced since the Cold War,” former FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan writes in an op-ed: “My personal experience as a counterterrorism agent tells me that [Yujing] Zhang's alleged loadout is consistent with an effort to monitor computer systems while evading surveillance. Unfortunately, Mar-a-Lago appears wide open to such operations. Zhang’s arrest is only the latest in a string of indications that the club is far from secure.”
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner are on a collision course. The policy adviser is the mastermind behind the DHS purge and his threat to close the border, but the president’s son-in-law is pressing Trump to pursue a more collaborative approach to immigration. Parker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report on the dynamic, based on interviews with 21 White House insiders: “The contrast highlights the good cop-bad cop roles on immigration that Kushner, 38, and Miller, 33, now inhabit in Trump’s West Wing, with the latter ascendant as he pushes a frustrated president to champion draconian border policies and rhetoric. The two political survivors from Trump’s 2016 campaign have emerged as all but untouchable because of their close relationship — and, in Kushner’s case, familial ties — with the president. But if Miller represents Trump’s id — reaffirming his hard-line immigration impulses — Kushner attempts to channel the president’s desire to be seen as a consummate dealmaker. … So far, though, White House officials say the two have maintained a friendly working relationship, focused on divergent but complementary imperatives.”
-- Despite all of the president’s crackdowns on immigration, the administration remains silent about the Trump Organization’s longtime reliance on unauthorized labor. Joshua Partlow reports: “Democrats in Congress have been stymied in their efforts to find out whether federal authorities are investigating the Trump Organization over its reliance for years on workers without legal status. … The latest rebuff to Democratic lawmakers came this week. Immigration and Customs Enforcement missed a Tuesday deadline to respond to a request from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), asking whether an investigation had been opened into the hiring practices of the president’s company. … White House officials declined to answer questions about Trump’s use of undocumented labor, and ICE did not respond to requests for comment this week.”
-- Wait times at the southern border have soared to as long as 10 hours in some cases after officers were reassigned to handle the migrant influx. Maria Sacchetti, David J. Lynch, Nick Miroff and Roxana Popescu report: “The clogged checkpoints are frustrating bankers, business leaders, local residents and even Mexico’s foreign minister, who called the reassignment of hundreds of border officers to other parts of the nearly 2,000-mile boundary a ‘very bad idea.’ The shift in enforcement efforts is overwhelming legal checkpoints and impeding the free flow of goods and services, in some cases increasing wait times about fivefold. … With 545 Customs and Border Protection officers reassigned to help the Border Patrol, a negative impact on travel times and cargo inspections is inevitable, one DHS official said. … Some executives worry that if short staffing at the border checkpoints causes delays to continue, Mexico could retaliate by slowing southbound traffic.”
-- DHS lawyers signaled that the agency will abide by a court’s ruling and not send migrants back to Mexico. Robert Moore reports: “A Salvadoran man who had been ordered to wait in Mexico while a U.S. immigration judge decided his asylum claim will be allowed to stay in the United States, one of the first people to gain entry after the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program was blocked earlier this week. … A federal judge in California temporarily blocked the program Monday, ordering the administration to stop returning asylum seekers to Mexico and forcing the government to allow plaintiffs to cross into the United States for their claims to be heard. The judge set a deadline of Friday, but government officials seem to have immediately accepted that the program can’t continue — at least for now.”
-- Senate Republicans are pressuring Trump not to fire any more Homeland Security officials, saying the department can’t function properly if key members keep getting ousted. Seung Min Kim reports: “Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he is worried that [DHS general counsel John] Mitnick could be dismissed. Johnson is preparing a letter to the administration advising ‘against even considering getting rid of the counsel.’ … Another GOP senator, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), has contacted top administration officials, including senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Kevin McAleenan, to push them to keep [USCIS Director Lee Francis] Cissna in his job.”
-- The U.S. immigration system may have finally reached its breaking point amid all the DHS exits and the lines of migrants arriving at the border. The Times's Michael D. Shear, Miriam Jordan and Manny Fernandez report: “The very nature of immigration to America changed after 2014, when families first began showing up in large numbers. The resulting crisis has overwhelmed a system unable to detain, care for and quickly decide the fate of tens of thousands of people who claim to be fleeing for their lives. For years, both political parties have tried — and failed — to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, mindful that someday the government would reach a breaking point. That moment has arrived. The country is now unable to provide either the necessary humanitarian relief for desperate migrants or even basic controls on the number and nature of who is entering the United States.”
-- Liberal groups are trying to prevent Kirstjen Nielsen, now the former DHS secretary, from having a soft landing in her new post-Trump life after she supported the administration’s family separation policy. Felicia Sonmez reports: A “coalition of liberal groups is seeking to prevent her from going on to the type of lucrative private-sector job or speaking gig that many former Cabinet officials take upon leaving public service. … The campaign, led by Restore Public Trust, included a letter last week to Fortune 500 company CEOs as well as an ad in the New York Times with the message, ‘Attention corporate America: Don’t let hate into your boardroom.’”
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- Addressing his planned nomination of Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board, Trump seemed unsure whether the former presidential candidate could get confirmed. Trump’s comments follow reports that Republican senators have been urging the president to reconsider his intent to nominate Cain. “I like Herman Cain, and Herman will make that determination,” Trump told reporters. “He’s just somebody I like a lot. As to how he’s doing in the process, that I don’t know. … Herman’s a great guy and I hope he does well.” (John Wagner)
-- A political group founded by Cain, America Fighting Back PAC, recently sent a fundraising email asking people to give money to its “RINO TARGET FUND” to take on the dozen Senate Republicans who voted to disapprove of Trump's national emergency. The email refers to the 12 GOP lawmakers -- whose votes Cain needs to get confirmed -- as “backstabbers.” The message, which was forwarded to me, is being widely circulated among Senate Republicans. And it further hurts his confirmation hopes.
-- Sharon Bialek, the woman who accused Cain of sexual misconduct when he ran for president in 2012, said she would be willing to testify before the Senate Banking Committee. Tracy Jan and Heather Long report: When she first came forward with her allegation in 2011, “Bialek received online death threats. Conservative pundits assailed her character. At one point, she says, a clutch of Christian women supporters of Cain harassed her at her door, telling Bialek she’d go to hell. And it took three years for Bialek, a marketing specialist, to find full-time work in her field. But Cain, 73, a tea party darling and restaurant industry executive, went on to further prominence. … Bialek said she expects her allegations to be part of Cain’s vetting process. … And she said Cain’s past behavior with women, including three others who have accused him of sexual harassment, should disqualify him from the Fed post.”
-- The Trump administration is pushing to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management, a plan that would make OPM the first major federal agency to be eliminated since World War II. Lisa Rein and Damian Paletta report: “The agency would be pulled apart and its functions divided among three other departments. An executive order directing parts of the transition by the fall is in the final stages of review, administration officials said, with an announcement by [Trump] likely by summer. OPM employees were briefed at a meeting in March. For Trump, the breakup of the 5,565-employee federal personnel agency would offer a jolt of bureaucratic defibrillation to a slow-to-change workforce that the president and his top aides have targeted as a symptom of a sluggish, inefficient government. The experiment will be closely watched not just on Capitol Hill, but also by other agencies that could be next.” Congressional Democrats slammed the proposal as a power play, but the idea was actually discussed among members of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
THE NEW CONGRESS:
-- House Democrats confronted their party divisions at a unity-building retreat that was meant to commemorate their first 100 days in power but came just a day after Democratic leaders postponed a vote on federal spending levels because liberal lawmakers balked at compromises made with Democratic moderates. Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report: “Addressing reporters at the start of the retreat Wednesday, Democratic leaders highlighted the historic diversity of the freshman class and played down any notion of persistent division. ‘Our diversity is our strength, our unity is our power, and that unity is how we’re building consensus around issues here,' Speaker Pelosi said, deploying one of her favorite aphorisms. … Asked whether Tuesday’s budget implosion reminded him of the GOP’s sparring, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) laughed and said, ‘It’s like looking in the mirror.’ … Liberal leaders couched their opposition to the budget legislation as a warning shot. … But they are warning party leaders that future missteps could have a more significant impact.”
-- Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said efforts to vilify them have made them the target of death threats. Colby Itkowitz reports: “[Cortez] who has become Republicans’ preferred foil, responded on Twitter to a fundraising email solicitation from the Ohio Federation of College Republicans with the subject line: ‘AOC is a domestic terrorist.’ … ‘This puts me in danger every time,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. … ‘Almost every time this uncalled for rhetoric gets blasted by conserv. grps, we get a spike in death threats to refer to Capitol Police.’ … The House Sergeant-at-Arms, Paul D. Irving, in his testimony before the House Administration Committee Tuesday, said that threatening communications have increased three-fold in the last several years. … Omar, one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, has also faced significant threats on her life. On March 21, a man called her office and told the aide who answered the phone that he would ‘put a bullet in her [expletive] skull.’
-- Conservative lawmakers and pundits criticized Omar over comments she made last month about the 9/11 attacks. The Daily Beast’s Olivia Messer reports: “At a fundraiser for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Los Angeles, Omar said, in part, that ‘CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something, and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.’ The comments circulated in right-wing media this week, with conservatives interpreting them as minimizing the terrorist attack. On Wednesday, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned if the Somali American is ‘an American first.’ … Kilmeade later attempted to backtrack … On Tuesday, the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel called Omar ‘anti-American.’ … Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) called the comments ‘unbelievable.’”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main challenger conceded. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report: “Leaders of the Blue and White party, headed by former military chief Benny Gantz, made the concession announcement as it appeared there was no way it could secure the 61-seat majority it needs in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset to form a government. ‘We didn’t win this time,’ said Yair Lapid, a Blue and White leader. ‘I respect the voters’ decision.’ He vowed that the party would come back fighting in the next election. Speaking after him, Gantz said he would serve Israelis whether or not that’s from within government.”
-- Trump congratulated Netanyahu and said his victory was conducive for achieving peace in the region. “He’s been a great ally, and he’s a friend,” Trump said of Netanyahu just before the president flew to Texas. “I’d like to congratulate him. That was a well-thought-out race, I can tell you. … The fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace. Everybody said, and I never made it a promise, ‘you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians.’ But I think we have a chance, and I think now we have a better chance with Bibi having won.” (Anne Gearan)
-- But many believe Netanyahu’s win could complicate the Trump administration’s yet-to-be-released peace plan and further undermine bipartisan support for Israel in Congress. Carol Morello reports: “If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government, he is expected to annex parts of the West Bank as part of a possible deal with coalition partners to get the law changed in a way that would give him immunity from prosecution on corruption and bribery charges. … Annexation will spell the end of a two-state solution that Palestinians desire, making it all but impossible for them to embrace the secret peace plan that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser [Kushner] has been working on for more than a year. And while a Netanyahu win means continuity of the closest-ever relationship between an Israeli prime minister and an American president, it threatens to alienate many liberal Democrats who already are critical of Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians.”
-- As South Korean leader Moon Jae-in prepares to meet with Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed that his nation will withstand the pressures of foreign sanctions. Simon Denyer and Min Joo Kim report: “The comments, reported by state media Thursday, represent Kim’s first official, defiant response to the breakdown of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in February, and were delivered to a plenary session of officials from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. … Kim underlined the need to ‘vigorously advance socialist construction’ based on North Korea’s own efforts, technology and resources, ‘under the uplifted banner of self-reliance, so as to deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring the DPRK to its knees.’ … Kim also stressed the need to maintain the party’s strategic line of focusing on economic development, with a ‘spirit of self-reliance,’ given what he called the current ‘tense situation,’ according to KCNA.”
-- The White House is facing dwindling options on its stalled nuclear talks with North Korea. David Nakamura reports: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday offered no clear road map to reopening nuclear negotiations with North Korea nearly six weeks after the collapse of the Hanoi summit. … At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Pompeo struggled to answer basic questions, including whether the two sides have agreed on a definition of complete and verifiable ‘denuclearization.’ ‘I can’t answer that question yes or no,’ Pompeo told Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). ‘We’ve had extensive conversations with North Korea about’ that question. … Administration officials have said Trump’s negotiating team, led by Stephen Biegun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea, has had little communication with Pyongyang.”
-- The world’s biggest election begins Thursday as staggered polls in India open for the nearly 900 million eligible voters who must choose between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the opponents he has said undermine the nation. Joanna Slater reports: “Modi’s critics say he has an autocratic streak and seeks to turn India — officially a secular republic — into a ‘Hindu rashtra,’ or Hindu nation, to the detriment of the country’s religious minorities, who include Muslims and Christians. Reports of violence, including lynchings, by Hindu extremist groups have increased under Modi’s tenure. Modi has condemned such acts. … Modi remains favored to win reelection, albeit with a smaller number of seats in India’s Parliament, which would oblige him to lead a coalition. His popularity outstrips that of his main rival, Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Indian National Congress.”
-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) campaign raised $6 million in the first quarter of 2019, trailing several other candidates. Matt Viser reports: “’I won’t sugarcoat it,’ Roger Lau, her campaign manager, wrote in an email to supporters on Wednesday afternoon. ‘We were outraised by some other candidates in the presidential primary this first quarter. You might have seen some of the big numbers in the headlines, from $7 million to $18 million.’ … Warren aides said the campaign raised more money than it spent, but the margins appear narrow. She transferred $10.4 million from her U.S. Senate account, and the cash on hand was about $11 million at the end of the quarter, a campaign aide said. Warren has built one of the largest campaign operations so far, with more than 170 staffers now, about half of them in the four earliest-voting states.”
-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) unveiled a new version of his Medicare-for-all proposal, a key component of his presidential bid. John Wagner and Sean Sullivan report: “Sanders has acknowledged that citizens could pay more in taxes, but he argues that they would ultimately save thousands of dollars a year on out-of-pocket health-care costs. … He also argues that his program would curtail overall health-care spending in the United States because the traditional Medicare program spends only 2 percent of its costs on administration, far less than private health insurance companies. Sanders’s new bill is similar to past legislation he has introduced but now includes coverage for long-term-care services, benefits that further increase the cost. … In an attempt to show growing support for the bill, Sanders announced that his latest Medicare-for-all legislation has been endorsed by 63 national organizations and unions — double the number from two years ago.”
-- Democratic presidential candidates are embracing stricter gun control, but many of the voters they'll need to win in November 2020 value the Second Amendment and cherish their firearms. “Perhaps for that reason, the dynamic falls short of Democrats’ endorsement of such broad, novel packages as the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all,” Viser reports. “Instead, the candidates are signing onto a patchwork of individual measures such as an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and ‘red flag’ legislation that allows police and family members to petition for the removal of guns from those deemed a threat. … Still, the tone of this group of Democratic candidates is starkly different from those of years past, driven by a spate of school massacres, the resulting activism and a perceived weakening of the NRA’s clout.”
- Stat of the day: Six of the Democratic presidential candidates own guns. Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper, John Delaney and Kamala Harris each possess at least one firearm. In comparison, 15 of the 17 Republican candidates in 2016 owned guns.
-- Pete Buttigieg, gay and Christian, is challenging the religious right in its own turf. Jeremy W. Peters writes in the New York Times: “Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has provoked a backlash from conservatives in the last few days after questioning the moral authority of evangelicals like Vice President Mike Pence who remain silent about President Trump’s personal conduct yet disapprove of same-sex marriages and oppose gay rights. … The issue followed the vice president to the United Nations on Wednesday, where reporters shouted questions at him about whether being gay was a choice. Mr. Pence walked away without answering. The reaction from other conservatives was less measured. A Fox News host, Todd Starnes, accused the mayor of wanting ‘to shove evangelical Christians into the closet.’”
-- In a CNN town hall, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said Democrats should forget about impeaching Trump and should instead focusing on voting him out of the White House. The AP’s Bill Barrow reports: “He said damning details still could emerge about Trump’s 2016 campaign and business dealings but added that a Republican-led Senate would never remove the president. … Inslee, 68, used the spotlight to emphasize his focus on combating climate change while noting his record as a liberal governor and his generally sunny approach to politics — a package that, he argued, makes him an ideal foil to the Republican president.”
-- Views of Trump in Wisconsin, which is shaping up to be one of the most hard fought battleground states in 2020, have changed little since the end of the Mueller investigation. From the latest Marquette University Law School poll: “Support for reelecting the president is … little changed since January — 28 percent say that they would definitely vote to reelect Trump, and 14 percent would probably vote to reelect him. Another 8 percent say that they would probably vote for someone else, and 46 percent would definitely vote for someone else. In January, 27 percent said that they would definitely vote to reelect Trump, 12 percent said that they would probably vote for him, 8 percent that they would probably vote for someone else and 49 percent that would definitely vote for someone else.”
-- Trump is rushing to the rescue of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) who is at risk of losing reelection in 2020 after switching parties. Two of the president’s top lieutenants, Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, are joining Justice’s campaign as advisers. (Politico)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
One of The Post's immigration beat reporters reflected on the latest DHS departure:
Ron Vitiello announces resignation from ICE, less than a week after WH pulls his nomination with no cause or explanation. Vitiello‘s 30 year career ends with a thud and some trite gratitude. Helluva message to ICE/CBP workforce when you’re desperate to recruit more agents.— Nick Miroff (@NickMiroff) April 10, 2019
A Texas Tribune editor compared Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants from 2015 to today:
Donald Trump, 2015: "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best."— Aman Batheja (@amanbatheja) April 10, 2019
Donald Trump, today in San Antonio, via pool report... pic.twitter.com/0J6diDEZNg
A Post reporter highlighted another contradictory comment from Trump:
Trump two days ago: "Our country is FULL!" https://t.co/8IUGNo67x9— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) April 10, 2019
One lawyer on Twitter criticized Barr for his spying comments:
With this contradiction, Barr inoculated himself against any potential legal liability for his testimony. However, he planted a seed in the political discourse with his initial statement, and as a practical matter, all these stories aren't about to be retracted. pic.twitter.com/xbxcfeNAe2— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) April 10, 2019
A New York Times columnist condemned the Venezuelan leader:
Some American liberals are instinctively sympathetic to the Venezuelan regime simply because President Trump is against it. That's a mistake. The Maduro regime has been a catastrophe for ordinary Venezuelans.— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) April 10, 2019
Rep. Ilhan Omar and her Republican colleague Dan Crenshaw sparred over her comments about 9/11:
This is dangerous incitement, given the death threats I face. I hope leaders of both parties will join me in condemning it.— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) April 10, 2019
My love and commitment to our country and that of my colleagues should never be in question. We are ALL Americans! pic.twitter.com/foTZMpiZKv
1. I never called you un-American.— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) April 10, 2019
2. I did not incite any violence against you.
3. You described an act of terrorism on American soil that killed thousands of innocent lives as “some people did something.”
It’s still unbelievable, as is your response here. https://t.co/SsfWYepOS1
An adviser for Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) chastised Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) after her CNN town hall:
Sen. Gillibrand calls climate change a "day 1" priority - but in tonight's town hall, it was a "minute 52" priority. https://t.co/C8FH0ad9Yz— Jared Leopold (@jaredleopold) April 10, 2019
An AP photojournalist captured this telling picture of Trump:
The media are seen reflected in eye of President Trump as he answers questions on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, before boarding Marine One helicopter, . (AP Photo/Pablo Martínez Monsiváis) #realDonaldTrump @realDonaldTrump #WhiteHouse @AP_Politics @AP_Images pic.twitter.com/DySbAx9f6u— Pablo Martínez (@Pablo3names) April 10, 2019
A Post reporter studied the fashion choices at the Democratic retreat:
Dem retreat fashion review...— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) April 10, 2019
Lujan: suit and tie
Hoyer: coat, no tie
Jeffries: coat, no tie
Clyburn: sweater vest
Pelosi: power suit
Clark: blazer over dress
Bustos: bustosed out the jeans pic.twitter.com/FTvRS2KHci
Former first lady Michelle Obama shared an international copy of her best-selling memoir:
View this post on Instagram
I’m so thrilled to be in Europe this week! We kicked off our trip in Copenhagen, tonight we’re in Stockholm, and we’ll also make our way to Oslo, London, Paris, and Amsterdam. I’m so excited to visit these beautiful cities and can’t wait to hear the inspiring stories from so many new faces. And I want to keep hearing from all of you! What questions do you have? Share in the comments below.👇🏾#IAmBecoming
And MIT celebrated two of its famous female graduates:
Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman w/stacks of hard drives of black hole image data.— MIT CSAIL (@MIT_CSAIL) April 10, 2019
Right: MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton w/the code she wrote that helped put a man on the moon.
(image credit @floragraham)#EHTblackhole #BlackHoleDay #BlackHole pic.twitter.com/Iv5PIc8IYd
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The New Yorker, “Jussie Smollett and the impulse to punish,” by Josie Duffy Rice: “In theory, criminal-justice reform is more popular than ever. A majority of Americans support reducing punishment, especially for nonviolent offenders. Across the political spectrum, voters want law enforcement to focus more resources on the most serious crimes. But there’s no way to reconcile what we claim to believe and what commands our outrage. There are currently two million incarcerated people in this country. Another four and a half million are under some other form of correctional control. Yet, with the Smollett case, it is leniency that gets the attention. There’s a common belief that criminal-justice reform is one of the few bipartisan issues left in politics. But our thirst for punishment is equally politically salient. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Chicago.”
-- Variety, “How lawyers enabled the college admissions scandal,” by Richard Watts: “Why do the affluent see no boundaries to the black letter of the law? Primarily because many lawyers of celebrities and the uber-rich don’t really want to tell their clients they can’t do what they want because that advice can bring certain closure to a lucrative attorney-client relationship. When lawyers, the gatekeepers of crossing the line into illegality, are silent, there is no line. The celebrities, who are accustomed to unlimited access to all things, don’t hesitate to bribe coaches and cheat on SAT exams. It won’t be much of a defense to say, 'My attorney didn’t say I couldn’t!' Perhaps now that these powerful and influential potential felons are more infamous than famous, their lawyers can advise them without equivocation that they are going to jail.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Trump’s ‘truly bizarre’ visit to Mt. Vernon,” from Politico: “During a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump learned that Washington was one of the major real-estate speculators of his era. So, he couldn’t understand why America’s first president didn’t name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself. ‘If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,’ Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. ‘You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.’ The VIPs’ tour guide for the evening, Mount Vernon president and CEO Doug Bradburn, told the president that Washington did, after all, succeed in getting the nation’s capital named after him. Good point, Trump said with a laugh.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Abortion foes mount direct challenges to Roe v. Wade,” from the AP: “Emboldened by the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion lawmakers and activists in numerous states are pushing near-total bans on the procedure in a deliberate frontal attack on Roe v. Wade. Mississippi and Kentucky have passed laws that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — which means as early as six weeks, when many women don’t even know they’re pregnant. Georgia could join them if Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs a measure that has been sent to him, and a bill in Ohio is nearing final passage. Similar bills have been filed in at least seven other states with anti-abortion GOP majorities in their legislatures.”
Trump and the first lady will welcome South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife, Kim Jung-sook, at the White House. The president will also later greet World War II veterans.
Pence will join Trump and Moon before flying to Arizona for a Border Patrol briefing.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump introduced Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, as “the only Bush who likes me.” The president said during an event in Crosby, Tex., “Truly, this is the only Bush who got it right. … He’s going far. He’s going places.” (Colby Itkowitz)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- It will be a bit sunny today, but prepare for potential showers tomorrow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Our fine spring weather keeps going today, with temperatures warming toward 70 degrees again under partly sunny sky conditions. A weather system approaches tomorrow, with associated clouds and showers that linger into tomorrow night. Saturday may feature a battle of clouds and sun, but we’ve got a decent shot of staying dry, with highs near 80. Sunday brings another weather system with showers and thunderstorm chances late day, but at least the warmth continues.”
-- The Nationals beat the Phillies 15-1. (Jesse Dougherty)
-- The go-go music that has played for decades outside a Metro PCS store in Shaw will return following days of protests and an intervention from the CEO of T-Mobile. John Legere said in a tweet that he “looked into this issue myself and the music should NOT stop in D.C.!” The CEO added that T-Mobile and Metro PCS are “proud to be part of the Shaw community — the music will go on and our dealer will work with the neighbors to compromise volume.” Legere’s announcement came minutes before a planned news conference at the store on the corner of Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW. (Marissa J. Lang)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Samantha Bee reviewed this week's DHS purge:
She also dove into Kellyanne Conway's marriage:
Seth Meyers took a closer look into the influence Stephen Miller and Lou Dobbs have on the president's policies:
Rep. Ilhan Omar fired back at her critics, on Stephen Colbert's show: