With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the finance chairman on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, formally rejected on Monday night a congressional request for six years of the president’s tax returns.
Mnuchin claimed that the House Ways and Means Committee “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose” for invoking a 1924 law that explicitly states the Internal Revenue Service “shall furnish” the tax returns of any American at the request of the chairman. The secretary acknowledged recently, while under oath, that Treasury lawyers consulted with the White House Counsel’s Office about the issue, even though the process was intended to be walled off. Mnuchin announced last night that the Justice Department will soon issue a legal opinion to justify his noncompliance.
Trump has told aides that he will take the battle over his tax returns to the Supreme Court. He reportedly believes that the five justices appointed by Republican presidents would protect him from needing to comply with the statute. Another goal might also be to drag out the process so that his taxes don’t see the light of day until after he stands for reelection next November. Either way, last night’s announcement tees up landmark tests of the separation of powers and the integrity of the justice system.
-- Not always could a treasury secretary be counted upon to do the president’s bidding: George Shultz, who led the department under Richard Nixon, established his independence by refusing to order audits of the people on the White House’s “enemies list.”
During a September 1972 meeting in the Executive Office Building, then-White House Counsel John Dean handed IRS Commissioner Johnnie Walters — another Nixon appointee — two lists and said his boss wanted everyone on them audited. Walters resisted and went to Shultz. The secretary skimmed through the lists, which included big donors to Democratic nominee George McGovern, and told Walters to “do nothing.”
The IRS commissioner asked what he should do when White House officials followed up to check on the status of the audits. “Tell him that you report to me. If he has a problem, he’s got a problem with me,” Shultz recalled saying in a 2007 oral history with the Nixon presidential library. Reflecting 35 years later, Shultz said: “It was an improper use of the IRS, and I wouldn’t do it.”
Nixon was irate when he found out. “He didn’t get secretary of treasury because he’s got nice blue eyes,” the president told Dean and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. “It was a [expletive] big favor for him to get that job. … He’s going to start repaying. … We’re not going to have a secretary of the treasury who doesn’t do what we say.”
Walters, who passed away at 94 in 2014, recalled the pressure he faced in “Our Journey,” his 2011 memoir. “There were days when it seemed all I could do was break down in my office and sob. That’s how scary it was,” he wrote. “I felt, and still feel, that had IRS implemented the request it would have ruined our tax system for years to come.”
The commissioner put the lists in a sealed envelope and locked them in a safe. When he stepped down in early 1973, Walters took the envelope and put it in a new, private safe. Later, he’d turn it over to congressional investigators. “At no time did I furnish any name or names from the list to anyone, nor did I request any IRS employee or official take any action with respect to the list,” he wrote in an affidavit to the House Judiciary Committee.
We know a lot about this episode, and Nixon’s role in it, thanks to the White House taping system, detailed contemporaneous notes and the various Watergate investigations. New York University’s Michael Koncewicz, who previously worked for the National Archives at the Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda, Calif., tells the remarkable story in a fantastic book published in October called “They Said No to Nixon: Republicans Who Stood Up to the President’s Abuses of Power.”
The 40-page chapter about Nixon’s efforts to meddle at the IRS is one of four areas Koncewicz explores. He also chronicles how Nixon appointees at the OMB thwarted the president’s crusade against MIT, and he follows Elliot Richardson’s battles with the president’s loyalists as the secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and later as attorney general, culminating in the Saturday Night Massacre.
-- To be sure, what Mnuchin is doing and what Shultz did not do are very different. No one has accused Trump or Mnuchin of directing the IRS to investigate the president’s critics. Indeed, part of Mnuchin’s explanation for not turning over Trump’s tax returns is that he’s trying to protect the president’s “privacy.”
But Koncewicz thinks the Shultz experience is nonetheless instructive in 2019. “While there are some differences, this is yet another example that shows there’s very little space for dissent within the Trump administration,” he told me last night. “While Walters and Shultz were courageous, they were also operating within a very different Republican Party. What Trump has now is what Nixon always wanted from his Cabinet: complete loyalty. Nixon was obsessed with it, especially by 1972. For Nixon, the enemies list story was more proof that his administration was filled with figures who weren’t ‘tough.’ It’s worth noting that both Shultz and Walters were conservative Republicans, but their independent streaks clashed with Nixon’s increasingly authoritarian view of the presidency in 1972.”
-- One reason Koncewicz’s narrative is so compelling is that it’s also a redemption story. John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic affairs adviser, successfully prodded Shultz soon after he became treasury secretary (he had previously been at the Labor Department) to get the IRS to investigate the personal finances of Democratic National Committee Chairman Larry O’Brien. Shultz instructed Walters to have the IRS investigate O’Brien. Auditors found that he’d slightly overpaid his taxes. The White House then pushed to have IRS authorities interview O’Brien. Walters reluctantly went along with this, but the agents still couldn’t uncover any evidence that the Democratic strategist had broken the law. While Shultz tried to accommodate the White House on O’Brien, he drew the line a month later when the White House handed over the enemies list. Dean did not respond to a request for comment.
If you’re into this, you can listen to a 17-minute recording of an Aug. 29, 1972, conversation between Shultz, Ehrlichman and Walters about the O’Brien matter. Tim Naftali got the tape released in 2011 as he spearheaded the Nixon library’s overhaul of its Watergate exhibit so that it would finally reflect what really happened. I wrote a fun piece about this eight years ago when Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee flew to California to check it out.
-- All three of the IRS chiefs Nixon appointed eventually had a falling out with the White House over the president’s desire to use the agency to target opponents.
In the spring of 1971, Nixon said he wanted an IRS commissioner who would “do what he’s told.”
“Every income tax return I want to see, I see,” he said.
Ehrlichman agreed. “We want a lawyer that tells us how to do things, and not that we can’t do things,” he told the president.
After Walters left in the wake of Nixon’s 1972 landslide, Shultz opposed the White House’s first choice for the job because he was such an overt political hack and had a checkered financial past.
“My main concern frankly with the IRS is that we have a man there who totally, for once, does what we want,” Nixon told Shultz during a February 1973 meeting in the Oval Office.
In a meeting with Haldeman and another adviser, Fred Malek, around this time, Nixon stressed that all appointees must be loyal. “There must be absolute loyalty,” he said.
Eventually Nixon put up another candidate, Don Alexander, for IRS commissioner. As soon as he was confirmed, the president told Haldeman during a March 1973 meeting that there should be “a full examination of Congress’s tax returns … now that we have our guy in IRS.” But the cascading Watergate scandals made it difficult to pursue this goal, and the new commissioner shut down the Special Services Staff at the IRS under pressure in a bid to show that the agency wasn’t political.
-- In a 1983 interview, Nixon defended himself. “We are charged with abusing the IRS and abusing other people and using the IRS for that purpose. We talked about it and so forth, but it did not happen,” the former president said.
Koncewicz notes that the only reason it didn’t happen was because Shultz, Walters and others wouldn’t go along. “The agency did not become a political weapon during the Nixon years, but it was in spite of the president’s many attempts,” he said. “Without individuals such as Shultz and Walters, the IRS may have succumbed to becoming an extension of Nixon’s darkest impulses.”
-- Trump is the first president since Nixon to not voluntarily release his tax returns. Special counsel Bob Mueller’s report depicted the president complaining in the Oval Office that Jeff Sessions, his first attorney general, wasn’t loyal to him like Bobby Kennedy was loyal to his brother John F. Kennedy. Similarly, Nixon often complained privately that he had been unfairly targeted by the IRS when JFK was president. “They went after me,” Nixon said on more than one occasion.
-- There is a bit of irony that Mnuchin put out his statement on the same day that Michael Cohen reported for his three-year prison sentence on charges that include tax evasion. Cohen testified to Congress in February that Trump provided exaggerated statements of his assets — called “Statements of Financial Condition” — to potential lenders and insurers. One reason Democrats want to review the president’s tax returns is to see if they corroborate the allegations leveled by the president’s former lawyer.
-- There is also some evidence that Trump has taken special interest in IRS personnel. The president directly requested earlier this year that Mitch McConnell prioritize a confirmation vote for Michael Desmond’s nomination to be the chief counsel of the IRS, indicating to the Senate majority leader that it was an even higher priority for him than a vote on the nomination of Bill Barr to be attorney general, the New York Times reported last month.
“In July, when Mr. Desmond was first being considered by the Senate Finance Committee, Bloomberg News reported that he had briefly advised the Trump Organization on tax issues before Mr. Trump took office,” per Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos. “In private practice, Mr. Desmond worked for a time alongside William Nelson and Sheri Dillon, who currently serve as tax counsels to the Trump Organization.”
Desmond, who McConnell shepherded through in February, reports directly to the IRS commissioner and the Treasury Department’s general counsel. He is responsible for “all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as all other legal matters,” according to the IRS website.
-- The 1924 law being invoked by Democrats passed because of the Teapot Dome scandal, which like Watergate shocked the national conscience. Warren Harding’s secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, was convicted of taking bribes in exchange for granting oil leases. Congress concluded it had a compelling interest in reviewing the tax filings of executive branch officials to check for financial improprieties.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) called for “immediate legal action” last night. “We cannot allow this bad president to set bad precedent,” he said. “If Trump once again faces only Republican silence and Democratic timidity, he will continue to erode our democracy by assuming more and more power.”
-- “With Treasury’s rejection, House Democrats may seek other avenues to obtain the president’s financial records,” Damian Paletta and Jeff Stein report. “New York state’s legislature is currently considering legislation that would allow its tax department to turn Trump’s state returns over to certain Congress bodies. Brad Hoylman, a state senator in New York who authored the legislation, said Mnuchin’s denial will speed up consideration of his bill, which has already passed committee and could be approved by the state senate this May.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) also pledged to battle Mnuchin in court:
We've filed a lawsuit against the Trump Treasury Department & IRS for failing to respond to records requests as required by law.— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) May 6, 2019
The agency eliminated donor disclosure requirements for tax-exempt groups & refuses to comply w/the law to explain the rationale for these changes.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, a former Army lieutenant who served five years in prison for the murder of an Iraqi prisoner in 2008. Reis Thebault reports: “Behenna, who was an Army Ranger in the 101st Airborne Division, was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone and sentenced to 25 years after killing Ali Mansur, a detainee and suspected al-Qaeda member. Behenna, who stripped Mansur naked, interrogated him without authorization and then shot him twice, has claimed repeatedly that he was acting in self-defense. … The former soldier, now 35, fought to overturn his conviction on the grounds that the prosecution had hid evidence that would have benefited his case. The judge denied the effort, but Behenna’s sentence was ultimately reduced to 15 years, and he was released on parole in 2014. Before Trump’s pardon, Behenna faced another five years of parole.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Behenna is “entirely deserving” of Trump’s pardon: “Upon his release, dozens of Patriot Guard motorcycle riders met Mr. Behenna to escort him back to his home in Oklahoma. Mr. Behenna’s case has attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public. … Further, while serving his sentence, Mr. Behenna was a model prisoner.”
This is Trump’s eighth pardon since taking office but his first since last July, when he granted clemency to the father-and-son cattle ranchers whose case helped spark the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
-- Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the two Reuters journalists held in Myanmar for more than 500 days for their coverage of the country’s crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, were freed from prison after receiving a presidential pardon. The detention tainted Myanmar and its civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Shibani Mahtani reports: “The pair have been bestowed with multiple honors and awards for their investigation into a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims, the story they were working on at the time of their arrest. These include the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, journalism’s highest honor, which they won in April. ...
“Both men grew up under Myanmar’s dark days of military rule and worked as reporters during the country’s dramatic transition to a largely civilian-led government. Suu Kyi’s government was widely expected to end the arbitrary detention of government critics, free political prisoners and continue a media renaissance that the country was experiencing at the time. Yet her government has clamped down on free expression and continued to use archaic and widely-criticized laws to imprison those like Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
GET SMART FAST:
A former FBI translator was accused of lying to investigators after prosecutors say his voice mail was recorded on a wiretap of someone suspected of helping another person join the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab. Authorities say Abdirizak Jaji Raghe Wehelie did not tell his superiors about the connection, instead labeling him in an FBI log as an “unidentified male” and changing his voice-mail message so that it no longer included his name. (Rachel Weiner)
Jeremy Brooks, who went to Russia to work as a professional fishing guide, was identified as the only American killed in the Aeroflot crash. Friends said it was the first time that the 22-year-old New Mexico resident had left the United States. (Fredrick Kunkle)
The U.S. Coast Guard shut down a five-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in St. Louis because of flooding, cutting off a major transit hub for Midwestern farmers and other industries. Shippers are preparing for the chance that the Mississippi isn’t fully reopened until June. (Frances Stead Sellers and Annie Gowen)
Tennessee state House Speaker Glen Casada (R) and his top aide, Cade Cothren, sent sexually explicit text messages about women. Cothren, who was also accused of making inappropriate advances toward interns, lobbyists and staffers, has resigned. (The Nashville Tennessean)
A drone dropped fliers with swastikas on them and messages claiming that “the press is the enemy” outside an Ariana Grande concert in Sacramento and on an event at Sacramento State University. The fliers have been linked to Tracy Mapes, a Sacramento man who was arrested and then released in 2017 for a similar incident in which he dropped fliers over two NFL games in California. (BuzzFeed News)
The strangest moment in Kentucky Derby history lasted 21 minutes and 57 seconds as stewards analyzed last weekend’s race while millions of viewers waited to see whether Maximum Security was, after all, the champion of the 2019 race. The stewards ultimately disqualified Maximum Security but did not rush in making their decision. (Chuck Culpepper)
The family of Sandra Bland, the woman who died in jail after being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change in 2015, is demanding answers from the Texas Department of Public Safety after a new video surfaced of her arrest. Bland’s family is alleging that the department purposely withheld the video, which Bland recorded with her cellphone. (Tim Elfrink)
A pregnant, mentally ill woman in a Florida jail was apparently forced to deliver her own baby after being locked in an empty cell without medical assistance. According to a letter from a Broward County public defender, members of the sheriff’s office contacted the on-call doctor after Tammy Jackson started complaining of contractions. But it took about seven hours for the on-call doctor to arrive, forcing Jackson to give birth on her own. (Deanna Paul)
Diana Ross said a TSA search left her feeling “violated.” “I still feel her hands between my legs, front and back,” the singer wrote on Twitter. The agency said that it was investigating the incident but added an initial video review of the search showed that the officers involved “correctly followed all protocols.” (Dana Hedgpeth)
Martin Kilson, Harvard’s first tenured African American professor, died at 88. The political scientist helped launch the field of black studies, but he at times criticized some of the field’s specific programs for what he said were lowered academic standards. (Matt Schudel)
More than 100 CNN workers took voluntary buyouts as WarnerMedia parent company AT&T attempts to reduce what was a $170 billion debt as of the end of 2018. The buyouts come as the network began airing some of its shows from its new studio at Hudson Yards in Manhattan. (Deadline)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs dinner at Martin's Tavern in Georgetown, Monday, May 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Al Drago) pic.twitter.com/WOezTFeQ0E— Al Drago (@Al_Drago) May 7, 2019
THERE’S STILL A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- More than 600 former federal prosecutors signed on to a statement asserting that Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice if he weren’t president. Matt Zapotosky reports: “The statement — signed by myriad former career government employees as well as high-profile political appointees — offers a rebuttal to Attorney General William P. Barr’s determination that the evidence [special counsel Bob] Mueller uncovered was ‘not sufficient’ to establish that Trump committed a crime. … Among the high-profile signers are Bill Weld, a former U.S. attorney and Justice Department official in the Reagan administration who is running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination; Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration; John S. Martin, a former U.S. attorney and federal judge appointed to his posts by Republican presidents; Paul Rosenzweig, who served as senior counsel to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr; and Jeffrey Harris, who worked as the principal assistant to Rudolph W. Giuliani when he was at the Justice Department in the Reagan administration.”
-- The House Judiciary Committee will vote tomorrow on whether to hold Barr in contempt of Congress and is considering a similar move against former White House counsel Don McGahn. Rachael Bade, Carol Leonnig and Felicia Sonmez report: McGahn “faces a Tuesday deadline to turn over 36 types of documents subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee, most relating to [Mueller’s probe]. ... But White House officials have signaled that they may claim executive privilege and try to bar McGahn from complying, raising the possibility of a contempt citation for McGahn should he go along with that plan. A House Democratic official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said talks between McGahn and the Judiciary panel are ongoing, and investigators remain hopeful that he will comply. The committee also is seeking his testimony. But if he doesn’t cooperate, contempt is one option, the individual said: ‘Democrats will consider all options if necessary.’”
-- Trump caught his closest advisers by surprise when he announced that Mueller should not testify before Congress. They then scrambled to downplay the president’s tweet. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn, Daniel Lippman and Eliana Johnson report: “Like so many other controversies ignited by Trump’s social media feed, this one may be more bluster than a live-wire legal showdown. ... One White House aide argued that Trump had done nothing more than express a personal view.”
-- Mueller was expected to leave the Justice Department after concluding his investigation, but he’s still on board. This gives Barr more power. The AP’s Michael Balsamo and Jonathan Lemire report: “While Mueller is a Justice Department employee, the department would generally handle requests for him to appear before Congress, and the Justice Department could delay or block Mueller from voluntarily appearing. Congress could issue a subpoena to compel him to appear before the committee. It isn’t clear what grounds the Justice Department would use to justify an attempt to block Mueller’s testimony. As a private citizen, Mueller could decide whether to accept an invitation to appear or, if he declines, whether to attempt to resist any effort to subpoena him.”
-- Trump incited anxiety on the left by suggesting he should have two years added to his term for the time “stolen” by Mueller’s probe, while the president’s allies dismissed the idea as a joke. Ashley Parker reports: “Trump’s suggestion came as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also raised concerns about the president potentially refusing to accept the legitimacy of a Democratic victory in the 2020 presidential election — saying it was important that Democrats win ‘big’ to protect the country from such an outcome. … The remarks underscore real anxiety within factions of the country that Trump — who repeatedly complained about a ‘rigged’ election in 2016 — may decide to contest the legitimacy of the election in 2020 if he is defeated or otherwise argue for an extended time in office. … White House aides and other friends say they have not heard Trump privately discuss the possibility of an extended term — often an early warning sign he is seriously entertaining a controversial action.”
-- Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to the first lady and a leading contractor for Trump’s inaugural committee, publicly disputed the White House account of her departure, saying she wasn’t dismissed. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Ben Protess report: “Ms. Winston Wolkoff specifically took issue with suggestions by White House officials that she had been forced out because of reports that she had profited excessively from her role in helping organize inaugural events. She gave her account of what happened in a statement to The New York Times more than a year after she parted ways with the White House, where she had served as an unpaid adviser to Mrs. Trump after the inauguration. ‘Was I fired? No,’ Ms. Winston Wolkoff said in the statement. ‘Did I personally receive $26 million or $1.6 million? No. Was I thrown under the bus? Yes.’”
-- The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed attacking Michael Cohen by an executive vice president at the Trump Organization. George Sorial writes: “He was hired muscle; a bluffing, boasting New Yorker who could shock people into action. He did chase licensing deals and outlandish opportunities, but he never delivered. Trump Moscow was a fantasy that no one in the office took seriously. Michael’s judgment wasn’t good enough to be given real control. … Remember, Michael, you’re going to prison because you lied to Congress, didn’t pay your taxes, and defrauded financial institutions in your personal accounts. There’s no one to blame for that but yourself.”
THE RISING CHINA THREAT:
-- U.S. officials accused China of reneging on commitments it had agreed to during trade talks and promised to double tariffs the administration has placed on Chinese imports. David J. Lynch and Robert Costa report: “Despite the tough talk, Robert E. Lighthizer, the president’s chief trade negotiator, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration expects to host Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and a Chinese team for further talks in Washington on Thursday evening and Friday … The administration officials declined to specify where the Chinese sought to amend the proposed accord. … Lighthizer and Mnuchin, who briefed reporters at the trade representative’s office, brushed aside worries about the impact on the economy or financial markets if the talks collapse. Mnuchin said stock market concerns are playing no role in the administration’s strategy.”
-- Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods has deepened rifts within the GOP over trade. Seung Min Kim and Erica Werner report: “Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who met with Trump last week on the issue, said Monday evening he was worried about the potential impact of Trump’s latest threat against China and that other Republicans were trying to make their case to the White House. … In a private White House meeting late last week, a half-dozen Republican senators on the powerful Finance Committee had assembled to argue against Trump’s tariffs, both on foreign steel and aluminum and the threatened levies on autos. Trump tapped Peter Navarro, a White House trade adviser who carries little influence among Senate Republicans, to make a presentation to the senators on how tariffs were actually helping. ... Asked how successful the Thursday meeting in the Roosevelt Room was, Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) responded Monday: ‘Not very successful. ... He says, ‘I like tariffs.' I say, ‘I don’t like tariffs.’”
-- Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, said it’s futile to compromise with China. He writes in an op-ed for today's paper: “Getting tough with China to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States was the linchpin of President Trump’s electoral march through the Rust Belt during his 2016 victory. Today, the goal of the radical cadre running China — the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — is to be the global hegemonic power. The president’s threatened tariffs on Sunday demonstrate the severity of this threat. But as Washington and Beijing wrap up months of negotiations on a trade deal this month, whatever emerges won’t be a trade deal. It will be a temporary truce in a years-long economic and strategic war with China.”
-- Chinese spies acquired the National Security Agency’s hacking tools and used them in 2016 to attack U.S. allies and private companies in Europe and Asia. The Times’s Nicole Perlroth, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane report: “Based on the timing of the attacks and clues in the computer code, researchers with the firm Symantec believe the Chinese did not steal the code but captured it from an N.S.A. attack on their own computers. … The Chinese hacking group that co-opted the N.S.A.’s tools is considered by the agency’s analysts to be among the most dangerous Chinese contractors it tracks, according to a classified agency memo.”
-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of the dangers of Chinese investment in the Arctic. Carol Morello reports: “Speaking in Finland at the opening session of the Arctic Council, a body of eight nations with territory in the region, Pompeo said the members should no longer limit their focus to scientific collaboration, cultural matters and ‘environmental research into events that may or may not occur in 100 years,’ an oblique reference to climate change. … Pompeo acknowledged that Russia, with its vast Arctic territory, has legitimate interests in the region. But he warned that the nation’s territorial ambitions could turn the Arctic into another Ukraine, a former Soviet state where a civil war is raging as a result of Russia-backed separatists. … Pompeo was dismissive toward China, which has invested about $90 billion in the Arctic since 2012. … Although China claims to be a ‘near-Arctic state’ and has observer status in the Arctic Council, Pompeo said that entitles it to ‘exactly nothing.’”
-- The money quote from Pompeo's speech: “The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore. … Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade.”
--This morning, the council released a ministerial statement, something short of the joint declaration it had aimed for, that was signed by Pompeo and that didn't mention climate change.
THE MIDDLE EAST:
-- Experts who track the weapons arsenals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad say they have stockpiled between 5,000 and 20,000 rockets despite strict Israeli border controls on the Gaza Strip. Loveday Morris and Adam Taylor report: “Over the weekend, the militant groups fired a tiny fraction of them toward Israel — nearly 700 rockets and mortars, according to the Israeli military — and the unusually ferocious barrage at times overwhelmed Israeli air defenses. The key to the weapons’ effectiveness is not their sophistication in terms of range or precision but just the opposite. Many of the rockets are so cheap and easy to manufacture, in some cases requiring little more than metal casing and an explosive, that the groups have been able to accumulate them in significant numbers.”
-- The Israel Defense Forces bombed Hamas’s hacking headquarters in response to a cyberattack they said was launched by operatives working on behalf of the militant group. From Foreign Policy’s Elias Groll: “The strike appears to be the first time that a nation’s military has responded in real time to a cyberattack with physical force. … In a press statement, the IDF said Hamas ‘attempted to establish offensive cyber capabilities within the Gaza Strip and to try and harm the Israeli cyber realm.’ These ‘efforts were discovered in advance and thwarted,’ and following the operation to thwart the cyberattack, ‘the IDF attacked a building from which the members of Hamas’ cyber array operated.’”
-- Turkey’s election board invalidated the results of Istanbul’s mayoral race after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party lost. The city will now have a new election next month. Kareem Fahim reports: “The election board ruled Monday that some polling officials overseeing that race were not civil servants, in violation of the law, according to Turkey’s state-run news agency.”
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- A group of Republican senators will meet today with White House officials to get briefed on Trump's soon-to-be-released immigration plan. The group, which will include Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.), will get more details on the plan that Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has spent months crafting. (Politico)
-- ICE is providing local police officers ways to work around their jurisdiction’s “sanctuary” policies and act as immigration officers. Abigail Hauslohner reports: “The new Warrant Service Officer program, introduced Monday in Pinellas County on Florida’s Gulf Coast, will allow participating sheriffs and police departments ‘the flexibility to make immigration arrests,’ according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The move would allow local authorities to detain criminal suspects beyond the point at which they would have been otherwise released if ICE has requested their detention, essentially giving ICE an extra 48 hours to take them into federal custody.”
-- Students in Arizona walked out of school and marched to their sheriff’s office to protest the detention of a classmate who was held for possible deportation days before he was set to graduate from high school. The high school football player, Thomas Torres, was in custody for possible deportation to his native Mexico after he was pulled over for a traffic stop. He has lived in the U.S. since he was a toddler. (CBS News)
-- Eight former top House lawyers are backing a congressional lawsuit seeking to block Trump from spending billions of dollars of federal funds on a border wall without congressional authorization. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports: “Attorneys who served a bipartisan set of speakers over the past four decades filed a brief Monday urging U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden to rule that the House has standing to pursue the border wall suit and that the dispute is a proper one for the courts despite the reluctance of many judges to weigh in on fights between Congress and the president.”
-- Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, argues that Trump's foreign policy is driven primarily by domestic political considerations, especially around immigration. “Nowhere is this pattern more consistently apparent than in the administration’s dealings with Latin America,” Rice writes in the Times. “If the president were truly serious about helping Venezuelans, he would grant the many thousands now in the United States temporary protected status, allowing them to remain here safely until conditions improve in Venezuela. But extending such status would anger another, much wider swath of Mr. Trump’s base: anti-immigrant voters in every state who applaud Mr. Trump’s efforts to rid the country of brown and black people.”
THE REST OF THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:
-- FEMA’s delayed decision-making over rebuilding the only hospital in Vieques, Puerto Rico, has forced some island residents to wait days to access medical care. Jeff Stein and Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo report: “Sylvia Velez woke up at 4 a.m. one day in February to catch the ferry from this isolated island community to a hospital on the main island of Puerto Rico. But when she arrived at the dock, Velez, 64, discovered the boat was already filled. There wasn’t space for her on the next ferry, either, or the one after that. The cancer patient waited 32 straight hours — sleeping in her car, snacking on chips and soda from the vending machine, going to the bathroom off the side of the road — before securing a spot on the ferry that took her across the water and then to her doctor in San Juan.”
-- Trump said he will consider allowing student athletes at U.S. military academies to delay their required military service if they play professional sports. Paul Sonne reports: “If Trump follows through on his promise, it would reverse a 2017 decision by then-defense secretary Jim Mattis to end a short-lived policy that allowed service academy athletes in some cases to enter the reserves following graduation so they could play pro sports. Former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, for example, was drafted into the NFL in 2016 after he graduated and entered the reserves. [Jim] Mattis put an end to the practice, saying in an April 2017 memo that the academies ‘exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and lethality of our Military Services.’”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:
-- The president awarded the Medal of Freedom to his golfing and business partner Tiger Woods, calling him “one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports.” Des Bieler, Toluse Olorunnipa and Cindy Boren report: “In a rare evening event in the Rose Garden at the White House, Trump recounted Woods’s golfing career for more than 15 minutes to a crowd that included Cabinet secretaries, senators and top White House staff. Reading from a teleprompter, Trump recognized Woods’s family members and then mentioned his caddie, asking him to stand up for recognition. … ‘Tiger is a successful entrepreneur, to put it mildly,’ Trump said. ... ‘Your spectacular achievements on the golf course, your triumph over physical adversity and your relentless will to win, win, win — these qualities embody the American spirit of pushing boundaries, defying limits and always striving for greatness,’ Trump said.”
-- Vice President Pence has become a messenger and explainer for Trump’s policy proposals, which have frequently fallen victim to haphazard rollouts. The Times’s Maggie Haberman reports: “Privately, several Republican donors have made it clear to administration allies that they want to hear more about policy from a White House where the dominant story line has been Mr. Trump’s unconventional approach to the presidency. Ideally, they would like for Mr. Trump to be that messenger: They note that Mr. Pence may be an explainer, but he is not a decision maker in the White House on policy. Still, the role Mr. Pence plays has been a comfort to Republicans, particularly those for whom policy is a vital aspect of conservatism.”
-- RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel — who has taken steps to distance herself from her uncle, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — represents how completely the GOP has become the party of Trump. The LA Times’s Noah Bierman profiles her: “While McDaniel has traveled to 32 states, shattered Republican fundraising records and avoided much of the internal strife that plagued her predecessors, she has been forced to disavow her uncle’s opinions — and her maiden name — to show her loyalty to a president who demands it. McDaniel insists that for her and her uncle, it’s nothing personal. … Although Trump delights in ridiculing Romney, McDaniel said the president comforted her after she chastised her uncle’s comments about Trump as ‘disappointing and unproductive.’ … This is what it’s like to be a Romney at the top of Trump’s Republican Party, twisting between the remnants of the party establishment and the president who tore it down.”
-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended her vision of school choice and criticized teachers unions at the national conference of the Education Writers Association. Laura Meckler reports: “She said recent teacher strikes have hurt children and disagreements should be handled outside the classroom. And she ramped up her ongoing battle with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. ‘Great teachers perhaps should be making at least half as much as what Randi Weingarten does at a half-million dollars a year,’ she said. … It was the first time DeVos had appeared before the education writers group. Her willingness to show up was seen as notable, given that she has endured negative coverage since being nominated as education secretary.”
-- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to announce a presidential run in the coming days with a skeletal crew and aides that don’t seem to be up for the challenge. The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reports: “‘Ugh,’ said one former aide when asked about de Blasio actually going forward with his rumored 2020 campaign. ‘Lunacy,’ said another. Others declined to comment for this story. … De Blasio’s communications director, Mike Casca, who two months ago joined the payroll of his PAC, quit on Friday afternoon, shortly after attempting to bat down the latest round of stories that the mayor was soon joining the crowded Democratic-primary field. His government press secretary walked last month, in part to avoid being pulled into forthcoming 2020 efforts. His 2013 campaign manager, Bill Hyers, didn’t respond when I asked him what he made of the mayor’s White House ambitions, though he’s been talking with Pete Buttigieg about getting involved with his campaign.”
-- As the debate rages over who is the “most electable” Democrat in the 2020 field, candidates are bending the definition of “electable” to fit them. Chelsea Janes reports: “Sen. Kamala D. Harris took aim at those who contend the most electable Democratic nominee will be one who connects with the white working-class voters credited with his victory. ‘There has been a conversation about electability and who can speak to the Midwest,’ Harris said … ‘It leaves out people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit. It leaves out working women who are on their feet all day — many of them working without equal pay … Our party is not white or black, Hispanic or Asian, immigrant or indigenous. It is all of us.’ The senator from California is not the only candidate trying to redefine ‘electability’ for her own purposes … Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently cast the electability question in terms of gender. … Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has made that argument from an ideological lens.”
-- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a Rhodes scholar who, while at Oxford, kept a collection of exotic whiskeys, played Settlers of Catan and liked to stop at every bookstore possible. A classmate claims he taught himself how to speak Norwegian from a book he and his roommates kept in the bathroom. The New Yorker’s Charles Bethea writes: “Before heading to England, in 2005, Buttigieg joined the thirty-odd American Rhodes Scholars in Washington, D.C., at an orientation called Sailing Weekend, which involved no sailing. The twenty-three-year-old Harvard grad introduced himself as Peter and carried a small notebook in his pocket. So had Bill Clinton—the only Rhodes Scholar to have become President—who is said to have taken notes about everyone he met. (Bobby Jindal and Cory Booker, who is also running for President, were Rhodes Scholars, too.) Buttigieg immediately stood out among the standouts.”
-- Buttigieg is having trouble reaching black voters, so he has launched an outreach tour that unofficially kicked off last week with a meeting with civil rights leader Al Sharpton. At a later event, the mayor outlined his plan for black America, with an agenda focused on homeownership, health care, entrepreneurship, criminal justice reform and education. (Politico)
-- The Massachusetts Republican Party approved a proposal to move toward a winner-takes-all delegate plan for 2020 in an effort to ensure the state’s former governor Bill Weld cannot take any delegates from the president. (Politico)
-- Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) attracted a primary challenger for his reelection bid next year. Felicia Sonmez reports: “Garland S. Tucker III, chief executive of a Raleigh investment company, filed paperwork Monday with the Federal Election Commission to run against Tillis … Tucker is an ‘old-fashioned conservative’ on issues such as federal spending and national defense, said his campaign adviser Carter Wrenn. ‘And he looks at where Tillis stands on those issues, and he disagrees with him,’ Wrenn said. Tillis’s campaign fired back with a statement suggesting that Tucker is an ‘anti-Trump activist.’”
-- Former GOP congressman David Young said he would run to reclaim his Iowa seat, which he lost to Democrat Cindy Axne last year. Axne edged out Young by about 2 points — roughly 5,000 votes — in 2018, and the former Republican lawmaker argued that the congresswoman’s voting record would give him an opening to retake the seat. But GOP state Sen. Zach Nunn is also considering a bid, which could force Young into a bruising primary battle before facing off against Axne. (Des Moines Register)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
A Republican senator criticized the Trump administration's plan to approve more visas for seasonal workers:
I’m disappointed at the decision to import tens of thousands more low-skilled workers to take jobs that American workers want to do. This is bad news for hard-working Americans and more than 50k unemployed Arkansans. https://t.co/Y61mw3CKfS— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) May 6, 2019
The House Intelligence Committee chairman tweeted his support of a letter from former prosecutors arguing for obstruction charges against Trump:
Mueller decided it wasn’t fair to say if Trump would've been indicted for obstruction if not for DOJ policy prohibiting it.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 6, 2019
Speaking as a former prosecutor, the case is clear: there's more than enough evidence for charges.
Hundreds of prosecutors agree.https://t.co/nlQD4hgCfY
A Post reporter reacted to an op-ed from a Trump Organization senior executive about Michael Cohen:
It's good that Trump Org. is acknowledging it kept a guy on the payroll whose job was to "muscle" and "shock" people. (Threatening journalists was among his responsibilities.) But does the company intend for this op-ed to be exculpatory in some way? https://t.co/OMHYT4xWyr— Shane Harris (@shaneharris) May 6, 2019
A New York Times reporter highlighted Trump's climbing approval rating:
Trump’s approval rating hits 46 percent in Gallup, the first time it has climbed above 45 percent since he became president. https://t.co/KlH1cxBS1k— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) May 6, 2019
The president of the American Federation of Teachers thanked Kamala Harris for visiting a Michigan public school:
A presidential historian looked back on this moment from the 1968 campaign:
RFK’s tooth was chipped by supporter in South Bend before Indiana primary, this week 1968: pic.twitter.com/9hDAbUS1Vy— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) May 5, 2019
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter noted a new honor for one of Georgia's former senators:
The Navy is naming a new guided-missile destroyer after ex-Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, who once chaired the Armed Services Committee. The 509-ft. ship will be constructed in Mississippi. H/t @jamiedupree Illustration courtesy of the Navy: #gapol pic.twitter.com/mCz00RbulW— Tamar Hallerman (@ajconwashington) May 6, 2019
Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, had a baby:
Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex was safely delivered of a son at 0526hrs.— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) May 6, 2019
The baby weighs 7lbs 3oz and The Duke of Sussex was present for the birth.
Read the full announcement here: https://t.co/RCUFjQG8pe
Because Meghan is still waiting for her British citizenship to be approved, the baby is half-American and may choose to hold dual citizenship. (William Booth and Karla Adam)
Former first lady Michelle Obama congratulated the royal couple for the birth of their baby boy:
-- “Alexa has been eavesdropping on you this whole time,” by tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler: “Many smart-speaker owners don’t realize it, but Amazon keeps a copy of everything Alexa records after it hears its name. … I listened to four years of my Alexa archive and found thousands of fragments of my life: spaghetti-timer requests, joking houseguests and random snippets of ‘Downton Abbey.’ There were even sensitive conversations that somehow triggered Alexa’s ‘wake word’ to start recording, including my family discussing medication and a friend conducting a business deal.”
-- The Atlantic, “Fact-Checking the President in Real Time,” by Jonathan Rauch: “Inventing and disseminating falsehoods is quick and cheap and fun, whereas identifying and debunking falsehoods is slow and expensive and boring. There is no way to fact-check all the bogus claims that circulate online. It turns out, though, that not all misinformation is created equal. … Where, then, might you start if you wanted to nip a lot of disinformation in the bud? Perhaps with a prominent politician who makes false or misleading claims at a rate of 17 or so a day. Perhaps with a politician who repeats those falsehoods over and over (for instance, saying 134 times, as of early April, that his tax cut was the biggest ever, according to a count by The Washington Post). Perhaps with Donald J. Trump.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“NRA president says pro-gun-control congresswoman won only because she’s a ‘minority female,’” from Reis Thebault: “A week after she was elected president of the National Rifle Association, after a bitter and public power struggle over the organization’s leadership, Carolyn Meadows apologized for saying one of the leading proponents for gun control in Congress only won her election because she’s a ‘minority female.’ … Meadows apologized to Rep. Lucia ‘Lucy’ McBath (D-Ga.) for her comments, which, she said, were ‘insensitive and inappropriate.’ Meadows drew sharp criticism after she told her hometown newspaper that McBath’s stance on gun reform was not the reason for her improbable electoral victory in 2018. ‘That didn’t have anything to do with it,’ Meadows said in an interview with the Marietta Daily Journal. ‘It had to do with being a minority female.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Democrats lose their enthusiasm advantage in latest NBC News/WSJ poll,” from NBC News: “Democrats had two advantages that fueled their midterm victories in November 2018 — an edge in enthusiasm and success with independent voters. Six months later, just one of those advantages remains. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 75 percent of Republican registered voters say they have high interest in the 2020 presidential election — registering a ‘9’ or ‘10’ on a 10-point scale — versus 73 percent of Democratic voters who say the same thing. That’s quite a change from the 2018 cycle, when Democrats held a double-digit lead on this question until the last two months before the election, when the GOP closed the gap but still trailed the Dems in enthusiasm.”
Trump will attend the first lady’s Be Best anniversary celebration and have lunch with Pence before meeting with Republican senators.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“I don’t enjoy the publicity that comes with my position. I don’t love being up on stage or on any kind of platform. I’m an introvert. … As much as many in the media use my name as clickbait or try to make it all about me, it’s not.” — Betsy DeVos. (Politico)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- It’s warm and summery today, but prepare for a few showers tomorrow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “High pressure offers one last day of excellent spring-to-summer weather before our winds shift tomorrow, returning us to the dreary side with clouds, cooler conditions and some chances of rain. Ahead of a cold front, we have a chance to break through briefly into the 80s again on Friday but showers and storms threaten. The weekend is mixed with a salvageable Saturday potentially, but perhaps another soaking wet Sunday.”
-- The Nationals fell 5-3 to the Brewers, losing two more players to injury on the way. Sam Fortier reports: “In the first inning, Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin plunked Yan Gomes, and the Nationals’ platoon catcher later left the game with a left forearm contusion. In the fourth, reserve left fielder Andrew Stevenson dived headfirst into first base on a foul ball and later left the game with back spasms. At that point, the Nationals had seen nearly three times as many players leave a game with an injury and/or hit the injured list (eight) as they had wins (three) since April 26.”
-- A man who fled to Ethiopia after the 2016 murder of a young couple in Northern Virginia has been arrested and charged in their deaths. Dana Hedgpeth reports: “Fairfax County police allege that Yohannes Nessibu left the Washington region after killing Henok Yohannes and Kedest Simeneh, both 22 and from Fairfax, on Dec. 22, 2016. Authorities have long said they were confident that Nessibu committed the slayings. A Fairfax County grand jury indicted him in March 2017 on murder and weapons charges in the killings, but the case had been stalled because Ethiopia bars the extradition of its citizens. On Monday, officials said Nessibu, 24, was brought back to the United States and transported to Fairfax police headquarters. Police said he had been taken into custody by Ethiopian authorities in February and was detained before a 14-hour flight Friday to Dulles International Airport.”
-- A new study laid out recommendations for the region’s bus network to reverse ridership declines. Luz Lazo reports: “Among key actions recommended in the report: making boarding easier through mobile or off-board payment systems; enhancing affordable options with free transfers between bus and rail and reduced fare passes for low-income riders; and improving the rider experience with efficient next-bus technology, modern fleets, clear system maps, and safe and accessible bus stops. To reverse problems with bus delays and bunching, the region as a whole must give priority to buses on the road network, the report says; that could include building bus lanes and implementing a signal priority system that gives buses the right of way.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert started the night with a happy story “that doesn't really mean anything” by talking about the birth of Meghan and Harry's baby, before turning to a monologue about America's “own royal baby, Donald Trump”:
Pete Buttigieg told Trevor Noah he doesn't think it’s radical to eliminate the electoral college:
Attendees of a rally for presidential candidate Andrew Yang engaged in an unusual chant after he promised to become the first president to use PowerPoint in the State of the Union:
Another 2020 candidate shared a book he wrote for his grandchildren with another group of kids:
Each year, I write a book for my grandkids. I’m sharing “Elvis and the Elves” with some of my tiniest constituents. https://t.co/R2s0LUqqC7— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) May 5, 2019
Prince Harry was all smiles announcing the birth of his baby son:
And “Game of Thrones” got some negative attention for this slip-up: