Welcome to the 28th day of the government shutdown. It's Friday and Monday is a holiday, so it looks like we're inevitably headed to 32 days of shutdown madness. We're off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day so we'll see you on Tuesday. Keep writing with your shutdown tips and stories. Thanks, Power people.
BREAKING LATE LAST NIGHT: BuzzFeed's Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier dropped a blockbuster story reporting that President Trump directed longtime attorney Michael Cohen “to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.” They also report that Trump supported a plan devised by Cohen to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign to discuss a potential Trump Tower in Moscow.
Key nugget: BuzzFeed reports that special counsel Robert Mueller's s office learned of Trump's directive through “internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents” and interviews with multiple witnesses. “Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.”
Remember: During William Barr's confirmation hearing earlier this week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) quizzed Trump's attorney general nominee about just such a circumstance. Barr's answers do not bode well for the president.
- Klobuchar: “The president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right? Barr: Well, yes. Well, any person who persuades another to -- yeah.”
- Klobuchar: “You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right? Barr: Yes.”
The “I” word: Democratic lawmakers responded immediately, with some calling for Trump's impeachment if the story is true. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both faced articles of impeachment over obstruction of justice. Key Republicans were silent, at least for now.
Must-see TV: Cohen is slated to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7.
From the chair of the House Intelligence Committee:
The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date. We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true. https://t.co/GljBAFqOjh— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 18, 2019
The White House has yet to release a statement, but Lanny Davis, Cohen's attorney, had this to say to MSNBC's Katy Tur:
Lanny Davis issues what I read as a non denial denial on the Buzzfeed story:— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) January 18, 2019
“Out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation, Mr. Cohen declined to respond to the questions asked by the reporters and so do I.”
Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani said this:
Just in, Rudy Giuliani’s response to Buzzfeed story: “If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) January 18, 2019
On The Hill
“SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT A PRESS RELEASE,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) reportedly told a room jampacked yesterday with fellow Democratic lawmakers and staffers, all eager to learn from the first-term congresswoman and social media savant. “It’s not a press conference,” she continued. Indeed. And lawmakers shouldn't be so polished either, Ocasio-Cortez said. (Finally, the robots seem to be getting the message.)
If the young, progressive lawmaker has anything in common with President Trump, it’s that their fans perceive them as authentic mainly because of their social media savvy — a fact that has also made them the envy of their colleagues. But after an embarrassing article by Politico's Rachael Bade and Heather Caygle painting AOC's colleagues as threatened by her star power, ambition and disregard for the Hill's “wait your turn” mentality, Democratic lawmakers decided to take a page from @AOC themselves.
- “You can’t really fake authenticity,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who led the social media boot camp with Ocasio-Cortez, told Power Up. “I think Trump’s actually pretty authentic in his tweets — a good part of his following is based on his authenticity … but it’s like any other tool: it can be used for good and for evil.”
The rise in power of the political image maker has mostly meant fastidious, straight-laced messaging and buttoned-up, image-conscious public officials. (In other words, it left Washington boring.) But Trump and Ocasio-Cortez are showcasing that authenticity is a powerful political tool, and can be effectively weaponized against their opponents.
It's still TBD as to how effective legislating by tweet can be, as Trump has demonstrated. But the direct-to-voter method can drive support and attention to even the most mundane policy debates. (See AOC's Twitter spat with Scott Walker).
- “The big message of the day: you really ought to get your member to do their own tweeting,” Himes said, even though, he added, he could tell it made the comms people in the room anxiously squirm.
Ocasio-Cortez has been in Congress for less than a month but has quickly become one of the country’s most-followed politicians, with nearly 2.5 million followers on Twitter and 1.8 million on Instagram — and, believe us, lawmakers are counting, too.
- “We’re both pretty aggressive on Twitter and have a lot of followers — though Alexandria is in a league of her own,” conceded Himes, whose Twitter has a still-respectable 79,000 followers.
- Americans are hungry for some realness from their elected officials, said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who helped organize the session. “We’re just people like everyone else; we have our strengths and weaknesses,” Lieu told us. They make instant pot mac ‘n’ cheese and crack a beer after work, just like the rest of us.
For Trump, it’s the idea that he’s a straight-talker. During the 2016 campaign, a New York Times/CBS poll found that 76 percent of GOP voters thought Trump “says what he believes” rather than “what people want to hear.” That’s the sort of credibility that congressional Democrats are after.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich), who also helped organize the Twitter tutorial, told Power Up that lawmakers are *finally* realizing social media can be one of their most effective tools for communicating with the public. And Dingell should know as well as anyone — she’s married to a pretty prolific tweeter, former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), whose account got a special shout-out from AOC.
- Dingell said her husband has a practiced routine: First thing every morning, grab a pen and pad, and write out drafts of his tweets long-hand, before passing the paper to his wife for edits. Sometimes she’ll tell him to walk back some of his more risque comments, but, she said, she can’t catch them all. “His funniest are when I’m not there,” she said (this, perhaps, being Exhibit A).
AOC's unfiltered process can be a communications director's worst nightmare:
- “Think about how many times you've deleted an Instagram story or a tweet and no one cares,” Matt Gorman, the former communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee told us. “Now imagine you have tens of thousands (if not more) following you and ready to screenshot. You're constantly walking that line between authenticity and recklessness. Look at how [ex-Rep. Beto O'Rourke] has gone from hip Gen-Xer into a poor man's Jack Kerouac. Take that new Twitter account that's making an absolute mockery of his latest Medium post. (@BetosBlog) All because he believed he could do no wrong on social media.”
- Gorman's referring to O'Rourke's “Medium” post where, reflecting on his current unemployment status, he blogged from the road that he's “been stuck lately. In and out of a funk.” CNN's Nia Malika Henderson responded that Beto's white male privilege is showing and Stacey Abrams could never get away with his “TMI'ing” and “what I want to do with my life aimlessness.”
See below for a more successful case study using social media well.
(Trying to decide whether or not to retweet the Cardi B video)— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 17, 2019
At the White House
THE SHUTDOWN SHOW continued with another stunt as President Trump grounded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after the Democrat suggested the president postpone the “State of the Union” address, The Post’s Erica Werner and John Wagner report.
- “Hours before Pelosi and top Democrats were set to depart for a visit to military leaders in Brussels and to troops in Afghanistan, Trump released a letter canceling what he termed a 'public relations event.'
- “I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown,” Trump wrote in the letter. “We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over.”
- The stunt sparked an bigger argument about the use of military aircraft, especially as Trump’s authority to cancel Pelosi’s trip was questionable and went unexplained, resulting in the president canceling the U.S. delegation’s visit to the economic conference in Davos shortly thereafter.
- Bottom line: Everyone continues to argue while no progress was made on reopening the government.
Backpay: Amid the squabbling, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) introduced a bill with Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) guaranteeing back pay for federal contractors, a concern for many Power Up readers who have written us. If these contractors don’t get paid, “the government has in effect made a profit on the shutdown,” King argues, “since this would have been money that would have been paid.” King also discussed the frustrating nature of the historic impasse with Power Up. The way he sees things:
- No way out: There is no way out of the shutdown until “the president engages seriously.” Any work Congress does in the meantime is simply “academic,” King told us last night. “We don’t have any control over this process.”
- What even does Trump mean by the wall? “I don’t know where it is, I don’t know how much it’s going to cost. I don’t know how he’s going to get the land. In other words, there is no plan,” King lamented. “If someone came to Trump and said, 'I want to build an apartment building,' the first question he’d have is where is it going to be and how many apartments will it have… he would never invest in a project of this level” with so few details.
- 'Disturbing': King thinks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is playing with fire by refusing to bring up bills to reopen the government. “If the party won’t even bring something up for a vote, that’s an expansion of presidential power that is disturbing to me and if the president is successful, it will become a regular tactic on a all future issues.”
Related: With lawmakers discussing possible border funds in exchange for a deal to protect young undocumented immigrants, the Koch's LIBRE Initiative is releasing a letter today urging Congress and the White House not to entertain a short-term “dreamer” fix but rather permanent legal status for them. See here for the full letter.
In the Agencies
EVEN MORE SEPARATED CHILDREN: Thousands more migrant children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border by the Trump administration than previously acknowledged, according to a report issued by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, The Post's Amy Goldstein reports.
- Per Politico's Dan Diamond: “More children over a longer period of time” were separated at the border than commonly known . . . How many more children were separated is unknown, by us and HHS” because of failures to track families as they were being separated[.]”
The key quote: “The inspector general report said some family separations continued, even after [Trump] in June 2018 ended the policy amid uproar and a federal court ordered his administration to reunify the families n . . . HHS received at least 118 separated children between July and early November, according to the report. Federal investigators said they had no details about how many of the 'thousands of separated children' who entered the care of HHS before the June 2018 court order had been reunited," Diamond reports.
- “First DHS said I made up family separation, that sources were lying to me and giving fake documents. Then they said it lasted only 45 days under 'zero tolerance.' Today, HHS confirmed publicly what our reporting has always shown: None of that pushback was true," Caitlin Dickerson, The New York Times's immigration reporter, tweeted.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to "accept and responsibility" and "resign," tweeting it was "inconceivable that our government chose to secretly separate thousands of children from their parents, was unable or unwilling to reunite these families for months due to incompetent leadership and poor planning, and still doesn’t know how many children were separated.”
THE SENATE STRIKES BACK: Remember the New York Times report from a few days ago detailing that Trump repeatedly suggested his desire to withdraw from NATO? Well, eight senators introduced a bipartisan bill yesterday to prevent any presidents from doing so without the "advice and consent” of the Senate. See here for the bill and read Foreign Policy's Robbie Gramer on the current lack of guardrails to prevent Trump from unanilaterally acting to withdraw from the Western alliance.
Also lost in yesterday's news: "When the Somali extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for this week’s 19-hour siege of a Nairobi complex that left at least 21 dead, it said the attack was 'a response to the witless remarks of U.S. president, Donald Trump, and his declaration of al-Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of Israel,'" The Post's Max Bearak reports.
Outside the Beltway
THE GREAT DEBATE: Yes, this is a newsletter primarily focused on Washington. But it's the weekend and D.C. pizza options are limited, to put it diplomatically. This New York Times feature on the slice joint has come to our rescue. "There is no culinary experience that New Yorkers share more widely and more unanimously than the slice joint. Like catching a sunset over the skyline or stepping in an icy curbside puddle, the slice joint has, since its beginnings more than 50 years ago, become common currency," wrote Korsha Wilson. More from the story — but don't read on an empty stomach.
- "The origin story of New York pizza starts with large waves of Italian immigrants settling in the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries," Wilson wrote. "By 1920, roughly a quarter of the 1.6 million Italian immigrants in the United States were living in New York, establishing enclaves in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx."
- "Hot, filling and eaten with the hands, pizza elicited breathless coverage from The Times fairly early on," Wilson noted. Take, for example, this 1947 review from then-food editor Jane Nickerson: “The pizza could be as popular a snack as the hamburger if Americans only knew more about it.”
- "It’s in hundreds of shops like his around the city, many no bigger than subway cars, where you’ll find New Yorkers shoulder to shoulder, eating slices in near silence," Wilson wrote. One of her sources summed it up nicely: “Inside a pizzeria that dream of diverse New York City is a reality. I think that’s such a beautiful thing.”
P.S. WE'RE DOING A NEW THING: We are stoked to announce Power Up Live! a new event series featuring Washington's newsmakers. Join us on Jan. 30 for out first event with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) where we'll sit down to discuss the impact of the government shutdown and his legislative priorities. Jeffries, the recently elected House Democratic Caucus chair, will also preview the 2020 presidential election. Join us at 9:00am at The Post's Live Center at 1301 K Street, N.W.
And on Jan. 31, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie will talk one-on-one with my colleague Robert Costa about his juicy new book “Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics.” Christie will share insights about his time as a Trump confidante and adviser and give his take on today’s GOP. Copies of “Let Me Finish” will be available for purchase, and Christie will be available for a book signing post-interview. Be there at 5:45pm.