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Global Power

COVERING UP KHASHOGGI: Five months have passed since the “pre-plannned murder” of Jamal Khashoggi and the Trump administration has yet to hold accountable the person who the CIA, bipartisan lawmakers and most members of the international community say is responsible: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

Despite pressure from Democrats and Republicans, President Trump has refused to provide new information on Khashoggi's death or issue an official determination as to who is responsible and whether to impose sanctions because of the killing through the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

Senators seeking answers attended a "classified" briefing Monday on Capitol Hill that provided "zero" new information, according to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). The White House missed the deadline to submit a report last month, and there is no expectation that the White House will issue one at all. 

  • “The administration still claims that it’s an ongoing investigation, which holds no water given the fact that this happened in October,” Murphy told Power Up. “They’ve had plenty of time to come to a conclusion.”
  • "This is a work in progress, and we will not let it go,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said in a statement. 
  • “We are going to get with our members and find a way to push the system,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Bloomberg's Erik Wasson. 
  • “The interesting thing is you have [the Trump] administration, which is deeply skeptical of the competence and positive intentions of the U.S. government and deeply sympathetic to the competence and intentions of infinitely less competent and well-intentioned foreign governments and while it’s not the U.S. role to change those governments, there’s a certain irony in abandoning the traditional role of how we represent our people and how other governments should represent their people," a former State Department official said, referring to Saudi Arabia's human rights violations. 

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, Murphy believes the futile briefing crystallized the fact the "administration has no intent of certifying whether MBS was or was not involved in the killing of Khashoggi," despite hopes that they would. The White House didn't respond to an Oct. 10 letter from 22 bipartisan senators asking it to determine whether MBS is personally responsible for Khashoggi's killing.

  • “I don't think there’s a lot of interest amongst Republicans to pick a public fight with the administration but you can’t let the president blatantly violate the law,” Murphy told us. “I think there is general consensus that we need to move forward on sending Saudia Arabia a message on the consequences that have to come with targeting a U.S. resident with murder and dismemberment.”
  • However, Risch told CNN's Ted Barrett and Manu Raju he didn't think that Trump had violated the law “definitively.” 
  • “There was a request made for them to do things and they did some things,” Risch said. “There are others they are still working on. So, I don't think anyone could say they are definitively in violation of the Magnitsky Act.”
  • (The Magnitsky Act, requires the president to respond directly to Congress within 120 days with a report determining who was responsible for Khashoggi's death.)

Murphy described the options lawmakers can use to send a message to Saudi Arabia, ranging from passing the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, to temporary suspensions of arms trade to targeted sanctions (the likeliest option to garner bipartisan support). The GOP, however, has not embraced the House-passed measure to end U.S. support for the Yemen conflict, but Murphy believes that after Monday's "disastrous briefing, we may get a few more Republicans to support it." 

  • “The Senate will have to decide if it’s going to impose its own sanctions,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters after the briefing. A Rubio spokesman told us the senator is still opposed to invoking the War Powers Resolution.

  • “The Yemen war is MBS’s baby,” Murphy told us. “This is a priority and to cut off support for it is a direct message to him that our relationship has to change after the murder of Khashoggi. Understanding that that's not the way most Republicans want to move, we’re looking for another mechanism . . . I think the arms are the most important and relevant lever here.”

  • Murphy also charged Saudi Arabia is using arms sold the kingdom by the U.S. government to support terrorist groups. "We now have evidence that the Saudi coalition has been taking the arms we sell them and transferring them to Islamic extremist groups after they promised not to do that," Murpy said. "There has been a breach of trust over the Khashoggi murder and arms deals only workswhen there is underlying trust," he added. 

  • Side note: The administration did impose sanctions in November on 17 individuals believed to be involved in Khashoggi's killing, but they didn't extend to MBS. 

  • Emboldened: Murphy thinks the lack of punishment for Khashoggi's killing has only made it easier for the Saudis to mistreat other Americans with impunity. Take the case of  Dr. Walid Fitaihi, a U.S. citizen whose family alleges he has been tortured and detained without charges in a Saudi prison for over a year. "There is no question that the Saudis feel like they can literally get away with murder," Murphy argued.

NOTABLE: Two U.S. think tanks and South Korea's Yonhap News reported that two days after the failed summit in Hanoi, North Korea is “pursuing a rapid rebuilding” of a missile launch site it had started to dismantle after promising to do so after Kim Jong Un's first summit with Trump in Singapore last year, Reuters's David Brunnstrom and Lisa Lambert report. 

  • “Satellite images seen by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project, showed that structures on the launch pad had been rebuilt sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2, Jenny Town, managing editor at the project and an analyst at the Stimson Center think tank, told Reuters.”
  • Per a Center for Strategic and International Studies report citing satellite imagery, they concluded: “Activity is evident at the vertical engine test stand and the launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure,” the CSIS report said. “Significantly, the environmental shelters on the umbilical tower, which are normally closed, have been opened to show the launch pad.”

  • Closing the door?: “While North Korea’s official media said last week Kim and Trump had decided at the summit to continue talks, its Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told reporters Kim 'might lose his willingness to pursue a deal' and questioned the need to continue,” per Reuters. 

 

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On The Hill

HAPPENINGS ON THE HILL: Michael Cohen returns, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has a big hearing today on nursing home abuse and neglect, Democrats may or may not vote on a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism, and  Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has an announcement to make... 

1.COHEN: Trump's longtime former lawyer and fixer returns to the Hill today to wrap up his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. 

2. GRASSLEY: The Senate Finance Committee head is holding a hearing on an investigation into nursing home safety and oversight. The committee has summoned a number of witnesses who say they are victims of nursing home neglect and abuse, along with various doctors and professionals who work in the health-care industry. 

  • Excerpt of Grassley's opening remarks: "Sadly, these are not isolated cases. They could happen to anyone. According to the Inspector General, a whopping one-third of nursing home residents experienced harm while under the care of their federally-funded facilities. And in more than half of these cases, the harm was preventable. Two years ago, the Inspector General also issued an alert, warning the public about deficiencies cited at nursing homes in 33 states. A significant percentage of these cases involved sexual abuse, substandard care, and neglect," Grassley is expected to say. 
  • Related nugget of news: The White House is weighing the formation of a commission on nursing home reform. It's an idea that was discussed during Trump ally and former president of the New York City Council Andy Stein's meeting last week with Trump, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and counselor Kellyanne Conway in the Oval Office, according to an official present. Stein is likely to co-chair the potential commission; he held a series of hearings on nursing home practices in New York City in the 70's. 

3. OMAR: Politico's Heather Caygle, John Bresnahan, and Sarah Ferris report that a "vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in response to controversial comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar is set to slip past Wednesday amid intensifying pressure from the left both inside and outside the House Democratic Caucus....Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that the vote would likely happen Thursday. They also said a draft resolution would be updated to include additional language rejecting anti-Muslim bias, although some Democratic sources believe that an entirely new document might be crafted."

4. ERNST: Watch for the Iowa senator and a group of more than ten others to go the Senate floor today beginning around 1:40p.m. to lambast Democrats’ Green New Deal (Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised to vote on the deal within “the next couple weeks".) Teaser below: 

The Investigations

WHAT COOPERATION?: “The White House has rebuffed House Democrats’ request for documents pertaining to the security clearance process, a move that drastically increases the chances of a subpoena from the House,” my colleague Rachael Bade reports. Responding to House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter the request was  “without legal support, clearly premature, and suggests a breach of the constitutionally required accommodation process.”

  • “Rather, Cipollone said his staff would brief the panel and allow them to view documents related to their investigation. That offer has not been sufficient for committee Democrats in the past,” per Rachael. 

  • “We believe the best course is to move forward with this agreed-upon accommodation and then speak again once your review of the documents and the briefing are complete,” said the letter, which was dated Monday and released Tuesday. 

Cummings blasted Cipollone's assertion. It remains to be seen what happens next. 

  • “There is a key difference between a president who exercises his authority under the Constitution and a president who overrules career experts and his top advisers to benefit his family members and then conceals his actions from the American people,” Cummings said in a statement. “The White House’s argument defies the constitutional separation of powers, decades of precedent before this committee, and just plain common-sense. The White House security clearance system is broken, and it needs both congressional oversight and legislative reform.”

  • The other Resistance: Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide, has told lawmakers he won't cooperate with their request for documents and won't testify before the House Judiciary Committee, report my colleageus Rosalind S. Helderman and Bade.  

  • 'Perjury trap': “Caputo told The Washington Post that he has already begun talking with four other Trump associates who received requests from the committee this week to begin a joint strategy of resisting requests for testimony. 'All four are reluctant to appear because they believe it’s a perjury trap designed to move toward impeachment of the president,' he said.

BLURRED LINES: The timing of the White House rebuke on security-clearance information comes as new reports surfaced about Trump allegedly exerting pressure to grant a security clearance to his daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump.

  • CNN's Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins broke the news that the president “pressured his then-chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to grant his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump a security clearance against their recommendations, three people familiar with the matter told CNN.”
  • “While Trump has the legal authority to grant clearances, most instances are left up to the White House personnel security office, which determines whether a staffer should be granted one after the FBI has conducted a background check. But after concerns were raised by the personnel office, Trump pushed Kelly and McGahn to make the decision on his daughter and son-in-law's clearances so it did not appear as if he was tainting the process to favor his family, sources told CNN. After both refused, Trump granted them their security clearances," Brown and Collins report. 
  • And last Thursday, the New York Times broke the news that Trump also ordered Kelly to grant Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner, a top secret security clearance, also overruling the concerns of intelligence officials.

MEANWHILE, New York officials have subpoenaed Trump's insurance broker, Aon PLC, to get to the bottom of whether Trump inflated his wealth to them, as Cohen has alleged. 

STAFFING UP: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is beefing up his operation. The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin reports that Schiff “has hired a veteran prosecutor with experience fighting Russian organized crime to lead his investigation of the Trump Administration. Last month, according to a committee source, Daniel Goldman, who served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York from 2007 to 2017, joined the committee’s staff as a senior adviser and the director of investigations.”

  • “The hiring of Goldman, who will be joined by two other former federal prosecutors on Schiff’s staff, underlines Schiff’s decision to conduct an aggressive investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 Presidential campaign,” Toobin writes. 
  • P.S.: “House Intel has also hired Diana Pilipenko — a Russian & Ukrainian speaker w/ expertise in anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, and sanctions — to help investigate Trump's finances. She was previously at Center for American Progress and Deloitte managing corporate investigations,” The Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand tweeted.

And ICYMI: Something that may never see the light of day: Trump's high-school transcripts, which Cohen last week alleged were intentionally buried.

  • Killer quote from The Post's Marc Fischer in a must-read piece: “The superintendent of the private school “came to me in a panic because he had been accosted by prominent, wealthy alumni of the school who were Mr. Trump’s friends” and who wanted to keep his records secret, recalled Evan Jones, the headmaster at the time. “He said, ‘You need to go grab that record and deliver it to me because I need to deliver it to them.’ ”

At the White House

PROGRAMMING NOTE: The first meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board -- co-chaired by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Ivanka Trump -- will take place today.

  • The purpose?: "The Advisory Board ... brings together members from diverse backgrounds including the private sector, educational institutions, and state and local governments. The members will provide varied perspectives on workforce issues facing communities and businesses across the country, while raising awareness of multiple pathways for American workers to obtain family-sustaining careers. The members’ terms last until July 2020," per a statement released by Trump and Ross. 
  • Notable attendees include: Tim Cook, CEO, Apple;  Marillyn Hewson, Chairman, President, & CEO, Lockheed Martin; Al Kelly, CEO, Visa; Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President, & CEO, IBM;  Kim Reynolds, Governor, Iowa; Doug McMillon, President & CEO, Walmart; Craig Menear, Chairman, President, & CEO, Home Depot
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 7.3 million U.S. unfilled jobs. "On the last business day of December [2018], the job openings level reached a series high of 7.3 million."

At the Pentagon

OH, OKAY: NBC News's Courtney Kube broke a startling story that "two months after declaring all U.S. troops are leaving Syria, President Donald Trump wrote to members of Congress that he now agrees "100%" with keeping a military presence in Syria."

  • In a copy of a Feb. 22 letter authored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers addressed to Trump, the president highlighted a paragraph in the letter about U.S. goals in Syria: "Like you, we seek to ensure that all of the gains made in Syria are not lost, that ISIS never returns, that Iran is not emboldened, and that we consolidate our gains and ensure the best outcome in Geneva for American interests."
  • “I agree 100%. ALL is being done,” President Trump responded directly on the letter, with his signature. 

  • Reminder: Trump declared in December the U.S. had "won against ISIS" and announced a withdrawal of all troops from Syria, much to the surprise of allies and senior military and administration officials. 

  • At the end of February, The Post's Missy Ryan and Karen DeYoung reported that Trump had decided to “leave at least 400 troops there, only two months after announcing that all American forces were coming home 'now.'”

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