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At the White House
THE WEEK OF GRIEVANCES CONTINUES: As Washington waits for signs Robert Mueller's Russia report may finally be ready, President Trump has created headline after headline by tearing down his perceived enemies — both living and dead. He's lashed out at the special counsel, his senior adviser's husband and the late senator John McCain -- a frequent source of ire, from even beyond the grave.
- The former Naval aviator and prisoner of war in Vietnam “didn’t get the job done for our great vets," Trump said in a five-minute diatribe during a speech ostensibly on manufacturing jobs at a tank plant in Lima, Ohio.
- "I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump inaccurately claimed. He added: “I didn’t get a thank-you."
- Even sitting next to Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump told reporters that he has never been a fan of the senator who passed away from brain cancer and never would be.
“The full-throated repudiation of a deceased and revered member of his party was remarkable even for a president constantly at war with his rivals, and it came amid an outpouring of statements in recent days praising McCain in the face of Trump’s attacks,” my colleagues Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker, Felicia Sonmez and Alex Horton report.
McCain has been an obsession for Trump since the 2016 campaign, when Trump first stated that McCain was not a war hero. But the continued rebukes of McCain seven months after his death come against the advice of Trump's own aides.
- "Exasperated advisers have encouraged him repeatedly to drop the issue, but his grudge against McCain is particularly visceral, according to current and former aides," my colleagues report.
- The dossier: White House aides told my colleagues that the “new round of frustration over McCain” was fueled by a news report about McCain’s role in providing a copy of the dossier to the FBI after the 2016 election. (As my colleagues noted, Trump falsely blames the disputed dossier for the FBI launching the probe into Russian interference.)
- Russia on the mind?: "Some close to the president have attributed his frustrations to worrying over the looming report on Russian election interference from the special counsel’s office — which he mocked Wednesday on the South Lawn of the White House en route to Ohio — while others said he simply has fewer advisers to restrain him from airing his grievances," they report.
- A former White House staffer tells Power Up: "He believes that McCain was out to jeopardize him by passing the dossier to conflicted individuals within the intelligence community."
The famous thumbs-down vote: "The thing that Trump and everyone in the White House remembers is that he changed his mind on healthcare and tanked everything," a former member of the Trump administration told us, referring to McCain's vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act. "That doesn't mean he wasn't a hero but it means that every Republican said let's repeal and replace, and this is the one guy that screwed that all up. That's a legacy."
Then there's this: "I think the other part of this is that he can have an enemy that won't and can't punch back," the former White House staffer tells us. "But yeah, it boggles my mind why he would bring this up at this particular moment."
Beyond McCain: Trump kicked off yesterday by tweeting Kellyanne Conway's husband George was "a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!"
- Contrast: Former President Barack Obama tweeted about how to help those impacted by the flooding in the Midwest and cyclone victims in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
In the end, Trump just can't be stopped when he has something on his mind, says a source close to the White House:
- “Trump has no filter and no ability to hide his feelings. There’s no real political upside to attacking [McCain]," the source said. "Yes, here’s a lot of people in this base who hate John McCain and love this stuff. But this is just Trump. This is what you get when you have a president who is more honest about their feelings on things than any other political consultant would want them to be."
On The Hill
REPUBLICAN FISSURES: Trump's slams on McCain led some Republicans to speak out on the late senator's behalf.
- “It’s deplorable what he said,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in an interview with Atlanta-based Georgia Public Broadcasting earlier Wednesday, referring to previous Trump attacks on McCain. “It will be deplorable seven months from now, if he says it again, and I will continue to speak out. . . . We should never reduce the service that people give to this country, including the offering of their own life.”
- Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tweeted a day earlier: “I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God."
- Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, weighed in last night:
THREAD - I disagree with the POTUS standing in front of M1A1 Abram tanks & the American flag and spending time trashing POW veteran and former US Senator McCain, and as Commander-in-Chief characterizing our time fighting in the Middle East as an unqualified disaster. 1/x— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) March 21, 2019
Other key Republicans did not mention Trump by name:
Today and every day I miss my good friend John McCain. It was a blessing to serve alongside a rare patriot and genuine American hero in the Senate. His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes.— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) March 20, 2019
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally who was especially close with McCain, tried to toe the line.
- "I think the president’s comments about Sen. McCain hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Sen. McCain. I’m going to try to continue to help the president," he said in South Carolina, per The Hill.
- On Trump: “We have a good working relationship. I like him. I don’t like when he says things about my friend John McCain."
- His way forward: "The best thing that can happen, I think, for all of us is to move forward.”
And the McCain Institute released this fact sheet about the late senator's military service and positions on everything from veterans issues to health care.
I just want to offer a sincere, no snark invitation to all the McCain republicans to come over and vote with us for 2020 and I promise we can go back to fighting about normal stuff once we’ve stabilized our republic.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) March 21, 2019
"Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country"— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) March 21, 2019
New Zealand's PM Jacinda Ardern announces new gun laws
[tap to expand] https://t.co/yBCABAw9tW pic.twitter.com/eh1p6XdmwI
SIX DAYS LATER: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced late Wednesday night that just six days after an attack that left 50 people dead at two mosques in her country, New Zealand has banned military-style semiautomatic weapons and assault rifle.
- “On 15 March, our history changed forever. Now, our laws will, too,” she said. “We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place.”
- A mandatory buyback program will be launched to take the military-style semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles out of circulation, Anna Fifield reports from Christchurch, the site of the massacre. Those who fail to comply after a return period will face a $2,700 fine or three years in prison.
- Ardern said the buy-back could cost up to $138 million, per The BBC, but "that is the price that we must pay to ensure the safety of our communities".
- "New Zealand has tried - and failed - to reform its gun laws several times in the past two decades, but the momentum for change is now overwhelming. Owners will be forced to surrender proscribed firearms and will be compensated, but those who resist could be prosecuted," The BBC's Phil Mercer reports.
HOPE HICKS IS BACK... WELL, SORT OF: At least one Trump confidant has agreed to help the House Judiciary Committee with its investigation into potential obstruction of justice -- even as the White House and government agencies intentionally ignore document requests from the chamber's Democratic committee chairmen investigating the president.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb, and Kara Scannell report that Hope Hicks has agreed “to provide documents to the committee, according to [committee chair Jerry] Nadler's spokesman Daniel Schwarz. Hicks' attorney declined to comment.”
Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent Trump's former communications director a letter earlier in March requesting documents of “‘any personal or work diary, journal or other book containing notes, a record or a description of daily events’ about Trump, the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization and the executive office of the President.”
There are others cooperating with Nadler’s sweeping document request that was sent to 81 individuals in Trump’s orbit -- but it’s unclear just how many people met his committee's deadline this past Monday.
The committee said that they’ve received “tens of thousands” of documents from recipients of the requests thus far.
“I am encouraged by the responses we have received since sending these initial letters two weeks ago,” Nadler said. “It is my hope that we will receive cooperation from the remainder of the list, and will be working to find an appropriate accommodation with any individual who may be reluctant to cooperate with our investigation.”
Another potentially missed deadline?: Wednesday (yesterday) was also the White House's deadline to answer an additional Judiciary request seeking information on Trump’s possible interference with the DOJ’s move to block AT&T’s merger with Time Warner.
"LET IT COME OUT": Trump said Attorney General William Barr should release Mueller’s report to the public once it's ready.
“Let people see it. That’s up to the attorney general,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn.
Notable: “Support for impeaching President Donald Trump has fallen 7 points since December, a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS finds, following Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi calling impeachment "so divisive to the country."
BOEING PROBLEMS: Separately, the Justice Department has “issued multiple subpoenas as part of an investigation into Boeing's Federal Aviation Administration certification and marketing of 737 Max planes,” CNN’s Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz report.
- “The criminal investigation, which is in its early stages, began after the October 2018 crash of a 737 Max aircraft operated by Lion Air in Indonesia, the sources said. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday asked the agency's inspector general to investigate the Max certification.”
The FBI's Seattle office and Justice Department's criminal division in Washington are leading the investigation.
Swamp alert: “The Defense Department’s independent watchdog has opened an investigation into allegations that acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan violated ethics rules by taking actions to promote Boeing after leaving the aerospace company and accepting a top job at the Pentagon,” The Post’s Paul Sonne reports.
- “The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General has decided to investigate complaints we recently received that [Shanahan] allegedly took actions to promote his former employer, Boeing, and disparage its competitors, allegedly in violation of ethics rules,” the statement said.
- Shanahan has denied favoring his former employers during his time serving as deputy defense secretary but in a letter to the inspector general, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) argues that Shanahan appeared to have “made numerous statements promoting his former employer Boeing and has disparaged the company’s competitors before subordinates at the agency.”
The inquiry comes as Shanahan is vying for the official nomination to replace Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
IN THE AGENCIES
FENTANYL SPIKING OVERDOSE DEATH RATE: “The synthetic opioid fentanyl has been driving up the rate of fatal drug overdoses across racial and social lines in the United States, with the sharpest increase among African Americans, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” my colleague Joel Achenbach reports.
- 141 percent: “The death rate among African Americans from fentanyl-involved drug overdoses rose 141 percent each year, on average, from 2011 to 2016, the study showed, with a particularly dramatic spike starting in 2014. The death rate for Hispanics rose 118 percent in that period every year on average, and 61 percent for non-Hispanic whites. The CDC did not have reliable data on Asian Americans and Native Americans.”
- “Overdoses related to fentanyl — which is often mixed with heroin, cocaine and other drugs — remain more common among non-Hispanic whites, about 7.7 deaths per 100,000 annually, compared to a death rate of 5.6 for blacks and 2.5 for Hispanics. But the report’s lead author, Merianne Rose Spencer, a health statistician for the CDC’s Center for Health Statistics, pointed to the change in death rates as the most significant revelation.”
"Third wave": “These findings, published Thursday in a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlight the start of the third wave of the nation's opioid epidemic. The first was prescription pain medications, such as OxyContin; then heroin, which replaced pills when they became too expensive; and now fentanyl,” Morning Edition’s Martha Bebinger reports.
“Men are dying after opioid overdoses at nearly three times the rate of women in the United States…And there's an especially steep rise in the number of young adults ages 25 to 34 whose death certificates include some version of the drug fentanyl.”