Good morning, Power squad. I will spare you from any more terrible black hole jokes but Katie Bouman: you rule! Tips, comments, recipes? Email mesign up, and forward to your friends. Thanks for waking up with us.

BREAKING: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested on Thursday by British police after being evicted from Ecuador's embassy in London, where he lived for nearly seven years, per Metropolitan Police.

"Ecuador, which took Assange in when he was facing a Swedish rape investigation in 2012, said it was rescinding asylum beacuse he of his 'discourteous and aggressive behavior' and for violating the terms of his asylum," per my colleagues

At the White House

KEEPING UP WITH TRUMP: It's been a crazy week. 

The past 810 days since President Trump took office have brought a deluge of news; his penchant for spontaneity (especially when it comes to staffing decisions) has made this presidency feel at times like a reality TV show. 

But this week's purge of Department of Homeland Security leaders marked even more tumult and churn than usual. Seeking a “tougher” strategy to curb the spike of families attempting to cross the border, Trump ousted four senior officials there in the span of a few days. What a calendar:  

  • Sunday, Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen resigned under pressure. 
  • Monday, so did U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles. 
  • Tuesday, it was acting deputy DHS Sec. Claire Grady.
  • Wednesday, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Ronnie Vitiello was out.
  • What could today bring? U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna and DHS’s general counsel, John Mitnick, may be the next to go, department officials told my colleague Seung Min Kim.

A record: Brookings Institution senior fellow Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, who tracks presidential White House staffing and trends, says this is a record in recent American political history: 

  • “We've never had a huge dismissal like this,” Tenpas told us. “I can't recall, going back as far as Ronald Reagan, a 48 hour period in which so many Senate-confirmed leaders in a single department were dismissed.” 
  • “None of the past five presidents has appointed three departmental secretaries (to the same department) within the first 27 months of their administration,” according to Tenpas's research. 
  • Key: “This is also just a huge hit in terms of time and resources since the whole department has been hit so hard with so many vacancies at the top,” Tenpas added. 

The upheaval isn't unique to this week: Trump is now on his third chief of staff. At least 11 Cabinet members have resigned or been forced out. And there are 288 key positions still unfilled across the Trump administration. 

I'M NOT TIRED, YOU'RE TIRED: There are still 650 days left of Trump's first term, and many in Washington — along with news junkies across the country who have been along for the ride —are burned out from the rinse and repeat tumult.

Administration officials, Hill staffers, activists and diplomats Power Up spoke with described how they have simultaneously come to expect the daily chaos — and are still struggling to keep up. 

  • Trump “is truly exhausting everyone and their mom. Literally, my mom is exhausted from the news,” one administration official told us.
  • Coping strategies: “You learn to expect the unexpected. Some of the stories on a 'slow news day' in the Trump era would’ve been cataclysmic events in previous administrations. Now it’s just another Wednesday afternoon. Don’t worry, the story will change in a few hours.”
  • Cross-agency commiseration: “We totally sympathize with those in the White House and State Departments that all of the preparation is always turned over by the one Tweeter-in-chief,” a Washington-based diplomat told Power Up. “So that is one of the daily phenomena which I always observe and it's something I always hear complaints about from my counterparts.”
  • “Everyone in this town loves to brag about how hard they work, but imagine literally spending Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, and Easter Sunday where you are dealing with an internal or external fire,” a former administration official lamented. “You can have the media, liberal advocacy groups, Congress and even some of your own Trump allies all coming at you, which reminds me of when one Cabinet secretary said the fastest way to outrun a bear is to run faster than the guy behind you.”  

OUTRAGE FATIGUE: It's not just those who work in or with Trump's administration who are feeling the sense of whiplash lately. Advocacy groups are continuing full-bore to fight Trump's policy proposals through legal channels — though many seem to keep boomeranging back. 

  • The ACLU, as one example, has filed 43 requests under the Freedom of Information Act, five administrative complaints and 86 lawsuits regarding immigrants' rights since Trump took office. Overall, the organization has filed roughly 120 lawsuits against the administration. 
  • Déjà vu?: The Trump administration is considering new version of its family separation tactic — this time to force parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to choose whether to stay detained as family or agree to separate and keep their kids out of custody. 
  • This comes after Trump at the end of last June said he would abandon this policy amid an uproar of objections from lawmakers and legal challenges to his least popular proposals. Federal agencies are still working to reunite families that were split up — and advocacy groups are virtually sure to sue again. 
  • An ACLU lawyer tweeted this week: "Reports now that [Trump administration] wants to bring back family separation. We got it blocked and declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL in our ... San Diego case and will continue to be in court to block any new attempts to rip children away." 

It's not just immigration lawyers that are working overtime. Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club's environmental law program, says the environmental group has filed over 150 lawsuits in the Trump era. Gallagher, responsible for overseeing all its environmental litigation, described two different types of outrage burnout that have taken hold: 

  • Trump is “lying about climate change as all the science is getting more and more dire,” Gallagher told Power Up. “So I encourage my team to try to avoid the anxiety and burnout during this confluence of climate disasters and fossil fuel mania. These things couldn’t be happening at a worse possible time.” 

  • Coping strategies: “For litigators, at least there is something we can do,” Gallagher said. “In some ways we are better off than a lot of other types of activists, who may go to hearings and write letters and do congressional lobbying and constantly feel frustrated because the power is tipped against them. So we at least have some power in the federal courts and have a bit more of a reprieve than the average activist.” 

  • Another liberal activist, who is not a lawyer, described this feeling of disillusionment to Power Up: “It's difficult to effect change,” the activist said. 

SUE ME: The states have also been getting in on the action to challenge Trump since his first days and there's no signs of stopping. 

  • In California: Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office has filed 49 lawsuits against the federal government since Trump's inauguration. Contrast: The Sacramento Bee found that GOP-led states sued Barack Obama's administration 46 times during his entire eight years in the White House.
  • And the Trump administration has faced more joint challenges from states in its first two years than either Obama or Bush faced during their eight years in office, according to USA Today
  • Per Maureen Groppe: “Last week, Democratic attorneys general sued to stop the administration’s rollback of school nutritional standards and to block Trump’s requirement that at least two federal regulations have to be repealed before a new rule can be introduced."
  • “President Trump has demonstrated an utter contempt for congressional authority and the role that federal agencies play in protecting Americans,” [Becerra], a Democrat, said in announcing what, by [Marquette University political science professor Paul] Nolette's tally, is the 71st multistate challenge to Trump. That’s almost twice the number filed against the Obama administration during his second term, when the spike in such lawsuits started.”
  • The strategy: “Democrats are suing over basically everything. They challenge almost every major thing that comes out,” Nolette told Maureen. 

READER FATIGUE?: The Trump administration has also meant profit for other industries — like, ahem, the book industry — but there's an awareness that we may be nearing a saturation point. 

  • There have been 43 Trump-focused books published since his inauguration (both print and e-book nonfiction), according to Power Up analysis. 
  • 11 of them have reached #1 on the New York Times's bestsellers list; 26 have reached the top five and 32 books reached the top 10. During the week of September 2, 2018, five out of the top ten books were Trump-focused. 
  • “You always get concerned about 'reader fatigue' but at the same time, these books are still doing really well,” Matt Latimer, the founder of a Washington based literary agency called Javelin, told us. “The bar is higher for people to offer something about the administration that we don't already know. The challenge is to actually offer a perspective that we haven't seen already. and so we spend a lot of time thinking about what's really going to have an impact.” 

BOTTOM LINE: “In this era of manufactured chaos, business is thriving for law and lobbying firms doing work around the myriad investigations to head hunters helping departed Trump administration officials find a soft landing,” veteran GOP strategist Ron Bonjean told Power Up. “When President Trump leaves office someday, most people working in Washington who follow the White House are going to experience severe withdrawal symptoms from the fast paced, breakneck intensity.” 

 

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The Investigations

MNUCHIN REFUSES: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined House Democrats' request to release Trump's personal and some business-related tax returns by Wednesday.

  • “Mnuchin said he was consulting with the Justice Department as to the constitutional questions raised by the Democrats’ request and appeared deeply skeptical of the lawmakers’ intentions. He did not flatly reject the notion that he might ultimately comply, but his letter to the House Ways and Means Committee suggested that Mnuchin would not hold himself to any timeline,” our colleagues Jeff Stein and Damian Paletta report.
  • This did not go over well with some Democrats: “How many lawyers and how much time does it take for Secretary Mnuchin to understand that ‘shall’ means ‘shall’? " Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

Outside the Beltway

SPEAKING OF TAX RETURNS: Democrats have pressured the president to release his tax returns for years. (We explored Trump’s ever shifting story on why he can’t release his returns on Monday.) But what about their own candidates? 

We checked in with Democrats' campaigns about their tax release intentions. We also asked if any of the candidates had a stake in a business and whether they would release those returns, too. Only author and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson told us she did and she would release that return. Here’s where things stand:

  • 10-years released: Kirsten Gillibrand has already released 12 years of returns, including 2018. So has Jay Inslee, including 2018. Elizabeth Warren released 11 years, including 2018. Amy Klobuchar offered 12 years, not including 2018
  • 10 years pledged: Julián Castro has pledged to release 10 years of returns. So has Bernie Sanders, by Monday. Pete Buttigeg will release 10 years, if he formally announces, a spokeswoman told us. Tim Ryan pledged 12 years — his 2018 return within the next week and the remaining years in the next few months, a spokeswoman told us. 
  • Five or less: Williamson has pledged to release at least five years of returns. Her campaign told Power Up that Williamson will release her personal returns if she qualifies for the first debate. She is under audit, but a spokeswoman told us, “unlike the president, Williamson will release her taxes anyway, because it is in the interest of our democracy to have complete financial transparency from our leaders.” 
  • Several: Most of John Hickenlooper's returns for the past 20 years are already available, a spokeswoman told us. Kamala Harris will “release a number of years very soon,” per a spokesman. Andrew Yang's spokesperson told Mother Jones that he will release “the past several years” soon. 
  • Getting there: Cory BookerTulsi GabbardEric Swalwell, and Wayne Messam have all said publicly they will release their taxes — but it's unclear when or how many years. Beto O’Rourke has “begun the process,” a spokesman told us. 
  • Unclear: John Delaney did not respond to Power Up. 

On The Hill

BARR SAYS THERE MAY HAVE BEEN SPYING ON TRUMP: Attorney General William Barr echoed one of Trump's long-time talking points when he testified on Wednesday that he thought “spying did occur” on the president's 2016 campaign. 

  • “Barr’s surprising comments echo unsubstantiated claims President Trump has made about the FBI, and though the attorney general later clarified that he was concerned about the legal basis for surveilling political figures, his words provided fresh ammunition to those who have branded the Russia investigation an illegitimate attempt to derail Trump’s presidency,” our colleagues Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian report.
  • “The FBI and Justice Department applied to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in October 2016 to monitor the communications of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. Those applications were reauthorized, and the surveillance continued into mid-2017. The Justice Department inspector general is probing whether those applications were handled properly, and his report on the issue could come in May or June, Barr said.” 

The People

KARDASHIAN SPEAKS TRUMP-ESE: In a Vogue profile out on Wednesday of Kim Kardashian West, journalist Jonathan Van Meter details how the superstar convinced Trump to grant clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman imprisoned for a non-violent drug offense: 

"And then the unexpected happened. “Kim Kardashian,” says [CNN Commentator and activist Van] Jones, “wound up playing this indispensable role, and a lot of people have gotten furious with me, saying I’m stealing the credit from African American activists who have been working on this issue for decades. And first of all, I’m one of them. But I was in the Oval Office with Kim and Ivanka and Jared and the president, and I watched with my own eyes Trump confess to having tremendous fears of letting somebody out of prison and that person going and doing something terrible, and the impact that that would have on his political prospects. He was visibly nervous about it. And I watched Kim Kardashian unleash the most effective, emotionally intelligent intervention that I’ve ever seen in American politics.”

This may sound like hyperbole, but consider the target. Perhaps an “emotionally intelligent” intervention could have been staged only by a bigger reality star than the man in the Oval Office. “Kim understood that he needs to be seen as taking on the system, and she helped him to see that there are people who the system was against and that his job was to go and help them,” says Jones. “And it was remarkable. So for people who have fallen for this media caricature of the party girl from ten years ago who hangs out with Paris Hilton? This is the daughter of an accomplished attorney and the mother of three black kids who is using her full power to make a difference on a tough issue and is shockingly good at it.”

In the Media

OF NOTE: 

Viral