"MY ROY COHN”: Attorney General Bill Barr is sitting at the center of Washington's universe. From President Trump's immigration agenda to his treatment of the Mueller report out tomorrow morning, Barr holds the keys to some of the biggest questions and hurdles of Trump's presidency.
If there was any concern the former Bush 41 administration official may have turned out more like ex-attorney general Jeff Sessions and less like “my Roy Cohn,” Trump's longtime mentor, loyalist and feared New York City lawyer, Barr has instead proven himself to be a useful booster to the president since joining the administration.
Thus far, Barr seems to have emboldened Trump and provided him with some of his most frequent talking points:
1. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION,” Trump has tweeted, referring to Barr's four-page summary of the 400-page Mueller report that sparked controversy and frustration among members of Congress and even Mueller's team for its brevity and conclusion that Trump did not seek to obstruct justice.
- Reminder: “It was much more acute than Barr suggested,” said one person, who spoke to my colleagues Ellen Nakashima, Carol D. Leonnig, and Rosalind S. Helderman on the condition of anonymity earlier in April.
2. “THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN (We will never forget)!," Trump has also tweeted, a reference to Barr's statement (without support) last week to senators he thought “spying did occur” during the 2016 Trump campaign by the FBI.
- "“The moment set off a firestorm, with those who have defended the FBI complaining that the attorney general had legitimized an outlandish conspiracy theory — while those critical of the Russia probe have embraced his remarks as vindication of their cause,” per my colleagues Devlin Barrett and Rachael Bade.
In the coming days and weeks, Barr will serve as the gatekeeper to even more significant and consequential moments of the Trump presidency: which parts of the Mueller report to redact before it is slated to be submitted to lawmakers on Thursday morning; and a new push to crack down on immigrants at the southern border.
“The Trump administration on Tuesday took another significant step to discourage migrants from seeking asylum, issuing an order that could keep thousands of them in jail indefinitely while they wait for a resolution of their asylum requests,” the New York Times's Michael Shear and Katie Benner report. “In an effort to deliver on President Trump’s promise to end 'catch and release' at the border, [Barr’s] order directed immigration judges to no longer allow some migrants who have sought asylum to post bail.”
“Unless stopped, this decision will result in the unlawful jailing of thousands of people who should not be behind bars,” Omar Jadwat, the ACLU's director of immigrant's rights project, tweeted. " . . . we will see the administration in court on this latest unlawful & inhuman attempt to deter and punish asylum seekers.”
As for the redaction process, Barr testified before lawmakers he would be “color-coding” redactions that fit four categories: material pertaining to grand jury proceedings; material that is “potentially compromising” to the intelligence community's sources; material referring to “other ongoing matters;” and “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
All of which is to say that Democrats are already prepared to fight Barr over the anticipated lack of transparency:
“The House Judiciary Committee is expected to subpoena the Justice Department for [Mueller's] complete report as soon as Friday, according to a spokesman, as Democrats prepare to fight the Trump administration for access to the attorney general’s anticipated redactions,” my colleague Karoun Demirjian reports.
“Obviously,” Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a senior member of the committee, told Karoun, “we will use the subpoena power to the full extent of the law.”
Barr's recent actions and statements have some Republicans applauding and others suggesting they have an audience of one: Trump.
“The attorney general has created an environment that has caused a significant part of the public … to be concerned about whether or not there is full transparency,” U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, an appointee of George W. Bush, said during a hearing yesterday on a Freedom of Information Act suit demanding access to the redacted portions of the Mueller report, reports Politico's Josh Gerstein.
“The case, filed by BuzzFeed News, is the second such case to get a federal judge to review Barr's redactions once the Justice Department releases it on Thursday. “That's something we'll have to work through and something I'll have to think about,” Walton said, according to CNN's Katelyn Polantz.
“As things stand, Barr has made it harder for the public to believe that he is not leaning on the wheel for his boss. Attorneys general are supposed to avoid that, in part to inspire confidence that justice and intelligence will never belong solely to any one politician or political party,” write former assistant AG for national security David Kris and ex-CIA acting director Mike Morrell in a Post op-ed.
All of Washington's eyes will be on Barr for some time to come . . .
At the White House
TRUMP'S SECOND VETO: Trump uncapped his veto pen for the second time late last night. This time, Trump beat back a bipartisian attempt to "end the U.S.'s support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen," Felicia Sonmez, Josh Dawsey and Karoun Demirjian report.
“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” the president said in a statement.
"The veto means the United States will continue its involvement in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, waged in the name of holding back Iran’s expansion in the region,” our colleagues report.
Key detail: "Trump viewed the Yemen vote as a rebuke of his administration after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and urged some senators not to go along with it, according to White House and congressional aides.”
Despite a narrow Republican Senate majority, Trump has now twice checked disapproval of his domestic policy (the national emergency declaration at the border) and now his foreign policy. In total, 16 House Republicans and seven GOP senators voted to end support for the Yemen conflict, despite the White House veto threats.
- Take a look at the Associated Press's Pulitizer Prize winning coverage of the Yemen conflict, along with The Post's Lorenzo Tugnoli's winning photos of "Yemen's shattering war.”
A DISPATCH FROM PARIS: Power Up touched base with James McAuley, our correspondent in Paris who has been covering the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, for his take on the city's mood in the aftermath of the massive blaze that torched Paris’s “eternal backdrop to life,” as James puts it. As he notes below, French President Emmanuel Macron ambitiously vowed to rebuild the monument in five years, “a breakneck pace for a project of monumental scale.”
James sent us an early morning email with some observations on the devastating week:
- L'humeur: “The mood in Paris is funereal, even though no one died in the blaze. The city has had its share of devastating events in recent years — notably the November 2015 terror attacks, when 130 were killed — but none of these quite compares to the fire at Notre Dame. The cathedral is the eternal backdrop to life here and a monument that has survived any number of historical sea-changes in the past 800 years. The point was always that Notre Dame was here before us, and it will be here after us,” per James.
- “But Monday's fire underscored a real fragility. The mood is heavy because that fragility is ultimately a result of neglect, which says something about people today. The feeling is that we've all failed to be proper custodians of the legacy we've inherited.”
- Macron's response: “Some say that Macron has been more presidential during the Notre Dame fire than he has at any other point since his election in May 2017. In general, he's a polarizing figure often accused of being aloof and tone-deaf, especially when presented with the economic struggles of ordinary people. France has just emerged from months of 'yellow jacket' protests -- an uprising largely motivated by Macron's tone and remarks perceived as critical of those who struggle to get by. When the cathedral burned, however, he rose to the occasion and delivered a moving address about France's culture and history, as well as its proud universalist values.”
- Macron “pledged to rebuild the cathedral in five years — when Paris will host the Olympics — because, as he put it, 'that's what the French expect.' They definitely do, and Macron has won praise from across the political aisle. For once, French commentators on national television have been saying that their president, often criticized for being too technocratic, spoke 'with emotion.' That means something.”
- On Trump's “flying water tankers” tweet: “I wouldn't say there's been much attention on Donald Trump or the spat with the fire services. The focus has been on the cathedral, and whether it can be rebuilt as quickly as Macron says it can. Another interesting debate has been the question of private financing — through massive donation pledges from the likes of French philanthropists Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault — versus state financing. We still don't know the full extent of the damages and the costs of repairs, but that's an issue to watch.”
WHITE HOUSE MOVES TO REBUFF OVERSIGHT: The White House looks increasingly prepared to go to court over handing over documents related to security clearances and Trump's finances, among other things, demanded by House Democrats.
- “White House officials are already digging in their heels on a slew of requests related to Trump’s actions as president. The administration does not plan to turn over information being sought about how particular individuals received their security clearances, Trump’s meetings with foreign leaders and other topics that they plan to argue are subject to executive privilege, according to several aides familiar with internal discussions,” Tom Hamburger, Karoun Demirjian, Josh Dawsey and Rachael Bade reported last night.
- “Cabinet agencies have been told to seek White House permission before giving any documents to Congress, and lawyers in the counsel’s office are closely monitoring the requests, aides said,” our colleagues report.
- “They are fighting us on everything now. They’re fighting us on release of the uncensored Mueller report, they’re fighting us on the president’s taxes . . . they basically have decided that they want to thwart congressional oversight power,” Rep. Raskin said. “It’s an assault on the separation of powers and specifically the congressional oversight function.”
A POSSIBLE PROTRACTED LEGAL FIGHT: The White House is gambling that any congressional subpoenas will trigger court fights that will go on forever. Democrats think they have a workaround when it comes to some of Trump's finances as they're going directly to banks and accountants who provided loans to the former real estate businessman. Such a move could force the president's attorneys to file suit by arguing that Trump's private matters are not in Congress's domain.
Not everyone is buying that argument:
“That’s a tall order. Congress’s oversight powers are pretty sweeping and pretty extensive,” Kerry W. Kircher, who served as House counsel for the Republican majority from 2011 to 2016, told our colleagues. “You can try that; I think that’s a loser.”
WAIT, THERE'S MORE: The House Judiciary Committee yesterday opened a probe into whether Trump encouraged an acting Cabinet head to break immigration law with the caveat that if he faced any repercussions the president would just pardon him, Rachael reports.
“These allegations, if true, would represent a grave breach of duties of the president,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the panel, and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the subcommittee chairman on constitutional matters wrote in a letter asking acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan to testify before Congress. (McAleenan was the official to whom Trump reportedly offered a pardon).
Outside the Beltway
MUSINGS FROM A MAYOR: Following our report on the welcoming attitude of sanctuary city mayors if Trump sends immigrants their way, the mayor of Somerville, Mass., Joseph Curtatone, got in touch to explain why he's not worried should such a policy be implemented:
"Most of the governmental decisions that affect your life happen at the local level, and cities traditionally innovate quicker than states or the federal government. Yet with Trump, local government is an institution he can't erode or consume. We've rejected Trumpism and, worst of all for him, we're thriving. I think that's message, that the places which operate in the least Trump-like fashion are doing the best."
.... At least one mayor is ready to take Trump to court though. "It’s illegal. It is just plain illegal. We will meet him in court," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said Monday night, according to the New York Post. "We will beat him in court." (Unlike the other mayors, de Blasio is actively considering running against Trump in 2020).
Related 👀: de Blasio had lunch this past Saturday with Bernie Sanders's former top campaign adviser Tad Devine at Gracie Mansion to discuss a possible 2020 run "and what it takes," Devine told a group of reporters over dinner last night.