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The Investigations

BOMBSHELL: “Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wrote a letter in late March complaining to Attorney General William P. Barr that a four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of the investigation into President Trump 'did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance' of Mueller’s work, according to a copy of the letter reviewed Tuesday by The Washington Post,” our colleagues Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky scooped last night

  • “The letter and a subsequent phone call between the two men reveal the degree to which the longtime colleagues and friends disagreed as they handled the legally and politically fraught task of investigating the president. Democrats in Congress are likely to scrutinize Mueller’s complaints to Barr as they contemplate the prospect of opening impeachment proceedings and mull how hard to press for Mueller himself to testify publicly,” per Devlin and Matt. 

'SHOCKED': Mueller's letter, sent to Barr on March 27 — just days after Barr released his preliminary four-page summary of the Mueller report that led to President Trump claiming “complete and total exoneration” in the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election  — "shocked” senior officials at the Justice Department. In the letter, Mueller requested that Barr release his report's introductions and executive summaries:  

  • “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

A DOJ spokesperson described the special counsel as having “expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the Special Counsel’s obstruction analysis,” but that Barr “ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion.” 

GAME CHANGER?: This all makes Barr's testimony this morning at 10a.m. before the Senate Judiciary Commitee seriously must see TV. 

  • " A federal prosecutor’s task is to decide whether the admissible evidence is sufficient to overcome that presumption and establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If so, he seeks an indictment; if not, he does not," Barr plans to say in his prepared testimony, per ABC.
  • More: "The Special Counsel’s report demonstrates that there are many subsidiary considerations informing that prosecutorial judgment—including whether particular legal theories would extend to the facts of the case and whether the evidence is sufficient to prove one or another element of a crime," Barr plans to say in his prepared testimony, per ABC. "But at the end of the day, the federal prosecutor must decide yes or no. That is what I sought to address in my March 24 letter."
  • “From here on, the exercise of responding & reacting to the report is a matter for the American people & the political process," Barr concludes. 

FEAR FACTOR: Lawmakers may question Barr about a discrepancy between his answers to the Senate about communications with Mueller when he testified before them at the end of March.


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Global Power

THE FINAL PHASE FLOP?: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó still lacks the military support to oust President Nicolás Maduro after announcing “the final phase of Operation Liberty." Maduro and his governmen remained intact by nightfall, denouncing last night in a televised address the “foolish” and “failed” attempt to remove him from power. 

A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Maduro was just about to flee the country yesterday morning and take refuge in Havana until Russia convinced him to change his mind. 

  • “He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay,” said Pompeo, adding that it had “been a long time since anyone's seen Maduro.” 
  • However, Maduro denied Pompeo's claim during his televised address: “Mike Pompeo said — how crazy can things get? — that I, Maduro, had a plane ready to escape to Cuba and that the Russians prohibited me from leaving,” Maduro said. “Mr. Pompeo, please. Such a lack of seriousness. Mr. Bolton gave orders to high-ranking officers to join the coup that was overcome in Venezuela . . . Dear God, how far will the U.S. go?”
  • National security adviser John Bolton took to publicly shaming key figures in Maduro's regime who “have been talking to the opposition over these last three months to make good on their commitment to achieve the peaceful transfer of power.” Bolton called out Vladimir Padrino, Venezuela's minister of defense, as someone who had “committed to support ousting Maduro.”
  • Hmm: Padrino later appeared alongside Maduro during his televised speech. 

REALITY CHECK: Guaidó has yet to receive the support he needs from Maduro's top commanders, despite U.S. expectations of top military defections, according to our colleagues Mariana Zuñiga, Anthony Faiola and Terrence McCoy

  • Per my colleagues Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung: “A senior Latin American official said opposition talks had been going on with Padrino and the other two for “the last several weeks,” and that the three had been promised retention in their current positions if they came out publicly in support of “constitutional order” that would allow Guaidó to take power. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the fast-moving and confusing situation, said those involved in the negotiations had no initial explanation for what went wrong...”
  • Cuba watch: Trump also threatened to impose “a full and complete embargo and additional sanctions on Cuba “if that government does not end what Trump called deadly intervention in Venezuela, where soldiers and opposition forces clashed in the streets in what U.S. officials said may be a pivotal uprising,” per my colleagues Anne and Karen. 

THE OPTICS: Earlier Tuesday, Guaidó released a video address at dawn outside of a military base in Caracas, surrounded by armed men in military uniforms, calling for a military uprising to oust Maduro. 

  • “People of Venezuela, we will go to the street with the armed forces to continue taking the streets until we consolidate the end of usurpation, which is already irreversible,” he said. 

Maduro, after claiming the military remains loyal to him in a tweet, responded to protests that erupted around the country with violence and tear gas that left one person dead, dozens injured and 25 people detained.

GOOD NEIGHBOR?: Critics of the U.S. strategy in Venezuela were skeptical of what they viewed as the Trump administration's attempts to double down on a strategy behind ousting Maduro that has failed to reap rewards.

  • “There are two reasons I'm skeptical of what the administration has said in the last few hours: I think that they are being untruthful or misleading to protect the opposition at a moment when they look particularly weak and the second is to continue to double down on a strategy of trying to instill paranoia and fear into Maduro as well as the idea that his inner circle is shrinking,” Geoff Ramsey, assistant director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America, told Power Up. 
  • “There are many members of the Venezuelan military who have very little incentive for recognizing Guaidó because they benefit handsomely from the corruption of the Maduro regime . . . While most Venezuelans are suffering and struggling to put food on the table, military brass are living a pretty good life,” Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, told Power Up. 
  • Ramsey added the military rank-and-file has the most incentive to rise up against Maduro, but they're also the ones with “the least capability to do so.” 
  • There was also evidence of skepticism on the ground from Venezuelans: “If they don’t have the support of the high military command, they won’t achieve anything,” Grisel Sojo, 24, told the New York Times. “I wouldn’t go out in the street or call others to head out, because it is very sad to see people dying in the streets.”

Maduro's grip on Venezuela's state-run Internet, television, radio stations and electric grid, paired with a robust disinformation campaign, have also hampered Guaidó's efforts. 

  • On Tuesday, CNN was taken off the air by the government “moments after the network broadcast a feed that showed military vehicles running over protesters in Caracas,” according to CNN's Oliver Darcy. BBC was also taken off the air. 
  • Venezuela's state-run Internet service also cut off “broad swaths of the nation’s social-media and messaging sites, taking aim at the most critical ways Venezuelans had organized protests and communicated with family amid military clashes and violent unrest,” our colleagues Drew Harwell and Mariana Zuñiga report. 
  • “The video giant YouTube, the search engine Bing, the live-streaming video service Periscope, and chat and messaging services run by Google also appeared to be blocked as part of the latest sweeping move by an authoritarian regime to squash online dissent,” per Drew and Mariana. 

The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab has been tracking Maduro's efforts to control the media to maintain power and an advantage over the opposition. 

  • “Maduro is moving toward a more robust blackout of the entire information environment and that's where you see him literally cutting off power to stop the spread of objective information or coordination by the opposition across the information environment and that’s a really dangerous place,” Graham Brookie, the director and managing editor of the DFR Lab, told us. 
  • “It's impossible to fully overcome it,” Marczak added of Maduro's control over the media landscape, “But organizing at a local level will be fundamental to the interim government's ability to get out their own message.” 

At the White House

INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK, PART XYZ: The world got a glimpse of a parallel universe yesterday in which the White House and congressional Democrats at least put on a facade of productivity and cooperation, agreeing to the outline for a $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

  • “Leaving the White House after the morning meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) both said Trump had embraced their vision of “big and bold” legislation to build roads, bridges, mass transit and high-speed communications links, as well as other desperately needed upgrades, and praised the productive tone of the discussions,” our colleagues Mike DeBonis and John Wagner report.
  • But the potential progress was notable for who and what wasn't in the room: Cameras or conservatives, as our colleague Paul Kane notes of the absence of the press, McConnell and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
  • And reality begin to set back in on the Hill: " . . . Trump’s fellow Republicans cast a much more skeptical note, questioning how any infrastructure program would be financed. Many ruled out one idea favored by Democrats: rolling back the 2017 Republican tax cuts for corporations and wealthy Americans,” Mike and John report.
  • How the peace may fall apart: Democrats and Trump tentatively agreed to meet in three weeks to discuss how to pay for everything. On the other side of the country, Mulvaney didn't even think talks will get that far.
    • “I want to change the environmental laws, how do you feel about that as a Democrat?” Mulvaney said of his desire to cut regulations before any possible deal during a talk at Milken Institute's annual conference in California. "[Trump] is not interested in spending a trillion dollars now for something that isn't going to get built until 2029.”
    • The key quote: “It was a fun night,” Mulvaney said of pain he was experiencing from kidney stones. “But it’s better than going to the meeting with Chuck and Nancy at the White House.

On The Hill

MULVANEY SAYS USMCA IS TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT: Mulvaney was clear that the White House sees the USMCA trade deal as Trump's major domestic policy initiative for his second year in office. And to Democrats who want to criticize the NAFTA replacement, Mulvaney said they face a binary choice, “Your real two Plan Bs are either NAFTA or withdraw from NAFTA."

  • That's not what Pelosi and other top Democrats have been pushing. She has suggested that the administration reopen talks with Mexico and Canada to tighten enforcement provisions. 
  •  Trump is also facing opposition in his own party to the deal. Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) dropped an ultimatum to Trump in the Wall Street Journal: end the tariffs on steel or aluminum or USMCA dies.
  • Ratifying the deal, which has yet to be submitted to Congress, would fulfill one of Trump's major campaign promises to replace NAFTA, and according to major agriculture groups, provide some stability to the industry that was jolted by Trump's claims he would rip up NAFTA.

THE CHINA FACTOR: Mulvaney also said we'll know “one way or the other” whether the administration will sign a trade deal with China within two weeks.

However, as trade talks continue this week, it seems "increasingly unlikely that China will give ground in a crucial area that could determine which country wins the technology race," per the New York Times's Ana Swanson: 

  • "Despite months of pressure from the White House, Chinese negotiators have so far refused to relax tight regulations that block multinational companies from moving data they gather on their Chinese customers’ purchases, habits and whereabouts out of the country. Such data is crucial as industries build next-generation technologies."
  • "Business executives say relaxing China’s restrictions on data is critical to ability of the United States to build globally competitive firms in areas like autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, which are expected to power jobs and economic growth," per Swanson. 
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In the Media