🚨: "South Korea’s military says North Korea has fired at least one unidentified projectile from its western area," per the Associated Press. "It’s the second such launch in the last five days. The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff had no other immediate details of the Thursday afternoon launch."
NOT IN THIS BACKYARD: The Trump administration is shying away from a full-throated condemnation of China's treatment of roughly one million ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims, shelving possible sanctions until after a trade deal between the administration and Beijing has been finalized, according to multiple U.S. and international diplomats.
The concern is that leveling targeted sanctions against Chinese officials over the Uighur issue could further sour trade talks, or even entirely derail them. The trade talks are already on the rocks and President Trump is set to impose a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods if an agreement can't be reached by Friday.
- “By the way, you see the tariffs we're doing? Because they broke the deal. They broke the deal,” Trump said at a rally in Panama City, Fla., last night. “So they're flying in, the vice premier tomorrow is flying in — good man — but they broke the deal. They can't do that, so they'll be paying.”
Swampy: Tensions over the sanctions — which would punish China for its detention of nearly one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang province — have ripened between the State and the Treasury departments. State officials had prepared sanctions last year, but they were stymied by Treasury, which is taking the lead in the trade talks.
- “Treasury does not telegraph sanctions or comment on prospective actions,” a Treasury spokesperson told Power Up.
- “They gave us a hint it is related,” Omar Kanat, director of the Ugyhur Human Rights Project, said of his discussions with high-level State officials. “We heard that the State Department is ready to make a decision but the Treasury Department is resisting.”
As trade talks have languished and the March 1 deadline for a final deal missed, bipartisan calls from Congress to address human rights have grown louder:
- “We can walk and chew gum at the same time and we can pursue our economic priorities with China and express our deep concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, told Power Up.
- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) released a statement on Monday urging Trump to “hold China accountable for abuses against” Uighurs through “strong sanctions, export controls, and financial disclosures to counter Chinese human rights abuses.”
- “The Chinese government needs to understand that there will be serious consequences if they continue this brutal campaign of repression. At the same time, the Trump Administration must make up its mind about upholding America’s values — and whether they can be disposed of as a negotiating tactic for a trade deal,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) told Power Up in a statement.
AT FOGGY BOTTOM: State Department officials have been quietly holding briefings with Western allies to shore up support for condemning Chinese behavior toward the Uighurs and to combat China's attempt to control information coming out of the region, diplomatic sources told Power Up. China argues the Uighurs pose a national security threat and that they are trying to “reeducate” a terrorist group.
Chinese officials have been especially aggressive in lobbying countries directly on the issue:
- “China has been sending a lot of delegations to countries to convince the government that the story” is being manufactured by American press, Kanat told Power Up. “And high level officials in Malaysia, for example, have personally asked me about Chinese government officials saying it’s an American conspiracy.”
- Officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington didn't respond to inquiries on the issue.
A letter from a bipartisan group of 24 senators and 19 representatives urging Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to impose Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against various Chinese officials "complicit in gross human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang."
Not exactly on the same page: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been the most critical voice in the administration on the issue. He met with Uighur Muslims, including a woman who escaped from an internment camp in Xinjiang, at the State Department in March.
“We call on the Chinese government to release immediately these individuals’ family members and all others arbitrarily detained in the camps,” the State Department said in a statement after Pompeo’s meeting.
But over the weekend on “Face the Nation,” Pompeo defended the U.S. approach to de-link human rights discussions from trade negotiations. He would not say whether U.S. officials ultimately plan on imposing sanctions once the trade issues are resolved.
Reticence to incorporate the issue into trade talks underscores the extent to which international norms have been upended in the Trump presidency. Trump himself has been criticized for prioritizing economic interests over human rights, weakening America's moral authority, according to critics.
“I have been astounded quite frankly, at this administration’s repeated indifference on human rights matters,” McGovern told us. “They are transactional, and all about a business deal . . . And I think it diminishes us and our standing in the world at a time when quite frankly there is a real need for leadership on the issue of human rights.”
“There has been discussion that the E.U. would be much stronger if other Western countries — including the U.S. — would work as one front toward China and China uses this as an argument as well . . . to separate Western unity,” one European diplomat told us.
Last week, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs, Randall Schriver, expressed concern during a press briefing about the Chinese Communist Party's use of “security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps.”
- Initially, Chinese authorities denied the existence of the network of detention centers. But recently, they publicly acknowledged the camps and “argued that Xinjiang’s network of detention centers are built for educating and de-radicalizing a Muslim population that became increasingly influenced by extremist Islamist ideology,” according to my colleague Gerry Shih.
The U.S. isn't the only country absent from the world stage on the Uighur issue: majority Muslim countries, outside of Turkey and Indonesia, have also been silent. Members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who gathered in Abu Dhabi in March, released a joint statement that shocked diplomats for its praise of China's treatment of Muslims.
- The OIC “welcomes the outcomes of the visit conducted by the General Secretariat's delegation upon invitation from the People's Republic of China; commends the efforts of the People's Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens; and looks forward to further cooperation between the OIC and the People's Republic of China,” according to the resolutions released by the OIC after meeting.
A Turkish official told a group of diplomatic representatives at a meeting at the German consulate in New York this past month that “the Turkish government had worked very hard to prevent the OIC from issuing the release of the statement but was not successful,” according to a source present for the meeting. Diplomats say the Saudi-led coalition quieted criticisms of China over the detention of Uighurs because of trade ties.
- “It's quite obvious that the “Belt and Road Initiative” is one of the reasons some countries have been intimidated or pressured not to talk about China because of the economic dependency — even in some European countries,” a European diplomat told Power Up, referring to China's ambitious global infrastructure project seeking to better connect China with trading partners across the world.
- “We are, I can say, disappointed about the lack of response from members of the OIC, and the lack of outspoken concern,” Kelley Currie, who heads the State Department's Office of Global Criminal Justice, said at the time.
- “Xi said that China attaches great importance to developing the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries and regards Saudi Arabia as an important cooperation partner in promoting the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative,” per a readout of a call between Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Chinese President Xi Jinping released on Wednesday.
- Saudi Arabia's embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
At the White House
TRUMP SOURING ON GUAIDÓ: “President Trump is questioning his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela following the failure of a U.S.-backed effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro, complaining he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman with a young opposition figure, according to administration officials and White House advisers,” my colleagues Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey, John Hudson and Seung Min Kim scooped last night.
- Trump has complained that national security adviser John Bolton has underestimated Maduro: “The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around [Bolton] and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.”
- “The administration’s policy is officially unchanged in the wake of a fizzled power play last week by U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó. But U.S. officials have since been more cautious in their predictions of Maduro’s swift exit, while reassessing what one official described as the likelihood of a diplomatic 'long haul.'”
On The Hill
CASE DECIDEDLY NOT CLOSED: “The constitutional conflict between congressional Democrats and President Trump accelerated sharply Wednesday, as the White House blocked access to potentially damaging information in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s work and lawmakers declared the standoff had become a crisis,” our colleagues Devlin Barrett, Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey report.
- “For the first time during the Trump administration, the president asserted executive privilege over material demanded by Congress …” Devlin, Carol and Josh write of the White House decision to block Congress from obtaining Mueller’s full unredacted report.
- As a result, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt. But the question is whether such an effort will change the contours of the debate or just allow the president to run out the clock through an increasingly likely court fight.
- Such a strategy comes with risks: “Keeping damaging information or testimony out of public view for an extended period could aid the president’s reelection chances. But if the president were to lose in court, that could weaken every future presidency that sought to keep its internal discussions private,” Devlin, Carol and Josh write.
“SELF-IMPEACHABLE”: Earlier yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told my colleague Bob Costa that PrTrump was “becoming self-impeachable” as a result of repeated White House efforts to House Democrats from conducting congressional oversight by blocking subpoenas for testimony from administration officials and requests for documents related to the Mueller probe and other matters.
- “The point is that every single day, whether it’s obstruction, obstruction, obstruction — obstruction of having people come to the table with facts, ignoring subpoenas . . . every single day, the president is making a case — he’s becoming self-impeachable, in terms of some of the things that he is doing,” Pelosi said at a Washington Post Live event.
Mueller, meanwhile . . . is still in talks with lawmakers “to appear May 15, but there is no agreement yet, and Trump has said Mueller should not testify,” per the Associated Press's Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro and Jonathan Lemire.
Politico's Heather Caygle ad Aaron Lorenzo report House Democrats will decide today whether to go to court over Treasury's refusal to release Trump’s tax returns.
- “Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said he plans to huddle with House lawyers on Thursday and will make the final decision then. He and other senior Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have already raised the prospect of skipping a subpoena and going directly to court after being repeatedly rebuffed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin,” per Heather and Aaron.
Infighting: But the most curious news of Wednesday was the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee’s decision to subpoena Donald Trump Jr. over the Russia investigation.
- Axios’s Jonathan Swan, Alayna Treene and David Nather, who broke the news, put it best: “The subpoena sets up a fight that's unprecedented in the Trump era: A Republican committee chair pit against the Republican president's eldest son.”
- Trump world responded by blasting the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), per the New York Times' Maggie Haberman
- CNN's Kara Scannell, Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju report that Trump Jr. is “considering in response to the subpoena is to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, and another is just to not appear at all, according to one source.”
Hmmm: " . . . concerns about Trump Jr.’s statements are potentially more problematic for the president. According to a transcript of Trump Jr.’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he told lawmakers that he did not tell his father about the Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump Jr.’s testimony to other committees was in line with the account he gave to the Senate Judiciary panel, several Democrats said,” according to my colleagues Ashley Parker, Karoun Demirjian and Shane Harris.
“Yet in Mueller’s report, the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, said he recalled being in Trump’s office when Trump Jr. talked about a meeting to get “adverse information” on Clinton. Cohen told Mueller’s team that it appeared that father and son had previously discussed the subject.”
Apparently the Republican chair of the Senate Intel Committee didn’t get the memo from the Majority Leader that this case was closed... https://t.co/jvV5PIX266— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 8, 2019
Outside the Beltway
NEW YORK LAWMAKERS JOIN THE FIGHT: Faced with the White House’s “just say no” response to demands by House Democrats, the New York legislature advanced two different bills that seek to claw back power.
The first measure sought to ensure that a presidential pardon for anyone in Trump world, still a hypothetical at this point, would not preclude state charges:
- “New York Attorney General Letitia James had sought the legal tweak,” the Associated Press reported. “Supporters said it is necessary to ensure that state and local investigations into Trump and his associates aren’t impacted if Trump uses his power to pardon.”
Twenty minutes later, the state Senate voted to advance a bill allowing Trump's state tax returns to be submitted to Congress by permitting the state to turn over the returns of any New Yorker to a congressional committee if requested to do so.
- “New York’s legislation would not give House Democrats access to the six years of federal tax returns sought by House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.),” our colleague Jeff Stein reports. “But the state returns could provide an unprecedented look into Trump’s New York business dealings, his income, and a range of other personal financial information, according to legal experts.”
Next steps: Both measures must now pass the state Assembly, which is also controlled by Democrats and then signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D). Cuomo (surprise!) has already expressed support for the legislation.
In the Media
IN OTHER NEWS:
- About those endless wars: H.R. McMaster says the public is fed a ‘war-weariness’ narrative that hurts US strategy. By Military Times's Kyle Rempfer.
- "The best kid in the world": Kendrick Castillo, killed in STEM School shooting, sacrificed himself to save others, his father says. By the Denver Post's Sam Tabachnik.
- A chilling reality: This Is What It Sounds Like Hiding In A Dark Classroom During A School Shooting. By Buzzfeed's Tasneem Nashrulla.
- From the VP: Pence slams district court rulings against Trump policies. By the Associated Press's Mark Sherman and Jill Colvin.
- More from STEM School Highlands Ranch: This sixth grader wanted to 'go down fighting' so he grabbed a bat during a school shooting. By CNN's Emanuella Grinberg.
- Art of the Deal: Why China Decided to Play Hardball in Trade Talks. By the Wall Street Journal's Lingling Wei and Bob Davis.
- Do Southern newspapers owe their communities an apology?: Maligned in black and white. By Mark I. Pinksy for Poynter.
From the co-author of "Art of the Deal," in response to the New York Times's story on Trump's huge tax losses:
Given the Times report on Trump's staggering losses, I'd be fine if Random House simply took the book out of print. Or recategorized it as fiction.— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) May 8, 2019