with Brent D. Griffiths

Welcome to the weekend. Well, almost. Have a good one and see you on Monday. Thanks for waking up with us 🌞 

On The Hill

A WAY FORWARD: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) says the junction of the #MeToo movement and the record number of female veterans serving in Congress means there’s more momentum than ever to tackle the issue of military sexual assault.

That’s why she’s rolling out a new bill, the Military Special Victims Protection Act, which would require additional oversight and training on a broader spectrum of sexual misconduct and domestic violence offenses. It’s one of several bills proposed by female veterans in recent weeks to tackle military sexual assault that they also plan to submit as amendments to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act. 

  • Especially notable: Ernst's bill, co-sponsored by Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), aims to find a compromise on a sticking point among those seeking to change how these cases are prosecuted — by allowing an independent legal adviser to review cases of sexual misconduct in some cases. 

It's personal: Ernst, a veteran who earlier this year disclosed she had been a victim of domestic abuse and was raped in college, says the societal shift means she’s now comfortable discussing a topic she once felt was taboo.

“When you have more women veterans serving, sexual assault survivors out there talking about it, then people just understand: If this can happen to a senator, it can happen to my sister, my mother, anybody,” Ernst, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, told Power Up. “It’s a little more personal for people now, people serving in the Senate.”

  • It’s helping her get things done: People know “I’m a credible source when I’m working on a bill,” Ernst adds. “It’s a personal issue for me.”
  • And talk to her colleagues: “When we talk about it, they are less likely to brush it off.”
  • Still: “I think some of our other colleagues are a little uncomfortable and these things makes them a little nervous when we talk about it — but it has to be talked about,” she added.

Compromise: Lawmakers working on the issue are divided over whether sexual assault cases should be handled within the military’s chain of command. Ernst's bill could provide a way forward. 

  • Critics of the military’s justice system, which allows commanders to determine how and whether to pursue a criminal case for a reported sexual assault, say victims often don’t trust the system to bring justice and fear retaliation. Lawmakers such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) want independent, specially trained military prosecutors to fully handle any sexual assault cases. 
  • Ernst says her bill would allow an independent review for an “additional check and balance” if there's disagreement between the commander and the victim’s assigned legal adviser over whether to move forward with an assault case — or, the military superior decides to take only administrative punishment. 
  • “It is a shift,” said Ernst. “It doesn’t take it necessarily out of the chain of command, but if there is disagreement, it does provide another independent voice on how that case should be handled.” 
  • Points of contention: “Senator Gillibrand and I work closely on this and she’s just said, 'Nope. Everything needs to be out of the chain of command,'" Ernst said. “I do still tend to disagree with that, but in case something would happen — if there is a commander who says, 'I do not want to move forward based on my [Judge Advocate General's] recommendation' — then we have someone else that can provide that check.” (Gillibrand's office did not reply to request for comment.) 
  • Notable: Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) who revealed earlier this year that she was raped by a superior in the Air Force, has argued to keep decision-making about sexual assault cases in the chain of command structure. 

Is more change possible?: That's what Ernst hopes to find out in another proposal. She's planning to offer a separate amendment to the NDAA that calls for the Pentagon to conduct an assessment on the feasibility of alternative prosecutorial models — a clear nod to Gillibrand's approach — and would examine the efficacy of moving prosecutions outside of the chain of command. 

The big picture: Prosecution is only a part of the problem, Ernst says. 

  • Rates of reporting sexual assault have quadrupled since the Department of Defense first implemented policy to encourage greater reporting of sexual assault in 2005, according to a report released by the Pentagon earlier this month.
  • Ernst pointed to the 30 percent reporting rate as an indication that the prevention of military sexual assault is a bigger problem than prosecution: “I don’t see that we’re not prosecuting — prosecutions are happening. People are being punished for sexual assault. The problem is sexual assaults are still happening,” Ernst argued.
  • Big spike: The Pentagon recorded a nearly 38 percent increase in sexual assaults reported by service members in 2018. 

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: Expect a debate on these issues when the Senate Armed Services Committee begins reviewing the NDAA next week. 

McSally this week released a bill this week that would make sexual harassment a crime in the military and reduce the length of time a victim has to wait for the case to be prosecuted. 

  • “Our intent is to include as much as possible in the mark up of the defense bill,” McSally told reporters at a luncheon earlier this week, hosted by Winning for Women, an organization aimed at supporting female GOP candidates. 
  • Notable: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told lawmakers earlier this month he wants to “criminalize” such harassment, and is expected to direct the Pentagon to make it a stand-alone crime under military law, per CNN

Sinema and Ernst are also introducing a second bipartisan bill which directs the Department of Defense to create a 20-person civilian advisory committee on preventing sexual assault in the military. 

  • “The bill would also allow the military to pay for exceptionally qualified enlisted members to attend law school and join the JAG (Judge Advocate General's) Corps under the already-existing Funded Legal Education Program,” Ernst's office said in a release. 

Kicker: Ernst, who speaks with President Trump on a consistent basis, thinks “he'll be very willing to support” the provisions.

  • “You'll see a lot of support for it. I'm excited,” she said. “If I feel that I have to call him, I will call him — he'll be supportive.” 

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The Investigations

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: “A federal judge on Thursday ordered that prosecutors make public a transcript of a phone call that former national security adviser Michael Flynn tried hard to hide with a lie: his conversation with a Russian ambassador in late 2016,” my colleagues Carol Leonnig and Rosalind Helderman report. 

  • “U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington ordered the government also to provide a public transcript of a November 2017 voice mail involving Flynn. In that sensitive call, President Trump’s attorney left a message for Flynn’s attorney reminding him of the president’s fondness for Flynn at a time when Flynn was considering cooperating with federal investigators.”
  • “The transcripts, which the judge ordered be posted on a court website by May 31, would reveal conversations at the center of two major avenues of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. So far they have been disclosed to the public only in fragments in court filings and the Mueller report.”
President Trump unveiled his "merit-based” immigration system on May 16, saying that if adopted, it would be "the pride of our nation”. (Reuters)

At the White House

TRUMP HAS IDEAS FOR HIS BORDER WALL: “The barrier that President Trump wants to build along the Mexico border will be a steel bollard fence, not a concrete wall as he long promised, and the president is fine with that. He has a few other things he would like to change, though,” our colleagues Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report.

  • More on the design: “The bollards, or “slats,” as he prefers to call them, should be painted “flat black,” a dark hue that would absorb heat in the summer, making the metal too hot for climbers to scale, Trump has recently told White House aides, Homeland Security officials and military engineers,” Nick and Josh write.
  • Trump has used graphic descriptions when describing the spikes: “And the tips of the bollards should be pointed, not round, the president insists, describing in graphic terms the potential injuries that border crossers might receive,” Nick and Josh write. “Trump has said the wall’s current blueprints include too many gates — placed at periodic intervals to allow vehicles and people through — and he wants the openings to be smaller.”
  • The takeaway: “At a moment when the White House is diverting billions of dollars in military funds to fast-track construction, the president is micromanaging the project down to the smallest design details.,” Nick and Josh write. “But Trump’s frequently shifting instructions and suggestions have left engineers and aides confused, according to current and former administration officials.”

Timing: Our colleagues' report came the same day as Trump finally unveiled his immigration plan, a document that our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Josh and David Nakamura report is “destined for the congressional dustbin.”

The People

HERE’S WHERE DIPLOMATS DINE IN D.C: "In our stateless capital, everyone handles the hunger of homesickness differently. Most of us have our take-me-home go-tos, whether we’re transplants from Texas or Thailand, Ohio or Oman. That’s true even of diplomats," our colleague Richard Morgan reports in this equally fun and surprising story. "We asked dozens of ambassadors based in the District what they eat when they miss home. Some gave us very broad answers — pasta with seafood for Tunisia’s Fayçal Gouia, for instance, or a fish dish with an outdoor aperitif for Italy’s Armando Varricchio …" 

  • Colombian Ambassador Francisco Santos: "My staff gives me a hard time about it, but I’m a freak for Taco Bell. I go to the one in Union Station because it’s near the embassy. I chow down. I get Combo #1: a burrito supreme and hard-shell taco with Diet Pepsi and the red packet of salsa — fire, obviously. I went to college at the University of Texas at Austin and began eating Taco Bell there. Now it reminds me of when my life was beginning and everything was new and full of ideas, for days when I have more memories than ideas. I also eat the best beef fajitas in the world at Cactus Cantina because it reminds me of a place, Jorge’s, from Austin.”
  • Swedish Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter:Mikko has the shrimp open sandwich or mushroom salad, but that’s very Finnish. Every day in Stockholm for lunch I had sushi, so I eat that a lot. Can I tell you a secret? The sushi at Safeway and Whole Foods is very good. I get every fish there, the works. As part of fredagsmys [cozy Fridays] in Sweden, we have tacoskväll [taco night], so I go to Cactus Cantina often on Fridays even though I get chicken fajitas, not tacos. And do you know about the candy wall at Ikea? Swedes have lördagsgodis [Saturday candy]; Saturday is for eating candy. In my house, we eat two pounds of candy every Saturday. That’s a normal amount for a family of four. I will say American Swedish Fish are better than in Sweden, but I eat mormors löständer, like gummy jelly teeth. I started eating those in my 30s. Sometimes people say you have to choose candy or healthy foods. This or that. No. I am a both person.”
  • Georgian Ambassador David Bakradze: “Eating Saturday brunch with family and friends at Supra is as close as you’ll get to the experience of a traditional Georgian meal at a restaurant in D.C. When I miss the cooking back home, I order khachapuri, a breaded cheese boat, to share with my kids. It’s delicious and far too difficult to cook at home. And my personal all-time favorite is the appetizer plate of pkhali, which contains a variety of chopped and minced vegetables like eggplant, spinach, green beans and beets mixed with walnut sauce.”

In the Media


A weekend cocktail recipe submitted to Power Up by reader D.J. Ethan Ward: "So here is a seriously no frills michelada. Everything can easily be found at a grocery store..."

  • 7-9 spoonfuls of lime juice (eyeball it)
  • 2 spoonfuls of Valentina hot sauce (eyeball it)
  • 6 drops of A1 steak sauce (trust me)
  • 1 full Mexican beer - preferably Modelo (do not eyeball it, one full beer)
  • Then gently stir that weird mess in a salted-rimmed glass. You can use a salt rimmed-mason jar for a more catalog / Instagram friendly look. Then add some ice.