with Tobi Raji

Good morning. It's Friday. We've (almost) made it. Tips, comments, recipes? You know the drill. This is the Power Up newsletter – thanks for waking up with us & see you on Monday. 

On the Hill

In the agencies

NEW ADMINISTRATION, SAME RED TAPE: “For Trump’s entire presidency, top congressional Democrats used every tool at their disposal to investigate the Washington hotel he leased from the federal government, issuing subpoenas, holding hearings and filing a lawsuit to try to bring the inner workings of Trump’s luxury property to light,” our colleagues Jonathan O'Connell and David A. Fahrenthold report. “The efforts were framed as a defense of democracy itself.”

  • But “none of it worked — a testament to Trump’s willingness to fight at every turn. Now, with the Biden administration in place, Democrats’s efforts to unearth and make public the information haven’t gone much better.”
  • “Biden’s team has steadfastly defended some of the protections the Trump administration put in place to conceal Trump’s financial interests. The Justice Department under Biden is appealing a lower court judgment in favor of the congressional Democrats in their suit, another move by the agency to defend Trump-era legal positions. Biden’s General Services Administration, which holds the lease for the Trump International hotel, has provided only a portion of the documents Congress is seeking and asked that none of them be disclosed publicly.”

“Government watchdogs say they are disappointed at the Biden administration’s unwillingness to hold Trump accountable … Allowing Trump’s actions to go unscrutinized, advocates argue, would invite future presidents to repeat them.”

  • "We think it’s really important to learn as much as possible about that contract and how it was administered, and whether there were special favors for Donald Trump because he was the president,” Noah Bookbinder, president and chief executive of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told David and Jonathan.

“Bookbinder pointed to a clause in the lease barring an ‘elected official’ from receiving ‘any benefit’ from the agreement, which GSA — under Trump — ruled was not a violation two months after he entered office.” 

  • “I think its pretty clear that a straight reading of the contract itself would say that he violated it,” Bookbinder said. He said GSA’s decision “seemed to have happened as a result of political influence.”
  • “White House spokesman Andrew Bates declined to comment. Representatives of the Trump Organization, which recently put the hotel lease up for sale, did not respond. Trump has called the investigations into his business practices “witch hunts” that are driven by politics.”

“GSA’s statement said the agency will continue to respond to inquiries by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by DeFazio. But agency officials informed DeFazio and his Republican counterpart in a May 5 letter that Congress should not release any of the information to the public out of concerns for the privacy of the Trump Organization’s proprietary business information,” per David and Jonathan. “Those concerns should not outweigh the public interest in knowing whether the president was using the government to enrich himself, oversight advocates said.” 

SEPARATELY: “President Joe Biden’s brother James has abandoned a clean-energy project in the UK after a White House review for potential conflicts of interest,” the Financial Times's Kate Beioley and James Politi report. 

  • “James Biden established an investment vehicle in May, with a UK corporate lawyer and two Argentine businessmen. But he ditched the plan just weeks later following a White House assessment under stringent new rules introduced by Joe Biden’s administration. The company now lies dormant.” 
  • “The White House counsel’s office review of James Biden’s planned UK business is part of an ethics regime introduced by the new US administration and designed to draw a line between President Biden’s approach to his family’s financial interests and that of his predecessor, Donald Trump.” 
  • “The new procedures mean that President Biden’s family members should discuss potential business engagements or deals with their own lawyers first, then if needed inform the White House counsel. After the White House offers its advice on whether to proceed, the family members make the final decision. The rules are designed to ensure that the president’s family members have no conflicts of interest with US government matters.” 

The investigations

TRUMP DOJ ALSO TARGETED LAWMAKERS: “As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members,” the New York Times’s Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt and Adam Goldman report. “One was a minor.”

  • “The records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman.”
  • “Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.”
  • “But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later.”

Trump’s war on leaks: “The zeal in the Trump administration’s efforts to hunt leakers led to the extraordinary step of subpoenaing communications metadata from members of Congress — a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations. While Justice Department leak investigations are routine, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry said they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers had been seized as part of one.”

  • “The president of the United States doesn't urge the department to investigate his political adversaries or his political enemies,” Schiff told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, reacting to the news. “And that that is, I think, a terrible abuse of power. It violates, I think, the separation of powers. But it also makes the Department of Justice just a fully owned subsidiary of the president's personal legal interests and political interests.”

It wasn’t just Schiff. “Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), another Democrat on the committee, told CNN's Don Lemon on Thursday evening that he was notified that his data [as well as records of family members and a minor] had been seized as part of the probe.”

Next steps: Schiff has called for an investigation into former president Donald Trump's Justice Department. 

  • “I think that the attorney general has an obligation to clean house, to essentially understand exactly what the department was doing over the last four years, make sure that there's accountability for those that were engaged in political and partisan investigations within the department,” Schiff told Maddow.

The policies

PROGRESS (MAYBE): “A bipartisan group of 10 Senate Democrats and Republicans reached a new deal on infrastructure on Thursday, agreeing to a nearly $1 trillion, five-year package to improve the country’s roads, bridges, pipes and Internet connections,” our colleagues Tony Romm and Seung Min Kim report

  • “The new deal is the product of five Democrats and five Republicans — Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.).”
  • “Their early agreement calls for about $974 billion in infrastructure spending over five years, which comes to about $1.2 trillion when extrapolated over eight years. The package includes roughly $579 billion in new spending.”
  • “Democrats and Republicans agreed to focus their investments on what they see as core infrastructure, and their plan does not include any new tax increases to finance the spending. But it does appear to wade into politically fraught territory by proposing changes to the gas tax: Lawmakers do not plan to raise the rate, but they do seek to index it to inflation, meaning consumers’s costs at the pump could rise.”

Deal or no deal? 

  • “The president has held steadfastly against any financing mechanism that raises taxes on Americans who make under $400,000 annually. The White House has made it clear to the group of 10 senators that the indexing provision would violate Biden’s red line and that he would reject it.”
  • And with inflation on the rise, “Republicans are using the numbers to argue that big spending on infrastructure, would be imprudent,” the New York Times's Jeanna Smialek reports.

On K Street

🔎SCOOP: “A number of Democrats are growing increasingly nervous that the White House could agree to a bipartisan infrastructure deal that scales back key climate-change initiatives, prompting a lobbying push that has included former vice president Al Gore making his case directly to Biden,” our colleagues Jeff Stein, Juliet Eilperin and Tyler Pager report

  • “The former vice president urged Biden to stop the planned Byhalia Pipeline, which would transport crude oil for export through predominantly Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis and could affect a nearby drinking-water well owned by a local utility.”
  • “The private jockeying over the administration’s climate agenda comes at a critical moment, as Biden is pressing world leaders gathering in Europe to more swiftly curb the globe’s carbon output. The United States is unlikely to meet its new pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, according to independent analyses, without the funding and incentives Biden has outlined in his infrastructure bill.”

Who's been excluded from the climate policymaking process?: The White House’s predicament has led to some angst from within the Biden administration, particularly on the strategy with the infrastructure bill,” per Jeff, Juliet, and Tyler. 

  • “Some Biden economic aides from more-liberal circles — including high-ranking members of the Council of Economic Advisers and the departments of Treasury and Labor — are largely cut out of the most important decisions on infrastructure negotiations with Congress, three other people briefed by senior administration officials said. These people also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. A White House official said those parts of the administration are a critical part of the infrastructure policy process.” 
  • But with many Republicans lining up in opposition to the White House’s climate agenda, some Democrats fear the president could be backing down in search of getting a deal on infrastructure and a range of other priorities.”
  • “White House spokesman Andrew Bates denied the administration has wavered in its commitment to act on climate change. The White House has repeatedly pointed to a lack of climate-related funding in rejecting the infrastructure proposals floated by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). And the president frequently highlights the need to make major clean energy investments in his speeches and public comments.”

Global power

GLOBAL REENTRY: “The leaders of the world's advanced economies will gather [today] on the Cornish coast for the first time since the global coronavirus pandemic began, welcoming Biden as a new member who arrived here intent on restoring traditional American alliances,” CNN’s Kevin Liptak reports.

  • “His day will include the landmark ‘family photo,’ a symbolic moment for a President who has long sought a place in the club of world leaders. Later he'll meet for closed-door sessions on the global pandemic recovery, the driving topic for leaders urgently working to pull their nations from the grips of the worst global health crisis in a generation.”
  • “Part of Biden’s unofficial mission on his first foreign sojourn is to help improve America’s standing abroad, an impression that has improved since he took office, according to a Pew Research Center global survey released Thursday,” per our colleagues Anne Gearan and Ashley Parker.

A full plate. Following the G-7 meeting, Biden will travel to Brussels for a summit with NATO allies and then to Geneva for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • The Biden-Putin sit-down is expected to be strained following reports that “Russia is preparing to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system that will give Tehran an unprecedented ability to track potential military targets across the Middle East and beyond,” our colleague Joby Warrick reports.
  • “The imminent launch of a Russian-made Iranian satellite could add to a long list of contentious issues that have strained relations between Moscow and Washington, including most notably recent Russian hacking operations and efforts to interfere with U.S. elections.”

In the media

WEEKEND REEADS

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