Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1973, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo walked away from prosecution in the “Pentagon Papers” case. Judge William M. Byrne dismissed all charges due to government misconduct he said had “incurably infected the prosecution of this case.”
The big idea
Putin may be more dangerous now than before invasion
Moscow’s conventional forces will take years to recover from shock military setbacks they have suffered in Ukraine. But Russian President Vladimir Putin may be more dangerous today than when he launched the expanded war to conquer his neighbor nearly three months ago.
Putin may be tempted to try “drastic” new steps to achieve his aims — which potentially require mass Russian mobilization to be successful — in what is likely to be a “prolonged” conflict with significant risks of escalation.
That’s some of what the Senate Armed Services Committee heard Tuesday from Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, who leads the Defense Intelligence Agency, at an annual hearing on “Worldwide Threats.”
Here’s what you need to know about what these top officials told Congress about the war in Ukraine.
Putin has only refocused his war aims, not reduced them
His refocus on efforts to conquer Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region after failing to seize Kyiv are temporary, his ambitious strategic goals for the war likely have not changed, but now he lacks the conventional military power to reach them. So he’ll have to compensate.
- “The next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory,” Haines said. “We assess President Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine, during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas.”
To salvage his plans, Putin may “turn to more drastic measures, including by imposing martial law,” turning more industrial production to his war effort, or escalating his use of force, she testified.
Russia won’t be satisfied with merely conquering Donbas, even assuming they can, she said. Putin aims to occupy southeastern Ukraine, connecting to Russia-occupied Crimea, and trying to build a land bridge to Transnistria, a breakaway region of eastern Moldova.
Ukrainian resistance has depleted his forces enough that such an effort would likely fail “without launching some form of mobilization” in Russia.
Russia’s conventional military needs ‘years’ to recover
“As we’ve watched the Russians falter here and the losses that they’ve sustained, we believe that they’re going to be set back conventionally for a number of years as they try to recoup these losses and replace all of the equipment and soldiers that they have lost,” said Berrier.
- “It’s going to take them years,” Haines agreed. “And that may end up meaning that they have greater reliance, in effect, on asymmetric tools” like cyberwarfare.
(Interestingly, this makes it sound like Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s controversial late-April expression of hope Russia will be so “weakened” by the conflict it cannot invade other neighbors may be coming true. A top French military official recently said something similar.)
Putin bets democracies will weaken before Russia
Haines talked up unprecedented economic punishment of Moscow, whether through government sanctions or private-sector decisions to suspend business-as-usual. Russian inflation will run about 20 percent, and Russia’s economy stands to contract by 10 percent in 2022.
But, she noted: “Putin most likely also judges that Russia has a greater ability and willingness to endure challenges than his adversaries, and he is probably counting on U.S. and E.U. resolve to weaken as food shortages, inflation, energy prices get worse.”
Neither side wants to negotiate right now
Both Russia and Ukraine think they can still make gains on the battlefield. For now, at least, talks are out.
The war is a stalemate. Until it isn’t.
Asked about the state of the fighting, Berrier replied: “I would characterize it as the Russians aren't winning and the Ukrainians aren't winning. And we're at a bit of a stalemate here.”
- “If Russia doesn’t declare war and mobilize, the stalemate’s going to last for a while. I don’t see a breakout on either side,” Berrier said. “If they do mobilize and they do declare war, that will bring thousands of more soldiers to the fight.”
“And even though they may not be as well trained and competent they will still bring mass and a lot more ammunition.”
What’s happening now
Inflation rates edged down in April, showing potential signs of easing
“Data released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics may give policymakers some nascent hope that soaring inflation may be starting to slow down, even as households continue to feel the pain. For example, March prices rose at a sharper pace, 8.5 percent compared to previous year, and 1.2 percent compared to the previous month,” Rachel Siegel reports.
U.S. surpasses record 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021
“More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021 than any previous year, a grim milestone in an epidemic that has now claimed 1 million lives in the 21st century, according to federal data released Wednesday,” Meryl Kornfield reports.
Judge bars indicted official, Tina Peters, from overseeing 2022 elections
“A Colorado judge on Tuesday ruled that Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters (R), a supporter of former president Donald Trump who has embraced election-fraud conspiracy theories, is banned from overseeing elections in her home county because of her indictment for allegedly tampering with voting equipment,” Timothy Bella and Emma Brown report.
Hong Kong police arrest 90-year-old cardinal on foreign collusion charges
“The Hong Kong national security police arrested 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, the most outspoken senior Catholic cleric in Hong Kong and the city’s bishop emeritus, along with at least three others on Wednesday for their involvement in a humanitarian relief fund, according to lawyers involved in the case,” Theodora Yu reports.
The war in Ukraine
Ukraine to try Russian for alleged war crime
“Ukraine’s prosecutor general announced that a 21-year-old Russian soldier in custody will be the first to stand trial for an alleged war crime during Russia’s invasion. Vadim Shishimarin is accused of killing an unarmed 62-year-old civilian by the side of a road in a village in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine in late February,” Rachel Pannett, Annabelle Timsit, Felicia Sonmez, Amy Cheng, Andrew Jeong, Ellen Francis and Jennifer Hassan report.
More key updates:
Lunchtime reads from The Post
When the sheriff waged a war on drugs in a Mississippi county
“The 2014 raid on [Bengie Edwards's] home was a no-knock, one of the most dangerous and intrusive policing tactics, in which officers force their way into homes without warning. These high-risk searches were intended to be used sparingly. But over the years, police have increasingly deployed no-knock raids across the country, with little pushback from judges who sign off on the warrants,” Jenn Abelson and Reena Flores report.
“And in Monroe County, no-knocks were the rule rather than the exception. [Sheriff Cecil Cantrell], elected in 2011 on a promise to crack down on crime, waged a war on drugs for years in this rural community of roughly 35,000 residents. The same judge routinely signed off on no-knock warrants, including the one for Edwards’s home.”
Trump wanted to court-martial prominent retired officers, book says
“President Donald Trump wanted to court-martial two prominent retired military officers for their perceived slights and disloyalty, his former defense secretary Mark T. Esper alleges in a new book, the latest insider account to raise claims about the combative commander in chief and his attempts to upend government institutions,” Dan Lamothe reports.
- “Trump, Esper recounts in ‘A Sacred Oath,’ had developed a disdain for Stanley McChrystal and William H. McRaven, popular and influential leaders who, in retirement, criticized the president. When Trump informed Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of his wish to see McChrystal and McRaven court-martialed, the two Pentagon leaders ‘jumped to their defense,’ Esper writes, arguing that both completed distinguished military careers and that taking such action would be 'extreme and unwarranted.’”
… and beyond
Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe is still the only one circulated inside Supreme Court
“Justice Samuel Alito’s sweeping and blunt draft majority opinion from February overturning Roe remains the court’s only circulated draft in the pending Mississippi abortion case, POLITICO has learned, and none of the conservative justices who initially sided with Alito have to date switched their votes. No dissenting draft opinions have circulated from any justice, including the three liberals,” Politico's Josh Gerstein, Alexander Ward and Ryan Lizza report.
Fed confronts why it may have acted too slowly on inflation
“Several current and former Fed officials have suggested in recent days that, in hindsight, the central bank should have reacted more quickly and forcefully last fall, but that both profound uncertainty about the future and the Fed’s approach to setting policy slowed it down,” the New York Times's Jeanna Smialek reports.
- “Officials had spent years dealing with tepid inflation, which made some hesitant to believe that rapidly rising prices would last. Even as they became more concerned, it took the Fed’s large group of policymakers time to come to an agreement on how to respond. Another complicating factor was that the Fed had made clear promises to markets about how it would remove support for the economy, which made adjusting quickly more difficult.”
The latest on covid
Growing share of Covid-19 deaths are among vaccinated people, but booster shots substantially lower the risk
“Of those vaccinated people who died from a breakthrough case of Covid-19 in January and February, less than a third had gotten a booster shot, according to a CNN analysis of data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The remaining two-thirds had only received their primary series,” CNN's Deidre McPhillips reports.
The Biden agenda
Biden to announce steps to aid farmers, lower food costs on Illinois trip
- “The White House says the Covid pandemic and Russia's invasion into Ukraine have contributed to supply chain disruptions, increasing food prices and shortages in the U.S. and abroad.”
Economist Lisa Cook to become first Black woman on Fed board
“The economist Lisa Cook was confirmed Tuesday as the first Black woman on the Federal Reserve Board in a historic moment for the central bank as it tries to stabilize a recovery that serves all Americans,” Rachel Siegel reports.
Migrant families separated under Trump face elusive quests for reparations under Biden
“There are now at least 22 pending lawsuits in federal courts across the U.S. on behalf of more than 80 parents and children seeking financial compensation for the trauma they endured after being separated by U.S. border officials during the Trump administration,” CBS News's Camilo Montoya-Galvez reports.
- “Last year, the Biden administration agreed to negotiate with lawyers for migrant families seeking reparations to forge a compensation settlement for affected families. But in October 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported that $450,000 payouts were being considered, triggering intense Republican backlash.”
What we know so far about Biden's plan to forgive student loans
“I am considering dealing with some debt reduction,” Biden told reporters at the White House on April 28, adding that canceling up to $50,000 in debt per borrower is not on the table,” Time's Katie Reilly reports.
Trump’s endorsements, visualized
“Former president Donald Trump is flexing his political influence in this year’s Republican primaries, backing his favored candidates in hotly contested statewide and congressional races. Trump endorsed 4 candidates running in the May 10 primaries.” We are tracking all the endorsed candidates for 2022 Republican primaries.
Hot on the left
HBCU lacrosse team accuses police of racial profiling in search of bus
“The Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team was on its way home after the final game of the season when its bus was pulled over in Georgia for what appeared to be driving in the wrong lane. But when deputies with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office walked around the team bus last month, the players and coaches with the historically Black university were shocked that authorities had allegedly turned a traffic stop into a chance for deputies and a drug-sniffing dog to search their luggage and belongings,” Timothy Bella reports.
“The incident, which was first detailed in a story by sophomore lacrosse player Sydney Anderson in the school’s student newspaper, the Hornet, came about from what the HBCU’s president says was a case of racial profiling against a team made up of mostly Black players.”
Hot on the right
New tapes: Graham says Trump ‘went too far,’ calls Biden the ‘best person to have’ post-Jan. 6
“New audiotapes have surfaced of Sen. Lindsey Graham, a known Trump ally, criticizing Trump and praising Biden after the January 6 Capitol riot,” Business Insider's Cheryl Teh reports.
"The tapes were played on CNN's ‘Anderson Cooper 360’ during an interview segment with New York Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin. Martin interviewed Graham on January 6 directly after the riot, and the senator spoke candidly about then-President-elect Joe Biden and the former president, Trump.”
Today in Washington
Biden will visit a family farm in Kankakee, Ill., at 1:45 p.m. to discuss food supply and prices and will deliver remarks at 2:15 p.m.
At 5 p.m., Biden will address the 40th International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) International Convention in Chicago.
Biden will attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at 5:50 p.m.
The president will depart Chicago at 7:40 p.m. to return to the White House, where he is scheduled to arrive at 9:55 p.m.
The iPod is finally dead. Long live the iPod.
"For a generation of people who lived, worked, and grew up in the 2000s, the word “iPod” was synonymous with music. Escaping the sight of those white ear buds was nearly impossible. And despite the speed with which smartphones took over our lives, Apple kept making its digital media players without much fuss," Chris Velazco writes.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.