Get the best stories to your readers as they happen. The Washington Post News Service streams breaking news, enterprise and features with photos, graphics and video directly to you.

Lost sea creatures wash up on California shores as climate shifts

By Scott Wilson
Lost sea creatures wash up on California shores as climate shifts
Jacqueline Sones, left, and Eric Sanford walk through the tide pools at Horseshoe Cove in Bodega Bay, California. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael Robinson Chavez.

BODEGA BAY, Calif. - The Pacific Ocean off the California coast is mixed up, and so are many of the animals that live there.

The violet, thumbnail-size snails washing up here in Horseshoe Cove have never been seen this far north. By-the-wind sailors, a tiny relative of warm-water jellyfish, sprinkle the tideline by the dozen.

And in the tide pools along the cove's rocky arms, as harbor seals about to pup look languidly on, a slow-motion battle is underway between native Giant Green and Starburst anemones, a species common in Mexico. The southern visitors are bludgeoning their northern hosts with poisonous white-tipped tentacles.

Then there are the whales.

As many as five at a time have been foraging in the San Francisco Bay, the vast inlet about an hour south of here along the wild Sonoma and Marin coasts. The number is far larger than in a normal year, when one or two might wander in beneath the Golden Gate Bridge for a day or two at most.

These whales now are staying for as long as a month. And, for the first time ever, there are two species in the bay at the same time - grays and humpbacks, both usually speeding north to their Bering Sea feeding grounds this time of year.

Instead, whale-watching boats are having more luck in the opaque waters off Berkeley on the bay's eastern edge than in the open ocean. Three grays have also washed up dead on bay shores in recent weeks, their stomachs empty.

"Our guess is that they are superhungry, maybe looking for a little food before continuing north," said Bill Keener, a marine mammal biologist who has been tracking whales, dolphins and porpoises in the bay for decades as head of Golden Gate Cetacean Research. "But why are they staying this long? We can't really figure out what these guys are doing."

The likely culprits: "the blob" and "the boy."

Five years ago, the Gulf of Alaska warmed to record temperatures, likely due to a sudden acceleration in the melting of Arctic sea ice. Usually, a cold southern current flows along California. That year, the warm "blob" spread down the coast and, instead of blocking tropical species from moving north, it served as a balmy welcome to a variety of animals far from home.

Then came El Nino, the roughly once-a-decade temperate current that flows north and east from the equatorial Pacific to the California coast. The two warm-water events came together - one rare but understood, one unprecedented and baffling - to form an ocean heat wave whose real-time and lingering effects may have permanently scrambled California's coastal ecosystem.

"This was like opening a door temporarily for southern species to move northward," said Eric Sanford, a professor of biological sciences who runs a lab here at the Bodega Marine Laboratory of University of California, Davis. "And the longer you hold the door open, the more opportunity you give southern species to move north."

The door was not just ajar but wide open for several years. Today, there are still pockets of unusually warm water off California, doggy doors that continue to beckon tropical species that are strangers to its usually chilly 840-mile coastline.

Last year, scientists identified a yellow-bellied sea snake that had washed up on Newport Beach in Orange County, the first time the tropical species had been found in California in a non-El Nino year. Then, last month, an olive Ridley sea turtle was spotted by lobster fishermen off Capistrano Beach, in part because a sea gull was resting on its back. The turtle migrates on warm currents, one of which may have swept it so far north.

Things got even weirder a few-hours' drive north in Santa Barbara County, where a hoodwinker sunfish washed up last month. The fish, about 7 feet long and weighing a ton, is among the more bizarre-looking creatures of the sea. So, too, was its place of death: A hoodwinker had not been seen in the northern hemisphere for more than a century.

"These extreme events exaggerate the rate of change that is taking place in our oceans," said Jacqueline Sones, the research coordinator at the Bodega Marine Reserve, referring to the back-to-back blob-El Nino phenomenon. "And if you have more of these extreme events, you will see an even greater rate of change."

Sones and Sanford, research partners as well as spouses, published a paper with several other scientists in Nature last month that identified 67 marine species now pushing the northern boundary of their commonly known habitat.

Of those, 37 species had never been found as far north as Bodega Bay, a seaside town best known in popular culture as the place where Alfred Hitchcock filmed "The Birds." Another 21 species had only been found so far north during El Nino years or during other unusual warm-water events - boundary pushing that Sones tracks in part through her blog, where she posts be-on-the-lookout photos of species for those even farther north to identify.

The findings suggest that some of these species are here to stay, a relocation that Sanford and Sones do not necessarily believe is a bad thing but one with uncertain long-term effects.

"This really is a striking barometer of change," said Sanford, who has been at the blufftop lab here for 14 years. "That's a short window of time. Our oceans are changing pretty quickly."

- - -

Following the food

The consequences are also visible in the well-scrubbed pens of the Marine Mammal Center, a laboratory, emergency-response center and hospital that sits atop a Cold War-era Nike missile installation in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco.

The hospital - the largest of its kind in the world - is bracing for its busy season.

In the past two weeks, the number of patients has doubled to 90. Most are northern elephant seals, many of them weak from malnourishment and about a third the size they should be three or so months into life.

At the hospital, they live in spacious pens - clean seawater pools in the middle - where they are fed, tested and given medicine when needed. The place is a mad chorus of yelps and groans, a whirl of cleaning and feeding and transporting patients from pens to exams in four-wheeled "seal barrows."

Before release into the rough Pacific, the seals attend "fish school," hands-on coursework that teaches them how to find and capture food in the open ocean. In the hospital, they collectively consume a half-ton of herring a day.

"It's very obvious to us when the cycle gets thrown off," said Shawn Johnson, the center's director of veterinary science. "We're basically on the front lines of ocean health, and mammals are very sensitive to even minor changes in the ocean's health."

In 2015, at the ocean heat wave's peak, the hospital, which monitors 600 miles of California coastline, took in 1,800 seals and sea lions. That was three times the average.

While the numbers have declined since then, they remain higher than pre-blob days.

The center receives 10,000 calls each year on its rescue hotline from as far away as San Luis Obispo County, hundreds of miles to the south. On this day, three elephant seals - named Dayzend, Yazzy and Washbean by the emergency crews - are scheduled for rescue.

The reason for the continuing high numbers is the mystery around food.

Even before the blob, the supply of anchovies and sardines, the staple of many marine mammal diets, was low and declining. The warming served as a wild card.

Many of the seals and sea lions breed on the Channel Islands, a protected chain that runs off Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. They then roam for food in the summer months with sardines as their prime prey.

But sardines remain scarce, even though they are considered a warmer-water fish. Studies have found that adult seals and sea lions are traveling much farther for food, leaving pups to fend for themselves closer to shore. Many end up in the hospital.

Elliott Hazen, a research ecologist with NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Monterey, California, said "a lot of signals point to the fact there is just not enough food to support some of these sea lion habitats."

"Part of what was so unique about the blob is that it was warming we had never seen before, so there was no antecedent to compare it to," Hazen said. "And it may be true that not all warm water is equal in its effect on fisheries."

What have rebounded are anchovies, a dietary staple of the humpback, which has the rare ability to feed on small fish and krill. But anchovies are behaving differently, too.

Hazen said the fish are moving closer to shore, maintaining a density that is appealing to humpbacks, which are becoming increasingly reliant on anchovy as part of their diet. This may explain why humpbacks, not seen in San Francisco Bay until three years ago, are moving in now.

- - -

Skinny whales

The Pacific was calm on a recent morning, a chilly breeze scalloping the surface, lit by sunlight fighting through low clouds. Lands End park sloped into the sea on the far side of the bay's opening, and from high in the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge appeared below with the city skyline in the middle distance.

Just off Kirby Cove, a spout rose from the smooth sea. Then a humpback leaped, breaching momentarily, before a several-minute dive for food. The uncommon is now common, the wait for a whale sighting from land just minutes long.

But the close-to-shore migrations in search of food have increased risks to the whales. Of the 11 recorded whale deaths in the region last year, the vast majority were the result of the animals being hit by ships or entangled in fishing nets.

Those dangers are amplified this year. But Keener, the marine mammal biologist who tracks whales in the bay, is equally concerned by the bizarre gray whale behavior and appearance.

"We're just seeing a big number of skinny whales," he said.

Gray whales, once endangered, have made a remarkable recovery in the past half-century. They are still a "threatened" species, mostly because of the dangers posed by nets off the California coast.

As their numbers have risen, though, their food has declined with increased demand and as varying ocean temperatures may be pushing krill outside of migration routes. In the San Francisco Bay, the grays are hanging around Angel Island, once the main point of entry for Asian immigrants arriving on American shores.

The undeveloped island sits off Tiburon, among the most sought-after real estate in a region of sought-after real estate, where residents can now whale-watch from living rooms. The high-speed commuter boat from San Francisco's Ferry Building to Larkspur now must navigate around whales, something it has never had to do.

Keener's phone buzzed with a photo from a friend who operates a whale-watching boat in the bay. It was a picture of his "fish finder," which provides a kind of MRI of the water near a boat. This one showed thick red bands of anchovy just east of Alcatraz.

The carcass of a gray had also washed up that day even farther east. A team from the Marine Mammal Center would head there a few hours later, performing the necropsy and then letting it decompose into nutrients for other animals stalking the bay for food.

"They just keep heading east," Keener said. "And that is a really bad sign."

I wanted to love this Leonard Cohen exhibit, but was overwhelmed by gimmicks and kitsch

By Sebastian Smee
I wanted to love this Leonard Cohen exhibit, but was overwhelmed by gimmicks and kitsch
Leonard Cohen is the focus of a new exhibition,

NEW YORK - Leonard Cohen died the day before Donald Trump was elected president. I mention this only because one of the works in "Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything," a giddily hagiographic exhibition at the Jewish Museum, is a found object, in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp's urinal. But instead of a urinal, or a bicycle wheel, the found object selected for display by artist Taryn Simon is a back issue of the New York Times, from Nov. 11, 2016.

Why that particular issue?

Because the front page that day led with a photograph of President-elect Trump shaking hands with President Barack Obama and because, below the fold, was a photo of Leonard Cohen. It ran alongside an obituary with the headline "Writer of 'Hallelujah,' Whose Lyrics Captivated Generations."

What, apart from the serendipities of breaking news, does the death of Leonard Cohen have to do with the election of Donald Trump? And why is this presented as art?

I wish I could tell you.

I love Leonard Cohen. Lines from his poems and song lyrics occasionally skitter through my brain. I even play a few of his songs on my guitar.

It's true, his deep voice and monotonous melodies can begin to grate. But when you tire of Cohen's music, there is still the idea of him - this dapper, doleful, ironic, gracious, anxious, reclusive, theatrical, seductive Jewish Canadian troubadour - to fall back on. It's a tremendous tonic.

So I came to this show as many will come: to have my feelings rekindled, adjusted, enhanced.

Instead, I was plunged into a Jacuzzi of kitsch. I tried, in the spirit of Cohen's own poetry, to feel free - "like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir" - but instead felt squeezed dry of all but secondhand sentiments, my best thoughts hijacked at every turn by a pantomime of feeling, a parody of catharsis.

Simon's presentation of the front page of a newspaper juxtaposing the election of Trump with Cohen's death - as if the two things had anything to do with each other - is the simply most egregious example. It's pure emotional manipulation, with a presumed audience in mind.

Leonard Cohen was a poet. This is an attempt to collapse poetry into groupthink.

"Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything" is not intended as a documentary-cum-shrine, in the tradition of last year's "Watching Oprah" exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is an art exhibit.

The problem is that, by and large, the art is blah. That's a shame, because there is some great Leonard Cohen-inspired work out there that's fresh, uncomplicated, poetic and true. It's just not in this show.

Organized by John Zeppetelli and Victor Shiffman of the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, "A Crack in Everything" opened in Montreal in November 2017. Montreal is Cohen's hometown, so the show there spoke to aspects of Canadian and Jewish identity that Cohen was always alive to. (He used to return to Montreal, he liked to say, to "renew my neurotic affiliations.")

In New York, the show is slimmer, with work by just a dozen artists. Still, to see it all you would need more than three hours. And if you want to listen to covers of Cohen songs playing on a loop in a chillout room on the third floor, add at least an hour.

Most of the art is video. Some of it is interactive. In one piece, Ari Folman's "Depression Chamber," you are cordially led, one at a time, into an antechamber, and from there into a crypt-like room. You lie on a sofa and see an image of yourself projected onto the ceiling. As Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" plays, the lyrics morph into symbols that swim across the walls and up to the ceiling, where they slowly form a shroud covering your image.

It sounds impressive, but it felt digital and tacky. When the dirge finally ended, I rose to my feet with relief.

Upstairs, you enter a room with an octagonal wooden bench. Dangling from the ceiling are microphones. It's a "participatory audio installation" called "Heard There Was a Secret Chord" by the collective Daily Tous Les Jours.

The lyric, of course, is from "Hallelujah," which is described in an enjoyable catalogue essay by Sylvie Simmons as "the all-purpose hymn for the millennium, the feel-good singalong/treatise on the bleakness of human relations and go-to vocal workout on TV talent contests."

You sit or lie on the wooden bench and hum "Hallelujah" into one of the microphones. Your voice accompanies a virtual choir of humming voices created by - what else? - an algorithm. The number of voices in the "choir" corresponds to the number of people listening on a website - - that functions as a one-song radio station. It all amounts to an excellent definition of hell.

But it gets better. The seat beneath you vibrates in proportion to how loudly you sing into the microphone, thereby "closing the circuit of collective resonance," says the wall label, and connecting you to "the universal Cohen magic."

Let me reiterate: I love Leonard Cohen.

But I wanted to puke.

There are better things in the show - Christophe Chassol's "Cuba in Cohen," for instance. The 15-minute video takes footage of Cohen reciting his 1964 poem "The Only Tourist in Havana Turns His Thoughts Homeward" and sets it to melody, throwing in an underlying drumbeat and bass line for good measure. It's weirdly riveting.

But unless you're in the mood to sit through hours of spliced footage of Cohen, there's not much else. Thanks to some flaw in its very conception, the exhibition reduces even good artists, such as the British filmmaker Tacita Dean, to uncharacteristic glibness.

Dean's 16mm film "Ear on a Worm," commissioned for this show, alludes to Cohen's "Bird on a Wire." Projected onto a small patch of high-up wall, it shows a house finch on a wire against a blue sky. After exactly 3 minutes and 33 seconds, the bird flies off. And then the film begins again.

It's a lovely visual haiku, I suppose. But its imaginative poverty is plain when compared with the song's lyrics, a brilliant succession of poetic images, bursting with surprise and concision.

Candice Breitz, an artist with a knack for taking singalong cliches and shifting them up a gear into something more interesting, has a video installation called "I'm Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen)." Breitz separately filmed 18 aging men passionately performing Cohen's 1988 comeback track, "I'm Your Man," in a recording studio. She also persuaded an all-male synagogue choir, from the Montreal congregation to which Cohen belonged, to sing its own arrangement of the album's backing vocals a cappella.

There is comedy and not a little pathos in the sight of old hippies singing "I'm Your Man." But the work feels more like a joke at their expense. And it's missing the element that makes most jokes good: brevity.

Breitz's work shares with the exhibition as a whole an element of kitsch to which I seem to have had an allergic reaction. What is kitsch?

Milan Kundera provided a famous explanation in his novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." "Kitsch," he wrote, "causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass.

"It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch."

These days, kitsch floods the field when cultural icons die. We shed our tears, then straightaway succumb to the warm glow, the social-media-induced satisfaction, of watching ourselves weeping together.

All of which is perfectly human. Mourning, after all, is a communal activity. But who or what are we mourning? Did you know David Bowie or Aretha Franklin? What about Leonard Cohen? I know I didn't.

The idea of these people we admire - the image we have of them - might act as a tonic. But mourning their loss has nothing to do with their art. The art affects us individually, in ways that are often incommunicable. That art was the same the day before the artist died and remains the same the day after. It has nothing to do with who, meanwhile, became president.

Cohen saw poetry as "the ashes of something that's burning well." He didn't want to confuse the issue, as so many poets do, by trying "to create ashes instead of fire."

This show suffers from that very confusion. It's more about the ashes than the fire.


"Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything"

Through Sept. 8 at the Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave., New York.

Cyclone survivors in Zimbabwe burn church pews to keep warm

By Brian Latham and Godfrey Marawanyika
Cyclone survivors in Zimbabwe burn church pews to keep warm
A residential house lays destroyed following a landslide in Ngangu, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, on April 13, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Brian Latham.

On March 15, the earth shook so violently in Ngangu that people thought an earthquake had struck. It turned out to be thousands of tons of rock plowing through the eastern Zimbabwean village as rains and floods caused the surrounding hills to collapse.

"It sounded like a hundred trains were in the house," said Loice Seremani, a mother of two. "Pots were falling from their shelves and no matter how hard I shouted, my children could not hear me and I could not hear their screams."

Ngangu, the broader Chimanimani district and the southern parts of Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands region would eventually receive 30 inches (750 millimeters) of rain in 48 hours because of Tropical Cyclone Idai. That's about the same amount that the country's capital, Harare, gets in a year. The landslides in Ngangu and in Kopa, an urban settlement in the adjacent Rusitu Valley, killed at least 344 people, though no one knows how many more bodies lie buried beneath the rock.

Idai affected more than 3 million people in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe and will cost the southern African nations more than $2 billion to repair the damage, the World Bank said this month. At least 1.6 million children need urgent help with healthcare, nutrition and sanitation a month after the cyclone devastated parts of the countries, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. Thousands of people are suffering with cholera and malaria.

The devastation comes as Zimbabweans face an economic crisis and shortages of bread, fuel and foreign currency. Gross domestic product will contract this year for the first time since the era of hyperinflation, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the nation's biggest mobile-network operator, is coordinating relief efforts from a farm owned by Tanganda Tea Co. in Chimanimani. That's the worst-hit district and was a rich coffee- and tea-growing area before government-backed invasions of commercial farm land.

The company has erected large tents -- guarded by the military -- containing food, bedding and donations. It won't say how much it's spent on aid, which includes scores of new tractors, 10,000 wheel barrows, thousands of liters of aviation fuel and as much as $100,000 a day keeping as many as six helicopters in the air, spokesman Lovemore Nyatsine said. It plans to build 300 homes for widows and the elderly.

Econet has hired scores of heavy trucks to ship in food and supplies in addition to the six helicopters. Outside each distribution point, rows of shiny New Holland tractors are lined up, their seats still wrapped in plastic.

Ordinary Zimbabweans have responded to the crisis in their thousands, donating truck loads of food, blankets, mattresses and medical supplies and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. By default, Econet's Nyatsine ended up coordinating much of the relief effort, leaning heavily on the army and air force.

He gets testy when people say he's been heroic. "It's not about us, it's about the survivors and victims," Nyatsine said.

Some areas remain cut off because bridges have yet to be repaired and a few roads are still blocked by landslides. Most, though, are open, with makeshift bridges across rivers. Local government, the areas' disaster committees and businesses had bulldozers on the ground the day after Cyclone Idai hit.

In a Methodist church in Ngangu, Rev. Steven Chitiyo said they burned the church pews to keep survivors warm.

"Just 15 meters (49 feet) from this church, everything was obliterated," he said. "Rocks are all that remain, but the human spirit doesn't die. We will recover."

A short walk from Chitiyo's parish, half a house remains. The rest, along with two vehicles, was crushed. The cars had carried a family to Ngangu for wedding preparations. The bride, groom, in-laws and siblings all died the night the mountain fell.

At St. John's Roman Catholic church in Ngangu, the dead and survivors were housed side by side.

"We had to make hard choices here," said Talkmore Maziya, an elder at the parish. "We moved the dead into the church by the pulpit. There were 42 bodies in there. The living were also sheltering inside, and we had to take blankets we'd given to children and make a curtain because we thought it's better they're cold than seeing the bodies, many mutilated, being brought inside."

The community decided to leave the dead still beneath the rocks "to rest there in peace," Maziya said "It wouldn't be right to disturb them further."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Mueller report shows that the American system hasn't buckled

By david ignatius
Mueller report shows that the American system hasn't buckled


(Advance for Friday, April 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, April 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

2ND WRITETHRU: 5th graf, 2nd sentence: "Russia story" sted "investigation"; 8th graf: "a Trump confidant and Putin ally" sted "Trump confidants and Russians"; 8th graf: "Kilimnik" sted "Kilimnick" 1ST WRITETHRU: 8th graf: "following a secret January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles between Trump confidants and Russians, a five-point plan was produced for easing pressure on Moscow" sted "a secret January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles between Trump confidants and Russians produced a five-point plan for easing pressure on Moscow"


WASHINGTON -- President Trump's conduct in office has been diminishing the moral capital of the United States for more than two years. The report by special counsel Robert Mueller released Thursday puts a little of that capital back in the bank.

Mueller's 448-page account is an affirmation that the rule of law still exists in America, despite Trump's rants and rages against his enemies. Mueller's decision not to charge Trump with collusion or obstruction of justice remains puzzling, given the evidence he assembled. But the facts are there, in meticulous detail, for the world to weigh.

The message: Even under intense stress, the American system hasn't buckled. A prosecutor appointed and overseen by Trump's Justice Department is still capable of discovering the facts about this president. The FBI and intelligence agencies weathered a Mueller-documented campaign of presidential intimidation. The fact that a cool-headed Mueller didn't call for legal prosecution, when half the country was calling for Trump's scalp, in some ways affirms the integrity of the system.

Mueller, in effect, left the final judgments to Congress and the American public. His signature line on obstruction is ambiguous. "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." I'm inclined to agree with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the matter is now best left to the voters in November 2020. Mueller has given the Democrats a rich menu.

Mueller's report is a win for the slow tortoise of the truth. Trump has been tweeting for nearly two years about the "hoax" of the Russia story, and Attorney General William Barr continued his pro-Trump spin campaign 90 minutes before the report's release. But now we have the facts.

The biggest surprise for me was the new evidence of Trump's Russian connections, and his attempts to pre-cook policy toward Moscow, even though Mueller decided that they didn't add up to a conspiracy.

Among the new details:

Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, was tasked by Trump to discover damaging details about Hillary Clinton's emails; following a secret January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles between a Trump confidant and Putin ally, a five-point plan was produced for easing pressure on Moscow; an August 2, 2016, meeting between then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an alleged Russian intelligence contact named Konstantin Kilimnik yielded a plan for "backdoor" acceptance of Russian control of Eastern Ukraine.

We also learned new details of Trump's efforts to derail investigations: He instructed former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland to write a memo claiming that Trump hadn't told Flynn to discuss easing sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016; McFarland refused. He told former White House Counsel Donald McGahn to deny reports that he had ignored Trump's order to fire Mueller; McGahn refused. Small but memorable acts of conscience.

Why do these revelations matter, if the outcome of Mueller's investigation, almost certainly, is to spare Trump from indictment or impeachment? It's because they support the process of law and accountability, which is more fundamental than whether Trump stays or goes as president.

Congress may shy from impeachment; the public may even, inexplicably, decide that Trump deserves a second term. But the facts will be there for future historians -- and for the millions around the world who have worried (or celebrated) that our system is cracking. We're still here, Vladimir.

The loss of U.S. moral authority in the world since Trump took office has done incalculable damage to the country. If America were a business, you would say that its most valuable asset -- a reputation built over two centuries as a nation based on moral values -- has been squandered by Trump for short-term gain. If he were the chief executive of a public company, he would have been removed by shareholders long ago for breach of his fiduciary duty.

Watching Trump, the world has wondered whether America has lost its bearings. A prominent Asian analyst said to me two weeks ago in Cairo: "America is lost." A European intelligence official said that longtime allies were nearing the point of losing trust in America's reliability. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin has joined in the schadenfreude, saying that America is wracked by political crisis.

America's friends are right to be worried by this president. But they should take some reassurance from Thursday's Mueller report, with all its weird half-steps and unmade judgments. It affirmed that the fundamentals of accountability are still intact despite Trump's best efforts to rig the system.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Mueller's report is the beginning, not the end

By e.j. dionne jr.
Mueller's report is the beginning, not the end



(For Dionne clients only)


WASHINGTON -- The report from special counsel Robert Mueller provides a devastating portrait of President Trump's behavior that may invite the beginning of an impeachment inquiry and a constitutional confrontation. A collision of some kind between the president (along with his attorney general) and Democrats who control the House of Representatives is now inevitable.

The report's bottom line is easily lost in the details about Trump himself: that the United States has a president whom Russia actively intervened in our politics to elect. The Russian-controlled Internet Research Agency, Mueller's report concluded, created "a targeted operation that by early 2016 favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate [Hillary] Clinton."

Mueller also clearly did not in any way encourage Attorney General William Barr to end further inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice. On the contrary, Mueller went out of his way to tell Congress that it has every right to decide that issue itself. "Congress has authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice," he wrote.

Mueller also noted: "The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law."

The report will only embolden House Democrats who are already investigating the president and may increase pressure to launch formal impeachment inquiries, even though Democratic leaders have been reluctant to move in that direction.

Barr's behavior has been truly shameful. From the moment he issued his letter on March 24 suggesting that the final Mueller document would clear the president -- now we know it has done quite the opposite -- Barr has behaved less like an attorney general than as a defense lawyer doubling as the president's spokesman.

Hours after the report was released, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that "Attorney General Barr appears to have shown an unsettling willingness to undermine his own [Justice] Department in order to protect President Trump" and that Barr had been "disingenuous and misleading." Barr's behavior continued until the last moment before the report was made public. At a wholly unnecessary news conference that ended roughly an hour before the document was released, Barr spoke as though Mueller had resolved the entire matter in Trump's favor and repeated the president's battle cry, "no collusion," four times.

But Mueller -- perhaps anticipating the importance of the word "collusion" in Trump's propaganda -- was explicit in saying that "collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law."

In fact, Mueller detailed many conversations and ties between the Trump circle and Russia. "In sum," he wrote, "the investigation established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away."

Then came the one line in the report that Trump unambiguously liked and on which he wants to hang his entire argument: "Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities." But given the sentences that came before, it's clear that not "establishing" conspiracy is not the same as having found no evidence of cooperation.

Here again, Mueller's caution about leveling charges against the president still leaves Congress -- particularly the House Intelligence Committee -- with ample room to probe the "multiple links" with Russia that Mueller documented.

Oddly, Trump may have been protected from even more damaging conclusions about obstruction by staff members who refused to do what he asked. "The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful," the report found, "but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests." Whatever this is, it is not exoneration of Trump.

The Mueller report paints a broad picture of an administration that systematically lied to just about everybody, including the public and the media. It describes a president prepared to do whatever was necessary to close down inquiries into his behavior and Russian ties. And it noted that "some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated -- including some associated with the Trump Campaign -- deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption."

Mueller's findings do not end Trump's troubles. On the contrary, he is now in greater jeopardy because we know even more about what he did. Congress must take all the further steps required to ensure accountability.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

There is no vindication for Trump

By michael gerson
There is no vindication for Trump


(Advance for Friday, April 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, April 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)

WRITETHRU: 3rd graf, 1st sentence: "448-page" sted "442-page"


WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump's claim of vindication by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report depends on some creative thinking. The president, it seems, is not guilty of conspiracy with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. He is only guilty of wishing really, really hard for Russian help and having his fondest desire miraculously granted. On July 27, 2016, Trump made a public plea to the Russians to find Hillary Clinton's missing emails. "Within approximately five hours of Trump's statement," the Mueller report reveals, "GRU [Russian intelligence] officers targeted for the first time Clinton's personal office."

This, evidently, doesn't qualify as conspiracy. But can it really be a coincidence? Maybe it was the hand of Providence. Or an answer to Franklin Graham's prayers. Whatever the non-collusive reason, Trump is clearly a lucky, lucky man.

What is less clear is how we are to accept a detailed, damning, 448-page moral and political indictment as good news for Trump and his administration. "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion," according to the report. This included a "social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump" and "computer-intrusion operations" against the Clinton campaign. While Trump campaign officials didn't directly coordinate with Russian intelligence activities, they welcomed and rooted for them. More than ever, the 2016 presidential election deserves an asterisk, indicating a serious chance it was won with foreign help.

Recall that Trump, during his campaign and well into his presidency, dismissed this influence as a myth. He said it might be the Chinese at work. Or it "could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds." Trump, it turns out, is perfectly willing to minimize a national security threat for political reasons. But that isn't conspiracy either. Just friends helping friends.

The Mueller report documents an atmosphere of routine, rewarded deception at the White House. In one case, after ordering then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, Trump ordered McGahn to publicly deny that the request to fire Mueller was ever made. (McGahn, to his credit, refused both orders.) In another case, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied about the extent of opposition within the FBI to former Director James Comey. Looking at the tape of her statement, it is remarkable how smoothly she dissembles. Obviously a valued skill in Trump's orbit.

And the report strongly hints that obstruction of justice took place, even though the Justice Department does not believe the prosecution of such a crime is a legal option during Trump's term in office. In case after case, Trump employed pressure or dangled pardons in an effort to avoid embarrassment or legal exposure.

Some of the apparent obstruction was done in private: "Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over ... investigations ... the incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels."

At other times, the effort was not hidden at all: "[M]any of the president's acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view."

The evidence in the report is quite specific. In one instance, Trump "sought to prevent public disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016 meeting between Russians and campaign officials; and he used public forums to attack potential witnesses who might offer adverse information and to praise witnesses who declined to cooperate."

As I read it, the case for obstruction of justice is strong. And the report takes pains to point out a possible congressional role in examining obstruction claims. "The Constitution does not authorize the President to engage in such conduct, and those actions would transgress the President's duty to 'take care that the laws be faithfully executed'."

What congress (BEG ITAL)should(END ITAL) do with this information is the matter for another day. But congressional leaders have some major choices ahead.

So: No evidence of direct conspiracy between Trump officials and the Russians, but plenty of evidence of desired conspiracy. And: Limited ways to prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice while he is president, but strong evidence obstruction was intended and occurred.

Already Republicans are urging America to move on. In this case, moving on would ignore and reward corruption on a grand scale.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

President Trump did nothing wrong, I think

By alexandra petri
President Trump did nothing wrong, I think



(For Petri clients only)


(BEG ITAL)Attorney General William Barr steps to the lectern.(END ITAL)

Hello, everyone. I am here to repeat the words "no collusion" as many times as I can without sounding suspicious, but first, I would like to thank Rod Rosenstein. He is here standing behind me. He had plans to step back from public service before I came along and asked him to assist me. Then again, some would argue that by assisting me, he did not perform a public service. Anyway, he is here.

I would also like to thank Robert Mueller for making this report for me to redact. I feel like it is a joint creation between the two of us. He is not standing here with me today. Instead, there is a bearded man who, no doubt, is familiar to you all. I will certainly not introduce him at any point. I will leave his identity to your imagination! Worst-case scenario, this will just accustom you to seeing strange facts without context, something that will help you as you consume the report!

The good news is that, although the Russian government did interfere in the 2016 election with hacking and disinformation campaigns, it did not do so literally at the behest of the Trump campaign, in my opinion. Was that the opinion of the Mueller team? Who can say? But if it wasn't, it should have been, I think. Make no mistake, Russia did interfere to help him, but this effort was just sort of a fun lagniappe. Nobody asked for it.

Really, it was like when you are just sitting on a couch trying to have a nice time and your cat unexpectedly brings you a dead bird. (In this scenario, the dead bird is the American people.) You did not expect it! You don't even want it. But the cat seemed to think it was a nice gesture. Well, that is how Donald Trump feels about winning this election. In brief, this was not at all coordinated. Anyway, as I think anyone who has been watching the Trump presidency can see, this is not a man who expected to win.

Some more words about the president's feelings: Speaking as the attorney general of the United States, whose function is to defend the law of the land and not the person of the president, I would like for just a minute to defend the person of the president. You see, he has a lot of feelings and is facing an unprecedented situation. His pain is real, and we should respect it. He has been very frustrated and angry, and, I think, sincerely so. As I have learned from my years in close communion with the law, being very frustrated is a great legal defense against wrongdoing.

Between you and me, he is so lonely. I wish I could convey to you the unspeakable loneliness of his position. The president is not a well man. His doctor, a real doctor, has said we are to keep him from shocks -- shocks such as seeing his name in the same sentence as the word "collusion" unaccompanied by the word "no," or really any sudden experience of extreme feeling. This is why we must not let him stare too long at art that is particularly moving, lest its beauty knock something loose in him and destroy his system entirely. So I ask: If we, if any of us, can just do our part to spare him from hearing the awful word "collusion" that distresses him so much, is there any price we would not pay? Is there any sacrifice we would not make?

I will now take questions.

Q: Where is Mueller?

A: My friend with the beard is here!

Q: What do you say to people who say that you are going out of your way to defend the presidented, talking about how he faces 'an unprecedented situation'?

A: I would say, is there another precedent for it?

Q: … No.

A: Boom! QED! (BEG ITAL)runs a victory lap around the room, high-fiving anyone who will accept it, but no one will(END ITAL)

Q: Where's Mueller? Isn't this Mueller's report?


Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump is right to call out Democrats for their hypocrisy on sanctuary cities

By marc a. thiessen
Trump is right to call out Democrats for their hypocrisy on sanctuary cities


(Advance for Friday, April 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, April 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)


WASHINGTON -- It is mystifying why Democrats are so up in arms about President Trump's declaration that he is considering releasing illegal immigrants into so-called "sanctuary cities." After all, Trump's plan simply follows the Democrats' own policy prescriptions for dealing with illegal immigrants.

First, Democrats support releasing illegal immigrants into U.S. communities. Just a few months ago, during the negotiations to end the government shutdown, Democrats sought to limit the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention "beds available for interior enforcement" to about 16,500 per day, and to reduce the overall number of available beds to less than 36,000. In January, ICE was holding 48,088 illegal immigrants.

When Homeland Security officials warned this could force the release of thousands illegal immigrants, Democrats openly declared it was their goal to do precisely that. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said the goal of capping the beds was to "force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants."

Many other leading Democrats -- including presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., -- have gone further, proposing to abolish ICE altogether. In 2013, when she was House minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., -- now the House speaker -- called for an end to deportations for illegal immigrants who have not committed felonies, declaring "Our view of the law is that … if somebody is here without sufficient documentation, that is not reason for deportation." Some Democrats, including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and presidential candidate and former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, have gone so far as to propose decriminalizing illegal border crossings entirely. "The truth is, immigrants seeking refuge in our country ... shouldn't be a criminal-justice issue," Castro said.

So, Democrats have been pretty clear -- they want illegal immigrants released and allowed to live in the United States.

Where should they live? Well, it was Democrats who created "sanctuary cities" as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. If they want illegal immigrants released, why would they oppose having President Trump release them into the very sanctuaries (BEG ITAL)they(END ITAL) created for that express purpose?

If anything, the Democratic leaders of those sanctuary cities are working overtime to turn them into magnets for illegal immigrants.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed in his 2019 inaugural address to make the entire state of California a "sanctuary to all who seek it," and on his first day in office, he proposed making illegal immigrants eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid, until age 26. Some sanctuary cities are even allowing illegal immigrants to vote in local elections. In 2016, San Francisco passed Proposition N, which allows illegal immigrants to vote in school board elections. And in 2017, College Park, Md., became the largest U.S. city to allow illegal immigrants to vote in municipal elections.

Sorry, Democrats, you don't get to have it both ways. You can't on one hand try to force Trump to release illegal immigrants, create sanctuaries for them and arrange local laws to encourage illegal immigrants to come to those sanctuaries, and then simultaneously be outraged that Trump wants to do exactly what you have said should be done with those who cross our borders illegally.

Whether Trump can legally follow through on his proposal to send illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities is in question. But there is nothing morally wrong with what he has proposed. There is certainly no harm being done to the illegal immigrants. Far from it, they would be sent to welcoming communities where they would receive free health care, protection from deportation and possibly even the right to vote. And then the Americans who voted to turn their cities into magnets for illegal immigrants could bear the costs of supporting them.

If anything, it is conservatives who should be up in arms over the idea of releasing illegal immigrants into sanctuary cities. Once they are in sanctuary cities, then it will be harder to find and deport the ones committing violent crimes. Just ask the family of Kate Steinle.

Trump's plan likely won't ever come to fruition, but the president is effectively calling out Democrats for their hypocrisy. There was a time when many Democrats believed, as Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a 2009 speech, that "Illegal immigration is wrong, plain and simple." No longer. If Democrats won't help the president secure the border, then there's nothing outrageous about making them live with the consequences of the policies they advocate.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Only Congress can hold Trump accountable

By eugene robinson
Only Congress can hold Trump accountable


(Advance for Friday, April 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, April 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- There is a mountain of evidence that President Trump obstructed justice. There is considerable evidence that the Trump campaign embraced and encouraged Russia's attempt to meddle in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller laid out the facts -- and now Congress has a solemn duty to confront them.

Contrary to what Trump says, the long-awaited Mueller report is not an exoneration. The report makes that clear more than once, verbatim, including this passage in Part II: "Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Nor does the report indict Trump for obstruction. But that is because Mueller took as his starting point the Justice Department opinion that a sitting president should not be made to face criminal charges. "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," Mueller wrote. "[W]e are unable to reach that judgment."

Trump and his apologists will try to paint the report as equivocal, but the evidence it cites strikes me as definitive. One representative passage from Part II, page 157:

"Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations. The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels. These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General 's recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony."

Mueller does not explicitly say that Congress must now judge the president's conduct. But he draws a detailed road map for such an exercise, including not just the voluminous evidence he gathered but also the legal reasoning for viewing some of Trump's actions -- including his firing of then-FBI Director James Comey and his attempt to get then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller -- as patently illegal.

The Mueller report was released Thursday by Attorney General William Barr, who, in the process, destroyed what was left of his own credibility. Pre-spinning the document before anyone had a chance to read it, Barr parroted Trump's favorite talking point and said Mueller found no "collusion" between the Trump campaign and the Russians. The report, however, says no such thing. It notes that "collusion" is not a federal offense and seeks instead to determine whether there is evidence of conspiracy, which is a statutory crime. Mueller did find such evidence, but not enough to bring criminal charges.

Barr flat-out lied when he said that Mueller's decision not to charge Trump had nothing to do with the Justice Department opinion that effectively gives immunity to a sitting president. The report states clearly that this opinion has (BEG ITAL)everything(END ITAL) to do with Mueller's choice to lay out the evidence without reaching a conclusion.

Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided to declare the matter of obstruction closed because Trump was understandably "frustrated and angered" at the very existence of the investigation, and thus may not have had the requisite intent to commit a crime. But Barr was confusing two different concepts, motive and intent. Trump's motive for trying to fire Mueller, for example, may well have been anger and frustration. But his legal intent may have been to obstruct justice.

Barr so embarrassed himself that Fox News anchor Chris Wallace seemed appalled. "The attorney general seemed almost to be acting as the counselor for the defense, the counselor for the president, rather than the attorney general, talking about his motives, his emotions," Wallace said. "Really, as I say, making a case for the president."

The report notes that Trump "lambasted" former Attorney General Jeff Sessions when Sessions recused himself from involvement in the Mueller probe, telling him "'you were supposed to protect me' or words to that effect." Barr obviously is determined not to make the same mistake.

Now responsibility shifts to Congress, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a decision to make.

The Mueller report establishes that the Russians massively interfered with our election and that the Trump campaign cheered and encouraged that hostile act. It lays out ample evidence that Trump obstructed justice. Only Congress can hold the president accountable.

Thus far, Pelosi has resisted any move toward impeachment. Politically convenient or not, that's where Mueller's road map leads.

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The sharpest pens in the industry serve up points of view to chew on.

Bury your dead-tired strips and grab something fresh, meaningful and hilarious.

Serious therapy and serious fun to give readers a break from breaking news.