THE BIG IDEA: If Donald Trump thought he could intimidate Bob Mueller, he thought wrong.
A person who spoke with Trump on Tuesday told the New York Times that the president was pleased by the intentional ambiguity of his position on firing Robert S. Mueller as special counsel, “and thinks the possibility of being fired will focus the veteran prosecutor on delivering what the president desires most: a blanket public exoneration.”
If the president truly believes this, he fundamentally misunderstands what motivates the former FBI director – who has stood up to previous administrations and never swayed under political pressure.
Marines Corps veterans don’t scare easily. Mueller, 72, earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor for his gallantry in Vietnam before devoting most of the rest of his life to public service. Trump, 71, avoided military service by claiming a medical deferment for “heel spurs,” and he’s said that his “personal Vietnam” was avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases while sleeping around in New York. “I feel like a great and very brave solider,” the president once told Howard Stern.
– Just as almost every previous effort at damage control has made Trump’s Russia-related headaches worse, keeping the door open to firing Mueller earlier this week has now backfired. Key figures on Capitol Hill and in the conservative legal firmament have now gone on the record to warn that ousting the special counsel would trigger a constitutional crisis. That would make it much harder for Trump to go that route down the road.
“Firing Mueller would be an insult to the Founding Fathers,” Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations during the Clinton administration, writes in an op-ed for today’s Post: “Subject to the possibility of being fired for ‘good cause,’ Mueller should be allowed to do his work unhindered and unimpeded. Absent the most extreme circumstances, the president would be singularly ill-advised to threaten, much less order, Mueller’s firing. Under legally binding regulations, the special counsel’s fate rests exclusively with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. He alone is empowered to make that fateful decision. As a matter of honor, and in light of his sworn testimony before Congress, Rosenstein would inevitably resign if confronted with a White House directive to dismiss the special counsel. Wisdom counsels strongly against unleashing a 21st-century version of the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate-era infamy.”
– On the investigative side, Mueller is demonstrating a willingness to pursue the facts wherever they lead – regardless of what Trump does or doesn’t say about firing him.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the special counsel’s investigation now includes an examination of whether the president himself attempted to obstruct justice – a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
– Following the money: Mueller is also investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Sari Horwitz, Matt Zapotosky and Adam Entous scooped last night. “The White House has said Kushner’s meeting with [Sergey Gorkov, the head of a state-owned Russian development bank] was a pre-inauguration diplomatic encounter, unrelated to business matters. The Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has said the session was held for business reasons because of Kushner’s role as head of his family’s real estate company. The meeting occurred as Kushner’s company was seeking financing for its troubled $1.8 billion purchase of an office building on Fifth Avenue in New York, and it could raise questions about whether Kushner’s personal financial interests were colliding with his impending role as a public official.”
– Another significant development: The vice president, whose balancing act as Trump’s number two is showing signs of strain amid the White House turmoil, has just hired his own outside lawyer to help him deal with the special counsel, Ashley Parker scooped last night. Mike Pence was one of the small group of senior advisers Trump consulted with as he mulled firing James Comey as FBI director.
Richard Cullen, the lawyer Pence hired, is a pro. The former Virginia attorney general, who lives in Richmond, is chairman of the influential firm McGuireWoods. He served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia under George H.W. Bush and helped George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount. He represented Tom DeLay during the Jack Abramoff affair.
In another sign of just how seriously the V.P. is taking Mueller’s probe, an aide said he spent several weeks on this process and interviewed several candidates before settling on Cullen.
– Pence lawyering up will likely have a domino effect inside the White House. The president’s private attorney, Marc E. Kasowitz, is focused on protecting the personal legal interests of Trump. He has told White House personnel that they do not need to hire their own lawyers. “But Pence’s move to hire an outside attorney could set off a scramble among other West Wing aides — many of whom are already bracing for subpoenas — to do the same, even if only as a protective measure,” Ashley notes.
– Aides and volunteers on Trump’s transition team were also instructed yesterday to save any records related to “several pending investigations into potential attempts by Russia interests to influence the 2016 election.” Transition lawyer Kory Langhofer of an Arizona firm called Statecraft, who previously worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, sent a memo telling campaign officials to preserve all documents related to the Russian Federation, Ukraine and a number of campaign advisers and officials, including Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Rick Gates, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. “In order to assist these investigations, the Presidential Transition Team and its current and former personnel have a responsibility to ensure that, to the extent potentially relevant documents exist, they are properly preserved,” Lanhofer wrote in the memo, which was obtained by Politico.
– Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, meanwhile, spent more than three hours in a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. Last week he had declined to answer lawmakers’ questions in an open session about his conversations with Trump regarding the Russia investigation but suggested he’d be more forthcoming in private.
Coats and Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, have also agreed to be interviewed by Mueller as early as this week. Coats has told associates that Trump asked him whether he could intervene with Comey to get the FBI to back off its focus on Flynn. Trump later telephoned him and Rogers to separately ask them to issue public statements denying that there was evidence of coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the president’s requests, The Post has reported.
– Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee also met with Mueller to deconflict their investigations. The chairman and ranking member said that they will focus on Russian meddling and whether there was any collusion. “The criminal piece of the investigation will be handled by the special counsel,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told CNN, adding that they will turn over any relevant information they uncover to Mueller’s office.
– Tomorrow is the one-month anniversary of Mueller being appointed special counsel. He has still not even installed a computer network in his work space at the Patrick Henry Building, but the Times reports that “there is evidence of a coordinated strategy” by Trump to try discrediting his work. The crux of the plan is to go after some of his early hires who have donated to Democratic candidates in the past. Andrew Weissmann, who led the fraud section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, served as FBI general counsel when Mueller was its director and previously led the Enron task force. In 2008, when he in private practice, he donated to Barack Obama’s campaign. Another lawyer on the team donated to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and a third has given money to both parties – but more to Democrats than Republicans.
The special counsel has now hired 13 lawyers, and several more are in the pipeline. But while Mueller won’t be cowed, the prospect of personal attacks by Trump allies could deter some attorneys from coming onboard. “A former federal prosecutor said Mr. Mueller was hiring rank-and-file prosecutors to fill out his office staff, and has been prospecting for detailees from several prominent United States attorney offices, including the Southern District of New York,” Scott Shane and Charlie Savage report on the front page. “But prospective hires thinking about joining Mr. Mueller’s team are watching those who have signed up come under intense scrutiny of the sort that ordinary prosecutors and corporate lawyers rarely experience … For Mr. Trump, the tactic of trying to discredit anyone who poses a danger to him has become familiar. Campaigning for the presidency while being sued for fraud over Trump University, he attacked the judge overseeing the case as biased against him because the judge was Mexican-American.”
– A bizarre non-denial: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein generated a lot of buzz but little clarity late last night with a cryptic statement urging Americans to “exercise caution” when evaluating stories attributed to anonymous officials. The full statement read: “Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch of agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”
“Why Rosenstein would suddenly make that comment, or any comment, after having made no comment to story after story attributed to anonymous sources, remained a mystery,” Fred Barbash writes. “Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself, Rosenstein is the Justice Department official directly responsible for matters relating to the investigation of Russian interference.”
– A potentially key witness for your radar: FBI general counsel James A. Baker. Another scoop from Sari, Matt and Adam: “After Trump fired Comey, the president said that the FBI director had told him three times that he was not under investigation. Comey confirmed that in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. The first time he told Trump was in his first meeting with the then-president-elect before the inauguration, on Jan. 6. Before he met with Trump, Comey gathered his leadership team at the FBI to discuss whether he should be prepared to assure Trump that the FBI was not investigating him personally. Comey testified that not everyone on his team agreed he should. Comey did not name the dissenter, but The Post has learned it was … Baker. Comey testified that the member of his leadership team said that, although it was true at the moment that Trump was not under investigation, it was possible that could change.” Baker declined to comment.
– As Trump lashes out on Twitter at what he’s calling a “WITCH HUNT,” his White House press shop has adopted a sort of bunker mentality and answers fewer questions than it used to. From Ashley Parker and John Wagner: “At a previously scheduled off-camera briefing for reporters, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy White House press secretary, was peppered with more than a dozen questions about ongoing investigations over about 20 minutes. In keeping with a new practice, she referred one question after another to Trump’s personal lawyer. Sanders, for example, was asked whether Trump still felt ‘vindicated’ by the extraordinary congressional testimony last week by Comey … ‘I believe so,’ she said, before referring reporters to Kasowitz. … Mark Corallo, a spokesman for (the outside lawyer), did not respond to an email and phone call seeking comment on the questions Sanders referred to him.”
– White House aides are privately fretting to one another over Trump’s obsession with the probe, Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports: “Trump, for months, has bristled almost daily about the ongoing probes. He has sometimes, without prompting, injected ‘I’m not under investigation’ into conversations with associates and allies. He has watched hours of TV coverage every day — sometimes even storing morning news shows on his TiVo to watch in the evening — and complained nonstop. ‘It’s basically all he talks about on the phone,’ said one adviser. … Aides have tried to change the subject, with little luck. Two people close to Trump note that his is an obsessive personality [but staffers] say they fear his incendiary tweets and public comments have spurred ‘countless’ leaks of damaging information.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
– Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has reversed an Obama-era directive that protected millions of parents of U.S. citizens from being deported. Maria Sacchetti reports: “Kelly’s act fulfills part of a campaign promise that President Trump had made to overturn two of Barack Obama’s controversial memos on illegal immigration. The rescinded memo was never implemented and is the subject of an ongoing federal court battle waged by Texas and other states that opposed Obama’s program. Thursday marked the judge’s deadline for the parties to set a timetable to resolve the case. Instead, Kelly rescinded the memo, saying that there is ‘no credible path forward’ in court. However, Trump has let stand Obama’s 2012 memo that has granted reprieves from deportation to nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived as children. Kelly said Thursday that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, would not change.”
– Trump today will roll back Obama-era policies that allow for more private investment in Cuba. In doing so, he’s going to undercut hotel-industry rivals of his own Trump Organization — who have raced in recent years to establish a foothold in a lucrative new market. Drew Harwell and Jonathan O’Connell report: “Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which merged with Marriott International to form the world’s largest hotel chain, last year debuted the first Cuban hotel managed by a U.S. company in nearly 60 years, taking advantage of [Obama’s] 2014 move to normalize relations with Cuba and lighten regulations enforcing the U.S. embargo on the island. Trump is expected to announce in Miami his intention to ban certain financial transactions between U.S. businesses and the Cuban military, whose companies control much of the island’s economy and a significant share of the tourism and hotel sector.” The president’s action will have the practical effect of negating his corporate rivals’s first-mover advantage.
– Four thousand additional U.S. troops will soon be deployed to Afghanistan. The AP’s Lolita Baldor and Robert Burns report: “The decision by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could be announced as early as next week… It follows Trump’s move to give Mattis the authority to set troop levels and seeks to address assertions by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan that he doesn’t have enough forces to help Afghanistan’s army against a resurgent Taliban insurgency. The rising threat posed by Islamic State extremists, evidenced in a rash of deadly attacks in the capital city of Kabul, has only fueled calls for a stronger U.S. presence, as have several recent American combat deaths. The bulk of the additional troops will train and advise Afghan forces … A smaller number would be assigned to counterterror operations against the Taliban and IS.”
– Trump has appointed an “event planner” and family loyalist with no government experience to a crucial HUD post. The New York Daily News’ Greg B. Smith reports: Lynne Patton “has arranged tournaments at Trump golf courses, served as the liaison to the Trump family during his presidential campaign, and even arranged Eric Trump’s wedding … Patton — who has zero housing experience and claims a law degree the school says she never earned — was appointed to head up the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region II, which includes New York and New Jersey, where she’ll oversee distribution of billions of taxpayer dollars.”
– In spite of Wednesday’s tragedy, the Congressional Baseball Game went on. Lawmakers from both teams gathered in the middle of the diamond to pray together. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi appeared together to say, “Play Ball.” The House Speaker and Minority Leader sat for a joint interview with CNN before the first pitch. The two smiled warmly, Pelosi sporting a purple Louisiana State University shirt and Ryan wearing a purple LSU hat. Both were in honor of Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip who was wounded in the shooting. (Ashley Parker, Elise Viebeck and Perry Stein)
The Democrats won the game 11-2, and the game raised more than $1 million for charity. From CNN: “At the end of the game when Democratic manager Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle was presented the winning trophy, he called Republican manager Texas Rep. Joe Barton to join him. Doyle gave the winning trophy back to the Republicans to put in Scalise’s office. … Ivanka Trump, joined by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and her two eldest children Arabella and Joseph Kushner, presented a $50,000 check from ‘Friends in the Trump Administration.’”
The first pitch was thrown by David Bailey, one of the two Capitol Police officers who were injured in Alexandria on Wednesday while helping to take out the shooter.
Trump sent a video message: “By playing tonight, you are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence or assaults on our democracy,” he said. “The game will go on.”
The Washington Nationals had to loan the Republican team catcher/catching gear because the GOP equipment is in evidence, per Bob Costa.
– Scalise remains in critical condition, but he has improved in the last 24 hours. In a Thursday night statement, MedStar Washington Hospital Center said the congressman underwent a third surgery related to internal injuries and a broken bone in his leg. He requires additional operations and will “remain in the hospital for some time.” Of the four other victims wounded by gunfire, two are still in the hospital, Lobbyist Matt Mika also remains in critical condition.
Lenny Bernstein explains why a single penetrating wound to the hip is such a dangerous injury: “The pelvic area is home to the iliac blood vessels, which include major arteries that branch off the aorta, the main route that carries oxygenated blood to all parts of the body. Wounds to those vessels, large and small, cause fast, severe blood loss, which can set off a cascade of problems for surgeons trying to save a patient’s life.” Lynn McCullough of Ronald Reagan UCLA Hospital said survival typically depends on several key factors: the position of the body when it was struck and distance from the weapon; the velocity of the bullet and the type used; and location of the entry and potential exit wound.
– The vice president and second lady visited Scalise and one of the wounded Capitol Police officers yesterday morning, Politico’s Nolan D. McCaskill reports.
GET SMART FAST:
- An increasing number of Americans with medically-ambiguous symptoms are being misdiagnosed with “chronic Lyme disease” and prescribed dangerous, often expensive treatments that do not work. In some extreme cases, misdiagnosed patients have even died after receiving intensive and long-term treatment. (Lena H. Sun)
- Facebook will use artificial intelligence in its battle against extremist content on the platform. The company announced earlier that it was adding 3,000 people to the team that reviews flagged posts. (Hamza Shaban)
- A Texas woman is suing Uber for allegedly obtaining and sharing her medical records after she was raped by a driver in India. (Hamza Shaban)
Federal contractor Booz Allen’s stock took a big hit after disclosing that the Justice Department is investigating its billing practices. (Thomas Heath)
- Cincinnati doctors caring for ex-North Korea detainee Otto Warmbier said that the 22-year-old remains in a persistent vegetative state and is suffering a severe brain injury with “extensive loss” of tissue in all regions of the brain. They have found no evidence to support Pyongyang’s claim that his coma was caused by botulism. (CNN)
- Russia is investigating whether a Syria airstrike took out a top ISIS leader. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in a May 28 attack on a meeting of ISIS leaders outside Raqqa. (The New York Times)
- Chinese police announced that a lone bomber was responsible for an explosion outside a kindergarten that killed eight. The attack is the latest in a tragic, bizarre string of violence targeting young children. (Simon Denyer)
- The UPS driver who shot and killed three people in San Francisco filed a workplace grievance in March. He complained that he was working excessive overtime. (Lindsey Bever and Emma Ockerman)
- Two escaped Georgia convicts, who allegedly killed two guards and fled from a corrections bus, were captured in Tennessee last night after a three-day manhunt. (Samantha Schmidt)
A law firm representing Sandy Hook families sent a letter to NBC, imploring them not to air Megyn Kelly’s Sunday interview with Infowars’ Alex Jones. (Page Six)
- Teenagers’ use of tobacco products has hit a record low, according to the CDC, while the number of those using e-cigarettes also sharply declined for the first time. (Laurie McGinley)
- The NCAA suspended Louisville men’s basketball Coach Rick Pitino for five games, tied to the high-profile sex-for-recruits scandal that rocked the sports program. (Rick Maese)
- There’s still no verdict in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case. The Pennsylvania jury informed the judge that it could not reach a consensus. He ordered them back to the jury room to continue deliberating. (Manuel Roig-Franzia)
- Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is slated to sign a $419 million K-12 public education bill that will convert more than 100 low-performing public schools into charters. The effort has been decried by some education activists, who note that Florida’s charter system is deeply troubled. (Valerie Strauss)
- Lyle Jeffs, the polygamist religious leader-turned-fugitive who escaped from home confinement after being accused of a multimillion-dollar food-stamp fraud scheme last year, has finally been captured. He was found more than 900 miles from Salt Lake City and had been living in a pickup truck. (Lindsey Bever)
- A blimp advertising a Wisconsin credit union deflated and burst into flames – crashing close to thousands of people gathered to watch the U.S. Open. The pilot, who remained in the blimp as it went down, is expected to recover. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
Scientists are horrified after learning that two Dutch fishermen who caught an ultra-rare species of fully-developed, conjoined-twin harbor porpoises simply took a picture of the two-headed creature before tossing it back into the sea. Little did the trawlers know, conjoined twins are an all-but-impossible occurrence among cetaceans — there are only nine known cases in history, almost none of which even made it to birth. (Avi Selk)
- A new study finds that seven percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. That statistic might seem low, but it translates to approximately 16.4 million people… (Caitlin Dewey)
Michael Phelps will race a great white shark for “Shark Week.” How? It’s still not entirely clear. But it will be a good ratings gimmick. (Des Bieler)
GROWING BLOWBACK OVER HEALTH-CARE SECRECY:
– Senate Republicans hope to bring a health-care bill to the floor by the end of the month, even as they continue to write it. Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell report: “President Trump and Mitch McConnell are pressing for an ambitious timeline to complete the bill, although it is being drafted in the Senate with little assistance from the White House. … Impassioned policy disputes have flared among some GOP senators in large group meetings at which McConnell has floated ideas from the drafting process. But those disputes have not deterred him from the goal of a floor vote before the July 4 recess. … Republican leaders (still) have no plans to hold committee hearings on their bill. They feel as if they have spent plenty of time presenting GOP senators with different options. No Democrats are expected to support it. … By all accounts, the Senate bill will be dramatically different from the measure that emerged from the House in May, and it is entirely unknown how and whether the two chambers can reconcile their differences and actually enact legislation revising the Affordable Care Act.”
– The covert nature of the negotiations has led to a sense of distrust among lawmakers — including a few Republicans. The New York Times’ Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear reports: “In the summer of 2009, when Democratic members of Congress were defending their effort to remake the nation’s health care system, they were taunted by crowds chanting, ‘Read the bill, read the bill.’ Now Democrats say they would love to read the Republicans’ repeal bill, but cannot do so because Republicans have not exposed their handiwork to public inspection … In theory, the bill-writing process is open to any of the 52 Republican senators, but few seem to have a clear, coherent picture of what will be in the legislation … Senate Republican leaders think their back-room approach gives them the best chance to devise a health care bill that can squeak through the Senate.” The story quotes three GOP members complaining:
- Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): “I’ve said from Day 1, and I’ll say it again … The process is better if you do it in public, and that people get buy-in along the way and understand what’s going on. Obviously, that’s not the route that is being taken.”
- Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.): “I come from a manufacturing background… I’ve solved a lot of problems. It starts with information. Seems like around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn’t seem to be necessarily the most effective process.”
- Rand Paul (R-Ky.): “My preference would be a more open process in committees with hearings and people on both sides.”
– Vox’s Sarah Kliff wrote a very buzzy piece yesterday: “I’ve covered Obamacare since day one. I’ve never seen lying and obstruction like this:” “It’s become obvious to me, particularly this week, that Republicans plan to move more quickly and less deliberatively than Democrats did in drafting the Affordable Care Act. They intend to do this despite repeatedly and angrily criticizing the (ACA) for being moved too quickly and with too little deliberation … The process will lead to devastating results for millions of Americans who won’t know to speak up until the damage is done. So far, the few details that have leaked out paint a picture of a bill sure to cover millions fewer people and raise costs on those with preexisting conditions.”
– Ezra Klein argues that the GOP strategy may backfire by increasing the likelihood of a single-payer heath-care system in the long-term. “If Republicans unwind Obamacare and pass their bill, then Democrats are much likelier to establish a single-payer health care system — or at least the beginnings of one — when they regain power.”
– The Senate’s bill could affect those on employer plans as well as those in the Obamacare exchanges, according to a new analysis from the liberal Center for American Progress. Axios’ David Nather reports: “The Senate health care bill is expected to allow states to relax the Affordable Care Act rules only on benefits, not on pricing as the House bill does. But that change could impact people far beyond those states … because it could lead to a return of annual and lifetime benefit limits, and not just in the states with the waivers … As many as 27 million Americans could face annual limits on their coverage, and 20 million could be hit with lifetime limits … Large employers that operate in several states can choose which state they want to use as the basis for their benefits. So if an employer operates in 15 states, and one of them has a waiver from ACA benefit rules, it can set all of its benefits based on that state.”
– Trump’s comments describing the House health bill as “mean” have angered many of the lawmakers who risked their political careers to pass it. Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports: “It is having a lingering, and potentially devastating, effect on his credibility among House Republicans. Members are still talking about Trump’s comment, and their frustration that he’d throw them under the bus is likely to damage his ability to negotiate on major items like infrastructure and tax reform.”
– Side note: Trump is preparing an executive order aimed at lowering drug prices. Bloomberg’s Anna Edney and Justin Sink report: “Top health and budget officials in the administration will meet Friday to discuss the issue, according to the people … Trump sought recommendations from the nation’s health agencies on reducing medication costs, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told senators last week. One policy being discussed for inclusion in the order is expressing support for value-based agreements, a drug industry-backed proposal in which pharmaceutical companies and health insurers develop arrangements to pay for products depending on how well they work.”
– EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended his proposal to slash his agency’s budget by 31 percent. Brady Dennis reports: “‘I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trimmed budget, with proper leadership and management,’ he told members of a House appropriations subcommittee. … The ‘trimmed’ budget he referenced would amount to a cut of [some $2.4 billion] annually — a larger percentage than at any other federal agency. Pruitt encountered resistance Thursday from members of both parties, who described the EPA’s work in their districts as both vital to environmental protection and an economic engine in many areas.”
Pruitt’s approach was even criticized by Republicans who think the agency overstepped its regulatory authority under Obama: Ohio Republican Rep. David Joyce said an EPA program aimed at cleaning up the Great Lakes region — which Trump would defund completely – had helped communities revitalize waterfront areas and created jobs. “Cleaning up the lakes isn’t about correcting mistakes from the past, but creating new opportunities and a brighter future for our shoreline communities,” he said, adding that the proposed budget “would cripple our collective efforts, halt the progress we’re making and undermine investments we have made.”
– Trump’s Commerce Department removed sexual orientation and gender identity from its equal employment policy, only to say that they would alter the policy when the change came to light. Buzzfeed’s David Mack reports: “The Department of Commerce outraged LGBT groups by removing sexual orientation and gender identity from the list of categories explicitly protected from discrimination in its latest equal employment opportunity statement. After this story was published, the department then said it would re-issue the policy … The new policy statement was uploaded some time in the last 10 days.”
– Rick Perry’s Energy Department is shuttering an office that worked with international partners to develop clean energy technology. The New York Times’ Brad Plumer reports: “The 11 staff members of the Office of International Climate and Technology were told this month that their positions were being eliminated, according to current and former agency employees. The office was formed in 2010 to help the United States provide technical advice to other nations seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The small office also played a lead role preparing for the annual Clean Energy Ministerial, a forum in which the United States, China, India and other countries shared insights on how best to promote energy efficiency, electric vehicles and other solutions to climate change.”
– Half of the business executives at Yale’s CEO Summit gave Trump a failing grade for his performance so far. CNN’s Matt Egan reports: “A stunning 50% of the CEOs, business execs, government officials and academics surveyed at the annual Yale CEO Summit give Trump an ‘F’ for his first 130 days in office. The survey, released earlier this week, found that another 21% give Trump’s performance a ‘D’ so far. Just 1% of the 125 leaders polled awarded the billionaire an ‘A’ … The Yale findings are the latest evidence that some pockets of the business community are growing disenchanted with Trump as his administration struggles to implement its economic agenda amid scandal and missteps.”
DAY TWO STORIES ON THE ALEXANDRIA ATTACK:
– The shooting has prompted lawmakers to think much more carefully about their security. Ed O’Keefe, Mike DeBonis and Kelsey Snell report: “In the hours after the shooting, Republicans and Democrats alike struggled to reassess their protection and engagement with the public, outside the protective bubble of the Capitol. Some said they should be allowed to carry firearms at all times — even in Washington, a city with strict gun controls. Others pressed top leaders to let them use taxpayer funds to secure their private homes. … Ryan and Pelosi discussed the issue during a meeting last week, according to aides familiar with the talks, and there is now a sense of urgency to make a decision soon.”
– Nancy Pelosi responded to criticism of the left following the shooting, claiming those conservative critics “sanctimonious.” She said during her weekly news conference yesterday: “If the president says, ‘I can shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and nobody would care,’ when you have somebody say, ‘Beat them up and I’ll pay their legal fees,’ when you have all the assaults that are made on Hillary Clinton … For them to be so sanctimonious is something that I really am almost sad that I had to go down this path with you because I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to have the fullest discussion of it.”
– Law enforcement officials swarmed Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood as they worked to piece together the final nomadic months of gunman James Hodgkinson, investigating – among other things – whether he had long-planned Wednesday’s assault or studied the movements of lawmakers in the months he spent living nearby in his van. FBI officials said Hodgkinson had been a “regular presence” in recent days on Mount Vernon Avenue, the main commercial street through the neighborhood, Tom Jackman and Peter Hermann report.
– The Del Ray neighborhood has begun its healing process in a unique way: with an art project. Patricia Sullivan reports: “This month, in the days before a disgruntled man from Illinois brought bloodshed to the ballfield, Nancy Belmont launched ‘Soar,’ asking participants to write on smooth gray stones about the burdens they’re ready to drop, and then hang a brightly colored paper bird to symbolize lightness and freedom. ‘Unfortunately, the timing is good,’ Belmont said … ‘It does give people an opportunity to open up and be together.’ … Her supply of 3,000 unpainted rocks had dwindled to a couple of dozen by Thursday morning, as people painted words describing their burdens — ‘shame’ and ‘aging’ and ‘anger’ — and hung paper cranes nearby.”
– The New York Times apologized and issued a correction to a widely-criticized editorial on Thursday, which incorrectly implied that the man who shot Gabby Giffords in 2011 was inspired by a map of electoral districts shared by Sarah Palin’s PAC. CNN’s Oliver Darcy reports: “We’re sorry about this and we appreciate that our readers called us on the mistake,” the Times said in a tweet. “The editorial, titled ‘America’s Lethal Politics,’ claimed that in the shooting of [Scalise] there was ‘no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack.’” Our fact-checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee warns: “Any future references to this talking point by politicians or political groups will receive Four Pinocchios.”
THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
– Facing a wave of popular unrest not seen in years, Vladimir Putin took to the nation’s airwaves Thursday to assure citizens that their lives will be getting better. “Judging from the questions the Kremlin leader fielded over four long hours, Russians aren’t feeling it,” David Filipov reports from Moscow. He adds that Putin trolled the United States, sarcastically suggesting that Comey could receive “political asylum” in Moscow. “It sounds and looks very strange for the head of a special service to record a conversation with the commander in chief and then pass it to the media through his friend,” Putin said. “And how is the FBI director different from (Edward) Snowden then?”
– Buzzfeed News published another report on suspected Russian assassinations carried out on British soil – which were ignored by the United Kingdom: “The dead man was Scot Young. The one-time multimillionaire and fixer to the world’s super-rich had been telling friends, family, and the police for years that he was being targeted by a team of Russian hitmen [and] was the ninth in a circle of friends and business associates to die in suspicious circumstances. But when the police entered his penthouse that night, they didn’t even dust for fingerprints … declared his death a suicide on the spot, and closed the case. [A two-year investigation] has now uncovered explosive evidence pointing to Russia that the police overlooked. A massive trove of documents, phone records, and secret recordings shows Young was part of a circle of nine men, including the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who all died suspiciously on British soil after making powerful enemies in Russia. The files reveal that Young lived in the shadow of the Russian security services and mafia groups after fronting for Berezovsky – a sworn enemy of the state … US intelligence officials suspect a further 13 people – including Berezovsky and eight members of his circle – have been assassinated on British soil by Russia’s security services or mafia groups, two forces that sometimes work in tandem. Yet British police have ruled out foul play in every last case.”
– Looking to prevent Trump from continuing to be soft on Moscow, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill yesterday to step up sanctions against Russia, delivering a sharp rebuke to Trump’s policies toward Europe. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The measure, which senators passed by a vote of 98 to 2, includes new sanctions against Moscow over its continued involvement in the wars in Ukraine and Syria and for its alleged meddling in the 2016 election. Senators struck a deal this week to include the language stiffening measures against [Russia] … in an underlying bill introducing new measures to punish Tehran for ballistic missiles. Critically, the Russia language also included provisions codifying all existing sanctions against Russia and giving Congress the power to block the president if he tries to scale back existing ones … The Senate added one more tacit criticism of Trump’s foreign policy to the bill: an amendment reaffirming the commitment of the United States to NATO and its mutual defense obligations to other countries in the alliance.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
– The president promised that foreign leaders won’t be “laughing at us anymore” if he won, but more and more international leaders are openly ridiculing him and making jokes at his expense. David Nakamura and Anne Gearan report on the trolling trend: “Fellow world leaders appear emboldened to poke fun at him as a way to bolster their political standing. To a degree, the strategy is similar to one employed by Democrats, celebrities and some Republicans who have calculated that mocking Trump can boost their popularity.”
- “In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who sparred with Trump in a testy phone call in February, this week treated a black-tie gala to a snarky impersonation of ‘The Donald,’ referring to the Russia investigation and employing the president’s famous catchphrases.”
- “In France, new President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a website titled ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’ and invited U.S. scientists to move there, a week after Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord.”
- “In Mexico, former president Vicente Fox posted a profane video on YouTube, mocking Trump’s taste for taco bowls (‘they’re not even Mexican!’) and border walls (‘Mexico will not pay’) that has been viewed nearly half a million times.”
– Three Cabinet secretaries and Mike Pence traveled to a conference in Miami to meet with Central American leaders and discuss economic development in the region, despite proposed cuts in foreign aid. Carol Morello and Philip Rucker report: “The two-day Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, which is being co-hosted by the United States and Mexico, reflects the Trump administration’s shift away from the Obama administration’s focus on fixing social problems to more immediate law enforcement issues, such as illegal immigration and drug trafficking … In some ways, the message and dynamic are similar to the tone at last month’s meeting of NATO in Brussels, where President Trump privately and publicly urged leaders to spend more money on their own defense. State Department officials say the United States wants other countries impacted by narcotics flowing from Central America and Mexico — possibly Canada and countries in Europe and Asia — to make up at least some of the shortfall in U.S. foreign aid to the region.”
– Sudan has accelerated its D.C. lobbying presence as the country attempts to get its sanctions lifted. Bloomberg’s Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs report: “The government of President Umar al-Bashir — which is listed by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism — has hired Washington law firm Squire Patton Boggs LLP at a cost of $40,000 a month to lobby on its behalf as part of its accelerating campaign to ensure that President Donald Trump permanently lifts sanctions against the country ahead of a deadline next month, according to a filing with the Justice Department. Under an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in January, a temporary easing of sanctions against Sudan would be made permanent after six months if Khartoum sustains progress in five key areas, including helping the U.S. in the fight against terror.”
– “After a tragedy many saw as preventable, London fire survivors vent their anger,” by Karla Adam and Griff Witte: “As firefighters continued to search the burned-out hull of the 24-story Grenfell Tower — where flames were still visible [two days] after the first panicked emergency calls — displaced residents on the streets below demanded legislation requiring that Britain’s aging public high-rises be retrofitted with sprinkler systems and multiple stairwells — which were lacking at Grenfell Tower. Authorities said the death toll could go far higher as search crews work through the wreckage of the 120-unit building … ‘I really hope the number of fatalities does not reach triple figures,’ said one police official.”
– “Board member Arianna Huffington takes prominent role in efforts to steady Uber,” by Craig Timberg and Brian Fung: “Where many saw a company that exemplified the worst of the tech industry’s male-dominated ‘bro’ culture, Huffington had concluded that there was an additional reason for the rampant sexual harassment and other unprofessional conduct reported at the company: a work-life balance gone disastrously awry. She had publicly warned of the dangers of coddling ‘brilliant jerks’ at Uber, but she also worried that Uber — and Silicon Valley generally — had developed what she called a ‘workplace culture fueled by burnout.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The president again took to Twitter to criticize the Russia probes and revive an old rivalry:
They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, ‘bleached’ emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
Trump’s accusations received a boost from one of his most ardent supporters:
Mueller is setting up a dragnet of obstruction, financial questions and every aspect of Trump’s life and his associates lives.very dangerous
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) June 15, 2017
But many others criticized both Trump and Gingrich for sullying special counsel Bob Mueller’s name:
Newt, whatever you think you’re getting in return for obsequiously sliming an American hero, I guarantee you it’s not worth it. Stop.
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) June 15, 2017
Others pointed out the odd timing of the president’s tweets:
A few took it as a sign of distress:
The health-care debate continued despite many consuming headlines. From a Democratic Hawaii senator:
The 13 dudes who are secretly working to take away your healthcare met again today. They have bill text. Light up the phones.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) June 15, 2017
Reporter asks what’s in Senate health bill, saying public doesn’t know.
“Well join the crowd. I’m in the same category,” says Orrin Hatch.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) June 15, 2017
The absence of Rep. Steve Scalise, still in the hospital, hung heavily over the Congressional Baseball Game:
Matt Mika, also injured in yesterday’s attack, was honored:
Lawmakers and spectators gathered in unity to play ball, as planned:
Our capacity for compassion isn’t determined by party. I look forward to playing ⚾️ w/ my colleagues tonight, and pray for those who can’t.
— Mike Doyle (@USRepMikeDoyle) June 15, 2017
Ivanka Trump made an appearance:
A post shared by Ivanka Trump (@ivankatrump) on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:25pm PDT
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
– Politico, “GOP sirens blaze over Georgia special election,” by Alex Isenstadt: “[Republicans] are preparing for the possibility of an unnerving defeat that could spur lawmakers to distance themselves from Trump and his already-troubled legislative agenda … One private party poll [shows] 30-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff opening up a more than five-point lead in the Republican-oriented, suburban Atlanta seat. ‘If we’re losing upper middle class, suburban seats in the South to a 30-year-old progressive liberal, we would be foolish not to be deeply concerned about the possibility that would exist for a tidal wave election for Democrats in 2018,’ said Chip Lake, a Georgia-based Republican strategist and former Capitol Hill chief of staff … The president shoulders some of the blame for the GOP’s predicament … Handel’s fade in the polls has coincided with the ratcheting up of Trump’s Russia-related troubles.”
– The New Yorker, “Protesting Trump on His Birthday,” by Colin Moynihan: “Trump Tower no longer attracts the thousands of protesters who gathered on Fifth Avenue in the days after the election, but [some] have continued to use the building as a setting for quieter forms of protest … [many of which] take place on an outdoor fifth-floor terrace, which is one of several privately owned public spaces [within Trump’s building]. ‘When we realized we could school him inside of his own home, it seemed like an opportunity that was too good to pass up,’ [one organizer] said. In the past few weeks, he and two other activists have created a Web site, #TakeTrumpTower, which promotes a series of direct actions ‘that utilize the skyscraper as a living lab for creative demonstration …’ and invites groups to submit events to include on a calendar. Listed so far are the weekly resistance readings, … yoga sessions, meant to help prevent burnout for those participating in long-term political activism, … and a multipart performance, scheduled to coincide with Trump’s birthday.”
– The Atlantic, “Evan McMullin’s War,” by McKay Coppins: “Ever since [McMullin] quit his job as a GOP policy wonk on Capitol Hill last year to launch a long-shot presidential bid under the Never Trump banner, he has been locked in near-daily battle with Trump and his supporters. On any given day, he can be found on CNN rallying viewers to resist the president’s attacks on ‘our system of government,’ or in The New York Times warning of America’s possible descent into despotism, or on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher detailing the dangers of the commander in chief’s ‘bewildering’ foreign policy. The ongoing media blitz has not escaped the attention of Trump himself, who has mockingly called McMullin ‘McMuffin.’”
President Trump will travel to Miami to give a speech and sign a new policy on U.S. relations with Cuba. He’ll return to the White House later in the day.
Vice President Pence will accompany the president to Miami and then fly to Indianapolis for an event with the Great America Committee.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
– Highs will be in the low-to-mid 80’s today with a chance of thunderstorms in the early evening, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s a muggy start, maybe some patchy drizzle still around early, with southwesterly breezes around 5 mph stirring the air slightly. Under partly to mostly cloudy skies, we get up to the low-to-mid 80s for highs. Not quite hot. We may be rain-free for much of the day, until rain chances arrive again by rush hour as thunderstorms possibly roll through us during the afternoon into the evening hours.”
– Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) will hand over a list of 206,000 convicted felons whose voting rights he restored to settle a civil lawsuit, Laura Vozzella reports.
– Wine executive David Trone is toying with the idea of another run for office in Maryland, either for Montgomery county executive or, if Rep. John Delaney (D) runs for governor, the Sixth Congressional District, Bill Turque reports.
– Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said that Maryland’s GOP is “better, stronger and more relevant” and predicted that they would sweep state elections next year, Ovetta Wiggins reports.
– The Pennsylvania man accused of bringing a military-style rifle to Trump International Hotel was sent back to jail for posting “disturbing” images after Wednesday’s shooting in Alexandria, Keith L. Alexander reports.
– Former D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, who led the largest gay men’s clinic during the AIDS epidemic, died this week, Paul Schwartzman and Justin Wm. Moyer report.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
It has been exactly two years since Trump launched his presidential campaign. And his policies today look quite a bit different than they did the day he came down that escalator:
A look at the grim history behind lawmakers who have been victims of gun violence:
Barack Obama congratulated Jay-Z on his Songwriters Hall of Fame award:
Jimmy Fallon commented on the poor timing of the president’s birthday:
And Stephen Colbert trumpeted Robert Mueller’s “all-star legal team”: