The Daily 202: Judge’s order to release Flynn transcripts illuminates an under-covered episode in the Mueller report

The Daily 202: Judge’s order to release Flynn transcripts illuminates an under-covered episode in the Mueller report

With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Lordy, there are tapes.

Responding last night to a motion filed by The Washington Post, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the Justice Department to make public the still-redacted portions of Bob Mueller’s report relating to Michael Flynn.

Sullivan also directed the government to publish the transcripts of two conversations by May 31: The first is from Flynn’s December 2016 phone call with Sergey Kislyak during which President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser urged the then-Russian ambassador to go easy in response to the sanctions that Barack Obama had just announced so that the incoming administration would have breathing room. Flynn later lied to FBI agents about this call, which had been intercepted by U.S. intelligence, a felony for which he has pleaded guilty and still awaits sentencing.

The second transcript might be more politically explosive: Trump’s then-private attorney John Dowd left a voice mail for Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner on Nov. 22, 2017, a few hours after being informed that the former general had withdrawn from a joint defense agreement. It was a clear sign that he was planning to cooperate with the special counsel. Dowd wanted to convey that Trump felt fondly about Kelner’s client, though he had forced him out of the White House earlier that year, and he also demanded to know whether Flynn was going to turn over “information that implicates the president.”

This voice mail was mentioned as part of one of the 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice that Mueller explored in the second volume of his report, but it hasn’t drawn nearly as much public attention as the chapters involving former White House counsel Don McGahn. That could change if the public gets to hear the audio of Dowd’s message. Sullivan, the judge, directed the Justice Department yesterday to provide him with a DVD of the original recordings, along with any other calls Flynn made to the Russians, so he can consider whether to release them.

The Mueller report includes this excerpt of Dowd’s voice mail: “I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms. … It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with … the government. … If … there’s information that implicates the president, then we’ve got a national security issue, … so, you know, … we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests if we can. … Remember what we’ve always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn, and that still remains .…” (These ellipses and this punctuation are taken directly from the report.)

Kelner called Dowd back the next day and told him that he could no longer share information with the president’s defense team under any sort of privilege. “According to Flynn‘s attorneys, the President‘s personal counsel was indignant and vocal in his disagreement,” the Mueller report said. “The President’s personal counsel said that he interpreted what they said to him as a reflection of Flynn’s hostility towards the President and that he planned to inform his client of that interpretation. Flynn’s attorneys understood that statement to be an attempt to make them reconsider their position because the President’s personal counsel believed that Flynn would be disturbed to know that such a message would be conveyed to the President.”

Mueller struggled to establish obstruction in this instance because Dowd was protected by attorney-client privilege from needing to answer questions about whether Trump had personally directed him to pass along this message. The president also refused to grant an interview to Mueller, and he declined to answer even written questions related to possible obstruction of justice. “That sequence of events could have had the potential to affect Flynn’s decision to cooperate, as well as the extent of that cooperation,” Mueller wrote. “Because of privilege issues, however, we could not determine whether the President was personally involved in or knew about the specific message his counsel delivered to Flynn’s counsel.”

“Dowd and the president’s current attorney, Jay Sekulow, declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the White House,” Carol Leonnig and Roz Helderman reported last night. “Kelner, the attorney for Flynn, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.”

The Mueller report highlighted how eager Trump seemed from the start to keep his former national security adviser from flipping. The president asked then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland to reach out to Flynn to encourage him to “stay strong,” Priebus and McFarland separately told investigators.

We also learned last night that there was a previously unknown congressional element to this effort. In a portion of a December filing that was finally unsealed yesterday, Mueller’s team said that Flynn had described multiple episodes, before and after his guilty plea, in which “he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation.”

We do not know the identity of the person or persons connected to Congress and what they said, though that seems important. It seems quite germane whether that lawmaker, if it’s safe to assume it was a member of Congress who called and not a staffer, had been in touch with the president before receiving said communications. Making the case that Flynn shouldn’t serve prison time, prosecutors told the judge that, “in some of those instances,” they had been “unaware of the outreach until being alerted to it by the defendant.”

A few days after the Dowd voice mail, Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements as part of a deal to cooperate. The next day, Trump was asked whether he still stood behind Flynn. “We’ll see what happens,” the president replied.

THE CASE IS NOT CLOSED:

— House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said his panel will meet next week to decide whether to hold the attorney general in contempt for ignoring a subpoena of Mueller’s unredacted report. Colby Itkowitz and Karoun Demirjian report: “Schiff also told reporters Thursday he’d release next week the transcripts from Michael Cohen’s closed-door hearing with the Intelligence Committee. Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose panel already voted to hold Barr in contempt for defying its separate subpoena for the report and underlying materials, sent a letter to White House Counsel’s Office on Thursday rejecting its call for him to end his investigations into wrongdoing by [Trump] and his associates.”

— Negotiations between Mueller and the House Judiciary Committee about his testimony have been stalled over whether the White House can invoke executive privilege to muzzle the special counsel. The Wall Street Journal’s Sadie Gurman, Dustin Volz and Aruna Viswanatha report: “Legal questions on how Mr. Trump’s assertion of executive privilege would affect Mr. Mueller’s testimony are central to the continuing negotiations … The privilege claim could prevent him from discussing details involving Mr. Trump and his advisers beyond what is in the redacted report … The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel is weighing the questions and is expected to provide guidance.”

— Chelsea Manning will go back to jail after she refused to testify before a grand jury in the WikiLeaks case. Manning will be sent to the Alexandria Detention Center, where she could face up to 18 months in prison. (Fox News)

— Democrats are demanding a review of a Russian aluminum company’s investment in Kentucky. The New York Times’s Ken Vogel reports: “The Russian aluminum company, Rusal, announced on Thursday that its board had approved a $200 million investment in a planned aluminum plant in Ashland, Ky., in partnership with Braidy Industries, a private company based there. The announcement came less than four months after the administration lifted sanctions on Rusal and its parent company, EN . The sanctions had banned the companies from doing business in the United States, and would have prevented the Kentucky deal … A group of Democratic lawmakers with top roles on committees overseeing the Treasury Department sent a letter on Thursday to Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, saying they were ‘deeply alarmed’ by Rusal’s investment in the Kentucky mill.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) played a key role in thwarting the bipartisan effort in January to prevent the Trump administration from giving the sanctions relief that made this deal possible. Craig Bouchard, the chairman and chief executive of Braidy Industries, said representatives from his company did not discuss the Rusal investment before it was announced with the Trump administration or McConnell. McConnell’s spokesman said support for lifting the sanctions was unrelated to the potential investment in Kentucky, which was not publicly announced until last month. “Lobbying filings suggest that, just before the April announcement, David Vitter, a former Republican senator who is being paid to lobby for EN , reached out to give Mr. McConnell ‘a heads-up’ about the announcement,” Vogel reports.

Rand Paul, the state’s junior senator, also voted to lift the sanctions on the Russian oligarch. The Republican, who has become golfing buddies with the president, said in a statement that he had “no knowledge of any kind as to their financing, but I do find it deplorable that the fake news media would try to turn a big win for Kentucky into some partisan propaganda story.”

— A county in Florida’s Panhandle that backed Trump was among those hacked by Russia. Ellen Nakashima and Karoun Demirjian report: “The Russian military spy agency, the GRU, was responsible for the penetration of Washington County’s database, according to the two officials … The county has a population of about 25,000. … Congressional members from Florida are promising legislation to change the rules about breach notification related to election infrastructure after the FBI confirmed that voter databases in two Florida counties were hacked during the 2016 election and told lawmakers the information was classified. It is unclear which other Florida county was targeted.

— The FBI is offering defensive briefings to all the 2020 presidential campaigns in the wake of Russia’s 2016 success. CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, Evan Perez and Kevin Collier report: “Additionally, the Democratic National Committee has also scheduled a separate briefing, developed with the help of a former intelligence officer, for this week with Democratic presidential campaigns to provide basic counterintelligence training … The DNC expects the former intelligence officer to talk about how nation-states target and compromise American people, and steps that can be taken to prevent and detect compromises. … A Republican National Committee official confirmed … that its technical staff had received a counterintelligence briefing from the FBI. The RNC maintains regular communication with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies … to share information and discuss best practices.”

— Despite allegations made by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ukraine’s prosecutor general said he has found no evidence of wrongdoing by former vice president Joe Biden or his son Hunter. From Bloomberg News’s Daryna Krasnolutska, Kateryna Choursina and Stephanie Baker: “The controversy stems from diplomatic actions by Biden while his son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board of Burisma Group, one of the country’s biggest private gas companies. As vice president, Biden pursued an anti-corruption policy in Ukraine in 2016 that included a call for the resignation of the country’s top prosecutor who had previously investigated Burisma. Yuriy Lutsenko, the current prosecutor general, said that neither Hunter Biden nor Burisma were now the focus of an investigation. He added, however, that he was planning to offer details to [Barr] about Burisma board payments so American authorities could check whether Hunter Biden paid U.S. taxes on the income.”

— Britain’s Nigel Farage — a driving force behind Brexit — sustained a lavish lifestyle thanks to payments made by millionaire Arron Banks, who spent approximately 450,000 pounds (about $574,000) on the politician the year after the E.U. referendum. From Channel 4 News: “Banks is currently under investigation by the National Crime Agency over the source of his funding for the Brexit campaign. However, Farage claims Mr. Banks has never funded The Brexit Party, which was founded in February this year.” Channel 4 found that Banks, through one of his companies, rented a fancy home for Farage, provided for a car and driver, and spent thousands of pounds promoting Farage’s brand in America. Farage has defended Banks frequently, claiming that the allegations surrounding his business and campaign deals, particularly related to any relationship with Russia, are “unfounded.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Nick Aspinwall reports:  “The law, which allows for same-sex couples to apply for ‘marriage registration’ as part of ‘exclusive permanent unions,’ passed by a comfortable margin and marked a key victory for Taiwan’s LGBT community. Taiwan’s high court ruled on May 24, 2017 that barring same-sex couples from marrying violates its constitution and gave the legislature two years to pass a corresponding law or see same-sex marriage become legalized automatically. … The law ensured that Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic nation, would stand as an example for Asia’s growing LGBT community.”

GET SMART FAST: ​​

  1. Congo’s Ebola outbreak has left more than 1,100 dead. Doctors are being forced to treat patients undercover to avoid harassment and violence. (Danielle Paquette and Lena H. Sun)

  2. A Navy SEAL pleaded guilty in the hazing death of a Special Forces operator, a case that pulled back the veil of secrecy on a sensitive deployment of U.S. forces in Mali. Chief Special Warfare Operator Adam Matthews was sentenced to one year of imprisonment, a demotion and a bad-conduct discharge for his role in the death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar. (Dan Lamothe)

  3. A dangerous delay: The University of Maryland waited 18 days to inform students of a virus on campus. That decision left vulnerable students like Olivia Paregol in the dark. (Jenn Abelson, Amy Brittain and Sarah Larimer)

  4. A doctor in Pakistan has been arrested amid suspicions that he is connected to an HIV outbreak in hundreds of children. The outbreak, in Pakistan’s Larkana district, is estimated to have affected at least 400 children. (Sky News)

  5. Five states are taking legal action against OxyContin producer Purdue Pharma for the company’s role in the opioid crisis. Four of the states also specifically targeted members of the Sackler family, who own the company, accusing them of peddling the falsehood that the risk of addiction to the powerful narcotic was low. (Lenny Bernstein)
  6. Boeing said its path to returning 737 Max jets to service is being held up by questions from the Federal Aviation Administration. The regulators want the company to provide more details on how pilots interact with the plane’s controls in different flight scenarios. (Douglas MacMillan)

  7. An F-16 fighter jet crashed into a warehouse in California. The pilot ejected before impact and was taken to a hospital but has no major injuries. (CNN)    

  8. The College Board plans to add an “adversity score” to SAT results. The number, on a scale of 1 to 100, will reflect the adversity test-takers face given demographic information about their neighborhoods and high schools — including median family income, crime reports and college attendance rates. (Nick Anderson)

  9. Chicago charged a mother and daughter in the death of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, a pregnant woman whose baby appears to have been ripped from her womb. Police said Ochoa-Lopez was lured to a house on the southwest side of the city by a woman who offered baby clothes in a Facebook group. The young woman’s child is now on life support and has no brain function. (Antonia Noori Farzan and Michael Brice-Saddler)

  10. A police commander in New York said it was “not a big deal” when Eric Garner died soon after being arrested five years ago. The commander’s comments were made public during a disciplinary hearing for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is accused of using a chokehold that led to Garner’s death. (New York Times)
  11. A cafeteria worker in New Hampshire who served an $8 lunch to a teenager who couldn’t pay was fired for “theft.” The woman, who had worked at the cafeteria for five years, let a student keep his food after she saw that his account was empty. (Orion Donovan-Smith)

  12. A transgender powerlifter was stripped of her women’s records. Mary Gregory checked the box that read “female” without hesitation when she registered to compete in a weightlifting event thrown by the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation, but she lost her title after the federation’s president learned that she is transgender. (Rick Maese)  

  13. Jimmy Carter was released from the hospital after undergoing hip surgery. The former president is recovering at home and still plans to teach his regular Sunday-school lesson this weekend. His wife, Rosalynn, who was also admitted to the hospital Wednesday for observation after feeling faint, went home with him. (Felicia Sonmez)
  14. Tiger Woods ended the first round of the PGA Championship nine shots off the lead. Woods’s uneven performance at the notoriously difficult course dispelled hopes that he would immediately re-create his magic from last month’s Masters. (Matt Bonesteel)

  15. Architect I.M. Pei died at 102. The New York-based designer was known for some of the most iconic modernist structures, including the glass pyramid at Paris’s Louvre and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (Terri Sapienza)
  16. Shareholders of the Gannet newspaper chain backed all eight of the company’s board candidates, turning away an attempt by a New York hedge fund to populate the board with its own people. The vote led to a rejection of Alden’s Media News Group’s plan to acquire Gannett through a hostile takeover. (Jonathan O’Connell)  

  17. Koalas have been declared “functionally extinct” across Australia. The Australian Koala Foundation’s chair said there are no more than 80,000 koalas in the country, meaning there aren’t enough breeding adults to support the next generation. (Sky News)

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

— Trump’s plan to reshape how immigrants are admitted into the country drew a cool reception from both sides of the aisle and appears to be headed to the congressional dustbin. Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and David Nakamura report:  “But the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill have emphasized that the plan — few details of which have been publicly released — is primarily to showcase the kind of immigration that Trump and Republicans can support ahead of next year’s elections. ‘We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages and safety of American workers first,’ Trump said from the Rose Garden in front of an audience of Cabinet officials and GOP lawmakers. ‘Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker. It’s just common sense.’ … On the other side of the aisle, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Trump’s offering a ‘dead-on-arrival plan that is not a remotely serious proposal.’”

— Experts worry that Trump’s plan for a civics test for legal entrants could keep out highly skilled immigrants. “It’s like asking for people to apply for citizenship when they arrive,” said Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “It’s a big thing to ask of people from other parts of the world.” (NBC News)

— The president has many ideas for how the border wall should look. Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report: “The barrier that President Trump wants to build along the Mexico border will be a steel bollard fence, not a concrete wall as he long promised, and the president is fine with that. He has a few other things he would like to change, though. The bollards, or ‘slats,’ as he prefers to call them, should be painted ‘flat black,’ a dark hue that would absorb heat in the summer, making the metal too hot for climbers to scale, Trump has recently told White House aides, Homeland Security officials and military engineers. … Trump also has repeatedly summoned the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, to impart his views on the barrier’s properties, demanding that the structure be physically imposing but also aesthetically pleasing. ‘He thinks it’s ugly,’ said one administration official familiar with Trump’s opinions, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being fired.”

— Trump’s emergency declaration to build the border wall will face its first court test today. Fred Barbash reports: “U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. in Oakland, Calif., will hear arguments on motions by separate groups of plaintiffs to temporarily block any wall construction on the grounds that Trump’s financing methods … are both unconstitutional and illegal. The hearing is the first of what are expected to be many tests of one of the most controversial decisions made by a U.S. president in modern times: to bypass the normal appropriations process in a quest for $5.7 billion in wall construction money. … Whatever Gilliam, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, decides will not end the controversy. Trump’s actions have led to at least seven lawsuits in three different federal courts.”

— Democrats agreed to fund part of the White House’s emergency request to send billions in humanitarian aid to the border. Politico’s Sarah Ferris and John Bresnahan report: “Top Democrats indicated to Republicans late Thursday afternoon that they are willing to include some of the White House’s $4.5 billion proposal — specifically for humanitarian assistance — in a long-stalled disaster relief package. Democrats are willing to devote more money to the Office of Refugee and Resettlement, which has been in charge of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border this year. But they rejected the White House’s more contentious requests, such as more money for detention beds or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.”

— “She’s undocumented. Her children aren’t. The Trump administration wants to evict them,” by the New York Times’s Luis Ferré-Sadurní: “Margarita knows what it’s like to not have a home. She bounced from shelter to shelter in New York City, just her and her two children, for nearly a decade. Although her children were born in the United States, Margarita, 48, is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, and her status has added to the family’s struggle to gain a foothold in the city, where she works as a housekeeper. But in August, they qualified for an affordable public housing apartment in the Bronx. … Soon, they could lose it all again. The Trump administration proposed a rule last month that would prohibit families from obtaining subsidized housing, including apartments operated by the New York City Housing Authority, if any family member is undocumented.”

— Trump is planning on sending hundreds of undocumented immigrants each month to Florida’s Democratic strongholds — Broward and Palm Beach counties  prompting criticism from local officials. Politico’s Matt Dixon reports: “’The blatant politics, sending them to the two most Democratic Counties in the state of Florida, is ridiculous,’ said state Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat who represents portions of Broward County. ‘You can’t make this stuff up.’ … Broward County state Rep. Evan Jenne, opposed the move but said the county will do what it can to help those sent its way. … A statement from Broward County said Trump ‘has threatened to send people who illegally cross the border to communities that are considered immigrant friendly.’”

— Trump’s pick for ICE director, Mark Morgan, told Fox News earlier this year that he can judge the likelihood that an unaccompanied minor will become a gang member by looking into their eyes. Politico’s Ted Hesson reports: “’I’ve been to detention facilities where I’ve walked up to these individuals that are so-called minors, 17 or under,’ Morgan said on ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ in January. ‘I’ve looked at them and I’ve looked at their eyes, Tucker — and I’ve said that is a soon-to-be MS-13 gang member. It’s unequivocal.’ The comment surfaced Thursday as part of a broader review of his Morgan’s public utterances by HuffPost. The outlet found Morgan notched nearly 100 television and radio appearances after a series of interviews with Tucker Carlson.”

THE TRADE WARS:

— Walmart announced that it will raise prices for customers because of the Trump tariffs on Chinese goods. Reuters’s Nandita Bose reports: “Walmart called out the impact of tariffs on consumers after Macy’s Inc delivered a similar warning on Wednesday. The department store chain’s Chief Executive Jeff Gennette said tariffs on Chinese imports are hitting its furniture business and warned investors that additional levies would leave its clothing and accessory categories vulnerable.”

— A program meant to help farmers feeling the pain of Trump’s trade war has doled out more $62 million of U.S. tax dollars to a Brazilian company run by two brothers who have been implicated in a massive corruption scandal. The New York Daily News’s Chris Sommerfeldt reports: “The Department of Agriculture cut a contract in January to purchase $22.3 million worth of pork from plants operated by JBS USA, a Colorado-based subsidiary of Brazil’s JBS SA, which ranks as the largest meatpacker in the world. The bailout raised eyebrows from industry insiders at the time, as it was sourced from a $12 billion program meant for American farmers … But previously undisclosed purchase reports … reveal the administration has since issued at least two more bailouts to JBS, even as Trump’s own Justice Department began investigating the meatpacker, whose owners are Joesley and Wesley Batista — two wealthy brothers who have confessed to bribing hundreds of top officials in Brazil.”

— Federal Reserve officials are growing worried that inflation is too low, which could leave the central bank with little wiggle room in case of an economic downturn. The New York Times’s Jeanna Smialek reports: “The Fed strives to achieve full employment and stable price increases around 2 percent annually. The labor market has been humming, with unemployment at its lowest level since 1969 and wages climbing gradually. Price gains, on the other hand, have come in consistently short of the Fed’s goal, and eased to 1.6 percent in March. The inflation conundrum is fueling what seems to be an intellectual rift on the interest rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee. The Fed’s chairman, Jerome H. Powell, has dismissed the weakness in price increases, attributing it during a news conference this month to ‘transient’ factors that would probably not last.”

— The U.S.’s latest swipe at China may lead to an economic divorce between the countries. David J. Lynch writes: “The relationship between the two nations hasn’t deteriorated to quite that point — yet. But on Thursday, tensions ratcheted up again as China vowed to take ‘all necessary measures’ in response to the administration’s latest action, which placed the Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei Technologies on a U.S. export blacklist. … With Trump scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in six weeks at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, the timing of the strike against Huawei puzzled many observers. … The United States and China are starting to resemble ‘a very, very unhappy divorced couple that has to share the house for financial reasons and engages in constant warfare over who gets to sit on the couch and control the television remote,’ said Henry Farrell, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.”

— The sanctions on Huawei underscore America’s dependency on Chinese technology. Greg Bensinger and Reed Albergotti report: “The telecommunications company said Thursday it spends more than $1 out of every $7 of its annual $70 billion procurement budget buying components from U.S. firms. Huawei is dependent on U.S. suppliers for components including wireless chips, antennas and handset operating software, meaning the ban could also cripple its ability to continue producing the latest equipment. … ’This decision is in no one’s interest,’ spokesman Chasen Skinner said in an email. ‘It will do significant economic harm to the American companies with which Huawei does business, affect tens of thousands of jobs, and disrupt the current collaboration and mutual trust that exist on the global supply chain.’ He didn’t respond to a request for further comment.”

— Global trade stocks took a hit as trade talks with China disintegrate and Brexit uncertainty grows. (Wall Street Journal)  

— Huawei’s campus in China features architecture from around the world, including a replica of France’s Versailles. (Siobhán O’Grady and Olivier Laurent)

THE ABORTION WARS:

— Two prominent Republican lawmakers, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Susan Collins, said they oppose the Alabama law that prohibits nearly all abortions in the state. “I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and that’s what I’ve voted on,” McCarthy (Calif.) said at his weekly news conference. He added that exceptions for rape and incest are “exactly what Republicans have voted on in this House. That’s what our platform says.” Collins (Maine), who faces a tough reelection next year, told CNN, “The Alabama law is a terrible law — it’s very extreme — it essentially bans all abortions. … I can’t imagine that any justice could find that to be consistent with the previous precedence.” (Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis)

— Democrats fear that Republicans’ claims of “birth day abortions” have forced them into a corner on the issue. The New York Times’s Jeremy W. Peters reports: “The unusually forceful, carefully coordinated campaign has created challenges that Democrats did not expect as they struggle to combat misinformation and thwart further efforts to undercut access to abortion. And advocates of abortion rights fear it is succeeding in pressuring lawmakers in more conservative states to pass severe new restrictions, as Alabama did this week by approving a bill that would essentially outlaw the procedure. … Surveys conducted for progressive groups in recent weeks found that more than half of Americans were aware of the ‘infanticide’ claims that [Trump] and his party have started making when describing abortions that occur later in pregnancy.

— The Senate confirmed Wendy Vitter, the wife of a former senator, to be a federal judge despite her outspoken hostility to abortion rights and her failure to turn over relevant documents as part of the vetting process. Colby Itkowitz reports: “[Collins] was the only Republican to join Democrats and independents in opposing Vitter’s nomination, in the 52-to-45 vote. Vitter has been waiting for confirmation since [Trump] nominated her for a U.S. District Court seat in New Orleans nearly 18 months ago. The nomination expired in the last session of the Senate with no action. … During a … confirmation hearing in April 2018, Vitter faced intense questioning from Democrats over those comments — which included claiming Planned Parenthood killed over 150,000 women a year — and her moderating an event called, ‘Abortion Hurts Women’s Health.’ … Vitter drew ire from Democrats after a judicial watchdog group found statements she had made against abortion that were not included in the extensive background disclosure forms she was required to provide to the Senate. … Vitter stood by her husband [David] in 2007 when he was named in connection with a D.C. prostitution ring.”

— Vitter, who is from Louisiana, is one of more than two dozen Trump nominees who have refused to say during their confirmation hearings whether they believe that the Brown v. Board of Education decision that desegregated schools was correctly decided. The refusal is striking at a time when many schools, especially in the Deep South, remain segregated by race. Laura Meckler and Robert Barnes report: “The standoff has come to resemble a serious game of chicken. If the nominees say Brown was correctly decided, are they obligated to opine on more controversial precedents, in particular Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to abortion? Some nominees say the Democratic senators are not content with statements calling segregation immoral. The other side says the refusal to engage undermines the national consensus around equal protection under the law that underlies Brown. That decision, announced 65 years ago Friday, is widely seen as one of the Supreme Court’s greatest moments, with the court’s unanimity sending a powerful message to a segregated nation.”

The NAACP opposed Vitter and other nominees who refuse to affirm Brown. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter to senators urging them to vote no on the 27 nominees it counts who have declined to answer the question. The group identified four nominees who endorsed the decision.

TEHRAN WATCH:

— The Trump administration is sending top national security officials to update Congress on escalating tensions with Iran. Karoun Demirjian, Josh Dawsey and Shane Harris report: “Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Gen. Paul Nakasone, who heads the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, met privately Thursday with the Gang of Eight, which includes the top Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House and the heads of each chamber’s intelligence committee. That session will be followed on Tuesday with separate briefings for all members of the House and Senate from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph F. Dunford Jr.”

Information from the White House is slow to reach Congress because President Trump and his advisers are often at odds over the best course of action, according to administration officials … The internal division spilled into public view Thursday, when Trump seemed to step in front of national security adviser John Bolton’s warnings of a potential military conflict with Iran. The president told reporters, ‘I hope not’ when asked whether war was imminent. The gap between Trump and his advisers means that even the most senior members of his administration are hard-pressed to communicate detailed plans to Congress — leading to bland briefings that irritate lawmakers by informing them only of what they already know … 

House Democrats have faced steeper hurdles in seeking to obtain classified information about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Members of the House Intelligence Committee have complained that intelligence on the hermit kingdom has been ‘constricted.’ The House Foreign Affairs Committee has sought a classified briefing on North Korea for at least four months … and the committee has been told that attempts to schedule such a session are being resisted by senior White House officials, including Bolton. … Administration officials also complain of internal struggles with the NSC, which they say is attempting to keep tight control over the flow of information made public as the Iran standoff unfolds.”

— There’s mounting evidence that Trump has soured on Bolton. CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Jeremy Diamond, Jim Acosta, Kaitlan Collins and Kylie Atwood report: “As recently as last week, Trump was calling outside advisers to complain about Bolton, people familiar with the conversations said. Trump is frustrated that Bolton has allowed the Iran situation to reach a point where it seems like armed conflict is a real possibility, but his frustrations with his national security adviser actually began earlier this spring over Venezuela, when a similar dynamic — Bolton and other aides openly hinting at military options — caused Trump to warn his team to tamp down the rhetoric. … Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, denied Thursday there were any divisions inside the administration over Iran. But she made clear that Trump’s views would prevail.”

— Though the prospect of U.S. military action against Iran has very little international support, there are three countries that are sympathetic to the idea: Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Adam Taylor reports: “It’s no coincidence that these countries have courted the White House since Trump entered office in January 2017 — they saw the incoming administration as an ally against Iran. … While nations like Saudi Arabia may support action on Iran, they have reason to worry about a conflict, too. In fact, given their relative proximity to Iran, these countries have more to worry about than most. The complicated reactions of Israel and the UAE to the flare-up of tensions with Iran illustrate this well.”

 — Nobody really knows what Trump’s plan for Iran is, writes columnist David Ignatius: “The U.S.-Iran faceoff is one of those odd situations where both players appear eager to set off sparks, although neither seems to want a raging fire. They seem comfortable in a halfway zone of conflict, where nations use force in deniable ways across different domains, hoping they don’t set off an explosion. The problem is that nobody in Washington, Europe or the Middle East has a convincing answer to the obvious question: What’s next? Each side says it fears an attack by the other, but hard-liners in both capitals seem eerily ready for an exchange of blows.”

— Even though it looks as if Trump himself isn’t aiming for war, you shouldn’t relax. Columnist Josh Rogin explains why: “Several senior administration officials briefed a small group of journalists Thursday morning to set the record straight. In sum, they say their goal is not to spark a conflict but to combine their ever-intensifying pressure campaign with deterrence against Iran’s response to that strategy. It’s a complicated gambit. … There’s deep concern on Capitol Hill about how the administration is managing the risk of escalation spiraling out of control. Senators and staffers told me the recent attacks on Saudi oil assets — believed to be part of Iran’s response — present a vexing challenge because it’s not clear how the United States or the Saudis will respond.”

— “Iran dismissed any suggestion of a dialogue with Mr. Trump. ‘The escalation by the United States is unacceptable,’ the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Thursday,” per the New York Times’s Mark Landler, Maggie Haberman and Eric Schmitt. “State Department officials, speaking to reporters, set a red line that they warned Iran would cross at its peril: It could not ramp up its nuclear fuel production to the point where it could produce a nuclear weapon in less than one year. … No new information was presented to Mr. Trump at the Situation Room meeting that argued for further engagement with Iran, according to a person who attended.”

— U.S. intelligence shows that Tehran believed the U.S. planned to attack Iran and prepared for possible counterstrikes. The new information suggests that the two nations might have misread each other. (Wall Street Journal)

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN: 

— The EPA inspector general recommended that the agency recover nearly $124,000 in “excessive” travel costs from former administrator Scott Pruitt. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “The findings, issued nearly a year after Pruitt resigned amid controversy over his spending, travel and ties to lobbyists and outside groups, highlight the fiscal impact of his penchant for high-end travel and accommodations. Investigators concluded that 40 trips Pruitt either took or scheduled during a 10-month period, between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2017, cost taxpayers $985,037. The bulk of those expenses were for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, which billed $428,896 in travel costs. The agency spent an additional $339,894 on staffers traveling with the former administrator. The ‘questioned amount’ the inspector general’s office identifies for possible recovery is the $123,941 that taxpayers spent on flying both Pruitt and a security agent in first- or business class, instead of coach.”

— Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson broke the law when he didn’t report an order for over $30,000 in furniture, the Government Accountability Office said. Politico’s Katy O’Donnell reports: “Agencies are required to notify Congress of expenditures over $5,000 to furnish an executive’s office. Carson canceled the table order after it surfaced in news reports in early 2018, and he appeared to blame the fiasco on his wife, Candy, in congressional testimony. HUD spokespeople offered conflicting accounts of what Carson knew about the order. Congressional appropriators requested the GAO investigation.”

— The director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said the Education Department is blocking attempts to police the student loan industry. NPR’s Chris Arnold reports: “CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger explained the problem in an April letter responding to questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other lawmakers about whether the federal regulator had ‘abandoned its supervision and enforcement activities’ related to more than $1 trillion in student loans. … ‘Since December 2017,’ Kraninger wrote in the letter, ‘student loan servicers have declined to produce information requested by the Bureau for supervisory examinations’ related to federal student loans. … Kraninger, a Trump administration appointee, is in essence saying that the CFPB is trying to do its job protecting student borrowers and supervising loan servicing companies, but the Education Department is getting in the way.”

TRUMP INC.:

— Revenue at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort dropped 10 percent in 2018, according to new federal disclosures that are part of a mixed overall picture of his finances. David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell report: “The disclosure forms, released Thursday, reveal details of Trump’s assets, debts, income sources and real estate sales for 2018. The forms have limits: They don’t say if Trump’s companies are making a profit, and they don’t give details about some of his biggest income streams: the rental incomes from his office buildings. They also don’t show how much of Trump’s income comes from the federal government itself, as federal officials accompany Trump on his frequent visits to his own properties. Still, these forms are the best annual snapshot of Trump’s finances, because Trump — unlike other recent presidents — has declined to release his tax returns. Overall, they showed a mixed picture. …

“At his hotel in downtown Washington, revenue was up 1 percent over 2017 … Despite the increase at Trump’s Washington hotel, revenue from Trump’s stand-alone hotels — his hotels without golf courses attached — was still down by 20 percent from 2017. That was partly because his hotel chain has shrunk, in places Trump never visited. … At Trump’s Doral resort — a linchpin of his finances, which was in sharp decline after Trump entered politics — the documents showed the decline stopped in 2018. But it didn’t rebound by much: the hotel’s revenue was about 1.6 percent higher in 2018. At Trump’s Chicago hotel, revenue was down 5 percent, continuing a long slide that began in 2016. Trump’s company has blamed the decline on tourists’ fears of gun violence in Chicago, though other Chicago luxury hotels have thrived in the same time. … At Mar-a-Lago … most of the charities that once booked grand fundraisers in the ballrooms quit after 2017. Their departures were in response to Trump’s statement that there ‘very fine people’ among the crowds during violent protests in favor of keeping Confederate statues in Charlottesville.”

— Trump’s Ireland visit and meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar are in trouble amid venue disagreement. The Irish Times’s Suzanne Lynch reports: “The Trump administration had been considering a visit to Ireland between the president’s trips to Britain and France in June. But disagreement has emerged over protocol issues. While the Taoiseach’s preference is to meet Mr Trump in Co Clare, Irish officials are reluctant to meet the US president in his golf course in Doonbeg. Instead, the Government has pressed for a meeting in another location, preferably Dromoland Castle, located 50km away. One White House source told The Irish Times on Thursday that the president was now favouring a visit to Scotland rather than Ireland during his European trip.”

THE REST OF THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

— House Democrats passed a bill to strengthen Obamacare and lower prescription drug prices on a nearly party-line vote. Amy Goldstein reports: “The 234-to-183 vote, with every Democrat and five Republicans casting ballots in favor, gave a partisan hue even to three strategies to boost the availability of generic drugs that initially attracted GOP support. Those were merged, however, with measures that would block several Trump administration policies that Democrats characterize as ‘sabotaging’ the ACA. The upshot was a barbed debate: Democrats accused Republicans of disregarding consumers’ need for affordable, quality health care, and Republicans accused Democrats of thwarting a rare opportunity for bipartisanship.”

— The Trump administration revoked $929 million for a high-speed rail project in California. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the decision was politically motivated and illegal. (Wall Street Journal)

— Only half of the federal government’s 10 largest law-enforcement agencies currently have permanent chiefs. The Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau reports: “The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons all lack permanent heads. Several of the agencies—ATF, DEA and ICE—have been without Senate-approved leadership for the entirety of [Trump’s] term in office.”

— House Democrats are divided over how to stand with Israel amid Republican pressure following accusations of anti-Semitism this year. Mike DeBonis reports: McConnell and McCarthy “called on Democrats this week to pass legislation condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which aims to apply economic pressure on the Israeli government to change its policies toward the Palestinians. House Republicans also launched an effort this week using a rare legislative tool to sidestep the Democratic leadership and force a vote on the issue. … Many, if not most, Democrats also oppose the BDS movement, but some are also wary of revisiting an issue that badly divided the caucus earlier this year when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) made comments many members considered anti-Semitic, forcing a vote to condemn all anti-Semitism and other bigotry. And they are balking especially at being drawn into a internecine fight on Republicans’ terms.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

— Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee urged Congress to put more pressure on Saudi Arabia following the journalist’s murder. Felicia Sonmez reports: “’This act — this murder — was a great brutality, and the last seven, eight months, nothing was done,’ Hatice Cengiz said at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on the dangers of reporting on human rights. ‘We still do not know why he was killed. We don’t know where his corpse is.’ … ‘In the early days, President Trump said that this would be solved,’ Cengiz said. ‘And Ms. Pelosi talked about how unacceptable this was. But seven, eight months later, we see that nothing has been done, and that is why I’m here today.’”

— A Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates coalition carried out deadly raids in Yemen, killing at least six. The coalition carried out 11 attacks in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, leaving dozens of casualties, including women and children. (Al Jazeera)

— Indonesian police believe they foiled a suspected terrorist attack by using WiFi to detonate explosive devices. Counterterrorism agents arrested a number of suspects who are members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. (New York Times)

— City police forcibly removed activists living in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington. Marissa J. Lang reports: “Federal law enforcement officers entered the embassy about 9 a.m. at the behest of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to remove and arrest the final four demonstrators inside, ending a weeks-long standoff between protesters on opposite sides of the South American country’s political crisis. … Carlos Vecchio, the Guaidó-appointed ambassador recognized by the U.S. government, said his diplomatic mission would take control of the embassy Thursday evening.”

— Facebook banned an Israeli company that ran a campaign aimed at disrupting elections in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. The AP’s Isabel Debre and Raphael Satter report: “Although Facebook said the individuals behind the network attempted to conceal their identities, it discovered that many were linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm that publicly boasts of its social media skills and ability to ‘change reality.’ ‘It’s a real communications firm making money through the dissemination of fake news,’ said Graham Brookie, director of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who was stripped of his committee assignments for his comments on white supremacy, was present for Trump’s immigration announcement:

Stephen Moore, whose nomination to the Federal Reserve Board was torpedoed, was also invited to the Rose Garden ceremony:

A Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee called the Flynn filings explosive: 

An actor appeared on Capitol Hill to discuss impeachment, per a Post reporter:

A Reuters reporter shared this photo from the Pentagon:

And a CBS News reporter added this:

A stand-up comedian mocked New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s entry into the crowded 2020 field:

An NBC News reporter envisioned his future book about the Democratic primary:

AOC had this to say on the Alabama law:

And a British steakhouse won some new fans after tweeting this encouraging message to an employee:

GOOD READS:

— “We asked ambassadors where they eat when they’re homesick. We did not expect Taco Bell and Ikea,” by Richard Morgan: “We asked dozens of ambassadors based in the District what they eat when they miss home. Some gave us very broad answers — pasta with seafood for Tunisia’s Fayçal Gouia, for instance, or a fish dish with an outdoor aperitif for Italy’s Armando Varricchio — while others declined to offer suggestions because of their relative newness to Washington (Ethiopia’s Fitsum Arega). And one (Haiti’s Hervé Denis) told us that he never gets homesick. But many of them shared with us the dishes and restaurants they turn to when they want to be reminded of home.”

— “Jay Inslee wants to be the climate change president. His record shows what a tough sell that issue could be,” by Joshua Partlow: “Bureaucrats at the state capitol next to the governor’s mansion lunch at the Orca Eats taco truck, next to a stand promoting ‘eco-conscious cutlery’ made from avocado pits. Even the lone anti-vaccine protester driving around the capitol grounds on a recent day with a sign accusing Inslee of “political sabotage media collusion treason” was doing it in a highly fuel-efficient sedan. And yet, Inslee’s long quest to transform nature-loving sentiment into climate change legislation has been akin to a grim march through the desert. The man who wants to be America’s first climate change president has seen firsthand the difficulties of putting in place policies to slow the warming of the globe.”

— Deadspin, “The Night the Lights Went Out,” by Drew Magary: “I am the least reliable narrator when it comes to the story of my brain exploding. This is because, from the time right before I suffered a freakish brain hemorrhage last year to the time I regained full consciousness roughly two weeks later, I remember nothing. My mind is an absolute blank. It’s like the fabled pause in the Nixon Tapes. I was not here. That time of my life may as well not exist. Oh, but it did. … I don’t remember doctors finally determining that I had suffered a subdural hematoma, or a severe brain bleed: A pool of blood had collected in my brain and was pressing against my brain stem. … I don’t remember any of that. I told you I wouldn’t be a very reliable narrator.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Trump’s tariffs are equivalent to one of the largest tax increases in decades,” from CNBC: “Trump, having championed one of the larger tax cuts in recent years, has now enacted tariffs equivalent to one of the largest tax increases in decades. … In fact, the tariff revenue ranks as the largest increase as a percent of GDP since 1993 when compared with the first year of all the revenue measures enacted since then, according to [Treasury] data. Only the revenue raised in the fourth year of the Affordable Care Act is greater, but not by much. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation estimates all the tariffs enacted by the president, including the latest increase from 10% to 25% on $200 billion on Chinese goods, will raise $72 billion in revenue, equal to 0.34% of U.S. gross domestic product.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Connecticut radio station WDRC rebrands itself as ‘Trump 103.3’ in ‘ultra conservative’ talk format,” from the Hartford Courant: “Few people work harder than Donald Trump when it comes to self promotion, but now Connecticut radio station WDRC is doing it for him, rebranding itself as ‘Trump Radio.’ The station’s brass is touting the new ‘ultra conservative talk’ format — which is expected to be temporary — as the ‘brave new voice of freedom.’ The station’s lineup includes Lee Elci, Brad Davis, Mike Gallagher, commentary from Bill O’Reilly and Ben Shapiro. It’s all part of an effort by the station, which is running promos calling for the firing of Gov. Ned Lamont, to galvanize conservatives in the state. How that plays in deep blue Connecticut remains to be seen.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will speak at the National Association of Realtors’ legislative meetings and trade expo.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Trump said that he thought it was “absolutely fine” that Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is married to another man: “I think it’s great,” the president told Fox News. “I think that’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it’s good.” (Colby Itkowitz)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

— It’s getting warm again — and muggy. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Welcome news after our record rains: The overall probability of your exact location getting a downpour over the next few days? Below 50 percent! However, like midsummer, each day features the chance of pop-up showers and a storm. We’ll take what we can get?”

— The Nationals beat the Mets 7-6. (Sam Fortier)

— D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) opposed Trump’s plan to take over the city’s Fourth of July celebration. Peter Jamison and Peter Hermann report: “Bowser said she would prefer that the event on the Mall — which has not undergone wholesale changes to its planning since the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — remain in its current format. ‘We are very happy to host the nation’s fireworks here every year, and over the years it’s become a pretty well-oiled machine,’ Bowser said. ‘That is our primary concern: How do people have a good time, celebrate and be safe on the Mall and getting home?’ … The president wants to move the massive fireworks display from its usual place on the Mall and perhaps deliver a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The news ignited fears among the president’s critics that he might try to transform one of Washington’s most popular and nonpartisan traditions into what would effectively be a campaign rally.”

— Washington-area residents widely oppose a toll to drive into downtown D.C. Luz Lazo and Emily Guskin report: “Opposition crests at 75 percent in Prince George’s County, and stands at 69 percent among those living in the outer suburbs of Manassas, Va., and Loudoun and Prince William counties. In follow-up interviews, even residents who said they wanted relief from downtown’s chronic gridlock — which slows traffic to 15 miles per hour or less for several hours each day — said they did not want to pay tolls for it. Several said they fear it would amount to another tax with no guarantee of road improvements or better public transit. They also questioned how the tolls would be collected and spent, and how such a policy would affect low-income residents.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers dug into Alabama’s new abortion law: 

Stephen Colbert called the administration’s Iran dilemma “the worst throwback Thursday ever”:

Jimmy Kimmel poked fun at the New York mayor’s run for president, saying he “really puts the ‘blah’ in ‘de Blasio'”:

And Kiss musician Gene Simmons dodged a question about meeting with Trump:

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