Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation. The Post’s Matt Zapotosky explains the development. (The Washington Post)
FBI investigators have a simple reason for believing Jared Kushner can help them determine whether President Trump’s campaign helped Russia influence the presidential election: Kushner met with senior Russians during the campaign.
And while it’s not weird for presidential campaigns to meet with foreign officials, under this context, it was.
Right around the time Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser held a meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States last spring, the CIA director started to notice something weird: The Russians were talking about actively, aggressively trying to influence the U.S. presidential election against Hillary Clinton.
John Brennan, who was CIA director at the time, then started to notice that the Russians were reaching out to Trump campaign officials. His “radar” went off. Here’s what he told Congress in a hearing about Russian meddling on Tuesday. It’s worth reading the whole paragraph, but I’ve bolded some key points:
“Having been involved in many counterintelligence cases in the past, I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals, and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to try to act on their behalf, either wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons. And so therefore, by the time I left office on January 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion. And so, therefore, I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues.”
In other words: When the Russians want to spy or meddle in other nation’s affairs, their go-to move is to find people from that nation to cuddle up with — or to blackmail, if it gets to that. (“Suborn” sits right in the middle of those two. It means to bribe or secretly convince someone to do something.)
When the director of the CIA realized that the Russians wanted to influence the U.S. election, he knew to keep an eye out for Russians reaching out to people tied to the election. And sure enough, Brennan said, Russian officials started holding meetings with members of the Trump campaign.
Michael Flynn. Kushner. Now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. They all met with Russian officials at some point, and CNN and the New York Times, respectively, have reported that Sessions and Kushner did not disclose their meetings with Russians on their security-clearance forms. A security clearance is required before a person can be privy to the nation’s top secrets. Other members of Trump’s campaign already had deep ties to Russia, among them former campaign manager Paul Manafort and adviser Carter Page.
And it’s fair to say that U.S. investigators would have been very intrigued to see then-candidate Trump’s son-in-law, one of his closest advisers, receiving meetings with Russians. This is a member of Trump’s inner circle, as close as you can get without meeting with the candidate himself. Not to mention that Kushner is family. Going back to April 2016, we know Kushner met at least twice with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and a Moscow banker.
Jared Kushner attends a meeting with small-business leaders at the White House in January (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
That’s not to say meeting with the Russians equates to colluding with the Russians.
Brennan emphasized to the House Intelligence Committee: “These are contacts that might have been totally, totally innocent and benign as well as those that might have succumbed somehow to those Russian efforts.”
“Many times they know that individuals may be Russian officials,” he said later, speaking broadly about how Russians use people, “but they don’t know that there is an intelligence connection or an intelligence motive behind it.”
Former CIA director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on May 23, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Brennan made clear that he had only suspected that Russians may have used or tried to use members of the Trump campaign to influence the election.
But — and this is a really key but — his suspicions were enough to refer everything he knew to the FBI.
The FBI, we know now, took Brennan’s concerns seriously. The agency is waist-deep in a months-long, mostly covert investigation of Russia meddling and whether the Trump campaign helped. And its investigation has led it to the highest ranks of the White House.
Exactly what investigators want to know from Kushner (whose lawyer said he will cooperate) isn’t clear. But why their investigation has led them to Kushner is clearer.
Given what we know about how the Russians try to use people, it makes sense that Kushner, who had several meetings with high-level Russians and is one of the president’s closest advisers, is part of this investigation.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. on May 26. (Reuters)
It’s been 200 days, or 239,040 minutes, or 17,280,000 seconds since the presidential election. President Trump still talks a lot about it. And on Friday, Hillary Clinton may as well have been transported on a time machine back to Nov. 7, too.
Her 30-minute commencement speech Friday at Wellesley University was filled with direct burns at her 2016 opponent. Here’s the whole speech, annotated with what we found eyebrow-raising. Click the highlighted words to see the annotations, and sign up for a Genius account to add your own.
Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you very much for that warm welcome. I am so grateful to be here back at Wellesley, especially for President Johnson’s very first Commencement, and to thank her, the trustees, families and friends, faculty, staff, and guests for understanding and perpetuating the importance of this college: what it stands for, what it has meant, and what it will do in the years ahead. And most importantly, it’s wonderful to be here with another green class to say, congratulations to the class of 2017!
Now I have some of my dear friends here from my class, a green class of 1969. And I assume, or at least you can tell me later, unlike us, you actually have a class cheer. 1969 Wellesley. [shakes head] Yet another year with no class cheer. But it is such an honor to join with the College and all who have come to celebrate this day with you, and to recognize the amazing futures that await you.
You know, four years ago, maybe a little more or a little less for some of you— I told the trustees I was sitting with, after hearing Tala’s speech, I didn’t think I could get through it. So we’ll blame allergy instead of emotion. But you know, you arrived at this campus. You arrived from all over. You joined students from 49 states and 58 countries. Now maybe you felt like you belonged right away. I doubt it. But maybe some of you did and you never wavered.
But maybe you changed your major three times and your hairstyle twice that many. Or maybe, after your first month of classes, you made a frantic collect call (ask your parents what that was) back to Illinois to tell your mother and father you weren’t smart enough to be here. My father said, “Okay, come home.” My mother said, “You have to stick it out.” That’s what happened to me.
But whatever your path, you dreamed big. You probably, in true Wellesley fashion, planned your academic and extracurricular schedule right down to the minute. So this day that you’ve been waiting for—and maybe dreading a little—is finally here.
As President Johnson said, I spoke at my Commencement 48 years ago. I came back 25 years ago to speak at another Commencement. I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be this year than right here.
Now, you may have heard that things didn’t exactly go the way I planned. But you know what? I’m doing okay. I’ve gotten to spend time with my family, especially my amazing grandchildren. I was going to give the entire Commencement speech about them but was talked out of it. Long walks in the woods, organizing my closets, right? I won’t lie. Chardonnay helped a little, too.
But here’s what helped most of all: remembering who I am, where I come from, and what I believe. And that is what Wellesley means to me. This College gave me so much. It launched me on a life of service and provided friends that I still treasure. So wherever your life takes you, I hope that Wellesley serves as that kind of touchstone for you.
Now if any of you are nervous about what you’ll be walking into when you leave the campus, I know that feeling. I do remember my Commencement. I’d been asked by my classmates to speak. I stayed up all night with my friends, the third floor of Davis, writing and editing my speech. By the time we gathered in the Academic Quad, I was exhausted. My hair was a wreck. The mortarboard made it worse. But I was pretty oblivious to all of that, because what my friends had asked me to do was to talk about our worries, and about our ability and responsibility to do something about them.
We didn’t trust government, authority figures, or really anyone over 30, in large part thanks to years of heavy casualties and dishonest official statements about Vietnam, and deep differences over civil rights and poverty here at home. We were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants, would ever be treated with dignity and respect.
And by the way, we were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.
Speaking at Wellesley College’s commencement on May 26, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton alluded to similarities between President Trump and former president Richard Nixon. (Reuters)
But here’s what I want you to know. We got through that tumultuous time, and once again began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity and rights wider and wider for more Americans. We revved up the engines of innovation and imagination. We turned back a tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion. The “we” who did those things were more than those in power who wanted to change course. It was millions of ordinary citizens, especially young people, who voted, marched, and organized.
Now, of course today has some important differences. The advance of technology, the impact of the internet, our fragmented media landscape, make it easier than ever to splinter ourselves into echo chambers. We can shut out contrary voices, avoid ever questioning our basic assumptions. Extreme views are given powerful microphones. Leaders willing to exploit fear and skepticism have tools at their disposal that were unimaginable when I graduated.
And here’s what that means to you, the Class of 2017. You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. Just log on to social media for ten seconds. It will hit you right in the face. People denying science, concocting elaborate, hurtful conspiracy theories about child-abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors, drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor, turning neighbor against neighbor and sowing division at a time when we desperately need unity. Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds, and then defending themselves by talking about quote-unquote “alternative facts.” But this is serious business. Look at the budget that was just proposed in Washington. It is an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, and hard-working people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life. It grossly under-funds public education, mental health, and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic. And in reversing our commitment to fight climate change, it puts the future of our nation and our world at risk. And to top it off, it is shrouded in a trillion-dollar mathematical lie. Let’s call it what it is. It’s a con. They don’t even try to hide it.
Why does all this matter? It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we’ll never solve them. It matters because it undermines confidence in government as a whole, which in turn breeds more cynicism and anger. But it also matters because our country, like this College, was founded on the principles of the Enlightenment—in particular, the belief that people, you and I, possess the capacity for reason and critical thinking, and that free and open debate is the lifeblood of a democracy. Not only Wellesley, but the entire American university system—the envy of the world—was founded on those fundamental ideals. We should not abandon them; we should revere them. We should aspire to them every single day, in everything we do.
And there’s something else. As the history majors among you here today know all too well, when people in power invent their own facts, and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society. That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality—not just our laws and rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.
Right now, some of you might wonder, well why am I telling you all this? You don’t own a cable news network. You don’t control the Facebook algorithm. You aren’t a member of Congress—yet. Because I believe with all my heart that the future of America—indeed, the future of the world—depends on brave, thoughtful people like you insisting on truth and integrity, right now, every day. You didn’t create these circumstances, but you have the power to change them.
Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright, first President of the Czech Republic, wrote an essay called “The Power of the Powerless.” And in it, he said: “The moment someone breaks through in one place, when one person cries out, ‘The emperor is naked!’—when a single person breaks the rules of the game, thus exposing it as a game—everything suddenly appears in another light.” What he’s telling us is if you feel powerless, don’t. Don’t let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter. In the years to come, there will be trolls galore—online and in person—eager to tell you that you don’t have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute. They may even call you a Nasty Woman. Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say your elite education means you are out of touch with real people. In other words, “sit down and shut up.” Now, in my experience, that’s the last thing you should ever tell a Wellesley graduate.
And here’s the good news. What you’ve learned these four years is precisely what you need to face the challenges of this moment. First, you learned critical thinking. I can still remember the professors who challenged me to make decisions with good information, rigorous reasoning, real deliberation. I know we didn’t have much of that in this past election, but we have to get back to it. After all, in the words of my predecessor in the Senate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
And your education gives you more than knowledge. It gives you the power to keep learning and apply what you know to improve your life and the lives of others. Because you are beginning your careers with one of the best educations in the world, I think you do have a special responsibility to give others the chance to learn and think for themselves, and to learn from them, so that we can have the kind of open, fact-based debate necessary for our democracy to survive and flourish. And along the way, you may be convinced to change your mind from time to time. You know what? That’s okay. Take it from me, the former president of the Wellesley College Young Republicans.
Second, you learned the value of an open mind and an open society. At their best, our colleges and universities are free market places of ideas, embracing a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds. That’s our country at our best, too. An open, inclusive, diverse society is the opposite of and antidote to a closed society, where there is only one right way to think, believe, and act. Here at Wellesley, you’ve worked hard to turn this ideal into a reality. You’ve spoken out against racism and sexism and xenophobia and discrimination of all kinds. And you’ve shared your own stories. And at times that’s taken courage. But the only way our society will ever become a place where everyone truly belongs is if all of us speak openly and honestly about who we are, what we’re going through. So keep doing that.
And let me add that your learning, listening, and serving should include people who don’t agree with you politically. A lot of our fellow Americans have lost faith in the existing economic, social, political, and cultural conditions of our country.
Many feel left behind, left out, looked down on. Their anger and alienation has proved a fertile ground for false promises and false information. Their economic problems and cultural anxiety must be addressed, or they will continue to sign up to be foot-soldiers in the ongoing conflict between “us” and “them.”
The opportunity is here. Millions of people will be hurt by the policies, including this budget that is being considered. And many of these same people don’t want DREAMers deported their health care taken away. Many don’t want to retreat on civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights. So if your outreach is rebuffed, keep trying. Do the right thing anyway. We’re going to share this future. Better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.
And third, here at Wellesley, you learned the power of service. Because while free and fierce conversations in classrooms, dorm rooms, dining halls are vital, they only get us so far. You have to turn those ideas and those values into action. This College has always understood that. The motto which you’ve heard twice already, “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister” is as true today as it ever was. If you think about it, it’s kind of an old-fashioned rendering of President Kennedy’s great statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Not long ago, I got a note from a group of Wellesley alums and students who had supported me in the campaign. They worked their hearts out. And, like a lot of people, they’re wondering: What do we do now?
Well I think there’s only one answer, to keep going. Don’t be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams, or even your anger – those are powerful forces. But harness them to make a difference in the world. Stand up for truth and reason. Do it in private – in conversations with your family, your friends, your workplace, your neighborhoods. And do it in public—in Medium posts, on social media, or grab a sign and head to a protest. Make defending truth and a free society a core value of your life every single day.
So wherever you wind up next, the minute you get there, register to vote, and while you’re at it, encourage others to do so. And then vote in every election, not just the presidential ones. Bring others to vote. Fight every effort to restrict the right of law-abiding citizens to be able to vote as well. Get involved in a cause that matters to you. Pick one, start somewhere. You don’t have to do everything, but don’t sit on the sidelines. And you know what? Get to know your elected officials. If you disagree with them, ask questions. Challenge them. Better yet, run for office yourself some day. Now that’s not for everybody, I know. And it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. But it’s worth it. As they say in one of my favorite movies, A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.”
As Tala said, the day after the election, I did want to speak particularly to women and girls everywhere, especially young women, because you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. Not just your future, but our future depends on you believing that. We need your smarts, of course, but we also need your compassion, your curiosity, your stubbornness. And remember, you are even more powerful because you have so many people supporting you, cheering you on, standing with you through good times and bad.
Our culture often celebrates people who appear to go it alone. But the truth is, that’s not how life works. Anything worth doing takes a village. And you build that village by investing love and time into your relationships. And in those moments for whatever reason when it might feel bleak, think back to this place where women have the freedom to take risks, make mistakes, even fail in front of each other. Channel the strength of your Wellesley classmates and experiences. I guarantee you it’ll help you stand up a little straighter, feel a little braver, knowing that the things you joked about and even took for granted can be your secret weapons for your future.
One of the things that gave me the most hope and joy after the election, when I really needed it, was meeting so many young people who told me that my defeat had not defeated them. And I’m going to devote a lot of my future to helping you make your mark in the world. I created a new organization called Onward Together to help recruit and train future leaders, and organize for real and lasting change. The work never ends.
When I graduated and made that speech, I did say, and some of you might have pictures from that day with this on it, “The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.” That was true then. It’s truer today. I never could have imagined where I would have been 48 years later—certainly never that I would have run for the Presidency of the United States or seen progress for women in all walks of life over the course of my lifetime. And yes, put millions of more cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling.
Because just in those years, doors that once seemed sealed to women are now opened. They’re ready for you to walk through or charge through, to advance the struggle for equality, justice, and freedom.
So whatever your dreams are today, dream even bigger. Wherever you have set your sights, raise them even higher. And above all, keep going. Don’t do it because I asked you so. Do it for yourselves. Do it for truth and reason. Do it because the history of Wellesley and this country tells us it’s often during the darkest times when you can do the most good. Double down on your passions. Be bold. Try, fail, try again, and lean on each other. Hold on to your values. Never give up on those dreams.
I’m very optimistic about the future, because I think, after we’ve tried a lot of other things, we get back to the business of America. I believe in you. With all my heart, I want you to believe in yourselves. So go forth, be great. But first, graduate.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. on May 26. (Reuters)
THE BIG IDEA: Greg Gianforte admitted to attacking a reporter and apologized during his victory speech last night, as he kept Montana’s sole House seat in Republican hands. Now he and his party’s leaders are trying to move on.
On the eve of the special election, the wealthy technology entrepreneur flipped out when the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs asked him about the CBO’s score of the health care bill. He now faces misdemeanor assault charges for reportedly throwing Jacobs to the ground and breaking his glasses.
“I made a mistake,” the congressman-elect said at his party in Bozeman. “Not in our minds!” yelled a supporter. David Weigel, who was there, reports that some in the crowd laughed.
— After his comfortable six-point victory, Republican congressional leaders are making clear there will be no meaningful consequences for his behavior. “Elections are about choices and Montanans made their choice,” Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement this morning. “Rep.-elect Gianforte is an outsider with real-world experience creating jobs in Montana. He will bring that experience to Congress, where he will be a valuable voice in the House Republican Conference.”
Without being asked, Donald Trump turned to a group of photographers following him in Europe this morning and declared: “Great win in Montana.” Then he walked away without saying anything else. In a robo-call recorded shortly before the election, he called Gianforte “my friend” and “a wonderful guy.” “You’ll be very proud of him for years to come,” Trump told voters.
A spokesman for Mike Pence, who traveled to Montana two weeks ago to stump with Gianforte, declined to comment yesterday, and the vice president skipped his only public event of the day so he did not need to weigh in.
A Republican congressman from San Diego, who is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department, said this to an AP reporter:
Rep. Duncan Hunter said of MT reporter assault, “It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.”
Corey Lewandowski reaches between Trump and a Secret Service agent towards Michelle Fields after a news conference in Jupiter, Florida, last March. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)
— Michelle Fields, the former Breitbart News reporter who Corey Lewandowski grabbed when she tried to ask Trump a question last year, believes some Republicans “have put party over civility.” “From the age of the Gipper to our era of the Groper, the state of our politics has declined drastically,” she writes in an op-ed for the New York Times. “It’s hard to imagine the late, great William F. Buckley cheering on a politician who assaulted a reporter. But Buckley’s nephew, Brent Bozell, did just that on Twitter in the aftermath of the Jacobs’s incident.” Bozell runs the Media Research Center:
Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest first class jerk. I’m not surprised he got smacked.
“Had Ben been attacked by a Democrat, many on the right who are refusing to believe the assault occurred — or outright praising it — would be hailing him as a victim of liberal rage,” Fields adds. “Had Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, rather than Mr. Trump’s, grabbed my arm, I would not have been abandoned by many of my friends and mentors at Fox News, or my employer, Breitbart News. But I was inconvenient to their political narrative.”
Laura Ingraham addresses the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer. (Michael Robinson-Chavez/The Washington Post)
— The Montana donnybrook quickly became a Rorschach Test that highlighted the divide within the conservative media between the serious and unserious outlets. It also showcased how many prominent figures on the right reflexively rally behind Republican politicians, whether the president or a House candidate, even when they are very clearly in the wrong. This is part of a growing tribalism that contributes to the polarization of our political system.
Very tellingly, upstart conservative outlets that are trying to steal Fox’s market share by getting to the network’s right spent yesterday trying to poke holes in the story.
Laura Ingraham aggressively questioned the Fox reporter on her radio show: “You can’t body-slam someone by holding both hands on the neck. That’s impossible…Didn’t he grab him near the neck and throw him down? Just asking.” Acuna held firm: “I saw both his hands go up not around his neck in a strangling type of way, but more just on each side of his neck, just grabbed him. I guess it could have been on his clothes, I don’t know. I can’t say that for sure. But he grabbed him and slammed him down. … He had one hand on each side of his neck.”
“Acuna’s account in her interview with Ingraham was consistent with what she published on FoxNews.com, not to mention Jacobs’s own version of events,” Erik Wemple writes. “Now have a look at the headline on LifeZette, where Ingraham serves as editor in chief: ‘Montana Assault Witness Changes Story, Says No Neck Grab; Reporter says firsthand account misstated key aspect of Gianforte incident.’ BuzzFeed has deemed this story ‘FAKE.’”
But fake stuff gets around, Erik notes: On his radio show yesterday afternoon, Rush Limbaugh falsely told his listeners that the Fox reporter had basically recanted her story. He also called Jacobs “a pajama boy journalist” who was “insolent … disrespectful … whiny and moany.” RealClearPolitics reported wrongly that Acuna was “walking back” her claims. The headline on the Drudge Report was: “Witness Changes Story.”
And while the news division at Fox covered the story seriously and showed integrity, at least one commentator said on the air that the reporter had it coming:
The fever swamps of the internet went even further, though: Mike Cernovich, who has a wide following on the fringes and friends in the White House, raised the bar for required evidence. “Although there is an audio recording of the incident, he said video was needed for the story to be reliable,” Abby Ohlheiser reports. “Gateway Pundit wrote that it was ‘strange’ there was no video.”
It should go without saying that this really does a disservice to the well-intentioned people who look to these sites for honest information. Remember, Gianforte himself has now admitted wrongdoing and apologized.
— Many rank-and-file Republican voters, who follow the cues and signals of their leaders, defended their nominee’s behavior. “I understand the frustration of someone being right in your face,” Luanne Biggs, who voted for Gianforte, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “I feel like it’s a little set up.”
CNN correspondent Kyung Lah went to a polling place to interview voters and reported that nearly everyone she talked with said they weren’t changing their vote:
MT GOP voter, upon learning we’re from @CNN: “You’re lucky someone doesn’t pop one of you.”
Recall that many of these sorts of voters began identifying with the term “deplorable” after Clinton described some of Trump’s supporters that way during the 2016 campaign. That is why, even before the polls closed yesterday, many Democratic voters in Montana expressed skepticism that the attack on Jacobs would change the outcome of the race. “Greg thinks he’s Donald Trump,” Brent Morrow, 60, told Weigel. “He thinks he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”
Supporters watch as Greg Gianforte is declared the winner of the Montana special election at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman. (Rachel Leathe/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)
— But at least those people were talking about what happened. The Montana NBC Affiliate reportedly refused to cover the Gianforte story at all on Wednesday night, a shocking blackout. Irate sources inside 30 Rock appear to have called up New York Magazine’s Yashar Ali to complain: “KECI news director Julie Weindel was called by NBC News to see if KECI would cover the story or had any footage of the Gianforte incident that NBC News and its affiliates could use. … She was unyielding in her refusal to share any footage she may have had access to, or run a report on the story. … Weindel said that they weren’t covering the story, though it was running in outlets across the country at the time, explaining, ‘The person that tweeted [Jacobs] and was allegedly body slammed is a reporter for a politically biased publication.’ Weindel then added, ‘You are on your own for this.’ … The station was acquired, last month, by the conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting.”
— Here’s why that’s a big deal: Sinclair Broadcasting just struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations. “Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have 7 of every 10 Americans in its potential audience,” Margaret Sullivan explained in a column last weekend. “Sinclair would have 215 stations, including ones in big markets such as Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, instead of the 173 it has now. There’s no reason to think that the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, will stand in the way. Already, his commission has reinstated a regulatory loophole — closed under his predecessor, Tom Wheeler — that allows a single corporation to own more stations than the current 39 percent nationwide cap…
“When Sinclair bought Washington’s WJLA-TV in 2014, the new owners quickly moved the station to the right … It added conservative commentary pieces from a Sinclair executive, Mark Hyman, and public affairs programming with conservative hosts. (The deal would give Sinclair a second Washington station, WDCW.) And Sinclair regularly sends ‘must-run’ segments to its stations across the country. One example: an opinion piece by a Sinclair executive that echoed President Trump’s slam at the national news media and what he calls the ‘fake news’ they produce…
“During the presidential campaign, Trump’s message came through loud and clear on Sinclair’s stations, many of which are in small or medium-sized markets in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, even bragged, according to Politico, that the campaign cut a deal with the media conglomerate for uninterrupted coverage of some Trump appearances. Is there a link between such content — and the expectation of more — and the loosening of federal rules?”
Trump stands with other NATO leaders in Brussels. (Stefan Rousseau/Getty)
THE BIGGER PICTURE:
— “The darker forces that propelled President Trump’s rise are beginning to frame and define the rest of the Republican Party,” Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa explain. “When Gianforte assaulted a reporter … many saw not an isolated outburst by an individual, but the obvious, violent result of Trump’s charge that journalists are ‘the enemy of the people.’ … Trump — and specifically, his character and his conduct — now thoroughly dominate the national political conversation. Traditional policy arguments over whether entitlement programs should be overhauled, or taxes cut, are regularly upstaged by a new burst of pyrotechnics. … Trump’s barrage of news-making and controversy drives the GOP even at its lowest levels, with his raucous populism and blustering behavior reshaping its identity. Candidates often are either adopting aspects of his persona or finding themselves having to fitfully explain why they back him despite them.”
— Many right-wing intellectuals blame Trump for corrupting the conservative movement so much that Gianforte can get away with hitting a reporter:
Charlie Sykes, a conservative former talk-show host in Wisconsin, told Karen and Bob: “Every time something like Montana happens, Republicans adjust their standards and put an emphasis on team loyalty. They normalize and accept previously unacceptable behavior.”
Michael Gerson, a top speechwriter for George W. Bush, recalls a few of the conspiracy theories that the president has floated in his column for today’s Post: “Who raised the possibility that Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Who hinted that Hillary Clinton might have been involved in the death of Vince Foster, or that unnamed liberals might have killed Justice Antonin Scalia? Who not only questioned President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, but raised the prospect of the murder of a Hawaiian state official in a coverup? ‘How amazing,’ Trump tweeted in 2013, ‘the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s ‘birth certificate’ died in plane crash today. All others lived.’ We have a president charged with maintaining public health who asserts that the vaccination schedule is a dangerous scam of greedy doctors. We have a president charged with representing all Americans who has falsely accused thousands of Muslims of celebrating in the streets following the 9/11 attacks. … This is a concrete example of the mainstreaming of destructive craziness.”
“Respectfully, I’d submit that the president has unearthed some demons,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told Mike DeBonis at the Capitol. “I’ve talked to a number of people about it back home. They say, ‘Well, look, if the president can say whatever, why can’t I say whatever?’ He’s given them license. … There is a total weirdness out there. People feel like, if the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time, then I guess I can too. And that is a very dangerous phenomenon.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
An image grab taken from Egypt’s state-run Nile News TV channel shows the remains of a bus that was attacked while carrying Egyptian Christians. (AFP/Getty Images)
— Gunmen killed at least 23 Coptic Christians in Egypt after attacking a bus traveling to Friday mass, the latest in a string of violence aimed at the country’s Christian minority. Heba Farouk reports: “There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for previous attacks against Egypt’s Christians, which comprise about 10 percent of the population. … A spokesman for Egypt’s Health Ministry said there were also 16 wounded in Friday’s attack south of Cairo. The ambulance authority said 40 people were riding in the bus on their way from the city of Beni Suef just south of Cairo to Minya, about 150 miles south of Egypt’s capital. A journalist at the Copts united website said many of the victims appeared to be children.”
THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
— “Jared Kushner is now a focus in Russia investigation,” by Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous: “Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by … President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters … Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians … FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.
“In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes…
“In early December, Kushner met in New York with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and he later sent a deputy to meet with Kislyak. … Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. … Kushner omitted from security-clearance forms his December meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov.
“A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was recently notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing…
— One of Jared’s lawyers, Jamie Gorelick, said he’ll cooperate: “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
— You can’t make it up: Carter Page was welcomed into the Trump campaign after Richard Nixon’s son-in-law, Ed Cox, made an introduction. Cox, the chairman of the New York Republican Party, told The Post in an interview yesterday that Page, an acquaintance from business and political circles, had reached out to him in early 2016 expressing interest in joining the Trump campaign.
That details comes from this must-read story –> “‘Anyone … with a pulse’: How a Russia-friendly adviser found his way into the Trump campaign,” by Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman: “A top Trump adviser, Sam Clovis, then employed what campaign aides now acknowledge was their go-to vetting process — a quick Google search — to check out the newcomer. He seemed to have the right qualifications, according to former campaign officials — head of an energy investment firm, business degree from New York University, doctorate from the University of London. … He joined a new Trump campaign national security advisory group, and in late March 2016, the candidate pointed to Page, among others, as evidence of a foreign policy team with gravitas.
“But what the Google search had not shown was that Page had been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013, when Russian officials allegedly tried to use him to get information about the energy business. By the summer of 2016, Page, who had been recently named as a Trump adviser, was under surveillance by FBI agents who suspected that he may have been acting as an agent of the Kremlin. As part of its broader investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the FBI continues to examine how Page joined the campaign…
“Multiple people familiar with campaign operations … said that Page and others were brought into the fold at a time of desperation for the Trump team. As Trump was starting to win primaries, he was under increasing pressure to show that he had a legitimate, presidential-caliber national security team. The problem he faced was that most mainstream national security experts wanted nothing to do with him.
“Everyone did their best, but there was not as much vetting as there could have been,” former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said. (Several former officials recall that when Page first showed up at Trump Tower, Lewandowski introduced him to other campaign aides.)
Another longtime campaign official put it this way: “Anyone who came to us with a pulse, a résumé and seemed legit would be welcomed.”
“We were not exactly making due diligence the highest priority,” another campaign veteran added.
“In his defense, Page in recent weeks has sent a series of meandering letters to investigators. He has quoted Maroon 5 lyrics, cited the writings of George Orwell and said he is being persecuted because of his Catholic faith.”
Sam Clovis, who “vetted” Page (by Googling him), is now a top official inside the Agriculture Department. He’s spoken critically of the U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine…
CHECKED AND BALANCED:
— The Fourth Circuit – in a 10-to-3 en banc beatdown – left in place the freeze on Trump’s revised entry ban, handing the administration yet another legal blow in its efforts to block the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. From Ann E. Marimow and Robert Barnes: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. … The Richmond-based court said the president’s power to deny entry into the United States is not absolute and sided with challengers, finding that the travel ban ‘in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.’ The president’s authority, the court said, ‘cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation,’ according to the majority opinion written by Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory and joined in part by nine colleagues.”
— Blue slips are in danger: While Trump steps up his efforts to remake the judicial branch, Senate Republicans are threatening to alter a long-honored custom that allows Democratic senators to block some judicial choices from their states.Robert Barnes and Ed O’Keefe report: “Leaders are considering a significant change to the Senate’s ‘blue slip’ practice, which holds that judicial nominations will not proceed unless the nominee’s home-state senators signal their consent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Adherence to the custom has waxed and waned, depending on the views of Senate leaders. But the rule was strictly observed during the Obama administration, and GOP opposition to [Obama’s] nominees partly explains why Trump entered office with more than 120 judicial vacancies to fill. Removing the blue-slip obstacle would make it much easier for Trump’s choices to be confirmed…
“The Senate acted Thursday on Trump’s first appeals-court nomination, elevating U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar of Kentucky to the … 6th Circuit … Thapar was confirmed 52 to 44 on a party-line vote … Thapar’s nomination did not raise blue-slip concerns, because both of Kentucky’s senators are Republican and Thapar is a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). … (But, but, but:) The vacancy for which Thapar was nominated exists only because McConnell refused to return a blue slip for Obama’s nominee, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Tabor Hughes. The seat has been vacant since 2013, and Tabor Hughes never received a hearing, because blue slips were not returned.”
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James scores a layup against the Celtics at TD Garden in Boston last night. (Greg M. Cooper-USA Today Sports)
GET SMART FAST:
LeBron James passed Michael Jordan last night as the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring leader, accomplishing the feat in a win over the Celtics. That 135-102 victory, in which James scored 35 points, sent his Cavaliers into a finals showdown with the Warriors. (Des Bieler)
A U.S.-led airstrike carried out on a building in Mosul detonated a cache of ISIS explosives, killing more than 100 Iraqi civilians in March, Pentagon officials acknowledged. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
Former Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos was wounded in a car explosion in Athens. Police say his injuries were not life threatening. (AP)
An Alabama prisoner dubbed the “Houdini of death row” for dodging execution seven times was finally put to death early Friday. He shot his lover’s husband in a 1982 murder-for-hire scheme. He was first sentenced to death more than three decades ago. (Derek Hawkins)
In Ohio, a group of GOP activists and major donors are encouraging “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance to run for Senate. Loyalists to John Kasich think he stands a better chance of beating Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) next year than state Treasurer Josh Mandel. (Buzzfeed)
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is recovering at a Baltimore hospital after undergoing “minimally invasive” heart surgery. He will remain in the hospital for several days and will return to work shortly thereafter. (Politico)
The Republican National Committee is backing a petition that would allow political campaigns and businesses to leave automated messages on your voicemail, without your phone having to ring. Under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission, which has been asked to review ringless voicemail, the proposal would free tele-marketers from restrictions that prevent them from robo-calling people’s cellphones without first getting their permission. (Hamza Shaban)
Twenty-one people across the U.S. were indicted in a modern-day sex-slave ring – accused of luring vulnerable young women into the country and forcing them into prostitution until they could pay off tens of thousands of dollars in “bondage debts.” Authorities described the trafficking operation as one of the most elaborate and extensive in modern memory. (New York Times)
A Caltech astrophysics professor accused of harassing two female graduate students was also investigated for creating an imaginary female researcher, whom he listed as his co-author on major research papers and lauded for her “continued inspiration.” (Buzzfeed News)
A mother who attended every college class with her son so he could obtain a graduate degree after being paralyzed in an accident received the surprise of a lifetime during his graduation Saturday: an honorary MBA degree of her very own. (New York Times)
A Missouri man with a sweet tooth sued Hershey’s over two $1 boxes of candy – accusing the company of being “misleading, deceptive and unlawful” and purposely underfilling its packages. He’s seeking $5 million. (Abha Bhattarai)
New Zealand cricket star Doug Bracewell attempted to justify his third drunken driving conviction by arguing that the death of his girlfriend’s pet cockatoo made him do it. His lawyer said he drove drunk out of “genuine concern” for his partner and not because he was wantonly disregarding the rules of the road. (Marissa Payne)
Two Texas teachers sparked outrage after presenting a “Most likely to become a terrorist” award to a seventh-grade girl during a class assembly. The 13-year-old – a Salvadoran American and honor student – says she was stunned by the certificate, which her teachers handed to her, laughing, just one day after the Manchester Arena terrorist attack. (Amber Ferguson)
Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (Dan Kitwood/AFP/Getty Images)
THE KREMLIN IS WINNING SO MUCH THAT IT IS GOING TO GET TIRED OF WINNING:
— Trump exported the confrontational, nationalist rhetoric of his campaign in Brussels on Thursday, scolding European leaders for not footing more of the bill for their own defense, and lecturing them to stop taking advantage of U.S. taxpayers. Philip Rucker, Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum report: “Speaking in front of a twisted shard of the World Trade Center at NATO’s gleaming new headquarters in Brussels, Trump upbraided America’s longtime allies for ‘not paying what they should be paying.’ He used a ceremony dedicating the memorial to NATO’s resolve in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States as a platform to exhort leaders to ‘focus on terrorism and immigration’ to ensure their security…
“He held back from the one pledge NATO leaders most wanted to hear: an unconditional embrace of the organization’s solemn treaty commitment that an attack on a single alliance nation is an attack on all of them. Instead, European leaders gazed unsmilingly at Trump while he said that ‘23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying’ and that they owe ‘massive amounts’ from past years — a misstatement of NATO’s spending targets, which guide individual nations’ own domestic spending decisions. The harsh tone had a toll, as Trump was left largely on his own after the speech as leaders mingled and laughed with each other, leaving the U.S. president to stand silently on a stage ahead of a group photo. The long day of gruff Brussels meetings was a contrast to his friendlier encounters in the Middle East, where Trump last weekend embraced the authoritarian Saudi monarchy and said he had been wowed by King Salman’s wisdom.”
— It was a jarring dissonance: Trump tells Middle Eastern autocrats he will never lecture them over their human rights abuses. Then he flies to Europe and lectures our closest allies.
— Make no mistake: Vladimir Putin saw Trump’s behavior in Brussels, and he will be emboldened by it. Eastern Europeans depend on the U.S. security guarantee to avoid falling back under the yoke of Russian rule. Putin is not paying a heavy price for illegally invading Ukraine. What’s to stop him from taking, say, Estonia? How does he not take away from yesterday’s event that he could probably get away with it? Words matter, and Trump projected major weakness — putting another crack in the Western alliance.
— LEADING FROM THE SIDE: In a widely-shared moment from the summit, Trump appeared to physically push aside another NATO leader to get a spot at the front before a group picture, David Nakamura writes. “That prompted pundits to joke that after eight years of [Barack Obama’s] cautious foreign policy, the U.S. was no longer ‘leading from behind.’ But Trump’s remarks at the event celebrating the Article 5 mutual defense treaty left the impression of a president who continues to lead from the side — with one foot in and one foot out when it comes to U.S. multilateral commitments. Whether it’s NATO, the Paris climate pact, the Iran nuclear deal or the NAFTA trade accord, the Trump administration has wavered and equivocated, failing to offer a full-throated endorsement and allowing such agreements to continue in an awkward state of limbo without U.S. leadership and nourishment. Thursday’s ceremony … was supposed to put an end to the uncertainty among U.S. allies and partners in Europe. Trump’s aides had laid the groundwork, hinting [that Trump] would directly endorse Article 5. Instead, [he] found no space to do so in his 900-word address.”
— For NATO countries, the upshot is their relations with the Trump administration continue to be defined by uncertainty and anxiety even as the president wraps up a foreign trip that was intended to reaffirm U.S. global leadership: “It creates a hedging behavior,” said Ian Bremmer, president of a global risk consulting firm … Trump’s posture “makes it more likely these countries are going their own way … There will be some move towards more coordination of European-only security, and there will be less coordination with the United States.”
Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Kremlin yesterday. (EPA/Sputnik/Pool)
MOUNTING EVIDENCE OF MOSCOW MEDDLING:
— Wall Street Journal, “How Alleged Russian Hacker Teamed Up With Florida GOP Operative,” by Alexandra Berzon and Rob Barry: “The hacking spree that upended the presidential election wasn’t limited to [DNC] memos and Clinton-aide emails posted on websites. The hacker also privately sent Democratic voter-turnout analyses to a Republican political operative in Florida named Aaron Nevins. Learning that hacker ‘Guccifer 2.0’ had tapped into a Democratic committee that helps House candidates, Mr. Nevins wrote to the hacker to say: ‘Feel free to send any Florida based information.’ Ten days later, Mr. Nevins received 2.5 gigabytes of [DCCC] documents, some of which he posted on a blog called HelloFLA.com that he ran using a pseudonym. Soon after, the hacker sent a link to the blog article to Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to [Trump], along with Mr. Nevins’ analysis of the hacked data.”
— “Researchers say they’ve uncovered a disinformation campaign with an apparent Russian link,” by David Filipov in Moscow: “Researchers have discovered an extensive international hacking campaign that steals documents from its targets, carefully modifies them and repackages them as disinformation aimed at undermining civil society and democratic institutions … The investigators say the campaign shows clear signs of a Russian link. Although [the study] does not demonstrate a direct tie to the Kremlin, it suggests that the attackers are aiming to discredit the Kremlin’s opponents. The report also demonstrates overlap with cyberattacks used in the U.S. and French presidential elections … The campaign has targeted more than 200 government officials, military leaders and diplomats from 39 countries, [as well as journalists and activists]. The attackers seek to hack into email accounts … steal documents and slightly alter them while retaining the appearance of authenticity. These forgeries, which the researchers have dubbed ‘tainted leaks,’ are then released along with unaltered documents and publicized as legitimate leaks.”
Chilling quote: “Tainted leaks plant fakes in a forest of facts in an attempt to make them credible by association with genuine, stolen documents,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab. “We expect to see many more of them in the future.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) talks with reporters on Capitol Hill. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
CONGRESS LOSING PATIENCE:
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker issued a rare challenge to the Trump administration: Prove to us that you are making progress with Russia soon, or he will move forward with sanctions.Karoun Demirjian reports: “[Corker] has resisted efforts to debate and pass a bipartisan bill codifying existing executive sanctions against Russia for its aggressive actions in Syria and Ukraine and imposing additional sanctions over allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Corker had argued that it was premature to consider such a measure before congressional investigators completed their probe … On Thursday, Corker noted that [Rex Tillerson] had also asked him for ‘a short window of opportunity … to change the trajectory of our relationship with Russia’ pertaining to Syria. But Corker’s patience with Tillerson appears to be nearing its end. ‘Unless Secretary Tillerson can come in early in this next work session’ to tell senators that ‘these things are occurring that are changing the trajectory’ of U.S.-Russian relations, Corker said he would recommend that the committee ‘quickly’ move a bill to impose tougher sanctions on Moscow.”
— The Senate Intelligence Committee voted yesterday to give its ranking Republican and Democrat solo subpoena power for the duration of the investigation into Russian interference.Karoun Demirjian reports: “Chairman Richard Burr told reporters that the vote to leave subpoena decisions up to him and Vice Chairman Mark Warner was unanimous. He would not say when, or with whom, he and Warner planned to exercise their new authority. The move may be a sign that congressional investigators are anticipating a fight in their efforts to compel certain witnesses to cooperate with their probe and want to accelerate the process by which the committee can subpoena testimony or documents from people involved.”
Trump had lunch last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Cabinet Room. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
— Federal agencies are quietly retooling their missions to avoid being targeted by the Trump administration. Chris Mooney and Lisa Rein report: “‘Climate change’ is out. ‘Resilience’ is in. ‘Victims of domestic violence’ are now ‘victims of crime.’ Foreign aid for refugee rights has become aid to protect ‘national security.’ ‘Clean energy investment’ has been transformed into just plain ‘energy’ investment. The federal government is undergoing a rebranding under [Trump] — although not all at his direction. As Trump sets new priorities for Washington sharply at odds with what the town has seen for the past eight years, some officials working on hot-button issues such as the environment, nutrition and foreign aid are changing the names of offices and programs that might draw skepticism from the conservative Republican leaders he has installed atop agencies. While entire departments are changing their missions under Trump, many of these rebranding efforts reflect a desire to blend in or escape notice, not a change in what officials do day-to-day — at least not yet, according to 19 current and former employees … ‘I do think it exemplifies a general sense of looking at our programs, looking at the way we characterize our activities, and trying to rebrand or repaint them in ways that hopefully make them less of a target,’ said one Energy Department employee.”
— “At Trump’s urging, states try to tilt Medicaid in conservative directions,” by Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin: “Wisconsin is preparing to recast its Medicaid program in ways that no state has ever done, requiring low-income adults to undergo drug screening to qualify for health coverage and setting time limits on assistance unless they work or train for a job. The approach places BadgerCare, as the Wisconsin version of Medicaid is known, at the forefront of a movement by Republican governors and legislatures that is injecting a brand of moralism and individual responsibility into the nation’s largest source of public health insurance. From Maine to Arizona, some states are seizing on an invitation by the Trump administration to redesign a program that was created as part of the 1960s Great Society and now covers 69 million Americans. Although [Trump] and his advisers talk of tailor-made innovation to match need, the states’ strategies draw on a similar repertoire — monthly premiums for people below the poverty line, time limits for coverage and fees for emergency room visits, among others. All are influenced by more conservative values that long ago filtered into welfare and other anti-poverty programs. The approach places BadgerCare, as the Wisconsin version of Medicaid is known, at the forefront of a movement by Republican governors and legislatures that is injecting a brand of moralism and individual responsibility into the nation’s largest source of public health insurance.”
TRUMP AGENDA STALLS OUT ON THE HILL:
— “With proposed Trump cuts, chances fade for a bipartisan infrastructure deal,” by John Wagner: “When he took office, some otherwise deeply disappointed Democrats thought they might be able to work with him on one marquee campaign promise: pumping $1 trillion into the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and other long-neglected infrastructure. But any prospects for cooperation on that front seemed to largely evaporate this week, when Trump released a budget proposal that included deep cuts to existing infrastructure programs — angering Democrats and prompting many to question the president’s commitment to an issue he trumpeted as a candidate. Trump’s budget proposes $200 billion in new federal spending on infrastructure over the next decade, an amount his administration argues will be sufficient to spur a promised $1 trillion in new investments once new spending by the private sector and state and local governments are factored in … ‘It makes us very dubious of any attempt to do infrastructure by this administration,’ Chuck Schumer said.”
— Top White House aides are trying to assemble a plan for keeping the administration’s policy goals alive. Politico’s Josh Dawsey, Alex Isenstadt and Eliana Johnson report: “When a group of nearly a dozen state GOP chairs walked into the Oval Office last week, they expected to be inside for only a few minutes to say a brief hello and take pictures. Instead, Trump spoke with them for nearly half an hour, inviting them to sit down on the couches. He wanted to know how his policies were playing … and peppered them with questions. Among the concerns he brought up[:] the Russia probe. … A senior administration official described ‘paralysis’ setting in as more of the White House’s time and resources are consumed by the Russia probe. With so much energy being directed toward the investigation, this person said, it is becoming harder to see how any policy goals get accomplished. ‘They are back trying to get this under control,’ said one person. ‘Trump is not happy about all of this. Everyone knows it. They aren’t sitting around working on the budget all day.’”
David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, speaks at the NRA meeting in Atlanta last month. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:
— Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Sheriff David Clarke directed staff to hassle a plane passenger after a brief exchange,” by Daniel Bice: “Sitting on the tarmac at the [DFW] International Airport on Jan. 15, Clarke sent a text message to one of his captains after a brief verbal exchange with a passenger. The sheriff explained in the text what should be done when Riverwest resident Dan Black got off the plane. ‘Just a field interview, no arrest unless he become an [expletive]…’ Clarke wrote Captain Mark Witek. ‘Follow him to baggage and out the door,’ Clarke continued. ‘You can escort me to carousel after I point him out.’ A copy of the text messages was provided by an attorney for Black, who is suing the sheriff [over the incident]. Records show the matter, which has drawn national attention, was big enough that federal investigators looked at Clarke and his staff’s handling of the case. Black, 24, says he was detained, interviewed and escorted out of Mitchell International Airport on Jan. 15 by a half-dozen deputies after a brief run-in with the sheriff on the plane. He says in the federal suit that he was the victim of an unlawful stop and arrest. Since Black went public with his complaint, Clarke has threatened and belittled his fellow passenger, calling Black a ‘snowflake’ and saying anyone, including Black, who harasses him on an airplane might get ‘knocked out.’”
— Reminder: Clarke says he is up for a top job at DHS.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner arrive in Rome. (Filippo Monteforte/Getty)
JARED GETTING MORE PRESS SCRUTINY:
— Bloomberg, “The Kushners, the Saudis and Blackstone: Behind the Recent Deals,” by Caleb Melby and Hui-yong Yu: “When Saudi Arabia announced last week a $20-billion investment in a U.S. infrastructure fund managed by Blackstone Group LP, many noticed that it came shortly after … Kushner personally negotiated a $110-billion arms sale to the country. What went unnoticed — and is largely unknown — is how important Blackstone is to the Kushner family company. Since 2013, Blackstone has loaned more than $400 million to finance four Kushner Cos. deals — two of which have not been reported — making it one of the business’s largest lenders. And their ties go beyond the loans. Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s co-founder and chief executive officer, heads Trump’s business-advisory council and was in Riyadh with the president and Kushner. The Saudi promise to invest in Blackstone’s fund drove the firm’s stock up more than 8 percent. … The sequence of the deals and the intertwined personal relationships of the principals raise concerns about conflicts of interest.”
— Artnet, “Jared and Ivanka Failed to Disclose Their Multimillion-Dollar Art Collection,” by Christian Erin-Madsen & Jeremy Olds & Renata Mosci & Sam Bloch: “Since their wedding in 2009, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have amassed a formidable collection of contemporary art. The walls of the couple’s $4 million Park Avenue condo are filled with works by both blue-chip and emerging artists [and] is estimated to be worth millions. Yet in required financial disclosures, Kushner … failed to report the couple’s art collection. The omission stands in contrast to disclosures from other senior members of the Trump administration. In recent months, Trump’s top cabinet picks have revealed considerable art holdings as part of required financial disclosures. [Wilbur Ross] disclosed an art collection worth at least $50 million. [Steven Mnuchin] revealed his stake in a $14.7 million Willem de Kooning painting, plus other artworks … Responding to an inquiry about the collection’s exclusion from Kushner’s financial disclosures, a lawyer advising Kushner [said] the art holdings would be added to a new version of his disclosure form. ‘Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump display their art for decorative purposes and have made only a single sale,’ [he said].”
— Politico Magazine, “Meet the Real Jared Kushner,” by David Freedlander: “The widespread assumption liberals make about Kushner seems to be this: Because he is soft-spoken, slim and handsome, with degrees from Harvard and NYU and a family that donates to Democrats, he couldn’t possibly be the same guy knifing his West Wing rivals and urging the president to go to war with the Justice Department and the FBI. But that assumption is wrong [and] those who know him from his days as a young New York real estate magnate and newspaper publisher say that America is just getting to know the Jared Kushner they have always known, that beneath the unflappable golden exterior is someone unafraid to bungee jump or to counter-punch when he feels slighted … It has always been part of the Kushner Way: unfailingly polite and urbane on the surface, while searching for the soft underbelly to stick the knife in.”
Charlotte Campbell, mother of Manchester attack victim Olivia Campbell. (Reuters/Stefan Wermuth)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
— “British investigators searching for clues to the motives and possible accomplices of the suicide bomber who killed at least 22 at a concert in Manchester are increasingly focusing on Libya — and the Islamic State’s presence,” Sudarsan Raghavan reports: “Authorities say that Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent, spent four weeks in Libya, returning to Manchester days before he carried out Monday night’s attack … His brother, Hashem Abedi, was arrested in the capital, Tripoli, on Tuesday on suspicion of having ties to the group, and authorities say he was planning an attack in this Mediterranean city. [Now], investigators are trying to find out whether a network of plotters extended all the way to Libya. Did anyone help Salman Abedi build the bomb, and did he receive other assistance from [ISIS] cells or operatives in Libya? But pursuing leads in this fractured North African nation is rife with obstacles. Rival militias control different regions, even enclaves within the capital, as a civil war spreads economic and political instability across the country. Three governments are competing for authority … [And] after six years of civil conflict and a revolving door of political and military players, it is also unclear whether Britain and its Western allies have reliable contacts and sources to help with the probe in Libya.”
— “Duterte justified martial law over the ‘beheading’ of a police chief — who is still alive,” by Emily Rauhala: “When [Rodrigo Duterte] explained his decision to declare martial law across a wide swath of the southern Philippines, he described one of the most chilling scenes imaginable: a beheading. In a news conference that made headlines around the world, Duterte said that [a police chief was slaughtered by terrorists on his way home]. ‘They decapitated him then and there,’ he said. The Philippine president’s claim spread like wildfire, with much of the local and foreign press reporting it as fact. Soon, unconfirmed reports of ‘beheadings’ became a major part of the Philippines storyline. But the Malabang police chief is alive — [The Post] spoke to him on Friday. And the Post could find no new evidence of televised beheadings … It is not yet clear whether the police chief story was a mix-up or a careful bit of messaging. What is certain, though, is that the inaccurate report shaped how the martial law news was covered — and potentially how it was received by the government of the United States.”
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin speaks to the press about Greg Gianforte’ss involvement with reporter Ben Jacobs at a press conference on Wednesday night. (Janie Osborne/Getty Images)
A TROUBLING TREND BACK HOME:
— It’s not just Ben Jacobs. There has been a spate of physical violence against journalists recently, Paul Farhi reports: Three weeks ago, Nathaniel Herz of the Alaska Dispatch News said he was questioning state Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla) in the capitol in Juneau when the legislator turned and slapped him across the face. Herz, who recorded the confrontation, filed a report with the Juneau Police Department, which has turned the case over to the state’s Office of Special Prosecution.
“CQ Roll Call reporter John Donnelly said he was pinned against a wall (last week) by security guards at the Federal Communications Commission as he sought to question agency officials. The FCC has apologized repeatedly for its treatment of Donnelly.
“Reporter Dan Heyman of the Public News Service was handcuffed and arrested on May 9 as he tried to question Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway in the West Virginia state capitol. After Conway and Price declined to respond to his repeated questions, Heyman was charged with ‘willful disruption of government processes’ by police. He spent seven hours in jail before being released.”
Trump highlighted a poll that shows a majority of Americans do not approve of how he’s doing. Rasmussen is not respected by any serious pollsters — as a rule, we don’t cite it in stories — and the overall polling average puts Trump’s approval rating at below 40 percent:
A congressman from South Carolina claimed that CNN retracted a story about Jeff Sessions concealing his contacts with Russian agents on his security clearance form. The story is accurate (DOJ confirmed it) and has not been retracted:
— “On Trumps’ first official trip, world gets its first real look at their marriage,” by Krissah Thompson: “If every marriage is a mystery, political marriages are the Twilight Zone. Really, who knows what goes on in the confines of any relationship they are not a part of? So first couples — like celebrities — are subject to endless analysis and interpretation of their every interaction. Seeing the Trumps together over the course of their nine-day trip aroused the fascination Americans have with all White House marriages. Do they hold hands? (Not regularly.) Glance at one another lovingly or roll their eyes? (Neither, at least before the cameras.) For months, Trump’s critics have questioned whether the first couple is happily married. Their friends insist that they are.”
After the first lady was caught on camera batting away the president’s hand two days in a row, the couple has made a big deal about how they are holding hands:
— The Atlantic, “First He Became an American—Then He Joined ISIS,” by Seamus Hughes and Bennett Clifford: “When the FBI discovered a network of Bosnian-Americans giving support to terrorists, they also discovered Abdullah Ramo Pazara, a U.S. citizen and a battalion commander in Syria.”
— New York Times, “For Army Infantry’s 1st Women, Heavy Packs and the Weight of History,” by Dave Philipps: “Rain pounded the roughly 150 troops of Alpha Company, who ranged in age from 17 to 34, as they stood in formation during a tornado warning, waiting to hear if it was too stormy to train. If the downpour let up, they would practice rushing out of armored vehicles. If not, they would tramp back to the foxholes where they had slept the night before and bail out the standing brown water with canteen cups. Either way, by day’s end they would be wet, tired, hungry and cold: the four pillars of misery the Army has long relied on to help whip recruits into cohesive fighting teams. ‘Misery is a great equalizer,’ one male recruit said with a resigned grin. … The first group of women graduated from Army infantry training last week, but with soldiers obscured by body armor, camouflage face paint and smoke grenades, it was almost impossible to tell that the mixed-gender squads in the steamy woods here were any different from they have been for generations. [And] that’s just how the Army wants it.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“’Are you illegal?’ A policeman’s question to a Honduran who had just been run over by a car,” from Univision: “Everything was recorded on the body cameras of the police who responded to the accident. Marcos Antonio Huete, a 31-year-old Honduran immigrant, was lying on a sidewalk next to his bicycle after being hit April 27 by a GMC Sierra pickup truck on his way to work in Key West in the Florida Keys. ‘You illegal? Are you a legal citizen or no? Speak English? You got ID? Passport, visa, or what?’ a Monroe County sheriff asked Huete insistently, according to the video. Still on the ground, Huete answers with monosyllables before using a cell phone to call his sister, who arrived at the scene soon after … An ambulance is only called after a second officer asks him in Spanish if he needs medical care.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“This Democrat’s crude Facebook jokes have party leaders trying to push him out of primary,” from Fenit Nirappil: “Democratic state lawmakers in Virginia are trying to push a first-time candidate out of a primary contest for a House of Delegates seat, after learning he made a series of sexist and racist online comments. House Democratic leaders took the rare step last week of asking Tom Brock of Virginia Beach to step aside, saying they need to hold their own accountable … A 2011 Facebook exchange surfaced in which Brock posted racist jokes. ‘Q: Why do kids prefer white teachers over black teachers? A: It is easier to bring an apple than a watermelon,’ Brock posted.”
Trump is in Italy: He had a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before participating in a welcome ceremony and reception for G7 leaders. This afternoon, POTUS has some meetings before attending the La Scala Philharmonic Orchestra concert. Then he’ll go to dinner with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy.
Pence is delivering the commencement address at the United State Naval Academy.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, delivering the commencement speech at Harvard, called for a new “social contract” and even floated a universal basic income — the idea that everyone should receive a base salary. He acknowledged that this won’t be cheap: “And yes, giving everyone the freedom to pursue purpose isn’t free. People like me should pay for it. Many of you will do well and you should too.” (Hayley Tsukayama)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
— TGIF! (And finally a partial day of sun!) The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s a decent day to travel/escape as skies show us a bit more sunshine. Still, we do have some possible clouds and showers—especially this morning—with afternoon having best chance for dry weather and sunshine. Mid-70s to around 80 degrees appears possible by late afternoon.”
— A Maryland judge ordered a temporary halt to the state’s medical marijuana program, barring the commission of new licensing until a hearing over regulators’ alleged failure to consider racial diversity. (Fenit Nirappil)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
French President Emmanuel Macron delays shaking Trump’s hand:
April Ryan talks about being part of the White House press corps in the Trump era:
Watch kids read Trump speeches:
Stephen Colbert prepped a best-of montage of Melania’s hand swats: