With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA:
MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — How could conservatives be so critical of Barack Obama’s multilateral agreement with Iran to curtail their nuclear program but so supportive of Donald Trump meeting face to face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un?
I posed that question to 30 supporters of the president over three hours on Saturday night as they waited to see Trump speak at a rally outside the Pittsburgh airport, where he campaigned for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone ahead of today’s special election. The answers had nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with personality.
“To me, Obama was a butt-kissing liberal. Trump is Teddy Roosevelt. He just might go in there and kick some a**,” said Paul Ambrose, 70, a retired apparel manufacturer who collects toy trains and lives by a golf course in Canonsburg, Pa. “It’s the fear factor. Kim’s kind of [pooping] his pants because Trump’s put the fear of God into him. Obama would have come and bowed. We’ve got a wild card here. We’ve got a cowboy. He ain’t on the reservation. He just may do something. That’s why they’re coming to the table. Now lock the damn door. Order coffee and doughnuts. Keep the press out. And nobody leaves until a deal is done. What can go wrong?”
Ambrose added that he does not like Trump as a man but thinks he’s an incredibly effective executive. “Do I like him as a person? Hell no,” Ambrose said of Trump. “He’s disgusting. He’s obnoxious. I don’t know how his wife stands him. He’s got the worst haircut in the world. No manners. Insolent. Arrogant. Obnoxious. But he gets things done. He cut taxes. He’s telling NAFTA to go pound salt.”
Many described Trump’s Thursday night gambit to accept a meeting with Kim, which caught even his top advisers off guard, as a masterstroke. The conversations offered a revealing window into why around 40 percent of Americans approve of the job he’s doing.
“He’s not just a good negotiator. He’s the best negotiator,” said Kim Shannon, 57, an ultrasound technician from Ohio, who called his decision to accept Kim’s offer “brilliant.” She downloaded “The Art of the Deal,” Trump’s 1987 book, on her Kindle and has been eager to read it. “Maybe I can learn something and help my personal finances,” she said. “He’s saved the country. It’s not done yet, but he’s going to become the greatest president to ever serve in office.”
Shannon remains as confident as ever that Trump will reverse decades of decline in the Ohio River Valley. When she was a kid in East Liverpool, Ohio, a nearby steel mill employed 6,000 people and kept the town thriving. It’s been shuttered for decades. “When I grew up, it was like Mayberry and Andy Griffith. Now it’s junkie-ville,” she said. “Everybody is in a holding pattern. We’re waiting for the factories to return, but I know they will. … For the first time in many, many years, I’m optimistic. Everything didn’t collapse at once and it will not return in one day. It’s going to take a period of years to return.”
Vendors sold T-shirts that said, “Trust in Trump” and “Built Trump Tough.” These messages captured the sentiments that came up repeatedly as people waited patiently to go through metal detectors in temperatures just above freezing.
During his 75-minute speech to a capacity crowd inside a hangar, Trump promised to go into any negotiation with clear eyes and to drive a hard bargain. “Who knows what’s going to happen? I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world,” he said. “Look, North Korea’s tough. This should have been handled, by the way, over the last 30 years — not now. … But that’s okay. Because that’s what we do: We handle things.”
Trump urged the crowd not to jeer Kim. “For now, we have to be very nice,” the president said. (Instead, he egged the audience on as they booed NBC host Chuck Todd.)
You couldn’t help but get the feeling that if Trump had negotiated the Iran deal, with the same terms, many of his supporters would praise him for it. He retains a deep reservoir of credibility with his core base of supporters. There are precedents for this. Richard Nixon could go to China and Ronald Reagan could negotiate treaties reducing the nuclear stockpile because they were perceived as hawks.
“Instinctively, I love the man. He won’t give away the store or the farm,” said Paul Treese, 78, who brought his granddaughter to see the president. “Kim respects his toughness. Bill Clinton gave [North Korea] the sun, the moon and some of the planets. They laughed and went right on their way. That deal was broken before whoever negotiated it even got home. Same with the Iran deal … Because Obama was soft slush.”
“Because he’s a businessman, nobody can pull wool over his eyes when it comes to negotiations,” said John Kotse, 68, a retired lab technician. “I could have negotiated with Iran better than Obama did. He got nothing. That was just plain stupid.”
“Obama never actually tried to negotiate. He just apologized for us,” said Ed Campbell, 68, a retired airline pilot.
“I don’t think he’ll do what the Democrats say, which is to start a war,” said Cheryl Mantich, 65, a retired second-grade teacher. “I think it’s always good to talk.”
“Everyone says there’s too much bluster, but look at the results,” said Nick Nadeau, 25, a mechanical engineer at a 3-D printing plant in Harrisburg. “He got North Korea to come to the table. I trust him to do what’s right.”
There’s always an eclectic cast of characters at Trump events. Titus North ran for Congress twice as a Green Party candidate against Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). But he registered as a Republican to vote for Trump in the 2016 primary and remains a fan. “I liked him saying he could get along with [Vladimir] Putin,” said North, an insurance agent.
He thinks Trump is playing chess while his critics play checkers. “The foreign policy establishment and the media just want the status quo with North Korea,” said North. “Trump’s belligerence wasn’t aimed at the North Koreans. They were already scared. … This was aimed at scaring the media and establishment to think he was serious. … If the alternative is war, they’re going to let him negotiate.”
Ben Safer, a junior at West Virginia University who is majoring in mine engineering, was the only person I spoke with who thought Obama might also have been able to negotiate a good deal with Pyongyang. He said his first choice for the GOP nomination in 2016 was Marco Rubio. His second choice was Ted Cruz. “I was initially a little ‘eh’ on Trump,” he said. “There are moments when I look at his Twitter feed and shake my head, but overall I think he’s done a good job.”
The 22-year-old, who was wearing a miner’s hat, volunteered before I asked about North Korea that he was “excited” Trump agreed to a tête-à-tête with Kim because the president is at his best when he’s reaching out to people who disagree with him.
“That’s been the biggest threat we face,” Safer said of North Korea. “If he keeps a cool head, I hope he can make a deal. I will give Obama this: He always kept a very cool head. … There was a lot I didn’t like with Obama — especially coal wise — but he was pretty coolheaded.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
– Roger Stone claimed to have contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016, according to two of the GOP operative’s colleagues. Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey, Carol D. Leonnig and Shane Harris report: “[In a spring 2016 phone call,] Stone, an informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, said he had learned from [Assange] that his organization had obtained emails that would torment senior Democrats such as John Podesta, then campaign chairman for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The conversation occurred before it was publicly known that hackers had obtained the emails of Podesta and of the Democratic National Committee[.] …
“[Former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg] said in an interview Monday that Stone told him that he had met with Assange — a conversation Nunberg said investigators for [Robert Mueller] recently asked him to describe. … In an interview Monday, [Stone] again denied that he had any advance notice about the hacked emails or any contact with Assange. He said he only recalled having one conversation with anyone in which he alluded to meeting the WikiLeaks founder — a comment he said he made as a joke to a long-winded Nunberg. … Nunberg told The Post that the questions he was asked by Mueller’s investigators indicated to him that the special counsel is examining statements Stone has made publicly about WikiLeaks.”
– Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee claimed they found “no evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in the 2016 race, according to a 150-page draft report. Their findings break with Democrats on the panel, as well as the conclusion of nonpartisan professionals in the U.S. intelligence community. Karoun Demirjian reports: “We’ve found no evidence of collusion,” Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who oversees the panel’s Russia investigation, told reporters Monday. He said the worst the panel uncovered was “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings.”
- The Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 “shouldn’t have happened, no doubt about that,” Conaway said. “But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts … and weave that into some sort of a fiction, page-turner spy thriller.”
- “Bottom line: Russians did commit active measures against our elections in ’16, and we think they’ll do that in the future,” Conaway said. “But we couldn’t establish the same conclusions the CIA did that they specifically wanted to help Trump.” (CNN)
– Republicans drafted the report without input from Democrats, who Conaway says can see and weigh in on the document starting today. The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), dubbed the GOP draft a “tragic milestone” and a “capitulation to the executive branch.” In a statement last night, Schiff also blasted the GOP for wrapping the probe before Robert Mueller’s team or any other congressional panel, predicting that “Republicans will be held accountable for abandoning a critical investigation of such vital national importance.”
Trump was victorious in a tweet last night:
THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14 MONTH LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION OR COORDINATION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA TO INFLUENCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
– Trump blocked Singapore-based Broadcom’s takeover of the U.S. company Qualcomm. Hamza Shaban reports: “In his presidential order, Trump cited ‘credible evidence’ that the takeover ‘threatens to impair the national security of the United States.’ The merger would have put one of America’s largest mobile chipmakers in the hands of a company based in Asia, a region that has been racing against American companies to develop the next generation of mobile technology. … Trump’s order cannot be appealed, legal experts said. The move demonstrates the high value that the administration places on maintaining the U.S. edge in developing micro technologies.”
– “The San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned over what he described as ‘false’ and ‘misleading’ statements made by top-ranking officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE Acting Director Thomas D. Homan,” Meagan Flynn reports. “The now-former spokesman, James Schwab, told news outlets late Monday that his resignation stemmed from statements by Homan and Sessions that potentially hundreds of ‘criminal aliens’ evaded ICE during a Northern California raid in February because Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned the immigrant community in advance. Schwab said he pushed back on that characterization — but said ICE instructed him to ‘deflect’ questions from the press.”
“I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit. … I didn’t feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against her actions was the way to go about it.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Authorities raced to respond to a pair of powerful explosions in Austin, involving packages left on residential doorsteps. Police believe the blasts are connected to another fatal explosion a few days ago, and they’re exploring whether the attacks could be racially motivated. (Eva Ruth Moravec, Amy B Wang and Mark Berman)
- Iowa Senate GOP leader Bill Dix resigned after a video showed the married lawmaker kissing a lobbyist in a Des Moines bar. The Republican caucus will hold an election tomorrow to pick a new majority leader. (Marwa Eltagouri)
- Federal authorities concluded that a former Navy intelligence chief accepted lavish meals and gifts from “Fat Leonard.” But investigators were unable to verify allegations that he also partied with prostitutes, ending a four-year probe into the relationship between a corrupt defense contractor and Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch. (Craig Whitlock)
- The U.S. military often fails to confront sexual assault perpetrated against the children of service members, an AP investigation found. According to its findings, only 1 in 7 juvenile sex offense cases presented by military investigators were pursued by prosecutors.
- The Metropolitan Opera cut ties with its longtime music and art director James Levine after investigating reports of sexual misconduct. The Met said it had “uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct both before and during the period when he worked at the Met.” (Anne Midgette)
- The Houston Astros, the reigning World Series champions, visited the White House, but all-star shortstop Carlos Correa did not join his teammates. An Astros spokesperson claimed Correa had a conflicting “family obligation.” (Matt Bonesteel)
- American adults had significantly higher blood pressure and blood sugar levels in the period after the Great Recession, according to a new study. Those who were hit hardest by the economic upheaval also showed signs of poorer health. (William Wan)
- A Missouri law allowing 15 year olds to wed has allowed some men to avoid statutory rape charges. Of 1,000 15 year olds who married in Missouri between 1999 and 2015, more than 300 married men who were 21 or older. (Kansas City Star)
- A Miami driver who attempted to flee from a hit-and-run car crash was chased down by locals. The witnesses began prying open his car doors and smashing his windows with a mallet as he struggled to escape. The driver was later taken into custody. (NBC Miami)
- A man who came to an emergency room complaining of unsteadiness was revealed to have a large air pocket where his right frontal lobe should have been. The 84-year-old had a benign brain tumor in his sinus cavity that was eroding through the base of his skull. (Amy B Wang)
– All eyes in Washington today are on Pennsylvania’s 18th district, where Republicans have poured an unseemly amount of money into pulling Rick Saccone over the finish line. Nonetheless, Democrat Conor Lamb has taken a slight lead, according to a Monmouth University poll conducted from March 8 to 11. “Lamb holds a 51% to 45% lead over Saccone if turnout yields a Democratic surge similar to voting patterns seen in other special elections over the past year,” the polling institute reports. The poll shows support for Trump evenly divided at 49 percent favorable and 49 percent unfavorable.
– The DCCC made a stealth investment in the race to boost Lamb’s candidacy, reports McClatchy’s Alex Roarty. “The group’s multi-pronged effort totaled more than $1 million and included significant investments in field staff, NFL-themed digital ads, and a last-minute get-out-the-vote effort to pull Lamb across the finish line. It also included a nearly $450,000 infusion into the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, money used to fund voter outreach. The assistance belied what the group has said publicly about the race, when officials claimed that Lamb had raised more than enough money … ”
– Although this district won’t exist in November, the outcome of the contest will craft the narrative headed into November in a district Trump won by 20 points in 2016 — if Democrats win, it’s more evidence of a “blue wave;” if Republicans pull it out, they’ll push the idea that things won’t be so bad for them in the midterms. From Dave Weigel and Robert Costa: “ … coming days after the president announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the vote could raise fresh questions about the power of Trump’s protectionist agenda to lift his party. … Inside the White House, Trump and his aides have dismissed suggestions that the contest is a referendum on him and have berated [Saccone], 60, for running a sluggish campaign against [Lamb], 33.”
– The Trump team is going all-out for Saccone, with the president holding a rally on Saturday and Don Jr. appearing with him on the campaign trail yesterday. Dave reports: “Trump [Jr.], who went to prep school and college in southeastern Pennsylvania, posed with the store’s manager in front of a towering chocolate castle. … Trump and Saccone then worked their way through Sarris, marveling at both the job growth and the variety of chocolates that were being prepared for Easter.”
– In the final weeks of the campaign, Republicans appear to have abandoned messaging around their tax bill. From Politico’s Kevin Robillard: “Instead, GOP groups that once proudly declared the tax law would be the central fight of the midterms are now airing ads on so-called sanctuary cities and attacking [Lamb’s] record as a prosecutor[.]”
– In a sign of Republicans trying to lower expectations, the Pennsylvania GOP chairman has taken to falsely claiming the 18th is a “Democrat district.” Trump won there by 20 points two years ago, and former Republican congressman Tim Murphy represented it for 13 years, running unopposed in 2014 and 2016. (Politico)
An NBC News reporter captured this shot of Don Jr. and Saccone:
THE TRUMP AGENDA:
– Conservative cable commentator Larry Kudlow has emerged as a top candidate to replace Gary Cohn as the president’s top economic adviser. Robert Costa, Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey report: “President Trump has spoken twice in recent days with the longtime CNBC commentator about succeeding Cohn … While the phone conversations with Kudlow — one Sunday and another Monday — were favorable, Trump has yet to make a final decision about an offer … Still, Kudlow is now widely seen within the West Wing as a finalist for one of the most powerful economic posts in the administration. … [I]n media appearances in the past month, Kudlow has been critical of Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, opposition that for other candidates might be disqualifying. … But Kudlow has told Trump that he and the president agree on the bigger points of economic policy, such as a focus on tax cuts and growth.”
– Republican leaders are backing away from plans to challenge Trump’s tariffs in Congress. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports: “They are instead hoping they can get the president to water down the tariffs as much as they can. Ultimately, they’re loath to risk a brutal showdown, even over an issue that’s provoked more GOP outrage toward Trump than any other one of his policies or controversies. So even though several senators are introducing proposals to stop Trump’s 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum, key Republicans are in no mood for a high-profile fight with Trump.”
– “Most Republican lawmakers, business leaders, economists and Wall Street traders … are baffled at how trade became such a dirty word in the White House — and parts of America,” Heather Long writes in a broader analysis. “Trump talks often about unfair trade, but experts say automation is the real threat to blue-collar jobs. … But there’s a different view in the Rust Belt. Job losses from trade are far more visible to most workers than job losses from automation. When a factory closes and jobs go overseas — or even to another state — hundreds of workers lose their jobs overnight.”
– “This Trump fan would like to ‘buy American.’ So why doesn’t he?” by David J. Lynch: “For [Greg] Scheurich, 69, whose production of industrial parts depends almost entirely on importing specialized steel from Japan and Sweden, the restrictions on foreign-made metals pose a direct threat to his business. … Scheurich said he has to buy from foreign companies because decades of consolidation in the domestic steel industry have left few U.S. mills producing the high-quality steel he requires. … [Scheurich’s business] is among scores of U.S. companies that depend upon foreign steel mills for specialized products they cannot obtain — or cannot obtain in sufficient quantities — at home. In the weeks ahead, they all will be lining up at the Commerce Department to seek relief from the president’s new trade barriers.”
– Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Kabul to explore a possible peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Dan Lamothe reports: “Mattis, speaking on a flight to Afghanistan from Oman, said Tuesday that talking about a peace settlement is ‘not cart before the horse,’ and that it is backed by the ongoing efforts of the U.S. and Afghan militaries. … ‘All wars come to an end,’ Mattis said. ‘You don’t want to miss an opportunity because you weren’t alert to the opportunity. So, you need to have that door open, even if you embrace the military pressure.’”
– Another congressional deadline (March 23) is coming up to fund the government. Democrats don’t seem inclined, however, to use the spending bill as a bargaining chip. From Mike DeBonis: “Their lack of appetite to provoke another showdown represents a shift after two previous fights resulted in brief government shutdowns and risks alienating the party’s liberal base crucial in midterm elections. But several events have sapped the party’s resolve. Moderate Democrats flinched after a three-day January shutdown fought over immigration; court decisions have left Trump’s cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in legal limbo; and many Democrats are quietly eager to pass the next spending bill and lock in more money for key agencies.”
– U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned the United States is “prepared to act if we must” to end Syria’s bombing of civilians. Carol Morello reports: “Addressing the Security Council 16 days after it passed a resolution demanding a cease-fire that largely has failed to stop the bombing or allow humanitarian access, Haley compared the situation today to last year when the United States launched airstrikes against a Syrian military base after a deadly chemical weapons attack. ‘When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action,’ Haley said. This is one of those times, she added.”
– Another document prepared by scientists in the Trump administration is expected to challenge the president’s climate-change views. Chris Mooney explains: “The U.S. National Academies on Monday released a public peer review of a draft document called the U.S. National Climate Assessment, a legally required report that is being produced by the federal Global Change Research Program … The report, 1,506 pages long in draft form, says U.S. temperatures will rise markedly in coming decades, accompanied by many other attendant effects.”
– NASA’s acting administrator will retire next month without a readily available successor. From Ben Guarino: “In September, Trump nominated Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman who represents Oklahoma in the House, to be NASA administrator. … Bridenstine’s confirmation process has not gone smoothly. … Senate Democrats have been joined by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in opposition to Bridenstine, putting the nominee’s future in jeopardy.”
– The federal government withheld or censored more records last year than at any point in the past decade. The AP’s Ted Bridis reports: “The surge of people who sought records but ended up empty-handed was driven by the government saying more than ever it could not find a single page of requested files and asserting in other cases that it would be illegal under U.S. laws to release the information. … People who asked for records under the Freedom of Information Act received censored files or nothing in 78 percent of 823,222 requests[.] … The federal government also spent $40.6 million last year in legal fees defending its decisions to withhold federal files, also a record.”
– How Trump caved to the NRA, by Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey: “White House officials said Trump’s official gun plan was drafted within the confines of what Congress will allow … Vice President Pence spoke with a number of Senate Republicans who privately raised serious concerns about what Trump said at the gun summit [about raising the minimum age to buy some guns] … The president was also taken aback by how many GOP lawmakers told him that his proposals were unlikely to pass, two senior administration officials said. He later told others in the White House that he wanted to support only legislation that could pass.
“At a meeting on March 1, NRA lobbyist Chris Cox told Trump that some of his ideas, particularly raising the age limit to buy a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, wouldn’t pass and that raising the age wouldn’t stop crimes … Cox also said the background check legislation being supported by the White House would go too far … Trump saw the arguments as convincing, said two people who later spoke to him. The meeting was warm, these people said, with the president telling Cox that he valued the NRA and wanted to be on the same page. Cox and NRA President Wayne LaPierre, who met with Trump earlier, made clear to the president that the NRA supported him and did not want to be at odds.”
– Jeff Sessions promised more aggressive prosecution of gun buyers who lie on federal background checks. Sari Horwitz reports: “The Justice Department also will increase the presence of law enforcement officers at schools and continue to review the way law enforcement agencies respond to tips from the public, Sessions said. … Lying on a federal background check when purchasing a firearm is a felony that can be punished by up to five years in prison, but the crime is rarely prosecuted, according to current and former [DOJ] officials.”
– Some Ohio school districts have already embraced programs to arm teachers. Joe Heim looked into how it works: “The safes were installed last summer. Thirty-two in all. Spread out among the four elementary schools, the two middle schools, the high school and the administration building of the Mad River Local Schools district here on the outskirts of Dayton. On Aug. 14, the first day of school for the district’s 3,900 students, each safe contained the centerpiece of the district’s new security plan: a semiautomatic pistol and a removable magazine loaded with bullets. The guns are not there for law enforcement. There are no armed security guards at the schools. The weapons, paid for with money from the district’s operating budget, are for teachers and staffers who have volunteered and trained to be part of the school’s response team if a shooter enters a building.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
– Qatari officials gathered evidence of alleged illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner and other top Trump officials — as well as details on secret meetings between the two camps — but decided against giving the information to Mueller for fear of harming relations with the White House. NBC News’s Julia Ainsley, Carol E. Lee, Robert Windrem and Andrew W. Lehren report: “It is unknown whether Qatari officials were the source of the recent news stories detailing activities by [George] Nader and [GOP donor Elliott Broidy, who participated in the meetings] … Qatari officials weighed speaking to Mueller during a visit to Washington earlier this year … Qatari officials believe the meetings — as well as fallout from Qatari business dealings with Kushner — may have influenced [Trump’s] public endorsement of a blockade of Qatar by its neighbors that began last year. … A Qatari delegation came to Washington in late January and early February and met with Trump officials to discuss shared national security interests. Despite Trump’s endorsement of the blockade … the Qataris felt the meetings [had] been productive and decided against reaching out to Mueller in order to preserve the relationship.”
– Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offered his unqualified support to the special counsel investigation, telling reporters that Mueller is “not an unguided missile.” USA Today’s Kevin Johnson reports: “’I don’t believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel,’ [he said in an interview]. … Appearing upbeat and at ease in his fourth-floor office, Rosenstein said oversight of the inquiry requires only ‘a fraction’ of his daily work. He estimated that less than 5% of his week is related to briefings or other matters involving Mueller’s investigation. He dismissed the near-constant and pointed criticism aimed at the [DOJ] from the White House and from an ultra-conservative Tea Party Patriots group. The group has run an ugly ad campaign, describing Rosenstein as ‘a weak careerist’ and suggesting that he tender his own resignation.” “I believe much of the criticism will fall by the wayside when people reflect on this era and the Department of Justice,” Rosenstein said. “I’m very confident that when the history of this era is written, it will reflect that the department was operated with integrity.”
– Hillary Clinton, speaking at an event in Mumbai over the weekend, suggested investigators should “follow the money” to discover any connections between Trump and Vladimir Putin. “Trump does have quite an affinity for dictators. He really likes their authoritarian posturing and behavior,” she said. “But I think it’s more than that with [Vladimir] Putin and Russia.” (Annie Gowen)
– Former Trump associate and Russian-born businessman Felix Sater is a convicted stock swindler whose name has frequently surfaced as a potential target in the sprawling Russia probes. But Sater told House Intelligence investigators in December that he has spent “decades” working as a spy for the U.S. government — a claim that BuzzFeed says it has corroborated through legal documents, court filings and interviews with current and former law enforcement officials. From Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold: “[Sater] worked as an asset for the CIA and the [DIA] and tracked Osama bin Laden. Then he worked for more than a decade for the FBI, providing intel on everything from the mob to North Korea’s drive for nuclear weapons. … He did some of this work to fend off prison time after he admitted guilt in a stock scam — but he had started helping the US government before then, and he continued to report back to the FBI after the agreement ended. Today, as he is being questioned about Trump’s business deals and ties to Russia, he has built relationships with at least six members of [Mueller’s] team, some going back more than 10 years.”
These are some of the specific exploits the BuzzFeed reporters says they confirmed:
- “[Sater] obtained five of the personal satellite telephone numbers for Osama bin Laden before 9/11 and he helped flip the personal secretary to [former Taliban leader] Mullah Omar … who provided the location of al-Qaeda training camps and weapons caches.”
- “Sater provided US intelligence with details about possible assassination threats against former president George W. Bush and secretary of state Colin Powell …”
- “In 2004, he persuaded a source in Russia’s foreign military intelligence to hand over the name and photographs of a North Korean military operative who was purchasing equipment to build the country’s nuclear arsenal.”
ATTACK ON THE U.K.:
– British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, using a military-grade nerve agent developed by Moscow. William Booth reports: “[The] British leader stopped short of announcing retaliatory actions, saying she would give Russia a chance to respond … and would return to Parliament on Wednesday with a plan for specific action. But in her remarks, May described a ‘reckless’ and ‘indiscriminate’ attack, which not only endangered the lives of its two principal victims … but potentially exposed scores of others. … Britain will not tolerate such a ‘brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil,’ she warned. May strongly signaled that the already frosty relations between Britain and Russia were headed toward lows perhaps not seen since the Cold War … Lawmakers in Parliament called for sanctions and condemnations against Russia from the United Nations, European Union and United States.”
The Russian government immediately denounced May’s speech as a “spectacle” designed to mislead. “It is a circus show in the British parliament,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “The conclusion is obvious: It’s another political information campaign, based on a provocation.”
– Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly declined to say whether the White House agreed with Britain’s assessment, citing the need to “sort through the details.” Sanders said the attack was “reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible,” and said the United States “stands with Britain.”(Aaron Blake) The secretary of state went further. “We have full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week,” Rex Tillerson said in a statement. (CNN)
– A “normal” White House would have rushed to Britain’s defense in the wake of last week’s poisoning, former Bush 43 speechwriter David Frum writes in the Atlantic. “[But] none of those normal actions had occurred as of this writing, more than a week after the poisoning. The United Kingdom has been left to deal with this matter alone by a U.S. administration that will not respond even to a Russian WMD attack on NATO soil. It’s too early to say that the Trump administration will do nothing. … For now, though, we are presented with the most astounding yet Trump default from traditional U.S. alliances and leadership.”
– The widow of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who fled to Britain and died in 2006 after drinking tea that contained radioactive material, called on the U.K. to adopt the Magnitsky Act in response to Skripal’s poisoning. The AP’s Frank Jordans reports: “ Britain is a popular destination for wealthy Russians, including some with close Kremlin ties, as well as Russians feeling threatened at home. ‘When you allow these people to use your country for holiday, for buying property, to raise their children, it means you allow them to do everything,’ Marina Litvinenko said in an interview[.]”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:
– Adult-film star Stormy Daniels offered to repay the $130,000 she received to remain quiet about an alleged affair with Trump. From NBC News’s Sarah Fitzpatrick and Tracy Connor: “The actress … made the offer Monday in a letter to Trump’s private attorney Michael Cohen[.] … [The letter] says the money would be wired to an account designated by Trump by Friday. In return, [Daniels] would be allowed to ‘speak openly and freely about her prior relationship with the president and the attempts to silence her and use and publish and text messages, photos and videos relating to the president that she may have in her possession, all without fear of retribution or legal liability,’ the letter says.”
– The notary who signed off on Daniels’s nondisclosure agreement is now being investigated. The Dallas Morning News’s Terri Langford reports: “A notary in Forney [Texas], where Daniels lives, did not sign and date the 2016 agreement, which was finalized a few days before the presidential election. She also did not provide a certificate reflecting whose signature she was witnessing, according to the Texas Secretary of State.”
– Senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump never cut ties with the Trump Organization and is expected to pull more than $1 million per year from her family’s business as it continues to develop international luxury resorts. McClatchy DC’s Anita Kumar reports: “[Ivanka’s] continued relationship with the businesses affiliated with the Trump Organization creates countless potential conflicts of interest … Ivanka Trump is believed to still have only an interim security clearance [because of her husband Jared Kushner’s complex finances]. But her continued ties to the family businesses … could actually be causing the delay, according to former administration officials and attorneys familiar with clearance guidelines.”
– Shortly after Kushner joined the White House, his family company sold a Brooklyn building to a company whose largest shareholder is the Japanese government. From Bloomberg News’s Caleb Melby: “The buyer of record in the $103-million deal for 175 Pearl St. was Normandy Real Estate Partners, a New Jersey-based investment firm. But documents filed in Tokyo show that it was operating on behalf of a subsidiary of Nippon Telegraph Telephone Corp. By law, the Japanese government owns at least a third of NTT, in effect a controlling share. … This is the first known deal with a government-affiliated firm since [Kushner] entered the White House.”
– Donald Trump Jr. has a previously undisclosed business relationship with Gentry Beach, a longtime hunting buddy and major campaign donor who helped raise “millions” for his father’s 2016 presidential bid. The AP’s Jake Pearson reports: “The president’s oldest son and Texas hedge fund manager Gentry Beach have been involved in business deals together dating back to the mid-2000s and recently formed a company, Future Venture LLC, despite past claims by both men that they were just friends … Beach last year met with top National Security Council officials to push a plan that would curb U.S. sanctions in Venezuela and open up business for U.S. companies in the oil-rich nation.”
– Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said he offered a job to his former staffer and ex-White House aide, David Sorensen, who left the Trump administration last month after he was accused of spousal abuse. In a radio interview, LePage said he was “100% behind” Sorensen, telling him “if he wants to come back, he’s got a job.” Sorensen denies wrongdoing. (CNN)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Here’s how Stormy Daniels offered to repay her settlement money:
Here’s the one-page summary of the House intelligence panel’s draft report:
From a House Intel committee member:
From a former deputy CIA director:
As a subject or observer of Cong oversight of intell for 40 years, I’ve never seen a party drive a stake thru the process as House Reps just did. It depends on a bi-partisan approach that at least gives the minority a voice. Take that away and the thing dies. It just did.
— john mclaughlin (@jmclaughlinSAIS) March 13, 2018
From Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.):
From a GOP strategist:
House Intel Com ending investigation not all bad. Was a joke. Sham. Tainted. Compromised. Useless mis-spending of tax-payer $. Nunes been a partisan mule carrying weight for Trump from day 1. Compare this to way Senate investigation being conducted. Pull the plug on Nunes already
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) March 13, 2018
The Russian embassy’s official account glowingly quoted Rep. Conaway:
An MSNBC host mocked the panel’s conclusions:
More House Intelligence Committee findings:
- The economy was surprisingly robust in October 1929
- The RMS Titanic arrived safely at port in New York City
- The Hindenburg’s maiden flight went quite well
- Richard Nixon’s honesty and integrity as president were unimpeachable
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) March 13, 2018
The former U.S. ambassador to Russia criticized the White House’s response on Sergei Skripal:
Putin his agents used on purpose military grade nerve agent to try to assassinate Skripal make sure we all knew who did it. He is taunting us, daring us to do nothing.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 12, 2018
According to PM May, Russia attacked one of our most closest allies, using an illegal weapon to harm hundreds. Whether an assassination attempt or a terrorist attack, President Trump must respond. NATO must respond.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 12, 2018
From a former top adviser to John McCain and John Kasich:
The bully of the Russian gas station with nukes feels unfettered. Putin can attack American European democracies at will. Murders on British soil. Is secure in the fact his boy “the president” will do nothing.
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) March 12, 2018
From the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York:
Vladimir Putin could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and he wouldn’t lose Donald Trump’s vote
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 13, 2018
A Senate Democrat criticized Trump’s backing away from stricter gun regulations:
First, Trump and Republicans handed over the keys to the school violence debate to the gun industry.
Second, my 6 yr old was locked in a tiny bathroom w his 24 classmates for their active shooter drill. “I didn’t like it, Daddy” he said.
Sleep well tonight, colleagues.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) March 13, 2018
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sought to defend herself after a widely criticized “60 Minutes” interview:
More from Pennsylvania 18:
Saccone was asked if he supported guaranteeing coal miner pension. He sat silently and ate ice cream
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) March 12, 2018
From a photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The governor of California offered a message to the president before Trump’s visit to the state:
And an astrophysicist provided some perspective:
In five-billion years, as the Sun begins to die, its outer layers of glowing plasma will expand stupendously, engulfing the orbits of Mercury, then Venus, as the charred ember that was once the oasis of life called Earth vaporizes into the vacuum of space.
Have a nice day!
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 12, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
– National Geographic, “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It,” by Susan Goldberg: “How we present race matters. I hear from readers that National Geographic provided their first look at the world. Our explorers, scientists, photographers, and writers have taken people to places they’d never even imagined; it’s a tradition that still drives our coverage and of which we’re rightly proud. And it means we have a duty, in every story, to present accurate and authentic depictions — a duty heightened when we cover fraught issues such as race.”
– New York Times, “What College Students Really Think About Free Speech,” by Niraj Chokshi: “[A new survey] finds that college students feel increasingly stifled on campus and online, and while they equally value free speech and inclusivity, they wrestle with how best to balance the two.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“One of the world’s greatest sculptors warns America about the NRA,” from Philip Kennicott: “Last year, the National Rifle Association released its now infamous ‘The Clenched Fist of Truth’ video in which a brief clip of Anish Kapoor’s sculpture ‘Cloud Gate’ appeared as a stand-in for Chicago and the city’s most famous recent resident, Barack Obama. As NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch chanted in a hypnotically angry voice, ‘they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance,’ Kapoor’s shiny steel doughnut form, which sits like a bulbous arch in Millennium Park, flashed on the screen for barely a second. But that was more than enough to anger Kapoor, who has fought and failed to force the powerful gun advocacy group to remove it. Monday, in a statement, Kapoor condemned ‘the NRA’s nightmarish, intolerant, divisive vision’ that ‘perverts everything that Cloud Gate — and America — stands for.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Hillary Clinton takes her ‘deplorables’ argument for another spin,” from Aaron Blake: “Clinton offered some rather unvarnished remarks in India this weekend that sound a lot like her ‘deplorables’ commentary from September 2016. She played up the states that supported her as more economically advanced than the states that voted for Trump, calling them ‘dynamic’ and ‘moving forward.’ Then she again suggested Trump supporters were motivated by animosity toward women and people of color. ‘If you look at the map of the United States, there’s all that red in the middle where Trump won,’ Clinton said. ‘I win the coast. I win, you know, Illinois and Minnesota — places like that.’ She went on: ‘But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.’”
– A senior adviser to Trump took aim at Clinton’s comments:
She still thinks so much of herself and so little of half the country.
She was never sorry for calling us “deplorable” “irredeemable” – she was sorry for getting caught. https://t.co/8bLwpAgeV8
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) March 13, 2018
Trump is in California today, where he will review border wall prototypes, address Marines at a local base and participate in an RNC roundtable.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
– D.C. will continue to see unseasonably cold temperatures today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “As the New England blizzard fires up, we are left with the remnants, mainly in the form of wind. It’s windy and cold under mostly sunny skies. Highs range in the low to mid-40s, but winds from the northwest at 15 to 20 mph and gusts to 25 mph make it feel like the 30s … not like a typical March.”
– Alex Ovechkin scored two goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Jets, making him only the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 career goals. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
– Washington’s first Amazon bookstore opens in Georgetown today. Abha Bhattarai reports: “At 10,000 square feet, the store is among the largest of Amazon’s 15 bookstores. It includes 5,600 book titles — all of which are displayed with their covers facing out — as well as dozens of tablets and smart-home devices on display for customers to test. … Instead of price tags, each book comes with a review card that shows its star rating on Amazon.com and includes a snippet of a customer review.”
– The cherry blossoms’ peak bloom has been pushed back to March 30 to April 3, centered on April 1. The region’s recent cold weather has slowed down the blossoms’ progress. (Jason Samenow)
– A D.C. council member called for a hearing on the resignation of the city’s schools chancellor. Perry Stein and Fenit Nirappil report: “The council needs to ‘hold government officials accountable in a public forum’ [Council Member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large)] said Monday, adding that his constituents want to understand Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s involvement in the scandal that prompted her to oust the chancellor.” White’s urging adds pressure to Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large), who chairs the education committee and backed down last week from his pledge to hold a hearing.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Trevor Noah looked at Trump’s Pennsylvania rally:
Stephen Colbert mocked Betsy DeVos’s “60 Minutes” interview:
Rick Saccone had harsh words for his opponents in Pennsylvania:
Syrians are taking shelters in basements amid incessant bombing:
The Post’s Neil Greenberg explains how the FBI’s NCAA probe could affect March Madness: