The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Pfizer — CIA nominee on the hot seat

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The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Pfizer — CIA pick faces grilling | Tells lawmakers she won't bring back waterboarding | Protesters interrupt hearing | North Korea frees three American prisoners | Invisible primary begins for Dems | Republicans relieved after Blankenship loses | Trump threatens to remove networks' press credentials


Gina Haspel: Sooo, how is YOUR morning going?: 

Gina Haspel, a 33-year career veteran of the CIA and President TrumpDonald John Trump20 weeks out from midterms, Dems and GOP brace for surprises Sessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving' Kim Jong Un to visit Beijing this week MORE's nominee to lead the agency, has spent the morning testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Why it's so newsy: Democrats have been grilling Haspel over the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques post-9/11. The hearing was also briefly interrupted by protesters. Live blog of the hearing:

Livestream of the hearing: 




On the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation: "In retrospect, it is clear that CIA was not prepared to conduct a detention and interrogation program ... I will keep CIA focused on our collection and analysis missions that can best leverage the expertise found at the agency."

On why the interrogation tapes were destroyed: "Haspel says in 2005 the decision to destroy tapes of interrogation tactics was made 'alone' by her superior at the time. She was not on the tapes, she says."

On whether Haspel would waterboard a suspect: Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril Romney backs Laura Bush on border: 'We need a more compassionate answer' Amnesty International rips family separation policy: 'This is nothing short of torture' MORE (R-Maine): "If POTUS gave you a direct order to waterboard that suspect, what would you do? Haspel starts off, 'I do not believe POTUS would ask me to do that ...' and the audience literally laughs."

On any future 'immoral' orders: Haspel said she would not follow any "immoral" orders. Quote: "I support the higher moral standard that this country has decided to hold itself to. I would never, ever take CIA back to an interrogation program." 

On any past orders: Haspel was asked, " 'Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?' As she has done in previous confirmation Q&As, she digs in and won't let up. Haspel still does not answer directly."

She also says: "I don't believe torture works."



Haspel's pre-interview questions: Here's the questionnaire that Gina Haspel filled out as a presidential nominee.

No social media accounts? That sounds nice: "'I don't have any social media accounts,' Gina Haspel says in her opening statement, but other than that she's 'a typical middle-class American.' "

This poker face is pretty good: Protesters have repeatedly interrupted the hearing, For example: One protester chanted, "Bloody Gina! Bloody Gina! Bloody Gina! You are a torturer!" as she was escorted out. Watch:


It's Wednesday. One year ago today, President Trump fired James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani says his demand for Mueller probe to be suspended was for show Cuomo, Smerconish and Melber – Where facts matter Hillicon Valley: Supreme Court takes up Apple case | Senate votes to block ZTE deal | Officials testify on Clinton probe report | Russia's threat to undersea cables | Trump tells Pentagon to create 'space force' | FCC begins T-Mobile, Sprint deal review MORE as the FBI director. I'm Cate Martel with a quick recap of the morning and what's coming up. Send comments, story ideas and events for our radar to, @CateMartel and on Facebook.




The American prisoners in North Korea have been freed and should be back home in 14 hours:

President Trump announced that North Korea has freed three American prisoners and they are on the way back to the United States with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump directs Pentagon to create 'Space Force' | Lawmakers say new branch needs their approval | Senate passes 6B defense policy bill | Pentagon suspends planning for 'war game' with South Korea Pompeo: China's calls for trade openness, globalization 'a joke' A mandate for change in Armenia MORE. Trump said the detainees "seem to be in good health." Trump said he plans to meet Secretary Pompeo and the freed detainees at Andrews Air Force Base when they land at 2 a.m. Context from The New York Times's Choe Sang-Hun:

At around 9:30 a.m.: The plane carrying Secretary of State Pompeo and the freed American prisoners landed at Yokota base in Japan.

Read the White House's statement on the release:

DIPLOMATICALLY, THIS IS A BIG MOMENT: "The release of the three prisoners, all American citizens of Korean descent, was in some ways the most tangible gesture of sincerity shown by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, to improve relations with the United States after nearly seven decades of mutual antagonism."

AND ON THE U.S./NORTH KOREA MEETING: Trump tweeted this morning that a date and time has been set for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Keep in mind: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been visiting Pyongyang, North Korea, to prepare for the meeting.



Hey guys -- we actually won't have an ex-convict as the GOP Senate nominee, so there's that!:

Via The Hill's Ben Kamisar, ex-convict and former coal executive Don Blankenship conceded his controversial Senate bid in West Virginia's GOP primary last night. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is projected to win.

IF YOU'VE BEEN WONDERING -- WHAT CRIME DID BLANKENSHIP COMMIT?: Don Blankenship served one year in prison for violating safety mine standards. 29 people were killed in an explosion at the mine run by the company he helmed. Full story:

THIS A.M. -- REACTION FROM TRUMP: President Trump celebrated Republican primary wins last night, arguing Republicans will win the midterms. He tweeted: "The Republican Party had a great night. Tremendous voter energy and excitement, and all candidates are those who have a great chance of winning in November. The Economy is sooo strong, and with Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump digs in amid uproar on zero tolerance policy Trump surprises with consumer agency pick On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump nominates budget official Kraninger for consumer chief | Senate votes to block Trump ZTE deal | Stocks fall on trade tensions | House panel moves to markup budget MORE wanting to end the big Tax Cuts and Raise Taxes, why wouldn't we win?"

INTERESTING ANALYSIS -- WHAT A TIME TO BE A REPUBLICAN: The Washington Post's James Hohmann on how last night's primary results show how hard it is to be a Republican this year:

MEANWHILE, DEMS ARE WORKING ON A MESSAGE: Via The Hill's Mike Lillis, House Democratic leaders seeking to condense their campaign platform into voter-friendly messaging bites are facing a number of options -- and plenty of competition at the table. The options:

PLUS, DEMS ARE ALREADY SCHEMING FOR 2020: Via The Hill's Amie Parnes, the invisible primary has begun for Democrats plotting a presidential path in 2020. How so: Would-be candidates are hitting the trail, sharpening their positions, seeking the right political "lane" and holding private conversations with donors about their prospects. Is this unusual?: Yes. Invisible primaries don't usually gear up until after the midterms. Which Dems are doing what:

Fun fact:



Fa la la la, First Amendment, la la la laaaaaa: 

This morning, President Trump tweeted criticism about the U.S. media, referring to negative coverage about him as "fake." The scary part: Trump floated taking away press credentials.

He tweeted: "The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?"

Reaction from The Drudge Report's Matt Drudge: "I fear the future result of Trump's crusade on 'fake news' will be licensing of all reporters. [Dems already floated this in the senate pre-Trump.] The mop up on this issue is going to be excruciating..."


Pour one out for the Iran deal: 

President Trump announced on Tuesday that he will pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. Via The Hill's Niall Stanage, here are five takeaways from the announcement: 

  1. It's a sharp break from Europe
  2. This is another 'America First' moment
  3. A major Obama legacy is undone
  4. Now that Trump has made his move, all eyes are on Iran
  5. Trump pleases Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, again

Context for each:

Tidbit: "Minutes after Trump announces he's exiting the deal, Speaker Ryan and other Republicans announce they wanted him to stay in all along." (h/t Politico's Kyle Cheney

LET'S TAKE A STEP BACK: This is a huge week for President Trump's foreign policy: 

May 8: Trump pulled out of the Iran deal.

May 9: Three American prisoners were freed from North Korea.

May 14: The new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem formally opens. Tidbit: Signs have already popped up to guide visitors to its new location.


I'm sure people love getting that Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE call: 

Michael Cohen's client, Swiss drug company Novartis, said today that special counsel Robert Mueller contacted the company about payments made by Cohen in November. The company said it provided the information requested.

BACK STORY: A giant pharmaceutical company was linked to the shell company owned by President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen that was used to pay off adult-film star Stormy Daniels, according to documents released by Daniels's attorney. That includes this Swiss drug company Novartis. Novartis said it hired Cohen in February 2017 as part of a one-year contract for consulting services. The company said it paid Cohen $100,000 per month. It cancelled the contract after the first meeting.



So relatable:

Full Stormy Daniels interview with Penthouse:



Congress is in. President Trump and Vice President Pence are both at the White House.

11:30 a.m. EDT: President Trump holds a Cabinet meeting.

Noon: The Senate votes on nominations. The Senate's schedule today:

1:30 p.m. EDT: Vice President Pence hosts the Council of the Americas for a working lunch in the Roosevelt Room.

1:30 p.m. EDT: First votes in the House. The House's schedule today:

4:15 p.m. EDT: Last votes in the House.

7 p.m. EDT: President Trump has dinner with members of Congress.

Just announced -- June 2019: The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees will play in London. 



This morning: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisHillicon Valley: Supreme Court takes up Apple case | Senate votes to block ZTE deal | Officials testify on Clinton probe report | Russia's threat to undersea cables | Trump tells Pentagon to create 'space force' | FCC begins T-Mobile, Sprint deal review Pentagon: Planning for August 'war game' with South Korea suspended Dem: Trump 'Space Force' would 'rip the Air Force apart' MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Joseph Dunford testify on their 2019 budget. Livestream:

2:30 pm. EDT: Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs testify on the department's 2019 budget. Livestream:

3:10 p.m. EDT: President Trump attends a celebration for military mothers and spouses. Livestream:

3:30 p.m. EDT: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives the daily press briefing. Livestream:



Today is National Moscato Day. It's also National Butterscotch Brownie Day.


No *clap* More *clap* layovers!: 

Via Washingtonian, four new nonstop flights have been added to Washington, D.C.-area airports. New destinations: Edinburgh, Reykjavík, London, and Hong Kong. Details:


And because you read this far, here's a golden retriever showing a puppy how to use the slide: