The Hill’s Morning Report — Judge teases Trump affidavit release
A slow end to the week in Washington has not extended to other parts of the country, especially in Florida as former President Trump got some good and bad news in the fight over the Justice Department’s search of his Mar-a-Lago estate last week.
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart indicated during a Thursday hearing that he may unseal parts of an affidavit accompanying a search warrant the department obtained and carried out last Monday — marking a middle ground between prosecutors’ objections and public interest in transparency.
Instead, he told Justice Department officials they have a week to suggest redactions to the document, arguing that they did not sufficiently make the case why it should remain under lock and key. Reinhart told federal prosecutors that coming steps, including over possible redaction, will be a “considered, careful process.”
“I find that on the present record the Government has not met its burden of showing that the entire affidavit should remain sealed,” Reinhart said in a brief order. “I’m not prepared to find that the affidavit should be fully sealed.”
The judge issued his ruling during a hearing in West Palm Beach, Fla., in response to major news outlets petitioning to disclose the affidavit as a matter of public interest (The Hill).
The Justice Department has maintained that the entirety of the document should stay out of public view, saying that release of the affidavit in any form would compromise the ongoing probe. Specifically, the government argued revealing the contents would expose the identities of witnesses and serve as a roadblock to potential cooperation from future witnesses during an investigation (The Associated Press).
“This is not a precedent that we want to set,” Jay Bratt, the head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division, told the judge.
Christina Bobb, an attorney for the former president and a former host at One America News Network, was present in the courthouse, but said she was only there to observe the hearing.
However, Trump was on the receiving end of some not-so-welcome news during the court appearance as Bratt told Reinhart that the investigation is in its “early stages,” signaling that the department’s probe continues.
“This investigation is open,” Bratt said (Politico).
The Justice Department, working through the courts last week, disclosed a search warrant and an inventory of presidential documents and materials the FBI retrieved at the behest of the National Archives. Included in those documents were some that were labeled “top secret” and “classified.”
▪ CNN: Six takeaways from the court hearing on releasing more documents from the Mar-a-Lago search.
▪ CBS News: Reinhart unsealed: The magistrate judge at the center of the Justice Dept’s inquiry into Trump’s handling of classified records.
▪ Maggie Haberman, The New York Times: Another Trump mystery: Why did he resist returning the government’s documents?
▪ Reuters: Half of Republicans line up behind Trump in fight with FBI: poll.
▪ The Washington Post: How the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search helped fuel GOP attacks on the IRS.
While Trump deals with the government, other potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates are making moves. As The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes in his latest Memo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is keeping his name in the national spotlight with a series of rallies supporting GOP candidates in this year’s midterms. The mini tour is taking him to Arizona, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
However, the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago has muddied the political picture for the Florida governor, who released a statement after news of the search, asserting that the Biden administration was engaged in “weaponization” of government powers against “the Regime’s political opponents.” DeSantis never mentioned Trump’s name.
Florida authorities arrested 20 people suspected of violating state election laws in 2020 based on convictions for felony sexual offense or murder, DeSantis said on Thursday. They were charged with voter fraud — a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison, he stated (The Floridian).
▪ CNN: “Ludicrous.” “Ridiculous.” “A complete fiction.”: Former Trump officials say his claim of a presidential “standing order” to declassify is nonsense.
▪ The New York Times: Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty on Thursday to 15 felonies in a tax scheme.
▪ CNN: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) previews “extremely close” Senate races this fall as GOP hopefuls struggle to raise money.
▪ The Hill: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) widens lead over Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) in New York House race: poll.
LEADING THE DAY
➤ CONGRESS & INTERNATIONAL
To end a bloody war described as a stalemate between Russia and Ukraine, U.S. and European leaders have said diplomacy and negotiations are key. But talks Thursday in Lviv among Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, each exploring potential paths toward peace, did not appear to produce progress.
Among subjects discussed: expanding exchanges of prisoners of war and arranging for U.N. atomic energy experts to visit and help secure Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, currently in the middle of fierce fighting that has raised fears of catastrophe.
Erdoğan said he would follow up with Russian President Vladimir Putin, given that most of the matters discussed would require the Kremlin’s agreement (The Associated Press).
NBC News: Ukrainian military intelligence said Russia told nuclear power plant workers not to go to work today amid Ukraine’s concerns about a planned Russian incident or attack. On Thursday, Russia threatened to shut down the plant, warning that there was a risk of a human-made disaster due to alleged continued shelling by Ukraine. But Ukraine has a different story about which country is risking a nuclear catastrophe.
In a move that raises tensions, the Russian military said Thursday it deployed warplanes armed with state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to the country’s westernmost Baltic region, according to The Associated Press.
🇺🇦 The Hill’s Laura Kelly is reporting in Odesa, Ukraine, where she describes the evidence of war but less fear of death or destruction from Russian attacks than in neighboring cities such as Mykolaiv to the northeast, which experiences daily bombardment. Farther east is Kherson, one of the first cities to fall under Russian occupation because of its strategic land- and sea-supply routes from Russia-occupied Crimea.
▪ The New York Times: Odesa is defiant. It’s also Putin’s ultimate target.
▪ The Associated Press: Doctors stay in Ukraine’s war-hit towns: “People need us.”
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Mercenaries Enter the Spotlight as Russian Troops Struggle in Ukraine.
▪ The Washington Post: Russia’s spies misread Ukraine and misled Kremlin as war loomed.
▪ Bloomberg News: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend G-20 summit in Indonesia in November.
🇰🇪 In Kenya, a delegation led by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) arrived on Thursday to meet with President-elect William Ruto and U.S. Ambassador Meg Whitman. The U.S. group, which includes Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and House lawmakers, also met with outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Coons, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee along with Portman, and the rest of the delegation have already visited Cape Verde and Mozambique and are expected to visit Rwanda, where tensions with Congo and human rights should be on the agenda following Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kigali last week.
The political transition in Kenya following the Aug. 9 election will have significant impact on the East Africa region, where Kenyatta had been working with the U.S. to try to mediate in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict and promoting peace efforts between Rwanda and Congo. Ruto, in his public comments this week, focused on domestic rather than regional issues (The Associated Press).
Taiwan’s representative to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao, told The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant in an interview that U.S. congressional delegations are welcome on the island despite China’s aggressive rhetoric, sanctions aimed at Taiwan and military drills. “We are very concerned and worried about China’s provocative, reckless and irresponsible actions that are extremely dangerous,” she said Wednesday. “But then again, as a victim of their bullying, we’re not going to go out and say, ‘We don’t want friends. Stop visiting us.’ In fact, the more they bully us, the more we need friends.”
▪ The Hill: U.S. and Taiwan agree to start trade talks amid China tensions.
▪ The Associated Press: Some 29 of 47 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have pleaded guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit subversion” and face hearing in September. The accused, ages 23 to 64, face possible life sentences as the Beijing government seeks to further silence opposition voices in Hong Kong.
In Saudi Arabia, another country known for its intolerance of dissent, a court recently sentenced a medical school doctoral candidate and mother of two, Salma al-Shehab, a researcher at Leeds University in Britain, to 34 years in prison for retweeting dissidents and sharing “false rumors” on social media (The Associated Press). She was appealing an initial six-year sentence when the court escalated her punishment to 34 years, coupled with a 34-year travel ban. During a family vacation in January 2021, al-Shehab was detained days before she planned to return to the United Kingdom, according to the Freedom Initiative, a Washington-based human rights group. She told judges she spent at least 285 days in solitary confinement before her case was referred to a Saudi court, according to legal documents obtained by AP.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
President Biden is staring down an Aug. 31 deadline to decide if the government will extend a freeze on student loan payments, which is about to expire. The president has been meeting with administration and outside advisers for months to decide how to help some borrowers with their student loan debts. White House and Cabinet officials have promised answers “soon” (The Hill).
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Here are some of the key decisions complicating the administration’s student loan forgiveness decision making.
▪ Forbes: Biden could deliver the administration’s “Fresh Start” initiative to 7.5 million student loan borrowers.
In electric vehicles, batteries raise sticker prices compared with gasoline-powered counterparts, an impediment to widespread consumer adoption, analysts say. Electric vehicle batteries are typically made with expensive lithium, cobalt and nickel (The Hill).
On Thursday, Biden’s order that had paused oil and gas leasing sales was permanently blocked by a Louisiana judge in states that sued the administration. The states in question are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. The injunction does not apply to any states outside the lawsuit (The Hill).
■ How a reorganized HHS can improve pandemic readiness, by W. Craig Vanderwagen and Jennifer B. Alton, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3QSOkNj
■ Five ways the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce business owners’ taxes, by Gene Marks, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3T13n9O
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session. It will reconvene on Sept. 13.
The Senate convenes at 2:30 p.m. for a pro forma session during its summer recess, which ends Sept. 6.
The president has no public events scheduled. He is in Wilmington, Del.
First lady Jill Biden is in South Carolina shaking off a confirmed breakthrough case of COVID-19.
Vice President Harris has no public events.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is in Nevada, where he will host a roundtable discussion about provisions of the new Inflation Reduction Act, including lower-cost prescription drugs for seniors, at 9 a.m. PT at Community Health Alliance in Sun Valley. Becerra will be joined by Gov. Steve Sisolak (D). The secretary will hold a second roundtable event, about youth mental health, at 11 a.m. PT at Crisis Support Services of Nevada in Reno.
➤ PANDEMIC, POX & HEALTH
The administration plans to shift the tab to patients and insurers for COVID-19 vaccinations and treatments, reports The Wall Street Journal. The end of Uncle Sam’s underwriting could lead to a windfall for drugmakers and higher costs for consumers for years to come.
The administration will accelerate the delivery of its remaining supply of monkeypox vaccines and will make an additional 1.8 million doses available for ordering starting Monday with the caveat that the doses must be jabbed beneath the skin using a technique meant to stretch the available supply, officials said Thursday (The Hill).
In addition, the U.S. is pushing to expedite the delivery of millions of doses after Bavarian Nordic, the Danish manufacturer of the lone U.S.-approved monkeypox vaccine, and Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing, a Michigan-based company, struck a deal to shift the final packaging steps to the U.S. The goal is to fill and package 2.5 million vials of the Jynneos vaccine the Biden administration ordered in July (The Hill).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday reported a “fast-moving” outbreak of the bacteria E. coli, a pathogen often originating in the intestines of animals. Cases have been confirmed in 15 people in Michigan and 14 in Ohio. No source of the transmission had been identified as of Thursday (The Washington Post).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,039,745. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 394, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
➤ TECH, PRIVACY & SECURITY
The Federal Trade Commission threatened to sue Idaho-based Kochava, an adtech company the government alleges reveals people’s visits to sensitive locations, including women’s reproductive health clinics, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by the company. The FTC alleges the company violates laws that prohibit “unfair or deceptive practices” by allowing its customers to license data collected from mobile devices that can identify people and track the location and times of their visits to health care providers, therapists’ offices, addiction recovery centers and other medical facilities. The company denies it is in violation of consumer protection laws (The Washington Post).
Apple on Thursday revealed that iPhones, iPads and Macs have serious security vulnerabilities that could allow cyberattackers to take complete control of the devices. The tech giant said in a statement that it is “aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited,” and released a pair of security reports about the issue. Security experts told The Associated Press that users of most of those devices should download the latest software updates to combat the situation.
➤ NEWS MEDIA
CNN, which seeks a less partisan-left editorial identity amid internal corporate upheaval and new ownership by Warner Brothers Discovery, canceled its media news and talk show, “Reliable Sources.” Brian Stelter will host the last program on Sunday and depart the network. “It was a rare privilege to lead a weekly show focused on the press at a time when it has never been more consequential,” Stelter told The Hill, noting he has anchored the show for almost a decade. Stelter is considered one of the top media reporters and critics in the country, having worked as The New York Times’s chief media correspondent after creating a successful blog while in college about the insidery business of television news. CNN President Chris Licht reportedly informed Stelter early this week of the network’s decision to cancel the show.
For some educated theories about why CNN ended Stelter’s services, Vox and The New York Times break it all down (spoiler alert: internal politics, a sprint to the middle and perhaps money). CNN says Licht simply wants different programming on Sunday mornings.
And finally … 👏👏👏 Bravo to the winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Today is former President Clinton’s 76th birthday and our readers traveled through the wayback machine to answer some trivia questions about his natal days of old.
Here’s who recalled, guessed or Googled their way into the winner’s circle: Ki Harvey, Amanda Fisher, Richard Baznik, Kody Kirk, Pam Manges, Candi Cee, Daniel Bachhuber, Jaina Mehta, “Bruce,” Lou Tisler, Shaun Donnelly, Randall Patrick, Joan Domingues, Robert Bradley, William Chittam, Terry Pflaumer, Patrick Kavanagh, Tim Mazanec, Len Jones, Stephen Delano, Luther Berg, Stephen Delano, Lesa Davis and Steve James.
They knew that Clinton made his Hope, Ark., birthplace a part of his campaign messaging in 1992.
In 1995, the 42nd president celebrated his 49th birthday during a family vacation in Wyoming.
In 1996, Clinton marked his 50th birthday with a gargantuan audience at Radio City Music Hall and enjoyed Tony Bennett crooning “The Best is Yet to Come.” (Those who answered Aretha Franklin also were correct; she was on the program.)
Two days before his birthday in 1998, Clinton addressed the nation about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his admissions under oath earlier that day to a federal grand jury.