The Hill's Morning Report: As Trump talks, his lawyers sweat

The Hill's Morning Report: Trump's TV talk and legal trouble | Summit leads to historic pact between the Koreas | Ryan's role in House chaplain exit | What next for the VA? | Tester in Trump's crosshairs  | Pruitt's hot seat | Merkel meets with POTUS | Menendez admonished by ethics panel | Unlocking JFK assassination files 

 

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and thank goodness it's Friday! This daily email, a successor to The Hill's Tipsheet, is reported by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger to get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch.  (CLICK HERE to subscribe!)

 
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*** BREAKING OVERNIGHT *** North and South Korea agreed to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, by this year, to declare an official end to the Korean War. ***

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But first ... President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE's freewheeling cable news interviews are great television. They're also a nightmare for his lawyers.

In a wide-ranging, 30-minute interview on "Fox & Friends" yesterday, the president created more than a "tiny fraction" of new headaches for his legal team.

The bottom line: When Trump vents about the various legal cases and lawsuits around him, it adds oxygen to the fire. Stormy Daniels's media-savvy attorney Michael Avenatti immediately hit the cable news circuit, where he called the Fox interview "hugely damaging" for the president and "beyond stupid."

Attorney Alan Dershowitz, pointing to the president's comments about the Justice Department and Daniels' lawsuit, agreed.

"This particular president speaks in a way that sends conflicting messages throughout," he told CNN, "and I wish as an American citizen he wouldn't speak in this way. And if I were his lawyer, which I am not, I would advise him not to speak in this way."

What the president said: 

  • Trump says his personal attorney Michael Cohen "represents" him in the case with Daniels, who accepted $130,000 from Cohen in exchange for her silence about allegations of an affair with the president.

Why it matters: 

  • Trump denies the affair and recently said he had no knowledge of the payment.
  • Federal investigators are believed to be looking into whether the payment violates campaign finance or other laws. Cohen will plead the Fifth on the matter.

Trump said: 

  • Cohen handles only "a tiny, tiny little fraction" of "my overall legal work."

Why it matters:

  • The president's legal representatives and Cohen's lawyers argued in a New York court that much of what the FBI seized was protected by attorney-client privilege.
  • Wasting no time, the government in a filing yesterday argued that Trump's remarks on "Fox & Friends" bolster its argument that "the seized materials are unlikely to contain voluminous privileged documents."

Former U.S. attorney John Wood tells us:

"Any time a lawyer's client speaks publicly and it's not completely scripted, the lawyers are nervous. Any lawyer will want to make sure his or her client is well-scripted before going public. That's tough to do, I guess, when your client is the president and he's interacting off-the-cuff with press all the time."

We took this to Trump's former attorney John Dowd, who responded: "Tell it to his lawyers."

Just in: Trump returned to the investigations this morning, attacking former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHannity invites Ocasio-Cortez to join prime-time show for full hour The Hill's 12:30 Report: Acosta under fire over Epstein plea deal White House repeatedly blocks ex-aide from answering Judiciary panel questions MORE over Twitter. 

The Hill: Special master named to review materials in Cohen case for instances of privilege.

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Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation yesterday to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Ky.) will not bring the bill to the floor, but the measure is a warning from Republicans who say they worry the president might move to shut Mueller down.

The Associated Press: Trump pledges hands-off Russia probe; but "may change my mind."

Poll: Majority of Republicans don't want Trump to fire Mueller.

Reuters: Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question Alabama senator says Trump opposed to Sessions Senate bid Judiciary issues blitz of subpoenas for Kushner, Sessions, Trump associates MORE says Mueller probe has taken on a "life of its own."

 

LEADING THE DAY

House chaplain

A bizarre tale from Capitol Hill …

Hands down, the story of the day goes to The Hill's Melanie Zanona and Mike Lillis, with assists from Juliegrace Brufke and Scott Wong. Our colleagues report that outgoing Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump Amash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise MORE (R-Wis.) has forced out House chaplain Patrick Conroy for unexplained reasons perceived as political.

The Speaker's office says House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNYT's Friedman repeatedly says 's---hole' in tirade against Trump on CNN GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets 'obviously not racist' On the USMCA, Pelosi can't take yes for an answer MORE (D-Calif.) signed off on Conroy's forced resignation, but Pelosi's office is disputing that claim. Lawmakers on both sides are furious and demanding answers from Ryan.

VA nominee

With Dr. Ronny Jackson's withdrawal from Cabinet contention and return to the White House medical office, Trump began a new search for a Veterans Affairs secretary. He says he wants someone with "political capability."

    > Watch for extreme vetting ahead.

Washington Examiner: Trump considering former House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff MillerJefferson (Jeff) Bingham MillerSlashing state funding for veterans will not help end the suicide epidemic The benefit of electing veterans is more bipartisan lawmaking Will we ever have another veteran as president? MORE for VA.

The Hill: Senators hope Trump's next VA pick will be less controversial.

Veterans advocacy groups are apoplectic about the vacancy.

"Our veterans are simply looking for a competent, proven and dynamic leader with integrity," says the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization. "We now face the prospect of a stunning eighth nominee for VA secretary since 9/11. ... It's been an unprecedented time of chaos, political agendas and uncertainty. And millions of veterans and their families have paid the price."

The IAVA membership never warmed to Jackson as Trump's choice. In a recent internal survey, members said they want the next candidate to be an expert on health care with military and management experience.

State Department

By a vote of 57-42, the Senate confirmed Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump's Iran policy proves the primacy of US power — but to what end? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke State Department raises concerns about Sweden's treatment of detained American rapper MORE to be the next secretary of State. The former Kansas congressman and ex-CIA director was sworn in and got right to work, arriving overnight in Brussels for a NATO summit.

Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (Ind.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (Fla.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (Mo.) — who are each up for reelection in states won by Trump in 2016 — joined with Democratic Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) and Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingCongress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (I-Maine) to support the president's nominee to succeed Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonA brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats What is Trump's Iran end game? 'I alone can fix it,' Trump said, but has he? MORE.

The Hill: Pompeo's confirmation was a setback for liberals.

Politics

Speaking of red-state Senate candidates ... Montana's Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives Democratic senators want candidates to take Swalwell's hint and drop out MORE, a Democrat in a state Trump carried by more than 20 points in 2016, is in the news this week.

By virtue of his committee responsibilities, Tester played a pivotal role in upending the Veterans Affairs nominee. The barrel-chested rancher helped bring to light anonymous allegations of drinking and over-prescribing medications, which ultimately doomed Rear Adm. Jackson's Cabinet hopes.

The president made his displeasure clear. 

"I think Jon Tester has to have a big price to pay in Montana because I don't think people in Montana — the admiral is the kind of person that they respect and admire and they don't like seeing what's happened to him," Trump said Thursday on Fox.

Tester is running for his third Senate term, and was among the Democrats who voted against Pompeo to lead the State Department.

He didn't win 50 percent of the vote in his two previous campaigns. This year, a Green Party candidate could make the ballot, potentially siphoning away a critical percentage of votes. And the network of groups associated with billionaire conservative donors Charles and David Koch are swamping the state with ads against the incumbent, known for operating an 1,800-acre ranch while serving in Washington.

The Hill: Tester's moves back to top of GOP's Senate hit list.

More campaign news:

The Hill: House Minority Leader Pelosi warns Democrats impeachment push is a gift to the GOP. 

The Hill: Dems look to keep momentum with upcoming special elections.

Poll: Dems hold double-digit lead in generic ballot.

*** SPOTTED at last night's No Labels event: Reps. Salud CarbajalSalud CarbajalHispanic Democrats: ICE raids designed to distract from Trump ties to Epstein Democrats wary of Trump's 'erratic' approach to Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems raise stakes with talk of 'constitutional crisis' MORE (D-Calif.), Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaBiden holds lead in 2020 endorsements House GOP secures last-minute change to gun bill Trump tells FEMA not to send more money to California for forest fires MORE (D-Calif.), Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristPelosi says she'll no longer address anything Barr says GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Biz groups target Florida voters ahead of Democratic debates in Miami MORE (D-Fla.), Vicente González (D-Texas), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerProblem Solvers Caucus co-chair calls Trump comments about progressive congresswomen 'totally unacceptable' Trump's tweets unify a fractured Democratic Party Bipartisan group of lawmakers invites colleagues to tour DC's Holocaust museum MORE (D-N.J.), Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiThe Hill's Morning Report - 2020 jitters hit both parties in the Senate Justice Democrats issues 3 new endorsements for progressive candidates GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions MORE (D-Ill.), Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyHouse Democrats seek to move past rifts with minimum wage bill CBC lawmakers rip Justice Democrats for targeting black lawmakers for primaries Republicans say they're satisfied with 2020 election security after classified briefings MORE (D-Fla.), Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisNumber of openly LGBTQ elected officials rose nearly 25 percent since 2018: report GOP gun rights activist arrested for flashing handgun at U.S. marshal First openly gay man elected governor marks Pride with flag at state capitol MORE (D-Colo.), Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Lawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding MORE (D-Nev.), Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderTlaib blasts Foreign Affairs Committee's anti-BDS bill as 'unconstitutional' GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Omar hits back at Pelosi over BDS remarks MORE (D-Ill.), Darren SotoDarren Michael Soto Biz groups target Florida voters ahead of Democratic debates in Miami DeSantis reissues Pulse proclamation after backlash for not referencing LGBT community 2020 Democrats mark three years since Pulse nightclub shooting MORE (D-Fla), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentCNN celebrates correspondents' weekend with New Orleans-themed brunch The Hill's Morning Report - Government is funded, but for how long? Ex-GOP lawmaker says his party is having a 'Monty Python' moment on shutdown MORE (R-Pa.), John FasoJohn James FasoThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority GOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (R-N.Y.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickThe 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker Bipartisan group of lawmakers invites colleagues to tour DC's Holocaust museum MORE (R-Pa.), David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceEx-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz House panel votes to boost Interior, EPA budget by .7B The STATES Act will expose flawed marijuana legacy MORE (R-Ohio), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Leonard LanceLeonard LancePush for ‘Medicare for all’ worries centrist Dems Incoming Dem lawmaker: Trump 'sympathizes' with leaders 'accused of moral transgressions' On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE (R-N.J.), Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedHouse Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (R-N.Y.) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonCongress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (R-Mich.).***

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

➔ Pruitt Watch:

The Hill's Timothy Cama and Miranda Green have takeaways from embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittSenior Trump administration official to leave post next week For Big Pharma, the revolving door keeps spinning Acosta defends Epstein deal, bucking calls for resignation MORE's testimony yesterday (The Hill).

The spotlight was harsh: 

  • The EPA chief read aloud the threats directed at him and his family, which he said explained a hefty personal security detail and expensive travel.
  • Pruitt said the EPA's inspector general supported his explanations through a "threat assessment" report. The IG's office later accused him of misrepresenting its report.
  • Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told The Hill that Pruitt is a gift to Democrats and "an awesome symbol of corruption" within the Trump administration.

The New York Times: After weeks of tough headlines and allegations of ethical lapses and excessive spending, the administrator's job is described as hanging by a thread.

➔ International News:

North Korea:

Leaders from North Korea and South Korea met for an historic summit in Panmunjom. You can watch the stunning footage of the encounter here and here.

Kim Jong Un: "I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation."

Reuters: Koreas agree to goal of "complete denuclearization."

The Associated Press: Korean leaders avoid specific measures to address nuke crisis.

The president tweeted about the developments on Friday morning. 

The Korean meeting took place amid ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea about a Trump-Kim summit. The White House released this photo of Pompeo's secret meeting with Kim in April:

Germany:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the White House this morning to confer with Trump.

Trump's newly confirmed ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, will be on hand for the meetings, we've learned. Grenell was nominated in September but only confirmed on Thursday. He's the highest-ranking openly gay official ever to serve in a Republican administration.

The Washington Post: The Senate confirms Grenell — a Republican commentator, operative and former aide to new national security adviser John Bolton — despite objections from Democrats.

The Associated Press: Merkel gets much smaller platform on U.S. visit.

The Hill (op-ed): For Trump, the Macron party is over. Merkel will get down to business.

Around the world:

The Wall Street Journal: Classified report slams military over October deaths in Niger.

The Hill: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThis week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' MORE defends Iran deal as Trump considers withdrawal.

The Hill: Trump will visit the U.K. in July.

Poll: Voters back Trump's handling of Syria air strikes and tensions with North Korea.

➔ A tough day for Democrats on Capitol Hill:

The Hill: The Senate Ethics Committee "severely" admonished Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate passes .5B border bill, setting up fight with House Senate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week MORE (D-N.J.), who is up for reelection this year, saying his relationship with a controversial doctor broke federal law.

The Hill: Progressive groups demand House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) resign.

The Hill: Pelosi defends leadership effort to cull Democratic primary.

 

OPINION

Make or break time for NAFTA negotiations, by Earl Anthony Wayne, former assistant secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2r29KgI

How the FBI can move beyond James Comey, by James Gagliano, former FBI special agent, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2JwcnPw

 

WHERE AND WHEN

The House recesses until May 7.

The Senate begins a 10-day break and returns to the Capitol on May 7.

President Trump speaks during a photo opportunity with a Team USA Celebration. He welcomes Chancellor Merkel to the White House for a meeting and working lunch. The two leaders hold a joint press conference in the afternoon. Later, Trump meets with White House Correspondents' Association journalism scholarship recipients.

Vice President Pence participates in a phone call with the president of Afghanistan in the morning. In the afternoon, he'll attend the working lunch with Merkel and host the 2018 White House Correspondents' Association scholarship winner.

 

ELSEWHERE

> H.R. McMaster and commander: can a national security adviser retain his integrity if the president has none? (The New Yorker)

> The awkward exile of Michael Cohen (The Wall Street Journal).

> Study: Deportations of traffic offenders skyrocketed under Trump administration (Austin American-Statesman).

 

THE CLOSER

What's in a name? Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, George Alexander Louis and ... the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ended suspense and named the newest royal Louis Arthur Charles.

And finally … More than half a century later, a fascinating and final batch of 19,045 documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy became available to researchers and the public yesterday at the National Archives and Records Administration. President Trump's directive to release materials followed a re-review with some redactions for privacy, plus a subset of withheld documents at the request of the FBI and CIA.