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 TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press 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 ComeyA tale of two lies: Stone, McCabe and the danger of a double standard for justice DOJ attorney looking into whether CIA withheld info during start of Russia probe: NYT Graham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation 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 MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in 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 SessionsAlabama Senate contender hits Sessions in new ad: 'Hillary still ain't in jail' Barr back on the hot seat McCabe: 'I don't think I will ever be free of this president and his maniacal rage' 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 RyanPaul Ryan says Biden likely won't get Democratic nomination Judd Gregg: Honey, I Shrunk The Party The Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power 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 PelosiMalaysia says it will choose 5G partners based on own standards, not US recommendations Pelosi warns allies against using Huawei Budget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight 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 MillerCommittee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Trump is misinformed about traumatic brain injuries 'Influencers' are ruining public lands — all for Instagram photo ops 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 PompeoPompeo promotes economic ties, takes aim at corruption in Africa visit Russian foreign minister says he sensed 'more constructive' approach after meeting with Pompeo Donald Trump: Unrepentant, on the attack and still playing the victim 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 HeitkampSusan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Manchin not ruling out endorsing Trump reelection MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world MORE (Ind.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line MORE (Fla.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocrats criticize Medal of Freedom for Limbaugh as 'slap in the face' Kansas City, Kan., responds to Trump tweet: We root for the Chiefs, too Trump mocked for Super Bowl tweet confusing Missouri for Kansas 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 KingUse of voting tabulation apps raise red flags on Capitol Hill Patrick Dempsey to star in pilot for CBS political drama 'Ways and Means' McConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial MORE (I-Maine) to support the president's nominee to succeed Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump lashes out over Kelly criticism: 'He misses the action' Timeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship Top Democrat demands Barr recuse himself from case against Turkish bank MORE.

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

Politics

Speaking of red-state Senate candidates ... Montana's Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senator: 'The ultimate of ironies' for Trump to hit Romney for invoking his faith Committee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Democrats cry foul over Schiff backlash 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 CarbajalLawmakers with first-hand experience using food stamps call on Trump not to cut program House Democrat: 'Trump needs to give more consideration to the safety of our troops' Lawmakers react, predict Trump's next move MORE (D-Calif.), Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaGroup of House Democrats reportedly attended the White House ball China, US officials: 'Phase one' trade deal could slide into next year Fresno congressman calls for Senate to take up gun legislation after deadly mass shooting at football party MORE (D-Calif.), Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristDemocrats gear up for State of the Union protests as impeachment lingers The most expensive congressional races of the last decade The biggest political upsets of the decade MORE (D-Fla.), Vicente González (D-Texas), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerDemocrats tear into Trump's speech: It was a 'MAGA rally' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week The lawmakers who bucked their parties on the war powers resolution MORE (D-N.J.), Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiAmerica needs a transformative transportation bill: It will take walking and biking to get there More than 200 lawmakers urge Supreme Court to 'reconsider' Roe v. Wade Democratic group to only endorse attorney general candidates who back abortion rights MORE (D-Ill.), Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphySan Francisco mayor endorses Bloomberg Rep. Bobby Rush endorses Bloomberg's White House bid Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements MORE (D-Fla.), Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisDemocratic governors worried about drawn-out 2020 fight Overnight Energy: Trump officials finalize plans to shrink Bears Ears, Grand Staircase | Trump backs off support for Yucca Mountain nuke waste site | BLM leadership expanded Colorado oil drilling over staff objections BLM leadership expanded oil drilling in Colorado over local staff objections MORE (D-Colo.), Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenSchumer reminds colleagues to respect decorum at State of the Union speech Senate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating Hillicon Valley: Facebook to remove mentions of potential whistleblower's name | House Dems demand FCC action over leak of location data | Dem presses regulators to secure health care data MORE (D-Nev.), Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderHarris, Castro introduce resolution condemning Trump aide Stephen Miller Palestinians face shrinking options with Trump peace plan Illinois lawmaker latest to endorse Biden for president MORE (D-Ill.), Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoOvernight Energy: Panel gives chairman power to subpoena Interior | House passes bill to protect wilderness | House Republicans propose carbon capture bill | Ocasio-Cortez introduces bill to ban fracking Ocasio-Cortez introduces national fracking ban Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela MORE (D-Fla), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe biggest political upsets of the decade Ex-GOP lawmaker: Former colleagues privately say they're 'disgusted and exhausted' by Trump Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Federal judge blocks Trump from detaining migrant children indefinitely | Health officials tie vaping-related illnesses to 'Dank Vapes' brand | Trump to deliver health care speech in Florida MORE (R-Pa.), John FasoJohn James FasoThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority GOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads MORE (R-N.Y.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickDemocrats bullish on bill to create women's history museum: 'It's an election year' This week: Trump's budget lands with a thud on Capitol Hill House approves pro-union labor bill MORE (R-Pa.), David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case MORE (R-Ohio), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Leonard LanceLeonard LanceGun debate to shape 2020 races GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Bottom Line MORE (R-N.J.), Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedThis week: Trump's budget lands with a thud on Capitol Hill Cuccinelli: New York reintroduced 'the main problem' that allowed 9/11 New Yorkers blocked from Global Entry program over immigrant license law MORE (R-N.Y.) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Democrats seek to preempt Trump message on health care | E-cigarette executives set for grilling | Dems urge emergency funding for coronavirus Democrats slam GOP on drug prices in bilingual digital ads Lawmakers discuss how to work together in midst of impeachment fight 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 PruittOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report EPA asked to justify proposal to limit power of its science advisers 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 MattisFed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits Why US democracy support matters Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts four Chinese military officers over Equifax hack | Amazon seeks Trump deposition in 'war cloud' lawsuit | Inside Trump's budget | Republican proposes FTC overhaul 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) MenendezMenendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle 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.