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 TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration 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 ComeyWarren: Officials have duty ‘to invoke 25th amendment’ if they think Trump is unfit McCabe: Trump 'may have' committed a crime in blocking Russia probe Trump: 'Disgraced' McCabe, Rosenstein look like they were planning 'very illegal act' 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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress Juan Williams: America needs radical solutions 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 SessionsRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports McCabe: Trump's 'relentless attack' on FBI prompted memoir Trump: 'Disgraced' McCabe, Rosenstein look like they were planning 'very illegal act' 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 RyanUnscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden Coulter defends Paul Ryan: This is 100 percent Trump's fault The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDonald Trump proved himself by winning fight for border security Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season 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 MillerTrump should focus on veterans during his address Presumptive benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans are a major win It’s time to stop stereotyping veterans 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 PompeoCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight 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 HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (Ind.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson2020 party politics in Puerto Rico There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition Dem 2020 candidates court Puerto Rico as long nomination contest looms MORE (Fla.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill: Lindsey Graham 'has lost his mind' Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government 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 KingDrama hits Senate Intel panel’s Russia inquiry Warner, Burr split on committee findings on collusion Overnight Defense: Top general wasn't consulted on Syria withdrawal | Senate passes bill breaking with Trump on Syria | What to watch for in State of the Union | US, South Korea reach deal on troop costs MORE (I-Maine) to support the president's nominee to succeed Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHeather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job Trump administration’s top European diplomat to resign in February Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation MORE.

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

Politics

Speaking of red-state Senate candidates ... Montana's Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterHow the border deal came together GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Border talks stall as another shutdown looms 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 CarbajalDems introduce bills to block offshore drilling Both sides bullish as Pelosi's Speaker fight heats up 14 House Dems vow to withhold Speaker votes over rule reforms MORE (D-Calif.), Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaTrump tells FEMA not to send more money to California for forest fires GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 MORE (D-Calif.), Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristOn The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Democrats turn down White House invitation for shutdown talks Restoration of voting rights by felons marks shift in Florida MORE (D-Fla.), Vicente González (D-Texas), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerDem rep says party does not need a divide on diversity, financial platforms Dem rep says bipartisanship needed 'now more than ever' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump complicates border wall negotiations MORE (D-N.J.), Daniel LipinskiDaniel William Lipinski5 House Dems likely to attract primary challengers Abortion foes march into divided Washington Progressives to target Dem reps in 2020 primary fights MORE (D-Ill.), Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyTrump snubs highlight Pelosi’s grip on Dems On The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Democrats turn down White House invitation for shutdown talks MORE (D-Fla.), Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisKey Colorado House committee passes bill to decide presidential elections by popular vote, not Electoral college Gardner gets latest Democratic challenge from former state senator Gardner, Portman endorse Trump for 2020 MORE (D-Colo.), Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump administration secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada MORE (D-Nev.), Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderTen Dem lawmakers added to House Ways and Means Committee Here are the lawmakers who will forfeit their salaries during the shutdown Kavanaugh nomination a make or break moment to repeal Citizens United MORE (D-Ill.), Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoRecord profits put new bull’s-eye on tech giants Hispanic Dems announce task forces for 116th Congress Puerto Rico statehood supporters pin hopes on House action MORE (D-Fla), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe 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 Former GOP lawmaker: Republicans know shutdown is ‘a fight they cannot win’ MORE (R-Pa.), John FasoJohn James FasoGOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads Tax law failed to save GOP majority New York New Members 2019 MORE (R-N.Y.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickDems escalate gun fight a year after Parkland House panel advances bill to expand background checks for gun sales Overnight Energy: Court rules for Trump in environmental case over border wall | House bill would stop Alaska refuge drilling | Ads target Dems over Green New Deal MORE (R-Pa.), David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceDem chairwoman seeks watchdog probe of Park Service’s shutdown operations Marijuana industry boosts DC lobbying team Here are the lawmakers who will forfeit their salaries during the shutdown MORE (R-Ohio), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Leonard LanceLeonard LanceIncoming 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 Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (R-N.J.), Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Dems hit GOP on pre-existing conditions at panel's first policy hearing A rare display of real political courage MORE (R-N.Y.) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonBill Clinton jokes no one would skip Dingell's funeral: 'Only time' we could get the last word Dems escalate gun fight a year after Parkland House panel advances bill to expand background checks for gun sales 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: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards 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 MattisAllies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump Congress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Trump nominates ambassador to Turkey 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) MenendezWilliam Barr is right man for the times This week: Trump delivers State of the Union amid wall fight BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president 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.