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 TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response 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 ComeyTrump jabs at FBI director over testimony on Russia, antifa Graham: Comey to testify about FBI's Russia probe, Mueller declined invitation Barr criticizes DOJ in speech declaring all agency power 'is invested in the attorney general' 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) 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 McConnellMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled McConnell accuses Democrats of sowing division by 'downplaying progress' on election security Warren, Schumer introduce plan for next president to cancel ,000 in student debt 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 SessionsTrump's policies on refugees are as simple as ABCs Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status White House officials voted by show of hands on 2018 family separations: report 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 RyanAt indoor rally, Pence says election runs through Wisconsin Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates Peterson faces fight of his career in deep-red Minnesota district 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 PelosiMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Overnight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Pelosi must go — the House is in dire need of new leadership 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 MillerIt's time to focus on the needs of minority veterans Over 500 clients hired Trump-connected lobbyists so far in 2020 It's time for VA to consider a new motto 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 PompeoHillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep 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 HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Senate leaders quash talk of rank-and-file COVID-19 deal OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats sound alarm on possible election chaos Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson MORE (Fla.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties 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 KingShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' On The Trail: How Nancy Pelosi could improbably become president Angus King: Ending election security briefings 'looks like a pre-cover-up' MORE (I-Maine) to support the president's nominee to succeed Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonGary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November Kushner says 'Alice in Wonderland' describes Trump presidency: Woodward book Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE.

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

Politics

Speaking of red-state Senate candidates ... Montana's Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Filibuster fight looms if Democrats retake Senate 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 CarbajalNunes opponent pins hopes on shifting demographics in uphill battle Democratic lawmakers launch 'Mean Girls'-inspired initiative to promote face masks Federal employees push for COVID-19 protections in 'dangerous' workplaces MORE (D-Calif.), Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaHouse Democrats call on State Department for information on Uighur prisoner Ekpar Asat Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs Black Caucus rallies behind Meeks for Foreign Affairs gavel MORE (D-Calif.), Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Anna Paulina Luna wins Florida GOP primary in bid to unseat Charlie Crist The feds should not spend taxpayer dollars in states that have legalized weed MORE (D-Fla.), Vicente González (D-Texas), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerCentrist House group offers bipartisan COVID-19 relief deal Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers introduce resolution condemning QAnon | US Cyber Command leader vows to 'defend forward' in protecting nation from cyberattacks House Democrats request briefing on seizure of terrorist cryptocurrency assets MORE (D-N.J.), Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiFive things we learned from this year's primaries Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates Bottom line MORE (D-Ill.), Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyDemocrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Bank lobbying group launches ad backing Collins reelection bid House Democrats call on State Department for information on Uighur prisoner Ekpar Asat MORE (D-Fla.), Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisMore than 1,000 gather at Colorado racetrack to protest governor's coronavirus orders Over 300 LGBT leaders endorse Biden for president : 'The most pro-equality ticket in US history' Colorado GOP lawmaker, Michelle Malkin sue governor over coronavirus orders MORE (D-Colo.), Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections Google, Apple, eBay to meet virtually with lawmakers for tech group's annual fly-in Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Nev.), Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderDemocrats call for IRS to review tax-exempt status of NRA 189 House Democrats urge Israel to 'reconsider' annexation Partisan divide on annexation complicates US-Israel relationship MORE (D-Ill.), Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status Let's build a better post-COVID future than fossil fuel consolidation MORE (D-Fla), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentRepublican former Michigan governor says he's voting for Biden Biden picks up endorsements from nearly 100 Republicans Bush endorsing Biden? Don't hold your breath MORE (R-Pa.), John FasoJohn James FasoDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Kyle Van De Water wins New York GOP primary to challenge Rep. Antonio Delgado The most expensive congressional races of the last decade MORE (R-N.Y.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program 2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do MORE (R-Pa.), David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceRepublicans shrug off Kasich's Democratic convention speech The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The American Investment Council - Trump takes his 'ready to reopen' mantra on the road GE cutting up to one-quarter of aviation unit's workers MORE (R-Ohio), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Leonard LanceLeonard LanceThomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski Gun debate to shape 2020 races GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs MORE (R-N.J.), Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedCentrist House group offers bipartisan COVID-19 relief deal House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic Diabetes Caucus co-chairs say telehealth expansion to continue beyond pandemic MORE (R-N.Y.) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOn Paycheck Protection Program, streamlined forgiveness is key Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates Progressives soaring after big primary night 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 PruittJuan Williams: Swamp creature at the White House Science protections must be enforceable Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention 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 MattisBiden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies Trump says he wanted to take out Syria's Assad but Mattis opposed it Gary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November 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) MenendezKasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage 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.