The Hill's Morning Report: Takeaways from Trump’s pardons


Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, TGIF and it’s June already! 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!)

Washington, D.C., will host its first Stanley Cup finals game in 20 years on Saturday night. The Washington Capitals return home with the series tied 1-1 against the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The teams will square off at 8 p.m. tomorrow night at Capital One Arena. It’s going to be crazy downtown …


Pardon me, Mr. President! 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE on Thursday pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative writer, filmmaker and commentator who was serving five years probation for illegally using straw donors to support a Republican Senate candidate in 2012.

The president also invited headlines while musing about pardoning TV personality Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

The surprise pardon for D’Souza came one day after the president met with reality television star Kim Kardashian, who visited the White House to discuss prison reform and to advocate for pardoning Alice Marie Johnson, a 65-year-old woman who has served 20 years of a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.

The Memo: Trump flexes power of the pardon.

Let’s look at the dynamics around the men Trump has pardoned…

  • Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, now a GOP candidate for the Senate in Arizona, convicted of criminal contempt for disobeying a federal judge's order on detaining individuals suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

  • I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, once a top aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney in the George W. Bush White House, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity.

  • Navy sailor Kristian Saucier, convicted and imprisoned for mishandling classified information and photos of a submarine.

  • Late African-American boxer Jack Johnson, convicted of transporting a white woman across state lines "for immoral purposes;” charges widely viewed as racially motivated.

What do they have in common?

The takeaway: Several of Trump’s allies – Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortCohen questioned for hours in Mueller probe about Trump's dealings with Russia: report Vote Democrat in midterms to rein in Trump, preserve justice Hillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe MORE, among them — are facing serious federal charges or ongoing investigations. Democrats are already accusing Trump of sending signals that if those men remain loyal to him, presidential mercy could be their reward.

Those interested in presidential pardons can read up here. Trump has not used the Justice Department’s formal pardon-review process, sparking criticism that he’s exercising his constitutional powers to serve personal political motives.



TARIFFS: The U.S. decision Thursday to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union sparked swift rebukes from trading partners, lawmakers, businesses and economists who predicted “trade wars” and rising consumer costs for thousands of products, according to The Hill’s Vicki Needham and Niv Elis. 

The president, however, has been telling his advisers and everyone else for months that “reciprocal” trade is fair trade, believing that U.S. tariffs could force concessions and rebalance the equation where gaps with the United States exist.

Following a crescendo of global criticism, the president late Thursday dispatched this statement, aimed at Canada:

“The United States has been taken advantage of for many decades on trade. Those days are over. Earlier today, this message was conveyed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada: The United State will agree to a fair deal, or there will be no deal at all.”

The arguments in a nutshell:

“[S]teel and aluminum tariffs have already had major, positive effects on steel and aluminum workers and jobs and will continue to do so long into the future.” — White House statement.

Tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are a tax hike on Americans and will have damaging consequences for consumers, manufacturers and workers.” — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Grand Staircase-Escalante: A conservation triumph is headed for future as playground for industry MORE (R-Utah), in a statement.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE (R-Wis.) joined Hatch and other leading Republicans in assailing the administration’s decision as wrong for jobs and for consumers. “Instead of addressing the real problems in the international trade of these products, [the] action targets American allies [instead of] the unfair trading practices of countries like China,” he said in a statement.

Reactions from allies

U.S. trading partners pledged immediate retaliation and complained about mistreatment by the Trump administration after months spent in negotiations to try to avert a clash.

The Hill: Mexico’s response? New duties to be imposed on steel products, lamps, pork, sausages and food preparations, apples, grapes, blueberries and cheeses, to name a few.

The Hill: The European Union’s reaction? Equivalent retaliatory tariffs on goods to the United States.

The Globe and Mail: Canada is the largest supplier of steel and aluminum to the United States; its retaliation plan will slap tariffs on $16.6 billion worth of the two metals, as well as other products going to the U.S. market. The confrontation heightens tensions ahead of this month’s summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, to take place in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada, in a week.

Market reactions

Bloomberg: Any optimism investors might have had about the economic outlook was quickly dashed when the Trump administration announced it was imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

What next?

Trump’s tariffs decision hit the headlines as he swung through Texas during a series of political fundraisers in Houston and Dallas. The Dallas Morning News reported that Texas would feel the brunt of the steel and aluminum tariffs more than any other state.

Some Texas Republicans, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse GOP bill a mixed bag for retirement savers China imposes new tariffs on billion of US goods: report Trump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods MORE, said the administration’s policy placed “American workers and families at risk.”


INTERNATIONAL: North Korea: Diplomacy is not easy or swift, and Trump and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' Pompeo backed continued US support in Yemen war over objections from staff: report Pompeo’s staff cracks down on ‘correct use of commas’ at State Dept MORE conceded as much while talking about North Korea on Thursday. The focus since March on one summit between two leaders has become a series of meetings, a flurry of envoys and a letter of reply from Kim Jong Un to the president, to be delivered today at the White House.

The Hill: Trump awaits a letter from the North Korean leader as an on-again, off-again June 12 summit remains in limbo. “I look forward to seeing what’s in the letter,” Trump told reporters.

The Hill: Still hopeful for a historic summit, the president also downplayed expectations. “It doesn’t mean it gets all done at one meeting. Maybe you have to have a second or a third. And maybe we’ll have none,” the president said.

Pompeo, who spent two days with North Korean senior official Kim Yong Chol in New York, described “real progress,” and told reporters, “This is going to be a process that will take days and weeks to work our way through.”

North Korea’s visit to the White House today is the first by a high-level official from that country since 2000, when Jo Myong Rok, then a senior official, met former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle Presidential approval: It's the economy; except when it's not Hypocrisy in Kavanaugh case enough to set off alarms in DC MORE, according to Reuters.


White House & Administration: Trump on Thursday tweeted that he didn’t fire Comey over the Russia investigation — a tweet that is at odds with the president’s prior statements.

From The Hill’s Jordan Fabian:

“Comey’s firing is a focal point of Mueller’s probe into whether Trump obstructed the investigation into ties between his campaign and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump and his allies have offered a series of changing explanations for his decision to fire Comey, which has complicated investigators’ effort to determine his intent.”

At Axios, Jonathan Swan reports that the president pressured Sessions on at least four occasions to retake control of the Russia investigation after the attorney general recused himself. 

The Washington Post: Prosecutors interviewed Comey as part of the investigation into his former deputy, Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeCBS in talks for miniseries based on Comey book EXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lands book deal MORE.

NBC News: Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Manafort’s plea deal — the clear winners and losers Five takeaways from Manafort’s plea deal MORE’s close friend is under scrutiny from Mueller’s team.

Campaigns: Can Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenMore Massachusetts Voters Prefer Deval Patrick for President than Elizabeth Warren Trump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 MORE (D-Mass.) bridge the divide between establishment Democrats and the grass roots? The Hill’s Amie Parnes reports that some supporters of Hillary Clinton view Warren as the alternative to Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips 'ridiculous' spending bill | FBI dragged into new fight | Latest on Maryland shooting Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 MORE (I-Vt.). There is still deep bitterness between the Clinton and Sanders camps, so the 2020 Democratic primary is shaping up to be a fascinating ride (The Hill).

Speaking of 2020, former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderFBI, Justice Dept plan to redact Russia documents despite Trump order for full declassification: report Dem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ Dem lawmaker jabs Trump call for transparency by asking for his tax returns MORE will speak at the Politics & Eggs breakfast at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire today. That’s a popular forum for aspiring presidential candidates, and Holder has not ruled out a bid for the Democratic nomination.

Quotes of the day:

"There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party. Republican Party is kinda taking a nap somewhere." former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBlue wave poses governing risks for Dems Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Ohio), BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBlue wave poses governing risks for Dems Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE-there-is-no-republican-party-theres-a-trump-party">at a policy conference in Michigan on Thursday.

“The Republican Party has gone dormant.” – Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), speaking on CNN.

Roundup from the campaign trail and the hill… House Dems launch 2018 anti-poverty tour (The Hill) …  Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein's office says it has received threats over Kavanaugh Dem senator praises Ford opening the door to testifying The chaos in the Kavanaugh nomination illustrates the high stakes of the Supreme Court MORE (D-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation to prevent the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. Mexico border (The Hill) ...The White House is demanding House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada Lawmakers consider easing costs on drug companies as part of opioids deal New grounds for impeachment? House Dem says Trump deserves it for making society worse MORE (D-Calif.) condemn a Democratic candidate who compared Trump to Osama bin Laden (The Hill) ... Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is running for Senate, is visiting Puerto Rico for the sixth time since Hurricane Maria struck last year (The Tampa Bay Times).


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America cannot allow summit to trump substance on North Korea, by Michael Fuchs and Abby Bard, opinion contributors to The Hill.

Save the International Space Station, by Art Harman, opinion contributor to The Hill.


Congress is in recess until next week. 

The president today participates in the U.S. Coast Guard change-of-command ceremony. In the afternoon, Trump will meet with Secretary Pompeo and expects to receive a letter from Kim Jong Un. In the afternoon, he’ll depart the White House for Camp David. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. reports key employment data for May. Some analysts are projecting the economy added 205,000 jobs last month.


> Anthony ScaramucciAnthony ScaramucciAnn Coulter believes Kushner wrote anonymous op-ed bashing Trump Spicer: People at White House are 'burnt out' Scaramucci: John McCain, an inspiration for a day of unity MORE, a former Trump communications director (10 days in that White House role) will be C-SPAN’s Washington Journal guest on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., taking viewer calls with moderator Steve Scully.

> Battle takes shape over the future of sports betting, by Megan R. Wilson, The Hill.

> Google has ignored warnings about pro-ISIS content on Google Plus, its social media platform, by Ali Breland, The Hill.

> The number of opioid prescriptions issued in the United States falls for the fifth straight year, according to a new report from the American Medical Association. The organization also issued proposals to help curb the epidemic, by Peter Sullivan, The Hill.

> A federal assessment identified shortfalls preventing the energy sector from improving its responses to any major cyber attack to the nation’s power grid, by Morgan Chalfant, The Hill.

> It’s Amy Walter’s first day as Friday host of The Takeaway, which will air at 9 a.m. on WNYC AM 820 and 3 p.m. on WNYC 93.9 FM. Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Trump health official defends funding shifts to pay for detained migrant children Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE (D-Wash.) will be a guest.


It’s already June, and the season for leisurely beach reading has arrived. Suddenly, political selections are stacking up:

Journalist Kate Andersen Brower’s new nonfiction book hits stores next week. Vanity Fair and The Hill obtained excerpts, adapted from “First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Brower reports that Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenFord taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing Trump endorses Republican candidate in key NJ House race Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 MORE and Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceIndiana sisters with history of opposing Pence donate millions to Dems Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law Overnight Defense: Trump marks 9/11 anniversary | Mattis says Assad 'has been warned' on chemical weapons | US identifies first remains of returned Korean war troops MORE talk at least once a month, and her book, which includes insights from interviews with every living former vice president, unpacks Biden’s unease in 2016 with Hillary Clinton’s retelling of her advice to President Obama leading up to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

READ: Hillary Clinton’s “ass-covering” on bin Laden raid “rattled” Biden.

Also out next week is Ben Rhodes’sThe World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House.” A former speechwriter and national security adviser to former President Obama for eight years, Rhodes writes with the kind of inside-the-Oval-Office storytelling that prompted The New York Times to dissect his former boss’s musings about Trump’s election. 

Bill Clinton was a notorious inhaler of mystery novels while he was president, so the notion that he partnered with James Patterson to co-create “The President is Missing,” which will be in bookstores Monday, should come as no surprise. The duo will appear together at a book convention in New York City on Sunday, and will sit down Tuesday on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (The Hill).

Appearances and television interviews designed to sell books, however, open doors to all manner of unscripted questions. During a CBS “Sunday Morning” interview to air this weekend, Clinton talks about sexual harassment in its 2018 context and defends his decision as president to challenge impeachment following his untruthful statements about a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky (The Hill). “It was a fight I was glad to undertake,” he says.   


And finally … The Hill’s Morning Report will miss Jonathan next week (he’s taking a much-needed vacation break from Washington!), but we’ll see everyone else on Monday morning!