The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — What the Michael Flynn news means

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report and happy Wednesday! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.

A state funeral at the National Cathedral for former President George H.W. Bush takes place at 11 a.m., with live television and news media coverage. The casket will exit the U.S. Capitol at 10 a.m. in a solemn ceremony after thousands of visitors paid their last respects. Following the VIP-packed service in Washington, the nation’s 41st president will be flown to Houston, where his casket will lie in repose this evening at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Bush, who died at age 94 after nearly seven decades of public service, will be buried Thursday at his presidential library in College Station, Texas.

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Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE asked a judge to go easy on President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorsi sues Mueller for alleged leaks and illegal surveillance Comey: Trump 'certainly close' to being unindicted co-conspirator Trump pushes back on reports that Ayers was first pick for chief of staff MORE’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn in a filing late Tuesday night, saying he’s been a cooperative witness and provided “firsthand” information about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Flynn met with the special counsel 19 times and provided “substantial assistance to the government,” the filing states.

A heavily redacted addendum to the sentencing memo concealed the specific ways in which Flynn aided a criminal investigation conducted by the special counsel. However, the filing says that Flynn was instrumental in providing key details about talks between Trump campaign or transition officials and Moscow.

“The defendant … assisted with the [special counsel] investigation concerning links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign … the defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials.”

Mueller recommended that Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians and about the work he did as an unregistered lobbyist on behalf of the Turkish government, not be incarcerated.

In the filing, Mueller said Flynn deserved leniency for his cooperation and for his distinguished military career. Flynn logged five years of combat duty over the course of his 33 years in the military and retired a three-star lieutenant general.

“The defendant’s record of military and public service distinguish him from every other person who has been charged as part of the [special counsel] investigation,” the sentencing memo stated.

Flynn served only 24 days as Trump’s national security adviser and is so far the only member of the administration to plead guilty to crimes uncovered by the special counsel, although several top figures from the Trump campaign have been charged with an assortment of crimes.

The fact that Mueller wants to go easy on Flynn — a big fish as a former top aide to Trump — suggests that the special counsel probe is targeting one or more major players.

The Flynn sentencing memo comes amid a flurry of activity from the special counsel and state attorneys general surrounding the campaign and the president’s business empire.

On Tuesday, attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia issued subpoenas to more than a dozen Trump Organization entities seeking financial records.

Those subpoenas were issued as part of a lawsuit alleging that Trump has profited off the presidency through his Washington, D.C. hotel, which has hosted foreign dignitaries and served as a home base for the president’s allies.

The Associated Press: Attorneys general to subpoena Trump Organization, Treasury

Last week, Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about conversations he had with Russians pertaining to a failed election-year deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen is cooperating with Mueller’s team in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence.

The New York Times: Why is Cohen confessing to everything?

The special counsel will release a sentencing memo for Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator' Bernstein: Trump ‘is boxed in by Mueller’ Maine senator calls impeachment 'last resort': 'We may get there, but we’re not there now' MORE on Friday. While Flynn and Cohen appear to have cooperated fully with the special counsel, Mueller asserts Manafort violated a plea deal he accepted with the government and could face additional charges.

Michael Isikoff: Mueller preparing endgame for Russian investigation.

USA Today: Takeaways from the Flynn sentencing memo.

More from the investigations front … Former Trump confidant Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneCorsi sues Mueller for alleged leaks and illegal surveillance Hillicon Valley: Huawei executive facing possible US fraud charges | Dem blames White House for failure of election security bill | FCC investigating wireless carriers over coverage data | Assange rejects deal to leave embassy Mueller looking into Trump campaign adviser appearances on Russian state TV: report MORE pleads the Fifth to snub Senate document request (Politico) … Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg to meet with Senate Intelligence Committee (The Washington Post).

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LEADING THE DAY

INTERNATIONAL: Saudi Arabia + Jamal Khashoggi: Some GOP senators emerged from a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday eager to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of U.S.-based journalist Khashoggi. They promised further action, but were not specific.

“There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress digs in for prolonged Saudi battle Focus on Yemen, not the Saudi crown prince GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill MORE (R-S.C.) quipped.

The Hill: Trump, GOP rift grows over Saudis.

The senator had in mind Trump administration assertions that there is no “smoking gun” linking the crown prince to the order to kill Khashoggi (The Hill). Turkish intelligence reported that the Saudi team that flew to Istanbul before Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2 included a forensic specialist with a bone saw (The Hill). … “The original el chapo” (The Hill).

The House will get its own intelligence briefing next week (The Hill).  

China tariffs: China’s Commerce Ministry expressed confidence today that the government can reach a trade deal with the United States, despite fresh warnings from Trump that he would revert to more tariffs if the two sides cannot resolve their differences (Reuters). China’s statement today was upbeat but vague and included no details to allay global confusion (The Associated Press). … Stocks fell dramatically after the president on Tuesday declared himself a "Tariff Man," stressing that he will not hesitate to raise tariffs on China if it does not agree to fundamentally change its trade practices. Markets sank on the lack of specifics from China about the much-touted tariffs ceasefire worked out between Trump and President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit (The Hill).

"President Xi and I want this deal to happen, and it probably will. But if not remember, I am a Tariff Man," Trump said in a series of tweets.

CNBC: Investors dubious about U.S.-China trade deal.

Trump’s negotiating style is to make big promises and declare victory, rush to offer judgment in the early stages of negotiation and ping-pong from friendly messages to threats — all within barely 48 hours. One former official said the president’s approach puzzled his Chinese counterparts:

“You don’t do this with the Chinese. You don’t triumphantly proclaim all their concessions in public. It’s just madness.” (The Washington Post).

Afghanistan: The war in Afghanistan is at a stalemate, and the number of Afghan troop deaths in the conflict is not sustainable, the Marine officer nominated to command U.S. forces in the Middle East told Congress on Tuesday (The Associated Press). Trump is losing patience with the high number of U.S. forces assisting Afghan troops in what looks to some critics to be an unwinnable war that the United States cannot end or exit.

Russia: The United States will void the decades-old International Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia in 60 days unless Russia comes into full compliance, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump ultimatum sparks fears of new arms race Paul calls Trump's pick for attorney general's views on surveillance 'very troubling' Focus on Yemen, not the Saudi crown prince MORE said at the end of a NATO conference in Brussels (The Hill).

Germany: Trump met at the White House with executives from German automakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen on Tuesday to discuss investment opportunities in the United States, including in manufacturing, research and development. The president, however, has threatened to slap tariffs on auto imports from Europe and other countries (The Washington Post).

North Korea: Because Pyongyang has not lived up to the denuclearization pledges it made last summer during a historic summit between Kim Jong Un and Trump, the president wants another summit meeting early next year to see if he can get a different result, White House national security adviser John Bolton says.

“They have not lived up to the commitments so far,” Bolton said on Tuesday. “That’s why I think the president thinks another summit is likely to be productive.”

 

 


IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CONGRESS: In one of the most intriguing clashes within a party over policy, criminal justice reform legislation continues to inspire hostility among some Republicans, while the White House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care: House set to vote on bill targeting drug companies for overcharging Medicaid | Dems press Trump officials on pre-existing conditions | Tobacco giant invests .8B in Canadian marijuana grower House set to vote on bill cracking down on drug companies overcharging Medicaid Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform MORE (R-Iowa) push for its passage. Grassley says a compromise version of the bill should take priority over confirming judges in the remaining weeks of this session, a dig at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey Senate Republican: Criminal justice reform needs more GOP support GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference MORE (R-Ky.), who sees judicial confirmations as part of his legacy (The Hill).

Senate Democrats, especially senators thinking about challenging Trump for the White House in 2020, are divided (The Hill).

Cyber: The National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm for House Republicans, sustained a malicious breach of its emails (The Hill).

Cyber: The Marriott hotel chain earned an earful from lawmakers, who are demanding changes after the hospitality company sustained what is believed to be the nation’s largest data hack, in which hundreds of millions of its customers had their personal data stolen (The Hill). The question is what role Congress wants to play to help thwart intrusions and protect customer data in the private sector.

Oil drilling: Congressional approval to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration was added to tax-overhaul legislation last December under the guise of generating revenue for the federal government, and by next year, the Interior Department expects to begin selling the first drilling leases. The fast-moving timeline has created friction within the federal government, and will likely be the subject of Democratic oversight next year (The New York Times).

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CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing Stormy Daniels, will not run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

In a statement, Avenatti said his family asked him not to run.

"I do not make this decision lightly — I make it out of respect for my family. But for their concerns, I would run." — Avenatti

This is a relief for many Democrats, who feared the circus-like atmosphere Avenatti creates would be a detriment to what might be the party’s largest and deepest field of candidates ever.

The Hill: Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetWould-be 2020 Dem candidates head for the exits The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — What the Michael Flynn news means California primary threatens to change 2020 game for Dems MORE (D-Colo.) considering White House run in 2020.

It’s likely there will be at least two dozen and maybe more than 30 Democrats who jump into the race.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCongress digs in for prolonged Saudi battle Santorum: Dems have a chance in 2020 if they pick someone ‘unexpected’ Dems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator' MORE (I-Vt.) appears to be moving closer to taking the plunge. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reports that former Sanders staffers will launch a “Draft Bernie” campaign on Monday.

And former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenSantorum: Dems have a chance in 2020 if they pick someone ‘unexpected’ The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Trump taps William Barr as new AG | Nauert picked to replace Haley at UN | Washington waits for bombshell Mueller filing Warren fell for ‘Trump trap’ with DNA test, says progressive MORE is increasingly talking like someone who is preparing to run for president.

“I'll be as straight with you as I can. I think I'm the most qualified person in the country to be president.” — Biden on Tuesday at a stop on his book tour in Missoula, Mont.

The Hill: California primary threatens to change 2020 game for Dems.

Back to 2018 – a burgeoning scandal in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District might result in an election do-over.

Democrats are threatening not to seat Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisDisputed North Carolina race raises prospect of congressional probe North Carolina GOP candidate says he will support new election if evidence of fraud emerges Meadows says 'too early to tell' if special House election should be held in North Carolina MORE over allegations of election fraud (The Hill). Harris edged Democrat Dan McCready by just over 900 votes in the November election.

Since then, voters have come forward claiming that their absentee ballots were collected illegally. On Tuesday, a second woman said she was paid by a GOP operative to collect the ballots (WSOCTV).

The Hill: Electoral fraud claims roil North Carolina House race.

The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley jeasley@thehill.com & Alexis Simendinger asimendinger@thehill.com. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

 

OPINION

Economic pressures are forcing Trump and Xi to play ball, by Stuart Eizenstat and Anne Pence, opinion contributors, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2BQykrn

It’s unethical to pretend Americans won’t feel the impacts of climate change, by Rachel Licker and Andrew Rosenberg, opinion contributors, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2DYOgJP

WHERE AND WHEN

Most federal workers have the day off today for “a national day of mourning” to honor Bush 41 (Federal News Network).

The House is out until noon on Dec. 6 in honor of Bush’s funerals in Washington and Houston, and the former president’s burial in College Station, Texas.

The Senate convenes at 2:30 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Bernard L. McNamee to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The president and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpJohn Kelly was always doomed to fail as chief of staff Trump to help impoverished nations educate their children Internet gambling addiction is a looming crisis MORE, along with Vice President Pence and second lady Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — What the Michael Flynn news means Pences get book deal for more Marlon Bundo stories The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump defends 2016 Russia business dealings | North American leaders sign new trade pact | Clinton doesn't tamp down 2020 talk MORE, attend the state funeral for Bush at the National Cathedral at 11 a.m.

Secretary of State Pompeo also attends the Bush funeral in Washington.

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Mattie Duppler, a board member with the Center for a Free Economy, on the trade situation with China; Niskanen Center President Jerry Taylor; Children’s Defense Fund policy director MaryLee Allen, on the needs of uninsured children; and Rep.-elect David Trone (D-Md.), part of a series of interviews with new members of Congress. http://thehill.com/hilltv

 

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ELSEWHERE

> U.S. Postal Service: The Trump administration wants the Postal Service to enact reforms that could raise shipping rates for certain packages, a move that could inflame tensions with Amazon and other online retailers (The Hill).

> Energy: Coal consumption as an energy source in the United States dropped to the lowest level in nearly 40 years (NBC News).

> Tech: How Google almost crashed and burned and the unlikely friendship that saved it (The New Yorker).

> Food: 5.1 million pounds of beef may be tainted by salmonella and has been added to a recall issued in October (CNN).

 

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … Once upon a time, snowballs were defined as banned “missiles” in Severance, Colo., where an average of 49 inches of snow falls every winter. It took a 9-year-old boy with the determination to talk some sense into the town board to overturn a nearly century-old law.

Young Dane Best presented his arguments to allow snowball fights to the Severance poohbahs Monday night after enlisting grassroots support from his classmates and some savvy media coverage from The Greeley Tribune.

“I think it’s an outdated law,” Dane told board members. “I want to be able to throw a snowball without getting in trouble.”

He’ll now be in the clear with town police, but he could be an outlaw at home. His snowball target, he confided, is Dax Best, his 4-year-old brother (The Associated Press).