The Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down

 

 

 

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

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Is special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report MORE nearing the end of his investigation?

There have been several signs in recent weeks to indicate that the two-year long probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election is drawing to a close.

Government and elected officials, such as former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation Trump health official: Controversial drug pricing move is 'top priority' Environmental advocates should take another look at biofuels MORE (R-Iowa), who had his finger on the pulse of the investigation as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in the last Congress, have indicated that a final report could come soon.

Several top criminal prosecutors have left the special counsel to return to their day jobs.

And now CNN, NBC and The Washington Post are reporting that the special counsel may submit its findings in a report to the Department of Justice (DOJ) by the end of this week or next.

Here’s what to watch for in the coming days and weeks…

> Will anyone be charged with conspiracy?

The Mueller probe has taken down several members of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE’s campaign and inner circle, but most of the charges have pertained to personal financial corruption or lying to investigators.

No one has been charged with crimes that go to the heart of the Mueller probe – whether individuals associated with the Trump presidential campaign conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.

I think the hope is that the Mueller investigation will clear the air on this issue once and for all. I’m really not sure it will, and the investigation, when completed, could turn out to be quite anti-climactic and not draw a conclusion about that.” – Former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Former DHS, intelligence leaders launch group to protect presidential campaigns from foreign interference Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief MORE

That would be a nightmare scenario for Democrats, and even for some in the media, who have a lot invested in the conspiracy allegations.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (D-Calif.) is staffing up and has already vowed to continue investigating allegations of conspiracy. He’s also swiped at the Mueller probe for not being thorough enough.

> What report or reports will be issued and who will get to see them?

Mueller’s information, gathered as a special counsel in response to “the public interest,” will be delivered to Attorney General William Barr.

Barr could opt to make some or all of that report available to Congress and the public. He could make redacted portions available. Or he could summarize what he’s learned and issue a statement. The DOJ could also decide not to release anything at all, although there will be intense public pressure for all of Mueller’s findings to be released one way or another.

If a report is released, readers will be eager to learn if Mueller describes evidence of misconduct that did not lead to criminal charges.

Wired: 7 scenarios for how the Mueller probe might wrap up.

The Economist: Much of the Mueller report is already public.

> What will Barr do next?

The attorney general will feel pressure from the right, and maybe from the president, to probe the origins of the FBI investigations into Trump.

Conservatives will also demand that the DOJ look into former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeThe Hill's Morning Report — Will Congress do anything on gun control? McCabe sues FBI, DOJ, blames Trump for his firing McCabe says it's 'absolutely' time to launch impeachment inquiry into Trump MORE’s claims that Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWhy the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to Trump McCabe sues FBI, DOJ, blames Trump for his firing Rosenstein: Trump should focus on preventing people from 'becoming violent white supremacists' MORE offered to wear a wire around the president. McCabe has said that FBI and DOJ officials discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump.

Eli Lake: Rosenstein has some serious explaining to do.

> Mueller has passed along investigations that fall outside his purview to the Southern District of New York. One of those cases led to an investigation into Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who will begin a three-year prison sentence later this year.

Does Mueller have any other investigations to pass along that could lead to lingering trouble for Trump and his business empire or inner circle?

> Prosecutors will continue to litigate the case against former Trump adviser Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneJudge rejects Stone's request to dismiss charges Judge dismisses DNC lawsuit against Trump campaign, Russia over election interference Prosecutors ask to air clip from 'The Godfather Part II' during Roger Stone trial MORE even after the larger investigation wraps. Stone is charged with lying to investigators, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

There is speculation that Stone coordinated with WikiLeaks to release campaign emails that were stolen from Democrats. Stone denies this, but Mueller has dropped hints into his court filings that other campaign officials may have been aware of what he was up to.

More from the investigations front … Dems seize on Times bombshell to push allegations of Trump obstruction (The Hill) … Five things to know about Trump confidant Tom Barrack (The Hill).

LEADING THE DAY

POLITICS: The Associated Press that House Democrats are circulating a joint resolution to block Trump’s national emergency declaration that could be introduced as soon as Friday.

The Hill: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Pelosi hits Trump, Netanyahu for 'weakness' amid tensions over Omar and Tlaib In Hong Kong, the need for peaceful persistence MORE asks Republicans and Democrats to support resolution.

On Wednesday, Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (Maine), who is up for reelection in 2020, became the first GOP senator to say she would join Democrats in supporting a resolution aimed at blocking the emergency declaration. Collins also said she supports a lawsuit brought by 16 states that would do the same.

"If it is a ‘clean’ disapproval resolution, I will support it … I do support the lawsuit that was filed by the states. That may be the quickest way to get an injunction that would halt this transfer of funds.” - Collins

The Hill: Dems face challenges to beating Trump in court.

 

 

> Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, did not rule out a primary challenge to Trump in an interview with “CBS This Morning.” Hogan said he’s been approached by people asking him to run.

"I guess the best way to put it is I haven't thrown them out of my office." - Hogan

Political analysts believe the odds are slim that Hogan will launch a long-shot primary challenge to Trump in 2020 but say he could be well positioned for a 2024 bid if Trump loses next year.

Liz Mair: Has the ‘Never Trump’ movement collapsed?

> Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersVolatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties GOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' British Bookmaker: Warren has replaced Biden as Democratic primary favorite MORE (I) raised an astonishing $6 million in the 24 hours after he announced his presidential run. He intends to sign a pledge saying he’ll only run as as Democrat (CNN).

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Volatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties British Bookmaker: Warren has replaced Biden as Democratic primary favorite MORE leads the field of Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire, with Sanders coming in second (MassLive).

This is, as Biden would say, a big (expletive) deal. Yes, the primary is a year away but New Hampshire is already being billed as a must win for Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Manufacturing shrinks, raising questions for Trump Volatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties MORE (D-Mass.) because it’s (basically) in their backyard.

More politics … Democrats are facing a defining vote on the “Green New Deal” in the Senate (The Hill) … Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingI'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' GOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' MORE (R-Iowa) is mounting an aggressive pressure campaign to reclaim the committee assignments that were stripped from him (The Hill) … Your phone and TV are tracking you and campaigns are listening in (The Los Angeles Times) … Inside a fly-by-night operation to harvest ballots in North Carolina (The New York Times) … Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneGOP Senate candidate 'pissed off' at Trump over health care for veterans House GOP fears retirement wave will lead to tsunami Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess MORE (R-Ala.) will challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in 2020 (The Associated Press).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION:  It’s been a tough start to the year for the president, who came out on the losing end of a bitter shutdown fight and is now headed for a showdown with Republicans in the Senate over his controversial national emergency declaration.

Poll: 59 percent oppose Trump’s emergency declaration.

Brett Samuels writes that Trump has a chance to turn things around and build some momentum in the coming weeks with some high-stakes foreign policy meetings (The Hill).

Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week in Hanoi, Vietnam could be one of the defining moments of his presidency.

The Associated Press: Possible peace declaration looms large over Trump-Kim summit.

Bloomberg: Trump plans Japan trips for new emperor and Group of 20 Summit.

 

 

But for now, the president is focused on the U.S. media.

Trump on Wednesday lashed out at The New York Times as “an enemy of the people” after it reported that he sought to meddle in the Southern District of New York’s investigation into Cohen.

And the president cheered-on a Covington High School student who is suing the Post for $250 million over its coverage of his encounter with a Native American protester.

 

 

 

 

Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger responded:

"There are mounting signs that this incendiary rhetoric is encouraging threats and violence against journalists at home and abroad."

The president’s adversarial relationship with California is heating up as well, with Trump saying the administration will look to claw-back billions of federal dollars allocated to a high-speed rail project that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is scaling back due to the cost.

The Associated Press: Border wall and bullet train: California vs. Trump escalates.

Reuters: Trump to end fuel economy talks with California.

The Hill: California has sued the Trump administration 46 times.

More from the administration … Trump may be close to ousting Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTrump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Hillicon Valley: Deepfakes pose 2020 test for media | States beg Congress for more election security funds | Experts worry campaigns falling short on cybersecurity | Trump officials urge reauthorization of NSA surveillance program Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program MORE (The Hill).

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

 

OPINION

I’m not proud of the role I played in toxic public debate and I plan to change, by Kirsten Powers, USA Today. http://bit.ly/2BIq7p2

Why conservatives are so angry about the Jussie Smollett incident, by Tina Nguyen, Vanity Fair. http://bit.ly/2E12bNN

WHERE AND WHEN

The House and Senate are not scheduled to vote during recess this week.

The president will have lunch with acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. This evening, Trump will participate in a reception for National African-American History Month.

Vice President Pence and second lady Karen PenceKaren Sue PencePence on battling critics: 'Spend more time on your knees than on the internet' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Acosta resigns amid controversy over Epstein plea deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives MORE travel to Columbia, South Carolina to tour an “opportunity zone” created through the GOP tax cuts bill.

The Hill will hold a Leadership in Action: Criminal Justice Reform panel on Tuesday, Feb. 26, featuring Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction Financial aid fraud is wrong — but overcorrection could hurt more students Democrats denounce Trump's attack on Cummings: 'These are not the words of a patriot' MORE (D-Md.) and Reps. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondHouse Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Democratic lawmakers support Bustos after DCCC resignations MORE (D-La.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Democratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal Activist groups push House Judiciary leaders to end mass phone data collection MORE (R-Ga.). Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack and Hill.TV's Jamal Simmons will moderate the panel on the future of criminal justice reform and what comes next after the passage of the First Step Act. RSVP here.

The Attorney Poker Tour is having its first annual charity poker tournament at MGM National Harbor on Saturday, Feb 23 at 10 a.m. in the poker room. The event benefits the charity Protect Our Defenders, which advocates against sexual violence in the military. Although this is an event for the Washington legal community, anyone can play and all are invited. Details are on the site: www.attorneypokertour.com

ELSEWHERE

Environment: Mining sites in the U.S. dump about 50 million gallons of untreated contaminated water into local streams and rivers every day (The Associated Press).

Media: Spending for online advertising is set to surpass print and television advertising for the first time ever this year (The Washington Post).

Tech: Major companies, including Disney, are pulling ads from YouTube over a child exploitation controversy (The Verge).

Entertainment: “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has been charged with a felony count of filing a false police report after his claims of a hate crime against him turned out to have been a staged hoax (The Associated Press).

The Hill’s In The Know: The Oscars won’t have a host this year, but Judy Kurtz has the rundown of presenters. The annual movie awards night could have a strong anti-Trump bent, with presenters including Rep. John LewisJohn LewisCummings invites Trump to visit Baltimore House Democrat knocks Trump's Cummings tweet: 'This guy is a terrible, terrible human being' George Wallace's daughter: 'I saw Daddy a lot' during 2016 election MORE (D-Ga.), celebrity chef José Andrés and comedian Trevor Noah. Other presenters include Barbra Streisand, Serena Williams and Mike Myers (The Hill).

 

THE CLOSER

And finally …

It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by 91st Academy Awards this weekend, we’re eager for some smart guesses about the movies.

Email your responses to jeasley@thehill.com or asimendinger@thehill.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.

This woman has been won more “Best Actress” awards than anyone else.

  1. Katherine Hepburn
  2. Bette Davis
  3. Meryl Streep
  4. Hilary Swank

Three films are tied for having won the most Oscars in a year. Which one of these is not among them?

  1. Titanic
  2. Lord Of the Rings: The Return of the King
  3. Forrest Gump
  4. Ben Hur

Who is the youngest person to ever win an Oscar?

  1. Shirley Temple
  2. Tatum O’Neal
  3. Judy Garland
  4. Haley Joel Osment

Who was the first woman to win the award for “Best Director”?

  1. Kathryn Bigelow
  2. Sofia Coppola
  3. Greta Gerwig
  4. A woman has never won “Best Director”

Who was the last actor to win back-to-back Oscars?

  1. Jack Nicholson
  2. Morgan Freeman
  3. Tom Hanks
  4. Al Pacino