The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game

The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game
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Washington is gripped by Mueller fever.

From Capitol Hill to the White House, rumors are flying that the special counsel probe into Russia’s election interference has run its course and that Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE is preparing to hand over a final report of his team’s findings to Attorney General William Barr, potentially as soon as today. 

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Photographers have been staking out the special counsel’s office and snapping early morning photos of Mueller arriving at work in a baseball cap. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon Trump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon GOP group urges Republicans to speak out on obstruction claims against Trump in new ad MORE were both spotted walking into the White House in the cold rain on Thursday.

Like everything the special counsel has done, the timing for the completion of the probe is shrouded in mystery. But Mueller’s prosecutors have been returning to their day jobs and the special counsel has not opened a new case since indicting Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneHouse panel subpoenas Flynn, Gates House panel subpoenas Flynn, Gates Court orders release of sealed documents in mysterious Mueller grand jury case MORE in late January.

The biggest question on everyone’s mind: Will Mueller drop any additional indictments before closing the books on his investigation? To date, there have not been any charges that go to the heart of the probe — whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE or his campaign officials conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

The special counsel’s team is funded through September, but it could be that their substantive work is behind them and the following months will focus on the lingering outstanding cases and sentencing hearings.  

The completion of the special counsel investigation, which has proceeded for 22 months at an average cost of about $769,000 per month, will be a historic moment. It will also open up a host of new questions and political arguments. 

The Hill: Five things to watch for as the White House readies for Mueller report.

Who gets to see the report?

> The special counsel is required by law to submit a report of his findings to the Department of Justice (DOJ), outlining for the attorney general the evidence and prosecutions he pursued.

Trump has said he wants the report to be made public. Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill are demanding it be released in its entirety.

Barr has said he will scrub the report for classified information and make as much of it public as he can. Many details could be withheld on grounds of national security because information about Russia’s interference in elections is drawn, in part, from U.S. and international intelligence gathering.

Barr also said he may write the public report himself by summarizing what Mueller gives him. That could set off a fight between the DOJ and Democratic lawmakers in the House, who could use their subpoena powers to try to obtain the original document. House Democrats have already said they will convene hearings and call witnesses once a report passes out of Mueller’s hands.

White House lawyers and Trump’s personal attorneys have said they want to review the report before it is publicly released. There is potential for a clash between the White House and DOJ, if Trump decides to claim executive privilege on some matters. It’s unclear whether Barr would share his report with the White House before releasing it to the public; the attorney general told lawmakers he’s committed to ensuring there is no interference by the administration.

Additionally, Trump has said his team will release a lengthy response to counter any information Mueller forwards to the Justice Department. 

What will be in the report?

> There is no template for the final report and Mueller can include as much information or as little as he likes.

Will the Mueller report tell the definitive story behind the allegations of “collusion” that have dogged the president, his family and inner circle? Does Mueller believe that the president ever sought to obstruct his investigation? What investigations did Mueller pursue but not prosecute?

We may never know.

From ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “The bottom line: Do not expect a harsh condemnation of President Donald Trump or any of his associates if they have not been charged with crimes … Department of Justice will not – and cannot without violating long-standing Department of Justice policy – include disparaging or incriminating information about anybody who has not been charged with a crime.” 

Indeed, this is why former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFive memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Under Trump, our democracy is for sale MORE’s 2016 press conference announcing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally MORE would not be charged — but detailing her “extremely careless” handling of classified information —  was so controversial.

Perspectives and Analysis 

James Comey: What I want from the Mueller report.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff: Don’t hide Mueller’s findings.

The Associated Press: Shifting hopes as Democrats and Republicans await Mueller.

The Washington Post: Three possible outcomes for the Mueller report.

NBC News: You may be disappointed by the Mueller report.

CNN: The Supreme Court today hears a piece of the Russia-probe puzzle.

 

 

LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push MORE (D-N.Y.) are scheduled to appear this weekend at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) amid a growing willingness on the left to criticize Israel.

The liberal group MoveOn urged Democrats running for president to skip the Washington conference, while the left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street called for denouncing the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though no 2020 Democrat is slated to speak to the influential group. Netanyahu plans to address AIPAC.

The prime minister, who faces a reelection opponent in April and is under investigation at home, will visit Trump at the White House next week. 

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On Thursday, the president gave Netanyahu a gift of sorts, announcing the United States wants to recognize Israel’s authority over the disputed Golan Heights. That would reverse decades of U.S. policy and violate a United Nations resolution. Netanyahu repeatedly encouraged Trump to embrace such a change, which would grant Israel sovereignty over land taken in war. The United Nations says Israel must withdraw from territory seized by force (The New York Times)

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump admin to discuss sending additional military force to Middle East amid Iran tensions: report Buttigieg: Iran situation 'disturbingly reminiscent' of lead-up to Iraq War Buttigieg: Iran situation 'disturbingly reminiscent' of lead-up to Iraq War MORE toured Jerusalem with Netanyahu on Thursday. 

“President Trump made the decision to recognize that hard-fought real estate, that important place, is proper to be a sovereign part of the state of Israel,” Pompeo said during his visit. “It will truly be historic, and the people of Israel should know that the battles they fought, the lives that they lost on that very ground, were worthy and meaningful and important for all time.”

The New York Times: A brief history of the Golan Heights, claimed by Israel and Syria.

 

 

AIPAC dominated headlines last month when freshman Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOmar blasts Trump's comment about accepting foreign campaign dirt as 'un-American' Omar blasts Trump's comment about accepting foreign campaign dirt as 'un-American' Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data MORE (D-Minn.) expressed her view several times that the committee holds too much influence in Congress and in Washington. Some lawmakers asserted that Omar’s rhetoric was anti-Semitic and should be publicly rebuked. 

Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Biden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Confused by polls? Watch early primary states — not national numbers MORE (D-Calif.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersConfused by polls? Watch early primary states — not national numbers Confused by polls? Watch early primary states — not national numbers Biden leads in early voting states, followed by Warren, Sanders: poll MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Biden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Trump steadfast in denials as support for impeachment grows MORE (D-Mass.), Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) are among the 2020 presidential contenders who will not address AIPAC (The Hill). What really counts, however, is what White House contenders decide about appearing at AIPAC a year from now.

> Centrist Democrats are pushing back against the "Green New Deal," arguing for a more gradual approach to addressing climate change that might be more popular with voters, as measured by polls. Democratic lawmakers are not on the same page about substance or strategy — whether to embrace near-term legislative reforms, or a variety of policy proposals.

“The move is going to be gradual and we’re not going to do 100 percent [renewable energy] over 10 years,” said Rep. Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (D-Va.), a leader of the New Democrat Coalition’s climate change task force.

Contrast that with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Trump cites Ocasio-Cortez to defend himself against impeachment MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyNew push to regulate self-driving cars faces tough road Democratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories Democratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories MORE (D-Mass.), who introduced the Green New Deal resolution. Ocasio-Cortez hailed a long list of ambitious goals as a "comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice" (The Hill). 

Reuters: Solar and wind firms call the Green New Deal too extreme.

> Pelosi in January anticipated that her near-term challenge as Speaker would be reckoning with Republicans. But it appears to be Democratic House newcomers who are testing her collaborative skills and her patience. Some new members of the caucus once worked with the 44th president in his administration, so next week, former President Obama will celebrate with some familiar faces, Politico reported. The gathering will take place at a private residence in Washington (The Hill).

> The Speaker, who repeatedly throws cold water on the prospect of Democrats pursuing articles of impeachment against Trump, has been consistent over decades that the legislative branch pays a high price for trying to remove a president from office instead of letting voters have their say (The Associated Press).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CAMPAIGN & POLITICS: The White House is increasingly trying to focus on the economy as a preeminent message, reports Brett Samuels. The president met Thursday with CEO's at The Business Roundtable a day after touting his deal-making ability at a tank factory in Lima, Ohio. He also sat down for an interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, intending to expand on the administration’s jobs and growth message. 

However, the president veered from that script with another round of barbs aimed at the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain#JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday #JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday New poll finds little GOP support for spending cuts to specific federal programs MORE (R-Ariz.), reprising grievances he expressed in Ohio. Samuels writes:

    But in general, the White House has spent the week painting the picture of an economy being rewarded by Trump’s policies. And Trump has telegraphed the message he wants to deliver in 2020: that no matter who you are, you’re in a better place than you were four years ago.

 

 

> Speaking of McCain, Republicans are increasingly getting fed up with the president’s attacks. According to Reid Wilson, who reported from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid MORE (R-Ariz.) said on Thursday that McCain’s family “deserves respect by everybody,” adding that she talked to the president about the ongoing back-and-forth.

    "I made it clear, I love John McCain. John McCain is an American hero. This state reveres John McCain, and his family deserves respect by everybody,” she said. “There's a lot of disrespect going on out there all the way around. I did talk to the president yesterday. I wanted to make sure he understood how I felt about Sen. McCain and how Arizona felt about Sen. John McCain, and he heard me.”

McSally filled McCain's seat after the longtime senator's death from brain cancer. The seat is up for reelection in 2020.

Washington Post: For Trump, attacking McCain is a way to appeal to his political base

The Hill: GOP likes Supreme Court battle as a theme to clobber Democrats 

> Republicans are salivating over the Democratic debate about expanding the number of Supreme Court justices. Republicans see the issue as a political gift to their party as they hunt for 2020 fodder, arguing the debate fits into their larger narrative of Democrats swinging further to the left. Legislation limiting the Supreme Court to nine justices was introduced in the House Thursday. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE (R-Fla.) will introduce similar legislation as soon as next week.

New York Magazine: Nine reasons a Biden-Abrams ticket is a brilliant idea for both Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Biden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Yang: Standing next to Biden on debate stage would help boost name recognition MORE and Stacey Abrams 

More campaign & politics ... Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for 2020 Democrats to release their tax returns for the past 10 years. Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBiden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Biden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Trump steadfast in denials as support for impeachment grows MORE (D-N.Y.) and Warren are the only two who have done so (CREW) … Gillibrand became the latest 2020 Democrat to meet with former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Impeachment will reelect Trump MORE (D-Nev.) Thursday night, according to a source familiar with the meeting. He has also sat down with Warren, Sanders, Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerFox News poll shows Trump trailing Biden, Sanders, other Democrats Fox News poll shows Trump trailing Biden, Sanders, other Democrats Poll: Biden leads, Warren surges in South Carolina MORE (D-N.J.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro of Texas (CNN). Reid is still a major player in the early primary state of Nevada.

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

 

OPINION

Trump investigations showcase battles over executive privilege, by Lawrence Friedman, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2CvF6D9

College admissions scandal underscores importance of attorney ethics, by Kim Wehle, opinion contributor, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2CvOI0o

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at noon on Monday.

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. on Monday and resumes consideration of Bridget S. Bade to be a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. 

The president and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpWhite House mulling restoring daily press briefing with Sanders replacement: report White House mulling restoring daily press briefing with Sanders replacement: report Trump compares Melania to Jackie Kennedy: 'We have our own Jackie O' MORE depart for Florida this morning. In the afternoon, Trump hosts the leaders of the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia for a meeting at Mar-a-Lago.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling in Beirut, Lebanon, through Saturday, and will meet with Prime Minister Saad Hariri (The Associated Press).

ELSEWHERE

Brexit: The European Union granted the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Theresa May a brief reprieve until April 12 to iron out a divorce agreement that has so far eluded May and Parliament for more than a year (The Washington Post).

North Korea: Pyongyang today is pulling out of a liaison office it created last year with South Korea, a connection once seen as a major achievement during thawed relations (The Washington Post). … The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Thursday on two Chinese shipping companies it says helped North Korea evade sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, the first punishment since a summit between the president and Kim Jong Un collapsed last month (Reuters).

Hazardous air: In Houston, cancer-causing benzene fumes that became airborne on Thursday shut roads, schools and industrial facilities in the nation’s fourth-largest city, producing an emergency alert to remain indoors while the Texas National Guard deployed troops to assist with air monitoring (Bloomberg).

Tech: Facebook employees had access to millions of user passwords. The company says the problem has been fixed (CNBC). … The New York Times CEO shares a warning with publishers ahead of Apple’s paid digital news launch expected on Monday (Reuters). … Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet next week with Google representatives to argue that it’s not in Google’s or U.S. national interests to help Chinese tech companies and the Chinese military gain access to U.S. technologies, including artificial intelligence (The Associated Press). … Meanwhile, Google on Thursday used machine learning to create a Google Doodle, an animated cartoon homage to Johann Sebastian Bach that plays snippets of music based on Bach’s compositions (The Associated Press). Everyone, including the Chinese, can find out how Google’s innovative teams pulled it off HERE. 

Science: Corpses of mountaineers who attempted to scale Mount Everest and died there are resurfacing because of glacier ice and snow melt, a phenomenon blamed on global warming. Expedition operators are concerned about climbers' remains that are becoming exposed and ideally should be retrieved. Nearly 300 people have died on the peak since the first ascent attempt and two-thirds of those bodies are thought to still be on the mountain (BBC).

THE CLOSER

And finally … Kudos to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! 

With this year’s 50th anniversary of Woodstock in mind, these savvy readers knew quite a lot about those four days of music and history in 1969: Susan Benn, Paul Blumstein, David Bond, Gary Breakfield, Edward Brunner, Connie Cacioppo, Candi Cee, William Chittam, Scott Cowen, David DeAngelo, Paul Delloro, Carolyn Dixon, Dave Drabkin, Margaret Gainer, Jekka Garner, Cheryl Gibson, John Gill, Rich Gruber, Paul Hassinger, Frank Hatfield, Dan Hebert, John Hille, Ian Jackson, Peter John, Carol Katz, Michael Kenny, Andrew Kokas, Jeanne Kosch, Chris Korst, Peter Landis, Roy Lowenstein, Melissa Mermaid, Sam Mori, Milt Mungo, Gael Oh, Laura Preston, Bill Puskas, Patrick Randall, Fae Rees, Peter J. Sprofera, Stephen Richard Staronka, David Straney, Sandy Sycafoose, William Vockel and Joel Volinski.

The governor of New York during the original Woodstock was Nelson Rockefeller.

The Woodstock music festival took place in Bethel, N.Y.

Simon & Garfunkel (among our multiple-choice menu of artists) did not perform during the festival. The duo turned down an invitation, saying they were too busy.

Jimi Hendrix wowed at Woodstock with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” later described as a searing 1960s protest during the Vietnam War. He died a year later at the age of 27.