The Hill's Morning Report — Assange indictment adds new legal, political drama at DOJ

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces up to five years in prison if brought to the United States and found guilty on federal charges he conspired to hack a computer to help release a trove of classified U.S. documents in 2010.


Arrested in London on Thursday in the Ecuadorian Embassy where he lived for nearly seven years in protected status from law enforcement, Assange looked every inch the recluse he’d become, with his long hair swept behind his head and face covered by a bushy beard.

Federal prosecutors, who prepared a secret criminal indictment a year ago, did not accuse Assange, 47, of espionage and navigated around claims from advocates that he is a publisher with press freedoms (The Hill). 

Assange has been criticized for his organization’s release during the 2016 presidential campaign of emails stolen by Russian agents from Democratic National Committee computers. But those actions are not part of the government’s criminal filing. The WikiLeaks disclosures over many weeks in 2016 proved damaging to the Democratic Party and to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Ballot initiatives in Colorado, Louisiana could restrict abortion access Trump mocks Joe Biden's drive-in rallies at North Carolina event MORE’s campaign and they were celebrated by then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE, who repeatedly told voters, “I love WikiLeaks!”

The Washington Post video team created a montage of Trump’s frequent praise for WikiLeaks throughout the fall of 2016.

Asked about Assange’s arrest in London, the president on Thursday muted the enthusiasm expressed at rallies more than two years ago, telling reporters that the Assange case is being handled by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPolice accountability board concludes that Seattle police officers used excessive force during encounters with protesters Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money MORE.

“I know nothing about WikiLeaks,” he said (The Associated Press).

The Justice Department’s conspiracy charge unsealed Thursday is unrelated to 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’s investigation of Russia’s election interference in 2016. The government alleges that Assange decided to help break a password to abet the theft and then public release of secret and confidential U.S. military communications.

Assange’s arrest follows condemnations by the intelligence communities in both the Obama and Trump administrations and is yet another dramatic backdrop behind the Justice Department’s expected release next week of a redacted version of Mueller’s report describing his 22-month investigation into Russia’s cyber meddling in the United States. 

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrAs Trump downplayed the virus publicly, memo based on private briefings sparked stock sell-offs: NYT Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs MORE (R-N.C.) said Assange’s actions warranted his extradition and U.S. prosecution (The Hill):

“Under the guise of transparency, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have effectively acted as an arm of the Russian intelligence services for years. Mr. Assange engaged in a conspiracy to steal classified information, putting millions of lives at risk all over the world. Hopefully, he will now face justice.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, defended Assange in a statement, arguing that U.S. prosecution would be “unconstitutional” and open the door to criminal investigations of “other news organizations” for publishing “truthful information.”

Presidential hopeful Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardHarris faces biggest moment in spotlight yet Ocasio-Cortez slams Tulsi Gabbard for amplifying ballot harvesting video Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Netflix over 'Cuties' film MORE (D-Hawaii) described Assange’s arrest as an administration threat to journalists

The Hill: The U.S. case against Assange.

The New York Times: U.S. prosecutors waited years, considered potential charges and ultimately alleged that Assange conspired to hack.

The Washington Post: Assange faces one narrow count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in league with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning nine years ago. 

Lawfare: Read the government’s unsealed 2018 indictment.

The Associated Press: Next Assange drama is fighting extradition to the United States.


Former President Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence in 2017, explaining that her punishment after serving nearly seven years behind bars was “disproportionate” to that of other convicted leakers.

Let's be clear: Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence. So, the notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital, classified information would think that it goes unpunished I don't think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served,” Obama said.

Manning last month was held in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions in front of a federal grand jury in a sealed case about Assange and WikiLeaks. She said she wanted to respond in public.


CONGRESS: Senate Republicans are begging the White House for an increase in consultation after a month where lawmakers were blindsided in a number of situations, including on multiple nominees and sudden policy proposals and pivots out of the White House.

As reported by Alexander Bolton, the Senate GOP was taken aback in recent days by the nominations to the Federal Reserve Board of former pizza entrepreneur Herman Cain and Heritage Foundation fellow and economist Stephen Moore, viewed by many senators as unconventional picks who present starkly partisan profiles for positions on the nation’s central bank board.

On the policy front, a slew of Trump’s recent decisions also roiled members who say they want better communications outreach from the White House: the president’s sudden purge of top officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); his threat to shutter the southern border; and his comment to reporters moments before entering a lunch with Senate Republicans that the GOP would become the “party of health care.”

A fourth Republican senator announced Thursday that he will oppose Cain’s potential nomination to the Federal Reserve Board. Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag Romney calls first Trump-Biden debate 'an embarrassment' Netflix distances from author's comments about Muslim Uyghurs but defends project MORE (R-N.D.) said there is “no way” he could support Cain, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, for the post right now.

Cramer joins Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyWill anyone from the left realize why Trump won — again? Ratings drop to 55M for final Trump-Biden debate Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning MORE (R-Utah), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session MORE (R-Alaska) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Democrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans MORE (R-Colo.) in publicly opposing the former presidential candidate’s appointment.

The Hill: Cain is expected to withdraw his nomination. 

Bloomberg: Powell said to tell Democrats Fed won't bend to outside pressure.

The Hill: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to Trump: Don't pick Ken Cuccinelli to lead DHS

> As Jonathan Easley reports, Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Trump is out of touch with Republican voters on climate change GOP to Trump: Focus on policy MORE (R-Ind.) is calling on Republicans to realize they got hammered on ObamaCare and health care writ-large during the 2018 campaign and that they need to be ready in case Sanders’s proposal catches fire in 2020. Democrats continue to hold a messaging edge over Republicans on the issue; Braun believes it’s time for the GOP to make its own play beyond opposition, the strategy in 2017 with the failed “repeal and replace” ObamaCare effort.  



The Indiana Republican says the 2020 race is setting up to be a “nailbiter” for Trump. He’s joined a working group of senators who hope to have GOP health care principles in place before the next election. Until then, he’s trying to squash talk about doing away with ObamaCare, saying the GOP has nothing to fill a health coverage void and that the popular pillars of the law — coverage for pre-existing conditions and individuals under 26 staying on their parent’s health care plan — will be a part of the GOP’s proposal.

The Hill: McConnell – “Past time” for immigration-border security deal.

The Washington Post: House Democrats offer few remedies for border crisis as they plot agenda.

The Washington Post: White House proposed releasing immigrant detainees in sanctuary cities, targeting political foes.

> Jordain Carney reports that Congress will punt a disaster aid bill as lawmakers prepare to leave town for a two-week recess. Negotiations have largely unraveled amid competing, rejected offers and both sides are trading blame 

More from Congress … Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSusan Collins and the American legacy Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw MORE (D-W.Va.) to support and even campaign for Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday Biden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races MORE (R-Maine) in her reelection bid (The Hill) … Former White House national security adviser Susan Rice announced that she will not challenge Collins next year for her seat (Huffington Post)… McConnell on 2020: Republicans envision a “referendum on socialism” (The Hill).


INVESTIGATIONS: Democrats roundly believe that Barr has undermined his credibility by playing into Trump’s oft-used talking point that his campaign was spied on by the Obama administration during 2016 (The Hill).



“When someone is given real information that Russia interfered with our elections, of course they’re supposed to look into it, that’s part of their job,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Trump announces opening of relations between Sudan and Israel Five takeaways on Iran, Russia election interference MORE (D-N.Y.) said Thursday. “For Mr. Barr to label this as spying, echoing some of the worst conspiracy theorists in the country, he loses all credibility and that credibility is vital because he’ll be issuing a report with redactions.”

Democratic lawmakers also intimated they plan to ask Barr for more clarity on what exactly he meant in his surprising comments when he returns to testify about Mueller’s completed investigation next month.

The Hill: James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Trump remarks put pressure on Barr Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals MORE: 'I accept that Bill Barr's letter accurately portrays' Mueller report.

And more investigations… Attorney Michael Avenatti was charged Thursday by a federal grand jury with a 36-count indictment, including wire fraud and tax-related charges and charges of submitting false tax returns (The Associated Press) …  A former White House official accused of mishandling security clearances will appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on April 23 as part of its ongoing probe into the administration’s security clearance process (The Hill) … Greg Craig, who served as Obama’s first White House counsel, was charged on Thursday with lying about work he performed in 2012 for Ukraine (Reuters).


WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: NEC Director Larry Kudlow made news on a number of fronts Thursday during an interview with The Hill’s Newsmaker Series event, projecting optimism about a possible deal with China and indicating that the White House may allow the substantial budget cuts to go into effect if Congress does not act.


On China, Kudlow told Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack that he did not want to put the cart before the horse, but that he is “optimistic” about where things are heading toward a potential trade deal.



“I’m going to play it from the optimistic side,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made good progress. I don’t want to predict. It’s gotta be a great deal.”


Kudlow also touched on a number of issues related to Congress, including the ongoing budget talks that could lead to $125 billion in defense and nondefense cuts.


“The president has indicated, if the spending caps going all the way back to the 2011 deal are not met, then we will sequester across-the-board, both defense and nondefense, excluding entitlements, but we will run by those rules,” Kudlow said. “That’s tough stuff. I think that’s appropriate.”


He also argued that a number of progressive proposals — headlined by “Medicare for all” and the “Green New Deal” — would shave 15 percent off of gross domestic product and would be “catastrophic” for the economy.


The Atlantic: Inside Ivanka’s dreamworld.


The Associated Press: North Korea bolsters diplomatic lineup amid stalled talks with U.S.

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



The religious left is always just about to happen. Will it ever arrive? by Elizabeth Bruenig, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2P4fPEZ 

The fault lines behind the Trump-Moon summit, by the Hudson Institute’s Patrick M. Cronin, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2UWGzwN


The House meets at 2:30 p.m.

The Senate meets for a pro forma session at 3 p.m. on Monday. 

The president speaks at 2:25 p.m. about the need for 5G deployment in the United States, and at 3:15 p.m., Trump meets with the Fraternal Order of Police executive board in the Cabinet Room. 

Vice President Pence is in Omaha, Neb., today to meet with families, businesses and the agriculture community affected by the severe flooding in the Iowa and Nebraska region. He returns to Washington this evening.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoEntire Nigerian police force mobilized after days of violent protests that have killed at least 69 Hillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting US critical facilities with destructive malware MORE is traveling through April 15 to Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Colombia. He’s in Santiago, Chile, today to meet with President Sebastián Piñera and Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero.

Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House MORE will speak at 2 p.m. today at the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony held at the National Archives in Washington. 

The famed Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., begins today through April 14 and resumes April 19-21. Performer information HERE. Watch and listen live HERE beginning 10 p.m. ET.


The moon: Israel didn’t make it to the moon on Thursday with its spacecraft Beresheet. (BBC).



Walls have ears: Thousands of Amazon employees are listening to people who assume they have privacy as they talk near their Echo speakers. The Amazon employees transcribe the voice commands captured after the wake word is detected and drop what they hear into software to help improve Alexa's grasp of human speech (Bloomberg).

Media: The owners of The National Enquirer are looking for a buyer and are deep in discussions with a Democrat known for buying distressed companies. Ronald Burkle, who has decades-long ties to former President Clinton, is described as a prospective owner who could upend the tabloid’s Trump-friendly publishing practices if a sale goes through (The New York Times).

Fishy sports: Nashville Predators hockey fans have an unusual tradition that entails throwing catfish on the ice during games. The animal advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) now wants spectators to be checked for concealed catfish at the gates and be fined $5,000 and receive a lifelong ban if they bring live fish to be used as hockey props (Fox17).


And finally …   Kudos to this week’s winners of the Morning Report Quiz about The Masters    at Augusta National in Georgia.

These golfers (or savvy Googlers) aced the questions: Randall S. Patrick, Larry M. Marak, Buzz Watkins, Carol Katz, DBond434, Reg Plaster, Ian Jackson, William Chittam, Ron Langhals, Candi Cee, Milt Mungo, Oscar Jay, Stuart Babendir, Mike Gancar and the #1 Nantz fan out there, Matt Gorman. 

They knew that the first non-American to win The Masters was Gary Player

Famed golfer Bobby Jones is credited with being a co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters.

Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth share the record score at the tournament of 270 (-18). Woods earned the record in his record-breaking 1997 performance, and Spieth matched it in 2015.

Veteran CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz has anchored coverage of The Masters since 1989.