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

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. TGIF! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, find us at @asimendinger and @alweaver22.

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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.

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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 ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE’s campaign and they were celebrated by then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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 BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question The Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations EXCLUSIVE: Trump declines to say he has confidence in FBI director 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) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Schiff says Intel panel will hold 'series' of hearings on Mueller report 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 BurrHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers 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 GabbardRules for first Democratic primary debates announced What do millennials want? 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown 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.

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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.

LEADING THE DAY

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 CramerTrump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions The Hill's Morning Report — Trump pushes Mexico for 'significantly more' as tariffs loom Overnight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 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 RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Democratic challenger leads Tillis by 1 point in North Carolina poll The Memo: Can Trump run as an outsider? MORE (R-Utah), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Overnight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Alaska) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerMcSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' Hillicon Valley: Senate sets hearing on Facebook's cryptocurrency plans | FTC reportedly investigating YouTube over children's privacy | GOP senator riles tech with bill targeting liability shield | FAA pushed to approve drone deliveries Senate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats 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 BraunRomney jokes about his multiple houses while arguing against tying lawmaker pay to budget Overnight Health Care: Poll finds most Americans misunderstand scope of 'Medicare for All' | Planned Parenthood chief readies for 2020 | Drugmakers' lawsuit ramps up fight with Trump Overnight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 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) ManchinRepublicans, Trump Jr. signal support for embattled West Virginia governor Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments MORE (D-W.Va.) to support and even campaign for Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns Stephen King: 'It's time for Susan Collins to go' 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).

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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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' 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 ComeyBiden is the least electable candidate — here's why Top Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann lands book deal Trump to appear on 'Meet the Press' for first time as president 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).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

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!

 

OPINION

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

WHERE AND WHEN

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 PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need Congress to approve Iran strikes in interview with The Hill | New sanctions hit Iran's supreme leader | Schumer seeks to delay defense bill amid Iran tensions | Esper's first day as acting Pentagon chief Pompeo meets with Saudi crown prince amid tensions with Iran Poll: 24 percent of voters want military action against Iran 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: Appointing Sessions was my biggest mistake Trump blasts Mueller, decries 'witch hunt' at 2020 launch Trump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon 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.

ELSEWHERE

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).

THE CLOSER

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.