The Hill's Morning Report - Lawmakers split over Mueller findings: 'case closed' vs. 'cover-up'

The Hill's Morning Report - Lawmakers split over Mueller findings: 'case closed' vs. 'cover-up'
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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Wednesday! 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.

Not that long ago, Senate Republicans were so determined to see special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE complete his investigation that they built a legislative force field around him as a way to warn President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE to back off.


On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded McGrath releases ad blasting McConnell with coal miners in Kentucky: 'Which side are you on?' Prediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast MORE (R-Ky.) joined Trump in urging lawmakers and voters to move on. “Case closed,” he said echoing White House Press Secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor April Ryan's bodyguard issued summons over alleged assault of local journalist Sarah Sanders: Democrats should 'quit lying and do their jobs' MORE Sanders and other Trump allies, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhat would John McCain do? Sunday shows preview: Trump ratchets up trade war with China White House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts MORE (R-S.C.).


"What we've seen is a meltdown, an absolute meltdown, an inability to accept the bottom-line conclusion on Russian interference from the special counsel's report," said McConnell, who is up for reelection in 2020. "My Democratic colleagues seem to be publicly working through the five stages of grief" (The Hill).


Trump said on Sunday that Mueller should not testify to Congress about his 448-page report and the evidence he assembled, including about Trump’s obstructive behavior aimed at attempting to shut down the Russia investigation at multiple points in a two-year period.


The White House counsel on Tuesday ordered his predecessor Don McGahn, not to testify or furnish information to Congress, even under subpoena. That battle is not a case that’s closed.


It will be settled in court, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPoll: Majority wants Trump out, but not through impeachment Second Democrat representing Trump district backs impeachment GOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' MORE (D-N.Y.) sent McGahn and his attorney a letter on Tuesday that foreshadowed some of the legal arguments Democrats are prepared to make (The Hill). Trump may be on tenuous legal footing after the White House encouraged McGahn to cooperate with Mueller and the former White House counsel furnished reams of contemporaneous notes to investigators over which the White House did not assert executive privilege (The Hill).


The comments from McConnell, Graham and the White House that the Mueller investigation is over are part of a political narrative to change the subject while also furnishing a public explanation about why the president is battling House Democrats who are demanding documents and testimony from Mueller’s cooperating witnesses and talking about an impeachment inquiry.


Trump argues, inaccurately, that he was “totally exonerated” by Mueller, while McConnell, Graham and other GOP allies insist that House and Senate Democrats are obsessed and beating a dead horse.


McConnell felt assured enough about his “case closed” remarks on Tuesday that he immediately shared them with supporters to raise money for his reelection campaign (The Hill).


Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.) accused McConnell of trying to “whitewash” the findings in the Mueller report (The Hill). That’s a talking point that sells to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.


Whether there will be additional testimony from Mueller or other witnesses in the Senate is not a settled question outside the Judiciary Committee. If other GOP senators agree with Democrats to learn more from witnesses, particularly about preventing Russia’s interference in the 2020 election, it could pressure Trump and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFeds charge five in international ID theft ring targeting military members, veterans The road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces Correctional officers subpoenaed in Epstein investigation: report MORE to allow public testimony from Mueller.


Reuters: McConnell says “case closed,” while Schumer suggests a “cover-up.”


The Hill: Justice Department threatens executive privilege over Mueller report if Dems carry out contempt vote aimed at Barr.


The Associated Press: House Judiciary Committee is proceeding with plans today to vote to hold attorney general in contempt as last-minute talks with Justice officials stalled.


CONGRESS: House Democrats are moving forward with their vote to hold Barr in contempt as House Judiciary Committee Democrats pushed for a release of the unredacted version of Mueller’s report and its underlying evidence from the Justice Department.


The two sides fell short of an agreement and set the stage for the scheduled vote Wednesday morning to hold Barr in contempt as Democrats continue to fume about the attorney general, whom they view as an extension of Trump and not an impartial arbiter (The Hill).


According to Politico, the Justice Department dangled multiple carrots in negotiations to ward off the looming vote:


“In an attempt to head off the contempt vote, the Justice Department offered some concessions to allow more congressional aides access to a less-redacted version of Mueller’s report. The department also offered to allow a select number of senior lawmakers to keep their handwritten notes on the report; just 12 members of Congress have been allowed access to the less-redacted version.  


“But the offer did not include allowing additional lawmakers to view the document, and those who can see it would still be forbidden from discussing it or sharing their notes with colleagues — leaving a key demand from Democrats unresolved.  


“According to two sources familiar with Tuesday’s negotiating session, the Justice Department offered to allow each of the lawmakers to bring two staffers — instead of just one — to view the less-redacted version.”


> Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi11 Essential reads you missed this week Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Is there internet life after thirty? MORE (D-Calif.) waded back into the impeachment discussion Tuesday during an appearance at Cornell University where she argued that the president is trying to “goad” Democrats into impeaching him for political purposes. She says he sees possible proceedings as a 2020 winner for his reelection campaign (The Hill).


"Trump is goading us to impeach him,” Pelosi said. “Every single day, he's just like, taunting, taunting, taunting, because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country, but he doesn’t really care. [He] just wants to solidify his base.”


Pelosi said that Trump is “making a case” for impeachment as he publicly says certain individuals should not testify, and said he’s obstructing justice “every day.”





The Washington Post: FBI director tells Congress he has no evidence of “spying” on the Trump campaign.


Meanwhile, Democrats are pushing for spin-off investigations after the completion of Mueller’s probe as they look for answers they believe they have not received yet.


As Jordain Carney reports, Democrats, although limited by their minority status, are urging the Department of Justice’s inspector general to investigate Barr and his handling of Mueller's report. Democrats say they need the IG to pick up their investigation plans  because Graham has not exhibited any plans or appetite to further investigate the Trump administration.


The Hill: Democrats re-propose legislation that would fine credit agencies for data breaches.


> Senate Republicans from agriculture-heavy states sounded the alarm about the impact of the president’s trade agenda during a lunch with Vice President Pence on Tuesday (The Hill).


> As Alexander Bolton reports, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIs this any way for NASA to build a lunar lander? In-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE (R-Ala.) said that he had a "candid" conversation with White House acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump's latest plan to undermine Social Security Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE before the meeting on disaster relief. There's frustration that this is dragging on, along with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and China talks, which are also hurting the Midwest. McConnell is eyeing an end-of-month deadline as disaster aid legislation hit new “obstacles” (The Hill).


> Republican senators met with Trump and White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump allies say A$AP Rocky was supposed to thank him but his team stopped 'returning our text messages': report President tweets 'few work harder' than Ivanka, Jared PETA billboard in Baltimore calls Kushner a 'rich pest' MORE on Tuesday about a West Wing plan to change legal immigration. Trump's plan would not reduce legal immigration levels, where roughly 1.1 million people receive legal status annually in the United States, and it would not address undocumented migrants. The new proposal would try to shift the federal government's preference for granting green cards from family-based immigration, often assailed by Trump as “chain migration,” to applicants with certain job skills (The Hill).


Meanwhile, in a victory for the administration that could wind up before the Supreme Court, a federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled the government can make asylum seekers wait in Mexico rather than in the United States while their immigration court hearings proceed (The Associated Press).


*** Spotted by The Hill’s Rafael Bernal on Tuesday at Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek's residence for the celebration of Poland’s Constitution Day and the centennial of Poland-U.S. diplomatic relations: Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces GOP senator: Gun control debate 'hasn't changed much at all' back home GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation MORE (R-Wis.), Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturHouse passes legislation aimed at stabilizing multiemployer pension plans Critics worry Trump turning blind eye to honeybee decline House panel advances billion energy bill, defying Trump MORE (D-Ohio) and former Rep. Martin Frost (D-N.J.)  ***





POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: There are 50 days until Democrats hold their first presidential primary debate and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has some tough decisions to make.


Democrats interviewed by The Hill say the DNC has been as transparent and inclusive in the process as can be expected, but the massive field of contenders vying for the 20 guaranteed spots on stage has the DNC in a tough spot, according to reporting by Jonathan Easley. Most of the 22 candidates running for the Democratic nomination appear to have hit the low polling and fundraising thresholds to qualify for the debate, although the DNC will not announce the line-up until two weeks before.


A couple of big-name candidates could still join the race, including New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (D) and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), so the DNC may be forced to resort to tiebreakers to keep the number on stage at 20.


The debates are viewed as the first make-or-break moment in the primary contest as candidates criss-cross the country in early primary states, key general election states and elsewhere to win support and gain momentum.


The New York Times: Joe BidenJoe BidenScaramucci attends charity event featuring Biden in the Hamptons Klobuchar knocks Trump: 'This negotiating by tweet hasn't been working' Rendell: Biden 'baked in' as Democratic nominee MORE, stressing Obama ties, has support from older black voters. Is it enough?


Peter Hamby: ‘This is do-or-die’: Joe Biden’s ‘electability’ argument is how Democrats lose elections.


The Hill: Timeline in Ukraine probe casts doubt on Rudy Giuliani’s Biden claim.


Politico: Trump campaign distances itself from David Bossie over alleged scam.


> Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy Sanders doubles down on 'Medicare For All' defense: 'We have not changed one word' Sanders, Warren back major shift to fight drug overdoses MORE (I-Vt.) is learning that he'll need to run a very different race than he did against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy The ideological divide on vaping has a clear winner: Smokers Biden struggles to hit it off with millennials MORE in 2016 to topple former Vice President Joe Biden and a horde of other Democratic heavyweights to win the Democratic nod next year.


As Amie Parnes reports, Sanders will likely face Biden, an establishment behemoth who served eight years as vice president to a popular president and decades in the Senate before that. However, while Sanders was able to run as the revolutionary challenger in 2016 against Clinton and a handful of minor candidates, he’s facing a multi-pronged challenge. While he’s forced to run against Biden, he is also facing headwinds from others who can compete with him for the liberal mantle.


This means the direct attacks that often worked well on Clinton might not have the same effect on Biden.


The Hill: After losing 2016 superdelegate fight, Sanders maintains well of superdelegate support.


> While Republicans in Alabama are bracing for a prolonged primary fight, Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) might have to also, as state Rep. John Rogers (D) announced a primary bid Tuesday. The bid comes after a private back-and-forth emerged in which Jones reportedly told Rogers he “agreed” with comments made by the state lawmaker, which made national headlines, despite having publicly denounced the remarks.


Jones’s seat is among the top pick-up opportunities for Republicans in 2020, with 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.) considered the front-runner for the GOP. Judge Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreGOP Senate candidate 'pissed off' at Trump over health care for veterans Durbin says he has second thoughts about asking for Franken's resignation Alabama GOP senate candidate says 'homosexual activities' have ruined TV, country's moral core MORE, who famously lost to Jones in 2017, is also considering a bid for the seat.


WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Trump’s foreign policy strategies and leadership abilities are under close scrutiny this week because of the teetering China trade talks, North Korea’s resumption of missile tests, and U.S. economic punishments applied to Iran and Venezuela (The Hill).


> Trump’s tax returns: The New York Times obtained tax information from Trump’s Form 1040 for the years 1985 to 1994 and disclosed on Tuesday that the former real estate and casino businessman reported losing more money year after year than nearly any other individual American taxpayer during the period. Losses reported over a decade: $1.17 billion.


The documents disclosed in the Times’ blockbuster article indicate Trump lost so much money during that decade that he avoided paying income tax for eight of the 10 years, although it was unclear whether the IRS asked the former businessman to make changes resulting from audits (The Hill).


Meanwhile, the New York legislature is advancing legislation that may result in public release of Trump’s state tax returns (The New York Times). Progressive advocacy groups are cheering on lawmakers in Albany to make that happen (The Hill). The Treasury Department this week denied the House Ways and Means Committee’s request for copies of the president’s federal tax filings.


> Trump and white nationalists: The president’s efforts since August 2017 to recast his much-criticized reactions to white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., referring to “very fine people on both sides,” sparked a fresh look by The Washington Post at Trump’s communications over time. (Biden recently described the events in Charlottesville as the moment he decided he would try to deny Trump a second term.)  


> State Department: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBill Maher says he's 'glad' David Koch is dead Trump spurs new wave of economic angst by escalating China fight Trump on North Korean projectile launches: Kim 'likes testing missiles' MORE made an unannounced stop in Baghdad on Tuesday after taking off from Finland, deciding to cancel plans to meet in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Because of mounting U.S. tensions with Iran, which is Iraq’s neighbor, the secretary said he wanted to stop in Iraq to speak with the leadership there, to assure them that we stood ready to continue to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation,” he told reporters traveling with him. Pompeo is expected to resume his scheduled itinerary today in London and stop in Greenland before the end of the week (The Washington Post).


At the start of the week while attending Arctic Council ministerial meetings in Finland, Pompeo also made some headlines after bypassing a joint statement about climate change because the United States objected to the wording. The Arctic is melting because of rapid changes to the Earth’s climate (The Associated Press).


> Agriculture Department: Six economists in the department’s Economic Research Service quit on one day in April in protest over what they saw as Trump administration displeasure with economic analyses that did not put the president’s policies in a favorable light (Politico).


> IRS: The IRS is reviewing concerns about its partnership with private tax-preparation companies because of allegations the companies steered customers away from free tax-filing services, such as Intuit and H&R Block. Members of Congress and state and local governments are investigating the complaints. Los Angeles filed a lawsuit on Monday (The Hill).


> Federal Trade Commission: The regulatory agency’s Facebook probe, following a string of scandals dealing with privacy and use of data, is nearing an end. Critics of the company want the agency to sternly punish Facebook, along with its top executives, including CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach Social media never intended to be in the news business — but just wait till AI takes over Facebook exploring deals with media outlets for news section: report MORE (The Hill).

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Strategic misalignment and the risks of war with Iran, by retired Lt. Col. James L. Cook of the U.S. Naval War College, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Barr and Mueller did their duty. Congress can’t shirk its own, by Douglas Kmiec, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Reps. Paul MitchellPaul MitchellIowa GOP chair calls Steve King's rape, incest comments 'outrageous' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Republicans offer support for Steve King challenger MORE (R-Mich.) and Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiCollege should profit students and taxpayers — even at for-profit schools Overnight Health Care: Oversight chair plans to call drug executives to testify on costs | Biden airs anti-'Medicare for All' video | House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted kids House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted children, teens MORE (D-Ill.) describing the House bipartisan College Transparency Act and Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHouse panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Pelosi, allies seek to keep gun debate focused on McConnell Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch MORE (D-Md.), setting the scene behind the House Judiciary Committee’s showdown with Barr.


The House convenes at 10 a.m.


The Senate meets at 9:30 a.m. and resumes consideration of Joseph F. Bianco to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing at 2:30 p.m. focused on immigration challenges at the U.S. southern border.


The president leads a Cabinet meeting at 11:30 a.m. and later flies to Florida to participate in a briefing at Tyndall Air Force Base and a tour of areas affected by Hurricane Michael. Trump will headline a reelection rally in Panama City Beach, Fla., at 7 p.m. and return to the White House after midnight.


Pence participates in the Cabinet meeting and later delivers the closing address to the Federalist Society’s Seventh Annual Executive Branch Review Conference at 4 p.m. at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.


Pompeo is in London today where he’ll meet with British Prime Minister Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayTrump promises 'very big trade deal' with Britain post-Brexit Here are the US allies that have been caught in Trump's crosshairs Five things to watch as Trump heads to G-7 summit MORE and hold a joint news conference in the afternoon with U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt after the two men confer during a working lunch.


Washington Post Live will interview Pelosi at 8 a.m. The discussion with national political reporter Robert Costa will be live streamed. Information is HERE.


Iran: The government in Iran today will announce it is partially withdrawing from the nuclear pact signed with world powers in 2015, marking one year to the day after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the deal. An Iranian newspaper associated with the Revolutionary Guard said Tehran may install advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility and begin enrichment at its Fordo facility, activities prohibited under the nuclear deal (The Associated Press).  


State watch: In Trump vs. California, the state is winning nearly all its environmental legal cases (Los Angeles Times). … State senators in Louisiana voted to advance legislation that would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could be as early as six weeks, before many women knows they’re pregnant. The bill moves to the state’s House of Representatives and has a trigger mechanism that would tie the implementation of any new law to whether a similar Mississippi statute clears court challenges (The Advocate). … Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Tuesday signed “fetal heartbeat” legislation to ban most abortions. Anti-abortion activists nationwide want restrictive laws in the states to move through lower courts to the Supreme Court, believing the conservative majority there could overturn Roe v. Wade (The Associated Press).


Sports & Religion: Enes Kanter, center for the Portland Trail Blazers, sought advice about how to effectively fast over the next month in observance of Ramadan while maintaining a high level of performance in the NBA playoffs. With his team in a barn-burner of a series against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter, a devout Muslim, reached out to NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who played some of his best basketball during Ramadan in the playoffs in the mid-1990s. Observers of Ramadan, which started Sunday, are to fast from sunrise to sunset each day, forcing Kanter to eat, drink and get medication around 4 a.m. and just prior to tip-off after the sun goes down (ESPN).





And finally … A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday said they’re determined to see Harriet Tubman’s image grace the $20 bill and are turning to legislation as a kind of pry bar to get the Treasury Department to speed things up.


Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Lewandowski says he's 'happy' to testify before House panel MORE (D-N.H.) and Reps. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsGOP Oversight report says Interior head met with group tied to former clients Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision Nikki Haley voices 'complete support' for Pence MORE (D-Md.) and John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoRepublicans should get behind the 28th Amendment Student loan borrowers are defaulting yearly — how can we fix it? Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (R-N.Y.) say they’re “very concerned that the administration is stalling this historic effort” and decided to introduce the Harriet Tubman Tribute Act of 2019, which would require the Tubman currency be printed and in circulation by December 2020.


Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinMnuchin: Trump's 'as determined as ever' on China trade fight Sunday shows preview: Trump ratchets up trade war with China The Hill's Morning Report: How will Trump be received at G-7? MORE hasn’t said a word publicly about the currency redesign for the last year. Trump weighed in ages ago, suggesting he frowned on jettisoning former President Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill (CNN).


Born into slavery, Tubman used a network of activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to help lead missions to rescue about 70 enslaved family and friends beginning in 1853. Lawmakers say they’re determined to see the former abolitionist honored as the first woman pictured on paper currency in more than a century.


Tubman was photographed by New York photographer H. Seymour Squyer around 1885.