What to Know in Washington: Barr on Hill Amid Mueller Dispute

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Attorney General William Barr will face new scrutiny from lawmakers today after a revelation surfaced that he misrepresented Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings about whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice.

Mueller contacted Barr to express his displeasure after Barr issued a four-page letter in March characterizing the main findings of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Justice Department confirmed late yesterday, less than a day before the attorney general’s scheduled appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The summary letter the department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote, according to The Washington Post, which reported earlier yesterday on the disagreement between the two men.

Mueller wrote that Barr’s letter created “public confusion” about important parts of the results of the special counsel’s 22-month probe. “This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the special counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations,” Mueller wrote, according to the Post.

In a statement prepared for today’s hearing, Barr recounts and defends his process for handling Mueller’s report without mentioning the disagreement with the special counsel.

The attorney general also indicated that he and other department officials would stop publicly discussing the report because it “is a matter for the American people and the political process,” according to the statement, which was released by the Justice Department last night.

The disagreement ratchets up tensions over the handling of Mueller’s final report, as the attorney general prepares to testify for the first time about the Russian investigation before the Judiciary Committee today. Read more from Chris Strohm.

Photographer: Erik Lesser/Pool via Bloomberg
Attorney General William Barr

Happening on the Hill

Democrats’ Climate Fight: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is trying to head off her party’s restive progressive caucus by invoking the legacy of President Barack Obama to build support for a climate change bill that falls well short of the ambitions of the Green New Deal championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Pelosi is planning a vote by the House this week on a bill that would prohibit Trump’s administration from going through with plans to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

Liberal Democrats are leaving little doubt that the legislation won’t be enough. “The idea that we can just reintroduce 2009 policies is not reflective of action that is necessary for now in the world of today,” said Ocasio-Cortez. She said “there is no harm in passing” the Paris bill, but she still backs the bolder action called for in her Green New Deal, which conservatives have derided as a socialist manifesto. Read more from Ari Natter.

Gas Tax  Debate: Democrats and Republicans are quick to talk up a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Yet neither party wants to take the political risk of paying for it when all options are toxic — including the obvious choice of raising the national gas tax. Increasing the gas tax is so politically fraught that it hasn’t been touched in 26 years and it didn’t even come up at a meeting at the White House yesterday between Trump, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to discuss an infrastructure plan. While they agreed broadly on the need to upgrade roads, bridges and airports, they put off for three weeks the tougher conversation about coming up with ways to fund an estimated $2 trillion in public works. Read more from Laura Davison and Mark Niquette.

  • Meanwhile, Republicans, who were left out of the meeting, have a message for any potential deal: Not so fast. The “devil is in the details” and currently there aren’t any, John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said. Barrasso’s panel is responsible for writing a new surface transportation authorization measure before current law expires Sept. 30, 2020. Read more from Shaun Courtney.

Census Citizenship Query Among Appropriators’ Worries: Lawmakers worry the Census Bureau won’t know how its proposed citizenship question will affect response rates until it’s too late, and that the bureau might not be requesting enough money ahead of its 2020 survey. The bureau will run a survey this year among 480,000 households, and half the forms will include a question about if respondents are U.S. citizens, Director Steven Dillingham told lawmakers at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

The results will be available in October, he said. But Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee Chairman Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) said he thinks that the results will come in too late to make necessary changes. Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick.

Dairy Farmers Hinge on USMCA Approval: If Congress doesn’t pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, dairy farmers are at risk of losing major markets, industry groups told House lawmakers yesterday. “Signing of that agreement is good for the industry, not having it is very bad,” Andrei Mikhalevsky, president and CEO of California Dairies, Inc. told the House Agriculture subcommittee on livestock and foreign agriculture. If Congress doesn’t approve the trade deal “it would be disastrous,” said Mikhalevsky.

“We’ve heard time and again that the U.S. dairy industry stands to benefit from the renegotiated trade deal,” subcommittee ranking member David Rouzer (R-N.C.) said in a statement, Teaganne Finn reports.

    • Earlier yesterday, Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters it is “very important” for Congress to act on USMCA by fall. This week, Mexico’s Senate approved a revamp to the country’s labor code, a move that House Democrats had set as a pre-condition for debating a successor to the NAFTA trade deal.

Trump’s Nominations Push

Trump Poised to Hit 100th Judge Appointment: Five more of Trump’s federal district court nominees are likely to be confirmed this week, putting him over the century mark for judicial appointments. If all clear the Senate, Trump will have appointed 102 judges to the federal bench, including Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

More could soon follow, as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for three more district court nominees yesterday, all of whom are supported by their home state senators. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

Moore’s Odds for Fed Seat Sink: Stephen Moore’s chances for winning a seat on the Federal Reserve Board looked increasingly uncertain yesterday after Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she’d vote against him and several other GOP senators expressed doubts about Trump’s choice to serve on the central bank.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a key ally of Trump, told reporters that Moore would be a “very problematic nomination,” though he hasn’t made up his mind. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) also voiced concerns about Moore, a Heritage Foundation fellow and a former Trump campaign adviser. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Federal Pension Pick Clears Senate: Incoming Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Director Gordon Hartogensis yesterday finally got the job Trump offered him last spring. Senate lawmakers approved the nascent government official’s five-year term, 72-27. Several Democratic senators voted against his appointment.Among them are those with oversight authority of the federal pension insurer on the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees. Read more from Warren Rojas.

Probes Around the President

Definition of Emoluments Rejected by Judge: Trump’s narrow definition of an “emolument” failed to win him an escape from a suit by hundreds of Democrats in Congress who say he’s violating the Constitution in doing business with other governments. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan yesterday denied a U.S. Justice Department request to dismiss the suit, filed in 2017 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and other members of the House and Senate who claim Trump is violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

The judge’s ruling would allow the Democrats to start seeking financial records from the Trump Organization in a pre-trial exchange of information. The Justice Department can attempt to block that by appealing the ruling. Trump is already fighting congressional subpoenas for his tax records in court and has vowed to fight “all subpoenas.” Read more from Erik Larson.

Cummings Threatens Jail for Trump Aides: Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said he’s exploring the use of the House’s power to fine or jail witnesses who refuse to cooperate with investigations of the Trump administration. “There is no tool in our toolbox that we should not explore,’’ because of Trump’s refusal to cooperate with his committee’s probes, he told reporters. Read more from James Rowley.

Stalling Deutsche Bank Subpoena: Trump doesn’t have a slam-dunk legal case for keeping his banking records away from congressional investigators, legal experts say. Still, his latest lawsuit could help him politically: It could stall the production of potentially damaging documents, perhaps even until after the 2020 reelection bid. It could also force lawmakers to narrow the broad scope of their record request. Read more from Erik Larson.

Elections and Politics

North Carolina Primary Run-off: North Carolina state Rep. Greg Murphy, a urologist from the Greenville area, and Joan Perry, a pediatrician, advanced yesterday to a Republican runoff to fill the seat of former Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who died in February, the Associated Press reports. Murphy and Perry both failed to reach the 30 percent required to avoid runoff in a Republican field of 17 candidates. The runoff will be held July 9. The winner will face Democrat Allen Thomas in a Sept. 10 general election.

AOC Says O’Rourke Climate Plan Not Strong Enough: A climate plan issued Monday by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke isn’t aggressive enough, and its goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is “too late,” Green New Deal author Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said. “We need to have plans that are as aggressive as possible,” she said. “Obviously, I’ve chosen a more aggressive route to address the issue.” Read more from Ari Natter.

Buttigieg Earned $153,000 Last Year, Taxes Show: Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and his husband earned $152,643 last year, according to income tax returns released yesterday by the South Bend, Indiana, mayor. Buttigieg released 10 years of returns, which has become standard for many candidates for the Democratic nomination. Read more from Laura Davison.

Trump Voter Fraud Panel: The Trump administration is being ordered to widen its search for records and cough up emails about the work of two Justice Department officials who worked with the president’s disbanded commission on election fraud. Watchdog groups demanded the records as part of their effort to show that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was less about voter fraud and more about voter suppression. Read more from Robert Burnson.

What Else to Know

Trump’s Bet on Guaido Is Tested: Trump swiftly ratcheted up pressure on Nicolas Maduro yesterday, threatening an embargo against the Venezuelan president’s allies in Cuba while Secretary of State Michael Pompeo claimed the embattled leader had planned to flee the country. The latest broadsides from the White House came after U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido attempted to end Maduro’s regime, calling on the military to join a popular uprising. The American moves underscored that the push, described by Guaido as the final chapter in his months-long effort to bring about a new government, represented a high-stakes test of Trump’s intervention in the battle for control of the oil-rich country.

Trump has bet heavily on Guaido, shrugging off his isolationist inclinations to rally allies in support of the opposition leader as the country’s lawful head of state. But the ambiguous outcome of Tuesday’s clashes, which ended with Maduro still in Caracas and a Guaido ally seeking asylum in the Chilean ambassador’s residence, threatened to deal a setback not only to the Venezuela opposition but also the credibility of the American campaign. Read more from Justin Sink and Glen Carey.

Labeling Muslim Brotherhood as Terrorists: The White House is preparing to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, a move that would levy economic and travel sanctions against the group. Trump “has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an emailed statement.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi requested the U.S. make the designation during a meeting with Trump earlier this month, The New York Times reported. The Muslim Brotherhood won elections in Egypt after the Arab Spring uprising, but was ousted in 2013. Under Sisi, Egyptian forces killed hundreds of backers of the Brotherhood and detained thousands more. Read more from Justin Sink.

Freeze on Korean Peninsula Bomber Exercises: The U.S. military will continue to suspend the use of strategic bombers in military exercises over the Korean peninsula as nuclear negotiations with North Korea continue, the general in charge of air power for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said yesterday. Gen. Charles Brown, the Pacific Air Forces commander, said bomber exercises were stopped before he took over in July and remain on hold to support diplomatic efforts, but could be restarted quickly. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

Afghan Forces Unable to Dislodge Taliban: Afghanistan’s government is making no headway in rolling back territory controlled by the Taliban, a Pentagon watchdog found, even as the Trump administration tries to negotiate a peace agreement that would let the U.S. withdraw troops after 18 years of war. Afghan army casualty rates, an erosion of force levels and increased civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. and Afghan forces are all preventing President Ashraf Ghani’s government from breaking a stalemate with the Taliban. Both sides have incurred “more casualties as they seek greater leverage at the negotiating table,” according to the latest assessment by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Read more from Glen Carey.

Mnuchin Calls China Talks Productive: The latest round of U.S.-China talks wrapped up in Beijing today, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calling the meetings “productive” in a tweet. Negotiations will continue in Washington D.C. next week, Mnuchin said in his tweet after today’s round concluded slightly later than scheduled. He took part in a photo session with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and China’s Vice Premier Liu He, and the delegations exchanged pleasantries. Read more.

Trump Urges Steep Fed Rate Cut: Trump sought to pressure the Federal Reserve into drastic moves to boost an already-healthy U.S. economy, calling for a steep interest-rate cut and the resumption of bond purchases as the central bank met to weigh monetary policy. In a pair of tweets yesterday, Trump criticized the Fed for having “incessantly lifted interest rates” amid “wonderfully low inflation” in the U.S. He also praised China for adding “great stimulus” to its economy and keeping borrowing costs low. He said the U.S. econo my could soar “like a rocket” if the central bank would cut rates by a full point — double the reduction that his economic adviser Larry Kudlow has urged. Read more from Joshua Gallu and Alister Bull.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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