What to Know in Washington: Breaking Down the Mueller Report

President Donald Trump is at his Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida today as Washington continues to digest Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report released yesterday.

The 448-page report has at least 10 instances where President Donald Trump tried to impede the special counsel’s investigation — yet Mueller stopped short of concluding whether the president obstructed justice.

So Attorney General William Barr sought to make the decision for him: no obstruction, no crime. But that isn’t what Mueller intended at all.
Throughout his report, Mueller signals clearly that he thinks Congress should settle that question, not the attorney general. By spending months investigating incidents of obstruction despite concluding he couldn’t indict a sitting president, Mueller gave lawmakers a starting point.

And he made sure not to get in their way. At one point, Mueller said he wanted to be certain he didn’t take actions that would “preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct” — a hint that came complete with a footnote referring to impeachment. Read more from Chris Strohm.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Robert Mueller

Democrats Don’t Foresee Impeachment: While Mueller left it to Congress to figure out what to do with his evidence that Trump may have obstructed justice, Democratic leaders are putting the brakes on politically charged actions that could lead to an impeachment spectacle, Billy House reports.

“Too early,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose panel would conduct an impeachment probe.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) agreed. “The evidence would have to be quite overwhelming” to gain bipartisan support for a conviction, he told CNN. While the House can impeach a president with a simple majority, conviction requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate. “I continue to think that a failed impeachment is not in the national interest.”

McGahn Becomes Key Obstruction Witness: Trump’s former top White House lawyer, Don McGahn, emerged as a key witness in Mueller’s investigation, laying out in detail a road map of Trump’s failed effort to halt the probe. McGahn, who talked to investigators for some two dozen hours and appears over 500 times in the report, described Trump’s actions and thinking around efforts to fire Mueller and pressure former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to intervene in the probe, as well as ousting James Comey and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Shannon Pettypiece reports.

Former White House lawyer Ty Cobb praised Mueller for a “thorough and professional job” in his investigation, but said he disagrees with the decision not to clear Trump of obstruction. Cobb said the special counsel and his team took an overly broad view of obstruction, Pettypiece reports.

Less-Redacted Report Coming Next Week: Nadler and his Senate counterpart Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), along with other legislative leaders, can read a less-redacted version of the report in a secure room of the Justice Department next week, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter yesterday. Note-taking is allowed, but notes must remain in the security facility, Boyd said, John Hughes reports.

Requests for Clinton Emails Led to Dark Web: Trump repeatedly requested his presidential campaign to find Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails, setting in motion a frenzied search that was detailed in Mueller’s report. The effort led to discussions about working with foreign intelligence agencies, hackers and the dark web, according to the report. Michael Flynn, a top campaign aide who later became the president’s national security adviser, led an effort to get the emails, at Trump’s request, the report said. Read more from Erik Larson.

Mueller Weighed Charging Trump Jr.: Mueller said he considered charging Trump’s eldest son and other participants in the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with campaign-finance violations but chose not to because of the high bar to prove that they intended to break the law. The decision not to charge Donald Trump Jr. or anyone else at the meeting, including Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, was based partly on the lack of evidence about their state of mind when they met a Kremlin-linked lawyer who promised dirt against Hillary Clinton, Mueller said. Erik Larson has more.

Meanwhile, a friend of Kushner’s developed a “reconciliation plan” for the U.S. and Russia with a deputy of Vladimir Putin and gave it to Trump’s son-in-law, who then circulated it to other top Trump officials. Kushner obtained a copy of the proposal after the election and gave it to Trump’s then-chief strategist Stephen Bannon and incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the report said. Read more from Alex Wayne and Caleb Melby.

Sanders Said Her Comey Falsehood Was a ‘Slip’: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told investigators it was a “slip of the tongue” in falsely claiming in 2017 that countless members of the FBI had lost confidence in James Comey, according to Mueller’s report. Sanders made the remarks one day after Trump fired Comey as FBI chief. In a separate press interview, she made similar comments, later claiming they were made “in the heat of the moment” and not founded on anything, Mueller’s report said. Joshua Gallu and Laura Curtis have more.

On the Congressional Radar

McConnell Urges Raising Tobacco Legal Age to 21: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he wants Congress to raise the minimum age for tobacco products, including vaping devices, to 21 from 18 nationwide, seeking to curb teenage use that the U.S. surgeon general has described as an “epidemic.” Speaking at an event yesterday in his home state of Kentucky, the second biggest tobacco producer after North Carolina, McConnell said he plans to introduce a bill in May and expects it’ll get bipartisan support in the Senate.

McConnell said he’s motivated partly by a growing popularity of vaping products among young people, which studies have shown can affect brain development and yield higher rates of addiction to other drugs. “This will cover all tobacco products including vaping devices,” McConnell said at a news event sponsored by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. He added that the legislation would require retailers, like under the current system, to verify a tobacco purchaser is old enough to buy the product. Read more from Laura Litvan and Anna Edney.

Pushing for Info About Veteran Suicides: Rep. Max Rose (D-Calif.), a freshmen on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced a bill yesterday in response to recent veterans’ suicides at Veterans Affairs Department facilities. The legislation would require VA to turn over information to Congress about the suicide or attempted suicide and the name of the facility and location where the incident occurred in addition to details about veterans’ most recent encounters with the department, according to a release.

“It’s imperative that we receive not only basic information from the VA, but substantive data on this rising trend of veterans committing suicide at VA facilities,” Rose said. The legislation is supported by House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.). The panel is expected to hold a hearing on veterans suicide in the coming weeks, Megan Howard reports.

Seeking Scope of Inequalities in Disaster Relief: House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday asked the Government Accountability Office to look into how natural disaster may exasperate racial and socioeconomic inequalities in communities they hit, according to a press release. The Democrats also asked about the impact of disasters on American Indian tribes, who aren’t eligible for some forms of federal aid, Michaela Ross reports.

In a letter, the two lawmakers pointed to studies suggesting disaster relief may disproportionately benefit wealthier communities, such as white and suburban neighborhoods where higher home ownership, higher income for eligibility for disaster tax breaks, and better access to computers allow individuals easier access to federal aid.

Marijuana Legislation: Now legal for recreational use in 10 states and Washington, D.C., more Americans are smoking pot than ever, even though it’s still a federally outlawed drug. The federal ban is creating banking and tax challenges for pot companies that operate in accordance with their states’ laws. Members of Congress have introduced numerous bills to take marijuana off the list of federally controlled substances and address some of the other opportunities and challenges it poses. Sarah Babbage, Michael Smallberg and Adam M. Taylor are out with a BGOV OnPoint looking at the latest developments.

One former member who’s benefiting from the change in marijuana policy is former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). He’s poised to collect $1.59 million in cash once shareholders approve Canopy Growth’s acquisition of Acreage Holdings, regulatory filings show. If his former colleagues in Congress help make marijuana federally legal, he’d be eligible to receive Canopy shares worth about $16 million as of Thursday’s market close in exchange for his stake in Acreage. Read more from Anders Melin and Brandon Kochkodin.

What Else to Know Today

Putin to Meet Kim in April: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will travel to Russia for his first meeting with President Vladimir Putin later this month, the Kremlin said yesterday. Confirmation of the visit follows speculation that Kim would soon reach out to a long-time ally after failing to get sanctions relief during his last nuclear talks with Trump in February. The Kremlin statement gave no date or location for the meeting, though there have been reports it could take place next week as Putin travels to China, Youkyung Lee and Stepan Kravchenko report.

Recent North Korea Test Was for Ground Combat Weapon: A weapon tested by North Korea is thought to have been a guided weapon for ground combat and not a ballistic missile, South Korea’s military said, indicating it was a conventional weapon and not one subject to international sanctions, Jihye Lee reports. South Korea and the U.S. ran a joint assessment of the test, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday without offering further details about the weapon. The Pentagon said the test didn’t involve a ballistic missile and posed no threat to the U.S. or its allies in the Pacific.

A U.S. official directly familiar with the assessment told CNN that North Korea tested components for an anti-tank weapon, rather than a fully operational new weapon. The official added that data the U.S. has been able to review indicated the components were inconsequential to any advanced North Korean military capability. North Korean state media announced the test of what it called a “new-type tactical guided weapon” on Thursday, hours before a separate state media report in which a foreign ministry official demanded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from direct nuclear negotiations for what the official called his “reckless remarks.”

Report Says New NAFTA Would Hit Auto Sector: An independent government report on Trump’s new North American trade deal estimates it will lead to higher car prices for U.S. consumers and a decline in auto sales even as it has a modest positive impact on the broader economy. In its assessment of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the International Trade Commission on Thursday found it would have a modest beneficial impact on the American economy, adding 0.35 percent, or $68 billion, to U.S. gross domestic product in the sixth year after it took effect. The report said tough new auto production rules would add 28,000 jobs in the auto sector but would actually lead to a fall in vehicle assembly jobs due to higher production costs that would be a drag on U.S. manufacturing more broadly. Read more from Shawn Donnan, Jenny Leonard and Craig Trudell.

The Trump administration on Thursday sought to get ahead of the ITC report by publishing its own study of the benefits of changes to auto production rules in the new pact, Donnan and Leonard report. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released its own analysis in which it said that the USMCA would lead to $34 billion in new automotive investment in the U.S. and 76,000 new jobs in the sector in the first five years. Included in that figure were $15.3 billion in new investments in the U.S. announced already by automakers including General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Number of Uninsured Americans Jumps 1.4 Million: Over 1 million Americans lost health insurance between the end of the Obama administration and end of the second year of the Trump administration, according to new information from the Congressional Budget Office. The number of uninsured Americans under age 65 climbed from 27.5 million in 2016 to 28.9 million in 2018, the CBO said. The rise came as Republicans in Congress and the White House made changes to the Affordable Care Act in the first two years of the Trump administration. Read more from Shira Stein.

Trump Loses Bid to Block California Sanctuary Laws: A federal appeals court dismissed the Trump administration’s request to block California from enforcing some sanctuary laws aimed at protecting the state’s undocumented immigrant populations. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court in a ruling yesterday agreed with a lower court’s decision to dismiss a Justice Department complaint saying California is circumventing federal authority by imposing its own rules for cooperation with U.S. immigration agents. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra.

Biden Meets With Strikers: Former Vice President Joe Biden told hundreds of striking Stop & Shop union members and supporters in Boston yesterday that without good health care and wages “you cannot live a middle-class life,” Adrianne Appel reports.
More than 30,000 Stop & Shop employees are headed into their second week on the picket line, buoyed by national attention and the visit from Biden, a potential 2020 contender. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has jumped in the race, brought doughnuts and coffee to picketers last week. Read more from Josh Eidelson and Craig Giammona about the strike and other 2020 candidates who’ve weighed in.

Cain Denies Affairs as Accuser Re-Emerges: Herman Cain, who Trump wants to put on the Federal Reserve Board, repeated a 2011 denial of an extramarital affair and said he wouldn’t withdraw from consideration for the post after his accuser again came forward. “This is recycled defamation that was nearly eight years ago. And if they want to go down that road, go ahead,” he told Fox News. The former pizza company executive said “I did know her—I don’t deny that. I deny an affair.”

Cain spoke after his accuser, Ginger White, said she was willing to show under oath that the affair took place by identifying certain — normally hidden — parts of his body. Read more from Terrence Dopp and Alyza Sebenius.

Amazon, Walmart Launch Online Food Aid Purchases: Food aid recipients in New York will be the first to be able to purchase groceries online through a new two-year pilot program, the Agriculture Department announced yesterday. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will permit recipients in New York state to order and pay for groceries online with state-issued electronic benefit transfer cards. “We look forward to monitoring how these pilots increase food access and customer service to those we serve,” said Secretary Sonny Perdue in a press release. Read more from Teaganne Finn.

Boeing Nears Last Step for 737 Update: Boeing is near a significant milestone that’s one of the last steps before it submits to U.S. regulators a patch for anti-stall software linked to two fatal 737 Max crashes. The company has completed its engineering trial of the updated software, and its technical and engineering leaders were on board the final test earlier this week, CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a video message yesterday. Up next is the certification flight, he said, as the company prepares to hand over the final paperwork to the Federal Aviation Administration. Read more from Julie Johnsson.

IRS Modernization Plan Requires Funding Boost: The Internal Revenue Service released a plan that lays out a sweeping strategy to improve services for taxpayers and “deliver long-term budget and personnel efficiencies,” the agency said. The plan would be implemented in two three-year phases over the course of six years and cost between $2.3 billion and $2.7 billion through fiscal year 2024. Allyson Versprille and Robert Lee report that it will work only with substantially more funding from Congress. “The IRS, with a great workforce, has continued each year to make some progress on modernization, even in the face of limited and declining budgets,” said former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who led the agency from December 2013 to November 2017.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

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

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