What to Know in Washington: Democrats Seek Mueller as Last Shot

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Robert Mueller will appear grudgingly before House committees this month, but the former special prosecutor’s testimony is the best chance Democrats have to revive their stymied probes of President Donald Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) resistance to a politically risky impeachment inquiry leaves six committees pursuing Trump-related inquiries without a clear mission. And a White House order that current and former officials refuse to testify, or limit their testimony, has deprived Democrats of big-name witnesses.

It’s a predicament that has left lawmakers frustrated and has driven some to sarcasm. “As we speak, I have three people in the basement training on how to work the rack,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.). “And I’ve got another team that is expert, I am told, at pulling off fingernails.”

So House Democrats are banking on the made-for-TV spectacle of Mueller testifying on July 17 at a morning session of the Judiciary Committee and an afternoon meeting of the Intelligence Committee. Yet Mueller, who agreed to show up under subpoena, has made clear that he has no intention of going beyond the report he issued in April on his 22-month probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York said Mueller’s testimony could have “a profound impact,” simply if he gets the American public to focus on what he said in his 448-page report. Mueller said he couldn’t conclude whether Trump’s campaign conspired in Russia’s election meddling—and that he couldn’t exonerate Trump from attempting to obstruct his probe. Read more from Billy House.


Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Special counsel Robert Mueller (2nd L) leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 at the Capitol in Washington.

Democrats Reiterate Right for Trump Records: Lawmakers have the right to see Trump’s personal business records held by his accounting firm, attorneys for a Democrat-led House committee told a U.S. appeals court panel. “The Oversight Committee is investigating issues of national importance concerning ethics and conflicts of interest across the Executive Branch,” the committee’s lawyers said in a filing to the Washington-based appellate court yesterday. “Mr. Trump and his companies have continually engaged in stonewalling intended to obstruct and undermine these inquiries.”

The argument is intended to rebut Trump’s contention the committee isn’t entitled to the documents, dating back to 2011, because they’re not sought for a legitimate legislative purpose. A lower court judge rejected that argument in May, prompting the president’s private attorneys to appeal. A three-judge panel comprised of two Democratic presidential appointees, David Tatel and Patricia Millett, and one Trump-nominee, Neomi Rao, is scheduled take up the case on July 12. Read more from Andrew Harris.

Immigration and the Border

AOC Says Migrants Were Told to Drink From Toilet: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) accused U.S. border agents of conducting a program of “psychological warfare” against detained migrants who were told to drink water from toilets if they were thirsty. Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets came amid a report that border agents used a secret Facebook group to share lewd posts about Ocasio-Cortez and at least one other Democratic lawmaker as well as racist comments about migrants.

“Just left the 1st CBP facility. I see why CBP officers were being so physically & sexually threatening towards me. Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water & had told them to drink out of the toilets,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) also said on Twitter that migrants were told to drink from the toilet if they wanted water. Read more from Erik Wasson.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) in a press statement said agents involved should be fired. “It is also clear that DHS, CBP, and the Border Patrol have serious and systemic problems that must be addressed immediately,” he said, Michaela Ross reports.

  • Meanwhile, arrests of undocumented migrants by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ticked down 14% during the first two quarters of the government’s fiscal year compared to the same time last year, as officials were re-deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border to help manage the surge of migrants instead of focusing on the interior of the country, according to data released by the agency, Ross reports. Deportations stemming from apprehensions of migrants at the border, however, went up 10 percent over that time period compared to 2018, the release said.
  • Separately, Ross reports female migrants have been both questioned and arrested more frequently during the Trump administration than during the end of the Obama administration, according to a study by the American Immigration Council, a nonpartisan advocacy group, released yesterday of ICE data from fiscal year 2016 to 2018. The analysis also showed that U.S. citizens were about five times as likely to be questioned by ICE about their immigration status during Trump’s first year in office than during the end of Obama’s tenure.

Booker Says He Would Shut ‘Inhumane’ Migrant Detention Centers: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) vowed to used executive authority as president to end detention for asylum seekers, shut down “inhumane” holding facilities and de-emphasize prosecutions of those in the country illegally unless they pose a safety risk. The New Jersey senator and Democratic presidential hopeful said that if elected he’d reverse most of Trump’s border policies on his first day in office without waiting for Congress to take action.

“When kids are being stripped away from their parents and held in cages, I will not wait for Congress to solve this crisis,” Booker said in a statement outlining his immigration plan. “On day one of my presidency, I will take immediate steps to end this administration’s moral vandalism.” Read more from Emma Kinery.

Trump Re-Plans Immigration Raids: Trump said yesterday that immigration officials will start raids after July Fourth as part of a nationwide roundup of undocumented immigrants. Trump announced the timeline for the plan to reporters gathered in the Oval Office. He had postponed the action about two weeks ago to see if lawmakers from both parties could work out a solution to U.S. asylum policies. Before the postponement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had been poised to start attempting to round up about 2,000 people in 10 cities, including Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore, according to media reports. Shannon Pettypiece has more.

Also on Lawmakers’ Radar

Tax-Exempts’ Ties to Opioid Makers Scrutinized: Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote to several pain advocacy groups and medical associations questioning their ties to opioid manufacturers. Grassley and Wyden said in the letters that it is their responsibility to probe the extent to which pharmaceutical companies fund nonprofit organizations, and “how these payments may influence pain treatment practices and policy.” The letters, which the senators released July 1, come amid broader concerns stemming from the opioid crisis. Read more from Colleen Murphy.

Pai Asked of Industry Influence on FCC: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is raising concerns that a panel tasked with advising the Federal Communications Commission on communications network security issues is dominated by telecom industry officials. In a letter last week, Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) asked Chairman Ajit Pai to answer six questions about the extent to which the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council “may be corrupted by undue corporate influence.” Read more from Jon Reid.

Movers & Shakeups

Mulvaney May Have to Take Pay Cut: Trump’s acting chief of staff may have to take a significant pay cut if he gets the job permanently, according to White House salary disclosure records. Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, now makes $203,500 as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, though he no longer works in that position. The salaries were listed in the Annual Report to Congress on White House Personnel. By law, White House aides can make no more than $183,000. That’s the salary of Kellyanne Conway and Larry Kudlow. Read more from Gregory Korte.

GOP-Appointed Judges Join ACA Fight: Democrats fighting back against a lower court’s decision to kill Obamacare have pulled what appears to be a conservative panel to hear their appeal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit announced yesterday that Judges Carolyn King, Jennifer Elrod, and Kurt Engelhardt will decide whether to uphold the Affordable Care Act, a federal law that has provided millions of Americans health insurance.

King was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter (D), while Elrod and was tapped by President George W. Bush (R) and Engelhardt by Trump (R). A group of 17 Democratic states led by California and House Democrats intervened to fight for the law, which was ultimately ruled as unconstitutional by a federal district court judge in December. The Department of Justice has refused to defend the law. Lydia Wheeler breaks down the trio.

Trump Can Get Another 9th Circuit Seat: Trump is on track to get another appointment to the largest federal appeals court. Judge Jay Bybee of the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit plans to take senior status at the end of the year, the court confirmed yesterday. Senior status is a type of semi-retirement which allows judges to keep working but relinquish their active seats. Trump has appointed six judges to the appeals court and is looking to fill other openings. Read more from Joyce E. Cutler.

Trump Taps Walmart Official for Judge Post: Trump plans to nominate Lee Philip Rudofsky, a Walmart executive and former Kirkland & Ellis attorney, to a district judgeship in Arkansas, the White House announced. Rudofsky, a senior director for global anti-corruption compliance at the retail giant, is also a former Arkansas solicitor general and was a senior legal adviser for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. The White House also announced Trump plans to tap R. Austin Huffaker, Jr. to a district court seat in Alabama, Chris Marr reports.

Top Enforcement Official Leaving IRS: Kirsten Wielobob, IRS deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, will leave the agency later this summer, according to an internal email obtained by Bloomberg Tax. Wielobob joined the Internal Revenue Service in 1997 as an assistant to the commissioner. She has held several positions within the agency, including chief of the Office of Appeals. Wielobob began transitioning into her latest role in 2016, the email said. Read more from Allyson Versprille.

Elections & Politics

Biden Shrinks as Warren, Harris Rise: Former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination has shrunk by 10 percentage points in a CNN poll conducted since last week’s debates that showed Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) getting significant bumps in support. The poll of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents found Biden drew support from 22%, compared with 32% a month ago, while Harris and Warren, who both delivered strong performances in the debate, drew 17% and 15% respectively. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Silicon Valley Helps Democrats Play Digital Catch-up to Trump: Trump and the Republican Party won the White House in 2016 thanks in part to beating the Democrats where they had been dominant: harnessing the internet. Now, Democrats are trying to play catch up. Liberal-minded donors, technology executives and political consulting firms are investing in new digital tools to help Democratic candidates raise money, get their message out and mobilize voters. They’re taking a page from ActBlue, the fundraising platform that has raked in $3.5 billion for Democratic candidates since 2004 and on Monday said its single-biggest day in contributor numbers came on June 30.

Leading the way is Higher Ground Labs, a venture-capital firm that has invested $15 million in 36 start-ups that are developing a permanent digital infrastructure for Democratic campaigns up and down the ballot. Backed by Silicon Valley investors such as Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a big Democratic donor, and boasting an advisory board that includes entrepreneurs and former Obama administration officials, Higher Ground aims to help progressives win elections, according to its website, which also says the firm is “i n the business of saving democracy.” Read more from Bill Allison.

Women vs. Men in N.C. Race: Republican voters in eastern North Carolina are weighing which of two physicians should be the party’s nominee to fill a vacancy in Congress. The candidates have so much in common that gender may be a deciding factor. In Washington, Republican congressmen and congresswomen are taking opposite sides. Rep. Mark Meadows(R), who represents North Carolina’s 11th District. is backing the male candidate, Greg Murphy, a state representative and urologist. So is the House Freedom Caucus, a bloc of hardline small-government conservatives and libertarians. Meadows is the group’s chairman.

Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who ranks third in the party hierarchy, and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who’s leading the party’s effort to recruit and elect more Republican women to Congress, have donated to Murphy’s rival, Joan Perry, a pediatrician and first-time candidate for office. Read more from Greg Giroux.

BGOV Podcast—Lobbyists Gearing Up for 2020: Lobbyists have been just as busy as lawmakers halfway through 2019, as industries and interest groups mobilize around drug pricing, mergers, and other hot-button topics. Democratic proposals like “Medicare-for-All” have spurred industry groups to hire lobbyists to oppose or blunt those initiatives.

On this episode of “Suspending the Rules” from BGOV, lobbying reporter Megan Wilson breaks down the biggest stories in the industry, including the effects of candidates forgoing lobbyist donations and how some influence peddlers are finding new ways to sway the Trump administration. Listen and subscribe to Suspending the Rules from your phone: Via Apple Podcasts | Via Overcast | Via Stitcher | Via Spotify

Defense & Foreign Affairs

How Chipmakers Pressed Easing on Huawei: Trump’s decision to allow U.S. companies to continue selling to Huawei followed an extensive lobbying campaign by the U.S. semiconductor industry that argued the ban could hurt America’s economic and national security. In multiple high-level meetings and a letter to the Commerce Department, the companies argued for targeted action against Huawei Technologies instead of the blanket ban the White House had imposed in May. That includes identifying specific technologies that the Chinese company sh ouldn’t be given access to, while allowing U.S. firms to supply the rest. Read more from Jenny Leonard and Ian King.

U.S. Keeping Mideast Peace Plan Secret: The Trump administration hasn’t revealed the full details of its Middle East peace plan in order to prevent “spoilers” from undermining it, U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt said days after a U.S.-backed economic conference in Bahrain sought to rally support for American peace efforts. “We understand we’re protecting something extremely delicate,” Greenblatt said at the IDC Herzliya Conference in Israel. “If we start to reveal details of the plan, anyone, group or person who is against a parti cular part of the plan will start to undermine our efforts.” Glen Carey has more.

Trump Withdrawal From Tomato Deal: A host of Mexican agriculture groups are bringing their legal challenge to looming U.S. duties on that country’s tomatoes to a federal appeals court. The U.S. regularly imposes antidumping duties to stop foreign imports from being sold in the U.S. at less than fair value. The duties protect domestic producers of similar merchandise. But the U.S. can suspend an antidumping investigation if it reaches a deal with the foreign producers or exporters to eliminate the “injurious effect” of the imports. Read more from Brian Flood.

Intrater Sues Over Vekselberg Sanctions: A cousin of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and several American investors sued the U.S. Treasury Department, claiming its application of sanctions on Vekselberg is an illegal seizure of their assets. Andrew Intrater and U.S.-owned investment funds and management companies refer in the lawsuit to an Office of Foreign Assets Control rule that extends the sanctions beyond wholly owned assets to those in which Vekselberg or his company, Renova Group, owns at least 50%. They claim this illegally deprives his U.S. partners of their property. Read more from Bob Van Voris.

U.S. Proposes More Tariffs on EU Goods: The U.S. added more products from the European Union to a list of goods it could hit with retaliatory tariffs in a long-running trans-Atlantic subsidy dispute between Boeing and Airbus. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office yesterday published a list of $4 billion worth of EU goods the U.S. could hit with duties as retaliation for European aircraft subsides. The products range from cherries to meat and cheese, along with some types of whiskey and cast-iron. It adds to a list of EU products valu ed at $21 billion that the USTR published in April, according to the release. Read more from Sarah McGregor and Jenny Leonard.

What Else to Know

Sanders Health-Care Pitch Oversells Benefits of $10,000 Tax Hike: Senator Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.) says most people in America will have to pay more in taxes to pay for his Medicare-for-All plan. But he insists that’s a good deal—and will save people money overall by lowering health costs. For many Americans, though, that would not be true. Households that spend a lot on health care already would be most likely to see the benefit. But for many, higher taxes would exceed any savings.

Sanders, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, says the savings would come from eliminating insurance premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses, he said in an interview with National Public Radio on Monday. Under his plan, Sanders says Americans could erase $20,000 of annual private health care expenses for $10,000 in additional taxes. Yet the 181 million taxpayers with employer-sponsored coverage could miss out on the benefits of the Sanders plan, and even those receiving Medicaid could pay more, according to health-care policy experts on both sides of the political spectrum. Read more from Laura Davison.

Amazon Foes Seek to Help Antitrust Probe: A leading U.S. retail group, whose members include Walmart, is eager to aid antitrust enforcers that are poised to investigate whether Amazon and Google are harming competition. The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which also represents Target and Best Buy among others, said it’s prepared to present their concerns to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, which have carved up antitrust oversight of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies. Read more from Naomi Nix.

State Dept. to Share Fox News Emails: The State Department will hand over documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records detailing communications with Fox News and eight other media outlets. The department and plaintiff Democracy Forward Foundation reached agreements to narrow and prioritize the document request, which involves records with email domain names from Fox, as well as Breitbart, Sinclair, and NewsMax, they told the the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in a joint status report. Read more from Daniel Seiden.

Trump Signs IRS Administration Bill: Trump yesterday signed a bill to retool parts of the IRS while setting up the agency for more change in the future. The new law, which makes tweaks to the Internal Revenue Service that lawmakers have sought for years, represents a bipartisan achievement for the two tax-writing committees in Congress. The bill passed the House and the Senate by voice vote the week of June 10. Read more from Kaustuv Basu.

Trump Praises N.J. Democrats for Blocking Tax: Trump praised New Jersey’s lawmakers for blocking Governor Phil Murphy’s (D) proposed millionaire’s tax, saying it would have driven “large numbers of high-end taxpayers out of the state.” Murphy signed a $38.7 billion budget on Sunday, avoiding a government shutdown that could have cost him politically. Though the plan boosts funding for pensions, property-tax relief, public schools and New Jersey Transit. the governor lost his fight for a millionaire’s tax with the more-moderate Democrats who control New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly. Read more from Elise Young and Donald Moore.

Avenatti Won’t Cough Up iPhone: Michael Avenatti won’t give the U.S. Justice Department the passwords for his Apple desktop computer or for his iPhone, iPad and Apple laptop that have been seized as part of the prosecution of Stormy Daniels’ former attorney. Avenatti is no under obligation to provide the passwords, his lawyer said in a status report filed yesterday in federal court in Santa Ana, California. The desktop was seized from Avenatti’s residence by prosecutors with the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles who has accused him of bank fraud and embezzling millions of dollars from clients. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.

With assistance from Michaela Ross

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com

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