What to Know in Washington: Lewandowski Faces Off With Democrats

Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, will appear for what promises to be a contentious public hearing today as Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee grill him about obstruction of justice allegations.

Even before the hearing, White House lawyers sought to limit how far lawmakers can go in the four hours of questioning they plan, some of it centering on Trump’s alleged efforts to obstruct Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

The White House counsel’s office notified the committee late yesterday that Lewandowski is forbidden from discussing confidential conversations he had with Trump, aside from what was already made public in Mueller’s report. This restriction is unusual since Lewandowski never worked in the executive branch.

“This is a shocking and dangerous assertion of executive privilege and absolute immunity,” Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The President would have us believe that he can willfully engage in criminal activity and prevent witnesses from testifying before Congress — even if they did not actually work for him or his administration.”

For Lewandowski, who’s weighing a 2020 bid for a Senate seat from New Hampshire, today’s televised appearance under subpoena will be an opportunity to blast Democrats for conducting what Trump and his supporters call a “witch hunt” against the president.

The afternoon hearing will revisit themes that frustrated Democrats and infuriated Trump for much of his first term, especially Mueller’s investigation and the White House’s almost blanket refusal to cooperate with House committees. Democrats continue to say they are building a case for possibly impeaching Trump, even as next year’s presidential election approaches. Read more from Billy House.

Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Lewandowski at a rally with Trump in Michigan in 2018.

Happening on the Hill

Hong Kong Activist Wong Meets Lawmakers: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said sanctions would only complicate the city’s problems as prominent local activist Joshua Wong gets set to address U.S. lawmakers who are considering changes to special trade privileges for the financial hub. “I uphold this principle of accountability, but at the moment it is all for us to see that Hong Kong is undergoing a very difficult situation,” Lam said today at a regular media briefing before a meeting of the city’s Executive Council. “And sanctions or punishment are not going to help lift Hong Kong out of this very difficult situation.”

The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China will hold a hearing on Hong Kong today in Washington featuring testimony by Wong. Earlier this month, Lam pushed back against protester calls for the passage of U.S. legislation that would require annual assessments of whether the city was sufficiently autonomous from Beijing to continue its special trading status, and allow sanctions on Chinese officials. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is backed by some prominent American lawmakers, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying earlier this month that Congress would advance a bill supporting “democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the face of Beijing’s crackdown.” Revoking Hong Kong’s special trading status could devastate the city’s economy. Read more from Natalie Lung and Karen Leigh.

Senators Urge Briefing on Saudi Attacks: Senators have received intelligence materials relating to the attacks on Saudi oil installations and are awaiting a briefing, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters at the Capitol. Murphy said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should have a briefing on the intelligence. “This administration weaponizes intelligence in a way that I’ve never seen before. They go out and make these broad statements about what they think the intelligence says, the president sometimes drops photos into tweets, and then we don’t have briefings,” he said. Read more from Daniel Flatley and Steven T. Dennis.

Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader said the Islamic Republic won’t negotiate with the U.S. on any level neither in New York or anywhere else. “Sometimes they say negotiations without any precondition and sometimes with 12 conditions,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in comments published by semi-official ISNA news agency today. “Such statements either come from their disheveled policies or are a ploy to confuse the other side.” Read more from Arsalan Shahla.

Bashing Big Tech Isn’t Lee’s Priority: Reining in big tech is a rare bipartisan priority for Democratic presidential candidates, the Trump administration, and state attorneys general nationwide. That ardor isn’t necessarily shared by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), chairman of Senate Judiciary’s antitrust panel, who is comfortable—for now—to stand on the fringes of the debate as he focuses on a narrower priority. Lee prefers to talk about the inefficiency of having two federal agencies—the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission—enforcing competition law. Consolidating that responsibility in a single entity makes more sense, Lee argues. Read more from Victoria Graham.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission last week complained about the Department of Justice’s antitrust division’s behavior as the two agencies investigate whether big technology companies are engaging in anticompetitive behavior, The Wall Street Journal reported. One issue is over the authority to investigate Facebook. The letter raises concerns that the tension between agencies could hamstring current antitrust probes of tech companies, the Journal reports. Digital giants including Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are under scrutiny for how they govern their online platforms. The FTC is investigating Amazon and Facebook while the Justice Department is probing Google.

Subpoenas Dealt in Land Investigation: Senate Finance Committee leaders Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued subpoenas to six individuals seeking more information on tax-advantaged land deals known as syndicated conservation easements. The deals, which backers say are a legitimate way to protect land, involve multiple people claiming a charitable deduction for donations of property that will be protected from future development under tax code Section 170(h). But some lawmakers say the Treasury Department has lost billions of dollars due to these deals. Read more from Kaustuv Basu.

Elections & Politics

Trump Says He’ll Win New Mexico: Trump promised that he’ll win New Mexico in his 2020 re-election campaign, boasting at a campaign rally near Albuquerque yesterday that his policies had led to a boom for the state’s energy industry and generated a budget surplus. “We will win the great state of New Mexico in 2020,” Trump declared.

The state produced about 246 million barrels of oil in 2018, according to the Albuquerque Journal. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed a $7 billion budget earlier this year, according to the paper — the state’s largest ever, including about $1.4 billion that was directed to reserves. “Revenues from energy production provide up to 25% of your state’s budget, generated a billion-dollar budget surplus in New Mexico,” Trump said. “Thank you very much, President Trump, thank you.” Read more from Jordan Fabian and Justin Sink.

Warren Talks Plans, Not Costs: In a single speech in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park yesterday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pulled all of her sweeping policy proposals into a unified vision for fundamentally restructuring American life from cradle to grave. But with the exception of her plan for a 2% tax on assets above $50 million, the presidential candidate once again offered no details on how she would pay for her agenda, though her campaign later said that she has laid out a cost for each plan.

“I know what’s broken, I’ve got a plan to fix it and that’s why I’m running for president of the United States,” Warren said to a large crowd as she stood beneath the Washington Square Arch. “I’ve got a lot of plans, but they all come back to one simple idea: put economic and political power back in the hands of the people. We start by rooting out corruption in government. No more business-as-usual.” Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Colorado First to Ban Bar Codes from Ballots: Colorado, citing concerns about cybersecurity, will become the first state to ban bar codes for counting votes. Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) announced yesterday the state will no longer include QR codes on ballots. “With foreign countries actively trying to exploit voting vulnerabilities, this is a first-in-the nation added security measure,” Griswold said in a statement. Colorado will be the first state to require voting systems to tabulate all ballots using only human-verifiable information, instead of a machine-readable code, according to Griswold. Read more from Tripp Baltz.

Foreign Affairs

U.S., Japan Said Reached Initial Tariffs Deal: Trump said his administration has reached an initial trade accord with Japan over tariffs and that he intends to enter into the agreement in coming weeks. In a notice to Congress yesterday, Trump also said the U.S. will be entering an “executive agreement” with Japan over digital trade. There was no mention by Trump if he’ll end his threat to slap tariffs on Japanese auto imports as part of the trade deal. Read more from Sarah McGregor and Jenny Leonard.

China’s Trade Talk Deputies Head for U.S.: Chinese working-level trade officials are scheduled to travel to the U.S. this week to prepare for a meeting of top negotiators in October, the Ministry of Commerce said. Liao Min, deputy director of the Office of the Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs and vice finance minister, plans to lead a delegation to visit the United States on Wednesday for trade consultations, according to the statement today. Yesterday, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue said that there’s mu ch work to do to reach a comprehensive deal. Read more from Mark Niquette, Ben Brody and Miao Han.

Around the Administration

Trump Thinks He’s Spending Too Much Time on Ethanol: Global disputes over trade and nuclear weapons have consumed plenty of Trump’s time and attention — but a narrow, domestic clash over U.S. biofuel policy may be giving those issues competition. Trump has held more than a half dozen meetings and helped broker at least three near-deals on U.S. ethanol and biodiesel mandates since he moved into the White House. Despite the intense Oval Office negotiations, a lasting compromise between warring oil and biofuel interests has eluded the commander-in-chief. And now his patience may be wearing thin. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Jennifer Jacobs and Josh Wingrove.

Return to Federal Waters Rule Raises Concern: The Trump administration’s timing on a landmark water pollution measure may displease both liberals and conservatives by temporarily reinstating older, obsolete water regulations. This displeasure stems from the administration’s decision to repeal an earlier Obama-era water provision called WOTUS, or Waters of the United States, without having anything immediately on tap to replace it.

The administration is working on a replacement for the policy, which determines the bodies of water that qualify for federal anti-pollution protections. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that won’t be in place until sometime early next year. Until then, the law will revert to what it was before the 2015 WOTUS rule went into effect. Read more from David Schultz.

Wall Street Set for Reprieve From Regulators: Wall Street could soon get one of its most consequential wins of the Trump era as regulators are considering ripping up a rule that’s forced banks to set aside billions of dollars for swaps trades, people familiar with the matter said. At issue is a requirement approved during the Obama administration that’s made lenders post tens of billions in margin when engaging in derivatives transactions with their own affiliates.

Industry lobbyists have long argued the demand, which came out of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, is redundant and puts U.S. banks at a disadvantage to overseas rivals. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will hold a public meeting today to propose eliminating the margin requirement, said two people briefed on the plan. Read more from Jesse Hamilton.

Acting OSHA Construction Head Made Official: Scott Ketcham is officially the top administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s office of construction after serving for several months as acting head of the office, the Department of Labor announced yesterday. Ketcham succeeds Director Dean McKenzie, who died in November 2018. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.

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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