Washington Brief: Bannon Met With Mueller Several Times Over the Past Week

Top Stories

  • Steve Bannon met with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team for some 20 hours over several days this week, according to unnamed sources familiar with the proceedings. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist also met with members of the House Intelligence Committee but left after four hours, answering little more than the two dozen questions that the White House had negotiated with the House’s lead counsel. (NBC News)
  • Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with Mueller’s office, according to unnamed sources, a sign that he’s poised to cooperate with the investigation. Once a plea deal is in place, he would be the third known cooperator with Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, increasing the pressure on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Gates’ co-defendant, to cooperate. (CNN)
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Congress should remove restrictions that forbid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying the links between mental health and gun violence. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Congress should hold hearings following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead. (USA Today)
  • Rep. Kevin Cramer will announce today he is planning to seek the Republican nomination for Senate in North Dakota. Cramer had initially passed on the race, which would pit him against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election in November. (The Associated Press)

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Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Rep. Schiff participates in Council on Foreign Relations event on the Russia probe and national security 8:30 a.m.


Steve Bannon met with Mueller multiple times over the past week
Hallie Jackson, NBC News

Steve Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News has learned from two sources familiar with the proceedings. Bannon spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with the team led by Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as other issues that have arisen around the probe.

Exclusive: A top Trump campaign adviser close to plea deal with Mueller
Katelyn Polantz and Sara Murray, CNN  

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, indicating he’s poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. Gates has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month.

Intrigue at V.A. as Secretary Says He Is Being Forced Out
Dave Phillips and Nicholas Fandos, The New York Times

The secretary of veterans affairs, David J. Shulkin, for a year enjoyed rare bipartisan support in Washington as he reformed his department, but now officials in the Trump administration are trying to replace him. An email sent in December by Jake Leinenkugel, the White House senior adviser on veterans affairs, expressed frustration with Dr. Shulkin and listed ways to topple the leadership of his department once key legislation was passed.

Public confrontations prompted Pruitt to switch to first-class travel, EPA says
Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, The Washington Post

Verbal confrontations with members of the public prompted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to switch to flying first or business class whenever possible, officials said Thursday. Henry Barnet, who directs EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training, said in an interview that the head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale Perrotta, recommended in May that he fly in either first or business class to provide “a buffer” between him and the public.

Did FBI miss a warning before Florida high school shooting?
Michael Balsamo and Sadie Gurman, The Associated Press

The massacre at a Florida high school is again raising concerns about whether the FBI missed signs that might have stopped a mass shooting. Last fall, a Mississippi bail bondsman and video blogger noticed a comment on one of his YouTube videos that said, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”


White House blames Russia for ‘reckless’ NotPetya cyber attack
Dustin Volz and Sarah Young, Reuters

The White House on Thursday blamed Russia for the devastating ‘NotPetya’ cyber attack last year, joining the British government in condemning Moscow for unleashing a virus that crippled parts of Ukraine’s infrastructure and damaged computers in countries across the globe. The attack launched in June 2017 by the Russian military “spread worldwide, causing billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia and the Americas,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

In Pursuit of Peace, Trump Generates Rare Friction With Netanyahu
Mark Landler, The New York Times

Even before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal setback this week, a rare fissure had opened up between him and President Trump. The White House rebutted reports that he and the Americans had discussed annexing parts of the West Bank, and Mr. Trump voiced fresh concerns about Israel’s openness to a peace accord.

Budget undercuts Trump focus on mental health, school safety
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Maria Danilova, The Associated Press

President Donald Trump is calling for a focus on mental health and school safety in response to shootings like the one that took 17 lives in Florida, but his budget would cut funding in both areas. Trump’s latest budget would slash the major source of public funds for mental health treatment, the Medicaid program serving more than 70 million low-income and disabled people.

Trump’s Inaugural Committee Paid $26 Million to Firm of First Lady’s Adviser
Maggie Haberman and Kenneth P. Vogel, The New York Times

President Trump’s inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by an adviser to the first lady, Melania Trump, while donating $5 million — less than expected — to charity, according to tax filings released on Thursday. The nonprofit group that oversaw Mr. Trump’s inauguration and surrounding events in January 2017, the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, had been under pressure from liberal government watchdog groups to reveal how it spent the record $107 million it had raised from wealthy donors and corporations.

Vice President Mike Pence to visit Texas for border tour, fundraising
Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Texas this weekend to tour the state’s border with Mexico and raise money for fellow Republicans. Pence is set to arrive Friday morning in San Antonio, where he will first attend a fundraiser for Trump Victory, a group that benefit President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.


On second thought, Cramer’s in North Dakota Senate race
James MacPherson and Thomas Beaumont, The Associated Press

Rep. Kevin Cramer will announce Friday he is entering North Dakota’s Senate race, a move that would give Republicans the candidate they hoped would take on Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. A person close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who spoke with Cramer said the congressman will announce his entry at a rally at a Bismarck hotel.

GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures
Alexander Bolton, The Hill

Republicans are looking for a Plan B on immigration after a series of proposals were rejected Thursday in the Senate, leaving little time to act before nearly 1 million immigrants who came to the country illegally as children could face deportation. Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, is floating a proposal to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program indefinitely in exchange for $25 billion for border security.

Criminal justice overhaul advances amid Grassley-Sessions spat
Elana Schor, Politico

A bipartisan criminal justice bill easily won approval from the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, amid a rare public clash on the plan between Chairman Chuck Grassley and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The legislation from Grassley (R-Iowa) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) cleared the Judiciary panel on a 16-5 vote. Six of the panel’s 10 Republicans joined every Democrat in backing it despite pointed opposition from Sessions that left Grassley infuriated.


Florida shooting leads some Republicans to say it’s time for Congress to do more than talk
Alan Gomez, USA Today

Several leading Republicans said Thursday that Congress and the federal government should finally dive into the issue of gun violence following a massacre at a South Florida high school that killed 17 people. While recent shootings have usually been followed by offers of thoughts and prayers — and attacks against people in both parties who are seen to be politicizing mass shootings — House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said  Thursday Congress should remove restrictions it has imposed that prevent the federal government from studying mental health issues that lead to gun violence.

Shulkin tells House that ‘optics’ of Europe trip are ‘not good’
Juana Summers, CNN

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, under fire for a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe last year, told House lawmakers on Thursday that the “optics” of the trip, during which he took in tourist activities including attending a Wimbeldon tennis match with his wife, were “not good.” “I do recognize the optics of this are not good,” Shulkin told lawmakers.

Oversight Committee Turnover Means Uncertainty for D.C. Home Rule Advocates
Alex Clearfield, National Journal

Turnover atop the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has caused D.C. home-rule advocates no shortage of heartburn over the past few years. The committee, which has jurisdiction over the District’s affairs, is poised to welcome its third chairman since 2015, forcing city leaders and advocates to forge yet another working relationship with an out-of-town congressman and his staff.


Florida Gov. Rick Scott vows to keep mentally ill from getting guns
Terry Spencer and Kelli Kennedy, The Associated Press 

An orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and his own AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years. Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that Nikolas Cruz legally purchased the assault weapon used in the attack.

Pa. Democrats, others send congressional redistrict plans to Supreme Court
Jonathan Lai, The Philadelphia Inquirer

A slew of proposals were submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday as the clock ran out for the state legislature to draw a new map of congressional districts and have it approved by Gov. Wolf. Now it’s up to the high court to adopt its own reconfigured map by Monday — or sooner — and write the next, but probably not last, chapter in the historic gerrymandering case.

Sen. Tony Mendoza sues California Senate challenging forced leave of absence and sexual harassment investigation
Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) filed a lawsuit Thursday against the California Senate, seeking to overturn a forced leave of absence and challenging an investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed three former female aides. “This Kafkaesque process is the Senate’s response to the #MeToo movement,” the lawsuit says.

Gov. Cuomo Considers Declaring State of Emergency in New York City Public Housing
Mara Gay, The Wall Street Journal

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering declaring a state of emergency at the New York City Housing Authority over what his counsel called “intolerable” conditions in public housing. The measure would come after more than 320,000 people have been left without heat or hot water this winter and following months of revelations that the housing authority had failed to conduct inspections for lead paint as required by federal rules and city law for four years.


Business groups pressing for repeal of ObamaCare employer mandate
Jessie Hellman, The Hill  

Business groups are pressing Congress to repeal ObamaCare’s employer mandate to offer health insurance to their workers, but getting Republicans to act on the issue will likely be an uphill battle. After repealing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate in December, business groups are demanding Congress also take action on the employer mandate — which requires most employers to offer insurance to their workers or face fines — arguing that having one without the other is inequitable.

A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition:

A recent EPC report analyzes how EMV adoption in the U.S. has impacted counterfeit card fraud. It’s time for a holistic and dynamic data security strategy to protect consumers like you. Learn more from EPC.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Mr. President, it’s time to do something about guns
Post Editorial Board, New York Post

President Trump plainly feels the nation’s grief and anger over young Nikolas Cruz’s shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS. The question is: Will he seize the chance to do something about mass shootings?

The N.R.A. Can Be Beat
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

Parents throughout the country live with the dread that the next lockdown at their child’s school won’t be a drill and that screams like those we heard on cellphones from classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will come from their own child’s classroom. The terror that has gripped their elected officials, however, is fear of the wealthy gun lobby, to which they have let themselves be held hostage for decades.  

Why is it so hard for Trump to say that evil things are evil?
Catherine Rampell, The Washington Post

“It almost wouldn’t even have to be said.” That’s how President Trump characterized his views on domestic violence Wednesday.

President Miller’s Immigration Veto
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

President Trump may need a refresher course in deal-making after the Senate on Thursday rejected his take-it-or-leave-it offer on immigration. He could start by recalling who’s President, and stop giving adviser Stephen Miller a policy veto.

Agriculture innovation critical for US competitiveness, growth
Steve Forbes, The Hill

Every industry goes through periods of change and realignment in a free and open market. These changes are necessitated by mounting competition both here and abroad, forcing companies to either innovate or risk getting left behind.

A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition:

EPC’s latest report finds leveraging multiple dynamic fraud technologies is the key to mitigating card fraud, which is why the financial services industry is working every day to develop new technologies to help protect your data. Get the facts from EPC.

Research Reports and Polling

Immigration Jumps as Top Problem, Still Trails Government
Frank Newport, Gallup  

Americans’ mentions of immigration as the most important problem facing the nation have almost doubled this month, rising to 15% of all mentions from 8% last month. Dysfunctional government, mentioned by 22% of U.S. adults, remains the top problem on Americans’ list.

Cuomo Gets Low Grades For Handling Mass Transit, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Voters Support Child Victims Act 90 – 6 Percent
Quinnipiac University 

New York State voters disapprove 49 – 29 percent of the way Gov. Andrew Cuomo is handling the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released today. Disapproval is 62 – 32 percent among New York City voters, 54 – 36 percent among suburban voters and 31 – 21 percent among upstate voters, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds.