Washington Brief: Comey’s Dismissal Sparks Congressional Concerns About Future of Russia Probe

Washington Brief

  • President Donald Trump fired Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, citing his handling of the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Comey had been leading a probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and his dismissal has sparked fears among lawmakers about the future of that investigation. (The Washington Post)
  • Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, as part of their Russia probe (CNN). Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) threatened to subpoena Trump campaign aides if they don’t comply with his panel’s investigation into Russian interference in U.S. politics. (Politico)
  • Trump is scheduled to meet today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the highest-level meeting between the two governments since Trump took office. (Reuters)
  • Trump’s approval rating took a dive following last week’s House passage of a GOP alternative to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. (Morning Consult)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Bipartisan Policy Center event on the first 50 years of the 25th Amendment 9:30 a.m.
Sens. Thune, Nelson attend InsideSources event on railroads 10:45 a.m.
Bloomberg Government event on what to watch in tax reform 2 p.m.
Woodrow Wilson Awards Dinner honoring Sen. McConnell 6 p.m.
Former Secretary of State Rice speaks at Brookings Institution 5:30 p.m.
Tom Perez, Michael S. Steele speak at Aspen Institute event 12 p.m.



Comey’s removal sparks fears about future of Russia probe
Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky, The Washington Post

President Trump’s sudden removal of James B. Comey as director of the FBI sparked immediate fears among legislators and others that the bureau’s probe into possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign might be upended now that Trump himself can handpick its new supervisor. The investigation is still in its infancy, but the probe’s sensitive subject matter has already created a political quagmire for the Justice Department.

Grand jury subpoenas issued in FBI’s Russia investigation
Evan Perez et al., CNN 

Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

A Former Top Official Cited In The DOJ’s Comey Memo Calls Firing A “Sham”
Zoe Tillman, BuzzFeed News

A former top Justice Department official whose criticism of FBI Director James Comey was quoted in a DOJ memo offering reasons for Comey’s dismissal on Tuesday told BuzzFeed News that he believed the firing was a “sham.” Donald Ayer, who served as the deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, has been critical of how Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State.

U.S. Census director resigns amid turmoil over funding of 2020 count
Tara Bahrampour, The Washington Post 

The director of the U.S. Census Bureau is resigning, leaving the agency leaderless at a time when it faces a crisis over funding for the 2020 decennial count of the U.S. population and beyond. John H. Thompson, who has served as director since 2013 and worked for the bureau for 27 years before that, will leave June 30, the Commerce Department announced Tuesday.

Grassley, Chaffetz rebuke HHS secretary for muzzling agency employees
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

Two Republican lawmakers charged with conducting government oversight sharply rebuked Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Tuesday for curtailing his employees’ ability to communicate directly with Congress and suggested that the move violates federal law. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the policy that Price’s chief of staff outlined in a memo last week “is potentially illegal and unconstitutional, and will likely chill protected disclosures of waste, fraud, and abuse.”


F.B.I. Director James Comey Is Fired by Trump
Michael D. Shear and Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times

President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency.

Trump to meet Russian foreign minister Lavrov on Wednesday: senior U.S. official
Steve Holland, Reuters 

U.S. President Donald Trump will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the White House on Wednesday to discuss Syria and a wide range of international issues, a senior U.S. official said. It will be the highest-level contact between Trump and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin since Trump took office on Jan. 20.

Trump approves Pentagon plan to arm Syrian Kurds despite Turkish objections
W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times 

President Trump has authorized a controversial Pentagon plan to supply weapons to Kurdish militias fighting Islamic State in Syria despite strong objections of the Turkish government, which views the Kurdish fighters as terrorists. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Trump approved the plan to supply weapons “as necessary to ensure a clear victory” as Kurdish fighters and other militias close in on Raqqah, Islamic State’s largest and most important stronghold in Syria.

Gore presses Trump on climate pact
Ben German, Axios

Former Vice President Al Gore personally urged President Trump not to abandon the Paris climate accord in a phone conversation on Tuesday morning, Axios has learned. The chat between Gore, the world’s best-known climate activist, and Trump occurred as the divided administration nears a decision about whether to abandon the 2015 international pact that’s aimed at preventing runaway global warming.

The $2 Trillion Question in Trump’s New Tax Plan
Richard Rubin, The Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration says a middle-class tax cut is at the center of its tax plan. But doing the arithmetic to figure out what middle-class families would pay is close to impossible.

Who has Trump’s ear? Often rich, white, Republican men.
Andrew Restuccia and Aidan Quigley, Politico 

The people who have met with Donald Trump since he became president tend to have a lot in common, according to a database POLITICO compiled from public documents, media accounts and its own reporting: They’re mostly male, largely Republican and often rich. Of the more than 1,200 people who have had direct access to the president as of Monday night, the majority — about 80 percent — are white. And almost 63 percent are white men.


Burr threatens subpoenas if Trump aides ignore his deadlines
Austin Wright, Politico

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr on Tuesday threatened to subpoena Trump campaign aides if they ignore deadlines to turn over records to his panel, explaining that he had received just two responses to an initial request for information. “I think all options are on the table, and I think you can envision what those options are,” the North Carolina Republican told reporters.

Senate Democrat Finalizing Independent Counsel Plan After Comey’s Termination
Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call

With FBI Director James B. Comey’s termination, one Senate Democrat is accelerating plans to craft legislation for an independent counsel to investigate President Donald Trump and ties to Russia. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was himself a federal prosecutor, told CQ Roll Call late Tuesday that he had been working on writing a bill that would look similar to the old lapsed statute for such outside prosecutors, but the effort will now accelerate.

Senate Republicans face their own divisions in push for health-care overhaul
Robert Costa and Sean Sullivan, The Washington Post

Sen. Ted Cruz, a defiant loner whose feuds with Republican Party leaders have made him a conservative favorite, suddenly felt an itch to collaborate. It was late March, just after the dramatic collapse of House Republicans’ initial attempt to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health-care system. Cruz (R-Tex.) sent notice to party colleagues that he wanted to convene a working group to keep alive the GOP’s pledge to undo the law known as Obamacare.

Gottlieb confirmed as FDA chief
Sarah Karlin-Smith and Brent Griffiths, Politico

The Senate confirmed Scott Gottlieb as FDA commissioner Tuesday, thrusting the conservative drug industry insider into the heated debate over rising drug costs that President Donald Trump has pledged to address. Gottlieb, a former FDA and CMS official in the George W. Bush administration, sailed through confirmation on a 57-42 vote.


Amash Considering Independent Russia Commission After Comey Firing
Alice Ollstein, TPM 

In the wake of Tuesday night’s bombshell news that President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, most Republican members of Congress either remained silent or released statements supporting the President’s decision. But Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, announced Tuesday that he and his staff are considering a bill that would establish an independent commission to take up the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contact with the Russian government that Comey was overseeing.

Club for Growth Steps Into South Carolina GOP Primary
Simone Pathé, Roll Call

Ahead of Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff in South Carolina’s 5th District, the Club for Growth is endorsing former state Rep. Ralph Norman. Its affiliated super PAC will begin an ad campaign for him on Wednesday.

California takes center stage in battle for House majority
Alex Isenstadt and Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico

California has emerged as the epicenter of the already-intense battle for the House in 2018, as both parties rush resources and manpower to a state that could determine the chamber’s balance of power. With 18 months still to go until the election, Democrats and Republicans are mapping out TV advertising plans across the state, setting up headquarters, digging into polling, and hiring operatives.

Antonio Sabato Jr. to Run for House Against Brownley
Eric Garcia, Roll Call 

Actor and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump Antonio Sabato Jr. announced Monday he will challenge California Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley. Sabato spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention and has previously said that former President Barack Obama was a Muslim, very similar to the president’s earlier assertions about Obama’s birth certificate.


Redistricting proposal slows Alabama House to a crawl
Mike Cason, AL.com

The Alabama House of Representatives is at a standstill tonight as an automated reader plows through a 539-page bill setting new boundary lines for many of the 105 House districts. Democratic lawmakers asked that the bill be read at length because they don’t approve of the plan supported by the Republican super majority.

‘Slay the gerrymander’: Is Pa. ready for redistricting reform?
Wallace McKelvey, PennLive.com 

For decades, various lawmakers and activist groups have tried to slay the gerrymander. That, of course, is the word coined by a 19th-century cartoonist to describe a politician’s efforts to redraw electoral district boundaries in order to advantage his cronies and marginalize his opponents.

Four months after controversial hire, top adviser no longer works for Gov. Greitens
Jason Hancock, The Kansas City Star 

Gov. Eric Greitens has parted ways with one of his top advisers. Jimmy Soni, a former editor of The Huffington Post, is no longer employed by the governor’s office. His last day was April 30.

Josh Mandel Skips Hearing Over Taxpayer Funded Television Spots
The Associated Press 

Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel failed to show at a hearing discussing his handling of nearly $2 million earmarked for taxpayer-funded public service announcements. A deputy represented the Republican before an Ohio Senate committee Tuesday.

Legislature obtains secret recording of AG, affidavit from gaming regulator who taped him
Jon Ralston, The Nevada Independent 

State lawmakers have obtained a clandestine recording made by Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett of a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt as well as an affidavit about the incident from Burnett, sources confirm. Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton, who requested the subpoena, said the information is “unsettling and warrants a hearing.”


Trump’s Newest Wall Street Watchdog Sidesteps Ethics Scrutiny
Jesse Hamilton and Robert Schmidt, Bloomberg News

The Trump administration used a highly unusual personnel move to skirt Senate confirmation and standard ethics requirements when it installed a financial services lawyer atop a powerful banking regulator. Keith Noreika’s transition from representing banks to overseeing them came courtesy of a quick two-step.

Ex-McConnell chief of staff McGuire joining law and lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt
Sean Sullivan, The Washington Post 

Brian McGuire, who recently stepped down as chief of staff in the Senate office of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is headed to the law and lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, where he will be named policy director. McGuire plans to register as a lobbyist.

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Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Comey’s Deserved Dismissal
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

President Trump fired James Comey late Tuesday, and better now than never. These columns opposed Mr. Comey’s nomination by Barack Obama, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director has committed more than enough mistakes in the last year to be dismissed for cause.

Donald Trump’s Firing of James Comey
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

The American people — not to mention the credibility of the world’s oldest democracy — require a thorough, impartial investigation into the extent of Russia’s meddling with the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump and, crucially, whether high-ranking members of Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded in that effort. By firing the F.B.I. director, James Comey, late Tuesday afternoon, President Trump has cast grave doubt on the viability of any further investigation into what could be one of the biggest political scandals in the country’s history.

The Comey debacle only magnifies the Russia mystery
David Ignatius, The Washington Post

President Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James B. Comey will intensify focus on the issue Trump has been so eager to dismiss — his knowledge of contacts between Michael Flynn and other associates and Russia. White House arguments that Trump sacked Comey for mishandling the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails are implausible, but no more so than some of the arguments the Trump team has made about Flynn’s firing in February.

A Better Way to Help the World
Bob Corker and Chris Coons, The New York Times

The suffering today in northern Uganda and South Sudan should move even the most hardhearted among us. As members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we often are confronted with the question of how the United States should respond to such crises.

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Research Reports and Polling

Obamacare Has More Support Than GOP Alternative, Poll Finds
Mary Ellen McIntire, Morning Consult

More American voters approve of the Affordable Care Act now than they ever did under the previous administration, which enacted the law — even as support is slipping for the GOP alternative that Republicans are now shepherding through Congress. A new Morning Consult/POLITICO poll shows that 50 percent of voters strongly or somewhat approve of Obamacare, while 42 percent disapprove of the 2010 health law.

Trump’s Approval Rating Drops Again After Health Care Vote
Cameron Easley, Morning Consult 

President Donald Trump’s approval rating is at a new low following the House GOP’s passage of a bill that would overhaul Obamacare, according to a new Morning Consult/POLITICO survey. Forty-four percent of registered voters said they approved of Trump’s job performance in the days after House Republicans narrowly passed the American Health Care Act, while 48 percent said they disapproved of the president’s work.