Washington Brief: Trump Calls Naming of Special Counsel the ‘Greatest Witch Hunt of a Politician’ in U.S. History

Washington Brief

  • Robert Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, was named special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee the FBI’s investigation into Russian connections to President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign (The New York Times). Trump responded on Twitter by saying the naming of a special counsel is “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” (The Hill)
  • House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in June told fellow GOP leaders, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” according to a recording of the conversation that referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who has called for closer U.S. ties with Russia. A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the comment was an “attempt at humor.” (The Washington Post)
  • House Republicans blocked a Democratic-led attempt to force a floor vote on a measure that would establish a commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to Trump. Democrats are maintaining their push for a commission even though a special counsel has been appointed. (USA Today)
  • Trump’s campaign advisers, including now-former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, had at least 18 previously undisclosed calls and emails with Russian officials and people with ties to the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Reuters)
  • For now, Trump is dropping his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The delay is meant to avoid driving Palestinians away from peace talks. (Bloomberg News)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

U.S. Chamber of Commerce event with Arizona Gov. Ducey, Kentucky Gov. Bevin on foreign investment in U.S. 8:30 a.m.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers William Hagerty for Japan ambassador 9:30 a.m.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies at Senate Banking Committee 10 a.m.
Bipartisan Policy Center event on infrastructure 10 a.m.
Sen. Murphy speaks at Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy 12:15 p.m.
Hoover Institution event with EPA’s Pruitt 5 p.m.
No events scheduled



Lawmakers Greet Mueller Appointment With Relief
Joe Williams et al., Roll Call

Even as House and Senate Republicans turned up the heat on the Trump White House for answers about the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, Democrats got a big win when the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including any connections to the Trump presidential campaign. Key committees in both chambers on Wednesday pressed the administration for documentation on communication between President Donald Trump and Comey, who has been asked to testify before Congress.

Deepening US political controversy stalks markets
Eric Platt et al., Financial Times 

US stocks suffered their worst trading day in eight months as political turmoil in Washington rattled investors, with some fearing President Donald Trump’s ability to push through his pro-growth policies has been weakened by the deepening political controversy. The S&P 500 — the Wall Street benchmark — slid 1.8 per cent to 2,357 at the close on Wednesday, shedding all of its gains for May.

Erdogan Security Forces Launch ‘Brutal Attack’ on Washington Protesters, Officials Say
Nicholas Fandos and Christopher Hale, The New York Times

Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, including his government security forces and several armed individuals, violently charged a group of protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence here on Tuesday night in what the police characterized as “a brutal attack.” Eleven people were injured, including a police officer, and nine were taken to a hospital, the Metropolitan Police chief, Peter Newsham, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago
Jeff Larson et al., ProPublica 

Two weeks ago, on a sparkling spring morning, we went trawling along Florida’s coastal waterway. But not for fish.


Robert Mueller, Former F.B.I. Director, Is Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation
Rebecca R. Ruiz and Mark Landler, The New York Times

The Justice Department appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, as special counsel on Wednesday to oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, dramatically raising the legal and political stakes in an affair that has threatened to engulf Mr. Trump’s four-month-old presidency. The decision by the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, came after a cascade of damaging developments for Mr. Trump in recent days, including his abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the subsequent disclosure that Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to drop the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

Trump: I’m victim of ‘single greatest witch hunt’
Jordan Fabian, The Hill

President Trump on Thursday decried the naming of a special counsel to probe his campaign’s alleged Russia ties as the “single greatest witch hunt” in American political history. “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump tweeted.

Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians: sources
Ned Parker et al., Reuters 

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters. The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House
Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti, The New York Times

Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case. Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser.

Joe Lieberman, three others will meet with Trump about FBI director job
Matt Zapotosky and John Wagner, The Washington Post

President Trump was meeting Wednesday with four candidates to succeed James B. Comey as FBI director, including former senator Joe Lieberman, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said. In addition to Lieberman, the president was to meet with former Oklahoma governor Frank A. Keating, who worked previously as a U.S. attorney and as the No. 3 official in the Justice Department; Richard A. McFeely, a former FBI official who spent more than two decades in the bureau; and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who has taken over for Comey in the short term.

Trump Rules Out Moving Israel Embassy to Jerusalem for Now, Official Says
Jennifer Jacobs and Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News  

President Donald Trump has decided not to immediately move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a senior White House official said, violating a campaign promise but avoiding a provocation that could drive Palestinians away from peace talks. The official said the administration considers its discussions with both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to be promising, with the Palestinians in particular agreeing to talk without preconditions.

Trump looks to foreign trip for reset after domestic drama
Annie Karni, Politico 

President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip was always going to be an ambitious undertaking, even without members of his own party talking about subpoenas and possible grounds for impeachment at home. But now his small band of harried advisers — almost all of whom will be crammed together on Air Force One — must try to contain an unfolding domestic crisis while managing a complex five-country tour with skittish allies across two continents and three time zones.

Conservatives begin to whisper: President Pence
Matthew Nussbaum and Theodoric Meyer, Politico

Not since the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump bragged about groping women by the genitals, have some conservatives thought so seriously, if a bit wistfully, about two words: President Pence. The scandals clouding Trump’s presidency — including, most recently, his firing of FBI Director James Comey, his alleged leak of classified information to Russian officials, and reports that he urged Comey to drop an investigation into a top aide — have raised once more the possibility that Trump could be pushed aside and replaced by Vice President Mike Pence.

The Iran Nuclear Deal Will Live — But More Sanctions Are Still Coming
John Hudson and Ema O’Connor, BuzzFeed News 

The Trump administration has decided not to torpedo the historic nuclear deal with Iran and is renewing key waivers that allow foreign companies to do business with the Islamic Republic, two administration officials tell BuzzFeed News. At the same time, the Treasury Department is set to sanction two Iranian defense officials and one Iranian entity for activities related to missile development, the officials said.


Rosenstein to be grilled today on Trump bombshells
Jordain Carney, The Hill

Rod Rosenstein is expected to be grilled Thursday on back-to-back political bombshells that have rattled the nation’s capital. The deputy attorney general will brief all senators on Thursday afternoon behind closed doors, giving many lawmakers their first face-to-face meeting with an administration official since President Trump’s surprise decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey.

Why the G.O.P. Isn’t Pushing Hard for a Trump Inquiry
Carl Hulse, The New York Times

The disclosure that President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to back off an investigation of Michael T. Flynn intensified calls for more aggressive investigations and a special counsel from many quarters, except the most important one — top congressional Republicans. The revelation, based on contemporaneous notes kept by Mr. Comey, heightened the unease among Republicans on Capitol Hill and produced new calls for Mr. Comey to testify.

Hatch says he’s open to keeping ACA’s individual mandate
Caitlin Owens, Axios 

Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch says he could support delaying the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate for a while, or even indefinitely, as a way to stabilize the marketplaces. “I wouldn’t mind” postponing the repeal until after 2020, he told reporters this afternoon.


House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump
Adam Entous, The Washington Post

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin. “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post.

GOP blocks House vote on independent Russia-Trump investigation
Nicole Gaudiano, USA Today

House Republicans blocked a vote Wednesday on legislation to create an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. A Democratic effort to force a vote failed, with only one Republican – Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina – joining them in a procedural vote that would have allowed them to bring up the bill.

Republicans pour late cash into Montana special election
Alex Isenstadt, Politico

With the White House enveloped in crisis, a Republican-friendly group is rushing a last-minute $200,000 ad buy onto the Montana airwaves ahead of next week’s special congressional election. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will air TV commercials boosting Republican candidate Greg Gianforte.

Montana GOP Candidate Owns Stake In Company Accused Of Paying Off ISIS
Alexander C. Kaufman, HuffPost

A Republican congressional candidate owns a stake in a French-Swiss cement company accused of making payments to the Islamic State militant group in Syria, according to financial disclosures HuffPost reviewed. Greg Gianforte, the millionaire GOP contender for Montana’s open seat in the House, reported owning $47,066 worth of shares in LaFargeHolcim as recently as December in an individual retirement account at TWP, a brokerage firm and private wealth manager.

New Mexican Would be first Native American Congresswoman
Eric Garcia, Roll Call 

Former New Mexico Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland announced she’s running for the state’s open House seat, which would make her the first Native American congresswoman. Haalans is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and a former San Felipe Pueblo tribal administrator.


Nevada Attorney General Faces Ethics Probe
Alison Noon, The Associated Press

A secretly recorded conversation at a Reno coffee shop between the Nevada attorney general and the state’s top casino watchdog has set off a political firestorm that includes a legislative inquiry set to begin Wednesday. The dispute involves some of the most powerful political figures in the state and could have implications in the 2018 governor’s race.

Citadel’s Griffin Contributes $20 Million to Illinois Governor
John McCormick, Bloomberg News 

Billionaire hedge fund founder Ken Griffin has contributed $20 million to Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s re-election bid, adding fuel to a 2018 race where there are no campaign contribution limits. Rauner, a wealthy former equity investor, faces numerous potential Democratic challengers in what’s expected to be one of the nation’s most expensive governor’s races.

Alaska Governor Calls for Special Session to Resolve Deficit
Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press 

Wednesday marked a constitutional deadline for Alaska lawmakers to end their regular session. But with a budget and plan for addressing Alaska’s multibillion-dollar deficit unresolved, more time was needed.


Lobby groups to watch in Senate healthcare fight
Rachel Roubein, The Hill

Lobbying groups opposed to the House’s healthcare reform bill are pinning their hopes on the Senate for big changes. Industry groups felt largely cut out of the House’s drafting and passage of the American Health Care Act and now are clamoring for action to fix what they view as serious defects in the legislation.

A Message from the National Association of Broadcasters:

Who can you trust to provide around-the-clock reporting and up-to-the minute emergency updates during times of crisis? A majority of Americans say it’s broadcast TV and radio. Find out why.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Is Washington Serious About Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure?
Lisa Washington, Morning Consult

In this politically divisive era, there are few issues which garner as wide support across parties, regions and states as infrastructure investment. However, even that support has not yielded much more than promises.

The Special Counsel America Needs
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

If President Trump thought that by sacking the F.B.I. director, James Comey, he could kill off the investigation into his associates’ ties to the Russian government and its attempt to deliver him the White House, he was wrong. The investigation will go on, now under the leadership of a former F.B.I. director — and this one the president can’t fire on his own.

A special counsel is essential. But Congress isn’t off the hook.
Editorial Board, The Washington Post

Washington and the country received a much-needed shot of good news Wednesday evening with the revelation that the Justice Department will appoint a special counsel. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein named Robert S. Mueller III, a former FBI chief.

The Economic Headwinds Obama Set in Motion
Phil Gramm and Thomas R. Saving, The Wall Street Journal

Behind every significant postwar recovery has been the same driving force: a sustained rise in private investment and new home building, which increased borrowing and drove up interest rates. In most cases the economy had sufficient momentum to overcome those rising interest rates.

A Message from the National Association of Broadcasters:

Former FEMA head Craig Fugate has said activating FM radio in smartphones would “ensure if all else fails, you can still get information from broadcasters” during times of emergency. A majority of Americans agree broadcast radio and TV stations, above all other media, provide the information they need to keep safe. Find out more.

Research Reports and Polling

Will There Be Any Woman vs Woman US Senate Matchups in 2018?
Dr. Eric Ostermeier, University of Minnesota 

As previously reported at Smart Politics, the 2018 election cycle is slated to shatter the record for the number of female U.S. Senators running for reelection. The terms of eleven such women are ending after the 2018 cycle and it appears there is now at least one state with a bonafide chance of hosting a female-versus-female general election matchup: Missouri.