Washington Brief: U.S. to Impose New Sanctions on Russia for Its Syria Support


Top Stories

  • The Trump administration plans to impose new sanctions against Russia to punish it for enabling the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, according to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The sanctions are meant to signal that the United States holds Syria’s allies, and not just the government of President Bashar al-Assad, responsible for the suspected use of poison gas. (The New York Times)
  • James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said it’s possible that Russians are in possession of compromising information about President Donald Trump. Comey also said in an interview that there is “some evidence of obstruction of justice” in Trump’s actions. (The Associated Press)
  • Lawyers for Trump asked a federal judge to allow the president to review documents that the FBI seized from the office of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, before criminal investigators have a chance to see the material. The request could further complicate a hearing set for today in which lawyers for Cohen are expected to tell the judge how many legal clients he has and how many seized documents he thinks might be covered by attorney-client privilege. (The Washington Post)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Monday
Morning Consult event on voter data ahead of the midterm elections 9 a.m.
FCC’s Clyburn participates in GW Law event on net neutrality 12 p.m.
Technology Policy Institute event on regulatory and policy implications of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica 12 p.m.
Heritage Foundation event on the internet sales tax 12 p.m.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts Transatlantic Business Works Summit 1:15 p.m.
Tuesday
Sen. Toomey participates in U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on tax cuts 8:30 a.m.
Sen. Sasse, White House counsel participate in Federalist Society conference 9 a.m.
Labor Secretary Acosta testifies at House Ways and Means Committee hearing 10 a.m.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. policy in Yemen 10 a.m.
Sen. Wyden speaks at Bipartisan Policy Center event 12 p.m.
FDA’s Gottlieb testifies at House appropriations subcommittee hearing 1:30 p.m.
Former Sen. Ayotte speaks at CSIS event on global tensions, world economy and health security 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday
Sen. Menendez speaks at CSIS event on congressional leadership in foreign policy 9 a.m.
Agriculture Secretary Perdue testifies at House appropriations subcommittee hearing 9:30 a.m.
OMB’s Mulvaney testifies at House appropriations subcommittee hearing 10 a.m.
U.S. Census Bureau acting director testifies at House appropriations subcommittee hearing 10:30 a.m.
Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on preventing abuse of athletes 2:30 p.m.
Michael Avenatti participates in GW Law event 3 p.m.
Thursday
AEI hosts event on the future of corporate taxation in a digital world 11 a.m.
Friday
Air Force secretary speaks at AEI event 10 a.m.
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General

Comey: Possible that Russians have leverage over Trump
Catherine Lucey and Eric Tucker, The Associated Press

Former FBI Director James Comey says he thinks it’s possible the Russians have compromising information on President Donald Trump, that there is “some evidence of obstruction of justice” in the president’s actions and that Trump is “morally unfit” for office. Comey’s comments in an ABC News interview that aired Sunday were almost certain to escalate his war of words with the president and further erode a relationship marked by open hostility and name-calling.

Democrats Maintain Advantage Over GOP in Voter-Sentiment Poll
Janet Hook, The Wall Street Journal

Democratic voters are showing a higher level of interest in the 2018 midterm elections than are Republicans, with three-quarters of Democrats saying their vote for Congress is intended as a message of opposition to President Donald Trump, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. While Democratic interest in the election rose from March, the spike didn’t translate into gains for the party in a broader measure of the political climate: Asked which party should control the next Congress, voters favored Democrats over the GOP by 47% to 40%, down from a 10-point spread last month.

Republicans Struggle to Make Tax Cuts a Winning Election Issue
Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg

Moments after the Republican tax overhaul passed in the Senate in mid-December, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that if he and his party members couldn’t sell the cuts to the American people, they should find “another line of work.” Four months later, some GOP lawmakers who hoped the law would save them from defeat may have to start dusting off their resumes.

Republican leaders warn Trump against firing Mueller, Rosenstein
Richard Wolf, USA Today

Leading Republicans urged President Trump Sunday not to fire the special counsel investigating his actions or the deputy attorney general who supervises the inquiry. House Speaker Paul Ryan said special counsel Robert Mueller “should be left to do his job.”

Dems see Mueller firing as a red line on impeachment
Amie Parnes, The Hill

Democrats considered potential presidential candidates say if President Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller, it would be grounds for impeachment. The would-be candidates, who have been careful in their comments about the politically thorny issue, have now begun to qualify on what grounds they would push for impeachment.

Hillary Clinton Will Headline A Major DNC Fundraiser
Ruby Cramer, BuzzFeed News  

A set of likely presidential candidates will join their party’s last nominee, Hillary Clinton, to raise money for the Democratic National Committee next month at its annual Women’s Leadership Forum. California Sen. Kamala Harris, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander will speak at the May event in Washington, the second major fundraising effort by the DNC this year, following last month’s ““IWillVote Gala.”

In the era of Donald Trump, New England’s biggest GOP donor is funding Democrats
Annie Linskey, Boston Globe

Boston hedge fund billionaire Seth Klarman lavished more than $7 million on Republican candidates and political committees during the Obama administration, using his fortune to help underwrite a GOP takeover of the federal government. But the rise of Donald Trump shocked and dismayed Klarman, as did the timid response from the Republican-controlled House and Senate, which have acquiesced rather than challenge the president’s erratic and divisive ways.

Presidential

Trump to Impose New Sanctions on Russia Over Support for Syria
Peter Baker, The New York Times

The Trump administration plans to impose new sanctions against Russia on Monday to punish it for enabling the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in its civil war, the latest in a series of actions by both sides underscoring the deterioration in relations between Moscow and the West. The sanctions, coming shortly after American-led airstrikes against facilities linked to Syria’s chemical weapons, are meant to signal that the United States holds responsible not just the government of President Bashar al-Assad but also his patrons in Russia and Iran.

Trump wants to review material seized from personal lawyer before federal investigators
Devlin Barrett, The Washington Post

President Trump asked a federal judge Sunday night to allow him to review documents that FBI agents seized from the office of his longtime lawyer before criminal investigators have a chance to see the material. The request underscores the high stakes in an ongoing legal fight in federal court in New York, where Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, is also fighting to get a chance to review material seized as part of a criminal investigation of his business dealings.

Sources: Mueller has evidence Cohen was in Prague in 2016, confirming part of dossier  
Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, McClatchy DC

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy’s report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

Trump Sees Inquiry Into Cohen as Greater Threat Than Mueller
Matt Apuzzo et al., The New York Times

President Trump’s advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel’s investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump. As his lawyers went to court in New York on Friday to try to block prosecutors from reading files that were seized from the personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, this week, Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response.

More Than One-Fifth Of The Trump Campaign’s Spending This Year Has Been On Legal Fees
Tarini Parti, BuzzFeed News

President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign has spent about $835,000 in legal fees so far this year, or about 22% of its total spending, according to the latest fundraising reports filed quarterly with the Federal Election Commission. The spending comes as Trump deals with the intensifying special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as an ongoing legal battle with adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford.

Senate

GOP launches secret group to attack West Virginia coal baron
Alex Isenstadt, Politico

The Republican establishment has launched an emergency intervention in the West Virginia Senate primary aimed at stopping recently imprisoned coal baron Don Blankenship from winning the party’s nomination. Late last week, a newly formed super PAC generically dubbed the “Mountain Families PAC” began airing TV ads targeting Blankenship, who spent one year behind bars following a deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine.

Sen. Tim Kaine to oppose Mike Pompeo for secretary of state
Kate Sullivan, CNN

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he will vote against former CIA Director Mike Pompeo for secretary of state because of what Kaine called the nominee’s “anti-diplomacy disposition.” “We have a president who is anti-diplomacy,” Kaine said.

‘Spare me’: Tillis draws GOP fire with pro-Mueller push
Burgess Everett, Politico

Thom Tillis isn’t the kind of Republican who typically challenges Donald Trump. The North Carolina senator backs the president’s agenda and holds his tongue when it comes to the tweets.

House

RNC committing $250 million to retain control of House
Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

The Republican National Committee has committed $250 million to a midterm election strategy that has one goal above all else: Preserve the party’s House majority for the rest of President Donald Trump’s first term. Facing the prospect of a blue wave this fall, the White House’s political arm is devoting unprecedented resources to building an army of paid staff and trained volunteers across more than two dozen states.

Speakership drama pits McCarthy vs. Ryan
Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan, Politico

Tensions over who will succeed Speaker Paul Ryan are starting to torment House Republicans as they enter one of the most difficult midterm election cycles in years. Allies of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the current favorite for the job, are upset that Ryan insists on staying through the election.

States

Supreme Court considers whether states should have power to tax all online sales
Robert Barnes and Abha Bhattarai, The Washington Post

An already-diminished perk of online shopping — avoiding the payment of sales tax — is in danger of extinction at the Supreme Court this week. The justices will consider deleting a 26-year-old precedent and uploading a new operating system for states and local governments, who say they have been improperly barred from requiring online retailers to send them billions of dollars in sales-tax revenue.

Abortion foes seize on chance to overturn Roe
Jennifer Haberkorn, Politico

The anti-abortion movement believes it’s one Donald Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice away from a shot at overturning Roe v. Wade, and advocates are teeing up what they hope will be the winning challenge. From Iowa to South Carolina, lawmakers are proposing some of the most far-reaching abortion restrictions in a generation, hoping their legislation triggers the lawsuit that eventually makes it to the high court.

Metal Detectors the Norm at Schools and Ballparks. State Capitols? Not So Much
Alan Blinder, The New York Times

You can’t cheer on the Utah Jazz in their home arena without going through a metal detector. But visiting the Utah Capitol for a field trip, a protest, a meeting with the governor or a wedding photo shoot?

Advocacy

Zuckerberg’s testimony raises new questions about Facebook’s lobbying practices
Brandy Zadrozn, NBC News

In February, Facebook gave $200,000 to The Committee to Protect California Jobs, a business-backed political action group dedicated to defeating a state ballot initiative that would expand Californians’ privacy controls. Then on Wednesday, after Mark Zuckerberg’s two-day grilling by 44 members of Congress — in which he spoke positively about the prospect of regulation — Facebook withdrew its support from the group.

A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition: 

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Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Local Control Is Essential for Infrastructure Projects to Be Done Right
Tony Hyde, Morning Consult

With all the talk about a national infrastructure package, a key component of the debate that’s missing is where the rubber will, metaphorically speaking, hit the road. And that’s in counties, cities, and towns throughout the country where local leaders will be figuring out how to best invest whatever dollars they are given.

Trump’s Next Syria Challenge
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

President Trump announced “mission accomplished” after Friday night’s missile attack on Syria, and he’s right if his goal was merely to punish Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. But if Mr. Trump also wants to deter Russian and Iranian imperialism, reduce the chances of another Mideast war and keep Syria from producing global terrorists, he needs a more ambitious strategy.

The President Is Not Above The Law
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

“This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes,” declared Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican. “But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up.”

In his new book, James Comey calls for ‘ethical leadership.’ But does he live up to it?
Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post

James B. Comey has written the Washington Book of the Moment, but he clearly does not want “A Higher Loyalty” to simply be one more Washington book of the moment. This is no “Game Change” or, God forbid, “Fire and Fury,” insider tales gauged by the scores they settle, nuggets they unearth and screenplays they elicit.

Research Reports and Polling

A Crucial First Step Toward Fiscal Discipline: Why the President and Congress Should Pursue a Rescissions Package
Justin Bogie, The Heritage Foundation

Although Congress alone has the ability to provide funding to federal agencies and programs, under the Constitution, the President is ultimately responsible for how the appropriations are executed. On March 23, Congress passed a massive fiscal year (FY) 2018 omnibus appropriations act that increased base discretionary spending by $138 billion more than FY 2017.

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