Happy hump day. YES, THERE IS TALK ABOUT IMPEACHMENT — It’s hushed right now, and almost all off the record — but it’s there, and it’s Republicans who are beginning to grapple with the real — but far off — possibility that the president might’ve gone too far this time. That’s not to say President Donald Trump will be impeached, but the prospect is beginning to creep into Republicans’ minds, and it’s noteworthy that they are not ruling it out. There’s a sense Mike Schmidt’s story that Trump aked Jim Comey to drop an investigation into Mike Flynn is going to have drastic consequences for everyone in the White House.
OTHER LAWMAKERS — especially the more cautious ones — say there should be a special prosecutor appointed or commission impaneled. We were up in the Capitol last night, chatting with members of Congress about the political dynamics now, and it would be tough to overstate how angry, confused and fed up Republicans are with President Donald Trump.
MIKE SCHIMDT’S ringer in the NYT capped off a wild and dizzying day: Trump, according to a Comey memo, told then Director Comey, “I hope you can let this go … I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” (http://nyti.ms/2qQjayh). Comey, Schmidt writes, wrote memos on “every phone call and meeting he had with the president."
— POLITICO’s MATT NUSSBAUM and JOSH DAWSEY on the memos, quoting a friend of Comey: “It’s very rich in detail and hopefully it will come out soon. There are other memos about his meetings too. He wrote down every word Trump said to him as soon as he could.” http://politi.co/2qrwTul
BY THE WAY … — Yes, this is the same Mike Schmidt who was instrumental in uncovering Hillary Clinton’s email practices, helped reveal that Fox News was paying piles of money to women who alleged harassment at the hands of Bill O’Reilly, reported that Trump asked Comey for loyalty, found secret documents about massacres in Iraq in a junkyard in Baghdad and broke open Major League Baseball’s steroid scandal years ago. (But ask him about Eisner Camp!) ALSO: Mike reported in his blockbuster yesterday that Trump suggested Comey jail reporters for publishing classified information. 90-second video of Schmidt discussing his scoop http://nyti.ms/2qvjTC7
WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE, on background, with no name attached: “While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey.”
A BRESNAHAN TRUISM — @adamgoldmanNYT: “In the cia, there is a sayin: if you didnt write it down it doesnt exist. in the fbi everything exists because everything is written down.”
— QUOTE OF THE WEEK: @timkmak: “McCain just said at a dinner honoring him that the Trump scandals have reached a ‘Watergate size and scale’ – wow”
SCHMIDT’S MOST RECENT SCOOP is proving to be a major issue for Republicans on the Hill, and — if it pans out as it seems like it will at this point — nothing can be taken off the table, top Republicans tell us. But we are many months away from anything like this happening.
— THE INSIDE CONVO — HOW THE NEXT FEW MONTHS WILL UNFOLD: HOUSE OVERSIGHT CHAIRMAN JASON CHAFFETZ has requested “all memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings referring or relating to any communication between Comey and the president.” His deadline: one week from today. (Chaffetz’s letter: http://bit.ly/2pVxJM9) If Chaffetz doesn’t get what he wants, he has said he will subpoena the documents. We’ve covered investigations on the Hill, and typically the committee does not get all it wants on the first round. They usually go back and forth a bit.
SPEAKER PAUL RYAN is backing Chaffetz: Press secretary AshLee Strong: “We need to have all the facts, and it is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo.” Expect Ryan to reiterate this today at his 10 a.m. news avail in the RNC lobby.
— BY THE WAY … Chaffetz announced a few weeks ago that he wouldn’t run again, and in an interview with Jake said that he could resign in the “months to come.” He ditched Washington for Utah, saying he needed foot surgery, and people close to him assumed he’d never come back to D.C. Washingtonian’s Elaina Plott — the pride of New Haven — reported a few days ago that Chaffetz was headed to Fox News, which many of his friends believe to be true. Now he’s placed himself at the center of a major investigation — exactly where he likes to be. We don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime soon.
— WITH FRIENDS LIKE THIS … OHIO GOV. JOHN KASICH during a CNN town hall last night with Dana Bash and Jake Tapper: “I saw that Speaker Ryan said some things tonight about getting to the bottom line. Frankly, I think he should be more aggressive. I think he should speak out more, and hopefully he will.”
THE HEARINGS — It seems likely at this point that Comey will have to testify in both the House and the Senate. Chaffetz was smart to get out the door first with his request. At this point, hearings will likely take place sometime in June. The House and Senate are in session basically all of June.
JUST TO TAKE STOCK … TODAY’S WEST-WING REVIEW — On Tuesday, the president’s national security adviser questioned whether the Western Wall was part of Israel (http://politi.co/2qr3rET), and essentially confirmed the Washington Post’s bombshell, that President Donald Trump shared classified information with Russian officials, but said it was part of regular intelligence sharing. (http://lat.ms/2pTeraJ). The NYT later broke that it was Israel’s intelligence that was leaked (http://nyti.ms/2pT1q0T). NYT’s Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush had a blockbuster about discord in the White House, the potential demotion of Sean Spicer and the sense on Pennsylvania Avenue that Trump isn’t much interested in some elements of the job (http://nyti.ms/2pVoZp9).
ABC NEWS — “Trump’s disclosure endangered spy placed inside ISIS by Israel, officials say,” by Brian Ross, James Gordon Meek and Randy Kreider. http://abcn.ws/2pTETkN
BREAKING EARLY THIS MORNING IN JERUSALEM — HA’ARETZ’S BARAK RAVID — “Trump Called Netanyahu, but White House and Israel Kept Mum: Israeli official said call did not focus on intel leaked by Trump to Russia, which reportedly originated in Israel; call lasted 20 minutes and took place after Trump called Jordanian king”: “The call, which took place shortly after Trump called Jordan’s King Abdullah II, was not publicized by either the White House or by the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu’s office confirmed the phone call took place.
“[T]he call took place at around 5 P.M. Israel time, as Netanyahu was about to enter an event with his finance minister. The call lasted for about twenty minutes. The senior official noted that the call did not touch on reports according to which Trump leaked intelligence information to his meeting with the Russian foreign minister last week.” http://bit.ly/2pTjbx3
FED UP — “Republicans may be reaching their breaking point with Trump,” by John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade: “For Republicans on Capitol Hill, Donald Trump may finally have gone too far. Tuesday’s report that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the criminal investigation into ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn was more than just another embarrassing revelation for a president used to a near-daily barrage of scandal and staff intrigue. Republicans are privately beginning to worry that they may one day have to sit in judgment of Trump, or that more damaging information from Comey could force the president to step down.” http://politi.co/2rpQitD
— “McMaster tests truth-telling reputation in Trump defense,” by Michael Crowley: “As a U.S. Army general, H.R. McMaster has faced down Iraqi tank divisions, al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban insurgents. But as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, McMaster is navigating the strange environment of Washington politics and media, putting his truth-telling reputation on the line to defend Trump against claims he disclosed sensitive information to Russian officials in the Oval Office.” http://politi.co/2qQDe3C
INSIDE THE WEST WING — “White House on edge: ‘We are kind of helpless’: Recent scandals have left White House staff feeling besieged,” by Josh Dawsey and Matt Nussbaum: “It was, in the words of one senior White House official, the worst day of Trump’s presidency. … ‘Nobody knows where this really goes from here,’ the White House official said. ‘Everyone is walking around saying, ‘‘What is next?’’ In interviews, multiple White House officials indicated they feel under siege – unsure who in the intelligence community was leaking, how much damaging information was out there, when the next proverbial shoe would drop and what Trump might say. Staffers shuttled back and forth among West Wing offices debating what to say without divulging confidential material or getting anything wrong. A deflated and exhausted Sean Spicer, who continues to read reports that his job is in jeopardy but is working 12 hours every day in his office, huddled in his office with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. There was a pervasive sense, another official said, that ‘we are kind of helpless.’ …
“But White House officials, one person said, are becoming increasingly leery of putting their names on statements in the immediate aftermath of stories – because Trump often contradicts them publicly or on Twitter. And staffers have grown tired and upset about stories of a staff shake-up. Two officials said they had no idea if their jobs were in jeopardy – but that Trump has given people private assurances they are safe. That includes Spicer, according to one ally of his—though this person also said the communications staff is given very little say in decisions and then is left to clean them up. Priebus is sitting in every meeting. [Steve] Bannon has been given ‘some authority’ to help clean this up … Other senior officials believe Trump trusts them.” http://politi.co/2pJokMa
THE WSJ ED. BOARD — ENOUGH’S ENOUGH! — “Loose Lips Sink Presidencies: The Russian intel story shows the price of Trump’s lost credibility”: “The state of the Trump Presidency has been perpetual turbulence, which seems to be how the principal likes it. The latest vortex is over Mr. Trump’s disclosure of sensitive intel to the Russians—and whatever the particulars of the incident, the danger is that Presidencies can withstand only so much turbulence before they come apart. …
“Mr. Trump needs to appreciate how close he is to losing the Republicans he needs to pass the agenda that will determine if he is successful. Weeks of pointless melodrama and undisciplined comments have depleted public and Capitol Hill attention from health care and tax reform, and exhaustion is setting in. America holds elections every two years, and Mr. Trump’s policy allies in Congress will drift away if he looks like a liability.
“Millions of Americans recognized Mr. Trump’s flaws but decided he was a risk worth taking. They assumed, or at least hoped, that he’d rise to the occasion and the demands of the job. If he cannot, he’ll betray their hopes as his Presidency sinks before his eyes.” http://on.wsj.com/2qqQACf
SCHMIDT BREAKS NYT ONLINE TRAFFIC RECORD – per Morning Media’s Joe Pompeo: “Schmidt’s bombshell about the Comey memo broke the Times’ record for most concurrent readers per second, according to a Times source who dished to Morning Media about the web traffic, just as The Washington Post’s Monday-night revelation about Trump slipping highly classified intel to the Russians broke the same record for the Post. (In both cases, it was more than 100,000 people reading a single story online simultaneously.)” http://politi.co/2qQs5j5
THE TRIP — “Trump drawn into Saudi Game of Thrones,” by Ken Vogel and Theo Meyer: “President Donald Trump is boning up on policy and protocol ahead of an international trip that begins Friday in Saudi Arabia, but he’s already emerged as a peripheral and perhaps unwitting player in a power struggle between two Saudi princes seeking to succeed the aging King Salman. In March, Trump raised eyebrows among royal court watchers in Washington and Middle Eastern capitals by holding an Oval Office meeting and unexpected formal lunch with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chief rival to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef for the crown.
“This month, in his own move to position himself with Trump’s administration, the ministry run by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef quietly signed a $5.4-million one year contract with SPG, a boutique Washington lobbying firm with ties to Trump’s team.
“The hefty contract, filed with the Department of Justice and reviewed by POLITICO, calls for SPG to provide ‘public relations and media engagement as well as public affairs counsel’ to the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. While Saudi Arabia deploys an army of well-paid lobbyists and p.r. consultants in Washington, the SPG contract appears to represent the first time in recent years that the Interior Ministry has retained a lobbying firm. The two princes, known as MBS and MBN, respectively, have been quietly jockeying for position to succeed the 81-year-old king, who is widely believed to be in declining health.” http://politi.co/2qQq8DA
THE HACK ATTACK — “NSA officials worried about the day its potent hacking tool would get loose. Then it did,” by WaPo’s Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg: “When the National Security Agency began using a new hacking tool called EternalBlue, those entrusted with deploying it marveled at both its uncommon power and the widespread havoc it could wreak if it ever got loose. … [F]or more than five years, the NSA kept using it — through a time period that has seen several serious security breaches — and now the officials’ worst fears have been realized. … Current and former officials defended the agency’s handling of EternalBlue, saying that the NSA must use such volatile tools to fulfill its mission of gathering foreign intelligence. In the case of EternalBlue, the intelligence haul was ‘unreal,’ said one former employee. ‘It was like fishing with dynamite,’ said a second.” http://wapo.st/2qqMeLf
THE BUZZ — MOOD SOURING ON K STREET — Lobbyists have signed up business in droves looking to make headway on major business priorities like tax reform, overhauling the health care system and getting rid of what many companies view as onerous Obama administration regulations. But those hoping the business boom would translate to activity on Capitol Hill are beginning to recalibrate their clients’ expectations. “Republicans are starting to get vocal and know the window [for getting anything done] is closing,” said one veteran lobbyist. Several K Streeters said uncertainty over what Trump will say, or do next, is increasingly causing frustration among health care companies and those in the energy industry.
AND THOSE HOPING that Democrats would want to legislate when Republicans pivoted away from Trump are beginning to question whether there will be any good will left between the two parties. Right now, it doesn’t look good. WSJ headline: “White House Turmoil Puts the GOP Agenda at Risk” http://on.wsj.com/2pK66KG
— PAGING STEVEN MNUCHIN: “Wall Street gives up on a 2017 tax overhaul,” by Morning Money’s Ben White: “The main hope now in corporate America and on Wall Street is that the White House and Congress manage to bypass a scary fight over raising the nation’s debt limit this summer, keep the government open and avoid any major foreign policy crisis.” http://politi.co/2pT0UQB
— NOT BAD FOR BOEHNER: Former Speaker John Boehner was put on the board of British American Tobacco last year. Soon after that, the company announced a merger with Reynolds American. If the merger goes through, Boehner stands to make $853,478, according to a recently filed SEC report.
— SPOTTED POWER LUNCHING: Rob Powelson, newly minted FERC nominee, was spotted at lunch yesterday at the Monocle on Capitol Hill, with former FERC Commissioner Andy Black of the Association of Oil Pipelines. Larry Gasteiger, former FERC chief of staff, and Shannon Bañaga, head of the TECO DC office and rumored administration appointee, one table over.
TRUMP’S WEDNESDAY — The President is going to New London, Connecticut, to speak at the commencement for the Coast Guard Academy.
TICK TOCK — “Inside the Oval Office with Trump and the Russians: Broad smiles and loose lips,” by WaPo’s Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung: “On May 2, eight days before Lavrov showed up at the White House, Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the phone with Trump and made a request. Putin had ‘new ideas’ about stopping the civil war carnage in Syria, according to a senior U.S. official, and noted that his top diplomat, Lavrov, would soon be visiting the United States for a previously scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. ‘Will you see him?’ Putin asked Trump, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks. ‘Yes,’ Trump replied. Lavrov’s itinerary had him going nowhere near Washington — 4,100 miles away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he and Tillerson would be attending a meeting of the Arctic Council, the group of countries that have territory in the Arctic region. Putin glossed over that detail with Trump, however, and once he agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Lavrov, the Russian minister changed his plans to jet first to Washington.” http://wapo.st/2pVtccz
VIDEO DU JOUR — @blakehounshell: “This is INSANE. Erdogan’s goons rough up Kurdish protesters ON EMBASSY ROW, as D.C. cops valiantly try to stop them.” http://bit.ly/2pJpmIo
STATE OF THE ART — “Trump campaign alumni launch email fundraising start-up,” by WaPo’s Matea Gold: “Last fall, Matt Oczkowski and Parks Bennett were logging 12-hour days in a rented office in San Antonio that smelled of Chick-fil-A and Doritos, focused on one mission: to elect Donald Trump president. As they raced to crunch voter data and build up Trump’s small-donor base, an idea began to jell: Could they apply data science to make email fundraising more effective and transparent? The concept, which the two young GOP digital strategists had begun discussing earlier in the cycle while working for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential bid, is the heart of a company they’re formally launching this week called Campaign Inbox.” http://wapo.st/2qQnDRA
HAPPENING TODAY — “Chelsea Manning Is Expected to Leave Prison, 28 Years Early,” by NYT’s Charlie Savage: “Chelsea Manning is expected to walk freely out of the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on Wednesday … Sentenced to an unprecedented 35-year prison term for disclosing archives of secret files to WikiLeaks, Ms. Manning spent about seven years in prison — already double the second-longest sentence in any leak case. She is set to be freed 28 years early because President Barack Obama, in one of his final acts, commuted the bulk of her remaining sentence. … Ms. Manning’s support network, which raised about $138,000 in online donations to help cover her initial living expenses in a GoFundMe.com campaign, has said she eventually intends to settle in Maryland, where she has family.” http://nyti.ms/2pJxw3q
PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW: Madeleine Albright
Madeleine Albright doesn’t have many positive words to say about Donald Trump and his administration’s foreign policy. In a Playbook interview, the former secretary of state for three years under President Bill Clinton called Trump’s sharing of intelligence with the Russians “a very serious breach for anybody, especially the president” and said she “was very surprised” because the Russians “are not our allies.” Albright also said it was very odd that Trump was acting “like best buddies” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Regarding Trump’s foreign policy, she said “some of the words have been fine” but the Trump White House is “still very much in the learning phase.”
The former secretary of state gave Rex Tillerson, the man currently in the job, an “incomplete” grade and said he had been “very spare in his comments.” Albright, a chair of Albright Stonebridge Group and chairman of the National Democratic Institute, also said the current trend of nationalism in the U.S. is “very dangerous”; she’s very worried about the state of the world; and “pretty much everything” keeps her up at night.
More excerpts from the interview
STATE BUDGET PROPOSAL TROUBLING: “I’m very troubled by the skinny budget which I think does not show enough of an understanding of the role of diplomacy and assistance in terms of what’s in the toolbox. … While I think there’s always a temptation to reorganize, having been through some of it myself at the State Department, it’s incredibly time-consuming and takes away time doing substantive work and kind of discombobulates the people, so I’ve been concerned about that and it’s been taking an awful lot of time. … People at the State Department wonder what’s going to happen to them.”
COMEY FIRING UNHELPFUL ABROAD: “I travel abroad a lot and obviously am asked by foreigners how to explain what is going on and the various policies. … I think this hurts a lot because the thing that we say to other countries is the importance of the rule of law, the importance of the role of the parliament and very, very importantly the role of the press. … I am very concerned. I do think it’s harmful in how people view the United States and how seriously they take what we say in terms of democracy.”
NOT CLOSE TO TILLERSON: “I called to congratulate him when he was named but we have not been in contact. … It was short. … I don’t think it’s my job to reach out. I think if somebody wants to talk to me, they can call me. I’m very happy to talk.”
WHAT KEEPS HER UP AT NIGHT: “I would have to say pretty much everything. I am very worried about the Middle East. … I so believe in America’s responsibilities and the role that we can play internationally as leaders, and I think that what worries me is the confusion of where we’re going. … It’s a tense time in the world. I think there are real questions about how institutions work. … What it requires is an understanding of America’s role and I’m troubled by not understanding it myself at the moment.”
MEDIAWATCH — “Rupert Murdoch To Unveil Fox Newsroom Renovation Plans At Manhattan HQ On Wednesday,” by Deadline’s Lisa de Moraes: “Rupert Murdoch will rally the Fox News troops on Wednesday, unveiling plans to renovate its second-floor newsroom in Manhattan. All Fox employees are invited to join the exec chairman in Studio F for a presentation to unveil plans for the first major Floor 2 overhaul in two decades, according to the invite, a copy of which was obtained by Deadline. Staffers will get the pep talk in two shifts, to accommodate the crowd.” http://bit.ly/2pT5Rcb
— ANNEKE GREEN has been named by RealClearPolitics as a columnist. She most recently was senior director at the White House Writers Group and worked on the speechwriting team in the Bush White House and is an alum of HHS, Regnery Publishing and The Washington Times.
SPOTTED: VA Secretary David Shulkin at DCA on a 2:10 p.m. JetBlue flight to Boston — pic http://bit.ly/2qr7m4z … former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) at The Smith on 9th Street, NW for lunch.
OUT AND ABOUT — Josh Culling of Dezenhall Resources hosted a salon dinner last night at the Palm featuring Matthew Elliott, the architect of the leave campaign for Brexit, discussing the status of U.S. and U.K. relations post Brexit, including the potential of future trade agreements, as well as the Trump and Theresa May relationship. SPOTTED: Alex Pappas, Jennifer Jacobs, Molly Ball, Hugh Hewitt, James Hewitt, Alice Stewart, Ann Marie Malecha, Ryan Williams, Greg Keller, Ryan Ellis, Peter Roff, Matt Continetti, Fred Brown.
TRANSITIONS — FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: Fenton, the PR agency, today named Ben Wyskida as its new CEO. He most recently was an EVP at BerlinRosen Public Affairs, where he built up the firm’s philanthropy and cultural activism practice. … Amanda Austin is joining Locust Group as a partner. She comes on board after serving as vice president of government relations and media for the past 14 years at the National Federation of Independent Business. She will “serve as campaign manager for the firm’s growing business and employer coalitions, while offering strategic communications and federal legislative strategies to Locust Street’s existing stable of clients.” …
… Drew Littman, former chief of staff to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and former senior counselor to Obama HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, has joined Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP as a policy director. … Katie Niederee has been named press secretary for the Senate Finance Committee. She previously worked as communications director for Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). … Matt Corridoni started Monday as the new press secretary for Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.). The O’Malley alum will work on the official and political side.
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell. How she’s celebrating: “I’m taking a ‘live shot-free’ day off from work for my traditional birthday spa visit, then dinner with family and close friends.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: http://politi.co/2pTo1ud
BIRTHDAYS: Jim Lyons … Mike Smith, DCCC national finance director … Rick Wiley … Kathleen Sullivan … WSJ’s Reid Epstein … NBC News’ Phally Lambert … Olivia Petersen, senior comms director for NBC News (h/t Neil Grace) … Politico’s Maura Kelly, Robin Turner, Megan Heckerman, Thao Sparling and Paul Higgins … Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is 46 … NYT’s Michael Shear is 49 … former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is 76 … Wynn Radford is 38 … Margarita Diaz, digital director for Sen. Gillibrand … MacKenzie Smith … Clay Johnson … Cheryl Bruner (h/ts Jon Haber) … Sarah Sonies … Camille Joseph … Chuck Raasch … former Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), now senior education adviser at Cengage Learning, is 72 … Peter Wallsten, WaPo’s deputy national politics editor …
… Jenna Lowenstein, former digital director for Hillary for America … Nick Conant (h/t bro Alex) … Randy Schriver of Armitage International and former chief of staff to State deputy secretary Richard Armitage, is 5-0 (h/t Stewart Verdery) … Eric Sapirstein … Paul Blank … Blake Zeff … Phillip Stutts, founder and CEO of Go BIG Media … Derrick Robinson, VP of comms and media relations at the Peter Damon Group … Shannon Spillane, VP for comms at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities … Robert Petito … Deirdre Murphy Ramsey, managing principal of comms at Precision Strategies (h/t Tom Zigo) … Martin McGuinness is 46 … Derek Flowers … Rebecca Nelson, senior political writer at Cosmo … NYT’s Robin Pogrebin … Kirk Oberfeld … Ralph Neas … Neil Rankin … Tim Del Monico … Leslie Ridle (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Sugar Ray Leonard is 61 … Bob Saget is 61 … Jim Nantz is 58 … Craig Ferguson is 55 (h/ts AP)