Week in Review
North Korea summit
- Talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fell apart, with Trump blaming the breakdown on Kim’s insistence that sanctions on Pyongyang be lifted without his commitment to eliminate the country’s nuclear arsenal. Longstanding U.S. policy has insisted that sanctions remain in place unless the North commits to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization – a goal Trump declined to restate, saying he preferred a more flexible approach to the talks.
- North Korea disputed Trump’s account of why talks collapsed, insisting that Kim only demanded partial sanctions relief in exchange for shutting down its main nuclear complex and saying that he was willing to put in writing that it would halt its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
- The parents of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died after being detained in North Korea for 17 months, responded to Trump’s defense of Kim, saying the North Korean leader is to blame for their son’s death. Trump said at a news conference following his Vietnam summit that Kim felt “very badly” about Warmbier’s death in 2017, and that he believed Kim’s account that he was not responsible.
- Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, said in testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are conducting an investigation of previously undisclosed wrongdoing related to the president. The revelation came as Cohen told lawmakers that the last time he spoke to Trump was “within two months” of the April 2018 FBI raid on his home, office and hotel suite.
- Cohen also told the committee that Trump knew his longtime associate Roger Stone “was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails” during the 2016 campaign. He presented the committee with one of 11 checks he says Trump wrote as president to reimburse him for a hush-money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, which Cohen plans to call part of “a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.”
- Mueller’s office appeared to correct part of its allegations that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied about his contacts with a Russian business associate whom prosecutors have linked to Russian intelligence, citing new evidence obtained less than two weeks ago from former Trump campaign official Rick Gates. The revised account should not change the recent ruling that Manafort was untruthful about his interactions with the Russian associate, but could give new ammunition to Manafort’s defense team, which has argued that prosecutors overreached.
- The House Judiciary Committee believes it has evidence that Trump asked then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker whether Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, could regain control of his office’s investigation into Cohen and Trump’s real estate business. Berman, a former law partner of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and a donor to the president’s 2016 campaign, had recused himself from the case, and there’s no sign that Whitaker acted on any request from Trump.
- In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was unconstitutional. The challenge, brought by Andrew Miller, an associate of Stone, claimed that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein lacked authority to make the appointment and that Mueller should have been nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
- The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted to subpoena Trump administration officials over family separations at the southern border. The move will compel the heads of the Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments to deliver documents to lawmakers as they probe the separation of children from their parents under Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.
- House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) accused the White House of blocking his committee’s demands for documents and witnesses relating to the White House’s security clearance process and said this was the administration’s last chance to comply before his panel would issue subpoenas.
- In a 245-182 vote, the House passed legislation to overturn Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border, forcing a Senate vote in the coming weeks. Thirteen Republicans sided with the Democrats, though it fell well short of the two-thirds majority required to overcome Trump’s threatened veto.
- The Senate confirmed former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency by a vote of 52–47. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted against his confirmation, saying the policies Wheeler has supported “are not in the best interest of our environment and public health.”
- A day after House Democrats lost the second Republican-backed procedural vote of the 116th Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democratic leadership and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would prioritize vulnerable members of the caucus who had the “courage” to vote against the Republican motions to recommit. The California Democrat told reporters that backing those GOP motions gives the minority party “leverage,” but did not endorse changing House rules to eliminate them.
- The House passed legislation mandating federal criminal background checks on all gun sales in a 240-190 vote. The measure faces stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Trump administration
- It was reported that Trump ordered then-White House chief of staff John Kelly to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns by White House counsel Don McGahn and the intelligence community. Trump had said in an interview that he had no role in his son-in-law receiving his clearance, but that account is disputed by a memo written by Kelly at the time that said he had been “ordered” to grant one to Kushner.
- Trump delayed a March 1 increase in tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, saying there had been “substantial progress in our trade talks with China.” Trump said if “additional progress” was made between the two countries, he’d plan for a summit meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
- Alva Johnson, a staffer on Trump’s 2016 campaign, filed a lawsuit alleging Trump kissed her without her consent before a Florida rally and is seeking unspecified damages for emotional pain and suffering. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the allegation by Johnson – who joins more than a dozen other women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct – “is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye witness accounts.”
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he is running for president, becoming the first governor to join the 2020 Democratic field. The 68-year-old begins his campaign less-known than many of the other candidates, but is betting that a focus on the environment can elevate him as some progressives push for a “Green New Deal.”
- Former Vice President Joe Biden said his family is on board with him running for president, and that he’s “very close” to making a decision on whether to enter the race. The Delaware Democrat said he and his advisers are “taking a hard look” at the depth and breadth of his appeal to voters because he didn’t want to “take people’s time, effort and commitment without there being a clear shot” at winning the party’s nod to take on Trump.
- Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) won’t run for Senate next year against GOP Sen. John Cornyn and is likely to announce a campaign for president, according to sources. In a statement, O’Rourke said he has made a decision about how best to serve, and was “excited to share it with everyone soon.”
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in an email to supporters that she won’t attend high-dollar fundraisers, dinners or cocktail receptions with donors, setting a new standard for her campaign that means “wealthy donors won’t be able to purchase better seats or one-on-one time with me at our events.” The Massachusetts Democrat has also sworn off lobbyist and PAC money, something many other 2020 contenders have done that has not precluded them from scheduling high-dollar fundraisers.
- Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the choice in the next election is “between freedom and socialism,” pressing the White House’s case that Democrats are rallying behind the policies of socialism. Pence took aim at “Medicare for all” and the Green New Deal policies being pushed by some Democrats ahead of the 2020 election, joining an effort by the president and his allies to stoke enthusiasm among the Republican base.
- The Republican political operative at the center of North Carolina’s 9th District election fraud case was arrested after being indicted on charges related to collecting absentee ballots in the 2018 and 2016 elections. McCrae Dowless, who worked for Republican candidate Mark Harris last year, faces three felony charges of obstruction of justice, two charges of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two charges of possession of absentee ballot.
- Harris said he won’t run for the Republican nomination in the district. Democrat Dan McCready has already said he’ll run for the seat again, while the Republican field isn’t set: Harris endorsed Republican Stony Rushing a day after former Gov. Pat McCrory said he wouldn’t mount a campaign.