×
March 22, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report is here, and pretty much no one knows what's in it.

The Justice Department announced Friday that Mueller had finished his investigation into potential ties between President Trump's campaign and Russian election interference. And within minutes, even the most unexpected lawmakers started calling for Attorney General William Barr to release it to the public.

First up came a wave of Democratic voices. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a joint call for public report, while 2020 candidates chimed in with some variation on the theme. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also surprisingly called for a public release, saying it was needed to "put an end to the speculation and innuendo that has loomed over the administration."

Those calls reflected a 420-0 House vote last week on a non-binding resolution to make the report public. Heck, even Trump said Tuesday that he wouldn't mind if Congress saw what Mueller had to say. But there's still one major holdout: Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). In his Friday statement, Graham reflected Barr's language in simply calling for "as much transparency as possible, consistent with the law." Graham also blocked the House's popular resolution from a vote in the Senate earlier this week.

Grassley did pointedly note Friday that he was in Graham's committee position just last year — perhaps something he's regretting giving up right about now. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:52 a.m.

President Trump just put a reporter from The Washington Post on blast for the weirdest reason imaginable.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday that he didn't actually call journalist Robert Costa for an interview that was published the night before. Instead, Trump said, he "returned his call!"

Not only was Trump strangely insisting that calling someone back can't accurately be described as calling them, but this is also exactly how Costa originally described the situation, anyway. Costa tweeted on Tuesday that Trump had called him "in response to my request for comment" about a different story and then took additional questions. In other words, Trump returned his call.

Costa was quick to point this out, tweeting back at Trump on Wednesday, "Yes, I noted this last night, before the interview posted." As the president's especially active week on Twitter continues, which reporter's statement will he call out — while at the same time confirming is completely accurate — next? Brendan Morrow

10:18 a.m.

Steven Spielberg and Netflix seem to have buried the hatchet — if there ever even was one to begin with.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors in a meeting on Tuesday decided not to make any changes to its Oscars eligibility rules, per CNBC. Going forward, a movie will still only have to play in theaters for a minimum of one week in Los Angeles in order to qualify for the awards, Variety notes, and it's still allowed to be released on streaming immediately.

There had previously been reports that Spielberg was engaged in a full-on war with Netflix and would be proposing a rule change at this meeting that would affect the streamer, which debuts its movies online either the same day as they open theatrically or a few weeks later. For example, a rule could be implemented requiring films to play in theaters for a longer period of time to be eligible or requiring they be exclusive to theaters for some time.

This war, as it turns out, may have been overblown. Spielberg didn't even end up attending this meeting let alone propose anything, and The New York Times cites sources as saying Spielberg is actually less frustrated with streaming services than with major theater exhibitors who refuse to play films like Roma since they require a lengthy exclusivity window. In fact, Spielberg reportedly lobbied AMC and Regal to play Netflix's Roma to no avail.

Breaking his silence on the issue, Spielberg told the Times that people should be able to watch movies "in any form or fashion that suits them," whether that's on the big screen or the small screen, although did still exalt the importance of movie theaters. Ironically, reports suggest Netflix may be giving its upcoming The Irishman a robust theatrical release, meaning Spielberg may get his wish without any rules changes even being required. Brendan Morrow

10:05 a.m.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is out for revenge.

That's what former President Barack Obama's senior adviser David Axelrod thinks, at least. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that during Nielsen's tenure in Washington she tried to draw up a plan to prevent Russian election interference in 2020, but was rebuffed by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who said the subject should be kept below President Trump's level.

Axelrod, who has his fair share of White House experience, believes this story might just be the start of a slew of negative stories about the Trump administration following Nielsen's resignation in April after clashing with the president over immigration policies. Axelrod's theory is that the source may be none other than Nielsen herself.

The New Yorker's Susan Glasser also hinted at the idea in recent weeks after The Washington Post reported on the White House proposing to release immigrant detainees in sanctuary cities to hurt political opponents. That story also cited DHS officials.

That said, not everyone's on board with the idea of turning Nielsen into a Trump-fighting vigilante leaker. "Water cannon" or not, Union Veterans Council director Will Fischer says even a revenge plot won't make him a fan. Tim O'Donnell

9:21 a.m.

President Trump has a few intense details to add to reports of a Mexico-U.S. conflict at the border.

On April 13, Mexican soldiers confronted two U.S. troops in a remote part of Texas, as they apparently thought the service members had crossed the southern border and were in Mexico, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Trump took that account to the next level in a Wednesday tweet, saying "Mexico's soldiers recently pulled guns" on the service members, and that he was "sending armed soldiers to the border" in apparent retaliation.

The incident happened in part of Texas where the border wall is actually built north of the actual border, U.S. Northern Command told The Associated Press in a statement. Northern Command said there was a "brief discussion" between the soldiers, and that the Mexican troops eventually left. But Newsweek reports the American troops were searched, and that one reportedly had his gun removed from his hip and thrown inside a car. It's unclear if Trump means he'll send additional armed soldiers to the border, seeing as the Newsweek report suggests the U.S. troops involved were armed and at the border already. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:57 a.m.

President Trump on Wednesday repeated a conspiracy theory that British intelligence spied on his 2016 campaign, an idea that Fox News backed away from years ago.

Trump tweeted out a quote from a former CIA analyst, who on the right-wing One America News Network alleged that U.K. intelligence helped former President Barack Obama's administration spy on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Trump added that eventually, "the truth comes out."

If this sounds familiar, it should. This conspiracy theory was previously promoted by the White House in 2017, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer referencing it in a briefing. He got the idea from Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, who had used former CIA analyst Larry Johnson as a source, per The New York Times.

After this theory was elevated by the White House, Fox News pushed back on it, with Shepard Smith saying on air, "Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop.”

Napolitano was subsequently pulled from the network for a time, while Spicer defended himself as simply "passing on news reports." A spokesperson for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May called the claims "ridiculous," also saying that "we've received assurances that these allegations won't be repeated," per CNN.

Still, Trump repeated the allegations two years later on Wednesday, just one day after announcing his upcoming U.K. visit — a visit that likely just became a lot more awkward. Brendan Morrow

8:20 a.m.

House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week, and repeated on MSNBC Tuesday, that President Trump's "White House has refused to hand over any documents or produce any witnesses for interviews" this Congress. Trump, in fact, is suing Cummings to thwart some subpoenas and told the Post on Tuesday he doesn't want any of his current or former aides to testify before Congress.

Faced with this aggressive resistance to congressional oversight from Trump administration officials, Bloomberg reports, "some Democrats want to make them pay" — literally. "At a meeting of House leaders earlier this month, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler [D-N.Y.] suggested fining officials personally if they deny or ignore subpoenas," Bloomberg says, the idea being "to put teeth in his party's numerous investigative queries. ... Nadler even mentioned jailing administration officials as a consequence for contempt of Congress, though he surmised such a plan might be unrealistic."

House committees can vote to hold administration officials in contempt and take them to court, setting up a lengthy legal battle. But the House could also revive a mechanism called "inherent contempt" — voting in a new rule that allows it to fine people outside the court system for defying subpoenas. That process got its name "because courts have said the power is an inherent part of Congress' legislative powers," Bloomberg reports, though it "was mostly mothballed in recent years because it was politically unpalatable."

Now, given White House stonewalling, "it's political suicide to allow this to continue," said Morton Rosenberg, a longtime Congressional Research Service official who has proposed fining recalcitrant officials. Congress used to jail people it held in contempt, and the Supreme Court said that was fine, but Cornell University law professor Josh Chafetz tells Bloomberg that Congress has other remedies, like cutting funds for departments or individual federal officials who defy subpoenas. You can read more about House Democrats' options at Bloomberg. Peter Weber

7:50 a.m.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is apparently determined to keep grave warnings about Russian election interference from President Trump as not to upset him.

Mulvaney earlier this year told former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen not to bring up her concerns about Russian interference in the 2020 election, and her hopes to organize efforts to combat it, in front of Trump, The New York Times reports. This "wasn't a great subject and should be kept below his level," Mulvaney reportedly said, because Trump sees any discussion of Russian interference as undermining his 2016 election win.

As a result, the Times says, Nielsen gave up on a plan to organize a meeting of Cabinet secretaries to come up with a strategy for preventing interference in 2020, despite the fact that she had become "increasingly concerned" about continued Russian activity. In the past, Nielsen had assembled her own meetings on the issue after growing "so frustrated" with the White House's lack of response. She reportedly began to push for efforts to prevent 2020 election interference last year, although only after it became clear that she was falling out of Trump's favor.

Nielsen was ultimately forced out of the administration in April, reportedly over disagreements with the president on immigration.

This report comes one day after Jared Kushner, President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, publicly dismissed Russian interference in 2016 as just "a couple of Facebook ads," saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation actually had a "much harsher impact on our democracy." Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads