FIRST IN PLAYBOOK … STEVE HART SPEAKS -- the lobbyist who is married to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s former landlord: “Williams & Jensen has always been committed to delivering exceptional client service with the highest ethical standards of professional conduct, so I take this matter very seriously and I regret that recent news reports could have created even a mere appearance that could call into question that forty year commitment.
“As I have stated previously, the condominium is not owned by Williams & Jensen, its partners, or any other employees of the firm, and any suggestion that Administrator Pruitt’s short-term rental of one of its bedrooms in 2017 resulted in undue influence for the firm or its clients with business before the EPA is simply false. I am confident in these facts, and certain that all fair and impartial assessments of the matter will conclude accordingly. Finally, I apologize to my wife, Vicki, whose fantastic career is being maligned unnecessarily.”
-- NBC 4’S MARK SEAGRAVES (@SegravesNBC4): “DC government issues citation to owner of apartment Scott Pruitt rented because they did not have proper license to rent the unit. Possible fine of $2,034”.
FOR THOSE KEEPING TRACK AT HOME, EPA ADMINISTRATOR SCOTT PRUITT -- or those around him -- have discussed: an on-demand airplane charter service popular with the uber wealthy … An armored SUV with tires that don’t deflate if shot … He procured two new desks for his office, one that has been compared to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, according to a new bombshell NYT report. Those around him originally wanted a bulletproof desk … They built a nearly $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office … He flew first class because of security threats … CBS reported that Pruitt wanted his detail to throw on its lights in Washington (https://cbsn.ws/2Es9YTe). The Times says he once wanted his motorcade to use its lights to get to dinner at Le Diplomate on 14th Street.
… (By the way, don’t we ALL wish we could get a motorcade with lights and sirens when crawling up 14th Street?)
BREAKING LAST NIGHT … ELIANA JOHNSON and ANDREW RESTUCCIA: “Pruitt fell behind on payments for his $50-a-night condo rental”: “[EPA] chief Scott Pruitt was at times slow to pay the rent on his $50-per-night lease in a Capitol Hill condo, according to two people with knowledge of the situation — forcing his lobbyist landlord to pester him for payment.” https://politi.co/2GCEJe5
-- THE NYT STORY: “E.P.A. Officials Sidelined After Questioning Scott Pruitt,” by NYT’s Eric Lipton, Ken Vogel and Lisa Friedman: “At least five officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, four of them high-ranking, were reassigned or demoted, or requested new jobs in the past year after they raised concerns about the spending and management of the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt.
“The concerns included unusually large spending on office furniture and first-class travel, as well as certain demands by Mr. Pruitt for security coverage, such as requests for a bulletproof vehicle and an expanded 20-person protective detail, according to people who worked for or with the E.P.A. and have direct knowledge of the situation. Mr. Pruitt bristled when the officials — four career E.P.A. employees and one Trump administration political appointee — confronted him.” https://nyti.ms/2EmebaJ
HMM -- “Trump floated replacing Sessions with Pruitt this week despite scandals,” by CNN’s Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins: https://cnn.it/2uP7Fd7
SPOTTED -- per a tipster: “Joe and Jill Biden at West Palm Beach Airport deplaning AA2067 from DCA, carrying their own luggage. They passed Brad Parscale, who was stretched out on row of seats about 20 yards away at the same gate, B9, waiting to get on AA2067 back to DCA. He got on the flight, seated in first class.” Pics -- Brad http://bit.ly/2GDuQbR … The Bidens http://bit.ly/2EpcJ7z … http://bit.ly/2qfB8aT
WEST WING BUZZ -- At this moment, aides and friends of PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP believe he will go to the White House Correspondents Dinner later this month. They say he enjoyed the Gridiron Dinner. Of course, the president’s relationship with the press is, well, touchy. And his attendance will depend on media coverage and unfolding events in the next few weeks.
THE PRESIDENT has nothing on his schedule today. … ICYMI (you probably didn’t): TRUMP on AIR FORCE ONE yesterday late afternoon, via WSJ’s Rebecca Ballhaus: AMAZON: “Amazon is just not on an even playing field. They have a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having the Washington Post. ... What they have is a very uneven playing field. Look at the sales tax situation.”
… STORMY DANIELS: He said he didn’t know about the $130,000 payment. Asked why Michael Cohen made the payment: “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.” He said he didn’t know where the money came from.
-- CNN’S ELIZABETH LANDERS -- @ElizLanders: “An overlooked (and hilarious) comment from @potus at the end of his press gaggle on Air Force One: ‘Thank you very much everybody. I’ll see you back in New York. Thank you.’ (spoiler: the plane landed in DC)”.
Good Friday morning. THE NOT TRADE WAR: “U.S. to Consider Additional $100 Billion in China Tariffs,” by WSJ’s Bob Davis: “The move would triple the amount of Chinese goods facing levies when entering the U.S., up from the tariffs on $50 billion in imports from China that the president announced last week.
“Mr. Trump, who justified the tariffs on Chinese imports by citing alleged violations of U.S. intellectual property laws, said Thursday that an escalation would be due to Beijing’s ‘unfair retaliation,’ which could ‘harm our farmers and manufacturers.’
“Mr. Trump also said he would instruct the Agriculture Secretary to put together a plan ‘to protect our farmers and agricultural interests,’ but he provided no details. … In response to the possible new U.S. tariffs, China’s Commerce Ministry said Beijing would respond with its own countermeasures should it come to that.
“‘The Chinese side will follow suit to the end, not hesitate to pay any price, resolutely counterattack and take new comprehensive measures in response,’ a ministry statement said citing an unnamed spokesman. The spokesman suggested that China is waiting to see if the Trump administration will go ahead and act, saying ‘We will listen to its words and watch its actions.’” https://on.wsj.com/2H0NaPG
CHINA seems to basically be saying, “Interesting. We’re not folding, and have no plans to.”
VIA FT: “On Friday, a Ministry of Commerce spokesman said China was prepared to adopt ‘comprehensive countermeasures’ in its dispute with the U.S., adding: ‘China doesn’t want a trade war, but we’re not afraid to fight a trade war’.
“Lu Kang, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, echoed the commerce ministry’s statement, adding: ‘We will accompany [the U.S.] until the end, we will not hesitate in paying any price.’” https://on.ft.com/2GIi6R6
IS THIS REAL? WE HAVE NO IDEA whether Trump will follow through on this, or whether this is posturing -- something the president has a history of doing.
-- BY THE WAY: If the new tariff threat is merely positioning, and everyone -- including the Chinese -- sees it as that, it’s not really an effective negotiating tactic.
IT WASN’T TOO LONG AGO when Republicans’ main criticism of Barack Obama was that he was creating uncertainty for businesses and investors. People with money at stake can’t count on these threats being part of a game.
INSIDE THE ADMINISTRATION …
-- LEAD OF THE DAY: AP’S JONATHAN LEMIRE and CATHERINE LUCEY: “Inside a White House in tumult, John Kelly’s clout dwindles”: “When President Donald Trump made a congratulatory phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, White House chief of staff John Kelly wasn’t on the line. When Trump tapped John Bolton to be his next national security adviser, Kelly wasn’t in the room. And when Trump spent a Mar-a-Lago weekend stewing over immigration and trade, Kelly wasn’t in sight.
“Kelly, once empowered to bring order to a turbulent West Wing, has receded from view, his clout diminished, his word less trusted by staff and his guidance less tolerated by an increasingly go-it-alone president. …
“Trump recently told one confidant that he was ‘tired of being told no’ by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all, according to a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.” http://bit.ly/2H1hiKA
-- THE FOX NEWS EFFECT: JOSH DAWSEY: “Trump’s must-see TV: Judge Jeanine’s show and her positive take on the president”: “President Trump and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly do not regularly give on-the-record interviews. But both men recently sat down with Jeanine Pirro, the fiery Fox News host whom Trump loves, for her upcoming book on the Trump presidency, White House officials said.
“The White House communications shop arranged the 30-minute interview with Pirro and the chief of staff in the West Wing, two White House officials said. Trump gave her an even longer interview, one of these officials said.” https://wapo.st/2EoGwxm
WAIT FOR IT … ANOTHER BIG ADMINISTRATION SPENDER -- “Consumer Bureau’s Chief Gives Big Raises, Even as He Criticizes Spending,” by NYT’s Stacy Cowley: “Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has complained that the regulator engages in ‘wasteful spending’ and needs to be slimmed down. To underscore the point, he submitted a quarterly budget request recently that was a nice round number: $0. That attitude, though, apparently didn’t apply to two of his recent hires. Mr. Mulvaney appointed two senior staff members who are paid salaries of more than $230,000, amounts that are far above what they had been earning in their previous government jobs in Washington ...
“The consumer bureau, as well as fellow financial regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is allowed under federal law to pay employees significantly more than other government agencies can pay. ... When Mr. Mulvaney hired Kirsten Sutton in January to be the agency’s chief of staff, he agreed to pay her $259,500 a year ... Like Ms. Sutton, Brian Johnson, another new deputy, previously worked on the House Financial Services Committee. In his most recent job there, as policy director, he earned about $170,000 a year, according to LegiStorm.” https://nyti.ms/2GFTp8b
UNDERSTANDING TRUMP’S BEZOS FIXATION -- “Why Trump went after Bezos: Two billionaires across a cultural divide,” by WaPo’s Marc Fisher: “Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos inhabit very different worlds. The president is a staunch bricks-and-mortar man who made his fortune building towers and dealing with blue-collar workers.
“The founder of the world’s largest store, by contrast, is a space enthusiast who experiments with robots and operates much of the cloud where the new economy’s data lives. Trump’s decision in recent days to zero in on Bezos and Amazon.com as his latest Twitter targets has highlighted a severe fracture in American society, a divide between concrete and steel and zeros and ones, a split that is as much philosophical as it is economic, as much about the fraying of communities as it is about the shape of commerce. ...
“Bezos, a principal architect of the new digital economy, is in some ways a perfect foil for the president, a symbol of a technological revolution who has posed enthusiastically with a robot dog. The two serial entrepreneurs represent opposing notions about how the country can build an economy that works for Republican and Democratic strongholds alike.” https://wapo.st/2GEN253
WAPO’S GREG JAFFE: “For Trump and his generals, ‘victory’ has different meanings”: “Trump and the military hold frequently opposing ideas about exactly what winning means. Those differences have played out in heated Situation Room ¬debates over virtually every spot on the globe where U.S. troops are engaged in combat, said senior administration officials. And they contributed to the dismissal last month of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster who as national security adviser had pressed the president against his instincts to support an open-ended commitment of U.S. forces to Afghanistan.
“Trump’s words, both in public and private, describe a view that wars should be brutal and swift, waged with overwhelming firepower and, in some cases, with little regard for civilian casualties. Victory over America’s enemies for the president is often a matter of bombing ‘the s--- out of them,’ as he said on the campaign trail.” https://wapo.st/2uPPG6B
-- “Space war is coming — and the U.S. is not ready,” by Bryan Bender and Jacqueline Klimas: https://politi.co/2uS04dN
THE INVESTIGATIONS …
-- “Mueller moved to seize bank accounts in Manafort probe,” by Josh Gerstein: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office moved to seize bank accounts at three different financial institutions last year just one day before former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted, prosecutors disclosed in a court filing Thursday. The previously unknown move against the bank accounts was revealed in a list of search and seizure warrants prosecutors submitted to a federal court in Washington after Manafort's defense team complained that the government was withholding too many details about how the warrants were obtained.
“The new filing also indicated that Mueller’s investigators have been pressing on with their work in recent weeks despite the pair of indictments pending against Manafort and a detailed indictment in February of the Russia-based Internet Research Agency and a dozen Russian nationals for alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” https://politi.co/2EpiWQZ
2020 WATCH …
-- NYT’s JONATHAN MARTIN in JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: “Bernie Sanders Courts Black Voters Anew. But an Obama Reference Stings”: “Senator Bernie Sanders insists he hasn’t decided whether to run again for president, but a 14-hour sprint across the Deep South on Wednesday made clear that he is not only thinking about it but is already trying to remedy his most significant vulnerability in 2016: his lack of support from black voters. …
“On Wednesday night, after the Jackson forum, Mr. Sanders faced sharp criticism from some African-Americans who thought he had reduced the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, to merely being what Mr. Sanders called a ‘charismatic individual.’ …
“‘Yes, I’m a fairly private person and I don’t like to talk about every aspect of my life,’ Mr. Sanders acknowledged in a dressing-room interview after the forum. ‘I think a lot of politicians do that in a way that is not appropriate. … ‘Somebody might be interested in what I did 50 years ago, that’s fine,’ Mr. Sanders said with an evident lack of enthusiasm. ‘Or what I did yesterday. But what people have got to start focusing on is not me. It’s how we transform America.’” https://nyti.ms/2uLQRDK
-- CLIP AND SAVE: “Warren: I’ll serve my full Senate term if reelected,” by Massachusetts Playbooker Lauren Dezenski in Dorchester, Massachusetts: “Elizabeth Warren said she would serve her full six-year term in the Senate if reelected this November. ‘Yes, that’s my plan. I’m running for the United States Senate in 2018,’ Warren told reporters Thursday, when asked if she would commit to serving out her full term. ‘I am not running for president of the United States. That’s my plan.’” https://politi.co/2H1vRxM
SPOTTED at Nats opening day: Jonathan Lerner, Tom Friedman, Bob Costa, Jon Karl, Grant Tanenbaum, Don Baer and Luke Russert and Donnie Graham -- two St. Albans alumni -- in section 117.
SUNDAY SO FAR … CBS’S “FACE THE NATION”: Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). Panel: Jeffrey Goldberg, Toluse Olorunnipa, Julie Pace and Ramesh Ponnuru
-- CNN’S “STATE OF THE UNION”: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Panel: Karine Jean-Pierre, Jen Psaki, Linda Chavez and Kelli Ward
-- NBC’S “MEET THE PRESS”: Panel: Charlie Cook, Helene Cooper, Rich Lowry and Doris Kearns Goodwin
-- “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”: Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) … Panel: Karl Rove, Donna Edwards, Michael Needham and Juan Williams. Power Player: Sylvia Burwell
-- CNN’S “INSIDE POLITICS”: Eliana Johnson, Manu Raju, Molly Ball and Josh Dawsey
HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’S JEREMY BARR: “Stuck in Third Place, Should CNN Abandon Its ‘Food Fight’ Formula?” http://bit.ly/2HfgqQj
THE ADMINISTRATION -- “Under Trump, an Office Meant to Help Refugees Enters the Abortion Wars,” by NYT’s Jeremy W. Peters: “Scott Lloyd’s unadorned job title betrays little hint of the power he has over the pregnant teenagers in his custody. As director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, he oversees the assistance program for the tens of thousands of refugees who still seek shelter in the United States, even with the Trump administration’s crackdown. But as the government official who is also responsible for the care of young, undocumented immigrants who enter the United States without their parents, he spends much of his time trying to stop those who want an abortion.
“He has instructed his staff to give him a spreadsheet each week that tells him about any unaccompanied minors who have asked for one and how far along they are in their pregnancy. In at least one case he directed staff to read to one girl a description of what happens during an abortion. And when there’s a need for counseling, Mr. Lloyd’s office calls on someone from its list of preferred ‘life affirming’ pregnancy resource centers.” https://nyti.ms/2q9Uvmh
MEDIAWATCH -- “Amy Schumer Cancels Interview With Sinclair-Owned TV Station,” by BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg: “Actor Amy Schumer has canceled a scheduled interview with a TV station owned by Sinclair, the broadcasting giant which has been under fire in recent days for forcing its anchors to read politicized statements on air bashing the mainstream media. Schumer had planned to sit down with WJLA, an ABC affiliate in Washington, DC, as part of a press junket promoting her new movie ‘I Feel Pretty.’ ... According to a person familiar with the matter, Schumer hopes to not work with any Sinclair-owned TV station in the future. Spokespeople for WJLA and Sinclair did not return a request for comment.” https://bzfd.it/2qbAE6f
-- “Rachel Maddow Tops Sean Hannity, Becomes Most-Watched Cable News Host in March,” by Variety’s Joe Otterson: http://bit.ly/2EphUnV
-- “The Atlantic splits with conservative writer over abortion comments,” by Morning Media’s Michael Calderone: “The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg said Thursday the magazine was ‘parting ways’ with newly hired conservative writer Kevin Williamson after fresh evidence emerged that he had endorsed hanging women who get abortions. Goldberg had initially defended hiring Williamson from National Review despite complaints about his previous writing, some of which critics said was racially insensitive or offensive to transgender people. Much of the criticism involved a 2014 tweet that suggested women who had abortions ‘should face capital punishment, namely hanging.’
“On Wednesday, the liberal research group Media Matters unearthed a podcast in which Williamson expressed the same position. ‘The language he used in this podcast — and in my conversations with [Williamson] in recent days — made it clear that the original tweet did, in fact, represent his carefully considered view,’ Goldberg told staff in a Thursday memo. … ‘Furthermore, the language used in the podcast was callous and violent. This runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.’” https://politi.co/2GWRjUD
SPOTTED: Tony Podesta, Steve Clemons and Susan Blumenthal at the French ambassador’s residence for a reception pairing French and Japanese food and products … Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) on American Airlines flight 4696 from DCA to CMH.
TRANSITIONS – WHITE HOUSE ARRIVAL LOUNGE: Eleni Roumel is joining Vice President Pence’s office on Monday as deputy counsel. She is leaving the House Office of General Counsel after 5 years.
BIRTHDAYS OF THE DAY: Charles Rivkin, chairman and CEO of the MPAA and former U.S. Ambassador to France. How he got his start in politics: “My career, certainly in government, was in some ways a search for my lost father. He died while serving as a U.S. ambassador when I was not quite 5 years old. I had only distant memories, what I heard from my mother, and the memoirs he wrote. This inspired me to write my college applications about my dream of becoming an ambassador like him one day. Of course, many other things happened along the way. But this was the spiritual thread that led me to pursue public service.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: https://politi.co/2GAHImZ
-- Olivia Perez-Cubas, communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). An article she read recently: “Really enjoyed Ross Douthat’s column [https://nyti.ms/2uPf9ga] on Jordan Peterson and the effect he is having on men’s views of religion and society more broadly. It’s a fascinating dynamic and one worth exploring. Two worlds of conservative commentary collided for me as I recently began listening to Peterson’s lectures. On a side note – while his lectures are popular with men, they’re certainly worthwhile for women as well!” Q&A: https://politi.co/2GBXdY4
BIRTHDAYS: WSJ media reporter Keach Hagey ... Scott Reed ... Ron Brownstein ... Matt Flynn, special assistant to the president and senior director of White House cabinet affairs … Joyce Meyer ... John Santucci of ABC News ... Steve Antosh … Politico’s Tucker Doherty and Lisa Li ... Michele Bachmann is 62 ... Ann Castagnetti (hat tip: Jon Haber) ... Casey Farrington ... Richard Coolidge, PBS “NewsHour” senior producer (h/t Nick Massella) ... Seth Lucia ... Politico alum Natalie Villacorta ... Anthony Bernal ... Lucy Westcott ... Kalee Kreider, Al Gore alum ... CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty … Alexandra Traber ... TNR executive editor Ryan Kearney ... Clo Ewing ... Lisa Ellman of Hogan Lovells … Aaron Short ... Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center ... Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) is 65 ... Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) is 54 ... Andy Oare, VP at Glover Park Group ... Megan Bartley … Amy Schultz Berman ...
… Melissa Carlson Kelly (h/t Tim Burger, who’s making a weeklong trip to D.C. starting today) … Richard Kim, executive editor of The Nation (h/t Caitlin Graf) … ESA’s Kevin O’Hanlon (h/t Nika Nour) ... Alex Tripiano ... the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turned 188 ... Univision’s Carolina V. Valencia … philanthropist Jeanie Schottenstein ... Jay Haberman ... Doug Ellin is 5-0 ... DCCC alum Jerah Smith ... Mike Raia, comms director for Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, is 35 (h/t Jon Romano) ... Mike Johnson … Caroline Fawcett … Phil Paule … Donna Caudill ... Asher Dickens … Jill Schroeder Vieth … Melissa Schwartz, COO at the Bromwich Group and also Andy McCabe’s spokesperson (h/t Nana Efua Mumford) ... Matthew Flanders … Todd Beeton … Gabrielle Birkner … Jesus Gonzalez ... Remy White ... Todd Klukow is 56 ... Cindy Terrell ... Mike Berland ... Matthew Flanders … Bush 43 alum Stacie Maass … Drew Baney ... Ricardo Sanchez ... Don Webb.