POLITICS RIGHT NOW: The Catholic speaker of the House tried to force the Catholic House chaplain to resign. A week later, he un-resigned and essentially accused the speaker’s chief of staff of an anti-Catholic bias. The speaker’s chief of staff issued a rare on-record statement denying his allegation. The speaker backed down, allowing him to stay …
… THE PRESIDENT of the United States is in a prolonged feud with a porn star. His attorney’s office and residence were raided, then it came out that his calls were being logged. A Republican candidate for the Senate in West Virginia -- a man who has been in prison for violating mine safety -- is suggesting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rich because of his wife’s Chinese family. News reports indicate the Republican candidate has, himself, expressed interest in Chinese citizenship. The Senate majority leader’s wife -- a two-time Cabinet secretary who is now Transportation secretary -- is an American with a wildly successful career. …
… A MAN WHO SERVED AS THE PRESIDENT’S DOCTOR claimed he released a health report during the campaign that the president himself dictated. He said this after his office was raided by two of Trump’s employees, who were in search of his health records.
WAPO’S DAN BALZ: “Does it bother anyone that President Trump has been caught lying? Does it bother anyone that this is not new? Does it bother anyone that the president has been shown to be a liar?” https://wapo.st/2JPCdht
Good Friday morning. NEW … INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE -- KELLYANNE’S NEW ROLE … ANNIE KARNI and ANNA are reporting that KELLYANNE CONWAY is at least temporarily taking a more active role in communications strategy at the White House. While Conway isn’t taking over as communications director -- no word yet on who will fill that position -- she announced at an off-campus retreat for the comms department at a federal building near the White House last week that she would be playing a bigger role running the operation, according to multiple sources.
THE SHIFT comes as the White House is still trying to fill the void left behind by former communications director Hope Hicks, whose job has sat vacant since she departed in March. Conway also asked the group assembled to share their thoughts on the White House’s comms strategy.
IT’S NOT wholly surprising. Conway has always had a heavy hand in reviewing and rewriting talking points because she so often appears on TV on behalf of the administration, according to a source who works closely with her. But now, one White House official said, “What the president would direct Hope to do with the press -- she’ll have a bigger hand in that.” Conway did not respond to calls.
SCOOP – “Trump’s new lawyer is top candidate for White House counsel,” by AP’s Chad Day, Eric Tucker and Zeke Miller: “President Donald Trump’s new attorney, Emmet Flood, a veteran of the Clinton impeachment battles, is the leading candidate to replace the White House’s top lawyer, several people familiar with the matter said Thursday.
“The move would be an effort to prepare for the possibility that Democrats could regain control of the House after the November election and undertake new congressional investigations. Three people told The Associated Press that Flood is on deck to replace White House counsel Don McGahn, who has been making plans to leave for some time. But two of the people cautioned that the timing was unclear and McGahn’s departure was not imminent.” http://bit.ly/2jqihGK
THE CHAPLAIN, by WaPo’s Paul Kane: “Conroy, who was forced to step down by Ryan last month, sent the speaker a letter rescinding his resignation and vowing to remain until the end of the year. Within hours Ryan had backed down, ending the possibility of what the speaker feared would be a ‘protracted fight’ over what is supposed to be a unifying and spiritual position in the partisan chamber.
“Ryan defended his original decision and continued to question whether Conroy was delivering sufficient ‘pastoral services’ to the entire House. ‘I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House,’ he said. …
“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested she still wanted answers from Ryan about his original decision. ‘Speaker Ryan’s decision to accept Father Conroy’s decision to rescind his resignation and finish his term is welcome news. However, many distressing questions must still be answered about the motivations behind Father Conroy’s unwarranted and unjust dismissal,’ she said in a statement.” https://wapo.st/2JNQMlR
-- RYAN folded what basically everyone in the Capitol knew was a losing hand. A fight with a priest in the middle of an election year seems completely nonsensical. Ryan maintains that dismissing Conroy was for the good of the House. But it seems obvious that this was not handled well.
HE’S BACK -- “Corey Lewandowski Is Back At The Center Of Donald Trump’s Universe,” by BuzzFeed’s Tarini Parti, Henry J. Gomez and Chris Geidner: “Lewandowski in recent months has been encouraged to repair relationships with officials at the [RNC], whose work he had previously trashed, in order to become more involved in the party’s 2018 strategy, a source told BuzzFeed News. ...
“Lewandowski's cameo at the Michigan rally was not a one-off, spontaneous event, according to a source close to the president who is involved in 2018 strategy. The plan is to have the former campaign manager travel more with the president for rallies ahead of November’s elections. He’s already made some appearances at events with Vice President Mike Pence, as he travels the country selling the tax code overhaul to voters.” https://bzfd.it/2rku3Gx
THE INVESTIGATIONS …
-- NBC NEWS: “CORRECTION: Earlier [Thursday], NBC News reported that there was a wiretap on the phones of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, citing two separate sources with knowledge of the legal proceedings involving Cohen.
“But three senior U.S. officials now dispute that, saying that the monitoring of Cohen’s phones was limited to a log of calls, known as a pen register, not a wiretap where investigators can actually listen to calls. NBC News has changed the headline and revised parts of the original article.” This story ran atop yesterday’s afternoon edition of Playbook. https://nbcnews.to/2I82wT9
-- WAPO’S MATT ZAPOTOSKY, DEVLIN BARRETT, CAROL LEONNIG and MICHELLE YE HEE LEE: “Analysts: Giuliani’s media blitz gives investigators new leads, new evidence”: “Giuliani made statements that speak to Trump and lawyer Michael Cohen’s intent -- an important aspect of some crimes -- and he made assertions that investigators can now check against what they have already learned from documents and witnesses, legal analysts said. His comments to media outlets underscore a growing tension for the White House: The FBI investigation of Cohen presents a legal problem for the president that his own lawyer might have exacerbated. …
“‘Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,’ Giuliani said. ‘Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.’
“That comment is important because it suggests Cohen made the payment with the intention of protecting the Trump campaign. In that case, the payment would constitute a campaign contribution or loan — rather than a personal expense. Such a contribution would have to be reported publicly, and the amount would have far exceeded the legal limit of $2,700 that Cohen could have given.” https://wapo.st/2jrv0sT
-- JOSH GERSTEIN: “How Giuliani’s remarks on Trump and Stormy Daniels change the legal landscape”: https://politi.co/2HNKOF9
-- DARREN SAMUELSOHN: “‘The public strategy has now subsumed the legal strategy,’ said a source who has worked with the president’s lawyers. ‘The public stance is fight, fight, fight. So the legal strategy is now fight, fight, fight.’ Trump’s legal team — now led by a talkative Rudy Giuliani — increasingly sees its goal as fighting potential impeachment proceedings by a Democratic-controlled Congress next year, according to multiple sources close to the White House.” https://politi.co/2w9iCXR
-- “Special counsel Robert Mueller focusing sharply on links between Trump confidant Roger Stone and former campaign official Rick Gates, sources say,” by CNBC’s Brian Schwartz: “Special counsel Robert Mueller is focusing intensely on alleged interactions between former top Trump campaign official Rick Gates and political operative Roger Stone, one of President Donald Trump’s closest confidants, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
“Stone, a longtime advisor to Trump, is apparently one of the top subjects of the Mueller investigation into potential collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, sources told CNBC on condition of anonymity. The questions have been largely about what was discussed at meetings, including dinners, between Stone and Gates, before and during the campaign, said the sources, who have knowledge of the substance of the recent interviews.” https://cnb.cx/2jqNWId
WOW -- “California Rep. Tony Cardenas denies uncorroborated allegations of molesting teenage girl,” by L.A. Times’ Sarah Wire and David Zahniser: “Rep. Tony Cardenas, a San Fernando Valley Democrat, confirmed Thursday that he is the unidentified elected official in a lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles alleging sexual molestation of a teenage girl in 2007, but he vehemently denied the allegations.
“‘My client is sickened and distraught by these horrific allegations, which are 100%, categorically untrue,’ Patricia Glaser, an attorney for Cardenas, said Thursday in a statement. ‘We respect victims who have found the strength to come forward and call out misconduct when it has actually occurred, but the type of baseless and reckless allegations that are contained in the complaint against my client can ruin the lives and careers of innocent people,’ she said. ...
“Cardenas, one of the highest-ranking Latino members of Congress, leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Bold PAC, which works to elect Latinos nationwide. He also holds a low-level position in the House leadership. Cardenas has been contacting fellow members of Congress in recent days to assert his innocence in connection with the lawsuit.
“The Times has been unable to corroborate the allegations, and no public evidence has emerged to support them. The lawsuit poses one of the biggest political threats the rising Democratic star has faced. Repeated attempts to contact Cardenas and his staff during the last week have failed.” https://lat.ms/2IiviQK
BREAKING OVERNIGHT ... AP/COPENHAGEN: "The Nobel Prize in literature will not be awarded this year following sex-abuse allegations and other issues that have affected the public image of the Swedish Academy that selects the winner.
"The academy said Friday the 2018 prize will be given in 2019. The decision was made at a weekly meeting in Stockholm a day earlier, on the grounds that the academy is in no shape to pick a winner after a string of sex abuse allegations and financial crimes scandals." http://bit.ly/2JQD15L
PRUITT’S NEVER-ENDING PROBLEMS … “Pruitt’s Coziness With Lobbyists Includes Secretly Buying a House With One,” by NYT’s Hiroko Tabuchi and Steve Eder: “Since moving to Washington, Scott Pruitt, the head of the [EPA], has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.
“As a state senator in Oklahoma 15 years ago, Mr. Pruitt went even further: He bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules -- changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature. And as with the condominium rental in Washington, Mr. Pruitt never publicly disclosed his financial relationship with the lobbyist, who, like Mr. Pruitt, lived in the home when in Oklahoma City on business.” https://nyti.ms/2HLDdXj
-- “A Pruitt Aide’s Attack on Zinke Angers the White House,” by The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott: “As [EPA] Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it. In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.
“‘This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,’ EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said. The stories were shopped with the intention of ‘taking the heat off of Pruitt,’ the sources said, in the aftermath of the EPA chief’s punishing congressional hearing last week. They both added, however, that most reporters felt the story was not solid enough to run. On Thursday, Patrick Howley of Big League Politics published a piece on the allegations; he did not respond to request for comment as to his sources.” https://theatln.tc/2HU2FpP
-- “Influential outsiders have played a key role in Scott Pruitt’s foreign travel,” by WaPo’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis: “Scott Pruitt’s itinerary for a February trip to Israel was remarkable by any standard for an [EPA] administrator: A stop at a controversial Jewish settlement in the West Bank. An appearance at Tel Aviv University. A hard-to-get audience with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One force behind Pruitt’s eclectic agenda: casino magnate and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, a major supporter of Israel who arranged parts of Pruitt’s visit. …
“Pruitt [has planned] foreign travel with significant help from outside interests, including lobbyists, Republican donors and conservative activists. After taking office last year, Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel, according to four people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal agency deliberations. Pruitt then enlisted well-connected friends and political allies to help make the trips happen.” https://wapo.st/2JTBJXL
MUST READ -- “Inside the World’s Most Controversial Hotel: The [Trump] hotel that was expected to take its place among the crown jewels of D.C.’s travel scene has become a magnet for protestors, a West Wing Annex, and—possibly—the center of a constitutional crisis,” by Zach Everson in Conde Nast Traveler: https://bit.ly/2KAU5Os
TRUMP’S FRIDAY -- The president will fly to Dallas to give a speech at the National Rifle Association Leadership Forum. Afterward, he will return to Washington.
YOU’RE INVITED ... We’ll sit down with NANCY PELOSI next Tuesday in D.C. Six months ahead of Election Day. RSVP http://bit.ly/playbookpelosi
GET YOUR TICKETS -- THE CONGRESSIONAL BASEBALL GAME will be June 14 at Nationals Park -- the first anniversary of the shooting that took place at the Republican practice last year. Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. and the first pitch will be at 7:05 p.m. as the Democrats look to defend their title. All proceeds go to the Congressional Sports for Charity. This year’s roster https://bit.ly/2rh2UTj … Tickets https://bit.ly/1ZYXFCN
SUNDAY SO FAR -- NBC’s “Meet the Press”: Michael McFaul. Panel: Kimberly Atkins, Bob Costa, Jon Meacham and Danielle Pletka
-- CNN’s “State of the Union”: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) ... Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Panel: S.E. Cupp, Rick Santorum, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Patti Solis Doyle
-- CNN’s “Inside Politics,” hosted by John King: Josh Dawsey, Molly Ball, Catherine Lucey, Phil Mattingly
-- “Fox News Sunday”: Panel: Guy Benson, Gillian Turner, Jonathan Swan, and Juan Williams. Power Player: Rye Barcott, CEO of With Honor
POLITICO INVESTIGATION -- MAGGIE SEVERNS and SCOTT BLAND: “‘Scam PACs’ rake in millions under guise of charity”: “A web of new political action committees raised nearly $6 million in recent months under the guise of supporting police, veterans and cancer research. But nearly all of the money has gone to their own vendors and staff, as opposed to those causes — hallmarks of so-called ‘scam PACs.’
“Several of the people and entities involved in the new PACs have been investigated for alleged fraud and other illegal practices in the charity sphere. But after coming under scrutiny, they have shifted recently into the much less regulated realm of politics, a POLITICO investigation has found.
“The new PACs have feel-good names like ‘Cops and Kids Together’ and ‘Americans for the Cure of Breast Cancer.’ They have succeeded in raising millions of dollars from small donors in a matter of months — and spent most of it just as quickly, without supporting political candidates or making a mark on a policy issue. Their activities highlight an unpleasant truth: Political groups often have less oversight and get more leeway than charities, even though they have to disclose more details about their donations and spending. Indeed, the [FEC] has said it is all but powerless to crack down on so-called ‘scam PACs.’” https://politi.co/2JRUVVW
FOR YOUR RADAR -- “Trump Orders Pentagon to Consider Reducing U.S. Forces in South Korea,” by NYT’s Mark Landler: “President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down American troops in South Korea, just weeks before he holds a landmark meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, according to several people briefed on the deliberations. Reduced troop levels are not intended to be a bargaining chip in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Kim about his weapons program, these officials said. But they acknowledged that a peace treaty between the two Koreas could diminish the need for the 28,500 soldiers currently stationed on the peninsula.
“Mr. Trump has been determined to withdraw troops from South Korea, arguing that the United States is not adequately compensated for the cost of maintaining them, that the troops are mainly protecting Japan and that decades of American military presence had not prevented the North from becoming a nuclear threat.” https://nyti.ms/2jrZET1
AT FOGGY BOTTOM – “U.S. freezes funding for Syria’s ‘White Helmets,’” by CBS News’ Kylie Atwood: “Less than two months ago the State Department hosted members of the White Helmets at Foggy Bottom. At the time, the humanitarian group was showered with praise for saving lives in Syria. ... Now they are not getting any U.S funding as the State Department says the support is ‘under active review.’ The U.S had accounted for about a third of the group's overall funding. ... The White Helmets, formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense, are a group of 3,000 volunteer rescuers that have saved thousands of lives since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.” https://cbsn.ws/2HMWbgo
REVOLVING DOOR -- “Sam Clovis is leaving USDA,” by Liz Crampton: “Sam Clovis, the former Trump campaign aide who had been serving as USDA's liaison to the White House, is leaving the Agriculture Department and will return home to Iowa, a USDA official confirmed Thursday evening.
“Clovis had served as a co-chairman and policy adviser on the Trump campaign and later led the USDA beachhead team for the Trump transition, but ran into trouble when President Donald Trump nominated him to be USDA undersecretary for research, education and economics.” https://politi.co/2HREdW6
-- SPOTTED at Clovis’ going away party last night at The Hamilton: Rebeckah Adcock, Jake Wilkins, Brian Klippenstein, Dudley Hoskins, Kailee Tkacz, Cameron Quinn, Seth Appleton and Carly Miller.
BEN LEFEBVRE: “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has hired Iowa Republican political consultant Chuck Laudner for a position with the National Park Service, an Interior spokeswoman confirmed today. Interior hired Laudner ‘a few weeks ago,’ spokeswoman Heather Swift said, though she did not say what his job he had taken. ...
“Laudner was an adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign, and he previously worked with Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign in Iowa in 2012. Laudner also worked as the executive director for the Iowa Republican Party from 2007 to 2008.”
MEDIAWATCH – “Sinclair preps to challenge Fox News: The company has met with former Fox staffers as it awaits approval of its merger with Tribune Media,” by Jason Schwartz: “Sinclair Broadcast Group, which for months has denied any interest in challenging Fox News while awaiting approval of a merger with Tribune Co., is gearing up to do just that. Sinclair executive chairman David Smith has been holding meetings with potential future employees, including former Fox News staff members, and laying out a vision for an evening block of opinion and news programming that would compete with Fox’s top-rated lineup, according to a person familiar with the meetings.
“Sinclair currently owns the Tennis Channel, and, as part of the $3.9 billion Tribune deal pending before the Federal Communications Commission, would acquire WGN America, a cable network that currently reaches 80 million homes. ... Other potential hires are former Fox anchor Eric Bolling and reporter James Rosen, who both declined to address whether they’ve met with Smith or other Sinclair executives.” https://politi.co/2rlfItl
SPOTTED AT CAFÉ MILANO for a party yesterday hosted by Franco Nuschese, Tammy Haddad, Kathy O’Hearn and Hilary Rosen to celebrate Ronan Farrow’s new book “War on Peace” ($16.77 on Amazon https://amzn.to/2I27E8T) and congratulate him on his Pulitzer Prize: Wayne Reynolds, Jane Mayer, Elisabeth Bumiller, Virginia Shore, Sally Quinn, Robyn Bash, Kristine Coratti, Juleanna Glover, Greta Van Susteren and John Coale, Emily Lenzner, Ann Hand, Adrienne Arsht, Ryan Williams, Mariella Tragar, Lynn Sweet, Kevin Latek, Betsy Fischer Martin, Ruth Marcus, Holly Page, Kevin Baron, Jennifer Maguire, Autumn Vandehei, Dan Meyers, Eileen Shields-West, Samia Farouki and Megan Smith.
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) is 64. How he got his start in politics: “I dabbled around some in high school but really got involved in college helping the statewide vote to modernize Alabama’s court system pushed by then Alabama Chief Justice Howell Heflin. When Judge Heflin ran for the Senate in 1978 I was very active in his campaign and was a campaign staffer that summer. After his election to the Senate I was very fortunate to get my first job right out of law school working for him as a staff counsel on the Judiciary Committee.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: https://politi.co/2waawho
BIRTHDAYS: Kelly Love, senior assistant White House press secretary (hat tips: Ninio Fetalvo, Zeke Miller and Susanna Quinn) ... George F. Will is 77 ... Polson Kanneth, senior editorial producer for CNN’s “State of the Union,” is 35 ... Shira Center, political editor at the Boston Globe (h/ts Kelley McCormick) ... HuffPost’s Eliot Nelson ... Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers … Todd Stern, senior fellow at Brookings and formerly Obama’s chief climate negotiator (h/t Jon Haber) … Megan Kopf Stackhouse ... Charlie Chambers ... Allison Bormel ... Siobhán Steel is 28 ... Ellen Qualls … Stat’s Erin Mershon ... Darnell Strom (h/t Rachel Adler) … John McNaught, Obama Treasury and WH PPO alum, is 32 (h/t wife Becky Beland McNaught) … Politico’s Ted Hesson ... Steve Ross … Steve Rosenberg is 29 ... Mitchell Rivard, COS for Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), is 28. He celebrated last night at Capo Italian Deli (h/t Michael LaRosa) ...
… Shana Mansbach, director of speechwriting for Leader Nancy Pelosi; Shana is celebrating in Tulum -- (pics http://bit.ly/2rlmY8j … http://bit.ly/2Kzeq6L) … Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-H.I.) is 67 ... Katy Quinn ... Black Rock Group’s Charlotte McCoy ... Edelman’s Kristin Engdahl Zipay, Omer Masica and Sarah Albanesi ... Terrell Halaska of HCM Strategists ... Derya Agis ... Bernie Swain ... Kathy O’Hearn, chief development and communications officer at Vital Voices (h/t Tammy Haddad) … Natalie Akers ... David Pace … Travis Mason … Joe Harper … John R. Gagain Jr. ... former NY assemblyman Richard Brodsky ... Nancy Ayers ... Akmal Ali, principal at Catalyst Partners and a DHS alum … Natalie Sabbath ... Miles Hansen.