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D.C. Memo: Always transparent and consistent with the rules and the law

Trump’s efforts to thwart investigations; Mueller report expected soon; Klobuchar’s true grit; and more.

Attorney General William Barr pledged to be transparent with Congress about the Mueller report.
REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Welcome to the D.C. Memo, which — like the federal government — likes to take a day off whenever there’s even a rumor of snow in the forecast. This week, we’ll look at Amy’s 2020 debut and why it may finally be Mueller Time. But first, let’s get to the most pressing story of the week: an interview with a guy who’s been dead for 40 years.

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Three big things

1. Investigation investigation

Wait, not the one you were thinking of? Right, there was another story that everybody was talking about, this one about a guy who isn’t dead (but was once endorsed by the dead guy’s daughter): The New York Times’ report on President Donald Trump’s “war” on the investigations threatening his presidency. Though there aren’t multiple bombshell revelations in the story — at least when graded on the Trumpian curve of conspicuous calamities — it does serve as something of the ultimate plate-cleaner when it comes to the president’s alleged attempts to thwart the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller:

An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn, the Trump administration’s first national security adviser. Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. And there was the episode when he asked his attorney general about putting [Trump loyalist Geoffrey S.] Berman in charge of the Manhattan investigation. …

The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.

It is a public relations strategy as much as a legal strategy — a campaign to create a narrative of a president hounded by his “deep state” foes. The new Democratic majority in the House, and the prospect of a wave of investigations on Capitol Hill this year, will test whether the strategy shores up Mr. Trump’s political support or puts his presidency in greater peril. The president has spent much of his time venting publicly about there being “no collusion” with Russia before the 2016 election, which has diverted attention from a growing body of evidence that he has tried to impede the various investigations.

Granted, we could still be a little loopy from accidentally inhaling some ice melt while trying to keep track of Minneapolis’ Snow Emergency Rules, but seems to us that having phrases like “misleading information,” “no other president in history,” and “puts his presidency in greater peril” that close together in The New York Times are not the ideal ingredients for the making of a great week.

That said, things could always be worse.

2. Reports of summary of report

Except for that, well, things just might be getting worse for the president: On Wednesday, CNN reported that newly installed Attorney General Bill Barr is getting ready to announce — possibly next week — that Mueller’s Russia investigation is complete, and that, soon after, Barr plans to submit a summary of the report to Congress. According to the network:

The scope and contours of what Barr will send to Congress remain unclear. Also unclear is how long it will take Justice officials to prepare what will be submitted to lawmakers.

But with President Donald Trump soon to travel overseas for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Justice officials are mindful of not interfering with the White House’s diplomatic efforts, which could impact the timing.

Barr has said that he wants to be as “transparent” as possible with Congress and the public, “consistent with the rules and the law.”

Helpfully, Wired’s Garrett Graff breaks down what the hell all that could mean: “There remain many open questions, even as the consensus around Washington appears to be zeroing in on Mueller ‘wrapping up.’ … Are we just hours away from a sweeping indictment that makes public the pee tape and explains every intimate detail of a years-long plot to co-opt Donald Trump as a Russian intelligence asset that dates all the way back to 1987, as Jonathan Chait has argued? Or are we heading to what the president’s lawyers have argued all along — that, as awful as all the unrelated criminality of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen was, none of it amounted to ‘collusion,’ and this entire enterprise has been a worthless Witch Hunt by 13 Angry Democrats?”

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3. Chasing Amy

Speaking of Democrats, this week marked Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s first real jaunt out on the campaign trail since she announced her bid for president, with swings through Wisconsin and Iowa and culminating with a town hall in New Hampshire on Presidents Day.

In Eau Claire, Klobuchar “sought to portray herself as Heartland pragmatist who can unite a divided country,” writes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “She discussed the challenges of the rural-urban divide in the country and said she will ‘go to places maybe we didn’t focus on enough the last few years, and that includes the rural areas.’ She mapped out an agenda on a collection of issues. They included connecting ‘all the households with rural broadband by 2022,’ backing comprehensive immigration reform and dealing with climate change by bringing back gas mileage standards and putting back in place clean power rules.”

Meanwhile, in Mason City, Iowa, she “emphasized her willingness to work with both sides,” said the Des Moines Register. “‘In my three elections for the U.S. Senate, I didn’t just win in the urban areas, I didn’t just win in the suburbs,’ said Klobuchar, who announced her bid on Feb. 10. ‘I won in the rural areas, and I won every single congressional district — including Michele Bachmann’s. And it’s because I believe in meeting people where they are.’ Klobuchar touted her goals should she become president — including returning to the international climate agreement, a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United campaign finance decision, and ‘taking on pharmaceutical companies’ to lower drug prices.”

In New Hampshire, reported the Star Tribune’s Pat Condon: “Klobuchar hit on most of the same points she made at her first campaign stops last weekend in Wisconsin and Iowa and in her Minneapolis campaign kickoff on Feb. 10. She talked about health care, calling for a public option and for lower prescription drug prices. … Klobuchar called for swift action to fight climate change and lessen income inequality, and efforts to boost what she described as an American democracy under threat. That includes automatic voter registration for all 18-year-olds, a strengthened Voting Rights Act and a more strongly regulated campaign finance system.”

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She also talked about grit. Like, a lot.

Coming out of Monday’s town hall, which was broadcast on CNN and hosted by the network’s Don Lemon, much of the media coverage focused on Klobuchar’s comments concerning Medicare for all. While the idea was something to aspire to, she said, “I’m just looking at something that will work now,” a response that got a lot of attention from the most progressive corners of the Democratic Party, little of it positive.

More charitable about her comments was Slate’s Jordan Weissmann: “Lefty Twitter was, predictably, displeased. (There was a lot of “thank u, next,” which has become a stock tweet from very online socialists whenever a candidate fails to back full-on single-payer.) But even if you didn’t particularly like the substance of Klobuchar’s response, I think she deserves credit for being forthright; Democrats would be better off if more candidates talked about health care with her level of candor.”

Not forgiving, though? The ratings for the Kloby-talk. From Deadline: “CNN’s Don Lemon-hosted town hall with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar came in third on Presidents Day to MSNBC and Fox News Channel, both in total viewers and in the news demo. CNN’s 10-11:15 PM sit-down with the Dem presidential candidate clocked 1.139M viewers. Only 294K of them fell into the 25-54 demo that is the currency of news programming. Running more than a million viewers ahead of Klobuchar: MSNBC with 2.391M viewers, ahead of FNC (2.390M).”

The week in takes

Your weekend longread

As anyone within shouting distance of MinnPost HQ can attest to, D.C. Memo can’t recommend the book “Bad Blood,” by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou, highly enough. It tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the health tech company that told the world it had developed a blood test that only needed a tiny amount of blood, only to have Carreyrou reveal that the whole thing was a massive fraud. If you don’t have time to read the book, though, or simply want a taste of just how bonkers the story is, we offer up Nick Bilton’s latest in Vanity Fair, “She Never Looks Back: Inside Elizabeth Holmes’s Chilling Final Months at Theranos.”

Owing largely to Carreyrou’s reporting, the fallout had been colossal, unprecedented. Theranos was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It had been sued by investors. Walgreens, its largest partner, terminated the relationship and shut down 40 testing sites. Forbes, which once estimated Holmes’s wealth at $4.5 billion, wrote it down to zero. The young founder, who was once compared to Steve Jobs, had recently been dubbed a “millennial Madoff” by the New York Post. According to two former executives at the company, Theranos had as many as nine different law firms on retainer, including the formidable Boies Schiller Flexner, to handle the mess—what appeared to be the end of a long, labored, highly visible, and heinous corporate death march.

But Holmes had other ideas. Despite the chaos, she believed that Theranos could still be saved, and she had an unconventional plan for redemption. That September, according to the two former executives, Holmes asked her security detail and one of her drivers to escort her to the airport in her designated black Cadillac Escalade. She flew first class across the country and was subsequently chauffeured to a dog breeder who supplied her with a 9-week-old Siberian husky. The puppy had long white paws, and a grey and black body. Holmes had already picked out a name: Balto.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for sticking around. Until next week, feel free to send tips, suggestions, and sound advice to: feedback@minnpost.com.