Bipartisan group of senators calls on Turkey to release American pastor

Bob Corker and Bob Menendez are pictured. | AP Photo

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (left) wrote the letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was signed by the panel’s ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and 64 other senators. | Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Tennessee Republican Bob Corker and 65 of his Senate colleagues demanded that the Turkish government release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is imprisoned in the country while on trial for alleged connections to terrorist groups and espionage.

“The United States Government, and millions of Americans deeply concerned by the Brunson case, have been patient, in the hope that justice would be done and Pastor Brunson would be reunited with his family,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in the letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed by the bipartisan group and released Friday.

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“The signatories of this letter have concluded that other measures will be necessary to ensure that the Government of Turkey respects the right of law-abiding citizens and employees of the United States to travel to, reside in, and work in Turkey without fear of persecution,” the letter states.

According to an NBC News report, Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison for allegedly having links to a militant group the U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey consider a terrorist organization and for allegedly communicating sensitive information during a failed July 2016 coup. Brunson has denied the charges, which the senators write are based on an “absurd collection of anonymous accusations, flights of fantasy, and random character assassination.”

President Donald Trump addressed the matter on April 17, tweeting that Brunson is a “fine gentleman” who is being persecuted for no reason.

“They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”

Sen. Thom Tillis traveled to Turkey for part of the trial and spoke with Brunson, who the North Carolina Republican said is afraid that his case will be forgotten.

“I heard that he was really concerned that maybe the American people would look at the indictment and believe it and forget him,” Tillis told the Raleigh News & Observer . “It was important for me to go over there, face-to-face visit him in prison and tell him that that’s not going to happen.”

Erdogan has reportedly floated a trade of Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, an exiled Islamic preacher living in Pennsylvania who the Turkish leader blamed for the coup attempt. Tillis called such a deal “absurd.”

Trump sounds off on The New York Times

THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE FRONT PAGE has a photo of George H.W. Bush and his daughter Doro paying respects to Barbara Bush … George H.W. Bush greeting well wishers NEW YORK TIMES says Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will both attend the funeral today in Houston.

The rundown of the day and list of VIP guests MELANIA TRUMP will sit next to BARACK OBAMA The 16-page program from today’s funeral

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— John P. Lopez (@LopezOnSports): “Barbara Bush’s Secret Service detail, several of whom have been been with her for decades, refuse to leave her side until she is buried. Very powerful.” Pic

INCHING CLOSER TO A DEAL? — THE LATEST ON NORTH KOREA — “North Korea says it will suspend nuclear and missile tests, shut down test site,” by WaPo’s Anna Fifield in Tokyo: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared that he will suspend nuclear and missile tests starting Saturday and that he will shut down the site where the previous six nuclear tests were conducted.

“The surprising announcement comes just six days before Kim is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a precursor to a historic summit between Kim and President Trump. … Both Moon and Trump have been saying that North Korea is now willing to ‘denuclearize,’ a term that means different things to the two sides.”

PUTTING IT INTO CONTEXT — BRYAN BENDER: “North Korea’s pledge to halt nukes holds new promise — and peril”: “North Korea’s announcement Friday that it’s immediately halting nuclear and missile tests — and even plans to shutter its main nuclear test facility — added serious momentum to high-level talks and a historic upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

“It’s also a stark reminder, however, of how diplomatically deft — and willing to take risks — the Trump administration and its Asian allies will have to be in order to turn the peace overtures of a notoriously untrustworthy regime into something lasting. There is still a significant gap between what North Korea has done and what Washington considers non-negotiable: A verifiable commitment from Pyongyang to give up its outlawed weapons for good under the watchful eye of international inspectors.

“‘As for the foreplay getting to the summit, I would give the Trump administration credit,’ former Secretary of Defense William Perry said in an interview following the announcement. ‘But the North Koreans are going in from a position of strength. They have built their nuclear deterrent. They are not going to give that up lightly.’”

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SPOTTED: MICHELLE OBAMA on Friday at Barry’s Bootcamp in DuPont. “The boot campers and leaders greeted w familiar hugs and nods,” per a tipster.

Good Saturday morning. THE PRESIDENT is at Trump International Golf Club this morning, according to pooler Tarini Parti of BuzzFeed.

BIG Q1 DONORS — NRCC: Comcast Senior Executive VP David L. Cohen, Blackrock CEO Stephen Schwarzman, Richard Uihlein and Ronald Lauder ($33,900 each). SENATE MAJORITY PAC: Donald Sussman gave $3.5 million, Alexander Soros gave $2 million, Haim Saban gave $1 million, Jay Pritzker gave $250,000, Michael Eisner gave $150,000. DCCC: Haim Saban gave $237,300. RNC: Marlene Ricketts gave $203,400 and Paul Singer gave $339,000.

AP is reporting that Aeroflot, Russia’s flag carrier, might stop flying to the U.S. They currently fly to L.A., Miami, New York (JFK) and Dulles.

WHAT’S ON TRUMP’S MIND THIS MORNING — @realDonaldTrump at 8:17 a.m.: “The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip.’ They use….” …

“….non-existent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if….” …

“ ….it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!”

— MAGGIE just won a Pulitzer for “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.”

… AND the president has probably given more on-the-record interviews to Maggie than any other reporter.

THE STORY TRUMP IS REACTING TO: “Michael Cohen Has Said He Would Take a Bullet for Trump. Maybe Not Anymore,” by Maggie, Sharon LaFraniere and Danny Hakim on A1 of the NYT: “For years Mr. Trump treated Mr. Cohen poorly, with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired, according to interviews with a half-dozen people familiar with their relationship.

“‘Donald goes out of his way to treat him like garbage,’ said Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s informal and longest-serving political adviser, who, along with Mr. Cohen, was one of five people originally surrounding the president when he was considering a presidential campaign before 2016.

“Now, for the first time, the traffic may be going Mr. Cohen’s way. Mr. Trump’s lawyers and advisers have become resigned to the strong possibility that Mr. Cohen, who has a wife and two children and faces the prospect of devastating legal fees, if not criminal charges, could end up cooperating with federal officials who are investigating him for activity that could relate, at least in part, to work he did for Mr. Trump.”

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— WAPO’s SARI HORWITZ, ROS HELDERMAN, JOSH DAWSEY and MATT ZAPOTOSKY: “Sessions told White House that Rosenstein’s firing could prompt his departure, too”: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently told the White House he might have to leave his job if President Trump fired his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the exchange. Sessions made his position known in a phone call to White House counsel Donald McGahn last weekend, as Trump’s fury at Rosenstein peaked after the deputy attorney general approved the FBI’s raid April 9 on the president’s personal attorney Michael Cohen.

“Sessions’s message to the White House, which has not previously been reported, underscores the political firestorm that Trump would invite should he attempt to remove the deputy attorney general. While Trump also has railed against Sessions at times, the protest resignation of an attorney general — which would be likely to incite other departures within the administration — would create a moment of profound crisis for the White House.”

— “Giuliani’s history raises legal questions as he takes on Trump defense,” by Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn: “As a prominent surrogate for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Rudy Giuliani was an active purveyor of pre-election leaks about the FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails. As a member of Trump’s transition, he played a political role during a period central to Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“But Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow says those details present no known obstacle to the former New York mayor joining Trump’s legal team. ‘There are no conflicts at all regarding the representation of the president by Mayor Giuliani that would impact anything involving this case,’ Sekulow told POLITICO on Friday.”

— AP’s Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin: “[T]he president boasted to a confidant this week that he had struck a deal that he believed would silence those critics: He was hiring ‘America’s F—ing Mayor.’”

CONFIRMATION WATCH — “How the C.I.A. Is Waging an Influence Campaign to Get Its Next Director Confirmed,” by NYT’s Adam Goldman and Matt Rosenberg: “Central Intelligence Agency operatives have long run covert influence campaigns overseas. Now, the agency is mounting an unusually active, not very secret campaign in Washington. The C.I.A. is trying to ensure its deputy director, Gina Haspel, a career spy, is confirmed as its next director. Almost every detail of her life and work is classified; what little is known stems from her role overseeing the brutal interrogation of a terrorism suspect at a secret prison in Thailand and conveying orders to destroy videos documenting torture.

“To promote a more positive view of Ms. Haspel, the agency has declassified secrets about her life as a globe-trotting spy and encouraged former clandestine officers — typically expected to remain quiet even in retirement — to grant interviews. It sought to generate favorable news coverage by providing selective biographical details about Ms. Haspel to reporters, then sent a news release to highlight the resulting stories. …

“But C.I.A. officials have failed to declassify any meaningful information about Ms. Haspel’s career, according to Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who complained to the agency that they have asked five times for more details but have yet to receive a response.”

— “The CIA Says Mike Pompeo Didn’t Fight in the Gulf War,” by Anna Merlan in Splinter: “The question was first raised on Twitter Friday morning by Ned Price, a former CIA officer … Price pointed out that among other places, Pompeo’s Wikipedia page suggests that he was deployed. It currently states that Pompeo ‘served with the 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry in the 4th Infantry Division in the Gulf War.’ The claim has also been repeated in numerous media outlets, either due to sloppy writing or outright incorrect information. Here are a few of those places: The New Yorker … The Los Angeles Times … Wired … The Wall Street Journal.”

PRUITT’S PROBLEMS … “Lobbyist whose wife rented to Pruitt lobbied EPA despite denials,” by Theo Meyer and Eliana Johnson: “The prominent lobbyist whose wife rented a condominium to [EPA] Administrator Scott Pruitt lobbied the agency while Pruitt was leading it, contrary to his and Pruitt’s public denials that he had any business before the agency, according to a Friday filing by his firm.

“The disclosure from the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen contradicts Pruitt’s public statement last month that the lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, had no clients with business before the EPA, and comes hours after Hart’s resignation from the firm. … Hart announced he would resign from Williams & Jensen hours before the firm filed a disclosure showing that he lobbied the EPA for Smithfield Foods in the first quarter of 2017.

“While Hart, the chairman and former chief executive of the firm, has disputed that the contact he had with Pruitt and Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, constituted lobbying activity, the disclosure indicates otherwise. Hart lobbied the EPA on issues ‘relating to support for EPA Chesapeake Bay Programs,’ according to the disclosure.”

CASHING IN — “Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti is ready for his star turn,” by NBC News’ Claire Atkinson: “Hollywood talent agencies have reached out to Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ oft-quoted lawyer, to help him capitalize on his newfound fame, according to several sources in the industry. … William Morris Endeavor, one of the most powerful talent agencies in media, has held talks with Avenatti in recent weeks …

“WME’s co-CEO Ari Emanuel represented Trump before he was a political candidate and met with him soon after he was elected in November 2016. United Talent Agency, another of the big four talent firms, is also said by two people to have reached out to Avenatti about representing him specifically.”

SNEAK PEEK – tomorrow night’s “The Circus” on Showtime: “Stormy Daniels’ Lawyer Michael Avenatti with John Heilemann”: “John Heilemann rides along with Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, as they head to the Michael Cohen hearing. They discuss the media, Stormy Daniels’ motives, and playing ‘the game.’” 3-min. video

NSC ARRIVAL LOUNGE — “Bolton names commerce official as his national security deputy,” by Cristiano Lima: “National security adviser John Bolton has named Mira Ricardel, the under secretary of commerce for export administration, as his deputy at the National Security Council, the White House announced on Friday. The addition of Ricardel, a longtime government official who has served stints at the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce, comes less than two weeks into Bolton’s tenure at the NSC.”

2018 WATCH — “Hawley shakes up fundraising team amid GOP concerns,” by Alex Isenstadt: “Missouri Senate hopeful Josh Hawley has tapped veteran GOP fundraiser and former senior Trump White House aide Katie Walsh to help lead his finance team, a move that comes amid mounting concern that he’s falling behind Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in the race for cash.

“A prized GOP recruit whom Republican leaders wooed aggressively to run for the seat, Hawley quietly brought aboard Walsh several weeks ago, according to multiple people familiar with the move. Hawley, the state attorney general, announced this week that he raised $1.5 million in the first quarter of the year, less than half of McCaskill’s haul.”

— “GOP megadonor Friess announces run for Wyoming governor,” by Daniel Strauss: “Republican megadonor Foster Friess announced Friday that he will run for governor of Wyoming. Friess made the announcement outside a delegate luncheon for the state Republican Party. ‘It’s only going to be one term and I’m going to donate my salary to charities that the people in Wyoming pick. There will be a little contest. I want to harness my ability to bring people companies because of the contacts I have around –mainly around the states, not so much around the world but in other places.’”

MEDIAWATCH — “Vice Media is sued after employee is assaulted on assignment,” by NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny: “A freelancer at the counterculture media giant Vice who was sexually assaulted while on assignment filed a lawsuit Friday claiming the company blamed her for the attack and pushed her out of her job. It’s the latest controversy for the hipster global content giant, and comes just a month after co-founder Shane Smith stepped down as CEO, and as the $5.7 billion company — supported by investors like Disney and 21st Century Fox — continues to reckon with reports of systemic sexual harassment and mistreatment of women.”

CLICKER – “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 16 keepers

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Daniel Lippman, filing from New York:

— “The Young and the Reckless,” by Brendan I. Koerner in Wired: “A gang of teen hackers snatched the keys to Microsoft’s videogame empire. Then they went too far.”

— “Playing it over and over again: how Casablanca was made,” by Tom Shone in the New Statesman – per’s description: “On the set of the greatest American-made film, ‘Casablanca’, the only American-born actor was Humphrey Bogart. The other 100 were immigrants from 34 nations including Bergman (Sweden), Rains and Greenstreet (Britain), Henreid (Austria), Veidt (Germany) and Lorre (Slovakia). Sakall (Hungary), who played the head waiter, lost three sisters to the death camps.”

— “Barbara’s Backlash,” by Marjorie Williams in Vanity Fair’s Aug. 1992 issue: “Suddenly the First Lady is reported to be a woman so fiercely calculating she puts Nancy Reagan to shame. But while she remains her increasingly unpopular husband’s greatest asset, is Barbara Bush just demanding equal time after a long hard career as a devoted political wife?” (h/t

— “To Hug, or Not to Hug?” – “Emily Meg Weinstein considers the complexities of meeting and greeting in this #MeToo moment.”

— “‘They Eat Money’: How Mandela’s Political Heirs Grow Rich Off Corruption,” by NYT’s Nori Onishi and Selam Gebrekidan:

— “The Maraschino Mogul’s Secret Life,” by Ian Frazier in the New Yorker: “First the red bees arrived; then the Brooklyn cherry factory’s dark secret came to light.”

— “The Race to Save the World’s Disappearing Languages,” by Nina Strochlic in NatGeo: “Every two weeks a language dies. Wikitongues wants to save them.”

— “The Continuing Promise of American Zionism,” by Gil Troy in Commentary: “Seventy years after Israel’s founding, we need it more than ever.”

— “Return to War 17: Marking Peace with Lost Comrades,” by Reuters’ Dean Yates in Melbourne: “[I]n 2016, I was treated in a psychiatric unit for PTSD after a career spent covering conflict and tragedy. Last July, I was back in Ward 17. It was time to face up to my moral injury and the event that drove me into mental hell.”

— “A Voyage Along Trump’s Wall,” by Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker: “Canoeing the Rio Grande reveals how life and a landscape would be changed along the border.”

— “When the Twitter Mob Came for Me,” by Kevin Williamson in WSJ’s Saturday Essay: “Recently hired by the Atlantic and then promptly fired, the conservative writer Kevin D. Williamson discusses the social-media outrage that made the celebrated magazine retreat.”

— “‘One Has This Feeling of Having Contributed to Something That’s Gone Very Wrong,’” by Noah Kulwin in NYMag – per Jaron Lanier: “We run everything. We are the conduit of everything else happening in the world. Politics, finance, education, media — we’ve put ourselves in the middle of everything. We’ve absolutely won. But we don’t act like it. We have no sense of balance or modesty or graciousness. We’re still acting as if we have to defend ourselves, which is preposterous. And so in doing that we really kind of turn into assholes, you know?” (h/t

OUT AND ABOUT — Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and the WaPo’s Ruth Marcus celebrated their birthdays last night at their annual Peking Duck celebration. SPOTTED: Judge Merrick Garland, Ron Klain and other friends at a massive round table at Peking Gourmet Inn. (h/t Matt Gerson)

— Pool report: “[F]ormer Obama communications staff came out to Politics and Prose for Pat Cunnane’ DC stop on his tour promoting his new book ‘West Winging It: An Unpresidential Memoir.’ Former Press Secretary Josh Earnest led the discussion with Pat, former senior writer and deputy director of messaging under Obama, recounting funny memories and anecdotes for a standing-room-only crowd.” $28 on the bookstore’s website

SPOTTED: Eric Schultz, Liz Allen, Katie Hill, Patrick Rodenbush, Sarada Peri, Brian Gabriel and Peter Velz.

— SPOTTED on Friday night for a private “girls only” screening at AMC Georgetown of Amy Schumer’s new movie “I Feel Pretty” (trailer: at AMC Georgetown, hosted by Lisa Spies: Ashley Carter, Lauren Kirshner, Leah Malone, Katie Behnke, Lauren Lofstrom, former Miss DC Teresa Davis, Pam Stevens, Jamie Rhoades, Marlene Colucci, Kimberly Reed, Ashleigh Grant, Angela Meyers, Tiffany Waddell, and Rachel Vervelde.

— SPOTTED at a cocktail reception at the residence of the ambassador of Colombia: Adrienne Arsht, Colombian Amb. Camilo Reyes, Iraqi Amb. Fareed Yasseen, Capricia Marshall, Amy Baier, Maureen Orth, Erin Egan, Carrie Marriott, Kathleen Kennedy, David Molina and Mallory Howe.

BIRTHDAYS: Ken Duberstein, celebrating by “luxuriating at home with family and a fabulous chocolate birthday cake” (hat tip: wife Jackie Fain Duberstein) … NBC News’ Matt Rivera … Bill Neidhardt, who does comms for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) … John Kraus … Felix Salmon, who will soon be writing a regular column for Slate, is 46 … NYT’s Jodi Kantor, also an author and “CBS This Morning” contributor … Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is 92 … Lauren Weber, HuffPost reporter, is 27 (h/ts Eli Yokley and Evan Hollander) … Josh Dorner, SVP at SKDKnickerbocker … USDA’s Greg Lyons … BBC’s Caroline Wyatt … former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.) is 77 … Cindy Huang … global media strategist Justin Wilson … Collin O’Meara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation … Tavi Gevinson is 22 … Will Boyington … Jay Cranford, partner at CGCN Group … Cameron Baker …

… Saagar Enjeti, White House correspondent at The Daily Caller … Google’s Brian Tschoepe (h/t Arlette Saenz) … former Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) is 7-0 … SKDKnickerbocker SVP Jon Reinish (h/t Kelley McCormick) … Drew Gorman … Eric Weisbrod, CNN’s director of social TV … Bob Blaemire … Dentons’ Craig Johnson … WaPo’s Katherine Finnerty (h/t Mallory Shelbourne) … Brad Cheney, principal at the Eris Group … Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center (the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Beijing office) and a Bush NSC alum, is 52 … Nate Palmer is 44 … Dominic Bellone … Dr. Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (h/t Paris Dennard) … Peter Van Voorhis … Edelman’s Ashley Hohman … John Hiller … Hessy Fernandez … Marty Steinberg.

THE SHOWS, by @MattMackowiak, filing from Miami:

— “Fox News Sunday”: French president Emmanuel Macron. Panel: Newt Gingrich, Jane Harman, Michael Anton and Juan Williams

— CNN’s “State of the Union”: Kellyanne Conway … Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Panel: Rick Santorum, Bakari Sellers, Linda Chavez and Nina Turner (substitute anchor: CNN’s Dana Bash)

— NBC’s “Meet the Press”: Marc Short … Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) … Tom Perez. Panel: Cornell Belcher, David Brody, Andrea Mitchell and Amy Walter

— ABC’s “This Week”: Tom Perez … Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Panel: Jonathan Karl, Alex Castellanos, Stephanie Cutter and Amy Chozick

— CBS’s “Face the Nation”: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) … Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) … Mike Bloomberg … Javad Zarif … John Dickerson. Panel: Rachael Bade, Mark Landler and Mike Allen

— CNN’s “Inside Politics” with John King: Panel: Julie Pace, Eliana Johnson, Michael Warren and Manu Raju.

— Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures”: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) … Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) … Kristin Gaspar. Panel: Ed Rollins and Chris Bedford

— Fox News’ “MediaBuzz”: Sean Spicer … Phillippe Reines … Mollie Hemingway … Marie Harf … Susan Ferrechio … Shelby Holliday

— CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS”: Ronan Farrow. Panel: Mona Charen and Dan Senor. Panel: John Paul Rathbone and Julia Sweig

— CNN’s “Reliable Sources”: Panel: Edward Felsenthal, John Avlon and Sarah Ellison David Remnick … Michael Hancock

— Univision’s “Al Punto”: Yulín Cruz … Antonio Banderas … Cristina Jimenez and Mercedes Moreta Mancero … Bill Richardson … Sanjuana Martinez

— C-SPAN: “The Communicators”: Zeynep Tufecki … “Newsmakers”: Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), questioned by Erica Werner and Niels Lesniewski … “Q&A”: Etan Thomas.

— MSNBC’s “Kasie DC”: Ashley Parker … Rick Tyler … David Fahrenthold … A.B. Stoddard … Jon Ward … Ken Dilanian … Yamiche Alcindor … John Della Volpe.

— Sirius XM’s “Politics Inside Out with Chris Frates”: Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) … On Trump: … On immigration:

— Washington Times’ “Mack on Politics” weekly politics podcast with Matt Mackowiak (download on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher or listen at National Journal politics editor Josh Kraushaar.

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Trump defends Cohen, says he won’t ‘flip’

President Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

“James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a Special Council?,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter about the former FBI director. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump pushed back Saturday on reports Michael Cohen would “flip” on him, attacking the New York Times for “going out of their way” to try to destroy his relationship with his longtime personal attorney.

“Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if…. it means lying or making up stories,” the president wrote on Twitter, apparently referencing this report. “Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!”

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Federal agents raided Cohen’s office and residences on April 10 as the government reportedly probes possible criminal violations in connection to Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.

“The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Habberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will “flip,” the president wrote.

Haberman, a former Politico reporter, highlighted the story that seemed to have “touched a nerve.”

“One B, sir (or Dan?). Here’s the story that seems to have touched a nerve,” she wrote on Twitter, hinting at the possibility that White House social media director Dan Scavino could be behind the morning missive.

On Friday night, the president continued his broadsides against former FBI Director James Comey, who is speaking out about his relationship with the president on an ongoing book tour.

“James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a Special Council?,” Trump wrote. “Therefore, the Special Council was established based on an illegal act? Really, does everybody know what that means?”

I Was a Top Clinton Aide. Here’s What I Think About Comey’s Book.

I have never met Jim Comey. We overlapped briefly in the Obama administration—he, as FBI director; I as director of communications at the White House—have mutual friends and even the same literary agents. We’ve lived important parallel experiences.In 2016, I led the communications team on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in a race where Comey’s interjections helped throw the election to Donald Trump.

I don’t harbor ill will towards him. Our mutual friends attest to his high character, and his book, A Higher Loyalty, shows him to be a thoughtful person, generous boss and a colleague who—despite being prone to bouts of self-absorption—seems able to laugh at himself. Even though he is a Republican, I have never thought that he allowed his personal political views to drive his decisions as FBI director. I also value Jim Comey’s adherence to a “higher loyalty” beyond the president to upholding the rule of law, and how he stood up to President Trump’s inappropriate pressure even when it was clear it would cost him his job.

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But what Comey’s actions and book reveal is a tendency toward a corrupting belief that his “higher loyalty”—which lifted him above partisan politics—somehow bestowed upon him the right to take actions that were well beyond his role as FBI director. It’s a very dangerous attitude, and one that resulted in him taking unprecedented actions in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, with devastating consequences.

In 2013, when President Barack Obama nominated Comey to head the FBI, he seemed like an ideal FBI nominee for a Democratic president. He was a Republican who had credibility with Democrats for famously standing up to President George W. Bush’s staff when they made a surprise hospital visit in an attempt to get an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to approve a domestic surveillance program the Department of Justice believed to be unlawful. Comey was the deputy attorney general at the time, and I respected his willingness to stand up to the White House in defense of the law and his boss. But it made me uneasy that he made sure the press knew all about his heroic stand. In my experience, officials like that have a hard time staying in his or her lane and out of the spotlight.

My unease grew in October 2015, when I watched from the campaign trail as Comey gave a speech in which he speculated that a recent rise in murder rates could be due to a “chill wind” police felt in reaction to protests and threats against them after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. It was a surprising speech. The FBI Director had veered from the Bureau’s purview of investigating crime into the Department of Justice’s purview of making policy, something I found to be a troubling encroachment and one he would repeat with devastating consequences during the Clinton email investigation.

I do believe that if it were not for Comey’s letter, Clinton would have won. Reading between the lines in his memoir, it’s clear that Comey also believes this to be true. He doesn’t say that, but that’s my impression from the complicated and sometimes contradictory explanations he offers of his conduct, as well as the anecdotes he chooses to share of President Obama and other Democrats saying nice things to him after the election (I didn’t read their comments as absolving him of responsibility, by the way, they were just kind).

I want to be clear: I am not saying Jim Comey bears sole responsibility for the Clinton campaign’s loss. There were many factors that led to that outcome, and his action was just the final one.

His July 5th press conference, in which he appointed himself Hillary Clinton’s investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury, was his original sin. No FBI director had ever made such a public pronouncement at the conclusion of an investigation. Comey justifies the press conference by writing that he sought to wrap up the investigation in a way that would “persuade a majority of fair and open-minded Americans” that the investigation had been done in an honest and non-political manner.

It’s a laudatory goal. But it’s also not his job. If it is anyone’s duty to worry about the public’s reaction to an FBI investigation, it is the job of the Attorney General and his or her deputies. Ironically, Comey’s drive to appear non-political drove him head first into a political maelstrom. And once he had established the practice of publicly commenting on the Clinton case, it made his next devastating step to send the October 28 letter all the easier to justify in his own mind.

Incredibly, and with seemingly no self-awareness that he was falling prey to making decisions based on the very kind of political considerations he claims to eschew, Comey has said that he sent that ill-fated letter to Capitol Hill on October 28 in part because he believed that Hillary Clinton was going to win and didn’t want her to be considered an illegitimate president.

Again: Not his job. Let me worry about that; I am the political person.

A friend of mine who is a Trump supporter told me I should call this piece “Dear Madam Director,” because a female FBI director would never have made the same decisions he did. I think there’s some truth to that. His ego clearly got in the way. Despite Comey’s claims he took the actions he did to protect the FBI’s reputation and make sure a President Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected under a cloud of suspicion, I suspect his concern was more about his own ego and protecting his own reputation from attacks from Republican members of Congress.

But even if his only motivation in taking these actions had been to explain his decisions for the good of the FBI and the new president, it was still beyond the scope of his role. I am sure it would have been frustrating for him to sit mute while partisans attacked the FBI for its decision not to pursue a case against Clinton, but it would have been the right thing to do—just as I am sure it was frustrating for President Obama to, as Comey describes in his book, sit mute in the Oval Office after the 2016 election while Comey told him how much he would miss President Obama and how he dreaded the next four years under Trump.

In that moment, I am sure President Obama would have liked to react to what Comey said and express his own concerns about the new president and maybe even give Comey some advice that could have been helpful to him. But President Obama knew that regardless of how well-intended any comments of his may be, devoid of partisan politics and delivered in the spirit of helping the country, it would have been beyond his role as president to deliver them.

There is no telling the damage one can do in a republic when you mistake your will to do good with an authority to do what you judge to be right.

Jennifer Palmieri was communications director of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and is the author of Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World.

Trump denies Cohen will ‘flip’

President TrumpDonald John TrumpIG investigating Comey memos over classified information: report Overnight Defense: Congress poised for busy week on nominations, defense bill | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump administration appeals decision to block suspected combatant’s transfer Top Pruitt aid requested backdate to resignation letter: report MORE on Saturday attacked The New York Times for its reporting on his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and expressed confidence Cohen will remain loyal to him while under federal investigation. 

“The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip,’ ” Trump tweeted. 


“Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!” he added.

Trump initially misspelled Haberman’s last name, but later retweeted the thread with the correct spelling. 

Trump, who has spoken with Haberman on the record for multiple stories in the past, appeared to be referencing a New York Times report on Friday that the president’s legal team is bracing for Cohen to cooperate with prosecutors.

The Times report provided numerous examples from aides both on and off the record who described Trump’s relationship with Cohen as taking him for granted.

Cohen is reportedly under investigation for bank fraud and campaign finance law violations.

The FBI raided Cohen’s office, hotel room and home earlier this month and reportedly seized documents related to his payment of two women who claim they each had an affair with Trump, as well as communications between Cohen and Trump.

Updated 9:20 a.m.