POLITICO Health reporter Brett Norman dies at 43

Brett Norman, a POLITICO health care reporter, died Saturday. He was 43 and had pancreatic cancer.

He is survived by his wife, journalist Kate Dailey; sons Everett, 4, and Owen, 2; his mother, Jean Norman; and his brother, Daniel Norman.

Norman reported on the Affordable Care Act, bioethics and the pharmaceutical industry.

“He covered all the craziness surrounding the launch of Obamacare – and he broke the story that the very same HHS official who made a mess out of Medicare.gov later went on to make a mess out of HealthCare.gov. Brett had fun with that one,” POLITICO Editor Carrie Budoff Brown, POLITICO Pro’s Editorial Director Marty Kady, and Executive Editor for Health Care Joanne Kenen emailed the staff.

Norman also wrote about bioethical issues such as organ transplantation, and complicated policy issues surrounding the pharmaceutical industry.

At the time of his diagnosis in late 2016, he was working on a project about overprescribing drugs to foster kids as a Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow. It was a project he did not get to finish but it mattered to him deeply.

Norman was a talented reporter, a caring colleague, and a valued member of the POLITICO Health Care Team family. He was thoughtful, smart, and had a delightfully wry wit.

“Brett was a kind and generous colleague, but more importantly he always put his family first. It was obvious how much he loved Kate and his boys,” said his fellow POLITICO health reporter Sarah Karlin-Smith, with whom he shared the pharmaceutical beat and the weekly Prescription PULSE newsletter. “I’d like to think there will always be a bit of his spirit in every one of my bylines.”

Before POLITICO, Brett was a science writer at Rockefeller University. He got his start in journalism covering cops, courts and local government at the Pensacola News Journal. At the paper, he was twice part of teams named as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Norman, who lived in Washington, was a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was born in Iowa, but considered Pensacola, Florida, his home town. On his Twitter profile, he called himself a “Floribamian.”

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/21/politico-brett-norman-499298


Iranian foreign minister says ‘change of attitude’ needed for prisoner swap talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his nation is open to the possibility of a prisoner swap with the U.S., but it would require a "change of attitude" and "language" first.

"You do not engage in negotiations by exercising disrespect for a country, for its people, for its government, by openly making claims, including this illusion about regime change," Zarif told CBS "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan in a clip of the interview that will air in full Sunday.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February that the Trump administration has secretly sought to open communications with Iran about a potential prisoner swap.

Such a deal was struck in 2016, when the Obama administration released seven Iranians in exchange for four dual-national Americans detained in Iran, on the same day the nuclear deal was formally implemented.

The later disclosure of a $400 million cash payment to Iran, settling a dispute from the 1970s, led then-candidate Donald Trump to call the entire affair a "disgrace" and claim the money was a ransom payment.

Amid a breakout of Iranian electoral protests in January, President Trump tweeted: "Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!"

Zarif and Iranian officials have criticized the Trump administration’s rhetoric towards Iran and in particular the strong skepticism of the Obama administration-led nuclear deal. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said last weekend that Trump is likely to quit the deal later this month, after efforts to renegotiate the pact have gone nowhere.

"It’s not an offer, it’s a demand," Zarif said of the proposed talks. "But before, before you make demands, the United States needs to learn how to treat other sovereign nations. Particularly sovereign nations who do not depend on the United States for continued existence and who can live without U.S. support, not only for two weeks, but for 40 years."

Washington Post opinion writer Jason Rezaian, a former prisoner of the Iranian regime, wrote in the newspaper on Thursday that time was running out for the at least five other U.S. citizens currently being held in the country — including Xiyue Wang, a Princeton graduate student and 81-year-old Baquer Namazi, whose declining health led Iranian to grant him a brief, four-day leave. It’s unclear how many Iranian nationals are in U.S. prisons, but in early February a former employee of Iran’s United Nations mission was convicted of tax fraud and evading sanctions.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/21/iran-prisoner-swap-talks-544941

McCabe’s lawyers try to knock down idea of feud with Comey

As President Donald Trump stokes tension between the FBI’s former No. 1 and No. 2, the counsel for fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on Friday sought to tamp down any hint of a rift with ex-bureau director James Comey.

But McCabe’s camp isn’t wavering from its response to an explosive Department of Justice inspector general’s report that has prompted a criminal referral against him for allegedly lying under oath — a response that rests in part on claims that Comey’s memory of the underlying incidents is shaky.

McCabe counsel Michael Bromwich said Friday that the DOJ and FBI this week barred him from sharing previously unreleased interview transcripts, including some from Comey, that help make that case.

Bromwich told reporters that he has assembled an 11-page rebuttal to the inspector general’s report "that goes through every allegation and rebuts it, and we have not been allowed to share that with you."

The report by the DOJ’s independent internal watchdog alleges that McCabe misled investigators as well as Comey about his role in media disclosures about investigations touching on Hillary Clinton in the days before the 2016 election. Comey has publicly aligned with the findings of the IG report during media appearances to promote his new book, telling CNN that "I like [McCabe] very much as a person, but sometimes even good people do things they shouldn’t do."

Trump, who has long harshly targeted both Comey and McCabe, cheered the appearance of a schism between the two men on Thursday, tweeting that Comey "just threw Andrew McCabe ‘under the bus’" and that the IG report "is a disaster for both of them!" McCabe’s counsel, however, underscored his lack of interest in stoking any such conflict.

"Andy McCabe looked up to Jim Comey," Bromwich said Friday. "We are not for a moment suggesting that Jim Comey is making things up or lying about Andrew McCabe — nothing could be further from truth — but nobody’s memory is perfect."

The DOJ and FBI’s decision to prohibit McCabe’s legal team from sharing transcripts of witness interviews regarding the circumstances behind the IG report stems from a non-disclosure agreement that limits release of FBI-derived materials, according to Bromwich. The FBI’s press office referred a question on the scope of any nondisclosure pact to the inspector general’s office, which did not return a request for comment by press time.

Bromwich, himself a former DOJ IG, released an email he sent to Scott Schools, the top-ranked career official at DOJ who advised Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the ultimate recommendation to fire McCabe. The email, sent hours before McCabe’s firing on March 16 with less than two days to go before his scheduled retirement, asserts that any finding of untruthfulness stems from "misunderstanding, miscommunication, and honest failures of recollection based on the swirl of events around him."

McCabe "had no motive to lie or mislead about media contacts he had the authority to direct," Bromwich wrote, adding that "several of the charges rest on the flawed and equivocal testimony of former Director Comey."

Bromwich also announced Friday that McCabe has formally created a legal defense fund to help defray the costs of multiple congressional inquiries into the IG report and other FBI-related matters, as well as the outcome of the criminal referral made by the IG’s office and potential civil claims McCabe might bring related to his firing.

Working with the firm Boies Schiller, Bromwich said, the McCabe legal team is evaluating the potential for wrongful termination and defamation cases as well as "various kinds of constitutional due process claims." The 50-year-old former FBI deputy director shut down an online fundraising page to help support his legal efforts earlier this month after donors sent in more than $530,000, far exceeding the effort’s initial goals.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/20/andrew-mccabe-james-comey-feud-540048

Trump says he’s ‘considering’ a pardon for boxer Jack Johnson

President Donald Trump said Saturday he is considering a posthumous pardon for boxing champion Jack Johnson, who was convicted over a century ago under racially motivated charges for his relationship with a white woman.

"Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson," Trump wrote on Twitter. "His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial. Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!"

Since taking office, Trump has pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and, more recently, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court; Libby was convicted following the investigation into the leak of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

At the time, California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said the Libby pardon sent a message that Trump would look out for his allies if special counsel Robert Mueller leveled charges against them in the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Conservatives, including Cheney, welcomed the move.

Stallone, best known for playing fictional boxer Rocky Balboa in the "Rocky" movie franchise, is the latest boxing stalwart to press the case for Johnson, the first black world champion.

According to a Washington Post report, former world champion Mike Tyson was part of a failed effort to secure Johnson a pardon during the Obama administration. Other efforts to win a pardon for Johnson have included those of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), documentarian Ken Burns and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a former boxer himself.

The Post report says Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, a federal law that made it a crime to transport women across state lines "for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose," which was supposed to target prostitution but was also used to criminalize interracial relationships. Johnson had seven wives, four of which were white.

Johnson was tried and convicted, serving a year at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/21/trump-pardon-jack-johnson-boxer-544930

Former first lady Barbara Bush remembered fondly at service marking her life

"Our first and most important teacher."

"The tough but loving enforcer."

"The first lady of the greatest generation."

Family members, friends and colleagues on Saturday paid tribute to former first lady Barbara Pierce Bush at her funeral service held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, was pushed in his wheelchair into the church by George W. Bush, the 43rd president, a testament to the role Barbara Bush played in the nation’s history. A day before, George H.W. Bush had unexpectedly greeted members of the public as they paid their respects to his late wife.

Some 1,500 people gathered at the church, where the elder Bushes are members, for the service, which was televised live on America’s broadcast and cable networks.

First lady Melania Trump sat next to former President Barack Obama in the first row of pews, joined by former first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. President Donald Trump decided not to attend out of respect for the family.

Barbara Bush, the matriarch of the Bush political dynasty, was remembered for her kindness, charm and sharp wit that endeared her to Americans and everyone who came into contact with her.

“… She our was teacher and role model on how to live a life of purpose and meaning,” former Florida. Gov. Jeb Bush said during his eulogy, one of three delivered during the roughly hour-and-a-half service. "Our mom was our first and most important teacher.”

America, he said, fell in love with his mom down to her favorite fake pearls, because she was “real.”

Susan Garrett Baker, wife of George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state Jim Baker, called Barbara Bush "the gold standard" of a friend who educated her in the ways of Washington and showed how she could use her position as a launching pad for the causes she cared about.

“What the world may not have seen was what an amazing, caring and beautiful friend that Bar was to so many of us,” she said during her eulogy.

Recalling her friend’s devotion to her own family, Baker said Barbara Bush was “the tough but loving enforcer … the secret sauce of this extraordinary family.”

"Known as Barbara, as Barb, as mom, as gammy, as the silver fox and as the enforcer. She was candid and comforting, steadfast and straightforward honest and loving. Babara Bush was the first lady of the greatest generation," historian Jon Meacham said.

In a statement, Melania Trump said: "Today the world paid tribute to a woman of indisputable character and grace. It was my honor to travel to Houston to give my respects to Barbara Bush and the remarkable life she led as a mother, wife, and fearless First Lady."

"Today, my thoughts and prayers are with the entire Bush family," President Trump wrote on Twitter. "In memory of First Lady Barbara Bush, there is a remembrance display located at her portrait in the Center Hall of the @WhiteHouse."

Attendees included former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his wife Mila, former British Prime Minister John Major and his wife Norma, George H.W. Bush’s Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife Marilyn, George W. Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne.

Barbara Bush, who died April 17, will be interred at George H.W. Bush Library and Museum at Texas A&M University in College Station later on Saturday. She will be laid to rest next to her daughter Robin, who passed away at three years old after battling leukemia.

During the service, the Bush granddaughters read Biblical passages. Jenna Bush Hager read from Proverbs Chapter 31 verses 10-31.

"Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her," the passage reads. “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/21/barbara-bush-funeral-service-544899

How Mueller Can Protect the Investigation—Even if He Is Fired

President Donald Trump has been hinting that he might try to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible criminal wrongdoing related to Russian election interference and matters related to it, such as the firing of former FBI director James Comey. As he put it last Monday when asked about his plans for Mueller, “We’ll see what happens. Many people have said, ‘you should fire him.’”

Although Trump claims he can fire Mueller directly, many legal scholars disagree. They contend that a special counsel can only be subject to firing for a valid legal reason by the attorney general, and since Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, Mueller’s fate would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But even on this understanding, Trump might pressure Rosenstein into sacking Mueller by threatening to fire Rosenstein himself. Or he might simply replace Rosenstein with a more compliant supervising attorney. If Mueller is removed and his investigation thwarted, the public might never learn what misconduct, if any, was uncovered by the special counsel’s probe.

Fortunately, while he retains his position, Mueller has a powerful tool at his disposal: The “sealed” or secret indictment. If Mueller indeed determines that he has a strong case against Trump, a secret indictment returned by a grand jury will help protect the integrity of his investigation even if he is fired, while also avoiding the risk of provoking Trump to try to further impede the probe.

Sealed indictments are routinely employed by federal prosecutors in sensitive investigations, particularly when a public indictment might have a negative effect on an ongoing investigation. To carry out this strategy, Mueller would a request that the already empaneled grand jury—the one considering matters related to Russian interference in the election—issue criminal charges against Trump himself. If the grand jury were to find probable cause for the charges to proceed, whatever they may be, a magistrate judge would then decide whether the indictment could remain secret. If the judge were to determine that it can, the charges would then remain hidden from public view until the criminal defendant is taken into custody or released on bail.

If Trump were to fire Mueller, an already filed sealed indictment would outlast Mueller’s tenure. A sealed indictment can only be dismissed by a judge, meaning Trump cannot rid himself of a legal headache simply by terminating the special counsel. A sealed indictment would also ensure that the statute of limitations for crimes Trump might be charged with will not expire. This leaves open the possibility of Trump being tried in the future.

Some might object that using a sealed, rather than public indictment seems counterintuitive: After all, isn’t the point of indicting Trump to expose his potentially criminal acts? If Mueller sought a public indictment, it would also preserve the case against Trump. It too would have to be dismissed by a judge in the event of Mueller’s firing, and it retains the advantage of ensuring the statute of limitations on many crimes would not run out. Moreover, public indictments have the benefit of immediate transparency, of letting the American people know immediately what their chief executive is accused of doing, rather than making the people wait until the indictment is unsealed.

But as Mueller weighs his options, he might conclude that such a public indictment now would only further provoke Trump’s ire. The negative effects the president could create for the investigation and the public turmoil a public indictment could spawn might persuade Mueller to pursue a sealed indictment instead. Doing so would allow Mueller to avoid tumultuous consequences for now. And in fact, the objective of transparency that a public indictment seemingly serves could actually be undermined by such an action, if it provokes steps that curtail the investigation. For example, Trump might threaten to fire any public official who cooperates with the investigation or disparage private citizens who cooperate. With a sealed indictment, we can be confident that transparency will ultimately be served when it is unsealed and the charges and evidence come to light.

In making his case to a judge for the seal, Mueller could cite the potential negative consequences to his investigation that would come from a public indictment. As the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals put it, the “power to seal an indictment is broad; sealing an indictment is generally permitted when it is in the public interest or serves a legitimate law-enforcement purpose.” This case, dealing with the president and his potential to thwart a federal investigation, qualifies, if Mueller can show that a public indictment would impede his investigation.

Neither a sealed nor a public indictment guarantees a conviction or even that the indictment will remain in place. If Mueller is fired and replaced by a new special counsel, the new prosecutor could argue that the original charges were unfounded. Still, the ultimate decision would again rest with an independent judge, not with an executive branch employee whose job security relies on the whims of the president. A new prosecutor would also have to actively request the charges be withdrawn. These checks could be disregarded, but they might also be enough to preserve the indictment if Mueller were to be fired.

Of course, only Mueller and his team know if they have a strong enough criminal case against the president to merit an indictment—sealed or otherwise. If they do, with Trump’s threats to fire Mueller looming, there is significant advantage to moving forward soon.

Any indictment of Trump—sealed or otherwise—would raise the deeper constitutional question of whether a sitting president can be indicted at all. The Supreme Court has not decided that issue definitively, but the precedent in Clinton v. Jones suggests that its answer should be “yes.” When Paula Jones sued then-President Bill Clinton for events that occurred while he was governor of Arkansas, Clinton’s attorneys argued that he could not be subject to legal proceedings because the process would imperil the functioning of the executive branch. The Supreme Court rejected that argument, reaffirming that not even the president is above the law. The Jones case was about a civil, not a criminal, matter. But that case demonstrated our constitutional commitment to the rule of law, not of people. That fundamental principle should hold true in both civil and criminal matters. Ken Starr’s office of independent counsel agreed, concluding that a president could be indicted in office for a criminal offense, drawing on the basic principle that presidents are not above the law and that they can manage their affairs even if they are indicted.

Still, the president will argue that he is immune from prosecution. In his defense he can cite Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos from the Nixon and Clinton administrations. But those memos defended a broad view of presidential immunity inconsistent with Jones and an earlier Supreme Court case, US v. Nixon, that forced Nixon to comply with a special prosecutor’s subpoena.

Moreover, the memos relied on flawed arguments. They contended that the executive branch would be debilitated by a sitting president who was indicted or forced to stand trial. But the Jones case went forward without the executive branch collapsing. In Trump’s case, the executive branch is already in disarray and facing numerous investigations; it’s not clear the administration would perform noticeably worse if Trump had just one more legal matter to address.

The memo from the Clinton-era OLC also discusses how the indictment of a sitting president would harm the dignity of the office. But what really tarnishes the dignity of the office are crimes committed by a president, a reality exacerbated by granting a president immunity from prosecution. The harm is even worse in cases where the statute of limitations might run out, precluding an indictment even once Trump left office, regardless of whether new incriminating evidence is found. The statute of limitations for obstruction of justice, for instance, is five years, which could expire by the time Trump is out of office if he were elected for a second term.

Mueller could avoid these challenges to his prosecutorial authority by taking a step short of requesting an indictment from the grand jury. He could issue a sealed report to be handed to the attorney general’s office or members of Congress, consistent with the special counsel’s reporting obligations. But this option might be too weak, as it risks leaving any decisions to take action to a future attorney general who could be completely under Trump’s sway, or to a congressional body that might act based more on politics than on their own constitutional duty.

Considering the situation, a sealed or public indictment gives Mueller or a future special counsel the widest array of options. It allows for the route that Starr took, pursuing a criminal case first and then turning the information gathered from the investigation to Congress for use in impeachment proceedings. It also allows a future prosecutor to ensure that justice can eventually be served: Even if the trial were delayed until the president was no longer in office—avoiding the constitutional question about trying a sitting president—Trump would still be held accountable for any potential crimes.

Some might think that all this talk is meaningless, since any indictment sought by Mueller would be stopped by Rosenstein, who legally must sign off on such an indictment. But Rosenstein is supposed to defer to the special counsel. If Rosenstein wanted to stop Mueller, he could claim that the Clinton and Nixon OLC memos remain Justice Department policy and that Mueller is bound by them. But it is more likely that Rosenstein does have the authority to reject the findings of the memos and to support a decision to indict the president. Indeed, Walter Dellinger III, a former head of the Office of Legal Counsel, recently argued publicly for why, despite the memos, the president can in fact be indicted while in office. With the threat looming that Trump will fire Rosenstein and replace him with a crony, the pressure is on to seek an indictment now.

It will take a savvy prosecutor to give meaning to the principle that no one—not even a president—is above the law. A sealed indictment is one strong way to help in that pursuit.

Source: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/04/21/robert-mueller-russia-probe-protection-218065