Comey’s memoir tops Amazon’s best-sellers list

Former FBI Director James Comey’s book is not scheduled for release until the middle of next month, but preorders for the forthcoming memoir climbed to the top of Amazon’s list of best-sellers over the weekend amid yet another bureau shakeup.

As of Sunday night, Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” occupied the number one spot among Amazon’s top 20 books, according to a Washington Post report. Its ascendance came over a weekend in which President Donald Trump lashed out at the Russia investigation of special counselor Robert Mueller and celebrated his attorney general’s firing of the FBI’s deputy attorney general, who had served under Comey.

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy,” the president wrote on Twitter in the hours after McCabe, the former deputy FBI director, was fired. In subsequent posts, the president called Comey a liar and claimed there have been efforts to undermine him from within the FBI and the Justice Department.

Comey, who is scheduled to do several high profile interviews in the promotion of his book, responded on Twitter on Saturday, writing, “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”

By Monday morning, Comey’s book had dropped to second place on Amazon’s best-seller list, behind a children’s book from the HBO comedy show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” about Marlon Bundo, the pet rabbit that belongs to Vice President Mike Pence’s family. Comey’s book is scheduled for release on April 17.



Playbook: Congress gives itself five days to pass a massive government funding bill … What can go wrong

IF YOU HAVE A LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY, this is the week to bring it up, as Congress has its last must-pass bill of the year on the floor. The massive omnibus spending package — which will fund the government through the end of September — could include language on everything from campaign finance to pesticides to labor policy. It is scheduled come out today. That will give Congress five days to get it through both chambers. What can go wrong?

Happy Monday. SITUATIONAL AWARENESS: SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TENN.) will meet with MIKE POMPEO this afternoon as he begins to make rounds before his confirmation hearings. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Corker chairs, will hold hearings on Pompeo’s nomination for secretary of state in April.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK … BIG KAMALA HARRIS PROFILE — Vogue’s April issue: “Dreaming Big: After a year in Washington, Kamala Harris has proved she doesn’t back down from a fight. How far can the star senator go? Abby Aguirre reports”: “[I]n the seventeen months since Donald Trump was elected president, Harris has been propelled into an altogether different stratum of political celebrity—one that raises certain questions about her future. (Questions she is well practiced at deflecting. ‘I honestly am focused on 2018,’ she tells me when I ask her for her thoughts about a presidential run. But you haven’t ruled it out, I say. ‘I’m not focused on it,’ she repeats.) …

“Harris has become a force due to her authority on the very issues Trump warps for his own gain: crime and immigration. A robust body of research has established that immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to commit crimes, including violent ones. As the state’s former top cop, Harris knows this better than anyone. From the moment President Trump delivered his inaugural address, linking immigration to crime in a macabre vision of ‘American carnage,’ Harris was—to put it bluntly—uniquely poised to call bulls***.”

— A BAD HEADLINE IN CALIFORNIA … L.A. TIMES: “Villaraigosa and his campaigns have benefited from groups that critics say prey upon the poor, people of color”

EARLY AND OFTEN … SENATE MAJORITY PAC just reported $301,602 in spending to boost Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and dump on her opponent, Josh Hawley.


— MAGGIE HABERMAN in the NYT, “Newly Emboldened, Trump Says What He Really Feels”: “A dozen people close to Mr. Trump or the White House, including current and former aides and longtime friends, described him as newly emboldened to say what he really feels and to ignore the cautions of those around him. …

“‘This could be the manifestation of growing confidence,’ said Roger J. Stone Jr., one of the president’s oldest confidantes. Projecting strength, control and power, whether as a New York developer or domineering reality television host, has always been vital to Mr. Trump. But in his first year in the White House, according to his friends, he found himself feeling tentative and anxious, intimidated by the role of president, a fact that he never openly admitted but that they could sense, people close to the president said.

“This, after all, is someone for whom leaving the security of Trump Tower and moving to Washington and the White House was a daunting prospect. Even now, as he has grown more comfortable in the job, he rarely leaves the White House unless he is certain the environment will be friendly, such as at one of his own properties. Rallies are rarely scheduled in areas that could invite large protests. … Some of Mr. Trump’s allies have said that Mr. Trump was trapped in a West Wing cage built by Mr. Kelly, and has finally broken loose.”

— OLIVIA NUZZI on the cover of New York Magazine, “What Hope Hicks Knows: The departure of the Trump whisperer has left the White House in even deeper chaos. Which surely pleases some outsiders angling to get back in” (headline on the cover: “White House Snakepit! Tabloid Triangle Rocks Oval Office! What Hope Hicks Learned in Washington)”: “While others were left wondering what the president was thinking, Hicks could often hear him shouting, even with her door closed. ‘Hope!’ he’d scream. ‘Hopey!’ ‘Hopester!’ ‘Get in here!’

“Many requests were mundane. ‘He doesn’t write anything down,’ one source close to the White House told me. … A second source who meets regularly with the president told me that Hicks acted almost as an embodiment of the faculties the Trump lacked — like memory. ‘He’ll be talking, and then right in the middle he’ll be like, “Hope, what was that … thing?”’

“When the name of a senator or congressman or journalist came up, Trump would prompt Hicks to provide a history of their interactions, asking, ‘Do we like him?’ ‘And she f***ing remembers!’ (Trump has said his own memory is ‘one of the greatest memories of all time.’) … For as long as he’d been in politics, Lewandowski had been defined by two qualities: his ruthless pursuit of an enemy’s destruction and always having an enemy. … There were plenty of reasons for Lewandowski to consider Porter his enemy. Whatever was or wasn’t true about his relationship with Hicks, Lewandowski’s unusual preoccupation with her was well established. ‘He has, sort of, Single White Male characteristics,’ a source who had worked with Hicks before the campaign told me.

“In the fall, he began asking around, trying to figure out whom she was dating. ‘I think that he thinks he should control her,’ a second source said. ‘He got wind that she was dating Porter, and he could not handle that,’ a third source, who is close to the White House and worked with Lewandowski, said. ‘There were still raw feelings.’ …

“[J]ust as Kelly didn’t understand Jared and Ivanka, he also didn’t understand Hicks, and he sometimes blamed her for habits Trump had been forming for 71 years. ‘He was extraordinarily dismissive of her. He would refer to her as ‘the high-schooler,’ he would joke about how she was inexperienced, she was in over her head, she was immature,’ a former senior White House official told me.” cover

— OLIVIA TWEETED: “I spent some time with Hope Hicks during the last several weeks. She declined to speak on the record. This is the result of interviews with more than 30 current & former senior White House officials, campaign staffers, & sources close to the president”.

JUST POSTED – “Inside California’s War on Trump: As the state resists the White House on issues from immigration to climate change, Governor Jerry Brown is determined to avoid a pitched battle,” by Connie Bruck in The New Yorker: “Brown has said that he follows ‘the canoe theory’ of politics: ‘You paddle a little on the left and a little on the right, and you paddle a straight course.’ His public image is similarly enigmatic: in the seventies, he dated Linda Ronstadt and Natalie Wood, and yet he managed to project the austerity of a monk.

“When I asked [his wife Anne] Gust Brown whether they might launch another campaign instead, she said, ‘Who knows? I’ve learned to just take life as it comes, right?’ She added that she thought Brown would be ‘an extraordinary President.’”

IT HAPPENS TO ALL OF US … “Engine failure forces Ivanka, Jared’s helicopter to return to airport,” by CNN’s Noah Gray: “A helicopter carrying Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had to return to an airport in Washington on Thursday after one of its engines failed, two law enforcement sources told CNN. President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law were flying from Washington to New York on Thursday afternoon in a two-engine helicopter when one engine failed, causing the chopper to return to Washington. The helicopter safely made it back to Ronald Reagan National Airport and the couple scrambled to get on a commercial flight instead. The sources could not say why the couple were flying to New York via a helicopter instead of a plane.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS … “White House tweaks plan to seek death penalty as part of opioid response,” by Dan Diamond: “President Donald Trump’s plan to fight the opioid epidemic will call for the death penalty in some cases, White House officials said Sunday, scaling back the administration’s plan to punish drug dealers. ‘The Department of Justice will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when appropriate under current law,’ said Andrew Bremberg, the White House’s director of the Domestic Policy Council. White House officials referred follow-up questions to DOJ. An earlier version of the plan, obtained by POLITICO last week, would have called for the death penalty in some cases involving drug dealers, too.”

— “Hundreds of millions in state opioid cash left unspent,” by Rachana Pradhan and Brianna Ehley: “Congress sent states hundreds of millions of dollars to fight an opioid crisis claiming more than 100 lives a day — money they’ve largely been unable to spend after a year. Mixed signals from the Trump administration on how to use the money and state challenges ramping up their efforts have left untouched more than three-quarters of the $500 million Congress set aside under the 21st Century Cures Act in late 2016.”

ABOUT MICHAEL FLYNN — “What Michael Flynn Could Tell the Russia Investigators: The former national security adviser mingled business with government. That could help Robert Mueller look for similar overlaps among Trump insiders,” by Bloomberg’s David Kocieniewski and Lauren Etter: “Flynn’s troubles trace back to a previously unreported million-dollar contract for computer chips forged with a friend, Bijan Kian, a suave, Iranian-born businessman. A former governor at the Export-Import Bank, Kian was chairman of a Persian cultural nonprofit group, the Nowruz Commission, that gave him entrée into high Washington circles.

“He built a relationship with former CIA Director James Woolsey and, in 2013, used it to get Flynn, then the Pentagon’s top intelligence officer, to support his computer chip company’s bid for a contract. The next year, when Flynn was forced out by the Obama administration, his friendship with Kian blossomed into a business partnership. Kian brought him into the chip company, GreenZone Systems Inc., as a board member.”

YOU’RE INVITED … Join us for our first Playbook University in North Carolina with GOV. ROY COOPER on March 29 at Penn Pavilion at Duke University. Doors open at 11:45 a.m. RSVP

TOP TALKER — RON LAUDER in the NYT: “Israel’s Self-Inflicted Wounds”: “[T]he Jewish democratic state faces two grave threats that I believe could endanger its very existence. The first threat is the possible demise of the two-state solution. I am conservative and a Republican, and I have supported the Likud party since the 1980s. But the reality is that 13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian. If current trends continue, Israel will face a stark choice: Grant Palestinians full rights and cease being a Jewish state or rescind their rights and cease being a democracy. To avoid these unacceptable outcomes, the only path forward is the two-state solution.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY from SAUDI ARABIAN PRINCE MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN to NORAH O’DONNELL on CBS’S “60 MINUTES”: “As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.” Full interview

REP. MARK POCAN (D-WIS.) on offering ANDREW MCCABE a job on MSNBC’s “KASIE DC” last night: “We actually put a legitimate offer beyond the tweet, which is we have some very nonpartisan work around election integrity. The bottom line is, I think people are just tired of the way this president operates, whether it’d be — when he tweets like a petulant man-child or when he’s a ruthless demagogue, like he is here, you know, to fire someone literally a couple days before their retirement, that’s attacking a person and their family, their pension.

“And people are just so tired of that. This president lacks human — the human qualities of compassion and everything that we expect to have in a president. And he doesn’t do it. So, all I’m trying to do is say, look, I don’t care if he comes and work for me or anyone, but we should make sure that he has his pension at minimum. And what the president did was just wrong.”

TRUMP’S MONDAY — The president and first lady will head to Manchester, N.H. this afternoon. Trump will give a speech at Manchester Community College about combating the opioid crisis. They are scheduled to fly back to D.C. after the speech.

SUSAN GLASSER talks with REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CALIF.) in the latest “Global Politico” podcast.

CONFIRMATION WATCH … TOP-ED – JOHN KIRIAKOU in WaPo, “I went to prison for disclosing the CIA’s torture. Gina Haspel helped cover it up”: “Putting Haspel in charge of the CIA would undo attempts by the agency — and the nation — to repudiate torture. The message this sends to the CIA workforce is simple: Engage in war crimes, in crimes against humanity, and you’ll get promoted. Don’t worry about the law. Don’t worry about ethics. Don’t worry about morality or the fact that torture doesn’t even work. Go ahead and do it anyway. We’ll cover for you. And you can destroy the evidence, too. …

“Mike Pompeo, the outgoing CIA director and secretary of state designee, has lauded her ‘uncanny ability to get things done and inspire those around her.’ I’m sure that’s true for some. But many of the rest of us who knew and worked with Haspel at the CIA called her ‘Bloody Gina.’”

2020 WATCH — “Curtain rises in New Hampshire with president’s appearance,” by WaPo’s John Wagner in Manchester, N.H.: “Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) received a standing ovation from a crowd of business leaders and political junkies here on Friday after decrying the ‘degradation of the United States and her values’ by the current occupant of the White House. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who ran for the GOP nomination in 2016, will return to the nation’s first primary state early next month for a ‘fireside chat’ at a college in Henniker.

“And on Monday, President Trump — whose New Hampshire primary win two years ago set him on a course for the presidency — is slated to make an appearance in the state for the first time since 2016. The next presidential primaries here are nearly two years away, but the unusual flurry of activity is stoking speculation about whether a sitting president could face a serious challenge from within his own party for the first time in a quarter-century. … ‘I’m certain that Trump will draw a serious primary challenger,’ said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee. ‘A lot of voters are getting tired of this act.’”

MAGGIE SEVERNS: “The biggest Republican megadonor you’ve never heard of”: “Richard Uihlein [is] a little-known Republican donor who had until recently been one of [Illinois Gov. Bruce] Rauner’s biggest supporters. After a fallout out with the governor over abortion policy, Uihlien gave $2.5 million to Ives in a single week this past January — essentially bankrolling her campaign to defeat Rauner in a Republican primary on Tuesday.

“It’s the latest example of Uihlein’s burgeoning role as one of the most influential, but still little-known, political donors in the country. His early six- and seven-figure contributions to emerging Republican candidates, and penchant for disruptive politics, have been crucial to building a raft of anti-establishment Republicans seeking to emulate Donald Trump’s formula for success during this year’s midterm elections.

“And Republicans say he has found a pitch-perfect political moment to push his rigorous social and economic conservatism on the national stage, to the detriment of opponents, like Rauner, who cross his path.”

MEDIAWATCH — Per Michael Calderone’s Morning Media: “Brian Bennett, currently White House reporter at the Los Angeles Times, is joining Time magazine as senior White House correspondent, according to a staff memo.”

SPOTTED: Eric Trump leaving Aspen Sunday morning on a United flight to Chicago … Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper departing the Sunday afternoon matinee showing of “Hamilton” at the Buell Theatre in Denver with his son Teddy and wife, Robin Pringle … Lynda and Chuck Robb celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a black tie dinner at their McLean home Saturday night – their actual wedding day was Dec. 9, 1967. … Gen. Joe Dunford with a “bunch of friends laughing and enjoying himself” outside The Smith on Sunday.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK –– TRANSITION: Sally Canfield is joining Definers Public Affairs as SVP. She most recently was senior director of government relations at the ONE Campaign and is the former deputy chief of staff to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

ENGAGED – JEB ALUMNI — Mike Thom, deputy director of Iowa for Jeb 2016 who is now regional political director for the NRCC, on Sunday night proposed to Emily Benavides, traveling press secretary for Jeb 2016 who is now deputy communications director for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), at sunset on a walk around the waterfront at Navy Yard. The couple met in Iowa when Tim Miller sent Emily to work the caucus in 2016. Instapics

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Andrew McCabe turned 5-0 … Joe Dougherty, director of comms at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, turned 53

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Jill Abramson, columnist for The Guardian, senior lecturer at the Harvard English Dept., author of an upcoming book on news, and former executive editor of The New York Times. How she got her start in journalism: “I got my start in journalism from Francine Sasso in the Boston bureau of Time Magazine in 1974. I covered the Harvard campus as a stringer and the 1976 primaries in NH, Massachusetts and RI for Time’s Boston bureau and worked there one year 1976-77. Francine got me the Harvard stringer’s job and gave me my assignments, which often involved calling John Kenneth Galbraith to ask him if the West was in decline. I collaborated on a piece about campus humor with the Yale stringer, Jane Mayer.” Read her Playbook Plus Q&A:

BIRTHDAYS: Zach Parkinson, WH deputy research director and director of vetting (hat tip: Adam Kennedy) … Ed Rollins is 75 …. Teddy Downey … Brent Scowcroft, former White House national security adviser, is 93 … Trey Hardin, founder of War Room Strategies and ABC News political analyst who calls him a “member of GOP establishment” in his bio on Twitter, is 49 … Lynda Johnson Robb … Politico’s James Benson and Betsy Barrows … Kayla Cook Brown, chief of staff at Axios … C-SPAN is 39 … Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) is 63 … Alexander Trowbridge, producer for Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” … CBS News’ Kia Baskerville … Anatole Jenkins, deputy national field director at the DCCC, is 27 … Van Scott of ABC News … Kivvit’s Ian Hainline (h/t Mallory Shelbourne) … Leonard Lauder is 85 … Annie Policastro, director of federal gov’t affairs at UPS … Ric Cunningham … Kyle Hill, senior LA for Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) (h/t Mitchell Rivard) … Ali Chartan, director at Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick … Tara McGuinness … WashPost reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey … Katie Bosland, a coordinating producer at ABC News’ GMA … David Colton …

… Carla Frank, finance manager at American Possibilities PAC, is 27 (h/t Rob Flaherty) … Grace Hoefer … Andy Wong … John Gossel … Doug Hill, director of outreach for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) … Nishant Surapaneni … Joel Rogers … Emma Lieberth … Scott Bates … ProPublica senior investigative reporter T. Christian Miller … Mary Streett … Kate Gordon … Liz Plank … Jen Gerson Uffalussy … Rob Varsalone … Jerry Fritz … Maria Osborn Howard … TVNewser contributor Alissa Krinsky … Dave Arnold of Saudi Aramco … Cody Sigel … Michael Makarski … Seth Rogovoy of the Rogovoy Report … Jen Gerson Uffalussy … Nataly Morales of Sen. Murray’s office … Bernard Schmit … Yujin Lee … Jose Borjon … Jake Westlin … Joseph Puente … Angela Ellard.


Trial begins over AT&T-Time Warner merger reviled by Trump

A high-stakes trial begins Monday over the Justice Department’s decision to block the $85 billion merger between AT&T and Time Warner — a deal that President Donald Trump thrust into the political spotlight with his outspoken and repeated opposition.

But District Judge Richard Leon has tamped down efforts to make politics a factor in the trial, rejecting calls from both the companies and former DOJ officials to examine whether the White House improperly interfered in the government’s review process.

That means attorneys on both sides will focus their arguments on whether allowing AT&T, the nation’s largest telecommunications provider, to combine with Time Warner, owner of HBO, Turner Broadcasting and Warner Bros., will hurt competition in the TV industry and harm consumers.

"Many observers expected the federal agencies to be pushovers for the business community for mergers" during the Trump administration, said William Kovacic, a former Federal Trade Commission chairman under former President George W. Bush. "The filing of this case, standing alone, upsets the conventional wisdom."

The lawsuit in Washington indeed represents a prominent test of the populist antitrust agenda Trump touted on the campaign trail, when he said the AT&T deal would put “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few" and pledged his administration would stop it.

Trump frequently takes aim at Time Warner-owned CNN for its news coverage, which he labels "fake news." Those fiery remarks have raised concerns among some lawmakers and advocates — even those who oppose the deal — that Trump’s ire may have swayed the Justice Department’s thinking in the case.

Even so, the DOJ’s opposition to the deal on the grounds it could raise prices and limit competition has garnered support from a number of public interest groups and consumer advocates who have split with the Trump administration on most other policy matters.

"This is a huge test case for the administration’s commitment to challenge further consolidation and domination of major media and communications platforms," said Gene Kimmelman, president of advocacy group Public Knowledge who served as DOJ antitrust chief counsel under former President Barack Obama.

The trial is also a key moment in the six-month tenure of Trump’s DOJ assistant attorney general for antitrust, Makan Delrahim.

Before joining the administration, Delrahim said in a TV interview he didn’t see any significant issues that would keep the AT&T-Time Warner deal from moving forward. Since assuming his DOJ role, however, he’s taken a different tack, speaking about his preference for "structural remedies" to corporate mergers, such as forcing divestitures, when the transaction poses a threat to competition.

Delrahim says this tougher approach applies even if the companies in question are not direct competitors — so-called vertical mergers that have historically attracted less scrutiny from U.S. regulators. One such transaction, the 2011 union of Comcast and NBC Universal, was approved by the Obama Justice Department with a set of "behavioral" conditions that, among other things, temporarily restricted how the combined company priced online products. AT&T and Time Warner say their deal is comparable.

The Trump DOJ offered AT&T and Time Warner multiple options for "structural" changes to gain government approval, including selling off CNN parent Turner Broadcasting or DirecTV, but the companies balked at those offers because, they said, the deal’s value comes from marrying the two lines of business.

Sources close to those negotiations said at the time that CNN appeared to be the main sticking point for the government. Justice Department officials later said the companies themselves offered to jettison CNN, an offer DOJ rejected. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson pushed back on that narrative, saying he never offered to sell CNN and had no intention of doing so.

Antitrust watchers say the judge’s ruling could influence how the government regulates future media mergers, at the Justice Department and at the Federal Communications Commission.

Fernando Laguarda, an antitrust professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, believes a DOJ win would be fodder for "those who argue for more scrutiny of programmer-distributors relationships" and reinforce concerns that such pairings can "weaponize" content to punish competitors.

A company win, on the other hand, would give future vertical mergers a case on the books that suggests regulators should take a light-handed approach, added Laguarda, who served as policy counselor at Time Warner Cable, which spun off from Time Warner in 2009.

Since late November, government lawyers have cast the transaction as bad for market competition and thus for American consumers. They say a conjoined AT&T and Time Warner would have an incentive to use its size and might to shut out internet upstarts and inflate cable bills that already cause customers to gripe.

“Expertise and real-world experience alike will demonstrate that this proposed transaction poses an unacceptable threat to competition and consumers," DOJ asserted in a pretrial brief.

The companies, meanwhile, have questioned the DOJ’s motives for blocking the merger and asked that communication logs between the White House and top agency officials be turned over as evidence of possible meddling. Leon rejected that request, saying their reasoning for obtaining the information was not strong enough.

The judge, though, also denied DOJ’s request to exclude as evidence an arbitration agreement that AT&T and Time Warner made with other TV distributors. That contract precludes the companies from withholding their programming in licensing disputes — a concession they say should placate the government’s concerns about shaking down competitors.

AT&T paints the merger as a fight for relevance. The Dallas-based company, which bought satellite television provider DirecTV in 2015, contends that Netflix, Amazon and Google’s YouTube have become leading players in the market, distributing some of the nation’s most popular programming to subscribers that now number in the millions.

"This merger has never been about making Time Warner programs less accessible or more expensive," the companies said in a pretrial brief. "Just the opposite: it is about making Time Warner and AT&T more competitive during a revolutionary transformation that is occurring in the video programming marketplace."

AT&T says acquiring Time Warner’s trove of marquee media properties will enable the company to offer new products that better meet the demands of always-connected customers while creating business savings that result in lower prices for its subscribers.

The outcome of the AT&T-Time Warner case is likely to have implications for whether the telecom and media industries continue to consolidate and how legacy players compete with the advances of less-regulated technology companies.

"This could be an interesting sign post about how that market is going to evolve," Laguarda said.


Hundreds of millions in state opioid cash left unspent

Congress sent states hundreds of millions of dollars to fight an opioid crisis claiming more than 100 lives a day — money they’ve largely been unable to spend after a year.

Mixed signals from the Trump administration on how to use the money and state challenges ramping up their efforts have left untouched more than three-quarters of the $500 million Congress set aside under the 21st Century Cures Act in late 2016.

As President Donald Trump heads to hard-hit New Hampshire today to tout his plan to combat the crisis, the slow drip of dollars into communities hit hard by addiction has put state officials in a bind and frustrated addiction experts and some treatment organizations.

“This is a total failure,” said Andrew Kolodny, former chief medical officer at Phoenix House and now a Brandeis University researcher, likening the situation to food and water “stuck in an airport somewhere, while people are starving to death.”

The grants for opioid addiction and prevention efforts were part of a $1 billion commitment over two years authorized in the Cures Act, which then-President Barack Obama signed just before leaving office.

But state officials were quickly caught in a dilemma: They were happy to receive new money, but it was guaranteed for only two years, making it difficult to get long-term commitments from health care providers and others to build programs and hire a workforce.

Many of those trying to expand access to medication-assisted treatment, buy overdose reversal drugs and bolster recovery programs say they were hamstrung in their efforts to solve a magnifying public health emergency with a short-term program. They’re calling on Congress for a longer-term financial commitment.

"One-time money really changes the parameters of what you think you can fund," said Katie Marks, project director for the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort, where officials will receive $21 million in grants over two years. "Some of these programs are going to take a fair amount of development before they can sustain themselves."

Congress is set to release the second $500 million tranche of aid soon, and weighing whether to extend the grants beyond two years while making other changes, according to aides in both parties.

The funding is valuable to boost certain types of programs, but doesn’t come close to paying for aggressive treatment for those suffering from addiction, said Robin Parsons of the Fairbanks Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Center in Indianapolis.

“This isn’t going to go away in a couple years,” Parsons, the hospital’s chief clinical officer, said of the epidemic.

Regina LaBelle, who served as chief of staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the Obama administration, likens the states’ challenge to “flying a plane while you’re building it … They have to build infrastructure at the same time they have to get money out the door.”

Many projects are just getting off the ground, even though the first year of the program ends April 30 — with officials expecting to request the money be carried over into the new year.

Kentucky officials had spent nearly $2 million as of early this month, Marks said. They began finalizing contracts for roughly 30 projects in July, she said.

"It has been a challenge with that many contracts, and using a state procurement process and partnering with community agencies," said Allen Brenzel, clinical director for the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities.

Other states found workarounds to spend it faster. California legislators gave their health department new authority to quickly roll out contracts using the nearly $45 million the state will get annually, most of it to increase the use of medication-assisted treatment. The programs were up and running by last fall.

Progress has been slower elsewhere.

In New Hampshire, which had the nation’s third-highest drug overdose fatality rate in 2016, a five-member council must approve state contracts exceeding $25,000. The first two grants weren’t approved until late January.

"We don’t want to spend 18 months building programs that sunset when the funding ends," said Julia Frew, who oversees a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center effort that got $2.8 million to expand medication-assisted treatment for pregnant women. "We’re trying to think of sustainability as we go."

In Indiana, which received about $11 million the first year, concerns about future funding led Aspire Indiana to not move ahead with a proposed expansion of residential substance abuse services, according to Matt Brooks, president of the Indiana Council of Community Mental Health Centers.

There is no guarantee that SAMHSA grant funding will continue in the future," said Brooks.

Federal officials say such spending delays are normal for new programs. The first four months of the state opioids grants were dedicated to setting up infrastructure, followed by a half year focused on delivering services, SAMHSA spokesperson Chris Garrett said. He said that states have spent just under a quarter of the $500 million Congress appropriated so far.

But the start-up experience has underscored the need for greater clarity from the federal government. Last year, Ex-HHS Secretary Tom Price sent mixed signals about how much funding states would receive in round two and what it might be spent on. That rattled state officials, who worried that changes halfway through would require them to reapply and potentially delay projects.

Congress and SAMHSA also went back and forth about whether to change the funding formula— it is based on a combination of population and total drug deaths, which left small states like West Virginia and New Hampshire with proportionately less money than big states that had lower mortality rates.

"We had to kind of wait for the green light that the second-year funding would be allocated to the same priorities," said Kentucky’s Brenzel.

State officials are now awaiting the second round of funding and hoping for more after that.

"My No. 1 ask" would be for them to continue the program as is, said Marlies Perez, chief of the California Department of Health Care Services Substance Use Disorder Compliance Division. "For them to come up with a whole new system? That would definitely add delays."

Some in Congress are nonetheless examining possible tweaks. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and others have proposed broadening the funding targets to address additional substance use issues like methamphetamine, which has plagued her state.

Other lawmakers, from states with the highest drug-related death rates, are pushing for more money, faster.

"How do we deal with small communities that don’t have two nickels to rub up against each other to file a grant application?" said GOP Rep. David McKinley, whose home state of West Virginia has the highest overdose mortality rate in the country. "How can we streamline this so that it does get out?"

Don Sapatkin contributed to this story.


Republicans warn Trump to back off Mueller

Congressional Republicans sounded alarm Sunday over President Donald Trump’s increasing belligerence toward special counsel Robert Mueller, but they offered no hint about what actions they might take if Trump attempts to fire him.

“I’m not sure the House can do a lot,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on “Fox News Sunday.” Gowdy urged the president to give Mueller the space and resources to finish his probe unimpeded, but he noted that the Senate has more leverage over Trump on this issue because it has a say in his senior administration appointments.

Trump had for months laid off Mueller, who is probing any criminal activity connected to Russia’s effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election — and whether any Trump associates aided the foreign plot. Though he’s attacked senior leaders of the FBI and Justice Department for drawing out a “witch hunt” against him, Trump has kept his criticism of Mueller’s probe to a minimum, adopting a legal strategy that a public posture of cooperation with Mueller is the right course.

But that strategy shifted abruptly in the past few days, following news that Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump organization for records. This weekend, Trump has tweeted that Mueller’s investigation is unnecessary and is being run by “hardened Democrats.”

Republicans who have helped run their own Russia investigations warned Trump against taking any action on Mueller but stopped short of proposing any efforts to block such a move. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said any decision by Trump to remove Mueller “would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.”

Mueller is “following the evidence where it takes him, and I think it’s very important he be allowed to do his job without interference,” Graham said. “And there are many Republicans who share my view.”

But bipartisan legislation intended to block a unilateral move by Trump to remove Mueller has stalled in Congress for months, as Republicans and Democrats have worked to combine competing proposals, and even the sponsors of the legislation have described limited urgency to act. Until this weekend, they pointed to Trump’s deference to Mueller and expressed confidence he wouldn’t go after the veteran prosecutor.

That changed Saturday, when Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, called for Mueller‘s probe to be shut down, arguing that it was contrived by former FBI Director James Comey and based on a dossier provided to the bureau by former British spy Christopher Steele.

“I pray that acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said.

(The FBI’s investigation began several months before the bureau received Steele’s dossier, according to Republican and Democratic House Intelligence Committee memos drawn from previously classified FBI documents.)

Trump followed Dowd’s comments with multiple attacks on Mueller’s probe as well.

“[D]oes anyone think this is fair?” Trump tweeted. “And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”

A decision by Trump to fire Mueller could be complex. Technically, the decision falls to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s probe and has repeatedly expressed confidence in Mueller. Only Rosenstein has the authority to end it, but Trump has the authority to remove Rosenstein in order to install a more pliant official willing to carry out the order, a move that Trump’s detractors fear could come without warning.

Yet if the new tone toward Mueller is going to motivate Republican lawmakers to protect the investigation, there were few indications over the weekend. Leaders of the committees charged with overseeing the Justice Department offered no immediate response to Trump’s comments.

On behalf of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), AshLee Strong merely said: “As the speaker has always said, Mr. Mueller and his team should be able to do their job.”

Their limited responses came despite renewed Democratic pleas for a bipartisan pledge to undo any actions Trump may take against Mueller.

“I would hope that that would be the result that we would affirm our system of checks and balances and appoint an independent counsel,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“The president, the administration, and his legal team must not take any steps to curtail, interfere with, or end the special counsel’s investigation or there will be severe consequences from both Democrats and Republicans," said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a statement.

But rather than endorse a specific response, several Republican lawmakers with a history of challenging Trump on Russia-related matters fanned out across the Sunday national news shows and pleaded broadly with Trump to back off Mueller.

“I mean, talking to my colleagues all along, it was, you know, once he goes after Mueller, then we will take action,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think that people see that as a massive red line that can’t be crossed. So, I hope that that’s the case. And I would just hope that enough people would prevail on the president now: ‘Don’t go there.‘”

In his tirades against the investigations, Trump has latched onto a recent finding by House Intelligence Committee Republicans that they found no evidence that Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russia to influence the election.

“As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign,” he tweeted Saturday.

But two prominent members of the committee contradicted this assessment Sunday, noting that some of the central figures in the investigation have been off-limits to the committee because they’re entangled in Mueller’s probe. Those witnesses include former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, whose interactions with a Russia-linked professor helped launch the FBI’s initial Russia probe.

Gowdy emphasized that the basis for the panel’s conclusion was limited to the 70-plus witnesses it was able to interview.

“You don’t know what you don’t know," he said.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who ran the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation, emphasized that the committee didn’t conclude there was no collusion.

"What we said is that we found no evidence of it,” he clarified. “That’s a different statement."

Others pleaded with the president to recognize that Mueller’s probe goes beyond questions about collusion and to the heart of Russia’s larger, widely accepted plot to influence the election.

“It is not a collusion probe. It is much broader than that,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “Now, obviously, once you open that up and you start looking, you can go in one direction or another. You go where the evidence takes you, and that’s what I support.”


For first time, Trump aims at Mueller

For 10 months, President Donald Trump and his team abided by a simple rule: Don’t go after special counsel Robert Mueller.

But this weekend, as he digested news that the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election was circling nearer to him and his family, Trump came closer than ever to abandoning his unspoken truce with Mueller, reigniting fears among Republicans that the president could fire the special counsel.

Cooped up in the White House without any public events on his schedule and cable news blaring, Trump unleashed a Twitter tirade that differed from past outbursts in one significant way: He mentioned Mueller directly. Before this weekend, Trump had only referenced Mueller by name once on Twitter, in a retweet.

Now, it appears, Mueller is fair game.

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Trump tweeted Saturday night. On Sunday morning, he asked, “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?”

Some members of the special counsel’s team have donated to Democrats in the past, but it is false to claim that the entire team is made up of Democrats. Mueller himself is a Republican.

By Sunday afternoon, Trump had left the confines of the White House to visit his golf course in Virginia. Later Sunday, the White House said that there were no plans to fire Mueller.

“In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration,“ attorney Ty Cobb said in a statement, “the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”

Until this weekend, Mueller was the rare figure in Trump’s orbit who seemed off-limits. The president and his aides have taken pains to avoid attacking Mueller, even as they repeatedly stressed that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. “We’re going to continue to fully cooperate out of respect for the special counsel,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters last week.

Trump’s comments come after his lawyer, John Dowd, on Saturday urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shutter Mueller’s investigation. Dowd reportedly first told The Daily Beast he was speaking in his capacity as Trump’s lawyer, but he later backtracked, insisting he was speaking only for himself.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment. Sanders did not respond to questions about whether Trump would fire Mueller.

Firing Mueller would set off a firestorm in Washington, likely triggering a severe backlash against the president even among his Republican supporters in Congress.

“If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency, because we’re a rule-of-law nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. The senator issued the same warning last summer after Trump raised the same alarms.

A person familiar with the president’s thinking on the Mueller probe told POLITICO on Sunday that Trump’s tweets over the previous 48 hours appeared to be a response to the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, news of the Trump Organization subpoena, and what he’s been hearing from his friends outside his immediate circle of staffers and attorneys.

“We know he’s obsessed with this case. He’s been obsessed with it from Day One, since before the special counsel’s been appointed,” the person said. “We know he actually enjoys talking about it because it goes to his nature. It goes to what he knows best: a fight.”

The person downplayed the notion that Trump’s tweets are the result of a strategic push by the president’s lawyers and advisers to undercut Mueller.

“[Trump] trusts his own instincts. He trusts it above the instincts of his own lawyers. He trusts it above the instincts of his own communications team, whether inside or outside the White House,” the person said.

Meanwhile, Trump also suggested Sunday morning that McCabe, who was fired Friday, did not make memos of their conversations in person and that such documents, if they do exist, could be "fake."

"Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me," the president wrote on Twitter. "I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?"

On Saturday, POLITICO reported that McCabe, like former FBI Director James Comey, felt the need to memorialize his conversations with the president before he was fired on Friday. The former top FBI official has also given the memos to Mueller’s team, as it continues to probe Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The president also continued his attacks on Comey, who is set to release a book soon.

“Wow, watch Comey lie under oath to Senator G when asked ‘have you ever been an anonymous source … or known someone else to be an anonymous source…?’ He said strongly ‘never, no.’ He lied as shown clearly on @foxandfriends.“

Seizing on a point made in conservative media, including by Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, Trump claimed that Comey lied under oath during his testimony to Congress last June. The former director’s testimony has receive renewed attention over reports that McCabe, who was fired for for unauthorized disclosure to the media, may have done so with Comey’s knowledge or blessing.

If Comey were to have authorized McCabe to speak to the media, it could contradict what the former director told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) during his testimony.

"Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?" Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, asked last summer, according to a transcript of the hearing.

"Never," Comey responded.

The Iowa senator asked again: "Question two, relatively related, have you ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?"

"No," Comey said.

While Trump has frequently blasted the Russia probe, he had steered clear of attacks on Mueller, even once calling him “an honorable man” in a Fox News interview.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said Sunday that the president may have a point when it comes to the number of Democrats on Mueller’s team, but he largely praised the special counsel for limiting leaks and for the detailed information included in the Feb. 16 indictment of 13 Russian nationals and other businesses for their alleged role in interfering with the election.

"It is odd the number of Democrats that he has put on board his team," Lankford told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s "This Week." "That does raise some flags in some sense there."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued that the president is "floating trial balloons" to derail Mueller’s probe.

"The president is floating trial balloons about derailing the Mueller investigation," the New York Democrat said in a statement. "Our Republican colleagues, particularly the leadership, have an obligation to our country to stand up now and make it clear that firing Mueller is a red line for our democracy that cannot be crossed."

Rep. Adam Schiff, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said the idea of Mueller being fired was something that needed to be condemned before it could happen.

“Members need to speak out now,” the California Democrat said of his colleagues in Congress. “Don’t wait for the crisis.”

Trump’s comments came at the end of a chaotic week that also saw the president fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and leave national security adviser H.R. McMaster dangling in the wind.

A defense lawyer working with a senior Trump aide on the Russia case said in an email that the president’s latest assault on Mueller “seems to me to be of a piece with the firing of Tillerson and the trash chute on which McMaster has been placed (not enough to just fire someone, you need to publicly humiliate them for a few weeks first), namely, Trump unshackled.”

“He appears to believe that — across the board — his instincts are better than those around him who have been exerting a moderating influence,” the lawyer added. “It’s no secret where Trump stands on Mueller and, so, no particular surprise that this is coming now. And, as at the White House more generally, there are always those — in this case, Dowd —who are ready to reaffirm his (worst) impulses and act on them.”

Josh Gerstein and David Cohen contributed to this report.


Donald Trump’s other attorney general problem

CHICAGO — Turn on any TV in Illinois and you’ll see ads from a slew of candidates for state attorney general who are vowing to battle a notorious tyrant, a racist fear-monger whom they view as a threat to democracy itself.

They’re talking about Donald Trump.

In the state’s first primary election of the Trump era, the president has turned the race to be Illinois’ top lawyer upside down, with the traditional focus on consumer protection, law enforcement and legislation taking a backseat to promises to fight tooth-and-nail against Trump.

The eight Democrats running for the party nomination in this solidly Democratic state have tapped Trump as the boogeyman in campaign material, debates and TV ads, promising to serve as the tip of the spear in a war against the White House.

“Sharon Fairley’s been taking on bullies and bigots her whole life,” says a narrator in one typical ad featuring Trump’s photo, “so she’ll stand up to Trump’s attacks on women, immigrants and people of color.”

In laying out his own case for the job, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti — who doubles as a cable news pundit on the subject of Trump — has framed his candidacy as a way to “stop Donald Trump in his tracks.”

“When he tries to undermine our health care or roll back environmental standards, my answer as attorney general will be: ‘See you in court, Mr. President,” Mariotti said in a video launching his bid. “If you’re angry as I am about a president who is disgracing our nation, please join our campaign for attorney general.”

Fairley, like several of her competitors, weaves her personal narrative into the Trump opposition, saying she takes issue with Trump’s criticisms of affirmative action. The policy, she says, may have factored into her acceptance into Princeton, but she notes she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

“I’m amongst the millions of people, women in particular, who have been demoralized by the policies of the Trump White House,” said Fairley, who is African-American and recently stepped down as the head of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. “So his comments on affirmative action? That’s personal to me. The racism? That’s personal to me.”

Her rivals make similar pitches. Nancy Rotering, the mayor of a Chicago suburb, blasts the president’s policies on guns and immigration and draws parallels to her own local gun-policy battles. Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Jesse Ruiz says his motivation is rooted in his experience as the son of Mexican immigrants.

“I’ll fight corruption and abuse no matter where it comes from, even from Donald Trump,” he says in one ad.

While the Trump factor might have inspired the crowded Democratic field, a major driving force was pure opportunity. The job opened up after Attorney General Lisa Madigan last year announced she would retire after having a lock on the office for nearly 16 years.

That released an explosion of pent-up ambition from a wide range of contenders: former federal prosecutors, state lawmakers, imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s defense lawyer, a national TV commentator and, perhaps most surprising, a former Illinois governor.

On the Republican side, the field is dramatically smaller and less Trump-focused — it consists of former Miss America and Harvard Law school graduate Erika Harold, who has significant party support, and Gary Grasso, a litigator and DuPage County Board member.

The chance to take on Trump in court is part of the reason Pat Quinn, who served as governor from 2009 to 2015, doesn’t view his candidacy as a step down.

Quinn, a Democrat who had a rough relationship with the party establishment as governor, called the attorney general’s post “the last line of defense for democracy. That’s definitely a powerful factor for me.”

Democrats competing in Tuesday’s primary also see the race as a chance to seize some of the national spotlight by bringing Illinois in line with other states in which the top legal officer has used the Trump resistance to catapult into prominence — California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York’s Eric Schneiderman are models.

Fairley said she wants to see Illinois “driving the bus” nationally on more legal challenges to the White House, including on the environment.

Aaron Goldstein, a former Cook County public defender and Blagojevich’s trial lawyer, said he sees the position as a place to “resist tyranny.”

“He’s destroying our values, he’s destroying the Constitution. We’ve realized we can’t trust the legislature federally. It’s an individual in the attorney general’s office who can actually go into court and fight on behalf of all of us,” Goldstein said. “Lisa Madigan has done some of that, but, in my humble opinion, she’s been cautious. If I’m in office, I’m screaming from the rooftops every single day.”

Still, this is Illinois, which has its own fiercely parochial brand of politics and is struggling to emerge from decades of iron-fisted party-boss control.

Democrats are hellbent on keeping control of the attorney general’s office, which party leaders see as a line of defense against a Republican threat much closer to home: Gov. Bruce Rauner, who they say devastated the state’s social service infrastructure and has leveled relentless attacks on unions.

“It wasn’t necessary to look at what Trump is doing. We’ve got our own Trump in Bruce Rauner,” state Sen. Kwame Raoul said of entering the AG contest.

Raoul and Quinn are polling as front-runners.

But a late $1 million infusion to the campaign of state Rep. Scott Drury has the former federal prosecutor looming as a dark horse in the final days of the race. For Drury, the campaign is about taking on the local power structure, not Trump — specifically, House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Mike Madigan.

Madigan is “probably a bigger bully than Trump,” said Drury, who’s been entrenched in a personal grudge match with Madigan for years. “Look, Madigan’s been around for 40 years; no one’s willing to go against him. I’m not giving Trump any credit. He doesn’t have good qualities, but when you look at the way Madigan has run the House, you can say Trump is just trying to emulate Madigan.”

But even Drury can’t get away from the president’s shadow. In an ad funded by Fight Back for a Better Tomorrow — a political action committee whose donors are close allies of Madigan — Drury’s Democratic credentials are questioned, amid claims he “took thousands from Trump’s own donors.”

“Drury. He takes Republican money and votes with them,” the ad concludes, with a photo of Drury juxtaposed next to Trump and Rauner. “The last thing we need as attorney general.”