May 14, 2017

The Democratic plan to exploit Comey controversy

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

On CNN's "State of the Union," Jake Tapper asked Chuck Schumer whether he'd refuse to vote on the nomination of a new FBI director to replace James Comey until a special prosecutor is appointed. Schumer said yes; but that's only the beginning of the pressure Democrats plan to exert.

Here's what they'll do in the coming days, per a senior Senate aide:

  1. Establish a litmus test for Republicans who care about the integrity of the Russia investigation: to appoint a special prosecutor.
  2. Call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from deciding Comey's replacement, given the new FBI director will be overseeing the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the election.
  3. Extract a full explanation from Rod Rosenstein about his role in Trump's firing of Comey. The deputy attorney general will brief senators this week and they'll have a chance to grill him.
  4. Urge Republicans to support Democrats' calls for Comey to testify before a congressional committee.

Around the corner: Watch for Dems to use their demands on the Russia probe as leverage to justify even more aggressive obstruction of the Republicans' legislative agenda. "If they [Republicans] don't cooperate on what we view as requests that should be bipartisan and reasonable," the senior Senate aide said, "I don't think any Democrat would be in the mood to conduct business as normal."

Bonus Comey thing: the most insightful thing I've heard or read about Comey in a week of nonstop coverage is a Slate podcast interview with the former FBI boss' longtime friend Benjamin Wittes. Stressing he had no inside knowledge of his friend's plans, Wittes predicted Comey — "maybe the only completely subtext-less person in Washington" — would publicly tell his full story and probably in a congressional hearing. Wittes had these ominous words for Trump: "One of the problems that Trump created for himself in removing Jim Comey is that he dramatically increased the list of things that Jim Comey is now allowed to talk about."

Go deeper

Bernie's plan to hike taxes on some startup employees

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced legislation that would tax nonqualified stock options at vesting, rather than at exercise, for employees making at least $130,000 per year.

The big picture: Select employees at private companies would be taxed on monies that they hadn't yet banked.

Judge rules against Trump policy limiting public comment on energy leasing

Photo: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday overturned a 2018 Trump administration directive that sought to speed up energy leases on public land by limiting the amount of time the public could comment.

Why it matters: U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush's decision voids almost a million acres of leases in the West, according to The Washington Post. It's a victory for environmentalists, who tried to block the change as part of an effort to protect the habitat of the at-risk greater sage grouse.

  • The ruling invalidated five oil and gas leases in Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, and affected 104,688 square miles of greater sage-grouse habitat, per The Associated Press.
  • Leases in greater sage-grouse habitat will return to allowing 30 days of public comment and administrative protest.

The big picture: From Axios' Amy Harder, this is the latest in a long and convoluted list of regulatory rollbacks the Trump administration is pursuing on environmental rules that courts are, more often than not, rebutting. With Congress gridlocked on these matters, expect the courts to be the default way Trump's agenda faces checks (unless, of course, a Democrat wins the White House this November).

Your best defense against coronavirus

Photo: Adrian Greeman/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Washing your hands is the best way to protect against the novel coronavirus, according to doctors and health officials, as the virus continues to spread around the globe.

Why it matters: Frequent hand washing can stop germs from spreading in a community, a known preventative for COVID-19 and influenza.