WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
THE TAKE with ABC News’ RICK KLEIN
Who needs a “witch hunt” when Michael Flynn's ghost goes with you wherever you go? President Trump’s doozy of a foreign trip has him seeking Middle East peace, an end to Islamic terrorism, and European acceptance of a new American vision of power. But the countries the president is visiting offer a checklist of groups and individuals whose relationship with the new president has already suffered strain. Recall that Trump has insulted Muslims, the pope, and NATO. His White House has ruffled Israeli feathers even before the president leaves for the region, and news of Flynn’s work for the Turkish government makes things even more awkward in the Middle East. Then there’s the news back home, where a series of escalating and overlapping scandals will develop in American newspapers and Capitol Hill hearing rooms while the president is multiple time zones away. The eight-day, five-country trip is the kind of journey that can define a presidency – but it won’t be the president alone controlling that definition. http://abcn.ws/2pS8GOY
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself, and the Russians, zero.” – President Trump to ABC News’ Jonathan Karl at a news conference yesterday
THE SLEEPER STORY with ABC News’ Shushannah Walshe
President Trump told reporters Thursday he is “very close” to choosing a nominee to replace James Comey as FBI director and former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman is his top choice. Another senior White House official also told ABC News the president sees the former Democratic vice presidential nominee as his leading contender. Of course, nothing is final in Trump world until the president has announced it and this could be another “Apprentice” style rollout of a nominee before going with another choice. One issue the Trump administration may not foresee is the resistance he would get from Democrats on Capitol Hill to the choice. Yes, Lieberman is a former Democratic senator, but he became an independent and famously stumped with John McCain and Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign. He also is now employed for a law firm that that has represented Trump. Democrats came out yesterday saying they are skeptical because they want a nonpolitical choice, rather than someone who has not held elected office. Those concerns will continue. Lieberman’s old friend McCain had a colorful answer to that line telling reporters: “Joe Lieberman has more experience than all of my Democrat colleagues combined. So screw them! You can quote me."
WHAT TO WATCH TODAY
Hoping to turn the page, President Trump leaves today for his first foreign trip to five nations.
After briefing the Senate yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is back on the Hill to brief the House.
CHAFFETZ'S EXIT KICKS OFF RACE FOR HIS JOB
ABC’s Benjamin Siegel: With House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz planning to leave Congress at the end of June, a familiar name has the inside track to replace him on the committee: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina. A former federal prosecutor and chair of the Benghazi Committee, Gowdy is popular with the Republican rank-and-file and leadership. A spokeswoman tells ABC News he hasn't decided if he'll go for the gavel. Another name to watch is Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a House Freedom Caucus leader who has more seniority than Gowdy. Jordan has supporters on the panel, but GOP leaders aren't likely to hand one of the most powerful jobs on Capitol Hill - and the subpoena power that comes with it - over to someone who has caused problems for them in the past.
SCRUTINY GROWS AROUND PENCE
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders: The veep is in a pickle. New questions are swirling as Vice President Mike Pence stands by his March claim that he first learned of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s foreign lobbying ties through news reports. This comes after it was revealed that Trump’s transition team was notified before the inauguration that Flynn was under federal investigation for those ties. Pence was head of the transition team at the time so it could be he either, one, was again left in the dark or misled by the president's team, or two, delivered a false statement. Perhaps there’s a new West Wing rivalry to watch as White House counsel Don McGahn faces mounting criticism for reportedly knowing and not notifying the president or vice president.
WHAT ROSENSTEIN SAID (AND DIDN’T SAY) IN SENATE BRIEFING
ABC News’ Ali Rogin and Arlette Saenz: Emerging from the all-Senate briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Sen Claire McCaskill told reporters Rosenstein informed senators he knew Comey was going to be fired before he wrote his memo. "He knew that Comey was going to be removed prior to him writing his memo,” she said. Sen. Bob Corker said Rosenstein did not talk about the memo that then-director Comey wrote about his conversation with Trump about the Michael Flynn investigation. “Very careful,” was how he described Rosenstein’s delivery.
ABC News’ Adam Kelsey: ABC News’ David Muir asked the president what he’ll say to leaders on his first foreign trip about headlines in the U.S. and how he'll answer when asked if he supports the idea of a special counsel. “I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we're a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country," said Trump. http://abcn.ws/2rjRz8l
ABC News’ Mary Bruce: Multiple Republican senators were asked what they thought of Trump's comment to David Muir that the special counsel "hurts our country." South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump is entitled to his opinion. “I would suggest to the president that one has been appointed. Honor that decision, cooperate where is appropriate. Fight back when you have legal ability to do so,” Graham told ABC News. Sen. Bill Cassidy said, “I don't think it hurts our country.”
NEED TO READ with ABC News’ Adam Kelsey
Trump to embark on first foreign trip. Trump is bucking tradition by journeying away from North America for his first foreign trek -- The president's first stop will be in Saudi Arabia, before continuing to Israel, Italy, Vatican City and Belgium. http://abcn.ws/2ryuzjk
Senate intel chair backtracks on claim Flynn won't honor subpoena. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said that Mike Flynn's lawyers would not be honoring the committee's subpoena for documents related to Flynn's communications with Russian officials. But Burr's team later backtracked on the claim. "Gen. Flynn's attorneys have not yet indicated their intentions," Burr's spokesman said. http://abcn.ws/2pPJh8z
Trump intends to renegotiate NAFTA. The White House has formally told Congress that the Trump administration plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, starting a countdown clock until talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico can begin in August. http://abcn.ws/2rvtusp
Tomorrow we are going to learn, via anonymous sources close to the White House, that Mike Pence has never met Donald Trump.— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) May 19, 2017
No joke: Comey (6'8) tried to blend in with CURTAINS in Blue Room at WH ceremony so Trump wouldn't notice him. https://t.co/NvYxVE6JKD— Michael S. Schmidt (@nytmike) May 18, 2017
Joe Biden on Hillary: "I never thought she was the correct candidate. I thought I was the correct candidate." pic.twitter.com/gh50IsDL0r— Hamilton Nolan (@hamiltonnolan) May 19, 2017
"So anyway, it’s a romper for guys and it’s called the RompHim and I just ordered two." https://t.co/6BNDNZRqrb— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 18, 2017