The Note: Spicer's slip-up

PHOTO: White House press secretary Sean Spicer talks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, April 11, 2017. PlayAndrew Harnik/AP Photo
WATCH Russian foreign minister scolds Rex Tillerson over Syria


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Day No. 83

THE BIG STORY: The Hitler comparison offered up by White House press secretary Sean Spicer was a terrible analogy, phrased terribly, at a terribly inconvenient time. It’s made worse by the casual relationship the Trump White House has had with facts, and with findings of U.S. intelligence agencies. Remember the context here: The comment stemmed from a Trump administration effort to put pressure on the Russians to accept Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s involvement in last week’s chemical attack. Assad has done awful, horrible things, and he did those things whether Hitler did anything similar. The Russians, of all people, do not need lessons about Nazi atrocities; one can imagine President Vladimir Putin’s amusement regarding this particular lecture. Back to the broader case, the Trump administration is saying that intelligence conclusions about Assad’s involvement, and, possibly, Russian knowledge of the regime’s weapon capabilities, must be respected. This comes from the administration of the same president who questioned the findings and motivations of intelligence agencies when it came to revelations about Russian election interference. This case was mind-spinning in its complexities even without a Nazi history lesson.

THE SLEEPER STORY: A win would have been much nicer for Democrats. But the close call in Kansas has immediate and potentially long-reaching implications, even if it doesn’t change the congressional math right now. In a race nobody paid much attention to nationally, a district that Trump carried by 27 points stayed red by just 7. Democrat James Thompson ran up big vote margins in early returns – a function of liberal organizing and energy – and dramatically outperformed Hillary Clinton throughout the district. That Republicans had to sweat to elect Ron Estes to Congress sends a signal about potential competitiveness in special elections and the midterms. That affects candidate recruitment, fundraising and national messaging. It also affects short-term governing, with GOP House members more nervous than ever about what the Trump effect will mean in 2018. Even an election that doesn’t change the balance of power in Congress could wind up doing just that.

THE SHINY STORY: It’s a special level of palace intrigue when the castle’s main resident speaks. President Trump’s comments to the New York Post about Steve Bannon – “I’m my own strategist,” and “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late” – is the clearest presidential signal yet about who’s in and who’s out in the White House. Those are stinging words, and Trump knows it – a body blow to a man whose name is being used by Trump critics to taunt the president. This goes beyond asking his aides to “work this out.” This is the president intervening in staff-on-staff violence. He is siding – surprise! – with his daughter and son-in-law in this knife fight.

TLDR: Senior officials in the Trump administration are accusing Russia of covering up the chemical weapons attack in Syria and engaging in a campaign of “disinformation.”

PHOTO OF THE DAY: Ashley Parker of the Washington Post and April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks giving authentic reactions to Sean Spicer’s attempting to clarify his comments, “someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” at Tuesday’s press briefing.


--RUSSIANS TRYING TO 'COVER UP' WHAT HAPPENED IN SYRIA, US OFFICIALS SAY: Russia is trying to "cover up" what happened in the Syrian chemical attack that killed dozens of people, engaging in a campaign of “disinformation” and pointing to a “clear pattern of deflecting blame,” senior administration officials said. In the wake of the attacks, Russia attempted to shift the blame, suggesting that a terrorist warehouse containing chemical weapons was struck during a Syrian airstrike. The Syrian government denied using chemical weapons. ABC's KAREN TRAVERS, KATHERINE FAULDERS, JORDYN PHELPS and JUSTIN FISHEL have more:

--PRESIDENT TRUMP: 'WE ARE NOT GOING INTO SYRIA': President Trump said the United States is "not going into Syria" and that he believes the situation would be better in the country had President Obama taken action, in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday. Despite his own tweets in 2013 when he urged Obama to stay out of Syria, Trump told Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo he believes conditions there would not be as bad if Obama had responded earlier, notes ABC's JORDYN PHELPS.

--FORMER TRUMP ADVISER CLAIMS OBAMA TARGETED HIM AS 'DISSIDENT': A former Trump campaign adviser says he was targeted by the Obama administration because he was a "dissident." New York business consultant Carter Page told ABC News that he was "so happy" to learn that The Washington Post reported on Tuesday night that the FBI obtained a secret FISA warrant to monitor his communication last summer as part of its ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government because it confirms that he had been the victim of "human rights violations." ABC’s BRIAN ROSS, PETE MADDEN and MATTHEW MOSK have more:


SPICER RAISES EYEBROWS, SAYING HITLER DIDN'T 'SINK TO USING CHEMICAL WEAPONS.' White House press secretary Sean Spicer made some eyebrow-raising remarks Tuesday as he tried condemning Russia's alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the wake of the horrific chemical attack in Syria last week, reports ABC's VERONICA STRACQUALURSI. "We didn't even use chemical weapons in World War II," Spicer said during Tuesday's press briefing. "You had a — you know, someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons," Spicer said.

SPICER APOLOGIZES FOR HITLER-ASSAD COMPARISON: 'IT WAS INSENSITIVE AND INAPPROPRIATE.' White House press secretary Sean Spicer apologized Tuesday afternoon for comments he made at a press briefing earlier in the day comparing the actions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to those of Adolf Hitler, writes ABC's ADAM KELSEY. "I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad made against his own people last week using chemical weapons and gas," said Spicer in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "And frankly I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive comment about the Holocaust and there is no comparison.

SPICER CALLS VIDEOS OF MAN BEING DRAGGED OFF UNITED FLIGHT 'TROUBLING.' White House press secretary Sean Spicer called videos showing a man being dragged off a United flight on Sunday "troubling" in Tuesday's briefing. "It was an unfortunate incident," said Spicer. "Clearly, when you watch the video, it is troubling to see how that was handled." Multiple videos of the incident posted to social media sparked outrage Monday. In them, the man can be seen being dragged down the aisle of the plane by his arms, explains ABC's RYAN STRUYK.

SESSIONS MAKES CLEAR: IT'S 'TRUMP ERA' OF IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is warning unauthorized immigrants in the United States of a new "Trump era" of stricter enforcement of the nation's immigration laws, unveiling harsher punishments for those living in the country illegally, reports ABC's RYAN STRUYK. "For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned. This is a new era. This is the Trump era," Sessions said Tuesday in remarks to immigration officials in Arizona.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO LIFT FULL HIRING FREEZE, REPLACE WITH TAILORED STOPPAGE. The temporary, across-the-board federal hiring freeze that President Donald Trump ordered in one of his first executive actions as chief executive will end Wednesday and be replaced with a more narrow halt on new government employment. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, described the new stay on hiring as a more "surgical" freeze than the first. "This is a big part of draining the swamp," said Mulvaney, ABC’s JORDYN PHELPS notes.

REPUBLICAN RON ESTES WINS TIGHT SPECIAL ELECTION FOR US HOUSE SEAT. Republican Ron Estes has won the special election for the U.S. House seat in the 4th congressional district of Kansas, according to The Associated Press. Despite tbe very conservative, rural district, which President Donald Trump won by nearly 30 percentage points in November and where a Democrat has not held a House seat since 1994, Estes won by only a 53-45 percent margin, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to ABC’s RYAN STRUYK.


HARVARDX OFFERING MOOC ON U.S. POLITICS. HarvardX, a Harvard University strategic initiative that creates massive open online courses (MOOCs), is launching an introduction to American government and politics on April 24. Free and open to all, American Government will be led by Thomas E. Patterson, Harvard Kennedy School’s Bradlee Professor of Government & The Press. The new online course will explore: the foundations of the U.S. political system, how leading institutions such as the presidency and Congress operate, where public opinion, political parties, outside groups, and the media fit in, and America’s economic, social, and foreign policies. Learn more here:


@KFaulders: A White House official confirms President Trump & President Xi of China spoke yesterday, but offers no additional details or readout.

@FoxBusiness: .@POTUS: "Putin is backing a person that is truly an evil person. I think it's very bad for Russia, I think it's very bad for mankind."

@GMA: "It was a system failure...that's on me" @United CEO responds when asked "what went wrong" by @ABC's @RebeccaJarvis:

@MikeDelMoro: United CEO says he felt "shame" when he saw video of Dr. Dao being pulled off the flight. "That is not who our family at United is."

@JohnJHarwood: Mulvaney on Trump budget: "when you say people who voted for him are hurt, that's not the issue." my Speakeasy intvw

@mgoodwin_nypost: Part of my interview: Trump won't definitively say he still backs Bannon via @nypost