POLITICO Playbook PM: What Mitt Romney wants to know

THE WITNESS-CURIOUS … MITT LETS IT FLY A BIT … Sen. MITT ROMNEY (R-Utah) has been quite clear about his desire to hear from JOHN BOLTON. And this morning, speaking at the Senate subways, he said a bit more about just why he thinks it’s critical to get sworn testimony from the former national security adviser:

“I BELIEVE HE MAY HAVE ANSWERS to questions that I’d like to have evidence on. As a for instance: I’d like to know, at the time the president decided not to immediately provide military aid to Ukraine, what was the reason he explained at that point?

“IN ADDITION, I’d like to know later on: Was there any effort on the part of the president to communicate to Ukraine that aid was being held up, and for what reason, or was that something they just learned from the media? So these are questions that would relate to important issues that I’d like to get the answers to.”

NYT’S NICK FANDOS (@npfandos): “[Sen. Lisa] Murkowski met with McConnell for 20-30 minutes this morning. She declined afterward to discuss their conversation or her current thinking in witnesses. ‘I’m not going to share my personal thoughts with you this morning.’”

THE PRESIDENT TWEETS at 7:28 a.m.: “For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, ‘begged’ me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying ‘Don’t do it, sir,’ takes the job, mistakenly says ‘Libyan Model’ on T.V., and..”

“….many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?”

AND NOW THIS FROM CNN’S JAKE TAPPER: “The White House has issued a formal threat to former national security adviser John Bolton to keep him from publishing his book, ‘The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,’ sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.” CNN

SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER said LEV PARNAS’ attorney called his office for tickets to the impeachment trial, and he said he gave him a ticket just like he would give them to any New Yorker. But, he added, “I’m not sure Parnas would be allowed in because of the electronics around his ankle.” And, indeed, we saw his lawyer in the Capitol, and Parnas had disappeared.

WE REPORTED IN PLAYBOOK ON TUESDAY that the White House was freezing Democrats out of the USMCA signing ceremony this morning. None were there. The White House maintains it invited some, including Minnesota Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson. He did not attend.

THE QUIET PART OUT LOUD: “Maybe I’m being just nice to them because I want their vote,” Trump said today before ticking off a list of Republican senators in attendance and who worked on the deal. “Does that make sense? I don’t want to leave anybody out.”

AFTER THE REMARKS from Trump, VP Mike Pence and USTR Robert Lighthizer, Trump called the senators in the crowd up to the stage for the signing. “We’re gonna take care of the senators,” he said. As he handed out ceremonial pens to those around him, he said, “See how nice I’m treating the senators? I don’t care about anyone else. I only care about them.” More from Sabrina Rodríguez

Good Wednesday afternoon. FOX NEWS’ JAY WALLACE and SUZANNE SCOTT sent a memo Tuesday about “reaching 18 consecutive years at number one.” The memo

SPOTTED: Paul Ryan — who is turning 50 today — and Roger Zakheim at the Willard Hotel on Tuesday afternoon. … Karen Pence in the Glover Park USPS store on Wisconsin Avenue.

SCOOP … NAHAL TOOSI got her hands on the Middle East peace plan talking points the State Department sent to U.S. diplomats around the world. These are the instructions to American officials as they try to explain and sell the president’s ideas to their foreign counterparts, including, “We thank President Trump for his efforts to make progress on this longstanding conflict.” Read them here

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE PRESIDENT’S MIND — @realDonaldTrump at 10:33 a.m.: “On the Iraq War Resolution being voted on tomorrow in the House of Represenatives, we are down to 5000 soldiers, and going down, and I want everyone, Republican and Democrat, to vote their HEART!”

HOW IT’S PLAYING … “Poll: Nearly 6 in 10 oppose Trump’s use of executive privilege to muzzle witnesses,” by Caitlin Oprysko: “The new poll shows that just over a quarter of voters, 26 percent, think the president should be allowed to use executive privilege to muzzle potential bombshell witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton. That’s compared with 57 percent who say Trump should not be allowed to invoke the powers of the presidency to block certain witnesses.” POLITICOThe poll

THE LATEST UKRAINE TWISTS — “Dutch Trump superfan who claimed he surveilled Ambassador Yovanovitch told people he was DEA,” by NBC’s Josh Lederman and Anna Schecter

— THE DAILY BEAST: “Parnas Lawyer: Giuliani Delivered Graham Letter Calling for Sanctions on Ukrainian Officials,” by Betsy Swan and Erin Banco: “In late 2018, Rudy Giuliani said he delivered an unusual missive to Sen. Lindsey Graham, according to the lawyer of one of his ex-associates: a letter calling for sanctions on a host of Ukrainian government officials, including one widely viewed in the West as a brave reformer and another who helmed the company where Hunter Biden was a board member.

“Joseph Bondy, the attorney for Lev Parnas, an indicted Florida businessman involved in the U.S.-Ukraine saga, told The Daily Beast that Giuliani showed his client the letter and told him he delivered it to Sen. Graham (the letter misspelled the South Carolina Republican’s first name as ‘Lingsey’). Bondy said Giuliani also showed Parnas a second, similar letter addressed to Sigal Mandelker, who at the time was a top official at the Treasury Department.” Daily Beast
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE … AP’S ADAM SCHRECK and ELAINE KURTENBACH in Bangkok: “British Airways said Wednesday it is halting all flights to China, joining several Asian carriers that are either suspending or significantly cutting back service there as fears spread about a new virus that has killed more than 130 people.

“Air India and South Korean budget carrier Seoul Air are also halting all flights to the country, and Indonesia’s Lion Air plans to do the same. Other carriers including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia are slashing service.” AP

— WSJ’S JENNIFER CALFAS: “Americans Evacuated From Wuhan Pass Initial Health Screens for Coronavirus”

— NYT: “Coronavirus Outbreak Tests World’s Dependence on China,” by Alexandra Stevenson in Hong Kong: “Ford and Toyota will idle some of their vast Chinese assembly plants for an extra week. Apple is rerouting supply chains. Starbucks has closed thousands of stores and is warning of a financial blow. … The full extent of the hit to the broader business world is not yet clear.” NYT

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION — “Interior Department Adopts Restrictions Aimed at Chinese Drones,” by WSJ’s Katy Stech Ferek: “Interior Department officials plan to formally adopt a no-fly rule aimed at drones made in China or with Chinese parts, but will grant exceptions when drones are needed to help respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. The new policy, which will be issued in an order Wednesday, follows the temporary grounding of the department’s drone fleet last year amid rising concerns that the devices could be used for espionage.

“Interior officials have acknowledged that all of the department’s roughly 800 drones are made in China or with Chinese parts. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said his department will grant exceptions for tracking wildfires by air and for emergencies where human safety or property damage are at risk, such as search-and-rescue operations.” WSJ

— DAN DIAMOND and RACHEL ROUBEIN: “The Trump administration will rebrand its Medicaid block grant program and look to safeguard the policy against an expected wave of legal challenges from patient advocates, according to two officials with knowledge of the plan set for release Thursday.

“The forthcoming block grant program comes with a new name — ‘Healthy Adult Opportunity’ — but retains the original mission long sought by conservatives: allowing states to cap a portion of their spending on Medicaid, a radical change in how the safety net health program is financed.” POLITICO

REALITY CHECK from NYT’S ASTEAD HERNDON in Des Moines: “The One About Iowa, Black Voters and Barack Obama”: “It has become political lore, repeated on cable airwaves and by Democratic campaign consultants, even presidential candidates. In 2008, as the story goes, black voters were uncertain about Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy until he won the Iowa caucuses, after which they rallied around him over the onetime front-runner, Hillary Clinton.

“Some Democrats had suggested that a win in next Monday’s Iowa caucuses could have a similar influence among black voters in South Carolina and elsewhere, to the detriment of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who leads among African-Americans in polls. But in reality, according to historical polling data and interviews with some advisers from the Obama campaign, Mr. Obama’s political strength with black voters was stronger than many remember.” NYT

KEEP AN EYE ON THIS — “Dems Are Buying ‘Tens of Millions’ of Cellphone Numbers in Huge Voter Contact Push,” by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Sam Stein: “The Democratic National Committee is dropping ‘six figures’ to acquire ‘tens of millions’ of cellphone numbers through a variety of vendors, the group exclusively told The Daily Beast. [Its] plan is to boost Democratic voter outreach, fundraising, and data collection …

“The cellphone buy marks the first time that the DNC has purchased a bulk file of nationwide phone numbers during a presidential election cycle. … In 2016, the DNC was focused on acquiring numbers strictly in battleground states.” Daily Beast

MAKING IT OFFICIAL — “Collins launches Georgia Senate bid, setting up GOP clash,” by James Arkin

2024 WATCH — AP’S MARC LEVY (@timelywriter): “Pennsylvania wants to be a player in the presidential primary, instead of an afterthought. The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill that would move up Pennsylvania’s presidential primary election by five weeks, starting in 2024.”

INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK!! — “House Democrats unfurl climate-tinged infrastructure plan, but GOP support uncertain,” by Kathy Wolfe: “House Democratic leadership unveiled Wednesday the outlines for a $760 billion, five-year infrastructure package, an amalgamation of recurring highway and transit and water measures as well as an ambitious climate agenda meant to send a message as Congress pivots away from impeachment and toward the election. …

“But so far Democrats have no stated way to pay for the spending. It’s a tricky issue, especially considering the simplest option — a hike to the gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993 — is considered a political non-starter.” POLITICO

HOW BEZOS GOT HACKED — “Jeff Bezos’s iPhone had Apple’s state-of-the-art security, and that may have helped its alleged hackers,” by WaPo’s Reed Albergotti, Craig Timberg and Jay Greene: “A security report last week alleged that Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, received a WhatsApp message laden with code that secretly snatched reams of personal data from his iPhone X. …

“Security researchers say Bezos probably fell victim to the iPhone’s Achilles’ heel: Its defenses are so difficult to penetrate that once sophisticated attackers are in, they can go largely undetected. … That is in part because Apple employs a secretive approach to finding and fixing security flaws, researchers say, something that has generated debate in the security community.” WaPo

MEDIAWATCH — “Warren Buffett Throws in the Towel on His Newspaper Empire,” by Bloomberg’s Katherine Chiglinsky: “Berkshire Hathaway Inc. sold its BH Media unit and its 30 daily newspapers to Lee Enterprises Inc., which owns papers including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for $140 million in cash. Lee had been managing the papers for Buffett’s company since 2018, and Berkshire lent Lee the money for the purchase.

“Buffett, who got a job delivering papers as a teenager and invested in the industry to capitalize on its one-time local advertising monopoly, lamented last year that most newspapers are ‘toast.’ … The sale will include Buffett’s hometown Omaha World-Herald, along with 49 weekly publications and a number of other print products.” Bloomberg

— CNN’S HADAS GOLD in London: “BBC slashes 450 newsroom jobs in shift to digital”: “The BBC said it would cancel one of its flagship programs, and reduce the number of films produced for Newsnight, its late evening daily news show. Cuts will also be made to the BBC World Service, and the number of anchors will be reviewed. … The BBC said its newsrooms will in future focus on fewer stories and reorganize around a ‘story-led’ model, with more journalists based outside of London.” CNN

— Amber Athey is joining The Spectator as Washington editor. She most recently has been White House correspondent at The Daily Caller.

TRANSITIONS — Doug Bibby, longtime president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, will step down in 2021. … Scott Luginbill is joining the Republican National Convention in Charlotte to handle congressional affairs. He currently is COS to Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.).

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Marguerite Bowling, senior communications manager at the Heritage Foundation, and Justin Bowling, an Anne Arundel County firefighter, welcomed Ian James Bowling on Saturday night. He came in at 8 lbs, 3 oz and 20 inches. Pic

BIRTHWEEK (was Friday): Abigail Disney


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