In non-Will Smith-related news, “Ukrainian and Russian delegations are arriving in Istanbul for another round of in-person talks — putting NATO member Turkey, which has ties to both Kyiv and Moscow, in the spotlight as an intermediary in the deadly conflict grinding into its second month. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed his desire for a cease-fire in a phone call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, state media reported,” the Washington Post reports.
“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to offer a diplomatic opening Sunday, saying that Kyiv could declare its ‘neutrality’ and effectively renounce its ambitions to join NATO in a potential peace deal with Moscow, but stressed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are ‘beyond doubt’ and any deal must be voted on by a national referendum held without Russian troops in Ukraine.”
“Russia is no longer requesting Ukraine be ‘denazified’ and is prepared to let Kyiv join the European Union if it remains military non-aligned as part of ongoing ceasefire negotiations,” the Financial Times reports.
Axios: No clear pathway to peace in Ukraine.
“Ukrainian forces are seeking to roll back Russian gains as Moscow shifts its focus to controlling a swath of the country’s south and east,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Ukrainian forces said Sunday they drove Russian troops out of Trostyanets, in the northeast near the Russian border, potentially opening a road to the provincial capital of Sumy, which is encircled by the Russians.”
“Russian forces redoubled attacks on strategic targets across Ukraine on Sunday, with fierce fighting reported around the capital, Kyiv, amid signs that the besieged city of Mariupol was close to falling,” the New York Times reports. “As the conflict moved into its second month, Russian forces have largely failed in their first aim to take the largest cities and have narrowed immediate targets to the sieges of the southern port city of Mariupol and the strategically placed city of Chernihiv in the north.”
“Russian forces have left the Ukrainian town of Slavutych, home to workers at the defunct nuclear plant of Chernobyl, after completing their task of surveying it,” Reuters reports.
“The invaders do not even mourn their own casualties. This is something I do not understand. Some 15,000 have been killed in one month… Vladimir Putin is throwing Russian soldiers like logs into a train’s furnace. And, they are not even burying them…Their corpses are left in the streets. In several cities, small cities, our soldiers say it’s impossible to breathe because of the…stench of rotting flesh.”
— Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an interview with The Economist.
Will Saletan: “For four gruesome weeks, Vladimir Putin’s military has bombarded schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, and other civilian targets across Ukraine. These attacks, documented in photos, videos, and reports from Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, have killed or wounded thousands of civilians. Last Wednesday, the United States classified the Russian atrocities as war crimes. But they’re also part of Putin’s larger strategy: state terrorism.”
“Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“Following the meeting in the Ukrainian capital, Mr. Abramovich, who has shuttled between Moscow, Lviv and other negotiating venues, as well as at least two senior members of the Ukrainian team developed symptoms that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands.”
“They blamed the suspected attack on hard-liners in Moscow who they said wanted to sabotage talks to end the war.”
President Biden said Monday that he was expressing “moral outrage” rather than “articulating a policy change” when he said this weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” the Washington Post reports.
Said Biden: “I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it.”
“With the last nine, unscripted words of an impassioned speech about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, President Joe Biden created a troubling distraction, undermining his effectiveness as he returned home to face restive Americans who strongly disapprove of his performance on issues that matter most to them,” the New York Times reports.
“His comment that Russia’s Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ — an assertion that his aides were forced to quickly clean up — overshadowed his larger message of solidifying the western coalition that’s confronting Moscow.”
“It punctuated another frustrating moment for an administration that’s struggled to regain its footing — and the American electorate’s support — in the face of an ongoing pandemic, escalating inflation and an increasingly complicated foreign policy crisis that raises the specter of nuclear conflict.”
Wall Street Journal: “Meanwhile, a close American ally, French President Emmanuel Macron, worried that Mr. Biden’s comment Saturday and calling Mr. Putin ‘a butcher’ could also complicate diplomatic efforts to end the war.”
“European diplomats warned too that Mr. Biden’s comments could threaten Western efforts to keep lines of communications with Moscow open.“
The Washington Post reports the Biden remark “threatens to push deeply strained U.S.-Russia relations closer to collapse, former officials and analysts said, with potentially serious implications for Washington’s ability to help steer the war in Ukraine to an end and avoid a wider conflict.”
The Financial Times has a comment from a senior British official: “It’s good in principle to incentivise good behaviour, not encourage worse behaviour by suggesting there is nothing left to lose.”
“A federal judge ruled Monday that former President Donald Trump ‘more likely than not’ attempted to illegally obstruct Congress when he tried to subvert the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021,” Politico reports.
Said U.S. District Court Judge David Carter, in an opinion: “Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
He added: “It was a coup in search of a legal theory.”
More: “Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution.”
Jared Kushner is expected to appear voluntarily before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack as early as Thursday, ABC News reports.
The House Jan. 6 Committee filed a 34-page report on Sunday night laying out how ex-White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and ex-White House social media director Dan Scavino ought to be held in criminal contempt for repeatedly flouting the committee’s subpoenas.
The panel will vote today on whether hold Navarro and Scavino in contempt. If it does, then the Democrat-controlled chamber will vote on whether to refer the matters to the Justice Department for prosecution.
Ex-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows have already been referred for criminal contempt by the House to the DOJ. Prosecutors have since charged Bannon with contempt, but the DOJ hasn’t taken any action with Meadows.
A new Monmouth poll finds that 52% of Americans say they’ve contracted the coronavirus, including 57% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats.
“China has announced its biggest city-wide lockdown since the Covid outbreak began more than two years ago,” the BBC reports. “The city of Shanghai will be locked down in two stages over nine days while authorities carry out Covid-19 testing.”
Three weeks after the so-called “People’s Convoy” landed in Washington, D.C., the group is calling it quits after accomplishing nothing except injuring residents and circling the Beltway, the Daily Beast reports.
“A New York state judge ordered the Trump Organization to comply by the end of April with a subpoena from the New York attorney general as part of its long-running civil investigation into the former president and his real estate company,” CNN reports.
“The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection will seek an interview with Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,” the Washington Post reports.
“Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, has drawn scrutiny for her text messages to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows… The messages — 29 in all — reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, and Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.”
Amanda Carpenter: “Her story, as well as her election theories, don’t survive even the most basic common-sense tests.”
“Justice Thomas cannot plausibly plead ignorance of his wife’s Jan. 6th-related activities. Her texts were the subject of a blockbuster Washington Post-CBS story, carried by numerous other outlets such as CNN and the New York Times. Multiple outlets asked the Thomases for comment multiple times. A CNN reporter staked out the couple in their parking garage. Maybe the Thomases talked about it, maybe they didn’t—it’s impossible for outsiders to know what happens inside a marriage—but the notion that Clarence Thomas is unaware of what Ginni was up to? Not plausible.”
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas participated in arguments remotely this morning after he was discharged from the hospital this weekend, the AP reports.
Washington Post: “The emerging red-blue abortion map has prompted a new level of tactical maneuvering — with abortion providers envisioning a proliferation of clinics a stone’s throw from red-state territory and conservative lawmakers exploring measures to prevent abortion patients from crossing state lines for care.”
Jonathan Bernstein: “Some policy decisions are difficult. Economists disagreed on the best size of last spring’s relief bill. I don’t think anyone has a good idea of what President Joe Biden could have done to prevent the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In some cases, it’s hard to know what electoral effects a policy might have; there are often tradeoffs that are difficult to calculate. Sometimes, elected officials have to balance what they think are popular ideas with their impact on the nation. And then there are times when elected officials are stuck between intense demands of party actors who are lined up against public opinion among the bulk of voters.”
“Pandemic funding presents none of these problems. The need for vaccines, testing, treatment and more, all detailed by the White House some time ago, is obvious. This kind of spending is surely popular among most voters and among Democratic party actors. There’s no long-term drawback; to the contrary, some of the spending the White House is requesting can be even more important in the long run than it is right now. And it is critical to Democratic hopes in 2022 and 2024.”
“President Joe Biden’s budget release on Monday is shaping up as a direct appeal to moderate Democrats, emphasizing deficit reduction and flexibility on social spending as the White House hopes to win support for new legislation before November’s midterm elections,” Bloomberg reports.
“The request will show a $1 trillion reduction in deficit spending over the coming decade, generated in part by a new tax targeting the income and unrealized capital gains of billionaires. Federal spending will decline $1.3 trillion from last year alone, as pandemic assistance programs and emergency financing offered to state and local governments are eliminated.”
President Biden will propose more than $32 billion in new spending to fight crime, putting a price tag on his State of the Union call to fund — not defund — the police, Axios reports.
Washington Post: “An examination by The Washington Post of Cruz’s actions between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, shows just how deeply he was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power. As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.”
“Now, Cruz’s efforts are of interest to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in particular whether Cruz was in contact with Trump lawyer John Eastman, a conservative attorney who has been his friend for decades and who wrote key legal memos aimed at denying Biden’s victory.”
New York Times: “While the fact that Mr. Manchin owns a coal business is well-known, an examination by The New York Times offers a more detailed portrait of the degree to which Mr. Manchin’s business has been interwoven with his official actions. He created his business while a state lawmaker in anticipation of the Grant Town plant, which has been the sole customer for his gob for the past 20 years.”
“At key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.”
“Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.”
“U.S. and South Korean officials are reviewing whether North Korea tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile last week as it had claimed, with mounting public signs that Pyongyang may have exaggerated its milestone,” the Washington Post reports.
“The launch appeared to be a modified version of the Hwasong-15, an older model that is slightly smaller than the Hwasong-17 and was the last ICBM that North Korea tested in 2017 … Still, the test showed that North Korea is making incremental progress in improving its ICBM capability.”
“A federal tax investigation into Hunter Biden is gaining momentum as prosecutors gather information from several of his associates about the sources of his foreign income, including from Ukraine, and examine President Biden’s son’s relationship with a company that handled some of his finances,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“In recent weeks, prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware have sought information and grand-jury testimony about the money Mr. Biden received several years ago from Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings Ltd., and how he used that money to pay some obligations.”
“Last month, prosecutors also extensively questioned at least one other associate of Hunter Biden about Mr. Biden’s drug and alcohol use, spending habits and state of mind in 2018, suggesting prosecutors are exploring whether such activity would present a defense against a potential criminal tax case.”
“It was a remarkable moment in the war in Europe: President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine gave a 90-minute-long Zoom interview on Sunday to four prominent journalists from Russia, the country invading his,” the New York Times reports.
“Hours later, the Kremlin responded. A government statement notified the Russian news media ‘of the necessity to refrain from publishing this interview.’”
“Journalists based outside Russia published it anyway. Those still inside Russia did not. The episode laid bare the extraordinary, and partly successful, efforts at censorship being undertaken in Russia by President Vladimir Putin’s government as his bloody invasion of Ukraine enters its second month, along with Mr. Zelensky’s attempts to circumvent that censorship and reach the public directly.”