THE BIG IDEA: President Trump laced into the attorney general, deputy attorney general, acting FBI director, former FBI director and the special counsel in an interview yesterday with the New York Times that, even by Trump standards, is remarkable.
The transcript of the 50-minute session in the Oval Office oozes with brooding grievance and reflects the degree to which he has adopted a bunker mentality. It also underscores how much Robert Mueller’s escalating investigation bothers and preoccupies the president six months into his term.
Perhaps most importantly, Trump’s comments raise a host of new questions about his respect for the independence of the Justice Department, FBI and special counsel.
The president asserted his prerogative to order an FBI director to end any investigation for any reason at any time. He denied telling James Comey that he “hoped” the FBI could lay off its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. “I didn’t say anything,” Trump said. “But … even if I did, that’s not — other people go a step further. I could have ended that whole thing just by saying — they say it can’t be obstruction because you can say: ‘It’s ended. It’s over. Period.’” (He didn’t specify who he meant by “they.”)
“Nothing was changed other than Richard Nixon came along,” Trump added. “Out of courtesy, the FBI started reporting to the Department of Justice. But there was nothing official. There was nothing from Congress. There was nothing — anything. But the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. … And I think we’re going to have a great new F.B.I. director.”
This fits with a pattern of the president caring little about norms, precedents and traditions — all important guardrails in a constitutional republic that depends on a president putting the national interest above self-interest.
– The headline out of the interview is Trump saying he never would have appointed Jeff Sessions to be AG if he had known ahead of time that he’d recuse himself from the Russia investigation. He blames the recusal, not his own decision to fire Comey, for the appointment of Mueller.
Trump called it “very unfair to the president” for Sessions to hand off control of the Russia investigation to Rod Rosenstein, who it must be noted the president had appointed to be No. 2 at DOJ. But in Trump’s own telling, he had not given any thought to Rosenstein’s selection until after Sessions stepped aside. Then he was irritated to learn that he came from Baltimore. “There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any,” Trump said. (Couldn’t the same thing be said of New York City?)
“A special counsel should never have been appointed in this case,” Trump grumbled. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else. … It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”
– This is a fresh example of Trump not being loyal to people who have sacrificed their personal reputations for his benefit. Few people have been more devoted to Trump than Sessions, and like so many others he’s gotten burned for it. He no longer has the confidence of the president, and it’s hard to see how he can survive for very long or be that effective in this job without it. He gave up a safe Senate, but his tenure has been marked by scandal and allegations that he perjured himself.
– Trump’s attacks on Rosenstein are notable because the deputy AG has actually gone out of his way to publicly demonstrate loyalty to the president. His legacy will forever be clouded by his assent to Trump’s request that he write up a memo coming up with a pretext to fire Comey. Just yesterday, Rosenstein gave an interview to Fox News that seemed almost exclusively intended to ingratiate himself with his boss. In it, he chided Comey for orchestrating the leak of memos about his conversations with the president. “We take confidentiality seriously, so when we have memoranda about our ongoing matters, we have an obligation to keep that confidential,” Rosenstein said. “I think it is quite clear. It’s what we were taught, all of us as prosecutors and agents.”
– Trump also said he doesn’t want Mueller to investigate his family’s finances. He said this would cross a red line, but he would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia,” the president told Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman.
– There is irony that Trump complained at length to the Times that Sessions recused himself because of conflicts of interest, but then in the very next breath he accused Mueller of being unable to run an impartial investigation because he has conflicts of interest. The president noted that he interviewed Mueller to replace Comey as FBI director shortly before he was named special counsel, and that members of the team he’s assembled have previously contributed to Democrats. “He was up here and he wanted the job,” Trump said of Mueller, a former FBI director. After he was named special counsel, “I said, ‘What the hell is this all about?’ Talk about conflicts. … There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”
– He expressed no regrets about firing Comey: “I did a great thing for the American people,” Trump said multiple times. He accused Comey of giving him a heads up before the inauguration about an unsubstantiated dossier of derogatory information about him in order to get leverage. “In retrospect,” the president said. “In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there.”
– Trump also attacked acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, noting that his wife’s 2015 campaign for Virginia state Senate received half a million bucks from Terry McAuliffe’s PAC.
– Spokespeople for the Justice Department and the special counsel are declining to comment on the Times story. Comey also declined to comment when the Times asked for reaction to Trump’s latest claims.
– Many prominent people, including conservative lawyers and DOJ veterans, were aghast at the audacity of Trump’s comments to the Times. Here’s a taste of the reaction online overnight:
From the former chief ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House (and now a law professor at the University of Minnesota):
This is clear evidence of a POTUS cover up as he attacks his own AG for not going along with it.
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) July 20, 2017
From a conservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised several GOP presidential campaigns:
From the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who got fired by Trump under suspicious circumstances after being asked to stay on:
From a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of DOJ and FBI:
From a former official in Obama’s Justice Department:
Why would Trump care whether Sessions recused himself or not unless he wanted him to quash the investigation? Unbelievable thing to admit.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) July 20, 2017
From a highly respected professor of constitutional law at Harvard:
To condemn Sessions for recusing becuz of his conflicts but hint Mueller has disabling conflicts shows Trump’s total illogic & hypocrisy
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) July 20, 2017
From The New Yorker’s Washington correspondent:
My takeaway from the NYT interview, in which he mows down Sessions–Sessions!–is that Putin remains the only ally Trump has never betrayed.
— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) July 20, 2017
From the Capitol bureau chief for Politico:
Trump sounding Nixonian over Russia probe. Everyone has failed him or is out to get him – Sessions, Comey, Mueller, Rosenstein. Stunning
— John Bresnahan (@BresPolitico) July 19, 2017
From a senior editor at NBC News:
How does Jeff Sessions continue as AG? Or is that the point — is Trump sending him a public message to quit?
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) July 19, 2017
An important point by one of The Post’s DOJ beat reporters:
Special counsel reports to AG. W/ Sessions recused Rosenstein is acting AG. If Sessions goes, Trump picks new AG, who becomes Mueller’s boss
— Matt Zapotosky (@mattzap) July 20, 2017
From a WaPo investigative reporter who covered Maryland in her early years at the paper:
A lot of liberals made jokes about Trump’s comment that Mueller shouldn’t look into his personal finances:
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
– John McCain’s office announced last night that the Arizona senator has been diagnosed with brain cancer. Sean Sullivan, Karoun Demirjian and Paul Kane report: “The Mayo Clinic said doctors diagnosed a tumor called a glioblastoma after surgery to remove a blood clot above McCain’s left eye last week. The senator and his family are considering treatment options, including a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, according to the hospital. McCain, 80, has been away from the Senate this week, recovering from the surgery and undergoing tests. His office issued a statement describing him ‘in good spirits’ and noting that his doctors say his underlying health is excellent — but not indicating when he will return to the Senate. Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of brain cancer, and the prognosis for this kind of cancer is generally poor. … McCain’s significance inside Congress is hard to overstate — and his absence, however long, will reverberate across the Capitol.”
– Laurie McGinley, Lena H. Sun and Lenny Bernstein have answers to five critical questions about McCain’s type of cancer: “Glioblastoma … is a highly lethal malignancy that killed Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Beau Biden, the son of former vice president Joseph Biden. … Glioblastoma is an aggressive cancer that is the most common of all malignant brain tumors. … Depending on the location of the tumor, a patient can have seizures, headaches, blurred vision and confusion. … Often, patients and their families recognize symptoms only in retrospect. … Indeed, looking back, McCain’s tangled questioning last month of former FBI director James B. Comey … seems to hold more potent meaning. … The median survival time following treatment is about 12 to 16 months, experts said. But that varies considerably[.] … Up to 30 percent of patients live past the two-year mark, and 10 percent live more than five years.” (Kennedy died less than 15 months after his glioblastoma was discovered.)
– Carrier Corp. will eliminate more than 330 jobs at its Indianapolis furnace factory today — coinciding, to the day, with Trump’s six-month mark in office. The Indianapolis Star reports: “An agreement brokered after the election by Trump … resulted in a commitment from Carrier to keep the plant open for 10 years. Despite the agreement, Carrier is still moving its fan coil production from Indianapolis to Mexico. … Although Trump and Pence have been credited with saving Carrier’s Indianapolis factory … employees don’t feel much security.” (“Made in America Week” is going just swimmingly …)
GET SMART FAST:
- Missouri Republicans are coalescing around the state’s Attorney General Josh Hawley to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill next year. Hawley is considered a conservative up-and-comer, having just been elected Missouri’s AG last year. (AP)
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray reportedly plans to run for governor of Ohio next year. Congressional Republicans, who have loudly complained about Cordray’s role on the CFPB, would welcome his departure. (Politico)
Trump has declined an invitation to speak at the NAACP’s annual convention. The NAACP only found out about his decision after it was announced by his deputy press secretary. (AP)
- The Justice Department announced a new federal policy to help state and local police take cash and property from people suspected of a crime even without a criminal charge, reversing an Obama administration rule prompted by past police abuse. (Sari Horwitz)
The House Transportation Committee’s top Democrat is asking the Coast Guard to reverse a policy of kicking boaters off the Potomac River when President Trump is at his Virginia golf course. (Peter Jamison)
- Rep. Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter on the eve of his election, is resisting a court order to get fingerprinted and photographed at a local jail. (HuffPost)
- A Republican state senator in Iowa called on his GOP colleague, Bill Dix, to resign as majority leader following a sexual harassment case that awarded $2.2 million in damages to a former caucus staff member. (Des Moines Register)
For the first time in almost seven years, pay increases for the lowest-income Americans outpaced all other groups. Weekly earnings for the group rose 3.4 percent compared to last year. (Wall Street Journal)
- Felicity Jones is slated to portray Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a forthcoming biopic. The news puts to rest the longtime rumor that the Supreme Court justice would be portrayed by Natalie Portman. (Forbes)
- A 21-year-old woman became the youngest patient ever to receive a full facial transplant. During the 31-hour procedure, which is among the rarest operations in the world, surgeons transplanted 100 percent of a donor’s facial tissue — including eyelids, facial nerves and muscle. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
- A significant portion of people being treated for Alzheimer’s may not actually have the disease. Researchers in California used PET scans to test thousands of patients for the presence of amyloid plaques — one of two hallmarks of the disease — and found that just 54 percent of people with mild cognitive impairment and 71 percent of dementia patients had the plaques. Their findings could change the way doctors diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s. (Tara Bahrampour)
- A family of five said it was kicked off a JetBlue flight last month, without explanation, after their toddler began kicking another passenger’s seat. But the parents said they quickly apologized to the other passenger — who allegedly responded with a derogatory slur, and suggested they “tie [the] baby’s feet down.” (Lindsey Bever)
The University of Central Florida suspended a student for tweeting out his ex’s apology letter. Nick Lutz had taken a red pen to the letter to correct spelling and grammar mistakes and gave it a grade of D-. The image of the letter went viral, and Lutz’s lawyer now says that UCF violated his freedom of speech by suspending him over it. (Katie Mettler)
“PUTIN WINS IN SYRIA:”
– “Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia,” Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous scoop. “Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgment of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power. … After the Trump-(Vladimir) Putin meeting, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to back a new cease-fire in southwest Syria, along the Jordanian border, where many of the CIA-backed rebels have long operated.”
- “This is a momentous decision,” said a current official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a covert program. “Putin won in Syria.”
- “We are falling into a Russian trap,” said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, who focuses on the Syrian resistance. “We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable. … We are really cutting them off at the neck.”
“Toward the end of the Obama administration, some officials advocated ending the CIA program, arguing that the rebels would be ineffective without a major escalation in U.S. support. But the program still had the support of a majority of top Obama advisers, who argued that the United States couldn’t abandon its allies on the ground and give up on the moderate opposition because of the damage that it would do to U.S. standing in the region. Even those who were skeptical about the program’s long-term value, viewed it as a key bargaining chip that could be used to wring concessions from Moscow in negotiations over Syria’s future. ‘People began thinking about ending the program, but it was not something you’d do for free,’ said a former White House official. ‘To give [the program] away without getting anything in return would be foolish.’”
– Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu revealed on a hot mic that Israel has struck Iran-backed fighters in Syria “dozens” of times. The Israeli leader’s comment was picked up on a hot mic during a closed-door meeting with Eastern European leaders in Budapest. (Adam Taylor)
THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
– Jared Kushner will speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee next Monday during a closed door session. Karoun Demirjian and Ashley Parker report: “The interview comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee also announced its intention to have former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. testify in open session July 26. … Kushner, Manafort and Trump Jr. are expected to be asked about several reported contacts they and other Trump surrogates had with Russian officials during the campaign and transition period. In particular, they are expected to be grilled about their participation in the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer[.]”
– Trump’s two-decades-long relationship with Deutsche Bank is coming under increasing scrutiny. The New York Times’ Ben Protess, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Jesse Drucker report: “Banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit, which caters to an ultrarich clientele[.] … The regulators want to know if the loans might expose the bank to heightened risks. Separately, Deutsche Bank has been in contact with federal investigators about the Trump accounts[.] … And the bank is expecting to eventually have to provide information to [Mueller], the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. It was not clear what information the bank might ultimately provide. Generally, the bank is seen as central to understanding Mr. Trump’s finances since it is the only major financial institution that continues to conduct sizable business with him.”
– Ian Bremmer, who first reported the news of Trump’s second, undisclosed meeting with Putin, lays out five big issues with it in a Time Magazine column: “That second meeting took place between Trump, Putin, and a Russian interpreter. … [Which] is a breach of protocol, though Trump could clearly care less. Much more concerning is the fact that the entire conversation between the two heads of state is predicated on the trustworthiness and abilities of the Russian translator — a translator who owes his allegiance to Putin and Putin alone. For all we know, Trump may have been having a completely different conversation than the one he thought he was having …
“This meeting doesn’t officially matter, which makes it matter more[:] We’ve already gotten conflicting accounts of what happened in the first, official meeting … [and the readout] was relatively light … But there have been interesting developments since then. The U.S. and Russia have been in talks about the possible return of two Russian properties suspected of being used in surveillance activities … Just this week, the Russian foreign ministry insisted on the ‘unconditional return’ of these properties. That’s a particularly bold demand. It makes one wonder if more details of the exchange were discussed in a pull-aside or this second meeting. While the world has been focused on discovering the contents of the first meeting, it’s the second meeting that may be most revealing, precisely because it wasn’t supposed to matter at all. And the lack of information about the second meeting makes information on the first meeting largely irrelevant.”
– Some of Trump’s top national security advisers are running out of patience with the president’s embrace of Russia. AP’s Vivian Salama reports: “[Trump] has pushed for cooperation between Moscow and Washington on various matters including the raging conflict in Syria. But some top aides, including National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, have been warning that Putin is not to be trusted. … The three foreign officials who have spoken with top Trump advisers described a disconnect, or ‘mixed signals,’ between Trump and his team over Russia, highlighting a lack of a clear policy. … [During the Putin meeting,] foreign and U.S. officials said the Russians recommended that a note taker be present in the bare-bones official bilateral meeting. But Trump, who has repeatedly expressed concern over leaks, refused[.]”
– A top aide to Russia-friendly Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has been ousted for his role in a trip to Moscow last year. The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray reports: Paul “Behrends accompanied Rohrabacher on a 2016 trip to Moscow in which Rohrabacher said he received anti-Magnitsky Act materials from prosecutors. … Rohrabacher’s meeting in Moscow was an object of concern for embassy officials, who had warned the delegation about [Russian security] presence in Moscow—warnings Rohrabacher brushed off. … Behrends is a controversial figure on the Hill, where he is seen by some who have worked with or around him as egging on Rohrabacher’s pro-Russia instincts.”
HEALTH-CARE ROLLER COASTER CONTINUES:
– The president implored Republican senators to resurrect their collapsed negotiations. Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell and David Nakamura report: “Trump’s remarks, at a lunch with 49 Republican senators, prompted some of them to reopen the possibility of trying to vote on the sweeping legislation they abandoned earlier this week. But there was no new evidence that the bill could pass. At the lunch, the president also threatened electoral consequences for senators who oppose him, suggesting that Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) could lose his reelection bid next year if he does not back the effort. The president also invited conservative opposition against anyone else who stands in the way. … Trump’s remarks introduced a new level of chaos into the GOP, potentially setting up Senate Republicans to take the blame from angry conservatives for failing to fulfill a long-standing GOP vow …
“Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services director Seema Verma met with roughly two dozen GOP senators for nearly three hours on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening. The meeting was arranged by the White House to help persuade wavering senators to back the repeal-and-replace bill … Following the meeting, several senators described the talks as productive, but none would name specific areas of progress or new agreement that resulted from the gathering.”
The conventional wisdom on the Hill remains that, despite the venting session, they’re still nowhere close to getting 50 GOP senators to vote for something.
– Further complicating the effort, the Congressional Budget Office said last night that the amendment Mitch McConnell has pledged to bring up for a floor vote next week to fully repeal Obamacare would leave 32 million additional Americans uninsured if it got enacted. Amy Goldstein reports: “That would bring the total number of people without coverage to 59 million. The analysis also estimates that premiums for individual policies would rise by 25 percent next year if the number of people buying such policies plummets and concentrates sicker people in that insurance pool. The forecast by Congress’s nonpartisan budget scorekeepers is similar, though not identical, to updated estimates from January that they issued of the repeal-only legislation that passed the House and the Senate in late 2015 before being vetoed by then-President Barack Obama.”
– But on the House side, the Freedom Caucus is agitating for a repeal-only vote to pressure congressional leadership. Politico’s Kyle Cheney and Rachael Bade report: “Their effort is unlikely to result in a bill landing on Trump’s desk … But if the group garners enough signatures to trigger the floor vote, it would force many mainstream and moderate Republican lawmakers into the uncomfortable position of rejecting a repeal measure they backed just two years ago.”
– Meanwhile, HHS gave a very favorable review of Ted Cruz’s amendment — but to the utter bafflement of many health-care experts, who think the administration is fudging the numbers. Axios’s David Nather reports: “[An HHS analysis] says [Cruz’s] insurance deregulation provision in the Senate health care bill would lower premiums, both for people in traditional Affordable Care Act plans and in less regulated plans that wouldn’t meet its standards. But that’s almost the exact opposite of what most experts, as well as actuaries and the main health insurance trade groups, say would happen. Health care analysts and economists are criticizing the HHS report for being secretive about its assumptions, which are usually disclosed so outside experts can see how they arrived at their conclusions. They also note that HHS assumes huge premium increases under the current ACA, without explaining why.”
– Protesters continue to flock to Capitol Hill to oppose any repeal of Obamacare. At least 155 demonstrators were arrested at Senate office buildings yesterday for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding.” (Clarence Williams)
– Meanwhile, activists on the other end of the political spectrum are imploring Republican senators to vote for the health-care overhaul for the sake of Trump. David Weigel reports: “From Tuesday night through the announcement of yet another Republican meeting on their repeal bills, pundits and outside groups cast senators as ‘traitors’ if they did not deliver a victory for the president. … On the right, the final repeal push has been framed as a rematch of Trump’s 2016 victory — a chance for Republicans to go with their president, or reveal themselves as sellouts. Coverage of the health-care fight on Fox News, which had occasionally vanished from prime time, returned Tuesday night in the form of attacks on congressional failure. … Trump’s Wednesday speech at the White House was portrayed as the president trying to save Republicans from themselves.”
– A new Fox News poll shows that, if McConnell’s efforts fall short, 74 percent of voters want him to work with Democrats to reach a compromise. That includes 59 percent of Republicans. (Fox News’s Dana Blanton)
– Meanwhile, Republican House leaders have downsized their hopes of passing appropriations bills before the August recess. Mike DeBonis reports: “Republican leaders announced Tuesday that they plan to bring a package of 2018 spending bills to a vote next week. It would probably be the last item passed in the chamber before members depart for a five-week summer recess. But in the latest instance in which the House GOP has flinched from the basic responsibilities of governing, that package is set to include only four of the 12 yearly appropriations bills. That has exposed tensions inside the GOP over how its leaders have approached the annual spending cycle.”
– When it comes to the budget, it looks like congressional Republicans (once again) just don’t have the votes. Politico’s Rachael Bade and Sarah Ferris report: “After weeks of delays and false starts, House Republicans were expected to advance their fiscal blueprint through committee on Wednesday night. But they’re far from the 218 votes needed to pass it on the floor, according to multiple GOP aides and lawmakers. With only one week until the House leaves for the August recess, it looks increasingly likely that Republicans will punt once again on the most fundamental task of governing: passing a budget. Missing that deadline will leave the GOP exposed to criticism at home and undermines its chances of moving on to another key agenda item. ‘This is the tax reform budget,’ said Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas).”
IMMIGRATION BATTLES CONTINUE:
– “The Supreme Court on Wednesday once again compromised on [Trump’s] travel ban, saying the government may enforce tightened restrictions on refugees for now but also must allow into the country more travelers from six mostly Muslim countries who have family members already here,” Robert Barnes reports. “The short order from the court means that the administration must continue to accept those with grandparents, aunts and uncles and other relatives in the United States. The court’s action on Wednesday had two parts. In one, it said it will not disturb a lower court’s decision that expanded the definition of close family ties. … But in another, it granted the government’s request to put on hold a part of the decision that would have made it easier for more refugees to enter the country. The unsigned, one-paragraph order gave no reasoning for either decision. Three justices — [Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch] — said they would have granted the administration’s request to put the entire order on hold.”
– Airline passengers flying to the United States from Mexico will now be subject to additional security checks for electronic devices larger than a cellphone. The newly implemented security measures were first announced by DHS secretary John Kelly last month. (CNN)
– “Critics often dismiss Trump as a chief executive uninterested in the policy process, unwilling to delve into minutiae and impatient with the pace of governing. … But on immigration … the 45th president has been heavily engaged in the administration’s roiling debate,” Ashley Parker, David Nakamura and Philip Rucker report in a deep dive. “Officials credit him for being relentless in framing illegal immigration as a threat to public safety and to the economic security of American workers, and for turning a border wall into a populist rallying cry. This portrait of Trump as a policymaker at the six-month mark of his presidency … shows a president driven by gut feelings, happy to mostly skim the surface but occasionally engrossed in details. Advisers said the president has strong, instinctual opinions on broad issues but is open to persuasion on details …
“Trump is torn over how to address the status of the younger immigrants, who were brought to the country illegally by their parents … [but] by contrast, [he] is far more certain about the wall. The structure could change in design or function — he vowed to build a much longer and higher wall during the campaign — but his security argument for it has remained constant.”
ABOUT THAT PRESIDENTIAL ADVISORY COMMISSION ON ELECTION INTEGRITY:
– “Trump, who has repeatedly asserted without evidence that illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote against Hillary Clinton, told his election integrity commission Wednesday to proceed with ‘a very open mind and with no conclusions already drawn,’” John Wagner and Mark Berman report. “Trump stopped short of asking the 12-member panel to prove his claim about widespread vote fraud in the 2016 election — a fact that the panel’s vice chairman and driving force, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), told reporters was telling. … Kobach later told MSNBC that ‘we may never know’ whether Clinton actually won the popular vote. He said the commission will try to determine the extent of fraudulent voting last year but has no way to know whether illegally cast ballots helped Clinton or Trump more.”
Trump attacked the states that are not turning over data: “If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they are worried about. And I ask the vice president, I ask the commission, what are they worried about? There’s something, there always is.” (I wrote earlier this month that many of those who are refusing to comply are principled conservatives who genuinely believe in federalism.)
– The commission’s request for states’ voter data led to a small number of Americans canceling their voter registration, alarming liberal activists. Politico’s Diamond Naga Siu reports: “Colorado got a burst of publicity after more than 3,700 residents canceled voter registrations, according to media reports. And while that’s a tiny percentage of total voters in the state, activists said it’s the wrong response to the federal government’s request for state voter information. ‘We don’t want people to be afraid of registering — not to do so is to play into the hands of the voter suppressors,’ said Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado. ‘To the thousands of people who have deregistered: go reregister and bring two others.’”
THE TRUMP AGENDA:
– “U.S. officials fell short of securing ambitious gains in trade with China in a meeting Wednesday and news conferences planned to cap off the event were canceled as the two countries wrapped up 100 days of trade talks,” Ana Swanson reports. “The United States unsuccessfully pressed China to make a substantial commitment to cut its steel production, according to people with knowledge of the matter[.] … U.S. officials also asked China to do more to reduce its trade surplus with the United States and open its market for agriculture, financial services and data flows, the people said. In a terse statement released after the talks, the Treasury Department said that China had ‘acknowledged our shared objective to reduce the trade deficit which both sides will work cooperatively to achieve.’”
– The U.S., Canada and Mexico have agreed to move quickly on a NAFTA renegotiation, hoping to be done by early 2018 before Mexico’s presidential elections. Reuters’ Anthony Esposito and David Ljunggren report: “The plan is to hold seven rounds of talks at three-week intervals, according to two Mexican officials … Negotiators fear the renegotiation process could become a political punching bag in Mexico due to President Donald Trump’s repeated swipes at Mexico.”
– The administration is trying to accelerate its plans to cut hundreds of government regulations, which have gotten off to a slow start. Damian Paletta reports: “On Thursday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget is planning to release a list of rules it plans to weaken or eliminate. The list will note that 469 proposals that were in the works during the Obama administration have been scrapped, and another 391 have been slowed. The administration is not releasing a full list of which regulations it’s targeting until Thursday, but they will run the gamut from significant policy measures to minor procedural measures.”
– “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is moving rapidly to promote American production of coal, oil and gas — a critical piece of President Trump’s vision for ‘making America great again,’” Juliet Eilperin reports. “In the past few weeks alone, Zinke has lowered the price companies must pay the government for offshore drilling; acted to accelerate approval for onshore drilling permits; approved exploratory drilling in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea; and scheduled lease sales on Western lands the Obama administration had deemed off limits. And Zinke’s moves have immediate impact. While Trump’s ambitious plans to overhaul the tax code and renegotiate international trade pacts remain far off, and his campaign to roll back environmental regulations will take months to produce results for industry, Zinke is taking concrete action to deliver on one of Trump’s most important campaign promises.”
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
– Callista Gingrich, Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, had her Senate confirmation hearing yesterday. Post columnist Dana Milbank writes that Gingrich’s nomination “stinks to high heaven:” “Sen. Ron Johnson introduced [Gingrich] by noting that she was valedictorian of her high school class. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who succeeded Newt [Gingrich, Callista’s husband] in the House before moving to the Senate, declared that ‘one of her great, great persuasive talents is to not only convince Newt to marry her, but convert him to Catholicism.’ … All presidents reward supporters with patronage. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson will be our man in London. On Gingrich’s panel Tuesday was George Glass, a big Trump donor, tapped to be ambassador to Portugal though he doesn’t speak Portuguese. But the choice of Callista Gingrich is another category of cronyism for an administration populated by friends and relations rather than appointees of merit … yet Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to say that this is unacceptable.”
– Senate Republicans are slated to vote today to confirm a blogger who has compared abortion to slavery to an appellate court. HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery reports: “That’s just one of the questionable comments that John Bush, [Trump’s] nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, made on a blog he maintained for years under a pseudonym, G. Morris. He also called for gagging then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi … applauded critics of same-sex marriage, mocked climate change and celebrated ‘the witch is dead’ when he thought the Affordable Care Act might not be enacted.”
– Trump has nominated a talk radio host and climate change skeptic to the Agriculture Department’s top scientific post. Juliet Eilperin and Chris Mooney report: “[Sam] Clovis, whose expected nomination has been previously reported by The Washington Post and several other outlets, is a former economics professor at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, who served as one of Trump’s first campaign policy advisers. In a 2014 interview with Iowa Public Radio, he said he was ‘extremely skeptical’ about climate change and added that ‘a lot of the science is junk science.’ … Furthermore, the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist is also tasked with administering its policies to ensure ‘scientific integrity’ in the department, which means examining whether any abuses or misuses of science may have occurred in the agency.”
– Joel Clement, who served as the Interior Department’s director of the Office of Policy Analysis until last week, wrote a buzzy op-ed for The Post about working under this administration: “I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government. I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.”
– The president is also expected to nominate Mark Esper as secretary of the Army. Washington Examiner’s Jamie McIntyre reports: “Esper is a West Point graduate, former aide to Sens. Chuck Hagel and Bill Frist, and a Raytheon executive. His pending nomination follows the withdrawal of two previous nominees to be the Army’s top civilian: billionaire Vincent Viola and Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green. Pentagon officials privately expressed confidence that Esper, with his military, Pentagon and Capitol Hill experience, will win quick Senate confirmation. He serves as Raytheon’s vice president of government relations.”
- From The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel: “Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has expressed concern at the number of defense contractor executives being chosen by the Trump administration. He raised the issue in [deputy Defense Secretary Patrick] Shanahan’s confirmation hearing and later told reporters he does not want Trump to nominate anyone else from the top five defense contractors.” (Raytheon is one of those top five firms.)
– But some of the administration’s picks are balking at the financial and time commitments required to receive confirmation for top posts. Politico’s Andrew Restuccia reports: “At least a dozen people in line for top jobs in the Trump administration have dropped out, with many expressing irritation at requirements that they give up valuable assets to resolve perceived conflicts, according to lawyers and people closely tracking the nominations process.”
HAS IT ONLY BEEN SIX MONTHS?
– The Post’s fact checking team calculates that, as of this morning, Trump has made at least 830 demonstrably false or misleading claims since he took office. That’s an average of about five per day, including weekends. “As president, Trump has already earned 20 Four-Pinocchio ratings — and a total of 152 Pinocchios,” Glenn Kessler, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Meg Kelly report. (Check out The Trump Promise Tracker here.)
– “6 months in, Trump’s presidency is teetering on the brink of disaster,” by CNN’s Chris Cillizza: “The collapse of health care reform in the Senate on Monday night is a fitting coda to President Donald Trump’s first six months in office, a tenure that has lurched from controversy to controversy and now appears to be on the verge of tilting directly into the political abyss.”
– “It’s Been Six Months With Trump. Are You Tired of Winning Yet?” by the Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis: “He hasn’t passed any legislation — and his first six months have been drama-filled and controversial. But despite the hand-wringing and worry his tenure has spawned among the chattering classes, the world hasn’t ended. That might sound like the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations.’ But in this day and age, I’ll take it.”
– “[Trump’s] ascendancy has reverberated across a workforce of 2.1 million civil servants, upending their sense of mission or empowering it, depending on where they sit,” Lisa Rein reports. “Where Trump is putting resources and priorities, many employees describe a sense of validation and optimism. Where he is dismissive of their mission and their value as public servants, they are anxious, discouraged and sometimes hostile. And in offices where the White House envisions severe budget cuts and has set in motion buyouts, early-retirement offers and possible layoffs, civil servants are ill at ease, their futures uncertain. After just six months, it is too early to gauge the impact of the Trump administration’s zeal to shrink the size and reach of government. … But this much seems clear: Across the far flung bureaucracy, employees are either on edge or waiting with high expectations for the change Trump promised, with few, it seems, weighing in at neutral.”
– “Trump’s Presidency Fuels Conservatism’s Decline,” by National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar: “Despite holding Democratic majorities in Congress, (Jimmy Carter) clashed with his party’s leaders on Capitol Hill and failed to accomplish much. He left office giving way to the Reagan revolution. His presidency is now seen as a small Democratic blip in a sea of conservative victories. So far, Trump’s administration is mixing the corruption of Richard Nixon with the incompetence of Carter. That may be all liberalism needs to launch a comeback.”
– “It Has Only Been Six Months Since Trump Became President. Feels Like an Eternity,” by the Resurgent’s Erick Erickson: “It has only been six months since President Trump became President. It feels like an eternity of bickering, never ending fighting, media retracting stories, the Trump team screwing up stories, and the President waging constant battles on Twitter. I do this for a living and I am exhausted by it. … I can only imagine what non-political people feel. … My suspicion is that more and more Americans are tuning out of the political process right now. They will probably re-engage when the election season rolls around.”
TRUMP VS. THE FOURTH ESTATE:
– “Pro-Trump TV pundit’s firm took undisclosed payments from Trump campaign,” by Paul Farhi and Matea Gold: “For months, Mark Serrano has been one of [Trump’s] fiercest defenders and most enthusiastic supporters on TV. In semiregular appearances on the Fox Business Network, the veteran Republican operative has praised Trump’s leadership and bashed news media coverage of him. Fox News and Fox Business have described Serrano variously as a Republican strategist, a crisis-management expert and a former adviser to President George H.W. Bush … But Serrano has had another role this spring, one that wasn’t disclosed to viewers as he was touting Trump: His firm was a paid consultant to the president’s 2020 reelection campaign. Federal disclosure forms filed by the Trump committee Saturday show that it paid Serrano’s firm, ProActive Communications, a total of $30,000 for ‘communications consulting.’ TV news organizations, including Fox, typically screen would-be pundits and panelists for any financial connection to campaigns …”
– Vanity Fair, “Has Trump turned CNN into a house of existential dread?” by Sarah Ellison: “After relentless attacks from Trump and his allies, a series of journalistic problems, and in the shadow of a possible merger, the network’s C.E.O., Jeff Zucker, is feeling the heat. ‘I think there’s a real chance that Zucker is being forced out,’ said one employee. ‘That’s going to blow up this organization like nothing in the history of CNN.’”
– A member of the White House press corps used Periscope to broadcast an off-camera news briefing live. Ksenija Pavlovic, a former political science teaching fellow at Yale who founded a news site called Pavlovic Today, used the app to stream audio of Wednesday’s briefing. Though her recordings did not exactly go viral — each garnered a few dozen viewers, at most — the act of rebellion marks a significant development in increasingly strained White House-media relations. (Callum Borchers)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Washington sent messages of sympathy to Sen. John McCain after he announced his diagnosis of brain cancer:
From McCain’s daughter:
John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 20, 2017
As he’s shown his entire life, don’t bet against John McCain. Best wishes to him for a swift recovery.
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) July 20, 2017
John McCain is as tough as they come. Thinking of John, Cindy, their wonderful children, & their whole family tonight.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 20, 2017
John and I have been friends for 40 years. He’s gotten through so much difficulty with so much grace. He is strong – and he will beat this.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 20, 2017
Lindsey Graham responds to news of John McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis.
“This disease has never had a more worthy opponent.” pic.twitter.com/4S6cssfJCv
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) July 20, 2017
From Rep. Steve Scalise, who is still recovering himself from last month’s shooting in Alexandria, Va.:
I love John McCain. I’ve traveled with him, I’ve been tongue lashed by him, I’ve worked with him, and I wish I could be with him tonight.
— Senator Angus King (@SenAngusKing) July 20, 2017
My friend @SenJohnMcCain is a dogged ole S.O.B.
Sharp as hell and tougher than a $2 steak.
I look forward to catching up with him soon.
— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) July 20, 2017
From a New York Magazine writer:
Sen. Lindsey Graham responded to The Post’s story that the Trump administration would no longer arm anti-Assad forces in Syria:
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings lashed out against Trump’s voter fraud commission:
On Kris Kobach’s claim that we may never know whether Hillary Clinton won the popular vote because of voter fraud:
The chairman of the Senate Intel Committee drew a line in the sand:
Sen Burr is ordering lunch in the Senate carry out.
Not going to WH while investigation under way he says.
— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) July 19, 2017
From a Democratic House member:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
– “Criticize Trump at your peril, Republican candidates. Just ask Kim Guadagno,” by the Star Ledger’s Matt Arco and Claude Brodesser-Akner: “Already trailing badly in the polls, Republican New Jersey governor candidate Kim Guadagno has been hit with another devastating 1-2 punch: She’s lost the confidence of a pair of deep-pocketed GOP groups that spend big on governor’s races … The [RNC], which is controlled by [Trump], views the lieutenant governor as someone who hasn’t been loyal to the president and officials there see her race as a losing cause … [And] the Republican Governors Association … has invested minimally in New Jersey and currently has no plans to change course, sources say. The other hit for Guadagno comes right here in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie’s top fundraisers privately say they are sitting out the race because, in part, she’s been deemed disloyal to the governor after criticizing him on several issues, including his stay at the governor’s beach house during the state shutdown.”
– New York Magazine, “The Fake News That Provoked a Crisis in the Middle East,” by Jonah Shepp: “For Arab potentates looking for reasons to pick a fight with Qatar the unbelievable statements planted in the Qatari press were too good to be true, so it came as little surprise when a report emerged this week citing U.S. intelligence officials as saying the U.A.E. had orchestrated the hacking. … [This] is not the first time in recent years that fake news reports have led to diplomatic crises in the Persian Gulf, but this time, the consequences were more than usually severe. That’s why the deployment of ‘fake news’ in the Arab world’s media war is so chilling. The use of misinformation to start diplomatic crises and wars is of course as old as diplomacy and war, and the Middle East has its own rich history of governments and non-state actors planting stories in the press to lie, mislead, and fabricate. What’s different now is that … [in] our clickbait-driven, post-truth media environment, a lie can travel around the world several times before the truth has had a chance to check its Twitter feed.”
– Politico Magazine, “Is Michigan Ready for a Governor Named Abdul?” by Daniel Strauss: “He is standing in front of two campaign aides in a room decorated with nothing more than a couple of ‘Abdul for Michigan’ posters: He needs to learn how to get his message across to large crowds, specifically large crowds of people who he knows are more likely to vote for Donald Trump than a progressive Democrat, and a Muslim one at that. … There’s an earnest but youthful naiveté to this practice session—and really to [Abdul] El-Sayed’s entire campaign. … But this session does speak to a certain self-awareness—that, in a state that surprisingly embraced Trump’s nationalist, anti-immigrant message, being an observant Muslim might present challenges that most candidates don’t have to deal with.”
– The Atlantic, “What Congressional Republicans Really Think About Trump and Russia,” by McKay Coppins: “Even as alarm has reached fever pitch among Democrats, most in the GOP see the reaction as little more than partisan noise.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“With Speeches And Bright Dresses, Quinceañeras Protest Texas Sanctuary City Ban,” from NPR: “The colorful scene melded two time-honored Texas traditions: political protest and the quinceañera. With skirts flouncing, 15 young women ascended the steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Wednesday morning to a traditional Mexican birthday song played in a mariachi style. But there was no birthday to celebrate. Instead, the girls had gathered to protest a controversial immigration enforcement law that goes into effect September 1. ‘We are here to take a stand against Senate Bill 4, the most discriminatory and hateful law in recent history,’ declared Magdalena Juarez, 17, wearing a bright red gown.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Postal Service broke law in pushing time off for workers to campaign for Clinton, investigation finds,” from Lisa Rein: “The U.S. Postal Service engaged in widespread violations of federal law by pressuring managers to approve letter carriers’ taking time off last fall to campaign for Hillary Clinton and other union-backed Democrats, investigators said Wednesday. High-level postal officials had for years granted employees’ requests for unpaid leave, leading last year to an ‘institutional bias’ in favor of Clinton and other Democrats endorsed by … one of the largest postal unions. … The investigation found that 97 letter carriers took time off, sometimes weeks, to take part in the union’s Labor 2016 program, canvassing, making phone calls and working on other get-out-the-vote efforts to help elect Clinton and other pro-labor candidates”
Trump and Pence will participate in a pol-mil session at the Pentagon in the morning. Trump will then make an announcement on “a pharmaceutical glass packaging initiative” while Pence does Fox News interviews.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
– The heat in D.C. today will be nearly unbearable. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “The day starts off clear and muggy and goes downhill from there. Highs reach the mid-to-upper 90s with 100 not out of the question. Heat indices are likely to reach 100-105. Northwest breezes are too light to take an edge off the swelter. Isolated storms (10-20 percent chance) are not likely to offer much cooling relief either, except in the immediate area of the showers.”
– The Nationals lost to the Angels 7-0. (Chelsea Janes)
– Former congresswoman Donna Edwards is reportedly considering a run for Prince George’s county executive. Arelis R. Hernández reports: “Speaking to a friendly crowd at a union hall in Landover, Edwards touched on all the flash points that are emerging as issues for voters in the 2018 race, including the embattled school system, economic development and responsive governance. … Upon seeing a reporter in the crowd, Edwards told her audience that she would not have anything to say Wednesday about her political future.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Late night hosts made jokes at Mitch McConnell’s expense after the most recent Obamacare repeal bill failed:
Samantha Bee picked apart Trump’s voting commission:
Nevada police are looking for this man in connection to the break-in at Sen. Dean Heller’s office:
The Post’s Amber Phillips explains how three Republican women sank the latest Senate attempt to overhaul health care:
A member of the House asked NASA about civilizations on Mars during a hearing this week:
In light of Jeff Flake’s consoling tweet to his Democratic challenger, who has been receiving Islamophobic comments, The Post compiled five examples of politics getting nice:
A 16-year-old boy who disappeared from Minnesota over 40 years ago was identified as one of serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s victims:
A public defender’s office argued that this video shows Baltimore police officers planting drugs during a January arrest:
Two men in New York fought each other with unconventional weapons: a machete and a trash can:
And “Despacito” became the most streamed song of all time: