The Daily 202: Trump’s inexperience contributed to Comey interactions that now cloud his presidency – Washington Post

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Who knew firing an FBI director could be so hard?

Indisputably now, Donald Trump had no idea what he was getting himself into when he took office four months ago. The same president who allegedly asked James Comey to drop the FBI’s probe into Michael Flynn – potentially imperiling his grip on power – has also said “nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” volunteered that he only learned containing North Korea is “not so easy” when the Chinese president tutored him on the region’s history and expressed surprise that government cannot be run like a business.

Exactly one week, to the hour, after Comey found out via cable television that Trump had fired him, the New York Times published a bombshell story: The president asked the then-director to stay in the Oval Office at the end of a February meeting on counter-terrorism. Once Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Pence left the room, Trump urged Comey to drop the investigation in the wake of the national security adviser’s resignation. This comes from a detailed, two-page memo that the director wrote up immediately after their conversation.

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump said, according to Comey’s account.

Several media outlets, including The Post, quickly confirmed the existence of these notes. From Devlin Barrett, Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky: “Comey’s account of the February talk made it clear that his understanding of the conversation was that the president was seeking to impede the investigation … Comey’s notes also made it clear he felt that the conversation with the president was improper and decided to withhold details of it from the case agents working on the Russia probe. According to the director’s notes, Comey did not respond directly to the president’s entreaties, only agreeing with Trump’s assertion that Flynn ‘is a good guy.’”

An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations,” Michael Schmidt notes on the front page of the Times. “Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information … Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.”

Comey apparently prepared memos after “every phone call and meeting he had with the president.” “He wrote down every word Trump said to him as soon as he could,” one of his friends told Politico.

– Only an amateur would be surprised that Comey took notes after a meeting like this and that they would emerge if he got fired while the investigation in question was still ongoing. How the last several days have played out was entirely foreseeable for anyone who has even a basic grip of how Washington works and how Comey operates.

What did Trump think Comey was going to do? We know he underestimated Democratic attacks because he believed they were mad at Comey for hurting Hillary Clinton. But Comey is obsessed with his personal integrity. Did the president really think he was going to take all of this lying down?

Why did Trump want to protect Flynn? What might he know that the president doesn’t want to get out? Many unanswered questions remain about why it took 18 DAYS for Flynn to resign after the acting attorney general warned the White House counsel that he had been compromised and was susceptible to blackmail by the Russians. Could Trump have secretly authorized Flynn’s contacts with Sergey Kislyak during the transition?

Why did the president ask Pence and Sessions to leave the room when he talked to Comey? “This is the kind of conversation that rational, experienced presidents know not to have,” Ruth Marcus writes. “It is the kind of conversation that a White House counsel should make sparklingly, crystal clear to a president that he is not to engage in, not even close. It is the kind of conversation that seems completely in character for Trump, who, over the course of the campaign and now in office, has betrayed no — zero — understanding of the necessary separation of the president and his Justice Department when it comes to making independent judgments about political matters and political opponents.”

Did White House counsel Don McGahn know that his boss had talked with Comey one-on-one about the Flynn probe as Trump prepared to terminate him? Executive privilege means we’ll never know for sure what these deliberations were like, but there is good reason to believe he was out of the loop. Sally Yates told the New Yorker in an interview published yesterday, for example, that he did not even know FBI agents had interviewed Flynn until she told him.

Every lawyer worth his or her salt creates a copious paper trail for C.Y.A. purposes, but Comey especially is legendary within elite Washington legal circles for doing so. McGahn, 48, was a partner at Jones Day and before that an FEC commissioner. Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department officials who hastily created the documents used to justify Comey’s ouster, have also been around long enough that they should have known.

– Perhaps more importantly, did anyone warn Trump about what role Comey had played in George W. Bush’s U.S. attorney scandal? This week marks the 10th anniversary of his gripping testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In case you don’t remember, here is the lead of The Washington Post’s story from that day by Dan Eggen and Paul Kane: “On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James Comey, received an urgent call. White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal. In vivid testimony … Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey’s presence in the room, turned and left. The sickbed visit was the start of a dramatic showdown between the White House and the Justice Department in early 2004 that, according to Comey, was resolved only when Bush overruled Gonzales and Card. But that was not before Ashcroft, Comey, Mueller and their aides prepared a mass resignation, Comey said.”

Watch a clip of Comey answering Chuck Schumer’s questions in 2007:

– Legal experts say Comey’s allegation provides the strongest support yet for a criminal obstruction-of-justice case against Trump, though more evidence would probably be required to warrant action. From Matt Zapotosky: “The laws governing obstruction require prosecutors to show a person ‘corruptly’ tried to influence a probe — meaning investigators have to find some evidence of what a person was thinking when taking a particular action. In this case, analysts said, that would mean analyzing the specific details of Trump and Comey’s conversation, assessing what else was happening at the time and possibly talking to Trump associates who had talked with the president about what he wanted to do.”

“There’s definitely a case to be made for obstruction,” said Barak Cohen, a former federal prosecutor who now does white-collar defense work at the Perkins Coie law firm. “But on the other hand you have to realize that — as with any other sort of criminal law — intent is key, and intent here can be difficult to prove.” Cohen said that while it was “highly improper” for Trump to insert himself in an investigation in any way, charging him would be difficult. With a lower-profile target, he said, “maybe prosecutors might be aggressive enough to bring a case,” but “it also arguably undermines democracy for prosecutors to go after a sitting president with only circumstantial evidence.”

– This is where the president’s credibility gap is creating a crisis for the White House. Predictably, the White House denied Comey’s account. But of course the administration would deny it, just as officials have denied other stories that Trump himself later acknowledged to be at least partially correct. Notably, no one put their name on the statement sent out by the White House. It was emailed to reporters “on background.” Perhaps no one in the press office wanted to take responsibility for another denial that may soon be proven false? “It seems as though the flood of information over the past 10 days has been pushing us to a point that we haven’t yet reached, forcing an explicit choice between the word of the White House and the word of an outside party,” Philip Bump notes.

– The latest disclosure ratchets up the pressure on Trump to put up or shut up when it comes to the tapes. He has hinted very strongly that he has a recording of his one-on-one dinner with Comey on Jan. 27 (in which he allegedly asked for a pledge of loyalty) and, possibly, their other meetings. The president has a long history of surreptitiously taping conversations. At this point, if Trump has any tapes that might clear him of wrongdoing, why wouldn’t he release them? If the tapes contradict his story, which seems more plausible, they may never see the light of day – unless congressional Republicans agree to subpoena them. If after refusing to answer questions about the tapes for the past five days, the White House suddenly declares there are no tapes after all, many serious people will be suspicious and assume that Trump destroyed possible evidence that could have been used against him.

– As Omar Little told Wee-Bey on “The Wire” after a failed assassination attempt, “You come at the king, you best not miss.If you come at Comey, you best not miss.

– Here is the bottom line: Comey is going to testify, and Congress is going to get his full memo. It’s not a question of if – but when.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said last night he is prepared to use a subpoena if necessary to get a copy of the Comey memo. “I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready,’’ he tweeted. Chaffetz told our Carol Leonnig last night that he wants to get to the truth: “Let’s see how real these memos are…. And see where they take us. … We will let the evidence take us where it does.” In a letter to the acting FBI director, Chaffetz has set a deadline of May 24 for the internal documents to be handed over to his committee.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said this morning that “it is important that Congress call … Comey before the Judiciary Committee to obtain a full understanding of what President Trump may or may not have done regarding the Russian investigation, including … Flynn.” From his statement: “I’m hopeful we can reach agreement in a bipartisan fashion on how to move forward in a professional manner. The country deserves answers to the questions raised and former Director Comey deserves an opportunity to be heard and, if appropriate, challenged. The sooner Mr. Comey testifies publicly before the Judiciary Committee, the better for our nation. For all practical purposes the political process will be ground to a halt by these allegations.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), another Judiciary subcommittee chairman, said he will remain skeptical until Congress obtains Comey’s memos, but “there’s a lot here that’s really scary.” “It’s obviously inappropriate for any president to be trying to interfere with an investigation,” Sasse said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show this morning, adding that he wants all the Comey memos as soon as possible.

– Tonight at 6:15 p.m., I will interview Sasse at The Post’s headquarters for the latest installment of “The 202 Live.” We’ll talk about this, as well as his new book “The Vanishing American Adult.” RSVP to attend or watch the live stream here.

– John McCain said last night that Trump’s scandals have now reached a “Watergate size and scale.” The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak attended a dinner where the Arizona senator was receiving the International Republican Institute’s Freedom Award. “I think we’ve seen this movie before,” McCain told the crowd. “I think it appears at a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale. … The shoes continue to drop, and every couple days there’s a new aspect.” McCain told retired CBS anchor Bob Schieffer, who was interviewing him on stage, that the advice he would give to Trump is “the same thing that you advised Richard Nixon, which he didn’t do: Get it all out! It’s not going to be over until every aspect of it is thoroughly examined and the American people make a judgment. And the longer you delay, the longer it’s going to last.”

Déjà vu? McCain holds the seat previously occupied by Barry Goldwater, who was the GOP’s nominee for president 44 years before him. Goldwater played a key leadership role in getting Nixon to step down.

– While most Republicans are still standing squarely behind the president, we’re seeing other cracks emerge: California Rep. Steve Knight, already facing a tough 2018 reelection fight, just became the latest Republican to call for a special prosecutor. (Read his statement. Here’s our running whip list of GOP lawmakers who have supported this approach.)

A GOP rep from Illinois:

A Florida Republican congressman:

– Frustration has been a theme in some private conversations among Republican lawmakers, but publicly many of these same people have tried to pretend the problem isn’t there. Elise Viebeck, Sean Sullivan and Mike DeBonis explore the dynamic:Both lawmakers and aides within the GOP described feeling a sense of weariness as they stare down the latest Trump-related controversy. ‘It’s just a very surreal environment where you have a president who is self-destructing,’ said one Senate Republican aide. … Another GOP staffer described the situation as ‘constant chaos.’”

– Many Hill Republicans are trying to make themselves scarce:

– Congressional leaders are facing increasing pressure:

“As Trump has lurched from one crisis to another, Republicans have chosen a strategy of compartmentalization over confrontation, preferring to look away in hopes that the storm would pass. Now … that approach may have run aground,” writes Dan Balz, The Post’s chief correspondent. “For the GOP, this has become a moment of reckoning. … Increasingly, it will be difficult for Republicans to avoid recognizing the responsibility that comes with being the majority party in separate branch of government, rather than seeing events primarily through the prism of a political alliance, no matter how awkward at times, between members of Congress and a president who won the November election as their nominee.”

Speaker Paul Ryan struck a careful tone during a press conference this morning, saying congressional committees would continue to gather facts and conduct oversight “regardless of what party is in the White House.” But Ryan did hit a couple of skeptical notes in his brief remarks, suggesting that any allegations made by Comey should not be taken at face value, Mike DeBonis reports. “If this happened as he described, why didn’t he take action at the time?” Ryan asked, echoing a question other skeptical Republicans have asked. Later, he noted that the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign and administration’s ties to Russia would continue, conducted by career professionals. And he noted that the bureau’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, who is serving as interim director, “said just the other day that no one has tried to impede that investigation” — a reference to a congressional hearing that, some Trump defenders have argued, would undercut Comey’s claims of presidential interference.

SOME PEOPLE ARE EVEN STARTING TO USE THE “I” WORD:

Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) went there this morning:

– Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said he has “no doubt” that Republicans would have already voted to impeach Hillary Clinton if she had done what Trump did. “For one millionth of what has happened with Trump, they would have impeached her,” Cummings said in a radio interview picked up by CNN. “I’m just telling you. They would have been going crazy. That’s what makes this so egregious.”

– Impeachment remains much less likely than many Democrats want to think: They would need to persuade 25 House Republicans and 14 Senate Republicans to cross over – without any defections. History is not on their side, Peter Stevenson notes.

New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat floats another idea for removing Trump: “Ultimately I do not believe that our president sufficiently understands the nature of the office that he holds, the nature of the legal constraints that are supposed to bind him, perhaps even the nature of normal human interactions, to be guilty of obstruction of justice in the Nixonian or even Clintonian sense of the phrase. I do not believe he is really capable of the behind-the-scenes conspiring that the darker Russia theories envision. And it is hard to betray an oath of office whose obligations you evince no sign of really understanding or respecting. Which is not an argument for allowing him to occupy that office. It is an argument, instead, for using a constitutional mechanism more appropriate to this strange situation than impeachment: the 25th Amendment to the Constitution … The Trump situation is not exactly the sort that the amendment’s Cold War-era designers were envisioning. But his incapacity to really govern, to truly execute the serious duties that fall to him to carry out, is nevertheless testified to daily — not by his enemies or external critics, but by precisely the men and women whom the Constitution asks to stand in judgment on him, the men and women who serve around him in the White House and the cabinet.”

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

– Vladimir Putin said this morning that he would be willing to provide the U.S. Congress with a record of Trump’s meeting with the top Russian envoys, possibly offering new details on the disclosures of reportedly highly classified intelligence information. Andrew Roth reports from Moscow: “The remarkable offer for the Kremlin to share evidence with U.S. oversight committees came with the caveat that the request for the transcript would have to come from the Trump administration. The Kremlin has denied reports that Trump shared classified secrets last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the United States during an Oval Office meeting. But the full extent of Trump’s comments to the Russian envoys has not been made public … On Wednesday, Putin denied that Lavrov had shared any intelligence with him or with Russia’s secret service, instead declaring that a ‘political schizophrenia’ had gripped the United States and that it was ‘eliciting concern’ in Russia.

– VEB, a Russian state-run bank under scrutiny by U.S. investigators, financed a deal involving Donald Trump’s onetime partner in a Toronto hotel tower at a key moment for the project, the Wall Street Journal reported this morning: “Alexander Shnaider, a Russian-Canadian developer who built the 65-story Trump International Hotel and Tower, put money into the project after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from a separate asset sale that involved the Russian bank, whose full name is Vnesheconombank. Mr. Shnaider sold his company’s share in a Ukrainian steelmaker for about $850 million in 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. According to two people with knowledge of the deal, the buyer, which hasn’t been identified publicly, was an entity acting for the Russian government. VEB initiated the purchase and provided the money, these people say. U.S. investigators are looking into any ties between Russian financial institutions, Mr. Trump and anyone in his orbit, according to a person familiar with the probe. As part of the investigation, they’re examining interactions between Mr. Trump, his associates and VEB, which is now subject to U.S. sanctions, said another person familiar with the matter. The Toronto deal adds a new element to the list of known connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.”

– Thom Tillis says he is “doing well” after collapsing this morning during a three-mile road race in Southeast Washington. The AP reported that the North Carolina lawmaker was “unconscious” and was airlifted by a U.S. Park Police helicopter to a hospital. (Justin Wm. Moyer)

– Nine people were injured during a protest outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in D.C. CNN’s Zach Cohen reports: “About two dozen demonstrators showed up outside of the embassy just hours after [Recep Erdogan met with Trump] … ‘We are protesting (Erdogan’s) policies in Turkey, in Syria and in Iraq,’ said [protester] Flint Arthur of Baltimore, Maryland. Arthur accused Erdogan supporters of breaching police lines and attacking protesters on at least three separate occasions. A Facebook video captured at the scene shows several protesters covered in blood. ‘They think they can engage in the same sort of suppression of protest and free speech that they engage in in Turkey,’ Arthur said. ‘They stopped us for a few minutes … but we still stayed and continued to protest Erdogan’s tyrannical regime.’ The victims were transported to George Washington University Hospital.”

“Indications were that the scuffling may have stemmed from political conflict within Turkey, whose president is on a visit to Washington, Victoria St. Martin and Martin Weil report. “Several members of the first group wore dark suits and ties, and a couple of them waved small Turkish flags. In one of the skirmishes, a man in a dark suit, who is carrying a furled flag … appears to be kicking at a demonstrator who is on the Sheridan Circle sidewalk, holding his hands protectively to his head. A bullhorn lies beside him.”

The brutal scene outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in D.C.:

– Trump spent the afternoon warmly greeting the Turkish president, praising the importance of their alliance despite mounting tensions over Washington’s support for Kurdish rebels in Syria and Erdogan’s drift away from democracy. Missy Ryan reports: “Speaking alongside Erdogan at the White House, Trump said Turkey and the U.S. would act together against extremist groups including the Islamic State. ‘Again, we seek to face this threat together,’ he told reporters.While Erdogan’s government had long warned U.S. officials against expanding support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), empowering a group Turkey sees as an existential threat, the warm public remarks from both leaders reflect the NATO allies’ need to hold together a key partnership at a time of intense strain.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Chelsea Manning, the transgender Army private whose lengthy prison sentence for leaking classified government information was commuted 28 years early by Obama, was freed from prison today. Few details were disclosed, but an online fundraising campaign has raised more than $135,000 for housing and other essentials to assist with her reentry into society. (Sandhya Somashekhar)
  2. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) is undergoing treatment for kidney cancer. She will undergo outpatient surgery at Georgetown University Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery. 
  3. A high-school student in South Carolina collapsed and died after drinking caffeine too quickly. Doctors said the 16-year-old student – otherwise healthy and active – had consumed a latte, a Mountain Dew and an energy drink in the hours preceding his death, ultimately causing what officials say was a “caffeine-induced cardiac event.” (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  4. Scientists said they have found “devastating” amounts of coral bleaching and death at reefs in the Indian Ocean – with mortality in some areas reaching 90 percent. Officials believe the staggering levels of coral “bleaching” were brought on by unusually warm conditions — likely influenced by climate change – as well as an unusually severe El Niño effect in 2015. (Chelsea Harvey)
  5. The Missouri Supreme Court struck down portions of a law intended to protect minorities from biased policing and revenue collection, breaking with policy urged by the Justice Department after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. The DOJ report, which examined data from 2012 to 2014, found that black citizens were subject to 85 percent of traffic stops, and 93 percent of all arrests during that time. (NBC News)
  6. Officials at Union Station said they are investigating a possible hack after a giant digital screen in the train station’s main hall screeched to a stop Monday evening – and started playing illicit adult video footage outside a Chipotle restaurant instead. (Martine Powers)
  7. Wal-Mart is suing the nation’s three largest tuna brands for price fixing, accusing the companies – which together control 80 percent of the market – of overcharging them for five years. (Peter Whoriskey)

TWO GOOD WAPO STORIES WORTH READING:

– “NSA officials worried about the day its potent hacking tool would get loose. Then it did,” by Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg: “When the NSA began using a new hacking tool called EternalBlue, those entrusted with deploying it marveled at both its uncommon power and the widespread havoc it could wreak if it ever got loose. Some officials even discussed whether the flaw was so dangerous they should reveal it to Microsoft, the company whose software the government was exploiting … But for more than five years, the NSA kept using it — through a time period that has seen several serious security breaches — and now the officials’ worst fears have been realized. The malicious code at the heart of the WannaCry virus that hit computer systems globally late last week was apparently stolen from the NSA … [and] now ranks as among the most disruptive in history. The failure to keep EternalBlue out of the hands of criminals and other adversaries casts the NSA’s decisions in a harsh new light, prompting critics to question anew whether the agency can be trusted to develop and protect such potent hacking tools.”

– “Trump’s ‘huuuuuge’ Caribbean estate is on the market for $28 million, prompting questions,” by Matea Gold: “The opulent beachfront estate that recently went on the market on the Caribbean island of St. Martin has a number of appealing factors, including two elaborately adorned villas and an expansive pool overlooking the crystalline waters of Plum Bay. And there’s another unique aspect that nearby properties can’t claim: It is owned by the president of the United States. Le Chateau des Palmiers, which [Trump] described as ‘one of the greatest mansions in the world’ when he bought it in 2013, was quietly listed for sale last month … It’s unclear why the property is for sale. It earned Trump between $200,000 and $2 million in rental fees between 2014 and mid-2016, according to financial disclosures. The effort to sell the high-priced estate in the midst of Trump’s tenure could present a similar ethical problem to the one his lawyer cited in defending his decision not to sell off his company after the election: that a buyer could overpay as a way to gain currency with the president. [And] if the estate is sold, the public probably would learn little, if anything, about who has purchased it. Public records in the French territory do not always show details of private property transactions. Trump would eventually have to disclose the sales price on his financial disclosure form — a report detailing 2017 transactions must be filed in the spring of 2018 — but he would not be required to reveal the identity of the buyer.”

RUSSIA FALLOUT:

– The meeting between Trump and Sergei Lavrov — which produced one of the biggest crises yet for a White House already well accustomed to tumult – began as a favor from one president to another. Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung report on the backstory: “On May 2, eight days before Lavrov showed up at the White House, [Vladimir Putin] was on the phone with Trump and made a request. Putin had ‘new ideas’ about stopping the civil war carnage in Syria … and noted that his top diplomat, Lavrov, would soon be visiting the U.S. for a previously scheduled meeting with [Rex Tillerson]. ‘Will you see him?’ Putin asked Trump … ‘Yes,’ Trump replied. Lavrov’s itinerary had him going nowhere near Washington — 4,100 miles away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he and Tillerson would be attending a meeting of the Arctic Council [but] Putin glossed over that detail with Trump … and once he agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Lavrov, the Russian minister changed his plans to jet first to Washington.

“For the Kremlin, a private audience with the president was a major opportunity to show the world that U.S.-Russia relations were normalizing. Since the crisis in Ukraine, the U.S. has sought to show it is not conducting ‘business as usual’ with Moscow, said Russia specialist Andrew Weiss. But Putin and his deputies have sought whenever they could to “lessen that international isolation and demonstrate, ‘See, we’re back in the family of nations,’ and on that point, Weiss said, the meeting with Lavrov ‘throws out the very limited leverage we have with the Russians, and makes it look like we’re softies. … It sends a signal, unfortunately, that Trump doesn’t care about that. The photos of people yukking it up in the Oval Office gave a sense that there’s nothing wrong with U.S.-Russia relations, we’re all pals.'”

“In advance of the meeting, Trump was given briefing materials along with a cover memorandum highlighting the points his national security staff wanted him to raise with Lavrov. Normally, H.R. McMaster briefs Trump immediately before a foreign leader meeting, but the senior administration official did not know if he did so the morning of Lavrov’s visit. ‘In the Obama era, there would be a pre-brief and we would walk through all the talking points,’ said McFaul. ‘That would have been the moment to brief the president about what is sensitive information and what is not.’”

– The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times both reported that the top-secret information Trump slipped to the Russians last week had been gathered by Israeli intelligence – a disclosure that could have far-reaching consequences for U.S. national security and that comes just days before Trump makes his first overseas trip to visit the country. Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee write in the Journal: “The intelligence—concerning terrorist threats against airliner — was meant for U.S. eyes only and was provided as part of a longstanding sharing agreement that is predicated on mutual assurances of secrecy. The Israeli source was considered so sensitive that the U.S. hadn’t shared it with its closest allies in the so-called Five Eyes group, which includes the U.K. and Canada.” (Israel’s biggest enemy is Iran, which is one of Russia’s close allies, so it seems very plausible that what Trump said could wind up in the hands of Jerusalem’s enemies in Tehran.)

ABC News says Trump’s disclosure has endangered the life of a spy placed inside ISIS by Israel. From Brian Ross, James Gordon Meek and Randy Kreider: “The spy provided intelligence involving an active ISIS plot to bring down a passenger jet en route to the United States, with a bomb hidden in a laptop that U.S. officials believe can get through airport screening machines undetected. The information was reliable enough that the U.S. is considering a ban on laptops on all flights from Europe to the United States. ‘The real risk is not just this source,’ said Matt Olsen, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center … ‘but future sources of information about plots against us’ … ‘Russia is not part of the ISIS coalition,’ Olsen said. ‘They are not our partner.’ Dan Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, agreed — saying in an interview that Trump and his team were ‘careless,’ and that the disclosures demonstrate a “poor understanding of how to guard sensitive information.”

– “Trump Called Netanyahu, but White House and Israel Kept Mum,” from Haaretz’s Barak Ravid: “[Trump] called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday and discussed his upcoming visit to Israel, senior officials told Haaretz on Wednesday morning …The call took place at around 5 P.M. Israel time, as Netanyahu was about to enter an event with his finance minister. The call lasted for about twenty minutes. The senior official noted that the call did not touch on reports according to which Trump leaked intelligence information to his meeting with the Russian foreign minister last week.”

– The intelligence behind the U.S. ban on laptops and other electronics was considered so highly classified that CNN, at the request of Trump administration officials, withheld key details from a March 31 story on the travel restrictions, Evan Perez reports. “The concern, US officials told CNN in late March, was that publishing certain information, including a city where some of the intelligence was collected, could tip off adversaries about the sources and methods used to gather the intelligence. Over several days, US intelligence officials spent hours on conference calls making specific requests to CNN to withhold certain details of the intelligence information. Those details included information that Trump reportedly shared in his Oval Office meeting with [the Russian diplomats] … The White House hasn’t denied that the President appears to have let the Russian government in on information so highly sensitive that the US government had previously told CNN that publishing it would endanger lives and destroy intelligence-gathering methods used to keep an eye on terrorist groups. Sharing this information with Russia would be a major concern because it could help the Russians figure out how the US obtained the information. The sensitivity is heightened because the Russians share information closely with the Syrian regime.”

– The White House offered scattered explanations for Trump’s disclosure of highly-classified information to Russia last week – which began with an early-morning tweet from Trump, who claimed he had the “absolute right” to share “facts.” Greg Miller and Ashley Parker report: “Administration officials went from denouncing the Washington Post article as ‘false’ to either confirming or declining to challenge nearly every key aspect of the account … ‘As President I wanted to share with Russia … which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline safety,’ Trump said [on Twitter] … He then shifted the focus from his conduct to prod the FBI ‘to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community.'”

He also enlisted the help of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who refused to say whether Trump had shared classified information with the representatives from Moscow. “’What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” McMaster said.

– “For McMaster, who has kept a relatively low public profile since taking the job, the moment marked a critical test,” Greg Jaffe writes. “Trump chose McMaster to lead the National Security Council … in part because of McMaster’s reputation for candor over a 33-year career. In [his book], ‘Dereliction of Duty’ … he was harshly critical of top Vietnam-era generals for not speaking frankly to the president and in public when they thought the war was going badly. [And] as an Army colonel in northern Iraq … McMaster was known for his independent streak and willingness to buck a strategy that did not seem to be working. Privately, senior White House officials said that McMaster has been respectful of Trump, a relative foreign-policy newcomer … [and] often steers Trump away from counterproductive or impractical ideas by gently suggesting that the National Security Council study them and get back to the president in a few days or weeks. Publicly, however, McMaster often faces a tougher challenge in a new role that he probably still is learning to manage, said some of the general’s former colleagues and friends. When controversy erupts, the national security adviser is expected to shield the president. The last week has forced McMaster to play both of those roles — somewhat uncomfortably.”

MORE WEST WING INTRIGUE:

– “The president’s appetite for chaos, coupled with his disregard for the self-protective conventions of the presidency, has left his staff confused and squabbling,” Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman report in today’s New York Times. “And his own mood, according to two advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has become sour and dark, and he has turned against most of his aides — even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — describing them in a fury as ‘incompetent,’ according to one of those advisers.”

Reports swirled inside the White House that the president was about to embark on a major shake-up, probably starting with the dismissal or reassignment of Sean Spicer: “By the end of the day Tuesday, it seemed that Mr. Spicer had, for the moment, survived. People close to the president said Mr. Trump was considering the firing of several lower-level staff members, including several hired by Priebus, while weighing a plan to hand most day-to-day briefing responsibilities to (Sarah Huckabee) Sanders. Even as Mr. Trump reassured advisers like Mr. Spicer that their jobs were safe on Monday, he told other advisers that he knew he needed to make big changes but did not know which direction to go, or whom to select.”

Some of Trump’s senior advisers fear leaving him alone in meetings with foreign leaders out of concern he might speak out of turn: “(H.R.) McMaster, in particular, has tried to insert caveats or gentle corrections into conversations when he believes the president is straying off topic or onto boggy diplomatic ground. This has, at times, chafed the president, according to two officials with knowledge of the situation. Mr. Trump, who still openly laments having to dismiss Mr. Flynn, has complained that General McMaster talks too much in meetings, and the president has referred to him as ‘a pain,’ according to one of the officials.”

– Trump administration officials described the current state of affairs in the West Wing as expectedly chaotic and anxious—but having an almost “numbing effect,” as one described it to The Daily Beast. The story attributes these two quotes to unnamed “senior Trump administration officials”:

  • “I feel like running down the hallway with a fire extinguisher.”
  • “I don’t see how Trump isn’t completely [screwed].”

– A Politico reporter added this last night:

FLASHBACK:

– Trump once demanded Edward Snowden’s execution for giving “serious information” to Russia. Kristine Phillips remembers: “In tweets in the summer of 2013, Trump repeatedly called Snowden a ‘traitor’ who gave ‘serious information to China and Russia’ and who ‘should be executed.’” In 2013, he backed up off these claims only slightly: “ObamaCare is a disaster and Snowden is a spy who should be executed-but if it and he could reveal Obama’s records, I might become a major fan,” Trump said in a tweet.

GOOD ANALYSIS:

– “Every president encounters damaging leaks and other intelligence issues,” Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius writes. “During the Carter administration, The Post revealed that Jordan’s King Hussein was on the CIA payroll. The station chief in Amman can’t have enjoyed that revelation, but the relationship continued. The [Bush] administration suffered catastrophic intelligence failures in the 9/11 attacks and in assessing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, yet its intelligence relationships abroad were, if anything, deepened. … The difference in Trump’s case is that he doesn’t seem sure whether the intelligence community is his friend or enemy. He attacks the CIA and FBI directors when he thinks they’re challenging his legitimacy. Then he boasts to Lavrov and Kislyak about what great intelligence he gets. This presidential love-hate relationship with intelligence needs to change. It demeans the government and, just as important, it’s self-destructive. Intelligence relationships are built on trust. So are successful presidencies. The bull needs to get out of the china shop.”

– In a Post op-ed, former CIA director Michael V. Hayden says Trump’s strange affection for Russia can best be characterized by the Soviet-era term “polezni durak – or “useful fool.” Hayden first coined the term to describe their odd relationship before the presidential election – and six months later, he writes, it “still seems a pretty apt description.”

– Increasingly we face a foundational national security crisis that is of our own making: the breakdown of trust between the president and our critical national security agencies, writes former National Counterterrorism Center director Michael Leiter. “This is not a partisan imperative; it is an American one. Attacks on the members of the intelligence community — and on objective factual analysis more broadly — contribute to demoralization, intensify aversion to risk and challenge our ability to find sources who will risk their lives for the United States. [And] the current environment virtually guarantees that leaks of classified information and sensitive policy discussions will continue to grow … Leaks are indefensible, but the reality is that thinly veiled presidential threats directed at national security agencies and their leaders will fuel distrust and, ultimately, more leaking.”

– Trump’s blunder can be explained largely by the fact that he views Russia as a potential partner rather than a dangerous adversary, foreign policy expert Max Boot writes for USA Today: “He is willing to share more intelligence with the Kremlin than we share with South Korea, France, or Germany. But then, he has had more critical comments about those countries than he has ever had about Russia.  What accounts for Trump’s Russophilia? That is, to paraphrase [Churchill], a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Could it be that Trump simply likes strongmen like Putin? Is he financially dependent on Russian oligarchs? Is he grateful that Russia helped to elect him? Those are the questions the FBI is probing, and Trump fired [James Comey] to, by his own admission, try to bring that investigation to a close.  Perhaps Trump’s relationship with Russia is entirely innocent … However, for purposes of explaining the disclosure, we don’t have to posit that Trump is a Russian agent. More likely, if hardly reassuring, is that he is simply an ignorant braggart who is unprepared for the presidency.”

– Trump’s acknowledgment that he shared intelligence on terrorism with Russia was something of a coup for Putin, whose anti-terrorism campaign is often met with skepticism in the West, the New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar writes. “His anti-terrorism campaign is central to his grand overall strategy of restoring Russia to the superpower status it enjoyed in Soviet times. [Still] … the unexpected manner in which the information was shared makes it difficult to assess whether it reflects a permanent shift in course. ‘It is not something that Russia can rely on, because Trump changes like the weather,’ [said Russian political analyst Maxim Trudolyubov]. ‘It’s the kind of victory that you do not really want if you want orderly policy cooperation.’”

THE SEARCH FOR A NEW FBI DIRECTOR:

– John Cornyn removed himself from consideration, following days of resistance from his Republican colleagues. Sean Sullivan and Robert Barnes report: “Cornyn’s announcement came a day after Rep. Trey Gowdy took himself out of the running. The Texas senator also released the statement not long after reports that Judge Merrick Garland, who some Republicans had touted for the job, is not interested. ‘Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI Director,’ Cornyn said in a statement. … Cornyn met with top Justice Department officials about possibly filling the job over the weekend. … While Cornyn is well-liked on Capitol Hill, he is seen as a partisan whose confirmation hearing would have been expected to be highly contentious. One Republican familiar with Cornyn’s thinking … said he felt obligated to consider the job because [former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions] asked him to.”

– The single best way to maintain the essential credibility of federal law enforcement would be for President Trump to name a Democrat to run the FBI,” Walter Dellinger, a former acting Solicitor General, writes in a Post op-ed. “Of course, there are many nominees from both parties who could inspire confidence … But if there was ever a time it would be useful to continue the tradition of naming an FBI director from outside the president’s party, it is now. A president who has admitted demanding to know from the FBI director whether he was under investigation has created an urgent need for someone to assure the country that he or she could not be a partisan for the president … It’s true that everything we know about Trump suggests that he is unlikely to appoint someone who doesn’t show loyalty to him. But if Americans don’t believe Trump can be trusted to make major decisions about an FBI director or other matters in a thoughtful and disinterested way, we’re lucky to live in a nation of checks and balances.”

– “Under intense pressure from the White House, the Justice Department is prepared to aggressively prosecute government officials who leak classified information,” The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff reports: “Justice officials [said] that targeting leakers will be a priority during Jeff Sessions’ time as attorney general—a posture that will hearten national security hawks, while concerning advocates of whistleblower protections. And the department’s new leadership could be uniquely up to the task: [Deputy attorney general] Rod Rosenstein … is no stranger to leak prosecutions; one of the most high-profile cases he worked on as the Maryland U.S. Attorney was the prosecution of James Cartwright, the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on charges related to leaking. Obama pardoned him a few days before Trump’s inauguration, and before his sentencing. Rosenstein, meanwhile, was unequivocal about his view that Cartwright deserved to do prison time. ‘People who gain access to classified information after promising not to disclose it must be held accountable when they willfully violate that promise,’ he said when the plea deal was announced.”

DEMOCRATS IN THE WILDERNESS:

– “The Democratic Party’s brightest stars spent Tuesday at a bustling ‘ideas conference,’ sponsored by the Center for American Progress to brainstorm an agenda for the Trump era,” David Weigel and Ed O’Keefe report: “Done right, it could break through what CAP President Neera Tanden called the ‘twenty-four-second news cycle’ and remind swing voters what the party stands for. Easier said than done. As Democrats took the stage of the Four Seasons’s basement ballroom in Washington, phones [began buzzing] with updates. …  ‘I was prepared to lay out a case today for how [Trump] is routinely betraying the working-class voters he pledged to fight for, from his budget to his tax plan to his health-care plan and more,’ said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, an oft-mentioned potential presidential candidate in 2020. ‘But last night’s reporting has taken us to a whole new level of abnormal. This is not business as usual.’ 

“As the White House tumbles from scandal to scandal, and as the president’s approval rating has sunk below 40 percent, Democrats have been handed a paradox. Trump’s actions halt the GOP’s political momentum and divide Republicans who are otherwise united on a conservative policy agenda. But in the aftermath of [Clinton’s] defeat, Democrats remember umpteen moments when it seemed that Trump would collapse — and they remember voters who thought Clinton focused on her opponent’s miscues at the expense of a message to nonvoters and the white working class.”

HOW THE DNC “MURDER MYSTERY” FELL APART:

– The family of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich rejected Fox News reports that he had leaked work emails to WikiLeaks before he was fatally shot last year near his home in D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood. Peter Hermann reports: “The reports, which gained traction on social media, said that an FBI forensics examination showed that Rich transferred 44,053 DNC emails and 17,761 attachments to a now-deceased WikiLeaks director. Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Ann Rich, said Tuesday through a spokesman that they do not think their son gave any information to WikiLeaks.” Law enforcement officials have said Rich’s computer and email activity have been examined and suggest nothing that would connect him to the trove of DNC emails released 12 days after his death. The allegations were reported by Fox News, including its D.C. affiliate WTTG. The reports cited a private investigator, Rod Wheeler, whom Fox said was hired by the Rich family and had previously worked for D.C. police.”

– For months, right-wing media outlets have floated the unproven conspiracy theories. This week, those stories dominated conservative media once again. CNNMoney’s Oliver Darcy has more: “It took only hours for one of the biggest stories in conservative media this week, which some outlets had chosen to focus on over news that [Trump] disclosed classified information to senior Russian officials, to fall apart. Breitbart, Drudge and Fox all gave the story play. But Tuesday afternoon, Wheeler told CNN he had no evidence to suggest Rich had contacted Wikileaks before his death. Wheeler instead said he only learned about the possible existence of such evidence through the reporter he spoke to for the FoxNews.com story. He explained that the comments he made to WTTG-TV were intended to simply preview Fox News’ Tuesday story.” “I only got that [information] from the reporter at Fox News,” Wheeler told CNN.

THE AGENDA:

– Some graduating seniors at the University of Notre Dame say they plan to protest the presence of Vice President Pence at their commencement by standing up and quietly walking out of the ceremony. School officials say they won’t try to stop them. From Valerie Strauss: “Pence will give the commencement address at the nation’s most prominent Catholic university on Sunday. In the past, the university invited newly inaugurated presidents to give the address in their first year of office — and the six presidents previous to Donald Trump accepted — but this year was different. Thousands of students and faculty members signed a petition asking Notre Dame’s president not to invite him, saying that they did not think Trump’s actions and behavior were in line with the school’s values. While there were Trump supporters who wanted him to speak, the school decided to instead invite Pence. A coalition of student activist groups at Notre Dame called We StaND For is planning the walkout to protest policies Pence pursued as governor that they say targeted the most vulnerable.”

– In April, the EPA issued a call for comments about what federal regulations are in need of repeal, replacement or modification – an effort stemming from an executive order issued by Trump earlier this year. Brady Dennis reports: “More than 55,100 responses rolled in by the time the comment period closed on Monday — but they were full of Americans sharing their experiences of growing up with dirty air and water, and with pleas for the agency not to undo safeguards that could return the country to more a more polluted era. ‘Environmental regulations came about for a reason. It is not a conspiracy to harm corporations. ‘Know your history or you’ll be doomed to repeat it,’ one commenter wrote. Others resorted to all caps: Regulations are PROTECTIONS. Please enforce all existing clean air and water protections and consider creating more,” said one responder. So here are my thoughts on doing away with existing EPA regulations, or doing away with the EPA itself: ARE YOU BLOODY CRAZY?????” replied another. The thousands of comments echoed those at a three-hour ‘virtual listening session’ that the EPA held earlier this month, in which a litany of callers  … urged the agency not to jettison protections for clean water and clean air in the name of reducing burdens on corporations.”

– With so much happening around energy and environmental policy under Trump, we’re going to launch THE ENERGY 202 next Tuesday. Dino Grandoni has joined The Post to anchor this new product. For his daily insights, sign up here.

– Federal investigators subpoenaed records related to a $3.5 million “mystery mortgage” that Paul Manafort took out on his Hamptons home just after leaving Trump’s presidential campaign. From NBC News’ Tom Winter and Kenzi Abou-Sabe: “The mortgage document that explains how Manafort would pay back the loan was never filed with Suffolk County, New York — and Manafort’s company never paid up to $36,000 in taxes that would be due on the loan … On August 19, 2016, Manafort left the Trump campaign amid media reports about his previous work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, including allegations he received millions of dollars in payments. That same day, Manafort created a holding company called Summerbreeze LLC. Several weeks later, a document called a UCC filed with the state of New York shows that Summerbreeze took out a $3.5 million loan on Manafort’s home in the tony beach enclave of Bridgehampton. A  review [of state records] shows the loan was made by S C 3, a subsidiary of Spruce Capital, which was co-founded by Joshua Crane, who has partnered with [Trump] on real estate deals. Spruce is also partially funded by Ukrainian-American real-estate magnate Alexander Rovt, who tried to donate $10,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign on Election Day.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The Republican Party and Trump’s reelection committee are fundraising off Trump’s very challenging news cycle:

Tempers are running very raw on Capitol Hill right now:

Issa denied it:

From an AP reporter:

This is from a Democratic polling firm, but:

Trump loyalists attacked Comey:

From a veteran Democratic staffer in the White House:

The irony of the situation was not lost on observers:

Fox is not covering the latest bombshells aggressively:

Ted Cruz’s former chief strategist said the GOP agenda is up in smoke:

From the FBI beat reporter at The New York Times:

Sean Spicer in the bushes has definitely become a meme:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

– Politico, “The Kennedy Democrats don’t want,” by Natasha Korecki: “For years, Democrats have tried to cajole Chris Kennedy into running statewide in Illinois, hoping that the wealthy son of the late Robert F. Kennedy could parlay his exalted family name into high office. So when Kennedy finally announced a bid for governor in February, comparisons to Camelot abounded. He took the early lead in polling and drew an almost immediate endorsement from a coalition of county chairmen in Southern Illinois. Now, three months later, Kennedy has fallen out of favor with key labor groups and powerful forces within the Democratic establishment. And he’s facing a roadblock that’s unfamiliar to his family: pressure to drop out of the race. There’s mounting evidence that powerful Democratic players in the state … are steering unions, interest groups or politicians to throw their support behind billionaire J.B. Pritzker, the brother of former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. The subject isn’t discussed in public, [and] Kennedy’s campaign says he hasn’t explicitly been asked to get out … But there’s no mistaking the political calculus at work.”

– Bloomberg, “How Trump’s Rust Belt Voters Have Changed Since the Election,” by  Esmé E. Deprez , Jeff Green , Mark Niquette and Elise Young: “In the aftermath of November’s election, there was the sense in many East Coast circles that it wouldn’t take long for the voters of Middle America to regret their decision to put Donald Trump in the White House. Seven months later, we’ve found few signs of such remorse. We’ve been tracking a group of Trump supporters from the four key Heartland states that helped swing the election: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. True, there has been slippage in support for him in some cases, but what comes through clearly is that the emotional bond between the firebrand politician and his base remains very strong …”

– The Atlantic, “My Family’s Slave,” by Alex Tizon: “She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.”

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will depart for Groton, Connecticut and deliver remarks at the United States Coast Guard Academy Commencement Ceremony. Pence will deliver remarks at an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month reception.

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Fox News Contributor Apologizes for Comments About Boy With Autism,” from Variety: “Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce apologized on air for calling a 10-year-old autistic boy a ‘snowflake’ — a derogatory term used by certain conservatives to describe liberals. Her initial comment was in response to a video that went viral of [Mike Pence] accidentally smacking the boy in the face last week … Pence was gesturing while addressing the crowd when he bumped the boy, Michael Hererra-Yee, on the nose. Hererra-Yee politely but adamantly requested an apology from Pence, to which Pence eventually obliged. The incident sparked discussion on ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight,’ when Bruce said, ‘I guess we’re giving birth to snowflakes now, because that kid needed a safe space in that room.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Yale dean once championed cultural sensitivity. Then she called people ‘white trash’ on Yelp,” from Samantha Schmidt: “As the dean of Yale University’s Pierson College, June Chu [has a PhD in social psychology] and is responsible for advising about 500 students and fostering ‘a familiar, comfortable living environment’ … But the administrator’s seemingly supportive and culturally sensitive persona has been marred since Yale students came across her Yelp account. The posts … referred to customers as ‘white trash’ and ‘low class folks’ … ‘If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!’ Chu wrote in a review about a Japanese restaurant, which she said lacked authenticity but was perfect for ‘those low class folks who believe this is a real night out.’ In a 2015 review, she called a movie cinema’s employees ‘barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese and also try to add $7 plus $7.’”

 

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

– Back to the heat! And a LOT of it. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It actually feels pretty good early on today. Temperatures are refreshing and it’s not all that humid — yet. But as the morning wears on and especially into the afternoon, the sun beats down and it becomes hot and muggy. Highs are around 90 — and Washington’s record high for the date of 92 degrees from 1974 may be in play.”

– The Nationals beat the Pirates 8-4.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Here is our five-word acceptance speech from Monday night’s Webby Awards in New York:

Warren ripped into Trump during her speech at the CAP conference:

Schoolhouse rock for the Trump era:

Jimmy Kimmel weighs the pros and cons of working at the White House:

Stephen Colbert agrees with Trump on something:

And White House staffers have gone into hiding, he says:

The duckling ramp is here:

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