“Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face,” write Carol D. Leonnig, Ashley Parker, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger. “His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns. … All presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns. …
“Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. … Some note that the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a president from pardoning himself. On the other side, experts say that by definition a pardon is something you can only give to someone else. There is also a common-law canon that prohibits individuals from serving as a judge in their own case. … ‘This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,’ said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question. … No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it.” (Read the whole piece here. In a recent post on The Fix, several lawyers weighed in on whether Trump could pardon himself.)
-- Regardless of how serious these conversations are, someone who has nothing to hide typically is unlikely to query his lawyers about whether he can pardon himself…
That Trump might be mulling such a move, however, is not terribly surprising when viewed in the context of his career: He has often behaved like the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to him.
It is the same ethos that was on display when Trump boasted to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush in 2005 that he could get away with kissing, groping and propositioning married women. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on a hot mic. “You can do anything.”
He won despite the emergence of that video. Most Republican leaders quickly moved on.
Trump often acts like a man who has learned over his 71 years it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. When he fired James Comey as FBI director, which he admitted he did with the Russia investigation on his mind, he was caught off guard by the blowback. Perhaps it was partly because he’s accustomed to being able to get his way.
Soon after the November election, Trump flippantly brushed aside a question about the conflicts of interest that would inevitably arise from his business dealings. “The law’s totally on my side. The president can’t have a conflict of interest,” Trump said in one of his most Nixonian turns of phrase (and there have been many). “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There's never been a case like this.”
Defending his refusal to divest from his complicated holdings, he said voters knew what they were getting when they voted for him. “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world,” Trump tweeted during the transition.
Running the privately held Trump Organization, the president was not accountable to an independent board of directors. No one could fire him for making disastrous decisions because it was a family business. (Every time I write about Trump’s background in business, former chief executives at Fortune 500 companies complain to me that Trump didn’t have to deal with boards and audits the way they had to…)
When he took office six months ago, Trump himself now acknowledges that he did not understand the limitations of a president’s power to exert his will on the federal government. But it’s also pretty clear he still does not understand it.
In his sit-down with the New York Times in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump dubiously asserted a prerogative to order an FBI director to end any investigation for any reason at any time. He said he had the right to tell Comey to stop looking into Michael Flynn, though he continues to insist he did not do that. “Nothing was changed other than Richard Nixon came along,” Trump said. “Out of courtesy, the FBI started reporting to the Department of Justice. But there was nothing official. There was nothing from Congress. … But the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting.”
A NEW RED FLAG:
-- In ways big and small, the president continues to show disdain for the long-standing independence of the Justice Department and the rule of law.
CNN reported overnight that Trump personally interviewed his nominee to be U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia before tapping her. There are 93 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys, but this one is of special interest to Trump because she has jurisdiction over the capital city — where he obviously has a lot of personal interests at stake. “Jessie Liu, the current deputy general counsel for the Treasury Department who Trump tapped to be the next US attorney for the District of Columbia, disclosed in her responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she met with the President as part of her interview process,” Laura Jarrett scooped:
“According to multiple former US attorneys and several law enforcement sources … such a meeting with the President as part of the interview process would be virtually unheard of in past administrations. … Of the first seven US attorney nominees that Trump selected in June, only Liu said that she met with Trump. Other nominees described only meeting with Justice Department officials, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in their submissions.”
Barack Obama did not meet with his picks to lead the District’s U.S. attorney's office in 2009 and 2015 before their nomination. “It's wrong, and the reason it's wrong is that it serves to undermine the rule of law,” Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, told CNN. “This goes to the independence of the Justice Department” and “any effort by any president to diminish that is problematic.”
This is a big dang deal that should not get lost amid the even bigger stories. It raises a host of questions about what commitments Liu might or might not have made to the president and to what extent she would try to protect him once confirmed.
TRUMP SHAKES UP HIS LEGAL TEAM — AGAIN:
-- “Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday,” my colleagues report in their story on the pardons.
-- “The role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced,” the New York Times reports on this morning’s front page. “The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry. (Jay) Sekulow … will serve as Mr. Dowd’s deputy. Two people briefed on the new structure said it was created because the investigation is much more focused in Washington, where Mr. Dowd has a long history of dealing with the Justice Department. … The shake-up comes weeks after Mr. Dowd and Mr. Kasowitz had a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Mueller. … It is not unusual for lawyers to meet with prosecutors to establish a line of communication, or to encourage them to move quickly. Mr. Trump’s situation is unique, though, because of his team’s public threats that they could fire Mr. Mueller at any time.”
-- CBS White House correspondent Major Garrett goes further than the Times and reports that Kasowitz is “out,” not diminished.
WHAT THE SPECIAL COUNSEL IS UP TO:
-- Mueller is looking into possible money laundering by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the Wall Street Journal’s Erica Orden reports: “The inquiry into the issue by Mr. Mueller … and his team began several weeks ago … The Senate and House intelligence committees also are probing possible money laundering by Mr. Manafort[.] … Mr. Manafort has spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with properties in the U.S. over the past decade, including a Brooklyn, N.Y., townhouse and California properties being developed by his son-in-law[.]”
-- Mueller is also examining a “broad range” of Trump’s business transactions, as well as those of his associates, as part of his ongoing investigation, Bloomberg’s Greg Farrell and Christian Berthelsen report: “FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008 … Agents are also interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary, as well as the efforts of Jared Kushner … to secure financing for some of his family's real estate properties.”
-- Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley threatened to subpoena both Donald Jr. and Manafort if they do not voluntarily testify next week before his committee. CNN’s Manu Raju reports: “Trump Jr. and Manafort are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 26 ... but neither Manafort nor Trump Jr. have publicly confirmed if they will appear. ‘We sent the letter, I don't know whether they've accepted, but … I think we've indicated to them … that there will be a subpoena if they don't come,’ the Iowa Republican (said). ... ‘We are having a hearing next Wednesday, so obviously we want to hear right away so we can get the subpoena — I hope they accept the subpoena voluntarily, but if they don't then you have to have a marshal give it and that takes a little more time.’ The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, reiterated the subpoena threat as well.”
-- The Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, unanimously voted to advance Christopher Wray’s nomination to become the next director of the FBI.
-- Congressional Democrats involved in the Russia probes want Facebook to hand over any information they might have about collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin. CNN’s Tom LoBianco reports: “[Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee is] convinced [Facebook] can explain whether anyone from the Trump campaign helped Russians boost fake news articles targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Warner is testing the theory popular among Democratic operatives that Russia was behind spikes in fake news that were anti-Clinton and that Russia had help targeting those articles from US political operatives. … Likewise, House investigators plan to interview former Trump campaign digital director Brad Parscale as part of their probe. A Democratic committee source said they want to know whether Parscale or anyone else from the campaign helped guide Russian targeting of fake news stories.”
-- A former consultant to Trump’s campaign, Michael Caputo, is now warning other campaign officials against talking to the House for its Russia investigation. Karoun Demirjian reports: “‘I caution everyone against participating in closed hearings into this matter, because it’s starting to feel like a rigged game,’ Caputo said. … Caputo stressed that his ire is primarily directed toward the House Intelligence Committee, noting that he has ‘yet to see this kind of scurrilous activity at the Senate,’ and was thus ‘not ready to make this kind of judgment on the Senate.’”
-- On Fox News yesterday, legal talking head Andrew Napolitano – who told friends that he was on Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist — said that Donald Jr., Manafort and Jared Kushner should "say nothing” if they testify under oath before Congress. He urged all three to be careful to avoid incriminating themselves. "[As a lawyer], you don't want them denying something before they're accused,” he said, adding that their lawyers do not know what evidence Mueller might have.
UNDERMINED, BUT DETERMINED TO STAY:
-- Jeff Sessions said that he plans to stay on as attorney general, despite Trump’s remarks in an interview that he “would not have nominated Sessions” had he known he would recuse himself from the Russia probe. Robert Costa, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky report: “Sessions said he had the ‘honor of serving as attorney general,’ and he planned ‘to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.’ Asked whether he could keep running the Justice Department given Trump’s comments, he responded: ‘I’m totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way.’ But Sessions’s public expression of confidence masked deeper private tensions regarding his position in the administration and his rapport with a president who once turned to him as a confidant and policy guide. ... Sessions has rapidly lost his standing as one of Trump’s most trusted advisers and has drifted from the president’s inner circle …
“Trump has frequently cited Sessions’s recusal to aides in private as one of the reasons he thinks his administration is under siege on Russia matters, and (he) has vented to friends that Sessions’s decision has left him vulnerable to attack ... In recent weeks … Trump has turned to new legal advisers on those developments rather than his longtime ally Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse Trump … and [who] has felt increasingly isolated from the White House … The attorney general speaks less regularly with the president ... and instead has buried himself in his work at the Justice Department putting in place some of the policies Trump touted on the campaign trail, in essence remaining an ally but not a confidant.”
-- White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed the president still has confidence in Sessions. “[Clearly] he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general,” she said at another off-camera briefing. Asked if the attorney general serves the president or the constitution, Sanders replied, “Both.”
-- But Trump's move to publicly humiliate and hobble Sessions has had a “CHILLING” effect inside the White Wing, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Dan Merica report. “Conversations with the official and one top Republican in frequent contact with the West Wing show a president who has long been angry with Sessions' decision to recuse himself ... but rather than subsiding and moving on as Trump sometimes does, the anger has grown into a passionate rage. ‘No one was more loyal than Sessions. No one,’ a White House official said ... The thinking goes: If this kind could happen to Sessions, it could happen to anyone. One official described the President's blasting of Sessions as only intensifying the already low morale inside the West Wing.”
-- For Trump, nothing is more important than loyalty. But it's always been a one-way street. And he's repeatedly blamed others for problems of his own making throughout his career. Abby Phillip explains: “The (Sessions) episode seems to vividly capture a Trump trait that is familiar to many of his aides, including [Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus] — all of whom have at one time fallen out of Trump’s good graces. In business and in politics, people who do not measure up might be at risk of losing their jobs, no matter how loyal they have been to Trump. Those closest to him have come to accept this as a reality of his leadership style. Some even remain loyal to Trump after being discarded, knowing he may call on them again in the future … In [the biography] ‘Trump Revealed,’ … a former employee recalled a seminal incident in the early 1990s when the opening week of Trump’s Taj Mahal casino … teetered on the brink of disaster. Trump [promised] to fire any employees who contributed to the failure. He even sought to blame the casino’s problems on the staff connected to a Trump deputy who had recently died in a helicopter crash.”
HOW THE SESSIONS DONNYBROOK IS PLAYING:
-- Trump's comments to the New York Times represent “a stunning vote of no-confidence” in all of federal law enforcement, Benjamin Wittes argues on Lawfare. “His complaint? They’re all, in different ways, not serving him. And serving him, he makes clear, is their real job. … He twice describes Sessions’s [recusal] decision as ‘unfair to the president,’ seemingly unaware that his recusal was almost surely compelled by Justice Department recusal rules. That is, the President is openly expressing bitterness toward his attorney general for following the rules — because the rules don’t favor Trump’s interests ... He [made it perfectly clear that] Sessions’s job is, in his mind, a personal service contract to him and that if Sessions couldn’t deliver on service to Trump, he shouldn't have taken the position. ... It’s a chilling interview — chilling because of the portrait it paints of presidential paranoia, chilling for its monomaniacal view of the relationship between the president and law enforcement, and chilling for what it says about Trump’s potential readiness to interfere with the Mueller investigation.”
-- “The more Donald Trump says about his view of loyalty and limits, the more he sounds not like a character from John Adams or Lincoln but instead from The Sopranos,” James Fallows writes in The Atlantic.
-- “Six months into his presidency, foundational republican concepts remain as foreign as ever to Trump,” New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes. “He believes the entire federal government owes its personal loyalty to him, and that the office of the presidency is properly a vehicle for personal and familial enrichment. If the rule of law survives this era intact, it will only be because the president is too inept to undermine it.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Trump is expected to tap Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director. Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports: “Trump has left the role open since Mike Dubke resigned in May, and the President has vented frequently to his friends about the performance of his press operation. Trump's plans to appoint Scaramucci came as a surprise to [Reince Priebus], who found out after the plans had already been made. ‘Mooch,’ as he's known to friends, is a major Republican donor who supported Trump during the general election campaign — after fundraising during the primaries for Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. He frequently appears on Fox News and is a longtime friend of Sean Hannity. Scaramucci recently sold his stake in his hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, but was left stranded after an initially planned job in the White House didn't materialize.”
GET SMART FAST:
- O.J. Simpson was granted parole after a four-member board voted unanimously to curtail his 33-year prison sentence for a 2007 kidnapping and armed-robbery conviction. He could be released as early as Oct. 1. (Dan Zak)
At least two people were killed by an earthquake that struck near major Greek and Turkish tourist destinations. Another 100 people were injured. (Reuters)
President Trump is expected to nominate a former Bush administration diplomat as ambassador to Germany. Richard Grenell would also be the first openly LGBT ambassador nominee. (AP)
Bank of America vice chairman Anne Finucane is under consideration to become Uber’s next CEO. The ride-sharing giant has reportedly been hoping to find a female CEO after a lot of bad press tied to sexual harassment and gender discrimination allegations. (Axios)
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges called it “unacceptable” that no body camera footage exists of the police-involved shooting that took Justine Damond’s life. Neither officer present activated their body cameras until after the shooting. (Mark Berman)
Americans, and women in particular, are paying more attention to politics since Trump’s election. According to a new Pew poll, 58 percent of women say they are paying more attention as well as 46 percent of men. (Pew Research Center)
- A group of five Florida teens who filmed and taunted a disabled man as he drowned and screamed for help will not be charged in his death. In the video, the teenagers — aged 14 to 16 — can be heard laughing as the 32-year-old father of two began to drown. They told him he was “going to die,” and that they were not going to help him. (Alex Horton)
- Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, was found dead in his California home in an apparent suicide. His gritty rap-metal band had released a new music video just hours before. (Elahe Izadi)
- In 2015, 8-year-old Zion Harvey became the world’s youngest recipient of a double-hand transplant. Two years later, the procedure appears to be a success — a new hospital report said Zion is able to write, feed and dress himself independently. He’s even achieved one of his biggest goals: swinging a baseball bat on his own. (Amy B Wang)
The FDA is coordinating a recall of a coffee brand because it includes an ingredient structurally similar to the active ingredient in Viagra. The government agency worried that "New of Kopi Jantan Tradisional Natural Herbs Coffee" could dangerously lower consumers’ blood pressure. (Alex Horton)
THE RUSSIA NEWS ABOUNDS:
-- Time Magazine's Massimo Calabresi got some new details on the Obama administration’s secret plan to counter Russian-election hacking: “[Barack Obama’s] White House quietly produced a plan in October to counter a possible Election Day cyber attack that included extraordinary measures like sending armed federal law enforcement agents to polling places, mobilizing components of the military and launching counter-propaganda efforts. The 15-page plan … stipulates that ‘in almost all potential cases of malicious cyber activity impacting election infrastructure, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments’ would have primary jurisdiction to respond. The plan allowed for the deployment of ‘armed federal law enforcement agents’ to polling places …. It also foresaw the deployment of ‘Active and Reserve’ military forces and members of the National Guard … For three days after the election, a special interagency effort would be tasked with addressing ‘any post-election cyber incidents,’ including ‘planted stories calling into question the results.’ The plan reflects how thoroughly the Russian effort to undermine public confidence in the U.S. electoral system had succeeded.”
-- Awkward: “Two of [Trump’s] most senior cabinet members became embroiled Thursday in an unusual legal battle over whether ExxonMobil under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s leadership violated U.S. sanctions against Russia,” Damian Paletta and Carol Morello report. “Treasury officials fined ExxonMobil $2 million Thursday morning for signing eight business agreements in 2014 with Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Rosneft, an energy giant partially owned by the Russian government. The business agreements came less than a month after the United States banned companies from doing business with him. Hours after the fine was announced, Exxon filed a legal complaint against the Treasury Department — naming Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as the lead defendant — while calling the actions ‘unlawful’ and ‘fundamentally unfair.’ … Trump sought to stack his cabinet with titans of industry, hoping that their corporate expertise would help them confront global problems.”
JOHN MCCAIN WILL BE BACK AND STILL HAS HIS TRADEMARK SNARK:
-- “A day after announcing that he is combating a brain tumor, Sen. John McCain used his signature snark to warn colleagues that he will be returning soon to Washington — and chastised the Trump administration for ending assistance to moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad,” Ed O’Keefe, Sean Sullivan and Karoun Demirjian report. “'I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support — unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I’ll be back soon, so stand-by!’ McCain tweeted Thursday morning, just hours after his office confirmed that he has been diagnosed with a tumor called a glioblastoma … In a separate statement, McCain blasted reports that [Trump] is ending the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling Assad’s government, a move long sought by Russia. If true, ‘the administration is playing right into the hands of [Putin],’ McCain said in the statement. ‘Making any concession to Russia, absent a broader strategy for Syria, is irresponsible and shortsighted.’
“When McCain might return to Washington, however, remains in doubt. The Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, which diagnosed McCain, said that the senator and his family are considering treatment options, including a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.”
-- “Sometimes fierce opponents, sometimes mischief-making partners, [Ted] Kennedy and McCain helped define what the modern Senate could be, or at least should be,” Paul Kane writes. “Learning from more senior colleagues such as Kennedy, McCain has become a force unto himself in Congress, a power center with more sway on some issues at times than whoever holds the title of Senate majority leader. There is no other senator in the rank and file who wields that much clout. The last to do so was Kennedy. … Theirs was an unlikely pairing. … But they both came from dynasties in which they played the role of the underperforming ne’er-do-well. … Together, Kennedy and McCain found common cause in the Senate, and there, in many ways, they forged bigger legacies than anyone in their respective families. Combined, their service adds up to 77 years, and counting, in the chamber.”
WHAT A MESS:
-- A statement that is quickly becoming evergreen in 2017: Senate Republicans’ health-care efforts have stalled. Mitch McConnell still plans to hold a vote early next week, but senators have expressed confusion on which bill will be on tap. Kelsey Snell and Amy Goldstein report: “Senators left town for the weekend under a cloud of confusion after [McConnell] reopened talks on a discarded plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act under heavy pressure from President Trump. The White House intervention sparked a flurry of meetings and activity, but the rush produced no new evidence that the bill can pass. … By week’s end, leaders had returned to a repeal-and-replace strategy at Trump’s behest. On Thursday, most GOP senators could not say what legislation they expected to vote on next week, and skeptics appeared no closer to backing the new plan.”
- In a true sign of the times, Rand Paul suggested a random drawing to determine the order in which the Senate would vote on the repeal-and-replace bill, the repeal-only bill and the Cassidy-Graham bill. (Vox’s Dylan Scott)
-- “A harsh reality is setting in among Senate Republicans: They're extremely unlikely to repeal Obamacare in the coming days,” Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn, Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim report. “Republicans felt somewhat buoyed by Wednesday’s White House meeting and late-night senators-only gathering, which left them feeling as though they’re making progress and that nearly every GOP senator is trying to get to yes. But the math is increasingly working against them[.] … One persistent critic, [Rand Paul], said he might vote to proceed to the bill after saying he wouldn't for several weeks. … But besides Paul cracking the door open, there was little other evident movement after Wednesday. … Indeed, privately several senators say they don’t see the configurations of a bill that gets them to 50 votes. Aides working on the bill were equally downbeat.”
-- The latest turmoil came amid another disappointing report from the CBO on the Senate’s second repeal-and-replace bill — but, critically, the CBO did not consider the Cruz amendment in its score. Amy Goldstein reports: “Congressional budget analysts say a plan that [McConnell] pulled from consideration this week would increase the ranks of the uninsured by 22 million a decade from now — the same as a previous version. … This version would have a greater impact on lowering the federal deficit[.] … The change is largely because the new plan would keep more Affordable Care Act taxes. The CBO also says that the most recent version would cause a slightly slower erosion of health coverage — with 15 million fewer Americans predicted to be insured in 2018, compared with current law. That would be 2 million fewer losing insurance next year than under an earlier form of the legislation.”
- To recap, the CBO has now said that the Senate’s two versions of repeal-and-replace would both result in 22 million fewer insured Americans, while the repeal-only bill would leave an additional 32 million Americans without insurance. In comparison, the version the House passed would have an impact of 23 million fewer insured Americans.
-- Trump has attempted to scare Senate Republicans into supporting virtually any measure that stood a chance of making it to his desk. But, with a lack of convincing leverage, Trump’s efforts have fallen short. The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman report: “[Trump] has proved simply too unpopular nationally — polling at 36 to 40 percent approval this week — too weak in many senators’ home states, too erratic and too disengaged from the details of governing to harness his party, as other new presidents have. … [Some Republican senators] have come to believe that their constituents, even the most conservative ones, are more loyal to them than to Mr. Trump. … A Republican senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wanted to preserve his relationship with Mr. Trump, put it more bluntly. The president, he said, scares no one in the Senate, not even the pages.”
-- Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is pushing a plan to use the ACA’s taxes to help cover out-of-pocket costs for those who would be pushed off Medicaid. But Sen. Susan Collins was skeptical of the idea, given the funds provided would fall far short of the Medicaid cuts the GOP bill proposes. (Wall Street Journal’s Louise Radnofsky and Kristina Peterson)
-- “Team Trump Used Obamacare Money to Run PR Effort Against It,” by the Daily Beast’s Sam Stein: “The Trump administration has spent taxpayer money meant to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act on a public relations campaign aimed at methodically strangling it. … The strategy has caught the eye of legal experts and Democrats in Congress, who have asked government agencies to investigate whether the administration has misused funds and engaged in covert propaganda[.] … Under Secretary Tom Price’s stewardship, HHS has filmed and produced a series of testimonial videos featuring individuals claiming to have been harmed by Obamacare. … Funding for those videos would come from the Department’s ‘consumer information and outreach’ budget, which was previously used for the purposes of advertising the ACA and encouraging enrollment."
-- “Is President Trump trying to beat Republican Jeff Flake next year? Flake doesn’t care,” by Paul Kane: “[Flake] has been planning for a conservative primary challenger for several years, particularly after joining the unsuccessful 2013 bid to revamp immigration laws and create a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. Now, however, Flake finds himself battling not just conservatives in the August 2018 Republican primary but also the constant chatter that President Trump is out to knock him off because of their clashes during the 2016 campaign. … Flake has decided to stay the course and remain a Trump antagonist whenever he feels that the president has crossed a line. ‘I have no doubt I can make my life, as far as reelection, a lot easier if I was just a go-along-to-get-along guy. But, you know, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to be here if you’re not going to try to accomplish something,’ Flake said.”
-- U.S. government will ban its citizens from traveling to North Korea as tourists starting next month, the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Cheng reports. “The U.S. [is expected to] make the announcement on Thursday next week, with the ban to take effect 30 days later, in late August. It is unclear whether the travel ban would also apply to humanitarian and educational work in North Korea.”
-- ON SECOND THOUGHT: Trump said during a Pentagon meeting yesterday that he may hold off on sending additional troops to Afghanistan. Greg Jaffe reports: “Asked if he would send more troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban have made significant gains in recent months, Trump replied: ‘We’ll see. And we’re doing very well against ISIS. ISIS is falling fast.’ The fight against the Islamic State in Afghanistan is only a tiny piece of the broader battle in the country to stabilize Afghanistan’s faltering central government and slow the Taliban’s battlefield momentum. Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority more than a month ago to send as many as 3,900 additional troops to Afghanistan on top of the 8,500 currently there. … But Mattis has yet to send those additional forces and some U.S. officials have speculated that either he or the White House could be having second thoughts.”
-- CONFLICT OF INTEREST ALERT: As Trump touts“Made in America” week, two of the president’s properties in Florida are seeking to hire more foreign workers. BuzzFeed’s Jeremy Singer-Vine, Jessica Garrison and Ken Bensinger report: “[Mar-A-Lago] is asking the government for permission to hire 70 temporary foreign workers as cooks, servers, and housekeepers … The nearby Trump National Golf Club, Jupiter, has requested permission to hire an additional six foreign cooks. Trump has frequently urged US companies to hire American workers … But for his own Mar-A-Lago club, he has also defended hiring foreign workers by saying that it is ‘very, very hard to get help’ during the Florida tourist season. If the labor department approves the requests, Trump’s clubs will be allowed to employ the workers from October 2017 through May 2018 via the H-2B visa program — a program that the Trump administration announced this week it would expand. Since Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, businesses owned by him or bearing his name have sought to hire at least 370 foreign guest workers …”
- David Fahrenthold adds: “Now, the Labor Department — which reports to Trump — must make decisions that will affect two for-profit business that the president still owns. The next step, a Department of Labor spokesman said, is that the two clubs must take steps to try to recruit American workers for these jobs. … If those efforts are unsuccessful, then Trump's clubs can ask for the Department of Labor to certify that it has tried and failed to hire Americans.”
-- Sketchy: Kushner’s family’s business is still using his White House status to win Chinese investors for a New Jersey development, despite having apologized for doing so previously. CNN’s Drew Griffin and Curt Devine report: “References to Kushner are part of online promotions by two businesses that are working with Kushner Companies to find Chinese investors willing to invest in the 1 Journal Square development in exchange for a US visa. The promotions are posted in Chinese and refer to Kushner Companies as ‘real estate heavyweights,’ going on to mention ‘the celebrity of the family is 30-something ‘Mr. Perfect’ Jared Kushner, who once served as CEO of Kushner Companies.’ One posted online in May by the company US Immigration Fund, a private business based in Florida, also contains a reference to Kushner's appearance on the cover of December's Forbes Magazine, under the headline ‘This guy got Trump elected.’ The post was removed shortly after CNN contacted the company for comment.”
-- A GAG ORDER: Mark Zuckerberg flew to Glacier National Park to witness the effects that climate change has had on Montana’s northern Rockies but days before his visit, the Trump administration abruptly intervened and removed two of the park’s top climate experts from the those who would be showing him around. Lisa Rein reports. “The decision to micromanage Zuckerberg’s stop in Montana … made by top officials at the Interior Department … was highly unusual — even for a celebrity visit. It capped days of internal discussions — including conference calls and multiple emails — among top Interior Department and Park Service officials about how much the park should roll out the welcome mat for Zuckerberg … Interior Department press secretary Heather Swift made it clear that she did not want Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow involved in the tour ... And the Park Service’s public affairs staff was instructed not to post anything about Zuckerberg’s visit on its Facebook or other social media accounts, including sharing a Facebook post he wrote during the visit in which he registered his alarm at the shrinking glaciers at the park …”
-- The Justice Department, meanwhile, dropped a requirement that Harley-Davidson pay $3 million to fight air pollution, which was part of a settlement reached with the Obama administration for selling illegal "Screamin' Eagle" motorcycle tuners. It is the first time DOJ followed through on a new policy overturning Obama-era penalties meant at offering redress. (Sintia Radu)
-- “A federal judge in California has denied a request by the Trump administration to remove an injunction halting President Donald Trump's executive order on so-called sanctuary cities from being implemented,” Politico’s Cristiano Lima reports. “The move further thwarts the Trump White House's attempt to effectively penalize cities providing safe haven to undocumented immigrants by threatening to strip them of federal funding.”
-- “The White House’s Office of Management and Budget detailed Thursday how it would jettison hundreds of existing or planned regulations as part of its larger push to ease federal restrictions on the private sector, upending federal policies on labor, the environment and public health,” Juliet Eilperin and Damian Paletta report. “In several instances, the administration is dropping rules aimed at tightening worker safety standards or omitting species the government had pledged to protect under the Endangered Species Act. In other cases, it is proposing new regulations that provide employers with more leeway in how they run their businesses or report their activities to federal officials. … Consumer and worker advocates countered that Trump officials were scrapping critical government safeguards, and the implications of these actions could ripple across the country for years.”
-- The feud between Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten intensified yesterday. Valerie Strauss reports: “On Thursday, Weingarten gave a blistering speech at her union’s convention in Washington, calling DeVos an ‘ideologue who wants to destabilize and privatize the public schools that millions of Americans value and rely upon.’ A few hours later, DeVos went after the teachers unions — and the AFT, in particular — in a speech she gave in Denver to the American Legislative Executive Council, a powerful conservative organization of lobbyists and state legislators. DeVos accused the unions of being ‘defenders of the status quo’ who care only about ‘school systems’ and not about individual children.”
-- Attorneys general from 19 states and D.C. are asking Trump to keep DACA in place and are offering to help defend it in court. Maria Sacchetti reports: “Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the group of Democrats is twice the size of the 10-state coalition of Republican officials that have threatened to sue the Trump administration if it does not start to phase out the program by Sept. 5. … Becerra and the other state attorneys general said in their letter that DACA had transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, allowing them to earn college degrees, forge careers and boost their spending power. Rescinding the program, they said, could cost American businesses ‘billions’ in turnover costs.”
-- A handful of House Republicans are trying to revive efforts to bar the Pentagon from funding gender reassignment surgeries for transgender troops. Rachael Bade reports: "A mix of GOP defense hawks and conservatives are urging Speaker Paul Ryan and his team to use a procedural trick to automatically include the controversial proposal in a spending package set for floor consideration next week." If Ryan doesn't go along with things, they want him to consider an amendment that "would end a President Barack Obama-era policy that let the Defense Department pay for gender reassignment surgeries and treatments for transgender active-duty personnel. Last week, 24 mostly moderate Republicans teamed up with 190 Democrats to kill the effort to end the policy[.] … But some Republicans can’t let it go. They’re urging leadership to tuck the provision into a rules package governing the GOP’s appropriation legislation, ensuring it would become part of the text without another vote. Or, if that won't work, they want leadership to let them try to pass it again.”
-- The fight over the controversial amendment points to a larger fissure within the GOP as it prepares to go home for an August recess with no major legislative victories under its belt. The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer writes: “Instead of preparing for a month at home of crowing about the accomplishments of a unified government, Republicans have been diminished to trying to confirm relatively minor nominees — Democrats are stalling them — and getting a spending bill or two passed."
-- A bipartisan pair of senators is also trying to convince Trump to support a legislative push that would protect DACA’s beneficiaries. Maria Sacchetti reports: “Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) introduced ‘Dream Act’ legislation that would grant permanent legal status to more than 1 million young people who arrived in the United States before they turned 18, passed security checks and met other criteria ... ‘I am hoping we can find a pathway forward with President Trump,’ Graham said at a news conference. ‘Wouldn’t it be ironic if the man who started his campaign talking about illegal immigration in a very tough way would be the man who started the country on a path to solving the problem?’”
-- In another bipartisan display, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) penned a New York Times op-ed on overhauling the bail system to slash the prison population: “Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail. Whether someone stays in jail or not is far too often determined by wealth or social connections, even though just a few days behind bars can cost people their job, home, custody of their children — or their life. As criminal justice groups work to change sentencing and mandatory minimum laws, we must also reform a bail system that is discriminatory and wasteful.”
-- The Koch-backed political group Americans for Prosperity is planning to kick off a multiday campaign in support of overhauling the tax code in the closest collaboration yet with the Trump administration. Politico’s Maggie Severns reports: “The event will feature House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, an ally of the Koch network who has been vocal on tax reform. Though the Koch network was often at odds with [Trump] during the 2016 election, AFP sees areas for agreement with the White House on tax reform. The group has been in frequent contact with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — whose chief of staff Eli Miller is a former AFP employee — and it praised Trump’s initial tax plan earlier this year. ‘We’re hoping to help them pass what we think is this real transformational reform,’ AFP COO Sean Lansing said in an interview. ‘As long as they stick to the plan they outlined earlier this year and remain committed to not including a (border-adjustment tax), we’re going to be very supportive of that plan.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Tributes to John McCain continued to pour in from family members, colleagues and journalists:
From a Times reporter:
And McCain himself thanked everyone for the well wishes:
The White House supposedly approved this super fast hyperloop transportation system between New York and Washington:
But Musk noted that there's "still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval":
From a columnist for the Economist:
A Reuters correspondent noted this:
Brown's campaign manager seized on Mandel's embrace of such fringe elements:
CNN offered this stark assessment of Trump's first six months in office:
A lot can change in 24 years:
From the Trump Organization:
Sen. Orrin Hatch poked fun at his own age:
And the Times looked back on a pivotal anniversary:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Politico, “Steve Bannon’s disappearing act,” by Eliana Johnson and Annie Karni: “Steve Bannon has largely disappeared from the White House’s most sensitive policy debates — a dramatic about-face for an operative once characterized as the most powerful man in Washington. … Whereas Bannon was, not long ago, a near-constant presence in the Oval Office … he now spends hours camped out at the conference table in the office of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, reading the news or working on his phone[.] … Bannon is back in the headlines thanks to the publication this week of Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Joshua Green’s book, ‘The Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency,’ which depicts Bannon as a driving force behind Trump’s campaign and the early stages of his administration. The president is ‘livid’ about the book.”
-- Bloomberg Businessweek, “The Sinclair Revolution Will Be Televised. It’ll Just Have Low Production Values,” by Felix Gillette: “Sinclair is the nation’s largest owner of broadcast TV stations. It has 173 of them, mostly in small markets (Sioux City, Iowa; Fresno, Calif.; Little Rock), but with several in larger metropolitan areas as well (Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Washington). Whatever a particular station’s network affiliation — ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, or NBC — Sinclair viewers get a steady dose of conservative political commentary. … To left-leaning viewers only just becoming aware of the company’s reach, Sinclair is positioned to flip a switch and turn those 173 stations’ newscasts — currently delivering bulletins on weather, school closings, and local affairs — into a cohesive network that pushes a Fox News-esque worldview of outrage and conflict into individual cities, counties, and towns.”
-- Los Angeles Times, “How an ex-FBI profiler helped put an innocent man behind bars,” by Marisa Gerber: “Exasperated, Jeffrey Ehrlich paused the true-crime television show every couple of minutes. The same thought kept running through the attorney’s mind: ‘No, that's wrong.’ The episode of ‘Killer Instinct’ highlighted how the work of a retired FBI profiler had helped convict Ehrlich’s client of killing an 18-year-old woman in a Palmdale parking lot. [But] there were no fingerprints left behind, no murder weapon. … [And Ehrlich] thought the episode — titled ‘Sudden Death’ — needed a new name: ‘Here’s How We Convicted an Innocent Man of Murder.’ … The wrongful conviction has renewed questions about the credibility of profiling and focused attention on the role played by Safarik, the star of the season-long television show ‘Killer Instinct,’ whose testimony was considered crucial at Jennings’ trial.”
-- The Hollywood Reporter, “Lessons Learned From Roger Ailes One Year After His Fox Firing,” by Michael Wolff: “There were two different Americas located in different worlds and different times, ever-more unrecognizable to each other — that was Ailes' political and business insight, which Trump has now carried to a stunning conclusion. Ironically for Ailes, Murdoch senior had built his fortune cultivating one of those worlds — presciently using Ailes' talents to cultivate it — but his aspirational sons now saw their future in the other.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Breitbart Editor: The Goal Is The ‘Full Destruction And Elimination Of The Entire Mainstream Media,’” from Right Wing Watch: “At yesterday’s Phyllis Schlafly Collegians D.C. Summit, an event for college students hosted by the late Schlafly’s group Eagle Forum, Breitbart’s Washington political editor Matt Boyle boasted that his publication’s goal is to completely destroy and eliminate the ‘mainstream media,’ leaving Brietbart and other fringe organizations as the only available media outlets. ‘The goal eventually is the full destruction and elimination of the entire mainstream media,’ Boyle said. ‘We envision a day where CNN is no longer in business; we envision a day where The New York Times closes its doors. I think that day is possible, I think that we can get there.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Nearly half of liberals don’t even like to be around Trump supporters,” from Aaron Blake: “Liberals don't just hate President Trump; lots of them don't even like the idea of being in the company of his supporters. That's the big takeaway from a new Pew Research Center survey, which is just the latest indicator of our remarkably tribal and partisan politics. And when it comes to Trump, it's difficult to overstate just how tribal the left is and how much distaste he engenders. … The poll shows almost half of liberal Democrats — 47 percent — say that if a friend supported Trump, it would actually put a strain on their friendship.”
Trump has a credentials ceremony for newly appointed ambassadors in the morning and a visit with survivors of the USS Arizona in the afternoon, where Pence will join him.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, on whether senators should know what the plan is on health care before voting to bring it to the floor next week: “That’s a luxury we don’t have.” (The comment struck some observers as reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s 2010 comment on Obamacare, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it,” for which she was pilloried on the right.)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- It is once again hot, hot, hot in D.C. today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Continue to take it easy, as heat index values may once again end up around 105. Under hazy skies with a mix of sunshine, temperatures should still eye the mid- to upper 90s. … A slight (20 percent) chance of afternoon storms won’t give us much hope for a cool-off.”
-- Even politicians can’t stop talking about D.C.’s unbearable heat this week. ““When I moved to Sacramento I thought I knew everything about humidity,” said Rep. Tom McClintock of California. “Then I came to Washington, and there’s a sort of weather you can wear.” (T. Rees Shapiro)
-- The District issued twice as many speed camera tickets last year compared to 2015. Nearly a million tickets brought in almost $100 million in revenue for the city. (Peter Jamison)
-- Ed Gillespie is embracing Trump in a new way. Laura Vozzella reports: “Since launching his bid for Virginia governor, the establishment Republican had treated the man in the White House like a Voldemortian unmentionable. … Then Gillespie nearly lost the June 13 GOP primary to a Trump-style populist, Corey Stewart. And ever since, senior Republicans have been pushing him to embrace the president and hire some of Trump’s strategists to shore up the Republican base ahead of November’s election.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert revealed the reason for his trip to Russia — to visit a hotel room connected to a certain dossier:
The president suffered a mishap during a product demonstration:
Health reporters from The Post explain John McCain's type of cancer:
The Post recaps some of McCain's most courageous political moments:
Deedra Abboud, a Muslim-American candidate running against Sen. Flake in Arizona, addressed hate speech:
Taiwanese legislators fought over the budget — with water balloons:
And a boy in New Mexico discovered a million-year-old fossil: