With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Last night’s news that Robert S. Mueller III has begun using a grand jury in federal court in Washington, as part of his investigation into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, further boxes in the president and makes it more politically difficult to justify firing the special counsel.

-- If President Trump ever lost the support of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), he just might be doomed. A former state House speaker, Tillis is a reliable Republican apparatchik whose vote party leadership can count on. So it was a big deal yesterday when he introduced legislation with a Democratic colleague, Chris Coons (Del.), to prevent Trump from firing Mueller without cause.

Tillis, known as a savvy political strategist, is clearly thinking ahead to what he realizes will be a very difficult reelection campaign in 2020. “It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” he said in a news release.

The first-term senator toppled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in one of the nastiest and most expensive races of the 2014 midterm cycle. Trump carried the Tar Heel State last November by 4 points, and everyone expects it will be one of the key battlegrounds next time. “Our polls and others have found that Tillis has never been able to strengthen his position after going into office unpopular on the heels of winning a 'lesser of two evils' election where he got by largely based on the political climate,” said Raleigh-based Democratic pollster Tom Jensen, who runs Public Policy Polling. “The landscape is likely to be a lot different in 2020 unless things really turn around for the Trump administration, so it's wise for Tillis to take steps that might make him look like 'not just another Republican' to appeal to Democrats and independents. Democrats still have about a 10-point registration advantage in North Carolina. So some reasonable threshold of crossover support is necessary for Tillis to win, and he hasn't done a lot since getting elected that crosses across party lines. This seems like a smart step in that direction for him.”

North Carolina’s other Republican senator, Richard Burr, has already been leading the intelligence committee’s inquest into Russian interference. And many in the state remain proud of the role that the late Sen. Sam Ervin famously played during the Watergate investigation.

-- Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced a separate proposal of their own yesterday to protect Mueller. “The two proposals … each seek to check the executive branch’s ability to fire a special counsel, by putting the question to a three-judge panel from the federal courts. They differ in when that panel gets to weigh in on the decision,” Karoun Demirjian explains. “Tillis and Coons’ proposal would let the firing proceed according to current regulations … but the fired special counsel would have the right to contest the administration’s decision in court. In that scenario, the judges panel would have two weeks from the day the special counsel’s case is filed to complete their review and determine whether the termination was acceptable. … Both senators, as well as Graham, said they expect they may merge their efforts after lawmakers return to Washington in September. … The lawmakers are not expecting that the president will like or support either proposal … But they say they are convinced that there is enough support to pass such a law, even over Trump’s objections.

-- Just how little do Senate Republicans trust Trump at this point? Before adjourning for summer recess yesterday afternoon, the chamber agreed by unanimous consent to block the president from being able to make any recess appointments while they’re out of town.

This was done so that Trump cannot fire Jeff Sessions as attorney general and then appoint someone without Senate confirmation who would be willing to fire Mueller. Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe after not being forthcoming during his confirmation hearing about contacts he had during the campaign with the Russian government. That leaves the decision over whether to fire Mueller to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who says he would not do it without cause. But if Trump replaced Sessions with a new AG who was not conflicted out, that person could ax Mueller.

To head that off, GOP leaders scheduled nine “pro-forma” sessions over the next month. In other words, the Senate will be gaveled in for roughly a minute or so every three days between now and when lawmakers return after Labor Day. Legally this means that they will not be adjourned, The Hill explains.

Republicans used this same tactic last year to prevent Barack Obama from trying to put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court with a recess appointment.

-- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a friend of Sessions, already said last week that he would not make time in the Senate schedule to consider a new attorney general nominee.

-- There are other reasons that Sessions also appears safe for now. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called the AG on Saturday to tell him that his job is secure, per the Associated Press. He reassured him that the president does not plan to go through with firing him, even though he just spent the better part of two weeks publicly pressuring him to resign almost every day. If Trump tried to oust Mueller, would Gen. Kelly really put his own integrity on the line and be a party to that? Or would he pack his bags?

-- Trump is Trump, though, so you can never say never.

During a rally in West Virginia last night, the defiant president dismissed allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia as “a total fabrication.” “It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics,” he said. “Trump made no mention of Mueller in his remarks but seemed to reference his and congressional investigations into the matter, saying: ‘I just hope the final determination is truly an honest one,’per John Wagner. “He said that instead of looking at his campaign, prosecutors should be looking into his Democratic opponent from last year … The crowd chanted ‘lock her up!’ in return.

-- Reacting to reports about the grand jury on Fox News last night, meanwhile, Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow insisted that “the president is not thinking about firing Robert Mueller.” “So the speculation that’s out there is just incorrect,” he told Neil Cavuto.

Every time a Trump lawyer or White House official says something like that publicly, it’s harder to justify getting rid of Mueller down the road. A good case would be made that the president changed his mind because of some meaningful development in the investigation. That would look like Trump is trying to interfere with the justice system, which would further inflame public opinion against him. Again, that doesn’t mean the president would not take his chances and try such a gambit if he was really desperate. But there’s now a batch of clips like this one from Sekulow on Fox that would be difficult to explain away.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GRAND JURY:

-- The Wall Street Journal’s Del Quentin Wilber and Byron Tau scooped that Mueller impaneled the grand jury several weeks ago and described it as “a sign that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is ramping up and that it will likely continue for months”: “Before Mr. Mueller was tapped in May to be special counsel, federal prosecutors had been using at least one other grand jury, located in Alexandria, Va., to assist in their criminal investigation of Michael Flynn … That probe, which has been taken over by Mr. Mueller’s team, focuses on Mr. Flynn’s work in the private sector on behalf of foreign interests. ‘This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel,’ said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck. ‘If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.’”

-- Reuters added that the grand jury has already agreed to issue subpoenas in connection with the June 2016 meeting that included Trump's son, son-in-law and a Russian lawyer. Karen Freifeld and John Walcott did not specify who specifically got the subpoenas.

-- The Post swiftly confirmed the Journal’s reporting. Carol D. Leonnig, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky elaborate: “A White House adviser said the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had not received subpoenas, nor had the White House. Members of the president’s legal team met with Mueller three weeks ago to express their desire to work with his investigators. Ty Cobb, whom Trump appointed as White House special counsel, said of the grand jury: ‘This is news to me, but it’s welcome news to the extent it suggests that it may accelerate the resolution of Mr. Mueller’s work. The White House has every interest in bringing this to a prompt and fair conclusion. As we’ve said in the past, we’re committed to cooperating fully with Mr. Mueller.’

“In federal cases, a grand jury is not necessarily an indication that an indictment is imminent or even likely. Instead, it is a powerful investigative tool that prosecutors use to compel witnesses to testify or force people or companies to turn over documents.”

Carol, Sari and Matt outline four reasons Mueller might have chosen to use a grand jury in the District, instead of sticking with the one in Alexandria, Va.:

  1. The special counsel’s office is located in Southwest D.C. — much closer to the federal courthouse in the city ...  
  2. Mueller also had previously worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C., giving him some familiarity with the courthouse and the judges …
  3. Many of the potential crimes Mueller’s team is investigating would have occurred in the District, such as allegations that Trump aides or advisers made false statements in disclosure records or lied to federal agents. The Post has previously reported that Mueller is investigating whether the president tried to obstruct justice leading up to his firing of (James) Comey. …
  4. “Others said the choice could reflect Mueller’s reputation for planning ahead and gaming out a possible trial. He could have better chances convicting aides to Trump in a city in which 90 percent of voters supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.”

-- Federal investigators “have seized on Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward,” CNN’s Evan Perez, Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz also reported yesterday: “Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies. … Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel … The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said. … [The] FBI is reviewing financial records related to the Trump Organization, as well as Trump, his family members, including Donald Trump Jr., and campaign associates. They've combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen years. They've looked at the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump surrounding the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. CNN could not determine whether the review has included his tax returns.”

-- Meanwhile, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told several top officials at the bureau to consider themselves “possible witnesses” in any investigation into whether Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. Vox’s Murray Waas reports: “McCabe has told colleagues that he too is a potential witness in the probe of whether Trump broke the law by trying to thwart the FBI's Russia investigation … Two senior federal law enforcement officials have told me that the new revelations illustrate why they believe the potential case against Trump is stronger than outsiders have thought. ‘What you are going to have is the potential for a powerful obstruction case,’ a senior law enforcement official said. ‘You are going to have the [former] FBI director testify, and then the acting director, the chief of staff to the FBI director, the FBI’s general counsel, and then others, one right after another. This has never been the word of Trump against what [Comey] has had to say. This is more like the Federal Bureau of Investigation versus Donald Trump.’”

-- “Flynn filed an amended federal financial disclosure report late Thursday providing new details about his contracts with the Trump presidential transition, a company connected to an Iranian American businessman, and the parent company of a data science firm that worked for the Trump campaign,” Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold report. In a letter accompanying the revised disclosure, Flynn says his initial disclosure reports were filed under “rushed circumstances,” and were not afforded customary consultation and review by White House counsel and the Office of Government Ethics, since he was no longer a White House employee at the time.

  • “In a previous disclosure … Flynn reported receiving nearly $68,000 in fees and expenses from Russia-related entities in 2015. In addition to the Russia-related income, Thursday’s filing showed that Flynn received at least $5,000 as a consultant to a project to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East.
  • “The updated disclosure also confirms that Flynn had agreed to work with the SCL Group, at the time the British parent company of Cambridge Analytica, a data science company [was] hired by [Trump’s] campaign. One of Cambridge’s main financiers is [Robert Mercer].”
  • “The largest source of income disclosed is $140,000 for Flynn’s work as an adviser and consultant to Minneapolis-based NJK Holding Corp. That firm is led by Nasser Kazeminy, an Iranian-born businessman now living in the United States.” (For context, Flynn received about $28,000 from the Trump presidential transition.) “NJK funds a technology firm called GreenZone Systems to which Flynn serves as vice chairman,” Tom and Matea report. “GreenZone is led by Bijan Kian, Flynn’s business partner in Flynn Intel, a company now under scrutiny for its role in lobbying work for a Dutch-based business linked to the government of Turkey.”

-- Marc Kasowitz, the New York lawyer whose role has been downsized but continues to represent Trump in the Russia investigations, has also been retained by Sberbank — a Russian state bank being sued in federal district court in Manhattan. The New York Times’s Andrew E. Kramer reports: “The bank is being sued by a Russian businessman, Sergey P. Poymanov, who has sparred with it for years in Russian courts. ... The potential for Russia’s meddling elsewhere — in American courts — has raised concerns among Mr. Poymanov’s lawyers, who are not convinced that Mr. Kasowitz’s ties to Mr. Trump played no role in Sberbank’s choosing him."

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HOW LAST NIGHT’S NEWS IS PLAYING ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

From the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: 

The former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who got fired after being told by Trump that he’d be kept on, said impaneling a grand jury is to be expected:

From the chief ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House from 2005 to 2007:

From a former spokesman in Obama’s Justice Department:

Many rank-and-file House Democrats had a field day. From a Texas congressman who has been calling for Trump’s impeachment:

From a California Democrat:  

 
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The Secret Service has vacated its command post inside Trump Tower in New York following a lease dispute between the federal government and the Trump Organization, which the president still controls. Carol D. Leonnig, David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell scooped last night: “Previously, the Secret Service had stationed its command post — which houses supervisors and backup agents on standby in case of an emergency — in a Trump Tower unit one floor below the president’s apartment. But in early July, the post was relocated to a trailer on the sidewalk, more than 50 floors below, a distance that some security experts worry could hamper the agency that protects the president’s home and family. The details of the dispute … were not clear Thursday. Two people familiar with the discussions said the sticking points included the price and other conditions of the lease.” On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization said the government should seek space in another location.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Iran cast new U.S. sanctions on the country as a “violation” of the nuclear deal, promising to respond in kind to what it calls American aggression. (Erin Cunningham)
  2. Two U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan this week after their convoy was hit by an explosive-packed vehicle. The Pentagon identified the soldiers as paratroopers on their first deployment. They are the eighth and ninth Americans killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan this year. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
  3. Fourteen Saudi Shiites accused of staging protests in the kingdom have been charged with terrorism and are now facing execution. But human rights activists have argued the minority Shiites confessed under torture, and they've launched a public appeal to Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince to dismiss the sentences. (Sudarsan Raghavan)
  4. Michelle Carter, the 20-year-old whose texts and phone calls pushed her boyfriend to suicide, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Lawyers have said her case could have national implications as courts grapple with how to approach such interactions in the digital age. (Lindsey Bever and Kristine Phillips)
  5. Authorities will start allowing tourists to cross the bridge into North Carolina’s Outer Banks again at noon today. The vacation spot has been vacant since a major power outage caused chaos and evacuations. (Sarah Kaplan)
  6. Police are searching for a Northwestern University professor and a University of Oxford employee who are accused of killing a hairstylist in Chicago last week before skipping town. The case has attracted international attention, although it is unclear what connection the employees of the elite universities have to one another or to the victim. (Andrew deGrandpre)
  7. Sean Spicer has reportedly turned down an offer to join “Dancing with the Stars.” Sources close to him cited too many fall commitments, but one person noted, “He's not a good dancer.” (TMZ)

PARTY SWITCHER:

-- During Trump’s rally last night in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice announced that he was switching his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican. Abby Phillip reports: “‘The Democrats walked away from me,’ Justice told the crowd of thousands gathered[.] … ‘I can’t help you any more being a Democrat governor.’ ‘As a coach, I would tell you that it’s time to run another play,’ he added. Justice, who until 2015 was registered as a Republican, is one of the last remaining Democrats elected to statewide positions in the state. Trump won West Virginia by 42 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton. … After being brought to the stage in the middle of Trump's rally, Justice praised Trump as a ‘great president.’ He also touted his relationships with Trump's children, including Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom he said he has gotten to know personally.”

“Justice's announcement was made under virtual secrecy, according to Democratic Party officials, who said that the governor did not inform the party nor did he inform his own staff before the news became public. Democrats blasted Justice's announcement and suggested that the coal and hospitality executive was influenced by his personal financial interest — to say nothing of his political ones — when he made the switch. … The switch would be the first time that a Democratic governor has switched to the Republican Party since 1991. ... With Justice's defection, Republicans now control 34 governor's mansions and Democrats, only 15.”

-- With Justice's move, the current number of Republican governors stands at a record high. (Amber Phillips)

-- West Virginia’s senators had distinct reactions to the announcement:

  • Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (up for reelection next year): “I have been and always will be a proud West Virginia Democrat. I am disappointed by Governor Justice’s decision to switch parties. While I do not agree with his decision, I have always said that I will work with anyone, no matter their political affiliation, to do what is best for the people of West Virginia.”
  • Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito: “The Republican Party represents the future of West Virginia. ... As the lead Republican in West Virginia, I stand ready to work with him ...”

-- Trump has long been popular in West Virginia, which is why the president chose to hold a rally there and what made the event so perfect for Justice’s surprise announcement. Jenna Johnson reports: “[West Virginia is] the first place where [Trump] hit No. 1 in a poll of possible presidential contenders in 2011, when he considered running but did not. When Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee in May 2016, he celebrated with a rally in West Virginia's largest city, Charleston. … Hours before the doors opened for the rally Thursday, hundreds of Trump supporters from miles around gathered in downtown Huntington — and weathered a torrential rainstorm that hit late in the afternoon.”

-- Trump last night pledged to “solve” the opioid epidemic, which has devastated Huntington. The town made headlines last year after 26 overdoses occurred in less than three hours. (STAT’s Andrew Joseph)

THE GENERAL TAKES OVER:

-- In his first week as chief of staff, John Kelly has quickly moved to impose military discipline on the White House — with a suddenness and force that has “upended” the West Wing status quo. The New York Times’s Glenn Thrush, Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan report: “Mr. Kelly cuts off rambling advisers midsentence. He listens in on conversations between cabinet secretaries and the president. He has booted lingering staff members out of high-level meetings, and ordered the doors of the Oval Office closed to discourage strays. He … has demanded that even Mr. Trump’s family, including [Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner], check with him if they want face time with the president...

“Mr. Kelly, 67, has told his new employees that he was hired to manage the staff, not the president. He will not try to change Mr. Trump’s Twitter or TV-watching habits. But he has also said he wants to closely monitor the information the president consumes … and limit the posse of people urging Mr. Trump to tweet something they feel passionately about. He has privately acknowledged that he cannot control the president … Instead, he is intent on cosseting Mr. Trump with bureaucratic competence and forcing staff members to keep to their lanes.”

-- “Several times I’ve been on phone conversations with the president over the last couple of days and General Kelly has been on those conversations as well,” OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Thursday.

-- Kelly’s extensive military experience likely prepared him to work with civilian officials – but not necessarily Trump. Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports: “There’s a significant difference between learning to protect and respect US institutions and knowing how to, say, mobilize moderate Republicans to support the agenda of an increasingly unpopular president. General school, and serving at the summit of military command, doesn’t necessarily prepare a leader for the realities of legislative tactics and political combat. ... Also good judgment — from a general’s perspective — doesn’t always sync with Trump’s favored mode of decision-making, or his decisions.”

-- “Empowered by a new chief of staff and goosed by a president angry with a perceived lack of creativity, [H.R. McMaster] is sweeping out some of the White House’s most fervent ideologues,” the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng and Kimberly Dozier report: “But McMaster has to move fast … The hardline nationalists at the core of Trump’s political base have declared war on the president’s top national security aide, and his own role is by no means secure. ‘The president hasn’t liked the plans he’s been presented on Iran, Afghanistan, or ISIS,’ one of the officials [said]. ‘The process hasn’t worked like it should,’ to produce the innovative plans [Trump] tasked his team with crafting … So McMaster has been removing anyone on his team who either obstructed his own vision or had trouble rallying the other agencies around particular policy … The firings buy McMaster time to put his own people in place, but if he doesn’t come up with new plans quickly, his own role is at risk.”

-- Kelly’s arrival has provided McMaster with some much-needed cover. Politico’s Bryan Bender, Josh Dawsey and Nahal Toosi report: “Kelly told McMaster this week that he wanted him to remain as national security adviser, said two senior White House aides, and has encouraged him to make any staffing changes he deems necessary. … [McMaster] has been an increasingly volatile presence in the West Wing[.] … McMaster has bristled at White House aides close to Trump whom he perceives as undercutting his authority. He seethes over every national security leak and lashes out over negative news stories he thinks are spread by his enemies. And McMaster, whose temper is legendary, frequently blows his top in high-level meetings. … The officials also said that McMaster fumes that he believes [Steve] Bannon is responsible for leaking negative information about him to the news media — including via Breitbart.com[.]”

-- McMaster has concluded that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, did nothing wrong in her “unmasking” requests of Trump officials, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported yesterday. And Circa, a conservative outlet that has earned a reputation as carrying water for certain factions in the White House, reports that McMaster sent Rice a letter during the last week of April, informing her that she could keep her security clearance, and waiving her “need-to-know” requirement on anything she viewed or received during her tenure. The leak was almost certainly orchestrated by someone who is anti-McMaster and wants to sideline him.

HOW TRUMP TALKS WHEN HE'S NOT AT RALLIES:

-- The Post obtained two transcripts from Trump’s calls with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which provide an unfiltered glimpse of Trump’s approach to the diplomatic aspect of his job. (It's really worth taking the time to read the full transcripts here.)

In his first call with Mexico’s president, Trump described his vow to charge Mexico for his proposed border wall as a “political problem,” and pressured the leader to stop saying publicly that his country would “never pay.” Greg Miller scoops: "'You cannot say that to the press,’ Trump said repeatedly, according to a transcript of the Jan. 27 call … Trump made clear that he realized the funding would have to come from other sources but threatened to cut off contact if [Peña Nieto] continued to make defiant statements. The funding ‘will work out in the formula somehow,’ Trump said, adding later that ‘it will come out in the wash, and that is okay.’ But ‘if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.’ He described the wall as ‘the least important thing we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important.’

“Trump seemed to acknowledge that his threats to make Mexico pay had left him cornered politically. 'I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to,' he said. 'I have been talking about it for a two-year period.' When Peña Nieto resisted, Trump said, 'But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that, and I cannot live with that.'”

He also lashed out at the Mexican leader over the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, complaining to Peña Nieto that America has a “massive drug problem” because “drugs are being sold for less money than candy.” He added: “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den.” (Hillary won New Hampshire in the general election.)

-- Trump’s call the following day with Australia's prime minister was even more contentious. What started out as a cordial exchange quickly devolved into a blistering one over a U.S. agreement enacted under Obama to accept refugees from Australian detention centers. "'I hate taking these people,’ Trump told Turnbull. ‘I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people ...’” At one point, Trump suggests the refugees could “become the Boston bomber in five years.” “I think it is a horrible deal, a disgusting deal that I would have never made,” Trump said. “As far as I am concerned, that is enough, Malcolm. I have had it.”

-- New Hampshire political leaders of both parties expressed outrage about Trump calling their state “a drug-infested den”: “The President is wrong,” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement Thursday ... “It's disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer.” And all four members of the congressional delegation rejected the comments, with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) urging the president to “follow through on his promise” to help end the opioid crisis. “It’s absolutely unacceptable for the President to be talking about NH in this way — a gross misrepresentation of NH & the epidemic,” she tweeted. 

-- Trump’s statement also grossly misrepresents the crisis that New Hampshire is facing. Christopher Ingraham explains: “The state does indeed have a serious drug problem — in 2015, New Hampshire was second only to West Virginia in its rate of drug overdose deaths[.] … But the drugs driving that spike are primarily produced not in Mexico, but in China.”

-- The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called for a congressional investigation of how the transcripts got leaked. Sen. Mark Warner described the leaking as “absolutely” troubling. (The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein)

TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- A group of Republican senators, led by Majority Whip John Cornyn (Tex.), proposed a $15 billion project to bolster border security. The legislation … comes as a rebuke to the president for his singular focus on getting a border wall built and getting Mexico to pay for it,” Karoun Demirojian reports. “It also comes as a rejection of the House GOP leaders, who recently pledged to fully fund Trump’s wall, approving the first $1.6 billion installment on it as part of the House’s recently passed defense authorization bill. … The legislation also gives Republican lawmakers an immigration platform to latch onto that has enjoyed widespread support in the past[.]”

-- Trump has decided to postpone an announcement on trade with China that was scheduled for today. Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Tara Palmeri and Doug Palmer report: “Sources previously [said] Trump was slated to hold an event at the White House on Friday in which he would direct U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to open an investigation … over what the administration views as Chinese violations of U.S. intellectual property rights and forced technology transfer. … Although Trump is still expected to instruct Lighthizer to carry out the investigation as early as next week, his administration has been marked by several delays on the trade front.”

-- The EPA said it has reversed a decision to put off the Oct. 1 implementation of an Obama-era ozone rule, a move that comes one day after 16 states sued over the delay. Darryl Fears reports: “With no mention of the challenges from states such as California, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, [EPA head Scott Pruitt] ... said in a statement that he would now work ‘with the states through the complex designation process.’ In the statement, Pruitt asserted that the Clean Air Act gave his agency ‘the flexibility to allow one additional year for sufficient information to support ozone designations,’ and said he might take ‘future action to use its delay authority.’”

BYE BYE CONGRESS:

-- Despite its flurry of activity yesterday, the Senate begins summer recess today with no major legislation under its belt despite GOP control of all three branches of government. Sean Sullivan reports: “By their own accounts, Republicans have failed to enact the ambitious agenda they embarked upon when Trump and the GOP majorities swept into power in January. The president has fallen well short of the legislative pace his two predecessors set in their first six months on the job. The lack of a signature accomplishment Republican lawmakers can highlight at home this month has given rise to a new level of finger-pointing and soul-searching in a party that stood triumphant eight months ago after winning back full control of the federal government. … Now, there is a tension about the way forward.”

-- “This is not how Mitch McConnell wanted to head into recess,” writes Paul Kane: “Soon after Memorial Day, [McConnell] drew up a game plan around approving a rewrite of the Affordable Care Act by the end of June. … Also, McConnell wanted to create separation between the conclusion of the health-care debate and the start of the annual August recess, providing the month of July to rack up victories on other legislative matters. … Instead, everything got consumed by the health-care storm, which culminated in the bill failing by a single vote last week. … When they return after Labor Day, Republicans have to tackle several must-pass bills to fund federal agencies and to increase the Treasury’s borrowing authority. … That leaves October, maybe, for the point to legislative offense, particularly on the bid to overhaul the tax code. … But by every possible measure, the Senate has been a shell of its former legislative self this year.

-- The Republicans are also leaving Washington with no consensus on a way forward on health care. Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn and Paul Demko report: “Senate leaders want to just drop the issue altogether. Conservatives say they’re still fighting for repeal. Moderates want to launch a bipartisan effort to fix the shaky Obamacare system. … The August recess will mark the first time lawmakers have been home for an extended period since the repeal effort collapsed in the Senate. After seven years of campaigning against the law, this break marks the first time in nearly a decade that the GOP hasn't aligned its talking points against the Affordable Care Act.”

-- “Right-to-try” legislation unanimously sailed through the Senate yesterday. The measure is designed to make it easier for terminally ill patients to access experimental treatments without FDA oversight. The bill, which is now heading to the House for a vote, would bar the government from blocking patients from getting access to medications that have undergone only preliminary testing in humans. (Laurie McGinley)

-- The Senate voted to confirm three of Trump’s ambassadors before leaving town. Politico’s Paul Dallison reports: “Former Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas will be the U.S. ambassador to NATO ... Richard Wood Johnson IV — known as Woody … was confirmed as the ambassador to the U.K. Johnson, whose father was president of pharma giant Johnson & Johnson, was a supporter of Jeb Bush in the race for the White House but switched allegiance to Trump in May 2016 … George Edward Glass will be ambassador to Portugal. Glass is owner of a firm in Oregon which purchases and operates apartment complexes and rental homes, and a Republican donor. According to the Portuguese American Journal, Glass ‘visited Portugal once.’” Meanwhile, financier Lewis Eisenberg was confirmed as envoy to Italy and San Marino.”

-- The Senate voted to confirm two FCC nominees, approving Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Brendan Carr for seats on the commission. Lawmakers have not yet reconfirmed GOP Chairman Ajit Pai to another term. (Politico)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump blamed Congress for deteriorating relations with Russia, not Vladimir Putin. The president's criticisms, which came one day after he begrudgingly signed legislation imposing new sanctions on Moscow, caused an uproar on Capitol Hill. John Wagner and Karoun Demirjian report“Lawmakers from both parties pushed back against Trump’s tweet Thursday. Those included Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who pinned blame for the deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship ‘solely’ on [Putin]. ‘I know there’s some frustration. I get it,’ Corker said, speaking of Trump's reaction to the sanctions bill. ‘We acted in the country’s national interest in doing this. Putin, through his actions, is the one who has taken this relationship back to levels we haven’t seen since 1991.’ Those actions, Corker said, include ‘an affront to the American people’ by meddling in last year’s presidential election. Lawmakers’ solidarity in tying Trump’s hands on Russian sanctions reflects a deepening concern about the White House’s posture toward Moscow.”

-- Meanwhile, Russia and its proxy, Bashar al-Assad, are attempting to poach U.S.-backed fighters in southern Syria — an apparent bid to oust the coalition from a strategic piece of land that is critical to the future of the region. CNN’s Ryan Browne reports: “So far, the coalition says there has only been ‘less than a handful’ of defections from the US-backed Maghawir al-Thawra group, one of the larger units based at At Tanf. … US Army Col. Ryan Dillon [said] one of the defectors was actively attempting to recruit his former comrades … but added that those efforts were having no measurable success to date. ... (One official said) that the leader of the recruitment effort … has promised would-be recruits positions in the regime's armed forces as they clear their homelands in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. This has has prompted the US military to be concerned about more defections in the future given that the regime has blocked the coalition and its allies from advancing on that same area.”

-- The United States is trying to send antitank missiles to Ukraine, but the move may be too late to make a difference. Alex Horton reports: “Defense Department and State Department officials have pushed to arm Ukrainian troops with lethal aid to counter Russian-backed separatists fighting for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. But it remains unclear what, if anything, the delivery of an unknown number of [antitank missile] Javelins could do to alter a battle that has mostly been relegated to artillery bombardment and nighttime skirmishes in no man’s land. … The high cost and doubtful utility on the current battlefield suggest the Javelin procurement is about sending a message of strong deterrence from Washington.”

THE ROAD AHEAD FOR DEMOCRATS:

-- Nancy Pelosi’s role as the leader of House Democrats may be in more trouble than the party establishment realizes. McClatchy’s Alex Roarty reports: “In a survey of 20 Democratic House candidates, only one — a former Senate staffer from Orange County, California — would state support for the congresswoman staying on as leader of the House Democratic Caucus. Of the rest, 18 declined to say if Pelosi should keep her job, while one, a political newcomer from a culturally conservative Ohio district, said he would vote for someone other than Pelosi.  … But it’s not easy for Democratic candidates to oppose her. Pushing away Pelosi means pushing away the donors who are close to her[.]”

-- DNC Chairman Tom Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered last-minute encouragement to workers at a Mississippi Nissan plant trying to organize, an effort that is expected to fail. David Weigel reports: “Sanders, U.S. Democrats and a cluster of progressive political organizations have spotlighted the … union drive all year: In March, Sanders was at the head of a march on the plant, linking the organizers’ cause to the fight for civil rights. Since then, Nissan has deployed tactics that have helped blunt or block union drives in other right-to-work states. The company has issued dark warnings of how unionization could cost jobs, and it has enlisted Republican politicians to attack the [United Auto Workers’] efforts.”

-- Targeting Trump voters, progressives yesterday launched the “Not One Penny” campaign to oppose any tax overhaul slashing taxes for the wealthy. David Weigel reports: “Starting today, the Not One Penny campaign includes a seven-figure ad buy in eight Republican-held congressional districts[,] all with large numbers of white voters without college degrees, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but have not historically been passionate about tax cuts. It’s a fraction of what pro-tax reform groups like the American Action Network have pledged, but it mirrors what progressive groups and allies did during the effort to stop the Obamacare repeal in the Senate.”

ALARMING:

-- “FIRED/REHIRED: Police chiefs are often forced to put officers fired for misconduct back on the streets,” by Kimbriell Kelly, Wesley Lowery and Steven Rich“Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But [The Post] has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts. Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses … A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated in February. In the District, an officer convicted of sexually abusing a young woman in his patrol car was ordered returned to the force in 2015. And in Boston, an officer was returned to work in 2012 despite being accused of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump tweeted early this morning about the strong economy and the love he felt from West Virginians:

Another presidential tweet caused a stir on Capitol Hill:

Congressional Republicans rebutted Trump’s argument:

Quotes from the transcript of Trump’s phone call with the Australian prime minister raised eyebrows:

CNBC’s Washington correspondent put in a request for another transcript:

Just hours before West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced that he was becoming a Republican, the state’s GOP posted this tweet:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tried to bury the hatchet with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) after he allegedly threatened her entire state’s agenda:

The Economist went there on the North Korea issue:

The new cover of Newsweek mocked Trump's productivity level:

Breitbart went after H.R. McMaster:

From a Politico columnist:

Anthony Scaramucci tried to move on:

Organization for Action’s communications director weighed in on the Secret Service’s move from Trump Tower:

Members of the media joked about Mueller impaneling a grand jury.

From a Time editor:

From a Mic writer:

From a HuffPost reporter:

A Rolling Stone opinion writer offered a throwback to one of Trump’s die-hard supporters:

And the New York Times’s television critic commented on Sean Spicer’s decision not to participate in "Dancing with the Stars":

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Bloomberg Businessweek, “Is Gary Cohn a Good Pick to Head the Fed?” by Jeanna Smialek, Max Abelson, and Dakin Campbell: “Cohn, 56, would be like a bulldog guiding an institution of eggheads, according to interviews with more than a dozen people who’ve either worked with him or worked at the Fed. His fierce personality, forged over years on Goldman’s trading floors, could clash with a culture built on slow, contemplative collaboration. ‘Gary is definitely an instinctual thinker,’ says Michael Dubno, who was the chief technology officer at Goldman before he left in 2005. He saw Cohn as aggressive and blunt, someone who would make threats and not veil them. ‘Whether he can go really deep on things or not,’ he says, ‘I don’t know.’”

-- New York Times Magazine, “For the New Far Right, YouTube Has Become the New Talk Radio,” by John Herrman: “They are monologuists, essayists, performers and vloggers … inveighing vigorously against the political left and mocking the ‘mainstream media’ … They deplore ‘social justice warriors,’ whom they credit with ruining popular culture, conspiring against the populace and helping to undermine ‘the West.’ They are fixated on the subjects of immigration, Islam and political correctness. … [And] the zealous defense of ideas for which audiences believe they’re seen as stupid, cruel or racist is made possible with simple inversion: Actually, it’s everyone else who is stupid, cruel or racist, and their ‘consensus’ is a conspiracy intended to conceal the unspoken feelings of a silent majority.  Trump has developed an intuition for this kind of audience cultivation; so have countless pundits, broadcasters, salespeople and politicians of different populist political stripes. But Exley, in his final analysis of B.P.S., points to an especially apt historical parallel: conservative talk radio.”

-- Politico Magazine, “The Ugly History of Stephen Miller’s ‘Cosmopolitan’ Epithet,” by Jeff Greenfield: “So what is a ‘cosmopolitan’? It’s a cousin to ‘elitist,’ but with a more sinister undertone. It’s a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality. … In the eyes of their foes, ‘cosmopolitans’ tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with ‘untraditional’ ideas and lives.”

-- Slate, “The Warrior Caste,” by Amy Schafer: “When the new White House chief of staff, then a Marine general, John Kelly received a knock on the door in November 2010, he became the highest-ranking military officer to lose a child in combat. … In the United States, perhaps the strongest predictor of military service is having a family member who served — allowing for extended family members, it averages to about 80 percent of new recruits across the services. … The military draws many recruits from the same communities and the same families, isolating those in uniform from society and vice versa. In essence, the self-selection dynamics have created a ‘warrior caste.’”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“A Game of Cat and Mouse With High Stakes: Deportation,” from the New York Times: “In New York City, judges, defense lawyers and clients have been on high alert for months, watching to see if immigration enforcement officers, many in plain clothes, are in a courthouse. … When officers for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, are thought to be in a courthouse, a sympathetic judge might reschedule a defendant’s appearance, or, in a seemingly perverse move, set bail that could send a defendant to Rikers Island — keeping the person out of ICE’s hands because the jail complex does not turn over undocumented immigrants to the agency.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Wasserman Schultz talks about arrested aide Imran Awan,” from Sun-Sentinel: “Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz defiantly stands by her decision to keep an information technology aide on her payroll for six months after he was banned from the House network and fired by other members of Congress. ‘I believe that I did the right thing, and I would do it again,’ Wasserman Schultz said Thursday[.] … ‘It would have been easier for me to just fire him,’ she said. The Weston Democrat did fire Imran Awan last week after he was arrested on bank fraud charges at an airport while trying to leave the country.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a morning briefing from FEMA on hurricane season. He also has a lunch with Pence and an afternoon phone call with the French president. Trump will later travel from the White House to his New Jersey golf club.

Upcoming: Pence will keynote the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity’s signature annual event on Aug. 19. It’ll be Pence’s first speech at a Koch event since becoming vice president.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

We have the president’s Twitter feed.” -- White House adviser Sebastian Gorka replying to a question on Fox News about the administration’s options for pressuring China to act on North Korea.

 

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

-- Another storm may hit D.C. today, but it should be clear over the weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Above-average heat and near-tropical humidity. At least it’s stirred with a moderate southerly breeze around 5 to 15 mph. Thunderstorm chances are fairly low, with about 20 percent of locales in our region potentially seeing something pop during the day, mainly late; however, downpours are possible, as is plentiful lightning. … Upper 80s to perhaps a few mid-90s are possible, so dress as lightly as possible!”

-- Pence is slated to fundraise for Virginia gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie later this month, a spokesman for Gillespie confirmed. The announcement comes as Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and White House counsel under George W. Bush, has more openly embraced Trump after largely keeping his distance during the primary. (Fenit Nirappil)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert wants to serve on Robert Mueller’s grand jury:

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) explained the significance of the grand jury on Seth Meyers’s show:

In light of Gov. Jim Justice’s announcement, The Post looked at five other politicians who have switched parties:

The Post’s Marc Fisher explains Trump’s affinity for golf, despite his distaste for exercise:

Lara Trump’s “real news” program differed from the major headlines of the week:

The path of a Boeing test flight bore great resemblance to the aircraft itself:

And a 10-month-old won Lithuania’s “fastest crawler” competition: