With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump is doing more damage to the public image of congressional Republican leaders than any Democratic operative could in their wildest dreams.

The president’s threat to shut down the federal government if Congress does not pony up $1.6 billion for a border wall could further corrode his relationship with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. It might also cause additional damage to the Senate majority leader and House speaker’s standing with the Republican base.

By creating a new artificial crisis and making a demand that’s unlikely to be met, Trump is setting up his supporters to be disappointed once again. But he’s banking that Republicans on Capitol Hill will get blamed far more than him if the gambit fails.

Trump is probably right about this. Tony Fabrizio, who was the president’s pollster during the 2016 campaign, has just conducted a survey of GOP and GOP-leaning voters that found the congressional wing of the party has shouldered more blame than Trump for everything that’s gone wrong the past few months.

Everyone’s image has taken a hit. Fabrizio reports that Trump’s favorability rating has slipped from 78 percent among Republicans in June to 71 percent now. Ryan’s favorability has dropped from 56 percent to 52 percent in that period. McConnell has slipped the most, however. The Kentucky senator was viewed favorably by 38 percent of Republicans and unfavorably by 30 percent in Fabrizio’s June survey. Now he’s viewed favorably by 27 percent and unfavorably by 44 percent. Again, this is among Republicans.

Trump’s approval rating is 75 percent among Republicans in Fabrizio’s poll, but just 54 percent approve of the job Republicans in Congress are doing.

Asked who they blame more for the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, 18 percent picked Trump and 82 percent picked Republicans in Congress.

What’s going on when Trump does not fulfill his campaign promises? In Fabrizio’s survey, 81 percent said it’s because “the Republicans in Congress didn’t support the president and blocked his promised proposal or policy.” Only 19 percent said it’s because, “The president didn’t work hard enough and do what was needed to be done to fulfill the promise.”

-- Only about 1 in 3 Americans want to build the border wall, but they happen to be the same people who still support Trump. Even the right-wing polling firm Rasmussen, whose results skew Republican, found in an automated national poll last month that 56 percent of Americans oppose building a border wall “to help stop illegal immigration,” while 37 percent back it. A more reliable survey from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center showed in February that 35 percent support the wall and 62 percent oppose it.

Is that really a hill to die on? For Trump, who believes losing his core base of support could be fatal to his presidency, the answer is apparently yes. (Unless he’s bluffing, which is totally possible.)

-- Trump’s base is happy because it looks like he’s taking steps to try following through on his promises. His shutdown threat was one of the biggest applause lines during his 76-minute speech at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The president’s 2020 reelection campaign is trying to build up its small-donor list by pressuring Senate Republicans to fund the wall. A mass email that went out under Trump’s name yesterday urged supporters to sign an “official” online petition. “I need your immediate help,” he wrote. “Let’s remind every single Senator the American VOTERS want this beautiful, impenetrable wall constructed. … This will only have an impact if EVERY American CITIZEN who understands the wall is a nonnegotiable signs this petition. … The Senate needs this urgent reminder that the American people want what they voted for. AS YOU SHOULD! We are so close to making this happen.” (In fact, they are not close at all.)

-- GOP leaders on the Hill have no appetite for this fight, which they believe could derail the rest of their agenda. From Mike DeBonis, Damian Paletta and Elise Viebeck: “Republicans face a litany of high-stakes deadlines when they return to Washington after Labor Day: to extend funding for government agencies, raise the nation’s borrowing limit, and reauthorize programs for flood insurance and children’s health. GOP leaders also hope to begin an ambitious effort to rewrite the federal tax code in a bid to rescue their foundering legislative agenda. ‘So I don’t think anyone is interested in having a shutdown,’ Ryan said at a tax policy event in Oregon. ‘I don’t think it’s in our interest to do so.’ Ryan said the border wall should ultimately be funded, reflecting the wishes of most congressional Republicans … But he has refrained from engaging in Trump’s red-meat ‘build the wall’ rhetoric, in what GOP aides described as an effort to avoid poisoning upcoming negotiations with Democrats.”

Ryan went out of his way to downplay the prospects of a shutdown when asked about Trump’s Phoenix speech, predicting that Congress probably would pass a stopgap extension of funding to prevent a lapse when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 even if the wall issue remains unresolved.

McConnell has been somewhat evasive whenever directly pressed on the issue of wall funding, pivoting to express support for tougher border security more generally. But Trump has also been pressuring him to get rid of the legislative filibuster, so that he would not need to get Democratic senators to cross over. The president continued to harp on this message yesterday:

Many Republicans still have a bad taste in their mouths from the health-care fight. House members walked the plank to vote for a toxically unpopular bill. Trump celebrated with them in the Rose Garden, but then he went on Fox News and called the legislation “mean.” This is something many lawmakers realize could be used against them in attack ads next year. They also worry that the same thing could happen again on a budget or a tax bill.

-- To be sure, threatening a shutdown is not without risk for the president. Trump got rolled in April negotiations to keep the government funded through the end of September. Realizing he’d been outmaneuvered by Democrats and upset about news coverage that made him look like bad at making deals — which so much of his identity is wrapped up in — he lashed out by threatening a shutdown in the fall. “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” Trump tweeted on May 2.

That time is drawing nigh. If Trump caves once again and signs a budget without funding for the wall, it could make him look weak and ineffective. If there is a protracted shutdown, on the other hand, independents and moderate Republicans might blame him.

-- Trump will meet in the Oval Office at 11:45 a.m. today with the OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, his legislative affairs team and Vice President Pence to discuss their September strategy.

-- While most congressional Republicans are supportive of a wall, there are some key holdouts. “Shutting the government down for $1.5 billion of a concrete structure doesn’t make sense,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), who represents a district on the border with Mexico that Hillary Clinton carried last year, said on PBS “NewsHour” last night.

-- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is among the Republicans who have expressed skepticism publicly about Congress funding the wall.

Trump attacked Flake again on Twitter yesterday:

Shortly before taking the stage in Phoenix on Tuesday evening, the president met privately with two of Flake’s prospective primary challengers: state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and Robert Graham, former Arizona GOP chairman. “Trump ripped the Arizona senator during the brief meeting, calling him ‘the flake,’” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports. “Trump … told DeWit and Graham, both of whom have aligned with the president, to get back to him about their interest in running. Also participating in the huddle was Rep. Trent Franks, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who appeared at the rally. At one point, Franks told the president that either DeWit or Graham would make strong challengers to Flake.”

-- The border battle is escalating amid deeper tensions between the president and his adopted party on Capitol Hill. Much of Trump’s recent contact with key players on Capitol Hill has been counterproductive.

Trump has been lashing out at Republican lawmakers for not giving him more support in the face of mounting Russia-related investigations.

He even called Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Aug. 7 to complain about a bill he’d just introduced that would make it harder for him to fire Robert Mueller as special counsel, Politico reported last night.

Two days after that, Trump phoned McConnell from his New Jersey golf club to berate him for the failure of the health-care bill. “He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election,” the New York Times reported, adding that the call “quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.”

Trump also tried unsuccessfully to persuade Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to back off the Russia sanctions legislation, arguing that the bill would damage his presidency. The Foreign Relations Committee chairman held firm.

Since coming into the West Wing, chief of staff John Kelly has tried to curb Trump's unscheduled interactions with legislators, senior administration officials say,” per Politico’s Josh Dawsey and Elana Schor. “Trump has been known to see a senator on TV or think about an issue and immediately ask White House assistant Madeleine Westerhout to dial the senator. But Kelly has asked that senior White House aides, such as legislative affairs head Marc Short, be present for the calls‚ and for Trump to be briefed in advance on the topic.”

-- McConnell and the White House issued statements yesterday trying to make things look hunky dory.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and McConnell “remain united on many shared priorities, including … constructing a southern border wall…” “They will hold previously scheduled meetings following the August recess to discuss these critical items with members of the congressional leadership and the President’s Cabinet,” she said.

McConnell’s statement mentioned a host of “shared goals” that he is in “regular touch” with the administration about, including the budget, but notably he omitted any mention of the border wall: “We are working together to develop tax reform and infrastructure legislation so we can grow the economy and create jobs; to prevent a government default; to fund the government so we can advance our priorities in the short and long terms; to pass the defense authorization and defense appropriations bills so we can support our troops and help implement an effective strategy against ISIL; to provide relief from Obamacare; and to continue our progress for our nation’s veterans.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- “The White House is expected to send guidance to the Pentagon in coming days on how to implement a new administration ban on transgender people in the military,” the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports. “The White House memo also directs the Pentagon to deny admittance to transgender individuals and to stop spending on medical treatment regimens for those currently serving, according to U.S. officials familiar with the document. The 2½-page memo gives Mr. [James] Mattis six months to prepare to fully implement the new ban, according to these officials. Mr. Mattis under the new policy is expected to consider ‘deployability’ — the ability to serve in a war zone, participate in exercises or live for months on a ship — as the primary legal means to decide whether to separate service members from the military, the officials said. …

“Employing the criteria of deployability to remove service members is bound to be greeted with deep opposition. ‘Transgender people are just as deployable as other service members,’ said Sue Fulton, the former president of Sparta, a military organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that advocates for open service. ‘Other service members may undergo procedures when they are at home base, just as other service members schedule shoulder surgery or gall bladder surgery.’”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) has repeatedly questioned Barack Obama’s place of birth. As recently as December, Moore speculated that the former president was not a natural-born citizen. Moore faces Sen. Luther Strange (R) in a Sept. 26 runoff for Jeff Sessions's former seat. (CNN)
  2. The U.S. Army has suspended numerous drill sergeants at its Fort Benning, Ga., training center as officials investigate allegations of sexual assault against at least one trainee. (Dan Lamothe)
  3. The U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin and Raytheon separate $900 million contracts to begin development of a new nuclear cruise missile. The award comes just days after the Air Force moved to reoutfit the Pentagon’s ground-based ballistic missiles. (Aaron Gregg)
  4. U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Raqqa are killing hundreds of civilians each month, according to monitoring groups — deepening safety concerns for the thousands of families trapped inside the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. (Louisa Loveluck)
  5. A federal judge who previously compared Texas’s voter ID requirements to a “poll tax” on minority voters struck down a revised version of the law — delivering yet another blow to GOP leaders in the state. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton slammed the ruling as “outrageous” and vowed to appeal. (AP)
  6. James Comey has taken a lecture post at Howard University. The ousted FBI director will hold a one-year position at the university and deliver five public policy lectures. He is also slated to be the keynote speaker at a convocation ceremony for incoming students in September. (Politico)
  7. A U.S. postal worker was convicted of fraud this week after she faked cancer — and used her contrived illness to take two years of paid sick leave. As part of her punishment, a judge sentenced her to serve 652 hours of community service at a cancer treatment or hospice center — the exact number of hours she had falsified. (Alex Horton)
  8. Luxury fashion brands are distancing themselves from Louise Linton after her viral postings on Instagram. Two of the designers tagged in Linton's Instagram post, Valentino and Tom Ford, denied any ties to the treasury secretary’s wife. (Page Six)
  9. A single lottery ticket with all six winning Powerball numbers was purchased in Massachusetts. The jackpot of $758.7 million was the second-largest grand prize in U.S. history. (Travis M. Andrews)

FRESH PHOENIX FALLOUT:

-- Advocates for Latinos and others who protested Trump’s rally in Phoenix Tuesday night returned to the venue Wednesday morning to decry the president’s suggestion he was prepared to pardon convicted Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. (John Wagner)

-- Arpaio told the Fox Business Network that he did not attend the rally because, “I didn’t want to be the cause of any demonstrations, riots and that type of thing.”

-- “If [Arpaio] is pardoned in coming days … the move will be the latest in a long line of hotly debated political pardons that critics say violate the spirit but not the laws of executive authority,” Devlin Barrett reports: “For most applicants, seeking a pardon is a long, arduous process that begins with the pardon attorney at Justice Department headquarters ...The department recommends anyone seeking pardons wait at least five years after conviction, and be able to demonstrate their remorse … Arpaio, 85, has done none of that, and it’s unlikely he will. If pardoned … [he] will be one of the rare but not unprecedented instances when a president decides to short-circuit ongoing or expected legal proceedings and preemptively grant a reprieve.

“[Former White House counsel Robert Bauer] said an Arpaio pardon would ignore criteria long used to evaluate potential pardons — that a presidential act of mercy should correct some past injustice or oversight, or serve some greater public good. Granting a pardon now, Bauer said, ‘is a de facto interference in the administration of justice.’”

-- The paperwork to pardon Arpaio has already reportedly been prepared by the White House. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reports: “An administration official said the White House has also prepared talking points to send to surrogates after he is pardoned. One of the talking points is that Arpaio served his country for 50 years in the military, the Drug Enforcement Administration and as Arizona's Maricopa County sheriff, and that it is not appropriate to send him to prison for ‘enforcing the law’ and ‘working to keep people safe.’”

-- “Though No Longer Sheriff, Joe Arpaio Is Still a Polarizing Figure,” by the New York Times’s Simon Romero: “Mr. Trump’s expression of support for Mr. Arpaio … has ignited a debate across Arizona about the tactics used to crack down on Latinos, the reactions the strategy spawned in fueling the repudiation by voters who ousted Mr. Arpaio, and the nationalist sentiment stoked by Mr. Trump[.] … Detested by some, loved by others and facing up to six months in jail[,] … Mr. Arpaio finds himself thrust back into the political fray at a time when he could quietly be in the twilight of his career.”

-- Trump once again threatened to kill NAFTA in his speech, but Mexico and Canada were unfazed. Politico’s Megan Cassella reports: “Canada and Mexico appear to have reached a conclusion that when President Donald Trump threatens to withdraw from NAFTA, it is a negotiating ploy that is all bark and no bite. … Both Ottawa and Mexico City downplayed Trump’s latest comments as fairly standard procedure during sensitive trade negotiations.”

-- Although Trump talked up the merits of “clean coal” in Phoenix, it’s unclear that he actually understands the basics of the concept. (Dino Grandoni)

-- Ben Carson’s appearance at the rally may have violated federal law. Philip Bump writes: “Right before Ben Carson took the stage at President Trump’s rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, the announcer introduced him. ‘The secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson,’ the voice intoned, prompting cheers from the audience. And, as simply as that, a law was likely broken. … Among the prohibitions included in the Hatch Act is one prohibiting Cabinet secretaries from leveraging their positions for a political cause. That means that the head of, say, the Department of Housing and Urban Development can’t appear at a campaign rally in a way that implies he’s doing so in an official capacity. Say, by being introduced with his official title.”

  • A HUD spokesman denied any wrongdoing in a statement: “His travel and lodging were not paid for by the department. He was there in his personal capacity. He didn’t discuss HUD during the speech.” (AP)

-- Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker admonished his staff for their coverage of Trump’s Phoenix rally, describing their reporting as “overly opinionated” in several blunt late-night emails. The New York Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum reports: “'Sorry. This is commentary dressed up as news reporting,’ Mr. Baker wrote at 12:01 a.m. … in response to a draft of the rally article that was intended for the newspaper’s final edition. He added in a follow-up, ‘Could we please just stick to reporting what he said rather than packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism? … Baker has faced unease and frustration in his newsroom over his stewardship of the newspaper’s coverage of [Trump], which some journalists there say has lacked toughness and verve.

JUST WHO IS THAT GUY?

-- The African American man standing behind Trump at Monday's rally describes himself as “Michael the Black Man.” And he has appeared behind the president at a number of other rallies, despite his checkered past. Katie Mettler and Lindsey Bever report: “The radical fringe activist from Miami once belonged to a violent black supremacist religious cult, and he runs a handful of amateur, unintelligible conspiracy websites. He has called Barack Obama ‘The Beast’ and Hillary Clinton a Ku Klux Klan member. Oprah Winfrey, he says, is the devil. Most curiously, in the 1990s, he was charged, then acquitted, with conspiracy to commit two murders … Michael told a Chicago radio station Wednesday that he was the sixth person in line for the Phoenix rally and said he put himself directly behind the president’s podium. ‘They have seen me a lot of times,’ [he said] … ‘So when I went in, I just walked up there.’ It’s unclear whether the White House or Trump’s campaign officials are aware of [his] turbulent history or extreme political views.”

CHARLOTTESVILLE WOUNDS GO DEEP:

-- Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam — the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in this fall's contest — is now enmeshed in the post-Charlottesville controversy, with the state GOP saying Northam turned his back on his slave-owning ancestors by calling for the removal of Confederate monuments. Laura Vozzella and Fenit Nirappil report: “The accusation drew swift condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans, who said it amounted to calling Northam a ‘race traitor.’ In a two-part tweet on its official account posted shortly after noon, the state party took aim at Northam ... whose great-great-grandfather owned [slaves] …” “[Northam] has turned his back on his own family’s heritage in demanding monument removal,” the two-part tweet read. “Shows @RalphNortham will do anything or say anything to try and be #VAGov — #Pathetic …” In response, Northam tweeted: “I feel fine about turning my back on white supremacy. How does @EdWGillespie feel about the president’s position?”

-- Charlottesville is hosting a "community recovery town hall" tonight to provide “recovery updates.” Those efforts have included shrouding two Confederate statues in black yesterday. (AP)

-- After Maryland’s Senate president defended Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who penned the Dred Scott decision, one of his Senate colleagues now wants him censured. (Ovetta Wiggins)

-- Christopher Cantwell, the white nationalist prominently featured in Vice’s coverage of Charlottesville, turned himself over to authorities in Virginia. An arrest warrant had been issued for Cantwell on charges including two counts of illegal use of tear gas. (The New York Times’s Matt Stevens and Frances Robles)

-- Trump’s science envoy to the State Department quit Wednesday, penning a scathing letter of resignation blasting the president's Charlottesville response and subtly spelling out the word “I-M-P-E-A-C-H.” Amy B Wang reports: “In a resignation letter posted to Twitter, [Daniel] Kammen wrote that Trump's remarks about the racial violence in Virginia had attacked ‘core values of the United States’ and that it would have ‘domestic and international ramifications.’ ‘Acts and words matter,’ Kammen wrote. ‘To continue in my role under your administration would be inconsistent with the principles of the United States Oath of Allegiance to which I adhere.’ However, his most biting message may have come in the form of a hidden acrostic: The first letter of each paragraph spelled out I-M-P-E-A-C-H.”

-- A United Nations panel condemned Trump’s handling of Charlottesville on Wednesday. The New York Times’s Sewell Chan and Nick Cumming-Bruce report: “Without mentioning Mr. Trump by name, a body of United Nations experts on Wednesday denounced ‘the failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn’ racist violence, saying it was ‘deeply concerned by the example this failure could set for the rest of the world.’ ‘We were shocked and horrified by what happened,” the committee’s chairwoman, Anastasia Crickley, said in an interview … ‘I was horrified as well by the way leaders of that movement were able to state afterwards that they felt secure in their support.’”

-- U.S. rabbis said that they are forgoing an annual high holidays call with the president over his response to Charlottesville. Colby Itkowitz reports: “'The president’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia,’ they wrote. ‘Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels.’"

-- U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman also criticized Trump's response to the violence in a television interview Wednesday. Haaretz reports: “Asked by a Channel 10 TV reporter about if Trump's response to events following a white supremacist rally was ‘fine,’ Friedman said, ‘I think that it was not fine,’ and added he would rather not comment any further on the matter.”

A WEEK OF WHIPLASH:

-- Trump on Wednesday called for unity at the national convention of the American Legion in Nevada, appealing to the country's “shared humanity” just hours after his raucous rally in Arizona. Abby Phillip reports: “’It is time to heal the wounds that have divided us, and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us,' Trump said ... ‘We are one people, with one home and one flag.’ ‘We are not defined by the color of our skin, the figure on our paycheck or the party of our politics,’ Trump continued. … [In Reno], Trump appeared to stick to his carefully crafted script, focusing on his administration’s efforts to improve services for veterans, a key focus on the nation’s largest veterans organization.”

“But Trump’s response to [Charlottesville] hung over his appearance here before a group of veterans that included some who fought against Nazism and fascism in World War II. The day before Trump’s appearance, the Legion voted to reaffirm a nearly 100-year-old resolution condemning hate groups.” 

-- “In the span of 48 hours this week, [Trump] has boomeranged among three roles, the commander in chief, the divider and the uniter,” Philip Rucker writes. “Like a contestant on one of his reality TV shows, Trump has taken on contrasting personas, showcasing divergent traits with flourishes seemingly to survive another day of his beleaguered presidency. Or, as Trump the television producer might put it, to keep up the ratings. … The whiplash from the three consecutive Trump speeches exemplifies the confusion and chaos that have come to define his presidency. Is Trump trying to heal the wounds of a country torn over this month’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville? Or is he trying to pull it further apart? Again and again, the pattern has been the same. The moments when Trump stays on message … almost inherently serve as a precursor for meltdowns … In some ways, the Phoenix rally was an encore of his Trump Tower performance the previous Tuesday, a showcase of the core Trump — impassioned and indignant at the seven-month mark of his presidency.”

-- “[S]uch contrasts have become a recurring motif of his presidency,” writes the New York Times’s Mark Landler. “Mr. Trump has toggled between Teleprompter Trump and Unplugged Trump every day since the deadly clashes in Virginia, leaving Washington and the rest of the nation with a chronic case of rhetorical whiplash. … There were many reasons to believe that the president’s angry performance in Phoenix was the real Donald J. Trump ... While reporters declared his rally one of his most caustic in the past two years, some White House aides said privately on Wednesday that they found some comfort in the fact that it could have been worse.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Congressional investigators have unearthed an email written last summer by the now-deputy White House chief of staff relating to a previously unreported effort to arrange a meeting last year between Trump campaign officials and Vladimir Putin. CNN’s Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen report: “The aide, Rick Dearborn … sent a brief email to campaign officials last year relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin … The person was only identified in the email as being from ‘WV,’ which one source said was a reference to West Virginia. It's unclear who the individual is, what he or she was seeking, or whether Dearborn even acted on the request … [but] its existence suggests Russians may have been looking for another entry point into the Trump campaign … Dearborn's name has not been mentioned much as part of the Russia probe. But he served as then-Sen. Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, as well as a top policy aide on the campaign.”

-- “How Alan Dershowitz Went From Hillary Donor to Trump’s Attack Dog on Russia,” by The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff: “As Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election has gained momentum, Dershowitz has become a staple of conservative media. On Aug. 20, he told New York Republican billionaire radio host John Catsimatidis that Mueller’s probe threatens American democracy. ... And last month on Fox & Friends, Dershowitz compared Mueller and his team to Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. … But those close to Dershowitz say his vociferous criticism of Mueller’s investigation is the opposite of surprising — and that Mueller and Dershowitz have a history. … Some suspect Dershowitz’s advocacy goes beyond his television appearances … A person familiar with the president’s legal affairs said there are concerns Dershowitz has talked about legal affairs with Trump.

-- Russia’s nearly infamous former ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, dismissed allegations of colluding with Trump associates as “nonsense.” CNN’s Matthew Chance, Emma Burrows and Zachary Cohen report: “When asked about US intelligence and security officials' conclusion that Kislyak had attempted to recruit individuals close to Trump, Kislyak pointed to others, including a former FBI director — possibly meaning James Comey — who only referred to him as a diplomat: ‘I've heard that other statements by them, also by (the) former head of the FBI that said I was a diplomat. I have no — no reasons to doubt that he knew what he said. OK.’ … Asked Wednesday if he and members of the Trump campaign — specifically Jared Kushner — discussed setting up secret channels to the Kremlin, Kislyak responded: ‘I've said many times that we do not discuss the substance of our discussions with our American interlocuters. Out of respect to our partners.’ …

“Kislyak also pushed back on claims that Trump disclosed secretive information about Syria during the now infamous Oval Office meeting between between the President and high-profile Russian diplomats. ‘I'm not sure that I heard anything that would be secretive, but it was a good meeting and we were discussing things that are important to your country and to mine,’ he said. Ultimately, the former Russian ambassador told CNN that the future of US-Russian relations is going to be difficult due to new sanctions levied on Moscow by the US government last month.”

TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- “A much-anticipated Energy Department report on the electricity grid made recommendations for regulatory changes that would bolster coal and nuclear power plants,” Steven Mufson reports: “The changes, if adopted, would alter the way prices are determined in electricity markets, ease environmental reviews for coal plants and speed the permitting process for a variety of energy sources. The 187-page report rejects the notion that the coal and nuclear plants that have been forced to shut down over the past 16 years had been closed prematurely, noting that cheap, abundant natural gas had been the main factor — not environmental regulations or renewable energy sources as Republican leaders have contended ... the report has been seen as a test of whether the Trump administration is going to politicize government studies and disregard scientific evidence.”

-- John Kelly is implementing a new process to try to control the information that Trump sees. Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Nancy Cook report: “The new system, laid out in two memos co-authored by Kelly and [staff secretary Rob] Porter and distributed to cabinet members and White House staffers in recent days, is designed to ensure that the president won’t see any external policy documents, internal policy memos, agency reports, and even news articles that haven’t been vetted. … White House aides note that the new system is likely to slow the policymaking process. Executive orders, dashed out in a matter of days at the outset of the administration, are now likely to go through weeks of review as they are circulated to policy advisers, lawyers, and the president’s legislative affairs team. But some hope that this new policymaking process will deliver legislative victories that have so far been elusive[.]”

-- The National Park Service is pushing back on National Rifle Association-backed legislation aimed at restricting hunting and fishing in parks. But a leaked memo says Trump has prevented the Park Service from publicly voicing its concerns. McClatchy’s Stuart Leavenworth reports: “Under the bill, the National Park Service would be prevented from regulating the hunting of bears and wolves in Alaska wildlife preserves, including the practice of killing bear cubs in their dens. It also would be prevented from regulating commercial and recreational fishing within park boundaries and from commenting on development projects … that could affect the parks. [Acting director Michael Reynolds] objected to these in a memo … The park service later received a response from Interior with sections of Reynolds’ concerns crossed out, next to the initials ‘C.H.’ Agency officials were told they could not repeat their concerns to Congress, according to Jeff Ruch, [of the] Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility … Ruch said it was his understanding that the ‘C.H.’ stands for Casey Hammond — an Interior political appointee … but that could not be verified.”

-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to issue a recommendation today to strip the Bears Ears National Monument of its federal protection. The New York Times’s Julie Turkewitz and Lisa Friedman report: “Shrinking the Bears Ears National Monument and reopening much of the land for possible mining and drilling would be widely seen as a direct blow to former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, and the first major test of a century-old conservation law. … Native American tribes in the Southwest, who lobbied for years to get the Bears Ears region designated a national monument, are expected to fight any move to reduce its size. … Outdoor recreation and environmental groups are also expected to fight to preserve the monuments.”

-- Trump is running out of time to make a decision on the Dreamers. Politico’s Seung Min Kim reports: “Ten conservative states have threatened to sue the administration in order to kill off [DACA.] … That means DACA, which President Barack Obama began five years ago this month, is confronting its gravest danger yet. And one of the biggest questions — will Trump defend the program in court — is still anybody’s guess. Trump is facing pressure from his conservative allies to kill the initiative, but the hard-liner-in-chief has said that he wants to approach Dreamers ‘with heart.’ Meanwhile, it’s also not clear how Trump would fare in court if he does defend the program, even as an early September deadline to act looms.”

-- The Justice Department is fighting a lawsuit against Trump's religious liberty order — saying it doesn't actually allow churches and religious groups to participate in political activity. Politico’s Diamond Naga Siu reports. “‘The Order does not exempt religious organization from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations,’ government lawyers wrote in a court filing Tuesday. ‘Rather, the Order directs the Government not to take adverse action against religious organizations that it would not take against other organizations in the enforcement of these restrictions.’”

NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan will add billions of dollars annually to an already staggering war cost, which has topped $1 trillion. And the government will still be paying for war veterans' health-care costs for at least another 50 years. Steven Mufson reports: “Direct U.S. spending on the war in Afghanistan will rise to approximately $840.7 billion if the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget is approved, according to [military strategy expert Anthony Cordesman] … But the cost of the war also includes massive obligations for veterans’ medical and disability costs. And veterans are filing claims in greater numbers and for more serious injuries than in past wars."

-- “How the Burden of Afghanistan Could Fall on Trump’s Supporters,” by Douglas L. Kriner and Francis X. Shen in Politico Magazine: “Our findings suggest that Trump drew support from American communities that have seen first-hand the human costs of war — and could pay those costs again with coming escalation in Afghanistan. Trump’s Afghan gambit, in other words, risks retribution at the ballot box in 2020.”

-- As Jared Kushner returns to the Middle East to help revive Israel-Palestinian negotiations, new political crises on both sides are likely to make his work in the region much harder. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report: “Kushner is expected to arrive in Israel on Wednesday night along with deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and Middle East envoy Jason D. Greenblatt. [Earlier, he was slated to meet with] Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi … and has already held talks with officials from Saudi Arabia and the [UAE] in Jordan. But since Kushner’s last visit to the region in June, a corruption scandal embroiling [Benjamin Netanyahu] has deepened, leaving the Israeli leader increasingly beholden to right-wing factions in his coalition and support base and even less able to make concessions, some observers say. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remains unpopular and politically isolated, with a decade-long split between his leadership in the West Bank and Hamas leaders in Gaza widening in recent months. 'Both leaders are focused on their domestic political survival,’ said former Israeli peace negotiator [Gadi Baltiansky] … With neither leader able to make ‘courageous decisions,’ one is needed from the U.S. administration, Baltiansky said.”

-- Kushner also met with the Egyptian president to discuss the peace process, even as Egypt voiced displeasure over the State Department’s decision to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid over human-rights concerns. (Carol Morello)

-- Mike Pence once again addressed the Venezuelan crisis during a trip to Florida. Politico’s Sergio Bustos reports: “Pence steered clear of uttering ‘military operation’ or ‘military options’ in South Florida, speaking only of ‘economic and diplomatic powers’ in dealing with the [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro government. His comments echoed what he said last week during a tour of Latin American nations, where he spoke of a ‘peaceable’ solution for Venezuela in a sharp departure of Trump’s declaration.”

-- For the first time, ISIS used an American child in a propaganda video that threatens Trump. The child, who speaks in unaccented English and is identified as Youssef, says in the video, “My message to Trump, the puppet of the Jews: Allah promised us victory, promised you defeat. … This battle is not gonna end in Raqqa or Mosul. It’s gonna end in you lands.” (The Daily Beast’s Katie Zavadski)

-- On The Washington Post’s front page today: “Returning to Mosul’s Old City, where homes are now tombs,” by Kareem Fahim and Aaso Ameen Schwan: “Time after time in Mosul, civilians were killed in a similar, disturbing pattern: Islamic State militants kidnapped families as human shields in houses that served as the fighters’ garrisons. Snipers took up positions on rooftops, firing at Iraqi troops or coalition planes. Then the houses were bombed, sometimes by artillery or airstrikes and with little apparent regard for the people inside, relatives and survivors said.”

CAMPAIGN FLASHBACKS:

-- The first excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened,” are out. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Amy B Wang report: “Clinton said her ‘skin crawled’ as Donald Trump loomed behind her at a presidential debate in St. Louis, and added that she wished she could have pressed pause and asked America, ‘Well, what would you do?’ … Some of the moments during the campaign, she said, ‘baffled’ her. Others seemingly repulsed her: In recounting the October incident, she referred to Trump as a ‘creep.’ The book comes out Sept. 12, but audio excerpts, read by Clinton, were played Wednesday morning on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe.’ In the recording, Clinton noted that she wrote about moments from the campaign that she wanted to remember forever — as well as others she wished she could ‘go back and do over.’ …

“Clinton said in the audio clip played on MSNBC that ‘What Happened’ is not a comprehensive account of the 2016 race — and that it was difficult to write. ‘Every day that I was a candidate for president, I knew that millions of people were counting on me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them down — but I did,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.’ Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher, says ‘What Happened’ is Clinton’s ‘most personal memoir yet.’ ‘In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net,’ she writes in the introduction. ‘Now I’m letting my guard down.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Katie Couric is not known for hyperbole, so this is striking:

From a former British ambassador to the United States:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich noted his disappointment at Trump's rhetoric:

A Democratic senator criticized Trump's consideration of an Arpaio pardon:

Billy Joel, who lost many relatives during the Holocaust, took a stand against anti-Semitism:

A New York Times reporter noted this tension after Trump criticized Jeff Flake:

A German magazine portrayed Trump giving a Nazi salute on its cover:

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn's son, who has previously promoted conspiracy theories on social media, gave this suggestion:

A CNN reporter replied:

A House Democrat targeted Trump's possible conflicts of interest:

More details emerged from the White House's renovation process:

A government oversight group launched an inquiry:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The New York Times, “Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing,” by Henry Fountain: “In Alaska, nowhere is permafrost more vulnerable than here, 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle, in a vast, largely treeless landscape formed from sediment brought down by two of the state’s biggest rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim. Temperatures three feet down into the frozen ground are less than half a degree below freezing. This area could lose much of its permafrost by midcentury.”

-- Politico, “California Democrats lead attack over Trump's mental health,” by Carla Marinucci: “California Democrats are stoking a debate over Donald Trump’s mental health and fitness for office, opening a new front in the resistance to the president but raising fears that the line of criticism could backfire. … Yet the concentrated focus on Trump’s mental health worries many Democrats — even in the blue-state stronghold of California — who fear the party is expending too much energy obsessing over Trump at the expense of winning over voters to the party message.”

-- The New York Times, “‘It’s a Slow Death’: The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis,” by Shuaib Almosawa, Ben Hubbard and Troy Griggs: “In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.”

-- Politico Magazine, “When Nazis Filled Madison Square Garden,” by Gordon F. Sander: “Some 78 years after the Bund rally at Madison Square Garden, a new generation of hectoring troglodytes descended on Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1939, Brown Shirts at Madison Square Garden felt emboldened to seize a Jewish protester who had rushed the podium where the Bund’s German-born leader, Fritz Kuhn, was speaking, and beat him near-senseless.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Arizona Unconstitutionally Banned Mexican-American Studies Classes, Judge Rules,” from HuffPost: “A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the state of Arizona violated students’ rights by banning a Mexican-American studies program from Tucson public schools. The ruling issued by U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima found that a law passed by Arizona’s Republican-dominated state legislature in 2010 violated both the First and 14th Amendments. It marks a major victory for educators and activists who viewed the ethnic studies law as a flatly discriminatory effort by Arizona Republicans to keep Hispanic students from learning about their history or studying writers of color that are often ignored in public schools. ‘We won on all points,’ said Richard Martinez, one of six lawyers defending the students. ‘It speaks to the importance of the judiciary and protecting everyone against racial discrimination.’"

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Clemson University Assistant Professor Labels All Republicans ‘Racist Scum,’” from the Washington Free Beacon: “An assistant professor at South Carolina's Clemson University has called for violence against white supremacists and labeled Republicans ‘racist scum’ on his Facebook page. Bart Knijnenburg, who teaches in the School of Computing, allegedly wrote in recent posts, ‘I admire anyone who stands up against white supremacy. Violent or non-violent,’ with the hashtag ‘#PunchNazis.’ He also denounced ‘All republicans’ as responsible for alt-right violence and demanded they either ‘denounce"’and ‘renounce’ their GOP affiliation, ‘or admit you're a racist.’ The university [said it] is aware of remarks … [but would] not say if they would be taking any further action.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has two meeting today: one with national security adviser H.R. McMaster and another with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Legislative Affairs.

Pence will join the Mulvaney meeting and will later tour the National Counterterrorism Center with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

We’re going to start working very hard on the Internet because they’re using the Internet at a level that they should not be allowed to use the internet. They’re recruiting from the Internet. And we are going to work under my administration very hard so that that doesn’t happen," Trump said in his American Legion speech about ISIS's online recruitment.

 

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

-- The Capital Weather Gang forecasts a nice day in the District today: “Clouds should be few and far between in the morning but will be more numerous in the afternoon. Still the dry, mild conditions are nothing short of bliss. Highs settle in the upper 70s to lower 80s and winds are quite light from the north.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Astros 6-1. (Chelsea Janes)

-- The Redskins acquired center Lucas Crowley from the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for defensive back Dashaun Phillips. (Mike Jones)

-- The National Park Service is already planning for Sept. 16, when more than 30 events are expected to take place in D.C. Perry Stein reports: “Permit applicants for that date include protests, a half-marathon, charity events and weddings. … The two most prominent events of the day will be the Juggalo march [of Insane Clown Posse fans] and a pro-Trump ‘free-speech’ rally dubbed the Mother of All Rallies. Joining them will also be a left-leaning protest at the White House called the March to Protect American Democracy[.]"

-- Howard University reiterated the importance of freedom of speech after two white teenagers were criticized for wearing “Make America Great Again” apparel on campus. Perry Stein reports: “University President Wayne A.I. Frederick said in a statement Tuesday that ‘engagement, now more than ever, is the answer.’ ‘But that engagement must occur in a respectful manner between all parties on even footing,’ he continued.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trevor Noah considered the “many sides” of Trump's Phoenix rally:

The Post's Libby Casey examined how Trump's Twitter feed responded to his Phoenix speech. (Hint: there were many compliments.):

Chris Hurst, a former local television news anchor who watched two of his colleagues gunned down on air, is shaking up the House of Delegates race in one Virginia district:

Protesters marched in solidarity Wednesday with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for the national anthem to protest police brutality against blacks, outside the NFL's headquarters:

And archaelogists uncovered a 1,500-year-old mosaic in Jerusalem:

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) was greeted by a mariachi band, hired by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, at a campaign stop: