With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s son was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan and suffered traumatic brain injury.

When he finally made it home, the Republican asked his boy to tell him about his toughest day in combat.

“He had been wounded. There was a girl who had a leg blown off. They had to call in F-16s to secure their positions,” Warner recalled in an interview. “I was expecting those kinds of war stories out of him. But he said, ‘Dad, the hardest day for me, without a doubt, was election day in Afghanistan.’ It was 110 degrees. Before they went out, they put tourniquets on each of their arms and legs so, if they got hit, they could still turn the tourniquets. They found five IEDs around the one polling place that his platoon was assigned to defend.” But Afghans came out to vote any way, even at great personal risk to themselves.

Warner tells his son’s story to stress how essential it is for Americans not to take our electoral process for granted and for leaders in both parties to do everything possible to block foreign governments like Russia from meddling in our elections.

He was one of four secretaries of state in Washington yesterday for an election security conference that was organized by the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School. These election officials, accompanied by their deputies, huddled with cybersecurity experts from Google and Facebook, as well as officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

“This is a new issue for us. We’re having to respond to stuff we’re still learning about,” said Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill (D). “The first question we all have is: What are we going to do for 2018 and 2020? We all know we have to do things differently.”

She identified an inherent “culture clash” between cybersecurity experts, who are all about confidentiality and secrecy, and elections officers, who prize transparency and openness. “Bringing those two cultures together has been extremely interesting,” said Merrill, who chairs a cybersecurity task force for the National Association of Secretaries of State. “We’re trying to figure out how best to communicate. We’re having to learn a whole new language. We’re establishing relationships.”

Yesterday’s event took place at Facebook’s D.C. office. There were breakout sessions about protecting voter registration lists, recording election results and helping counties administer elections. A crisis communications expert gave a talk about the P.R. aspects of responding to a breach.

Elections are remarkably decentralized in the United States, which is both a strength and weakness of our system. Processes can vary dramatically from county to county.

The former director of information assurance at the National Security Agency, Debora Plunkett, is helping identify potential vectors of attack as elections officials teach her about the contact points in their systems. “These are seasoned professionals who know how to operate in the chaos of Election Day,” said Plunkett, now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center.

The highlight of yesterday was a tabletop exercise that simulated a foreign attack on the integrity of an election. An Army major who is enrolled in a master’s program at the Kennedy School took point in designing the scenario, with help from eight other students at Harvard and MIT. The six months of planning before an election were compressed into one hour. Then Election Day was compressed into a second hour.

Participants were forced to make hard choices, such as whether to switch from an electronic system to paper ballots. At one point, someone representing a county brought in an email that supposedly had come from the secretary of state. But the secretary hadn’t sent the email. It was a test to see whether the group would recognize that their email system had been hacked. Then what do you do next? Call the other counties who might have received the same erroneous email and assumed it was genuine? Stop using email altogether?

Psychological operations were also integrated into the activity. The fictitious enemy disseminated false information, using bots to publicize long lines and sow confusion on social media. Participants needed to decide how to respond to that, as well as protests that grew out of decisions they had made earlier in the exercise.

The conference was closed to the press, but organizers invited me exclusively to attend the opening session and interview participants afterward about lessons they learned.

Eric Rosenbach, the co-director of the Belfer Center, was chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter from 2015 to 2017. The retired Army intelligence officer spent the Obama years at the Pentagon, including as the assistant secretary who oversaw cyber-strategy. “The thing that bothered me more than all the things I saw in the seven years I was there was this past year was when the bad guys were going after our democracy and our election infrastructure,” he said. “It really just bothered me to my core. … I’m not sure we responded as forcefully as we probably should have in retrospect, but you learn a lot when you’re going through these things. … I wanted to do something about this from the outside.”

Rosenbach said efforts like this are crucial to deter America’s enemies. “I’m very worried about the perception that all the other bad guys around the world have after watching what the Russians did to this election that they can do something similar,” he explained. “I can just see Kim Jong Un rubbing his grubby little hands and thinking, ‘Well, you know what, we should go after the Americans too.’”

During a welcome reception Tuesday evening at the WeWork office space on Capitol Hill, Rosenbach briefed the 50 or so conference participants in broad strokes about the capabilities and objectives of the Russians, Chinese, Iranians and North Koreans.

Finally, he warned about “the wild card” risk of “some crazy domestic group” trying to mess with an election. “It could be on either fringe of the spectrum,” Rosenbach said. “In some ways, I worry more about that because they know the American system. They could go into a polling place, pose as someone who is a voter but meanwhile they’re slipping in a thumb drive (and) they’re getting in WiFi networks.”

One big focus right now for everyone involved in the effort is getting security clearances for secretaries of state so that the people who administer elections can be more “read in” about the precise nature of foreign plots. Warner from West Virginia, who took office at the start of this year, expects that people are going to start getting full clearances in the next couple of weeks. A DHS undersecretary assured them that their applications are being expedited.

“Cybersecurity is now part of the job description,” said Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D). “We need to do it in a way that people trust by being as transparent as we can. …. This is more than a one-time thing.”

The co-chairs of the Belfer Center’s “Defending Digital Democracy” initiative are Robby Mook, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager in 2016, and Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012. Both participated in the tabletop exercise.

There is, of course, consensus among intelligence professionals that Russia went after Clinton and the Democratic National Committee last year as part of an extensive effort to interfere in the election, but the Chinese also hacked Romney’s campaign in the fall of 2011. That forced Rhoades to spend precious dollars to harden security systems that he couldn’t devote to winning the primaries.

“We were concerned about how partisan this issue had become,” said Mook, explaining how they decided to collaborate.

“There’s tons of things we disagree on,” added Rhoades, “but we 100 percent agree that American voters should decide our elections. No one else.”

Both guys are now working on a “playbook” to share with campaigns at all levels about best practices for protecting data and training staff.

The Belfer Center is also working to produce a set of best practices for what local governments should do when a breach occurs. They’re thinking about packaging yesterday’s tabletop exercise in a way that could be disseminated to elections officials around the country, so that individual states can do it on their own.

“We’re never going to get the threat of an attack on the election system down to zero percent, but you can mitigate the risk and think about how to react to it,” Rosenbach said. “You have to rehearse these things over and over again.”

RUSSIAN CYBER-ESPIONAGE IS NO LAUGHING MATTER:

-- The U.S. government banned the use of Kaspersky security software in federal agencies on Wednesday. Officials said that at least half a dozen federal agencies run Kaspersky on their networks. Ellen Nakashima and Jack Gillum report: “Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke ... ordered the scrub on the grounds that the company has connections to the Russian government and its software poses a security risk. ‘The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security,’ [the department said in a statement].” 

-- A shuttered “Heart of Texas” Facebook group that had over 225,000 followers and organized anti-Clinton, anti-immigrant rallies across the state last year was found to have links to Russia. Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand reports: “In late October … the group transformed from a nativist, anti-Clinton meme machine to an organizing force when it created a Facebook event for a ‘Texit statewide rally’ titled ‘Get ready to secede!’ … The event called on Texans to protest ‘establishment robbers’ and ‘higher taxes to feed undocumented aliens’ in major [Texas] cities. It further claimed that a ‘Killary Rotten Clinton’ victory would lead to an influx of ‘refugees, mosques, and terrorist attacks.’ It is unclear how many people showed up to the protests. The group's efforts came on the heels of a similar Russian effort [reported this week]: an anti-Muslim protest in Twin Falls, Idaho, titled ‘Citizens before refugees.’”

-- A salesman in Brazil said his family photos were stolen and used to concoct a fake Facebook profile that helped spread Russian propaganda during the U.S. election. He was made aware of the fake page only after a New York Times story featured it last week as an example of fake social media accounts that were used during the campaign, and he recounted being particularly disturbed by the theft “because he used the privacy settings on Facebook to limit access to his profile.” (New York Times)

-- Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has a “red hot” focus on the Kremlin’s effort to influence U.S. voters through Facebook and other social media sites. Bloomberg’s Chris Strohm reports: “Mueller’s team of prosecutors and FBI agents is zeroing in on how Russia spread fake and damaging information through social media and is seeking additional evidence from companies like Facebook and Twitter about what happened on their networks[.] … The ability of foreign nations to use social media to manipulate and influence elections and policy is increasingly seen as the soft underbelly of international espionage, another official said, because it doesn’t involve the theft of state secrets and the U.S. doesn’t have a ready defense to prevent such attacks.”

House and Senate investigators are also likely to make social media sites a focus of their probes: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said Tuesday that it’s “probably more of a question when” than if his panel will hold a hearing with Facebook officials. And Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said they have also “been in discussions with the technology companies," including Facebook.

-- Another front: “RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War,” by Jim Rutenberg in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine: “How the Kremlin built one of the most powerful information weapons of the 21st century — and why it may be impossible to stop.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Trump apparently made a deal with Dems on DACA: Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) dined at the White House (Chinese food, which may have been intentional since Trump and Schumer agree on trade with China, says the New York Times's Maggie Haberman). “Chuck and Nancy” say they came away with a deal to immediately begin work on a legislative fix allowing the nearly 700,000 “dreamers” — those who came to the country with their parents as children — to stay in the United States, while increasing border security. That does not include the border wall, they said in a joint statement following the dinner.

 

Trump tweeted conflicting statements this morning:

Ed O’Keefe and David Nakamura report: “Congressional aides familiar with the exchange said that Trump and the party leaders agreed to move quickly on legislation to protect dreamers, though aides did not disclose whether they agreed that the goal should be for dreamers to eventually be offered a path to citizenship. … In a letter to her Democratic colleagues in the House, [Nancy] Pelosi said she hoped the deal could be done ‘in a matter of weeks.’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that DACA and border security were discussed, but she said excluding border wall funding from a package deal was ‘certainly not agreed to.’

-- The announcement came hours after Trump and Paul Ryan expressed contradictory timelines on when DACA would be resolved. While Trump said that he expects Congress to act on protecting dreamers “real soon,” Ryan reported that it could take “weeks” to resolve the issue. (Ed O'Keefe and Kelsey Snell)

-- The deal is the latest example of Trump compromising with Democrats following his pact with “Chuck and Nancy” to raise the debt ceiling, provide hurricane relief and keeping the government open (see my write up on the president's new triangulation tactics). Ashley Parker and Robert Costa write: “After eight months of pursuing a mostly hard-right, pro-Republican agenda with limited success, Trump is flirting with fulfilling his campaign promises to govern as a bipartisan dealmaker — including the possibility of legalizing thousands of undocumented immigrants after running stridently against the idea as a candidate. Trump could also be signaling the return of a recently bygone era when lawmakers of both parties dining — and working — with the president was hardly abnormal. … Trump’s reasons for engaging with lawmakers beyond the Republican leadership is deeply shaped by his experience on health-care legislation[.] … Trump remains unhappy with GOP leaders for promising success earlier in the year, only to see the effort fall apart[.]”

BOTTOM LINE: “Trump now believes that Republicans — who control both the House and the Senate — cannot be trusted to carry bills to passage by themselves and views it as his burden to create a better environment for his legislative agenda to garner support. What matters to him, one Republican lawmaker said, is ‘putting wins on the board — not the specifics.’”

--Trump's base is not happy. Overnight, Steve Bannon's Breitbart’s homepage banner read “‘Amnesty Don’ — Report: Dems Declare Victory as Trump Caves on DACA … White House Pushes Back — Softly.” But the headline links to an article on Trump’s earlier meeting with the Problem Solvers Caucus, where he reportedly said, “Oh, DACA, we want to move on this quick, we don’t want to wait six months.”

--Costa has more on the outcry from Trump's voters: “As midnight neared, thousands of social media accounts came alive as elected officials and activists on the right dashed off tweets and posts to share their shock ... 'The reality is sinking in that Trump administration is on the precipice of turning into an establishment presidency,' Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser, said in an interview.”

From a big Trump supporter and hard-line immigration opponent:

More from the base:

IRMA'S AFTERMATH:

-- Authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of at least eight nursing home residents in Hollywood, Fla., after their facility was reportedly left without air conditioning amid widespread power outages from Irma. Officials said three people died at the nursing home, and three others were pronounced dead after being hospitalized. (Mark Berman, Katie Zezima and Aaron C. Davis

-- Trump’s FEMA nominee withdrew from consideration for the No. 2 slot at the agency on Wednesday, after NBC reporters raised questions about a federal investigation claiming he falsified government travel and timekeeping records while serving in the Bush administration. NBC News’s Suzy Khimm reports: “The investigation … concluded there was insufficient evidence that Craig had violated conflict-of-interest laws in the awarding of huge FEMA contracts after Hurricane Katrina …But the investigation revealed conduct by Craig that could have been an impediment to his confirmation by the Senate had he not withdrawn.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Infamous hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli was arrested after he told his Facebook followers he would pay them $5,000 to grab a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair. A federal judge ruled that his post constitutes a solicitation of assault, and revoked his $5 million bail. (Renae Merle)
  2. North Korea’s nuclear test earlier this month may have been twice as strong as officials originally thought. According to a U.S. monitoring group and think tank, the test may have been equivalent to roughly 17 times the size of a bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. (Michelle Ye Hee Lee)
  3. The massive Equifax breach this summer has left roughly two-thirds of U.S. consumers’ personal data at risk — but experts say the most vulnerable are home buyers and mortgage applicants, who tend to have the most significant information on file. (Kenneth R. Harney has more on what to do if you believe you’ve been affected.)
  4. The International Olympic Committee officially awarded the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games to Paris and Los Angeles — calling it a “win-win” situation after the L.A. Olympic bid committee had agreed to wait to host the Games until 2028. (Marissa Payne)
  5. The Cleveland Indians won their 21st straight game, giving them the longest winning streak in American League history and the longest in baseball in 82 years. (Dave Sheinin)
  6. San Diego has begun power-washing its streets and sidewalks as part of an effort to fight a deadly outbreak of hepatitis A, which has spread rapidly among the city's homeless population and was recently declared a public health emergency. So far, health officials said it has led to 16 deaths and nearly 300 hospitalizations. (Lindsey Bever)
  7. Sean Spicer and Chelsea Manning will both be joining the Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics as visiting fellows this fall, bolstering a roster that also includes Corey Lewandowski, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Harvard says they will come to campus for a “limited” number of events meant to spark discussion. (AP)
  8. A 26-year-old aspiring singer in Nashville was charged with attempted murder this week after an altercation with a homeless man who asked her to move her Porsche so he could sleep. Instead, she allegedly stepped out of her vehicle and shot him twice in the stomach. (Samantha Schmidt)
  9. The bloodstained ice ax used to kill Leon Trotsky in 1940 has resurfaced for the first time in more than six decades. It will be put on display next year at Washington’s International Spy Museum. (The Guardian)
  10. Former Republican Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico died at age 85. Over six terms in the Senate, Domenici became a guiding voice on the budget and energy policy. (Elaine S. Povich)

THE TRUMP AGENDA:

-- The White House and Republican leadership are now saying that their tax cut plan will be ready in two weeks. Kelsey Snell, Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis report: “The announcement is part of a GOP leadership effort to create momentum and excitement for an eventual tax overhaul and assuage skeptical conservatives who have grown frustrated that details of the plan remain closely guarded by leaders.”

  • Flashback to this evergreen piece from early June: “In Trump’s White House, Everything’s Coming in ‘Two Weeks,’” by Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa: “Trump’s habit of self-imposing — then missing — two-week deadlines for major announcements has become a staple of his administration as it’s struggled to amass policy wins.”

But the uncertainty around what specifically the tax plan will include is causing even more headaches for the GOP. Our colleagues write: “Earlier in the morning, [Paul Ryan] left open the possibility that the tax plan would cut government revenue — adding to the government’s budget deficit but potentially averting the need to make tough choices that could leave the legislation tangled in a political thicket. …Ryan, who had spent years blasting Washington policymakers for not doing enough to tackle the deficit and the debt, had earlier pledged a ‘revenue-neutral’ tax bill — one that did not change the amount of anticipated federal income. But the failure of the GOP health-care legislation, which included a nearly $1 trillion revenue cut, has scrambled party leaders’ plans.”

-- Trump further muddied the waters by claiming the plan may raise taxes on the wealthy, contradicting his own treasury secretary. Damian Paletta reports: “‘I think the wealthy will be pretty much where they are,’ Trump said ...  ‘Pretty much where they are … If they have to go higher, they’ll go higher.’ Trump offered no specifics or evidence for how why the taxes would go up.” [Steve] Mnuchin had said that many wealthy Americans would enjoy a tax cut if the administration’s plan were implemented. “But both Trump's characterization of the tax plan and Mnuchin's are at odds with the projections of budget experts, who say the current ideas would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.”

 -- Amid the mixed messaging, House GOP leadership is still trying to convince its more conservative members to agree on a 2018 budget. The House and Senate need to pass matching budget resolutions to use reconciliation for the Republican tax plan and pass it with a simple majority. 

--Speaking of Mnuchin, this will not go over well: “Mnuchin eclipses past travel backlash with pricey request: European honeymoon by military jet,” from Alex Horton and Damian Paletta: “U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin requested a military jet to fly him and his wife, Louise Linton, to their European honeymoon this summer, raising questions again about the wealthy couple's use of government aircraft. A Treasury Department spokesman said in a statement Wednesday that the request was made so that Mnuchin, who is a member of the National Security Council, would have access to secure communications as he traveled abroad. … The department withdrew its request ‘after a secure communications option was identified during the Secretary's extended travel.’”

-- This is a big deal: Mitch McConnell is advocating a rollback of the “blue slip” policy, which allows senators to block judicial nominees from their home states. The New York Times’s Carl Hulse reports: “‘My personal view is that the blue slip, with regard to circuit court appointments, ought to simply be a notification of how you’re going to vote, not the opportunity to blackball,’ Mr. McConnell said[.] … He said he favored retaining the blue slip authority for lower-level district court judges. … [Schumer] has requested a meeting with Mr. McConnell and the top Republican and Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee to dissuade Republicans from weakening the blue slip.” Democrats’ observance of the rule during the Obama years contributed to the large number of current judicial openings that Trump seeks to fill. The decision will ultimately be up to Senate Judiciary panel Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), but McConnell has obvious sway over it.

-- John McCain’s promise that he will allow senators to offer any amendments to the defense bill will likely create direct challenges to some of Trump’s national security policies. Karoun Demirjian reports: “But the promise of votes is far from a guarantee that the senators’ effort to force a reckoning on the war in Afghanistan, sanctions against North Korea, the ban on transgender troops serving in the military and other controversial policies will be successful.” For example, the amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to force a vote on a new authorization for use of military force within six months was defeated 61 to 36 yesterday.

-- The Trump administration is launching a broad new anti-leak program. BuzzFeed News’s Chris Geidner reports: In the memo about leaks … [national security adviser] H.R. McMaster details a request that ‘every Federal Government department and agency’ hold a one-hour training next week on ‘unauthorized disclosures’ — of classified and certain unclassified information. The Trump administration has already promised an aggressive crackdown on anyone who leaks classified information. The latest move is a dramatic step that could greatly expand what type of leaks are under scrutiny and who will be scrutinized[.]”

-- Jared Kushner is convening a roundtable today on improving mentorship and job opportunities in federal prisons, an initiative that is at odds with the tough-on-crime approach taken by other Trump officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Beth Reinhard reports: “A bipartisan group of about two dozen elected officials, religious leaders and business leaders were invited to the first major criminal justice-related event held by the Kushner-led Office of American Innovation[.] … Kushner's private discussions in recent months with members of Congress and outside groups have included sentencing reform, according to participants, but Thursday's meeting is more narrowly focused on preparing inmates to reenter society. Neither Sessions nor his newly appointed Bureau of Prisons director, retired Army Gen. Mark S. Inch, will attend, although some Justice Department officials are expected to participate.”

-- A key portion of Trump’s travel ban is set to expire in less than two weeks, and the Department of Homeland Security is writing a report with recommendations for the future. Matt Zapotosky reports: “The report is critical because it is being prepared in response to Trump’s order that the homeland security secretary present him with a list of countries for inclusion in what effectively amounts to a more permanent ban. And because of impending deadlines, the White House will probably have to take action even before the Supreme Court hears arguments next month on whether the entry ban is at its core legal. The White House has several options — including extending the current ban, modifying it or letting it lapse”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Michael G. Flynn, the son of Trump’s former national security adviser, is a subject of Mueller’s investigation. Tom Hamburger and Devlin Barrett report: “The inquiry into the younger Flynn … follows other indications this week that investigators are increasing pressure on his [father]. Mueller is looking at the younger Flynn because of his role as chief of staff to his father at the Flynn Intel Group, a lobbying and consulting firm that worked for international and domestic clients[.] … Two senior House Democrats this week requested information from the elder Flynn and some of his business partners about a joint U.S.-Russia proposal to sell nuclear power plants in the Middle East.”

-- The elder Flynn promoted that controversial nuclear power plan — which had involved a Russian state-owned company currently under U.S. sanctions — while serving as Trump’s national security adviser. Wall Street Journal’s Christopher S. Stewart,  Rob Barry and Shane Harris report: “White House disclosure forms indicate that Mr. Flynn’s year-and-a-half work on the project ended in December 2016, but Mr. Flynn in fact remained involved in the project once he joined the Trump administration in January, discussing the plan and directing his National Security Council staff to meet with the companies involved[.] … The former NSC staffers said Mr. Flynn’s contacts with the former military officers were unusual — happening ‘outside normal channels’ — and raised questions among NSC staff about potential conflicts of interest. His actions were ‘highly abnormal,’ and ‘not the way things were supposed to go,’ said one former NSC staff member. The activity continued even after NSC ethics advisers directed Mr. Flynn to remove himself from the project, former and current officials said. ...

  • “The [project] envisions building and operating dozens of nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia and across the [Middle East]. The sprawling construction project was valued at hundreds of billions of dollars and described as a Marshall Plan for the region …”
  • NPR reports: “The business partners with whom Flynn worked told the members of Congress they believe the nuclear power plan remains ‘an ongoing, viable project’ that is 'now part of the Trump administration's “tool kit” for the Middle East.'" 

-- Russia has withdrawn parking privileges for U.S. diplomats, removing parking signs at U.S. consulates to reduce available space, and painting over former spaces to turn them into pedestrian crossings. (AP)

-- Susan Rice privately told House investigators she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the UAE was in New York last December during Trump’s White House transition. CNN’s Manu Raju reports: “The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House. The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York … for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including [Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon]. The Obama administration felt misled by the [UAE], which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it's customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels[.] ... [Rice’s] explanation appears to have satisfied some influential Republicans on the committee … raising new questions about whether any Trump associates tried to arrange back-channel discussions with the Russians.”

-- The Justice Department is preventing Senate investigators from interviewing FBI officials over the firing of James Comey — the latest sign that Mueller could be investigating the circumstances of his ousting, including whether Trump acted improperly. CNN’s Manu Raju reports: “The leaders of the [Senate Judiciary Committee] have repeatedly asked two senior FBI officials — Carl Ghattas and James Rybicki — to sit down for a transcribed interview to discuss the Comey firing as part of its inquiry[.] ... But the Justice Department has declined, citing ‘the appointment of [Mueller] to serve’ as special counsel about Russian interference in the 2016 elections and ‘related matters.’”

  • “The previously undisclosed turf war comes as the Senate [panel] has not yet given assurances to the special counsel's office that it could have unfettered access to the transcript of the interview it conducted last week with [Donald Trump Jr.], saying that the full Senate must first authorize the release of the information to Mueller's team.”

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:

-- Jared Kushner’s role at the White House “crushed” efforts to woo investors for his family company’s aging, money-losing Manhattan tower. Michael Kranish and Jonathan O'Connell report: “[In 2016], a team led by Kushner and his father, Charles, courted global investors and prospective tenants. Then [Trump] became president and Kushner became his father-in-law’s senior White House adviser. Problems ensued. Kushner met in December with a Russian banker, leading to questions about whether he was mixing his role in the coming Trump administration with his business. A Chinese insurance fund and a former Qatari foreign minister backed away from a potential $900 million investment in the skyscraper. Another foreign funding stream was disrupted when Kushner Cos. came under federal scrutiny for its use of a controversial federal visas-for-investment program at another project. Today, 666 Fifth Avenue appears to be the most troubled of the projects Kushner left behind for his family to manage. With one-fourth of its offices empty, lease revenue does not cover monthly interest payments, [and] a $1.2 billion mortgage … comes due in 18 months. A ratings agency has classified a $115 million portion of the loan as 'troubled,' and company officials decline to say whether it will be fully repaid.”

  • “'They were crushed by this,’ said Thomas Barrack, a friend of Trump and [Kushner] ... Kushner’s move to the White House ‘just about completely chilled the market, and [potential investors] just said, “No way — can’t be associated with any appearances of conflict of interest,” even though there was none.’”

-- The Office of Government Ethics is now allowing anonymous donations from lobbyists to White House staffers’ legal defense funds, reversing an earlier internal policy. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn reports: “The little-noticed change could help President Donald Trump’s aides raise the money they need to pay attorneys as the Russia probe expands — but raises the potential for hidden conflicts of interest or other ethics trouble. … While it remains unclear just how many White House aides will need legal defense funds, several Trump staffers still working in the Republican administration are turning to their own private counsel for help navigating the Mueller probe and separate investigations from Congress.”

DIVIDED AMERICA:

-- Trump met yesterday with Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate’s only African American Republican, who criticized the president for his response to Charlottesville. But the two offered contradictory accounts of their meeting. Sean Sullivan reports: “Scott (R-S.C.) said that he reaffirmed his belief that Trump’s comments after the deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville last month [were] not satisfactory. … Trump’s top spokeswoman offered a different account. ‘Did Senator Scott express his displeasure, at all, with the president’s initial reaction to Charlottesville?’ a reporter asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a news briefing. ‘Not at all,’ Sanders responded. ‘They talked about it pretty in depth, but the focus was primarily on solutions moving forward.’” (and there was a kerfuffle over the White House's original labeling of the senator as “Tom Scott” in a picture — see the above tweet by a Times reporter).

-- But the White House added that Trump would sign Congress’s joint resolution condemning the violence in Charlottesville and encouraging the president to speak out against hate groups. (Anne Gearan)

-- Huckabee Sanders also said Wednesday that ESPN host Jemele Hill should be fired for calling Trump a “white supremacist” in tweets earlier this week. David Nakamura reports: “Asked about Hill's [tweets], in which the sportscaster also said Trump's rise was ‘the direct result of white supremacy,’ Sanders responded: ‘That's one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.’ ESPN scolded Hill, who is African American, in a public statement distancing the network from her remarks, but it has not suspended her[.]” The network called Hill’s tweet “inappropriate,” and noted her comments do not “represent the position of ESPN.”

-- Steve Bannon has agreed to speak at UC Berkeley’s “Free Speech Week” later this month, joining a lineup of conservative flamethrowers such as Milo Yiannopoulos in appearing at the four-day event. (Susan Svrluga)

-- Some 100 students and community members gathered at the University of Virginia Tuesday night, shrouding a statue of Thomas Jefferson in black and criticizing the university’s response to recent white nationalist demonstrations on campus. Debbie Truong reports: “[Demonstrators] covered the statue of the university’s founder, and signs reading ‘racist’ and ‘rapist’ were placed on it. Speakers at the rally pressed the university to comply with demands made by the Black Student Alliance last month that included removing Confederate plaques from the university’s rotunda and banning white supremacist groups from campus[.]”  

-- Students at the University of North Carolina are demanding the removal of a Confederate soldier statue on campus, with their lawyers arguing that its presence violates anti-discrimination laws. Susan Svrluga reports: “The statue honoring University of North Carolina alumni who died for the Confederacy has been controversial for years and a focal point for student protests. In 2015 someone painted ‘KKK’ and ‘MURDERER’ on it. … But the university has argued that it does not have the legal authority to remove the statue. In 2015, the state legislature acted to prohibit state agencies from permanently removing any ‘object of remembrance.’”

-- Felony hate crime charges have been filed against a man who was caught on video unleashing a racist tirade and turning violent outside a Chicago Starbucks. The 24-year-old became “irate” after a drink was spilled on him, and can be heard loudly yelling at two black men: “Shut up, slave! Do not talk to me! Your children are disposable vermin!” As one of the men tried to walk away, he yelled, “Get on all fours! Do not walk off on two legs!” He also spit on people and punched a 59-year-old homeless man, unprovoked. (Amy B Wang)

HEALTH-CARE EFFORTS:

-- The Senate’s Democrats and Republicans advanced two separate ideas on health care yesterday, and they couldn’t be further apart ideologically.

GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy suggested giving states block grants in place of much of the ACA’s funds. David Weigel and Amy Goldstein report: “[The bill] would leave in place most of the financial props that support the ACA, eliminating only a tax on medical devices. At the same time, it does not attempt to replace the current law’s policies with more conservative federal approaches, instead allowing each state to define its own rules for health plans that may be sold to residents and the help consumers should receive to afford that insurance. … It would allow states to waive most of the law’s insurance regulation but continue its ban on insurers refusing to cover people with preexisting medical conditions. … But the block grant could be spent on a variety of health-care purposes, not just to help lower-income people gain coverage.” Remember: In order for Republicans to pass anything on health care without Democratic support, they must do so before Sept. 30 when special budget rules expire.

-- Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) released a white paper on taxes yesterday after critics pointed out his “Medicare-for-all” legislation doesn't cover how the government would pay for such a system. David Weigel reports: “The six-page document assumes that ‘our federal government could save up to $500 billion per year’ if most insurance was replaced by universal Medicare, waving away more than a third of the yearly cost expected by Republicans. The taxes themselves would fall on both employers and employees. Sanders floats the idea of a 7.5 percent tax on employers[.] … Another tax, of 4 percent, would hit individuals, on the theory that they would end up saving money relative to the cost of premiums. … The next big slice of funding: higher tax rates on the very wealthy. … How much of this do backers of the Sanders bill support? A few ideas have gained their attention before[.] … But since the 1980s, Democrats have hesitated to run on tax increases for anyone but the very wealthy.”

DEMOCRATS IN THE WILDERNESS:

-- Shut out of power, Democrats are refocusing their energies on state-level races, but they're getting in their own way. Amber Phillips reports: “Republicans effectively control 68 of 99 state legislative chambers, and Democrats have just four elections to wrest back some of those before looking ahead to possibly even harder challenges for Congress. They put a dent in three seats on Tuesday night, by knocking off Republicans in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, and making it to a runoff in Mississippi[.] … But time is running out to pick up more seats. New 2020 census data means state lawmakers elected by then will get to set up the battlefields for state and congressional races for another decade in more than 40 states. … And instead of crafting a comprehensive strategy to win back dozens of seats before it’s too late, Democrats are struggling with how to balance the rush of attention from national groups that want to play in this field.”

-- BUT, BUT BUT: Another poll suggests that Trump is tarnishing the Republican Party’s reputation. Aaron Blake writes: “The Pew Research Center released a poll Wednesday showing a sharp drop in Republican-leaning independents who say the GOP label describes them well. While 49 percent said it described them at least ‘fairly well’ back in 2016, just 33 percent say that today. About two-thirds of these nominal Republican voters now say the term describes them ‘not too well’ or ‘not well at all.’ Among Democratic-leaning voters who subscribe to the ‘Democrat’ label, it has remained basically steady at 42 percent. … [F]or a Republican Party that has long worried about Trump's impact on it, these polls — along with polls showing GOP voters turning on their leaders — suggest there is some restlessness with the party that nominated him and that the GOP is ripe for Trump slamming a wedge right through the middle of it.”

NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- North Korea issued another drastic threat following its latest sanctions from the United Nations. One of the country’s state agencies said that it would “sink” Japan and reduce the U.S. to “ashes and darkness” using nuclear weapons. (Reuters)

-- Remember the “nuclear triad?” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday he is “convinced” the United States needs to maintain three means of launching nuclear weapons. Dan Lamothe reports: “The comments came amid an ongoing review of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, and as tensions with North Korea remain high as that regime works toward developing a nuclear missile of its own. For decades, the U.S. military has been able to deliver nuclear weapons by Navy submarine, Air Force bombers and Air Force intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), a system known as the triad and due for hundreds of billions of dollars in upgrades in coming years. ‘If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that is the triad, and its framework is the right way to go,’ Mattis said[.] … Mattis said that within each leg of the nuclear triad, there are types of weapons that he is reviewing.”

-- Trump must decide by today whether to waive economic sanctions on Iran. Carol Morello reports: “Trump is expected to waive sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors for the second time since taking office. … Even if Trump waives sanctions, as he must by law reassess every 120 days, it comes as Iran and the agreement it negotiated with six world powers are coming under increasing attack. In a series of public critiques of the [nuclear] deal and Iran’s behavior, administration officials appear to be laying the groundwork to kill the existing agreement, possibly by finding a way to reopen it for modifications. The next and most consequential decision on the horizon is Oct. 15, when Trump must decide whether Iran is fully complying with its commitments under the deal[.]”

-- The United States imposed visa sanctions on Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone for refusing to accept deported nationals. Politico’s Ted Hesson reports: “An executive order signed in January by [Trump] directed the Secretary of State to enter negotiations with ‘recalcitrant countries’ that wouldn't accept deported nationals from the U.S. If the countries failed to comply, the executive order said, DHS and State must impose sanctions. … Sanctions have been used sparingly in the past, but have emerged as a weapon in the president’s immigration crackdown.”

-- ISIS is on the run in Iraq, but, even if the extremists can be defeated, Iraq still faces major challenges to rebuild. Liz Sly and Aaso Ameen Schwan report: “Old disputes between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds over territory, resources and power already are resurfacing as the victors of the battles compete to control liberated areas or jostle for political advantage in the post-Islamic State landscape. These rivalries now are compounded by the mammoth task of rebuilding the towns and cities destroyed by the fighting[.] … A failure to manage the post-conflict situation risks a repeat of the cycle of grievance and revolt that fueled the original Iraqi insurgency in 2003, and its reincarnation in the form of the Islamic State after 2011[.] … But the countries that enthusiastically prosecuted the war are proving less willing to pay to fix the resulting damage, U.N. and aid agency officials say.”

-- Rex Tillerson sent an email yesterday previewing his overhaul of the State Department, which may include an outright merger with USAID. (Politico’s Nahal Toosi)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump was up late last night:

He went after Hillary Clinton and her new book on the election:

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) slammed Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan:

The Obama adviser who ran Medicare and Medicaid lambasted the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill:

A longtime correspondent for the Atlantic weighed in on Huckabee Sanders’s criticism of ESPN’s Jemele Hill:

From a CNN anchor:

From the executive editor of the Washington Free Beacon:

From a former Democratic congresswoman:

There's a Trump tweet for everything, this time from 2012:

From the New York Times's television critic:

A New York Times reporter on Huckabee Sanders:

One day after Sanders suggested that the DOJ consider prosecuting James Comey, Jay Sekulow seconded the idea:

From the former U.S. attorney that Trump fired:

Paul Ryan offered this memorable line to Capitol Hill reporters:

The president came through on his promise of his personal donations to Harvey victims:

The president’s son spoke in favor of Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) proposal to ban flag-burning:

Trump recognized prisoners of war. From New York magazine’s Washington correspondent:

A view from the White House briefing room:

A familiar face visited Capitol Hill:

Sen. Orrin Hatch had some blunt fun with the introduction of his medical marijuana bill:

A curious citizen posed this question:

And Hatch responded in kind:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Los Angeles Times, “Antonio Villaraigosa banks on historic Latino groundswell in run for governor, but concedes his time might be over,” by Michael Finnegan: “A few dozen migrants from Mexico looked up from the Salinas Valley field where they were picking strawberries and watched Antonio Villaraigosa’s convoy rumble toward them in a cloud of dust. Moments later, the former Los Angeles mayor, wearing shiny black dress shoes, stepped out of a sedan. The harvest was the highlight of a Monterey Bay campaign swing for Villaraigosa, a Democrat running for governor, [and] came almost 50 years after he broke into politics as an East L.A. teenager[.] … But now, four years after his mayoralty came to an end, Villaraigosa, 64, is no longer the scrappy upstart whose rise to power symbolized Latinos’ growing clout in California. Instead, he stands out as the oldest of the top contenders for governor … [and] is painfully aware that Californians might deny him what he craves: one more act in public life. ‘Maybe it passed me up,’ he conceded … ‘Maybe I’m yesterday’s news. Maybe I’m just a guy who was starting out 20-some-odd years ago, broke glass ceilings — but maybe my time is over.’”

-- The Atlantic, “America's 'Racial Generation Gap' Is Starting to Shrink,” by Ronald Brownstein: “[D]emographic trends offer some guarded reasons for hope that the United States is living through peak years of discord over its growing racial and ethnic diversity—even if the temperature isn’t likely to lower very quickly.”

-- Politico Magazine, “How Man-made Earthquakes Could Cripple the U.S. Economy,” by Kathryn Miles: “Cushing is the nexus of 14 major pipelines, including Keystone, which alone has the potential to transport as much as 600,000 barrels of oil a day. … This concentration of oil, about 15 percent of U.S. demand, is one reason the Department of Homeland Security has designated Cushing ‘critical infrastructure,’ which it defines as assets that, ‘whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.’ … When most of the Cushing tanks there were constructed, the most logical cause of any such disaster seemed like a catastrophic tornado. No one anticipated swarms of earthquakes. But that’s what began occurring about five years ago, when wastewater injection and other fracking-related activities changed the seismic face of Oklahoma in dramatic fashion.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Superman Protects Undocumented Workers From Armed White Supremacist in Latest Comic,”  from the Hollywood Reporter: “In the recent issue of Action Comics #987, ‘The Oz Effect,’ released Wednesday, Superman arrives in the nick of time to protect a group of undocumented immigrants from a white man sporting an American flag bandanna, wielding a machine gun, who is going to shoot them for taking his job. Superman blocks the bullets before they hit the terrified people. ‘Stop this!’ Superman orders the gunman. ‘Why?!’ he responds. ‘They ruined me! Stole from me!’ Grabbing the gunman by the collar and pulling him in close, Superman says, ‘The only person responsible for the blackness smothering your soul — is you!’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Fans drape ‘Racism is as American as baseball’ sign over Green Monster,” from the Boston Globe: “In the middle of the fourth inning of the Red Sox-Athletics game on Wednesday night, a sign was unfurled from the front row of Section 6 of Fenway Park’s Monster Seats. ‘Racism is as American as baseball,’ it read. The sign remained visible for approximately two minutes before security personnel removed both the sign and four people — two men and two women, all roughly between the ages of 25 and 30, according to a source with knowledge of the situation – from Fenway Park. … Boston Antifa, via its Twitter page, claimed credit for the sign.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump and Pence will travel to Florida today to receive a briefing on Hurricane Irma and visit with people impacted by the storm. Trump will later host a reception for the White House Historical Association back in D.C.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Sen. Ted Cruz explained to CNN’s Dana Bash that his Twitter account “liking” an explicit adult video was a staffer’s “honest mistake” and added this: "Consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms."

 

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

-- D.C. will get Irma’s mild remnants today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Early morning showers are more likely a heavy drizzle, typical of dying tropical systems. Shower chances are likely to dwindle by midday but can never be ruled out. There is an outside chance for a bolt of lightning or two with any late afternoon showers.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Braves 8-2. (Chelsea Janes)

-- George Washington University settled a legal dispute with former basketball coach Mike Lonergan, after he was fired nearly a year ago amid allegations that he verbally abused players. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Lonergan’s attorney said in a statement that he is pleased the conflict “could be resolved amicably.” (John Feinstein)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Sean Spicer appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's show last night:

A new video reveals the devastation that Hurricane Irma wrought on the Caribbean island of Barbuda:

A shooting at a Washington state school left one student dead:

The Washington Post compiled five moments in the wake of Irma that will make you smile:

And these two baby orangutans were rescued from smugglers and brought to a wildlife center in Thailand: