With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: The spooks have come in from the cold, and they’re running for Congress.

Alarmed by President Trump and galvanized by Russian interference in the 2016 election, Democratic alumni of the Central Intelligence Agency are challenging Republican incumbents from Virginia to Michigan and New York.

Abigail Spanberger spent eight years as an operations officer for the CIA, recruiting and developing spies, with a focus on counterterrorism. Before joining the agency, she worked in law enforcement for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service — targeting drug dealers and money laundering. In 2014, Spanberger left the agency and moved home to the Richmond suburb of Glen Allen, near where she and her husband grew up, to raise their three kids. The 38-year-old is now challenging Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), the Freedom Caucus leader who toppled then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary.

“There is a lot of concern among people living in our district about where we find ourselves on the international stage,” Spanberger said in an interview. “I believe very firmly that the United States of America is the world’s superpower, and we have a responsibility to be a stabilizing force.”

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened during Elissa Slotkin’s first week living in New York City. She had just started her graduate studies at Columbia University. Because she was fluent in Arabic, the CIA recruited her to be a Middle East analyst and then deployed her to Baghdad. She served three tours in Iraq over five years. She left to become the director for Iraq policy on the National Security Council, moved to the State Department and finally the Pentagon. When Barack Obama left office in January, she was the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security. Now 41, she’s moved home to Michigan and is running against GOP Rep. Mike Bishop. She outraised him last quarter.

Making this a trend story: Jeff Beals, 40, spent four years as a CIA intelligence officer after graduating from Harvard in 1998. He moved to the State Department in 2002 and spent four years working on Middle East peace there. Now a high school history teacher in Woodstock, N.Y., he is one of several Democrats vying to take on GOP Rep. John Faso.

-- A handful of other Democratic House candidates also have intelligence backgrounds, though not at the CIA. Patrick Ryan, one of the top-tier contenders to face Faso in New York’s Hudson Valley, served two combat tours in Iraq, including one as the lead intelligence officer for an infantry battalion in Mosul. After retiring as a captain, the West Point grad started a successful cybersecurity firm. “The thing being an intelligence officer taught me is that there is no simple answer that can be captured in 140 characters,” Ryan said in an interview. “I don’t think our commander in chief understands the complexity and the second- and third- order consequences of his decisions. … War has to be the last resort in all cases.”

-- Trump has antagonized the intelligence community by questioning the expertise and professionalism of employees at the various spy agencies. He has never fully accepted their conclusion that Vladimir Putin ordered a comprehensive cyber campaign to boost his campaign and sabotage the presidential election. “The whole Russia thing was an excuse for the Democrats losing the election,” Trump said again Monday during a news conference in the Rose Garden.

Shortly before taking office, Trump memorably compared the intelligence community he now oversees to Nazi Germany. The day after being inaugurated, Trump visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and drew criticism for delivering self-referential remarks before a wall of stars memorializing fallen officers. Visiting Poland in July, the president said U.S. intelligence analysts were wrong about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction — so they could also be wrong again about the Russians. In March, Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government. Both refused.

Across the “deep state,” there are pockets of concern about the president’s fitness for office. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) spoke for many who cannot go on the record when he expressed fear that Trump's behavior is setting the nation “on the path to World War III.”

-- But the CIA prides itself on being independent and nonpartisan. People from across the ideological spectrum work there. “It is wholly unfortunate that the president — at least through his actions and words — isn’t appreciating what they do,” said Spanberger, who is running in Virginia. “At the end of the day, it’s a nonpartisan institution. To be a professional intelligence officer is really a unique path. They have a job to do: to serve the American people. So they just continue to do their jobs.”

Spanberger said what’s frustrated her the most this year has been when Trump and congressional Republicans make hasty decisions without having all the facts. Her mission at the CIA was to collect as much intelligence as possible so that policymakers could make more informed choices. “We’d ask ourselves: what information do we not have? What information are the analysts looking for? Then on the operations side, we’d look to figure out how to get that information,” she explained. “My role was to encourage people to take great risks so that our government could act wisely and make decisions based on that information.”

That’s one of the reasons that the House health-care debate really got her goat. “As a former CIA officer, the idea that the legislative body would put through a bill without so much as a CBO score was shocking to me,” Spanberger explained. “It runs antithetical to everything I believe in.”

-- The former CIA officials, seeking elected office for the first time, are full of wisdom about how to deal with global hotspots, but they also understand that voters are primarily motivated by breadbasket issues. On the stump, each puts the heaviest emphasis on the economy and health care. That said, they’ve also discovered that — because the world is such a tinderbox right now — people are remarkably engaged on national security.

Back in Michigan, Slotkin said that she routinely gets asked about global events people read about in that day’s newspaper: “Businessmen ask me, ‘I have a trip coming up in Seoul. Should I cancel?’ Or, ‘My kid is supposed to study abroad in Asia. Should they go?’ People are concerned about the instability.”

-- Because both women are challenging Republican incumbents and Trump won each district by 7 points last year, they are running as pragmatic moderates who are eager to work across the aisle.

“I am out there every day talking with Trump voters,” Slotkin said. “For the first two minutes of the conversation … they think I am a Republican because of my CIA and DOD experience. Then they ask what I am running as. I say I am running as a Midwestern Democrat and that I have worked for Democrats and Republicans proudly. People will then say they consider themselves independent. That’s Michigan.”

Each could be well positioned to ride a wave of backlash in the midterms — if it materializes. “There’s no doubt that former CIA officers and national security experts have strong records of service to our country and authentic messages that appeal to Democrats, independents and Republican voters alike,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law.

-- Republicans note that all the Democratic candidates mentioned above need to make it through primaries, which could force them to the left. Spanberger, running against Brat, faces five other Democrats in a primary that won’t take place until next year.

GOP operatives expect they will probably wind up fielding a couple of candidates of their own who have intelligence backgrounds, though no one who has announced for 2018 yet has worked at the CIA. Andrew Grant, running against Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), was a Marine Corps intelligence officer before working at the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), who is facing a tough reelection fight in a district carried by Hillary Clinton, is a former CIA agent who was stationed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Two of his Democratic challengers have intel backgrounds. Gina Ortiz Jones is a former Air Force intelligence officer who deployed to Iraq and worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Jay Hulings was a staffer on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and worked as legislative director for retired Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.). Both of his parents were CIA agents.

-- A cautionary tale: After nearly a decade in Langley as an analyst, Kevin Strouse was the Democratic nominee in 2014 against former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). But he lost. Shortly afterward, Strouse wrote a fascinating post for a blog called Overt Action about the pitfalls of running for office as a CIA alumnus:

“Many regarded my intelligence background with skepticism,” he recalled. “Some believed I had spent my time bombing people in Pakistan from unmanned aircraft, while others assumed that I had overthrown foreign governments. … In one instance I was presumed accountable for the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War, an impressive feat since that effort preceded my birth by two decades. Also, I was constantly asked if I watched Homeland, if I liked Homeland, and if I was trying to ‘be’ Homeland …

“While very comfortable discussing foreign policy issues, I often knew things I could not discuss publicly,” he added. “Over the course of the campaign, media reporting surrounding the intelligence community often drove voter interest in the topic, and usually not in a good way. I was frequently asked about the Intelligence Community spying on American citizens after Edward Snowden began leaking classified information about NSA programs in June 2013. I also was often asked about the attack on the US diplomatic post in Benghazi…

“I also discovered very quickly that the skills required for being a top-notch Agency analyst are far different than what is necessary to be a successful Congressional candidate,” Strouse concluded. “CIA analytic briefings are usually dry and stuffy. They focus on data, nuance, and uncertain outcomes. Policy recommendations are a big no-no. Briefings are presented dispassionately. Suffice to say, the way CIA analysts are trained to give briefings and answer questions will not get people on their feet cheering. Voters expect their elected leaders to be definitive and show passion and convictions for their beliefs.”

-- The former CIA officers who will be on the ballot in 2018 are preparing for the Russians to once again wage an influence campaign — and they expect that they will be targets. At the Pentagon last year, Slotkin was the lead negotiator with Moscow on the memorandum of understanding related to Syria. The goal was to make sure that U.S. aircraft could fly over that country without being shot down by the Russians. She said they secretly filmed her during one negotiating session and put the video on YouTube until the U.S. government complained. She routinely receives spearfishing emails and other notifications of attempted hacks.

It’s quite a big concern,” she added in a recent interview. “We will be, of course, watching the Facebook ads that are put out, and we’ll do our best to monitor how they’re going to try to sow chaos in my election and probably many, many others. … If the Russians are really doing what we believe them to be doing, then I would be a choice target. They already know me, and they don’t love me. So we’ve done a lot of work to make sure that anyone associated with the campaign has gone through proper training for cybersecurity. Even the interns.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

TRUMP VS. EVERYONE:

-- Philip Rucker and Dan Lamothe have a detailed timeline of the 12 days that passed between four soldiers’ deaths in Niger and Trump’s controversial comments Monday about reaching out to their loved ones: “[O]fficials said Tuesday that [Trump] was regularly briefed on the incident during that period. They declined to provide details. The White House did not receive detailed information from the Defense Department about the four dead soldiers until Oct. 12, and that information was not fully verified by the White House Military Office until Monday, according to a senior White House official[.] … At that point, the official said, Trump was cleared to reach out to the four families — both in letters that were mailed Tuesday and in personal phone calls to family members that day.”

But even Trump’s phone calls yesterday were not without controversy: “In his call with Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, Trump told her, ‘He knew what was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway,’ according to the account of Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), who was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called and heard the conversation on speakerphone. Wilson recalled in an interview with The Washington Post that Johnson broke down in tears. ‘He made her cry,’ Wilson said. The congresswoman said she wanted to take the phone and ‘curse him out,’ but that the Army sergeant holding the phone would not let her speak to the president.”

Wilson doubled down on her criticism over Twitter last night:

Trump responded this morning:

-- As anger continued to swell over Trump’s assertion that Obama and other previous presidents had not called fallen soldiers’ families, the president dragged Chief of Staff John Kelly’s son – who was killed in Afghanistan – into the spotlight. Ashley Parker writes: “For the past seven years, [Kelly] has gone out of his way to keep the death of his son free from politics. … But on Tuesday, Kelly’s boss, President Trump, thrust his son into the public and political glare[.] … ‘I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died,’ the president told [Fox News radio] host, Brian Kilmeade. ‘As far as other representatives, I don’t know. You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?’

“The remark, which was almost immediately derided by Democrats and Obama allies as politicizing a tragedy, was unplanned, said two White House officials, who said they were caught off-guard by Trump’s comments. One said Kelly may have mentioned some details surrounding his son’s death to the president in private — and the president then repeated them in public, a relatively frequent occurrence with Trump. The president’s casual assertion sent both sides scrambling to recount their own version of events — underscoring again that in Trump’s White House, almost nothing is off limits and just about anything can be used to score political points.” A White House official later said that Kelly did not receive a call from Obama, but records show that he and his wife attended a breakfast for Gold Star families hosted by the Obamas, where they sat with the then-first lady. 

-- Trump also went after Sen. John McCain following the Arizona Republican’s implicit criticism of Trump’s leadership on the world stage during his Liberty Medal speech. Elise Viebeck reports: “‘People have to be careful because at some point, I fight back,’ Trump said in an interview Tuesday with WMAL, a D.C. radio station. ‘I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back, and it won’t be pretty,’ Trump said. … In response to Trump’s latest comments, [McCain] told CNN: ‘I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.’”

-- Trump’s divisive foreign policy has created unexpected common ground between McCain and Joe Biden, who presented the Liberty Medal, Paul Kane writes: “No longer was the divide between those who wanted to engage the world through brute force and those pushing for more diplomacy. Now, McCain and Biden are on the same side, battling the isolationism that Trump has avowed and that has been most clearly articulated by his onetime chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon. … McCain has [his] onetime foes staunchly on his side, as Biden used the most personal terms possible to describe his respect for the ailing senator. … McCain wiped away tears as Biden spoke of his son’s adoration for the Arizona senator, a symbolic forging of their alliance. They will, for now, set aside their old disputes on how to engage the world and instead take up a mutual fight against those who want to withdraw from global leadership.”

-- The Cubs lost their third straight game to the Dodgers, bringing them to the brink of elimination in the NLCS. The Dodgers won the game 6-1, and the two teams will play again at Wrigley Field tonight. (Barry Svrluga)

-- After trailing 2-0 in the ALCS, the Yankees have now evened the series to 2-2. They beat the Astros 6-4 at Yankee Stadium and will play there again today. (Dave Sheinin)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The NFL’s national anthem policy remain unchanged on Tuesday after owners emerged from a day-long series of meetings with players and league commissioner, Roger Goodell. The two-day gathering concludes today, but several owners said they don't anticipate any rule changes requiring players to stand during the anthem. (Mark Maske)
  2. Trump dropped 92 spots on Forbes’s list of the 400 richest Americans. The president’s net worth fell by $600 million, making him the 248th richest person in the country, reported the magazine. (CNN) (See the whole list here)

  3. The California wildfires have worsened the state’s housing crunch. Santa Rosa had already begun to promote “granny” units — houses built in the back yards of larger homes — even before the fires devastated the city. (Lisa Bonos)

  4. New cases of hepatitis C have nearly tripled across the United States in the last few years, health officials said — an outbreak largely attributed to the nation’s opioid crisis and the use of needles among drug users in their 20s and 30s. (Katie Zezima)
  5. A federal judge ruled in favor of two elementary-aged children with disabilities who were handcuffed at school, saying the Kentucky sheriff’s deputy had used “excessive force” in response to their misbehavior. (Moriah Balingit)
  6. The fight between Uber and black taxis in London has highlighted generational and cultural divides. The city announced last month that it would not renew Uber’s license. (Karla Adam and William Booth)

  7. George Soros has donated $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations. A source close to the liberal philanthropist said the movement of money from Soros’s investment vehicle to his foundation has been “a years-long process.” (Thomas Heath)

  8. An Internet retailer has apologized for its sale of an Anne Frank Halloween costume after it triggered outrage online. The site branded the $25 outfit as the costume of a “World War II hero,” but customers were less than impressed and it has since been removed. (Kristine Phillips)
  9. An Atlanta woman has been charged with murder after authorities say she placed two of her young sons, ages 1 and 2, into a hot oven. Police are still awaiting autopsy results but said the toddlers were found late Friday “with burn marks on their body.” (Lindsey Bever)
  10. And in Florida, authorities have charged a 320-pound woman with murder after she reportedly sat on her 9-year-old cousin “as punishment” — causing the little girl to go into cardiac arrest and die. (Kristine Phillips)
  11. Researchers who studied alligators for nearly a decade found that the fierce freshwater predators are not only making meals out of fish, crustaceans and birds — but, when given the chance, are also gulping down sharks. The scientists found evidence the gators consumed at least three new species of sharks and one new species of stingray. (Amy B Wang

TRUMP’S AGENDA:

-- No charm for third try. A federal judge blocked the third version of Trump’s travel ban, setting the stage for another legal showdown over the revised measure — which blocked entry of travelers from eight countries and was slated to take effect on Wednesday. Matt Zapotosky reports: “In a 40-page decision [Hawaii Judge Derrick K. Watson] wrote that the latest ban ‘suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor’ … [and] ‘plainly discriminates based on nationality’ in a way that is opposed to federal law and ‘the founding principles of this Nation.’ Watson did not address whether the ban was constitutional; rather, he limited his analysis to whether Trump had exceeded the authority Congress has given the president to impose restrictions on those wanting to enter the United States. Of particular concern, he said, were that officials seemed to treat someone’s nationality as an indicator of the threat the person poses — without providing evidence of a connection between the two.”

-- Progress on health care? Not so fast. The compromise plan announced yesterday to fund Obamacare subsidies for low-income Americans has already stalled. Sean Sullivan, Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein report: “The compromise offered by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Tuesday proposes authorizing those payments for two years in exchange for granting states greater flexibility to regulate health coverage under the ACA. … The measure presented congressional Republicans with an uncomfortable choice between helping sustain coverage for many Americans and making good on a long-standing campaign promise — and paying the consequences — by allowing the ACA to falter. …

Senate Republican leaders did not immediately endorse the proposal. Influential House Republicans panned the blueprint, and Trump offered conflicting reviews. The discord swiftly cast the plan’s viability into serious doubt. … It appears likely that the vast majority of Senate Democrats will back the measure.”

-- Tax plan moves tiny step forward as Senate opens debate on budget. Elise Viebeck and Damian Paletta report: “Senate Republican leaders earned a series of much-needed victories Tuesday, first with the return of ailing Sen. Thad Cochran (R -Miss.) and later with an announcement from Sen. John McCain (R -Ariz.) that he would back the budget resolution in order to help passage of tax cuts. Senate Republicans are now hopeful they can agree on a final budget resolution later this week, which is a key procedural step to help them pass a tax cut plan later in the year without relying on support from any Democrats.

Still, many hurdles remain: “Republicans still haven’t written a tax cut plan, they haven’t identified trillions of dollars in tax deductions they plan to eliminate, and they haven’t sorted out how to ensure that the majority of any tax cuts don’t benefit primarily the wealthy,” our colleagues write.

TRADE MATTERS:

-- The Post obtained internal White House documents arguing that a weakened manufacturing sector will lead to increases in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility. Damian Paletta reports: “The documents … were prepared and distributed by Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. They were presented without any data or information to back up the assertions, and reveal some of the materials the Trump administration reviewed as it was crafting its trade policy. … The documents list what Navarro alleges are the problems that have resulted from a ‘weakened manufacturing base.’ Some of the consequences are economic, including ‘lost jobs,’ ‘depressed wages,’ and ‘closed factories.’ But a separate sheet claims ‘Socioeconomic Costs’ of the decline of the country’s manufacturing industry, such as ‘Higher Divorce Rate,’ ‘Increased Drug/Opioid Use,’ ‘Rising Mortality Rate,’ ‘Higher Abortion Rate,’ among many others.”

-- The fourth round of NAFTA negotiations also wrapped up yesterday, with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issuing harsh words for his Mexican and Canadian counterparts. Steven Mufson reports: “Lighthizer said the Trump administration was determined to craft a better deal for U.S. companies and reduce a roughly $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico. ‘Trade deficits do matter and we intend to reduce them,’ Lighthizer said ... However, [Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia] Freeland cautioned earlier that an agreement ‘cannot be achieved with a winner take all mindset.’” The countries agreed to extend talks through the end of March.

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN:

-- Senior White House official Marc Short is on the shortlist to be the next president of the Heritage Foundation. Robert Costa, Ashley Parker and John Wagner report: “In addition to [Todd Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs] and Short, Heritage’s board of trustees also has expressed interest in Lisa B. Nelson, the chief executive of the American Legislative Exchange Council, and David Trulio, a vice president at Lockheed Martin[.] … The conservative think tank’s trustees, however, remain torn over their decision. … The group’s clout in Washington was underscored by President Trump’s appearance Tuesday night at a gathering of its President’s Club at a Washington hotel. …

“For Ricketts — a longtime Republican activist whose father, Joe, is the founder of TD Ameritrade and brother is Pete Ricketts, the current Nebraska governor — the posting would offer him and his family even greater influence in helping to shape the direction of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. … Short . . . has strong conservative credentials, previously leading Freedom Partners, the political operation for billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, and before that working for Vice President Pence . . . It is unclear whether Short has expressed interest in the job, and he has not met with the Heritage board. But if selected — and if he were to accept — he would represent yet another high-profile departure from Trump’s administration[.]

-- Trump tweeted yesterday morning that his nominee for drug czar, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), withdrew from consideration following the investigative report documenting Marino’s crucial support for a law that stifled the DEA’s ability to crack down on drug distributors. John Wagner, Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham report: “With Marino’s withdrawal … the administration’s scrutiny of the law intensified. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said he was ‘very concerned about it’ and planned to review whether the DEA needs ‘more tools’ to carry out its mission. But it was unclear how aggressively Congress will reassess a bill that was passed last year with no opposition.

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, sought to increase pressure for action and cheered Marino’s exit. They argued that his nomination demonstrated a lack of commitment from Trump to addressing the opioid crisis that has gripped the nation. … Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), an original co-sponsor of the bill, called Tuesday for an investigation into whether the law is harming enforcement and for hearings to examine whether she was misled about its impact. Chu, one of only a few Democrats to put her name on the bill, said then-acting DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg — who has declined repeated interview requests — told her in a meeting last year after the measure became law that it ‘did not interfere with the DEA’s ability to successfully stop bad actors.’”

-- Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci came under fire after the Scaramucci Post — his new media venture — tweeted a poll asking how many Jewish people died in the Holocaust. Callum Borchers reports: “The poll offered four options[: less than one million, between 1-2 million, between 2-3 million and more than 5 million.] … The @ScaramucciPost Twitter account removed the poll after about 90 minutes and said the account manager, Lance Laifer, had posted it without consulting Scaramucci. Laifer said the poll was meant as a simple trivia question. … The problem with Laifer's defense is that the Scaramucci Post specializes in opinion polling.” “The Mooch” apologized and will donate $25,000 to a Jewish human rights group.

-- Trump is eyeing former drug firm executive and Bush-era health official Alex Azar to lead HHS. Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein report:Azar served a decade at Lilly USA, the biggest affiliate of Eli Lilly and Co., including five years as president. He directly led a biomedicines division that covered, among other areas, neuroscience, immunology and cardiology, and was also responsible for the company’s sales and marketing operations. Under Bush, he served as the department’s general counsel, working on the administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing anthrax attacks, stem-cell policy and the advent of the Medicare prescription drug benefits. He then served two years as deputy secretary.”

-- Jeff Sessions is creating a watchdog group to oversee reinstatement of a controversial asset forfeiture program, which allows police to seize cash and property from people suspected of a crime, even if they have not been charged. Sari Horwitz reports: “In a memo Tuesday, Sessions directed [Rosenstein] to hire a director to review all aspects of the department’s policy and take action if problems arise.”

  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who in July called Sessions’s reinstatement of the program “a troubling step backwards,” said the proposed changes don't go far enough. “It’s nice to see at least some acknowledgment that civil forfeiture is in need of increased oversight, but … the core problem still remains,” Issa said in a statement. “Americans are still going to have their property taken from them, without due process, at record rates.”

-- Trump is expected to announce his pick for Fed chair, which has been narrowed down to five candidates, in the next two weeks. Damian Paletta reports: “Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen’s four-year term will expire in February. Trump is considering renominating her to the post, but he is also looking at four other people for the position[.] … Trump is scheduled to leave on Nov. 3 for an 11-day trip to multiple countries in Asia. His decision is expected before then. … ‘Honestly I like them all, I do,’ Trump said of the five finalists on Tuesday afternoon. ‘I have a great respect for all of them. But I will make a decision’ very soon. He would not say whether he preferred any one candidate over another.” The remaining candidates are former Fed governor Kevin Warsh, Jerome “Jay” Powell, Stanford professor John Taylor and Gary Cohn.

-- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suggested Tuesday that he may rid the agency’s scientific advisory boards of researchers who get EPA grants. Brady Dennis reports: “’What’s most important at the agency is to have scientific advisers that are objective, independent-minded, providing transparent recommendations,’ Pruitt [said]. ‘If we have individuals who are on those boards, sometimes receiving money from the agency … that to me causes questions on the independence and the veracity and the transparency of those recommendations that are coming our way.’ [Pruitt’s] remarks drew rapid criticism from scientific and environmental groups, who called the move a veiled attempt to ‘purge’ scientists from advisory boards in favor of more industry representatives.’”

  • “Pruitt’s purge has a single goal: get rid of scientists who tell us the facts about threats to our environment and health,” Natural Resources Defense Council scientist Jennifer Sass said in a statement.
  • “Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a blog post that if Pruitt issues the kind of directive he promised, he ‘would be willfully setting himself up to fail at the job of protecting public health and the environment.’”

-- Trump’s nominee for the D.C. appellate court, Gregory Katsas, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday — where he was pressed on his role as a White House lawyer and whether he could maintain judicial independence if confirmed for the role. Ann E. Marimow and Sean Sullivan report: “In nine months as a deputy White House counsel, Gregory G. Katsas told senators considering his nomination that he advised the Trump administration on the travel ban on residents of certain majority-Muslim countries, ending protections for young undocumented immigrants and the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. If confirmed by the Senate, Katsas, 53, would join what is often referred to as the nation’s second-highest court . . .

“In the nearly two-hour hearing, Katsas acknowledged giving ‘legal advice on a few discreet questions’ arising from [Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation]. He declined, when asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), to provide any details because of concerns, he said, about undermining Mueller’s probe and violating attorney-client confidences.”

-- Jason Zengerle in the New York Times Magazine, “Rex Tillerson and the unraveling of the State Department”: “Accommodating the president, rather than working with him, is not a normal mission for a secretary of state — and for Tillerson, it seems to be an increasingly doomed one. 'The president's always saying, “Rex's not tough,” and “I didn't know he was so establishment,"' says one Trump adviser. [The] question among many people inside and outside the Trump administration is not necessarily what's keeping Tillerson from resigning; it's what's stopping Trump from firing him. One Trump-administration official offered me a tentative theory: 'Losing a chief of staff in the first year is a big deal, but losing a secretary of state is an even bigger one.’”

BANNON'S WAR:

-- A new Fox News poll shows Republican Roy Moore tied at 42 percent with Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate race. Fox News’s Dana Blanton reports: “The competitiveness of the race is striking. Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 points in 2016, yet the Steve Bannon-backed Moore defeated the president’s favored candidate, incumbent Luther Strange, in the GOP primary. ‘This race exemplifies the difficulty the Republican Party has now,’ says Republican pollster Daron Shaw, who conducts the Fox News Poll with Democrat Chris Anderson. … ‘The fissure within the party means divisive primaries, controversial candidates, and hard choices for GOP voters once the general election rolls around.’

“The poll, released Tuesday, shows 42 percent of Moore’s supporters have some reservations about their candidate. For Jones, that number is 28 percent. Plus, 21 percent of those in the Jones camp say they’re voting against Moore as opposed to for Jones. That’s three times the number of Moore supporters who say their vote is based on dislike of Jones (7 percent).”

-- The RNC has raised more than $100 million since January, a record for a nonpresidential year, largely thanks to small-dollar donations from Trump supporters. McClatchy’s Anita Kumar reports: “The numbers give Republicans a large cash advantage over Democrats as they look to retain control of both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections next year. … The Democratic National Committee, which kicks off its fall meeting Thursday in Las Vegas, has not yet released its fundraising for September. But through August, Republicans had raised almost twice as much as the Democrats and had nearly seven times as much money in the bank.” Republicans have funneled some of that money into Ed Gillespie’s gubernatorial bid in Virginia.

-- Steve Bannon has begun reaching out to dozens of major GOP donors in the hopes of financially capitalizing on their disappointment with McConnell. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “How many Republican givers will sign on with Bannon is an open question; people close to him declined to say whether he had financial commitments. ... There is also concern in the donor world that having Bannon-aligned outsiders in the Senate Republican Conference would make it harder, not easier, to reach consensus on legislation.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Jared Kushner recent added Charles Harder to his legal team amidst reported concerns that Reince Priebus, who was interviewed by Mueller on Friday, may implicate Kushner in Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reports: “While Priebus has been careful not to criticize the president openly, sources who have spoken to him say he’s not happy about the way he was treated by Trump and his family. ‘He was champing at the bit to testify,’ a Republican familiar with Priebus’s thinking said. … Priebus has knowledge of Kushner’s proximity to the controversial decision to fire Comey during a weekend at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in early May, which, hypothetically, is the lynchpin of an obstruction case against the president and his advisers. Trump was accompanied for the weekend by Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Stephen Miller. …

Kushner’s closeness to the discussion of firing Comey continues to be much discussed by current and former Trump administration officials, who see it as one of the main drivers of the administration’s present legal travails. Two sources familiar with the matter told me that prior to Comey’s dismissal, Kushner expressed concern to West Wing officials about the investigation. ‘He’s all over us,’ Kushner told one official in February, according to two sources briefed on the conversation. ‘He was freaked out about Comey from day one,’ one Trump adviser said.”

-- Special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly interviewed former White House press secretary Sean Spicer for much of the day on Monday. Politico’s Annie Karni and Josh Dawsey report: “During his sitdown, Spicer was grilled about the firing of former FBI director James Comey and his statements regarding the firing, as well as about Trump’s meetings with Russians officials including one with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office, one person familiar with the meeting said. … Spicer’s Monday meeting shows that Mueller is starting to ramp up interviews with current and former Trump administration officials.

-- Mueller also interviewed Matt Tait, a cybersecurity researcher who has described being “recruited to collude with the Russians.” Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand reports: “The interview was part of a broader effort by Mueller to examine the relationship between the longtime GOP operative, Peter Smith and [Michael Flynn], and whether Flynn played any role in seeking out the stolen emails during the election. Smith killed himself in May after talking to The Wall Street Journal about his experience. Mueller interviewed Tait months after Tait published a first-person account of his interactions with Smith on the national-security blog Lawfare."

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- U.S.-backed forces claimed victory on Tuesday over the former Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa — ending a four-month battle for control of the Syrian city and raising new questions about America’s commitment to Syrian Kurds. Louisa Loveluck and Liz Sly report: “The U.S. military said a formal victory announcement will come after [Syrian Democratic Forces] are sure that no pockets of Islamic State resistance remain in the city … But the capture of Raqqa by the SDF, backed by U.S. airstrikes and American advisers on the ground, nonetheless marks a milestone in the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State. The victory also intensifies growing questions about what comes next … [The] Trump administration has not yet indicated whether it is prepared to stay on in northeastern Syria to provide protection for the fledgling ministate being forged by Syria’s Kurds. Syrian government officials have spoken on several occasions about their determination to regain control over all of the territory they lost to the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.”

-- After a CIA drone picked up an image of a woman resembling the American taken captive five years earlier, the U.S. threatened to send in a Navy SEAL team to retrieve her if Pakistan couldn’t, the New York Times’s Adam Goldman and Eric Schmitt report on the paper’s front page. “The top American diplomat in Pakistan, Ambassador David Hale, turned to his host country, … delivering an urgent message to the Pakistani government: Resolve this, or the United States will. The implication was clear. If the Pakistanis did not act decisively, the United States would set aside its unease and launch a raid deep inside the country to free the family.

It would be another humiliating episode for the Pakistani government, reminiscent of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, conducted by the same elite Navy SEAL commandos well into Pakistan without its government’s knowledge. And a failure to act would underscore American officials’ belief that the Pakistani government gives safe haven to the Taliban-linked Haqqani network that had kidnapped the family. Pakistani officials said they acted within hours.”

MORE WEINSTEIN FALLOUT:

-- Harvey Weinstein’s brother and business partner Bob Weinstein has now been accused of sexual harassment. Variety’s Cynthia Littleton reports: “Amanda Segel, an executive producer of [the Weinstein Co. drama] ‘Mist,’ said [Bob] Weinstein repeatedly made romantic overtures to her and asked her to join him for private dinners. The harassment began in the summer of 2016 and continued on and off for about three months until Segel’s lawyer, David Fox of Myman Greenspan, informed TWC executives — including COO David Glasser — that she would leave the show if Bob Weinstein did not stop contacting her on personal matters. ‘ “No” should be enough,’ Segel told Variety. ‘After “no,” anybody who has asked you out should just move on.’”

-- Bob Weinstein has also been accused of volatile, unacceptable workplace behavior by former employees. The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Berzon and Ben Fritz report: “Once, when a marketing executive showed him a potential trailer for the film ‘I Got the Hookup’ and asked, ‘What do you think?’ Bob Weinstein responded, ‘I think it f—ing sucks,’ and threw the videotape over an employee’s head after which it smashed against a wall, according to a person who witnessed the incident. Mr. Weinstein denied the incident occurred. At the 2000 premiere of ‘Scary Movie,’ a Dimension executive attempted to introduce his wife to his boss. Bob Weinstein stuck out his arm and shoved the woman back, the former executive recalled, as he made a beeline for stars Marlon and Shawn Wayans and director Keenen Ivory Wayans, with whom he hoped to sign a deal to make more movies. Mr. Weinstein denied that that occurred.”

-- More high-profile actresses — including Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence and America Ferrara — continue to come out with their own stories of sexual harassment and assault. Stephanie Merry reports: “Witherspoon, for example, used her speech at the Elle Women in Hollywood event Monday night to reveal that a director sexually assaulted her when she was just 16. That was the first time it happened to her, she said, though not the last. … Jennifer Lawrence added her own anecdotes to the growing list. At the same Elle-sponsored event, the Oscar winner talked about being part of a humiliating nude lineup. As a way to shame her into losing weight for a role, she was forced to stand beside much thinner women, then photographed.”

-- Meanwhile, the backlash sparked by Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults is affecting other industries:

  • The head of Amazon studios, Roy Price, was forced to resign after Isa Hackett, a producer on “The Man in the High Castle,” accused him of sexually harassing her in 2015. (Elahe Izadi)
  • More than 140 lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists signed a letter complaining of a “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment in the California state legislature. (LA Times)
  • And it’s gone global: tens of thousands of women in France have used the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc, or “Expose Your Pig,” after journalist Sandra Muller recalled being harassed by a powerful executive. (The New York Times)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump went on (another) tear against Hillary Clinton and James Comey this morning:

And he blamed Democrats for Obamacare premium hikes:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) attacked two of his colleagues for proposed increases in defense spending:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) hit back at Paul:

Republican strategist Rick Wilson was outraged at Trump's comment to the widow of a fallen soldier that her husband "knew what he signed up for":

That widow, Myeshia Johnson, greeted her husband's casket yesterday:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) praised the withdrawal of Tom Marino’s nomination to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy:

NPR's White House correspondent summarized Trump's health-care policy team at this point:

Hillary Clinton expressed dismay at the situation in Puerto Rico:

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) visited the southern border:

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump, went after his defenders:

Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol reflected on Trump's presidency so far:

Conservative pundit Laura Ingraham responded to Kristol's argument:

Mitt Romney praised McCain and his acceptance speech for the Liberty Medal:

One insurance lobbyist expressed hope about the potential health-care compromise to Vox's Dylan Scott:

Ellen DeGeneres will interview Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino security guard Jesus Campos today, ending five days of speculation on his whereabouts

Former governor Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) commented on Colin Kaepernick's inablity to get signed to an NFL team after starting the protests during the national anthem:

FiveThirtyEight's editor in chief poked fun at the political fixation on outlier polls:

And a CQ Roll Call reporter captured this moment on the Senate floor:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- ProPublica, “It's a Fact: Supreme Court Errors Aren't Hard to Find,” by Ryan Gabrielson: “The decisions of the Supreme Court are rich with argument, history, some flashes of fine writing, and, of course, legal judgments of great import for all Americans. They are also supposed to be entirely accurate. But a [review] of several dozen cases from recent years uncovered a number of false or wholly unsupported factual claims … The review found an error in a landmark ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Roberts used erroneous data to make claims about comparable rates of voter registration among blacks and whites in six southern states. In another case, Justice Anthony Kennedy falsely claimed that DNA analysis can be used to identify individual suspects in criminal cases with perfect accuracy. In all, ProPublica found seven errors in a modest sampling of Supreme Court opinions written from 2011 through 2015 …”

-- The New York Times, “Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded,” by Barry Meier: “The women, in their 30s and 40s, belonged to a self-help organization called Nxivm, which is based in Albany and has chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico. Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, said she had been told she would get a small tattoo as part of the initiation. But she was not prepared for what came next. … A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a two-inch-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes. For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room.”

-- CNN, “'A stunning result:' Investigative reporting led drug czar nominee to withdraw,” by Brian Stelter: “Fellow journalists cheered for the Post and ’60 [Minutes]’ on Tuesday morning — for showcasing the power of journalism at a time when the president frequently derides the profession.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Investor and TV pundit thanks God that ‘white people populated America, and not the blacks,’” from Mary Hui: “Veteran Swiss investor and television commentator Marc Faber faced backlash Tuesday for comments in a newsletter thanking God that ‘white people populated America, and not the blacks.’ CNBC and Fox Business Network said they will no longer book Faber on their shows, and he has been asked to step down from at least one company board. In response to the criticism, Faber decried what he saw as threats to the freedom of speech.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Jane Fonda says she's not proud of America,” from Fox News: “During a recent interview with the BBC, Fonda was asked, ‘Are you proud of America today?’ The actress was very quick to reply with a hard ‘no.’ ‘But, I’m proud of the resistance,’ she elaborated. ‘I’m proud of the people who are turning out in unprecedented numbers and continue over and over and over again to protest what Trump is doing. I’m very proud of them, that core.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a morning call with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and a meeting with the Senate Finance Committee. He and Pence will then have lunch.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“You’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. … I want ‘Merry Christmas.’ We’re going to say it again. It’s happening already. You know it," Trump said during his speech to the Heritage Foundation.

 

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

-- Today’s weather in D.C. earns a “Nice Day!” designation from the Capital Weather Gang: “Another cool start with early-morning readings starting out in the upper 30s to mid-40s. But with sunny skies, temperatures warm into the 60s by lunchtime, and then to near 70 for afternoon highs.”

-- The Capitals lost to the Maple Leafs 2-0. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) endorsed former NAACP president Ben Jealous’s gubernatorial bid in Maryland. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “Booker called Jealous ‘one of the most compelling voices of the X Generation’ and said he is ‘all in’ to do whatever Jealous, a political neophyte, needs to help him win the 2018 Democratic nomination and unseat Gov. Larry Hogan (R).”

-- In the final run-up to the Virginia governor’s race, Democrat Ralph Northam has twice as much cash-on-hand as his opponent Ed Gillespie. (Fenit Nirappil)

-- Joe Biden issued a statement endorsing five Democrats running for Virginia’s House of Delegates, including Danica Roem. Roem is running to be the first transgender person elected to office in the state of Virginia. (Patricia Sullivan and Fenit Nirappil)

-- The May killing of black student Richard Collins III on U-Md.’s campus will be prosecuted as a hate crime. White U-Md. student Sean Urbanski already faced a murder charge for the fatal stabbing of Collins, who attended Bowie State University and was days away from graduating. (Lynh Bui)

-- D.C. ranked fifth in the pest company Orkin’s “Top 50 Rattiest Cities” list. For the third year in a row, Chicago was deemed to have the most rats in the United States. (Dana Hedgpeth)

-- The Secret Service took a Kentucky man into custody after he jumped a White House barrier dressed as the Pokémon character Pikachu. (Peter Hermann)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trevor Noah expressed shock that Republicans still allow Trump to speak:

Trump welcomed the Greek prime minister to the White House:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is running for reelection to a third term. Ahead of a formal kickoff, the Republican will today release an upbeat one-minute video that makes the case for another four years. The video opens with him jogging and ends with him riding a Harley and yelling into a camera, “Are you with me?!” Watch:

The Post's Fact Checker team awarded Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) four Pinocchios for her claim that she was not in Washington when the controversial bill stifling the DEA's power was passed:

The Post constructed a timeline of the rough few months that Mitch McConnell has had:

Yesterday's Google doodle celebrated the legacy of Grammy-winning Tejano singer Selena on the anniversary of her first album's debut:

And The Post compiled the 2017 edition of controversial Halloween costumes: