With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Jeff Sessions was the personification of a hostile witness whenever a Democratic lawmaker questioned him during a contentious five-hour oversight hearing on Wednesday.

The attorney general set the tone early in his first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee since his January confirmation. “I can neither assert executive privilege nor can I disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the president,” Sessions said in his opening statement.

There were several yes-or-no questions that should have been easy for Sessions to answer, but he refused. Sometimes what someone will not say is more interesting than what they do.

THE SPECIAL COUNSEL:

-- Sessions said he has not been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But has his team requested an interview? “I don't think so,” the attorney general told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), reflecting the cautiousness he showed all day. “I don't know … I don't want to come in here and be trapped. … I will check and let you know.” Later, Sessions announced: “My staff handed me a note that I have not been asked for an interview at this point.”

-- The attorney general declined to express personal confidence in Mueller, a former FBI director: “I think he will produce the work in a way he thinks is correct and history will judge,” Sessions said.

-- He also declined to say whether he would resign if President Trump tried to fire Mueller. Sessions said getting rid of Mueller would be up to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because he has recused himself. (Rosenstein was interviewed by Mueller’s team this summer.)

“THE CLOUD”:

-- Sessions declined to discuss anything the president told him before firing James Comey. He pointedly refused to answer multiple questions about whether Trump told him that getting rid of the FBI director would “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation. “I do not confirm or deny the existence of any communication with the president,” Sessions replied. Yet he didn’t hesitate to defend the president’s dubious rationale for axing Comey, which was the former FBI director’s alleged mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

-- If Trump hadn’t mentioned “the cloud,” why not just say so? In sworn testimony this June, Comey recounted a phone call he received from Trump at the FBI on March 30: “He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ … He finished by stressing ‘the cloud’ was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated.”

Trump called again on April 11 to ask for an update on when Comey was going to announce publicly that he was not personally under investigation. “I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back,” the former FBI director said. “He replied that ‘the cloud’ was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. … That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.”

-- Sessions also would not say whether he was aware of Trump’s draft letter detailing some of the real reasons that he wanted to remove Comey, which Mueller has been reviewing.

PARDONS:

-- Can the president pardon someone under investigation by Mueller before they’ve been charged? “Well, the pardon power is quite broad,” Sessions replied. “I have not studied it. I don't know whether that would be appropriate or not, frankly.” Pressed further, he added later: “My understanding is a pardon can be issued before a conviction has occurred.” (He said that he’d like to reply with more detail in writing. That was one of his go-to lines throughout the day, though Democrats have complained for months that the Justice Department doesn’t respond to their letters.)

-- Could the president pardon himself? Sessions again said he hadn’t studied the issue.

-- Did Trump discuss pardoning Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio with Sessions before he announced it? “I cannot comment on the private conversations I've had with the president,” he replied.

-- What was the process that led to Arpaio’s pardon? “I don't know that I remember or I know it precisely,” Sessions dodged.

JAILING REPORTERS:

-- Will he commit to not putting reporters in jail for doing their jobs? “Well, I don't know that I can make a blanket commitment to that effect,” Sessions replied to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “But I would say this: We have not taken any aggressive action against the media at this point. But we have matters that involve the most serious national security issues, that put our country at risk, and we will utilize the authorities that we have, legally and constitutionally, if we have to.”

LGBT DISCRIMINATION:

-- Two weeks ago, Sessions sent a memo to all federal agencies on “protections for religious liberty.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked about it: “Could a Social Security Administration employee refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse?

After four seconds of silence, Sessions replied: “That is something I have never thought would arise, but I would have to give you a written answer to that, if you don't mind.”

Durbin followed up: Would the guidance Sessions released permit a federal contractor to “refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including in emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts?”

“I'm not sure that is covered by it,” Sessions said, “but I will look.”

“The questions were hardly out of left field — or unfamiliar to the Justice Department,” BuzzFeed notes, adding that the Justice Department has been declining to answer them for weeks.

-- The evasiveness played out on a host of other policy questions:

Did Sessions talk with the Texas attorney general about DACA before convincing Trump to end the program? He said such a conversation, if it happened, would be tantamount to “work product” and thus privileged.

Is there any evidence to support Trump’s claim on Monday that the Cuban government was behind the sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana? “I’m just not able to comment,” Sessions replied.

-- Democrats noted that Sessions, when he was a member of the committee, would never have tolerated one of Barack Obama’s appointees being so evasive.

-- Republicans mostly rallied to Sessions’s defense. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, noted that Eric Holder refused to turn over documents relating to the Fast and Furious program by asserting executive privilege. Though, Grassley added, “The American people have a right to know why (Comey) was fired.”

RUSSIA CONTACTS:

-- The main headline out of the hearing is that the nation’s chief law enforcement officer is still getting his story straight on his interactions with the Russians: “Sessions offered a slightly new wrinkle Wednesday, asserting that he may have discussed Trump campaign policy positions in his 2016 conversations with (Ambassador Sergey) Kislyak,” Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett report. “The attorney general said it was ‘possible’ that ‘some comment was made about what Trump’s positions were,’ though he also said, ‘I don’t think there was any discussion about the details of the campaign.’The Post reported in July that Kislyak reported back to his superiors in the Kremlin that the two had discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow. Sessions has previously said he did not ‘recall any specific political discussions’ …”

-- Another significant admission: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) asked whether the U.S. government is doing enough to prevent Russian interference in future elections. “We're not,” Sessions responded.

-- In the testiest exchange of the day, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) sparred with Sessions over whether he told the truth during his confirmation hearing:

HOW IT’S PLAYING:

-- On the left:

  • Slate: “Jeff Sessions Is Using Phony Executive Privilege to Shield Trump, and GOP Senators Are Letting Him.”
  • Esquire: “Jeff Sessions Is Not Donald Trump's Lawyer. And that suggestion could be a license for corruption.”
  • Mother Jones: “Justice Department Has Communicated With Controversial Election Commission, Sessions Confirms. The revelation fuels concerns over voter suppression efforts and could raise legal questions.”
  • The Nation: “Jeff Sessions Keeps Lying to the Senate. Sessions once claimed he never met with the Russians. Well, sorta, kinda, maybe. It depends …”
  • Los Angeles Times editorial page: “Trump and Sessions are still telling different stories about Comey.”

-- On the right:

  • Daily Caller: “Sessions Admits The Wall Won’t Run Full Length Of The Border.”
  • Breitbart: “Sessions: ‘We’re Not’ Doing Enough to Prepare for Future Info Interference By Russia and Other Countries.”
  • Fox News: “Sessions tangles with Durbin over Chicago violence.”
  • Washington Examiner: “Sessions is confident Trump's travel ban will win in Supreme Court.”
  • Washington Free Beacon: “Franken, Sessions Spar Over Time Restrictions During Russia Hearing: ‘No, No, No.’”

-- All politics is local:

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

 -- Twitter took 11 months to shut down a Russian troll account that claimed to represent the Tennessee Republican Party and earned more than 130,000 followers — even as the state’s real GOP repeatedly complained the account was phony. BuzzfeedBuzzFeedKevin Collier reports: “Some of its tweets were deliberately outrageous, the archive shows, such as one in December 2016 that claimed that unarmed black men killed by police officers deserved their fate. It also trafficked in deliberate fake news, claiming just before it was shut down that a photo of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship parade was actually a crowd waiting to hear [Trump] speak. … One snapshot of the account captured just before @TEN_GOP was shut down shows a pinned tweet that claimed that first lady Melania Trump had prayed at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, along with a shot at mainstream news media: ‘You won’t see this on CNN.’” The account was one of many revealed to have been created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which devoted hundreds of thousands of dollars to sow discord ahead of the election.   

-- Meanwhile, top Trump campaign aides — including Donald Jr., Brad Parscale and Kellyanne Conway — were pushing Russian propaganda from that very account in the final days before the election. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, Ben Collins, Kevin Poulsen and Spencer Ackerman report: “Two days before election day, [Conway] tweeted a post by @Ten_GOP regarding Hillary Clinton’s email. ‘Mother of jailed sailor: “Hold Hillary to same standards as my son on Classified info” #hillarysemail #WeinerGate’ the tweet reads. [Donald Trump Jr.] followed the account until its closure on August 23rd of this year [and] . . . retweeted the account three times, including an allegation of voter fraud in Florida one week before the election. ‘BREAKING: #VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida Please, RT,’ the tweet read.”

  • Trump’s ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn also retweeted the Russian account, while his son retweeted it 34 times. “The account notably pushed for Flynn’s reappointment as Trump’s national security adviser … [and] repeatedly pushed Breitbart-backed talking points, including a fake news story about a gang rape in Twin Falls, Idaho that merited dozens of articles from Breitbart News.”

-- American activists were even recruited by the Russian troll farm to help stage protests and organize self-defense classes during the 2016 campaign. BuzzfeedBuzzFeedRosalind Adams and Hayes Brown report: “Four people contacted by what is believed to be the ‘American Department’ of the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency [said] that while they found their contacts strange, they never suspected that they were the target of foreign recruitment. One target was Micah White, a cofounder of Occupy Wall Street. When he was contacted in May 2016 by a man named Yan Big Davis, who presented himself as a freelance reporter, he didn’t think anything of it, since he often gave interviews about activism. ‘We admire the job you did for the protest movement in the US,’ [he said].”

-- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has joined Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) in backing a bill requiring social media companies to disclose more information about political ads. The Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau reports: “The proposal — which will be officially unveiled on Capitol Hill Thursday — will require social media companies such as Facebook Inc.  to keep a public repository of political advertising that runs on their platforms, similar to the rules governing broadcast television and radio advertising.”

-- The Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski for over three hours yesterday. Karoun Demirjian reports: “As campaign manager, Lewandowski was looped in on a Trump campaign staffer’s efforts to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, though it is unclear whether Lewandowski played a role in the planning.”

-- Lewandoski’s appearance on Capitol Hill coincided with the House Intelligence Committee’s interview of officials from Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned the infamous Trump dossier. Politico’s Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report: “Fusion lawyer Josh Levy said two officials affiliated with the company joined the committee on the Hill, bowing to the threat of a subpoena that [the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)] issued recently. But he said the company officials decided to ‘invoke constitutional privileges’ not to testify. … Company officials have complained that Nunes is attempting to compel them to disclose who funded their opposition research on Trump, which they say would force the company to violate its clients’ guarantee of confidentiality and harm its business model.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

DIVISION GOES BOTH WAYS:

-- Shake-up: A handful of Democratic National Committee officials who supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) for chairman have been ousted by Tom Perez, igniting ire from progressives. NBC News’s Alex Seitz-Wald reports: “The ousters come ahead of the DNC's first meeting, in Las Vegas . . . since Perez took over as chairman … The moves exposed a rift in the partnership between Perez and his deputy chair, Ellison, who have publicly broadcast their ‘bromance’ since Perez tapped the lawmaker for the post in a show of unity after their hard-fought race earlier this year for the party's chairmanship.”

Among those who saw their roles diminished: “Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic chairman and longtime DNC official who ran against Perez for chair before backing [Ellison] lost his spots [as did] James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute and prominent [Bernie] Sanders backer . . .; Alice Germond, the party’s longtime former secretary and a vocal Ellison backer . . . [and]  Barbra Casbar Siperstein, the first transgender member of the DNC who supported Ellison and Buckley, was tossed from the Executive Committee.”

-- In a new interview, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) once again took on the Trump doctrine and stated his agreement with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that Trump poses problems on the world stage. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim report: “The GOP has ‘deviated,’ Flake added. ‘We’ve taken a banner that is not familiar to us as Republicans. And I don’t know how long this will last.’ … ‘How are we going to ever have agreements with our adversaries or with our allies if they think that we’re not a reliable partner? … ’ Flake said. ‘That’s what Bob expressed. And a lot of us shared that concern.’ ... Flake shrugged off any political fallout from his criticism of Trump. In a way, he seems to relish the upcoming campaign as a clarifying moment — a test of whether his vision of conservatism can coexist, or even thrive, in the Trump era.”

-- Senior GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi (Ohio) is expected to announce plans to resign from Congress as soon as this week. The New York Times’s Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin report: “An abrupt departure by Mr. Tiberi, who is an influential member of the House Ways and Means Committee, would signal a deepening level of discontent among mainstream Republicans in Congress. … [I]t is unclear when he intends to vacate his seat. Two Republicans who were briefed on Mr. Tiberi’s decision said he had indicated that he plans to join the Ohio Business Roundtable, a business consortium that announced this summer that it was searching for a new president. … [Tiberi] would be a particularly striking congressional refugee. He was a close ally of John A. Boehner, the former House speaker, and had considered challenging Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, next year.”

-- Madrid announced today that it would move to take over Catalonia. William Booth reports: “Facing a deadline imposed by Spain’s central government to answer the question whether Catalonia was declaring independence or not, the regional president replied Thursday that Madrid should stop threatening to seize control of the autonomous region but instead agree to dialogue. … The central government in Madrid on Thursday quickly responded that it would begin the legal procedures to implement Article 155 of the Spain’s 1978 constitution, which allows it to seize control of the regional government, finances and police. Madrid announced a meeting of ministers for an ‘extraordinary’ session on Saturday to approve the measure.”

-- Taliban forces stormed an Afghan army base with suicide bombers, killing 43 soldiers. Antonio Olivo reports: “The attack took place Wednesday night after two Humvees packed with explosives were driven into the Afghan National Army base in Kandahar’s Maiwand district, where 60 soldiers were stationed. Taliban fighters then assaulted the facility, setting off several hours of fighting that killed nearly every Afghan soldier there and wounded nine. The battle ended with a U.S. airstrike that killed nine Taliban fighters, NATO officials said.”

-- Winning 5-0 last night, the Yankees completed their mini-sweep at Yankee Stadium. They now lead the Astros in the ALCS 3-2. (Dave Sheinin)

-- The Cubs fought off elimination in the NLCS, beating the Dodgers 3-2. The Cubs still trail in the series 3-1. (Barry Svrluga)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The FDA just approved a second version of a groundbreaking immunotherapy treatment which genetically alters patients’ cells to attack cancer. The one-time infusion is known as CAR T-cell therapy, researchers said, and will be offered to patients with advanced non-Hodgkin lymphoma. (Laurie McGinley)
  2. After two days of meetings, the NFL decided against a rule change mandating that players stand for the anthem, but commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated his view that players should stand for the anthem. (Mark Maske)
  3. Mike Pence’s older brother, Greg Pence, appears to be preparing to run for Congress. “Greg Pence for Congress Inc.” has filed paperwork with the IRS. (ABC News)
  4. Despite his insistence that he is not retiring, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) appeared disoriented during an interview on Capitol Hill yesterday. Cochran returned to the Senate this week after a health-related absence, and his health has caused concern for several years. (Politico)
  5. Judges in North Carolina’s state courts will now have to identify their party affiliation on ballots. The move represents the first time in almost a century that a state has embraced partisan court elections, and it represents a larger attempt by GOP lawmakers to fundamentally alter North Carolina’s judicial system. (The New York Times)
  6. A suspect accused of shooting six people in Maryland and Delaware was arrested Wednesday evening, officials said, following a day-long manhunt after he opened fire on his co-workers at a business park near Baltimore. (Dana Hedgpeth, Dan Morse and Paul Duggan)
  7. USC’s former medical dean Carmen Puliafito continued to abuse drugs on days when he worked as an ophthalmologist on campus, according to investigators — and would return to his medical office “within hours” of using methamphetamine. The news comes just months after Puliafito was revealed to have been using heroin, meth, and a litany of other drugs on a near-daily basis. (LA Times)
  8. A public elementary school in Mississippi named after Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, will be renamed to honor the nation’s first black president. School officials said the idea was first raised by a student, and that the new title — Barack Obama Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary — will take effect next year. (NBC News)

CONSOLER IN CHIEF?

-- Earlier this year, Trump offered a grieving military father $25,000 in a personal phone call and said he’d direct staff to create an online fundraiser for the family. But neither had happened as of yesterday, the father said. Dan Lamothe, Lindsey Bever and Eli Rosenberg report: “In his call with Trump, [Chris Baldridge], a construction worker, expressed frustration with the military’s survivor benefits program. Because his ex-wife was listed as their son’s beneficiary, she was expected to receive the Pentagon’s $100,000 death gratuity — even though ‘I can barely rub two nickels together,’ he told Trump. The president’s response shocked him. He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,’ Baldridge said. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.' ’’

  • In a statement Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said that the check had been sent: “It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”

-- Trump denied the account of Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) that he told a fallen soldier’s widow that he “must have known what he signed up for,” but the soldier’s mother corroborated the account. Anne Gearan and Kristine Phillips report: “Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Washington Post that she was present during the call from the White House on Tuesday to Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson. … ‘President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,’ Jones-Johnson said. … Later Wednesday, Trump expanded on his denial. ‘I didn’t say what that congresswoman said; didn’t say it all.  She knows it,’ Trump said when asked about the exchange by a reporter. ‘I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.’”

Meanwhile, Wilson expanded upon her version of events during an MSNBC appearance: “‘[Myeshia Johnson] was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, 'He didn’t even remember his name.' That’s the hurting part.” … Wilson went on to say Trump ‘was almost like joking. He said, “Well, I guess you knew” — something to the effect that “he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.” You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.’”

  • By his loved ones, Sgt. Johnson was remembered as a family man, Kristine Phillips writes: “He left behind a wife who is six months pregnant and two children, a 2-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. … To those who knew him, he was a loving husband who had his wife’s name tattooed across his chest, a soldier who pushed to improve himself, and a son who enjoyed talking about his family. He was also a father who was looking forward to seeing his baby girl.”

-- Trump claimed there was “proof” he didn't make the controversial comment about Johnson, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged hours later the president had no recording of the call. She added that administration officials — including Chief of Staff John Kelly — were present for the call. (Aaron Blake)

-- Sanders added that she was “disgusted” that the death of Kelly’s son in Afghanistan had become part politicized — even though the president was the first one to reference Kelly’s son. John Wagner reports: “During the briefing, Sanders was asked if Trump had given his chief of staff advance warning that he ‘would be raising the issue of his son's memory’ earlier in the week and whether Kelly was comfortable that it had become part of the conversation. ‘I think General Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized, and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost,’ Sanders said. … When it was pointed out that Trump himself had injected the death into the debate, Sanders said, ‘He was responding to a question and stating a fact.’ 

-- Kelly was reportedly caught off-guard by Trump’s decision to reference his son’s death. CNN’s Dan Merica, Jeff Zeleny and Kevin Liptak report: “Kelly told [Trump] that President Barack Obama never called him after his son's death prior to Trump raising the issue in a Tuesday radio interview[.] … But, according to [CNN] sources, Kelly never thought the President would use that information publicly.”

-- White House officials circulated a statement of sympathy for Trump to make after four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger — but the president never issued the ready-made condolences. Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports. “The draft [statement] was put together on Oct. 5 and reads as follows: ‘Melania and I are heartbroken at the news that three U.S. service members were killed in Niger on October 4 while providing guidance and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these brave American soldiers and patriots. … The heroic Americans who lost their lives yesterday did so defending our freedom and fighting violent extremism in Niger. Our administration and our entire nation are deeply grateful for their sacrifice, for their service, and for their patriotism.'”

  • After the president faced criticism for his prolonged silence, some outsiders suggested Trump’s staffers were to blame: “Somebody screwed up here, okay?” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, suggested said. “You don’t let that amount of time pass when our men and women in uniform have been killed.”

-- The controversy has reminded many of Trump’s attacks last year on the Gold Star family of Capt. Humayun Khan, as Philip Bump writes.

THE COURTS:

-- A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow an abortion for an undocumented teenager being held at a Texas refugee center, saying Wednesday she was “astounded” that the government had tried to prevent the procedure. Maria Sacchetti reports: “Lawyers for [Jeff Sessions] signaled to [Washington Judge Tanya Chutkan] that the 17-year-old … did not have a constitutional right to an elective abortion in federal custody, unless it was a medical emergency. Chutkan, an Obama administration nominee, said the government appeared to be presenting the teenager [with] two options: Voluntarily return to a nation she fled to procure an abortion, or carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.” During the hearing, Chutkan said the teenager’s legal status was “irrelevant,” and “despite the fact that she’s in this country illegally, she still has constitutional rights.” 

-- A second federal judge ruled against the latest version of Trump’s travel ban on Wednesday, arguing that the president's comments on the campaign trail and on Twitter left him convinced the directive was aimed at Muslims. Matt Zapotosky reports: "[Maryland] Judge Theodore D. Chuang issued a somewhat less complete halt on the ban than his counterpart in Hawaii did a day earlier, blocking the administration from enforcing the directive only on those who lacked a 'bona fide' relationship with a person or entity in the United States, such as family members or some type of professional or other engagement in the United States. But in some ways, Chuang’s ruling was more personally cutting to Trump, as he said the president’s own words cast his latest attempt to impose an entry blockade as the ‘inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban.’ "

-- A federal appeals court on Wednesday declared a cross-shaped monument in Maryland to be unconstitutional, ruling 2-1 that the towering structure — which honors World War I heroes and is maintained with public funds — has the primary effect of endorsing religion. Ann E. Marimow reports: “Built in 1925 with funding from local families and The American Legion, the marble-and-cement cross honors 49 Prince George’s County men who died in the war. A bronze tablet lists the names of the men and includes a quote from President Woodrow Wilson. Even with the nonreligious elements, the court said Wednesday, ‘the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones,’ making it an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment …”

“The cross is by far the most prominent monument in the area, conspicuously displayed at a busy intersection,” said Judge Stephanie Thacker, writing for the majority. Chief Judge Roger Gregory dissented, saying the ruling “ignores certain elements of the memorial . . . and confuses maintenance of a highway median and monument in a state park with excessive religious entanglement.”

HEALTH-CARE WALKBACK:

-- Despite his initial praise of the Senate health-care compromise, Trump appears to now be backing away from the proposal. Juliet Eilperin and Sean Sullivan report: “In a morning tweet, Trump appeared to distance himself from the compromise[.] … But the president later told reporters that he was not closing the door on a deal altogether, and proponents of the plan authored by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sought to keep him on board. The convoluted campaign … underscored the unpredictable nature of dealmaking in Trump’s Washington. … For both sides, the president’s conflicting signals have created a chaotic situation where even some of Trump’s aides have found themselves scrambling to keep up with the latest developments.

-- Even if the Alexander-Murray measure fails, GOP operatives on the Hill are saying that a similar proposal could be included in a year-end package. Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn and Rachael Bade report: “Republican sources say it's only a matter of time before Congress must find some way of addressing the reeling insurance markets — a vote the GOP sources know will infuriate lawmakers and their base. … The most likely scenario is to push the matter off and fold a yet-to-be-determined solution into a year-end package they hope will include some GOP concessions as well as Democratic perks.”

-- Meanwhile, congressional Republicans continue to blame the ACA itself — and not Trump’s cancellation subsidies for low-income Americans — for increasing Obamacare premiums. David Weigel reports: “‘I don’t think it’s driving premium increases at all, in a sense that a lot of them already filed their premium increases,’ said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), referring to Trump’s decision. ‘They had two sets filed, but it wasn’t going to be clear that the payments would be reauthorized. I’ve been told that if Congress reauthorizes them, then they’ll go back to the lower rates — or else, frankly, they shouldn’t get the money.’"

-- A federal judge also said yesterday that he would likely rule next week on a request from 19 states to force the administration to pay the subsidies. (Politico)

THE TRUMP AGENDA:

-- Despite Trump’s repeated attacks on Democrats over taxes, he suggested during a meeting yesterday with Senate Finance Committee Democrats that he wanted their support. John Wagner and Damian Paletta report: “Though Trump and Senate Republicans expressed an openness to working with Democrats during the meeting, some Democrats came away from the gathering saying the outreach lacked substance[.] … Trump did not commit to make any changes that would scale back tax benefits for the wealthy, which has long been a demand for Democrats. Instead, Trump said Democrats had political incentives to get behind the plan, saying toward the end of the meeting that he wouldn’t want to be a Democrat in 2018 or 2020 who voted against a tax cut plan.”

Trump seemed to want to have it both ways on the Senate budget vote that will set up a tax rewrite, tweeting this morning:

-- The U.S. Army has stopped enlisting some green-card holders. Alex Horton reports: “Implemented late last week, the new policy halts indefinitely all enlistments involving green-card holders seeking to join the Army Reserve . . .  Green-card holders seeking to become full-time soldiers remain eligible to enlist in the active-duty Army, but they are no longer allowed to start basic training before their background checks are complete — a process that could take a year or more. Caught up in policy changes are potentially hundreds of immigrants already in the Army’s recruiting pipeline[.] … The Pentagon defends this and related measures implemented in recent months, claiming they’re necessary to prevent terrorists and foreign agents from infiltrating the American military.”

ELECTION DAY 2017 NEARS:

-- A former Trump operative says that Ed Gillespie’s gubernatorial campaign is snubbing him, causing an uproar among GOP activists, not allowing him to speak at a Pence rally. Laura Vozzella reports: “Gillespie hired [Jack] Morgan, a colorful evangelical preacher and former 9th Congressional District GOP chairman, as his ambassador to Trump country after nearly losing the June primary to a rival who had run in the president’s bombastic, populist image. But Gillespie’s campaign did not let Morgan help plan or speak at the rally[.] … [Conservative] activists took to social media to vent their outrage. … [T]he episode is just one sign that Gillespie’s risk-averse, thread-the-needle approach to Trump and hot-button cultural issues is backfiring with some members of his party’s conservative base.”

-- Meanwhile, Gillespie’s Democratic opponent, Ralph Northam, came under fire for owning stock in companies that conduct important business with Virginia. Beth Reinhard reports: “In early 2013, he reported owning between $10,000 and $50,000 of stock in Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest utility and the top corporate donor to local campaigns. Later that year, [as a state senator,] Northam voted on eight Senate bills Dominion lobbied on. … And if Northam … is elected governor next month, he probably will approve or veto bills that affect the utility — and very likely the value of his personal investment. The same is true for the other companies active in Virginia in which he owns stock: AT&T, Bank of America, Norfolk Southern, Kraft Heinz, DuPont, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson and Mondelez International.”

-- A new Fox News poll puts Northam seven points ahead of Gillespie in the race. 49 percent of polled likely voters supported Northam, while 42 percent backed Gillespie. (Fox News)

-- Meanwhile, Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) once again sparked controversy by claiming that professional athletes who kneel during the national anthem are breaking the law. Mary Hui reports: “‘It's against the law, you know that?’ Moore said in an interview with Time magazine. ‘It was an act of Congress that every man stand and put their hand over their heart. That's the law.’ Moore, a former chief justice of Alabama known for his controversial interpretations of the Bible, and who was twice suspended from the bench for defying judicial orders, argued that a section of the U.S. Code — 36-USC-301 — forbids professional athletes from taking a knee during the national anthem. The section does not specify legal penalties.”

-- HuffPost’s Paul Blumenthal also reports that, in 2005, Moore’s foundation accepted a $1,000 donation from a group funded by white supremacist and Nazi supporter Willis Carto: “The Foundation to Defend the First Amendment is one of several nonprofit groups Carto used to shuffle money around to his anti-Semitic and racist conspiracy publications, to fund Holocaust deniers, and, apparently, to donate to Moore’s nonprofit ... The contribution to Moore’s group stands out as one of just a handful it has made to organizations not explicitly involved in Holocaust denial.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- The White House is debating whether Trump should visit the DMZ during his 12-day trip to Asia next month, with some South Korean and State Department officials concerned that a visit could further inflame tensions on the Korean Peninsula. David Nakamura reports: “Asian foreign policy veterans of both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations said it would be foolish for Trump not to go. But the White House is facing opposition from [Moon Jae-in’s] administration and the [State] Department over fears that a visit would ratchet up Trump’s war of words with [Kim Jong Un]. … Asked during a news conference this week whether a DMZ visit would provoke Pyongyang, Trump said the trip’s details were not finalized and added: ‘I didn’t hear in terms of provoking, but we will certainly take a look at that.’ ”

-- A 72 percent majority of Americans say they are fearful the United States will become engaged in a “major war” in the next four years, according to a new NBC News-SurveyMonkey poll, with 54 percent of respondents now saying they consider North Korea as the greatest immediate threat. (Notably, that percentage has spiked 13 points since July, shortly before Trump began his war of words with Kim Jong Un.) A 55 percent majority also expressed disapproval of Trump’s handling of Iran, including 38 percent who “strongly disapprove.”

-- During a speech yesterday, Rex Tillerson had some pointed criticism for China while calling for greater collaboration with India. Carol Morello reports: “‘We’ll never have the same relationship with China, a nondemocratic society, that we can have with India,’ Tillerson said[.] … In pointed criticism of Beijing, … Tillerson made an unflattering comparison between the ways India and China have progressed over the past two decades. ‘China, while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international, rules-based order — even as countries like India operate within a framework that protects other nations’ sovereignty,’ he said.”

-- Are the U.S. and Iran on the same side in Kirkuk? The New York Times’s David Zucchino and Eric Schmitt report: “While the military action in Kirkuk on Monday and Tuesday was carried out under the banner of the Iraqi military, the ground forces included Iranian-backed Shiite militias. American officials, including President Trump, insisted that the United States was not taking sides in the dispute, but some analysts say that the United States approved the Iraqi plan to enter Kurdish-held areas and that Iran helped broker the agreement with a Kurdish faction to withdraw its fighters from Kirkuk, allowing the Iraqi forces to take over largely unopposed.”

-- Vladimir Putin has attracted an opponent in next year’s presidential election: Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of Putin’s former mentor. Andrew Roth reports: “In a campaign statement in the Russian daily Vedomosti that barely mentioned Putin and focused instead on public dissatisfaction with Russian politics, she said that she was ‘outside of ideology’ and not a fan of Russia’s annexation of Crimea (though she denied being against it). … In the past six months, Russia has seen a rise in protest sentiment among young people in high school and college, and the government is looking to channel that anger into a safe political movement. … Sobchak announced her candidacy on the independent TV Rain channel. Half an hour earlier, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s personal spokesman, told the channel that her candidacy was seen as legitimate by the Kremlin.

-- Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined an ambitious and far-reaching vision for the Communist Party on Wednesday, declaring it was time for the nation to become a “mighty force,” and calling for the regulation of culture, religion, and morals. Simon Denyer reports: “The Communist Party already has a hand in just about every aspect of life here. But Xi’s speech Wednesday — opening a five-yearly congress of the party’s top leadership — cast the net even wider. His was a vision of a reinvigorated Communist Party, backed by a strong economy and a powerful, modern military taking an even more central role in the affairs of the nation and a more confident role on the world stage. … The theme of the congress: that the party should remain true to its original aspiration, hold high the banner of socialism and secure a decisive victory in the battle to build a moderately prosperous society.”

 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump went after the NFL and the media on Twitter:

A GOP strategist pushed back on Trump's denial of having said a fallen soldier “knew what he was signing up for”:

A staff writer for The Atlantic noted this of Trump's tense exchanges with some military families:

This is the current state of affairs in Puerto Rico, four weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall:

Former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin said this of the Russia probes:

Sean Spicer made an appearance at Harvard's Kennedy School:

Bill O'Reilly mocked CNN's Jake Tapper for low ratings:

(Tapper's show "The Lead" has actually been performing well this year.)

Tapper hit back with a searing response:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska celebrated her state's birthday:

A Business Insider reporter documented this mix-up at the Capitol:

After Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said that he spilled a Dr Pepper on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Cruz issued this warning:

A Twitter user responded that the situation could have been worse, referencing a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory about Cruz's father:

Sasse then made this admission:

Cruz replied with a reference to the viral meme that he is the Zodiac killer:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- In the final weeks of the 2016 election, Facebook and Google helped spread an anti-refugee campaign in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina — working closely with the conservative advocacy group Secure America Now to target an audience they felt “could be swayed by the message.” Bloomberg’s Benjamin Elgin  and Vernon Silver report: “Unlike Russian efforts to secretly influence the 2016 election via social media, this American-led campaign was aided by direct collaboration with employees of Facebook and Google. They helped target the ads to more efficiently reach the intended audiences, [and] Facebook advertising salespeople, creative advisers and technical experts competed with sales staff from Alphabet Inc.’s Google for millions in ad dollars from [the group.] …[The ads were designed as faux-tourism videos showing France and Germany overrun by Sharia law.] French schoolchildren were being trained to fight for the caliphate, jihadi fighters were celebrated at the Arc de Triomphe, and the 'Mona Lisa' was covered in a burka. ‘Under Sharia law, you can enjoy everything the Islamic State of France has to offer, as long as you follow the rules,’ intoned the narrator of one ad.”

“The content of some ads left some employees of Harris Media — the Austin-based digital advertising firm that runs campaigns for Secure America Now — feeling uneasy. ‘It was designed to strike fear in people’s hearts,’ said one former Harris employee[.]” 

-- CNN, “About 1 million Americans without running water. 3 million without power. This is life one month after Hurricane Maria,” John D. Sutter and McKenna Ewen: “His roof is still missing, as are some walls. He and his cat, Tipo, sleep in the kitchen. When the wind blows at night, rain soaks them. The power is out, as it is for roughly 3 million Puerto Ricans, or more than 80% of the island's residents. More than a third of households in the US territory, including much of Sostre's community, are without reliable drinking water at home. That's roughly 1 million American citizens. One month after Hurricane Maria, these realities are starting to feel less like an emergency and more like the new way of life -- a nightmarish loop that resets each day the sun rises.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Early 2020 poll of New Hampshire finds Sanders, Biden, Warren on top,” from David Weigel: “An early poll of the 2020 Democratic primaries, which kick off in roughly 820 days, finds Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at the front of a crowded field — in a race that would bear little resemblance to 2016’s two-candidate marathon. The first 2020 Granite State poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s survey center, finds that 31 percent of the state’s Democrats would back Sanders if the first presidential primary were held today. Twenty-four percent would back former vice president Joe Biden, while 13 percent would back Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). No other contender, not even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, cracks double digits.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“School Cancels Halloween, Will Celebrate ‘Black And Orange’ Spirit Day,” from CBS Boston: “The decorations are out and Halloween is two weeks away but there’s controversy at Boyden Elementary School in Walpole. The school will not be having its annual Halloween costume parade this year. ‘I think it’s a lot of political correctness,’ a Walpole woman said. … In a message to parents the school principal says, ‘ … the costume parade is out of our ordinary routine and can be difficult for many students. Also, the parade is not inclusive of all the students and it is our goal each and every day to ensure all student’s individual differences are respected.’”

 

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has afternoon meetings with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Rex Tillerson. He will later attend a gala at Kuwait’s Embassy for the U.N. Refugee Agency, where the first lady will be honored.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was pressed on whether the GOP tax plan would provide tax cuts to the country’s highest earners: “The top 20 percent of the people pay 95 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent of the people pay 81 percent of the taxes. So when you’re cutting taxes across the board, it’s very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class. The math, given how much you are collecting, is just hard to do.”

 

-- Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) responded to Mnuchin’s quote:

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

-- It will be another beautiful day in the District. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “There is nothing to say but the best of fall is here. Sunshine warms the cool morning air quickly, and clouds remain as scarce as hen’s teeth through the day. Highs top out mainly in the lower 70s.”

-- In their season opener, the Wizards beat the 76ers 120-115. (Candace Buckner)

-- Justin Fairfax, Democrats’ African American candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia, was omitted from some campaign literature, leading to accusations of racism against the party. Fenit Nirappil reports: “The palm cards with photos of [gubernatorial candidate Ralph] Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring (D) were produced for canvassers with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which asked that Fairfax be excluded because it did not endorse him. Fairfax has spoken critically of two proposed natural gas pipelines that the union supports.”

-- Virginia’s GOP attorney general candidate, John Adams, briefly had his law license suspended in 2011 for failing to pay the state bar’s annual dues. He paid the dues within two weeks of the suspension, and his license was reinstated. (Patricia Sullivan)

-- According to court documents, the man who attempted to jump a White House barrier dressed as the Pokémon character Pikachu did so because he “wanted to become famous” and post a video of the incident on YouTube. (Peter Hermann)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

"The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” dug into the allegations against Harvey Weinstein:

The president often delays providing proof of his questionable claims:

The Post's Glenn Kessler awarded the president four Pinocchios for his claim that insurance companies have profited from Obamacare:

A Harry Potter exhibition will open in London this week:

And elephants at the Denver Zoo smashed pumpkins as part of the "Squish the Squash" event: