National Political Correspondent

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Last year, in an interview on Super Bowl Sunday, Bill O’Reilly challenged President Trump over his desire to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin’s a killer,” said the then-Fox News host.

“There are a lot of killers,” Trump replied. “We got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent? Take a look at what we’ve done, too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. . . . So, a lot of killers around, believe me.”

There was strong and vocal pushback at the time from most elected Republicans.

-- Over the past several days, as Trump again engaged in a spree of whataboutism and moral relativism ahead of today’s summit in Helsinki with Putin, far fewer GOP lawmakers have called him out.

Piers Morgan, the former CNN host and a one-time contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice,” interviewed Trump aboard Air Force One for the Daily Mail as he visited the United Kingdom. As the president discussed his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Morgan interrupted: “He’s a ruthless dictator.”

“Sure he is,” Trump said. “He’s ruthless, but so are others. I mean, I could name plenty of others that we deal with that you don’t say the same thing about. I mean plenty of the people that I deal with are pretty ruthless people.”

Asked if Putin would be in that group, Trump replied: “I can’t tell you that. I assume he probably is. But I could name others also. Look, if we can get along with Russia, that’s a good thing.”

Then, in an interview that aired Sunday, CBS’s Jeff Glor asked Trump at his golf course in Scotland to identify the “biggest foe globally right now.” Trump named the European Union, which includes many of America’s closest historic allies. “Well, I think we have a lot of foes,” the president said. “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they're a foe. Russia is foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically … But that doesn't mean they are bad. It doesn't mean anything. It means that they are competitive.”

Trump also continued his pattern of blaming the American victim, not the foreign attacker. The president attacked the Democratic National Committee for allowing itself to get hacked and Barack Obama for not more forcefully responding, rather than the Russian government for conducting the hacks. “We had much better defenses. I’ve been told that by a number of people. We had much better defenses, so they couldn’t,” Trump said on CBS, referring to his campaign and the Republican National Committee. “I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked. They had bad defenses and they were able to be hacked.”

-- Trump hasn’t changed, but the Republican Party has. CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday how Trump should hold Putin accountable after a dozen Russian officials were indicted last week for orchestrating a massive hacking campaign to interfere with American democracy. Paul replied that it is unrealistic to hold Moscow accountable.

“They are going to interfere in our elections. We also do the same,” said Paul, citing a study that he said shows the United States interfered in the elections of other countries 81 times during a 50-year period in the last century. “So, we all do it. What we need to do is make sure our electoral process is protected.”

Paul, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, has always been a libertarian, but he often tried to downplay this side of his worldview when he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Now that Trump is in control, he’s talking much more like his father again.

-- Even traditional hawks are now minimizing what the Russians did in 2016. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Europe subcommittee on Foreign Relations, said after returning from a July Fourth visit to Moscow that Congress overreacted to Russia’s interference in our elections. “I've been pretty upfront that the election interference — as serious as that was and unacceptable — is not the greatest threat to our democracy,” he told the conservative Washington Examiner. “We've blown it way out of proportion — [as if it's] the greatest threat to democracy . . . We need to really honestly assess what actually happened, what effect did it have, and what effect are our sanctions actually having, positively and negatively.”

Would he feel the same way if Russia interfered in his 2016 reelection campaign to help Russ Feingold, his Democratic opponent?

“Johnson’s remarks to the Examiner were highlighted by Russian state media,” Roll Call reported. “The Russian news agency TASS reported on Johnson’s comments, as did Sputnik International.”

Pressed on his comments last week during an appearance on WOSH, an AM talk radio station in Oshkosh, Johnson doubled down on his position that the U.S. faces more serious threats than election hacking. “It’s very difficult to really meddle in our elections,” the senator said. “It just is. These are locally run. It’s almost impossible to change the vote tally. My concern would be violating the voter files, but we have those issues anyway and there are plenty of controls on that. … From a standpoint of using social media, we spent a couple of billion dollars on the last election. They, maybe, spent a couple hundred thousand.”

-- “Most countries would meddle and play in our domestic elections if they could, and some of them have,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said recently. “We have to be realistic [that] nations are going to do what is in their [national] interest. We’ve done a lot of things, too.”

Shelby, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, made that comment to the Examiner as he prepared to lead a delegation of Senate Republicans on a CODEL to Russia. The group was in Moscow when the Senate Intelligence Committee published a bipartisan report that validated the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in 2016 election on the personal orders of Putin.

“I’m not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth,” Shelby told the speaker of the Duma in Moscow during the controversial trip.

Shelby later sought to clarify that he was not saying Russia and the U.S. are the same, and that he is not excusing everything Moscow has done. “I was just stating the reality of it,” he told the Daily Beast.

-- It’s hard to be surprised anymore, but it is nonetheless surreal to read quotes from Republican senators that sound like they might have been uttered instead by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn or Chalmers Johnson. Conservatives like Jeane Kirkpatrick hammered peacenik liberals for this sort of relativism during the Cold War. Republicans used to be the ones who not only espoused American exceptionalism but accused Democrats of acting like the United States was just another name on the United Nations roster, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe.

As Ronald Reagan told the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983, “I urge you to beware the temptation of … blithely declaring yourselves above it all and to label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire.”

-- Trump, who took out full-page newspaper ads to attack Reagan’s foreign policy during the 1980s (even as it was winning the Cold War), has remade the Republican Party in his image over the past three years. The president has shown a consistent impulse to blame “both sides.” After the violence in Charlottesville last August, Trump said there are “two sides to a story.” He attacked counterprotesters for acting “very, very violently” as they came “with clubs in their hand” at the neo-Nazis and KKK members who were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that,” Trump said. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? Do they have any problem? I think they do!”

-- To be sure, there are notable holdouts. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), battling brain cancer, put out a rare statement calling on Trump to cancel today’s meeting — if he is “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.”

“Putin is a murderer,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) tweeted Sunday night. “He has ordered the assassinations of political adversaries and used outlawed chemical weapons to do it. He oversees Russian military units that shot down Malaysian flight 17 and murdered almost 300 civilians. … Putin is a crook and a liar. He has broken almost every agreement he has signed with the United States, including on Syria and Ukraine. He has become one of the world's richest men through embezzlement and stealing from his own people.”

-- Paul’s comments on the Sunday shows were deeply revealing. The senator was adamant that he was not engaging in moral equivalency, but he suggested multiple times that the Kremlin was reacting to U.S. policy. Among the supposed provocations: Hillary Clinton calling for free and fair elections in Russia when she was secretary of state. “One of the reasons they really didn't like Hillary Clinton,” he told Tapper on CNN, “is they found her responsible for some of the activity by the U.S. in their elections under the Obama administration.”

Explaining his decision to vote against a resolution expressing support for NATO last week, Paul reached back even further: “The provocation of pushing NATO forward after … James Baker promised [Mikhail] Gorbachev in 1990 when Germany unified that we would not go, the West would not go, one inch beyond Germany, and yet, a couple years later, under the Clinton administration, we kept pushing, pushing, pushing. … From Russia's perspective, they see NATO expansion as a threat. … Part of their militarism and part of their nationalism problem may be inherent to the tides of the current century there, but it's also in reaction to policy from the West as well.”

-- This view is squarely outside the mainstream among foreign policy experts in both parties. Col. James McDonough, the U.S. Army’s attache to Poland, highlighted “Russia’s Moral Hypocrisy” in a piece for Task and Purpose magazine this spring: “Russian soldiers occupy Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine in violation of all international norms. Through these occupations Moscow enables the pirate state of Transnistria, enables the backwards ‘independence’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, strips Crimea from its internationally recognized sovereign, and feeds the Russian separatist movement in the Donbass.  After supporting Libyan leader Mommar Khadafi for years, the Kremlin now backs one of his henchmen, warlord Khalifa Hafter, instead of the Western-backed, and UN-recognized, Government of National Accord, reportedly in exchange for military basing rights in eastern Libya. Further east in Sudan, Russia is exporting arms to the government of Omar al-Bashir whose abysmal record on human rights has left him shunned by more civilized countries. Most alarmingly, Russia has cozied up to Iran, the most significant exporter of terrorism in the Middle East, and Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, whose atrocities against his own people are now well known to the world. Russia’s bedfellows reek, and yet Moscow does not mind the smell. And where on the globe has Russian foreign policy been a force for justice and decency? Nothing comes to mind.”

If you want to go deeper, here are two recent pieces that capture what was until recently a bipartisan consensus:

  • “Russia and America Aren't Morally Equivalent. There is no comparison between Russian efforts to undermine elections and American efforts to strengthen them,” by Princeton professor Thomas Melia in the Atlantic.
  • “Russia’s nefarious meddling is nothing like democracy assistance,” by Daniel Twining, president of the International Republican Institute, and Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, in The Washington Post.

-- Paul announced during a separate appearance Sunday on Fox News that he’s planning a trip to Russia next month with members of the libertarian Cato Institute. “We’ll be talking to the president after Helsinki and asking him if there’s something we can follow up on,” the Kentucky senator told Ed Henry. “I think there are a lot of simplistic people out there on both sides of the aisle that are criticizing President Trump. Engagement is a good idea. Even during the height of the Cuban missile crisis, there was a direct line of communication between [John] Kennedy and [Nikita] Khrushchev. … We don’t want to mistakenly amble into a war because we were in close proximity and didn’t know it.”

-- In March, the Russian Embassy in Washington tweeted a picture of Paul meeting with Ambassador Anatoly Antonov. It said that the two men had discussed “improving” and “restoring” relations. A few minutes later, the embassy deleted that tweet. The picture was later reposted with a more anodyne caption that used neither of those words, according to Business Insider.

-- Asked on CBS if he’ll demand Putin to extradite the dozen Russians who have been indicted by the Justice Department, Trump said: “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Well, I might,” he added. “But, again, this was during the Obama administration. They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration.”

“It’s pretty silly for the president to demand something that he can’t get legally,” national security adviser John Bolton said on ABC. “The Russians take the position — you can like it or not like it — that their constitution forbids them to extradite Russian citizens.”

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman added on NBC that the FBI will “no doubt” work with the embassy to submit the request, but he noted that this “doesn’t necessarily mean that the Russians are going to follow through.”

Paul said on CNN that making such a request would “be a moot point”: “I don't think Russia is sending anyone back over here for trial, the same way we wouldn't send anybody over there for trial.  No country with any sovereignty or sense of sovereignty is sending anybody to another country for trial.”

BLINKING RED LIGHTS:

-- It was overshadowed by the indictments, but the nation’s top intelligence official gave a very significant speech on Friday afternoon at the Hudson Institute think tank in D.C. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, likened the cyber threat today to the climate before Sept. 11, 2001, when intelligence channels were “blinking red” with warning signs that a terrorist attack was imminent.

“Here we are nearly two decades later, and I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said, according to the Associated Press. “The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, in coordination with international partners, have detected Russian government actors targeting government and businesses in the energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors. … We are seeing aggressive attempts to manipulate social media and to spread propaganda focused on hot-button issues that are intended to exacerbate socio-political divisions.”

Coats added that intelligence analysts are not seeing the identical sort of electoral interference as two years ago. “However, we fully realize that we are just one click on a keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself,” he said. “These actions are persistent. They’re pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not.”

-- Here are three other sobering stories that should be on your radar:

1. The same Russian military intelligence service accused of disrupting our 2016 election is also believed to be responsible for the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, earlier this year. Ellen Barry, Michael Schwirtz and Eric Schmitt report in today’s New York Times: “British investigators believe the March 4 attack … was most probably carried out by current or former agents of the service, known as the G.R.U., who were sent to his home in southern England … British officials are now closing in on identifying the individuals they believe carried out the operation[.] [The Justice Department’s Friday indictment] detailed a sophisticated operation … carried out by a Russian military intelligence service few Americans know about. But analysts and government officials say the G.R.U. [serves] as an undercover strike force for the Kremlin in conflicts around the world. The agency has been linked to Russia’s hybrid war in Ukraine, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014. It has been involved in the seizing of Syrian cities on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. In more peaceful regions, the G.R.U. is accused of creating political turmoil, mobilizing Slavic nationalists in Montenegro and funding protests to try to prevent Macedonia’s recent name change.”

2.Russia Hawk Axed From National Security Council Right Before Trump-Putin Summit,” by the Daily Beast’s Kate Brannen and Spencer Ackerman: “The circumstances of retired Army Colonel Richard Hooker’s departure from the National Security Council on June 29 are in dispute. It’s not clear whether Hooker was forced out or if his detail on the NSC came to its natural end. But what’s not in doubt is that for the past 15 months, Hooker was senior director for Russia, Europe and NATO. … Hooker ended his tour on the National Security Council early after he discussed information pertinent to Russia with foreign officials without proper authorization, according to two government officials. … A former NSC official strongly denied [that] account.”

3. “A senior FBI official overseeing a government task force that addresses Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. elections has left the government for a job in the private sector,” the Wall Street Journal’s Dustin Volz reported Saturday. “Jeffrey Tricoli had been coleading the FBI foreign influence task force until June, when he left government work for a senior vice president job at Charles Schwab Corp. … Mr. Tricoli, an 18-year veteran of the FBI who became a section chief of the bureau’s cyber division in December 2016, didn’t respond to requests for comment sent to his personal email and LinkedIn account.

  • “The reason for Mr. Tricoli’s departure wasn’t clear. But it adds to questions among some tech companies and lawmakers about how much the administration, and the task force in particular, are doing to protect future elections from Russian meddling.
  • “Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and author of a book about information wars on social media, said the Trump administration has shown little interest in addressing Russian meddling, leaving the FBI’s efforts to tackle foreign influence ‘reactive’ instead of anticipatory.”

-- Hard feelings watch: Jeb Bush named “The Manchurian Candidate” as the greatest political novel of all time. “It is a good read and shows that the Russians have always tried to get involved in our elections,” the former Florida governor told Steve Israel for a feature that ran this weekend.

And Hillary Clinton posed this question on Twitter last night:

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime series “Who Is America?” premiered last night. It had already attracted attention as conservative figures came forward to say the comedian had tricked them into appearing in the new show. Hank Stuever reviews the first episode: “Cohen concluded the show disguised as Col. Erran Morad, an Israeli commando who comes to Washington to promote ‘Kinderguardians,’ a new program to teach and arm schoolchildren as young as 3 to use firearms to protect themselves. (Children who are younger are not ideal, Morad says, because of ‘the terrible twos.’) That he finds willing advocates in the gun lobby … to join his effort is not all that surprising. It’s not even surprising that he finds a rather pathetic bunch of current and former lawmakers … to tape enthusiastic endorsements for Kinderguardians.

“Instead, the surprising thing is that this all seems normal. Whatever shame or embarrassment might once have accompanied an unflattering appearance in one of Cohen’s elaborate stunts hardly matters anymore. We’re fresh out of shame in this country right now. Whatever blows Cohen might land by way of exposing hypocrisy — well, that doesn’t seem to have much effect anymore. … If nothing else, ‘Who Is America?’ might cause its audience to examine its own double standards. To giggle at and delight in Cohen’s pranks is to believe that you can have it both ways: that you can be horrified at the collapse of truth and democracy, and then laugh at a guy who seeks to undermine whatever remains of trust. As watchably galling as Cohen’s techniques may be, America in 2018 doesn’t really seem like the right time or place for it.”

-- “[I]t becomes clear that Baron Cohen — a consummate troll himself — is a perfect foil to the current political climate of grift and trolling,” BuzzFeed News’s Charlie Warzel writes. “As the last two years have shown, the #MAGA style of politics is less an ideology than it is about breaking the system through an insurgent style of media hacking and alternate-reality creation. … Though the stakes may be somewhat lower, Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy wields a similar kind of recklessness. … He wholly rejects the ‘they go low, we go high’ ethos, opting instead to wrestle in the mud with his subjects. … Baron Cohen is a worthy adversary for the most disingenuous in our politics and culture. He pits bad faith against bad faith and the result is something that seems like the truth — but it isn’t easy to watch. And somehow, that feels fitting for our current moment.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup championship final. The match saw as many goals as the previous four finals, combined. (Steven Goff, Sam Fortier and Scott Wilson)
  2. Hundreds of far-right demonstrators in Spain gathered to protest the planned transfer of former fascist leader Francisco Franco’s remains from a state-funded mausoleum. The controversial monument was constructed under Franco’s direction, and Spain’s new socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez pledged to move the remains. (Politico)

  3. Haiti’s Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned, allowing him to avoid a potential no-confidence vote following violent riots triggered by a spike in fuel prices. The increase — which was later suspended — had been part of an agreement struck with the International Monetary Fund. It would have increased prices by 38 percent for gasoline, 47 percent for diesel and 51 percent for kerosene. (NPR)
  4. Trump has not awarded the National Medal of Arts or the National Humanities Medal since taking office. The last ceremony to award the medals was held in September 2016, making the recent lull the longest gap in the awards’ history. (New York Times)

  5. Elon Musk accused one of the Thai cave rescuers of being a pedophile — without any evidence. British diver Vernon Unsworth, who assisted with the rescue, had called the Tesla founder's kid-size submarine that was ultimately never used a “PR stunt.” Musk responded by referring to Unsworth as “pedo guy.” (Avi Selk)
  6. Toronto’s chief medical officer published a new report urging Canada to decriminalize all illicit drugs, as part of a strategy to combat the country’s quickly worsening opioid crisis. “When we criminalize people who take drugs, we inadvertently contribute to the overdose emergency,” Eileen de Villa wrote. “It pushes people into unsafe drug use practices.” (Amanda Coletta)
  7. The Chicago Police Department released body camera footage of Harith Augustus’s confrontation with officers after the armed black man's death sparked massive protests. Patrol Chief Fred Waller said of Augustus’s interaction with the officers, “When they approached him, he tried to push their hands away. … He started flailing and swinging away, trying to make his escape. And as he was making his escape, reached for his weapon.” The footage initially appears to corroborate this version of events. (Alex Horton)
  8. Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church unveiled plans for a memorial to the nine victims of the 2015 shooting that took place there. Architect Michael Arad, who also designed New York’s September 11 Memorial, said the plan was “intended to promote a sense of community, that when you walk into this space, you become a member of this congregation.” (New York Times)
  9. The Los Angeles Times said it would appeal a federal judge’s order to remove information from a published article. A reporter at the newspaper found online and subsequently wrote an article about a sealed plea agreement between prosecutors and a police narcotics detective accused of colluding with a Mexican crime syndicate. (New York Times)
  10. A Palm Beach resident who was found dead earlier this year just outside his gated, upscale community is believed to have staged his own murder, police said. The elaborate plan involved weather balloons, a gun and months of meticulous planning. His suicidal scheme was also the plot of a 2003 CSI episode, which ultimately led authorities to crack the case. (Avi Selk)

THE MIDTERMS:

-- Enthusiastic Midwest voters helped deliver Trump his 2016 presidential victory. But in the run-up to this year’s midterms, Republicans in the region are seeking to highlight their differences with the commander in chief — and the ways they could act as a check on his unpredictable behavior. David Weigel reports from New Albany, Ohio: “Ohio overall swung dramatically toward Trump in 2016, part of a near sweep of the Midwest … But doubts about the ongoing tariff battle and about the administration’s agenda on health care, spending and immigration have changed the terrain. Rather than back the president and Republicans, the Midwest has begun to flirt with candidates who would keep them in check. In Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, Democratic senators once thought to be endangered have rebounded and are in fairly safe positions . . . Republicans in the region have been forced into a difficult choice. They can declare independence … Or they can side with a president whose actions, while popular among Republicans, are decidedly not so among other voters who will decide November’s elections.”

-- Obamacare has transformed from a Republican attack point to a Democratic rallying cry. Sean Sullivan reports: “Democratic candidates and groups are trumpeting support for popular elements of President Barack Obama’s signature law and attacking Republicans for trying to rescind them in last year’s failed repeal-and-replace effort. Liberal activists are also seeking to convince centrist senators that confirmation of Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee … would increase the odds that the law known as Obamacare would be dismantled by the courts. The strategy marks a dramatic turnabout from the previous two midterms when many Democrats avoided defending Obamacare, and illustrates the extent to which the law has taken root as millions of Americans have come to depend on it.”

-- Trump’s campaign tactics are gaining in popularity with candidates on both sides of the aisle. Jenna Johnson reports: “In races across the country, other Republican candidates — and some Democrats — also are branding their opponents with unflattering nicknames, tweeting in all caps, refusing to apologize for things that politicians once apologized for, being proudly politically incorrect, circulating false information, calling their hometown newspapers “fake news,” releasing damaging information about their opponents and generating controversy to get headlines, even unflattering ones. A Republican candidate for California’s state legislature, copying Trump’s foray against President Barack Obama, has even launched a birther movement, demanding proof that his Democratic opponent is a legal citizen of the United States. … But it’s unclear if the tactics will work for many candidates other than Trump, who had a cache with his voters unmatched by most seeking office.”

-- Trump has raised $90 million for his reelection campaign, with less money going toward legal fees. Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy report: “Trump’s campaign committee and two fundraising committees that are joint operations with the Republican National Committee — Trump Victory and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee — together raised $17.7 million in the second quarter, for a total of about $90 million in the 2018 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records filed Sunday evening. … [The campaign’s] attorneys' fees totaled $338,254, or less than 10 percent of the $3.6 million it spent from April through June, filings show. That represents a drop of nearly $500,000 since the first quarter of 2018, and a notable decline from the last quarter of 2017, when legal fees surged to $1.1 million.”

-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has raised millions of dollars from grass-roots contributors eager to reward the California Republican for backing Trump against Russia collusion accusations. The Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker reports: “[Nunes] closed the period with $5.7 million in cash on hand to spend on his re-election campaign. The congressman's second quarter haul is nearly three-and-a-half times the remarkable $1.25 million he raised in the first three months of the year, and comes after his political team invested in a national small-dollar fundraising program that kicked off after the House Intelligence Committee completed its investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign. … Nunes' colleagues are taking notice as well. The congressman is in-demand as a campaign surrogate, and is scheduled in the next three months to travel the country raising money for incumbents, challengers, and open-seat candidates.”

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:

-- As Trump spent the bulk of his Europe trip lashing out at U.S. allies and upbraiding NATO, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has taken the opposite tack — keeping such a low profile that he’s oftentimes appeared nearly invisible. Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan report: “On the rare occasions he has spoken, the Pentagon chief did not refer to his boss. Mattis traveled with Trump to the NATO summit in Brussels but remained offstage when [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton] joined Trump during the president’s impromptu news conference. … Even as senior Pentagon officials insist they have never been more united, Mattis often seems to be having a different conversation with allies than Trump. His defense strategy, published in December, stresses the importance of alliances, especially in Europe, and orders the U.S. military to ramp up its capabilities to counter the threat posed by Russia.”

  • Former Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Trump’s remarks put Mattis in an almost “untenable position”: “He can’t dismiss what the president said, so he’s got to finesse it. [Mattis] has, at times, sought to ‘finesse it’ by ignoring in public any presidential statements that seem to run counter to [his] overall approach to the military.”
  • “Despite Trump’s statements in Brussels and Britain, Mattis has a positive story to tell about NATO, said current and former defense officials. Mattis is ‘winning the war’ in terms of securing support for Pentagon initiatives, such as a new NATO training mission in Iraq … The alliance also committed last week to a Mattis-backed proposal [on rapid deployments, which are] seen as essential to counter any Russian aggression on NATO’s eastern periphery.
  • “Mostly, though, Mattis continued to strike a posture that was the tonal opposite of his boss. ‘I reiterate that I am here to listen,’ he said in Zagreb. ‘You live here, and each of you knows this neighborhood best.’”

-- Another top National Security Council member announced her resignation — becoming the latest senior official to head for the exits since Bolton took over. Jennifer Arangio served as director for international organizations and alliances on the council, but she had reportedly clashed with others in the White House — including senior policy aide Stephen Miller — over Trump’s immigration crackdown and hard line policies toward refugees. (Vox News)

-- House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said he will not support the push by Trump loyalists to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “For what? Impeach him for what? No,” Gowdy said on CBS's “Face the Nation.” He added, “I've had my differences with Rod Rosenstein. I talk to him quite often privately, which again is a lot more constructive than the public hearings we have. … He's a Trump appointee. So is [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions. So is [FBI Director] Chris Wray. If President Trump is dissatisfied with Rod Rosenstein, he can fire him with a tweet.” (Politico)

-- The FBI’s 2018 internal “climate survey” found that, under Trump, rank-and-file confidence in the bureau’s senior leadership has taken a direct hit. Lawfare Blog’s Benjamin Wittes and Scott Anderson published the results: “Across an array of metrics, both at headquarters and in the FBI’s 56 field offices, employees still express high esprit de corps about the FBI itself and their work for the bureau. But when asked about confidence in the vision of the FBI director, the value of direct communications from him, the honesty and integrity of senior bureau leaders, or respondents’ respect for those leaders, there is a striking drop in confidence from previous years.”

-- Jared Kushner’s family company used loud construction and rent hikes to push out those in rent-stabilized apartments in favor of luxury condo buyers. From the AP’s Bernard Condon and Garance Burke: “The hammering and drilling began just months after [Kushner’s] family real estate firm bought a converted warehouse apartment building in the hip, Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Tenants say it started early in the morning and went on until nightfall, so loud that it drowned out normal conversation, so violent it rattled pictures off the walls. So much dust wafted through ducts and under doorways that it coated beds and clothes in closets. Rats crawled through holes in the walls. … [O]ver the past three years, more than 250 rent-stabilized apartments — 75 percent of the building — were either emptied or sold as the Kushner Cos. was converting the building to luxury condos. Those sales so far have totaled more than $155 million, an average of $1.2 million per apartment.” “You have to be ignorant or dumb to think this wasn’t deliberate,” one former resident said.

-- Canada’s largest department store, Hudson's Bay, pulled Ivanka Trump’s merchandise from its website and confirmed it will begin “winding down” sales of her eponymous clothing line at their chain of brick-and-mortar stores. The New York Times’s Ian Austen reports: “The move by the retailer, which also owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor … comes at a time when many Canadians say they are boycotting American products because of [Trump’s] decision to impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum as well as his repeated insults of [Justin Trudeau] . . . More than 2,000 Canadians responded to a recent request from [the Times] for their reaction to Mr. Trump’s actions with a mix of anger, betrayal, bafflement and sadness. Hudson’s Bay has also been targeted by several campaigns … that urge consumers to stay away from retailers that offer Trump family merchandise. In a brief statement, Hudson’s Bay made no reference to boycotts . . . Instead, it suggested that Ms. Trump’s brand was not particularly successful.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- A trove of Iranian nuclear documents stolen by Israeli intelligence during a daring raid earlier this year are shedding new light on the extent of Tehran’s past weapons research, including evidence that the country had obtained explicit weapons-design information from a foreign source and was nearing the development of critical weapons technology before the research was halted. Joby Warrick reports from Tel Aviv: “Iran’s ambitious, highly secretive effort to build nuclear weapons included extensive research in making uranium metal as well as advanced testing of equipment used to generate neutrons to start a nuclear chain reaction … While Iranian officials halted much of the work in 2003, internal memos show senior scientists making extensive plans to continue several projects in secret, hidden within existing military research programs. ’The work would be divided in two: covert (secret structure and goals) and overt,’ an Iranian scientist writes in one memo, part of a 100,000-document archive seized in a daring raid [of the storage facility] … The stolen documents contain no revelations about recent nuclear activity and no proof that Iran has violated the 2015 nuclear accord [and] U.S. officials had long known of Iran’s pre-2004 nuclear weapons research, which the Obama administration cited explicitly in prodding Iran to accept the historic deal[.]”

-- “How Israel, in Dark of Night, Torched Its Way to Iran’s Nuclear Secrets,” by the New York Times’s David E. Sanger and Ronen Bergman: “The agents arrived that night, Jan. 31, with torches that burned at least 3,600 degrees, hot enough, as they knew from intelligence collected during the planning of the operation, to cut through the 32 Iranian-made safes. But they left many untouched, going first for the ones containing the black binders, which contained the most critical designs. When time was up, they fled for the border, hauling some 50,000 pages and 163 compact discs of memos, videos and plans. … The morning shift of Iranian guards would arrive around 7 a.m., a year of surveillance of the warehouse by the Israeli spy agency had revealed, and [the Mossad agents] knew exactly how much time they had to disable the alarms, break through two doors, cut through dozens of giant safes and get out of the city with a half-ton of secret materials …”

-- Theresa May says Trump told her that Britain should “sue” the European Union for a quicker Brexit. Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim report: “'He told me I should sue the E.U. — not go into negotiations. Sue them. Actually, no, we’re going into negotiations with them,’ May told the BBC in an interview that published Sunday. It is unclear how such a lawsuit would work for Britain, a member of the European Union, but Trump has often threatened lawsuits in dealmaking. The two leaders have disagreed on how May should handle the exit from the bloc, with Trump frequently haranguing her to hurry the process. Trump has often begun phone calls with her by asking her to rush the process.”

-- The Trump administration is seeking direct talks with Taliban officials in the hopes of negotiating an end to America’s longest war. The New York Times’s Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt report: “The shift to prioritize initial American talks with the Taliban over what has proved a futile ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned’ process stems from a realization by both Afghan and American officials that [Trump’s] new Afghanistan strategy is not making a fundamental difference in rolling back Taliban gains. While no date for any talks has been set, and the effort could still be derailed, the willingness of the United States to pursue direct talks is an indication of the sense of urgency in the administration to break the stalemate in Afghanistan.”

-- South Korean conservatives, who initially had high hopes for Trump’s presidency, have strongly opposed his outreach to Kim Jong Un. Adam Taylor reports: “In a nation where the political right has long based its policies on deep animosity toward North Korea and unfailing support for the U.S. military alliance, conservatives now find themselves dealing with an American leader who is not only willing to meet with and praise Kim, but who publicly muses about withdrawing troops. South Korea’s rightists are in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis. And the effect can be seen in electoral votes and opinion polls.”

THE SUPREME COURT: 

-- “On abortion and other issues, Kavanaugh’s heroes are more conservative than Kennedy,” by Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow: “Both Kavanaugh and now-Justice Neil M. Gorsuch subscribe to an originalist interpretation of the Constitution associated with Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and clearly not with [Anthony] Kennedy. [Both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh clerked for Kennedy.] . . . In his speeches and writings, Kavanaugh is often noncommittal, describing in detail how different justices on the Supreme Court approach cases rather than offering what he thinks would be the best way. But it is clear he would look to the approach employed by Scalia and [the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist]. Kavanaugh thinks the Constitution affords the executive branch broad powers. At the same time, he would be far less likely than other judges to declare a law ambiguous and thus defer to an administration’s agency interpretations of regulations and implementation.”

-- There is growing focus on Kavanaugh's record vis-a-vis the rule of law. “He would very specifically and most profoundly exempt the president from [special counsel investigations],” Bob Bauer and Ryan Goodman write on Slate. “Indeed, Kavanaugh would go much further in exempting the president not only from prosecution and indictment but also from Department of Justice investigations while in office — and not only investigation but also depositions or questioning in civil litigation or criminal investigations. Under Kavanaugh’s proposal for a revamped prosecutorial structure, the president could nominate a special prosecutor to investigate alleged wrongdoing in the executive branch, but the president could never be one of the investigation’s targets. … What’s more, Kavanaugh’s proposals for a reform of the independent counsel arrangement would leave the president with unfettered authority to protect his own administration from accountability under the law.

-- “Ed Kavanaugh’s career may shed light on his son’s hostility to government regulation, a major reason conservatives are so enthralled by his nomination to the Supreme Court,” the New York Times’s Scott Shane, Steve Eder, Rebecca R. Ruiz, Adam Liptak, Charlie Savage and Ben Protess report. “He spent more than two decades in Washington as a top lobbyist for the cosmetics industry, courting Congress and combating regulations from the [FDA] and other agencies. … In current parlance, as an old friend put it, the elder Mr. Kavanaugh and his associates were ‘swamp creatures,’ using money and connections to fend off demands for safer products and greater transparency about ingredients. He was a golf partner of Tip O’Neill … who weighed in to support Martha Kavanaugh’s nomination to a judgeship. He was paid $13 million, including his retirement package, in 2005, his last year at the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been taking the most definitive steps recently to prepare for a run against Trump, but three of her colleagues — Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — as well as former vice president Joe Biden are not far behind her. The New York Times’s Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, who spoke to nearly 50 Democtatic insiders, report: “All five have been traveling the country, raising money for Democrats and gauging the appeal of their personalities and favorite themes. As a group, they are a strikingly heterogeneous array of rivals for Mr. Trump, embodying the Democratic Party’s options for defining itself: They are distinguished by gender and race, span three decades in age and traverse the ideological and tonal spectrum between combative Democratic socialism and consensus-minded incrementalism. Yet absent, at least so far, is either an obvious political phenom like [Barack Obama] or an establishment-backed juggernaut in the mold of Hillary Clinton. Unlike the last few Democratic primaries, the unsettled race evokes the sprawling nomination fights of earlier decades — lacking a dominant figure and seemingly inviting new leaders to rise. 

“Interviews with about four dozen lawmakers, consultants and party leaders revealed a mood of emphatic uncertainty: Senior Democrats see their party in a historically volatile state, and they are wary of attempting another Clinton-style coronation. But many Democrats believe the party’s turn left, combined with the rising fury of progressive women and the grass-roots appetite for a political brawler, have created an especially inviting environment for Ms. Warren.”

-- Mayors are also muscling their way into the 2020 presidential race at a never-before-seen rate — with at least three Democratic city leaders already weighing potential bids. Politico’s David Siders reports: “No mayor has ever sprung directly from City Hall to the White House. But that historic streak stands to be tested in 2020 … [The mayors are] exploiting a newfound opening for politicians at the municipal level, one enabled by broader economic and cultural forces, among them the rise of the Democratic Party’s diverse and ascendant Obama coalition. … In part, the opportunity for Democratic mayors is a product of the party’s failings elsewhere. With Democrats out of power in Washington and in many state capitals, large, heavily Democratic cities have become progressives’ power centers of last resort, with an increasingly diverse media landscape offering exposure to a previously anonymous class of politicians.”

“Cities are powerful forces now; they’re almost like city-states,” said former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros. “While it is perfectly plausible that a governor … can run, [why isn’t] it plausible that a mayor of a major, global epicenter of power like New York or Los Angeles or Chicago … shouldn’t be plausible at the presidential level?”

-- Many people in the business and political spheres are encouraging Starbucks founder Howard Schultz not to run for president. Politico’s Ben Schreckinger reports: “Wall Street analysts are wary, and company leadership is nervous, about the effect a Democratic bid by its chairman emeritus could have on Starbucks’ business, given its bipartisan customer base. If that weren’t discouraging enough, his retirement last month set off a boomlet of pundits urging him not to run. And his recent appearance at a private gathering of political donors convened by Mitt Romney inspired indifference.”

THE DEMOCRATIC CIVIL WAR:

-- “Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Win a Fluke or a Harbinger?” by the New Yorker's David Remnick: “Not long ago, [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez was mixing margaritas. Today, she is the embodiment of anti-corporate politics and a surge of female candidates in the midterm elections. … [Over] dinner, Ocasio-Cortez bris­tled at the establishment dismissals, [including Nancy Pelosi, who called her victory a ‘local phenomenon’]. She did not doubt that there were many factors in her win—her identity as a young woman, as a Latina, as a daugh­ter of a working-class family—but she had also out-organized a party boss, hammered away at immigration and health-care issues, and brought out new voters. ‘I’m twenty-eight years old, and I was elected on this super-idealistic plat­form,’ she said. ‘Folks may want to take that away from me, but I won. When you hear ‘She won just for demographic reasons,’ or low turnout, or that I won because of all the white ‘Bernie bros’ in Astoria—maybe that all helped. But I smoked this race. I dominated. And I am going to own that.’ … The more complicated question was how she was going to own her identity as a democratic socialist.”

-- Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) took personal responsibility for his primary loss to Ocasio-Cortez in his first extended interview since the election. “This loss is on me,” Crowley told Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation.” “I did not do as I preach. You know, I talk about all politics being local. I didn’t remind folks of my accomplishments. I didn’t talk about what I had done to help people in my district . . . I just took that for granted, I think.” Crowley, who got into a Twitter spat with Ocasio-Cortez just three days earlier, added that Democrats should focus on defeating Republicans rather than fighting internally. “What we really need to do is take that energy that’s been focused in terms of internal bouts and focus that on Republicans and win seats that Republicans hold today if we really want to make a difference,” Crowley said. (Mike DeBonis)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump once again sought to blame Obama for Russia's election meddling:

He also blamed past administrations and the Mueller probe for icy relations with Russia:

NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent reacted to Rand Paul’s comments on the Sunday shows:

An information warfare expert added this:

The star of A&E’s “Modern Dads”:

The D.C. bureau chief of Mother Jones:

Paul pushed back:

The White House social media director shared a picture from Trump's arrival in Helsinki:

Trump claimed NATO leaders thanked him for his aggressive posture at the Brussels summit:

The European Council president rebutted Trump's claim that the European Union is a “foe”:

From a former NSC official under Obama:

The word “foe” surged in dictionary searches:

The State Department's spokeswoman tweeted a photo of Mike Pompeo with the general in command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan:

And the French president celebrated his team's performance in the World Cup final:

The U.S. president congratulated France on its win:

A Guardian reporter noted this:

The White House canceled John Bolton's planned interview with CNN:

The White House press secretary responded to the CNN host:

Another CNN host replied:

Sanders also shared this photo of Trump from the president's U.K. trip:

A British newspaper used the picture for its front page:

And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wished happy birthday to a World War II veteran:

GOOD READS:

-- “Immigrant kids held in shelters: ‘They told us to behave, or we’d be here forever,’” by Michael E. Miller: “Across the country, mothers and fathers are slowly being reunited with the children they last saw being led away by Border Patrol agents weeks or months ago. Experts warn that many of these children may be deeply traumatized by their experiences. Their voices have seldom been heard during the frenzied debate over family separation. ‘I felt like a prisoner,’ said Diogo De Olivera Filho, a 9-year-old from Brazil who spent five weeks at a shelter in Chicago, including three weeks in isolation after getting chickenpox. When he got lonely and left his quarantined room to see other kids, he said the shelter put up a gate to keep him in. ‘I felt like a dog,’ he said.”

-- “Baseball has entered the Golden Age of the Prospect,” by Dave Sheinin: “[T]op minor leaguers [are being] scouted, rated, prized and celebrated like at no other time in the game’s history — a trend that has much to do with the explosion of media, both social and traditional, but also the shifting market forces within the sport, which these days values youthful talent above all else.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“'Make America Great Again' hats could double in price after new US tariffs: Merchandiser,” from ABC News: “The latest round of tariffs on products from China proposed by [Trump] could double the price of ‘Make America Great Again’ hats inspired by his 2016 campaign slogan, according to a merchandiser who imports them. The new tariffs announced Thursday would hit $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, especially consumer goods, including the popular hats sported by Trump supporters around the nation … David Lassoff is the manager of a California-based company that sells a range of novelty items online. He told ABC News his company, IncredibleGifts, typically imports the red hats from China and embroiders them in the U.S. But now the company may have to complete both tasks in the U.S., which could raise prices significantly.” “There might be a limited quantity [of hats] in the future. We’re trying to make sure we have enough hats in stock now, so if things change, we’re prepared,” he said.

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Former congressman Joe Walsh explains how Sacha Baron Cohen tricked him into supporting arming toddlers with guns,” from Travis M. Andrews: “Former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh joined Sarah Palin and Roy Moore in decrying Sacha Baron Cohen’s new satire series … [after becoming the latest conservative figure to be fooled on camera]. The conservative talk-show host appeared in the show’s final segment called ‘KILL OR BE KILLED’ in which Cohen — as the fake Israeli ‘anti-terror expert’ Col. Erran Morad — offers a ‘solution’ to America’s [school] shootings. ‘The NRA wants to arm the teachers. This is crazy. They should be arming the children,’ Cohen as Morad says, before introducing his (fake) new program called ‘Kinderguardians,’ [which would] arm children as young as 3[.] Cohen-as-Morad then heads to Washington to find political support … It’s here that he encounters Walsh, who enthusiastically backs the program." "In less than a month — less than a month — a first-grader can become a first grenade-er," Walsh says directly into the camera.

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump and Putin’s joint news conference will take place at 9:50 a.m. Eastern. Trump will talk to Fox News’s Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson after the meeting, while Putin will be interviewed by the network’s Chris Wallace. The president and first lady will then travel back to Washington.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

"[Every] time I watch him work, I think, 'This is what it must have been like to see the Sistine Chapel being painted.' But instead of paint, Michael uses the tears of his enemies.” — Stormy Daniels, on the work habits of Michael Avenatti, the now famous lawyer representing her in lawsuits against Trump and Michael Cohen. (New York Times Magazine)

 

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

-- It will be a muggy Monday in Washington, with storms possible later in the day. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “The hottest day of the week. Temperatures are going to take a ride toward the mid-90s and, with the high humidity, feel like over 100 degrees. Much like Sunday, some afternoon and evening showers and storms are likely to pop up, but any area’s chance of measurable rainfall is only about 30 percent.”

-- The Nationals beat the Mets 6-1, entering the all-star break at an even .500. (Chelsea Janes)

-- Jamie Foxx, Shaquille O’Neal and Bill Nye the Science Guy made appearances at the MLB All-Star Sunday’s Legends and Celebrity Softball Game. From Kendra Andrews: “[Nye] received several standing ovations, and got a base hit in the third inning after a strikeout in his first at-bat. The night had special meeting for Nye, who grew up in Washington and was raised a Senators fan. … Shaq pinch hit for Foxx, and with the National League team along the baseline, cellphones out all around to capture the moment, O’Neal struck out swinging.”

-- Metro workers have approved a potential transit strike. Faiz Siddiqui reports: “Jackie L. Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said the members approved a potential strike by a 94  percent margin. She declined to give an exact turnout, saying thousands had voted. Union leaders would not say whether they will launch a strike now that they have been authorized to do so. … Even a brief work stoppage would have the potential to significantly disrupt the transit system, which transports about 1 million people a day and is expecting an additional influx of riders Monday and Tuesday nights in connection with Major League Baseball All-Star Game festivities.”

-- D.C.’s boil-water advisory was lifted for all affected areas. Faiz Siddiqui and Peter Hermann report: “D.C. Water did not identify the cause of the water problem on Sunday. But officials familiar with the investigation said over the weekend that a maintenance worker who failed to turn off a valve at a pumping station on Thursday was probably to blame. At a news conference, [D.C. Water’s chief executive David Gadis] acknowledged concerns about the utility’s communication of the boil-water advisory and subsequent updates, which was criticized by residents and D.C. lawmakers as confusing and slow.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released its first television ad of the 2018 cycle — aimed at Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.):

Between his state visit to Britain and his sit-down with Putin, Trump played golf at his resort in Turnberry, Scotland, this weekend:

French soccer fans celebrated their country's World Cup victory in the streets of Paris:

And celebrities shared their most embarrassing sports stories during the MLB Legends and Celebrity All-Star Game: