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The Daily 202: Carter Page FISA warrants underscore the difficulty of disproving presidential falsehoods

Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page denied allegations of being a Russian agent while admitting he informally advised Kremlin officials in the past. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: The truth gets lost in the tweets. If you repeat a falsehood enough times, many people will believe it. Especially if you have 53.2 million Twitter followers, the bully pulpit of the presidency and some media outlets that uncritically repeat your false claims.

It’s been 503 days since President Trump falsely claimed that he had “just found out” Barack Obama ordered his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower before the 2016 election. “This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted. “This is Nixon/Watergate.”

This astonishing accusation caught White House aides off guard, who scrambled on a Saturday to figure out what he was talking about. They discovered that right-wing pundit Mark Levin had made the claim without evidence on his radio show. Breitbart, then at the zenith of its influence, highlighted Levin’s comments. Someone placed a printout of their article in Trump’s reading pile. And, presto, a conspiracy theory from the fever swamps was injected into the national conversation.

Loath to admit when he is wrong, Trump has spent the past 16 months determined to prove that he was at least partially correct about being under surveillance by the Obama administration. The president has repeatedly asserted that he’s been vindicated when he has not, and it’s become a central part of the White House’s strategy to undermine the credibility of special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation. Trump is trying it again this morning.

The Justice Department on Saturday released a previously classified application to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who was under suspicion by the FBI of being engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia. The government included redacted copies of the initial warrant application from October 2016 and three 90-day extensions of the warrant that were approved by judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Trump surely knows that very few people will take the time to study a 412-page tranche of heavily redacted FISA warrants released on a summer Saturday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. It’s hard to imagine that the president himself pored over the files, as opposed to watching the “Fox & Friends” coverage of them.

In a string of four Sunday tweets, Trump made demonstrably false assertions about what’s in the documents. He insisted that the warrants “confirm with little doubt that the Department of ‘Justice’ and FBI misled the courts.” “Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC,” Trump tweeted. “An illegal Scam! … Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam! … ILLEGAL!”

He continued to hammer on this theme Monday morning, live-tweeting quotes from an appearance by Tom Fitton of the pro-Trump group Judicial Watch on “Fox & Friends.” Trump claimed the revelations are “a disgrace to America”: “They should drop the discredited Mueller Witch Hunt now!”

Now more than ever, FISA is a political flashpoint. But how exactly do intelligence agencies use it to get surveillance warrants? (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

In fact, the release of the FISA warrants further undermines the credibility of the partisan memo that Trump declassified in February from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Contrary to one of the memo's central claims, the warrants show that the judges were told that the source of the so-called dossier had political motivations. While most of the warrants are still redacted, it’s also clear that the FBI was basing its request on more than just what former British spy Christopher Steele told them.

“The Nunes memo accused the FBI of dishonesty in failing to disclose information about Steele, but in fact the Nunes memo itself was dishonest in failing to disclose what the FBI disclosed,” writes David Kris, a former assistant attorney general for national security, on Lawfare. “Now we can see that the footnote disclosing Steele’s possible bias takes up more than a full page in the applications, so there is literally no way the FISA Court could have missed it.

The warrant also shows that the government told the judges after officials discovered Steele went to the press with the dossier. (He notified reporters about the dossier after FBI Director James Comey disclosed the discovery of emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop in the Hillary Clinton investigation in October 2016). “According to the FISA applications, Steele complained that Comey’s action could influence the election,” Kris notes. “But when Steele went to the press, it caused FBI to close him out as an informant — facts which are disclosed and cross-referenced in the footnote in bold text.”

Moreover, Page was no longer associated with the Trump campaign by the time the FISA warrant was approved — so this cannot really be considered surveillance on the Trump campaign. And Obama was not involved in authorizing the surveillance.

The Nunes memo also falsely claimed that a Yahoo News article was used to corroborate the dossier, even though Steele had been the source. In fact, the article was cited in a section on “Page’s Denial of Cooperation with the Russian Government.” It was used to lay out an argument against the warrant.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said the newly disclosed materials show that the FBI followed the law and had “a lot of reasons unrelated to the dossier” for why it wanted to monitor Page.

“I have a different view on this issue than the president and the White House,” Rubio said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “They did not spy on the campaign from anything that I have seen. You have an individual here who has openly bragged about his ties to Russia and Russians. … And the FBI’s job is to protect this country from threats … So they look at all this information. They say: We have a guy here who's always in Russia, brags about Russia, and we have reason to believe — and they list those reasons — why this is someone we should be watching. And they followed the legal process by which to do so.”

With the release of the warrants, we’ve also finally learned the identity of the four judges who signed off on the FISA warrants. All were appointed by Republican presidents and put onto the special FISA court by Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a GOP appointee. Anne Conway was picked by George H.W. Bush, Rosemary Collyer and Michael Mosman were tapped by George W. Bush and Raymond Dearie was chosen by Ronald Reagan. Each of them concluded that the government had demonstrated “probable cause” that Page was acting as an agent of the Kremlin. Two of the surveillance requests were also signed off by Trump appointees at the Justice Department, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

On Sunday, Trump approvingly quoted a conservative pundit who said on TV that the judges who authorized the warrants should be looked at, not just the FBI agents who sought the wiretaps. This represents just the latest in a string of attacks by the president on judges, including GOP nominees.

Scott Hechinger, a public defender in Brooklyn, clerked for Dearie, the Reagan appointee. “He’s no rubber stamp,” Hechinger wrote in a string of impassioned tweets defending his former boss: “If you look him up on judge rating websites, the consensus is in line w/ reality: An incredibly good man. A fair jurist. Smart & knowledgeable about the law. One ‘flaw’ — takes too long to render decisions. I saw why firsthand. He always wanted to make sure he got the law right.

“He took no pleasure in the deprivation of liberty,” Hechinger added. “On ‘sentencing days,’ he’d lock his door for hours. Indeed, the only time his door in chambers was ever closed. He took the obligation of sending someone away really seriously. He felt it. Doesn’t matter what you were accused of.

“The allegations from Trump about FISA have long burned me up,” he concluded. “I’m sure it has him too (though he is incredibly tight lipped about his FISA service). … And in the case of approving surveillance of Carter Page, I know he applied the same care, allegiance to the Constitution, fairness, and deliberation he put into every decision big or small I ever saw him make.”

Even as more and more facts undercut Trump’s declarations, the president’s insistence that there was illegal spying on his campaign has broken through and been accepted by millions of Americans. Several polls have shown that huge numbers of Americans, especially Republicans, buy it.

An April 2017 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 32 percent of Americans thought the Obama administration intentionally spied on the Trump campaign, while 58 percent said it did not spy. A slight 52 percent majority of Republicans said the Obama administration did so.

How the question is worded matters. A CBS poll conducted around the same time found a larger 47 percent of Americans and 69 percent of Republicans thought it was very or somewhat likely Trump's offices were wiretapped or under government surveillance during the 2016 campaign.

A more recent poll, from this February, by TIPP/IBD found that 54 percent of the people who say they have followed news about the FBI and DOJ's role in 2016 closely – a group that makes up 72 percent of adults – said it is very or somewhat likely that the “previous administration” improperly surveilled the Trump campaign in 2016. That suspicion rose to 87 percent among Republicans.

Fresh polls released this weekend did not ask about surveillance, but they show how tribalism continues to heavily shape people’s perceptions. A Post-ABC poll conducted Wednesday through Friday finds that, overall, 33 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of his meeting with Vladimir Putin while 50 percent disapprove. “The new Post-ABC poll finds 40 percent saying Trump went ‘too far’ in supporting Putin. However, almost as many — 35 percent — say Trump handled Putin ‘about right,’ while an additional 15 percent say he did not go far enough to support Putin,” Scott Clement and Dan Balz report:

  • Democrats, liberals and college graduates are the only groups in the poll among whom a majority say Trump went too far in supporting Putin. Among Democrats, 83 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of the meeting, while among Republicans, 66 percent approve of Trump’s performance.
  • A bare majority of Republicans in the new poll — 51 percent — approve of Trump expressing doubts about U.S. intelligence conclusions on Russian election interference. But a smaller 31 percent disapprove, with 18 percent offering no opinion. Among Democrats, 78 percent disapprove of what Trump said about U.S. intelligence findings, as do 59 percent of independents.”

And a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, which was in the field before, during and after the news conference in Helsinki, shows Trump’s job approval rating has ticked up to the highest point of his presidency: 45 percent. Underpinning Mr. Trump’s job approval was support from 88% of Republican voters,” Michael Bender writes in today’s Journal. “Of the four previous White House occupants, only George W. Bush, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, had a higher approval rating within his own party at the same point in his presidency. … The 65% of voters who believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election was up 8 percentage points from June 2017. Among those who agree with U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the election, an increasing number say the action tipped the race to Mr. Trump — some 30%, compared with 24% in June last year. … Of those in that group who believe Russia interfered, 45% said Mr. Trump would have lost without Russia, up from 22% a year ago.” But these changes have been almost entirely along partisan lines.

From the conservative editor of the Weekly Standard:

Trump, for all intents and purposes, is defending Page in his tweets, even though he is someone the U.S. intelligence community believed — when the warrant was requested two years ago — has “established relationships with Russian government officials, including Russian intelligence officers” and had been “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.”

Page, who has not been charged with a crime, denies that he has ever been an agent of a foreign power “by any stretch of the imagination.” Appearing Sunday on CNN, he called the applications to surveil him “a complete joke.” When anchor Jake Tapper noted that Page has described himself as an “informal adviser” to the Kremlin, he replied: “It’s really spin. I mean, I sat in on some meetings. But … to call me an adviser is way over the top.”

Page acknowledged that Russian officials wanted to discuss easing sanctions while he was advising the Trump campaign, but he said he heard “not one word” about “compromising material” they might have had on Clinton. “There was nothing in terms of any nefarious behavior about it,” he said of his meetings in Moscow during 2016.

Trump, his lawyers and his loyalists are now seizing on the heavy redactions in what came out Saturday to muddy the water and try sowing additional doubt. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, called the documents “potentially groundbreaking” and said they “should be declassified and further unredacted (protecting only sources and methods) so Americans can know the truth.” He added: “If the previous admin was funneling campaign research toward surveillance, we need to know.”

Nunes, who admitted in February that he did not actually read the original warrant application that his memo was based on, tweeted Sunday that it’s “TIME TO ELIMINATE REDACTIONS.”

In fact, many people familiar with how the FISA application process works say that what’s blacked out is likely additional evidence of Page’s links to Russia that came from top-secret sources that are more sensitive than and separate from the dossier.

One proof point: Each of the three renewal applications grew in length, suggesting that the government was disclosing fruitful evidence that it had obtained from the wiretaps. Philip Bump looks at the three sections that appear in each document: The third section (including the Steele information), the fourth through sixth sections (including Page’s denial and more redacted information) and the conclusion. He made a chart showing the page numbers where each of those sections appears in the renewal warrants. “The middle section — whatever it contained — kept getting larger, meaning that the section dealing with Steele’s report made up less of the overall application,” Bump notes.

The bigger picture: “[T]here's an intense effort underway to turn standard law enforcement practices into scandalous controversies,” explains Chris Megerian, who is on the Russia investigation beat for the Los Angeles Times:

  • “Republicans complain that Chris Steele had political motivations for his research and sharing it with the FBI. Spoiler — people who talk to the cops have reasons to do it. So are they proposing that law enforcement be prevented from using motivated sources? No, they are not.
  • “Republicans complain that the dossier was ‘unverified.’ Well, surveillance is one step in an investigation, not an ironclad case for a target's guilt. So are they proposing that every piece of information in warrant applications be confirmed from multiple sources? No, they are not.
  • “Republicans complain that Democrats were not identified as funding the dossier, even though the political motivations are made clear in the warrant application. So are they proposing to change the practice of how warrant applications are written so everyone is named? No, they are not.”

The mainstream press coverage continues to be brutal for Nunes. The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand says the warrants show his memo was written in “really, really bad faith.” Charlie Savage writes on the front page of today’s New York Times that “the records again cast an unflattering light” on Nunes.

On the other hand, the new documents largely validate the memo released by Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in response to Nunes. A former federal prosecutor who convicted an ex-FBI agent of passing secret documents to the Soviets, Schiff is troubled about all the tradecraft that’s been exposed as the result of Trump questioning the legitimacy of the process. “While I’m pleased that these conspiracy theories are finally being put to rest, the release of these materials during a pending investigation should not have happened,” he said Sunday. “FISA applications include matters that by their very nature implicate sources and methods of intelligence gathering, and anyone who has worked in this field knows that even discussing the existence of a FISA warrant is forbidden.”

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President Hassan Rouhani warned the United States on July 22 it will face the 'mother of all wars' if it picks a fight with Iran. (Video: Reuters)


-- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani cautioned Trump against pursuing hostile policies against Tehran, warning that a conflict between the two countries would be “the mother of all wars.”

“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” he said at a gathering of Iranian diplomats, leaving open the possibility of peace. “You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests.” 

-- Trump responded with an all-caps threat:

-- Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo compared Iran’s leaders to the mafia in a speech at the Reagan Presidential Library: “The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the Mafia more than a government,” the secretary of state told a largely Iranian American audience. Carol Morello reports: “The escalation of bellicose rhetoric comes just three weeks before the first round of banking sanctions suspended under the nuclear deal is reimposed. . . . [Pompeo] stopped short of calling for regime change, but he announced stepped-up U.S. government broadcasting in Farsi that is likely to foment further unrest against the government.”

Authorities said two people died and 13 others were injured, after a mass shooting incident in downtown Toronto on July 22. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)


  1. At least two people died after a gunman opened fire in one of Toronto’s busiest neighborhoods. Another 12 were injured, and the shooter was also killed by police. (Kyle Swenson)
  2. The Israeli military coordinated with international allies to quietly evacuate hundreds of White Helmet aid workers from Syria, as President Bashar al-Assad’s troops began closing in on a final pocket of opposition-held territory in the southwest. The rescue workers were relocated to Jordan and are expected to be resettled in Europe and Canada in the coming weeks. (Louisa Loveluck)
  3. Four additional allegations of sexual abuse have been leveled against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The former D.C. archbishop was suspended last month after being credibly accused of sexually abusing a teenager decades ago. Another man now says McCarrick abused him for nearly 20 years, beginning when he was 11 years old. (Michelle Boorstein and Julie Zauzmer)
  4. A new report shows that federal employment in Washington shrank by about 7,000 jobs last year, as Trump pares down funding for certain civilian agencies. But the administration’s spending priorities have triggered government contractors to go on a hiring spree in the D.C. region as they race to build out their defense and intelligence units. (Aaron Gregg)
  5. An Air Force fighter jet intercepted a small plane after it entered the no-fly zone near Trump’s New Jersey golf club, where the president spent the weekend. White House officials said the pilot was interviewed and deemed a non-threat. (Felicia Sonmez)
  6. India has started offering happiness classes to help counter a stressful school culture. The country’s competitive education system, which demands average test scores above 98 percent at top universities, has been blamed for a rash of student suicides. (Vidhi Doshi)
  7. A Dallas police officer’s funeral procession turned even more tragic after one of his colleagues was struck and killed by a suspected drunk driver while assisting in the funeral escort. Officer Tyrone Andrews died of cancer, and Senior Cpl. Earl “Jamie” Givens, 32, died while helping lead Andrews's body to its final resting place. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  8. It remains unclear whether a Trader Joe’s store manager who was killed in Los Angeles was shot by police or the suspect they were pursuing. After allegedly shooting his grandmother and kidnapping his girlfriend, Gene Atkins ran through a crowded Trader Joe’s parking lot with officers in pursuit. The officers and Atkins then exchanged gunfire, during which Melyda Corado was killed. (Los Angeles Times)

  9. China’s youth is increasingly lavishing money on their pets. One border collie named Sylar has accrued nearly 800,000 followers on social media, earning enough money for his owner, Zhou Tianxiao, to buy a $500,000 pet mansion in Beijing. (Danielle Paquette and Luna Lin)

  10. Italian golfer Francesco Molinari putted his way to an unexpected victory in Sunday’s British Open, successfully beating back a lineup of big-name contenders that included Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. The 35-year-old is also the first Italian man to win a major golf tournament, ever. (Chuck Culpepper)


-- “Trump creates a summer of discontent for Republican candidates,” by Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey: “It has been a common pattern this summer for House Republican candidates around the country: Trump sparks local and national controversies around issues of trade, immigration and foreign policy that throw many of the most vulnerable House incumbents for a loop. While members of Congress in safely Republican districts are free to always side with Trump, those serving in more moderate districts have repeatedly found themselves squeezed between their need to court Trump supporters and the friction his actions have prompted in their districts. Their fallback is often silence. None of this has dampened Trump’s own desire to make himself a centerpiece of the fall campaign. White House officials are trying to book two or three days a week for much of the fall for Trump to travel, in line with previous presidents. He plans to hit Illinois and Iowa (this) week to talk about the economy and visit a steel mill.

Trump is determined to make trade part of the midterm discussion — even though many in the White House are skeptical that it is a good issue, particularly in battleground Midwestern states. ‘It’s not like you are going to change his mind,’ said one White House official . . . ‘So we just have to message it the right way.’ . . . Two senior White House officials said they receive the most complaints from Republican incumbents and candidates on trade and the president’s tariffs.”

-- Sneak peek: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will unveil a sharpened economic message for Democrats in 2018. He’ll discuss what he’s calling a “Make It In America” agenda during a 10:30 a.m. speech at WeWork in Dupont Circle, which he developed while traveling the country on a “listening tour” since last fall. Here's some of what Hoyer plans to say, per his prepared remarks:

“In the wake of our recovery, we’ve gotten our economy back on its feet, thanks to policies put in place under President Obama. People are getting by. But they’re not getting ahead. And that’s what our country is supposed to do: give everyone a shot at getting ahead. … As our economy continues to strengthen, we must do more to ensure that workers can take care of their families. To do that, we need to raise wages — including a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage — make health care more affordable and stop government corruption that worsens inequality. Those are the core principles of House Democrats’ ‘For the People’ platform for 2018.  

“Education, entrepreneurship, and infrastructure: In these three areas, Congress needs to step up and act. … We need to unleash our economy and job creation by repairing our aging infrastructure and building the innovative infrastructure of the future. If we can make Congress a partner again in helping businesses and workers get ahead, we can begin to renew Americans’ faith in government as a force for good.”

-- Democrats hope that resistance to Trump can help them capture some governorships this fall. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report: “In a series of interviews, Republican and Democratic governors said opposition to Mr. Trump had galvanized liberal and many moderate voters, leading to a sizable intensity gap between the two parties. … But beyond Mr. Trump’s controversial behavior, the governors said the president’s policies on issues like trade had created an opening for Democrats in Republican-leaning farm belt states like Iowa and Kansas, where farmers are facing retaliatory tariffs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who won the governorship on the strength of the 2010 Obama backlash, bluntly acknowledged he and other Republicans could be facing ‘a blue wave,’ noting that ‘the wind nationally isn’t at our back.’”


-- Maria Butina, the Russian national indicted on charges of acting as a covert Russian agent, received financial support from Konstantin Nikolaev, a Russian billionaire with investments in U.S. energy and technology companies, according to a person familiar with her Senate Intelligence Committee testimony. Rosalind S. Helderman reports: “Butina told the [panel] in April that Nikolaev provided funding for a gun rights group she represented … A spokesman for Nikolaev confirmed that he was in contact with her [between 2012 and 2014 but] declined to confirm whether Nikolaev gave her financial support. Nikolaev’s fortune has been built largely through port and railroad investments in Russia. He also sits on the board of American Ethane, a Houston ethane company that was showcased by [Trump] at an event in China last year, and is an investor in a Silicon Valley start-up.”

  • “Prosecutors cited [interactions between Butina and Nikolaev] to argue she should not be allowed out of jail while awaiting trial. They argued that she has ‘ties to the Russian oligarchy’ and knows wealthy men who could be in a position to offer her ‘safe harbor’ if she decided to flee the United States.”
  • “Nikolaev has never met Trump, according to his spokesman. However, Nikolaev’s son Andrey, who is studying in the United States, volunteered in the 2016 campaign in support of Trump’s candidacy . . . Nikolaev was spotted at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump’s inauguration in January 2017[.]”

-- Butina also met with senior officials at the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department in 2015 — suggesting her network of D.C. contacts was far more extensive than previously reported. Reuters’s Sarah N. Lynch reports: “The meetings … involved Stanley Fischer, Fed vice chairman at the time, and Nathan Sheets, then Treasury undersecretary for international affairs . . . The two meetings … reveal a wider circle of high-powered connections that Butina sought to cultivate with American political leaders and special interest groups.”

-- Michael Avenatti said there are more secret recordings between Trump and his longtime fixer Michael Cohen. Appearing Sunday on ABC's “This Week” in the wake of Friday's news that Cohen secretly taped a 2016 discussion with Trump about whether to purchase the rights to a former Playboy model’s account of their alleged affair, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels said: “This is not the only tape. I can tell you that for a fact. There’s multiple tapes. That, ultimately, is going to prove to be a big problem for the president. You know, that old adage, ‘You’ve lived by the sword, you die by the sword,’ is going to be true in this case, because the president knew that his attorney, Michael Cohen, had a predisposition toward taping conversations with people.”

During a heated back and forth on the show, informal Trump adviser Alan Dershowitz pressed Avenatti to reveal how he knew about the additional tapes, arguing that it could represent a potential violation of lawyer-client privilege. “All of the information that the FBI seized, that’s not under lock and key,” Avenatti replied. “I could have received it from Michael Cohen. I could have received it from one of Michael Cohen’s counsels. I could have received it from others.”

“Avenatti also noted that he ran into Cohen on Monday at a restaurant in New York City and that the two had a ‘very fruitful’ conversation,” Felicia Sonmez reports. Cohen’s attorney denied any cooperation or information-sharing with Avenatti.

-- Paul Manafort is expected to appear today in federal court in Virginia, with his trial set to begin Wednesday. From Rachel Weiner: “The trial will be the first prosecuted by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and on Monday morning, both sides will have their last chance to shape the course of the trial. It is also the first time Manafort is to appear in court in person since he was jailed by a judge in Washington.”


-- Kimberly Guilfoyle announced she is departing Fox News as a co-host of “The Five,” and multiple sources say she’s slated to take a position with the pro-Trump super PAC America First. Guilfoyle was once considered to replace former White House spokesman Sean Spicer and has recently made headlines for her very public relationship with Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. (Emily Heil)

-- “[Trump] has waged war on leakers — but in nominating Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, the president has picked someone well-versed in the swampy art of off-the-record briefings and anonymous quotes,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports. “Kavanaugh spent nearly four years working for Kenneth Starr’s [probe of Bill Clinton] … [and a] sampling of the Starr office’s internal files … indicate Kavanaugh helped craft aspects of Starr’s communications strategy and interacted directly with the news media himself. Starr infamously took an expansive view of permissible contact with the media, allowing discussions about issues related to the ongoing investigation — disclosures that other prosecutors view as improper or ill-advised.”

-- The Senate Judiciary Committee released a questionnaire Kavanaugh filled out, which reflects his views on a wide range of issues. Robert Barnes reports: “[Kavanaugh] discloses that he gave up voting when he joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit more than a decade ago. Senators and their staffers now begin sifting through the 120-page questionnaire and thousands of pages of supporting documents. One interview sure to draw attention is Kavanaugh’s questioning in 1999 of whether the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1974 decision that led to Nixon’s resignation was correctly decided. At a roundtable discussion of lawyers on attorney-client privilege, Kavanaugh said that perhaps the high court’s decision ‘was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so.’

The decision ‘took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official,’ Kavanaugh said. ‘That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently . . . Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision.’ … The White House did not dispute Kavanaugh’s 1999 remarks or offer an explanation of them. But it noted two occasions when he was complimentary of United States v. Nixon.” (If you’re a junkie, you can read Kavanaugh’s 110-page questionnaire here.)

-- Republican lawmakers and energy lobbyists are coordinating a multipronged attack on the Endangered Species Act. The New York Times’s Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman report: “In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken the law have been either introduced or voted on in Congress or proposed by the Trump administration. … The myriad proposals reflect a wish list assembled over decades by oil and gas companies, libertarians and ranchers in Western states, who have long sought to overhaul the law, arguing that it represents a costly incursion of federal regulations on their land and livelihoods. Until now, those efforts have largely failed, even during periods when Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.”

-- The Trump White House has executed a “purge” of Scott Pruitt loyalists at the EPA, according to the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng. “According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Chief of Staff John Kelly gave the greenlight to the efforts to remove [three agency] officials after Pruitt’s resignation from the EPA earlier this month. … At least one of the axed Pruitt aides, spokesman Lincoln Ferguson, had planned to leave the EPA prior to Pruitt’s departure. But the White House ... expedited his resignation. Senior EPA communications adviser Jahan Wilcox, who frequently clashed with the press and served as a top enforcer for his chronically-embattled former boss, was also asked to tender his resignation ... Hayley Ford, the EPA’s deputy White House liaison, was also pushed out earlier this month following Pruitt’s ouster.”

-- Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Trump’s advisers should “reevaluate” whether to stay in the White House after Helsinki: “The president either needs to rely on the people that he has chosen to advise him, or those advisers need to re-evaluate whether or not they can serve in this administration,” the retiring congressman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But the disconnect cannot continue. The evidence [of  Russian interference] is overwhelming and the president needs to say that and act like it.” (HuffPost)

-- Sean Spicer, currently on a book tour, said he has “no desire” to serve as White House press secretary again. Speaking with our Joe Heim, Sean defended his false statements about Trump’s inauguration crowd: “[I]f you look at the statement that I actually made — and I will admit that we should have made it clearer — we should have focused on total audience size and not let people believe that we were talking about the Mall itself, I will concede that. But where has any evidence been that suggests that I’m wrong about the total population that watched it? This isn’t a partisan thing. The bottom line is that there are platforms available today that weren’t available for Obama.”

-- “[Spicer’s book] is a bumbling effort at gaslighting Americans into doubting what they have seen with their own eyes as far back as June 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy and labeled Mexican immigrants as rapists, beginning a pattern of racist attacks,” Erik Wemple writes in his review of “The Briefing.” Wemple adds: “In Spicer’s telling, Trump has a ‘deep vein of compassion and sympathy.’ … What many people see is something quite different. … Even a half-witted political memoir would grapple with such a disconnect — perhaps by acknowledging some fault in the boss, or perhaps by comparing his low points with those of other presidents. Yet ‘The Briefing’ isn’t a political memoir, nor it is a work of recent history, nor a tell-all, or tell-anything.”


-- “In the absence of a clear favorite to challenge Trump and the Republicans, [Elizabeth Warren] has emerged in just the past few weeks as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, and accordingly, the candidate-of-the-moment for 2020,” Rebecca Traister writes in a New York magazine profile that posted overnight. “It should have been obvious: She has the progressive vision and drive, the willingness to go tweet-to-tweet with the president, and that boundless stamina. Perhaps it was hard in the wake of 2016 to imagine pinning Democratic hopes on another woman. But sometimes you need a crisis (or five) to see the obvious, and this summer’s cascade of them has brought Warren’s role into sharper relief. … The question of whether Warren will run for president hangs around her not like a cloud but like a glittery bubble — she’s a special figure because she’s a leader, and she might be the leader.”

-- One group is already gathering opposition research on Trump’s possible opponents in 2020. Politico’s Christopher Cadelago reports: “America Rising PAC, which at the time of its founding five years ago focused exclusively on researching, tracking and deploying rapid-response against Hillary Clinton, is well into a beneath-the-radar effort to define — and ultimately derail — the Democrats preparing to take on [Trump] in 2020. The oppo-research carpet-bombing has commenced against Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, among others … The groups are also pursuing a strategy intended to pit Democrats against each other in a battle of progressive bona fides that the PAC is gleefully branding as the ‘#RaceToTheLeft.’”

-- Third Way organized a conference last week to discuss how to push back on the party’s leftward lurch. NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald reports from Columbus, Ohio: “The fact that a billionaire real estate developer, Winston Fisher, co-hosted the event and addressed attendees twice underscored that this group is not interested in the class warfare vilifying the ‘millionaires and billionaires’ found in Bernie Sanders's stump speech. ‘You're not going to make me hate somebody just because they're rich. I want to be rich!’ Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, a potential presidential candidate, said Friday to laughs. The invitation-only gathering brought together about 250 Democratic insiders from key swing states. Third Way unveiled the results of focus groups and polling that it says shows Americans are more receptive to an economic message built on ‘opportunity’ rather than the left's message about inequality.”

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., a member of the House Democratic leadership who represents a district Trump won, invoked Richard Nixon's silent majority. ‘If you look throughout the heartland, there's a silent majority who just wants normalcy. Who wants to see that people are going out to Washington to fight for them in a civil way and get something done,’ she told reporters. ‘There's a lot of people that just don't really like protests and don't like yelling and screaming.’”

-- Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is expected to formally launch her bid today to chair the House Democratic Caucus. If successful, Lee would become the first African American woman to take on a leadership role in either major political party. But fellow California Democrat Linda T. Sánchez is also seeking the spot being vacated by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.). (Politico)


-- Afghanistan’s vice president and notorious former warlord, Abdurrashid Dostum, has returned from exile after being accused of beating and ordering the rape of his political rival in 2016. Dostum’s return stoked outrage, with some critics noting the former general — who reportedly suffocated his enemies, and drove over their legs with tanks — could simply ignore pending legal problems and continue serving in his post. (Antonio Olivo and Sharif Hassan)

-- Jared Kushner appears to be giving up hope of addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The New York Times’s Mark Landler reports: “Declaring that no foreign investors are willing to pour money into Gaza during what they label a Hamas-driven conflict, Mr. Kushner and [Jason] Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, are rethinking their efforts to rebuild Gaza’s economy as a way of opening the door to a broader peace accord. ‘Hamas has driven Gaza to a state of desperation,’ Mr. Kushner said on Sunday. ‘Provocations will not be rewarded with aid.’ Hamas leaders, he said, needed to demonstrate ‘a clear intent for a peaceful relationship with their neighbors’ in order for aid and investment money to flow.”

-- During his meeting with Trump in Brussels earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron told the president about reading “The Art of the Deal.” Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports: “During their tête-à-tête, Trump suggested to Macron that he tell the European Union they ought to negotiate with the U.S., according to a source familiar with the conversation. Macron replied that no, actually he was not in favor of negotiating under threat. ‘I read the Art of the Deal,’ the French president told Trump, with a smile. ‘I know that we need to retaliate first so we have some leverage in the negotiation.’”

-- “Theresa May’s Impossible Choice,” by the New Yorker’s Sam Knight: “This summer, the pressure on May to define Brexit became immense. … No one I interviewed envied May, or wished to take her place. A former minister compared her position to being inside Little Ease, a windowless torture chamber in the Tower of London, where it was impossible for prisoners to stand, sit, or lie down. ‘It is getting tighter and tighter,’ the former minister said. ‘Something has got to give.’”

How May reacted to the “Access Hollywood” tape: “May suppresses her reactions so completely that she can discourage them in other people, too. In early October, 2016, weeks before the U.S. Presidential election, she was briefed at her regular morning meeting about the ‘Access Hollywood’ recording … May, who as Home Secretary introduced national domestic-violence legislation, and who for the past two decades has campaigned for greater female participation in politics, betrayed no response. No one else did, either. ‘Nothing was said,’ an official who was present told me. ‘We moved on as quickly as possible.’”


An NPR reporter highlighted this discrepancy between Trump's stances on Iran and Russia:

From a CNN writer:

A Bloomberg News reporter noted Trump has discussed starting a war with Iran before:

From a former Obama speechwriter:

A Post reporter shared this:

Trump returned to claims that the Russian election interference is “all a big hoax”:

A New York Times reporter summed up Trump's multiple reversals in recent days:

An Atlantic writer pointed out the truth:

A CNN executive producer provided an updated “witch hunt” count:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) responded to reports that he spent donor money while on trips abroad:

A National Journal editor questioned a Republican senator's message on Trump's tariffs:

The former director of the FBI offered some unsolicited advice to Democrats:

From an investigative journalist:

Hillary Clinton's former campaign spokesman made a sarcastic 2020 suggestion:

And a political icon celebrated a big birthday:


-- “Where there’s a will, is there a wage?” by Robert Samuels: “For decades, thinkers from economists to politicians to pastors have searched for ways to reduce the unemployment gap between whites and blacks. Angelica and Isaiah were living in a city that might have found one. Since 2007, more than 1,000 Omaha residents, mostly African American and mostly low-income, have landed jobs in the growing manufacturing and tech sectors through targeted employment training in the city’s worst neighborhoods. The training began popping up after a local newspaper series noted that the booming Midwestern city had some of the most alarming racial disparities in the country, embarrassing civic leaders and politicians into action.”

-- In case you missed it: The Post’s Stephanie McCrummen traveled to the small town of Luverne, Ala., where evangelical Christians grappled with their beliefs about God, Trump’s presidency and the broader definition of morality: “'Oh, I feel like the Lord heard our prayers and gave us a second chance before the end times,’ [said Jewell Killough, adding that she had not] seen anything yet to dissuade her from the belief that Trump was being used by God to save America … ’Obama was acting at the behest of the Islamic nation,’ [said Sheila Butler, a 67-year-old Sunday school teacher]. ... ‘He carried a Koran and it was not for literary purposes. If you look at it, the number of Christians is decreasing, the number of Muslims has grown.’ … It wasn’t just Muslims that posed a threat, she said, but all kinds of immigrants coming into the country. ‘Unpapered people,’ Sheila said, adding that she had seen them in the county emergency room and they got treated before her. … Love thy neighbor, she said, meant ‘love thy American neighbor.’”

-- New York Times, “In First Lady’s Hometown in Slovenia, the Business Is Melania,” by Patrick Kingsley: “Melania cake. Melania cream. Melania wine. Melania tea. Melania slippers. Melania salami. Melania chocolate-coated apple slices. There are few products that the enterprising burghers of Sevnica, a small, rural Slovenian town where Melania Trump spent her formative years, have not sought to brand in honor of the first lady of the United States. … Mrs. Trump has been good for Sevnica, [a town of about 5,000.] … The town’s only hotel reopened earlier this year. The annual tourist traffic — helped, of course, by Melania-themed tours — has risen by 15 percent, to 20,000 visitors, in the [past three years]. But Mrs. Trump has not made a public return to Sevnica, or Slovenia, since becoming first lady, and for most the connection remains primarily a commercial opportunity.” “I think at the time when he was elected, people were excited, but now it’s kind of worn out,” said one young resident. “Marrying someone — I don’t think that’s really an accomplishment.”

-- Texas Tribune, “Incommunicado in South Texas: Migrant parents await reunification in seclusion,” by Jay Root and Shannon Najmabadi: “On the brink of being released from detention and reunited with children separated from them sometimes months ago, migrant parents are being held at the South Texas facility in a sort of limbo — not free to leave, but with limited or no access to phones or commissary accounts that regular detainees get, [advocates] say.”


“Home Depot fired him after he spoke to a ‘racist’ customer. Then he told the media about it,” from Erin B. Logan: “After a man last Thursday approached the checkout at a Home Depot in Albany, N.Y., staff member Maurice Rucker asked him to leash his dog. That’s when the man exploded. Rucker, a 60-year-old black man, claimed he was fired Tuesday after defending himself from a customer [who] went on a racist tirade. But after the news media covered his story, the company changed its mind. The customer allegedly responded to Rucker’s request with insults. … ‘If Trump wasn’t president, you wouldn’t even have a job,’ the customer [reportedly said] … ‘You’re from the ghetto, what do you know?’ Five days later, he was terminated from Home Depot. … [But] by Friday, the company had changed its tune, [saying they had] ‘taken another look at this’ and was offering Rucker his job back.”



“Defending Donald Trump, First Baptist's Robert Jeffress compares him to 'known womanizer' Ronald Reagan,” from the Dallas Morning News: “Rev. Robert Jeffress went on Fox News [to defend Trump] amid the news that [Michael Cohen] recorded him discussing payment of a Playboy model. The First Baptist Dallas senior pastor compared Trump to Ronald Reagan, pointing out how evangelicals in 1980 chose to support him even though Reagan was twice-married and a ‘known womanizer.’ ‘The reason we supported President Reagan was not because we supporting womanizing or divorce,’ Jeffress [said]. ‘We supported his policies.’ The pastor said the same is true today for Trump[:] ‘We're not under any illusion that we were voting for an altar boy when we voted for President Trump. …’ he said. ‘And by the way, none of us has a perfect past. We voted for him because of his policies.’”



Trump will receive his intelligence briefing and then participate in the “Made in America Product Showcase,” where he will also give a speech.


“The president was manipulated by Vladimir Putin. … Vladimir Putin is a master manipulator.” — GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), a former FBI special agent, on Trump’s Helsinki summit. (NPR)



-- The District will see even more rainfall today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Showers are possible at any time today but are likely to become most numerous and heaviest in the afternoon when thunderstorms are possible. It won’t rain all the time, and the sun may peek out for short intervals, pushing highs up to about 80. Winds are light from the southeast, but locally strong gusts are possible during thunderstorms, which could bring down trees given the saturated ground. Rainfall amounts will be highly variable, but some areas could see up to a few inches in a short amount of time.”

-- The Nationals beat the Braves 6-2. (Jorge Castillo)

-- As the Duke Ellington School of the Arts remains caught up in an enrollment fraud scandal, some parents and teachers fear Georgetown residents are trying to eliminate the school so that the building can serve only their children. Columnist Jay Mathews writes: “The investigation has been so clumsy, after a claim in May that more than a quarter of Ellington’s 570 students were attending the school fraudulently, that many parents and teachers sense a secret agenda. … I don’t think that’s true, but I don’t blame those who wonder.”

-- A woman in Ocean City was impaled by a beach umbrella. The woman’s condition following the freak accident was not immediately known. (Martin Weil)


A Trader Joe's employee was applauded for his bravery when, after escaping this weekend's shooting using an emergency ladder, he stayed behind to help at least two others reach safety:

Witnesses said employees and customers inside a Los Angeles Trader Joe’s ran or escaped out of windows after a gunman entered the store on July 21. (Video: KCBS)

A video captured a tornado forming in Indiana:

A tornado appeared in Harrison County, Ind., on July 20. (Video: Gregory A. Linker)

An inventor showcased his jet suit, which is being sold in London for over $400,000:

And a lioness at the Oklahoma City Zoo was mesmerized by a stuffed animal: