With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Today is the 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in United States v. Nixon.

The landmark ruling on July 24, 1974, compelled Richard Nixon to turn over the tapes he’d recorded of Oval Office meetings so that the special prosecutor could use them during the criminal prosecutions of former White House aides. That led to the release of the smoking gun tape that proved the president was intimately involved in the coverup of the Watergate break-in. He resigned 16 days later.

President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, disclosed as part of a document dump over the weekend that he argued during a 1999 panel discussion that the case might have been wrongly decided.

“Maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so,” Kavanaugh said. “Nixon 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. 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.”

This is just the latest known example of Kavanaugh indicating support for the concept of executive supremacy over judicial supremacy. It also raises questions about whether he’d be a check on the president in the event of a dispute with special counsel Robert Mueller.

-- Michael Waldman, the president of the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, has been writing a book on the Nixon case. He called Kavanaugh’s quote “startling.”

“For Kavanaugh to say with a wink that he wants it to be overturned really seems to be outside the mainstream on this legal question of presidential accountability,” said Waldman. “The Nixon case is the main basis for how we’ve done it in the last half century. It’s not perfect, but it’s not really been questioned in a high-profile way before.”

-- Like Brown v. Board of Education, Nixon packed a bigger punch because it was unanimous. William Rehnquist, who had worked in the administration, recused himself so it was 8 to 0. Three other justices appointed by Nixon ruled against the president — including Chief Justice Warren Burger, who wrote the opinion.

“There wasn’t any dispute among the justices,” said historian Tim Naftali, the former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. “The real fight was over who would write the opinion. Burger’s initial opinion was just so weak that they all revised it, but it wasn’t really because they disagreed. … This decision recognized the existence of executive privilege, which is not mentioned in the Constitution. … Does Kavanaugh really believe presidents can create materials that are outside any or all review? … It’s an especially dangerous time to have a court that supports executive supremacy.”

-- Presidential historian Michael Beschloss believes there is a chance that Nixon could have avoided being forced from office had the court not compelled him to give up his tapes. “The ruling rejected what it called the notion of ‘absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances,’ which has an obvious impact on any president under serious suspicion, such as President Trump,” emailed Beschloss, whose new book on “Presidents of War” will be published in October. “Historically, the process showed the court at its best. … One would hope that we would see such statesmanship and refusal to heed partisanship in the Supreme Court of our future, if it should ever have to face a similar test.”

-- United States v. Nixon was a watershed decision in establishing the core principle that not even the president is above the law,” emailed Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard. “[I]ts singular relevance in the present moment — when issues about the president’s amenability to judicial subpoenas and the like play a pivotal role — is obvious. … [Kavanaugh’s] analysis of the decision suggests an almost non-existent role for the federal judiciary in umpiring disputes between the president and the other branches of government.”

-- Kavanaugh’s allies and surrogates have shifted into overdrive since the weekend to minimize the fallout from the disclosure of his 1999 remarks. They point to other instances in which he identified Nixon as an illustration of the judicial branch standing up to the president. During a 2015 speech at Catholic University, for example, Kavanaugh named the Nixon case and three others as among “the greatest moments in American judicial history … when judges stood up to other branches, were not cowed and enforced the law.” He said these rulings took backbone: “To be a good judge and a good umpire, you have to possess strong backbone.”

Carrie Severino, the chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, argues in an op-ed for National Review that Kavanaugh was merely asking a “rhetorical question” in 1999. She said Democrats and the press are making a mountain out of a molehill. (Her group announced yesterday that it will spend another $1.5 million on commercials prodding Democratic senators in red states to vote for Kavanaugh.)

-- But Philip Lacovara, who argued the case against Nixon before the justices and was on the 1999 panel, said in an interview on Monday that Kavanaugh was not being provocative or playing Devil’s Advocate. “The idea that Brett was expounding was this very philosophical approach” regarding whether a president must disclose information because a government subordinate seeks it in a federal criminal investigation, Lacovara explained to Supreme Court beat reporter Robert Barnes.

-- Kavanaugh was a top lieutenant to Ken Starr during the investigation that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, but he had an apparent change of heart about executive power while serving as a top aide in George W. Bush’s White House. In a 2009 Minnesota Law Review article, after being confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh called on Congress to pass a law exempting the president from criminal prosecution or investigation while in office. He said allowing the indictment of a president would “cripple the federal government.” He even said that presidents should be allowed to avoid answering any questions from criminal prosecutors or defense lawyers. “I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office,” Kavanaugh wrote in the article. “We should not burden a sitting President with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions.”

The judge went so far as to suggest that the investigation he spearheaded into Clinton may have distracted the president from pursuing Osama bin Laden in the years before the 9/11 attacks. “Even the lesser burdens of a criminal investigation — including preparing for questioning by criminal investigators — are time-consuming and distracting,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Like civil suits, criminal investigations take the president’s focus away from his or her responsibilities to the people. And a president who is concerned about an ongoing criminal investigation is almost inevitably going to do a worse job as president.”

-- He has also expressed strong distaste for the federal law that allowed for independent counsels, saying before the statute lapsed in 1999 that he would like to “put the final nail” in its coffin. In 1988, the Supreme Court upheld the law allowing for the independent counsels 8 to 1 in Morrison v. Olson. The sole dissent came from the late Antonin Scalia, and it was cited by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) — a member of the Judiciary Committee — to justify voting against a bill that would protect Mueller in April. The bill cleared the committee with bipartisan support, but Mitch McConnell is blocking it from being considered by the full Senate. If he allowed an up-or-down vote on the floor, it would easily pass. But it would also provoke a confrontation with Trump, which GOP leaders want to avoid before the midterms.

-- Tribe, the constitutional scholar at Harvard, said it’s important to closely scrutinize the nominee’s whole body of work on executive power. “[S]ome of what Judge Kavanaugh has said about the Nixon decision suggests that, although he would treat the unanimous Nixon Tapes case as binding precedent while sitting on a lower court, he has doubts that it was rightly decided and thus might give serious consideration to overruling it if he were in a position to do so,” Tribe emailed. “His suggestion that the Supreme Court should have stayed out of the interbranch dispute represented by the Nixon tapes case must therefore be explored closely in the confirmation hearings. But it would be a mistake to take casual comments of the kind apparently made by Judge Kavanaugh about this matter as decisive without considering everything he has said and written on the issue.”

-- Typically, nominees for the high court bend over backward to avoid answering questions about whether landmark cases were properly decided. But because Kavanaugh was so willing to expound in the past, stonewalling will be harder when he testifies this fall. “Because he has demonstrated a willingness to express his views on existing Supreme Court precedents, he must be able to answer direct questions on stare decisis on many other matters, including Roe and health care,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

-- The open question of whether Kavanaugh favors executive supremacy over judicial supremacy also makes it less tenable for him, and the Bush Library, to withhold crucial presidential records that could be essential for senators to ascertain his true views. Trying to confirm Kavanaugh as quickly as possible, Republicans are trying to minimize the number of documents that need to be produced. They’d like to get him on the bench for the start of the fall term and are mindful that they could lose control of the Senate in November (a long shot but not impossible). Most Democrats, such as Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), are declining to meet with the judge until they secure a commitment that they’ll be given access to his full body of work.

-- This is not just some dry academic matter for legal scholars to mull. A president’s obligation to comply with a court order seems destined to end up before the Supreme Court sooner than later. In addition to Mueller, the Supreme Court may wind up needing to weigh in on Summer Zervos’s defamation lawsuit and a civil suit from New York’s attorney general related to his foundation.

Just yesterday, the sitting president reiterated his view that the special counsel’s probe is a “witch hunt.” In theory, elevating Kavanaugh could embolden Trump to test existing precedents. His lawyers argued in a letter to Mueller this January that a president, by definition, cannot obstruct justice because he holds complete control over federal investigations. The president has the power to “order the termination of an investigation by the Justice Department or FBI at any time and for any reason,” they wrote.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Trump’s lawyers have told Mueller the president will not answer questions about obstruction of justice during any interview. “We think the obstruction of it is handled by Article 2 of the Constitution,” said Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

The Daily 202's BIG IDEA> Get James' insight into Washington every weekday on your smart speaker or favorite podcast player.
Subscribe on Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and other podcast players.
 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Parents of 463 migrant children are no longer in the United States, according to the Trump administration. That could indicate a larger-than-anticipated number of them deported without their kids during the president's border crackdown. Nick Miroff reports: “The progress report to U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw cautioned the 463 cases are ‘under review,’ meaning the filing was not a definitive tally of all migrant parents who have been deported while their children remain in U.S. government shelters. Sabraw has issued the Trump administration a 30-day deadline — expiring Thursday — to quickly reunite as many separated families as possible, and last week he asked the government to clarify how many of the more than 2,500 parents eligible for reunions are no longer in the country. He also temporarily suspended deportations of families that have been reunited.”

-- At least 49 people have been killed in wildfires ravaging Greece. Chico Harlan reports: “Greece’s deadliest wildfires in more than a decade sent flecks of ash and orange-gray plumes over Athens and prompted people to flee from coastal spots popular with summer vacationers. Some rushed to the beaches. Others jumped into cars and battled clogged roadways. The fires ripped through pine forests and turned homes into partially melted shells. More than 100 people have been injured in the blazes, officials said.”

-- A dam collapsed in Laos — leaving several people dead, hundreds missing and thousands displaced. The New York Times’s Mike Ives reports: “KPL, the official Lao news agency, reported that the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam collapsed at 8 p.m. on Monday, releasing five billion cubic meters of water and sweeping away homes in the southern province of Attapeu … Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos later suspended a planned government meeting and led members of his cabinet to monitor rescue and relief efforts around the collapsed dam.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The New York Daily News will slash its news staff in half, a draconian cut that reduces the Pulitzer-winning tabloid to a team of 45 reporters. Tronc, the publication's Chicago-based owner, announced it will refocus the paper on breaking news in areas of “crime, civil justice and public responsibility.” The editor in chief, Jim Rich, was among those ousted. (Paul Farhi)
  2. White House aides are already preparing for Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s eventual departure, despite Sanders's public denials she's considering leaving. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tops the shortlist of potential replacements — the former Fox News host has told colleagues she’s unsure if she wants the job, but those close to her believe she would take it if offered. (Politico)
  3. Stormy Daniels’s husband has filed for divorce. The adult-film star’s husband, heavy-metal drummer and adult-film actor Glendon Crain, has accused Daniels of adultery and requested sole custody of their 7-year-old daughter. But Daniels’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said the accuracy of the divorce petition “is vehemently disputed.” (Samantha Schmidt)
  4. Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) is the target of two separate House Ethics Committee investigations, which include questions over whether his alcohol use interfered with his work as a lawmaker and whether he improperly ordered staffers to conduct personal errands while on official time. (Politico)
  5. Georgia state Rep. Jason Spencer (R) is facing calls for his resignation after he was featured in Sacha Baron Cohen's new Showtime series. In the “Who Is America?” segment, the state legislator is seen using the n-word and exposing his bare buttocks in an alleged attempt to “intimidate” a terrorist. (Meagan Flynn)
  6. An in-house IRS watchdog said the agency needed to do more to prevent private tax collectors acting on the IRS’s behalf from targeting low-income Americans. Nina E. Olson, head of the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate, said, “These private collectors are not screening out people who are so low-income they literally cannot afford to pay their basic living expenses. … These accounts should not be going out to the debt collectors.” (Jeff Stein)
  7. New research suggests there may be a connection between women’s reproductive history and their likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. One study found that women who had three or more children faced a lower risk of dementia in later life, while those who reported miscarriages had a higher risk. (Tara Bahrampour)

  8. British authorities are investigating why a 3-year-old boy was attacked with acid at a supermarket over the weekend — causing severe burns to his arms and face in what officials believe was deliberate. Such attacks have been on the rise in the London area, and authorities have struggled to identify a pattern in the seemingly random assaults. (Rick Noack)
  9. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was suspended for 14 months after he posted on social media about receiving “an intravenous infusion of permitted substances,” according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. USADA rules stipulate that athletes may not receive an IV unless it occurs during a hospitalization or an exemption has been granted. (Cindy Boren)
  10. A University of Iowa football player was arrested and suspended for the team’s season opener after he apparently mistook a police car for an Uber. According to the police report, Brady Reiff’s blood alcohol content was .204 — more than twice the legal limit for driving. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Russian hackers reached the control rooms at U.S. electric utilities last year, DHS officials now admit, in a sprawling campaign that is likely ongoing and could enable Moscow to trigger blackouts. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith reports: “The Russian hackers, who worked for a shadowy state-sponsored group previously identified as Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, broke into supposedly secure, ‘air-gapped’ or isolated networks owned by utilities with relative ease by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies, said officials at the [DHS]. ‘They got to the point where they could have thrown switches’ and disrupted power flows, said [top official] Jonathan HomerIt isn’t yet clear whether the hackers used their access to prepare the battlefield for some future, devastating blow, investigators said.”

-- Trump is considering revoking the top-secret security clearances for six former intelligence chiefs who have sounded alarm bells about his coziness with Vladimir Putin — prompting a bipartisan uproar about political retaliation. John Wagner, Shane Harris and Felicia Sonmez report: “[Sanders] said the officials being examined are former CIA director John Brennan; former FBI director James B. Comey; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden; former national security adviser Susan E. Rice; former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. ‘The president is exploring these mechanisms to remove security clearances because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, actually monetized their public service and their security clearances in making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia,’ Sanders [said]. … The move came shortly after Trump met with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who said earlier Monday that he planned to ask the president to revoke Brennan’s clearance.”

  • At least two of the officials — Comey and McCabe — do not currently have security clearances. 
  • Clapper described the White House threat as “unprecedented” and “petty.” “Clapper, [a career intelligence official], said there were no grounds for dismissing his clearance, and that the White House’s actions were directed solely at ‘people who have criticized the president.’ 

-- Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul will visit the White House today to meet with Trump’s top Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, days after the administration suggested he could be handed over to Moscow for questioning. Robert Costa reports: “McFaul, who served [under Barack Obama] will meet with Hill, a senior director on the National Security Council who joined the president for last week’s summit with Putin in Helsinki … Hill is widely seen within the administration as one of Trump’s most hawkish advisers on Russia and has written extensively and critically of Putin, including a 2013 biography of the former KGB officer.” News of their meeting comes less than a week after Trump called “interesting” Putin’s proposal to send McFaul and other former U.S. officials to Moscow for questioning in exchange for access to 12 suspected Russian hackers. (The White House later walked back the idea.)

McFaul says he will meet with several government officials to “urge them to communicate with their Russian counterparts about the negative consequences of further harassing former U.S. officials like me.” The Stanford professor added that he believes it is a “low probability event” that Russia will indict him or others, but he's seeking to ensure it is a “zero probability event.”

-- “[Trump’s] insistence on holding a one-on-one meeting with [Putin] hobbled U.S. intelligence agencies who would usually get an intimate look at such a sitdown, but American spies still have extraordinary capabilities to piece together what was discussed,” Politico’s Josh Meyer reports. “That’s in large part due to the existence of a top-secret U.S. collection service that specializes in tapping adversaries’ communications on the fly, including those of Putin’s entourage at last week’s summit in Helsinki. Privately, sources …. expressed confidence that the so-called Special Collection Service scooped up not only Putin’s readout of the two-hour meeting, but what the Kremlin’s top spymasters really think about it — and how they’re spinning it to their foreign counterparts. That means the National Security Agency and CIA are at less of a strategic disadvantage than U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged publicly.”

THE CHAIRMAN GETS A WEEK-LONG REPRIEVE:

-- U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis agreed to delay former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s trial in Alexandria to July 31 after defense attorneys argued they did not have time to review a large trove of legal documents submitted by special counsel Robert Mueller. “Ellis [also] ordered Mueller to release his entire roster of about 30 potential witnesses, including the identities of five people that his prosecutors have granted immunity in exchange for their testimony against Manafort,” Politico's Darren Samuelsohn reports. “A short time later, the lead Russia investigator named the immunized witnesses: Donna Duggan, Conor O'Brien, James Brennan, Cindy Laporta and Dennis Raico. All had indicated plans to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination had they been forced to take the witness stand. O’Brien and Laporta both worked on preparing Manafort’s tax returns at the accounting firm Kositzka, Wicks and Company.”

“But Manafort lost a bid to limit what gets mentioned during the trial about his role in the Trump campaign. While the special counsel’s team [confirmed] that it didn’t intend to speak broadly about its investigation into any Russian collusion … it does plan to describe Manafort’s work for Trump: namely a claim that he succeeded in getting $16 million in loans from Chicago’s Federal Savings Bank in late 2016 and early 2017 in part because the bank’s chairman and CEO, Stephen Calk, was named to the Trump campaign’s economic advisory board and was seeking a top post at the Pentagon.”

    THE FIXER IS IN A FIX:

    -- Federal prosecutors last week received 12 audio recordings seized from longtime Trump consigliere Michael Cohen. Politico’s Laura Nahmias reports: “The 12 audio recordings had initially been designated as ‘privileged,’ meaning prosecutors wouldn’t get to look at them as part of their ongoing criminal investigation into Cohen, which includes his role in providing hush payments to women who claim they had affairs with Trump. But on July 20, ‘the parties withdrew their designations of ‘privileged’ as to 12 audiotapes that were under consideration by the Special Master,’ according to the filing in New York’s Southern District Court.”

    -- “Two people familiar with Cohen’s thinking believe that Trump’s lawyers decided to waive privilege to undercut Cohen, who could have potentially used the exclusive possession of the material as a bargaining chip to cut a deal with prosecutors,” reports Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox. “Despite the tape’s release, however, people familiar with Cohen’s thinking are confident that his value as a potential cooperating witness is undiminished. ‘It’s not the recording that is valuable,’ one person said. ‘It’s the backstory.’ Another person close to Cohen said that he was privy to information that could be valuable to [Mueller’s investigation]. ‘When Michael says that he wants the truth out there, and that the truth is not the president’s friend, he is not talking about marginal issues. He’s talking about core issues at the heart of the Mueller probe,’ this person continued. Three people familiar with the situation believe that Cohen has discussed information about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.”

    -- One bank that did business with both Cohen and the Trump family has caught the attention of regulators. The New York Times’s Emily Flitter and Jesse Drucker report: “[Cohen] had helped initiate a relationship between Signature [Bank] and Mr. Trump, and the bank became an unlikely go-to lender for the future president and his extended family. The bank helped finance Mr. Trump’s Florida golf course. It lent money to Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and to Mr. Kushner’s father, Charles. It provided Mr. Trump and his business with checking accounts. And Ivanka Trump sat on Signature’s board of directors while the bank was lending to her father and her husband, Mr. Kushner. Signature provides a window into the intersecting financial interests of Mr. Cohen and the Trump and Kushner families.”

    TRUMP'S AGENDA:

    -- The Senate easily confirmed top Pentagon official Robert Wilkie to be VA secretary, voting 86 to 9 in his favor. Lisa Rein reports: “Wilkie was able to convince many Democrats that he would not privatize the agency. But Wilkie became the first VA secretary to fail to receive unanimous Senate confirmation, a reflection of the political tensions in what has long been a bipartisan corner of the government. Several of the no votes, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), are potential candidates for president in 2020.”

    -- Interior Department officials intentionally dismissed evidence of the benefits of national monuments last year as they sought to justify shrinking them. Juliet Eilperin reports: “The thousands of pages of email correspondence chart how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides instead tailored their survey of protected sites to emphasize the value of logging, ranching and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated national monuments. … Estimates of increased tourism revenue, analyses showing that existing restrictions had not hurt fishing operators and agency reports finding that less vandalism occurred as a result of monument designations were all set aside.”

    -- The Trump administration is moving to revoke California’s ability to set auto emission standards. Bloomberg News's Ryan Beene, Jennifer A Dlouhy, John Lippert and Ari Natter report: “The proposal, expected to be released this week, amounts to a frontal assault on one of [Obama’s] signature regulatory programs to curb emissions that contribute to climate change. It also sets up a high-stakes battle over California’s unique ability to combat air pollution and, if finalized, is sure to set off a protracted courtroom battle. The proposed revamp would also put the brakes on federal rules to boost fuel efficiency into the next decade.”

     

    THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

    -- Trump's all-caps tweet appearing to threaten Iran triggered new speculation about a direct confrontation between the two countries. Missy Ryan, Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung report: “Despite putting Iran ‘on notice’ in the earliest days of Trump’s presidency, U.S. officials have shunned military moves that might bring an unwanted escalation and instead have opposed the international Iran nuclear deal and embraced a growing web of sanctions. That indirect approach has so far failed to halt Iran’s ballistic missile program or check its support for proxy groups across the Middle East. … National security adviser John Bolton suggested that Trump’s tweet might have been planned for a while: “I spoke to the president over the last several days, and [Trump] told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before,” he said in a statement.

    -- One Trump adviser admitted on background that Trump is slamming Iran to try turning the page after the botched Helsinki summit: "There’s nothing going on here except he wants to change the subject." This adviser added that Iran’s leaders have uttered similar "mother of all wars" taunts for years and little has substantively changed in recent days.

    --  National security columnist Max Boot also dismissed Trump’s rhetoric toward Iran as a distraction, but warned that the president's saber rattling now carries “diminishing” credibility: “Sure, he scared the world silly in the summer of 2017 by threatening to rain ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea. But within a year, he was all but surrendering to ‘Little Rocket Man’ — legitimating and lavishly praising him on the world stage while stopping U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises in return for nothing but vague promises of denuclearization at some unspecified point in the future. … It is, of course, a good thing that Trump is not turning out to be the warmonger that many feared he would be. But there is a real danger from having the president revealed as a BS artist, too: His threats carry less weight. That, ironically, makes it harder for him to achieve his objectives without resorting to force.”

    -- An op-ed in a conservative Chinese publication argues that Beijing should increase its nuclear arsenal in light of Trump’s comments that Russia’s nuclear weapons force him to work with Putin. Walter Pincus writes for the Cipher Brief: “It’s doubtful that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is the real reason for Trump’s deference to Putin, but his repeated reference to nuclear weapons, including those of the U.S., show he believes they show strength — even perhaps his own. The Chinese writer got the idea that to deal with Trump, his country needs not only to continue adding to its nuclear stockpile, but also sharply increase the planned numbers.”

    -- North Korea has begun dismantling facilities at a key launch station in Sohae, according to satellite analysis. Adam Taylor reports: “The Sohae location has been the main site for North Korean satellite launches since 2012. The testing facilities at the site are thought to play a role in the development of liquid-fuel engines that can also be used in North Korea's ballistic missile program . . . If the analysis of the satellite imagery is accurate, North Korea may be taking a small but significant step toward the disarmament that was agreed upon by [Kim Jong Un and Trump in Singapore last month].”

    -- Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has joined forces with Raheem Kassam, a former top aide to Brexit leader Nigel Farage, to create a political organization intended to undermine “and ultimately paralyze” the European Union. Reuters’s Mark Hosenball reports: “In an interview and email conversations, Bannon and [Kassam] … who now serves as a Bannon lieutenant, said the group, known as The Movement, is already operating and hiring. 'The Movement will be our clearing house for the populist, nationalist movement in Europe. We’re focusing attention on assisting individuals or groups concerned with the matters of sovereignty, border control, jobs, amongst other things,' Kassam said. Bannon, who during a London visit last week met Farage and Louis Aliot, a close associate of [Marine Le Pen], described the organization he was creating as a ‘populist project’ intended to touch off a ‘tectonic plate shift in Europe.'”

    THE MIDTERMS:

    -- Georgia voters head to the polls today to pick a Republican nominee for the state’s gubernatorial contests, after neither Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle nor Secretary of State Brian Kemp managed to secure enough of the vote in the May primary. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein and Tamar Hallerman report: “Cagle entered the race as the undisputed front-runner, but the release of a damaging secretly made recording coupled with [Trump’s] surprise endorsement of his rival have rocked the race. Kemp, meanwhile, has begun shifting his sights on the general election as he fashions himself an insurgent underdog who can inspire the state’s conservative base.”

    -- Democrats hoping to score an upset in an Ohio special election are centering their attack ads on the GOP tax law. David Weigel reports: “Since July 16, shortly after the start of early voting for the Aug. 7 special election, a Republican ad about the tax cut has been taken off the air, replaced by one that makes only a glancing mention of it. The party’s ads are focusing more on Democratic nominee Danny O’Connor — his résumé, his political affiliations and his donations — as Democrats fold the tax cut into their own messaging. In one ad, ‘Deserve,’ O’Connor refers to the tax cut as ‘a corporate tax giveaway that adds $2 trillion in debt,’ and cites comments by the Republican nominee, Troy Balderson, that endorsed raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare as a way to reduce the debt.”

    -- Sabato’s Crystal Ball at U-Va.’s Center for Politics is predicting for the first time this election cycle that Democrats have a better than even chance at retaking the House. Kyle Kondik writes: “In actuality, not much has changed throughout the cycle. That, in and of itself, is a problem for Republicans. Election Day is getting closer, and the president’s approval rating is still largely stuck in the low 40s, a big red warning sign that has bedeviled the party of similarly-situated presidents in past midterms. … [F]or most of this election cycle the generic ballot has shown a consistent Democratic lead that suggests a very competitive battle for the majority. … Put it all together, and the Democrats now look like soft favorites to win a House majority with a little more than 100 days to go.”

    -- Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) has been telling consultants he intends to run for president in 2020 and is putting together a possible campaign team. The Intercept’s Ryan Grim and Zaid Jilani report: “[Ryan’s] 13th Congressional District is emblematic of the challenges that Democrats face in the Rust Belt. … In 2016, Trumbull went to Donald Trump — the first time the county went Republican since before 1972. Ryan's district is one of the few poor, majority-white districts that is represented by a Democrat. But he won't be running on a stereotypical working-class persona; instead, he believes his path to the White House runs through 'the yoga vote.' … [His] bid will likely revolve around him being able to prove … that states like Ohio and Iowa can once again return to the Democratic column with the right candidate who can win back Trump voters.”

    -- Like other vulnerable Senate Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp is facing pressure from all sides on the question of whether she will vote to confirm Kavanaugh. The New York Times’s Thomas Kaplan reports from Petersburg, N.D.: “It remains to be seen how big a role the court fight will play in her re-election bid: In several hours Ms. Heitkamp spent with constituents earlier this month, Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination hardly came up. … As she tries to fend off a challenge from Representative Kevin Cramer, North Dakota’s at-large Republican congressman, she is eager to promote her work on such local issues that are important to rural towns like this one. … In an interview, Mr. Cramer predicted that Ms. Heitkamp would vote in favor of Judge Kavanaugh. It would be ‘nearly fatal, if not fatal,’ if she did not, he said.”

    -- “Tariffs Trim a Factory’s Profit, but Loyalty to Trump Endures,” by the New York Times’s Nelson D. Schwartz in Columbus, Ohio: “You might think that managers and workers at Banner Metals would be up in arms over the Trump administration’s trade policies. After all, tariffs on imported steel and aluminum have pushed raw-material prices up and margins down, forcing the company to delay plans to purchase a new $1 million cutting machine and hire two new employees to operate it. But the reaction at the plant is based on more than self-interest. ‘I’m not looking at what’s best for Banner right now,’ said Bronson Jones, a part-owner of the company and its chief executive. ‘I’m looking at what’s best for the national economy. The U.S. has been taken advantage of for too long.’”

    -- GOP Gov. Larry Hogan is distancing himself from the NRA as he seeks reelection in Maryland. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “Hogan has no plans to accept donations from the gun lobby and no intention of filling out a questionnaire from the [NRA], his deputy campaign manager said Monday. … Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous on Monday challenged his Republican rival to give back any money the NRA has donated to his campaign and to respond to the 2018 NRA questionnaire,” which the gun rights group uses to issue its political endorsements.

    -- A Chicago mayoral candidate attracted criticism for literally handing out cash during an appearance at a local church. From WGN’s Tahman Bradley and Meghan Dwyer: “[Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson] said Sunday's appearance at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church was nothing more than ‘one of the biggest property tax relief assistance’ events of the year and the kind of thing he's done before. The Illinois State Board of Elections said Wilson didn't break any campaign finance laws because the money came from his non-profit foundation. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner [R], himself seeking reelection, joined Wilson at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church at the event.”

    SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

    Trump defended his trade policy this morning:

    Michael Cohen's lawyer reiterated that “the tapes” would not incriminate his client:

    Many intelligence experts denounced the Trump administration's proposal to suspend former officials' security clearances. From a former top intelligence official at the CIA:

    From the Council on Foreign Relations president:

    One of the officials targeted made this point:

    The former FBI director told people never to stop asking “why”:

    A Yahoo News reporter made a comparison when it comes to media bashing:

    Devin Nunes ignored questions about the release of Carter Page's FISA warrants, which undercut the credibility of the partisan memo he released earlier this year:

    House Democrats parodied Trump's all-caps tweet to Iran:

    Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fired back at Rep. Ron DeSantis (Fla.) after the GOP gubernatorial candidate said in a campaign speech, “You look at this girl, Ocasio-Cortez or whatever she is, I mean, she’s in a totally different universe”: 

    DeSantis replied:

    Trump's 2020 reelection campaign confused a former Nebraska senator with Florida's current senior senator:

    The vice president campaigned for GOP Senate candidate Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania:

    A Business Insider reporter provided a reminder of where America was one year ago:

    A George W. Bush White House alum commented on the current political climate:

    Kentucky's secretary of state, who ran against Mitch McConnell in 2014, announced that she was finally able to get pregnant after fertility struggles. She is 39:

    And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) requested a fact-check:

    GOOD READS:

    -- “A toxic town, a search for answers,” by Brady Dennis, Bonnie Jo Mount and Whitney Shefte in Minden, W.Va.: “Ayne Amjad, a doctor like her father, heard the same questions again and again: Who will stand up for us now? Will we be forgotten? Her father had made it his mission to get justice — or at least answers — for the people of this once-thriving coal town an hour south of the state capital. He told anyone willing to listen that industrial chemicals dumped decades ago by the now-defunct Shaffer Equipment Co. had long been poisoning residents. … Local activists say that by their count, roughly a third of Minden residents have died from or been diagnosed with cancer in recent years. State health workers say the official numbers are much lower.”

    -- GQ, “The Untold Story of Otto Warmbier, American Hostage,” by Doug Bock Clark: “As the Trump administration and North Korea spun Otto's story for their own ends, I spent six months reporting — from Washington, D.C., to Seoul — trying to figure out what had actually happened to him. What made an American college student go to Pyongyang? What kind of nightmare did he endure while in captivity? How did his brain damage occur? And how did his eventual death help push America closer toward war with North Korea and then, in a surprising reversal, help lead to Trump's peace summit with Kim Jong-un? The story I uncovered was stranger and sadder than anyone had known. In fact, I discovered that the manner of Otto's injury was not as black-and-white as people were encouraged to believe. … But before he became a rallying cry in the administration's campaign against North Korea, he was just a kid. His name was Otto Warmbier.”

    -- Reuters, “Mortgage, Groupon and card debt: how the bottom half bolsters U.S. economy,” by Jonathan Spicer: “A Reuters analysis of U.S. household data shows that the bottom 60 percent of income-earners have accounted for most of the rise in spending over the past two years even as their finances worsened — a break with a decades-old trend where the top 40 percent had primarily fueled consumption growth. With borrowing costs on the rise, inflation picking up and the effects of [Trump’s] tax cuts set to wear off, a negative shock — a further rise in gasoline prices or a jump in the cost of goods due to tariffs — could push those most vulnerable over the edge, some economists warn.”

    HOT ON THE LEFT:

    “Fox News booked the wrong Democrat on a show. She used the spotlight to unload on Trump,” from Lindsey Bever: “A Massachusetts state senator who opposes [Trump’s] immigration policies was mistakenly booked on Fox News, and she used the airtime to criticize Trump's ‘illegal and inhumane’ treatment of migrant families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Barbara L’Italien, a Democrat, appeared Monday on ‘Fox & Friends First’ instead of the intended guest, Democratic congressional candidate Ann Kirkpatrick, who has publicly supported U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A spokesman for L’Italien said in a statement that ‘due to a Fox News error,’ L’Italien was contacted and asked to share her views on ICE and decided to use the opportunity to ‘make a statement straight to Trump.’ . . . ‘I feel that what’s happening at the border is wrong.’ L’Italien said she has four children and believes ‘separating kids from their parents is illegal and inhumane.’”

     

    HOT ON THE RIGHT:

    “Former Obama adviser: Ignoring Syria 'red line' was 'big mistake,' Trump progress 'commendable,’” from The Hill: “Former Obama national security adviser Jim Jones on Monday praised the Trump administration for its progress in Syria and criticized former President Obama for his lack of action in the region. ‘The Trump administration has had some success in defeating ISIS, which I think is commendable,’ Jones [said] … The retired veteran acknowledged that the Trump administration is dealing with more issues as the war grows deadlier and more complicated over time … [but added that] many of the current problems can be blamed on the Obama administration, calling his inaction ‘a very big mistake.’” “I think the Syrian issue goes back unfortunately to the Obama administration with famous red-line non-action,” Jones said. “I think had we taken not taken that position, the whole landscape in that part of the world would have been changed.” 

     

    DAYBOOK:

    Trump is in Kansas City, Mo., today. He will give a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States National Convention and attend a pair of fundraisers before returning to Washington.

    QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

    U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told a group of conservative high school students after asking if they had ever “posted anything online to quote-unquote ‘own the libs’”: “I know that it’s fun and that it can feel good, but step back and think about what you’re accomplishing when you do this — are you persuading anyone? Who are you persuading? We’ve all been guilty of it at some point or another, but this kind of speech isn’t leadership — it’s the exact opposite. Real leadership is about persuasion, it’s about movement, it’s bringing people around to your point of view. Not by shouting them down, but by showing them how it is in their best interest to see things the way you do.” (The Hill)

     

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

    -- Washingtonians will need their umbrellas again today, as showers and storms blanket the region. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “More of the same. Partly to mostly cloudy skies, scattered showers and thunderstorms, some heavy at times with risks for flash flooding. Location and timing of heaviest rains continue to vary and it is difficult to pinpoint — watch radar for updates. Highs are in the upper 70s to middle 80s with moderate to high humidity, but breezes from the southeast at 10 to 15 mph with higher gusts of 20 to 25 mph at times offset the mugginess.”

    -- The Nationals lost to the Brewers 6-1. Washington once again dipped under .500 with the loss. (Chelsea Janes)

    -- Police arrested a man in connection to vandalism that occurred at the Roanoke office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). From Jenna Portnoy: “James Trainor, 36, threw a brick [early Monday] through the glass front door of the lawmaker’s downtown office, police said. The vandalism occurred before 8 a.m., and staffers had not yet arrived for the day. … Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who represents Roanoke, released a statement condemning the vandalism, which he called ‘very troubling.’”

    -- Marc Elrich remained the victor in the Democratic primary for Montgomery County executive after a partial recount. But his lead over David Blair narrowed from 79 votes to 77. (Jennifer Barrios)

    -- Metro’s closure of the Red Line between Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland stations started yesterday, and the track work led to huge commuter crowds taking over the Fort Totten and Gallery Place stations. One commuter, Justice Department attorney Tracy Ferguson, told The Post, “If this morning is a semblance of how it is to be or what is to come, I would rather ride a horse into downtown than take Metro.” (Kery Murakami)

    VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

    The Senate Republican Conference, chaired by John Thune, made a one-minute video juxtaposing Democratic attacks on Kavanaugh as an extremist against Democrats saying similar things about Anthony Kennedy during his confirmation hearing three decades ago:

    Stephen Colbert mocked Trump's all-caps threat to Iran:

    Seth Meyers seemed delighted by reports that Michael Cohen taped his conversations with Trump:

    Trump boasted of America’s “great economic revival” during the White House’s “Made in America Product Showcase”:

    Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) offered words of encouragement to the chairman of the state Democratic party, David Pepper, as he held a press conference on the importance of protecting Ohio's Medicaid expansion, one of Kasich's proudest accomplishments:

    GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who has warned of an impending “blue wave” in Wisconsin as he seeks reelection, is out with a 60-second ad touting his achievements in overhauling education:

    The American Action Network released another round of ads encouraging lawmakers to continue combating the opioid epidemic:

    And the National Zoo welcomed some adorable new animals to its ranks: