With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: The first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential campaign allegedly committed felony insider trading while standing on the White House lawn.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) pleaded not guilty in the Big Apple on Wednesday as the president’s former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, testified for a third consecutive day against Paul Manafort, his former chairman, in a Virginia courtroom.

The congressman’s announcement last night that he will stand for reelection this fall helps guarantee that a bucket of ethics issues will be on the front burner during the run-up to the midterm elections.

After being released on a $500,000 bond, and ordered to give up his passport and firearms, Collins held a brief news conference in Buffalo. Calling the charges “meritless,” he said: “I look forward to being fully vindicated and exonerated. … I will mount a vigorous defense to clear my name.” He took no questions.

-- Democrats see an opportunity to revive the “culture of corruption” message that helped them win the House in 2006. Nancy Pelosi repeated almost the identical talking points on Wednesday that she used 12 years ago to link GOP candidates to Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley. “The charges against Congressman Collins show the rampant culture of corruption and self-enrichment among Republicans in Washington today,” said Pelosi, who could become speaker again. “The American people deserve better than the GOP’s corruption, cronyism and incompetence.” Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.) will hold a conference call later today to discuss the party’s “agenda to crack down on the rampant culture of corruption.”

-- The 30-page indictment of Collins and a 22-page complaint from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which includes additional details, are gripping in their granularity. They lay out a textbook case of allegedly brazen insider trading and portray everyone involved as exceedingly amateurish.

Collins, even though he was a lawmaker, sat on the board of directors of an Australian biotech company called Innate Immunotherapeutics. The chief executive sent an email in June 2017 alerting the board that a drug trial for an experimental product to treat multiple sclerosis had failed. “Wow,” Collins allegedly replied. “Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???”

Phone records show that the congressman called his son, Cameron Collins, just 15 seconds after sending that email, according to the SEC. After playing phone tag, the two spoke for six minutes. Prosecutors say the son quickly began offloading his shares, as did his girlfriend’s parents.

The congressman couldn’t unwind his own position because he was on the board, but the indictment alleges that the others avoided $768,000 in losses by selling before the public announcement caused the stock to tank by more than 90 percent.

“If Collins and the others wind up in prison it will be for breaking the insider-trading laws. But that’s only because stupidity itself is not against the law,” Joe Nocera writes for Bloomberg News.

For example, the SEC complaint quotes text messages from Cameron Collins’s girlfriend to her mother in 2016. In them, she outlined the huge upside potential for the stock and said that the downside was limited because the congressman could let them know ahead of time if the trial wasn’t going well. “I’ll make sure cams dad keeps us in the loop,” she texted.

CBS News tracked down video footage in its archives of the congressman talking on his phone during the picnic at the same time the indictment alleges he was conspiring with his son:

-- Collins, 68, could face up to 150 years in prison if he’s convicted on all the charges. Among them: He allegedly lied to an FBI agent during an interview in April when he claimed that he didn’t tell his son about the news ahead of the company’s announcement. “Congressman Collins, who by virtue of his office helps write the laws of our nation, acted as if the law did not apply to him,” said Geoffrey Berman, who Trump appointed to be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York after firing Preet Bharara.

-- Soon after the charges were filed, Paul Ryan removed Collins from the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. “While his guilt or innocence is a question for the courts to settle,” the speaker said in a statement, “insider trading is a clear violation of the public trust.”

The Ethics Committee was already investigating Collins, as well, after the Office of Congressional Ethics said last October that there was “substantial reason to believe” he had violated federal law and House rules by meeting with government researchers in his congressional capacity allegedly to benefit the firm.

-- Four other current House Republicans also invested in the obscure Australian company: Reps. Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), John Abney Culberson (Tex.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.) and Billy Long (Mo.). None of them has been charged with a crime, but this will undeniably be a political headache. Long and Mullin also sit on the health subcommittee of Energy and Commerce.

While he was still a sitting member of Congress, Tom Price reportedly received a special offer that allowed him to buy the company’s stock at a discount. When Trump tapped the Georgia Republican to be his secretary of health and human services, he sold the shares for $325,000 — three times what he paid, according to the Wall Street Journal. Price resigned last September in a scandal that stemmed from charging taxpayers for dubious flights on private charter jets.

-- Price, of course, is far from the only member of the Trump Cabinet who has faced allegations of ethical transgressions. Consider Scott Pruitt, Wilbur Ross, Ryan Zinke and Mick Mulvaney. All have denied wrongdoing, but a drip-drip-drip of revelations about administration officials has added fuel to the narrative that the swamp is getting swampier.

-- The Manafort trial in Alexandria has highlighted the dark underbelly of the influence industry. “Manafort’s defense strategy has been to blame Gates for any wrongdoing,” Rachel Weiner, Matt Zapotosky, Lynh Bui and Devlin Barrett report. “Defense lawyer Kevin Downing took one final shot at Gates before he left the witness stand … accusing him of engaging in more marital infidelity than Gates acknowledged [the previous day]. Downing asked if Gates had told the special counsel’s office that ‘you actually engaged in four extramarital affairs.’ The attorney appeared to be trying to show that even in his court testimony, Gates was still not telling the full truth. … But after a long sidebar before [Judge Ellis], Downing asked a different question, whether Gates’s ‘secret life’ continued into the 2010-2014 time period. Those are the years prosecutors have focused on in trying to prove that Manafort hid about $15 million in income from the IRS. ‘Mr. Downing, I’d say I made many mistakes, over many years,’ Gates answered. He later conceded that he lived the ‘secret life’ during those years.”

-- Remember when Trump promised he’d surround himself with only “the best people in the world”? Then Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. Rob Porter stepped down as White House staff secretary after public revelations that both of his ex-wives accused him of physical assault. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, withdrew as Trump’s nominee to be V.A. secretary after allegations that he drank on the job and overprescribed narcotics.

Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime fixer, is under federal investigation for bank and tax fraud, among other crimes. Two other advisers to the 2016 Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, have also found themselves in the crosshairs of the FBI. Papadopoulos is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe.

-- The Collins indictment will prompt a renewed push for some sort of ethics reform in the next Congress, even if it’s incremental. Many were surprised to learn, for instance, that lawmakers can sit on boards. That could be an easy legislative fix, and it might be hard for members to explain to their constituents why they’d vote against such a change.

This could also add urgency to calls for a broader overhaul of lobbying rules. For example, many people don’t register as lobbyists even as they work to influence policy. “Over the past decade, the number of registered lobbyists has fallen while the amount spent to influence public policy has increased significantly,” said Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman. “Expect the next round of reform to seek greater transparency of the influence activities of the various unregistered consultants who live in the loopholes.”

-- Finally, the indictment might put another House seat that would otherwise be safely Republican in play. Democrat Kathy Hochul won a 2011 special election in this district after the married GOP lawmaker who held the seat, Chris Lee, resigned for allegedly seeking female companionship on Craigslist. He sent a suggestive, shirtless photo of himself to a stranger. Collins beat Hochul the following year, and Trump handily carried the district.

Separately, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is also under investigation by the FBI for allegedly misusing campaign money for personal use. He faces a tough reelection fight in San Diego.

The Cook Political Report moved Collins’s district from solid to likely Republican yesterday. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics also changed its rating:

Democrat Nate McMurray, a local official in the Buffalo suburb of Grand Island who is challenging Collins, said he raised more money on Wednesday than he had during the whole campaign.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Tribune Media is withdrawing from its merger with Sinclair Broadcast Group and suing the company for “breach of contract.” Brian Fung and Tony Romm report: “The breakdown of the deal reflects a stunning reversal of fortunes for Sinclair, which had confidently announced the tie-up last year as a ‘transformational’ event and the biggest acquisition in its history. But it began to stumble last month after the Federal Communications Commission raised ‘serious concerns’ about the deal, which originally would have reached roughly 70 percent of U.S. households. … In terminating its merger agreement, Tribune on Thursday charged that Sinclair had engaged in ‘unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations’ with the government.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Vice President Pence will lay out the administration's plan to establish a “Space Force” at the Pentagon today. Trump's call to create a redundant new bureaucracy has been met with strong resistance by the brass, including Air Force leaders who have been kept out of the loop. (Christian Davenport and Dan Lamothe)
  2. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) declared a state of emergency for Virginia and the city of Charlottesville ahead of the anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally. The declaration expands the ability of authorities to respond to civil unrest and earmarks $2 million to pay for response efforts. (Reis Thebault)
  3. Suspected child abductor Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, who was found at a New Mexico compound last week with 11 children, had trained at least one of them to use an assault rifle “in preparation for a school shooting,” according to newly filed court documents. (Eli Rosenberg and Abigail Hauslohner)
  4. The New York City Council approved caps on Uber and Lyft vehicles, as well as a minimum wage for drivers. The legislation, which was fiercely opposed by the companies, makes New York the first U.S. city to try to offset the growth of ride-hailing services through regulation. (Faiz Siddiqui)
  5. The SEC requested more information about Elon Musk’s tweet asserting Tesla would be taken private. The inquiry does not necessarily mean the agency will open an investigation, but Musk could face repercussions if officials find he made misleading public statements. (Drew Harwell)
  6. A new report found that women induced at 39 weeks of pregnancy were less likely to require a C-section than those who waited for labor to begin spontaneously. (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
  7. The University of Southern California president agreed to finally leave office in the wake of the school’s sex-abuse scandal. Max Nikias had agreed to transition out of the role back in May, but faculty members grew frustrated after months passed without the university naming an interim leader. (Susan Svrluga)
  8. Two parents in Michigan could face life in prison after refusing to seek medical help for their 10-month-old for “religious reasons.” The infant later died of malnutrition and dehydration. (Lindsey Bever)
  9. Indonesian authorities rescued a 28-year-old woman who was kidnapped at the age of 13 and held captive for 15 years. The girl’s parents had brought her to a shaman, who lied about her whereabouts as he allegedly kept her in a cave, raping her and convincing her that he was possessed by the spirit of her boyfriend. (Siobhán O'Grady)

  10. Academy Awards organizers announced a new Oscars category to recognize popular film. The Academy also said the ceremony would be limited to three hours and the 2020 awards would take place Feb. 9, two weeks earlier than previous ceremonies. (Sonia Rao)

THE MIDTERMS:

-- Trump has failed in his efforts to curb illegal immigration, which has continued to surge in recent months despite his crackdown and attempts to secure funding for a border wall. David Nakamura reports: “Nearly 19 months into his presidency … the envisioned $25 billion border wall remains unfunded by lawmakers. Deportations are lagging behind peak rates under [Obama] while illegal border crossings, which plummeted early in Trump’s tenure, have spiked. And [newly released government data] showed that the number of migrant families taken into custody along the southern border remained nearly unchanged from June to July — an indication that the Trump administration’s move to separate [families] did little to deter others. … More than 9,200 family members entered the country illegally in July, a number on par with the past several months[.] In all, more families with children have arrived in the first 10 months of fiscal 2018 than during any year under Obama.”

-- Inside the White House, Trump is trying to figure out where he will be most useful on the campaign trail after Tuesday's nail-biter in Ohio's 12th District, where the Republican that the president endorsed is edging the Democrat in a longtime red seat. The political team is prepping options for GOP candidates, including sending Ivanka Trump to blue states and presidential tweets in red states. Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey report: “Many Republican strategists viewed [Tuesday’s results] as a dark omen … saying they illustrate the limits of Trump’s ability to boost candidates, particularly in suburban areas. . . . Trump took a different lesson from [Tuesday's races], crowing in a flurry of tweets that his presence on the campaign trail . . . could lift his party and prompt a ‘giant Red Wave!’ . . . White House officials have been giving Trump weekly or biweekly updates on races and showing him polling and pictures of candidates along with the staff or party leadership recommendation of what to do in each contest … But Trump doesn’t always listen to advisers and has been driving the strategy himself, informally polling his inner circle about how far he might go on trade policy and a possible government shutdown over immigration policy without crippling the GOP field.”

-- Ohio’s special election race is narrowing after a new batch of votes was discovered. Republican Troy Balderson leads, but the race remains too close to call. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports: “Election officials in Franklin County found 588 previously uncounted votes in a Columbus suburb. The result: (Democrat Danny) O'Connor had a net gain of 190 votes, bringing the race's margin down to 1,564.”

-- Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who Trump endorsed on Monday despite objections from national GOP leaders and even his own advisers, is now refusing to recuse himself from the recount process in the GOP gubernatorial primary between him and Gov. Jeff Colyer. The Kansas City Star reports: “No law requires Kobach to recuse himself, but legal and political experts said that he should do so to maintain trust in the election. Kobach, the state’s top election official, led [Colyer] in the Republican primary by a mere 191 votes Wednesday morning after each of the state’s 105 counties had posted election returns.”

-- For the second time in a decade, a special election held the same day as a regular election has produced two different members of Congress from Michigan. David Weigel reports on the state's 13th Congressional District: “Democrats have nominated Rashida Tlaib, who will be the first female Muslim member of Congress, to replace former congressman John Conyers Jr. They’ve also nominated Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who will be the third African American woman to represent Detroit, to replace Conyers temporarily, for the remainder of his vacated term. … No Republican is running for the 13th Congressional District, making Jones’s and Tlaib’s primary victories tantamount to victory in November. Jones will be sworn in shortly after the November election, while Tlaib will be sworn in when the new Congress convenes in January.”

-- Just last year, Virginia GOP Senate nominee Corey Stewart praised the state's decision to secede from the Union during the Civil War. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott unearthed a video of the Minnesota native in April 2017 at an event in South BostonVa., that was hosted by an unapologetic secessionist. “This is the state of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and James Monroe. . . . But it's also the state of Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart. Because, at the base of it, Virginians, we think for ourselves,” he said. “And if the established order is wrong, we rebel. We did that in the Revolution, we did it in the Civil War, and we're doing it today! We're doing it today because they're trying to rob us of everything that we hold dear: our history, our heritage, our culture.”

-- A 14-year-old boy named Ethan Sonneborn is running in Vermont’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. Kayla Epstein reports: “Unlike most states, Vermont has no age requirement for gubernatorial candidates, only a residency requirement. Sonneborn, who has lived in Bristol for 14 years — his entire life — makes the cut. … With all those hurdles cleared, could Sonneborn . . . actually win the Democratic nomination on Aug. 14? Probably not. Age aside, he is hamstrung by very low name recognition, a problem that his adult Democratic opponents face as well. But hey, nobody thought a 14-year-old would actually run, let alone land himself on the ballot, let alone participate — and hold his own — against his adult competitors in several candidate forums.”

-- Activists in Georgia are asking Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, to step down as the state’s elections chief. Vanessa Williams reports: “Kemp, through his campaign spokesman, has said he will not give up the job that he has held since 2010, noting that other elected officials have not quit their elected posts while running for higher offices. … Two groups — the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice and Resist Trump Tuesdays — [held] a rally for Wednesday afternoon to call for Kemp to resign. Common Cause Georgia issued a statement this week urging him to leave his position. ‘It is ethically wrong for a politician to oversee the campaign he is a candidate in,’ reads an online petition launched by the group.”

-- Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, who has struggled to respond to Republican attacks that his platform is extreme, lost his cool when a Washington Post reporter asked him yesterday if he identified with the term “socialist.” He responded, “Are you f---ing kidding me?” Erin Cox and Ovetta Williams report: “The Republican Governor’s Association’s top spokesman tweeted a clip of the remark and called Jealous ‘unhinged.’ Republican aides gleefully remarked it would appear in attack ads. ‘The governor believes in raising the level of political discourse in our state and in our country, and cursing at reporters asking questions is the exact opposite of that,’ [Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s] campaign spokesman Doug Mayer said in a statement.”

Jealous subsequently apologized:

THE INVESTIGATION:

-- Trump’s legal team formally rejected special counsel Bob Mueller’s conditions for an interview, saying they consider questioning the president about possible obstruction of justice to be legally inappropriate. Carol D. Leonnig reports: “A letter from Trump’s lawyers sent to Mueller around noon on Wednesday significantly lessens the possibility of a voluntary presidential interview, according to two people familiar with the discussions. The multipage response represents what Trump’s lawyers expect to be their last word on Mueller’s request for a sit-down interview with the president in his Russia investigation.

  • “One Trump adviser said there’s one way for Mueller to prove he isn’t using the interview to lure Trump into a perjury trap. ‘If you don’t want to accuse someone of perjury, you don’t need to have them answer questions under oath,’ the adviser said.
  • “The letter from Trump’s lawyers leaves open the possibility of having Trump answer some questions in writing, according to the two people familiar with the negotiations.”

-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said efforts to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are being put on hold until after Brett Kavanaugh gets confirmed to the Supreme Court. NBC News’s Phil Helsel reports: “[Nunes] made the statement in an audio recording surreptitiously made by a member of a progressive group who attended a Republican fundraiser on July 30 in Spokane, Wash. … Asked about the impeachment plans, Nunes told a questioner that ‘it's a bit complicated’ because ‘we only have so many months left.’ ‘So if we actually vote to impeach, OK, what that does is that triggers the Senate then has to take it up,’ he said on the recording. ‘Well, and you have to decide what you want right now because the Senate only has so much time.’ He continued: ‘Do you want them to drop everything and not confirm the Supreme Court justice, the new Supreme Court justice?’”

-- Nunes also said that it was imperative for Republicans to maintain their majority amid Mueller’s ongoing investigation. “If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones, which is really the danger,” he said. “I mean, we have to keep all these seats. … We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.” (Isaac Stanley-Becker)

-- Months after nearly firing him, Trump has apparently warmed up to Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation. The Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender and Sadie Gurman report: “As the Russia investigation unfolds and some House Republicans mount an effort to impeach him, Mr. Rosenstein has steadily developed a stable relationship with the president that suggests he has more staying power than [critics believe] … The two men talk once or twice a week, and Mr. Trump calls Mr. Rosenstein on his cellphone to discuss such issues as immigration … Mr. Rosenstein consistently prepares the president’s team ahead of major news[.] And he visits the White House as often as three times a week, meeting with the president or [John Kelly] … 'It’s fantastic,' Trump said about his rapport with Rosenstein, when told The Journal was seeking comment. 'We have a great relationship. Make sure you tell them that.'”

-- Donald Trump Jr. continues to campaign for Republican candidates. The AP’s Jonathan Lemire and Catherine Lucey report: “He’s beloved on the right as the swaggering embodiment of the Make America Great Again agenda. And he’s embracing his role as a popular emissary for his father, crisscrossing the country on campaign trips, penning op-eds in support of favored candidates and showcasing his new relationship with former Fox News host Kim Guilfoyle. Unbowed and unapologetic, the son’s approach appears to mirror the father’s combative defiance toward [Mueller’s] investigation. The enthusiastic reception he receives in many Republican strongholds is more evidence that Trump voters are rallying around the president’s criticism of the probe — perhaps even fired up by the fight.”

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The Trump administration announced plans to impose new sanctions on Russia for the nerve agent attack on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. Karen DeYoung and Carol Morello report: “A terse release from the State Department said that the United States had determined Russian responsibility for the attack — a British conclusion the administration had already accepted — under a 1991 U.S. law on biological and chemical weapons use that requires the president to impose sanctions. They are structured to fall in two halves[:] The first part includes a prohibition of licenses on sending some goods to Russia, such as electronic devices. It will have limited impact, since it replicates restrictions already on the books. But if Russia does not agree to stop using chemical and biological weapons within 90 days and agree to let U.N. monitors conduct inspections, a second, more punishing round of sanctions kicks in. It would cut off almost all trade between the two countries, and could include the suspension of Aeroflot flights into the United States.”

-- The White House is drafting an executive order to allow the president to sanction any foreigner who interferes in a U.S. election. Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and Ellen Nakashima report: “The eight-page draft order … appears to be an effort to stave off aggressive legislation, including a bill introduced in Congress this month — and to quell criticism that Trump seems to give more credence to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s denials of interference than to U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Kremlin sought to undermine the 2016 election.”

-- Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) claimed Russian operatives have already “penetrated” some of the state’s voter registration systems. The Tampa Bay Times’s Alex Leary, Steve Bousquet and Kirby Wilson report: “The state, however, said it has received ‘zero information’ supporting his claim. ‘They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about,’ Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times before a campaign event in Tampa. He said something similar a day earlier in Tallahassee but declined to elaborate. ‘That's classified,’ the Democrat said Tuesday. He is facing a re-election challenge in November from Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration said it has no knowledge of the allegations made by Nelson.”

-- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he hand-delivered a letter from Trump for Putin to the Kremlin. The senator, leading a delegation to Moscow this week, said the correspondence “emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges.” Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley distanced Trump from the letter. He claimed the White House provided Paul with a letter of introduction at his request, including "topics of interest that Senator Paul wanted to discuss with President Putin." (Karoun Demirjian)

-- At least 40,000 Facebook users expressed interest in attending anti-Trump events hosted by a group believed to be tied to Russia. Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin report: “The popularity of these events highlights a weakness in Facebook’s new mission to encourage users to join groups of like-minded people and meet up offline. 'Resisters,' the group Facebook removed as part of a crackdown on inauthentic accounts ahead of the 2018 midterm election, organized at least 30 events, capitalizing on one of Facebook’s most powerful tools for political organizing. The use of events to spread disinformation and further polarize the public builds on a tactic Russian operatives used around the 2016 election.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- China announced it will impose an additional $16 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. auto and energy products because of Trump’s latest trade offensive. David J. Lynch, Damian Paletta and Amanda Erickson report: “Beijing signaled this week that it might target prominent American companies such as Apple if the trade dispute escalates. The iPhone maker relies upon China for one-fifth of its $229 billion in annual revenue, ‘leaving it exposed if Chinese people make it a target of anger and nationalist sentiment,’ warned a commentary in the state-owned China Daily.

  • Trump administration efforts to force China into concessions also have been complicated by the falling yuan, which has lost more than 8 percent of its value against the dollar since April. By making Chinese products less expensive for American buyers, the weaker yuan partially counteracts the effects of Trump’s trade measures.
  • “[Inside] the administration, there is growing unease over where the U.S.-China tussle is headed. Initial diplomatic talks [failed to reach agreement and] have left both sides irritated and confused … Two senior administration officials, frustrated by what they say is [President Xi’s] refusal to negotiate, have become increasingly certain that the standoff is only going to worsen.”

-- Israeli and Palestinian forces exchanged intense rocket fire in Gaza. Loveday Morris reports: “Israel struck more than 140 targets in Gaza in response to a barrage of rockets from the Palestinian territory … Militants in the strip fired more than 150 rockets and mortars into Israel between Wednesday evening and Thursday, the Israeli military said. … The escalation, the worst since 2014, came after officials from Hamas, the militant group which controls Gaza, met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a cease-fire. Some analysts put the escalation down to a show of force by Hamas as talks took place.”

-- North Korea has repeatedly rejected the Trump administration’s timeline for starting the denuclearization process, according to Vox News’s Alex Ward. “The details of the US-proposed timeline … are as follows: North Korea hands over 60 to 70 percent of its nuclear warheads within six to eight months; the US or a third party — likely another country — takes possession of them and removes them from North Korea. It’s unclear what concessions, if any, the US would offer in exchange beyond sanctions relief or removing North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list. According to two people familiar with the discussions, this is the plan that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has presented to North Korean negotiators multiple times over the past two months. But each time, the North Korean negotiators, led by Kim Yong Chol — a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — have turned down Pompeo’s proposal.”

-- The rift between the Saudis and the Canadians widened as Riyadh rejected outside mediation and announced that it will begin transferring Saudi patients in Canadian hospitals to other countries. Kareem Fahim and Selena Ross report: “The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said that his government was considering other measures to punish Canada for criticizing, in a series of Twitter messages, Saudi Arabia’s detention of women’s rights activists. ‘Canada started this. It’s up to Canada to find a way out of this,’ Jubeir said at a news conference in Riyadh. The toughening rhetoric came two days after Saudi Arabia, in a burst of anger, announced that it was expelling the Canadian ambassador, halting trade and investment deals with Canada and suspending flights there. Saudi Arabia has also said that Saudi citizens studying in Canada on government scholarships, including medical residents, would be moved to programs in other countries or back to Saudi Arabia.”

-- Visiting Colombia, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley blamed Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for his country’s dire economic straits. Anne Gearan reports: “Haley announced an additional $9 million in U.S. aid for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Colombia, beyond some $60 million already committed. The money will go toward water, medical supplies and other immediate needs, Haley said. … She spoke at the foot of the Simon Bolivar bridge where about 2,500 Venezuelans cross daily, many of them to receive a hot meal and medical care or to shop for food before returning to Venezuela.”

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:

-- Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman secretly recorded conversations with Trump and has played those tapes for others ahead of the release of her new book, “UNHINGED,” per the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng, and Maxwell Tani: “For months, it has been rumored that Manigault had clandestinely recorded on her smartphone ‘tapes’ of unspecified private discussions she had in the West Wing. Audio actually does exist, and even stars Manigault’s former boss. One person confirmed … they had heard at least one of her recordings featuring [Trump]. Multiple sources familiar with the so-called ‘Omarosa tapes’ described the recorded conversations between Trump and Manigault as anodyne, everyday chatter, but said they did appear to feature Trump’s voice, either over the phone or in-person.” She also names 10 White House staffers she suspected of leaking.

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s family yacht is registered in the Cayman Islands, a potential attempt to avoid taxes on the vessel. Newsweek’s David Sirota reports: “When buying a vessel or cruising in U.S. waters, American yacht owners like the DeVos family could face state sales or use taxes like those most nonyacht owners face on everything else. However, registering a yacht in a locale like the Caymans — under what has come to be known as a ‘flag of convenience’ — allows those American yacht owners to effectively characterize themselves as foreigners for tax purposes, thereby avoiding the obligation of paying the standard levies.”

-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wrote a USA Today op-ed about preventing wildfires that never mentions climate change: “The fires are burning hotter and more intense, due in part to hot and dry weather and in part to the fuels that overload our forests. These fuels fill forests from the floor, where highly-combustible, dry pine needles act as kindling to jump-start the tiniest spot fire, all the way up to the crown where beetle-killed trees dot the mountains like matches. In between the floor and the crown, there are years’ worth of dead logs, overgrown shrubs and snags, which many firefighters call ‘widow makers’ because they are so deadly. The buildup of fuels is the condition we can and must reverse through active forest management like prescribed burns, mechanical thinning and timber harvests.”

-- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has managed to stay in Trump’s good graces as he avoids the spotlight and pushes back against some of the president’s more protectionist advisers. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Devin Leonard and Saleha Mohsin report: Mnuchin “remains a voice of prudence, if not reason, amid the turbulence stirred up by his volatile master. … An ongoing battle in the White House over trade policy had pitted economic moderates such as Mnuchin and [former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn] against pro-tariff nationalists like U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Trump’s special trade adviser Peter Navarro … Career Treasury staff members were stunned early last year when the administration nearly pulled out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a move Navarro had championed. According to one source, Cohn blocked the effort, saying, ‘That’s the stupidest f---ing idea I’ve ever heard.’”

-- Some Trump advisers are prodding Hope Hicks to take a role in Trump’s 2020 campaign. Politico’s Nancy Cook reports: “People close to Hicks and the White House says she’s open to participating — at least informally. … After Hicks left the White House in March, she spent time with her family in Connecticut and traveled. She’s now living on New York’s Upper East Side, and friends and allies say she appreciates the relative anonymity Manhattan offers after the Washington hothouse. … [But they also] say that even though she craved a return to private life after two years on the Trump campaign and one in the West Wing, she misses the buzz of the White House and the camaraderie of Trump’s inner circle — and still remains a de facto part of the Trump family.”

-- The administration is laying off about 40 people at an office created in the wake of the financial crisis. From Reuters’s Pete Schroeder: “The employees at the Office of Financial Research (OFR) were formally told on Wednesday they will lose their jobs as part of a broader reorganization of the agency … Staff at the OFR, an independent bureau within the U.S. Treasury that analyzes market trends to spot financial risks, were told in January that jobs would be eliminated as the administration sought to cut the OFR’s budget by 25 percent to around $76 million, [one] person said.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called on Devin Nunes to resign:

A Time editor noted the people who have actually recorded Trump:

A CBS News reporter replied:

Sen. Claire McCaskill's Republican challenger in Missouri, Josh Hawley, challenged her to a debate:

McCaskill swung back:

The Democratic governor of Washington State, who is also chairman of the DGA, bragged about his state's primary election results:

A CNN reporter shared a noteworthy moment from the Manafort trial:

Another CNN reporter corrected Rudy Giuliani's understanding of DOJ rules:

A conservative HLN host reflected on Rand Paul's recent Russia comments:

The wife of former Trump aide George Papadopoulos tweeted a photo of the two of them:

A Post reporter responded to Ryan Zinke's op-ed on wildfires:

The editor in chief of the veteran-oriented news outlet Task and Purpose said he resigned over the publication of this investigative article:

GOOD READS:

-- “‘I want to die’: Was a 5-year-old drugged after being separated from his dad at the border?” by Michael E. Miller: “The boy stood at the window with clenched fists, watching a heavy rain fall on the overgrown yard outside. Three months earlier, the 5-year-old and his father had fled death threats in Guatemala, seeking asylum in the United States. Instead, Border Patrol agents had sent his dad to an immigration jail and Adonias to a children’s shelter in Chicago. Now, six days after their July 24 reunion, his father was sitting across the room from him in the shabby, shotgun house they shared with four relatives, asking Adonias what had happened in the 10 weeks they were apart.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Alex Jones’ Lawyer Seeks To Make Sandy Hook Parents’ Home Addresses Public,” from HuffPost: “When radio host Alex Jones published a video in 2017 titled ‘Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed,’ the parents of a little boy killed in the Sandy Hook shooting bought security alarms for their homes, fearful that they would once again be harassed by Jones’ legion of followers convinced the shooting never happened. Now a lawyer for Jones wants to make the parents’ home addresses public. More than five years later, they still get harassed by conspiracy theorists claiming the shooting was all a hoax. Their harassment has led to a defamation lawsuit against Jones ... A Texas judge is currently reviewing whether Jones’ motion to dismiss the case has any merit. In the meantime, Jones’ lawyer is seeking to open the floodgates for dangerous parties to easily find the Sandy Hook parents.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Twitter plans ‘hate speech’ crackdown after backlash from upset employees,’” from the Daily Caller: “Twitter is planning to accelerate changes to the company’s speech policies after a backlash from its own employees who want the company to ban right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, responding to a critical tweet from a Twitter engineer, said Wednesday he is ‘not happy’ with Twitter’s current policies, which he said need to ‘evolve.’ Twitter vice president Del Harvey also sent a company-wide email Wednesday pledging to accelerate Twitter’s efforts to crack down on ‘dehumanizing hate speech,’ in the wake of internal ‘conversations’ about Jones. Harvey noted that Twitter also plans to evaluate whether the company needs to better police ‘off-platform behavior.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will participate in an afternoon roundtable on prison reform with state leaders in Bedminster, N.J. He has no other events on his public schedule.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“Well, the voters here sent a message to the Republicans to knock it off. … Stop the chaos, the division, no more of this family separation that we see at the border or taking people's healthcare away.” — Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) on why the state’s special election was so close. (CBS News)

 

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

-- Washingtonians should still be prepared for a possible afternoon shower or storm. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Variable cloud cover today. Drier air from the northwest lowers humidity some, but a cold front tracking through may trigger a shower or storm late in the afternoon or early in the evening. Highs are mainly in the mid- to upper 80s, which is close to normal.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Braves 8-3, remaining six games back in the National League East. (Chelsea Janes)

-- The next round of planned station closures and single-tracking has prompted Metro to issue an unusual piece of advice to its riders: “Only take Metro if you have no other option.” Martine Powers reports: “Metro launches a track reconstruction project Saturday that will shutter part of the Blue Line, initiate round-the-clock single-tracking on the Orange and Silver lines, and close two busy downtown stations on two weekends. And that’s in addition to the six-week shutdown on the Red Line — which, well, is only halfway finished. … Trains on the Orange and Silver lines will single-track through the downtown core, which means that there will be 20-minute headways between trains on each line. Even during rush hour.”

-- D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is suing a Florida company for allegedly misclassifying District workers to avoid paying city taxes. From Reis Thebault: “Although the [D.C. electrical] workers have many of the same roles and responsibilities as [Florida-based] Power Design employees and report to the company’s managers, the lawsuit alleges, they do not receive the paid sick leave that D.C. employers are required to give. The lawsuit says that at least 180 workers weren’t paid the required overtime rate, and that at least 64 weren’t paid minimum wage.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

CNN reporter Jim Acosta talked to Stephen Colbert about Trump's relationship with the media:

Sons of Master Sgt. Charles McDaniel, who was killed in the Korean War, received his dog tag:

Frontline provided updates on two participants of the Charlottesville rally:

Museum officials in England and Nigeria may have reached an agreement on temporarily returning a collection taken from the Kingdom of Benin, now part of modern-day Nigeria, to its original home:

An Alabama woman gave her child's teacher an incredibly generous gift:

And a group of cows in Florida helped police corral a suspect: