With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: “Study the late Joseph McCarthy,” President Trump tweeted on Sunday, “because we are now in [a] period with [Bob] Mueller and his gang that make[s] Joseph McCarthy look like a baby!”
It was an ironic ask considering that Trump’s mentor was Roy Cohn, who served as McCarthy’s hatchet man and chief counsel during the Wisconsin Republican’s red-baiting crusade right up until his censure by the Senate in 1954.
Two decades later, Trump hired Cohn to be his lawyer when the Justice Department sued his family’s real estate business for systemically discriminating against African American tenants. On behalf of Trump and his father, Cohn filed a $100 million countersuit against the federal government, accused the DOJ of using “Gestapo-like tactics” and said the charges were not just “baseless” but “irresponsible.” The attorney even purportedly tried to pressure a senior Justice official to sanction a lower-ranking lawyer who was working on the case. After declaring that he would never settle, Trump eventually settled. The Justice Department later accused him of not living up to all the terms of the agreement.
The parallels between Trump’s first tangle with the Justice Department and his current efforts to undermine the special counsel’s investigation into him, his campaign and his associates are striking. Once again, he’s using the tactics he learned under the tutelage of Cohn, who was his go-to fixer decades before Michael Cohen assumed the same role. Trump has pined for Cohn, someone who never betrayed him, asking associates: “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”
Cohn is long dead, but Trump has been a practicing disciple of his approach to crisis communications for 45 years now. Deny everything. Never apologize. When someone punches, punch back 10 times harder. Attack the messenger. Muddy the water. Accuse others of what you’re accused of. Win at all costs.
In that same Sunday tweet where he said to study McCarthy, Trump repeated his mantra that Mueller’s investigation is a “Rigged Witch Hunt!” Just two days later, a jury convicted the president’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort of eight felonies and Cohen pleaded guilty to another eight felony charges – all part of a deal that identified Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator.
Overshadowed by these dramatic developments was the indictment of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) by a grand jury in San Diego. He and his wife are accused of illegally using more than $250,000 in campaign money to pay personal expenses. The couple will be arraigned later today in California.
The president historically has been the country’s moral leader, setting an example that others follow. In this case, Trump has set the stage for all sorts of people to dismiss any charges from law enforcement or accusations of wrongdoing as entirely politically motivated. Resisting public pressure from Speaker Paul Ryan, Hunter won’t agree to give up his committee assignments. Not only does he promise to fight the charges in court, he’s also seeking reelection.
Hunter sounded downright Trumpian when a reporter from KGTV, the San Diego ABC affiliate, caught up with him yesterday as he prepared to board a boat for a fishing expedition. “We’re excited about going to trial with this, frankly,” Hunter said. “This is modern politics and modern media mixed in with law enforcement that has a political agenda. That’s the new Department of Justice. This is the Democrats’ arm of law enforcement, that’s what’s happening right now. It’s happening with Trump. It’s happening with me. We’re going to fight through it and win. … They can try to have a political agenda as our law enforcement, as a U.S. government … as we’ve seen with [former FBI agent Peter] Strzok, and with what the FBI and DOJ have been doing. Let them expose themselves for what they are: a politically motivated group of folks.”
Duncan Hunter Sr., who accompanied his son yesterday and held the seat until he gave it up to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, added: “It's politically motivated by hardcore Democrats who want to get Duncan Hunter out of Congress.”
Their fishing trip was with a veterans group called Rivers of Recovery. In one of the ickier allegations of the indictment, the younger Hunter is accused of buying stuff for himself, including Hawaiian shorts, and then claiming on campaign finance reports that the money was spent to help wounded warriors.
These charges were brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, which is led by Trump appointee Adam Braverman. Attorney General Jeff Sessions installed Braverman in the post last year. Before he became a prosecutor, Braverman clerked for three federal judges. One was appointed by George H.W. Bush. The others were appointed by George W. Bush.
For his part, Trump also continues to attack the Justice Department — including in an interview with Fox News that aired this morning. As he has many times before, the president faulted Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe and not exerting more control over career prosecutors to protect him. “What kind of a man is this?” Trump said of Sessions. “By the way, the only reason I gave him the job, I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter.”
Indeed, Sessions was the third member of Congress to endorse Trump in 2016. Hunter was the second. The first lawmaker to back Trump was Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who was indicted two weeks ago for allegedly conspiring with his son to commit insider trading — while standing on the White House lawn. During his own defiant news conference, Collins declared that he would “mount a vigorous defense in court to clear my name” and said he will be “fully vindicated and exonerated.” He pledged to stand for reelection before ending his campaign a few days later.
Here’s a picture of the president meeting in the Oval Office last year with some of his earliest endorsers from Capitol Hill. They call themselves the Trump Caucus. Collins is at the president’s right shoulder and Hunter is over on his left:
Attacking the press is another play out of the Roy Cohn playbook: The term “fake news,” which two years ago actually described fabricated stories being circulated online by America’s adversaries and fraudsters trying to profit off clicks, was coopted by the president. He redefined “fake news” to mean any story he doesn’t like. Since the term lost its original meaning, it’s seeped across politics into popular culture and now proliferated around the word. Authoritarian leaders have also taken to describing unflattering stories about them as “fake news.”
In March, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Cohen wired $130,000 to Stormy Daniels’s lawyer in October 2016 — 12 days before the election — so she’d keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. Asked for comment, Cohen replied with just two words: “Fake News.” Five months later, he’s admitted that it was not.
Hunter has mimicked Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media, as well. The San Diego Union-Tribune started scrutinizing the congressman’s campaign expenditures two years ago. When the paper’s first stories about the topic came out based on public filings — one highlighted his use of $600 in campaign cash to fly a pet rabbit — he viciously attacked the paper. Hunter said the Union-Tribune had a “liberal agenda” because its editorial board had endorsed Hillary Clinton. (He didn’t mention that the paper also endorsed GOP Rep. Darrell Issa.)
“In a speech right now, the President-elect is ripping the news media, calling them the ‘most dishonest people in the world.’ That certainly goes for our … Union-Tribune,” Hunter posted on Facebook in December 2016, responding to a story on the spending he’s now been indicted for. “And now it seems the UT is on a regular crusade against me — but like the president-elect says, who cares … It doesn’t matter. They deserve to know how irrelevant they’re becoming and how they’re viewed.”
-- Not practicing what he preaches: “The Hunters allegedly ‘overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period,’ resulting in $37,761 in fees for overdrafts and non-sufficient funds,” Chris Ingraham notes. “That works out to significantly more than 150 overdrafts per year, 13 overdrafts per month and about three overdrafts per week, every single week, over seven years. … The Hunters maintained that precarious financial position for years, the indictment alleges, despite pulling in an annual congressional salary of $174,000. That evidently allowed the couple to maintain an outward semblance of financial stability despite incurring tens of thousands of dollars in bank penalties — penalties that could cripple a typical family.
“On May 1, 2011, Hunter warned during debt limit negotiations that ‘America can no longer afford to borrow and spend its way to prosperity’ and that ‘Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem.’ Later that summer, according to the federal indictment, the Hunters incurred so many insufficient-funds fees during a personal vacation to Las Vegas that Duncan Hunter’s parents had to deposit money into their account. The Hunters ultimately paid for that vacation with $2,448.27 in campaign money.”
-- Tribalism watch: Handicappers say Hunter is more likely than not to get reelected in November despite the charges because it’s an overwhelmingly Republican district. “The 47-page indictment … is a document that would destroy most candidates for office. But even now, Democrats are not overly optimistic about their prospects of defeating Hunter,” Scott Wilson and Dave Weigel report. “The district, which covers inland San Diego County and part of Riverside County, has not appeared on the target lists for Democrats, who are focused on more than a half-dozen other Republican districts in California. … On Tuesday, nonpartisan election handicapper Dave Wasserman moved the district from definitively Republican to likely Republican and tweeted that it ‘has the potential to get more competitive.’ But as Democrats seek to wrest control of Congress, there will be many other districts across the country with more takeover potential.”
-- Just as he’s doing now with Cohen, Trump distanced himself from Cohn after working with him closely for years. After the lawyer was diagnosed with HIV, the businessman began to downplay their relationship. “I can’t believe he’s doing this to me,” Cohn said at the time. “Donald pisses ice water.” Trump has denied breaking with his former lawyer because he was gay, saying that he had known Cohn was gay for a long time before he got HIV.
MORE COHEN FALLOUT:
-- Michael Cohen’s guilty plea raises the likelihood that he will attempt to leverage secrets he knows about Trump. Rosalind S. Helderman, Carol D. Leonnig and David A. Fahrenthold report: “Lanny Davis, an attorney and spokesman for Cohen, went on a media blitz in the wake of Cohen’s guilty plea, repeatedly floating the idea that Cohen is willing to be a witness against Trump and his associates in state and federal investigations, including the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. New York’s state tax-collecting agency took Davis up on that. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the agency said it had issued a subpoena to Cohen for information related to an investigation of Trump’s charitable foundation. Cohen immediately responded by personally calling the agency to see how he could help, according to an official in Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration familiar with his call. … Potentially more significant, Davis repeatedly said Cohen would be willing to assist [Mueller] in [his investigation] and suggested that Cohen may be able to tell Mueller that Trump had advance knowledge of the hacking of Democratic emails.”
-- Why Cohen flipped: “He had many reasons to play ball last weekend when his legal team sat down to talk to federal prosecutors,” the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Nicole Hong and Joe Palazzolo report: “The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office had testimony from Mr. Cohen’s accountant and business partners, along with bank records, tax filings and loan applications that implicated not only Mr. Cohen in potential criminal activity, but also his wife, who filed taxes jointly with her husband. Prosecutors signaled Mr. Cohen would face nearly 20 criminal counts … Adding to the pressure, David Pecker . . . provided prosecutors with details about [the hush-money payments arranged by Cohen] . . . including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals. . . . A personal turning point for Mr. Cohen was a conversation with his father, Maurice Cohen, a Holocaust survivor. Mr. Cohen’s father urged him not to protect the president, saying he didn’t survive the Holocaust to have his name sullied by Mr. Trump ...”
-- The charging documents depict a deliberate arrangement between Trump’s then-lawyer and David Pecker, who runs the National Enquirer, to bury negative stories about Trump. Sarah Ellison and Beth Reinhard report: “According to the documents, Pecker assured Cohen that he would help deal with rumors related to Trump’s relationships with women by essentially turning his tabloid operation into a research arm of the Trump campaign, identifying potentially damaging stories and, when necessary, buying the silence of the women who wanted to tell them. The charging documents allege that Pecker and his company, American Media Inc., owner of the National Enquirer, were more deeply and deliberately involved in the effort to help the Trump campaign than was previously known. AMI also played a key role in the effort to silence [Daniels], prosecutors allege.”
-- The White House struggled to craft a cohesive response to the convictions of Manafort and Cohen. Some in Trump’s orbit seeing this week as an “unsettling” inflection point for the president. Others insisted it was yet another opportunity for the self-described counterpuncher to prove his resilience. “But at least for now, at least for a day, Trump resisted lashing out in a dramatic and public way,” Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey report. “Instead, Wednesday was a moment for calculation and conversation, a pause for a rattled administration … Several advisers who spoke to Trump said he seemed more frustrated than furious, more sad than screaming. At a morning meeting with top advisers, Trump gathered [John Kelly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kellyanne Conway and Bill Shine to seek out] their candid take … Trump was mostly calm, frequently distracted by the Cohen and Manafort cases but insisting that Democrats could overplay their hand if they seize on those issues ahead of this year’s midterm elections[.] While Trump angrily maintained in private with his aides that Cohen had betrayed him, the president stuck to gallows humor on Twitter — an attempt to shrug off the legal developments and focus on other topics …
- “Trump’s close-knit inner circle still plodded forward, hoping to hold together what they described as a fragile peace. They filled the president’s day with a busy schedule of friends and favorites: a phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an interview with ‘Fox & Friends’ and a Medal of Honor ceremony.
- “In the coming days, the goal is to ‘push it outside the building,’ as one official said of the White House strategy. But several advisers said it would be largely impossible because of the president’s tweets and his refusal to resist commenting on Manafort or Cohen … Several Trump allies said that the president’s relative calm on Wednesday was something that would probably pass soon — and they are worried about what the next stage could mean for him and Republicans.
- “Trump is also frustrated that the Manafort conviction eroded his work to undercut Mueller’s probe, which he has seen as successful, two advisers said, adding that (Rudy) Giuliani and Trump had been increasingly optimistic that Manafort could escape the charges and deal a blow to the special counsel.”
-- Trump’s evolving statements about the payment to Stormy Daniels prompted The Washington Post’s Fact Checker to label a politician’s statement a “lie” for the first time ever. Glenn Kessler, who directs the team, explains why: “How to characterize Trump’s statements has become its own pitched political battle, with many of the president’s critics demanding that they be called ‘lies.’ The Fact Checker has been hesitant to go that far, as it is difficult to document whether the president knows he is not telling the truth. … But this week’s guilty plea by Cohen, offers indisputable evidence that Trump and his allies have been deliberately dishonest at every turn in their statements regarding payments to Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.”
-- Trump insisted in his Fox News interview that he did not know about the payment to Daniels at the time it was distributed but that he learned of it “later on.” Trump added that his subsequent reimbursement payments to Cohen “didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me.” When asked whether the president had lied to the American people, Sarah Huckabee Sanders called such a claim “ridiculous.” “The president in this matter has done nothing wrong, and there are no charges against him,” she said. There are no charges against him, however, because the Justice Department does not believe a sitting president can be indicted. (Felicia Sonmez)
-- Trump also pointed to a campaign finance violation by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign to downplay the charges against Cohen, even though there are big differences between the two cases. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “Obama’s 2008 campaign committee was fined by the [FEC] for violating campaign reporting requirements in the weeks leading up to Election Day. … Obama’s campaign agreed to pay a $375,000 fine — which was one of the largest penalties in the agency’s history.” Why the cases are different: “A case like Obama’s — which was a civil infraction — is much more common and less serious than a criminal cases such as Cohen’s, in which there was a knowing violation of election law that carries prison time, campaign finance experts said.”
-- More questions: The charging documents also accuse Cohen of paying $50,000 for work “solicited from a technology company during and in connection with the campaign.” CNBC’s Christina Wilkie reports: “The documents do not identify which tech company Cohen paid the money to, or what, exactly, the company did for him. But the mere existence of the previously unknown payment suggests that Cohen may have been doing more for Trump, and for the Trump campaign, than simply paying off women. Furthermore, the way that Cohen reported the $50,000 expense to the Trump Organization in January 2017 suggests the money may not have been paid out through traditional financial channels. According to prosecutors, Cohen presented Trump executives with bank records for several of the expenses he incurred on Trump's behalf. But for his $50,000 payment to a tech company, Cohen provided no paperwork, just a handwritten sum at the top of one of the other bank documents.”
BEHIND THE SCENES OF MANAFORT’S TRIAL:
-- Trump didn't appear to rule out pardoning Paul Manafort in his Fox News interview. When asked about a possible pardon by Ainsley Earhardt, Trump said, "I have great respect for what he's done in terms of what he's going through. You know, he worked for Ronald Reagan for years. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked I guess his firm worked for McCain. He worked for many, many people many, many years, and I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does."
-- A juror from Manafort's trial revealed the jury was ready to convict Trump’s former campaign chairman on all 18 charges, but one lone holdout prevented that. Matt Zapotosky reports: “The juror, who spoke on the record to Fox News and gave her name as Paula Duncan, said jurors ‘again and again’ laid out for the lone holdout the evidence that persuaded them Manafort was guilty. But the holdout, a female, said she harbored reasonable doubt, Duncan said. ‘The evidence was overwhelming,’ Duncan said, pointing to prosecutors’ extensive paper trail. ‘I did not want Paul Manafort to be guilty, but he was, and no one’s above the law.’
“Duncan, though, was not laudatory of the special counsel’s prosecutors who handled the case, and some of her comments might give prosecutors pause as they weigh cases against other Trump associates. While Duncan said it was ‘pretty easy to connect the dots’ after prosecutors’ presentation, she described the special counsel team as seeming ‘a little bored’ during the proceedings. ‘I saw them napping during the trial,’ Duncan said.”
-- Transcripts of sidebar discussions revealed that one member of the jury claimed her fellow juror discussed the case before deliberations began, a violation of trial rules. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report: “The transcripts show Manafort’s defense team asked for a mistrial on multiple occasions, but those requests were denied by the judge. … The issue emerged two weeks ago, toward the end of the prosecution case, when a female juror expressed concerns that a handful of others on the panel were talking about the case before deliberations — which is prohibited by court rules. Judge T.S. Ellis III called the unidentified juror in for a private discussion, in which she said another juror had recently said to her that ‘the defense was weak,’ or words to that effect. … Ellis ultimately rejected the defense’s motion to declare mistrial during the trial, saying it was ‘not warranted.’”
-- Manafort’s conviction, while a win for Mueller’s team, raises a host of new questions. From Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky: “Why, for example, did jurors convict Manafort of defrauding two banks — the Banc of California for a $1 million loan and Citizens Bank for a $3.4 million loan — but not of conspiring to commit those crimes? That could mean at least some jurors felt Manafort acted alone, the analysts said, though such an interpretation is difficult to resolve with the testimony of Manafort’s former right-hand man, Rick Gates, who admitted to being part of a conspiracy. … Patrick Cotter, a white-collar defense lawyer not involved with the case, said the panel reached a classic compromise verdict, which lacked internal logic but may reflect personality differences in the jury room.”
-- Manafort currently faces a decade in prison and another trial in Washington that could carry an even more severe sentence. From NBC News’s Ken Dilanian: “[T]he evidence [in the Washington trial] is expected to be more voluminous, and the charges promise to be more substantial, the judge less sympathetic, the possible sentence longer. … But the question that most matters remains difficult to answer: What does Manafort's conviction mean for Trump and the future of [Mueller’s investigation]? A full accounting depends on facts not yet in evidence, as lawyers like to say. The biggest one is whether Manafort, 69, will decide to fold his cards and cut a deal with Mueller, and to tell what, if anything, he knows about any coordination between Trump's campaign and the Russian election interference effort.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- “A conservative commentator who was lauded by President Trump this week as ‘wonderful’ and who has argued that past sexual indiscretions should have no bearing on Trump’s presidency was fired from Arizona State University four years ago for making sexually explicit comments and gestures toward women,” Aaron C. Davis scoops: “An internal investigation by the university concluded that Paris Dennard, a surrogate during the campaign and now a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, told a recent college graduate who worked for him that he wanted to have sex with her. He ‘pretended to unzip his pants in her presence, tried to get her to sit on his lap, and made masturbatory gestures,’ according to a university report obtained by The Washington Post. According to the 2014 report, Dennard did not dispute those claims but said he committed the acts jokingly.”
Dennard declined to answer specific questions about the investigation that led to his termination. Instead, he said in an email that he “was led to believe” the ASU report was “sealed and proprietary.” Then he argued that he was being targeted because of his support for Trump. “This is sadly another politically motivated attempt to besmirch my character, and shame me into silence for my support of President Trump and the GOP,” Dennard wrote.
After The Post’s article published last night, a CNN spokeswoman announced that the network has suspended Dennard while it reviews the allegations.
-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering allowing schools to use federal funds to purchase guns for teachers. The New York Times’s Erica L. Green reports: “Such a move appears to be unprecedented, reversing a long-standing position taken by the federal government that it should not pay to outfit schools with weapons. And it would also undermine efforts by Congress to restrict the use of federal funding on guns. … But the department is eyeing a program in federal education law, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, that makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases. That omission would allow [DeVos] to use her discretion to approve any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bars such funding through legislative action.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Ohio State University announced just a three-game suspension for head football coach Urban Meyer, following an investigation into allegations that he mishandled multiple domestic abuse allegations leveled against a former assistant coach. (Will Hobson and Chuck Culpepper)
- The Pittsburgh Diocese has received about 50 new claims of abuse since the grand jury report was released last week. A diocese spokesman said that none of the allegations involve active clergy and that some of them date back to the 1940s. (CNN)
- A Pittsburgh high school has removed the words “Cardinal Wuerl” from its name after the Washington archbishop was accused in the grand jury report of helping to cover up sexual abuse. The Diocese of Pittsburgh said in a statement that Wuerl requested his name be removed from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School. (Michelle Boorstein)
- Los Angeles prosecutors said they are reviewing a second sexual assault case involving Kevin Spacey, the Oscar-winning actor who was first accused last year of sexual misconduct. More than 30 men have accused Spacey of making unwanted sexual advances toward them. (Reuters)
Hurricane Lane, a Category 4 storm, is closing in on Hawaii. Most computer models predict the storm, which is carrying winds of up to 145 mph, will not make a direct hit on the islands, but there is a small chance of landfall in Maui or even Oahu. (Jason Samenow)
The Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — who was rumored earlier this month to have been killed in airstrikes — appeared in a video marking the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. Baghdadi referenced recent developments in the Syrian war and escalating U.S.-Turkey tensions, indicating he was alive at least until very recently. (Liz Sly)
Trump nominated Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a veteran Marine officer, to head U.S. Central Command. If confirmed, McKenzie would replace Gen. Joseph Votel in overseeing ongoing wars across the Middle East. (Missy Ryan)
- Tunisia’s capital city voted to elect a female mayor, Souad Abderrahim, in its first-ever mayoral election last month. Her rise has been hailed as a breakthrough for women's rights in the region and reflects an attitudinal shift among many younger and more progressive voters. (Sudarsan Raghavan)
- Human Rights Watch said Saudi Arabia intends to seek the death penalty against a female human rights activist for the first time. Israa al-Ghomgham, an advocate for the country's Shiite Muslim minority, faces charges that include “attempting to inflame public opinion” and “filming protests and publishing on social media,” according to the group. (CBS News)
- Scientists have discovered the bones of a 13-year-old girl whose mother was a Neanderthal and whose father was a Denisovan. The discovery marks the first known example of two different branches of the human family tree producing a child. (Sarah Kaplan)
-- Democratic candidates in critical districts have largely refrained from threatening Trump’s impeachment — knowing such remarks could backfire and send Trump voters running straight to the polls. Michael Scherer reports: “Party leaders encouraged candidates and elected members to talk instead about demanding protection for the ongoing Justice Department investigations of Trump and his allies, offering a clear sign that they feel confident that grass-roots energy against Trump will show up at the polls without the need for a divisive rallying cry from the stump. [Nancy Pelosi] sent a letter to her caucus members asking them to keep speaking about economic issues, while also urging them to call out what she described as the ‘cesspool of self-enrichment, secret money and ethical blindness’ that exists in Washington under unified Republican rule. … Their fears are that an impeachment debate would distract from other goals, while at the same time alienating the very voters they need to win competitive districts. ‘I don’t want to see a two-year distraction,’ said Susan Wild, a Democrat who is favored to win a key Republican-held House seat in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. ‘I think, honestly, impeachment proceedings would obviously derail getting other things done in Congress.’ Republicans, by contrast, eagerly warned about the danger of a Democratic impeachment push as they tried to increase fear, and thus turnout, among Trump’s most loyal voters.”
-- Senior GOP leaders are privately encouraging vulnerable incumbents to speak out about Trump’s alleged wrongdoing. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin and Nicholas Fandos report: “By urging some candidates to speak out or at least stay silent, Republican leaders who gravely fear losing control of the House risked opening the first significant rift between the Trump White House and the Republican-controlled Capitol. ‘Anybody who says this is not disturbing is not being honest,’ [Rep. Tom Cole], an Oklahoman and the former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, adding, ‘so my advice to any candidate would be: Keep your powder dry and don’t rush to attack or defend anybody because you just don’t know enough to have a reaction that you can still defend three months from now.’ On cue, Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, called the accumulation of Trump-related scandals a ‘sad chapter in our country’s politics’ and said that ‘no one is above the law.’”
-- A new NBC News-Marist poll shows Democrat Beto O'Rourke has pulled within four points of Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in the Texas Senate race. NBC's Carrie Dann reports: “O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso who has ignited Democratic hopes with his impressive fundraising, has 45 percent support among registered voters compared with Cruz’s 49 percent. Six percent of voters remain undecided. While both candidates have largely consolidated their bases — with O’Rourke capturing the support of 90 percent of Democrats and Cruz securing 91 percent of Republicans — independents in the state are equally split: Forty-six percent of them back O’Rourke, while 45 percent support Cruz.”
-- A Fox News poll gives Democrats an 11-point edge on the generic ballot. From Fox News’s Dana Blanton: “Several findings point to the potential for a blue map in November: [Trump’s] job rating remains underwater. Republicans alone say the economy is in positive shape. The GOP tax law is less popular (40 percent favorable) than Obamacare (51 percent favorable). The Republican Party is less popular (39 percent favorable) than the Democratic Party (50 percent favorable). Optimism about life for the next generation of Americans is down eight points from last year. There is greater enthusiasm to vote in the midterms among out-of-power Democrats.”
-- GOP congressional candidates in Virginia have sought to distance themselves from the party's Senate nominee, Corey Stewart. Antonio Olivo reports: "[GOP candidate Thomas Oh], who disagrees with Stewart’s hard line on immigration and his desire to preserve Confederate monuments, has asked volunteers to keep his campaign materials at a distance from Stewart’s signs and palm cards . . . Several Republicans candidates have opted against campaigning with Stewart, telling the Post that they prefer to 'run our own campaign. . . . Heavy Republican donors and state party leaders have largely abandoned his campaign, leaving Stewart with roughly $143,000 in available funds compared to [Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine’s] $6 million . . . "
-- Trump will travel to Ohio tomorrow to headline the state GOP’s annual dinner, which Republican Gov. John Kasich will not attend. From Seung Min Kim: “The governor said at a news conference earlier this week that he plans instead to take one of his twin daughters to college. His no-show Friday is far from a surprise, considering Kasich — who ran against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — continues to battle the president regularly and is considering challenging him in 2020.”
THE SUPREME COURT:
-- Senate Democrats are exploring whether Brett Kavanaugh crossed any lines by leaking information to the press in the 1990s, while working on Ken Starr’s wide-ranging independent counsel investigation of Bill Clinton. Tom Hamburger, Robert Barnes and Robert O'Harrow Jr. report: “Interviews with those who dealt with Kavanaugh at the time and documents relating to his confirmation show the nominee to be a savvy Washington source — a go-to member of Starr’s team who dealt with conspiracy theorists about the Clintons and the death of aide Vincent Foster and found ways to defend the investigation’s integrity against broadsides from the White House. Now Senate Democrats are exploring whether Kavanaugh crossed a line in his private communications with outsiders and revealed grand-jury testimony related to Foster’s suicide or other matters … Kavanaugh, in a questionnaire submitted to the Judiciary Committee last month, acknowledged that he had been a source for several books written about the Starr investigation. In addition, ‘I have also spoken to reporters on background as appropriate or as directed,’ he said.”
A federal judge in D.C. has ordered the release of a sealed 1999 report on alleged grand-jury leaks in Starr’s office, saying that the 62-page report must be made public no later than Friday afternoon: “Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth J. Shapiro had written earlier in the day that the report ‘investigates allegations of wrongdoing but ultimately finds no violations of anything within the Special Master’s investigative mandate.'"
-- Senate Democrats argued Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings should be delayed in light of Michael Cohen’s conviction. From John Wagner, Mike DeBonis and Gabriel Pogrund: “Democrats, who have been seeking leverage to slow down Kavanaugh’s consideration, argued that a new justice could be forced to decide questions directly relating to Trump, including whether he must comply with a subpoena from prosecutors and whether he can be indicted while in office. ‘It is unseemly for the president of the United States to be picking a Supreme Court justice who could soon be effectively a juror in a case involving the president himself,’ [Sen. Chuck Schumer] (D-N.Y.) said during a floor speech. … The Democratic demands were met with immediate rejections by White House officials and Senate Republicans, who said the ongoing Trump investigation was not connected to the Kavanaugh nomination and that hearings would begin as planned Sept. 4.”
-- “When the Supreme Court Lurches Right,” by the New York Times Magazine’s Emily Bazelon: “Assuming Kavanaugh votes as his record suggests, the court will move to the right on several important fronts, even as the country’s demographics predict a shift of the electorate to the left, with more young voters and voters of color. Several priorities of the conservative legal movement already conflict with public opinion. The movement’s biggest target is Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that identified access to abortion as a constitutional right, Yet a poll in July by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showed an all-time high in public support for the decision, with 71 percent saying that Roe should not be overturned. … Because of lifetime appointments, it’s possible for such disconnects between the electorate and the Supreme Court to last for years or even decades.”
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- White House officials and GOP lawmakers are trying to use the murder of Mollie Tibbetts in an effort to refocus the national conversation on illegal immigration -- and away from the convictions of Trump's former associates. A 24-year-old Mexican national has been charged with the murder of the University of Iowa student. Katie Mettler, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., and Nick Miroff report: “Fox News led its website with a package on the case headlined, ‘Monster Down the Road,’ and [Corey Lewandowski] drew attention to her death on Twitter. ‘We MUST stop illegals from coming to our country and killing innocent people — this is non negotiable,’ Lewandowski wrote.”
At the beginning of Wednesday’s press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders highlighted Tibbetts’s death, rather than addressing the convictions of Manafort or Cohen. “Sadly, the individual believed to be responsible for the murder is an illegal immigrant,” Sanders said, “making this an unfortunate reminder of why we need to strengthen our broken immigration laws.”
-- “[The official White House Twitter account also released] a video that showed parents describing how their children were killed by undocumented immigrants,” Taylor Telford reports. “Another video was released a few hours later, of [Trump] invoking Tibbetts death as evidence for a need of an immigration crackdown [during a rally in West Virginia].”
For 34 days, investigators searched for 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts. Yesterday, an illegal alien, now charged with first-degree murder, led police to the cornfield where her body was found.— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 22, 2018
The Tibbetts family has been permanently separated. They are not alone. pic.twitter.com/BBskwHEJoU
-- A member of Tibbetts’s extended family tweeted a scathing condemnation of partisans politicizing her distant cousins's death, saying the family is “not so . . . small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals.” “It was a tweet from [conservative commentator Candace Owens] that sent Sam Lucas [over the edge],” per Telford. "‘I was just like, ‘Holy cow, my family just lost a member and this is the immediate response,’ Lucas said. … Before she sent the tweets, Lucas said she checked with her father and grandmother to see how they felt about the way her cousin’s death was being portrayed. She’d also seen a Facebook post from Tibbetts’s aunt [urging] people to remember that ‘evil comes in every color.’ But ultimately, Lucas was just trying to voice her own frustration …” “He did happen to be a person who was here without documentation, but that has nothing to do with the fact that this man is a demon and an evil man who took the life of Mollie,” Lucas said.
-- Trump and Republican leadership hope a focus on immigration issues can help them pick up seats in November. David Nakamura and Sean Sullivan report: “Republican candidates are joining the White House’s campaign to offer public support for [ICE], warn of the dangers of the Salvadoran MS-13 gang and highlight sensational crimes involving undocumented immigrants. The aim is to draw a sharp contrast with Democrats over enforcement of border control laws. … But it could pose risks for a party that has controlled the White House and Congress for nearly two years and faces pressure from voters to demonstrate progress on the Republican governing agenda. In rapidly diversifying swaths of the Mountain West and the Southeastern states like Florida and Georgia, some Republicans also fear the party could do lasting damage to its prospects in national elections if it does not temper its rhetoric.”
-- The bigger picture: Trump is using “national security” as a means of justifying a growing list of controversial actions and policies — ranging from his decision to strip former government officials of their security clearances to his short-lived family separation policy along the U.S. border. Anne Gearan reports: “To hear [Trump] tell it, America’s national security is facing threats from far beyond the usual list of enemies … Trump’s emphasis on securing national borders and rolling back immigration was always wrapped in the argument that the nation would be safer — from crime, drugs and low-wage-job stealers. But in office, Trump has carried the notion further than his campaign rhetoric and further than other presidents, said Philip Zelikow, a [University of Virginia professor] who served in five administrations. ‘The big thing here, the big phenomenon, is the persistent growth of presidential power because of Congress’s inability or unwillingness to act on its latent power’ to set priorities or constrain the White House, Zelikow said. … And under Trump, that trend has expanded further, he said, ‘to trade, which is the constitutional prerogative of Congress. That is new.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Senate Democrats took to Twitter to say they will not meet with Kavanaugh in light of Cohen's guilty plea:
I have cancelled my meeting with Judge Kavanaugh. @realDonaldTrump, who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal matter, does not deserve the courtesy of a meeting with his nominee—purposely selected to protect, as we say in Hawaii, his own okole.— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) August 22, 2018
I will not take a meeting with Brett Kavanaugh. He has been nominated by someone implicated, and all but named as a co-conspirator, in federal crimes.— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) August 22, 2018
His nomination is tainted and should be considered illegitimate.
Other senators demanded that Kavanaugh's hearings must be delayed to sort out the president's involvement in the conspiracy:
In light of yesterday’s events, the Senate should delay hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. There must be checks and balances on this President.— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) August 22, 2018
This President is an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony criminal investigation and should not have the ability to appoint someone to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh's hearing should be delayed until the investigation is resolved. pic.twitter.com/XosxY9DQ9q— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 22, 2018
Mitch McConnell ignored questions about the Cohen news, per a Bloomberg News reporter:
LOOOOOONG silence after McConnell was asked on escalator his reaction on Cohen/Manafort news, possible impact on the election, then in hallway whether he still supports Mueller and whether Mueller's work should be protected.— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) August 22, 2018
He then boarded the elevator.
The doors closed.
Trump returned to his old lines about the Mueller probe:
The only thing that I have done wrong is to win an election that was expected to be won by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. The problem is, they forgot to campaign in numerous states!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
NO COLLUSION - RIGGED WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
The GOP's talking points about Cohen repeated Trump's assertions of “no collusion”:
Talking points from the Republican Party this AM on what Trump defenders/surrogates should say on TV, per GOP source. pic.twitter.com/k7foHpkdHN— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) August 22, 2018
A former GOP presidential nominee and current Senate candidate expressed confidence in the rule of law:
The events of the last 24 hours confirm that conduct by highly-placed individuals was both dishonorable and illegal. Also confirmed is my faith in our justice system and my conviction that we are a nation committed to the rule of law.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) August 22, 2018
A Business Insider editor questioned Trump's defense of the payments Cohen issued:
An NBC News correspondent compared the Cohen charges to Bill Clinton's impeachment crisis:
So what saved Clinton in 1998? Yes, it was that his party stuck with him and Republicans couldn’t get a 2/3 Senate vote to convict. But why did Democrats stick with him in the first place? The answer there boils down to: public opinion.— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) August 22, 2018
The story of ’98 was of the political world waiting for a public backlash against Clinton that never came – not in January when the Lewinsky story broke; August when Clinton admitted it; or September when Starr formally accused him of crimes: pic.twitter.com/UEnXwHCm4u— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) August 22, 2018
From a Politico reporter:
in the midst of all this, everyone has just internalized that the president had affairs with a porn star and Playboy model (right after his wife gave birth to his son), and then paid for their silence. Now it's just a back and forth about bank accounts and what's legal.— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) August 23, 2018
HuffPost's Washington bureau chief noted that Trump has still not released his tax returns:
Two of Trump’s former aides have been convicted of tax fraud. And Trump is outraged that authorities would go after a 12-year-old tax offense. I wonder why the president hasn’t released his tax returns yet. Hm. Mystery. https://t.co/c0A85cpVzu— Amanda Terkel (@aterkel) August 22, 2018
A New York Times writer joked about Trump's “legal advice”:
yeah, everybody knows that for top-quality service you go to Rudy Giuliani https://t.co/mTN0Fakg7P— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) August 22, 2018
Trump also instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over Twitter to “closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures” shortly after Fox News host Tucker Carlson did a segment on the issue:
I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
Isaac Stanley-Becker explains: “[Carlson] earlier Wednesday had railed against plans by South Africa’s ruling party to pursue constitutional changes allowing the government to redistribute land without compensation. The measure is designed to redress racial inequalities that have persisted nearly a quarter-century after the end of apartheid in 1994. The episode represented a case study in how the president runs his administration. He seized on accusations leveled by Fox — accusations that echo talking points used by white-nationalist groups.”
The South African government responded to Trump's tweet:
A presidential historian uncovered a photo of a former Texas governor with two presidents:
John Connally and two friends, Houston, 1989: pic.twitter.com/1oM4mzutLf— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) August 22, 2018
And the communications director for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) shared a photo of a T-shirt at Nats Park:
-- “Kimberly Guilfoyle was once half of a liberal power couple. Now she’s basically a Trump,” by Sarah Ellison and Dan Zak: “In a previous life, Guilfoyle hobnobbed with the Pelosi family and was a trusted adviser to [then-husband Gavin Newsom]. Fourteen years later, after an amicable divorce … and long run at Fox News, Guilfoyle has made it to the doorstep of the White House — as a conservative cheerleader for [Trump], the new romantic interest of his eldest son, and an opening act for [Mike Pence] on a promotional ‘Make America Great Again’ tour[.] She was on the phone with Newsom recently … and playfully threatened to bring Don Jr. to the West Coast to campaign against him. Then she put the two men on the phone with each other, because how funny would that be? They made a joke about their mutual reliance on hair product, she says. ‘Gav’s hair is slicked back,’ she explains helpfully, ‘and Don’s hair is slicked back.’ … Her trajectory might appear baffling, but it aligns with the mind-bending physics of the Trump era, in which ideology is second to notoriety, allowing peripheral performers proximity to the presidency.”
-- New York Times, “A New Wife, a Secret Past and a Trail of Loss and Blood,” by Michael Wilson: “A young man wearing a baseball cap sat alone in his convertible at the drive-through lane of a Dunkin’ Donuts here, the top down on a warm October afternoon, waiting to order Munchkins and coffee. He did not notice, from behind, the approach of a man carrying a baseball bat. The stranger smashed the bat into the back of the driver’s head and ran away. The driver, dazed and bleeding, lurched his car out of the line and crashed into another vehicle on Bergen Boulevard. . . . The path to that drive-through begins in familiar territory: a lonely older man with some money in the bank and a younger woman who would come to separate the two.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort Hand Rachel Maddow Second Best Stats Ever,” from Deadline: “Trump’s really bad Tuesday was one of Rachel Maddow’s best days ever. [The Rachel Maddow Show] was Tuesday’s most watched cable program. Maddow’s 9 PM program scored 3.893 million viewers, 881K of them in the 25-54 age bracket. Maddow pounded her 9 PM cable news competitors [by] both metrics, including perennial frontrunner Hannity on FNC (3.259M, 644K) and CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time (1.826M, 643K). It was Maddow’s second highest rated day ever, behind only her much-lampooned March 16, 2017 program when she scored Trump’s 2005 tax return document, and attracted 4.13 million viewers, with 1.4M of them in the news demo.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“US stock market sets record-long bull run,” from Fox Business: “U.S. stocks turned in a lackluster performance Wednesday, but this session goes down in the record books as the day that marked the longest bull market run in history. The current bull market began on March 9, 2009, when the S&P 500 was at 676 points, hard hit by the Great Recession. Nine and-a-half years later, and the S&P 500 has rallied about 323 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite has been the biggest winner, with a 611 percent gain, a clear testament to the strength of the tech sector. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has appreciated about 300 percent. ... As the bull market has aged there have been some concerns that it would run out of steam. But, many believe it has plenty of room to run."
Trump will participate in a roundtable on the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act. He has no other events on his public schedule.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump was asked if the press is the enemy of the people: “No, not at all. But the fake news is,” Trump said in his Fox News interview. “And the fake news is comprised of — it’s a lot. It’s a big chunk, okay? Somebody said, ‘What’s the chunk?’ I said, ‘80 percent.’ It’s a lot. It’s a lot. If I do something well, it’s not reported. Other than in the 20 percent.” (John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Today’s sunshine foretells several days of dry weather in D.C. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine is unchallenged today as much drier air (dew points in the 50s) works its way into the area on refreshing breezes from the northwest. Despite the sun, highs only top out in the upper 70s to low 80s.” (The District has already reached its average yearly rainfall with four months left in the year.)
-- The Nationals beat the Phillies 8-7. (Chelsea Janes)
-- The Maryland General Assembly held a closed-door hearing on the sexual harassment accusations against one of its members. Erin Cox reports: “At least five women have said they were interviewed by an independent investigator this spring about an alleged pattern of misconduct by Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore City), a veteran legislator and chair of the Baltimore City delegation. Anderson, who attended the hearing in Annapolis, has denied wrongdoing. . . . Wednesday’s six-hour session of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics marks one of the final steps in a confidential process...”
-- Arlington National Cemetery closed for more than five hours yesterday because of a bomb threat. From Dana Hedgpeth: “The threat remains under investigation.”
-- A Maryland police officer pleaded guilty to misconduct in office after allegedly stealing a vacuum cleaner, instant oatmeal and two boxes of condoms during his off-duty security job at a Walmart store. (Dan Morse)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Cameras on the International Space Station captured the breadth of Hurricane Lane:
Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2002:
Gwendolyn Williams described how she is still dealing with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey a year after the storm:
And The Post's Department of Satire addressed the hype around the potential Space Force: