With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump’s own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, distanced himself from his client’s suggestion that it “almost ought to be illegal” for “flippers” to get plea deals in exchange for their testimony. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has kept a stiff upper lip as the president repeatedly sought to humiliate him over the past 18 months, forcefully responded as Trump questioned his loyalty. And even though he is unlikely to be indicted, many experts believe the president may have inadvertently confessed to breaking campaign finance law with his latest account of how he reimbursed Michael Cohen for paying hush money so two of his alleged mistresses would stay silent before the 2016 election.

That’s just some of the fallout from a 12-minute interview that aired Thursday morning on “Fox and Friends.” It was Trump’s most problematic sit-down since he told NBC’s Lester Holt last year that the Russia investigation was indeed on his mind when he fired James Comey as FBI director — undercutting the official explanation from White House officials.

It underscored why Trump’s legal team has become so determined to stop special counsel Bob Mueller from getting access, specifically demanding that questions related to potential obstruction of justice be off limits in any presidential interview. Trump’s lawyers say they’re afraid Mueller will lay “a perjury trap,” but the Fox hit shows Trump probably doesn’t need to be coaxed like some bear in the backwoods of Maine with doughnuts. He seems perfectly capable of entangling himself in potential legal and political jeopardy with little prompting.

“The headline bounty is proof that Trump is either too clueless or too reckless to understand the implications of his own words,” writes media critic Erik Wemple. “Whatever the case, his interviewer needs only to place topics before him, and let the tape roll.”

Trump’s remarks on Fox came in response to softballs from host Ainsley Earhardt. Among the questions she posed: “How are you doing? … How is our country's first lady doing? How are your children? … What do you say to those who disagree with your immigration plans? … If the Democrats take back power, do you believe they will try to impeach you? … Is the press the enemy of the people? … What grade do you give yourself so far?”

“I give myself an A ,” he replied.

It seems unlikely that Andrew Weissmann, a dogged prosecutor on Mueller’s team who was formerly chief of the criminal fraud section at the Justice Department, would ask the president to give himself a letter grade. Mueller’s team would undoubtedly ask more targeted questions and press harder for answers. Trump also probably wouldn’t know exactly what they know ahead of time, whether from documents or interviews with other cooperating witnesses.

-- The buzziest part of the interview was Trump’s riff against the routine practice of prosecutors giving criminals more lenient sentences if they cooperate. “It’s called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal,” the president said. “They just make up lies, I’ve seen it many times. … It's not fair because if … somebody defrauded a bank and he's going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail, but if you can say something bad about Donald Trump … you'll go down to two years or three years, which is the deal (Cohen) made. In all fairness to him, most people are going to do that, and I've seen it many times.”

Trump praised Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, for not cooperating with the government. “I've had many friends involved in this stuff,” Trump added, an acknowledgment that it’s hard to imagine other presidents making. “I know all about flipping. For 30 (to) 40 years, I’ve been watching flippers. Everything’s wonderful, and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is — or as high as you can go.”

Giuliani made a name for himself in the 1980s as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, the same office that brought the charges against Cohen this week. Many of his highest-profile victories during the years before he became mayor of the Big Apple were only possible because of so-called flippers. “When it’s done right, it’s fine,” Giuliani told Carol D. Leonnig. “It’s one of the tools prosecutors use. Then it gets tested by a jury. You can’t stop that.”

-- Michael Gerson, a top aide in George W. Bush’s White House, compares what’s transpired this week to Nixon White House counsel John Dean’s bombshell congressional testimony in June 1973. “There is, again, a cancer on the presidency,” Gerson writes in today’s newspaper.

“Dean famously testified about Nixon’s obstruction of justice,” Jonathan Chait adds in New York Magazine. “Nobody claims Dean lied about Nixon. The sin in Trump’s eyes is that he flipped, violating the omerta. Trump even uses Mafia lingo, ‘rat,’ to describe Dean’s cooperation with law enforcement [in a Sunday tweet]. … It is obviously quite rare to hear a high-ranking elected official openly embrace the terminology and moral logic of La Cosa Nostra. But Trump is not just a guy who has seen a lot of mob movies. He has worked closely with Mafia figures throughout his business career.

Like a mobster, Trump takes an extremely cynical view of almost every moral principle in public life, assuming that everybody in politics is corrupt and hypocritical,” Chait observes. “Since the greatest threat to a mafia don’s business is that subordinates will betray him, he typically surrounds himself with family members, even if they are not the smartest or best criminals. Trump has accordingly surrounded himself with his children, or demonstrated loyalists who would have trouble finding remotely comparable jobs at another business.”

-- Trump’s view of loyalty is a key factor driving his anger toward Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse his campaign in 2016. “Mr. President,” Earhardt said on Fox, “a lot of your supporters are frustrated with the DOJ [and] with Jeff Sessions. There are rumors that you're going to fire him after the midterms …” Without directly answering, the president said: “You know, the only reason I gave him the job is because I felt loyalty.”

Trump faulted the nation’s chief law enforcement officer for not “taking over” the Justice Department and grumbled, as he often has, that Sessions agreed to recuse himself from the investigation after revelations that he had not been honest during his Senate confirmation hearing about contacts with Russian agents. Trump said on Fox, “What kind of man is this?!”

Sessions issued this formal statement in response: “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” he said in a news release. “I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda …”

-- Another element of the Fox interview that was widely picked up was Trump’s claim that he didn’t know about Cohen’s hush money payments until “later on” and did not reimburse him with campaign money. “They didn't come out of the campaign, they came from me,” he said. “Almost everybody that runs for office has campaign violations. But what Michael Cohen pleaded to weren't even campaign related.  They weren't crimes. … You know, campaign violations are considered not a big deal, frankly.”

Here are some of the ensuing headlines:

  • Business Insider: “Trump appears to have a misunderstanding of campaign-finance law, and may have inadvertently admitted to breaking the law as a result.”
  • Vox: “Trump seems to confess to campaign finance violations.”
  • Newsweek: “Trump just admitted to a federal crime in ‘Fox & Friends’ interview, Obama ethics chief says.”
  • CNN: “The 36 most outrageous lines in Trump's Fox News interview.”

-- For decades, Trump has obsessed over magazine covers with his face on them. They hang all over his office in Trump Tower. There will be some doozies on newsstands next week that he might not like.

Time magazine depicts the president treading water:

The New Yorker shows the president being chased by bloodhounds:

WHAT EXACTLY WAS IN THE SAFE?

-- Federal prosecutors granted immunity to National Enquirer publisher and American Media CEO David Pecker in exchange for his testimony about Cohen and Trump’s involvement in two 2016 hush-money payments to the president's alleged mistresses. The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Hong and Lukas I. Alpert report: “Prosecutors in the Cohen investigation have indicated they won’t proceed with criminal charges against either Mr. Pecker or Dylan Howard, chief content officer of American Media, for their participation[.] Tuesday’s charging documents against Mr. Cohen revealed a closer level of coordination between American Media and the Trump campaign than previously known. … Prosecutors said that in August 2015 … Mr. Pecker offered to help Mr. Cohen find negative stories about Mr. Trump’s relationships with women and arrange for [a so-called ‘catch and kill].’”

-- The National Enquirer kept a safe containing damaging documents on hush-money payments and other stories that it killed on Trump’s behalf. The AP’s Jeff Horwitz reports: “Several people familiar with the National Enquirer's parent company … said the safe was a great source of power for [Pecker]. The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities' catch-and-kill deals … By keeping celebrities' embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return. But after [Karen McDougal's catch-and-kill deal was revealed], those assets became a liability. ... Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and [Howard] removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump's inauguration … It was unclear whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.”

The Enquirer’s efforts to kill negative Trump stories extended way beyond the 2016 campaign: “Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC's reality show ‘The Apprentice.’ In 2010, at Cohen's urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. With Cohen's involvement, the publication began questioning [Obama's] birthplace and American citizenship in print.”

-- The New York attorney general is planning to open a criminal tax investigation into Cohen. David A. Fahrenthold reports: “Attorney General Barbara Underwood has asked the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance to make a referral on Cohen, an administrative step that would allow her office to investigate him for possible violations of state tax law.”

-- The Manhattan district attorney’s office is also weighing possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials. The New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum reports: “A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to [Stormy Daniels] … [Two] officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed. State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.”

TRUMP CONSIDERING A PARDON FOR MANAFORT:

-- Rudy Giuliani said that the president recently sought advice from his legal team on the possibility of pardoning former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other aides who have been ensnared in Mueller’s investigation. Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey report: “Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone linked to the investigation … saying Trump should at least wait until [Mueller] has concluded his probe. Giuliani said the president agreed and did not push the issue further. ‘He said yes,’ Giuliani said. ‘He agreed with us.’ Giuliani said Trump was seeking advice in the wake of a spate of pardons he granted earlier this summer. Some experts have argued Trump could expose himself to more legal danger [by issuing pardons] … because Mueller is examining the president’s own conduct and whether he sought to obstruct justice.

“The exact timing and nature of the pardon discussion is unclear. A senior administration official said the president discussed the pros and cons of granting pardons to Manafort and others … ‘a few weeks ago.’ Giuliani initially said he and Trump had the conversation ‘three to five weeks ago’ but later corrected his statement to say he believed they discussed [it in June]. Giuliani clarified in a follow-up call … that his conversation with Trump was a general discussion about potential pardons for a range of people … including but not limited to Manafort.”

Inside the West Wing, the prospect of a Manafort pardon has been met with “near universal opposition,” per Carol and Josh: "[John Kelly, Don McGahn and attorney Emmet T. Flood] are all opposed. Aides are trying to keep Trump from even discussing the matter … Asked about a pardon, one senior White House official said: ‘What does it accomplish? You pardon him, it doesn’t get rid of the Mueller probe, it causes you more headaches, he still has another trial, you have more Republicans coming after you.’”

--Trump’s consideration of pardons, while he praises associates who don’t cooperate with investigations and help those who praise him, also could have a chilling effect, law enforcement officials said,” per Josh, Felicia Sonmez and Ann E. Marimow. “Without consulting Justice officials, the president previously pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, the immigration hard-liner convicted of criminal contempt of court, and conservative firebrand Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws. ‘The president has not a whit of respect for institutions, whether it’s the DOJ or the Fed or the FBI,’ said one former senior administration official. ‘If you are a threat to him, he is going to try to kill you.’ Trump, officials say, is not changing and does not see his conduct as problematic.”

-- A bipartisan bill requiring lobbyists to disclose criminal convictions passed the Senate. Elise Viebeck reports: “The measure from Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) passed by voice vote after [Manafort’s conviction]. … Introducing the bill in May, Manchin and Kennedy described it as a common-sense adjustment to current lobbying disclosure rules. Information about convictions for money laundering, tax evasion, embezzlement, illegal kickbacks and other crimes would be publicly available on lobbying disclosure and registration forms.”

SESSIONS IS ON THIN ICE, AS KEY REPUBLICANS STOP PROTECTING HIM:

-- Two powerful members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have been shielding Sessions gave air cover for Trump to fire him after Fox aired the interview. This is significant because a new AG who is not recused from the investigation could oversee Mueller’s work and rein in his probe.

-- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently golfed with Trump, said it’s “very likely” that the president will oust Sessions but urged him to wait until after the midterms to do so. “The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.” (Graham sung a different tune last July. “If Jeff Sessions is fired,” he said then, “there will be holy hell to pay.”)

-- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also shifted his position and announced he will now be able to find time to hold a confirmation hearing for a new attorney general this fall after the Supreme Court vacancy is filled. “Grassley said he was not advocating for a change at the Justice Department but simply responding to questions about timing,” Devlin Barrett, John Wagner and Seung Min Kim report. “Asked whether he still has confidence in Sessions, Grassley said: ‘Let’s put it this way, he’s a good friend.’

“Part of the disenchantment stems from a growing rift between Grassley and Sessions over Grassley’s legislation to change criminal justice policy. Sessions, whose views on law enforcement are shaped largely by 1980s-era mandatory-minimum sentences and harsh penalties for drug dealers, came out against the measure earlier this year, saying it ‘risks putting the very worst criminals back into our communities.’ Grassley has been willing to work with Democrats on legislation that would reduce prison sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders. He was furious that Sessions opposed his bill, one of his biggest legislative priorities… ‘It’s Grassley’s bill, and when the attorney general said he wouldn’t support it, Grassley said that was disloyal,’ said a person close to Sessions. ‘But … the attorney general isn’t going to be blackmailed.’”

-- Trump responded on Twitter this morning to Sessions’s statement asserting independence by encouraging him to prosecute his political opponents:

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been ousted from power by his own party in a dispute over reducing greenhouse gas emissions and implementing the Paris climate accord. A. Odysseus Patrick reports: “Turnbull, 63, was replaced by the country’s treasurer, Scott Morrison, a former tourism-industry lobbyist behind Australia’s tough refugee policy that left thousands of men, women and children in government-run centers in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island nation of Nauru for years. … Morrison is the fourth prime minister in five years, a period of political instability Australia has not experienced since the early 1900s. Analysts said the increasing polarization of political debate — a development seen in democracies around the world — had made governing harder for centrist leaders like Turnbull. … Turnbull wanted a plan to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to be enshrined in law as part of Australia’s agreement at the U.N. climate conference held in Paris in December 2015. Members of his party who prefer coal power stations over subsidies for wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy threatened to vote against the plan in Parliament, triggering a political crisis that rapidly escalated to two leadership challenges.”

-- Meanwhile in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is breaking with Trump over his move to roll back emission standards for coal-fired plants. Erin Cox reports: “Permits issued late last month for the three of the state’s seven coal-fired plants say that, starting in 2020, those plants will have to adhere to Obama-era environmental rules, not the laxer requirements endorsed by the current occupant of the White House.”

-- There's an excessive amount of rainfall on the Big Island and Maui as Category 3 Hurricane Lane inches toward the Hawaiian Islands. Jason Samenow reports: “Water from both torrential rainfall, exceeding 30 inches in some places, and battering waves, up to 25 feet on the south side of the islands, are likely to pose the biggest threat. The resulting flooding may prove devastating. The storm’s slow forward motion ‘greatly increases the threat for prolonged heavy rainfall and extreme rainfall totals,’ the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, based in Honolulu, said Thursday. ‘This is expected to lead to life-threatening flash flooding and landslides over all Hawaiian Islands.’”

-- One year after Hurricane Harvey tore into coastal Texas, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and causing damages in excess of $120 billion, a new survey finds that recovery efforts have stagnated: 42 percent of affected residents said they still have not received the help needed to rebuild their flood-ravaged homes, while 1 in 5 people who sustained damages in Harvey say their present living conditions are unsafe.  (Emily Wax-Thibodeaux)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) appeared to shift blame for his alleged mishandling of campaign funds, saying his wife Margaret handled his finances. “When I went away to Iraq in 2003, the first time, I gave her power of attorney. She handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress,” Duncan said. “She was also the campaign manager so whatever she did, that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure, but I didn’t do it.” (Fox News)
  2. Preliminary autopsy reports reveal that University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts was likely stabbed to death. Medical examiners listed the official cause of death as “multiple sharp force injuries” but declined to answer questions about the extent of her injuries or whether they have recovered a murder weapon. (Reuters)
  3. D.C. recorded its 100th homicide of 2018. Travis Barksdale, 25, of Northeast was fatally shot yesterday morning. There were 74 homicides recorded by this time in 2017, meaning there's been a 35 percent increase in 2018. (Peter Hermann)

  4. Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of eight murder victims scattered outside Cancun’s hotel zone. At least two of the victims were dismembered while others were found stuffed into plastic bags or discarded on the streets. The State Department said in an advisory that the string of homicides appear to be linked to local warring criminal groups but advised U.S. tourists to exercise “increased caution” while traveling. (Amy B. Wang)
  5. A Catholic priest was assaulted in his church by a man who allegedly said, “This is for all the little kids.” The attacker entered St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Merrillville, Ind., and threw Rev. Basil John Hutsko to the ground. He then started repeatedly slamming Hutsko's head into the floor, knocking him unconscious. (Meagan Flynn)
  6. Cancers linked to HPV have increased significantly in the United States over the past 15 years. In 2015, more than 43,000 people developed an HPV- associated cancer, compared to some 30,000 people in 1999, a new CDC report finds. And while vaccination rates have increased among adolescents, experts say a much sharper uptick is needed to combat HPV-linked cancers. (Laurie McGinley)
  7. Prosecutors in Hong Kong have accused an anesthesiologist and philanderer of killing his wife and daughter with a toxic yoga ball, which was pumped full of carbon monoxide and placed in the trunk of their car. Khaw Kim-sun, 53, was reportedly having an affair with one of his students, and grew outraged after his wife refused to grant him a divorce. The student allegedly helped him hatch the murderous plan. (Lindsey Bever)
  8. A Buddhist woman in Indonesia was sentenced to 18 months in prison this week for violating a blasphemy law. Her conviction has intensified an already heated debate about religious pluralism in the world’s largest majority-Muslim country. (Vincent Bevins)
  9. A massive new study found that the safest amount of alcohol to drink is none. Any amount of drinking was associated with health risks, according to the study, which was co-authored by 512 researchers from 243 institutions. “People should no longer think that a drink or two a day is good for you. What’s best for you is to not drink at all,” researcher Emmanuela Gakidou said. (Joel Achenbach)

  10. Amazon removed a book that included a blueprint for a 3-D-printed gun from its online store. A company spokesman said the book was moved for “violating our content guidelines.” (Meagan Flynn)

THE SUPREME COURT:

-- A new Fox News poll shows growing popular opposition to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. Fox News's Dana Blanton reports: “Forty-five percent would confirm Kavanaugh, while 46 percent oppose him . . . Last month, voters supported him by a 38-32 percent margin.  Many voters at that time, 30 percent, had no opinion on Kavanaugh’s nomination.  . . .  Since July, support for Kavanaugh is up 15 points among Republicans (was 70, now 85 percent), while opposition among Democrats is up 20 points (was 58, now 78 percent). There’s a gender gap too, as men (53 percent) are 15 points more likely than women (38 percent) to support his confirmation.”

-- Kavanaugh is not mentioned in a memo on press leaks during Ken Starr’s investigation into Bill Clinton. Tom Hamburger, Michael Kranish and Ann E. Marimow report: “The 1999 report, made public Thursday by the National Archives, cleared Starr’s office of allegations that it improperly leaked grand jury testimony. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee had urged its release in an effort to determine whether Kavanaugh was involved in such leaks. … The once-secret report, by Judge John Kern III, largely cleared Starr and his office of wrongdoing. The report has some redactions, but those appear to be references to a person who objected to its release. The National Archives said that person ‘is not Judge Kavanaugh.’”

-- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), considered a crucial swing vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, called her meeting with the federal judge yesterday “an important step.” From Gabriel Pogrund: “[Murkowski] said she and Kavanaugh had a substantive conversation in their first meeting. She said she looked forward to confirmation hearings next month to learn more. ‘What I am seeking is a Supreme Court Justice with the character, the intelligence, and the balance to impartially apply the law to the facts of the case,’ Murkowski said in a statement. ‘Today’s meeting represents an important step in my vetting process. That process, however, has not concluded.’”

CAMPAIGNS:

-- Trump endorsed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in Mississippi’s closely watched Senate race. From Sean Sullivan: “In a pair of late-afternoon tweets, Trump wrote that Hyde-Smith has helped him ‘put America First!’ and has his ‘complete and total Endorsement.’ Hyde-Smith was appointed earlier this year to succeed Republican Thad Cochran, a longtime senator who stepped down amid health problems. She is running in a special election that will be held on Nov. 6 … Also in the Mississippi race is Chris McDaniel, an insurgent conservative who has been hostile to Senate GOP leaders and nearly defeated Cochran in 2014. … Some Republicans have worried that if McDaniel, a polarizing figure, advances to a runoff against a Democratic candidate, the seat would be at risk of flipping from red to blue.”

-- Nancy Pelosi said she would not step down from her leadership role as long as Trump sits in the White House. The AP’s Lisa Mascaro reports: “‘This is not anything to make a big fuss over, it’s politics,’ Pelosi said … ‘I can take the heat and that’s why I stay in the kitchen.’ Pushing back on those who say her leadership position is in jeopardy, Pelosi all but dared her doubters to envision any other House Democrat sitting across the table to negotiate with Trump. ‘I have a following in the country that’s unsurpassed by anybody, unless they’re running for president,’ Pelosi said. Trump and the Republicans are eager to see her go, she said, ‘and I’m just not going to let them do that.’”

-- “Think Elizabeth Warren And Bernie Sanders Are The Same? She Doesn’t,” by BuzzFeed News's Ruby Cramer: “’What’s the difference between you and Bernie Sanders? Just four years ago, no one would have even thought to ask . . . For those on the left, the difference between Warren and Sanders has less to do with policy or ideology. Really, they say, it’s a question about progressive power — about two vastly different theories of change. It’s ‘the preacher vs. the teacher,’ as one former Sanders adviser put it. Now, when Warren gets the question, she has her answer ready. ‘He’s a socialist,’ she’ll say, ‘and I believe in markets.’ . . . Even some of her biggest supporters in the progressive community admit that the energy around Warren isn’t the same as it was four years ago … leading some progressives to ask if she missed her moment by forgoing a run in 2016.”

-- A consultant in Georgia who proposed closing two-thirds of polling places in majority-black Randolph County was fired. Vanessa Williams reports: “The move comes ahead of a scheduled Friday vote on the plan to close seven of nine polling places, requiring some residents in the rural county to travel up to 10 miles to vote at their new precincts. Michael Malone, who had been hired by the county last spring to run elections after the elections supervisor quit, had told elections officials that the polling places needed to be shuttered because they were not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.”

-- Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous received the endorsement of top state lawmakers, but the president of the Maryland Senate still seemed to keep his distance from the candidate. From Ovetta Wiggins: “‘What this is about is identifying the person to lead our state, guide our state and to make Maryland No. 1 again in terms of education,’ [Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert)] said during a short speech that largely focused on education and mentioned the Democratic nominee only once — and only by his last name. … Miller, who has previously raised concerns about Jealous’s candidacy and the cost of some of his policy proposals, largely kept his distance, standing more than five people away from Jealous before moving to the podium to make remarks, and quickly leaving the event when the Democratic nominee took questions from reporters.”

-- Michael Avenatti dropped in on the DNC’s annual meeting. David Weigel reports from Chicago: “First, the Los Angeles-based attorney stopped by a meeting about the party’s ethnic coalitions and updated DNC members on his legal work for undocumented immigrants separated from their families. Later, he walked into a meeting of the DNC Black Caucus, just as it wrapped up, and discussed how ‘guys who look like me’ had elected [Trump]. Between the meetings, Avenatti made some time to talk to reporters about how he might run for president. ‘I’ve never understood this idea of not shooting straight with people,’ Avenatti said. ‘You all know which candidates are likely to enter the race. You know what’s going on behind the scenes. Why don’t people just come out and say: Yeah, I’m considering running for president?’”

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- During a roundtable at the White House, Trump interjected after Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said that China poses the greatest long-term challenge to the U.S. “Not Russia?! Not Russia?!" Trump asked, with a smile.

-- Former government contractor Reality Winner was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to mailing a classified report about Russian interference to a news organization. Prosecutors said Winner’s sentence represents the longest ever imposed for a federal crime involving media leaks. (AP)

Trump complained this morning that this going to jail when Hillary Clinton did not:

-- A newly published study found that Russian trolls used social media platforms during the 2016 campaign to push divisive messaging on vaccines and other controversial public health issues. NBC News’s Ben Popken and Maggie Fox report: “Russia-linked social media bots pushed divisive speech and misinformation on Twitter on both sides of the vaccine debate, according to research led by George Washington University … ‘These trolls seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society,’ the study's authors said. The team of researchers … analyzed a database of Russian troll accounts [and found] that the accounts were ‘significantly more likely to tweet about vaccination than are average Twitter users.’ The researchers also found several tweets belonging to accounts that were identified as … being linked to [Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked troll farm]. An NBC News analysis of over a million tweets sent by identified Russian trolls … found over 1,000 examples of tweets that mention vaccines, often spreading divisive misinformation and discredited theories.”

-- A false alarm: The DNC said a suspected hacking attempt of its voter file database this week turned out to be a security test — reversing course one day after alerting the FBI to what party officials originally believed was an elaborate phishing scam. Ellen Nakashima reports: “The mix-up resulted from a state Democratic organization seeking to test employees’ ability to avoid falling prey to phishing attempts. The test was conducted at the behest of the Michigan Democratic Party, using ‘white-hat’ security personnel with the group DigiDems, who provided their services to create the mock site, a Democratic official said. The state party did not notify the national committee or NGP, the firm that hosts the voter database . . . Michigan party officials told the DNC on Wednesday afternoon that they had ordered the test. They were ‘a little embarrassed, but they did the right thing and told us right away,’ said a DNC official...”

-- The White House is holding up a Senate bill aimed at bolstering election security. Yahoo News’s Alexander Nazaryan reports: “The Secure Elections Act, introduced by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., in December 2017, had co-sponsorship from two of the Senate’s most prominent liberals, Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as well as from conservative stalwart Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and consummate centrist Susan Collins, R-Me. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was set to conduct a markup of the bill on Wednesday morning in the Senate Rules Committee, which he chairs. The bill had widespread support, including from some of the committee’s Republican members, and was expected to come to a full Senate vote in October. But then the chairman’s mark, as the critical step is known, was canceled, and no explanation was given.”

-- Representatives from some of the largest tech companies are expected to privately meet today to strategize about election security. BuzzFeed News’s Kevin Collier reports: “Last week, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, invited employees from a dozen companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Snapchat, to gather at Twitter’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco, according to an email … The meeting, the Facebook official wrote, will have a three-part agenda: each company presents the work they’ve been doing to counter information operations; a discussion period for problems each company faces; and a talk about whether such a meeting should become a regular occurrence.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he has tapped Ford executive Stephen Biegun to be his special envoy for North Korea. Biegun will join Pompeo on his trip to Pyongyang next week to resume high-level denuclearization negotiations with the rogue nation. John Hudson reports: “In an announcement at the State Department on Thursday, Pompeo said that [Biegun], the vice president of international governmental affairs at Ford, would handle day-to-day talks with Pyongyang … In choosing Biegun, Pompeo has continued a pattern set by [Trump] to award critical government jobs to people with private-sector experience at premier American companies. Pompeo predicted that Biegun, who also served [on Capitol Hill and in the Bush administration], would draw on his private-sector experience to assist him in his role as a senior diplomat. … Biegun is the third special envoy Pompeo has announced in recent days — breaking with predecessor Rex Tillerson, who sought to eliminate the position amid bipartisan complaints that the envoys “operate in a closed loop … and often fail to coordinate with the rest of the State Department.” Next week’s trip will mark the third time Pompeo has visited North Korea. He declined to say Thursday whether he planned to meet with Kim Jong Un during the visit.

-- Some of Trump’s advisers circulated a memo early last year accusing former Obama officials of executing “coordinated attacks” to undermine the new administration’s foreign policy. The New Yorker’s Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow report: “The memo claimed that the ‘communications infrastructure’ that the Obama White House used to ‘sell Obamacare and the Iran Deal to the public’ had been moved to the private sector, now that the former aides were out of government. It called the network the Echo Chamber and accused its members of mounting a coordinated effort ‘to undermine President Trump’s foreign policy’ through organized attacks in the press against Trump and his advisers. … Some of the same conspiracy theories expressed in the memo appear in internal documents from an Israeli private-intelligence firm that mounted a covert effort to collect damaging information about aides to President Obama who had advocated for the Iran deal. In May, 2017, that firm, Black Cube, provided its operatives with instructions and other briefing materials that included the same ideas and names discussed in the memo.”

-- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he opposed a U.S. offer to buy F-16 fighter jets. From the AP’s Jim Gomez: “Duterte scoffed Thursday night at the offer he said was made in a letter by Defense Secretary James Mattis, [Mike Pompeo] and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, which came after he was slammed by the U.S. for his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs. … During a televised speech in a military ceremony in southern Davao city, Duterte read what he said was the letter to him by the three U.S. Cabinet officials … The Philippines, however, doesn’t need the F-16s ‘and yet they dangled (them) before us after they humiliated us,’ Duterte said. ‘It would be utterly useless to buy it. But I need attack helicopters and small planes for the counterinsurgency.’”

-- Two Americans of Vietnamese descent were sentenced to 14 years in jail after a Ho Chi Minh City court found them guilty of attempting to overthrow the government. The AP reports: “James Nguyen and Angle Phan, alleged members of the California-based Provisional Central Government of Vietnam, were convicted of assigning group members to distribute anti-state leaflets, take over radio stations to broadcast anti-government messages and participate in anti-state protests, the official Vietnam News Agency said.”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- The Trump administration is deliberately slowing FBI vetting of refugee applications — an intentional attempt by White House immigration hard-liners to lower the number of refugees admitted to the United States, former administration officials say. NBC News’s Dan De Luce and Julia Ainsley report: “Former officials and aid organizations say the administration has overloaded the FBI and other government agencies with an array of procedures that have weighed down the bureaucracy and effectively delayed refugee admissions. … Refugee admissions have plunged to historic lows. The U.S. is on track to admit only about 20,000 — 21,000 refugees by the end of September, far below a ceiling set at 45,000 by administration officials last year. … Another former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the FBI’s slow pace was the main cause for the sharp drop in refugee admissions.”

-- Some immigration judges have been told to hold more hearings each day, which advocates fear could lead to more deportations. BuzzFeed News’s Hamed Aleaziz reports: “Judges across the country, in places like San Francisco; Arlington, Virginia; Memphis, and Dallas, recently received the instructions from assistant chief immigration judges, who supervise separate immigration courts, to schedule three merits hearings a day starting Oct. 1 … Advocates believe the move could be potentially disastrous for immigrants. During merits hearings, immigrants facing deportation provide evidence and call witnesses to back up their claims to remain in the country, such as arguing for asylum.”

-- Newly obtained emails revealed tense interagency debates over terminating certain immigrant groups’ temporary protected status (TPS). Nick Miroff reports: “The interagency emails … were provided to The Washington Post this week as lawyers prepared to file a new motion in their class-action lawsuit seeking to halt the termination of TPS protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador. The exchanges [show] … senior U.S. diplomats and experts at other federal agencies warning that such moves would have dire humanitarian consequences. The emails show officials at DHS agencies searched for ‘positive gems’ they could use to justify arguments that conditions in disaster-afflicted or war-torn countries had improved and that more than 300,000 TPS recipients living legally in the United States — some for as long as two decades — no longer needed protection from deportation.”

THE REST OF TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- Trump stoked fierce criticism after he endorsed a white nationalist conspiracy theory involving South Africa. From David Nakamura, John Hudson and Isaac Stanley-Becker: “Former U.S. diplomats and South African leaders denounced Trump’s declaration in a tweet late Wednesday that he had instructed [Mike Pompeo] to monitor the ‘large scale killing’ of white farmers and the government’s expropriations of their land. White-nationalist groups have for years spread false claims about the murder rates, assertions that have been widely debunked. … White nationalists in the United States and South Africa … hailed the president’s remarks. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, thanked Trump on Twitter and tweeted an image of a white woman holding a sign reading ‘Stop white genocide.’ Mike Peinovich, a far-right podcast host, called Trump’s endorsement ‘very big’ and said that ‘this is how we slowly chip away at the all-consuming anti-white discourse.’”

-- The Senate passed a massive spending bill aimed at avoiding a government shutdown at the end of September. Politico’s Sarah Ferris reports: “The package, an uncommon bipartisan truce to fund two-thirds of government operations, was strategically crafted to ward off a presidential veto. But the odds remain long that the legislation will even make it to the White House, with just 11 working days left for House and Senate lawmakers to merge opposing versions of the bills — and get Trump’s approval — before funding runs out on Sept. 30. … The two bills in the package … would fund the departments of Defense, Labor, Education and HHS. The legislation includes victories for both parties, like the largest military pay raise in nearly a decade and an expansion of programs to counter opioid addiction.”

-- Senate Democrats easily defeated an amendment from Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would have blocked federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Erica Werner reports: “Democrats [held] together unanimously despite the prospect of election-year attacks from Republicans over the issue. Those attacks arrived mere moments after the vote closed, with the National Republican Senate Committee blasting out releases attacking Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) for opposing Paul’s measure. … The vote on Paul’s amendment was 45 ‘yeas’ to 48 ‘nays,’ with moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joining Democrats in voting no.”

-- A Republican senator said Trump has endorsed the outline of a possible compromise on overhauling sentencing laws. Seung Min Kim reports: “The consensus came from a White House meeting earlier Thursday that included Trump, [Jeff Sessions] and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law who has taken up criminal-justice reform as a personal cause. ‘It’s not dead at all,’ an ecstatic Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said after getting a private readout of the meeting from Kushner … Lee, citing Kushner, said that while the major push on the issue would have to wait until after the midterms, Trump was nonetheless on board with the concepts of the compromise. He added: ‘We’re confident we can get the votes.’” But the Justice Department gave a seemingly conflicting account of the meeting, saying Trump “agreed that we shouldn’t support criminal justice reform that would reduce sentences.”

-- The Treasury Department is proposing a rule to prevent states from circumventing a GOP tax bill. Jeff Stein reports: “The law passed last fall limited the deduction taxpayers can take on their state and local taxes. Under the new law, taxpayers can take a deduction only on up to $10,000 in payments. … Several states have approved or are considering plans to let residents get around that cap, including by reclassifying the money they send to the government as charitable contributions instead of tax payments. But the new rule proposed Thursday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would undermine those state laws. The rule needs further federal review before being finalized.”

-- “One hates Trump. The other loves him. Two West Virginians wait for the president to come to town,” by Greg Jaffe and Jenna Johnson: “From the driver’s seats of their county school buses, longtime friends Paul Black and Paul Cochran have an almost identical view of the struggling community where they have lived nearly all of their lives. Twenty-four hours before [Trump] arrived for a rally in their hometown Tuesday night, Black and Cochran sat with colleagues at a graffiti-specked picnic table behind their bus terminal to commiserate, after what they all agreed was the worst first day of school ever. As always, the conversation was sprinkled with politics. Both Black, 60, and Cochran, 54, voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Since then their politics have diverged radically.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Reports about David Pecker caused this 2013 tweet to recirculate:

A lawyer for Karen McDougal, who said she received money from AMI to remain silent about her affair with Trump, reacted to reports of Pecker's immunity:

A Wall Street Journal reporter made this important observation:

A photo spread captured how the National Enquirer handled Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign:

Chelsea Clinton responded to the compilation of cover stories:

The Cincinnati Enquirer issued a clarification:

Mitch McConnell continues to ignore questions about the convictions of Trump's former top lawyer and campaign chairman:

A GOP congressman and former FBI agent criticized Trump's comments on flipping:

A former U.S. attorney who was fired by Trump compared the president's stance on flipping to his strong statements against MS-13:

From an LA Times reporter:

A Post columnist dissected Trump's insult directed toward the Mueller probe:

A Cook Political Report editor questioned Republicans' strategy of playing up the possibility of impeachment for the midterms:

A New York Times reporter contextualized Trump's South Africa comments:

GOP Sen. Bob Corker raised eyebrows with this explanation for Trump's South Africa tweet:

Another Republican senator corrected Trump's tweet:

An administration official expressed surprise about the backlash over migrant family separations to a New Yorker reporter:

A former senior staffer to Obama responded to the quote:

The RNC released a satirical schedule of the DNC's summer meeting:

Things got pretty rowdy at the DNC meeting, per a Post reporter:

The White House got a touch-up:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) appeared to cut it close for her flight back to Boston:

And Post reporters on Capitol Hill persevered through injuries:

GOOD READS:

-- “He saved JFK’s life during WWII — with the help of an SOS carved on a coconut,” by Jessica Contrera: “It was a coconut that sent William F. Liebenow on a mission to rescue the man who would become president. A tenacious Navy officer in World War II, Liebenow’s acts of heroism stretched from the waters of the South Pacific to the beaches of Normandy — evading the enemy, launching torpedoes, rescuing more than 60 men from a sinking ship on D-Day. But none of these were the tale of war that would come to define him. Everyone wanted to hear about the time he saved the life of John F. Kennedy. On Thursday, the story was remembered — coconut and all — as Liebenow, who died last year at age 97, was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Florida [GOP] candidate says alien abduction doesn’t define her,” from the AP: “U.S. House candidate Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera … is a longshot in the race for the Miami-area seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, [and is] perhaps best known for claiming that she was abducted by space aliens as a child. Yet last weekend, the Miami Herald endorsed her for the GOP nomination [out of a] field of nine candidates. In an interview, Rodriguez Aguilera said she is grateful for the endorsement and that her tale of kidnapping by aliens does not define her. Rodriguez Aguilera says she was taken aboard a spaceship as a young girl by blond extraterrestrials who resembled the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. She says they told her that the ‘center of the world’s energy is Africa’ and that thousands of non-human skulls were once discovered in a cave on the Mediterranean island of Malta. ... She also said she has been in touch with the aliens telepathically long after the abduction ..."

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Recent grad tries 'open carry' in Nashville after pro-gun photo went viral earlier this year,” from Fox News: “A Nashville woman whose college graduation photo of her carrying a gun went viral earlier this year is now garnering attention for openly carrying a firearm around the city, a report said Thursday.  Brenna Spencer, 22, had tweeted the photo in April of herself wearing a pink ‘Women for Trump’ T-shirt and lifting it to expose a handgun in her waistband. ‘I've heard from women saying I inspired them to take steps to defend themselves and get their concealed carry permits,’ Spencer told Nashville's Fox 17 News. ‘This was never what I planned although I love having a bigger platfrom and being able to empower women to protect themselves.’ This week, she walked around the Music City with her Smith & Wesson .380 openly, the station reported. ‘I definitely got some looks and did have some people comment or ask if it's legal. But really, I didn't have a whole lot of confrontation,’ Spencer said, adding that she was careful not to break open carry laws ... "

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump and the first lady will travel to Columbus, Ohio, to visit Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Trump will also host a roundtable with supporters and give a speech at the Ohio GOP state dinner before returning to Washington.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I stick to my guns when I believe in something.” — Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, a Florida GOP candidate who says she was kidnapped by aliens when she was 7. (On Sunday, she was endorsed by the Miami Herald.)

 

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

-- It will be a sunny, beautiful day in D.C. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s still darn comfortable! Please enjoy with a long lunch outside. (And a little bit of sunscreen, of course.) Just a tad warmer than yesterday, with highs in the low-to-mid 80s, but dew points should remain below the critical (for comfort) 60-degree mark. Clouds may be a no-show. A light southeast wind near 10 mph may be noticeable later in the afternoon. A-h-h! So nice.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Phillies 2-0. (Chelsea Janes)

-- Complaints about rats in the District are on track to hit an all-time high in 2018. Rachel Chason, John D. Harden and Chris Alcantara report: “Complaints to 311 about rodents in the nation’s capital reached an all-time high in 2017 — totaling 5,310, a 50 percent increase from 2016 — and are on track to increase in 2018. … In some of the city’s most densely populated areas, where trendy bars and restaurants have proliferated, complaints have increased at staggering rates: Shaw saw a 436 percent increase in complaints from 2014 to 2017, Columbia Heights a 449 percent increase and Capitol Hill a 430 percent increase. … They also installed solar state-of-the-art trash cans in ‘rat hot spots’ and provided grants to businesses that lease commercial trash compactors. Still, if the new trash that comes with new residents and new construction isn’t stored properly, that will mean more rats … ”

-- “‘Never seen it like this’: Meet D.C.’s rat rat, the person who has filed the most rodent complaints with the city,” by John D. Harden: “When Matt Kownacki bought his two-story home in May 2017, he noticed his yard was littered with burrows, crawling with unwanted, nocturnal neighbors. … Since 2017, Kownacki has called the District’s 311 nonemergency number at least 15 times — more than any other resident of the District, excluding apartment-dwellers and businesses. He contacted 311 at least eight times this year.”

-- Arlington Memorial Bridge will close to all traffic for one weekend in September. The bridge will shutter to all traffic from the evening of Sept. 14 through the morning of Sept. 17 to allow work crews to transport a crane to it. (Lori Aratani)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

National security adviser John Bolton was asked in Geneva whether Trump represents a “security risk” to the United States:

Fox News host Neil Cavuto accused Trump of focusing on the economy even as he creates a “moral bust”:

A memorial service was held for Mollie Tibbetts:

Kenyans marched through their capital to protest the arrest of lawmakers in neighboring Uganda:

And The Post checked in with how kids who were visiting the National Building Museum's Fun House exhibit had spent their summer: