With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo surprised his Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, by aggressively attacking her from start to finish during their debate on Wednesday night at Hofstra University.

In addition to a massive fundraising advantage, the most recent public poll — from Siena College — put Cuomo ahead by 35 points.

An internal poll conducted for Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) also showed him leading his primary challenger by 35 points three weeks ahead of the federal primaries in June. But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had Nixon’s endorsement, toppled the longtime boss of the Queens machine by 15 points.

Party leaders got another taste of the anti-establishment zeitgeist in Florida on Tuesday, where Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum won the Democratic primary for governor after trailing in every public poll. The front-runner he defeated, Gwen Graham, is the child of a former governor. Just like Cuomo.

Against this backdrop, the Democratic establishment from coast to coast — which the 60-year-old Cuomo personifies as much as Crowley or Graham — is running scared. Party pooh-bahs are pumped to ride the wave of progressive energy to power in November, but they’re also anxious about where it leads. Many of the savviest strategists in Democratic politics privately worry that they’re still in the opening phases of the liberal equivalent of the tea party movement, which destabilized the GOP in 2010 and laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s takeover. Who might be the Democratic Robespierre?

So it should surprise no one that the governor of America’s fourth-most-populous state is leaving nothing to chance as his Sept. 13 primary approaches. That’s why he came out swinging against Nixon, a democratic socialist who is best known for her role as Miranda on “Sex and the City.” The hour-long debate in Hempstead aired on New York CBS affiliates.

-- Cuomo has already migrated leftward on issues such as marijuana, paid family leave and the minimum wage. He didn’t position himself last night as a pragmatist — he referred to ICE agents as “thugs” at one point — so much as he sought to portray Nixon as an extremist with pie-in-the-sky ideas that would jack up people’s taxes and cause “mayhem.”

Cuomo said Nixon’s support for public employees having the right to go on strike might mean police officers off the street, trash uncollected and trains stranded in stations. “If you allow the public-sector unions to strike, teachers could go on strike,” he warned. “There would be no school! Children wouldn’t be educated! It would clearly be mayhem!”

Cuomo argued that Nixon’s proposal for universal health care would double the tax burden for New Yorkers and divert money from other popular programs. The idea “reminds me of the story of the doctor who says, ‘If you survive the operation, you’re going to have a long, healthy life,’ ” Cuomo said. “Nobody has done it successfully.” Nixon responded with a passionate case that health care is a human right and said New York could be a model that others follow.

During a dispute about whether the state or the city is to blame for problems on the Big Apple’s subway system, Cuomo lost his cool. “Can you stop interrupting?” he said. “Can you stop lying?” Nixon replied. “Yeah,” the governor countered, “as soon as you do.”

-- Alluding to her career as an actress, Cuomo said Nixon “lives in a world of fiction.” “I live in the world of fact,” he continued. “The job of governor … is not about advocacy. This is a real job.”

“Experience doesn’t mean that much if you’re not actually good at governing,” Nixon replied.

He accused her of not understanding how the legislative process worked and repeatedly noted that Republicans run the state Senate, which limits how much he can accomplish. She blamed him for the GOP being in control. “To change the campaign finance laws, you need something called the New York state legislature,” he said at one point, condescendingly. “You can’t just snap your fingers!”

-- To be sure, that’s tame compared with the 1966 California governor’s race. Facing a challenge from an actor named Ronald Reagan, Democratic Gov. Pat Brown — whose son Jerry now holds the same office — pointed out that John Wilkes Booth, who killed Abraham Lincoln, was also an actor.

Reagan, who spent most of his life as a Democrat, didn’t run for office until he turned 55. Nixon, a first-time candidate, is 52.

The Gipper’s early opponents in both the Republican establishment and the Democratic Party never took him sufficiently seriously because of his background before he got into politics. They dismissed him as a B-lister, mocked him for transitioning from film into the less-esteemed world of television and told countless jokes about his role as an ape’s sidekick in the campy movie “Bedtime for Bonzo.” Reagan got the last laugh.

-- The fact that Cuomo agreed to debate at all reflects his recognition of potential danger. Four years ago, seeking reelection to a second term, he refused to debate primary challenger Zephyr Teachout and ignored most of her attacks. The law professor garnered a surprisingly strong 35 percent against him. She’s now running in the primary for New York attorney general against Cuomo’s preferred candidate, Letitia James.

-- Trying to neutralize another potent line of attack against him, Cuomo went further than ever last night in ruling out a presidential bid in 2020. “The only caveat is if God strikes me dead,” he said. “Otherwise I will serve four years as governor of New York.”

-- Some of Cuomo’s hits were so over-the-top that the audience almost reflexively laughed at him, such as when the governor accused Nixon of exerting undue influence as a donor when she called the mayor’s office to ask that helicopters not fly over Shakespeare performances in Central Park because they drown out the actors.

Cuomo also repeatedly attacked her for forming a limited liability corporation to collect income, a standard practice in the entertainment industry, which he said is at odds with her socialist ethos. “You are a corporation,” said Cuomo. “I am a person,” said Nixon. “And you’re a corporation,” said Cuomo. “Working men and women don’t have corporations.”

Nixon announced she would forgo a salary if elected. “We already have a corrupt corporate Republican in Washington,” she said. “We don’t need a corrupt corporate Democrat in Albany.”

-- Cuomo is an heir to a political dynasty, something that continues to be out of vogue two years after Jeb Bush and then Hillary Clinton went down to Trump. His late father, Mario, served three terms as governor and might have become president if he hadn’t gotten cold feet in 1992. As a consolation, Bill Clinton made the younger Cuomo his housing secretary. Andrew Cuomo even married into the Kennedy dynasty. (They later divorced.)

-- Neither candidate came off particularly well in last night’s mud fest, which might have been Cuomo’s strategy going in. They both appeared unaccustomed to being forcefully and directly challenged. For instance, the moderator noted that Nixon’s campaign recently held a contest in which the winner got a free bong. He asked her what kind of message that sends to parents trying to keep their kids off drugs. She did not directly answer. “Marijuana has been legal for white people for a long time,” Nixon said. “It’s time to make it legal for everyone else.”

Cuomo volunteered that he smoked marijuana in college, and he said he’s given “advice and guidance” so his own children make “responsible choices.”

“I think legalizing marijuana … makes sense,” said Cuomo. “I disagree with my opponent that the revenue should go to reparations!”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The Trump administration is denying or stripping passports from a growing number of Americans along the U.S. border, accusing hundreds — if not thousands — of Hispanics of using fraudulent birth certificates, and throwing their citizenship into question. Kevin Sieff reports: “In a statement, the State Department said that it ‘has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications.' … But cases … and interviews with immigration attorneys suggest a dramatic shift in both passport issuance and immigration enforcement. In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.”

-- Scoop: The Koch network is making some more adjustments at the top after David Koch, one of the two billionaire brothers who led the political behemoth, stepped aside for health reasons in June. Charles Koch emailed his staff last night that Mark Holden, the longtime general counsel of Koch Industries, will become chairman of the board for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. David Koch previously held this role.

“For the past three years, Mark Holden and Brian Hooks have served as Co-Chairmen of our Network,” Charles Koch wrote in the note. “Applying the principle of the division of labor by comparative advantage, Mark will move from his role as Co-Chairman of the Network to [the AFP post]. As such, he will be able to more fully focus on his important role as leader of our [criminal justice reform] initiative in which he has already made substantial progress. Brian Hooks will serve as Chairman of the Network in addition to continuing in his role as President of the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute.” (I wrote about the network’s long-term continuity plans last month.)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Washington Capitals right wing Brett Connolly said he would decline an invitation to visit the White House following this year’s Stanley Cup victory. Trump has yet to officially invite the hockey team to the White House, however, and canceled the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ visit in June. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
  2. California passed a bill abolishing bail as a condition of pretrial release. The controversial measure, designed to prevent low-income minorities from languishing in jail, is slated to take effect next year. (Scott Wilson)

  3. A former police officer was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was found guilty of murdering an unarmed African American teenager. Roy Oliver, who is white, fatally shot Jordan Edwards last year as the teen left a house party in a Dallas suburb. (Eva Ruth Moravec)

  4. Child-abuse charges against the defendants in the New Mexico compound case were dismissed. Prosecutors failed to schedule a preliminary court hearing within 10 days, as state rules require — an oversight that a public defender in the case described as “absolutely bizarre.” But two of the five defendants were immediately charged again with the more severe offense of child abuse resulting in death. (Eli Rosenberg) 

  5. The Detroit school district has shut off access to drinking water at all of its 106 public schools, a precautionary move that comes after test results revealed elevated levels of lead and copper at at least 16 of 24 recently tested campuses. (Detroit Free Press)

  6. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections issued a statewide lockdown of its prison system after the hospitalization of 29 employees from “unknown substances.” Staff members have reported symptoms such as dizziness, lethargy, scratchy throats and headaches after performing routine tasks. Officials suspect the cases may be tied to narcotics that have been sneaked into the state’s prisons. (Deanna Paul)

  7. The CDC said one person has died and 17 others were sickened in a multi-state outbreak of salmonella-tainted chicken that stretched across the Mid-Atlantic region between last September and this June. At least eight people were hospitalized as a result of the outbreak. (Alex Horton)

  8. An organization funded by the alcohol industry suggested women can drink while pregnant. The Australian group DrinkWise distributed posters that read, in part, “It’s not known if alcohol is safe to drink when you are pregnant.” Experts criticized the message as inaccurate. (Kristine Phillips)

  9. The College of William & Mary announced a competition for concepts of a memorial to black Americans who were enslaved by the school. University President Katherine A. Rowe said in a statement: “African-Americans have been vital to William & Mary since its earliest days. Even as they suffered under slavery, African-Americans helped establish the university and subsequently maintained it.” (Joe Heim)

  10. A British cave diver who helped rescue a stranded boys’ soccer team in Thailand is preparing to sue Elon Musk, after the famed SpaceX and Tesla founder called him a “pedo” on Twitter last month. “You published … to your twenty-two million followers that [Vernon] Unsworth engages in the sexual exploitation of Thai children, and you did so at a time when he was working to save the lives of twelve Thai children,” his attorney said in a letter to Musk. (BuzzFeed)

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:

-- Trump announced over Twitter that White House counsel Don McGahn will leave the administration this fall after the Supreme Court fight. McGahn's departure, while long expected, threatens to further imperil Trump’s precarious legal situation — and has prompted dismay among top officials at the Justice Department and Republican lawmakers, who regard McGahn as a rare stable, accessible force inside a chaotic and dysfunctional White House. 

-- The president's abrupt announcement came as a surprise to McGahn, who had not spoken to Trump directly about leaving before the tweet was posted. Robert Costa, Robert Barnes and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “[McGahn] saw Trump’s tweet as abrupt but typical of how the president acts — and it did not make him angry. … His reaction was, ‘Of course it happened this way,’ one person said.”

-- “Mr. Trump had grown tired of seeing reports that Mr. McGahn might leave, according to people familiar with his thinking, and decided to take away any wiggle room he might have. Allies of Mr. McGahn said on Wednesday that he believed the story was planted by his critics to force the president’s hand and hasten the timeline of announcing his departure,” the New York Times reports. The story also reports that Trump asked then-staff secretary Rob Porter “several times” last year if he would be willing to take over for McGahn. Porter later resigned after both of his ex-wives publicly accused him of physical abuse.

-- Trump’s announcement also prompted a fresh round of concern among some of his closest allies — who fret that both the president and his top aides are woefully unprepared for the coming legal storm and a potential Democratic takeover of the House. Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report: “Trump recently has consulted his personal attorneys about the likelihood of impeachment proceedings. Still, Trump has not directed his lawyers or his political aides to prepare an action plan, leaving allies to fret that the president does not appreciate the magnitude of what could be in store next year. Any Democratic salvos would not happen until new members take office in January, which Trump advisers said seems like eons away in an administration juggling so many immediate problems. … As a result, preparing for possible impeachment proceedings is not at the top of Trump’s to-do list.

“One source of growing anxiety among Trump allies is the worry that the president and some senior White House officials are not anxious enough. Although Trump sometimes talks about impeachment with his advisers, in other moments, he gets mad that ‘the i-word,’ as he calls it, is raised. … ‘Winter is coming,’ said one Trump ally in close communication with the White House. ‘Assuming Democrats win the House, which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege. But it’s like tumbleweeds rolling down the halls over there. Nobody’s prepared for war.’”

Personnel shortage: “The president and some of his advisers have discussed possibly adding veteran defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who currently represents Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to Trump’s personal legal team if an impeachment battle or other fights with Congress emerge after the midterm elections, according to people familiar with the discussions. … Trump advisers also are discussing recruiting experienced legal firepower to the Office of White House Counsel, which is facing departures and has dwindled in size at a critical juncture. … Three of McGahn’s deputies — Greg Katsas, Uttam Dhillon and Makan Delrahim — have departed, and a fourth, Stefan Passantino, will have his last day Friday. That leaves John Eisenberg, who handles national security, as the lone deputy counsel.”

-- The relationship between Trump and McGahn had grown increasingly strained in recent months, as the two men sometimes went days without a substantive conversation. From Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Nancy Cook and Elana Schor: “People who know both men said their mutual frustrations are often manifested in silence, rather than massive blow-ups. But the two have also had several heated clashes that often stemmed from Trump’s steadfast belief that McGahn hasn’t done enough to minimize the Russia investigation, according to four current and former administration officials and others close to both men. One outside associate of McGahn’s said it always bothered Trump that McGahn was ‘his own man and wouldn’t kowtow to him.’ ”

-- Trump has spent the past 10 days personally lobbying Republican senators to turn on Attorney General Jeff Sessions so that he can fire him. Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Elana Schor report: “[Trump] has been venting his anger at Sessions to ‘any senator who will listen,’ as one GOP Senate aide put it. The president, who has spent a year and a half fulminating against his attorney general in public, finally got traction on Capitol Hill thanks to the growing frustration of a handful of GOP senators with their former colleague — most importantly, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who have been irritated by Sessions’ opposition to a criminal justice reform bill they support, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen congressional GOP aides, Trump advisers, and Republicans close to the White House. … Though they once cautioned him that dismissing Sessions would feed [Mueller’s] investigation of Trump’s potential obstruction of justice, these people say, Trump’s legal team has become increasingly convinced Mueller will make that case regardless of whether the president fires Sessions or leaves him in place.”

-- Trump also tweeted that Bruce Ohr, who has attracted the president’s ire for his interactions with “dossier” author Christopher Steele, should be fired from the Justice Department. Ellen Nakashima, Carol D. Leonnig, Erica Werner and Tom Hamburger report: “ ‘How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department? Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!’ Trump wrote to his 54 million Twitter followers Wednesday morning. … On Tuesday, Ohr was questioned in private for about eight hours by seven Republican lawmakers, members of the House Judiciary and Oversight panels. Much of the interview focused on Ohr’s association with Steele, as the members sought to substantiate their contention that Ohr and Steele, along with senior FBI and Justice Department officials, were engaged in an effort to derail the Trump campaign in 2016. The members queried Ohr about his relationship with Fusion GPS, a research consulting firm that hired Steele in 2016. The firm also employed Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, as a contractor.”

Ohr, a career prosecutor, has already been demoted because of his links to Steele: “In December, as questions emerged about his relationship with Steele, Ohr was demoted within the task force to a job that did not entail interaction with the White House. In January, he was moved to a position as senior counsel in the Office of International Affairs.”

This is a very big deal, not only because it suggests political retribution, but it casts a chill and a shadow over this principle of merit, which has been at the core of government for far more than a century,” said Donald Kettl, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

-- The FBI pushed back on Trump’s unfounded claim that Hillary Clinton’s emails were hacked by China, saying it found “no evidence” the private servers she used as the nation’s top diplomat were compromised. John Wagner reports: “[Trump’s] tweets came shortly after the online publication of a story by the Daily Caller asserting that a Chinese-owned company operating in the Washington area hacked Clinton’s private server. … Asked about the president’s assertions, the FBI provided a statement Wednesday afternoon that simply said: ‘The FBI has not found any evidence the servers were compromised.’ ”

-- In February 2017, senior White House attorney John Eisenberg reviewed the highly classified transcripts of phone conversations between Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, which “incontrovertibly” demonstrated that Trump’s then-national security adviser had lied to the FBI about their conversations, Murray Waas reports in the New York Review of Books. “It was after this information was relayed to [Trump] that the president fired Flynn, and the following day allegedly pressured [James Comey] to shut down a federal criminal investigation into whether Flynn had lied to the FBI. … Aside from the unexplained, six-day delay of the White House to act on Eisenberg’s information, these new disclosures … constitute the strongest evidence to date that [Trump] may have obstructed justice.”

Why this matters: “The president’s legal team has claimed that Trump did nothing wrong because he did not understand that Flynn was in criminal jeopardy when … he asked Comey to go easy on Flynn. [In perjury and obstruction cases], it’s not enough to prove that the person attempted to impede an ongoing criminal investigation; the statute requires a prosecutor to prove that the person did so with the corrupt intent to protect himself or someone else from prosecution. … The new information that Trump and others in the White House were aware that the intercepts revealed that Flynn had lied to the FBI directly contradicts those claims.”

-- A letter Rudy Giuliani sent to Romanian officials opposing a crackdown on corruption has drawn the attention of the State Department and renewed questions about Giuliani's continued work for foreign clients while representing the president in the Russia investigation. Josh Dawsey and Tom Hamburger report: “Writing under the letterhead of his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, the former New York mayor criticized the ‘excesses’ of Romania’s anti-corruption agency. … Giuliani’s letter caused significant ripples in Romania. … It also put him in opposition with the State Department, which has supported efforts to prosecute corruption in Romania. The United States joined with 11 other countries in June in a statement warning Romania not to take measures that would weaken its ‘ability to fight crime or corruption.’

Giuliani received a call from State Department officials this week about his letter, he said in an interview Wednesday. ‘They wanted to know, ‘Is this accurate? Is this real? We want to make sure this is genuine,’’ Giuliani said. ‘Absolutely,’ he said he replied. … He has not registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department on behalf of his overseas clients, saying it is not necessary because he does not directly lobby the U.S. government.

In response to a request for comment, the State Department reiterated its June statement. … ‘Rudy Giuliani does not speak for the U.S. government on foreign policy,’ an official added.”

-- “Qatar Targeted 250 Trump ‘Influencers’ to Change U.S. Policy,” by the Wall Street Journal’s Julie Bykowicz: “Longtime New York restaurateur Joey Allaham visited Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue late last year with an offer for lawyer Alan Dershowitz [who often talks with the president and advises him informally on his legal problems]. Come visit Doha, the capital of Qatar, by invitation of the emir. Mr. Dershowitz says he hadn’t met Mr. Allaham before and initially demurred before agreeing to go. The professor also didn’t know he was on a list of 250 people Mr. Allaham says he and his lobbying-business partner, Nick Muzin, identified as influential in [Trump’s] orbit. The list was part of a new type of lobbying campaign Qatar adopted after Mr. Trump sided with its Persian Gulf neighbors who had imposed a blockade on the tiny nation. Qatar wanted to restore good relations with the U.S. … Win over Mr. Trump’s influencers, the thinking went, and the president would follow. Atypically, it also turned to friends, associates and well-placed admirers of the president … sending roughly two dozen to Doha, covering their expenses and paying some directly. Among others they sent were former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee [the father of the White House press secretary] and conservative radio host John Batchelor."

-- Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s attorneys pushed to move his upcoming federal trial from D.C. to Roanoke, arguing that his conviction on tax and bank fraud charges in Alexandria this month has worsened pretrial publicity. Spencer S. Hsu and Tom Jackman report: “In court filings Wednesday, his lawyers also said that a more pro-Republican jury, as they think would be found in Roanoke, would decide his case more fairly. That repeats an argument the Manafort defense made, and lost, in asking to move his Virginia case out of Alexandria. Manafort’s defense team complained that ‘intensely negative’ news coverage reached new heights [following his Alexandria conviction].”

“Also Wednesday, prosecutors faced a deadline [set by U.S. Judge T.S. Ellis] to declare whether they would retry Manafort on the 10 counts on which the Alexandria jury couldn’t agree. The judge declared a mistrial on those counts. But prosecutors asked Ellis for more time to make their decision, noting that Manafort’s attorneys haven’t filed their post-trial motions and Ellis hasn’t ruled on them, which could change how many of Manafort’s convictions stand. … Ellis on Wednesday did not immediately issue a ruling on the deadline extension request.”

-- During the 2016 campaign, Trump and Michael Cohen considered buying all of the negative information the National Enquirer had collected on Trump dating to the 1980s. The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg and Maggie Haberman report: “The move by Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen indicated just how concerned they were about all the information amassed by the company, American Media, and its chairman, David Pecker, a loyal Trump ally of two decades who has cooperated with investigators. It is not clear yet whether the proposed plan to purchase all the information from American Media has attracted the interest of federal prosecutors in New York. … But the prosecutors have provided at least partial immunity to Mr. Pecker. … The plan got far enough along that Mr. Cohen relays in [a] recorded conversation that he had discussed paying for all the information from American Media with the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.” (Weisselberg has also received immunity from the federal prosecutors in New York.)

-- One week after Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal charges in New York, Trump’s former longtime fixer, who will be sentenced in December, is “resigned to going to prison to protect his family,” CNN’s MJ Lee reports: " 'He's very resigned to doing the time. He's resigned to the fact that he's going to go to jail for some time,’ [a person close to Cohen] said, adding that Cohen does not believe he will receive a presidential pardon from Trump. … One friend of Cohen's [said] that over the course of the past few months, they saw Cohen's outlook on his legal troubles shift. Earlier in the year, ‘he was very — 'I'm going to fight this to the death.' Very defiant,’ the friend said. ‘But I think over a period of time, you get to realize the reality of this. What are you fighting for? And who are you fighting for?’ Another friend who is in close touch with Cohen said Cohen … became almost singularly focused on protecting his wife and the well-being of his family. [Prosecutors threatened him] with numerous more counts that could have also implicated his wife, and also raised the possibility of his assets being seized.” “I don't think it was such a great deal, but he had to take it because there could have been liability on the part of his wife,” that friend said.

-- Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos has decided to stick with the plea deal he struck with Mueller. From ABC News’s Matthew Mosk and Lucien Bruggeman: “The decision puts to rest weeks of public hand-wringing by his wife, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, who has been acting as an informal spokeswoman for her husband. She said in [an interview] earlier this month that her husband was strongly considering backing away from the agreement he struck with Mueller that led him to plead guilty to lying to the FBI. ‘George will take responsibility for some inaccuracies during the interview with the FBI,’ Mangiante Papadopoulos said in [a statement], adding that she hopes the judge determining his fate will not send the former Trump campaign adviser to jail.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a new trade pact with the United States and Mexico could be possible as “early as Friday,” sparking renewed hopes that the countries can overcome their hurdles and rework NAFTA. Damian Paletta reports: “[But Trudeau] cautioned that more work must be done and warned that he will walk away from discussions if he thinks the deal doesn’t line up with Canadians’ best interests. … ‘No NAFTA deal is better than a bad NAFTA deal,’ [Trudeau said]. Trudeau and Trump are now jockeying publicly while frantically negotiating in private, as their top trade officials are engaged in continuous meetings in Washington. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed optimism Wednesday about the talks after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer. ‘I continue to be encouraged by the good conversations we are having and the progress we are making,’ she said.”

-- A federal commission unanimously voted to overturn tariffs that Trump put on newsprint this year, which have significantly driven up the cost of printing newspapers and threatened to put some small papers out of business. Paul Farhi reports: “By a 5-to-0 vote, the U.S. International Trade Commission found that American newsprint producers haven’t been injured by Canadian imports, thus nullifying a series of tariffs imposed earlier this year by the Commerce Department on imported products.”

-- Trump asserted that the United States shouldn’t be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, saying in a tweet last night that “there is no reason at this time” to be bankrolling the joint effort. Paul Sonne reports: “Trump [added], ‘Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea and Japan, if he so chooses.’ … His suggestion that all military exercises with South Korea and Japan had been suspended indefinitely directly contradicted what [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] said the day before. Speaking at a Pentagon press conference, Mattis said the U.S. military ‘suspended several of the largest exercises but we did not suspend the rest.’ … On Wednesday, Mattis issued a follow-up statement, saying only three individual military exercises had been suspended after the Singapore summit to ‘provide space’ for U.S. diplomats to negotiate. ‘Our military posture has not changed since the conclusion of the Singapore summit and no decisions have been made about suspending any future exercises,’ Mattis said.”

-- During their Singapore summit, Trump promised Kim Jong Un he would sign a declaration to end the Korean War, according to Vox’s Alex Ward. “But since then, the Trump administration has repeatedly asked Pyongyang to dismantle most of its nuclear arsenal first, before signing such a document. That decision is likely what has led to the current stalemate in negotiations between the two countries — and the increasingly hostile rhetoric from North Korea. ‘It makes sense why the North Koreans are angry,’ one source told me. ‘Having Trump promise a peace declaration and then moving the goalposts and making it conditional would be seen as the US reneging on its commitments.’ ”

THE TRUMP AGENDA:

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is preparing new sexual misconduct rules for U.S. colleges that would bolster the rights of accused students and reduce liability for universities nationwide. The New York Times’s Erica L. Green reports: “The proposed rules … narrow the definition of sexual harassment, holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct said to have occurred on their campuses. They would also establish a higher legal standard to determine whether schools improperly addressed complaints. The new rules would come at a particularly sensitive time, as major institutions such as Ohio State University, the University of Southern California and Michigan State University deal with explosive charges that members of their faculty and staff have perpetrated serious sexual misconduct.”

-- The White House has assembled a secret committee with the goal of turning public opinion against marijuana and state legalization efforts, BuzzFeed News reports. From Dominic Holden: “The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit ‘data demonstrating the most significant negative trends’ about marijuana and the ‘threats’ it poses to the country. In an ironic twist, the committee complained in one memo that the narrative around marijuana is unfairly biased in favor of the drug. But rather than seek objective information, the committee’s records show it is asking officials only to portray marijuana in a negative light, regardless of what the data show.”

-- Senate Democrats agreed to expedite votes on 15 of Trump’s federal court nominations. From HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery and Igor Bobic: “[Mitch McConnell] had lined up votes for all those district court nominees last week. Normally, Senate rules require up to 30 hours of waiting time for each nominee — something Democrats typically take advantage of to delay action on confirming Trump judges. But [Chuck Schumer] cut a deal with McConnell on Tuesday to bypass the wait times and let them all get through. Why? So Democrats could get back to campaigning and focusing on winning re-election in November. The Senate is now out of session until next Tuesday. … It’s a major win for Trump and McConnell, whose No. 1 priority is filling up federal courts with conservative judges.”

MORE ON THE MIDTERMS:

-- Critics accused Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) of deploying a racist dog whistle against his opponent in the state’s gubernatorial race — Andrew Gillum, who is black — when he said Florida would “monkey this up” by electing Gillum. From John Wagner and Vanessa Williams: “DeSantis, whose rise to national prominence was bolstered by his frequent appearances on the network, praised Gillum on Fox News on Wednesday as ‘an articulate spokesman’ for those holding ‘far-left views’ but warned that he would be damaging to the state. ‘The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,’ DeSantis said. … The use of language seen as containing coded racism prompted an extraordinary rebuke from the network. ‘We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement,’ Fox News Channel’s Sandra Smith said on air. Smith also read from a statement in which DeSantis’s campaign suggested it was ‘absurd’ to characterize the candidate’s remarks as racist.”

-- The victories of Gillum and gubernatorial candidate David Garcia in Arizona highlight the success that nonwhite Democratic candidates have found this election cycle, David Weigel writes. “[Gillum and Garcia] broke through because of a coalition of their local networks and the help of outside groups intent on changing the white, male hue of the governing class. In Florida, activists and liberal donors coalesced around Gillum, who was long counted out of the race because of a corruption investigation in his city’s government as well as the powerful family ties of his chief opponent. In Arizona, they boosted Garcia, an educator who supports raising taxes to increase teachers’ salaries. … Neither seemed destined for a victory without the outside help.”

-- Another congressional candidate who formally worked for the CIA is fearful her security clearance application will also be exposed, as candidate Abigail Spanberger’s was. The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reports: “[Elissa] Slotkin is a former CIA analyst and senior Pentagon official running for Congress in Michigan as a Democrat. … [The security clearance] application, known bureaucratically as an SF-86 form, is a trove of highly revealing and potentially weaponizable personal information—leaving Slotkin and others with biographical similarities to Spanberger wondering if the disclosure of such documentation on national security officials, until now exceptionally closely held by the government, is about to become a new normal in U.S. right-wing politics.”

-- But records indicate Spanberger’s unredacted application was indeed provided to the GOP-aligned group America Rising through a Freedom of Information Act request, a move that experts called unprecedented. BuzzFeed News’s Grace Wyler and Jason Leopold report: “The decision by [the U.S. Postal Service] to release the unredacted document was unusual, FOIA and security clearance expert Bradley Moss [said]. … The SF-86 form … asks applicants for all manner of personal background details, including where the applicant has lived and worked, their history of drug and alcohol use, and a number of other questions that could yield potentially embarrassing facts, he said. … ‘Someone at the USPS FOIA office is getting fired,’ Moss said. ‘If they truly managed to release this file without noticing the Standard Form 86 paperwork in the file, there is justifiable cause to fire that FOIA officer.’ ”

-- The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that formerly imprisoned coal baron Don Blankenship will not be allowed to appear on the November ballot as a Senate candidate for the Constitution Party. GOP operatives in the state had generally shrugged off Blankenship’s challenge because the state has a “sore loser” law preventing those who were defeated in major-party primaries, as Blankenship was, from running on another ticket. If he had been allowed on the ballot, he may have siphoned votes away from the GOP nominee, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. (Politico)

WASHINGTON VS. SILICON VALLEY:

-- Executives from Facebook and Twitter will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week for a hearing on “social media companies’ responses to foreign influence operations.” Tony Romm reports: “[Sheryl] Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, and [Jack] Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, are slated to join the Sept. 5 session, and Google has been invited. But lawmakers so far have rejected Google’s offer to send a lower-level executive, and the search giant has not committed to sending Larry Page, chief executive of parent company Alphabet, to testify. … House lawmakers said they plan to convene their own hearing on the same day, focused explicitly on Twitter and featuring Dorsey as the sole witness, the Energy and Commerce Committee announced Wednesday. Their effort comes at the request of conservative leaders who have alleged for months that Twitter’s algorithm and content-moderation policies unfairly target right-leaning users and websites.”

-- Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Google was making a mistake by not sending CEO Sundar Pichai. “We want to talk about solutions. We've asked for the most senior executives. … [Google] ought to be part of this discussion and dialogue,” Warner (Va.) told CNBC. “Chances are there's going to be an empty chair there. And I think there will be a lot more questions raised that could have been actually dealt with if they sent a senior decision-maker and not simply their counsel.”

-- Amazon.com pushed back against Bernie Sanders after the Vermont senator criticized the tech giant’s treatment of its employees and proposed that big corporations should be required to reimburse the government for federal assistance received by their workers. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) From Abha Bhattarai: “Amazon on Wednesday published a rare blog post rebutting the senator’s claims that thousands of Amazon employees rely on federal benefits to make ends meet. Those figures are ‘inaccurate and misleading,’ the company said, because they include temporary workers as well as those who choose to work part time. … A few hours later, Sanders responded with a press release of his own. … ‘Bottom line: the taxpayers of this country should not have to subsidize employees at a company owned by [Jeff] Bezos who is worth $155 billion,’ he wrote. ‘That is absurd.’ ”

-- Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon suggested data held by social media companies should be placed in a “public trust.” “That trust is run by an independent board of directors. It just can't be that [Big Tech is] the sole proprietors of this data,” Bannon said. “I think this is a public good.” He said he envisioned tech giants being “broken up” as Teddy Roosevelt broke up major trusts. Bannon also had harsh words for tech executives, calling them “sociopaths.” “These people are complete narcissists. These people ought to be controlled, they ought to be regulated,” he said, adding: “These people are evil. There is no doubt about that.” (CNN)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump directed more insults at the media this morning, even accusing NBC News's Lester Holt of "fudging" his famous interview with Trump:

(It's worth noting that Bob Woodward's widely anticipated book on the Trump White House comes out in less than two weeks.)

Last night, Trump attacked CNN and legendary Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein over reporting on Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen's lawyer:

Bernstein responded to Trump:

A New York Times reporter pushed back against Trump's criticism of anonymous sources:

From an MSNBC host and former Trump campaign reporter:

Trump also denied claims that McGahn’s critics planted a story about his departure to hasten his exit:

He added that he looks forward to replacing McGahn:

But the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee urged Trump to reconsider his decision to let McGahn go:

George Conway, who is married to senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, responded by invoking the constitutional amendment that outlaws "cruel and unusual punishments":

One notable figure will be absent from John McCain's funeral:

A HuffPost reporter shared some background on one of McCain's pallbearers:

Google Maps briefly displayed the name of the Russell Senate Office Building as the McCain Senate Office Building:

(Google quickly fixed the error, which temporarily put the tech company in the middle of a heated debate about renaming the building.)

Trump also quoted a Fox News analyst asserting that the Supreme Court should direct the FISA court to hold a hearing about Bruce Ohr:

From a Post reporter:

An MSNBC host posed this question:

A Wall Street Journal reporter scrutinized Trump's claims about China hacking Hillary Clinton's email server:

From an NBC News reporter:

The L.A. bureau chief for BuzzFeed News corrected Trump's claims about Google:

A former Congressional Budget Office director criticized Trump's approach to NAFTA:

The EPA inspector general's office plans to release a report (and a podcast) next week on former administrator Scott Pruitt's security detail:

A House Democrat mocked the departure of the White House ethics czar:

Fewer and fewer companies want to be attached to Trump's name, per a Post reporter:

The Texas GOP attacked the Democratic Senate candidate by releasing an old mugshot and a picture of him when he was in a band:

A HuffPost writer responded by posting pictures of Cruz at Harvard from around the same time:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- New York Times, “Planning His Funeral, McCain Got the Last Word Against Trump,” by Michael D. Shear and Katie Rogers: “Not long after [McCain] learned last summer that he had terminal brain cancer, he began convening meetings every Friday in his Capitol Hill office with a group of trusted aides. The subject was his funeral. He obsessed over the music, selecting the Irish ballad ‘Danny Boy’ and several patriotic hymns. He choreographed the movement of his coffin from Arizona, his home state, to Washington. And in April, when he knew the end was coming, he began reaching out to Republicans, Democrats and even a Russian dissident with requests that they deliver eulogies and serve as pallbearers. By the time he died on Saturday, Mr. McCain had carefully stage-managed a four-day celebration of his life — but what was also an unmistakable rebuke to [Trump] and his agenda.”

-- New York Times, “A Broken Relationship and Accusations of Emotional Abuse: The Case of Keith Ellison,” by Julie Turkewitz and Farah Stockman: “Behind the scenes, [the relationship between Keith Ellison and Karen Monahan] was rocky. Ms. Monahan often accused Mr. Ellison of cheating on her, leading to blowout arguments, according to more than a dozen people who knew the couple. Now, as Mr. Ellison runs for attorney general in Minnesota, Ms. Monahan has accused her former boyfriend of emotional abuse and says he once shouted profanities at her, while trying to drag her off a bed. … The allegations against Mr. Ellison … are turning into a test among many liberals for where to draw the line between a messy relationship and an emotionally abusive one, and some say they aren’t sure where it is.”

-- Yahoo News, “The agency created to protect elections is broken,” by Alexander Nazaryan: “More than a decade before anyone worried about Russian bots, there were chads. … Hanging chads that could not be counted led George W. Bush to beat Al Gore in Florida in the 2000 election by 537 votes and become president. … Two years later, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which was designed to provide funds for states ‘to replace punch card voting systems’ and to ‘establish minimum election administration standards’ for the nation’s 10,000 voting jurisdictions. The law also provided for the creation of the Election Assistance Commission, or EAC, the nation’s first federal agency created to oversee elections at every level of government. But its mission has never been clear, and more than 15 years later, critics say the agency has succumbed to the whims of partisan operatives.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Exclusive: here’s the photo of a very white summer intern class the White House didn’t release,” from Vox: “Past group photos of White House interns under [Trump] have drawn criticism for showing a group of overwhelmingly white young people. This summer, the White House didn’t make much progress on diversity — they just didn’t release the photo. A group picture with [Trump] showed the summer 2017 class was very white and very male. In the fall 2017 picture, observers pointed out one of the interns seemed to be making a white power gesture. (He denied it.) And the spring 2018 class was, again, very white. … The photo of 128 summer interns surrounding [Trump] gives an overall impression of a sea of white faces, with those who appear to be people of color dramatically outnumbered. That’s despite the fact that almost half of millennials in the United States are minorities. The White House’s … photo … has yet to be released.” (Last year, members of the press were invited to the 2017 photo op.)

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Massachusetts Democrat calls for Clarence Thomas impeachment,” from Politico: “A Massachusetts Democrat has added a plank to her campaign platform: Impeach Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Barbara L'Italien, a state senator running in a crowded field to replace retiring Rep. Niki Tsongas, is declaring her intention to file an impeachment resolution against Thomas as part of an effort to address sexual assault if elected to Congress. L'Italien said she is also calling for congressional hearings into [Trump's] alleged sexual misconduct. ‘There is an elephant in the room for Congress in the #MeToo era. Our leaders have to start talking about it. Two of the most powerful men in the country have been credibly accused of sexual crimes and gotten away with it,’ L’Italien said. ‘Laws cracking down on sexual assault have to be signed by a president who multiple women say assaulted them.  Regulations to stop sexual harassment can be struck down by a Supreme Court justice who lied under oath to counter allegations of sexual harassment.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will travel to Evansville, Ind., where he will host a roundtable with supporters and give a speech at a fundraising reception. He will also hold a campaign rally before returning to Washington.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Trump defended his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria after a new report found deaths in Puerto Rico spiked after the storm: “ ‘I think we did a fantastic job,’ Trump said, calling the emergency on the island ‘by far the most difficult’ of the areas of the United States and its territories ravaged by hurricanes, David Nakamura reports.

 

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

-- More hot and humid weather is expected in Washington — with the chance of thunderstorms thrown in as a bonus. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Muggy conditions stick around all day (dew points in the low 70s). Clouds bubble up by midday and late-day thunderstorms are possible (30 percent chance), with the highest chance (near 40 percent) in our western areas. Breezes are minimal as highs reach the upper 80s to low 90s.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Phillies 8-6. (Jorge Castillo)

-- Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates offered a proposal for redrawing 29 of the chamber’s districts, but their Republican counterparts insisted they would appeal a court’s ruling that the current map represents a racial gerrymander. From Gregory S. Schneider: “Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), the House minority leader, said Wednesday that Democratic delegates worked over the past several weeks to draw new boundaries. Instead of using race as a criterion, he said, the delegates tried to preserve communities of interest. The resulting plan (H.B. 7001) would cause changes in several districts surrounding the 11 at the heart of the case, leading to a total of 29 districts with new lines. Most of the districts affected by the plan are around Richmond, Hampton and Norfolk.”

-- Three people listed as signature collectors for D.C. Council candidate S. Kathryn Allen said they did not work for the campaign. Fenit Nirappil reports: “Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who is running for reelection, is trying to knock Allen out of the race by alleging widespread fraud and technical errors among the more than 6,000 registered-voter signatures she submitted to qualify for the ballot. A pre-hearing conference at the Board of Elections is scheduled for next week.”

-- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is backing a call to recover tens of millions of state dollars for road projects that is currently earmarked for Metro. From Robert McCartney: “Officials say the money is needed to avoid slowing or killing projects to widen roads, upgrade intersections and support other transportation improvements in the traffic-choked Washington suburbs. They don’t want to take the money from Metro; they want to find a new source of funding.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Mourners, including McCain's family, gathered for a ceremony honoring the late senator at the Arizona Capitol:

The Fact Checker scrutinized Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s comments about NFL player protests that have gotten a lot of attention in the Texas Senate race:

Barack Obama visited a high school on Chicago's Southwest Side:

More than 20,000 people participated in Spain's annual tomato fight:

And The Post studied baseball cliches by analyzing nearly 7,000 media interviews of MLB players and managers: