With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump’s disputed insistence over the weekend, echoed by his top aides, that he’s done nothing to constrain the scope of the FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh underscores why many national security lawyers and law enforcement veterans are nervous about the future of special counsel Bob Mueller’s probe if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein loses his job.

Trump does not need to fire Mueller to curtail the ongoing investigation into whether he sought to obstruct justice or if his campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election. The president calls it a “witch hunt,” but he recognizes that there would be immense political blowback — including street protests and possibly the defection of moderate Republicans — if he got rid of Mueller.

Because Jeff Sessions played a key role on Trump’s campaign and had Russian contacts he did not disclose during his confirmation hearing, the attorney general recused himself from the investigation. That means Rosenstein oversees the special counsel’s probe. If he leaves, whoever replaces him could theoretically limit the scope of what Mueller can explore or who he can indict while also scaling back the amount of resources available.

And the public wouldn’t necessarily find out because such moves are not required to be immediately disclosed, according to several experts familiar with the special counsel law from both parties. Sources on the inside might leak that Mueller’s investigation was being undermined, but Trump and White House press people could vehemently deny these reports. The result might be the kind of confusion about what’s really going on that we’re left with this morning vis-a-vis Kavanaugh.

“The White House is not micromanaging this process,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on “Fox News Sunday.” She said it was Senate Republicans who are “dictating the terms” and that the president wants the FBI to do whatever they “need to do.” She said she was not aware of a list of people the White House counsel has provided to the FBI. “This can’t become a fishing expedition like the Democrats would like to see it be,” she continued.

Counselor Kellyanne Conway used the identical talking point -- “it’s not meant to be a fishing expedition” – on CNN’s “State of the Union,” even as she also maintained that it is “up to the FBI” who agents interview.

These statements followed several credible news reports that federal investigators are looking into allegations made by two women but not a third, Julie Swetnick, who signed a sworn affidavit accusing Kavanaugh of sexually aggressive behavior and being present at parties where gang rapes occurred. Debbie Ramirez — who alleges that Kavanaugh drunkenly exposed himself and shoved his genitals in her face while both were freshmen at Yale — spoke with the FBI on Sunday. The bureau has not yet contacted Christine Blasey Ford for an interview, according to one of her advisers. Kavanaugh categorically denies the allegations made by all three women.

-- But even as Trump and his aides publicly suggested otherwise, “the White House appeared to retain sharp limits on the probe,” according to Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey: “Trump himself tweeted late Saturday that he wanted FBI agents ‘to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion.’ But a senior U.S. official … confirmed Sunday that Swetnick is not expected to be interviewed and said interviews pertaining to the other allegations will be limited to Kavanaugh, the first two accusers and people who have been identified as present for the incidents.

  • “The president’s Saturday tweet also sparked confusion in the FBI, which had previously been told to conduct only a limited investigation of particular allegations …
  • “White House counsel Donald McGahn is most directly involved in guiding the investigation and has been in frequent touch with Republican senators about its scope … [T]he administration is hoping a report could be filed even sooner than the Friday deadline.
  • “The order to the FBI was signed by Trump but has not been made public. … An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment Sunday.”

-- In addition to The Washington Post, several other major news outlets have their own reporting about constraints that have been placed on the FBI investigation, including NBC, CNN, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Read together, these stories cast additional doubt on the public statements being made by Trump, Sanders and Conway.

-- Over on Capitol Hill, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced Friday that the FBI investigation would last no longer than a week long and would be limited solely to “current credible allegations” against Kavanaugh. But he, his staff and the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined over the weekend to elaborate on what “current credible allegations” means.

Democrats complained Sunday that they have been excluded from all the conversations about the scope of the FBI investigation. They’ve also asked to review the text of the order Trump signed and sent to the FBI. But the White House has declined to share it with them.

“In a process already saturated with cynicism and soured by bad faith, it would be shameful but unsurprising if an FBI investigation … became the object of political manipulation,” argues columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. “An investigation sharply constrained by [McGahn] — who is overseeing the FBI’s work and just happened to be Kavanaugh’s leading promoter — would turn a brief moment of limited bipartisanship into a new occasion for rage and recrimination.”

-- Trump dismissed these complaints:

-- It got overshadowed by her Kavanaugh comments, but Sanders also said during her Fox appearance that Trump’s planned sit-down with Rosenstein might be delayed again. After last Monday’s kerfuffle, the president and the No. 2 at the Justice Department were supposed to meet Thursday. But the White House announced that it would be kicked into this week. “A date for that hasn’t been set. It could be this week. I could see it pushing back another week, given all of the other things that are going on with the Supreme Court. But we’ll see,” Sanders said.

-- “If Rosenstein is removed, Trump could very easily cripple the [Mueller] investigation,” said Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general who serves as a partner at Hogan Lovells and teaches national security law at Georgetown. “There are all sorts of ways a Trumpist replacement for Rosenstein could stymie an investigation, ranging from dramatic (firing Mueller outright) to low-key (refusing to provide Congress with any interim reports and simply dragging the investigation out endlessly, without any updates to the public) or even more subtle (starving the budget or depriving Mueller of key personnel).”

Katyal, a Democrat who endorsed Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, helped draft the special counsel regulations in 1999 as a staffer. “The balance struck was delicate,” he explained in an op-ed for The Post. “A special counsel such as Mueller would have ‘day-to-day’ independence, but the attorney general could shut down any ‘investigative or prosecutorial step.’ That is part of our constitutional design — there was not an appropriate way to totally remove the attorney general from the proceedings. Instead, the best that could be done was to structure the arrangement so that someone like Mueller would have general daily freedom to do what he wanted, but that someone such as Rosenstein could stop him if warranted.

It looks as though Rosenstein has protected the investigation … but we cannot know for sure. That is because the special counsel regulations require the attorney general to report only at the close of the investigation to Congress about any times he said ‘no’ to a special counsel. We wrote them that way on purpose: Interim reports of ongoing cases are generally bad practice, threatening both the investigation and the reputations of individuals without due process. But the downside is that now no one outside the Justice Department has great insight into what Rosenstein has been doing; the public can only infer things from external signs, such as the number of indictments and pleas.

What is true for Rosenstein would be true of Rosenstein’s replacement, too. The new acting attorney general for purposes of the Russia probe could say ‘no’ to Mueller for years, and no one else would know until the investigation closed. And while we did set a very high legal threshold for interference with a special counsel investigation, the Trump administration has repeatedly shown comfort playing fast and loose with legal rules. In the end, the special counsel regulations are nothing more than what James Madison called a ‘parchment barrier’ — just a piece of paper, dependent on the spirit of the person enforcing it.”

-- This isn’t just some hypothetical. Trump’s own attorney, Jay Sekulow, said last week that Solicitor General Noel Francisco should “pause” the Mueller investigation and take “a step back” if Rosenstein is ousted and he gets control.

-- Some D.C. insiders expressed concern about just this scenario as they watched the back-and-forth over the Kavanaugh investigation. From a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment and senior fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who formerly edited Foreign Policy magazine:

-- “It is idiotic to put a shot clock on the F.B.I. But it is better to give professionals seven days to find facts than have no professional investigation at all,” James Comey, the former FBI director who Trump fired last year, writes in an op-ed for today’s New York Times about the Kavanaugh probe. “If truth were the only goal, there would be no clock, and the investigation wouldn’t have been sought after the Senate Judiciary Committee already endorsed the nominee. Although the process is deeply flawed, and apparently designed to thwart the fact-gathering process, the F.B.I. is up for this.

“It’s not as hard as Republicans hope it will be. F.B.I. agents are experts at interviewing people and quickly dispatching leads to their colleagues around the world to follow with additional interviews. Unless limited in some way by the Trump administration, they can speak to scores of people in a few days, if necessary.

“Yes, the alleged incident occurred 36 years ago. But F.B.I. agents know time has very little to do with memory. … They also know that little lies point to bigger lies. They know that obvious lies by the nominee about the meaning of words in a yearbook are a flashing signal to dig deeper.”

-- From a former FBI agent:

-- Another former FBI special agent, who is also a lawyer and now teaches at Yale, also weighed in:

-- From a former Justice Department spokesman during the Obama administration:

-- From a former National Security Agency lawyer who is now a Brookings fellow and edits Lawfare:

POPPING OVERNIGHT:

-- The outside prosecutor who Senate Republicans hired to question Ford told GOP lawmakers that she would not file criminal charges against Kavanaugh. “In the five-page memo … Rachel Mitchell outlines more than half a dozen reasons why she thinks the testimony of [Ford] has some key inconsistencies,” Seung Min Kim reports. “Mitchell … is a registered Republican who is chief of the special victims division of the Maricopa County attorney’s office in Phoenix.”

“A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove. But this case is even weaker than that,” Mitchell writes. “Dr. Ford identified other witnesses to the event, and those witnesses either refuted her allegations or failed to corroborate them. … I do not think that a reasonable prosecutor would bring this case based on the evidence before the Committee. Nor do I believe that this evidence is sufficient to satisfy the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.”

But the question on the table was never whether Kavanaugh should be criminally prosecuted. It’s whether he should receive a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. This is a job interview, and Mitchell acknowledges as much in her memo. “There is no clear standard of proof for allegations made during the Senate’s confirmation process,” she writes. “But the world in which I work is the legal world, not the political world. Thus, I can only provide my assessment of Dr. Ford’s allegations in that legal context.” (Read Mitchell’s full memo.)

-- Charles Ludington, a former varsity basketball player and former friend of Kavanaugh’s, said he will deliver a statement to the FBI field office in Raleigh today that details violent drunken behavior by Kavanaugh when they were classmates at Yale. From Mike and Josh: “Ludington, an associate professor at North Carolina State University, … says in one instance, Kavanaugh initiated a fight that led to the arrest of a mutual friend: ‘When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive. On one of the last occasions I purposely socialized with Brett, I witnessed him respond to a semi-hostile remark, not by defusing the situation, but by throwing his beer in the man’s face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail.’ Ludington says he was deeply troubled by Kavanaugh appearing to blatantly mischaracterize his drinking in Senate testimony.”

-- Looking ahead: Will the Senate Republicans who are on the fence about Kavanaugh be satisfied by the limited FBI investigation? Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who triggered the FBI investigation by threatening to withhold his vote for Kavanaugh, said in an interview that aired on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last night that agents will “ask questions that maybe will prompt things” that could “lead to additional interviews that can take place as well.”

Host Scott Pelley asked Flake, “If Kavanaugh is shown to have lied to the committee, nomination's over?”

“Oh yes,” Flake replied.

“I wonder,” Pelley continued, “could you have done this if you were running for reelection?”

“Not a chance,” Flake responded.

Flake said the confrontation in an elevator on his way to the vote with two women who said they were survivors of sexual assault prompted him to hit the “pause button.”

“I just knew that we couldn't move forward, that I couldn't move forward without hitting the pause button,” the senator said. “Because what I was seeing, experiencing, in an elevator and watching it in committee, [I was] just thinking, this is tearing the country apart.”

-- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement Sunday that she is “confident that the FBI will follow up on any leads that result from the interviews.” Collins is up for reelection in 2020 in a state Hillary Clinton carried.

-- The editorial board of Maine’s biggest newspaper, the Portland Press Herald, is urging Collins not to vote for Kavanaugh, “regardless” of what the FBI finds: “Based on what he demonstrated in his own testimony, Kavanaugh lacks the character and judgment to serve on the Supreme Court. … Kavanaugh revealed that he has an explosive temper and resorts to bullying when he feels threatened. … Kavanaugh also showed himself to be impermissibly political for a job that is supposed to be above politics. We’re not naïve. … But we have never had a Supreme Court nominee who ripped off the nonpartisan mask the way Kavanaugh did Thursday … After his partisan rant, Kavanaugh will never be able to judge a case without the animus he expressed being considered a factor in his decision.”

--For the White House, it's Brett Kavanaugh or bust. They have no Plan B and there's not even discussion of one, according to five sources with direct knowledge of the sensitive internal White House talks,” per Axios’s Jonathan Swan:

  • “He's too big to fail now,” said a senior source involved in the confirmation process. “Our base, our voters, our side, people are so mad. There's nowhere to go.”
  • “Sources close to the White House legal operation complained that even if they did want to rush through a new nominee, they couldn’t be sure any male nominee wouldn’t have what one called a ‘Kavanaugh problem.’ ‘You nominate any man and how do you guarantee . . . How do you vet for that?’ said that source.”

-- Here are five other stories getting a lot of attention:

  • Politico: “‘This is march or die’: Kavanaugh urged to hit back hard.”
  • ABC News: “If Kavanaugh confirmed, 'House will have to' investigate if Senate doesn't: Democratic rep.”
  • Kristine Phillips: “The ACLU typically stays neutral about Supreme Court nominees. It didn’t with Kavanaugh.”
  • Philip Bump: “Here’s where Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony was misleading or wrong.”
  • Joe Patrice for Above the Law: “Remember That Time [Kavanaugh] Said Polygraphs Are Important In Making Hiring Decisions?”

-- The Supreme Court’s fall term begins today without Kavanaugh. Three justices — John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer — attended the annual Red Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Jeff Sessions and Solicitor General Noel Francisco were also there.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Canada agreed to join the renegotiated NAFTA deal with the United States and Mexico. David J. Lynch reports: “The new treaty, preserving the three-country format of the original [NAFTA] favored by business groups and congressional Republicans, is expected to be signed by Trump and his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in 60 days, with Congress likely to act on it next year. Senior administration officials told reporters on a late-night conference call that the deal validated Trump’s approach to trade policy and fulfilled an important campaign promise: to overhaul an agreement he had disparaged as one of the worst trade deals ever made. … Administration officials anticipate a fierce political battle to win congressional approval, especially if Democrats regain control of the House.”

Why Trump rushed to get a deal before midnight: “Administration officials have insisted that they needed to release the text of the new deal — with both countries or only Mexico — by Sept. 30. That would comply with a congressional notification requirement and allow Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to sign the deal on his last day in office. Officials said they wanted it signed before the new Mexican president, left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, took office in case he sought changes. But López Obrador said Friday that he would not try to reopen talks, calling into question the validity of the negotiators’ self-imposed deadline. ‘The fact that the administration is so eager to press to a deal, despite [the] statement that he has no intention of renegotiating, suggests that the real quest here is for a deal to wave around during the next month of midterm campaigning,’ said Phil Levy, a former White House economist in the George W. Bush administration.”

Looking ahead: “This was the least difficult part,” said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer with Dickinson Wright. “The heavy lift is going to be getting a trade deal through the next Congress in 2019 as well as ratification by Mexico’s new Congress and in Canada during a federal election year.”

What the deal does: “A central objective for the new agreement is restoring ‘North America as a manufacturing powerhouse’ by encouraging U.S. companies to use domestic suppliers rather than companies based elsewhere, [Trump economic adviser Peter] Navarro said. The agreement will require that 75 percent of vehicles granted duty-free treatment be made in North America vs. the current 62.5 percent mandate. It will also require greater use of domestic steel and other materials and establish a new requirement for work to be performed by those earning at least $16 an hour, which will benefit the United States and Canada at the expense of Mexico.”

-- Related: Two U.S. Senators — Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — are applying for federal cash under a $12 billion bailout program set up by Trump to help farmers hurt by his trade war. (Jeff Stein)

-- Trump took a victory lap this morning for closing the deal:

-- Cancer researchers James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo won the Nobel Prize in medicine. Lenny Bernstein and Laura McGinley report: “The American and Japanese researchers discovered methods of removing the brakes on cells that fight invaders, paving the way for cancer immunotherapy, which has joined surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as a major weapon in the battle against cancer.”

-- Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Arnault, the man at the center of the controversy that caused the cancellation of this year’s Nobel Prize in literature, was sentenced to two years in prison for rape. The New York Times’s Christina Anderson reports: “[A Swedish court] sentenced Mr. Arnault to two years in prison, the minimum term for rape. Mr. Arnault’s lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, told Swedish news media that his client would appeal the verdict. … In November last year, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reported that 18 women had accused Mr. Arnault of sexual assault or harassment. … The verdict was announced as the 2018 Nobel season opened, the first without a literature prize in nearly 70 years.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Indonesia’s death toll soared past 800 as emergency responders continued to search through  wreckage on the island of Sulawesi, which was struck Friday by a devastating earthquake and then a tsunami. Officials warned that the death toll could rise into the thousands. (Ainur Rohmah and Shibani Mahtani)
  2. At least 90 politicians in South Africa have been assassinated since 2016, imperiling long-sought efforts for stability and a unified democracy. But unlike earlier periods of political violence, it’s now the lawmakers themselves who are ordering the killings: using professional hit men in an “all-or-nothing fight” to gain money, turf and power. (New York Times)
  3. Sarah Palin’s eldest son, Track, was arrested on domestic violence charges for the third time in about three years, after he allegedly assaulted a “female acquaintance” and took her phone to stop her from calling the police. Palin, 29, was also charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest by force. (Amy B Wang)
  4. Tesla continues to face financial and legal pressures even after CEO Elon Musk settled with the SEC. Musk agreed to pay a $20 million fine and step down as the company’s chairman for three years, but Tesla is still short on cash and struggling to produce its Model 3 cars as the DOJ also looks into Musk’s tweet about lining up funding to take the company private. (New York Times)

  5. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) denied accusations that a member of her staff published the personal information of Republican senators on Wikipedia during the Kavanaugh hearing. “Lies, lies, and more despicable lies. I am utterly disgusted by the spread of the completely false, absurd, and dangerous lies and conspiracy theories that are being peddled by ultra-right wing pundits, outlets, and websites,” Waters said in a statement. (Alex Horton and Reis Thebault)

  6. Tennessee State linebacker Christion Abercrombie is in critical condition after undergoing emergency surgery for a head injury suffered during Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt. The 20-year-old ran to the sideline and collapsed shortly after what the coaches described as a “routine” play. (Cindy Boren)
  7. A tuition-free preschool program in D.C. has prompted thousands of mothers to reenter the workforce, according to a new study — leading to a 10 percent increase  citywide. And though enrollment in the universal preschool programs is not mandatory,  officials say they are attended by nearly 80 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds  in the District. (Perry Stein)
  8. A Border Patrol agent admitted to accidentally starting a wildfire last year at a gender-reveal party. Dennis Dickey filled a target with colored powder to reveal the sex of his family’s new baby. When it exploded, the Tannerite in the target sparked the Sawmill Fire that caused $8 million worth of damage. (Antonia Noori Farzan)

  9. Walter Laqueur, a preeminent scholar and Holocaust survivor who analyzed the events of the 20th century, died at 97. Laqueur fled Germany days before the Nazi-led Kristallnacht pogroms in 1938 and made his way to what was then the British mandate of Palestine. He went on to write about Nazi Germany, Israel and the history of terrorism. (Emily Langer)

  10. Italian golfer Francesco Molinari beat Phil Mickelson, securing Europe’s reclamation of the Ryder Cup. Molinari also became the first European player to go 5-0 in a Ryder Cup. (Cindy Boren)

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- The top U.S. border security official, Kevin McAleenan, traveled to Central America last week in hopes of securing help from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to curb what the Trump administration describes as an immigration crisis. “But instead of quick solutions, his trip mostly highlighted the deep structural forces threatening to send even more migrants north: hunger, joblessness and the gravitational pull of the American economy,” Nick Miroff reports from Guatemala City. “The Trump administration has already tried to stop them with one of the harshest measures in its tool kit — separating parents from their children — and the strategy failed. The stream of families arriving at the border each week has left McAleenan and other [DHS] officials making futile appeals to Congress to fix the problem, while maneuvering to detain migrant parents and children long enough for courts to process their immigration claims, which could take months. In the meantime, parents who arrive with children and cite a fear of return are typically released from immigration custody within days of arrival. U.S. family detention centers don’t have enough bed space to accommodate them, and U.S. courts are too clogged to process their cases. For years, the [U.S.] has funded advertising campaigns warning Guatemalans of the dangers of illegal migration, but in a country where mistrust of the government runs deep, that message is belied by the large homes and other trappings of prosperity.”

-- In recent weeks, the government has quietly begun relocating hundreds of migrant children from various U.S. shelters — moving them, oftentimes overnight, to a sprawling “tent city” located along the Texas border. The New York Times's Caitlin Dickerson reports: “Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases. But in the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited. ... These midnight voyages are playing out across the country, as the federal government struggles to find room for more than 13,000 detained migrant children — the largest population ever — whose numbers have increased more than fivefold since last year. 

“The roughly 100 shelters that have, until now, been the main location for housing detained migrant children are licensed and monitored by state child welfare authorities, who impose requirements on safety and education … The tent city in Tornillo, on the other hand, is unregulated, except for guidelines created by the [DHS]. ... Several shelter workers … described what they said has become standard practice for moving the children: In order to avoid escape attempts, the moves are carried out late at night because children will be less likely to try to run away. For the same reason, children are generally given little advance warning that they will be moved.”

-- The Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies have stymied the Pentagon’s plans to relaunch its immigrant recruitment program known as MAVNI, which allowed thousands of people with critical medical or Asian and African language skills to join the military. The decades-old program was suspended in 2016 amid concerns over the screening process. The AP’s Lolita C. Baldor reports: “Defense officials shored up the vetting process, and planned to relaunch the program earlier this month. But there was an unexpected barrier … The officials familiar with the discussions said Homeland Security told the Pentagon that it would not be able sign any agreement blocking the deportation of the immigrant recruits brought in under the program. In previous years, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service used an informal process to give MAVNI recruits protection when their temporary or student visas expired because they were entering military service. In addition, Congress included new restrictions in the 2019 defense bill that limit each military service to 1,000 such recruits per year." The plan to restart MAVNI was backed by Jim Mattis. 

THE REST OF THE AGENDA:

-- The Environmental Protection Agency has sent a proposal to the White House that would weaken existing curbs on power plants' emissions of mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, by changing the way it calculates the cost and benefits of curbing hazardous air pollutants,” Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. “The proposed rule … would reverse a 2011 Obama administration finding that the agency must factor in any additional health benefits that arise from lowering toxic pollutants from coal plants when evaluating the rule’s costs and benefits. . . . Although the industry is now fully in compliance with federal mercury standards, which were subject to litigation for years, coal companies have lobbied the Trump administration to revisit the issue to set a precedent for future pollution rules. Murray Energy Corp. chief executive Robert E. Murray, who retained now-Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler as a lobbyist for years, requested the rollback in a memo to Energy Secretary Rick Perry last year.”

-- The Trump administration said it will sue California to block its tough new net neutrality law enacted Sunday. Tony Romm and Brian Fung report: “Golden State legislators took the step of writing their law after the [FCC] scrapped nationwide protections last year, citing the regulatory burdens they had caused for the telecom industry. Mere hours after California’s proposal became law, however, senior Justice Department officials [said] they would take the state to court on grounds that the federal government, not state leaders, has the exclusive power to regulate net neutrality. DOJ officials stressed the FCC had been granted such authority from Congress to ensure that all 50 states don’t seek to write their own, potentially conflicting, rules governing the web.”

-- Speaking of California: The state passed a first-of-its kind law requiring all publicly traded companies to include women on their boards of directors by the year 2021. In a signing statement, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) addressed complaints that the law could violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, writing: “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that indeed may prove fatal to its ultimate implementation. … Nevertheless, recent events in Washington, D.C. — and beyond — make it crystal clear that many are not getting the message.” (AP)

THE MIDTERMS:

-- “The 2020 race kicks into a higher gear — even before the 2018 midterms are over,” by Felicia Sonmez and David Weigel: “Some, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and attorney Michael Avenatti, addressed their presidential ambitions head-on. Others, such as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), fueled speculation; the vocal Trump critic is slated to make his second visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire on Monday … Joe Biden, who has said he will decide on a 2020 run by January, delivered a searing critique of Trump’s foreign policy during a rally for Rhode Island Democrats in Providence on Sunday. … Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who last month launched a political action committee, held court at a happy hour for Texas Democrats and talked about how he had brought both parties together to pass reforms. He was joined onstage by South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, who discussed the economic recoveries of their cities…”

-- Operatives in both parties argue that the Kavanaugh controversy could help their midterm efforts. Amy Gardner and Mike DeBonis report: “The issue is resonating in two distinct ways: It threatens to further erode support for House Republicans struggling to survive in centrist suburban districts, while in Senate races it is giving GOP challengers in pro-Trump states a chance to inspire previously unenthusiastic conservatives. … How the issue plays out in the Nov. 6 elections will depend on the drama that will unfold in the coming week — including whether the FBI turns up any new evidence in its probe and what happens if and when Kavanaugh’s confirmation is put to a Senate vote. If centrist Republican Sens. [Flake], Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska vote in favor, that could influence Democratic fence-sitters running in conservative states, including [West Virginia’s Joe] Manchin and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp.”

-- Joe Biden’s potential 2020 bid could be complicated by his role in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. From the New York Times’s Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin: “[Biden’s] name has been invoked frequently in recent days, mainly by Republicans, for leading the 1991 hearings when an all-male, all-white Judiciary Committee aggressively questioned Anita Hill about claims that Judge Thomas sexually harassed her. The hearings have long been a source of discomfort with Mr. Biden among Democrats who remember the process. … The revival of interest in the Hill-Thomas hearings — and the mood of alarm among Democrats about the integrity of the Supreme Court — has clouded Mr. Biden’s 2020 deliberations as they approach a critical phase. He has already been weighing his ambition to lead the country and his determination to help oust Mr. Trump against concern that a campaign would strain his family — and a sense that many Democrats are yearning for a leader from a younger, more diverse and pugilistic generation.”

-- Mike Espy, a former agriculture secretary to Bill Clinton, is fighting to become Mississippi’s first black senator since shortly after the Civil War as one of his opponents campaigns on embracing the Confederate flag. From Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: “Republican Chris McDaniel, a conservative fond of provocative statements [has yard signs that] boast the ‘stainless banner’ — the second flag of the Confederate States of America. The state’s appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican, is the other candidate who will be on the special-election ballot; she took over from Thad Cochran, who resigned in ill health in April. The winner will fill the remaining two years of Cochran’s term; if no candidate wins a majority, the race heads to a Nov. 27 runoff. Espy, 64, whose family has deep roots in Mississippi, must draw large numbers of black and Democratic voters to the polls. But his biggest challenge will be persuading a large enough swath of others, including white moderates, to ignore the two main Republicans on the ballot and vote for a Democrat who happens to be black.”

-- The governor of Puerto Rico will endorse the Democratic candidates in Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial races today. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will campaign with Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum today, Politico’s Marc Caputo reports.

-- The NRCC canceled more than $1 million in planned advertising aimed at helping boost Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) in the final weeks before the midterm elections. The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports: “The decision to cut advertising … is a hint that Republicans are pessimistic about Yoder's chances of holding his Kansas City-area district. Yoder has had significant help from outside groups already. … But the NRCC, which faces a huge battlefield in a political environment in which Democrats have an edge, will use its money elsewhere. … Republicans have begun pulling advertising from several districts where they do not believe their candidates can win this year. Either the NRCC or the Congressional Leadership Fund have nixed planned advertisements in districts held by Reps. Keith Rothfus (Pa.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Mike Bishop (Mich.) and a handful of others."

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- The Trump administration said it will maintain a presence in Syria until the end of the country's long-running civil war in a bid to halt Iran's expansion across the Middle East. Missy Ryan, Paul Sonne and John Hudson report: “The vision articulated last week by senior U.S. officials [comes six months after Trump] said he would pull American troops out of Syria … James Jeffrey, the State Department’s special representative for Syria, said the United States would maintain a presence in the country, possibly including an extended military mission, until Iran withdraws the soldiers and militia forces it commands. U.S. officials expect that possible outcome only after world powers broker a deal ending the war. … The new strategy raises the stakes for the Trump administration in Syria, where it must navigate an array of obstacles that also include Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has reduced his incentive to make concessions required to end the fighting.”

-- Iran launched missiles into eastern Syria, a move that Iranian officials described as retaliation for a terrorist attack on a military parade last month. Erin Cunningham reports: “Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said that it fired six medium-range missiles into Syria from bases in western Iran at 2 a.m. local time, striking east of the Euphrates River and killing and wounding several militants. A statement on the Guard’s website described the targets as ‘takfiri terrorists,’ a term it often uses to refer to the Islamic State.”

-- China canceled a planned meeting with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Beijing. The New York Times’s Jane Perlez reports: “The decision to withdraw from the high-level encounter, known as the diplomatic and security dialogue, was the latest sign of bad blood between China and the United States, and capped a week of tit-for-tat actions by both nations as they settled into a newly chilly relationship. The cancellation of the dialogue, an event that China until recently had advertised as a productive way for the two sides to talk, showed how quickly the tensions over an escalating trade war have infected other parts of the relationship.”

-- Melania Trump will travel to Africa today on her first major solo international trip as first lady. The AP’s Darlene Superville reports: “Departing on Monday, she opens her first-ever visit to Africa on Tuesday in Ghana in the West, followed by stops in Malawi in the South, Kenya in the East and Egypt in the Northeast. Her first extended turn on the world stage outside the shadow of [the president] could still be complicated by her husband, who has spoken of the continent in impolite and even vulgar terms. That leaves the first lady with some fence-mending duties.”

-- Voters elected Denny Tamaki as the next governor of Japan’s Okinawa prefecture. He's sharply opposed to U.S. military presence on the strategically important island, which houses about half of the 54,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. Simon Denyer reports: “Okinawans feel that their small island bears an unfair burden of the U.S. military presence in Japan. The key issue is Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which sits in the middle of residential areas in the city of Ginowan. There is a two-decade-old plan to relocate the base to a more remote site at Henoko in the north of the island and move nearly half of the 19,000 Marines on the island to bases in Guam, Hawaii and Australia. The move has been delayed largely because of local opposition. Tamaki opposes the expansion of the Henoko facility . . . and instead demands a more radical redistribution of U.S. forces to other parts of Japan or abroad. The central government in Tokyo insists it has the constitutional right to decide on national security issues, and it wants to push ahead with the relocation plan. … But Tamaki’s victory spells another round of tough negotiations and potentially more legal battles over the relocation plan.”

-- Most Macedonian voters declined to vote in a critical referendum that would have paved the way for NATO and E.U. membership. Michael Birnbaum reports: “With about half the vote counted, only 35.1 percent of eligible Macedonians had answered the question of whether to accept an agreement to change the country’s name to North Macedonia in exchange for Greece’s lifting of its veto on NATO and [E.U.] membership. That was far short of the participation threshold of 50 percent, even though those who voted overwhelmingly supported the deal. The hotly contested campaign was closely watched by the Kremlin and Western leaders, who saw the vote as a signal for the geopolitical direction of the Balkans at a time when Russia and NATO nations are competing fiercely for influence in Europe.”

-- Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has cost the government 500 million pounds a week since the 2016 referendum, according to the results of a new study — making the country’s economy about 2.5 percent smaller than it would have been if voters had chosen to remain in the bloc. (Reuters)

-- A group of Japanese residents is suing North Korea after they were lured into the communist country in the 1960s by promises of a “utopian paradise” where work, housing and health care were all supplied in abundance. Instead, they were stripped of their basic freedoms, and forced to live and work for decades in desperate poverty.  Simon Denyer reports:  “In all, more than 93,000 people — mostly ethnic Koreans whose Japanese citizenship was stripped after World War II — left Japan between 1959 and 1984 … The ethnic Koreans, known in Japan as Zainichi, were joined by a few thousand Japanese spouses and children. Now, four women and one man who spent decades in North Korea before finally escaping to Japan are pursuing legal action against the North Korea government in a Japanese court, seeking damages for the lies they were told and mistreatment they suffered. They are also demanding that their relatives be given the right to return to Japan.

“The fate of the Zainichi is not a priority for the Japanese government. It is fixated on the ‘abductees,’ a much smaller number of Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. … But the Zainichi are a powerful reminder of other humanitarian catastrophes that have unfolded in North Korea in the past six decades, and how [the Kim regime] faces reckonings and recriminations on many fronts as it seeks dialogue with the West and its allies.” 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) used the Kavanaugh hearing as a rallying cry for the midterms:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) condemned how Kavanaugh's nomination has been handled:

The No. 2 Senate Republican tweeted this political cartoon:

The Fox News host who interviewed Kavanaugh noted this:

A former Democratic congressman posed this question:

A New York Times reporter highlighted a significant sentence from a story on Kavanaugh:

The Harvard professor who sometimes advises Trump zeroed in on one of Kavanaugh’s accusers:

The New Yorker released its dramatic new cover:

The price of Mark Judge's book has skyrocketed:

A veteran journalist suggested the scope of the investigation could leave an opening for reporters:

A New York Times reporter shared this image:

The controversy has even attracted notice abroad. From a BuzzFeed News reporter:

Meanwhile, Trump criticized SNL as overly political:

A Democratic senator applauded her SNL counterpart:

A CNBC reporter corrected Trump's assertion about a Democratic senator:

Kanye West once again voiced his support for Trump:

GOOD READS:

-- Esquire, “Devin Nunes’s family farm is hiding a politically explosive secret,” by Ryan Lizza: “For years, [Rep. Devin Nunes has] spun himself as a straight talker whose no-BS values are rooted in his family’s California dairy farm. So why did his parents and brother cover their tracks after quietly moving the farm to Iowa? Are they hiding something politically explosive? … On the ground in Iowa, Esquire searched for the truth — and discovered a lot of paranoia and hypocrisy.”

-- “Las Vegas shooting hero Jonathan Smith struggled to leave his apartment for six months. Now he’s studying to be a cop,” by Heather Long: “The bracelet is still on Jonathan Smith’s wrist, right where he put it a year ago as he entered the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. … It’s a tactile talisman now, along with the bullet still lodged in Smith’s chest, between his shoulder and his heart. … But there’s so much more no one can see beneath the bracelet: the pain, the emotion, the panic attacks that send him scrambling for a Xanax or pulling over to the side of the road to clutch the black-beaded rosary hanging from his rearview mirror. The Las Vegas massacre, the worst shooting attack in modern U.S. history, is a year behind Smith and the thousands of others who were there Oct. 1, 2017, when a man perched high above in the Mandalay Bay hotel turned a concert into a bloodbath.”

-- “The White House press room is overwhelmingly white. Does that matter?” by Paul Farhi: “The New York Times hired its seventh reporter to cover the White House last month, giving the newspaper one of the largest contingents of correspondents on the beat. Aside from being top-flight journalists, the crew shares a common trait: All seven are white. … The White House reporting staffs of the largest and most prominent outlets, particularly newspapers and newswires, tend to be the least racially diverse of all. … Newsroom recruiters often say the underlying goal of greater diversity isn’t simply numeric, but journalistic: People from different backgrounds see the world differently and can offer these perspectives to readers and viewers.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“The Washington Times settles lawsuit with Seth Rich's brother, issues retraction and apology for its coverage,” from CNN: “The Washington Times on Monday issued a lengthy retraction and apology for an editorial it published in March about Aaron Rich, the brother of the slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich whose unsolved murder became the basis for conspiracy theories on the far-right. ‘The Column included statements about Aaron Rich, the brother of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, that we now believe to be false,’ read part of the retraction. The retraction added, ‘The Washington Times apologizes to Mr. Rich and his family. All online copies of the Column have been deleted and all online content referencing the Column has been deleted to the extent within The Washington Times' control.’ The retraction came as part of a settlement Aaron Rich reached with The Washington Times after he filed a lawsuit against the conservative newspaper — and others — in March, his attorney Michael Gottlieb [said].”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Winnebago County GOP headquarters vandalized overnight,” from WREX: “Disturbing graffiti covers the walls of the Winnebago County Republican headquarters in Rockford this weekend. The vandalism appeared Sunday morning with the words ‘rape’ and ‘shame’ painted on the building. Local Republicans believe the graffiti is directly connected to the [Supreme Court hearings]. Local Republicans say this kind of vandalism is disappointing, but not surprising, following the events of this past week. ‘We can have our differences. We can have good spirited debate. I hope whoever is responsible for this will be brought to justice. You are a coward for doing it unless you come forward!’ Rep. John Cabello posted on his Facebook page. Senator Dave Syverson also weighed in on the graffiti, saying he sees it as some of the fallout from Senator Dianne Feinstein’s actions …” “These are the unintended consequences, when you take politics to a level that she did,” Syverson said. “Unfortunately this probably wont’ be the last.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will have lunch with Pence before presenting the Medal of Honor. He will then travel to Johnson City, Tenn., to participate in a roundtable with supporters and a campaign rally.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I’m a victim of sexual assault. … I feel very empathetic, frankly, for victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape,” Kellyanne Conway said on CNN’s “State of the Union.

 

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

-- Washington should get more sunshine today, but it will feel a bit muggier than recent days. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Some patches of fog are possible early on. Otherwise, skies are partly to mostly sunny and it’s warm. Highs head for about 80 degrees and it’s somewhat more humid than the past couple of days. Dew points rise toward the mid-60s, which is borderline muggy.”

-- The Nationals finished the season with a 12-0 loss to the Rockies. Chelsea Janes reports: “Sunday’s game was one of the few blowouts the Nationals experienced this year, and it therefore provided a fitting ending to a season that might as well have been a 162-game reality check. They finished 82-80, their worst record since 2011.”

-- The historic Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ closed its doors, 149 years after it was founded by free blacks and newly freed slaves. From DeNeen L. Brown: “The death of the renowned church in Shaw — an anchor during decades of segregation, a staging ground for the 1963 March on Washington and a haven during the 1968 riots — is the latest sign of the capital’s changing face as black residents get priced out of this neighborhood and so many others. Black businesses have closed up shop, and black houses of worship have sold their real estate and headed to the suburbs, where most of their congregants live.”  

-- As Metro continues to lose riders, transit officials have no clear idea of how they will combat the decline. From Faiz Siddiqui: “In conversations with all eight Metro board members and the agency’s chief executive over the past week, none was willing to commit to pushing for increased service, for example — despite a consultant’s conclusion that service was the key factor in riders’ decisions to abandon the system.”

-- D.C. Council member Vince Gray said he was pushed out of a nightclub after an employee “wouldn’t accept” his council identification card. Gray was at the club, the DC Eagle in Northeast, to attend “Art All Night,” a citywide arts festival sponsored by the District government. (Fenit Nirappil and Martin Weil)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Matt Damon played a fiery Brett Kavanaugh in SNL's parody of the hearing:

The Post compared the SNL skit to the actual Kavanaugh hearing:

The liberal group Demand Justice is launching ads to press Murkowski and Collins to vote “no” on Kavanaugh:

One of the protesters who confronted Sen. Jeff Flake explained why she decided to share her story of sexual assault:

A powerful storm nearly forced boats from the water onto the dock in Greece:

And this cow delighted the Internet: