With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: After headlining a campaign rally in Pennsylvania last night, President Trump phoned in live to Fox News during the 11 p.m. hour to discuss his response to Hurricane Michael. Then host Shannon Bream asked what he’ll do if he becomes convinced Saudi Arabia is responsible for the death or disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Well, it's a terrible thing and it certainly would not be a positive,” the president said. “I would not be happy at all. I guess you would have to say, so far, it's looking a little bit like that. We’re going to have to see.”

Trump suggested that he would oppose any push from Capitol Hill to restrict future arms sales to the longtime U.S. ally on the grounds it could cost Americans their jobs. “Well, I think that would be hurting us,” he told Fox. “We have jobs. We have a lot of things happening in this country. … Part of that is what we are doing with our defense systems and everybody is wanting them and, frankly, I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country. … And, you know, they are always quick to jump that way.”

The president finished his answer by hedging, saying he wants to gather all the facts first. “The very talented people are involved. And we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump said. “I do hate to commit to what recourse we’d take … It's just too early.”

-- The exchange underscored the difficult balancing act facing Trump, as he struggles to navigate the fraught geopolitics of the Middle East while appearing responsive to growing bipartisan outrage about the possible murder of a 59-year-old dissident who has been living in Virginia on the eve of his planned wedding. Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world, the biggest buyer of American weapons and the main counterweight to Iran. The Trump administration has built its entire strategy for the region, including a bid for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, around fostering close ties with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. The president’s first foreign trip even took him to Saudi Arabia, where he announced $110 billion in arms sales.

-- Trump’s wait-and-see comments came hours after my colleague Shane Harris reported that the crown prince, widely referred to as MBS, had ordered an operation to lure Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia and detain him. The story is based on U.S. intercepts of Saudi officials discussing the plan: “The intelligence, described by U.S. officials familiar with it, is another piece of evidence implicating the Saudi regime in Khashoggi’s disappearance last week after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials say that a Saudi security team lay in wait for the journalist and killed him.

“Several of Khashoggi’s friends said that over the past four months, senior Saudi officials close to the crown prince had called Khashoggi to offer him protection, and even a high-level job working for the government, if he returned to his home country. Khashoggi, however, was skeptical of the offers. He told one friend that the Saudi government would never make good on its promises not to harm him.

“The intelligence … has fueled speculation by officials and analysts in multiple countries that what transpired at the consulate was a backup plan to capture Khashoggi that may have gone wrong. A former U.S. intelligence official … noted that the details of the operation, which involved sending two teams totaling 15 men, in two private aircraft arriving and departing Turkey at different times, bore the hallmarks of a ‘rendition,’ in which someone is extra-legally removed from one country and deposited for interrogation in another. But Turkish officials have concluded that whatever the intent of the operation, Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.

“The intelligence poses a political problem for the Trump administration because it implicates Mohammed, who is particularly close to Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. … Kushner’s relationship with Mohammed … has long been the subject of suspicion by some American intelligence officials. Kushner and Mohammed have had private, one-on-one phone calls that were not always set up through normal channels so the conversations could be memorialized and Kushner could be properly briefed. … On Wednesday, Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton spoke by phone with the crown prince, but White House officials said the Saudis provided little information.”

-- Meanwhile, Turkish officials publicly accuse the Saudis of not cooperating with their investigation. Loveday Morris and Souad Mekhennet report from Istanbul: “Turkey has put in a request to enter the consulate, where Khashoggi was last seen Oct. 2 as he stepped through the compound’s front gate to obtain papers for his wedding. However, despite Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s offer to Bloomberg News for the Turkish government to search the premises, Saudi Arabia is delaying and does not want an investigative team to enter, one senior Turkish official said. … The Turkish newspaper Sabah published the identities of the 15 men suspected of being involved. Three Turkish officials confirmed that the list was accurate.”

-- The Wall Street Journal reports that the two Gulfstream jets used to ferry the 15 men into and out of Istanbul belong to a company controlled by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

-- NBC News obtained screenshots that show Khashoggi checked his cellphone just before entering the Saudi consulate, but he never read messages sent to him minutes later. Josh Lederman reports: “The screenshots of WhatsApp messages sent to Khashoggi by a friend in the U.S. corroborate the timeline of his disappearance, providing further evidence that he did not leave the consulate, as Saudi Arabia's government has claimed.”

-- The Saudi-U.S. relationship has weathered storms before, including the revelation that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis. The Trump administration has already stood by the crown prince amid outcry from the international community over a war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, Karen DeYoung notes: “Trump (also) initially supported the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates last year when they broke relations with neighboring Qatar, charging support for terrorism, only to reverse himself months later after objections from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.”

-- Politico reports that it was actually MBS himself who asked for the call with Kushner and Bolton after the top U.S. official at the embassy in Riyadh asked him directly about the case earlier in the week. A former administration official said the crown prince’s insistence on talking directly to the White House indicates that he hopes to leverage his close ties with Kushner to avoid repercussions.

On Tuesday evening, a group of foreign policy figures attended a dinner with a senior White House official with responsibility for the Middle East. … The official kept stressing that the U.S. had significant long-term interests in Saudi Arabia and repeatedly noted that Iran is a top threat,” Nahal Toosi reports. “When asked about Khashoggi, the official said the U.S. is still trying to get information about what happened, a statement many in the audience found absurd given that Khashoggi disappeared a week earlier and detailed reports had emerged in the media. The official said nothing about the administration being prepared to hold the Saudis accountable for what happened. Several foreign policy specialists say the anecdote shows that the Trump administration hopes this crisis will blow over … [T]he administration is ‘trying to sweep it under the rug,’ said Randa Slim, an analyst with the Washington-based Middle East Institute.”

-- But Congress seems more motivated to act now than before. The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee moved Wednesday to force Trump’s hand on sanctions. “In a letter to Trump, the lawmakers triggered the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act, which gives the president 120 days to decide whether to impose sanctions on any foreign person he determines sponsored or was involved in the disappearance of Khashoggi,” Karoun Demirjian reports. “Congressional critics of the Yemen campaign have never mounted enough support in Congress to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia, though (Bob) Corker temporarily blocked them last year and (Bob) Menendez continues to keep a planned sale of precision-guided munitions on hold.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has emerged as a key Trump ally on the Hill and chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, promised there will be “hell to pay” if the Saudis killed Khashoggi. “I’ve never been more disturbed than I am right now,” he told reporters. “It would be a bipartisan tsunami if this is proven to be true.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called for cutting off Saudi military aid until Khashoggi is returned alive. “This oppressive regime must be held accountable for its actions,” he writes in an op-ed for The Atlantic. “The United States has no business supporting it, either directly or indirectly.”

-- One imminent test for the administration: Saudi Arabia’s muscle will be on display next week, when American technology and financial titans gather at the investor conference in Riyadh that the crown prince will attend,” Mark Landler, Edward Wong and Eric Schmitt report in the New York Times. “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will represent the Trump administration at the meeting, which participants have called ‘Davos in the Desert’ and is held at the same Ritz-Carlton hotel where Prince Mohammed jailed dozens of wealthy Saudis in what he said was an anticorruption campaign. Among the prominent figures scheduled to take part are Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase; Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of the Blackstone Group; and Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber.

Two other scheduled attendees have ties to Mr. Trump: Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a financier who is a friend of the president’s; and Dina H. Powell, a Goldman Sachs executive and former deputy national security adviser who worked closely with Mr. Kushner on Saudi Arabia and is a leading candidate to replace Nikki R. Haley as ambassador to the United Nations.

The Treasury Department said Mr. Mnuchin was still planning to attend. A person working with American business executives said that if proof emerged that Saudi Arabia ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, at least some would cancel.”

-- Several major U.S. media outlets — including Bloomberg News, CNBC, Fox Business Network and CNN — are still listed as “media partners” for this conference. Erik Wemple reports: “New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha says the Times is no longer a media sponsor of the Future Investment Initiative. A spokesperson for Fox Business Network [said] that the organization is evaluating the matter. A CNBC spokesman says they are ‘monitoring the situation.’ A CNN rep says the network is evaluating the circumstances. We are awaiting replies from the others.”  

-- Saudi Arabia is facing mounting pressure in other areas: Former Barack Obama energy secretary Ernest Moniz told Axios that he’s suspending his involvement advising Saudi Arabia on a proposed $500 billion megaproject.  Several other technology and business leaders who were involved in the project, which entailed building a city of the future, also distanced themselves when BuzzFeed reached out.

-- Protesters held a vigil last night outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Marissa Lang reports: “They offered memories of the columnist and prayers for his family and fiancee. They demanded answers from the Saudi government — and action from the Trump administration. ‘When the Saudis commit acts of violence, it has always been with a wink and a nod from the United States,’ said Medea Benjamin, co-director of Code Pink, which organized Wednesday’s protest. ‘This did not start with Donald Trump. They have been emboldened for years, and it has been a bipartisan problem.’ … Standing beneath the golden sabers and green trees of the Saudi coat of arms, protesters held photographs of Khashoggi and signs denouncing the monarchy. One man, dressed in a long white thobe, wore the face of bin Salman over his own. His hands, held up for effect, were dripping fake blood.”

-- The bigger picture: Critics fault Trump’s hands-off response to autocrat abuses. Anne Gearan notes that authoritarians are acting emboldened around the world. “In China, the head of Interpol was abducted and imprisoned by authorities in Beijing while his wife was reportedly threatened with death back home in France. … [Trump] has praised … Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin as partners, dropped his previous criticism of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s human rights violations and has spoken approvingly of the harsh law enforcement tactics employed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. … In the case of Saudi Arabia, both Republican and Democratic administrations have been accused of coddling the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves. But Trump’s apparent willingness to look the other way … may have emboldened the kingdom to think that Trump would ignore a move against Khashoggi, human rights advocates and others said.”

-- Six takes from today’s WaPo opinion page:

  • The Post’s Editorial Board: “If the crown prince’s government does not immediately explain what happened to Mr. Khashoggi, and punish those responsible, it must be punished with sanctions — by Congress, if Mr. Trump cannot bring himself to act.”
  • Elliott Abrams, a former adviser to George W. Bush on Middle East policy: “Last year, most of the discussions about Saudi Arabia in which I participated questioned only whether the crown prince’s terrific reform program could really succeed. His highly successful two-week visit to the United States this year deepened the enthusiasm. The alleged killing of Khashoggi is a death blow to all those hopes and expectations, unless the Saudis can somehow explain what happened and accept full responsibility.”
  • Richard Cohen: “The silence of the Trump administration is bad enough. What’s worse is the language the president has used regarding the press. … From Riyadh to Moscow, they get the message from Trump: Journalists are scum.” 
  • Brian Klaas: “This harrowing saga has two main dimensions: Saudi brutality, certainly, but it also underscores the ways in which [Trump’s] fawning dictator worship, his pervasive conflicts of interest and his attacks on the media have emboldened authoritarian regimes to viciously silence their critics.”
  • Christian Caryl: “What is striking about all of these horrors is the shamelessness of the perpetrators. Evil has always existed (and always will), but rarely have the bigots, the thugs and the warmongers so brazenly advertised their sins.”
  • Max Boot: “Trump said he is in ‘love’ with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, one of the worst human-rights violators on the planet, and had little to say when Saudi Arabia was accused of murdering and dismembering [Khashoggi]. The only people he thinks are ‘evil’ are Kavanaugh critics. So forgive me if I don’t recant my #NeverTrumpism. In fact, every day, and in nearly every way, Trump confirms my initial judgment that he is unfit to be president.”

-- The Daily Beast reports that Khashoggi had been working in recent months to launch a pro-democracy advocacy group focused on boosting democracy and human rights in the Arab world. “The group, called Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), was incorporated in the state of Delaware as a tax-exempt organization in January of this year … According to a statement of core principles, the group would aim to provide ‘a counter narrative in the Arab world and the West to Arab Spring skeptics.’ … The group intended to push for democratic change even when it ran counter to American foreign policy goals. … The documentation indicates Khashoggi was set to lead DAWN, and that it aimed to gather ‘Arab Spring exiles who are scattered in various world capitals and cities, to strengthen their morale and utilize them.’”

-- Launching Tuesday: We invite you to sign up for The Post's newest newsletter, Power Up, a quick and very early look at the most important stories affecting Washington. It will be helmed by staff writer Jacqueline Alemany. Sign up here.

The Daily 202's BIG IDEA> Get James' insight into Washington every weekday on your smart speaker or favorite podcast player.
Subscribe on Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and other podcast players.
 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- After tearing through the Florida Panhandle and causing at least two deaths, Michael was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved north. Mark Berman, Antonia Noori Farzan and Eli Rosenberg report: “High winds from Hurricane Michael led to the death of an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Ga., EMA Director Travis Brooks [said]. The girl had been inside a trailer home in an unincorporated area of the county near Lake Seminole, close to the Florida-Georgia border. … ‘It looked like a war zone,’ Brooks said.”

-- Heavy rains and strong winds are now expected to sweep through the Southeast before Michael exits the Mid-Atlantic coast tomorrow. Jason Samenow reports: “Now the concern is Georgia, the Carolinas, southern Virginia and the southern half of the Delmarva Peninsula, where flooding rainfall is a growing threat.” Here is a city-by-city forecast.

-- In Florida, the winds and storm surge ripped homes from their foundations and left hundreds of thousands without power. Kevin Begos, Mark Berman, Luz Lazo and Joel Achenbach report: “The powerful eastern side of the storm clobbered the modest coastal community of Mexico Beach, where some structures disintegrated into piles of wood amid massive waves and heavy flooding. In nearby Panama City Beach, homes were shredded and boats tossed. … Power outages soared through the day, reaching more than 300,000 by Wednesday evening, with nearly 90 percent of Bay County — home to Mexico Beach and Panama City — losing power.”

-- Hundreds gathered in a Tallahassee shelter as authorities warned that residents needed to evacuate. Robert Samuels reports: “About 100 people were inside Tuesday night. By Wednesday afternoon, there were 330 residents, 149 cats and dogs, and one parakeet. Many of the residents had reached the gym in the moments before the doors were closed.”

-- Seasoned storm chasers expressed shock at the damage:

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Dow dropped by more than 830 points, suffering its third-largest point decline in history — and the worst single-day decline since February — amid concern over rising interest rates. The tech sector was hit hardest, sending Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Netflix tumbling. Asian and European markets also slid today in response to the Wall Street sell-off. (Taylor Telford)
  2. Antitrust officials approved CVS’s $69 billion merger with Aetna — the nation's third-largest insurance provider — in a deal that could reshape the health-care industry and allow CVS to transform many of its locations into medical hubs. (Brian Fung)
  3. A new DOJ inspector general report reveals that the U.S. Marshals Service lost track of 2.45 million rounds of ammunition. It's the latest example in a larger trend of federal agencies losing track of guns and ammo. (Joe Davidson)

  4. In the World Bank’s rankings of how well countries help their residents meet their economic potential, the United States comes in 24th, with many East Asian and European nations scoring above it. Broken down by gender, the United States ranks 25th for men and 32nd for women. (Andrew Van Dam and Jeanne Whalen)

  5. James Murdoch is the front-runner to replace Elon Musk as the chairman of Tesla when he steps down next month. Tesla is required to hire an external candidate for the role as part of its settlement with the SEC, which came after Musk tweeted in August that he had “funding secured” to take the electric car company private. (Financial Times)
  6. During a speech in St. Peter's square, Pope Francis compared having an abortion to “hiring a hit man” — remarks that are sure to ameliorate some of the anger from conservative Catholics who have accused Francis of remaining silent on what they believe are important cultural issues. (Reuters)

  7. A former aide charged with stealing $1.2 million of wine from his boss, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, died after jumping off the 33rd story of the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan. Nicolas De-Meyer had been scheduled to appear in federal court that afternoon, where he was expected to plead guilty. (Antonia Noori Farzan)
  8. A New York man was arrested for allegedly plotting to blow himself up on the Mall on Election Day to draw attention to his political beliefs. Authorities said Paul Rosenfeld supported sortition, which advocates selecting government officials at random. (CBS New York)

  9. For the first time ever, medical officials performed a liver transplant from an HIV-positive mother to an uninfected patient — her baby daughter.  Doctors in South Africa, where the procedure took place, said the daughter was given antiretroviral drugs  before the transplant to prevent transmission. She remains HIV-negative. (CNN)
  10. Barbara Bush told People she decided to quickly get married to ensure her grandfather, George H.W. Bush, would be able to attend “while he’s feeling good still.” Laura Bush said during a separate event that it was such a small ceremony that Jeb Bush wasn’t even invited. (New York Post)

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The feud between Rod Rosenstein and Andrew McCabe dates back to Robert Mueller's May 2017 appointment as special counsel. Just days after Mueller was tapped for the role, he found himself drawn into a heated standoff between the two — in which each man urged the other to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report: “At the time of the confrontation … tensions were running high at the FBI and Justice Department … Trump had just fired [James Comey], and almost immediately afterward, FBI officials had opened a case into whether the president had obstructed justice. Some in the bureau eyed Rosenstein warily, because he had authored a memo that was used by the administration to justify Comey’s termination. … Justice Department officials, meanwhile, were concerned that the FBI — and McCabe in particular — may have acted too hastily to open an investigative file on [Trump] … The previously unreported episode involving Mueller, Rosenstein and McCabe [underscores] the deep suspicion between senior law enforcement officials who were about to embark on a historic, criminal investigation of the president …”

  • One person said part of Rosenstein’s argument was that, because McCabe had years earlier worn a T-shirt supporting his wife’s campaign for a state Senate seat in Virginia, he could not be considered objective in a political probe.
  • “McCabe argued that Rosenstein’s authoring of [the memo justifying Comey's termination] meant that [he was] the one who should step away from the case. ‘Andy was angry,’ said one person familiar with the matter, adding that McCabe slapped the document down in front of Rosenstein at one point in the discussion.
  • “In the end, neither Rosenstein nor McCabe recused from the Russia investigation.” 

-- Trump talked with Jeff Sessions’s own chief of staff late last month about replacing him as attorney general. Their conversation occurred shortly after reports that Rosenstein had suggested “wiretapping” the president. Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey report: “The conversation between Trump and Matthew G. Whitaker was somewhat nebulous . . . It was not clear, for example, whether Whitaker would take over on an interim basis or be nominated in a more permanent capacity, or how definitive the president’s intentions were. On a long list of indignities that Sessions has endured from his boss, Trump’s discussing replacing him with his own top aide stands out. … White House officials now say that they expect both Rosenstein and Sessions to stay in their jobs until the midterm elections, as any move against them before then could be damaging to Republicans in close races. After that, though, the Justice Department expects the two men at the top will be replaced in short order. It is unclear whether Whitaker will be a part of those plans.”

-- Mitch McConnell insisted any potential replacement for Sessions would not be a Republican senator. The AP reports: “Sen. Lindsey Graham has been the subject of speculation about the job, but Graham said this week he has no interest. In an interview with The Associated Press Wednesday, McConnell said any replacement to Sessions is ‘not going to come from our caucus, I can tell you that.’ He cited the Republicans’ thin, 51-49 Senate majority.”

-- Rosenstein’s interview with House investigators has been postponed “indefinitely,” according to congressional aides. Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett report: “The delay means Rosenstein may not appear on Capitol Hill for an interview until after next month’s election, potentially exposing him to a subpoena. The House Judiciary Committee has frequently used subpoenas in this probe to compel witness testimony and the production of Justice Department documents.”

-- The late GOP activist Peter Smith, who sought to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails during the presidential campaign, met with Michael Flynn in 2015 and later told associates that he was using Flynn’s connections to help him on the email project. The Wall Street Journal’s Shelby Holliday, Byron Tau and Dustin Volz report: “At the time, Mr. Flynn had recently left his job as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and was trying to set up his own consulting firm, while Mr. Smith was looking at investment opportunities in cybersecurity. Additionally, in an email … one of Mr. Smith’s former associates wrote to a friend last week, ‘As you are aware Peter started a business relationship with Gen. Mike Flynn in November 2015. We spoke with him on the day he left for his trip to Moscow.’ The Journal reported in 2017 that Mr. Smith implied he had connections to Mr. Flynn, but the email and people familiar with the matter indicate the two men were in contact and did in fact have a working relationship.”

-- A California man charged in connection to Russia’s Internet Research Agency — the “troll farm” run by a key Vladimir Putin ally — was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to felony identity fraud. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn reports: “The sentence for Richard Pinedo, 28, is the most severe penalty handed down yet in [Mueller’s probe]. Pinedo’s case stemmed from his admission in February to unwittingly selling stolen bank accounts to Russian internet trolls who used the credentials to buy internet ads that sowed discord among Americans.”

WEST WING INTRIGUE:

-- Trump has told advisers Dina Powell is his top choice to replace Nikki Haley as U.N. ambassador. Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report: “Powell, who served as deputy national security adviser and is now a senior executive at Goldman Sachs, is close with Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, [Kushner] — who both serve as senior White House aides — and has maintained friendly ties with the president after leaving the White House at the beginning of the year. A senior official said Powell is one of two top candidates to replace Haley, but declined to name the other. Trump did not make a formal offer to Powell during the call Wednesday morning . . .

While Powell remains a top choice for Trump, she could face some opposition internally. She is disliked by White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, who privately criticized her performance in the administration and deemed her a sharp-elbowed operator who did not follow his protocols, according to three West Wing officials. Powell also has differed with national security adviser John Bolton on some policy issues and has a less hawkish worldview.”

-- Trump vigorously pushed back against reports that he is unhappy with Kelly’s performance as chief of staff in a surreal Oval Office interview with New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi. “I want to tell you a couple of things,” the president told her. “The chief is doing a very good job. I’m very happy with him, we have a very good relationship, number one. Number two, I didn’t offer anybody else the job. I didn’t talk to anybody about the job. And I’m not, I’m not looking.” Trump also insisted there was “no chaos” in the West Wing. And to illustrate the success of his administration, he gave Nuzzi two pages “stamped with 58 bullet points, typed in a large font. At the top, underlined, bold, and all-caps, it read, ‘TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ACCOMPLISHMENTS.’”

-- The first lady said there are people currently serving in the Trump administration she does not trust, an opinion she has shared with her husband. ABC News’s Lucien Bruggeman reports: “‘It's harder to govern,’ the first lady [said in an ABC interview]. ‘You always need to watch your back.’ … [The interview] took place in Africa, where she traveled to promote her ‘Be Best’ campaign, which raises awareness about online bullying. The first lady explained how her experience being bullied led in part to her ‘Be Best’ initiative. ‘I could say that I'm the most bullied person in the world,’ Melania Trump said. Pressed by [ABC’s Tom] Llamas on that assertion, she responded, ‘One of them — if you really see what people are saying about me.’”

-- Trump escalated his attacks on the Federal Reserve as the stock market slumped, declaring, “I think the Fed has gone crazy.” From Damian Paletta: “Trump appeared to be complaining that the central bank, which is run by a chairman he appointed several months ago, Jerome H. Powell, is steadily raising interest rates, a normal course of action when an economy is strengthening. Trump has been stepping up his verbal attacks on the Fed, breaking with years of tradition during which U.S. presidents and their advisers avoid commenting directly on Fed policy out of respect for the central bank’s independence.”

-- “Obama Had a Secret Plan in Case Trump Rejected 2016 Election Results,” by New York magazine’s Mattathias Schwartz: “In October 2016, senior staff in the Obama White House discussed what they should do if Hillary Clinton won the November election and Donald Trump refused to accept the result as legitimate. … The Obama White House plan, according to interviews with [senior adviser Ben] Rhodes and Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director, called for congressional Republicans, former presidents, and former Cabinet-level officials including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to try and forestall a political crisis by validating the election result. In the event that Trump tried to dispute a Clinton victory, they would affirm the result as well as the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russian interference in the election sought to favor Trump, and not Clinton.”

-- White House adviser Kellyanne Conway disparaged Hillary Clinton in a Fox News interview, saying that she is married “to a much more popular man who was actually a two-term president that she’ll never be.” Addressing Clinton’s recent comments about civility, Conway said, “Usually when she opens her mouth, respectfully, she offends at least one half of the country, and she did it again, but I think her discourse now is a little bit dangerous.” (John Wagner)

FRESH KAVANAUGH FALLOUT:

-- After sitting on them until after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday referred more than a dozen judicial misconduct complaints filed against the newly minted justice to a reliably Republican judge in Colorado for review. Tom Hamburger and Ann Marimow report: “The 15 complaints, related to statements Kavanaugh made during his Senate confirmation hearings, were initially filed with the federal appeals court in Washington, where Kavanaugh served for the last 12 years before his confirmation Saturday to the Supreme Court. … The allegations center on whether Kavanaugh was dishonest and lacked judicial temperament during his Senate testimony, according to people familiar with the matter. … The Denver-based appeals court is led by Chief Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich, the former solicitor general of Colorado who was nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush.

-- FBI Director Chris Wray defended his handling of the bureau's “limited” background investigation into Kavanaugh, telling lawmakers the investigation “followed standard procedures.” Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian report: “Wray was pressed at a Senate hearing by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) about how much direction FBI agents received from the White House when they conducted a supplemental background investigation into claims by a California professor that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her when the two were teenagers . . . ‘As is standard, the investigation was very specific in scope, limited in scope, and that is the usual process and that my folks have assured me that the usual process was followed,’ Wray said. Harris then asked if the FBI examined whether Kavanaugh may have misled Congress in his public testimony. ‘That’s not something I could discuss here,’ Wray said . . . [Wray also said he] could not answer whether White House counsel Donald McGahn played a role in discussions between the White House and the FBI about the investigation, saying only that he was told the FBI’s Security Division coordinated the effort with the White House Office of Security.”

-- Contradicting Trump, McConnell predicted that “nobody” can beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska — even after her “no” vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “She’s about as strong as you can possibly be in Alaska. Nobody’s going to beat her,” McConnell told the Associated Press. Trump said over the weekend of Murkowski’s vote, “I think she will never recover from this. I think the people from Alaska will never forgive her for what she did.” But McConnell argued Murkowski “certainly” would recover, pointing to her 2010 victory as a write-in candidate after losing the GOP primary. (John Wagner and Mike DeBonis)

-- Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen said his party should not block Trump’s Supreme Court nominees if they retake the majority, which he described as a “minuscule” possibility. “At this point, the chances of my party of being in the majority in the Senate are minuscule,” Bredesen said after his final debate with GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn. “I really believe you’ve got to reach beyond party on these nominations, as we did with [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, as we did with [Antonin] Scalia, who got 90-plus votes. I would want to see any nominee from any president brought forward for a vote.” (David Weigel)

-- Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) rebutted Hillary Clinton’s claim that Democrats “cannot be civil” with Republicans after the former secretary of state asserted in an interview that the GOP is out “to destroy what you stand for … [and] what you care about.” “That’s ridiculous,” Heitkamp told CNN. “I can’t imagine how you get anything done if you don’t bring civility back into politics, and that goes for both sides.” (Kristine Phillips)

-- Trump’s two Supreme Court nominees appeared to have different takes on a case concerning immigrants’ rights. From Robert Barnes: “The question was whether federal law requires authorities to detain — without a bond hearing — those legally in the country who have committed certain crimes that make them eligible for deportation. … Justice Neil M. Gorsuch … seemed concerned that the law gave federal officials too much power to bring in such people even decades after they had completed sentences for what could be somewhat minor crimes. … New Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, noted that might be a reason for the court not to impose a time constraint on the government.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- The president has personally worked to help advance some of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson’s business interests, including in Japan — which, after years of acrimonious debate, has decided to legalize casinos. ProPublica’s Justin Elliott reports: “For more than a decade, Adelson and his company, Las Vegas Sands, have sought to build a multibillion-dollar casino resort there. He has called expanding to the country, one of the world’s last major untapped markets, the ‘holy grail.’ … During a meeting at Mar-a-Lago [with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe], Trump raised Adelson’s casino bid … The Japanese side was surprised. The president raising a top donor’s personal business interests directly with a foreign head of state would violate longstanding norms.

“Not only has Trump touted Sands’ interests in Japan, but his administration also installed an executive from the casino industry in a top position in the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. Adelson’s influence reverberates through this administration. Cabinet-level officials jump when he calls. One who displeased him was replaced. He has helped a friend’s company get a research deal with the [EPA]. And Adelson has already received a windfall from Trump’s new tax law..." [Adelson will save an estimated $1.2 billion on taxes.]

-- For the first time ever, a Chinese government spy has been extradited to the United States. Federal agents first lured Yanjun Xu to Belgium before transferring him to the United States, where he faces charges of economic espionage and attempting to steal aviation secrets. Ellen Nakashima reports: “[Xu’s capture] helps vindicate law enforcement officials who have faced criticism in recent years that indictments of foreign operatives are unlikely to result in the defendants setting foot in a courtroom. The announcement comes as the Trump administration has significantly escalated its rhetoric against China amid a trade war and general worsening of relations between the world powers.”

-- Apple CEO Tim Cook appears to be deploying a charm offensive in China as escalating tariffs threaten to impact his company. Anna Fifield reports: “[T]hese are trying times to be an American company operating in China, let alone an American tech giant that counts on China for contract manufacturing and sales. Although Apple largely dodged the tariffs [Trump] imposed on Chinese imports last month, it is still caught in the middle of the increasingly acrimonious trade war. … The Chinese government has repeatedly, and not very subtly, suggested that American corporate leaders such as Cook should help broker a solution to the trade war by talking sense to Washington.”

THE MIDTERMS:

-- More than 53,000 voter registrations in Georgia are being held up by the office of Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also locked in a close gubernatorial race against Democrat Stacey Abrams. The AP’s Ben Nadler reports: “[M]any people on that list — which is predominantly black, according to an analysis by The Associated Press — may not even know their voter registration has been held up. Tuesday is Georgia’s deadline to register and be eligible to vote in the November General Election. … [Abrams] and voting rights advocacy groups charge that Kemp is systematically using his office to suppress votes and tilt the election, and that his policies disproportionately affect black and minority voters. Kemp denies it vehemently. But through a process that Kemp calls voter roll maintenance and his opponents call voter roll purges, Kemp’s office has cancelled over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012.”

-- Former attorney general Eric Holder offered a new motto for the Democratic Party: “When they go low, we kick 'em.” From Aaron Blake: “During a campaign swing [for Abrams and other Democrats] in McDonough, Ga., on Sunday, [Holder] notes former first lady Michelle Obama’s high-minded 2016 slogan, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ Then he makes clear he disagrees. ‘No, no,’ Holder says. ‘When they go low, we kick 'em. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.’ Several minutes later, Holder clarifies that he’s not advocating anything illicit. ‘When I say we, you know, ‘We kick ‘em,’ I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate. We don’t do anything illegal,’ Holder said. ‘But we got to be tough, and we have to fight for the very things that [civil rights leaders] John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Whitney Young — you know, all those folks gave to us.’”

-- “Midterm fear factor: Republicans, Democrats stoke anxiety over health care, rule of law,” by Sean Sullivan and John Wagner: “Republicans and Democrats are delivering their closing arguments to midterm voters, aggressively stoking fears about the opposing party on health care and the rule of law with less than four weeks until the election. Reeling from their failure to stop [Kavanaugh’s] confirmation to the Supreme Court, Democrats sought to regain their balance in the battle for the Senate on Wednesday by emphatically presenting themselves as guardians of the Affordable Care Act and its protection for Americans with preexisting medical conditions while casting Republicans as threats to that basic principle. [Trump], in an op-ed riddled with falsehoods or misleading statements, painted a dire portrait of what would happen under a ‘Medicare-for-all’ plan favored by many Democrats, and he portrayed the party’s efforts as part of a wider ‘radical’ push toward socialism.

“The strategies are part of a broader trend that has emerged in campaigns across the country, with control of Congress at stake on Nov. 6. Republicans are determined to brand Democrats as extremists who they argue should alarm most voters. Democrats are characterizing Republicans as destructive crusaders against landmark laws protecting everyday people.”

Exhibit A: Senate Democrats attempted (and failed) to overturn the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term health insurance plans. Every Republican senator, except Susan Collins, opposed the resolution, leaving it one vote short of passage. But Democratic lawmakers hoped that spotlighting the “junk” plans, which do not cover preexisting conditions, would aid their midterm efforts. (John Wagner)

-- Republicans believe they’re closing in on securing their Senate majority. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports: “[Heidi] Heitkamp is down in public polls by a significant margin, and most political handicappers think Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) is the favorite to beat her. If she goes down, Democrats would basically have to run the table in every other battleground race to take the chamber.”

-- Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) does not plan to challenge Nancy Pelosi for the House speakership if Democrats retake the chamber. Politico’s Nolan D. McCaskill and John Bresnahan report: “Hoyer wants to be House majority leader next year. … Hoyer is also confident [Pelosi] can assemble the votes necessary to become speaker, despite calls from some Democrats to replace her. But if for some reason Pelosi doesn’t become speaker, Hoyer will run to lead House Democrats, according to lawmakers and aides familiar with the Maryland Democrat's plans. Hoyer will never challenge Pelosi for speaker. However, if the job is open, he’ll run for it.”

-- Both candidates in Illinois’ gubernatorial race — incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker — have been secretive about their wealth. The Chicago Tribune’s Todd Lighty reports: “Both candidates for governor have released vague and incomplete information about their wealth. Both have declined to provide their entire federal and state income tax returns so that voters might see where the two politicians’ financial interests intersect — or potentially conflict — with the business of the state of Illinois. And both have investments in opaque offshore tax havens — holdings that are more extensive than previously known, the Tribune has found. Rauner and Pritzker have investments registered at the Ugland House, a five-story building in Grand Cayman that thousands of companies use as their address to minimize taxes.”

-- A new Marquette Law poll in Wisconsin found incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) holding an extremely narrow advantage against Democratic challenger Tony Evers, leading him 47 percent to 46 percent among likely voters, which is within the margin of error. “In the race for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seat, Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin leads among likely voters with 53 percent, while 43 percent support Republican challenger Leah Vukmir … In the September poll, Baldwin received 53 percent and Vukmir was supported by 42 percent.”

-- Trump touted his administration’s accomplishments during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. Robert Costa and Felicia Sonmez report: “[Trump] was campaigning for a slew of Republicans who are facing uphill challenges this year, including gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner and Rep. Lou Barletta, who is running for the Senate. Trump had faced questions earlier Wednesday about whether it was appropriate to hold the rally as Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm, was slamming into Florida’s Gulf Coast. Upon landing in Erie, Trump told reporters that it would be ‘very unfair’ to cancel the campaign event. ‘You have thousands of people who started coming last night,’ Trump said. ‘So we’re going to do that and we have a lot of happy people.’”

-- In recent days, Trump has abandoned his complaints about alleged injustices against his presidency — such as the “rigged witch hunt” of the Russia probe — to focus on his successes. From Philip Rucker: “With the midterm elections just 27 days away, Trump’s ebullient mood is coming through in ways large and small. Slights that ordinarily would have sparked a multiday airing of presidential grievances have largely been ignored. … Instead, Trump has been crowing about all his winning. The confirmation of [Kavanaugh] despite allegations of sexual assault. The falling unemployment rate. The new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. And, of course, his new ambassador to African Americans: rapper Kanye West.”

-- Fox News has stopped airing most of Trump’s rallies in full as the ratings have dropped off. Politico’s Jason Schwartz and Gabby Orr report: “During three Trump rallies last week, Fox News showed clips and highlights from his speeches but stuck largely with its normal weekday prime-time programming. … [O]n Wednesday night, as Trump took the stage in Erie, Pa., at 7 p.m., Fox News stuck with its coverage of Hurricane Michael. … Fox still provides livestreams of the campaign events online, but during a crucial period, with the midterms less than a month away, some in the White House are worried that the president is losing a prime-time megaphone to his base.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A former lawyer at the National Security Agency, who is now a Brookings fellow and edits Lawfare, called for more transparency about the Trump family's financial ties to Saudi Arabia:

Some perspective from a reporter for The National, a UAE-based outlet:

This exchange from yesterday’s State Department briefing is getting a lot of attention online:

From Khashoggi’s editor at The Post:

The Post’s Beirut bureau chief:

The research director at the Project on Middle East Democracy:

Virginia’s senators consider Khashoggi a constituent:

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has spent months trying to draw attention to civilian deaths in Yemen, said it’s time to rethink the U.S. relationship with Riyadh:

A GOP strategist who has advised Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz:

USA Today faced criticism after it published an op-ed by Trump which contained many falsehoods. From a former Obama speechwriter:

From an NPR host:

From an NYU journalism professor:

A former deputy managing editor at USA Today replied:

Twitter continues to speculate on why Nikki Haley announced her resignation when she did. From a Weekly Standard editor:

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) called out officials who endorse incivility: 

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), down in the polls, is distancing herself from the Democratic Party:

An experience Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) had with sexism in the Senate received renewed attention after her vote to confirm Kavanaugh:

Joe Biden's former chief of staff looked at a list of Trump nominees:

A Weather Channel meteorologist tweeted a photo from Florida:

Some Twitter users accused Trump of hypocrisy for going to a campaign rally as Hurricane Michael tore through Florida:

A CNN reporter who has clashed with the White House saw something familiar about Trump's tweet:

A Wall Street Journal reporter summarized Trump's Tuesday:

And a reporter for a local CBS affiliate in Rhode Island shared an update on the state's gubernatorial contest:

GOOD READ FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Green Bay Press-Gazette, “A mental illness journey: Clinging to hope after hitting personal rock bottom,” by Ryan Wood: “There is no cure for mental disease. Only treatment. Regardless, we’re finally sharing our story this Oct. 10, recognized around the world for mental health awareness, because we believe it can help. … Before Kelly was diagnosed bipolar, borderline personality disorder, severe depression and severe anxiety, there were many things I did not know. There’s a great deal of ignorance about mental health in our society. A stigma. People are dying because of it. My wife was almost one of them.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

 “A Minnesota Republican snatched his opponent’s mic, then dropped it in front of her,” from Avi Selk: “Minnesota state Rep. Duane Quam and his rival, Jamie Mahlberg, got through the first half-hour of Monday’s debate without any unpleasantness, really without anything approximating drama. … And then, just before the evening wrapped up, someone asked about inflation. … [As Mahlberg, a psychology teacher who had never run for office before, wrapped up her answer], she smiled and turned to her left, awaiting the next question. She did not see that from her other side, Quam’s hand was sliding low across the table toward her. It all happened in about a second. Quam’s left hand passed over a notebook … It made a little detour around her elbow and shot up toward the microphone she still held at chest level. And then he yanked the mic straight up from Mahlberg’s fist, like Excalibur from the Arthurian stone, and made it his again. ‘Thank you!’ he said.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“A truck with ‘Trump 2020’ bumper stickers was left at a bar overnight. Someone set it on fire,” from Amy B Wang: “On Monday night, Johnny MacKay surveyed the parking lot of the Garage Bar and Grille in Vancouver, Wash. He had had a few drinks and planned to take an Uber home ... [figuring] a spot directly under a street lamp would be the best place to leave his truck parked overnight. Photos of the [pickup] were mostly nondescript, save for two [pro-Trump]  stickers on the back bumper ... Now MacKay thinks those stickers made him a target. During the night, [a man who lives nearby]  heard — and felt — an explosion ... He ran outside and began filming, [as MacKay's truck] was consumed by bright orange flames. MacKay, who went back to the bar the next morning to pick up his car, instead found a burned-out shell  ..." “All of a sudden I saw the tires were melted, the windows were shattered, and I was just in shock,” he said.

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will participate in two bill-signing ceremonies and then speak at the annual meeting of the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“She's going to make a lot of money.” — Trump on Nikki Haley

 

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

-- The D.C. region may see heavy rains later today as Michael pushes north. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Showers are possible all day as tropical moisture funnels into the area. Locally heavy downpours could develop, especially later in the day and in areas southeast of Washington. Winds are light from the south. It is still steamy but at least highs are only in the mid- to upper 70s.”

-- The Capitals beat the Golden Knights 5-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- A new poll showed the race for Maryland’s attorney general may be tightening. Rachel Chason and Scott Clement report: “[Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D)], who has touted his lawsuits against the Trump administration, earned the support of 43 percent of likely Maryland voters in poll released Wednesday by Gonzales Research & Media Services, compared with 34 percent for [Republican Craig] Wolf, who has criticized Frosh as devoting too much time and taxpayer money to the lawsuits.”

-- A man died after his wheelchair fell down an escalator at the Columbia Heights Metro station. Martine Powers reports: “Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said that the man was using a wheelchair on the ‘up’ escalator. She said he had nearly reached the top when he and the chair tumbled backward to the bottom. D.C. Fire spokesman Doug Buchanan said the man was found unconscious at the bottom of the escalator, and was transported to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. He later died. … The station’s elevator was operating properly at the time, Ly said. ‘A review of camera footage revealed the man waited 10 to 15 seconds for the elevator, which was in service at the time, and then diverted to the escalator,’ Ly said.”

-- A second arrest was made in an armed robbery that occurred last year. Imani Plummer Nunn and Jesse Nunn allegedly assaulted the victim with a handgun and robbed him after he willingly entered their car thinking it was an Uber. (WTOP)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Late-night hosts mocked Trump's op-ed on Democrats' health-care proposals:

The damage from Hurricane Michael in Florida already appears to be catastrophic:

A Texas woman's song mocking Trump's claim that it's “a very scary time for young men” went viral:

And a family struggled to remain calm as humpback whales surrounded their boat in Puget Sound: