With Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: Bob Mueller chose his words carefully. The former special counsel responded monosyllabically to hundreds of questions on Wednesday. He clearly did not want to be on Capitol Hill, declined repeated requests to read aloud passages from his 448-page report and took special care to never utter the I-word: impeachment. This makes the handful of moments when Mueller volunteered to elaborate, or emphasized something emphatically, worthy of special attention.
The overwhelming majority of Americans did not devote six hours of a summer workday to watching the 74-year-old answer five-minute rounds of questions from dozens of grandstanding lawmakers. Much of the press coverage this morning focuses less on substance than optics. That’s not totally unfair: Democrats subpoenaed Mueller to appear because they wanted made-for-TV moments, and they acknowledge they didn’t get what they hoped for.
Instead of reading the theater criticism, however, citizens who missed the cable circus might be better served by reading the transcripts. In his own understated, patrician and old-school way, Mueller undercut so much White House spin and drew attention to how many false statements President Trump has made to the American people. Here are the six most significant quotes from the former special counsel’s six hours in the hot seat – and why they matter:
1) On Russian interference in domestic politics: “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.”
The former FBI director, who earned a Purple Heart as a Marine in Vietnam and helped guide law enforcement during the traumatic aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, came out of retirement to investigate the Kremlin’s efforts to sway the 2016 presidential election.
“We have underplayed to a certain extent that aspect of our investigation,” Mueller told the House Intelligence Committee in the afternoon, explaining that Russia’s effort to undermine elections could do “long-term damage to the United States that we need to move quickly to address.”
Mueller said he wrote the first volume of his report to serve as “our living message to those who come after us” so that they “don’t let this problem continue to linger as it has over so many years.” And he warned that “many more countries” are developing capabilities to do the same, emboldened by the success of Moscow, as he reiterated the need for “swift” action.
Asked about Trump campaign officials interacting with Russians who offered help to their election efforts, and the failure to report such overtures to the FBI, Mueller said he hopes future campaigns don’t think it’s acceptable to accept assistance from foreign governments. “I hope this is not the new normal,” he said, “but I fear it is.”
From someone who spent 28 years in the CIA’s clandestine service, including in Moscow and running the agency’s Russia operations:
Nearly every top Trump campaign aide was involved in meetings with Russians. No offers of assistance were rebuffed. Nobody told authorities. Almost all lied about their contacts. Much of the campaign foreign policy team is in jail. Nobody has ever explained why they met Russians.— John Sipher (@john_sipher) July 24, 2019
2) On Trump’s past praise for WikiLeaks: “Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal behavior.”
Mueller faulted Trump for previously praising the anti-secrecy group, whose leader Julian Assange now faces federal charges, and which allegedly served as a conduit for the Russians to disseminate hacked emails of Hillary Clinton campaign officials.
Mueller said he agrees with Mike Pompeo’s characterization of WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service.” Trump said “I love WikiLeaks” at a rally in the fall of 2016. His son Don Jr. tweeted a link to stolen documents that Mueller’s report said was provided to him by WikiLeaks in a Twitter direct message.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Mueller whether knowingly accepting foreign assistance is an unethical thing to do. “And a crime, given certain circumstances,” Mueller replied, nodding. “It’s also unpatriotic,” said Schiff. “True,” replied Mueller.
3) Rebutting Trump’s claims of total exoneration: “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”
📈To be 'exculpated' is to be cleared from alleged fault or guilt. https://t.co/OaK9foJ5yG— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) July 24, 2019
Mueller clarified his position on whether he would have indicted the president if not for the opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel that says a sitting president shouldn’t face criminal charges. “We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime,” he said.
“We did not address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term,” Mueller said in his opening statement. “Rather, we focused on whether the evidence was sufficient to charge any member of the campaign with taking part in a criminal conspiracy. It was not.”
Asked whether the president, under Justice Department policy, could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice after he leaves office, Mueller kept his answer succinct: “True.”
4) Finally defending the integrity of his investigation: “It is not a witch hunt.”
For two years, Mueller kept quiet as Trump and his allies impugned him and his team. Even during the news conference in May to announce his resignation as special counsel, Mueller did not offer a full-throated defense of his methods or personnel. On Wednesday, he replied to GOP criticism that some of the career prosecutors on his team previously gave money to Democrats.
“I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years. In those 25 years, I’ve not had occasion once to ask about somebody’s political affiliation,” Mueller said. “It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job seriously and quickly and with integrity.”
Justice Department policy prohibits asking about political views as part of a job interview. Mueller also explained that he moved former FBI official Peter Strzok off his team as soon as he found out about anti-Trump text messages in 2016.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) accused Mueller of including only “the very worst” information about Trump in his report. “Not true,” he replied, adding that the team “strove to put in exculpatory evidence” about Trump’s conduct.
5) On why he didn’t subpoena the president: “We decided that we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of the necessity of expediting the end of the investigation.”
The former special counsel conceded that Trump’s written answers to his questions about Russian interference — the president refused to answer any questions about the 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice that his office explored – were “certainly not as useful as the interview would be.”
Despite Trump’s claims that he fully cooperated, Mueller noted that the president’s team stonewalled in negotiations for over a year about a sit-down interview and said he assumed Trump “would fight the subpoena.” Mueller explained that he needed to decide “how much time you are willing to spend in the courts litigating an interview with the president.”
Despite claims that Mueller wanted to drag out his investigation, he made clear that he hoped to get it wrapped up as soon as possible. “The reason we didn’t do the interview was because of the length of time that it would take to resolve the issues attendant to that,” he said.
6) There was a coverup: “A number of people we interviewed in our investigation, it turns out, did lie.”
Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos have each acknowledged that they lied to the FBI. Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) asked Mueller whether it was “fair to say” that Trump’s written answers were “not only inadequate and incomplete, because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did, his answers showed that he wasn’t always being truthful.”
“I would say, generally,” Mueller replied.
Mueller acknowledged that he caught many former members of Trump’s team not telling the truth, and this made it harder to investigate what really happened. “That would be accurate,” he said.
“And then,” Schiff said, “they lied to cover it up?”
“Generally, that’s true,” said Mueller.
Trump tweeted as soon as the second hearing ended: “TRUTH IS A FORCE OF NATURE!”
-- Mueller’s turn as a reluctant and at times uncomfortable witness did not change the political dynamic. “Even Democrats who favor impeachment acknowledged that Mueller’s performance did not provide the made-for-TV moment for which they had hoped,” Ashley Parker, Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and Mike DeBonis report. “The immediate upshot for Democratic leaders — who have faced turmoil within their caucus for refusal to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump — was that the hearings appeared to do little to galvanize congressional sentiment. Before the spectacle, many pro-impeachment Democrats were predicting Mueller’s testimony would inspire a new wave of impeachment backers, potentially two dozen or more. But by Wednesday afternoon, almost no new Democrats in the House had joined the calls to start proceedings.”
-- House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) pushed for launching impeachment proceedings against Trump during a private meeting on Wednesday, but he was rebuffed by Nancy Pelosi. From Politico: “At a caucus meeting following the hotly anticipated testimony … Nadler suggested that several House committee chairs could begin drafting articles of impeachment against Trump. Pelosi called the idea premature … In the course of the wide-ranging discussion, Nadler countered Pelosi's pushback by noting that polls showed limited support for removing President Richard Nixon from office when the House began impeachment hearings in 1973, but that public support for the effort grew as more evidence came out about Nixon's illegal behavior.”
-- “Democrats are now left with one option to end Trump’s presidency: The 2020 election,” writes Dan Balz: “Regardless of the evidence of obstruction contained in Mueller’s report, impeachment is a fraught strategy for the Democrats, given public opinion and the dynamics in the Senate. After Wednesday, the prospects for impeachment appear more remote, which means it will be left to the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, with the help of the party, to develop a comprehensive case against the president, one that can win 270 electoral votes. To date, that hasn’t happened. … The barriers to impeachment have always made it a challenging option, given that Republican control of the Senate, to the frustration of some Democrats. But other Democrats were advocating long before Mueller wrapped up his investigation that the party’s focus should be on the 2020 election, rather than impeachment. That now is the only realistic course for settling the question of the future of Trump’s presidency.”
-- Both sides were left frustrated by Mueller’s approach to the questions related to whether Trump obstructed justice – and why the former special counsel refused to draw a conclusion from the evidence his team gathered. Carol D. Leonnig and Tom Hamburger report: “Mueller failed to deliver a clear answer to either — frustrating Democrats who hope to spotlight what they consider ample proof of Trump’s crimes and Republicans who think the special counsel unfairly tarnished the president. … GOP officials said that details in his report insinuating Trump was engaged in wrongdoing — including statements that there was substantial evidence without explicitly saying he broke the law — unfairly damaged the president. …
“Democrats labored in vain to get Mueller to assess whether Trump obstructed justice. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) walked Mueller through Trump’s efforts to get then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to push for the firing of the special counsel, one of the most dramatic episodes detailed in the special counsel report. ‘Those are the elements of obstruction of justice,’ Jeffries said. ‘This is the United States of America. No one is above the law. No one. The president must be held accountable one way or the other.’ ‘I don’t subscribe necessarily to your — the way you analyze that,’ Mueller responded.”
-- The Post’s Fact Checker team analyzed eight dubious claims from lawmakers during the hearings. (Salvador Rizzo and Glenn Kessler)
-- This was likely Mueller’s final act on Washington’s center stage. Marc Fisher writes: “The day definitively altered perceptions of Mueller. … Mueller’s shaky demeanor, though steadier as the day wore on, drew focus away from what few conclusions he was willing to confirm or bat down. Mueller phased in and out of the precise, pointed style that had characterized his long legal career. At times, especially in the afternoon session before the Intelligence Committee, he seemed his old self, anticipating questions, displaying sharp command of his investigation. … But under questioning from House members, his voice grew thinner, less certain. He sometimes searched for words. His hesitations at times seemed intentional ... At other points, Mueller’s halting manner seemed involuntary.”
-- Mueller seemed confused about basic facts at times: “He frequently asked lawmakers to repeat their questions, saying that he could not hear them or that they were speaking too fast,” Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind S. Helderman and Karoun Demirjian report. “He also said he was unfamiliar with some of the specifics of the investigation — a surprising admission for a prosecutor who built a distinguished career on delving deep into the weeds of investigations, to the point that many of his subordinates complained he was a maddening micromanager. He called the president ‘Trimp’ before quickly correcting himself. He said he was ‘not familiar’ with the opposition research firm Fusion GPS that commissioned a dossier of allegations that played a key role in the early days of the investigation into Russian interference. … At another point, he could not recall the word ‘conspiracy’ — a basic staple in any federal prosecutor’s lexicon — and a lawmaker supplied it for him. …
“In the hearing room, Mueller’s muffled voice made his minimal responses nearly inaudible, a sharp contrast to the lawmakers, whose voices often boomed with indignation. Even friendly exchanges could cause Mueller to stumble. When Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) asked which president nominated Mueller to serve as the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, Mueller guessed George H.W. Bush. In fact, it was Ronald Reagan.”
-- As the testimony concluded, Democrats revisited an old question: Is Trump a blackmail risk? Philip Bump reports: “Toward the end of the day, Democratic representatives sitting on the House Intelligence Committee began to press Mueller on this point. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) noted that counterintelligence investigations — that is, investigations into ways in which foreign intelligence agencies might seek to compromise government officials — were outside of the scope of the special counsel’s probe. ‘Since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise or blackmail by Russia, correct?’ Krishnamoorthi asked. Mueller confirmed that this was correct, noting that those investigations would be housed at the FBI.”
COMMENTARY FROM THE OPINION PAGE:
-- “Mueller wins on the facts – but loses on TV,” writes Max Boot: “This viewer hungered for Mueller to rain down righteous wrath on the unprincipled Republican hacks who put loyalty to their party leader above loyalty to their country. I wanted him to say, as Joseph Welch did at the Army-McCarthy hearings, ‘Have you no sense of decency?’ … But instead of channeling his inner Joe Welch, Mueller was channeling Joe Friday: ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’”
-- “So this is why Mueller didn’t want to testify,” writes Dana Milbank: “Republican lawmakers eviscerated him, assaulting his integrity and his ethics, questioning his political motivations, disparaging the FBI and even casting doubt on Russia’s interference in the election.”
-- “The real bombshell in Mueller’s testimony wasn’t about impeaching Trump,” writes Karen Tumulty: “To focus on Trump, and whether his actions constitute impeachable offenses, is to miss the real bombshell in Mueller’s testimony — the scandal that could be unfolding right there in front of us. That was Mueller’s warning that what happened in 2016 could happen again.”
- The Editorial Board: “Mueller gave a warning on Russian meddling. Congress — and America — should listen.”
- E.J. Dionne Jr.: “Mueller’s hearing proves that Trump and his apologists are lying.”
- Nicole Hemmer, co-editor of The Post’s “Made by History” section: “The GOP’s questions to Mueller seemed bizarre — unless you watch Fox News.”
- Media critic Erik Wemple: “Republican lawmaker complains to Mueller about lack of Fox News in his report.”
- Molly Jong-Fast: “Mueller wasn’t the hero Democrats sought. But he reminded us that Trump is the villain.”
-- I’d love to hear from you. Thank you to everyone who sent such thoughtful notes in response to yesterday’s edition of the 202. As I explained, we’re experimenting with new formats with the goal of making this newsletter more analytical. The goal is to better serve you as 2020 approaches. If you have feedback about ways to do that, please drop me a quick line at James.Hohmann@washpost.com. Thank you!
WHILE YOU WERE IN YOUR MORNING MEETINGS:
-- The Justice Department announced this morning that it plans to resume executing prisoners awaiting the death penalty, ending almost two decades in which the federal government had not imposed capital punishment on prisoners. Devlin Barrett reports: “Attorney General William P. Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five inmates currently on death row. The prisoners were convicted of murdering children. The last federal execution was in 2003. In the years since, there has been an informal moratorium on executions of federal prisoners, as Justice Department officials reviewed its lethal injection procedures. That practice was underscored during the Obama administration by then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s personal opposition to the death penalty, even while he approved prosecutors’ decisions to seek the death penalty in specific trials.”
- Bar ordered the Bureau of Prisons to adopt a new policy for lethal injections, one that officials said closely mirrors those used in Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, replacing a three-drug lethal cocktail with one drug, pentobarbital.
- The Justice Department has scheduled executions in December and January for the following prisoners: Daniel Lee Lewis, for the killing of a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl; Lezmond Mitchell for the killing of a 63-year-old and her nine-year granddaughter; Wesley Ira Purkey for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl and the murder of an 80-year-old woman; Alfred Bourgeois for molesting and killing his two-year-old daughter; and Dustin Lee Honken, for shooting and killing five people, including two children.
-- Four automakers from three continents have struck a deal with California to produce more fuel-efficient cars for their U.S. fleets in coming years, undercutting one of the Trump administration’s most aggressive climate policy rollbacks. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “The compromise between the California Air Resources Board and Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW of North America came after weeks of secret negotiations and could shape future U.S. vehicle production, even as White House officials aim to relax gas mileage standards for the nation’s cars, pickup trucks and SUVs. Mary D. Nichols, California’s top air pollution regulator, said in an interview Wednesday that she sees the agreement as a potential ‘olive branch’ to the Trump administration and hopes it joins the deal, which she said gives automakers flexibility in meeting emissions goals without the ‘massive backsliding’ contained in the White House proposal.”
-- Jeffrey Epstein was found injured in his jail cell after a possible suicide attempt. From NBC News New York: “Epstein, who is being held in Metropolitan Correctional Center during his trial for conspiracy and sex trafficking, was found semi-conscious with marks on his neck … Investigators are trying to piece together exactly what happened, saying details remain murky. Two sources tell News 4 that Epstein may have tried to hang himself, while a third source cautioned that the injuries were not serious and questioned if Epstein might be using it as a way to get a transfer. A fourth source said an assault has not been ruled out, and that another inmate was questioned. The inmate who investigators have talked to in Lower Manhattan facility has been identified as Nicholas Tartaglione, according to two sources. Tartaglione is a former police officer in Westchester County who was arrested in December 2016 and accused of killing four men in an alleged cocaine distribution conspiracy, then burying their bodies in his yard in Otisville in Orange County, according to court records.”
-- Former vice president Joe Biden tore into Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in a shift to aggressively counter his 2020 opponents. Chelsea Janes and David Weigel report: “On Wednesday, asked by NAACP panel moderator April Ryan if his views [on mass incarceration] have evolved, Biden said the focus of criminal justice needed to shift from ‘incarceration to rehabilitation’ — a solution that [Sen. Cory] Booker, speaking to reporters after his earlier NAACP appearance, called ‘inadequate.’ ... Booker described Biden as ‘an architect of mass incarceration.’ After Biden left the stage, he responded emphatically to Booker’s second day of criticism by trying to turn attention to his tenure as mayor of the troubled city of Newark, before he became a senator. … ‘His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African American men,’ he said, leading the Obama administration to intercede. ‘We took action against them; the Justice Department took action against them, held the police department accountable.’”
Biden seethed about Harris’s busing attack during the previous debate: “He told reporters he was ‘overly polite’ in responding to her criticism. ‘I didn’t respond to an attack: ‘You’re not a racist.’ Which is a nice thing to say. It was really reassuring,’ Biden said in a sarcastic tone.”
-- Biden is an old-school politician struggling to keep up with a changing party, Phil Elliott writes in a profile for Time: “Biden tries to put a positive gloss on things, saying the problems come with the territory when you’re the front runner. ‘I’d rather be there than anywhere else,’ Biden said. ‘But, you know, it’s amazing.’ A few hours later, he was more open about his frustrations with his campaign. Staffers had invited journalists to tag along as he picked up some chocolate chip ice cream. But Biden–who believes Trump’s rise was fueled by naked authenticity and sees the same trait in himself–found the setup phony. ‘After all these years of being in public office, I’m known for ice cream and sunglasses,’ Biden lamented. ‘There’s gotta be something better than that.’”
-- Time magazine’s cover story for next week: “What Do the Democrats Stand For? Inside a Fight Over America's Future,” by Molly Ball: “What policies will the party champion? Which voters will it court? How will it speak to an angry and divided nation? While intraparty tussles are perennial in politics, this one comes against a unique backdrop: an unpopular, mendacious, norm-trampling President. … But for an opposition party, it’s never as simple as pointing out the failures of those in power. As desperate as Democrats are to defeat Trump, voters demand an alternative vision. ‘You will not win an election telling everybody how bad Donald Trump is,’ [said] former Senate majority leader Harry Reid. ‘They have to run on what they’re going to do.’”
-- Pete Buttigieg leads the 2020 Democrats in spending on private jets. The mayor of South Bend, Ind., has spent roughly $300,000 on private jet travel this year, far more than any of his rivals. In comparison, Warren has spent $60,000 on private planes (but regularly flies coach), while Sanders has spent $18,000 and Harris has spent $17,000. (AP)
-- Hillary Clinton seriously considered picking Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as her running mate. From a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story by Josh Green: “The Massachusetts senator underwent a full vetting and was smuggled into Whitehaven, Clinton’s Washington home, for an interview. It went well enough that some Clinton advisers were convinced Warren would be the best pick. … In a memo to Clinton written shortly after the August meeting, ... Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser, concluded of Warren: 'If a crystal ball said she wouldn’t antagonize you for four years, it’s hard to argue she isn’t the most helpful for the next four months to get you elected.'” Warren said that if Clinton had asked her to be her vice president, she would’ve said yes.
Warren also explained why she didn’t endorse a 2016 candidate until after the Democratic National Convention: “Endorsing Bernie Sanders, her ideological ally, would mean sacrificing her ability to influence Clinton, who was widely expected to win. So Warren withheld her endorsement until it was clear Clinton would be the nominee. In essence, Warren bet that she had a better chance of enacting her liberal agenda by working through Clinton than by banking on a Sanders revolution.” Warren said she felt the backlash of her decision as many of her hardcore supporters on the left turned against her when Sanders lost, filling her Facebook posts with vitriol and claims that she had sold out.
-- Tensions between Sanders and MSNBC are boiling over. From the Daily Beast: “Officials in Sanders’ campaign contend that leading up to the 2020 election, the network is one of several cable news outlets directly contributing to a media climate where false claims go unchecked and requests for progressive voices on-air are frequently turned down. ‘More often than not these commentators are injecting their opinion without any policy discussions,’ (said) Nina Turner, the national co-chair of Sanders’ campaign. ‘They’re not there to tell the gospel truth.’ The backlash from Sanders-world reached a new high on Sunday, when MSNBC analyst Mimi Rocah, a former assistant U.S attorney for the Southern District of New York ... launched a personal critique of Sanders during a segment with host David Gura, saying that he makes her ‘skin crawl’ and that he’s not a ‘pro-woman candidate.’”
-- CNN is requiring a commitment of at least $300,000 in advertising on the network before a potential sponsor can purchase a commercial during next week's debates. Running a 30-second spot costs around $110,000. Usually, a 30-second ad aired during CNN’s prime-time programs over the past months has cost between $7,000 and $12,000. (Variety)
-- Rep. Paul Mitchell of Michigan, a second-term Republican with a House GOP leadership position, said he will not run for reelection next year. Mitchell voiced frustration that “rhetoric overwhelms policy” in Washington, making it hard to focus on the issues he wanted to address — “trade, health care, immigration and infrastructure, to name just a few.” (John Wagner)
-- A federal judge in Arkansas blocked abortion restrictions that were set to take effect yesterday. The judge said that the state “has no interest in enforcing laws that are unconstitutional” and that she would block it from enacting the three provisions, including one that barred abortions starting at 18 weeks of pregnancy. (CNN)
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- A federal judge in California blocked Trump’s latest asylum ban. Maria Sacchetti and Spencer S. Hsu report: “The policy aimed to curtail Central American migration across the southern border by requiring asylum seekers to apply in countries they had passed through on the way to the United States, particularly Mexico or Guatemala. U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar, who halted another version of the Trump administration’s asylum ban last year, said a ‘mountain’ of evidence showed that migrants could not safely seek asylum in Mexico. He said the rule likely violated federal law in part by categorically denying asylum to almost anyone crossing the border. U.S. law generally allows anyone who sets foot on U.S. soil to apply for asylum. … ‘The public undoubtedly has a pressing interest in fairly and promptly addressing both the harms to asylum applicants and the administrative burdens imposed by the influx of persons seeking asylum,’ Tigar, an Obama administration appointee in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, wrote in his 45-page ruling. ‘But shortcutting the law, or weakening the boundary between Congress and the Executive, are not the solutions to these problems.’”
-- Guatemalans fear that Trump’s threats to retaliate if the country doesn’t sign a far-reaching migration agreement might cripple their economy. Mary Beth Sheridan and Kevin Sieff report: “Trump warned on Tuesday that he might slap tariffs on Guatemala’s exports or tax the billions of dollars in remittances its migrants send home to the Central American country. He was reacting to President Jimmy Morales’ decision to cancel a trip he was to make to Washington last week during which he was expected to sign a safe-third-country agreement. … Guatemalans were faced with another potential crisis: U.S. penalties that could pummel their struggling economy. … Jordán Rodas, Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor, said U.S. penalties ‘could destabilize the country’ by driving poverty rates higher. They could also prompt more Guatemalans to head for the United States as they lose jobs or income, he said.”
-- No surprise: The Justice Department said it will not prosecute Attorney General Bill Barr or Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross after the House voted on party lines to hold them in criminal contempt for declining to provide documents related to the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. From CNN: “Both agencies have maintained that they have already provided thousands of documents to the committee about the census question, and that certain documents which had been withheld were done so in line with a federal court ruling that said that many of the same documents were privileged from disclosure in civil litigation.”
-- Francisco Erwin Galicia, the U.S. citizen who spent 23 days in Customs and Border Protection custody, said he lost 26 pounds during his time in a Texas immigration detention center under conditions so bad they almost drove him to self-deportation. From the Dallas Morning News: “He said he wasn’t allowed to shower and his skin was dry and dirty. He and 60 other men were crammed into an overcrowded holding area where they slept on the floor and were given only aluminum-foil blankets, he said. Some men had to sleep on the restroom area floor. Ticks bit some of the men and some were very sick, Galicia said. But many were afraid to ask to go to the doctor because CBP officers told them their stay would start over if they did, he said. ‘It was inhumane how they treated us. It got to the point where I was ready to sign a deportation paper just to not be suffering there anymore. I just needed to get out of there,’ he said.”
-- An autopsy offers jarring details about the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in Border Patrol custody. From Texas Monthly: “Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez crossed the border alone near Weslaco on May 13, and was then held at a processing center for unaccompanied minors in nearby McAllen for six days until falling ill on May 19. That day, a nurse practitioner found that he had a 103-degree fever, and he tested positive for the flu. He was prescribed Tamiflu and transferred to the Border Patrol station at Weslaco. Hernandez died the next morning. … The autopsy concludes that Hernandez succumbed to the flu, complicated by pneumonia and sepsis, on or near the toilet of his South Texas Border Patrol cell. … The agency is required to transfer unaccompanied children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours, but officials have acknowledged repeatedly failing to meet that requirement this year, including in Hernandez’s case. Hernandez was also never taken to a hospital despite the apparent seriousness of his illness.”
-- Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents busted an undocumented immigrant’s car window to arrest him. The man’s girlfriend live-streamed the incident as their two children sat in the car. (CNN)
-- “How MS-13 gang’s bloody campaign spilled into a San Fernando Valley high school,” from the Los Angeles Times: “Panorama High School was already on edge after a 10th grader went missing. Then, six students were detained in February 2018 with no explanation. There were whispers that the missing boy had been murdered, but the campus was in the dark about a possible motive and suspect. Authorities now say several of the students are linked to the killing of their missing classmate, Brayan Andino, and another man among seven slayings allegedly carried out by a local clique of MS-13. … But teachers, students and parents said they received little or no information from either police or school officials about the gang’s alleged operations on campus until last week, when prosecutors announced murder and racketeering charges against nearly two dozen adults who are alleged to be gang members.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- The U.S. and Europe have sharply different plans for patrols in the Persian Gulf. Adam Taylor and James McAuley report: “As tensions rise, the exact mandate remains uncertain, with two separate and possibly competing plans — one led by the United States and the other by Europe — under discussion. Meanwhile, Iran has rejected any need for Western ships to patrol the waters along its southern coast, instead pledging to secure the Strait of Hormuz itself. … The United States has said that it envisages a scheme whereby nations would protect ships that carry their own flag, but that joint operations would be designed to carry out surveillance on waterways. … British officials have emphasized that the plan would be about ensuring freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf — an aim that Tehran could theoretically support as well.”
-- Iran hinted at compromise after President Hassan Rouhani suggested that his country might release a British tanker in exchange for the return of an Iranian ship. From the Times: “Mr. Rouhani’s explicit extension of the offer on Wednesday may have been a gesture toward reducing the escalating tensions between Iran and the West. Speaking after a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Mr. Rouhani also alluded to indirect or behind-the-scenes talks about a potential easing of tensions between Iran and the United States.”
-- As expected, Trump vetoed Congress’s attempt to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He vetoed three different resolutions that would’ve stopped several arms sales benefiting Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates. From Karoun Demirjian and Colby Itkowitz: “The sales would replenish part of the Saudi arsenal that lawmakers say has been used against civilians in Yemen’s civil war. Many lawmakers also object to the idea of rewarding Saudi leaders after the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. … The Trump administration has insisted the arms sales are crucial to protect the region against a growing threat from Iran. The vetoes come as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to vote Thursday on two competing bipartisan bills to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia.”
-- A Navy SEAL platoon was kicked out of Iraq for consuming alcohol while deployed. Dan Lamothe reports: “U.S. Special Operations Command said in a statement Wednesday night that the platoon was forced out early to San Diego by the commander of the task force, Maj. Gen. Eric T. Hill, ‘due to a perceived deterioration of good order and discipline within the team during non-operational periods’ of their deployment. ‘The Commander lost confidence in the team’s ability to accomplish the mission,’ the statement said.”
-- North Korea fired a “new type of ballistic missile” into the sea, toward Japan. Simon Denyer and John Hudson report: “South Korea’s National Security Council said it had assessed the projectiles to be a ‘new type of short-range ballistic missile,’ but said it would make a final conclusion in coordination with the United States. … A U.S. official familiar with North Korean affairs said the move appears to explicitly test Trump’s patience, as the president has repeatedly hailed his diplomatic success in halting the North from firing missiles into the Sea of Japan (also known as the East Sea), an act that infuriates Tokyo.”
-- Beji Caid Essebsi, a mainstay in Tunisian politics who became the country’s first freely elected president after its 2011 pro-democracy uprising, died at 92. During his presidency, Essebsi pursued several gender equality initiatives that challenged religious orthodoxy in the country, including an order that allowed Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men. (Claire Parker and Kareem Fahim)
-- American rapper A$AP Rocky was charged with having committed an assault causing bodily harm in Sweden. The musician’s case has sparked a diplomatic incident as Trump has asked for his release and Sweden now faces accusations of racism and human rights abuses. (New York Times)
-- On his first day as U.K. prime minister, Boris Johnson promised that Britain would leave the European Union in October — “no ifs or buts.” William Booth and Karla Adam report: “‘The doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters, they are going to get it wrong, again,’ Johnson said in his first remarks outside 10 Downing Street. ‘The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts, because we’re going to restore trust in our democracy.’ Johnson declared, ‘I have every confidence that in 99 days’ time we will have cracked it’ and be able to exit the E.U. with ‘a new deal, a better deal.’ He implicitly blamed his predecessor, Theresa May, for failing in that challenge. ‘After three years of unfounded self-doubt, it is time to change the record,’ he said.”
Seventeen members of May’s government were either sacked, resigned or retired, a shuffle the Daily Telegraph described as a “massacre.” Johnson cleared out his cabinet of “remainers” and replaced them with true Brexit believers. In Britain’s parliamentary democracy, the transition of power is not only brutal but also quick. May met with Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday afternoon and resigned right after. Minutes later, Johnson bowed to the Queen. “Lawmakers thanked May for her service. They reserved their harshest lines for Johnson, whom opposition rivals called ‘flagrant’ and ‘reckless,’ a usurper with no mandate, and someone who is prepared to ‘sell our country out to Donald Trump and his friends.’ May offered tepid support for her successor. She said she was ‘pleased’ to hand over to Johnson, whom ‘I worked with when he was in my cabinet,’ and who is committed to delivering Brexit. Johnson notably quit May’s cabinet over her Brexit approach.”
Exclusive: “I don’t know why anyone would want the job” - what Johnson says HM the Queen told him during his audience! The PM revealed it during a tour in Number 10 before being told off by staff not to repeat those things so loudly. 📷:PA pic.twitter.com/r5CX4LbnXa— Vincent McAviney (@VinnyMcAv) July 24, 2019
-- “Just how crazy is Boris Johnson?” asks the New Yorker’s Sam Knight: “If there is any consolation, it is that Johnson is not an extremist of any kind. By temperament and by upbringing, Johnson is a metropolitan liberal: pro-choice, pro-immigration, tolerant of diversity, educated about the world, and prepared to accept the consensus on climate change. The problem is that he is also so unserious and so unprincipled that it is impossible to know if he would maintain any of those positions under meaningful duress. It is wrong to compare Johnson to Donald Trump—they are very different. But they share a quality of constant distraction, a permanent, enervating uncertainty about what they will get up to next.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
-- Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló announced his resignation last night. “On Wednesday, the governor called a hasty news conference, but kept the press corps waiting for hours for news that the resignation was coming,” Arelis R. Hernández reports. “His public affairs secretary — one of the last men standing in Rossello’s corner — said that afternoon that the governor would speak directly to the people before the end of the day, but no time was given and the content of the message remained unknown. And as the night dragged on and the promised pronouncement did not come, thousands of protesters grew louder and police reinforcements went into formation. At about 11:40 p.m., Rosselló’s recorded resignation video was released on Facebook.” “Despite having the support of the people who elected me democratically, I now feel that continuing in this position will make it difficult for the success achieved so far to last,” Rosselló said in the video. “Today, I’m announcing I will be resigning from the governor position effective Friday, August 2, 2019 at 5 p.m.” His replacement is expected to be Wanda Vázquez, Puerto Rico's secretary of justice, because of how the commonwealth's line of succession works. The governor, however, left open the possibility that a different successor could take his place by the time he steps down.
Puerto Ricans celebrated on the streets after their governor resigned:
Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda joined in over Twitter:
Only one new House Democrat appears to have come out for starting impeachment proceedings in the wake of the hearing. She’s a freshman from Massachusetts:
Another Democratic freshman congresswoman from California criticized Senate Republicans for blocking an election security bill:
Republicans JUST blocked 2 election security bills — hours after Mueller said Russia is actively trying to sway the 2020 elections — showing in plain sight that they’re willing to dismantle our democracy & take help from our most dangerous adversary to win https://t.co/yfEdJr7v7U— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) July 25, 2019
A group of D.C. interns spent the night at the Capitol as they awaited Mueller's testimony:
THESE INTERNS have been here since 6 pm LAST NIGHT Waiting for the Mueller hearing.— Rachael Bade (@rachaelmbade) July 24, 2019
They slept on the cold marble floor , ordered pizza and reread the Mueller report. pic.twitter.com/nrHFyGqKcJ
A Post editor made this note about the significance of Mueller’s testimony:
We should all be worried about this. Hard to image w less partisan approach to this investigation, no matter what hyperpartisans on both sides say— Rachel Van Dongen (@RachelVanD) July 24, 2019
Barack Obama’s former chief strategist was one of many who said Mueller has lost his fast ball:
This is delicate to say, but Mueller, whom I deeply respect, has not publicly testified before Congress in at least six years. And he does not appear as sharp as he was then.— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) July 24, 2019
Trump’s director of strategic communications, and a former Vice President Pence aide, sought to spin the Mueller testimony by playing with some acronyms:
Great day for @realDonaldTrump!— Marc Lotter (@marc_lotter) July 24, 2019
Bad Day for the following networks:
📺All 'Bout Collusion (ABC)
📺Nothing But Collusion (NBC)
📺Collusion Broadcasting System (CBS)
📺Collusion News Network (CNN)
The former world chess champion and a leading Russian dissident, who chairs the Human Rights Foundation, saw a parallel to Russia as he watched the Mueller hearings:
In the waning days of Russian democracy, when there were still opposition forces in Parliament, they would still speak to the people. The rest just tried to echo and flatter Putin, because that’s where the real power was. The GOP today sounds like them.— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) July 24, 2019
A GOP consultant, the chief strategist on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, lamented what's happened to his party:
I fought a lot of battles for Republicans. Helped elect governors or Senator in over half the country. But Republicans defending Wikileaks & defending Russian attacks on American democracy crosses line from partisan warfare to unAmerican. It’s a violation of their oath of office.— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) July 24, 2019
From a Post pollster:
The book was better than the movie.— Emily Guskin (@EmGusk) July 24, 2019
The former deputy attorney general has a new gig:
Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway once again referred to an argument among Democratic women as a “catfight” after Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) said Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) isn’t fit to serve as president:
Following embarrassing Pelosi v. Squad episode, another catfight erupts in the Democratic Party.— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) July 24, 2019
And the first lady is already preparing for Christmas:
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer, who announced, with great glee, that I was going to be dead within six months. That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead, and I am very much alive.” — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on outlasting her naysayers. (NPR)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Trump ended up standing in front of a doctored presidential seal featuring a Russian symbol:
"A closer examination reveals alterations that seem to poke fun at the president’s golfing penchant and accusations that he has ties to Russia. Neither the White House nor Turning Point knows how it got there or who created it.” (Michael Brice-Saddler and Reis Thebault)
The conservative group Republicans for the Rule of Law shared a new advertisement following Mueller's testimony:
Late-night hosts like Stephen Colbert devoted their monologues to Mueller's testimony:
Seth Meyers took a deep dive into what the former special counsel had to say:
And a 9-year-old girl was tossed in the air by a bison in Yellowstone:
The girl was released from the hospital and no citations have been issued. (Allyson Chiu)