With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: A Senate Intelligence Committee report released Thursday says “Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data” inside an Illinois database before the 2016 election, but there isn’t evidence that they did so. Why not?

The bipartisan investigation, which took two and a half years, found extensive evidence of an “unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure” that began in at least 2014, or possibly earlier. The committee reports with a high degree of confidence that the GRU, a Russian military intelligence agency, probably probed all 50 states in search of vulnerabilities. But its 67-page report concludes, unsatisfyingly, that “the Committee does not know with confidence what Moscow's intentions were.”

“Russia might have intended to exploit vulnerabilities in election infrastructure during the 2016 elections and, for unknown reasons, decided not to execute those options,” the report says. “Alternatively, Russia might have sought to gather information in the conduct of traditional espionage activities. Lastly, Russia might have used its activity in 2016 to catalog options or clandestine actions, holding them for use at a later date.”

The committee raises the possibility that the Russians might have intentionally left fingerprints because they wanted people to know that the systems had been breached in a ploy to undermine voter confidence in the outcome of the presidential election. An intelligence agency provided evidence to the committee that Russian diplomats, anticipating Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, had prepared to publicly question the validity of the results on election night. Pro-Kremlin bloggers were also ready to launch a Twitter campaign that was designed to get the hashtag #DemocracyRIP trending.

But the biggest fear at the highest levels of the intelligence world, expressed during multiple interviews that are quoted in the report, is that Russian military officers were studying the decentralized election systems in the United States to identify the weakest links in preparation for something much more malicious, and chaotic, in 2020.

“They will scrape up all the information and the experience they possibly can,” former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe said during a private interview last year, weeks before he was fired by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “They might not be effective the first time or the fifth time, but they are going to keep at it until they can come back and do it in an effective way.”

-- The heavily redacted report raises a litany of new questions, such as: Who is Tarantsov? A one-and-a-half-page section titled “Russian Efforts to Research U.S. Voting Systems, Processes, and Other Elements of Voting Infrastructure” is entirely redacted, except for a single cryptic sentence: “It is unknown if Tarantsov attended the events.” There is no other reference to this Tarantsov character. An unredacted footnote suggests that the information about what he – or she? – was up to came as the result of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant.

-- There are also tantalizing clues in a heavily redacted section of the report about a Russian effort to physically deploy operatives to polling places across the country. The Russian Embassy placed a request with the State Department to embed election observers around the United States on Election Day in 2016. It was denied. According to the report, the Russians then reached outside diplomatic channels in an attempt to secure permission directly from state and local election officials. According to the committee’s report, these tactics prompted a rebuke from then-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland. In September 2016, the chief elections officer for an unspecified state denied a request by the Russian consul general to allow a Russian government official inside a polling station on Election Day.

The footnotes cite multiple emails marked “secret” during the fall of 2016, including one sent the morning before the election, with subject lines like “Russia visas/travel” and “Kislyak Protest of FBI Tactics.” That’s surely a reference to Sergey Kislyak, the then-Russian ambassador who was simultaneously in contact with senior Trump campaign officials. In one lengthy paragraph from this three-page section of the report, “interfere” is the only word that is not redacted. “The true intention of these efforts is unknown,” investigators say.

A few pages later, the report runs through some of the ways that certain voting machines can be breached if someone obtains physical access. At the DEF CON hacker conference in Las Vegas in 2017, for example, researchers found and exploited vulnerabilities in five different electronic voting systems. In some instances, there are USB ports that would allow a hacker to run software on a voting machine if they could get their hands on it. A researcher is quoted in the report claiming that “an attacker can do anything” if they’re able to get their hands on the back of a machine for 15 seconds. “Some election experts have … pointed out that any fraud requiring physical access would be, by necessity, small scale, unless a government were to deploy agents across thousands of localities,” the report notes.

-- The Senate investigators found no evidence that vote tallies were altered or that voter registry files were deleted or modified, but they do not foreclose the possibility that it happened. “Insight into this is limited,” the report says. “The Committee has limited information on the extent to which state and local election authorities carried out forensic evaluation of registration databases.”

The report, quarterbacked by Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), notes that “nationwide elections are often won or lost in a small number of precincts”: “A sophisticated actor could target efforts at districts where margins are already small, and disenfranchising only a small percentage of voters could have a disproportionate impact on an election's outcome.”

-- Committee staffers interviewed elections officials from 21 states that were initially identified during the 2016 election as targets of GRU scanning activity. To induce their cooperation and insulate them from being exposed to additional attacks, the names of the states are replaced with numbers. Illinois is the only state named in the report, and that’s only because officials already went public with what happened to their systems. The report withholds the identity of the second state in which “GRU cyber actors breached election infrastructure,” but based on the description and public press reports, it appears to be a reference to Florida.

There are short summaries of what committee staffers learned from each state, though they remain anonymous. The Department of Homeland Security concluded that State 6, for example, was targeted more than any other by SQL injection attacks, a technique in which malicious code is inputted into information entry fields on Web-facing databases. State 9 detected GRU scanning activity of its servers: “Officials used the analogy of a thief casing a parking lot: they said the car thief ‘didn't go in, but we don't know why,’” the report recounts. A lengthy paragraph about State 13 is redacted.

“Neither DHS nor the Committee can ascertain a pattern to the states targeted, lending credence to DHS's later assessment that all 50 states probably were scanned,” the report says. “DHS representatives told the Committee that ‘there wasn’t a clear red state-blue state-purple state, more electoral votes-less electoral votes pattern to the attacks.’ … DHS acknowledged that the U.S. Government does not have perfect insight, and it is possible the [intelligence community] missed some activity or that states did not notice intrusion attempts or report them.”

-- This report is timely and important because, by all accounts, Russia remains determined to interfere in the 2020 elections. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign,” former special counsel Bob Mueller testified on Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee. “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections,” FBI Director Chris Wray testified on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Moreover, the new Senate report came on the same day that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) once again blocked consideration of election security legislation that would directly address some of the deficiencies identified in the report. The bill, which already passed the House, mandates the use of backup paper ballots and requires post-election audits.

-- It’s not just Russia: Other countries appear eager to get in on the action. Iran, for example, has been stepping up its disinformation operations to target American public opinion on a host of digital platforms. “A short list of countries that host online influence operations with a history of interfering across borders includes Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela,” Craig Timberg and Tony Romm report. “Researchers for FireEye and other firms have reported suspected Iranian disinformation on most major social media platform — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google and others — and on stand-alone websites, as well. … What’s known, researchers say, may be only small parts of much larger operations that remain undetected.

“Researchers say that both the U.S. government and social media companies have grown more aggressive in battling online disinformation since the 2016 presidential election. Cooperation between the FBI and Silicon Valley has improved markedly. … [But] this trajectory from nationally focused to internationally focused disinformation campaigns raises longer-term worries about what other nations might have disinformation teams sharpening their chops on domestic audiences with an eye toward eventual use against foreign targets, including in the United States. In addition to those with known foreign disinformation capabilities, there are numerous nations — Turkey, Egypt, the Philippines, Qatar, Mexico and others — that now use such tactics mainly to influence domestic politics but could turn their attention to foreign targets.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The U.S. economy slowed in the spring but continues to grow at a healthy pace that shows little sign of a recession. The Commerce Department announced this morning that the economy expanded at a 2.1 percent annual rate from April through June, a downgrade from the first quarter’s surprisingly strong 3.1 percent pace. “Consumer spending and federal government spending accounted for the bulk of U.S. growth as Americans bought heavily again in the spring and federal spending surged after the shutdown,” Heather Long reports. “Business spending dried up, however, turning negative for the first time since early 2016. Many executives blame uncertainty around Trump’s trade war for their hesitancy to spend as much as they did a year ago. ‘Last year was a fiscal sugar rush. This year it’s starting to fade,’ said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan.”

MORE FALLOUT FROM MUELLER'S HEARINGS: 

-- Democrats are struggling to figure out their next moves against Trump after the Mueller hearing fell flat. Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report: “Several centrist Democrats seized on the absence of a major revelation to argue it was time to end House investigations into whether Trump tried to obstruct the former special counsel’s probe and pivot to legislation. … But that plea had no effect on the pro-impeachment Democrats, who dug in, insisting that House oversight of Trump and his administration has been ineffective and pressed for launching proceedings. … Ninety-eight Democrats have backed impeachment, according to a count by The Washington Post. The number amounts to 42 percent of the Democratic caucus. …

Among Democrats, perhaps the most disappointed in Mueller’s performance were members of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, who questioned the former special counsel, according to conversations with several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. Many felt blindsided that no one warned them how much Mueller had aged — and regretful that they had forced a decorated Vietnam veteran and longtime civil servant into testifying when he was so reluctant in the first place. …

Even pro-impeachment Democrats agreed that the testimony may not have helped their case, with Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Tex.) saying, ‘I don’t think it was a Eureka moment,’ and Rep. Daniel Kildee (Mich.) adding: ‘I haven’t seen anything … that indicates this is a turning point.’ … Most notably, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who elicited several of Mueller’s criticisms of Trump at the hearings, sharply played down the prospects of removing the president through impeachment.”

-- In terms of TV ratings, Mueller’s testimony also fell short. An average of 13 million Americans watched the hearings on major cable and broadcast networks over the more than seven hours of questioning. In comparison, 19.5 million people tuned in to watch ousted FBI director James Comey describe his dealings with Trump to Congress in 2017, while an average of 21 million viewers watched Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. (New York Times)

-- Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus, became the highest-ranking House Democrat to endorse an impeachment inquiry. “I deeply respect the committee work of House Democrats to hold the President accountable, including hearings, subpoenas and lawsuits. All of our efforts to put the facts before the American people, however, have been met with unprecedented stonewalling and obstruction. That is why I believe we need to open an impeachment inquiry that will provide us a more formal way to fully uncover the facts,” she said in a news release. Three other House Democrats — Reps. Lori Trahan (Mass.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (Del.) — also publicly endorsed opening impeachment proceedings after Mueller’s hearing.

-- After passing a bill to raise the debt ceiling, House Democrats left town last night for a 46-day recess — which will probably sap momentum for impeaching Trump and could slow down the investigations. Paul Kane reports: “Even Democrats who viewed Mueller’s appearances positively now think that they have to work extra hard to build public support for beginning impeachment. Some Democrats talked about selling the sharpest moments from the testimony to constituents over the long recess. One Democrat floated the idea of returning to Washington for more hearings during August. Another, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), said that House committees need to quickly set the next round of hearings with Trump insiders so that there is a sense of forward momentum. ... Their most immediate issue is how to keep the impeachment ball rolling ... as lawmakers are spread across the nation in their districts, on vacation with their families or on official foreign travel.” 

-- Nancy Pelosi wants her members to keep the focus on health care and prescription drug costs over the recess. The speaker said Democrats can “own August” by pivoting away from questions about impeachment. “We will own August, make it too hot to handle for the Senate’ to ignore Democratic legislative goals to streamline government and lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs,” she said. “Other Democrats gathered on the House steps under brilliant sunshine echoed that phrasing in a likely preview of the party’s message during the many town halls they’ve scheduled over the next six weeks,” per the APPelosi also warned her left flank not to trash their colleagues who oppose impeachment. She told some pro-impeachment House members yesterday “not to make it a thing about their patriotism or lack thereof if they are not for it,” a source told Fox.

-- The Internal Revenue Service turned over Richard Nixon’s tax returns on the very same day that a congressional panel requested them in 1973, according to letters released by House Democrats. The newly released documents contradict and undermine claims made by the Trump administration that House Democratic requests for the president’s tax returns are “unprecedented.” Jeff Stein reports: “On Dec. 13, 1973, Laurence N. Woodworth of the Joint Committee on Taxation asked the IRS commissioner to review Nixon’s tax returns from 1969 through 1972, according to the documents. Nixon had asked the congressional committee to review the documents amid the widening Watergate scandal. In a letter to the committee also dated Dec. 13, 1973, IRS Commissioner Donald C. Alexander said that enclosed in his response were attachments of ‘true copies of the original joint federal income tax returns filed by Richard M. and Patricia R. Nixon’ for the years requested.”

-- Trump told Sean Hannity last night that the Democrats “created this phony crime” by accusing him of obstruction of justice. From Fox News: “Trump reiterated his desire to ‘investigate the investigators’ over the origins of the Russia probe and said Attorney General William Barr would be ‘looking into it.’ … ‘This should never happen to another president of the United States again,’ Trump said. ‘This is an absolute catastrophe for our country. This was a fake witch hunt.’”

2020 WATCH: 

-- Former vice president Joe Biden is “the man who can’t stop running,” our theater critic Peter Marks writes in a scathing piece: “This drama critic, attempting to assess the theater inherent in the race for president, also detected a bit of desperation in a man yearning for the validation that has eluded him for so long. At times, Biden reminded me of another man of the road — Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, who, in ‘Death of a Salesman,’ regales his sons, Biff and Happy, with stories of how well liked he is in the towns on the circuit he travels. Following Biden around on one of his own recent circuits of Iowa, I observed that the insecurity surfacing in Willy also finds expression in Biden. The way, for instance, Willy summons the idealized memory of his tycoon brother, Ben, in whose shadow he’s lived, has an echo in the portrait Biden paints of the president for whom he served for eight years as vice president. Biden likes to characterize himself as an equal partner in that presidency, which comes across as, well, Willy-like exaggeration.”

-- The feuding among Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is an unpredictable force in an increasingly diverse Democratic Party — and it will come to play prominently in next week’s debate. Matt Viser and Chelsea Janes have a preview: “The dispute marks a critical chapter in the fight for the soul of a party that was most recently guided by the nation’s first black president — and whose vice president is trying to ride some of that lasting goodwill — but the debate now is becoming more raw, less predictable, and with potentially perilous fault lines for both sides. … The simmering debate — playing out amid the most diverse presidential field in history — contrasts with Barack Obama’s campaigns, which largely downplayed the history-busting nature of his candidacy. A University of Pennsylvania study found that Obama spoke less about race than any other Democrat in the first two years of his presidency since John F. Kennedy in the 1960s. This year, the presidential contest has brimmed with issues touching on race, including economic plans tailored to black Americans, proposals meant to improve black maternal health and potential reparations for descendants of slaves.”

-- Republican insiders fear that Harris could be the next Obama. From Vanity Fair: “Since the beginning of the campaign, these people have been worried that Biden constituted the biggest political threat to Trump’s reelection. Early public opinion polls certainly lend credibility to their concerns. But a smaller, though equally distinguished group of Republican operatives in my Rolodex, a sort of GOP cult of Kamala, had been insisting for weeks that Harris was being radically underestimated. With her surgical vivisection of Biden in the first debate, it seemed their fears had been realized. Now, as Democrats prepare for a second round of debates next week, these strategists are raising the alarm. … Some dialed-in Republicans described Harris as a serious threat. ‘I have long been most concerned about Harris. I think she has an appeal to the Scottsdale soccer mom who is a registered Republican. Between her appeal and Trump’s women problems, she has probably already won those voters,’ said an experienced Republican consultant in Arizona.’”

-- According to Trump aides, the president’s top threats in 2020 are Harris, Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. From Politico: “President Donald Trump, his top political advisers and congressional leaders gathered for an extensive political briefing at the White House on Thursday — and one topic of discussion centered on which Democratic candidates pose the biggest threat to his reelection. Toward the end of the meeting, Trump, who was joined in the Blue Room by Vice President Mike Pence, went around the room and asked for opinions on the Democratic contenders. Campaign manager Brad Parscale noted that Warren was rising, Republican National committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Harris could pose a threat in Michigan, and Trump 2020 adviser Bill Stepien highlighted Biden as a potentially formidable threat. Trump listened but did not weigh in, according to one person who attended the meeting.”

-- Reflecting the GOP's struggles in the suburbs under Trump, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Tex.) won’t seek reelection to his Houston-area House seat. He narrowly won reelection last year against Democrat Sri Kulkarni because of the president's unpopularity in the suburbs and exurbs. (Texas Tribune)

-- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), whose approval rating has plummeted since she voted to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh despite Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault, said she may not seek reelection. She told Bloomberg News that she’s preparing for a reelection bid but will not decide until the early fall whether to seek a fifth term. If she doesn’t run, it would very likely be a pickup for Democrats.

-- As the president continues to pick winners and losers with an apparent eye toward boosting his reelection prospects, the Trump administration revealed new details of the $16 billion bailout for farmers who are suffering because of his trade war with China. Laura Reiley reports: “Three groups of agricultural producers are eligible for assistance: farmers who grow row crops; those who produce specialty crops such as nuts, cranberries and grapes, and producers of dairy and pork. … Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue conceded that the relief would not make up for farmers’ recent struggles with falling farm income and commodity prices, rising debt and floods that disrupted spring planting. … Democrats expressed skepticism. ‘These short-term, inequitable payouts are not a replacement for markets and a coherent trade strategy,’ said Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.” Economists tell NPR that the Trump administration is overpaying some farmers in politically important areas like the Corn Belt.

-- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) sued Google for $50 million, alleging that the tech giant infringed on her free speech after it (briefly) suspended her campaign’s advertising account. From the Times: “The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in a federal court in Los Angeles, is believed to be the first time a presidential candidate has sued a major technology firm. … Tulsi Now Inc., the campaign committee for Ms. Gabbard, said Google suspended the campaign’s advertising account for six hours on June 27 and June 28, obstructing its ability to raise money and spread her message to potential voters. … The lawsuit also said the Gabbard campaign believed its emails were being placed in spam folders on Gmail at ‘a disproportionately high rate’ when compared with emails from other Democratic candidates.”

-- Democratic strategists launched a new outside group that can raise and spend unlimited money to tout issues that helped party candidates take back the House in 2018. House Majority Forward, the new nonprofit group, ran its first TV and digital ads last night. (Scott Bland)

-- A Republican operative persuaded conservatives to donate $10 million and then seemingly kept almost all of it. From ProPublica and Politico: “After recruiting thousands of donors for the American Conservative Union — the powerful organization behind the annual CPAC conference — a Republican political operative pushed the same contributors to give millions to a PAC that promised to go after then-President Barack Obama, but then steered much of their donations to himself and his partners. … The PAC, called the Conservative Majority fund, has raised nearly $10 million since mid-2012 … But it has made just $48,400 in political contributions to candidates and committees. Public records indicate its main beneficiaries are the operative Kelley Rogers, who has a history of disputes over allegedly unethical fundraising, and one of the largest conservative fundraising companies, InfoCision Management Corp., which charged millions of dollars in fundraising fees.”

THE DIVIDED STATES (AND TERRITORIES) OF AMERICA: 

-- Three Ole Miss students were suspended from their fraternity house and may now face a civil rights investigation after an Instagram photo of them in front of a shot-up Emmett Till memorial was made public. From ProPublica: “One of the students posted a photo to his private Instagram account in March showing the trio in front of a roadside plaque commemorating the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. The photo, which was obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, shows an Ole Miss student named Ben LeClere holding a shotgun while standing in front of the bullet-pocked sign. His Kappa Alpha fraternity brother, John Lowe, squats below the sign. A third fraternity member stands on the other side with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. … Kappa Alpha suspended the trio on Wednesday, after the news organizations provided a copy of the photo to fraternity officials at Ole Miss. The fraternity, which honors Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as its ‘spiritual founder’ on its website, has a history of racial controversy.”

-- “In a small Arkansas town, echoes of a century-old massacre,” from the AP: “J. Chester Johnson never heard about the mass killing of black people in Elaine, a couple hours away from where he grew up in Arkansas. Nobody talked about it, teachers didn’t mention it in history classes, and only the elderly remembered the bloodshed of 1919. He was an adult when he found out about it. By then, his grandfather, Alonzo ‘Lonnie’ Birch, was dead — perhaps taking a secret to his grave. Johnson believes Birch took part in the Elaine massacre. And now he’s bent on telling the story of one of the largest racial mass killings in U.S. history, an infamous chapter in the ‘Red Summer’ riots that spread in cities and towns across the nation.”

-- President Jimmy Carter’s diversification of the judiciary is one of the most important achievements in presidential history, and Trump is undoing it, writes Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern: “When Carter took office, just eight women had ever been appointed to one of the 500 federal judgeships in the country. (For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to the district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court.) Carter appointed 40 women, including eight women of color. Similarly, before Carter, just 31 people of color had been confirmed to federal courts, often over Eastland’s strenuous disapproval. The peanut farmer from Plains appointed 57 minorities to the judiciary. … Even though no president who followed Carter deployed nominating commissions, each put more women and minorities on the bench than Carter’s predecessors. … Just 22 percent of Trump’s confirmed nominees are women, and 12 percent are nonwhite. … There’s another problem with Trump’s bias toward white men: As argued by Rutgers law professor Stacy Hawkins, it may undermine judicial legitimacy among the public.”

-- A former Republican fed up with Trump designed the mock presidential seal that was displayed behind the president during a Turning Point USA event. Reis Thebault and Michael Brice-Saddler report: “Charles Leazott hadn’t thought about the seal in months. The 46-year-old graphic designer threw it together after the 2016 presidential election — it was one part joke, one part catharsis. … He substituted the arrows in the eagle’s claw for a set of golf clubs — a nod to the new president’s favorite pastime. In the other set of talons, he swapped the olive branch for a wad of cash and replaced the United States’ Latin motto with a Spanish insult. Then, his coup de grace: a two-headed imperial bird lifted straight from the Russian coat of arms, an homage to the president’s checkered history with the adversarial country. … [A] Turning Point spokesman said the group had identified the staffer responsible for turning Leazott’s design into a trending topic. He called the incident a last-minute oversight … Leazott doesn’t buy it. He thinks whoever was responsible had to know exactly what they were looking for.”

-- Monica Crowley, Trump’s pick to be the top spokeswoman at the Treasury Department, spread smears against then-President Barack Obama, suggesting he was secretly a Muslim who was sympathetic to America’s enemies. From CNN: “Crowley also endorsed a story claiming Obama was an ‘Islamic community organizer’ trying to conform the United States to Sharia law and claimed conspiracy theories about Obama's birth certificate were ‘legitimate concerns.’ … Crowley, formerly a syndicated radio host, columnist and Fox News contributor, was originally chosen by Trump in December 2016 to be the senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council. She withdrew herself from consideration for that position after [CNN] uncovered extensive plagiarism in her book and doctoral thesis.”

-- A CNN photo editor resigned after vicious anti-Semitic tweets from earlier in the decade resurfaced. Some of Mohammed Elshamy’s old, anti-Semitic tweets resurfaced after Arthur Schwartz, a Republican operative, tagged CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski on them. (Mediaite)

-- Trump appeared to attack four congresswomen on behalf of the Jewish people, a move that to many in his white evangelical base may make him seem like their champion. But the attacks are being greeted very differently by the people he’s been appearing to defend. Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey report: “Trump’s initial call for the four to ‘go back’ to the ‘totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,’ struck many Jews as transparently prejudiced in a way that is all too familiar to them … ‘To be Jews and to have that associated with hating others, when that’s totally counter to Judaism, is deeply troubling. My identity is being enlisted in service of hating other people,’ said Rabbi Michael Holzman, leader of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation.”

-- A pro-Trump Republican aiming to unseat Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was charged with felony theft after allegedly stealing $2,300 from a Target and goods valued at $40 from a grocery store. From the Guardian: Danielle Stella, “a 31-year-old special education teacher, was reported this week to be a supporter of the baseless ‘QAnon’ conspiracy theory about Donald Trump battling a global cabal of elite liberal paedophiles. This week Stella also described Minneapolis as ‘the crime capital of our country.’ She has in the past complained that local police were ‘overworked and overburdened’ and said that, if elected, she would work to reduce crime. In a series of text messages, Stella said: ‘I am not guilty of these crimes. In this country I am innocent until proven guilty and that is the law.’”

-- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) misinterpreted a comment Omar made in 2018, calling it “racist” days after he insisted that the “outrage and response cycle” over Trump’s attacks on Omar and three other congresswomen of color was a “stupid game” he refused to play. From Glenn Kessler: “The video that Rubio tweeted was deceptively edited by the Daily Caller, removing a key part of Omar’s comment. Moreover, the headline on the original tweet misleadingly asserted: ‘Ilhan Omar contends that Americans ‘should be more fearful of white men.’” Rubio responded to the backlash he received after sharing a misleading video by saying, “If a Republican grouped all men, of any background or ethnicity, together in any negative context – especially terrorism – many in the media would immediately demand that other Republicans disavow their statement. But when Rep. Omar suggested white men – ‪not white supremacists or white nationalists, white men – pose a greater danger than jihadists, many in the ‪media rushed to her defense and attacked me for pointing out this double standard.”

-- “Will Trump’s Racist Attacks Help Him? Ask Blue-Collar White Women,” from the Atlantic: “A new set of focus groups in small-town and rural communities offers fresh evidence that the gender gap over Trump within this bloc is hardening. … In both parties, most strategists I’ve spoken with agree that Trump’s bellicose attacks on the congresswomen will harden the opposition he faces among the groups most accepting of America’s changing identity: young people, minorities, and college-educated white voters, especially women. What’s more, his new offensive represents exactly the sort of behavior that has led an unprecedented number of voters satisfied with the economy to nonetheless express doubts about his leadership … Public polling, suggests that Trump is in something of a political box with working-class white women. He can activate their cultural and racial anxieties with more attacks of the kind he’s directed against the so-called squad of liberal Democratic congresswomen. But in the process, he’s likely to also intensify their concerns about his divisiveness and perceived ‘bullying.’”

-- Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said she wasn’t aware that the racist Facebook group she was a member of was racist. Alex Horton reports: “'I didn’t think anything of it at the time,’ she told the House Appropriations subcommittee, and said she was unaware of the nature of the posts until ProPublica published a report on July 1. The posts contain caustic remarks about the deaths of migrants, sexually explicit images and xenophobic comments. … In her testimony, Provost said she is ‘as outraged as everyone else.’ She ‘condemned’ the posts in a message to the agency, opened investigations of agents who posted or responded to posts, and gave her passwords to agency oversight officials, who analyzed her online activity and told her that she had logged on to Facebook nine times over the period of a year and that her interactions had been mostly with friends and family members.”

-- The U.S.-born teenager that was held for three weeks in a Customs and Border Protection holding center said he was told he had no rights. “They were not treating us humanely,” the teen, Francisco Galicia, told CNN. "... The stress was so high, they (detention center agents) were on me all the time. It was like psychological torture to the point where I almost (agreed to be deported). I felt safer to be in the cell than to be with the officers.”

-- Active-duty U.S. troops are now stationed just feet away from migrants at a Texas detention facility. From NBC News: “Despite past assurances from federal officials that the active-duty U.S. troops deployed to the border would not be in direct contact with migrants or be used for law enforcement, the service members stand watch among the migrants. The troops are perched on raised platforms throughout a large room where the migrants are held, according to the four officials. … The troops are not armed and are supposed to refer problems to CBP officials rather than interact with the migrants, say the officials, but they are permitted to respond to situations that require immediate medical attention. Active-duty troops are barred from performing law enforcement functions inside the U.S. by the Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law enacted in 1878 that prohibits the government from using military forces to act as a police force within U.S. borders.”

-- “After Puerto Rico’s governor announces resignation, his successor comes under scrutiny,by Arelis R. Hernández in San Juan: “Ricardo Rosselló’s successor, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced, is already drawing the ire of many Puerto Ricans. Just as quickly as the Twitter hashtags endorsing Rosselló’s ouster appeared, a new one has quickly trended after his resignation: #WandaRenuncia. Fresh spray paint in Old San Juan obscured the ‘Resign Ricky!’ graffiti with new messages saying ‘Not Wanda.’ Under Puerto Rico’s constitution, the secretary of state succeeds the governor, but that position is vacant after Luis Gerardo Rivera Marín resigned earlier this month because of his participation in the group chat with Rosselló. The justice secretary is next in line.

Vázquez Garced is deeply distrusted, dogged by accusations that she has mishandled prosecution of members of her own party, the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. She faced fresh allegations of misdeeds from Puerto Rican news outlets on Thursday. ‘The interpretation given to these issues is false and defamatory,’ she said in a statement. But Vázquez Garced’s history as the only secretary of justice to be charged with — and later cleared of — criminal activity, along with her public spats with party leaders, delegitimize her authority, said public transportation worker Cesar Garcia, as he left a gathering in San Juan where thousands of residents were banging pots and singing in celebration of Rosselló’s resignation.

With a week remaining in office, Rosselló has time to negotiate the appointment of a secretary of state with the leaders and factions of his New Progressive Party, which controls both legislative chambers. … The island needs a leader who can be confirmed by Puerto Rico’s House and Senate and is willing to tackle one of the worst fiscal and political crises in Puerto Rico’s history for the next 18 months, the time remaining in Rosselló’s term. That person also must know how to navigate Washington with enough integrity to restore trust from Congress and among private investors. And they need enough popular consent to avoid a second or third round of large protests. … The political jockeying taking place behind closed doors has spawned speculation on Puerto Rico talk radio and political news shows about who could replace Vazquez as the successor. Commentators and journalists batted around possible scenarios, but details about the transition are few.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“Every now and then you need to sit down and put what’s good for the American people first." — Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) explains his vote for a two-year budget deal to lift spending and suspend the debt ceiling. (Erica Werner and Damian Paletta

 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Many marked the birthday of Emmett Till, the boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after he was accused of offending a white woman in a grocery store:

From Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter Bernice: 

From a Vox reporter:

The man who was arrested by ICE agents after they shattered his car’s window earlier this week was deported to Mexico without his family or lawyer’s knowledge:

Reuters published the heart-wrenching image of a Guatemalan mother begging a soldier to let her and her son cross into the U.S.:

The Senate minority leader celebrated a special benchmark in a fellow senator's fight against climate change:

Trump weighed in on the news that American rapper A$AP Rocky was charged with assault in Sweden: 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Bernie Sanders made the case that he can beat Trump to Jimmy Kimmel:

Trevor Noah took a look at rising levels of student debt:

Stephen Colbert has a question: Were you not entertained enough by the Mueller testimony? 

A 2-year-old boy climbed onto a baggage conveyor belt in Atlanta. He hurt his right hand before being intercepted by TSA agents:

And a football team decided to help make a young boy's day: