THE BIG IDEA: Illinois Republicans do not want President Trump to spare the Rod.

All five GOP members of the state’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement on Thursday night urging Trump not to go through with his desire to commute the sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D).

“It’s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois where four of our last eight Governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption,” said Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost. “Commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, who has a clear and documented record of egregious corruption, sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials.”

In the Land of Lincoln, they’re not alone. Local Republicans are disturbed that Trump would set free a disgraced Democrat — who, not coincidentally, was a contestant on his reality television show — after serving only half of his prison sentence. Blago, as friend and foe alike called him when he was the state’s chief executive from 2003 through 2009, became the personification of the swampiness and seediness that Trump promised he’d fight against in 2016.

The 62-year-old is not supposed to be released from a minimum-security prison in Colorado until May 2024. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined on multiple occasions to hear Blagojevich’s appeals. In fact, Trump’s own solicitor general said in a court filing last year that the ex-governor’s challenges to his convictions were “unwarranted.”

The Republican minority leader of the Illinois state House, Jim Durkin, said this is “part of a theme” in which Trump tries to appeal to “certain groups in the United States who don't believe in the federal government.” He added that Trump would “send the signal that corruption is not that bad” if he commutes Blagojevich’s sentence.

“I don’t think he understands the different levels of corruption which the former governor was convicted of,” Durkin told the Southern Illinoisan, a downstate paper. “It doesn't seem to be what the founding fathers believed that the executive power should be about.”

Blagojevich, who as a former prosecutor knew the laws he was breaking, was convicted of 17 counts of wire fraud, attempted extortion, soliciting bribes and conspiracy in 2011. He was impeached by the state House and then removed from office on a unanimous vote by the state senate in 2009. He was run out of the state capitol in Springfield with an approval rating of 8 percent.

Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell to the highest bidder the U.S. Senate seat that opened when Barack Obama became president. Initially, he wanted to trade the appointment of Valerie Jarrett in exchange for Obama picking him as secretary of health and human services. When the president-elect’s intermediaries rebuffed him, he turned elsewhere and wondered how much he could get for appointing someone else to the seat. He also thought about naming himself. “I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden. And I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing,” Blagojevich said on a court-authorized FBI wiretap that was played during his trial.

At his trial, prosecutors laid out compelling evidence that Blagojevich sought to rescind $8 million in state funding for Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago because the chief executive of the hospital wouldn’t make a $50,000 contribution. He refused to sign a bill that financially benefited racetracks until the owner of a racetrack cut a $100,000 check to his campaign. As one of the prosecutors put it during trial, Blagojevich’s scheming “would make Abraham Lincoln roll over in his grave.”

-- Trump has begun to have “second thoughts” as he recognizes that going forward with his planned commutation would generate a political firestorm that could last for days, Maggie Haberman reports in today’s New York Times: “White House officials had said the move could come as early as this week. … The president decided this week that he would commute the sentence, according to two people with knowledge of the talks. … Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser who has internally championed pardons and commutations, had suggested Mr. Blagojevich be pardoned, according to one administration official. … Mr. Kushner said it would appeal to Democrats.”

Kushner, 38, has been passionate about criminal justice since his father, Charles, a wealthy real estate developer, served 14 months in prison for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign contributions. Charles Kushner paid a prostitute $10,000 to seduce his brother-in-law (Jared’s uncle) in a hotel room set up with hidden cameras to record the rendezvous. He later instructed a private detective to mail the tape to his sister as a warning and wanted to arrive at her house shortly before a family party, records show. Instead, she took the tape to the FBI, which led to his arrest.

-- Trump tweeted last night that the Blagojevich “matter” is under “review” by “staff”: “Many people have asked that I study the possibility of commuting his sentence in that it was a very severe one. White House staff is continuing the review of this matter.”

-- That sounded like a walk-back compared to what he said Wednesday night aboard Air Force One. Trump told reporters that he is “very strongly” thinking of commuting Blagojevich’s sentence because he was “treated unbelievably unfairly.” The unexpected five-minute riff appeared to be, at least in part, a gambit to get reporters to talk about something beyond the apparent lack of empathy he showed during his stops in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, where mass shootings over the weekend left a combined 31 dead. But, just as with those tragedies, Trump made it about himself. He began his comments by dubiously linking Blagojevich’s conviction to James Comey “and all these sleazebags.”

“It was the same gang — the Comey gang,” he said, referring to the FBI director he fired. “I think he was treated very, very unfairly, just as others were. Just as others were.”

The “others” appears to be a reference to himself. Someone appears to have put the false notion in the president’s head that Comey, whom he loathes, was involved. Patrick Fitzgerald was the U.S. attorney who locked Blagojevich up, and he’s friendly with Comey. But Comey was not in government during the prosecution. In fact, he didn’t become FBI director until two years after Blagojevich’s conviction.

-- Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, has aggressively lobbied on her husband’s behalf by making as many appearances as she can on Fox News, knowing that the president watches the cable channel. This appears to have made a difference. “I’m very impressed with his wife,” Trump told reporters. “She’s one hell of a woman. … She goes on, and she makes her case.”

Speaking aboard the presidential jet, Trump also made the preposterous observation that the criminal justice system treats white-collar criminals much more harshly than blue-collar criminals. “You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people,” he said.

And the president played down the significance of Blagojevich mulling, on a wiretap, how he could sell a Senate seat to the highest bidder. Trump noted that “nothing happened” after the phone call, and that the governor wasn’t ultimately paid for the appointment. “He shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio,” the president said. “I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way — that have said a lot worse over telephones.”

-- After these comments, Patti Blagojevich expressed delight that her husband might soon be a free man. But most everyone else who was a party to the case was aghast:

“It had nothing at all to do with Jim Comey,” said retired FBI agent Robert Grant, the special agent in charge of the Chicago field office during the investigation. In a sit-down interview yesterday with the Chicago CBS affiliate, he said the ex-governor should serve his full sentence. “It’s using the levers of power to take money from people for your own purposes. That’s corruption,” Grant explained. “Blagojevich has to accept responsibility before anyone should even consider a commutation of his sentence.”

The forewoman of the jury that convicted Blagojevich emphasized the thoroughness of their deliberations. Connie Wilson said the governor’s young children were in the back of her mind during deliberations, but he clearly committed crimes that hurt the whole state. “We did our job,” Wilson explained to the Windy City’s CBS station last night. “We were very careful about making sure that — when you’re dealing with somebody’s life — we really wanted to get it right.”

The judge in the case, James Zagel, has noted that the 14 years he gave Blagojevich was less than the 15 to 20 years that prosecutors asked for. “The harm here is not measured in the value of property or money,” Zagel said at sentencing. “The harm is the erosion of public trust in the government.”

-- Commuting Blagojevich’s sentence would not only make an end run around the justice system, nullifying the considered judgment of a jury of his peers that heard all the evidence and weighed arguments from both sides. It would also diminish the gravity of political corruption writ large. In that sense, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising: Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for the rule of law as president.

“This seems like it's all part of the president trying to make political scandal seem like no big thing,” “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd said on MSNBC last night. “Or of trying to convince Americans that cronyism and pay-for-play and quid pro quo is just how it works in Washington, that everybody does it. And, maybe, if it’s not fair to punish Blagojevich for political corruption, then it’s not fair to punish anyone else it now, is it? Especially a former president.”

-- Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) noted that Trump is working outside the traditional Justice Department process for clemency, and she criticized him for using his power to help allies and friends, including former Dick Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby and ousted Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. She could have added conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza and Conrad Black, who wrote an adulatory book about Trump, to her list.

“The governor disgraced his office. He’s one of the few governors in the history of the country that’s been impeached,” Lightfoot said at a news conference, according to the Chicago radio station WBEZ. “He didn’t take seriously the incredible magnitude of the power which he held, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard any contrition on his part.”

-- Today’s Chicago Tribune includes a blistering editorial that both upbraids Trump for his demonstrably false statements about the facts of the case and explains why it would be an affront to the honest citizens of Illinois — the true victims of Blagojevich’s corruption — if his sentence gets commuted.

“The ‘Comey gang’ did not overzealously prosecute the former governor. The former governor overzealously abused his position in state government and got caught,” the state’s biggest newspaper notes. “Keep in mind that Blagojevich ran for office on a platform of ethics reform after replacing a disgraced former governor, George Ryan, who was convicted on charges he ran state government like a criminal enterprise. … Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence on myriad corruption charges was harsh but deserved. Sending him back to Illinois would be a gut-punch to the law-abiding, frustrated, fed-up electorate here, more than 2 million of whom voted for Trump in 2016 based in part on his ‘drain the swamp’ attitude toward sleaze in government.”

-- Obama, whose seat Blagojevich hoped to get something for, refused to even consider commuting the sentence. But politics can make for strange bedfellows, and there are some in this case. Sen. Dick Durbin, No. 2 in Democratic leadership, has expressed support for a commutation, much to the private chagrin of some members of his caucus. So has former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who served time in the slammer for misusing campaign money to finance an extravagant personal life. He wrote a letter to Trump last month with his father and namesake, the onetime Democratic presidential candidate. “Blagojevich was a governor that cared for the people,” the Jacksons wrote. They called the sentence “far longer than the offense deserved.”

-- Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), whose conversations with Blagojevich were picked up by the FBI wiretaps and featured in attack ads before last year’s election, said his predecessor “should remain in prison.” He told a gaggle of reporters at the state fair yesterday that Trump should be focusing on keeping the American people safe from the epidemic of gun violence, not this.

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PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- Trump announced a shake-up at the top of U.S. intelligence. Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima report: “Trump said in a tweet Thursday that he will name Joseph Maguire, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as the acting director of national intelligence, following his aborted effort to install a political loyalist. Maguire is a retired Navy admiral not steeped in the inner workings of the intelligence community, but his appointment was seen as steadying in the middle of a tumultuous shake-up in the top ranks of the country’s spy agencies. As Trump announced Maguire’s appointment, he also said that Sue Gordon, the deputy director of national intelligence, would resign and not serve in the acting role when director Daniel Coats also departs next week.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers had said they wanted Gordon, a career intelligence official, to fill in for Coats. But Trump was reluctant to keep someone with whom he had never formed a close bond. The president and his aides also regarded her as a career official and consequently suspicious. … In a handwritten letter to Trump, Gordon wrote that she had offered her resignation ‘as an act of respect & patriotism, not preference. You should have your team.’ A U.S. official said that Gordon was ‘heartbroken’ and agonized over her decision to step down, but that she recognized she served at the president’s pleasure.

Current and former intelligence officials were relieved by Maguire’s appointment, although it wasn’t clear whether Trump would formally nominate him as the permanent intelligence director. Maguire was already confirmed by the Senate for his current position and by law is allowed to assume the duties as acting director. Trump had intended to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) as the director of national intelligence. But Ratcliffe’s potential nomination collapsed amid bipartisan criticism about his lack of national security expertise and allegations that he padded his résumé as a former federal prosecutor. Maguire, who was a Seal Team 6 commander, has extensive experience in counterterrorism operations and national security, said Mike McConnell, a former director of national intelligence who worked with Maguire during the George W. Bush administration. ‘He listens, he’s deliberate and he makes good decisions. He’s the kind of guy that all the troops want to have as boss and would follow him anywhere,’ McConnell said.”

-- Congressional Democrats said Trump is purging Gordon as part of a sinister plot to bring the intelligence agencies to heel. “Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he is seemingly incapable of hearing facts that contradict his own views,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The mission of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power.”

-- Heavily redacted FBI memos released last night show that while the FBI formally cut ties with a former British intelligence officer who supplied some early information in the investigation of Russian election interference, agents sought to reestablish contact as the case heated up. Devlin Barrett reports: “The released documents are formal FBI interview memos of agents’ conversations with Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice Department official who has drawn the ire of Trump for his connections to Christopher Steele, a former British spy with an expertise in Russia who wrote a dossier of allegations against Trump in 2016. …

Trump has called for Ohr to be fired over his involvement in the Russia investigation. … Ohr, 56, began his career in 1991 as a Manhattan federal prosecutor and moved to Washington in 1999 as head of the Justice Department’s organized crime and racketeering section. In 2014, he was tapped to head the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. … Questions about his role in the Russia probe first emerged in late 2017, and he was demoted to a job that did not entail interaction with the White House, and later transferred. …

One of the FBI documents released Thursday night suggested Ohr told agents he didn’t assume what Steele was telling him was true. ‘There are always Russian conspiracy theories that come from the Kremlin,’ the memo said Ohr told agents. ‘Ohr honestly believes (redacted) reported what he heard from (redacted) but that doesn’t make the story true,’ the memo said.”

-- Andrew McCabe, the former acting FBI director who authorized an investigation into Trump for possible obstruction of justice and his ties to Russia, is now suing the bureau and the Justice Department, alleging he was illegally demoted and then fired as part of a plot by the president. Matt Zapotosky reports: “McCabe asked that a federal judge declare his termination a 'legal nullity' and essentially allow him to retire from the FBI as planned, with all the benefits that would have afforded him. He was fired from the bureau in March 2018, just hours before he was set to retire, costing him significant retirement benefits. The termination came after the Justice Department inspector general found that McCabe made an unauthorized disclosure to the media, then lied to investigators about it. ‘It was Trump’s unconstitutional plan and scheme to discredit and remove DOJ and FBI employees who were deemed to be his partisan opponents because they were not politically loyal to him,’ the lawsuit alleges, adding that McCabe’s firing ‘was a critical element of Trump’s plan and scheme.’” This is the second suit this week by former FBI officials who claim they were wrongly removed from their positions for political reasons — former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who played a key role in the Russia probe, sued on Tuesday, arguing that he was terminated for being critical of Trump.

“McCabe’s lawsuit is notable for its forcefulness, alleging that Trump enlisted the highest-ranking members of the federal law enforcement apparatus in a scheme to stifle dissent. The suit singles out [former Attorney General Jeff] Sessions and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who it claims ‘knowingly acted in furtherance of Trump’s plan and scheme, with knowledge that they were implementing Trump’s unconstitutional motivations for removing Plaintiff from the civil service.’ … The lawsuit alleges officials expedited the process so that McCabe’s team had limited time to review the evidence against him, and that one Justice Department official conceded: ‘We’re making it up as we go along.’ The suit alleges McCabe learned from the media he was being fired, and notes that Trump celebrated the move on Twitter.”

-- “I can no longer justify being a part of Trump’s ‘Complacent State.’ So I’m resigning,” writes Chuck Park, a Foreign Service official, in an op-ed for The Post: “I was 26, newly married and more than a little idealistic when I set off for my first diplomatic assignment almost a decade ago as a member of the 157th class of commissioned U.S. Foreign Service officers. According to a certain type of right-leaning conspiracy theorist, that would make me part of ‘The Deep State.’ … Many on the left, too, hope that such a resistance is secretly working to save the nation from the worst impulses of President Trump. They have it all wrong. Your federal bureaucracy under this president? Call it ‘The Complacent State’ instead. …

I have seen Trump assert the moral equivalence of violent white nationalists and those who oppose them. … What I have not seen is organized resistance from within. To the contrary, two senior Foreign Service officers admonished me for risking my career when I signed an internal dissent cable against the ban on travelers from several majority-Muslim countries in January 2017. Among my colleagues at the State Department, I have met neither the unsung hero nor the cunning villain of Deep State lore. If the resistance does exist, it should be clear by this point that it has failed.”

-- The Marine Corps' new commandant, Gen. David Berger, is trying to boldly modernize in a culture that rewards conformity, even if it means taking on the military-industrial complex. Will the rest of the military brass join him? Columnist David Ignatius writes: “Talk is cheap when it comes to reforming the military, but Berger backs his call for change with specific recommendations that gore many of the Marine Corps’ sacred cows. He says he’s ready to give up some existing forces to pay for modernization — a sentiment that’s rare indeed in a Pentagon that treasures its aircraft carriers, fighter jets and other legacy weapons. … What shapes Berger’s guidance is a recognition that the Marine Corps’ traditional ethos doesn’t fit very well in a world where the biggest potential threat will be China — which will have precision weapons that can savage the Marines’ signature, large-scale amphibious-assault operations. … This rethink is the heart of the matter when it comes to reforming the military. The military systems we have now are wildly expensive but increasingly unsuited to the adversaries of the future. America won’t get the military it needs without radical change.

MORE FALLOUT FROM THE MASS SHOOTINGS:

-- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised the possibility of Senate action to expand background checks for gun purchases and imposing “red-flag” laws, as he faces mounting public pressure to do something about gun violence in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, shootings. Colby Itkowitz reports: “The Kentucky Republican, in his first interview since the shootings left 31 dead and dozens injured, specifically mentioned expanding background checks on gun purchases and “red-flag” laws, which would allow authorities to confiscate a firearm from someone deemed a risk to themselves or the public. ‘Those are two items that will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass,’ McConnell said on Kentucky radio station 840 WHAS. At the same time, McConnell, who faces reelection next year, underscored the difficulty in reaching consensus on a divisive issue. Congress has not passed significant gun-control legislation since the 1990s.”

-- Such laws have had mixed success at the state level. Peter Jamison and Peter Hermann report: “The experiences of states that have adopted similar measures show that the effects of such ‘red flag’ laws have been widely uneven, depending on legislative fine print and the energy with which front-line law enforcement officials choose to implement them. Researchers and law enforcement officials say some gun confiscations under red-flag laws may have stopped mass shootings. Of the 17 states that have adopted such legislation, in addition to the District of Columbia, some are now seeing hundreds of firearms removed annually from people who have threatened suicide or murder. But others — including some jurisdictions with fierce political support for gun restrictions — have seen underwhelming results.

“California’s law went nearly unused for two years after its passage in 2016. Not a single request for a gun to be removed has been filed under the D.C. measure, which took effect at the beginning of this year. That history suggests that a national law that spurs more states to take away guns from those who present a risk could yield incremental, rather than sweeping, results — and that success could hinge on the enthusiasm with which local officials embrace the measure.”

-- Democrats are beginning to reevaluate their long-standing hesitation to renew the assault weapons ban. But few believe the ban can advance anytime soon. Seung Min Kim reports: “The ban has long been considered the third rail of gun politics for Democratic lawmakers, who have struggled to advance the policy on Capitol Hill even when they controlled Congress because of reluctance from rural Democrats and those who blame the ban for the party’s wipeout in the 1994 midterm elections. The prohibition was allowed to expire in 2004 during Republican control of Congress and the White House. … Trump said this week that there is ‘no political appetite’ for such a ban, even as he publicly touts the possibility of expanded background checks despite private resistance from gun-rights advocates.” (In an essay for Time magazine, Bill Clinton calls for a reinstatement of the ban.) 

-- Another day in America: A gunman is on the run in Houston after killing two people on a freeway during rush hour. From CNN: “Police initially got the call of an accident at 5:55 p.m. Thursday but when they arrived seven minutes later, they found a shooting scene. The fatal shooting started as a crash between two cars going eastbound on Interstate 10, (police said). 'One of the vehicles struck the other vehicle and spun it out ... similar to a pit maneuver,' he said. ... Two occupants from the vehicle that hit the other came out, and one had a weapon, police said. He started firing at the vehicle they'd just hit and pursued it as it rolled down the hill, firing rounds, police said.”

-- An unarmed 12-year-old was maimed in bed during a SWAT raid in Chicago. Allyson Chiu reports: “Amir Worship sat on the edge of a bed shirtless and terrified, his hands raised in the air. It was 5 a.m. and the 12-year-old boy, who had been sound asleep just moments before, was staring at a police officer standing in his bedroom about two feet away from him. The officer had allegedly barged in without warning and was now pointing an automatic rifle at Amir. Minutes later, the young boy would be in agonizing pain, his kneecap shattered by a bullet his family alleges came from the officer’s gun, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. The suit claims that a SWAT team 'needlessly and recklessly terrorized and injured' Amir and his 13-year-old brother while executing a search warrant in May — the latest incident of law enforcement in the Chicago area being accused of using excessive force on children of color during raids.”

-- A man allegedly armed with a gun and a knife was briefly detained outside of a migrant community center in El Paso. From the Dallas Morning News: “The incident … has residents in this heavily Mexican American community wary of being targeted. Police spokesman Robert Gomez said Thursday that a ‘suspicious subject’ was ‘detained and interviewed released’ because he was carrying his firearm legally. He would not elaborate. The 21-year-old drove his pickup — plastered with a Rambo-like image of President Donald J. Trump carrying a large weapon — from Houston for Trump's trip to the city on Wednesday. He was parked outside the center when police detained him. In the back window was a campaign poster for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Zebulon Green of the Casa Carmelita community center confirmed the incident took place just after Air Force One departed following Trump's visit to this city.” 

-- Police in Missouri said they arrested an armed man who showed up at a Walmart wearing body armor. The man was carrying a “tactical rifle,” police said, a second gun and more than 100 rounds of ammunition. An off-duty firefighter held the 20-year-old suspect at gunpoint until police arrived, an officer said. No shots were fired. (Orlando Sentinel)   

-- Campaigning at the hospital: A cellphone video showed Trump comparing his political rally crowd sizes to former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke’s while visiting an El Paso hospital. Josh Dawsey and John Wagner report: “As Trump exchanges pleasantries with doctors and others at the University Medical Center of El Paso, the video shows him pausing to reminisce about dueling rallies that he and the Texas Democrat staged in El Paso in February focused on immigration and border security. ‘That was some crowd,’ Trump says of his event. ‘We had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot, and they said his crowd was wonderful.’ The video shows no one responding to Trump’s assertion before convening for group photos.”

-- Those who are still recovering from the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue about 10 months ago are now reaching out to comfort the communities of El Paso and Dayton. Karen Heller reports: “Pittsburgh belongs to a club it never wanted to join, the sites of carnage caused by semiautomatic military-style weapons and hate. As the mass shootings proliferate, through Aurora, Newtown, Parkland and Orlando, these communities compose a loose network of trauma. After each massacre, survivors across the country offer messages of empathy to the latest community affected — while coping with a new surge of sorrow at home. … After the murders at Tree of Life synagogue, which also housed New Light and Dor Hadash congregations, the residents of Newtown, Conn., subsidized coffee at Commonplace Coffee. There were conversations with people from Parkland, Fla. A dozen members of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center mosque, the site of a 2017 attack, made the 12-hour drive to offer solace. … On Wednesday, Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community Center held a banner signing to honor the residents of El Paso, Dayton and the city’s Latinx community. Wishes were inked with silver Sharpies in the center’s central hall, which was decorated with photos of Pittsburgh’s paragon of kindness, Fred Rogers.”

-- Rank-and-file gun rights activists are sick and tired of the scandals shadowing National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre, which they believe make him less effective in trying to thwart new gun laws after mass shootings. From the AP: “Ardent gun-rights supporters have turned on LaPierre in recent months, taking to Twitter and Facebook with the hashtags #changethenra and #savethe2a. ... ‘They’ve done so much damage to their reputation that the effectiveness of any NRA statements in really swaying opinion has to be considered diminished,’ said Rob Pincus, a longtime NRA member and firearms instructor who founded a group calling for LaPierre’s resignation. ‘Anything that gets said by Wayne LaPierre is going to be followed by ‘amidst turmoil over $300,000 in suits and a $6 million mansion they were going to buy him,’ and all these other allegations that are out there.’”

-- Long Johns Silver’s will no longer advertise on Fox News after host Tucker Carlson insisted that white supremacy is “a hoax.” Nestle and HelloFresh also said they will no longer run ads during Carlson’s show. (HuffPost)

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- U.S. authorities strongly defended Wednesday's mass immigration raids at Mississippi workplaces, saying the secretive operation was successful even if it led to viral images of weeping children coming home to find their parents missing. Tim Craig, Scott Wilson and Nick Miroff report: “The operation was so closely guarded that ICE officials did not even inform the White House before it began, according to Matthew Albence, the agency’s acting director, and other administration officials. Because previous plans for high-profile ICE raids had been disrupted by public disclosure — including tweets from President Trump telegraphing them — the agency this time stealthily streamed 600 agents to Mississippi, many flown from other parts of the country. … But the arrests again exposed what state and local officials say is a major shortcoming in ICE procedures for dealing with children, as parents who were caught up in immigration-related enforcement activities while at work were unable to pick their children up from school, day-care centers and elsewhere, leaving some of them deserted and scared.”

Nearly 24 hours after the raids began, officials at Mississippi’s Department of Child Protection Services said they were disturbed by the operation because they could still not conclusively say all the children separated from their parents were in safe hands. “The Department of Child Protection Services was not notified beforehand of the ICE activity, nor have we been contacted by them after the fact,” said Lea Anne Brandon, a spokeswoman for the agency. “It is frustrating because we have resources on the ground, trained, ready and licensed to respond to emergency situations, and we could have provided services that instead appeared to be put together in a makeshift fashion.”

-- ICE has released about 300 of the 680 people detained in the raid. From the Clarion Ledger: “Approximately 30 people detained Wednesday were released at the same site they were detained on ‘humanitarian grounds,’ according to a press release issued Thursday by Mike Hurst, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, and ICE. Another 270 were released after being processed by Homeland Security Investigations on Wednesday. Those 270 were taken back to where they were initially detained, the release stated. According to the Associated Press, ICE officials said 18 juveniles were among the released workers, including a 14-year-old.”

-- The raid spanned seven cities, six work sites and five companies in a state with the nation’s third-smallest population of undocumented residents. From Hannah Denham: “Academic research shows that the state’s poultry industry has a complex history with labor, race and immigration. The civil rights and worker rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s led to integration, but also an exodus of white workers. By the 1990s, businesses began aggressively recruiting Latin American immigrants to fill their labor needs, luring them to rural Mississippi from places such as El Paso and Miami. One company, since acquired by Koch Foods, dubbed the campaign the ‘Hispanic Project.’ Because of it, researchers say, the Latino population in Scott County, where two of the raided plants are located, soared more than 1,000 percent from 1990 to 2000.”

-- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — which has more than 3.3 million baptized members and is one of the largest Protestant Christian denominations in America — has declared itself a “sanctuary church body” in a sign of support for immigrants. (Religion News Service)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A Trump campaign aide noted a problematic gaffe during Joe Biden's latest speech in Iowa: 

Biden quickly tried to rephrase: 

He also apparently confused one female British prime minister with another:

Beto O'Rourke hit back at Trump for talking about crowd sizes while visiting injured victims of the El Paso shooting: 

O'Rourke also explained why he visited Mexico after conservative news site Breitbart criticized him for doing so: 

A Des Moines Register reporter spotted Elizabeth Warren buying some lemonade: 

(The reporter later clarified that the lemonade was a dollar per cup, and Warren bought seven for her and six of her aides.)

A Post reporter came across Warren's Iowa bus: 

Amid all the Iowa State Fair food talk, we seem to have forgotten that Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is a vegan:

An Atlantic reporter flagged that spiritual guru and presidential candidate Marianne Williamson may be trying to profit off her campaign list:

Former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein chastised Trump for pushing out Sue Gordon:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The Wall Street Journal will write what it writes. It doesn’t sound a lot different from the People’s Daily in terms of the news that it puts out,” Peter Navarro, one of the president's top aides, said on Fox Business after the Journal's editorial board warned of a “Navarro Recession.” (Heather Long)

 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers untangled the relationship between the president and the NRA: 

Stephen Colbert joked that there's one race Trump dislikes more than the others: the race for the Democratic nomination:

Trevor Noah tackled the recent boycott of Equinox gyms, and his correspondent Jaboukie Young-White found new ways for liberals to work out:

The GOP took a conversation Warren had with an Iowa farmer about cows and tried to repurpose it as an attack on the Green New Deal: