with Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Former spies are hard to spy on.

As a KGB officer, Vladimir Putin learned tradecraft at the Red Banner Institute in Moscow. He was deployed undercover to East Germany during the 1980s. Under Boris Yeltsin, Putin ran the federal security service, known as the FSB.

Counterintelligence experience has made Putin notoriously allergic to electronic communication. He clearly understands the capabilities of signals intelligence and, more than other world leaders, the necessity of operational security. To penetrate the Kremlin and understand the Russian president’s thinking, cultivating sources on the inside therefore becomes more essential.

It was such human intelligence, or HUMINT as it’s known in the espionage world, that helped the U.S. government conclude so definitively that Putin himself directed the Russian influence campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump.

In 2017, the CIA secretly exfiltrated a high-placed Kremlin informant because of mounting concerns among U.S. officials that the person could be caught, current and former officials told our Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima.

CNN, which broke the news of the exfiltration on Monday, reported that “the spy had access to Putin and could even provide images of documents on the Russian leader's desk.

The New York Times revealed that the CIA recruited and carefully cultivated the source when they were a midlevel Russian official before advancing through the governmental ranks. This person’s departure has “effectively blinded American intelligence officials to the view from inside Russia as they sought clues about Kremlin interference in the 2018 midterm elections and next year’s presidential contest,” the Times reports.

-- Jim Sciutto’s initial report for CNN made waves because “a person directly involved in the discussions” told him that that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that Trump had repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence. “The removal happened at a time of wide concern in the intelligence community about mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration,” Sciutto wrote. “Those concerns were described to CNN by five sources who served in the Trump administration, intelligence agencies and Congress.”

My colleagues report that U.S. officials had been concerned that Russian sources could be at risk of exposure as early as the fall of 2016, when the Obama administration first confirmed that Russia had stolen and publicly disclosed emails from the Democratic National Committee and the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. “The exfiltration took place sometime after an Oval Office meeting in May 2017, when President Trump revealed highly classified counterterrorism information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador,” per Harris and Nakashima. “That disclosure alarmed U.S. national security officials, but it was not the reason for the decision to remove the CIA asset…, according to the current and former officials.”

-- The Kommersant newspaper in Moscow names a “missing” employee of the Russian presidential administration who was spotted in the United States. The story cited Russian law enforcement agencies saying that he disappeared in 2017 during a family vacation to Montenegro, suggesting that he may have been the person exfiltrated by the CIA. RT, the Russian television station, reports that the person they suspect of being the asset, worked at the Russian Embassy in Washington before 2010. RT said the man, his wife and three children left for Montenegro in July 2017.

-- NBC News reports that a former senior Russian official is living in the Washington area under U.S. government protection. “NBC News is withholding the man’s name and other key details at the request of U.S. officials, who say reporting the information could endanger his life. Yet the former Russian government official, who had a job with access to secrets, was living openly under his true name,” Ken Dilanian and Tatyana Chistikova report. “An NBC News correspondent went to the man’s house in the Washington area and rang the doorbell. Five minutes later, two young men in an SUV came racing up the street and parked immediately adjacent to the correspondent’s car. The men, who identified themselves only as friends of the Russian, asked the correspondent what he was doing there. A former senior national security official said the men were likely U.S. government agents monitoring the Russian's house. …

“NBC News has not confirmed that the Russian living near the nation's capital fed the CIA information about Russian election interference. But for reasons that NBC News is withholding, he fits the profile of someone who may have had access to information about Putin’s activities and who would have been recruitable by American intelligence officials. Two former FBI officials told NBC News they believe he is the source referred to in the [stories]. The Russian will likely be moved from the place he is currently living in the interest of keeping him safe, current and former officials said.”

-- Revelations about this asset underscore the quality of the intelligence that showed Putin personally directed the interference in our 2016 election. Some Trump loyalists have sought to discredit the findings of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe by seeking to link it with the Steele dossier, which included unsubstantiated allegations. The latest stories hint at how much more U.S. intelligence agencies know.

The information itself was so important and potentially contentious in 2016 that top C.I.A. officials ordered a full review of the informant’s record,” Julian Barnes, Adam Goldman and David Sanger report in the Times. “Officials reviewed information the source had provided years earlier to ensure that it had proved accurate. Even though the review passed muster, the source’s rejection of the C.I.A.’s initial offer of exfiltration prompted doubts among some counterintelligence officials. They wondered whether the informant had been turned and had become a double agent, secretly betraying his American handlers. That would almost certainly mean that some of the information the informant provided about the Russian interference campaign or Mr. Putin’s intentions would have been inaccurate. … Other current and former officials who acknowledged the doubts said they were put to rest when the source agreed to be extracted after the C.I.A. asked a second time."

From someone who spent 28 years in the CIA's clandestine service, including multiple postings as a station chief in Europe:

From a former FBI special agent:

-- The Russians have almost certainly been emboldened by their success in 2016. This makes the apparent lack of inside sources at the Kremlin problematic as 2020 approaches. FBI Director Chris Wray has been sounding that alarm. “We are very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020,” Wray testified in April. 

Mueller warned in his congressional testimony that foreign powers trying to manipulate our elections will be “the new normal.”

“They’re doing it as we sit here,” he said in July.

-- A closing thought from former CIA director and retired Gen. Mike Hayden:

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-- Trump is ending a tumultuous summer with his approval rating slipping back from a July high as Americans express widespread concern about the trade war with China and a majority of voters now expect a recession within the next year, according to our latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. Toluse Olorunnipa and Scott Clement report: “Trump’s approval rating among voting-age Americans stands at 38 percent, down from 44 percent in June but similar to 39 percent in April, with 56 percent now saying they disapprove of his performance in office. … The Post-ABC poll finds Trump’s economic approval rating has also declined from 51 percent in early July to 46 percent in the new survey … Trump’s handling of trade negotiations with China is a particularly weak spot, with 35 percent in the new poll approving of him on this issue and 56 percent disapproving. …

While a 56 percent majority of Americans rate the economy as ‘excellent’ or ‘good,’ that figure is down from 65 percent in November. A separate question finds 6 in 10 say that a recession is either ‘very likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ in the next year. That fear compares with 69 percent who said a recession was likely in fall 2007 … The Post-ABC poll finds 43 percent of Americans say Trump’s trade and economic policies have increased the chance of a recession in the next year, more than double the 16 percent who say his policies have decreased the likelihood of a recession. Many worry about a personal financial cost of the trade war, with 6 in 10 saying they are concerned that the current dispute with China will raise the price of things their family buys, including one-third who are ‘very concerned’ about this.”

Tribalism alert: People’s perceptions of the economy are shaped by partisanship, even more than during the Obama era. Our poll finds 9 in 10 Republicans saying the economy is in excellent or good shape, compared with 33 percent of Democrats. “The 57-point partisan gap is far larger than any seen previously during the Trump administration or during the Obama administration, in which the largest divide was 43 percentage points,” Tolu and Scott note.


-- Follow the money: Trump cut a deal with the Scottish airport that sent Air Force flight crews to his resort. From the New York Times's Eric Lipton: “Back in 2014, soon after acquiring a golf resort in Scotland, Donald J. Trump entered a partnership with a struggling local airport there to increase air traffic and boost tourism in the region. The next year, as Mr. Trump began running for president, the Pentagon decided to ramp up its use of that same airport to refuel Air Force flights and gave the local airport authority the job of helping to find accommodations for flight crews who had to remain overnight. Those two separate arrangements have now intersected in ways that provide the latest evidence of how Mr. Trump’s continued ownership of his business produces regular ethical questions. ...

First on Twitter and later speaking to reporters at the White House, [Trump] said he was not involved in any decision to put an Air Force flight crew at the resort, known as Trump Turnberry. … But documents obtained from Scottish government agencies show that the Trump Organization, and Mr. Trump himself, played a direct role in setting up an arrangement between the Turnberry resort and officials at Glasgow Prestwick Airport. The government records, released through Scottish Freedom of Information law, show that the Trump organization, starting in 2014, entered a partnership with the airport to try to increase private and commercial air traffic to the region.

As part of that arrangement, the Trump Organization worked to get Trump Turnberry added to a list of hotels that the airport would routinely send aircrews to, even though the Turnberry resort is 20 miles from the airport, farther away than many other hotels, and has higher advertised prices. Trump Organization executives held a series of meetings with the airport officials to negotiate terms that would lead to more referrals, the documents show. ...

The number of such stops by Air Force planes at Prestwick rose from 180 in 2017 to 257 last year and 259 so far this year. The 259 stops this year included 220 overnight stays. Since October 2017, records show 917 payments for expenses including fuel at the airport worth a total of $17.2 million. Air Force officials could not say on Monday how many times military crews had been sent to Trump Turnberry, but added that they are now going through vouchers to come up with such a count.”

-- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama. From the Times: “That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the agency … disavowing the National Weather Service’s position that Alabama was not at risk. … NOAA’s statement on Friday is now being examined by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, and employees have been asked to preserve their files. NOAA is a division of the Commerce Department. … The Commerce Department disputed the account on behalf of [Ross].”

-- Senior officials, including some inside the White House, are concerned the Trump administration’s nearly $30 billion bailout for farmers who face financial ruin because of the president's trade policies lacks proper legal underpinnings. Jeff Stein reports: “Two Agriculture Department officials involved in the bailout program told The Washington Post they were worried the funding could surpass the original intent of the New Deal-era Commodity Credit Corporation, which is being used to distribute the money. ... Separately, some officials in the Office of Management and Budget also raised questions about the scope of $16 billion in a second round of bailout funds. They pushed the Agriculture Department to provide more legal reasoning for the effort, the officials said. In a statement, a USDA spokesman officials said the concerns raised by OMB were already resolved, however.”

-- Trump's legislative affairs team is working with Senate Republicans to quickly jam through the judicial nomination of White House aide Steven Menashi. From HuffPost: “Within minutes of the White House formally submitting Menashi’s nomination to the Senate late Monday afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee added his name to its agenda for a Wednesday hearing. The agenda had been blank prior to the White House sending over Menashi’s nomination. That’s an incredibly fast turn-around for a judicial nominee, and it’s no mistake that the Republican-led committee kept its agenda empty until the last minute. It helped to stave off prolonged protests by progressive groups that have already signaled strong opposition to Menashi, who, if confirmed, will have a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. ...

“Menashi, a 40-year-old lawyer who previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and served as acting general counsel for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, wrote dozens of incendiary editorials and blog posts in the late 1990s and early 2000s decrying ‘leftist multiculturalism’ and ‘PC orthodoxy.’ ... Menashi’s past writings include him comparing race data collection in college admissions to Germany under Adolf Hitler; denouncing women’s marches as sexual assault; opposing the ‘radical abortion rights advocated by campus feminists and codified in Roe v. Wade’; [and] arguing that diverse communities ‘exhibit less political and civic engagement, less effective government institutions, and fewer public goods’ … In a 1998 opinion article, Menashi opposed need-based financial aid because, he argued, it hurt wealthy people. He also spread the Islamophobic myth that Gen. John Pershing executed Muslim prisoners in the Philippines in 1913 with bullets dipped in pig fat.”

-- Trump’s plan to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would make mortgages more expensive for minority borrowers and aspiring homeowners in the south, Midwest and rural communities, fair housing groups say. Tracy Jan reports: “In addition, housing advocates say, the administration’s plan would lead to a bifurcated market that would block first-time home buyers and low-income borrowers, many of whom are people of color, from lower cost conventional loans.”

-- The White House is considering a controversial proposal to study whether mass shootings could be prevented by monitoring mentally ill people. William Wan reports: “Former NBC chairman Bob Wright, a longtime friend and associate of [Trump’s], has briefed top officials, including the president, the vice president and Ivanka Trump, on a proposal to create a new research arm called the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA) to come up with out-of-the-box ways to tackle health problems, much like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) does for the military, according to several people who have been briefed. … Advisers to Wright quickly pulled together a three-page proposal — called SAFEHOME for Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes — which calls for exploring whether technology including phones and smartwatches can be used to detect when mentally ill people are about to turn violent. … The violence detection plan has alarmed experts studying violence prevention, technology, psychology and mental health.”

-- But Trump fears crossing his political base on guns as well as on other divisive issues. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report: “Some of Trump’s political advisers believe that if the president pursues gun control, it would represent a serious breach with his base of gun rights supporters. ‘His base is loyal to him and won’t vote against him, but there could be some dealbreakers that cause them to stay home altogether,’ said a senior administration official … Since running for president in 2015, however, Trump has adopted the current Republican hard-line position on guns. Some current and former White House aides said that while Trump may not approach the topic with deeply held convictions, he has come to appreciate the cultural significance of protecting gun rights to his supporters and therefore is reluctant to take any action that might alienate them.”

-- Top Democratic leaders prodded Trump and Senate Republicans to take action on gun legislation now that the congressional recess is over. Mike DeBonis reports: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) focused their attention at a Capitol Hill news conference on legislation, already passed in the House, that would expand the federal background check system to cover more gun sales, including those between private individuals rather than a gun dealer. ‘The legislation is the quickest way to make a law that will save American lives,’ Schumer said. ‘It’s right at the intersection of what is really effective and what can pass.’ … [Mitch] McConnell did not address gun legislation Monday in his first remarks on the Senate floor, instead discussing government funding and presidential nominations. The top Republicans in the House and Senate are scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House on Tuesday, with senators suggesting that various fall agenda issues such as government spending, trade and guns would be discussed.”

-- San Francisco branded the NRA a “domestic terrorist organization” and now the gun-rights group is suing. Katie Shepherd reports: “The NRA is hitting back with a lawsuit that calls the resolution ‘obviously unconstitutional,’ arguing that targeting gun-friendly vendors and contractors violates their right to free speech. … The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office responded by suggesting the NRA focus on reducing gun violence.”

-- Trump presented the Medal of Valor to six police officers who responded last month to the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio and honored five civilians for their actions at the scene of the El Paso shooting that same weekend. John Wagner reports: “During his remarks, the president made no mention of legislation that Democrats have urged him to embrace to strengthen background checks for gun purchasers. ... The alleged [El Paso] gunman posted a missive that included harsh rhetoric against immigrants, describing his attack as ‘a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.’ ‘It was a racist attack motivated by pure evil,” Trump said Monday.”

-- Senate Democrats plan on forcing one more vote against Trump’s border emergency declaration. Seung Min Kim reports: “The procedure to disapprove Trump’s border emergency being deployed by Schumer is privileged, meaning [McConnell] would be unable to block the vote from happening on the floor. In the last Senate vote to reject the emergency declaration, a dozen Republican senators defied Trump to reject his border emergency, with most decrying the president’s move as a potential abuse of separation of powers.”

-- A federal judge in California reimposed a nationwide injunction against Trump’s new policy of denying asylum to almost everyone who enters the country after passing through Mexico or a third country. Robert Barnes reports: “U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar of Oakland said the policy could not be implemented anywhere along the southern border while a legal battle over it proceeds. The Trump administration announced on July 16 a change that denies asylum in the United States to those who pass through other countries without seeking asylum there. The Supreme Court is considering a request by the administration to allow the new restriction.”

-- Administration officials said border crossings fell again in August, attributing this partly to the enforcement deal with Mexico. Abigail Hauslohner and Nick Miroff report: “The number of migrants taken into custody along the U.S. southern border fell for the third consecutive month in August, dropping 22 percent from July to 64,006, acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner Mark Morgan said Monday. In a White House news conference, Morgan credited President Trump’s June 7 immigration enforcement agreement with Mexico as the key factor in the decline. … Now Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley, an epicenter of this year’s influx, say they’re seeing the effects. The share of migrants taken into custody who are families and children, including at official ports of entry, fell from 70 percent in July to 55 percent in August."

-- Partisan divisions over immigration have widened after a year of turmoil at the border. Scott Clement and Dan Balz report: “Republican concern about immigration has risen sharply, rivaling international terrorism as the top security threat for the first time in more than two decades, according to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll released Monday. The survey, taken in June, found that 78 percent of Republicans say large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States represent a ‘critical threat’ to the nation’s vital interests. That marks a rise of 12 percentage points since last year. In comparison, 76 percent of Republicans describe international terrorism is a high-level threat. Among Democrats, just 19 percent say the same, ranking it last among 14 possible concerns, including climate change, cyberattacks and foreign interference in American elections.”

-- The Trump administration wants a federal court to reconsider a ruling that opened the door for potential payments to millions of federal employees and others due to the cybertheft of their personal information. Eric Yoder reports: “A district judge initially dismissed the case, saying the complaint failed to show that problems some victims later experienced — such as fraudulent tax refund claims, credit card accounts and purchases made in their names — were caused by the breaches. A panel of the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, however, told the lower court to consider the case, saying that OPM had failed to protect the data despite ‘repeated and forceful warnings’ that the databases were vulnerable and a prime target for hackers. It further found that the unions had shown that the types of problems the complaint described can occur only after such a theft of personal information. However, the Justice Department said the decision ignored evidence that the hacks were motivated by espionage.”

-- Attorneys general for 50 U.S. states and territories announced an antitrust investigation of Google, embarking on a wide-ranging review of the tech giant that Democrats and Republicans say threatens competition, consumers and the Internet's continued growth. From Tony Romm: “Appearing on the steps of the Supreme Court, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton charged that Google ‘dominates all aspects of advertising on the Internet and searching on the Internet,’ though he cautioned that despite his criticism the states had launched an investigation for now and not a lawsuit. Paxton said the probe’s initial focus is online advertising. Google is expected to rake in more than $48 billion in U.S. digital ad revenue this year, far rivaling its peers, while capturing 75 percent of all spending on U.S. search ads, according to eMarketer."


-- Hurricane survivors in the Bahamas were kicked off a ferry because they lacked U.S. visas. Katie Shepherd and Herman Wong report: “Hundreds of Hurricane Dorian survivors crowded into a ferry anchored in Freeport, Bahamas, on Sunday evening, after days on the sweltering islands with limited food, water and power. Just 2½ hours across the ocean, safety and relief waited in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Then an announcement blared from the boat’s intercom speakers. ‘Please, all passengers that don’t have a U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark,’ a crew member said in a video captured on board. … [Since Dorian,] hundreds of Bahamian refugees have reportedly bypassed the visa process to come to the United States. The more than 100 refugees forced to disembark Sunday night were baffled about why they were turned away. … The incident, which U.S. Customs and Border Protection blamed on the ferry operator, comes amid bipartisan calls to waive all visa requirements for Bahamas survivors. At a news conference Monday, acting CBP commissioner Mark Morgan said that there was ‘confusion’ around the issue but that the agency’s policy hadn’t changed.”

But, but, but: Trump contradicted Morgan later in the day, arguing that groups of Bahamian refugees might have been infiltrated by “very bad people”: “Trump told reporters that we ‘have to be very careful’ when letting people from the Bahamas into the United States, saying that ‘everybody needs totally proper documentation.’ ‘I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States — including some very bad people and very bad gang members,’ Trump said. Under existing U.S. policy, Bahamians can enter the United States without a visa by providing a passport and proof of no criminal record and going through pre-screening conducted by CBP in Freeport and Nassau.”

-- Crews in the Bahamas continue finding bodies as the official Dorian death toll slowly rises. Kevin Sieff and Rachelle Krygier report: “The reports came in from family members and neighbors. The body of one man was found clutching his son. Another was entangled on a fence. Another was halfway through a door, frozen in a futile attempt at escaping the most powerful storm ever to assault this island nation. … The Bahamian government has been slow to raise its official death toll, which stood Monday evening at 50. The count did not include the bodies the teams on Great Abaco found during the day. Much larger numbers have been circulating. The Punch, a Nassau tabloid, ran a front-page headline Monday suggesting a final count in the thousands. Other local media have run similar stories.”

-- Trump said negotiations with the Taliban “are dead” and indicated he has no further interest in meeting with them to end the Afghanistan war. Karen DeYoung, Josh Dawsey and Missy Ryan report: “ ‘I’m not looking to discuss it,’ he said. ‘I’m not discussing anything.’ Trump appeared to provide the definitive response to at least one question officials across his administration were struggling to answer in the wake of his abrupt cancellation, by way of Twitter on Saturday evening, of a Camp David meeting with Taliban and Afghan government leaders to finalize an agreement … Before Trump’s comments, made to reporters as he left for a campaign rally in North Carolina, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was said to be hopeful that there was still a flicker of life in the Taliban talks and that a way to restart them would emerge. … Dissension within the administration over the issue — centered on Pompeo’s support for the negotiations, national security adviser John Bolton’s opposition, and their competition for policy dominance and presidential favor — is ‘really heating up,’ according to a senior administration official.”

­-- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is in the hot seat now that talks are seemingly over. Pamela Constable reports: Ghani is “in the spotlight at a moment of national crisis that cries out for leadership and all but guaranteeing that the presidential election will be held as planned on Sept. 28. As the incumbent who has campaigned vigorously while most of his rivals were not even sure the vote would take place, Ghani is likely to win a second five-year term. His repeated calls for a lasting, Afghan-led peace may find new resonance with voters who feared a U.S. peace deal would leave them vulnerable to a reprise of Taliban cruelty. But Ghani, 70, also faces a high risk of failure in dealing with the insurgents, who have proven both shrewd negotiators and ruthless combatants, and who have dismissed his government from the beginning as an American pawn.”

-- Hezbollah announced it shot down an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon amid ongoing tension between Iranian-backed groups and Israel. James McAuley reports: “The Israeli army also said early Monday that Iran’s elite Quds Force oversaw the firing of several rockets from Syria toward Israel, none of which managed to reach its target. The rocket attacks follow reports from Syrian opposition activists that several Iranians and allied militias were killed by airstrikes in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border. It was not immediately clear who carried out these strikes, although Israel has attacked Iranian targets in Syria throughout the country’s civil war. … Hezbollah’s downing of a drone was seen as a possible retaliation for an earlier strike that the Lebanese Shiite militant group blamed on Israel and that the Israeli government has yet to deny.”

­-- North Korea declared that it's willing to hold talks with the U.S. in September, shortly before it launched two more missiles. Simon Denyer reports: “Hours after expressing support for new talks, the regime launched two unidentified projectiles, South Korea’s military said early Tuesday, continuing a summer of launches that have been condemned by U.S. allies but downplayed by President Trump as ‘very standard’ tests. North Korea fired the projectiles at 6:53 and 7:12 a.m. from Kaechon, north of Pyongyang, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, adding that their maximum flight distance was estimated to be 205 miles. U.S. officials have continued to request meetings with North Korean officials to negotiate an end to the regime’s nuclear weapons program, but in recent months those requests have gone unanswered."

-- A Chinese businesswoman defending herself on charges that she trespassed at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and lied to Secret Service agents gave one of the shortest opening statements in legal history Monday, proclaiming her innocence and appreciation for the country that may put her prison. The AP reports: “After a federal prosecutor gave a 20-minute opening statement laying out Yujing Zhang’s alleged lies that gained her access to the president’s Palm Beach resort on March 30 and her suspicious activities during her brief presence on the grounds, Zhang stood at the defense table for 20 seconds and addressed the 10 women and two men. … Zhang’s insistence on being her own attorney has frustrated District Judge Roy Altman. ...

Prosecutors have filed under seal secret evidence that they say has national security implications, even though Zhang is not charged with espionage. The Secret Service said when agents detained Zhang at Mar-a-Lago she was carrying a computer, a hard drive, four cellphones and a thumb drive containing malware, although agents later recanted the accusation about the malware. Agents said Zhang told them she brought the electronics to Mar-a-Lago because she feared they would be stolen if left at her nearby hotel, but in her room they allegedly found a device to detect hidden cameras, computers, $8,000 in cash, and credit and debit cards.”

-- The U.K. Parliament once again rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for an early election, leaving him with no obvious means of making good on his vow of a “do or die” Brexit. Griff Witte, Karla Adam and Amanda Ferguson report: “Tuesday was the second time in as many weeks that Johnson had asked for Parliament to allow a fresh election, only to be rebuffed by a unified opposition. … With Parliament suspended for the next five weeks, Tuesday’s defeat leaves Johnson with virtually no chance of getting a fresh vote before Oct. 31, the deadline by which Britain is due to leave the E.U. …  Johnson is in a bind: He has insisted he will not ask the E.U. for an extension — he said last week that he would ‘rather be dead in a ditch.’ But a law passed by rebel lawmakers requires him to seek one if there’s still no deal by Oct. 19.”

-- Now, Johnson has four options to exit this Brexit mess. One of them involves going to jail, writes Witte: “Where does the prime minister go from here? He probably will have to do something he has previously ruled out or break through a law or convention that would thrust Britain into a profound constitutional crisis. Some among his hard-line Brexit allies are even urging him to become ‘a martyr’ to the cause and go to jail. Although that is highly unlikely, many of the major events in British politics in recent days were, not long ago, considered virtually impossible.” These are the main possibilities for where Johnson and Brexit might go next:

  • He could renegotiate a deal with the E.U. that more closely resembles the lofty vision he and his fellow Brexiteers outlined during the 2016 referendum campaign.
  • He could ask for a Brexit delay, an extension that would require the unanimous agreement of the other 27 E.U. members.
  • He could resign and, at the time of a new election, campaign on the argument that Parliament blocked Brexit, an argument that could deliver him the no-deal majority he needs.
  • And, finally, he could agree to go to jail by testing the limit of the law that requires him to seek an extension from the E.U.

2020 WATCH:

-- Trump and Vice President Pence dropped into North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District last night to hold a rally for Dan Bishop, the Republican candidate in a special election today that could be a bellwether for their 2020 fortunes. Josh Dawsey, Felicia Sonmez and Laura Hughes report: “’Tomorrow is your chance to send a clear message to the America-hating left,’ Trump told the crowd shortly before calling Bishop onto the stage. The president went on to deliver a wide-ranging speech that mirrored his usual campaign rally fare. He defended his tariffs on Chinese goods, took aim at the media, denounced energy-efficient lightbulbs and warned that Democrats are ‘not big believers in religion.’ He also drew cheers from the crowd when he joked that he would remain in office through 2026 so that he could be president when the United States co-hosts the World Cup that year.

"The 9th District has long been in Republican hands, and Trump won it by 12 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in 2016. But recent polling has shown Democrat Dan McCready within striking distance of Bishop ... If McCready wins on Tuesday, Republicans in Washington worry that even more members of their party will announce retirements in the coming weeks, joining the 16 who have already fled for the exits. If Bishop wins, meanwhile, Trump probably will point to the victory as evidence that he is an asset, not a liability, to Republican candidates next fall.”

-- At the rally, the president painted a bleak picture of the nation under Democratic control. From the AP: “Trump repeatedly painted the Democrats as a party that has moved to the extreme left on issues like immigration, abortion and health care. ‘You don’t have any choice. You have to vote for me,’ Trump told the crowd. ‘What are you going to do: Put one of these crazy people running? They are so far left.’ ‘Your way of life is under assault by these people,’ he claimed.”

­-- Trump said state Republican parties are canceling primaries because they “don’t want to waste their money.” Sonmez reports: “Trump said he has ‘nothing to do with’ the decision by several state parties to cancel their primaries and caucuses. Earlier Monday, the Arizona Republican Party became the latest to do so, following on the heels of the state parties in South Carolina, Kansas and Nevada. ‘Those four states don’t want to waste their money,’ Trump said. ‘Having primary campaigns and having a primary election is very expensive.’ Some state parties have previously called off their primaries and caucuses in past elections when an incumbent is running for reelection. … The president argued that ‘if there was a race,’ state parties would ‘certainly want’ to hold primaries and caucuses. But he dismissed his competitors, noting that polling shows them barely registering among likely Republican voters.”

-- Trump mocked Mark Sanford, his latest Republican primary challenger, dismissing him and two other conservatives as the “Three Stooges." John Wagner reports: “In morning tweets shortly after Sanford touted his candidacy on MSNBC’s 'Morning Joe,’ Trump referenced a 2009 episode in which Sanford, then South Carolina’s governor, disappeared for nearly a week before reemerging to hold a tearful news conference at which he revealed an extramarital affair. …

“Trump was referring to Sanford’s loss in June 2018 in a Republican primary. In a tweet about hours before the polls closed, Trump endorsed his opponent, Katie Arrington. She subsequently lost the general election to Democrat Joe Cunningham.”

-- CNBC reporter John Harwood detailed three warning signs for Trump’s reelection bid, arguing that 2018 sent “stronger-than-usual” signals about the potential for a Trump defeat in 2020:

  • Most House Republican pickups in 1994 and 2010 came from conservative districts that Democrats captured in wave years. In 2018, however, Democrats overcame traditional weaknesses in midterm turnout and gained 40 seats propelled by suburban voters, particularly women, including 21 seats in districts that Trump won in 2016.
  • Trump’s polarizing presence and consistent unpopularity, particularly among young, female, non-white and college-educated voters, distinguishes him from his modern predecessors. He remains the only president in the polling era to never reach 50 percent approval, while Bill Clinton and Barack Obama managed to stay over 50 percent when approaching reelection time.
  • Both Clinton and Obama took office amid economic discontent blamed on their predecessors. Trump faces a different trajectory. Today’s slowing economy – caused, in part, by the trade war with China -- may lead to a recession in mid-2020. The last president to face an election-year recession was Jimmy Carter, who lost.

-- Jon Ossoff, the former congressional candidate who lost that special election in Georgia in 2017, launched a bid for Senate, challenging Republican Sen. David Perdue. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Ossoff’s campaign, which he’ll formally announce Tuesday, makes him the fourth Democrat in the race against Perdue, a first-term Republican and former Fortune 500 chief executive with strong ties to [Trump]. He also becomes arguably the best known contender thanks to his nationally-watched campaign for Georgia’s 6th District. The 32-year-old announced his Senate run in tandem with the highest-profile endorsement yet in the contest: U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the Atlanta Democrat and civil rights icon who said Ossoff ‘sparked a flame that is burning brighter than ever.’ ”

­-- Texas State Sen. Pat Fallon said he’s exploring a primary challenge to Sen. John Cornyn, becoming the highest-profile Republican yet to take on the state’s senior senator. (Texas Tribune)

-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) endorsed Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar’s Democratic primary challenger, immigration lawyer Jessica Cisneros. From the Texas Tribune: “Cisneros, a young immigration attorney from Laredo, has the backing of Justice Democrats, the progressive group famous for helping elect freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., last year. Cuellar is among the more conservative Democrats in the House. ‘Jessica knows our diversity is our strength and that when progressives are unapologetic about our values and who we’re in this battle for, we win,’ Warren said. ‘It’s time Texans had a champion in Congress who does just that.’ ”

-- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is paying big bucks to an obscure consultant who lives deep in the Washington state wilderness and has never worked for another politician. From the Honolulu Civil Beat: “Few people in the business have ever heard of Kris Robinson, the owner of Northwest Digital, a web design and internet marketing firm working for Gabbard’s campaign. … While turnover and dysfunction have been hallmarks of Gabbard’s congressional career and, now, her presidential campaign, Robinson has been a near constant in her political orbit. Like her, he has ties to an obscure religious sect called the Science of Identity Foundation that’s based in Kailua and run by a reclusive guru whose devotees have displayed political ambitions. …  Federal Election Commission records show that between 2013 and 2019 Gabbard’s congressional and presidential campaigns have paid out more than $531,000 to Robinson, Honu Creative and Northwest Digital. … Gabbard and her campaign staff have refused to talk about Robinson and what specifically he has done to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially how effective he can really be on a presidential campaign while living and working in a remote Pacific Northwest village.”

-- Trump’s critics are weaponizing information about his donors, raising concerns about federal donor disclosure requirements. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “Some advocates for transparency worry that the increasing attacks on political donors could spark a backlash against the disclosure of donor information required under federal law. The advocates fear the attacks will discourage voters from political giving or steer them into contributing to political nonprofit groups that are not required to disclose their donors — called ‘dark money’ groups by critics — and often collect millions from hidden sources.”


While in North Carolina, a camera caught this dramatic image of lightning behind Air Force One:

Trump made unfounded allegations of election fraud in California in an ironic setting:

Many pointed out Trump's hypocrisy after the thrice-married president criticized Sanford for adultery. Kellyanne Conway's husband posted an image of the check related to reimbursing Michael Cohen for the hush money paid to keep Stormy Daniels quiet before the election about her alleged affair with the president:

Trump contradicted himself on the issue of congressional term limits:

Carly Fiorina, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, ignited rumors of a possible 2020 run after she blasted Republicans for demanding loyalty to the president: 

Fiorina, however, is not planning on running, a source told the National Review. 

Stephen Colbert reminded everyone, including the president, that picking a Twitter fight with model Chrissy Teigen is never a good idea: 

Supporters of entrepreneur and 2020 contender Andrew Yang are (literally) lifting him up:  

And the British prime minister broke his own record:


“Culturally, our role was to stay home and take care of the children, but that mind-set is changing. And as women go into the workforce, they see opportunities for leadership and growth," said Frances Villagran-Glover, vice president of student services at Northern Virginia Community College, on the fact that, for the first time ever, most new working-age hires in the U.S. are people of color, including many Hispanic and African American women. (Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam)



Stephen Colbert entertained the idea of a Trump political family dynasty: 

Hasan Minhaj took a look at the systems that have, for years, protected police misconduct in the country:

And here's the most adorable thing you might see today: Two toddlers run into each other's arms on the street: