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The Daily 202: What if John Ratcliffe got the job? Trump’s felled pick for DNI shows the importance of personnel.

Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire testified Sept. 26 before the House Intelligence Committee after a whistleblower complaint about Trump. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

with Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: The Ukraine donnybrook shows the degree to which institutions depend on the individuals inside of them to function as they were designed. The whistleblower who sounded an alarm while others bit their tongues showed that. So did the inspector general who alerted Congress to his complaint when President Trump’s loyalists were trying to keep it secret. And the public got a glimpse during a House committee hearing on Thursday of how differently this scandal might have played out if Trump's previous pick to lead the nation’s intelligence community had been confirmed.

The temperamental contrast was stark between Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), the hyper-partisan congressman who wanted the job, and Joe Maguire, the decorated military hero who got it instead and seemed eager to show he’s no one’s toady. Democrats faulted Maguire, as the acting director of national intelligence, for checking in with the very entities who a CIA whistleblower had accused of wrongdoing, including Bill Barr’s Justice Department and Trump’s White House counsel’s office, to see if they wanted to claim executive privilege to prevent the disclosure of his allegations.

Maguire noted earnestly that he was new in the role and wanted to do the right thing. The retired admiral had been running the National Counterterrorism Center after 36 years in the Navy, including as commander of Seal Team 6. He said he’s sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution 11 times. “No one can take an individual’s integrity away,” Maguire explained. “It can only be given away.”

Ratcliffe’s questioning of Maguire – which was more of a monologue, really – offered a window into how he might have handled both the complaint and the hearing if he’d found himself in the hot seat. The congressman made the case that Trump prodding his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former vice president Joe Biden was “lawful conduct.” He claimed without evidence that the whistleblower was “wrong in numerous respects” and dubiously compared the complaint to the “Steele dossier” in the Russia investigation. “The United States is allowed to solicit help from a foreign government in an ongoing criminal investigation, which is exactly what President Trump did in that conversation,” Ratcliffe declared.

Ratcliffe’s hopes of getting formally nominated went down in flames on Aug. 2 after Senate Republicans expressed concern about his qualifications and evidence that he had padded his résumé. The three-term congressman had impressed Trump in July with his hostile questioning of former special counsel Bob Mueller. When the president pulled his support just a week after announcing his intention to nominate Ratcliffe, reporters asked Trump why he put someone with such limited national security experience up for such an important job without fully vetting him. “I think he would’ve picked it up very quickly,” Trump replied. “I give out a name to the press and they vet for me. We save a lot of money that way.” Trump gave the job instead to Maguire, who had no idea he’d immediately be thrust into the center of an epic fight between the White House and Congress.

During the hearing, Ratcliffe also falsely insisted that the legal opinion from the Justice Department, which claimed that intelligence community officials didn’t need to turn over the whistleblower complaint because it was outside of their jurisdiction, was written by nonpolitical lawyers. “That's an opinion from the Department of Justice ethics lawyers – not political appointees, but career officials that serve Republicans and Democrats,” Ratcliffe said during the hearing.

In fact, that opinion – released publicly on Wednesday – was authored by Trump appointee Steven Engel. Engel earned a reputation as a highly partisan figure in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, which is why Democrats fought his confirmation to run the Office of Legal Counsel. He was confirmed by a vote of 51 to 47 in November 2017. As a former U.S. attorney, it seems inconceivable that Ratcliffe would not know the Office of Legal Counsel is led by a political appointee.

President Trump on Sept. 26 gave a private United Nations speech to U.S. diplomats. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

-- It’s also very revealing to contrast how Maguire and Trump talked about the whistleblower. The acting DNI testified that he does not know who wrote the document, but he said he doesn’t question the person’s motives. He added that he believes they “acted in good faith” and insisted that he is glad the information has finally come out. “I think the whistleblower did the right thing,” Maguire said. “I think he followed the law every step of the way.”

As Maguire was testifying, Trump declared that the whistleblower acted like “a spy” and suggested that the legally protected conduct was akin to “treason.” Speaking in New York at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the president made clear that he’d also like to ferret out anyone else who provided evidence of his misconduct. “I want to know who’s the person that gave the whistleblower … the information because that’s close to a spy,” he said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? With spies and treason, right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.”

The Los Angeles Times published an audio recording of the closed-door speech, and The Post later obtained a video. “We’re at war,” Trump said in his ad-libbed remarks, referring to the scandal. “These people are sick. They’re sick. And nobody’s called it out like I do.”

-- Trump and his band of brothers have been leaning on the language of war this week. Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, congratulated Democrats at the Maguire hearing on the “rollout of their latest information warfare operation against the president.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House strategist, compared Nancy Pelosi’s speech on Tuesday night to the start of the Civil War in 1861. “Pelosi’s announcement to begin a formal process at 5 p.m. was the shot at Fort Sumter,” Bannon said. “Now you cannot freelance, you cannot go rogue. You have to be disciplined. You have to be high and tight.”

-- Former DNI James Clapper likened the president’s comments about the whistleblower to “witness retaliation.” “What’s really bad about it is this is going to have a very chilling effect on any other potential whistleblowers,” the Trump critic said on CNN.

The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett reports on the key takeaways from the declassified whistleblower complaint against President Trump. (Video: The Washington Post)

WHAT’S EMERGED ABOUT THE WHISTLEBLOWER:

-- “The whistleblower’s identity remains obscured, the details of his work for the CIA cloaked in secrecy. But the document he delivered reveals almost as much about the investigative mission he carried out in stealth as it does about the alleged abuses of power by the president,” Greg Miller reports. “[T]he CIA officer behind the whistleblower report moved swiftly behind the scenes to assemble material from at least a half-dozen highly placed — and equally dismayed — U.S. officials. He wove their accounts with other painstakingly gathered material on everything from the intervention of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani in the U.S.-Ukraine relationship to alleged efforts by American diplomats sent to Kiev and attorneys in the Office of the White House Counsel to contain or suppress the accruing damage. …

Six weeks later, the whistleblower has by some measures managed to exceed what [Mueller] accomplished in two years of investigating Trump: producing a file so concerning and factually sound that it has almost single-handedly set in motion the gears of impeachment. ‘In the course of my official duties,’ the whistleblower writes in the first sentence of his complaint, he learned that ‘the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.’”

-- The White House learned that a CIA officer had lodged allegations about Trump’s call even as the officer’s whistleblower complaint was moving through a process meant to protect him against reprisals, the New York Times reports: “The officer first shared information about potential abuse of power and a White House cover-up with the C.I.A.’s top lawyer through an anonymous process … The lawyer shared the officer’s concerns with White House and Justice Department officials, following policy. … But as White House, C.I.A. and Justice Department officials were examining the accusations, the C.I.A. officer who had lodged them anonymously grew concerned after learning that [CIA general counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood] had contacted the White House … While it is not clear how the officer became aware that Ms. Elwood had shared the information, he concluded that the C.I.A. was not taking his allegations seriously.”

“The whistle-blower was detailed to work at the White House at one point, according to three people familiar with his identity, and has since returned to the C.I.A.,” per Julian Barnes, Michael Schmidt, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner in the Times. “His complaint suggested he was an analyst by training and made clear he was steeped in details of American foreign policy toward Europe, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of Ukrainian politics and at least some knowledge of the law.”

-- The AP also reports that White House and the Justice Department learned about a CIA officer’s concerns about Trump “around the same time the individual filed a whistleblower complaint.” Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo and Zeke Miller say that information about the whistleblower was already making its way through the administration:

On Aug. 14, White House counsel John Eisenberg and a CIA official alerted the head of DOJ’s national security division about the original complaint to the CIA. John Demers, who leads the national security division, went to the White House the next day to review materials associated with the call. He then alerted people within the Justice Department, but it was unclear specifically who he told. In the following weeks, Demers had discussions with other Justice Department officials about how to handle the CIA complaint, according to the person familiar with the matter. It was during that period that the Justice Department also received a notification from the intelligence community’s inspector general about a whistleblower complaint.”

-- Responding to reader criticism, Times executive editor Dean Baquet defended their decision to publish information about the whistleblower and noted that the White House already knew he was a CIA officer. “We decided to publish limited information about the whistle-blower — including the fact that he works for a nonpolitical agency and that his complaint is based on an intimate knowledge and understanding of the White House — because we wanted to provide information to readers that allows them to make their own judgments about whether or not he is credible,” Baquet wrote. “The role of the whistle-blower, including his credibility and his place in the government, is essential to understanding one of the most important issues facing the country — whether the president of the U.S. abused power and whether the W.H. covered it up.”

-- The whistleblower emphasized in the complaint that he was not the only one worried. “The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call,” he wrote in his complaint. “They told me there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”

-- If you haven’t yet, take the time read the unclassified version of the complaint for yourself. (It’s posted here.)

After the release of the whistleblower complaint, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to reporters Sept. 26 at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (Video: The Washington Post)

NEW DETAILS ON WHAT RUDY WAS UP TO:

-- Giuliani spent months cultivating relationships with five current and former prosecutors in Ukraine to achieve a particular goal: Helping Trump win next year’s election by pursuing allegations damaging to his Democratic rivals. Paul Sonne, Michael Birnbaum, Rosalind S. Helderman and Josh Dawsey report: “Giuliani decried any scrutiny of his conduct in a long interview Thursday, saying that more attention was finally being paid to the Biden family. ... During those meetings, he said, he obtained information about Hunter Biden and what the former New York mayor has alleged was collusion between Democrats and Ukraine in the 2016 election. … Some of the Ukrainians Giuliani and his associates interacted with were banned from entering the United States. Giuliani blamed the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for blocking the officials from coming to the United States to give him more information. … A former Ukrainian prosecutor said he believed the officials were angling to provide Giuliani with compromising information at least partly to advance their own careers — and win U.S. backing for their position within the often rough-and-tumble world of Ukrainian politics.”

-- A former top Ukraine prosecutor, whose allegations were at the heart of Giuliani’s dirt-digging effort, said Hunter Biden “did not violate anything.” Michael Birnbaum, David L. Stern and Natalie Gryvnyak report: “‘From the perspective of Ukrainian legislation, he did not violate anything,’ former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko told The Washington Post in his first interview since the disclosure of [the whistleblower's complaint] … ‘Hunter Biden cannot be responsible for violations of the management of Burisma that took place two years before his arrival,’ Lutsenko said. Lutsenko had earlier cast doubt on Hunter Biden’s actions in Ukraine, an effort that drew Giuliani’s notice last year. Lutsenko said that Giuliani tried to arrange a meeting with him two times before they finally managed to connect on the third try in January, ‘I took a vacation. I took my youngest son, I showed him New York and I met with Mr. Giuliani,’ Lutsenko said. ‘I had a long conversation with him. But this was only in the forum of exchanging information.’

"Lutsenko met with Giuliani again in Warsaw in mid-February, then for a third and final time ‘in Europe,’ he said, refusing to be more specific. Lutsenko did not fully explain the change of heart in May when he gave an interview to Bloomberg in which he said he believed Hunter Biden had not broken any Ukrainian laws. But Lutsenko said that if U.S. authorities were separately interested in Hunter Biden’s financial arrangements in Ukraine, Ukrainian law enforcement officials would be happy to comply.”

-- One of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky's political rivals in Kiev is demanding that he release the government's transcript of the call, as Zelensky finds himself in hot water across Europe for his criticisms of the French and Germans. Siobhán O’Grady and Rick Noack report: “In a Facebook post, [Ukrainian opposition lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko] called it ‘strange that the [Ukrainian] President’s Office did not publish this transcript simultaneously with the White House.’ … [In the call, Zelensky] praised Trump and went on to say he met both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and told them: ‘They are not working as much as they should work for Ukraine.’ Those comments were not well received in Europe. ‘To say that I consider this to be incomprehensible would perhaps be a mild way to put it,’ [said] Elmar Brok, who was recently appointed special adviser on Ukraine for outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.”

-- Conservative columnist John Solomon, executive vice president of the Hill newspaper, helped craft the flawed Ukraine narrative that would later be echoed by Trump, his son Don Jr., and Giuliani. Paul Farhi reports: “Back in March, the Hill newspaper published a series of stories and interviews that seemed, at the time, to be mainly of interest to foreign-policy wonks. [Solomon] interviewed Ukraine’s then-top prosecutor,  [Lutsenko], who alleged a startling conspiracy: that law enforcement officials within his country had leaked damaging information in 2016 against Paul Manafort ... to help ... Clinton’s presidential campaign. … The story touched off a brushfire within the conservative media, in which Solomon is a prominent figure, but stayed largely out of mainstream view. On Thursday, however, Solomon’s work gained new attention — and raised new questions about its sourcing, credibility and motivation. In [the whistleblower's complaint], Solomon’s stories were cited as part of a narrative about the alleged effort by Trump and his allies to pressure Ukraine’s government into digging up dirt on Trump’s Democratic rivals.”

-- Trump appears to be counting on confusion over the complex Ukraine story to offer a fog of false claims and allegations to make it appear Joe Biden did something wrong. The Post’s Fact Checker team published a short guide this morning to Trump’s statements — and the truth.

-- And Philip Bump created a helpful timeline of the significant dates in the whistleblower’s complaint to provide more clarity on how Trump's and Giuliani’s efforts to get dirt on Biden unfolded.

CASCADING FALLOUT FOR THE WHITE HOUSE:

-- Vice President Pence is trying to dodge the impeachment spotlight, but his Ukraine moves are attracting notice. Toluse Olorunnipa and Ashley Parker report: “Pence did not participate in [the July call] … But Pence’s name has emerged in several other contexts … The whistleblower complaint … said Pence canceled a planned trip to Ukraine at the direction of Trump, who was seeking to pressure the Ukrainians to help him politically. Three people familiar with the matter confirmed that Pence’s attendance had been requested at Zelensky’s inauguration and that his office had looked at dates for a visit to Kiev. … The vice president’s Sept. 1 meeting with Zelensky, and his discussions with Trump, will be key targets for House Democrats … Pence told reporters after the meeting that he had not discussed Biden with Zelensky but said that he had relayed Trump’s ‘great concerns about issues of corruption.’”

-- “The White House has taken extraordinary steps over the past two years to block details of Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders from becoming public. Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig report: “The number of aides allowed to listen on secure ‘drop’ lines was slashed. The list of government officials who could review a memo of the call’s contents was culled. Fewer copies of transcripts went to agencies, and they were stamped with ‘EYES ONLY DO NOT COPY.’ And some officials who deliver call memos had to sign for the records to create a custody record if they were to leak … At one point in 2018, Defense Department officials were asked to send back transcripts of calls to the White House after Trump aides grew worried they could be disclosed, according to former senior administration officials. …

The complaint said the transcript was ‘loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive level.’ According to the whistleblower, ‘one White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.’ … The July 25 call had roughly 12 to 13 people listening in. … Once the call concluded and copies were distributed to top officials in the White House, lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office then directed that the document be moved to a code-word-protected secure computer network that is normally reserved for transcripts that contain national security secrets after officials raised concerns about Trump’s comments, according to the complaint.”

-- Lost in the controversy over Trump’s phone call is Zelensky's effort to curry favor with the president through his private business. Jonathan O’Connell and David Fahrenthold report: “‘Actually, last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park, and I stayed at the Trump Tower,’ Zelensky told Trump [according to the transcript of their July 25 call] ... Zelensky’s comments mark the first known example of an interaction Democrats and government ethics experts warned about when Trump took office: that foreign leaders would try to influence Trump by spending money at his properties and telling him abut it. … It remains unclear whether the stays were illegal. Zelensky may not have entered office at the time of his stay at Trump International Tower, overlooking Central Park in New York."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) read Sept. 26 from a whistleblower complaint regarding President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. (Video: Reuters)

THE POLITICS OF IMPEACHMENT:

-- House Democratic leaders are eyeing a fast-paced impeachment investigation that could lead to a vote around Thanksgiving. Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report: “Multiple Democratic lawmakers and congressional aides said there is no formal timeline for the inquiry, but the ‘need for speed,’ as one aide put it, comes as [Pelosi] is under pressure from vulnerable freshmen to keep the investigation narrowly focused and disciplined.Pelosi and other leaders huddled in a basement conference room Thursday evening with more than a dozen ‘front-line’ members representing the toughest districts for incumbent Democrats to discuss the fledgling probe and, in the words of multiple attendees, ‘get on the same page.’ Inside the room, the group urged the leadership to keep the messaging around impeachment on national security and the Ukraine probe being led by the House Intelligence Committee…

Some senior Democrats are even arguing that other committees should forgo potentially explosive hearings that could distract from the intelligence panel’s work … ‘Very few hearings, if any,’ said a senior Democratic aide, who said the coming investigative work will largely take place in closed-door interviews. … But many of the moderate freshmen do not want to be seen as rushing to conclusions — whether on the Ukraine probe or any other aspect of potential presidential wrongdoing. … A senior Democratic aide familiar with discussions among the party’s moderate wing relayed concerns that a probe seen as moving too rapidly by the public could backfire. …

One of the first credible polls to test the Democratic impeachment push following Pelosi’s Tuesday announcement found the public almost evenly split. An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist Poll conducted Wednesday found Americans approving 49 percent to 46 percent of the House inquiry, with independents disapproving 50 percent to 44 percent."

-- Pelosi explained to the New Yorker that impeaching Trump for “bad behavior” isn’t worth it. The difference now is the president, she contends, is undermining democracy and the electoral system. David Remnick writes up his interview: “When I asked Pelosi if she thought Trump knows, in this instance or any other, the difference between right and wrong, she replied, ‘He knows the difference between right and wrong, but I don’t know that he really cares. I do think his categorical imperative is what’s good is what is right for him. In the campaign, he told us who he was. He said that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and nobody would care, that his supporters wouldn’t care. Well, he could violate our Constitution, the integrity of our elections, and dishonor his oath of office, as he did in this call, and think that nobody cares.’”

-- She’s back: Hillary Clinton is doing a media tour to express support for impeachment, starting with CBS and continuing with additional TV sit-downs next week. The former secretary of state called the man who beat her in 2016 a “corrupt human tornado” and an “illegitimate president.” HRC’s appearances probably aren’t helpful to the Democratic cause and make it look like they’re trying to relitigate the 2016 campaign.

 -- Trump is writing the Republican playbook on impeachment, and he’s going with a scorched-earth strategy. Will it work? Robert Costa and Philip Rucker report: “Trump has acted impulsively and indignantly as he wages an all-out political war to defend himself from allegations that he abused his power to solicit foreign interference in his 2020 reelection bid. And in a testament to how completely he controls the Republican Party, many GOP officeholders and conservative media figures have followed Trump’s cues by joining his attempts either to attack the anonymous whistleblower, discredit the explosive accounts in their complaint, or malign the media for covering it. … Trump’s advisers said they envision a ‘split screen’ strategy in the coming weeks. The president is considering stepping up his fall schedule of campaign rallies at arenas across the country to galvanize his supporters outside of Washington and portray House Democrats as liberal insiders who are focused on impeachment instead of governing.”

-- Politico co-founder John Harris, who covered Bill Clinton’s impeachment for The Post, remembers that impeachment proceedings used to be news of unquestionable gravity: “The week showed it's just more fodder for the ideological and culture wars.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Sept. 26 said Rep.Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) used "fake dialogue" between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post)

THE (FEW) REPUBLICAN DEFECTIONS:

-- Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker endorsed an impeachment inquiry of Trump, joining fellow Republican governor Phil Scott of Vermont. "It’s a deeply disturbing situation and circumstance and I think the proper role and responsibility for Congress at this point is to investigate it and get to the bottom of it,” Baker told reporters in the Bay State. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s office did not respond to requests for comment, per Reis Thebault.

-- Former Republican senator Jeff Flake said “at least 35” GOP senators would privately vote for Trump’s impeachment. The Arizonan, speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival, was responding to veteran Republican political consultant Mike Murphy's suggestion on MSNBC that 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump if it was “a secret vote.” “That’s not true,” Flake said in Texas. “There would be at least 35.” (Fox News)

-- The president's leading advisers are concerned about the "threat" posed by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and are "trying to isolate him," Jonathan Martin reports in the Times: "Mr. Romney’s public statements reflect what many in his party believe privately but are almost uniformly unwilling to say: that they are faced with damning revelations about the president that are difficult to explain away, and are unsure of whether there is more damaging material to come. … To Mr. Romney, who represents a state where he is beloved and is unlikely to seek another office, it is a moment where he believes country should trump party. ‘Each person should search their own heart and do what they think is right, which is just what I do,’ he said. … Mr. Romney said he was not attempting to steer a party he believes is overwhelmingly in Mr. Trump’s grip. But as Mr. Romney contemplates what he acknowledges will likely be his last period of public service, his friends say he is appalled by what he sees as the president’s win-at-all-costs immorality and his party’s willingness to remain quiet in the face of such misconduct.”

-- “Because Trump tests boundaries of morality and legality, his defenders are, in effect, calling on Americans to ratify those changes,” writes Michael Gerson, who served as chief speechwriter in George W. Bush’s White House. “By all the evidence, Trump believes that politics, stripped of pretense, is the dirty, unethical pursuit of power, which is properly used to destroy your enemies. Republicans who defend or excuse him are providing permission for his radical redesign of public life. This is perhaps the saddest result of Trump’s corruption: turning good men and women into the bodyguards of a petty, cruel, lawless, would-be autocrat. Because Trump has chosen to be transparently corrupt, congressional Republicans cannot dispute the facts of the case (as they did during [Mueller’s] investigation). They may still insist: No quid pro quo. But this is more of a rally chant than an argument.”

Gerson,  a Trump critic, believes impeachment has become inevitable: “Impeachment may be inadvisable. It may apply a cheese grater to the nation’s partisan wounds. The process may be conducted foolishly. It may feed a Republican thirst for revenge against a future Democratic president. It may motivate Trump’s base to salivating enthusiasm. The broad, American middle may yawn and switch to ESPN. All of this matters, especially if it increases the chances of Trump’s reelection. But it matters like a fate, not like a choice.”

2020 presidential candidates lashed out at President Trump on Sept. 26 for saying that anyone who may have helped the whistleblower is “close to a spy.” (Video: The Washington Post)

A RANGE OF VOICES FROM THE POST'S OPINION PAGE:

-- The whistleblower complaint strengthens the case that Trump offered Ukraine’s president a quid pro quo, inveighs the Editorial Board.

-- We sent aid to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia's ongoing occupation. By holding back American support, Trump helped Putin, writes Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense during the Obama administration.

-- Trump’s impeachment need not be a long, drawn-out affair, writes liberal Eugene Robinson: “The nation has suffered this small, foolish, dangerous man long enough. Pelosi should damn the torpedoes and move full speed ahead.”

-- The whistleblower complaint doesn’t do the Democrats any favors, argues conservative Henry Olsen: “It offers little new information not already in the public domain. Furthermore, if it continues to be relied upon as evidence justifying impeachment, Democrats will have to make some hard choices about how to proceed.”

-- Democrats are sprinting ahead of the evidence, adds conservative Marc Thiessen, another former Bush speechwriter. 

­-- The whistleblower and the vulnerable Democratic freshmen who backed an impeachment inquiry are profiles in courage, writes conservative Max Boot: “This week reminds us that there are some people in Washington who are not motivated solely by self-interest — that there are actually a few people in positions of public responsibility who care about the Constitution and are willing to run considerable risks to protect it.”

-- Americans have already seen enough for three articles of impeachment, argues Jennifer Rubin, a lawyer by training.

-- As alarming as the allegations are against Trump, impeachment is still not required, writes Princeton University professor Keith Whittington: “The House would not necessarily be failing to do its ‘constitutional duty’ if it did not pass articles of impeachment.”

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THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

-- The Trump administration slashed the number of refugees who will be admitted to the U.S. next year to a historic low of 18,000. David Nakamura, Maria Sacchetti and Seung Min Kim report: “The new limit represents a 40 percent drop from the 2019 cap and marks the third consecutive year that the administration has slashed the program since the United States admitted nearly 85,000 refugees in President Barack Obama’s final year in office. In addition, the Trump administration announced an executive order aimed at allowing local jurisdictions more leeway in rejecting refugees who are being resettled across the country, although experts said such powers are less relevant at a time when the number of refugees being admitted has dwindled sharply."

A breakdown of who is being let in: "Under the plan for fiscal 2020, which begins Oct. 1, the administration would allocate 5,000 refugee slots to people fleeing for religious reasons, 4,000 for Iraqis who assisted the United States and fall under the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, and 1,500 for nationals of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to senior administration officials. Another 7,500 slots would go to refugees not covered by these categories, including those referred to the program by U.S. embassies. Last year’s cap of 30,000 divided slots by region, including 11,000 refugees from Africa, the largest group, administration officials said. Latin America and the Caribbean had 3,000 slots last year.”

-- Matthew Albence, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, once again took aim at “sanctuary cities” that refuse to help the feds deport undocumented immigrants. This time, he did so from the podium in the White House briefing room. Maria Sacchetti reports: “Albence criticized jurisdictions in several states after the agency arrested nearly 1,300 migrants during the past week via Operation Cross Check, a recurring immigration roundup of people convicted of crimes that include murder, manslaughter and child abuse. Nearly 200 of those arrested could have been taken into custody in a state prison or a local jail, he said. Instead, they were released after posting bail or at the end of their sentences, forcing ICE agents to track them down. … Albence was flanked by sheriffs from Texas, North Dakota and other states where Trump enjoys broad support.”

-- Organizations challenging Trump’s attempt to end protections for the Dreamers picked Ted Olson, a former Republican solicitor general and lawyer long associated with conservative causes, to argue their case before the Supreme Court. The choice might’ve been more surprising had Olson not played a similar role in the legal battle for same-sex marriage. (Robert Barnes)

­-- An undocumented man was killed when cops went to the wrong house in Southaven, Miss. Now, the city is fighting a civil rights lawsuit by arguing that, because of his immigration status, he wasn’t protected by the U.S. Constitution. Antonia Noori Farzan reports: “Attorneys for the small city near Memphis claim that because [Ismael] Lopez had no ‘legally recognized relationship’ with the United States, he had no rights under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, or the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection to all citizens.  ‘If he ever had Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment civil rights, they were lost by his own conduct and misconduct,’ attorney Katherine S. Kerby wrote in a brief filed Sept. 4. ‘Ismael Lopez may have been a person on American soil but he was not one of the ‘We, the People of the United States’ entitled to the civil rights invoked in this lawsuit.’”

-- The Senate passed a stopgap spending bill that will keep the government open through Nov. 21. Erica Werner reports: “The 82-15 vote came days before the Sept. 30 deadline when government funding would expire if Congress didn’t act. The House passed the same measure last week, so the Senate’s passage of the short-term spending bill means it will now go to Trump for his signature. He is expected to sign it. The stopgap bill is aimed at giving lawmakers more time to finalize $1.4 trillion worth of full-year spending bills for fiscal 2020, which ends Sept. 30, 2020.”

-- The Senate also confirmed Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, to succeed Alex Acosta as labor secretary. Felicia Sonmez and Eli Rosenberg report: “Scalia was confirmed Thursday on a 53-to-44 vote. Democrats have argued that Scalia’s record as a corporate lawyer has shown him to be ‘anti-worker.’ In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) contended that Scalia fought to protect the interests of chief executives and the wealthy elite and opposed worker protections throughout his career, describing his nomination by Trump as a ‘disgrace.’”

-- And the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Trump’s pick to become the second-highest-ranking military officer after a bruising nomination fight centering on allegations of sexual assault from a former aide. Missy Ryan and Karoun Demirjian report: “Senators voted 75 to 22 to confirm Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, who has headed U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) was the lone Republican to vote against Hyten, while all Democratic senators running for president either voted against him or were absent, save Michael F. Bennet of Colorado. Bennet voted in favor.”

-- The U.S. military’s suicide rate for active-duty troops has climbed over the past five years, a Pentagon report reveals. Dan Lamothe reports: “Some 541 service members died by suicide in 2018, including 325 active-duty troops, the report said. The active-duty suicide rate was about 24.8 per 100,000 service members, up from 21.9 in 2017 and 18.7 in 2013. … Service members who die by suicide continue to be mostly male, white and under the age of 30, said Karin Orvis, director of the Pentagon’s defense suicide prevention office. The Army and Marine Corps, the services with the highest suicide rates, also have the greatest percentage of men.”

-- Trump’s pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives faces growing Republican concerns over his commitment to gun rights. From the Journal: “Failing to confirm [Chuck] Canterbury would leave the ATF without a permanent, politically appointed director at a time when the law enforcement agency is at the forefront of the Trump administration’s fight against violent crime and as the White House and Congress continue to negotiate gun-control measures after several mass shootings in recent months. … Mr. Canterbury tangled in his July confirmation hearing with Republican senators who were frustrated that he wouldn’t clearly define his views on gun-control measures such as expanding background checks for prospective buyers and a ban on assault rifles. He was head of the FOP when it took positions supporting more-rigorous gun-control measures including an expansion of background checks. But he wouldn’t immediately say what stance he would take if confirmed to the ATF, only that he would consult with other Justice Department officials.”

-- The Environmental Protection Agency formally told California it is “failing to meet its obligations” to protect the environment. Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Josh Dawsey report: “Days after President Trump mocked Los Angeles and other big cities for their ‘tremendous pollution,’ EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent an oversight letter charging California officials with failing to meet federal health standards in numerous communities where large homeless populations litter the streets with trash, drug paraphernalia and human waste. … California has long led the nation in demanding stricter limits on pollution linked to climate change. Now, the Trump administration is arguing that the state’s focus on global warming has come at the expense of more basic environmental protections.”

-- Seeking to fill the void created by Trump's inaction, six U.S. governors gathered in Manhattan on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting to confer with presidents, prime ministers and other foreign leaders to press for action on climate change. Carol Morello reports: “The governors in the group, most of them Democrats, insist they are not conducting a form of shadow diplomacy. They say neither the White House nor the State Department, which typically conducts talks with foreign governments, has tried to deter their efforts. Their mission is to assure other countries that many of America’s leaders are still engaged in combating climate change, even if the United States formally drops out of the Paris agreement next year. ‘Every party looking at this should know there is still intelligent life in the United States taking action on climate change,’ Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a co-founder of the Climate Alliance, said in a back-seat interview en route to a meeting with officials from the European Union. ‘It’s important to give the world confidence of movement, of dynamic actions being taken in America. And it’s succeeded. Not a single country has left the agreement. No one has followed Donald Trump over the cliff.’”

-- A federal judge denied a request by the news media to unseal grand jury records cited in the Mueller report. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of the District of Columbia said she was bound by the ruling, McKeever v. Barr, and that the petitioning party, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, did not qualify for other exceptions to grand jury secrecy rules.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Joe Biden’s advisers are weighing the introduction of a new tax on Wall Street now that the former vice president stands alone among the Democratic presidential front-runners in not backing a “wealth tax” on the richest Americans. Jeff Stein reports: “The plan under consideration from Biden’s advisers could tax financial transactions such as the sale of stocks and bonds ... Tax experts said Biden’s embrace of that idea would mark just how much more aggressive Democrats are now willing to be on taxes.”

-- Some anxious Biden supporters want him to embrace a super PAC. From the Times: “Several former staffers of Mr. Biden and political donors backing his candidacy have held conversations in recent weeks about moving ahead with a super PAC, and said Mr. Trump’s furious, and often unsubstantiated, allegations about the former vice president had convinced them it was imperative they act. ‘For me, this week puts everything into stark relief,’ said Larry Rasky, a former aide to Mr. Biden who is now a political fund-raiser and public relations executive. ‘And I was already thinking the campaign was being a little naïve about the resources we’d need to fight this.’”

-- Democratic donors from Wall Street are threatening to back Trump or sit out the 2020 campaign if Elizabeth Warren wins the nomination. From CNBC: “‘You’re in a box because you’re a Democrat and you’re thinking, ‘I want to help the party, but she’s going to hurt me, so I’m going to help President Trump,’’ said a senior private equity executive ... Some big bank executives and hedge fund managers have been stunned by Warren’s ascent, and they are primed to resist her. ‘They will not support her. It would be like shutting down their industry,’ an executive at one of the nation’s largest banks told CNBC, also speaking on condition of anonymity.”

-- White, college-educated voters are driving Warren's rise in the polls. Eugene Scott reports: “The lawmaker’s support grew from 25 percent in late August to 37 percent in late September with white college-educated voters, an influential group that largely voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.”

-- In a fundraising email, Julián Castro warned that his campaign will be over is he doesn’t qualify for the November debate. From the Texas Tribune: “The email sought donations for ads to help him reach the new polling threshold: 3% in four national polls or 5% in two surveys from the first four early voting states. Castro has already met the donor requirement of 165,000 individuals but hasn't met the polling requirement — or even come close.”

-- Sen. Kamala Harris, the former attorney general of California, said Giuliani should probably be disbarred. “We need to know if the personal lawyer of the president, Giuliani, was using government resources for political gain,” the Democratic presidential candidate told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “And frankly, if there were any members of the State Department who were facilitating Rudy Giuliani’s private conversations on behalf of the president, there should be accountability and consequence for that.” (Politico)

-- Former congressman Darrell Issa is launching a primary challenge to embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who faces an impending trial for using campaign funds to help facilitate several extramarital affairs. (John Wagner)

-- Former Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price, who resigned in disgrace, threw his hat in the ring to take over retiring Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson’s Georgia seat. From ABC News: “According to the Georgia governor's office, Price submitted his resume to be considered for replacing Isakson, who announced in August that he is resigning from his post in December due to various health issues. Isakson, 74, won a six-year term in 2016 and his term is due to end in 2022.”

-- A U.S. attorney whose office investigated interference in the 2018 midterm elections said he is certain Russia will try to meddle in the upcoming presidential race. Rachel Weiner reports: “‘They’re going to do the same thing,’ G. Zachary Terwilliger said Thursday afternoon at an event at George Mason University’s National Security Institute. ‘They’re going to do it. In an open setting like this there’s not a lot I can get into, but I think it wouldn’t be irresponsible for me to say they’re definitely going to try.’ … Terwilliger said he had heard from an administration official that ‘their big concern is deepfakes,’ or doctored images and videos. But he said he was also worried about the ‘actual physical infrastructure’ of election machines, while cautioning that the issue was outside his purview."

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- The Pentagon authorized a modest air defense boost for Saudi Arabia after the attack on the kingdom’s oil industry. Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe report: “Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper’s decision to authorize the deployment of an additional battery of Patriot missiles and four Sentinel radar systems, accompanied by 200 American troops, to shore up a key ally is a modest step that represents the administration’s desire, at least for now, to avoid additional escalation in U.S.-Iranian tensions. … Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the deployment would ‘augment the kingdom’s air and missile defense of critical military and civilian infrastructure.’ ‘These steps are a demonstration of our commitment to regional partners, and the security and stability in the Middle East,’ he said in a statement.”

-- Iraq is trying to rein in its Iran-aligned militias as tensions boil in the Persian Gulf. Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim report: “Iraqi officials are worried that their country could get sucked into the conflict, with concerns spiking after a May 14 drone strike on a pipeline in neighboring Saudi Arabia. The officials were embarrassed to learn that the attack had not come from Iran-backed rebels in Yemen, who had claimed responsibility for the strike, but from Iraqi territory, said lawmakers and Western officials who described the fallout. ‘The prime minister was very angry,’ said one lawmaker. … Iraqi lawmakers fear that attacks launched from their soil would not only inflame regional tensions but could provoke reprisals against targets inside their country, drawing Iraq into another ruinous conflict.”

-- Syrian government forces carried out a chlorine attack in May, a U.S. intelligence assessment found. From the Journal: “The episode took place on May 19 near the village of Kabana as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces sought to subdue resistance in Latakia province, a senior U.S. official said. … At least four people were wounded in the rocket strike, which was alleged at the time by the Syrian opposition but took months for U.S. intelligence to confirm. The Syrian government has denied the attack.”

-- The fiancée of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi is demanding that Saudi Arabia be held accountable for his murder. Oct. 2 is the anniversary of his death. Hatice Cengiz spoke with NBC News on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly: "His fellow journalists did their best that so no one could push this under the carpet,’ she said. "Saudi Arabia was put under massive pressure, thanks to international media coverage … But at the end of the day, all of these efforts did not persuade world leaders to sanction Saudi Arabia. That is so sad."

-- Trump’s privately held company, seeking to revive its money-losing golf course in Scotland, secured approval to build 550 luxury and holiday homes there, as well as a second golf course. Joshua Partlow reports: “The Aberdeenshire Council voted 38 to 24 to allow the Trump Organization’s residential development to move forward despite vocal opposition from many residents who fear it would crowd the roads and schools of their windswept village. By winning the council’s approval, the Trump Organization is poised for one of its most ambitious foreign projects of his presidency. It is also a rescue effort of sorts for Trump’s first golf course in Europe, which has lost money each year since it opened in 2012. …  In a sign of its confidence in Wednesday’s vote, the Trump Organization had already begun marketing the homes as part of what it called the Trump Estate, with some homes priced at more than $1.5 million.”

-- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing extensive backlash after delivering a bombastic performance upon his return to Parliament. Karla Adam and William Booth report: “The widower of a murdered lawmaker and the sister of the prime minister joined a chorus of voices on Thursday saying [Johnson] has stepped over a line with his rhetoric in the debate over Brexit. But Johnson was refusing to change course on his language or his strategy. … Johnson drew particular fury over his remarks about Jo Cox, a Labour lawmaker and Brexit opponent who was murdered days before a June 2016 referendum by a far-right domestic terrorist who yelled ‘Britain first!’ before shooting and stabbing her to death. … Johnson [said] that the best way to honor Cox’s memory would be to ‘get Brexit done.’ … Rachel Johnson, the prime minister’s sister, an author and politician who opposes Brexit, called her brother’s remarks ‘tasteless.’”

-- Afghanistan's presidential election is this weekend, and voters are torn between fear, frustration and a sense of duty. From the AP: “The Taliban have relentlessly issued threats against Saturday’s vote. The insurgent group has sent suicide bombers to rallies and election offices, killing dozens and warning they will kill more. ... Afghan officials say security preparations have been elaborate. In an interview with The Associated Press, Minister of Interior Masoud Andarabi outlined an election security plan that he said has been more than eight months in the making. ... Despite the government’s best efforts, 431 polling centers will be closed Saturday because Andarabi, the interior minister, said they were too difficult to secure — either because they were under Taliban control or Taliban could threaten nearby villages.”

-- Concerns about fraud are also running high among the public and observers because it could trigger political chaos. The main challenger to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned of dire consequences if the polls are marred by fraud. Pamela Constable and Susannah George report: “Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive, did not say what he would do if massive fraud takes place, but he suggested in an interview that it would be up to Ghani to ‘act responsibly.’ ‘The results will not be accepted if there is clear evidence of fraud,” Abdullah said at his residence. ‘The signs are not good. . . . It is not an ideal situation for the country,’ he added, referring to warnings by opposition groups and leaders, including himself, that Ghani and his government will try to rig the polls.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Giuliani tweeted out the screengrab of a text messages with a State Department official:

A former Hillary Clinton spokesman pointed out one of the the implications:

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) responded when Trump insulted him: 

The president said the Ukraine scandal is a huge fundraising opportunity: 

Texas Rep. Will Hurd, who announced his retirement last month, became one of the few Republicans to call for an investigation of the Ukraine allegations: 

A Hawaii Democratic senator suggested that many of the Ukraine revelations may never have come out if Republicans still controlled both chambers of Congress:

Time's new cover did not hold back:

Neither did the New Yorker:

An editor at the Bulwark, a conservative news site, explained some of the reasons why Trump's attacks against the whistleblower are so off base: 

A Bloomberg News reporter made light of how many Republican senators pretended not to have read the whistleblower's complaint:

The only Democratic presidential candidate in Congress who hasn't supported an impeachment proceeding is getting attacked by her primary challenger in Hawaii:

A Times TV critic compared the pacing of the Watergate scandal to this week: 

And apropos of nothing:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It is impossible that the whistleblower is a hero and I’m not. And I will be the hero! These morons—when this is over, I will be the hero," Giuliani told the Atlantic's Elaina Plott. 

 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers joked that Giuliani is a prime example of why you never should do Trump a favor:

Trevor Noah pointed out that, since the whistleblower's complaint is only nine pages long, "people might actually read it": 

Sanders told Stephen Colbert that Trump is probably the "most corrupt president" in American history:

And Justice Sonia Sotomayor played ball:

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