With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump expects unflinching loyalty from those who work for him. The price of that loyalty can be quite high. So, too, can the costs of perceived disloyalty.

“I value loyalty above everything else—more than brains, more than drive and more than energy,” Trump wrote in his 2007 book “Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life.”

A demand for devotion has been a recurring theme in almost every major scandal that has dogged and distracted this White House. “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Trump told then-FBI Director James Comey during a private dinner soon after taking office, according to Comey’s sworn testimony.

Sometimes it seems like no amount of loyalty is enough. With the exceptions of the daughter and son-in-law he installed in top White House posts, this famously transactional president seems to hold a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately view of power that has led him to cast aside longtime associates when he’s decided they’ve outlived their usefulness to him.

Wednesday brought six fresh illustrations of the culture and the consequences for some in his orbit.

1. Bill Taylor said he was initially reluctant to accept the job of acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine – a post he had held a decade earlier – after Marie Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled by the Trump administration. He told the House impeachment inquiry that he was afraid of “stepping into” what he heard was a “snake pit” of bad actors in the Trump firmament, who he feared were willing to cut off aid to Kyiv as it battled Russian-backed separatists. This was his “nightmare” scenario. “I was not sure that I could usefully serve in that context,” Taylor said, adding that he received assurances from Foggy Bottom.

His ensuing experiences have validated those early reservations, which he outlined last month during closed-door testimony. A 324-page transcript of that deposition was released yesterday, and House Democrats announced that he will testify publicly next Wednesday. Taylor said that he got a “clear understanding” from Trump political appointees that U.S. military aid would not be sent until Ukraine pursued investigations that could benefit Trump personally in the 2020 campaign.

2. As a general principle, it’s never a good sign when your lawyer needs to hire a trio of defense lawyers for himself stemming from his work on your behalf. That’s what Rudy Giuliani did yesterday.

The former New York mayor insisted not long ago that he didn’t need to hire attorneys because he did nothing wrong. Then, on Wednesday, he announced via Twitter he will be represented henceforth by New York defense lawyers Robert Costello, Eric Creizman and Melissa Madrigal. The shift comes amid mounting scrutiny of his interactions with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. “Parnas and Fruman connected Giuliani to current and former Ukrainian officials as Giuliani sought damaging information about Democrats,” Rosalind Helderman notes. “Giuliani’s interactions with the two men are being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York … Giuliani’s decision to hire defense attorneys comes as a new lawyer for Parnas indicated earlier this week that the former Giuliani associate may be willing to cooperate …

One of the three, Costello, was at the center of an episode involving Giuliani and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer. During the special counsel’s investigation, as Cohen faced possible indictment in New York for financial crimes, he alleged that allies of Trump dangled the possibility that he could be pardoned if he remained loyal to the president. According to the Mueller report, Costello wrote in an April 2018 email to Cohen that he had spoken to Giuliani and that Cohen could ‘sleep well tonight’ because he had ‘friends in high places.’ Cohen ultimately cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty ... Federal prosecutors in New York requested documents from Costello over his emails to Cohen, though Costello denied that there was any ‘hidden message’ in his communications to Cohen.”

-- Cohen is now serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to multiple crimes, including campaign finance violations he says were undertaken at the direction of “Individual 1,” a.k.a. Trump. “My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything,” Cohen testified in February, as he prepared to begin his prison term. He said he perjured himself “to protect” the president, whom he likened to a mob boss. “I am ashamed of my weakness and my misplaced loyalty, of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him,” he said. “I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts, rather than listening to my own conscience.”

-- Will Trump throw Giuliani under the bus the way he did Cohen?

-- At least four prominent attorneys declined to represent Giuliani, the New York Times reports: “They included Mary Jo White, who also once led the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District, as well as Theodore V. Wells Jr., a trial lawyer at Paul, Weiss … Another was Daniel L. Stein, a former senior prosecutor who recently held top posts in the Southern District, where he oversaw the prosecutions of public officials … Paul L. Shechtman, a partner at the law firm Bracewell and a former prosecutor who worked in federal and state courts in Manhattan, was approached roughly two weeks ago about representing Mr. Giuliani … But the firm, where Mr. Giuliani once worked, rejected the idea.”

3. Critics say Bill Barr’s primary achievement as attorney general has been the politicization of the Justice Department, but he’s also apparently got a threshold for presidential interference that he will not abide. Trump wanted Barr to hold a news conference declaring that he had broken no laws during the July 25 phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate his political rivals. The attorney general declined to do so.

“The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department,” my colleagues Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey and Carol Leonnig scooped last night. “The president has mentioned Barr’s demurral to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, Trump advisers say. In recent weeks, the Justice Department has sought some distance from the White House … People close to the administration say Barr and Trump remain on good terms. … People close to Barr assert that while Barr is a strong believer in the power of the presidency, he has always recognized there might be times when he has to preserve the Justice Department’s independence.”

Trump denied the story this morning:

Be careful what you wish for: “Though Barr did not hold a news conference clearing Trump of any wrongdoing, the Justice Department did issue its statement saying it would not investigate the matter — at least for campaign finance violations,” per Matt, Josh and Carol. “While that was a partial win for Trump, it has allowed Congress to expedite its impeachment inquiry without fear of impeding law enforcement.”

Barr’s decision not to hold the presser is especially significant because he’s done so much else to assist Trump: “As the rough transcript was released, a Justice Department spokeswoman said officials had evaluated it and the whistleblower complaint to see whether campaign finance laws had been broken, determined that none had been and decided ‘no further action was warranted.’ … Though the rough transcript shows Trump offering Zelensky the services of his attorney general to aid investigations of Biden and his son, a Barr spokeswoman said that Barr and Trump had never discussed that. … After acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said at a televised briefing last month that Ukraine’s cooperation in the investigations Trump wanted was tied to hundreds of millions of dollars of aid that the United States had withheld from Kyiv, a Justice Department official quickly made clear to reporters that the department did not endorse that position.”

Barr has sought separation from Giuliani: “Last month, after the department arrested two Giuliani associates who had worked on investigating the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine, the New York Times reported that Giuliani had participated in a meeting about a separate case with Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and lawyers in the department’s fraud section. The day after that report, the department issued an unusual statement saying those in the meeting were unaware of the case that led to charges against Giuliani’s associates for alleged campaign finance violations. … The Justice Department had not always been on the side of full transparency, blocking transmission of the whistleblower complaint to Congress after its Office of Legal Counsel determined it was not appropriate to do so— even though the intelligence community inspector general felt the law required it to be handed over.”

4. Coincidentally, the Barr story broke a few hours after word spread that Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first attorney general, will announce today that he’s going to run for his old Senate seat in Alabama.

Sessions offered a critical early endorsement of the president – the first senator to board the Trump train – and helped organize a massive rally in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., that showcased his potential to make inroads among conservative Southerners. All of that has been long forgotten by Trump. The president blamed Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation for special counsel Bob Mueller’s probe. Trump publicly and privately attacked Sessions until firing him last November right after losing control of the House in the midterms.

The president is now the biggest wild card in the Alabama GOP primary. “Trump never forgave Sessions for recusing himself from the Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, frequently berating him on Twitter for a move he viewed as a betrayal,” Seung Min Kim, Dawsey and Sean Sullivan report. “The president has discussed attacking Sessions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and McConnell has shared that he also has concerns about Sessions running because it could create a messy primary contest for a seat Republicans feel they have to win …Trump has repeatedly denigrated Sessions to allies and White House aides in recent days, people familiar with his comments said. … He has even joked to senators and White House aides that he would move to Alabama and compete against Sessions himself in the primary, two people familiar with his comments said.”

Despite being humiliated so many times, Sessions has never said a negative word about Trump, at least in public, since losing his job. He continues to praise him and his agenda. He’s booked to appear tonight on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program, where he can be expected to try ingratiating himself with Trump. Sessions is announcing now because the filing deadline is tomorrow. The primary is March 3. The field already includes Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), as well as Roy Moore, plus a former Auburn football coach, the Alabama secretary of state and a state representative.

During a speech on Tuesday sponsored by College Republicans at Northwestern University, Sessions even told jokes about the circumstances of his termination. “I had never watched [Trump’s] program on TV,” he said, according to a write-up in the Daily Northwestern. “I didn’t know how many people he’d fired. Maybe I’d have been more careful. … The president is allowed to fire you, but fortunately he doesn’t get to shoot you.”

Ironically, the 72-year-old was frequently interrupted by protesters opposed to Trump’s policies. “You are a racist, you put kids in cages,” the group chanted, adding profanities. “I’m just going to tell you, this is stupid,” Sessions told the hecklers, as they pounded on the door to the auditorium, according to the student paper. “They can have a right to do it, okay, but at some point, I have to speak.”

5. Roger Stone’s trial finally began on Wednesday, with prosecutors revealing a series of 2016 phone calls that they said showed Stone later lied to Congress “because the truth looked bad for Donald Trump.” Stone’s trial is the last case filed by Mueller in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, and the lead prosecutor – who was on Mueller’s team of investigators – wasted no time linking Stone’s alleged crimes to Trump’s political interests. He emphasized that Stone was trying to be loyal.

“The evidence in this case will show Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign, and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky told jurors in his opening statement. “This case is not about who hacked the Democratic National Committee servers. This case is not about whether Roger Stone had any communications with Russians. And this case is not about politics. This case is about Roger Stone’s false testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in an attempt to obstruct the investigation and to tamper with evidence.”

“At a critical moment in this nation’s history,” as members of Congress sought to “find out the truth of what happened” in the 2016 election, Zelinsky said, “he was doing his best to stop them.”

“Stone, 67, a longtime Trump adviser and political consultant, has pleaded not guilty to a seven-count indictment that charges him with false statements and witness tampering” Spencer Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Devlin Barrett report. “Prosecutors contend he lied on several points: when he told the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 that he did not have texts or emails about his 2016 discussions surrounding WikiLeaks; when he said he had only one associate who tried to act as a go-between with Assange; and when he contended he never spoke to anyone in the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks’ plans. Zelinsky said Stone told those lies because if Congress had learned of his many emails and texts seeking details about what WikiLeaks had on Clinton, ‘it would have unraveled all of the other lies Roger Stone told.’

The prosecutor also pointed to an email Stone sent to then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Aug. 3, 2016, seeking to speak to him. When Manafort asked why, Stone emailed back, ‘To save Trump’s a--. Call me please.’ Manafort, who was among Mueller’s early targets, is in prison. He was convicted last year of financial crimes unrelated to Russia’s election interference. After WikiLeaks began releasing hacked data in summer 2016, Stone emailed Trump campaign strategist Stephen K. Bannon, writing that ‘Trump can still win, but time is running out,’ according to a copy of the message shown to jurors. ‘I know how to win, but it ain’t pretty,’ Zelinsky read from the email, suggesting that Stone was alluding to WikiLeaks.”

6. People familiar with his views say John Bolton is willing to defy the White House and testify before the House about his alarm at the Ukraine pressure campaign if a federal court clears the way.

“Bolton, a longtime GOP foreign policy adviser, does not want to comply with the Democratic inquiry without a court ruling on the ongoing constitutional dispute between the Trump administration and Congress,” Leonnig and Tom Hamburger report this morning. “It remains unclear how quickly that could happen — and whether it would be in time for Bolton to be called as a witness in the public House impeachment hearings, which are scheduled to begin next week. On Wednesday, House Democrats said they are awaiting a key test case involving former White House counsel Donald McGahn, in which a district-court decision could come by the end of this month.”

The former national security adviser sought to protect himself by staying as far away from the Ukraine saga as he could. Already on shaky ground with Trump over disagreements on North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan, Bolton lost his job. “Bolton was the highest-ranking official in the White House who voiced opposition to the effort to pressure Ukraine, someone with ample authority and motivation to disrupt a shadow foreign policy he reportedly likened to a ‘drug deal.’ Yet Bolton, who has a reputation as one of the most ruthless bureaucratic warriors in Washington, seemed to find reasons to avoid intervening directly at some key moments in the scandal now threatening the Trump presidency,” Greg Jaffe, Greg Miller and Paul Sonne report. “Bolton sent others to report concerns to National Security Council lawyers, but it is unclear whether he went himself. He skipped listening to the July 25 call.”

“He was being a very careful political operative — which is what his reputation is,” said a former U.S. official.

THE LATEST ON L'AFFAIRE UKRAINE:

-- Today the House impeachment probe is looking into what Vice President Pence knew. “For the moment, efforts to fill out the picture have been stymied by the White House’s insistence that top administration officials defy congressional subpoenas,” Jaffe reports. “That leaves Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to the vice president for Europe and Russia, as possibly the last witness in the month-long closed-door sessions of the impeachment probe. She arrived on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning. … Williams is testifying under a subpoena the House Intelligence Committee issued Thursday morning, after the White House tried to prevent her from attending the deposition.”

“Jennifer is a longtime dedicated State Department employee” and will answer questions if required, her lawyer, Justin Shur, said in a statement. “We expect her testimony will largely reflect what is already in the public record.”

-- David Hale, the State Department’s third-ranking official, testified behind closed doors for more than six hours yesterday. (John Hudson, Mike DeBonis, Karoun Demirjian and Elise Viebeck)

-- “The head of Ukraine’s gas company has been shot at, pilloried on TV and attacked by Giuliani associates. It’s all in a day’s work,” Jeanne Whalen reports. “The chief of Naftogaz Ukrainy is fighting on every front to reform a hotbed of power struggles and intrigue.”

-- Erik Prince, the private security contractor and informal adviser to Trump, is in discussions to purchase a Ukrainian aerospace manufacturer that the U.S. is trying to prevent China from buying, the Wall Street Journal reports, which says the Trump administration has approached Prince and at least one other potential buyer.

-- Facing scrutiny of their donations to top Republicans, Giuliani's Soviet-born associates turned to another major Trump ally for help. “A firm run by Andy Surabian, who has worked with Steve Bannon and Donald Trump Jr., says [Parnas and Fruman], the business partners at the center of the impeachment inquiry, still haven’t paid for work done last year,” BuzzFeed News reports.

-- Commentary from the opinion page:

  • James Comey: “Members of Congress will soon have to reconcile President Trump’s behavior with their oaths of office.”
  • The Post’s Editorial Board: “Even the officials who tried to do Trump’s dirty work knew it was wrong.”
  • Dana Milbank: “Are Bill Taylor’s notebooks Trump’s Nixon tapes?”
The Daily 202's BIG IDEA> Get James' insight into Washington every weekday on your smart speaker or favorite podcast player.
Subscribe on Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and other podcast players.
 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

THE ELECTIONS: 

-- Even after Republicans got blown out in the suburbs again because of his unpopularity in certain key places, Trump is showing no sign of shifting his approach for 2020. It's a reminder that Trump doesn't seem able to change. Even if he tried. Even if he wanted to. His campaign dismissed the fresh evidence of a key weakness, especially among college-educated women, and cited internal polling numbers nobody has seen to exaggerate the effect of the president's visits to Kentucky and Mississippi. Pennsylvania, a likely swing state in 2020, also could be a challenge for Trump.

"Trump’s campaign and White House staff have launched fitful efforts to reach out to suburban voters around issues including prescription drugs, student loans and teenage e-cigarette usage. They also hope to drive turnout among more rural parts of the state," per Bob Costa and Michael Scherer. "The same shift was also evident in Mississippi, where Republican Tate Reeves easily won the governorship. Outside Memphis, Reeves carried 61 percent of the vote, compared with four years ago when the Republican candidate for governor won 80 percent of the vote, according to an analysis by Inside Elections. In Madison County, Miss., which includes tony suburbs of Jackson, the Republican vote margin in the gubernatorial race fell from 69 percent to 49 percent."

“Republicans aren’t leaning in on the issues that affect suburban, affluent voters like gun safety and the environment,” said former congressman Ryan Costello (R), who retired from his Chester County, Pa., seat in 2018 rather than face reelection. “Plus, Trump is not a benefit but a burden," he told Bob and Michael. "That forces Republicans to have to ask voters to really hear them out on issues like taxes and school safety even if those voters don’t like Trump and that’s not easy.”

-- Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) asked for a recanvass of the state’s election results, which show him more than 5,000 votes behind Democratic challenger Andy Beshear. From the AP: “Beshear, the state’s attorney general, said he’s confident in the election outcome, saying any review would show he won the hard-fought campaign. … At a news conference late Wednesday in Frankfort, Bevin said he wanted to ensure integrity in the process even as he hinted without offering evidence that there had been irregularities in the voting. ‘We’re in the process of getting affidavits and other information that will help us to get a better understanding of what did or did not happen,’ he said. Bevin said any information turned up won’t be ‘followed through on’ until after the recanvass — an indication he could seek further review of the election results. Kentucky’s secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes, scheduled the recanvass for Nov. 14. A recanvass is a check of the vote count to ensure the results were added correctly. Beshear’s campaign ... noted that a recanvass has never led to a reversal of an election result in Kentucky.”

-- Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said the state’s GOP-controlled legislature could decide the race. From the Louisville Courier Journal: “Stivers, R-Manchester, said based on his staff’s research, the decision could come before the Republican-controlled state legislature. Under state law, Bevin has 30 days to formally contest the outcome once it is certified by the State Board of Elections … Stivers said he thought Bevin’s speech declining to concede to Beshear was ‘appropriate.’"

-- In Virginia, Democrats are making big plans to use the power they will consolidate under Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella report from Richmond: “Gun control in the home state of the National Rifle Association. Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in a legislature that used to run like an old boys’ club. Climate legislation, in a state once defined by coal. … Northam also said he’d support giving localities the authority to remove Confederate monuments. A 1904 state law bars the removal or alteration of public war memorials in the state. In Charlottesville, Confederate-heritage enthusiasts have relied on the preservation law to stop officials there from taking down two Confederate statues. ...

"The wide-open slate of possibilities carries dangers, though, as the victors have to govern a state that still has veins of deep red ... A crop of new Democrats, more progressive than their predecessors, could push the state too far to the left, only to lose it all with the next election. Republicans warned that the state’s new majority would be beholden to national interest groups that poured in historic amounts of resources to elect Democrats. … Democratic leaders said they won because voters want new policies. And some of the jubilant winners urged their party to think even bigger. … That enthusiasm could be a challenge for Northam, who was once such a conservative that the Republican Party tried to woo him. ‘Northam in some ways could be the moderate brake on some of the progressive visions that could be imagined here,’ said Bob Holsworth, a longtime Virginia political analyst.” 

  • Paul Kane: “Election results reassure House Democrats as they pursue impeachment inquiry.”
  • E.J. Dionne Jr.: “Trump is in trouble. Tuesday’s elections are proof.”

-- Trump headlined a rally last night in Louisiana for Republican Eddie Rispone, who is trying to oust Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Nov. 16. From the AP: “The gubernatorial runoff ... offers Trump an opportunity to pick up a win in a rare Democratic-held governor’s seat in the Deep South and change the narrative ... ‘You’re going out to replace a radical, liberal Democrat as your governor,’ Trump said. ... Trump is going all in with the Louisiana governor’s race. The White House confirmed he would visit Bossier City on Nov. 14 ... Trump also visited Lake Charles last month to encourage voters to back one of the Republicans ahead of the state’s open primary."

-- The University of Alabama’s student government found itself at the center of yet another Trump-fueled controversy Wednesday — mainly of its own making — with the president set to attend Saturday’s college football clash between Louisiana State and the Crimson Tide. Jacob Bogage reports: "The issue began Tuesday when Jason Rothfarb, vice president of student affairs for Alabama’s Student Government Association, warned students that any 'disruptive behavior' at the game would result in lost seating privileges for the remainder of the Crimson Tide’s schedule. Disruptive behavior at an SEC football game? Perish the thought! By Wednesday, after a social media outcry, both Rothfarb and the Alabama SGA had walked the statement back. 'The SGA strongly affirms its belief in free speech and the rights of all students to express their opinions,' the SGA’s Wednesday statement read."

-- Trump’s supporters insist he isn’t the one tearing the country apart. CNN's Alisyn Camerota conducted a panel discussion with six voters from swing districts in Pennsylvania. Trump supporter Crystal Arlington said there's nothing Trump could do that would her make not vote for him. "If he shot someone on 5th Avenue, would you vote for him?" Camerota asked, referring to Trump's boast in 2016 that he could shoot someone on the street and still get elected. "You'd have to know why he shot him," Marian Taylor, another Trump supporter, said. "Yeah, why did he shoot him?" said Arlington. 

-- Is Elizabeth Warren "angry" and antagonistic? Or are Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg dabbling in gendered criticism? Matt Viser and Annie Linskey suggest that it's the latter: “Pushing that argument is treacherous given that many Democrats remain upset over what they view as sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton ... Buttigieg laid the groundwork by criticizing Warren’s ‘my way or the highway approach’ and suggesting recently that she is ‘so absorbed in the fighting that it is as though fighting were the purpose.’ Biden, launching a range of new attacks on Warren, said this week that she reflects ‘an angry unyielding viewpoint that has crept into our politics.’ … ‘It’s the same old ugly caricatures of women who succeed in every industry,’ said Rebecca Katz, a liberal political strategist who is unaligned but has donated to Warren and others. ‘Honestly, it was how Warren was dismissed early on. But then people got to know her. And really she is nothing like this ugly caricature.’” 

-- Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) broke with the other three members of “the Squad” to endorse Warren, her home-state senator, over Bernie Sanders.

-- Bill Gates criticized Warren’s wealth tax. From the Guardian: “Speaking at the New York Times DealBook conference on Wednesday, Bill Gates balked at Warren’s tax policies. ‘I’ve paid over $10bn in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes,’ he said. ‘If I had to pay $20bn, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100bn, then I’m starting to do a little math over what I have leftover.’ Warren, who has proposed a 6% tax on wealth over 10 figures, reassured Gates that he wouldn’t have to pay $100bn, and offered to meet with him to explain. At the conference, Gates had said, ‘I’m not sure how open-minded she is – or that she’d even be willing to sit down with somebody who has large amounts of money.’ Warren responded: ‘I’m always happy to meet with people, even if we have different views.’ Despite being a vocal critic of [Trump], Gates also wouldn’t commit to supporting Warren in a hypothetical race between her and Trump ... Critics pointed out that the Microsoft founder and philanthropist would still remain extremely wealthy under Warren’s plan.” 

-- Biden is skipping California’s giant Democratic Party convention next week, driven largely by his campaign’s fear that he would get booed by liberal activists. From Politico: “But the added layer of risk in getting onstage with Jorge Ramos, the immigration rights-crusading Univision news anchor and moderator of a candidate forum at the convention, also played a role in the campaign’s discussions about skipping the largest single state gathering of Democrats."

-- Biden’s sister isn’t running his campaign this time, as she did in 2008 and 1988, and she’s finding that "damn frustrating." From BuzzFeed News: “There’s been no one more essential to Joe’s career than [Valerie Owens Biden]. Friends talk about how they complete each other’s sentences, how she helps find his voice. … This campaign is different, though. Biden Owens remains close by — as her recent surrogate work suggests — and in touch with her brother’s top aides. But for the first time, she has no role or title or official decision-making authority. … ‘I have been his campaign manager since high school — class president,’ Biden Owens told the small group that gathered to hear her in Beaufort. ‘This is the first time I haven’t managed the campaign, and I want to tell you, it’s damn frustrating!’"

-- Google is discussing changing its political ad policy after Facebook and Twitter publicly diverged on how to handle those ads. From the Journal: “Google has been holding internal meetings about changing its political ad policy and is expected to share more information with employees this week, the people said, though it is unclear what the changes will be. Some Google employees are speculating the changes could be related to what type of audience targeting the company allows ad buyers to place. It’s unclear when Google would implement any new policy. All of Google’s advertising policies are uniform across search and YouTube, and any ad policy change would be reflected across all of its platforms, a Google spokesperson said.” 

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- China’s Commerce Ministry announced that U.S. and Chinese negotiators have agreed in principle to roll back tariffs in simultaneous stages if their trade talks advance. Gerry Shih reports: “Gao Feng, the ministry spokesman, did not say a ‘phase-one’ agreement had already been reached, nor give a timetable for when one could happen, but he said the two countries have held ‘earnest and constructive’ talks. ... Gao’s comments lifted stocks and market futures in Asia and the United States amid a general sense of optimism that tensions are ratcheting down. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in recent days talked up the chances of phase one deal that he said would send a stabilizing message to the world, but did not explicitly address tariff reductions. Negotiators are said to be considering a location where President Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, could sign a deal.”

-- Prodded by Trump, Chinese authorities are cracking down on fentanyl. Gerry Shih reports: “Central government officials invited foreign media to a court in northern Hebei Province where officials announced the arrest of 20 people and the closure of two online shops selling the synthetic opioid, which U.S. public health officials say is responsible for killing more Americans in overdoses than any other drug. The timing of the highly publicized sentencing appeared propitious: negotiators from Washington and Beijing this week are working toward a ‘phase one’ trade deal that could forestall or reverse tariff increases. Chinese police, acting on a tip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, discovered the drug ring’s processing plant and seized 11.9 kilograms (26.2 pounds) of fentanyl and 19.1 kilograms (42.1 pounds) of other substances, including aprozolam, commonly known as Xanax, Chinese officials said.”

-- Two former Twitter employees were charged with spying for Saudi Arabia by accessing the company’s information on dissidents who use the platform, marking the first time federal prosecutors have publicly accused the kingdom of running agents inside the U.S. Ellen Nakashima and Greg Bensinger report: “One of those implicated in the scheme, according to court papers, is an associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA has concluded likely ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last year. … The charges, unveiled Wednesday in San Francisco, came a day after the arrest of one of the former Twitter employees, Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen who is alleged to have spied on the accounts of three users — including one whose posts discussed the inner workings of the Saudi leadership — on behalf of the government in Riyadh. … The second former Twitter employee — Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen — was accused of accessing the personal information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015 on behalf of Saudi Arabia. One of those accounts belonged to a prominent dissident, Omar Abdulaziz, who later became close to Khashoggi.”

-- The U.S. believes reports that Turkey misused U.S.-supplied weapons in its Syria incursion are “credible.” Officials believe groups with the weapons may have committed war crimes as part of the Turkish-led incursion targeting America’s Kurdish allies. (CNN)

-- An uprising in Iraq is the largest in decades, posing an alarming threat to Baghdad and Tehran. Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim report: “Iraq’s streets are no stranger to power struggles. They’ve been a stage for sectarian conflict and for the Islamic State’s emergence. But the crowds are different this time, and so is the threat now posed by the largest grass-roots movement in Iraq’s modern history: a new generation raised in the shadow of the U.S.-led invasion is rising, and politicians from Baghdad to Tehran have been caught on the back foot. … Although the unrest is confined to mostly Shiite areas, leading clerics for once have not marshaled it, and Shiite-dominated Iran, a powerful political and security force here, has been openly excoriated. The Iranian Consulate in Karbala has been torched, and its national flag ripped down. In scenes reminiscent of the fall of Saddam Hussein, protesters have also used their shoes to beat photographs of Tehran-backed militia leaders. .. As the latest round of protests enters a second week, at least 264 have been killed and more than 12,000 wounded, according to the country’s human rights commission.”

-- Defense Secretary Mark Esper appealed to Trump this week to allow the military justice system to proceed unfettered in a number of high-profile cases, as concerns intensify among Pentagon leaders that presidential intervention could damage military discipline and morale. Missy Ryan and Josh Dawsey report: “Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Esper said he had a ‘robust discussion’ with Trump on Tuesday about the cases of three current or former service members charged with war crimes or other wrongdoing. Earlier in the week, Fox News reported that the president was likely to issue pardons or take other actions to assist them. … A defense official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that Pentagon leaders were ‘acutely’ concerned that action by Trump circumventing the military justice system would have ‘second and third order effects on good order and discipline.’” 

 -- U.S. Army bomb units are struggling to train for combat operations amid a personnel shortfall and a surge of domestic protection missions – particularly, ensuring that Trump is safe during his frequent stays at his own properties. From Task and Purpose, a website focused on military and veterans' issues: “'We are burned out and it makes people not want to stay,’ said an active-duty senior enlisted Army EOD tech who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘It makes us want to find other career options.’ … According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the volume of missions has more than doubled over the past decade, from 248,000 man-hours in 2007 to 690,000 man-hours in 2017. … According to an enlisted EOD tech, VIP demand has also increased since Trump took office: Under the current administration, EOD units must also cover the Mar-a-Lago Club, the Trump Tower in New York City and the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey."

-- Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rejected Trump administration demands he get more aggressive against violence after the massacre of U.S. citizens in northern Mexico, saying the war-on-drugs approach has been a “disaster” in the past. “Authorities also noted that the bullets used in the killings of three women and six children in the northern state of Sonora on Monday were manufactured in the United States," Mary Beth Sheridan reports. "The slaying Monday of members of the extended LeBaron family — dual U.S.-Mexican citizens — has raised pressure on López Obrador’s leftist government, which has pledged to use social programs to address the root causes of violence. ‘It’s unfortunate, sad, because children died. This is painful,’ López Obrador told reporters Wednesday. ‘But trying to resolve this problem by declaring a war? In our country, it’s been shown that this doesn’t work. This was a disaster.’"

-- A group of children who survived the attack saw their mother and siblings die. Kayla Epstein and Brittany Shammas report: “The Langford children watched as their mother and two of their siblings were shot dead in an attack. The surviving Langfords, as old as 14 and as young as 8 months, survived on their own for hours as one of them made a nearly 14-mile journey on foot to get help, family members said. … Authorities have provided scarce details of the attack, but family members of the victims, many communicating via Facebook and WhatsApp, described the shooting and its aftermath. … At some point, the attackers paused their gunfire, and that was when 13-year-old Devin Langford ‘hopped out of the vehicle and grabbed his siblings, his brothers and sisters, and started running them over the edge [of the road], hiding them and pushing them over the edge,’ Kenny LeBaron, a cousin of Christina Johnson’s, told The Washington Post. … Five of the surviving Langford children sustained some form of injury, ranging from a grazed arm to a bullet in the chest endured by an 8-month-old infant. They were eventually taken to a hospital in Tucson, according to Johnson’s cousin Leah Staddon, who lives in Arizona.”

-- The small village of American fundamentalist Mormons in the mountains of northwestern Mexico has peacefully coexisted with the region’s most powerful drug cartel for decades. That has now changed. Kevin Sieff reports: “Until this week, living as an American in one of Mexico’s most dangerous valleys meant maintaining an uneasy truce with the traffickers: ‘Basically, it was ‘We won’t bother you if you don’t bother us,' ’’ said Adam Langford, whose great-grandfather was one of the first American Mormons to move to Mexico in 1880. … Residents here believe the families were targeted intentionally by a cartel from the neighboring state of Chihuahua — maybe as revenge for the community’s proximity to the local cartel in Sonora, where La Mora is located. … In recent months, there were signs that the peace was deteriorating. For the first time, the local cartel mandated that the families of La Mora not buy their fuel from Chihuahua, which would fund the rival cartel.”

-- A young Muslim immigrant is challenging British prime minister Boris Johnson for his seat. William Booth and Karla Adam report: “Johnson represents Uxbridge, a suburb of northwest London and no longer the safe seat for Tories it was a decade ago. In the last general election, in 2017, Johnson won his race by just 5,034 votes. If Labour can swing 5 percent of the electorate its way, the prime minister could be in trouble. British lawmakers don’t have to live in the districts — or constituencies — they represent, and Johnson doesn’t live in Uxbridge, though he makes occasional meet-and-greet appearances. That makes him vulnerable, said Ali Milani, 25, the Labour challenger, who touts his credentials as a local. Milani lives in Uxbridge and went to Brunel University here (where he was a student leader). … On Tuesday night, Milani went door-to-door in the South Ruislip neighborhood, urging people to toss Johnson out. More than a hundred activists joined him in the canvassing.”

-- Trump has emerged as a major flashpoint in the British election, and he's becoming a real drag on BoJo. From the Times: “Once, the prime minister talked up the benefits of having a close friend in the White House; now he is distancing himself from a figure who is radioactive to many Britons. Mr. Trump was only one of a multitude of headaches for Mr. Johnson on Wednesday, as he kicked off his campaign in an election that will serve as a referendum on his Brexit policy … Elsewhere in the Midlands, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, drove home his counter-message: that Mr. Johnson would sell out Britain’s state health system to a predatory Mr. Trump in a trade deal. ‘We’ll never let Donald Trump get his hands on our National Health Service,’ he thundered. Mr. Corbyn painted a dystopian picture of a Tory-led Britain that would mimic Mr. Trump’s America. ‘They’ll slash food standards to match the U.S.,’ he said, referring darkly to rat hairs in paprika and maggots in orange juice, ‘and they’ll put chlorinated chicken on our supermarket shelves.’”

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED:

-- A federal judge voided the Trump administration’s “conscience rule,” which would’ve allowed health-care providers to refuse to participate in abortions, sterilizations or other types of care they disagree with on religious or moral grounds. Yasmeen Abutaleb reports: “U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan declared the rule unconstitutional in a 147-page decision that said it was ‘shot through with glaring legal defects.’ The rule had been set to go into effect later this month. The judge said the administration’s central justification of a ‘significant increase’ in complaints related to conscience violations ‘is flatly untrue. This alone makes the agency’s decision to promulgate the rule arbitrary and capricious.’ … Many physician and health advocacy groups contended that the rule would have disproportionately harmed certain groups of patients, including LGBTQ patients. … Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that they were reviewing the decision and would not comment on pending litigation. The Justice Department declined to comment.” An appeal seems certain.

-- Another federal judge ruled the government must provide mental health services to thousands of migrant parents and children who experienced psychological harm as a result of the Trump's family separation policies. From the Times: “Judge John A. Kronstadt of the United States District Court in Los Angeles ordered the federal government to immediately make available mental health screenings and treatment to thousands of families forcibly separated under the policy, which was primarily carried out in 2017 and 2018 — though hundreds of similar separations still occur. In his ruling, Judge Kronstadt referred to previous federal cases that found that governments can be held liable when with ‘deliberate indifference’ they place people in dangerous situations."

-- The Supreme Court seems to want to avoid extremes in the Clean Water Act case. Robert Barnes reports: “To set the boundaries of the landmark Clean Water Act, the Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to draw lessons from grocery shopping and spiking a punch bowl, and reminded of an Agatha Christie novel where all the suspects are, in fact, guilty. At the end of an hour, all that was clear is that the stakes are high, and not only for the Hawaii wastewater treatment plant that says its practices do not violate federal law, and the environmental groups who claim it has ruined a coral reef off Maui. Also affected could be agricultural interests, mining companies, home builders and even — this was a sticking point for some justices — individual homeowners with septic tanks. On the other side were environmentalists and former Environmental Protection Agency officials who contend that the Trump administration is advancing a dangerous reading of the law that reverses three decades of protection.”

-- One of Trump’s White House lawyers, who he's nominated for a circuit court judgeship, helped devise an illegal Education Department effort to use private Social Security data to deny debt relief to thousands of students cheated by their for-profit colleges, according to the New Times: “The plan, outlined by Steven J. Menashi when he was acting general counsel under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was ruled by a federal judge to violate federal privacy laws. She ordered the department to stop the practice.” Menashi faces a key Senate committee vote later today. The plan would “use earnings data from the Social Security Administration to forgive only a small percentage of debts shouldered by 30,000 borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain that the Obama administration found misled thousands of students. Corinthian’s collapse left its students and graduates with worthless degrees and mountains of debt.”

-- Speaking of shady behavior by colleges: A Wall Street Journal investigation discovered that elite universities are buying SAT-takers’ names from the College Board to boost their exclusivity: “Colleges rise in national rankings and reputation when they show data suggesting they are more selective. They can do that by rejecting more applicants, whether or not those candidates ever stood a chance. Some applicants, in effect, become unknowing pawns. Feeding this dynamic is the College Board, the New York nonprofit that owns the SAT, a test designed to level the college-admissions playing field. The board is using the SAT as the foundation for another business: selling test-takers’ names and personal information to universities. That has helped schools inflate their applicant pools and rejection rates. Those rejection rates have amplified the perception of exclusivity that colleges are eager to reinforce, pushing students to invest more time and money in preparing for and retaking exams College Board sells.”

-- The Minnesota town that has come apart over immigration narrowly agreed on an expansion of its overcrowded school system, ending a streak of five failed referendums in as many years. Michael E. Miller reports: “The $34 million bond measure — part of which passed by just 19 votes — was a victory for Worthington school officials and immigration advocates, who had complained that some white residents were reluctant to fund new classrooms to accommodate hundreds of immigrant children. Many of those students are unacommpanied minors from Central America, who crossed the border on their own and are living with relatives while their cases wind through backlogged immigration courts.” 

-- A Milwaukee man faces a hate-crime charge for an alleged acid attack that left a Latino man with second-degree burns. Clifton Blackwell, who is white, was charged with first-degree reckless injury in a hate crime, which means he could face up to 35 years in prison. (Katie Mettler and Hannah Knowles

-- Leaked documents show that Facebook leveraged user data to fight its rivals and help companies it partnered with. From NBC News: “This trove comprises approximately 7,000 pages in total, of which about 4,000 are internal Facebook communications such as emails, web chats, notes, presentations and spreadsheets, primarily from 2011 to 2015. About 1,200 pages are marked as ‘highly confidential.’ Taken together, they show how Zuckerberg, along with his board and management team, found ways to tap Facebook users' data — including information about friends, relationships and photos — as leverage over the companies it partnered with. In some cases, Facebook would reward partners by giving them preferential access to certain types of user data while denying the same access to rival companies.” 

-- Internet freedom declined in the U.S. for the third consecutive year. A report by the pro-democracy think tank Freedom House found that the spread of disinformation in the country threatens to upend the domestic electoral process, while social media surveillance is eroding civil liberties, including free speech. (Marie C. Baca)

-- Uber’s self-driving cars had a major flaw: They weren’t programmed to stop for jaywalkers. Hannah Knowles reports: “Revelations that Uber failed to account for jaywalkers — with deadly results in Tempe, Ariz., in March 2018 — fuel long-standing objections from critics who accuse companies such as Uber of rushing to deploy vehicles not ready for public streets. They are skeptical that automakers eager to lead on industry-transforming technology are doing enough to avoid another tragedy as they continue to test out cars in the real world.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump called the president of Turkey:

Rudy Giuliani introduced us to his new lawyers: 

A lawyer for Fiona Hill accused Sondland, who is still the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., of perjuring himself:

Remember the time Trump said he wanted to buy Greenland? A lot of people noticed this part of Taylor's deposition:

A Post satire columnist wants a new term to describe whatever Trump has become: 

An NBC reporter noted that some attendees at Trump's Louisiana rally left as he spoke:

And Pete Buttigieg's husband shared a reminder:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The Trump presidency -- it’s like every day is Christmas,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told Politico. “You don’t know what’s under the tree. It can be that shotgun you’ve been hoping to get, or it can be a sweater you don’t want.” 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert criticized Lindsey Graham for the way he's handled the impeachment investigation: 

Trevor Noah took a look at the ways Wall Street has gone after Elizabeth Warren: 

Seth Meyers dissected the attempt by Trump and his allies to out the first whistleblower: 

And a worm scurried behind CNN anchor Jim Acosta during a live shot: