Breaking: BuzzFeed News's Alberto Nardelli obtained a secret recording of talks between a close aide to Italy's deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini -- described by the Russians on the tape as the "European Trump" -- and Russian operatives "to covertly channel tens of millions of dollars of Russian oil money to Salvini’s Lega party."
THE VANITY CANDIDACIES: Why is Tom Steyer spending $100 million on a long shot presidential bid in a crowded field and not on 2020 Senate races? That's the . . . $100 million dollar question.
It was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, after all, who emerged as the Grim Reaper of the Democrat's presidential primary debates two weeks ago. The path to victory for Democrats on the 2020 Senate map is a narrow one, meaning that if a Democrat does win back the White House, they'll likely have to do the impossible: work with McConnell on pushing through a Democratic agenda.
The ballooning size of the crowded race for president in 2020 — where Steyer yesterday became the 24th major Democratic candidate — is the biggest distinguishing feature of the contest to take down President Trump. And some observers say some of the lower-polling and lesser-known candidates should have their eyes on a smaller prize.
- “You have to ask what they are doing when they could do the most good by changing the make up of the Senate,” New Hampshire activist Arnie Arneson told Power Up. “The way to replace McConnell isn't by running in Kentucky, it's by running in Texas and all of those other states that have the potential to go purple.”
Some Democratic activists would have preferred to see say presidential candidates like Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke take on Senate Republicans rather than run for president. All three of them are currently struggling to gain traction in the race against Trump.
- “Anybody who is rounding down to zero, it's time to pack up and go home,” John Deeth, a longtime Iowa Democratic activist told Power Up, referring to candidates who haven't gained traction in the polls.
- “Republicans hold a 53-to-47 [Senate] majority, and Democrats see opportunities to reclaim the Senate with an unpopular president at the top of the ticket and the GOP defending nearly twice as many seats. But a handful of marquee recruits, like former state legislative leader Stacey Abrams in Georgia, have declined to run, and a few presidential candidates have shown no interest in abandoning a White House bid for a Senate campaign,” my colleague Bob Costa reports.
- “The Senate has become such an unpleasant place that unlike during most of my life, when people really aspired to be U.S. senators and really enjoyed serving in the Senate . . . I just think it’s not an attractive job any more because the Senate is so dysfunctional,” Terry Shumaker, Bill Clinton's New Hampshire co-chair told Power Up.
Steyer may be the poster boy for these head-scratching candidacies, with some consultants describing his bid as an extension of his long-running case to impeach Trump. But in his case, Democrats have a bigger, real-world reason to worry: The cash they expected the billionaire to pour into voter turnout efforts may now go into his own candidacy.
Staffers from NextGen, one of Steyer's political organizations, reached out to Democratic operatives and groups yesterday morning to allay concerns over less resources, a Democratic consultant told Power Up.
- “Super PACs are very nervous,” a Democratic consultant told Power Up after Steyer vowed to spend $100 million on a presidential campaign. “NextGen, for example, was supposed to put tons of resources on the super PAC side . . . I don't think there is anyone who thinks that Steyer can run and win a $100 million dollar presidential campaign and a $100 million super PAC . . . all of that money could be spent helping to win the election and spent taking on Trump, protecting control of the House, taking control of the Senate.”
- “NextGen is considered to be the vanguard when we are talking about outreach to people on college campuses. You take away $50 million? Who fills that void, considering how much we'll be up against? We don't have that margin for error,” the source added.
Deeth stressed the importance of NextGen's efforts in Iowa, arguing that besides the parties themselves, NextGen is probably the largest outside group involved in voter registration efforts in the state, including at the University of Iowa.
“Somebody who was wearing a NextGen T-shirt brought in two forms today,” Deeth, who also works in the county auditor's office said. “A lot of the work they do, then the parties don’t have to it themselves.”
A NextGen spokeswoman told us that while Steyer is leaving his leadership positions at NextGen America and Need to Impeach, he has committed over $50 million through 2020 to “ensuring that both organizations fulfill their missions.” The spokeswoman added the groups will be announcing “more details” on the extent of Steyer's financial commitment in coming weeks.
- “We've received a very generous commitment from Tom to power our work moving forward — and we’ll use that money to register and mobilize more young people to vote than we ever have before,” the spokeswoman told us.
- “Now more than ever, NextGen America is committed to registering, motivating, and turning out young people to vote for progressive leaders across the country,” the group's executive director Ben Wessel added in a statement. “NextGen America has no plans to endorse in the 2020 presidential election and will not coordinate with any candidate’s campaign.”
Justin Myers, the CEO of For Our Future — a voter outreach group backed by Steyer and labor unions — told Power Up that NextGen America is "100 percent committed to funding For Our Future now and through the crucial 2020 cycle.
- “Tom Steyer is not your typical billionaire . . . For Our Future, which is directly supported by the Steyer founded-group NextGen America, remains grateful for his support and we have never had reason to question his commitment,” Myers said.
Even Steyer recognizes the importance of his investment in voter turnout, citing it as the reason he's running for president.
- He told my colleague Dave Weigel that he was equipped to run for president over Democrats with political experience because he is “an outsider from outside the system . . . If you look at 2018, we doubled youth turnout. And I think the question here for every single person who’s running is: Who can connect with Americans? Who can rewrite the electorate and get us organized? That is the question. You can’t buy that.”
Correction: This story has been changed to accurately state that Steve Bullock is the current governor of Montana.
Outside the Beltway
BORDER ARRESTS DROPPED IN JUNE: "The number of people taken into custody along the U.S. southern border fell 28 percent in June, a drop that U.S. authorities say reflects the early impact of Mexico’s crackdown on Central American migration," our colleague Nick Miroff reports. "Border crossings typically rise in the spring and slump during the scorching summer months, but the drop registered from May to June was significantly larger than in previous years, according to Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday. U.S. authorities detained 104,344 people along the border last month, down from 144,278 in May."
- Even with the drop, the numbers remain staggering: "June was the fourth month in a row in which border arrests exceeded 100,000, and the total was more than twice the 43,180 people taken into custody in June 2018 and a nearly fivefold increase over June 2017, when authorities detained 21,673," Nick writes."CBP officials say the number of migrants in its custody has dropped more than 40 percent, but the agency still has about 10,000 in holding cells and stations designed for half that many people."
What Mexico is doing: Since Trump's May threat to impose tariffs unless Mexico did more to address immigration, "Mexico has since deployed thousands of national guard troops to patrol its borders and stop migrants traveling along railways and roads, at times grabbing families just steps from U.S. soil along the banks of the Rio Grande. Mexico said it has increased deportations 33 percent since the deal."
Back from 'breaking point': "The drop in border crossings has allowed for a bit of a reprieve for U.S. border stations, which officials say have been brought back from 'the breaking point,' allowing U.S. agents to improve care and processing times for children and families following a wave of anger over images of migrants packed into cells and reports of mistreatment," Nick writes. "The number of children in CBP custody has fallen from more than 2,500 in early June to fewer than 350 in recent days, DHS officials said this week."
What's next: "While it probably will take months to see whether Mexico’s enforcement efforts have a sustained effect on migration, U.S. officials said the June numbers appear to be a first step toward controlling what is widely considered a humanitarian crisis that has been overwhelming the U.S. immigration system," Nick writes. "Homeland Security officials say they expect the number of arrests to continue falling through July. Trump has given Mexico until July 22 to demonstrate a commitment to arresting and deporting more migrants, and he has issued statements in recent days suggesting his tariff threat has diminished."
MEANWHILE, MORE ALLEGATIONS: From kids, ar a border facility in Yuma, Ariz.
- From NBC News's Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley: "The poor treatment of migrant children at the hands of U.S. border agents in recent months extends beyond Texas to include allegations of sexual assault and retaliation for protests, according to dozens of accounts by children held in Arizona collected by government case managers and obtained by NBC News....A 15-year-old girl from Honduras described a large, bearded officer putting his hands inside her bra, pulling down her underwear and groping her as part of what was meant to be a routine pat down in front of other immigrants and officers."
From the Courts
EPSTEIN SURROUNDED HIMSELF WITH AN INFLUENTIAL NETWORK: "For decades, Jeffrey Epstein, the finance whiz who has been charged with sex trafficking, moved with open ease between the planet’s highest echelons of power and what prosecutors portray as a sordid world of recruiting and sexually abusing teenage girls," our colleague Marc Fisher reports. "He met with leaders of the nation’s top universities and research labs, traveled with presidents and princes, and managed money for leading business figures. He said the minimum investment he would handle was $1 billion."
- Epstein's black book: "Epstein’s black book of contacts — the printed phone directory that his Palm Beach butler, Alfredo Rodriguez, stole and that later was obtained by the FBI — includes Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger; more than a dozen aides to Clinton; other celebrities such as Alec Baldwin, Naomi Campbell and Jimmy Buffett; media titans such as Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black and Michael Bloomberg; business magnates such as Richard Branson, Steve Forbes and Edgar Bronfman Jr.; Kennedys, Rockefellers and Rothschilds; lords and ladies; ambassadors and senators," Marc writes. "There is no implication that most of the hundreds of people in the book were involved in or aware of Epstein’s alleged abuse of young girls. Some people listed in the book have said they barely know Epstein."
- His connections to Trump: "If the black book is any guide to the proximity Epstein had to the many boldface names in its pages, then his relationship with Trump was a significant one. Epstein listed 14 phone numbers for Trump; his wife, Melania; his longtime personal assistant, Norma Foerderer; his houseman; and his security officer. Other Trumps in the book include the president’s brother Robert and his wife, Blaine; the president’s ex-wife Ivana; and their daughter, Ivanka," Marc writes. "Trump banned Epstein from his Mar-a-Lago estate after a teenage girl who worked in the club’s locker room was recruited to give Epstein a massage, according to David Boies, an attorney for one of Epstein’s alleged victims."
- His ties to Bill Clinton: "Flight logs show Clinton traveling on Epstein’s private Boeing 727 more than 20 times in the early 2000s, to destinations in Asia, Europe and Africa, and the former president described Epstein in 2002 as; a committed philanthropist with a keen sense of global markets and an in-depth knowledge of twenty-first-century science ... ,' Marc writes. "Messages left for Clinton Foundation spokesmen were not returned Tuesday, but Clinton’s representatives issued a statement saying that he 'knows nothing about the terrible crimes; to which Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida and that Clinton took 'a total of four trips' on Epstein’s plane, with Secret Service agents accompanying the former president each time. Some of those trips included multiple stops."
Quite the lede of an anecdote from a time during Trump and Epstein's friendship, from the New York Times's Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni:
"It was supposed to be an exclusive party at Mar-a-Lago, Donald J. Trump’s members-only club in Palm Beach, Fla. But other than the two dozen or so women flown in to provide the entertainment, the only guests were Mr. Trump and Jeffrey Epstein."
Except the record shows you had the evidence in 2007. Remember the 53-page indictment, the phone records, the trash pulls, the flight manifests, the witnesses who worked for Epstein? https://t.co/aS7zN4ff9u— julie k. brown (@jkbjournalist) July 9, 2019
MULVANEY REPORTEDLY WANTS ACOSTA GONE: Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney "told Trump on Monday that the continuing drip of damaging information surrounding the 2008 agreement [Labor Secretary Alex] Acosta struck to keep billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein from a heavy jail sentence would hurt the administration, according to two people familiar with the conversation," Politico's Eliana Johnson and Burgess Everett report.
- Ulterior motive?: "Mulvaney also may be seizing on an opportunity to try to depose a frequent antagonist who has frustrated some conservatives in the White House and business leaders on the outside," Johnson and Everett report. "Acosta critics, including Mulvaney, have argued that he has not been aggressive enough in stamping out Obama-era workplace regulations and employment discrimination lawsuits, and they are using the Epstein lawsuit to push him out the door."
- Mulvaney followed up with an on-the-record statement late last night: "I push all of the Cabinet Secretaries on the deregulatory agenda, as it is a top priority of the President. That in no way should be interpreted as displeasure with any Cabinet member, including Secretary Acosta.”
What Trump is saying: "'I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as being somebody who works so hard and has done such a good job,' Trump told reporters in the Oval Office," our colleagues John Wagner and Lisa Rein report. "Trump said the White House would look closely at the circumstances surrounding the sex-charges plea deal negotiated by Acosta and his staff a decade ago that a growing number of Democrats have criticized as excessively lenient."
The abuse of a child is one of the most heinous, despicable abuses of power imaginable. It is inexcusably poor judgment for a US Attorney to seek leniency for someone guilty of it. Secretary Acosta should provide his resignation immediately.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 9, 2019
- Dems call for Acosta ouster: By the end of Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and 15 of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates had called for Acosta to resign. Neither Schumer nor any of the seven senators running for president voted to confirm Acosta in 2017. Eight Democratic senators did support Acosta, who was viewed as relatively noncontroversial at the time, especially after the failed nomination of restaurant CEO Andy Puzder.
- Only five of those Dems remain in the Senate: former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), one of the eight, said on Tuesday that she regretted her vote.
- How one reporter made the Epstein story front-page news again: “Months ago, [Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown] published a meticulously researched series of articles about a secret plea deal, engineered by a current member of President Trump’s cabinet, that helped Mr. Epstein evade federal charges related to the women’s accusations," the New York Times' Tiffany Hsu writes in a terrific profile of Brown. “Her work identified some 80 alleged victims and earned a slew of journalism prizes, including a George Polk Award in the category of Justice Reporting. She worked on the award-winning series with Emily Michot, a visual journalist at The Herald."
HOUSE COMMITTEE TO VOTE ON MORE THAN A DOZEN NEW SUBPOENAS: "The House Judiciary Committee will vote this week to authorize a bevy of new subpoenas on the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their families at the border and on President Trump’s possible obstruction of justice, summoning some of the biggest names to surface in Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation," the New York Times's Nicholas Fandos reports.
- Who is on the list?: "Among the targets are Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general; Michael T. Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser; John F. Kelly, the former White House chief of staff; Rod J. Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general who appointed Mr. Mueller as the special counsel; Corey R. Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager; and David J. Pecker, who as the head of American Media took part in a hush-money scheme," Fandos writes.
- Immigration: "Taking aim at the administration’s border policies, the committee will also seek new authority that would allow the panel to subpoena current and former officials to answer questions and provide documents related to Mr. Trump’s 'zero tolerance' policy — which separated children apprehended at the border from their families — and any talk of presidential pardons for Department of Homeland Security officials involved in carrying out the policy," Fandos writes.
- Possible court fights: "In the case of the Mueller-related subpoenas, testimony of many of the senior officials in Democrats’ sights could be subject to claims of executive privilege or testimonial immunity by the White House that have been used to block others from appearing on Capitol Hill. Democrats say those claims are invalid, and any dispute is likely to end up in the courts."
On The Hill
PELOSI TAKES ON THE SQUAD: "Six months into the new House Democratic majority, long-simmering tensions between the speaker and the squad — Representatives [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts — have boiled over in the most public of ways, setting off a flurry of criticism of Ms. Pelosi among liberal activists and reinvigorating a debate within the party about how best to stand up to President Trump," the New York Times's Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports.
- Two sides of history: "The squabble is all the more notable because it pits Ms. Pelosi, the liberal San Francisco congresswoman who is the most powerful elected woman in American history, against a group of progressive Democratic women of color who have broken barriers of their own as part of the most diverse class ever to serve in the House," Hirschfeld Davis writes.
- The Dowd effect: "The contretemps began when Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, asked Ms. Pelosi about the squad’s fury over the border aid package. The speaker noted that the group had failed to persuade any other Democrats to join them last month in voting against the House’s version of the bill, which placed restrictions on how the administration could spend the money and demanded standards of care at migrant detention centers," Hirschfeld Davis writes.
- AOC's chief of staff blasts Pelosi: Going further than Ocasio-Cortez's comments, her chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti challenged the speaker to show voters what she's done for them lately:
Pelosi claims we can't focus on impeachment because it's a distraction from kitchen table issues. But I'd challenge you to find voters that can name a single thing House Democrats have done for their kitchen table this year. What is this legislative mastermind doing?— Saikat Chakrabarti (@saikatc) July 7, 2019
- Pelosi defended her initial comments: "'It wasn’t dismissive; it was a statement of fact,' Ms. Pelosi told a reporter in San Francisco on Monday, saying while most House Democrats had “voted to protect the children” by supporting the House’s humanitarian aid bill, the squad had chosen not to. 'They were four who argued against the bill, and they were the only four who voted against the bill. All I said was nobody followed their lead.'"
WAYBACK WEDNESDAY: "The uniquely New York practice of dumping office trash on the heads of dignitaries and heroes began in October 1886.," our colleague Steve Hendrix reports in his look at the history of ticker-tape parades down the "Canyon of Heroes" where the U.S. women's soccer team will be later today.