🚨: "Nationwide raids to arrest thousands of members of undocumented families have been scheduled to begin Sunday, according to two current and one former homeland security officials, moving forward with a rapidly changing operation, the final details of which remain in flux," the New York TImes's Caitlin Dickerson and Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported overnight. 

  • Key: "The raids, which will be conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement over multiple days, will include 'collateral' deportations, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the preliminary stage of the operation. In those deportations, the authorities might detain immigrants who happened to be on the scene, even though they were not targets of the raids."

Also breaking: "Three Iranian vessels attempted to stop a British tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, Britain said Thursday, in the latest escalation between Iran and Western powers in recent weeks," per my colleague Erin Cunningham. 

  • A British navy ship, the HMS Montrose, “was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and [the tanker] British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away,” the British government said in a statement. 
  • “We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” the statement said. 

At the White House

THE TRUMP CABLE NEWS TEST: Yet another embattled Trump Cabinet official defended himself in a dramatic news conference yesterday as top Democrats demanded his resignation. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta refused to apologize, questioned the media, shifted blame and claimed to have President Trump's continued support.

But it's an open question whether Acosta's audience of one — President Trump — was satisfied, as questions swirled over whether Acosta can realistically hang on to his job.

 Some in Trump's orbit who watched the secretary's performance expressed doubts about whether Acosta exonerated himself — and adequately defended Trump. They believe he did little to stanch the bleeding and the appearance he took it easy on an alleged serial child abuser, especially on the heels of a heart-wrenching NBC News interview with a new victim who alleged Epstein raped her at 15-years-old. 

  • “The sooner [Acosta] can get people off the subject as it's related to the president, the better,” a source close to the White House told Power Up.  
  • “He did just enough to survive another day,” a former White House staffer told us. “The 'Today' show interview with the victim was tough to watch. If there are more victims stepping forward like that in the next few days, he won't have a choice but to resign.” 
  • “He needed to show aggressiveness in his defense,” the source added. “If he wanted to hit for the cycle, he should have dropped in some Clinton references about flying on Epstein's plane and spending time with him.”

Acosta, encouraged by Trump to go public, answered questions for over an hour about his handling of allegations Jeffrey Epstein abused young women and girls when Acosta was the top federal prosecutor for the Southern District of Florida. Acosta argued the federal non-prosecution agreement he ultimately struck with Epstein's team in 2008 was the only way to get justice, claiming the state attorney would have been more lenient to Epstein. 

  • “We wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” Acosta told reporters. “He needed to go to jail.”
  • “The district attorney of Palm Beach County recommended a single charge and that charge resulted in no jail time at all. No registration as a sexual offender and no restitution to the victims,” Acosta added.

Acosta's lawyerly explainers and repeated non-apologies to victims seemed to only draw more attention and questions about his role in the deal. The Labor secretary's recollection of the case was quickly challenged by Barry Krischer, the former top prosecutor for Palm Beach County who Acosta said was going to cut a bad deal with Epstein.

  • “I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong,” Mr. Krischer said in a statement. “Federal prosecutors do not take a back seat to state prosecutors. That’s not how the system works in the real world.”

  • Krischer, echoing the intrepid reporting of The Miami Herald's Julie K. Brown, charged that Acosta abandoned a 53-page indictment his own office had drafted “after secret negotiations between Mr. Epstein’s lawyers and Mr. Acosta.”

  • “There were several different versions of that plea deal,” Brown said in an interview after Acosta's news conference, challenging Acosta's timeline. “The meeting that was alleged was a breakfast meeting that took place after the agreement was negotiated, not before. The agreement was signed in September,” Acosta told reporters. 

  • “It took them a long time to nail down that plea deal and I can assure you, that plea deal was not nailed down in September before that meeting with Jay Lefkowitz,” Brown added, referring to an Epstein lawyer. “There was a reason Jay Lefkowitz was meeting with [Acosta] and it wasn't just to say thank you because Epstein's lawyers appeal this plea agreement all the way through to June the following year because he still wasn't happy with it.” 

  • “The other evidence we know is that there was a letter sent in which [Lefkowitz] thanks Mr. Acosta for meeting with him at that Marriot and said they were glad they were able to agree on a couple of things and among the things they were able to agree upon at that October meeting is that the victims were not going to be told about it. And that's what's key about this,” Brown added. 

  • There's also this damning statement from Spencer Kuvin, an attorney for the 14-year-old girl who first came forward with allegations about Epstein: “Mr. Acosta’s office did not take this matter seriously back in 2008 and still refuses to accept responsibility for his failed leadership, which lead to a sweetheart deal for a pedophile,” Kuvin told my colleagues. 

THE REPORT CARD: As it so often happens in the Trump administration — recall the red-faced rage of Brett Kavanaugh, Scott Pruitt's testy Fox News interview after yet another ethical infraction, and Rex Tillerson's CYA news conference after he reportedly called Trump a “moron” — Acosta stepped up to the cable TV news plate to defend his standing. Trump, whose schedule was cleared on Wednesday afternoon, “pushed Acosta to hold the news conference to defend himself,” per my colleagues Kimberly Kindy, Felicia Sonmez, Ashley Parker, and Seung Min Kim. 

  • “Following the news conference, some in the White House said they believed Acosta started out strong — making a compelling case that he had pushed for a harsher prosecution of Epstein than he might have otherwise faced — but allowed the questioning to drag on for too long,” Kimberly, Felicia, Ashley, and Seung Min report. 

  • “Mr. Trump was assured by aides that Mr. Acosta did well during his news conference, and the president did not immediately signal disagreement, advisers said. But the case is acutely uncomfortable for Mr. Trump, who at one point in the past socialized with Mr. Epstein, a fellow denizen of wealthy circles in Palm Beach and Manhattan,” the New York Times's Katie Rogers, Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker report

“OUTSTANDING”: Acosta sought to put an end to the speculation that his days are numbered by claiming he has Trump's full support and that of acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, contrary to some media reports.

But Trump Cabinet secretaries and administration officials know all too well that job security in the Trump administration is ephemeral. Shortly after the presser, Vice President Pence offered a noticeably tepid statement after he was asked if Acosta has the confidence of the administration: 

  • “Well, every member of our Cabinet services at the pleasure of the President. But we were pleased to see Secretary Acosta step forward, explain the basis for the plea agreement that they reached in 2008 . . . And again, we will continue to call on and support in every appropriate way the full prosecution of this case against Jeffrey Epstein,” Pence told reporters. 
  • “We got to protect our kids. And we got to make it clear to those who would prey upon the children that there is no tolerance for sexual or physical abuse of our children,” Pence added. 

REMINDER: Epstein's case is unlikely to fade until an internal Justice Department investigation is completed into whether his team of prosecutors violated the Crime Victims Rights Act for failing to notify the victims of the plea deal. 

  • “District Judge Kenneth A. Marra was blunt, ruling that prosecutors had acted improperly in reaching the agreement with Epstein — which stopped federal action in exchange for him pleading guilty to a state charge — without telling the victims. Marra, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote in a 33-page ruling that the actions violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), which entitles victims to know about significant events in their cases,” my colleague Mark Berman reported in February. 

 

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Global Power

U.K. AMBASSADOR’S RESIGNATION CAUSES CHILL: “I know I’ve sent cables of a similar nature,” one European diplomat told our colleagues John Hudson and Karen DeYoung, summing up the feelings of many foreign diplomats in D.C. that they too have authored disparaging assessments of the Trump administration. British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch resigned Wednesday after his blunt and private messages back home became public.

  • On ice: “Darroch’s resignation has already prompted discussions in embassies about scaling back access to diplomatic cables and moderating the tone of assessments about the Trump administration’s handling of global and domestic affairs,” John and Karen write. “Powerful colleagues and friends of Darroch have also sought to keep their expressions of solidarity for the envoy private to avoid angering the U.S. president, though many admitted to sending similarly disparaging cables to their own capitals.”
  • ICYMI: Some of Darroch messages: “In one cable, the ambassador wrote: ‘We don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” our colleague William Booth reports. But Darroch also warned his compatriots not to underestimate Trump, ‘Do not write him off,’ he wrote. ‘Though mired in scandal,’ Trump could ‘emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of ‘The Terminator.’” 

It’s nothing personal: “In Washington, foreign diplomats are tasked with keeping a polite and respectful exterior while passing along classified cables that reveal a candid, worts-and-all view of the U.S. government. Senior British officials have said that job has become much harder in the aftermath of Darroch’s resignation,” John and Karen report. 

  • But not everyone is as blunt as the British: “Around the world, diplomats have different traditions for describing the flaws and features of foreign governments. One Asian diplomat, for instance, noted that Darroch’s dramatic prose, describing an American president whose career could end in ‘disgrace and downfall,’ would not fly in his country.”
  • Even if America does it too: “The United States experienced its own high-profile incident of sensitive cables becoming public with the 2010 WikiLeaks release of hundreds of thousands of State Department messages,” John and Karen write. “At the time, Americans appeared just as capable as their British counterparts of sharing flowery assessments of their host countries.” 
  • For example: “A 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, discussing who was really in charge in Russia — then-President Dmitry Medvedev or his predecessor, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — called Medvedev ‘Robin to Putin’s Batman,’ despite the fact that Medvedev was officially the senior partner.”

Dan Balz's take“The once 'special relationship' between the United States and Great Britain is in tatters, shredded by the fallout from the 2016 Brexit referendum and President Trump’s determination to intervene in the politics of another country,” Dan writesIf it improves, it likely will be on terms set by the president.

  • The last word from a former diplomat: “Nigel Sheinwald, a former British ambassador to the United States, called Trump’s treatment of Darroch 'vindictive and undignified,' adding that the president has repeatedly taken advantage of a government weakened by the Brexit stalemate,” Dan reports. 'This would never have happened under any other presidency in modern times and it shows the strains in the U.K.-U.S. relationship,' he said.”

On The Hill

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told my colleagues Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's running commentary on 'the Squad.' “But the persistent singling out . . . it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful . . . the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”

  • Some context: "The four are struggling with the speaker’s moves to isolate them in recent weeks, according to interviews with the lawmakers, congressional aides and allies. Pelosi has made at least half a dozen remarks dismissing the group or their far-left proposals on the environment and health care. More recently she scorned their lonely opposition to the party’s emergency border bill last month," per Rachael and Mike. 
  • And Pelosi doesn't take anything back: “I have no regrets about anything. Regrets is not what I do,” doubling down on her claim that the group has little power in the House.

POWELL’S TESTIMONY SETS RECORD FOR STOCKS: Trump may not still love Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell, but Wall Street sure does. “Powell hinted strongly Wednesday that [an interest rate] cut is likely to happen this month because Trump’s trade war and slowing growth abroad are starting to bite,” our colleague Heather Long reports. The Fed chair was on the Hill yesterday briefing lawmakers and said he wouldn't leave if Trump tried to oust him.

  • The record: “Wall Street is pricing in a near 100 percent probability of a reduction in interest rates at the Fed’s July 31 meeting. On Wednesday, U.S. stocks soared after Powell’s comments. The widely watched S&P 500 index crossed 3,000 for the first time and ended the day just shy of that level. The tech-heavy Nasdaq closed at a new record high,” Heather writes.
  • On the broader economy: “The U.S. economy is doing 'reasonably well,' Powell said, but he noted that business investment has 'slowed notably,' likely because of the uncertainty around trade and global growth,” Heather writes. “He also stressed that the economic gains have not been shared evenly by everyone. Hispanics, African Americans and people in rural communities continue to have a harder time finding jobs that pay well.”
  • He won’t back down: “When House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) asked Powell what he would do if the president told him to pack up and leave, Powell was clear he would not go,” Heather writes. “‘Of course I would not do that,’ Powell said. ‘What I’ve said is the law clearly gives me a four-year term and I clearly intend to serve it.’”
  • Kudlow says Powell is fine for now: “‘There is no effort to remove him. I will say that unequivocally at the present time. Yes, he’s safe,’ [White House economic adviser] Larry Kudlow said at a CNBC Capital Exchange event. ‘To be very clear, there are no plans presently to change Mr. Powell’s job or any of that sort of thing,’" Heather writes.

In the Agencies

CLIMATE NOT: "A State Department intelligence analyst has resigned in protest after the White House blocked portions of his written testimony to a congressional panel to exclude data and evidence on climate change and its threat to national security, State Department officials said," The Wall Street Journal's Timothy Puko and Warren Strobel scooped last night.

  • "The analyst, Rod Schoonover, prepared a written report citing peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and intelligence reports, which conclude that climate change could have wide-ranging national security impacts by contributing to increased humanitarian crises, competition for resources and risk of political instability." 
  • "White House officials allowed him to speak to the panel in June, but prohibited him from including evidence and data supporting his assessments in written testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last month, according to one of the officials familiar with the matter. That cut his written testimony by half, the official said. Ultimately, he didn’t submit a written statement to the panel, unlike two other government witnesses at the hearing," per Puko and Stroebel. 

In the Media

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