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BRR IT'S COLD IN HERE: President Trump is in danger of losing arguably his closest and most loyal foreign ally as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fights for his political life after failing to win a clear majority in Israel's national elections.
Netanyahu's reelection argument bet heavily on his strong relationship with the American president, but in Los Angeles, when asked about the deadlocked race, Trump distanced himself from the embattled prime minister. Trump specified that “our relations are with Israel” and not with one specific leader, adding that he had not spoken with the man he had previously described as a close friend.
“Trump only cares about one election, and it’s not Benjamin Netanyahu’s,” Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. adviser on Israeli and Palestinian issues, told my colleague Anne Gearan.
Dan Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, told Anne that Trump “wants little to do with a 'loser.'"
No clear path forward: The direction of the country is uncertain as Netanyahu and his chief rival, Benny Gantz, jockey to figure out partnerships to create a governing coalition. But Netanyahu on Thursday called on the former general to “set up a broad unity government, as soon as today,” according to Reuters's Jeffrey Heller.
- “The nation expects us, both of us, to demonstrate responsibility and that we pursue cooperation,” Netanyahu said. “During the election campaign, I called for the establishment of a right-wing government but to my regret, the election results show that this is impossible.”
- No dice: Gantz had no immediate response to Netanyahu's surprising offer; however, he has ruled out forming a unity government with Netanyahu at the helm due to looming corruption charges.
All this could mean the U.S.-Israel relationship is at a turning point: Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, is not just an institution in Israeli politics — he's been a fixture of Trump's own domestic politics as well. Trump, who recently said American Jews who vote for Democrats are being “very disloyal” to Israel, has aligned himself closely with Netanyahu's policies and is frequently praised by the Israeli leader.
- “Trump has run down a checklist of pro-Israel actions as president, most coordinated with Netanyahu,” Anne notes. “He inveighed against the nuclear deal and walked out of it last year. He upended decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. He inaugurated an effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians that did not set a sovereign Palestine as the end goal, and he installed an ambassador who had rhetorically and financially supported West Bank settlements.” And he has announced the U.S. would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
No Netanyahu-Trump meeting next week: Netanyahu's office announced that he will not be attending the United Nations General Assembly next week, where he was scheduled to meet with Trump on the sidelines.
The president's sudden cold shoulder toward Netanyahu “underscored Trump’s penchant for separating himself from political allies once they become weakened or could serve as a liability to him,” Anne writes. But the U.S. administration argued that Trump does not view Netanyahu as the linchpin to the U.S. relationship with Israel.
- “Our relationship is bigger than individuals,” an official said. “We had the worst possible relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, and that did not mean the relationship itself was at risk.”
- Rubber meets road: While Trump bet on Bibi as a political survivor, he “never saw Netanyahu as the only key to his own political fortunes with Jewish voters or conservatives for whom Iran’s ability to threaten Israel is a primary concern,” people who have spoken with Trump about Israeli politics told Anne.
- And change could be a good thing, Shapiro argued in an op-ed for The Post: Despite Trump and Netanyahu's close ties, a new “lower-profile Israeli leader will not lessen our cooperation, but it may make it easier to manage our differences in healthier proportions, with the U.S.-Israel relationship conducted by leaders on good terms, supported by professionals, without the dramatic highs and rancorous lows that have been such common features of the Netanyahu years.”
Next steps: Reporter Noga Tarnopolsky writes this morning that the outgoing White House envoy Jason Greenblatt arrives in Israel today and will meet separately with Netanyahu and Benny Gantz “to discuss the administration's long-anticipation but never before seen peace plan.”
- Netanyahu's operatives have discussed potentially triggering a third election to follow an already unprecedented second vote, but Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told our colleagues in Jerusalem, Steve Hendrix, James McAuley and Ruth Eglash, that a third vote is to be avoided.
- “The president will be guided by the need to form a government in Israel as quickly as possible and to implement the will of the people as expressed in the results of the election, as well as the need to avoid a third general election,” according to Rivlin's statement.
Reminder: There are high personal stakes for Netanyahu. “Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, is scheduled to hold a hearing Oct. 3 on three criminal cases in which police have recommended indicting Netanyahu. The prime minister has been seeking to win majority support for legislation granting him immunity,” per our colleagues.
- And the near-final results are perhaps evidence of Netanyahu fatigue: “Many Israelis have grown weary of Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, and their oldest son, Yair, who have gained a reputation of behaving more like a royal family than public servants. They have been embroiled in repeated scandals in which they allegedly mistreated employees, misused state funds or misbehaved in public,” per the Associated Press's Josef Federman.
A BOMBSHELL REPORT: "The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter," our colleagues Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Shane Harris colleagues scooped last night.
- New details: "Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a 'promise' that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly," our colleagues write.
- The fight inside the Intel community: "Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint was credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of 'urgent concern,' a legal threshold that ordinarily requires notification of congressional oversight committees."
- But Atkinson was blocked: "Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to share details about Trump’s alleged transgression with lawmakers, touching off a legal and political dispute that has spilled into public and prompted speculation that the spy chief is improperly protecting the president."
- What we don't know yet: "It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed."
TRUMP VOWS TO INCREASE SANCTIONS ON IRAN: U.S.-Iran tensions rose as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "decried the weekend attacks on the Saudi oil industry as an 'act of war' and [Trump] ordered a substantial increase in sanctions against the government in Tehran,” our colleagues Kareem Fahim, Carol Morello and John Wagner report.
- Trump continues to vacillate over his response: “One moment, he threatened to order 'the ultimate option' of a strike on Iran in retaliation for attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia,” the New York Times's Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt. “The next he ruminated about what a mistake it had been for the United States to get entangled in Middle East wars and welcomed Iran’s president to visit.” It all happened in the span of seven minutes on an airport tarmac.
- Meanwhile, Pompeo isn't mincing words: “The initial claim of responsibility for the weekend attacks by the Iranian-allied rebels, known as the Houthis, 'doesn’t change the fingerprints of the ayatollah as having put at risk the global energy supply,' Pompeo told reporters as he travels to Saudi Arabia," Kareem, Carol and John report.
- Iran has denied any role in the attack. U.S. and Saudi officials presented physical evidence and some details that they say bolster their claims, but they have yet to identify where the attacks originated.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION GUN PLAN LEAKS: Then the White House disowned it. “A leaked document outlining one Trump administration proposal to expand background checks on firearms sales prompted an uproar from the right on Wednesday — underscoring the significant challenges the White House will face on any additional gun restrictions it tries to advance in Congress,” our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Paul Kane and Josh Dawsey report.
- The National Rifle Association immediately dismissed the plan: “A White House spokesman denied that the document was a White House product — even though its top legislative official was briefing GOP senators on the plan’s details,” our colleagues write. Attorney General William Barr was also involved in briefing senators on the details.
- The plan is a one-page document outlining new requirements for background checks on all advertised commercial gun sales; it was first reported by the Daily Caller. It is similar to a bipartisan bill that Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in 2013 that failed to pass in a Democratic-controlled Senate.
- Key quote: “I don’t know who leaked it,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who discussed the proposal with Barr on Tuesday. “But obviously that wasn’t the idea.”
The real talk on how likely the White House is to get behind any proposal: “Even before details began to emerge this week, congressional Republicans had been struggling to unite behind a firearms plan, particularly with little direction from the mercurial Trump when it came to what kind of gun measures he would endorse,” Seung Min, Paul and Josh write. “One senior White House official said public rollout of a guns package was unlikely this week because of dissension within the administration.”
TRUDEAU'S 'BROWNFACE' PHOTO ADDS CHAOS TO CANADIAN ELECTION: "Justin Trudeau’s 2019 re-election campaign was rocked to its core Wednesday night with the stunning publication of a Time magazine news story and a photo showing the prime minister, then a teacher, wearing brownface makeup and a turban at a 2001 private school party — an act he said he now recognizes was 'racist,'" the Toronto Star's Alex Boutilier, Tonda MacCharles and Alex Ballingall report.
- Trudeau apologized '19 times': "At an unscheduled and nationally televised news conference on his plane on a Halifax tarmac, Trudeau apologized repeatedly, 19 times, in English and in French, saying he didn’t know it was the wrong thing to do at the time," per the Star. He did not respond directly when asked if he would resign.
- In a stunning twist, 2001 wasn't the only time Trudeau did something like this: "'When I was in high school I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day-O,’” Trudeau said, adding quickly, 'and put makeup on.' After Trudeau’s apology, The Star, along with other media, obtained a high school yearbook photo from Montreal’s College Brebeuf that shows Trudeau, dressed in blackface, bellbottoms, and a loud print jacket."
- The bad week for WeWork continues: "'This Is Not the Way Everybody Behaves.’ How Adam Neumann’s Over-the-Top Style Built WeWork." By the Wall Street Journal's Eliot Brown.
- This usually doesn't end well: "Kamala Harris bets it all on Iowa to break freefall." By Politico's Christopher Cadelago
- Come for the amazing story, stay for the mini profiles of the dogs. "How Michael Vick’s dogfighting case changed animal welfare." By our colleague Emily Giambalvo.
Members of Congress paid tribute to a Civil Rights icon on Wednesday: "American history books have often overlooked Standing Bear, but for millions of U.S. Capitol visitors, the Ponca chief will now be impossible to miss," the Omaha World-Herald's Joseph Morton writes of the dedication of the chief's statute in Statuary Hall.