Jeff Sessions’ Attack on the Media Is Worse Than You Think

Jeff Sessions is pictured. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Law And Order

Equating the free press to spies is dark and dangerous.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a press conference to announce how avidly the Department of Justice was going to investigate and prosecute leakers of classified national security information. From now on, he said, “the Department of Justice is open for business.” (An odd statement, to be sure, suggesting that it was previously closed.) Much of what he said was nothing new—really, administrations have been going after leakers for decades—but the way he said it was clever, and not for the reasons one might think.

It is important to remember that this speech is supposed to be about leaks to the media. The title of the official transcript of his remarks is “Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at Briefing on Leaks of Classified Materials Threatening National Security.” He starts out his remarks by condemning “the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country,” and explains that “no one is entitled to fight their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information.” So, he’s obviously talking about leaks to the media, right? That’s what the briefing’s about: fighting leaks to the media. We’re all on the same page.

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Except that it’s not about leaks to the media. For almost all of the remainder of his time, Sessions talks about “unauthorized disclosures of classified national security information” in general and mentions offhand that this term “includes leaks to both the media and in some cases even unauthorized disclosures to our foreign adversaries.” But he never mentions the media again until the very end, and all the middle is spent talking about criminal referrals involving unauthorized disclosures, featuring the remarkable statement, “And we have already charged four people with unlawfully disclosing classified material or with concealing contacts with foreign intelligence officers.” And it is that single sentence that makes Sessions’ push against leaks new, and very insidious.

So, who were those four people who have been already charged? Mike Sacks, national correspondent for EW Scripps, took a stab at guessing the four, and then reported that the Justice Department confirmed that he was half right. The four people already charged are Reality Winner, Kevin Mallory, Candace Claiborne and Harold Martin. We all know about Reality Winner – who was arrested for allegedly leaking classified information to The Intercept – but who are these other three? Well, Mallory is charged with giving classified information to China, Claiborne is charged with not reporting her contacts with Chinese agents she considered “spies,” and Martin methodically took home classified information over a 20-year career at the National Security Agency. So only one out of four of the people has any connection to the media. The other three are a definite spy, a maybe spy and a hoarder whose house poses a national security nightmare if anyone ever visits him. All three of these people would instantly be identified as “criminals who would illegally use their access to our most sensitive information to endanger our national security” who should be investigated and prosecuted.

Here’s the problem. By saying “I’m here to talk about leaks to the media,” and then talking about all sorts of other unlawful activities tied to classified information, Sessions has adroitly preyed on a logical fallacy we’ll call “false implication,” which is based on humans’ basic tendency to want to see patterns even where none exist. This is what happens when someone says two sentences that are both factually accurate, but have no relationship, yet are intended to imply a relationship. Imagine if a politician said, “Drugs are a huge problem in our country. More than 100,000 people died in our state last year alone.” You would not be faulted if you assumed that those 100,000 people died drug-related deaths, but that’s not what he said. It is quite possible that he preyed on this tendency and merely recounted the number of people who died, period. He has not lied, but he created a false implication. If the false implication is defamatory, he can even be sued for it; the law calls it “libel by omission.” So in this case, Sessions said he was talking about leakers to the media, then he talked about all the investigations into unlawful disclosures the department is conducting, then he mentioned four indictments for unlawful disclosures or retention, of which only one is a leaker. The implication he was going for is clear: All of these problems are the same.

Which brings us to the second part of the problem. Thinking that two dissimilar things are the same is called “false equivalence,” and it is, generally speaking, a bad thing. In this case, it is a very bad thing, because of the two sides he is seeking to equalize in the public’s mind. Because these fallacies operate on a subconscious level, the attorney general’s goal is to have people think “spy” when they hear “leaker,” but there is actually more to it than that. In order to think “spy” when you hear “leaker,” you have to also think “adversary” when you hear “media.” And once you have solidly established a cognitive link that “leaker = spy” and “media = adversary,” you are not very likely to want to curb leak investigations and prosecutions, because who is against prosecuting spies who give classified information to our adversaries?

Admittedly, this is a vast oversimplification of a very subtle and insidious process, but it is a process well-known to students of psychological operations and propaganda. The best way to combat such things is to shine the light on them for what they are. Magicians know that people stop falling for an illusion once the trick is explained, and this is no different. So we should take care to recognize this trick and fight against it.

Don’t get me wrong; leaking classified information to the media is illegal and it can result in harm to our national security. But recognizing that fact is a far cry from saying that leaking to a reporter is anything close to selling secrets to China: The two deserve to be treated differently. While it is true that the courts might decide to draw a line in the sand if the DOJ moves too far in this direction, they also might not, and even the courts’ hands are tied if new laws go into effect. Sessions is playing a long game here, and this is just him setting the public opinion foundation before he starts asking for more authorities to combat leaks. When he starts asking for those authorities, we the public need to be able to voice an informed opinion as to whether the threat of leakers is as great as he says it is, without confusing leakers with spies.

Kel McClanahan is executive director of National Security Counselors, a Maryland-based public interest law firm that specializes in national security law and information and privacy law, and through which he often represents intelligence community employees and contractors. He is also adjunct professor at the American University Washington College of Law, where he teaches national security law and practice.

Trump defends national security adviser HR McMaster amid calls for his firing

President Trump is standing up for his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, calling him a «good man» amid calls for his ouster by conservatives.

In a statement to CBS News on Friday, the president said, «General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very proIsrael. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.»

Mr. Trump first issued the statement to the New York Times in a story reporting that critics on the right were angered by McMaster’s move to push out several conservative staff members on the national security team who had been brought on by Michael Flynn, McMaster’s predecessor.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the 31-year old senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council (NSC), was ousted on Thursday.

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National security adviser H.R. McMaster listens during a daily briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House July 31, 2017 in Washington, D.C.   

Alex Wong / Getty Images

«He has determined that, at this time, a different set of experiences is best-suited to carrying that work forward,» a statement released by the White House said of Cohen-Watnick’s release. «General McMaster is confident that Ezra will make many further significant contributions to national security in another position in the administration.»

Last week, McMaster also removed Middle East director Derek Harvey from his position at the NSC due to a «difference in vision,» according to a White House source. Harvey was also hired by Flynn, whose short-lived tenure as national security adviser came to an end in February

McMaster has also drawn conservatives’ ire by advising against pulling out of the nuclear agreement with Iran without a clear strategy in place for what comes next.

The attacks directed at McMaster came from conservative news sites and grew on social media. The hashtag #FireMcMaster has been tweeted more than 50,000 times since Wednesday, the Times reported, including by accounts linked to Russian cyber operations.

The Times also reported that advisers have floated the idea of Mr. Trump reassigning McMaster to take over as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and installing current CIA director Mike Pompeo as national security adviser. 

Such a move would be yet another top-level staff change in Mr. Trump’s seven months in office — and would come shortly after the recent resignations and terminations within the White House communications department as well as the chief of staff post. 

Asked by Hugh Hewitt in an interview that aired Saturday on MSNBC, McMaster applauded the addition of Gen. John Kelly as Mr. Trump’s new chief of staff, saying he improves the west wing staff’s «ability to operate together as a team.»

«What we’ve been able to do is to evolve authorities back to where they belong. And instead of thinking about tactics, the next little move, we’ve been trying to view problem sets and opportunities through the lens of our vital national interests, establish goals. Imagine that. Establish goals for our– our foreign policy and national security strategies,» said McMaster. 

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

US Marines search for three servicemembers off Australia after aviation ‘mishap’

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE (Reuters) — The U.S. Marine Corps said on Saturday a search and rescue operation was underway for three servicemembers involved in an aviation «mishap» off the east coast of Australia, with 23 others rescued.

The incident involved an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, the III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, Japan said in a statement.

«The aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and was conducting regularly scheduled operations when the aircraft entered the water,» the statement said.

«The ship’s small boats and aircraft immediately responded in the search and rescue efforts.»

Australia’s defense minister said in a statement that no Australian Defence Force personnel were on board. The incident occurred off the coast of Shoalwater Bay, in the state of Queensland, the statement said.

U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft sit on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship off the coast of Sydney, Australia June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017.Jason Reed

Michael Augustus, a spokesman for Queensland Ambulance, said one person had been taken to Rockhampton hospital, but he gave no further details of the circumstances and no details of the person’s condition.

The defense minister, Marise Payne, said she had briefed the U.S. defense secretary and the Australian prime minister.

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The U.S. Marine Corps said the incident was under investigation but gave no additional information.

More than 33,000 U.S. and Australian military personnel, including the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, participated in the recent Talisman Saber joint military exercise in Australia which ended on July 25, according to a statement from the U.S. Army Public Affairs Office.

The exercise included participation from MV-22 Osprey practicing the deployment of U.S. Marine Corps reconnaissance teams.

Australia is a military ally of the United States.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook and Colin Packham in SYDNEY and Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE; Editing by Gareth Jones and Dale Hudson

Trump still has the bully pulpit, but is facing more challenges to his authority

Six months into his chaotic tenure, President Trump faces mounting challenges to his authority and influence, a downward slide that his allies hope newly installed Chief of Staff John F. Kelly can help to halt.

In recent weeks, Congress has moved on a number of fronts to curtail the president’s authority. Lawmakers passed legislation limiting his ability to lift sanctions on Russia and the Republican-controlled Senate will not formally adjourn this month to prevent Trump from making any recess appointments, a tactic usually employed when the president is from the opposite party. Amid increasing concerns about Trump’s attitude toward the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation this week aimed at preventing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III from being fired.

Trump is also facing the reality that his words — or tweets — are often not having their desired impact. Three Republican senators defied him and congressional leadership in opposing efforts to move the Republican health-care bill forward. His entreaties to lawmakers to delay their summer break and stay in Washington to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act were summarily ignored.

His unexpected announcement on Twitter that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military has been denounced by members of Congress in both parties and largely ignored by the military — for now. And this week, Trump was publicly chided for apparently inventing congratulatory calls from the leader of the Boy Scouts of America and the president of Mexico that never occurred.

“What we’re seeing today is that that system of checks and balances is now in total response to the Trump presidency and it’s coming from a lot of different directions — it’s coming from Congress, from people in the administration and others who are more openly rejecting what the president is doing,” said former defense secretary Leon Panetta, who was also White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. “The concern about that is that it weakens the power of the commander in chief as president.”

The next few weeks could afford the White House an opportunity to regroup, with a calmer political environment expected. Congress is on recess for the remainder of the month and the president is spending a couple of weeks at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

With the arrival of Kelly, there is hope among Trump’s supporters and aides that the retired Marine general can establish a sense of discipline and professionalism in the White House that could help halt a potentially dangerous slide in Trump’s influence.

“This is a potential turning point,” said one Republican adviser to the administration, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the White House. “And if it doesn’t work — if nothing really changes with the arrival of Kelly — then it seems to me that the spiral downward will continue, and it’s hard to see what will stop it.”

Other Trump allies maintain that the president, who ran as an outsider candidate, will ultimately be an outsider president. They have publicly and privately complained about the persistence of the “deep state” six months into Trump’s administration, even as Trump has grown more vocal in his criticism of his own party for failing to repeal and replace Obamacare and restricting his ability to alter sanctions aimed at Russia.

“You have to start with the idea that Trump won a hostile takeover of the Republican Party by beating 16 other candidates,” said former house speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), an informal adviser to Trump. “Then he won a hostile takeover of government by beating Hillary Clinton, and on both fronts there are people who have not accepted the outcome. He’ll spend all eight years of his administration dealing with that kind of hostility.”

Among the problems Kelly is focused on fixing is the way Trump makes decisions on key issues, including by better policing access to the Oval Office. Already, it has had some impact as aides have now taken to giving Kelly control over paperwork and advice before it reaches the president, according to a person who is in regular touch with the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“He knows the problems. He knows how difficult it’s going to be,” said Panetta, who has spoken with Kelly this week. “It’s like being dropped into the middle of a combat zone.”

More difficult will be reining in the infighting among staff, and there is little expectation that Kelly will try to temper the impulse of the president to lash out at his perceived enemies, a pattern of behavior that has fueled the perception among some Republicans that the White House is spiraling out of control.

In Congress, the willingness to defy Trump has grown as lawmakers get closer to grappling with their own reelection prospects.

In an essay this week, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic who is up for reelection in 2018, issued a call for his colleagues in the Senate to do more to stand up to Trump.

“Under our Constitution, there simply are not that many people who are in a position to do something about an executive branch in chaos,” Flake wrote. “Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, ‘Someone should do something!’ without seeming to realize that that someone is us.”

While there is little evidence that Flake’s colleagues are ready to heed his advice and speak out more forcefully against Trump, the Republican Congress is steadily chipping away at Trump’s discretion on some issues involving defense and foreign policy. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, for instance, approved the Taylor Force Act, a bipartisan bill that would reduce aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continued to make payments to the families of terrorists. But the bill would not allow the president to use a national-security waiver on this issue if he felt it would help negotiations in the Middle East, which one foreign-policy expert described as a “boilerplate escape hatch” that is typically given to presidents.

Some Republicans have simply resorted to openly defying or brushing off the president, despite his warning that there might be repercussions for resisting his agenda. After Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke warned Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that her state’s interests would suffer if she didn’t fall in line, she voted against the Republicans’ “skinny” health-care repeal bill anyway and shrugged off the threat of “a tweet from the president” in an interview with CNN this week.

Meanwhile, the rest of Trump’s legislative agenda remains in limbo, including proposals on tax reform and infrastructure.

“They have so squandered the bully pulpit the first six months of his presidency that he has little influence left,” said John Weaver, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “When he has roughly 35 percent approval rating he’s under active FBI and special prosecutor investigation and he can’t get anything through a Republican Congress, none of this should be surprising.”

Trump Seeks to Rally Political Base as Mueller Probe Accelerates

As a special counsel investigation into his campaign accelerates, President Donald Trump and his allies are trying to rally his political base with warnings that any outcome other than vindication will be an attempt to thwart the will of voters.

“They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you won with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most importantly demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Huntington, West Virginia, Thursday night. “I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one.”

He followed up Friday morning on his Twitter account by highlighting a cable news commentator predicting a national “uprising” if a member of Trump’s family is indicted.

Trump is going on the offensive in seeking to cast the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s campaign in political terms following revelations that special counsel Robert Mueller is using a federal grand jury in Washington to help collect information on Russia’s interference and possible collusion by Trump associates.

The president has reached out to his political base in recent weeks as his legislative agenda has stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House has been wracked by turmoil and turnover. His approval numbers have fallen below 40 percent in five recent polls that also show some erosion of his support from all but the most loyal Republicans.

Friendly Territory

In politically friendly territory like West Virginia Thursday night and on sympathetic cable shows, Trump is finding support at a time when he has complained that traditional allies have deserted him.

Trump on Friday reposted a tweet from the account of Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” program, with a video clip of an interview with Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News personality and former judge, who was asked about the grand jury’s involvement in the Russia investigation.

“My concern is if they end up with an indictment against a family member just to, you know, get at Donald Trump when they couldn’t get at him, there’s going to be an uproar, a real uprising in this country,” Pirro said in the clip, which Trump highlighted to his 35 million followers.

‘Crazy Story’

Two speakers at Thursday night’s rally also embraced Trump’s theme that the idea of Russia having helped his campaign is a “fabrication” being pushed by his critics and should be dismissed. Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump told the crowd it is a “crazy story.”

“The same people who gave us fake polls the entire election, those are the people pushing that story, so keep that in mind,” Lara Trump said as she kicked off the event.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, a Trump supporter, asked, “Have we not heard enough about the Russians?”

In recent weeks, Mueller expanded the focus of his probe to examine a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

Kushner, Manafort

Investigators also are looking into the business dealings of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, according to two other people familiar with the investigation. All of the people spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the continuing probe.

Mueller also has asked the White House to preserve all communications related to a June 2016 meeting during which the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort met with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer, Rinat Akhmetshin.

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said in a statement issued by the White House Thursday that he wasn’t aware that Mueller was using a Washington grand jury.

“The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly” and “is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller,” Cobb said, adding, “we have no reason to believe” that Trump is under investigation personally.

At Thursday night’s rally, Trump put the investigation into personal terms for his voters.

“Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign,” Trump said. “We didn’t win because of Russia, we won because of you.”

— With assistance by Jennifer Jacobs, Chris Strohm, and Shannon Pettypiece

Behind Donald Trump’s off-the-charts West Virginia popularity

The Daily 202: Mueller impaneling a grand jury makes it more politically difficult for Trump to fire him

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Last night’s news that Robert S. Mueller III has begun using a grand jury in federal court in Washington, as part of his investigation into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, further boxes in the president and makes it more politically difficult to justify firing the special counsel.

— If President Trump ever lost the support of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), he just might be doomed. A former state House speaker, Tillis is a reliable Republican apparatchik whose vote party leadership can count on. So it was a big deal yesterday when he introduced legislation with a Democratic colleague, Chris Coons (Del.), to prevent Trump from firing Mueller without cause.

Tillis, known as a savvy political strategist, is clearly thinking ahead to what he realizes will be a very difficult reelection campaign in 2020. “It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” he said in a news release.

The first-term senator toppled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in one of the nastiest and most expensive races of the 2014 midterm cycle. Trump carried the Tar Heel State last November by 4 points, and everyone expects it will be one of the key battlegrounds next time. “Our polls and others have found that Tillis has never been able to strengthen his position after going into office unpopular on the heels of winning a ‘lesser of two evils’ election where he got by largely based on the political climate,” said Raleigh-based Democratic pollster Tom Jensen, who runs Public Policy Polling. “The landscape is likely to be a lot different in 2020 unless things really turn around for the Trump administration, so it’s wise for Tillis to take steps that might make him look like ‘not just another Republican’ to appeal to Democrats and independents. Democrats still have about a 10-point registration advantage in North Carolina. So some reasonable threshold of crossover support is necessary for Tillis to win, and he hasn’t done a lot since getting elected that crosses across party lines. This seems like a smart step in that direction for him.”

North Carolina’s other Republican senator, Richard Burr, has already been leading the intelligence committee’s inquest into Russian interference. And many in the state remain proud of the role that the late Sen. Sam Ervin famously played during the Watergate investigation.

— Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced a separate proposal of their own yesterday to protect Mueller. “The two proposals … each seek to check the executive branch’s ability to fire a special counsel, by putting the question to a three-judge panel from the federal courts. They differ in when that panel gets to weigh in on the decision,” Karoun Demirjian explains. “Tillis and Coons’ proposal would let the firing proceed according to current regulations … but the fired special counsel would have the right to contest the administration’s decision in court. In that scenario, the judges panel would have two weeks from the day the special counsel’s case is filed to complete their review and determine whether the termination was acceptable. … Both senators, as well as Graham, said they expect they may merge their efforts after lawmakers return to Washington in September. … The lawmakers are not expecting that the president will like or support either proposal … But they say they are convinced that there is enough support to pass such a law, even over Trump’s objections.

— Just how little do Senate Republicans trust Trump at this point? Before adjourning for summer recess yesterday afternoon, the chamber agreed by unanimous consent to block the president from being able to make any recess appointments while they’re out of town.

This was done so that Trump cannot fire Jeff Sessions as attorney general and then appoint someone without Senate confirmation who would be willing to fire Mueller. Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe after not being forthcoming during his confirmation hearing about contacts he had during the campaign with the Russian government. That leaves the decision over whether to fire Mueller to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who says he would not do it without cause. But if Trump replaced Sessions with a new AG who was not conflicted out, that person could ax Mueller.

To head that off, GOP leaders scheduled nine “pro-forma” sessions over the next month. In other words, the Senate will be gaveled in for roughly a minute or so every three days between now and when lawmakers return after Labor Day. Legally this means that they will not be adjourned, The Hill explains.

Republicans used this same tactic last year to prevent Barack Obama from trying to put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court with a recess appointment.

— Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a friend of Sessions, already said last week that he would not make time in the Senate schedule to consider a new attorney general nominee.

— There are other reasons that Sessions also appears safe for now. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called the AG on Saturday to tell him that his job is secure, per the Associated Press. He reassured him that the president does not plan to go through with firing him, even though he just spent the better part of two weeks publicly pressuring him to resign almost every day. If Trump tried to oust Mueller, would Gen. Kelly really put his own integrity on the line and be a party to that? Or would he pack his bags?

— Trump is Trump, though, so you can never say never.

During a rally in West Virginia last night, the defiant president dismissed allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia as “a total fabrication.” “It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics,” he said. “Trump made no mention of Mueller in his remarks but seemed to reference his and congressional investigations into the matter, saying: ‘I just hope the final determination is truly an honest one,’” per John Wagner. “He said that instead of looking at his campaign, prosecutors should be looking into his Democratic opponent from last year … The crowd chanted ‘lock her up!’ in return.

— Reacting to reports about the grand jury on Fox News last night, meanwhile, Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow insisted that “the president is not thinking about firing Robert Mueller.” “So the speculation that’s out there is just incorrect,” he told Neil Cavuto.

Every time a Trump lawyer or White House official says something like that publicly, it’s harder to justify getting rid of Mueller down the road. A good case would be made that the president changed his mind because of some meaningful development in the investigation. That would look like Trump is trying to interfere with the justice system, which would further inflame public opinion against him. Again, that doesn’t mean the president would not take his chances and try such a gambit if he was really desperate. But there’s now a batch of clips like this one from Sekulow on Fox that would be difficult to explain away.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GRAND JURY:

— The Wall Street Journal’s Del Quentin Wilber and Byron Tau scooped that Mueller impaneled the grand jury several weeks ago and described it as “a sign that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is ramping up and that it will likely continue for months”: “Before Mr. Mueller was tapped in May to be special counsel, federal prosecutors had been using at least one other grand jury, located in Alexandria, Va., to assist in their criminal investigation of Michael Flynn … That probe, which has been taken over by Mr. Mueller’s team, focuses on Mr. Flynn’s work in the private sector on behalf of foreign interests. ‘This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel,’ said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck. ‘If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.’”

— Reuters added that the grand jury has already agreed to issue subpoenas in connection with the June 2016 meeting that included Trump’s son, son-in-law and a Russian lawyer. Karen Freifeld and John Walcott did not specify who specifically got the subpoenas.

— The Post swiftly confirmed the Journal’s reporting. Carol D. Leonnig, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky elaborate: “A White House adviser said the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had not received subpoenas, nor had the White House. Members of the president’s legal team met with Mueller three weeks ago to express their desire to work with his investigators. Ty Cobb, whom Trump appointed as White House special counsel, said of the grand jury: ‘This is news to me, but it’s welcome news to the extent it suggests that it may accelerate the resolution of Mr. Mueller’s work. The White House has every interest in bringing this to a prompt and fair conclusion. As we’ve said in the past, we’re committed to cooperating fully with Mr. Mueller.’

“In federal cases, a grand jury is not necessarily an indication that an indictment is imminent or even likely. Instead, it is a powerful investigative tool that prosecutors use to compel witnesses to testify or force people or companies to turn over documents.”

Carol, Sari and Matt outline four reasons Mueller might have chosen to use a grand jury in the District, instead of sticking with the one in Alexandria, Va.:

  1. The special counsel’s office is located in Southwest D.C. — much closer to the federal courthouse in the city …  
  2. Mueller also had previously worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C., giving him some familiarity with the courthouse and the judges …
  3. Many of the potential crimes Mueller’s team is investigating would have occurred in the District, such as allegations that Trump aides or advisers made false statements in disclosure records or lied to federal agents. The Post has previously reported that Mueller is investigating whether the president tried to obstruct justice leading up to his firing of (James) Comey. …
  4. “Others said the choice could reflect Mueller’s reputation for planning ahead and gaming out a possible trial. He could have better chances convicting aides to Trump in a city in which 90 percent of voters supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.”

— Federal investigators “have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward,” CNN’s Evan Perez, Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz also reported yesterday: “Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies. … Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel … The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said. … [The] FBI is reviewing financial records related to the Trump Organization, as well as Trump, his family members, including Donald Trump Jr., and campaign associates. They’ve combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen years. They’ve looked at the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump surrounding the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. CNN could not determine whether the review has included his tax returns.”

— Meanwhile, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told several top officials at the bureau to consider themselves “possible witnesses” in any investigation into whether Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. Vox’s Murray Waas reports: “McCabe has told colleagues that he too is a potential witness in the probe of whether Trump broke the law by trying to thwart the FBI’s Russia investigation … Two senior federal law enforcement officials have told me that the new revelations illustrate why they believe the potential case against Trump is stronger than outsiders have thought. ‘What you are going to have is the potential for a powerful obstruction case,’ a senior law enforcement official said. ‘You are going to have the [former] FBI director testify, and then the acting director, the chief of staff to the FBI director, the FBI’s general counsel, and then others, one right after another. This has never been the word of Trump against what [Comey] has had to say. This is more like the Federal Bureau of Investigation versus Donald Trump.’”

— “Flynn filed an amended federal financial disclosure report late Thursday providing new details about his contracts with the Trump presidential transition, a company connected to an Iranian American businessman, and the parent company of a data science firm that worked for the Trump campaign,” Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold report. In a letter accompanying the revised disclosure, Flynn says his initial disclosure reports were filed under “rushed circumstances,” and were not afforded customary consultation and review by White House counsel and the Office of Government Ethics, since he was no longer a White House employee at the time.

  • “In a previous disclosure … Flynn reported receiving nearly $68,000 in fees and expenses from Russia-related entities in 2015. In addition to the Russia-related income, Thursday’s filing showed that Flynn received at least $5,000 as a consultant to a project to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East.
  • “The updated disclosure also confirms that Flynn had agreed to work with the SCL Group, at the time the British parent company of Cambridge Analytica, a data science company [was] hired by [Trump’s] campaign. One of Cambridge’s main financiers is [Robert Mercer].”
  • “The largest source of income disclosed is $140,000 for Flynn’s work as an adviser and consultant to Minneapolis-based NJK Holding Corp. That firm is led by Nasser Kazeminy, an Iranian-born businessman now living in the United States.” (For context, Flynn received about $28,000 from the Trump presidential transition.) “NJK funds a technology firm called GreenZone Systems to which Flynn serves as vice chairman,” Tom and Matea report. “GreenZone is led by Bijan Kian, Flynn’s business partner in Flynn Intel, a company now under scrutiny for its role in lobbying work for a Dutch-based business linked to the government of Turkey.”

— Marc Kasowitz, the New York lawyer whose role has been downsized but continues to represent Trump in the Russia investigations, has also been retained by Sberbank — a Russian state bank being sued in federal district court in Manhattan. The New York Times’s Andrew E. Kramer reports: “The bank is being sued by a Russian businessman, Sergey P. Poymanov, who has sparred with it for years in Russian courts. … The potential for Russia’s meddling elsewhere — in American courts — has raised concerns among Mr. Poymanov’s lawyers, who are not convinced that Mr. Kasowitz’s ties to Mr. Trump played no role in Sberbank’s choosing him.»

HOW LAST NIGHT’S NEWS IS PLAYING ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

From the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: 

The former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who got fired after being told by Trump that he’d be kept on, said impaneling a grand jury is to be expected:

From the chief ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House from 2005 to 2007:

From a former spokesman in Obama’s Justice Department:

Many rank-and-file House Democrats had a field day. From a Texas congressman who has been calling for Trump’s impeachment:

From a California Democrat:  

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— The Secret Service has vacated its command post inside Trump Tower in New York following a lease dispute between the federal government and the Trump Organization, which the president still controls. Carol D. Leonnig, David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell scooped last night: “Previously, the Secret Service had stationed its command post — which houses supervisors and backup agents on standby in case of an emergency — in a Trump Tower unit one floor below the president’s apartment. But in early July, the post was relocated to a trailer on the sidewalk, more than 50 floors below, a distance that some security experts worry could hamper the agency that protects the president’s home and family. The details of the dispute … were not clear Thursday. Two people familiar with the discussions said the sticking points included the price and other conditions of the lease.” On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization said the government should seek space in another location.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Iran cast new U.S. sanctions on the country as a “violation” of the nuclear deal, promising to respond in kind to what it calls American aggression. (Erin Cunningham)
  2. Two U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan this week after their convoy was hit by an explosive-packed vehicle. The Pentagon identified the soldiers as paratroopers on their first deployment. They are the eighth and ninth Americans killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan this year. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
  3. Fourteen Saudi Shiites accused of staging protests in the kingdom have been charged with terrorism and are now facing execution. But human rights activists have argued the minority Shiites confessed under torture, and they’ve launched a public appeal to Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince to dismiss the sentences. (Sudarsan Raghavan)
  4. Michelle Carter, the 20-year-old whose texts and phone calls pushed her boyfriend to suicide, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Lawyers have said her case could have national implications as courts grapple with how to approach such interactions in the digital age. (Lindsey Bever and Kristine Phillips)
  5. Authorities will start allowing tourists to cross the bridge into North Carolina’s Outer Banks again at noon today. The vacation spot has been vacant since a major power outage caused chaos and evacuations. (Sarah Kaplan)
  6. Police are searching for a Northwestern University professor and a University of Oxford employee who are accused of killing a hairstylist in Chicago last week before skipping town. The case has attracted international attention, although it is unclear what connection the employees of the elite universities have to one another or to the victim. (Andrew deGrandpre)
  7. Sean Spicer has reportedly turned down an offer to join “Dancing with the Stars.” Sources close to him cited too many fall commitments, but one person noted, “He’s not a good dancer.” (TMZ)

PARTY SWITCHER:

— During Trump’s rally last night in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice announced that he was switching his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican. Abby Phillip reports: “‘The Democrats walked away from me,’ Justice told the crowd of thousands gathered[.] … ‘I can’t help you any more being a Democrat governor.’ ‘As a coach, I would tell you that it’s time to run another play,’ he added. Justice, who until 2015 was registered as a Republican, is one of the last remaining Democrats elected to statewide positions in the state. Trump won West Virginia by 42 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton. … After being brought to the stage in the middle of Trump’s rally, Justice praised Trump as a ‘great president.’ He also touted his relationships with Trump’s children, including Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom he said he has gotten to know personally.”

“Justice’s announcement was made under virtual secrecy, according to Democratic Party officials, who said that the governor did not inform the party nor did he inform his own staff before the news became public. Democrats blasted Justice’s announcement and suggested that the coal and hospitality executive was influenced by his personal financial interest — to say nothing of his political ones — when he made the switch. … The switch would be the first time that a Democratic governor has switched to the Republican Party since 1991. … With Justice’s defection, Republicans now control 34 governor’s mansions and Democrats, only 15.”

— With Justice’s move, the current number of Republican governors stands at a record high. (Amber Phillips)

— West Virginia’s senators had distinct reactions to the announcement:

  • Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (up for reelection next year): “I have been and always will be a proud West Virginia Democrat. I am disappointed by Governor Justice’s decision to switch parties. While I do not agree with his decision, I have always said that I will work with anyone, no matter their political affiliation, to do what is best for the people of West Virginia.”
  • Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito: “The Republican Party represents the future of West Virginia. … As the lead Republican in West Virginia, I stand ready to work with him …”

— Trump has long been popular in West Virginia, which is why the president chose to hold a rally there and what made the event so perfect for Justice’s surprise announcement. Jenna Johnson reports: “[West Virginia is] the first place where [Trump] hit No. 1 in a poll of possible presidential contenders in 2011, when he considered running but did not. When Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee in May 2016, he celebrated with a rally in West Virginia’s largest city, Charleston. … Hours before the doors opened for the rally Thursday, hundreds of Trump supporters from miles around gathered in downtown Huntington — and weathered a torrential rainstorm that hit late in the afternoon.”

— Trump last night pledged to “solve” the opioid epidemic, which has devastated Huntington. The town made headlines last year after 26 overdoses occurred in less than three hours. (STAT’s Andrew Joseph)

THE GENERAL TAKES OVER:

— In his first week as chief of staff, John Kelly has quickly moved to impose military discipline on the White House — with a suddenness and force that has “upended” the West Wing status quo. The New York Times’s Glenn Thrush, Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan report: “Mr. Kelly cuts off rambling advisers midsentence. He listens in on conversations between cabinet secretaries and the president. He has booted lingering staff members out of high-level meetings, and ordered the doors of the Oval Office closed to discourage strays. He … has demanded that even Mr. Trump’s family, including [Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner], check with him if they want face time with the president…

“Mr. Kelly, 67, has told his new employees that he was hired to manage the staff, not the president. He will not try to change Mr. Trump’s Twitter or TV-watching habits. But he has also said he wants to closely monitor the information the president consumes … and limit the posse of people urging Mr. Trump to tweet something they feel passionately about. He has privately acknowledged that he cannot control the president … Instead, he is intent on cosseting Mr. Trump with bureaucratic competence and forcing staff members to keep to their lanes.”

— “Several times I’ve been on phone conversations with the president over the last couple of days and General Kelly has been on those conversations as well,” OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Thursday.

— Kelly’s extensive military experience likely prepared him to work with civilian officials – but not necessarily Trump. Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports: “There’s a significant difference between learning to protect and respect US institutions and knowing how to, say, mobilize moderate Republicans to support the agenda of an increasingly unpopular president. General school, and serving at the summit of military command, doesn’t necessarily prepare a leader for the realities of legislative tactics and political combat. … Also good judgment — from a general’s perspective — doesn’t always sync with Trump’s favored mode of decision-making, or his decisions.”

— “Empowered by a new chief of staff and goosed by a president angry with a perceived lack of creativity, [H.R. McMaster] is sweeping out some of the White House’s most fervent ideologues,” the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng and Kimberly Dozier report: “But McMaster has to move fast … The hardline nationalists at the core of Trump’s political base have declared war on the president’s top national security aide, and his own role is by no means secure. ‘The president hasn’t liked the plans he’s been presented on Iran, Afghanistan, or ISIS,’ one of the officials [said]. ‘The process hasn’t worked like it should,’ to produce the innovative plans [Trump] tasked his team with crafting … So McMaster has been removing anyone on his team who either obstructed his own vision or had trouble rallying the other agencies around particular policy … The firings buy McMaster time to put his own people in place, but if he doesn’t come up with new plans quickly, his own role is at risk.”

— Kelly’s arrival has provided McMaster with some much-needed cover. Politico’s Bryan Bender, Josh Dawsey and Nahal Toosi report: “Kelly told McMaster this week that he wanted him to remain as national security adviser, said two senior White House aides, and has encouraged him to make any staffing changes he deems necessary. … [McMaster] has been an increasingly volatile presence in the West Wing[.] … McMaster has bristled at White House aides close to Trump whom he perceives as undercutting his authority. He seethes over every national security leak and lashes out over negative news stories he thinks are spread by his enemies. And McMaster, whose temper is legendary, frequently blows his top in high-level meetings. … The officials also said that McMaster fumes that he believes [Steve] Bannon is responsible for leaking negative information about him to the news media — including via Breitbart.com[.]”

— McMaster has concluded that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, did nothing wrong in her “unmasking” requests of Trump officials, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported yesterday. And Circa, a conservative outlet that has earned a reputation as carrying water for certain factions in the White House, reports that McMaster sent Rice a letter during the last week of April, informing her that she could keep her security clearance, and waiving her “need-to-know” requirement on anything she viewed or received during her tenure. The leak was almost certainly orchestrated by someone who is anti-McMaster and wants to sideline him.

HOW TRUMP TALKS WHEN HE’S NOT AT RALLIES:

— The Post obtained two transcripts from Trump’s calls with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which provide an unfiltered glimpse of Trump’s approach to the diplomatic aspect of his job. (It’s really worth taking the time to read the full transcripts here.)

In his first call with Mexico’s president, Trump described his vow to charge Mexico for his proposed border wall as a “political problem,” and pressured the leader to stop saying publicly that his country would “never pay.” Greg Miller scoops: «‘You cannot say that to the press,’ Trump said repeatedly, according to a transcript of the Jan. 27 call … Trump made clear that he realized the funding would have to come from other sources but threatened to cut off contact if [Peña Nieto] continued to make defiant statements. The funding ‘will work out in the formula somehow,’ Trump said, adding later that ‘it will come out in the wash, and that is okay.’ But ‘if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.’ He described the wall as ‘the least important thing we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important.’

“Trump seemed to acknowledge that his threats to make Mexico pay had left him cornered politically. ‘I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to,’ he said. ‘I have been talking about it for a two-year period.’ When Peña Nieto resisted, Trump said, ‘But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that, and I cannot live with that.’”

He also lashed out at the Mexican leader over the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, complaining to Peña Nieto that America has a “massive drug problem” because “drugs are being sold for less money than candy.” He added: “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den.” (Hillary won New Hampshire in the general election.)

— Trump’s call the following day with Australia’s prime minister was even more contentious. What started out as a cordial exchange quickly devolved into a blistering one over a U.S. agreement enacted under Obama to accept refugees from Australian detention centers. «‘I hate taking these people,’ Trump told Turnbull. ‘I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people …’” At one point, Trump suggests the refugees could “become the Boston bomber in five years.” “I think it is a horrible deal, a disgusting deal that I would have never made,” Trump said. “As far as I am concerned, that is enough, Malcolm. I have had it.”

— New Hampshire political leaders of both parties expressed outrage about Trump calling their state “a drug-infested den”: “The President is wrong,” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement Thursday … “It’s disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer.” And all four members of the congressional delegation rejected the comments, with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) urging the president to “follow through on his promise” to help end the opioid crisis. “It’s absolutely unacceptable for the President to be talking about NH in this way — a gross misrepresentation of NH & the epidemic,” she tweeted. 

— Trump’s statement also grossly misrepresents the crisis that New Hampshire is facing. Christopher Ingraham explains: “The state does indeed have a serious drug problem — in 2015, New Hampshire was second only to West Virginia in its rate of drug overdose deaths[.] … But the drugs driving that spike are primarily produced not in Mexico, but in China.”

— The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called for a congressional investigation of how the transcripts got leaked. Sen. Mark Warner described the leaking as “absolutely” troubling. (The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein)

TRUMP’S AGENDA:

— A group of Republican senators, led by Majority Whip John Cornyn (Tex.), proposed a $15 billion project to bolster border security.The legislation … comes as a rebuke to the president for his singular focus on getting a border wall built and getting Mexico to pay for it,” Karoun Demirojian reports. “It also comes as a rejection of the House GOP leaders, who recently pledged to fully fund Trump’s wall, approving the first $1.6 billion installment on it as part of the House’s recently passed defense authorization bill. … The legislation also gives Republican lawmakers an immigration platform to latch onto that has enjoyed widespread support in the past[.]”

— Trump has decided to postpone an announcement on trade with China that was scheduled for today. Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Tara Palmeri and Doug Palmer report: “Sources previously [said] Trump was slated to hold an event at the White House on Friday in which he would direct U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to open an investigation … over what the administration views as Chinese violations of U.S. intellectual property rights and forced technology transfer. … Although Trump is still expected to instruct Lighthizer to carry out the investigation as early as next week, his administration has been marked by several delays on the trade front.”

— The EPA said it has reversed a decision to put off the Oct. 1 implementation of an Obama-era ozone rule, a move that comes one day after 16 states sued over the delay. Darryl Fears reports: “With no mention of the challenges from states such as California, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, [EPA head Scott Pruitt] … said in a statement that he would now work ‘with the states through the complex designation process.’ In the statement, Pruitt asserted that the Clean Air Act gave his agency ‘the flexibility to allow one additional year for sufficient information to support ozone designations,’ and said he might take ‘future action to use its delay authority.’”

BYE BYE CONGRESS:

— Despite its flurry of activity yesterday, the Senate begins summer recess today with no major legislation under its belt despite GOP control of all three branches of government. Sean Sullivan reports: “By their own accounts, Republicans have failed to enact the ambitious agenda they embarked upon when Trump and the GOP majorities swept into power in January. The president has fallen well short of the legislative pace his two predecessors set in their first six months on the job. The lack of a signature accomplishment Republican lawmakers can highlight at home this month has given rise to a new level of finger-pointing and soul-searching in a party that stood triumphant eight months ago after winning back full control of the federal government. … Now, there is a tension about the way forward.”

— “This is not how Mitch McConnell wanted to head into recess,” writes Paul Kane: “Soon after Memorial Day, [McConnell] drew up a game plan around approving a rewrite of the Affordable Care Act by the end of June. … Also, McConnell wanted to create separation between the conclusion of the health-care debate and the start of the annual August recess, providing the month of July to rack up victories on other legislative matters. … Instead, everything got consumed by the health-care storm, which culminated in the bill failing by a single vote last week. … When they return after Labor Day, Republicans have to tackle several must-pass bills to fund federal agencies and to increase the Treasury’s borrowing authority. … That leaves October, maybe, for the point to legislative offense, particularly on the bid to overhaul the tax code. … But by every possible measure, the Senate has been a shell of its former legislative self this year.

— The Republicans are also leaving Washington with no consensus on a way forward on health care. Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn and Paul Demko report: “Senate leaders want to just drop the issue altogether. Conservatives say they’re still fighting for repeal. Moderates want to launch a bipartisan effort to fix the shaky Obamacare system. … The August recess will mark the first time lawmakers have been home for an extended period since the repeal effort collapsed in the Senate. After seven years of campaigning against the law, this break marks the first time in nearly a decade that the GOP hasn’t aligned its talking points against the Affordable Care Act.”

— “Right-to-try” legislation unanimously sailed through the Senate yesterday. The measure is designed to make it easier for terminally ill patients to access experimental treatments without FDA oversight. The bill, which is now heading to the House for a vote, would bar the government from blocking patients from getting access to medications that have undergone only preliminary testing in humans. (Laurie McGinley)

— The Senate voted to confirm three of Trump’s ambassadors before leaving town. Politico’s Paul Dallison reports: “Former Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas will be the U.S. ambassador to NATO … Richard Wood Johnson IV — known as Woody … was confirmed as the ambassador to the U.K. Johnson, whose father was president of pharma giant Johnson & Johnson, was a supporter of Jeb Bush in the race for the White House but switched allegiance to Trump in May 2016 … George Edward Glass will be ambassador to Portugal. Glass is owner of a firm in Oregon which purchases and operates apartment complexes and rental homes, and a Republican donor. According to the Portuguese American Journal, Glass ‘visited Portugal once.’” Meanwhile, financier Lewis Eisenberg was confirmed as envoy to Italy and San Marino.”

— The Senate voted to confirm two FCC nominees, approving Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Brendan Carr for seats on the commission. Lawmakers have not yet reconfirmed GOP Chairman Ajit Pai to another term. (Politico)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

— Trump blamed Congress for deteriorating relations with Russia, not Vladimir Putin. The president’s criticisms, which came one day after he begrudgingly signed legislation imposing new sanctions on Moscow, caused an uproar on Capitol Hill. John Wagner and Karoun Demirjian report“Lawmakers from both parties pushed back against Trump’s tweet Thursday. Those included Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who pinned blame for the deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship ‘solely’ on [Putin]. ‘I know there’s some frustration. I get it,’ Corker said, speaking of Trump’s reaction to the sanctions bill. ‘We acted in the country’s national interest in doing this. Putin, through his actions, is the one who has taken this relationship back to levels we haven’t seen since 1991.’ Those actions, Corker said, include ‘an affront to the American people’ by meddling in last year’s presidential election. Lawmakers’ solidarity in tying Trump’s hands on Russian sanctions reflects a deepening concern about the White House’s posture toward Moscow.”

— Meanwhile, Russia and its proxy, Bashar al-Assad, are attempting to poach U.S.-backed fighters in southern Syria — an apparent bid to oust the coalition from a strategic piece of land that is critical to the future of the region. CNN’s Ryan Browne reports: “So far, the coalition says there has only been ‘less than a handful’ of defections from the US-backed Maghawir al-Thawra group, one of the larger units based at At Tanf. … US Army Col. Ryan Dillon [said] one of the defectors was actively attempting to recruit his former comrades … but added that those efforts were having no measurable success to date. … (One official said) that the leader of the recruitment effort … has promised would-be recruits positions in the regime’s armed forces as they clear their homelands in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. This has has prompted the US military to be concerned about more defections in the future given that the regime has blocked the coalition and its allies from advancing on that same area.”

— The United States is trying to send antitank missiles to Ukraine, but the move may be too late to make a difference. Alex Horton reports: “Defense Department and State Department officials have pushed to arm Ukrainian troops with lethal aid to counter Russian-backed separatists fighting for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. But it remains unclear what, if anything, the delivery of an unknown number of [antitank missile] Javelins could do to alter a battle that has mostly been relegated to artillery bombardment and nighttime skirmishes in no man’s land. … The high cost and doubtful utility on the current battlefield suggest the Javelin procurement is about sending a message of strong deterrence from Washington.”

THE ROAD AHEAD FOR DEMOCRATS:

— Nancy Pelosi’s role as the leader of House Democrats may be in more trouble than the party establishment realizes. McClatchy’s Alex Roarty reports: “In a survey of 20 Democratic House candidates, only one — a former Senate staffer from Orange County, California — would state support for the congresswoman staying on as leader of the House Democratic Caucus. Of the rest, 18 declined to say if Pelosi should keep her job, while one, a political newcomer from a culturally conservative Ohio district, said he would vote for someone other than Pelosi.  … But it’s not easy for Democratic candidates to oppose her. Pushing away Pelosi means pushing away the donors who are close to her[.]”

DNC Chairman Tom Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered last-minute encouragement to workers at a Mississippi Nissan plant trying to organize, an effort that is expected to fail. David Weigel reports: “Sanders, U.S. Democrats and a cluster of progressive political organizations have spotlighted the … union drive all year: In March, Sanders was at the head of a march on the plant, linking the organizers’ cause to the fight for civil rights. Since then, Nissan has deployed tactics that have helped blunt or block union drives in other right-to-work states. The company has issued dark warnings of how unionization could cost jobs, and it has enlisted Republican politicians to attack the [United Auto Workers’] efforts.”

— Targeting Trump voters, progressives yesterday launched the “Not One Penny” campaign to oppose any tax overhaul slashing taxes for the wealthy. David Weigel reports: “Starting today, the Not One Penny campaign includes a seven-figure ad buy in eight Republican-held congressional districts[,] all with large numbers of white voters without college degrees, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but have not historically been passionate about tax cuts. It’s a fraction of what pro-tax reform groups like the American Action Network have pledged, but it mirrors what progressive groups and allies did during the effort to stop the Obamacare repeal in the Senate.”

ALARMING:

— “FIRED/REHIRED: Police chiefs are often forced to put officers fired for misconduct back on the streets,” by Kimbriell Kelly, Wesley Lowery and Steven Rich: “Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But [The Post] has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts. Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses … A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated in February. In the District, an officer convicted of sexually abusing a young woman in his patrol car was ordered returned to the force in 2015. And in Boston, an officer was returned to work in 2012 despite being accused of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump tweeted early this morning about the strong economy and the love he felt from West Virginians:

Another presidential tweet caused a stir on Capitol Hill:

Congressional Republicans rebutted Trump’s argument:

Quotes from the transcript of Trump’s phone call with the Australian prime minister raised eyebrows:

CNBC’s Washington correspondent put in a request for another transcript:

Just hours before West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced that he was becoming a Republican, the state’s GOP posted this tweet:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tried to bury the hatchet with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) after he allegedly threatened her entire state’s agenda:

The Economist went there on the North Korea issue:

The new cover of Newsweek mocked Trump’s productivity level:

Breitbart went after H.R. McMaster:

From a Politico columnist:

Anthony Scaramucci tried to move on:

Organization for Action’s communications director weighed in on the Secret Service’s move from Trump Tower:

Members of the media joked about Mueller impaneling a grand jury.

From a Time editor:

From a Mic writer:

From a HuffPost reporter:

A Rolling Stone opinion writer offered a throwback to one of Trump’s die-hard supporters:

And the New York Times’s television critic commented on Sean Spicer’s decision not to participate in «Dancing with the Stars»:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— Bloomberg Businessweek, “Is Gary Cohn a Good Pick to Head the Fed?” by Jeanna Smialek, Max Abelson, and Dakin Campbell: “Cohn, 56, would be like a bulldog guiding an institution of eggheads, according to interviews with more than a dozen people who’ve either worked with him or worked at the Fed. His fierce personality, forged over years on Goldman’s trading floors, could clash with a culture built on slow, contemplative collaboration. ‘Gary is definitely an instinctual thinker,’ says Michael Dubno, who was the chief technology officer at Goldman before he left in 2005. He saw Cohn as aggressive and blunt, someone who would make threats and not veil them. ‘Whether he can go really deep on things or not,’ he says, ‘I don’t know.’”

— New York Times Magazine, “For the New Far Right, YouTube Has Become the New Talk Radio,” by John Herrman: “They are monologuists, essayists, performers and vloggers … inveighing vigorously against the political left and mocking the ‘mainstream media’ … They deplore ‘social justice warriors,’ whom they credit with ruining popular culture, conspiring against the populace and helping to undermine ‘the West.’ They are fixated on the subjects of immigration, Islam and political correctness. … [And] the zealous defense of ideas for which audiences believe they’re seen as stupid, cruel or racist is made possible with simple inversion: Actually, it’s everyone else who is stupid, cruel or racist, and their ‘consensus’ is a conspiracy intended to conceal the unspoken feelings of a silent majority.  Trump has developed an intuition for this kind of audience cultivation; so have countless pundits, broadcasters, salespeople and politicians of different populist political stripes. But Exley, in his final analysis of B.P.S., points to an especially apt historical parallel: conservative talk radio.”

— Politico Magazine, “The Ugly History of Stephen Miller’s ‘Cosmopolitan’ Epithet,” by Jeff Greenfield: “So what is a ‘cosmopolitan’? It’s a cousin to ‘elitist,’ but with a more sinister undertone. It’s a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality. … In the eyes of their foes, ‘cosmopolitans’ tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with ‘untraditional’ ideas and lives.”

— Slate, “The Warrior Caste,” by Amy Schafer: “When the new White House chief of staff, then a Marine general, John Kelly received a knock on the door in November 2010, he became the highest-ranking military officer to lose a child in combat. … In the United States, perhaps the strongest predictor of military service is having a family member who served — allowing for extended family members, it averages to about 80 percent of new recruits across the services. … The military draws many recruits from the same communities and the same families, isolating those in uniform from society and vice versa. In essence, the self-selection dynamics have created a ‘warrior caste.’”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“A Game of Cat and Mouse With High Stakes: Deportation,” from the New York Times: “In New York City, judges, defense lawyers and clients have been on high alert for months, watching to see if immigration enforcement officers, many in plain clothes, are in a courthouse. … When officers for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, are thought to be in a courthouse, a sympathetic judge might reschedule a defendant’s appearance, or, in a seemingly perverse move, set bail that could send a defendant to Rikers Island — keeping the person out of ICE’s hands because the jail complex does not turn over undocumented immigrants to the agency.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Wasserman Schultz talks about arrested aide Imran Awan,” from Sun-Sentinel: “Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz defiantly stands by her decision to keep an information technology aide on her payroll for six months after he was banned from the House network and fired by other members of Congress. ‘I believe that I did the right thing, and I would do it again,’ Wasserman Schultz said Thursday[.] … ‘It would have been easier for me to just fire him,’ she said. The Weston Democrat did fire Imran Awan last week after he was arrested on bank fraud charges at an airport while trying to leave the country.”

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a morning briefing from FEMA on hurricane season. He also has a lunch with Pence and an afternoon phone call with the French president. Trump will later travel from the White House to his New Jersey golf club.

Upcoming: Pence will keynote the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity’s signature annual event on Aug. 19. It’ll be Pence’s first speech at a Koch event since becoming vice president.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

We have the president’s Twitter feed.” — White House adviser Sebastian Gorka replying to a question on Fox News about the administration’s options for pressuring China to act on North Korea.

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

— Another storm may hit D.C. today, but it should be clear over the weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Above-average heat and near-tropical humidity. At least it’s stirred with a moderate southerly breeze around 5 to 15 mph. Thunderstorm chances are fairly low, with about 20 percent of locales in our region potentially seeing something pop during the day, mainly late; however, downpours are possible, as is plentiful lightning. … Upper 80s to perhaps a few mid-90s are possible, so dress as lightly as possible!”

— Pence is slated to fundraise for Virginia gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie later this month, a spokesman for Gillespie confirmed. The announcement comes as Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and White House counsel under George W. Bush, has more openly embraced Trump after largely keeping his distance during the primary. (Fenit Nirappil)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert wants to serve on Robert Mueller’s grand jury:

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) explained the significance of the grand jury on Seth Meyers’s show:

In light of Gov. Jim Justice’s announcement, The Post looked at five other politicians who have switched parties:

The Post’s Marc Fisher explains Trump’s affinity for golf, despite his distaste for exercise:

Lara Trump’s “real news” program differed from the major headlines of the week:

The path of a Boeing test flight bore great resemblance to the aircraft itself:

And a 10-month-old won Lithuania’s “fastest crawler” competition:

Asian Americans are divided after the Trump administration’s move on affirmative action

In 2015, when 64 Asian American groups filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging that Harvard University illegally discriminated against Asian students in admissions, Joe Zhou had little hope it would go anywhere.

He had made the same allegation against Harvard in a lawsuit on behalf of his son, who had been denied admission despite near-perfect ACT and SAT scores, a 4.44 grade-point average, being named class valedictorian, and a resume that included teaching English in China and serving as captain of the varsity tennis team.

So when the Trump administration announced Wednesday that it planned to investigate racial discrimination against Asians in college admissions, Zhou was thrilled.

“Maybe now people will finally pay attention to something we Asian Americans have been talking about for so long,” he said.

Woman sentenced to 15 months in texting suicide case

Secret Service vacates Trump Tower command post in lease dispute with president’s company

The Secret Service has vacated its command post inside Trump Tower in Manhattan following a dispute between the government and President Trump’s company over the terms of a lease for the space, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Previously, the Secret Service had stationed its command post — which houses supervisors and backup agents on standby in case of an emergency — in a Trump Tower unit one floor below the president’s apartment.

But in early July, the post was relocated to a trailer on the sidewalk, more than 50 floors below, a distance that some security experts worry could hamper the agency that protects the president’s home and family.

The command post appears unlikely to move anytime soon back inside Trump Tower, where the president and his family have rarely gone since moving to the White House.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization said the government should seek space in another location.

(The Washington Post)

“After much consideration, it was mutually determined that it would be more cost effective and logistically practical for the Secret Service to lease space elsewhere,” spokeswoman Amanda Miller wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

The details of the dispute between the Trump Organization and the Secret Service were not clear Thursday. Two people familiar with the discussions said the sticking points included the price and other conditions of the lease.

On Thursday, there appeared to be a difference of opinion over whether negotiations for a Trump Tower space were still going on.

Despite the Trump Organization’s statement to The Post on Thursday saying the agency should look elsewhere, Secret Service officials said the agency is still hoping for space in Trump Tower.

The agency is working “to obtain permanent work space in an appropriate location,” said Catherine Milhoan, a Secret Service spokeswoman.

Milhoan added, “Throughout this process, there has been no impact to the security plan developed by the Secret Service.”

A spokeswoman for the General Services Administration, which handles government leasing, declined to comment because the search for a command-post space is still active.

“The space is still in the process of being obtained and a final decision has not been made,” spokeswoman Pamela Dixon wrote in an e-mail.

That move has provided a new illustration of the unusual nature of Trump’s tenure, in which the president has retained ownership of a real estate and branding company.

In this case, Trump’s government sought to be a customer of Trump’s business. To protect him, the agency needed space in the pricey tower where he lives. But the two sides couldn’t agree. The Trump Organization was willing to accept a situation where the agents moved out and the space was available for others.

Trump has not visited Trump Tower since he was inaugurated. His wife, first lady Melania Trump, and their son Barron lived there for several months, but relocated to Washington in early June.

Still, the Secret Service treats Trump Tower as the president’s permanent home, and has a full-time detail to protect it.

Experts said the Secret Service will have a presence inside the building if Trump or his family members visit, as their personal security details would remain in close proximity.

A Secret Service official said Thursday that the agency could compensate at other times by stationing more agents at standing posts in various locations throughout the building.

But experts said that the lack of a nearby command post could make the situation less safe in an emergency.

“It’s a security deficiency that has to be resolved,” said a former Secret Service official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “It’s like having the quarterback of the football game actually being located in a different stadium than where the game is being played.”

The Secret Service command post acts as a nerve center for a broader team of agents, both at a president’s private home and when the president travels. The command post is usually located on the same floor as the suite or room where the president is sleeping, or one floor below.

At Trump Tower, the command post had operated temporarily for months in the offices of the Trump Organization, one floor below the president’s residence.

Now, with the post on the street below, security experts worry that radio transmissions could break up because of the distance and multiple walls between agents on the scene and commanders in the trailer.

The U.S. military has separately agreed to lease space in Trump Tower for $130,000 a month, according to a lease first reported last month by the Wall Street Journal. That space will be for the White House Military Office, which provides services including communications and the handling of the “football” that the president would use to launch a nuclear attack, the Journal reported.

The Journal reported that the military was paying more for this unit than other renters had paid for similar units in the building.

In that case, however, the unit was not leased directly from Trump — but rather from Joel Anderson, a businessman who owns the space. In an interview Thursday, Anderson said that the government didn’t really try to negotiate a lower price.

“It was a standard lease negotiation, like any other, and had all of the same parts. The only thing that made it difficult it is they’re bureaucratic, and it takes them forever to do anything,” Anderson said. “They’re not bad to deal with, they’re just slow.”

The lease agreement in that case — which runs to 149 pages — illustrates the extra conditions that may come from leasing space to the government. Its provisions ask that the owner of the space follow energy-efficiency guidelines, submit reports on its compliance with fair-hiring practices, and post signs with a hotline for reporting contract fraud.

Julie Tate, Drew Harwell and Amy Brittain contributed to this report.