BY HISTORICAL STANDARDS, ROBERT MUELLER has already been so successful in delivering prominent scalps that in a different context, his work product would be unassailable, and PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP would likely be considered in immediate mortal political danger, so toxic that it would be impossible to do business with him.
A QUICK RECAP … MUELLER HAS:
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— INDICTED the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort — who is currently behind bars and is soon going to trial for a host of federal charges, including tax and bank fraud.
— SECURED the guilty pleas of former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, the president’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates. Alex van der Zwaan also pleaded guilty for lying to federal investigators. And, Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty to using stolen identities to create bank accounts.
— CHARGED 13 RUSSIAN nationals and three Russian companies in February with interfering with the 2016 presidential election and trying to aide Trump’s campaign.
— INDICTED 12 RUSSIAN intelligence officials, unraveling a massive cyber campaign to influence the 2016 election. “Those GRU officers, I’ve already seen the intelligence, they were the people that conducted this cyberattack on our elections,” Speaker Paul Ryan said matter-of-factly Tuesday.
SEPARATELY, prosecutors have indicted a Russian woman on charges she was acting as an agent for Putin’s government, cultivating relations around Washington and working with the NRA.
MEANWHILE, THE PRESIDENT …
— RUTHLESSLY ATTACKED the Mueller probe, terming it a tainted operation and falsely saying it is being run by partisan Democrats. Mueller has kept quiet through a yearlong attack on his integrity.
— WENT INTO A ROOM alone with Vladimir Putin, a man who Republicans and Democrats agree has nothing in common with U.S. interests. He had no aides or advisers and just one interpreter. He said the meeting went well and it’s the news media’s fault that it’s being misjudged.
— STOOD NEXT TO THE STRONGMAN LEADER OF RUSSIA and equated his word to that of his own director of national intelligence, and seemed to side with Putin because he was “extremely strong and powerful in his denial” that he meddled in the 2016 election. Trump said he had no reason to think they involved themselves in the election.
— LATER SPOKE FROM THE WHITE HOUSE and said this: “In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia. So just to repeat it, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’” This walk-back ran contrary to everything else Trump said in two television interviews and the rest of his news conference with Putin.
THE THOUGHT EXERCISE … The volume has been turned to max for so long in our political culture, what could Mueller unveil that would shock our sensibilities, transcend partisanship, silence the GOP and satisfy the inflated expectations of Democrats?
BY THE WAY … IF PAST IS PRECEDENT … This whole walk-back episode will be undone when Trump doesn’t get the results he wants and then walks back the walk-back. Someone on his staff seems sure to get the blame.
— NBC’S PETER ALEXANDER (@PeterAlexander): “Who convinced Trump to walk back his Putin comments [Tuesday]? VP Pence & Secretary of State Pompeo had a private conversation with POTUS, urging him to make the clarifications, a source familiar with the conversation tells me.”
WHAT’S ON THE PRESIDENT’S MIND THIS A.M. — @realDonaldTrump at 5:53 a.m.: “So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”
… at 6:08 a.m.: “While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success. Many positive things will come out of that meeting..”
… at 6:16 a.m.: “….Russia has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along. There is no rush, the sanctions remain! Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!”
CBS’ JEFF GLOR is coming to D.C. to interview PRESIDENT TRUMP at the White House today. It will air on the “CBS Evening News.”
TRUMP indicated to Tucker Carlson on Fox News that he doesn’t agree with the idea that the U.S. should defend other NATO countries. CARLSON: “Let’s say Montenegro, which joined [NATO] last year, was attacked, why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?”
TRUMP: “I understand what you’re saying. I asked the same question. You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … By the way, they’re very strong people. They’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive and congratulations, you’re in World War III. Now, I understand it, but that’s the way it was set up. Don’t forget, I just got here a little more than a year and a half ago.”
GO BEHIND THE SCENES — WITH THE TICKTOCK of Trump’s Putin walk-back with Matt Nussbaum, Nancy Cook and Chris Cadelago: http://bit.ly/2NlzJt9 … ELIANA JOHNSON also has a look at SEAN HANNITY as Trump’s lone defender: http://bit.ly/2L57KRS
NEXT UP — REUTERS’ PHIL STEWART is reporting that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is “open to the possibility” of talking with his Russian counterpart post-Helsinki. https://reut.rs/2L8hAT6
— TELL US MORE: @RusEmbUSA: “The Russian Defense Ministry @MoD_Russia is ready for the practical implementation of agreements in the area of global security reached in Helsinki between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump” http://bit.ly/2NX9eLC
****** A message from the Alzheimer’s Association: Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the country. Every hour, Alzheimer’s costs taxpayers $21 million dollars. Today, Alzheimer’s costs the country $277 billion a year and that will quadruple to more than $1 trillion over the next generation. Funding for Alzheimer’s research must increase. Learn more at alz.org/askcongress ******
THE INVESTIGATIONS …
— JOSH GERSTEIN: “Mueller seeks immunity for five witnesses against Manafort”: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is asking a federal judge to grant immunity to five witnesses who may be called to testify at the upcoming trial of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, on charges of tax evasion and bank fraud. Mueller’s prosecutors did not identify the potential witnesses publicly, but said they had indicated they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination unless they were granted immunity.” http://bit.ly/2uHGy0h
— WHO IS MARIA BUTINA?: “‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles,” by WaPo’s Ros Helderman, Tom Hamburger, Shane Harris and Carol D. Leonnig: “For nearly five years, the young Russian political-science student was an unusual fixture at the most important events of the U.S. conservative movement. Maria Butina, who was indicted this week on charges of being a covert Russian agent, struck up friendships with the influential leaders of the National Rifle Association and the Conservative Political Action Conference, touting her interest in U.S. affairs and efforts to promote gun rights in Vladimir Putin’s restrictive Russia. She sidled up to GOP presidential candidates, seeking first an encounter with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and then, after his rising candidacy stumbled, with Donald Trump.” https://wapo.st/2zOWFz1
— NYT’s SHARON LAFRANIERE, MATT ROSENBERG and ADAM GOLDMAN: “For three years, they said, she was part of a low-cost, low-risk influence operation that was run by the senior Russian official, Alexander Torshin, and was assisted by an unnamed American operative with Republican ties. … In private messages sent via Twitter, Mr. Torshin urged Ms. Butina to play the long game, be coldblooded, and ‘not burn out prematurely.’ ‘Only incognito!’ Ms. Butina wrote him in agreement one month before the 2016 presidential election. ‘Right now everything has to be quiet and careful.’” https://nyti.ms/2uKiZUu
— KYLE CHENEY: “Rep. Rohrabacher: Indictment of NRA-linked Russian is ‘stupid’”: “Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) says he’s not sure whether he’s the congressman mentioned in Monday’s indictment of a Russian gun-rights activist for acting as an unregistered agent of the Kremlin — but he is sure that the charge against the woman is ‘bogus.’ …
“‘It’s ridiculous. It’s stupid,’ Rohrabacher said. ‘She’s the assistant of some guy who is the head of the bank and is a member of their Parliament. That’s what we call a spy? That shows you how bogus this whole thing is.’” http://bit.ly/2NsagOP
ABOUT THE TIMING OF THOSE RUSSIAN INDICTMENTS … “Trump Decided Russia Indictments Should Come Pre-Summit, Sources Say,” by Bloomberg’s Chris Strohm and Jennifer Jacobs: “President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead to announce new Russian election-hacking indictments before his meeting with Vladimir Putin rather than after — in the hopes it would strengthen his hand in the talks, according to accounts. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to Trump last week and offered him the choice: before or after the Putin summit on Monday in Helsinki? Trump chose before, ultimately putting the issue into the spotlight just 72 hours before the high-stakes meeting.” https://bloom.bg/2uvRgb4
TAKING MATTERS INTO THEIR OWN HANDS — “NSA and Cyber Command to coordinate actions to counter Russian election interference in 2018 amid absence of White House guidance,” by WaPo’s Ellen Nakashima: “The head of the nation’s largest electronic spy agency and the military’s cyberwarfare arm has directed the two organizations to coordinate actions to counter potential Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections. The move, announced to staff at the [NSA] last week by NSA Director Paul Nakasone, is an attempt to maximize the efforts of the two groups …
“It is the latest initiative by national security agencies to push back against Russian aggression in the absence of direct guidance from the White House on the issue. ‘Nakasone, and the heads of the other three-letter agencies, are doing what they can in their own lanes, absent an overall approach directed by the president,’ said Michael V. Hayden, who has headed the NSA and the CIA. ‘As good as it is, it’s not good enough. This is not a narrowly defined cyberthreat. This is one of the most significant strategic national security threats facing the United States since 9/11.’” https://wapo.st/2LgtOIj
Good Wednesday morning. SPOTTED: ALL-STAR GAME EDITION — Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, with his daughters in upper deck seats. Pic http://bit.ly/2mqnv6T … Also there last night: Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), George Will, David Gregory and Tevi Troy.
— AT 21ST CENTURY FOX/FOX SPORTS’ pre-game and watch party at Due South: Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), National Geographic Partners CEO Gary Knell, National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe and 21CF EVP Chip Smith.
2018 … THE BIG PICTURE … ELENA SCHNEIDER: “‘These guys need to wake up’: House Republicans badly outraised in midterms”: “The list of outraised incumbents includes some of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country — such as Reps. Jason Lewis in Minnesota, Rod Blum in Iowa, Dana Rohrabacher in California and Leonard Lance in New Jersey — as well as members like Reps. Dave Brat of Virginia and Steve Chabot of Ohio, whose Richmond- and Cincinnati-based seats have looked more and more competitive over the past year. …
“[T]he Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republican leadership, raised a whopping $51 million last quarter and has more than $70 million sitting in the bank. The group already raised a best-ever $66 million in 2017 and is set to pour record sums of super PAC money into this year’s House races.
“‘We set the public goal of $100 million, and we will far exceed that,’ said Corry Bliss, executive director of the CLF. But he also warned that the group would not save everyone this fall, saying: ‘Those who are not willing to help themselves should not complain when outside support does not come their way,’ he said.” http://bit.ly/2NYHMNr
CALLING FOR BACKUP … “Heritage Action Advocacy Group Shifts to Bolstering GOP Candidates,” by WSJ’s Kristina Peterson: “Heritage Action for America, a political sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, has spent years getting Republicans riled up in policy fights. Now the group is trying something new: getting GOP lawmakers elected. …
“Heritage Action plans to spend $2.5 million, starting in early September, to help Republicans win in 14 congressional districts. The group plans to use its money on direct mail and digital ads promoting its view of how the tax law passed by Republicans last December is benefiting voters there. Additional money raised could be used on television ads, said the group’s vice president, Jessica Anderson.” https://on.wsj.com/2zNYE6F
SCOTUS WATCH – “Poll: Voters fractured over Kavanaugh choice,” by Stephanie Murray: “[A]ccording to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, [n]early three-quarters of Republicans — 71 percent — say the Senate should confirm Kavanaugh. On the other side of the aisle, only 17 percent of Democrats think lawmakers should give him the nod. The poll, conducted July 13-14, surveyed 1,991 registered voters.” https://bit.ly/2zQj0w0
WSJ’S RICHARD RUBIN and ANNE TERGESEN: “Retirement Bills in Congress Could Alter 401(k) Plans”: “Lawmakers are working on the biggest changes to U.S. retirement savings in more than a decade, exploring several proposals that could make it easier for small companies to offer 401(k) plans and for workers to guarantee themselves an annual income after they retire. …
“Among the proposals Congress may consider are a new type of savings account that is more open-ended than current vehicles, ways to encourage savings that can be tapped in an emergency and the repeal of a provision that prevents people over age 70½ from contributing to traditional Individual Retirement Accounts.” https://on.wsj.com/2NqhLWm
DAN DIAMOND DOWNLOAD — TRUMP’S MIGRANT FIASCO DIVERTS MILLIONS FROM HEALTH PROGRAMS: The health department has burned through $40 million-plus in the last two months to care for children separated by President Trump’s border policies. Housing costs alone were recently estimated at $1.5 million per day.
Faced with ballooning costs, officials are preparing to shift more than $200 million from other HHS accounts, even as the White House weighs a request for additional funding for Homeland Security — a move that will likely antagonize fiscal hawks in the run-up to the midterm elections.
— HHS has dipped into funding that was reallocated under the Obama administration. For instance, the agency is using unspent HIV/AIDS funds from previous years — and stressed that it wouldn’t affect that program’s current operations.
— But public health advocates lament that HHS has quickly exhausted those funds, which were never intended for this purpose. The full report http://bit.ly/2LhY6dQ
TRUMP’S WEDNESDAY — The president is holding a Cabinet meeting at 11:30 a.m.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK – OBAMA ALUMNI: ALYSSA MASTROMONACO will be senior adviser and spokesperson at NARAL Pro-Choice America. She most recently was at A&E and previously worked at Vice and was deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama.
BEN SCHRECKINGER and DIDI MARTINEZ, “How Sacha Baron Cohen fooled the nation’s leaders: Emails obtained by POLITICO reveal the comedian’s tradecraft”: “In [former Rep. Joe] Walsh’s case, Cohen’s team used fake identities, dummy websites, and concocted media opportunities over the course of several months.
“It also leaned on flattery, intrigue and the disarming use of the word ‘Liberty’ to reel the former congressman into a TV appearance in which he endorsed the arming of young children with heavy weaponry. … Last October, a woman calling herself Ashley Winthrop emailed Walsh on behalf of the made-up production company First Liberty Pictures and invited him to be interviewed for a ‘docu-style series’ about terrorism to be broadcast on Israeli television. …
“In February, Walsh received an inquiry from ‘Alexis Rothe’ from the fictitious Yerushalayim Television. In an email, ‘Rothe’ informed Walsh he had been named to Israel’s ‘70 at 70’ list in honor of the 70th anniversary of the nation’s founding. ‘The people of Israel understand that they owe their very existence to the unwavering support of powerful figures like Congressman Joe Walsh,’ she wrote. ‘We have already sat with Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, Bono, and Steven Spielberg.’” http://bit.ly/2LpmNlk
2020 WATCH – “Kamala Harris inks book deal,” by David Siders: “Kamala Harris has a book deal, the latest sign she is edging toward a 2020 presidential run.” http://bit.ly/2L16q2a
****** A message from the Alzheimer’s Association: Costing taxpayers $21 million every HOUR, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the country. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and 16 million family and friends are providing care. Alzheimer’s is a national issue, and needs a national response. Alzheimer’s yearly cost of $277 billion will quadruple to more than $1 trillion over the next generation – a crisis we cannot afford and shouldn’t accept. While it is the only leading cause of death that can’t be prevented, cured, or even slowed, research and medical advancement can change that. That’s why the Alzheimer’s Association is fighting to end the disease through the advancement of research, while also providing care and support for all affected. Learn more at alz.org/askcongress. ******
FOR YOUR RADAR — “ISIS is making a comeback in Iraq just months after Baghdad declared victory,” by WaPo’s Liz Sly and Mustafa Salim in Baghdad: “The Islamic State is creeping back into parts of central Iraq just seven months after the government declared victory in the war against the group, embarking on a wave of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings that have raised fears that a new cycle of insurgency is starting again.
“The small-scale attacks are taking place mostly in remote areas that have been neglected by the government and are chillingly reminiscent of the kind of tactics that characterized the Islamic State insurgency in the years before 2014, when the group captured a vast swath of territory across Iraq and Syria. … Over the past two months, dozens of people, including local government officials, tribal elders and village chiefs, have been abducted and killed or ransomed by fighters claiming affiliation with the Islamic State.” https://wapo.st/2uFtxV6
MEDIAWATCH – IRIN CARMON is joining New York magazine as a senior correspondent, CNN’s Oliver Darcy scooped in the Reliable Sources newsletter. She helped break the Charlie Rose #MeToo story for The Washington Post and co-wrote “The Notorious RBG,” the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biography.
SUSANNA QUINN sold her business Veluxe to Glamsquad. http://bit.ly/2JuNCmh
OUT AND ABOUT — The Black Women’s Congressional Alliance honored nine of its “Rising Stars” on Capitol Hill with a reception last night hosted by Patrice Willoughby and Heather Podesta. The List: Mia Keeys, Liz Lee, Lakeisha Steele, Charlyn Stanberry, Jacqueline Usyk, Courtney Cochran, Veronica Duron, and Alma Acosta. Pic https://bit.ly/2NlMxzJ
BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Colorado State Rep. Dylan Roberts (hat tip: Gordon Bronson)
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, is 71. How he got involved in politics: “I got my start in politics as a kid ‘helping’ my father when he ran successfully for the state Senate and then unsuccessfully for governor. I use quotes because my efforts may not have always advanced the cause, such as when at rallies I tried to charge people for buttons and bumper stickers instead of giving them away.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: http://bit.ly/2zLf8g0
BIRTHDAYS: former Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is 68 … Olivier Knox, chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXM … Candid’s Varun Anand, an HFA alum, is 24 … Liz Kreutz … Alice Rhee … Chris Marroletti, deputy director of operations for Team Ryan, is 27 … Reid Davenport … James Wallner … Sukrit Agarwal … David Vandivier of BNY Mellon … Suzanne Ruecker … Keri-Lynn Doyle … Kate Balcerzak … Bob Moore … Dylan Roberts … Teddy Tanzer, a legal fellow for Sen. Thune … Jess Monahan … Carol Ross Joynt, booking producer for MSNBC’s “Meet The Press Daily” … Gadi Schwartz, correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC and co-host of NBC’s Stay Tuned on Snapchat … Pepper Pennington Natonski … Alex Spence, senior UK political correspondent at BuzzFeed … Steve Chenevey … Jonathan Taplin, director emeritus of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, is 71 … Michael Luongo … Jill Neunaber … Jenna Kimberley … Julie Fischer McCarter … Lauren Davie …
… Julia Krieger, comms director for the Heitkamp campaign … former Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) is 68 … former Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) is 77 … former Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) is 78 … Donnell Young … Evan Ross of FP1 Strategies … Kathleen Leebel … Jen Hoelzer … Britta Towle (hubby tip: Rowan Morris) … Billy McBeath, digital director at American Crossroads and Senate Leadership Fund and a Targeted Victory alum (h/t Erica Arbetter) … Lauren Czeizler … John Yanchek … Matt Iandoli … CNBC’s Jackie DeAngelis … Kate Balcerzak … Kate Cichy … Dana Camp-Farber … Matt Stinson … Omar Kasule … Sid Davidoff, senior partner and chairman of the GR practice group at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, is 79 (h/t Pat Rheaume) … Erin Meiman … Brian Schubert … Sam Simon … Veronica Rogers … Robert Colorina … Howard J. Lee … Jeff Kosseff … Bill Knapp of Iowa … Jared Fitzgerald … Mike Rice (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)
****** A message from the Alzheimer’s Association: Alzheimer’s is not a red or blue issue. 73 million American voters — nearly half — know or have known someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. And nearly a quarter of all registered voters have served as an unpaid caregiver to a friend or relative with the disease. Alzheimer’s remains the only leading cause of death in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed — yet. Only medical breakthroughs can change that. The Alzheimer’s Association is committed to supporting advancements in research that will lead to the first Alzheimer’s survivor. With 4 in every 5 voters supporting an increase in federal funding for Alzheimer’s research, Congress should make the same commitment. Learn more at alz.org/askcongress. ******
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