IS THE PRESIDENT A DRAG? …
— WAPO’S BOB COSTA and JOSH DAWSEY, “‘Nothing bodes well’: Lackluster election results spark debate over Trump’s midterm role”: “A new round of lackluster showings by Republican candidates reignited a debate Wednesday within the GOP over whether President Trump will be a drag on the party’s chances in November and should stay out of some of the country’s most hotly contested races. Inside the White House, Trump aides are mapping out plans for the fall that would offer a variety of options to Republican candidates, including visits by the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump to blue states and presidential tweets to bolster red-state allies.
“But mounting apprehension about Trump’s political capital lingered in Washington and on the campaign trail. In a flurry of elections on Tuesday — from the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, to the technology corridor in Washington state — Democrats turned out in droves and significantly overperformed expectations by posing serious challenges to Republicans in staunchly GOP districts.” WaPo
— NYT’S MIKE SHEAR, with a “News Analysis” bug: “In President Trump’s mind, he has become the indispensable man, the political force singularly responsible for the narrow lead that Troy Balderson, the Republican candidate, clings to in a heavily conservative Ohio House district and that Kris W. Kobach maintains in the Kansas governor’s primary.
“But the presidential braggadocio that followed Tuesday’s election night squeakers ignores another reality that the White House is loath to acknowledge: Mr. Trump — and his chaotic, controversy-laden tenure in the Oval Office — is largely responsible for the toxic political climate that is undermining the Republican candidates he is trying to save.” NYT
2018 IN A NUTSHELL, via AP’s Steve Peoples and Bill Barrow: “There’s a border crisis in Pennsylvania. The radical left is surging in New Jersey. And Nancy Pelosi is a threat to New York.
“Republican candidates in the nation’s premiere midterm battlegrounds have embraced a central message in their fight to maintain the House majority this fall — and it has little to do with the surging economy or the sweeping tax cuts that the GOP celebrated as a once-in-a-generation achievement just eight months ago.
“Instead, as Republicans enter the final month of the primary season, they’re looking ahead to a general-election strategy of embracing anxiety as a tool to motivate voters. That was clear this week as the GOP’s closing message in an Ohio special election questioned Democrat Danny O’Connor’s connection to Pelosi, the House Democratic leader and preferred super villain for Republicans.” AP
JASON SCHWARTZ: “Media boost security as Trump ramps up ‘enemy’ rhetoric”: “Notebooks, mics, cameras, hairspray — those are all things TV reporters are used to having with them at political rallies. Now, in the age of President Donald Trump, they’ve added another: security guards.
“The networks are employing them, according to reporters, at Trump’s high-octane political rallies, where the media often serves as the No. 1 rhetorical punching bag.
“Last weekend, NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett posted a picture on Instagram of himself with a member of the NBC security detail at Trump’s Ohio rally, commenting, ‘We need security guards when covering rallies hosted by the President of the United States. Let that sink in.’ Meanwhile, ABC News reporter Tara Palmeri tweeted and wrote about covering the Ohio rally, ‘for the first time with a bodyguard.’” POLITICO
SHE’S BACK? — “Hope’s reappearance sparks hopes she’ll rejoin the Trump show,” by Nancy Cook: “Hope Hicks had no intention of traveling on Air Force One when she arrived at President Donald Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club to hang out with White House friends including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
“But as is often the way in Trump’s world, plans shifted. Once Hicks was back on the president’s turf, she got sucked in, with a handful of staffers successfully prodding her to join them on Saturday’s trip to Ohio for a campaign-style rally.
“Hicks’ surprise appearance at the airport prompted one former campaign official to joke that she was returning for ‘Season Two’ of the Trump reality show. But White House officials and Republicans close to Trump are serious about reeling Hicks in to play a role in Trump’s nascent 2020 campaign, according to interviews with 10 senior administration officials and Republicans close to the White House.” POLITICO
A 2018 MESSAGE MANY REPUBLICANS WILL USE … L.A. TIMES’ SARAH WIRE: “Nunes says in audio that Republicans need majority to protect Trump”: “Republicans need to keep control of the House to protect President Trump from the Russia investigation, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said at a recent fundraiser, according to an audio recording released Wednesday.
“‘If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones. Which is really the danger,’ Nunes said, referring to Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel heading the investigation into Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
“‘I mean, we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away,’ Nunes said. The recording was released by MSNBC, which said it received it from a person associated with Fuse Washington, a progressive group based in Seattle. The person had paid the $250 to attend the fundraiser that Nunes held with House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).” LAT
Good Thursday morning. The president is still in Bedminster, New Jersey. The only item on his public schedule is a prison reform roundtable with state leaders this afternoon.
BUFFALO NEWS’ JERRY ZREMSKI: “During an evening news conference in downtown Buffalo, a defiant [Rep. Chris] Collins said he ‘acted properly and within the law at all times’ and would remain on the ballot in November.” Buffalo News
THE LATEST IN KANSAS — “‘That is a conflict’: Kobach should recuse himself from a recount, experts say” – The Kansas City Star: “Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Wednesday that he has no plans to recuse himself from a recount process in the race for governor, a stance that legal and political experts questioned. …
“No law requires Kobach to recuse himself, but political and legal experts said he should do so to maintain trust in the election. In an interview broadcast later on Fox News Channel, Kobach appeared to backpedal a bit. ‘If my opponent insists I recuse … we can certainly do that,’ he said.” KC Star
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE … DAVID SIDERS, “Bernie and his army are losing 2018: Sanders missed the boat on Ocasio-Cortez, then watched his endorsed candidates fall on Tuesday — a sign that his sway is limited heading into 2020”: “Bernie Sanders is sputtering. Two years after his defeat in the 2016 presidential primary, the Vermont senator has amassed a growing string of losses in races in which he has intervened.
“Beginning last year, Sanders-backed candidates faltered in an Omaha mayoral race and a nationally watched House race in Montana. Then came Rep. Tom Perriello’s loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, and in June, the drubbing in Iowa of Pete D’Alessandro, a top adviser to Sanders during his 2016 Iowa caucus campaign.
“Cathy Glasson, endorsed by Sanders’ successor group, Our Revolution, fell short in Iowa’s gubernatorial primary, as did Peter Jacob and Jim Keady in two New Jersey House races. Dennis Kucinich lost in Ohio. Tuesday night brought Sanders and his army their latest blow, with a pair of high-profile losses in Michigan and Kansas. … The losses suggest organizational weaknesses that could hamper Sanders if he runs for president again in 2020 — even as a diaspora of Sanders-aligned candidates continues to test his appeal in the midterm elections.” POLITICO
MANAFORT TRIAL PREVIEW … JOSH GERSTEIN: “The Paul Manafort trial surrendered its title as the hottest ticket in town Wednesday after Rick Gates’ 10 hours on the witness stand came to an end. Reporters, lawyers, interns and retirees were again able to sit side-by-side in harmony instead of jostling and tag-teaming to fill the coveted, hard wooden seats in the Alexandria courtroom. FBI and IRS witnesses filled out the trial’s 7th day with math-intensive testimony about Manafort’s foreign bank accounts and why the government contends his tax returns far understated his income from his Ukraine-related lobbying work.
“Just before court recessed, prosecutor Greg Andres told U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team plans to call eight more witnesses in the next couple of days with the prosecution likely to rest Friday afternoon.
“If the projection bears out, Mueller’s team will wind up plowing through 25 of 35 people on their witness list. Ellis and Andres, who don’t seem to see eye-to-eye on much (particularly when Andres is looking down), even squabbled Wednesday about how much of a dent the prosecution had made in its original roster. Ellis said it contained ‘many, many more’ people than have already testified. ‘I’m not sure I agree,’ said Andres. (A total of 17 witnesses took the stand through Wednesday afternoon.)
— NEXT UP: “Prosecutors are expected to start out Thursday at 9:30 a.m. with a bank-related witness and with a representative of Airbnb, who’s expected to testify about how a condo Manafort bought in Manhattan’s SoHo district in 2012 was rented extensively on the home-sharing website. Mueller’s lawyers contend that Manafort sought a mortgage of more than $3 million on the property by representing that it was a private residence occupied by family members. The government also contends the former Trump campaign chairman told his then son-in-law to lie about living there in order to help qualify for a lower interest rate.
“It appears Manafort’s defense will get their shot at calling witnesses next week. Ellis told jurors Friday he isn’t being unfair by forcing Mueller’s team to disclose details about their upcoming witnesses but not pressing the defense to offer any preview, since they aren’t obligated to put on any case.
“‘Sort of like poker, you don’t have to show your hand until you’re called,’ the judge said. ‘Something like that. I’m not a poker player.’”
— JOSH GERSTEIN and DARREN SAMUELSOHN: “Gates wraps testimony, tensions flare”: “As Rick Gates wrapped up his testimony against his former boss Paul Manafort on Wednesday, the defense got in an attention-grabbing parting shot at the government’s star witness: suggesting Gates had as many as four extramarital affairs during the time he was working for Manafort.
“On the witness stand Tuesday at Manafort’s tax- and bank-fraud trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Gates acknowledged under defense questioning that he had an extramarital relationship with a woman in London that may have been facilitated in part by several hundred thousands of dollars in funds Gates has admitted stealing while he worked for Manafort’s international political consulting firm. …
“In an exchange before [defense attorney Kevin] Downing raised the possibility that Gates was involved in four extramarital affairs, the former Manafort aide said his boss at least knew about his London affair. ‘Did you tell him?’ [prosecutor Greg] Andres asked. ‘I did,’ Gates said. ‘Was he supportive?’ the prosecutor said. ‘He was,’ Gates replied. ‘Did he fire you?’ Andres asked. ‘He did not,’ Gates said.” POLITICO
ALL NEWS IS LOCAL — “Regardless of Trial, New Britain Is Keeping ‘Paul Manafort Drive,’” by the Hartford Courant’s Don Stacom and Neil Vigdor: “Despite the national headlines stemming from Paul Manafort’s tax fraud trial, New Britain has no plans to change the name of Paul Manafort Drive. After all, city leaders say, it’s not named after him. The street along the southern end of Central Connecticut State University was named in 1994 to honor Paul Manafort Sr., a former mayor and business executive.
“‘The street is named after the father,’ Mayor Erin Stewart said Wednesday. ‘Mr. Manafort served the city for a long time, he was a war veteran. You can’t control what your kids do and what they don’t — that doesn’t take away from the service that the father gave to the city.’” With a pic of the sign. Courant
FOR YOUR RADAR — “Exclusive: Pompeo told North Korea to cut its nuclear arsenal by 60 to 70 percent,” by Vox’s Alex Ward: “The Trump administration has presented North Korea with a formal timeline for starting the process of denuclearization — and Pyongyang has rejected it several times. It shows that even after months of talks, Washington and Pyongyang have made little progress toward ending the North Korean nuclear threat.
“The details of the U.S.-proposed timeline, which have not previously been reported, are as follows: North Korea hands over 60 to 70 percent of its nuclear warheads within six to eight months; the U.S. or a third party — likely another country — takes possession of them and removes them from North Korea.” Vox
TALKER — “Omarosa Secretly Recorded Trump and Played the Audio for People, Sources Say,” by the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng and Maxwell Tani: “Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, isn’t the only one with secretly recorded audio of the president. Multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation tell The Daily Beast that Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the infamous former Apprentice star who followed Trump to the White House, secretly recorded conversations with the president—conversations she has since leveraged while shopping her forthcoming ‘tell-all’ book, bluntly titled ‘UNHINGED.’
“For months, it has been rumored that Manigault had clandestinely recorded on her smartphone ‘tapes’ of unspecified private discussions she had in the West Wing. Audio actually does exist, and even stars Manigault’s former boss. One person confirmed to The Daily Beast they had heard at least one of her recordings featuring President Trump. Multiple sources familiar with the so-called ‘Omarosa tapes’ described the recorded conversations between Trump and Manigault as anodyne, everyday chatter, but said they did appear to feature Trump’s voice, either over the phone or in-person.
“The mere existence of such recordings represent a dramatic betrayal of trust by a one-time Trump confidant who has since abandoned years of professed loyalty to the president and has apparently decided to profit off her years of closeness to Trump.” Daily Beast
RUSSIA WATCH — “Bill Nelson: The Russians have penetrated some Florida voter registration systems,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Alex Leary, Steve Bousquet and Kirby Wilson: “Russian operatives have ‘penetrated’ some of Florida’s voter registration systems ahead of the 2018 midterms, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday, adding new urgency to concerns about hacking. The state, however, said it has received ‘zero information’ supporting his claim.
“‘They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about,’ Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times before a campaign event in Tampa. He said something similar a day earlier in Tallahassee but declined to elaborate. ‘That’s classified,’ the Democrat said Tuesday. He is facing a re-election challenge in November from Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration said it has no knowledge of the allegations made by Nelson.” Tampa Bay Times
— “Trump administration to hit Russia with new sanctions for Skripal poisoning,” by NBC News’ Josh Lederman: “The Trump administration is hitting Russia with new sanctions punishing President Vladimir Putin’s government for using a chemical weapon against an ex-spy in Britain, U.S. officials told NBC News Wednesday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on a determination that Russia violated international law by poisoning the former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in March, officials said, a decision that was announced Wednesday afternoon by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.” NBC
TODAY is the 23rd anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death.
ELIANA JOHNSON, “The Rand-Trump alliance bursts into view: Enemies on the 2016 campaign trail, the Kentucky senator and the iconoclastic president have developed a quiet Washington friendship”: “He infuriates West Wing aides who have had to scramble to win his support for key votes, but Rand Paul has the ear, and the affection, of the most important person in the White House: President Donald Trump. Once bitter rivals on the Republican campaign trail, the Kentucky senator and the commander-in-chief have bonded over a shared delight in thumbing their noses at experts the president likes to deride as ‘foreign policy eggheads,’ including those who work in his own administration.
“When Trump dismissed national security adviser H.R. McMaster in March, replacing him with John Bolton, he told McMaster, ‘Look, he’s a hawk, you’re hawk, I can handle you guys,’ according to a White House aide. While Trump tolerates his hawkish advisers, the aide added, he shares a real bond with Paul: ‘He actually at gut level has the same instincts as Rand Paul.’ …
“White House advisers describe a hot-and-cold relationship between the two men that ebbs and flows as the senator demurs on important votes, from the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state earlier this year to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, only to be swayed by the president.” POLITICO
— @jimsciutto: “It appears that @RandPaul did not deliver some special communication from Trump to Putin, but that the President wrote a letter of introduction to Putin to help Paul get a meeting with the Russian President during his visit to Moscow. That meeting has not happened.”
STEVEN MNUCHIN PROFILE – “How to Be Trump’s Treasury Secretary,” by Devin Leonard and Saleha Mohsin on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, which has the line “Everything is Fine” repeated eight times on the cover: “An ongoing battle in the White House over trade policy had pitted economic moderates such as [Steve] Mnuchin and [Gary] Cohn against pro-tariff nationalists like U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Trump’s special trade adviser Peter Navarro. …
“In May, when Mnuchin traveled to Beijing for negotiations, Trump also dispatched [Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross, Lighthizer, Navarro, and Kudlow to accompany him. (A Treasury spokesman says Mnuchin asked Ross and Lighthizer to join.) Predictably, there were tensions within the U.S. delegation. A White House official says Mnuchin and Navarro argued repeatedly, including in rooms where the Chinese could hear them. …
“Their dispute, two sources say, escalated when Mnuchin insisted on meeting one-on-one with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, President Xi Jinping’s chief economic adviser. Navarro wandered around outside sulking, they say, and ended up yelling at Mnuchin when he discovered that Lighthizer and Ross also joined the talks.” Bloomberg … The cover
WHAT COULD GO WRONG? — “Trump administration cuts staff at financial markets watchdog: source,” by Reuters’ Pete Schroeder: “The Trump administration moved on Wednesday to shrink a government agency tasked with identifying looming financial risks, notifying around 40 staff members they would be laid off, according to a person familiar with the changes. The employees at the Office of Financial Research (OFR) were formally told on Wednesday they will lose their jobs as part of a broader reorganization of the agency that was created in the wake of the 2007-2009 global financial crisis.” Reuters
K-FILE — “Corey Stewart praised southern secession in 2017 campaign appearance,” by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott: “The Virginia Republican made the comments in April 2017 at an event in South Boston, Virginia, hosted by an unapologetic secessionist. … ‘This is the state of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and James Monroe. …
“‘[I]t’s also the state of Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart. Because, at the base of it, Virginians, we think for ourselves,’ he continued. ‘And if the established order is wrong, we rebel. We did that in the Revolution, we did it in the Civil War, and we’re doing it today. We’re doing it today because they’re trying to rob us of everything that we hold dear: our history, our heritage, our culture.’” CNN
VALLEY TALK — “SEC Probes Tesla CEO Musk’s Tweets,” by WSJ’s Dave Michaels and Michael Rapoport: “U.S. regulators are asking Tesla Inc. whether Chief Executive Elon Musk was truthful when he tweeted that he had secured funding for what would be the largest-ever corporate buyout, people familiar with the matter said. Officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission want to know whether Mr. Musk had a factual basis for tweeting Tuesday that the going-private transaction was all but certain, with only a shareholder vote needed to pull it off … Mr. Musk also could be in trouble if regulators develop evidence that he made a statement aimed at goosing his company’s share price.” WSJ
MEDIAWATCH — “ProPublica to Fund Investigative Reporting Focused on State Government,” by NYT’s John Koblin: “The nonprofit news organization ProPublica announced a new initiative on Wednesday to provide funding for local news outlets to pursue investigative projects focused on state government. … For its initiative, ProPublica said it would choose seven local news organizations and that the work would begin early next year.
“Editors for the organizations can contact ProPublica and explain the investigative project they intend to pursue, along with the name of a reporter who would lead the project. ProPublica said it would cover the salary of the reporter and provide an ‘allowance’ for benefits for one year.” NYT … The ProPublica announcement
SPOTTED: Wolf Blitzer last night at the Wundergarten beer garden in NoMa playing trivia — pic
SPOTTED at a party in NYC hosted by Molly Jong Fast to honor Rick Wilson for his new book “Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever” ($29.99 on Amazon): Brian Stelter, John Avlon, Max Boot, Noah Shachtman, Evan Siegfried, Lis Smith, Rick Ungar, Michael Ian Black, Maxwell Tani, Robert George, Renato Mariotti and Joan Walsh.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD – Ylan Mui, a reporter in D.C. for CNBC and a WaPo alum, and Adam McClintock recently welcomed Charles Than McClintock. Pic … Pic with big sister Eleanor and big brother William by Jessica Smith Photography
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: NYT reporter Ken Vogel is 43. How he celebrated: “Spent a week in Colorado with my wife Danielle, but returned on Tuesday to cover the testimony of Rick Gates against Paul Manafort, whose foreign consulting efforts I’ve been covering for years. Ben Smith and I first covered the work of Manafort and other American consultants in Ukraine back in 2009.”
— A fun fact about Ken: “I have a Philadelphia Eagles tattoo. Also, every Thanksgiving, I work behind the deli counter at my wife’s store, Glen’s Garden Market, so that she can give her entire hourly staff the day off.” Playbook Plus Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Bill Burton, California managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, is 41 … Kathleen Matthews … Julian Barnes, who covers the intelligence agencies for the NYT, is 47 … Michael Fletcher, senior writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated … Hoda Kotb is 54 … Chris Cuomo is 48 … Brian F. Keane, president of SmartPower … Tim Tagaris, CEO/owner of Aisle 518 Strategies … Isaac Lederman … Robert Traynham, who does comms at Facebook (hat tips: Blain Rethmeier and Andy Stone) … Amanda Isaacson … Jarrett Morrell … T.J. Clark … Leila Sepehri Getto, deputy director of scheduling and advance at Interior (h/t Heather Swift) … Lauren Maddox, senior policy adviser for Holland & Knight … Sharon Wagener … Christine Trippi … Brian Hart, founder and CEO of LightHouse DC (h/ts Jon Haber) … Reese Dickens … Kerry Troup … Jordan Hosko … Rebecca Kirszner Katz, partner at Hilltop Public Solutions … Suzanne Elio … Mike Mears, RNC’s director of strategic partnerships …
… Fred Brown of Dezenhall Resources (h/ts Rebecca Schieber and Raffi Williams) … William Smith … Gable Brady, who just moved to a new role at Senate Budget Committee (h/t Mary Clare Rigali) … Ryan Hampton … Karin Tanabe … Scott Tiel … Elise Aronson … Jamie Reno … Andrew Light … Deion Sanders … Isaac Levido … Mike Whatley … Catherine Tran … Eric Woolson … Rhonda Bentz … David Sours … Carla Baranauckas, project coordinator at the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University and an NYT alum … former Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) is 63 … former Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) is 48 … Richard Weiblinger … Marianna Boyd … Brendan McDermott … Ike Crews … Kate Leone … Ann E.W. Stone … Chris Sautter … Alen Salerian … Virginia Pancoe … Marcel Lettre … Connie Doebele … Jeff Berman is 47 … Paul Bradley … Mark Craft … Tiffany Newton-Kenslow … Robin Pressman … Paul Vornholt … Ann Selzer (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)