THE “ME, ME, ME” ERA … CALIFORNIA REP. DUNCAN HUNTER has been indicted on charges that he used his campaign account like a piggy bank. Prosecutors allege he spent freely on everything from hotels to family vacations to Italy. Not only is he not stepping aside immediately, he says he’s running for re-election, and even vows to fight his fellow Republicans, forcing a contentious vote on whether he could serve on his committees while under indictment. Channeling Trump, he said the charges were politically motivated, despite all evidence to the contrary.
IT’S NOT ENOUGH that NEW YORK REP. CHRIS COLLINS is an elected member of Congress. It’s not enough that he’s worth tens of millions of dollars. It’s not enough that he has a direct line to the president of the United States. But Collins decided that he would sit on a board of a publicly traded pharmaceutical company while also sitting on a committee that regulates the pharmaceutical industry. When he got indicted on insider trading charges, he decided he’d stick around Congress even though he’s forgoing a re-election bid.
REPUBLICANS have a candidate described by his party as a Nazi running in Illinois, despite the fact he’ll certainly lose. Roy Moore ran — and lost — in Alabama despite gruesome allegations of sexual misconduct, ignoring calls to step aside.
WELCOME to the “me, me, me” era. For generations, there was a party-before-self ethos in politics. In a scandal? Step aside. Skeletons in the closet? Don’t run. Your time is up? Move on.
BUT MANY SAY THERE HAS BEEN a creeping sense of self that seems more pervasive in contemporary politics.
HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP refuses to even entertain conversations about stepping aside, despite scores of Democrats who say they want a shot at the top of the party. If you dare mention that the party is being run by near 80-year-olds, you’ll be on the other end of an angry phone call.
SPEAKER PAUL RYAN announced he would not run for re-election in the middle of a congressional session, instead of running, winning and retiring after Election Day, as many believed he should.
DEMOCRATS criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for dragging the 2016 primary out for far too long. Now, the party fears he’s dragging the political dialogue too far to the left, supporting candidates who will lose in the general election, or forcing moderate Democrats to take positions out of step with their districts.
THERE IS, PERHAPS, NO BETTER EXAMPLE of this phenomenon than PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, who has ignored calls from his party’s poobahs to talk relentlessly about tax reform and a brightening economy. Instead, against their wishes, he seems focused on the ballooning federal investigations into his campaign and administration. Two hundred and thirty six House Republicans and six Senate Republicans are up for re-election in November, all of whom have to answer for the president’s every musing.
Good Thursday morning. SPOTTED: JARED KUSHNER having dinner last night at Café Milano with investment banker ARYEH BOURKOFF, founder and CEO of LionTree. Bourkoff recently lunched with Hope Hicks in New York. Pic … Another pic
STORY OF THE DAY … WSJ’S REBECCA DAVIS O’BRIEN, NICOLE HONG and JOE PALAZZOLO: “Why Michael Cohen Agreed to Plead Guilty—And Implicate the President: Prosecutors had reams of evidence and a long list of counts, which also could have included the lawyer’s wife”: “The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office had testimony from Mr. Cohen’s accountant and business partners, along with bank records, tax filings and loan applications that implicated not only Mr. Cohen in potential criminal activity, but also his wife, who filed taxes jointly with her husband. Prosecutors signaled Mr. Cohen would face nearly 20 criminal counts, potentially carrying a lengthy prison sentence and staggering financial penalties.
“Adding to the pressure, David Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, provided prosecutors with details about payments Mr. Cohen arranged with women who alleged sexual encounters with President Trump, including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals. …
“A personal turning point for Mr. Cohen was a conversation with his father, Maurice Cohen, a Holocaust survivor. Mr. Cohen’s father urged him not to protect the president, saying he didn’t survive the Holocaust to have his name sullied by Mr. Trump, according to a person who was told about the conversation. The elder Mr. Cohen couldn’t be reached for comment.” WSJ
BEHIND THE SCENES … RACHAEL BADE and JOHN BRESNAHAN: “With House majority at stake, Dems don’t want to talk about impeaching Trump”: “As Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, was pleading guilty in a federal court to campaign charges implicating the president, House Democratic leaders were on a conference call warning rank-and-file lawmakers: Don’t use the word ‘impeachment.’
“Speaking to members back home in their districts, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team Tuesday cautioned lawmakers to frame Cohen’s plea deal as further evidence of a corrupt administration that needs a Democratic check in Congress, they said. Or, play up Hill Republicans’ apathy in the face of Trump’s endless scandals, they encouraged.” POLITICO
WAPO’S SEUNG MIN KIM: “Trump to headline Ohio GOP dinner, but Kasich won’t be there”: “Kasich, one of the party’s fiercest Trump critics, will not attend the dinner, spokesman Chris Schrimpf confirmed Wednesday. The governor said at a news conference earlier this week that he plans instead to take one of his twin daughters to college.” WaPo
TRUMP’S WORLD … ANDREW RESTUCCIA and NANCY COOK, “Trump paints his own reality amid legal fallout”: “President Donald Trump and his aides moved quickly Wednesday to insulate themselves from the legal firestorm encircling the White House by writing their own version of reality and attacking anybody who contests it.
“In the president’s alternate universe, the campaign violations his former attorney pleaded guilty to are ‘not a crime’; the hush payments meant to quiet two women’s affair allegations came to his attention only ‘later on’; and a jury’s guilty verdicts against his former campaign manager were the latest evidence of a rigged witch hunt.
“A day after two of his former advisers were hit in the criminal proceedings, Trump is circling the wagons, showing no signs of ceding ground and relying on his favorite outlets — Twitter and Fox News — to launch a counterattack. And all the while, White House aides insist, against all odds, that everything is just fine.
“Two senior administration officials tried to make the case that it was ‘business as usual’ at the White House on Wednesday. The president ‘is in a great mood,’ said one of the officials, shortly after Trump sat down for an interview with Fox News.” POLITICO
— WAPO’S BOB COSTA and JOSH DAWSEY: “‘How do you spin a fact?’ White House grapples with response to Cohen, Manafort convictions”: “President Trump was in a foul mood on Tuesday as he boarded the short flight to his rally in West Virginia and incensed by the wall-to-wall news coverage of his former associates who were convicted in federal courts hours earlier, according to three advisers who were not authorized to speak publicly.
“‘Feisty,’ Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) recalled of Trump, in an interview about her trip alongside him. ‘He’s a fighter, and I think he feels, at least yesterday, besieged and not too happy about it.’ …
“Inside Trump’s orbit, there is a debate: Some confidants see this week as an unsettling inflection point. Others see yet another round of problems that are vexing but not a danger to break Trump. ‘We’ve been through everything; the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape when almost everyone walked away,’ said one White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly. ‘This is nothing. He’s fine.’
“Trump was looking for reassurances on Wednesday. At a morning meeting with top advisers, Trump gathered Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, counselor Kellyanne Conway, and Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine and sought out their candid take on the fallout, according to two people briefed on the discussion.
“Trump was mostly calm, frequently distracted by the Cohen and Manafort cases but insisting that Democrats could overplay their hand if they seize on those issues ahead of this year’s midterm elections, the people said, adding that the advisers were eager to turn his attention elsewhere. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, told others Wednesday that Trump had withstood bigger crises.” WaPo
IN HIS OWN WORDS — @realDonaldTrump at 8:56 p.m.: “The only thing that I have done wrong is to win an election that was expected to be won by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. The problem is, they forgot to campaign in numerous states!” … at 1:10 a.m.: “NO COLLUSION – RIGGED WITCH HUNT!”
75 DAYS until the midterm election. … THE DCCC just dropped $802,040 on media against Republicans in four GOP districts: Dino Rossi in Washington state, Steve Watkins and Kevin Yoder in Kansas, and Claudia Tenney in New York. The Watkins buy is the largest — $280,235. Watkins is running for retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ seat.
PARDONING PAUL? — “Ainsley Earhardt: Trump mentioned pardoning Paul Manafort” — Fox News … SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS at yesterday’s press briefing: “I am not aware of any conversations regarding that at all.” POLITICO
NOTHING TO SEE HERE — “‘It is what it is’: Republicans shrug off Trump’s legal meltdown,” by Burgess Everett and Nolan McCaskill: “Twenty-four hours after one of the most damaging days for Donald Trump’s presidency, the Republican wall of support around him shows no signs of crumbling.
“Though some GOP senators expressed discomfort with the plea deal reached by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and the guilty verdict rendered on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, there has been no seismic shift in the GOP after a bombshell Tuesday. Some Republicans attacked Cohen as not credible, some said Manafort’s conviction has nothing to do with Trump and others still said the matter doesn’t fall in their purview as senators.
“Moreover, the president still enjoys strong support among most Republican elected officials, a significant achievement given the rising prospects that Senate Republicans could be the backstop against an impeachment trial in the Senate if Democrats win the House. If Trump faces impeachment next year, for now it seems that he can count on the support of the Senate GOP. ‘I’m not sure why that would change my support for the president,’ said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) of the past day’s events. ‘He was elected by the American people. Short of impeachment or death, he’s the president.’” POLITICO
— MICHAEL KRUSE in POLITICO Magazine, “‘He’s Unraveling’: Why Cohen’s Betrayal Terrifies Trump: Perhaps for the first time, an insider has bitten back—hard.” POLITICO Magazine
2018 WATCH — “DNC: Alleged hacking attempt was only a ‘test,’” by Eric Geller and Daniel Strauss: “DNC chief security officer Bob Lord said just before midnight Wednesday that the phony website that created fears of a new cyberattack was in fact just part of a ‘simulated … test,’ and was created by an unnamed ‘third party.’
“The test ‘mimicked several attributes of actual attacks on the Democratic Party’s voter file,’ Lord added in a statement, but it did not compromise sensitive data. ‘There are constant attempts to hack the DNC and our Democratic infrastructure, and while we are extremely relieved that this wasn’t an attempted intrusion by a foreign adversary, this incident is further proof that we need to continue to be vigilant in light of potential attacks,’ he added.” POLITICO
THE FOX FEEDBACK LOOP — “Nearly a quarter of Trump’s Instagram posts are reposts of Fox News content,” by CNN’s Hunter Schwarz: “Trump’s account reposted 85 photos or videos from either Fox News, Fox Business or ‘Fox & Friends’ from May 22 to Aug. 22. That’s about 24% of the 358 posts on Trump’s account in that time frame. Many of the Fox posts that Trump’s account reposts are graphics of Trump quotes — either things he said or tweeted — creating a social media feedback loop. Trump tweets, Fox News turns the tweet into a graphic and that graphic ends up back on a @realDonaldTrump account.” CNN
THE INVESTIGATIONS — MUELLER APPROVAL UP — Fox News’ Dana Blanton: “Approval of Special Counsel Robert Mueller stands at 59 percent, up 11 points since July, and 40 percent expect the investigation will find Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses, up 5 points.” Fox News
— “New York state subpoenas Cohen in Trump Foundation probe,” by AP’s David Klepper: “The subpoena was issued after Cohen’s attorney said his client has information of interest to both state and federal prosecutors. As Trump’s longtime lawyer and self-described ‘fixer,’ Cohen could potentially be a significant source of information for state investigators looking into whether Trump or his charity broke state law or lied about their tax liability.” AP
TRUMP’S THURSDAY — The president will participate in a roundtable on the “Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act” this morning.
JOIN US — Anna and Jake will be in Pennsylvania for a Playbook Elections event Friday, Aug. 31 at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia at 7:45 a.m. to discuss the 2018 midterm cycle and the issues that are shaping the races. RSVP
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST — “‘Thanks Mr. Trump’: state media mocks U.S. president for helping make China great again,” by Kinling Lo: “China’s biggest state broadcaster has produced a short, satirical video mocking the U.S. president that opens with the line: ‘Thanks Mr. Trump, you are GREAT!’ The English-language footage, which was uploaded on YouTube on Monday night, takes the form of a letter to Donald Trump that thanks him for all the things he has done for China, and highlights many of the country’s concerns in the ongoing trade dispute. … It is one of the few occasions that state media has personally targeted the U.S. president since the start of the trade war, with most reports taking a less confrontational tone. …
“At one point it even argues that China’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. food and drink imports will help improve the nation’s health, saying: ‘On behalf of doctors, thank you for pointing out the need to wean off American goods like bourbon and bacon.’ … The video was apparently removed from CGTN’s official YouTube and Twitter accounts on Wednesday. The timing of the removal is notable, as it comes hours before Chinese and U.S. representatives are to sit down in Washington to discuss the trade war.” With screengrabs of the video SCMP
SEXUAL HARASSMENT FILES — “Trump called this White House defender ‘wonderful.’ He was fired from his previous job for alleged sexual harassment,” by WaPo’s Aaron C. Davis: “A conservative commentator who was lauded by President Trump this week as ‘wonderful’ and who has argued that past sexual indiscretions should have no bearing on Trump’s presidency was fired from Arizona State University four years ago for making sexually explicit comments and gestures toward women, according to documents and a university official.
“An internal investigation by the university concluded that Paris Dennard, a surrogate during the campaign and now a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, told a recent college graduate who worked for him that he wanted to have sex with her.
“He ‘pretended to unzip his pants in her presence, tried to get her to sit on his lap, and made masturbatory gestures,’ according to a university report obtained by The Washington Post. According to the 2014 report, Dennard did not dispute those claims but said he committed the acts jokingly. The investigation began after the woman and a second female employee told superiors Dennard’s actions went too far and had made them uncomfortable.
“Dennard, a CNN political commentator, opinion contributor to the Hill, and regular guest on NPR’s ‘Here & Now,’ was working at the time as events director for ASU’s McCain Institute for International Leadership. … Shortly after The Post published this article Wednesday night, a CNN spokeswoman said the network was suspending Dennard while it reviews the allegations.” WaPo
FOR YOUR RADAR — “ISIS Leader Baghdadi Resurfaces in Recording,” by NYT’s Rukmini Callimachi: “The leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, resurfaced on Wednesday in the first audio recording of him to be released in nearly a year, one in which he called on followers to attack Westerners with knives, guns, cars and bombs. Based on events cited in the recording, it appears to have been made within the past few weeks, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the group’s propaganda online and provided a translation. If deemed authentic, the speech should serve to quell rumors of Mr. Baghdadi’s death.” NYT
— “U.S. to bring back Khalilzad as special Afghanistan envoy: sources,” by Reuters’ Jonathan Landay and John Walcott: “U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to tap Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Iraq, as his special envoy on Afghanistan, two U.S. officials said, the latest signal to the Taliban that the United States is serious about talks to end its longest war. The decision to tap Khalilzad, a Republican foreign policy veteran, comes as U.S. military commanders acknowledge a stalemate in the fighting and follows a meeting last month between a U.S. diplomat and Taliban officials to explore possible negotiations.” Reuters
MEDIAWATCH — Per Oliver Darcy in CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter: “Gabby Morrongiello is jumping from The Washington Examiner to Politico, according to a person familiar with the move. A spokesperson for Politico confirmed the news. Morrongiello will continue to cover the W.H. and starts her new gig in October.”
— Mark Schoofs, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is joining the USC Annenberg School of Journalism to lead its investigative journalism programming. He most recently was BuzzFeed’s investigations and projects editor. The announcement
SPOTTED sitting together in Kennedy Center box seats at “The Color Purple” last night: Matt and Mercy Schlapp and Katrina Pierson … at the Nats vs. Phillies game last night (which the Nats won 8-7): Ben Bernanke and his wife Anna Friedman and Katie Ledecky (separately) … Denis McDonough outside the Starbucks at 1301 Connecticut Ave. NW in Dupont Circle.
TRANSITION — Darrell “D.J.” Jordan is joining the strategic comms firm Pinkston Group as a director. He most recently has been communications director for Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Martin Fitzgerald of Jason Kander’s group Let America Vote and an alum of Harry Reid and Catherine Cortez Masto (hat tip: Zach Hudson).
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Ambassador Miriam Sapiro, a managing director and vice chairman of SVC Public Affairs and former deputy USTR. A fun fact about Miriam: “Early in my career I spent several weeks sequestered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, helping Dick Holbrooke and John Kornblum hammer out the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia.” Playbook Plus Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Stephen Miller is 33 … Brian Walsh, Trump WH alum who is now special assistant to the Secretary of Labor … Patti Solis Doyle … NBC News’ Mike Memoli is 36 … Queen Noor of Jordan is 67 … Chase Cushman … Richard Chalkey, associate director of the National Economic Council at the White House (h/ts Ninio Fetalvo and Lenwood Brooks) … Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski … Todd Van Etten, chief digital strategist at The Herald Group (h/t Taylor Gross) … Mark Appleton … Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam is 6-0 … Rob Bluey, VP of publishing at the Heritage Foundation and Daily Signal editor in chief, is 39 … Annah Backstrom … Emily David … Politico’s Madina Toure and Caitlin Oprysko … Ted Newton … Ameer Patel … Nate Williams … CBS News’ Lindsey Boerma … John Hall, partner at Targeted Victory (h/t Zac Moffatt) … Kevin Siers, Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for the Charlotte Observer … Robert Solow is 94 …
… Craig Silverman, media editor at BuzzFeed, is 41 (h/t Ben Smith) … Mark Cruz … Democratic political strategist Ed Mitchell … Jenna Alsayegh, director of public affairs at USTelecom, is 3-0 … Eitan Cabel is 59 … Norman Braman is 86 … Charlie Greene, director of public affairs and policy for 21st Century Fox … Axios’ Alexi McCammond … Sarah Huang … Bradley Singer, talent agent at WME (h/t Jamie Weinstein) … David Wickenden, SVP of corporate strategy and strategic impact at AARP (h/t Jon Haber) … Ian Jefferies, SVP of gov’t affairs at Association of American Railroads … Jesse Connolly … Brook Hazelton … Terry Bean … former Calif. Gov. Pete Wilson is 85 … Lauren Dart … Bryer Davis … Erin Collins … Chaz Wells-Armstrong … Connor Galvin … Christine Padilla … Janet Turner … Billy Feitlinger … Casey Hudek … Dennis Walto … Lori Brown (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Brian Majorsky … Derrick Crowe … Jordan Kauflin … James Baehr … Gary Brookins … Mark Steinberg … former Surgeon General Antonia Novello is 74 (h/t AP).