TRUMP’S EMPTYING WHITE HOUSE … DON MCGAHN is leaving. The Washington Post reported last night: “Three of McGahn’s deputies — Greg Katsas, Uttam Dhillon and Makan Delrahim — have departed, and a fourth, Stefan Passantino, will have his last day Friday. That leaves John Eisenberg, who handles national security, as the lone deputy counsel.” WaPo (By the way, why couldn’t Passantino hold on a few more months until he could say he’s leaving after the midterms?)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS — the marquee name in the president’s White House press shop — doesn’t seem to be far behind, according to reports. And it’s widely believed that JOHN KELLY could also head for the exits at some point, despite saying he will remain in the post through 2020. Not to mention a number of lower-level staffers who have already left the administration. Turnover, of course, is a natural part of any White House. These jobs are high-stress and require grueling hours.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT HERE is that unlike previous administrations, there isn’t an army of political operatives and top aides vying to replace the troops. Scores of top HOUSE REPUBLICAN aides are going to be looking for jobs soon, and we’ve only heard of a handful that are even willing to consider an administration job.
THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE has never been a sought-after gig for much of professional Washington — and that has only become more true as the president has faced an onslaught of investigations and scandal. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’s proclivity for throwing top aides under the bus and publicly humiliating folks like Attorney General Jeff Sessions hasn’t helped his recruitment case.
ALL THE STABILIZING FORCES are walking away, just as Trump needs them most. Split government in Washington is hard — just ask Barack Obama, John Boehner, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.
THE DANGER FOR TRUMP … THESE ABSENCES create an opening for the fiery wing of Trump world — Corey Lewandowski, Katrina Pierson and others — to have influence in 2019, when the president might face a barrage of Capitol Hill investigations in the lead-up to his re-election campaign.
MORE ON MCGAHN — NYT’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Mike Schmidt and Maggie Haberman: “Mr. Trump often griped that he wanted to get rid of Mr. McGahn, but the president never seemed willing to follow through on it. The president asked Rob Porter, then the staff secretary, several times last year if he would be willing to take over for Mr. McGahn, an idea supported by several of his aides and his children.
“But Mr. Porter told the president that he did not believe he was qualified for the role, felt it was the wrong fit for him and preferred focusing on policy, those briefed on the discussions said. He has since left the White House amid accusations of spousal abuse.” NYT
— “‘They just kind of avoided each other’: How Trump and McGahn’s partnership collapsed,” by Andrew Restuccia, Nancy Cook and Elana Schor: “People who know both men said their mutual frustrations are often manifested in silence, rather than massive blow-ups. … One outside associate of McGahn’s said it always bothered Trump that McGahn was ‘his own man and wouldn’t kowtow to him.’” POLITICO
CLIP AND SAVE … NYT’S SHANE GOLDMACHER: “In his firmest denial of presidential ambitions yet, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Wednesday that, if re-elected, he would finish a full third term as New York’s governor — or die trying. ‘The only caveat is if God strikes me dead,’ Mr. Cuomo said during Wednesday night’s debate with Cynthia Nixon.” NYT
SPOTTED — Steven Mnuchin having dinner at Cafe Milano … Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) last night at the DC United game against Philadelphia Union … Redskins coach Jay Gruden and his wife with two friends at Blackwall Hitch in Old Town, Alexandria … Stevie Wonder singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” in memory of John McCain last night during his concert at MGM at National Harbor. He also sang “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield in memory of former Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.).
ELIANA JOHNSON and ELANA SCHOR, “Trump personally lobbying GOP senators to flip on Sessions”: “The willingness of Republican senators to turn on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the result of a furious lobbying campaign from President Donald Trump, who for the past 10 days has been venting his anger at Sessions to ‘any senator who will listen,’ as one GOP Senate aide put it.
“The president, who has spent a year and a half fulminating against his attorney general in public, finally got traction on Capitol Hill thanks to the growing frustration of a handful of GOP senators with their former colleague – most importantly, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who have been irritated by Sessions’ opposition to a criminal justice reform bill they support, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen congressional GOP aides, Trump advisers, and Republicans close to the White House.
“Trump raised the prospect of firing Sessions last week in a phone conversation with Graham, according to two Capitol Hill aides, who said that Graham pressed the president to hold off until after the midterm elections. The president has also complained loudly about Sessions to several Republican senators …
“Though [Trump’s lawyers] once cautioned him that dismissing Sessions would feed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s potential obstruction of justice, these people say, Trump’s legal team has become increasingly convinced Mueller will make that case regardless of whether the president fires Sessions or leaves him in place.” POLITICO
IN MEMORIAM — BRYAN BENDER in Phoenix, “Arizona bids farewell to ‘favorite adopted son’: But the battle for John McCain’s legacy has only just begun”: “When John McCain first ran for Congress in Arizona in 1982, he was accused of being a carpetbagger who was using the state to advance his own ambitions. On Wednesday, political elites of all stripes and average citizens alike bade him farewell as if he were a native son — one with no clear successor on the horizon to carry on his work.” POLITICO
— “Honoring John McCain: Images of remembrance and mourning” — 13 pix
— NYT A1: “Planning His Funeral, McCain Got the Last Word Against Trump,” by Mike Shear and Katie Rogers: “Not long after Senator John McCain learned last summer that he had terminal brain cancer, he began convening meetings every Friday in his Capitol Hill office with a group of trusted aides. The subject was his funeral.
“He obsessed over the music, selecting the Irish ballad ‘Danny Boy’ and several patriotic hymns. He choreographed the movement of his coffin from Arizona, his home state, to Washington. And in April, when he knew the end was coming, he began reaching out to Republicans, Democrats and even a Russian dissident with requests that they deliver eulogies and serve as pallbearers. By the time he died on Saturday, Mr. McCain had carefully stage-managed a four-day celebration of his life — but what was also an unmistakable rebuke to President Trump and his agenda.
“For years, Mr. Trump had used Twitter and the presidential bully pulpit to mock and condemn the senator. In death, Mr. McCain found a way to have the last word, even quietly making it clear through friends that Mr. Trump was not welcome at the services. ‘I think it’s fair to say that they have a very different view of this country and what this country means, here and abroad,’ said Mark Salter, the senator’s longtime friend and co-author who sat with Mr. McCain — often with a lump in his throat — during the many discussions about his looming death. ‘His overall message was: ‘It doesn’t have to be this s****y.’” NYT
ON THE WORLD STAGE — “Trump promised Kim Jong Un he’d sign an agreement to end the Korean War,” by Vox’s Alex Ward: “President Donald Trump told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their Singapore summit in June that he’d sign a declaration to end the Korean War soon after their meeting, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations.
“But since then, the Trump administration has repeatedly asked Pyongyang to dismantle most of its nuclear arsenal first, before signing such a document. That decision is likely what has led to the current stalemate in negotiations between the two countries — and the increasingly hostile rhetoric from North Korea.” Vox
BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE WHITE HOUSE … from WaPo’s Phil Rucker, Carol Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker: “The president and some of his advisers have discussed possibly adding veteran defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who currently represents Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to Trump’s personal legal team if an impeachment battle or other fights with Congress emerge after the midterm elections, according to people familiar with the discussions.
“Trump advisers also are discussing recruiting experienced legal firepower to the Office of White House Counsel, which is facing departures and has dwindled in size at a critical juncture. The office has about 25 lawyers now, down from roughly 35 earlier in the presidency, according to a White House official with direct knowledge.” WaPo
2018 WATCH — NYT’s JEREMY PETERS: “Democratic Embrace of Diverse Candidates Collides With Barbed Politics of Trump Era”
THE JUICE …
— FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: ARTHUR BROOKS, outgoing president of the American Enterprise Institute, has accepted a position as professor of the practice of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and senior fellow at the Harvard Business School, beginning in July 2019. Brooks will continue to serve as president through June 2019 as the think tank conducts a national search for its new president.
— SCOOP: JASON FOSTER, chief investigative counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee under Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is joining DCI Group in September to be part of its investigations practice.
TRUMP’S THURSDAY — The president is heading to Evansville, Indiana, this afternoon. He will meet with supporters there and speak at a joint fundraising committee event. In the evening, Trump will headline a political rally before returning to Washington.
TRADE WARS — “Bloomberg Moves New Forum for Elites From China Amid Fallout of Trade War,” by NYT’s Edward Wong: “Fallout from the trade war between the United States and China has prompted Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire media executive and former mayor of New York City, to relocate what was planned as a conference of global business and political leaders in Beijing to rival Davos, the elite annual conclave in Switzerland.
“Organizers in New York are moving the event to Singapore, where it is to take place over two days in the first week of November. Mr. Bloomberg made the decision after a Chinese partner asked organizers last week to postpone the event, according to people with knowledge of the planning. Instead, the partner told organizers, President Xi Jinping and other leaders in China want to spotlight an import expo in Shanghai to bolster international interest in trade with the country.” NYT
HMM — “U.S. is denying passports to Americans along the border, throwing their citizenship into question,” by WaPo’s Kevin Sieff in Pharr, Texas: WaPo
FOR YOUR RADAR — “Inside The Trump Administration’s Secret War On Weed,” by BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden: “The White House has secretly amassed a committee of federal agencies from across the government to combat public support for marijuana and cast state legalization measures in a negative light, while attempting to portray the drug as a national threat, according to interviews with agency staff and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
“The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit ‘data demonstrating the most significant negative trends’ about marijuana and the ‘threats’ it poses to the country.” BuzzFeed
MEDIAWATCH — “Lanny Davis burns reporters. Should they still give him a megaphone?” by Jason Schwartz: “Lanny Davis, in his role as lawyer and spokesman for Michael Cohen, has copped to misleading journalists, admitted he made false statements on national television and generally caused headaches for reporters who’ve used him as a source. It’s the latest example of a perennial Washington question that seems to have become more pressing in the Donald Trump era: How should journalists handle sources who are in powerful news-maker positions, but who are also known to be dishonest?
“In the case of Davis, the rare source who publicly admits to misleading reporters, the debate is even more fraught. POLITICO reached out to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and NBC News, ABC News and CBS News, but none would say whether they would continue to put Davis on air, nor would they articulate the scenarios in which they think it would be justified.” POLITICO
TRANSITION … Julia Tishman is joining TIAA as the director of federal government relations. She was most recently with Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.).
BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Brian Kennedy, who runs the Americas for FTI Consulting and is a former press secretary to John Boehner (hat tip: Chris Tucker)
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Gary Ginsberg, founding partner of 25Madison, a new startup studio and incubator, and former EVP of Time Warner. How he got his start in his career: “My earlier career in politics was jump-started by a late night phone call I got from a hometown friend who had gone to work for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign. For six months my friend worked in New Hampshire building — fruitlessly we all believed — the field operation for a primary race no one expected Hart to win. But then he did, and within a hour of Hart’s victory speech my buddy was on the phone with an offer for me to become an advance man, a term I had never even heard before. I said yes, and five days later … I had officially transitioned from a sleepy second semester college senior into an energized political crusader.” Playbook Plus Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Warren Buffett is 88 … CNN’s John King is ageless (h/t Dick Keil) … Nancy Beren, grandma to Ryder Sherman, and Manya and Phin Saiger … Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) is 58 … Christi Parsons, senior editor for recruiting at The Atlantic … Patrick Kerley … Corley Kenna, director of global comms and PR at Patagonia (h/ts Ben Chang) … Jordan Kauflin … Ginny Hunt, VP of justice and opportunity at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative … Kerri Collins … WaPo’s Martine Powers … POLITICO’s Mitch Schuler and Jennifer Dreyer … Catherine Pritchard … Elizabeth Harball … Kimmy Railey … Elliot Bell-Krasner … Margy Levinson of BerlinRosen Public Affairs … Fox News’ Eldad Yaron … Bradley Silverman … Julia Hoffman, Rep. Joe Kennedy and Rep. Katherine Clark’s fundraiser and a partner at 4C Partners (hubby tip: Eitan Hersh) …
… Caitlin Girouard, campaign manager for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) … Alec Camhi … Clayton Cox is 31 … Lia Albini Ginis, UConn evangelist and Sen. Chris Murphy’s digital director, is 3-0 (h/t Chris Harris) … Alex Cathcart … Murray Weiss of CBS’ “48 Hours” … John Donner … Ariana Berengaut … Eric Pooley, SVP of strategy and comms at the Environmental Defense Fund … Susan Holappa … George Riccardo … Christine Marlowe … Karl Russo … Minna Elias … Bush SBA alum Cheryl Mills … Peter Ramjug … Sara Cooper … Christine Mangi … Jody Day … Greg Spring … Charlie Pope … Terry Bish … Sean Finnegan … Andrey Che … Cristine Russell … Pam Gibson … Heidi Aldrich … Rob Dettbarn … Ruthie Posekany … Justin Paschal … Jadyn Gilbert (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)