EVERY DAY IN THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY is a wild ride, but yesterday was particularly emblematic of the breakneck pace.
LET’S RECAP: 1. The White House released Trump’s financial disclosure, which showed he paid his attorney, who paid off a porn star -- something he has denied (Trump’s financial disclosure http://bit.ly/2INeVvS). 2. New details emerged on the Trump Tower meeting with Russians, including an effort by Donald Trump Jr. to coordinate statements after the meeting became public. 3. The Senate Intel Committee agreed with the intelligence community that Russians did in fact try to help Trump win the 2016 election. …
… 4. Trump’s former secretary of state took a veiled shot at his old boss saying lies are a threat to democracy. 5. The Senate, controlled by Republicans, rejected their own president’s approach to net neutrality. 6. House Republican leadership warned its own members they could lose a majority over DACA. 7. Embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said he has a legal defense fund, allowing others to contribute to pay his attorney bills. 8. The president called some undocumented immigrants “animals.”
THERE ARE FOUR DAYS LEFT IN THE WEEK. What else could happen?
Good Thursday morning. STATE OF PLAY IN THE HOUSE … WEAKNESS ABOUNDS … HOUSE SPEAKER PAUL RYAN, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY and HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP STEVE SCALISE have spent this week trying to get Republicans to not sign a discharge petition that would open the House floor to a wide-ranging immigration debate. AS OF NOW, IT’S BEEN A FAILURE.
-- AFTER THE TRIO spent the morning making the argument that this was not the path to go down, two Republicans -- New York Rep. John Katko and Michigan Rep. Dave Trott -- signed it anyway. THAT REPUBLICANS are openly defying their own leadership is relatively stunning. McCarthy has made the argument that an immigration vote could cost Republicans the majority. That clearly isn’t resonating.
-- REPUBLICANS ARE IN A BOX. The discharge petition is a bad look for a lot of conservatives, who rightly think that the process will lead to a bill that will be carried mostly by Democrats. But it’s a central part of how the House works.
-- THE PEOPLE SIGNING THE PETITION -- McCarthy’s close friend Jeff Denham of California, among them -- have waited years for a bill, and frankly have no incentive to believe any leadership-backed effort until it’s imminent. WaPo’s Mike DeBonis breaks some of the dynamics down https://wapo.st/2KyrdWq
-- RYAN AND HIS LEADERSHIP TEAM are in search of a deal to get around the discharge petition. The only way they can do that is to find another compromise which has 218 -- and that compromise can also do away with the discharge petition. We're not sure what that deal would look like, since Republicans have whiffed on immigration for nearly a decade. But any deal would have to be a White House-backed effort, and would have to be a middle-of-the-road compromise since Ryan says he wants any bill he puts on the floor to get signed into law. MAKE NO MISTAKE this is a mess for the GOP.
-- ONE LAST POINT: Because of Ryan’s mid-year retirement announcement, McCarthy and Scalise both have to play this immigration situation really carefully. They are both effectively in the middle of a leadership election, whether they’d care to admit it or not.
-- WHAT DOES THIS TELL US ABOUT THE STATE OF CONGRESSIONAL POWER? OK, SO LET’S PLAY THIS OUT A FEW MONTHS … Today is the deadline for PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP to submit some sort of plan to Paul Ryan, indicating that he is going to get a new NAFTA deal. What makes anyone think that Trump and this GOP leadership will be able to shepherd through a trade deal when it can barely keep its conference aligned on immigration?
-- THE BASICS: WHY NAFTA WILL BE NEXT TO IMPOSSIBLE IN A LAME DUCK: NAFTA -- just like immigration -- would have to be bipartisan to pass. If Republicans lose the House, Trump will be at his absolute low point of political capital. He’ll get blamed -- at least in part -- for the loss. So he’ll have trouble pushing anything through. If Republicans keep the House, Democrats will be in the middle of a reckoning after a fifth straight election cycle loss. Why would they help Republicans -- or Trump? Megan Cassella goes deeper on what’s next for NAFTA https://politi.co/2L7cpPx
MEANWHILE IN THE SENATE… REPUBLICANS’ BIG FEAR -- “Sen. Heller to Trump: Don’t shut the government down before the midterms,” by Eliana Johnson and Burgess Everett: “Senate Republicans didn’t put too many questions to President Donald Trump when he joined them for lunch on Tuesday, but the party’s most vulnerable incumbent did make one big ask: Please, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller pleaded, don’t shut down the government over funding for a border wall before the midterm elections.
“Picking that fight during an election season would hurt Republicans at the ballot box, Heller told Trump, according to an attendee and two people briefed on the meeting. Though Heller prefaced his request by heaping praise on the president, Trump was noncommittal. ‘We’ll see what happens,’ he told the group.” https://politi.co/2IL1Q6m
MASSIVE NYT STORY … ON A1, BY MATT APUZZO, ADAM GOLDSTEIN and NICK FANDOS: “How F.B.I. Embarked, With Strictest Secrecy, On Trump Team’s Trail … ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ Review Produced Roots of Special Counsel’s Inquiry”: “Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.
“Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.
“The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane.
“The name, a reference to the Rolling Stones lyric ‘I was born in a crossfire hurricane,’ was an apt prediction of a political storm that continues to tear shingles off the bureau. Days after they closed their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, agents began scrutinizing the campaign of her Republican rival. The two cases have become inextricably linked in one of the most consequential periods in the history of the F.B.I.” https://nyti.ms/2LayTPo
COHEN FILES -- RONAN FARROW on NewYorker.com, “Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records: A law-enforcement official released the documents after finding that additional suspicious transactions did not appear in a government database”: http://bit.ly/2k1BjDJ
-- @shaneharris: “This is a remarkable story. I’ve never heard of SARs reports going missing. Some plausible explanations are spelled out in the story, but these are clearly rare. And that a U.S. official was concerned enough to leak, and then admit to leaking to draw attention to this, says a lot.”
-- @AriMelber: “NEW: Ethics office sending letter to Rod Rosenstein stating that Michael Cohen’s payment on behalf of Trump was a debt and may be relevant to ‘any inquiry’ Rosenstein may be pursuing.” http://bit.ly/2IM290J
-- RYAN GRIM in The Intercept, “Qatari Investor: Michael Cohen Asked Me for A Million Dollars”: Ahmed “al-Rumaihi ... was educated in the U.S. and served as the No. 2 in the Qatar embassy in Washington from 2008 until 2013 ... In several conversations with The Intercept since March, al-Rumaihi [the former head of a $100 billion part of the Qatar Investment Authority] talked about an encounter he had with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in December 2016.
“Al-Rumaihi said Cohen asked him for an upfront fee of $1 million for his services in the midst of their conversation about a potential Qatari investment in U.S. infrastructure. Cohen said it was ‘untrue’ that he had sought payment from al-Rumaihi. ‘These falsehoods and gross inaccuracies are only being written in the hopes of maligning me for sensationalistic purposes. The truth will prevail and will ultimately be proven in court and not by pundits,’ Cohen said in a text message.” http://bit.ly/2rLG0G6
-- “FBI agents said to be probing Michael Cohen’s deal with Korean firm,” by WaPo’s Shawn Boburg and Aaron C. Davis: “A California man who says he served as a translator last year for Michael Cohen and a South Korean aerospace firm that paid Cohen’s company $150,000 said Tuesday that FBI agents recently interviewed him. Mark Ko said in an email to The Washington Post that he spoke with the FBI about the arrangement ‘a few weeks ago.’” https://wapo.st/2rPTIH4
-- “‘I’m Not Going to Just Roll Over’: Behind the Scenes, After Another Week in the Spotlight, Michael Cohen Oscillates Between Fighting Back and Frustration,” by Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox: “As he watched the news unfold in his hotel room in Philadelphia over the weekend, he evidenced some exasperation. He has confided in friends, ‘I just can’t take this anymore.’” http://bit.ly/2Gr4dWH
RUDY’S LATEST DECLARATION -- “Mueller Won’t Indict Trump if He Finds Wrongdoing, Giuliani Says,” by NYT’s Mike Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Charlie Savage: “The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will not indict President Trump if he finds wrongdoing in his investigation of Trump campaign links to Russia, according to the president’s lawyers. They said Wednesday that Mr. Mueller’s investigators told them that he would adhere to the Justice Department’s view that the Constitution bars prosecuting sitting presidents.
“The disclosure provides the greatest clarity to date about how Mr. Mueller, who is also investigating whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry itself, may proceed. If he concludes that he has evidence that the president broke the law, experts say, he now has only two main options while Mr. Trump remains in office: He could write a report about the president’s conduct that Congress might use as part of any impeachment proceedings, or he could deem the president as an unindicted co-conspirator in court documents.” https://nyti.ms/2IocVLn
-- JOSH GERSTEIN: “Inside Mueller’s FBI team” https://politi.co/2L9nSOr
-- FYI … RUDY’S NEW WATERING HOLE: Trump’s attorney was spotted having lunch on Wednesday at Joe’s. Conveniently located near the White House, Giuliani was seen sitting with three other people in the booth with a curtain for privacy, which according to our tipster was “promptly closed.”
TRUMP INC. -- “Sources, new documents reveal depth of Trump’s 2013 Moscow push,” by McClatchy’s Kevin Hall and Ben Wieder: “The Trump Organization’s pursuit in 2013 of a tower in Moscow bearing the Trump name was much farther along than previously disclosed, with a memorandum of understanding signed and financing arranged, according to new documents released to the public and information obtained by McClatchy. President Donald Trump and his children have described a possible Moscow hotel deal in only the broadest of terms, calling it something that grew out of the Miss Universe contest held in Moscow that year.
“Sources tell McClatchy, however, that by then talks had been under way for months and architectural drawings had been submitted. One of the sources of planned financing was the Sapir family, which had backed the now-failed Trump Soho project in Manhattan years earlier. ‘I think it was a fairly far along deal,’ said a person with direct knowledge of the deal.” http://bit.ly/2IojkWX
THE JUICE …
-- FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: Rebecca Spicer is headed to Airlines for America to be SVP of communications. She most recently has served as SVP of communications at the National Beer Wholesalers Association.
TRUMP’S THURSDAY -- The president is having lunch with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. In the afternoon, he will meet with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and participate in a bilateral meeting.
-- @davidgura: “NATO says there will be a joint press conference [Thursday] (http://bit.ly/2Ikzd0i). That is not on the White House schedule.” … @JesseRodriguez: “Reached late tonight, a NATO spokesperson tells me they have no idea if the joint news conference has been scrapped. ‘You’ll have to ask the White House.’ It’s still listed on the NATO website -- and on the NATO SecGen’s schedule.”
KYLE CHENEY on OHIO REP. STEVE CHABOT: “Clinton impeachment veteran makes bid for Judiciary chairmanship” https://politi.co/2L71NQD
THE BOLTON EFFECT -- “Trump’s North Korea Nobel buzz could die with John Bolton,” by Michael Crowley and Eliana Johnson: “[I]n the case of North Korea, even some Trump supporters worry the president is too eager for a deal that could dazzle the world and reap him huge political rewards. The question now is whether Trump and Bolton can strike a constructive balance — or whether they might wind up at cross-purposes on one of the most important diplomatic experiments in U.S. history.” https://politi.co/2KwTMmK
-- “A Washington Lightning Rod Draws a Bolt From North Korea,” by WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum and Mike Bender: https://on.wsj.com/2Kw0klX
THE RESISTANCE -- “Preet Bharara being drafted for war on Trump: The fired U.S. attorney doesn’t like politics, but his admirers are pressing him to wage a campaign to succeed Eric Schneiderman,” by Isaac Dovere and Jimmy Vielkind: “Preet Bharara is seeing all the texts, phone calls and DMs urging him to run for New York attorney general, including from some top operatives and Democratic donors. He’s hearing it from people coming up to him on the street.
“And though Bharara is leaning against making a play for the job, according to three people close to him, the onetime powerhouse U.S. attorney fired by Donald Trump pointedly hasn’t said no, either. He wants to see how the next few weeks play out. Among the people who’ve reached out, the sources said, are Mike Bloomberg consigliere Howard Wolfson and independent-minded GOP consultant John Weaver, along with a host of top Democratic operatives, donors and fundraisers.” https://politi.co/2rSQnay
DEEP DIVE -- “‘I Am the Mastermind’: Mohammed bin Salman’s Guide to Getting Rich,” by WSJ’s Justin Scheck and Bradley Hope in Riyadh: “Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a teenager when he realized his father, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, was, by Saudi royal standards, a pauper. While other sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder grew wealthy from government business, Salman, then the governor of this capital city, supported his family with handouts from his brother the king. Mohammed decided to change that, he later told associates. ...
“[I]n 2015, Prince Mohammed helped engineer a multibillion-dollar deal between European plane giant Airbus SE and Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Saudia Airlines, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the transaction. The deal is worth tens of millions of dollars to his family, the documents show.” https://on.wsj.com/2k4FLSl
MEDIAWATCH – “Sinclair circling Sean Hannity,” by Jason Schwartz: “As its executive chairman David Smith prepares to launch a competitor to Fox News, he has met in the last few months with the executive producer of Hannity’s top-rated show on Fox, Porter Berry, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Berry is not the only person connected to Hannity who Smith has gone after. The Sinclair boss has also been wooing Sean Compton, a Tribune Media programming executive who is close friends with the Fox host.” https://politi.co/2IrtH82
-- “L.A. Times suspends Beijing bureau chief while it investigates sexual misconduct allegation,” by LA Times’ Andrea Chang: “The Los Angeles Times suspended Beijing Bureau Chief Jonathan Kaiman on Tuesday and has launched an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct. On Monday, former Beijing-based journalist Felicia Sonmez sent a letter to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China detailing ‘problematic behavior’ during a sexual encounter with Kaiman in September. In the letter, Sonmez said she and Kaiman attended a party in Beijing and left together on her scooter while heavily intoxicated.” https://lat.ms/2KvhX57
SPOTTED: Rep. Richie Neal (D-Mass.) at Ocean Prime … Mike Love of The Beach Boys last night at Cafe Milano ... former Fox News colleagues Kimberly Guilfoyle and Tony Sayegh hanging out with friends, including Sergio Gor, last night at the Trump Hotel. Guilfoyle was in town moderating a panel discussion for the CME group ... Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) at Denson last night ... Jack Quinn and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) in conversation over drinks at Stanton and Greene last night.
BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Jodi Seth, head of communications for public policy in D.C. at Amazon
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Reid Epstein, politics reporter for WSJ. How he got his start in journalism: “When I was 12 years old I got a job delivering the Peoria Journal Star. My dad was at the time on the paper’s editorial page. Sometimes I’d return home to a ringing phone with a local politician calling to yell at my dad about what they’d just read in that morning’s paper. It was a good early lesson in how to take calls from angry sources.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: https://politi.co/2rP2SEA
BIRTHDAYS: NYT’s Michael Shear is 5-0 ... NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell ... Jim Lyons ... Mike Smith, DCCC national finance director ... Rick Wiley … Kathleen Sullivan ... Olivia Petersen, senior comms director for NBC News (h/t Neil Grace) ... Politico’s Maura Kelly, Megan Heckerman, Robin Turner, Akela Lacy, Jeremy Lin and Thao Sparling ... Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is 47 ... former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is 77 ... BP America’s Wynn Radford is 39 ... Margarita Diaz, digital director for Sen. Gillibrand ... MacKenzie Smith ... Clay Johnson ... Cheryl Bruner (h/t Jon Haber) ... Sarah Sonies ... Camille Joseph ... Chuck Raasch, Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ... Jenna Lowenstein, founder of Most Good and former digital director for Hillary for America …
... writer Rebecca Nelson ... former Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) is 73 ... Peter Wallsten, WaPo’s senior politics editor ... Nick Conant (h/t Alex) ... Paul Higgins ... RNC’s Adi Sathi ... Armitage International’s Randy Schriver is 51 ... SKDK’s Rachel Palermo ... Eric Sapirstein ... Paul Blank … Blake Zeff ... Phillip Stutts, CEO of Go BIG Media ... Derrick Robinson ... Kristin Hedger of Dakota Defense Alliance ... Shannon Buckingham, VP for comms and external affairs at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities … Robert Petito ... Deirdre Murphy Ramsey, director of comms at Precision Strategies (h/t Tom Zigo) … Martin McGuinness is 47 ... Derek Flowers ... NYT culture reporter Robin Pogrebin ... Kirk Oberfeld ... Ralph Neas … Neil Rankin ... Tim Del Monico ... Leslie Ridle ... Jim Nantz is 59 ... Craig Ferguson is 56 (h/ts AP)