DRIVING THE DAY
President DONALD TRUMP’Sadmission that he would accept a foreign government’s assistance in an election — and might not report it to the FBI — is an absolutely stunning statement that would seem out of bounds to any and every reader of Playbook.
THE PRESIDENT said this to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, ‘oh let’s call the FBI.’ The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”
FAR BE IT FROM US TO DIVINEwhy the president said this, and what exactly is going through his head. But the people we spoke to Wednesday night said it is rooted in a win-at-any-and-all-costs mentality — a life-is-complicated vibe that tries to paint everyone else as rubes, and yet ignores the guts of American law. Furthermore, it reflects his thinking that he hates the idea the 2016 election was stolen from him, so he tries to rationalize the very things he and his campaign stand accused of doing.
IN OUR TIME COVERING CONGRESS —going on a decade — we’ve never heard anyone ever even privately say they would accept foreign assistance in an election. Ever. And a lot of members have said crazy stuff to us privately!
THE PRESIDENT IS RIGHTon one element here: Oppo research is absolutely a part of every election, and it’s often not pretty. But that dirt-digging is not conducted by foreign governments. It is conducted by political professionals who spend all day on Nexis, and digging through clips and county court filings. Many of them are Playbookers.
IF YOU ARE A REPUBLICAN OR DEMOCRAT and you’d like to defend the president here, drop us a line.
THE BIG QUESTIONand what Twitter was ablaze with Wednesday night: What does this mean for impeachment, and for Speaker NANCY PELOSI’S hesitation to begin proceedings? We’ll see at 10:45 a.m., when Pelosi does her weekly news conference (she’s always late, so don’t assume it’ll start right on the nose). But saying something is not as bad as doing it. And Democrats have an entire Mueller report of the president doing things that several dozen of them believe are impeachable. Why would this change anything for Pelosi?
ALSO POPPING TODAY …NBC’s Andrea Mitchell’s interview with ANITA HILLwill air on “NBC Nightly News” tonight.
Good Thursday morning. SPOTTED:Gary Cohn at La Colombe on I Street, talking loudly about how he developed an appreciation for draft coffee while working at the White House.
AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI, the supreme leader of Iran(@khamenei_ir): “We have no doubt in @AbeShinzo’s goodwill and seriousness; but regarding what you mentioned from U.S. president, I don’t consider Trump as a person deserving to exchange messages with; I have no response for him & will not answer him. …
“The Islamic Republic has no trust in the U.S. and the previous bitter experience we had in negotiating with the U.S. within #JCPOA will never be repeated again, because no free & wise nation would accept negotiations under pressure.”
NEWS … PETE BUTTIGIEG spent time at the Raben Group, a lobbying and public affairs shop, on Wednesday morning. Our eyeballs got a little wider when we heard this tip, because BUTTIGIEG swore off all federal lobbying cash, and announced he would return more than $30,000 in lobbyist contributions back in April. …
… BUT:We were told Buttigieg was there for part of his series of “private conversations with leaders from communities of color,” according to a source familiar with the meeting. Buttigieg and members of the firm talked about criminal justice reform, entrepreneurship, voting rights, racial justice and other similar topics. Even though he didn’t take money (the event was not a fundraiser), he took advice. The group of about 10 people meeting with Buttigieg all had prior campaign experience and also engaged with him about how to structure outreach, staffing and messaging, according to another source.
THE RABEN GROUP is headed by Robert Raben, a well-connected Hispanic-American lawyer with a lengthy resume in Washington. It’s worth noting that Buttigieg has struggled to gain traction outside of his base of college-educated white voters. But he is raising big money …
… CNN’S DAN MERICA: “By the end of June, when the second fundraising quarter of 2019 closes, Buttigieg will have headlined roughly 70 in-person fundraisers, including 16 sizable ‘grassroots’ events across the country that blend the size of a large campaign rally with the cash generation power of a fundraiser. Buttigieg, according to a campaign aide, now has roughly 20 full-time staffers working on fundraising, including those based in New York, California and the Washington, D.C., area. …
“A host of top Buttigieg donorswho have been in regular contact with the campaign tell CNN that they expect the mayor to raise more than $15 million in the second quarter.” CNN
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — ANNAand ELIANA JOHNSON … DHS BRAIN DRAIN CONTINUES: ACTING DHS SECRETARY KEVIN MCALEENAN’Schief of staff Patrick Flanagan announced he’s leaving DHS next Friday. Brandon Wales, a career civil servant who has been serving as acting deputy chief of staff, and who before that was serving as a senior adviser to the secretary, will replace Flanagan when he departs. A spokesman for the department did not reply to a request for comment.
FOR YOUR RADAR — AP’S JON GAMBRELL in Dubai, United Arab Emirates: “Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran.
“One of the tankers carried oil bound for Japan,whose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a high-stakes visit in Tehran that sought to ease tensions between Iran and the United States.” AP
NYT, A1: “Justice Dept. Seeks to Question C.I.A. in Its Own Russia Investigation,”by Julian E. Barnes, Katie Benner, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt: “Justice Department officials intend to interview senior C.I.A. officers as they review the Russia investigation, according to people briefed on the matter, indicating they are focused partly on the intelligence agencies’ most explosive conclusion about the 2016 election: that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia intervened to benefit Donald J. Trump.
“The interview plans are the latest signthe Justice Department will take a critical look at the C.I.A.’s work on Russia’s election interference. Investigators want to talk with at least one senior counterintelligence official and a senior C.I.A. analyst, the people said. Both officials were involved in the agency’s work on understanding the Russian campaign to sabotage the election in 2016.
“While the Justice Department review is not a criminal inquiry,it has provoked anxiety in the ranks of the C.I.A., according to former officials. Senior agency officials have questioned why the C.I.A.’s analytical work should be subjected to a federal prosecutor’s scrutiny. Attorney General William P. Barr, who is overseeing the review, assigned the United States attorney in Connecticut, John H. Durham, to conduct it.” NYT
DEEP DIVE … WAPO’S JOSH DAWSEYand DAMIAN PALETTA: “‘My Peter’: Rising influence of controversial Trump trade adviser Navarro concerns his critics”
JOSH GERSTEINand JOHN BRESNAHAN: “GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter’s wife changes plea in criminal case”:“Rep. Duncan Hunter’s wife, Margaret — facing a slew of federal criminal charges along with the California Republican lawmaker over allegations of diverting more than $250,000 in campaign funds to personal use — is set to plead guilty Thursday in federal court in San Diego.
“The move is a serious blow to Hunter, a six-term congressman who was indicted last August along with his wife. Hunter, a former Marine and the son of a long-term GOP lawmaker, has maintained his innocence. Hunter refused to answer questions about his wife’s potential plea deal during House votes on Wednesday.” POLITICO
2020 WATCH — JAMES ARKINand MELANIE ZANONA:“Rep. Mark Walker has decided not to launch a primary challenge against Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina, in a relief to senior Republicans who feared a scorched-earth battle in a key state.” POLITICO
— THE DEMOCRATIC DEBATES … ZACH MONTELLARO:“The DNC has said that no more than 20 candidates can participate in this first round of debates. POLITICO’s analysis of public polling and campaigns’ public statements on donors indicate that 20 candidates have met the qualifications for the debate so far, leaving no spots to spare.
“Of those 20, 14 have hit both the polling and grassroots donor threshold,effectively guaranteeing them a spot on stage at the end of the month: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.
“An additional six candidates have only crossed the polling threshold,per POLITICO’s analysis: Michael Bennet, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell. The four candidates who have not qualified are [Steve] Bullock, Mike Gravel, Wayne Messam and Seth Moulton.” POLITICO
THE MONEY PRIMARY … BIDEN IN CHICAGOLAND, via pooler Tina Sfondeles of the Sun-Times: “After a two-day visit to Iowa, the former Vice President paid a visit to the home of Bob Wislow, the chairman of CBRE Chicago, a commercial real estate firm, and his wife Susan in a Gold Coast high-rise. The fundraiser was also hosted by William Singer, an attorney and longtime friend.
“The 56th floor residence, in part, had a sweeping view of the Trump Tower.Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Chicago Ald. Jason Ervin and former Chicago Ald. Proco ‘Joe’ Moreno were among the guests.”
— BIDEN’S NEW TALKING POINT ABOUT HIS PAST VOTES:“This is not about the past. It’s about the future and what are we going to do? What are we going to do? How do we move this country forward? And it’s all within our wheelhouse to do these things. There’s not a single thing we cannot do.”
CONGRESS FLEXES … “Courtney foils Trump’s red, white, blue Air Force One plan,”by Connecticut Mirror’s Ana Radelat: “Rep. Joe Courtney on Wednesday threw a big wrench into President Donald Trump’s plans to paint the iconic Air Force One jets red, white and blue. During a marathon hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on a bill that will authorize Pentagon spending for 2020, Courtney, D-2nd District, introduced an amendment that restricts spending on any changes made to the white and sky-blue Boeing airplanes that have served as presidential transport since the early 1960s.
“Courtney’s amendment, adopted by committee members on a 31-26 party line vote, would require congressional approval for excessive spending on ‘interior, paint and fixtures.’” CT Mirror
— TRUMPunveiled the new design to Stephanopoulos on ABC. The clip
THE JUICE …
— CAROL JOYNT is leaving NBC to be the booking producer for CBS’s “Face the Nation.” At NBC, Joynt was the booking producer for “Meet the Press Daily with Chuck Todd.” She’ll begin at CBS July 15.
TRUMP’S THURSDAY —The president will have a working lunch with governors at 12:30 p.m. in the Cabinet Room. Trump will deliver remarks on second chance hiring at 4 p.m. in the East Room.
DAILY BEAST’S LACHLAN MARKEY: “House Democrats Launch Investigation into Juul”:“A key House committee has opened an investigation into nicotine vape giant Juul with a letter demanding a huge swath of documents from the company.
“Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the chairmanof the Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, wants extensive internal records detailing Juul’s advertising strategies, labeling decisions, its knowledge of the health effects of its products, and details of its business arrangements with Altria, the tobacco giant that purchased a 35 percent stake in Juul last year.
“Krishnamoorthi is particularly concerned about reports of skyrocketing Juul use among teens, an issue that has caused the company political troubles for some time. … A Juul spokesperson acknowledged receipt of the letter and indicated that the company plans to cooperate in the investigation.” Daily Beast
TOP-ED:George Conway and Neal Katyal in WaPo: “Trump just invited Congress to begin impeachment proceedings”
WHAT DON JR. SAID YESTERDAY … NYT’S NICK FANDOSandMAGGIE HABERMAN:“Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators on Wednesday that he did not inform his father at the time about a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer promising ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton and that he was not kept abreast of negotiations over a proposed real estate project in Moscow, a person familiar with his testimony said.
“The younger Mr. Trump, in roughly three hours of closed-door questioning in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that he had nothing to correct from past statements that he had given that panel and other congressional bodies — despite claims by former Trump aides to the contrary.” NYT
NEXT UP … ANDREW DESIDERIO: “Hope Hicks to testify before House Judiciary Committee”:“Hicks, who served as a top aide to Trump’s presidential campaign and in the White House as communications director, will answer lawmakers’ questions next Wednesday as part of the committee’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. A transcript of her testimony will be made public.”
FOR YOUR RADAR — BLOOMBERG: “Oil Surges as Tankers in Gulf Suffer Another Suspected Attack”:“Oil rebounded from the lowest in almost five months as two tankers were damaged in a suspected attack in the Gulf of Oman, just weeks after a previous incident in the region.
“Brent crude soared as much as 4.5% in London following the incident near the Strait of Hormuz, a critical passage for shipments from the Middle East. The manager of one of the vessels, sailing from Saudi Arabia to Singapore, said its hull had been breached above the water line. The owners of the second ship said it was damaged by a blast, though the cause remains unknown.
“Just last month, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers,were sabotaged in what the U.S. said was an Iranian assault using naval mines. Tehran denied the charge.” Bloomberg
SO MUCH FOR THAT … HUFFPOST’S AMANDA TERKEL: “Howard Schultz Announces Campaign Staff Cuts, Summer Hiatus”: “Starbucks billionaire Howard Schultz told campaign staff that he is making significant cuts to his team, as he suspends his political plans for the summer.
“Schultz came into the office Wednesday for the first time in months and met with the staff, according to a person in the room. He announced that he was letting everyone go except those in senior leadership positions, adding he would not make a decision about running for president until after Labor Day.
“Shortly thereafter, Schultz sent an email to supporters, saying that medical reasons had taken him out of commission for months, and he still needed time to recover.”
BLOOMBERG’S PETER WALDMAN ON ‘THE NEW RED SCARE’:“In January, [researcher Xifeng] Wu, an award-winning epidemiologist and naturalized American citizen, quietly stepped down…at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center after a three-month investigation into her professional ties in China. Her resignation, and the departures in recent months of three other top Chinese American scientists from Houston-based MD Anderson, stem from a Trump administration drive to counter Chinese influence at U.S. research institutions.
“The aim is to stanch China’s well-documented, costly theft of U.S. innovation and know-how.The collateral effect, however, is to stymie basic science, the foundational research that under-lies new medical treatments. Everything is commodified in the economic cold war with China, including the struggle to find a cure for cancer.” Bloomberg
MEDIAWATCH … WAPO’S PAUL FARHI: “Faced with official falsehoods, White House correspondents ponder ways to push back against Trump”
BLUE ENGINE MESSAGE & MEDIA + JDA FRONTLINE has changed its name to SEVEN LETTER.The new name is a nod to several seven-letter words the firm uses to describe its work. The video and the announcement
SPOTTED:Dr. Jill Biden on Acela 2175, which left Penn Station in New York 14 minutes late on Wednesday night … Sandra Bullock walking outside the Willard on Wednesday
TRANSITION — Jessica Barba Brownwill be the new CEO of the Voter Participation Center. She most recently was managing director of Planned Parenthood’s advocacy division and is also a Tom Perriello alum.
BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday):David Nevins turned 53
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY:North Carolina Gov.Roy Cooperis 62. How he got his start in politics:“My dad never ran for public office but he believed deeply that we should help those who are willing to step up. At 7 years old I was handing out fliers at the polls.” Playbook Plus Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Eli Stokols, a WH reporter at the L.A. Times and an MSNBC political analyst … former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is 75 … Morton Halperin is 81 … Mara Liasson … Katie Biber, general counsel at Anchorage (hat tip: Sarah Isgur) … Jimmy Orr … CNN’s Jamie Zahn … John Del Cecato, partner at AKPD Message and Media … Seema Mehta … Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T’s northern region … Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) is 72 … POLITICO’s Margaret Harding McGill and Enrique Sosaya … William Lewallen … Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is 82 … Leslie Hagar Small … Bill Mergner … Philip Rosenthal … Morgan Pitt … Kristin Huguet, in comms at Apple (h/t Fred Sainz) … Patrick Cuff … Stephen Robert is 79 … Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is 6-0 … Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is 6-0 …
… Nicole Gelinas,senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute … Kirtan Mehta, director of federal policy in D.C. for N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy, is 36 … Lauren Mehta is 37 (h/ts Jason Mehta) … Sarah Bartnicka … Ryan Rhodes … Andrew Grossman, consultant at Bain & Company … WaPo’s Michelle Lee … NBC4’s Eun Yang … Jim Fellinger, director of strategic comms at In Pursuit Of (h/ts James Davis and Rebecca Coffman) … Alex Marino … Andrew Lavigne … Becca Rinkevich … Dylan Lopez … Margaret Shepard … Genger Charles … Michelle Korsmo … Valencia Logan … Patrick McGill is 33 … Bill Buck is 52 … John Eddy … Jeff Siegel … Junheng Li … Rick Weidman is 71 … Tony Varona … Neil Bernstein is 53 … Brian Oliger … Juan Carlos I is 81 … Cathy McLaughlin (h/t Teresa Vilmain)