The Hill’s Morning Report — Election Day drama for Trump
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report, and happy Tuesday! Our daily email gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.
Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features entertainer Rosie O’Donnell, who is helping to lead protests outside the White House against President Trump’s policies; Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, talking about new U.S. sanctions on Iran; and Antoinette Scott, the first female Purple Heart recipient from Washington, D.C. http://thehill.com/hilltv
Special counsel Robert Mueller is 74. Happy birthday!
It’s a pivotal day at the ballot box for President Trump. He’s deeply invested in trying to shape the GOP’s roster of candidates before November elections that will decide which party controls the House and the Senate.
Trump has been aggressive in backing Republicans in special elections and in GOP primaries. Three of his chosen candidates will face voters on Tuesday in another important test of his sway.
The marquee race takes place in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. The president has gone all-in to pull state Sen. Troy Balderson (R) across the finish line against Democrat Danny O’Connor in the House special election to replace former Rep. Pat Tiberi (R).
Republicans have held the seat for the past 35 years. A loss by Balderson would be viewed as an indicator that Democrats are preparing to rout the GOP this fall and sweep into power in the House.
The Memo: High stakes for Trump in Ohio election.
The Hill: GOP fears steep losses in state legislatures.
The president also has his fingerprints on two key primary races on Tuesday.
Trump offered a last-minute Twitter endorsement to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is challenging incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer for the GOP nomination.
Kobach is a conservative firebrand who led Trump’s controversial voter fraud commission, which was disbanded without finding evidence of millions of fraudulent votes the president claimed were cast in 2016. Some Republicans are fearful that Kobach will be a weak general election candidate and could potentially cost the party a seat they should otherwise win.
Among the Republicans who are backing Colyer: Former Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.), the Republican presidential nominee in 1996.
The Hill: Trump boosts Kobach to the disappointment of some Kansas Republicans.
The Associated Press: Trump shadow looms over elections in Ohio, Kansas.
And finally, the president surprised many with his out-of-the-blue endorsement last week of Iraq War pilot John James over businessman Sandy Pensler in Michigan’s GOP Senate primary. James, who is African-American, could become an overnight Republican star if he can win the primary for a chance to face Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in 12 weeks.
The Hill: Michigan race shows two parties on different trajectories.
The Washington Post has been tracking Trump’s endorsements and finds that he’s been a kingmaker this cycle in GOP primary races. The president’s record so far: 11 for 11.
And McClatchy compiled a list of political donations Trump’s reelection campaign has made to GOP lawmakers. There are some unexpected names here, including some lawmakers who have bucked the president on key issues, such as Reps. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and Scott Taylor (Va.).
There are also plenty of important races for Democrats on Tuesday.
Two on the left who identify as democratic socialists, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), are backing progressive candidates in primaries in Kansas and Michigan.
The outcome will be viewed as a gauge of progressive political strength in the U.S. heartland.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez support Democrats Brent Welder and James Thompson in House primary races in Kansas. Welder is an unabashed progressive running on issues like “Medicare for all” and a $15 minimum wage.
The Hill: Progressives set to test appeal of prairie populism in Kansas primary.
CNN: Democrats in Kansas weigh how far left the party can go and win in the Trump era.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez have each campaigned for Democrat Abdul El-Sayed, who is competing in a three-way Democratic primary for Michigan governor. El-Sayed is trying to become the first Muslim governor.
The Hill: Five things to watch in Ohio special election, primaries.
And another prominent Democrat made her entrance onto the 2018 political scene on Monday. Former first lady Michelle Obama will hit the road next month to promote voter registration.
LEADING THE DAY
INVESTIGATIONS: Special counsel Mueller’s star witness took the stand on Monday in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who faces 18 charges of tax and bank fraud predating his time with the campaign.
Manafort’s former associate Richard Gates, who is cooperating with the special counsel in exchange for a potential reduced sentence, offered dramatic testimony against his former boss.
NBC News documented the critical exchange from the courtroom in Northern Virginia:
From the Reuters report:
“Gates admitted to helping Manafort doctor financial statements, hide sources of foreign income, mislead banks to get loans and cheat on his U.S. taxes. He said he did so at Manafort’s direction.”
Gates also admitted to hiding his own income and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort by falsifying expense reports.
The defense is expected to argue that Gates embezzled millions of dollars from Manafort and masterminded the firm’s financial fraud schemes.
Manafort maintains he is not guilty; his trial could be sent to the jury by the end of the week.
Former federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer had this reaction, via Politico:
“There’s no defense here. This is a slow guilty plea.”
Bloomberg has a helpful summary of all the threads of the myriad investigations going on right now.
The storyline that has dominated this week is Trump’s admission over Twitter that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in 2016 because he was promised campaign dirt on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
At the time, Trump drafted a statement insisting that the Russians had asked for the meeting to lobby Trump campaign officials to roll back the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions Russia.
The Hill: Trump reversal on Russian meeting raises pressure on Mueller interview.
The Associated Press: Why the Trump Tower meeting matters.
Trump Jr. insists his story has remained the same – that he met with the Russian lawyer in hopes of getting opposition research on Clinton but that the lawyer had nothing and instead sought to pressure him on the Magnitsky Act.
“It was a 20-minute meeting about essentially nothing that was relevant to any of these things. And you know, that’s all it is. And that’s all they’ve got … started it was essentially a bait and switch to talk about that, and everyone has basically said that in testimony already. So this is nothing new.” – Trump Jr. on the Laura Ingraham radio show on Monday.
Jonathan Turley: If the Trump Jr. meeting was illegal then so was the “Steele dossier”
Charlie Savage: Trump Jr.’s potential legal troubles, explained.
More from investigations… ‘Manhattan Madam’ to testify before Mueller grand jury this week (NBC News) … Legal fund for Trump associates raises $180,000 in second quarter (The Hill) … Mueller gets ‘firewall’ for U.S.-secrets review in Russia case (Bloomberg).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➔ INTERNATIONAL: As expected, the United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran on Monday, in the wake of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal signed in 2015 (The Hill).
> The sanctions on Iran in effect today target transactions with U.S. dollar banknotes; trade in gold and precious metals; direct or indirect sales of graphite and metals such as steel and aluminum; certain transactions related to the Iranian currency; certain transactions related to issuing Iranian sovereign debt; and Iran’s automotive sector. Additionally, authorizations will be revoked for the import of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuff and the export of commercial aircraft.
> Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is under increasing political and economic pressure. In a televised address, he said Tehran is open to negotiations with the U.S. if the Trump administration is “sincere,” but he added that such talks would be meaningless while Iran is under sanctions (Bloomberg).
> Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said any future removal of sanctions depends on changes within Iran (The Hill).
> The foreign ministers and representatives of the European Union, Germany, France and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on Monday putting their leaders on a collision course with Washington: “We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the U.S. … We are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran.”
… Elsewhere, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), traveling in Moscow, invited Russian lawmakers to the United States (The Hill) … and Mexico’s newly elected president issued a thinly veiled warning to the Trump administration that no one will “threaten” the country with a border wall (The Hill). Andrés Manuel López Obrador is expected to officially become president-elect on Wednesday, and sworn in as Mexico’s president on Dec. 1 … North Korean officials repeatedly chafe at Pompeo’s approach to diplomacy (Bloomberg).
➔ TECH & MEDIA: In a burst of tech-company verdicts, Apple, Facebook, YouTube and other online platforms took aim Monday at controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his internet content, arguing they were forced to remove his material because of policy violations and “hate speech” (CNBC).
The New York Times: Apple, Google, Facebook and Spotify severely restricted the reach of Jones and Infowars, his right-wing site that has been a leading peddler of false information online.
Jones, widely assailed for claiming the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 never happened (he’s been sued by some relatives of the Connecticut victims), called the treatment “tyranny” and vowed to fight back.
> The decisions inflamed an ongoing and complex debate about the companies’ individual and collective authority as social media platforms to devise unbiased and lawful policies consistent with free speech and the First Amendment, as well as their own community rules about hate speech and trafficking in criminal and malicious disinformation, not to mention ownership of content (The Hill).
> YouTube’s message after deleting Jones’s content: “This account has been terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.”
> Twitter: Oops! Twitter apologized on Sunday after conservative commentator Candace Owens was briefly locked out of her Twitter account after mimicking old and racially controversial tweets written by a current editorial writer for The New York Times – as a way to make a point (Fox News).
The Hill: Conservative media outlets immediately pushed back. The Drudge Report’s banner headline for most of Monday was “Apple regulates hate.” It also included a link to the conservative Gateway Pundit site, which said: “Are Tech Giants Working Together to Censor Conservatives?”
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Digital profiles must be protected in the same way as medical records, by Allan D. Grody, president of Financial InterGroup Advisers and opinion contributor to The Hill. http://bit.ly/2M9tZWu
Trump’s immigration enforcement programs are failing because of the massive immigration courts backlog, by Nolan Rappaport, opinion contributor, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2vos6eL
WHERE AND WHEN
The House is out until after Labor Day.
The Senate is out this week.
The president is on a working vacation in Bedminster, N.J., through Aug. 13. Tonight, Trump will dine with unidentified “business leaders.” The gathering is closed to the press, according to the White House.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein this morning talks about forensic science priorities with attendees at the annual National Forensic Science Symposium, which is hosted by the National Association of Attorneys General and its training institute, in conjunction with the Justice Department.
> Trump administration wants to limit citizenship for legal immigrants. Legal status for migrants could be disqualified by receipt of federal assistance such as food stamps, benefits of ObamaCare coverage and children’s health insurance (NBC News).
> Pentagon restricts use of wrist-worn fitness trackers, other devices for security reasons at sensitive bases and war-zone areas (The Associated Press).
> At least 74 shot, 12 killed in Chicago over violent summer weekend (Chicago Tribune).
> Former President Obama continues to receive tributes and accolades in private life. The 44th president in December will receive this year’s Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award, the organization announced.
And finally … Today is the 20th anniversary of the U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a terrorist event the State Department will mark at 8:15 a.m.
On Aug. 7, 1998, carefully planned and nearly simultaneous truck-bomb attacks resulted in the deaths of 258 people (including 12 Americans) and injuries to thousands of people. Al Qaeda claimed credit, and emboldened by the carnage and global shock, began planning the 9/11 attacks.
“The men and women who serve in our embassies all around this world do hard work that is not always fully appreciated, and not even understood by many of their fellow Americans. …They protect our interests and promote our values abroad.” – former President Clinton, memorial service Aug. 13, 1998
Later this month, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will visit with Trump, the White House announced Monday, showcasing that country as a rising economy in Africa. Trump wants to talk about trade and commerce, while Americans recall he spent years suggesting, falsely, that Obama might have been born in Kenya and wasn’t a legitimate president. Obama, whose late father once worked as a Kenyan government economist, met again with Kenyatta a few weeks ago while traveling in Africa. https://bit.ly/2MkZWYC
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