Good Thursday morning. The quote that everyone is talking about. “FIRE AND FURY” is what President Donald Trump said will be the response if any further provocations from the North occur. In sharp contrast, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said to the pool on his plane en route to Guam on Wednesday that “Americans should sleep well at night.” Just to be clear, the President and Sec. State Tillerson have had multiple public disagreements with regard to foreign policy. When the Qatar diplomatic crisis hit, President Trump quickly sided with the Saudi’s, but Secretary Tillerson sided with the Qataris–a smart move since a major U.S. air force base is in Qatar that is crucial in the fight against ISIS. Now it’s North Korea they’re disagreeing on. Tillerson has called for diplomatic talks with the Kim regime, while President Trump is tweeting about the status of America’s nuclear arsenal and how big it is. So there you have it. It was learned yesterday that President Trump’s fire and fury comment was unplanned and completely on a whim. This was probably a point of frustration for Chief of Staff John Kelly, who probably doesn’t take to nicely to suddenly deciding to incite war without prior planning.
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The rundown on North Korea
North Korea has now successfully tested ICBM’s–granted not many times, and they have miniaturized a nuclear warhead that can fit in an ICBM and reach anywhere in the United States. President Trump made his now famous ‘fire and fury’ comment, and the North reacted by saying that a plan to attack Guam will be ready by mid-August. All that is left is for their Supreme Leader to rubber-stamp it.
In other news…
- The FBI conducts pre-dawn raid on the home of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort
FBI agents raided the residence of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort last month, and he also has turned over hundreds of pages of documents to congressional investigators, as probes ramp up into the president’s campaign and Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
The pre-dawn raid on July 26 at the Alexandria, Virginia, home roused Manafort, who was in town to appear before Congress, according to a person familiar with the situation. Agents took reams of material from his home.
Manafort is also under scrutiny from congressional investigators, and he has turned over 400 pages of documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee, a committee spokesman said Wednesday, including information on his foreign lobbying work.
The longtime Republican campaign operative and lobbyist has also provided information to the Senate Intelligence Committee about a meeting he attended at Trump Tower last year with a Russian lawyer. The meeting was originally billed as a chance to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Manafort’s lawyers have said he is cooperating with congressional probes and special counsel Robert Mueller, but the FBI raid, first reported Wednesday by The Washington Post, indicates that Mueller’s office may not believe it is getting full cooperation, according to several former federal prosecutors and attorneys involved in the Russia probe.
Mueller spokesman Joshua Stueve declined to comment on the raid. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment and referred questions to Manafort’s representatives.
“It is a big deal,” former Justice Department prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said. “Prosecutors do not take aggressive steps like this with subjects who the government feels are being open and cooperative. And they also do not do this to ‘send a message.’ They do it because they think there is evidence to be found and that if they do not act aggressively, it could be destroyed.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who this week got into a public spat with Trump, called the Manafort search “a significant and even stunning development.”
“This kind of raid — in the early morning hours with no advance notice — shows an astonishing and alarming distrust for the president’s former campaign chairman. It seems to decimate his claim that he is cooperating with law enforcement,” Blumenthal said.
Duke Law School professor Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor, said a search warrant would be needed only if Mueller doubted Manafort would comply with document requests or a subpoena.
“Of course it confirms, beyond doubt, serious, criminal investigative focus on Manafort,” Buell said.
Another former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti, said the FBI’s search warrant likely goes into detail on what information federal authorities were permitted to seize from Manafort’s home. He said Manafort should have received a copy of the document during the raid, and if one becomes public it will open a large “window into what the FBI is investigating.”
Even more explosive, according to white-collar defense attorney William Jeffress, could be the FBI affidavit approved by a federal judge that cleared the way for last month’s raid. That document, normally kept under a court seal, likely spells out in detail what the government intends to accomplish in the investigation. “I’m sure that is dynamite,” said Jeffress, who represented Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, in the investigation into who leaked the identify of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
A Washington-based defense lawyer with a client caught in the Russia probe said Mueller may also want to turn Manafort into a cooperative witness, something the former campaign manager’s representatives had previously said wasn’t happening.
“Manafort is on many levels a key subject of the investigation and someone who might be leveraged to share information about others,” the white-collar attorney said.
The Justice Department gave Mueller significant authority upon his appointment in May as special counsel to examine “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” That mandate included picking up on previous FBI work examining Manafort, who served as chairman of Trump’s campaign starting in March 2016 before moving into the role of campaign manager that June.
Nine months after the presidential election was decided, a federal judge is ordering the State Department to try again to find emails Hillary Clinton wrote about the Benghazi attack.
U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta ruled that the State Department had not done enough to try to track down messages Clinton may have sent about the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound on Sept. 11, 2012 — an attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, State searched the roughly 30,000 messages Clinton turned over to her former agency at its request in December 2014 after officials searching for Benghazi-related records realized she had used a personal email account during her four-year tenure as secretary.
State later searched tens of thousands of emails handed over to the agency by three former top aides to Clinton: Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan. Finally, State searched a collection of emails the FBI assembled when it was investigating Clinton’s use of the private account and server.
In all, State found 348 Benghazi-related messages or documents that were sent to or from Clinton in a period of nearly five months after the attack.
However, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch argued that the search wasn’t good enough because State never tried to search its own systems for relevant messages in the official email accounts of Clinton’s top aides.
In a 10-page ruling issued Tuesday, Mehta — an Obama appointee — agreed.
“To date, State has searched only data compilations originating from outside sources — Secretary Clinton, her former aides, and the FBI. … It has not, however, searched 8 the one records system over which it has always had control and that is almost certain to contain some responsive records: the state.gov e-mail server,” Mehta wrote.
“If Secretary Clinton sent an e-mail about Benghazi to Abedin, Mills, or Sullivan at his or her state.gov e-mail address, or if one of them sent an e-mail to Secretary Clinton using his or her state.gov account, then State’s server presumably would have captured and stored such an e-mail. Therefore, State has an obligation to search its own server for responsive records.”
Justice Department lawyers representing State argued that making them search other employees’ accounts for Clinton’s emails would set a bad precedent that would belabor other FOIA searches.
But Mehta said the circumstances surrounding Clinton’s email represented “a specific fact pattern unlikely to arise in the future.”
A central premise of Mehta’s ruling is that the State Department’s servers archived emails from Clinton’s top aides. However, it’s not clear that happened regularly or reliably.
State Department officials have said there was no routine, automated archiving of official email during Clinton’s tenure. Some officials did copy their mailboxes from time to time and put archived message folders on desktop computers or servers, so State may still have some messages from the aides, but the FBI may already have acquired some of those messages during its inquiry.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the judge’s decision. A Justice Department spokesman said: “We are reviewing the judge’s opinion and order.”
Top Trump donor funds campaign AGAINST Republican Senator Jeff Flake
One of Donald Trump’s most generous political benefactors is providing a six-figure donation to a super PAC devoted to unseating Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who has been fiercely critical of the president.
Robert Mercer, a reclusive hedge fund billionaire who was intimately involved in Trump’s rise and helped to bankroll his 2016 campaign, is contributing $300,000 to a super PAC supporting former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who is challenging Flake in a Republican primary next year.
It’s the latest sign that Trump’s political machine is preparing to take on Flake, whose persistent attacks have angered the president. The White House has met with Ward and two other Republicans who are mulling primary challenges to the Arizona senator, state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham.
A longtime Trump critic, Flake has made waves with the release of his new book, “Conscience of a Conservative.” He argues that his party is in denial about the Trump presidency and blames the GOP for his rise. Over the past week, Flake has launched a national TV tour in which he’s made the case that his party has taken the wrong course.
During the 2016 campaign, Flake refused to endorse Trump and called on him to withdraw after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump was heard boasting about groping women. The senator refused to attend the GOP convention, saying that he had to stay home to mow his lawn.
His jabs rankled candidate Trump, who at one point said that he would be willing to spend $10 million of his own money to defeat Flake in a 2018 primary.
And during a press briefing last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to rule out the possibility that the president would help finance an anti-Flake primary effort.
“Sen. Flake would serve his constituents much better if he was less focused on writing a book and attacking the president” and more involved in “passing legislation,” she said.
Ties between the Mercer family and Trump run deep. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, is close to several of the president’s closest aides, including chief strategist Steve Bannon. In August 2016, Rebekah Mercer, a major GOP donor in her own right, played an instrumental role in engineering a shakeup that placed Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, now a White House counselor, atop Trump’s campaign.
In December, then-president-elect Trump, Bannon, and Conway attended a lavish “Villains and Heroes”-themed costume party at the Mercer family’s Long Island home.
Robert Mercer also contributed to the pro-Ward super PAC, KelliPAC, during the 2016 campaign, when Ward unsuccessfully challenged GOP Sen. John McCain. Mercer is a primary funder of the pro-Trump website Breitbart, which published a number of flattering stories about Ward during her previous bid.
“We are so grateful to Mr. Mercer for his courageous support for Kelli Ward, a true conservative champion. Early investments in a campaign like this are so valuable,” said Doug McKee, KelliPAC’s chairman, said in a statement. “Kelli is in prime position to carry her message of accountable, constitutional government all the way to the United States Senate. Interest from additional donors is pouring in, and we are confident that leadership like Mr. Mercer’s will allow us to run a robust winning effort all the way to November of 2018.”
A Mercer spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Flake is one of the most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2018, and many senior Republicans are worried that his manifesto will hurt his prospects — and further inflame tensions with the administration. Within Arizona, some of Trump’s biggest donors have been searching out a primary opponent to challenge the senator.
The president has yet to declare his support for any of Flake’s prospective opponents, yet he is keeping tabs on the primary. During a recent meeting in the Oval Office, Trump asked the Arizona GOP chairman, Jonathan Lines, for an update on the contest.
Notable Trump Quotes-Washington Post
We’ll be back Friday, thanks for reading the Morning Guide to Politics.