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POLITICO Playbook PM: Drama in Manafort trial

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Paul Manafort is pictured. | Getty Images

The judge in Paul Manafort‘s trial told the courtroom Thursday he may have erred in chastising prosecutors the day before. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

NEWS — “Pence announces first steps to establish Space Force by 2020,” by Jacqueline Klimas: “Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday announced the first steps in the Trump administration’s bid to establish a standalone military Space Force by 2020, including creating an elite group of space troops in the same vein as current special operations forces.

“Pence, in an appearance at the Pentagon, cited threats posed by adversaries like Russia and China, which are both developing anti-satellite weapons, lasers and hypersonic missiles that could threaten American reliance on space systems. …

“Pence said the administration is already working with leaders in Congress to include funding in next year’s budget to stand up the new Space Force. … But the proposal to create a separate entity for space within the military is likely to draw some criticism, as previous efforts have met a lot of backlash for needlessly creating extra bureaucracy — even from within the Pentagon itself.” POLITICO

— “Space Force all the way!” tweeted PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP at 12:03 p.m.

DRAMA, DRAMA, DRAMA — “Judge concedes fault after Mueller team protests treatment,” by Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn: “The federal judge overseeing the Paul Manafort trial conceded Thursday morning that he made a mistake in chastising special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors a day earlier in front of the jury.

“Addressing the jurors before prosecutors called their first witness of the day, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis said he ‘may well have been wrong’ on Wednesday when he slammed the Mueller team for allowing an expert witness from the IRS to remain in the courtroom while other witnesses were testifying. …

“Mueller’s team has been frustrated by repeated slapdowns from Ellis during the Manafort trial — now in its eighth day. Before court started on Thursday morning, they filed a written motion to formally protest how they had been called out over the IRS witness.” POLITICO

Good Thursday afternoon. THE PRESIDENT is holding a prison reform roundtable at 4 p.m. today to discuss the “need to pass the First Step Act in Congress,” according to a statement from White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley. ATTENDEES include: Govs. Matt Bevin (Ky.), Nathan Deal (Ga.), John Bel Edwards (La.), Phil Bryant (Miss.) and Doug Burgum (N.D.) and Attorneys General Pam Bondi (Fla.) and Ken Paxton (Texas). Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta will also be there, along with Jared Kushner, Zach Fuentes, Kellyanne Conway, Brooke Rollins, Shahira Knight, Doug Hoelscher, Nic Pottebaum and Ja’Ron Smith.

WHAT’S ON THE PRESIDENT’S MIND — @realDonaldTrump at 12:02 p.m.: “This is an illegally brought Rigged Witch Hunt run by people who are totally corrupt and/or conflicted. It was started and paid for by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats. Phony Dossier, FISA disgrace and so many lying and dishonest people already fired. 17 Angry Dems? Stay tuned!”

THE LATEST ON THE INVESTIGATIONS … “Rudy’s Mueller demand: No questions on Flynn, Comey,” by Axios’ Jonathan Swan: “Giuliani told Axios that there are two topics the president’s lawyers want to rule out in order to agree to a Trump sit-down with Mueller: Why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. What Trump said to Comey about the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“Giuliani mentioned those as if they were minor details — totally reasonable areas for Mueller to agree to avoid. In fact, they’re central to the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.” Axios

— “Rudy Giuliani puts odds of a Trump-Mueller interview at ‘50-50,’” by CBS’ Major Garrett: CBS

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SCOTUS WATCH — JUST POSTED: “Email exposes Kavanaugh to questions about role in terrorism response,” by Eliana Johnson: “A 2001 email from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is likely to reignite a debate over his involvement in making the legal case for the Bush administration’s treatment of terrorist suspects — and whether he misled Congress about it.

“The email … indicates that Kavanaugh, then a White House lawyer, helped to prepare then attorney general John Ashcroft to testify before Congress on the federal government’s monitoring of communications between terrorists in federal custody and their attorneys.

“Democrats are likely to seize on the communication to argue that he misled them during his 2006 confirmation to the D.C. Circuit when, pressed about whether he had helped to make the legal case for torture, he denied any involvement in discussions about the treatment of enemy combatants. The White House, however, argues that the email … strengthens the judge’s case.” POLITICO

— “Bush team makes decision on Kavanaugh documents to publicly release,” by CNN’s Manu Raju: “The records are expected to be publicly available as soon as Thursday, but they will not include documents from Kavanaugh’s time serving as White House staff secretary from 2003-2006, as Democrats have demanded. Republicans have said such records would not be useful in determining how Kavanaugh would rule as a Supreme Court justice.” CNN

TRADE WARS — “U.S. Seafood Industry Vulnerable to Tariffs Aimed at China,” by WSJ’s Heather Haddon and Jesse Newman: “Proposed 10% duties by the Trump administration last month on $ 200 billion worth of imports from China included dozens of varieties of fish, from tilapia to tuna. … An estimated $ 900 million worth of fish and seafood on that list is first caught in the U.S., sent to China for processing into items like fish sticks and fillets, and then imported by U.S. companies to sell to American consumers.

“Because fish sellers are in a low-margin business, they would need to pass on higher prices to restaurant and grocery customers, which in turn would likely raise prices for consumers, companies said.” WSJ

— “U.S. carmakers hit with Chinese tariffs as trade war changes gear,” by South China Morning Post’s Sarah Zheng: SCMP

2018 WATCH — “The Democratic Party’s New Litmus Test: Gun Control,” by WSJ’s Reid Epstein: “Democrats running for Congress in 2018 are pushing a muscular gun-control agenda that represents a wholesale repositioning on the hot-button issue. In this year’s midterm election, gun control has become a party litmus test from which few dissent, alongside abortion rights and support for same-sex marriage.

“Six years ago, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advised candidates in rural districts to show themselves with guns in their TV ads, the National Rifle Association made campaign contributions to 30 Democratic House candidates. This year, the NRA is financially backing just three.” WSJ

— “In Virginia, Women Form an Insurgency to Try to Topple Republican Dave Brat,” by NYT’s Mike Tackett in Midlothian, Virginia: “For Republicans, Mr. Brat’s race is a bulwark in their defensive perimeter, the kind of district they must win to keep control of the House. The area’s mix of affluent suburbs and conservative rural stretches resembles the Ohio district where a Republican candidate in a House special election on Tuesday, Troy Balderson, clings to a narrow lead.

“For Democrats, [Abigail] Spanberger’s candidacy represents a test of the breadth and effectiveness of their coalition of newly emboldened female voters aghast at President Trump’s White House tenure — and the ability of fed-up women to build an insurgency of their own.” NYT

— YA CAN’T MAKE IT UP — “This 14-year-old is running for governor before he can even vote,” by WaPo’s Kayla Epstein in Burlington, Vermont: “Unlike most states, Vermont has no age requirement for gubernatorial candidates, only a residency requirement. [Ethan] Sonneborn, who has lived in Bristol for 14 years — his entire life — makes the cut.

“Sonneborn declared his candidacy for governor back in August 2017, and then told his parents about it. After the secretary of state consulted with the attorney general, it was decided that he would be allowed to run, but his parents would have to sign a form acknowledging that they knew he was running and didn’t oppose him doing so. No big! He got their permission.” WaPo

WAR REPORT — “Dozens dead after school bus carrying children hit by airstrike in Yemen,” by CNN’s Hakim Almasmari, Sarah El Sirgany and Tamara Qiblawi: “Dozens of children, many under the age of 10, have been killed in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a school bus in northern Yemen on Thursday. The children were on a summer school field trip when their bus was struck at a market, the first stop of the day, killing 50 and injuring 77. …

“Following the strike, the United States, which largely supports the coalition’s campaign, issued a statement. ‘US military support to our partners mitigates noncombatant casualties,’ said Pentagon spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarich, according to the statement.” CNN

— Sen. Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT): “U.S. bombs. U.S. targeting. U.S. mid air support. And we just bombed a SCHOOL BUS. The Saudi/UAE/U.S. bombing campaign is getting more reckless, killing more civilians, and strengthening terrorists inside Yemen. We need to end this — NOW.”

AT THE PENTAGON — “For now, Army suspends discharges of immigrant recruits,” by AP’s Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke: “The U.S. Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship — at least temporarily.

“A memo shared with The Associated Press on Wednesday and dated July 20 spells out orders to high-ranking Army officials to stop processing discharges of men and women who enlisted in the special immigrant program, effective immediately.” AP

NBC’S TOM WINTER and JOE VALIQUETTE: “Massachusetts man arrested for threatening ICE agents on Twitter”: “Brandon Ziobrowski, 33, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was arrested Thursday morning after posting on Twitter in July that he would give $ 500 to anyone who would kill an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent.” NBC

IN PUERTO RICO — “Puerto Rican Government Acknowledges Hurricane Death Toll of 1,427,” by NYT’s Frances Robles: “[I]n a draft of a report to Congress requesting $ 139 billion in recovery funds … the Puerto Rican government admits that 1,427 more people died in the last four months of 2017 compared with the same time frame in the previous year. The figures came from death registry statistics that were released in June, but which were never publicly acknowledged by officials on the island.” NYT

— REMEMBER, other independent studies have placed the death toll several thousand higher.

VALLEY TALK — NYT’S MAX FISHER: “With Alex Jones, Facebook’s Worst Demons Abroad Begin to Come Home”: “Developing countries’ experiences with Facebook suggest that the company, however noble its intent, has set in motion a series of problems we are only beginning to understand and that the company has proved unable or unwilling to fully address:

“Reality-distorting misinformation that can run rampant on the newsfeed, which promotes content that will reliably engage users. Extremism and hate speech that tap into users’ darkest impulses, and polarize politics. Malicious actors granted near-limitless reach on one of the most sophisticated communications platforms in history, relatively unchecked by social norms or traditional gatekeepers. And a private company uneager to wade into contentious debates, much less pick winners and losers.

“Facebook — and many Westerners — have long treated those issues as safely ‘over there’ … But chillingly similar Facebook-linked problems are becoming increasingly visible in wealthy, developed countries like the United States.” NYT

MEGATRENDS — “How Your Brain Tricks You Into Believing Fake News,” by Time’s Katy Steinmetz: “The problem is not just malicious bots or chaos-loving trolls or Macedonian teenagers pushing phony stories for profit. The problem is also us, the susceptible readers. And experts like [Sam] Wineburg believe that the better we understand the way we think in the digital world, the better chance we have to be part of the solution.” Time

MEDIAWATCH — “Tribune pulls out of Sinclair deal as conservative broadcaster’s expansion plan collapses,” by Margaret Harding McGill: “Tribune Media on Thursday withdrew from its $ 3.9 billion acquisition at the hands of Sinclair Broadcast Group and announced it’s suing the conservative mega-broadcaster for breach of contract. The company said Sinclair failed to uphold its contractual obligation to make reasonable best efforts to get regulatory sign-off as quickly as possible.” POLITICO

— Robert Donachie is heading to the Washington Examiner to be a White House correspondent. He most recently has been a Capitol Hill reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation. … Beatrice Jin is joining POLITICO as a graphics reporter on the interactive news team. She most recently worked at the AP.

SPOTTED: Tommy Hicks Jr. chatting with former President George W. Bush yesterday at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas.

TRANSITIONS — Natalie McLaughlin is now working in media relations at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She previously was communications director for Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.). … Katie Niederee will be Senate Finance Committee majority communications director. Current communications director Julia Lawless is leaving the committee after almost eight years.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Samantha Segall, VP of government affairs at Leidos and an SAIC and Ken Calvert alum, and Zach Dittler welcomed Sophia Segall Dittler. PicAnother pic

— Erika Richter, director of communications at the American Society of Travel Agents, and John Hauser welcomed Emma Ashleigh Richter. Pic

— Rowan Morris, director at Guggenheim Partners and an alum of Jefferies, Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital, and Britta Towle, account supervisor at BATTALION PR, welcomed Madeleine Elizabeth Morris.

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