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POLITICO Playbook: Trump, alone

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President Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

President Donald Trump couldn’t be blamed for thinking all of official Washington is closing in on him. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images



THAT IS WHAT PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP must be feeling this morning. In the last two days, the Washington establishment has pummeled him like no president has been pummeled before. BOB WOODWARD’s book “Fear” has 400-plus pages drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with people who work for and with the president. It has senior members of his Cabinet dumping on him, stealing his papers and generally treating him like an out-of-control toddler.

AN ANONYMOUS OP-ED in The New York Times written by a person the newspaper calls a “senior official in the Trump administration” delivered a stunning rebuke of the president, gently praising his work on deregulation and tax reform, but criticizing him on every other critical issue. The op-ed

— BRUTAL LINES: “The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. … The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

“Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright. …

“[S]uccesses have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”

TRUMP COULDN’T BE BLAMED for thinking all of official Washington is closing in on him.

— THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT is investigating him, and it refuses to take what he sees as obvious action against his political enemies.

— THE NATION’S MOST PROMINENT NEWSPAPER took the rare step of granting an aide anonymity to deliver a broadside about him.

— ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS have granted hundreds of hours of interviews to Woodward — the most prominent non-fiction writer in the nation — to blast him.

— SENATE COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN like Bob Corker of Tennessee say they agree with the outlines of the criticism of the president.

THE WASHINGTON PARLOUR GAME of guessing who wrote the op-ed is at an all-time high. Everyone around town is buzzing about who it might be. The question dominated cable news. The author will be revealed. Remember “Primary Colors”? And all the NYT can hope is that its “senior administration official” is actually someone that the news pages would consider a “senior administration official.”

LINE OF THE MORNING … THE WASHINGTON POST’S PHIL RUCKER, ASHLEY PARKER and JOSH DAWSEY said the combination of the Woodward book and the Times op-ed “landed like a thunder clap, portraying Trump as a danger to the country that elected him and feeding the president’s paranoia about whom around him he can trust. … According to one Trump friend, he fretted after Wednesday’s op-ed that he could trust only his children.” WaPo

IN SOME WAYS, this is a version of the same story we’ve been living for the past three years. The Washington establishment appalled, and Trump unmoved. This will, of course, heighten Trump’s distaste for the media, and fuel the media-and-swamp-out-to-get-me narrative.

THINK OF IT LIKE THIS: Trump’s own administration is criticizing him behind the cloak of anonymity. Whereas TRUMP HAS NO ARTIFICE. He just says what he thinks publicly. JUST THIS WEEK HE …

— SAID he might shut down the government if he doesn’t get what he wants on immigration policy. This came after SPEAKER PAUL RYAN sheepishly said Trump knew better than that.

— LASHED OUT AT ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS for allowing the indictment of two Trump supporters in Congress.

— INTIMATED he wouldn’t be terribly critical of Nike because it paid him big rent for its Midtown Manhattan store.

JUST LOOK HOW HE RESPONDED ON TWITTER — @realDonaldTrump at 6:11 p.m.: “TREASON?”

… at 7:40 p.m.: “Does the so-called ‘Senior Administration Official’ really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”

… at 11:22 p.m.: “I’m draining the Swamp, and the Swamp is trying to fight back. Don’t worry, we will win!”

WHAT’S THIS MEAN FOR THE FUTURE? How is it sustainable for the president to operate in an environment in which he trusts nobody? We’re about to find out. And we’re about to find out during a critical period of legislating, with the backdrop of an election his party is somewhat likely to lose.

THE WHITE HOUSE did not hold a press briefing yesterday. So far, there is no briefing on today’s schedule, but perhaps the administration will gaggle on the flight to Montana.

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NYT’S PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN: “Mr. Trump erupted in anger after reading the Op-Ed article and John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, and other aides scurried in and out of the press office trying to figure out how to respond. Advisers told Mr. Trump that this was the same as leakers who talk with the news media every day, but a hunt for the author of the offending article was quickly initiated and scrutiny focused on a half-dozen names. Aides said they assumed it was written by someone who worked in the administration but not the White House itself, although they could not be sure.” NYT

— BTW: If this is someone from inside the “administration but not the White House,” that could be a major blow to the Times’ credibility. Someone speaking with this authority and given the extraordinary veil of anonymity has to be really close to the top. Michael Calderone and Jason Schwartz on how the op-ed has created a Times vs. Times environment

— MORE FROM THE RUCKER/PARKER/DAWSEY JOINT: “The outing of the op-ed’s author is virtually inevitable, according to forensic linguists, who work in both academia and private industry, figuring out the authors of anonymous texts in lawsuits, plagiarism cases and historical puzzles.

“‘We take the questioned document and compare it to known exemplars,’ said Robert Leonard, a linguist at Hofstra University who is often retained by defendants and prosecutors in criminal cases involving threats, plagiarism and libel.

“But although many people immediately launched into amateur forensic investigations after publication of the Times piece, Leonard cautioned that ‘a problem with public people is that a lot of their published work is edited, so it’s like mixing fingerprints or DNA. You don’t always know who the real author is.’”

ANDREW RESTUCCIA, ELIANA JOHNSON, CHRIS CADELAGO and ANNIE KARNI: “‘It’s open season on the president’: Anonymous op-ed unleashes fresh West Wing meltdown”: “The hunt for the mole began as soon as the New York Times published an anonymous op-ed by a senior Trump administration official declaring that many in the government are working to thwart the president they serve.

“One senior administration official described a White House in ‘total meltdown’ by Wednesday evening, after the president went on television to directly attack the author and the Times, an assessment corroborated in interviews with more than a dozen current and former White House officials and outside advisers. …

“For some Trump allies, the onslaught capped a 10-day spiral that revealed a president at war with his closest aides – and the extent to which those aides believe their job is to stop Trump from exercising his worst impulses and doing grave damage to the nation.

“More than any previous episode, the op-ed seemed to signal a shift from now-routine internal chaos and infighting to a gathering, and sustained, revolt against the commander-in-chief by those closest to him. One former White House official declared it ‘open season on the president.’” POLITICO

— CBS’ ALAN HE (@alanhe): “Senator Corker on the wild NYT Op-Ed: ‘This is what all of us have understood to be the situation from day one… I understand this is the case and that’s why I think all of us encourage the good people around the President to stay. I thank General Mattis whenever I see him…’”

MICHAEL KRUSE in POLITICO Magazine, “He ‘Makes Nixon Look Like a Cream Puff’: Trump might be in the greatest peril of his presidency, but there’s one thing he has going for him: He likes testing his survival skills.” POLITICO

FOR YOUR RADAR … WILL TRUMP FREAK OUT? Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) are introducing measures to support renaming the NATO headquarters after John McCain.

WELCOME TO 2020, VEEP … AMERICA RISING has a clip in which it says JOE BIDEN called his tracker a “prick.” Decide for yourself. 15-second clip

MUST READ … WAPO’S DAN ZAK and BEN TERRIS: “Summer’s over, and things are back to bonkers. Here’s the view from Crazytown, D.C.”

SCOTUS WATCH — “Kavanaugh stumbles when grilled on whether he discussed Mueller probe,” by Elana Schor: “Nearly 12 hours into Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing, Kamala Harris opened with a tantalizing query: Has the Supreme Court nominee ever discussed Robert Mueller’s probe with a lawyer at Kasowitz Benson & Torres, President Donald Trump’s longtime law firm?

“‘Be sure about your answer, sir,’ Harris asked Kavanaugh. Trump’s high court pick appeared nonplussed, responding that ‘I’m not sure I know everyone who works at that law firm,’ but the California Democrat – a veteran prosecutor known for her tenacious questioning and high on her party’s 2020 presidential short lists — would not let up.

“‘How can you not remember whether you’ve had a conversation about Robert Mueller or his investigation with anyone at that law firm?’ Harris asked, suggesting that Kavanaugh was ‘thinking of someone and you don’t want to tell us.’

“The moment was striking, one of the Democratic Party’s newest leading lights taking on a well-respected Trump nominee with roots in hard-knuckle GOP politics. But Harris moved on from the question within minutes, turning what seemed like a chance to get Kavanaugh on the ropes into a mystery — and one with a sizable downside risk.” POLITICO

— THE EIGHT-MINUTE CLIP, which shows the Harris/Kavanaugh exchange — the video embedded in this tweet has 1.4 million views: The clip

— “Dems shield Schumer from left’s ire over Kavanaugh,” by Burgess Everett and Elana Schor: “There’s a lot riding on Brett Kavanaugh’s likely confirmation to the Supreme Court. Here’s one thing that isn’t: Chuck Schumer’s job.” POLITICO

TRADE WARS — “As Nafta Talks Resume, U.S. and Canada Aren’t Budging on Key Priorities,” by NYT’s Alan Rappeport: “Talks between the United States and Canada to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement resumed on Wednesday, but a quick resolution seemed unlikely amid tension between President Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada. Describing the Nafta talks as ‘intense,’ Mr. Trump accused Canada on Wednesday of ‘taking advantage’ of the United States and said that it did not need Canada to remain in the agreement.

“‘If it doesn’t work out … that’s going to be fine for the country, for our country,’ Mr. Trump said during remarks at the White House. ‘It won’t be fine for Canada.’ Mr. Trudeau, for his part, said in a radio interview that Canada would insist on certain safeguards because Mr. Trump ‘doesn’t always follow the rules.’” NYT


— FLASHBACK, PELOSI on Nov. 13, 2014: “I was never on the [front] of Time Magazine even though I was the first woman [speaker of the House]. Isn’t that a curiosity? That the Republicans win and Boehner’s on the front of Time magazine, Mitch McConnell wins, he’s on the front of Time magazine. Isn’t there a pattern here? Now, as I said, who I am does not depend on any of that, with all due respect to all of you. But as a woman, it’s like, is there a message here? Is there something that we’re missing?”

— COMING ATTRACTIONS: “Pelosi vs. McConnell could dominate Congress in 2019,” by John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett: “The 116th Congress could see the start of a two-year slugfest between two partisan heavyweights — Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“More gridlock, government shutdowns, and the potential impeachment of President Donald Trump could result from the faceoff, according to senators and members in both parties. Yet a Pelosi-McConnell-run Congress might also yield deals benefiting both parties — and Trump, who could claim credit for any bipartisan packages as he mounts an expected reelection bid in 2020. Both Pelosi and McConnell may push for a deal on infrastructure spending, for example, an agreement that would affect every state and congressional district. Trump would also gain politically from any such package.

“With Democrats increasingly favored to win the House in November and Republicans to keep their hold on the Senate, the Pelosi-McConnell dynamic is poised to become one of Washington’s most consequential political relationships — one fraught with tension but also holding the potential for legislative breakthroughs spurred by decades of congressional deal-making.” POLITICO

THE INVESTIGATIONS — “Two Roger Stone associates to appear before Mueller grand jury Friday,” by ABC’s Ali Dukakis: “Two past associates of President Donald Trump ally and veteran political operative Roger Stone are expected to appear before a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. on Friday in response to subpoenas from special counsel Robert Mueller, ABC News has learned. Jerome Corsi, who until recently served as D.C. bureau chief for InfoWars, the alt-right program hosted by right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and political humorist and radio show host Randy Credico are the two latest Stone associates to be summoned to testify in Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.” ABC

— “List offers glimpse of looming Manafort trial,” by Josh Gerstein, Theo Meyer and Marianne LeVine: POLITICO

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— BETSY FISCHER MARTIN is taking over the Women & Politics Institute at American University, the school will announce today. Fischer Martin — who has two degrees from American — is a 23-year veteran of NBC and the former EP of “Meet the Press.” She has been involved in teaching at AU, while hosting “Master in Politics,” a Bloomberg podcast during the 2016 elections.

“We were looking for an entrepreneurial leader who is passionate about the empowerment and representation of women, and Betsy combines all of those attributes,” Vicky Wilkins, dean of American University School of Public Affairs, said in the announcement, which will come out today. The full announcement

— SHAILAGH MURRAY, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama and deputy chief of staff to Biden, is joining Columbia University as EVP for public affairs. She will oversee the communications and public affairs office and the office of government and community affairs.

TRUMP’S THURSDAY … THE PRESIDENT will hold a call with Jewish leaders and rabbis for Rosh Hashanah. This afternoon, the president will leave the White House for Andrews, where he’ll fly to Billings, Montana. Trump will participate in a closed-press roundtable with supporters. He will hold a political rally this evening. Trump is staying overnight in Billings.

TRAILER DU JOUR — “Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood Is Dead In New ‘House Of Cards’ Trailer” — HuffPost


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman are pictured. | AP Photo

PHOTO DU JOUR: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman meet in New Delhi on Thursday for long-delayed talks. | Manish Swarup/AP Photo

ROY MOORE is suing SACHA BARON COHEN and SHOWTIME, via WaPo’s Travis Andrews: “[Moore] is suing Cohen, CBS and Showtime for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud. Moore seeks $ 95 million in punitive and compensatory damages, according to the lawsuit.” WaPo

YIKES — “Vermont’s Only Black Woman Lawmaker Dropped Her Reelection Bid Because Of Racist Threats. Progressives Say The State Needs ‘Introspection,’” by BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer in Middlebury, Vermont: BuzzFeed

NBC’S DAN DE LUCE and JULIA AINSLEY: “Exclusive: Trump admin rejected report showing refugees did not pose major security threat”: “The Trump administration has consistently sought to exaggerate the potential security threat posed by refugees and dismissed an intelligence assessment last year that showed refugees did not present a significant threat to the U.S., three former senior officials told NBC News. Hardliners in the administration then issued their own report this year that several former officials and rights groups say misstates the evidence and inflates the threat posed by people born outside the U.S.

“At a meeting in September 2017 with senior officials discussing refugee admissions, a representative from the National Counterterrorism Center came ready to present a report that analyzed the possible risks presented by refugees entering the country. But before he could discuss the report, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand dismissed the report, saying her boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would not be guided by its findings. ‘We read that. The Attorney General doesn’t agree with the conclusions of that report,’ she said, according to two officials familiar with the meeting, including one who was in the room at the time.” NBC

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AT THE PENTAGON — “Mattis Plans to Remove Pentagon’s Chief Management Officer,” by WSJ’s Gordon Lubold: “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis plans to remove the Pentagon’s chief management officer from his post for a ‘lack of performance,’ according to several officials, in a setback to a Trump administration push for efficiency and military modernization.

“John Gibson became the Pentagon’s first-ever chief management officer, or CMO, earlier this year as part of a reorganization aimed at finding ways to cut the costs of programs and put the savings toward modernization efforts. He was nominated by President Trump, then confirmed by the Senate in February. Mr. Gibson, a former aerospace CEO, is third in command at the Pentagon, behind Mr. Mattis and Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan. His expected removal hasn’t been previously disclosed.” WSJ


SPOTTED: Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) having dinner last night at RPM Italian … David Frum at Café Milano … Peter Strzok last night at the Dabney.

OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at the going-away party last night hosted by British Ambassador Kim Darroch and Lady Darroch for longtime British Embassy social secretary Amanda Downes, who served under eight ambassadors, six prime ministers, five presidents and one queen: Lizzie Downes, Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan, Tony Blinken and Evan Ryan, Tom Nides, Diane Rehm, Susan Rice and Ian Cameron, Barbara Harrison, Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) …

… Cathy Russell, Robert and Dr. Elena Allbritton, Ann and Stuart Stock, Sally Quinn, Norm and Judy Ornstein, Fred and Amanda Ryan, John Harwood, Jerry Rashson, Susan Blumenthal, Tim and Anita McBride, Jonathan Silver and Melissa Moss, Dan Poneman, Patrick Steel and Lee Satterfield, Fred Hiatt, Don and Amanda Graham, Carol Melton, Francesca Craig and Marian Blakey.

TRANSITION — Ben Chang will be the spokesperson and director of media relations at Princeton University. He most recently has served as managing director for public affairs and crisis at Burson Cohn Wolfe and is a State Department and NSC alum.

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Caroline Sunshine, White House press assistant … Fred Kempe, CEO of the Atlantic Council

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Joshua Baca, managing director of Marathon Strategies. How he got his start in politics: “I got my start in politics at the age of 16 when I served as a U.S. Senate Page, having been nominated by former Sen. Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico. Living in D.C. at the age of 16 and working on the Senate floor was still one of the coolest things I have ever done. I saw Sen. Jim Jeffords switch parties, McCain/Feingold signed into law and the Bush tax cuts signed into law. Met the Dalai Lama. I mean, talk about a history lesson at that age!” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is 56 … Carly Fiorina is 64 … ABC News alum Elizabeth Vargas … CIA’s Brittany Bramell … Matt Littman … Dan Ronayne, president of Asta Strategies (hat tips: Kiki Burger and Doug Heye) … Ryan Mahoney, RNC’s comms director (h/t Allie Brandenburger) … Lizzie Ulmer, who does comms for DAGA (h/t Ashley Pratte) … Ari Schaffer, special adviser for communications at Commerce … Peter Barnes … Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) is 87 … Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) is 61 … Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) is 77 … Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) is 66 … former Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is 71 … Jason Schechter, chief comms officer for Bloomberg LP … POLITICO’s Paul Volpe, Meredith McPhillips, Liz Shrum and Grace Kok … Madeleine Gilmer … Kathy Grannis Allen of Grannis PR Strategies … Jaime Leifer of PublicAffairs … Leslie Barkemeyer … Tim Ogborn …

… Gillian Turner, Fox News Washington correspondent … Clyde Prestowitz, founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute … Alex Leo … Daniel Flesch … Christa Davis … Robin Parker … NPR’s Claire Harbage … Elizabeth Robillard … former Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) is 52 … Cameron Hardesty … Peter Schanzer, research analyst at Stellwagen Capital … Andrew Irving … Owen Kibenge … Spotify’s Tammas Wilner … Kevin Rieg … Jessica Goldstein, culture editor at ThinkProgress and a WaPo alum … William Stone … Gina Martinez … Bruce King … Dan Drummond … Scott McCrary … Bill Ritter … Douglass Daniel … John Hagner … Ken Smukler … Howard Zucker (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)

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