POLITICO Playbook PM: Drama in Manafort trial
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
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