The Daily 202: Jeff Sessions’s grilling highlights tension between chumminess of Senate, seriousness of Russia probe – Washington Post

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With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: It is widely presumed on Capitol Hill that Jeff Sessions chose to testify before the Senate Intelligence committee, rather than the committees that have jurisdiction over his department, because he has more friends there who would run interference on his behalf. If that was indeed the attorney general’s strategy, yesterday’s hearing validated it.

The tension between the chumminess of an old boys’ club that traditionally looks after its own and the seriousness of a Russia investigation that clouds the presidency was neatly captured in the closing minute of the two-and-a-half-hour hearing.

Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the committee, expressed displeasure that Sessions was not forthcoming about his role – and the role of the Russia investigation – in Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. “There were a number of very strange comments that Mr. Comey testified last week that you could have, I believe, shed some light on,” the Virginia senator lamented.

Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the committee, concluded by pointing out that Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to replace Sessions when he stepped down earlier this year, had sat through the session in the audience. “He’s made us regret that we don’t have an intramural basketball team because he’s six-foot-nine,” said the North Carolina senator, who has been in Congress for 22 years.

“Big Luther is a good player,” Sessions replied with a knowing chuckle, noting that his successor played college ball at Tulane.

“You have helped us tremendously,” Burr said as he gaveled the hearing to a close, “and we’re grateful to you and to Mary for the unbelievable sacrifice that you made in this institution and also, now, in this administration.”

— The tribalism that has infected our politics has also transformed the Senate. Republicans, for the most part, either pulled their punches or batted cleanup. Democrats whacked at the former senator like a piñata.

— Sessions pleaded for some old-fashioned senatorial courtesy in his opening statement. “I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, at least some of you,” he said, “and the suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government, to hurt this country … or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie.”

Speaking in the vernacular of the Old South, Sessions said he had come to “defend my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.” “I’ve earned a reputation for (integrity) … in this body, I believe,” he said. A minute later, he implored them again: “Please colleagues, hear me on this. … Colleagues, that is false.” Then Sessions corrected himself. “I cannot say colleagues now,” he said. “I’m no longer a part of this body.”

— But in the process of trying to clear his name, Sessions antagonized Democrats and suggested that he doesn’t believe in the chamber’s Golden Rule: Treat your colleagues as you’d like to be treated. The nation’s chief law enforcement officer acknowledged that he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — once during the Republican National Convention and once in his Senate office — and that he did not disclose these contacts during his confirmation hearing. But his excuse for what some legal experts think might have constituted perjury was that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) had asked him “a rambling question.” Referring to “the so-called dossier,” Session complained: “I believe that’s the report that Sen. Franken hit me with.” In fact, Franken didn’t even ask Sessions about his interactions with the Russians. Without prompting, he volunteered: “I did not have communications with the Russians.”

Sessions incensed other former colleagues by reneging on his commitment to appear before the Appropriations subcommittee that controls the Justice Department’s budget. It was the second time he backed out. He sent a deputy in his stead. “You’re not the witness that should be behind that table,” Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) told Rod Rosenstein yesterday morning. “You’re not who I’m interested in speaking with at the hearing today.” Leahy, the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, said Sessions “provided false testimony” and questioned how he “can credibly lead the Justice Department.” He also called the DOJ’s budget request “abysmal.”

During the Intelligence hearing, Sessions suggested that he won’t necessarily agree to answer additional questions about Comey or Russia before the committees tasked with overseeing his department. “I don’t think it’s good policy to continually bring cabinet members or the attorney general before multiple committees going over the same things over and over,” he said. (Sessions undoubtedly would have complained if Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch ever made this comment.)

— If Sessions thought he’d get special treatment from his Democratic counterparts because he spent two decades in the Senate, he thought wrong. The attorney general struggled not to let their tough questions – which he is unaccustomed to answering – get under his skin.

Kamala Harris pressed harder than anyone else on the committee. She served as California’s attorney general for the past six years and San Francisco’s district attorney for the seven years before that. With the savvy of a seasoned prosecutor, the freshman Democrat peppered Sessions with specific yes-or-no questions. It didn’t take long for him to become exasperated. When she asked if he had contacts with Russian businessmen last year, he said no. Then he began to clarify that it’s possible he met some at the Republican convention because there were lots of people he met with. Harris noted that she didn’t have much time and wanted to move quickly. “Will you let me qualify it? If I don’t qualify it, you’ll accuse me of lying,” Sessions shot back. “So I need to be correct as best I can. I’m not able to be rushed this fast! It makes me nervous!”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) cut in. “The witness should be allowed to answer the question,” he told Harris. “Senator Harris, let him answer,” Burr, the chairman, admonished. Sessions then didn’t directly answer her question – and Burr announced that Harris’s time had expired.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Sessions what Comey was cryptically referring to last week when he said that he had been aware of “problematic” facts that he knew would force Sessions to recuse himself. The fired director said he couldn’t discuss them outside of a classified session. The question peeved the attorney general, who responded: “Why don’t you tell me?!?! There are none, Sen. Wyden! There are none! This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) pressed Sessions on why he was talking about some private conversations with Trump but then clamming up about others. “I just don’t understand the legal basis for your refusal to answer,” he asked. “I am protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses,” Sessions said. “You’re being selective,” King replied. “No, I’m not intentionally,” said Sessions.

— Yesterday’s hearing offered a fresh illustration of a long-term trend away from senatorial deference:

  • The watershed moment was 1989, when Democratic senators rejected John Tower’s nomination to be secretary of defense despite his 24 years as a senator from Texas.
  • In 2013, Republicans tried to blockade Chuck Hagel – a former GOP senator from Nebraska – after Barack Obama appointed him as secretary of defense. They used the confirmation fight to try extracting information about Benghazi. It was the first time a pick for defense chief had ever been filibustered, though he eventually made it through.
  • In January, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) spoke against Sessions at his confirmation hearing — the first time in U.S. history that a sitting senator had testified against a colleague’s nomination for a cabinet post. Booker said he could not stay silent, even though he knew some of his colleagues weren’t “happy that I am breaking with Senate tradition.” “In the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country,” he said.
  • Just last week, senators also excoriated Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who until last year was a Republican senator from Indiana, when he declined to discuss whether Trump asked him to try reining in Comey’s investigation.

— Part of this shift is generational. A changing of the guard is underway. Booker is 48. Harris is 52. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who lectured Sessions on the rules of executive privilege during yesterday’s hearing, is just 45. These are relative youngsters by Senate standards.

Other Democrats fell more into the throwback category. “You and I are about the same vintage,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who is 69, told Sessions, who is 70. Manchin politely referred to Sessions as “sir” and noted that the attorney general understands what it’s like to be a senator. “All in all, it’s better on that side,” Sessions replied with a smile. “Nobody gets to ask you about your private conversations with your staff!”

— Friendly Republicans on the committee helped Sessions offer a full-throated defense:

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) read a statement in the attorney general’s defense from the Center for the National Interest, which hosted Trump’s April 2016 speech at the Mayflower Hotel, where the AG acknowledges he might have interacted with Kislyak for a third time. Lankford asked Sessions: “Do you have any reason to disagree with that?” He did not, of course. “You speak as a man eager to set the record straight,” Lankford told him.
  • Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) noted that senators meet with ambassadors all the time, and even run into them at the grocery store. He asked Sessions, “Is that a fair statement?”
  • It’s very rare for a top administration official to bring his wife to what he knows is going to be a contentious oversight hearing. But Mary Sessions sat in the front row yesterday, offering moral support to her husband of 48 years. “It’s good to see Mary,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said at the start of his five minutes of questioning. “I know there are other places you’d both probably rather be.” Blunt praised the couple for approaching public service as a joint enterprise. “I’ve been blessed indeed,” said Sessions. “I agree with that,” Blunt replied.

— Meanwhile, after the hearing, some Democratic members who used to be friendly with Sessions said that the attorney general’s unwillingness to give straight answers only stiffened their resolve to pursue him as part of the ongoing congressional inquiries. Dick Durbin, who is number two in Democratic leadership, voted against Sessions in January, but he reminisced about how they worked out together in the gym and came up with a compromise on drug sentencing after one workout. In a statement last night, the Illinois senator said: “It is hard to see how he can continue to serve.”

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer complained that Sessions “repeatedly refused to answer pertinent questions … without offering a scintilla of legal justification for doing so.”

Franken called Sessions’s testimony “very unsettling” and said he didn’t buy his explanations. “I believe he’s trying to downplay the gravity of and whitewash the fact that he misled the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath and failed to correct the record until he was forced to do so seven weeks later after reporting by the Washington Post,” the Minnesotan said in a statement.

HOW THE HEARING IS PLAYING:

  • Matt Zapotosky: “Sessions finds a shield in executive privilege — but it might not be a strong one.
  • Amber Phillips: “Sessions appears to have contradicted himself several times. … About the only thing Sessions can recall for sure is that he didn’t do anything wrong.”
  • Philip Bump: “Sessions’s testimony highlights Trump’s deep lack of interest in what Russia did in 2016.
  • Right Turn’s Jennifer Rubin: “Sessions wilts on the hot seat.
  • Plum Line’s Sarah Posner: “Sessions’s testimony raises more questions than it answers.
  • The Fix’s Callum Borchers: “Sessions wants you to do what he wouldn’t — distinguish between his roles as senator and surrogate.
  • Politico: “Sessions and his deputy show some daylight.” From Josh Gerstein and Seung Min Kim: “One such moment came when Sessions testified that Comey likely had an obligation to notify Congress when new evidence emerged in the probe into Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails last October. … However, the letter Rosenstein wrote last month as part of the process of firing Comey indicated that the FBI director actually should have remained mum. … Sessions had appeared to endorse Rosenstein’s memo last month, so it was surprising that he took the opposite position at one point on Tuesday.”
  • The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey: “Sessions’ non-answers do nothing to dispel questions.”
  • USA Today’s Susan Page: “Jeff Sessions defends Jeff Sessions. But what about Donald Trump?”
  • The New York Times’s Andrew Rosenthal: “Sessions Gives a Master Class in Dissembling.”
  • CNN’s Chris Cillizza thinks the winners were Angus King, Tom Cotton, Martin Heinrich, Kamala Harris and Jim Comey. The losers were Sessions’s memory, Jim Risch, and Susan Collins.
  • The Birmingham (Alabama) News: “Sessions Forcefully Denies Impropriety on Russia, Comey.”
  • The Arizona Republic: “John McCain sticks to a script with Sessions testimony.” From Dan Nowicki: “Unlike his performance at the June 8 Comey hearing, when his questions came out slow and, in at least one case, garbled, McCain at all times appeared serious and deliberative, never smiling. He sounded a little hoarse and occasionally coughed or cleared his throat. He also appeared to refer closely to written material.”
  • The Los Angeles Times: “Sessions said Kamala Harris’ questioning made him ‘nervous.’”
  • The Guardian: “’Nervous’ Jeff Sessions’ attempt at Trump-like bravado falls flat.”
  • Rolling Stone: “25 Times Jeff Sessions Had a Convenient Memory Lapse While Testifying. ‘I don’t recall’ was the attorney general’s refrain.”
  • The Intercept: “Sessions Can’t Remember Anything.”
  • Vanity Fair: “Does Jeff Sessions have a memory problem?
  • Huffington Post: “Sessions And The Trump Team Really Don’t Want To Say ‘Executive Privilege.’ The attorney general struggled to articulate a legal basis for dodging questions.”
  • Vox: “The real story of Sessions’s testimony is the questions he didn’t answer.
  • The Root: “Senate Intelligence Committee Let Sessions Off the Hook.

The New York Times’s Frank Bruni, widening the aperture in his column, calls Sessions “a flustered Gump in the headlights”: “The appearance … didn’t bring us much closer to understanding what did or didn’t happen … But as I watched him … I saw a broader story, a dark parable of bets misplaced and souls under siege. This is what happens when you draw too close to Trump. You’re diminished at best, mortified at worst. You’ve either done work dirtier than you meant to or told fibs bigger than you ought to or been sullied by contact or been thrown to the wolves. … For all Trump’s career and all his campaign, he played the part of Midas, claiming that everything he touched turned to gold. That was never true. This is: Almost everyone who touches him is tarnished, whether testifying or not.”

Pro-Trump conservative commentators rallied to the AG’s defense:

“Democrats created enough fodder on executive privilege to drive some negative news coverage over the next 12-18 hours,” National Review Editor Rich Lowry argued, “but otherwise the hearing has been a nothing burger.”

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— BREAKING: A gunman opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, this morning, injuring House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told The Post that Capitol Police informed them that Scalise had been shot. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said in a televised interview this morning on CNN: “I hear a loud ‘bam’ and I look around and behind third base … I see a rifle, and I see a little bit of a body and then I hear another “bam” and I realize there’s still an active shooter. At the same time I hear Steve Scalise over at second base scream — he was shot.” The local NBC affiliate just reported, citing an unnamed congressional aide, that Scalise is in stable condition at George Washington University Hospital. This is a developing story. We’ve just launched a live blog. Go to washingtonpost.com for the latest.

President Trump just tweeted:

— Republican Ed Gillespie barely prevailed and Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam easily won in the Virginia gubernatorial primaries. Gregory S. Schneider reports: “The nation was watching Virginia as a political laboratory for how the political parties handle the deep divisions that followed last year’s election of President Trump. The establishment forces seemed to win out, as Virginia voters resisted efforts to pull further to the right or left. … Overall, Democrats turned out in far greater numbers than Republicans. About 540,000 voters cast ballots in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, while just over 360,000 voters cast ballots on the Republican side.”

— In the race for lieutenant governor, Republicans nominated state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, and the Democrats chose former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax, who would be the first African-American to win statewide since Doug Wilder in 1989.

— The president’s presence loomed large over the results, both in Democratic turnout and in diehard Trump supporter Corey Stewart’s surprisingly strong showing. Robert McCartney reports: “Hostility to Trump spurred strong turnout among Democrats, raising their hopes that … Northam can retain the governor’s mansion for the party. On the GOP side, enthusiasm for the president lifted outspoken Trump supporter Stewart to an unexpectedly strong finish in his race against the GOP establishment’s favored candidate … Although Stewart came up short, his showing in the primary creates a new challenge for Gillespie in the general election. Gillespie had hoped to keep some distance from Trump to help him with Virginia’s notably centrist voters. But now he may need to warm up to the president to bring along the Republican base.”

— Stewart had faced ridicule for modeling his primary campaign off Trump’s since the president lost Virginia to Hillary Clinton in November. Paul Schwartzman reports: “But Stewart insisted that he understood Virginia’s electorate and refused to abandon his divisive rhetoric and raw-toned defense of Confederate monuments that drew support from white nationalist groups. On Tuesday, Stewart proved himself something of a political sage, astounding Virginia Republicans by coming within a shade over one percentage point of upsetting Gillespie, the front-runner throughout the campaign who was far better-known and raised more than $4 million more than his opponent. Standing before a cheering crowd of supporters, Stewart refused to concede, saying he would not support Gillespie as the party’s nominee and promised ‘to continue the revolution that Donald Trump started.’

— Stewart’s decision to embrace Confederate statues struck Republican strategists as a recipe for disaster, but it may have helped his image as an enemy to liberals. The University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Kyle Kondik said this last month when attempting to explain Stewart’s strategy: “If you’re an underdog candidate looking for something to get attention with, Stewart has certainly gotten attention for this … Just the name ID can be more than half the battle … Sometimes it matters not so much what your own position is, but who your enemies are. Maybe Stewart’s calculation is if he can fire up these protesters, those are people that conservative Republicans think are riffraff. Therefore, he becomes an enemy of the left, and that generates more support on the right.”

— Gillespie seems to have sensed the hard-right edge among voters late in the game, reportedly running last-minute digital ads in which he promised to protect Confederate statues from being removed — something that will come back to haunt him in the general.

— Gillespie also included a “get the facts” section on his website, which highlighted this Politifact article debunking Stewart’s claim that Gillespie “would not mention (Donald Trump’s) name unless he was condemning him.” 

— Gillespie’s half-hearted support of Trump illustrates his tough road ahead on the way to November, the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin reports: “The surprisingly close Republican contest foreshadowed Mr. Gillespie’s quandary heading into the general election: how to handle a president who remains broadly popular on the right but is politically toxic among the broader electorate in Virginia, the only Southern state carried by Hillary Clinton.”

— The Democratic primary was noteworthy for being called so early. Tom Periello, a progressive former congressman who had received endorsements from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, suffered a double-digit loss. After conceding, he quickly endorsed Northam and called for unity:

— But Perriello’s loss delivers another blow to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which, as Politico’s David Siders explained recently, has been unable to pick up victories that reflect grassroots energy: “Nearly a year after Sanders’ presidential run fell short, one thing is missing in the afterglow — a reliable string of victories at the ballot box.”

— Before Perriello’s fate was sealed, the New York Times published an op-ed from Sanders entitled (you really can’t make this up) “How Democrats Can Stop Losing Elections,” in which he stood by his message of economic populism. Sanders writes: “The Democrats must develop an agenda that speaks to the pain of tens of millions of families who are working longer hours for lower wages and to the young people who, unless we turn the economy around, will have a lower standard of living than their parents … While Democrats should appeal to moderate Republicans who are disgusted with the Trump presidency, too many in our party cling to an overly cautious, centrist ideology … If the Democrats are prepared to rally grass-roots America in every state and to stand up to the greed of the billionaire class, the party will stop losing elections.”

— But Northam’s win provides further evidence that, in many cases, Democratic candidates still need establishment support to succeed. The Atlantic’s Clare Foran wrote yesterday before the polls closed: “If Northam prevails, it may be a sign that candidates who win the backing of establishment Democrats in their state remain in the best position to win intra-party contests.”

— Democratic strategist Jon Cowan, president of the centrist think tank Third Way, pointed to Perriello’s loss as evidence that much of the country is not ready to get behind a Sanders-like liberal agenda. “The lesson [of Northam’s win] is that liberal populism is not what Democratic voters are seeking in purple and red regions,” he said in an email. “Perriello deserves praise for raising important issues and running a positive campaign. But he was too populist for the state. If Democrats are to have a successful 2018 and begin to stop the madness of Trump, the lesson of Virginia is to not force an agenda that works in the bluest parts of the country onto the places with ideologically diverse voters. It just won’t work, and the stakes for failure are just too high.

— Away from the governor’s race, a Democrat who would be Virginia’s first openly transgender lawmaker won her primary and will next face off against Robert G. Marshall, who proposed a “bathroom bill” in the House of Delegates. Fenit Nirappil reports: “Danica Roem, a former Gainesville and Prince William Times reporter, beat three rivals Tuesday to join the largest slate of Democratic House candidates in recent memory, joining the launch of a general election campaign in which the party hopes to retake control of a legislative chamber that has a staggering Republican majority. The Democrats — many of whom say they were inspired to run after the election of President Trump — will compete in 87 of the state’s 100 House districts in November, making for the largest number of contested races in at least 20 years.”

— Nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers have agreed to file a lawsuit accusing the president of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Tom Hamburger and Karen Tumulty report:  “The lead senator filing the complaint in federal district court, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said Tuesday that the lawsuit has already drawn more congressional plaintiffs — 196 — than any legal action previously taken against a president. No Republicans had joined in the lawsuit so far, although they will be invited to do so, Blumenthal said. An advance copy of the legal complaint reviewed by The Washington Post argues that those in Congress have special standing because the Constitution’s ‘foreign emoluments clause’ requires the president to obtain ‘the consent of Congress’ before accepting any gifts. The legal effort, led in the House by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), is likely to escalate tensions between the White House and Capitol Hill.” Trump and Blumenthal have faced off before, with the president tweeting (here, here and here) about his Vietnam war record.

  • Speaking of questionable Trump Organization transactions, secretive shell companies have become the predominant buyers of Trump’s companies’ real estate. USA Today’s Nick Penzenstadler, Steve Reilly and John Kelly report: “Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before. USA TODAY journalists have spent six months cataloging every condo, penthouse or other property that Trump and his companies own – and tracking the buyers behind every transaction. The investigation found Trump’s companies owned more than 430 individual properties worth well over $250 million.”

— A number of fatalities were reported from a fired that whipped through a west London apartment complex. Griff Witte and Karla Adam report: “A thick plume of smoke could be seen for miles around, while witnesses reported people jumping from open windows near the top of the 24-story building after being trapped by the advancing flames. Hundreds of other residents, many who had been asleep when the blaze broke out shortly before 1 a.m., were forced to flee down dark and smoky stairwells. The building, which is located in a poverty-stricken pocket of one of London’s wealthiest neighborhoods, was engulfed within minutes, said locals. ‘It was like a horror movie, smoke was coming from everywhere,’ said building resident Adeeb, who hobbled down nine flights of stairs on crutches with his wife and three children.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Embattled Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced an indefinite leave of absence from the company, as the ride-hailing service seeks to recover from a months-long string of controversies. In the interim, Uber’s board is slated to conduct an overhaul of existing workplace culture, including the implementation of “independent” board members and the creation of an oversight committee to improve corporate ethics. In another embarrassing fumble for Uber, one of its board members was forced to resign after making an “inappropriate” comment about women while attending a company-wide meeting meant to address sexual harassment. (Craig Timberg and Brian Fung)  
  2. Rolling Stone is paying $1.65 million to a University of Virginia fraternity, moving to settle a defamation lawsuit. (T. Rees Shapiro)
  3. The jury in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial could not yet deliver a verdict after 12 hours of deliberation. They will reconvene this morning. (Manuel Roig-Franzia)
  4. The “Pizzagate” shooter wrote a letter apologizing to his victims and seeking a lenient sentence. Edgar Maddison Welch will be sentenced June 22 after pleading guilty to a District assault and a federal firearms charge in March. (Spencer S. Hsu)
  5. NBC is reportedly holding crisis meetings over the backlash from Megyn Kelly’s interview with Alex Jones. At least one advertiser has already pulled ads because of the interview, which is set to air Sunday. (Page Six)
  6. President Trump’s disapproval rating hit a record high. According to Gallup, 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the president, one percent point higher than his previous record, set in late March. (The Hill)
  7. United was forced to apologize (again) after a video emerged showing an employee shoving a 71-year-old passenger over a ticket dispute. (Samantha Schmidt)
  8. Government contractor DynCorp International faced charges that employees attempted to bilk the State Department out of millions. The corporation is also confronting an unrelated civil case by the DOJ. (Rachel Weiner)
  9. Nancy Pelosi is expected to announce today the House Democratic Diversity Initiative, meant to bring about more representative House staffs. The concept derives from a plan first pursued in the NFL. (Ed O’Keefe)
  10. Emily’s List has named former Maine state legislator Emily Cain as executive director. Cain led Maine Democrats to a majority in the state House in 2010, and members of the influential women’s political group hope she can do the same for their endorsed candidates. (Philip Rucker)
  11. A French historian tasked with retracing the lives of U.S. pilots whose planes crashed in German-controlled territory during World War II has allegedly been stealing the dog tags of dead American heroes and auctioning them off on eBay for personal gain. If convicted, he could face up to a decade in prison. (John Woodrow Cox)
  12. Ever paid for a therapeutic massage that’s felt a little, well, off? If so, you may be seeing one of the many licensed professionals and sports trainers who have replaced pricey massage equipment with power tools. One popular, cost-friendly substation is the Jigsaw — so long as its users first remember to file down an extremely sharp saw blade on the device. (Wall Street Journal)
  13. Tracy K. Smith was named the new U.S. Poet Laureate. (Ron Charles)

WHAT TRUMP REALLY THINKS:

— The president privately told a group of Republican senators yesterday that the House GOP health-care bill is “mean” and that he expects the Senate to “improve” the legislation considerably. Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell report: “Trump’s comments, during a White House lunch with a group of 15 GOP senators from across the ideological spectrum, signaled that he may be willing to embrace a less-aggressive revision of the Affordable Care Act than Republicans have previously promised. The meeting came as Senate Republicans were struggling to build support for their health-care rewrite among conservatives who are concerned that the legislation is drifting too far to the left … Following the meeting, several top Republicans sought to temper expectations that leaders could produce a final health-care draft by the end of the week, as had previously been expected … Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also declined to say whether the Senate would hold a vote on the bill before the July 4 recess.” Don’t forget: When the House’s health-care bill passed, a very long six weeks ago, Trump held a celebration in the Rose Garden.

SOUNDING THE ALARM:

— Paul Ryan warned his caucus yesterday that they should prepare for a potentially brutal 2018 election season. Mike DeBonis reports: “[Ryan] and Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning at the Republican National Committee to expect a difficult political landscape ahead of the midterm congressional elections next year. They cited increased grass-roots engagement on the left and robust fundraising for Democratic candidates in recent special elections in urging lawmakers to accelerate their own political efforts in response … [Stivers] warned that the NRCC has already spent some $10 million on special elections in 2017 — far outstripping amounts from previous non-election years. From 2009 through 2016, the committee spent about $9.7 million combined on special elections. In an interview Tuesday, Stivers said he simply reiterated sage advice for any election cycle — ‘You always need to be ready for every race.’”

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:

— Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and counsel in the Russia investigation, Marc Kasowitz, has boasted to friends and colleagues that he played a “central role” in the March firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, ProPublica’s Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott report: “Kasowitz told Trump, ‘This guy is going to get you,’ according to a person familiar with Kasowitz’s account. Those who know Kasowitz say he is sometimes prone to exaggerating when regaling them with his exploits. But if true, his assertion adds to the mystery surrounding the motive and timing of Bharara’s firing … Kasowitz’s claimed role in the Bharara firing appears to be a sign that the New York lawyer has been inserting himself into matters of governance and not just advising the president on personal legal matters.”

Preet had a colorful response on Twitter:

— Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has been spending a lot of time at the White House recently—maybe too much time. Foreign Policy’s Jenna McLaughlin and Elias Groll report: “Current employees and veterans of the intelligence community are wondering whether the former Indiana senator is being kept on a tight leash by the administration. Twelve weeks into the job, Coats … is rarely seen at the office’s so-called Liberty Crossing headquarters in McLean, Virginia. Instead, Coats typically works out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where he has an office and frequently attends meetings with the president and his top advisors.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS: 

— The idea of firing special counsel Robert Mueller was first floated publicly by Newsmax’s Christopher Ruddy on Monday night, and official Washington spent yesterday signaling to Trump that he shouldn’t even think about it. Philip Rucker reports: “To some of Trump’s most loyal allies, terminating [Mueller] as special counsel of the expanding Russia investigation is a tantalizing idea — one that has gained currency on the right and, according to one of Trump’s friends, has been considered by the president himself … Trump has been counseled strongly against trying to remove Mueller and appears unlikely to take such a drastic step … But neither [press secretary Sean] Spicer nor other Trump aides would explicitly dispute Ruddy’s assertion that the president has considered firing Mueller.”

And Trump himself repeatedly ignored questions on whether he would fire Mueller. “Reporters asked Trump four times during a health-care meeting at the White House whether Mueller should be fired, and the president gave no answer,” Phil reports. “They asked again as he walked across the South Lawn to board the Marine One helicopter, and again he gave no answer. Reporters asked once more as Trump stepped off Air Force One in Milwaukee, and once more he had no answer.” But Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has been in charge of the Russia investigation since Sessions recused himself, testified before Congress yesterday that he would not fire Mueller “without good cause.” 

— But Trump firing Mueller is not completely off the table. The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush, Maggie Haberman and Julie Hirschfeld Davis report: “People close to Mr. Trump say he is so volatile they cannot be sure that he will not change his mind about Mr. Mueller if he finds out anything to lead him to believe the investigation has been compromised. And his ability to endure a free-ranging investigation, directed by Mr. Mueller, that could raise questions about the legitimacy of his Electoral College victory, the topic that most provokes his rage, will be a critical test for a president who has continued on Twitter and elsewhere to flout the advice of his staff, friends and legal team.”

— The Fix’s Philip Bump designed a flowchart to explain how Mueller could potentially be ousted:

— Former Republican Rep. Bob Inglis (S.C.), who helped to draft the articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton, argues that the charges against Trump are far more serious. He writes: “If Comey had angered a President Hillary Clinton by restarting the investigation into her private email server and she had fired him, Republicans would be howling. Rightly so … In the current case, Comey was exploring the possibility of American involvement in the Russian plot, a treasonous offense. While it’s not time to start drafting articles of impeachment, it is time to pursue this investigation into Russian meddling in our presidential election with vigor, without friends to reward and without enemies to punish.” 

— Nancy Pelosi said she believes Trump will “self-impeach” – seeking to implore Democrats to wait for the Russia investigation to play out before publicly pushing for his removal from the White House. Politico’s Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan report: “Pelosi also believes that if Trump fired Mueller … it would be enough to push Republicans to begin seriously considering acting against the president on their own. In the meantime, Pelosi argued, Democrats risk turning the spotlight on themselves when it should remain on Trump and his actions during the ongoing congressional and independent investigations.”

— Jack Goldsmith, who led the DOJ’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush, assessed the potential consequences of Mueller being dismissed on the Lawfare blog: “This seems like such a bad idea — for the nation, and for the President — that I have a hard time believing it is a live possibility. I hope it is no more than wishful thinking or encouragement on the part of the Trump allies … Nonetheless, in the hope that this proves to be an irrelevant exercise, I sketch below what I think would happen if Trump did, in fact, decide he wanted Mueller gone.”

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