Lazy Caturday Reads

Dali Atomicus, by Salvador Dali and Philippe-Halsman (photographer)

Good Morning!!

I would love to know who is leaking info about Michael Flynn. Apparently Flynn reached out to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz while he was supposedly cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

CNN: Flynn contacted GOP Mueller critic while cooperating with special counsel.

While he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted at least one member of Congress who was publicly criticizing the special counsel probe, according to messages obtained by CNN.

Flynn sent Twitter direct messages to Rep. Matt Gaetz, encouraging the Florida Republican to “keep the pressure on.” It’s not clear if Flynn sent additional messages to other lawmakers.
“You stay on top of what you’re doing. Your leadership is so vital for our country now. Keep the pressure on,” Flynn wrote in an April 2018 message to Gaetz, which was obtained by CNN.

By Amy Hill

On the evening Flynn sent the message to Gaetz, the lawmaker had appeared on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” where he criticized the Mueller investigation.

“We’ve got to play a far stronger role in exposing the hypocrisy at the Department of Justice,” Gaetz said in the April 3, 2018, appearance. “With no evidence of collusion, with no evidence of any crime whatsoever, they unleashed Bob Mueller to go investigate things that happened before Donald Trump was even contemplating running for president.”

That same hour, Flynn sent Gaetz the direct message.

Gaetz also received a message in February of this year. On the day that Attorney General William Barr was confirmed, Flynn sent Gaetz GIFs of a bald eagle and an American flag, without any accompanying text.

Flynn is still “cooperating,” and he hasn’t been sentenced yet. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, new information has been revealed by order of the judge in Flynn’s case Emmet Sullivan. Did the DOJ leak the incriminating info about Flynn contacting Gaetz in response to the new Mueller report info to make Flynn look bad? I wonder what Judge Sullivan will have to say about this?

There’s also this Devin Nunes tweet from 2016:

Here’s another interesting story I missed from a couple of days ago. This one is about Felix Sater, who was involved with Trump for years and, along with Michael Cohen working on the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Natasha Bertrand at Politico: Judge confirms Trump associate gave feds Osama bin Laden’s number.

A federal judge has confirmed for the first time that Felix Sater, a former Donald Trump business associate who drove Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the 2016 election, helped the U.S. government track down Osama bin Laden.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Percy, by David Hockney, 1970-71

During a hearing on Thursday in the Eastern District of New York — held as part of a lawsuit brought by First Look Media to unseal records related to Sater’s longtime cooperation with the government on various national security issues — Judge I. Leo Glasser said the media group already knew all of the “very interesting and dangerous things” Sater had done through his decade as an FBI informant.

“He cooperated,” Glasser said. “And you know what he did over the 10, 11 years, because you told me that you know. He provided the telephone number of Osama bin Laden. He has done an awful lot of very interesting and dangerous things.”

The detail is just another bizarre side plot that has emerged over the two-plus years that federal investigators, lawmakers and journalists have tried to uncover every detail about possible interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 election. The probes have put spotlights on a cast of figures in Trump’s extended orbit, many of whom possess unusual backgrounds.

Trump’s “Roy Cohn” AKA Cover-Up General Bill Barr appeared on state TV on Friday to publicly trash the investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections.

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Barr Again Casts Doubt on Russia Inquiry’s Origins, Aligning With Trump’s Attacks.

Still Life with Cat And Lobster 1962 Painting by Pablo Picasso; Still Life with Cat And Lobster 1962 Art Print for sale

When Attorney General William P. Barr described the early stages of the Russia investigation as “spying” on the Trump campaign, he prompted questions about whether he had used that word spontaneously — or whether he was deliberately fueling conspiracy theories.

That question flared anew on Friday after Mr. Barr went even further in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation in two interviews that, by design or coincidence, provided fresh ammunition for President Trump and allies to attack law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Barr told Fox News he had been asking whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in opening the Russia inquiry. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.

And he doubled down on the innuendo-laden formulation he used in congressional testimony last month, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Government power was used to spy on American citizens.”

The statements were the latest in a series of actions and comments by Mr. Barr expressing skepticism about how the F.B.I. began investigating during the 2016 presidential campaign whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia’s election interference. The attorney general has appointed a federal prosecutor to review aspects of the investigation, rather than await the results of an independent inspector general inquiry due in the coming weeks, and he has invoked the term “spying” on multiple occasions.

Grey Matter, by Amy Jo Hill

Are we stuck with Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic nominee for president? The media in general seems to believe he’s the anointed one. But anointed by whom? Obama hasn’t endorsed him. Who really wants this guy to be POTUS?

Jill Filipovic at The New York Times: Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?

The most important requirement for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Electability. It matters more, we keep hearing, than nominating a candidate who has good policies. It matters more than nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation. It certainly matters more than nominating a candidate who could be the first female president.

Unfortunately, very few people who say they are putting electability first seem to understand what “electability” means, or what today’s electorate actually looks like.

Case in point: In a field crowded with nearly two dozen candidates, no answer to the electability question is offered more regularly and with more conviction than “Joe Biden.”

Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks of this Saturday in Philadelphia, is the kind of guy you could see sitting behind a big desk, acting as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing any threat of changing much. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits — people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden, which is what, in turn, makes Joe Biden electable.

But what about the rest of us–Democrats who aren’t white males living in the rust belt? What about women who still dream of a women president in their lifetimes? We don’t count when it comes to “electability” supposedly. Read more at the NYT.

At The Daily Beast, Adam Howard tries to explain Biden’s current appeal to African Americans: Why Black Voters Are Gravitating to Biden.

Haiku, by Albena Vatcheva

Now, with Obama’s blessing if not his formal endorsement, Biden has sought the presidency himself for the third time in 30 years, and this time, he’s enjoying a solid and in some case growing lead over a historically huge field of Democratic contenders. The backbone of his support comes from the most reliable and one of the most coveted Democratic primary voting blocs: African-Americans.

Most of the cable news commentary has approached this fact with the condescending assertion that Biden’s black support is mostly due to name recognition and his proximity to Obama. Some have suggested that older black voters, who are traditionally more moderate, may be attracted to his centrism.

But these hot takes overlook something less tangible and quantifiable: how much the sincere, integrated friendship of Biden and Obama (and their families) was cathartic and inspirational. It was the personification of the post-racial utopia some hoped Obama’s election victories would deliver but never did, and probably never could.

Their platonic bromance provided comfort during the confounding period when Obama’s popularity seemed to grow simultaneously with the rise and improbable election of a man who championed a racist campaign to discredit him.

Howard suggests that Biden could loose African American support as the campaign goes on. He doesn’t specifically address the attitudes of black women or provide any evidence for his arguments. The piece is based on his own personal opinions. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.

I’ll end with this article at The Washington Post on Nevada, where women are now in control of the legislature: Where women call the shots.

by Amy Hill

She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.

The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

I feel like a zombie this morning. I’ve been house-sitting for my brother for the past two weeks, and it has been somewhat disorienting. I’m finally going to go back home sometime this afternoon. I guess my state of mind is a combination of being away from home and following the constant breaking news that never seems to end. I don’t even know where to begin today.

You’ve probably already heard the latest news: Hurricane Harvey is still raging; Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio; Trump is on his way to Texas; Multiple Russia stories broke yesterday and over the weekend; North Korea launched a missile that flew over Japan; Trump threatened North Korea again; and multiple Trump advisers have been dissing him.

The remainder of photos in this post are from the Houston disaster.

Links to recent stories in case you missed them:

Hurricane Harvey

Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck is captured carrying Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden to safety, The Associated Press reported.

New Yorker: Hurricane Harvey and Public and Private Disaster in Houston, by Jia Tolentino.

Washington Post: Harvey takes aim at Louisiana as Trump plans to survey stricken Texas.

Forbes: Hurricane Harvey Greatly Complicates The Government Shutdown Calculation.

Politico: How Washington Made Harvey Worse.

Arpaio

HuffPost: Trump Defends Pardoning Joe Arpaio During Hurricane, Saying He Did It For ‘The Ratings.’

ABC News: Already-pardoned Arpaio asks judge to undo conviction.

Trump/Russia

NBC News: Mueller Team Asking if Trump Tried to Hide Purpose of Trump Tower Meeting.

Washington Post: Top Trump Organization executive asked Putin aide for help on business deal.

New York Times: Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected.’

ABC News: Trump signed ‘letter of intent’ for Russian tower during campaign, lawyer says.

North Korea

CNN: Trump says ‘all options on table’ after North Korea launches missile over Japan.

The Guardian: Trump and Abe vow to increase pressure after North Korea fires missile over Japan.

Advisers Dissing Trump

New York Times: Does Trump Represent U.S. Values? ‘The President Speaks for Himself,’ Tillerson Says.

Bustle: What James Mattis Implied About Trump & His Inability To Inspire Is Unprecedented.

Politico: Trump unusually silent after aides challenge him.

More interesting stories

The Guardian: Lurid Trump allegations made by Louise Mensch and co-writer came from hoaxer.

Harris County Sheriff’s Department’s Richard Wagner is seen rescuing Wilford Martinez from his flooded car along Interstate 610, according to The Associated Press.

Explosive allegations about Donald Trump made by online writers with large followings among Trump critics were based on bogus information from a hoaxer who falsely claimed to work in law enforcement.

Claude Taylor tweeted fake details of criminal inquiries into Trump that were invented by a source whose claim to work for the New York attorney general was not checked, according to emails seen by the Guardian. The allegations were endorsed as authentic and retweeted by his co-writer Louise Mensch.

The source’s false tips included an allegation, which has been aggressively circulated by Mensch and Taylor, that Trump’s inactive fashion model agency is under investigation by New York authorities for possible sex trafficking.

The hoaxer, who fed the information to Taylor by email, said she acted out of frustration over the “dissemination of fake news” by Taylor and Mensch. Their false stories about Trump have included a claim that he was already being replaced as president by Senator Orrin Hatch in a process kept secret from the American public.

“Taylor asked no questions to verify my identity, did no vetting whatsoever, sought no confirmation from a second source – but instead asked leading questions to support his various theories, asking me to verify them,” the source said in an email.

After being approached for comment by the Guardian on Monday, Taylor posted what he described as a “mea culpa” on Twitter. “As a ‘citizen journalist’ I acknowledge my error and do apologize,” he wrote.

Mensch denied using the bogus information and said her allegations about Trump’s model agency came from her own sources. Asked why she had retweeted Taylor’s false posts, Mensch said: “I don’t think anybody can vet anybody else’s sources.”

Read the rest at the Guardian. LOL!

Bloomberg: Trump Punishes Longtime Aide After Angry Phoenix Speech, Sources Say.

Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.

Marty Malloy on Twitter: “Blessed to be safe and dry with Stewie. Hoping for the same for the people and pets of Houston.”

TV and social media coverage showed that the site of his campaign rally, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president.

As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.

Hahahahahahaha! You may have seen on Twitter that the Trump people may have even advertised on Craigslist for paid actors to come to the rally, and still the space that holds only 5,000 was half-full.

Other sources claimed the ads were fake, but still funny, IMHO.

Sean Illing at Vox: 10 legal experts on why Trump can’t pardon his way out of the Russia investigation.

Last Friday, President Trump pardoned former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was convicted in July of criminal contempt after ignoring a court order to cease his signature immigration roundups but hadn’t yet been sentenced. Trump ignored the court’s judgment and ended the case without any formal Justice Department review.

To some, Trump’s decision is a sign that he’s preparing — or at least willing — to pardon people associated with the growing investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. Robert Bauer, a law professor at New York University and former White House counsel to President Obama, argued in the Washington Post that the pardon may be a “test run for shutting down the Russia investigation.”

I reached out to 10 legal experts and asked them if the Arpaio decision is a signal of how Trump might seek to undercut the Russia investigation. I also asked what it would mean for the investigation if Trump pardoned key players in the scandal like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, or Jared Kushner before any of them could be convicted.

Andrew White is seen below helping a terrified neighbor after pulling her and her dog from her home in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood, Getty reported — White was out with his boat as well.

While it’s impossible to predict what Trump will do, nearly all the experts I spoke to agree on one thing: If Trump does use his pardoning powers to thwart the Russia investigation, it’s very likely to backfire.

If someone like Flynn or Kushner were preemptively pardoned, he wouldn’t be able to plead the Fifth Amendment if he were called to testify against Trump. The Fifth Amendment protects citizens against self-incrimination. But if someone has been pardoned, they no longer face the threat of prosecution, and so they can’t use a desire to avoid incriminating themselves as an excuse not to answer a question.

So in addition to potentially obstructing justice, Trump would only leave himself — and his colleagues — more vulnerable if he decided to pardon anyone currently under investigation. Of course, that doesn’t mean he won’t pull the trigger anyway. But he might want to think long and hard about the implications before he does.

Read more at Vox.

Trump biographer Tim O’Brien: Felix Sater Is a Lean, Mean Trump-Russia Machine.

Felix Sater is back, and making it even more difficult for President Donald Trump to write off questions about his ties to Russia.

Among the many characters who have populated Trump’s checkered history in real estate, Sater is the guy with one of the diciest resumes. A career criminal with ties to both organized crime and federal law enforcement, he partnered with Trump for years on a series of high-profile and unsuccessful real estate deals, including the Trump Soho hotel and condominium in Manhattan.

On Monday, the New York Times and the Washington Post disclosed a series of emails involving Sater’s efforts in 2015 and 2016 to help the Trump Organization build a Trump Tower knock-off in Moscow. There’s is a little hitch that makes that noteworthy: Trump was also running for president at the time.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email to Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in 2015. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

According to Bloomberg News, Cohen recently told a congressional committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia that he debriefed Trump three times about the Moscow deal. But Cohen apparently had a different impression than Sater of the value of the deal, telling congressional investigators that it “was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”

Head over to Bloomberg to read the rest.

One more from Politico: Bolton writes in op-ed he can’t get in to see Trump anymore.

A rescue worker carries two dogs to safety after evacuating their family from floodwaters in Houston, Texas.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton once enjoyed regular access to President Donald Trump, but can no longer get a hearing with him. “I requested a meeting with him and I was turned down,” Bolton told POLITICO, though he declined to offer further details.

Bolton went public with his complaint in an op-ed published Monday in National Review in which he laid out a blueprint to exit the Iran nuclear deal because he couldn’t deliver it to the president himself….

Bolton said in his op-ed that “staff changes” now prevent him from seeing the president. He wrote that although former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon had asked him to draw up a plan to extricate the United States from the Iran deal in late July, that plan never made it to Trump’s desk after Bannon was fired earlier this month.

Given news reports that the president was reluctant to recertify the nuclear agreement — and that the president asked to see additional options — Bolton is raising an eyebrow about why his plan wasn’t considered.

“The idea was I would go see him and, you know, the timing of the certification decision and Reince Priebus’s firing were not far apart,” he said. Priebus’s replacement as White House chief of staff, John Kelly, has limited the number of visitors to the Oval Office.

Again, LOL!

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Last Week’s White House Chaos Isn’t Over Yet

Trump Chaos

Good Morning!!

This week is on track to be as insane as last week in the Trump White House. Yesterday retired general John Kelly was sworn in as chief of staff, replacing Reince Priebus. Kelly apparently accepted the job from hell on the conditions that the entire WH staff would report to him and on the dismissal of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. But those stories were eclipsed last night by a Washington Post story about how Donald Trump Jr.’s initial statement about his June 9, 2016, meeting with Russian government representatives was formulated.

The Washington Post: Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer.

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” [….]

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.

Trump’s direct involvement in composing his son’s false statement could be more evidence of obstruction of justice.

Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.” [….]

Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

That’s idiotic. Even if there is no underlying crime, which is unlikely, Trump’s behavior demonstrates obstruction–and that’s a separate crime

This morning NBC news has more details on the Scaramucci firing: What Really Happened to Anthony Scaramucci.

Two sources close to President Donald Trump said Scaramucci’s profane remarks last week to The New Yorker magazine “disgusted” and “offended” some close to the president, including Melania Trump, and — crucially — Ivanka Trump, who had initially advocated for Scaramucci’s hiring.

Scaramucci was ousted Monday, the first day on the job for Trump’s new chief of staff, the retired Marine general John Kelly.

One source said both Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner supported Kelly and his move to dismiss Scaramucci.

And it wasn’t just the expletive-filled interview: Some in the West Wing believe Scaramucci overplayed his hand altogether, believing he could do no wrong in the eyes of the president.

While the White House didn’t initially decry Scaramucci’s vulgar comments to The New Yorker, by Friday the president was getting an earful from confidantes outside the administration. The blowback built. Even for a president who’s no stranger to salty language, Scaramucci’s interview, with its f-bombs and anatomical references, apparently came off as too lowbrow.

By mid-morning on Monday, Scaramucci was sacked and Kelly, a 40-year Marine, had conveyed to the rest of the staff that the chain of command now runs through him.

Any bets on how long that will last? Can Kelly really block Ivanka and Jared from walking into the oval office?

John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton offered advice to Kelly: don’t take the job. The Washington Post: The best advice I could have given to John Kelly: Don’t do it!

First, discipline. There’s no doubt the decision to replace Reince Priebus with Kelly was based on the hope that a former four-star Marine general could get this menagerie in line. You don’t have to compare the Trump White House to no-drama Obama or the buttoned-down Bush operations to know there is simply no precedent in modern history for the current White House culture of factionalism, infighting and lack of respect among senior staff members. Of course, most of Trump’s team are simply modeling their behavior on that of the boss. His demeaning treatment of Priebus and Attorney General Jeff Sessions signals that there are no boundaries in Trumpland, leading to the unprofessional actions of now-former communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Indeed, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed the public that the president “encourages” such behavior.

Kelly is walking into a White House that looks more like a cock fight than an episode of “The West Wing.” (See Mooch, you can use that word without being profane.) The White House culture will have to be shaken to its core. Kelly must be able to fire anyone at will, including to enforce a no-tolerance policy for behavior unbecoming a senior government official. Scaramucci’s departure Monday is a good start, but Kelly will have to keep a tight rein on a White House staff that is used to few boundaries. And if there is going to be an exception for Trump’s relatives, Kelly should get an explicit commitment that even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump report through him — no end arounds.

The most difficult discipline problem for Kelly, though, will not be the staff but Trump himself. Early signs are not auspicious. The day after appointing Kelly, Trump ranted on Twitter against Senate Republicans for failure to pass their horrific health-care bill, which would have denied care to millions of Americans and raised costs for millions more. I have no doubt that Kelly, unlike Priebus, can say no to power, but whether power will listen is another matter.

Read about Kelly’s two other major tasks at the WaPo link.

Trump spent the weekend trolling Senate Republicans for their failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but Politico reports that Trump’s tweets aren’t having much effect: Republicans ignore Trump’s Obamacare taunts.

Senate Republicans have no plans to revive their party-line attempts to repeal Obamacare this summer, despite President Donald Trump’s increasing frustration over the chamber’s failed attempts last week to gut the law.

“Until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it’s over,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican. “Maybe lightning will strike and something will come together but I’m not holding my breath.” [….]

For one, they’re down one vote in the short term, with Sen. John McCain being treated for cancer in Arizona.

But as the collapse of the repeal effort in the Senate last week showed, even with McCain the GOP majority is so narrow that it may never be possible to pass major, partisan health care reform through the chamber. That increasingly appears to be the case despite White House efforts to promote a bill by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would send federal health care funding to the states in the form of block grants.

Privately, Republican aides said there is essentially no chance McConnell will take another shot at repealing Obamacare soon. On Monday, there was discussion among Senate staffers of a “hard pivot to tax reform,” one Senate aide said.

JULY 31: Jared Kushner… arrives in the Capitol Visitor Center to participate in a lecture series with Hill interns on July 31, 2017. Congressional aide Katie Patru, appears at left. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Foreign Policy reports that Jared Kushner made “off the record remarks” to Congressional interns yesterday, and they quickly obtained notes from the meeting. Anyone who doesn’t believe Kusher is the leaker, please raise your hand.

Kushner to Interns: Trump Team Too Disorganized to Collude With Russia.

Donald Trump’s election team could not have colluded with Russia because they were barely talking to each other, according to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top White House advisor.

“They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” Kushner told congressional interns during a private talk at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington on Monday afternoon….

A source provided a copy of written notes on Kushner’s talk and question-and-answer session to Foreign Policy.

For investigators attempting to determine whether Trump’s associates knowingly worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a defense claiming chaos and confusion might be the key difference between criminal behavior and incompetence.

As chaos reigns in the White House, Russia is continuing to threaten its neighbors. The New York Times: Russia’s Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression.

WASHINGTON — Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir V. Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.

The troops are conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The drills will feature a reconstituted armored force named for a storied Soviet military unit, the First Guards Tank Army. Its establishment represents the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that so much offensive power has been concentrated in a single command.

The military exercise, planned for many months, is not a reaction to sweeping new economic sanctions on Russia that Congress passed last week. So far, Russia has retaliated against the sanctions by forcing the expulsion of several hundred employees in American diplomatic posts in the country.

But the move is part of a larger effort by Mr. Putin to shore up Russia’s military prowess, and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia. Beyond Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election in support of the Trump campaign, which has seized attention in the United States, its military has in recent years deployed forces to Syria, seized Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine, rattled the Baltic States with snap exercises and buzzed NATO planes and ships.

Read more details at the link.

Finally, Talking Points Memo has an interesting post about Trump’s Russian mafia pal Felix Stater: Stinger Missiles And Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner To Trump Has A Tall Tale To Tell.

In December 2015, an Associated Press reporter asked Donald Trump why he had appointed Felix Sater, a man who’d been convicted for stock fraud, his senior advisor. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told the AP. “I’m not that familiar with him.”

The feeling is not mutual.

“My last Moscow deal [for the Trump Organization] was in October of 2015,” Sater recalled. “It didn’t go through because obviously he became President.” Sater had told the New York Times that he was working on the deal that fall, but over the course of several conversations with TPM, he gave a slightly more detailed timeline. “Once the campaign was really going-going, it was obvious there were going to be no deals internationally,” Sater said. “We were still working on it, doing something with it, November-December.”

That deal was for “The Trump Tower, to develop in Moscow.” It was a similar proposition to the one Trump himself tried to broker with the Agalarovs, a family of vastly wealthy Russian oligarchs who brought Miss Universe 2013 to Moscow and were behind the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the President’s oldest son and an attorney said to work for the Russian government. Sater said he never worked with the Agalarovs on a Moscow deal for Trump, but did work with others who he declined to name. Those aren’t Sater’s connections, he said. “That’s not me. I don’t work with them and I’ve never worked with them.” When asked who he was working with, Sater chuckled. “A couple of people I’d like to continue working with, and that’s why I don’t want their names in the newspaper. People say, ‘I care about you and love you but why do I need my name in the press?’”

The Trump Organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TPM. But to understand Trump and the type of people his real estate empire did business, it’s worth trying to understand Sater, the Russian-American émigré whose connections span not only the worlds of Russian and Italian organized crime—which Sater said are in part a result of not being able to find legitimate work after two criminal convictions—but the FBI and, now, the presidency.

Read the whole thing at TPM.

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