Dave Lawler
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Report: Trump asked about power to pardon aides, family, himself

Alex Brandon / AP

President Trump has asked advisers about "his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with" the Russia probe, the Washington Post reports citing a source familiar with the discussions. Another source said Trump's lawyers were "discussing pardoning powers among themselves."

  • Per several aides, Trump's lawyers are "are actively compiling a list of [special counsel Robert] Mueller's alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work."
  • "The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller's probe could reach into his and his family's finances."
  • Trump "has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns."
  • Trump's lawyers declined to comment. Mark Corallo, the spokesman for his legal team, resigned Thursday, the Post reports.
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Trump says he wouldn't have hired Sessions after all

Evan Vucci / AP

In an interview with the NY Times, President Trump called the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia probe "very unfair to the president."

Sessions should have never recused himself and if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.

Context: Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, and thought he was risking his political career by doing so, according to a new book.

Why it matters: It's an unusual attack from the president on one of the most senior members of his administration. As Axios' Jonathan Swan reported Sunday, their relationship is characterized by a simmering resentment from Trump over Sessions' recusal. Other interview highlights:

  • "The president also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job."
  • "Mr. Trump said [special counsel Robert] Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned that investigators would cross a red line if they delve into Trump family finances unrelated to Russia."
  • "Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office."
  • On his previously undisclosed conversation with Putin: Trump said they mainly exchanged pleasantries, but also discussed adoption — an issue that arose during his son Don Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer.
Trump: "I don't think we're under investigation. I'm not under investigation. For what? I didn't do anything wrong."
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Jon Huntsman to be next Russia ambassador

David Goldman / AP

President Trump has picked Jon Hunstman, the former Republican presidential candidate who served as Barack Obama's ambassador to China, to represent him in Moscow.

  • The White House said Huntsman, who was also a two term governor of Utah, had "a distinguished career as a politician, diplomat and businessman."
  • Huntsman will be tasked with steering U.S.-Russia relations at a time when Russia-related controversies and intrigues seem to pop up almost daily, and it will be interesting to see how much Trump and Rex Tillerson bring him into the fold when dealing with Vladimir Putin's government.
  • Flashback to 2012, Trump tweets: "Jon Huntsman called to see me. I said no, he gave away our country to China!"
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Two GOP senators break ranks on health care, sinking bill for now

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Republican senators Mike Lee and Jerry Moran announced Monday night that they would vote "no" on a motion to proceed with the revised GOP health care bill, meaning as it stands the bill does not have the votes to move forward.

The next move is unclear but some conservatives, including House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows, are already calling for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, like the one Republicans passed under Barack Obama.

The previous "no" votes: Rand Paul and Susan Collins, with others on the fence. Mitch McConnell could only afford to lose two Republicans.

Lee's rationale: "In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn't go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations."

From Moran's statement: The bill "fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare's rising costs."

Featured

The sun's surface isn't as tranquil as scientists thought

NASA / SDO

Every 11 years, the sun's magnetic poles flip, in the process forming sunspots and violent eruptions from the surface that can have an impact on Earth. Two new studies provide insights into the cycle, the NY Times notes.
  • One study, published in Science, found that the cycle is similar to those of other solar-type stars. The authors looked at 25 similar stars and found that "a star's activity cycle depended on two factors: luminosity and rotation."
  • Another study, published in Science Advances, found that sun's seemingly quiet outer layer, known as the corona, is active. "At solar minimum, the quiet corona measures around 1.4 million degrees Celsius. But at solar maximum it jumps to around 1.8 million degrees."
  • Why it matters: The sun's magnetic activity can affect us on earth, from interfering with satellites to hampering the power grid, and the more scientists know the better they'll be able to predict solar activity.
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Trump lawyer: 'if Russia meeting nefarious, why did Secret Service allow it?'

Screengrab via ABC News

Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal team, made the rounds on Sunday morning, doing five TV interviews and insisting that Donald Trump Jr. broke no laws, and President Trump didn't mislead the American people over links between his campaign and Russia.

  • On CNN, asked whether any Russia meetings are still undisclosed: "None that I know of, but I represent the President of the United States, but Donald Trump, Jr., said not in the context of formal meetings. He said he may have met with Russian people. A lot of people meet with Russian people, so that's not unusual."
  • On Fox, asked if Trump Jr. meeting contradicts past statements on Russia: Sekulow pivots to an attack on James Comey, eventually says Trump himself didn't lie and the important thing is nothing illegal was done.
  • On ABC: "Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in."
    • Asked if Trump would still testify under oath: "Look, the president was very clear that if it came to that, and I don't think it will, but if it came to that, he would do that."
  • On CBS, asked if Trump is now under investigation: "Well, we've had no notification from the special counsel. Nothing's changed since James Comey said three times to the president that he wasn't under investigation. We've had nothing to the contrary since then."
  • On NBC, asked if Trump was involved in initial, incomplete Trump Jr. statement: "The president did not draft the response.... I can't say whether the president was told the statement was going to be coming."
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Former Brazilian president Lula convicted on corruption charges

Eraldo Peres / AP

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, 71, was convicted Wednesday of corruption charges and sentenced to 9.5 years in prison. A former union leader, Lula led Brazil from 2003-2011, and was one of the most popular and influential figures in modern South American politics — Barack Obama once called him "the most popular politician on earth."
  • He was found guilty of accepting a $1.2 million bribe from a Brazilian engineering firm in exchange for preferential treatment over contracts with a state oil company.
  • Lula remains free while he appeals the ruling, but faces four more corruption trials as prosecutors allege he oversaw a wider kickback scheme, per Reuters. He had said he wanted to run for president again, but won't be able to if the conviction holds.
  • His handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, was controversially impeached in September over alleged budgetary violations and replaced as president by Michel Temer, who himself faces corruption charges.
Featured

Trumpworld turns on each other

AP photos

The NY Times' Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report that with the Russia controversy deepening and his son under intense scrutiny, President Trump has "trained his ire" on Marc Kasowitz, the lawyer representing him in the Russia probe:

Kasowitz's team, meanwhile, feels Jared Kushner "has been whispering in the president's ear... while keeping the lawyers out of the loop" and is "more concerned about protecting himself than his father-in-law," the Times reports, "raising the prospect that Mr. Kasowitz may resign."

In addition: The Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report that Kushner, Ivanka Trump and, in more of a surprise, Melania Trump think the stream of West Wing leaks means its time for a shakeup — more specifically for Reince Priebus to be fired. The White House denies that.

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What to know about the Trump Jr. email saga

Ross D. Franklin / AP

We're into day four of the deepening controversy surrounding Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer, which took place after Trump Jr. was promised damaging information, via the Russian government, about Hillary Clinton.

Today's bombshell came when Trump Jr. himself shared emails sent prior to the meeting, in which he responds enthusiastically to the idea of a Russia-aided effort to help his father win. Trump Jr. has now defended himself in a Fox News interview.

Trump Jr. speaks

Key quotes from interview with Sean Hannity

  • "In retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently."
  • "For me this was opposition research, they had something you know maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I'd been hearing about, probably under reported for years not just during the campaign so I think I wanted to hear it out. But really it went nowhere and it was apparent that wasn't what the meeting was about."
  • "Someone sent me an email! I can't help what someone sends me. I read it, I responded accordingly, and if there was something interesting there, I think that's pretty common."

Key email excerpts

Email exchange from June 3, 2016

Rob Golstone: The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.

Donald Trump Jr: "I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."

The White House reacts

  • Trump, supporting his son: "My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency."
  • Mike Pence, distancing himself: statement says he's "not focused on stories about the campaign — especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign."
  • Sarah Sanders, denies it's collusion: As for whether there were other meetings with Russians, she says, none "that I'm aware of at this time."

Behind the scenes

Jonathan Swan reports that in private, sources inside the White House aren't even pretending it's ok: They know the Donald Trump Jr. emails that led to his Russia meeting are a terrible story, and mostly they're scrambling to find ways to deflect it and to turn this back against Hillary Clinton or the media.

  • Many of our White House sources are playing amateur detective, some with whackier theories than others, and some of which turn on people within the White House. Suspicion spread between people who worked in campaign and in White House, and while no one we've spoken to has any evidence to support their theories, it's not stopping them from speculating.
  • It's creating a very tense environment, and a number of administration officials can't believe the level of foolishness required for Don Jr. to not only do this but to have such a conversation over email.

Insights and observations

  • Jake Tapper, CNN: "On it's face, this email chain is proof of willingness expressed by Donald Trump Jr. to collude with Russia."
  • Lawfare blog asks a key question: "Was this really a one-off meeting that didn't go anywhere, or was it an effort to sound out the people around the candidate to determine their willingness to accept Russian help before taking further steps?"
  • Josh Barro, Business Insider: "If someone said offhand 'this is part of Russian gov efforts to help you' & you were unaware of such efforts wouldn't you say 'the what now?'"

Reactions

  • Former Clinton staffer, via NBC's Kristen Welker: "this is the SNL version of what we always suspected was going on."
  • Sen. Tim Kaine: "We're now beyond obstruction of justice, in terms of what's being investigated, we're now moving into perjury, false statements and even into potentially treason."
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch: "He's the son of the president and frankly I think it's overblown."
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham: "Any time you're in a campaign and you get an offer from a foreign government to help your campaign, the answer is no."
  • Eric Trump: "This is the EXACT reason they viciously attack our family! They can't stand that we are extremely close and will ALWAYS support each other."

Timeline

  • May 26: Trump clinches the number of delegates needed to become the Republican nominee, though at the time there's talk of an effort to block him at the convention.
  • June 3: Publicist Rob Goldstone emails Trump Jr. saying the crown prosecutor of Russia wants to provide information that "would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father" as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Trump Jr. replies, "I love it."
  • June 9: The meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya takes place at Trump Tower. Trump Jr., Paul Manfort and Jared Kushner attend.
  • June 15: Internal DNC documents are released, after apparently being stolen by Russian hackers. Note: there's no indication the Trump campaign was involved in the release.

Flashback


Shifting explanations

  • Saturday: When the NY Times first reported on the meeting, Trump Jr. said it was a brief introductory meeting and the primary topic of discussion was the adoption of Russian children. He had previously said he hadn't met with anyone related to Russia on campaign business.
  • Sunday: After the Times followed up with a report that Trump Jr had been promised "damaging information" on Clinton, Trump Jr. released a longer statement admitting that was the case, but claiming it "quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children."
  • Monday: It is reported that Trump Jr. has hired a lawyer. Later, that lawyer releases a statement saying Trump Jr.'s "takeaway" from the email was "someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign," implying that his takeaway was not that the information was coming from the Russian government.
  • Tuesday: Trump Jr. releases the emails.

The cast of characters

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer at the Trump Tower meeting

Veselnitskaya is known for her lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, designed to seize the assets of and deny visas to suspected Russian human rights abusers. Veselnitskaya told the NYT that she "never acted on behalf of the Russian government," but her anti-Magnitsky campaign is a cause that's deeply personal for Vladimir Putin.

Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who linked up Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya

Goldstone's social media pages show him interacting with President Trump as far back as 2013 — and include an Instagram of him wearing a shirt that simply says "Russia" just after Trump won the presidency in November.

Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star who asked Goldstone to set up the meeting

Agalarov is a 37-year-old pop star who became close to Trump following the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Aras Agalarov, Emin's father and a billionaire real estate mogul in Moscow

According to Forbes, the 2013 pageant was hosted at one of Agalarovs' properties — after Aras and Emin made a concerted effort to reach out to Trump. Aras' bigger goal was a licensing deal with Trump to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.


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Trump Jr. was told Russian gov. wanted to help his father win

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Before meeting a Kremlin-connected lawyer in June of last year, Donald Trump Jr. was told in an email that he would be provided with damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a "Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy," the New York Times reports.

The email came from Rob Goldstone, a publicist and acquaintance of Trump Jr.'s who arranged the meeting. Read more on the cast of characters behind the meeting.

Trump Jr.'s lawyer

"In my view, this is much ado about nothing. During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia. Don Jr.'s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed."

Timeline

  • Saturday: When the NY Times first reported on the meeting, Trump Jr. said it was a brief introductory meeting and the primary topic of discussion was the adoption of Russian children. He had previously said he hadn't met with anyone related to Russia.
  • Sunday: After the Times followed up with a report that Trump Jr had been promised "damaging information" on Clinton, Trump Jr. released a longer statement admitting that was the case, but claiming it "quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children."
  • Monday: It is reported that Trump Jr. has hired a lawyer. Later, that lawyer releases the above statement saying Trump Jr.'s "takeaway" from the email was "someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign," implying that his takeaway was not that the information was coming from the Russian government.

Trump's take

After hearing a couple of days ago that the meeting had taken place, per the Times: "The president was aggravated by the news of the meeting, according to one person close to him — less over the fact that it had happened, and more because it was yet another story about Russia that had swamped the media cycle."