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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Want to know the secret behind Omarosa's wild, largely unchallenged, run in the White House, during which she would swan in and out of the Oval Office, secretly recording the president and his chief of staff?
"I'm scared shitless of her... She's a physically intimidating presence," a male former colleague of Omarosa's told me.
Three other former officials shared that sentiment.
The big picture: Trump has nobody to blame but himself for Omarosa's raucous book tour, in which she calls him a racist and a misogynist, and says he's in mental decline. Trump brought her into the White House at the senior-most level with the top salary.
In many ways, two former senior administration officials pointed out, what Omarosa is doing now is pure Trump.
Behind the scenes: Former chief of staff Reince Priebus made valiant efforts to keep Omarosa out of the Oval. And former press secretary Sean Spicer kept having to rebuff administrative officials who were lugging desks over to the West Wing to set up a personal workstation for Omarosa at her command.
The bottom line: By all accounts except her own, Omarosa Manigault-Newman did little substantive work during her almost 12 months in the White House. But for much of her time there, she maintained decent access to Trump. And while the White House is now dumping on her credibility — and in many cases they have solid ammunition — the reality is that she only got the tapes because she was in the room.
Photo: Paul Morigi/WireImage
A scene that caught the attention of West Wing officials and national security lawyers today: Omarosa let NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd play tapes of White House chief of staff John Kelly, whom she secretly recorded while he was firing her.
Why this matters: It's extraordinary enough to secretly record a White House colleague and then play the tape on television. But it's even more stunning that the conversation happened in the Situation Room — the most secure area in the West Wing, reserved for the most sensitive conversations, many of them dealing with highly classified intelligence.
Behind the scenes: I spoke to several Trump officials who've spent time in the SitRoom. They say Kelly and the White House lawyers — especially Uttam Dhillon, who was recently appointed to head the Drug Enforcement Administration — used the SitRoom to talk with staff they were accusing of serious breaches, including problems with their clearances.
The bottom line: Omarosa says Kelly threatened her and she made her secret recording to protect herself. And to be clear: the conversation was not classified, meaning she may not have broken federal law. But national security lawyers I've spoken to say it’s nonetheless disturbing.
The Space Force has caused its first collateral damage, exacerbating tensions between the White House and Trump’s reelection campaign.
Multiple sources tell me White House officials were surprised when, shortly after the Vice President gave a sober speech announcing Trump administration plans to develop a Space Force, the campaign blasted out an email fundraising off the idea.
"As a way to celebrate President Trump’s huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear," campaign manager Brad Parscale wrote in an email to supporters. "But first we have to make a final decision on the design we will use to commemorate President Trump’s new Space Force — and he wants YOU to have a say."
Behind the scenes: Senior officials told me the White House had no knowledge of this plan.
Trump campaign response: Michael Glassner, chief operating officer of the Trump campaign, told me the campaign "decided to celebrate the president’s innovation and include our supporters in the spirit of it by having them vote on the best caricature logo from six options, which are of course completely unofficial."
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
At first, White House officials thought the idea of Space Force was just a lark. A former senior official told me that through most of last year Trump was generally interested in space. He would ask random questions about rocket ships and marvel to hear about satellites and the junk floating around in space. His questions were unfocused, like a student trying to learn about a new subject. "It was just one of those subjects that piqued his interest," the source said.
He floated the idea publicly in March when he spoke to military personnel in San Diego.
"You know, I was saying it the other day, because we're doing a tremendous amount of work in space, I said maybe we need a new force, we'll call it the Space Force," he told the crowd. "And I was not really serious. And then I said what a great idea, maybe we'll have to do that."
Why this matters: Space "is becoming a contested war-fighting domain, and we have to adapt to that reality," said Mattis in Thursday's announcement at the Pentagon.
A key cabinet meeting came in March, where Vice President Mike Pence — who chairs the National Space Council — gave an update on space issues. Arrayed before Trump on the table in the meeting room were models of commercial rocket ships, including one from Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX. Trump was delighted, according to a source in the room.
Behind the scenes: After that meeting Trump began talking about the idea more insistently with officials including Pence, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
What's next? Whether a Space Force happens or not is still in Congress' hands. And senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, have expressed reservations about it. Mattis is warming to the idea, according to a source familiar with his thinking.
On a White House conference call with Iran experts last week, a senior administration official said the Trump administration will reimpose sanctions on financial messaging services later this year.
That might sound boring. But the administration official was referring to what could soon become another major fight between the Trump administration and Europe.
Why this matters: In the context of Iran sanctions, "financial messaging services" refers to SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) — a linchpin of the global financial system that facilitates payments across borders and connects more than 11,000 banks around the world.
"SWIFT is the backbone of the global financial system and without access to SWIFT Iran can't move money around the world, cannot get paid for oil, pay for their imports and would have a difficult time financing its activities abroad," said Mark Dubowitz, an Iran hawk who heads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and was on the call last week.
"The administration seems committed to financially and economically squeezing the regime using all instruments of national power," Dubowitz added, "and has already signaled that it will bring back the SWIFT sanctions to deny Iranian banks access to the SWIFT system."
Behind the scenes: Following Trump's withdrawal from the Iran deal, in May, the Europeans have been fighting to keep the deal alive and to make sure that enough money is flowing to placate Iran's leaders. A big part of that is ensuring that Iranian banks remain plugged into the SWIFT network.
What's next? SWIFT is governed by a board of directors, including senior executives from the world's largest banks. In November, the board will have to decide whether or not to call Trump's bluff.
Bottom line: This issue isn't getting much attention yet, but it could become one of the biggest brawls between the Trump administration and the EU.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
All signs point to Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, getting the 51 votes he needs for confirmation this fall.
The senators usually considered swing votes on the Republican side are either outright saying they'll vote for Kavanaugh (Kentucky's Rand Paul) or signaling pretty strongly that they'll do so (Maine's Susan Collins).
The progressive anti-Kavanaugh campaign hasn't gained much momentum yet, or delivered anything close to a fatal blow. And vulnerable red state Democratic senators up for re-election this year are signaling they're open to supporting Kavanaugh.
What's next: Kavanaugh expects to meet on Capitol Hill this week with two of those red state Democrats — North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp and Indiana's Joe Donnelly.
The House is on summer recess.
The Senate will be back at work in Washington, following Mitch McConnell's promise to cut short the summer recess. They'll confirm two more circuit court judges and will start on two more appropriations bills next week (Defense and Labor/HHS). The Senate has already passed seven spending bills this year; and if they clear these two extra bills it will be the most the Senate has done in a while. (Which says as much about Washington's extreme dysfunction as this particular Senate.)
President Trump returns from a summer break at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. Here's his schedule, per a White House official: