Russian Roulette: what the leak revealed about Trump - Axios
Featured

Russian Roulette: what the leak revealed about Trump

Russian Foreign Ministry Photo / AP

After the Washington Post posted its bombshell that President Trump "revealed highly classified ['code-word'] information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week," the White House issued a series of carefully worded denials — "playing word games," according to Greg Miller, one of the Post authors, along with Greg Jaffe.

Why it matters: Several national-security experts told me that lives could well be lost as a result of an ISIS mole hunt that's sure to follow. And a key ally (the name of the country was withheld by the Post at the White House's request, but it's apparently in the Middle East) may deny future intelligence as a result of the episode.

All this as Trump is about to head out on his first international trip, including stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia.

I talked to several White House officials last night, and their denials hinge on the argument that the president has broad authority to declassify, so whatever he says is by definition unclassified.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who was in the meeting with the Russians, said in the White House driveway: "At no time ... were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known."

But the report didn't say they were. The Post's Aaron Blake reads between the lines: "[T]he report states clearly only that Trump discussed an Islamic State plot and the city where the plot was detected by an intelligence-gathering partner. Officials worried that this information could lead to the discovery of the methods and sources involved, but it didn't say Trump discussed them."

Be smart: what the disclosure tells us about President Trump:

  • This is the price of inexperience. A top Obama national-security official told me: "He just didn't know any better. It's not his background. I don't think there was any malicious intent — it's not the world he comes from."
  • He isn't learning fast enough on the job. A Republican very close to the West Wing said: "The president has no context for operating in the environment he's currently in — as head of state and head of government of the most powerful enterprise in all of history. And because he has no context, he's not good at compartmentalizing information."
  • It's illuminating about how he thinks of Russia: He wasn't on his guard, wary that Russia can be an adversary with interests that differ notably from those of the U.S.
  • He's super-loose at high-stakes moments. Allied governments tell us of shocking asides he makes in meetings. One West Wing visitor told me: "He just rambles. ... He doesn't care."
  • He has trouble putting together two good days. Some of his friends tell me they'd now settle for one.

Read next: The White House response, a timeline.

Featured

Police discover trailer with 8 dead in San Antonio

Eric Gay / AP

AP/San Antonio: "Eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in Texas' stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case. The driver was arrested."
  • "Twenty other people in extremely critical or serious condition and eight more with lesser injuries including heat stroke and dehydration were found inside the truck, which didn't have a working air conditioning system despite blistering temperatures that topped 100 degrees."
  • "A person from the truck initially approached a Walmart employee in a parking lot and asked for water late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, said police in San Antonio, where temperatures on Saturday reached 101 degrees. The employee gave the person the water and then called police, and when officers arrived they found the eight people dead in the back of the trailer and 30 other survivors inside."
  • "Investigators checked store surveillance video, which showed vehicles had arrived and picked up other people from the tractor-trailer. ... [M]any of those inside the truck appeared to be adults in their 20s and 30s but also apparently two school-age children."
Featured

Scaramucci's fiesty exchange with Jake Tapper over deleted tweets

New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci has been deleteting some of his old tweets, including comments on topics like climate change and guns.

Below is his Sunday exchange with CNN host Jake Tapper on the topic:

A sampling:

Featured

Trump's mini-me

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Look for Anthony Scaramucci, the incoming White House communications director, to take the White House podium more often than his predecessors. In past administrations, it has been a largely behind-the-scenes position, with the press secretary doing the daily on-camera talking.

  • "He's good at it and he's competitive," one friend said. "He's going to want to be out there on the days with the biggest sh--storms. He likes the game. He likes to spar, but he's not nasty about it. And he likes the controversy — he's a typical Wall Street guy."
  • Nevertheless, Mooch plans to elevate the cachet of the new press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Expect her to do the vast bulk of on-camera briefings.
  • He's been deleting lots of old tweets, but here they are.

Talker column by Maureen Dowd on "The Mooch And the Mogul":

"A wealthy mini-me Manhattan bro with wolfy smile and slick coif who will say anything and flip any position. A self-promoter extraordinaire and master salesman who doesn't mind pushing a bad product — and probably sees it as more fun. ... The Mogul and the Mooch is a tender love story with dramatic implications for the imploding White House.
"Both enjoy stirring the pot ... They savor counterpunching ... But a change in communications personnel will not solve the central problem for President Trump. He doesn't understand that Robert Mueller is not a contractor he's in a civil litigation dispute with, someone he can intimidate and wear down and threaten and bleed out."
Featured

Scaramucci promises "dramatic action" to stop the leaks

New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci is making the Sunday Show rounds today.

  • From Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace: "[W]e have to get the leaks stopped. If we don't get them stopped. I'm a businessperson so I will take dramatic action to stop those leaks. ... If the leaks don't stop I'm going to pare down the staff because it's just not right.... Something is going on inside the White House that the president does not like. We will fix it."
  • From an interview with John Dickerson of CBS News, when asked how he'll treat leakers on his watch: "They're going to get fired. I'm just going to make it very, very clear, okay? Tomorrow I'm going to have a staff meeting. And it's going to be a very binary thing. I'm not going to make any prejudgments about anybody on that staff. If they want to stay on the staff, they're going to stop leaking."
  • Bonus: Scaramucci told Wallace that while he thinks some members of the press are stretching or making up stories, he wants to "engage" the mainstream media, adding that he wants to "de-escalate" tensions between the press and the White House.
Featured

Newfound Clinton-era memo: presidents can be indicted

Susan Walsh / AP

"Can Presidents Be Indicted? A Long-Hidden Legal Memo Says Yes," by N.Y. Times' Charlie Savage:

  • "A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr's independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton ... raises the possibility that Mr. Mueller may have more options than most commentators have assumed."
  • The 56-page memo was written for Starr by constitutional scholar Ronald Rotunda, "locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act."
  • The memo concludes: 'It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president's official duties ... In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.'"
  • "In 1974, the Watergate special counsel, Leon Jaworski, had also received a memo from his staff saying he could indict the president."
  • See the Starr memo, posted by The Times.
Featured

Report: U.K. wants Trump test trip before full State visit

President Trump has been asked to visit the U.K. for low-key talks with Theresa May this year, according to a report by the Daily Mail, which says the trip will be a test run for whether to hold a full State visit.

The British tabloid claims U.K. leadership is concerned about Trump potentially violating protocol while visiting the Queen, in addition to fears of a falling out with British PM Theresa May that could risk a bad post-Brexit U.S. trade deal for the U.K., while the White House wants to avoid the embarrassment of major anti-Trump rallies during a visit with an ally.

Then-president Barack Obama's first U.K. state visit in 2011 included meetings with the Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and PM David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband.

Featured

General: "unimaginable" to allow North Korea capability to nuke U.S.

Wong Maye-E / AP

Comments yesterday at the Aspen Security Forum from Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, via Politico's Nahal Toosi:

"Many people have talked about military options with words like 'unimaginable'... I would probably shift that slightly and say it would be horrific... [A]nyone who's been alive since World War II has never seen the loss of life that could occur if there's a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
"[I]t is not unimaginable to have military options to respond to North Korean nuclear capability. What's unimaginable to me is allowing a capability that would allow a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado. That's unimaginable to me. So my job will be to develop military options to make sure that doesn't happen."

Go deeper: We asked experts how to deal with North Korea.

Featured

Lawmakers agree on Russia sanctions for election-meddling

Evan Vucci / AP

A group of bipartisan lawmakers agreed today to move forward with legislation that would impose sanctions against Russia for their meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, NYT reports. Congress will vote on Tuesday. The expansive sanctions are also for continuing to deploy military forces in Ukraine, annexing Crimea, and abusing human rights.

  • The White House has argued that Congress should allow Trump to have flexibility in his ability to adjust these sanctions as a way to handle Russia how he sees fit. Trump has tried to manage the U.S.' relationship with Russia on his own terms, and these sanctions would make that more difficult.
  • Why it matters: Congress will force Trump into a difficult decision: veto the bill, or move forward and risk his efforts to improve our relationship with Russia. The legislation includes sanctions on North Korea and Iran.
  • Paul Ryan's spokeswoman AshLee Strong told Axios: "This a tough sanctions package that includes measures overwhelmingly supported on a bipartisan basis that would hold three bad actors to account: Iran, Russia, and North Korea. We look forward to moving these sanctions next week before the August work period."
Featured

Major problems plague start of Pokemon Go Fest

Credit: Niantic

The creators of Pokemon Go held their first major in-person event in Chicago on Saturday but things got off to a rough start. Many of those who paid to attend the event reported being stuck in line or unable to log into the app. Attendees would have a chance to catch rare Pokemon — including a Pokemon "monster" if certain goals were met, per Chicago Tribune.
CEO John Hanke was booed as he took the stage in Grant Park, and festival attendees reportedly started chanting "fix the game" at him when they realized they were unable to log on. Niantic is currently working on the issue and the company will reportedly refund participants for their tickets and give them $100 in virtual currency for the game.
Why it matters: Live events are seen as a big part of the company's strategy to keep the game's most active players engaged, so technical issues during a highly-anticipated event do not bode well for the company.
Featured

Scaramucci goes full Breitbart

Breitbart / YouTube

Anthony Scaramucci gave his first interview as White House communications director to Breitbart's Matt Boyle. The two sounded like old friends, with Scaramucci kicking off the early-morning SiriusXM's "Breitbart News Saturday" interview by jokingly asking Boyle, "Did you send your job application form in yet, Matt?...Do you need my email so I can get your resume over here?"

Boyle laughed and replied: "Anthony, I'm honored, maybe we can talk about that later." Scaramucci praised Breitbart for capturing "the spirit of what is actually going on in the country, where there's a large group of people...who've been disaffected from the economic franchise." (FWIW: I asked Boyle whether he'd seriously consider a job in the White House press shop and he declined to comment.)

Between the lines: Sean Spicer had a terrible relationship with Breitbart, the right-wing outlet whose alumni, including Steve Bannon, now work in the White House. Scaramucci now appears to want to elevate the outlet in general, and Boyle in particular. By giving Boyle (Breitbart's most unrestrained attack dog) such prominence from the outset, Scaramucci is signaling that the President wants to make better use of conservative/friendly media outlets to transmit his messages without a critical filter.

Interview highlights:

  • Breitbart First: Scaramucci told Boyle that he and the President talked Friday about the fact that there are "enough outlets, whether it's Breitbart, the President's social media feed, all of the different apparatus that we have where people will allow us to deliver our message to the American people unfiltered."
  • Fresh start: Scaramucci also called his appointment a "fresh start" and said he wanted to see if he could "de-escalate" tensions with mainstream media outlets.
  • Bonding over "fake news": At the end of the interview Boyle asked Scaramucci how he planned to "combat" the "fake news" given he was a "victim of fake news" recently on CNN. Boyle was referring to CNN's recent retraction of a story about Scaramucci, which resulted in CNN management firing three employees. Boyle wrote more than a dozen pieces bashing CNN during that period. Scaramucci said to Boyle: "You've also been a great help in terms of exposure and I do appreciate what you did for me during that incident...I want to thank you publicly in front of your listeners."