Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Republicans already thought the day couldn't have gone worse. As David Leonhardt begins his column in today's paper, "All the President's Lies": "The ninth week of Donald Trump's presidency began with the F.B.I. director calling him a liar."

And then a final exchange, ending FBI Director Jim Comey's astonishing five hours of testimony, was considered by insiders to be the most devastating of all, making Trump advisers fear West Wingers will have to lawyer up — and face distractions, legal bills and paranoia.

House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) asked for "any evidence that any current Trump White House or administration official coordinated with the Russian intelligence services."

Comey: "Not a question I can answer."

Nunes persisted: "How about counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway?"

Comey: "It's the same answer. ... I'm not going to comment on anybody."

By saying that, Comey was putting everyone under Nunes' "big gray cloud." It's a sign that the cloud will last at least for months, maybe longer.

A Trump insider told me: "You flush people out by making a comment like that. You let it sit there, then later go get everybody's email and texts [to see how they reacted to it]. This is how you get a lot of people having to hire lawyers. ... It's what makes people ask: Why do you want to work in a place like that?"

Matt Miller, a Justice Department official under Obama, told me to always take the "over" in how long a federal investigation is going to last: "The underlying thing is huge (potentially) ... Even if the underlying thing ends up not being real, investigations can still produce leaks and charges over cover-up (lying to investigators, obstruction of justice, etc.)."

First look ... David Brock will announce this morning: "American Bridge is calling on the U.S. Senate to hit the pause button on the Supreme Court nomination hearings until such time as the investigation is complete ... If the Judiciary Committee will not halt the hearings, Democrats should walk out and refuse further participation."

Go deeper

How "naked ballots" could upend mail-in voting in Pennsylvania

Trump signs in Olyphant, Penn. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ordered state officials last week to throw out mail-in ballots submitted without a required inner "secrecy" envelope in November's election, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The state of play: The decision went under the radar alongside the simultaneous decision to extend the time that mail-in ballots could be counted, but Philadelphia's top elections official warned state legislators this week that throwing out so-called "naked ballots" could bring "electoral chaos" to the state and cause "tens of thousands of votes" to be thrown out — potentially tipping the presidential election.

Commission releases topics for first presidential debate

Moderator Chris Wallace. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has selected what topics he'll cover while moderating the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden next week.

What to watch: Topics for the Sept. 29 debate will include Trump and Biden's records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, economic policy, racism and the integrity of the election, the Commission for Presidential Debates announced on Tuesday. Each topic will receive 15 minutes of conversation and will be presented in no particular order.

Fed chair warns economy will feel the weight of expired stimulus

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jay Powell bump elbows before House hearing on Tuesday. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday that the expiration of Congress' coronavirus stimulus will weigh on the U.S. economy.

Why it matters: Powell warned that the effects of dried-up benefits are a looming risk to the economy, even if the consequences aren't yet visible.

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