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POLITICO Playbook: Mueller fallout: Democrats’ growing tensions over impeachment – POLITICO


OK, LET’S PLAY A GAME. Hand your phone to a friend, close your eyes and ask them to read the next paragraph.

“I DO BELIEVE what we saw today was a very strong manifestation — in fact some would even say indictment — of this administration’s cone of silence and their cover-up. This is about the oath we take to protect and defend the Constitution. But some of the actions that the administration may have taken … may have jeopardized our national security by strengthening Russia’s hand and interfering in our elections, undermining democracy, not only in our country but in other countries as well, upsetting our pre-eminence as a democracy in the world. This is very serious. Today was very important.”

NOW take a guess who said that.

IT WASN’T an impeachment stalwart, who was ready to march to the floor to file articles to remove the president. That was Speaker NANCY PELOSI on Wednesday evening at a news conference, speaking about the day of hearings with former special counsel ROBERT MUELLER.

HER MESSAGE SOUNDED URGENT. She was describing a campaign and administration run amok.

BUT MOMENTS LATER, NBC’s KASIE HUNT told Pelosi that some Democrats were expecting imminent action now that Mueller had said his piece — as halting and uneven as it was.

PELOSI SAID THIS: “I don’t know why they thought that. … We have a number of lawsuits.” What the speaker was saying was that she wanted to allow a series of court cases and Hill probes to play out before they make a decision on impeachment.

SO, AS DEMOCRATS enter a six-week-long recess, they do so with a leadership that remains firmly against impeaching the president.

YES, THEY SAY they believe President DONALD TRUMP has committed a series of urgent and dire crimes. The Justice Department cannot and will not indict him. But, at the same time, they say they are not ready to do what they can to begin the process of removing the president from office. They want the strongest hand, they say, before they make any call.

ALLIES OF PELOSI whispered Wednesday that the day’s hearings vindicated her.

BUT THIS IS BEGINNING to cause friction at the top ranks of the party, as a key chairman — JERRY NADLER of New York — told PELOSI he wants to start impeachment proceedings.

… JOHN BRESNAHAN, HEATHER CAYGLE and KYLE CHENEY: “Pelosi rebuffs Nadler on impeachment after Mueller flop”: “House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler pushed to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump during a closed-door meeting Wednesday, only to be rebuffed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to four sources familiar with the discussions.

“At a caucus meeting following the hotly anticipated testimony of special counsel Robert Mueller, Nadler suggested that several House committee chairs could begin drafting articles of impeachment against Trump. Pelosi called the idea premature, said the sources.” POLITICO

THE DEMOCRATIC BASE FAITHFUL is also perplexed and frustrated …

… JON FAVREAU, Crooked Media’s co-founder and the host of the popular podcast “Pod Save America,” put it this way to us Wednesday night: “Mueller has given Democrats more than enough evidence that the president has committed impeachable offenses, but he can’t make the decision to impeach any easier for them. Pelosi and the House Democrats have to either pick up the ball and run with it, or walk away for good. The middle ground strategy just isn’t working.”

SO, TO REPEAT: The House of Representatives goes home Friday afternoon for a six-week-long recess. There are those who believe the August recess could slow the drumbeat for impeachment — and we have made that point, too. But August might also help clarify this: Were Democrats elected to help solve kitchen-table issues — as the leadership has contended? Or does the base want them to train their focus on impeaching TRUMP?

WAPO’S DAN BALZ: “Democrats are now left with one option to end Trump’s presidency: The 2020 election”

HOW IT PLAYED … NYT A1: “MUELLER DEFENDS INQUIRY AND SAYS RUSSIA ISN’T DONE … A Halting Delivery at Odds With a Laser Focus of the Past … Rejects ‘Witch Hunt’ Claim and Warns of New Meddling … Refusal to Dramatize Findings Prevents Blockbuster Moment” A1 PDF AP’s David Bauder: “Mueller hearing makes for less than compelling TV drama”

THE LEGAL ANALYSIS … POLITICO MAG: “‘A New Legal Argument for Impeachment’: Were the Mueller hearings a dud, or a quiet blockbuster? Ten legal experts weigh in.”

UP NEXT — “Mueller’s finally done. Here’s how his probe lives on,” by Darren Samuelsohn, Natasha Bertrand and Josh Gerstein

Happy Thursday. SPOTTED: A.G. Bill Barr coming out of lunch at Burgers Beer Bourbon on Wednesday, taking pictures with tourists. … Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at Nobu for dinner.

AS IF WEDNESDAY WASN’T EXCITING ENOUGH, today the House will vote on Treasury Secretary STEVEN MNUCHIN and PELOSI’S two-year budget and debt-limit deal. It’s an interesting split screen: Democrats are bludgeoning TRUMP over the 2016 election, considering impeachment and calling him a racist for what he says about Democratic members of the House. But they are still willing to do business with him.

YOU MIGHT SAY, well, the government has to be funded, and the debt limit has to be lifted. Both true. But the breadth and depth of this deal is stunning, given Democrats’ opposition to the president in other areas.

WE’RE VERY CURIOUS to see what the GOP vote total is. Democrats are expected to rally around Pelosi.

BEHIND THE SCENES — NANCY COOK and BURGESS EVERETT: “How Trump shut down the GOP deficit hawks”

URGENT … PAGING JARED AND KIM KARDASHIAN WEST … BBC: “ASAP Rocky charged with assault in Sweden”

2020 WATCH …

— BIDEN TAKES THE GLOVES OFF IN DETROIT, from a pool report from the Detroit News’ Jonathan Oosting: “Biden rarely mentioned his Democratic primary challengers until local businessman George Barnes, founder of Heritage Optical, urged him to be tougher in the second presidential debate next week in Detroit.

“‘I’m not going to be as polite this time,’ Biden vowed, referencing his sparring with Sen. Kamala Harris in the first debate. ‘Because this is the same person who asked me to come to California and nominate her in her convention.’

“Barnes told Biden that criticism from Harris and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey could make him a stronger candidate against Trump in the general election. ‘If they want to argue about the past, I can do that,’ Biden said. ‘I got a past I’m proud of. They got a past that’s not quite so good.’”

— MAGGIE SEVERNS: “Top Obama bundler backs Harris with Hamptons fundraiser”: “Public relations executive Michael Kempner and his wife, Jackie, are hosting the August 18 fundraiser in tony Watermill, N.Y., according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO. Kempner was one of Obama’s biggest bundlers, raising more than $3 million for the former president’s 2012 reelection campaign, and he also served as a bundler for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.” POLITICO

— “Castro campaign expands after debate bump,” by Laura Barrón-López and Nolan McCaskill: “Julián Castro will announce more than a dozen new hires and promotions for his presidential campaign Thursday, including installing two organizing directors in key primary states after a strong showing in June’s Democratic debates.” POLITICO

BORDER WATCH — “Trump’s third-country asylum ban halted temporarily by California judge,” by Ted Hesson: “A San Francisco-based federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a Trump administration ban on asylum seekers who pass through another country en route to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar issued a preliminary injunction that will halt the asylum ban nationwide. The move came hours after a federal judge presiding over similar litigation in the District of Columbia declined to stop its implementation.” POLITICO

“El Paso Border Patrol chief being transferred to Detroit amid controversy,” by NBC’s Julia Ainsley

FROM OUR PALS IN NORTH KOREA — “N. Korea fires missiles into sea in apparent pressure tactic,” by AP’s Hyung-Jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea: “North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea Thursday, South Korea’s military said, the first weapons launches in more than two months and an apparent effort to pressure Washington as the two sides struggle to restart nuclear negotiations.

“The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles were fired from near the eastern coastal town of Wonsan and flew about 270 miles and 430 miles respectively before landing off the country’s east coast. South Korea’s military earlier said both missiles flew 430 kilometers but the trajectory for one was revised based on a joint South Korean-U.S. analysis. South Korean officials said the missiles were both short-range.” AP

TRUMP’S THURSDAY — The president will leave the White House at 11 a.m. en route to the Pentagon to participate in the full honors welcome ceremony for Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He will return to the White House at 12:15 p.m. Trump will participate in a “Pledge to America’s Workers” one-year celebration in the State Dining Room at 3:30 p.m.

BEYOND THE BELTWAY — “Ricardo Rosselló, Puerto Rico’s Governor, Resigns After Protests,” by NYT’s Patty Mazzei and Frances Robles in San Juan: “Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló of Puerto Rico announced his resignation on Wednesday night, conceding that he could no longer credibly remain in power after an extraordinary popular uprising and looming impeachment proceedings had derailed his administration.

“In a statement posted online just before midnight, Mr. Rosselló, 40, said he would step down on Aug. 2.

“He said his successor for the moment would be the secretary of justice, Wanda Vázquez, a former district attorney who once headed the island’s office of women’s affairs. Ms. Vázquez was next in line under the commonwealth’s Constitution because the secretary of state, who would have succeeded Mr. Rosselló as governor, resigned last week when he also was caught up in a chat scandal that enveloped the administration.

“But the governor appeared to leave open the possibility that a different successor could be in place by the time he steps down.” NYT

JACK BLANCHARD IN LONDON: “Meet Boris Johnson’s new Cabinet”“Boris Johnson’s Day 1 revolution”The latest from London Playbook

N.Y. POST: “Jeffrey Epstein found nearly unconscious in NYC jail cell after possible suicide attempt”: “Convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein was found in his cell on Tuesday nearly unconscious with injuries to his neck after a possible suicide attempt, sources said.

“Epstein was discovered by guards sprawled out on the floor at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he’s being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, according to law enforcement sources. … Investigators believe Epstein may have done it to himself either on purpose or as a ploy to get transferred out of the jail, sources said.”

“Jeffrey Epstein Visited Clinton White House Multiple Times in Early ’90s,” by The Daily Beast’s Emily Shugerman: “[A] Daily Beast investigation has uncovered ties between Epstein and the Clinton administration that date back to the president’s earliest days in the White House, casting doubt on the oft-circulated narrative that the two only began associating after Clinton left office.

“As early as 1993, records show, Epstein donated $10,000 to the White House Historical Association and attended a donors’ reception hosted by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Around the same time, according to a source familiar with the connection, Epstein visited presidential aide Mark Middleton several times at the White House. Two years later, businesswoman Lynn Forester de Rothschild wrote a personal letter to Clinton thanking him for their talk about the financier.

“President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York,” Clinton’s spokesperson, Angel Ureña, told The Daily Beast.”

— FYI: “Democratic fundraising committees decline to say whether they will donate or give back Jeffrey Epstein contributions,” by CNBC’s Brian Schwartz

CLICKER … BARRY BLITT CARTOON on BOB MUELLER: “‘More peach cobbler, dear?’ … ‘That’s outside my purview. But I take your question.’” The New Yorker

VALLEY TALK — “Facebook Antitrust Inquiry Shows Big Tech’s Freewheeling Era Is Past,” by NYT’s Mike Isaac and Natasha Singer in San Francisco: “Facebook came under siege on multiple fronts on Wednesday, agreeing to new layers of oversight and two fines to settle privacy and disclosure violations, even as it acknowledged that it was under investigation from the Federal Trade Commission for antitrust concerns.” NYT

MEDIAWATCH — “Democrats are launching ‘news’ outlets to turn swing-state voters against Trump,” by Vice’s David Uberti: “One of the party’s largest Super PACs is finally pulling the trigger on a $100 million plan to help boot Trump from office … Priorities USA is planning to flood swing states — many of which have lost their local papers — with stories favorable to the Democratic agenda. Four ‘news’ outlets staffed by Democratic operatives will publish state-specific information across social media in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin. They’ll also boost content by independent sources.” Vice

“American Carnage” by POLITICO Magazine’s Tim Alberta debuts at No. 2 on the NYT bestseller list.

— HAPPENING TONIGHT: Trump plans to phone into Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News tonight, per the network.

Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at politicoplaybook@politico.com.

SPOTTED: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) at the Detroit airport, taking selfies in line. Pic … Courtney Carlson celebrating her birthday at Fiola Mare on Wednesday night. … Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at Fiola Mare on Wednesday night. … Morgan Ortagus, Jonathan Hoffman, Monica Crowley and Kerri Kupec at dinner together at Cafe Milano on Wednesday night.

SPOTTED at a party celebrating Carl Hulse’s new book, “Confirmation Bias” ($18.89 on Amazon), at Maureen Dowd’s Georgetown home Wednesday night: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Rahm Emanuel, Chris Dodd, Jeff Zeleny, Margaret Brennan, Bob Costa, Ashley Parker, Matt Viser, Paul Volpe, Brad Dayspring, Mike Isikoff, Julie Mason, Dana Milbank …

… Doug Heye, Anne Gearan, Karen Tumulty, Helene Cooper, Annie Clark, Tammy Haddad, Howard Fineman, Karen Attiah, Ashok Bajaj, Francesca Craig, Elise Labott, Peter Reid, Leon Wieseltier, Kevin Dowd, Peggy Dowd, Maggie Haberman, Mark Leibovich, Mark Landler, Mark Mazzetti, Jonathan Kott, Margaret Carlson, Jackie Calmes and Jim Courtovich.

— FORMER SENS. ELIZABETH and BOB DOLE held their joint birthday celebration at their Watergate apartment Wednesday night. SPOTTED: Kellyanne Conway, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Byrne, Steve Schwab, Diana Davis Spencer, Jason Mida, Al Roker, Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Chris Dodd, Tom Daschle, Chuck Robb and Don Nickles.

SPOTTED at a summit hosted by Engage, a new women’s group, at the Newseum on Wednesday: Rachel Pearson, Adrienne Elrod, Alice Stewart, Kristi Rogers, Jessica Hogle, Courtney Geduldig, Amy Gleason, Julie Kane, Kate Dickens, Christine Brennan, Tom Jackman, Aaron Cummings, Stephen Tausend, Tammy Haddad, Holly Page, Linda Tarplin, Melinda Ferris, Mimi Braniff, Shannon Finley, Juliane Sullivan, Jeanne Wolak, Helen Toler and Debra Dunn.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Mike Nizza, editor at Bloomberg Opinion, is 41. A fun fact about Mike: “I grew up in Staten Island, which contains all the answers to our nation’s most pressing questions. Also, three of the top five pizzas in the world.” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) is 37 … Robert Zoellick, former World Bank president, is 66 … State Department’s Katie Martin (h/t Michael McAdams) … Brad Karp, chairman of Paul Weiss, is 6-0, celebrating at a barbecue cookout with family and friends … Amy Holmes is 46 … Liz Benjamin of Marathon Strategies … Arit John … Kirsten Sutton, chief of staff at the CFPB … Judy Keen … Sarah Benzing, COS to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) (h/ts Jon Haber and Jennifer Donohue) … Holly Armstrong … Susan Goodwin … Tony Welch … Jesse Harris … Erin Seidler (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Fox News’ Katy Ricalde and Alex Pfeiffer … Kristin Jones … Christine Quinn, president and CEO of Win and former NYC Council speaker, is 53 … Andrew Feldman is 3-0 … Jake Maguire …

… DOJ’s Kelly Laco … Alex Nguyen, national press secretary for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer … Liz Brown, LD for Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) … Clio Grillakis of the Ex-Im Bank … Mark McLaughlin of American Crossroads/Senate Leadership Fund … Scot Davies … Hugo Teufel, Raytheon chief privacy counsel … journalist Rebecca Gale … Kevin Elkins … Anne Applebaum is 55 … Mitchell Englander … Christian Hulen, senior strategist at the Lukens Company … HuffPost’s Jesselyn Cook … Alan Chartock is 78 … Caroline Black … Domenic Recchia … David DeSantis … Anne Lykes … Steph Korey … Matthew Hamilton … Erica Mills … Austin Brooks … Nicholas Evans … Emily Casarona … Chris Haas … USAID’s Alison Harding … Susan D. Ball … Beneva Schulte … radio talk show host John Gibson is 73 … Corey Vale

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this Playbook misstated a spotted item Wednesday night. Courtney Carlson was celebrating her birthday at Fiola Mare separately from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It also misstated where A.G. Bill Barr had lunch Wednesday. It was Burgers Beer Bourbon.

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