/Analysis | The Daily 202: Does Trump trust Putin more than Pelosi? Baghdadi death shows politicization of national security.

Analysis | The Daily 202: Does Trump trust Putin more than Pelosi? Baghdadi death shows politicization of national security.

With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Military victories and playoff baseball traditionally brought Americans together. That’s not what happened on Sunday.

When President Trump announced on Sunday morning that Islamic State founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a U.S. military operation in Syria, he thanked the Russians for their help while explaining that he kept Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the dark because he was afraid of leaks. “I wanted to make sure this kept secret,” Trump reasoned. “I don’t want to have men lost – and women. I don’t want to have people lost. … We were going to notify them last night, but we decided not to do that because Washington leaks like I’ve never seen before. There’s a very small group of people that knew about this … A leak could have cost the death of all of them.”

It’s not that Trump kept lawmakers out of the loop. Trump volunteered that he told congressional Republicans, including Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (N.C.), whom he called a “great gentleman,” and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), whom he described as a “very strong hawk” who “agrees with what we’re doing now.”

Trump’s comments at the start of the day highlighted how politicized national security has become in this era. Pelosi spent more than two decades on the House Intelligence Committee before becoming the leader of her caucus. She has no history of disclosing sensitive national security information. Barack Obama’s administration, for example, informed Republican congressional leaders ahead of the operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

The sustained booing that greeted Trump at the end of the day when he appeared at Nationals Park to watch the World Series underscored how seemingly intractable the partisan divide has become in the capital. Even after one of the greatest triumphs of his presidency, there was no rallying behind this commander in chief.

Senior administration officials sought to minimize the significance of Trump’s shoutout to Russia, emphasizing that the United States only alerted the Kremlin to protect U.S. troops. Moscow is propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Russian troops operate air defense systems in the country. The American special operations forces involved in the mission to get Baghdadi took eight helicopters through airspace controlled by the Russians in the northwestern Idlib province of Syria during the middle of the night.

“We told them, ‘We’re coming in.’ … And they said, ‘Thank you for telling us,’” Trump said. “They were very cooperative. They really were good. And we did say it would be a mission that they’d like, too. Because, you know, again, they hate ISIS as much as we do.”

“Let me just make it very clear: Russia is not an ally of the United States. The president doesn’t believe that. I don’t believe that,” national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” after Trump’s remarks at the White House. “There are times when our interests overlap with the interests of Russia. Last night, it overlapped. … When our interests overlap with Russia, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t work with them.”

Every time you don’t think relations between the White House and Congress will get worse, they seem to. “The House must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the administration’s overall strategy in the region,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Our military and allies deserve strong, smart and strategic leadership from Washington.”

There is evidence that Trump’s decision not to inform Democrats is already causing more bad blood. “His implication that Speaker Pelosi, the elected representative third in line for the presidency, cannot be trusted with sensitive information is tremendously problematic and insulting, and further politicizes foreign policy — especially when Trump has shown himself to be an untrustworthy guardian of our national security and sensitive intelligence information,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who is quarterbacking the impeachment inquiry, said he was not told in advance either. “In terms of notifying the Gang of Eight, that wasn’t done,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week,” referring to a select group that includes the speaker and minority leader of the House, the majority and minority leaders of Senate, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Schiff argued that this was “a mistake,” but he added that such notifications are “frankly, more important when things go wrong.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Vice President Pence demurred three times when pressed on whether Trump was alleging that Pelosi would have leaked details of the operation. “I don’t think that was the implication at all,” Pence said, adding that Trump’s focus was on the mission itself. Anchor Chris Wallace replied: “I understand that, but why didn’t he tell Nancy Pelosi?” Pence replied by talking about how proud he was of those involved in the operation. “We maintained the tightest possible security here,” Pence said. “We all applaud that,” Wallace answered. “I do want to ask you, though, it’s my job as a news man, sir, respectfully, why didn’t the president notify the speaker of the House?” Pence still didn’t answer.

— The operation was named after Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker who was abducted and raped repeatedly by Baghdadi before she was killed. Her parents praised Trump for his leadership and criticized Obama. “I still say Kayla should be here, and if Obama had been as decisive as President Trump, maybe she would have been,” Marsha Mueller told the Arizona Republic. “After Kayla’s death, the Muellers became outspoken critics of the American government’s handling of its foreign hostages,” per the Republic. “They had been encouraged to keep her captivity secret and discouraged from attempting to free her or pay a ransom. Carl Mueller also became a vocal supporter of Trump’s candidacy for president, speaking at his rallies on the campaign trail.”

— More details on how the mission went down, via Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe: “U.S. intelligence had tracked the militant leader, a onetime academic and veteran jihadist who spent a year in a U.S.-run prison in Iraq, to a redoubt in Syria’s Idlib province, a restive area near the border with Turkey that is home to an array of extremist groups. A critical piece of information on Baghdadi’s whereabouts came from a disaffected Islamic State militant who became an informant for the Kurds working with the Americans … The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose troops have fought alongside U.S. forces, indicated that they had provided intelligence for the operation. A senior official from Iraq’s intelligence service … said the arrests and interrogation of people close to Baghdadi also helped yield his location, information that was provided to the Americans. …

Officials said the military had taken DNA samples from Baghdadi’s remains and had quickly conducted visual and DNA tests to determine his identity. … Troops from Delta Force, an elite military unit, conducted the operation from a base in Iraq with support from the CIA and Kurdish forces. … The DNA material needed to identify Baghdadi was voluntarily provided by one of his daughters…”

U.S. intelligence is tracking six Islamic State individuals in the line of succession to Baghdadi … They are dispersed, but U.S. intelligence ‘generally’ knows where they are. The hope is that intelligence gleaned from the material recovered in the raid will help U.S. forces ‘roll up … the leadership cadre’ in the coming months.”

— Looking ahead: The United States is increasingly ill-positioned to prevent a resurgence and expansion of the Islamic State despite the welcome tactical success and symbolic importance of the raid, according to a wide range of regional experts and former defense and intelligence officials. Karen DeYoung, Louisa Loveluck and Shane Harris report: “Senior administration officials hailed the operation … as evidence that the United States remains determined to eliminate the militant group. … But the raid came amid rising concern that the diminishing U.S. military and civilian footprint, along with cuts in funding for stabilization and reconstruction, undermines that commitment in a part of the world where U.S. leadership is crucial both to American and global security. …

“With the announced departure of U.S. troops in recent weeks, the administration has appeared to encourage the expansion of Turkey and Syrian government forces, along with their Russian allies, into the region. None of these actors is seen as having the ability or the will to command the international coalition that brought down the caliphate or to lead and equip the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. … In a news conference Sunday, SDF spokesman Redur Zelil said operations against the Islamic State would continue and ‘we will eliminate their sleeper cells across the region.’ But the shape of that effort remained unclear.

“In addition to monitoring the militants’ remnants across the northeast, the area’s mostly Kurdish administration is responsible for thousands of Islamic State prisoners, many of them foreigners. In a visit to one of those facilities Sunday, prison guards described for a reporter how security had deteriorated since the Turkish assault. ‘Half of our guards were transferred to the front line,’ said one, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the news media.”

Op-ed by Brett McGurk, who served from 2015 to 2018 as the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and resigned in protest last December: “This would be the perfect time to consolidate success and act on what is likely a trove of intelligence pulled from the Baghdadi compound. Our analysts are surely poring over this information now, and it will lead to Islamic State sleeper cells and networks across Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. But our abrupt pullout from Syria will make it harder to act on this information. U.S. Special Forces have already left positions overwatching the Islamic State’s former strongholds, including Raqqa and Manbij, where major attacks into Europe were organized. These areas are now controlled by Russia and the Bashar al-Assad regime, foreclosing our ability to act on targetable information. …

“Trump deserves full credit for approving the operation that led to Baghdadi’s demise,” adds McGurk, who now teaches at Stanford. “It’s a shame the information that led to the raid apparently did not come to him before the tragic decision to abruptly pull U.S. Special Forces from much of northeastern Syria. Because everything we already know about the raid reinforces just how valuable, unique and hard-fought the small and sustainable American presence there had been.”

— But Baghdadi’s death is still a major turning point, explains Beirut bureau chief Liz Sly: “No one expects his death to spell the end of the organization that at its peak controlled territory the size of Great Britain and instigated terrorist attacks across Europe, said Javed Ali, a former White House counterterrorism director. ‘In the annals of modern counterterrorism so far, what history has shown is these types of strikes do not lead to the strategic collapse or organizational defeat of a terrorism organization,’ he said. …

“Baghdadi’s one enduring achievement, the establishment of a global network of affiliates in places as diverse as Nigeria, the Philippines and India, is unlikely to be significantly affected in the short term, because those groups operate independently of the central leadership in Iraq and Syria, analysts said. But they could turn away from the movement if it fails to assert new leadership that can sustain Baghdadi’s appeal. … Baghdadi’s removal will also have little immediate effect on the way the group functions on the ground in Iraq and Syria because it had already decentralized its decision-making, said Sam Heller, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. …  But Baghdadi’s huge ambitions, his outsize ego, and ultimately the failure of his far-reaching project to build a state across a vast swathe of Iraq and Syria make him a challenging act for any leader to follow, analysts say.”

— “According to current and former administration officials, the president has complained in recent weeks about not getting enough credit for his accomplishments. On Sunday morning, Trump sought to cast Baghdadi’s death — and his role — in historic terms,” Josh Dawsey reports. “At the news conference, Trump boasted of the quality of the footage. ‘Like you were watching a movie,’ he said. The president demurred when asked whether he could hear the whimpering from his video hookup, a relevant question because Trump has often described people as crying who said they were not. ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ he said. Later, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper was asked whether he, too, could hear ‘whimpering and crying’ during the raid. ‘I don’t have those details,’ he said.”

— David Nakamura contrasts Obama’s speech on bin Laden to Trump’s speech about Baghdadi: “For both Obama and Trump, the moments represented a measure of vindication … But if Obama’s nine-minute speech in the White House’s Cross Hall was notable for his measured tones and appeals to the enduring strength of America’s values, Trump’s 50-minute performance in the Diplomatic Reception Room was marked by the overt showmanship, blunt language and airing of personal gripes that have defined an approach he once dubbed ‘modern-day presidential.’ After an 8 1/2-minute prepared statement, Trump fielded questions from reporters for 40 more minutes, narrating his own ticktock of how the raid unfolded, delving into a remarkable level of operational detail …

“Trump couldn’t help but betray his anger at the House’s impeachment probe over his conduct on a phone call with Ukraine’s leader in the summer. Though he praised the intelligence officials involved in the Baghdadi raid, Trump noted that ‘I’ve dealt with some people that aren’t very intelligent, having to do with intel,’ an apparent reference to those who sounded alarms about the Ukraine call. He also falsely boasted that he had warned about the need to capture or kill bin Laden in a book he wrote a year before the 9/11 attacks when political leaders were ignoring the threat. In fact, Trump’s book contained no such warning, and President Bill Clinton had authorized CIA operations against the al-Qaeda leader in 1998.”

— Here’s a taste of how the news is playing elsewhere:

New York Times: “Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw American forces from northern Syria disrupted the meticulous planning and forced Pentagon officials to press ahead with a risky, night raid before their ability to control troops and spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared, according to military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials. Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death, they said, occurred largely in spite of Mr. Trump’s actions.”

The Sun of London: “Baghdadi’s death could trigger wave of revenge attacks in US and Europe and spark ISIS 2.0, experts warn.”

Wall Street Journal: “Death of Baghdadi Unlikely to End the Insurgency He Led.”

Financial Times: “Baghdadi death viewed as more symbolic than damaging.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— Trump was met with sustained boos during his appearance at Game 5 of the World Series. Maura Judkis and Josh Dawsey report: “When the president was announced on the public address system after the third inning as part of a tribute to veterans, the crowd roared into sustained booing — hitting almost 100 decibels. Chants of ‘Lock him up’ and ‘Impeach Trump’ then broke out at Nationals Park, where a sellout crowd was watching the game between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros. The president appeared unmoved, waving to fans and soon moving to chat with House ­Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in his luxury box along the third base line. …

“He entered without fanfare about eight minutes before first pitch, only spotted by a few in the crowd. The trip to the ballpark was the first time Trump attended a Washington sporting event since becoming president. He has not eaten at a Washington restaurant beyond those in his hotel and has skipped traditional social events such as the Kennedy Center Honors and White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. The Nationals had sought to keep politics out of their first trip to the World Series and did not invite Trump, who decided to come and then arranged the logistics with Major League Baseball, officials said.”

— Alas, the Nationals lost the game 7-1 and now return to Houston down 3-2 in the best of seven series. Washington’s bats went cold for all three games this weekend, and Max Scherzer could not pitch because of neck spasms and nerve irritation. Emergency starter Joe Ross allowed four runs in five frames. Juan Soto, now 21, prevented a shutout by hitting a solo homer. But it didn’t matter. 

— “No team has taken the World Series with four victories on the road. Now the Nationals’ only remaining chance is to become the first,” Jesse Dougherty and Sam Fortier report. “Scherzer knew in the early afternoon, before even leaving for the ballpark, that there was no way he could pitch. He couldn’t move his right arm when he woke up. He needed his wife, Erica, to help him get dressed. The hope is that he could pitch Game 7 on Wednesday if the Nationals make it there. That will hinge on his neck responding to a cortisone shot, injected Sunday, that’s supposed to alleviate the nerve irritation in 48 hours.”

— “Baseball gods deliver Max Scherzer a cruel twist of fate. But don’t dismiss these Nats,” writes Thomas Boswell: “Scherzer, walking gingerly and stiffly, barely able to move his neck, came to the media room to discuss the shocking development. Never, not in a lifetime, have you seen the player many call Mad Max so suddenly and forlornly transformed into Sad Max. … [Stephen] Strasburg will start Game 6 of this World Series, has been brilliant for his past dozen starts and, with Justin Verlander as a foe or not, may well force a Game 7. … In all sports, a Game 7 exists in a world of its own — an unpredictable subspecies that breeds unexpected heroes. A matchup of Zack Greinke vs. Aníbal Sánchez, at least for the first few innings, could go in any direction. The Nats would have Patrick Corbin, on three days’ rest, in the bullpen. And maybe a very Mad Max, too.”

The arc of this Nationals season will always be about 19-31 before Memorial Day and a 100-plus-game sprint to the franchise’s first pennant. Whatever happens against the Astros — the absolutely loaded Astros — that won’t change,” adds Barry Svrluga. “Trail the New York Mets by six runs in the ninth? Score seven to win. Down to your last six outs in the wild-card game? Plate three runs in the eighth to win. Get pushed to a game from elimination against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series? Overcome that deficit — including trailing 3-1 in the eighth inning of Game 5 — to advance in October for the first time.”

THE NEW CONGRESS:

— Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) announced her resignation from Congress last night amid an ethics inquiry into allegations that she had an intimate relationship with a staffer. Michelle Ye He Lee reports: “Hill’s spokeswoman said that the resignation is not immediate and that Hill is still deciding on when she will leave office. … Last week, the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into allegations that Hill was romantically involved with her legislative director, Graham Kelly, a relationship that would violate House ethics rules. Hill was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, a 32-year-old lawmaker who flipped a Republican-held seat in a district northeast of Los Angeles.

“Her departure came … after allegations surfaced about a week ago in an article on the conservative website RedState.org. The article alleged that Hill and her husband were in a consensual three-person relationship with a woman on her campaign team. The article included text messages it said were between Hill and the woman as well as intimate photos of them together. Hill is openly bisexual. … Hill has confirmed that she was in a relationship with the female campaign staffer, according to the Los Angeles Times, but has denied that she had a romantic relationship with Kelly. … Under House ethics rules adopted last year in response to high-profile sexual harassment claims involving members of Congress, it is against the official code of conduct for members to ‘engage in a sexual relationship with any employee’ who works for the member. …

In her statement Sunday, she said she is pursuing legal options against those who released private photos, saying that ‘having private photos of personal moments weaponized against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy.’ She apologized for ‘mistakes made along the way and the people who have been hurt.’ Hill has accused Republican operatives and her husband of coordinating a ‘smear campaign’ amid the couple’s pending divorce.”

— Pelosi statement: “She has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable. We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces.”

— Hill’s departure may cost Democrats a swing seat. From Roll Call: “Navy veteran Mike Garcia has led the GOP field in fundraising, with $322,000 in his campaign account on Sept. 30, according to disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. Garcia has also been endorsed by former GOP Rep. Buck McKeon, who represented the district for more than 20 years. Garcia said in a statement Sunday night that Hill ‘did the right thing’ by resigning. … Another Republican, Lancaster City Council Member Angela Underwood-Jacobs, ended the quarter with $188,000 on hand. She had called on Hill to resign after the allegations were made public.”

­

— John Conyers Jr., who served more than 50 years in Congress before resigning in 2017 amid sexual harassment allegations, died in Detroit at 90. John Otis reports: “As the longest-serving member at the time of his resignation, Mr. Conyers earned the title ‘dean of the House of Representatives,’ and this job security allowed him to promote liberal, sometimes controversial causes that won him a national following. He co-sponsored the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discrimination at the ballot box. His fierce criticism of the Vietnam War led to clashes with Lyndon B. Johnson and landed him on President Richard M. Nixon’s ‘enemies list’ of political opponents. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Conyers voted against the USA Patriot Act because he said it would roll back civil liberties. … According to legal documents published by the online publication BuzzFeed in November 2017, several of his female staff members claimed that he had approached them to request sex and that he had engaged in unwanted touching and other impropriety. …

“Mr. Conyers was the only member of the House Judiciary Committee to take part in impeachment proceedings against Nixon in 1974 for the Watergate bugging scandal and coverup, and against President Bill Clinton in 1998 for lying about his affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. … Conyers became the first African American to chair the Judiciary Committee. … [He] was born in Detroit on May 16, 1929. He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War. With the help of the G.I. Bill for veterans, he graduated from Detroit’s Wayne State University in 1957 and its law school in 1958. … In the early 1960s, local Democratic Party elders considered Mr. Conyers too young to pursue federal office. … Mr. Conyers, who is survived by his wife, a brother and two sons, John III and Carl, would later fend off challenges from candidates who hadn’t yet been born when he was first elected.”

— Conyers’s widow, Monica, said he had plans to campaign for one of the Democratic presidential candidates. “At some point, I’m gonna tell who he wants to be the next president, and it’s not going to be who everyone is going to think,” she told 7 Action News. “His last thing is, he wanted to go and support that person and campaign for that person.”

— A close friend of the late Elijah Cummings created a viral moment after snubbing Mitch McConnell during a receiving line at the Maryland Democrat’s funeral. Allyson Chiu reports out the backstory: Bobby Rankin, one of Cummings’s pallbearers, said his brother, Jerry, died last October from cancer after being exposed to contaminated water while serving in the Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. “Jerry did not receive the veterans’ benefits he was owed before he died, Rankin said — and he blamed McConnell in part for that family tragedy. ‘Elijah Cummings reached across party lines trying to help my brother get his military benefits, and Mitch McConnell was one of the persons he reached out to,’ Rankin said. McConnell did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Rankin’s claims.”

— The Los Angeles Times went to New Delhi for a deep dive on Sen. Kamala Harris’s relationship with her maternal grandfather, an Indian civil servant: P.V. “Gopalan was a Brahmin, part of a privileged elite in Hinduism’s ancient caste hierarchy. … In her 2019 memoir, ‘The Truths We Hold,’ Harris wrote that Gopalan had been part of India’s independence movement, but family members said there was no record of him having been anything other than a diligent civil servant. … Until his death in 1998, Gopalan remained from thousands of miles away a pen pal and guiding influence … She seldom delves into her Indian heritage.”

— Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) campaigned with Bernie Sanders in Detroit, joining fellow “Squad” members Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in supporting the democratic socialist for president. From CNN: “Before the event, Sanders and Tlaib announced that they would each donate $5,000 from their campaigns to Cass Tech’s marching band, which is raising money to perform at next year’s National Memorial Day parade in Washington. The band played at the rally, as did former White Stripes frontman Jack White, a Detroit native.” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), the lone “Squad” holdout, remains uncommitted.

— Republican Sen. Susan Collins and her Democratic challenger Sara Gideon continue to collect millions of campaign dollars from donors outside of their home state of Maine. From the Press Herald: “Gideon has shown early success tapping into the smaller-dollar, online donations that experts say are increasingly important in competitive races. … Maine voters won’t select the next senator for more than a year, but Collins and Gideon – Maine’s House speaker and the best-funded Democrat in the race – have already amassed more contributions than all but one other U.S. Senate race in the state’s history and every other House and gubernatorial contest. And with nearly $13 million in combined donations so far, the candidates will easily surpass the $14 million raised by Collins and her 2008 opponent, former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, by the end of the year.”

— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who announced last week that she won’t run for reelection to Congress, is banking on ubiquitous signs to build momentum for her presidential campaign. Robert Samuels reports: “In major parts of [Iowa], Gabbard’s image is more visible than any other Democratic candidate’s. There are billboards along highways in Dubuque and Davenport. They appear near a Walmart in Mason City and over a Pueblo Viejo restaurant in Des Moines. There are yard signs placed on homes with peeling paint, overflowing trash and windows covered in cardboard. There are signs in yards near the state fairgrounds, including one surrounded by a Halloween-ready graveyard of cardboard tombstones and cobwebs. For a campaign polling in the low single digits with virtually no campaign infrastructure in this first-in-the-nation caucus state, the visibility campaign might not be a winning strategy — but it amplifies the appearance of influence in the Democratic primary.”

THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY:

— Republican senators are feeling lost and adrift as the impeachment inquiry enters its second month and they remain largely in the dark. Robert Costa and Philip Rucker report: “In hushed conversations over the past week, GOP senators lamented that the fast-expanding probe is fraying their party, which remains completely in Trump’s grip. They voiced exasperation at the expectation that they defend the president against the troublesome picture that has been painted, with neither convincing arguments from the White House nor confidence that something worse won’t soon be discovered. ‘It feels like a horror movie,’ said one veteran Republican senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe the consensus. … Even as they withheld judgment of Trump’s conduct, Republican senators were quick to try to exploit vulnerabilities in the process being run by [Pelosi] and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). ‘To be honest, I don’t follow any of it because that’s not due process,’ Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said. ‘Secret hearings, selective leaks. And that’s due process? In my America, that’s not due process.’”

— House investigators are trying to secure cooperation from higher-ranking administration advisers who can offer more direct accounts of Trump’s actions, but they are also more likely to be shielded from Congress. From the Times: “Many Democrats involved in the inquiry already believe they have collected enough to impeach him for abusing his power by enlisting a foreign government to smear his political rivals. But to persuade the public — and the necessary number of Republican senators — that the president should be convicted and removed from office, they may need additional proof tying him directly to certain elements of the alleged wrongdoing. They could potentially unearth stronger evidence by turning to the courts, but that could also stall the case for months and risk losing public support, much as some Democrats believe happened in the Russia inquiry.”

— For example, Charles Kupperman, who served as a deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton, is not likely to testify today, despite a congressional subpoena. Tom Hamburger reports: “On Friday, Kupperman filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to resolve conflicting orders from Congress and the White House over his testimony. Over the weekend, his lawyer Charles Cooper reiterated Kupperman’s desire to have the courts resolve the dispute before he appears. House Democrats pushed back. On Saturday, three committee chairs sent Cooper a letter arguing the lawsuit lacked merit and had been coordinated with the White House. [Schiff], Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) and acting Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) called Kupperman’s suit ‘an obvious and desperate tactic by the president to delay and obstruct the lawful constitutional functions of Congress and conceal evidence about his conduct from the impeachment inquiry.’”

— Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R) met in July with a former Ukrainian diplomat who circulated unproven claims that Ukrainian officials helped with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Elise Viebeck and Dalton Bennett report: “In an interview this week, Andrii Telizhenko said he met with Johnson (Wis.) for at least 30 minutes on Capitol Hill and with Senate staff for five additional hours. He said discussions focused in part on ‘the DNC issue’ — a reference to his unsubstantiated claim that the Democratic National Committee worked with the Ukrainian government in 2016 to gather incriminating information about then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Telizhenko said he could not recall the date of the meeting, but a review of his Facebook page revealed a photo of him and Johnson posted on July 11. The meeting points to Johnson’s emerging role as the member of Congress most heavily involved in the Ukraine saga that has engulfed the White House and has threatened Trump with impeachment. … Johnson’s knowledge of key events could make him a person of interest to House impeachment investigators, as well as complicate his role as a juror in a trial by the Senate, if one occurs.”

— Sen. Mitt Romney’s recent independent streak has angered Trump loyalists in Utah. From NBC News: “In Utah, many of the more than two dozen Republican voters interviewed … expressed disapproval at Romney’s digs at Trump and his generally receptive approach to the House investigation … About Romney’s shots at Trump, most had harsh words for their junior senator, with many accusing him of harboring feelings of resentment and envy stemming from his failed 2012 bid and the Trump State Department saga.”

CALIFORNIA IS BURNING:

— Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a statewide emergency as hurricane-force winds fueled wildfires across Sonoma County, prompting mass evacuations across the state. Courtney Teague, Lea Donosky, Kayla Epstein and Hannah Knowles report: “Despite the efforts of several thousand firefighters and volunteers, and millions of people enduring forced blackouts to minimize the risk of new blazes, only 5 percent of the ferocious Kincade Fire north of the San Francisco Bay area had been contained as of Sunday evening. The mandatory evacuations affected nearly 180,000 people. About 54,000 acres already have been torched, 94 structures destroyed and State Route 128 turned into a hellish gantlet. And 80,000 structures remain under threat. … Throughout the day, with gusts up to 93 mph sweeping through the hills and valleys, state and local officials expanded the number of areas under mandatory evacuation orders. Some in Santa Rosa were told to leave. Evacuation warnings were later issued to communities in neighboring Napa County. …

No deaths had been reported as of Sunday evening, but two firefighters were burned, officials said. One was transported with minor injuries while another was flown to UC Davis Medical Center in more serious condition. Forecasters said low humidity and abnormally dry vegetation had created tinderbox conditions, which, combined with the high winds, were ‘plenty supportive of extreme fire spread.’ National Weather Service forecasters warned that the dry, gusty winds would probably continue through Monday morning.” …

Scientists say climate change is exacerbating California’s natural cycle of drought and fire. Temperatures have risen significantly since the 1970s, and the amount of precipitation has been consistently below average for at least a decade. … An estimated 965,000 customers — or nearly 3 million people — were braced for no power through the weekend as a result of fire prevention measures. An additional 100,000 customers lost power unplanned, probably because of infrastructure damage, PG&E officials said. Amid wind sometimes topping 90 mph, the company expects far more destruction than it found inspecting its lines after the last mass shutdown.

— Evacuation centers across Northern and Central California were packed with fire refugees. From the Los Angeles Times: “Rows of cots lined a giant room at Petaluma Veterans Memorial Hall. Evacuees were served a hot homestyle breakfast of pancakes, eggs and sausage links in an adjacent room. … Karen Kristensen was packing up two cars for her 88-year-old mother, Beverly, and herself in Coffey Park. They were caught in the Tubbs fire, which burned Coffey Park to the ground. Homes here are still under construction or brand new. Kristensen just moved back in August. In 2017 they escaped with some laundry and a few pictures. ‘I wore shorts for two weeks,’ she said. ‘Everything was dust. There was nothing left.’ … Zack Darling, who works in the cannabis industry, and his girlfriend, Briona Hendren, a sculpture artist, drank mules at the bar after evacuating their home in the Hidden Valley neighborhood of Santa Rosa. Their two cars were packed to the brim. As with so many in Santa Rosa, this wasn’t their first evacuation in the face of fire. They fled during the Tubbs fire, fortunate that their home survived. ‘We’re making the best of it,’ Darling said as he sipped his drink. …

“The cause of the Kincade fire is still under investigation, but some suspicion is already turning to transmission lines owned by PG&E. The utility said Thursday that one of its transmission lines experienced problems Wednesday night around the area where the fire broke out. In a mandatory report sent to the California Public Utilities Commission, the company said one of its workers noticed that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had taped off the area. PG&E said Cal Fire also pointed out a ‘broken jumper on the same tower.’”

— Firefighters also had to fight the Glen Cove fire, which erupted near San Francisco’s Carquinez Bridge. From the L.A. Times: “Vehicles in a parking lot burned and two firefighters suffered minor injuries because of heat exposure. Earlier, homeowners were seen with garden hoses trying to get down golden-brown hillsides full of tinder-dry grass. … Rebecca Lam of Fairfield has just entered the bridge when her car was engulfed in smoke, fire on both sides. Debris from burning trees dropped in front of the car. She couldn’t see much, slowed and then stopped in the median. Should she turn around or keep going into the fire? She stepped on the gas and sped away. On the passenger side, tall trees were burning like torches. On the left, grass burned. Her husband took photos. Their 2-year-old son yelled: ‘Hot. Hot.’ ‘Everything is on fire,’ the couple’s 5-year-old daughter repeated. Lam tried to calm them. ‘Everything is going to be OK,’ she said. ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and hopefully you’ll never experience it again, I hope.’ Lam said she is in denial about the danger of the bridge escape. ‘It’ll probably hit me later tonight,’ she said.”

— Forecasters knew several days ago that this weekend’s conditions could possibly exceed those of the October 2017 North Bay firestorms. Diana Leonard reports: “The worst of those fires, the Tubbs Fire, destroyed 5,636 structures and killed 22 people as it swept across Sonoma County, across subdivisions and into Santa Rosa the night of Oct. 8, 2017. Unlike the 2017 event, however, the ongoing windstorm is forecast to last nearly two days and be closely followed by more potential offshore wind events in the coming week.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump was introduced during last night’s game in between acknowledgements for members of the military. The crowd went from clapping to booing and back to clapping:

Later, they turned one of Trump’s favorite rally chants against him: 

And multiple people in the crowd brought signs that advocated for impeachment:

The president posed for selfies with the Republican lawmakers in his box, including Rep. Matt Gaetz:

The deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – who serves as Pelosi’s political director – found himself sitting next to the president and his entourage:

And another Nats fan didn’t let go of his sustenance even as a home run hit him square in the chest:

 

Earlier Sunday, there were many comparisons between the photos of Obama and Trump observing missions in which terrorist leaders were killed:

The picture raised other questions:

As Trump continued talking about his role in the death of Baghdadi, a Post reporter noted that the president used to criticize Obama for doing the exact same thing:

It didn’t take long for the president’s campaign to begin fundraising off the raid:

 

Many on the left complained that it’s unfair Katie Hill resigned while another California representative, Duncan Hunter (R), remains in office despite being accused of misusing campaign funds, including to help pay for extramarital affairs:

The Astros apologized to the Sports Illustrated journalist whose credibility they challenged after she reported that a staff member had made an offensive comment to a group of female reporters:

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“The Russians don’t want me to be president and Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee,” Joe Biden said on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Asked about the president’s claim that Russian interference is a hoax, the former vice president replied: “He’s an idiot– in terms of saying that.” 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

The Peronista ticket of Alberto Fernández and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner defeated President Mauricio Macri in the first round of Argentina’s presidential election:

The late John Conyers spoke about Channing Phillips at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago:

A family with lifelong ties to Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh reflects on the anniversary of the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue and how their community has forever changed:

John Oliver dissected Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Northern Syria: 

This weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” cold open featured Trump at a New Mexico rally with a number of special guests: