/Analysis | The Daily 202: Trump hands Putin another win with Syria pullout

Analysis | The Daily 202: Trump hands Putin another win with Syria pullout

With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Vladimir Putin has won so much these past three years that he may get tired of winning.

The U.S. intelligence community’s January 2017 report on Russian interference in the previous year’s presidential campaign sought to explain why Donald Trump was so attractive to Moscow. This sentence has fresh salience: “Pro-Kremlin proxy Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, proclaimed just before the election that if [Trump] won, Russia would ‘drink champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions on Syria and Ukraine.”

Coming on the heels of Trump holding up assistance for Ukraine as his administration urged its new president to investigate a Democratic challenger, Trump’s order on Saturday to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria has given the Russians a new reason to reach for the bubbly.

The American retreat forced our Kurdish allies, outmanned and outgunned by the invading Turks, to turn toward the Kremlin and seek help from Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus that they had spent years fighting to break away from. Syrian government forces, propped up by the Russian military, have long been held in abeyance by the U.S. presence. Now they’re filling the vacuum. Kurdish leaders announced late Sunday that they have invited these troops into towns that have been under their control for years.

“The announcement by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that they had reached an agreement with the Iranian- and Russian-backed government of [Assad] further undermined the prospect of any continued U.S. presence in the country,” Liz Sly, Louisa Loveluck, Asser Khattab and Sarah Dadouch report. “The deal followed three days of negotiations brokered by Russia between the Syrian government and the SDF, which had reached the conclusion that it could no longer count on the United States, its chief ally for the past five years in the fight against the Islamic State … It represents a gamble for the Kurds, who appeared to have secured no guarantees for the survival of the autonomy they have secured over the area over the past seven years. …

“Badran Jia Kurd, a senior Kurdish official, said the Kurds felt they had no choice but to turn to Damascus in light of what he called the ‘betrayal’ of the United States. ‘This has obliged us to look for alternative options,’ he said. … Residents of northeast Syria said they were stunned by the speed with which SDF defenses appeared to be collapsing … Hundreds of Islamic State family members escaped a detention camp after Turkish shellfire hit the area, U.S. troops pulled out from another base and Turkish-backed forces consolidated their hold over a vital highway, cutting the main U.S. supply route into Syria.”

“We don’t want the Russians and Syrians in there, but obviously we understand why they reached out,” a senior Trump administration official told one of my colleagues. “This is total chaos,” the official added, “a total s—storm.”

— Mazloum Abdi, the commander in chief of the SDF, said the Kurds didn’t want it to turn out this way: “We believe in democracy as a core concept, but in light of the invasion by Turkey and the existential threat its attack poses for our people, we may have to reconsider our alliances,” Abdi writes in a new Foreign Policy op-ed. “We know that we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Bashar al-Assad if we go down the road of working with them. But if we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people. …

“At Washington’s request, we agreed to withdraw our heavy weapons from the border area with Turkey, destroy our defensive fortifications, and pull back our most seasoned fighters. Turkey would never attack us so long as the U.S. government was true to its word with us. We are now standing with our chests bare to face the Turkish knives,” he adds. “We know that the United States is not the world police. But we do want the United States to acknowledge its important role in achieving a political solution for Syria. We are sure that Washington has sufficient leverage to mediate a sustainable peace between us and Turkey.”

— “Putin likely can’t believe his luck,” a Western military official from a NATO member country, who recently served in Syria as part of the anti-ISIS coalition, told Business Insider. “A third of Syria was more or less free of ISIS and its security was good without any involvement of the regime or Russia, and now because of the Turkish invasion and American pullout, this area is wide open to return to government control. What was supposed to be a diplomatically complex issue that would have involved U.S. and European military power suddenly got as simple as sending in tanks and units unopposed throughout the eastern third of Syria.”

“Putin continues to get whatever he wants and generally doesn’t even have to do much,” an unnamed NATO official also told Insider. “He got to sit back and watch the Turks and the Americans unravel five years of success and not only did it not cost him anything, he didn’t even have to try to make it happen. Small wonder he’d interfere on Trump’s side in an election.”

— The Russian Air Force has repeatedly bombed hospitals in Syria to crush the last pockets of resistance to Assad, according to a damning New York Times investigation published on Sunday: “An analysis of previously unpublished Russian Air Force radio recordings, plane spotter logs and witness accounts allowed The Times to trace bombings of four hospitals in just 12 hours in May and tie Russian pilots to each one. The 12-hour period beginning on May 5 represents a small slice of the air war in Syria, but it is a microcosm of Russia’s four-year military intervention in Syria’s civil war. … Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group that tracks attacks on medical workers in Syria, has documented at least 583 such attacks since 2011, 266 of them since Russia intervened in September 2015. At least 916 medical workers have been killed since 2011. …

Russia’s position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council has shielded it from scrutiny and made United Nations agencies reluctant to accuse the Russian Air Force of responsibility. The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, opened an investigation into the hospital bombings in August. The investigation, still going on, is meant in part to determine why hospitals that voluntarily added their locations to a United Nations-sponsored deconfliction list, which was provided to Russia and other combatants to prevent them from being attacked, nevertheless came under attack. Syrian health care workers said they believed that the United Nations list actually became a target menu for the Russian and Syrian air forces.”

— “Trump tried to keep his talks with Putin at Helsinki last year secret from his staff and the world, but Russia’s president held up the checklist for the cameras. Syria was on it,” Julia Davis recalls in the Daily Beast: “Trump is moving down Putin’s wish list, fulfilling the Kremlin’s aims at a rapid pace. He is chipping away at U.S. sanctions against Russia, deepening America’s internal divisions on the basis of race, faith, sexual orientation and political affiliation, vocally undermining confidence in our elections, intelligence agencies and institutions, all the while empowering our foreign adversaries and undermining NATO alliances. Trump’s claims that Ukraine—not Russia—is somehow responsible for the 2016 election interference fall right in line with conspiracy theories the Kremlin has been propagating for years. …

“The ousting of Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, was also in line with the Kremlin’s wishes. Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk [Putin is the godfather of his daughter] has a longstanding grudge against Ambassador Yovanovitch. Medvedchuk cheered for the U.S. ambassador to be recalled and the Russian state media predicted that Ambassador Yovanovitch would be Trump’s ‘first victim in Ukraine.’”

— “Washington’s abrupt decision to ditch the Kurds contrasted sharply with Moscow’s unwavering support for its ally Assad,” the AP’s Vladimir Isachenkov reports from Moscow. “In another power game, Russia hopes to see major gains in its long-running effort to retain leverage over its neighbor Ukraine … President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was elected by a landslide in April, has vowed to end the fighting [in eastern Ukraine], which has killed more than 13,000. Early this month, Ukraine, Russia and the rebels signed a tentative agreement to hold local elections in the east, a deal Zelenskiy insists conforms to a 2015 peace accord that was brokered by France and Germany. The agreement, however, has been criticized by some in Ukraine as ‘capitulation” to Moscow. On Monday, far-right and nationalist groups are staging a major rally in Kyiv to protest Zelenskiy’s peace plan.

The White House’s publication of a rough transcript of the call was embarrassing for the 41-year-old Ukrainian president because it showed him eager to please Trump and dismissive of European partners whose support he needs to end the conflict in the east. While Zelenskiy sought to play it down, it could help Russia by eroding support for Ukraine in Germany and France. ‘France and Germany have grown tired of Ukraine and are too busy with their own problems, and their only goal is to close the issue of the war in the east by any means,’ said Vadim Karasev, head of the Institute of Global Strategies, an independent Kyiv-based think tank. ‘If Russia offers a compromise, Berlin and Paris will heave a sigh of relief. By publicly kicking (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel and (French President Emmanuel) Macron, Zelenskiy untied their hands and there is no more talk about their ‘friendly support.”

— Syria and Ukraine fit with a broader pattern. Trump has pushed to bring Russia back into the Group of Seven, which it was expelled from after invading Ukraine. To fund construction of his border wall, he diverted $770 million from projects that have been approved to help American allies deter Russian attacks. He’s cast doubt on whether the U.S. would live up to its mutual defense obligations under the NATO charter. He’s supported Brexit and antagonized the European Union by picking fights over trade. It’s impossible to calculate the Kremlin’s return on investment for its 2016 interference in the U.S. election. Trump told two senior Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting in 2017 that he was unconcerned about their interference in our presidential election because the United States does the same in other countries.

— As 2020 approaches, there is no doubt that Russian interests continue to favor Trump. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani who were arrested last Wednesday night at Dulles as they prepared to leave the U.S. with one-way plane tickets to Europe, have made $630,000 in contributions to Republican candidates and political action committees since the fall of 2016, including $325,000 to a pro-Trump PAC. The men have been charged with campaign finance violations, including routing illegal contributions to federal candidates from an unidentified Russian source.

— Before leaving the White House to hit the links at his golf course on Sunday, Trump defended his decision as “very smart” and accused “those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars” of pushing the United States to stay in “endless wars.” Trump tweeted that it was “very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change.” For the past week, White House officials have been adamant that Trump did not greenlight Turkey’s invasion. But Trump undercut those denials somewhat with his tweets. “Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other,” he wrote. “Let them!”

— Trump’s order to withdraw came after he privately agitated for days to bring troops home, according to administration officials, even while the Pentagon was making public assurances that the United States was not abandoning its Kurdish allies in the region. “The officials, granted anonymity to describe internal deliberations, described Trump as ‘doubling down’ and ‘undeterred,’ despite vociferous pushback from congressional Republicans who have been loath to challenge the president,” Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey report.

During deliberations in the past, Trump has repeatedly pushed to remove troops from Syria but has usually been dissuaded by top officials, such as John F. Kelly, his former chief of staff. The usual argument against removing troops, according to former senior administration officials, would be that doing so would cause widespread deaths and chaos and Trump would be blamed for it. ‘Normally, convincing him he would be blamed for death and chaos could keep it from happening at least at that moment,’ one former senior administration official said. But current administration officials say many moderating officials like Kelly are gone, and longtime friends say the move is consistent with Trump’s worldview — and that he has long wanted to do this.”

Trump has closely watched conservative criticism in recent days: He’s complained frequently about comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) but has been encouraged by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, according to administration officials. One senior administration official told Josh that the president was particularly heartened by a segment from another Fox host, Lou Dobbs, defending him last week.

— Graham, who previously called Trump’s decision on Syria “the biggest blunder of his presidency,” praised the president on Sunday for saying he’ll support imposing some sanctions on Turkey. “Turkey’s actions will only benefit ISIS, Iran, and Russia, and creates a nightmare for Israel,” Graham tweeted.

— Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Turkey was fully committed to its operation regardless of what the United States did, and that the administration did not want to go to war with a member of NATO. Esper added that Turkey is not acting like much of an ally. “I think Turkey, the arc of their behavior over the past several years, has been terrible,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I mean, they are spinning out of the Western orbit, if you will.”

— House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said NATO should consider expelling Turkey as a member, citing Ankara’s partnership with Moscow: “How do you have a NATO ally who’s in cahoots with the Russians when the Russians are the adversaries of NATO? … [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s a bad guy, and I’m disgusted that the American president would feel comfortable with someone like Erdogan,” Engel said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” promising that the House will take up sanctions against Turkey this week and on a resolution to condemn Trump’s policy. “I can think of nothing more disgusting, in all the years I’ve been in Congress, than what this president is allowing to happen with the Kurds.”

— “Amid reports of Islamic State militants escaping prisons in the area, a U.S. official confirmed that the American forces had been unable to carry out plans to move several dozen high-value detainees to more secure locations,” Karen DeYoung, Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan and Kareem Fahim report. “One official said that multiple Kurdish-run detention facilities were now unguarded and that the U.S. military believed hundreds of detainees had escaped. … Turkey launched multiple artillery rounds Friday near a U.S. Special Operations outpost in the area, despite knowing its location, officials said. … Although ‘the Turks gave guarantees to us’ that U.S. forces would not be harmed, [a senior administration] official said, Syrian militias allied with them ‘are running up and down roads, ambushing and attacking vehicles,’ putting American forces — as well as civilians — in danger even as they withdraw. The militias, known as the Free Syrian Army, ‘are crazy and not reliable.’”

— “Some of the Special Forces officers who battled alongside the Kurds say they feel deep remorse at orders to abandon their allies,” the New York Times reports. “They trusted us, and we broke that trust,” said one Army officer who has worked alongside the Kurds in northern Syria. “It’s a stain on the American conscience.” Another officer who also served in northern Syria added: “I’m ashamed.”

— “There is blood on Trump’s hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies,” said retired Marine general John Allen. The four-star general who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan and served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS told CNN that this weekend’s events were “completely foreseeable” after the U.S. “greenlighted” Turkey’s incursion. “There was no chance Erdogan would keep his promise, and full-blown ethnic cleansing is underway by Turkish supported militias,” said Allen, who endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. “This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats.”

— Trump faced bipartisan congressional criticism on the Sunday shows for his Syria decision. Felicia Sonmez reports: “Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran who was a pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan, was among the most vocal members of the president’s party to condemn the move. ‘You hear the president and people like Rand Paul talk about endless wars all the time, and it’s kitschy. But actually, we were preventing an endless war,’ Kinzinger said [on CBS]. He added that ‘for me — as a guy that served in the military and really got into politics because I believe in the role America plays — to see this yet again, you know, leaving an ally behind … is disheartening, depressing.’ … Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, announced that both chambers are readying a joint resolution urging Trump to reverse his decision.”

Before Trump gave Saturday’s order, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week: “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime.”

— Turkish-linked forces filmed themselves executing a Kurdish captive in Syria. Liz Sly reports: “The most gruesome and explicit of the videos shows Turkish-allied Syrian fighters pumping bursts of automatic fire into the body of a bound man lying on the side of a desert road as a gunman shouts to his comrades to take his phone and film him doing the shooting. Another trembling, handcuffed man crouches on the opposite side of the road as the shooting erupts. ‘Kill them,’ one man is heard shouting. The video is one of a series of photographs and videos posted on Twitter accounts of the Turkish-backed rebel groups and circulated by the [SDF] that suggest some of the Syrian rebels participating in Turkey’s offensive to capture territory in Syria might have committed war crimes.”

— Connecting the dots: “The uproar in Washington over President Trump’s corruption in Ukraine and malfeasance in Syria has obscured a broader story,” writes deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl. “In little more than a month, virtually every other foreign policy initiative the Trump administration has pursued has imploded — thanks mostly to the president’s increasingly unhinged behavior. The unraveling started on Sept. 7, when Trump abruptly announced that he had canceled a previously undisclosed summit with the Afghan Taliban due to be held the next day at Camp David, and shelved a draft peace deal that a State Department special envoy had spent a year negotiating. The immediate result was a spike in violence in Afghanistan — and at least the temporary shelving of Trump’s ambition to pull U.S. troops out of the country before the 2020 election.

“A week later, Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran came undone. Following an Iranian-sponsored attack on a Saudi oil complex, Trump ruled out a military response; instead, he told French President Emmanuel Macron that he was open to a plan to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations and lift sanctions on his government in return for negotiations. The gambit failed: Rouhani left Trump waiting on a phone line. …

“Just two weeks after the Iran debacle, Trump saw his nuclear negotiations with North Korea crumble — again. At a meeting in Stockholm, Kim Jong Un’s delegation rejected a U.S. proposal for an incremental deal — a far cry from the total disarmament Trump once sought — and walked away, refusing to agree to a date for future talks. …

“The attempt to oust the socialist government of Venezuela flopped back in April. The plan for the ‘ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians has never been released, and Trump’s point man on that project, Jason Greenblatt, announced his departure last month. True, Trump is still pressing his trade war with China and announced a partial deal on Friday. But most tariffs remain in place and the easy victory over Beijing he once promised is nowhere in sight.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— A typhoon left at least 42 people dead and 15 missing in Japan. Simon Denyer reports: “Typhoon Hagibis, which means ‘speed’ in the Philippine language Tagalog, tore through Tokyo and large swaths of Japan’s main island of Honshu on Saturday, bringing record-breaking rains to many areas. By Sunday, more than 20 rivers in central and northeastern Japan had burst their banks, flooding more than 1,000 homes in cities, towns and villages. At one point, the government advised nearly 8 million people to evacuate. Many ignored the advice and stayed home, but others headed to shelters. Public broadcaster NHK said some died while trying to make their way to shelters, including a 77-year-old woman who fell more than 100 feet to her death during an airlift. NHK reported Monday that 198 people were injured in the storm. The storm sank a Panama-registered cargo ship anchored near Tokyo, killing at least five crew members and leaving three missing, according to local media reports. Around 200,000 homes were without power on Sunday, Japanese media reported.”

THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY:

— House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said protecting the identity of the first whistleblower who sounded the alarm about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine is the committee’s “primary interest,” a sign that House Democrats may not press the individual to testify. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Schiff noted there’s more than one whistleblower. “Given that we already have the call record, we don’t need the whistleblower who wasn’t on the call to tell us what took place during the call,” the chairman explained. “We have the best evidence of that.” (Felicia Sonmez)

— The former top Russia specialist on the National Security Council, Fiona Hill, is expected to give a deposition today to House investigators. Hill, a Trump appointee but also a frequent critic of Putin, helped navigate the U.S. policy with Moscow before leaving the administration this summer. (USA Today)

— Mark Esper, the defense secretary, said the Pentagon will try to comply with a subpoena from committees seeking records related to the U.S. withholding military aid from Ukraine. From the Guardian: “‘We will do everything we can to respond to their inquiry,’ he said on Fox News Sunday. But Esper warned … that Trump and other officials may yet create complications for the compliance before Tuesday’s deadline for him to respond.”

— Trump’s advisers are back to square one in their search for a new defense lawyer after lobbying rules prohibited former congressman Trey Gowdy from joining the president’s defense team. From the Times: “Mr. Gowdy’s name began circulating on Twitter as the new Trump defender, prompting a number of aides to the president to claim credit privately for the idea of bringing him on board. But by Wednesday evening, aides were distancing themselves from the bungled personnel maneuver, which was made public before all the usual procedural boxes had been checked. Several pointed fingers at Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, suggesting he had botched the rollout. … As Mr. Mulvaney pushed for Mr. Gowdy, a former House colleague and fellow South Carolinian, he swatted away questions from several aides about whether Mr. Gowdy would be curtailed in his role by lobbying regulations.”

— A longtime investigative reporter in Nashville grilled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Ukraine. He baselessly accused her of working for the Democratic National Committee. Brittany Shammas reports: Nancy Amons “had just seven minutes to interview [Pompeo] … She questioned him about the resignation of one of his senior advisers and the ouster of a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She asked three times whether he met with [Giuliani] while in Warsaw, and he refused to say. Undeterred, Amons inquired about text messages showing that U.S. diplomats thought a relationship between Trump and Ukraine’s president was contingent upon Ukraine investigating Trump’s political rivals. That’s when Pompeo lost his cool.” (Watch the interview here.)

— In case you missed it: The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, intends to tell Congress this week that the content of a text message he wrote denying a quid pro quo with Ukraine was relayed to him directly by Trump in a phone call. Aaron Davis and John Hudson previewed the ambassador’s planned testimony in the Sunday paper: “Sondland plans to tell lawmakers he has no knowledge of whether the president was telling him the truth at that moment. ‘It’s only true that the president said it, not that it was the truth,’ said the person familiar with Sondland’s planned testimony [who spoke to The Post with his permission] … 

“Sondland is expected to say that for months before the Sept. 9 message, he worked at the direction of [Giuliani] to secure what he would call in another text message the ‘deliverable’ sought by Trump: a public statement from Ukraine that it would investigate corruption, including mentioning Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, by name. In exchange for the statement, the president would grant Ukraine’s new president a coveted White House audience. ‘It was a quid pro quo, but not a corrupt one,’ the person familiar with Sondland’s testimony said.

Sondland appears poised to say that he and other diplomats did not know that the request to mention Burisma was really an effort to impugn the reputations of [former vice president Joe] Biden and his son Hunter, who had served as a Burisma board member. Sondland contends that he didn’t know about the Biden connection until a whistleblower complaint and transcript surfaced in late September. To trust Sondland’s testimony, members of Congress will have to believe Sondland had not seen televised appearances by Giuliani over the spring and summer, or numerous newspaper and magazine articles questioning whether Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma could prove to be a drag on his father’s presidential campaign.”

— The impeachment crisis is shining a spotlight on Trump’s state of mind. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report: “Like an aging rock star, the president is now reprising many of the greatest hits from his hellion days. He has bullied and projected — at times leveling against others the very charges he faces — while simultaneously depicting himself as a victim. And he has turned to ominous depictions of America, and in moments sounded an authoritarian tone. … Staring down impeachment, Trump has seemed to play the role of the nation’s Shakespearean monarch. … Victimization has long been central to Trump’s political identity, rooting him in the grievance politics of the right and inspiring in his millions of followers a duty to protect the president from any perceived threat. But Trump’s feelings of oppression and persecution have been especially pronounced during the impeachment crisis. …

“As has long been his habit, Trump has applied derogatory nicknames to his impeachment antagonists. Schiff is ‘Shifty Schiff,’ Pelosi is ‘Nervous Nancy’ and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the Republican most outspoken about Trump’s conduct, is ‘Pompous Senator.’ … To Trump, the impeachment probe is evidence of a plot to remove him from office, part of a dystopian alternate reality he is combating with ominous language and dark proclamations. … Schiff has been a particular target of Trump’s apocalyptic world view. The president has suggested on Twitter no fewer than four times, for instance, that Schiff might be guilty of treason — a crime still punishable by death.”

2020 WATCH:

— Hunter Biden will resign from the board of a Chinese investment company by the end of this month and promises not to do any work for foreign firms if his father is elected president, his lawyer George Mesires said in a statement on Sunday. Michael Kranish and Anna Fifield report: “Mesires did not say how much Hunter Biden earned in his work for Burisma [in Ukraine]. Some reports have said he was paid as much as $50,000 a month for a directorship that lasted five years. Mesires said Hunter Biden was paid nothing for his service as a director for the Chinese company and has yet to make a profit from his 2017 purchase of a 10 percent stake in that company, which he said is worth $430,000. …

Much about Hunter Biden’s China dealings is unknown because many records of the company are not public, and he has declined interview requests to discuss his work for the company. His involvement in the company has its roots in 2012, when his father was running for reelection for vice president. Jonathan Li, a Chinese businessman who would become the chief executive of BHR, was friendly with an American investor named Devon Archer. At the time, Archer was a partner in an investment company with Hunter Biden … In 2012, Li visited Archer in New York City to find a suitable investment partner. He met with Archer, who recommended himself. … It’s not clear whether Hunter Biden did anything other than provide a high-profile name — and a connection to the vice president of the United States — that might lure investors. …

“The joint venture took months to be finalized, but approval was near when Joe and Hunter Biden arrived aboard Air Force Two in Beijing in December 2013. … He later summarized his talks with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, by dismissing the notion that China posed an economic threat to the United States. … The day after the vice president held talks with Xi, he and Hunter were at the hotel where the American delegation stayed. Hunter Biden … introduced Li to his father … Twelve days after the Bidens arrived in Beijing, the BHR business filing was completed. Archer was named vice chairman, and Hunter Biden became a director. … The other partners included Chinese entities with ties to the communist government, including the Bank of China, one of the biggest state-owned commercial banks in the country.”

— Joe Biden, speaking on Sunday afternoon to reporters in Iowa, said he did not see the statement from his son’s attorney before it was released, but he said he supports it. The former vice president said that his son “did not realize” that “the appearance” of doing business in Ukraine and China would raise so many questions. “If I am your president,” the elder Biden said, “I am going to build on the squeaky-clean White House that we had in the Obama-Biden administration.”

— Biden will face tough questions in tomorrow night’s Democratic debate about his son’s sketchy buckraking, and Elizabeth Warren is a tempting target because she’s surging. But the stakes are probably highest for Bernie Sanders, who has been slipping since his heart attack. Sean Sullivan reports: “Scrutiny of his age and endurance are greater than at any point in his nearly half-century political career. A strong performance could help calm the doubts about his prospects as the oldest candidate in the field, while a weak showing could deal a devastating blow to a campaign that was already slipping.”

— Warren continues to rise across the early states, drawing even with Biden and Sanders in Iowa, according to a CBS News battlegrounds poll. Meanwhile, voters have said Biden’s response to Trump’s accusations has left them “somewhat” satisfied, not “very” satisfied. Warren is seen as generally better able than Biden to handle Trump’s inevitable attacks, the CBS poll found.

— What’s missing from Warren’s 2020 surge? Democratic endorsements, per the Times: “Ms. Warren is expected to reveal additional support from Democratic officials this week in conjunction with [Tuesday’s debate] and the release of her smashing third-quarter financial disclosure. Yet her growing crowd sizes, soaring fund-raising and surge to the top of a number of national and early-state polls only shine a brighter light on one of the most revealing elements of this primary: the widening gap between the preferences of many Democratic voters and the lawmakers who represent them. … Just under four months before the leadoff Iowa caucuses she lacks the support of a single governor, big-city mayor or fellow senator outside Massachusetts. She does have the backing of the Working Families Party, an influential liberal group, and yet she also has fewer total endorsements from state legislators in Iowa and New Hampshire than Senator Cory Booker.”

A macabre video of a fake Trump shooting, stabbing and brutally assaulting members of the news media and his political opponents was played at his Miami resort during a conference for his supporters. From the Times: “The video, which includes the logo for Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, comprises a series of internet memes. The most violent clip shows Mr. Trump’s head superimposed on the body of a man opening fire inside the ‘Church of Fake News’ on parishioners who have the faces of his critics or the logos of media organizations superimposed on their bodies. It appears to be an edited scene of a church massacre from the 2014 dark comedy film ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service.’ … The organizer of the event said in a statement on Sunday that the clip had been played at the conference, saying it was part of a ‘meme exhibit.’ He denounced the video and said his organization was looking into how it was shown at the event. … A spokesman for Mr. Trump’s campaign said he knew nothing about the video.”

— Queen made the Trump campaign take down a video that used “We Will Rock You” as its soundtrack, days after Prince’s estate publicly criticized Trump for playing “Purple Rain” during his Minneapolis rally. The video with the Queen song had been viewed more than 1.7 million times before it was removed from Trump’s official Twitter page. (BuzzFeed News)

— Democrats are struggling to make inroads in rural Virginia in off-year elections. Patricia Sullivan reports from the Shenandoah Valley: “Short of big-money donors, they have pooled resources to share one consultant, who provides individual field plans for each race, coordinates schedules and exchanges policy ideas. The candidates have a polished joint presentation for when they seek funds and volunteers from around the state, including a late-September visit to the deeply blue Arlington County. … But in this mountainous portion of the commonwealth, where cellphone signals do not always penetrate and the lack of universal broadband vexes residents, the Democrats have a steep climb.”

THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

— A black woman was fatally shot in her own home by a white Fort Worth police officer who was responding to a call about an open door at the residence. Derek Hawkins reports: “A neighbor told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he dialed a non-emergency line and requested a welfare check when he noticed that the door was ajar and the lights were on. While searching the outside of the house, police said, an officer saw someone standing near a window. ‘Perceiving a threat the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,’ police said. Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police, who said the officers provided emergency medical care. Body-camera footage released by police Saturday shows two officers walking quietly around the side of the house and peering through two screen doors, then moving down a driveway into a backyard. One officer approaches a closed first-floor window and shines a flashlight inside, then swiftly raises his gun. ‘Put your hands up! Show me your hands!’ he yells. A split-second later, he fires a shot through the window. He does not identify himself as an officer in the footage.

“Officials did not release the officer’s name, describing him only as a white male who has been with the department since April 2018. He will be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, according to the department. The shooting comes at a time when relations between law enforcement and black residents in the Dallas and Fort Worth area are already under strain following the recent trial of Amber Guyger, a white former police officer who shot and killed her unarmed black neighbor, Botham Jean, in 2018. …

“Lee Merritt, a prominent civil rights attorney in the Dallas area who said he is representing Jefferson’s family, said the officer never should have opened fire. Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when she heard what she thought was a prowler outside the bedroom window, Merritt wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. When Jefferson went to the window to see what was happening, he wrote, the officer shot her.”

— Prosecutors are reexamining a killing after the Missouri deputy behind it was charged in another shooting. The deputy, Lauren Michael, received a medal of valor after fatally shooting a man in 2017 who she said was reaching for her Taser. Her retelling is under scrutiny after she was charged last week with felony assault and armed criminal action after shooting an unarmed woman in the back. (NYT)

— Three economists received the Nobel Prize in economics for their “experimental approach” to solving global poverty. The winners are MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo and Harvard’s Michael Kremer. (Jeff Stein)

— The first two days of California’s blackouts cost the state economy somewhere between $65 million and $2.5 billion. From the Journal: “Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said a hit of even several hundred million dollars ‘doesn’t register in a $3 trillion-a-year economy like California’s.’ He added that if the blackouts continue on for much longer the economic toll will mount, particularly if businesses feel this will be an endemic problem. PG&E officials won’t say how often or how long Californians could face the prospect of blackouts like this one.”

— California became the first state in the country to mandate later start times at most public schools, a proposal designed to improve educational outcomes by giving students more sleep. From the Los Angeles Times: “The law will take effect over a phased-in period, ultimately requiring middle schools to begin classes at 8 a.m. or later while high schools will start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. … The American Academy of Pediatrics … pointed to studies that found links between later start times, more sleep and better health and school performance among adolescents.”

— Dozens of death investigations across the country have been complicated or upended because transplantable body parts were taken before an autopsy was performed. From the LA Times: “In multiple cases, coroners have had to guess at the cause of death. Wrongful-death and medical malpractice lawsuits have been thwarted by early tissue harvesting. A death after a fight with police remains unsettled. The procurement process caused changes to bodies that medical examiners mistook as injuries or abuse. In at least one case, a murder charge was dropped. Organ procurement before an investigation has long been legal, provided the coroner agreed. The motivation was to increase the number of [vital organs] needed to extend the lives of Americans waiting for transplants. To raise those numbers, California and other states over the last decade passed laws requiring coroners and medical examiners to ‘cooperate’ with the companies to ‘maximize’ the number of organs and tissues taken for transplant.”

— The Census Bureau is asking for driver’s license records that typically include citizenship data and has also made a request for information on recipients of government assistance after the Supreme Court blocked plans to include a citizenship question in the 2020 count. From the AP: “The two approaches, documented by The Associated Press, alarm civil rights activists. They caution that inaccuracies in state motor vehicle records make them a poor choice for tracking citizenship, if that is the bureau’s goal, and they see the requests as an extension of earlier efforts that could chill Latino participation in the 2020 Census.”

— On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether states can prosecute migrants who use other people’s Social Security numbers to get a job. From the AP: “The case before the nation’s highest court arises from three prosecutions in Johnson County, a largely suburban area outside Kansas City, Missouri, where the district attorney has aggressively pursued immigrants under the Kansas identity theft and false-information statutes.”

— Almost 400 scientists have endorsed a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing governments to take rapid action to tackle climate change. From Reuters: “In a joint declaration, climate scientists, physicists, biologists, engineers and others from at least 20 countries broke with the caution traditionally associated with academia to side with peaceful protesters courting arrest from Amsterdam to Melbourne. … The declaration was coordinated by a group of scientists who support Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience campaign that formed in Britain a year ago and has since sparked offshoots in dozens of countries.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Beto O’Rourke’s campaign manager tried to walk back the former congressman’s comments from Thursday night’s CNN town hall:

A Mainer paid to run an ad in the Sunday edition of the Portland Press Herald about an encounter he had at the airport with Sen. Susan Collins (R):

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has been a steadfast Trump supporter, lamented the consequences of his Syria retreat:

Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until his retirement in January, also sharply criticized the move:

Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who left the Republican Party on July 4 after calling for Trump’s impeachment, criticized the president’s “endless wars” defense:

Journalists condemned the video played at a conference for Trump supporters that portrayed violence against the media and critics of the president:

A reporter who was at the event where the video was played said he was removed: 

The person who appears to be behind the video was invited by Trump to the White House earlier this year for his social media summit:

Mexico’s National Guard took a nationalist stance as it prepared to detain Haitian and African migrants:

And the pope, using the hashtag #Saints, accidentally blessed the New Orleans Saints, who went on to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 13-6: 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Foreign countries should stay out of American elections. That’s true for Russia. That’s true for Ukraine. That’s true for China. That’s true for all of them. It should be the American people deciding elections. I don’t know what Rudy’s been saying. I do know, though, that we should decide our elections,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Simone Biles broke the world record for most medals won by a gymnast. She won her 24th — a gold on the balance beam — before returning to the arena to win another gold for a floor routine that included a stunning, triple-twisting, double somersault:

Trump has made more than 13,400 false or misleading claims, according to the latest tally from The Post’s Fact Checker team:

John Oliver took a look at the battle over the weather:

“Saturday Night Live” spoofed CNN’s equality town hall by bringing in a lot of guest stars: 

Here are three of the key moments from the CNN event and their counterparts from the cold open:

The show also came up with a satirical advertisement for Giuliani’s law services: