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FBI Agents Raided Paul Manafort's Home in July

Armed with a search warrant, FBI agents carried out a predawn raid of the Alexandria home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort several weeks ago. When the agents arrived, Manfort cooperated with them. Since special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoena power, the only way a judge would have issued a search warrant was if the judge could be convinced that Manafort would not have fully complied with a subpoena, and that there probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be found (see this primer for more on how search warrants work). An FBI spokesman said that the agents took away documents, but didn't specify their nature. Manafort had spoken with the Senate Intelligence Committee the day before, but whether his testimony led to the raid is unknown.

Manafort is clearly a top target now, what with his former position in the campaign, his extensive contacts with Russia and Ukraine, and his attendance at a meeting last year with a Russian lawyer who was expected to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton. Manafort worked as an unregistered foreign agent for a while, as well. The FBI and Mueller may be building a strong case that Manafort committed multiple felonies in order to flip him. That this is the strategy is also indicated by the fact that the Feds are working to put pressure on Jeffrey Yohai, Manafort's son-in-law. The goal, according to unnamed insiders, is to get "into Manafort's head."

Meanwhile, early indications are that, in contrast to Michael Flynn, the President is going to throw Manafort under the bus. The National Enquirer, which is owned by Trump friend David Pecker and is very loyal to The Donald, has a story right now entitled "Trump Advisor Sex Scandal—Paul Manafort's Sick Affair." The story was published just hours after the Washington Post reported the FBI raid on Manafort's house, which is surely not a coincidence. Given that the President has used the tabloid to smear his opponents before, there's every reason to think he's behind this as well. It would seem, then, that the dirt Manafort has isn't nearly as good as the dirt Flynn must have. (V & Z)

Transgender Soldiers Sue

Add another lawsuit to the pile that's building up on Donald Trump's desk. Five transgender active-duty soldiers have filed to block the President's plans to ban them from the U.S. military. Using the aliases Jane Doe 1-5, so as to avoid outing themselves, they argue that the proposed policy violates their guarantee of equal protection under the Constitution.

This lawsuit is rather on the proactive side of things, since no policy actually exists yet. There's some evidence that a directive is making its way through the White House, but that's not certain. If and when a policy actually is put in place, Wednesday's lawsuit will soon be joined by several others, from Lambda, Outserve, and the ACLU. Inasmuch as Trump fired off the tweet announcing his decision literally moments after his lawyers told him the policy probably wouldn't pass legal muster, the odds are pretty good he goes down to defeat. Again. It's remarkable that Trump has had a 50-year career as a high-flying tycoon without learning the first lesson in Business 101: "Listen to your lawyers." (Z)

Colbert Scores First Interview with Mooch

Everyone wanted to the first to chat with former White House Communications Director Anthony "Mooch" Scaramucci. Now, a winner in the sweepstakes has been chosen: Stephen Colbert, who will have an interview with him on Monday. Already, Colbert has made the obvious jokes about the network censor getting plenty of rest on Sunday night.

Supposedly, Mooch is still loyal to the man who was ever so briefly his boss. So, maybe he won't say anything, and will save the real juice for a tell-all book. On the other hand, Colbert is pretty good at getting people to say things they regret later, and Mooch isn't exactly great at filtering himself, as we all learned. It will certainly be worth watching, just in case. (Z)

Obama Donors Think Biden Is Too Old

Former Vice President Joe Biden would love to be president, but his window of opportunity may be closed. According to a survey by The Hill of more than 10 top Democratic donors, none of were committed to Biden in 2020. Worse yet, some felt that the Democrats need a fresh face. One said: "He's the opposite of what the party says it wants right now. He's going to have a tough time if he runs." Many of the donors love Biden, but think that if the Democratic Party is to win next time, it needs a much younger, more aspirational person. The name of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) came up as an example. She has been fundraising all summer and impressing donors. Biden isn't giving up though. He has a book coming out next month and will no doubt go on a tour talking about it. Still, it is very early and donors can easily change their minds between now and Q1 2019, when fundraising for 2020 starts in earnest. (V)

Kelly Believes in Climate Change

The U.S. military in general, and Gen. John Kelly (ret.) in particular, believe that human-made climate change is real and poses a military threat to the U.S. The military believes that rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather, and going to cause droughts in some countries, floods in others, and tensions in a lot of places. These will destabilize regions as land becomes more scarce and food supplies dwindle, leading people to turn away from their governments and toward extremist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. Military leaders have made it clear they believe this and are preparing for it as best they can.

This is where Kelly comes in. As White House Chief of Staff, he is the closest official to the president, and speaks to him multiple times a day. He is a no-nonsense guy and has seen all the data. Generals who know him say that he is on the same page as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who told the Senate during his confirmation hearing that climate change will be a driver of instability in the world. The big question here is whether Kelly will try to convince Trump, a climate-change denier, that climate change is not only real but a threat to the United States. It won't be easy and Trump doesn't like to hear things that disagree with what he believes, but Kelly isn't pushed around easily by anyone. (V)

How Long Can McMaster Last?

Breitbart is currently at war, and their enemy is National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster. In just the past month, they have called for him to be fired, suggested that he hates Israel, accused him of plotting with Jeb Bush to oust Donald Trump, reported that he can't control his temper, declared that he's in cahoots with Iran, and said the General is actually an Obama mole. There is little question that White House Strategic Adviser Steve Bannon is behind all of this, as he hates the "globalist" McMaster, and still pulls a lot of the strings at his old place of work. The maneuvering is so obvious that the Wall Street Journal took Bannon to task, which prompted a harshly-worded response from Breitbart.

Let us recall that the original NSA, Mike Flynn, had to resign in disgrace after 24 days, while Robert Harward declined the job due to White House dysfunction, and McMaster only accepted appointment after thinking long and hard and getting reassurances from the President. Clearly, those reassurances were meaningless, and now the General is isolated, under constant attack, and does not see eye-to-eye with the President on much of anything (including global warming; see above). Certainly, you don't get to be a three-star general without being able to tolerate some adversity, but what does he need this for? He presumably took the job in an effort to do some good, and he's constrained in his ability to do so. It's hard to see how he makes it to the end of the year, and even the end of the summer is looking tenuous. (Z)

Johnson Insults McCain

Apparently unaware that Donald Trump's approval rating is in the 30s (see below), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has apparently decided to run a play from the president's playbook and insult Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Sitting for an interview last week, Johnson was asked about McCain's "no" vote on the Obamacare skinny repeal. The Senator replied, "he has a brain tumor right now—that vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning, some of that might have factored in."

It's not easy to stick your foot that far in your mouth that quickly. In one fell swoop, Johnson insulted a war hero, suggested that there could be no rational reason to oppose the GOP's approach to health care, implied that people with brain cancer are not capable of thinking clearly, and shown himself to be profoundly disloyal to a longtime colleague. He's already issued an apology, which McCain has thus far ignored. The Wisconsin Senator has something of a history of saying things that he had to apologize for later, so this is actually par for the course for him. That said, he's probably fortunate that he doesn't have to face the voters of the Badger State for another 5-1/2 years. (Z)

Trump Drops in New Poll

Donald Trump's approval rating has varied from 33% to 52% in recent polls. A New Politico/Morning Consult poll narrows the gap. It puts his approval at 40% among registered voters, down from 52% in the last Morning Consult poll. Here are the recent polls:

Pollster Trump approval
Rasmussen 41%
Politico/Morning Consult 40%
Gallup 37%
CBS News 36%
Quinnipiaac Univ. 33%
Investor's Business Daily/TIPP 32%

If we just average these seven numbers, we come to 37%. For a president, running for reelection with a 37% approval rating is not good news. Fortunately for Trump, there is time to win a few big battles and recover. Unfortunately for him, the prime time to win big battles is early in one's term.

What the Politico also shows is that the percentage of people who strongly approve of Trump is down to 18%, a new low. This is Trump's base, his core voters. But it is not a very big base. To become more popular—and get more influence over Congress—Trump is going to have to pick up more support. It is not likely to come from Democrats as 78% of Hillary Clinton's voters strongly disapprove of him. (V)

Who Said It?

The point has been made in many places, including here, that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un have an awful lot in common, certainly more than the Donald (or, probably, Kim) would like to admit. Quartz has made this point in a particularly biting fashion, putting together a quiz in which readers guess which man was responsible for a particular quote. Here are four to try:

The correct answers for these are, in order, Kim, Trump, Trump, Kim. The link above has the whole quiz, of course, for those who want to try their luck. Or who don't want to sleep too well tonight. (Z)

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