Manafort will cooperate with Mueller as part of guilty plea, prosecutor says

Manafort’s lawyer says he ‘accepted responsibility’ with plea deal

Lawyer Kevin Downing said Paul Manafort is accepting responsibility “for conduct that dates back many years,” with his plea deal on Sept. 14. 

September 14 at 12:05 PM

President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is pleading guilty Friday to two criminal charges under terms of a plea deal that includes his cooperation as a potential witness for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The decision by Manafort to provide evidence in exchange for leniency on sentencing is a stunning development in the long-running probe into whether any Trump associates may have conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Manafort’s defenders have long insisted that he would not cooperate with Mueller, and didn’t know any incriminating information against the president.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said at the beginning of Friday’s plea hearing that Manafort has agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Speaking at the hearing before U.S. District Court judge Amy Berman Jackson, Weissmann said the 17-page plea document included the terms of Manafort’s expected cooperation.

Weissmann gave a detailed, 40-minute description of the criminal conduct in the Manafort case.

Kathleen Manafort, left, wife of Paul Manafort, enters federal court, in Washington, D.C. on Friday. (Keith Lane/For The Washington Post)

“I believe it’s fair to say that’s probably the longest and most detailed summary that ever preceded this question, but is what the prosecutor said a true and accurate description of what you did in this case,” Jackson asked Manafort.

“I did. It is,” Manafort, said, resting both hands on the lectern before him and flanked by his attorney, Richard Westling.

The deal will short-circuit Manafort’s trial scheduled for later this month.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a brief statement following the announcement. “This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign,” she said. “It is totally unrelated.”

The president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said “once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the president did nothing wrong.”

The spectacular rise and fall of Paul Manafort

Before he joined the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort made a name for himself in the D.C. lobbying world, but his past caught up with him. 

A criminal information — a legal document filed by prosecutors to detail the criminal conduct to be admitted by the defendant — was filed in advance of the plea. The document shows Manafort intends to plead guilty to two crimes of the seven he faced at trial: conspiring to defraud the United States and conspiring to obstruct justice.

The document indicates he will admit to funneling millions of dollars in payments into offshore accounts to conceal his income from the Internal Revenue Service. “Manafort cheated the United States out of over $15 million in taxes,” the document states.

The filing also offers new details about the various ways in which Manafort sought to surreptitiously lobby the U.S. government and influence American public opinion toward Ukraine.

In 2012, Manafort set out to help his client, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, by tarnishing the reputation of Yanukovych’s political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, according to the document.

“Manafort stated that ‘[m]y goal is to plant some stink on Tymo’,” according to the document. At the time he made that statement, he was trying to get U.S. news outlets to print stories that Tymoshenko had paid for the murder of a Ukrainian official, according to the criminal information.

The document also says Manafort “orchestrated a scheme to have, as he wrote in a contemporaneous communication, ‘[O]bama jews’ put pressure on the administration to disavow Tymoshenko and support Yanukovych,” the document said.

Manafort set out to spread stories in the U.S. that a senior American Cabinet official “was supporting anti-Semitism because the official supported Tymoshenko,” according to the document. “At one point, Manafort wrote to an associate, “I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom.” The document does not identify the then-Cabinet official and it wasn’t immediately clear if any such story was published.

As part of his deal, the government plans to seize four properties, including a nearly $2 million house in Arlington, Virginia, owned by one of Manafort’s daughters. The deal also calls for forfeiture of four financial accounts and a life insurance policy.

The move toward a guilty plea is another reversal for Manafort, who has fought vociferously — but unsuccessfully — against Mueller’s probe. The 69-year-old political consultant was convicted last month in Alexandria federal court on charges of bank and tax fraud.

In-person jury selection for his Washington trial was set to start Monday, with opening statements scheduled for Sept. 24 before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Any deal would not be final until Manafort admits guilt before the judge, who would need to approve the plea.

Another conviction would cap a dramatic fall for the international power broker and confidant of Republican presidents dating to Ronald Reagan. Manafort’s decision could be mixed news for Trump, who tapped the consultant to serve as his campaign chairman in June 2016 as he was securing the GOP presidential nomination.

Manafort’s cooperation with Mueller could provide investigators new evidence or leads to chase; a guilty plea, however, would prevent weeks’ worth of headlines about the trial in the month before congressional elections.

The longtime lobbyist resigned from his position as campaign chairman in August 2016 amid increasing scrutiny of his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.

Over a 40-year career, Manafort redefined and expanded Washington’s influence industry domestically and internationally, parlaying successful campaigns into lobbying opportunities. But by the mid-2000s, there were signs that his consulting career had slumped, and at times his finances appeared to be shaky. It was in Ukraine that he revived both — in ways prosecutors say violated the law.

Both cases brought against Manafort by the special counsel stem from his work in Ukraine. The jury in Virginia found that Manafort hid millions of dollars he made in Ukraine to avoid paying taxes and then lied to get loans when the political party that was paying him was ousted from power and the funding dried up.

In the trial scheduled in Washington, Manafort faces charges of conspiring against the United States, money laundering, failing to register as a lobbyist, making false statements and conspiring to obstruct justice by trying to influence witnesses.

Manafort had the choice to consolidate both cases into one but declined. He had been jailed since June as a result of the witness-tampering charges.

He has yet to be sentenced in Virginia, where legal experts say he faces eight to 10 years in prison under federal guidelines on the eight of 18 counts on which he was convicted. A mistrial was declared on the remaining 10 charges after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.

It is unclear how a guilty plea might alter his ultimate sentence, and some lawyers have questioned whether he is focused on winning a reprieve elsewhere. Law enforcement officials have come to suspect that Manafort hopes he will be pardoned by the president, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.

Trump has sought advice from his attorneys on the possibility of pardoning Manafort and other aides accused of crimes, his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani previously told The Washington Post, and was counseled against pardoning anyone involved in the ongoing Mueller probe. The president agreed to wait at least until the investigation concludes, Giuliani has said.

Several defendants have cooperated or pleaded guilty in connection with the special counsel probe, including Manafort’s former right-hand man Rick Gates; former national security adviser Michael Flynn; Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who worked with Manafort; W. Samuel Patten, who admitted arranging for a Ukrainian businessman to illegally donate to Trump’s inauguration; and former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to 14 days in jail last week after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.

The decision by Trump’s onetime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to plead guilty last month in a federal investigation in Manhattan particularly angered the president, who denounced him as a “flipper.”

Earlier this year, Manafort derided Gates, his former business partner, for striking a deal with prosecutors that provided him leniency in exchange for testimony against his former partner.

“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” Manafort said in February.

Kevin M. Downing, an attorney for Manafort, also said this summer that there was “no chance” his client would flip and cooperate with prosecutors.

That posture drew plaudits from Trump, who praised his former campaign chairman for his unwillingness to cooperate with the special counsel.

Prosecutors “applied tremendous pressure on him and . . . he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal,’ ” the president tweeted last month. “Such respect for a brave man!”

Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Jackman, Justin Jouvenal, Philip Rucker and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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Trump colors the fall campaign landscape: ‘He’s been the only thing that matters’

President Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, Mont., on Sept. 6, 2018. (Susan Walsh/AP)

September 8 at 5:22 PM

The striking split screen as this week wound down — former president Barack Obama made his campaign-trail debut mourning the departure of decency and lawfulness from the White House just as President Trump called on the Justice Department to hunt down a nameless personal enemy — neatly framed the midterm dynamic.

For Democrats and Republicans, and especially for the 45th president himself, it is all about Trump.

Midterm campaign cycles traditionally have centered on the party in power. Opposition to former president George W. Bush’s Iraq War powered the 2006 Democratic wave, while a backlash to Obama’s health-care law fueled the 2010 Republican takeover.

But this year is shaping up differently. The Nov. 6 election that will determine control of Congress is likely to hinge on the president — the man and his rash actions, more so than his policies — to a remarkable degree.

The spike in Democratic enthusiasm that has Republicans fearful of losing their House majority is driven largely by opposition to Trump personally — his attacks on civic institutions, his impetuousness and the chaos that tornadoes around him — strategists on both sides say.

“Ever since he came down the escalator to announce his presidential campaign, he’s been the only thing that matters in politics,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP consultant and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “His presidency is everywhere and your ability to nuance and message what doesn’t directly involve him is drowned out entirely by a complete avalanche of news and punditry and analysis of what the president is doing.”

President Trump waves to the crowd during a rally in Billings, Mont., on Sept. 6, 2018. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Labor Day unofficially kicks off the fall campaign season, and this past week brought into sharp relief just how much Trump colors the autumn landscape, like so many changing leaves.

The funeral for John McCain was as much a commemoration of the Vietnam War hero and senator-statesman as it was a rumination by official Washington on the existential threat of Trump.

All week, doubt hovered over the president about his intellectual capacity and fitness for office. New reporting in Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,”coupled by an anonymous editorial in the New York Times penned by a senior official in the administration, revealed that some of Trump’s top advisers are so alarmed by his whims and wishes that they thwarted or ignored some of his directives.

The Trump stories were all consuming. Congressional candidates who may have preferred to peddle their own messages were forced to weigh in and gasped for oxygen in the Trumpian news cycle.

Former president Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Sept. 7, 2018. (JOHN GRESS/Reuters)

“Everything that’s going on is Donald Trump, first, last and always,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart said.

This is partly by the president’s own design.

“Trump has demonstrated his mastery of winning the news every day,” Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) said. “No matter what it is that’s going on in our country or the world, he wants to be the subject of the news, and he has taken at times dramatic, sometimes alarming, often unsettling steps to ensure that he is what we’re talking about, for better or worse, almost every day.”

The one-two punch of the Woodward book and anonymous Times column inspired Trump to take the extraordinary step of publicly defending his very mental capacity.

“I can’t get up and talk in front of a crowd, many times without notes, for an hour and 25 minutes and get the biggest crowds in the history of politics . . . you don’t get up and do that because you don’t know how to think or talk,” Trump told reporters Friday aboard Air Force One. “You can only do that if you’re at a very, very high level. I’m highly educated and always did well — always did well — no matter what I did.”

The night before, at a campaign rally in Billings, Mont., Trump boiled the Democratic campaign agenda down to a single word: Impeach. The president’s oversimplification placed himself at the heart of the campaign, with Trump offering up his political future as a central reason to vote Republican.

“They like to use the impeach word. ‘Impeach Trump,’ ” he said. “I say, ‘How do you impeach somebody that’s doing a great job that hasn’t done anything wrong?’ . . . If it does happen, it’s your fault, because you didn’t go out to vote.”

Obama came out of political hibernation Friday to deliver a major address outlining the Democratic case for the midterm elections. Although he is out of office, he is the Democrats’ most prominent national leader, and used the occasion as a rallying cry for the party’s restive base.

Even Obama, who until now had pulled his punches and studiously avoided mentioning Trump by name, found himself addressing his successor directly and forcefully. He called Trump a “symptom” of a dark turn in the nation’s politics toward bigotry, fearmongering, corruption, dishonesty and an erosion of institutions.

“This is not normal,” Obama said at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “These are extraordinary times. And they’re dangerous times. But here’s the good news. In two months we have the chance — not the certainty, but the chance — to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics.”

Obama again urged his audience to get involved in electoral politics during a rally Saturday in California for seven candidates running for House seats in Republican-held districts. “During these times of uncertainty it is always tempting for politicians for their own gain and people in power to see if they can divide people, scapegoat folks, turn them on each other,” he said. “The biggest threat to our democracy, as I said yesterday, is not one individual. It is not one super PAC billionaire. It’s apathy.”

Two months ahead of the election, Democrats hold a clear advantage over Republicans. A Washington Post-ABC News poll late last month found that registered voters favor the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate in their congressional district by 52 percent to 38 percent. The survey also pointed to broad disapproval of Trump’s job performance and unrest with the political system generally.

Sixty-five percent of registered voters said they consider voting in the Nov. 6 election more important than voting in past midterm elections, and 59 percent said voting for a candidate who shares their opinions on Trump is important.

“As long as the Democrats continue to have the intensity and the fire to turn out, this election is going to turn solidly blue,” Hart said.

David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report, said the GOP is finding it difficult to motivate Trump’s supporters to vote in the midterms. “The reason is that Trump voters never loved congressional Republicans,” he said. “They don’t feel that strongly about candidates not named Trump.”

But Michael Steel, a Republican strategist, pointed out, “There are some congressional districts and states where enthusiastic support for the president and encouraging the president’s strong supporters to turn out and prevent Washington Democrats from impeaching him will be enough.”

Some Trump advisers are hoping that even if the president’s popularity numbers are low, his policies and the strong economy will be enough to help Republicans hold off Democrats.

“You may hate the president, and there are a lot of people who do, but they certainly like the way the country is going,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told a Republican National Committee conference in Manhattan, according to audio of his remarks obtained by The Washington Post. “If you figure out a way to subtract from that equation how they feel about the president, the numbers go up dramatically.”

The omnipresent president exerted outsized influence over Republican primaries earlier this year. In Florida, Trump’s endorsement of gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis over Adam Putnam, who for years was the state GOP’s heir apparent, transformed the contest. In the closing weeks, DeSantis ran a television advertisement casting himself as a Trump acolyte, complete with images of him and his toddler building a wall with colorful play bricks and his reading “Trump: The Art of the Deal” to his infant. DeSantis defeated Putnam, the early favorite, by 20 percentage points.

And in Arizona, Trump did not endorse a Senate candidate but nonetheless loomed large over the primary field of three. Rep. Martha McSally entered the race stressing her compelling personal story of military service, but by the home stretch was scrambling to prove her Trump bona fides. The tactic helped lift her to victory over conservative activist Kelly Ward and former sheriff Joe Arpaio, both of whom were seen as more authentic Trump allies.

An early test of whether a Republican candidate could run independently from Trump came last year in Virginia, where the president wound up being a magnetic force. Gillespie tried to run as a “big tent” Republican with broad appeal to moderate voters, but by the end he became Trumpified, complete with a hard line immigration pitch. He lost to Democrat Ralph Northam, 45 percent to 54 percent.

Trump is hemmed in by the political reality that he is not welcome everywhere. In many of the suburban House districts poised to swing the election, embattled Republican incumbents fear their association with Trump could hurt their chances and have made clear they do not welcome a presidential visit.

So Trump has been traveling mostly to states he carried in the 2016 election. He visited Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota last week, and will head to Mississippi and Missouri this week. But his raucous rallies are broadcast live on cable television, and his freewheeling remarks often drive the next day’s national news cycle, consumed by the very swing voters that his itinerary is crafted to avoid.

Although some policies are galvanizing voters — such as health care or the economy or immigration — strategists in both parties say the overwhelming motivator this fall will be Trump.

“The three Democratic pillars are raising wages, fixing health care and cleaning up corruption,” said Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic strategist. “But I just don’t think you can sugarcoat the fact that people are fearful of Trump, and if that makes them turn out to vote in record numbers for the midterms, then that is fantastic.”

Holmes said Trump “hasn’t handed the same policy cudgel to the opposition that President Obama did with Obamacare or President Bush did with the Iraq War. For example, family separation was a significant problem that was remedied within a week. The significant political liability doesn’t exist in this election cycle.”

Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher said the House candidates in some of the suburban districts that he is advising are focused on conventional policy issues. But he said college-educated women and other targeted voters in those districts are moving to the Democratic side largely because of “absolute frustration and disgust” with Trump and the unwillingness of congressional Republicans to hold him accountable.

“In the vast majority of swing districts, our advertising doesn’t talk about Donald Trump at all — because we don’t have to,” Belcher said. “Almost every week, Donald Trump does something that makes these suburban women clutch their pearls.”

Josh Dawsey, Michael Scherer and Gabriel Pogrund contributed to this report.

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Obama Lashes Trump in Debut 2018 Speech. President’s Response: ‘I Fell Asleep.’

Former President Barack Obama spoke to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday.CreditCreditDaniel Acker for The New York Times

URBANA, Ill. — Former President Barack Obama re-entered the national political debate on Friday with a scathing indictment of President Trump, assailing his successor as a “threat to our democracy” and a demagogue practicing the “politics of fear and resentment.”

In a dramatic break from the normal deference former presidents usually show to incumbents, Mr. Obama ended a long period of public reticence with a lacerating assessment of Mr. Trump. Sometimes by name, sometimes by inference, he accused him of cozying up to Russia, emboldening white supremacists and polarizing the nation.

“None of this is conservative,” Mr. Obama told an auditorium of students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I don’t mean to pretend I’m channeling Abraham Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party. It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters even when it hurts the country.”

Mr. Trump wasted no time in responding. Speaking to supporters at a fund-raiser in Fargo, N.D., he dismissed Mr. Obama’s speech. “I’m sorry, I watched it, but I fell asleep,” he said. “I found he’s very good, very good for sleeping.” At a later stop in Sioux Falls, S.D., he said Mr. Obama’s re-emergence would motivate his base. “Now if that doesn’t get you out to vote for the midterms, nothing will,” he said.

Mr. Obama had always said he intended to follow the example set by former President George W. Bush, who after leaving office largely kept out of the public eye and refrained from criticizing his successor. But Mr. Obama has come under enormous pressure from Democrats frustrated that he has been absent from the stage as Mr. Trump dismantled his legacy and shattered norms that governed presidents of both parties.

Mr. Obama has weighed in from time to time, mainly through written statements criticizing the reversal of his policies, and he made a few campaign appearances during off-year elections in 2017 taking issue with the president. He also gave a eulogy last weekend for Senator John McCain that was widely seen as a rebuke of Mr. Trump. But until now, he generally avoided using Mr. Trump’s name or challenging him in such a direct way.

“It did not start with Donald Trump,” he told the college students on Friday. “He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years, a fear and anger that’s rooted in our past, but it’s also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”

The speech was meant to kick off a two-month campaign blitz to help Democrats take control of Congress in the November midterm elections. His first public event will take place this weekend in Orange County, a traditionally conservative-leaning part of California where Democrats are hoping to pick up several House seats. He is also expected to campaign next Thursday in Cleveland for Richard Cordray, a former bank regulator in his administration who is the Democratic nominee for Ohio governor.

Other former presidents have returned to the campaign trail after leaving office, especially Bill Clinton, while generally, though not always, avoiding direct criticism of their successors.

That Mr. Obama has stepped in to confront Mr. Trump underscores the vacuum of leadership and coherent message at the top of the Democratic Party, whose titular chiefs are in their 70s and whose next-generation figures have yet to establish themselves as commanding or unifying presences. And his return may play into the hands of Mr. Trump by giving him the public foil he wants.

“I understand the idea that Democrats want to get the former president on the campaign trail as much as possible,” said Jim Manley, a longtime Senate Democratic aide, “but I’m not so sure that makes sense strategically because Trump would love nothing more than to use Obama as a punching bag.”

And neither would Trump allies like Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “The more President @BarackObama speaks about the ‘good ole years’ of his presidency, the more likely President @realDonaldTrump is to get re-elected,” Mr. Graham wrote on Twitter. “In fact, the best explanation of President Trump’s victory are the ‘results’ of the Obama Presidency!”

But Mo Elleithee, a longtime Democratic strategist who is now executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, said Mr. Obama seemed to be providing a message for Democrats to retake the mantle of populism by arguing that Mr. Trump’s version has actually elevated the interests of the wealthy and powerful.

“He filled a leadership vacuum for the opposition party,” Mr. Elleithee said after the speech, “but what I thought was more interesting is he started to draw a road map for Democrats who are looking for a different way of engaging this populist era and bring us back to a more hopeful approach.”

Still, like other presidents, Mr. Obama does not have a good record helping his party in midterm elections, even when he was in office. Democrats lost the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.

After his speech, Mr. Obama dropped by a cafe with J. B. Pritzker, the Democratic candidate for governor, and his running mate, Juliana Stratton, and worked the room. “It’s all about turnout,” he told customers after ordering hot tea and tiramisù. While he extolled a free press in his speech, he took no questions from reporters.

Mr. Obama acknowledged on Friday that he had stayed out of the debate for the most part, jokingly blaming it on family concerns. “The truth is, after eight years in the White House, I needed to spend some time one on one with Michelle if I wanted to stay married,” he said.

But he said he decided to speak out now because “the stakes really are higher” than before. “Because in the end, the threat to our democracy doesn’t just come from Donald Trump or the current batch of Republicans in Congress or the Koch brothers and their lobbyists, or too much compromise from Democrats, or Russian hacking,” he said. “The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference.”

Mr. Obama said recent days demonstrated that the country had gone off course. He cited the essay by an anonymous administration official in The New York Times describing how a “quiet resistance” of “unsung heroes” on Mr. Trump’s team was secretly working to prevent him from making rash decisions that would harm the country.

“The claim that everything will turn out O.K. because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren’t following the president’s orders, this is not a check” on Mr. Trump, he said. “They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House and then saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’re preventing the other 10 percent.’ ”

Mr. Obama criticized the president’s policies on climate change, taxes, health care and regulations, but saved his most biting comments for how he said Mr. Trump has warped the institutions of American life.

“It should not be Democratic or Republican. It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the F.B.I. to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents,” he said. “Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up. I’m not making that up. That’s not hypothetical.”

He also accused Mr. Trump of playing to bigots. “We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination,” he said. “And we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”

But he also had a message for liberals in his own base, pushing back against those who want him and other party leaders to be more aggressive like Mr. Trump.

“There are well-meaning folks passionate about social justice, who think things have gotten so bad, the lines have been so starkly drawn, that we have to fight fire with fire, we have to do the same things to the Republicans that they do to us, adopt their tactics, say whatever works, make up stuff about the other side,” he said. “I don’t agree with that.”

“It’s not because I’m soft,” he added. “It’s not because I’m interested in promoting an empty bipartisanship.” He said that “yelling at each other” would only further erode civic institutions and not appeal to voters. “We won’t win people over,” he said, “by calling them names, or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist or sexist or homophobic.”

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting from Fargo, N.D.

Follow Peter Baker on Twitter: @peterbakernyt.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: As Races Heat Up, Obama Speaks Out. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Pompeo to tackle Pakistan on terrorism, tighten US links with India

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends the 51st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore on August 3, 2018.

(CNN)US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will talk tough on terrorism to Pakistan and attempt to strengthen his country’s links with India during what is likely to be a difficult and potentially testing visit to South Asia beginning Wednesday.

The visit comes as the US tilts away from Pakistan, while deepening strategic and economic ties with India in a bid to counter China’s increasing influence in the “Indo-Pacific” region — Pompeo’s preferred term for the area that stretches from the west coast of the United States to the west coast of India.
Pompeo will have to perform a tricky balancing act, analysts say, as Pakistan is fast falling within China’s sphere of influence and its arch-rival India is smarting over a series of trade threats and insults from President Donald Trump.
“US-Pakistan ties have deteriorated significantly,” said Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “US patience across parties has grown thin. Pakistanis generally believe that the United States is a fair-weather friend, in contrast to the ‘all-weather’ friendship of China.”
On US-India relations, Ayres added that “the unprecedented degree to which President Trump focuses on at times arbitrary and even trivial economic issues to measure the health of foreign relations has created new uncertainty.”
US troops in Afghanistan: A history (2017)

US troops in Afghanistan: A history (2017) 01:27
Central to Pompeo’s visit will be his first meeting with newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Pompeo, who is scheduled to visit Islamabad for several hours on Wednesday, September 5, before moving on to Delhi, is due to meet Khan for high-level talks. Few expect the meeting to be smooth.
Last month Islamabad disputed Washington’s accountof a phone call between Pompeo and Khan, denying there had been any discussion on militants operating in Pakistan.
Khan is known for his criticism of US policy in Afghanistan, but he said after becoming the country’s prime minister last month that he wants to improve relations with Washington.
However, earlier this week the US, frustrated by Islamabad’s reluctance to crack down on Afghan Taliban militants in its territory, canceled $300m in military aid to Pakistan, further complicating relations.
“This was an inevitable move,” said Michael Kugelman, South Asia expert at the US-based Wilson Center. “For months, US officials had been telegraphing a message of unhappiness about a lack of clear movement on the Pakistani side to address the terrorism issue.”
Islamabad reacted angrily, claiming that the funds were owed to Pakistan for counter-terrorism operations carried out at Washington’s behest.
The Trump administration has also signaled major reservations about the IMF granting Pakistan another bailout as Islamabad assumes billions of dollars in debt for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multi-billion dollar series of Chinese funded infrastructure projects stretching from the Chinese border to Pakistan’s deep water ports.
“As a result, Pakistan-US relations are currently in a volatile state, though the prior status quo was itself volatile, and had grown increasingly untenable from the US perspective,” said Jeff Smith, a research fellow at Heritage Foundation.
Smith added that Khan’s views may differ from the Pakistan military’s on Afghanistan, but the army remains in control of defense and foreign policy.

The Afghanistan question

Pompeo is also due to meet the Pakistani army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, during his visit. The general held meetings with Khan three times this week, but it is not known what was discussed.
Husein Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the US and a director at the Hudson Institute, told CNN that although Washington has previously made threats to Pakistan over its alleged support of Afghan militants, Trump’s administration means business.
“What is different this time is the willingness of the US side to recognize that Pakistan may not just be a difficult ally that needs to be persuaded to cooperate a bit more, but a country that is no longer an ally,” he said.
However, analysts said Pompeo should try to keep Pakistan on board as its links to the Taliban make it a key player in efforts to achieve a peace settlement with Afghanistan. Pakistan also provides vital military supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan.
“Given that Kabul and Washington have now signed off on direct talks between the US and the Taliban, Washington may not think Islamabad will play that important a role in helping bringing the Taliban to talks,” said Kugelman.
“But, if a process of reconciliation begins, it will be a long and difficult slog, and Pakistan would still be useful if not essential in such a process, given its close ties to the Taliban,” he added.
Afghanistan will probably be discussed again by Pompeo during his visit to New Delhi, where he will be accompanied by Defense Secretary James Mattis.
“India will likely look to impress upon Pompeo and Mattis that an abrupt withdrawal of US and international troops from Afghanistan will create greater instability in the region,” said Ayres.
“India will likely also focus on their own constructive development assistance to Afghanistan and their work developing the Chabahar port in Iran,” she added.
Chabahar, which would be a conduit for Indian supplies to Afghanistan, is seen by Islamabad as a rival to its Gwadar port, the mainstay of China’s $60 billion Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure investment in Pakistan.
US support of Indian interests in Afghanistan has spooked Pakistan, which aims to help install a friendly regime in Kabul.
Trump: Relations with India better than ever

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Trump: Relations with India better than ever 07:17

India strategy

The main thrust of Pompeo’s focus in New Delhi will be the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific economic strategy, seen by many as its response to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
The United States and India have been allies for a while, but Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have significantly strengthened their bonds.
“India is now America’s main South Asian ally and partner,” said Haqqani. “The US hopes to act in concert with India to contain China in the Indo-Pacific.”
But in recent months Trump has cast uncertainty on the relationship, said Manoj Joshi, fellow at Observer Research Foundation, by sparking tit-for-tat tariff threats and pressuring India not to buy oil from Iran.
Also Trump’s lampooning of Modi’s accent and his threat of US sanctions if India imports Russian hardware have also cast a shadow on the relationship.
“To be sure, there does appear to be an air of unease in Delhi owing to an uptick in trade frictions and a general sense of unpredictability about the Trump Administration’s priorities and intentions,” said Smith.
Dhruva Jaishankar, a fellow at Brookings India, told CNN that “on bilateral issues, relations have been more complicated, especially on trade and to a lesser degree on immigration”.
Joshi said the two side will “seek to find ways to minimize friction arising from Trump’s actions against Iran, trade and the Russian sanctions.”
But, analysts agreed that overall US-India relations have improved under Trump in terms of geopolitical and military links.
“On strategic relations, ties have actually deepened and convergences have accelerated,” said Jaishankar. “This extends to continuing efforts to enable India access to advanced US military equipment based on a reduction in licensing requirements and offers of new kinds of technology.”
The establishment of the first India-US “2+2” foreign and defense ministers dialogue was itself a significant accomplishment, said Smith.
“The fundamentals of the relationship remain sound and the geopolitical logic that’s driven the historic India-US partnership is as compelling as ever,” he added.
However, India remains concerned about the US’s diminished stature on the world stage under Trump. “President Trump’s stepping back from the globalization project and (China’s) President Xi making efforts to step in are developments that India would be concerned about,” said Biswajit Dhar, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru university.


Kavanaugh hearing: Democrats cry foul over lack of access to documents, seek to delay proceedings

Live coverage of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing

The Washington Post brings you live coverage and analysis of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. 

September 4 at 1:34 PM

The confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh quickly devolved into a political brawl on Tuesday, as Democrats loudly objected to the proceedings as rushed, one prominent Republican railed about “mob rule,” and dozens of protesters interrupted senators.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley’s (R-Iowa) opening remarks were delayed for nearly an hour and a half as Democratic senators sought to cut off the confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh, raising an uproar over a last-minute document dump sent to the Judiciary Committee late Monday encompassing more than 42,000 pages from the nominee’s tenure in the George W. Bush White House.

And the protesters, who were predominantly women, repeatedly heckled the senators and Kavanaugh as they argued that installing President Trump’s second pick to the Supreme Court would irreparably end access to abortion and dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked.

Democrats have charged that documents on Kavanaugh’s career have been withheld without justification, particularly those from his tenure as a Bush staffer. Senators have reviewed nearly 200,000 pages that cannot be disclosed to the public, and the Trump administration is withholding another 100,000 pages from Congress altogether, claiming those documents would be covered by presidential privilege.

Leahy said there are gaping holes in the record, spanning several years of Kavanaugh’s career in the Bush White House, and that the Senate was abandoning its obligation by not first reviewing those documents before beginning confirmation hearings this week. “It’s not only shameful, it’s a sham,” Leahy said. “This is the most incomplete, most partisan, least transparent vetting for any Supreme Court nominee I have ever seen.”

As tempers got heated Tuesday, Grassley denied the moves from Democrats to adjourn the proceedings, saying he would press on with the hearing and that he expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed.

Democrats continued to insist on a vote on their motions as the hearing veered seriously off track for more than an hour, at which point Grassley resumed reading his opening statement.

Tuesday’s proceedings brought to the surface years of anger over judicial nominees. Democrats invoked the name of Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016 to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late justice Antonin Scalia, and denied a hearing by Senate Republicans.

According to the excerpts released by the White House, Kavanaugh in his opening statement will praise Garland, the chief judge on the appeals court on which they both serve, as “superb” — a line likely to further rile Democrats.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said the Democrats’ behavior would lead them to be “held in contempt of court,” prompting a chorus of quiet boos and “oh come on” echoed throughout the hearing room. He later said the hearing had turned into “mob rule.”

Several senators, including Grassley and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said they felt personally attacked. Kavanaugh’s family sat stone-faced as a prolonged debate ensued about the standards of releasing records on earlier Supreme Court nominees.

Later on Tuesday, Kavanaugh plans to tell senators he will be “a neutral and impartial arbiter” if confirmed, according to excerpts of his statement.

“I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences,” Kavanaugh says in the excerpts, released by the White House on Tuesday.

“I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge,” Kavanaugh says. “I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge.”

In Kavanaugh’s statement, he will also pay tribute to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom he has been nominated to replace, according to the excerpts.

“To me, Justice Kennedy is a mentor, a friend, and a hero,” Kavanaugh says. “As a member of the Court, he was a model of civility and collegiality. He fiercely defended the independence of the Judiciary. And he was a champion of liberty.”

Kavanaugh also pledges to be a “team player” in the excerpts.

“If confirmed to the Court, I would be part of a Team of Nine, committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States,” Kavanaugh says. “I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine.”

The excerpts were released about two hours before the start of Kavanaugh’s four-day appearance before the Judiciary Committee, which was expected to be highly contentious even before the verbal sparring broke out Tuesday.

Kavanaugh, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by Bush, served the president in the White House Counsel’s Office from 2001 to 2003 and as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006.

As the first day got underway, Grassley lavishly praised the qualifications of Trump’s nominee.

“Judge Kavanaugh is one of the most qualified nominees — if not the most qualified nominee — that I’ve seen,” Grassley said, adding that his “extensive record demonstrates a deep commitment to the rule of law.”

In a preview of the tough questions Kavanaugh will face Wednesday, Democratic senators said they would press the judge on his views about abortion, gun control and executive power.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) addressed Kavanaugh about abortion. The question, she said, is not whether Kavanaugh believes that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is “settled law,” as he has told other senators, but “whether you believe it is the correct law.”

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said she is concerned about Kavanaugh’s dissent in a recent case involving a pregnant immigrant teen in federal custody. Kavanaugh disagreed with his colleagues on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit who ordered the Trump administration to allow access to abortion services.

Kavanaugh wrote that the court was creating “a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.”

Feinstein also described Kavanaugh as “outside the mainstream on guns” and expressed concern about the loosening of gun control laws. In 2011, Kavanaugh dissented when his colleagues upheld Washington’s ban on semiautomatic rifles. Kavanaugh pointed to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision declaring an individual right to gun ownership apart from military service.

“Gun bans and gun regulations that are not long-standing or sufficiently rooted in text, history, and tradition are not consistent with the Second Amendment individual right,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he would resurrect a controversy from Kavanaugh’s 2006 confirmation battle over whether Kavanaugh was involved in developing Bush-era policy on the treatment of terrorism suspects. Kavanaugh worked as a White House associate counsel at the time that President George W. Bush developed his policy, laid out in what became known as the “torture memo.”

Kavanaugh testified as a nominee for the D.C. Circuit that he was “not involved.”

Later, Kavanaugh’s denial came into question when The Washington Post revealed he had participated in a White House Counsel’s Office meeting in which he had been asked his opinion about how Justice Kennedy — for whom he had clerked — was likely to view the matter.

Durbin, who was also on the Judiciary committee in 2006, said Tuesday that he would press Kavanaugh to explain the discrepancy.

In response, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) defended Kavanaugh and said the suggestion that the judge had “misled this committee in any way is absurd.”

Even before protests began inside the hearing room, groups of demonstrators were walking the hallways of the Senate Hart building. With the future of abortion rights at stake, dozens of women dressed in crimson robes and white bonnets as characters from the television series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” stood silently outside the hearing room.

Once the hearing began, one by one, the mostly female protesters in the audience stood to loudly object to Kavanaugh’s nomination and urge the senators to “vote no.”

“This lifetime appointment will be devastating to women’s rights, voting rights, gay rights,” one woman shouted.

“An illegitimate president cannot make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” another said.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) called for the removal of the “loudmouth” as his remarks were interrupted by chants of “Hell nah, Kavanaugh!”

Durbin, meanwhile, said of the protests: “What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy.”

The protesters were quickly and for the most part quietly pulled out by Capitol Police officers who flanked the back wall of the hearing room.

As of 10:19 a.m., 22 individuals had been arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, according to Capitol Police.

About an hour into the hearing, the White House issued a tally of how many times Democratic senators on the committee had interrupted others on the panel. The total was 44 by its count, with Blumenthal topping the list with 13 interruptions.

Democrats began crying foul over the confirmation process before the hearing began.

“We go to these hearings under protest,” Feinstein said during a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court.

“I’ve never had a hearing like this, where documents are so difficult to get,” said Feinstein, who was flanked by fellow Democrats on the committee.

Yet Democrats have been resistant to break with Senate norms and release the documents classified as committee confidential, which total nearly 200,000 pages that senators have been able to review but has been concealed from the public.

“I’ve been chairman of Intelligence for six years … committee confidential has always been respected,” Feinstein said Tuesday morning. “We want to know more about the law with respect to committee confidential.”

In his opening statement, Grassley downplayed concerns about access to documents.

“The American people have unprecedented access and more materials to review for Judge Kavanaugh than they ever had for a Supreme Court nominee,” Grassley said. “And to support the review of Judge Kavanaugh’s historic volume of material, I’ve worked to ensure that more senators have more access to more material than ever.”

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Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency

Exclusive: Listen to Trump’s conversation with Bob Woodward

President Trump and Bob Woodward discuss Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” before its publication.

September 4 at 11:08 AM

John Dowd was convinced that President Trump would commit perjury if he talked to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. So, on Jan. 27, the president’s then-personal attorney staged a practice session to try to make his point.

In the White House residence, Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the president eventually lost his cool.

“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, “I don’t really want to testify.”

The dramatic and previously untold scene is recounted in “Fear,” a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals.

Woodward writes that his book is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses that were conducted on “deep background,” meaning the information could be used but he would not reveal who provided it. His account is also drawn from meeting notes, personal diaries and government documents.

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

The 448-page book was obtained by The Washington Post. Woodward, an associate editor at The Post, sought an interview with Trump through several intermediaries to no avail. The president called Woodward in early August, after the manuscript had been completed, to say he wanted to participate. The president complained that it would be a “bad book,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. Woodward replied that his work would be “tough,” but factual and based on his reporting.

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

In Woodward’s telling, many top advisers were repeatedly unnerved by Trump’s actions and expressed dim views of him. “Secretaries of defense don’t always get to choose the president they work for,” Mattis told friends at one point, prompting laughter as he explained Trump’s tendency to go off on tangents about subjects such as immigration and the news media.

Inside the White House, Woodward portrays an unsteady executive detached from the conventions of governing and prone to snapping at high-ranking staff members, whom he unsettled and belittled on a daily basis.

Chief of Staff John F. Kelly frequently lost his temper, Bob Woodward writes in “Fear: Trump in the White House.” (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly frequently lost his temper and told colleagues that he thought the president was “unhinged,” Woodward writes. In one small group meeting, Kelly said of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, fretted that he could do little to constrain Trump from sparking chaos. Woodward writes that Priebus dubbed the presidential bedroom, where Trump obsessively watched cable news and tweeted, “the devil’s workshop,” and said early mornings and Sunday evenings, when the president often set off tweetstorms, were “the witching hour.”

Trump apparently had little regard for Priebus. He once instructed then-staff secretary Rob Porter to ignore Priebus, even though Porter reported to the chief of staff, saying that Priebus was “‘like a little rat. He just scurries around.’”

Few in Trump’s orbit were protected from the president’s insults. He often mocked former national security adviser H.R. McMaster behind his back, puffing up his chest and exaggerating his breathing as he impersonated the retired Army general, and once said McMaster dresses in cheap suits, “like a beer salesman.”

Trump told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a wealthy investor eight years his senior: “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations. … You’re past your prime.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a frequent subject of attacks by Trump. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

A near-constant subject of withering presidential attacks was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump told Porter that Sessions was a “traitor” for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, Woodward writes. Mocking Sessions’s accent, Trump added, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”

At a dinner with Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others, Trump lashed out at a vocal critic, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He falsely suggested that the former Navy pilot had been a coward for taking early release from a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam because of his father’s military rank and leaving others behind.

Mattis swiftly corrected his boss: “No, Mr. President, I think you’ve got it reversed.” The defense secretary explained that McCain, who died Aug. 25, had in fact turned down early release and was brutally tortured during his five years at the Hanoi Hilton.

“Oh, okay,” Trump replied, according to Woodward’s account.

With Trump’s rage and defiance impossible to contain, Cabinet members and other senior officials learned to act discreetly. Woodward describes an alliance among Trump’s traditionalists — including Mattis and Gary Cohn, the president’s former top economic adviser — to stymie what they considered dangerous acts.

“It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually,” Porter is quoted as saying. “Other times, we would fall over the edge, and an action would be taken.”

After Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.

Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.

Then-White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn tried to temper Trump’s nationalistic trade views. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Cohn, a Wall Street veteran, tried to tamp down Trump’s strident nationalism regarding trade. According to Woodward, Cohn “stole a letter off Trump’s desk” that the president was intending to sign to formally withdraw the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn later told an associate that he removed the letter to protect national security and that Trump did not notice that it was missing.

Cohn made a similar play to prevent Trump from pulling the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, something the president has long threatened to do. In spring 2017, Trump was eager to withdraw from NAFTA and told Porter: “Why aren’t we getting this done? Do your job. It’s tap, tap, tap. You’re just tapping me along. I want to do this.”

Under orders from the president, Porter drafted a notification letter withdrawing from NAFTA. But he and other advisers worried that it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis. So Porter consulted Cohn, who told him, according to Woodward: “I can stop this. I’ll just take the paper off his desk.”

Despite repeated threats by Trump, the United States has remained in both pacts. The administration continues to negotiate new terms with South Korea as well as with its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico.

Cohn came to regard the president as “a professional liar” and threatened to resign in August 2017 over Trump’s handling of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Cohn, who is Jewish, was especially shaken when one of his daughters found a swastika on her college dorm room.

Trump was sharply criticized for initially saying that “both sides” were to blame. At the urging of advisers, he then condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but almost immediately told aides, “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made” and the “worst speech I’ve ever given,” according to Woodward’s account.

When Cohn met with Trump to deliver his resignation letter after Charlottesville, the president told him, “This is treason,” and persuaded his economic adviser to stay on. Kelly then confided to Cohn that he shared Cohn’s horror at Trump’s handling of the tragedy — and shared Cohn’s fury with Trump.

“I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times,” Kelly told Cohn, according to Woodward. Kelly himself has threatened to quit several times, but has not done so.

Woodward illustrates how the dread in Trump’s orbit became all-encompassing over the course of Trump’s first year in office, leaving some staff members and Cabinet members confounded by the president’s lack of understanding about how government functions and his inability and unwillingness to learn.

At one point, Porter, who departed in February amid domestic abuse allegations, is quoted as saying, “This was no longer a presidency. This is no longer a White House. This is a man being who he is.”

Such moments of panic are a routine feature, but not the thrust of Woodward’s book, which mostly focuses on substantive decisions and internal disagreements, including tensions with North Korea as well as the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

Woodward recounts repeated episodes of anxiety inside the government over Trump’s handling of the North Korean nuclear threat. One month into his presidency, Trump asked Dunford for a plan for a preemptive military strike on North Korea, which rattled the combat veteran.

In the fall of 2017, as Trump intensified a war of words with Kim Jong Un, nicknaming North Korea’s dictator “Little Rocket Man” in a speech at the United Nations, aides worried the president might be provoking Kim. But, Woodward writes, Trump told Porter that he saw the situation as a contest of wills: “This is all about leader versus leader. Man versus man. Me versus Kim.”

The book also details Trump’s impatience with the war in Afghanistan, which had become America’s longest conflict. At a July 2017 National Security Council meeting, Trump dressed down his generals and other advisers for 25 minutes, complaining that the United States was losing, according to Woodward.

“The soldiers on the ground could run things much better than you,” Trump told them. “They could do a much better job. I don’t know what the hell we’re doing.” He went on to ask, “How many more deaths? How many more lost limbs? How much longer are we going to be there?”

The president’s family members, while sometimes touted as his key advisers by other Trump chroniclers, are minor players in Woodward’s account, popping up occasionally in the West Wing and vexing adversaries.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Former White House senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon, second from left, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, right, in 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Woodward recounts an expletive-laden altercation between Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and senior adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist.

“You’re a goddamn staffer!” Bannon screamed at her, telling her that she had to work through Priebus like other aides. “You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not. You’re on staff!”

Ivanka Trump, who had special access to the president and worked around Priebus, replied: “I’m not a staffer! I’ll never be a staffer. I’m the first daughter.”

Such tensions boiled among many of Trump’s core advisers. Priebus is quoted as describing Trump officials not as rivals but as “natural predators.”

“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody,” Priebus says.

Hovering over the White House was Mueller’s inquiry, which deeply embarrassed the president. Woodward describes Trump calling his Egyptian counterpart to secure the release of an imprisoned charity worker and President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi saying: “Donald, I’m worried about this investigation. Are you going to be around?”

Trump relayed the conversation to Dowd and said it was “like a kick in the nuts,” according to Woodward.

The book vividly recounts the ongoing debate between Trump and his lawyers about whether the president would sit for an interview with Mueller. On March 5, Dowd and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow met in Mueller’s office with the special counsel and his deputy, James Quarles, where Dowd and Sekulow reenacted Trump’s January practice session.

Woodward’s book recounts the debate between Trump and his lawyers, including John Dowd, regarding whether the president will sit for an interview with special counsel Robert. S. Mueller III. (Richard Drew/AP)

Dowd then explained to Mueller and Quarles why he was trying to keep the president from testifying: “I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’ ”

“John, I understand,” Mueller replied, according to Woodward.

Later that month, Dowd told Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”

But Trump, concerned about the optics of a president refusing to testify and convinced that he could handle Mueller’s questions, had by then decided otherwise.

“I’ll be a real good witness,” Trump told Dowd, according to Woodward.

“You are not a good witness,” Dowd replied. “Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”

The next morning, Dowd resigned.

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Impeaching Trump would rip America apart. Voting to remove him in 2020 is the best option

Impeaching Trump would rip America apart. Voting to remove him in 2020 is the best option
President Trump speaks to supporters in Charleston, W.Va., on Aug. 21. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)


To the editor: This country needs to consider the path it might be taking. We should be mindful of the fact that President Trump has not been indicted or had articles of impeachment drawn up against him by members of Congress. Even Democratic lawmakers will not speak the “i-word” for fear of exciting Republican voters. (“Things changed for Trump this week. Do Republicans have the spine to do something about it?” editorial, Aug. 22)

Many voters express frustration that Congress is paralyzed, but what action are people demanding? History has taught us that going after sitting presidents for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” has not brought about conviction in the Senate. Most recently, the attempts to remove Presidents Nixon and Clinton from office directly contributed to today’s divisiveness. What might a Trump indictment or impeachment do to the country?

For those who dislike Trump and want him impeached or put on trial, and for those who believe the president is under siege by a hostile left-wing cabal, I urge everyone to consider what indicting or impeaching Trump, or what dismissing every accusation against him as “fake news” or political theater, does to our constitutional democracy. It is under threat, and we the people seem unable to ignore the media’s constant coverage of this president.

We need to consider the best course of action for our country. Isn’t it proper to allow the American people to determine their own future via the 2018 midterm election and by selecting the next president in 2020? Voters should decide if this president deserves to remain in office, not the loud voices that dominate our frenzied, angry political discourse.

Natalie Root, Arlington, Va.


To the editor: Recently, the president warned us that if he was impeached, the stock market would crash and we’d all be poor.

I am an 85-year-old woman living on a fixed income. I’m also a patriot. If our country was at war, I would make sacrifices to help it survive.

I believe the country is in a crisis no less serious than war. Therefore, if impeaching Trump means I would have less money, I would be eager to make that sacrifice. It would be a small price to pay in order to keep our democracy safe.

Elaine Lubkin, Los Angeles


To the editor: I believe the latest developments in Trumpworld will probably not cause any sudden shift in the quarter of the electorate who, shockingly, strongly admires the president.

I think that these Trump supporters should, however, begin to consider into which of the following categories they fall: They have not been paying attention, they are not thinking clearly, or they are among the “deplorables” referenced by Hillary Clinton.

The latter category includes those who will never reject Trump, even if, as he suggested himself, he were to go out in public and shoot someone.

There can be no doubt that there is much more to be revealed regarding this corrupt and outrageous presidency. Let us hope that those Trump supporters who are not in the “deplorables” category will begin to wake up and pay attention to what is happening and the damage that is being done to this country.

Their future and that of the rest of us may depend upon it.

Gertrude Barden, Porter Ranch

If impeaching Trump means I would have less money, I would be eager to make that sacrifice

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To the editor: Everyone is writing about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s connection with the president. But this is just a tiny tip of a huge iceberg.

How many other wealthy Americans are avoiding taxes by using tax dodges similar to Manafort? How many are benefiting from living and working in the United States but hiding their true incomes in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Singapore or other tax havens?

Our national debt is greater than $21 trillion, and we need major investments in infrastructure, education and healthcare. However, Congress just passed a tax cut that benefits mostly corporations and wealthy individuals.

Manafort’s tax dodges would never have been discovered without special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. How many other Manaforts are out there?

Herb Adelman, Del Mar


To the editor: Count me out from ever paying federal taxes again.

The president of the United States said Manafort, who has just been convicted of tax and bank fraud, is a good man with a nice family. Is Trump implying that would absolve Manafort from his crimes?

Manafort may be loyal to Trump, but at this point he is a criminal. Perhaps I can be absolved from paying taxes since I am a good person with a nice family.

Christine Gregory, Beverly Hills


To the editor: Judging by his praise of the newly convicted Manafort, Trump’s definition of a “good” person does not carry the meaning most of us know.

A good person is typically someone of strong moral and ethical character. In Trump’s world, a “good” person is typically someone who is morally corrupt, a trait that common among the president’s innermost circle.

Trump has chosen to surround himself with these “good” people. As with most corrupt organizations, some of the president’s lieutenants will disclose to a court, as part of a plea bargain, the skulduggery of the “godfather.”

Larry Naritomi, Monterey Park


To the editor: Trump threatened that if he ever got impeached the stock market would crash and everyone would be poor. He forgot the locusts and the death of the firstborn.

Irving Weinstein, Ventura


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