McCain appears to criticize Trump’s draft deferment with ‘bone spur’ quip

Sen. John McCain seemingly labeled President Donald Trump a draft-dodger in an interview that aired Sunday night, criticizing those who “found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur” to avoid military service.

Trump was granted five draft deferments – four for college and one for bone spurs in his heel – and did not serve in the military.

“One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur,” McCain (R-Ariz.) said, without attacking the president by name. “That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.”

A spokeswoman for McCain did not immediately return an email asking whether or not the senator had intended to criticize the president with his CSPAN remark.

McCain, a former Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, was a prisoner of war for five-and-a-half years, held and repeatedly tortured in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison. Given the opportunity to return home ahead of some who had been captured before him, McCain refused.

The Arizona senator’s status as a former POW – for which he is often revered as a hero by members of both parties – has seemingly not won him much favor with Trump, who has clashed regularly with McCain. The lawmaker has been among the most vocal GOP critics of the president and was among the Republican senators whose “no” votes scuttled the party’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare last summer.

The feud between the two men dates back to the presidential campaign, when McCain said in an interview that Trump “fired up the crazies” in his home state of Arizona. Even more famously, Trump said McCain was “not a war hero” and that “I like people who weren’t captured.”



Group spends $1M turning out Democratic-leaning groups in Virginia

A group looking to turn out key Democratic-leaning demographics plans to spend just over $1 million in Virginia, ahead of the state’s closely watched gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

The Voter Participation Center, which aims to register and turn out members of underrepresented populations in elections, is on pace to send out 2.2 million pieces of mail from September to Election Day. From Oct. 25 to Nov. 1, the group will send out four waves of get-out-the-vote mailers to unmarried women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and young people — a potential boost to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign for governor. Each group is part of the so-called rising American electorate — young people, non-white people, and unmarried women — which has leaned toward Democrats in recent years.

Some Democrats have worried about the low-key, genial Northam’s ability to excite the progressive base ahead of the critical Virginia gubernatorial election, which also serves as a de facto referendum on a president’s first year in office. Polls have shown the Democrat with a small but steady lead over Republican Ed Gillespie, a former lobbyist and RNC chair.

"The elections in Virginia couldn’t be more important for the future of our communities, which is why the Voter Participation Center is investing heavily to make sure underrepresented Virginians register to vote and turn out on election day,” said Page Gardner, the founder and president of the Voter Participation Center.

Gardner noted unmarried women played a key role in Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s two-and-a-half-point victory over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli four years ago. Unmarried women supported McAuliffe by a 42-point margin, according to a Voter Participation Center post-election poll, while married women support Cuccinelli by a nine-point margin.

The group plans to pay for a similar poll this year.

African-American participation in Virginia also grew from 2009 to 2013, with black voters making up 16 percent of the electorate in 2009 and 20 percent in 2013. Democrats are hoping for similarly high turnout this year — Northam performed well in heavily African-American cities during the Democratic primary, and former President Barack Obama campaigned for him in Richmond last week.


Embattled Illinois governor to run for second term

CHICAGO Illinois Republican governor Bruce Rauner is officially running for a second term, his campaign confirmed.

The announcement comes as the embattled governor has endured ongoing staff turmoil and as he faces a revolt from conservatives in his own party.

In a new campaign video, which Rauner narrates, the governor says the people of Illinois have a choice: “We can throw in the towel, walk away and leave our future to the same corrupt career politicians. Or we can fight. I choose to fight.”

The announcement comes after another Republican — state Rep. Jeanne Ives — announced she is circulating petitions to run in a primary race against Rauner.

The governor enraged conservatives after he signed a bill compelling the state to fund abortions for the poor.

Rauner was elected in 2014 under the promise of turning around Illinois’ economic fiscal climate. However, the amount of unpaid state bill debt tripled. Over the summer, 15 Republicans broke ranks and voted against Rauner to approve a budget that included an income tax increase to end a two-year budget impasse.

Rauner vetoed the measure but the legislature overrode him.


Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Anne Applebaum: The Full Transcript

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Susan Glasser: Hi, it’s Susan Glasser, and welcome back to The Global POLITICO. I’m delighted to be here this week with Anne Applebaum, columnist and author of a new book just out this very week in the United States, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. Anne, thank you so much for being with us.

Anne Applebaum: Thank you. Delighted to do it.

Glasser: Well, I have to say, when you and I were first talking many years ago about Vladimir Putin, I’m not sure either one of us would have predicted that he would become the longest-serving Russian leader since Josef Stalin, which makes you really an appropriate person both to talk about the history of Russia, but also to talk about what’s going on in Russia today.

Are you surprised? Will Vladimir Putin make it all the way to Stalin’s record?

Applebaum: Well, I didn’t like doing predictions. It’s certainly true that right now—and this could change tomorrow—but, right now there is no clear way for him to lose power. There seems little chance that a street revolution could unseat him; that’s just not how things are going to work in Russia. And it seems as if the very tiny number of people who control the economy and who control politics in Russia are loyal to him.

I can imagine a palace coup; I can imagine there are some people who don’t like—in fact, I know for a fact there are people who don’t like many things about how he’s running Russia now—but right now, I don’t see that happening. He has made life difficult for a lot of Russia’s richest men; they don’t like the sanctions; they don’t like the war with the West. Many of them have houses and families and businesses in the West, and so I can see them being unhappy. But at the moment, the political system is so constructed that it would be very difficult for them to leave. That’s not saying it couldn’t change.

Glasser: So, next year he faces reelection—I’m putting air quotes around that to a certain extent—but this is when his term is up, and he will have to run for another six-year term. He has not formally announced that he will be running, but the news did just come this week that there will be sort of the officially-managed faux opposition candidate, Kseniya Sobchak, whom I knew when we were based in Russia as sort of a Russian socialite and TV reality star, but she also, more relevantly, happens to be the daughter of the former St. Petersburg mayor, who was the one who really brought Vladimir Putin into politics.

Applebaum: You’re right to describe Russian politics as “managed democracy”—and that’s sometimes hard for outsiders to understand, because a lot of the forms of democracy exist in Russia, so there are elections; there is a press; there is a campaign, and so on. But the outcome of the campaign is never in doubt. So the campaign is manipulated. There is a real opposition in Russia. There are one or two real opposition figures who do want to change the political system, but they will probably not be allowed to run, and one way or another they will be prevented from being on the ballot.

There will instead be a number of fake opposition figures, one of whom is now probably going to be Kseniya Sobchak, which is an absurd idea. I assume she’s been chosen because just even the idea of her standing for liberals so makes fun of the idea of liberals and of liberal democracy—

Glasser: Right. It’s actually insulting to them.

Applebaum: Exactly. So, this kind of silly, silly socialite—oh, she’s speaking for the opposition—I mean, that makes the opposition look foolish, and I assume that’s the purpose for her being there. But, if Putin decides to run, which we are assuming that he will, there really isn’t anything that can stop him. He can manipulate the system so that he has not real opponents; he can manipulate the media so that nobody else gets any coverage. And then, if worse comes to worse, he can—as he has done in the past—just change the electoral results. So, it’s not like it’s going to be a very exciting election.

Glasser: So, tell me about Ukraine. Obviously, your new book is about probably the most defining chapter—aside from World War II itself—the most defining chapter in some ways of the Ukraine in the last hundred years, this terrible and bloody famine created by the Soviet regime, created by Stalin.

How much does that history still echo today, and what’s going on with the Russian incursion into eastern Ukraine in terms of the politics of this country that’s really struggled in its post-Soviet identity?

Applebaum: One of the things I’ve found when I was writing about the history of the famine, I kept finding over and over again weird echoes into the present. Stalin had a kind of obsession with Ukraine. He would write angry letters about Ukraine to his subordinates and he was very focused on Ukraine. And this was because in 1917, at the time of the Russian Revolution, whose centenary we are now approaching, Ukraine refused initially to go along with Bolshevism. First there was a Ukrainian national resistance—so a Ukrainian government of Ukrainian intellectuals who wanted to create an independent state. They were deposed by the Red Army.

Then, after that, there was a Ukrainian peasant rebellion against that Red Army and against the Bolsheviks, and there was massive chaos in Ukraine. It was very bloody and chaotic—1917, ’18, ’19—and at one point during the chaos the White Armies came back through Ukraine and nearly conquered Moscow again.

Stalin was obsessed with that memory of that period because that was the closest the Bolsheviks ever came to losing power, and he had this idea that chaos in Ukraine could unseat him in Moscow. So, Ukraine was never a foreign problem or a distant problem, it was kind of a domestic problem for Stalin.

Glasser: God, that’s uncanny to hear you describe that—

Applebaum: It is uncanny.

Glasser: That’s how Putin has been through the Color Revolutions, the Orange Revolution.

Applebaum: Of course, of course. And so, the way—as you and I both know—the way that Putin sees Ukraine now, when he saw all those young people waving the EU flag, standing on the Maidan Square, calling for democracy, rule of law, and anti-corruption, he thought this could be me. If you could have that kind of revolution in Ukraine, then, of course, you could have it in Russia. And this is exactly his nightmare, exactly that kind of revolution, exactly those kind of people, the EU flag and the whole thing.

And so he saw the Ukrainian revolution as a challenge to him personally, and I think that’s why he, in fact, over-reacted. I think his occupation of Crimea and then annexation for him was actually a mistake from Russia’s point of view. And then his invasion of Eastern Ukraine was also a mistake. He imagined that he would invade Eastern Ukraine and then eventually split the country in half, and he discovered that in fact, Russian-speaking Ukrainians are not Russians, and they didn’t support him.

Glasser: Well, that’s right. So, what do you think when you look at what is happening today? There’s this sort of standoff in Eastern Ukraine; they unleashed a war there, but it hasn’t led to a full Russian takeover. Then, at the same time, he took over Crimea, but now he has to pay the bills for it, and it’s almost sort of very up in the air, right?

Applebaum: As I said, I think he imagined it would be different. So, like many Russian leaders before him, he imagined that Ukraine was basically Russia, but they speak with a funny accent. Actually, it’s not Russia; it has a different identity. It has a very different language. Russians don’t automatically understand Ukrainian. And, in particular, the way Ukraine has developed over the last two decades is different from the way Russia has developed.

And he discovered that when he invaded Ukraine, he expected the Ukrainians to rise up and join him and say, “Yes, we want to be part of Russia,” and that didn’t happen. And they’ve been paying, actually, I think quite a high price for it, both in the ongoing war in Ukraine—which is I think increasingly unpopular in Russia—and also in the Western sanctions, and in general, the separation from the West that was caused by that. I don’t think it’s been—it was a, if you will, like so many of Putin’s actions, it was a tactical success because it surprised everybody when he did it, and shocked people. But it was a strategic error. Obviously, it was not good for Russia, but I suspect it wasn’t even good for him.

Glasser: You know, the other day, Putin had his annual speech to a group of outsiders, foreigners, including some Americans—the Valdai Club—and he gave a very, very strong and anti-American speech. It seems to be that to the extent he has a platform that he’s running on for 2018, it will really emphasize his countering of the United States on multiple fronts around the world.

He still refused to be personally critical of Donald Trump; he seemed to be almost sorry for Trump, as if Trump was being constrained here in the United States from acting on his desire for a Russian reset. But, beyond that, he was extremely—not only critical of the U.S., but suggested a worldview in which the United States will be the other and will be the thing that he runs on, refusing to talk about Russia.

Applebaum: Well, this is very good for him. I mean, this is how Russian propaganda works. It’s designed to show Putin as an important leader on the world stage, as the equivalent of the American president, much as during the Cold War, and it’s been designed very much to bring back that sense that the world is divided in half and Russia’s on one side and the United States is on the other, and they’re more or less equivalent. Of course, as you know, the Russian economy is about the size of the Italian economy; it’s very small, and Russia’s military force is larger than it was, because he’s been investing in it, but it still doesn’t compare to that of the United States, and his reach and aim still don’t compare.

But, the purpose of the constant conversation about America, which is—I don’t think Americans realize the degree to which they are the main subject of Russian television news. Every night there’s news from the United States and scandals about the United States, and every night the United States is shown to be an enemy of Russia over and over and over again. And this is, of course, useful to the Russian president, because it’s, we have this big and important enemy—you need me here to fight back. And he’s very much reprising that Cold War language. So, it puts us in an odd position, where it’s almost as if the Cold War is back, except only one side is fighting it.

Glasser: That’s a great way of putting it, Anne, I have to say.

So, that kind of brings us full circle, really, to the other part of The Global POLITICO this week, where we’re going to have a conversation with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who represents this sort of beleaguered Russian opposition. He’s now in exile from his country, but—because that’s the other side of the Vladimir Putin coin, right? He has created a system in which there really are not only not that many other public voices, but those who are, are pretty weak, right? You know, we talked about Kseniya Sobchak.

What’s your view of Khodorkovsky? Who is he, and how does he fit into this broader picture of why has Putin stayed in power so long?

Applebaum: Well, Khodorkovsky, as you know, was an oligarch; he was a billionaire.

Glasser: Russia’s richest man.

Applebaum: Russia’s richest man. And he lost everything when Putin arrested him and took his company away, and essentially took his company away, sold it, and gave it to other people, and enriched them. So, he’s a complicated figure as an opposition leader, and people admire him—he was in prison, and he was very brave, and he’s written some good things since then, and so on. But at the end of the day, people see him as being part of the corrupt system that has done so much to undermine the Russian system since the 1990s, and I don’t know that he can ever be a really popular leader.

And I don’t know that since leaving Russia, I don’t know that he’s—after 10 years in prison—I don’t know that he’s ever tapped into anything very powerful inside the country. He doesn’t have a big following inside Russia.

There are other leaders who do, and the most important one, obviously, is Alexei Navalny. And what’s interesting about Navalny is that he has run a—not so much a pro-democracy campaign in Russia, but an anti-corruption campaign. He seems to have access to quite a lot of information about very senior Russians, including Putin, and including—

Glasser: Right. He’s a blogger-turned-activist. He’s a journalist, essentially.

Applebaum: Yeah, he’s a blogger-turned-activist, but he finds stuff and he puts together these very, very clever, very high production value videos which underline the corruption at the top of the system, and there are millions of people who watch them. Some people think he must have some kind of protection inside the system because he hasn’t yet been completely put out of commission; he’s allowed to go on. He himself has said he wants to run for president.

Glasser: They have banned him.

Applebaum: He’s banned from the presidential election, and he’s been in and out of jail, but anyway, he’s still alive.

Glasser: I know, it’s interesting. People here in Washington certainly consider Navalny to have real potential; in fact, someone recently said to me that there were elements of Navalny that reminded them of Boris Yeltsin in the last 1980s, when he left the Communist Party and briefly went into this opposition role at a time when no one really had done that and survived in the Soviet Union publicly.

Applebaum: He’s very impressive and he has also found ways of using the internet and organizing campaigns about things that people care about. What’s not clear is whether in this kind of system he can have anything more than an outsider’s impact.

Glasser: Yes. And Khodorkovsky in many ways is that sort of ultimate outsider, having spent 10 years in Putin’s version of the gulag. I find him to be an interesting analyst of the country.

Applebaum: Very.

Glasser: And so, let’s listen in on what he has to say, and then we’ll come back and talk about it.


Glasser: I’m Susan Glasser, and welcome back to The Global POLITICO. I am really delighted to have as our guest for this week Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who I think it’s fair to say has become in recent years one of Russia’s leading dissidents. He at one time, of course, was Russia’s wealthiest man. He spent a full decade, more or less, in prison, under President Vladimir Putin. He lives now in London, and he’s joining us in Washington, where he has come to a city very much in the throes of a Russia obsession, I would say these days.

So, I’m looking forward to talking about all of these subjects today with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Thank you so much.

So, of course, I’ve known Khodorkovsky, I think, since very soon after I arrived in Moscow. At the time, you were still running Yukos. I never imagined that you would become a dissident, certainly. What does it mean to be a dissident in a Russian context today? Are you able—are others able, like you, to oppose President Putin inside Russia? Or like you, do you have to do this work outside of Russia only?

Khodorkovsky: Can you do this kind of work inside Russia today? Yes, you can. There are quite a few courageous people who are doing this inside Russia. For reasons that I don’t quite fully understand yet, Putin regards me as the most dangerous person, and when they were releasing me from jail, the only condition was that I leave the country. And when they did push me out of the country, to make sure that I wouldn’t come back, they opened up a criminal case against me—a new one.

Glasser: So, tell me about Putin in 2018. He’s just now become the longest-serving leader of Russia since Joseph Stalin. He faces re-election next year. Most people believe that even though he hasn’t declared, he will not only run again, but win another six-year term. How long would Putin be in power, and what changes do you foresee as he seeks to go about this re-election next year?

Khodorkovsky: Putin doesn’t conduct elections in the Western sense of elections. This is more accurately probably described as a plebiscite, where people are supposed to express their support for him. The Russian system is not unique in this respect, but it is rather interesting. Here, in the West, the impression that people have is that Putin runs the whole country. This is not so, at all. To a certain extent, you could say that he runs the Kremlin, and this means that it’s, in some situations, hard to tell whether it’s him running the Kremlin, or the people around him running him.

But one thing is for sure, though, that he certainly does not run Russia outside the inner beltway of Moscow. The pact that he has with those people who actually do run the various regions of the country is a rather simple one: you bring out the level of vote that I need for my purposes, and I let you do what you want to do in your region.

That’s how it works, and that’s how it’s going to work in these upcoming elections. But of course, people expect some kinds of decisions from Putin that will help them see their own future. A significant part of the people that he relies on are quite content with him telling them that nothing is going to change. But that part of the elite that does want to see some changes and improvements are going to expect him to, in his next term, bring Russia back into the club of the great powers.

Is he going to be able to do this without making any serious changes inside the country? I have very strong doubts about that. Is he prepared for major changes in the country? I have serious doubts about that.

Glasser: So, why do you think we here in the West, and in Washington in particular, get Putin so wrong? We’ve built him up into this huge figure, both in Russia, and now in our own politics.

Khodorkovsky: Part of the people here are interested in the same thing that Putin is interested in: Putin wants to have America as an enemy. Part of Americans want to have Russia as an enemy. It’s advantageous. The other part of the people are just ordinary people. And these people project onto big objects the kind of relations that they have with small objects in their everyday lives.

I am working in my office. I’ve got a boss who tells me what to do. He’s got a boss who tells him what to do. And above him is another boss who probably is telling my boss in the same way—or my boss’ boss in the same way what to do. In actuality, this is not the way things work. Management science says that that kind of a chain doesn’t work more than three levels up. But who knows that?

And that’s why people so easily accept this myth about this great and horrible Putin.

Glasser: So, what are the consequences of that, and what do you think of our new nachalnik, Donald Trump?

Khodorkovsky: The consequences, unfortunately, are quite sad. People take the lazy way out, and do not regard Putin and the Kremlin as the real enemy. They create a long but erroneous chain in their heads. Putin is the leader of Russia. Putin does X, therefore Russia is doing X, and Russia is our enemy. And so, we introduce sanctions, for example, against Russia.

This is a very bad oversimplification, because in the modern world, you can’t punish a big country. Even when you’re just saying that you’re punishing a big country. This leads to results that are the opposite of what you’re hoping to achieve, because people perceiving you as the aggressor start rallying around this person who’s the last person that they would ordinarily be gathering around. And a people who think that their problems exist because they’re under attack are able to, and prepared to, tolerate these problems way more than they would if they were aware that their problems are the fault of their own leadership.

Glasser: Well, it’s interesting. You made this point—I’ve heard you make this point that, in fact, Vladimir Putin is very familiar with this psychology, and that he basically creates problems in order to then solve them—creates conflicts in order to have this happen.

Khodorkovsky: Yes, Putin does do this, but we’re talking about something different here. What I was just saying is that by equating Putin and Russia, you are creating a situation that’s the opposite of what you would like to have happen.

Glasser: So, no sanctions if he invades Crimea? That was a mistake?

Khodorkovsky: No, that’s not so. There are people who are at fault for one or another problem. These people are very avaricious and self-serving. They’re not doing it just to do it; they’re doing it for the money. That money, they keep here. When you say, “We’re going to find these people, these guilty people, the ones who are not only breaking laws but are also hurting their own fellow country people,” and you say, “We’re going to punish them, specifically, that’s a step in the right direction.”

That decision that Congress took was a step in the right direction.

Glasser: You mean the Magnitsky Act?

Khodorkovsky: It’s the Magnitsky Act, and it’s also this recent decision to identify these people by name, and to take measures—individual measures against them. But a second very important element is half-baked in all this. And that is explaining to Russian society that your actions, in this case, are among other things, for the benefit of Russian society, because Russian society really doesn’t like it when it gets its money stolen.

Russian people really don’t like it when somebody does all these horrible things in Russia, and then can calmly go travel to another country and spend time there. And this is what needs to be done: the Russian people need to be told this, because in today’s world, just doing something is not enough. You’ve got to tell about it, too. If you’ve done something and haven’t told about it, it’s as good as if you hadn’t done it at all.

Glasser: Do you foresee President Putin going into any other foreign adventures, shall we say? Will there be more Ukraines and more Crimeas, more Syrias in the future?

Khodorkovsky: That’s impossible to predict. Putin has an obvious problem. His country’s economy is in stagnation. He needs to constantly be pointing a figure at who is at fault. America is at fault. He needs to show those fronts—those directions in which he is defeating America. In Syria, for example, in Syria, he is defeating America; not ISIS, he’s defeating America.

In Ukraine, he’s not defeating Ukrainians; he’s defeating Americans in Ukraine. Will he need some other place where he needs to show that he’s defeating America? I don’t know. Maybe.

Glasser: So, what about defeating Putin? What is the state, in your view, of the opposition inside Russia today?

Khodorkovsky: It’s not easy for the opposition. The authorities are doing quite a good job at controlling Russian society. Given that Russian society is not all that young, people prepared to put up a resistance aren’t great in number. But that apathy that we saw two years ago after the Crimean adventure, it’s passing. And so, now things that are important are, for example, the upcoming elections. It’s important that society demonstrate that it is not pretending that these elections are elections.

There are going to be municipal elections at the same time. Well, the same year, in 2018. And here, just the opposite; the people need to show that they are prepared to run their own lives, and are ready to vote that way, and this is possible because Putin cannot control every municipal election that takes place in the country.

Glasser: What is your assessment of Alexei Navalny? Does he have the possibility to become someone who unites the opposition inside the country?

Khodorkovsky: It’s a very erroneous strategy to try to push the Russian opposition to unite at this stage of the game. First of all, the opposition is addressing different parts of Russian society that have differing points of view. And besides, a united opposition is a nice big target that the authorities have a much easier time fighting. And besides, resisting an authoritarian regime with an authoritarian opposition merely means that, in the event of victory, you’re just doing yet another round of the same old, same old.

So, Navalny is doing a very important thing in his segment of society. Gudkov is a doing a very important thing in his segment of society. Yabloko, or more accurately, some of the leaders of the Yabloko party, are doing a very important job in their segment of the population, people such as Schlosberg. And our organization Open Russia is also doing important work with its segment of society, because those people who are focused on us, our segment, they’re not part of those other segments.

This creates the opportunity, subsequently, if and when a real opportunity to take power exists, or maybe at a local level some place, for us to unite and work on resolving problems together. But certainly, the thing not to do is to offer Russian society, as an alternative to an authoritarian Putin, somebody equally authoritarian. We’ve already had that experience in Russia with Boris Yeltsin.

Glasser: Are you saying that you think Navalny has some authoritarian tendencies?

Khodorkovsky: Every politician deep inside is authoritarian. If the person doesn’t have ambition, that’s not a politician. Society needs to put every ambitious, every effective politician into such a position that it helps—that this person helps improve society. That’s why I’m always talking about need to change the system rather than should we go with Navalny or Gudkov or Yavlinsky or Khodorkovsky. We all have our ambitions. We’re all ambitious people.

Glasser: So, it’s 100 years anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. There’s a conventional wisdom that change in Russia only happens quickly and bloodily. Do you see the transition from Putin, whenever that occurs, as also following that pattern?

Khodorkovsky: Actually, I’m hoping that it won’t happen that way. If we talk about changes of power in Russia, that has occurred several times in the past century. After Stalin came Khrushchev, who implemented his legacy quite radically, one could say. But there was no blood, nonetheless. After Brezhnev came Gorbachev. I’m not talking about the ones who were in power for only a short period of time. Gorbachev, too, left a very radical legacy.

And then Yeltsin came. The blood that was spilled in that transition was exactly two people. So, we do, in fact, have a tradition of big changes without lots of blood. I’m hoping that we will continue this tradition.

Glasser: But not necessarily next year?

Khodorkovsky: Unfortunately, definitely not next year.

Glasser: Tell me, are you—how concerned are you for the safety of yourself and others who are doing this opposition work right now. You’ve been in prison, Boris Nemtsov was killed, Vladimir Kara-Murza who works with you and Open Russia has been poisoned not once but twice. How dangerous is it to oppose Vladimir Putin?

Khodorkovsky: It’s a profession that’s not without its dangers. But if you’ve chosen a job like that for yourself, you then subsequently shouldn’t spend your time every second thinking, oh my God, what might happen to me? Oh my God, what might happen to me? Your colleagues include quite a large number of war correspondents. Their job is not the least dangerous in the world, either.

And they do it. And as far as I know, they don’t get paid all that much, either.

Glasser: It’s a very specific form of work, that’s right. Being a dissident in Russia, or a war correspondent.

Khodorkovsky: Exactly. In terms of danger, I think these two jobs are very comparable.

Glasser: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, thank you so much for joining us. You’re in town in Washington from London today, headed off to the state department. What are you planning to tell them at the State Department? Will you let us know when you find out?

Khodorkovsky: Actually, what I’m hoping to do is to find out from those people who have now finally been approved and appointed, what their plans for Russia are.

Glasser: Will you let us know when you find out? We’re still waiting.

Khodorkovsky: I’m afraid that’s not going to happen this year.

Glasser: Well, on that note, thank you again, Mikhail Khodorkovsky for joining us, and thank you to all of our listeners at The Global POLITICO.


Glasser: All right, well, I’m back with Anne Applebaum. So, we just heard from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and he has a lot of interesting things to say. I think the one that I keep coming back to, Anne, is something that resonates, having been here in Washington since the 2016 election, and watching the daily drumbeat of what on the surface are Russia, Russia, Russia headlines, but in some ways are really more about the United States and about our own concerns about what happened in the 2016 election than they are really about Russia. And Khodorkovsky talks about this myth about the great and horrible Putin that you Americans have now gotten yourselves into.

This idea that Putin is ten feet tall. There are a lot of Russians, not just Khodorkovsky, who think that. What’s your view?

Applebaum: I think he’s right in one sense. I mean, I think he misunderstands one thing. You know, for Americans, 2016 was the first time they’d discovered Putin, and so it’s a big deal here because most people—and of course, Susan, you are an exception—but, most people in Washington didn’t think very much about Russia before 2016, and the discovery, for example, that Putin—that the Russians run these disinformation operations inside Western democracies was brand new. Actually, it’s been going on for a long time. I watched him do it in other countries.

One of the reasons why I found 2016 so disturbing, and I wrote about it as much as I did, was because I saw very early that what he was doing was exactly what he’d done in Ukraine and what he’d done in Poland and what he’d done in many other places. So, some of the discussion of Putin is just us learning about something that other people already knew about.

I mean, I think it’s also true that explaining what happened in 2016 is only to do with Russia missing some of the—also misunderstands what it is that Russia does. And so, what Russia does is, Russia does not invent extremist politics. What it does is it identifies people who are doing extremist politics and then it funds them, or it creates systems of bots who retweet them. Or it finds ways of amplifying the extremists.

They support the far right; they support the far left; they’ll support separatists campaigns in Catalonia. I mean, the idea is—

Glasser: Yes, as we see with these Facebook ads.

Applebaum: Exactly. And then, here in this country is, they’ll support a Black Lives Matter group—a fake one—or they’ll create at the same time an anti-immigrant group. And the idea simply to identify whatever the existing fault lines, and then push them really hard. And, but of course, what that shows us is that the fault lines already exist, and that there are people willing to be taken in by these kinds of groups and organizations.

So, he isn’t inventing the problems that we have; he simply saw them. He—it’s not even he, it’s many people inside Russia. They are seeing them; they’re pressing them; and so, therefore to talk about this as if it was somehow Putin’s fault does slightly misanalyze the problem.

Glasser: Well, it’s interesting. Now, he also means it in the sense of how the system works inside Russia, you know, and Khodorkovsky makes the point—right?—in that conversation that here in the West the impression that people have is that Putin personally runs the whole country. It’s not so. To a certain extent you could say he runs the Kremlin. This means in some situations it’s hard to tell whether it’s him running the Kremlin or people around running him.

But one thing is for sure. He doesn’t run Russia outside the Garden Ring. The pact he has with those people who actually run the regions is a simple one; you bring out the vote; I let you do what you want in your region. Do you think it’s that decentralized?

Applebaum: So, this is exactly how the Soviet Union ran. I don’t think today’s Russia is exactly like the Soviet Union; but, the system has always been constructed so that local and regional leaders can also take advantage of their power, as long as they say the appropriate things and they do the appropriate fealty to Moscow. It was always the case that sort of regional barons had a lot of control.

I think it’s true—and again, I found this when writing my book about Ukraine, as well, and the Ukrainian famine. And whenever you write about Soviet terror, you realize very quickly that there are a lot of people involved, and the system does reward people who cooperate with it and collaborate with it, even those who do terrible things. But nevertheless, the willingness to cooperate and collaborate is also part of why it works.

And so I think, absolutely, Khodorkovsky is right to say it’s not just Putin; there’s a whole structure out there. A lot of the Russian economy is built around people who are one way or another milking the state and taking money from the state and recycling it into their private bank accounts. And there are a lot of people who are taking advantage of that, so it’s not just one person. It’s a kind of web of people doing that, and that’s how the system stays in power and how people stay in

Glasser: Well, we talked about, of course, your new book, Red Famine. I think there’s another book of yours that’s extremely relevant, especially to the conversation that we’ve been having about the intervention in the 2016 election, and these efforts outside of Russia. And that is your book on the Iron Curtain and the development, basically, of the Soviet post-World War II takeover in the countries of Eastern Europe.

Applebaum: Well, that was a book about how you undermine other countries. And in that case, in 1945, it was done with the backing of the Red Army and the NKVD and so on. But at that time, the Soviet Union had a very clear idea of what are the institutions in society that you need to undermine in order to take over a state, and they are the media—in that era it was the radio—well, you need a secret police force if you want to operate it, so special services. But also, young people, education.

They looked for what they believed to be the levers of control, the levers of political influence and ideological influence. And they still think that way. Of course, we’re now talking about the 21st century, in which they don’t have the Red Army occupying—they don’t even occupy Poland, let alone Germany or the United States, but they still often think along those lines. How do we undermine the institutions? How do we create the kind of lack of trust in the mainstream institutions? How do we undermine the idea and ideals of democracy? And they think very much along the same lines that they did in that sense, in 1945.

Glasser: Well, and then, this brings us back to my final takeaway from the conversation with Khodorkovsky, which is, they are also smart about what it takes to maintain power. And one of the things about the opposition in Russia, even in the early days of Vladimir Putin, before there was so much consolidation of authority around this new Putin regime. So there was, on paper at least, much more opposition. But they were always, as you know, very divided among themselves. They were either available for purchase; they were corrupted; or they were more interested in feuding with their rivals for power, and I really was struck by the fact that that continues to be the case today.

I asked Khodorkovsky about Navalny, who we were talking about, and his answer was so revealing. “Oh, we don’t need to be united in opposition today,” is what he said, right? And, guess what? You’re not going to take out somebody as powerful as Vladimir Putin if you’re not united with each other—people with whom you presumably mostly agree.

Applebaum: Look, this is a tactic of many dictators over many decades, if not centuries. I mean, this is what is wrong in Venezuela. This is what’s wrong in Poland—it’s not a dictatorship, but one of the difficulties that people have in resisting the illiberal government there is also the divided opposition. I mean, this is how Hitler won in Germany in 1933. So, dividing the liberals, or dividing the liberal democrats, or the anti-authoritarian opposition is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and Putin absolutely—he didn’t invent this at all, but he does it very well.

Glasser: Yes, it works. It works, absolutely. Okay. So, we have to wrap up, but I want to bring it full circle back to—you’re in effect, now, a historian of Stalinism and of Stalin. You’ve written your amazing book on the Gulag; you’ve written the Red Famine book. You’ve examined it. Are there legitimate analogies between Vladimir Putin’s rule over Russia today and what occurred during Stalin’s time? Or do you absolutely reject any of those comparisons? How should we think about him?

Applebaum: Putin is not a mass murderer, and you have to begin with that. But, having said that, he is a product of the KGB, and the KGB was, of course, the secret police force of the Soviet Union.

Glasser: The signal institution in many ways of the Soviet Union.

Applebaum: Yes, the political police, really, not the secret police, because they weren’t secret. And the mentality of the KGB and the way it thought and looked at the world, I hear coming out of his mouth the whole time. Even, for example, when he talks about Ukraine. And he talks about Ukraine as a destabilizing force—I mean, that’s how the KGB talked about Ukraine.

When he speaks about the political opposition, you know—in the KGB’s mind there is no such thing as legitimate opposition. There is only foreign espionage. So, he sees the whole—any opposition to him is some kind of foreign plot, and an American plot. That is KGB thinking. Very often he uses language the way the KGB would do, so he still sees the world in this kind of paranoid, Bolshevik, us against them, the only legitimate state is the one-party state kind of way. And I think that’s not trivial. I mean, that’s a very important part of who he is, and he is that mentality—which is of course, not just his, but many of the people around him and many of the people who run Russia still dictates the way the authorities see the outside world, and they see one another, and they see their own subjects.

So, I think there are a lot of interesting analogies, and it’s very important to understand the history of the Soviet Union in order to understand what Russia does today.

Glasser: Well, so you should go, and you should buy Anne’s book. I’m allowed to say that. She is being very modest and not flacking for it, but no, seriously, it is an incredible treat to be with you in person, visiting us from London, Anne Applebaum and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, our guests this week on The Global POLITICO. Her new book is Red Famine, and it’s out this week. Thank you so much.

Applebaum: Thank you.


‘This Myth About the Great and Horrible Putin’

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What if we’re wrong about Vladimir Putin?

To read the U.S. coverage these days about the Russian president, you’d think he’s 10 feet tall, a puppetmaster who merely has to yank the strings of his hacker army in the Kremlin to make democracy-loving Americans quake over their iPhones, an unfettered colossus at home prepared to challenge the United States on many fronts abroad.

There’s just one problem with this view: Virtually all of the smartest Russia hands I know and many Russians themselves disagree with it.

Many fear, in fact, that by building Putin up, the Americans he disdains have given the Russian leader exactly the fearsome geopolitical reputation he craves. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was Russia’s richest man until he was jailed for a decade by Putin, stripped of his company and eventually forced into exile, calls it “this myth about the Great and Horrible Putin.”

Which is not at all to say that Putin is some misunderstood democrat. Russia experts of all persuasions agree he’s an authoritarian, a heavy-handed ruler who sees the United States as an enemy to be countered wherever possible on the world stage. He’s virtually certain to win reelection next year in a system rigged to achieve that outcome.

But where Washington politicians now tend to portray Putin as a grand strategist manipulating his outwitted or unmanned Western counterparts (“they’re outsmarting us at many turns,” candidate Donald Trump insisted), many close Kremlin watchers describe Putin far differently. While Putin often turns to the Soviet playbook he learned in the KGB, the president and those around him have a much weaker hand to play than the Soviet Union whose empire they seek to rebuild, and they often run Russia defensively rather than offensively, looking inward and acting as if their power is more insecure than we realize as they seek to head off threats, real and otherwise, that could challenge the regime.

In a new interview for The Global Politico, our weekly podcast on world affairs, Khodorkovsky argues that the increasing American obsession with Putin, who just became the longest-serving Russian leader since Josef Stalin, often misses the point. He’s not the reincarnation of Stalin, at least not yet.

“Here, in the West, the impression that people have is that Putin runs the whole country. This is not so, at all,” says Khodorkovsky, on a rare visit to Washington from his London exile, where he now finances parts of the beleaguered liberal opposition back in Russia. “He certainly does not run Russia outside the inner beltway of Moscow. The pact that he has with those people who actually do run the various regions of the country is a rather simple one: You bring out the level of vote that I need for my purposes, and I let you do what you want to do in your region. That’s how it works, and that’s how it’s going to work in these upcoming elections.”

This misunderstanding about Putin certainly predates the current uproar over the 2016 U.S. elections; there’s a long history of getting Putin wrong that has often led to disastrously wrong choices on the part of Western leaders. In the United States, for example, as Pulitzer-winning Soviet historian Anne Applebaum points out, many first ignored the evidence of Putin’s government tampering with other countries’ elections—until it was too late and they were doing the same thing in the United States.

But now the hacking has been discovered, there’s been a tendency to overcorrect in the opposite direction, seeing in Putin an explanation for Donald Trump’s election without recognizing the extent to which Russia’s hackers merely skillfully identified and amplified the fissures that already existed within American society.

“Russia does not invent extremist politics…Here in this country they’ll support a Black Lives Matter group—a fake one—or they’ll create at the same time an anti-immigrant group,” Applebaum says in a separate interview for The Global Politico. “Of course, what that shows us is that the fault lines already exist, and that there are people willing to be taken in by these kinds of groups and organizations. So, he isn’t inventing the problems that we have; he simply saw them.”

Can we blame Putin for the U.S. election hacking? Sure. But Applebaum’s point is an important one: The Russiagate conversation doesn’t always get Russia right.


The 2018 Russian presidential election will be held on March 18, and the way it’s starting to take shape offers a revealing look at how Putinism actually functions these days – and why America-bashing has played and will continue to play such a crucial role keeping Putin in power.

Putin has not formally declared, though he is expected to run again, extending his rule all the way from New Year’s Eve 1999 (with an interlude as prime minister that fooled nobody) to at least another six-year term that would end in 2024. The main opposition figure who commands any kind of broad public support, anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, has just been barred from running by authorities, and instead of Navalny it appears the only liberal allowed on the ballot will be Kseniya Sobchak, a former Russian Playboy model and reality TV-show star whose father, the late St. Petersburg mayor, gave Putin his start in politics.

In other words, it’s a fake candidacy—one that Applebaum points out seems almost designed to “make the opposition look foolish”—and it underscores that the election is better understood as a “plebiscite,” as Khodorkovsky puts it, where the Russian public is asked every six years to ratify Putin’s continuance in power.

Besides, the opposition that does exist is not only weak but starkly divided, a point that becomes clear when I ask Khodorkovsky about Navalny, the only one who has shown a real public following. Khodorkovsky, still deeply unpopular as an oligarch seen to have profited off the post-Soviet disarray of the 1990s, said he would not coalesce behind Navalny or any other opposition figure yet (“a united opposition,” he says, just makes “a nice big fat target”) and all but called Navalny an “authoritarian.”

But just because Putin has no credible opposition candidate for next year doesn’t mean he has nothing to run against. In fact, it’s increasingly becoming clear that Putin will run against the United States itself next year: America-bashing as 2018 campaign platform.

“Putin has an obvious problem. His country’s economy is in stagnation. He needs to constantly be pointing a finger at who is at fault. America is at fault. He needs to show those fronts—those directions in which he is defeating America. In Syria, for example—in Syria, he is defeating America, not ISIS,” Khodorkovsky says.
“In Ukraine, he’s not defeating Ukrainians; he’s defeating Americans in Ukraine.”

In a largely overlooked speech last week to the annual meeting of the Valdai Club, a group of foreign experts summoned by Kremlin insiders to Russia each year to hear from Putin, the Russian president was strikingly direct about how much of his doctrine is built on an anti-American worldview.

Angela Stent, the former national intelligence officer responsible for Russia during George W. Bush’s presidency, attended the Putin speech in Sochi. She points out that he basically refused to answer all questions about his plans to revive Russia’s struggling economy, concentrating instead on his role as a global leader opposing the United States. “It was a very anti-American speech,” she told me, with “a new element he was putting forward: alarmism about the possible imminence of nuclear war. Definitely, he was saying we’re in a really dangerous place now. That was the message.”

I asked whether she agreed with Khodorkovsky and others that we’ve elevated Putin beyond what his powers actually are.

“Certainly in Russia,” Stent says, “that is what many of my friends believe. They all said the same thing: ‘What’s with you Americans? You build him up to be this figure with supernatural powers.’ And there’s something to that. It builds them up, and it also makes the U.S. look very weak.”

The America-bashing that Stent heard from Putin in Sochi has been years in the making but is nonetheless striking as an emerging theme of Putin’s 2018 campaign—it sure looks to be a rerun of his winning 2012 bash-the-U.S. campaign that returned him to the presidency. The harsh rhetoric from Putin last week is certainly the most definitive evidence to date that he’s given up on whatever hopes he had that President Trump will be able to follow through on his positive campaign rhetoric about Russia with a more accommodating policy.

In other words, stay tuned for lots more rhetoric from Russia that is right out of the Soviet playbook.

“This is how Russian propaganda works. It’s designed to show Putin as an important leader on the world stage, as the equivalent of the American president, much as during the Cold War, and it’s been designed very much to bring back that sense that the world is divided in half and Russia’s on one side and the United States is on the other,” Applebaum says. “I don’t think Americans realize the degree to which they are the main subject of Russian television news…. Every night the United States is shown to be an enemy of Russia over and over and over again. And this is, of course, useful to the Russian president, because it’s, ‘We have this big and important enemy—you need me here to fight back.’”

“So, it puts us in an odd position,” she concludes, “where it’s almost as if the Cold War is back—except only one side is fighting it.”


Why Trump toned down his Russia tweets

Since the end of July, President Donald Trump has noticeably tempered his public complaints about the Russia investigation, avoiding any Twitter allusions to a “witch hunt” or threats to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

That’s partly due to the intervention of White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who since joining the administration two and a half months ago has impressed upon Trump the risks of using such loaded language when it comes to Mueller, according to a White House official and several sources familiar with the president’s legal strategy.

Cobb’s ability to keep Trump’s Russia rage under control is going to be tested in the months ahead as Mueller’s probe heats up. The special counsel’s team is interviewing current and former White House officials and campaign staffers, as well as the president’s own family members, in its sprawling investigation.

Solomon Wisenberg, a former deputy on Kenneth Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton, credited Cobb for having “a very salutary effect” on Trump. “It’s one thing to have an adviser to tell you, ‘Boy, if you say this it’s not good politics, it’s not good for us,’” he said. “It’s another thing to have your white-collar lawyer say, ‘This is extremely harmful to you legally to say this.’”

Cobb’s job — for which he’s putting in upwards of 85 hours a week — includes reviewing a vast database of internal documents relevant to the Russia probe and also speaking with reporters, though he has studiously avoided television appearances. Five staffers now work for him full time at the White House, including Steven Groves, who stepped down in August from his job as chief of staff to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

In an interview, Cobb said he can’t take credit for the change in the president’s tone on Russia, and notes that John Kelly also took over as White House chief of staff in the same week he arrived. But, Cobb said, it’s the president who really changed course, endorsing a move toward greater cooperation in hopes of speeding Mueller’s probe to a close.

“He did it,” Cobb said of Trump.

Now, Cobb says, “we’ve got a good relationship in terms of trust” with Mueller. “They know the effort we’ve put into it,” he added.

It’s a dramatic turnaround from earlier this year, when Trump’s legal team was based in New York under the leadership of his longtime personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, who often served as the president’s attack dog — including at a June appearance at the National Press Club where he declared Trump’s innocence and suggested that ousted FBI director James Comey had lied to Congress under oath.

Privately, Kasowitz had also tried but failed to get the president to stop tweeting about the Russia investigation in April and May, just before Trump’s firing of Comey prompted the appointment of Mueller, according to a person familiar with Trump’s legal strategy. “He was very well aware of the stakes of his tweeting and the ramifications of what could take place,” this person said.

Kasowitz stepped away in July amid frustration with the president’s behavior and has since been replaced by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow as Trump’s lead personal attorneys, while Cobb is working alongside White House Counsel Don McGahn. While Cobb represents the White House itself, Dowd and Sekulow deal with Trump’s personal legal issues, including Mueller’s probe into possible obstruction of justice surrounding the Comey firing. They are in regular communication and keep each other apprised of some aspects of their work, like their schedules, Cobb said.

Robert Bennett, a former personal attorney for Clinton and Cobb’s longtime law partner, said the president’s attorneys had given him certain legal heft and appeared to have helped in tamping down some of the most potentially damaging aspects of his earlier behavior. “I know John and Ty are two very forceful advocates with a lot of experience,” said Bennett. “My surmise is they had an impact.”

Cobb works out of a windowless office in the West Wing, not far from the Situation Room and White House mess—though he has to go through the office of a communication staffer just to get to his desk.

He started out reporting directly to Trump, a precondition he insisted upon when taking the job early this summer, though that arrangement changed with the arrival of Kelly, who now serves as a gatekeeper to the Oval Office. Cobb didn’t know the president beforehand — someone who has long experience with civil litigation, but wasn’t familiar with how a high-stakes Washington investigation works.

Cobb has extensive experience on Washington special counsel investigations going back decades. He represented several individuals pulled into the Starr probe, which started with the Clintons’ Whitewater land deal. He also had clients who were dragged into separate cases examining Clinton’s Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development secretaries, and he represented Eli Segal, the head of Clinton’s AmeriCorps national service program who was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing during an independent counsel probe into alleged conflicts of interest.

He also served as a top investigator who examined the corruption allegations against Ronald Reagan’s HUD secretary, Samuel Pierce. That case didn’t result in any charges against Pierce but 17 others were indicted and convicted over the course of the five-year probe. And he represented one of the lawyers caught up in the Iran-Contra investigation.

Trump’s attorneys haven’t been able to stop Trump from making any comments on Mueller’s investigation. In a Fox News interview earlier this month, the president called the Russia probe “an excuse used by the Democrats when they lost the election.” And last week, Trump tweeted the suggestion that the Democratic party, FBI or Kremlin could have helped pay for a dossier of salacious but unverified information about ties between him, his 2016 campaign and the Russian government.

Those comments, however, were in marked contrast with Trump’s off-the-cuff and legally troublesome responses on Russia from the first half of the year. His Twitter posts alone – a May warning that Comey “better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” – have been described as invitations to sharp lines of questioning from Mueller.

Trump also has drawn scrutiny for several moves right before Cobb, Kelly and others joined the White House, including his decision to skirt his own attorney when he reportedly personally dictated his son’s initial public statement to the press explaining the reason for a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. That statement, written aboard Air Force One, said Donald Trump Jr. “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” – even though his son later released emails showing the meeting was offered as a chance to see damaging material about Hillary Clinton.

Trump in mid-July — with only one communications staffer present — also gave a controversial Oval Office interview to the New York Times in which he said he regretted hiring Attorney General Jeff Sessions because of his recusal from the Russia probe and also called it a “violation” for Mueller to examine his family finances beyond Russia.

Working as one of the president’s attorneys is hardly a risk-free endeavor. John Dean, Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, became a federal government witness who exposed the details of the Watergate cover-up. Several of Clinton’s top White House lawyers, including Bernard Nussbaum, Bruce Lindsey, Beth Nolan and Jack Quinn, ended up on the witness stand or other legal crosshairs themselves amid the Democratic president’s scandals. And a federal judge ordered Harriet Miers, President George W. Bush’s top counsel, to testify before Congress over the firings of U.S. attorneys.

“It’s an office in which you can take some heavy fire,” said Robert Bauer, the former White House counsel under Barack Obama, the only president in the post-Watergate years who didn’t face an independent investigation during his time in office.

Indeed, some of Trump’s attorneys are already facing legal jeopardy. Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s longest serving personal attorneys, has his own lawyer and remains on the radar of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which just postponed a public hearing previously scheduled for Wednesday to examine his role in the Russia probe. McGahn, the Trump White House counsel, has also retained a lawyer and is expected to soon follow his former colleagues Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer for questioning from Mueller’s team about his role in several early moves that have become central parts of the Russia investigation, including the hiring and firing of Michael Flynn, who briefly served as White House national security adviser, and the ousting of Comey.

Several other Trump lawyers – both inside the White House and beyond it – could face more intense questions over their role in the Russia response. Mueller is reportedly interested in speaking with James Burnham, a former senior associate counsel in McGahn’s shop who now works in the Justice Department’s civil division.

Two other McGahn deputies have confirmed roles in the Russia response: Stefan Passantino, who has been a main point of contact for the Office of Government Ethics as it examines the establishment of a legal defense fund for Trump staffers, and Greg Katsas, who last week acknowledged during his Senate confirmation hearing for a seat on a key federal appeals court that he’d given legal advice “on a few discrete legal questions” involving the White House response to the Russia probe.

Kasowitz could also be a potential witness over the role he played earlier this year by reportedly suggesting to White House aides they didn’t yet need to hire their own attorneys. As Trump’s personal lawyer, he can lean on attorney-client privilege, but legal experts say his interactions with the president’s government employees could put him in Mueller’s crosshairs. “It’s potentially obstruction, not to put too fine a point on it,” said a lawyer representing another client mired in the Russia probe.

Sekulow, Trump’s other outside attorney alongside Dowd, also could face questions for the public statements he made to the media earlier this summer minimizing the president’s role in crafting the response to the Times story about Donald Trump Jr. accepting the 2016 campaign meeting with the Russian attorney promising Clinton dirt, according to legal experts.

While Cobb, Dodd and Kelly have helped to tamp down the president’s recent statements surrounding the Russia probe, they can’t erase the problems that Trump and his previous legal advisers created for themselves, said Ross Garber, a white-collar defense attorney who has defended three Republican governors during impeachment proceedings: Alabama’s Robert Bentley, South Carolina’s Mark Sanford and Connecticut’s John Rowland. Garber added that Sekulow’s multiple appearances on television publicly discussing the Trump case could set up a legal fight over whether he retains his complete right to attorney-client privilege involving conversations with the president.

“The way this was organized at the beginning,” Garber said, “would have put the actions of the lawyers and the spokesmen and especially the lawyer-spokesman on the radar screen.”

In an interview, Sekulow said his attorney-client privilege with Trump remains in place. And he said he isn’t expecting to be personally pulled into Mueller’s Russia probe. “I’ve not heard from Bob [Mueller]. I’m not planning on hearing from him. And I don’t have a lawyer,” he said.

Dowd declined comment for this story.

Cobb and Dowd have gained notoriety in other ways too. They became front-page fodder in the New York Times after a reporter overheard their public conversation on the patio at BLT Steak in downtown Washington about how much cooperation Trump should give Mueller.

Cobb last month also got duped by an email prankster who was impersonating a White House aide, a flap that he said in an interview became a “complete distraction” and had prompted a threefold spike in new attempts to lure him into similar conversations.

“I always try to be responsive. Even the haters. I try to calm them down,” Cobb said. “My view is I like people. I try to see the better nature in people. I hate to see people just viscerally angry. I responded to those with great success for the first couple of weeks. Now it’s in a different mode.”


Democrats’ early money haul stuns GOP

Democratic candidates are reporting historic early fundraising totals, alarming GOP strategists and raising the prospect that 2018 could feature the most expansive House battlefield in years.

Animated by opposition to President Donald Trump and the Republican congressional majorities, at least 162 Democratic candidates in 82 GOP-held districts have raised over $100,000 so far this year, according to a POLITICO analysis of the latest FEC data. That’s about four times as many candidates as House Democrats had at this point before the 2016 or 2014 elections, and it’s more than twice as many as Republicans had running at this point eight years ago, on the eve of capturing the House in the 2010 wave election.

Nearly three dozen Republican incumbents were outraised by Democratic challengers in the third quarter of this year – a stunning figure. Nine GOP incumbents already trail a Democratic opponent in cash on hand, increasing the likelihood that many veteran incumbents will face tough opposition for the first time in years.

The Democrats’ fundraising success, especially from a glut of candidates who have never run for office before, is unsettling to those charged with protecting the GOP majority.

“That’s something that should get every Republican’s attention in Washington,” said Jason Roe, a Republican strategist who works on House races. “These first-timers are printing money."

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who has never gotten less than 58 percent of the vote in 12 terms in Congress, is among those suddenly facing cash-flush opposition. Three Democratic opponents outraised Frelinghuysen in the third quarter, and each has already brought in more money than any challenger Frelinghuysen has faced in a quarter-century.

In Texas, GOP Rep. John Culberson, whose Houston-area district attracted little attention from either party before Hillary Clinton carried it in 2016, finished the summer with less campaign cash than two different Democratic opponents.

The long slate of well-funded Democratic candidates, coupled with a favorable political environment and poor polling numbers for Trump, is raising Democratic hopes of erasing the GOP’s 24-seat majority.

“The Democrats in 2017 are starting to very much resemble the Republicans in 2009,” said former Rep. Steve Israel, who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012 and 2014. “People are talking about a wave developing, but in order to even begin to think about a wave, you have to be in a position to take advantage in [case of] a wave. And Democrats are clearly in that position.”

Many Republican representatives, especially ones battle-hardened from past campaigns, are already preparing hard for 2018 by shoring up their positions. Reps. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), for example, vastly outraised all of their Democratic challengers in the last quarter as they ready for reelection campaigns in districts Trump lost in 2016.

“The fact that the environment is so intense so early is ultimately a good thing, as it makes sure more members will be prepared,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican operative. “They can see it coming.”

Republican groups are also raising tens of millions of dollars to help bolster their party. The Republican National Committee in particular has outstripped the Democratic National Committee, raising over $100 million and building up cash reserves of over $44 million this year, ahead of the 2018 elections. House Speaker Paul Ryan has also raised record-setting amounts of money for House Republicans.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $8.9 million in September, beating its Republican counterpart for the fifth month in a row. But the National Republican Congressional Committee still has more than $10 million more in its bank account — money that will come in handy across the sprawling battleground, especially if more incumbents retire.

Democrats and Republicans each have a handful of costly, open battleground seats to defend, from Rep. Dave Reichert’s (R-Wash.) suburban district outside Seattle to Democratic Rep. Tim Walz’s rural seat in southern Minnesota.

“Resources will be spread thin because no incumbent — in the primary or in the general — can afford to not take this seriously,” said Roe, the Republican consultant. “We’re just spread thin. That’s our vulnerability, the strain on resources."

That strain was apparent in recent comments by Rep. Glenn Grothman, who represents a solidly Republican block of eastern Wisconsin, easily won reelection in 2016, and has not typically made lists of GOP incumbents vulnerable to a 2018 challenge. Grothman told a local radio program earlier this month that he’s “very apprehensive about the future,” because “the fundraising is not going as well as I’d like.”

“We’re not raising as much money as we should,” Grothman added.

A week later, his Democratic opponent, Dan Kohl, filed a campaign finance disclosure showing him outpacing the Republican incumbent.

“Clearly there is an intensity among the Democratic base that is similar to what Republicans had in 2009, but it’s hard to tell what it’s going to be like a year from now,” said DuHaime. “But you can’t deny the enthusiasm.”

Stung by over-optimistic projections in past years, Democratic operatives have been careful to avoid declaring a wave on the horizon. With so many candidates piling into crowded Democratic primaries, they worry about their own resources being drained and fear nominees could be pulled too far to the left before difficult general election battles next year.

“It’s way too early to start measuring the drapes,” said former DCCC executive director Kelly Ward, now a top staffer at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, adding that under the current congressional map, “you need a tsunami, not just a wave, to overcome how badly the [district] lines are broken."

The party’s first order of business in 2018 will be to navigate an unusual number of expensive primaries looming due to the free-flowing money and the opportunity Democrats smell in dozens of districts. In southern California, two of the biggest Democratic self-funders in the country — Andy Thorburn, who loaned his campaign $2 million, and Gil Cisneros, who gave his campaign over half a million dollars — are both running against GOP Rep. Ed Royce, along with a handful of other candidates. Three other districts in Orange County alone are similarly crowded, and drenched in campaign money.

In some primaries, local Democrats are pushing back on national party leaders’ anointment of candidates, as in the fight to take on Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado. Democrats also expect issues like Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan to divide candidates, and Republicans are ready to pounce on statements that may play well in Democratic primaries but could be damaging in swing-district general elections.

“Nothing beats watching candidates blow their cash trying to explain how progressive they are and how they are ‘still on the fence’ about Nancy Pelosi’s place in their party,” said Jesse Hunt, the press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Israel acknowledged the debates within his party but said he does not believe they will weaken Democratic candidates next November.

“To the extent that there are differences, they are certainly not sapping Democrats’ fundraising abilities, not sapping Democratic recruitment and certainly not sapping Democratic energy,” Israel said. “There may be fissures, but they are not swallowing up our party. The Republicans have fissures that are swallowing up their party.”


Graham and Trump become buds after campaign of insults

Once upon a time, Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a "jackass." Never to be outdone in the put-down department, Trump labeled the South Carolina senator a "lightweight" and an "idiot" who “seems to me not as bright as Rick Perry.”

Two years after that campaign smackdown, Trump and Graham act like longtime friends, hitting the links and plotting legislative strategy together. The two have formed a surprising kinship even as Graham’s best friend, John McCain, is chilly toward a president who once mocked his capture in Vietnam.

In a sign of the dramatic turn in their relationship, during a flight back from South Carolina last week, the president turned to the South Carolina senator and asked if he’d like to take a helicopter back to the White House with him, offering Graham a guided tour.

“How can you not like that?” Graham said in a lengthy interview. “I mean I grew up in the back of a liquor store, first in my family to go to college. I never thought I’d be on Marine One with the president.”

Graham is transforming himself from one of Trump’s fiercest critics to his chief congressional translator, talking to the president sometimes multiple times in a day. He insists Trump is “growing into the job” and becoming more somber, a far different figure than who Graham once railed against as a long-shot presidential candidate. A White House official said that Graham’s alliance with Trump “is one of the best we have on the Hill.”

How long this will last is anyone’s guess: Graham is known as one of the more blunt-spoken senators, and it might just be a matter of time before he whacks the president and Trump hits back.

But to hear Graham tell it now, what started as a mutual political marriage of convenience has evolved into a friendship defined by backslapping and a shared sense of humor between “two BS artists.” As Trump wavers on whether to support a bipartisan health care deal, Graham has been working to convince Trump to back it — and telling reporters all about their conversations.

And when Trump seeks validation and support from the establishment wing of the GOP, Graham is exactly the type of Republican he needs. This despite Graham once interrupting a roast of other Republicans to issue a dire warning about Trump: “I don’t think he understands what makes America great. And I know I’m supposed to be funny, but I’m not really happy about where the country is right now.”

But now Graham says Trump’s assembled the best national security team in 20 years and is “good for the Republican Party.”

“Part of it’s just getting to know each other better. And need. I do better in South Carolina when I’m seen as helping him, ‘cause he’s popular. When I’m helping him, he’s seen as being able to reach out to an old critic,” Graham said.

Others in his party are moving in the opposite direction. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), once one of Trump’s strongest backers on Capitol Hill, has become exasperated with Trump’s erratic style. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), siding with Corker in an interview this month, is staking his reelection campaign on offering a conservative cure to Trumpism.

And McCain (R-Ariz.) just launched a barely veiled attack on Trump’s brand of “half-baked, spurious nationalism.” That came after more than a year of attacks by the president on McCain’s service record and more recently, his votes against Obamacare repeal that crippled the party’s agenda on Capitol Hill.

“He’s very result-oriented,” McCain said of the sudden turn by Graham. “I think he wants to be effective for the people of South Carolina and he’s found a way to do that.”

Ironically, Graham’s improving relationship with Trump is directly related to the president’s disdain for McCain. After McCain ignored Trump’s entreaties and killed the GOP’s repeal effort in July, Graham teamed with Trump and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on a proposal that would turn some of Obamacare’s federal funding into block grants to states.

Perplexing party leaders who were ready to move on, Graham began publicly urging his leadership to hold a vote on the bill even though it was being constantly rewritten and never had the support to become law. That didn’t matter to Trump, who was instead seeking an indefatigable ally who understood how badly the White House needed a win.

“One thing he likes, I think, about me, is I don’t quit. It wasn’t enough to just move on after health care. I said: ‘BS,’” Graham said. “He saw in me a guy that had an idea that made sense and was willing to fight. So that’s created sort of a bond.”

That bond has formed literally from nothing. Trump and Graham’s only real interaction during the presidential primary was when Trump called Graham an “idiot,” gave out Graham’s personal phone number and encouraged his supporters to dial up Graham.

“His phone was ringing nonstop. People were yelling at him. We said, ‘Senator, you have to stop answering it.’ He was just answering,” recalled Christian Ferry, Graham’s former campaign manager. Graham then made a video of himself smashing his phone. “That’s one of the few things people remember about our campaign,” Ferry noted.

Now, Graham is so entrenched in the White House’s orbit that he talks with administration staff before and after his meetings with Trump to coordinate how to work with the president. Trump and the White House have sought Graham’s input on health care, Iran and even whip counts, even though Graham is not a committee chairman and isn’t in elected leadership.

“We’ll share things with him before he sees the president, he’ll share things with us afterwards,” the White House official said.

Graham has some competition in the Senate for Trump’s affections. One of Graham’s sharpest political foils, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), golfed with Trump the same weekend that Graham did and sharply attacked Graham as a big spender on budgetary issues afterward. Paul speaks with Trump about as often as Graham does.

But Paul voted against the budget and opposed several Obamacare replacement proposals despite Trump’s support, while Graham is a leading sponsor of the block grant bill and advocate for the budget. Asked whether he’s worried about the libertarian-leaning Paul being closer to Trump, Graham responded: “Uh, no. Everybody’s on my side and Rand’s just Rand.”

Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul, lumped in Graham “with establishment types who are always looking to compromise and dilute conservative values” and called him one of D.C.’s “leading swamp creatures.”

Even so, Graham’s influence is indisputable. GOP Senate sources credited him with persuading Trump to publicly urge Congress to enshrine protections for young immigrants protected by President Barack Obama’s executive actions. And the White House expects Graham to be on the front lines of the next attempt to repeal Obamacare.

People who know Graham said the real test of the relationship will be when Trump ends up on the opposite side of his newfound ally.

“The president does not have a track record of disagreeing agreeably,” said Joel Sawyer, a South Carolina political consultant who knows Graham. “The interesting part to see: After the golf trips, the next time Sen. Graham decides he cannot back the president on something, what the president’s reaction is going to be."

Graham says he’s no pushover. He’s consistently opposed Trump’s call to kill the Senate’s filibuster and has defended McCain in conversations with the president.

After all, Graham says, it wouldn’t be a real relationship with the president if he just agreed with everything Trump does.

“Sometimes he drives divisions, he’s very divisive with his rhetoric and we’ve got to grow the party with minorities,” Graham said. "It’s a business. I work for the people of South Carolina and the country to help him where I can — and say no to him when I must.”


Teen in immigration detention takes abortion fight to full appeals court

Lawyers for an undocumented 17-year-old girl in a federally funded shelter in Texas are asking the full bench of a federal appeals court in Washington to permit her to have an abortion immediately despite resistance from the Trump administration.

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union moved Sunday night to escalate the legal fight to the full D.C. Circuit after a three-judge panel issued a 2-1 decision Friday trying to forestall a definitive ruling in the case. That panel gave authorities until the end of the month to try to find the teen an adult sponsor, who could then help her get an abortion if she still desires one.

However, the teen — identified in court papers only as Jane Doe or J.D. — was already estimated to be 15 weeks pregnant last week, so the prospects of her receiving an abortion are becoming more complicated and difficult by the day. Texas bans abortion in most cases after 20 weeks.

"Every additional day she must remain pregnant against her will places a severe strain on J.D., both physically and emotionally. Every additional week the government delays her abortion increases the risks associated with the procedure," the teen’s attorneys wrote in the petition for en banc review filed with the D.C. Circuit just after 10 P.M. Eastern Time Sunday. "In a matter of weeks, J.D. will no longer be able to get an abortion at all, and the government will have forced J.D. to have a child against her will."

Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the care of undocumented minors in the country, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, a spokesperson for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families issued a statement Friday evening defending its actions in the case.

"For however much time we are given, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and HHS will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies in our facilities, and we will defend human dignity for all in our care," the statement said.

The court gave the administration until 11 a.m. Monday to file a response to the en banc petition.

While the D.C. Circuit rarely grants en banc review, the ideological breakdown of the court could be more favorable than was the panel randomly assigned to the emergency appeal last week. The court’s active bench has seven Democrat appointed judges and only three Republican appointees. By contrast, the panel who ruled on the case Friday consisted of two Republican appointee and just one Democrat.

The girl’s attorneys could have gone directly to the Supreme Court for relief, but appear to have concluded they stand a better chance or can get faster action from the full D.C. Circuit.

The request for full-court review sought to capitalize on a 10-page dissent from Judge Patricia Millett, an Obama appointee, issued Friday parting company with the two Republican appointees who agreed to the 11-day delay, Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Karen Henderson.

The teen’s lawyers noted that Millett sharply rejected the Trump administration’s arguments that signing paperwork to allow the girl to be taken out of a federally funded shelter would amount to facilitating her abortion, despite the administration’s stated desire to advance "childbirth and fetal life." Millett said such steps to allow an abortion are routine in adult immigration detention and in federal prisons.

"The government’s insistence that it must not even stand back and permit an abortion to go forward for someone in some form of custody is freakishly erratic,” Millett said, in one passage quoted by the teen’s attorneys.

In addition to the en banc petition, lawyers for the girl filed a declaration from a former Obama administration official saying that the appeals court decision Friday was unrealistic in its premise that officials could find and approve a sponsor for the 17-year-old girl by Oct. 31.

“I do not think that J.D. can be released within that short time period,” wrote Robert Carey, who from April 2015 until January of this year served as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In the declaration, also filed Sunday evening, Carey listed the detailed steps that office must take to identify and vet sponsors. He said that in the case of Jane Doe, a pregnant teen without close family in the country, the process would take even longer.

“I believe it is important to protect the rights of unaccompanied children in the care of the US government,” Carey told POLITICO about why he filed the declaration in support of the ACLU’s position.


Japanese prime minister coasting to election win

TOKYO — Japan’s ruling coalition appeared headed to an impressive win in national elections on Sunday, in what would represent an endorsement for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s nearly five-year leadership.

A victory would boost Abe’s chances of winning another three-year term next September as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. That could extend his premiership to 2021, giving him more time to try to win a reluctant public over to his longtime goal of revising Japan’s pacifist constitution.

In the immediate term, a victory likely means a continuation of the policies Abe has pursued in the nearly five years since he took office in December 2012 — a hard line on North Korea, close ties with Washington, including defense, as well as a super-loose monetary policy and push for nuclear energy.

Japanese media projected shortly after polls closed that Abe’s LDP and its junior partner Komeito might even retain their two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.

In unofficial results in the early hours of Monday, the ruling coalition had won 312 seats in the 465-seat lower house, exceeding a two-thirds majority at 310, and other parties had 143 seats, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said. Final results may not be tallied until Monday.

Abe’s ruling coalition already has a two-thirds majority in the less powerful upper house. Having the supermajority in both houses virtually gives them a free hand in pushing even divisive policies and legislation.

Abe said the results indicate that voters support his policies and want to see his political leadership continue.

“I think the results reflected the voters’ preference for a solid political foundation and their expectations for us to push polices forward and achieve results,” Abe told NHK.

Abe’s support ratings had fallen to around 30 percent in the summer after accusations of government favoritism to people connected to him, sparking talk that he might be vulnerable as leader of his party and prime minister.

“I will humbly face the victory and continue to work humbly and sincerely,” he told NHK, noting lingering public distrust over the scandals.

Abe dissolved the lower house less than a month ago, forcing the snap election. The lower house chooses the prime minister and is the more powerful of the two chambers of parliament.

Analysts saw Abe’s move as an attempt to solidify his political standing at a time when the opposition was in disarray and his support ratings had improved somewhat.