Good Thursday morning from San Francisco. And welcome to day three of “ComeyGate.” The past 48 hours has been a political and P.R. disaster for President Donald Trump and the White House. By all accounts, Trump’s decision to dump FBI Director James Comey wasn’t based on a methodical review of the facts. Instead, it appears like many of Trump’s more controversial decisions to be a gut driven response based purely on personal animus in this case — Comey wasn’t loyal enough, didn’t support Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him and wasn’t moving fast enough to find those responsible for leaks about Trump.
NEW QUINNIPIAC POLL — “American voters, who gave President Donald Trump a slight approval bump after the missile strike in Syria, today give him a near-record negative 36 – 58 percent job approval rating, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released [Wednesday]. Critical are big losses among white voters with no college degree, white men and independent voters. … Today’s job approval rating compares to a negative 40 – 56 percent approval rating in an April 19 survey … American voters’ opinions of several of Trump’s personal qualities are down: 61 – 33 percent that he is not honest, compared to 58 – 37 percent April 19.” http://bit.ly/2r4DTLx
— THOSE NUMBERS are brutal for Trump, particularly the losses among key demographics of the Trump coalition. It’s important to note: the poll was commissioned before Comey’s firing, so Trump’s approval is unlikely to rebound anytime soon.
REPLACEMENT WATCH — Top Republicans on Capitol Hill tell us that Trump has been soliciting suggestions on who should be the next FBI director. The fact that Trump went ahead with firing Comey without a replacement in mind is stunning. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who played key roles in Comey’s ouster – are reportedly moving quickly to find a replacement, possibly coming up with a choice in the next few days, ABC News reports. However, that person will face a potentially brutal nomination hearing, as many Republicans and Democrats will use the hearings to vent their frustration over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
— BUZZ — KELLY AYOTTE FOR FBI? Ayotte, the former New Hampshire Republican senator who helped shepherd Neil Gorsuch through his Supreme Court confirmation process, would make sense: she’s a former state attorney general. Her confirmation would sail through the Senate.
IT’S NOT JUST DEMOCRATS — who are frustrated with Trump. Sen. Richard Burr has been one of the most upset by Comey’s dismal. This could be a big problem for Trump. The North Carolina Republican is leading the Senate probe into Russia. Burr and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) invited Comey to testify in private before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week.
SOMETHING TO WATCH — The Senate Intel Committee subpoenaed former national security advisor Michael Flynn – fired by Trump after being caught lying about his discussions with Russian officials – demanding any Russia related documents he has. See Ali Watkins’ piece http://politi.co/2qW4aP9 Flynn, who is under investigation over his failure to disclose Turkey lobbying, has refused to appear before the panel unless granted immunity.
DEMOCRATS may be outraged by Comey’s firing, but there’s very little they can do about it except protest, for now. Democrats’ calls demanding a select committee and special prosecutor to look into Russia aren’t likely to happen at this point. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan have made that clear. But that isn’t stopping them from pushing to expand the Russia probe. (Big thanks to Bres for sending his late-night thoughts on the view from Capitol Hill)
WE ASKED, YOU ANSWERED — “Pete Sessions: Comey should have been removed ‘in a more gracious way,’” by Dallas Morning News’ Keven Ann Willey: “Texas GOP Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas, whose father was the last FBI director ousted by a president, said Wednesday that … the president, in a face-to-face meeting, should have given Comey the opportunity to step down. That would have avoided the issue of ‘a firing.’ That word, Sessions said, is ‘a tag on a man who … performed reasonably well and it got out of hand.’” http://bit.ly/2pl9oE6
JIM COMEY’s farewell letter to F.B.I. staff: “I have said to you before that, in times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independence. … My hope is that you will continue to live our values and the mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.” http://bit.ly/2q5nEiZ
ROGER STONE fires back at POTUS — statement emailed at 5:47 a.m. this morning: “With all due respect to the President, I am not the source of the New York Times, Politico or CNN stories and have never claimed I convinced the President to fire FBI Director Comey. Both Politico and the Times claim to have multiple credible sources for their reports. I offered no comment. … It has been my policy not to discuss the scope, subject or frequency of my occasional contacts with the President and I am not going to do so today.” http://politi.co/2q8bSmk
COMING ATTRACTIONS — NYT’s Mike Shear, Jennifer Steinhauer and Matt Flegenheimer: “Mr. Trump is weighing going to the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington on Friday as a show of his commitment to the bureau, an official said, though he is not expected to discuss the Russia investigation.” http://nyti.ms/2quYD2f
— “Trump and Putin to meet in July, Russian state media says,” by CNN’s Ben Westcott and Tomas Etzler: “U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July as part of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Russian state media said Thursday. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the announcement after meeting with Trump in Washington Wednesday, according to Tass. If confirmed, it would be the two men’s first meeting since Trump took power in January. The White House has yet to confirm.” http://cnn.it/2q8gUPT
A BIG THANK YOU to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for participating in our first Playbook Exchange in San Francisco.
MCCARTHY, who has spoken to Trump about Comey’s firing, defended the president’s decision. Cristiano Lima reports: “McCarthy, broaching the subject for the first time since Comey’s ouster late Tuesday afternoon, said the director had drawn politics into the bureau by acting beyond the reach of his role. ‘I would argue that Comey made the FBI political,’ he said. ‘That’s probably not the place to be.’ McCarthy added that Comey had made himself ‘a household name,’ something he argued no FBI director should do.” http://politi.co/2q5eUK6 … The video http://politi.co/2q84szk
COMEY TICK-TOCKS GALORE – JOSH DAWSEY, “‘He got tired of him’”: “Telling Congress that he was ‘mildly nauseous’ at the thought of having influenced the presidential election may have won former FBI director James Comey plaudits among Democrats and within the bureau. But his choice of words may have doomed him with President Donald Trump. He found the testimony last week infuriating and griped about it extensively for at least two days, several associates and advisers said. … [S]enior aides and other associates who know the president say the firing was triggered not by any one event but rather by the president’s growing frustration with the Russia investigation, negative media coverage and the growing feeling that he couldn’t control Comey, who was a near-constant presence on television in recent days.
“Trump did not appreciate that Comey declared his campaign to be under investigation on live TV, said two people who know the president well. He didn’t like that Comey contradicted his unsubstantiated accusation that President Barack Obama tapped his phone line at Trump Tower. And Trump was displeased that the FBI seemed uninterested in pursuing investigations into the leaks he believes are weakening his administration.” http://politi.co/2r3LkTd
— “Inside Trump’s anger and impatience — and his sudden decision to fire Comey,” by WaPo’s Phil Rucker, Ashley Parker, Devlin Barrett and Robert Costa: “By last weekend, he had made up his mind: Comey had to go. At his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., Trump groused over Comey’s latest congressional testimony, which he thought was ‘strange,’ and grew impatient with what he viewed as his sanctimony, according to White House officials. Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr. Back at work Monday morning in Washington, Trump told Vice President Pence and several senior aides — Reince Priebus, Stephen K. Bannon and Donald McGahn, among others — that he was ready to move on Comey. …
“Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. … Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner — both of whom work in the White House — have frequently tried to blunt Trump’s riskier impulses but did not intervene to try to persuade him against firing Comey, according to two senior officials.” http://wapo.st/2pzuyti
–“‘Enough Was Enough’: How Festering Anger at Comey Ended in His Firing,” by NYT’s Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, Mike Schmidt and Peter Baker: “The chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who has been sharply critical of the F.B.I., questioned whether the time was right to dismiss Mr. Comey, arguing that doing it later would lessen the backlash, and urged him to delay, according to two people familiar with his thinking. Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, at one point mulled similar concerns, but was supportive of the move to the president.” http://nyti.ms/2pzj3lz
— “Comey’s Firing Came as Investigators Stepped Up Russia Probe,” by WSJ’s Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee: “In the weeks before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, a federal investigation into potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government was heating up, as Mr. Comey became increasingly occupied with the probe. Mr. Comey started receiving daily instead of weekly updates on the investigation, beginning at least three weeks ago, according to people with knowledge of the matter and the progress of the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. Mr. Comey was concerned by information showing possible evidence of collusion, according to these people.” http://on.wsj.com/2qVMkM8
SUSAN GLASSER in POLITICO MAGAZINE — “Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance: The cozy meeting between President Trump and Russia’s foreign minister came at Vladimir Putin’s insistence”: “When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The chummy White House visit — photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit — had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, And indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. ‘He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,’ a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. ‘Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.’” http://politi.co/2pyEV0A
BACK IN THE FOLD — “Sessions emerges as Trump’s most valuable ally,” by Eliana Johnson: “President Donald Trump was infuriated in early March when Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign. And yet, despite being legally sidelined from the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the attorney general – the ultimate Trump loyalist — has now played an indispensable political role by helping slow it down. … At Trump’s request, Sessions and set forth their rationale in twin memos the following day. News of his meeting with the president – as well his memo, which advised Trump that ‘a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI’ – served as Trump’s first line of defense against accusations he had acted impetuously when he fired Comey without warning on Tuesday evening.
“The drama was fresh evidence of Sessions’ role as a critical political player in the Trump cabinet. He has exhibited all the qualities of loyalty Trump most prizes: He was the first senator to endorse him, one of the only members of the upper chamber to embrace him enthusiastically during the presidential campaign, and, as his involvement in the Comey controversy demonstrates, has proved that he is willing to thrust himself into the breach and take political hits to advance the president’s interests. The president has rewarded that loyalty with trust. At the Department of Justice, he now enjoys full authority over the federal law enforcement apparatus.” http://politi.co/2q87Hqq
THE APPRENTICE IN REAL LIFE — “Trump holds auditions while Spicer’s away,” by Tara Palmeri and Hadas Gold: “Press secretary Sean Spicer’s absence from the briefing room on Wednesday comes at a tenuous time, as President Donald Trump has asked senior advisers for weeks if he needs to change the face of his administration, several White House officials and outside advisers to the president said. Trump was pleased with deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ performance on Friday, when she first filled in for Spicer on camera during the midday briefing, three White House aides said, adding that he has talked about grooming her for Spicer’s more visible role. They said the press team’s much-criticized handling of Trump’s decision Tuesday to fire FBI Director James Comey may have further made the case to Trump that Sanders should take over the podium.
“Trump has asked senior aides for their opinions about her performance since Friday. He thought she did well again on Wednesday when she had the difficult task of taking questions about Trump’s blockbuster announcement that he’d ousted Comey, one White House official said. Sanders will cover the briefings for the rest of the week, since Spicer is on Naval Reserve duty, as he was last Friday when she took the podium. Naval reservists are required to serve one weekend per month and 10 days per year.” http://politi.co/2q5fffx
TRUMPCARE WHIPLASH — “MacArthur endures town hall trial-by-fire,” by Ryan Hutchins and Katie Jennings in Willingboro, N.J.: “At his Wednesday night town hall, Rep. Tom MacArthur, one of the chief architects of the revamped GOP Obamacare replacement plan, was called a liar. A man who said his wife had battled breast cancer stood to say MacArthur was the ‘single greatest threat to my family in the entire world.’ Another demanded to know whether it’s ‘true that rape can be considered a pre-existing condition.’
“For nearly five hours, MacArthur faced an onslaught as he spoke here at a community center in the bluest town in this South Jersey-based swing district. Dozens of protesters gathered outside, some lying on the parking lot holding signs in the shape of tombstones. Inside, the congressman was shouted down by constituents and others in the audience of 250 people. It was a prime example of the anger, confusion and raw emotion surrounding the GOP’s replacement health care plan, and a glimpse at why the party’s House majority suddenly seems in jeopardy in 2018.” http://politi.co/2q5VoN3
— SPOTTED: Steve Bannon at French bistro La Piquette last night in Cleveland Park … Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Tupelo Honey in Arlington on Wednesday evening, getting dinner with her family, including husband and three kids.
— FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — BLOOMBERG this morning is officially announcing the Global Business Forum, a one-day event at the Plaza Hotel in New York City this September hosted with the Alibaba Group, Dangote Industries Limited, EXOR, and the MiSK Foundation. The conference will convene global political leaders, CEOs and NGOs for conversations on global business and supporting economic prosperity. http://politi.co/2q8bxjH
— OMB DIRECTOR MICK MULVANEY will speak at 10:30 a.m. EST at the Light Forum at Stanford University on a panel called “What Happens Now? The Future of Healthcare Delivery.” Facebook livestream http://bit.ly/2r36ujo
PLAYBOOK TRAVEL SECTION – “U.S. to Ban Laptops in All Cabins of Flights From Europe, Officials Say,” by The Daily Beast’s Clive Irving: “The Department of Homeland Security plans to ban laptops in the cabins of all flights from Europe to the United States, European security officials told The Daily Beast. The announcement is expected Thursday. Initially a ban on laptops and tablets was applied only to U.S.-bound flights from 10 airports in North Africa and the Middle East. The ban was based on U.S. fears that terrorists have found a way to convert laptops into bombs capable of bringing down an airplane. It is unclear if the European ban will also apply to tablets.” http://thebea.st/2q4hpMn
FOR YOUR RADAR — “Graduating seniors boo Betsy DeVos at commencement in Florida,” by Jessica Bakeman in Daytona Beach, Fla.: “Hundreds of graduating seniors of a historically black university here booed and turned their backs on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as she struggled to deliver their commencement address over the raucous crowd. ‘Let’s choose to hear each other out,’ DeVos said, straining to be heard at Bethune-Cookman University’s graduation in Daytona Beach. ‘We can choose to listen, be respectful and continue to learn from each other’s experience.’ But most of the students at the private university remained with their backs turned as the crowd applauded. A man pumped his fist in the air while he was escorted out by security, soliciting more cheers.” http://politi.co/2pyjUDb
MAYOR OF THE WORLD – MIKE BLOOMBERG in Bloomberg View, “After Comey, Justice Must Be Served”: “If President Donald Trump thinks he can fire his way out of the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, he is sorely mistaken — and attempting to do so makes him look weak and fearful, undermines the rule of law, and diminishes what little prospects there were for bipartisan legislation. … [I]t’s time for Congress to get serious about performing its constitutional duties. … First, the Senate must insist that Trump replace Comey with an independent and experienced new director, one who will commit to completing any investigations into the president now underway. No cranks, cronies or close relatives. … When elected officials refuse to be bound by the ethical practices and norms that we have come to expect of them, it’s up to the public — and their representatives — to hold them accountable.” https://bloom.bg/2qsk6IT
COVERS DU JOUR – TIME’S new cover, “After Hours in the White House” http://bit.ly/2q4Knfw … ECONOMIST’S new cover — “Trumpnomics — What it is, and why it is dangerous” http://politi.co/2quLjuI … Transcript of their Trump interview http://econ.st/2pAwyl0 … Their editorial http://econ.st/2q5QFLm
FUN CLICK – “New F.B.I.-Director Job Application,” by River Clegg in The New Yorker in the “Daily Shouts” column: “Should a President’s Administration be suspected of having colluded with a foreign government to fraudulently win an election, the proper response by the F.B.I. would be to: a) Delay any investigation until the President has left office, thereby assuring smooth executive governance. b) Ask the President if this is true; accept the answer unquestioningly. c) Watch a little ‘Fox & Friends’ before making any big decisions. d) Such a scenario would not occur.” http://bit.ly/2r2hIEU
SNEAK PEEK – SUSAN DOMINUS writes the cover of this Sunday’s N.Y. Times Magazine, “Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage? What the experiences of nonmonogamous couples can tell us about jealousy, love, desire and trust” – Dominus spent a better part of a year on the story: “Open marriages — and to a lesser degree open but nonmarital committed relationships — are still considered so taboo that many of the people I interviewed over the last year resisted giving their names, for fear not just of social approbation but also of jeopardizing their jobs. It is no surprise that conservatives would perceive the concept as a degradation of marriage, of a key foundation of society. But even among progressives, the subject typically provoked, I found, a curled lip or a slack jaw. The thought bubble, or expressed thought: How? How could any married person be comfortable with, or encouraging of, a spouse’s extramarital sex?” http://nyti.ms/2q3U65K … The cover http://politi.co/2q6LMA4
VALLEY TALK – “Snapchat Co-Founders Take $2.4 Billion Hit on Earnings Miss,” by Bloomberg’s Justin Villamil and Jack Witzig: “Snap Inc. co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy lost more than $1 billion each after the company reported earnings for the first time Wednesday afternoon. Shares fell 25 percent … before rebounding slightly when the social media company reported first-quarter revenue that was below analyst estimates. Snap said its Snapchat app added fewer users than projected and the business is struggling to expand its audience as Facebook Inc. copies its most popular features.” https://bloom.bg/2q4ewLC
POLITICO “PULSE CHECK” podcast — JON FAVREAU, the ex-Obama speechwriter-turned-Crooked Media cofounder tells POLITICO’s Dan Diamond that he now thinks differently about media coverage of issues like the health care debate. “I have a greater appreciation for journalists,” Favreau allowed. “When we were in the White House, we would always say, OK, we can’t let ourselves get stuck in the Washington media cycle … We can’t just wake up worried about what’s on ‘Morning Joe’ and what’s in the tipsheets … [But] when you’re in media … and you need stuff to talk about, I can see now how easy it is to fall into the trap of only being reactive.” Listen to the podcast http://bit.ly/2quLSVl
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to Robert Allbritton and Dr. Elena Allbritton … Blake Hounshell and Sandy Choi.
TRANSITIONS — Ally Letsky, previously direct mail director for the Hillary campaign, has been hired by Berlin Rosen as a VP in its DC office. http://bit.ly/2pliOPL … Elka Looks starts next week on the Facebook Messenger team doing communications for business and platforms. She previously did communications at Medium.
OBAMA ALUMNI — Nate Yohannes is moving to San Francisco to be a director of strategy and business development at Microsoft. He previously was senior advisor to the head of the Office of Investment and Innovation for President Obama.
OUT AND ABOUT – POOL REPORT from a Bush Center event in Dallas last night: A “working group was convened to discuss a new Bush Institute-led project to reaffirm the core American principles of political democracy and free markets, with a special focus on younger Americans. The bipartisan group discussed why the liberal democratic order is at risk and why faith in democracy is waning — and what, practically, what we can do about it. President and Mrs. Bush hosted the group for a working dinner following the roundtable. The details of the program will be rolled out at a conference in NYC in October.” SPOTTED: Madeleine Albright, Carlos Gutierrez, Elliott Abrams, Mike Abramowitz, William Galston, Tom Melia, Pete Gehner, Holly Kuzmich, Amanda Schnetzer and others.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Brandon Arnold, EVP at the National Taxpayers Union and a Playbook Power List honoree, and Robin Arnold, a CPA for a company in Baltimore, welcomed their second child to the world on Tuesday. Soon-to-be-named Baby Boy Arnold arrived on Tuesday at 11:06 am. He weighed in at 8lbs 12oz and measured 22 inches. “A lot of people have already dubbed him a member of the New New Guard,” Arnold wrote in. Pic http://bit.ly/2r2X8Fq
–Gareth Lacy, deputy press secretary for California Gov. Jerry Brown, and Erin Lacy, alum of California Department of Public Health, have welcomed Wyatt Anderson Lacy was born on Tuesday in Roseville, California, at a healthy 9 lbs 2 oz. His big sister, Beatrix, is very excited to meet him. Pics http://politi.co/2qUmzM8 … http://politi.co/2qUhYtt
BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Fara Klein, manager of state government affairs at National Community Pharmacists Association, turned 29 (hat tip: Elizabeth Rojas Levi)
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr., professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Policy, is 47 – he’s celebrating with his “wife, Georgia (my 3 year old daughter) and Lovey (my 2 year old son whose actual name is Harold) over a big lunch right before they nap.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: http://politi.co/2q5pCjP
BIRTHDAYS: Brian J. Walsh, partner at Rokk Solutions (h/t Ron Bonjean) … DHS secretary John Kelly is 67 … David Castagnetti … Jamie Horowitz, president of Fox Sports National Networks … Katherine Vargas … Nicole Landset Blank, partner at Walsworth Landset Research and DCCC alum … Karen Skelton (h/ts Jon Haber) … Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) is 49 … GMMB’s Danny Jester, the pride of Bridgeville, Delaware (h/t Jack Smith) … Theodore “Teddy” Braver Penn (h/ts Bob and Rita) … Lauren Hernandez … Brandon Lorenz, comms. campaign director at the Human Rights Campaign … Jo Ling Kent, NBC News correspondent, alum of Fox Biz and CNN, married to Scott Conroy (h/t Ben Chang) … Time’s Olivia Waxman … Sam Mulopulos, LA for Sen. Rob Portman, is 25 … Bethany Little … Jess Maher … Angie Alfonso-Royals … José Cunningham, chairman of the DC Republican Party, celebrating at the RNC Spring meeting at the Del Coronado in San Diego (h/t Patrick Mara) …
… Rich Bamberger, managing director at Kivvit (h/t Josh Dawsey) … Logan Gibson, lead associate at Booz Allen Hamilton and Jim Webb alum … journalist Jeremy Paxman … Travis Lumpkin, COS for Sen. Cantwell (h/t Michael Meehan) … Alex Dease, press assistant for Majority Whip Scalise, is 22 (h/t Lauren Fine) … Larry Thomas … Chris Landberg, a career Foreign Service Officer currently in charge of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement section at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, is 5-0, celebrating with a big embassy party being planned by his wife, Amanda … Garrette Turner … Pam Eichenbaum … John Weinfurter … Alex Cahill … Marissa Astor … Shauna Daly, cofounder and executive director of Progressive Security Corps … Alex Wagner, former COS to the Secretary of the Army … Alicia Thornberry … Carla McDonald, spending her day salsa dancing (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … George Hadijski … Gannet Tseggai … Adam Fromm … WTOP’s Michael Jakaitis … Matt Hu-Stiles … Doug Graham … political consultant Michael Arno … Will Hart … Alexander Powers … Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is 84 (h/t AP)