Trump scolds NATO allies on defense spending – The Hill

President Trump on Thursday scolded NATO allies for not paying their fair share for defense during a ceremony at the alliance’s new headquarters in Brussels.

“NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump said, as other leaders looked on from the sidelines.

Returning to a refrain from his campaign, Trump pointed out that 23 of the 28 member nations are not meeting NATO’s target of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

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“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years — and not paying in those past years,” Trump said.

Trump did not explicitly endorse Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, which declares that an attack on any allied state is an attack on all. He only spoke generally of “the commitments that bind us together as one.”

The omission stood out further because the ceremony was held to unveil a memorial symbolizing the mutual-defense pledge: a twisted piece of metal from the north tower of the World Trade Center. The 9/11 attacks are the only time the alliance has invoked Article 5.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said later that Trump is “fully committed” to the mutual defense of NATO allies.

“We’re not playing cutesy with this,” he told reporters. “I’ve seen some of the questions I’ve gotten from you guys, but there’s 100 percent commitment to Article 5.”

Trump’s speech provoked exasperation from NATO leaders already uneasy with their relationship with the president, who condemned the alliance as “obsolete” during the 2016 campaign.

French President Emmanuel Macron stole bewildered glances with other leaders during Trump’s remarks. Trump appeared to take pleasure in lecturing his counterparts, even suggesting the NATO headquarters cost too much.

“I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost,” he said in an unscripted aside. “I refuse to do that. But it is beautiful.”

The speech was one of the more uncomfortable moments on Trump’s grueling, nine-day foreign trip. Trump received a hero’s welcome during previous stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel. But in Brussels, a city he once described as a “hellhole,” he was met with major street protests.

He was also put face-to-face with leaders he’s clashed with in the past, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Standing alongside Trump, the German leader spoke about a piece of the Berlin Wall that was being dedicated as part of the memorial.

“It is not isolation or the building of walls that will make us successful, but the sharing of values,” Merkel said in a subtle jab at Trump’s immigration policies.

For all the awkwardness it has appeared to create, U.S. officials argue Trump’s approach has resulted in positive changes at the alliance.

After Trump’s repeated suggestions the alliance was not doing enough to fight terrorism, NATO announced it is officially joining the coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Trump tied the issue of defense spending to their commitment to the fight against terrorism.

“If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism,” Trump said.

Updated: 1:48 p.m.

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Live Updates: In Brussels, Trump Lectures Allies on Cost-Sharing, and Stays Mum on Article 5 – New York Times

• On the fourth leg of a grueling overseas trip, President Trump is in Brussels amid anxiety amongNATO leaders about their relationship with a leader who had dismissed the alliance as “obsolete” and who had called the city a “hellhole.”

• In a brief speech in front of NATO leaders, Mr. Trump said that the allies must spend more on collective defense — but did not endorse Article 5 of the alliance’s founding treaty, which states that an attack on any member is an attack on all.

• Previously, he met with Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission. Mr. Tusk said afterward that there were differences of opinion over Russia, but that when it came to Ukraine, “it seems that we were on the same line.”

• Analysts said expectations were low that Mr. Trump and European leaders would agree on issues like climate change and terrorism. (He also shared an eyebrow-raising handshake with President Emmanuel Macron of France.)

• In the wake of Mr. Trump’s suggestions that the alliance was not doing enough against terrorism, NATO announced that it would formally join the fight against the Islamic State.

Mr. Trump stays silent on Article 5.

If there was any real drama over Mr. Trump’s visit, it concerned whether he would go off script on the question of Article 5. He was expected to explicitly endorse the principle in a speech when he unveiled a Sept. 11 memorial — a piece of twisted metal from the World Trade Center — outside NATO’s new building.

(Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was to do the same with a chunk of the Berlin Wall, which came down in 1989, to symbolize how the alliance kept the peace during the Cold War. Before her meeting with Mr. Trump, Ms. Merkel met with former President Barack Obama in Berlin.)

While Mr. Trump appears to have decided that the alliance isn’t really obsolete, as he once said, he has never publicly committed to Article 5. He had been expected to finally do so on Thursday, White House officials said, because the only time NATO has invoked Article 5 was to defend the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The leaders had also wanted him to say something critical about Russia and its annexation of Crimea, but Mr. Trump had been pretty quiet on that topic, too.

What he has been vocal about is pressing NATO allies to pay what he considers their fair share of the alliance’s running costs. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, traveling with Mr. Trump to Brussels, said the president would have blunt words for the leaders of other NATO members on that issue. And he did.

—Steven Erlanger

In the meeting with Mr. Trump, Russia was a sticking point, Mr. Tusk says.

When Mr. Tusk emerged from an earlier meeting with Mr. Trump and Mr. Juncker, there were clear signs that they had differences of opinion over Russia.

“Some issues remained open, like climate and trade,” Mr. Tusk said shortly after the meeting at European Union headquarters here. “And I am not 100 percent sure that we can say today — ‘we’ means Mr. President and myself — that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia,” he added.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Tusk diverged over the leaders’ assessments of the intentions and policies of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, with Mr. Tusk expressing a far more skeptical view, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting who insisted on anonymity to discuss talks that were held privately.

Mr. Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, did say that “when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine, it seems that we were on the same line.”

Donald Tusk: “you know mister president we have two presidents in the EU”Donald Trump: “I know that”JC Juncker: “there’s one too much” pic.twitter.com/nhpGIVruhZ

Cédric Simon (@Cedsimon)May 25, 2017

The leaders also found agreement on counterterrorism. “I’m sure that I don’t have to explain why,” said Mr. Tusk, in an apparent reference to the terrorist attack in Manchester, England.

But European leaders are trying to persuade Mr. Trump not to withdraw the United States from the 195-nation Paris Accord, one of several issues on the agenda for an organization that Mr. Trump has called into question with his support for Britain’s decision to leave and for populist euroskeptics like Marine Le Pen, the French leader of the far-right National Front.

Mr. Tusk, who warned this year that Mr. Trump was threatening Europe’s stability, made his priorities for the meeting clear at a prize-giving ceremony the previous evening.

It was, Mr. Tusk told his audience, “important to keep our relations with the United States as close as possible and as long as possible — at least for as long as this value remains a priority also on the other side of the Atlantic.”

Mr. Tusk said he would try to convince Mr. Trump “that euroatlantism is primarily cooperation of the free for the sake of freedom; that if we want to prevent the scenario that has already been named by our opponents not so long ago in Munich as the ‘post-West world order,’ we should watch over our legacy of freedom together.”

—James Kanter

Trans-Atlantic tensions, and a white-knuckled handshake.

But if Mr. Trump’s European hosts hoped that his visit to Brussels would thaw the ice left over from the dismissive comments he made about the European project during the 2016 campaign, the atmosphere before the morning meeting suggested the trans-Atlantic tensions hadn’t entirely vanished.

As they waited for Mr. Trump and Mr. Tusk, the American and European delegations did not say a word to each another, clustering in groups on the opposite sides of a rectangular conference table.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis chatted with Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser. Across the table, the European Union’s high representative, Federica Mogherini, huddled with her aides.

When Mr. Tusk arrived with the president, he spoke of how important a day this was for the European-American relationship. “Thank you very much,” Mr. Trump said, but he was otherwise silent as he gazed at a forest of cameras and boom mikes arrayed at one end of the room.

After the meeting, Mr. Trump headed to the Belgian residence of the United States ambassador, where he had a working lunch with Mr. Macron.

Mr. Trump showered the French president with praise for his recent election win. Mr. Macron, he said, “had a tremendous victory, all over the world they’re talking about it.”

Mr. Macron, speaking in French, said he was “very happy” to be with Mr. Trump. The two had an “extremely large agenda to discuss,” he said.

But it was their handshake that raised eyebrows.

The 70-year-old American and the 39-year-old Frenchman grabbed each other’s hands in what began as a manly greeting and ended as a kind of good-natured death grip. Jaws clenching, faces alternating between smiles and grimaces, the two men shook until Mr. Trump’s knuckles turned white.

At one point, the president tried to pull away, only to have Mr. Macron clasp his hand even harder and keep pumping. Finally, the second time Mr. Trump pulled away, Mr. Macron let him go.

—Mark Landler

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama gets a warm welcome in Germany.

The former president basked in the affection of Berliners and returned the favor on Thursday during an appearance with the German chancellor, endorsing Mrs. Merkel’s refugee policies as she seeks a fourth term. In the process, he took a swipe at his successor.

“We can’t hide behind a wall,” Mr. Obama said when discussing the difficulties of leading nations through war, peace, migration and climate change. His remark seemed clearly aimed at Mr. Trump, who has vowed to build a wall along the United States border with Mexico.

Mr. Trump was not mentioned once during the 90-minute Obama-Merkel appearance.

Mr. Obama, 55, and Ms. Merkel, 62, were celebrated by tens of thousands of people to Protestant church celebrations of 500 years since Martin Luther began the Reformation. Mr. Obama received an even warmer welcome than the German leader did, and stirred a particularly rousing reception when he mentioned his wife, Michelle.

The appearance affirmed Mr. Obama’s status as Europe’s favorite American leader. While he reminded his large audience (the event was broadcast live on German television) of how he had quested for peace, Mr. Trump was in Brussels urging the NATO alliance to do more in the war against the Islamic State.

—Alison Smale

NATO says it will formally join the coalition fight against ISIS.

The announcement by the Atlantic alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, was another gesture toward Mr. Trump.

“This will send a strong political message of NATO’s commitment to the fight against terrorism,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. But a message is what it mostly was. The United States, after all, formed the coalition, which it leads and runs out of its military headquarters, without major NATO input, though numerous member nations are also part of the coalition fighting the Islamic State.

NATO has had a small mission in Iraq to train soldiers there and will enhance it, but will much change now that it has agreed to formally join the coalition? Probably not.

—Steven Erlanger

Belgians take to the streets in protest against Mr. Trump.

Amid the pomp and ceremony, however, ordinary Belgians gave Mr. Trump a rather chilly reception.

Thousands marched on Wednesday to protest his presence, carrying signs that read “Solidarity with the women of the whole world,” “No ban, no wall” and “Trump go away.” At one point, #TrumpNotWelcome was the No. 1 trending hashtag on Twitter in Belgium.

Five Greenpeace activists climbed a crane to hoist a sign saying “Resist” near the American Embassy.

And the Ancienne Belgique concert hall put up a sign that said, “Don’t duck for Donald.”

—Claire Barthelemy

The president’s response on Manchester: ‘We will win this fight’ against terrorism.

Ahead of the NATO meeting, Mr. Trump met the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, on Wednesday and spoke at a news conference in which he denounced those who were behind the bombing attack in Manchester, England, that left 22 people dead, including children, and about 60 others injured.

President Trump in Belgium: “We will win this fight” against terrorism https://t.co/STiziNKrGO https://t.co/sgvnHyLbGn

CNN (@CNN)May 24, 2017

What do European Union leaders really want from Mr. Trump?

Simply put: More Mike Pence.

Ms. Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said at a news conference on Wednesday that she would welcome the same “message of continuity” about trans-Atlantic cooperation that Vice President Pence brought by visiting Brussels in February, soon after Mr. Trump took office.

Mr. Pence’s visit was “a clear sign” of “willingness to work together,” Ms. Mogherini said.

Her comments represent a widely held hope in Brussels that Mr. Trump will avoid bashing the European project in favor of constructive dialogue on global challenges.

Ms. Mogherini said she wanted Mr. Trump to discuss carrying out the Paris agreement on climate change, which he has previously threatened to abandon, and investing in multilateral organizations like the United Nations, where the Trump administration wants further funding cuts.

—James Kanter

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The Daily 202: Five fresh setbacks for Republicans, who just can't catch a break – Washington Post

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Republicans just cannot catch a break, but many of their wounds are self-inflicted.

— Greg Gianforte, the Republican nominee in today’s special congressional election in Montana, has been charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly “body slamming” a reporter for the Guardian. Gianforte, who has been seen as the favorite in the race to succeed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, faces a maximum $500 fine or six months in jail if he is convicted, Dave Weigel reports from Montana.

In an audio recording published by the Guardian, reporter Ben Jacobs can be heard asking Gianforte to respond to the Congressional Budget Office’s new score of the American Health Care Act. After Gianforte tells Jacobs to ask his spokesman, the candidate loses it and begins to scream: “I’m sick and tired of you guys! … Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!”

A Fox News crew was in the room when it happened, and veteran correspondent Alicia Acuna has written a damning first-person account: “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. At no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

The unapologetic campaign released a defiant statement that attempted to slime the respected reporter as a “liberal.” His spokesman claimed that Gianforte asked Jacobs to lower the recorder before he got physical, but the audio tape and the eyewitness accounts undercut this version of events.

Two of the state’s largest newspapers quickly withdrew their editorial endorsements of Gianforte. “We’re at a loss for words, the Billings Gazette wrote. “And as people who wrangle words on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesn’t happen often.” The Missoulian’s editorial board said “there is no doubt that Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn’t land him in jail, also shouldn’t land him in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

This is the newspaper many Montanans are waking up to right now:

Bozeman Daily Chronicle election day front page, via @wabermespic.twitter.com/PgUcG77WjD

— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) May 25, 2017

But, but, but: Heavy early voting means that Gianforte may win anyway. Perversely, a physical altercation with a reporter might also help him coalesce/gin up his base. (Donald Trump won Montana last November by 20 points.) “What turnout will look like in a special election is hard to predict, but if it’s similar to 2014, 62 percent of votes have already been cast early,” Philip Bump explains. 

Bottom line: In many ways, it is now worse for national Republicans if Gianforte wins. If he loses, the NRCC can pretty easily explain it away by calling him a terrible candidate. The incident makes it harder for anyone to draw conclusions about the broader national political environment from the outcome. If he wins, though, Gianforte suddenly becomes another headache for Paul Ryan. The ongoing legal issue will be covered as a major story, and his every move in the Capitol will be tracked aggressively by the press. He becomes a liability for the party in 2018, especially if his new colleagues defend him.

Trump confers with Jeff Sessions last week. (Evan Vucci/AP)

ANOTHER UNFORCED ERROR:

— Jeff Sessions concealed his contacts with Russian officials when filling out his security clearance form to be the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official. Sari Horwitz reports: “Sessions came under fire earlier this year for not disclosing to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing that … he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential election … In March, Sessions recused himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign after The Washington Post reported the two meetings. … The security clearance form requires anyone applying for a security clearance to list ‘any contact’ that he or his family had with a foreign government or its representatives over the past seven years.”

CNN’s Manu Raju and Evan Perez, who broke the story last night, explain the DOJ’s damage-control effort: “Sessions initially listed a year’s worth of meetings with foreign officials on the security clearance form, according to (Sessions) spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores. But she (claims) that he and his staff were then told by an FBI employee who assisted in filling out the form … that he didn’t need to list dozens of meetings with foreign ambassadors that happened in his capacity as a senator. … A legal expert who regularly assists officials in filling out the form disagrees with the Justice Department’s explanation, suggesting that Sessions should have disclosed the meetings.”

Sessions was supposed to appear before two congressional committees this week, but he abruptly canceled both on Monday. This latest revelation may explain why the AG would want to avoid answering questions. He claimed an unspecified scheduling conflict, the Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports.

D’OH:

— It also came out yesterday that the debt limit will be reached way sooner than Republicans leaders planned/hoped for. OMB director Mick Mulvaney revealed that tax receipts are coming in “slower than expected” and that the federal government could run out of cash months before it had thought. A few hours later, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed these concerns, telling a House committee: “I urge you to raise the debt limit before you leave for the summer.” Treasury is already taking emergency steps to suspend certain payments so that it can cover all of its bills, but it can do this only for a few more months. (Damian Paletta and Max Ehrenfreund have more.)

The House Freedom Caucus replied with a statement expressing opposition to any increase in the debt limit without further cuts to the budget. That threat means Democratic votes will likely be required to prevent the U.S. from defaulting, which gives Nancy Pelosi leverage.

More significantly, an intra-party conflict over raising the debt ceiling makes it harder for Republicans to pass bills they really care about. (Keeping the government solvent does not count as an accomplishment…)

Bigger picture, there is mounting concern among senior Republicans that, from a legislative standpoint, the party will have no big-ticket items to show off after a year of unified control.

ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE:

— Carrier, the company Trump pledged to keep on American soil, just informed the state of Indiana that it will soon begin cutting 632 workers from its Indianapolis factory. “The manufacturing jobs will move to Monterrey, Mexico, where the minimum wage is $3.90,” Daniel Paquette reports.

Trump told Indiana residents at a rally last year that, if he got elected, there was a “100 percent chance” he would save these jobs at the heating and air-conditioning manufacturer. “It’s not like we have an 80 percent chance of keeping them or a 95 percent chance,” he said. “100 percent!!”

After the election, Trump claimed credit for rescuing the factory. He tweeted on Thanksgiving that he called the company’s leadership to cut a deal. Trump then flew to Indy in December to announce that, thanks to his brilliant negotiating, the jobs would stay.

The Carrier announcement is a symbolically significant blow to Trump’s credibility as a job creator who can reverse the decline in manufacturing. This was both a central rationale of his candidacy and a major part of his appeal in the industrial Midwest.

Trump looks to Paul Ryan and other House members in the Rose Garden during a ceremony to celebrate the House passing a health care bill on May 4. It is odd, putting it mildly, to celebrate legislation after it has passed just one chamber of Congress. Now it looks like they spiked the football before they got to the endzone, and dozens of members will be haunted by their appearance at this ceremony in 2018 campaign commercials. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

THAT ROSE GARDEN CEREMONY IS LOOKING DUMBER AND DUMBER:

— It is notable that the Republican candidate in Montana flipped out last night when he was asked about the CBO score. While mostly a window into Gianforte’s temperament, it is also a reflection of how bad the numbers are for Republicans. Many lawmakers walked the plank and risked their political careers to vote for the bill without waiting for the CBO, which is led by a Republican appointee who was picked by GOP leaders, to estimate how real people would be impacted.

Consider these four top-line projections from the CBO:

— 23 million: The House health-care bill would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under current lay — only a million fewer than the estimate for the House’s previous bill, which was withdrawn because it didn’t cover enough people. Juliet Eilperin and Kelsey Snell report on the front page of today’s Post: “The new score, which reflects last-minute revisions that Republicans made to win over several conservative lawmakers and a handful of moderates, calculates that the American Health Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion between 2017 and 2026. That represents a smaller reduction than the $150 billion CBO estimated in late March.”

— 14 million: The CBO projects that the number of uninsured Americans would jump by 14 million in the first year after the House bill became law. Direct quote from the report: “Although the agencies expect that the legislation would increase the number of uninsured broadly, the increase would be disproportionately larger among older people with lower income—particularly people between 50 and 64 years old with income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.” Here’s a breakdown:

— 850 percent: “That’s the CBO’s estimate of how much insurance premiums would rise for elderly, poor people over the next decade if the second version of this Republican bill became law,”Amber Phillips notes. “In a report filled with brutal numbers for Republicans, this may be the most brutal. (Just like it was in the first estimate.) Republicans said their bill will make health insurance cheaper. Except, they’ll have to figure out a way to explain why, under Obamacare, 64-year-olds making $26,500 a year are on track to pay $1,700 in annual premiums in 2026. And under the GOP bill, they would pay anywhere between $13,600 to $16,100.” Here’s a breakdown:

— One-in-six Americans could lose coverage for pre-existing conditions: “Amendments in the bill allow states to opt out of key ACA provisions such as protections for people with preexisting conditions. The CBO predicts that states accounting for about half the U.S. population would take advantage of these, and similar, opportunities to roll back the ACA,” Kim Soffen and Kevin Uhrmacher report. “As part of those changes, states would be able to change what benefits marketplace insurance plans must offer. Under the ACA, these ‘essential health benefits’ range from covering hospitalizations to mental-health care to prescription drugs. One-sixth of the population resides in states that the CBO expects to drastically alter the preexisting-condition requirement. Predictably, in states that shrink or eliminate that requirement, insurance plans are expected to provide narrower coverage. In other words, the value of insurance, measured as the percentage of a person’s medical expenses that are covered by insurance, would go down.” Here’s a breakdown:

— The numbers above underscore how hard it will be to pass a bill through the Senate.

After the CBO score popped, several Senate Republicans from states that have expanded Medicaid under Obamacare dug in even further against the House bill because it showed that millions of their constituents would be left in the lurch. From Paul Kane: “The $119 billion in savings that the CBO found was mostly because millions of fewer people would be covered under Medicaid. ‘That’s tough to swallow,’ said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who has 180,000 constituents relying on the Medicaid expansion for insurance coverage. Capito, part of a bloc of 20 Republicans from Medicaid-expansion states, has been a vocal opponent of the House bill for too quickly transitioning away from that ACA benefit. She says this updated estimate puts steel in the spines of those Republicans, including Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), John McCain (Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). ‘It strengthens my resolve,’ Capito said. ‘To say, what are we doing to people here, particularly to our most vulnerable or those that don’t have the wherewithal?’”

Mitch McConnell has begun to temper expectations, telegraphing that a big bill might never materialize. “I don’t know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment, but that’s the goal,” the Senate Majority Leader told Reuters earlier in the day. “Exactly what the composition of [our legislation] is, I’m not going to speculate about because it serves no purpose.”

South Carolina’s senior senator spoke for many Republicans in the conference when he said the current system may need to fail before action is taken:

With today’s news, the ‘Collapse and Replace’ of Obamacare may prove to be the most effective path forward.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 24, 2017

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

— “How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe,” by Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett: “A secret document that officials say played a key role in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake … In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received what was described as a Russian intelligence document claiming a tacit understanding between the Clinton campaign and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server. The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter…

“Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election…

“But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable.” (Read the whole article.)

Kellyanne Conway, now a counselor to the president, and Paul Manafort, then Trump campaign chairman, talk during a roundtable discussion about national security issues with Trump at Trump Tower last August. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE:

— U.S. spies collected information last summer revealing that top Russian officials were discussing how to exert influence on Trump through his advisers. The New York Times reports: “The conversations focused on [Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn] … Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia. Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort. The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election…

“By early summer, American intelligence officials already were fairly certain that it was Russian hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party and Clinton’s campaign. That in itself was not viewed as particularly extraordinary by the Americans … But the concerns began to grow when intelligence began trickling in about Russian officials weighing whether they should release stolen emails and other information to shape American opinion — to, in essence, weaponize the materials stolen by hackers.”

THE CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION:

— Manafort has submitted hundreds of pages of Russia-related documents to the House and Senate intelligence committees. Tom Hamburger reports: “Congressional staff have not fully reviewed the new Manafort documents, but people familiar with them said they include calendar entries, speech drafts and campaign strategy memos that mention Russia or individuals from Russia. They also cite some specific meetings, including two large group sessions that involved Russia’s ambassador to the United States — one at the Republican National Convention and the other at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington when Trump gave his first major foreign policy address.”

— Months after the FBI began examining Manafort, he phoned Reince Priebus and urged him to push back against the mounting controversy.Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel reports: “It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on the alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties … ‘On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince … and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,’ said a person close to Manafort. Manafort had been forced to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman five months earlier, but he had continued talking to various members of Trump’s team, and had even had at least two conversations with Trump.”

— The House Intelligence Committee will likely issue subpoenas to Flynn as soon as this week, the panel’s top Democrat says, after he failed to provide requested documents. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said he would “explore whatever compulsory process that we would need to use” to get the documents, which the former national security adviser is also refusing to turn over to the Senate Intel Committee. Schiff said he thinks there is openness to citing Flynn for contempt if/when he doesn’t comply. (Karoun Demirjian)

MANCHESTER PROBE EXPANDS AMID FEARS OF FOLLOW-UP ATTACK:

— The investigation into a suicide blast that killed at least 22 people at a pop concert has dramatically widened, with security services on two continents rounding up suspects amid fears that the bombmaker who devised the bolt-spewing source of the carnage remains at large. Griff Witte, Karla Adam and Sudarsan Raghavan report: “The arrests stretched from the normally quiet lanes of a northern English town to the bustling streets of Tripoli, where Libyan officials said they had disrupted a planned attack by the suspected bomber’s brother. But by day’s end, British authorities acknowledged that they remained vulnerable to a follow-up attack, with the nation’s state of alert stuck at ‘critical’ — the highest possible level. The sight of soldiers deploying at London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street underscored the gravity of the threat.”

  • Authorities said this morning that the bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, had been in Dusseldorf just four days before the bombing. “Authorities were investigating whether he was meeting with extremist contacts in Germany, or whether he was simply transiting back to Britain from his family’s home in Libya,” Griff, Karla Adam and Souad Mekhennet report.
  • Police continue to carry out raids across Manchester: The cops apprehended the bomber’s older brother, Ismail, as well as another suspect carrying “a suspicious package” about 20 miles west of Manchester. Last night, authorities also arrested a female suspect in Manchester and a man in the English Midlands town of Nuneaton, bringing to seven the number of people detained in Britain in connection with the blast. “It’s very clear that this is a network we are investigating,” said Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins.

— In the Libyan-British community where Abedi lived, he was known as a university dropout and loner – and members of the community had warned authorities about signs of possible radicalization more than a year ago. Rick Noack, Souad Mekhennet and Sudarsan Raghavan report:“Abedi was born in Britain to parents who had fled Libya during the four-decade dictatorship of Moammar Gaddafi, and moved back [several years ago] … Residents described Abedi as an ‘awkward’ young man and an ‘isolated, dark figure’ who talked to few people and traveled back and forth between Britain and Libya. Abedi’s father, Ramadan, asked two of his sons to move from Britain to Libya several weeks ago, said a friend of the family … ‘The father said he was afraid that something would go wrong if they stayed in Britain,’ said the friend.” British security authorities have acknowledged that they were aware of Abedi, but said that he was not considered a major terrorism risk.

— Loose lips sink ships. The Brits are incensed that information on the investigation keeps getting leaked, and it’s having consequences:

BREAKING: The BBC has learnt that police have stopped passing on information about #Manchester bombing to the US following leaks.

— Dominic Casciani (@BBCDomC) May 25, 2017

Sean Hannity gestures in National Harbor, Md. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Three sponsors have pulled their ads from Sean Hannity’s TV show after he pushed a debunked conspiracy theory about a murdered DNC staffer. Paul Farhi writes that “the accumulating chaos” leaves Rupert Murdoch, 86, with his biggest management challenge since Fox News’s inception.
  2. The Trump administration’s push to deport more MS-13 gang members has alarmed officials in El Salvador, who fear that the returning gangsters will exacerbate violence in one of the deadliest countries in the hemisphere. (Joshua Partlow)
  3. A Baltimore defense attorney has been charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to dissuade a rape victim from testifying against his clientby telling her that Trump would deport her if she did. He also allegedly offered her $3,000 to skip court. (Baltimore Sun)
  4. As Trump expands his “sanctuary city” crackdown, the city of Denver is fighting back by reducing the maximum sentences for petty infractions – thus stopping offenders from ending up on the radar of immigration officials. (Samantha Schmidt)
  5. A new study on physician-assisted suicide suggests that “existential distress” — not pain — is the reason why terminally-ill patients choose to end their lives. “They are mostly educated and affluent,” one researcher said of the patients who inquired about assisted suicide. “[It’s] people who are used to being successful and in control of their lives, and it’s how they want their death to be.” (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
  6. Marijuana extract “sharply” reduces violent seizures in young people suffering a severe form of epilepsy. A new study, the first to demonstrate the use of medical marijuana in a scientific way, is a breakthrough for parents of sufferers who have been clamoring for access to the medication. (Lenny Bernstein)
  7. A Christian school in Maryland is under fire after banning a senior girl from walking in her graduation ceremony because she got pregnant. The straight-A student is not being banned because of her pregnancy, the school’s principal explained, “but because she was immoral” by having premarital intercourse. Many pro-life folks believe, rather than being punished, she should be celebrated for keeping her baby. (Joe Heim)
The Trump International Hotel in Washington is not tracking the foreign money it takes in, as Trump promised it would. Will they be able to get away with it? (Alex Brandon/AP)

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:

— “Despite his promise to donate all profits from foreign-government sources at his Washington hotel and other businesses, recently released internal documents reveal that Trump’s private company has made only a limited effort at identifying foreign funds,” Drew Harwell and Tom Hamburger report: “An undated document sent throughout the Trump Organization … says asking guests to identify whether they are connected to a foreign government would be ‘impractical’ and ‘impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.’ ‘It is not the intention nor design of this policy for our properties to attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity,’ the document says.” The company pamphlet shows the ease with which foreign money could be paid into the president’s business interests. Ethics advisers have warned that such payments could be used to curry favor with the president and could run afoul of the emoluments clause.

— A Mar-a-Lago employee is quietly working for the government to help prepare for Trump’s trip to the G-7 Summit in Italy –an unconventional arrangement that further blurs the line between his business empire and the White House.Buzzfeed’s Tarini Parti reports: “Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager, is working with the president’s advance and logistics team, while Trump’s exclusive club, Mar-a-Lago, closes for the summer. She has an official White House email and government-issued phone … She is married to a twice-convicted felon, Ari Rinkus, who is known to brag about his wife’s access to the president as he trawls for investors and pursues government contracts on behalf of a foreign company. Her dual role is the latest example of how closely intertwined the president’s inner circle is between his business and government. … It also raises questions of whether other Trump Organization employees are quietly employed by the White House, as the administration struggles to staff up amid a chaotic few weeks.”

Ben Carson plays pool at a public housing project in Miami last month. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

— HUD Secretary Ben Carson called poverty a “state of mind” in a Wednesday radio interview, pointing to habits and a “certain mindset” that poor children supposedly take from their parents. Jose A. DelReal reports: “I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there,” he said during a radio interview. “And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.” He added that he believes this “state of” mind is a “product of negative parenting habits and exposure.” He said he believes that government can provide a “helping hand” to people looking to climb out of poverty but warned against any programs that are “sustaining them in a position of poverty. That’s not helpful.” Carson’s comments came one day after Trump’s budget proposed cutting more than $6 billion from HUD’s budget. 

— Joe Lieberman appears to have slipped out of contention in the search for a new FBI director. The search team is resetting its search after Lieberman’s law partner signed on to be the president’s main outside counsel on the Russia probe, and Democrats on the Hill made clear that they’d fight the ex-senator hard. CNN reports: “At one point, Lieberman … was considered a leading candidate. But Trump has since decided he wants to see a broader range of candidates for the job. … Concerns about the former vice presidential nominee … centered on the fact that without experience as a federal prosecutor or an FBI agent that Lieberman ‘simply does not have the right experience to lead the FBI.’ ‘People inside the FBI, along with former FBI officials, believe Lieberman simply was not the right choice,’ the source said. [This is spin. That’s not actually why they’re dropping him.] A source … said discussions said that Lieberman was someone who intrigued Trump but others inside the White House were not supportive of the choice.” Sessions has been interviewing candidates for the job. Remaining finalists include acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former congressman and retired FBI special agent Mike Rogers, and Bush-era Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend.

— Betsy DeVos repeatedly refused to say whether her office would ever withhold any federal voucher money from private schools that openly discriminate against students. Valerie Strauss reports on the Education secretary’s testimony before a House committee yesterday: “Her comments came after Rep. Katherine Clark gave an example of a private school in Indiana that receives state vouchers but denies admission to those with LBGT parents – and asked what she would say if a voucher school were not accepting African-American students and the state ‘said it was okay.’ ‘Is there a line for you on state flexibility?’ Clark pressed. DeVos declined to answer the question directly. All she would say is, ‘We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. And that is the focus. And states and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions.’” 

— The Education Department’s top student financial aid officer quit, warning his staff in an email about brewing management problems within the agency.Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports: “I am incredibly concerned about significant constraints being placed on our ability to allocate and prioritize resources, make decisions and deliver on the organization’s mission,” James Runcie, an Obama-era holdover, wrote in an email to his staff. He continued: “We have dozens of pages of decisions that have been typically made within Federal Student Aid that are now required to be elevated to the Department level. Once at the Department level, the decision making framework and process is not clear to anyone at FSA.” Runcie said in the letter that the student aid office is contending with pressing projects. Among them: weighing a student-loan-servicing contract bid … building out the expansion of the Pell Grant program, [and] tending to loan forgiveness for defrauded borrowers … He said his team has asked DeVos to hire staff for additional help but has yet to receive a response.”

— Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue broke with Trump on his plan to slash the SNAP food stamp program, reaffirming Wednesday that he still does not believe the system is “broken” or requires fundamental change.Caitlin Dewey reports: “Perdue affirmed his position on SNAP during a meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, when [Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)] asked him about statements he made to the Agriculture Committee just last week.  ‘You stated — and this is a quote — ‘SNAP has been a very important and effective program,’’ DeLauro said. ‘And that as far as you’re concerned, quote, ‘we have no proposed changes. You don’t try to fix something that isn’t broken’ … Do you still feel those words to be true?’ ‘Absolutely,’ Perdue answered. He later added that he supported stricter work requirements, which are a lesser component of the administration’s cuts.”

— Charmaine Yoest, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services, pushed the totally discredited theory that abortion increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer as recently as 2012, and she just declined an opportunity to recant her claim.Michelle Ye Hee Lee revisits a widely-shared New York Times story from five years ago: “Does Yoest still hold this position? We couldn’t readily find instances after 2012 where Yoest publicly repeated this claim. We reached out to her, but she would not answer whether she still believes in this alleged link. Instead, she offered this written explanation: ‘As far as my comments on this, I hope that you will note that the wild accusations that I have said ‘abortion *causes* breast cancer’ are false. I have not said that and would not say that.’”

— Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin privately assured Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee that he and Trump are both against Paul Ryan’s border-adjusted tax. From Bloomberg: The remarks they described in private were stronger than Mnuchin’s public comments about the plan to tax companies’ imported goods while exempting their exports. Judy Chu, a California Democrat on Ways and Means Committee, said she asked Mnuchin directly during a private meeting Tuesday if he supports the border-adjusted tax. ‘He actually said straight out that he doesn’t support it and the president doesn’t support it,’ Chu said, adding that Mnuchin cited concern from businesses about price increases for consumers. ‘Unless he was lying to us yesterday, I really felt it was dead on arrival,’ Chu said.”

— Trump nominated George Nesterczuk to be director of the Office of Personnel Management. Eric Yoder reports: “Nesterczuk was a senior adviser at OPM during the Reagan administration and went on to positions at the Defense Department and Transportation Department.” He served as chief of staff to a House subcommittee overseeing the federal workforce in the late 1990s, and returned to OPM as a senior adviser in 2004.

Trump and Melania visit the Sistine Chapel after a private audience with Pope Francis. (Osservatore Romano/Reuters)

DAY SEVEN OF TRUMP’S FOREIGN TRIP:

— ANOTHER VICTORY FOR THE KREMLIN: Russian aggression will not be a topic discussed at Trump’s first NATO’s meeting — not because Moscow has improved its behavior (it certainly hasn’t!) but in order to keep the Putin-friendly U.S. president happy. Buzzfeed News’ John Hudson reports: “The alliance is so anxious about pleasing [Trump] that it tailored its first major meeting with him around topics that touch on his long-standing criticisms of the 28-member organization rather than the Kremlin’s latest provocations. Russia, which dominated NATO’s previous two summits in Wales and Warsaw, will not be a formal agenda item for the alliance’s meeting in Brussels this week, [a NATO spokesperson said]. ‘The meeting will be short, and focused on two main topics: stepping up NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism, and fairer burden sharing.’

“Russia’s absence, European officials explained, is a tacit acknowledgment that the alliance’s most immediate crisis is currying the favor of the leader of the world’s most powerful military — a man who had previously called the organization outdated and ‘obsolete.’ ‘You’ve got to remember that Trump still hasn’t explicitly stated his support for Article 5,’ said a European official, referring to a clause in the alliance’s charter that requires NATO members to come to the defense of an ally. ‘First things first.’”

— European leaders clearly don’t think Trump knows that much about the world. From Phil Rucker’s pool report this morning about his meeting with E.U. leaders: “The first encounter came as the three presidents stood posing for photos. Tusk told Trump: ‘Do you know, Mr. President, we have two presidents in the EU?’ Trump replied: ‘I know that.’ Juncker chimed in: One too much.’”

— SPICER SNUBBED: Trump was flanked by staff during his Vatican trip yesterday, an entourage that included Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and former bodyguard Keith Schiller. Noticeably missing was Sean Spicer – a devout Catholic who had been eagerly anticipating the chance to meet Pope Francis. CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny report: “Asked about Spicer not being included in the group that met the Pope, a source close to the White House said: ‘Wow. That’s all he wanted,’ adding it should ‘very much’ be seen as a slight. Two [senior White House officials] said the Vatican was ‘strict’ on the number of people who would be allowed to join the talks. But previous administration officials who helped orchestrate meetings between US presidents and the Pope said that high-level Catholic staffers who expressed interest in attending the papal sessions were regularly accommodated.” This is another petty move by the president, and it shows how totally undercut Spicer has been in the West Wing pecking order — he technically outranks the staffers who got to meet the Pope — despite sacrificing his personal reputation to help advance the Trump agenda.

TRUTH BOMB:

— Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who belongs to the House Freedom Caucus, ripped Trump’s budget for being based on “a lie.” During a hearing yesterday, he sharply challenged the assumption the budget makes that the economy will grow at 3 percent a year for the next 10 years. That’s just not going to happen, experts agree, which means the deficit and debt will balloon even more than the White House acknowledges.

“I have looked every which way at how you might get there, and you can’t get there,” Sanford said. “I think it is just disastrously consequential to build a budget on 3 percent growth. The Bible says you can’t build a house on a sandy foundation. What it does is it perpetuates a myth that we can go out there and balance a budget without touching entitlements. It’s not only a myth, it’s frankly a lie, and if it gets started at the executive branch level it moves from there.”

“What this does is it [prevents] real debates from happening,” the former South Carolina governor continued. “For us to have a real debate, we have to base it on real numbers. I would also say it’s important because I’m a deficit hawk, as you well know, and if you’re wrong on these numbers, it means all of a sudden we’ve created a $2-plus-trillion hole for our kids and grandkids here going forward.” (Mike DeBonis has more.)

MORE DAYLIGHT:

— Do you trust President Trump’s judgment on major decisions? It’s a very simple question, but for Republicans in Congress, it’s a difficult one to answer (at least on the record). Sean Sullivan posed it to more than a dozen GOP lawmakers across the ideological spectrum this week: “Most of them weren’t eager to address the subject head-on. They diverted and demurred. They paused contemplatively before answering. Some grew visibly uncomfortable. Others declared their conviction in Trump — but then qualified their words or expressed confidence in the people around him. Only one of those interviewed offered an unqualified yes.”

“I’m not answering questions like that,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) after hopping off an underground tram shuttling him from the Capitol to his Senate office building. “That’s ah … ” he trailed off as he walked toward an elevator. Four seconds later, the easygoing Arizonan picked back up: “The president is overseas. I don’t think we’re allowed to ask any questions while the president’s overseas.”

PROFILES IN COURAGE:

— Sally Yates spoke about her refusal to defend Trump’s travel ban (before it was struck down by the courts as unconstitutional) during yesterday’s Harvard Law School class day ceremony: She said she thought her time as acting attorney general was going to be filled with “a lot of long, boozy lunches,” Katie Mettler reports. But “there wasn’t time for lunches at all,” she sighed, “boozy or otherwise.”

“The defining moments in our lives often don’t come with advance warning,” she said. “They can arise in scenarios we would have never expected, and they don’t come sometimes with the luxury of a whole lot of time to go inside yourself for some serious introspection.”

The travel ban, she explained, was “illustrative of an unexpected moment, when the law and conscience intersected and a decision had to be made in a very short period of time.” She reviewed the legal challenges, read case law and conferred with Justice Department lawyers before deciding that defending the ban would force her people to argue it “was not intended to disfavor Muslims,” even though the past words of Trump and his surrogates implied otherwise. “I believed that this would require us to advance a pretext, a defense not grounded in truth, so I directed the Department of Justice not to defend the ban,” she said.

She said she grappled with whether to resign or have Trump fire her: “I believed then and I believe now that resigning would have protected my personal integrity, but it would not have protected the integrity of the Department of Justice.”

“The arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend there on its own,” she concluded. “And so I would urge you to grab hold of that arc and not let go because the people of our country and indeed the entire world are counting on you.”

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Chris Parker, 33, rushed into Manchester Arena after Monday’s attack.

IN THE FACE OF HORROR, UNLIKELY HEROES EMERGE:

— Two homeless men who were outside Manchester Arena at the time of the blast – one begging for change and another sleeping – became the unlikely first responders in the first moments after Monday’s attack. Their daring actions, which included pulling nails from children’s faces and holding wounded victims in their final moments, are now being rewarded – though both men say they are haunted by the devastation they encountered. Peter Holley reports: “There was people lying on the floor everywhere,” said 33-year-old Chris Parker, who came to the venue hours earlier as an anonymous beggar … “I saw a little girl … she had no legs,” he added. “I wrapped her in one of the merchandise T-shirts and I said, ‘Where is your mum and daddy?’” There was also a wounded woman — “in her 60s,” he guessed — whom Parker tried to comfort. “She passed away in my arms,” he said. “I haven’t stopped crying.”

He was joined by Stephen Jones, a former bricklayer who had been sleeping before he rushed inside the arena to help. “Just because I am homeless doesn’t mean I haven’t got a heart,” Jones said, adding that he “wouldn’t be able to live with [himself] walking away and leaving kids like that.” “I’d like to think someone would come and help me if I needed the help,”he added. Since then, crowdfunding campaigns for both men have raised thousands of dollars.

A life-size replica of Noah’s Ark is pictured Williamstown, Ky.  (Luke Sharrett /For The Washington Post) 

WAPO HIGHLIGHT:

— “A giant ark is just the start. These creationists have a bigger plan for recruiting new believers,” by Karen Heller: “At the sight of the wooden vessel, tourists — decidedly more than two-by-two, a caravan of buses surrounding the site — gasp in wonder. Christian school students storm the ramps, many completing science quizzes based on anti-evolutionary teachings. The founder of Answers in Genesis, an online and publishing ministry with a strict creationist interpretation of the Bible, employed 700 workers to erect the $120 million Ark Encounter, which is five stories high and a football field and a half in length, and packs a powerful whoa punch. He had the massive boat designed by a veteran of amusement park attractions, commissioned an original soundtrack to enhance the experience, and stocked the interior with an animatronic (and freakishly real) talking Noah … And he saw that it was good. Now, the 65-year-old Australian and his partners … have launched an ambitious 10-to-12-year plan to re-create a walled city from the time of Noah and a 1st-century village from the time of Jesus. Also, a Tower of Babel, concept snack shacks, a 3,200-seat amphitheater and a 10-plagues-of-Egypt thrill ride. Instead of building a church, Answers in Genesis is sharing its teachings through a controversial biblical theme park designed to attract believers and nonbelievers alike.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Everyone on Twitter was talking about Montana:

Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses

— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017

I’ve traveled with @Bencjacobs all over the country covering politicians of all stripes. If he says this happened, it’s a big deal.

— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) May 24, 2017

Buzzfeed’s Alexis Levinson was there:

This is the scene outside – pic.twitter.com/xAin0jkhFo

— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017

All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor

— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017

Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) – sounded like Gianforte

— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017

Ben walked out holding his broken glasses in his hand and said “he just bodyslammed me”

— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017

The aide came over and told him he had to leave

— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017

Democrat Rob Quist, Gianforte’s foe:

Quist responds (sort of) pic.twitter.com/cvnfAm0NyE

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) May 24, 2017

Source tells me that some Quist canvassers are now playing audio of the Gianforte/Guardian incident for voters.

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) May 25, 2017

“hi, i am rob quist and i don’t assault reporters for asking a question about a healthcare bill that will affect millions of people” pic.twitter.com/KHAlL1xLP2

— jordan 🌹 (@JordanUhl) May 25, 2017

No joke: Gianforte out with a fundraising appeal tonight with subject line, “Double your impact.”

— Alex Isenstadt (@politicoalex) May 25, 2017

Dear Greg Gianforte: If you can’t deal with tape recorders in your face, you probably shouldn’t be applying for a job at the US Capitol pic.twitter.com/9XfH5knjOl

— Matt Viser (@mviser) May 25, 2017

From Sen. Orrin Hatch’s communications director:

Aggressive recorder shoving. pic.twitter.com/gYf4zWXfmH

— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) May 25, 2017

A good time to remember Lewandowski grabbing Michelle Fields, denying it, then a tape confirmed it. Then Trump spent weeks mocking Fields.

— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) May 25, 2017

Lots of chatter about Ben Carson’s statement that poverty is a “state of mind“:

Dear @SecretaryCarson,

States of mind:
✔️ Happy
✔️ Sad
✔️ New York

NOT a state of mind:
❌ Systemic poverty https://t.co/HAuQrNzvTL

— Nita Lowey (@NitaLowey) May 24, 2017

Ben Carson said poverty is a state of mind.

Next month, I’m going to tell my landlord that I paid my rent with positive thinking!

— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) May 24, 2017

Democrats seized on the bad CBO score. From a candidate for Virginia governor:

Periodic reminder that, right after Rs passed a disastrous bill to rip insurance away from 23M and raise premiums 20% next yr, they laughed. pic.twitter.com/lnfFUsiq3N

— Tom Perriello (@tomperriello) May 24, 2017

Paul Ryan looked at the bright side:

This @USCBO report again confirms that the American Health Care Act will lower premiums and the deficit. https://t.co/kmjeUP2qqFpic.twitter.com/YJnXUyD3xO

— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) May 24, 2017

Nancy Pelosi replied directly:

Once again, @SpeakerRyan is celebrating a bill that kicks millions off coverage & shreds protections for those still covered. #Trumpcarehttps://t.co/SjvWpKVYVA

— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) May 24, 2017

This vignette is making the rounds:

WOW. Mark Meadows, head of the Freedom Caucus, tears up upon realizing AHCA doesn’t protect pre-existing conditions.https://t.co/NfEwRZvj4ypic.twitter.com/tGY8VJGBMi

— Topher Spiro (@TopherSpiro) May 25, 2017

A photo of Pope Francis not smiling during a photo opp with Trump quickly became a meme. Religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey rounded up some of the funniest ones:

“Can you please not post this on any social media? I don’t want my boss seeing.” – Pope Francis pic.twitter.com/o4IKtD16Oj

— Full Frontal (@FullFrontalSamB) May 24, 2017

Pope Your Enthusiasm pic.twitter.com/joAC3sk5oe

— Seinfeld Current Day (@Seinfeld2000) May 24, 2017

Who wore it better? pic.twitter.com/qUFfpzlRfn

— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) May 24, 2017

Pope Francis is literally my favorite angsty teen pic.twitter.com/2lOab6gv2J

— Dana Schwartz (@DanaSchwartzzz) May 24, 2017

“nope.” – Pope Francis pic.twitter.com/GD8XuYnXiJ

— Broderick Greer (@BroderickGreer) May 24, 2017

This was the president’s takeaway from their meeting:

Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world. pic.twitter.com/JzJDy7pllI

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2017

Many reporters lamented that Spicer, a devout Catholic, was excluded from Trump’s meeting with the Pope:

This seems needlessly harsh – when else is Spicer likely to meet the Pope, and it mattered to him? https://t.co/jUtcTW8wbg

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 24, 2017

That planners of this trip couldn’t or wouldn’t get @seanspicer into the Vatican speaks to a small-mindedness I find incredibly depressing.

— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) May 24, 2017

Call me a Spicer apologist, but this makes me feel v sad… https://t.co/wCp51Ggb00pic.twitter.com/SpkxeUPYlx

— Ashley Parker (@AshleyRParker) May 24, 2017

Trump is a cruel boss. https://t.co/6Lur6mLJug

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) May 24, 2017

Not fake news:

“We stand by the numbers,” Trump budget director says of $2,000,000,000,000 error that uses same money twice. https://t.co/iSU10e0wy3pic.twitter.com/jeIdJlFumX

— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) May 24, 2017

A fun Throwback Thursday — to 1848:

the Senate once kept a reporter locked in a committee room, forcing him to use the dateline “Custody of the Sergeant at Arms.” pic.twitter.com/9LCvQCwLVI

— Jaime Fuller (@j_fuller) May 25, 2017

Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken is dating Laura Kiessling, an administrative judge for the Anne Arundel County, Md., circuit court, the Reliable Source confirms. This picture prompted Emily Heil to reach out to Ripken:

Looks like Anne Arundel Court Judge Laura Kiessling, with Cal Ripken, caught a foul ball pic.twitter.com/njUMTc9iAD

— Justin Fenton (@justin_fenton) May 24, 2017

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Restaurant: ICE Agents Ate Breakfast, Then Detained Employees,” from the Daily Beast: “Bree Stilwell of Sava’s Restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan [said] three to five ICE agents sat down to eat breakfast before apprehending three immigrant men working at the restaurant and taking them away on Wednesday. Stilwell said that the employees have proper documentation, but didn’t have it on their persons this morning. ‘One ICE agent was stationed at the back door, and one at the front,’ Stilwell said. ‘They apprehended one of our employees taking the trash out to the back alley and immediately put him in handcuffs.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“White women’s burrito shop is forced to close after being hounded with accusations it was ‘culturally appropriating Mexican food and jobs,’” from the Daily Mail: “Two white women have been forced to close their pop-up burrito shop after they were accused of cultural appropriation. Kali Wilgus and Liz ‘LC’ Connelly opened Kooks Burritos in Portland [after traveling to Mexico in December]. For the first few months, the weekend pop-up shop housed in a taco truck was a smash hit. But that’s when the trouble started for Wilgus and Connelly, after quotes they gave to the Williamette Week led to them being accused of stealing their success. Explaining their trip, Connelly told the newspaper: ‘I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did.’ Those comments were latched onto by a food blog in the Portland Mercury, which accused Wilgus and Connelly of ‘preying’ on the women they met in Mexico.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) said Russia may not have interfered in the congressional investigation during a CNN interview, hinting on air at the debunked conspiracy theory that a DNC staffer gave Wikileaks information before his murder. “There’s still some question,” he said, “as to whether the intrusion at the server was an insider job or whether or not it was the Russians.” CNN anchor John Berman interrupted and asked if he was referring to the story Fox had retractd. “Again, there’s stuff circulating on the Internet,” the congressman said, defending himself. (Phil Bump’s story; Video of the segment) 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

— Expect on-and-off showers throughout the day. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Steady rains are likely to taper off early in the morning, but showers could linger into mid-morning. The sun is likely to break through by early afternoon, but that may not be a blessing: Highs warm to the mid-70s and help set off some t’storms later in the afternoon. There is an outside chance that a storm or two could be strong enough for some hail and/or high winds, so keep an eye out for that.”

— The Nationals beat the Mariners 5-1.

— The Nationals are moving up today’s series finale against the Mariners to 12:05 p.m. because of the weather.

— Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is planning to sign 209 bills today, as he closes out what is believed to be his eighth and final bill signing ceremony of the 2017 session. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “The list includes a package of measures to address the state’s growing heroin epidemic. But missing from the hundreds of bills are several high-profile measures that are awaiting action from Hogan, including a top priority of Democratic legislative leaders that requires employers to provide paid sick leave benefits to their workers.”

— Heading out of town for Memorial Day? Leave a little extra time for travel in your itinerary – forecasters are predicting the busiest travel weekend in 12 years, with about a million area residents expected to hit the roads. (Luz Lazo)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers made fun of Trump’s meeting with the Pope:

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Colbert also made jokes about the visit:

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And he talked about the budget:

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Stephen did a skit based on The Washington Post obtaining the transcript of the Trump-Duterte call:

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Jimmy Kimmel also focused on the Pope-Trump session:

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Winter is coming! This summer:

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Jacoby Ellsbury made a spectacular play on the very first pitch of the Yankees’ 3-0 win over the Royals on Wednesday, crashing into the center field wall after a long sprint to rob Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar of an extra-base hit. However, the veteran outfielder paid a heavy price on the play, suffering a concussion that sent him to the disabled list. Click to watch:

Jacoby Ellsbury SLAMS HARD into the wall to record the first out of the game, now on YES and Fox Sports Go. pic.twitter.com/2jbMtVgBWB

— YES Network (@YESNetwork) May 24, 2017

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British outraged over alleged US leaks in the Manchester bomb investigation – Washington Post

By ,

LONDON — British indignation over alleged American leaks of investigative material related to the Manchester bombing will likely create a charged environment Thursday when British Prime Minister Theresa May meets later with President Trump.

May said Thursday morning she would “make clear” to Trump when they meet later in the day at a NATO summit in Brussels that “intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure.”

Leaks from the ongoing investigation — including the publication of crime-scene photos in the New York Times and the naming of the suspected bomber by U.S. broadcasters — have provoked ire from British officials.

The breaches could undermine the extremely close intelligence sharing between the United States and Britain.

In Brussels, Trump twice declined to answer a reporter’s questions about the leak controversy and British intelligence sharing. In a photo opportunity ahead of a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump simply stared at his questioner and mouthed the words, “Thank you.” He said the same thing when asked whether his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, should cooperate with U.S. investigations of contacts with Russian officials.

[Bombing probe expands to Germany amid raids, arrests in Britain]

Trump later issued a statement calling the alleged leaks “deeply troubling” and vowing to “get to the bottom of this.” He added: “The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security. I am asking the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to launch a complete review of this matter, and if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

He said there was “no relationship we cherish more than the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.”

According to a British official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, British police investigating the Manchester attack have now decided to withhold information from the United States in the wake of the leaks.

“Greater Manchester Police hopes to resume normal intelligence relationships — a two-way flow of information — soon but is currently furious,” the BBC reported.

Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said in a statement Thursday that the leaks published by the New York Times have caused “much distress for families that are already suffering terribly with their loss.”

British police chiefs across the country have also criticized the leaks in a highly unusual statement.

“We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world,” said the National Police Chiefs’ Council in a statement. “When that trust is breached, it undermines these relationships, and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families. This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorized disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counterterrorism investigation.”

On Wednesday morning, Amber Rudd, Britain’s home secretary, said the leaks in the U.S. media were “irritating” and should not happen again.

Hours later, the New York Times published a series of detailed forensic photographs from the crime scene that showed, among other things, fragments of a blue backpack that may have contained the assailant’s bomb. They also included a graphic of the area where the bomb exploded, pinpointing where the victims’ bodies were found.

[Investigators face challenges as Libya becomes a key focus of bombing probe]

The New York Times on Thursday defended its reporting, saying in an emailed statement that “the images and information presented were neither graphic nor disrespectful of victims, and consistent with the common line of reporting on weapons used in horrific crimes.”

“We have strict guidelines on how and in what ways we cover sensitive stories,” the paper said. “Our coverage of Monday’s heinous attack has been both comprehensive and responsible.”

The growing frustration of British officials comes as allies are already smarting from Trump’s disclosure of classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador about an Islamic State threat.

“Everyone is very angry,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.

Referring to Rudd’s remarks, he said that the “Five Eyes relationship is crucial to U.K. intelligence and security, and for her to openly say how unhappy she is about this shows you how angry people are.” He noted that Rudd’s use of the word “irritating” should be seen from the lens of the British fondness for understatement.

Britain and the United States are members of the “Five Eyes” group (which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand) that allows close intelligence sharing.

But the overall transatlantic intelligence sharing relationship will endure, he said, “because they need each other — the links are far too tight to be broken.”

At a lower level, however, there could be an erosion of trust. “If I’m a cop in Manchester, I may first think, ‘Do I want this to go to everybody?’ if I’m wanting operational integrity,” Pantucci said.

This isn’t the first time that operational details in an ongoing investigation have come out in the United States.

Days after the London transit bombings in 2005, for instance, images of bomb components and the inside of a subway car were leaked in U.S. media.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said he complained to acting U.S. ambassador Lewis Lukens that the leaks were undermining the investigation.

“These leaks are completely unacceptable, and must stop immediately,” he said. “This behavior is arrogant and is undermining the investigation into the horrific attack on the city of Manchester.”

Lukens also condemned the leaks, telling the BBC that the messages coming out of Britain were “loud and clear.”

“These leaks are terrible,” he said. “Let me just say in the strongest possible terms that we condemn them and we are determined to investigate and to bring appropriate action.”

William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.

Read more:

Three seconds of silence, then a scream: How the Manchester suicide attack unfolded

The Manchester attack was exactly what many had long feared

‘Evil losers’: Trump joins world leaders in condemning Manchester terrorist attack

Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

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Fox News crew 'watched in disbelief' as Montana's Greg Gianforte 'slammed' and 'began punching' reporter – Washington Post

A Republican candidate in Montana’s special election, Greg Gianforte, allegedly ‘body-slams’ Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, prompting a police investigation into the incident. (Courtesy of The Guardian)

A Fox News reporter provided a vivid eyewitness account late Wednesday of an attack on a reporter by Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte that led to him being cited for assault by the county sheriff and to lose his endorsements from two Montana newspapers ahead of the special election set for Thursday.

Both papers, the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette, issued scathing denunciations of Gianforte.

The alleged assault took place at Gianforte’s headquarters in Bozeman, where Fox’s Alicia Acuna and her crew were preparing a story to air on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

As the crew was setting up, Gianforte was approached by the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, who put a voice recorder “to Gianforte’s face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act,” the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act, she wrote.

“Gianforte,” Acuna wrote, “told him he would get back to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.”

“At that point,” she wrote, “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.”

Gianforte was later cited for misdemeanor assault. The sheriff’s department said the incident did not meet the state’s statutory definition of felony assault.

Acuna and her crew “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”

Acuna said that Jacobs “scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken.” He asked the Fox reporter and crew for their names but “in shock, we did not answer.”

[GOP candidate in Montana race charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly body-slamming reporter]

“To be clear,” she wrote, “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.”

Her account contradicts a statement issued by Gianforte’s campaign that said that Jacobs, the Guardian reporter, “grabbed Greg’s wrist” as the candidate tried to grab a phone “pushed in his face.” Jacobs then “spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.”

“It’s unfortunate,” said the statement, “that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

The entire incident can be heard on an audio recording published by the Guardian. The recording does not support the campaign’s claim that Jacobs had been asked to leave but rather reflects some broader grievance with reporters. “I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte is heard saying. “The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here.”

It’s unclear whether it was the subject matter that provoked Gianforte or simply Jacobs’s presence and persistence in questioning him. The Congressional Budget Office estimates released Wednesday on the impact of the Republican health care proposal were not helpful to Republicans supporting the measure (23 million more Americans would be left uninsured by 2026, the CBO projected.) But while CBO numbers are often the source of much political heat and wonky debate, there’s no history of violence associated with them.

Later, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, in a statement, said that after “multiple interviews and an investigation … it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.”

The sheriff, Brian Gootkin, noted in response to questions that he had made a $250 contribution to Gianforte’s campaign. “This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation, which is now complete,” he said.

Montana sheriff Brian Gootkin holds a press conference on the alleged assault between Republican candidate in Montana’s special election, Greg Gianforte and a Guardian reporter on May 24. (NBC Montana)

Following the extraordinary incident, Montana’s largest newspapers withdrew their endorsements of the Republican in what has become a surprisingly close race against Democrat Rob Quist to fill the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke when he became President Trump’s secretary of the interior.

Missoulian rescinds Gianforte endorsement https://t.co/QMEWH67aJE via @missoulian

— missoulian (@missoulian) May 25, 2017

In a late-night editorial, the Missoulian wrote:

“The Republican candidate for Congress not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night when, according to witnesses, he put his hands around the throat of a reporter asking him about his health care stance, threw him to the ground and punched him — he should lose the confidence of all Montanans.”

“We’re pulling our endorsement of Greg Gianforte” said the headline in the Billings Gazette.

“We’re at a loss for words,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “And as people who wrangle words on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesn’t happen often.

“What happens even less — hopefully never again — is a Montana candidate assaulting a reporter. While there are still questions left unanswered about GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforte’s altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, eyewitness accounts, law enforcement investigations and records are all shocking, disturbing and without precedent.

” … We will not stand by that kind of violence, period.”

The Gazette referenced an incident at a campaign event in which a Gianforte took questions from the audience, including a man who said:

“Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?”

The man then looked at the Ravalli Republic reporter sitting next to him and raised his hands as if he would like to wring his neck.

Gianforte smiled and pointed at the reporter.

“We have someone right here,” the candidate said. “It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.”

That and “other questionable interactions Gianforte had with reporters … must now be seen through a much more sinister lens,” the Gazette said. “What he passed off as a joke at the time now becomes much more serious.”

The Gianforte campaign, it added, “should be appalled” by its statement “that would seem to justify the fight when it said the Bozeman Republican had tussled with a ‘liberal journalist.’ How would the campaign have known the reporter’s political beliefs? And, is it suggesting that it’s acceptable to put your hands on a reporter if you believe their political views are different from yours?”

The Society of Professional Journalists denounced the alleged assault, saying “it is never acceptable to physically harm or arrest a journalist who is simply trying to do his or her job.”

More from Morning Mix:

Sean Hannity loses advertisers amid uproar over slain DNC staffer conspiracy theories

Sally Yates tells Harvard Law grads why she defied President Trump

‘We need a final solution,’ British columnist tweets — then deletes — after Manchester bombing

Sheriff David Clarke denies claims he plagiarized in his master’s thesis, lambastes CNN reporter

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Manchester attack: May to tell Trump to stop intelligence leaks – CNN

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5 things to watch in Montana's special election – The Hill

All eyes are on Montana as voters head to the polls Thursday to decide a pivotal House special election.

Republicans and Democrats have poured money into the race to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the state’s sole House seat, with the parties fighting over whether the ever-tightening race will become proof of a mounting wave against President Trump. 

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The race pits Democratic folk musician Rob Quist against millionaire Republican businessman Greg Gianforte. Both candidates raised more than $10 million combined, including at least $1 million in personal loans by Gianforte, while outside groups have spent more than $7 million.

All that spending has helped put Montana right in the middle of the national political debate. So here are five things to watch as voters cast their ballots and the results pour in through Thursday evening. 

Can Gianforte repeat Trump’s success in key counties?

Montana is a tricky state to predict. Pre-election polling is notoriously unreliable both because of the state’s size and the independent nature of its electorate.

Last year’s presidential election is proof of the state’s purple leanings. While Republican Donald TrumpDonald Trump5 things to watch in Montana’s special electionGOP on edge over Montana electionInside Twitter, angst over the Trump effectMORE blew Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonHannity on attempted advertiser boycott: ‘Nobody tells me what to say on my show’Overnight Cybersecurity: Bad Russian intel may have swayed Comey’s handling of Clinton probe | Apple sees spike in data requests | More subpoenas for Flynn | DOJ’s plan for data warrantsBudowsky: GOP summer of scandalMORE out in the state by a 22-point margin, Gianforte lost his gubernatorial bid to Democrat Steve Bullock by 4 points.

Republicans are leaning on President Trump’s popularity in the state to win votes for Gianforte. Vice President Pence and Donald Trump Jr. both campaigned for him, while Trump and Pence appeared in robocalls days before the election.

As Thursday’s results come in, look to two big counties that voted for Trump but not Gianforte in 2016: Cascade and Lewis and Clark.

Trump outperformed Gianforte’s gubernatorial margin in Cascade by 33 percentage points and in Lewis and Clark by 30 points. Both are home to cities where Democrats need to perform well: Great Falls and Helena, respectively.

So if the electoral map looks more like the presidential one, Gianforte is in the clear. But if it starts to look like the one that lost him the governor’s race, he’ll obviously be in trouble.

One other tip, pointed out by ABC’s Ryan Struyk: Tiny Lake County in northwestern Montana has been an almost perfect bellwether county in Montana for two decades.  

What will turnout look like?

Analysts always point to turnout as the key to every election. But with the vote scheduled for the Thursday before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, that warning is especially important.

Democrats and Republicans have fought for control of the narrative for months, keenly aware that an enthusiasm gap could spell doom. That’s one reason why Republicans have dumped so much money into the state, as they lag in 2018 generic ballot polls and are tied to a president with low approval ratings.

Since Montana is a massive state, many vote by absentee ballot. As of Tuesday evening, more than 250,000 voters returned their absentee ballots — more than a third of the 650,000 voters who were registered on Election Day 2016.

It could be difficult to use those numbers to predict the election’s outcome, but supporters of whoever wins will undoubtedly point to turnout as one reason for the victory.

Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida, wrote Wednesday that Gianforte’s hopes could be boosted by the fact that the absentee ballot return rate in counties won by Clinton is below the statewide level.

But he added that Quist has good news in the absentee ballot figures, too — the number of absentee ballots returned in counties won by Clinton is up 16 percent.

Can Democratic populism win Trump voters?

Trump rolled through the Electoral College thanks in no small part to his populist appeal to white, working-class, rural voters who felt left out of the Obama economy.

Montana, a rural and politically independent state, could also serve as a battleground for two rival brands of populism.

Gianforte has leaned heavily on Trump and his surrogates to help connect with voters who delivered an empathetic win for Trump last year.

On the Democratic side, Quist is running as a populist Democrat — he joined with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP on edge over Montana electionOvernight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs ‘in the trash’Schumer: Republicans should throw their health bill ‘in the trash’MORE (I-Vt.) in a swing through the state last weekend.

Many Democrats have looked at the 2016 results as proof the party needs to connect more with the working class through economic appeals. But that requires a careful balance in red states, where voters could be turned off by liberal policies.

Quist’s race could help show whether the party has figured out how to walk that line in the states they will need to win back. 

What’s the post-election spin?

Whichever candidate wins, control over a single House seat won’t have much effect over who controls Congress. But the real impact of Montana’s election could be its effect on the national narrative.  

Democratic messaging and fundraising has been boosted by the fact that the reliably red district is even in play. But the GOP could blunt that momentum somewhat if they manage to hang on to the seat.

A Quist victory would prompt the party to declare that the anti-Trump “resistance” has taken its first congressional seat, warning that Trump’s scandals and low polling numbers suggest a 2018 midterm wave. That enthusiasm could be key as the party rolls toward the Georgia special election runoff on June 20, where a follow-up win would create significant momentum.  

Republicans would be left shaking their heads, questioning if Trump is creating an electoral nightmare down the ballot and lamenting the millions blown on saving what was once a safe seat.

On the flip side, the spin of a Gianforte win would likely depend on the margin. A close race will send a mixed message: Democrats will still claim that the race would have been a blow-out without Trump, while Republicans push back, arguing that a win is a win.

A Quist loss will also likely prompt Democrats to question the party’s level of financial investment in the race. While the party organization has poured money into the Georgia special election, official committees have largely steered clear of Montana.

Some Democrats argue that the decision helped to keep Quist looking somewhat independent of the national party. But that strategy might lead to questions as it did earlier this year, when Democrats outperformed in Kansas only to still fall short with little national investment.

A comfortable Gianforte victory would be a major relief for Republicans. That result could dampen enthusiasm among Democrats and continue the demoralizing trend of liberals falling short of actually winning a special election seat, a trend that could jeopardize Democratic enthusiasm moving forward. 

How will Trump respond?

With Democrats racing to frame the tightening in Montana as a referendum on Trump, it’ll be worth watching how the president takes the results.

Since he’s finishing up his first international trip as president, Trump will likely be awake when the race is called. He’ll be in Italy meeting with the Group of Seven countries, with a winner expected to be crowned around early morning in Trump’s time zone.

After Democrat Jon Ossoff failed to win April’s special election all-party primary in Georgia, forcing him into a runoff with Republican Karen Handel, Trump tweeted twice to mock the Democrats and claim some of the win for himself.

Shortly after midnight, as votes were being finalized, Trump chided the “major outside money” and “FAKE media support” that he said helped Ossoff.

“Glad to be of help!” he added

  The next morning, he chided Ossoff for “failing” in another tweet.

  The fact that Trump’s son and vice president campaigned for Gianforte in Montana raises the stakes for Trump’s electoral brand in the special election.

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GOP on edge over Montana election – The Hill

Republicans are sweating out the final day of Montana’s high-stakes special election, a race that a few months ago seemed like an easy GOP win.

Strategists from both parties say that private polling showed a tightening race leading up to the election, with Democrat Rob Quist within a few points of Republican Greg Gianforte in a state President Trump carried by 20 points.

A confrontation between Gianforte and a reporter Wednesday night roiled the race, however, with Gianforte later charged with misdemeanor assault. 

Gianforte had been expected to eke out a win to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the House, but even Montana Republicans conceded that this race had become too close for comfort and hadn’t completely written off the possibility a Democratic upset.

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“We are literally in a dog fight right now,” said a Montana Republican familiar with the race before the confrontation. “I think it is essentially a toss-up.

“It’s really tightening up. The nationalization of the race contributed to a lot of that.”

The election wasn’t expected to be this close. After nominating conventions in March, Gianforte, a millionaire tech entrepreneur, was seen as the clear front-runner who had name recognition with voters after an unsuccessful run for governor last November.

But Quist, a folk musician and political newcomer, saw an increase in momentum. Growing interest in the race prompted national Democrats to start investing last month.

Gianforte’s double-digit lead eroded to within single digits in polls over the last few weeks, as money from both campaigns and outside groups blanketed the state’s airwaves.

Now, Democrats are eager to claim their first federal special election victory of 2017 and prove that momentum and voter enthusiasm is on their side. After a close defeat in Kansas and the party’s failure to avert a runoff in Georgia, all eyes are on whether Democrats can finally pull off an upset, this time in Big Sky Country.

Democrats are trumpeting Tuesday’s New York state Senate special election, which saw a supporter of progressive favorite Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders5 things to watch in Montana’s special electionGOP on edge over Montana electionOvernight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs ‘in the trash’MORE (I-Vt.) win a Trump district, as evidence of a shift in the political tides. The party hopes to convert that energy into a victory on Thursday, then use a Quist victory to energize Democrats and worry Republicans ahead of Georgia’s June 20 special election.

In the final week of the race, Quist barnstormed the state with Sanders in an effort to channel the populist rhetoric that won the senator the state’s Democratic presidential primary a year ago.

Like Sanders, Quist supports a single-payer healthcare system. He has also criticized trade deals, echoing both Sanders’s and Trump’s campaigns.

Quist’s campaign has also touted his total fundraising haul of $6 million, with $1 million raised in less than a week.

Montana Democrats say the enthusiasm they saw over the weekend during Sanders’s visit underscores why they believe Quist has a real shot on Thursday.

“What I’m seeing on the ground is the momentum shift,” said Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party. “The enthusiasm on the ground is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have also had their fair share of high-profile surrogates come to bat for Gianforte and countered Sanders’s visits with reinforcements from the White House.

While Trump, who is on his first foreign trip, couldn’t personally stump for him in Montana, the president recorded a robocall for Gianforte. And Vice President Pence and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump was smart to abandon NAFTA war, now let’s improve trade5 things to watch in Montana’s special electionGOP on edge over Montana electionMORE Jr. have attended a handful of campaign rallies alongside the Montana Republican, while Pence also recorded a robocall.

Gianforte’s alignment with the White House is a strategy that can help shore up his base and try to win back some of the voters who in 2016 split their tickets between Trump and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock over Gianforte.

Gianforte’s fundraising lags behind his opponent’s, and his $4.6 million haul was fueled by $1.5 million of his own money. But the House GOP’s campaign committee and outside groups have easily compensated for that gap, vastly outspending Democrats.

The race’s tightening is apparent on both sides, but Republicans looking at private polling remain hopeful that Gianforte can pull off a win.

“We’re still nervous, but we feel like we’ll probably edge it out,” the Montana Republican said. “It’ll be closer than it should be.”

Over the past few months, the candidates have clashed regularly, often on gun rights. But both candidates have their own set of weaknesses that have also defined the race.

Quist has been haunted by his past history of financial troubles, including unpaid debts and property taxes. Republicans have used the financial problems in attack ads, while Quist has countered that his checkbook issues mean he can relate to average Montanans.

Meanwhile, Gianforte’s muddled stance on the GOP’s bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare has made for Democratic attack fodder. Gianforte initially publicly distanced himself from the bill, only to tout its “national significance” in a call to Washington lobbyists that was leaked to the media.

Gianforte’s campaign sought to clarify the conflicting remarks, saying that he’s “thankful” the repeal process has begun.

Many of the same issues that dogged Gianforte’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign have also re-emerged. Democrats are again capitalizing on Gianforte’s New Jersey roots, though he has lived in Montana for more than two decades. And they highlighted a 2009 lawsuit Gianforte filed against the state in an attempt to restrict access to a public stream running near his property — a flap that led to Quist using the stream as a backdrop for one ad.

Like most races, Montana’s special election will come down to turnout, especially of each party’s base. And that turnout is expected to be relatively low, despite all the attention on the race, with the election falling on the Thursday before Memorial Day and most universities already out for summer.

As of Tuesday night, 70 percent of requested absentee ballots have been returned, but it’s hard to predict which party that will ultimately benefit.

While a Quist win is within the realm of possibility, Democrats recognize the difficulty of flipping a seat in a deep red state. But they believe the closeness of races in both Montana and Georgia can provide a window into what’s ahead in the 2018 midterms.

“If you win [Montana], that’s an earthquake,” a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aide told The Hill. “That sends a message to Republicans that they are in deep trouble.

“I think you’re going to get some good indicators from both those races on the intensity level on both sides. Is that a narrative in Washington, or is that real?”

Read more from The Hill: 

5 things to watch in Montana’s special election

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Fox News crew 'watched in disbelief' as Montana's Greg Gianforte 'slammed' and 'punched' reporter – Washington Post

A Republican candidate in Montana’s special election, Greg Gianforte, allegedly ‘body-slams’ Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, prompting a police investigation into the incident. (Courtesy of The Guardian)

A Fox News reporter provided a vivid eyewitness account late Wednesday of an attack on a reporter by Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte that led to him being cited for assault by the county sheriff and to lose his endorsements from two Montana newspapers ahead of the special election set for Thursday.

Both papers, the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette, issued scathing denunciations of Gianforte.

The alleged assault took place at Gianforte’s headquarters in Bozeman, where Fox’s Alicia Acuna and her crew were preparing a story to air on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

As the crew was setting up, Gianforte was approached by the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, who put a voice recorder “to Gianforte’s face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act,” the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act, she wrote.

“Gianforte,” Acuna wrote, “told him he would get back to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.

“At that point,” she wrote, “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.”

Acuna and her crew “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”

Acuna said that Jacobs “scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken.” He asked the Fox reporter and crew for their names but “in shock, we did not answer.”

[GOP candidate in Montana race charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly body-slamming reporter]

“To be clear,” she wrote, “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.”

Her account contradicts a statement issued by Gianforte’s campaign which said that Jacobs, the Guardian reporter, “grabbed Greg’s wrist” as the candidate tried to grab a phone “pushed in his face.” Jacobs then “spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.”

“It’s unfortunate,” said that statement, “that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

The entire incident can be heard on an audio recording published by the Guardian. The recording does not support the campaign’s claim that Jacobs had been asked to leave but rather reflects some broader grievance with reporters. “I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte is heard saying. “The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here.”

It’s unclear whether it was the subject matter that provoked Gianforte or simply Jacobs’ presence and persistence in questioning him. The Congressional Budget Office estimates released Wednesday on the impact of the Republican health care proposal were not helpful to Republicans supporting the measure (23 million more Americans would be left uninsured by 2026, the CBO projected.) But while CBO numbers are often the source of much political heat and wonky debate, there’s no history of violence associated with them.

Later, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, in a statement, said that after “multiple interviews and an investigation … it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.”

The sheriff, Brian Gootkin, noted in response to questions that he had made a $250 contribution to Gianforte’s campaign. “This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete,” he said.

Following the extraordinary incident, Montana’s largest newspapers withdrew their endorsements of the Republican in what has become a surprising close race against Democrat Rob Quist to fill the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke when he became President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.

Missoulian rescinds Gianforte endorsement https://t.co/QMEWH67aJE via @missoulian

— missoulian (@missoulian) May 25, 2017

In a late night editorial, the Missoulian wrote:

“The Republican candidate for Congress not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night when, according to witnesses, he put his hands around the throat of a reporter asking him about his health care stance, threw him to the ground and punched him — he should lose the confidence of all Montanans.”

“We’re pulling our endorsement of Greg Gianforte” said the headline in the Billings Gazette.

“We’re at a loss for words,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “And as people who wrangle words on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesn’t happen often.

“What happens even less — hopefully never again — is a Montana candidate assaulting a reporter. While there are still questions left unanswered about GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforte’s altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, eyewitness accounts, law enforcement investigations and records are all shocking, disturbing and without precedent.

” … We will not stand by that kind of violence, period.”

The Gazette referenced an incident at a campaign event in which a Gianforte took questions from the audience, including a man who said:

‘Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?’

The man then looked at the Ravalli Republic reporter sitting next to him and raised his hands as if he would like to wring his neck.

Gianforte smiled and pointed at the reporter.

‘We have someone right here,’ the candidate said. “It seems like there is more of us than there is of him’

That and “other questionable interactions Gianforte had with reporters … must now be seen through a much more sinister lens,” the Gazette said. “What he passed off as a joke at the time now becomes much more serious.”

The Gianforte campaign, it added, “should be appalled” by its statement “that would seem to justify the fight when it said the Bozeman Republican had tussled with a ‘liberal journalist.’ How would the campaign have known the reporter’s political beliefs? And, is it suggesting that it’s acceptable to put your hands on a reporter if you believe their political views are different from yours?”

The Society of Professional Journalists denounced the alleged assault, saying “it is never acceptable to physically harm or arrest a journalist who is simply trying to do his or her job.”

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Republican candidate in Montana race allegedly 'body-slammed' reporter, prompting police investigation – Washington Post

A Republican candidate in Montana’s special election, Greg Gianforte, allegedly ‘body-slams’ Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, prompting a police investigation into the incident. (Courtesy of The Guardian)

MISSOULA, Mont. — Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in Montana’s special congressional election, was accused Wednesday night of assaulting a reporter for the Guardian who had been trying to ask him a question. Gianforte, who is seen as the slight favorite in a race that ends Thursday, left what was supposed to be a final campaign rally, at his Bozeman headquarters, without making remarks.

The Gallatin County sheriff’s office said Wednesday evening that it was “currently investigating allegations of an assault involving Greg Gianforte.” At a press conference, Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that witnesses were still being interviewed, and that four other people had been present for the incident.

In an audio recording published by the Guardian, the reporter, Ben Jacobs, can be heard asking Gianforte to respond to the fresh Congressional Budget Office score of the American Health Care Act, a bill Gianforte has said he was glad to see the House of Representatives approve. According to Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed, Jacobs had followed the candidate into a room where a camera was set up for an interview, before the event began.

“We’ll talk to you about that later,” Gianforte says in the audio.

“Yeah, but there’s not going to be time,” says Jacobs. “I’m just curious about it right now.”

After Gianforte tells Jacobs to direct the question to his spokesman, Shane Scanlon, there is the sound of an altercation, and Gianforte begins to scream.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte says. “The last guy that came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”

“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.

“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte says.

“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte says.

After that, Jacobs can be heard on the tape promising to contact the police, which he did. After the incident, Scanlon released a campaign statement putting the onus on Jacobs, saying that he “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions,” prompting the candidate to act.

“Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face,” Scanlon said. “Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene.”

On the tape, which was being reviewed by police on Wednesday evening, Gianforte does not ask Jacobs to lower the recorder.

In an article published Wednesday night, Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna wrote that Gianforte punched Jacobs after pulling him down.

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acuna wrote. “At no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

Gianforte’s Democratic opponent Rob Quist heard about the incident while holding one of his final pre-election events at a campaign office in Missoula. After it wrapped, and before the audio was published, he told reporters that he would not comment on what happened.

“That’s a matter for law enforcement,” he said. “I’m just focused on the issues that are facing the people of Montana.”

At his final rally at a Missoula micro-brewery, Quist did not mention the incident, and brushed past reporters who continued to ask about it.

Other Democrats were less cautious. As word spread of what Gianforte had done, some supporters who had been knocking on doors for Quist began playing voters the audio. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has invested more than $500,000 in the race, released a statement after the tape’s release, calling for Gianforte to quit the race.

“Greg Gianforte must immediately withdraw his candidacy after his alleged violent assault of an innocent journalist,” said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law. “Further, Speaker [Paul] Ryan and the National Republican Campaign Committee should not waste another minute before publicly denouncing their candidate and apologizing for the millions of dollars they spent on his behalf.”

The NRCC, when asked for comment, referred reporters to Gianforte’s statement.

The Guardian’s  U.S. editor, Lee Glendinning, said in a statement that the newspaper is “deeply appalled” by how the reporter was treated in the course of doing his job. “We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben and our team of reporters for the questions they ask and the reporting that is produced,” she said.

In other races, candidates have been badly damaged for appearing to blow up at reporters or people recording them on tape. In 2006, the Democratic nominee for governor of Minnesota lost a close race after accusing a reporter who asked tough questions of being “a Republican whore.” In 2010, North Carolina Democratic congressman Bob Etheridge lost what had been a safe seat after manhandling a Republican tracker who asked if he supported “the Obama agenda.”

In Montana, where more than 200,000 of the 700,000 eligible voters have already cast early absentee ballots, it was unclear how Gianforte’s blow-up would affect the race. Jacobs, who had been covering the race for weeks, spent Wednesday evening telling and re-telling the story from a hospital, for media outlets and for the police.

Some Democrats quietly fretted that the alleged assault would not change the race — or would help Gianforte with his base. Last month, a voter at a Gianforte town hall pointed out a reporter in the room; then, according to the Missoulian, the voter called the media “the enemy” and mimed the act of wringing a neck.

“It seems like there are more of us than there is of him,” commented Gianforte.

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