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Dorsey, Sandberg in the hot seat

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Net neutrality looms at Kavanaugh hearing — Makan sense of Trump on antitrust

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Trump personally lobbying GOP senators to flip on Sessions

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The willingness of Republican senators to turn on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the result of a furious lobbying campaign from President Donald Trump, who for the past ten days has been venting his anger at Sessions to “any senator who will listen,” according to one GOP Senate aide.

The president, who has spent a year and a half fulminating against his attorney general in public, finally got traction on Capitol Hill thanks to the growing frustration of a handful of GOP senators with their former colleague – most importantly, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who have been irritated by Sessions’ opposition to a criminal justice reform bill they support.

Trump raised the prospect of firing Sessions last week in a phone conversation with Graham, according to two Capitol Hill aides, who said that Graham pressed the president to hold off until after the midterm elections. The president has also complained loudly about Sessions to several Republican senators, according to a GOP chief staff.

Grassley has not gotten a call from the White House, according to a Republican familiar with events.

Trump hasn’t just been pushing his case with Republican senators – he’s worn down his lawyers, too, according to two Republicans close to the White House. Though they once cautioned him that dismissing Sessions would feed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s potential obstruction of justice, these people say, Trump’s legal team has become increasingly convinced Mueller will make that case regardless of whether the president fires Sessions or leaves him in place.

“There’s the belief that if the president taking action with respect to Sessions is going to be an important part of the Mueller obstruction case, most of that case has already been made. Things that the president has already done privately that have been reported, but also things that the president has done publicly that could be characterized as bullying or intimidating, all of that case is already there ready to be made, such that firing him is almost like an afterthought,” said one person familiar with the conversations among members of the president’s legal team.

Spokesmen for Graham and the White House declined to comment. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Seized by paroxysms of anger, Trump has intermittently pushed to fire his attorney general since March of 2017, when Sessions announced his recusal from the Russia investigation. If Sessions’ recusal was his original sin, Trump has come to resent him for other reasons, griping to aides and lawmakers that he doesn’t have the Ivy League pedigree the president prefers, that he can’t stand his Southern accent and that Sessions isn’t a capable defender of the president on television – in part because he “talks like he has marbles in his mouth,” the president has told aides.

The impetus for Trump’s latest push, according to two White House aides, was the dual convictions last week of his longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort — an outgrowth of the Russia probe, for which the president pointed the finger at Sessions. Trump fumed on Fox News that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department” and that “the only reason I gave him the job is because I felt loyalty.”

Top Senate Republicans see their job, in part, to block Trump’s worst moves, said several senators this week. Firing Sessions at this time, or moving against Mueller, fall into those categories.

Sessions maintains the critical support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who told reporters Tuesday, “I have total confidence in the attorney general; I think he ought to stay exactly where he is.” McConnell’s No. 2, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), has joined Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in making public statements of support for Sessions in recent days.

Trump has belittled Sessions in conversations with several Republican senators over the past week, including Graham, and the idea of dismissing him no longer provokes the political anxiety it once did. Graham told POLITICO last week that fears over the fate of the Mueller probe if Sessions goes are passé because of how far that investigation has already progressed.

Along with Graham and Grassley, Sessions has also alienated presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, the chief White House proponent of the Graham-Grassley approach on criminal justice reform, as well as his wife, Ivanka Trump.

After a meeting last week that included Trump, Sessions and Kushner, the White House and McConnell delayed action on the issue until after the midterms. Grassley and other backers of the effort left hopeful for progress at that point. But Sessions’ office put out a sharply negative statement that suggested the president had come out against any sentencing reform in the legislation.

Holly Harris, a longtime Kentucky GOP strategist pushing for a reform deal from the helm of the nonprofit Justice Action Network, blasted Sessions for an “absolute mischaracterization” of the White House’s stance on the issue.

“DOJ is making so many enemies in so many places now that I actually think it’s going to help our legislation. I think they’ve gone way too far,” Harris said, describing Sessions’ actions on the issue as “off the rails.”

The criminal justice issue has been an ongoing sore point between Sessions and Grassley. The House passed a narrower bill in May that doesn’t include changes to sentencing requirements — something Sessions strongly opposes but that Grassley and others, including Graham, have insisted on adding.

When Sessions spoke out against a broader criminal justice bill that the Judiciary Committee passed in February, Grassley publicly dressed him down. “Look at how hard it was for me to get him through committee in the United States Senate,” the senator said then. “And look at, when the president was going to fire him, I went to his defense.”

No longer. Though Grassley had previously said he could not schedule hearing time to confirm a new attorney general, he changed his tune last week. “I do have time for hearings on nominees that the president might send up here that I didn’t have last year,” Grassley said last week.

Inside the White House, the president’s lawyers have changed their tune, too. They once warned Trump that firing Sessions would help Mueller build an obstruction of justice case, particularly because the president had fulminated in both public and private about his recusal from the Russia probe.

They have come to believe, however, that if Mueller wants to build an obstruction case around Sessions, he has the fodder he needs in the form of a January 2018 New York Times report indicating that the president instructed White House counsel Don McGahn to prevent Sessions from recusing himself — and that Trump aides have talked with Mueller about the episode.

The drumbeat of presidential tweets denigrating Sessions as “weak” and calling on him to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now” have also shaped the view among the president’s legal team. They have come to believe that if Mueller wants to build a case that the president has intimidated his attorney general, he can do so given the voluminous public record created by the president — and that firing Sessions won’t change much.

It’s unclear that the Senate would be able to confirm a replacement for Sessions should he leave his post this fall, given a packed legislative schedule that includes a must-pass government funding package this month and the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But following the November elections, when Republicans are poised to potentially pick up seats thanks to a uniquely favorable Senate map, confirming a new attorney general may prove an easier task.

Even the Republican senators who have risen to Sessions’ defense have appeared to have put a time limit on their support. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that five GOP lawmakers, including Cornyn and Sasse, had breakfast with Sessions last Thursday and urged him to stay in the job — at least through the midterm elections.

Sasse, a member of the Judiciary Committee, was the attorney general’s most vocal advocate. In a speech on the Senate floor, he warned the president: “It would be a very, very, very bad idea to fire the Attorney General because he’s not executing his job as a political hack.”

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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Senate void left by McCain’s death won’t be filled soon — if ever

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Can John McCain be replaced?

And does anyone really want that to happen?

As senators went to the floor to pay tribute to the late Arizona Republican this week, there was an overwhelming sense that the Senate had lost a singular figure, the rare lawmaker able to bridge the gulf between the parties and make bipartisan deals.

Especially for Democrats, who rejoiced over McCain’s stunning vote in July 2017 to block Obamacare repeal, handing President Donald Trump and the GOP a huge defeat, McCain was a godsend. He stood up to Trump in a way that no other Republican could, and they adored him for it.

“His ability to see beyond party labels was one of the qualities that so many of us loved about him,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “We are stronger together than we are divided, and John McCain knew that.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), McCain’s closest friend in the Senate, gave an emotional, tear-filled speech on the floor Tuesday, recalling jokes and stories of his longtime colleague.

For Graham, McCain’s most poignant moment may have come in November 2008, after McCain lost the presidential race to then-Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

“John taught us how to lose,” Graham said. “John said that night, ‘President Obama is now my president.’ So he healed the nation at a time he was hurt.”

Yet the irony of this week of McCain tributes — the toxic political atmosphere in which they are taking place, even the reason the Senate was in session this month to begin with — isn’t lost on any of his colleagues.

“It’s changed,” added Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) of the Senate and American politics generally. Shelby was elected as a Democrat in 1986, the same year McCain moved to the upper chamber from the House. “When I came here, you had [Robert] Byrd, you had [Ted] Stevens, you had [Bob] Dole, you had [Dan] Inouye, among other people. Mark Hatfield. [Ted] Kennedy. … It was real different then. It was partisan at times, but not always.”

“You have a changing of the guard every so often,” Shelby added.

Trump — a man for whom McCain had little respect, an enmity returned by Trump many times over — is in the White House, and the country and Republican Party won’t ever be the same. The Senate is led by sharply partisan former campaign committee chairmen in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Committee chairmen no longer have the power they once had, and partisan media on each side mercilessly pound any senator who even dares thinks of crossing the aisle to vote with the opposition. McConnell, at the urging of Trump and many Senate Republicans, kept the chamber in session during August because Democrats have filibustered many of Trump’s nominees, dragging out the process of staffing up the administration deep into the 115th Congress.

And with Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh getting a hearing on his Supreme Court nomination next week, the specter of Merrick Garland is never far from Democrats’ minds. McCain’s successor, a loyal Republican selected by Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, will almost certainly vote on the Senate floor to approve that nomination as early as next month.

In fact, the week of celebrations of McCain’s life and bipartisan spirit are like a bittersweet daydream, a flashback to the halcyon days of the Senate’s past during a feverishly hot August stretch in Washington. Congress will come back into session after Labor Day and everything will go back to the new normal — more Trump attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller, a possible government shutdown this fall. And the November midterm elections will creep ever closer, with the possibility of a Democratic takeover of the House and Trump’s impeachment.

Whether someone like McCain could thrive in the Senate now is a matter of debate. It would be much harder for such a politician to win a seat in the first place, even with an impressive military record or history of public service. When he or she got here, partisan pressure on them to fall in line would be intense. There are few senators or House members who can go their own way these days and survive politically, as evidenced by the retirement of Trump critics like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

On the Democratic side, the party has grown more liberal since Trump came into office, and “centrist” has become a dirty word among progressives.

“With 24-7 [media] coverage, anything you say, tweet or do will be blown out of proportion and used against you,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). “This is one of the things John McCain did so well — keeping the job was never more important than doing the right thing.”

Warner also worries that Trump — “his outrageousness,” especially — is the new model for politicians, rather than McCain, especially for anyone seeking the national spotlight.

“In Trump, you have the antithesis of everything that John McCain stood for, in terms of honor, loyalty, American leadership, public service, yet you’ve got to acknowledge that [Trump’s] outrageousness maybe helped him get to there,” Warner said. “You do have those mini, wannabe Trumps popping up around the country.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who came to the Senate in 1976, spoke fondly of iconic past figures, such as Byrd. “They were willing to work with you if you were sincere and dedicated,” said Hatch, who was known for working closely with Kennedy despite their dramatic differences in personality and politics.

But Hatch, who was elected in the wake of the Watergate scandal, also noted that when he got to the Senate, Democrats had huge majorities and basically tolerated Republicans, which made it a lot easier for the majority party to go through the motions of bipartisanship.

“It functioned because everything was controlled by Democrats,” Hatch quipped. “They discussed things with Republicans, but they just did that keep things somewhat cordial. They controlled everything.”

According to Hatch, “things aren’t as bad as you make them out to be. Although there is room for improvement, that’s for sure.”

McConnell, for his part, rejected the notion that the senators of the past are better than the current crop of senators, no matter what pundits and the press say.

“Our country will always produce the great men and women that it needs when it needs them,” McConnell said in an interview. “There are great men and women in the Senate now. I serve with them every day.”

McCain’s temperament is another issue that can’t be overlooked, and Democrats used it against him in the 2008 presidential race. McCain had a legendary temper, and he held grudges for a long time. McCain and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) didn’t speak for years following a blowup in the early 1990s, and the lords of the Senate Appropriations Committee such as Byrd, Inouye and Stevens loathed him.

Former Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), a future chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told the Boston Globe that “the thought of [McCain] being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” Cochran, however, later endorsed McCain.

But some Senate Republican aides wonder whether some of this bad blood still exists, as there is surprising resistance from some inside the party to renaming the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain, or another high-profile tribute.

“I don’t know if they don’t want to upset Trump or what, but some members aren’t thrilled with the idea,” said a senior Senate GOP aide. “We’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, with McCain’s funeral this weekend — preceded by his body lying in state both in Arizona and the Capitol — the McCain memorial tour will continue to roll.

“It will be a long time before anybody like John McCain comes along again,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “While John McCain was often right, and occasionally wrong, he was never in doubt.”

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Cindy McCain wields quiet influence over Senate replacement

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Arizona Sen. John McCain’s widow Cindy hasn’t expressed any desire to serve out her late husband’s term in Washington – but she will wield immense influence over the selection of his replacement.

More than a dozen McCain family friends and Republicans familiar with the search said that while Cindy McCain isn’t expected to take an active political role, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey wants to avoid alienating her as he heads into a tough re-election fight.

“If the family expressed interest in a particular attribute that McCain’s successor would have,” said Arizona Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin, “my instinct is that [Ducey] would honor that.”

In interviews, McCain friends said Cindy McCain hadn’t brought up politics in recent weeks. “She spent the last year at John’s side as they’ve gotten through this illness and that’s all that she’s been focused on,” said one friend.

But Cindy McCain became a flashpoint in the gubernatorial race after Ducey’s opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary, Ken Bennett, vowed in May not to appoint her to her husband’s seat – a pledge that was interpreted by many as a play for conservative votes by Bennett, who made his name as Arizona secretary of state by calling for independent verification of former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate before he could be listed on state ballots.

In an interview at the time, Ducey called Bennett’s pledge not to appoint her “indecent, embarrassing and revealing.” But that only caused Bennett to further dig in on the governor’s connections to the family. He used the governor’s response to tweet that his office “does not deny media reports that Ducey plans to appoint” Cindy McCain.

Ducey, who has a close relationship with Vice President Mike Pence, won Trump’s endorsement on Monday – raising the stakes as he tries to satisfy voters loyal to the president and moderates who gave McCain six consecutive terms in the Senate.

Ducey’s campaign declined comment on Tuesday ahead of the state primary. The governor hasn’t so far publicly engaged in the McCain replacement sweepstakes before the senator’s funeral on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for the family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Examples of widows getting directly involved in politics after their husbands’ deaths include former Missouri first lady Jean Carnahan, whose husband Mel won posthumous election to the Senate in 2000 weeks after being killed in a plane crash; Muriel Humphrey Brown of Minnesota, who was appointed to fill the seat of the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey after he was vice president; Maryon Pittman Allen of Alabama, a journalist who briefly served after Sen. James B. Allen died in office in 1978; and Jocelyn Birch Burdick of North Dakota; the first woman from the state to hold the office after the death of Sen. Quentin Burdick in 1992.

But Cindy McCain has not thought of herself as a political figure, according to people who know her. During her husband’s 2008 presidential campaign, Cindy McCain relayed a story to aides about a woman who approached her and immediately gushed about the encounter: “I can’t believe I get to meet you,” the woman said. Cindy McCain was genuinely taken aback, one adviser said in recalling the incident.

“Cindy was kind of like ‘Really?’” the staffer said. “I think she had understood service, understood that ethos and stuff, but I don’t think she needed the validation of electoral politics in her personal life. I don’t see that changing today.”

“It is a mistake to understand the McCains as a political family,” the staffer added. “They’re a military family first and a political family second.”

Chuck Larson, a former Iowa Republican lawmaker and ambassador, who was part of John McCain’s presidential kitchen cabinet during the 2008 campaign, said Cindy McCain, who chairs the family beer distribution business founded by her father, is anchored in those responsibilities.

“She was extremely helpful on the campaign in ‘08 and leading up to it,” Larson said. “But she’s a businesswoman. My observation is that’s where her focus has been.”

She has gotten involved in political causes as co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on human trafficking and serves on the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council, and is a member of the board of directors for the nonprofit Operation Smile.

“Given that the political world as it is today, why go do this?” said Reed Galen, who served as deputy campaign manager for McCain in 2008. “Not because it wouldn’t be a good tribute to her husband, but is that A) the right reason to do it? and B) given the ugliness that we’ve seen around McCain’s passing, why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to that?”

Trump, who received five deferments and did not serve in Vietnam, had a strained relationship with the senator after condemning McCain’s captivity during the war and questioning his heroism.

Late in the 2016 campaign, the senator announced that he and he wife would not be voting for Trump after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape where Trump could be heard speaking in lewd terms about women.

After the election, the McCains and Trumps attempted to mend the relationship, gathering for dinner at the White House with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close McCain friend who golfs with the president.

In February, the relationship again appeared to sour. Cindy McCain joined her daughter Meghan on ABC’s “The View” a few days after Trump, without naming him, criticized John McCain’s vote against Obamacare repeal at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I think the president fails to understand this, but more importantly, in my own – from my own feeling, we need more compassion, we need more empathy, we need more togetherness in terms of working together,” McCain said at the time. “We don’t need more bullying and I’m tired of it.”

She also spoke out after Kelly Sadler, then a communications aide in the Trump administration, mocked John McCain’s brain cancer and, in a closed-door meeting with colleagues in May, reportedly suggested his views could be factored out of Senate confirmation votes because “he’s dying anyway.”

“May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren,” Cindy McCain tweeted in a direct rebuke to Sadler.

But a second McCain family friend said the family was glad to see the gesture Trump ultimately sent on Monday – lowering White House flags back to half-staff and issuing a proclamation in remembrance of the senator’s years of service.

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Graham plays both sides of Trump-McCain feud

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Lindsey Graham is stuck in the middle of the late Sen. John McCain and President Donald Trump as a friend between enemies.

But he plans to carry with him his best friend’s advice on dealing with the president as he transitions into a life without him: “Help him where you can. Just don’t get sucked into all this bulls—.”

Graham contends he’ll do just do that. “I’ll help him where I can and not get sucked into all the other drama,” he told reporters, repeating McCain’s advice to him. “When it comes to foreign policy, I will stay close to this president if he lets me. I’m gonna give him my advice about what he should do and shouldn’t do. … I will do it politely.”

But he struggled Tuesday to continue his balancing act as a McCain acolyte and a Trump ally. He began the day telling NBC’s “Today” that McCain wasn’t upset over his closeness to the president, but even if he were, “It wouldn’t have mattered.”

“I’d have done it anyway,” Graham said. “The bottom line is John has shown that it’s not about you. Country first means that even if it’s inconvenient for you and it makes you uncomfortable, you do it anyway. Country first hurts, but it’s the right way to go.”

Perhaps no Republican senator is more painfully uncomfortable than Graham, who has had to delicately referee the battle between two heavyweights as a friend of both fighters. He further underscored his unique role as a mutual ally sandwiched between his mentor and his president in media appearances in which he defended Trump and McCain, sometimes from each other.

“Clearly, they had a contentious relationship, but he’s not the only one to have a tense relationship with John McCain,” he said. “How the president feels about Senator McCain is his right to feel any way he’d like. I love John McCain.”

That love was evident as Graham took to the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon. “I have been dreading this, and I am now gonna do this,” he said, beginning his 18-minute tribute to McCain, whose empty desk — draped in black and topped with a vase of white roses — sat adjacent to the South Carolina Republican as he delivered his handwritten address.

“My name is Graham, not McCain. But I feel like a McCain,” he said, his voice breaking. “I don’t know if I’ve earned that honor, but I feel like it.”

Graham predicted that he will endure a “lonely journey” as he comes to grips with the reality that McCain is gone. And he asked his colleagues for help in filling the deep void McCain, a six-term senator who spent the year battling brain cancer at home in Arizona, has left in the Senate.

“Don’t look to me to replace this man. Look to me to remember what he was all about and try to follow in his footsteps,” Graham said. “If you want to help me, join the march. If you want to help the country, be more like John McCain.”

Graham, who sniffled throughout his tearful address, composed himself and spoke to a gaggle of reporters shortly after his speech. He said he talked to Cindy McCain, the late senator’s widow, right after his remarks.

“If she liked it, good,” he said. “That was the main goal, to let them know how much I cared about John and the family, let the body know what he meant to me, that the void left has gotta be filled by more than me.”

He also touched on the “challenging” predicament he finds himself in — simultaneously helping continue McCain’s legacy in the Senate while maintaining his friendship with the president.

“John felt like his view of the world had to be reinforced, and that the conflict between him and the president has been difficult,” Graham told reporters. “He was always hoping that with time things would change, but we never got there.”

Graham signaled, however, that he will continue to criticize Trump when necessary, especially in McCain’s absence.

“If I see a drift back to the old ways, I will say something about it,” he pledged. “Damn the consequences.”

The long-running feud between the two former GOP presidential nominees who represent opposite ends of the Republican Party has continued even in the physical absence of McCain, who succumbed to brain cancer Saturday.

The White House lowered its flag to half-staff for a full day following McCain’s death but prompted public outrage Monday by initially raising its flag again instead of keeping it lowered through McCain’s day of interment.

Trump later reversed himself, issuing a proclamation ordering the flag to fly at half-staff through McCain’s burial and releasing a statement acknowledging his service “[d]espite our differences on policy and politics.” Still, he never apologized for mocking his service on the campaign trail — or his thumbs-down vote that sunk the Senate GOP’s effort to repeal Obamacare — or called him a “hero.”

Even in death, however, McCain punched back. “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe,” McCain said in his farewell statement, an address delivered at the Arizona Capitol on Monday by family spokesman Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager and longtime adviser. “We weaken it when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

“It is all over now,” Graham declared. “The flag is down.”

Graham joked on NBC that whether he’s a confidant of the president “depends on the day.” “Maybe this afternoon not so much,” he quipped Tuesday morning.

He spent much of the afternoon lauding McCain and part of the morning advocating for the post-election replacement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and excusing the president’s frequent attacks on the Justice Department and FBI.

“He believes he didn’t collude with the Russians,” Graham said. “He knows he didn’t collude with the Russians. He thinks they’re out to get him. He sees the DOJ and the FBI being very biased against him. He firmly believes this is a political retribution.”

Despite what Trump believes, Graham insisted that special counsel Robert Mueller is not on a “witch hunt” and should be allowed to do his job without any political influence.

“I’ve seen no evidence of collusion,” he added. “I can do a lot of things on behalf of the nation, but I am not gonna be able to convince Donald Trump to be quiet about this. But I am committed to allow Mueller to do his job. And at the end of the day, if there is collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, that will be it for me. Anything else was just noise.”

To carry on McCain’s legacy, Graham vowed to continue to push for the chamber to take up a Russia sanctions bill, focus on protecting the midterm elections from foreign interference and ensure that immigration reform passes “or die trying.”

“This guy dedicated his life to finding a solution to a very, very difficult problem,” said Graham, who added that he will do things “the Lindsey way.” “The worst thing I can do is try to be John McCain because I’m not. The best thing I can do is remember what John McCain was all about and channel that into who I am. And quite frankly I thought we were a pretty good team. He ran hot. I ran hot. But never at the same time. God help us all if that ever happened.”

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Senate to form bipartisan ‘gang’ to honor McCain

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is forming a bipartisan “gang” to determine how the upper chamber will honor the legacy of the late Sen. John McCain.

McConnell (R-Ky.) floated naming the Armed Services Committee’s meeting room after McCain, who chaired the panel, and placing a portrait of McCain in the Capitol’s Senate Reception Room as possible tributes.

“In order to make sure we realize these intentions, I’d like to put together an official group that can collaborate and bring together ideas from current members, former colleagues and friends. It will be bipartisan — as only befits John’s legacy,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “And come to think of it, we should probably call it not a committee, but a gang. So I’m glad we’ll be able to form this gang to ensure that a suitable, lasting tribute becomes a reality.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also proposed renaming the Senate Russell Office building after McCain “so that generations remember him.” While some senators, including Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware, expressed support for the resolution, others were skeptical. McConnell conspicuously avoided the proposal in his floor remarks.

McCain’s family announced Friday that the Arizona Republican was discontinuing treatment for his brain cancer, which he succumbed to Saturday. McCain, a revered six-term senator and war hero who was the Republican nominee for president in 2008, had been battling the cancer at home in Arizona since December, leaving Senate Republicans with an effective 50-49 majority over Democrats for much of the year.

Members from both parties delivered tributes to McCain’s life and legacy on Monday. The tributes continued Tuesday morning.

He will lie in state at both the Arizona and U.S. Capitols this week before he is laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy on Sunday.

“He meant so much to so many of us — inside this chamber and out,” McConnell said. “The Senate is eager to work on concrete ways to continue this momentum and provide a lasting tribute to this American hero long after this week’s observances are complete.”

McCain’s death came nine years to the day that Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) succumbed to the same disease. Following his death, the Senate named the Kennedy Caucus Room after the late lawmaker and his brothers’ public service. And in 2000, the chamber approved recommendations to add two portraits to the reception room.

“Only seven senators in the entire history of this institution are honored with portraits there,” McConnell said. “I’ve also heard in recent days that perhaps Senator McCain’s portrait should join that distinguished group. So it’s a further tribute to our colleague that there’s no shortage of good ideas.”

It’s not immediately clear who will serve on the so-called gang to honor McCain. But McConnell signaled that more information will be forthcoming after McCain’s interment.

“I’ll have more details regarding this group to share in the coming days, after our friend is laid to rest,” he said.

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GOP lawmakers grill DOJ official Ohr over Trump dossier

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Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official whose longtime relationship with former British spy Christopher Steele has drawn intense scrutiny from Capitol Hill Republicans, is facing questions Tuesday about the timing of his contacts with Fusion GPS, the firm that worked with Steele to create and disseminate his so-called dossier about President Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia.

Ohr, who appeared for a closed-door interview in a Capitol office building, has become the Trump allies’ latest focus in their efforts to raise questions about the investigators who ran the probe into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. As a senior Justice Department staffer, Ohr passed along Steele’s information to the FBI, even after the bureau terminated its formal relationship with Steele over media leaks.

Republicans have raised questions about Ohr’s contacts with Steele and Ohr’s wife Nellie, who worked for Fusion. Lawmakers and staff in the room said Ohr was accompanied by a handful of attorneys, including a personal lawyer and counsel for the Justice Department.

At least seven GOP lawmakers — members of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees — attended as well: Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Trey Gowdy, John Ratcliffe, Darrell Issa, Matt Gaetz and Andy Biggs. No Democratic lawmakers were on hand, but staffers of both parties attended.

Gaetz, emerging from the interview after nearly two hours, said Ohr appeared to be answering questions forthrightly but that his testimony about the timing of his contacts with Fusion appeared to conflict with answers given to lawmakers by Fusion GPS cofounder Glenn Simpson and former FBI attorney Lisa Page.

“Either Bruce Ohr’s lying or Glenn Simpson’s lying,” Gaetz said, describing “a number of factual conflicts” between their testimony. He added that they could conceivably have competing recollections but that it will be important to bring both before the Judiciary Committee in a public hearing to sort out the facts.

Ohr is expected to be in the closed-door interview most of the day. Attorneys for Simpson and Page were not immediately available for comment.

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Graham: Split between Trump and Sessions goes beyond Russia recusal

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The rift between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions goes “deeper” than than Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from a federal investigation into the 2016 election, Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday.

“It is much deeper than that,” Graham (R-S.C.) said, in an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. “The relationship is beyond repair, I think.”

Graham declined to say what else was at the root of Trump’s frustration with the attorney general, saying only that “we won’t say on this show, but it’s a pretty deep breach.”

Last week, Trump did not rule out the possibility of firing Sessions during an interview with Fox News’s “Fox and Friends.” Trump has long complained about Sessions, criticizing him regularly for his decision to recuse himself from any Justice Department investigation related to the 2016 election, a move that has sidelined him from overseeing the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump has called that investigation a “witch hunt.”

In his “Fox & Friends” interview last week, Trump said Sessions should have told him he would recuse himself from 2016-related investigations and that the attorney general had failed to take control of the Justice Department.

“What kind of a man is this?” Trump said during that interview.

The president’s remarks prompted a rare rebuke from Sessions, who released a statement insisting that “the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations” and that the Justice Department has had “unprecedented success at effectuating the president’s agenda” since Sessions took office.

For much of his tenure as attorney general, Sessions has been buoyed by support from Capitol Hill, where he served for years as a senator from Alabama before joining the Trump administration. But the tide has begun to turn against Sessions in recent weeks, with both Graham and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) opening the door for the Senate to confirm a new attorney general.

But while Graham said Tuesday that Sessions could be replaced, he said any new attorney general would have to pledge to allow Mueller’s probe to continue without interference. “Nobody is going to take Jeff’s place that doesn’t commit to the Senate, and the country as a whole, that Mueller will be allowed to finish his job without political interference,” Graham said.

“He is not the only man in the country that can be attorney general. He is a fine man. I’m not asking for him to be fired. But the relationship is not working,” Graham said. “Is there somebody who is highly qualified that has the confidence of the president, and will also understand their job is to protect Mueller? Yes, I think we can find that person after the election if that is what the president wants.”

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Republicans find a new target in fight to discredit Russia probe

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First the spotlight was on Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe, then Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

Now, Republicans — intent on proving that political bias is behind the sprawling investigation of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia — are elevating a new bureaucratic target: Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.

Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), both top Trump allies, are taking breaks from their August recess to lead a closed-door interview Tuesday with the former associate deputy attorney general, who was demoted earlier this year amid growing scrutiny from conservatives. In recent weeks, Trump has tweeted about Ohr nine times, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes recently predicted Ohr would become a key figure in House investigators’ sights.

House Republicans have fixated on a handful of career Justice Department and FBI officials over the past year as they’ve sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the investigators who launched the Russia probe, which is now overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller.

But after the firings of McCabe, the FBI deputy director who helped oversee a 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, and Strzok, an FBI agent who was an early member of the team probing Russia’s interference in the election, Ohr has become the latest focus of Republicans’ and their conservative-media allies’ suspicions that the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy — the “deep state,” as Trump and his supporters call them — is intent on taking down the president.

Democrats say Republicans are doing no more than elevating conspiracy theories to deflect from the legal scandals engulfing Trump’s presidency.

But Ohr is a tantalizing target for Republicans because he’s at the center of various strands of their frustration with the Russia probe. For one thing, he was in touch in 2016 with Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy behind a now-famous dossier alleging connections between Trump and Moscow. Republicans have obtained communications between the two that they say show Ohr was in contact with Steele even after the latter ceased to have a formal relationship with the FBI.

Meanwhile, Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the company that hired Steele to dig into Trump’s background on behalf of the Clinton campaign in 2016. In late 2016, Ohr passed along a version of Steele’s dossier to the FBI, Strzok told lawmakers last month.

“When he comes to Congress tomorrow, Bruce Ohr has explaining to do,” Meadows tweeted on Monday.

That interest in Ohr has reached Trump. The president paints the DOJ official and “his beautiful wife,” as Trump has called her, as central actors in a “witch hunt” against him. Trump has mentioned him in nine tweets this month and suggested he might pull Ohr’s security clearance, a move that could cost the DOJ official his job. Trump has suggested Ohr should be fired, tweeting on Aug. 20 that it’s a “total joke” that he is still employed by the Justice Department.

It’s unclear whether Democratic lawmakers plan to attend Tuesday’s hearing, but in general, they intend to paint the Republican focus on Ohr — a career DOJ official who helped oversee organized crime enforcement and was previously a prosecutor — as a belated attempt to salvage conspiracy theories that they say have withered under scrutiny.

Ohr had no formal role in the Russia investigation, and his relationship as a go-between for Steele was formalized, with his meetings and discussions with Steele logged in FBI files.

One attorney familiar with Ohr’s relationship with the FBI, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was nothing unseemly about the FBI receiving information from Steele, even after he ended his formal source relationship. The bureau takes information about potential crime from figures as unsavory as gang members and mobsters, the lawyer said. By contrast, Steele, a longtime partner of the U.S. intelligence community, was a credible source, even if he had a falling-out with the bureau.

Nonetheless, Republicans see Steele’s information as biased by his own anti-Trump sentiments, and they believe Ohr is tarred by the connection.

A memo crafted by the House Intelligence Committee GOP staff under Nunes (R-Calif.) misleadingly claims Steele’s motives in investigating Trump were omitted when the FBI used the dossier as part of its justification to obtain a court-ordered surveillance warrant — known as a FISA warrant — against Trump 2016 adviser Carter Page.

“This clear evidence of Steele’s bias was recorded by Ohr at the time and subsequently in official FBI files — but not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications,” the memo reads.

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Ducey aims to please Trump with McCain fill-in

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Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to replace the late John McCain is as much about his own political future as it is about filling the seat of the six-term senator and decorated war hero.

Republicans with knowledge of the governor’s thinking say he’ll have to remain deferential to Trump and the White House while also taking care not to alienate a statewide electorate ahead of a tough re-election fight in November.

Ducey – a former Coldstone Creamery chief executive – was hesitant to publicly endorse Trump in 2016, but showed up to at least two closed-door campaign events for him before the election, said one Republican close to the governor.

He has since appeared at official White House gatherings, notably on border security, though he’s remained cautious about where he’s seen with the president, skipping a Trump rally in Phoenix last year. Ducey, who is close to Vice President Mike Pence, instead met Trump on the tarmac as he arrived in Arizona.

“Doug has certainly done everything at least that I’ve observed in a way that’s conducive to a good relationship with Trump,” said former Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona. “There might have been disagreements at times, but very rarely has there been anything but expressed support on Doug’s part.”

Ducey says he’s not making any moves until after McCain’s funeral as a way to honor his memory.

In interviews, more than a dozen Republican advisers, White House aides and people who have worked with Trump and the governor said they have come to view each other as if not friends than allies – with Ducey seen as somebody the White House could rely on to get its message to the public.

Ducey’s ties to Trump were largely born of necessity and mirror the arms-length approach many politicians have taken with their new party leader. In 2015, Ducey was out of town when Trump rallied in his state with former sheriff Joe Arpaio, though the governor made time for other candidates including during their trips to Phoenix, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“It’s a handshake. It’s not a bear hug,” is how one Arizona Republican put it.

Trump has endorsed Ducey in his gubernatorial primary but hasn’t waded into Arizona’s Senate primary, declining to endorse a candidate ahead of Tuesday’s vote – though in recent weeks there have been discussions about the president going out to Arizona to rally for Rep. Martha McSally if she wins, according to Republicans in Arizona and Washington. It wasn’t clear whether Ducey would attend.

For the president, the decision offers an opportunity to blot out McCain’s most dramatic legislative move in the Trump era: Casting the deciding vote against Obamacare repeal, and dooming the administration’s first big legislative initiative.

Ducey hasn’t started making calls to prospective replacements for McCain, allies of the governor and outside organizations with knowledge said, and has yet to broach the subject with groups heavily invested in the pick, including the Republican Governors Association and others in Washington.

A top adviser to the governor said he would not engage in any conversations on the selection until the late senator’s life is honored.

J.P. Twist, Ducey’s campaign manager, added in a statement: “Out of respect for John McCain, the governor will not be attending any campaign events between now and when the Senator is laid to rest.”

Ducey tends to hold things close to the vest and is hard to predict, according to two people who know him.

“John McCain was one of a kind,” said Sean Noble, a longtime Republican consultant in the state. “So it makes sense that replacing him is very challenging, because no one will quite measure up.”

But one new candidate whose name has increasingly come up could help the governor in his own reelection fight and satisfy the pro-Trump wing of the party while honoring the memory of the six-term senator: Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, a career military pilot who also serves as adjutant general for the state.

McGuire, also the director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, has not been listed among the usual cast of potential successors since McCain fell ill last year. But his name began surfacing in interviews with more than a dozen politicians and consultants.

“John’s fairly highly regarded here in Arizona. Maybe not among the partisan base, but amongst the broader electorate and the community,” Arizona Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin said of the late senator’s legacy as a military man. “I think he would probably respect the family legacy there and the service,” he added of Ducey’s choice.

“But beyond that I think he’ll just pick a conservative Republican who’s well regarded and likely to run and hold the seat.”

McGuire could not be reached for comment Monday. He has a solid reputation in the state – with one Republican close to the governor confirming that he hasn’t seen the career military official speak out in ways that could jeopardize his possible standing.

Trump’s shadow looms large over the pick: Not only does Ducey risk angering the president’s base if he picks someone viewed as antagonistic to his agenda, but he throws into doubt a vote for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump is being advised to stay out of the decision and has not yet signaled his preference for a replacement, according to two White House officials.

The Senate confirmed Jeff DeWit, the state treasurer and one of Trump’s closest allies in Arizona, as NASA’s chief financial officer in March, likely taking him out of the running. Ducey also has a notoriously poor relationship with DeWit.

The list of possible replacements includes two familiar picks: Cindy McCain, the late senator’s widow and former Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, were under consideration as interim replacements if John McCain died before May 30, another Republican close to Ducey told POLITICO, which would have set off a November 2018 primary.

Several Arizona Republicans said they believe Kyl was still in the running, but they downplayed Cindy McCain’s desire to serve in the role, even for two years.

“If Ducey were to pick Cindy McCain, it would be suicidal for his reelection chances. His base would just go crazy,” said one Arizona Republican.

Other names mentioned include former Rep. John Shadegg; Barbara Barrett, the former ambassador to Finland; Kirk Adams, Ducey’s chief of staff and a former state lawmaker; Karrin Taylor Robson; a wealthy developer; state Treasurer Eileen Klein; Rep. Paul Gosar and Matt Salmon, another former congressman.

Ducey also was said to be annoyed by Gosar because he expressed interest in the job before McCain died.

Another potential consideration for Ducey is Kelli Ward, the former state senator who challenged McCain in the GOP primary in 2016 and is running against McSally for the seat being vacated by retiring Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, in Tuesday’s primary. Ward could mount a third Senate campaign against whoever Ducey picks if she loses the GOP primary on Tuesday.

“The governor needs to pick somebody who’s conservative enough to get through a tough primary against someone who can raise a lot of money,” said another Republican operative, referring to Ward.

This person argued Trump should want Ducey to pick a strong candidate who can run for re-election in 2020 and not give Democrats opening in Arizona, which is already a potential battleground state in the presidential race. “If I’m the White House, and I’m thinking down the road, I want someone who makes Arizona not something to worry about,” the operative said.

Ward drew flack on Monday for tweeting “Political correctness is like a cancer!” She continued to criticize McCain on the campaign trail on Friday, even after McCain’s family announced that he was discontinuing treatment for brain cancer.

Ward made a point of encouraging the governor to make a conservative pick in comments Monday. “The governor has a big decision to make so I hope he weighs those carefully. My hope is that he appoints another very conservative senator,” she said. “I hope he appoints someone in that mold, not in a different mold.”

Daniel Lippman and Andrew Restuccia contributed to this report from Washington, and James Arkin contributed from Arizona.

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