Good Thursday morning from San Francisco. And welcome to day three of “ComeyGate.” The past 48 hours has been a political and P.R. disaster for President Donald Trump and the White House. By all accounts, Trump’s decision to dump FBI Director James Comey wasn’t based on a methodical review of the facts. Instead, it appears like many of Trump’s more controversial decisions to be a gut driven response based purely on personal animus in this case — Comey wasn’t loyal enough, didn’t support Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him and wasn’t moving fast enough to find those responsible for leaks about Trump.
NEW QUINNIPIAC POLL — “American voters, who gave President Donald Trump a slight approval bump after the missile strike in Syria, today give him a near-record negative 36 – 58 percent job approval rating, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released [Wednesday]. Critical are big losses among white voters with no college degree, white men and independent voters. … Today’s job approval rating compares to a negative 40 – 56 percent approval rating in an April 19 survey … American voters’ opinions of several of Trump’s personal qualities are down: 61 – 33 percent that he is not honest, compared to 58 – 37 percent April 19.” http://bit.ly/2r4DTLx
— THOSE NUMBERS are brutal for Trump, particularly the losses among key demographics of the Trump coalition. It’s important to note: the poll was commissioned before Comey’s firing, so Trump’s approval is unlikely to rebound anytime soon.
REPLACEMENT WATCH — Top Republicans on Capitol Hill tell us that Trump has been soliciting suggestions on who should be the next FBI director. The fact that Trump went ahead with firing Comey without a replacement in mind is stunning. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who played key roles in Comey’s ouster – are reportedly moving quickly to find a replacement, possibly coming up with a choice in the next few days, ABC News reports. However, that person will face a potentially brutal nomination hearing, as many Republicans and Democrats will use the hearings to vent their frustration over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
— BUZZ — KELLY AYOTTE FOR FBI? Ayotte, the former New Hampshire Republican senator who helped shepherd Neil Gorsuch through his Supreme Court confirmation process, would make sense: she’s a former state attorney general. Her confirmation would sail through the Senate.
IT’S NOT JUST DEMOCRATS — who are frustrated with Trump. Sen. Richard Burr has been one of the most upset by Comey’s dismal. This could be a big problem for Trump. The North Carolina Republican is leading the Senate probe into Russia. Burr and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) invited Comey to testify in private before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week.
SOMETHING TO WATCH — The Senate Intel Committee subpoenaed former national security advisor Michael Flynn – fired by Trump after being caught lying about his discussions with Russian officials – demanding any Russia related documents he has. See Ali Watkins’ piece http://politi.co/2qW4aP9 Flynn, who is under investigation over his failure to disclose Turkey lobbying, has refused to appear before the panel unless granted immunity.
DEMOCRATS may be outraged by Comey’s firing, but there’s very little they can do about it except protest, for now. Democrats’ calls demanding a select committee and special prosecutor to look into Russia aren’t likely to happen at this point. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan have made that clear. But that isn’t stopping them from pushing to expand the Russia probe. (Big thanks to Bres for sending his late-night thoughts on the view from Capitol Hill)
WE ASKED, YOU ANSWERED — “Pete Sessions: Comey should have been removed ‘in a more gracious way,’” by Dallas Morning News’ Keven Ann Willey: “Texas GOP Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas, whose father was the last FBI director ousted by a president, said Wednesday that … the president, in a face-to-face meeting, should have given Comey the opportunity to step down. That would have avoided the issue of ‘a firing.’ That word, Sessions said, is ‘a tag on a man who … performed reasonably well and it got out of hand.’” http://bit.ly/2pl9oE6
JIM COMEY’s farewell letter to F.B.I. staff: “I have said to you before that, in times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independence. … My hope is that you will continue to live our values and the mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.” http://bit.ly/2q5nEiZ
ROGER STONE fires back at POTUS — statement emailed at 5:47 a.m. this morning: “With all due respect to the President, I am not the source of the New York Times, Politico or CNN stories and have never claimed I convinced the President to fire FBI Director Comey. Both Politico and the Times claim to have multiple credible sources for their reports. I offered no comment. … It has been my policy not to discuss the scope, subject or frequency of my occasional contacts with the President and I am not going to do so today.” http://politi.co/2q8bSmk
COMING ATTRACTIONS — NYT’s Mike Shear, Jennifer Steinhauer and Matt Flegenheimer: “Mr. Trump is weighing going to the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington on Friday as a show of his commitment to the bureau, an official said, though he is not expected to discuss the Russia investigation.” http://nyti.ms/2quYD2f
— “Trump and Putin to meet in July, Russian state media says,” by CNN’s Ben Westcott and Tomas Etzler: “U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July as part of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Russian state media said Thursday. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the announcement after meeting with Trump in Washington Wednesday, according to Tass. If confirmed, it would be the two men’s first meeting since Trump took power in January. The White House has yet to confirm.” http://cnn.it/2q8gUPT
A BIG THANK YOU to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for participating in our first Playbook Exchange in San Francisco.
MCCARTHY, who has spoken to Trump about Comey’s firing, defended the president’s decision. Cristiano Lima reports: “McCarthy, broaching the subject for the first time since Comey’s ouster late Tuesday afternoon, said the director had drawn politics into the bureau by acting beyond the reach of his role. ‘I would argue that Comey made the FBI political,’ he said. ‘That’s probably not the place to be.’ McCarthy added that Comey had made himself ‘a household name,’ something he argued no FBI director should do.” http://politi.co/2q5eUK6 … The video http://politi.co/2q84szk
****** A message from PhRMA: Patients share the costs of medicines. They should share the savings. Robust negotiations between biopharmaceutical companies and insurers often result in significant rebates and discounts. Insurers should share more of these rebates with patients. Providing access to discounted prices at the point of sale could dramatically lower patients’ out-of-pocket costs. Learn more at http://onphr.ma/2pdaE7m. ******
COMEY TICK-TOCKS GALORE – JOSH DAWSEY, “‘He got tired of him’”: “Telling Congress that he was ‘mildly nauseous’ at the thought of having influenced the presidential election may have won former FBI director James Comey plaudits among Democrats and within the bureau. But his choice of words may have doomed him with President Donald Trump. He found the testimony last week infuriating and griped about it extensively for at least two days, several associates and advisers said. … [S]enior aides and other associates who know the president say the firing was triggered not by any one event but rather by the president’s growing frustration with the Russia investigation, negative media coverage and the growing feeling that he couldn’t control Comey, who was a near-constant presence on television in recent days.
“Trump did not appreciate that Comey declared his campaign to be under investigation on live TV, said two people who know the president well. He didn’t like that Comey contradicted his unsubstantiated accusation that President Barack Obama tapped his phone line at Trump Tower. And Trump was displeased that the FBI seemed uninterested in pursuing investigations into the leaks he believes are weakening his administration.” http://politi.co/2r3LkTd
— “Inside Trump’s anger and impatience — and his sudden decision to fire Comey,” by WaPo’s Phil Rucker, Ashley Parker, Devlin Barrett and Robert Costa: “By last weekend, he had made up his mind: Comey had to go. At his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., Trump groused over Comey’s latest congressional testimony, which he thought was ‘strange,’ and grew impatient with what he viewed as his sanctimony, according to White House officials. Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr. Back at work Monday morning in Washington, Trump told Vice President Pence and several senior aides — Reince Priebus, Stephen K. Bannon and Donald McGahn, among others — that he was ready to move on Comey. …
“Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. … Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner — both of whom work in the White House — have frequently tried to blunt Trump’s riskier impulses but did not intervene to try to persuade him against firing Comey, according to two senior officials.” http://wapo.st/2pzuyti
–“‘Enough Was Enough’: How Festering Anger at Comey Ended in His Firing,” by NYT’s Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, Mike Schmidt and Peter Baker: “The chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who has been sharply critical of the F.B.I., questioned whether the time was right to dismiss Mr. Comey, arguing that doing it later would lessen the backlash, and urged him to delay, according to two people familiar with his thinking. Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, at one point mulled similar concerns, but was supportive of the move to the president.” http://nyti.ms/2pzj3lz
— “Comey’s Firing Came as Investigators Stepped Up Russia Probe,” by WSJ’s Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee: “In the weeks before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, a federal investigation into potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government was heating up, as Mr. Comey became increasingly occupied with the probe. Mr. Comey started receiving daily instead of weekly updates on the investigation, beginning at least three weeks ago, according to people with knowledge of the matter and the progress of the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. Mr. Comey was concerned by information showing possible evidence of collusion, according to these people.” http://on.wsj.com/2qVMkM8
SUSAN GLASSER in POLITICO MAGAZINE — “Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance: The cozy meeting between President Trump and Russia’s foreign minister came at Vladimir Putin’s insistence”: “When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The chummy White House visit — photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry…