Riffing at the nuclear cliff

Donald Trump’s national security team wasn’t surprised that he was going to say something tough on North Korea from his New Jersey golf clubhouse, said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

What they did not see coming was the ominous tone — that Pyongyang’s threats would provoke “fire and the fury like the world has never seen.” It was unscripted, reports say.

“The words were his own. The tone and strength of the message were discussed beforehand,” Sanders said. Officials sought to offer reassurance that war was not imminent without backing away.

Americans should “sleep well at night,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But Defense Secretary James Mattis warned North Korea “should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

By specifying that “actions” would trigger a U.S. military response, Mattis appeared to be more clearly describing a line that Kim Jong Un must not cross. See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

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Thoroughly modern nukes

Trump picks the strangest things to brag about misleadingly. On Wednesday, there was this:

“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

Trump ordered a review of the U.S. nuclear posture — as mandated by Congress — but implementing improvements is a long process. There have been incremental changes, but they came under a program initiated under President Barack Obama.

The take-away: All clear?

Aside from sorting out what Trump and national security officials said — and what they meant — about North Korea, an underlying question remains: Is there a strategy?

Confidence is hard to come by after learning that his generals didn’t know the apocalyptic “fire and fury” line was coming, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. The misleading claim about a beefed-up nuclear arsenal doesn’t help either.

Knock knock

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort got a pre-dawn visit from FBI agents at home in Alexandria, Virginia, last month, The Washington Post reported.

The raid came a day after Manafort, a figure in the Russia investigations, met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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The search warrant was wide-ranging and agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller departed the home with various records, report said. The use of a search warrant shows law enforcement officials convinced a judge of probable cause that a crime may have been committed.

Great expectations

Trump isn’t over losing the health care battle in the Senate, and he got upset when word got back to him that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a Kentucky audience that the president had “excessive expectations” for legislative progress of his agenda, noting he “has not been in this line of work before.”

“More excuses,” tweeted Trump’s social media director, Dan Scavino, as a warmup act. Then came Trump:

“Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations’ but I don’t think so. After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?”

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What else is happening

  • New details on Trump’s visit to New York City next week: He’s spending three nights at Trump Tower starting Sunday, and has meetings planned during Monday and Tuesday.
  • Trump-allied megadonor Robert Mercer of Long Island is giving $300,000 to a super PAC devoted to unseating Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a harsh critic of the president, Politico reports.
  • Trump’s front-runner to head the Federal Trade Commission is said to be Joseph Simons, a Washington lawyer who served at the agency in George W. Bush’s administration. The FTC’s jobs include reviewing mergers and protecting consumers from scams and deceptive advertising.
  • Russia flew a spy plane over the U.S. Wednesday as permitted under a 1992 “Open Skies” treaty. The chosen flight path included a first — a flyover of Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, where he is vacationing on his “not a vacation.”
  • Trump was back on the golf course at Bedminster Wednesday. A golfing partner, Michael Fazio, posted a photo of them on Instagram.
  • Stephen Colbert tweeted that short-timer White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci will be a guest on his CBS “Late Show” Monday, adding: “This is just a heads up for our censors to get ready!”
  • Five transgender service members serving on active duty sued Trump over his announcement via Twitter that he will seek to ban them from the U.S. military.