In Baltimore Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton discusses President Donald Trump's...

In Baltimore Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton discusses President Donald Trump's remarks about Rep. Elijah Cummings and his district in that city. Credit: AP / The Baltimore Sun / Jerry Jackson

He still calls him Al

Upon learning that the Rev. Al Sharpton would be speaking up for Rep. Elijah Cummings on a visit to Baltimore and denouncing the president's "racist remarks," Trump had a fresh target Monday for Twitter trashing of critics of color.

The difference this time is that Trump and Sharpton used to hang out together. The relationship began in the 1980s, when Sharpton's own reputation (not unlike Trump's now) was that of a reckless racial provocateur, long before he reinvented himself as more of a civil rights statesman. Trump liked Sharpton's celebrity connections.

The future president donated to Sharpton's original organization, the National Youth Movement, to curry favor with Sharpton's friend, boxing promoter Don King, so he could stage major fights at his Atlantic City casino hotels. Trump cut the ribbon at the 2002 conventions of Sharpton's current group, the National Action Network, recalls The New York Times. Sharpton tweeted a photo of Trump chatting with him at NAN in 2006.

The oddest thing Trump and Sharpton had in common: political adviser Roger Stone. A dozen years before he was e-chatting with WikiLeaks to help Trump, Stone helped organize Sharpton's 2004 presidential campaign. Sharpton didn't come close to the Democratic nomination but the national exposure elevated his standing. 

“I have known Al for 25 years," Trump tweeted Monday. "Went to fights with him & Don King, always got along well. He ‘loved Trump!’ He would ask me for favors often."

Sounds almost wistful. But that was then. Now Sharpton, who hosts a show on MSNBC, is a nemesis. And so the tweet continued: "Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score. Just doing his thing. Must have intimidated Comcast/NBC. Hates Whites & Cops!”

Sharpton returned fire on Twitter. "Trump says I’m a troublemaker & con man. I do make trouble for bigots. If he really thought I was a con man he would want me in his cabinet," he said.

Cummings, to his defense

One of the Trumpiest Republicans on Capitol Hill spoke up Monday for Cummings, the Democratic Baltimore congressman who Trump accused in his weekend tweetstorm of doing nothing for his "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" of a district.

Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who leads the House Freedom Caucus, sent a message read on air by CNN contributor Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator.

"No one works harder for his district than Elijah," the statement said. "He's passionate about the people he represents, and no, Elijah is not a racist. I am friends with both men, President Trump and Chairman Cummings, and I know them both well, and neither is a racist.”

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said criticizing Cummings' "partisanship" is fair game but "I think we need to be careful not to disrespect the good people of Baltimore and the place that these people call home.”

In his oversights

One of the triggers for Trump's ire at Cummings is that the House Oversight Committee he chairs is aggressively investigating Trump and his administration on several fronts.

The oversight panel issued a report Monday on its investigation of back-channel business dealings between certain Trump aides and Middle Eastern countries.

According to ABC News, texts and emails showed that when candidate Trump prepared to give a major "America First" energy speech during the 2016 campaign, one of his closest advisers, businessman Thomas Barrack, provided an advance look to senior United Arab Emirates officials.

Barrack arranged for language requested by the U.A.E. officials to be added to the speech with the help of Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort. The report also said Barrack has been pushing a proposal to build dozens of nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia while seeking to avoid restrictions on the transfer of U.S. nuclear technology.

Janison: Doing right for 9/11

"Today we come together as one nation to support our Sept. 11 heroes, to care for their families and to renew our eternal vow, never ever forget,” Trump said at the bill-signing ceremony to permanently fund compensation for 9/11 victims.

Those were good and appropriate words, writes Newsday's Dan Janison, for the dozens of first responders, including several from Long Island, at the White House ceremony. They and the bill will have a more lasting place in history than the fable Trump unfortunately told them, as seen in this video clip:

"I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder. But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you," Trump said.

He thankfully skipped his other 9/11 tales of seeing thousands of Muslims celebrating from rooftops in New Jersey or witnessing from Trump Tower in midtown people jumping from the burning Twin Towers.

For more on the ceremony, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Democratic debates, Chapter 2

Democrats gathering in Detroit for a pivotal two-night presidential debate that begins Tuesday will have to decide how to respond to Trump's incendiary tweets and comments while presenting their own vision for the country, writes The Associated Press.

Each 10-candidate round on CNN starts at 8 p.m. and will last about 2 1/2 hours.

A Quinnipiac poll suggests Joe Biden has bounced back with Democratic voters after his shaky performance in the first debate in June sent his numbers tumbling. The new survey puts him at 34%, while Elizabeth Warren is a distant second at 15%. Kamala Harris, Biden's top antagonist in the first encounter, has slipped back to 12%, and Bernie Sanders is fourth with 11%.

The top first-night contenders are Warren and Sanders, battling to lead the progressive wing. The Biden-Harris rematch will have to wait until the second night. Others who will be looking to break through include Cory Booker and Bill de Blasio. 

Intel nominee faces scrutiny

Trump's choice to become director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe, has a highly partisan reputation but no intelligence experience, and his nomination to replace Dan Coats in the job is no slam dunk.

The handful of GOP senators who initially put out public statements about the change mostly praised the professionalism and integrity of the departing Coats, whose candor rankled Trump, CNN reported. 

That includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said "I was reassured knowing that a man who took such a deliberate, thoughtful, and unbiased approach was at the helm of our intelligence community." As for Ratcliffe, McConnell told reporters, "When I have something to say about the nominee, I will let you know."

What else is happening:

  • Well, this could be awkward. Though they haven't said so publicly, House Republicans have scheduled their yearly policy retreat in September for a hotel in Baltimore, The Washington Post reports.
  • The Trump-appointed general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board wants to make it illegal for unions to bring giant inflatable rats to protests against employers, according to WNYC and Gothamist.
  • A decision issued Monday by Attorney General William Barr will restrict the ability of migrants to claim asylum based on their family relations, Politico reports.
  • Trump on Monday commuted the sentences of two men and granted pardons to five others who previously pleaded guilty to nonviolent crimes and have completed their sentences. The offenses included drug crimes, fraud and theft.
  • The Trump campaign told Politico it has sold $456,000 worth of Trump plastic straws since they debuted July 19. They are pitched at conservative resentment at environmentally friendly but not-as-sturdy “liberal paper straws.”
  • Democrats on Capitol Hill would like presidential long shots John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Steve Bullock of Montana to run for the Senate instead in 2020 against Republican incumbents, CNN reports.