Motherland of opportunity

Donald Trump repeatedly insists that he has no business in Russia. If true at present, it was not for lack of trying.

Four months after launching his campaign, Trump signed a “letter of intent” to pursue a Trump Tower-style project in Moscow, according to a statement from Michael Cohen, then his chief counsel.

Cohen even sent an email in January 2016 to Dmitry Peskov, chief spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking for help in getting the deal done. (It fell through.)

The Trump Organization was seeking a Kremlin assist to advance Trump’s business interests around the same time Trump was kissing up to Putin on the campaign trail. Cohen’s disclosure came as his lawyers handed over related documents to congressional investigators.

Emailing Peskov, according to Cohen, was the idea of Felix Sater, a sometime Trump business associate. Sater said he had lined up financing for the Moscow plan from a Russian bank that was under U.S. sanctions.

Cast of characters

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Two big players in the latest Russia investigation revelations are Long Islanders.

The Russian-born Sater, of Port Washington, was deeply involved in building the Trump SoHo hotel in Manhattan. Bloomberg News and others have reported on Sater’s links to Russian and American organized crime groups.

Sater went to prison for slashing a man’s face with the broken stem of a margarita glass in 1991 and later pleaded guilty to racketeering in a stock fraud scheme, avoiding jail by becoming a federal informant.

Cohen grew up in the Five Towns and began his career as a personal injury lawyer. He became a counsel and confidant to Trump a decade ago and took on roles as a fundraiser and TV surrogate during the campaign.

North Korea's new missile stunt

Only two weeks ago, some commentators were quick to claim that China had handed Trump a "win" in the war of nerves with rogue state North Korea. But nobody was talking victory on Tuesday after the forces of Kim Jong Un fired a missile from Pyongyang that flew over Japan before plunging into the Pacific Ocean. Markets fell as the news spread.

Trump's office issued a cautiously worded statement repeating his line that "all options are on the table" and warning that "threatening and destabilizing actions" only increase North Korea's isolation.

Why oh why Arpaio

Trump said Monday that he wasn’t trying to bury the news of his pardon of Joe Arpaio by announcing it Friday night as Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas. On the contrary, “in the middle of a hurricane ... I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.”

Trump defended the pardon at length when asked about it during a joint White House news conference with Finland’s president. He called the Arizona sheriff a “patriot” who “loves our country,” “protected our borders” and “was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration.”

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He read off a list of pardons he deemed less worthy by former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

The take-away: Trumping law

The pardon of Arpaio — the former Phoenix-area sheriff who made his reputation trampling on the rights of Latinos in the name of immigration enforcement — is but the latest example of Trump being less than reverent about the rule of law when it suits him.

Newsday’s Dan Janison notes that Arpaio’s conviction stemmed from defiance of a federal judge’s order. Trump has made federal judges a target when they got in his way, whether on the travel ban or the Trump University lawsuit. Trump also tried to get former FBI Director James Comey to drop the Russia-related investigation of Mike Flynn.

Trump loves a strong border. Boundaries, not so much.

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Bernie's 2020 vision? 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) spoke for more than an hour Monday night to a packed house at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, discussing his new "guide to political revolution" aimed at young adults and vowing to introduce legislation for a single-payer health care system called "Medicare for All." 

Sanders noted it was the very place where Martin Luther King broke from the "political establishment" and President Lyndon Johnson and declared opposition to the Vietnam War. He described Trump as a "pathological liar" who nonetheless drew attention from those suffering economically, repeating his point that Trump didn't win the national election last year so much as Democrats lost it by failing to take on entrenched interests.

Fast Harvey aid pledged

Trump is still threatening a government shutdown if he doesn’t get funding from Congress for his Mexican border wall, but he pledged it would not impede getting disaster aid for flood-ravaged southeast Texas, Newsday’s Emily Ngo reports.

“You’re going to see very rapid action from Congress — certainly from the president,” Trump said. Addressing Texans, he added: “We’re going to get your funding.”

Trump was expected Tuesday to visit Corpus Christi, where Hurricane Harvey made landfall Friday night. He may return to Texas in several days when it’s less chaotic in the Houston area.

Tillerson meant it, aide says

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson won’t be walking back his comments Sunday distancing himself from Trump’s response to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, an aide told CNN.

The aide said Trump speaks for himself when it comes to American values, “because the Constitution speaks for the country.”

“The secretary and president have expressed different points of view. He isn’t being critical,” the aide said. But the aide also said of Trump: “Did he do the best job ever responding to Charlottesville? Nope.”

What else is happening

  • As usual, Trump avoided speaking badly about Russia during the news conference with Finland’s Sauli Niinisto. Asked if Russia is a “security threat,” he deflected: “I consider many countries as a security threat.” Trump also said Finland has been “free of Russia ... for 100 years,” overlooking the 1939 Soviet invasion of that country.
  • There was laughter when Trump asked Niinisto why he called on the same Finnish reporter twice. “No, she is not the same lady,” Niinisto corrected. “We have a lot of blond women in Finland,” one of the reporters then said.
  • Human rights groups filed two federal lawsuits Monday challenging as unconstitutional Trump’s plan to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
  • Kris Kobach, vice chair of Trump’s commission looking into his claims of massive voter fraud, complained it was “pathetic” for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to compare its aims with those of the white nationalists in Charlottesville.
  • Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, once considered for secretary of state, complained in a National Review Op-Ed that he can’t get Trump to meet with him anymore. Bolton wrote of his plan to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions detailed the administration’s decision to relax a ban on sending military surplus equipment to police departments. Items to be made available include grenade launchers, bayonets and large-caliber firearms.
  • A Justice Department lawyer faced skeptical questioning from a three-judge Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in the latest effort to defend Trump’s travel ban.