POLITICO Playbook: Big open questions to start this crazy week

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A FEW QUESTIONS TO PONDER as we begin this crazy week.

— WHAT IS MITCH MCCONNELL THINKING? A congressional leader is supposed to shield their members from tough votes — and there is no one better at that than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Whether the allegations are proven or not, has the vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh become too politically toxic for Republican senators to take? Will he, somehow, nudge Kavanaugh out, press PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP to nominate someone new and try to get the nominee through in the lame-duck?

— WILL KAVANAUGH WITHDRAW? Kavanaugh is a veteran Republican who signed up decades ago for a conservative reimagining of the court. Would he advise a friend in his shoes to stick it out? Or would he say that this nomination is hurting the larger cause?

— WHAT DO THE FENCE-SITTERS SAY? Does this make it easier for REPUBLICAN SENS. SUSAN COLLINS (MAINE) and LISA MURKOWSKI (ALASKA) — and even JEFF FLAKE (ARIZ.) and BOB CORKER (TENN.) — to wash their hands of Kavanaugh? Has a no vote become that much easier? A no vote just got much easier for JOE MANCHIN (D-W.VA.), HEIDI HEITKAMP (D-N.D.) and all other Democrats.

— WHERE IS TRUMP? If there’s one thing we know about the president, it’s that he hates losing. Does he believe a Kavanaugh withdrawal makes Kavanaugh look like a loser — but does not affect his standing? If so, Kavanaugh is gone. Does he believe Kavanaugh withdrawing would make him a loser? If that’s the case, he’ll probably stick by his guy, and try to push him through.

THE HEARING ON THURSDAY — if it ends up happening — is going to be a session about Kavanaugh’s high school and college behavior. Democrats will ask how much he drank and how much he partied.

— @MichaelAvenatti: “Brett Kavanaugh must also be asked about this entry in his yearbook: ‘FFFFFFFourth of July.’ We believe that this stands for: Find them, French them, Feel them, Finger them, F*ck them, Forget them. As well as the term ‘Devil’s Triangle.’ Perhaps Sen. Grassley can ask him. #Basta”

SIREN: 4 DAYS until the government runs out of funding. The House is expected to recess Friday until after the midterms.

Good Monday morning. THE BOMBSHELL NEW YORKER ARTICLE — RONAN FARROW and JANE MAYER: “Senate Democrats Investigate a New Allegation of Sexual Misconduct, from Brett Kavanaugh’s College Years”: “After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. …

“The former friend who was married to the male classmate alleged to be involved, and who signed the statement, said of Ramirez, ‘This is a woman I was best friends with. We shared intimate details of our lives. And I was never told this story by her, or by anyone else. It never came up. I didn’t see it; I never heard of it happening.’

“She said she hadn’t spoken with Ramirez for about ten years, but that the two women had been close all through college, and Kavanaugh had remained part of what she called their ‘larger social circle.’ In an initial conversation with The New Yorker, she suggested that Ramirez may have been politically motivated. Later, she said that she did not know if this was the case.” New Yorker

— N.Y. TIMES’ SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and NICHOLAS FANDOS: “The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.” NYT

— WAPO’S KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, AMY GARDNER and SEUNG MIN KIM: “Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called late Sunday for a delay in further consideration of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh after a second woman accused him of sexual misconduct.” WaPo

— AVENATTI IS NOW INVOLVED, per BURGESS EVERETT, ELANA SCHOR and NATASHA KORECKI: “Just as The New Yorker’s story dropped, Michael Avenatti, a well-known Democratic lawyer, said he represents ‘a woman with credible information’ about Kavanaugh and his high school friend Mark Judge, who Ford alleged was in the room with her and Kavanaugh at the time of the alleged assault. Avenatti posted on Twitter that he has ‘significant evidence’ that Kavanaugh and Judge ‘would participate in the targeting of women with alcohol/drugs.’

“Avenatti told POLITICO he represents a group of individuals who can corroborate allegations involving Kavanaugh and his longtime friend in the 1980s. Avenatti said he’d describe just one of the individuals as a victim. ‘She will testify,’ he said. ‘But before she does, she will likely appear on camera for an interview.’” POLITICO

— @MichaelAvenatti: “My e-mail of moments ago with Mike Davis, Chief Counsel for Nominations for U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. We demand that this process be thorough, open and fair, which is what the American public deserves. It must not be rushed and evidence/witnesses must not be hidden.” The email

DEFENDING HIMSELF — “Kavanaugh to Give Senate Calendars From 1982 to Back Up Denial,” by NYT’s Peter Baker: “Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh has calendars from the summer of 1982 that he plans to hand over to the Senate Judiciary Committee that do not show a party consistent with the description of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, according to someone working for his confirmation.

“The calendars do not disprove Dr. Blasey’s allegations, Judge Kavanaugh’s team acknowledged. He could have attended a party that he did not list. But his team will argue to the senators that the calendars provide no corroboration for her account of a small gathering at a house where he allegedly pinned her to a bed and tried to remove her clothing.

“The calendar pages from June, July and August 1982, which were examined by The New York Times, show that Judge Kavanaugh was out of town much of the summer at the beach or away with his parents. When he was at home, the calendars list his basketball games, movie outings, football workouts and college interviews. A few parties are mentioned but include names of friends other than those identified by Dr. Blasey.” NYT

TRUMP’S MOOD — @maggieNYT: “Per people in contact with him, Trump was briefed earlier [Sunday] on the allegations in the New Yorker piece. Per one person briefed on the discussions, Trump said this is why they should have been fighting the Ford allegations from the beginning. …

“Trump is calm, two of the people in touch with him say, and sticking with Kavanaugh. But there is drama between Kavanaugh team and some White House aides, who Kavanaugh team blame for WaPo leak out of their moot session last week.”

— WHAT’S ON TRUMP’S MIND — @realDonaldTrump at 4:52 p.m.: “Going to New York. Will be with Prime Minister Abe of Japan tonight, talking Military and Trade. We have done much to help Japan, would like to see more of a reciprocal relationship. It will all work out!” …

… at 6:48 p.m.: “Prime Minster [sic] @AbeShinzo is coming up to Trump Tower for dinner but, most importantly, he just had a great landslide victory in Japan. I will congratulate him on behalf of the American people!”

WHELAN FALLOUT — “Ed Whelan taking ‘leave of absence’ after posting Kavanaugh theory,” by Quint Forgey: “The Ethics and Public Policy Center announced Sunday that its president, Ed Whelan, ‘will take a leave of absence’ from the conservative Washington think tank after peddling a conspiracy theory on social media last week related to a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“Following a special phone-in meeting of the EPPC board on Friday after Whelan’s Twitter screed, he offered to resign ‘in light of what he described as an ‘appalling and inexcusable’ error in posting online a series of comments that he has now deleted and for which he promptly publicly apologized,’ the organization said in a statement.

‘“The board declined Whelan’s offer to step down permanently, according to the statement, and the EPPC’s vice president, Yuval Levin, ‘will be in charge’ during Whelan’s time away. ‘The board will meet in a month to review the situation,’ the statement said.” POLITICO

— Whelan also wrote an apology that was published in National Review, “Mea Maxima Culpa”: “To those who have taken delight in being vicious towards me, I will say only that my self-rebuke stings far more than anything they can say.” NRO

TRUMP AT UNGA — “An Undiplomatic Trump? At This U.N. Meeting, His Aides Fear the Opposite,” by NYT’s Mark Landler and David E. Sanger: “For Mr. Trump’s advisers, the biggest risk at the United Nations General Assembly this year is the reverse of what it was last year: not that he will be dangerously undiplomatic, but that he will be overly enthusiastic about engagement with wily adversaries.

“Far from restraining Mr. Trump’s belligerent tendencies, his senior aides are engaged in a quiet effort to avoid a direct encounter with Iran’s leader that he would be unprepared to handle or concessions that they fear could undermine their effort to keep pressure on North Korea.

“Either of those possibilities would rattle Mr. Trump’s aides, who are uniformly hawkish about Iran and North Korea, and favor squeezing those countries over talking to them. A meeting with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on Monday also looms large, since Mr. Moon is likely to press him to make concessions to keep the talks with Mr. Kim going.” NYT

AFTER HE SOLVES THE MIDDLE EAST … “Kushner’s mission improbable: Winning over wealthy Trump skeptics,” by Alex Isenstadt: “Jared Kushner huddled behind closed doors with some of the Republican Party’s most powerful donors at a midtown Manhattan hotel earlier this month. The mission: convince them that the Trump White House isn’t a mess. While the administration raced to extinguish that day’s firestorm — President Donald Trump’s denial of Hurricane Maria’s 2,975-person death toll — Kushner insisted that the circuslike perception is wrong. Real work is getting done. There are serious people in the White House who are following an actual process, he said, and low-performing staffers had been replaced.

“The appearance before the secretive American Opportunity Alliance donor conference, previously unreported, sheds light on the latest addition to Kushner’s expansive portfolio: ambassador to the GOP money set, a contingent that remains wary of the administration and its never-ending tumult. The 37-year-old Trump senior adviser has attended at least four donor gatherings since August, and those close to him say he may soon appear at more.” POLITICO

THE INVESTIGATIONS — “Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig under scrutiny by prosecutors in offshoot of Mueller probe,” by WaPo’s Tom Hamburger: “Federal prosecutors have stepped up their investigation of prominent Washington attorney Gregory Craig for work he conducted at his former law firm on behalf of the Ukrainian government in 2012, an effort coordinated by Paul Manafort, according to people familiar with the matter.

“Shortly before Manafort pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction this month, attorneys for Craig received requests for information from prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, who are investigating Craig’s activities as an offshoot of the broader probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, according to one person with knowledge of the exchange.” WaPo

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — NEW AD ALERT … AMY MCGRATH, a Democrat looking to knock off Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), has a new Mark Putnam-produced ad where she is in a soccer goal, blocking incoming shots — “cheap shots,” she says. Most notably: “He keeps saying ‘Nancy Pelosi.’ She didn’t even want me to run. Mr. Barr, I was a registered independent, married a Republican, and you’re the one who’s doubling the national debt.” The 32-second spot

TRUMP’S MONDAY — The president will head to the U.N. headquarters this morning. He will participate in a “Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem.” He will then leave for Trump Tower and travel to Lotte New York Palace in the afternoon to hold a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Trump will participate in a signing ceremony of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Pact. Later, he will participate in separate bilateral meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump and first lady Melania Trump will participate in a diplomatic reception photo line in the evening.

WELCOME TO THE PLAYBOOK ELECTION CHALLENGE: WHO WILL WIN IN NOVEMBER? Washington is abuzz with election fever. Will the midterm be a referendum on Donald Trump? Will Nancy Pelosi and Democrats win the House? Will Mitch McConnell and the GOP hold the Senate? PICK THE WINNERS of the most competitive House, Senate and gubernatorial races in the country with the POLITICO Playbook Election Challenge and win awesome prizes, eternal bragging rights and personalized cartoons. Sign up today!

WHAT MICHELLE IS UP TO — DAILY MAIL — “Is there anything Michelle Obama doesn’t do? Former First Lady officiates wedding of Chicago deputy mayor’s daughter ahead of her book tour”: Daily MailMichelle in Las Vegas via David Siders and Natasha Korecki

2018 WATCH — “Scandal Shakes a Virginia House Republican, Adding to Electoral Tremors,” by NYT’s Michael Tackett in Virginia Beach: “Representative Scott Taylor, Republican of Virginia, has enjoyed a rapid political rise anchored in his valorous background as a member of the Navy SEALs, a credential with great resonance in a district that includes the world’s largest naval station and one of the highest concentrations of voters connected to the military. …

“[Now] his campaign is facing accusations that it was part of an improper effort to help an independent candidate get on the ballot and siphon voters from his Democratic challenger. The allegations, which included using the names of dead people or voters who did not live in the district on signature petitions, were serious enough to warrant the appointment of a special prosecutor, and the independent candidate, Shaun Brown, was stricken from the ballot by the Virginia Supreme Court. …

“Mr. Taylor, 39 and in his first term, conceded that he was ‘aware of the effort to get signatures,’ but added in an interview, ‘What I was not aware of at all was any wrongdoing by anybody at the time.’ When he did learn of wrongdoing, he said, he took ‘swift action and fired senior staff.’ He added that he had received assurances he is not personally under investigation.” NYT

MEDIAWATCH — “News Site to Investigate Big Tech, Helped by Craigslist Founder,” by NYT’s Nellie Bowles: “When the investigative journalist Julia Angwin worked for ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization became known as ‘big tech’s scariest watchdog.’ … Now, with a $20 million gift from the Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, she and her partner at ProPublica, the data journalist Jeff Larson, are starting The Markup, a news site dedicated to investigating technology and its effect on society.

“Sue Gardner, former head of the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia, will be The Markup’s executive director. Ms. Angwin and Mr. Larson said that they would hire two dozen journalists for its New York office and that stories would start going up on the website in early 2019.” NYT

— “Vox Media On Pace to Miss Revenue Target as Digital Advertising Disappoints,” by WSJ’s Benjamin Mullin and Amol Sharma: “Digital publisher Vox Media is expected to miss its revenue goal for this year by more than 15%, according to people familiar with the matter, adding to the list of new-media companies struggling to live up to lofty growth expectations. The company, which owns websites including Vox, The Verge and SB Nation, had been targeting revenue of about $200 million in 2018.” WSJ

— Tal Kopan will be the new Washington correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. She most recently was a political reporter for CNN Politics.

SPOTTED: Ed Henry posing with other Amtrak passengers in Penn Station in New York City on Saturday (pic). Van Jones was also in the station, too … Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) in Manchester airport on Sunday — she was headed to DCA on American Airlines. Pic

ENGAGED — John Pence, senior adviser for the Trump 2020 re-election campaign and Mike Pence’s nephew, proposed to Giovanna Coia, a White House communications aide and Kellyanne Conway’s cousin. They got engaged outside the White House in Lafayette Park, where he had a photographer hiding. The couple celebrated afterward with their parents at the Trump Hotel. Pic

— RUBIO ALUMNI — Rob Noel, speechwriter for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a U.S. Chamber and Marco Rubio alum, proposed to Christina Mandreucci, press secretary for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and a Rubio alum, in front of the Capitol where they first met. Pic

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Katie Levinson Burke, senior strategist and global chief of staff at Edelman and a Bush WH alum. How she’s celebrating: “My husband is planning a surprise for tonight. Suffice it to say, the last time he was put in charge of my birthday party, a mechanical bull was involved. I couldn’t walk the next day, and woke up with bruises all over. I am told I had a great time.” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Kate Karnes of the White House (hat tip: Lindsay Walters) … Lara Barger, senior strategist at Hadron Strategies … Hope Hall, former Obama WH videographer (h/t Brandon Shaw) … former Defense Secretary Ash Carter is 64 (h/ts Eric Fanning and Carl Woog) … Connolly Keigher … Lou Dobbs is 73 … Michael J. Kennedy … POLITICO’s Lisa Leonard and Katherine Hess … former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II (D-Mass.) is 66 … Sharon Yang, government and politics outreach at Facebook … VICE’s Alexandra Jaffe … Joe Householder, EVP of corporate and crisis at Hill & Knowlton Strategies (h/t Keil) … Jessica Schumer … Suzanne Mackowiak (hubby tip: Matt) … Chris Altchek, Mic CEO and co-founder (h/t Jake Horowitz) … Edelman’s Debra Masters … Will Booher (h/t Ed Cash) … Craig Shirley is 62 … CNN’s Nicky Robertson is 23 (h/t Sarah Mucha) … Andrew Bower (h/t Alex Macfarlane) …

… Curt Viebranz (h/ts Lillie Belle and Angus) … Shawn McCoy, publisher of InsideSources, is 34 (h/ts Tom Szold and Blake Waggoner) … photojournalist Mike Kamber is 55 … David Nelson is 3-0 (h/t Mitchell Rivard) … Patrick Davis … Alan Popovsky … Missy Owens … … Morgan Jackson (h/t Andrew Bates) … WSJ’s Katy Stech … CAP’s Phil Wolgin … Will Allison, comms director for Bruce Rauner for Governor (h/t Brian Reisinger) … Kelsey Coates … Mike Morey, managing director at SKDKnickerbocker (h/t Steph Reichin) … Derek Pangallo … Joe DeSantis … Sara Dubois … Katherine McLane … Will Nuckols … Taryn Rosenkranz … Ericka Andersen … Jason Putorti … Page Austin … Tim Reynolds … Moe Tkacik … Daniel Buk … James Reppert … Stevens C. Berry … Katrina Mendiola … Sam Parker … Tony Anthony … Jon Davidson … Michael Teter … Dave Contarino (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)

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