Trump is at odds with his own aides on Russia again (and again and again)

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, we once again witnessed the two parallel Trump administrations at work — administration officials saying one thing, and President Trump saying something entirely else. The topic: Russia’s interference in America’s elections.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats at yesterday’s assembled White House briefing: “We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States. These efforts are not exclusive to this election, but certainly cover issues relevant to the election.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray: “Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: “Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs.”

Coats again: “Our focus here today is simply to tell the American people we acknowledge the threat, it is real, it is continuing, and we’re doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in.”

But if the threat of more Russian interference is real, continuing and serious, well, the president of the United States had a different message when he was campaigning last night in Pennsylvania. “In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with [Vladimir] Putin,” he said. “We discussed everything — I had a great meeting. We got along really well. By the way, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing. Now we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax. It’s a hoax, OK? I’ll tell you what, Russia’s very unhappy that Trump won, that I can tell you.”

A real threat? Or a hoax?

Russia did interfere in the 2016 election to help Trump’s campaign and hurt Hillary Clinton’s? Or Robert Mueller’s probe into that interference is a “witch hunt”?

And Russia wanted Trump to win in 2016 (as Putin said in Helsinki)? Or Russia is unhappy that Trump won (as the president said last night)?

Add them all up, and you have confusion, chaos and very little credibility — for any of the messengers.

Last night’s results in Tennessee: Another House Republican loses bid for statewide office

In Tennessee’s marquee primary contest last night, Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. — who tied herself to President Trump in TV ads — finished a disappointing third in the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary. Businessman Bill Lee was first at 37 percent, businessman Randy Boyd second at 24 percent and Black in third at 23 percent.

Lee will face former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who got 75 percent in the Democratic field, in November’s general election.

By our count, Black becomes the FIFTH House Republican to lose a bid for statewide office, following Luke Messer (Indiana), Todd Rokita (Indiana), Evan Jenkins (West Virginia) and Raul Labrador (Idaho).

Now we have seen some House Republicans win primaries for statewide office — Lou Barletta (in Pennsylvania), Jim Renacci (in Ohio), Steve Pearce (in New Mexico), Kevin Cramer (in North Dakota) and Marsha Blackburn (in Tennessee’s Senate primary, where she faced only nominal opposition). And Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., is now the big frontrunner in Florida’s GOP gubernatorial primary.

The difference between Black/Messer/Rokita/Jenkins/Labrador and Barletta/Renacci/DeSantis/Pearce/Cramer/Blackburn? The latter group either got endorsements from Trump or ran unopposed.

The one exception here: Rep. Kristi Noem, who won her competitive gubernatorial primary in South Dakota without Trump’s endorsement.

RNC warns donors to avoid the Koch network

So we see what happens when a Republican candidate for office DOESN’T get an endorsement from Trump. And we see what happens when a GOP-leaning group criticizes Trump and his policies.

Politico: “The Republican National Committee is sending a warning shot to major GOP donors not to play ball with the powerful Koch political network, escalating a fight between President Donald Trump’s allies and the Kochs. The move follows a weekend retreat in Colorado at which Koch network officials criticized the Trump administration, hinted they would work with Democrats, and announced they would not help a Republican candidate in a key 2018 Senate race.”

A reminder: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a public official, not a campaign or party operative

“During a tense White House briefing on Thursday, [CNN’s Jim Acosta] challenged the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to disavow President Trump’s description of journalists as ‘the enemy of the people.’ Ms. Sanders declined to do so, saying she had been personally attacked in the media and had faced threats since starting her job,” the New York Times writes.

But here’s a reminder after Huckabee Sanders attacked the press: She’s a public official who works for the American people. It’s one thing for a campaign or party operative to say the things that Huckabee Sanders did yesterday – it’s another for someone whose salary is paid for by American taxpayers to say it.

The potential 2020ers who ARE and AREN’T Netroots Nation

Progressives are gathering (Thursday to Saturday) in New Orleans at the Netroots Nation conference. The speakers include Tom Steyer, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tim Ryan, Julian Castro, Jay Inslee and Steve Bullock.

But among the potential 2020ers who aren’t at the confab: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Terry McAuliffe, Mitch Landrieu.

By the way, here’s a dispatch from NBC’s Mike Memoli on last night at Netroots Nation: “An interesting opening keynote session of the Netroots Nation gathering of 3,000+ in New Orleans. Tom Steyer got only a lukewarm response from this audience as he offered his pitch to impeach Donald Trump. He drew more applause for focusing on organizing to take Congress and other offices around the country. That contrasted with the enthusiastic response to remarks from the new mayor of New Orleans, La Toya Cantrell, who spoke after him and highlighted what she said was a new more fiercely progressive city government (she succeeded occasionally-mentioned 2020 possibility, Mayor Mitch Landrieu this spring).”