* Joe Palazzolo, Nicole Hong, Michael Rothfeld, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, and Rebecca Ballhaus report that President Trump was much more intimately involved in the hush money scheme that we previously knew:
As a presidential candidate in August 2015, Donald Trump huddled with a longtime friend, media executive David Pecker, in his cluttered 26th floor Trump Tower office and made a request.
What can you do to help my campaign? he asked, according to people familiar with the meeting.
Mr. Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., offered to use his National Enquirer tabloid to buy the silence of women if they tried to publicize alleged sexual encounters with Mr. Trump.
Less than a year later, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Pecker to quash the story of a former Playboy model who said they’d had an affair. Mr. Pecker’s company soon paid $150,000 to the model, Karen McDougal, to keep her from speaking publicly about it. Mr. Trump later thanked Mr. Pecker for the assistance.
The Trump Tower meeting and its aftermath are among several previously unreported instances in which Mr. Trump intervened directly to suppress stories about his alleged sexual encounters with women, according to interviews with three dozen people who have direct knowledge of the events or who have been briefed on them, as well as court papers, corporate records and other documents.
If this surprises you, you must not be familiar with Donald Trump.
* Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein, and Josh Dawsey report that Ryan Zinke’s days are numbered:
White House officials have identified Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as the Cabinet member most vulnerable to a congressional probe under a Democratic majority in January, putting the colorful secretary closer into the president’s crosshairs, according to two senior administration officials briefed on the matter.
The new assessment comes as President Trump is weighing whether to dismiss Zinke, according to the officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss personnel matters. Trump has told aides he will make a decision next week after he returns from Paris, they said.
At the White House on Friday, he gave Zinke a tepid vote of confidence. Asked if he would fire Zinke, the president said, “No,” but quickly added, “I’m going to look into any complaints.”
Zinke’s personal conduct and management decisions have spurred at least 15 investigations, nine of which have been closed. The most serious one, which Interior’s acting inspector general referred to the Justice Department last month, focuses on whether the secretary used his office for personal gain in connection with a land deal he forged in Whitefish, Mont., with Halliburton Chairman David Lesar and other investors.
He should still have at least a few weeks to get in some last-minute corruption.
* Corey Brettschneider explains why it’s not only perfectly constitutional but also eminently desirable to pass a bill protecting the Mueller probe. Particularly now that Trump has installed a loyalist to oversee it.
* Stan Collender previews the brutal budget battles that await us over the next two years.