THE BIG IDEA: If just three Senate Republicans defect, Rex Tillerson’s expected nomination as secretary of state would be dead. Since he has not officially announced his selection, blowback from leading hawks on the right over the ExxonMobil CEO’s ties to Vladimir Putin could prompt Donald Trump to go another direction.
-- Three Republicans who have themselves run for president fired shots across the bow on Sunday:
Marco Rubio: “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a Secretary of State.”
Lindsey Graham: “I don’t know the man much at all, but let’s put it this way: If you received an award from the Kremlin, ‘the order of friendship,’ then we’re gonna have to do some talkin’. We’ll have some questions. I don’t want to prejudge the guy, but that’s a bit unnerving.”
John McCain: “It’s a matter of concern to me that he has such a close relationship with Vladimir Putin, that that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat.”
-- A longtime confidant to the Arizona senator added this on Twitter:
Tillerson would sell out NATO for Sakhalin oil and his pal, Vlad. Should be a rough confirmation hearing, and a no vote on the Senate floor. https://t.co/cZmA3swddK— Mark Salter (@MarkSalter55) December 9, 2016
-- From one of our congressional reporters who spent the weekend working the phones:
That sound I'm hearing right now is balloon deflating for Tillerson. This is gonna be a tough vote for many Senate Rs.— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) December 12, 2016
-- Terrible timing for Tillerson: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell scooped Saturday that the 64-year-old had won “The Apprentice: Foggy Bottom edition,” just hours after The Post revealed that the CIA had concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system. Three people close to the transition team confirmed Saturday afternoon to The Post that Trump is expected to name Tillerson.
-- In case you missed it, here is some background on his ties to Putin and his cronies: “In the 1990s, Tillerson oversaw an Exxon project on Russia’s Sakhalin island and developed a working relationship with Putin. In 2011, Exxon signed an agreement with the state-controlled oil company, Rosneft, to work jointly on oil exploration and development in the Arctic and Siberia. After inking the deal in New York, Tillerson and Rosneft chairman and Putin confidant Igor Sechin dined on caviar at the luxury Manhattan restaurant Per Se,” Steven Mufson and Philip Rucker report. “The next day, they gave oil analysts black pens with the date of the agreement engraved in gold. Two years later, the Kremlin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, an honor reserved for foreigners.”
-- This confirmation fight would become the proxy for a broader debate about Russian interference in the American election. That is a debate Trump does not want to have.
-- Reinforcing this, Trump even cited Tillerson’s relationship with Putin as an asset. “To me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia,” the president-elect said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that Rex is “a world-class player.” In the same interview, he argued that the CIA’s conclusion is “ridiculous” and he does not “believe it at all.”
-- But Trump, during that Fox interview and then on Twitter, spoke as if Tillerson is not a done deal, giving himself an out and easy way to save face:
Whether I choose him or not for "State"- Rex Tillerson, the Chairman & CEO of ExxonMobil, is a world class player and dealmaker. Stay tuned!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 11, 2016
-- Similarly, no Senate Republican has come out as a hard “no” yet. Even McCain is leaving himself some wiggle room to capitulate.
-- Right now Trump is testing congressional Republicans to see if they are really as big of push overs as he kept telling voters throughout the primaries. That’s plainly what he was doing with his talk about tariffs last week, gauging the response carefully. He will keep pushing the boundaries further and further until conservatives get the backbone to oppose him. If the GOP ultimately falls in line on Tillerson, Trump’s takeaway will be that he doesn’t need to worry about being constrained by his adopted party. This is how he thinks about the world.
-- Republicans are testing Trump too. Does he back off at the first sign of pressure or double down?
-- Rubio’s skeptical tweet is especially significant because he is one of 10 GOP members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must clear Tillerson before he can get an up-or-down vote on the floor. Republicans only have one more member on that committee than the Democrats, so Rubio could singlehandedly torpedo Tillerson if he chose to.
A “no” vote would be a good way for Rubio, who wants to run again for president in 2024, to show movement conservatives that he’s still principled. He constantly promised to be a check on Trump as he sought reelection in Florida this year. Recall that, back in October, the senator also warned Republicans not to talk about John Podesta’s hacked emails. "I will not discuss any issue that has become public solely on the basis of Wikileaks," Rubio said at the time. "As our intelligence agencies have said, these leaks are an effort by a foreign government to interfere with our electoral process and I will not indulge it. I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks. Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.”
-- Rand Paul is also on Foreign Relations, and Tillerson is the kind of globalist that libertarians are so uncomfortable with.
-- Jeff Flake, another member of the committee, is up for reelection in 2018 in Arizona. If McCain broke against Tillerson, it is hard to see him not following suit.
-- What about the other seven Republicans on the committee? Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, who was himself a finalist to be secretary of state, responded favorably:
If it is Rex Tillerson, he is a very impressive individual.— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) December 11, 2016
The rest are party loyalists with safe seats who can pretty reliably be counted on to do whatever they are told by Mitch McConnell: Wyoming’s John Barrasso (who is number four in party leadership), Idaho’s James Risch, Georgia’s Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson (who just got reelected). Similarly, Cory Gardner will be reluctant to upset the energy industry, not just because he’s from Colorado but because as NRSC chairman he’ll need to aggressively hit up oil executives for money the next two years.
-- In the full Senate, also watch someone like Susan Collins, who could use a no vote to bolster her independent credentials if she runs for governor of Maine in 2018.
-- Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, is not heeding calls to recuse himself from voting for his potential cabinet colleagues, as would be customary, because the margin of error is so small.
-- Democratic leadership aides feel pretty good about keeping their members in line. They’re always going to have to worry about someone like Joe Manchin caving, especially now that he’s in cycle (he’s meeting with Trump in New York today), but the liberal base badly wants at least one scalp for cathartic reasons. Jim Mattis was theoretically the best Trump pick to target because of his need for a waiver to become Defense secretary, but a lot of Democrats respect him and think he’s independent enough to stand up to Trump. He’s also publicly against torture, which works bigly in his favor as he tries to avoid a confirmation battle.
-- The Dems on Foreign Relations are coalescing in opposition to Tillerson. Ben Cardin, the ranking member, said on CNN that he’s “concerned” about his “relationship with Russia” and wants to make sure the nation’s chief diplomat puts U.S. interests first. Bob Menendez went much further, called Tillerson’s nomination “alarming and absurd” in a much harsher statement. “With Rex Tillerson as our Secretary of State, the Trump administration would be guaranteeing Russia has a willing accomplice in the President’s Cabinet guiding our nation’s foreign policy,” the New Jersey senator said. “The term ‘conflict of interest’ doesn’t even begin to describe the web of dubious business interests and bank accounts that Tillerson and his company Exxon shares with Vladimir Putin and Russian oil companies. Having no practical experience in diplomacy, Mr. Tillerson has no proven knowledge or regard for the norms and necessities that so much of our modern diplomatic and security efforts depend upon.”
-- As a consequence of Harry Reid’s short-sighted decision to invoke the nuclear option in 2014, Tillerson only needs 50 votes, instead of 60, to take over Foggy Bottom. The GOP has 52 seats, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence would provide the tie-breaking vote.
-- But even if he ultimately made it through, Tillerson’s confirmation hearings at the very least would be brutal. All of Exxon’s deals would come under the microscope, especially the ones that have been adversely affected by the U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Russia after its illegal invasion of Crimea. Exxon claims these sanctions cost it $1 billion a year.
“Exxon discovered oil in a well it drilled in the Kara Sea, but the joint partnership was put on ice after Russian intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea led to international economic sanctions,” Mufson and Rucker note. “As secretary of state, Tillerson, who has been critical of the sanctions, would be in a position to argue for easing them, which could allow Exxon to resume operations. And for a company the size of Exxon, few countries outside of Russia hold sufficient potential to bolster the oil giant’s reserves. In addition to the Arctic, Exxon wants to drill in the deep waters of the Black Sea and search for shale oil in West Siberia. In each case, the company would be providing expertise and technology that Russia lacks. ‘Russia is critical for Exxon,’ said Fadel Gheit, an oil analyst for Oppenheimer & Co.”
-- Tillerson’s personal stake in Exxon is more than $150 million. Because much of this is via stock options that do not mature for a while, he cannot easily divest or put everything in a blind trust. How will he not think of his company’s interests in 50 countries and on six continents as he negotiates on behalf of the U.S.?
-- The bigger issue, though, would be questions about where Tillerson’s true loyalties lie. The CEO is a major character in Steve Coll’s excellent 2012 book on Exxon, “Private Empire.” Coll, the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, describes Tillerson’s selection as “astonishing on many levels” in a new piece for the New Yorker. “As an exercise of public diplomacy, it will certainly confirm the assumption of many people around the world that American power is best understood as a raw, neocolonial exercise in securing resources,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine, after four decades at ExxonMobil and a decade leading the corporation, how Tillerson will suddenly develop respect and affection for the American diplomatic service he will now lead, or embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.”
The main theme of Steve’s book is that ExxonMobil sees itself as an independent, transnational corporate sovereign, with power independent of the American government, and devoted firmly to shareholder interests. “Exxon’s foreign policy sometimes had more impact on the countries where it operated than did the State Department,” he explains. “Take, for example, Chad, one of the poorest countries in Africa. During the mid-two-thousands, the entirety of U.S. aid and military spending in the country directed through the U.S. Embassy in the capital, N’Djamena, amounted to less than twenty million dollars annually, whereas the royalty payments Exxon made to the government as part of an oil-production agreement were north of five hundred million dollars. Idriss Déby, the authoritarian President of Chad, did not need a calculator to understand that Rex Tillerson was more important to his future than the U.S. Secretary of State.”
- “In Kurdistan, during the Obama Administration, Tillerson defied State Department policy and cut an independent oil deal with the Kurdish Regional Government, undermining the national Iraqi government in Baghdad. ExxonMobil did not ask permission. After the fact, Tillerson arranged a conference call with State Department officials and explained his actions, according to my sources, by saying, ‘I had to do what was best for my shareholders.’”
- Because oil projects require huge amounts of capital and only pay off fully over decades, Tillerson has favored doing business in countries that offer political stability, even if this stability was achieved through authoritarian rule: “The right kinds of dictators can be more predictable and profitable than democracies. ExxonMobil has had more luck making money in Equatorial Guinea, a small, oil-rich West African dictatorship that has been ruled for decades by a single family, than in Alaska, where raucous electoral politics has made it hard for Exxon to nail down stable deal terms.”
“Although ExxonMobil hires former State Department, Pentagon, and C.I.A. officials from time to time in order to bolster its political analysis and negotiations, some of the Exxon executives I interviewed spoke about Washington with disdain, if not contempt,” Coll writes. “They regarded the State Department as generally unhelpful, a bureaucracy of liberal career diplomats who were biased against oil and incompetent when it came to sensitive and complex oil-deal negotiations. They managed Congress defensively, and as just one capital among many in the world, a place more likely to produce trouble for Exxon than benefits.” (Read the full piece here.)
As a political scientist at Columbia puts it:
Tillerman is impressive businessman, but would Exxon shareholders hire a CEO without industry experience? Y wld voters do the same at State?— Timothy Frye (@timothymfrye) December 11, 2016
-- The New York Times says Trump is attracted to him because he is very aggressive: “Twenty years ago, as [Tillerson] was rising through the ranks at Exxon, he was charged with negotiating with the government of Yemen to build a natural gas export plant. The talks got bogged down over Yemen’s insistence that it have veto power over important business decisions. Mr. Tillerson, at one point, flew into a rage, throwing a five-inch-thick book across the room and storming out, perhaps for dramatic effect. Yemeni negotiators and other representatives of other oil companies partnering with Exxon in the international consortium looked on in bewilderment. In the end, Yemen got at least some of its demands.”
-- Recommended holiday reading: One of my favorite novels is Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent,” which is about the confirmation fight for a controversial secretary of state nominee. Ironically, the president’s nominee in that 1959 book is soft on Russia and would rather accommodate than confront Moscow. The movie is pretty good, too, but not as good as the book. (Order it on Amazon here.)
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- General Motors condemned a casting call that sought neo-Nazis and supporters of the alt-right movement to appear in a Cadillac commercial. The casting call described a “beautifully artistic spot” that would represent “all walks of life in America." Cadillac tried to quell the criticism with postings on Twitter and its Facebook page: “Cadillac did not authorize or approve a casting notice for an ‘alt-right (neo-nazi)’ role in a commercial. We unequivocally condemn the notice and are seeking immediate answers from our creative agency, production company and any casting companies involved.” The Cast Station, a TV and film commercial casting company that seeks actors in several major cities, said on Facebook that the casting call was a mistake. “The notice was drafted by an employee, who was immediately terminated for her actions,” the statement said. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
I'm back. pic.twitter.com/ngfq4aHWtc— Richard 🐸 Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) December 11, 2016
-- Silicon Valley continues to lack corporate responsibility: In contrast to GM, Twitter restored the account of Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right" and has become the public face of the white nationalist movement that supported Trump. The social network suspended his account shortly after the election but re-activated it. "Despite widespread assumptions that Spencer was banned for violating the site’s prohibition on 'hateful conduct,' or harassment, he was actually booted from the platform for violating its policy against having multiple, overlapping accounts," Abby Ohlheiser reports.
GET SMART FAST:
- At least 25 were killed and 49 injured in an explosion that ripped through Cairo’s Coptic cathedral during Sunday mass. Egyptian officials said the explosion is the bloodiest attack on its Christian minority in recent years, with suspicion immediately falling on Islamic extremist groups. It was Muhammad's birthday. (Sudarsan Raghavan and Heba Mahfouz)
- A pair of twin blasts struck Istanbul on Saturday, killing at least 29 and leaving more than 160 injured near the entrance of a soccer stadium. A Kurdish militant group has claimed responsibility. (Erin Cunningham)
- Boeing sealed a $16.6 billion agreement to sell jetliners to Iran, completing the first major agreement between a U.S. company and the Islamic Republic. (Wall Street Journal)
- Israeli lawmakers are pushing legislation to ban mosques in Jerusalem from using loudspeakers to issue a call to prayer. The measure comes amid increasing tension, with many Jewish residents saying they hear more than just noise in the song – they hear a threat. (William Booth and Ruth Eglash)
- Atmospheric concentrations of methane, the second most important greenhouse gas, have spiked majorly since 2014. A newly-published report found that levels of the gas – which in the early 2000s rose at .5 parts per billion per year, have been rising by 19 times that amount in the past two years. (Chris Mooney)
- Louisiana state treasurer John Kennedy easily prevailed in the final U.S. Senate contest of 2016, beating Democrat opponent Foster Campbell for David Vitter’s open seat. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
- A toxicology report revealed that the pilot of the Texas hot air balloon that crashed earlier this year, killing 16 people, took SEVEN different drugs before going into the skies. Valium and OxyContin were among the drugs found in his system before the balloon erupted into a fireball, becoming the deadliest crash of its kind in U.S. history. (Travis M. Andrews)
- A man was arrested and charged with a hate crime after he allegedly stabbed a worshiper outside a Southern California mosque. (Katie Mettler)
- The Secret Service arrested an Ivanka Trump stalker. He allegedly threatened to kill himself at one of her stores and bought $800 earrings from her shop on the demand that they be delivered to her. He had disappeared from a mental-health facility in Nevada last month. (New York Magazine)
- A longtime staffer at the Belgian Interior Ministry was suspended for shooting illicit photos of herself at the office. Officials say the female employee, who had worked there for a decade, recorded explicit images in the ministry’s elevators and one of its executive offices before posting them on Twitter. (Politico Europe)
- The leader of a small hacking group in India who has commandeered four high-profile Twitter accounts of leaders there, and used them to publicize the account owners' telephone numbers, bank account details and email passwords, spoke to the Post via encrypted messages this weekend. (Max Bearak)
- Indian security forces are holding captive a white pigeon suspected of having “Pakistani links” and connections to government espionage. They also detained more than 100 “suspicious” birds that were found stuffed into the back of a car, which they think were intended for nefarious purposes. Some observers have suggested the avian seizures are a sign that India remains “a deeply insecure country” despite its large size and increasing military might. (Pamela Constable)
- A former pastor and Air Force chaplain allegedly killed his 27-year-old daughter before spray-painting disturbing messages to his estranged wife on the walls of her home, and then turning the gun on himself. Police said messages such as “Vow Breaker” and “It’s all your fault” were found scrawled across the Portland-area home. (Kristine Guerra)
- A six-foot, 300-pound Santa Claus actor – who has won national awards for his real frosty-white beard, and who sports year-round Santa suspenders and a “Jingle Bells” ringtone, said he almost had to quit the biz after granting the final wish of a dying 5-year-old boy in the ICU. “I cried all the way home,” he said, after the child peacefully passed away in his arms. (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- The most under-covered story of the weekend: John Bolton is Trump’s pick to be deputy secretary of state, according to two people close to the transition. The hawkish former ambassador to the United Nations is really at odds with the foreign policy views that Trump espoused during the campaign.
On Fox News yesterday, Bolton questioned the CIA’s report of Russian election interference, suggesting that it was a “false flag” operation possibly perpetrated by the Obama administration. “It is not at all clear to me, just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC was not a false flag operation,” Bolton said. “We just don’t know.” (The Hill)
-- Rand Paul said on ABC’s “This Week” that he’s “an automatic no” on Bolton. “He still believes in regime change. He’s still a big cheerleader for the Iraq War,” the Kentucky senator said. “John Bolton is so far out of it and has such a naive understanding of the world.” (Politico)
-- Graham and McCain joined Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Armed Services ranking Democrat Jack Reed yesterday in calling for a thorough, bipartisan investigation of Russian influence in the elections. “Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American,” the four senators said in a statement. “Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks. This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country.”
-- Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said the intelligence community’s findings about Russia are “laughable and ridiculous.” (How would she know? She’s ostensibly not been briefed.)
-- In case you missed them in Sunday's paper, here are two good primers: “Trump, CIA on collision course over Russia’s role in U.S. election,” by David Nakamura and Greg Miller, and “FBI and CIA give differing accounts to lawmakers on Russia’s motives in 2016 hacks,” by Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous.
-- U.S. allies are nervous. Britain's defense minister said last night on the BBC: "I'm ready to work with the new Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to be strong against Russian aggression towards NATO, to de-escalate tensions with Moscow and … to continue to work with Russia on how we get towards a settlement in Syria. That can't be treating Russia as an equal. Russia is a strategic competitor to us in the West and we have to understand that.” (Reuters)
-- Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections is just the latest operation in a sustained global campaign to undermine western institutions. We are not the first and will not be the last:
Security agencies: Russia responsible for hacking German Parliament files that were published by Wikileaks https://t.co/AvfLY1CxGo— Peter R. Neumann (@PeterRNeumann) December 11, 2016
How Russian interference helped throw an election in Georgia. An amazingly familiar story https://t.co/mbwh2VAS5j— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) December 12, 2016
-- History lesson: Alexander Hamilton argued for the Electoral College in Federalist 68 as a check on “foreign powers … raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union.”
-- Important: Trump has still never released his tax returns, which might reveal deep financial entanglements with Russia and deeper links to Putin’s cronies than he’s acknowledged. There is no law requiring him to do so, alas, but if the president-elect has nothing to hide, why won’t he release past filings that are no longer under audit? We’re watching closely to see how cozy Trump is with whomever he picks to lead the IRS.
-- What conservative thought leaders are saying:
From an avowed Trump supporter (and former Illinois congressman):
Every Republican swore to defend us against our enemies, including a foreign attack on our elections— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) December 11, 2016
Any Republican who won't should resign
From the Editor of the Weekly Standard (who was a Never Trumper):
After 8 years of McCain, Romney, GOP Congress (correctly) criticizing Obama for being soft on Russia, will Trump drive Dems to hawkish view?— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) December 10, 2016
From a frequent contributor to The American Spectator:
Senate Republicans need to signal that they'll oppose this. It's an open invitation for Russia to test NATO https://t.co/DbH3XawGMk— John Tabin (@johntabin) December 10, 2016
Even if Tillerson is clear-eyed on Putin and only made nice for business reasons, Moscow thinking they have a friend at State is dangerous.— John Tabin (@johntabin) December 10, 2016
MORE ON TRUMP'S WORLD:
-- The Chinese rebuked Trump for saying that the U.S. is not bound by the decades-old One China policy. Emily Rauhala reports from Beijing: The Foreign Ministry, responding to the president-elect's comments on “Fox News Sunday," said Monday that U.S.-China relations could be "badly affected" since the One China policy is "the political foundation" of the two nations’ ties. "The Global Times, a newspaper known for its strident nationalism, meanwhile wrote that Trump is ‘as ignorant as a child.’ The editorial said Trump ought to read some books on U.S.-China relations. It also warned that if the U.S. abandoned the One China policy, Beijing would have no reason to ‘put peace above using force to take back Taiwan.’”
-- Words have consequences: China flew a long-range, nuclear-capable bomber outside of its borders for the first time since Trump’s phone call with the president of Taiwan, a show of force meant to send him a message. U.S. officials said the bomber flew along the disputed “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea, the first long-range flight to travel along the demarcation line in more than 18 months. (The Independent)
-- Also notable: Nearly every Asia expert in the Republican establishment has refused to serve in Trump’s administration. The Economist reports that “those handling policy towards Asia are notable for their inexperience or for their ideological inclination to favour Taiwan over those once disparaged as ‘ChiComs.’”
-- “Trump’s election triggers a debate in Australia,” by A. Odysseus Patrick in Sydney: “Trump's election has triggered an uncomfortable debate in one of America's most loyal allies, Australia, over the future of its alliance with the United States, which has been the foundation of its national security since 1941. Foreign policy experts, political commentators and the Labor opposition are questioning if [Trump's] apparent ambivalence about foreign alliances — he questioned the worth of NATO during the campaign — means Australia should adopt a more independent foreign policy. Such a move would be a seismic shift for this country of 25 million people, which has relied on the United States for its security ever since the Japanese threatened to invade during World War II. ‘We should not be naive in this period of uncertainty,’ said Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Penny Wong. ‘Trump's campaign rhetoric expressed views that run counter to what are core values for most Australians. We need to consider a broader range of scenarios than was previously within contemplation.’”
-- Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he is super optimistic that the president-elect will move the U.S. Embassy to his ancient city from Tel Aviv “sooner than later." (New York Times)
-- “Trump’s Deals In Turkey Align Him With Powerful Partners,” by BuzzFeed's Borzou Daragahi: “Of all Trump Organization’s global dealings perhaps none are as tangled and potentially fraught as his three multi-million-dollar business ties to Turkey, a key NATO ally and US partner in the war against ISIS that is drifting into authoritarianism under Erdogan. Trump’s ties to Turkey include licensing deals with the head of the country’s largest media empire … its most well-connected furniture firm, Dorya, that caters to the country’s most powerful institutions, and also Anar Mammadov, a billionaire executive … who US officials suspect of corrupt dealings with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard … The connections place Trump squarely in the middle of both Turkey’s domestic battles, regional tensions, and a crackdown on the press and opposition politics, creating potential conflicts of interest or their appearance at a time when the US has sought to win Turkey’s help on several Middle East crises but also to temper its repression of media and civil society.”
SUNDAY SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:
-- Trump said he doesn’t need daily intelligence briefings because he’s “a smart person.” He currently receives the presidential daily brief just once a week. “I say, ‘If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I’m available on one-minute’s notice,'” he said on Fox. “I don’t have to be told—you know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”
-- Trump said “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real, saying on "Fox News Sunday" that he is still “studying” whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris climate agreement struck last year. “I'm very open-minded. I'm still open-minded. Nobody really knows. Look, I'm somebody that gets it, and nobody really knows. It's not something that's so hard and fast,” Trump told Chris Wallace. “I do know this: Other countries are eating our lunch.” (Juliet Eilperin)
-- Carl Bernstein thinks Trump is a worse liar than Nixon. Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” the veteran journalist said the president-elect “thrives in a fact-free environment” and warned against his approach to the media. "No president, including Richard Nixon, has been so ignorant of fact and disdains fact in the way this President-elect does," Bernstein told CNN’s Brian Stelter. “And it has something to do with the growing sense of authoritarianism he and his presidency are projecting," he added. "The danger of it is obvious and he's trying to make the conduct of the press the issue, not his own conduct … What we have seen throughout the campaign is pathological disdain for the truth, a kind of lie, and ease with lying, that we have not seen before."
-- Trump has narrowed his search for energy secretary to four people, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has emerged as the leading candidate. Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs and Jennifer Dlouhy report: “Two Democratic senators from energy-producing states -- Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia -- are also in the mix, along with Ray Washburne, a Dallas investor and former chairman of the RNC. If Trump picks any of the four he’ll break with recent tradition of putting scientists at the top of the Energy Department."
-- Chris Christie reportedly declined several offers to serve in Trump’s administration. The Star Ledger's Matt Arco reports that the New Jersey governor turned down “cabinet-level posts” such as Homeland Security secretary and VA secretary, as well as positions such as a White House advisory role or even U.S. ambassador to Italy. Christie was not offered the role of attorney general that he was vying for, per Matt. (It's very possible that the Christie and Trump people are just saying this to save face and that it's not true.)
-- Reality TV star Omarosa Manigault is playing a significant role in Trump’s transition, and some say she may get a White House role similar to the one now held by Valerie Jarrett (!). From Abby Phillip and Lisa Rein: “Manigault has emerged as Trump’s emissary to a broad array of interest groups inside and outside Washington on issues of diversity, political outreach and hiring for his nascent administration. … Last weekend, she flew to Atlanta to address an annual meeting of presidents of the country’s historically black colleges. At the events, she signaled her growing role in Trump’s transition as a senior adviser leading the Office of Nationwide Engagement. She is said to have an open line of communication with the president-elect, with whom she developed a close relationship after becoming the breakout star of the first season of ‘The Apprentice.’"
Manigault’s presence in transition meetings has raised eyebrows: “Some advocates who attended a recent meeting with veterans groups said privately that they were surprised to see her there, given that she does not have expertise in veterans health care, benefits or the complexities of the sprawling Veterans Affairs agency.”
Her last stint in D.C. was a disaster: In the 1990s, Manigault worked in a series of jobs in the Clinton administration in the White House and briefly in the Commerce Department. “She was asked to leave as quickly as possible, she was so disruptive,” Cheryl Shavers, the former undersecretary for technology at the Commerce Department, said of Manigault in a 2004 People magazine story. “One woman wanted to slug her.”
-- Out of her depth? There are deep fears in the foreign policy establishment that the soon-to-be Deputy National Security Adviser, K.T. McFarland, is more theatrical than substantive. From Politico’s Michael Crowley: “At a political rally in June 2009, K.T. McFarland offered a jarring prediction. China might cancel the Fourth of July, she said. ‘They’re going to want something for their money. They’re not our sugar daddy,’ McFarland [said], referring to America’s more than $1 trillion in debt to Beijing. Unless voters ‘throw the bums out’ McFarland said, ‘we can all start learning Chinese.’ She then read aloud Mandarin phrases from an index card. … McFarland’s theatrical performance might have been lighthearted, but its breezy and simplistic tone underscores why national security experts in both parties worry she is unqualified for what national security veterans say is among the hardest—and most important—jobs at the White House. McFarland, 65, last worked in government three decades ago.”
-- Trump White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, a former FEC member, has always been an “iconoclast bent on shaking things up,” the New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau writes in a profile: “Still, it was an audacious move even for Mr. McGahn when he signed on in early 2015 as the lawyer for Mr. Trump’s long-shot presidential bid. At the time, few other Washington insiders would get behind Mr. Trump, and some were skeptical of Mr. McGahn’s decision, even openly scornful. Now, Mr. McGahn stands to become one of the most powerful, if least known, figures in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. The Atlantic City-born lawyer, a guitarist in a rock band who has a personality to match Mr. Trump’s, will be the legal arbiter for the enormously complicated thicket of ethical issues awaiting a president-elect who has built a vast business empire. One key question, however, is how strongly he will push back if Mr. Trump, a man who has defied many norms, seeks to cross into murky legal terrain. If his record is any guide, Mr. McGahn will be a fierce proponent of the president’s executive authority to operate independently on a wide range of issues.”
TWO TAKES ON TRUMP'S PROCESS:
-- The simple truth is that Trump’s transition process has been a logical continuation of the campaign he ran: a total disregard for the established methods and the rules governing those methods,” says The Fix’s Chris Cilizza. Now, he says, a major question remains: “Is Trump’s ability to innovate in the political campaign space — that’s exactly what he has done, whether you like it or not — something that can carry over to his time in the White House? Do voters want something different in a president than they want in a presidential candidate? If so, Trump’s unwillingness to change could badly damage his presidency.”
-- “To Trump, all the world is baubles, and he reaches reflexively for the shiniest one,” writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. “He surely sits back and grins as he watches aspirants vie for his favor. Before Trump, the way to land a top spot under a new president was to be discreet, but discreet does nothing to fortify his ego. He wants the whole world to see how many important people hanker to work for him. So they show the world, posing for pictures with him and fanning out on TV to proclaim their ardor and aptitude. Decades from now we’ll still be talking about Trump’s version [of Cabinet-vetting], which presented a crystalline window into the man himself, revealing the titanic whole of his tortured psyche: the bloated ego, the boundless need, the capriciousness, the obsession with appearances. It was a fitting coda to his campaign and, I fear, a harbinger of his presidency.”
-- “New push to replace Obamacare reignites old GOP tensions,” by Mike DeBonis and Kelsey Snell: “Republicans on Capitol Hill are already laying the groundwork for a rapid repeal of President Obama’s signature health-care law beginning on the first day of the new Congress, before [Trump] is even sworn in. But the urgent efforts to make good on a Republican campaign promise six years in the making obscure major GOP divisions over what exactly to replace Obamacare with and how to go about it, and how long a transition period to allow before the law’s insurance would go away. Hard-liners are pushing to move as fast as possible … But key congressional leaders are keenly concerned about potentially throwing millions off their insurance plans and repeating what they have long decried as Democratic missteps eight years ago, sparking a fierce political backlash by moving too far, too fast." “I’d like to do it tomorrow, but reality is another matter sometimes,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
WAPO HIGHLIGHTS FROM AROUND THE GLOBE:
-- “How ‘food apartheid’ is punishing some Venezuelans,” by Mariana Zuñiga: “With food riots breaking out and supermarket shelves woefully bare, the government of embattled President Nicolás Maduro launched a new food distribution system in April promising to deliver subsidized groceries to every household in need. Maduro called the new system ‘CLAPs’ (Local Committees of Supply and Production). The name might be fitting, because those who don’t applaud his government haven’t been getting anything to eat. Maduro told Venezuelans that the CLAP system would alleviate chronic scarcities and the ‘economic war’ against his government he says is being waged by opposition leaders, business owners and the street-level black market vendors …. Instead, critics say the system has devolved into a kind of ‘food apartheid’ meant to punish those who oppose Maduro.”
-- “An unexpected result of Yemen’s war: More men are cooking and cleaning,” by Sudarsan Raghavan: “The women in this village never earned money, never left home without the permission of their husbands. It had been that way for as long as anyone could remember. Then the war arrived. Now before dawn each day, mothers and daughters walk to the mountainous scrub to gather wood, which they turn into charcoal and sell. The men stay home and care for the children, and sometimes do the cooking and the cleaning. Yemen has consistently ranked among the worst countries for women and girls, and the war has only made life harder. But in pockets of the Middle East’s poorest country, an unexpected social recalibration appears to be underway … As the war destroys jobs and countless men join the fight, a growing number of women are providing income for their families. Often, they are working in areas that had been considered the purview of men or culturally unacceptable for women in Yemen’s ultraconservative tribal society. Some are now butchers, bar “I feel the war has changed my personality,” said Ayde Ahmed Shabon, 33, her voice soft but clear. “I feel equal to the man now.”
-- “Chris Arnade photographs the ‘back-row kids.’ He knew they could elect Trump,” by Margaret Sullivan: “The best way to get photographer Chris Arnade to go somewhere is to warn him not to. Hunts Point in the Bronx is dangerous; stay away, friends said, when Arnade began walking all over New York City with his camera. That was when Arnade, now 51, was still a Wall Street bond trader, years before he would find himself documenting what he thinks of as [Trump’s] America: the poor or working-class people left behind by the economic recovery. Back in May, when many were still pooh-poohing Trump’s chances, Arnade wrote a notable series of tweets: If Trump didn’t win this time around, it would only be because he was such a deeply flawed candidate; but some Trumplike figure soon would capitalize on people’s anger and disenfranchisement. [Clinton], he said, ‘represented the front row’ — the smartest students in class, destined to enjoy the money and status that came with silver-spoon success. For what Arnade calls the ‘back-row kids,’ the frustration, anger and, yes, humiliation had become overwhelming. Arnade has little confidence that Trump will actually address the economic and cultural inequality that helped to power his appeal. But Arnade saw the emotions up close: ‘You have to put people’s decisions in context — how distant they are from the money.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Ann Telnaes re-imagines the Time cover. "The president-elect’s use of red meat and political dog whistles earned him this distinction," she writes:
Trump’s tax simplification couldn’t be simpler to understand, adds cartoonist Tom Toles:
Graham and McCain joined Democrats in calling for a bipartisan investigation of Russian hacking:
Don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what Russia is up to -- they're trying to undermine democracies all over the world.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 10, 2016
Russia is trying to break the backs of democracies – and democratic movements – all over the world.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 10, 2016
I'm not challenging the outcome of the election, but very concerned about Russian interference/actions at home & throughout the world.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 10, 2016
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of the Intelligence committee, seemed to agree:
From the former Nixon White House counsel:
The intel report on Russia's role in the 2016 election must be available for all electors before the electoral college meets Dec. 19.— John Dean (@JohnWDean) December 10, 2016
Flashback via a former aide to Clinton:
The intel didn't state that Iraq had WMDs. The Bush-Cheney WH made that misrepresentation. pic.twitter.com/T6Sx3vXt92— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) December 10, 2016
What is missing here is a denial pic.twitter.com/TByHihVBV6— Tim Dickinson (@7im) December 10, 2016
Evan McMullin criticized Republican leaders:
What's new is that our leaders have become so self-serving that they're willing to sacrifice our national security for their own power.— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) December 10, 2016
Republican leaders knew Russia was undermining our democracy during the election and they chose to ignore it.— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) December 10, 2016
Journalists wondered at Trump's decision not to accept daily intelligence briefings:
Is the next Commander-in-Chief is signaling that the CIA won't be a major player in his national security team?— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) December 10, 2016
I am old enough to remember when the Bannon-led Govt Accountability Institute said it was disqualifying for Obama not be be briefed daily https://t.co/lCVnqWcOt6— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) December 11, 2016
Flashback to 2014:
Fact--Obama does not read his intelligence briefings nor does he get briefed in person by the CIA or DOD. Too busy I guess!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2014
Trump continues to claim he won in the electoral college by one of the biggest landslides ever. That's a lie:
There have been 58 presidential elections. In 45 of those elections, the winner claimed a larger share of the electoral college than Trump. pic.twitter.com/Ov38J2EAH8— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) December 10, 2016
Trump continued his sustained attack on the media:
Allen West shared this violent sentiment against Muslims on Facebook:
Mind you, Allen West met with Trump's foreign policy team on Monday.— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) December 11, 2016
This is the type of person they're talking to. https://t.co/GMt1UBaouo
Interesting change at this Trump rally:
Whoa—chant of "lock her up!" from the crowd, Trump replies: "That plays great before the election – now we don’t care"— Alexandra Jaffe (@ajjaffe) December 10, 2016
Reid's spokesman criticized the New York Times for its story that said the FBI saw no clear link to Russia:
I'll say it: NYT interviewed Reid for this story. He said things contrary to the story. NYT discarded the interview. https://t.co/p39yXdu9Qq— Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) December 10, 2016
Maybe some want to know why the NYT seemed to cover for Comey's FBI?— Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) December 10, 2016
Maybe even some at the NYT? Maybe not?
I'm just asking questions. https://t.co/pdJVsaEhvH
Biden hung out with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa:
Andy Cohen made a visit to the White House:
Lawmakers are definitely getting in the holiday spirit:
Colleagues bid farewell to Charlie Rangel:
John McCain's grandson -- already preparing to follow his example?
A gift ideas for any tax wonks in your life:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Wall Street Journal, “PepsiCo Wants to Sell Healthy Food, Consumers Want Chips,” by Mike Esterl: “An array of new products at a trade show in Atlanta this fall told the story of two PepsiCos. Anchoring one part of the display was a fiber-filled nut and fruit bar called Init and a sparkling lemonade with real lemon juice called Lemon Lemon. Nearby sat an assemblage of bright bags of Mac N’ Cheetos, new frozen cheese sticks resembling Cheetos, and Top N Go Doritos, a portable meal designed to be eaten with a fork and high in salt and fat. Here is a company pulled in two different directions. Chief executive Indra Nooyi has vowed to turn the maker of Fritos, Cheetos, Lay’s and Pepsi into a health juggernaut. But while consumers say they want to eat healthy, often what they really want is chips."
-- New York Times, “In Italy, One Man Begs for Asylum. Another Man Must Decide,” by Jim Yardley: “For 46 minutes … [Nanue] Matabor sat inside one of Rome’s Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection and pleaded for asylum to an audience of one — a smartly dressed Italian civil servant named Giorgio De Francesco. One man asking for protection; another man charged with deciding his fate. Asylum systems in countries like Italy are overwhelmed, and some nations are tightening their requirements. Simply being from a poor or war-torn place is generally not enough. For the moment, a hierarchy of human misery prevails: People fleeing well-defined conflicts, like the civil war in Syria, or oppressive states, like Eritrea, have a far higher chance of success, while the fate of many others can hinge on their individual stories. Mr. De Francesco’s job amounts to parsing the misery, picking winners and losers from a pool of applicants who had lost so much already. “We don’t want to have only one person deciding the life of someone else,” [said an Interior Ministry official.] Yet for now, that is close to the reality — as well as Mr. Francesco’s burden.”
-- NBC News, “Fake News: How a Partying Macedonian Teen Earns Thousands Publishing Lies,” by Alexander Smith: Dimitri points to a picture on his Instagram showing a bar table decked with expensive champagne and sparklers. It's from his 18th birthday just four months ago — a lavish party in his east European hometown that he says wouldn't have been possible without [Trump]. Dimitri — who asked NBC News not to use his real name — is one of dozens of teenagers in the Macedonian town of Veles who got rich during the U.S. presidential election producing fake news for millions on social media. [He] says he's earned at least $60,000 in the past six months — far outstripping his parents' income and transforming his prospects in a town where the average annual wage is $4,800.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“KKK ‘Grand Dragon’ Arrested For Alleged Knife Fight After Too Much Vodka And OJ,” from HuffPost: “The KKK ‘grand dragon’ behind a violent California rally earlier this year was arrested after allegedly stabbing another klansman in a fight that broke out after drinking Skyy vodka and orange juice. Richard Dillon, who was an Indiana member of the Loyal White Knights, told the Los Angeles Times he was stabbed by William Hagen, during a ‘National Klonvocation’ in Dec. 2 in North Carolina. Dillon apologized to Hagen at the event for online posts critical of Hagen’s decision to hold the rally in February despite not having security. The New York Times reports that the alleged stabbing took place just before the KKK’s North Carolina ‘victory parade’ held to celebrate the election of Trump. Dillon told the Times he quit the organization, but plans to join another white supremacist group.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“In France, a Defeat for Free Speech and the Right to Life,” from National Review: “The French Parliament this week approved an abominable measure criminalizing pro-life speech on the Internet, in the name of women’s freedom to choose abortion without remorse. If the measure is formally enacted, which seems likely, the punishment for anyone who violates its proscriptions will be over $30,000 in fines and up to two years of jail time. Supporters of the law have attempted to fend off well-deserved criticism by noting that the measure punishes only ‘misinformation’ about abortion … But the bill’s language undeniably criminalizes nearly all pro-life speech — or, at the very least, allows most types of anti-abortion speech to be judicially interpreted as ‘misinformation’ when viewed from a progressive perspective.”
In Trump's world: Trump meets with Carly Fiorina, Joe Manchin, Raul Labrador and Rick Santorum.
At the White House: Obama has no public events scheduled.
On Capitol Hill: The Senate and House are out.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump claimed Friday night in Michigan that African Americans came through for him “big league” in the November election and said those who stayed home were “almost as good” as those who voted for him. “The African American community was great to us,” Trump told his crowd. “They came through, big league. Big league. And frankly if they had any doubt, they didn’t vote, and that was almost as good because a lot of people didn’t show up, because they felt good about me.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Rain this morning gives way to a mild afternoon, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Light rain is likely this morning which should taper off midday. In some of our colder areas in western Loudoun and Frederick counties, look out for pockets of freezing rain — mainly before sunrise. As skies brighten in the afternoon, temperatures rebound and should max out within a few degrees of 50.”
-- The chairman of the Prince George’s County liquor board was charged with a DUI after attempting to leave the MGM National Harbor Casino on opening night. Multiple witnesses said he struck two vehicles as he was attempting to leave the celebration, and video footage shows him struggling to walk in a straight line after being questioned by a police officer. (Arelis R. Hernández)
-- Virginia gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart announced plans to give away an AR-15 rifle, making a strong statement on Second Amendment rights as he seeks to make headlines and win support from Republican voters. The assault-style rifle has been used in several of the nation’s most notorious mass shootings, including the 2002 Washington-area sniper attack that included a homicide in his own county. (Ian Shapira and Laura Vozzella)
-- “Is the D.C. mayor losing control of her city?,” by Peter Jamison: “Mayor Muriel E. Bowser is struggling to stand up to an aggressively liberal D.C. Council, which in the past six weeks alone has legalized assisted suicide in the nation’s capital and guaranteed new parents two months of paid time off. A moderate Democrat whose roots are in the middle-class African American neighborhoods of Northeast Washington, Bowser increasingly finds herself at odds with a council infused with the leftist tendencies of the District’s millennial newcomers. Heading into her third year in office, the mayor appears to be losing ground, sidelined as lawmakers advance a wish list of progressive policies without her cooperation, and sometimes despite her opposition. The outcome could determine whether the city focuses on the national priorities of the political left — such as social-welfare programs and business regulation — or Bowser’s more conventional urban agenda of schools, crime and homelessness …”
-- “How a murder convict facing a life sentence became a D.C. mayoral appointee,” by Justin Wm. Moyer: “Brian Ferguson … oversees a staff of seven and has an annual budget of $490,000. About three years ago, he was serving a life sentence for murder. Ferguson is the director of the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs, tasked with helping D.C. residents released from prison get back on their feet. Ferguson faces a tough road. In 2015, the D.C. inspector general found the office to be understaffed, underbudgeted and not fulfilling its mission. Ferguson’s personal story, meanwhile, is worthy of a Charles Dickens novel. He was a 20-year-old college student in West Virginia when he was accused in 2002 of fatally shooting a fellow classmate — a crime he says he didn’t commit. [Eleven years later], he found himself in a changed world, surrounded by unfamiliar technology in a changed city, and looking for a job with a murder conviction. ‘What it taught me was the importance of reaching back and helping everyone you can possibly help,’ he said. ‘I dislike the term ‘reaching down.’ It’s not a ‘down’ thing.’”
-- More than 100 children and parents gathered in front of Trump’s hotel in Washington this weekend for a “rally for kindness,” calling on the president-elect to remember what they say are critical lessons when he takes office: “Be nice. Tell the truth. Keep your hands to yourself. ‘Don’t be a bully,’ one pint-size protester’s sign read. ‘Use kind words like ‘please’ and ‘sorry,’’ said another.” (Katherine Shaver)
-- The Redskins beat the Eagles 27-22.
-- The Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.
-- Five people were shot at a Baltimore bar on Sunday, after a man who had been removed from the location returned and opened fire. Officials said three women and two men received non-life-threatening wounds in the incident, which occurred about 1 a.m. (Martin Weil)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
SNL mocked Trump's cabinet picks by doing a sketch in which he picks Walter White to run the DEA:
Weekend Update featured Cathy Ann talking about the alt-right, Pizzagate and Michelle Obama:
Seth Meyers took a look at Trump's Carrier deal:
Dylann Roof confessed to the Charleston church massacre in this chilling 2015 video:
Meet the union leader that Trump attacked:
The Post tested the least essential gifts of this holiday season: