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The Daily 202: Donald Trump embraces the risky ‘Madman Theory’ on foreign policy

Donald Trump walks and talks yesterdaywith Reince Priebus at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
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with Breanne Deppisch

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump appears to have embraced, with gusto, Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” of foreign policy. He thinks he can use his reputation for unpredictability and lack of respect for long-standing international norms to unnerve and then intimidate America’s adversaries into making concessions that they would not otherwise make.

The Chinese government’s decision yesterday to return the naval drone that it had seized in the South China Sea, despite howls of protest about Trump’s braggadocio, might be the first vindication of this approach.

-- A generation ago, Nixon wanted to convince the Soviets and their North Vietnamese clients that he was a hot-head willing to use nuclear weapons. The goal then was to scare the communists into negotiating. In some ways, this was the nub of the secret plan he talked so much about during the 1968 campaign – just as Trump insisted that he had a secret plan to get rid of ISIS during the 2016 race. “I call it the Madman Theory,” the then-president explained to H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, as they walked along a foggy beach one day. “I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘For God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button!’ And Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

-- Elites in Washington and across the world think Trump is crazy, but the president-elect has demonstrated repeatedly that he can be crazy like a fox. He knew exactly what he was doing when he called for a Muslim ban, for instance, or picked fights with people on Twitter to distract the press from much bigger problems. We’ve already learned that Trump’s phone call with the leader of Taiwan was not some spontaneous faux pas but a carefully-planned recalibration of U.S. policy.

For Trump’s stratagem to work, foreign leaders must continue to believe that he’s erratic and prone to irrational overreaction. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” Trump often said on the campaign trail. “We have to be unpredictable!”

-- This is a dangerous gambit in the current geopolitical risk environment. Nixon played the game in a bi-polar world, with two superpowers and nothing like the Islamic State to worry about. The world that Trump must lead is multi-polar. Asymmetric warfare is now a top-tier concern.

-- Several events yesterday – including the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, the truck attack at a Christmas market in Berlin, the mosque shooting in Zurich, the on-again, off-again evacuation in Aleppo and the riots in Venezuela -- offered timely reminders of the degree to which our interconnected world is a tinderbox, perennially on the verge of bursting into flames. In Europe, they’re already calling it Black Monday.

-- What alarms so many foreign policy greybeards is that Trump is a flame thrower, not a firefighter, by his very nature. Since Teddy Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Russo-Japanese War, every American president has prided himself on at least trying to defuse global tensions, not heighten them. As Billy Joel sang, we didn’t start the fire. We didn’t light it, but we try to fight it…

-- The international order, which the U.S. sits atop, depends to some degree on stability, certainty and predictability. Allies need to know they can count on us, and America’s enemies need to know that the security guarantee for countries from Estonia to South Korea is real.

-- Trump seems either unable or unwilling to pivot into using diplomatic speak. That should not come as a big surprise, and it’s not necessarily always a bad thing. A big part of his appeal during the campaign was his refusal to be “politically correct.” Why would he change now? Compare his tweet last night about the incidents in Europe to Mike Pence’s:

-- Trump’s decision to adopt the “Madman Theory” highlights his longtime fixation with Nixon and underscores his pre-existing Nixonian tendencies.

-- Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state, has spoken to Trump several times before and since the election. They’ve had long meetings to talk about the world.

Even as a nonagenarian, the German-born Kissinger has an uncanny ability to cast a spell on powerful Republican men – just as he did with Nelson Rockefeller a half century ago, then Nixon and finally Gerald Ford. Yesterday HAK sat with Pence, who studiously took notes and then tweeted a picture from their meeting:

Pence, 57, may not be old enough to remember when Kissinger, 93, was one of the biggest bogeymen there was on the right. Reagan’s 1976 primary challenge against Ford was fueled by conservative antipathy toward Kissinger, who was perceived as having Rasputin-like influence over the accidental president. Ford literally stopped using the word “détente” because Reagan was hammering him for being too soft on Russia during that campaign. How times change…

-- If personnel is indeed policy, Trump’s National Security Council will be heavily Nixonian. Kathleen “KT” McFarland started her career as a low-level staffer in the Situation Room of Nixon’s White House and rose under the tutelage of Kissinger. She will now return as Michael Flynn’s deputy.

Nixon hired Monica Crowley as a research assistant when she was 22. She wrote a tell-all after he died, revealing their private conversations. Now she’ll be the senior director of strategic communications for the NSC.

Since Trump plans to eschew the presidential daily briefing, and empower NSC staff to make decisions without his sign-off, both jobs might be even more powerful than they normally would be. (McFarland and Crowley both came to Trump’s attention as Fox News talking heads, which could increase the face time that the women get with him...)

-- In a very meaningful way, the president-elect looks up to Nixon far more than he does Ronald Reagan, whose foreign policy he roundly criticized. The New York developer literally paid to take out full-page ads in The Washington Post in 1987 to trash Reagan’s foreign policy for lacking backbone. At the exact same time, he was palling around with and trying to ingratiate himself with both Nixon and Kissinger.

In fact, Trump admires Nixon so much that he’s planning to hang in the Oval Office a letter that the former president sent him in 1987 (the same year he was slamming Reagan). Pat Nixon had seen Donald on “The Donahue Show,” he wrote, “and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!”

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter.
With contributions from Breanne Deppisch (@breanne_dep) and Elise Viebeck (@eliseviebeck).

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- A truck plowed into a bustling Christmas market in Berlin on Monday evening, killing at least 12 and wounding dozens more. After first suggesting the crash may have been an accident, Berlin police said it is being investigated as a terrorist attack. “The bloodshed came at the height of activity at the Christmas markets, a cherished German tradition that draws locals and tourists to city squares for mugs of mulled wine, grilled sausages and regional sweets,” Anthony Faiola, Souad Mekhennet and Stephanie Kirchner report. “The scene turned to panic around 8 p.m. as the truck veered onto the sidewalk and crashed between market stalls, reportedly running nearly 80 feet before stopping. Witnesses said some victims were pinned under the wheels of the vehicles while others were struck and tossed onto the pavement. After the incident, the scene remained a horrific tableau of crushed wood, broken glass and blood. Lying near the truck was a fallen Christmas tree, its star toppled."

-- Berlin police said they are “uncertain” that a suspect currently in custody is actually the attacker, warning residents to “stay vigilant” as they raised the frightening prospect that the assailant could remain at large. German officials said the man in custody, a Pakistani asylum seeker detained on Monday night, has denied any involvement in the attack. (Anthony Faiola, Souad Mekhennet and Stephanie Kirchner)

-- A gunman dressed in black stormed into the prayer hall of a Zurich mosque frequented by Somali immigrants and opened fire, wounding three people before fleeing. Police, who rushed to the scene in a central neighborhood known for trendy cafes and the city’s red-light district, were also investigating a possible connection to a corpse discovered nearby at Gessner bridge over the Sihl River, police spokesman Marco Bisa said. (AP)

Here's what we know about a gun attack in Turkey that killed Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov. (Video: Nicki DeMarco, Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

-- A Turkish police officer assassinated Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov at an art gallery, angrily denouncing the bloodshed in Syria before firing a round of bullets into the diplomat’s back. “Do not forget Aleppo!” he shouted, as the audience looked on. David Filipov, Kareem Fahim and Liz Sly have more: “The shooting was among the most brazen retaliatory attacks yet on Russia since Moscow entered the war in Syria on the side of President [Assad] and unleashed a bombardment on Aleppo that has drawn international condemnation … But in Moscow, where the Kremlin has maintained that its aerial sorties and missile attacks have exclusively targeted ‘terrorists,’ Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the shooting ‘a terrorist attack,’ and Putin called it a 'provocation' designed to torpedo Russo-Turkish ties."

-- The gunman was killed in a shootout with police. Still, Russian authorities have called for an investigation to reveal whether there was a “larger plot,” with some in Moscow suggesting that the West is to blame for its support of moderate rebel factions in Syria. Putin stopped short of that, saying only, "We need to know who guided the hand of the murderer."

-- Turkish police have detained six people in connection with the assassination, widening a probe to include the relatives of the 22-year-old gunman. His mother, father, sister and two other relatives were held in the western province of Aydin, while his flatmate in Ankara was also detained, Reuters reports. One senior Turkish security official said investigators were focusing on whether he had links to the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for a failed July coup.

-- The U.S. embassy in Ankara and its consulates in Istanbul and Adana have been shut down for at least the rest of today after an individual discharged a firearm outside the embassy, a few hours after the assassination. The Iranian embassy in Ankara announced that its consulates in the three Turkish cities of Istanbul, Trabzon and Erzurum will also be closed. (Reuters)

-- The assassination creates a geopolitical crisis for Turkish President Recep Erdogan, whose relations with the West have frayed in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt. Ishaan Tharoor writes that the murder may force Turkey to pivot closer to Russia: “This could not have come at a worse time for Erdogan, who had been carefully negotiating with Putin over Syria,” said Henri Barkey, director of the the Woodrow Wilson Institute’s Middle East program. “At a time when his relationship with the U.S. and Europe has soured, the appearance of a rapprochement with Russia was something he needed. … Now, he will find that his hand with the Russians is even weaker than ever and one can be sure that Putin will milk this as much as he can behind closed doors while offering platitudes in public about unchanging relations. The only thing to be decided is the price Erdogan will have to pay.”

-- But there is no immediate indication that Turkey or Russia will alter their aligned policies in Syria. If anything, the attack may cement their partnership even further, the New York Times’ Max Fisher argues. “[Turkey expert Aaron Stein] predicted that President Erdogan would seek to distract attention from his government’s unpopular Syria policy by pinning the [assassination] attack on the United States-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Mr. Erdogan also blamed for a coup attempt in Turkey this summer. Mr. Gulen has denied the charges, and Washington has refused to extradite him, citing a lack of evidence.” But tensions with the U.S. actually help Erdogan rally support in Turkey, where America is unpopular: “The biggest loser from this will be Washington,” Stein said. “It’s completely counterintuitive, but it’s Washington.”

-- A first-person account from AP photographer Burhan Ozbilici, who was there: “The event seemed routine, the opening of an exhibit of photographs of Russia. So when a man in a dark suit and tie pulled out a gun, I was stunned and thought it was a theatrical flourish. Instead, it was a coolly calculated assassination, unfolding in front of me and others who scrambled, terrified, for cover. … People screamed, hid behind columns and under tables and lay on the floor. I was afraid and confused, but found partial cover behind a wall and did my job: taking photographs. This is what I was thinking: ‘I'm here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I'm a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos. ... But I wouldn't have a proper answer if people later ask me: 'Why didn't you take pictures?'”

-- Syrian government forces threatened to storm the last rebel-held enclave in Aleppo on Tuesday, potentially complicating an internationally-backed effort to evacuate thousands of civilians trapped in the bombed-out city. Hugh Naylor reports: The media wing of an Assad-allied Hezbollah militia said Syrian troops have issued their “last call” for people to leave the sliver of territory in the city’s rebel-held districts. Evacuations have been taking place as part of a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey – with as many as 25,000 ferried from the city since Thursday – but disruptions continue to complicate the effort, with thousands of rebels and civilians waiting to be bussed from Aleppo to safer western provinces.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. President Obama pardoned 78 people and commuted the sentences of 153 nonviolent drug offenders, adding to a historic number of prisoners granted clemency during his presidency. Administration officials said he plans to issue even more pardons before leaving office. (Sari Horwitz)
  2. A federal judge ordered a search warrant in Hillary Clinton’s email investigation be unsealed by noon today, a decision that will likely reveal more details about FBI Director James Comey’s fraught decision to reopen the probe on the eve of the election. (Matt Zapotosky)
  3. Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) called a special session for lawmakers to consider repealing the state’s “bathroom bill,” potentially capping a months-long drama that prompted boycotts and cost the state millions in lucrative business deals. (Mark Berman)
  4. Pregnancy distinctly changes the shape and size of a woman’s brain for up to two years after giving birth. A new study finds that the changes help new mothers “tune in” to others’ feelings and needs, fostering a special bond between mother and child. (Amy Ellis Nutt)
  5. Nearly 50 people have died from alcohol poisoning after drinking bath oil in Siberia – guzzling past warning labels in desperate attempt to obtain a boozy buzz. But the shower products also contain antifreeze, and their misuse has prompted a city-wide state of emergency. (David Filipov and Samantha Schmidt)
  6. UCLA said it has received 100,000 freshman applications for the upcoming school year, making the prestigious California university the first public school in the country to report a six-figure total for freshman applications. (Nick Anderson)
  7. An Uber driver “felt his vehicle was disrespected” by a passenger who tapped on the window – so he drove a short distance before lunging into the backseat and stabbing him. Thankfully, the victim is okay. (Sarah Larimer)
  8. A KKK member was sentenced to 30 years in prison for plotting a mass attack on Muslims – working to assemble a homemade “death ray” that would spew lethal doses of radiation. The 52-year-old described his device as “Hiroshima on a light switch." He will be under supervision for the rest of his life. (Kristine Guerra)
  9. A Kentucky professor is strongly pushing back on charges of sexual misconduct, chalking them up to an ill-received rendition of a Beach Boys song that he performed while teaching students in China. (Kristine Guerra)
  10. A German-funded high school in Istanbul announced a “ban on Christmas.” School officials clamped down on any celebration or teaching of the Christian holiday and even canceled an annual concert. (Anthony Faiola and Stephanie Kirchner)
  11. Nearly 40 years after the hog-tied bodies of two British tourists were found off the coast of Belize, police have finally charged a man in their deaths. Shockingly, the break in the case came from the suspect’s own sons, who both said they witnessed the gruesome murders, but have spent the last four decades living in terror of their vengeful father. (Kristine Guerra)
  12. Lou Harris, the political consultant who was among the first to provide polling services directly to candidates and helped guide John F. Kennedy to the White House, died at 95. (Zach Cohen)
  13. In a ceremonial show of unity, Lebanon has named its first-ever “minister for women” – but officials tapped a 62-year-old male for the role! His nomination probably won’t do much in the way of representation for Lebanese women, who make up just four percent of elected officials in parliament. (Adam Taylor)

-- It's official: Trump won in the electoral college, 305 to 232. After weeks of pressure on GOP electors from the left, more Democrats wound up defecting from Hillary Clinton than Republicans defected from the president-elect -- an apt coda to 2016. Ed O'Keefe reports: “Ultimately, John Kasich earned one vote from an elector in Texas. So did former congressman Ron Paul. Sen. Bernie Sanders received one vote in Hawaii. In Washington state, three electors cast votes for former secretary of state Colin Powell, while another voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Sioux tribe from South Dakota who opposes the Dakota Access Pipeline. ... State Democrats had selected their electors at a lightly attended party convention packed mostly with supporters of Sanders. ... Electors in Colorado and Minnesota also tried and failed to buck Clinton. In Maine, elector David Bright initially cast his ballot for Sanders to honor thousands of younger voters who had supported the senator. But state officials ruled that Bright’s vote was improper. They ordered a revote, and Bright voted the second time for Clinton. ... Pence earned the requisite electoral votes to serve as vice president, but in Washington state, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also earned some votes." Protesters gathered at state capitols across the country for futile demonstrations.

TRANSITION LATEST:

-- Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim traveled to Mar-a-Lago this weekend to join Trump for dinner. Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Joshua Partlow report: “The peace-making gesture — the culmination of weeks of back-channel negotiations that included a secret visit to Mexico City by [Corey Lewandowski] — signals a possible thawing between Trump and Mexico’s business and political elite, which he had attacked relentlessly as a foil throughout his campaign. The communications raised hopes in Mexico’s business community that Trump might reconsider his vow to tear up [NAFTA] and be persuaded to adopt less hardline immigration and economic policies... But Trump has made no declaration of any shift in his immigration or trade policies, and any softening would carry the risk of angering his core supporters. For instance, last Saturday, a few hours before his dinner with Slim, Trump staged the final rally of his ‘thank you’ tour in Mobile, Ala., where the crowd chanted, ‘Build that wall!’ ‘Do not worry. We are going to build the wall,’ Trump said."

-- Chaser: After years on the outside, opponents of LEGAL immigration are finding a receptive audience. David Nakamura reports: “[Roy] Beck is executive director of NumbersUSA, an Arlington-based nonprofit organization devoted to ‘stabilizing’ the population. He has been marginalized in Washington as an eccentric figure whose views some consider xenophobic or even racist. In recent weeks, though, [Trump’s] early appointments, including the nominee for attorney general and two top White House advisers, are giving Beck hope that his positions are suddenly front and center at the highest levels of government. Throughout Western nations, societies are reexamining the merits of immigration in the wake of a global surge of refugees, terrorist attacks and struggling economies. [Here], as in Europe, some of the most strident restrictionist voices have gained new political legitimacy amid a wave of populist anxiety. ... 'We’ve been in the wilderness,' Beck said, 'and overnight, we are not anymore.'"

-- HOW TRUMP WILL GOVERN: I posted the transcript of my Daily 202 Live interview with Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker offered a great window into how Trump plans to approach Washington. (Read it here.)

-- Trump’s team is preparing to create an infrastructure “task force” to help implement the ambitious federal spending program he intends to undertake as president. Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report: Key members of Trump’s team — including Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, senior adviser Stephen Miller and Gary Cohn, tapped to head the National Economic Council -- are all involved in the discussions. “The task force head is ‘not Cabinet level,’ [one] individual said, but would play a critical role in coordinating among federal, state and local officials as well as private investors as the new administration prepares to inject hundreds of billions of dollars into projects across the country. One possible wrinkle: This task force would assume part of the role traditionally played by the transportation secretary, especially when it comes to roads and bridges." (Elaine Chao, call your office...)

-- A new analysis of Gallup data shows that repealing Obamacare would hit Trump's own supporters the hardest. Dante Chinni explains in the Journal: “[The data], analyzed with the county typology … show that eight county types have seen increases in health insurance coverage greater than the national average. Six of those types — representing about 77 million people or 33 million votes, a quarter of the total cast — sided with Mr. Trump, some by very large margins. Some of the county categories listed in the table were particularly important to Mr. Trump. Swaths of largely rural Graying America, Rural Middle America and Working Class Country counties make up large parts of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the states that led to Mr. Trump’s victory.”

-- Trump’s nominee to run OMB, Mick Mulvaney, spoke to a July meeting of the John Birch Society, an extreme right-wing group known for peddling “outlandish conspiracy theories” for more than half a century. Mother Jones’ Pema Levy reports: “Founded in the 1950s, the outfit promoted a paranoid obsession with communist infiltration. It declared President Dwight Eisenhower ‘a conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.’ It opposed the civil rights movement as a communist plot. In recent years, it has pushed more modern conspiracy theories: Obamacare finances euthanasia, the United Nations has a sinister scheme for world domination, Moscow is the hidden force behind Islamic terrorism.” In his speech, Mulvaney blasted the Federal Reserve, saying its actions have "effectively devalued the dollar" and "choke[d] off economic growth." He also praised bitcoin as a currency that is "not manipulatable by any government.” Most significantly, he told his audience: "You all put out some really good stuff and it's always interesting."

THE TRUMPS ARE TRANSACTIONAL, CONT.:

-- A new Texas nonprofit led by Trump’s adult sons is offering access to the incoming president during inauguration weekend —in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities. The Center for Public Integrity’s Carrie Levine reports: “Prospective million-dollar donors to the ‘Opening Day 2017’ event — slated for Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, at Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center — receive a ‘private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,’ a ‘multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team,’ as well as tickets to other events and ‘autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.’ The brochure says that ‘all net proceeds from the Opening Day event will be donated to conservation charities,’ but it does not name the charities or detail how net proceeds will be calculated …” Meanwhile, the Opening Day Foundation behind the concert was created less than a week ago.

-- The Embassy of Kuwait cancelled its contract to hold a major event at the Georgetown Four Seasons, citing political pressure to hold its National Day celebration at the Trump International Hotel instead, according to ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum. “A source [says] … the Kuwaiti embassy, which has regularly held the event at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, abruptly canceled its reservation after members of the Trump Organization pressured the ambassador to hold the event at the hotel owned by the president-elect. ThinkProgress was also able to review documentary evidence confirming the source’s account. The apparent move by the Kuwaiti Embassy appears to be an effort to gain favor with president-elect through his business entanglements, and it appears to show Trump’s company leveraging his position as president-elect to extract payments from a foreign government. The latter, according to top legal experts, would be unconstitutional and could ultimately constitute an impeachable offense.”

-- Details of the $25 million Trump University settlement were filed on Monday, as the president-elect seeks to resolve three pending lawsuits over his defunct real estate seminar program before taking office. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports: “The settlement submitted to a federal court in San Diego indicates that Trump is personally guaranteeing that the $25 million will be handed over to plaintiffs' lawyers by Jan. 18, 2017, two days before he is scheduled to be sworn-in as president. The deal scuttled the bizarre possibility of Trump facing a civil class-action fraud trial as he waited to assume the nation's highest office.”

RUSSIA'S CYBER-ATTACK ON AMERICA: 

--- Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) is planning to introduce legislation that, if passed, would mandate a new select Senate committee to investigate cybersecurity threats. The move could intensify pressure on Mitch McConnell, who has insisted the matter should be left to the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Politico)

-- The Post’s Editorial Board calls for a bipartisan, select committee to investigation Russia’s interference: “The point is not to cast doubt on Mr. Trump’s election. No one will ever know what combination of factors, including Clinton campaign errors, Trump campaign strengths, the ham-handed FBI letter and the dissatisfied mood of the country, produced Mr. Trump’s victory. But every American should be concerned about foreign intervention in U.S. democratic processes. A select committee could examine all cases of cyber-intrusion, not only against the campaigns but also aimed at voter registration databases. In a calm and rational way, the country needs to learn all it can about attempts to contaminate or corrupt the electoral process.”

-- There are several practical reasons why supporting a Russian hacking probe is in Trump’s best interests, the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau chief Gerald F. Seib argues: “The first is that a cloud of uncertainty will hang over his election as long as the charges that Russia somehow intervened to help him remain unexplored and unanswered. Mr. Trump may fear that an inquiry will somehow delegitimize his victory, but the Russian role now has become such a visible and dominant topic that the opposite likely is true: Questions will linger mostly if the issue is shoved under the rug. The second reason is more substantive. Mr. Trump shows every sign of wanting to execute a significant shift in America’s strategic posture in the world. He seems to want to get along better with Russia … But the prospects of making a persuasive case for the kind of change toward [Moscow] that Mr. Trump wants actually will be undercut if it appears that move is part of some kind of payoff for election-year help. Trump loyalists think that suspicion is ludicrous—which is why they should want it addressed head-on.”

-- Putin’s best friend in Congress, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), acknowledged and then vigorously defended Russia’s interference: “I have never expressed doubt that Russia had hacked into these emails and made them available to the American people,” he told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. “I never doubted that. What I have said is that I don't care who provided us those e-mails. The emails were factual and…it did not hurt the American people to have more factual information available to them. This is just a frantic effort to try to discredit an election because the American people rejected the liberal left effort.” Asked if he’s comfortable with Russian hacking against American targets, Rohrabacher stated: “I'm comfortable with the fact that we have systems that are vulnerable to hacking, whether it's the Russians or anybody else. And when you have systems that are available to hacking, information will be provided that perhaps somebody wants to keep secret."

-- Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, met with the leader of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party, who recently signed a so-called “cooperation agreement” with Putin’s ruling party. The New York Times’ Alison Smale reports: “Word of the agreement with Russia was the latest sign that the Kremlin is forging bonds with political parties across Europe in what some European leaders suspect is a coordinated attempt to meddle in their affairs and potentially weaken Western democracies. Many of these efforts are murky and involve obscure groups, and it is unclear what, if any, direct involvement [Putin] may have.” The Freedom Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, reported the agreement signing on Monday, also touting his recent meeting with Flynn at the Trump Tower.

Strache’s trips to New York and Moscow were clearly intended to convey the impression that the Freedom Party, which was founded by ex-Nazis, has international standing and intends to continue vying for power. “Aside from sowing domestic ferment in Austria, a Freedom Party-led government would press to lift the sanctions imposed on Moscow for its 2014 seizure of Crimea and meddling in war-torn eastern Ukraine,” Smale writes.

-- Trump said he was very aware of Russian hacking in a 2014 appearance on Fox News, calling it a “big problem." CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski: “I think what he said is fantastic," Trump said, reacting to comments James Comey had just made on “60 Minutes.” “I've been talking about China for a long time. You know, they put on the front like, we're your friend and everything, and in the meantime the cash comes out of your back pocket. It's disgraceful … He's 100% right, it's a big problem, and we have that problem also with Russia. You saw that over the weekend. Russia's doing the same thing." He continued, "The problem with the Internet and frankly computerization is that there's always some genius that can figure it out," continued Trump. … You say things over a computer and people are going to find out what you're saying. It's very dangerous and very bad in many ways."

-- “As for Trump’s newfound friendships with kindred leaders such as Putin, one should expect them to be about as long-lasting as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,” Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, argued a few weeks ago in a smart take. “Russia and the United States share some common interests, but not a lot of them. Given the temperaments of Trump and Putin, it would not be hard to envision the relationship spiraling out of control if one of them thinks he’s been wronged. Being hot-headed as a tactic only works if other leaders are not hot-headed in response. The very leaders most like Trump — Putin, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan — are the ones most likely to respond to anger with anger, escalating any dispute.”

THE OBAMA LEGACY: 

-- White House political director David Simas will be the chief executive of the Obama Foundation. Juliet Eilperin reports: “Simas, a native of Taunton, Mass., has served as President Obama's top political aide since early 2014. The fact that he is helping establish his presidential center in Chicago provides the latest indication that Obama intends to engage in political activism after leaving office. Simas, who worked as director of opinion research for Obama's reelection campaign, served as a liaison between the president and Democratic officials over the past two and a half years. Although Democrats just lost the White House and failed to regain control of either the Senate or House, Obama stepped up his involvement in federal and state races under Simas's tenure.”

-- Michelle Obama sat for her final White House interview with Oprah Winfrey, striking a somber tone as she weighed in on everything from parenting teens in the White House to the necessity of maintaining hope in the face of seemingly “hopeless” circumstances. Krissah Thompson reports: “In a wide-ranging interview … [Michelle Obama] said the weight her husband’s presidency placed on their family has lifted ‘knowing that we’ve made it this far …’ But she sounded concerned about the future, saying that when it comes to the nation, she said she prays that Americans still have ‘hope.’ Still, Obama said that she and her husband are doing what they can to help smooth a path for the next administration. ‘My offer to Melania was, you really don’t know what you don’t know until you’re here, so the door is open …’ [she said]. ‘We will do whatever they need to help them succeed.’ Winfrey also asked Obama about the challenges of parenting her daughters in the White House[:] ‘I was really just cautiously making sure that they felt normal; Obama said. ‘They felt good. … Imagine being 18 and you’ve got at least eight men with guns driving you around, walking in your parties. There were those kinds of issues.’”

-- Merrick Garland is officially returning to his job as a judge on the D.C. Circuit and will hear cases again next month. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reportsThere is no requirement for judicial nominees to suspend their day jobs during the nomination process, though nominees are typically strapped with a heavy schedule of meetings with senators and preparation for confirmation hearings. Garland took the meetings, but the confirmation prep work seemed unnecessary from day one after both Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley vowed not to grant him confirmation hearings.

AMERICA, DIVIDED:

-- Actor Tom Arnold claims that he has unreleased outtakes of Trump saying “every offensive, racist thing ever” on “The Apprentice,” including footage of him calling his son a retard. The Hollywood Reporter’s Abid Rahman reports: “Asked [in a radio interview] why he was given the tapes in the first place and why he didn't release them before the election, Arnold said that the people who sent the clips to him worked on The Apprentice and put together a compilation of Trump saying controversial things as a ’funny’ ‘Christmas video,’ as they didn't expect the real estate mogul to win …. When it became clear that Trump had a realistic chance of taking the White House, Arnold claims [Clinton] as well as new Apprentice star Arnold Schwarzenegger's agent got involved and wanted the tapes released. ‘They said, ‘I need you to release him saying the N-word,’ [he recounted]. ‘I said, ‘Well, now these people – two editors and an associate producer — are scared to death. They’re scared of his people, they’re scared of they’ll never work again, there’s a $5 million confidentiality agreement.'”

-- Vanity Fair, “Inside the desperate, year-long hunt to find Trump’s rumored Apprentice outtakes,” by Nick Bilton: “Throughout the year, the tapes were a subject of almost mythical fascination within the media. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign would also obsessively try to find the tapes up until Election Day. In fact, one person close to the Clinton campaign told me that he had spoken to someone, on the Sunday before the election, who said he had a damaging clip of Trump. But The Apprentice outtakes, whatever they contained, were never made public. … Could the tapes have changed that outcome? In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, many journalists, political operatives, and even celebrities have told me that they aren’t sure. But they’ve also said that one force impeded their hunt. Curiously, it was just about the most liberal place on earth: Hollywood.”

-- A neo-Nazi website called for the harassment of Jewish leaders in the hometown of white nationalist Richard Spencer, unleashing a deluge of violent death threats against the activists. “Go choke on a shotgun and die,” read one threat. “You would all be of greater worth to society as human fertilizer than as citizens.” City council members have been targeted, and local businesses that support human rights are being harassed on review forums. (Katie Mettler)

-- Voter ID laws likely helped to suppress the black vote in Milwaukee, contributing to Trump’s victory in Wisconsin. From the Los Angeles Times’s Jaweed Kaleem: “Starting with John F. Kennedy’s victory over Richard Nixon in 1960, Delia Anderson had voted in 14 straight presidential elections. She had cast her ballot at the same polling place for years, never with a glitch. This year, however, a volunteer driving her to the polls mentioned that she would be asked to show a state-approved photo ID. ‘Don’t these poll people already know who I am?’ replied Anderson, who is 77, black and uses a wheelchair, as she frantically sifted through her purse for anything to prove her identity. It was a lost cause. She had planned to vote for Hillary Clinton. Instead, for the first time in 56 years, she did not cast a ballot. Such stories abound in Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold in a state where Trump won by 22,748 votes. … In a state that saw its lowest turnout in 20 years, nearly 248,000 people voted in Milwaukee, roughly 41,000 fewer than in the last presidential election…

“In Wisconsin, hundreds of thousands of people were registered to vote but didn’t have ID cards, according to Ken Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To study the impact of the law, he is using public records to survey thousands of state residents who were registered to vote but did not cast ballots. In addition to the university, two heavily Democratic counties, Dane and Milwaukee, are funding the study. … Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has vigorously defended the voter ID law.”

Key quote: “I believe it was voter suppression laws from the state government that crushed turnout,” said Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki, one of two officials who oversees local elections. “They tend to hit hardest on people who are poor, who don’t drive and don’t have a license, who are minorities.”

-- The Post’s Erik Wemple spoke to Megyn Kelly in a wide-ranging interview, discussing everything from diversity on the set of her television show, to her assessment of Fox News’ campaign coverage, as well as the multi-network bidding war that has been the subject of speculation for months. Some highlights:

  • On being the subject of a “network bidding war”: “ … I’ll say this: I do feel fortunate to have some great options. But I’ve been just dismayed to see these reports which are completely just based on speculation or based on … some random unnamed network executive someplace who wants to see his alleged information in the paper …”
  • On her spat with Trump (and why management didn’t publicly speak out): “I understood the position that management was in and that my colleagues were in because he was the front-runner. He was very upset with me; there was of course no way he was going to come on with me. But what were they going to do: Ban the presidential front-runner from all of Fox News until he decided he’d sit with me? I wouldn’t have expected them to do that.
  • On her desire to leave the 9 p.m. television slot: “I want to see my kids for dinner, I want to put them down at night, I want to see their soccer games after school. We all feel that to some extent, but my problem in my current role is I see them in the morning and … might not see them at all for the rest of the day."

PUNDITS WEIGH IN:

-- The GOP is at its peak, but conservatism has hit rock bottom, says Post columnist and former Bush adviser Michael Gerson. “It is one of fate’s cruel jokes that conservatism should be at its modern nadir just as the Republican Party is at its zenith — if conservatism is defined as embracing limited government, displaying a rational, skeptical and moderate temperament and believing in the priority of the moral order.  This is not the political force that has recently taken over the Republican Party … That has been the result of extreme polarization, not a turn toward enduring values. The movement is authoritarian in theory, apocalyptic in mood, prone to conspiracy theories and personal abuse, and dismissive of ethical standards. The president-elect seems to offer equal chances of constitutional crisis and utter, debilitating incompetence. …  Now, not only the quality but also the legitimacy of our democracy is at stake.”

-- “Populism” may be one of the most ubiquitous word of 2016 – but do we really know what it means? “Academics have offered differing definitions for decades,” Adam Taylor writes. “The evidence suggests that a populist in one country may not necessarily look like a populist in another country. ‘Populism has always been a misused and misconstrued concept, and this has become worse in past years, simply because of the explosion in the use of the term,’ said Cas Mudde, an academic at the University of Georgia … A distrust of the elite and pandering to the masses has been around before 2016, of course. So how did it come to dominate our understanding of the world over the past year? [And] is the tide of populism reversible?”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump celebrated his victory in the electoral college:

He had a celebratory dinner with his team last night:

Several people had the same thought after Karlov's killing in Istanbul:

Spotted at the Texas legislature -- a Russian flag:

The men wouldn't discuss their reasons for bringing the flag, the photographer tweeted:

Chuck Schumer complimented Trump's designee for Army secretary:

Sarah Palin didn't quite get the lyrics of this Kanye West song:

Scenes from Electoral College Day:

Justin Amash found an excuse to post this gif:

Will Bethenny Frankel run for New York City mayor? In the age of Trump, everything is possible:

From a Texas Supreme Court justice on Trump's list of potential Scalia replacements:

National Geographic revealed the cover of its upcoming January magazine, a special issue devoted to gender. The child on the cover is Avery Jackson, a 9-year-old transgender girl from Kansas City. “The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy,” Avery says in the cover quote. This has drawn applause and anger.

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Vanity Fair, “The Truth About Donald Trump Lies in His Awful Movie Cameos,” by Nathan Rabin: “Between 1989’s Ghosts Can’t Do It and 2011’s Horrorween, [Trump] racked up a dozen or so winking cameos in movies—mostly comedies—before somehow ascending to the presidency. … In these bit parts, Trump exhibited his extraordinary range as an actor, playing everything from Donald Trump, real-estate billionaire to a man who is clearly supposed to be Donald Trump but is never explicitly established as such. A Trump cameo … feeds into the notion that Trump is not just a famous New Yorker, but the hustle and bustle and glamour and glitz and tackiness and greed and ambition of the city personified—like the Statue of Liberty, if it later turned out that the Statue of Liberty hated immigrants.

“In a kinder timeline, [Trump] would be angrily tweeting from his hospital bed, having injured himself while getting eliminated early from Dancing with the Stars. These cheesy cameos feel like dispatches from that alternate universe—or at least from a less-terrifying past, where reality TV and tacky buildings … and, yes, bit parts in dumb movies, could contain Trump’s lust for fame, power, and public adulation.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Michigan unemployment agency made 20,000 false fraud accusations,” from The Guardian: “A Michigan government agency wrongly accused individuals in at least 20,000 cases of fraudulently seeking unemployment payments, according to a review by the state. The review released this week found that an automated system had erroneously accused claimants in 93% of cases – a rate that stunned even lawyers suing the state over the computer system and faulty fraud claims. “It’s literally balancing the books on the backs of Michigan’s poorest and jobless,” [said attorney David Blanchard]. The Michigan unemployment insurance agency (UIA) reviewed 22,427 cases … [and] found that the overwhelming majority of claims over a two-year period between October 2013 and August 2015 were in error.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

Where will Ivanka Trump attend synagogue? Georgetown’s Kesher Israel close to White House is one option. Julie Zauzmer and Colby Itkowitz report“At every Hanukkah party in certain Washington circles this year, the topic of conversation has been the same: Which synagogue will the first daughter and her family attend? Ivanka Trump … will be the first Jewish member ever of a U.S. president’s immediate family. And as she and [Jared] Kushner plan to move to Washington … the District’s Jews are buzzing with speculation about which synagogue the couple will join and what Jewish schools they will select for their young children. The consensus among many in the District’s Modern Orthodox community is that Kesher Israel seems the best option for the couple. The congregation is a mix of Democrats and Republicans, including at least a few Trump voters, member Aaron Keyak said. ‘I can tell you unequivocally that Ivanka and Jared and their family will be welcomed at Kesher Israel. We’re there to daven [pray] and live a Jewish life together, not to re-litigate the election,’” he said.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I honestly thought we wouldn't hold the U.S. Senate, I thought we'd come up short. And I didn't think President Trump had a chance of winning.” – Mitch McConnell (KET)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- A sunny, warmer-than-usual day to thaw us out after an icy weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Mostly sunny skies are the rule, with milder temperatures midday and during the afternoon after a cold morning start.  Highs range in the lower to middle 40s with light breezes mainly from the south.” 

-- “Redskins let playoff position slip from their grasp as Carolina grinds out 26-15 win,” by Master Tesfatsion: “The Washington Redskins entered Monday night’s game with an opportunity to take command of the sixth playoff position in the NFC with a victory over the Carolina Panthers. The Redskins exited FedEx Field with their heads hanging, authoring 60 disappointing minutes of football that rendered moot whatever help Sunday’s results provided them. Washington fell flat in all three phases of the 26-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers, a defeat that severely jeopardized its postseason chances. … Washington (7-6-1) needed a win to maintain its lead over the Bucs (8-6) and the Green Bay Packers (8-6). Instead, it dropped to eighth in the NFC playoff picture and is now in need of some help during the final two weeks to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season.”

-- Watercooler prep if you missed the game and need a talking point: Quarterback Kirk Cousins just could not come through in the clutch. (Mike Jones)

-- The Wizards lost to the Pacers 107-105.

-- A District man previously convicted of being an accessory in the 2005 shooting death of a former council member’s grandson was sentenced to 50 years in prison Monday for sexually abusing an 11-year-old Maryland girl he met through Instagram. (Specer Hsu)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Tymara Walker, 38, gave an impromptu performance of "O Holy Night" in Union Station. The video is going viral:

Tymara Walker, 38, gave an impromptu performance of "O Holy Night" in Union Station on Dec. 3. Now, the video of her singing has gone viral. (Video: Instagram @itruph)

A drone captured footage of killer whales taking turns eating a shark off the coast of Northern California:

Drone footage captured killer whales taking turns eating a shark in Northern California. (Video: Slater Moore Photography)

In Albany, Bill Clinton blamed his wife's defeat on the Russians and the FBI:

Stephen Colbert noted that the inauguration is drawing near:

Bill Maher talked about Trump with the editor of "Attn:":

Mariah Carey, Adele and Lady Gaga joined James Corden for a Christmas-themed Carpool Karaoke:

The NFL announced that Ezekiel Elliott will not be fined for jumping into an oversized Salvation Army kettle after scoring a touchdown Sunday. It was part of the Dallas Cowboys’ annual fundraising drive. Elliott earned a 15-yard penalty for using a “prop” in a TD celebration and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones dared the league to fine the team for its kettle placement. Watch the stunt:

Finally, is there really a difference between holiday popcorn brands? Our Post colleagues have an answer:

Some brave volunteers put their taste buds to the test to see if they could tell the difference between holiday popcorn bins that cost $9 and $60. (Video: Nicki DeMarco, Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post, Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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