This imbroglio will make it politically untenable for Trump to scale back sanctions on Moscow now. The blowback from hawkish Republicans in the Senate would be too intense, hobbling the rest of the president’s agenda. The episode will probably give added momentum to Sen. John McCain’s effort to codify existing sanctions into law so that the administration cannot unilaterally unwind them.
But there is much we still do not know. Here are 10 questions that have become critical in the wake of last night’s news:
1. What, if anything, did Trump authorize Flynn to tell the Russians before his inauguration?
2. Why was Trump planning to stand by Flynn? “One senior White House official said that Trump did not fire Flynn; rather, Flynn made the decision to resign on his own late Monday evening because of what this official said was ‘the cumulative effect’ of damaging news coverage about his conversations with the Russian envoy,” Greg Miller and Philip Rucker report. “This official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the situation, said Trump does not relish firing people — despite his television persona on ‘The Apprentice’ — and had intended to wait several more days before deciding whether to seek Flynn’s resignation. ‘There obviously were a lot of issues, but the president was hanging in there,’ this official said.”
3. What did White House counsel Donald McGahn do after the then-acting attorney general notified him last month that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail? “In the waning days of the Obama administration, James R. Clapper Jr., who was the director of national intelligence, and John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, shared [Sally] Yates’s concerns and concurred with her recommendation to inform the Trump White House,” Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Philip Rucker report. “They feared that ‘Flynn had put himself in a compromising position’ and thought that Pence had a right to know that he had been misled. … Yates, then the deputy attorney general, considered Flynn’s comments in the intercepted call to be ‘highly significant’ and ‘potentially illegal,’ according to an official familiar with her thinking. … A senior Trump administration official said before Flynn’s resignation that the White House was aware of the matter, adding that ‘we’ve been working on this for weeks.’”
Yates was accompanied by a senior career national security official when she alerted McGahn. What we don’t know is who McGahn subsequently shared that information with and what he did after the meeting. He didn’t respond to a request for comment last night from my colleagues.
“It’s unimaginable that the White House general counsel would sit on it [and] not tell anybody else in the White House,” said David Gergen, who worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton administrations. “In every White House I’ve ever been in, this would go to the president like that,” he added during an interview on CNN, snapping his fingers.
If McGahn did indeed tell others, especially the president, how come Flynn kept his job until last night?
4. What is the status of the FBI investigation into possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia? FBI Director James B. Comey initially opposed Yates notifying McGahn, citing concerns that it could complicate the bureau’s ongoing investigation. “A turning point came after Jan. 23, when [Sean] Spicer, in his first official media briefing, again was asked about Flynn’s communications with [Ambassador Sergey] Kislyak,” Adam, Ellen and Phil report. “Spicer said that he had talked to Flynn about the issue ‘again last night.’ There was just ‘one call,’ Spicer said. And it covered four subjects: a plane crash that claimed the lives of a Russian military choir; Christmas greetings; Russian-led talks over the Syrian civil war; and the logistics of setting up a call between Putin and Trump. Spicer said that was the extent of the conversation. Yates again raised the issue with Comey, who now backed away from his opposition to informing the White House.” Yates then spoke to McGahn.
5. Will Spicer and Pence apologize for making false statements to the American people? There is no doubt that both men would have called on their counterparts in the Obama administration to do so if the shoe was on the other foot, even if the falsehoods were unintentional. Their future credibility depends on coming clean and being contrite.
In his resignation letter, Flynn noted that he apologized to Pence and others: “Because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.” Will those he apologized to pay it forward to the rest of us? (Read Flynn’s one-page letter here.)
6. Will Flynn face prosecution under the Logan Act? Yates and other intelligence officials suspected that Flynn could be in violation of the obscure 1799 statute, which bars U.S. citizens from interfering in diplomatic disputes with another country. But no one has ever been prosecuted under that law, so it is very, very unlikely.
Another mitigating factor: Jeff Sessions got confirmed as attorney general despite refusing to commit to recuse himself from DOJ inquiries into Trump and other administration officials.
7. What will the Senate Intelligence Committee uncover about contacts Flynn and others affiliated with Trump had with Russia before the election? U.S. intelligence reports during the 2016 campaign showed that Kislyak was in touch with Flynn, several sources have said. Communications between the two continued after Nov. 8. The Russian ambassador has even confirmed having contacts with Flynn before and after the election, though he declined to say what was discussed.
The committee led by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is continuing to explore Russian efforts to interfere with the election, including the intelligence community’s assessment that the Kremlin was attempting to tilt the election to Trump. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the committee, told reporters a few hours before Flynn resigned that his contacts with the Russian ambassador are part of the bipartisan inquiry. “This and anything else that involves the Russians,” Rubio said, per Kelsey Snell. “We’re going to go wherever the truth leads us.”
8. Who replaces Flynn? Trump has named Keith Kellogg, a decorated retired Army lieutenant general, as acting national security adviser. Sources say that he is one of three candidates Trump is considering as a permanent replacement. The others are former CIA director David H. Petraeus and Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command.
Two White House sources tell Bob Costa that Harward emerged overnight as the front-runner to get the post. (Pence is leading the discussions.) He is seen as a safe and steady, low-profile consensus pick, which is appealing after the tumult that swirled around Flynn. Harward worked on the NSC during George W. Bush’s presidency, focused on counterterrorism strategy. He’s from Rhode Island and attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He’s worked on SEAL teams and was a commander in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If Trump settles on Harward — always an “if” with Trump — that’s a huge win for Jim Mattis. Harward served under the secretary of defense back when he was at Central Command and remains both an ally and friend. Harward has been under consideration as a possible undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
9. Who else leaves the White House because Flynn is gone? Flynn’s departure means that the people he brought with him are likely to go too. The new national security adviser will want his own loyalists. Kellogg is considered a Flynn guy, the New York Times notes, as is K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser. She is expected to leave soon.
10. Who exactly is in charge at the White House? Yesterday was just the latest illustration of the chaos and dysfunction that plague the infant administration. Officials found themselves in an uncomfortable holding pattern for much of Monday, unsure about whether to defend Flynn and privately grumbling about the president’s indecisiveness.
“After Trump made it through a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau without being asked about Flynn, a group of reporters gathered outside Spicer’s office for more than 80 minutes,” Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report. “Spicer twice declined to answer questions about Flynn. When chief of staff Reince Priebus walked by, he was asked whether the president still had confidence in Flynn. Priebus gave no answer. Then, a few minutes later, Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, declared on MSNBC that Trump had ‘full confidence’ in Flynn. Yet a few minutes later after that, Spicer issued an official — and conflicting — statement, saying Trump was ‘evaluating the situation.’” A few hours after that, Flynn was gone.
Conservative columnist Michael Gerson, a veteran of George W. Bush’s White House, opens his column today with a damning anecdote: Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan met with a delegation from the president-elect on tax reform. Attending were Priebus, Conway, Stephen K. Bannon, Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller. As the meeting began, Ryan pointedly asked, “Who’s in charge?” There was silence.
“It is still the right question,” Michael writes. “Former officials with deep knowledge of the presidency describe Trump’s White House staff as top-heavy, with five or six power centers and little vertical structure. ‘The desire to be a big shot is overrunning any sense of team,’ says one experienced Republican. ‘This will cause terrible dysfunction, distraction, disloyalty and leaks.’”
THREE NOTABLE REACTIONS —
From the Clintons: You might recall that Flynn led the crowd at the Republican National Convention in chants of “ Lock her up” last summer. “If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today,” he said, referring to Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state has certainly not forgotten.
Philippe Reines, a longtime Clinton adviser who played the role of Trump in debate prep, noted that Michael Jr. has been an unapologetic purveyor of conspiracy theories:
Clinton herself retweeted the post with this message:
From the Russians: One of the Kremlin’s propaganda arms, Russia Today, reported that Flynn chose to “retire."
From Kurt Bardella: The former spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) when he chaired the House Oversight Committee acknowledged the obvious:
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- South Korean outlets are reporting that the older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been killed in Malaysia by two female agents with “poison needles.” Anna Fifield reports: “The reports — which could not immediately be verified — said Kim’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam was attacked at Kuala Lumpur airport Monday night by two women who fled the scene. … He died on the way to hospital, [the reports] said, citing an unidentified government source. South Korea’s state-run Yonhap News Agency reported similar details. There was no such report on North Korea’s tightly controlled media. But, if true, it would make another surprising twist in the tales of North Korea’s leadership.”
-- A federal judge in Virginia issued a preliminary injunction against Trump’s travel ban, citing a likely violation of the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of religion. Rachel Weiner reports: In her opinion, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema wrote that the Commonwealth of Virginia “has produced unrebutted evidence” that the order “was not motivated by rational national security concerns” but “religious prejudice” toward Muslims. She cited Trump’s statements before taking office, as well as an interview in which former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) said that the president wanted a “Muslim ban.” The order applies only to Virginia residents and students, but comes as another legal blow to the White House.
-- Immigration authorities arrested 680 people last week who were in the United States illegally, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said last night, following a wave of immigration raids in at least a dozen states. Abigail Hauslohner and Sandhya Somashekhar report: “DHS … said that approximately 75 percent of those arrested were ‘criminal aliens,’ including some who had been convicted of crimes such as homicide, sexual assault of a minor and drug trafficking. Asked to provide further clarification, a DHS official confirmed that the term ‘criminal aliens’ includes anyone who had entered the United States illegally, overstayed or violated the terms of a visa. There are an estimated 11 million people in the United States who fit that profile. ICE has characterized the raids as routine, but immigrant rights groups said the actions were out of the ordinary and that most of those swept up were not dangerous. They said ICE also handled the detentions — which activists described as playing out in homes, on the side of the road and outside workplaces — differently from how the agency had in the latter years of the Obama administration.”
-- The Virginia Senate advanced a bill that would require jails and prisons in the state to detain inmates up to two days beyond their sentence to give federal immigration authorities time to pick them up. The measure is part of a flurry of Republican-backed legislation meant to crack down on illegal immigration. (Laura Vozzella)
-- America’s top universities, including Stanford and all eight Ivy League schools, added their support to a legal challenge to Trump’s executive order, arguing that it hinders their global mission and harms some individuals directly. Trump has caused significant hardship for scholars: Six students and scholars at Princeton University were outside the country and unable to return when the ban was put in place, for example, and an additional 45 were unable to leave the United States. And there are future harms: 150 applicants to graduate programs at Princeton are from the seven countries listed in the order. Read the full 33-page amicus brief here. (Susan Svrluga)
-- The Senate confirmed Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary in a 53-47 vote, capping a contentious and protracted debate while adding another former banker to Trump’s roster of advisers. Max Ehrenfreund reports: “Mnuchin ran a bank, OneWest, that foreclosed on tens of thousands of Americans following the financial crisis, and Democrats argued that he would not represent the financial interests of ordinary Americans in office.” Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) was the only Democrat to vote in his favor.
-- Senators also unanimously voted to confirm David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, making him the sole holdover from the Obama administration to serve in Trump’s Cabinet. Lisa Rein reports: “The 57-year-old Pennsylvania native will now run the second-largest federal agency after serving 18 months as undersecretary for health in charge of VA’s sprawling medical system. … After a long search for a leader who could turn around a system Trump denounced on the campaign trail as a tragic failure, the president surprised critics by turning inside rather than outside for a VA leader. No senators dissented on Shulkin’s nomination in a rare show of bipartisanship.... Shulkin’s approval makes him the 11th high-ranking Trump official to be confirmed by the Senate."
-- Now, Democrats are training their fire on labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder. At least four Republican senators are on the fence about whether to support him, ramping up pressure on the fast-food CEO to win over members of Trump’s own party ahead of his confirmation vote. Ed O’Keefe reports: “The four Republicans are all members of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where Puzder is set to appear Thursday to answer questions. Among the skeptics is Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who said … she has reviewed footage of an ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ interview with Puzder’s ex-wife, who once appeared in disguise on the program to discuss the multiple times she says that Puzder physically assaulted her in the 1980s. [She recently retracted the allegations]. In addition to Collins, Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) are withholding judgment.”
-- The House Oversight Committee voted 22 to 14 to block a D.C. law that would legalize assisted suicide. The move opens a new front in the conflict between congressional Republicans and the overwhelmingly Democratic city of Washington, Peter Jamison and Aaron C. Davis report: “It was one of only a handful of times in the four-decade history of D.C. home rule that members of Congress have tried to use their constitutional power to overturn a city law, and the first attempt since the GOP took control of both Congress and the White House in January. The vote was largely along party lines … In a split-screen moment, as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was voting, more than 700 District residents and elected leaders jammed into the Atlas Performing Arts Center about a mile away for a ‘Hands Off D.C.’ brainstorming session focused on ways to stop Congress from intervening in D.C. affairs.”
GET SMART FAST:
- The 41-year-old son of disgraced child molester and former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky has been arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a child. The charges against Jeffrey Sandusky stem from an investigation that began last fall and involve two underage children of a woman he had been dating. (Cindy Boren and Des Bieler)
- The Trump administration sanctioned Venezuela’s new vice president, accusing him of being a drug kingpin and helping to facilitate drug shipments bound for Mexico and the United States. The sanctions against Tareck El Aissami — currently in line to succeed the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro — will significantly erode already strained relations between the two governments. (Carol Morello)
- Twelve current and former TSA agents and airport employees were indicted by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle tons of cocaine through the airport in San Juan. U.S. attorneys believe 20 tons of drugs were smuggled from 1998 to 2016, passing through the TSA security system in checked luggage. (Ashley Halsey III)
- Six New England Patriots players have now announced they will skip out on the traditional post-Super Bowl trip to the White House, citing problems with the man who currently occupies the Oval Office. (Cindy Boren)
- A new analysis found that the number of retirement-age adults in the United States taking at least three psychiatric drugs has more than doubled since 2004, even though almost half of patients had no mental health diagnosis on record. The study suggests inappropriate prescribing to older people is more common than previously thought. (New York Times)
- The National Weather Service suffered a “catastrophic” outage for nearly three hours yesterday, which temporarily shut down the country’s primary weather alert system on a day that saw both blizzards on one side of the map and dire flooding threats on the other. (Jason Samenow)
- Disney severed ties with YouTube star PewDiePie after he posted a series of videos that featured anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery, including footage of Hitler. One video on the 27-year-old’s page featured two Indian men laughing and holding a sign reading, “Death to all Jews.” He reportedly paid them to hold it for the video. (Wall Street Journal)
- A new study finds that a small number of “superspreaders” accounted for a majority of the Ebola cases during the 2014-2015 epidemic. In fact, researchers estimate just three percent of people were responsible for infecting about 61 percent of cases, showing that the “superspreading” phenomenon was a more important factor in driving the epidemic than previously realized. (Lena H Sun)
- Hamas named a hard-liner and top militia commander, Yehiya Sinwar, as its new leader in Gaza, appointing a man branded as a “terrorist” by Israel. He was previously sentenced to multiple life terms in prison for his role as the mastermind in the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers. (Hazam Balousha and William Booth)
- A suicide bomber killed at least 13 people and left 80 others injured after detonating at a protest in Pakistan, where hundreds of pharmacists and drug company officials were gathered to hold a peaceful demonstration. (Pamela Constable and Shaiq Hussain)
- Five Pakistani bloggers known for voicing their left-leaning political views online were each abducted, then returned, over a several-day period last month — but each has each remained mysteriously silent about their experiences. Their similar, oddly timed captures have prompted fears that the kidnappings are being carried out by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, which have long since been accused of using “enforced disappearances” for punishing dissidents. (Pamela Constable)
- A convicted sex offender who was just released from prison has been charged with the rape and murder of Ohio State Universty student Reagan Tokes, a 21-year-old who was just months away from graduating. Her body was found at a park near the university. (Kristine Guerra)
- The wife and stepson of a Ku Klux Klan leader who was found dead in a river in rural Missouri last weekend have been charged with his murder. (Amy B Wang)
- A brutal obituary went viral after it remembered a 74-year-old Texas man as living “29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved.” “With Leslie’s passing he will be missed only for what he never did; being a loving husband, father and good friend,” it read. "No services will be held, there will be no prayers for eternal peace.… Leslie’s passing proves that evil does in fact die and hopefully marks a time of healing and safety for all.” The obituary was posted by the man’s daughter, who says she has no regrets. (Sarah Larimer)
- A woman in south-central Texas is suing a Popeyes restaurant for more than $1 million, claiming an entrée from the restaurant contained flesh-eating screwworms that began eating her “from the inside out.” The restaurant chain and scientists say such a scenario is not possible, however — and some have suggested her suffering has been caused by a rare psychological condition instead. (Lindsey Bever)
- An updated questionnaire from the dating app OK Cupid now features several political questions, such as “Is climate change real?” and “Do you feel there should be a ban on immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries entering the U.S.?” One simply asks, “Trump?” (The Verge)
PALM BEACH INTRIGUE:
-- David Fahrenthold has the latest details on how Trump turned the terrace of his Mar-a-Lago club into an open-air situation room: “As a Mar-a-Lago member, [Richard] DeAgazio already had remarkable access to a president that day. He had earlier snapped pictures of Trump and Abe golfing. … Now, as a national-security crisis broke out in front of him, DeAgazio continued snapping pictures — and posting them on Facebook. ‘The President receiving the news about the Missile incident from North Korea on Japan with the Prime Minister sitting next to him,’ DeAgazio wrote as the caption for a photo he posted on Facebook [on Saturday evening]. Later, he posted other photos of Trump and Abe’s discussion, including some that seemed to have been taken from just a few feet away. Those photos have now been seen around the world, providing photographic proof of this unusual moment. 'HOLY MOLY!!!’ DeAgazio wrote later, when he posted those closer-up photos. ‘It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan. … Wow.....the center of the action!!!’
Security experts have said this casual approach to national security discussions was very risky: "The two leaders could have discussed classified documents within earshot of waiters and club patrons. Those cellphones-turned-flashlights might also have been a problem: If one of them had been hacked by a foreign power, the phone’s camera could have provided a view of what the documents said.” But DeAgazio, for his part, said he was impressed that Trump had not moved to seek a more private place for his conversations. 'He chooses to be out on the terrace, with the members. It just shows that he’s a man of the people,' DeAgazio said."
-- One photo sounding alarm bells shows DeAgazio throwing an arm around the Army officer responsible for handling the “nuclear football," a leather briefcase carrying the material needed to launch a nuclear weapon in the event of an emergency. While it’s unlikely that the photo broke any Defense Department regulations, analysts say it is unusual for an aide to agree to be photographed with a civilian — and circulation of the now-viral photo has put the Pentagon in an awkward situation. (Dan Lamothe)
-- Trump is going back to Mar-a-Lago next weekend for a third straight weekend. (The Hill)
WEST WING INTRIGUE:
-- Is the White House keeping secret dossiers on journalists? Paul Farhi reports: “Conflict and controversy seem to follow Omarosa Manigault, who stirred up plenty of both as a reality-TV star and a longtime associate of President Trump. Manigault, who is now a communications official in the Trump administration, got into a heated argument with a White House reporter just steps from the Oval Office last week, according to witnesses. The reporter, April Ryan, said Manigault ‘physically intimidated’ her in a manner that could have warranted intervention by the Secret Service.… Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, used the same phrase repeatedly in an interview. ‘She stood right in my face like she was going to hit me,’ Ryan said. ‘I said, ‘You better back up.’ . . . She thought I would be bullied. I won’t be.’’
- “During their altercation, Ryan said Manigault told her that she was among several African American journalists who were the subject of White House ‘dossiers.’ Manigault has previously said that Trump is keeping 'a list' of opponents, though at the time she was referring to Republicans who voted against Trump."
- “The argument apparently stemmed from emails that Manigault sent to Ryan during the presidential campaign. In October, Manigault sent Ryan an email raising questions about whether Ryan was being paid by Hillary Clinton’s campaign — a claim Ryan vigorously denies.”
- “Manigault, a onetime friend of Ryan’s, declined to address Ryan’s accusations on the record, offering only this emailed statement: ‘My comment: Fake news!’ She did not specify what she considered false.”
-- Trump scrapped yet another trip to the Midwest. This time he canceled a visit to Ohio, nixing plans to sign a resolution that would get rid of a "Stream Protection Rule” enacted by the Obama administration. The rule was intended to keep coal mines from dumping waste into streams. White House officials have not yet given a reason for the abrupt change in plans, but it seems like it would be terrible optics to have an event highlight a rollback of environmental protections. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
-- Five more nuggets from Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker’s piece on the dysfunctional White House, based on interviews with a dozen White House officials and other Republicans: “Trump — distracted by political brushfires, often of his own making — has failed to fill such key posts as White House communications director, while sub-Cabinet positions across agencies and scores of ambassadorships around the globe still sit empty.”
- Staffers, meanwhile, are so fearful of being accused of talking to the media that some have resorted to a secret chat app — Confide — that erases messages as soon as they’re read.
- Some senior officials are worried about their own standing with the president, who through his casual conversations with friends and associates sometimes seems to hint that a shake-up could come at a moment’s notice.
- Aides said they strive to avoid appearing “weak” or “low energy” — two of Trump’s least favorite attributes.
- Staffers buzz privately about who is up and who is down: “Aides said Trump was especially upset by a sketch that cast (Steve) Bannon as the Grim Reaper manipulating the president — who was ultimately relegated to a miniature desk, playing dolefully with an expandable toy.
- In an administration where proximity to Trump is power, aides, advisers and visitors often mill about in the West Wing, lingering long after their scheduled appointments have ended.
-- The White House has remained closed for public tours since Trump took office – an unusually long lull as the new administration moves to fill positions and get the operation running. The delay has prompted complaints from at least two dozen members of Congress, who penned a letter urging the swift reopening of the office that handles tours. They’re responsible for organizing constituent trips to the White House, and many say the number of backlogged requests is now in the hundreds. (Emily Heil)
But when guests are allowed back on the premises, many will be pleased to see at least one mainstay of the Obama White House has endured: the vegetable garden. A spokesman for Melania Trump confirmed that the gardens – once referred to by Michelle Obama as her “baby” – will remain in place under the new White House inhabitants. “As a mother and as the First Lady of this country, Mrs. Trump is committed to the preservation and continuation of the White House Gardens, specifically the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden and the Rose Garden,” Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, senior adviser to the first lady, said in a statement. (Peter Holley)
-- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Trump urged him to seek closer ties with Moscow. “President Trump understands Japan’s (policy) to promote dialogue with [Putin] to resolve the territorial issue,” Abe told a TV program after returning from the United States. Abe also said that he agreed with Trump on the need to engage in dialogue with Putin to resolve outstanding global issues, including Syria and Ukraine. (The Japan Times)
-- EU lawyers are preparing a legal challenge against Trump's contentious border tax proposals – ramping up what could be the biggest case in World Trade Organization history. “If someone is behaving against our interests or against international rules in trade then we have our own mechanisms to react,” said European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen. He added that the EU was seeking to avoid a potential trade war with the United States as it would be "disastrous" for the global economy. (The Telegraph)
-- POTUS hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday afternoon, appearing remarkably presidential as he stood next to the Canadian leader at a joint press conference. Jenna Johnson takes note of how Trump’s behavior changes in the presence of foreign leaders: “As Trudeau took his turn speaking, Trump stood stoically, gazing out at the reporters assembled in the White House’s lavish East Room. ‘Prime Minister Trudeau, on behalf of all Americans, I thank you for being with us today,’ Trump said flatly, without looking at his fellow world leader. ‘It is my honor to host such a great friend, neighbor and ally at the White House — A. Very. Special. Place.’ For a man who has long been fascinated by celebrities, the opportunity to share a stage with another world leader is the ultimate reminder of just how far he has unexpectedly come. His demeanor is remarkably different in these moments. It appears as though he has been cast by a Hollywood director to play the very serious role of President of the United States...
"Monday’s news conference with Trudeau was different because the prime minister flawlessly switched between French and English, composing long, warm sentences in both languages. Trump repeatedly put in and took out earpieces to hear a translation, but finally just flung them onto the lectern with a flick of personality that had been missing up until that moment."
-- Reporters were mad after Trump made it through another press conference with a visiting foreign dignitary without answering serious questions from the White House press corps. From CNN’s Dylan Byers: “In a joint appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, Trump took just two questions from U.S. reporters -- one from the conservative Daily Caller and the other from a D.C. television station owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, both of which are widely viewed as favorable to Trump. None of the questions pertained to Flynn. Reporters and media personalities expressed outrage on Twitter, and accused the White House of foul play: ‘No questions about Flynn's status even though it is leading every newscast?? Are these planted questions on the Washington side?’ Fox News National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin asked on Twitter.”
-- House conservatives — anxious that the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is getting sidelined amid fights over what a replacement should look like — are plotting a major push to repeal the law immediately without simultaneously approving an alternative. Politico’s Rachel Bade reports: “The House Freedom Caucus and a number of Republican Study Committee members this week will urge [Paul Ryan] and his lieutenants to forego their plan to add replacement provisions to a repeal bill, dubbed ‘repeal-plus.’ Instead, they want to approve the same standalone repeal bill that Congress sent to [Obama] in 2016. The stand by several dozen hardliners comes as House GOP leaders were planning to outline the main planks of a replacement blueprint at a series of informational sessions with rank and file member Tuesday and Thursday …”The position is at odds with GOP leadership’s latest strategy to load up a spring repeal bill — which could pass both chambers on party lines using a reconciliation tool – and highlights the stark division among Republicans as they grabble with how to replace Obamacare.”
-- “Officials were warned the Oroville Dam emergency spillway wasn’t safe. They didn’t listen,” by Kristine Guerra: “In 2005, three environmental groups warned state and federal officials about what they believed was a problem with the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway, which was at risk of collapsing over the weekend in California as recent storms caused the adjacent massive reservoir to swell. Their concern, which seemed to have fallen on deaf ears: The emergency spillway is not really a spillway. Rather, it’s a 1,700-foot-long concrete weir that empties into a dirt hillside. That means in the event of severe flooding, water would erode that hillside and flood nearby communities, the groups said then. That nearly happened Sunday, when a hole on the emergency spillway threatened to flood the surrounding area and prompted officials to evacuate thousands of residents who remained displaced as of Monday afternoon.” Now, some say none of this would have happen had officials listened to concerns and 12 years ago and agreed to build a proper emergency spillway.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Joe Scarborough ripped Stephen Miller for saying on the Sunday shows that the president's national security actions "will not be questioned:"
And he went after Flynn:
White House social media director Dan Scavino weighed in:
The scene in the House cloakroom last night:
Amateur hour: Trump’s official inauguration portrait on sale at the Library of Congress had an obvious error in it. The quote on the 8-inch-by-10-inch print misspelled “too” as “to.” “No dream is too big, no challenge is to great. Nothing we want for the future is beyond our reach,” it reads.
Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau compared the infamous Situation Room photo during the Bin Laden raid to the scene at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend:
A Texas congressman wondered whether waiters at Mar-A-Lago have security clearance:
Former White House photographer Pete Souza has been trolling Trump by publishing photos that underscore Trump's missteps (this one shows Obama receiving important information in a secure setting):
Here's one of Obama with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who visited Trump yesterday:
Regarding the RNC's tweet of that Lincoln "quote:"
Which is still making the rounds on Twitter (this is a GOP operative):
With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who spent the weekend at Mar-a-Lago with Trump:
Democratic lawmakers are not amused:
Golf Digest puts a price tag on Trump's golf club:
Lots of commentary about the infighting in the Trump White House:
Trump's own take:
And from Trudeau:
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) visited some special people:
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An amazing morning for me at MUSC Children's Hospital passing out valentines. I truly can't describe how awesome these kids are...and while my heart aches for their condition, it is also full because of their strength and courage. That's why I look forward to today every year - even when the world can seem a dark place sometimes, these kids show us all the light that's possible.
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Foreign Policy, “The Kremlin Is Starting to Worry About Trump,” by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes: “There is no way of knowing if Russian interference contributed decisively to Trump’s upset victory. But it’s fair to say that the Kremlin viewed the outcome as a divine gift … Now that Trump is in power, [however] political elites in Moscow have stopped cheering. They recognize that Russia’s position has become abruptly and agonizingly complex. It’s true that Trump’s accession opens up the possibility of ‘normalizing’ Russia’s relations with the West … But Trump’s revolution is also ushering in a period of turmoil and uncertainty, including the likelihood of self-defeating trade wars. With Trump in the White House, moreover, Putin has lost his monopoly over geopolitical unpredictability. The Kremlin’s ability to shock the world by taking the initiative and trashing ordinary international rules and customs has allowed Russia to play an oversized international role and to punch above its weight. Putin now has to share the capacity to keep the world off balance … What the Kremlin fears most today is that Trump may be ousted or even killed. Oddly, therefore, Putin has become a hostage to Trump’s survival and success.”
-- Wall Street Journal, “The Rise and Fall of a K Street Renegade,” by Brody Mullins: “Few outside Washington had ever heard of Evan Morris. Yet in the capital of wheeling and dealing, he was one of its most gifted operators. From his start as an intern in the Clinton White House, he made powerful friends and at age 27 became a top Washington lobbyist for Roche Holding AG of Switzerland … As head of the company's Washington office, Mr. Morris oversaw a budget that over a decade ballooned to about $50 million a year and supported hundreds of lobbyists and consultants. His apparent success afforded luxuries including $2,000 bottles of wine, a $3 million waterfront vacation home, a $300,000 mahogany speedboat and four Porsches. He belonged to eight private golf courses and hired top chefs to cook for dinner parties at his home. … Government investigators now suspect Mr. Morris embezzled millions of dollars from his company over a decade in a kickback scheme involving Washington consultants he did business with.” (Read the whole thing.)
-- Variety cover story, “Scott Pelley, Lester Holt, David Muir: The Unprecedented Joint Interview,” by Brian Steinberg: “For this week’s cover story, David Muir, Scott Pelley, and Lester Holt sat down last week in New York with Variety senior TV editor Brian Steinberg for a candid conversation about the news business.” Scott Pelley: “We’re not in this business to close minds, we’re in this business to open them. That can be a very painful experience sometimes.” (Read the interview in its entirety here.)
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“A Dangerous Troll Is Now Reporting From The White House,” from Media Matters for America: “The internet’s most hapless political blogger now has his own White House correspondent -- a regular contributor with little reporting experience but ample ties to ‘alt-right’ harassment -- sitting in the White House press briefing room. At the January 19 ‘Deploraball’ event … Gateway Pundit founder … Jim Hoft announced that his outlet would have a White House correspondent with the Trump administration, and that Lucian Wintrich would fill the position. On February 13, Hoft posted a ‘reader alert’ that Hoft and Wintrich will be attending the day's White House press briefing. Hours later, Hoft tweeted a photo of himself and Wintrich standing behind the lectern in the White House press briefing room, displaying a hand signal associated with the racist ‘Pepe’ meme. The tweet itself also included the hashtag ‘Pepe’ and a frog emoji, commonly understood to invoke the hate symbol.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
Trump ties to Upper East Side school stirs moms, from Page Six: “Upper East Side moms are having a spirited online debate over whether to boycott a school where a grandchild of President Trump is a student. One of the anonymous contributors to UrbanBaby.com said her son had gotten into Buckley [School], but she didn’t want to send him there because a son of Donald Trump Jr.’s (likely 4-year-old Spencer Frederick) is said to be going to kindergarten there in the fall. “They will be in the same classroom and I don’t think I can deal with this. Birthday parties, etc.,” the mother wrote. [Another mother responded]: ‘You almost have to decline. It sounds like it will drive you crazy … You want to spend nine years worried that DS [darling son] is getting infected with Trumpism?’”
At the White House: Trump will participate in a “parent-teacher conference listening session” and have lunch with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife. He will then sign H.J. Res. 41. Later in the afternoon, Trump will meet with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Mike Pence will speak with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by phone before joining Trump for the parent-teacher listening session. Later, he will travel to Capitol Hill to participate in the Tuesday Group Lunch and the Senate Republican Policy Lunch and participate in the Tuesday Group Lunch and the swearing-in of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin before joining Trump’s meeting with Kelly and Sessions.
On Capitol Hill: The Senate will convene at 10:00 a.m., and will hold full floor votes on Linda McMahon’s nomination for SBA administrator.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky got a free ride home from a fan this weekend after he mistook him for an Uber driver. The star then convinced the fan to give him a ride home anyways. “Do you know who I am?” Burakovsky reportedly said, before providing photos for proof. The fan then agreed and took a selfie with him. (Scott Allen)
-- Mostly sunny with (thankfully) almost none of yesterday’s aggressive windiness. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Skies are cloudy this morning but we should see gradual clearing this afternoon. Temperatures will also be slightly higher than yesterday, ranging from the upper 40s to the lower 50s with a light breeze from the south.”
-- A Prince George’s County Council member has requested a jury trial on drunken driving and related traffic charges stemming from a November crash that inured two people and wrecked a government vehicle. The lawmaker, Mel Franklin, was slated to appear in court yesterday, but his request moves the case to the county’s circuit court, where he will receive a trial date. (Lynh Bui)
-- Three minority-based legislative caucuses in Maryland are uniting around a bill that would limit the state’s cooperation with deportation authorities, aligning with so-called “sanctuary” policies that have been adopted by cities and counties across the nation. (Josh Hicks)
-- The Wizards beat the Thunder.
-- A VERY UNLUCKY GUY, via Peter Hermann: “Police started chasing a black Jeep Cherokee because it fit the description of a vehicle taken in a carjacking about 90 minutes earlier in which the driver had been shot and left lying on a road in Northeast Washington. But when police finally caught up with the Jeep and its driver Friday night at the Maryland Live Casino just off I-295 in Anne Arundel County, Md., they quickly realized that they had chased the wrong vehicle. Still, they say its driver fled from police, and on Monday authorities revealed a possible reason. Police in Anne Arundel County charged Larry P. Browne Jr., 43, of Northeast Washington, with possession with intent to distribute drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia. He faces up to six years in prison. Meanwhile, police said on Monday the Jeep Cherokee taken in the carjacking and shooting in the District had been found burned. Nobody has been arrested in that case.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
John Oliver on Trump vs. The Truth:
Stephen Colbert takes on Stephen Miller:
Highlights from the Trump-Trudeau presser:
We rounded up all the political moments from the Grammy's: