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With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Love him or hate him for it, Scott Pruitt has done as much as anyone else in the executive branch to advance President Trump’s goal of what Steve Bannon called “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has worked overtime to roll back many of Barack Obama’s proudest achievements. Even with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the former president couldn’t pass cap-and-trade legislation. Because Republicans controlled the House for six of his eight years, Obama leaned heavily on executive action to push his environmental agenda. That made his victories much more vulnerable to evisceration than, say, the Affordable Care Act or Dodd-Frank.

Pruitt has moved swiftly to unwind Obama-era regulations big and small, from the Clean Power Plan to tighter emissions standards for trucks and a ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

Trump signed an order in February to set in motion the repeal of the 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which expanded the definition of bodies of water that are protected by the EPA. “Within eight minutes of him signing that order, I had paperwork in place to advance it,” Pruitt said proudly.

During a half-hour interview Wednesday afternoon, Pruitt extinguished buzz that he might run for governor of Oklahoma in 2018. The 49-year-old said the work he’s doing right now “is some of the most consequential things domestically that can occur.” His goal is not just to fundamentally transform the EPA but to redefine what it means to be an environmentalist.

“What is true environmentalism? I think it's environmental stewardship — not prohibition,” he said. “The last administration talked about putting up fences. [They said,] ‘Let's not develop, we're not going to use the natural resources to feed the world and power the world.’ I think that's wrong. I think our focus should be on using our natural resources — with environmental stewardship in mind. … We can be about jobs and growth and be good stewards of our environment. The last several years we've been told we can't do both.”

Sipping black coffee in his cavernous office on the third floor of EPA’s headquarters, directly across the street from Trump’s D.C. hotel, Pruitt offered a full-throated defense of his close ties to some of the industries that he regulates — which he contends will ultimately make the air cleaner and the water safer to drink.

The EPA administrator, who was formerly Oklahoma’s attorney general, is adamant that his closeness with these groups is a strength, not a conflict. “I don't hang with polluters; I prosecute them,” he said. “I think it's important in this agency to deal with the bad actors. The difference … is that the agency historically has viewed all industry and all stakeholders as adversaries, as opposed to partners and allies in improving the environment. … When you have that kind of … blanket approach, you don't achieve good things for the environment.”

Pruitt has extensively traveled the country to meet with industry trade group officials and top executives from chemical, agricultural and fossil fuel companies. Last week he flew to South Carolina’s Kiawah Island for the American Chemistry Council’s board meeting. He recently went to a National Mining Association meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., and to a golf resort in Arizona to speak at a board meeting for the National Association of Manufacturers.

Since being confirmed in February, Pruitt has visited 30 states. “The best interaction we have is spending time with individuals and companies that live under the regulations that we adopt because they are out there carrying those regulations out each day,” he said. “They breathe the air. They drink the water in these areas. They want, in my view, largely a commitment to better environmental outcomes. And so why not work with them to achieve that?

“We don't have enough resources … to hire enough personnel in this agency to stand on every corner in this country and say, ‘Thou shall,’ and make sure that people do this or that,” he added. “We need commitment from the private sector.”

Pruitt has faced criticism for listening more to these companies than career staff. “On pesticides, chemical solvents and air pollutants, Pruitt and his deputies are using industry figures to challenge past findings and recommendations of the agency’s own scientists,” Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis reported last week. “Pruitt has questioned the legitimacy of the agency’s work on climate science, and continued pressing for the White House to create a ‘red team-blue team’ effort to debate the expert consensus on climate change. … Last month, Pruitt moved to change the makeup of EPA advisory boards — including panels that help prioritize the agency’s research and provide recommendations on federal air-pollution and chemical exposure limits — reflecting his broader effort to shift the way the agency evaluates science. He cut any researchers currently receiving EPA grants from the committees, on the grounds that this funding poses a conflict of interest, while bringing in advisers whose work is funded by industry.”

In our interview, Pruitt maintained that the decline in carbon dioxide emissions — which are now at pre-1994 levels — is due far more to the emergence of hydraulic fracking and the conversion of natural gas to electricity than any government mandate. He cites this as a justification for allowing companies to innovate without interference. “Our focus should be on exporting that technology and innovation to China and India,” he said. “We have nothing to be apologetic about in this area.”

He noted that the EPA no longer promotes renewable energies over fossil fuels because that represents the federal government improperly picking “winners and losers” in the private sector. “That's not within the authority of this agency,” he said. “It's not the goal of this agency to say, ‘Your generation of electricity is good. This is not.’ That's what happened with the Clean Power Plan.”

Pruitt praised Trump for showing “great courage” in his willingness to make politically unpopular decisions vis-à-vis the environment, specifically citing his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

Pruitt played a key role in persuading Trump to pull out. “People forget the criticism that was levied against Paris. Some of the most strident criticism was from whom? The environmental left,” he said. “If you go back and look … it was, ‘Why didn't they hold China accountable? Why didn't they hold India accountable? Why is Russia engaged with a baseline of 1994?’ The reason the rest of the world applauded America's participation … in Paris . . . (and) put so much pressure on this country to stay in is because it put us at a disadvantage economically, and it also didn't hold them accountable. It was a bad business deal.”

The administrator has developed a good personal rapport with the president, who he said has been way more hands-on than outsiders understand. “I love spending time around these issues with him because he's got tremendous ideas,” Pruitt said of Trump. “He’s actually presented some things to me on the Superfund sites on how to improve our approach there. It was very instructive.”

Just like his boss, Pruitt is a counterpuncher. When he’s asked about allegations that he’s letting polluters off the hook, he insists that he’s actually being more aggressive than the Obama administration. He noted that the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and the Gold King Mine waste water spill in Colorado happened during the previous administration. He also accused the Obama EPA of cutting the number of personnel in the criminal enforcement office by almost 25 percent.

“As a former attorney general … I know what it means to prosecute people, and I can tell you that it’s a point of emphasis,” he said. “In fact, I'm the first administrator in probably more than a decade — I've been told by staff — that has actually spoken to the criminal enforcement division here to say, ‘Here are the priorities we're going to set.’”

Veterans of the Obama EPA say it would be irregular for the administrator to tell career staff which prosecutions to pursue. There are 2,800 employees in the enforcement division, with 10 regional offices and more than 30 field offices nationwide. Historically there has been a bottom-up approach, designed to prevent political appointees from exerting undue influence.

“All hat and no cattle is I think what they say in Oklahoma,” emailed Cynthia Giles, who directed the EPA’s enforcement office during all eight years of the Obama presidency. “The record does not support Administrator Pruitt’s ludicrous claim to be a tough enforcer.”

I asked Pruitt why the environmental and scientific communities are so strongly critical of him if he’s being as hard on the bad actors as he says. “Because it serves political ends,” Pruitt replied. “You know, I think certain groups want to raise money … and that's unfortunate.”

By one estimate, less than 1 percent of Pruitt’s meetings have been with environmental groups. But the administrator said that does not mean activists have been frozen out. “They’re welcome to come,” he said. “In fact, if they listen to this message, please call. This isn't a matter of not wanting to hear from stakeholders. It is a matter of: Let's have a thoughtful dialogue. … One of the greatest challenges we have the environmental space right now, in my view, is that we want to put on jerseys. People want to say, ‘You’re pro-environment and anti-jobs.’ Or, ‘You're pro-jobs … and you're anti-environment.’ It doesn't have to be that way. That's a false choice. It's a false narrative.”

In that vein, Pruitt said he’s planning to launch two initiatives that environmentalists might want to partner with him on: cleaning up abandoned mines and declaring a war on lead. “It's one of our greatest challenges in this country: lead in our drinking water … that threatens the mental acuity of children,” he said. “I'm likely going to go to Congress next year and will ask them to do some big things. … We can do those things together. Why do we have to continue this divisive type of approach to these very, very important issues to the country?”

He added that enforcement is not mutually exclusive with his parallel effort to accelerate the process for approving new projects. He pledged that, by the end of 2018, anyone who applies for a permit from the EPA will get a decision within six months.

As far as the left is concerned, Pruitt is probably the most divisive EPA administrator since Anne Gorsuch Burford — the mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — during Ronald Reagan’s first term. “Her short, tumultuous tenure was marked by sharp budget cuts, rifts with career EPA employees, a steep decline in cases filed against polluters and a scandal over the mismanagement of the Superfund cleanup program that ultimately led to her resignation in 1983,” Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney wrote in February.

Pruitt, too, has already generated his share of controversies. The EPA, for example, signed a nearly $25,000 contract this summer to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in Pruitt’s office. Many mocked this as wasteful.

“Well, it's no more than a secure phone line,” Pruitt said when I asked about it. “I didn't have a secure phone in this office to have the conversations that sometimes need to be secure. And it's kind of hard to tell someone that's reaching out that, to have a confidential secure conversation, I've got to go down two floors, and over two levels, and I'll call you back. That's just not … how things should work. … And sometimes legend leads to misinformation in the marketplace. Not everything you read, by the way, is fully reflective of what the truth is.”

Gorsuch Burford’s portrait hangs in the corridor leading to Pruitt’s office. The office itself is full of cool baseball memorabilia. From 2003 until he got elected A.G. in 2010, he was the co-owner and managing partner of a minor league team in Oklahoma called the RedHawks. Pruitt has a bucket of autographed balls, several signed by hall of famers, in front of one of his two fireplaces. He’s got two jerseys framed on the wall. And he has a signed Yogi Berra baseball card on his coffee table.

Justice Gorsuch spoke at the Federalist Society’s annual gala last night. Pruitt will address the group of conservative lawyers later today. The men, born a year apart, are both rock stars on the right. Each interprets the Constitution in a way that would dramatically defang the regulatory state if it became the law of the land.

One of the reasons legal experts expect Gorsuch to be an even more conservative justice than Antonin Scalia, his predecessor, is his rejection of what’s known as Chevron deference. The Supreme Court created the standard in 1984, which requires judges to defer to administrative agencies’ interpretations of federal law in most cases where the law may be “ambiguous” and the agency’s position seems “reasonable.” As a circuit court judge, Gorsuch denounced Chevron deference as “a judge-made doctrine for the abdication of the judicial duty.”

For his part, as the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times during the Obama administration. He challenged the legal authority of the agency he now runs to regulate everything from toxic mercury pollution and smog to carbon emissions and wetlands. He made clear during our interview that his views haven’t changed.

“Agencies and the executive branch need to enforce the law,” Pruitt said. “They don't need to fill in the spaces if Congress doesn't act. It’s a very important question because a lot of times the tools aren't in the toolbox.”

-- Listen to five minutes of highlights from my interview with Pruitt in today’s Big Idea podcast:

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-- Good morning from PALO ALTO, Calif., where I’ve just landed after a redeye to celebrate the 125th birthday of The Stanford Daily. I’ll reflect on my tenure as editor in chief and discuss the future of journalism during a day-long symposium. You can watch a livestream of my panel here at 1:55 p.m. PT/4:55 p.m. ET. Then I’ll stick around campus to watch the Cardinal beat Cal in tomorrow’s Big Game.

 
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The Keystone pipeline spilled about 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota, just days before a Nebraska commission is slated to decide whether to grant a permit for the Keystone XL project — a sister pipeline owned by TransCanada mired in controversy for years. Steven Mufson and Chris Mooney report: “The spill on the first Keystone pipeline is the latest in a series of leaks that critics of the new pipeline say shows that TransCanada should not receive another permit. [After Trump took office, he] issued an executive order to clear obstacles for the Keystone XL, but TransCanada still needed a permit from the independent, five-person Nebraska PSC . . . Activists pounced on the news . . . 'TransCanada cannot be trusted,’ said Jane Kleeb, head of the Nebraska Democratic Party[.] … ‘I have full confidence that the Nebraska Public Service Commission is going to side with Nebraskans, not a foreign oil company.’”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Senate approved its $700 billion defense authorization bill, sending it to Trump’s desk. But uncertainty remains over whether Congress will actually be able to send the full funding to the Pentagon. (Karoun Demirjian)
  2. The Defense Department “erroneously” retweeted a message calling for Trump’s resignation. The tweet, from the account @ProudResister, read, “The solution is simple . . . Roy Moore: Step down from the race. Al Franken: Resign from congress. Donald Trump: Resign from the presidency. GOP: Stop making sexual assault a partisan issue. It’s a crime as is your hypocrisy.” (Dan Lamothe)
  3. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe remained in military custody for a second day, setting off frantic efforts to resolve the political crisis. But the leader retained some freedom of movement and there were hints that ousting him might not be so easy. (Kevin Sieff)

  4. As pollution levels in New Delhi continue to soar — with levels of carcinogenic particles climbing to 70 times the safe limit — some diplomats are considering leaving the city. At least one ambassador has relocated after developing respiratory problems, while other countries have relocated nonessential staff to nearby countries. (Vidhi Doshi)
  5. A new report reveals the lopsided nature of prison sentences for African American men. Black men’s federal prison sentences are, on average, nearly 20 percent longer than white mean who commit the same crime. (Christopher Ingraham)

  6. Tracy Jan explores the brands that have been co-opted by the alt-right and white supremacists — including Papa John’s, New Balance and Wendy’s — and how they respond to the ensuing PR crises.

  7. Former cult leader and convicted mass murderer Charles Manson was rushed to a Bakersfield hospital with an unknown medical condition. Prison officials refused to comment on the health of the notorious killer — whose gurney is manned, round-the-clock, by a team of five police officers — and have said only that he is “still alive.” (LA Times)

  8. Ohio State suspended most of its fraternities. The university is currently investigating student conduct violations related to hazing and alcohol at nearly a third of the school’s 37 chapters. (Susan Svrluga)

  9. Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton and Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve were named MVPs of the National and American leagues. (Dave Sheinin)

FRANKEN JOINS THE ACCUSED:

-- Sen. Al Franken faced swift condemnation and calls for an ethics probe after broadcaster and former model Leeann Tweeden accused the Minnesota Democrat of “forcibly kissing” and groping her during a USO tour in 2006. Paul Kane, Amy B Wang and Lindsey Bever report: “In an online essay published Thursday morning, Tweeden wrote that Franken had forced his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a skit and then groped her while she was sleeping during a flight home — a moment that was captured in a photograph. ‘You knew exactly what you were doing,’ she wrote. ‘You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.’”

Franken initially appeared dismissive of the allegations: “I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” he said. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it.”

The senator later issued a more robust apology: “There’s no excuse,” said Franken, who skipped several votes on Thursday and pledged to cooperate with any ethics investigation. “I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.” Tweeden said that she accepted Franken's apology and would leave any disciplinary action up to Senate leaders.

“Beloved by liberals for his fierce attacks on [Trump], Franken found few defenders as [Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer] called for the ethics committee to investigate his actions,” our colleagues write.

  • “Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” Schumer wrote in his Thursday statement.
  • “This should not have happened to Leeann Tweeden,” Franken’s home-state colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), said in a statement. “I strongly condemn this kind of behavior.”
  • “This kind of behavior is unacceptable and should not be tolerated anywhere in our society,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has been one of the Senate’s leading voices on combating sexual misconduct.  
  • And Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said it stood with Franken’s accuser: “We are incredibly disappointed in Senator Franken,” party chairman Ken Martin said in a statement.

-- “The hasty condemnations of Franken’s behavior by fellow Democrats underlined the tinderbox atmosphere surrounding allegations of sexual harassment by influential figures,” Kane, Wang and Bever write. “[And] for Democrats, the charges against Franken serve as a sobering reminder that there could be bipartisan fallout as women come forward with their experiences of harassment.”

-- Franken’s future remains unclear. In a worst-case scenario, he could face censure or expulsion. The Fix's Amber Phillips reports: “The Senate has wide latitude to kick out members, said Cornell Law Professor Josh Chafetz, though it hasn’t happened since the Civil War. Kicking out a senator would require a two-thirds vote by the full Senate — so all 52 Republicans and 15 Democrats.” 

HOW IT’S PLAYING:

-- “Decades after Bill Clinton allegations, Democrats have a chance to finally get it right,” by Eugene Scott: “More than two decades ago, Democrats did not immediately believe the accusers. James Carville, Clinton’s then-strategist, once infamously said: ‘If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.’ … Some have said, if they could turn back time, they’d approach the allegations against Clinton differently.”

  • Gillibrand, a Clinton ally who now holds Hillary Clinton’s seat, told the New York Times she thinks Bill Clinton should have resigned in the ‘90s.

-- “Al Franken is just the start of Congress’s reckoning with sexual harassment,” by The Post’s Editorial Board: “ As the committee looks into Mr. Franken’s behavior, it will have to consider what comes next. What level of misconduct merits a lawmaker’s departure from Congress? Should the legislature have a zero-tolerance policy, or can gradations of offense be recognized? If a member’s wrongdoing took place entirely before his time on the Hill, should that affect continued service? Members of the House of Representatives should be asking these same questions.”

-- “Franken Should Go,” by the New York Times’s Michelle Goldberg: “Oh no, not Al Franken, too. Before Thursday, I’d hoped Franken would run for president in 2020. … Then I saw the photo.”

-- “The Democratic Party is full of men who have sexually abused women,” Vox’s Ezra Klein writes.The Republican Party is full of men who have sexually abused women. The mass of Americans who belong to neither party is full of men who have sexually abused women. … This is a systemic rot, not merely a few bad apples.

-- “No matter what your political affiliation, you have to see how inadequate Franken's first apology is,” writes CNN’s Chris Cillizza. “ . . . Franken's first apology was his knee-jerk reaction — his instinctual response. And that response was to, in essence, say this: I don't remember doing anything wrong but, hey, if I did, I'm a comedian. It might have been a bad joke — but it was a joke. What that signals to me is that Franken — at least initially — didn't really get it. His initial dismissal — particularly given the post-Harvey Weinstein world in which we now live — feels deeply tone deaf.”

-- Franken’s past responses to sexual harassment allegations, as recently as last month, now seem different:

-- The president, who has been captured on tape describing groping women without their consent, inserted himself into the conversation last night:

Herman Wong explains: “The ‘Lesley Stahl tape’ Trump mentioned in his second tweet refers to a New York magazine story about a ‘Saturday Night Live’ writers discussion in which Franken suggested a joke about raping Leslie Stahl, a ‘60 Minutes’ correspondent. Franken was quoted as saying: ‘And, “I give the pills to Lesley Stahl. Then, when Lesley’s passed out, I take her to the closet and rape her.” Or, “That’s why you never see Lesley until February.” Or, “When she passes out, I put her in various positions and take pictures of her.” ‘”

-- Others quickly noted Trump's silence on the allegations against Roy Moore:

MORE ALLEGATIONS:

-- Another woman has accused former president George H.W. Bush of groping her, but this alleged assault occurred during his 1992 reelection campaign — when he was still president. CNN’s Athena Jones reports: “The woman, now 55, … said she was attending a fundraiser for Bush's re-election campaign in Dearborn, Michigan, with her father when the president grabbed her rear end during a photo-op. ‘We got closer together for a family photo and it was like “Holy crap!”’ she said, describing the moment Bush touched her buttocks. ‘It was like a gentle squeeze.’ … ‘All the focus has been on “He's old.” OK, but he wasn't old when it happened to me,’ she told CNN. … CNN has spoken with the woman's ex-husband and her best friend, both of whom she told of the incident soon after it occurred.”

THE TRUMP AGENDA:

-- Seeking to capitalize politically on Franken’s predicament, Republicans quietly announced they are blowing up blue slips. Politico’s Seung Min Kim reports: “Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is burning the blue slip for some judicial nominees. The Iowa Republican announced Thursday that he is going ahead with a confirmation hearing for a nominee to the powerful appellate courts despite the objections of a Democrat who had been blocking the nomination for months. The move will likely escalate the judicial wars in the Senate.”

Why this is a really huge deal: The blue slip process is a century-old Senate tradition that says the Judiciary Committee doesn’t hold a confirmation hearing for potential judges without approval from permission from the candidate’s home-state senators. … Previous committee chairs have rigidly adhered to the blue-slip rule for district court nominees, whose courts span just a single state.  But they have been more flexible for the more influential and powerful circuit courts.  Democrats pointed out that Grassley, as chairman during the final two years of Obama's presidency, declined to hold hearings for nine of Obama's judicial picks because of the blue slip policy. Four were to the appellate courts, while five were district court nominees.”

-- The House passed its version of the tax plan, 227 to 205. Mike DeBonis and Damian Paletta report: “Thirteen Republicans voted against the bill, while no Democrats voted for it. … Passing the bill is a major victory for House leaders, including [Paul Ryan], who have long asserted that cutting taxes on the wealthy and businesses will spur economic growth that benefits all Americans. Trump visited House Republicans personally Thursday to urge support for the bill, leaving them, according to multiple people at the closed-door meeting, with a concise closing message: ‘I love you. Now go vote.’”

­­-- But the Senate plan faces a bumpy road ahead, especially after an analysis showed it could result in tax hikes for millions of American families. Our colleagues report: “Congress’s nonpartisan tax analysts … concluded the bill would, by the end of a decade, raise the average tax burden for households making less than $75,000 a year. Much of the hit to poor and working-class Americans would stem from the changes to the [Affordable Care Act], as many would no longer get subsidies to help them afford health insurance because they would give up on buying it altogether, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.”

-- Despite the setback, the Senate Finance Committee approved the bill for a full floor vote. Mike and Damian add: “Mitch McConnell said he would begin floor consideration after the Thanksgiving holiday. The final version could still change drastically as leaders work to address members’ concerns.”

-- Democrats fighting against the plan are also facing the setback of having to bench Al Franken. David Weigel reports: “The Democrats’ multilevel campaign to stop Republican-backed tax cuts, which has included ad buys, news conferences and activist pressure, was dealt a blow by Franken essentially being forced to take the bench. The senator had taken an increased, unique role in Democratic messaging this year, with a best-selling memoir, frequent use of social media and a new openness to national interviews. ‘You have to be able to hit back hard, quickly and in a way that works, and he’s uniquely skilled at doing that,’ said one Senate Democratic aide[.]”

-- A1 of the New York Times, “Party’s Priority: Comfort for Corporations,” by Jim Tankersley: “The bill that sailed through the House on Thursday chooses to take from high-tax Democratic states, particularly California and New York, and give to lower-tax Republican states that President Trump carried in 2016, particularly Florida and Texas. It allows for tax increases on millions of families several years from now, if a future Congress does not intervene, but not for similar increases on corporations. The version of the bill that the Senate Finance Committee approved along party lines late Thursday chooses to give peace of mind to corporate executives planning their long-term investments. That comes at the expense of added anxiety for individual taxpayers, particularly those in the middle class, who could face stiff tax increases on Jan. 1, 2026.”

ROY MOORE FALLOUT:

-- Democrat Doug Jones climbed to an eight-point lead in Alabama’s Senate race, according to a fresh Fox News poll, leading Roy Moore 50 to 42 percent following a spate of damaging sexual misconduct allegations that surfaced ahead of the Dec. 12 special election. Some highlights:

  • Women are key to Jones’s edge. Jones holds a 26 point lead among women, 58 to 32 percent. And 56 percent of voters said Jones has a strong moral character, while just 41 percent said the same of Moore.  
  • But Moore continues to hold an edge among white evangelicals, who back him by a whopping 53 points. Moore also holds a 19-point advantage among white voters, and a 12-point advantage among men.
  • And while 38 percent of voters say they believe Moore’s accusers, 37 percent said they do not. (1 in 4 is unsure.)
  • A majority of voters believe Moore should stay in the race.

-- In Alabama, pastors are grappling with the mounting allegations against Moore — and whether they make him unfit to hold public office. Marc Fisher reports: “Some ministers have concluded that the accusations against Moore, who has based his political career on a decades-long crusade to bring faith back into the public square, disqualify him for public office. But many others have stood by a man they consider a champion of their effort to restore traditional values in a country that has embraced abortion, single-sex marriage and childbearing outside of wedlock.”

Pastor David Floyd, for example, told his Alabama congregants in 1998 that Bill Clinton's behavior had “crossed the line” and made him unfit for office. But he has continued to staunchly back Moore as an “upright man” whose sins should not preclude him from serving in Washington. “All of us have sinned and need a savior,” Floyd said. “Of course, moral character is still important. But with Bill Clinton or Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, we’re talking about something completely different . . . That’s why I support Judge Moore. I’ve prayed with him. I know his heart.”

-- Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Trump finds the Moore allegations “extremely troubling,” but doesn't plan to rescind his endorsement — and “firmly” believes the people of Alabama should have the final say in the election next month. Jenna Johnson reports: “The president believes that these allegations … should be taken seriously, and he thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be,” Sanders said. And while Sanders said Trump wants Moore to drop out “if the accusations are true,” she declined to say whether the president believed the accusers. 

-- Meanwhile, the Alabama GOP reaffirmed its commitment to Moore, dealing a blow to write-in efforts. David Weigel reports: “'Judge Moore has vehemently denied the allegations made against him,’ [said state party chair Terry Lathan in a statement]. ‘He deserves to be presumed innocent of the accusations unless proven otherwise. He will continue to take his case straight to the people of Alabama.’ . . . The committee, in theory, had the power to denounce Moore and invalidate any votes cast for him in the Dec. 12 election, a dramatic move that some Republicans had hoped would allow them to support a write-in candidate. Instead, by continuing to back Moore, the party appeared to close the GOP’s last off-ramp out of the Alabama crisis.

-- A group of young Alabama Republicans took issue with the state party's “innocent until proven guilty” rationale. From the Montgomery Advertiser:

MENENDEZ MISTRIAL:

-- Sen. Bob Menendez is off the hook, legally and for now, as his prosecution for allegedly trading favors to a wealthy friend and donor ended in a mistrial. Alan Maimon and Devlin Barrett report: “Menendez, a senior lawmaker who has spent years fighting the charges, broke down crying as he addressed cheering supporters outside the courthouse. ‘Today is Resurrection Day,’ he said. … Now, Menendez said, ‘I’m going back to Washington to fight for the people of New Jersey.’ And he added an ominous warning: ‘For those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget it.’ The senator’s jubilation may be short-lived. Justice Department officials said they would review the case to decide whether to put him on trial again, and [Mitch McConnell] called for a Senate ethics probe based on the charges in the case.”

-- The mistrial is a setback for the Justice Department’s efforts to combat political corruption. Alan and Devlin add: “Although mistrials are generally considered wins for defense lawyers and losses for prosecutors, the Justice Department will probably feel significant internal pressure to put the senator on trial again, because recent Supreme Court decisions have raised questions about how much legal authority prosecutors still have in pursuing corruption charges involving payments not explicitly linked to official acts.”

-- Menendez is still a liability for Democratic leadership, but New Jersey leadership — including the governor-elect — said it would support his reelection bid. The Newark Star-Ledger’s Brent Johnson reports: “All during his winning campaign for governor, Phil Murphy said pretty much nothing when asked whether or not [Menendez] should step down if convicted on federal bribery charges. … But after the mistrial was declared in the early afternoon, Murphy finally broke his silence — in a statement saying he'll back Menendez if he runs for re-election next year. … [Murphy said,] ‘Our justice system is built on the foundation that we are innocent until proven guilty.’ ‘Sen. Menendez is a strong voice for New Jersey, and I look forward to working with him to stand up for our people against [Trump's] disastrous tax hike and further efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act,’ the governor-elect continued.”

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (AND WOMEN):

-- One of Trump's top appointees at DHS, Jamie Johnson, was forced to resign over disparaging comments he made about black people and Muslims on conservative radio programs. Eli Rosenberg reports: “Johnson, who was appointed the head of the DHS’s Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships in April, appeared on the program in 2008. … Johnson’s incendiary comments about black people came on the show ‘The Right Balance,’ on Accent Radio Network, CNN reported. An unidentified speaker on the show said ‘a lot of blacks are anti-Semitic’ and asked Johnson why. Johnson extolled the economic successes of American Jews and said ‘it’s an indictment of America’s black community that has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity.’ … As a guest host on the AM radio program ‘Mickelson in the Morning,’ in Iowa, Johnson spoke harshly of Muslims, saying radical Islam was ‘faithful Islam.’”

-- Trump’s pick for DHS chief, Kirstjen Nielsen, has been guided through her Senate confirmation by the co-founder of a consulting and lobbying firm representing companies seeking “millions” in DHS contracts. Nick Miroff reports: “The consultant, Thad Bingel, is co-founder of [a] prominent lobbying and consulting firm that offers ‘full spectrum solutions related to safety, security and intelligence’ to clients ‘on six continents.’ As Nielsen made the rounds on Capitol Hill last month ahead of a vote on her nomination … she was joined by DHS officials as well as Bingel, according to Senate staffers, who said they received no advance notice of his attendance[.]” Current and former DHS officials said it’s almost unheard of for someone to lead confirmation preparations from outside the government — especially nearly a year into Trump’s presidency.”

-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has failed to properly document his travel, according to the agency’s inspector general. Lisa Rein and Drew Harwell report: “A rare alert sent by Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall to the secretary’s office … said her investigation into allegations of improper travel practices by Zinke has been stymied by ‘absent or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips.’ Interior lawyers and ethics officials also have not shown evidence to investigators that they have been able to ‘distinguish between personal, political and official travel’ or cost-analysis documents to justify his choice of military or charter flights, Kendall wrote.” The agency is also scrutinizing the travel of Zinke’s wife, Lola, who often accompanies him on official trips.

-- The White House reportedly plans to tap OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to temporarily serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos reports: “The move could be announced by the White House as soon as Friday[.] … Mr. Mulvaney would continue to serve as the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. He would return full-time to the OMB once the White House nominates and the Senate confirms a new, permanent director for the job[.]”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Robert Mueller has issued a subpoena for Russia-related documents from Trump’s campaign. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Peter Nicholas report: “The subpoena, which requested documents and emails from [more than a dozen top] campaign officials that reference a set of Russia-related keywords, marked Mr. Mueller’s first official order for information from the campaign[.] … The subpoena caught the campaign by surprise, the [source] said.”

-- Jared Kushner received and forwarded emails about WikiLeaks and a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” during the 2016 campaign that he failed to disclose to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Karoun Demirjian reports: “[In a letter to Kushner’s lawyer, Sens. Grassley and Dianne Feinstein charged] that Kushner has failed to disclose several documents, records and transcripts in response to multiple inquiries from committee investigators. . . . And they said Kushner had also been made privy to ‘communications with Sergei Millian’ — a Belarusian American businessman who claims close ties to the Trumps and was the source of salacious details in a dossier about the president’s 2013 trip to Moscow — but failed to turn those records over to investigators.” 

“Finally, the committee leaders asked Kushner’s team to search for a series of records of communications with and about [Michael Flynn], including any Flynn may have simply been copied on involving many of the Russian individuals and businesses that were known to have contact with members of Trump’s campaign team.”

-- Paul Manafort appears to have significantly overpaid the home improvement companies that worked on his Hamptons estate. “Mueller, in his indictment, says that a Hamptons firm got $5.4 million in wire transfers from Cyprus over 71 payments. But building permits over the same period examined by Bloomberg show that renovations by Manafort’s Hamptons’ contractor were estimated to cost $1.2 million. (Bloomberg)

-- Days before Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab was slated to go on trial for allegedly cheating U.S. sanctions, he was secretly removed from federal prison — prompting some to wonder if he is cooperating with Mueller’s team. The Daily Beast’s Katie Zavadski reports: “Mueller is reportedly looking at a December meeting [where Flynn] was reportedly offered upward of $15 million if he could help Turkey win the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gülen as well as the release of gold trader Reza Zarrab. Now it appears Zarrab … may be working with federal prosecutors. The Bureau of Prisons website shows that Zarrab was released from BOP custody on Nov. 8. He had been held at [a federal administrative prison near the Southern District of New York courthouse] before then.” “All I can tell you is that he is in federal custody,’” a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said. 

-- More than 150,000 Russian-language accounts flooded Twitter with anti-E.U. messages in the run-up to last year’s “Brexit” referendum, according to new research. The New York Times’s David D. Kirkpatrick reports: “More than 400 of the accounts that Twitter has already identified to congressional investigators as tools of the Kremlin [also] posted divisive messages about Britain’s decision on withdrawing from the bloc[.] . . . Most of the messages sought to inflame fears about Muslims and immigrants to help drive the vote, suggesting parallels to the strategy that Russian propagandists employed in the United States[.]”

-- “The Russia investigation’s spectacular accumulation of lies,” by Michael Gerson: “Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing. What are the implications? President Trump and others in his administration are about to be hit by a legal tidal wave. We look at the Russia scandal and see lies. A skilled prosecutor sees leverage.”

-- After Russia violated a bilateral arms control treaty with the U.S. and deployed a banned nuclear missile in February, the Trump administration is threatening to take action — by building some treaty-violating missiles of its own. Josh Rogin reports: “The U.S. government has known since 2012 that Russia was in violation of the 1987 [treaty]. Now, the [Trump administration] … is supporting congressional efforts to fund research and development for a U.S. cruise missile with the same capability, to show the Russians they aren’t they only ones who can play that game. … Developing the missile doesn’t put the United States in breach of the treaty; actually building it would.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The former head of the DSCC, who now leads the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, had this to say on Franken:

A former Hillary adviser rebuked Sen. Gillibrand for saying that Bill Clinton should have resigned:

From an op-ed editor for the New York Post:

From a writer for Stephen Colbert's Late Show:

From conservative commentator Charlie Sykes:

From a Republican lobbyist:

Author Stephen King slammed Trump's criticism of Franken:

From USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers:

From information warfare expert Molly McKew:

The media spotlight on Franken worked against Carter Page, who visited Capitol Hill to testify (again):

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro came up with an idea to avoid more such scandals:

But a congressional reporter for IJR countered with another idea:

From a correspondent for the Hill:

The Alabama GOP received some “divine” guidance on Moore:

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) hit back after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) claimed that he spoke to all New York Republicans voting for the House tax bill:

Just Jared:

A CNN reporter discovered that the black gloves worn by Louise Linton at the U.S. Mint cost over $600:

And that infamous picture is likely to stick around for a while, per a Business Insider political reporter:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The New York Times Magazine, “The Uncounted,” by Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal: “American military planners go to great lengths to distinguish today’s precision strikes from the air raids of earlier wars, which were carried out with little or no regard for civilian casualties. … The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq. Yet until we raised his case, Basim’s family was not among those counted. Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad and Najib were four of an unknown number of Iraqi civilians whose deaths the coalition has placed in the ‘ISIS’ column. Estimates from Airwars and other nongovernmental organizations suggest that the civilian death toll is much higher, but the coalition disputes such figures[.]”

-- The Cook Political Report, “A Wave Is a Comin’,” by Amy Walter: “In 2016 we made the mistake of rationalizing away the prospect of a Trump victory. He was too unorthodox. He couldn't possibly sustain momentum through the grueling primary campaign. We should not make same mistake in 2018. Sure, a lot can change between now and next November. And, Democrats have a narrow path to 24 seats — even with a big wave or tailwind.  But, do not ignore what’s right in front of us. A wave is building. If I were a Republican running for Congress, I’d be taking that more seriously than ever.”

-- Politico, “Regrets? Chris Christie Has a Few,” by Josh Dawsey:“In the longest interview Christie has given in years, as he dropped oyster crackers into a large vat of chili, he said the story of his rise and fall had not been told accurately. He was never as good as depicted — nor as bad. ‘I never felt 78, and I don’t feel the 22,’ he said of his approval ratings. ‘What I hope at the end of the day is that this really is about my eight years, and the bridge stuff is part of that, and the Trump stuff is part of that, but it’s only a part.’”

-- Rolling Stone, “Anatomy of a Fake News Scandal,” by Amanda Robb: “The claim that Hillary Clinton was a pedophile started in a Facebook post, spread to Twitter and then went viral with the help of far-right platforms like Breitbart and Info-Wars. But it was unclear whether Pizzagate was mass hysteria or the work of politicos with real resources and agendas. It took the better part of a year (and two teams of researchers) to sift through the digital trail. We found ordinary people, online activists, bots, foreign agents and domestic political operatives. Many of them were associates of the Trump campaign. Others had ties with Russia. Working together – though often unwittingly – they flourished in a new ‘post-truth’ information ecosystem, a space where false claims are defended as absolute facts.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Sheriff's warning to 'F--- TRUMP' truck owner draws outrage on Facebook,” from the Houston Chronicle: “Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls on Wednesday created a social media firestorm with a Facebook post threatening to bring disorderly conduct charges against the driver of a truck displaying a profane anti-Trump message on its rear window. Nehls [said] he had received calls, texts and emails in recent days from people who took offense at the language in bold, white lettering: ‘F--- TRUMP AND F--- YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM.’ The sheriff, a Republican who is weighing a bid for Congress shared a photo on his official Facebook page in hopes that it would help to identify the truck owner. Nehls wrote on Facebook that a county prosecutor had agreed to accept disorderly conduct charges — an opinion that District Attorney John Healey disputes, as does the ACLU of Texas.” 

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Stone appeared to know Franken allegation was coming,” from the Hill: “Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone appeared to know there were sexual misconduct allegations involving Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) hours before they became public. Stone has been banned from Twitter, but at 1 a.m. on Thursday morning an account connected to him tweeted a quote from the Republican political operative. ‘Roger Stone says it's Al Franken's “time in the barrel”. Franken next in long list of Democrats to be accused of 'grabby' behavior,’ read the tweet from Enter the Stone Zone. Enter the Stone Zone is an account that claims to share ‘political commentary’ from Stone.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will host NCAA national championship teams at the White House. He also has a lunch with Pence and a meeting with Rex Tillerson.

Pence has meetings with the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the chief executive of Afghanistan and the vice president of Columbia before his lunch with Trump. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak told a Kremlin-run television network that he wouldn’t name all the Trump officials he met with or spoke to because “the list is so long that I'm not going to be able to go through it in 20 minutes.” (CNBC)

 

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

-- The District should have a sunny, breezy day, but the weekend could turn cloudy. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine should dominate, but moderate northwesterly breezes around 10 mph add some chill, particularly in the morning hours. High temperatures dip back below average, getting near 50 to lower 50s.”

-- The Capitals lost to the Avalanche 6-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

--  Republican Ed Gillespie dug a deeper hole with black voters in the final weeks before Virginia’s gubernatorial election. Gregory S. Schneider reports: “Democrat Ralph Northam won partly on the strength of overwhelming support from African Americans, who made up about 20 percent of the Nov. 7 electorate. The surveys and analysis, released Thursday by the African American Research Collaborative in partnership with Latino Decisions, said Northam drew that support partly because of two factors: heavy get-out-the-vote efforts that reached more than half of black voters in some locations, and racially charged advertising from Gillespie that played particularly poorly with African Americans.” 

-- Lame-duck Virginia Del. Bob Marshall (R) laced into Danica Roem (D), who defeated him for his seat earlier this month, in a letter to The Post. “If you think insurance premiums are high now, just wait until Virginia Del.-elect Danica Roem’s legislation to force insurance companies to cover ‘sex change’ operations takes effect,” Marshall wrote. “Will Ms. Roem (D) also cover sex-change reversals to treat the growing incidence of ‘sex-change regret’ by persons who find the ‘cure’ worse than the ‘disease’?”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Late-night hosts addressed the sexual assault allegations against Al Franken:

The pro-ACA group Save My Care launched an ad campaign urging supporters to reject the “sneaky repeal” of Obamacare in the GOP tax plan:

The Post fact-checked the claim by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) that the poor carry the burden of Obamacare's individual mandate:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) spoke in favor of opening part of her state to oil drilling:

Meryl Streep gave a speech at an award show by the Committee to Protect Journalists and recalled her own experiences with physical violence:

And the National Zoo’s panda Tian Tian may have arthritis: