With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Billy Bush got fired, and Donald Trump got elected. The fallout from the “Access Hollywood” tape established a pattern that’s continued with the near daily bombshells about sexual misconduct this fall: Men in the media and entertainment industries are being held more accountable than politicians.

In the 2005 tape, which emerged last October, Trump spoke graphically about kissing and groping women uninvited. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he boasted on a hot microphone. “You can do anything.”

“Whatever you want,” Bush replied.

“Grab them by the p---y,” Trump added. “You can do anything.”

NBC ousted Bush as a co-host of the “Today” show. More than a dozen women subsequently accused Trump of improper conduct or sexual assault, but he denied everything and won anyway.

And now, incredibly, Trump says that the tape might not even be real.

Yesterday NBC fired another “Today” show host, Matt Lauer, following a claim of “inappropriate sexual behavior.” He’s the latest high-profile media figure to be felled over allegations of workplace harassment, including Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin and Bill O’Reilly.

“There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions,” Lauer said in a statement read this morning on the “Today” show. “To the people I have hurt, I am deeply sorry.”

-- In a notable cultural shift, top TV, radio and print personalities now seem more accountable to corporate chieftains, human resource departments and viewers than politicians are to party leaders, donors and voters.

-- Consider the tale of two Minnesotans:

Garrison Keillor was fired Wednesday by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of “inappropriate behavior” that occurred while he was in charge of “A Prairie Home Companion.” The 75-year-old retired from the show last year.

He denied any wrongdoing but described what he believed to be the allegation against him in an email to the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “I put my hand on a woman’s bare back,” he wrote. “I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.” (MPR did not confirm whether this allegation was the reason for his firing.)

Meanwhile, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has come out of seclusion and is forging ahead after four women accused him of unwanted touching. He apologized for his conduct at a news conference on Monday and has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate his case. But he and his aides have said that he’s not going to step aside, and he’s not up for reelection again until November 2020 — which will more likely than not be a good year for Democrats in Minnesota.

CNN just posted a story about a new accuser coming forward: An Army veteran says Franken groped her in December 2003, telling the network that while she was deployed in Kuwait, he cupped her breast during a photo op. “Stephanie Kemplin, 41, of Maineville, Ohio, is the … second person to allege that such behavior took place while Franken was on a USO tour,” MJ Lee reports. “Kemplin said while she was stationed in the Middle East during the Iraq War, she met Franken — at the time, a comedian and writer — as he was visiting American troops with the USO. A longtime fan of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Kemplin got in line to take a photo with Franken. ‘When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast. He kept his hand all the way over on my breast,’ Kemplin said in an interview. ‘I've never had a man put their arm around me and then cup my breast. So he was holding my breast on the side.’ In one of multiple lengthy phone calls with a CNN reporter this week, Kemplin repeatedly broke into sobs.”

Ironically, Keillor wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post the day before his firing saying that it was “pure absurdity” for people to say Franken should resign. “And the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness.” 

-- The media executives adopting a zero-tolerance policy, even for their highest-paid talent, are sensitive to charges of hypocrisy as their news organizations aggressively cover the endemic culture of sexual harassment. They are also, of course, worried about lawsuits.

CNN reported last night that it dismissed Teddy Davis, a senior producer on the Sunday morning program “State of the Union,” after an internal investigation found that he had at times made colleagues uncomfortable. Jake Tapper, the host of the show, endorsed the move:

NPR axed its chief news editor, David Sweeney, on Tuesday after allegations of sexual harassment by three female journalists. Those complaints were each filed after NPR editorial director Michael Oreskes was forced to resign on Nov. 1 over sexual misconduct allegations.

The New York Times continues to grapple internally with whether to terminate White House correspondent Glenn Thrushwho became a household name after being parodied on “Saturday Night Live” earlier this year.

As Stephen Colbert quipped in his monologue last night, “I am one of the few men still allowed on television.”

-- Down in Alabama, meanwhile, it’s looking increasingly plausible that Roy Moore will pull out a victory in the Senate special election on Dec. 12  — despite credible allegations from women who say he pursued them or made unwanted sexual advances when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Three automated polls conducted in the past two weeks find Moore with a narrow edge in the race, including two that show improvement for Moore from previous surveys by the same firms. Our in-house pollster Scott Clement notes that these differ sharply from a Fox News poll finding Democrat Doug Jones taking an eight-point advantage in mid-November, which was conducted by live interviewers calling a sample of registered voters on landlines and cellphones.

White House advisers have recently shown the president the polls that indicate Moore is trending upward or winning. Trump has told associates he feels good about the way he has navigated the Alabama Senate race and is confident he will come out fine no matter what happens in the contest, friends and aides he has spoken to this week tell Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer: “Trump has said privately that if Moore wins, he would reject any move by Republican leadership to expel him from the Senate and would welcome his support on legislation. … (Kellyanne) Conway has told Trump that the people who want Moore out of the race also wanted (Trump) out of the race, White House officials say. … Two people who have spoken to Trump say he is less concerned about veracity of the accusations against Moore than how they will affect the candidate’s standing in the race.” 

-- Over in Michigan, Democratic Rep. John Conyers is also determined to survive. The dean of the House is strongly resisting pressure to resign over allegations that he sexually harassed multiple female aides, even after being forced to give up his position as the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee. When the Detroit NBC affiliate reported last night that Conyers does not plan to seek reelection next year, his lawyer issued an on-the-record denial.

Meanwhile, key House Democrats continue to look the other way: “Members of the Congressional Black Caucus refused to publicly call for Conyers’s resignation, underscoring the tensions among Democrats over whether the 88-year-old should step down,” Ed O'Keefe, David Weigel and Elise Viebeck report. “After a meeting of House Democrats, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) and Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) huddled in an adjoining basement conference room. Emerging an hour later, Richmond would not say whether his caucus would call for Conyers to resign his seat. Both Richmond and Clyburn responded abruptly when reporters noted that other prominent men accused of harassment — such as [Lauer and Rose] — were fired or stepped down from their positions faster than Conyers. ‘Who elected them?’ Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said as he and Richmond boarded an elevator.”

The vice chair of the Democratic conference, Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.), bluntly refused to call on Conyers to quit: “I’ve seen cases where the allegations don’t have merit. We need a fair process,” she said. “You don’t want character assassinations.”

Sanchez said that even after the Detroit News reported Tuesday that Deanna Maher, who worked for Conyers between 1997 and 2005, said he propositioned her once and inappropriately touched her twice. Another woman, Maria Reddick, accused Conyers of harassing her while she worked as his scheduler in court documents filed earlier this year. In an interview with The Post, a well-known lawyer specializing in congressional ethics, Melanie Sloan, accused Conyers of harassing and verbally abusing her when she worked for him in the 1990s.

-- Karen Tumulty notes that the tribal nature of today’s politics has offered a kind of immunity to charges that, if corroborated, would put an abrupt end to the career of someone in any other field. The disparity between the reaction to Lauer and Conyers also underscores how the burgeoning national conversation around sexual abuse has both elevated the issue and muddied the question of how to deal with it proportionally and consistently, she argues: “As the net has spread and enveloped prominent Democrats and Republicans, sexual abuse allegations are turning into yet another battle in a zero-sum partisan war where distinctions are often lost between egregious acts and lesser offenses. Democrats argue that actions for which (Franken) has apologized should not end his career as long as President Trump is allowed to sit in the White House. Republicans say Democrats who are in full cry over allegations against Trump showed no such regard for the parade of women who accused former president Bill Clinton of similar behavior.” 

-- A Politico-Morning Consult poll published yesterday illustrated that even many rank-and-file voters view allegations of harassment through a partisan lens. “Self-identified Democratic voters are likely to believe the allegations against men at the same rate or a greater rate than the overall pool of registered voters, even when the man accused is a Democrat or a liberal,” Politico’s Steve Shepard reports. “But Republicans are significantly less likely to believe the accusations against Trump, O’Reilly and Moore. … Only 3 in 10 Republicans think the allegations against Moore are credible, with only slightly fewer, 26 percent, saying they are not credible. … Fewer than half of voters, 46 percent, find the allegations against Trump credible, with voters divided more significantly along party lines: 6 in 10 Democrats think the allegations against Trump are credible, but only 34 percent of Republicans agree.”

-- The Washington Post’s fact-checking unit compiled a list last week of 13 women who have publicly come forward with claims that Trump physically touched them inappropriately in some way, along with the witnesses they provided. Despite Trump’s vigorous denials, our Meg Kelly explains, “Many of the women have produced witnesses who say they heard about these incidents when they happened — long before Trump’s political aspirations were known. Three have produced at least two witnesses. … We did not include claims that were made only through Facebook posts or other social media, or in lawsuits that subsequently were withdrawn. … We also did not include the accounts of former beauty contestants who say Trump walked in on them when they were half nude because there were no allegations of touching. Trump had bragged on the Howard Stern show of his ‘inspections’ during the pageants: ‘You know they’re standing there with no clothes. Is everybody OK? And you see these incredible looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.’”

-- “In a previously unreported comment to the now-defunct Maximum Golf magazine, Donald Trump singled out a ‘young socialite’ at his club at Mar-a-Lago by telling a reporter, ‘there is nothing in the world like first-rate p---y,’” the Daily Beast reported overnight. “The remark never made its way to print, as a top editor of the magazine forbade the reporter from putting it in the publication. But the former journalist who wrote the article, Michael Corcoran, and another editor, both confirmed that it was said by Trump as Corcoran followed him around at his Florida golf club for a profile. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.” 

-- While many lawmakers say they want to improve the culture on Capitol Hill, Congress is struggling to create a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. “It gets to make its own rules for handling sexual misconduct complaints and exempts itself from the workplace rules that often apply to others,” Tumulty notes. “The current procedures put the accuser in the excruciating situation of having to undergo mediation with the accused person, guarantee anonymity for the alleged perpetrator and put the taxpayer on the hook for any settlement. … The congressional ethics process also tends to move slowly. In the 1990s, for instance, it took nearly three years from the time that sexual harassment allegations surfaced against Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) to his ultimate resignation. … The House on Wednesday approved legislation to require sexual harassment training of members and their staffs. The question now is whether it will go further, as some of its members want, making public the identities of lawmakers who settle sexual harassment complaints and requiring them to pay those settlements out of their own funds.”

-- The Conyers donnybrook has also spotlighted the secretive process that Congress uses to handle sexual harassment cases brought against its members and its use of taxpayer money over the past two decades to quietly resolve such disputes. “The payments, typically made under promises of confidentiality that prevent accusers from going public, have become a key point of contention,” Michelle Ye Hee and Kimberly Kindy report. “The congressional Office of Compliance has declined to release details about arrangements it has made to settle harassment cases or to disclose specific amounts paid for such claims. House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) said Monday that his panel will push for more transparency on the settlements and a more comprehensive accounting of payments made by lawmakers outside the formal system. Harper’s committee has to sign off on payments made through the Office of Compliance under a formal process set up 20 years ago.”

BuzzFeed last week obtained a secret agreement involving Conyers. “The Conyers case has raised new transparency questions because his settlement of about $27,000, listed on the payroll as payments to a temporary employee, came from his House office’s operating funds and did not go through the Office of Compliance,” per Michelle and Kimberly. “The confidential arrangement raised the possibility that other lawmakers have privately worked out settlements without going through the formal process, although no specifics are available.”

-- Mitch McConnell said during an interview on Fox News last night that he’s deferring to “the women of the Senate” on how best to proceed. “We’ve already passed a measure requiring mandatory training. Before the end of the year, there’s a high likelihood we’re going to pass either another Senate rule or legislation to outline the best way to handle these kind of cases in the future,” the Senate majority leader said. “Under any circumstances, whatever is passed, any member of Congress ought to be personally liable for any case that he or she loses.”

Host Laura Ingraham pressed McConnell on whether he favors unmasking the names of members who settle. “I want to wait and see what the women of the Senate recommend on that and the other issues that we’re talking about,” he replied. “So it could be possible that we never learn,” Ingraham said. “I’m going to wait and see what the women of the Senate recommend on that issue,” McConnell  repeated. “Why just the women in the Senate?  I mean, isn’t it everybody?” she wondered. “I think they’re in a very good position to take the lead,” he replied. “The men are involved, as well, on both sides.”

MORE DETAILS ON WHY LAUER GOT FIRED:

-- Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh and Elizabeth Wagmeister published a story with additional allegations against Lauer, citing accounts by three different women: “Despite being married, Lauer was fixated on women, especially their bodies and looks, according to more than 10 accounts from current and former employees. He was known for making lewd comments verbally or over text messages. He once made a suggestive reference to a colleague’s performance in bed and compared it to how she was able to complete her job, according to witnesses to the exchange.” Among the allegations in Variety’s report:

  • Lauer once gave a female colleague a sex toy as a present, accompanied by an explicit note describing “how he wanted to use it on her.”
  • He dropped his pants in front of another female employee — and reprimanded her after she refused to do anything.
  • He would often engage in crass games such as “f--, marry, or kill,” identifying co-hosts he’d most like to sleep with. On other occasions, he would quiz female producers about who they’d slept with.
  • His office was in a secluded space at 30 Rockefeller Center, and he had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside without getting up: “It allowed him to welcome female employees and initiate inappropriate contact while knowing nobody could walk in on him, according to two women who were sexually harassed by Lauer.” (NBC employees told the New York Times that the button was a common security feature for high-profile personalities.)
  • Several employees recall how he paid intense attention to a young woman on his staff that he found attractive, focusing intently on her career ambitions. And he asked the same producer to his hotel room to deliver him a pillow, according to sources with knowledge of the interaction. This was part of a pattern. According to multiple accounts, independently corroborated by Variety, Lauer would invite women employed by NBC late at night to his hotel room while covering the Olympics in various cities over the years. He later told colleagues how his wife had accompanied him to the London Olympics because she didn’t trust him to travel alone.”

-- NBC executives received a formal complaint on Monday from a woman who detailed inappropriate behavior from Lauer. “In a division-wide meeting with his staff [on Wednesday], Mr. Lack said Mr. Lauer’s involvement with the woman began while they were in Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics in 2014 … and that their involvement continued after they returned to New York,” the New York Times’s Ellen Gabler, Jim Rutenberg, Michael M. Grynbaum and Rachel Abrams report.

The network received two more complaints yesterday, one from a woman who told the Times that Lauer sexually assaulted her in his locked office in 2001: “While traveling with Mr. Lauer for a story, she said, he asked her inappropriate questions over dinner, like whether she had ever cheated on her husband. On the way to the airport, she said, Mr. Lauer sat uncomfortably close to her in the car; she recalled that when she moved away, he said, ‘You’re no fun.’ In 2001, the woman said, Mr. Lauer, who is married, asked her to his office to discuss a story during a workday. When she sat down, she said, he locked the door, which he could do by pressing a button while sitting at his desk. …

“The woman said Mr. Lauer asked her to unbutton her blouse, which she did. She said the anchor then stepped out from behind his desk, pulled down her pants, bent her over a chair and had intercourse with her. At some point, she said, she passed out with her pants pulled halfway down. She woke up on the floor of his office, and Mr. Lauer had his assistant take her to a nurse. The woman told The Times that Mr. Lauer never made an advance toward her again and never mentioned what occurred in his office. She said she did not report the episode to NBC at the time because she believed she should have done more to stop Mr. Lauer. She left the network about a year later.”

-- “Lauer has also been accused of sexting female staffers at NBC, allegedly sending lewd messages and revealing pictures to women including a young intern,” Page Six’s Mara Siegler and Emily Smith report. “Sources tell Page Six that the reason he was fired so quickly by NBC News is that the messages, saved by an NBC employee whom he approached while they were in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics, ‘showed incontrovertible proof of inappropriate sexual behavior on his part.’ It is believed the first woman to come forward and complain about Lauer is a junior production worker who was at the 2014 Sochi Olympics as an intern, where she was first approached by Lauer. … A source told Page Six, ‘There’s at least one picture [sent to her by Matt] which was a major part of the evidence, which is why the firing came so quickly … my understanding was it was so damning that it was unquestionable whether or not he should be fired.’”

-- The revelations triggered a reexamination of Lauer’s other past behavior — including a 2006 comment captured on a “Today” mic where he told co-host Meredith Vieira, “Pretty sweater. Keep bending over like that. It's a nice view.” (TMZ)

-- Megyn Kelly opened her TV show with news of Lauer’s termination, drawing comparisons to the allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News. “I have been at another news channel where this happened, as you know,” she said. “And my experience is a news organization is bigger than any one person. They all face challenges. They all stumble. But the good ones stay standing and forge forward, fulfilling their core mission: journalism.”

-- Ironically, Lauer grilled Bill O'Reilly about the sexual harassment claims against him just two months ago:

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The Project Veritas’s attempt to infiltrate The Post and other media outlets stretched back months. Beth Reinhard, Aaron C. Davis and Andrew Ba Tran report: “Starting in July, Jaime Phillips, an operative with the organization Project Veritas, which purports to expose media bias, joined two dozen networking groups related to either journalism or left-leaning politics. She signed up to attend 15 related events, often accompanied by a male companion, and appeared at least twice at gatherings for departing Post staffers. Phillips, 41, presented herself to journalists variously as the owner of a start-up looking to recruit writers, a graduate student studying national security or a contractor new to the area. This summer, she tweeted posts in support of gun control and critical of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants — a departure from the spring when, on accounts that have since been deleted, she used the #MAGA hashtag and mocked the Women’s March on Washington that followed Trump’s inauguration as the ‘Midol March.’ “Her true identity and intentions were revealed only when The Post published a story on Monday, along with photos and video, about how she falsely told Post reporters that Moore had impregnated her when she was a teenager. … Phillips’s sustained attempt to insinuate herself into the social circles of reporters makes clear that her deception — and the efforts to discredit The Post’s reporting — went much further than the attempt to plant one fabricated article.”

-- Uh oh: the No. 2 Senate Democrat said he would oppose any government spending bill that doesn't address the fate of “dreamers.” Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan report: “Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) . . . said he is encouraging his colleagues to join him in blocking spending legislation if the legal status of ‘dreamers’ isn’t resolved. … Durbin has repeatedly said in recent months that Congress needs to resolve the status of dreamers by the end of the year, but he is now the highest-ranking Democratic senator to raise the specter of a government shutdown sparked by an impasse over immigration. … Durbin’s position is shared by at least four members of his caucus — Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A U.N. war crimes tribunal came to a very Shakespearean end after a former Bosnian Croat military leader learned he lost an appeals case — prompting him to stand up, swig a vial of poison, and die. “I am not a war criminal!” Slobodan Praljak shouted in what would be some of his final words. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  2. The Trump administration said this week’s successful conviction of Libyan militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala “would not weaken efforts” to go after others connected to the Benghazi attack, vowing to pursue other militants who helped overrun the U.S. diplomatic mission in 2012. (Spencer S. Hsu)
  3. The Supreme Court began hearing a potentially landmark case involving privacy in the digital age, with a majority of justices appearing to favor more restraints on the government’s ability to access digital information. (Robert Barnes)
  4. The Kremlin-backed news network RT had its Capitol press credentials revoked. The Executive Committee of the Congressional Radio & Television Correspondents' Galleries unanimously voted to withdraw the credentials after the Justice Department required RT to register as a foreign agent. (CNN)

  5. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he supports new legislation to strengthen the DEA’s ability to go after opioid drug distributors and manufacturers, telling reporters he had been “dubious” of a 2016 law that effectively stripped them of their most potent weapons. (Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky)
  6. Staffers for the Senate GOP’s campaign arm reportedly stole crucial donor information from House Republicans’ campaign committee. The revelation comes as the National Republican Senatorial Committee has struggled to fundraise this year, spending more than it raised for four months in a row. (Politico)
  7. NFL league officials and player representatives struck a deal for the league to provide financial support to players’ activist causes. The ongoing national anthem protests were not directly addressed, but league officials were hopeful the successful negotiations would compel players to voluntarily stand for the anthem. (Mark Maske)
  8. Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend who live-streamed the fatal police shooting of her boyfriend Philando Castile last July, has agreed to an $800,000 settlement in his death. (Mark Berman)
  9. The Nazi sympathizer profiled by the New York Times said he lost his job in response to the article. Tony Hovater told The Post he had been fired and that he and his wife were moving after someone posted their address online. (Kristine Phillips)
  10. American Airlines experienced a computer glitch that has left thousands of flights over Christmas without pilots. The airline is now scrambling to get pilots to work over the holiday for more money. (Lori Aratani)
  11. ESPN said it is laying off some 150 behind-the-scene employees, marking what will be the network's third round of job cuts in two years as it works to combat a declining subscriber base and increasing sports-rights costs. (Matt Bonesteel and Cindy Boren)
  12. And BuzzFeed said it is slated to lay off as many as 100 of its U.S. employees after missing its target revenue for the year. In a memo to staff, CEO Jonah Peretti said the layoffs will come on the business side of the company. (Wall Street Journal)

INSIDE TRUMP'S HEAD:

-- Trump prompted outrage Wednesday after retweeting three inflammatory videos posted by a far-right British activist, which claimed to portray Muslims performing violent acts. Ashley Parker and John Wagner report: “The videos — whose authenticity could not be independently verified — were first shared by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, which bills itself as a political party but has been widely condemned as an extremist group that targets mosques and Muslims. Britain First has previously posted a number of misleading videos, and the three Trump shared were provocatively titled ‘Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!,’ ‘Muslim destroys a statue of Virgin Mary!’ and ‘Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!’”

  • “Trump’s retweets stirred widespread criticism in Britain, including a statement from the office Prime Minister Theresa May saying Trump was ‘wrong’ to redistribute material from a group that promotes ‘hateful narratives.’” “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far-right which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance and respect,” said the statement.
  • Trump hit back at May in a later tweet: “[D]on’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!

  • In an interview Wednesday, Fransen expressed gratitude for what she said was Trump’s “endorsement of her and her group.” “The British establishment no longer supports free speech, but the president of the United States, Donald Trump, clearly does, and that’s why he tweeted, as a public display of support for Britain First and its deputy leader,” she said. (William Booth and Karla Adam)
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s post as evidence he wants to “promote strong borders and strong national security.” “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking about,” Sanders told reporters.

 -- Trump also took aim at MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough over a death that occurred at Scarborough’s Florida office when he was a member of Congress, falsely calling it an “unsolved mystery.” Lindsey Bever reports: “The president appeared to be referring to the 2001 death of Lori Klausutis, a 28-year-old aide who worked for Scarborough at the time, when he represented Florida’s 1st congressional district. But Klausutis’s death is not an unsolved mystery: Authorities determined 16 years ago that she died after losing consciousness from an abnormal heart rhythm and collapsed, striking her head. She was discovered in Scarborough’s office in Fort Walton Beach, lying on her back with her head near a desk, according to a 2001 police report.” No foul play was suspected and her death was ultimately ruled an accident.

-- Scarborough tried to stay above the fray:

-- “Trump veers past guardrails, feeling impervious to the uproar he causes,” by Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker: “[D]espite the now-routine condemnations, the president is acting emboldened, as if he were impervious to the uproar he causes. If there are consequences for his actions, Trump does not seem to feel their burden personally. The Republican tax bill appears on track for passage, putting the president on the cusp of his first major legislative achievement. Trump himself remains the highest-profile man accused of sexual improprieties to keep his job with no repercussions. Trump has internalized the belief that he can largely operate with impunity, people close to him said. His political base cheers him on. Fellow Republican leaders largely stand by him. His staff scrambles to explain away his misbehavior — or even to laugh it off.”

MEANWHILE:

-- After speaking to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump pledged to enact a new wave of “major sanctions” against North Korea, following the rogue regime's latest and most advanced missile test. “Just spoke to President XI JINPING … concerning the latest provocative actions of North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!”

“Beijing’s backing is needed for any additional economic pressures on the regime of Kim Jong Un, and it was unclear how far China could go in applying new sanctions,” Simon Denyer reports. “In a statement, [China's state news agency said it] told Trump that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is ‘China's unswerving goal and China is ready to join the U.S. in pushing the nuclear issue toward a peaceful settlement.’ But the question remains: How far is China prepared to push its neighbor … in the quest for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula?

  • Earlier Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed its “grave concern and opposition” to the launch: “We strongly urge the DPRK side to abide by the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and halt any moves that could aggravate the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” a spokesman said.
  • “Yet there are also signs that China may be tiring of the American approach of ‘maximum pressure,'" Simon reports. "In an editorial, [the] nationalist Global Times newspaper said the test was a sign that past U.S. policy toward North Korea had failed and that the approach tried under Trump had also been unsuccessful. The United States, it said, ‘despised Pyongyang’ and as a result had ignored North Korea’s security concerns and missed an opportunity to negotiate an end to the nuclear program …”

-- But, but, but: Beyond North Korea’s bluster and boasting, some analysts believe — counterintuitive as it may seem — the regime may actually be more open to talks with the United States. Anna Fifield reports: “’Many have expected that Pyongyang would not be ready to negotiate until it deemed it had achieved a deliverable nuclear deterrent,’ said Laura Rosenberger, a North Korea expert … Now Kim’s regime says it has achieved that deterrent, [and has given some] analysts hope that North Korea was positioning itself to negotiate, albeit on its own terms.” “Once Pyongyang is convinced that we are convinced that it can reach the U.S. mainland with an ICBM,” said CSIS Pacific Forum president Ralph Cossa, “it will be willing to discuss a freeze … in return for what it really wants, which is a lifting of sanctions.”

-- Trump again addressed the North Korea issue in a tweet this morning:

-- North Korea released photos of its new missile today, allowing rocket experts to more fully gauge its potential. AP’s Eric Talmadge reports: “Their general conclusion is that it’s bigger, more advanced and comes with a domestically made mobile launcher that will make it harder than ever to pre-emptively destroy. But there’s a potentially major catch: it might not have the power to go much farther than the West Coast if it is loaded down with a real nuclear warhead, not a dummy like the one it carried in its test launch on Wednesday.” 

TAX BILL CLEARS KEY HURDLE:

-- The Senate voted to advance the Republican tax plan, paving the way for a final vote that would be a huge victory for Trump and congressional Republicans (even though the House and Senate versions still have to be merged). The Senate floor vote will follow a vote-a-rama, a marathon in which all kinds of amendments can be offered, and is expected to take place by the end of the week.

Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis report: that the tax plan's initial approval “was not a guarantee of ultimate success, as several Republican lawmakers agreed to open debate on the bill so they could pursue amendments and have not yet committed to voting for final passage. Key issues that remained included how to prevent the bill from driving up the federal deficit by too much and whether to shift more of the legislation’s rewards from corporations, which are some of the bill’s main beneficiaries, to working-class families, who receive more modest benefits.”

-- The push by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) for a “trigger” to raise taxes if economic growth projections don't pan out was still being negotiated yesterday. Our colleagues report: “Negotiators were looking at a package that would raise taxes by as much as $350 billion if the economy doesn’t grow by more than 0.4 percent yearly above a baseline established by the Congressional Budget Office, according to several people briefed on the discussions. … Lawmakers were still discussing where the new taxes would come from. One idea being considered would include raising the bill’s proposed corporate tax rate of 20 percent up to 21 percent, reinstituting the corporate alternative minimum tax, and reinstituting the alternative minimum tax paid by individuals and families.”

  • Corker has called the federal debt “the greatest threat to our nation,” but his critics fear that he will fall in line on the bill even if his “trigger” provision is not included, Erica Werner writes.

-- Trump sold the plan during a speech in Missouri, promising the working and middle classes would receive the bulk of the benefits — a pitch at odds with independent analyses. John Wagner reports: “‘Our focus is on helping the folks who work in the mail rooms and the machine shops of America, the plumbers, the carpenters, the cops, the teachers, the truck drivers …. the people that like me best,’ Trump said[.] … A report released Sunday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the GOP Senate plan would give substantial tax cuts and benefits to Americans earning more than $100,000 a year while the nation’s poorest could be worse off. … Trump also said that he would not fare well under the plan — a contention that independent analyses have disputed — and that some of his wealthy friends have complained to him about it.”

-- A new analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation shows many American families wouldn't notice a significant change in their taxes. Heather Long reports: “Trump has promised Americans ‘huge’ tax cuts, but only 44 percent of taxpayers would see their tax bills reduced by more than $500 in 2019, according to JCT's analysis of the winners and losers in the plan. … Overall, the majority of Americans — 62 percent — would get a tax cut of at least $100 in 2019, according to JCT. The remaining 38 percent would either pay about the same in taxes as they do now or get a tax hike. But by 2027, just 16 percent of Americans would get a tax cut of at least $100. The ‘winners’ fall dramatically because the tax cuts for individuals go away in 2026 in the Senate GOP plan. Republicans argue that those tax cuts are likely to be extended by a future Congress.”

-- How it's playing:

  • Tracy Jan: “Five ways the GOP tax plans help wealthy whites and hurt minorities.”
  • Jeff Stein: “What Republicans say when asked why their tax bill benefits the rich most of all.”
  • Andrew Van Dam: “Tax-cut proponents promise 3-4% growth. This economic milestone shows that’s nearly impossible.”
  • Philip Bump: “Deeply unpopular Congress aims to pass deeply unpopular bill for deeply unpopular president to sign.”
  • New York Times: “It Started as a Tax Cut. Now It Could Change American Life.”
  • Politico: “Trump adviser: 'This is not a true tax reform bill.’”

  • The Wall Street Journal: “Opponents of GOP Tax Bill Find a Rich Target in Trump.”

  • Vox: “The Senate’s tax bill is a sweeping change to every part of federal health care.”

-- Former Republican senator Alan Simpson (Wyo.) and Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff Erskine Bowles make the case against the overhaul in an op-ed for today's Post: “We said then and believe now that Congress and the president should come together on a balanced plan that reduces deficits and promotes growth. … Unfortunately, the tax plan under discussion in Congress ignores nearly all the hard choices we proposed — incorporating only the ‘goodies.’ It reads as if it were developed for a country whose debt problems have been solved, when in reality debt is the highest it has ever been other than around World War II.”

-- COMING ATTRACTIONS: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told a group of D.C. lobbyists that to revitalize the economy, Republicans would also have to reduce spending by “instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.” (Financial Advisor)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Jared Kushner met with Robert Mueller’s team this month to answer questions about a December meeting with Michael Flynn and then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, as well as any other interactions Flynn may have had with Russian officials. The New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo reports: “At [the December Trump Tower] meeting, the men discussed establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues. The idea was to have Mr. Flynn speak with a senior military official in Moscow, but the channel was never set up. The special counsel’s interview of Mr. Kushner lasted less than an hour and did not touch on the range of topics Mr. Mueller is investigating. That leaves open the possibility that Mr. Kushner could be interviewed again. … The interview does not mean Mr. Kushner is a particular focus of the investigation.”

-- Roger Stone told House Intelligence Committee lawmakers that New York radio personality Randy Credico was the intermediary between him and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 campaign. CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report: “Stone initially declined to reveal his name to the [panel] because he said they had an ‘off-the-record’ conversation, though he insisted there was nothing untoward about their conversation. Stone later did privately disclose the identity of the individual to the panel. Credico received a subpoena this week to appear Dec. 15 before the House Intelligence Committee, something Credico's attorney Martin Stolar says he ‘certainly’ plans to comply with. ‘He's had conversations with Julian Assange,’ Stolar said of Credico, noting that Assange and Stone both were guests on his radio program.” Credico also met with Assange in person earlier this year.

-- Mueller’s decision to delay grand jury testimony linked to his Flynn investigation has fueled further speculation the former national security adviser is angling for a plea deal. CNN’s Kara Scannell, Elise Labott and Michelle Kosinski report: “Additional witnesses were expected to be questioned soon including a public relations consultant hired by Flynn's lobbying firm who was given an early December date deadline to appear before the grand jury, according to a person at the company. Ahead of the delay, the impression was that the testimony needed to happen soon, the source said. ‘Time seems to be of the essence,’ said the source at Sphere Consulting, the PR firm where the consultant worked. The grand jury testimony was postponed, the person said, with no reason given. There could be many reasons for a delay, including scheduling issues.”

-- Donald Trump Jr. has agreed to meet behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee about his Russia-related contacts during the 2016 campaign. CNN’s Manu Raju reports: “Trump Jr.'s highly anticipated testimony, scheduled for December 6, comes as he has faced growing questions on Capitol Hill about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower where he met with Russian operatives . . . Both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have interviewed several of the participants in the meeting, including on Tuesday when the House panel questioned the Russian translator, Anatoli Samochornov, who also attended the Trump Tower session … But Trump Jr.'s appearance will be one of the most anticipated events yet of the investigation, particularly in light of new revelations of correspondence he had with WikiLeaks during the campaign season.”

News of Trump Jr.’s interview comes as the House panel is slated to hold high-profile hearings in coming days. Today, Blackwater founder Erik Prince will meet with lawmakers about his meeting with a Russian in the Seychelles, in what was reportedly an effort to set up a Russian back channel with Trump’s White House. Jeff Sessions is also expected to be interviewed by the panel.

-- Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire widely considered to be one of Vladimir Putin’s most trusted allies — and whom Paul Manafort contacted in July 2016 to offer private campaign briefings — has secretly owned a sprawling D.C. mansion for more than a decade. The home is located just half a mile from Vice President Pence — and directly next door to Kellyanne Conway. Rosalind S. Helderman and Alice Crites report: “D.C. property records show it was purchased in 2006 by yet another entity [connected to Deripaska]: a limited-liability company incorporated that year … Several people familiar with the mansion told The Washington Post that Deripaska was known to them as the property’s owner. He directed major renovations and has visited the house several times since 2010, they said. … Some of the city’s most prominent figures live just on the other side of Rock Creek, including former president Barack Obama, and [Kushner and Ivanka Trump]. Deripaska’s lawyers [said] he has been generally barred from visiting the United States … meaning he has not been able to visit his Washington home at will. But] Charles Davidson, executive director of the Kleptocracy Initiative at the Hudson Institute, said the mansion is a striking example of how the world’s uber-wealthy can quietly invest in high-end real estate, obscuring their identities through front companies. ‘This could be the most spectacular example of it yet — right in our midst,’ he said.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- HHS nominee Alex Azar appeared before the Senate for his confirmation hearing, testifying that prescription drug prices are “too high” and that the government has a role in lowering them. Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin report: “The focus on drug costs … reflected an attempt to get ahead of criticism that the decade he just spent as a top executive at a major pharmaceutical company makes him ill-equipped to wrestle with one of the most vexing financial issues in the U.S. health-care system. ‘I think there are constructive things we can do’ to bring down the price of medicines, Azar said, [saying] he favors fostering competition between brand-name drugs and generic equivalents — an issue he worked on in the early 2000s while he was the HHS general counsel during the George W. Bush administration. He said he also supports wider use of drug rebates, but he did not mention any potential constraints on the prices that pharmaceutical companies set.”

  • When asked by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) how he would explain the tripling of insulin prices during his tenure at Eli Lilly to the parents of diabetics, Azar replied  the “problem is the system.” “The system?” Baldwin asked. “So I should just tell them it’s the system?”

-- Azar's naming is remarkable given Trump’s outspoken criticism of the pharmaceutical industry, which he claimed just four weeks ago is “getting away with murder,” Post columnist Dana Milbank writes: “If the ‘forgotten’ man and woman were thinking Trump was really going to lower their drug prices — well, they can forget about it. They certainly shouldn’t be surprised. [On Wednesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander] tried to inoculate Azar against the inevitable accusations of plutocracy[:] ‘What do you say to the skeptics,’ he asked at the start, ‘who question the increase in insulin prices while you were a leader at Eli Lilly?’ Azar explained that his knowledge of ‘how the money flows’ would be an asset — in much the way Trump said that his experience gaming the tax system qualified him to fix it. … The Senate will probably confirm him. This Senate would confirm Mr. Fox as secretary of henhouse security.

-- Trump’s pick to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told senators during his confirmation hearing he believes humans are the primary cause of climate change. Jason Samenow reports: “[Barry] Myers’s unambiguous acceptance of the human role in climate change marks a clean break from other members of the Trump administration, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Trump himself — all of whom have questioned the extent of human contributions.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The husband of murdered British lawmaker Jo Cox condemned the unverified videos Trump retweeted:

Even British journalist Piers Morgan, who has been supportive of the president in the past, was critical of the videos:

From Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):

From the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League:

From the former acting attorney general who Trump fired:

From a New York Times reporter:

From a reporter for the Guardian:

A former Obama speechwriter on Trump's tweetstorm:

Something was up with Geraldo Rivera's Twitter stream yesterday:

Rivera later issued an apology:

From the MSNBC host:

From the New York Times's television critic:

From a writer for the New Yorker:

A Post reporter shares this image from North Korean state TV:

The New York Times's editorial board took over one of the paper's Twitter accounts to speak out against the GOP tax plan:

From the president this morning:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) talked to a Politico reporter about his thoughts on the tax bill:

The Democratic mayor of Phoenix honored McCain:

The Post's Glenn Kessler fact-checked Trump's claim the tax plan would “cost [him] a fortune”:

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) responded to Nancy Pelosi's tweet that she was “incredibly thankful” for Leandra English fighting to be acting director of the CFPB:

The host of a Roy Moore campaign event raised some unusual security concerns:

Monica Lewinsky objected to the title of an HLN special:

The network then announced that it would retitle the episode, "The Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal."

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The Atlantic, “No Family Is Safe From This Epidemic,” by James Winnefeld: “The last photograph of my son Jonathan was taken at the end of a new-student barbecue on the campus green at the University of Denver. It was one of those bittersweet transitional moments. … At lunch, I asked Jonathan whether he thought he was ready for the coming school year. ‘Dad, I can handle it as long as I continue my recovery,’ he said. ‘Everything flows from that.’ Only three days later, Jonathan was found unresponsive in his dormitory-room bed, one of several victims of a fentanyl-laden batch of heroin that had spread through the Denver area that week.”

-- Los Angeles Times, “As a teen, he savagely beat a classmate. The attack was forgotten, until he went into politics,” by Alene Tchekmedyian: “The Republicans of Broward County, Fla., knew little about Rupert Tarsey when he ran for an open slot on the local party’s executive committee. But the young man had some decent political cred. … Within months of joining the local party, the 28-year-old was elected secretary in May, defeating two challengers who’d been around longer. But something felt off about Tarsey for Bob Sutton, chairman of the committee. After a few months, Tarsey went after Sutton’s position, members said, by working to persuade the committee to unseat him. That’s when Sutton started getting phone calls warning him that Tarsey was not quite who he seemed.”

-- TechCrunch, “Meet the man who deactivated Trump’s Twitter account,” by Ingrid Lunden: “As Twitter tries to figure out how to lock down the parts of its platform that enable harassment, as well as the spread of misleading information and illicit content, there have been a number of moments that highlight how the service, and its levers of control, are far from perfect. One such moment took place earlier this month, when the very active, very watched Twitter account of President Donald Trump was abruptly deactivated for 11 minutes. The man responsible for those 11 minutes moved back home to Germany, and he agreed to speak to TechCrunch about what happened that day.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“People Are Getting Robocalls About Their ‘Derogatory’ Trump Posts,” from Gizmodo: “Brett Vanderbrook was driving for Uber last week when he got a call from an unfamiliar number. He let it go to voicemail and when he listened to it later, he got a shock: It was a recorded message telling him to stop making ‘negative and derogatory posts about [Trump].’ ‘I was dumbfounded at first and then creeped out,’ said Vanderbrook . . . [And he] is not alone[:] Across the country, and even in Canada, people have reported on social media that they’ve received the same robocall.” In the recording, a man’s voice says, “Listen. We’re going to have to ask you to lay off on the negative and derogatory posts about President Trump, OK?” After a pause, the man says, “What’s your problem, anyways? Don’t you want to make America great again?” “Well, you’ve been warned,” the man says in conclusion. “We’ll be keeping an eye on you. Have a nice day.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Fox refuses to air tax ad with Trump impersonator,” from Politico: “FOX News is refusing to air a Democratic group’s new ad that opposes the Republican tax plan by using an impersonator of President Donald Trump, said an aide to the group. The thirty-second spot is part of a six-figure buy from the Not One Penny campaign, a coalition of progressive organizations working against the proposal ... The ad features an actor who looks like Trump tweeting at a golf country club as a voice-over proclaims, ‘A president who tells it like it is. That’s what America needs. But when it’s time for Trump to explain why his tax plan gives a big cut to the wealthy, including lucrative breaks for golf course owners and cuts for rich heirs — all worth more than a billion dollars for Trump and his family — why is this president suddenly at a loss for words?’ ... 'FOX News has a policy against taking ads featuring political impersonators,' said a network official, who said they had also turned down an ad featuring a Hillary Clinton impersonator in the past."

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will meet with the crown prince of Bahrain and later participate in the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

Pence will join Trump in meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: When a Guardian reporter asked Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, about the videos Trump retweeted, Ellison said, “Well, the president is racist. There’s no doubt about that in my mind.”

 

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

-- It will be a bit cooler but still mild in D.C. today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Passing clouds occur through the day but sunshine has plenty of play time as well. The cooler air that slipped in last night holds highs in the mid-to-upper 50s.”

-- The lighting of the National Christmas Tree will take place on the Ellipse today, so Washingtonians should prepare for an awful afternoon commute. (Luz Lazo)

-- The Wizards lost to the 76ers 118-113. (Candace Buckner)

-- Virginia Democrats filed for recounts in two close House of Delegates races. Fenit Nirappil reports: “Democrat Shelly Simonds, who lost to Del. David Yancey (R-Newport News) by 10 votes, filed for a recount in the 94th District. And Democrat Donte Tanner, who lost to Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax County) by 106 votes, is seeking a recount in the 40th District that also includes parts of Prince William County. … Republicans currently hold onto their majority in the Virginia House by a 51-49 margin. … Democrats would take control for the first time since 2000 if they prevail in two of the three contested races. If they change the outcome in one race, the two parties must negotiate a power-sharing agreement.”

-- The KKK appears to be targeting small Virginia towns for recruitment. Joe Heim reports: “Residents began noticing the little plastic bags Tuesday afternoon in Washington, Va. They carried bird seed — and a flier promoting racist and anti-Semitic messages. The Rappahannock County sheriff received a call about 1 p.m. Tuesday from a woman who found one of the bags on her driveway. The message inside denounced Black Lives Matter and urged recipients to join the Ku Klux Klan.”

-- A giraffe has died at Baltimore’s Maryland Zoo, the second in a year. Juma died of an unknown illness and left behind her a 9-month-old calf named Willow. (Dana Hedgpeth)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Late-night hosts reacted to the news that Matt Lauer had been fired from NBC:

During his Missouri speech, Trump criticized Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) as “weak on crime” and “weak on borders”:

The Post fact-checked whether the GOP tax plan would actually cost Trump money:

And drone footage captured a tiger shark swimming dangerously close to Miami beachgoers: