With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump’s aides spent the weekend applying tourniquets to stop the bleeding from more self-inflicted wounds. Continuing a pattern, the White House took a bad story and made it worse. With his legal exposure increased, the president then sought to change the subject.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted this about his former national security adviser: “I had to fire General (Michael) Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.

Legal experts said this could be used as evidence that the president was trying to obstruct justice when he allegedly asked James Comey to take it easy on Flynn and then, when he didn’t, fired him as FBI director.

On Sunday, Trump’s personal lawyer claimed responsibility for writing the tweet — which he called sloppy. John Dowd clarified that the president knew in late January that Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to Vice President Pence about a call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“Dowd said the information was passed to Trump by White House counsel Donald McGahn, who had been warned about Flynn’s statement to the vice president by a senior Justice Department official,” Carol D. Leonnig, John Wagner and Ellen Nakashima reported last night. “A person close to the White House involved in the case termed the Saturday tweet ‘a screw-up of historic proportions’ that has ‘caused enormous consternation in the White House.’

-- Washington is now consumed by speculation about what shoe drops next. Here are seven questions that will determine what course special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation takes from here:

1. What did Flynn give up in exchange for leniency?

Flynn was part of Trump’s inner circle and even considered as a potential running mate. Mueller reportedly agreed to spare the disgraced ex-general’s son and does not plan to pursue several potential charges that carried much stronger potential penalties than making a false statement to the FBI.

If there was nothing inappropriate about reaching out to the Russians, as the president and his lawyers say, why didn’t Flynn tell the truth when FBI agents asked about it? What exactly was Flynn instructed to tell the Russians?

Trump insists he’s not worried about anything Flynn might say. “No, I'm not,” he said as he left the White House Saturday for fundraisers. “And what has been shown is (there was) no collusion.”

In fact, this has not been shown. 

2. Has anyone else lied to the FBI?

“At least two dozen people who traveled in Trump’s orbit in 2016 and 2017 — on the campaign trail, in his transition operation and then in the White House — have been questioned in the past 10 weeks,” per Robert Costa, Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey. “The most high profile is (Jared) Kushner, who met with Mueller’s team in November, as well as former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former press secretary Sean Spicer. Former foreign policy adviser J.D. Gordon has also been interviewed. White House communications director Hope Hicks was scheduled to sit down with Mueller’s team a few days before Thanksgiving. Mueller’s team has also indicated plans to interview senior associate White House counsel James Burnham and policy adviser Stephen Miller.”

  • “McGahn, who was interviewed by Mueller’s prosecutors for a full day Thursday, was scheduled to return Friday to complete his interview. However, the special counsel postponed the session as a courtesy to allow McGahn to help the White House manage the response to Flynn’s plea …”
  • White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined to say which White House aides remain to be interviewed.
  • “In the past several weeks, Mueller’s operation has reached out to new witnesses in Trump’s circle, telling them they may be asked to come in for an interview.”

Many of these interviews lasted several hours. If he can show that anyone made false statements, Mueller can now circle back and has leverage over them. 

3. What did Kushner tell Mueller’s team about Flynn and the Russia contacts?

Trump’s son-in-law has been identified by sources as the “very senior member” of the transition team who Flynn says directed him in December to reach out to Kislyak and lobby him about a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements. Flynn admits that he was not truthful when asked by the FBI on Jan. 24 about those interactions, but we don’t know what Kushner told investigators last month. Kushner’s lawyer has declined to comment.

Bob, Carol and Josh interviewed several witnesses who have been interviewed by Mueller’s team, and some of them said they were surprised by the volume of questions about Kushner. “I remember specifically being asked about Jared a number of times,” said one witness. “Another witness said agents and prosecutors repeatedly asked him about Trump’s decision-making during the May weekend he decided to fire (Comey). Prosecutors inquired whether Kushner had pushed the president to jettison Comey, according to two people familiar with the interview.” Conservative blogger Jen Rubin, who practiced law for two decades, raises several additional questions about Kushner: “What was the Trump team going to get in exchange for lifting sanctions against Russia? If Kushner directed Flynn to contact Russian officials, was he then looking to cover that up when he urged the president to fire (Comey)? … If Flynn’s contacts were authorized and legal, why did Trump allow him to lie to the vice president about them? … Did Kushner derive any financial benefit from contacts with Russians? Why did he meet with a Russian bank during the transition? … Did Kushner intentionally omit Russia contacts on his disclosure forms? … What connection, if any, exists between Russian officials and the Trump campaign data operation conducted by Cambridge Analytica and overseen by Kushner? … Will Trump attempt to pardon Kushner if he is indicted?”

Newsweek reports that, among other significant omissions, Kushner did not disclose in paperwork for the Office of Government Ethics that he led the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation from 2006 to 2015, during a time when the group funded an Israeli settlement then considered illegal under international law. “The failure to disclose his role in the foundation — at a time when he was being tasked with serving as the president’s Middle East peace envoy — follows a pattern of egregious omissions that would bar any other official from continuing to serve in the West Wing,” Chris Riotta reports

4. How many other people on the Trump team knew about and/or approved of Flynn’s interactions with the Russians?

Flynn admitted in his plea deal that he spoke with another member of the transition team before he talked to Kislyak on Dec. 29 about why the Kremlin should not retaliate against the United States for sanctions that had just been announced by the Obama administration. People familiar with the matter say that this person was K.T. McFarland, who was pushed out as deputy national security adviser after Flynn’s departure and is now awaiting confirmation as Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Singapore.

That day, McFarland reportedly emailed Tom Bossert, who was another transition official and is now the president’s homeland security adviser, to say that the sanctions were aimed at discrediting Trump’s victory. According to the New York Times, McFarland passed along word that Flynn would be speaking with Kislyak hours after the sanctions were announced: “If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote.

Bossert then forwarded her email to six other people — including Priebus, Spicer and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon — and urged them to “defend election legitimacy now,” according to the Times, which said McFarland couldn’t be reached. 

5. What did Trump himself know and when did he know it?

The day after he pushed Flynn to resign, Trump met with Comey. The former FBI director has testified under oath (and presented contemporaneous notes to back up his account) that Trump said, “I hope you can let this go.”

The president tweeted Sunday morning, “I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn.”

6. Who else and what else is Mueller looking at that we don’t know about yet?

Another lower-level Trump campaign aide, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, previously pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Agents arrested him in July. He pleaded guilty at a secret hearing in October. Mueller kept the information private until he indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate, Rick Gates, on Oct. 30.

“Precisely what Papadopoulos did in recent months to aid the government remains unclear and the subject of speculation among Trump aides and former campaign officials,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports. “Prosecutors seemed pleased with the cooperation because they dropped the obstruction charge … Spokespeople for Mueller's office and the FBI declined to comment for this article, but in court papers they cited a need to keep the charges against Papadopoulos secret because of planned interviews with other Trump campaign officials and others relevant to the investigation.”

7. How far will Trump and congressional Republicans go to thwart the ongoing Russia investigations?

Trying to go on the offensive, Trump spent Sunday attacking the integrity of the FBI. He noted that Peter Strzok — the former top FBI official assigned to Mueller’s probe — was taken off that job this summer after his bosses discovered that he and another member of Mueller’s team had exchanged politically charged texts disparaging Trump and supporting Hillary Clinton.

“Strzok, as deputy head of counterintelligence at the FBI, was a key player in the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server to do government work as secretary of state,” Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett reported Saturday. “During the Clinton investigation, Strzok was involved in a romantic relationship with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who worked for Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.”

In a tweetstorm, Trump said the FBI’s “reputation is in tatters.” He retweeted a conservative pundit saying that Chris Wray, who Trump appointed to replace Comey, needs to “clean house”: 

It was reported last week that Trump has pushed key GOP leaders on Capitol Hill to “move on” from their investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Some Republican lawmakers are responding to damaging revelations about Trump by ramping up their calls for new inquiries … into Clinton.

Many people who are close to Trump have been warning him that Mueller means nothing but trouble, and that he’s making a mistake by being as cooperative as his lawyers want him to be. “I don’t know what they’re smoking,” Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a friend of the president’s, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Robert Mueller poses an existential threat to the Trump presidency.” Now the question is what will Trump do about it.

Meanwhile, FBI agents and alumni are defending the bureau: 

The president of the FBI Agents Association issued this statement after Trump trashed the bureau's professionals:

Comey posted this quote from earlier in the year:

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The United States and South Korean air forces began military exercises that include simulated strikes on North Korea. Anna Fifield reports: “North Korea denounced the exercises as dangerous ‘when insane President Trump is running wild,’ while analysts warned that they sharply increase the chances of miscalculation and accidental conflict. More than 230 warplanes — including six U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors and another six F-35A stealth fighters deployed to the peninsula especially for the exercises — are taking part. … They will practice for a range of wartime scenarios, including enemy infiltration drills and precision strikes on mock North Korean nuclear and missile targets, [a] statement added.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. CVS agreed to purchase Aetna for $69 billion, a blockbuster deal that could transform the health-care industry – as well as the pharmacy chain of more than 9,600 stores. (Carolyn Y. Johnson)
  2. The acquittal in the Kate Steinle case has reinvigorated calls for hard line immigration policies, including Trump's border wall. The hashtag #KatesWall was trending as social media users, including white nationalist Richard Spencer, demanded a wall dedicated to her memory. (Kristine Phillips)
  3. Sixteen top retired military commanders urged Congress to pass gun-control legislation. Their letter to lawmakers comes as the House plans to vote on a bill allowing concealed firearms to be carried across state lines, a top priority for the NRA. (Katie Zezima)
  4. The Defense Department is boosting spending on artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing, saying these innovations are transforming warfare in the same way as the rifle, telegraph and railroads did in their day. (Christian Davenport)
  5. A new study concluded over 13,000 archaeological and historical sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are under threat by rising sea levels. The Jamestown settlement and the Kennedy Space Center are among the endangered sites. (Charles Q. Choi)
  6. A woman with a transplanted uterus has successfully given birth for the first time in the United States, delivering a promising sign for thousands of infertile women. It's another step forward in the world of transplant surgeries. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  7. Alabama snagged the final spot in the 2017 College Football Playoffs, sneaking into the four-team lineup with Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia despite its failure to reach the SEC championship. A 13-member committee made the decision, making Alabama the only team to have reached the playoffs in every season the system has existed. (Chuck Culpepper)
  8. A Canadian model who attempted to dye her eyeball purple several months ago says she’s now at risk of losing it. As her vision continues to decline, she’s taken to social media to warn against the trend known as “sclera staining” — a bizarre, but increasingly popular, procedure that involves injecting ink into the whites of someone’s eye. (Amy B Wang)

WEST WING INTRIGUE:

-- Trump is going all out to persuade Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to run for reelection because he is nervous Mitt Romney might get his seat. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “Romney has been preparing to run for Hatch’s seat on the long-held assumption that the 83-year-old would retire. Yet Hatch … is now refusing to rule out another campaign — a circumstance Romney’s infuriated inner circle blames squarely on the president. Their suspicions are warranted: Trump has sounded off to friends about how he doesn't like the idea of a Senator Romney. The president’s mostly behind-the-scenes campaign to sway Hatch will burst into public view on Monday, when he arrives in Salt Lake City to hold a well-choreographed event designed to showcase his affection for the powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman.

-- Steve Bannon is also reportedly considering a Hatch endorsement. The Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker reports: “[S]hort on insurgent Republicans willing to challenge Hatch, Bannon is eying the seven-term senator as a better option than Romney. … ‘If Steve had a choice between Orrin Hatch and Mitt Romney, he would pick Hatch 10 times out of 10,’ [a] source close to Bannon told the Washington Examiner.”

-- Even as John Kelly has sought to impose order on the White House, Trump has found workarounds to circumvent Kelly’s authority. The Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender reports: “The president on occasion has called White House aides to the private residence in the evening, where he makes assignments and asks them not to tell Mr. Kelly about the plans, according to several people familiar with the matter. At least once, aides have declined to carry out the requested task so as not to run afoul of Mr. Kelly[.] … The president, who values counsel from an informal group of confidants outside the White House, also sometimes bypasses the normal scheduling for phone calls that give other White House staff, including Mr. Kelly, some control and influence over who the president talks to and when. Instead, some of his friends have taken to calling Melania Trump and asking her to pass messages to her husband[.]”

TAXING PROBLEMS:

-- Trump undermined Senate Republicans just hours after they passed his top legislative priority early Saturday morning in the tax package, saying he'd be open to raising the corporate rate even though GOPers held the line against such pressure. From David J. Lynch and Damien Paletta: On his way to New York for three fundraisers, Trump told reporters that the corporate tax rate in the GOP plan might end up rising to 22 percent from 20 percent. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate had fought hard to keep the corporate rate low, with the Senate late Friday rejecting a Republican-backed proposal to push it up to 21 percent in exchange for more working-family tax breaks.”

-- OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said Trump could be open to a “small” change in the corporate rate. “You know he's wanted a 15 percent rate from the very beginning. That move to a 20 percent rate is part of the discussion. My understanding is that the Senate has a 20 percent rate now. The House has a 20 percent rate now. We're happy with both of those numbers,” Mulvaney said, adding, “If something small happens in conference that gets us across the finish line, we'll look at it on a case-by-case basis. But I don't think you'll see any significant change in our position on the corporate taxes.” (CBS News)

-- Floating that idea could complicate negotiations between Senate and House Republicans, who now have to reconcile the versions of the package passed by both chambers. From Erica Werner, Damian and Mike DeBonis report: “Party leaders insist that there are no showstopping differences between their two bills, each of which features a decrease in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. Still, the bills feature differences worth hundreds of billions of dollars.” 

The key differences include:

  • “[T]he Senate changed its bill to preserve a provision of the current tax code that sets an alternative minimum tax floor for very wealthy individuals. That provision would be eliminated in the House bill, and scrapping the alternative minimum tax has long been a priority for GOP tax writers.”
  • “The two bills take markedly different approaches to the taxation of pass-through business income, with the House bill providing a much larger tax cut.”
  • “The Senate bills begins lowering the corporate tax rate in 2019, and the House bill begins lowering it in 2018.”
  • “The House bill has only four [individual tax] brackets, and the top rate remains unchanged at 39.6 percent; the Senate bill keeps seven brackets but lowers the top rate to 38.5.”
  • “The House bill creates a five-year ‘family flexibility credit’ that aims to help families lower their taxes. The Senate bill doesn’t have such a measure.”
  • “The House bill entirely eliminates the estate tax … beginning in 2024, while the Senate bill scales it back dramatically without getting rid of it entirely.”

-- The political ramifications could be costly: In pro-Trump areas, many voters are skeptical of the tax bill, viewing the cuts largely as a giveaway to the nation’s wealthiest. Jenna Johnson files from the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, which voted heavily for Trump: “On a busy weeknight at the 5 Star Lanes bowling alley … there was little excitement about the Republican plan to cut taxes. A 60-year-old retiree bowling with a group of girlfriends said she’s tired of the middle class having to pay more so the wealthy can become even wealthier. A few lanes away, a middle-aged woman with frizzy gray hair said that the more she hears about the plan, the more she hates it. And a group of young guys in matching shirts said they didn’t even know the proposal was in the works, although they seemed skeptical that their taxes would ever go down in a meaningful way.”

Lee Johnson, a 63-year-old retiree, expressed skepticism about the GOP’s closed-door crafting of the plan — and their inability to answer a simple question, “Is this going to help the middle class?” “I don’t even get upset anymore, because they’re not going to listen,” said Johnson. “They don’t care. There’s nothing else to say. They just don’t care.”

-- Mitch McConnell predicted the bill will become a “winning issue” once voters feel its effects. “We think this will produce results, results we will certainly be able to talk to the American people about in the fall of 2018 and 2020 as well,” he said Sunday. (Karen Tumulty

-- The majority leader promoted the Senate bill in an op-ed for today's Wall Street Journal: “Lowering taxes for families and small businesses is a central part of President Trump’s agenda, and we worked together toward this accomplishment for the American people. After a substantive and lengthy debate through an open process, we passed legislation that fulfills goals shared by congressional Republicans and the president.”

-- But Democrats see an opportunity to hammer Republicans on a plan they think is a “scam” to benefit the GOP's wealth donors, hastily passed with little procedural oversight. David Weigel, Robert Costa and Paul Kane report: “The test for Republicans is whether they can convince voters that this legislation will put more money in their wallets — and the GOP leader is not sure whether they can do that in time for the 2018 elections. 'We don’t know,' McConnell said,” acknowledging the measure wasn't currently popular with voters. “But he said he thinks that in the long run, the economic boost will come and voters will eventually reward Republicans.”

Democrats say we've been down this road before: Veterans of President Barack Obama’s administration, with memories of how Republicans attacked the passage of the Affordable Care Act, argued that Republicans [were] overly optimistic and had misread the national mood. Republicans were ‘deluding themselves,’ said former Obama strategist David Axelrod, to think that voters would reward them for a tax cut.”

-- Watch for this quote from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to get a lot of attention today: “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” (Des Moines Register)

-- Zooming out: Republicans have been looking to North Carolina — a state that slashed state corporate and individual rates four years ago by employing many of the same elements embraced in the Senate GOP plan. But it's not really a success story. Todd C. Frankel reports: “The tax changes in North Carolina haven’t produced the fiscal calamity that led Republican legislators in Kansas this year to reverse dramatic cuts they passed a few years earlier, but nor have they produced the kind of win-for-all economic prosperity national Republicans say their effort will spur. But even if the top-line numbers have improved, workers have not seen huge benefits. The median hourly wage in North Carolina grew roughly on par with the national rate, while the average hourly wage and annual wage grew notably slower, according the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

-- Find out how the tax overhaul could affect your own bottom line by using The Post's handy calculator here

SHUTDOWN WATCH:

-- Republicans’ victory on taxes could be short-lived if lawmakers don’t pass a spending bill to avert a government shutdown this week. Paul Kane writes: “All that talk of knowing how to govern because Republicans did something they like to do — cut taxes — could get swept aside by a partial shutdown of the government during the holiday season, fueled by an issue that has bedeviled their party for more than a decade: immigration. . . . McConnell vowed there would not be a government shutdown but appeared to be daring Democrats into a showdown over an issue that does not face a deadline until March — when Trump has ordered the end of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave temporary legal status to the ‘dreamers.’”

-- Even moderate House Republicans are leaning on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to address the DACA issue. Politico’s John Bresnahan reports: “Ryan and his leadership team have vowed for weeks to keep DACA and year-end spending negotiations separate — at least publicly. Ryan, however, now is getting squeezed by both ends of his conference, with a group of more than two dozen moderate Republicans from swing districts siding with Democrats and pushing Ryan to fix DACA by 2018.”

-- Congress is expected to pass a two-week stopgap bill as they sort out issues for a longer-term package. The New York Times’s Thomas Kaplan reports: “The stopgap spending measure would provide more time for negotiations between the two parties over raising strict spending caps that were imposed in 2011 as they try to work toward a long-term spending deal for the 2018 fiscal year . . . In a deal to raise the limits, defense hawks want a sizable increase in military spending. But Democrats are pushing to ensure that nondefense spending is increased by the same amount as military spending. Once congressional leaders reach a deal on raising the caps, a long-term spending package can be negotiated. Lawmakers could pass another stopgap spending measure later in December to keep the government open until that long-term package is ready to be voted on.”

THE TRUMP TAKEOVER:

-- Michael Kranish obtained an advance copy of Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie’s new book, “Let Trump Be Trump,” officially out tomorrow “Sooner or later, everybody who works for Donald Trump will see a side of him that makes you wonder why you took a job with him in the first place,” the authors write. Among the standout themes from the book:

  • Trump’s disloyalty to staff — and the constant rivalries among them: “Lewandowski wrote of a time when he was so ill that he fell asleep on a plane, only to be awakened by Trump, saying, ‘Corey, if you can’t take it, we’ll get somebody else.’ In another episode, Lewandowski describes how staffer Sam Nunberg was purposely left behind at a McDonald’s because Nunberg’s special-order burger was taking too long. ‘Leave him,’ Trump said. ‘Let’s go.’ And they did.” When Lewandowski was ultimately fired as campaign manager, he says, Trump left the task to his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
  • Trump’s temper and propensity for “face-ripping” screaming fits: Hope Hicks was tasked with steaming Trump’s suits while he was wearing them (“get the machine!” Trump would yell) and any oversight — no matter how minor — could leave aides on the receiving end of a screaming, profanity-laced tirade. After Trump learned Paul Manafort suggested the president shouldn’t appear on Sunday news shows, for example, Trump ordered his helicopter pilot to lower the altitude to make an immediate cellphone call. “Did you say I shouldn’t be on TV on Sunday? I’ll go on TV anytime I g--damn f---ing want …” Trump yelled. “Tone it down? I wanna turn it up! … You’re a political pro? Let me tell you something. I’m a pro at life. I’ve been around a time or two. I know guys like you, with your hair and skin …”
  • Trump’s eating habits (aka his fast-food obsession): Lewandowski and other top aides went to “elaborate” efforts to carefully time their delivery of hot fast food to Trump’s plane before departing campaign rallies. The four main food groups were “McDonalds, KFC, pizza and Diet Coke.” And in-flight fare consisted largely of Oreos, potato chips, and pretzels — since Trump, a known germaphobe, refused to eat from a previously-opened package.

MEN BEHAVING BADLY:

-- Former NBC host Billy Bush confirmed the validity of Trump’s “Access Hollywood” comments in a New York Times op-ed, following reports the president privately disputes that he made the lewd 2005 remarks. “Of course he said it,” Bush wrote. “And we laughed along, without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America’s highest-rated bloviator. Along with Donald Trump and me, there were seven other guys present on the bus at the time, and every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act. … We now know better[.]”

-- The Metropolitan Opera in New York said it will begin investigating allegations that famed music conductor James Levine sexually abused a teenager more than three decades ago. In a statement Saturday, Met officials acknowledged they had known about the allegations for at least a year, but that they were denied by Levine and said they heard nothing further from police. The Times reports that the Met decided to begin the probe after receiving media inquiries regarding Levine’s behavior. (Anne Midgette)

-- The spotlight on sexual misconduct allegations has reinforced activism on the subject at American colleges and universities. The New York Times’s Caitlin Dickerson and Stephanie Saul report: “Colleges large and small have fielded reports against students and professors. Some schools said they had begun strengthening anti-harassment policies. Lawyers who represent victims say they have been flooded with calls.” The historically black colleges of Spelman and Morehouse are dealing with student complaints that the school doesn’t take assault claims seriously enough. “The issue was particularly painful for [female] Spelman students, who spoke of a shared legacy with Morehouse that gave them great pride and, they said, could be perversely discouraging victims from coming forward or assailants from being punished.”

-- About That Secret Button in Matt Lauer's Office,” by The Atlantic’s David Sims: “The Times reported that the button is a ‘regular security measure installed for high-profile employees’ at NBC. Whether it’s a mundane precautionary tool or an accessory worthy of a Bond villain, it’s also a concrete manifestation of a reality reflected in so many of these recent allegations: the unabridged power and protection that accompany celebrity. Even beyond that, the button is a potent metaphor for the way that systems — those seemingly disinterested institutional structures — can insidiously work in favor of the people who already wield the most influence.”

-- ICYMI: Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) reportedly settled a 2014 sexual harassment complaint for $84,000 using taxpayer funds. Politico’s Rachael Bade reports: “Lauren Greene, the Texas Republican’s former communications director, sued her boss in December 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. Greene said another Farenthold aide told her the lawmaker said he had ‘sexual fantasies’ and ‘wet dreams’ about Greene. She also claimed that Farenthold ‘regularly drank to excess’ and told her in February 2014 that he was ‘estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.’ When she complained about comments Farenthold and a male staffer made to her, Greene said the congressman improperly fired her. She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, but the case was later dropped after both parties reached a private settlement.”

MOORE DECISIONS:

-- One week out from Alabama’s Senate election, the race between Roy Moore and Doug Jones remains neck-and-neck. Washington Post-Schar School poll published Saturday gave Jones a three-point advantage, 50 to 47 percent.

  • A 53 percent majority say they see Jones as the candidate with higher standards of personal moral conduct, while about a third of likely voters say the same of Moore.
  • 1 in 4 voters say the candidates’ moral conduct is the “most important” deciding factor in their vote — and among those voters, Jones holds a 67 to 30 percent advantage.
  • Jones has the backing of 1 in 6 GOP-leaning likely voters, while just 1 in 14 Democrat-leaning voters back Moore.
  • Women are more likely to find the allegations against Moore credible and to support Jones. Moore leads by 15 points among likely male voters, while Jones leads by 18 points among likely female voters.

-- But: a CBS News poll found a 71 percent majority of Republicans in Alabama believe the wave of sexual misconduct allegations against Moore are false. Among voters who believe the allegations are false, 92 percent of them believe Democrats are behind the charges, while 88 percent say newspapers and the media are to blame. And while 53 percent of Republican voters in the state say the Moore allegations are a “concern,” they say other things “matter more” in the race. (One-third of Republicans say the allegations are not a concern to them.) The poll also gave Moore a six-point advantage in the race.

-- McConnell has backed off his demand that Moore exit the race. “I'm going to let the people of Alabama make the call,” McConnell said. He added, “The Ethics Committee will have to consider the matters that have been litigated in the campaign should that particular candidate win.” (ABC News)

-- Trump said he needs Roy Moore in Washington in tweets this morning:

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A CNN correspondent commented on John Dowd claiming he wrote Trump's controversial tweet on Flynn:

From a contributing editor at Vanity Fair:

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) responded to Eichenwald's tweet:

The former attorney general came to the FBI's defense after Trump criticized the agency:

So did Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.):

From a former U.S. attorney who got fired by Trump after being told he would be kept on:

This 2016 tweet from Sarah Huckabee Sanders made after Comey reopened the Clinton email probe right before the election, made the rounds again:

Hillary Clinton encouraged her followers to keep up the fight against the tax bill:

From a fellow at the liberal Roosevelt Institute:

Trump went after ABC News's Brian Ross for his suspension over incorrect reporting on Flynn's plea deal:

But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) defended Ross:

Trump honored the legacy of Rosa Parks:

A former Clinton White House staffer addressed reports of Kushner's undisclosed role at a foundation that funded Israeli settlements: 

And the No. 2 Senate Republican shared this view from Washington:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The New York Times, “11-Year-Old Has Spent Her Life in Jail, a Serial Killer as a Cellmate,” by Rod Nordland: “Meena got chickenpox, measles and the mumps in prison. She was born there, nursed there and weaned there. Now 11 years old, she has spent her entire life in prison and will probably spend the rest of her childhood there as well. The girl has never committed a crime, but her mother, Shirin Gul, is a convicted serial killer serving a life sentence, and under Afghan prison policy she can keep her daughter with her until she turns 18. … Her plight is extreme, but not unique. In the women’s wing of the Nangarhar provincial prison here, she is one of 36 children jailed with their mothers, among 42 women in all. But none of the other children have spent such a long time in custody; most of their mothers’ sentences are much shorter.”

-- The Wall Street Journal, “Like the Cubans Before Them, Venezuelan Exiles Are Transforming Florida Politics,” by José de Córdoba and  Arian Campo-Flores: “Tens of thousands of Venezuelans, pushed by a failed economy and repression back home, are finding their way to South Florida. Their growing numbers and Venezuela’s dramatic implosion could tip the political balance in this crucial swing state, where presidential elections are decided by the thinnest of margins. … There is a sense in local political circles that the Venezuelan vote remains up for grabs. In 2008, 62% of Venezuelan-Americans voted for John McCain, the GOP nominee, but four years later, they swung sharply the other way, with 76% voting for Barack Obama, according to exit polls by [a Democratic polling] firm.”

-- BuzzFeed News, “How Trolls Locked My Twitter Account For 10 Days, And Welp,” by Katie Notopoulos: “A few days before, I got a flood of replies to an old tweet from 2011 that said ‘kill all white people’. I’m sure in 2011 I thought this was a funny joke (look carefully, and you will notice the Ironic Capitalization), though it’s not so funny now when there are Literal Nazis running amok. The ironic thing about Literal Nazis is that they have weaponized taking things literally. And that’s what they did here.”

-- The New York Times, “The Lure of a Better Life, Amid Cold and Darkness,” by Andrew Higgins: “Norilsk, once a slave labor camp, is prospering as a source of palladium. Not bad, except for the two months of darkness and temperatures of minus 80.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Obama should be arrested for implying Trump needs a filter, Fox Business host suggests,” from Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: “Before he left office, Barack Obama said his goal was to steer clear of the political spotlight, [giving] the new president room to govern … But a Fox Business commentator said Obama violated that unwritten rule with a recent comment about Trump’s tweets. What’s more, according to Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, that violation should merit arrest. “I think U.S. marshals should follow [Obama], and anytime he wants to go follow the president like he is and behave [like that],’ Dobbs said on his show Friday. ‘I mean, this is just bad manners. It’s boorish and it’s absurd and he doesn’t realize how foolish he looks.’ ‘I mean, he should be brought back by the marshals. Isn’t there some law that says presidents shouldn’t be attacking sitting presidents?’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“MSNBC's Joy Reid apologizes for 'insensitive' LGBT blog posts,” from NBC News: “MSNBC host Joy Reid issued an apology on Sunday for a series of blog posts nearly a decade ago, mostly critical of former Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, that have been criticized as homophobic and ‘anti-gay.’ ‘This note is my apology to all who are disappointed by the content of blogs I wrote a decade ago, for which my choice of words and tone have legitimately been criticized,’ Reid said in a statement in a statement shared with NBC News, which, like MSNBC, is owned by NBCUniversal. … The blog posts were unearthed on Thursday by Twitter user @Jamie_Maz. … The Twitter user noted Reid repeatedly referred to Crist as ‘Miss Charlie’ in her posts and speculated that his 2008 marriage to a woman was a fraud and part of a ‘veep marketing strategy.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will travel to Salt Lake City today to meet with leaders of the Mormon Church and give a speech at the state capitol. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

H.R. McMaster insists the string of recent controversies, from Flynn’s guilty plea to rumors of a “Rexit,” are not affecting the Trump administration. “It was Aristotle who said, ‘Focus on what you can control, and you can get a lot done,’” the national security adviser said on “Fox News Sunday.”

 

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

-- It will be mostly sunny in D.C. with mild temperatures today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “High pressure is in control so we can expect plenty of sunshine and pleasantly cool afternoon temperatures. After most of us start the day in the 30s, highs climb into the mid-50s this afternoon with hardly a breeze.”

-- Democrat Joshua Cole, who lost his House of Delegates race by only 82 votes amid revelations that some voters were wrongfully assigned to his district, has decided to seek a state-funded recount. (Michael E. Ruane)

-- Virginia’s Election Day last month set a record for rainfall, potentially affecting voter turnout. (Martin Weil)

-- Employees at a Starbucks in downtown D.C. recounted how Inauguration Day protesters broke storefront windows as prosecutors attempt to convict the protesters on rioting charges. Keith L. Alexander reports: “[A]round 10:30, [Aurelia] Taylor said a group of demonstrators was walking by when someone threw a brick that shattered a shop window. ‘It sounded like thunder,’ Taylor testified recently in D.C. Superior Court. ‘I had to get my [employees] to safety as quickly as I could,’ she said. Then another window was shattered. And another.”

-- The decline in Metro’s ridership has coincided with the rise of Uber and Lyft in the D.C. area. Faiz Siddiqui reports: “Metro has hired a consultant to build ridership models that take into account the impact of ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft as part of the transit agency’s effort to determine where its riders have gone and how to win them back."

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trump was visited on SNL by Michael Flynn, “the ghost of witness flipped”:

The women of SNL sang “Welcome to Hell” to highlight recent revelations of sexual misconduct:

Demonstrators in Salt Lake City protested the Trump administration's decision to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments:

The Kennedy Center honored artists such as Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan as Trump skipped the event:

An Australian lawmaker proposed to his longtime partner while giving a speech on same-sex marriage:

HBO will air a documentary tonight on former Post editor Ben Bradlee. Watch the trailer: