With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: None of this is normal. Try to picture Barack Obama declaring that David Axelrod had “lost his mind,” George W. Bush saying that Karl Rove “is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look,” or Bill Clinton’s lawyers sending James Carville a cease-and-desist letter threatening “imminent” legal action. Conversely, imagine Robby Mook saying that Chelsea Clinton is “dumb as a brick.”
You can’t. Because all those scenarios are inconceivable. But that’s just another Wednesday in this chaotic White House, which once again plunged into crisis mode after the publication of excerpts from a forthcoming book by Michael Wolff called “Fire and Fury.”
President Trump’s insistence that Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist and a top aide at the White House until five months ago, was a mere “staffer” who had “very little to do with our historic victory” is akin to Joseph Stalin trying to erase Leon Trotsky from the history of the Russian Revolution.
“It was the kind of story-shaping statement that, not so long ago, Trump and Bannon might have written together,” writes Michael Kranish, one of our in-house Trump biographers. “In reality, Bannon has been a guiding figure for Trump for years … according to associates of both men.”
This is part of a well-established pattern for the thrice-married Trump, who treats partners and aides as disposable once they’ve outlived their usefulness to him and downplays their roles after they run into trouble.
Remember when Sean Spicer said that former campaign chairman Paul Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” and that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was “a volunteer of the campaign”?
Another former aide called George Papadopoulos a “coffee boy,” even though he was meeting with ambassadors, arranging sit-downs for Trump with heads of state and in contact with Russian intermediaries. Jeff Sessions climbed out on a limb and burned bridges with old friends when he became the first senator to support Trump, but after the attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation, Trump didn’t hesitate to claim that the Alabama senator had only endorsed him for political expediency.
“Saying Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency is like saying you're not married to your ex-wife,” John Dickerson said on CBS last night. “It's true at the moment, but it doesn't erase the marriage.”
The fact that Trump’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter last night to Bannon, arguing that he violated the employment agreement he signed with the Trump Organization and likely defamed the president, reflects the palpable concern about what he might say. The lawyers said Bannon must stop communicating confidential and or disparaging information, as well as preserve all records in preparation for an “imminent” lawsuit. This is a classic Trump tactic, but it can also be read as at least a tacit admission that there is some there there.
-- Trump is obsessed with loyalty, but it’s mostly a one-way street. What he wants is loyalty to him and his offspring. His staff dissuaded him from unloading on Bannon after a critical Vanity Fair piece before the holidays, but the final straw came when his former chief strategist publicly unloaded on his progeny.
Speaking about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Manafort with Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, Bannon told Wolff: “The three senior guys in the campaign … thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the twenty-fifth floor with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
Additional comments from Bannon and others completely undercut the White House spin that there’s nothing to see vis-à-vis Russian interference in the 2016 election. He warned that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will wind up focusing on money laundering and the Trump family’s dealings with Deutsche Bank. “They’re going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV,” Bannon said, according to Wolff. “They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.”
Most importantly, Trump’s dramatic statement served as a reminder that the bonds of family will probably trump everything else. This would be true of almost anyone, but it’s especially true with Trump because he’s not a particularly ideological person and was not primarily motivated to seek public office by any kind of deep concern about public policy. Would Trump tolerate Mueller indicting his son-in-law or son, who deny any wrongdoing?
There’s been lots of speculation that Ivanka and Jared might leave town at some point this year, and Trump reportedly now thinks it was a bad idea that they took high-profile jobs in the White House, but the couple has recently been touring homes for sale in the District. This suggests that they’re planning to stick around indefinitely. People familiar with the search tell the Reliable Source’s Emily Heil that they they’ve visited at least one property in the Massachusetts Avenue Heights neighborhood. Ironically, the place they looked is right by Bill and Hillary’s house. Javanka’s six-bedroom rental in Kalorama is walking distance from their synagogue, but the house is highly visible from a public street, so paparazzi sit out front and protesters often gather outside. Many of the homes by HRC’s place are more secluded and have longer driveways.
THIS IS A DISASTER FOR BANNON AND BREITBART’S BRAND:
-- The break with Bannon is a huge win for the Republican establishment, which blames Bannon for Roy Moore becoming the GOP nominee in Alabama and the party losing what should have been an easy race in a ruby red state. This will likely neutralize him in several 2018 primaries where he could have played a huge role in boosting insurgents, from Nevada and Arizona to West Virginia and Wisconsin.
“Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself,” Trump said in his statement, which also accused him of being a prolific leaker. “Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”
Mitch McConnell and his team are ecstatic. The Senate majority leader’s political team posted a GIF of him beaming just minutes after Trump’s statement went out:
A few of the candidates who have aggressively sought Bannon’s endorsement in recent months quickly rushed to distance themselves, as his support became a liability and their primary rivals attacked them over it. Kelli Ward, in the open Arizona race to succeed Jeff Flake, said in a statement that Bannon is “only one of many high-profile endorsements” she has received. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey took heat from his GOP rival, Rep. Evan Jenkins, in the primary to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. “Attorney General Morrisey does not support these attacks on President Trump and his family,” his spokeswoman said.
-- “Bannon has in recent weeks also alienated his main financial backer, Rebekah Mercer, after he told several other major conservative donors that he would be able to count on the Mercers’ financial support should he run for president,” Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker scoop. “A person familiar with the conversations said … Mercer now does not plan to financially support Bannon’s future projects — and that she was frustrated by his moves in Alabama and some of his comments in the news media that seemed to stoke unnecessary fights. A person close to Bannon said he was not running for president. … ‘The core constituency for Breitbart is what you would call the Trump Deplorables. That’s the audience. And if they’re asked to choose between Steve and Trump, they’re going to choose Trump. That’s clear,’ said a person familiar with the company’s ownership.”
-- Bannon is already trying to make amends with Trump, suggesting that he might not stay off the reservation. On his Sirius XM radio show last night, he said that he remains a strong supporter of Trump. “The president of the United States is a great man,” he said. “You know I support him day in and day out.”
-- Privately, Bannon doesn’t think the damage is irreparable: The Associated Press cites “a person familiar with his thinking” to report that he “was not surprised or particularly bothered by the blowback”: “That person said Bannon vowed on Wednesday to continue his war on the Republican establishment and also predicted that, after a cooling-off period, he’d continue to speak with Trump, who likes to maintain contact with former advisers even after he fires and sometimes disparages them.”
-- But it may be too late, and his brand might be too damaged in the eyes of Trump die-hards.
To wit: The rest of the conservative media is taking Trump’s side over Bannon. “From Fox News to the Drudge Report, all the way down the spectrum to far-right conspiracy sites like The Gateway Pundit and InfoWars, headlines Wednesday afternoon painted … Bannon as unstable and self-interested, and … Trump as a forceful defender of his family and administration,” Politico reports. “The Daily Caller declared, ‘Trump Puts Bannon In A Body Bag.’”
“I can't help thinking of Bannon as the Robespierre of this Trumpian revolution, ultimately devoured by the forces he helped release,” emailed Charlie Sykes, the legendary conservative radio host in Wisconsin who has emerged as a leading Trump critic. “He helped create a pro-Trump media ecosystem that demanded loyalty, not ideological consistency. Now that he is perceived as disloyal (and perhaps dangerous), he is going to get the same treatment he used to give the globalist, establishment types.”
WHAT ELSE IS IN THE BOOK:
-- Trump is portrayed as uninformed, unprepared and lacking focus in the book. John Wagner rounds up some of the buzziest nuggets that are out there: “Wolff writes that Trump became upset that he couldn’t give a Supreme Court seat to a friend rather than someone he didn’t know. He casts Trump as having ‘little or no interest’ in Republican attempts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. And Wolff says aides were incredulous over Trump’s claims that President Obama had ‘wiretapped’ Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign …
“Early in the campaign … Trump aide Sam Nunberg was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate, Wolff writes, and Nunberg offered this assessment of the experience: ‘I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.’
“Wolff also writes that Reince Priebus … was alarmed how often during the transition Trump offered people jobs on the spot, including many he had never met before. … Wolff writes that one of the reasons Trump didn’t want John Bolton, a famously hawkish diplomat, as his national security adviser, was because of his mustache.
“Wolff details how Trump did not take well to living in the White House, recounting a reprimand to the housekeeping staff for picking his shirt up from the floor. Trump also reportedly imposed a rule that no one touch his toothbrush.”
WHY YOU SHOULD READ THE BOOK WITH A GRAIN OF SALT:
-- “Michael Wolff tells a juicy tale … But should we believe it?,” by Paul Farhi: “A provocateur and media polemicist, Wolff has a penchant for stirring up an argument and pushing the facts as far as they’ll go, and sometimes further than they can tolerate, according to his critics. He has been accused of not just re-creating scenes in his books and columns, but of creating them wholesale. … Wolff has even acknowledged that he can be unreliable: As he recounted in ‘Burn Rate’ — his best-selling book about his time as an early Internet entrepreneur — Wolff kept his bankers at bay by fabricating a story about his father-in-law having open-heart surgery. … Wolff’s business collapsed in 1997. ‘Burn Rate’ came under siege from critics who challenged its credibility, including the long verbatim conversations that Wolff recounted despite taking scant notes.”
Trump hasn’t explicitly disputed any of Wolff’s reporting, nor has Bannon backed down from his quotes, but the second-guessing of the 64-year-old’s work has already begun: “Wolff, for example, writes that Thomas Barrack Jr., a billionaire friend of Trump’s, told a friend that Trump is ‘not only crazy, he’s stupid.’ Barrack on Wednesday denied to a New York Times reporter that he ever said such a thing. Katie Walsh, a former White House adviser, has also disputed a comment attributed to her by Wolff, that dealing with Trump was ‘like trying to figure out what a child wants.’”
A sloppy error: Wolff writes that Trump had no idea who John Boehner was when Roger Ailes recommended him as a possible White House chief of staff. But the then-speaker of the House went golfing with the billionaire back in 2013, and Trump had often mentioned him on Twitter.
THE ROLLOUT AND THE PUSHBACK:
-- Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wolff “never actually sat down with the president” after he took office, and that the two only had one five- to seven-minute conversation “that had nothing to do, originally, with the book.” The White House also said last night that call logs show Trump has spoken with Bannon only five times since the former adviser left, and most of the calls were initiated by Bannon. “Trump, however, often uses cellphones to talk with outside advisers and confidants,” Josh and Ashley note.
-- Wolff says Trump encouraged people to cooperate with him and that he has tapes to back up quotes in his incendiary book — dozens of hours of them, per Axios.
-- Trump’s repudiation of Bannon is the best possible free advertising for Wolff’s book. “Fire and Fury” is already #1 on the Amazon bestseller list. A second excerpt will come out later today, per CNN, and NBC just announced that Wolff will appear on the “Today” show on Friday and “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
-- How the president’s hometown tabloids are playing the revelations:
Tomorrow's cover: In a Shakespearean twist, Steve Bannon called Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians "treasonous," prompting President Trump to say his former chief strategist had "lost his mind" https://t.co/GYUYfMa07p pic.twitter.com/0oGv4rDjyW— New York Post (@nypost) January 4, 2018
August 2017: "I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service."— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) January 3, 2018
January 2018: "When (Steve Bannon) was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
Life comes at you fast: https://t.co/e3XLd4xDG9 pic.twitter.com/jP1rehvnoI
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Trump disbanded his controversial voter fraud commission because states wouldn't cooperate and the effort was beset by lawsuits. But Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted in a statement that there is still “substantial evidence of voter fraud,” despite the fact that there isn't proof. Sanders said Trump has signed an executive order asking the Department of Homeland Security to review the allegations and “determine next courses of action.” Asking DHS to get involved suggests the administration believes any voter fraud — which has not been proved — is related to undocumented immigrants. Voting issues are normally handled by the Justice Department. (John Wagner)
-- Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of the commission, blamed its dissolution on a “barrage of meritless lawsuits.” “This is a tactical shift by the president who remains very committed to finding the scope of voter fraud,” said Kobach, who’s running for governor. “In a perfect world, the commission would’ve moved swiftly and there wouldn’t be any lawsuits.” He confirmed that the DHS move was related to immigration: “This is a tactical shift by the president who remains very committed to finding the scope of voter fraud,” said Kobach, the architect of a controversial law that requires Kansas voters to provide their birth certificates or other proof of citizenship to register to vote. (Kansas City Star)
-- As the Brennan Center for Justice notes, voter fraud is “vanishingly rare.” In 2014, a Washington Post study found that just 31 credible instances of voter fraud occurred between 2000 to 2014 — out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. And researchers at Arizona State University found just 10 cases of fraud between 2000 and 2012.
-- In tweets this morning, Trump blamed the panel’s dissolution on Democratic officials who fought the information requests:
Many mostly Democrat States refused to hand over data from the 2016 Election to the Commission On Voter Fraud. They fought hard that the Commission not see their records or methods because they know that many people are voting illegally. System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
As Americans, you need identification, sometimes in a very strong and accurate form, for almost everything you do.....except when it comes to the most important thing, VOTING for the people that run your country. Push hard for Voter Identification!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
-- As D.C. begins getting battered by the "bomb cyclone" traveling up the East Coast, the federal government is operating with a two-hour delay, as well as an option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework. (OPM)
-- Today’s bad weather has already forced closures and delays for the region’s schools. For an updated list of schools’ operating status, check here.
-- The monster winter storm has caked southern states in rare and record-breaking levels of snow and ice — including areas that haven't seen snow in nearly three decades. As the storm continues to churn, forecasters predict it will intensify at an “explosive” pace — battering much of the Northeast in an all-out, wintry assault. (Jason Samenow)
-- The storm will bring strong winds to the D.C. area starting this morning. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Light snow tapers off this morning from west to east with some afternoon clearing. Accumulations of a dusting to a couple inches in the immediate area are likely. With northwest winds gusting to 35 mph, blowing snow may cause some visibility problems at times. Highs in the mid-to-upper 20s happen in the morning before falling through the afternoon with wind chill readings dropping into the single digits.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Iran has deployed the elite Revolutionary Guard to quash anti-government protests in three provinces. The guards were instrumental in suppressing Iran’s 2009 protests. (Reuters)
- A small fire broke out and was quickly extinguished at Bill and Hillary Clinton’s house in Chappaqua, N.Y. No one was injured in the blaze, which began in a small building on the property used by the Secret Service. (Eli Rosenberg)
A 4.4-magnitude earthquake shook California’s Bay Area. The quake’s epicenter was in Berkeley, and residents of the region reported feeling the shaking in the middle of the night. (San Francisco Chronicle)
- The Special Forces soldier killed in Afghanistan earlier this week was hit by small-arms gunfire while on foot patrol. Four other service members were wounded in the incident, which the Pentagon says remains under investigation. (Dan Lamothe)
- The winner of the tied Virginia House of Delegates race will be decided by lottery today. Officials will pull a name out of a stoneware bowl designed by a local artist. But the fight will likely continue after the decision because the loser can request another recount. (Laura Vozzella)
- Washington’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against Motel 6 for allegedly giving immigration officials lists of guests’ names to make arrests. The lawsuit charges that at least six of the hotel chain’s locations provided the lists without any reasonable suspicion, probable cause or search warrants. Agents would then sometimes circle “Latino-sounding” names on the list to target. (Eli Rosenberg)
- There seems to be a major vulnerability in almost all processors running your computers and phones that could leave them susceptible to hacking. The news caused stock prices for Intel to drop as the semiconductor maker remained silent. (Bloomberg)
Apple’s decision to offer cheaper battery replacements could result in 16 million fewer new iPhones sold this year, according to a Barclays analyst. The British bank estimated that as many as 77 percent of iPhone users could be eligible for the $29 battery replacement. (CNBC)
- A British chef lost her job after she bragged about “spiking” a vegan customer’s meal with animal product. In a Facebook post, the chef complained about cooking for the “pious, judgmental vegan.” (Maura Judkis)
- The spouses of two dying memoirists, who each chronicled their final days in best-selling books (“When Breath Becomes Air” and “The Bright Hour”), met and fell in love. The Post’s Nora Krug interviewed the couple about their relationship.
MEN BEHAVING BADLY:
-- Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) has not followed through on his public promise to repay $84,000 in taxpayer money used to settle a former staffer's sexual harassment claim against him, aides confirm. Farenthold pledged in a Dec. 4 radio interview that he would “hand over a check” that week to congressional leadership, but a spokeswoman said he is now waiting to see what changes the House makes to the Congressional Accountability Act before doing so. (CNN)
-- “Despite a 2002 law aimed at improving federal accountability in discrimination cases, the system for tracking sexual harassment payments in the executive branch is almost as opaque and bureaucratic as the one governing Congress," Politico's Andrew Restuccia, Emily Goldberg and Rebecca Morin report. "Executive branch agencies have settled dozens of sexual harassment cases involving federal workers in recent years, but the resulting taxpayer-funded payments are shrouded in mystery.”
-- CBS News fired political director Steve Chaggaris over allegations of “inappropriate behavior” in his past. In a statement to employees, the network said the allegations came to light shortly before the Christmas holiday and were “investigated immediately.” (CNNMoney)
-- Hoda Kotb will make less than a third of what Matt Lauer did as a host on the “Today” show, Page Six reports: “NBC sources say Kotb landed a $7 million-a-year deal — the same as co-host Savannah Guthrie. Lauer, of course, was getting $25 million a year until he was fired in November for alleged ‘inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.’ One show insider said, ‘Hoda isn’t complaining about the money. She has landed the big job she always dreamed of, and most definitely deserves. Plus, Matt’s salary reflected the long time he was on the show — 25 years. If things go well, Hoda could ask for more next time if she re-ups her contract. But the figures underline the huge wage disparity at NBC News.’”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray met with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to discuss the Trump-Russia dossier. The meeting was requested by Rosenstein and Wray after congressional investigators asked for all documents related to the report. Karoun Demirjian and Matt Zapotosky report: “The meeting … took place just hours before a deadline Wednesday that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) set for the FBI and DOJ to turn over documents [related to the dossier.] … In the House, Nunes has threatened to issue contempt citations against Wray and Rosenstein for failing to produce documents related to the dossier, which he first subpoenaed in August.
Nunes suggested a deal has been reached: “After speaking to [Rosenstein] this evening, I believe the [committee] has reached an agreement with [Justice] that will provide [it] with access to all the documents and witnesses we have requested,” he said in a statement late last night. “The committee looks forward to receiving access to the documents over the coming days.”
-- Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he would be willing to allow the founders of Fusion GPS to testify publicly in that panel’s Russia probe. His statement followed the founders’ New York Times op-ed, in which they accused congressional Republicans of concealing their full testimony for political reasons. “Senator Grassley has always been and remains for transparency,” a Grassley spokesman said . . . “There are, however, investigative factors that he must consider to temporarily protect certain information in the midst of an ongoing inquiry such as this one, like tainting the memory of other witnesses.” (Politico)
-- Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is suing DOJ and Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors. In a 17-page complaint filed in federal court, Manafort’s attorneys accused the special counsel of “overreaching” in their criminal indictment, which included charges of money laundering and tax evasion unrelated to his time on the 2016 campaign. Attorneys for Manafort also argued the DOJ exceeded its legal authority by ordering Mueller’s team to investigate both “links and/or coordination” with Russia as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from” that investigation. In response, a DOJ spokeswoman said, “The lawsuit is frivolous but the defendant is entitled to file whatever he wants.”
White-collar criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Jacobovitz told Spencer S. Hsu and Matt Zapotosky that it's common for independent investigations set up by DOJ to have fairly wide jurisdiction. And while it is “not unusual” for a defendant to question the bounds of a special counsel probe, he couldn't remember a single time the approach succeeded. “Ken Starr started looking at Whitewater and ended up looking at actions related to Monica Lewinsky,” Jacobovitz said.
ON THE HILL:
-- Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) was sworn in yesterday, further shrinking Republicans’ majority in the Senate and decreasing their odds of legislative victories before the midterms. David Weigel and Sean Sullivan report: “Jones took his oath of office alongside former vice president Joe Biden, a longtime friend who had urged him to run last year. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) was also sworn in Wednesday to replace former senator Al Franken; she was joined by former vice president Walter Mondale. … Even before it was clear what committees Jones would serve on, the Alabama Democrat was already playing an outsize role. His presence allows Democrats to block any Trump nominee, or any legislation, by winning just two Republican defectors. … Senate Republican aides privately conceded that Jones’s vote will make it nearly impossible to take another run at repealing the Affordable Care Act and may quiet talk of a push for a major entitlement overhaul this year.”
-- The meeting between the top four congressional leaders, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and White House legislative director Marc Short to head off a government shutdown was “surprisingly good,” Mitch McConnell said. Damian Paletta, Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis report: “Multiple lawmakers characterized Wednesday’s hour-long meeting in the office of [Paul Ryan] as a positive start to negotiations, while noting the parties still have disagreements on major issues. Emboldened by the passage of a landmark tax law, Republicans and the White House are demanding a bump in military spending and funding for Trump’s promised wall on the Mexican border. Democrats — empowered because the GOP needs them to pass any spending bill — want protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and to keep funding in place for social programs.”
-- A trio of former DHS secretaries who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama warned that Congress is running out of time to craft a legislative fix for DACA — opening nearly 700,000 young immigrants to the threat of deportation if they don't act by March 5. David Nakamura reports: “[Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson] are warning lawmakers that they must strike a deal this month or risk running out of time. Even if Congress were to act this month, they cautioned, it would mean a massive undertaking for DHS to be able to launch a new administrative program to accommodate dreamers who are eligible to seek permanent legal status. ‘The realistic deadline for successfully establishing a Dreamers program in time to prevent large-scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection is only weeks away,’ the former secretaries wrote[.]”
-- As Mitt Romney plots his path toward a possible Senate bid, many traditional conservatives are wondering what version of Romney would show up on the campaign trail — the outspoken Trump critic or the man who auditioned to be his secretary of state? “For traditional conservatives yearning for the next anti-Trump Republican, Romney’s entrance on the scene cannot come soon enough,” Paul Kane writes. “They are a beaten band whose ranks are diminished and ailing[.] … It’s possible to envision that by the time the next Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3, 2019, Romney could be the only voice left in the Senate appealing to the collection of neoconservatives and establishment Republicans that never fell in line with Trump. Less than two years ago, Romney said this of Trump: ‘He’s playing the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.’ If he winds up in that somewhere-in-between spot in the Senate, it will be a disappointment to those who hailed that speech against Trump in March 2016. It will probably be an even greater disappointment to himself.”
-- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told a Utah radio program he would support Romney if the former governor runs. “I'm hopeful he'll run, because he would be just fine,” Hatch said. “And he would certainly be somebody who I think could succeed me into the job. We haven't spoken in the last few days, but if Mitt decides to run, he knows he'll have my support.” (CNN)
-- Trump has nominated the wife of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) to a senior post at the State Department. Karoun Demirjian reports: “[Marie] Royce, who was nominated to serve as an assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs … was previously appointed to the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communications as a representative of the private sector, and has played a role in facilitating various government-sponsored exchange programs[.] But if confirmed, Royce would hold a senior position at the department over which her husband … is chiefly responsible for directing the House’s oversight duties as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.” A committee aide said Royce played no role in his wife’s selection. When asked if Royce would recuse himself over matters involving his wife’s post, the aide said that “rigorous oversight of the State Department will continue.”
-- Jeff Sessions appointed 17 interim U.S. attorneys, including Rudy Giuliani’s law partner as a replacement for the fired Preet Bharara in the Southern District of New York. Matt Zapotosky and Sari Horwitz report: “Geoffrey S. Berman, a law partner of [Giuliani] at the firm Greenberg Traurig and a former federal prosecutor, was named to the interim post at the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which handles some of the most high-profile cases in the country[.] … The former U.S. attorney there, [Bharara], was particularly prominent and notably did not step down immediately when asked to by Trump with 45 others in March.”
-- This month could mark a turning point in Trump’s trade policy. CNBC’s Kayla Tausche reports: “The month is book-ended by contentious trade negotiations with South Korea, beginning Jan. 5 in Washington, and with Mexico and Canada, beginning Jan. 23 in Montreal. By mid-January, [Trump] must decide whether to punish exporters of cheap steel and aluminum that threaten American producers, the subject of a nine-month national security investigation. By late January, [Trump] must decide whether to levy fines on Chinese solar panel producers. A decision on washing machine tariffs is due early February.”
NORTH KOREA WATCH:
-- The White House and congressional Republicans defended Trump’s North Korea tweet, as Democrats accused him of ratcheting up tensions with Kim Jong Un. Anne Gearan reports: “‘He’s made repeated threats. He’s tested missiles time and time again for years,’ [Sarah Huckabee Sanders] said of Kim. ‘This is a president who is not going cower down and is not going to be weak and is going to make sure he does what he’s promised to do, and that’s stand up and protect the American people.’ … ‘A nuclear conflict on the Korean Peninsula would be a catastrophe, leading to the deaths of potentially millions of people, including American servicemembers and families stationed there,’ Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement, adding that the tweet ‘borders on presidential malpractice.’”
-- Trump defended his strategy in North Korea over Twitter this morning:
With all of the failed “experts” weighing in, does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total “might” against the North. Fools, but talks are a good thing!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
-- The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda and Dave Schmerler analyze North Korea’s failed missile launch in April, which landed in the city of Tokchon and caused significant damage to a complex of buildings: “[I]t is likely that this facility at Tokchon experienced a large explosion upon impact. It’s impossible to verify if the incident caused any loss of life and, given the time of day the test occurred and the location of the impact, it may be likely that few, if any, casualties resulted from the incident. However, as the Google Earth imagery of the incident demonstrates, the Tokchon facility is located adjacent to what appear to be residential and commercial buildings. A slight difference in trajectory could have resulted in an even more catastrophic accident over a populated region.”
-- “Waiting for the Bomb to Drop,” by Eliot A. Cohen in The Atlantic: “There are sounds, for those who can hear them, of the preliminary and muffled drumbeats of war. The Chinese are reported to be preparing refugee camps along the North Korean border. Resources are being shifted to observe and analyze the North Korean military. Mundane logistical processes of moving, stockpiling, and updating crucial items and preparing military personnel are underway. Only the biggest indicator — the evacuation of American dependents from South Korea — has yet to flash red, but, in the interest of surprise, that may not happen. America’s circumspect and statesmanlike secretary of defense, James Mattis, talks ominously of storm clouds gathering over Korea, while the commandant of the Marine Corps simply says, ‘I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming.’ … Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe Donald Trump, he of the five draft deferments … will flinch … in which case the United States will merely suffer an epic humiliation as it retreats from as big a red line as a president has ever drawn.”
THE 25TH AMENDMENT QUESTION:
-- “Is Something Neurologically Wrong With Donald Trump?” by James Hamblin in The Atlantic: “[A]fter more than a year of talking to doctors and researchers about whether and how the cognitive sciences could offer a lens to explain Trump’s behavior, I’ve come to believe there should be a role for professional evaluation beyond speculating from afar. … The idea that the president should not be diagnosed from afar only underscores the point that the president needs to be evaluated up close. A presidential-fitness committee … could exist in a capacity similar to the Congressional Budget Office. It could regularly assess the president’s neurologic status and give a battery of cognitive tests to assess judgment, recall, decision-making, attention — the sorts of tests that might help a school system assess whether a child is suited to a particular grade level or classroom — and make the results available.”
-- Politico’s Annie Karni reports that a Yale psychiatry professor was summoned to Capitol Hill last month to brief lawmakers — including one unidentified Republican senator — on Trump’s mental state: “In private meetings with more than a dozen members of Congress held on Dec. 5 and 6, [Dr. Bandy X. Lee] briefed lawmakers[.] … Her professional warning to Capitol Hill: ‘He’s going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.’ … Lee, editor of ‘The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,’ which includes testimonials from 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assessing the president’s level of ‘dangerousness,’ said that she was surprised by the interest in her findings during her two days in Washington. ‘One senator said that it was the meeting he most looked forward to in 11 years,’ Lee recalled. ‘Their level of concern about the president’s dangerousness was surprisingly high.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump retweeted this image with a message for the NFL players protesting during the national anthem:
So beautiful....Show this picture to the NFL players who still kneel! https://t.co/tJLM1tvbvb— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
The Boston Globe's deputy Washington bureau chief summed up the year so far:
Steve Bannon is, among other things, calling the president’s son “treasonous.”— Matt Viser (@mviser) January 3, 2018
President Trump says his former top adviser has “lost his mind."
Paul Manafort is suing Bob Mueller.
Bill and Hillary Clinton’s home in Chappaqua is on fire.
It’s only the third day of 2018.
Or, put another way by a Times reporter:
A rout of a week so far for Breitbart-ism >>— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) January 4, 2018
- WH drops the axe on Bannon
- Romney on glide path to the Senate
- Kobach commission disbanded
- Doug Jones, not Roy Moore, sworn into Senate
A congressional candidate backed by Bannon distanced himself from Bannon's comments:
My statement on President Trump’s comments and the remarks attributed to Steve Bannon in Michael Wolff’s upcoming book: pic.twitter.com/LqtnRhD1I3— Michael Grimm (@RealMGrimm) January 3, 2018
A senior fellow for the German Marshall Fund noted that Bannon wants chaos:
For all those getting excited about these explosive comments from Bannon, bear in mind that Bannon's objectives are chaos and destruction, which happen to coincide with Putin's objectives. https://t.co/bxq8icWPQn— Laura Rosenberger (@rosenbergerlm) January 3, 2018
From a former senior adviser to Obama:
This is so unintentionally funny https://t.co/QM82r9dMsH— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) January 3, 2018
From Joe Biden's former chief of staff:
It turns out that Trump's aides have as many different words for "moron" as the Eskimos do for snow. I wonder why? https://t.co/P0Wkl9oZYI— Ronald Klain (@RonaldKlain) January 3, 2018
Pennsylvania's Democratic senator was happy to see the voter fraud commission go:
The Administration’s “commission on election integrity” was always a scheme to suppress certain groups of Americans from exercising their right to vote. Good riddance https://t.co/y02pnX49Tf— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) January 4, 2018
Some Twitter users returned to this November 2016 Trump tweet in the wake of the news:
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
An ABC News social media editor commented on that tweet from Trump:
The voter commission was essentially summoned into existence by this tweet. It oddly cast doubt on the results of an election Pres. Trump won. https://t.co/hdd18l3A8U— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) January 4, 2018
An NBC News reporter noted that the failure of the voter fraud commission is another humiliation for Mike Pence:
Incidentally, VP Pence was head of the Trump transition and titular head of the Voter Fraud commission. Both, to put it lightly, had major complications— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) January 4, 2018
The former director of the FBI criticized those who haven't defended the independence of government agencies:
Where are the voices of all the leaders who know an independent Department of Justice and FBI are essential to our liberty? “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.” — Martin Luther— James Comey (@Comey) January 3, 2018
The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said the Justice Department should not be totally independent:
Law enforcement shld NOT be independent of constitutional oversight. Like the military, FBI/DOJ accountability to ELECTED leaders is essential for liberty. We are ACCOUNTABLE to the PEOPLE in our representative govt. Hoover FBI was unaccountable/did great harm w abuses of power— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) January 3, 2018
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) responded to Trump's demand that DOJ “act” against Huma Abedin and Comey:
This is disturbing on so many levels. https://t.co/ztdB0KaYsQ— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) January 3, 2018
Three vice presidents (one current and two former) attended yesterday's swearing-in ceremonies at the Senate:
The governor of New Jersey congratulated a new U.S. attorney:
I commend A.G. Sessions for selecting Craig Carpenito to be New Jersey's United States Attorney. Craig is an outstanding lawyer & the type of decisive leader the office needs. I am confident he will be a U.S. Attorney that New Jersey will be proud of today and in the years ahead.— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) January 3, 2018
But an NPR reporter pointed this out:
New US Attorney in N.J. was one of Christie’s Bridgegate lawyers.— Matt Katz (@mattkatz00) January 3, 2018
One of Christie’s other Bridgegate lawyers now runs the FBI. https://t.co/q6rEWrAbdk
One of our China correspondents heard this startling warning:
I'm on the Tianjin to Beijing train and the automated announcement just warned us that breaking train rules will hurt our personal credit scores!— Emily Rauhala (@emilyrauhala) January 3, 2018
The president's son accused a daytime talk-show host of being part of the “Deep State”:
And CBS News anchor Alex Wagner celebrated her new gig as a host of Showtime's “The Circus”:
This “female journalist” is very excited! https://t.co/uFQdVNp1UT— Alex Wagner (@alexwagner) January 3, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Politico Magazine, “How Donald Trump Came Between Mike Pence and Jeff Flake,” by Tim Alberta: “The ascent of the 45th president has left a wreckage of relationships in its wake — neighbors, friends and families divided along lines of partisanship if not political philosophy. Yet there has been no more dramatic divergence than that of Pence and Flake, once ideological soulmates and indivisible comrades who now embody the right’s most extreme reactions to Trumpism.”
-- Bloomberg, “America’s Worst Graveyard Shift Is Grinding Up Workers,” by Peter Waldman and Kartikay Mehrotra: “No one knew her real name. At work she was Tiffany Sisneros, until her arm got crushed in a conveyor belt. She filed for workers’ comp as Martha Solorzano, born 1966. The doctor who evaluated her wrote down her last name as Torres. We’ll call her Martha, the name her lawyer uses. Like millions of undocumented immigrants, Martha lived in the shadows. … She worked as a cleaner on the graveyard shift at Tyson Foods Inc.’s cavernous meatpacking plant in Holcomb, Kan. … The only slaughterhouse job worse than eviscerating animals is cleaning up afterward. The third-shift workers, as the cleaners are often called, wade through blood and grease and chunks of bone and flesh, racing all night to hose down the plant with disinfectants and scalding water. The stench is unbearable. Many workers retch.”
-- The New Yorker, “Awake Under Anesthesia,” by Joshua Rothman: “We tend to think that being anesthetized is like falling asleep. [But] … the truth is stranger — it’s more like having your mind disassembled, then put together again.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“ACLU adds 10-year-old boy, mother to lawsuit against D.C. police in Inauguration Day arrests,” from Keith L. Alexander: “The [ACLU] added a 10-year-old boy [and] his mother to a civil suit it filed against D.C. police, alleging the two were injured while they were protesting [Trump’s] inauguration … In the lawsuit … the ACLU alleges that the woman and her son were ‘peacefully demonstrating’ … when police began spraying demonstrators with pepper spray as rioting broke out. The lawsuit says the police knocked the boy to the ground and his mother was unable to remove him from the melee as she was overcome by the pepper spray. The amended lawsuit also identified 27 police officers, including eight supervisors who the suit alleges unlawfully ordered and participated in the arrests of protesters who were not participating in the riots.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Peter Thiel Is Exploring The Creation Of A Conservative Cable News Network,” from BuzzFeed News: “Thiel wants to create a new conservative cable news network and his representatives have engaged the powerful Mercer family to help with funding[.] … [Thiel] had originally explored a plan to create the network along with Roger Ailes, the late founder of Fox News, according to a soon-to-be published book by journalist Michael Wolff. … On May 12 of last year, Ailes was scheduled to fly from Palm Beach, Florida, to New York to meet with Thiel to discuss the launch of a new cable news network[.] … Both men [were] ‘worried that Trump could bring Trumpism down,’ [Wolff writes]. The plan [was that Thiel] would pay for the network. Ailes would come along and bring loyal Fox News talent Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly[.] … But two days before the meeting, Ailes fell and hit his head. Ailes told his wife, Elizabeth, not to reschedule the meeting before he slipped into a coma, Wolff writes. He died a week later.”
Trump has two meetings with Senate Republicans to discuss immigration and his 2018 legislative agenda. He will also present a National Security Medal today and have a meeting with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
Pence will join Trump’s meetings with Republican senators and travel to Capitol Hill for the Senate policy lunch.
Trump is also reportedly planning to attend the college football national championship game in Atlanta on Monday. (David Nakamura)
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Joe Biden, on Capitol Hill to attend Sen. Doug Jones’s swearing-in ceremony, said of Trump’s North Korea tweet about a nuclear button, “I just hope he doesn't touch it.” The former vice president added, “This is not the stuff to be tweeting about. … He doesn’t have any easy answers. But this is dangerous to continue this almost child’s play.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- The Wizards defeated the Knicks 121-103. (Candace Buckner)
-- More than 5,000 Montgomery County homeowners mailed in their prepaid 2018 property taxes before the tax plan caps the deduction on local taxes. Rachel Siegel reports: “[T]he County Council came out of holiday recess to pass emergency legislation allowing them to do so. … A day after Montgomery approved its bill, the Internal Revenue Service announced taxpayers could deduct prepayments only if their properties had already been assessed for 2018. That means those who prepaid in Maryland, and in neighboring Virginia, are almost certainly out of luck.”
-- The Legislative Black Caucus in Maryland’s General Assembly has taken issue with a judicial pick by Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Hogan appointed State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby (R) to serve as a circuit court judge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but Oglesby was accused three years ago of repeatedly using the n-word in front of African American law enforcement officers. (Ovetta Wiggins)
-- District authorities have begun using dry ice to combat the city’s rat problem. Gerard Brown, who manages D.C.’s rodent control division, said to describe the dry ice’s effect, “The CO2 that emanates from the dry ice suffocates the rats, and their homes become their graves.” (Rachel Chason)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Late night hosts reveled in the feud between President Trump and Steve Bannon:
Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered a question about the president's “corrupt media awards”:
Even Tallahassee is seeing flurries amid this huge winter storm:
One Florida girl delighted in the snowfall:
And a man in Houston found himself locked in the store he was attempting to rob: