With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: Drawing cheers from the swamp he promised to drain, Donald Trump wholeheartedly embraced earmarks Tuesday as a lubricant to grease the gears of government.

During a televised meeting at the White House, the neophyte president riffed for two minutes about how bringing back pork-barrel spending would lead to more bipartisan cooperation.

“Our system lends itself to not getting things done, and I hear so much about earmarks — the old earmark system — how there was a great friendliness when you had earmarks,” he said. “In the old days of earmarks … they went out to dinner at night and they all got along, and they passed bills. … A lot of the pros are saying that, if you want to get along and if you want to get this country really rolling again, you have to look at [earmarks.]”

-- Here’s the rub: The good old days weren’t so good. Former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) literally had a “bribe menu” that told defense contractors exactly how much they could pay for him to deliver earmarks to their businesses. He left Congress in 2005 and spent seven years in prison for taking $2.4 million. That included a yacht named after him (“The Dukester”) that was provided by a defense company president and docked at the waterfront near the Capitol. It doesn’t include the prostitutes that were also made available to him.

Remember the Bridge to Nowhere? In 2005, Congress earmarked $223 million to link the remote Alaska town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) to the even more remote island of Gravina (population 50!).

There were smaller, but just as memorable, abuses: Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) got half a million bucks for a teapot museum in a town of 18,000. (It shuttered when the federal money dried up.) 

-- Scandalous spending led to reform: Nancy Pelosi imposed a one-year moratorium on earmarks when she became speaker in 2007. Then John Boehner banned earmarks altogether when Republicans took control of the House in 2011.

-- Trump nodded to the abuses yesterday, but he downplayed them. “We have to put better controls because it got a little bit out of hand, but maybe that brings people together,” he told lawmakers who had gathered to talk about immigration. 

-- Conservative groups are aghast:

Heritage Action chief executive Michael Needham said it is “nearly unthinkable” that Trump “would consider reinstating one of the most egregious examples of cronyism on Capitol Hill.”

“If Republicans bring back earmarks, then it virtually guarantees that they will lose the House,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh, a former congressman from Indiana. “Bringing back earmarks is the antithesis of draining the swamp.”

“The claim that earmarks are necessary to help pass bills has been debunked by the passage in the House of all 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2018,” said Citizens Against Government Waste president Tom Schatz. “It was not necessary to resort to the prior practice of ‘legalized bribery’ under which a few million dollars in earmarks were traded for votes in favor of hundreds of billions of dollars in spending bills.” 

-- They probably shouldn’t be surprised. As a candidate, Trump routinely bragged about getting special favors from politicians who he gave money to as a developer. At heart, he is a dealmaker — not an ideologue. There is nothing to suggest that he genuinely cares about reining in government spending. He’s called himself the king of debt. He signed a tax bill that will blow up the nation’s debt by at least $1 trillion. He’s advocating an approach to infrastructure that looks an awful lot like the 2009 stimulus package that helped spark the tea party movement.

-- The bigger story, though, might be that Trump just doesn’t know very much about the history of abuse and how much earmarks besmirched the legislative process. As the first president in American history with no prior governing or military experience, sometimes it seems like his view of how Washington works comes from watching “The West Wing.” (Like “The Apprentice,” it aired on NBC.) Trump has an idealized vision of the past because he didn’t have to live through the dark heyday of Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney, Jack Murtha and Ted Stevens.

He’s repeatedly demonstrated naivete about basic issues that have vexed Washington. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” he said last February.

Trump thought he could convince China to pressure North Korea to stop its nuclear activities — until Xi Jinping tutored him on the history of the region. “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized that it’s not so easy,” the president said in April. 

-- Trump has made clear that he doesn’t know elementary-level history. The president made puzzling comments about Andrew Jackson’s views on the Civil War, which broke out 16 years after he died. “People don’t ask that question,” he said last May, “but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

He said at a black history month event last February that Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, is “someone who has done a terrific job that is being recognized by more and more people.”

“Most people don't even know [Abraham Lincoln] was a Republican,” Trump said at a fundraiser last March. “Does anyone know? Lot of people don't know that.”

Discussing his trip to Paris last July, the president said that “Napoleon finished a little bad” and made this puzzling declaration: “His one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death.” 

-- In many ways, Trump is taking America on a vacation from history. His “America First” campaign slogan is literally the same one that isolationists used during the 1930s to justify inaction in the face of a rising tide of fascism.

-- But it’s bigger than one president. One of America’s biggest challenges in the 21st century is its lack of historical memory. After the carnage of both world wars, the Greatest Generation came to understand that great power requires great responsibility. But as time passed, a new generation either never learned that lesson or forgot it. (Woodrow Wilson delivered his Fourteen Points speech to a joint session of Congress 100 years ago this week. How many kids these days could name any of them?)

-- The Trump administration is counting on the country having a short attention span as it works to systematically deconstruct the administrative state. Not even a decade after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Trump is working with Wall Street bankers (some of whom work in the White House) to undo provisions in Dodd-Frank that were designed to prevent another one. When people weren’t paying attention over Christmas, the administration moved to weaken new rules that a bipartisan commission came up with to prevent another Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Trickle-down economics has not panned out, and Sam Brownback’s experiment in Kansas failed cataclysmically, yet the new tax law assumes this time will somehow be different. The list goes on and on.

-- Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

-- It’s not clear that the first family even thinks history matters. A senior European diplomat complained to Politico last week that Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law who had been given an expansive international portfolio that includes shepherding Middle East peace talks, has been “very dismissive” about the role of international institutions and alliances. The diplomat said that Kushner has also been uninterested in hearing Europeans recount how closely the United States has partnered with Western Europe since World War II. “He told me, ‘I’m a businessman, and I don’t care about the past. Old allies can be enemies, or enemies can be friends.’ So, the past doesn’t count,” the diplomat told Susan Glasser. “I was taken aback. It was frightening.”

-- That mentality has manifested itself in a myriad ways over the past year. To wit:

Without an American security guarantee, the freedom-loving people of the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — would almost certainly be gobbled up by the authoritarian Russians. These Eastern European countries were occupied by the Soviets until the end of the Cold War, and they’ve lived in fear of Russian invasions since Peter the Great. To guard against their annexation, they were invited to join NATO in 2004.

In a chilling story that posted overnight, two former administration officials tell the Daily Beast that a senior National Security Council official proposed withdrawing some U.S. military forces from Eastern Europe as an overture to Vladimir Putin during the early days of the Trump presidency. “While the proposal was ultimately not adopted, it is the first known case of senior aides to [Trump] seeking to reposition U.S. military forces to please Putin — something that smelled, to a colleague, like a return on Russia’s election-time investment,” Spencer Ackerman reports.

Kevin Harrington, who pushed the idea, remains the NSC’s senior official for strategic planning. He came to the White House with neither military experience nor significant government experience. He got the job because he worked for Trump donor Peter Thiel’s hedge fund. “The ex-colleague considered the idea dangerously naïve,” Ackerman reports. “A second former senior Trump administration official [said] that Harrington had enthusiastically discussed this proposal with several senior staffers…” 

-- Trump’s comments have already given a shot in the arm to a long-dormant effort by entrenched incumbents to revive earmarks.

The House Rules Committee announced last night that it will hold two hearings next week on ending the moratorium. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), the committee’s chairman, said he thinks it can be done in a “transparent and meritorious” way. One idea he’s floating is limiting earmarks only to state or local governments or to certain agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers.

-- Killing earmarks was one of Jeff Flake’s proudest achievements in Congress. He played a leading role. But under the spell of Trumpism, the outgoing Arizona senator recognizes that his brand of principled conservatism is falling out of favor in the Republican Party:

-- To be sure, there are a lot of politicians in both parties who think earmarks are wonderful.

Jonathan Rauch argued for bringing them back in a 2014 essay for The Atlantic called “The Case for Corruption”: “By the time Congress banned earmarks, they were transparent (publicly disclosed) and inexpensive (a rounding error in the federal budget). With them went probably the last remnant of honest graft. No longer could the speaker tell a recalcitrant House member, ‘If I don’t get your vote for the budget compromise, you can say goodbye to that new irrigation project in your district.’ … We obviously shouldn’t go back to the Tammany ways, even if that were possible. Still, one can also have too little of a bad thing, and the overshoot against honest graft is an example.”

-- The subject divides Democrats, as well. Harry Reid publicly broke with Barack Obama on getting rid of earmarks in 2011. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, embraced Trump’s call for the return of earmarks last night.

Hawaii’s senior senator framed it as restoring the constitutional prerogative of the legislative branch:

But Missouri’s senior senator, a former state auditor who is up for reelection this year, has long been anti-earmark:

A former senior adviser to Obama thinks Trump has just handed Democrats another winning issue in 2018:

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- A federal judge issued a nationwide injunction to temporarily block Trump from ending DACA. Maria Sacchetti reports: “The injunction by U.S. District Judge William Alsup says those protections must remain in place for the nearly 690,000 [‘dreamers’] while a legal challenge to ending the Obama-era program proceeds. … Alsup ruled that while the lawsuit is pending, anyone who had DACA status when the program was rescinded Sept. 5 can renew it … The judge did not rule on the merits of the case but said the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm if the Trump administration ended DACA before the legal dispute is resolved.”

-- A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map as unconstitutional, ruling that it was illegally gerrymandered to give Republicans a political advantage. The New York Times’s Alan Blinder and Michael Wines report: “The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections. Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been ‘motivated by invidious partisan intent’ as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The ruling and its chief demand — that the Republican-dominated Legislature create a new landscape of congressional districts by Jan. 24 — infused new turmoil into the political chaos that has in recent years enveloped North Carolina. The unusually blunt decision by the panel could [also] lend momentum to two other challenges on gerrymandering that are already before the Supreme Court …”

-- Conceding to Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott, the Trump administration announced it wouldn't allow oil drilling off the coast of Florida, reversing itself from last week. The AP’s Gary Fineout and Matthew Daly report: “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said after a brief meeting with Scott at the Tallahassee airport that drilling would be ‘off the table’ when it comes to waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean off Florida. … Zinke said Tuesday that ‘Florida is obviously unique’ and that the decision to remove the state came after meetings and discussion with Scott.”

-- The decision infuriated some Democrats. From Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.):

From Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.):

-- Critics of the decision allege it was a ploy to both bolster Scott’s potential Senate bid and aid Trump’s eventual reelection in the perennial swing state. Politico’s Marc Caputo, Ben Lefebvre, Matt Dixon and Bruce Ritchie report: “Zinke’s glowing endorsement of Scott has become de facto policy for Trump, who has tried for more than a year to woo Scott publicly and privately to run for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. The veteran senator is one of the most vocal opponents of offshore oil-drilling in Florida, an issue that typically enjoys broad bipartisan support in a state whose economy depends heavily on tourism and development along 1,300 miles of coastline.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. At least 13 people are dead in Southern California after heavy rain and mudslides swept through hills stripped bare in recent wildfires. The torrent of mud and debris wiped entire homes from their foundations and prompted hundreds of evacuations. (Avi Selk and Lindsey Bever)
  2. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) will undergo surgery today as he continues to recover from last summer’s Congressional baseball practice shooting. “I have been fortunate to make tremendous progress in my healing … [and] will undergo a planned surgery as part of my ongoing recovery process,” Scalise said in a statement, adding that he will return to the Capitol “within the coming weeks.” (Politico)
  3. Senate Democrats added Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) to the Judiciary Committee. Harris and Booker will be the panel’s first black members since the 1990s. (David Weigel)
  4. A statewide Post analysis found 6,000 Virginia addresses that may be assigned to the wrong House district. The discovery follows a November House of Delegates race that now faces legal challenges over voters who cast ballots in the wrong district. (Ted Mellnik, Reuben Fischer-Baum and Kim Soffen)
  5. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son raised eyebrows after the release of a 2015 recording. In it, a drunk Yair Netanyahu can be heard asking his friends, “Speaking of prostitutes, what’s open at this hour?” But the most controversial remark involved Netanyahu saying to the son of Israeli tycoon Kobi Maimon, “My dad arranged $20 billion for your dad, and you’re whining with me about 400 shekels.” Prime Minister Netanyahu currently faces two criminal probes involving fraud and bribery. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  6. Three of South Dakota’s Native American tribes sued opioid manufacturers and distributors for allegedly concealing the addiction risk of such drugs. Native Americans face the highest per capita rate of opioid overdoses, and the community’s youths abuse opioids at double the rate of white youths. (Sari Horwitz)
  7. According to a new study, American babies are 76 percent more likely to die during their first year of life than babies in other rich countries. The study also concluded American children are 57 percent more likely to die before reaching adulthood. (Christopher Ingraham)
  8. The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments in an embryo-custody lawsuit. Such disputes have repeatedly landed before courts in the past 25 years, but the decisions have shown no consistent pattern. (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
  9. Australia’s oppressive heat wave is even frying the brains of bats. Hundreds of fruit-eating bats known as flying foxes have been reported dead in the Greater Sydney area, and scientists say their bodies lack the ability to regulate internal body temperature when weather outside rises above 104 degrees. (Amanda Erickson and Kristine Phillips
  10. An editor at the Burlington Free Press was fired over controversial comments he made over Twitter. Denis Finley wrote a tweet describing Vermont’s decision to offer a third gender option for driver’s licenses as bringing the state “one step closer to the apocalypse.” (Travis M. Andrews)
  11. Mark Wahlberg was reportedly paid over 1,500 times more than Michelle Williams when they reshot their scenes for “All the Money in the World.” Kevin Spacey was removed from the movie amid sexual misconduct allegations, forcing Wahlberg and Williams to quickly reshoot their scenes to avoid missing the movie's release date. While Williams received an $80 per diem totaling less than $1,000, Wahlberg’s team negotiated a fee of $1.5 million. (USA Today)
  12. A Japanese astronaut has grown 3 ½ inches since arriving at the International Space Station last month. In space, the gravitational force no longer compresses the spine, allowing disks to fluctuate. So many astronauts get a bit taller, but not usually that much. (Alex Horton)

IMMIGRATION TALKS:

-- Trump met with bipartisan congressional leaders yesterday to discuss a legislative replacement for DACA — and though he expressed a desire to protect “dreamers,” their fate remains uncertain. Ed O'Keefe and David Nakamura report: “The discussions played out in a spirited, televised exchange … that highlighted the president’s apparent eagerness to broker a compromise. ‘I will take all the heat you want to give me,’ Trump declared, offering political cover in his quest for a compromise, ‘and take the heat off the Democrats and the Republicans.’ Yet Trump also revealed his changeability on immigration[:] Over a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes … Trump appeared to contradict himself, at turns professing support for a ‘clean’ bill to protect undocumented immigrants brought illegally to this country as children, reiterating his demands for a border wall opposed by Democrats and professing to support the kind of comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy that has been anathema to conservatives.”

-- “[While] Trump offered captivating television drama, he also muddled through the policy by seeming to endorse divergent positions,Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report. “[So] pliant was Trump that when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) . . . asked if he would support ‘a clean DACA bill’ that protects the dreamers with no other conditions, the president sounded amenable. ‘Yeah, I would like to do it,’ Trump said. Trump’s apparent concession so alarmed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that he interjected himself, although he was careful only to gently contradict the president . . . In trying to erase one set of queries (is he up for the job and a ‘very stable genius,’ as he claimed on Twitter?), he inadvertently opened another: What, exactly, is going to be in that immigration bill?”

Lawmakers left the session “encouraged, if confounded”: “My head is spinning with all the things that were said by the president and others in that room in the course of an hour and a half,” said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) . . . Still, Durbin expressed appreciation for Trump’s “sense of urgency” on the matter. “This was the most fascinating meeting I’ve been involved with in 20-plus years in politics,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

-- “The whole mess showed pretty vividly just how utterly disengaged Trump is in the finer details of policy discussions,” writes The Fix’s Aaron Blake. “Which is exactly the perception that he has recently fought against . . . Trump almost continually moves the goal posts on what he wants, shifts the terms of the debate, and misstates what's actually contained in the legislation that is before Congress.”

-- “True to form, he said yes to everyone but left lawmakers without the direction they sought,” writes The Atlantic’s Russell Berman.

-- Trump tried to skirt past any confusion in a tweet last night:

-- Democrats are split on whether to force a shutdown over DACA after sharply criticizing Republicans for such tactics. Mike DeBonis, Erica Werner and Ed O'Keefe report: “That leaves Democratic leaders walking a tightrope, wielding their leverage but also trying to avoid the peril of an election-year shutdown that could rally the Republican base and alienate swing voters. At the heart of the challenge is an internal split between lawmakers up for reelection this year, several of them in Republican-leaning states, and those eyeing a higher national profile, who are trying to appeal the party’s liberal base.”

-- To pay for his wall, Trump would apparently cut or delay funding for proven border surveillance measures. The New York Times’s Ron Nixon reports: “An internal budget guidance document for the 2019 fiscal year shows that [OMB asked DHS] to reduce or delay funding requests for additional border security technology and equipment [and should] dramatically increase funding for a wall on the Mexico border. But security experts said the president’s focus on a border wall ignores the constantly evolving nature of terrorism, immigration and drug trafficking.”

  • “David Bier, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, said a border wall would do little to stop the drug trade, [which largely] come through legal ports of entry rather than areas that would be stopped by a wall[.]”
  • Nor would a wall stop illegal immigration, according to other experts: “Data from the [DHS] and research groups … show that most undocumented immigrants now simply overstay legally obtained short-term visas — and did not sneak across the border.”

-- Canada is taking steps to keep out Salvadorans who just lost their temporary protected status in the United States. Alan Freeman reports: “Fearing an influx of newcomers crossing ‘irregularly’ into Canada from the United States, the Canadian government has embarked on an information campaign to discourage Salvadorans from trekking north, as thousands of Haitians did when threatened with a loss of protected status last summer.”

-- Joe Arpaio — the 85-year-old former sheriff and immigration hard-liner who was pardoned by Trump last year after being convicted of ignoring a federal judge's order to stop racially profiling Latinos — announced he will run in the 2018 GOP primary to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). David Weigel reports: “Arpaio, who has frequently talked about seeking higher office, said he decided to run as a ‘big supporter of President Trump’ who would back the president wholeheartedly. He is entering a primary against Kelli Ward, a former state senator also running as a Trump ally; his decision may create an opening for Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a Republican with more moderate views on immigration who is contemplating a bid for the seat and is backed by party leaders in Washington.”

“In a telephone interview with the Washington Examiner, Arpaio shrugged off concerns about his age, dismissed Republican insiders’ anxiety that his poor reputation with nonwhite voters would put the seat in play for the Democrats in the midterm, and discussed plans to work with Trump on behalf of Arizona,” David M. Drucker reports. “I have a lot to offer. I'm a big supporter of [Trump],” Arpaio said. “I'm going to have to work hard … But I would not being doing this if I thought that I could not win . . . I’m not here to get my name in the paper. I get that everyday, anyway.”

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- “The political battle over the FBI and its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election intensified Tuesday with the release of an interview with the head of the firm behind a dossier of allegations against then-candidate Donald Trump,” Devlin Barrett and Tom Hamburger report. “The transcript of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson’s interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee was released by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the panel’s senior Democrat, over the objections of Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Feinstein’s action comes alongside an effort by Republicans to discredit the dossier as a politically motivated document that the FBI has relied too heavily upon in its investigation. Feinstein sought to push back against that perception and to bolster the FBI’s credibility. ‘The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation,’ she said.”

Grassley had refused requests by Simpson to release his entire 10-hour interview, which was conducted in August: “The Senate committee has been probing how the FBI handled allegations it received from a British ex-spy, Christopher Steele, who compiled a series of memorandums, later collected as a dossier, alleging that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin … The 312-page transcript shows that Republican staffers on the committee repeatedly pressed Simpson about whether he had political motivations in hiring Steele. Simpson acknowledged that he didn’t like Trump as a candidate but said his job was to find facts, not to push an agenda. …

  • “In his testimony, Simpson said Steele contacted the FBI with concerns about Russian meddling in early July 2016. When the bureau reinterviewed Steele in early October, agents made it clear, according to Simpson’s testimony released Tuesday, that they believed some of what Steele had told them.
  • Simpson also said Steele was told that the FBI had someone inside Trump’s network providing agents with information … Several people familiar with the probe said Simpson’s comments refer to a report from an Australian official who contacted U.S. officials in late July with concerns about a conversation months earlier in London with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos …
  • “At another point in the interview, a lawyer for Fusion GPS, Joshua A. Levy, made a jarring assertion: that the dossier’s publication had led to someone’s death. ‘Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work,’ Levy said late in the interview, according to the transcript. Levy did not expand on that claim in the interview, nor is there any public information that would tie a specific killing to the information in the dossier.
  • According to Simpson, Steele went to the FBI on his own volition out of concern that Trump was being blackmailed. "Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he wanted to -- he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information," Simpson said in his testimony. "He thought from his perspective there was an issue -- a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed." (CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen)

Democrats — and even some Republicans — were alarmed last week when Grassley made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, suggesting it investigate Steele for possibly lying to the FBI. 

-- Read the full transcript of Simpson's testimony here.

-- After reading the transcript, Vox’s Matt Yglesias writes that it’s no wonder Grassley and Senate Republicans were trying to conceal Simpson's testimony: “The FBI was already investigating potential links between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government before they heard anything about Christopher Steele’s famous dossier on the matter. … Simpson’s testimony seems to … debunk a conservative counternarrative that places the dossier itself at the center of the story.” (Amber Phillips made a list of six times that the firm's work has undercut Trump’s claims.)

-- BuzzFeed’s editor in chief Ben Smith penned a New York Times op-ed entitled, “I’m Proud We Published the Trump-Russia Dossier:” “[A] year of government inquiries and blockbuster journalism has made clear that the dossier is unquestionably real news. That’s a fact that has been tacitly acknowledged even by those who opposed our decision to publish. … Without the dossier, Americans would have found it difficult to understand the actions of their elected representatives and government officials. Their posture toward Mr. Trump was, we now know even more comprehensively than we did in January 2017, shaped by Mr. Steele’s report. The Russia investigation, meanwhile, didn’t turn out to be some minor side story but instead the central challenge to Mr. Trump’s presidency.”

-- Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen has sued Fusion GPS and BuzzFeed over the dossier, claiming the document’s “false and defamatory” allegations resulted in “harm to his personal and professional reputation, current business interests, and the impairment of business opportunities.” (ABC News)

-- Congressional Democrats will publicly release a 200-plus page report today warning of Russia’s deepening election interference in Europe. The AP’s Chad Day and Stephen Braun report: “The report is the first from Congress to comprehensively detail Russian efforts to undermine democracies since the 2016 presidential election. It wastes no time in calling out Trump personally for what it describes as a failure to respond to Russia’s mounting destabilization activities in the U.S. and worldwide.”

BANNON'S EXILE:

-- Steve Bannon stepped down as executive chairman of Breitbart News, ending his relationship with the far-right website following a nasty and high-profile break with Trump. Paul Farhi reports: “Bannon’s departure was a humbling denouement for a figure who had reached the uppermost levels of power only a year ago. It leaves him with no evident platform to promote his views and no financial basis for his preferred candidates. His departure from Breitbart followed what appears to have been a vote of no confidence from a key supporter and investor in the website, Rebekah Mercer[.] . . . Although Bannon continued to chair Breitbart’s editorial meetings and host its satellite-radio program, Mercer’s comments appeared to signal his end, people at the media company said. Breitbart’s readers seemed to side with Trump in the spat.”

-- “Bannon has his own honey-badger-esque chutzpah to blame” for his downfall, writes Aaron Blake. “What's particularly remarkable about Bannon's fall is how entirely Trumpian it was. From his perch in the White House, Bannon apparently felt invincible enough to spout off to Wolff about how that meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with a Russian lawyer was ‘treasonous’ and about how Ivanka Trump was ‘dumb as a brick.’ … [It] speaks to the prevailing chutzpah of the Trump White House. To Trump and those around him, his 2016 win has long served as vindication of their entire approach to politics. They could do no wrong because they won.”

-- Bannon now plans to launch a “dark money” nonprofit group. The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng report: “The organization will be distinct from Bannon’s prior political endeavors, which included documentary films, political data-mining efforts, and more niche political and policy outfits. And unlike virtually all of those efforts, it will not receive funding from his estranged financial backers, [the Mercers]. There will be some continuity, though. The new organization will focus on Bannon’s longtime pet issues: U.S. policy toward China and the Gulf region, immigration, and foreign trade.”

TAN, RESTED, READY:

-- Talk of Mitt Romney’s potential Senate bid in Utah has intensified conversations about the direction of the Republican Party. Robert Costa and Ashley Parker report: “Many establishment voices, eager for a resurgence in the Trump era, have seized on the prospect of Senator Romney as a clean-cut Republican counterweight to the unorthodox and chaotic Trump presidency. Trump-aligned conservatives, meanwhile, have recoiled and said the party’s base voters have moved on and would shun the former Massachusetts governor as an elite relic of the sort of conventional politics they rejected by embracing the reality television star-turned-president.”

-- Romney has not officially declared his candidacy, but his wife, Ann, is encouraging him to run. The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser reports: “Her own battle with multiple sclerosis is not a major factor, with all signs indicating that her health remains strong, [people close to the Romneys] said. … One reason Ann Romney is behind the bid, the people said, is that she, like her husband, is alarmed by President Trump’s style of politics and his rapid takeover of the Republican Party. She also is concerned that the Senate could soon lack strong, civil, moderating voices, given several retirements, as well as the failing health of Senator John McCain, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer. Those close to Romney view McCain as somewhat of a model for the type of senator he would be, willing to forcefully challenge Trump in some cases, while attempting to find common ground with the president on others.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- Jeff Sessions has signaled a willingness to use the death penalty against a broader set of violent crimes. The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Hong and Aruna Viswanatha report: “The Justice Department has agreed to seek the federal death penalty in at least two murder cases, in what officials say is the first sign of a heightened effort under [Sessions] to use capital punishment to further crack down on violent crime[.] . . . [The DOJ is also considering seeking death sentences in the Manhattan bike lane terror attack, and two 2016 slayings carried out by MS-13 gang members]. Mr. Sessions views the death penalty as a ‘valuable tool in the tool belt,’ according to a senior Justice Department official. … The Justice Department under [Trump] expects to authorize more death penalty cases than the previous administration did, the official said.”

-- Trump is struggling to fill jobs inside the West Wing -- and White House aides have been told to decide before the end of the month whether they will head for the exits or stay through the midterms. CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Kevin Liptak, Dana Bash and Dan Merica report: “[John Kelly] has embarked upon an effort to fill the ranks by the end of January. But the absence of willing and qualified replacements, paired with a lengthy hiring process, make it unlikely he'll reach that goal . . . ‘Kelly is eating bullets every day by himself and doesn't have a lot of help,’ said one person familiar with the personnel situation. ‘He needs reinforcements.’ . . . Two of the most senior officials who are on the potential departure list are Don McGahn, the White House counsel, and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser.”

-- Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands repeatedly speculated that as much as 15 percent of Muslims were Islamist militants. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reports: “After leaving Congress in 2011, [Pete] Hoekstra in 2014 joined the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a non-profit group that describes itself as the ‘world's most comprehensive data center on radical Islamic terrorist groups.’ A KFile review of Hoekstra's time with the group reveals he claimed on multiple occasions that there are ‘no-go zones’ in European cities and speculated as much as 15% of Muslims are extremists, a number that totals 270 million. He also promoted conspiracy theories asserting longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and said he considered the possibility that then-President Barack Obama was allowing radical Islam to proliferate on purpose.”

-- “The World According to H.R. McMaster,” by the Atlantic's Uri Friedman: “Why is H.R. McMaster so alarmed by North Korea? Why does [Trump’s] national-security adviser insist — more vigorously than any administration official except the president himself — that Kim Jong Un must be denied the capability to place a nuclear warhead on a missile that can reach the United States, even if this requires initiating a military conflict with the North that could devolve into a cataclysmic war? There are clues in two texts he’s referenced repeatedly … [and] both paint a dire picture of the world — and America’s role in it.”

-- “Nikki Haley’s Split Personality at the U.N.,” by Richard Gowan in Politico Magazine: “President Trump’s U.N. ambassador has navigated Turtle Bay with surprising savvy. But her handling of Iran risks isolating the United States — and bringing her political star to Earth.”

--  Meanwhile, it's likely smooth sailing for Alex Azar, Trump’s pick to lead HHS. Azar avoided any major missteps during a confirmation hearing on the Hill yesterday. Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin report: “[D]uring nearly 2½ hours of questioning, the nominee delivered a polished, informed performance in the witness chair, assuring senators, who have at times felt slighted by administration officials, that he is eager to work with them. Azar distanced himself from a long-simmering idea that President Trump has intermittently supported: allowing the government to directly negotiate prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers for the drugs sold through Medicare. He insisted that such a system would not save money and could restrict access to some medications.”

THE REST OF TRUMP’S AGENDA:

-- Trump has officially surpassed 2,000 false or misleading claims made during his first year in office. Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly report: “With just 10 days before he finishes his first year as president, Trump has made 2,001 false or misleading claims in 355 days, according to our database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president. That’s an average of more than 5.6 claims a day.”

-- The Justice Department disclosed that it intends to destroy the voter information collected by the recently disbanded voting commission. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had said last week that the panel’s “preliminary findings” would be transferred to DHS. But White House Director of Information Technology Charles Herndon indicated Sanders’s comment was inaccurate because, “The Commission did not create any preliminary findings.” (Politico’s Josh Gerstein

-- The Interior Department has asked staff to ensure grants to outside groups “promote the priorities” of the Trump administration. Attached to the Dec. 28 directive was a list of Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “Top Ten Priorities,” including “Creating a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt” and “Utilizing our natural resources.” Senior Interior officials were also instructed to receive approval for most grants from the office of Scott J. Cameron, the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for policy, management and budget. (Juliet Eilperin)

-- The IRS is reportedly under pressure to withhold as little as possible from Americans’ paychecks in the hopes of improving public perception of the GOP tax bill before the midterms. Politico’s Brian Faler reports: “But [minimizing withholdings] would come at a cost: smaller or even nonexistent refunds next year, though millions rely on them to plug holes in their family budgets. Democrats are already accusing the Trump administration of plotting ‘phantom windfalls’ ahead of the November contest that will come back to haunt taxpayers next tax season.”

-- Trump signed an executive order to help reduce suicide rates among transitioning veterans. Dan Lamothe reports: “The executive order calls for ‘seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning service members’ in the year following military service, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House. Within 180 days, the departments are expected to report back to Trump on implementation of the plan.”

-- The White House wants to return American astronauts to the moon, but there are many unanswered questions. Joel Achenbach reports: “The major unknowns at this point include the when, how, scale of the operation and cost. Also unclear is what exactly NASA would accomplish with such a mission and how it might affect plans for a human mission to Mars. … NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot told The Washington Post that the agency will partner with other countries in the return to the moon, but he did not say which ones. He said the moon plan will be a public-private partnership, but did not name any companies that might be involved.”

THE WORLD IS A TINDERBOX:

-- As tensions continue to ratchet up between the U.S. and North Korea, the U.S. Army is training thousands more soldiers in tunnel warfare in a bid to increase military options for dealing with the rogue nation. NPR’s Tom Bowman reports: “North Korea is honeycombed with thousands of tunnels and bunkers, some of them discovered leading across the border and close to the South Korean capital, Seoul. Others in North Korea are hundreds of feet deep and could be used to hide troops and artillery, as well as chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Along with training thousands more troops, officials say the Pentagon is buying more specialized gear needed for tunnel operations: radios and night vision goggles, along with acetylene torches and bolt cutters.”

-- South Korea’s president credited Trump for the renewed dialogue with North Korea. The New York Times’s Choe Sang-Hun reports: “His comment reflected a tactful maneuver for [President Moon Jae-in]: stroking the ego of the American leader, who has claimed credit for the inter-Korean dialogue, while easing fears in Washington and among his conservative critics at home that in his eagerness for dialogue, he may be too accommodating to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.”

-- Iran’s supreme leader sent tweets blaming the United States for the country’s protests and calling Trump “psychotic.” The New York Times’s Thomas Erdbrink reports: “ ‘He says that the Iranian government is afraid of U.S. power,’ the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said of Mr. Trump. ‘So, if we are ‘afraid’ of you, how did we expel you from Iran in the late 1970s and expel you from the entire region in the 2010s?’ Ayatollah Khamenei, who admitted that the recent protests, where people shouted harsh slogans against him, had hurt Iran’s establishment, threatened the United States with revenge. ‘They damaged us during these days, they know there will be some sort of retaliation,’ he said. ‘This man who sits at the head of the White House — although, he seems to be a very unstable man — he must realize that these extreme and psychotic episodes won’t be left without a response.’”

-- Meanwhile, Trump’s office said he is expected to attend the World Economic Forum at Davos at the end of the month, becoming the first U.S. president to attend the glitzy gathering since Bill Clinton. Damian Paletta and Anne Gearan report: “The gathering [will] also place Trump deep in the belly of a European-flavored elite that has openly scorned the American president as boorish or reckless. [Sarah Huckabee Sanders] said Trump will use the forum to talk about his ‘America First’ agenda[:] ‘The President welcomes opportunities to advance his America First agenda with world leaders,’ Sanders said in a statement.

-- “[But his] planned appearance at an event that is synonymous with wealth and elite prestige comes as he enters the second year of a term he won on a message of economic populism,” The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Michael D. Shear report. “Presidents have rarely attended the forum in Davos, in part out of a concern that it would send the wrong message to be rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s richest individuals.”

-- Politico’s John F. Harris and Ben White write that the forum constitutes “[e]xactly the kind of party Trump loves to crash:” “Lots of very rich people. Lots of media. Lots of fevered what-is-he-really-up-to speculation. At the psychological level, the appeal of Davos for Trump is obvious. … WEF organizers had been lobbying for months for high-level administration participation, though they hadn’t been counting on more than a few Cabinet secretaries. What planners didn’t know was that some West Wing advisers were arguing that Davos would be the perfect venue for Trump to unleash an especially gassy stink bomb aimed at ideas — free trade deals, a more integrated global regulatory system, and all manner of liberal pieties cherished by global elites — he deplores.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A former spokesman for the Obama-era Justice Department analyzed the Fusion GPS transcript:

From a CNN reporter:

One “foot soldier of the Resistance” mocked some Republicans stance on the dossier:

A Politico editor summarized Trump's DACA meeting:

From The Post's White House bureau chief:

The New York Times's Maggie Haberman replied to Rucker's tweet:

A reporter from the Center for Public Integrity commented on Joe Arpaio's Senate run:

From a CNN reporter:

From a writer for the Hill who used to work for the Arizona Republic:

Steve Bannon's chosen congressional candidates have already started distancing themselves. A Politico reporter noted that Kelli Ward has tried to “disappear” Bannon:

The Post's Robert Costa added this detail:

One place Bannon won't be going:

From the former DNC chairwoman:

A Republican senator celebrated Trump's executive order on veterans' mental health:

An NBC News reporter gave this preview of Trump's State of the Union:

A former president called for the release of journalists being detained in Myanmar:

A New York Times photographer tweeted this shot:

And dense fog in D.C. created this eerie scene:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Politico Magazine, “Why Oprah Hates Politics,” by Derek Robertson: “But just what, exactly, does Oprah believe? Noble and well timed though they may be, Winfrey’s gestures in support of women’s rights and compassion in the public sphere do not a political platform make. Winfrey has consistently placed herself just close enough to the political fray to exert her gravity on it, but not close enough to be burned by its heat — a privileged status a presidential campaign would sorely test, not least of all a contest against a brawler like Trump. … Squaring off against the president would call for an opponent with the confidence to wade into the muck of America’s racial discontent, but also the gracefulness to find the common ground Trump so frequently salts behind him — exactly the kind of high-wire act a young Oprah Winfrey attempted at the start of her broadcast career.”

-- New York Times, “Republican Retirements Raise Talk of Democratic Wave in November,” by Michael Tackett: “Republicans in Congress, including several powerful committee chairmen, are rushing to retire rather than face re-election in the fall, a clear recognition that President Trump’s low approval rating will be a heavy weight on the party even with an improving economy.”

-- Politico, “Ivanka tries to have it both ways: Trump's daughter and #MeToo supporter,” by Annie Karni: “Almost a year into her transformation from striving Manhattan lifestyle guru to Washington power player, Ivanka Trump on Monday night proved what many of her colleagues acknowledge privately about the player behind the controlled facade: She is still prone to rookie political mistakes. And she seems blind to her circumscribed position as a self-professed champion of women who is simultaneously an unquestioning aide to a president who’s been accused of groping women.”

-- New York Times, “Retired From the Brutal Streets of Mexico, Sex Workers Find a Haven,” by Adriana Zehbrauskas: “Casa Xochiquetzal, named after the Aztec goddess of beauty and sexual love, opened its doors in 2006 after Carmen Muñoz, a former prostitute, discovered some of her former colleagues sleeping under cardboard in La Merced, a popular red-light district nearby. After a lifetime spent working the streets, the women were destitute and alone, and had nowhere to go.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with clerk hires, signals desire to outlast Trump,” from CNN: “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg marks her 25th anniversary on the Supreme Court this year, and the cultural icon known as the ‘Notorious RBG’ recently signaled that she intends to stay at least through 2020 by hiring law clerks for at least two more terms. Ginsburg, who turns 85 in March, would have to stay another decade to near the record of William O. Douglas, who served the longest at 36 years. ... If Democrat Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016, liberal Ginsburg would likely have announced her retirement by this spring. Instead the justice who made her name as a women's rights lawyer in the 1970s apparently is not counting on leaving the stage any time soon.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Success: EPA set to reduce staff 50% in Trump's first term,” from the Washington Examiner: “The [EPA], seen by President Trump as a bloated bureaucratic whale, is on schedule to fulfill his promise to reduce its staff nearly in half by the end of his first term mostly through retirements, not cuts, according to officials. The EPA Tuesday provided to Secrets its first year staff results which show that the agency is below levels not seen since [Reagan’s] administration. And if just those slated to retire by early 2021 leave, Administrator Scott Pruitt and his team will have reduced a staff of nearly 15,000, to below 8,000, or a reduction of 47 percent. Under Pruitt, the agency has gone the ‘back to basics’ of protecting the environment while shucking former President Obama’s political agenda focused heavily on climate change.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a morning Cabinet meeting followed by lunch with Pence and Rex Tillerson. He will later meet and hold a joint news conference with Norway’s prime minister. He also has two afternoon meetings with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) will reportedly meet this morning with Jeff Sessions to discuss the Justice Department’s decision on legalized marijuana, which Gardner has strongly opposed. (Fox 31’s Joe St. George)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Trump addressed speculation of a 2020 presidential run by Oprah Winfrey: “I don’t think she’s going to run. I know her very well. … Yeah, I’ll beat Oprah. Oprah would be a lot of fun.” (Politico)

 

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

-- Temperatures in D.C. could reach the 40s today before warming up even more Thursday and Friday. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s gray to start the day and that’s probably the way it looks until sunset, although a few peeks of sun can’t be ruled out. Temperatures rise through the 30s this morning before eventually peaking in the upper 30s to mid-40s this afternoon.”

-- The Capitals beat the Canucks 3-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) has assembled a majority-female cabinet, the first in state history according to his office. Northam announced the last of his 15 picks yesterday, with eight of the top-level positions going to women. (Fenit Nirappil)

-- Two Democratic lawmakers in Maryland are proposing a state-level legislative replacement for Obamacare’s individual mandate. Josh Hicks reports: “[The lawmakers] on Tuesday unveiled their answer to the federal rollback of Obamacare: a program that would charge a fee to residents who do not buy medical insurance and use the money as a ‘down payment’ to enroll them in coverage from the state’s health-care exchange.”

-- Discovery Communications announced it was moving its headquarters from Silver Spring, Md. to New York. The cable company is one of the largest employers in Montgomery County and has played a vital role in the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring. (Abha Bhattarai)

-- A string of new businesses are coming soon to Union Station — including Blue Bottle Coffee, Chick-fil-A, Magnolia Bakery and Warby Parker. (Popville)

-- A D.C. man broke into the Chinatown Chipotle at 3 a.m. on New Year's Day. He sat at the counter, ate $60 worth of barbecue beef and drank a $3 apple juice. He was still sitting on a stool when the general manager arrived at 6:10 a.m. (Peter Hermann

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Actor James Franco addressed allegations of sexual misconduct against him in an interview with Stephen Colbert:

Trevor Noah argued that Trump has recently said “some pretty dictator-y things”:

Here's a look at some of the political beliefs Oprah has espoused over the years:

A 7-Eleven in D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood was robbed at gunpoint early yesterday:

A teacher in Louisiana was removed from a school board meeting in handcuffs for asking tough questions:

And California firefighters rescued a girl from a mudslide: