The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Daily 202: ‘Truth decay’ infected politics before Trump and feeds the paralysis that makes a shutdown possible

Vice President Pence and President Trump attend a ceremony honoring Bob Dole at the Capitol on Wednesday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: Despite the specter of a looming government shutdown, President Trump last night announced 11 “winners” of his “2017 Fake News Awards.” These stories are not wholly unrelated. Both can be seen, at least in part, as consequences of what a sobering new study by the Rand Corporation describes as an epidemic of “truth decay.”

The nonpartisan think tank describes this phenomenon as an increasing disagreement about basic facts, a blurring of the line between opinion and fact, an increase in the relative volume of opinion over fact and declining trust in previously respected sources of information.

The result is that policy debates hinge more on anecdotal, firsthand experiences and less on objective facts. When leaders cannot even agree on the nature of a problem, finding a solution becomes all but impossible.

Rand’s 324-page report identifies a host of forces driving “truth decay”: from social media and cable news to a declining emphasis on civics and critical thinking in K-12 curriculums. “The issue really is a systemic one that affects all aspects of society and … can't be boiled down to blaming one or the other party,” said co-author Jennifer Kavanagh, a political scientist.

Just as a lot of conservatives ignore evidence of climate change, the study shows that many liberals disregard mounting evidence that vaccines and genetically-modified crops are safe. The report faults leaders on both sides of the immigration debate for misusing data and statistics, blurring the line between opinion and fact.

There has been a steady decrease in violent crime over the past 25 years, yet more Americans across the ideological spectrum believe that crime is increasing. That didn’t start with the 2016 campaign. Polls show the perception has been on the rise since around 2000.

“In most walks of life — the military, business, the intelligence community, philanthropy, even baseball — there is more and more reliance on … rigorous analytical techniques,” said Rand president and chief executive Michael D. Rich, who co-authored the study. “It seems that it’s only in national policy making and the discourse surrounding it that the trends are moving in the opposite direction.”

“Truth decay” is not unprecedented. The study highlights several parallels with three other eras of disruption and upheaval: the 1880s-1890s, 1920-1930s and 1960s-1970s. People were as freaked out about the emergence of tabloids, the radio and television as they are now about the Internet.

But the experts at Rand believe today’s strain is, perhaps, particularly virulent. “In these previous periods … we were unable to find evidence of disagreement about objective facts,” said Kavanagh. “We saw different types of polarization, but not to the extent that we see it now. … What makes it really distinctive and damaging is that it's not just political polarization, but it's also social and demographic polarization. And those lines … are often reinforcing, which means you end up with a very fragmented society.”

The team at Rand thinks that “truth decay” poses a grave threat to the country’s future. Not only does it lead to the uncertainly that comes from schizophrenic policymaking, it also alienates people from the political process and drives detachment from democracy.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) delivered a speech on Jan. 17, comparing President Trump to Joseph Stalin and criticizing his attacks on the media. (Video: U.S. Senate)

-- “Truth decay” may not have begun with Trump, but he has undeniably capitalized on and supercharged it. One year into his presidency, terms like “alternative facts” and “post-truth” are part of the cultural lexicon. He has publicly made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims since taking office, according to our in-house fact checking unit.

-- Jeff Flake delivered a landmark speech on the Senate floor yesterday to underscore the deleterious effects of the president’s “sustained attack on the truth.” The Arizona Republican began by quoting the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s line that, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

“During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history,” Flake said. “Without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last

“No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence,” he continued. “So 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. … Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism. Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.

Flake quoted several despots — from Bashar Assad to Rodrigo Duterte and Nicolás Maduro — using the words “fake news” to dismiss reports about their abuses of human rights since Trump took office. He also invoked George Orwell, who said: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” (Read the full transcript of the senator’s remarks here.)

-- Continuing his efforts to marginalize the fourth estate, Trump announced 11 “winners” of “The Highly Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards” on Twitter. He linked to a page on the Republican National Committee’s website, which temporarily crashed because of heavy trafficCallum Borchers writes: “While the Web page was still down, Fox News reported that a column by New York Times opinion writer Paul Krugman had finished on top (bottom?) . . . It was an odd pick: Krugman is not a news reporter, and his column was published in 2016. He wrongly predicted that the stock market, which initially faltered after Trump's election, would never recover. Trump's anticlimactic unveiling was a fitting end to an idea that seemed poorly executed from the get-go.”

-- The other 10: “2. ABC News' Brian Ross CHOKES and sends markets in a downward spiral with false report. … 3. CNN FALSELY reported that candidate Donald Trump and his son Donald J. Trump, Jr. had access to hacked documents from WikiLeaks. … 4. TIME FALSELY reported that President Trump removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office. … 5. Washington Post FALSELY reported the President’s massive sold-out rally in Pensacola, Florida was empty. … 6. CNN FALSELY edited a video to make it appear President Trump defiantly overfed fish during a visit with the Japanese prime minister.

“7. CNN FALSELY reported about Anthony Scaramucci’s meeting with a Russian, but retracted it due to a ‘significant breakdown in process.’ … 8. Newsweek FALSELY reported that Polish First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda did not shake President Trump’s hand. … 9. CNN FALSELY reported that former FBI Director James Comey would dispute President Trump’s claim that he was told he is not under investigation. … 10. The New York Times FALSELY claimed on the front page that the Trump administration had hidden a climate report. … 11. And last, but not least: ‘RUSSIA COLLUSION!’ Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!”

-- Fact Checker Glenn Kessler notes that most of these news outlets quickly corrected their mistakes: “[A]t least eight of the ‘Fake News’ winners resulted in corrections, with two reports prompting suspensions or resignations. Two of the winners were simply tweets that were quickly corrected and never resulted in news articles. One was an opinion article in which the author later retracted his prediction. Let’s put it this way: If the president admitted error as frequently, he would earn far fewer Pinocchios.”

-- Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they trust their favorite news outlet more than Trump, according to a new PBS-NPR-Marist poll. Meanwhile, nearly one-third of Americans said they trust Trump more than the media, and 19 percent said they have a “great amount” of confidence in Trump's presidency.

-- Should we take from all of this that America is hopelessly divided?

The answer is no. In fact, what unites us is as powerful as what divides us. Since Trump’s inauguration, Washington Post photographers have set out to explore the country, through portraiture and audio interviews. In 102 conversations, two in each of the 50 states (plus D.C.), our team asked people to contemplate what it means to be American. Taken together, the answers reveal commonalities and convictions that bridge geography, gender, occupation, race and religion.

There were seven themes that kept coming up: freedom and fundamental rights, diversity, community and empathy, faith in the country, fear for its future, opportunity and drive — and a responsibility that individuals have to make the country better. Most people talked about two or three; some volunteered their beliefs in five.

Politics rarely came up, and most people brought up a deep yearning for connection in real life — and in their own communities — to offset the vitriol they see in social media and on the news. As Tina Smith of Indiana put it, “I think you need to stay connected to feel united.”

This special project just went live. Check out all the interviews, and accompanying portraits, here.

-- There are other reasons to be hopeful. The Rand study notes that America got out of its previous cycles of “truth decay” because of a revival of fact-based watchdog journalism, growing public interest in holding authorities accountable and/or fresh laws mandating government transparency.

-- Another idea: Showing some basic manners and civility might help heal some of our national wounds.

Two former White House social secretaries, Jeremy Bernard and Lea Berman, have co-authored a new book called: “Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and In Life.” Bernard worked for Barack and Michelle Obama from 2011 to 2015, and Berman worked for George and Laura Bush from 2005 to 2007. “Some people heap disrespect on anyone who dares oppose them, tap into anger and manipulate it for their own benefit, and don’t seem to see anything wrong with that,” they write together. “If bad behavior is contagious — as many studies have shown it is — we’re in an epidemic.”

The elephant in room, but not called out by name, is President Trump,” Roxanne Roberts writes in the Style section. “His belittling tweets and personal insults are the antithesis of conventional presidential discourse. Some people see the blunt language and name-calling as a sign of principle and strength. Or are they just bad manners? Call it what you will, argue the authors, but it’s bad for the country. Good people can and do disagree, but a lack of basic respect is corrosive and crippling to democracy itself.”

“I think that treating people well now could be seen as a form of passive resistance and a rejection of what we see in the public arena,” says Berman, who worked for the Bushes. “For generations, we’ve looked to our leaders and followed their behavior. Now, maybe the leaders need to look at the people and the way we conduct our lives. … In the past, presidents did not speak ill of others in a personal way. It seems to be something this president is comfortable with.”

How can we make an uncivil world more civil? “Ignore as much of it as you can,” says Berman. “Deflect what you can’t ignore. And when things are really, really terrible, you emotionally detach. Refuse to be drawn into the drama of the bad behavior, because that’s usually what the person behaving badly is seeking. It’s like gasoline on a fire.”

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-- The GOP leadership's current proposal to avert a government shutdown tomorrow at midnight is on “the cusp of failure,” Mike DeBonis, Erica Werner and Ed O’Keefe report from the Capitol. “The shutdown threat emerged on two fronts: Republican defense hawks in the House said a short-term spending plan the party introduced late Tuesday did not devote enough money to the military. Meanwhile, Democrats, whose support would be critical for passage in the Senate, began lining up in opposition amid pressure from immigration activists to use the budget talks as leverage to legalize [‘dreamers.’] . . . The chances that a shutdown would come to pass increasingly rested on a small group of moderate Senate Democrats, who are being forced to choose between their party’s efforts to secure immigration and funding priorities and their desires to keep agencies open while talks continue.”

-- House Freedom Caucus members are also not yet sold on the stopgap legislation, further narrowing its path to passage. Mike, Ed, Erica and Elise Viebeck report: “Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) left an evening meeting with Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) saying he had not been won over and that the short-term spending bill expected to come to the floor on Thursday remained short of votes. ‘We’re making good progress, yet still at this point if the vote were to happen today there’s not the votes to fund it with Republican-only votes,’ Meadows said. His group is pushing for greater defense spending, among other things.”

-- Sneak peek: Paul Ryan will accuse Democrats of “playing politics” with troop funding during a speech later this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. His office sent over advance excerpts: “We ask a lot of our men and women in uniform. … But in exchange for their service, we make them a sacred promise. We promise that we will give them the tools they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. And today, quite frankly, we are letting them down. We are breaking that promise. That is shameful

An adequate budget agreement fully funds our troops. That means lifting the spending caps that disproportionately hamstring the defense budget, holding our national security hostage. The Pentagon cannot plan for the future if it keeps operating under short-term spending bills. The days of budgetary uncertainty and underfunding need to end …

“Twice now, the House has passed an appropriations measure to back up our commitments, but it remains stalled because of opposition from Senate Democrats. They need to stop playing politics with this. Our men and women in uniform are not bargaining chips — they are our nation’s best and brightest, who put their lives on the line for us.” (Watch a live stream of the CSIS speech here at 8:45 a.m. Eastern.)

-- Lindsey Graham asked Congress — in a speech on the Senate floor — to “stop the s-show and grow up” by reaching a compromise. He pointed to polls indicating broad support for both increased military funding and protections for “the dreamers”:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Jan. 17 urged lawmakers to reach a compromise to shield young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” from deportation. (Video: U.S. Senate)

-- The Trump administration may keep open national parks — a political flash point — if a shutdown does occur. Lisa Rein and Juliet Eilperin report: “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was still working with White House and National Park Service officials to develop a plan for keeping open parks from the District to Montana without rangers or other staff on site. Many parks — including Yosemite, the Everglades and Death Valley — are in peak season, with thousands of visitors. … Experts on the national park system said providing access when the parks are not adequately staffed could pose serious risks to tourists as well as to the parks themselves.”


  1. Veteran U.S. spies are disappointed the former CIA officer accused of passing along government information leading to the imprisonment or death of a dozen informants in China will likely not face more serious charges. Jerry Chun Shing Lee has been charged with unlawful retention of national defense information, but more serious charges — such as divulging classified information to the Chinese — would require evidence that officials reportedly do not have. (Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima)
  2. The Senate Finance Committee advanced Alex Azar’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. (Lenny Bernstein)
  3. A photographer for the Energy Department is seeking whistleblower protection. Simon Edelman was placed on administrative leave after he shared a photo of Secretary Rick Perry meeting with coal mining executive Robert Murray with The Post and In These Times magazine. (Steven Mufson)
  4. The Supreme Court heard arguments about a lawyer’s decision to concede his client’s guilt in a failed attempt to avoid the death penalty. Louisiana lawyer Larry English went against his client Robert L. McCoy’s wishes by acknowledging that McCoy was guilty of murdering three family members, and McCoy now argues he deserves a new trial. (Robert Barnes)
  5. Moscow received just six minutes of sunlight in December — shattering modern records, even in a city notorious for its dark winters. The darkness prompted a surge of visits to psychiatrists. (New York Times)
  6. British Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed a minister for loneliness. In a national survey, more than nine million people reported they “often or always” felt lonely. Some experts say being lonely is a bigger health risk than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, associated with a greater chance of heart disease, dementia, depression and anxiety. (New York Times)
  7. Apple plans to pay a one-time tax of $38 billion to accelerate spending in the United States. The tech giant said it would invest $30 billion in the United States to create over 20,000 jobs in the next five years. (Wall Street Journal)
  8. The University of Alabama expelled a freshman student who posted racist videos to her Instagram account on MLK Day. In one of the videos, Harley Barber told followers that she “doesn’t care if it’s Martin Luther King Day” before repeatedly saying the n-word. (Marwa Eltagouri)
  9. Rupert Murdoch suffered a serious back injury earlier this month. The health scare comes as his company, 21st Century Fox, plans to sell its television and movie assets to Disney. (Vanity Fair)
  10. The executive producer of the “Today” show has stepped aside. Don Nash attributed his decision to wanting more time with his family, but the news follows NBC’s announcement that it would conduct an internal review of how the network handled sexual misconduct allegations against Matt Lauer. (Variety)
  11. A former assistant to Goldman Sachs’s co-president has been accused of stealing over $1.2 million of rare wine from his employer. The former employee to Goldman’s David Solomon now faces a federal charge of interstate transportation of stolen property, after allegedly selling Solomon’s bottles to out-of-state wine collectors. (Bloomberg)
  12. Journalist Jason Rezaian, who was unjustly held in an Iranian prison for 18 months, has returned to The Post as a staff writer. The announcement of Rezaian’s new position with the WorldViews team came exactly two years after the journalist's release from prison.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke about the state of DACA negotiations. "I'm looking for something President Trump supports," McConnell said. (Video: The Washington Post)


-- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called some of Trump’s campaign promises on immigration “uninformed” and acknowledged that constructing a concrete wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border was unlikely. Ed O'Keefe scoops: “During a closed-door session at the Capitol with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Kelly repeatedly said that Trump supports enacting permanent legal protections for dreamers and that he has helped the president evolve on immigration policy. But the meeting ended with no resolution to what exactly the administration wants in exchange for authorizing permanent legal protections for the [‘dreamers.’] …

“Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) later put out a statement that Kelly said Trump’s views were ‘not fully informed.’ ‘Kelly went on to say that many campaigns are not fully informed about every policy and that campaigning and governing are two different things and that governing is harder,’ Gutierrez said. ‘A concrete wall from sea to shining sea’ is not going to happen, Kelly said, according to attendees. Instead, ‘a physical barrier in many places’ is what the administration is requesting. Kelly used the term ‘physical barrier’ several times during the meeting, attendees said. … By the end of Wednesday, Kelly confirmed his comments to Democratic lawmakers but attempted to play down any differences with the president while describing him as a willing negotiator.”

-- In front of cameras afterward, Kelly expressed optimism that Congress will work out a deal to protect “dreamers,” though he offered no timetable. “The DACA deal will be worked out, I think, by the United States Congress,” Kelly said during a gaggle. “Both sides of the aisle have agreed to meet in a smaller group and come up with [what] they think is the best DACA deal, and then it’ll of course be presented to the president.” (Mike DeBonis, Ed O'Keefe, Erica Werner and Elise Viebeck)

-- Trump appeared to challenge his chief of staff online this morning, saying his stance has not changed:

-- Meanwhile, in a Reuters interview yesterday, Trump dismissed the bipartisan DACA deal presented to him last week as “horrible” on border security and “very, very weak” on legal immigration. 

-- The conflicting comments added to lawmakers’ confusion about what Trump wants, further eroding the president’s credibility with Congress. Politico’s John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett write: “The now-weeklong ‘shithole’-countries controversy is more than another Trump flap blown out of proportion by cable TV and the Trump-obsessed press corps. It demonstrates once again to Democrats — and Republicans — that Trump is an unpredictable, unreliable partner who cannot be trusted to keep his word. To lawmakers on Capitol Hill, there may be no greater crime, since all members and senators know their word is their bond. Once you lose that credibility, you’re done as a deal-maker.”

-- Case in point: Administration officials have sent mixed signals on whether “dreamers” will be shielded from deportation if their protections lapse. David Nakamura reports: “Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said this week that [dreamers] remain a low priority for removal — behind felons, suspected terrorists and those with outstanding deportation ­orders. The promise appeared to be intended to rebut suggestions that [DHS] would initiate mass roundups of dreamers if Congress and the White House are unable to strike a deal to preserve [DACA.] … [But in] his first week, Trump signed an executive order that significantly broadened Obama-era enforcement priorities and stipulated that no groups of immigrants have a blanket exemption from deportation. Immigration experts said that without specific policy safeguards, the dreamers are bound to become caught up in removal proceedings.”

-- But competing factions are still working to swing Trump to their side of the debate. Sean Sullivan and Josh Dawsey report: “[L]awmakers, aides and officials in both parties have learned the right word, phrase or gesture could be enough to sway Trump to make up his mind — or change it dramatically. They have honed their pitches accordingly, looking for creative ways to grab his attention, win support for their ideas or praise him. Sensing that Trump is not loyal to ideology or party the way his predecessors were and can be, in the minds of his critics, manipulated, they have concluded that each high-stakes fight could easily go in very different directions.”


-- In his Reuters interview, Trump blamed his White House predecessors for failing to resolve tensions with North Korea and expressed doubt that holding talks with Pyongyang would help deter its growing nuclear threat. From Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason of the wire service: “I’d sit down … but I‘m not sure that talks will lead to anything meaningful,” Trump said. “They’ve talked for 25 years and they’ve taken advantage of our presidents, of our previous presidents.”

  • He blamed Russia for helping Pyongyang avoid international sanctions, suggesting Moscow is filling in the gaps left by the Chinese. “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing,” he said.
  • Trump declined to say whether he has been communicating (besides over Twitter, of course) with Kim Jong Un, saying only he hoped the standoff could be resolved “in a peaceful way … but it’s very possible that it can’t.”
  • And he demurred on whether the United States has considered a limited, preemptive strike as a “warning” to the rogue nation: “We’re playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don’t want to reveal your hand,” Trump said.

-- Bigger picture, Trump’s remarks highlight the increasingly disparate approaches being adopted by Washington and Seoul, as leaders in both countries grapple with the threat of a nuclear North Korea.

-- Further highlighting that divide: North and South Korea announced their athletes will march under one flag during next month’s Winter Games for the first time — a dramatic gesture that Seoul hopes will help defuse tensions on the peninsula. The two countries said they also plan to form a single Korean women’s hockey team to compete in the games. The New York Times’s Choe Sang-Hun reports: “The North will send 230 supporters to the Games, and negotiators agreed that supporters of both Koreas would root together for athletes from both countries. The prospect of North and South Koreans cheering together could help President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who has been pushing for dialogue and reconciliation with the North[.] … A unified team of any kind at the Olympics would be a milestone for the Koreas[.]”

-- Many South Koreans are up in arms about plans to form a joint Korean hockey team, viewing it as a “step too far.” Anna Fifield reports: “ . . . South Korean hockey players and officials are annoyed that the engagement efforts will probably result in the exclusion of half the South's hockey players to make way for the athletes from the North[.] … A senior official with the Korea Ice Hockey Association said the plan for the joint hockey team came as a ‘shock’ to the players. ‘They were just furious and found the idea absurd,’ [the official said]. ‘We are utterly speechless that the government just picked us out of blue and asked us to play with total strangers at the Olympics.’”

-- House Republicans plan to propose a tougher version of the Iran deal. Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports: “Conservative Iran hawks tell me they are going to rally around this bill — spearheaded by Reps. Peter Roskam, Liz Cheney and others — because they don't like what they're hearing about the Senate version being drafted by Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Ben Cardin.” The House bill outlines a policy of zero tolerance for Iranian ballistic missiles, “anytime, anywhere inspections” and new sanctions.


-- Meet Andy Müller-Maguhn, the German hacker that U.S. intelligence agencies’ are interested in as they seek to determine how Wikileaks founder Julian Assange received hacked DNC emails from Russia. Ellen Nakashima, Souad Mekhennet and Greg Jaffe report: “Müller-Maguhn is one of Assange’s few connections to the outside world. He typically brings Assange books, clothes or movies. Once in 2016, he delivered a thumb drive that he says contained personal messages for the WikiLeaks founder, who for security reasons has stopped using email. … [L]ast year, then-FBI Director James B. Comey said that the bureau believes the transfer [between Russia and Wikileaks] was made using a ‘cut-out,’ or a human intermediary or a series of intermediaries. … [Intelligence] officials have taken an intense interest in Müller-Maguhn, who visits Assange monthly, U.S. officials said. Müller-Maguhn insists that he was never in possession of the material before it was put online and that he did not transport it. ‘That would be insane,’ he says.”

-- The Mueller team's recent decision to delay a check-in with George Papadopoulos’s legal team could indicate the special counsel’s investigation will last well into the spring. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz reports: “[N]either side has even suggested putting a date for Papadopoulos' sentencing on the calendar. The lawyers in the case were scheduled to hold a phone call next Monday with the federal judge who will sentence Papadopoulos to discuss his status. But the two sides said in a court filing Wednesday they'd rather cancel it and discuss Papadopoulos' sentence three months from now. The deadline for the lawyers to update the court about Papadopoulos is April 23. … In another sign that Mueller's investigation isn't close to wrapping up, Michael Flynn … doesn't have a date for his sentencing, either.”

-- Papadopoulos’s girlfriend was interviewed by Mueller and may have provided insight into the adviser’s connection to a Maltese professor with alleged ties to top Russian officials. The Guardian’s Luke Harding and Stephanie Kirchgaessner: “Prosecutors have alleged that a man — now known to be [Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud] – told Papadopoulos that the Kremlin had ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton[.] … [Papadopoulos’s girlfriend Simona] Mangiante’s own relationship with Mifsud has gotten lost in the shuffle. A native of Caserta, near Naples, she insists that she never played a part in Mifsud’s murky world. But she acknowledged to the Guardian that she may have inadvertently been sucked into a Russian intelligence plot. Long before Mifsud and Papadopoulos ever met, it was Mangiante who was introduced to the mystery professor while she was working in Brussels[.]”

-- Mueller’s team is scrutinizing hundreds of newly uncovered transactions between Russian diplomatic personnel and U.S. recipients. BuzzfeedBuzzFeedJason Leopold and Anthony Cormier report: “Records … also show years of Russian financial activity within the U.S. that bankers and federal law enforcement officials deemed suspicious, raising concerns about how the Kremlin's diplomats operated here long before the 2016 election.” Among the items revealed by the transactions:  

  • “ . . . former Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, received $120,000 ten days after [Trump’s election]. Bankers flagged it to the US government as suspicious in part because the transaction, marked payroll, didn’t fit prior pay patterns.” (Reminder: Jeff Sessions recused himself in the Russia probe partly because he failed to disclose a meeting with Kislyak, and Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about “multiple” calls to Kislyak during the transition.)
  • “Five days after Trump’s inauguration, someone attempted to withdraw $150,000 cash from the [Russian] embassy’s account — but the embassy’s bank blocked it. Bank employees reported the attempted transaction to the US government because it was abnormal activity for that account.”

-- A former Facebook content monitor said her team was focused primarily on violence and illicit adult content during the 2016 presidential race — making it “incredibly easy” for Russians to spread fake news using the platform. NBC News’s Jo Ling Kent, Chiara Sottile and Alyssa Newcomb report: “’As long as these stories didn't contain anything pornographic or incredibly violent, they [would] be left alone, because Facebook has billions of users and there's no way that the content moderators are going to peruse every single news article for valid facts,’ Sarah Katz . . . told NBC News]. ‘We were given about a five-page packet on our first day,’ Katz said, that ‘basically outlined examples of what counts as spam and what doesn't.’ ‘To sum it up, what counts as spam is anything that involves full nudity.’”


-- Steve Bannon has agreed to a voluntary interview with Mueller’s team, which will likely occur later this month. But the former White House chief strategist is trying to postpone another sit-down with House investigators. Karoun Demirjian and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “[Top House Intelligence Committee Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)] and Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who is leading the panel’s Russia investigation, sent a letter Wednesday to Bannon’s lawyer, William Burck, insisting that Bannon return to Capitol Hill on Thursday at 2 p.m. to comply with the subpoena. … Burck objected to the subpoena in his response, claiming that the 24 hours the committee afforded him to sort out the White House’s potential claims to privilege was ‘plainly insufficient time’ — particularly if the committee wants Bannon’s testimony to be accurate.”

-- More: Bannon's attorney relayed questions to the White House “in real time” during his interview with the committee on Tuesday and instructed him when not to respond. The AP’s Chad Day reports: “During the day-long [interview] . . . Burck was asking the White House counsel’s office by phone whether his client could answer the questions. He was told by that office not to discuss his work on the transition or in the White House. It’s unclear who Burck communicated with or whether it was top White House lawyer Don McGahn[.]" Burck is also representing McGahn in Mueller’s investigation.

-- But, but, but: John Kelly said during a Fox interview that the White House did not tell Bannon to invoke executive privilege. (Reuters)

-- During his interview, though, Bannon admitted he discussed the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer with Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and Trump legal spokesman Mark Corallo — conversations that allegedly occurred during his time in the White House. Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports: “Bannon immediately realized he'd slipped up and disclosed conversations he wasn't supposed to discuss, because they happened while he was . . . in the White House. Throughout the rest of the session, committee members — in particular Republican Trey Gowdy and [Schiff] — hammered Bannon over the fact that he'd mentioned those conversations but refused to discuss anything else about his time in the White House.”

-- Members of the same committee met for several hours yesterday with White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Karoun and Rosalind add: “Schiff praised Dearborn for answering ‘every question that we asked’ with ‘no claim of privilege . . . and no attempt to hide behind a potential later invocation of privilege by the president.’ Lewandowski told the panel that he was not prepared to answer certain questions about his interactions with Trump’s team because he had assumed the committee would ask him only about his tenure managing the Trump campaign, which ended in June 2016. The former campaign manager did not make a claim of executive privilege, expressing a willingness to return to answer the queries after having more time to consult with his lawyer[.]”


-- In Touch magazine published excerpts of a 2011 interview with adult-film star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), in which she claimed an affair with Trump a few months after Melania Trump gave birth to their son Barron: “[Clifford] confirms in her own words that she had sex with [Trump] in his Lake Tahoe, NV, hotel suite in 2006 — a story that was corroborated to In Touch in 2011 by her good friend Randy Spears and supported by her ex-husband Mike Moz. Stormy also took and passed a polygraph test at the time of the interview.” Daniels recounted meeting Trump at the American Century celebrity golf tournament, where he “kept looking at [her]” before inviting her to dinner in his hotel room, where the alleged encounter occurred.

-- In Touch reportedly plans to publish all 5,500 words of the interview later this week. The Daily Beast’s Brandy Zadrozny and Erin Gloria Ryan: “Daniels revealed that Trump asked her to sign a DVD copy of her film 3 Wishes and that he called her roughly every 10 days after their first encounter. As for the later encounters, she said: ‘We had really good banter. He told me once that I was someone to be reckoned with, beautiful, smart, just like his daughter.’ Trump even had a nickname for her, she said: ‘honeybunch.’ A source tells The Daily Beast that the full, unedited interview that will run later this week is 5,500 words of ‘cray.’ Daniels didn’t leave much out in describing the affair, which involved a few more encounters in the months following their first tryst in Tahoe.

-- In Touch is now the sixth publication to acknowledge familiarity with Daniels’s story before the 2016 election. Philip Bump writes: “Each outlet likely had overlapping reasons for not running with the story, including that Daniels’s unwillingness to go public with her story made it tricky. But [Slate’s Jacob] Weisberg offers another rationale that’s revelatory: ‘Given what was going on in the final weeks of the campaign, during which Trump was facing a torrent of accusations of sexual abuse, I didn’t think an extramarital affair would be a highly significant story.’ … It’s amazing because it’s almost certainly true. … [T]he very fact that Trump is so immersed in scandal helps inoculate him against it. … Once you’ve rationalized support for Trump despite all of [his past controversies], it’s hard to say what new bullet point would prompt you to reconsider.”

-- “[T]he question is, why? Why wasn’t the story reported at the time, when it might have intensified questions surrounding Trump’s character just before voters went to the polls?” Paul Farhi asks. “Journalists say they held back because they couldn’t independently corroborate key elements of Daniels’s account, including in one instance from Daniels herself. The story, in other words, failed to rise to journalistic standards, never mind that it involved a man who regularly attacks the news media for lacking standards.”

Inside the fight for a pro-Trump district: Can the Democrats flip a conservative region in March? (Video: Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

THE ROAD TO 2018 (AND 2020):

-- Democrat Conor Lamb is making serious strides ahead of western Pennsylvania’s special election to replace Rep. Tim Murphy (R) — presenting a major test for Trump, who won the district by 19 points in 2016. David Weigel reports: “Democrats and Republicans agree that Lamb, 33, a Marine veteran and former assistant U.S. attorney, has turned the first congressional election of 2018 into a single-digit race. The district, a swath of southwest Pennsylvania drawn to re-elect a Republican congressman  . . . is already humming with super PAC TV ads. [On] Thursday, [Trump] will make his first campaign stop of the year to boost state Rep. Rick Saccone, the GOP’s nominee for the March 13 contest — a sign of just how much is at stake here, for both Republicans and Democrats.”

-- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has already raised over $30 million for his 2018 reelection. Shane Goldmacher reports: “Mr. Cuomo, a prodigious fund-raiser who has long preferred collecting fewer big checks to cultivating a small-donor base, raised only 0.2 percent of his money from donors who gave less than $200. His overall average contribution was more than $4,800 . . . Mr. Cuomo is almost certain to try to run up his margins in a show of strength, both for a third term in Albany, and as a potential presidential candidate in 2020.

-- Cuomo is only one of several possible 2020 contenders facing smoother paths to reelection as top Republican recruits decide against running. Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti reports: “And in many cases, that’s allowing the potential White House hopefuls to envision a 2018 spent honing their image as leaders of the anti-Trump resistance as they stockpile campaign cash — rather than having to focus on a serious GOP attempt to beat them, or just sully their image. … The GOP recruitment shortfall isn’t limited to races in liberal states where ambitious Democrats are considering national runs. Republican leaders have failed to secure their top-choice candidate in eight of the 10 Senate races in states that Trump won in 2016, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott has yet to commit to his expected run for Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat.”

Here are some of the most striking quotes from the book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)


-- A federal judge heard arguments on the Trump administration’s use of encrypted apps (that subsequently delete messages) following a lawsuit alleging that White House officials have failed to stop aides from using them. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports: “During a 45-minute hearing, [the judge] — an appointee of President Barack Obama — sounded uncomfortable with the government's claim that the courts have no role at all in enforcing the Presidential Records Act. However, the judge also seemed reluctant to embark on an unbounded, free-range inquiry into whether the Trump White House is policing its staff's compliance with record keeping obligations.”

-- Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury,” is now slated to become a television show. Endeavor Content purchased the rights in a seven-figure deal and plans to adapt the book as a series. (The Hollywood Reporter)


After linking to the list of “Fake News Awards” on the RNC website, Trump added this:

A former top strategist to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) slammed the RNC for its participation in the spectacle:

The RNC explained the error message many website visitors received when they tried to access the list of award winners:

From a reporter for the Religion News Service:

From a Texas Tribune reporter:

And some highlighted this 2013 tweet from Trump:

Trump's hometown paper submitted these entries for the awards:

GOP lawmakers prepared to blame Democrats for a shutdown if it occurs:

From a House Democrat:

From Kaiser Health News's White House correspondent:

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) thanked John Kelly for meeting with Hispanic lawmakers about the DACA issue:

Trump's former campaign manager dodged this question, per a Bloomberg reporter:

Here's the In Touch cover with Stormy Daniels's interview:

From a writer for Politico Magazine:

Former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Jan. 17. (Video: The Washington Post)

Bob Dole received the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony at the Capitol.

From John McCain:

From an NPR reporter:

From one of The Post's congressional reporters:

(For more on the ceremony, read Paul’s full write-up here.)


-- Cosmopolitan, “’She’s Perfect in Everything’: Inside the Obsessive World of Ivanka Trump Instagram Accounts,” by Rebecca Nelson: “[Ivanka Trump] has had a tough first year in Washington. Critics have accused her of being ineffective in government … complicit in her father’s agenda, and hypocritical[.] On Instagram, however, none of that seems to matter. There are dozens of accounts dedicated to the first daughter, chronicling her every selfie, every fashion choice, every megawatt smile. Most post at least once a day, with effusive captions (‘I cannot get over this beauty!’) … Besides, the women say: How could you not like her? ‘She’s perfect in everything,’ [gushes Suman Choudhary, 24, who runs her Ivanka fan account from India]. When, after our 20-minute interview, I thank her for her time, she tells me she doesn’t want to get off the phone — she wants to keep talking about Ivanka. ‘She was a model, firstly. Fashion — her brand is great. Now, she’s in politics, and she’s doing great. She's a supermom …’ ‘I wonder,’ she says, ‘how can someone be so perfect?’”

-- Wired, “Meet Antifa's Secret Weapon Against Far-Right Extremists,” by Doug Bock Clark: “[Megan] Squire, a 45-year-old professor of computer science at Elon University, lives in a large white house at the end of a suburban street. Inside are, usually, some combination of husband, daughter, two step-children, rescue dog, and cat. In her downtime she runs marathons and tracks far-right extremists. Whack-a-Mole, her creation, is a set of programs that monitors some 400,000 accounts of white nationalists on Facebook and other websites and feeds that information into a centralized database. … She’s an intelligence operative of sorts in the battle against far-right extremism, passing along information to those who might put it to real-world use. Who might weaponize it.”

-- The Hollywood Reporter, “Ellen Pompeo, TV's $20 Million Woman, Reveals Her Behind-the-Scenes Fight for ‘What I Deserve,’” by Lacey Rose: “For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise. They could always use him as leverage against me — ‘We don't need you; we have Patrick’ — which they did for years. …. At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey's Anatomy and I'm Meredith Grey. They wouldn't give it to me. And I could have walked away, so why didn't I? It's my show; I'm the number one. I'm sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, ‘I'm not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.’ …. [Show creator Shonda] Rhimes recalls giving her star a simple piece of advice: ‘Decide what you think you're worth and then ask for what you think you're worth. Nobody's just going to give it to you.’”


“Trump Fans Threatened Psychiatrists Who Warned Trump Was Inciting Violence,” from The Daily Beast: “Two psychiatrists who warned that Donald Trump was inspiring violence had their point made, the hard way, when Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) abruptly canceled a planned public meeting with them at a senior center after receiving violent threats about the event. According to Bandy X. Lee, an associate professor at Yale who was scheduled to speak at the event, Raskin informed her just 24 hours beforehand that it was off, because going forward would have posed ‘significant safety risks’ to attendees.”



“Apple Gives Employees $2,500 Bonuses After New Tax Law,” from Bloomberg: “Apple Inc. told employees Wednesday that it’s issuing a bonus of $2,500 worth of restricted stock units, following the introduction of the new U.S. tax law, according to people familiar with the matter. The iPhone maker will begin issuing stock grants to most employees worldwide in the coming months, said the people[.] … The move comes on the same day Apple said it would bring back most of its cash from overseas and spend $30 billion in the U.S. over the next five years, funding an additional technical support campus, data centers and 20,000 new employees.”



Trump has two morning meetings, one with Rex Tillerson and another with senior military leadership at the Pentagon. He will then travel to Pennsylvania to campaign for state Rep. Rick Saccone in the special House election. 


Rex Tillerson, who is not on Twitter, explained how he usually accesses Trump’s tweets: “My staff usually has to print out his tweets and hand them to me." (AP’s Josh Lederman)



-- Washingtonians will encounter cold temperatures again today before the city warms up this weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Bundle up to go out this morning as readings in the teens and low 20s feel more like the upper single digits, given a stout west wind. Temperatures slowly but surely climb to near normal levels with afternoon highs in the upper 30s to lower 40s.”

-- The Wizards lost to the Hornets 133-109. (Candace Buckner)

-- A conservative lobbyist was attacked outside his Arlington home. Jack Burkman, who is perhaps best known for suggesting gay men should be banned from playing in the NFL, was also sprayed with a “caustic substance” on Tuesday night. (Terrence McCoy and Rachel Weiner)

-- A House proposal to rename Gravelly Point Park in honor of Nancy Reagan has rankled some residents. Jenna Portnoy reports: “The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee along party lines over the objections of Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who accused Republicans of forcing the name change despite a complete lack of local support or input.”

-- Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) lambasted Metro for Monday's Red Line derailment. “Another day; another Metro derailment,” Comstock wrote in a letter to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld. “Many [riders] come to expect these incidents as routine and a normal risk of their commute.” (Martine Powers)


Stephen Colbert picked apart the excerpts from In Touch's interview with Stormy Daniels:

The Post fact-checked Trump's claim that undocumented immigrants commit more crimes:

The president has made this claim for over two years — but there is still no evidence. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

HLN's Ashleigh Banfield responded to a letter from the writer of the story on Aziz Ansari that was filled with personal attacks:

Samantha Bee criticized Banfield and others for defending Ansari:

Ann Curry, former co-host of the “Today” show, described a climate of “verbal sexual harassment”:

Ann Curry talks about Matt Lauer with “CBS This Morning.” The former “Today” show co-host says she experienced a climate of “verbal sexual harassment." (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

And people in the South are improvising sleds as they encounter rare snowfall:

People in southern states have been using improvised sleds during recent bouts of snowy weather in January. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)