With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.
THE BIG IDEA: The people Robert Mueller’s team is talking to, and the questions they’re asking, suggest that the special counsel is keenly interested in whether President Trump sought to obstruct justice. Consider these six stories that broke in the past 24 hours:
1. Mueller is seeking to question Trump in the coming weeks about his decisions to oust national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey. “Within the past two weeks, the special counsel’s office has indicated to the White House that the central subjects investigators wish to discuss with the president are the departures of Flynn and Comey and the events surrounding their firings,” Carol D. Leonnig, Sari Horwitz and Josh Dawsey report. “Mueller has also expressed interest in Trump’s efforts to remove [Jeff] Sessions as attorney general or pressure him into quitting, according to a person familiar with the probe. The person said the special counsel was seeking to determine whether there was a ‘pattern’ of behavior by the president.”
2. Trump asked the acting director of the FBI how he voted. Ellen Nakashima, Josh and Devlin Barrett scoop that, shortly after firing Comey last May, the president summoned the bureau’s acting director to the Oval Office: “The two men exchanged pleasantries, but before long, Trump, according to several current and former U.S. officials, asked Andrew McCabe a pointed question: Whom did he vote for in the 2016 election? McCabe said he didn’t vote … [Trump] also vented his anger at McCabe over the several hundred thousand dollars in donations that his wife, a Democrat, received for her failed 2015 Virginia state Senate bid from a political action committee controlled by a close friend of Hillary Clinton …
“McCabe, who has spent more than two decades at the bureau, found the conversation with Trump ‘disturbing,’ said one former U.S. official. Inside the FBI, officials familiar with the exchange expressed frustration that a civil servant — even a very senior agent in the No. 2 position — would be asked how he voted and criticized for his wife’s political leanings by the president. One person said the Trump-McCabe conversation is of interest to [Mueller].”
3. Sessions was interviewed for several hours by special counsel investigators last week. The attorney general, who has recused himself from the Russia investigation, could be a key witness. He met with the Russian ambassador at least twice in 2016 and was also involved in discussions with the president that led to the firing of Comey — when Comey was overseeing the Russia investigation. “Sessions’s lawyer, Chuck Cooper, who was with him during the interview, declined to comment,” per Ellen, Devlin and Sari.
4. The special counsel’s office briefly interviewed Comey months ago, and he vouched for the contents of the memos he wrote about private conversations he had with the president. (This was first reported by the New York Times.)
5. NBC reports this morning that Mueller’s team has also spoken with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. “One person familiar with the matter described Pompeo, Coats and Rogers as ‘peripheral witnesses’ to the Comey firing,” Carol Lee reports, adding that Pompeo “was allegedly asked by Trump to lean on Comey to drop his investigation.”
6. Former Trump adviser Rick Gates, who was indicted the same day as Paul Manafort, quietly added prominent white-collar attorney Tom Green to his defense team, a sign that he could be negotiating with Mueller’s team. “Green … was seen at [Mueller's] office twice last week,” CNN’s Katelyn Polantz reports. “At this stage, with Gates' charges filed and bail set, talks could concern the charges and Gates' plea. The defense and prosecution are currently working together on discovery of evidence. … For months, court-watchers — including Gates' own attorneys — have anticipated additional charges against the defendants. Superseding indictments, which would add or replace charges against both Gates and Manafort, have been prepared, according to a source close to the investigation. No additional charges have been filed so far. When there is a delay in filing charges after they've been prepared, it can indicate that negotiations of some nature are ongoing.”
-- White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was noncommittal when asked yesterday whether Trump will submit to an interview, even as she reiterated that “we’re going to be fully cooperative” and insisted the president has done nothing wrong.
Then she made a perhaps unintentionally revealing comment. Pressed during the afternoon briefing on why Trump doesn’t fire Mueller if he still believes his investigation is a “witch hunt,” she replied: “I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the president did that, and I don't think that's helpful to the process.”
That answer was a rare nod to the degree to which public opinion and the fear of political blowback protects Mueller from being fired, more than, say, respect for the rule of law.
A CNN-SSRS poll published yesterday showed that 78 percent of Americans think Trump ought to testify under oath if asked to by Mueller. That includes a 59 percent majority of Republicans, and 75 percent of independents.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week found that 50 percent of Americans think members of Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russia to try to influence the 2016 election. An almost identical 49 percent believe “Trump himself tried to interfere with the Russia investigation in a way that amounts to obstruction of justice.” Slightly more than half of that cohort thinks “there’s been solid evidence of that,” while the rest say it’s only their suspicion.
-- In this context, the escalating efforts by Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill to undermine the Mueller investigation and impugn the integrity of career law enforcement professionals should be viewed, at least in part, as a partisan plot to move the needle of public opinion, especially on the right, with the goal of giving air cover for Trump to potentially stop cooperating with the special counsel — or perhaps take even more drastic steps.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) released more text messages yesterday that were exchanged between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. In them, Strzok notes his suspicion that Mueller’s probe would not lead to major revelations. He was later removed from Mueller’s team when texts reflecting anti-Trump bias were discovered. “He considered never joining the probe at all, because of a ‘gut sense and concern there’s no there [there],’” Karoun Demirjian reports. “In one message, Strzok appears to wonder whether the Trump probe could be an ‘investigation leading to impeachment’ before guessing that ‘the odds are nothing’ truly bombastic will result from the case. He also texted Page that he feels ‘a sense of unfinished business’ over having ‘unleashed’ the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. ‘Now I need to fix it and finish it,’ he added.”
Trump allies are even now seeking to discredit the infamous “Steele dossier” by falsely linking it to John Kerry’s State Department, Josh Rogin reports.
-- There are some signs that this multi-front campaign, being amplified on conservative cable news and websites, is paying dividends. The Post-ABC poll found that 50 percent approve of the way Mueller is handling the investigation, down from 58 percent in November.
The CNN poll found that 3 in 4 Republicans now believe that the investigation is mainly an effort to discredit the Trump presidency. The overall percentage of Americans who believe that Russian efforts to interfere in the election are a serious matter that should be fully investigated has slipped from 64 percent in November to 58 percent now. That’s driven by a decline among Republicans from 28 percent to 21 percent and among independents from 63 percent to 54 percent.
-- Top Democrats want Facebook and Twitter to investigate what they say are Russian efforts to publicize a controversial memo written by staffers of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that alleges FISA abuses by the intelligence community. Karoun, Josh and Craig Timberg report: “Hashtags such as ‘#ReleaseTheMemo’ have been trending on Twitter in recent days, and accounts affiliated with Russian influence efforts have been supporting this campaign, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a U.S.-based group that examines efforts by Russia and other nations to interfere in democratic institutions.”
-- Senate GOP leaders have also put the kibosh on bipartisan legislation that would protect Mueller, apparently fearful of incurring Trump’s wrath and thus undermining their agenda. In personal conversations, the president has reportedly prodded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and other senior members like Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to end congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as swiftly as possible.
-- FBI officials fear the criticism from the right could make it more difficult to do their jobs, which they consider to be apolitical. NPR’s Ryan Lucas reports: “Anecdotally, at least, former agents say they've had to answer family, friends and even strangers who have one question: what is going on with the FBI? … [One former senior official] worries that the political allegations could hamstring field agents working cases that have nothing to do with politics or Washington, everything from bank robberies and terrorism to white-collar crime or kidnappings.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Sneak peek: The Koch network is launching a new initiative aimed at reducing recidivism. This weekend the Koch brothers and their allied major donors will gather for a winter seminar in California. The theme is “Breaking Barriers: Because Free People are Capable of Extraordinary Things.” As part of that, they will announce a $4 million seed investment in a criminal justice initiative called Safe Streets and Second Chances. That will fund an effort aimed at studying ways to ease prisoner reentry into society and reduce recidivism. Carrie Pettus-Davis will lead the research component, which will include a randomized controlled trial involving more than 1,000 participants in a mix of urban and rural communities across four states: Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.
GET SMART FAST:
- Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) announced that she is pregnant. The 49-year-old combat veteran will become the first sitting senator to give birth while in office. (Paul Kane)
- Google spent more money than any other company influencing Washington last year. The search giant allocated at least $18 million to its lobbying efforts, making it the first tech company to claim the top spot since the Center for Responsive Politics began tracking expenditures 20 years ago. (Hamza Shaban)
- Pope Francis condemned the “evil” of fake news. In the first document by a pope on the subject, Francis said, “Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth.” (Reuters)
- A 15-year-old boy armed with a handgun allegedly walked into a rural high school in Kentucky and opened fire on his classmates, killing two students and wounding a dozen other people before being stopped by a sheriff’s deputy. (Moriah Balingit and Sarah Larimer)
- British regulators said that 21st Century Fox’s bid to take full control of Sky was not in the public interest. Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority expressed fear the move would give the Murdoch family “too much control over news providers in the UK across all media platforms.” (Rick Noack)
- The Michigan man accused of threatening to “gun down” CNN employees is a strong Trump supporter who identified with Adolf Hitler in high school, according to a former classmate, and has suggested that the Holocaust “was exaggerated.” That description of Brandon Griesemer emerged after the FBI accused him of placing menacing phone calls to CNN, in which he called the news organization “fake news” and vowed to carry out a massacre at its Atlanta headquarters. (Trevor Bach, Mark Berman and Kyle Swenson)
- Teenagers who “vape” can become addicted to the nicotine-laced e-cigarettes, a national science panel concluded. The habit may also heighten their risk of smoking conventional cigarettes. (New York Times)
- William W. Bain Jr., founder of the business consulting firm Bain & Company, died at 80. He was an early mentor to Mitt Romney. (New York Times)
- LeBron James reached a new NBA milestone: 30,000 career points. Hours before officially achieving his goal, James took to Instagram to congratulate a picture of his younger self, writing, “Wanna be one of the first to Congratulate you on this accomplishment/achievement tonight that you’ll reach!” (Des Bieler)
SECOND SHUTDOWN WATCH:
-- Immigration talks have stalled — again: Chuck Schumer rescinded his offer of funds for Trump's border wall in exchange for a deal to protect the “dreamers.” Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan report: “[Schumer] said he had withdrawn an offer to Trump of $25 billion for new border security measures in exchange for permanent legal protections for [“dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants.] ‘We’re going to have to start on a new basis, and the wall offer’s off the table,’ Schumer told reporters. He said his proposal applied only to a deal that was never realized. … At the White House, the administration said Tuesday that it expects Congress to move beyond a bipartisan deal to protect the undocumented immigrants that the president rejected during a vulgar exchange with lawmakers nearly two weeks ago. ‘It’s totally unacceptable to the president and should be declared dead on arrival,’ [said Huckabee Sanders.]”
-- Trump’s allies hope to keep the president away from Schumer over the next three weeks. The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Sam Stein report: “The objective is drawn from a recurring fear, shared among Trump allies and anti-immigration hardliners both within and without the administration, that the president’s proclivity to change his tune based on what the last person advised could be exploited by Schumer and Democratic leaders. … For immigration reform advocates, the fraying of the Schumer-Trump relationship and the absence of a direct dialogue between the two is primary evidence that a deal on DACA remains far off.”
-- About 100 demonstrators gathered on Capitol Hill yesterday to protest Democrats who voted to end the shutdown without winning meaningful concessions. Justin Wm. Moyer and Maria Sacchetti report: “[A]bout 50 immigrants’ rights advocates marched to the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)[.] … Demanding to see the senator, the group, which included constituents from Allentown, Reading and Philadelphia, shouted: ‘We did not come here to talk to the paintings!’ Adanjesus Marin of the organization Make the Road Pennsylvania said Casey and other Pennsylvania legislators depend on Latinos to stay in office. He said his group has actions planned ‘every single week’ back home to voice their concerns, and will remember who stood with their community on Election Day.”
-- Go behind the scenes of the shutdown with these Post images from six photographers.
-- Even if Congress can pass a DACA deal, the debate over how many immigrants should benefit from it remains unresolved. David Nakamura explains: “The number of immigrants who arrived under age 18 is estimated to be as high as 3.6 million — about one-third of the total undocumented population of 11 million. The number covered by [DACA] is dramatically lower: 690,000. It is within this vast range that lawmakers must decide how many, ultimately, are eligible for permanent legal status and, potentially, citizenship.” Immigrant advocates are pushing for any DACA fix to cover the largest possible population, but conservatives believe only those previously covered by DACA should be eligible for permanent legal status.
-- The Border Patrol arrested an Arizona State University instructor and volunteer for a group that gives food and water to immigrants crossing the desert. The AP’s Jacques Billeaud reports: “The arrest of Scott Daniel Warren on a federal harboring charge came several hours after the group No More Deaths released videos last week showing some Border Patrol agents kicking over water bottles left for immigrants … Group volunteer Caitlin Deighan stopped short of calling the arrest retaliation, but says she believes it looks suspicious to have charged Warren so close to the release of the videos.”
-- Pushback on yesterday’s 202: My seven takeaways from the short-lived shutdown generated hundreds of passionate reader emails and prompted a flurry of critiques from commentators on the right and the left. Here are two thoughtful takes that make valid points:
National Review columnist David French took issue with my assertion that liberals temperamentally yearn for inclusion, civility and dialogue: “One of my favorite Washington Post writers, James Hohmann, writes the Daily 202 newsletter, and I find it consistently interesting and informative. He tries to be fair to both sides, and I’ve found his analysis insightful. So I was surprised to see his commentary … Yes, of course there are progressives who ‘yearn for inclusion, civility, and dialogue,’ but there are also progressives who despise conservatives, attempt to silence conservative voices, and systematically exclude conservatives from the ‘dialogue’ they allegedly crave. Observe the campus free-speech wars. Is the academy evidence for proposition that lefties temperamentally yearn for civility? Observe late-night television. The cheering, hooting progressive crowds clamoring for more mockery and more derision are hardly yearning for dialogue. Observe progressive political arguments. The doomsday rhetoric directed against policies such as tax cuts or net-neutrality repeal is comically over-the-top. … Air America didn’t fail because it was too mean. It failed because liberal audiences like a different kind of mean than the conservative talk-radio style.”
Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall disagreed that the Resistance has been trying to replicate the tactics of the tea party movement: “A number of James Hohmann’s takeaways have merit. The fact that Democrats believe in government and have constituencies who depend on it, both as federal employees and beneficiaries, makes the dynamics of the shutdown waiting game inherently different and more difficult for Democrats. But … I don’t think it’s right to see this as Democrats trying to replicate the Tea Party playbook. They could try that. Many Democrats would like to see them try it. But they actually haven’t. … Democrats have a bite at this same apple in three weeks. In practice they really haven’t given up anything. They will have the same leverage and, critically, face the same decisions in three weeks as they did over this weekend. The big news here is Democrats playing to their same pattern of reflexive self-flagellation, which generally sets one faction against another to no purpose.”
MEN BEHAVING BADLY:
-- Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) denied ever having pursued a relationship with a young aide who accused him of sexual harassment — even as he conceded that he had developed a deep “affection” for the woman, once telling her over ice cream that he saw her as a “soul mate.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tamari reports: “Meehan … acknowledged that he initially reacted ‘selfishly’ when he found out the longtime aide, decades younger than him, had entered into a serious relationship with another man, and shared a heartfelt, hand-written letter he wrote to her in May wishing her well, but also thanking God ‘for putting you into my life and for all that we have seen and experienced and genuinely shared together.’ . . . 'You are kind and sensitive and caring and infectious with your laugh,' he wrote to the aide. 'You are and have been a complete partner to me and have brought me much happiness. It is a very, very lucky man who might get to be your partner for more of your life.' Asked if a subordinate might not feel comfortable expressing discomfort or rejecting the note, Meehan said ‘in hindsight’ he should ‘should have been looking at it from the perspective of a subordinate and a superior.’ But he quickly added that in his office ‘there is no hierarchy — we call it team Meehan.’”
-- Minnesota Public Radio explained in a letter to members that Garrison Keillor’s contracts were terminated over “dozens” of allegations of “sexually inappropriate incidents.” The creator of “A Prairie Home Companion” claimed that he was “fired” in November for simply touching “a woman’s bare back.” MPR president Jon McTaggart pushed back: “In the allegations [an accuser] provided to MPR, she did not allege that Garrison touched her back, but did claim that he engaged in other unwanted sexual touching. . . . [T]he woman’s attorney presented us with a 12-page letter detailing many of the alleged incidents, including excerpts of emails and written messages, requests for sexual contact and explicit descriptions of sexual communications and touching.” (Abby Ohlheiser)
-- A woman reporter for the Financial Times infiltrated a “men only” charity event that involved groping the “hostesses” hired to cater to attendees’ needs. FT’s Madison Marriage reports: “A black tie evening, Thursday’s event was attended by 360 figures from British business, politics and finance and the entertainment included 130 specially hired hostesses. All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned. … Hostesses reported men repeatedly putting hands up their skirts; one said an attendee had exposed [himself] during the evening.”
-- “Grandma” the clown, who performed with the Big Apple Circus over the past 35 years, resigned after a woman came forward to accuse him of taking pornographic photos of her when she was 16. The New York Times’s Andy Newman reports: “Barry Lubin, 65, who played Grandma in a wig, pearls and a lumpy red dress to audiences of millions, offered his resignation on Friday shortly after the former aerialist contacted the circus to accuse him, said the circus’s chairman, Neil Kahanovitz, on Tuesday. Mr. Lubin, through his lawyer, released a statement Tuesday night acknowledging and apologizing for his conduct. ‘The allegations,’ the statement said, ‘are true. What I did was wrong, and I take full responsibility for my actions.’”
-- AT&T suspended its sponsorship of USA Gymnastics over its handling of the Larry Nassar sex abuse case. (Will Hobson)
THE ROAD TO 2018:
-- Donna Shalala appears to be moving toward a run for a GOP-held House in Florida. From the Miami Herald: “In the scrum to replace the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as the congressional representative of an increasingly left-leaning district, one name is emerging that could potentially clear some of the Democratic field. … Shalala, a former member of Bill Clinton’s cabinet [HHS secretary] and the recent head of the former president’s foundation, has been rumored for weeks to have an interest in Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, which is up for grabs in November.
- “Fueling speculation, voters in the district, which stretches from Miami Beach through Coral Gables and Kendall and down to Homestead, have been polled recently about Shalala. One voter … said the live poll touched on Shalala’s age, university tenure and time at the Clinton Foundation. Politico Florida reported the poll compared Shalala to the large field of Democratic primary opponents, and included a bonus question about impeaching [Trump].
- “One more nugget suggesting a run is possible: Someone registered DonnaShalala.com and Shalalaforcongress.com Sunday using Domain by Proxy. Shalala declined to respond to text messages and voice mails left on her cellphone Monday and Tuesday.
- “Shalala, who turns 77 next month, … enters with a proven ability to raise money, having overseen a fundraising campaign during her 14 years at the University of Miami that topped $3 billion. She also served for about two years as the unpaid head of the Clinton Foundation, before leaving in 2017 to return as a tenured professor in Miami, where she has an endowed chair.”
-- Florida voters will get to decide this November whether to automatically restore voting rights to felons. The qualification of the ballot initiative is a huge victory for the ACLU and other activists, potentially expanding voting rights to more than 1.5 million Floridians and possibly tipping the scales toward Democrats in the country's most significant swing state. HuffPost’s Sam Levine reports: “Florida election officials verified Tuesday that organizers had gathered enough petitions to put the referendum on the ballot this year. Just gathering those signatures was a herculean task for the grassroots effort ― Florida law required the organizers to gather 766,200 signatures, equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the last presidential election. To pass in November, the referendum will need to get the support of 60 percent of voters."
-- Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census could alter the political power balance between cities and rural communities. Michael Scherer reports: “The citizenship question is a particularly fraught one because noncitizens, who may not vote, nonetheless are counted for the purposes of distributing federal funding, apportioning congressional seats and drawing district maps for state and local elections. A majority of the nation’s undocumented immigrants live in just 20 metropolitan areas[.] … That makes urban leaders, mostly Democrats, alarmed by the possibility of the citizenship question[.] … The Census Bureau is expected to finalize the 2020 questionnaire by March 31.”
-- Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) flirted with retiring on the eve of his state's filing deadline, which freaked out top Democrats (he's now decided to run for reelection). The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin writes: “In an interview, Mr. Manchin said he repeatedly expressed his frustration to [Schumer] and other colleagues, telling them that ‘this place sucks,’ before finally signaling Tuesday morning to Mr. Schumer’s aides that he would file his re-election paperwork before West Virginia’s deadline on Saturday. … Mr. Manchin’s discontent illustrated the divisions in [the Democratic] party between those from states that President Trump easily carried and the more liberal bloc of senators[.] … ‘I’ve said this point blank: If people like me can’t win from red states, you’ll be in the minority the rest of your life,’ Mr. Manchin said about his conversations with other Democrats about the need to tolerate more moderate lawmakers.”
-- Top Democrats are pressing billionaire donor Tom Steyer to tone down his campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment. The New York Times’s Alexander Burns reports: “They have prodded him in public, declaring on television that they consider impeachment an impractical idea. And party strategists have pleaded with Democratic candidates for Congress not to join in. But [Steyer] has only intensified his attacks in recent weeks ... Mr. Steyer is likely to unsettle national Democrats further in the coming weeks, with a new phase of his campaign aimed at pushing lawmakers in solidly liberal seats to endorse impeachment. Having collected more than four million email addresses from people who signed an impeachment petition, Mr. Steyer has begun prodding those voters to call congressional offices and lobby them for support.”
-- Just a month after Democrat Doug Jones’s victory, the Alabama House has voted to end special elections for open Senate seats. The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman reports: “The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark[,] … would allow a governor’s appointee for a Senate vacancy to serve until the next general election in the state, rather than have the governor call a special election. … It passed 67 to 31 on a largely party-line vote after a two-hour filibuster from Democrats who said it would diminish voters’ voices in the process. … Clouse said he developed the bill in May and filed the first draft in August, before the Democratic and Republican primaries for the seat. But many Democrats were skeptical.”
-- A “town hall on Medicare for All” organized by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) attracted over 1 million viewers. David Weigel reports: “Sanders has hosted web videos and podcasts on the Medicare for All bill. What was new was the delivery system, a team-up between the left-leaning online video channels The Young Turks, Attn and NowThis. … The town hall was designed to see whether the online networks could combine to draw a bigger audience than Sanders might get on cable. It worked: According to the partners, 1.1 million people watched the event, about as many as play the popular smartphone trivia game HQ during its twice-daily live episodes.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Rex Tillerson denounced a spate of suspected chemical attacks in Syria, blaming Russia for failing to rein in the Syrian government’s use of poison gas against the rebel-held pockets there. Louisa Loveluck and Carol Morello report: “Doctors inside Syria have reported four such attacks since the start of the year, including two on Monday. Medical staff said dozens of civilians have been treated for symptoms of exposure to chlorine, including many women and young children.”
-- Vice President Pence, who will attend next month’s Winter Olympics, is concerned that Kim Jong Un could “hijack the Olympics … in terms of optics and messaging.” Jenna Johnson reports: “Pence plans to speak ‘truth on the world stage, which is the opposite of what the North Koreans do,’ [a senior White House official told reporters during the VP's trip back from the Middle East]. ‘I think a lot of vice presidents in the past have gone ceremoniously to the Olympics, and that’s what they do and that’s great. They cut the ribbon. Check the box,’ the official said. ‘We wouldn’t be making this trip if that’s what it was about.’”
-- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised free trade and at times criticized Trump’s “America First” agenda in his address to the World Economic Forum. The Finance 202’s Tory Newmyer reports from Davos: “Yet Trump’s trade hawks have been quietly building a case that Modi’s government is engaged in precisely the sort of unfair trade practices that the leader decried. … American businesses across a range of sectors have lodged a long list of complaints about their treatment by Modi’s government[.] … [U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer] pressed the case last year, raising concerns directly with Modi when the prime minister visited Washington in June and then in a trade forum with India in October that yielded no apparent progress.” Sign up for Tory’s newsletter here.
-- Trump is slated to honor French President Emmanuel Macron at the first state dinner of his administration. Emily Heil reports: “There’d been much speculation about whether Trump would host any state dinners — he didn’t seem eager to throw one, as the only president in nearly a century not to host a state dinner in his first year in office. … But, it seems we’ll soon be saying ‘bonjour’ to a well-dressed coterie of Francophiles.”
-- A new report from the Pentagon’s independent watchdog says that Afghan units implicated in “gross human rights violations” are continuing to receive training and equipment from U.S. forces. (Politico)
-- Multiple U.S. citizens were killed and injured in the Taliban’s Saturday attack on a Kabul hotel, the State Department announced. (AP)
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
-- The Senate confirmed Jerome Powell to become chairman of the Federal Reserve, voting 85 to 12 in favor of the former financial executive. Powell currently serves as a Fed governor and is largely expected to continue the policies of outgoing chair Janet Yellen. (Jeff Stein)
-- Trump plans to nominate tax lawyer Charles “Chuck” Rettig to lead the IRS. Politico’s Aaron Lorenzo reports: “Rettig, who's considered a tax controversy specialist, has for more than three decades represented clients before the IRS, the Justice Department, state tax authorities and other jurisdictions.”
-- Christopher Wray, who Trump picked as FBI director to replace Cobey and McCabe, is bringing in his own people into the top ranks of the FBI. Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky report: “Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia who is acting head of the Justice Department’s national security division, has been selected to be the FBI’s next general counsel[.] … He replaces James Baker, who was reassigned late last year. … When President Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates over her refusal to defend his travel ban, Boente took over and said he would defend the measure. … Boente’s move to the FBI is notable because some might view him as a Trump loyalist who has shown himself willing to go along with the president’s controversial agenda[.]” Wray also announced a replacement for his chief of staff Jim Rybicki, who’s taking a job in the private sector.
-- CIA Director Mike Pompeo is celebrating one year on the job, a tenure that has so far exceeded the expectations of many. The New York Times’s Matthew Rosenberg reports: “The concerns at the outset were widespread. Mr. Pompeo’s reputation as a partisan bulldog was hardly the typical profile for a role that is intended to be apolitical. And Mr. Trump spent the weeks before taking office attacking the agency[.] … Yet since then, Mr. Trump has largely spared the C.I.A. the kind of political attacks that he has leveled against the Justice Department and the F.B.I. … Some of Mr. Trump’s silence can be credited to Mr. Pompeo, who appears to be pulling off a political balancing act: He has won over officials at America’s premier spy agency, many of whom were deeply offended by Mr. Trump’s attacks, while persuading the president of the C.I.A.’s value and its loyalty.”
-- Trump nominated Wendy Vitter, the wife of former senator David Vitter (R-La.), to be a federal judge in New Orleans. (The Advocate)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump tweeted praise of John Kelly after reports of tension with his chief of staff:
Thank you to General John Kelly, who is doing a fantastic job, and all of the Staff and others in the White House, for a job well done. Long hours and Fake reporting makes your job more difficult, but it is always great to WIN, and few have won more than us!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2018
He also reiterated his demand for a border wall in any DACA deal:
Cryin’ Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after his humiliating defeat, that if there is no Wall, there is no DACA. We must have safety and security, together with a strong Military, for our great people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2018
A Post reporter who was covering Mike Pence's Middle East trip shared this video from the Western Wall:
As Vice President Pence visits the Western Wall, male journalists are given the front-row spots. Female journalists are standing in the very back, standing on chairs to try to see over all of the guys. pic.twitter.com/K3tnABSUnv— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) January 23, 2018
The hashtag #PenceFence was used repeatedly:
A Post columnist mocked Trump's perspective on the FBI's leadership:
POTUS, or Magic 8 Ball?— Ruth Marcus (@RuthMarcus) January 23, 2018
Q Are you concerned about the senior leadership at the FBI?
THE PRESIDENT: We'll see how it all works out.
Rep, Patrick Meehan offered this excuse for his alleged sexual harassment. Per a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter:
From an editor for Axios:
Folks, I think we may have finally found the outer limit of blaming everything on Obamacarehttps://t.co/4vXPs2DbG6— Sam Baker (@sam_baker) January 23, 2018
A Philadelphia political columnist accused conservative evangelicals of hypocrisy:
If, hypothetically, the WSJournal had outed Prez Obama for screwing a porn star and had unearthed a $130,000 hush payment; and if, hypothetically, it turned out that his '08 campaign had been involved in the payment...how do you suppose white evangelicals would've reacted?— Dick Polman (@DickPolman1) January 23, 2018
From a former speechwriter to George W. Bush:
It is an amazing thing that Donald Trump is perceived as championing Christian values while the churchgoing war hero, incorruptible public servant, and devoted father of a disabled child Robert Mueller is a demon figure to religious right https://t.co/wPP6nwI59Y— David Frum (@davidfrum) January 23, 2018
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) proposed going rogue over held-up nominations:
Sen. Tom Cotton makes a threat: If Democrats don't stop using Senate procedure to jam nominations, "we might be compelled to change the rules on our own," he tells @hughhewitt— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) January 23, 2018
I wonder what @SenateMajLdr thinks of that.
The MSNBC host responded with this truth bomb from the recent past:
Cotton personally put a hold on an Obama nominee *until she died* as a tactic for obstructing Obama. https://t.co/Zi6yUpcQiN— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) January 23, 2018
This New York Times headline went viral:
Tammy Duckworth celebrated her pregnancy:
Wanted to share some exciting personal news... pic.twitter.com/ZZyu9pG2nq— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) January 23, 2018
A Times correspondent noted this:
"No sitting senator has ever given birth" is a pretty good one-line explanation for our nation's parental leave and childcare policies.— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) January 23, 2018
Dylan Farrow, who has accused Woody Allen of molesting her as a child, replied to a question from Justin Timberlake, who is in Allen's latest movie:
An LA Times editor noted this after Trump tweeted about “Crazy Jim Acosta of Fake News CNN”:
Has anyone told Trump that yesterday a man--clearly influenced by this sort of anti-CNN, anti-press attack--was arrested as he planned a REAL attack at CNN-HQ to, as he put it, "gun you all down"?— Jackie Calmes (@jackiekcalmes) January 23, 2018
ATTN: @PressSec https://t.co/c9bhvVETLx
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The New York Times Magazine, “How Arafat Eluded Israel’s Assassination Machine,” by Ronen Bergman: “As a reporter in Israel, I have interviewed hundreds of [its intelligence and defense officials] and studied thousands of classified documents that revealed a hidden history, surprising even in the context of Israel’s already fierce reputation. Many of the people I spoke to, in explaining why they did what they did, would simply cite the Babylonian Talmud: ‘If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.’ In my reporting, I found that since World War II, Israel has used assassination and targeted-killing more than any other country in the West, in many cases endangering the lives of civilians. But I also discovered a long history of profound — and often rancorous — internal debates over how the state should be preserved. Can a nation use the methods of terrorism? Can it harm innocent civilians in the process? What are the costs? Where is the line?”
-- The New York Times, “Once Cozy With Silicon Valley, Democrats Grow Wary of Tech Giants,” by Cecilia Kang and Daisuke Wakabayashi: “Tech policy officials from the Obama administration and from [Hillary] Clinton’s campaign, as well as prominent Democrats in Congress, are demanding changes from companies they had long viewed as too important and nimble for regulations. … Titled ‘#DigitalDeceit: Exposing the Internet Technologies of Precision Propaganda,’ [a new] report argues that the interests of internet giants in helping advertisers run persuasive campaigns are aligned with those of someone looking to spread misinformation.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Half of Republicans say they think Trump is a ‘genius’ — which is … hugely telling,” from Aaron Blake: “In response to growing questions about his mental fitness, Trump tweeted … that he wasn't just stable, but in fact a ‘very stable genius.’ While Americans are about evenly split on his stability, [according to the results of a new Post-ABC News poll], the genius question is decidedly not an even split. Just 21 percent of American adults believe Trump's intellect rises to the level of a genius … But among that 21 percent is a substantial portion of Republican voters: 50 percent of them, all told. Just 40 percent of Republicans believe Trump is not a genius. So on balance more Republicans buy into Trump's claim than don't. These Republicans apparently don't think Trump was just making a hyperbolic claim about his intellect; they actually believe he is a genius.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Drudge: Trump loves his job, can’t wait to run for reelection in 2020,” from the Hill: “Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge said in a rare tweet Tuesday that President Trump loves his job and is ‘already talking about his 2020 re-election run.’ Drudge’s tweet linked to a story on The Hill detailing comments from author Michael Wolff, who said Tuesday that he believes Trump does not want to be president. ‘Time to call out Michael Wolff and his fabricated bulls---!’ Drudge tweeted. ‘I had dinner with the president a few weeks ago and he was in fine form. He was optimistic, engaged, on top of the world, loving the job. And already talking about his 2020 re-election run!!’ ... [Wolff said in an interview,] ‘In the end, I think that the real truth is he does not want to be the president — the president of the United States.'"
Trump will host a credentialing ceremony for new ambassadors and then have lunch with Pence. The president will also participate in a working session with mayors before departing for Switzerland tonight.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Joe Biden blamed Mitch McConnell for stopping Barack Obama from calling out Russian interference when the Republican leader would not sign on to a bipartisan condemnation of the meddling before the 2016 election. Biden said that moment made him believe, “[T]he die had been cast . . . this was all about the political play.” (Politico)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Brrr, again. District residents will see colder temperatures today more typical of January. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Temperatures in the 30s this morning aren’t all that chilly. But overall it’s a noticeably colder day than the past few, with afternoon highs in the mid- to upper 40s under partly sunny skies.”
-- Those in Virginia and Maryland who prepaid their property taxes may still be eligible for a deduction. Rachel Siegel reports: “[T]he Internal Revenue Service announced [in December] that taxpayers could claim the deduction only if those property taxes were assessed and paid in 2017. … But some tax experts in the Washington region say that the IRS is wrong and that its stance carries no legal authority. They are encouraging homeowners who made prepayments to claim the deductions, and they are warning government officials not to offer refunds to those who prepaid, saying that doing so would jeopardize the chances of deductibility.”
-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) wants the state to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors. Fenit Nirappil reports: “[And Hogan] ordered a study on converting a shuttered Baltimore jail into a treatment facility, part of his broader efforts to combat the drug crisis.”
-- The Virginia Senate narrowly passed a bill to allow guns in places of worship. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has pledged to veto it. (Laura Vozzella)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Seth Meyers shared audio of the “tiny voice in the back of Donald Trump's head”:
The Post’s Salvador Rizzo fact-checked Trump’s claim that the number of people crossing the border is “way down”:
Fox News unveiled its new newsroom:
Meet Maame Biney, the first African American woman to make the U.S. Olympic speedskating team:
(Read Rick Maese’s full story on Biney here.)
And astronauts completed the first spacewalk of 2018: