With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump announced last night that he is “looking forward” to speaking with special counsel Robert Mueller's team, that he “absolutely” would do so under oath and that an interview could happen in the next two or three weeks. “I would love to do it, and I would like to do it as soon as possible,” the president said.

-- In the room where it happened: “The comments came during an impromptu meeting in the West Wing, where reporters were gathered to speak with senior officials for a background briefing about immigration,” Josh Dawsey, David Nakamura and Devlin Barrett report. “Trump walked into the meeting unannounced and began talking. The president later told reporters to quote him on the record. Trump’s remarks took White House officials by surprise and came as his lawyers were negotiating with Mueller’s team on a potential interview. The president’s lawyers have repeatedly encouraged him not to post tweets or make comments about the investigation without their knowledge, saying such comments could damage him.”

-- The president’s proclamation reflects his preternatural self-confidence that he can talk his way out of any pickle. He insists he’s done nothing wrong, and he recognizes the bad optics of refusing to cooperate. Perhaps he thinks he can publicly convey support for transparency, even as he privately drags his feet, puts up roadblocks and makes demands that Mueller won’t agree to.

A conventional politician would be boxed in by this kind of proclamation, but Trump has long demonstrated a Houdini-like willingness to wiggle out of commitments. We’ve still never seen those tax returns, for example, which he promised he’d put out during the campaign and then backtracked on after the election.

But this Russia investigation is different than previous quagmires Trump has found himself bogged down by. If he drags his feet now, more Americans could conclude that he’s worried and/or trying to hide something.

-- Clean up on Aisle 9: The president’s lawyers quickly sought to clarify his statements. From the front page of today's New York Times: “Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer leading the response to the investigation, said Mr. Trump was speaking hurriedly and intended only to say that he was willing to meet. ‘He’s ready to meet with them, but he’ll be guided by the advice of his personal counsel,’ Mr. Cobb said. He said the arrangements were being worked out between Mr. Mueller’s team and the president’s personal lawyers.”

-- Cobb expressed concern last week that Trump might be walking into a “perjury trap” by talking to Mueller: “I would hope that a fair-minded Office of Special Counsel would approach it in a dutiful way consistent with precedent and it wouldn't just be a perjury trap,” the White House lawyer told CBS News.

-- Mueller’s team wants to question Trump about his decisions to fire Michael Flynn as national security adviser and James Comey as FBI director. In recent weeks, investigators have also questioned witnesses about his attempt to push out Jeff Sessions after the attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation.

People who have appeared before Mueller’s team say prosecutors have detailed accounts of events, sometimes to the minute, and have surprised witnesses by showing them emails or documents they were unaware that the team had or that their colleagues had written,” per Josh, David and Devlin. “One person said Mueller’s team has asked about Trump’s private comments around key events and how he explained decisions. ‘They are looking for a pattern,’ said this person, who has spoken with Mueller’s team and requested anonymity to speak about a federal investigation.”

-- The president mounted a preemptive defense against potential obstruction charges, asserting that “fighting back” does not constitute obstructing justice. “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back?’” Trump said. “You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’”

Trump said he does not recall asking acting FBI director Andrew McCabe whom he voted for in an Oval Office meeting last year. Then he argued it would not be a big deal if he did. “I don’t think I did,” he said. “I don’t know what’s the big deal with that. I would ask you who you voted for. … I don’t remember asking him that question. … I think it’s also a very unimportant question.”

-- Read the full transcript of Trump’s back-and-forth with reporters here.

-- “As the President's attorneys try to whittle down Mueller's areas of interest, a source familiar with the matter says the special counsel has obliged by offering a list of topics,” CNN reported last night. In addition to the firings of Comey and Flynn, Mueller also reportedly wants to know about Trump's reaction to Comey's testimony last May, shortly before he was fired, and his outreach to intelligence leaders about the Russia investigation. “The lawyer-to-lawyer discussions about Trump's possible testimony are informal and Mueller is not obligated to accept the terms presented by the President's team,” CNN notes. “If negotiations break down, Mueller could seek a subpoena to compel wide-ranging testimony from the President before a grand jury.”

-- “Mueller is moving at a far faster pace than previously known and appears to be wrapping up at least one key part of his investigation — whether [Trump] obstructed justice, according to current and former U.S. officials,” Bloomberg News reports this morning. “Even if Mueller wraps up the obstruction probe, other elements of his investigation — such as whether Trump or anyone close to him helped Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential election or broke any other laws — are likely to continue for months more, said two officials who asked to remain anonymous speaking about the probe.”

-- Many supporters of the president have appeared on Fox News to make the case that he should not talk to Mueller. Sometimes it seems like they’re trying to reach an audience of one by appearing on the channel they know he watches. The words “perjury trap” have been coming up a lot on the air.

Former Trump adviser and longtime confidant Roger Stone said last night that going through with plans to talk to Mueller would be a “suicide mission.” On Laura Ingraham’s prime time show, Stone said that a “first year law student” would advise the president that Mueller is setting “an obvious perjury trap.”

“He is taking advantage of the president’s loquaciousness,” Stone said of Mueller. (He was once business partners with Paul Manafort, who has been indicted by Mueller.) He went on to criticize John Yoo, a former Justice Department official, for saying that Trump should meet with Mueller. He dismissed him as a “neocon” and “Bush-ite.”

Andrew Napolitano, a former judge and Fox News legal analyst, also said emphatically that Trump should never agree to any interview. He explained that it’s a bad idea because the president can never know what Mueller's team knows and what evidence they already have ahead of time.

“Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade made the same point during his show yesterday: “It seems to me not in the president's interest to … sit down and try to recall every single interaction, if somebody is there trying to maybe catch you in a perjury trap.”

-- Commentators who aren’t sympathetic to Trump are making similar points:

“I think that the unscripted appearance of the president talking about this has to make his lawyers a bit nuts because it's very hard to walk this back,” Michael Zeldin, who once worked for Mueller at the Justice Department, told Anderson Cooper on CNN last night. “Mueller should say to Ty Cobb and John Dowd, 'Good, your client is all ready to go, we are all ready to go, let's do it in the Map Room on Tuesday with a court reporter and we will settle this thing.’”

“No lawyer worth his or her salt would let a client like Trump go in for an interview,” Cristian Farias writes in New York Magazine. “A person with knowledge of the Mueller investigation who asked to remain anonymous told me that Trump is the kind of client who would ‘humiliate you and destroy you because he just can’t follow directions.’ … ‘The man’s uncontrollable. He’s a loose cannon,’ the person with knowledge of the Mueller investigation said. ‘No matter how much you prep him, no matter what small words you use to explain to him the potential landmines he could step on … he will leap in blindly and say whatever pops into his head, and that could be a potential disaster. … The absolute last thing I want to do in my life is be sitting next to Donald Trump being questioned by the special counsel.’”

Trump, in a 2012 deposition for a lawsuit against Trump University, testified that he’d been a witness ‘over 100’ times,” Vanity Fair’s Chris Smith notes. “Often he seems nonchalant: In a 2016 dispute over celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s deal to open a restaurant inside Washington’s Old Post Office, Trump claimed he’d done ‘virtually nothing’ in preparation for questioning. Sometimes he is both conversant in fine details and craftily evasive. Trump sued journalist Tim O’Brien, claiming the journalist had understated Trump’s net worth. O’Brien’s attorneys, in a 2007 deposition, caught Trump in a series of falsehoods and exaggerations. … A judge dismissed the lawsuit. There is also, infamously, the 2011 deposition during which Trump erupted in anger when attorney Elizabeth Beck, who had recently given birth, said she would use part of the lunch break to pump breast milk.”

-- Three more updates related to the investigation:

1. A seemingly accidental filing by Paul Manafort’s attorneys indicates that an informant inside the former Trump campaign chairman’s consulting firm provided information to federal investigators. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports: “The document, titled ‘DOJ, OSC and the Press,’ says that a reporter appeared to have obtained access to internal documents from the firm Manafort founded, Davis Manafort Partners International. The memo indicates that an affidavit for a seizure warrant obtained by prosecutors on the same day Manafort was indicted in October says that a Davis Manafort staffer acknowledged allowing a journalist to look at the firm's digital records. ‘In the Winter of 2017 (sic 2016) employee of DMI — CS-1 permitted the reporter to view material on a hard drive copy of DMI's electronic files,’ the document reads, using a standard FBI acronym for a confidential source. ‘Government obtained warrant for the hard drive.’”

2. Former federal prosecutor William Burck is representing three high-profile clients in the Russia probes — Steve Bannon, Don McGahn and Reince Priebus — which could lead to legal conflicts. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn reports: “At a minimum the dynamic could be awkward. At worst, it could create tensions that would leave Burck’s clients looking for new legal representation. In an interview … Burck — who is rarely quoted by reporters — acknowledged the potential for ethical conundrums and said he will keep reassessing the situation as the special counsel’s investigation develops. ‘It’s a general pool type of relationship where, if a conflict arises, where everyone in good faith will try to figure out what the best way to proceed is,’ Burck said. … Mueller himself has signed off on Burck’s triplet of Trump insiders[.]”

3. Two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are calling on their chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), to share transcripts of witness interviews with Mueller. In a letter, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) wrote that these documents are “highly relevant” to the special counsel's probe, especially their closed-door sit-down with Donald Trump Jr., to discuss his June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Mike Pence needed to make a special trip to the Capitol to cast a tiebreaking vote to confirm Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to an international religious freedom post. Every Democrat voted against him, including some with whom he was very friendly as a senator, highlighting just how toxic Brownback has become during his tumultuous time in the governor's mansion. (Sean Sullivan and Julie Zauzmer)

-- The president of Michigan State University resigned amid fallout from the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse scandal. Susan Svrluga reports: “Lou Anna Simon, who had been credited with building the public university into a formidable academic center bolstered by fundraising and research prowess, stepped down Wednesday in the face of a wave of public outrage. Simon said she had planned to retire in 2016 but postponed her departure after learning of allegations about Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November to sexual assault. In a statement released Wednesday night, she spoke directly to survivors, who have challenged her in harrowing testimony in recent days. ‘ . . . I can never say enough that I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician was really such an evil, evil person who inflicted such harm under the guise of medical treatment,’ Simon says.”

The announcement came after Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison following a marathon hearing that featured emotional, powerful statements from more than 160 women who asserted he sexually abused them. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina declared: “I just signed your death warrant . . . It is my honor and privilege to sentence you because, sir, you do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again.” (Will Hobson has more.)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A Brazilian appeals court unanimously upheld a corruption conviction against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Though the panel stopped short of jailing the former leader, its decision upends Brazil’s presidential race — as well as Lula’s planned political comeback. (Anna Jean Kaiser and Anthony Faiola)
  2. U.S. tourism has plummeted since Trump took office. A new report says the “Trump Slump,” making America second to Spain as the most popular travel destination, has translated to $4.6 billion in lost spending and an estimated 40,000 jobs. (NBC News)
  3. After more than a decade, Cecile Richards is planning to step down as the president of Planned Parenthood. Her departure will be a significant change for the women’s health and reproductive rights organization, which saw a major expansion of its fundraising and organizing capabilities under her leadership. (David Weigel)
  4. A second woman accused Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray of sexual misconduct, prompting Murray to announce he would not seek reelection or run for governor. Murray was widely considered the front-runner in the governor’s race until a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s. (Casper Star-Tribune)
  5. Neighbors reported seeing the Turpin siblings — kids of the California couple who is facing 40 years in prison — marching in circles around their house at night. The family’s behavior seemed odd, neighbors said, but none of them suspected the truth: that the siblings were malnourished and being held captive by their parents. (Kristine Phillips and Marwa Eltagouri)
  6. Fairfax County’s police chief released footage of the traffic stop that resulted in Bijan Ghaisar's death. In the video, two U.S. Park Police officers can be seen firing at close range into Ghaisar’s vehicle. There is no indication of provocation by or even interaction with Ghaisar in his final moments. Both of Virginia’s senators demanded more details on the shooting from the FBI and called the footage “disturbing.” (Tom Jackman
  7. The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission are cracking down on products that claim to treat opioid addiction. The 12 products cited by federal regulators include “Opiate Freedom 5-Pack,” “CalmSupport” and “Soothedrawal.” (Laurie McGinley)
  8. New technology may give doctors an additional 10 hours to respond to some strokes. Advanced brain imaging is challenging the conventional wisdom that doctors have only six hours to save precious brain tissue following a stroke. (Lenny Bernstein)
  9. Elton John announced he will retire from touring. Speaking from New York City’s Gotham Hall, the singer detailed plans for a mega-sized “farewell tour” — which will ultimately span three years and take him to five continents. In other words, you probably haven’t missed your chance to see him. (AP)
  10. In 1962, a group of prisoners successfully escaped from Alcatraz and were never seen or heard from again. Now, more than five decades later, a man is claiming he’s one of the escapees. (Amy B Wang)
  11. A reporter for the Birmingham News may have uncovered the remains of the last vessel to carry slaves to America. The Clotilda brought slaves to Alabama in 1860, decades after the United States banned the trans-Atlantic slave trade, so Capt. William Foster torched the ship to hide the evidence of its passage. Reporter Ben Raines believes he discovered the remains of the ship, which are now being investigated to confirm their authenticity. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

OPEN TO AMNESTY (AKA TRUMP-NESTY):

-- Trump said that he is open to a path to citizenship for some “dreamers” as part of the immigration deal being hashed out in Congress — signaling a possible breakthrough in the stalled negotiations. David Nakamura reports: “In an impromptu discussion with reporters, Trump emphasized that his support of a citizenship path [for DACA recipients] would be contingent on securing $25 billion for [his border wall] and $5 billion for additional border upgrades. The president also is expected to continue his push to curb legal immigration … White House aides said the president would release a complete ‘framework’ on Monday. The aides said that plan probably would grant immediate provisional legal status to [immigrants protected under the DACA program]. That group would then be eligible to pursue full citizenship over 10 to 12 years.”

“We’re going to morph into it,” Trump said of citizenship. “It’s going to happen — over a period of 10 to 12 years. If somebody's done a great job and worked hard, it keeps the incentive to do a great job. . . . I think it's a nice thing to have the incentive, after a period of years, of being able to become a citizen.”

“Congress members have expressed exasperation that Trump has not clearly articulated his demands and vacillated over the past several [weeks],” Nakamura writes. “A senior White House official said the framework would give lawmakers a clearer set of guidelines to help break the impasse.” “This president is committed to fixing this damn problem,” that official told reporters Wednesday. “What we were hearing constantly from [Capitol] Hill is . . . ‘Look, I’m not going to put my neck out and support something unless I know the president will sign it.’”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who helped draft last week’s scuttled immigration plan, welcomed Trump's remarks as a sign of “presidential leadership on immigration.” “With this strong statement by [Trump], I have never felt better about our chances of finding a solution on immigration,” he said in a statement.

Democrats said they have not been consulted about what the White House plans to roll out Monday.

-- Senate Democrats say DACA doesn't have to be part of a long-term government spending bill. Politico’s Heather Caygle, Sarah Ferris and Burgess Everett report: “But House Democrats have signaled they are not ready to go along with a long-term budget deal without a fix to [DACA.] … The division among Democrats is complicating negotiations, as lawmakers in both parties face intense pressure — and a two-week time crunch — to show progress on government funding, immigration and a raft of other issues that have resulted in the government operating on stopgap spending bills since September.”

-- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) intends to introduce a bill that would more than double the maximum number of temporary visas for high-skilled workers. Bloomberg’s Naomi Nix and Ben Brody report: “The measure … would allow as many as 195,000 H-1B visas based on demand, an increase of 110,000, according to draft copy of the legislation. The measure may set up a fight with the Trump administration. During his campaign for president, [Trump] called the high-skilled H-1B system a ‘cheap labor program’ that takes away jobs from Americans.” Hatch said his proposal could get rolled into a DACA deal. 

ABOUT THAT “MEMO”:

You may be following the controversy surrounding a so-called “memo” penned by Republican staffers who work for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), which has become a “conservative rallying cry.” The document accuses the FBI and Justice Department of abusing their surveillance powers. Trump loyalists want it declassified and shared with the public, but Democrats say it's part of the broader campaign to undermine Mueller's probe.

-- Now Democrats on the Intelligence panel have produced a “counter-memo” outlining their views on the intelligence community’s handling of sensitive information in the Russia probe. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The panel’s top Democrat, Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), intends to ask the panel Monday to allow all House members to read the minority’s take[.] … ‘We need to produce our own memo that lays out the actual facts and show how the majority memo distorts the work of the FBI and the Department of Justice,’ Schiff said in a telephone interview. If the GOP goes public with its document, he added, Democrats would insist that their memo also be publicized.”

-- The Justice Department is concerned about the possibility Republicans will release cherry-picked classified information. “In a letter sent Wednesday to [Nunes], Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that it would be ‘extraordinarily reckless’ for the committee to release the memo without first giving the Justice Department and the FBI ‘the opportunity to review [it]’ and tell panel members ‘of the risk of harm to national security and to ongoing investigations that could come from public release,'" Karoun reports.

-- Even the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), has been denied access to the GOP “memo.” CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju report: “Burr's staff requested a copy of the memo and has been denied, just as the FBI and Justice Department have also been denied … ‘It's Devin's memo so you need to ask him what it means. I sort of don't discuss anything that is part of our investigation, so I'll leave it up to him to describe,’ Burr said.”

-- The Nunes “memo” specifically names James Comey, Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein in describing alleged surveillance abuses. “And when it comes out, these current and former officials — all GOP bêtes noires — are likely to face even more criticism from the right over their involvement in FBI counterintelligence work,” the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman report.

-- A CNN analysis found hundreds of newly created Twitter accounts promoting the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. CNN’s Donie O'Sullivan reports: “More than 1,000 accounts that were set up between Thursday — when the hashtag first appeared — and Sunday night have tweeted the hashtag. 460 of those were what are known as ‘egg accounts,’ accounts that don't even have a profile picture.”

-- The head of Facebook's news feed division responded to criticism over its two-question survey meant to minimize fake news. The only survey questions are: “Do you recognize the following websites?” and “How much do you trust each of these domains?” Hamza Shaban reports: “[C]ritics argued that the survey could be manipulated and would fail to accurately gauge the quality of news outlets … Some people were startled by the simplicity of the survey."

THE TEXTS:

-- Trump and his allies have attacked the FBI for its failure to save five months of text messages exchanged by Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, dangling a not-so-subtle suggestion that the department might have been acting politically. The FBI actually failed to save messages from thousands of cellphones, which were apparently struck by the exact same technical glitch. “That the glitch that affected their messages also impacted other FBI phones might cast doubt on the theory that the two officials’ texts were specifically and intentionally withheld,” Matt Zapotosky reports.

-- A reference in one text to a “secret society” that has been highly cited by Republicans may have been made in jest. ABC News’s Mike Levine reports: “‘Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society,’ [Page’s full text message to Strzok reads]. That text stands alone in the series of messages obtained by ABC News — with no apparent tie to other messages sent before or after it. … Asked Wednesday whether he believes there’s a ‘secret society’ inside the FBI to take down the president, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said, ‘That's Strzok and Page’s term.’”

-- Bigger picture, New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait argues that Republicans are using the Russian playbook against the FBI: “Odds are, you don’t remember any of [the revelations contained in the stolen emails from John Podesta and the DNC]. But when WikiLeaks published them two years ago, they created a furor. … What the episode showed was that, if hostile actors are allowed to peek into a vast trove of their target’s private thoughts, they can usually find something that sounds shady. This is exactly the method Republicans are now using to discredit the FBI. For weeks, Republicans have followed the WikiLeaks formula with these texts, selectively leaking snippets of conversation to feed a distorted story line to the media.”

FEDERALISM WATCH:

-- The DOJ ramped up its effort to crack down on “sanctuary cities,” threatening to subpoena 23 states and localities the department suspects might be “unlawfully interfering” with federal immigration enforcementincluding California, Chicago and New York City. Matt reports: “In a new letter, Bureau of Justice Assistance Director Jon Adler said officials remained ‘concerned’ that the places had policies that violate the law, even after their previous responses. He asked for a new bevy of documents — including ‘any orders, directives, instructions, or guidance to your law enforcement employees’ — and said the department would subpoena the materials if necessary.’”

-- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order meant to circumvent the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality, becoming the second governor to do so after Montana’s Steve Bullock (D). Brian Fung reports: “Neither measure directly reinstates . . . net neutrality rules[.] … Instead, the orders require state officials to purchase Internet service only from broadband companies that abide by the principles of net neutrality.”

-- California sued the Trump administration over its repeal of an Obama-era rule prohibiting fracking. Dino Grandoni reports: “’The risks of fracking to our health and our environment are real,’ Xavier Becerra [D] said at a news conference Wednesday . . . Separately, a coalition of environmental and tribal groups sued to block the rollback of the fracking rule as well. ‘President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke didn’t let the law or facts get in their way in their zeal to repeal,’ Becerra added. Over the course of 2017, California has challenged the Trump administration in court at nearly every turn … In total, Becerra has sued the Trump administration 26 times, fracking suit included.”

-- Three organizations filed a lawsuit against Kentucky’s plan to impose work requirements on those seeking Medicaid coverage. Amy Goldstein reports: “The federal lawsuit, lodged on behalf of 15 Kentuckians at risk of losing coverage and medical care, alleges that the federal health officials who approved the plan acted illegally and in conflict with Medicaid law that only Congress has power to change.”

-- Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through the state legislature. The eight other states that have legalized marijuana did so through ballot initiatives. Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, signed the bill this week with “mixed emotions,” he said, due to concerns about the possible sale of marijuana to minors. (Katie Zezima)

THE REST OF TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- Top Republican lawmakers slam Trump’s new tariffs. Erica Werner, Heather Long and David J. Lynch report: “[A]t least half a dozen Republican senators condemned Trump’s decision — his first tariff action — exposing GOP divisions over international trade that threaten the uneasy alliance between the president and lawmakers of his own party. … Republicans are drafting a letter to Trump putting those concerns on record. The lawmakers said the tariffs could start a trade war that would damage the U.S. economy and threaten jobs, hurting the American workers Trump says he wants to help. The lawmakers also cautioned the administration to move carefully as it renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement[.] … The tariffs and uncertain nature of NAFTA discussions have stoked fears among GOP lawmakers that Trump will follow through on threats to withdraw the United States from the trade pact.”

  • The Korean company LG has already announced plans to raise prices on washing machines in response to the tariffs. (Aaron Gregg)

-- Trump’s long-promised infrastructure plan could finally be unveiled within the next two weeks. Politico’s Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan report: “[Senior Trump aide Paul Teller] said [a leaked infrastructure plan] was not reflective of the administration's ultimate proposal to fix the country's crumbling roads and bridges. Teller said the president will give more details during next week's State of the Union address and then present a concrete document to lawmakers in two to four weeks …”

-- The administration is searching for additional ways for Americans to dodge Obamacare’s individual mandate. Paige Winfield Cunningham and Juliet Eilperin report: “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is working on guidance expanding the ‘hardship’ exemptions from the 2010 health-care law’s mandate that people purchase health plans[.] … Agency officials haven’t yet finalized the guidance, but aim to increase the number of reasons people could cite as justifications for not showing they’re insured when they file their tax returns.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- The Senate confirmed Alex Azar as HHS secretary, approving the former pharmaceutical executive by a 55-to-43 vote. Amy Goldstein reports: “He will be under pressure to find ways to constrain drug prices — a realm in which suspicions of him run high given his years as a top executive of Eli Lilly. In addition, he will be at the vortex of the ongoing political feud over the Affordable Care Act … Seven Democrats voted for Azar’s confirmation, while one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), opposed him.”

-- A 24-year-old former Trump campaign worker whose rapid rise through the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy was detailed by The Post will step down by the end of the month. Robert O'Harrow Jr. reports: “Taylor Weyeneth, who graduated from college in May 2016, was named a White House liaison to the drug office the following March and then promoted to deputy chief of staff in July, at age 23. His only professional experience after college and before becoming a political appointee was working on the Trump presidential campaign. … Weyeneth stayed on through the brief government shutdown that began over the weekend and was one of three ONDCP employees designated as essential, officials said. The White House’s announcement Wednesday came after questions from The Post about that designation.”

-- Richard Corday, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who is running for governor in Ohio, unleashed harsh criticism against his successor, Mick Mulvaney. Renae Merle reports: “In a memo to bureau staffers, Mulvaney pledged this week to tone down the CFPB’s regulatory and enforcement efforts. ‘It is not appropriate for any government entity to 'push the envelope' when it comes into conflict with our citizens,’ Mulvaney said in his memo. … The memo has drawn howls of protests from consumer advocates who say Mulvaney is attempting to gut the bureau[.]"

Mulvaney has also caught flak for reconsidering regulations of payday lenders. “While a Republican congressman, Mulvaney received donations from several payday lenders, including one that the CFPB had been investigating. World Acceptance Corp. said in a statement Tuesday that the CFPB had sent the company a letter ‘indicating the investigation into the company’s marketing and lending practices has been completed.’”

-- Rex Tillerson’s redesign of the State Department is causing tension with USAID’s leadership. Bloomberg’s Nick Wadhams reports: “‘Per direction from the Front Office, we are suspending all USAID involvement in the Joint Redesign as of Monday, January 22nd,’ Jim Richardson, the redesign chief at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in a Jan. 19 email to senior staff obtained by Bloomberg News. ‘You should not work on any Joint Redesign activities.’ Pressed to explain the email, USAID spokesman Clayton McCleskey said the agency is ‘currently clarifying the roles and responsibilities of USAID staff who will be working with State on the Redesign, and the exact outcomes and timelines for each project.’ … The contradictory signals reflect increasing discord over Tillerson’s redesign, which has been the signature initiative of the secretary of state’s term so far but has been clouded by a wave of departures and a lack of clarity over its goals.”

THE ROAD TO 2018:

-- A judge acquitted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who is up for reelection this year, of several corruption charges just days after federal prosecutors announced they would retry the case. Marwa Eltagouri reports: “Menendez and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, had faced 18 counts of alleged corruption. Seven of the charges related to bribery were resolved. … In his ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William Walls said public corruption prosecutors failed to demonstrate that there was a clear exchange of payment for the promise to perform an ‘official act.’ … Abbe Lowell, Menendez’s lead lawyer, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that a retrial ‘makes even less sense than it did last week, and we hope it would be reconsidered.’”

-- “How Tough Is the GOP’s Midterm Challenge? Just Ask Rodney Frelinghuysen,” from the Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook: “A ficus tree sits in a corner of the Morris County Democratic headquarters as a symbol of a top party priority in the 2018 midterm elections — unseating one of the U.S. House’s most powerful Republicans, Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen. The plant is a homage to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, who once ran a write-in campaign for a ficus against the New Jersey congressman to highlight the absence of competition against entrenched incumbents. Mr. Frelinghuysen’s was a safe district, in which Democrats had never put up a well-funded opponent. Now Mr. Frelinghuysen, 71, is facing the first serious challenge of his 23-year congressional career, a race that stands as a barometer of the GOP’s 2018 headwinds. Even once-secure Republicans at the pinnacle of congressional power appear at risk …” “Half of the Republicans in this Congress have never seen a wind in their faces,’’ said former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds. “This is a wind-in-your-face election.”

-- A Democratic pollster expressed fear the party will “squander the opportunity Donald Trump is serving them on a silver platter” by not properly motivating voters before the midterms. David Weigel reports: “The problem, according to [Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund], is a drop-off in enthusiasm among the ‘Rising American Electorate’ — less white and much younger than the electorate that wins midterms for Republicans. … ‘Democrats are running out of time to prove themselves to the Rising American Electorate and make sure voters know they will disrupt Washington and knock Trump for not keeping his promises,’ [WVWVAF president Page] Gardner said."

TRUMP HAS ARRIVED IN DAVOS:

-- As globalists, world leaders and members of the financial elite gather in the Swiss town of Davos this week, Trump is planning to tout his success — making the message of his trip, essentially, “I told you so.” Anne Gearan raises the curtain: “After a year in office, ‘America First’ … is now the backbone of a Trump economic and foreign policy that Trump is expected to argue has benefited the United States exactly the way he said it would. As he does at home, Trump will crow about a soaring stock market, low unemployment, the return of some jobs from overseas and the passage of his tax cut package. At Davos this year, Trump will stress that ‘America First’ is not ‘America Alone,’ [Gary] Cohn said Tuesday, while insisting on evenhanded trade relationships.”

Trump will also try to turn on the “salesman’s charm”: “[Trump] will reiterate that a prosperous America benefits the world,” Cohn told reporters, adding that he will also speak to world leaders about “investing in the United States, moving businesses to the United States, hiring American workers, changing the direction of our economy to be one of the biggest and best and most efficient economies in the world.” Trump is slated to host a dinner for leaders of several European companies as part of a bid to encourage investment and expansion in the United States.

-- Some Davos attendees plan to walk out of Trump’s speech in protest of his “shithole” remark. Quartz’s Heather Timmons reports: “African CEOs said they’d like Trump to acknowledge that he said something inappropriate, and say he’s sorry. ‘We’re only looking for that, just to apologize’ said Luvuyo Rani, the CEO of Silulo Ulutho Technologies, a South African internet company. There’s no way Trump realizes the ‘damage’ he’s caused, said Rani, who added he wasn’t sure whether he’d attend the speech or not.”

-- American CEOs are singing Trump’s praises after the passage of corporate tax cuts. The Finance 202’s Tory Newmyer reports from Davos: “‘I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like,’ Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein [said.] … [A]lthough business leaders have their own concerns about Trump trade hawks spoiling the party by tipping the country into a trade war or two, here and for the moment, they are leading with the good news. That has been the shock of the conference so far. And it clears a path for the Trump to take a victory lap when the president lands here on Thursday and delivers a speech to his erstwhile enemies on Friday.” (Sign up for The Finance 202 here.)

-- “As Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan travels the world in 2018, he says he keeps hearing the same thing over and over: Foreign businesses want to pump money into the United States again after President Trump’s tax cuts,” Heather Long reports. “Like the White House, [Moynihan] thinks the positive bounce from the tax bill could be far bigger than most experts predict.”

-- “Inside the Dysfunctional Relationship of Donald Trump and Theresa May,” by Bloomberg's Tim Ross and Margaret Talev: “Over a meal of blue cheese salad and beef ribs in the White House banqueting room, Trump held forth on a wide range of topics. Trump [told May] he believed there were parts of London that were effectively ‘no-go areas’ due to the number of Islamic extremists. [He] also discussed his British golf courses ... ‘It was an hour of the president holding court … and not many other people saying anything,’ [a former aide to May recalled]. During formal phone calls ... Trump totally dominates the discussion, leaving the prime minister with five or ten seconds to speak before he interrupts and launches into another monologue. In one phone conversation during 2017, Trump complained to May over the criticism he’d been getting in British newspapers. Amid warnings that Trump would face protests in the streets when he arrived, he told the prime minister he would not be coming to the U.K. until she could promise him a warm welcome. In the secure bunker underneath the prime minister’s office, her advisers listened in to the call in astonishment at Trump’s demand …”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump traveled to the World Economic Forum:

A New York Times reporter reacted to Trump saying he'll talk to Mueller:

Many poked fun at Trump saying that he is “looking forward” to talking with Mueller:

The CNN host posed this question about the latest Russia probe revelations:

Obama’s former White House ethics czar analyzed the news that Michael Flynn did not initially disclose his FBI interview to the White House:

A Times columnist criticized the evangelicals who are rallying to Trump's defense:

The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee is calling for an investigation of two FBI officials:

A Wall Street Journal reporter noted this about the Nunes "memo":

Tom Cotton said it's not new that Trump is open to a pathway to citizenship for dreamers, but reiterated such a move would only be possible if Democrats make massive concessions:

A House Democrat invited a dreamer to the State of the Union:

Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman issued a statement on sports doctor Larry Nassar's sentencing:

An Indianapolis Star photojournalist captured this moment:

A powerful front page:

Mitt Romney commended the women who testified against Nassar:

From a sports columnist for The Post:

From the director of the Center for Cooperative Media:

From a CNN host:

From a BuzzFeed News reporter:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) slammed Trump's new tariffs:

An editor at Just Security shared this evergreen memo from 2001:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Politico Magazine, “The Tragedy of Janet Yellen,” by Sam Bell: “As Scott Sumner of the conservative Mercatus Center put it recently, ‘Yellen is on a glide path to near perfection, as she will probably end her term achieving the Fed’s dual mandate better than any other chair in history.’ And yet she is the first chair in modern Fed history not to be renominated after serving a full first term. Her predecessors served at least twice as long—Paul Volcker and Ben Bernanke for eight years and Alan Greenspan for 18—and each was reappointed by a president of the opposite party.”

-- The New York Times Magazine,For Jerry Brown, the Face of California’s Old Order, the Ranch Is Calling,” by Adam Nagourney: “After more than 45 years, Mr. Brown, 79, is entering what he says are his final months in public life. He has been governor (twice), attorney general, mayor of Oakland, secretary of state, state Democratic Party chairman, and a candidate for president (three times). … Sitting in the sun-washed first-floor salon of the Governor’s Mansion, he talked of finally leaving politics and of retiring to his isolated 2,514-acre family ranch, Rancho Venada, an hour’s drive north of here. His years of running for office, Mr. Brown said, are over.”

-- BuzzFeed News, “How Trump’s Tweets Shaped A Year In Politics,” by Peter Aldhous: “To help understand how @realDonaldTrump has driven the agenda in Washington, DC, BuzzFeed News crunched the numbers on more than half a million political tweets, from the president and the official accounts of all members of Congress, over the year since Trump’s inauguration. Our analysis confirms that Trump’s volleys on Twitter came mostly in the early morning. His tweets enraged Democrats, who responded vigorously, while Republicans often tried to look the other way. And the two words he used together most frequently? ‘FAKE NEWS.’”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Bumble Just Kicked Off A Pro-Trump Media Personality As Part Of Its ‘Stance Against Hate,’” from BuzzFeed News: “The pro-Trump activist and troll Jack Posobiec was booted from the dating app Bumble for violating its “values,” after a woman complained on Twitter about seeing his profile. Posobiec denied to BuzzFeed News that he has ever had a Bumble account. But the company says that the account is connected to his real Facebook account. It has been inactive since 2016. On Wednesday morning, Twitter user Lindsey Ledford tweeted a screenshot of what appeared to be Posobiec’s account, calling him a ‘white nationalist.’ She followed up with screenshots of a DM conversation in which Bumble’s Twitter account says ‘we absolutely do not tolerate rude or abusive users.’ Shortly thereafter, the company tweeted that it had removed Posobiec from the platform.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Starbucks boosts worker pay, gives bonuses after tax cut,” from USA Today: “Starbucks is dishing out pay increases and stock bonuses to employees, becoming the latest major employer to boost compensation after Congress approved a tax cut that will benefit businesses. The coffeeshop chain said it would spend $120 million on wage hikes that will vary in magnitude throughout the country. … The Seattle-based company will also give stock grants to everyone employed at the company's stores, plants and support centers as of Jan. 1. Hourly retail workers will get at least $500 in shares while store managers will get $2,000. Altogether, Starbucks said it would spend more than $250 million on the increased wages and benefits. The company credited ‘recent changes in the U.S. tax law,’ saying they ‘accelerated’ the decision.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has arrived in Davos, where he will participate in meetings with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will later meet with the founder of the World Economic Forum and have dinner with European business leaders. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Asked if he thinks Mueller will treat him fairly, Trump said: “We’re going to find out.’’ (Josh Dawsey, David Nakamura and Devlin Barrett)

 

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

-- Washingtonians will have to bundle up for cold weather again today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “A few clouds could linger in the morning but they should dissipate quickly, allowing the sun to dominate the day. Winds are light from the northwest. The cold air hangs tough over the area, with highs mainly in the lower 40s.”

-- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has been conspicuously absent as the city council attempts to overhaul campaign finance laws. Peter Jamison reports: “[Bowser’s] stance toward bills designed to reduce the influence of money in politics has ranged in recent months from silence to open opposition. … Her approach highlights both the mayor’s individual view of the role money plays in politics and her freedom to express that view as she seeks reelection, with no serious challengers yet to emerge and the Democratic primary in this overwhelmingly Democratic city only five months away.”

-- According to a report from a District government watchdog agency, D.C. police officers have been increasingly using force since 2013. Peter Hermann reports: “The report found that up to 93 percent of use-of-force incidents involved African Americans and that the three D.C. Council wards with the highest reported crime — Wards 5, 7 and 8 — accounted for nearly 40 percent of the use-of-force reports across the city.”

-- A new study estimates that 1 in 6 Virginia drivers have a suspended license partly because of unpaid court debt. (Justin Wm. Moyer)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Samantha Bee sent correspondents to apologize to various communities for remarks Trump has made:

Jimmy Kimmel shared another edition of "Drunk Donald Trump":

The Fix's Amber Phillips explained what it would take for Republicans to move on a deal for dreamers:

North Korean ice hockey players crossed the heavily guarded border into South Korea for Olympics practice:

These monkeys in Shanghai, named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, represent the first successful attempt to clone primates using tissue cells: