With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: The revelation that Donald Trump sought to fire Bob Mueller last June, but reluctantly backed off after Don McGahn threatened to resign, is the latest reminder that fear of political fallout has done more to insulate the special counsel from the president than respect for the rule of law.

The showdown, first reported by the New York Times, was confirmed by two people familiar with the episode.

Trump denied the report when asked about it this morning in Davos, Switzerland. “Fake news, folks. Fake news,” the president said, without being more specific.

But other news outlets have now matched the story, as well. “A source close to the White House” confirmed to Fox News that Trump told officials he wanted to fire Mueller but was “talked out of doing so” by McGahn.

Here are five takeaways from the latest bombshell:

1. Trying to fire Mueller is a data point that could be used to build a larger obstruction case.

“Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation,” Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report on the front page of the Times, citing four sources. “Mr. McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency … Mr. McGahn was also concerned that firing the special counsel would incite more questions about whether the White House was trying to obstruct the Russia investigation. … After receiving the president’s order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel … refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead …

“Another option that Mr. Trump considered in discussions with his advisers was dismissing the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, and elevating the Justice Department’s No. 3 official, Rachel Brand, to oversee Mr. Mueller,” per the Times. “Mr. Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice.”

“In the jigsaw puzzle of circumstantial evidence of criminal intent, these are more pieces that Mueller certainly would use,” white-collar criminal defense attorney Jacob Frenkel, who previously worked in the Office of Independent Counsel, told one of my colleagues. “You build it around the timing.”

From a writer for the Atlantic:

A prominent Democratic lawyer:

2. The White House’s credibility gap has become a chasm.

Many reporters no longer trust any official statements from the president or his spokespeople. This is the consequence of the White House repeatedly and vehemently denying stories, especially related to the Russia investigation, that are later proven true.

On Dec. 20, for example, White House lawyer Ty Cobb released a statement that said: “For five months or more the White House has persistently and emphatically stated there is no consideration of firing the Special Counsel and the White House willingly affirms yet again, as it has every day this week, there is no consideration being given to the termination of the Special Counsel.”

Derek Hawkins flags some other denials that have now been undercut:

Last August, two months after the events in question, Trump himself was asked whether he had considered firing Mueller. “I haven’t given it any thought,” the president claimed during a news conference.

On ABC that same month, George Stephanopoulos asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway whether the president would commit to not firing Mueller. “The president has not even discussed that,” she said. “The president is not discussing firing Bob Mueller.”

Also in August, USA Today asked Trump lawyer John Dowd if Trump might try to remove Mueller. “That has never been on the table, never,” Dowd replied. “It’s a manifestation of the media.”

In October, during another news conference, Trump was again asked whether he ever considered firing Mueller. “No, not at all,” the president said.

“As the White House has consistently said for months, there is no consideration of firing the special counsel,” Cobb told CNN on Dec. 16.

“There is no conversation about that whatsoever in the White House,” Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, told NBC on Dec. 17.

The host of PBS NewsHour recalled another episode:

3. This news will create fresh momentum for Congress to take up bipartisan bills to protect Mueller, even if GOP leadership continues to pigeonhole them.

Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.) said last night that McGahn “prevented an Archibald Cox moment.”

“I believe now that this revelation has been made public, that there will be increasing pressure to protect Mueller,” Dent told Mike DeBonis.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) co-sponsored a bill last August with Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to create a judicial check on the executive branch’s ability to remove a special counsel. Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced similar legislation. “It's long past time congressional leaders allow members to vote on our legislation that checks the president's ability to remove a special counsel, ensuring that any removal is for legitimate reasons,” Booker said in a statement.  

Blumenthal added:

4. McGahn threatening to quit is a reminder that White House staffers do not need to enable Trump.

They may serve at the pleasure of the president, but West Wing employees are still public servants. If Trump’s interests and the national interest come into conflict, the oath they take requires them to put country first.

From a conservative lawyer who contributes to National Review:

A Harvard law professor and Hoover senior fellow who held top legal jobs under George W. Bush:

Hillary Clinton’s former spokesman:

Mueller’s team has now interviewed more than 20 White House officials. Trump lawyer John Dowd put out a one-page memo yesterday to make the case that the administration is cooperating with Mueller: It said the White House has turned over 20,000 pages of documents, and the Trump campaign apparatus turned over an additional 1.4 million pages. Dowd said 17 campaign staffers — along with 11 individuals affiliated with the campaign — have now given interviews to Mueller’s team and/or congressional committees, per Carol D. Leonnig.

5. Managing Trump can be a herculean task for his top aides.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has worked to insulate Trump from outside advisers who might encourage his self-destructive instincts. Josh Dawsey, Robert Costa and Philip Rucker have a deep dive this morning on his approach and the ways the president sometimes bristles at it:

Kelly has slashed security clearances into the West Wing and reduced the number of people on the access list that once allowed relative free roaming within the White HousePeople such as former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski have seen their access reduced … After Lewandowski had a lengthy meeting at the White House with Kelly this month, he went to say hello to [McGahn] … When Jim Carroll, a White House lawyer, saw Lewandowski sitting in the waiting area without an appointment with McGahn, he told the operative that he had to leave and offered to escort him out …”

Kelly brings fewer issues to the president than Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff, did, and often will advise Trump of issues after they have been handled. He has curbed the role of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, in the White House, aides say, and has at times questioned Ivanka Trump’s work on Capitol Hill.

While the two men fight and swear at each other at times, Kelly sees Trump more than anyone else, and confidants say the volatility in their relationship is natural.

Trump has joked to associates that Kelly has cut his phone line, outside advisers said. He has told friends that he can come by ‘only if the general approves.’ And the president has complained that he never sees staff members anymore and occasionally sits in the office alone, aides said. … One reason Trump stays in the personal residence section of the White House so late every morning — sometimes until after 10 a.m. — is because he has access to his phone and has fewer restrictions, associates say. Kelly has told others he is fine with such ‘executive time,’ as it is referred to on his schedule.

Trump critics have questioned whether Kelly’s style of managing the president is always best. While he has sometimes kept bad information from getting to the president, he has also intervened to block bipartisan deals that Trump wanted to strike on immigration and reinforced some of the president’s most contentious positions. Several of Trump’s most controversial and racially incendiary moments — such as his remarks last summer after riots in Charlottesville and his recent disparaging comments about African nations — also came as Kelly looked on.”

-- This story is dominating every social media platform. Here’s a taste of the online conversation:

From a former Republican congressman from Florida:

Another former Florida GOP congressman:

The conservative Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol:

The former director of the Office of Government Ethics:

A former House Republican staffer and CIA officer who ran for president as an independent:

The director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics:

A Democratic congressman from Illinois:

The former acting solicitor general (now a Georgetown law professor) posted a long thread of tweets:

There were lots of jokes, such as this from a National Review columnist:

A writer for Slate:

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THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- “Russian operatives used Facebook to publicize 129 phony event announcements during the 2016 presidential campaign, drawing the attention of nearly 340,000 users -- many of whom said they were planning to attend — according to a company document released by the Senate Intelligence Committee,” Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin report. “It's not possible to know how often people gathered in response to the sham announcements, but the numbers highlight how Russian operatives were successful in prompting Americans to express a willingness to act. In some cases, Russians allegedly working in an office building in St. Petersburg motivated at least some people to mobilize behind various causes, a striking accomplishment for a foreign influence campaign.

“Facebook, which along with other big tech giants sought to downplay the Russian activity for months, declined to disclose a list of the 129 events publicized by the operatives. Previous disclosures by Facebook make clear that the operatives focused their disinformation campaigns on sensitive social issues, including racial and religious controversies, gun rights, police violence, southern heritage and immigration.”

“Not only did they influence how people viewed Russian policy, they got people to take physical action. That’s unprecedented,” said Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent who studies Russian disinformation for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “They just did it persistently, and they did it well.”

MORE ON THE CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS:

-- The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to release transcripts of its interviews with Donald Trump Jr. and other participants of the June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said Thursday that the committee would start releasing ‘all witness interviews that we have done related to that meeting’ and ‘get them out to the public for everyone to see,’ as the panel’s interviews with ‘witnesses surrounding the Trump Tower meeting are complete.’ A spokesman for the senator said that the transcripts must be redacted and that doing so will take time. It was not immediately clear when that process will be complete. Grassley later added that two of the five transcripts still require legal vetting. When he was asked whether public testimony from these people is now off the table, the senator said: 'I wouldn’t say anything’s off table, but not likely.'”

-- But even as he tries to wraps things, Grassley acknowledged that a “spooked” Jared Kushner refuses to voluntarily cooperate and won't come in for a staff interview. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said yesterday that the committee should still hold public hearings with Kushner and Trump Jr., “which we agreed to pursue last year.” (Bloomberg)

-- The House Intelligence Committee released a transcript of its interview with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, whose firm was behind the infamous Trump-Russia dossier. Simpson requested that lawmakers make his remarks public earlier this month. “Simpson spent much of the hearing describing his research into Trump's business background and litigation history,” Politico reports. “He also offered the committee several suggestions for avenues of further inquiry, including into the European travel of Trump associates. He also elaborated on his relationship with senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, whom Simpson met with at a coffee shop after the 2016 election to explain the dossier and ensure that senior law enforcement officials were aware of its findings.”

THE GOP CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE FBI:

-- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) walked back his conspiracy theory that there is a “secret society” within the FBI. His claim was debunked when the text message he based it on was leaked to the press. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports: “Johnson acknowledged Thursday that his earlier statement … may have been based on a joke within a single text message. ‘I don't know,’ Johnson [said]. ‘It certainly could be.’ But he stood by his central assertion that an informant told his committee that a group of FBI employees was having meetings outside of government offices. … Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, sidestepped the criticisms by saying his panel would continue to look into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state and the FBI's ‘scam investigation’ into the matter.”

-- The Justice Department’s inspector general says he has recovered five months of missing texts exchanged between two senior FBI officers, who were investigating both Trump and Clinton. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report: “In a letter to congressional leaders [on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Homeland Security Committee], Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office ‘succeeded in using forensic tools’ to recover messages [sent by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page] …. The missing messages have sparked a political firestorm in recent days, as GOP leaders and the president himself have raised questions about how the FBI could have failed to retain them.”

-- Despite stern warnings from DOJ, House Intelligence Republicans appear ready to approve the release of the “memo” crafted by GOP staffers for Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that purportedly documents surveillance abuses by the intelligence community. Politico’s Kyle Cheney contacted or reviewed statements by the committee’s 13 Republicans and found near-unanimous support for making public the memo: “A vote by the committee — expected as soon as Wednesday — to release the controversial document would put its fate into the hands of [Trump], who has not taken a clear position on its public disclosure. … Democrats charge that Republicans are making an unprecedented push to declassify material for partisan gain, noting that the panel has never before voted to disclose classified information.”

-- Just two of the nine Republicans on the committee would need to vote against the release to block the effort. A few of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in the country sit on the committee, including Elise Stefanik from New York and Will Hurd from Texas, and this could become an issue in their races. The retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) has also previously demonstrated a willingness to buck the Trump loyalists.

 
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

    -- Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) announced he will not seek reelection. Inappropriate behavior was recently exposed by the Pennsylvania Republican toward a longtime female aide, decades his junior, resulted in a congressional payout. Meehan said in a letter that “the settlement of certain harassment allegations” had “become a major distraction.”

    “I need to own it because it is my own conduct that fueled the matter,” he wrote. “It is clear to me, that under the current conditions, any campaign I would run would not be decided over vital issues but would likely devolve into an ugly spectacle of harsh rhetoric.”

    His decision to retire will come as a relief to Republican strategists, who questioned whether Republicans would have any chance to hold the suburban [Philadelphia] district with a politically wounded candidate,” Mike DeBonis and Robert Costa report. “Hillary Clinton won the district … by 2 points. … Meehan is the seventh member of the 115th Congress to retire or resign because of misconduct allegations.

    -- Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) will deliver the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address next week. The Boston Globe’s Victoria McGrane and Annie Linskey report: “The choice thrusts the 37-year-old, three-term congressman from Brookline into the national spotlight more squarely than he has ever been before. The job will put him on national television as the face of the Democratic Party and the voice of chief Trump critic at an extraordinary moment in the country’s politics. For many Americans, it will be their first introduction to the latest Kennedy on the political scene. … In Kennedy, Democrats are looking toward a telegenic liberal from bright-blue Massachusetts — not to mention a famous political dynasty — to articulate the deep and increasingly-bitter objections many Americans have to the current president.”

    -- GDP grew by 2.3 percent last year, federal economists reported. Jeff Stein writes: “GDP growth slowed in the year’s fourth quarter to an annualized rate of 2.6, breaking a two-quarter streak of growth of more than 3 percent. The economy grew far faster in 2017 than during the year before, but the slowed fourth quarter growth underscores the challenge President Trump’s administration will have in delivering the growth rates he has promised. Officials had focused on 3 percent GDP growth as proof his economic policies were working, and Trump has said it could go far beyond that target.”

    -- The U.S. Olympic Committee ordered a complete dismantling of USA Gymnastics’s 21-person board, warning that unless all its members resign within the next six days, the USOC will “immediately” decertify the governing body. (USA Today)

    -- Congress is likely to finally move legislation next week, which languished last year, to require amateur athletic governing bodies to promptly report incidents of sexual abuse to law-enforcement authorities. Des Bieler rounds up some of yesterday's news:

    • “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced a vote next week on a final version of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act. … Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who championed the bill in the Senate last year, called on the House to ‘pass it immediately.’
    • Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) called for a special congressional investigation into the role of the USOC and USA Gymnastics “in allowing serial pedophile Dr. Larry Nassar unsupervised access to hundreds of girls across three decades.”
    • Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) called on Michigan State University to “commission an independent, outside investigation similar to those done at Penn State and Baylor.”
    • Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) called on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to launch a probe into the USOC, USAG and MSU. She cited the precedents of congressional probes into steroids in baseball and concussions in football. 

    -- Petula Dvorak nails it: “Larry Nassar’s enablers? A nation that doubts and dismisses women.

    GET SMART FAST:​​

    1. When the White House requested a Van Gogh from the Guggenheim, the museum offered a solid gold toilet instead. The White House inquired about borrowing Van Gogh’s 1888 “Landscape With Snow” for the president and first lady’s private living quarters. The Guggenheim denied the request and suggested “America,” a creation by contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan meant to satirize excessive wealth in the country, as an alternative. (Paul Schwartzman)
    2. U.S. forces in South Korea and the Pacific are practicing cyberattacks to counter the threat of a nuclear North Korea — a sign that digital warfare is taking on added significance as Seoul and Washington work to thwart the Kim regime. (Bloomberg)
    3. A Hawaii Emergency Management employee who erroneously triggered a ballistic missile alert this month is refusing to cooperate with a Federal Communications Commission investigation. The employee is said to have chosen the wrong option on a drop-down menu during a test exercise. (NBC News)
    4. The EPA withdrew an air pollution policy dating back to the 1990s. The regulation required sites once classified as “major sources” of air pollution to keep that designation forever. Critics of the policy said it harmed industry, but environmentalists said it prevented corporations from only doing the bare minimum to prevent pollution. (Wall Street Journal

    5. Federal employees who were furloughed during the shutdown will be paid as if they had worked, including any planned overtime. According to an OPM memo, a furloughed employee who “had been regularly scheduled to perform overtime work or to perform work at night or during a period for which any other form of premium pay would otherwise be payable is entitled to receive overtime pay, night pay, or other premium pay as if the work had been performed.” (Eric Yoder)
    6. The DNC hired Yahoo’s former head of information security as its chief security officer. Bob Lord has experience with organizations that have previously been hacked; he detected Yahoo’s two massive data breaches, which occurred before he began working at the tech company, and worked with the FBI to find the hackers. (Wired)

    7. A campaign donor to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting he used his political donations as an attempt to sweeten the terms of his restaurant’s lease agreement, which operated on city property. (New York Times)
    8. The last four digits of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s Social Security number were leaked in an apparent security lapse by his office. The office’s website exposed the last four SSN digits of several thousand political candidates and state employees, including Kobach, who demanded sensitive voter information while serving as the vice chair of Trump’s voter fraud commission. (Gizmodo)
    9. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced its symbolic “Doomsday Clock” by 30 seconds, putting the time-ticker just two minutes away from midnight (a.k.a. the end of humanity). In moving the clock forward, the organization — which has 15 Nobel laureates on its board  cited the failure of Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats, including nuclear war and climate change. (Lindsey Bever, Sarah Kaplan and Abby Ohlheiser)
    10. Scientists discovered an ancient jawbone on the coast of Israel that pushes back the timeline of human migration from Africa by 60,000 years. The jawbone is at least 175,000 years old and is the oldest human fossil ever uncovered outside of Africa. (Sarah Kaplan)
    11. Meryl Streep is slated to star in Season 2 of HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” It will be one of the three-time Oscar winner’s most prolific television roles to date. (Hollywood Reporter)

    TRUMP'S IMMIGRATION PROPOSAL:

    -- Trump's new immigration plan dangles a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million “dreamers,” in exchange for billions of dollars to support his border wall and (more significantly) drastic restrictions on legal immigration. David Nakamura and Sean Sullivan report: “The plan offers a citizenship path to more than twice as many dreamers as were enrolled in a deferred action program Trump terminated in September, a move that is likely to engender fierce blowback among some conservatives . . . The White House framework [also] includes a $25 billion ‘trust fund’ for a border wall and additional security upgrades … And the president is proposing terminating the ability of U.S. citizens to petition for permanent legal residency ‘green cards’ for parents and siblings, limiting the family visas to spouses and minor children.”

    -- Republican leaders, including Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, praised the plan as a “constructive step forward,” with immigration hard-liners such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also voicing support. White House officials hope Mitch McConnell will bring up a bill based on Trump's plan on the Senate floor the week of Feb. 6.

    -- Remember Trump’s “shithole” comment? “Another potential sticking point centers on Trump’s proposal to end a diversity visa lottery that has awarded about 50,000 green cards annually to foreigners from countries with low immigration rates to the United States, including many African nations,” David and Sean report. “Under Trump’s plan, those visas would go toward speeding up a waiting-list backlog of up to 4 million family members of U.S. citizens who have already applied for green cards.”

    -- Democrats called Trump's proposal dead on arrival: Nancy Pelosi's spokesman called it a “ransom” in pursuit of an “anti-immigrant wish list.” Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) . . . said Trump’s proposal “doesn’t pass the laugh test.” “It would be far cheaper to erect a 50-foot concrete statue of a middle finger and point it towards Latin America,” he said, “because both a wall and the statue would be equally offensive and equally ineffective, and both would express Trump’s deeply held suspicion of Latinos.”

    -- But other conservatives objected to the plan for a pathway to citizenship for dreamers. From Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur: “‘I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally,’ [Cruz] said in the Capitol. ‘Doing so is inconsistent with the promises we made to the men and women who elected us.”

    -- Breitbart once again slapped Trump with the nickname “Amnesty Don.” Callum Borchers writes: “What makes this time significant is that Breitbart — two weeks removed from ousting Stephen K. Bannon as chairman — did not do what it usually does, which is shift blame for Trump's action onto someone else. It actually held Trump responsible for his own words. … It is too early in the post-Bannon era to know whether this is a one-off or a sign of slightly tougher coverage to come, but Breitbart's posture toward Trump, on immigration, bears watching.”

    TRUMP AT DAVOS:

    -- In his speech to the World Economic Forum today, the president emphasized his “America first” philosophy but added, “America first does not mean America alone.” Anne Gearan reports: “Trump’s keynote address [in Davos] was a gentler delivery of Trump’s trademark economic populism and the trade protectionism on which he campaigned. He encouraged business investment and expansion in the United States and touted his program of tax cuts and a slashing of what he called burdensome regulations. ‘America is open for business, and we are competing once again,’ Trump told a packed hall, which greeted him with polite applause. ‘Now is the perfect time to bring your business, your jobs and your investments to the United States.’”

    -- Trump yesterday threatened to withhold hundreds of millions in U.S. aid to the Palestinians if they do not pursue a peace with Israel. Anne Gearan reports: “Trump cast doubt on whether talks could happen now, and blamed Palestinian intransigence rather than his decision to shift decades of U.S. policy on the status of Jerusalem. ‘That money is on the table, and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace,’ Trump [said]. ‘Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace. And they’re going to have to want to make peace, too, or we’re going to have nothing to do with it any longer.’ A State Department official confirmed that all U.S. aid to the Palestinians is under review, although nothing has been decided …”

    “Sitting with [Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the Davos summit], Trump said that his decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had removed a major obstacle to a deal. But, Trump said, Israel would ‘pay’ for the concession in future negotiations. Netanyahu shifted in his seat at that, but otherwise beamed as Trump said he ‘took Jerusalem off the table,’ and described an accelerated timetable for moving ‘a small version’ of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

    -- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defended his comments that a weaker dollar could benefit the U.S. economy. Danielle writes: “[Mnuchin’s remarks] preceded the greenback falling to a three-year low. ‘We are not concerned with where the dollar is in the short term,’ he said, ‘and it’s a very, very liquid market, and we believe in free currencies.’ He added that the United States has no interest in sparking trade wars, a hot topic in the Swiss resort town this week, saying that the president wanted to pursue fair deals.”

    -- As Trump tees up a spate of aggressive new trade policies, his trade office remains severely short-staffed. Still, experts say it’s a man inside USTR that has them most concerned. The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Sam Stein report. “[No staffers in Robert Lighthizer’s office] have drawn more scrutiny and attention than G. Payne Griffin, Lighthizer’s deputy chief of staff. Few, if anyone, in trade circles knew of Griffin prior to his appointment … That’s because, prior to his appointment by Lighthizer, Griffin was not in trade circles. Griffin attended American University [and] graduated with a bachelors in economics and political science in 2014 … In September 2016, a month before the campaign ended, Griffin was placed on the Trump presidential transition team’s ‘landing team’ … Shortly thereafter, Griffin — not even three years out of college — was appointed [as] one of the more powerful perches in U.S. trade policy.”

    MEN BEHAVING BADLY:

    -- Sexual misconduct allegations against judges, some of whom have lifetime appointments, are cloaked in secrecy and rarely referred to investigators, according to a CNN analysis. Joan Biskupic writes: “CNN compiled and reviewed nearly 5,000 judicial orders related to misconduct complaints and available online over the past 10 years. The documents, covering an array of misbehavior beyond sexual misconduct, are remarkably short on details. … None of the actual complaints (more than 1,000 are filed annually) are made public … In the 12-month period that ended September 30, 2016, there were 1,303 complaints filed. Of those, only four were referred to a special committee for the most serious level of investigation[.]”

    -- A GOP Senate candidate running against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mon.) sparked controversy after writing a Facebook post in which he described feminists as “she devils” and outlined his expectations for his fiancee. Eli Rosenberg reports: “‘I want to come home to a home cooked dinner at six every night, one that she fixes and one that I expect one day to have my daughters learn to fix after they become traditional homemakers and family wives,’ he wrote of his fiancee, Chanel Rion[.] … The candidate, Courtland Sykes, wrote that ‘radical feminism’ has a ‘crazed definition of modern womanhood.’ ‘They made it up to suit their own nasty, snake-filled heads,’ he said.” Sykes said in a statement to The Post that he did not consider his remarks to be demeaning to women.

    -- CNN announced it is reinstating Ryan Lizza, the political reporter who was fired from the New Yorker for alleged sexual misconduct, after conducting an “extensive” internal investigation. “Based on the information provided and the findings of the investigation, CNN has found no reason to continue to keep Mr. Lizza off the air,” a spokeswoman for the network said. (Erik Wemple)

    -- Casey Affleck backed out of presenting this year’s best actress Oscar. Affleck has been criticized for a settlement and nondisclosure agreements tied to accusations he behaved inappropriately toward two women on the set of “I’m Still Here,” which the best actor winner directed. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr reports: “He has notified the Academy he will not be attending the event, sources said. I’ve heard that Affleck did not want to become a distraction from the focus that should be on the performances of the actresses in the category and that is why he made the proactive move.”

    -- Vanity Fair removed James Franco from the cover of its Hollywood issue. At least five women have accused Franco of sexual misconduct. (Travis M. Andrews)

    -- “The Red Cross Forced Out an Executive Over Sexual Harassment — Then Helped Him Land a Job at Save the Children,” by ProPublica’s Justin Elliott and Ariana Tobin: “When Save the Children hired Gerald Anderson in 2013, the global charity believed it was hiring a veteran humanitarian executive with a sterling resume. Anderson had spent more than 15 years working around the world … rising through the ranks to lead the group’s massive relief effort after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami . . . But the Red Cross didn’t tell its counterparts at Save the Children an important fact about Anderson’s work history: He had just been forced to resign from his job after the charity concluded he sexually harassed at least one subordinate.”

    CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:

    -- A pro-Trump super PAC spent tens of thousands of dollars last year on events at Trump’s D.C. hotel, as well as for consulting work conducted by Trump’s former campaign aides. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “The super PAC, America First Action, raised roughly $4 million and spent about half of it during the second half of 2017, according to the group’s latest [FEC] report. An affiliated advocacy group, America First Policies, raised $26 million and spent about $14 million — leaving the two groups about $14 million in cash on hand, officials said. … Key Trump loyalists earned tens of thousands of dollars through their firms for providing communications and fundraising consulting and other services to [the group]. The organization paid $55,000 to former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s consulting business, $40,000 to former campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson’s firm, $31,719 to former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s firm, and $137,257 to former campaign digital media director Brad Parscale’s business.”

    -- A federal judge heard opening arguments in an emoluments case against Trump, with attorneys for D.C. and Maryland arguing  the president violated the Constitution by continuing to conduct business with other states and embassies. David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell report: “U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte seemed receptive to arguments from the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, who said that payments to Trump properties from those entities could amount to illegal gifts. The Justice Department, which is defending Trump, called the suit politically motivated and said the Democratic attorneys general wanted to conduct a ‘fishing expedition’ in the private files of the president’s business.”

    THE ROAD TO 2018 (AND 2020):

    -- Mitt Romney is expected to announce his Senate bid next week. UtahPolicy.com’s Bob Bernick reports: “Romney will gather the 28,000 required signatures from registered GOP voters to ensure he gets on the late-June Republican Party primary ballot, assuming other Republicans will file to run for the office being vacated by Sen. Orrin Hatch …” Utahpolicy.com also reports that Romney’s Senate bid will be run by many of the same staffers from his 2012 presidential campaign.

    -- Bernie Sanders summoned a group of his top political advisers to discuss 2020 and the prospect of seeking another shot at the presidency. Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti reports: “The top-line message the Vermont senator received from the operatives gathered during the government shutdown was a more formal version of the one they’ve been giving him regularly for months: You would be one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination. And if you want to run, it’s time to start seriously planning accordingly.”

    -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) will return to New Hampshire in April to headline a fireside chat at New England College, fueling rumors he plans to challenge Trump for the GOP nomination in 2020. Kasich finished second in New Hampshire’s 2016 primary — just after Trump. (Concord Monitor)

    -- Rep. Keith Ellison (D) is considering a bid for Minnesota attorney general. Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reports: “Lori Swanson, the current attorney general, is expected to run for governor, leaving the race open. With his active organizing and fundraising base — amplified through his close alliance with [Bernie Sanders] — Ellison would likely scramble a field of lesser known candidates that’s begun to take shape.”

    -- The Democratic ballot activist group iVote will spend $5 million to elect secretaries of state — signaling the latest front in the “voting wars” playing out in swing states across the country. David Weigel reports: “’Republicans have understood the importance of the office,’ said iVote president and founder Ellen Kurz. ‘There isn’t a single Democratic swing state secretary of state. And dozens of states have taken away opportunities to vote, purged voter rolls and disenfranchised certain voters every year.’ This year, iVote will focus on electing Democrats as the chief election officials in seven states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio.”

    THE FUTURE OF GERRYMANDERING:

    -- “Hating Gerrymandering Is Easy. Fixing It Is Harder,” by David Wasserman in FiveThirtyEight: “It’s easy for opponents of gerrymandering [to] argue what districts shouldn’t look like,” Wasserman writes. “All they have to do is ridicule the absurdity of the most bizarre patchworks ever woven to elect members of Congress. But it’s much more difficult to say what districts should look like, because reformers can disagree on what priorities should govern our political cartography. Should districts be drawn to be more compact? More conducive to competitive elections? More inclusive of underrepresented racial groups? Should they yield a mix of Democratic and Republican representatives that better matches the political makeup of a state? Could they even be drawn at random?”

    -- To help visualize these complexities, a team at FiveThirtyEight worked with Wasserman to createThe Atlas of Redistricting” — or a set of alternative congressional maps for the entire country. “Each map has a different goal: One is designed to encourage competitive elections, for example, and another to maximize the number of majority-minority districts … See how changes to district boundaries could radically alter the partisan and racial makeup of the U.S. House — without a single voter moving or switching parties.” Check it out here.

    SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

    From a former official in the administrations of Reagan and both Bush administrations:

    The treasury secretary avoided the "secret society” question, per BuzzFeed's editor in chief:

    A House Democrat mocked Ron Johnson's claim there is a "secret society" within the FBI:

    From conservative commentator:

    From the host of "Morning Joe":

    A former FBI special agent criticized the Nunes "memo":

    Some conservatives are voicing opposition to Trump's immigration plan. From a Politico reporter:

    A Senate Democrat took issue with a phrase Trump has used many times:

    Paul Ryan commended the gymnasts who came forward against Larry Nassar:

    A HuffPost reporter replied to Ryan:

    Missouri Senate candidate Courtland Sykes was widely mocked for his description of feminists as "she devils":

    From the editor of Commentary magazine:

    A conservative commentator sought to distance himself from Sykes:

    The White House had another round of typos. From a CNBC reporter:

    A Bloomberg News reporter added this:

    And the first lady shared photos from her trip to the Holocaust Memorial Museum:

    GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

    -- Bloomberg Businessweek, “How Hedge Funds (Secretly) Get Their Way in Washington,” by Zachary Mider and Ben Elgin: “With swept-back silver hair and a prestigious résumé, James K. Glassman cuts the classic figure of a Washington wise man. He’s a former undersecretary of State, think-tank founder, and best-selling author, with a considered opinion on just about any Beltway issue. [He’s also] a key asset in a furtive campaign by Wall Street to bend the political process. Over the past two decades, hedge funds have grown explosively, with a collective $3.4 trillion under management. Not content to make bets and watch from the sidelines, the largest funds increasingly are trying to steer government outcomes—such as negotiations over sovereign debt—so that their investments are likelier to pay out … That’s where DCI comes in, providing credible-seeming voices to speak up for the funds’ interests—voices like Glassman’s. It’s not illegal, but it undermines basic principles of transparency and trust.”

    -- The New York Times, “San Francisco Ousts a Mayor in a Clash of Tech, Politics and Race,” by Thomas Fuller and Conor Dougherty: “In a city where being called conservative can be an insult and where partisanship is often left versus further left, the removal of an African-American interim mayor, and her replacement by a white, male venture capitalist, was bound to set off an uproar. … But what may seem on the surface to be a familiar clash between tech and those threatened by its rise is in fact a moment full of complicated alliances and seeming contradictions.”

    -- New York Magazine, “The Mysterious New Search for MH370,” by Jeff Wise: “Australia’s three-year effort to find the vanished jet was a bust. So why is a previously unknown company restarting the quest?”

    HOT ON THE LEFT:

    “Most Americans say: Yup, Trump’s a racist,” from Jennifer Rubin: “The Post-ABC News poll released on Wednesday had a remarkably finding regarding President Trump: [In November, 2017] 50 percent of Americans said that Trump held a racial bias against black people. ‘In our new poll, that has risen to 52 percent, more than half, with the percentage saying that they strongly believe Trump to be biased rising from 36 percent to 40 percent.’ The number of Americans who think Trump is biased against African Americans — let’s call it what it is, racist — is at a stunning level. In November, about a third of registered voters held that position … Now, more than 4 in 10 strongly believe him to be biased and more than half believe it to some extent. Since the civil rights era, there has not been a president who so many voters so strongly believed was personally racist.”

     

    HOT ON THE RIGHT

    “Why conservative magazines are more important than ever,” from T.A. Frank: “For perhaps the first time in modern conservative politics, National Review and many of its peers looked completely ineffectual [following Trump’s 2016 win]. ... Conversely, political magazines, of any persuasion, can be at their worst when ideological team spirit is strongest. While Sean Hannity and Breitbart News carry water for Trump, and many liberal publications dodge introspection in favor of anti-Trump primal screams, right-of-center magazines have been debating and reassessing the soul of their political philosophy. Trumpism has torn down the conservative house and broken it up for parts. Conservative magazines are working to bring a plausible intellectual order to this new reality — and figure out what comes next.”

     

    DAYBOOK:

    Trump will give his speech at the World Economic Forum and return to D.C. from Davos later tonight.

    QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

    Oprah Winfrey downplayed interest in a 2020 presidential bid in an interview for the March cover of InStyle magazine, saying she “doesn’t have the DNA for it": “I've always felt very secure and confident with myself in knowing what I could do and what I could not. And so it's not something that interests me,” she said. (Read the full interview here.)

     

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

    -- D.C. will see warmer temperatures today that will last through the weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s a fairly sublime end to the week, with only a few clouds at times interrupting our sunny blue skies. Near or a bit above 50 should be within reach, thanks to southerly breezes which slowly kick up to around 10 mph by late afternoon, perhaps gusting a bit higher before sunset.”

    -- The Capitals beat the Panthers 4-2. (Jesse Dougherty)

    -- The Wizards lost to the Thunder 121-112. (Candace Buckner)

    -- A new analysis estimated that nearly 3 in 10 Marylanders would owe more in state and local taxes after the GOP tax overhaul. Both Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic lawmakers are searching for ways to circumvent the legislation. (Fenit Nirappil)

    -- Metro officials found rust on the fractured rail that caused this month’s derailment, indicating the crack in the rail may have been there before the derailment. Martine Powers reports: “But [Chief Safety Officer Patrick Lavin] said he is confident in the quality of the track inspections that took place leading up to the derailment, and that he personally reviewed the inspection reports from the walking inspections that took place in early January.”

    -- Metro’s board of director unanimously approved a program to refund passengers who experience major delays during their commutes. The “Rush Hour Promise” launches today. (Faiz Siddiqui)

    VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

    Seth Meyers cast doubt on congressional Democrats' ability to negotiate on behalf of "dreamers":

    Trevor Noah tore into conspiracy theories against the FBI:

    Fox News's Sean Hannity backtracked his defense of Trump following reports that he was talked out of firing Mueller last year:

    Hannity's colleague, Shep Smith, slammed Devin Nunes's "memo" on alleged surveillance abuses:

    Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci noted that he missed a Black Eyed Peas concert in Davos to defend Trump on CNN:

    And Michelle Obama surprised the recipient of the 2018 School Counselor of the Year Award: