THE BIG IDEA: The classified memo written by Republican staffers for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) could be released as early as today, despite an FBI statement expressing “grave concerns” and complaints from Democrats that it’s been materially altered at the last minute.

Senior White House officials and advisers say that President Trump wants the document published because he sees it as key to making changes at the Justice Department, particularly pushing out Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“Few things have frustrated Trump as much as the law enforcement agencies he cannot fully control,” Josh Dawsey, Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian report. “Allies say he is upset that he can’t control ‘my guys’ at the ‘Trump Justice Department’ and that no one seems particularly loyal to him. He has also broken long-held protocols by directly calling Justice Department officials, and instructed his chief of staff to do the same, without the White House counsel on the phone.

“The FBI’s public warning came after several days of failed attempts by FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and other Justice Department officials to convince the president and his senior staff in private meetings that the memo should be blocked because it poses a risk to national security,” they add. “Justice Department officials have been leery of talking to Trump about the memo, given the ongoing Russia inquiry … Officials said the FBI issued the statement knowing that it would probably not affect the decision.”

-- Do not assume this fiasco will backfire on Republicans. It’s going to be very hard for members of the intelligence community and Democrats to push back on the information in the memo after it comes out because doing so would require the disclosure of even more sensitive information about sources and methods. And Trump defenders will get fodder to question the integrity of the underlying probe.

A Johns Hopkins professor who spent more than three decades at the CIA, including as acting director, explains:

-- Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said last night that Nunes made “material changes” to the memo after the House Intelligence Committee, on a party line vote, approved its release. He said members “were never apprised of, never had the opportunity to review, and never approved” these alterations. A spokesman for the GOP majority said only “minor edits” were made. A senior Democratic committee official told Karoun they were “not cosmetic” and attempt “to water down some of the majority’s assertions.”

As Mueller and his team move closer to the president and his inner circle, a sense of panic is palpable on the Hill. GOP members recognize that the probe threatens not only the president but also their majorities in Congress,” Schiff writes in an op-ed for today’s newspaper.In response, they have drawn on the stratagem of many criminal defense lawyers — when the evidence against a defendant is strong, put the government on trial.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) flagged a key exchange from the transcript:

-- An open question: Did Nunes’s staff work with the Trump administration to orchestrate the release of the memo? A transcript of a Monday night closed-door meeting, which was released publicly yesterday, showed that Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) asked Nunes if he coordinated with Trump’s team. “As far as I know, no,” he replied. But he would not answer when asked if his staff had done so. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday only that she was “not aware of any conversation or coordination” between Nunes and the White House. “I just don’t know the answer,” she said, not ruling it out.

ANOTHER LOYALTY TEST:

-- Trump asked Rosenstein if he was “on my team,” according to CNN. The deputy attorney general visited the White House in December seeking Trump's help in fighting off the document demands from Nunes. “But the President had other priorities ahead of a key appearance by Rosenstein on the Hill,” sources told Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and Laura Jarrett. “Trump wanted to know where the special counsel's Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was ‘on my team. …. [Rosenstein] demurred on the direction of the Russia investigation … And he responded awkwardly to the President's ‘team’ request … ‘Of course, we're all on your team, Mr. President,’ Rosenstein told Trump

Rosenstein's meeting with the President came as Rosenstein prepared to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Trump appeared focused on Rosenstein's testimony … and he brought it up … As a further sign of the President's focus on Rosenstein's testimony, one of the sources said Trump also had suggested questions to members of Congress that they could ask Rosenstein. … One line of inquiry Trump proposed lawmakers ask about was whether Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election because Mueller was not selected as FBI director. … Sources say Trump believes Rosenstein was upset Mueller wasn't selected as FBI director and responded by making him special counsel. … At the hearing, Rosenstein repeatedly declined to say whether Trump had ever asked him about the Russia Investigation.”

-- “With FBI statement on memo, Christopher Wray could now be in the president’s crosshairs,” by Matt Zapotosky: “Wray, who worked as a top Justice Department official during the George W. Bush administration and left a law firm position to lead the FBI, has had to defend himself and the bureau from Trump’s attacks before. He appeared before the House Judiciary Committee not long after the president tweeted that his agency’s reputation was in ‘tatters,’ telling legislators, ‘The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of dignity and professionalism and respect.’

“He has shown a willingness to consider resigning when the department is under political pressure. When [James] Comey in 2004 was prepared to quit as the deputy attorney general over concerns about reauthorization of a secretive domestic surveillance program, Wray approached him in the hall at the Justice Department and said, 'Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but before you guys all pull the rip cords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you,' according to an account of the incident in the Washingtonian magazine."

HOW IT’S PLAYING:

-- Here are 10 more thought-provoking takes on what’s going on:

Former intelligence officer Paul Pillar in the National Interest: “The Damaging Decline of HPSCI.”

USC Law professor Orin Kerr on Lawfare: “The Dubious Legal Claim Behind #ReleaseTheMemo.

Charlie Savage in the New York Times: “The Real Aim of the Nunes Memo Is the Mueller Investigation.

Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman on Bloomberg View: “The FBI Stands Up to Trump's Efforts to Politicize It. Director Wray is pushing back against the release of the House memo because it would destroy another investigative norm.

Norm Eisen, Caroline Fredrickson and Noah Bookbinder in Politico Magazine: “Trump’s Saturday Night Massacre Is Happening Right Before Our Eyes. The aim of the campaign against the Mueller investigation and the FBI is clear: Obstructing justice.”

Mueller biographer Garrett Graff in Wired: “Here’s what happens if ‘magnificent bastard’ Mueller gets fired.”

Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio on CNN.com: “Trump is on a Nixonian collision course with the FBI.”

David Graham in The Atlantic: “The Peril of Taking on the FBI. Trump’s attacks on law-enforcement agencies were followed by an unusual statement from the bureau, and a series of damaging leaks.”

Noah Rothman in Commentary Magazine: “The Concerns in the ‘Memo’ Are Serious, but the Handling of It Isn’t. Serious issues deserve serious people.

A. Barton Hinkle in the libertarian Reason Magazine: “Trump's Turned Republicans Into Everything They Once Hated.” 

MEANWHILE, MUELLER ZEROES IN:

-- The New York Times reports that the special counsel is looking very closely at the president’s role in the writing of a statement about his son’s June 2016 meeting with a lawyer who promised dirt about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government: “Aboard Air Force One on a flight home from Europe last July, President Trump and his advisers raced to cobble together a news release … Rather than acknowledge the meeting’s intended purpose … the statement instead described the meeting as being about an obscure Russian adoption policy. … Prosecutors working for Mr. Mueller in recent months have questioned numerous White House officials about how the release came together — and about how directly Mr. Trump oversaw the process. Mr. Mueller’s team recently notified Mr. Trump’s lawyers that the Air Force One statement is one of about a dozen subjects that prosecutors want to discuss in a face-to-face interview of Mr. Trump that is still being negotiated.

“In the plane’s front cabin, Mr. Trump huddled with Ms. Hicks. During the meeting … Ms. Hicks was sending frequent text messages to Donald Trump Jr., who was in New York. Alan Garten, a lawyer for the younger Mr. Trump who was also in New York, was also messaging with White House advisers aboard the plane. The president supervised the writing of the statement, according to three people familiar with the episode, with input from other White House aides. A fierce debate erupted over how much information the news release should include. Mr. Trump was insistent about including language that the meeting was about Russian adoptions …”

“The latest witness to be called for an interview about the episode was Mark Corallo, who served as a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s legal team before resigning in July. Mr. Corallo received an interview request last week from the special counsel and has agreed to the interview … Mr. Corallo is planning to tell Mr. Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director … Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting — in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians — ‘will never get out.’ That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice … In a statement on Wednesday, a lawyer for Ms. Hicks strongly denied Mr. Corallo’s allegations.

“Some lawyers and witnesses who have sat in or been briefed on the interviews have puzzled over Mr. Mueller’s interest in the episode. Lying to federal investigators is a crime; lying to the news media is not. For that reason, some of Mr. Trump’s advisers argue that Mr. Mueller has no grounds to ask the president about the statement and say he should refuse to discuss it.”

-- “In the last quarter of 2017, Trump's campaign committee spent $1.1 million in legal fees — 41 percent of its total expenses. In the previous three quarters, the committee spent a total of $2 million,” per Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narasyanswamy. “Trump entered 2018 with more than $32 million in the coffers of his reelection campaign and two affiliated committees.” 

THE INVESTIGATION INTO THE INVESTIGATION:

-- Emails … show the FBI agent at the center of a Capitol Hill storm played a key role in a controversial FBI decision that upended Hillary Clinton's campaign just days before the 2016 election: the letter to Congress by then-FBI Director James Comey announcing the bureau was investigating newly discovered Clinton emails,” CNN reports. “The new revelation about FBI agent Peter Strzok comes as Republicans accuse him of being sympathetic to Clinton … Strzok, who co-wrote what appears to be the first draft that formed the basis of the letter Comey sent to Congress, also supported reopening the Clinton investigation once the emails were discovered on disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner's laptop … The day after Strzok sent his draft to his colleagues, Comey released the letter to Congress, reigniting the email controversy in the final days of the campaign.”

-- Top FBI officials were aware for at least a month before alerting Congress of the emails in the home stretch of the campaign, according to the Wall Street Journal. “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe had learned about the thousands of emails by Sept. 28, 2016, and Director James Comey informed Congress about them on Oct. 28, 11 days before the presidential election,” per Del Quentin Wilber and Aruna Viswanatha. 

THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The U.S. Navy released video clips yesterday that show a Russian fighter jet recklessly buzzing one of our surveillance aircraft over the Black Sea, calling the hair-raising incident (which happened in international airspace) unsafe and unprovoked. (Dam Lamothe)

-- “Two top Russian spy chiefs traveled to Washington last week to discuss counterterrorism issues with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, but the unusual visit also raised concerns among some U.S. officials that Moscow could interpret the encounter as a sign the Trump administration is willing to move beyond the issue of election interference, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said,” per Shane Harris. “Pompeo met with Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service or SVR, and Alexander Bortnikov, who runs the FSB, which is the main successor to the Soviet-era security service the KGB. The head of Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU, also came to Washington, though it is not clear he met with Pompeo. A senior U.S. intelligence official based in Moscow was also called back to Washington for the meeting with the CIA chief.”

-- Twitter announced that it has now notified 1.4 million Americans that they engaged with Kremlin-linked troll accounts during the 2016 election. “That's more than double the 677,775 people Twitter initially said it would notify earlier this month,” BuzzFeed notes. “Twitter said the people it notified had either retweeted, quoted, replied to, mentioned, or liked the Internet Research Agency's content. … The update marks yet another hiccup in Twitter's uneven response to Congress's concerns over its ability to protect its platform from foreign manipulation. Twitter also said the number of people notified may still grow in time.” 

Here's what the notification looks like:

-- “Former Trump presidential campaign adviser Roger Stone paid a visit to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Wednesday where Julian Assange has been holed up for the last five years,” the Daily Beast’s Nico Hines reports. “Stone is in Britain for a short speaking tour that will include addresses at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions. … The connection between Stone and Assange has become a focal point in the investigation of links between Russia and the Trump campaign after it emerged that Stone had a communications backchannel with WikiLeaks, an organization described by the CIA as a ‘hostile intelligence service … abetted by Russia.’ Stone said he … had not seen Assange in person but left his contact details … In the bar after giving a speech … he insisted that Assange was no agent of Russia but simply ‘a journalist.’”

-- Bottom line: “The last 48 hours have been good for [Vladimir] Putin,” said Steven Hall, who retired from the CIA in 2015 after 30 years of managing the agency's Russia operations, in an interview with The Cipher Brief

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GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry admitted she engaged in an extramarital affair with a police officer who was the head of her security detail. “We had an affair, and it was wrong, and we shouldn't have done it,” Barry said, referring to Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr., who recently submitted his resignation. (The Tennessean)
  2. A missile defense test in Hawaii failed. The Defense Department has yet to publicly acknowledging the failure due to the sensitive timing of the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea. (CNN)

  3. Boeing received a $6.5 billion contract to continue overseeing the U.S. missile defense system. The contract extends Boeing’s management role through 2023. (Bloomberg)

  4. The United States extended provisional residency to 6,000 Syrian refugees, rather than deport them back to a war zone. But the Homeland Security Department said there could be no new applications for temporary protected status, meaning those who arrived here after Aug. 1, 2016, won't be so lucky. (Nick Miroff)

  5. The Trump administration is expected to call for slashing the Energy Department’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by 72 percent in its 2019 budget. Congress is unlikely to accept such a harsh rollback, but it provided another example of the administration’s promotion of fossil fuels. (Chris Mooney and Steven Mufson)
  6. Congressional Democrats demanded answers on how the fitness app maker Strava revealed sensitive information about the locations of government facilities. “Strava made no attempt to secure information, and instead published location information on the Internet for anyone to see,” a letter from eight House Democrats reads. (Craig Timberg)

  7. Three people died after a helicopter crashed into a Southern California home. The accident occurred “under unknown circumstances” about a mile from where the helicopter had taken off at John Wayne Airport. (Amy B Wang)

  8. San Francisco and San Diego will clear thousands of misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession going back 40 years. The move comes after California legalized the use of recreational marijuana and the records of those convicted — about 3,000 people — will be automatically expunged. (New York Times)
  9. The Federal Emergency Management Agency isn't suspending aid to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico just yet. An agency spokesman said reports were false that it would discontinue food and water help and reassured panicked island residents that it would help for as long as needed. (New York Times)
  10. Forty-one percent of undergraduate women at Tulane University reported having been sexually assaulted since enrolling. According to survey results made public yesterday, 18 percent of undergraduate men have also been assaulted. The university’s president called the “deeply disturbing” and vowed to do more to prevent sexual violence on campus. (Nick Anderson)

  11. Nine airlines donated $28 million to the National Air and Space Museum. The gift will fund a remake of the “America by Air” exhibit that “features artifacts that trace the evolution of flying, from uniforms and models to Douglas DC-3 and DC-7 planes and the nose of a Boeing 747 that visitors can enter.” (Peggy McGlone)
  12. Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff falsely claimed U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has “embraced” rumors of an affair with the president. Wolff said in an interview, “Well, I don’t know. All she does is hammer on this fact. I mean, if I were being accused of something, and I am not accusing her of anything. She hasn’t tried to avoid this, let’s say.” In fact, Haley has described the rumors as “absolutely not true,” “highly offensive” and “disgusting.” (Erik Wemple)

  13. Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear will join the cast of “House of Cards” for its final and sixth season. The only information about their characters disclosed by Netflix, which dumped Kevin Spacey after allegations of his sexual misconduct, is that they will be siblings. (New York Times)

TRAIN WRECK:

-- Christopher Foley, 28, was identified as the sole fatality in yesterday’s collision between an Amtrak train carrying GOP lawmakers to a West Virginia retreat and a disposal truck. He was in the vehicle when it entered the railroad crossing. Another six people were injured. Hawes Spencer, Martine Powers and Faiz Siddiqui report: “None of the dozens of members of Congress aboard the train, or their accompanying family members and aides, were among the seriously injured. … Officials at the University of Virginia Medical Center said six patients were transported there from the crash. One was reported to be in critical condition, four were being evaluated, and one had been discharged Wednesday evening, according to hospital officials. Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) was among those taken to a hospital as a precaution. A spokesman for the congressman said he suffered a concussion and was treated and released.”

-- For some lawmakers aboard the train, the scene was all too reminiscent of last summer’s shooting at an Alexandria baseball field. Mike DeBonis, Paul Kane and Ed O'Keefe report: “Shortly after impact, the doctors among the Republican rank and file ignored security officials’ warning not to leave the train and rushed to help. Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.), a physician, along with Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio), helped carry one truck passenger several hundred yards to an ambulance. They ‘literally pried open the doors and jumped off the train to assist those injured,’ said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (Ga.). … Flake said he was struck after watching Wenstrup, for a second time in less than a year, cut away bloody clothing to tend to a gravely injured man. ‘I thought after that time, ‘I never want to experience a day like this again,’’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, it came too soon.’”

CONGRESS HAS A GROWING TO-DO LIST:

-- The agenda Trump outlined in his State of the Union is already getting congressional pushback — from his own party. Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa report: “After Trump’s speech, conservatives expressed alarm that Trump had offered to put more than 1 million young undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an advocate for a more restrictive immigration system, said Trump’s remarks on letting young undocumented immigrants gain citizenship were not well received by many of his colleagues. ‘You notice the Republicans were pretty flat on that?’ King asked. On infrastructure, Trump drew bipartisan praise when he pledged to build ‘gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land.’ Yet some GOP lawmakers expressed concern about how to pay for the $1.5 trillion plan.”

-- A second shutdown is not out of the question on Feb. 8 — this time driven by internal GOP tensions. “Republicans have considered a stopgap funding bill that could run one month or possibly deeper into March, according to multiple sources,” report Politico's Sarah Ferris and Seung Min Kim. “But many rank-and-file GOP lawmakers who reluctantly backed the last temporary funding bill, including conservatives and defense hawks, are balking at yet another patch.”

House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) may stand in the way of a solution: “The North Carolina Republican told reporters this week that members of his hard-line caucus couldn’t vote for the bill until [Ryan] makes good on his promise to push a more conservative immigration plan.”

-- Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling earlier than expected because of lost government revenue from the passage of the GOP tax bill. Erica Werner and Damian Paletta report: “If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by the first half of March, CBO said, ‘the government would be unable to pay its obligations fully, and it would delay making payments for its activities, default on its debt obligations, or both.’ … The debt ceiling had been suspended until Dec. 8, 2017, and the Treasury Department has taken emergency steps since then to delay falling behind on payments. But it can only use those measures for a short period of time[.] … CBO said that the tax law is expected to lower tax receipts by $10 billion to $15 billion per month.”

How it all ties together: “The timelines for all these must-do tasks are beginning to converge, raising the possibility of one enormous deal in coming weeks wrapping all the issues up. For now, though, solutions look remote,” per Erica and Damian.

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- The director of the Centers for Disease Control was forced to resign over “complex financial interests.” The announcement came one day after Politico reported that Brenda Fitzgerald had bought shares in a tobacco company after taking the helm of an agency responsible for discouraging smoking. Lena H. Sun reports: “Longtime health policy experts said the official HHS statement suggested [Fitzgerald’s] ongoing financial conflicts of interest were so broad and indefinite that they were posing a problem for the administration and creating too much of a distraction. The latest report about the tobacco stock was probably ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back,’ said one policy expert who has worked with both Republican and Democratic administrations.”

-- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson allowed his son to organize an agency event with potential business partners despite warnings from HUD lawyers. Juliet Eilperin and Jack Gillum report: “[The secretary’s son, Ben Carson Jr.,] put people he’d invited in touch with his father’s deputies, joined agency staff on official conference calls about the listening tour and copied his wife on related email exchanges, according to emails. ‘I expressed my concern that this gave the appearance that the Secretary may be using his position for his son’s private gain,’ Linda M. Cruciani, HUD’s deputy general counsel for operations, wrote in a July 6 memo. … The two-page memo … details conference calls and meetings that Cruciani and her colleagues had with Carson, his son and other senior HUD officials to urge that Carson Jr. not be involved in the listening tour . . .

The warnings highlight the extent to which Carson has relied on close family members since joining the Cabinet. His wife, Candy Carson, son Carson Jr. and daughter-in-law Merlynn Carson have attended official meetings, according to current and former HUD officials. Early last year, Candy Carson accompanied her husband around the building and to official meetings both inside and outside HUD, officials said. Carson Jr. has continued to attend official HUD events with his father and other elected officials[.]”

-- Scott Lloyd, who runs the Office of Refugee Resettlement, had discussions with agency staffers about trying to reverse an abortion for an undocumented teen in federal custody. Vice News’s Carter Sherman reports: “In the past few years, opponents of abortion have championed the idea of halting a medication abortion midway by using the hormone progesterone. … But there is no credible medical evidence that such a procedure works, and the mainstream medical community worries that using it amounts to experimentation on women. … Nevertheless, Lloyd said in [a] deposition that he and his staff discussed the possibility of abortion reversal.”

-- Kathleen Hartnett White, Trump’s pick to direct the White House Council on Environmental Quality, has been renominated after failing to reach a full Senate vote. Newly uncovered blog posts from White document her support for conspiracy theories and a controversial take on slavery. The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson writes: “Her opinion on climate change isn’t just that it’s not so bad . . . but that the whole thing is, as Trump once said, a hoax. In [a 2015] Townhall piece, White wrote: ‘As the evidence for unprecedented warming temperatures, extreme weather events, declining Arctic ice, and rising sea levels wanes, the entrenched warmists’ grasp for familiar tags such as 'pollution' or 'environmental protection' to sanitize their grand schemes to decarbonize human societies.’… That was also the piece in which White wrote that ‘There is, in fact, a historical connection between the abolition of slavery and humanity’s first widespread use of energy from fossil fuels.’”

-- Kelly Conway left some African ambassadors disappointed when she didn’t address Trump’s “shithole” comments during a State Department event. Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer reports: “Conway … spoke to a group of ambassadors, including ones from Africa, on Tuesday morning at the prestigious Blair House near the White House. The event, organized by the State Department’s Protocol Office, was open to all ambassadors in Washington, and diplomats from 120 countries RVSPed. Conway focused on Trump’s achievements during his first year in office and previewed his State of the Union speech. She said almost nothing on his priorities for Africa, leaving some participants confused and bewildered[.]”

-- A Democratic delegate in Maryland’s state House has introduced a measure called the Jared Kushner Act to prevent judges from jailing tenants with small amounts of unpaid rent. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “A Baltimore Sun investigation last year found that corporate entities affiliated with Kushner Cos.’ 17 apartment complexes in Maryland sought the civil arrest of 105 former tenants — the most of any Maryland company between 2013 and 2017. … [Del. Bilal Ali (D-Baltimore City), the bill’s sponsor,] said he decided to name the bill after Kushner … because ‘he has reaped a lot of wealth off of the backs of poor people . . . He owns these properties and has to take ownership of that . . . He just happens to be No. 45’s son-in-law.’” [He's also a senior White House official.]

THE MIDTERMS:

-- Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), best known for leading the Benghazi inquest against Hillary Clinton, announced that he will leave politics to reenter the legal arena. The former prosecutor represents a solidly red district, but he is the 41st Republican lawmaker to decide against seeking reelection and the third in just the past week. This reflects pessimism in the GOP conference about the party's ability to hold the House. “It was unclear what role Gowdy might seek in the justice system. One of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit took 'senior status' Tuesday, creating a vacancy on the bench,” Elise Viebeck and David Weigel report. 

  • White House counsel Don McGahn approached Gowdy recently about the vacant judgeship, one in which he had previously expressed interest. “But Gowdy, who's long complained about the increasingly toxic nature of politics, turned down the position,” unnamed sources told Politico's Rachael Bade
  • “There is more civility in a death penalty case than there is in some congressional hearings,” said Gowdy, who has won seven death penalty cases. 

-- Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.) announced that he won't run again after being embroiled in a controversy over an alleged payoff to a potential challenger. From David Weigel: “In October, two of Brady’s consultants — Donald Jones and Ken Smukler — were indicted in a probe of a $90,000 payment that Brady’s 2012 campaign made to challenger Jimmie Moore. The FBI’s probe ensnared Brady himself, though the congressman professed his innocence, even after Jones pleaded guilty last month to making false statements about the payoff.” He faced a credible primary challenge from his left in a district that includes Philadelphia.

-- The Justice Department dropped its bid to retry Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who is also up for reelection this year. A trial last fall on corruption charges ended in a hung jury. From the Associated Press: "Prosecutors had said on Jan. 19 that they would pursue a retrial, but they abandoned the case after the judge last week threw out the bribery charges related to the campaign donations. Eleven charges remained, including bribery, fraud and conspiracy. ... The move brings to an end a more than five-year investigation that began with never-substantiated allegations about consorting with prostitutes and eventually resulted in a bribery indictment ... Menendez, 64, was charged with trading his political influence for gifts and campaign contributions from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, 63. Their 11-week trial ended in November with the jury deadlocked. 'From the very beginning, I never wavered in my innocence and my belief that justice would prevail,” Menendez said in a statement.

-- Todd-Akin-esque: Josh Hawley, the leading Republican candidate to take on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), blamed human trafficking on the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s. He made the remarks at a December religious conference (see the full video here). His GOP primary opponent, Courtland Sykes, said last week that career-oriented women are “nail-biting manophobic hellbent feminist she-devils.” (Eli Rosenberg)

THE GOP'S SALES JOB:

-- The vice president urged Republican lawmakers, who finally made it to their retreat in West Virginia last night, to more aggressively tout the accomplishments of Trump’s first year as they fight to maintain control of Congress. Mike DeBonis reports: “Pence told lawmakers to find comfort in their religious faith, after highlighting the GOP’s recent tax bill, which has prompted many companies to deliver bonuses and wage increases to their workers and has coincided with a steady rise in stock prices. He also highlighted Republican successes in confirming judicial nominees, while leaving unmentioned the party’s failure to deliver on promises to wholly repeal the Affordable Care Act and its current struggle to arrive at consensus on immigration reforms …”

— Republican leaders agree that their ability to win congressional races will depend on convincing voters that they are better off because of the tax bill. From Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa: “‘I still worry, you know, I said all along, if we don’t accomplish what we said we would do then, that’s going to be hardship for us,’ said Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.), the chairman of the Senate Republican campaign arm. … ‘Folks in my district want to learn about why the tax bill is good,’ said Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), who represents the Philadelphia suburbs. ‘I’m hearing as much about the president’s style and tone as I am about his policies. They’re allergic to that, and it makes a member like me have to speak out.’”

-- Good news for Republicans on that front: A new Monmouth poll shows support for the tax bill — along with Trump’s approval rating — has spiked recently. Forty-two percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, compared to 32 percent in December, and support for the tax plan has climbed to 44 percent, compared to 26 percent at the end of last year. It's unclear if this survey is an outlier or the harbinger of what's to come.

STATE OF THE UNION FALLOUT:

-- The ratings are in: Trump’s speech was watched by fewer viewers than his joint address last year. Across cable and broadcast, 45.6 million viewers tuned in on Tuesday — down from 47.7 million viewers last year. Obama’s first State of the Union drew 48 million viewers. (Variety)

-- Trump’s travel ban could have prevented one of his guests, Ji Seong-ho, from attending the State of the Union. Ji escaped North Korea despite being hit by a train and losing an arm and a leg. “Trump’s third attempt at a travel ban, signed in September, prevented nationals from eight countries, including North Korea, from entering the U.S.,” notes HuffPost’s Willa Frej.

-- Post reporters shared how the State of the Union sounded from eight living rooms across America. Jenna Johnson writes: “In Milwaukee, a retired factory worker sipping coffee in his burgundy recliner cheered as [Trump] promised … to build new roads, bridges, waterways and other infrastructure improvements. In New Jersey, a Democrat-turned-Trump-voter whose 26-year-old son died of a heroin overdose in 2010 wondered why the president didn’t provide a detailed plan to address the opioid crisis that’s killing thousands each year. … And in Denver, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan wondered why the president continues to send more and more troops into the Middle East to fight terrorism without a clear plan of action.”

-- National Review’s Dan McLaughlin emphasized how “normal” the speech was for a sitting Republican president: “That doesn’t excuse or erase the ways in which Trump is not a normal president (or degrade from them, if you’re the sort of person who likes not-normal-for-Washington), but just as hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, Trump’s periodic efforts to speak in the language of normal American politics is a reminder of why normal American politics remains a thing of value worth preserving.”

-- The main difference between Tuesday’s speech and what might have been said by a standard-issue GOP president was Trump’s apparent lack of interest in passing legislation, argues Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro. “With Republican majorities (however imperiled) in both chambers of Congress, this would, in theory, be the moment to keep pushing an ambitious legislative agenda. Yes, Trump did call ‘on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need.’ But Trump devoted almost as much time to denouncing a single gang, MS-13, as he did to plugging the one major legislative proposal that might have won Democratic support.”

-- Trump trumpeted the healthy economy, but, as Democratic losses in 2016 demonstrated, stock market gains don’t necessarily translate to electoral victories, Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic. “[U]nless and until wage growth accelerates for a sustained period, not everyone may view economic conditions the way Trump did when he called the country’s current state a ‘new American moment.’ Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg consistently argued throughout Hillary Clinton’s 2016 race that the Democrats’ determination to promote the economy’s improvements under Obama would clang against the ears of working- and middle-class voters still struggling to meet their bills. Now, Greenberg thinks Republicans are on the verge of making the same mistake, particularly with blue-collar white women who remain economically strained. ‘I want that battle,’ he told me. ‘I think that will backfire.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Republican lawmakers who were on the train that collided with a truck provided reassurance to their followers:

The vice president went after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is up for reelection this year, in a stream of tweets that used the hashtag #JoeVotedNo:

And Manchin hit back:

Trump seemed to echo Pence’s line of attack in a tweet this morning:

He also accused the Democrats of obstructing a DACA deal:

And he falsely claimed his State of the Union was the most watched in history:

A University of New Hampshire professor reacted to last night's report about Hope Hicks:

From a writer for the New Yorker:

The White House press secretary challenged Democrats to work with Republicans:

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) replied:

This quote from Sanders also raised some eyebrows:

From a writer for CNN:

The governor of Ohio and veteran news anchor Dan Rather sat down to discuss freedom of the press:

A third-grader's school project caught the attention of Michelle Obama:

The rare “super blood blue moon” created some amazing photos:

And the Daily Show recognized Trey Gowdy's retirement;

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Politico Magazine, “Why the Russia probe demolished one lobbying firm but spared another,” by Theodoric Meyer: “The indictment of Paul Manafort last year on charges that included breaking foreign-lobbying law thrust two prominent Washington lobbying firms into the spotlight. One of them, the Podesta Group, collapsed within weeks of Manafort’s indictment. The other, Mercury, just had its best year ever, according to the firm. … There’s no single, clear explanation for why one firm imploded while the other appears to be relatively unscathed, but it’s evident the Podesta Group was under pressures that Mercury did not face.”

-- The Atlantic, “America Is Not a Democracy,” by Yascha Mounk: “A New England town meeting would seem to be one of the oldest and purest expressions of the American style of government. Yet even in this bastion of deliberation and direct democracy, a nasty suspicion had taken hold: that the levers of power are not controlled by the people.”

-- New York Times, “Hut! Hut! Hut! What?” by Bill Pennington: “It is easily the most audible word in any football game, a throaty grunt that may be the sport’s most distinguishing sound. Hut! It starts almost every play, and often one is not enough. … But why? ‘I have no idea why we say hut,’ said Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce[.]”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Florida (Congress)Man Invited Infamous Troll Chuck Johnson to Trump’s State of The Union,” from the Daily Beast: “Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a conservative Republican firebrand, was the lawmaker responsible for inviting the controversial internet troll Chuck Johnson to Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. Johnson’s presence in the gallery during the speech by Donald Trump raised eyebrows and immediately sparked questions over how a right-wing activist and blogger best known for attempting to dox the subject of the UVA campus rape story managed to get a ticket to the high-profile affair.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“White House’s Kelly slams teacher who disparaged troops: ‘I think the guy ought to go to hell,’” from Eli Rosenberg and J. Freedom du Lac: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly offered a blunt reaction Wednesday to a Southern California teacher’s disparaging comments about American troops. Speaking on Fox News Radio, Kelly, a retired four-star general, listened to Gregory Salcido’s viral classroom rant — in which the high school teacher and Pico Rivera city councilman called members of the military ‘the lowest of our low’ — and said: ‘Well, I think the guy ought to go to hell. I just hope he enjoys the liberties and the lifestyles that we fought for.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will deliver afternoon remarks at the Republican retreat in West Virginia and later attend the RNC’s winter meeting at the Trump International Hotel.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) addressed his overly moisturized lips during his response to Trump’s State of the Union: “They can point out too much ChapStick all they want — it doesn’t mean that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice isn’t rolling back civil rights protections.” (Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere)

 

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

-- It will be a bit warmer in D.C. today, but the city may see some snow overnight. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds are plentiful from start to finish, and while a shower is possible during the afternoon, it quite likely holds off until evening. Highs in the upper 40s to low 50s are a nice break from recent cold. … Showers are likely to remain liquid through midnight but winds shifting to the northwest help chill things down. Snowflakes may mix in at some point after midnight[.]”

-- The Capitals beat the Flyers 5-2. (Jesse Dougherty)

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) used his State of the State address to pitch his reelection bid. Josh Hicks and Ovetta Wiggins report: “The popular governor, who is seeking to become the first Republican chief executive reelected in Maryland in 60 years, touted his efforts to create jobs, protect the environment, cut taxes and boost transportation spending, telling his audience six times that ‘we cannot afford to turn back now.’”

-- Former congressman Tom Perriello (D-Va.) is launching a new political action committee. Gregory S. Schneider reports: “Perriello, who lost the Democratic nomination for governor last year but went on to help his party win seats in the House of Delegates, is forming a new [PAC] to boost progressive candidates. Called New Virginia Way, the PAC will focus on getting those progressive delegates reelected in 2019 and on helping them gain ground in the legislature, Perriello said.”

-- A London man who pleaded guilty to assaulting and attempting to rob a Georgetown student last year will be deported. (Ellie Silverman)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

A British lord stunned his colleagues when he offered his resignation for being two minutes late to work:

A fellow member of the House of Lords has asked him to reconsider, Jennifer Hassan reports.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sat down for an interview with Stephen Colbert:

Samantha Bee and Gretchen Carlson called out forced arbitration in sexual misconduct cases:

Paul Ryan offered his prayers for the victims of the train collision:

A pro-immigration group led by Michael Bloomberg released an ad calling on Congress to defend “dreamers”:

Lawmakers at the State of the Union answered the red carpet question, "Who are you wearing?"

Michelle Obama told Ellen DeGeneres why her gift exchange with Melania Trump was so awkward:

And a killer whale learned an impressive new skill: