With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: With the British Parliament’s lopsided rejection of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan and the U.S. partial government shutdown dragging into its 26th day, the two oldest and most important Western democracies are simultaneously mired in utter political chaos with no obvious way out.

Against the backdrop of the American withdrawal from Syria and President Trump’s musings about pulling out of NATO, it adds up to a strategic bonanza for Vladimir Putin and his vision of a revanchist Russia.

We don’t know exactly how much Moscow spent supporting influence operations to impact the U.K. and U.S. elections in 2016, but it seems hard to overstate how good the Kremlin’s return has been on what Western intelligence agencies believe was a relatively modest investment.

Russian efforts to manipulate American voters during the last presidential campaign have been aggressively covered in this space, but the Kremlin’s bid to boost Brexit was perhaps even more brazen. The Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a meaty report last year about Russian influence operations overseas, but it was largely overshadowed by bombshells stemming from special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation. The 206-page report outlines Russian disinformation campaigns across 19 countries. It highlights loopholes in U.K. campaign finance laws that might have allowed an influx of Russian money to boost the referendum. That’s not to mention the propaganda from Russian-run Twitter and Facebook accounts, plus state-funded media.

“The allegations that have emerged of Russian interference prior to the Brexit referendum are all the more stunning given the innate resilience within British society to the Kremlin’s anti-democratic agenda,” the senators concluded in their report. “Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president.”

Trump said Monday that he has “never worked for Russia.

-- May’s plan to ease Britain out of the European Union went down 432 to 202 on Tuesday evening. “The landslide vote was pure humiliation for a British leader who has spent the past two years trying to sell her vision of Brexit to a skeptical public, and her failure raised serious questions about how — and if — Britain will leave the E.U. as promised on March 29,” William Booth, Karla Adam and Michael Birnbaum report. “The political turmoil heightened fears among European leaders that Britain will crash out of the bloc in a chaotic, no-deal departure that would have harsh economic and humanitarian consequences on both sides of the English Channel.”

-- Putin has been especially angry with May, the leader of the Conservative Party, since she showed backbone and resolve against Moscow by stiffening sanctions after the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. At his year-end news conference, Putin attacked the elites in London and Washington for resisting the will of their voters by trying to delegitimize the election of Trump and back out of Brexit. “They don't want to recognize his victory. That's disrespect of voters,” Putin said of the American president. “The same in Britain: Brexit happened, but no one wants to implement it. … She must enact the will of the people, expressed during the referendum.”

-- The latest Brexit breakdown followed a New York Times report earlier Tuesday that Trump has been more serious than previously understood about wanting to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set,” Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper report. “There are few things that [Putin] desires more than the weakening of NATO … American national security officials believe that Russia has largely focused on undermining solidarity between the United States and Europe after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Its goal was to upend NATO. … An American withdrawal from the alliance would accomplish all that Mr. Putin has been trying to put into motion, the officials said — essentially, doing the Russian leader’s hardest and most critical work for him.”

Former secretary of defense Jim Mattis specifically mentioned the imperative of NATO in his resignation letter, explaining that the strength of the United States is “inextricably linked” to our “unique and comprehensive system of alliances.”

-- Because of their fealty to Trump, many conservative platforms have become less outspoken about the threat posed by Russia since Barack Obama left office. Fox News host Tucker Carlson devoted an entire segment on his show last night to questioning the value of NATO. He wondered aloud why the United States should commit resources to safeguard “the territorial integrity of Estonia.” Backing up Trump, Carlson wondered: “Does the average American know we're on the hook for this?”

-- The former president of Estonia, now a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, responded by highlighting the casualties his country has suffered in support of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan:

-- The NATO alliance depends on deterrence, and that depends on the credibility of the mutual-defense pact. If Putin doesn’t think the United States will use force to defend the tiny Baltic states if he were to invade, as required under Article V, millions of freedom-loving Europeans are more likely to fall under the yoke of Putin’s authoritarian rule.

-- Many Republicans, especially those who have served in uniform, understand this. “We got through a Cold War without firing a shot with the Russians because of the existence of NATO,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “That's our frontier there. Protecting the democracies of NATO, like protecting our own elections, is extremely essential.”

-- In a Tuesday afternoon rebuke of the Trump administration, 11 Republican senators joined all their Democratic colleagues in voting to keep sanctions in place on companies owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Putin. The New York Times’s Ken Vogel reports: “The 11 Republican votes allowed Senate Democrats to advance a measure that would reverse a decision last month by the Treasury Department to lift sanctions that it imposed last year on companies controlled by [Deripaska], including the aluminum giant Rusal. … The measure still needs to clear several more hurdles, and proponents need to attract at least two more Republican votes to win final passage in the Senate. But Tuesday’s vote was a symbolic crack in the Republican Party, and came despite opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a last-ditch plea by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.”

-- Meanwhile, a model whose alleged affair with Deripaska made her an unexpected player in the Russia probes, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Thailand to charges linked to a “sex training” seminar, setting the stage for her deportation. Anton Troianovski, Rosalind S. Helderman and Shibani Mahtani report: “The self-described sex expert from Belarus, Anastasia Vashukevich, claimed that she recorded meetings between [Deripaska] and unspecified Americans in 2016 to discuss Russian interference in the U.S. election. Vashukevich posted video of Deripaska meeting with a senior Russian official on a yacht, but Deripaska has denied wrongdoing, and no evidence has emerged that she possessed any new details about the election. … Vashukevich’s claims about recording Deripaska were notable because the oligarch has ties to [Putin] and used to work with President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. … It was not immediately clear where Vashukevich, a citizen of Belarus, would be sent. A friend, Gregory Kogan, said Vashukevich was hoping to be deported somewhere other than Russia.”

-- “Deripaska’s aluminum empire … has quietly installed a new board chairman who has expressed support for the Russian aggression that got Deripaska sanctioned in the first place,” the Daily Beast reports this morning: Jean-Pierre Thomas “has also become a regular on Russian state TV, pushing a conspiracy theory about chemical weapons in Syria, and asserting that the Russian government couldn’t have been involved in the poisoning of [Skripal]. That background … has concerned lawmakers as well as Western intelligence officials.”

-- Information is power: While the U.S. government has no detailed records of Trump’s five face-to-face interactions with Putin over the past two years, experts agree that the Russian regime almost certainly does. “The interpreters working for Soviet leaders were trained to take nearly verbatim stenographic notes,” Troianovski reports. “Declassified Soviet records of Cold War talks are often more detailed than official American notes on the same conversations, said Svetlana Savranskaya, the director of Russia programs at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Savranskaya said she assumed that Putin’s interpreters follow the Soviet tradition. Moscow, then, may well possess a far more detailed record of Putin’s talks with Trump than does Washington — where senior officials are said to be still searching for details about what exactly the two have discussed.”

-- What’s next for Brexit? Booth, Adam and Birnbaum report from London: “Hardcore Brexiteers, such as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, cheered the result as increasing the chances of Britain leaving the European Union with no deal and no compromises — or with a much, much better deal than May or E.U. leaders say is realistic. At the same time, those who want to see a second referendum on Brexit, and who want to stay in the union, think May’s loss gets them closer to their goal. … Historians had to go as far back as the Victorian age to find a comparable party split and parliamentary defeat — to Prime Minister William Gladstone’s support for Irish home rule in 1886, which cut the Liberal Party in two. …

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, May stood almost alone, flashing defiance and frustration, as many in her own party abandoned their leader. … She has until Monday to return with a Plan B. Her office has been tight-lipped about what alternatives she might offer. May said she would reach out to members of Parliament to find out what kind of Brexit deal, if any, they would endorse. … Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour Party leader … introduced a motion of no confidence, to be debated and voted upon Wednesday. Afterward, leaders of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, announced that they would support the prime minister, thereby making her ouster unlikely.”

-- The president of the European Council is suggesting that Britain should just give up on Brexit:

-- Widening the aperture: “Brexit has been a catastrophic political failure,” writes columnist Anne Applebaum. “This messy, unpopular deal, the most unpopular government policy that anybody can remember, was produced by a political class that turned out to be ignorant — about Europe, Europeans, trade arrangements, institutions — and arrogant, disdaining knowledge and expertise. It was the work of leaders who favored identity politics over economics, who preferred an undefined notion of ‘sovereignty’ to the real institutions that gave Britain influence and power, who believed in fantasies and scorned reality. Time that could have been spent on other things — on debating defense, or poverty, or clean beaches — has been wasted on a policy that won’t make Britain happier, wealthier or stronger. Instead, this long debate has produced confusion and gridlock. And after Tuesday’s vote, more of that is coming.”

-- The bigger picture: The two most important beacons of freedom in the world are dimming. And just as the seas become more dangerous when lighthouses go dark, the same is true on the increasingly stormy world stage. Will January 2019 be remembered as the month that the West came unmoored? Previous generations had Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Harold Macmillan and John Kennedy. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. In 2019, there is Theresa May and Donald Trump.

The Daily 202's BIG IDEA> Get James' insight into Washington every weekday on your smart speaker or favorite podcast player.
Subscribe on Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and other podcast players.

-- Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the publication date of the Senate report on Russian influence operations. It was released last year.

 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Kenya’s president declared that a terrorist attack on a Nairobi hotel had ended after 14 civilians were killed. Max Bearak reports: “Right up until his announcement, gunshots had continued to ring out from the besieged buildings. … Morgue staff determined that the dead included 11 Kenyans, an American and a Briton, but that two others had not yet been identified. The U.S. State Department confirmed that one American was killed in the attack. The attack was claimed by the al-Qaeda-aligned Somali militant group al-Shabab in statements to international media on Tuesday. It echoed a September 2013 attack by the group at the Westgate shopping mall just a mile away, in which fighters armed with automatic weapons killed 67.”

-- The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide blast in Syria’s U.S.-patrolled city of Manbij, marking the first such attack since Trump said American forces would be withdrawing from the country because the militant group has been defeated. Louisa Loveluck reports: “A statement published by the militants’ unofficial news agency, Amaq, said the attacker used an explosive vest to target coalition forces. … Photographs from the area appeared to show bodies and blood trails strewn across the ground. It was not immediately clear whether U.S. personnel were in the area at the time. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 19 people were wounded or killed in the blast. A Kurdish news agency said at least 10 people were injured, locating the attack at the site of a popular restaurant.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Second lady Karen Pence has accepted a part-time job teaching art at a school that requires potential employees to affirm certain religious beliefs, including that marriage should occur only between a man and a woman. Immanuel Christian School requires job applicants to initial a set of standards that forbids “moral misconduct” such as “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity [and] any other violation of the unique roles of male and female.” (Eli Rosenberg)

  2. The Supreme Court established a low threshold for the level of violence that could trigger longer prison sentences for repeat offenders. The 5-to-4 decision scrambled the court’s traditional voting patterns, as Justice Stephen Breyer joined his most conservative colleagues in backing a Florida man’s longer prison sentence. (Robert Barnes)

  3. The DNC became the latest organization to drop its sponsorship of the Women’s March after one of the founders refused to denounce Louis Farrakhan over his anti-Semitic comments. When directly asked whether she condemned Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, march co-president Tamika Mallory replied: “I don't agree with these statements. … It’s not my language, it’s not the way that I speak, it’s not how I organize … I should never be judged through the lens of a man.” (Daily Beast)

  4. A witness at El Chapo’s trial claimed former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto accepted a $100 million bribe from the crime lord. A Colombian drug lord who worked with El Chapo testified at his trial that Peña Nieto initially requested $250 million to call off a nationwide manhunt for him, but El Chapo responded with a counteroffer of only $100 million. (New York Times)

  5. An American who spent three years with the Islamic State said he offered to teach English to the terrorist organization because he wanted to “see exactly what the group was about.” Warren Christopher Clark is being held in Kurdish custody after he was captured earlier this month by U.S.-backed forces in Syria. (NBC News)

  6. Cardinal Donald Wuerl claimed he forgot he knew about sexual abuse allegations against his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick. The D.C. cardinal apologized to former priest Robert Ciolek, who provided evidence last week that Wuerl learned of McCarrick’s misconduct when Ciolek complained about it in 2004. (Michelle Boorstein)  

  7. A sculpture showing Ronald McDonald crucified on a cross is sparking protests in Israel. Arab Christians in the country say the artwork, which was meant to criticize capitalistic culture, is insensitive to their religion. (Michael Brice-Saddler)

  8. An 18-month-old girl in Michigan died of a drug overdose after she ingested the highest dose of fentanyl that Macomb County officials have ever seen. Authorities say Ava Floyd’s parents were producing the narcotic in their home. They have been charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and second-degree child abuse, among other charges. (Kristine Phillips)

  9. The Saudi teenager who said she fled from her family out of fear for her life was granted asylum in Canada. Rahaf Mohammed said at a news conference: “I want to be independent, travel, make my own decisions on education, a career, or who and when I should marry. I had no say in any of this. Today, I can proudly say that I am capable of making all of those decisions.” (CNN)

  10. Sears will remain open after billionaire Edward Lampert won a bankruptcy auction for the struggling company. But Lampert’s plan to keep roughly 400 stores open will make it difficult for Sears to compete with chains like Walmart, which has thousands of locations. (Wall Street Journal)

SHUTDOWN LATEST:

-- Trump is recalling nearly 50,000 government employees — but won't pay them while they work — to soften the impact of the shutdown in a move that could reduce political pressure to compromise. Erica Werner reports: “The nearly 50,000 furloughed federal employees are being brought back to work without pay — part of a group of about 800,000 federal workers who are not receiving paychecks during the shutdown, which is affecting dozens of federal agencies large and small. A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a bid by unions representing air traffic controllers and other federal workers to force the government to pay them if they are required to work. The efforts by the Trump administration to keep the government operating during the partial shutdown came as the White House and Congress made no progress toward resolving their underlying dispute.

[Trump] extended an unusual lunch invitation to a handful of rank-and-file House Democrats in an attempt to woo them and create a divide within the Democratic camp over the shutdown. But the lawmakers rebuffed the outreach as Democratic leaders voiced concerns the meeting would prove little more than a photo opportunity bolstering Trump.”

-- Senate Republicans have largely stood by Mitch McConnell as he refuses to get involved in negotiations to end the shutdown. Sean Sullivan reports: “By choice, the Senate majority leader has stepped away from the talks to resolve the impasse over $5.7 billion for [Trump’s] border wall, which is at the core of the dispute, while refusing to vote on House bills to reopen the government. Trump wants wall funding. Democrats don’t. McConnell is leaving it to them to work it out. Still, he has retained the support of most fellow Republican senators, who appear to be largely united behind his strategy, despite some growing concerns about the impact of the lapse in government services. One after another, McConnell’s top lieutenants took turns speaking after him Tuesday, blaming Democrats for the shutdown and standing in lockstep with the majority leader.”

-- The 2020 Senate map may provide an explanation for why Republican senators are largely sticking with Trump’s demands for a wall, Paul Kane writes. “Out of 22 Republican seats up in 2020, 18 are from states that Trump won by comfortable margins. Just two, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), are running in states that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016. … Two other Republicans, Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.), are running next year in states where Trump won by less than five percentage points. … That makes it unsurprising to see Collins, Gardner and Tillis as part of a group trying to jump-start bipartisan talks to find a resolution to the impasse, talks that so far have produced nothing tangible. But very few other Republicans feel any discernible political pressure to buckle to Democratic demands, despite national polling that shows Trump getting crushed during this [shutdown].”

-- In another sign of how long the shutdown could continue, both supporters and opponents of the border wall are against making concessions on the issue. The Pew Research Center reports: “Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) opponents of expanding the border wall say it would not be acceptable to pass a bill that includes [Trump’s] request for wall funding, if that is the only way to end the shutdown. Among the smaller group of wall supporters, 72% say a bill to end the shutdown would be unacceptable if it does not include Trump’s funding request.”

-- The shutdown is making many federal workers reconsider their decision to work for the government. Todd C. Frankel, Taylor Telford and Danielle Paquette report: “A job in the government has long been underwritten by the understanding that while you wouldn’t strike it rich on the federal pay scale, you also didn’t need to worry about the corporate world’s mercurial whims. The focus was on serving the public, rather than pursuing profits. The pace could be frustratingly inefficient, but it also was not maddeningly chaotic. And the trade-off came with solid health and retirement benefits. That grand bargain — deployed for decades to lure talent into the government ranks — is threatened today by a bruising shutdown with no end in sight.”

-- The lettuce industry is demanding the FDA be allowed to return to work out of fear of another E. coli outbreak. Joel Achenbach reports: “Three times in the past year, the industry has been roiled by foodborne-illness outbreaks linked to U.S.-grown romaine lettuce contaminated with a toxic strain of E. coli bacteria. … The outbreaks remain mysterious. The FDA’s investigations have produced plausible theories but nothing conclusive about how, when and where the bacteria contaminated the lettuce. … That’s a source of consternation for the $2 billion leafy greens industry, which desperately wants to avoid a repeat of what happened last year and is counting on the FDA for help. But because of the federal shutdown, the agency has barely been in the game.”

-- Flight-safety systems are feeling the strain of the shutdown, but aviation authorities insist the skies are safe. Michael Laris, Ashley Halsey III and Lori Aratani report: “The Federal Aviation Administration is calling back thousands of furloughed inspectors to address safety concerns, and airport security checkpoints have been shut down and agents redeployed as the impacts of the nation’s longest government shutdown intensify. Key work to improve safety has been stalled, and passengers have occasionally faced painful delays that could worsen as the shutdown continues and more workers who continue their jobs without pay decide it’s no longer worthwhile to do so. While air traffic controllers say they have been keeping the nation’s airspace as safe as before the shutdown, they question how long that can be sustained.”

-- It turns out the shutdown is having a far more pronounced effect on economic growth than previously estimated, a loss that could push the U.S. economy into a retraction. The New York Times’s Jim Tankersley reports: Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, "said on Tuesday that the administration now calculates that the shutdown reduces quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percentage points for every week that it lasts — the cumulative effect of lost work from contractors and furloughed federal employees who are not getting paid and who are investing and spending less as a result. That means that the economy has already lost nearly half a percentage point of growth from the four-week shutdown. …

“Mr. Hassett said it was possible that the damage could grow. He also said much of the damage should be repaired once the shutdown ends and workers get back pay. But he acknowledged that the shutdown could permanently reduce growth expectations if businesses and markets begin to expect that Congress and the president will repeat the experience again and again. Some economists have begun to warn that such a situation is likely and that economic confidence could be undermined as businesses, consumers and investors lose faith in the ability of political leaders to find agreement on issues like raising the federal debt limit and approving trade deals. That lack of confidence could snowball into a self-inflicted economic contraction on the heels of what appears to have been the nation’s strongest year of growth since the 2008 financial crisis.”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- Trump’s immigration agenda — which is what the shutdown is really all about — sustained another blow as a federal judge blocked his administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Tara Bahrampour reports: “Judge Jesse M. Furman of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the administration Tuesday to stop its plans to add the question to the survey. Calling Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the question ‘arbitrary and capricious,’ he blasted Ross for ‘egregious’ violations of the Administrative Procedure Act. The New York case is the first of three high-profile trials around the country that are challenging the question and is likely to be a road map for the others, legal experts say. … The government will probably appeal Tuesday’s ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.

-- The decision also suggested the commerce secretary obfuscated the decision-making process behind adding the citizenship question. Fred Barbash reports: Ross told Congress that “he was considering adding the question at the request of the Justice Department so it could better identify violations of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights. … What really happened, though, was much different, according to the opinion and the accompanying exhibits and testimony. Shortly after assuming office in February 2017, Ross asked his deputy chief of staff, Earl Comstock, why there was no citizenship question on the census. … Soon after, Wilbur heard from, among others, White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Kris Kobach, then-Kansas secretary of state appointed by [Trump] to investigate voter fraud. They wanted him to add a question. … So Ross did not act ‘solely’ at the request of the Justice Department. The Justice Department acted at his request.”

-- “Trump’s efforts to remake the immigration system through executive power have been repeatedly thwarted by the federal courts,” David Nakamura notes. “This ruling extends a string of setbacks, as federal courts have halted the president’s efforts to end a deferred-action program for young undocumented immigrants, bar Central Americans from seeking asylum in the United States, withhold funds from ‘sanctuary cities’ that do not cooperate with federal enforcement operations and separate immigrant families at the border. … More broadly, Trump’s struggles have highlighted the evolution of how presidents have dealt with immigration since Congress passed the last major overhaul of the system nearly three decades ago. The collapse of efforts at comprehensive legislation during the presidencies of George W. Bush and [Barack] Obama have led to efforts to make bolder changes through executive power.”

-- Last night, another federal judge has temporarily halted the deportation of Roxana Orellana Santos, a Salvadoran immigrant who was first targeted for removal after Maryland sheriff’s deputies unlawfully arrested her a decade ago. Arelis R. Hernández reports: “The order by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake will expire after 10 days but can be renewed. The government’s efforts to deport Santos come as her attorneys are attempting to negotiate damages in her civil rights case against the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Santos, a mother of four, was detained by two deputies in 2008 and turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A federal court found her arrest — while she was sitting on the curb outside the restaurant where she worked as a dishwasher — violated her civil rights and said the county government was liable for damages.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- At his confirmation hearing, attorney general nominee William Barr pledged he would allow special counsel Bob Mueller to finish his investigation, but Barr warned that Mueller’s findings might not be made entirely public. Devlin Barrett, Karoun Demirjian, Matt Zapotosky and Seung Min Kim report: “The remarks by Barr, who is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, highlight the uncertainty surrounding how he will grapple with what many expect will be the final steps of Mueller’s investigation … Barr pledged at his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to keep politics out of Justice Department decisions about criminal investigations. He said he would allow Mueller, whom he called a longtime friend, to finish his work, but Democrats expressed concern that, if confirmed, Barr might not follow the advice of the agency’s ethics officials.

Throughout the nine-hour hearing, Barr lavished praise on Mueller, noting that under the regulations he could fire the special counsel only for good cause, adding: ‘Frankly, it’s unimaginable to me that Bob would do anything that gave rise to good cause.’ Barr, 68, said he would not ‘be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong’ — by Congress, the media or the president. Lawmakers repeatedly pressed him about the report Mueller is expected to produce at the end of his investigation. In a sign of potential fights to come, Barr said any report from Mueller would probably be treated like internal Justice Department prosecution memos that are kept secret. … Barr said the attorney general is responsible for notifying Congress and reporting ‘certain information’ once the investigation ends, and he sought to assure lawmakers that he would be as transparent as regulations allow.”

-- A new court filing from Mueller’s prosecutors indicates they have extensive knowledge about Paul Manafort that has not been made public. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “Although heavily redacted, the documents state that Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, claimed he was trying to get people appointed in the new presidential administration. The filing also states that in another Justice Department investigation, Manafort provided information that appears related to an event while he was with the campaign in August 2016. … Prosecutors filed a 31-page affidavit from an FBI agent, plus another 406 nearly fully blacked-out exhibits, after a federal judge last week ordered them to lay out the ‘factual and evidentiary basis’ for their claims that Manafort lied repeatedly after his plea deal and has breached his cooperation agreement. The filing in federal court in Washington asserts that Manafort shifted answers to questions posed by the FBI and Mueller probe investigators, prompting his lawyers to pull him aside on several occasions to review statements.”

-- Mueller has issued more subpoenas to associates of conservative writer Jerome Corsi, indicating the special counsel is still zeroing in on the actions of Roger Stone. ABC News’s Ali Dukakis reports: “Copies of those subpoenas delivered to two individuals late last year bear Mueller’s name and call for the retention and producing of documents, communication logs and other records involving two people: Corsi and Stone. The two individuals, whose names have not been publicly released, also testified before Mueller’s grand jury in December, according to the subpoenas and three sources who confirmed their attendance.”

-- Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony next month will probably be highly restricted to avoid interfering with Mueller’s probe. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Nicole Hong report: “Mr. Cohen, who is scheduled to speak in an open hearing on Capitol Hill for the first time Feb. 7, won’t be able to talk about topics that he has discussed with [Mueller], according to a person close to Mr. Cohen. He also may be limited in what he can say about the continuing Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office investigation … [But] he is expected to give an explosive recounting of his experience working for Mr. Trump. His testimony is expected to focus on his life story, examining how he went from serving as one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal aides for more than a decade to publicly breaking with him last year and implicating him in two federal crimes.”

-- Acting attorney general Matt Whitaker will publicly testify before Congress next month. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Whitaker’s planned Feb. 8 testimony comes after several weeks of scrabbling between the Justice Department and the [House Judiciary Committee], as House Democrats accused the acting attorney general of stalling and the Justice Department argued that the government shutdown was complicating efforts to commit to a date. Subpoenas were threatened — though Whitaker eventually agreed to the session without one being issued.”

-- The sentencing of Manafort’s former deputy Rick Gates was once again delayed. Hsu reports: “‘Defendant Gates continues to cooperate with respect to several ongoing investigations, and accordingly the parties do not believe it is appropriate to commence the sentencing process,’ [Mueller’s prosecutors and Gates’s attorneys] wrote in a one-page update for U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District. The reference to Gates’s cooperation echoed language used in November, suggesting his assistance extended beyond the testimony he gave in Manafort’s August trial in Virginia.”

-- Conservative lawyer David French in National Review: “The FBI’s Counterintelligence Investigation of Trump Was Prudent and Proper.

SCORE SETTLING:

-- In his forthcoming book, Chris Christie trains his fire on Jared Kushner. He blames the president’s son in-law for denying him the vice presidency and for “the hit job” that got him fired as chairman of the Trump transition team right after the 2016 election. When he was a U.S. attorney, Christie sent Jared’s dad, Charles Kushner, to prison in 2005. The former New Jersey governor argues that many of Trump’s biggest mistakes from the past two years were Kushner’s fault because he was so far in over his head. The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington and Martin Pengelly obtained an advance copy of “Let Me Finish,” whose publication date is Jan. 29:

In one of the most visceral passages of the book, Christie recounts for the first time how Jared Kushner badmouthed him to Trump in April 2016. … Remarkably, he did so while Christie was in the room. ‘He implied I had acted unethically and inappropriately but didn’t state one fact to back that up,’ Christie writes. ‘Just a lot of feelings — very raw feelings that had been simmering for a dozen years.’ Kushner went on to tell Trump that it wasn’t fair his father spent so long in prison. He insisted the sex tape and blackmailing was a family matter that should have been kept away from federal authorities: ‘This was a family matter, a matter to be handled by the family or by the rabbis.’ Trump, in an effort to settle the dispute, proposed a dinner between him, Jared and Charles Kushner, and Christie. Much to Christie’s relief, Jared didn’t acquiesce.”

The article about the book lays out several previously unknown examples of Trump humiliating Christie. Remember the meatloaf incident? “At his first meeting with Trump in 2002, at a dinner in the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in New York, Trump ordered his food for him. He chose scallops, to which Christie is allergic, and lamb which he has always detested. Christie recalls wondering whether Trump took him to be ‘one of his chicks.’ At another dinner three years later, Trump told the obese Christie he had to lose weight. Addressing him like one of the contestants in Miss Universe, Trump said ‘you gotta look better to be able to win’ in politics. Trump returned to the theme of girth during the 2016 presidential campaign, exhorting Christie to wear a longer tie as it would make him look thinner.”

Christie says Mike Pence, who became VP instead of him and then took over the transition team after he was ousted, had a “thrown-together approach” that led to bad hiring decisions “over and over again.” He calls Jeff Sessions “not-ready-for-prime-time.” Christie also calls Michael Flynn “a train wreck from beginning to end … a slow-motion car crash,” as well as “the Russian lackey and future federal felon.” In Christie’s telling, Kushner said firing Flynn would end talk of links between the Trump campaign and Russia. “Again, the president was ill served by poor advice,” Christie says.

Christie writes that he turned down Trump when he was offered the job of “special assistant to the president in the White House”: “Christie would have taken chair of the Republican National Committee and seemed poised to get it,” per the Guardian. “But according to Christie, once again Trump’s family worked against him. In a near-comic scene, Reince Priebus, the RNC chair who would become Trump’s first chief of staff, offers him role after role in a frantic attempt to [fulfill] the directive from Trump to ‘make Chris happy.’ One by one, Christie turns down labor secretary, homeland security secretary and ambassadorships in Rome and the Vatican.”

ON CAPITOL HILL:

-- The House voted overwhelmingly to condemn comments from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) questioning how terms such as “white nationalist” came to be considered offensive. Mike DeBonis and John Wagner report: “Before the House voted 424 to 1 Tuesday to condemn the substance of King’s recent remarks, a chastened but unapologetic King went to the House floor to say that he would support the resolution while continuing to say that he had been misquoted … But that explanation came too late for his own Republican colleagues, not to mention scores of Democrats who are ready to pursue more serious actions against King, including censure — the most serious House sanction short of expulsion. Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, called Tuesday for King to ‘find another line of work,’ a day after King earned a similar rebuke from [McConnell]. … King remained defiant later Tuesday in an interview with conservative radio host Ed Martin. ‘What are they going to do next?’ he said. ‘After they get done telling me to resign, they’ll realize that’s not going to happen.’”

-- Some are wondering why it took Republican leadership so long to rebuke King, who has a long record of racially offensive comments. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin reports: “The confluence of his closer-than-expected re-election, the devastating losses House Republicans suffered with educated and minority voters in November and the blunt-force nature of what he does not deny saying has made Mr. King toxic in his party’s caucus. Yet even as it became clear that his fate may be sealed, many Democrats and, more quietly, some Republicans were wondering why he survived as long as he has given his 15-year record of making what were at a minimum racially provocative comments.” Case in point: In 2013, King once said young migrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

-- The editorial boards of the Des Moines Register and, more importantly, the Sioux City Journal both called on King to resign. The Register’s board writes: “He has lost even the potential to effectively represent his Iowa constituents because of his abhorrent comments about white nationalism and white supremacy. The move by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to strip King of his committee assignments leaves Iowa without a seat on the vital House Agriculture Committee, as well as judiciary. It also leaves King with far less opportunity to work for his constituents on critically important rural development issues. … [Iowa Republicans] should encourage him to step aside for the good of the Republican Party and, more importantly, for the good of Iowa.”

-- If you come at the queen, you best not miss: Nancy Pelosi blocked one of her most outspoken critics, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), from joining the House Judiciary Committee. Politico’s Heather Caygle, Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan report: “Pelosi lobbied for other members to join the panel over Rice, leaving the third-term New York Democrat off a list of her preferred members for the committee during a tense closed-door meeting Tuesday night, according to multiple sources. The effort came despite a full-court push from the New York delegation to secure a spot for Rice, a former prosecutor, on the panel that oversees everything from impeachment to guns to immigration. The push by Pelosi was seen as payback by many in the room after Rice was one of the main megaphones behind a campaign to block the California Democrat from becoming speaker again. … It was also the latest slight for New York members, who were still upset that another member of their delegation, freshman Rep. Anthony Brindisi, was blocked from getting on the Armed Services Committee on Monday night.”

-- The addition of several progressive Democrats to the influential House Financial Services Committee could pose a challenge for Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Politico’s Zachary Warmbrodt and Heather Caygle report: “Waters, a Los Angeles Democrat, is a liberal icon in her own right. But as head of the committee, she will also have to play the role of peacemaker to bring together the new members with moderates on the panel — some of whom are wary of primary threats stoked by their colleagues on the left. In addition to [Rep. Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez, attention-grabbing freshmen Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) are all expected to land spots on the committee, which oversees Wall Street and the nation's housing market.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced she would run for president. Jenna Johnson reports: “She told host Stephen Colbert on CBS’s ‘Late Show’ that she believes she has ‘the compassion, the courage and the fearless determination’ necessary. ‘The first thing I would do is restore what’s been lost: the integrity and the compassion in this country,’ she said. ‘I would bring people together to start getting things done.’ … With the announcement made, Gillibrand plans to spend time with her husband and two sons on Wednesday in Troy, N.Y., where she lives and where her campaign will be headquartered. On Friday, she will start a three-day tour of Iowa.”

-- The issues of paid family leave and sexual assault, which Gillibrand has focused on in the Senate, are expected to feature heavily in her campaign. Jeff Stein reports: “In 2010, Gillibrand released a bill to create America’s first universal paid family leave program. … Gillibrand has reintroduced the legislation in every Congress since 2010, and it was co-sponsored by about a dozen other senators last year, including at least four who are running or considered to be running for president. The plan is likely to be a prominent feature of her presidential campaign. … Gillibrand has also advanced legislation related to the #MeToo movement and issues of sexual misconduct, including a bill that passed last year to address widespread criticisms of Congress’s process for handling sexual misconduct.”

-- Potential presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has been highly critical of Trump’s wall, but he has struggled to come up with his own ideas on to improve the immigration system — including how to deal with something like visa overstays. Jenna Johnson went down to the border with the former congressman: “When it comes to many of the biggest policy issues facing the country today, O’Rourke’s default stance is to call for a debate — even on issues related to the border and immigration, which he has heavily emphasized in videos posted to Facebook and Instagram over the past month. O’Rourke’s approach reflects how he is likely to handle issues should he launch a presidential campaign. Beyond a few mainstream Democratic stances — including closing private immigration prisons, allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens and modernizing the work visa system — O’Rourke insists the thorny immigration answers will come from everyday Americans. It’s an approach that puts off specifics that might define him or narrow his appeal in a presidential race — but O’Rourke says he is being open-minded, as he wishes more politicians would be.”

Jenna's kicker says it all: “Throughout the two-hour interview — which was often interrupted by bystanders urging him to run for president — O’Rourke boomeranged between a bright-eyed hope that the United States will soon dramatically change its approach to a whole host of issues and a dismal suspicion that the country is now incapable of implementing sweeping change. When asked which it is, O’Rourke paused. ‘I’m hesitant to answer it because I really feel like it deserves its due, and I don’t want to give you a — actually, just selfishly, I don’t want a sound bite of it reported, but, yeah, I think that’s the question of the moment: Does this still work?’ O’Rourke said. ‘Can an empire like ours with military presence in over 170 countries around the globe, with trading relationships … and security agreements in every continent, can it still be managed by the same principles that were set down 230-plus years ago?’ O’Rourke doesn’t yet know the answer, but he’s ready to discuss it.”

-- Another potential presidential hopeful, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), is planning visits to the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. BuzzFeed News’s Henry J. Gomez reports: “The Democrat’s political team shared details Tuesday, and Brown made an announcement during primetime on Chris Hayes' MSNBC show, affording him an audience of the liberal and progressive voters he will need to impress to stand out in a crowded field. … Brown told Hayes that his wife, journalist Connie Schultz, would accompany him. When Hayes mentioned it sounded like the launch of a presidential campaign, Brown demurred. ‘Connie and I have not made that decision,’ he said.” Brown will kick off what he's calling “The Dignity of Work Tour” in his home city of Cleveland on Jan. 30 and then go to Iowa on Jan. 31.

-- Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s presidential ambitions could be hindered by the FBI’s inquiries about possible corruption among city officials. The LA Times’s Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser report: “If Garcetti runs for president, he could also face uncomfortable questions about a topic that has gripped City Hall: Why are FBI agents seeking evidence of bribes, extortion and money laundering possibly involving L.A. city officials? And why are two of his appointees — one current, one former — being scrutinized in that probe? Two months after FBI agents raided the home and offices of City Councilman Jose Huizar, no one has been arrested and no charges have been publicly filed. But as new details emerge about the probe, the investigation could nonetheless be a drag on the careers of politicians looking to keep their jobs or move up the ladder.”

-- Vogue profiles Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) as she moves toward a likely presidential bid. The magazine’s Julia Felsenthal reports: Klobuchar’s “starring role in Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings … combined with her impressive midterm margins in Minnesota, an increasingly purple state that seems a microcosm of the rest of the country, has shot her name to the top of the 2020 presidential wish list, particularly among those who believe that the path to Democratic victory runs through the industrial Midwest (where Obama won and Hillary Clinton mostly lost).”

-- Despite their losses last year, former gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum are being sought after by presidential candidates for endorsements. Politico’s Marc Caputo and Daniel Strauss report: “The pair of young, progressive African-American pols amassed so much political fame that they’re a must-call for the growing roster of likely Democratic presidential contenders. They’re also on some early and unofficial lists as possible vice-presidential running mates. … The attention Abrams and Gillum are receiving from presidential hopefuls is an indication of the growing pull of the party's progressive base and highlights the role each could play as gatekeepers for African-American and liberal voters. In a crowded Democratic primary, that could make them kingmakers for a candidate lucky enough to score an endorsement or, at least, anchors who keep the candidates moored to a liberal agenda.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Republican lawmakers do not look prepared to budge on reopening the government, per a Post reporter:

One of Trump's closest congressional allies slammed Democratic lawmakers who snubbed the president's lunch invitation to discuss the shutdown impasse:

A Democratic congresswoman made this request of a far-right pundit:

Another House Democrat shared a story from one of her constituents:

The commandant of the Coast Guard recognized service members going without pay:

A HuffPost editor suggested that the United States and Britain swap lawmakers:

A PBS NewsHour reporter noted Barr's shifting stance on border security:

Democratic senators expressed concerns about Trump's attorney general nominee as he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

A Daily Mail editor shared an adorable photo of notes taken by Barr's grandson, Liam:

A Post reporter compared recent filings from Mueller's prosecutors and Manafort's legal team:

A New York Times reporter explained the current power structure at the White House:

A House Democrat said it was an easy call to denounce Steve King:

Trump's campaign manager mocked John Kasich as the president's potential primary rival became a CNN commentator:

One of Kirsten Gillibrand's staffers who worked on Hillary Clinton's campaign expressed excitement about the senator's presidential bid:

Obama's former U.N. ambassador compared the foreign policy agendas of Canada and the United States:

The new Democratic governor of Kansas reinstated protections for LGBT state employees:

Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker criticized pre-Reagan tax rates:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) replied:

And an Atlantic writer reported that lawmakers were served steak and potatoes at the White House a day after the Clemson Tigers were offered fast food:

A co-founder of Vox replied:

GOOD READS:

-- “Crazy-rich Iranians face blowback at a time of sanctions and economic stress,” by Erin Cunningham: “The lifestyles of Iran’s privileged youths — including expensive holidays, glitzy parties and access to cash and jobs — have sparked public anger in recent months as U.S. sanctions squeeze the economy. The young elite, some with government connections, flaunt their wealth on Instagram and in the streets of the capital, Tehran, sporting designer clothes and flashy cars and vacationing at posh resorts. … But few in Iran can afford such comforts as costs rise and wallets shrink. And Iranians have started speaking out against inequality and a culture of nepotism that they say favors what are called the ‘aghazadeh,’ or ‘noble-born’ children of the elite.”

-- “T-Mobile announced a merger needing Trump administration approval. The next day, 9 executives had reservations at Trump’s hotel,” by Jonathan O’Connell and David Fahrenthold: “Last April, telecom giant T-Mobile announced a megadeal: a $26 billion merger with rival Sprint, which would more than double T-Mobile’s value and give it a huge new chunk of the cellphone market. But for T-Mobile, one hurdle remained: Its deal needed approval from the Trump administration. The next day, in Washington, staffers at the Trump International Hotel were handed a list of incoming ‘VIP Arrivals.’ That day’s list included nine of T-Mobile’s top executives — including its chief operating officer, chief technology officer, chief strategy officer, chief financial officer and its outspoken celebrity chief executive, John Legere. … T-Mobile executives have returned to President Trump’s hotel repeatedly since then, according to eyewitnesses and hotel documents obtained by The Washington Post. By mid-June, seven weeks after the announcement of the merger, hotel records indicated that one T-Mobile executive was making his 10th visit to the hotel. Legere appears to have made at least four visits to the Trump hotel, walking the lobby in his T-Mobile gear.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Florida official rebuked for calling Rep. Rashida Tlaib a ‘danger’ who may ‘blow up’ the Capitol,” from Eli Rosenberg: “A South Florida official is facing harsh criticism after she posted an Islamophobic message in which she mused whether Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, would someday ‘blow up Capitol Hill.’ Anabelle Lima-Taub, a commissioner in Hallandale Beach, a community of about 40,000 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, signed a petition that circulated on the White House’s crowdsourced ‘We the People’ site seeking to remove Tlaib from office. … The message is no longer on her Facebook page. The Sun-Sentinel reported that it was removed Monday afternoon after the newspaper asked about it. … The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for Lima-Taub’s resignation.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“A CNN analyst called out a Fox News contributor for his white privilege. He’s black,” from Michael Brice-Saddler: “CNN legal analyst Areva Martin thought she was talking to a white man Tuesday while appearing as a guest on David Webb’s SiriusXM radio show. When Webb, a frequent Fox News contributor and host on Fox Nation, said he considered his qualifications more important than his skin color when applying to jobs in journalism, Martin accused him of exercising white privilege. But there’s a problem with that sentiment, as Webb quickly pointed out: ‘Areva, I hate to break it to you, but you should’ve been better prepped,’ he responded. ‘I’m black.’ … Martin apologizes repeatedly for her false accusation, adding that ‘her people’ gave her the wrong information. ... Martin has not publicly acknowledged the incident.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will meet with the Problem Solvers Caucus and have lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before participating in a signing ceremony for a bill aimed at guaranteeing back pay for furloughed government employees.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I’m an optimistic person, I’m not seeing the blue sky here as yet. … There’s obviously going to be a pressure point at which it’s no longer sustainable, but at this point it doesn’t look like anybody’s blinking.” — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) on the shutdown. (Erica Werner)

 

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

-- D.C. will see some sunshine today, but light snow may fall on the city tomorrow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We’re only slightly warmer today after another chilly start. Morning temperatures rise through the 20s to near 30, reaching afternoon highs in the low 40s under partly sunny skies, with winds from the west-northwest around 10 mph. So we’re still fairly cold, but should see just enough sun and time above freezing to continue melting our snow cover away.”

-- The Capitals lost to the Predators 7-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- Legislation banning housing discrimination against LGBT Virginians appears to have support from conservative Republican lawmakers for the first time. Laura Vozzella reports: “Advocates say their cause appears to be gaining support among some conservatives, particularly when they can be convinced that a particular bill will not infringe on anyone’s religious rights. A Senate bill to outlaw discrimination in housing sailed out of committee Monday — with support from a pair of conservative Republicans who had never been on board before. Some Republicans have come to see the issue as a matter of personal liberty — and perhaps political survival in an election year when the GOP is struggling to appeal to voters in once-friendly suburbs.”

-- The Virginia Senate voted to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment. Laura Vozzella reports: “The measure passed with bipartisan support, with seven Republicans joining Democrats on a 26-to-14 vote. The measure faces tougher odds in the House of Delegates and beyond, including hurdles related to long-expired deadlines for passage.”

-- John Laytham, the co-owner and chief executive of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, died at 74. Bart Barnes reports: Laytham “helped build [the business] into a $135 million-a-year operation with 13 restaurants in the Washington area … [He] was a Georgetown University freshman in 1963 when he began washing dishes at the first Clyde’s three months after the eatery opened near the college. He wanted only a little cash to pay for weekend dates, he later told Washingtonian magazine.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Late-night hosts made countless jokes about Trump's “hamberders” tweet:

The Fact Checker awarded Trump two Pinocchios after he claimed credit for $26 billion in savings on prescription drugs:

The Saudi teenager who was granted asylum in Canada brought attention to the injustices experienced by other Saudi women:

And former senator Claire McCaskill joined MSNBC: