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The Daily 202: 10 sobering quotes from the new National Intelligence Strategy

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats listens to President Trump during a Cabinet meeting at the White House last July. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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with Joanie Greve

With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Every four years, the National Intelligence Strategy attempts to do something that official Washington seems increasingly incapable of: long-term thinking.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats released a chilling report on Tuesday that outlines what the 17 federal agencies that make up the intelligence community see as the gravest threats facing the United States.

The former Republican senator from Indiana, appointed by President Trump, has sought to protect the independence of spy agencies to provide candid and cleareyed assessments of what’s really going on in the world, especially vis-a-vis the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s revanchist Russia.

In the past, there’s been a public report and a separate classified version. But this year there is only one version – and it’s entirely unclassified. This is part of an effort by Coats to be more transparent in the face of sustained attacks from the president and his allies on the right against what they’ve taken to calling the Deep State.

Trump has routinely clashed with the intelligence community, likening the agencies to Nazi Germany shortly before he took office, repeatedly questioning their expert consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and boasting about his inauguration crowd size during a speech in front of the wall of stars that honors the fallen at CIA headquarters.

“We need to assure our policymaking community, and the American people, that we can be trusted with this responsibility to use our information appropriately to protect the nation,” Coats said in an afternoon speech to more than 150 members of his staff in McLean, Va. “Through transparency, we will strengthen America’s faith that the intelligence community seeks the truth – and speaks the truth.”

-- Here are the 10 biggest truth bombs from the 36-page Coats report. These are direct quotes:

1. “Traditional adversaries will continue attempts to gain and assert influence, taking advantage of changing conditions in the international environment — including the weakening of the post-WWII international order and dominance of Western democratic ideals, increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West, and shifts in the global economy.”

2. “Russian efforts to increase its influence and authority are likely to continue and may conflict with U.S. goals and priorities in multiple regions.”

3. “No longer a solely U.S. domain, the democratization of space poses significant challenges for the United States. Adversaries are increasing their presence in this domain with plans to reach or exceed parity in some areas. For example, Russia and China will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness and overall security. Increasing commercialization of space now provides capabilities that were once limited to global powers to anyone that can afford to buy them. Many aspects of modern society—to include our ability to conduct military operations—rely on our access to and equipment in space.”

4. The ability of individuals and groups to have a larger impact than ever before—politically, militarily, economically, and ideologically—is undermining traditional institutions. This empowerment of groups and individuals is increasing the influence of ethnic, religious, and other sources of identity, changing the nature of conflict, and challenging the ability of traditional governments to satisfy the increasing demands of their populations, increasing the potential for greater instability. Some violent extremist groups will continue to take advantage of these sources and drivers of instability to hold territory, further insurgencies, plan external attacks, and inspire followers to launch attacks wherever they are around the world.”

5.Increasing migration and urbanization of populations are further straining the capacities of governments around the world and are likely to result in further fracturing of societies, potentially creating breeding grounds for radicalization. Pressure points include growing influxes of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons fleeing conflict zones; areas of intense economic or other resource scarcity; and areas threatened by climate changes, infectious disease outbreaks, or transnational criminal organizations. All of these issues will continue to drive global change on an unprecedented scale.”

6. “Advances in nano- and bio-technologies have the potential to cure diseases and modify human performance, but without common ethical standards and shared interests to govern these developments, they have the potential to pose significant threats to U.S. interests and security. In addition, the development and spread of such technologies remain uneven, increasing the potential to drastically widen the divide between so-called ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’”

7. “Despite growing awareness of cyber threats and improving cyber defenses, nearly all information, communication networks, and systems will be at risk for years to come. Our adversaries are becoming more adept at using cyberspace capabilities to threaten our interests and advance their own strategic and economic objectives. Cyber threats will pose an increasing risk to public health, safety, and prosperity as information technologies are integrated into critical infrastructure, vital national networks, and consumer devices.”

8. “Many adversaries continue to pursue capabilities to inflict catastrophic damage to U.S. interests through the acquisition and use of [weapons of mass destruction]. Their possession of these capabilities can have major impacts on U.S. national security, overseas interests, allies, and the global order. The intelligence challenges to countering the proliferation of WMD and advanced conventional weapons are increasing as actors become more sophisticated, WMD-related information becomes broadly available, proliferation mechanisms increase, and as political instability erodes the security of WMD stockpiles.

9. “Continued federal budget uncertainty strains the [intelligence community’s] ability to make deliberative and responsive resource decisions. The outcome may be overextended budgets or lack of cost-effective solutions to address intelligence issues. The [intelligence community] needs to develop methods to efficiently shift resources to mitigate programmatic (fiscal) risk and avoid loss of vital programs, capabilities, and resource investments.”

10.There will likely be demand for greater intelligence support to domestic security, driven in part by concerns over the threat of terrorism, the threat posed by transnational illicit drug and human trafficking networks, and the threat to U.S. critical infrastructure. Intelligence support to counter these threats must be conducted … with adequate protection for civil liberties and privacy.”


-- “Despots — and would-be despots — have seen in Trump a model, as well as an alibi,” Griff Witte, Carol Morello, Shibani Mahtani and Anthony Faiola report in today’s newspaper. “The strongman style of leadership is not new, of course, and it is not always obvious who is inspiring whom. But in interviews on four continents, diplomats, rights activists and foreign officials said that after two years of Trump using the world’s most powerful megaphone to cheer authoritarians, bully democratic allies and denigrate traditional American values, the impact on how others govern is becoming clear.”

  • “Viktor Orban, Hungary’s increasingly autocratic leader, said Trump represents ‘permission’ from ‘the highest position in the world.’
  • “To Jair Bolsonaro, the new president of Brazil, the U.S. president is … proof that incendiary comments about women or minorities and a history of trafficking in conspiracy theories don’t need to stand in the way of taking power.
  • “When the Nigerian army opened fire on rock-throwing demonstrators last fall, killing as many as 40 people, it defended itself by citing Trump’s threats to do the same at the Mexican border.
  • When the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia criticized ruler Hun Sen for cracking down on the opposition and the media, the authoritarian leader pointed out that Trump had his back — not the diplomats.
  • “And when members of the U.N. Security Council visited Myanmar’s commander in chief in late April to demand explanations for the expulsion of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims, he used the phrase ‘fake news’ — the only words he spoke in English — no less than a dozen times.
  • “In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández backed Washington in a vote at the United Nations over U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Then Hernández allegedly used fraud to steal an election, triggering mass protests. Rather than condemn the move, the United States offered its congratulations.
  • “Guatemala also voted with the United States on Jerusalem and announced it would move its own embassy to the city. Months later, in August, President Jimmy Morales declared he was abolishing the mandate of a U.N.-backed commission that had long been known as an effective watchdog in curbing corruption. As he spoke, a column of three dozen jeeps — some with roof-mounted machine guns — that had been supplied by the United States for anti-narcotics operations rolled through Guatemala City, pausing at the commission’s offices and the homes of human rights activists.”

Key quote: “While the global decline in freedom didn’t begin with Donald Trump’s presidency, I do think he has been an accelerant,” said Uzra Zeya, a State Department veteran who resigned last spring following a 25-year career that culminated as the nation’s top Foreign Service officer in Paris.

-- Trump’s assistant secretary of state in charge of European affairs, who has overseen U.S. relations with NATO and the European Union for the past 16 months, announced his resignation. He cited personal and professional reasons. Carol Morello reports: “In September 2017, [A. Wess] Mitchell became one of the first assistant secretaries of state in the Trump administration confirmed by the Senate, and his departure creates another vacancy in the ranks of senior officials. Currently, six of the 24 spots have nominees awaiting Senate confirmation. … In an interview, Mitchell said his resignation is not a protest of the administration’s policies or the direction of foreign policy, and he praised [Mike] Pompeo’s leadership and vision.”

-- The House overwhelmingly passed a bill aimed at preventing Trump from trying to pull out of NATO. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The vast majority of House Republicans joined Democrats to pass the bill by a vote of 357 to 22, after members of both parties gave impassioned speeches for why the alliance was so vital to preserve and protect. ‘Time and again the alliance has proven that the free peoples of the world are strongest when they stand together,’ said Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He called the alliance ‘a bulwark against international terror’ and ‘critical to our national security, and to the preservation of our military prowess around the world.’”

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  1.  A North Carolina judge declined Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris’s request to certify the results of his race amid an ongoing election fraud investigation. Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled that state election officials had the authority to delay certifying results until completing their investigation. (Amy Gardner)
  2. The White House said it had reached out to the Covington Catholic students featured in a viral video with a Native American activist. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “We’ve reached out and voiced our support,” adding that Trump would consider inviting the boys to the White House after the shutdown. (AP)

  3. Los Angeles teachers reached a deal with the school district to end their strike. The union approved a proposal that included a 6 percent pay raise and a plan to hire more teachers to reduce class size by 2022. Teachers will return to their classrooms today. (Moriah Balingit and Debbie Truong)
  4. Drone activity temporarily halted air traffic at Newark Airport. An FAA spokesman said two drones were spotted about 20 miles north of the airport. (Lori Aratani)
  5. Anti-government demonstrations are expected today in Venezuela to protest the autocratic rule of President Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela has suffered record economic losses under Maduro’s leadership, causing rampant hunger and scarce medical care. (Miami Herald)

  6. Four men in New York were arrested for allegedly planning to attack a nearby Muslim community. Police said they recovered 23 firearms and three IEDS from the suspects’ homes. (Daily Beast)
  7. A Colorado man arrested after authorities say he threatened to carry out a mass shooting cited his virginity as a reason he wanted to kill “as many girls as I see.” “I’ve never had a girlfriend before and I’m still a virgin,” Christopher Wayne Cleary wrote on Facebook, authorities said. “This is why I’m planning on shooting up a public place soon and being the next mass shooter cause I’m ready to die and all the girls the turned me down is going to make it right by killing as many girls as I see.” (Lindsey Bever)

  8. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker died at 93. He won his first prize for commentary in 1979 and another four years later for his best-selling memoir “Growing Up,” which captured his childhood during the Great Depression. (Jon Thurber)

The FBI Agents Association held a news conference Jan. 22 to talk about how the ongoing government shutdown is affecting cases. (Video: Reuters)


-- Hundreds of IRS workers have gotten permission to skip work because of financial hardship, just as the tax season gets busy. Danielle Paquette, Lisa Rein, Jeff Stein and Kimberly Kindy report: “The Trump administration last week ordered at least 30,000 IRS workers back to their offices, where they have been working to process refunds without pay. … But IRS employees across the country — some in coordinated protest, others out of financial necessity — won’t be clocking in, according to Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, and several local union officials. The work action is widespread and includes employees from a processing center in Ogden, Utah, to the Brookhaven campus on New York’s Long Island.

The move is the leading edge of pushback from within the IRS, and it signals the potential for civil servants to take actions that could slow or cripple government functions as the political stalemate continues in Washington. U.S. Department of Agriculture meat inspectors have begun to call in sick, Transportation Security Administration sickouts at airports have been rising, and federal law enforcement agencies say the shutdown is increasing stress among agents and affecting investigations. … Not receiving pay for more than a month has taken a toll on employees across the government, but especially on those who are not in high-salary jobs. The employees summoned back from furlough to process tax refunds are paid between $25,800 and $51,000 a year, depending on their seniority.”

-- Irony alert: The shutdown has forced the State Department to postpone an international conference on border security. CNN’s Michelle Kosinski and Jennifer Hansler report: “The 16th International Export Control and Border Security Conference was scheduled to take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, in mid-February, with a goal of preventing the proliferation and transfer of weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons across borders. However, it has been postponed ‘due to uncertainty associated with the continuing partial U.S. federal government shutdown,’ according to a letter ... signed by Kathryn Insley, the director of the Office of Export Control Cooperation.”

-- A group representing FBI agents issued a report saying the shutdown is affecting investigations on child trafficking, terrorism and more. The New York Times’s Katie Benner reports: “Because of the shutdown, the F.B.I. has been unable to issue grand jury subpoenas and indictments in several cases cited in the report. An agent working on an MS-13 investigation that has gone on for more than three years and resulted in 23 gang indictments for racketeering, murder and money laundering has been hamstrung by his inability to pay for an interpreter who can communicate with his Spanish-speaking informants, the report said. The bureau has also not been able to pay its informants, an important source of intelligence in terrorism, narcotics, gang, illegal firearm and other national security cases. The F.B.I. could lose those informants.” (Read the full 72-page report here.)

-- The funding lapse has also delayed the trial of a man accused of murdering two police officers in the U.S. Virgin Islands because expert witnesses in the case have been furloughed. Deanna Paul reports: “Days before the Jan. 10 trial date, assistant attorneys general from the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Justice filed a motion with the local St. Croix court. ‘Due to unforeseen circumstances beyond the People’s control,’ they requested a fourth continuance in the [Francis] Williams murder trial. ‘Virtually all of the forensic evidence in this case was processed by scientists and agents attached to the FBI, ATF and the Department of Homeland Security,’ prosecutors said in court filings.”

President Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government. Now the longest government shutdown in history is jeopardizing some of his top priorities. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)


-- Lawmakers agreed … to more show votes that probably won't end the government shutdown. The Senate will vote tomorrow on competing measures from Trump and Democrats. Both are expected to fail. Erica Werner, John Wagner and Jeff Stein report: “The result could be only to prove that some other solution is needed to end the partial shutdown, even as 800,000 federal workers face the loss of a second straight paycheck Friday. Trump’s proposal, which the president announced in a weekend speech from the White House, would open the government through Sept. 30 while providing $5.7 billion for a border wall and giving temporary deportation protections to about 1 million unauthorized immigrants. But it also contains stringent changes to the nation’s asylum rules, and Democrats who were already united against funding Trump’s wall described these asylum provisions Tuesday as a new poison pill. The Democrats’ plan is a stopgap spending bill that would fund the government through Feb. 8 without providing any new money for the wall. That would let both parties negotiate on border security while the government is reopened, a respite Democrats have been demanding. …

Thursday’s planned votes are a product of an agreement between [Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer]. But even as the leaders announced the deal, they traded barbs in speeches on the Senate floor. McConnell accused Democrats of rejecting a reasonable proposal from Trump because of political opposition to the president, and Schumer argued that Republicans and Trump were operating in bad faith by including new asylum curbs and failing to consult with Democrats.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to decline the Trump administration’s request for an expedited review of DACA weakened the president’s hand: “If the court sticks to its normal procedures, even accepting the case at a later date would probably mean the justices would not hear arguments until the court’s new term starts in October. That would probably keep the program in place until at least next year. With the court seemingly keeping the program safe for at least a year, Trump’s offer to suspend his efforts to end it became less appealing to lawmakers who were already skeptical.”

-- Trump is preparing two versions of his State of the Union address, even if Nancy Pelosi declines to invite him to the House chamber and he is forced to give the speech somewhere else. Seung Min Kim reports: “The administration is trying to conduct advance work to prepare for an address in the House chamber, originally scheduled for Jan. 29, even though Pelosi has the power to determine whether Trump can do so. … It’s unclear what options for venues the White House is exploring aside from the House chamber, where State of the Union addresses have been delivered since President Woodrow Wilson’s speech in 1913. On Tuesday, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Tim Moore, said Trump called him to thank him for offering the Raleigh legislature as a venue. Trump told Moore in the phone call Monday evening, which lasted for about 10 minutes, that his staff was still determining where the address would be delivered. Trump also called Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, who similarly offered up the chambers in Lansing.

-- Pelosi remains adamant that Democrats will not vote to fund the wall, but several more moderate members want to compromise. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Rachael Bade report: “A group of centrist House Democrats, sick of political posturing, is pressing [Pelosi] to counter Trump’s immigration proposal with her own potential compromise. The group, led by freshman Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, is asking the California Democrat to offer Trump a vote on his border wall or some sort of negotiated security package in February if he first signs a bill reopening the federal government … ‘Give Trump the money,’ Rep. Collin Peterson, a centrist Democrat from a red Minnesota district, told a local radio station Tuesday. ‘I’d give him the whole thing…and put strings on it so you make sure he puts the wall where it needs to be. Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.’”

-- Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced a bill called the Stop STUPIDITY Act to prevent future shutdowns. From Felicia Sonmez: The measure “would automatically keep all of the federal government running in the case of a future funding standoff — with the exceptions of the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President. ‘The Stop STUPIDITY Act takes the aggressive but necessary step of forcing the president and Congress to do the jobs they were elected to do,’ Warner said in a statement. ... The full name of Warner’s measure is the ‘Stop Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage in the Coming Years Act.’”

-- The bigger picture: Democrats note that Trump is following an established pattern of attempting to force his opponents to capitulate by offering to resolve a disaster of his own making. Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey report: “Trump has described this approach as creating leverage and negotiating, but Democrats and other opponents have said it amounts to ‘hostage taking.’ ‘It’s sort of like bartering with stolen goods,’ [Schumer] said Tuesday. Trump has used the same playbook during confrontations with Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, South Korea, North Korea and the European Union in the past two years with mixed success. … It is a well-worn tactic from Trump’s business career, but this is the first time the livelihoods of so many U.S. workers and households have hung in the balance as a result of it.”

-- The shutdown has forced Trump to sideline the rest of his agenda. The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports: “The standoff has already forced Mr. Trump to cancel a trip to Europe to meet with global business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, at a time when the world economy faces a possible slowdown. The president has made no evident progress in filling a series of senior vacancies nor has he produced the tax-cutting plan he promised last year. He has done nothing in weeks to publicly promote priorities like fighting opioid abuse or bolstering the economy.”

The Supreme Court lifted an injunction on President Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military while the legal battle continues in lower courts. (Video: Reuters)


-- The Supreme Court allowed Trump’s transgender troop ban to go into effect as it works its way through lower courts. Robert Barnes and Dan Lamothe report: “The justices lifted nationwide injunctions that had kept the administration’s policy from being implemented. The Trump policy reverses an Obama administration rule that would have opened the military to transgender men and women and instead bars those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and are seeking to transition. The court’s five conservatives — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh — allowed the restrictions to go into effect while the court decides whether eventually to consider the merits of the case. The liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — would have kept the injunctions in place.”

-- The high court announced it will consider a New York City gun law, marking the first time the justices have taken up a Second Amendment case in nearly a decade. Robert Barnes reports: “The decision to hear the case in the term that begins in October may signal that the reinforced conservative majority on the court is ready to examine more laws that restrict gun rights. New York’s law is not replicated elsewhere: It permits transporting handguns only to firing ranges within the city. Those who challenged the law have licenses to keep a handgun at their homes. Petitioners included those who want to take their guns to firing ranges or competitions outside the city, and one who wanted to take the gun to his second home upstate.”

-- Barnes, our SCOTUS beat reporter, notes the decision to grand cert on the gun case may provide the most insight yet about where the conservative majority will take the court: “The speculation had been that neither conservatives nor liberals knew whether they could count on the vote of the court’s median justice, Anthony M. Kennedy. The court turned aside numerous challenges to restrictions on the kinds of guns that could be purchased, and whether they could be carried outside the home. After one such decision in 2018, a frustrated Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that ‘as evidenced by our continued inaction in this area, the Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.’ But, [law professor Adam] Winkler said, ‘there is no hesitancy in Justice Kavanaugh,’ who replaced Kennedy and has an expansive view of gun rights.”

-- The Trump administration asked the court to accelerate the review of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Barnes reports: “Last week, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman of New York ordered the administration to stop its plans to add the question to the survey. Furman said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross broke a ‘veritable smorgasbord’ of federal rules by overriding the advice of career officials who said including the citizenship question was likely to cut down the response rate and make the census less accurate. Normally, the Justice Department’s next stop would be the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. But Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco said that would not leave enough time for a final ruling from the Supreme Court. ‘The government must finalize the census questionnaire by the end of June 2019 to enable it to be printed on time,’ he told the court.”


-- Trump’s legislative affairs director, Shahira Knight, is looking to leave the administration, Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Nancy Cook report: “Knight’s talk of exiting a job she took less than seven months ago comes as she plays what some call a thankless role in talks between [Trump] and Capitol Hill lawmakers skeptical of cutting a deal [to end the shutdown] with her erratic boss. In recent weeks, she has taken a back seat to the stepped-up efforts of Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.”

-- Behind the scenes, Trump’s communications team is struggling to convey a consistent message on the shutdown amid an ongoing power struggle. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak report: “The lack of a cohesive strategy emanating from the White House communications team has frustrated people throughout the West Wing who have deemed the press shop ‘irrelevant'  ... according to interviews with several current and former White House officials. No one has emerged as the clear leader among Sarah Sanders, Bill Shine, Kellyanne Conway or Mercedes Schlapp, leading to deep divisions among one of the administration's most fractious departments and causing a void for a coverage-obsessed president. The communications team has also drawn the ire of dozens of senior staffers, including Trump at times, who have blamed them for failing to blunt PR missteps and allowing them to turn into full-blown disasters.”

The Trump White House in a nutshell: “Trump was impressed by [deputy press secretary Hogan] Gidley's television appearances during the previous government shutdown. Once, after watching Gidley on his screen in the residence, the President walked over to the communications office to tell the staff he thought they were handling the shutdown well. In the days afterward, Trump confused several officials when he directed them to, ‘Get me Tidley.’ ‘Who?’ puzzled staffers asked. ‘Tidley,’ Trump replied. ‘I want to talk to Hogan Tidley.’ They informed him that the deputy press secretary's last name was Gidley, not Tidley.”

-- Trump tweeted that he has directed Sanders “not to bother” with press briefings. From John Wagner: “Sanders has not provided an on-camera briefing for more than a month, including the duration of the partial government shutdown. ‘The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the ‘podium’ much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press,’ Trump said on Twitter. ... Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents Association, said in a statement that the Trump administration’s move 'sets a terrible precedent.'”

-- Former White House communications aide Cliff Sims recounts in his new tell-all that the president offered NASA “all the money you could ever need” to get an astronaut to Mars during his first term. New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi reports: “The day of [Trump’s televised call to the International Space Station in 2017], Sims conducted a final briefing in the Private Dining Room with Trump, [Betsy] DeVos, [astronaut Kate] Rubins, and Robert Lightfoot Jr., the acting NASA administrator. … Lightfoot explained to the president — who, again, had recently signed a bill containing a plan for Mars — that NASA planned to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, by the 2030s, would attempt a manned spaceflight. … Sims wrote that [Trump] leaned in toward Lightfoot and made him an offer. ‘But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?’ Trump asked. ‘What if we sent NASA’s budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you’re doing now. Could it work then?’”

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, dialed back comments he made Jan. 20 about negotiations over a Trump Tower project in Moscow. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)


-- BuzzFeed obtained documents outlining detailed plans for Trump Tower Moscow, contradicting comments from Trump and his allies that the proposal fizzled in its earliest stages. BuzzFeed News’s Azeen Ghorayshi reports: “The plan was dazzling: a glass skyscraper that would stretch higher than any other building in Europe, offering ultra-luxury residences and hotel rooms and bearing a famous name. Trump Tower Moscow, conceived as a partnership between [Trump’s] company and a Russian real estate developer, looked likely to yield profits in excess of $300 million. … On Monday, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said ‘the proposal was in the earliest stage,’ and he went on to tell the New Yorker that ‘no plans were ever made. There were no drafts. Nothing in the file.’ However, hundreds of pages of business documents, emails, text messages, and architectural plans, obtained by BuzzFeed News over a year of reporting, tell a very different story. Trump Tower Moscow was a richly imagined vision of upscale splendor on the banks of the Moscow River. …

By September 2015, a New York architect had completed plans for a bold glass obelisk 100 stories high, to be topped by a gleaming, cut-diamond–like shape emblazoned on multiple sides with the Trump logo. … The Trump team would also have the option to ‘brand all or any portion of the spa or fitness facilities’ as ‘The Spa By Ivanka Trump,’ according to the plans. … The top residence of the Moscow tower, enjoying a view without equal in all the continent, was to be a gleaming penthouse, the most luxurious property in a seriously luxurious building. A show-stopping apartment like that could have been marketed for $50 million. But as BuzzFeed News reported in November, Trump’s fixers planned not to sell it — but to give it away for free, to none other than Vladimir Putin himself.”

-- Trump, like many of his advisers, has grown tired of Giuliani’s gaffe-prone media appearances frequently requiring the ex-mayor to walk back his comments, Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Darren Samuelsohn report: “Trump was apoplectic after a pair of weekend media interviews by his personal lawyer, in which Giuliani said that the president had been involved in discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow through the end of the 2016 campaign … Trump spent much of Sunday and Monday fuming to aides and friends about his lawyer’s missteps. … Giuliani’s public remarks — typically made in sporadic clusters of freewheeling media interviews — have long exasperated White House aides, including the president’s in-house lawyer handling the Russia investigation, Emmet Flood. … Asked who in the White House is responsible for handling Giuliani’s missteps, a White House aide said, ‘Handling Rudy’s f--- ups takes more than one man.’”


-- In a divorce filing, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) alleges that her husband mentally and emotionally abused her — and even once physically assaulted her. The Des Moines Register’s Luke Nozicka and Linh Ta report: “‘We went through a very dark and troubling time in our marriage,’ Ernst wrote [in her affidavit]. ‘I very nearly filed for divorce after a night that we argued, and it became physical.’ Joni Ernst said she fled to her mother's house with her daughter in the middle of the night. Gail Ernst followed soon after, crying and apologizing, according to her affidavit. The next day, a victim's advocate at the courthouse performed an examination of Ernst's throat and head, she said; the advocate wanted to take Ernst to the hospital, according to the court filing. Ernst declined, writing that she was ‘embarrassed and humiliated’ and did not want people to know about what she described as an assault.”

-- Ernst, up for reelection next year, also claimed in the court filing she turned down Trump’s offer to be his running mate in 2016. The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs reports: “The Iowa Republican met with Trump in New Jersey at his Bedminister golf course on [July 4, 2016] and gave a positive statement about the meeting. However, within two days, Ernst told Politico: ‘I made that very clear to him that I’m focused on Iowa. I feel that I have a lot more to do in the United States Senate. And Iowa is where my heart is.’”

-- This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has a lengthy cover story on Mitch McConnell’s legacy. “The president whom the Senate Republican leader helped elect has turned out to be the one thing he can’t control,” Charles Homans writes. “When I asked Elaine Chao, who is Trump’s secretary of transportation and McConnell’s wife of 26 years, if Trump and McConnell liked each other, she was silent for a full four seconds before replying, ‘You’ll have to ask the president that, and you’ll have to ask the leader that.’ When I did ask McConnell, all he said was, ‘Yeah, we get along fine.’ …

When I asked McConnell how he felt about his legacy and Trump’s being so closely linked, he rejected the premise. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘I think the most consequential call I made was before President Trump came to office.’ I asked what he meant. ‘The decision not to fill the [Antonin] Scalia vacancy,’ he said. ‘I think that’s the most consequential thing I’ve ever done.’”

-- A group of progressive Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), secured seats on the House Oversight Committee, giving them a platform to grill Trump administration officials in a wide variety of investigations. Politico’s Andrew Desiderio and Heather Caygle report: “[Ocasio-Cortez], Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) won spots on the high-profile committee on Tuesday … Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the Oversight Committee, dismissed concerns about the outspoken freshman lawmakers. ‘If I based the choices going on the committee based on what people said or their reputations or whatever, I probably wouldn’t have a committee,’ Cummings said.”

-- “Ocasio-Cortez a popular choice for president — even though she’s too young to serve,” by John Wagner: “A new poll finds that 74 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults would consider voting for [Ocasio-Cortez] for president if they could. For now, they can’t. Ocasio-Cortez, who last year became the youngest woman elected to Congress, is 29. Under the Constitution, you must be at least 35 to be president. The Axios-SurveyMonkey poll highlights the splash that Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist, has made since her arrival this month on Capitol Hill. The 74 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults who say they would vote for her for president includes 17 percent who say they would ‘definitely’ do so.”

-- “Ocasio-Cortez Builds a National Platform, but a District Office? Not Open Yet,” by the New York Times's J. David Goodman: “In three short weeks in office, [Ocasio-Cortez] has shaped a national conversation on taxation, emerged as the face of a green jobs plan in Washington and elevated her initials into a worldwide brand. But she has not yet opened an office in her own New York City district — a delay that may give a sense of her priorities early in her tenure. During an appearance on ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’ on Monday, she blamed the government shutdown. … But the shutdown has not had a similar effect on other first-term Congress members from New York State.”

-- Rep. Maxine Waters, the new chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, intends to call three major credit reporting firms to testify on Capitol Hill. From Politico’s Zachary Warmbrodt: “Top executives from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are expected to appear at a hearing anticipated for Feb. 26, the sources said. … Waters, a California Democrat, is an outspoken critic of the industry, and the hearing will put a spotlight on legislation she drafted to revamp its practices. … The hearing will be a preview of the kind of intense scrutiny that Waters has vowed to direct at big banks and top Trump administration officials in the coming months.”

2020 WATCH:

-- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg entered the 2020 Democratic primary. Cathleen Decker reports: “Buttigieg made his plans official in a video and email sent to supporters early Wednesday, before taking part in the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C. He announced in December that he would not seek a third term as mayor of the Indiana city, a move widely seen as a precursor to a presidential run. He said Wednesday he was setting up an exploratory committee for president, the legal mechanism allowing him to raise and spend money on behalf of his campaign. Buttigieg suffused his announcement with references to his youth and the generational exception he represents compared to most of the Democratic field. He turned 37 on Saturday, making him the youngest entrant so far in the presidential race.”

-- The narrative: Democratic presidential candidates across the board are embracing liberal and populist policies, demonstrating how much the party has transformed in recent years. David Weigel and Jenna Johnson report: “For years, Democratic presidential candidates have been skittish about taking positions that were considered too liberal, for fear of scaring off moderates and independent voters. That caution seems to be gone, along with soul-searching about making explicit appeals to conservative voters. … The party’s swift shift has left vulnerable several Democratic candidates or likely ones who have voting records and previous stances that are out-of-line with current Democratic thinking. Those who defend their earlier stances risk seeming stuck in time to party that’s quickly transforming, while those who have changed their positions risk being labeled as flip-floppers and opportunists.”

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) used a visit to the early primary state of South Carolina to pitch himself to black voters in a stark difference from his 2016 campaign. Annie Linskey and David Weigel report: “‘Racial equality must be central to combating economic inequality,’ Sanders said, in a speech that used the refrain ‘racism is alive’ to walk through a litany of problems faced by minorities. The changes from Sanders’s last campaign were hard to miss. In 2016, he said that ‘identity politics’ distracted from what he considered real issues, like economic inequality and the decline of organized labor. This week, on his first trip to an early-primary state since the midterm elections, Sanders called [Trump] a ‘racist,’ pushed for an end to private prisons, endorsed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote and advocated for an end to the cash bail system. He spoke at two black churches, mingled with supporters at a barbecue joint and met with the state’s legislative black caucus, which had largely rejected him in 2016.”

-- The South Carolina primary is taking on outsize significance in the 2020 Democratic nominating fight. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin and Astead W. Herndon report: “The primary here may still be 405 days away and only fourth on the calendar of early-nominating states, behind Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. But at a time when [Trump] has stoked racial divisions and black voters have become an increasingly crucial Democratic constituency, South Carolina is already looming larger at the outset of this race than in any recent Democratic nominating contest. … The winner here will enter the March 3 Super Tuesday contests with a burst of momentum.”

-- Michael Bloomberg, who is weighing a presidential bid leaning on his centrist image, emphasized the importance of compromise in an Annapolis speech. Rachel Chason reports: “He gave the keynote speech Tuesday at a leadership conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, praising the late senator John McCain — an academy alumnus — for his independence and willingness to work across the aisle. … Following meetings with Maryland lawmakers and state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), Bloomberg spoke at a news conference about the importance of ‘balancing’ different priorities. He called the partial federal government shutdown, now in its fifth week, a ‘disgrace.’ ‘You can’t be an absolutist . . . life is much more complex than that,’ he said. … Asked about the timing of an announcement about 2020, Bloomberg said: ‘Well, I said I’d take a look at it in January, February. We’re still in January.’”

-- “Love a candidate but don’t think she can win? You’ve been infected with Pundititis,” by Ben Terris: “Pundititis [is] a virus affecting the nervous system of Democratic voters that was born out of the 2016 elections. Those infected find themselves unable to fall in love with candidates, instead worrying about what theoretical swing voters may feel. Signs of Pundititis include excessive electoral mapmaking, poll testiness, and an anxious, queasy feeling that comes with picking winners and losers known as ‘Cillizzasea.’ If you experience any of these symptoms for three hours or more, please stop consulting your television. Although Pundititis afflicts voters, it can be deadly to politicians. And there is, perhaps, no potential presidential candidate more susceptible to its effects than [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren.”


The commandant of the Coast Guard lambasted the ongoing shutdown and its impact on service members:

A House Democrat expressed dismay over government employees working without pay:

But he then had to issue this mea culpa:

A conservative commentator answered a Republican senator's rhetorical question about the shutdown:

The vice president expressed support for anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela:

The secretary of state virtually joined the World Economic Forum, per a CBS News reporter:

A Post reporter panned the Brazilian president's performance at the forum:

Harris's communications director tweeted a video of the candidate dancing to Cardi B:

A Democratic senator and Iraq War veteran reacted to the Supreme Court's decision on transgender troops:

From the Democratic mayor of South Bend,, Ind., an openly gay veteran and new 2020 candidate:

The Post's Fact Checker defended White House press briefings:

Chelsea Clinton announced she is expecting a third child:

And some saw a possible metaphor in this road hazard near the White House:


-- Yahoo News, “Operation Cobra: The untold story of how a CIA officer trained a network of agents who found the Soviet missiles in Cuba,” by Sean D. Naylor: “A 10-year veteran of the CIA, [Tom] Hewitt had spent the previous six months teaching the principal agent everything he knew about how to run an effective espionage network, doing all he could to mitigate the substantial risks that the agent would have to take in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The team’s mission was to establish a network that could be used to gather intelligence and, if necessary, to foment counterrevolution against the Castro regime. Getting rid of Castro was a high priority for the administration of President John F. Kennedy and for the CIA. Hewitt knew this was an important mission, but he could not have imagined that his team would soon play a vital role in preventing nuclear Armageddon.


“Passenger Confronts GOP Congressman Over Flying First Class During Shutdown,” from HuffPost: “[A] Republican lawmaker had an uncomfortable run-in Tuesday when a fellow airplane passenger found him flying first class from Chicago to Washington, D.C., according to a video of the encounter shared with HuffPost. ‘Congressman, do you think it’s appropriate to fly first class while 57 TSA agents aren’t being paid?’ the person says to Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), in an apparent reference to [TSA’s] 57,000 employees, who are being required to work without pay. … Davis remained silent, prompting the person to say, ‘Taking that as a yes.’”



“GOP strategist blasts Stephen Miller, says ‘Maybe someday he’ll have a relationship with a live human woman,’” from Fox News: “Rick Wilson, the strategist, was on MSNBC's ‘All in with Chris Hayes’ and was discussing Miller's behind-the-scenes influence over [Trump's] immigration policies. There’s something deeply wrong with Stephen Miller… and maybe someday, he’ll have a relationship with a live human woman,’ Wilson said, in response to Hayes criticism that Miller's hard-line views on immigration are what’s driving the ongoing government shutdown. ‘I don’t know if that has anything to do with it,’ Hayes' responded, according to a video obtained by MEDIAite.”



Trump will host a briefing call on his immigration proposal with state and local leaders and later participate in a roundtable on health-care pricing. He will then meet with conservative leaders about his immigration proposal.


John Kerry was asked what advice he would give to the president: “Resign.” The former secretary of state added of Trump, “He doesn’t take any of this seriously.” (Heather Long)



-- Washington will start to see rain tonight that will last into tomorrow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “High pressure centered offshore and our next system approaching from the west combine for a slightly milder flow from the south. After a significantly less frigid start in the 20s to near 30, temperatures rise into the upper 30s to mid-40s this afternoon under partly to mostly cloudy skies, with winds from the south around 10 mph. Can’t rule out a spotty afternoon shower or two, but most of the rain looks to hold off until late tonight.”

-- The Capitals lost to the Sharks 7-6 in overtime. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- The D.C. Council voted to override Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of a bill to decriminalize Metro fare evasion. Faiz Siddiqui reports: “The 11-to-2 vote to override the veto — Bowser’s second in office — means the legislation now heads to Congress for final review. … Bowser expressed concern about the impact the legislation could have on Metro’s bottom line, arguing it could exacerbate the agency’s revenue problems and create potential safety issues. … But the council overruled the mayor’s objections and rejected her argument that lessening the penalties for fare-jumping would encourage potential “lawlessness” and make Metro less safe.”

-- Federal judges chose a Virginia House of Delegates redistricting map considered highly favorable to Democrats. Gregory S. Schneider reports: “Six Republicans would wind up in districts where a majority of voters chose Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis of the maps by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. No current Democrats would see their voter majority change to Republican, based on those election results.” The map could help Virginia Democrats flip the House of Delegates, where Republicans maintain a narrow majority.

-- A medical examiner concluded that two Saudi sisters from Fairfax County who were found dead and bound with duct tape in New York City in October died by suicide. According to the medical examiner, Rotana and Tala Farea bound themselves before drowning in the Hudson River. (Justin Jouvenal)


Stephen Colbert mocked the Supreme Court's decision to reinstate the transgender troop restrictions:

Jimmy Fallon shared Trump's "window thoughts":

The Fact Checker analyzed Trump's claims that asylum restrictions will aid Central American migrants:

The president's proposed changes to asylum laws keep would-be migrants in Central America. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

A Fox News host recounted his family's car accident that thankfully resulted in no major injuries:

And the 2019 Oscar nominations were announced:

Here are the highlights from the 2019 Academy Award nominations. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)