THE BIG IDEA: Barack Obama opposed reparations for the descendants of slavery when he ran for president. He warned the NAACP in 2007 that they would be used as “an excuse for some to say we’ve paid our debt and to avoid the much harder work” of enforcing anti-discrimination laws, improving public education, rehabilitating young men coming out of prisons and lifting people out of poverty.

In 2016, neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders supported reparations for the black community as a redress for slavery. Even as he promised a revolution of democratic socialism that would include tuition-free college and Medicare-for-all, Sanders said paying reparations to African Americans was a bridge too far. “First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil,” he said. “Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.”

But this is not your father’s Democratic Party, and it’s not 2016 anymore.

Four declared Democratic presidential candidates have signaled support for some form of reparations to specifically benefit African Americans: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Julián Castro and Marianne Williamson. This puts more pressure on the rest of the crowded field to endorse race-conscious policies and could provide fresh fodder for President Trump to portray his 2020 challengers as outside the mainstream.

In the modern political sense, the term “reparations” is a little like “socialism.” It means very different things to different people, and the devil is in the details. Many think of direct cash payments to African Americans when they hear the word. Others think more broadly of investments that are specifically made by the government to lift communities of color. What one person calls reparations someone else might just describe as strengthening the social safety net. The fact that candidates are willing to use the term at all after generations of Democratic standard-bearers have seemed allergic to it reflects a sea change.

Like other issues where the Democratic Party is lurching leftward lately, such as the widespread embrace of the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is once again driving the pace car. She expressed support for exploring the idea of reparations last month, using the pulpit that has come with her celebrity to move the issue to the front burner. “People think reparations is reparations for slavery, but really, economically speaking, reparations are for the damage done by the New Deal and redlining because that is where we saw a compounding of the existing inequity from the legacy of slavery, where we drew red lines around black communities,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

 -- Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday became the latest candidate to jump on the reparations bandwagon. “We must confront the dark history of slavery and government-sanctioned discrimination in this country that has had many consequences, including undermining the ability of black families to build wealth in America for generations,” the senator said in a statement to the New York Times. “We need systemic, structural changes to address that.”

-- Castro expressed openness to reparations in an interview with the Root, a publication that caters to an African American audience, that also published yesterday. “I have long thought that this country would be better off if we did find a way to do that,” said the former secretary of housing and urban development. “I don’t find the notion challenging. What I do find challenging is the best way to do that.”

-- Harris (D-Calif.) said “yes” last week when asked explicitly whether she supports “some form of reparations for black people.” “Well, look, I think that we have got to address that,” the senator said during an appearance on “The Breakfast Club,” a radio show popular with African Americans. “Again, it goes back to the inequities. … We have got to recognize that and give people a lift up. And there are a number of ways to do it.”

Harris mentioned a bill she’s introduced called the LIFT Act to help people making less than $100,000 a year. “What I want to do about rent is the same thing,” she added. “What we need to do around education and understanding disparities. What we need to do around [historically black colleges and universities]. But we have a history of racism in America.”

-- The Democrat who has been most specific is Williamson, a spiritual guru who is waging a spirited long-shot campaign for the nomination that’s been capturing more attention recently. “Williamson traces many of our nation’s psychic wounds to slavery, for which she believes we need to make reparations in the form of a $100 billion, 10-year investment disseminated by a panel of black leaders across fields,” Anna Peele writes in a profile that will run in our magazine this Sunday.

“When I wonder, sitting at a table in a Los Angeles neighborhood where the average home sells for $1.66 million, how she will enact her plan for reparations without seeming like a well-meaning white lady, Williamson crosses her arms and starts clomping the heel of her left foot like a dressage horse,” Peele reports. “‘I am a well-meaning white lady,’ she says, utterly exasperated. ‘Why should I apologize for being a well-meaning white lady? What is going on in this world today? I shouldn’t apologize for being white any more than you should apologize for being black.’ (I am not black, just another well-meaning white lady.) ‘I’ve been leading ritualized apologies — prayers of apology — from whites to blacks for over 20 years. I wrote a book [‘Healing the Soul of America’] on this topic. This is not something that I just came new to. I was talking about this long before it was trending.’”

-- “Other Democratic 2020 candidates … either did not respond to requests for comment or stopped short of an endorsement of reparations. Instead, several laid out policies that, though not intended as a redress for slavery, would benefit black Americans,” Astead Herndon writes in today’s Times. “Senator Cory Booker’s ‘baby bonds’ policy aims to help poorer children by giving them a government-funded savings account that could total up to $50,000 for the lowest income brackets. … And Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has endorsed a proposal to allow Americans without checking accounts to bank at the local post office; a disproportionate percentage of America’s unbanked population are people of color.

“The Warren campaign declined to give further details on [her statement endorsing reparations], but it came amid her calls for the federal government to provide special home-buying assistance to residents of communities that were adversely affected by ‘redlining,’ the discriminatory practice of denying mortgages, usually in poor and nonwhite areas. She also announced a sweeping universal child-care proposal that could strongly benefit minority communities that often have limited early childhood services.”

As people noted how relatively vague the quotes were from Harris and Warren, Herndon tweeted that he “made it clear to campaigns that ‘policies that help black people’ did not count as reparations, but would have to be intentionally race-specific and meant to address past harms – not lift all boats.” He added that the Harris campaign did nothing to walk back her comments on “The Breakfast Club.”

“We have to be honest that people in this country do not start from the same place or have access to the same opportunities,” Harris said in a statement. “I’m serious about taking an approach that would change policies and structures and make real investments in black communities.”

-- Overwhelming majorities of Americans have consistently been opposed to the concept of reparations. Polling analyst Emily Guskin notes that the most recent survey she could find, a Point Taken-Marist poll from 2016, found that 68 percent said the U.S. government should not pay the descendants of slaves and that 72 percent said the U.S. should not pay African Americans in general. Racial differences were significant: 81 percent of whites opposed giving any monetary compensation to descendants of slaves, compared with 35 percent of African Americans and 47 percent of Latinos. A Kaiser-CNN poll from 2015 found 77 percent said the U.S. should not pay descendants of slaves, also with large differences by race.

Even when the questions were worded slightly differently, the findings have been relatively similar and stayed somewhat consistent over the past few decades. A 2002 survey by Gallup, CNN and USA Today found 81 percent said the government should not make cash payments to black Americans who are descendants of slaves. A 1997 ABC poll found 77 percent believed the federal government should not pay black Americans whose ancestors were slaves.

-- Bottom line: Get ready to hear the r-word a lot on the campaign trail over the next 20 months, mainly from Republicans who will use it to try painting Democrats as far-left and out-of-touch extremists.

Offering a taste of what’s sure to come, Tucker Carlson devoted an entire segment of his show on Fox News last night to ripping Democrats over reparations. The host even quipped that Warren might be endorsing the idea because she is “under the influence of peyote,” a drug associated with Native Americans.

His guest, conservative commentator Mark Steyn, went further. He said it’s “disturbing” that the idea is becoming a “mainstream” position. “Slavery was abolished a century and a half ago,” Steyn said on Fox. “Nobody alive today has a grandparent who was a slave. And, in that sense, I think you reach a point where you need to move on. The reparations thing eventually, as the decades goes by, becomes ridiculous.”

-- Based on the polls and the mood of the country, it seems like a safe bet that any Democrat who endorses the concept of reparations right now – however generically – will face immense political pressure to walk back their comments – at least somewhat – in the context of a general election.

-- During an interview in his final year as president, Obama expounded at length on why endorsing reparations is bad politics. “It is easy to make that theoretical argument,” Obama told Ta-Nehisi Coates, an outspoken advocate for reparations, during an interview that appeared in the Atlantic. “But as a practical matter, it is hard to think of any society in human history in which a majority population has said that as a consequence of historic wrongs, we are now going to take a big chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time to make that right.

“You can look at examples like postwar Germany, where reparations were paid to Holocaust victims and families, but they lost the war,” Obama added. “Small population, finite amount of money that it was going to cost. Not multiple generations but people, in some cases, who are still alive, who can point to, ‘That was my house. Those were my paintings. Those were my mother’s family jewels.’ If you look at countries like South Africa, where you had a black majority, there have been efforts to tax and help that black majority, but it hasn’t come in the form of a formal reparations program. You have countries like India that have tried to help untouchables, with essentially affirmative-action programs, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the structure of their societies. So the bottom line is that it’s hard to find a model in which you can practically administer and sustain political support for those kinds of efforts.

“And what makes America complicated as well is the degree to which this is not just a black/white society, and it is becoming less so every year,” the then-president continued. “So how do Latinos feel if there’s a big investment just in the African American community, and they’re looking around and saying, ‘We’re poor as well. What kind of help are we getting?’ Or Asian Americans who say, ‘Look, I’m a first-generation immigrant, and clearly I didn’t have anything to do with what was taking place.’ And now you start getting into trying to calibrate. …

“I’m not so optimistic as to think that you would ever be able to garner a majority of an American Congress that would make those kinds of investments above and beyond the kinds of investments that could be made in a progressive program for lifting up all people,” he concluded. “So to restate it: I have much more confidence in my ability, or any president or any leader’s ability, to mobilize the American people around a multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment to help every child in poverty in this country than I am in being able to mobilize the country around providing a benefit specific to African Americans as a consequence of slavery and Jim Crow. Now, we can debate the justness of that. But I feel pretty confident in that assessment politically.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The White House announced that the United States will leave behind 200 “peacekeeping” troops in Syria for an unspecified amount of time beyond the planned withdrawal of American forces this spring. Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan report: “A U.S. official ... said that the 200 would be 'split down the middle' between Syrian Kurdish-controlled areas in the northeast of the country, and the Tanf garrison in southeast Syria. The official said the total might rise slightly. The decision was a partial reversal of President Trump’s order, announced in December, that all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would leave, since their mission to destroy the Islamic State caliphate, in his view, had been achieved. Complete withdrawal was expected by the end of April. ... Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) praised the move Thursday and said that the residual U.S. force would 'ensure that ISIS does not return and that Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew.' It also ensures, he said, that Turkey and the Syrian Kurds 'will not go into conflict.'"

-- North Carolina elections officials ordered a new contest in the 9th Congressional District after a months-long investigation into alleged ballot tampering. Amy Gardner reports: “The board voted unanimously to throw out the November results between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready after Harris, an evangelical minister from Charlotte, admitted under oath that he was mistaken in his testimony earlier in the day. Harris blamed the error on a recent sepsis infection that he said caused two strokes and affected his memory. … Harris was under scrutiny for hiring a political operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, who allegedly assembled a crew of election workers to illegally collect, fill out and forge mail-in ballots in two rural counties in the 9th District. …

“Thursday’s abrupt bipartisan conclusion to what had been a deeply rancorous process offered hope to some who believe the kind of fraud alleged in the 9th District often goes undetected and unprosecuted — leaving rural and often impoverished communities without fair elections or representation. … Later, the board will set a date for a new election, probably including primaries. McCready has begun preparing for a new election and is expected to run again. It appeared less likely that Harris, who had led in unofficial returns by 905 votes, would do so.”

-- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he has nothing to apologize for and plans to run for reelection despite the controversy over his history of racist remarks that has gotten him stripped of his committee assignments in Congress. The Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys reports: “King confirmed that he will run for re-election in 2020, despite drawing three challengers for the Republican nomination. He offered a message to voters in his northwest Iowa district: ‘Don’t let the elitists in this country, the power brokers in this country, tell you who’s going to represent you in the United States Congress.’ 

“King blamed his troubles on media outlets, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, which he accused of twisting his words and ‘weaponizing’ the language. ‘If you would just hold these publications to what is true, there is no story whatsoever,’ he said. ‘… There’s no part of me that believes in anything that’s advocated by folks that identify themselves as white nationalists or white supremacy.’”

The congressman also said he doesn’t think being on a committee matters much since the House is controlled by the Democrats: “‘If there’s ever going to be a time not to have committee assignments, this time with Nancy Pelosi as the speaker of the House is the time,’ he said.”

-- A federal judge in Florida ruled that a 2007 plea deal between Jeffrey Epstein, a politically connected billionaire accused of molesting dozens of young girls, and federal prosecutors in Miami, including Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, violated the law. Mark Berman reports: “The ruling was a stinging rebuke for prosecutors and how they behaved in a grim, high-profile case that has drawn increased scrutiny in recent months. A Miami Herald investigation last year highlighted the allegations and Acosta’s role in cutting a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein, while a Justice Department office said it is exploring whether the federal prosecutors who reached the deal committed ‘professional misconduct.’ ... 

District Judge Kenneth A. Marra was blunt, ruling that prosecutors had acted improperly in reaching the agreement with Epstein — which stopped federal action in exchange for him pleading guilty to a state charge — without telling the victims. Marra, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote in a 33-page ruling that the actions violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), which entitles victims to know about significant events in their cases. Marra wrote that he was ‘not ruling that the decision not to prosecute was improper,’ noting he was ‘simply ruling that, under the facts of this case, there was a violation of the victims rights under the CVRA'”

Acosta’s spokesman at the Labor Department pointed to the Justice Department’s long-standing defense of how prosecutors handled the case. “For more than a decade, the actions of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida in this case have been defended by the Department of Justice in litigation across three administrations and several attorneys general,” the spokesman said. “The office’s decisions were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures.” The U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of Florida, which Acosta led between 2005 and 2009, declined to comment.

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is flirting with a challenge to Trump in 2020, accused the Republican National Committee of taking “unprecedented” steps to shield the president from primary challengers. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “Hogan, who is being courted by Republican dissidents seeking an alternative to Trump, told Politico in an interview that he was disgusted by RNC efforts to close ranks around Trump and troubled by reports that Republicans in South Carolina were considering scrapping their primary altogether. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been involved in the Republican Party for most of my life,’ Hogan told Politico reporter Alex Isenstadt. ‘In my opinion, it’s not the way we should be going about our politics.’”

Why you should take this seriously: Hogan will take over as chairman of the National Governors Association during its meeting in D.C. this weekend. That gives him a bigger platform when he travels to Iowa early next month, where he’ll probably hold meetings with activists and political types. The governor’s spokeswoman also confirms Hogan plans to make a springtime visit to New Hampshire.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Under Armour employees have expressed concern about CEO Kevin Plank’s close ties to MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle. Ruhle offered her input on a variety of Under Armour’s business decisions, current and former executives said, and employees were hesitant to criticize her opinions given their suspicions that she and Plank were having an extramarital affair. The company's board questioned Plank about Ruhle after the company reportedly uncovered emails suggesting an intimate relationship between them. A company spokesman described them as friends. (Wall Street Journal)

  2. Another condominium building in Manhattan has decided to remove the name “Trump Place” from its facade. The condo board said 55 percent of the owners in the building supported taking down the large sign in front of the residence. (David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell)

  3. FEMA officials confirmed they never received a directive from Trump to cut off aid to wildfire victims in California. The president in January accused the state of mismanaging its forests, which he blamed for the deadly wildfires, and claimed in a tweet that he had ordered the federal government to withhold disaster funds from California. (BuzzFeed News)

  4. State legislatures across the country are considering eliminating religious exemptions for vaccines after a recent string of measles outbreaks. New Jersey, New York, Iowa, Maine and Vermont are considering following the example of California, which eliminated religious and personal exemptions after a Disneyland-linked measles outbreak that began in 2014. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)

  5. The Obama Presidential Center won’t have a physical archive of the former president’s official records, nor will it function as a research library, breaking with protocol set by his predecessors. Instead, the Obama Foundation will pay to digitize 30 million unclassified paper records from the administration that will be made available online. (New York Times)

  6. “El Chapo” might be getting a new trial after Vice News reported that at least six jurors ignored the judge's orders of avoiding social media and any discussion of the case. The drug kingpin's attorneys said they're already planning on filing a motion requesting the judge question the jury. (Deanna Paul)

  7. A sealed court document reveals that Richard Sackler, a member of the billionaire family that founded Purdue Pharma, signed off on a plan to conceal OxyContin’s strength from doctors. Sackler and other company executives expressed concern in emails that the product would become less popular if doctors were informed that it was stronger and more addictive than morphine. (ProPublica)

  8. Teachers in Oakland, Calif., went on strike to demand higher wages, following their colleagues in Los Angeles. Oakland teachers are among the lowest paid in the Bay Area and want more money to keep up with the rising cost of living. (Moriah Balingit)

  9. A man in Cleveland punched his attorney after getting a 47-year prison sentence, leaving him with an injured hip and a broken nose. (Reis Thebault)
  10. A Florida mayor was arrested after shooting at a SWAT team that was going to detain him on charges of illegally practicing medicine, officials say. Dale Glen Massad, mayor of a town north of Tampa, fired two shots against the officers, who were not injured. (Reis Thebault and Eli Rosenberg)

  11. Break dancing is among the new events proposed for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Skateboarding, surfing and climbing might also make their Olympic debut five years from now if approved by the International Olympic Committee. (Des Bieler)

  12. Peter Tork, the bassist and singer for the Monkees, died at 77. Tork performed as the self-described “dummy” in the pop group, which was manufactured for television to imitate the Beatles. But the band was a commercial success, briefly outselling their British counterparts in the 1960s. (Harrison Smith)

  13. Nike’s stock fell after Duke basketball star Zion Williamson’s shoe disintegrated during a game against archrival North Carolina. Williamson, who is likely to be a top NBA draft pick, suffered a knee injury that could affect his availability for the rest of the season. Nike promised an investigation of what caused the PG 2.5 shoe to come apart, which prompted game attendee Barack Obama to declare in a widely shared video, “His shoe broke.” (Cindy Boren)

A DIVIDED AMERICA:

-- Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson, who was allegedly plotting a domestic terrorism attack, was caught after he conducted suspicious searches using government computers to study the manifestos and methods of mass shooters. He was arrested at work last Friday after being detected by an internal Coast Guard program that watches for any “insider threat.” Lynh Bui, Dan Lamothe and Michael Miller report: “The program identified suspicious computer activity tied to Hasson, prompting the agency’s investigative service to launch an investigation last fall, said Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a service spokesman. ... He researched how to carry out sniper attacks, [prosecutors] contend, and whether rifle scopes were illegal. … As he built an arsenal, prosecutors contend, Hasson read manifestos by the Unabomber, the Virginia Tech shooter and the Olympic Park bomber among other domestic mass shooters, and also looked for guidance to the plot of right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who in 2011 unleashed two attacks in Norway that killed 77 people. … And all the while, investigators assert, he was amassing a cache of weapons.” He also had a secret-level clearance.

Hasson’s federal public defender, Julie Stelzig, said … there was ‘no actual indication of any plan.’ She said that Hasson had no prior record and that the number of weapons he had were ‘modest at best’ for average gun collectors. ‘It’s not a crime to think negative thoughts,’ Stelzig said ... ‘It’s not a crime to think about doomsday scenarios.’”

-- Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) acknowledged that he wore a Confederate uniform as a student at Auburn after a picture emerged from his 1980 college yearbook. Lee confirmed to the Tennessean newspaper that he wore the uniform at an “Old South” party. "‘Although I have never acted to intentionally hurt anyone, I have the benefit of 40 years of hindsight to see that participating was insensitive and I’ve come to regret it,’ Lee said. A Lee spokesman added that the governor has never worn blackface,” Felicia Sonmez reports.

-- “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett faces up to three years in prison for allegedly staging a fake attack on himself and filing a false police report. Bethonie Butler, Sonia Rao and Alex Horton report: “Smollett’s bond was set at $100,000 at a court hearing Thursday afternoon, during which Cook County Circuit Court Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. also directed Smollett to surrender his passport. … Prosecutors have identified the [two men Smollett allegedly paid to attack him] as brothers Abimbola ‘Abel’ Osundairo and Olabinjo ‘Ola’ Osundairo. They say Smollett and Abel Osundairo were close friends who worked together on ‘Empire,’ where Abel was a stand-in for a love interest of Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon. Prosecutors also say Abel had been ‘a source of designer drugs’ including molly, a form of MDMA, for Smollett since spring 2018. They say Smollett met Ola Osundairo, who appeared as an extra on ‘Empire,’ ‘on several occasions through Abel.’

At a media briefing Thursday morning, Chicago police said Smollett concocted the story of a brutal hate crime because he was ‘dissatisfied with his salary’ on the Fox drama. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the department has a $3,500 check Smollett paid the men to help him stage the fake attack after a crude, threatening letter he sent to the ‘Empire’ set in Chicago failed to get attention. Johnson was remarkably forceful in his remarks about the case, which has gained widespread media attention since Smollett told police he was attacked in the city last month. Johnson, a black Chicago native, said the actor ‘took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.’ ...

Prosecutors allege that Smollett, 36, was the guiding force behind the staged attack — right down to the intersection where it took place. They say Smollett told the Osundairo brothers, who are of Nigerian descent, to call his attention by yelling racial and homophobic slurs, and say, ‘This is MAGA country.’ They also say Smollett provided a $100 bill for supplies including rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball hats resembling the ‘Make America Great Again’ hats associated with [Trump’s] campaign. According to prosecutors, Smollett coordinated the plan around a trip the brothers had planned to Nigeria.”

-- Trump said Smollett “insulted” his supporters with the fake attack. “@JussieSmollett - what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA,” the president wrote in a tweet.

-- Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said Smollett’s allegedly fake attack made it harder for real hate-crime victims to be believed. Felicia Sonmez reports: “Late last month, when Smollett first told Chicago police that he was attacked, Rush sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray asking for a hate crimes investigation into the incident. On Thursday, the Illinois Democrat said that it is now clear that the attack ‘was a total and complete lie.’ ‘I am beyond disappointed and extremely infuriated at Smollett’s brazen, devious, and disgraceful behavior,’ Rush said in a statement. … ‘I hope that Smollett is aware that his stunt has made it harder for real victims to be believed and has caused them to relive their victimization, both from being attacked and from having their stories called into question,’ he said.”

-- Smollett’s case put some 2020 candidates in a tight spot after they quickly decried what they at first thought was a homophobic, hate-filled attack. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports: “After Smollett reported the alleged attack to police in January, weighing it with political import by claiming his assailants chanted President Trump’s campaign slogan, Democratic Sens. Kamala D. Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand quickly decried what they deemed a clear hate crime. Smollett’s case, Harris and Booker said in separate tweets, was an attempted ‘modern day lynching,’ while Gillibrand called it ‘a sickening and outrageous attack. But as questions began to emerge about Smollett’s account, the three Democratic contenders faced uncomfortable questions about whether they were too quick to make a judgment and utter words of condemnation."

-- Despite his arrest, Smollett was back at work on “Empire” last night. The New York Times's John Koblin reports: “There are still two episodes left to be shot over the next month for the show’s fifth season ... When Mr. Smollett returned to work on Thursday he was prepared to film scenes from the season’s second-to-last episode ... It is still an open question whether Fox will use the footage when the episodes ultimately air. 'Empire' has not yet been renewed for a sixth season, so its ultimate fate still hangs in the balance. ... Complicating matters is the fact that 20th Century Fox Television — the studio that produces 'Empire' — is weeks away from being folded into the Walt Disney Company after Disney’s deal to purchase many of Fox’s entertainment assets finally closes. How Disney feels about Mr. Smollett will become a more urgent question in the weeks ahead."

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Gagged: A federal judge ordered longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone to no longer speak publicly about the case against him. Rachel Weiner and Manuel Roig-Franzia report: “Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington said it would be ‘foolhardy’ to wait for Stone to transgress again in the wake of an Instagram post that appeared to show her photo near crosshairs. … ‘I’m not giving you another chance,’ Jackson told Stone. ‘I have serious doubts whether you’ve learned any lesson at all.’ If he violates the order in any way, Jackson warned, she will order him to jail. The judge, who sounded flabbergasted by Stone’s explanations, rejected his claim that the image was not meant to be threatening. ‘Roger Stone knows full well the power of words and the power of symbols. There is nothing ambiguous about crosshairs,’ she said. …

“Stone took the stand during the hearing to apologize for the post … ‘Thank you, but the apology rings quite hollow,’ she said. … Both Jackson and prosecutor Jonathan Kravis grilled Stone on how he found the image and why he posted it. Stone gave inconsistent answers, saying first that it was posted by a volunteer and then that a volunteer sent him the image but he posted it himself. He said he can’t remember who gave him the picture or the names of everyone who has access to his phone. ‘How hard is it to find an image without crosshairs?’ an incredulous Jackson asked Stone. … Jackson also repeatedly asked Stone why, if he immediately regretted the posting, he went on to defend it in media interviews. … Stone said the apology was drafted by his attorneys and signed by him during a doctor’s appointment and that he had not read it carefully.”

-- An IRS analyst was charged with leaking government documents on financial transactions made by Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen. Devlin Barrett reports: “John Fry, an investigative analyst with the IRS in San Francisco, was charged with the unauthorized disclosure of suspicious-activity reports, or SARs. Such reports are meant to flag potentially unlawful financial conduct to government investigators but do not necessarily indicate wrongdoing. According to the court documents, unsealed in federal court in San Francisco, Fry is accused of sharing the reports’ contents with Michael Avenatti … Court records show [Fry] appeared briefly in court Thursday and was released on a $50,000 bond. … Avenatti, who made the information public by posting it on social media, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. He said on Twitter that he did nothing wrong.”

-- Special counsel Bob Mueller’s report on his probe, which is expected to be delivered in the coming weeks, could serve as a “road map” for investigations by House Democrats, Obama’s former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal writes in the New York Times: “The report is unlikely to be a dictionary-thick tome, which will disappoint some observers. But such brevity is not necessarily good news for the president. In fact, quite the opposite. … The president’s bashing of Mr. Mueller may induce him to issue a more limited, by-the-book report, which will spawn further investigation. And the bashing may have encouraged Mr. Mueller to turn matters over to other investigators who have not been subject to the same sorts of public attack.”

-- A year after Trump was sworn in, his inaugural committee drafted a document to address building questions about how it raised and spent a record amount of money. Bloomberg News’s Caleb Melby reports: “One question was particularly tricky. ‘What did Rick Gates have to do with [the Presidential Inaugural Committee]?’ staffers wrote in a late January draft. ‘[Need answer.]’ The draft document … shows how the group prepared to defend its work as questions intensified about its reported $107 million haul. According to nine inaugural staffers and others familiar with the committee’s efforts, the process of planning for Trump’s big week was chaotic and opaque, dominated by staff culled from Colony Capital, the real estate firm founded by [Chairman Tom] Barrack, and by ex-Trump campaign chairman [Paul] Manafort’s circle of associates.”

-- Members of the inaugural committee expressed concern about several vendors’ budgets in the weeks before Trump’s swearing-in. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Rebecca Ballhaus report: “Less than a month before the inauguration, in an email to colleagues, Heather Martin, the committee’s budget director, questioned the budget submitted by a top vendor, event-production company Hargrove Inc. The company, she wrote, was using ‘wildly different pricing’ from its work on previous inaugurals. She noted ‘redundancy’ and ‘excessively high’ prices for labor, centerpieces and even bike racks. It was one of several vendor budgets—including one submitted by WIS Media Partners, a firm run by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to first lady Melania Trump—that was questioned by inaugural organizers, according to the records reviewed by the Journal.” Federal prosecutors are probing the committee’s communications with vendors.

-- Republicans on the House Oversight Committee accused Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) of making “extremely unfair and unsupported accusations” in a letter to the White House Counsel’s Office. Tom Hamburger reports: “In that letter, Cummings said that lawyers for [Trump] ‘may have provided false information’ to federal ethics officials about the president’s reimbursements to [Cohen] for payments Cohen had made to an adult film actress. The Republicans complained Thursday that Cummings had misinterpreted documents he obtained from the Office of Government Ethics and, as a result, unfairly accused the lawyers of misrepresenting facts about the Cohen payments.”

-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) penned a Post op-ed calling on his Republican colleagues to criticize Trump for contributing to “the decline in public confidence in our institutions.” He writes: “Many of you have acknowledged your deep misgivings about the president in quiet conversations over the past two years. You have bemoaned his lack of decency, character and integrity. You have deplored his fundamental inability to tell the truth. But for reasons that are all too easy to comprehend, you have chosen to keep your misgivings and your rising alarm private. That must end. The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.”

-- California’s public pension fund was one of the biggest investors in the National Enquirer’s parent company during the 2016 election. The LA Times’s Matt Pearce reports: “Through an investment managed by a New Jersey hedge fund, California’s public pension fund appears to have owned as much as one-third of [American Media Inc.] in 2016. It is not clear whether CalPERS continues to hold a major stake in the tabloid publisher.”

-- The Trump White House has directed interns to sign nondisclosure agreements while warning that leaking to the media could result in severe legal and financial consequences. The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng reports: “Interns were also told that they would not receive their own copies, [people familiar with the process] said. This was all a standard facet of the Trump intern orientation process, billed as an ‘ethics training’—underscored by implicit legal threats from [Trump’s] in-house lawyers. … To veterans of other administrations, the act of compelling interns to sign these types of NDAs would seem odd, if not downright unenforceable or legally dubious.”

-- A lobbying firm run by former Trump advisers is representing a Russian-backed U.S. energy company that has connections to a Chinese aluminum production company. From NBC News’s Brian Schwartz: “Turnberry Solutions, a lobbying group run by former Trump campaign advisor Jason Osborne, has signed American Ethane as a client, according to a new lobbying disclosure form. The filing was posted on the Senate lobbying disclosure website on Tuesday. The document shows that Osborne and Ryan O'Dwyer, who previously was a special assistant to the secretary of Agriculture and a senior public liaison to Trump's inaugural committee, will be the lobbyists representing American Ethane on trade and energy issues. American Ethane touts a contract it signed with the Nanshan Group, an aluminum production company based in China. The development also comes as the Trump administration is engaged in high-stakes trade talks with the Chinese government.”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- The dwindling number of migrants trying to cross the southern border has had a severe impact on American farmers, who rely on undocumented immigrants for cheap labor. Kevin Sieff and Annie Gowen report: “To fill those positions, employers have turned to temporary visa programs that recruit workers in Mexico and Central America. Since 2016, the number of U.S. agricultural visas has grown from 165,000 to 242,000, a record high, according to the Labor Department. Amid an intractable debate over immigration and border security, America’s labor force is quietly being transformed, as many employers see no choice but to shift from illegal to legal labor. … Despite his claim that immigrants take jobs away from Americans, [Trump] has touted the guest worker program, acknowledging the difficulty in finding American manual laborers and pledging to make it easier for farmers to hire workers legally.”

-- The Trump administration is advancing plans to withhold work permits from the spouses of high-skilled visa holders. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Tal Kopan reports: “At issue are work permits for nearly 100,000 immigrants who are here with spouses working on a high-tech visa and seeking a green card. … In 2015, the Obama administration created the H-4 employment authorization document, or H-4 EAD as it’s commonly known, to allow those spouses to work until the family can get green cards. … Since going into effect, there have been more than 90,000 immigrants approved for work permits under the program. [Trump] pledged early on to rescind the H-4 permit program, but the administration has been delayed in doing so.”

-- Fact check: Trump tweeted a video of construction at the border as evidence of his wall being built. But the video shows the replacement of existing fencing at the border. The New York Times’s Michael Tackett reports: “The money for the steel-slatted barrier came from a congressional appropriation in 2017, not from newly authorized spending in the recent deal that averted a government shutdown, or from money the president is seeking to take from other federal projects under his national emergency declaration from last week.”

-- The end of an immigration relief program means hundreds of Liberians living in the U.S. will have to choose between becoming undocumented or going back to Liberia, leaving their American children behind. Orion Donovan-Smith reports: Liberian immigrants “were given temporary permission to stay in the United States in 1999, when President Bill Clinton implemented ‘deferred enforced departure.’ DED was routinely extended by previous administrations but is set to end under Trump’s effort to terminate programs for immigrants without permanent status … Without a change of heart from the president — or new legislation from Congress — Liberians living in the United States under DED will lose their work authorization and become subject to deportation. Instead of self-deporting, many are expected to stay in the United States in hopes of getting a hearing in immigration courts, a process that could take years.” 

-- The ACLU wants the Trump administration to determine how many children were separated from their parents at the border, a request White House lawyers said would be hard to comply with. Maria Sacchetti and Tony Perry report: The lawyers “said it would be extremely difficult to retrace the steps of all children who were separated but then released to parents or vetted sponsors. Justice Department lawyer Scott Stewart said that reuniting the 2,700-plus children, who were in federal custody when he ordered the Trump administration to find their parents, had taken eight months. Going back to a larger group, he said, would ‘blow the case into some other galaxy of a task.’” 

Federal judge Dana M. Sabraw, who last summer ordered the White House to return all separated children in federal custody to their parents, did not immediately rule on the request. But he said it's critical to know where every child went: “Government officials urged Sabraw in court filings to deny the ACLU’s request, saying the children separated before his order already have been released from federal custody to a legal sponsor. Those children are ‘in a different legal position’ than those covered in the ACLU lawsuit, the government argued in court documents, adding that Sabraw should not allow the ACLU to ‘move the goal posts at this late date.’ ‘The government has worked hard and in good faith over the last eight months to comply with the Court’s orders and to facilitate the reunification process for class members,’ the Justice Department said in a court filing.” 

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Opposition leaders in Venezuela predict violence to break out tomorrow, when volunteers are expected to try to break President Nicolás Maduro’s blockade of international relief. Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier report: “Maduro on Thursday ordered the closure of the border with Brazil and weighed sealing the border with Colombia ... as his government scrambled to respond to the planned Saturday operation. … A month after opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared Maduro a usurper and claimed to be Venezuela’s rightful leader, the government’s enemies were in the midst of a risky gambit. By bus, car, boat, plane, motorbike and foot, thousands of Venezuelans, including Guaidó, were already mobilizing and heading toward the borders. Their plan: to force open Venezuela’s doors by force of numbers.”

-- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Venezuelan troops have started disobeying Maduro’s orders. “Saturday’s a day when we’re going to find a lot about the Maduro regime,” Rubio said of the planned aid delivery this weekend. “I have reason to believe that rank-and-file military are not going to violently suppress aid workers.” (Bloomberg News)

-- Venezuela's former chief of military intelligence declared his support for Guaidó, telling Maduro, "It's been more than enough." The Wall Street Journal's Ryan Dube and Kejal Vyas report: “Hugo Carvajal, a retired general and current congressman for the ruling Socialist Party, called for authorities to allow into Venezuela the humanitarian aid that the U.S. is stockpiling on the Colombian border. ... Mr. Carvajal, who spent more than three decades in Venezuela’s military, also had a sobering message for active troops, many of whom have been appearing in propaganda videos meant to rile up nationalist sentiment against what the Maduro regime says is an imminent U.S. invasion.”

-- The vice president will travel to Colombia on Monday to meet with Latin American leaders about the deepening crisis in Venezuela. Anne Gearan reports: “Pence’s office said he would ‘voice the United States’ unwavering support for [Guaidó] and highlight the Venezuelan people’s fight for democracy over dictatorship.’ The address to a diplomatic consortium known as the Lima Group comes as Guaidó has promised a weekend mobilization against Maduro and in support of delivery of food and medical supplies to Venezuelans facing severe shortages and hunger.”

-- An American detained in Russia on spy charges will be held for an extra three months. Amie Ferris-Rotman reports: “A Moscow court on Friday extended by three months custody of Paul Whelan, an American citizen charged with espionage, meaning he will stay behind bars through late May. The request came from Russia’s security services, who detained the 48-year-old former Marine in late December, seizing him at his Moscow hotel room during what his family described was a personal trip to see friends. Whelan’s lawyer, Vladi­mir Zherebenkov, had previously said his client was unwittingly handed a flash drive containing a 'state secret,' but no other official details have emerged in a case that has been dogged by murkiness and delays in standard procedure.” 

-- A U.S.-born woman who joined the Islamic State and who the president said is not welcome back in America must be allowed to return home, a lawsuit filed on her behalf states. Isaac Stanley-Becker reports: “The lawyer suing the U.S. government for her return says Hoda Muthana, 24, deserves more than a letter announcing her denaturalization. 'And certainly,’ said Charles Swift, a former Navy commander and the director of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, 'more than a tweet.'" 

-- China used American expertise from a Yale researcher and a Massachusetts firm to create a system of surveillance that uses DNA to track down its own people. The New York Times's Sui-Lee Wee reports: “China wants to make the country’s Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, more subservient to the Communist Party. It has detained up to a million people in what China calls 're-education' camps, drawing condemnation from human rights groups and a threat of sanctions from the Trump administration. Collecting genetic material is a key part of China’s campaign, according to human rights groups and Uighur activists. They say a comprehensive DNA database could be used to chase down any Uighurs who resist conforming to the campaign. ... 

“China’s campaign poses a direct challenge to the scientific community and the way it makes cutting-edge knowledge publicly available. The campaign relies in part on public DNA databases and commercial technology, much of it made or managed in the United States. In turn, Chinese scientists have contributed Uighur DNA samples to a global database, potentially violating scientific norms of consent.” Human rights groups are accusing the Chinese government of reportedly collecting other DNA samples through free medical checkups, a claim the government denies.

-- In advance of another round of trade talks with China, Trump tweeted that he wanted “5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible.” Brian Fung explains whether 6G is even a thing: “If you have to ask, you are not alone: Searches for ‘6G’ spiked on Google in the moments after Trump’s tweet. The short answer is, 6G is likely what we’ll call whatever advanced data networks come after 5G. And 5G is what carriers are currently building as the next generation after 4G LTE. But so far, 6G exists largely as a theoretical concept and is a long way from being deployed in the real world.”

-- Mitch McConnell has pressed Trump to nominate Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, as the next U.N. ambassador. Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports: “Like McConnell, Craft is from Kentucky, where she and her husband, billionaire coal CEO Joe Craft, rank among the state's highest-profile Republican donors. She previously served as an alternate delegate in the U.S. delegation to the UN during the George W. Bush administration, specializing on the issue of U.S. engagement in Africa.” 

MORE ON 2020:

-- Florida Democrats criticized Bernie Sanders over his refusal to call Maduro a dictator. From Politico's Marc Caputo: “Sanders also would not say whether he considered [opposition leader Guaidó] ... the nation’s interim president, which is the position of the United States and a majority of Latin American [and] European countries. ... 'He is not going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. He has demonstrated again that he does not understand this situation,' [said] Rep. Donna Shalala, a Miami Democrat who represents Venezuelan exiles ... Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and former Vice President Joe Biden, however, have clearly stated they consider Maduro a dictator and Guaidó the legitimate leader of Venezuela. And [Elizabeth Warren] said that she believed Maduro was a dictator."

-- Warren demanded to know how U.S.-made weapons were reportedly transferred from American allies to al-Qaeda-linked fighters, Iranian-backed rebels and hard-line Salafi militias on the ground in Yemen. Warren, a member of the Armed Services Committee, made the request in a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CNN's Eliza Mackintosh reports.

-- Bigger picture: The winner of the crowded Democratic primary could determine the trajectory of liberalism for years to come, Molly Ball and Philip Elliott write in a cover story for Time magazine: “The party’s very identity is up for grabs, as a vast and historically diverse crop of candidates brings big, new ideas to a demanding, divided base. … Fittingly, it’s women, minorities and younger candidates who have jumped into the race early, while many white male hopefuls remain on the sidelines, gauging the terrain. … As much as they would like to move away from white male dominance, some rank-and-file Democrats worry that doing so would hurt the party’s chances against Trump. They fear that a woman or nonwhite candidate would be damaged by Trump’s sexism and race-baiting. And to the party faithful, winning is everything.”

-- Barack Obama’s political group, Organizing for Action (OFA), is merging with the National Redistricting Action Fund, a group aimed at giving Democrats an edge in the redistricting process run by former attorney general Eric Holder. The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports: The merger will give the newly created group “control of the vaunted list of supporters, donors and volunteers that Obama and his team built over more than a decade. … While the merger represents a transfer of one of the most valuable commodities in American politics, Holder said he would be legally precluded from using it for his own political purposes. Holder is still considering a run for president, a decision he said he would make in short order, and he said the merger is not an indication that he is leaning one way or the other.

-- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), another potential presidential candidate, has turned against Amazon since the company reversed its decision to open a second headquarters in Queens, taking an offensive posture that could aid his potential presidential bid. The New York Times’s William Neuman and J. David Goodman report: “Taking a highly visible stand against a big corporation and its phenomenally wealthy chief executive, Jeff Bezos, could score points with the energized Democratic activists on the left who are likely to vote in primaries. It gives him a platform to discuss corporate behavior and income inequality, one of his core progressive issues. It provides an avenue for Mr. de Blasio to position himself on the campaign trail as a mayor who stood up to Amazon — even if he once stood alongside them.” Bezos owns The Post.

-- As they head into 2020, Democrats are seeking to recruit congressional candidates with fresh faces, interesting backgrounds — and short legislative records. From Paul Kane: “In the 2018 midterms, House Democrats had a smashing success with dozens of first-time candidates coming from the military, intelligence agencies and prosecutors’ offices. … Democrats, in reviewing recent elections, privately contend that authenticity is the most important trait for victory, pointing to three incumbents who won in what should have been very tough races last year: Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Jon Tester (Mont.). When it comes to flipping seats, however, Democrats have largely done so with relative newcomers.”  

-- All 2020 candidates except for Trump promised they will not use stolen data in the campaign. From the Daily Beast’s Sam Stein, Jackie Kucinich and Scott Bixby: “Nearly three years after hacked materials upended the 2016 presidential campaign, every Democratic candidate running for the White House has pledged not to knowingly use such material should they end up being published during the current election cycle. … The Daily Beast asked each presidential campaign either up-and-running or in its exploratory phase whether they would commit to not knowingly using or referencing hacked material that appears online on grounds that it may have been obtained illegally. Each Democratic candidate responded with some form of commitment to not used hacked materials.”

-- Howard Schultz didn’t vote in this month’s Seattle school levies, a no-show vote that is in line with the former Starbucks CEO’s pattern of ignoring elections despite urging Americans to become civically involved. From the Seattle Times’s Jim Brunner: “Schultz was asked about that record during an appearance in Seattle last month … He responded: ‘I travel all over the world. It’s not an excuse, but I have not been as engaged locally.’ Asked Wednesday why he didn’t vote on the latest school levies, even after facing scrutiny on the issue, Schultz, who was traveling in California, issued a brief statement through a spokeswoman. ‘It would have been great to vote in every election, and I commend all of the Seattleites who have a 100% voting record. I didn’t vote in every local election, but I am proud of Sheri’s and my civic record in this community,’ the statement said, referring to his wife.”

-- The New Jersey Senate approved a bill to keep Trump off the 2020 ballot unless he releases his tax returns. This is the second time Democrats in the state's Senate have tried to pass the controversial measure to block candidates from appearing on the ballot unless they make their returns public. The last time, then-Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed it. (NorthJersey.com)

-- The New York Times's editorial-page editor, James Bennet, will recuse himself if his brother, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), runs for president. (Vanity Fair)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump offered an endorsement of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who is up for reelection next year:

A HuffPost reporter took the time to go over Instagram posts from Roger Stone's account: 

A Fox News host will once again get to interview Trump abroad, per a New York Times reporter:

An AP reporter noted this unusual occurrence for the White House:

An ABC News reporter highlighted a notable omission from a White House report:

Bernie Sanders picked up an endorsement from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who will serve as a national co-chair of the campaign:

Kamala Harris and Al Sharpton met for a meal in Harlem:

Another Democratic presidential candidate sought restaurant recommendations:

Lawmakers wished Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) a happy birthday, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.):  

And Beto O'Rourke:

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is apparently reading aloud to his wife:

The New Yorker shared its cover for March 4: 

And The Post's Beijing bureau chief shared this interesting outfit combination from Uniqlo's spring collection: 

GOOD READS:

-- Yahoo News, “The Soviets wanted to infiltrate the Reagan camp. So, the CIA recruited a businessman to bait them,” by Zach Dorfman: “Beginning in 1975, a big black limousine with diplomatic plates would pull up once a month to the no-parking zone outside John Greenagel’s office in the handsome Merchants Exchange Building in downtown San Francisco. A man would exit the car, paper bag in hand, and ascend the stairs to Greenagel’s public relations firm. The man would hand Greenagel, then in his mid-30s, the paper bag, which always contained stale Cuban cigars and a bottle of Stolichnaya without a tax stamp. 'Compliments of Mr. Pavlov,' the man would say, and walk out. Yuri Pavlov was a diplomat based at the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco and an undercover KGB officer ... after the Soviet bag man left, Greenagel would call his CIA handler, who would pop over to his office; and they’d laugh and drink the Stoly, smoke the old Cubans and talk about Greenagel’s deepening friendship with Pavlov, which was entirely manufactured. ... Greenagel was acting as an 'access agent' — providing the CIA with key insights about Pavlov’s psychological and personality profile.” 

-- Vanity Fair, “‘She Never Looks Back’: Inside Elizabeth Holmes’s Chilling Final Months at Theranos,” by Nick Bilton: “Since Theranos’s collapse, observers have wondered how Holmes kept the company going for so long—how she was able to convince those scientists, investors, and colleagues that her quixotic idea for a portable, revolutionary blood-testing technology could somehow come to fruition. Recently, I posed a similar question to a former Theranos board member: how did the board of directors, composed of such accomplished people, not stop her.”

-- New York Times, “The Rise of the WeWorking Class,” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus: “Most of us have serious reasons to worry about the future of work, and it’s easy to object to WeWork’s thin consolations on the basis of aesthetic or moral principle. Once you get accustomed to the basic product, however, it’s hard not to find it ... pretty nice. Over the course of about a year, I stopped into locations in six or seven cities, and in each of them I sat in front of my computer alongside other people in front of their computers and felt at once marginally more productive and slightly less unmoored.”

-- “‘Something told me to check the vehicle one more time’: How a state trooper saved an infant trapped underwater,” by Allison Klein: “It was the middle of the shift for Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Cody Enloe when he got a call for a car accident on Highway 259, deep in the rural part of the state. A pickup truck had flipped over, and the driver and her children were trapped inside. … Emergency responders and bystanders breathed a sigh of relief once the two children were out, Enloe said, and some started to walk away from the scene. ‘I kind of reverted back to my training, and something told me to check the vehicle one more time,’ Enloe said. ‘I crawled back into the truck.’ Using his flashlight, he saw another car seat, a third one — but this one was partially submerged, and he realized the baby’s face was underwater. There was no sound.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Facebook decided which users are interested in Nazis — and let advertisers target them directly,” from the LA Times: “Facebook makes money by charging advertisers to reach just the right audience for their message — even when that audience is made up of people interested in the perpetrators of the Holocaust or explicitly neo-Nazi music. Despite promises of greater oversight following past advertising scandals, a Times review shows that Facebook has continued to allow advertisers to target hundreds of thousands of users the social media firm believes are curious about topics such as ‘Joseph Goebbels,’ ‘Josef Mengele,’ ‘Heinrich Himmler,’ the neo-nazi punk band Skrewdriver and Benito Mussolini’s long-defunct National Fascist Party. Experts say that this practice runs counter to the company’s stated principles and can help fuel radicalization online. … Facebook said that it would remove many of the audience groupings from its ad platform.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“After a high school is forced to end its ‘Big Booty’ and ‘Big Boobie’ awards, ACLU demands reform,” from Deanna Paul: “When Tremper High School holds its annual cheerleading banquet next month, awards such as ‘most improved’ and ‘hardest worker’ seem likely to reappear. Other accolades from years past face a less-certain future. The 2018 ‘Big Boobie’ award, for example, was given to the cheerleader who accomplished ‘a feat’ by maneuvering ‘through cheer routines with her enormous boobs,’ according to a video provided to the American Civil Liberties Union, which became involved in the matter after concerned parents and a former employee of the Kenosha, Wis., high school contacted it. … The ACLU accused the district of enabling sexual harassment in its school system in violation of federal nondiscrimination and equal protection laws, and threatened to sue if officials fail to take immediate action.”

 

DAYBOOK:

-- Trump will meet with the vice premier of China and later speak at a Republican Governors Association event. 

-- Fun fact: The Nevada caucuses, which will follow Iowa and New Hampshire but come before South Carolina, are exactly one year from today.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“It’s exactly what Donald Trump is encouraging.” — Joe Scarborough on Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson. The “Morning Joe” host was among the names on Hasson’s alleged list of targets. (Katie Mettler)

 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers considered the ways Trump might be preparing for Robert Mueller's final report:

Conservative vloggers Diamond and Silk came up with a jingle to mock Cory Booker's veganism:

This video of a dog snuggling with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as she was on the phone went viral:

And The Post had kids audition to host the Oscars: