With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: In her ruling that Don McGahn must comply with a congressional subpoena, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of Washington goes to great lengths to illustrate how far out on a constitutional limb President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have crawled with their absolutist claims of executive power.

Jackson invokes “Animal Farm” as she dismisses the Justice Department’s position that the president alone has the authority to make unilateral determinations regarding whether he and his senior aides, current and former, will respond to, or defy, subpoenas from House committees during investigations of potential wrongdoing by his own administration.

“For a similar vantagepoint, see the circumstances described by George Orwell,” the judge writes in her 118-page decision. “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

House Democrats want the former White House counsel, who left his position in October 2018, to testify about the episodes of possible obstruction of justice that former special counsel Bob Mueller outlined in his report. They are debating whether to proceed with articles of impeachment related to the president’s alleged efforts to undermine that investigation. Jackson said McGahn can assert executive privilege when asked specific questions, but Trump cannot issue a blanket order to stop his former aide from showing up to testify.

“Compulsory appearance by dint of a subpoena is a legal construct, not a political one, and per the Constitution, no one is above the law,” she concludes.

-- The Justice Department, which is representing the former White House counsel in the case, quickly announced plans to appeal, and the White House decried the ruling in a statement. McGahn’s lawyer said his client will comply with Jackson’s order to appear unless a court issues a stay pending appeal.

-- Jackson accuses the Trump administration of “emasculating” the House by trying to thwart its ability to seek redress from the courts when subpoenas are ignored. The judge quotes from “The Federalist Papers,” specifically No. 51 by James Madison and No. 69 by Alexander Hamilton, along with Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” as she rejects the administration’s argument that White House senior staff are “absolutely immune.”

-- Trump has cottoned to describing his authority as “absolute.” He has publicly declared his intention to stonewall and ignore all subpoenas. White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in an Oct. 8 letter that the administration would not cooperate in any way with the House’s inquiry into whether the president abused his power vis-a-vis Ukraine.

-- Some variant of the word “absolute” appears 124 times in Jackson’s opinion. She picks apart each of the Justice Department’s arguments with often elegant prose and lays out a standard for compliance that would apply just as much to, say, former national security adviser John Bolton as McGahn. She apparently wrote this opinion knowing that her decision would be appealed, and the case could eventually wind up before the Supreme Court. Some Democrats hope that her ruling, in the meantime, could embolden other current or former Trump administration officials to comply with subpoenas and appear for depositions.

“Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings,” Jackson writes. “This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Moreover, as citizens of the United States, current and former senior-level presidential aides have constitutional rights, including the right to free speech, and they retain these rights even after they have transitioned back into private life.”

-- Jackson, nominated by Barack Obama, has been a district court judge since 2013. Still only 49, she’s often mentioned in elite legal circles as a possible nominee for the Supreme Court by a future Democratic president, which could make her the first black woman to join the high court. The judge studied government as an undergraduate at Harvard and stayed for law school, like Chief Justice John Roberts, where she was a supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review. Jackson clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer, served as a federal public defender and spent a few years in private practice.

-- The judge blasts the Justice Department for arguing in the McGahn case that courts don’t have the jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes between the legislative and executive branches while the president’s personal lawyers simultaneously ask courts to block subpoenas for his tax records. “A lawsuit that asserts that a legislative subpoena should be quashed as unlawful is merely the flip side of a lawsuit that argues that a legislative subpoena should be enforced,” she explains. “DOJ implicitly suggests that (much like absolute testimonial immunity) the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal courts is properly invoked only at the pleasure of the President.”

Jackson emphasizes that a 1971 memo from Richard Nixon’s Office of Legal Counsel asserting that senior White House aides do not need to appear before Congress is “neither precedential nor persuasive.” She argues that the executive cannot be the judge of its own privilege. “Fifty years of say so within the Executive branch does not change that fundamental truth,” she adds.

The judge notes that Ronald Reagan, during the Iran-Contra affair, declined to assert executive privilege and even furnished relevant excerpts of his personal diaries to Congress for review. She recalls how George Washington turned over records so that Congress could investigate a military operation that went awry. She also notes how legislative and executive branches have often reached accommodations to prevent courts from getting involved and points out that Trump has rejected this approach.

-- Jackson repeatedly cites a 2008 decision in which U.S. District Judge John Bates, also of Washington, rejected President George W. Bush’s bid to block testimony by his former counsel Harriet Miers to the House Judiciary Committee on the firings of U.S. attorneys. An appeals court never ruled on the case because the White House and Congress reached an accommodation. But Bates, a Bush appointee, concluded that the Bush administration’s claim of “absolute immunity from compelled congressional process for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law.”

Jackson cites or refers to Bates’s ruling more than 40 times. “Just as with Harriet Miers before him,” Jackson writes, “Donald McGahn must appear.”

-- She explains how legislative subpoenas are older than the country itself. Citing a 1926 law review article, Jackson notes that, even before the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, the colonial assemblies, like the House of Commons, assumed, usually without question, the right to investigate. She shows how the historical roots of the concept of a “subpoena” go back to the times of ancient Rome and Athens. Jackson traces how the concept evolved in English common law. Jackson quotes an opinion from Chief Justice John Marshall in 1807 that concluded “the obligation [to comply with a subpoena] is general; and it would seem that no person could claim an exemption” from it.

“As far as this Court can tell, no federal judge has ever held that defiance of a valid subpoena does not amount to a concrete and particularized injury in fact; indeed, it appears that no court has ever even considered this proposition,” Jackson writes. “And perhaps for good reason: if defiance of duly issued subpoenas does not create Article III standing and does not open the doors of the court for enforcement purposes, it is hard to see how the wheels of our system of civil and criminal justice could keep turning.”

-- Judges always cite precedents, of course. That’s their job. But it reveals something deeper about the present political moment that so many federal judges, appointed by previous presidents of both parties, feel compelled to offer what read like increasingly discursive, and detailed, history lessons in their rulings to illustrate why Trump’s conception of his power is so at odds with the American tradition. In May, for example, another judge at the same courthouse likened Trump to James Buchanan, who also whined about “harassment” from Congress. Perhaps part of the impulse is the incumbent’s clear disinterest in U.S. history or his demonstrated lack of basic historical knowledge.

-- For his part, Barr has been accusing “the left” of trying to “incapacitate” Trump by conducting oversight, which he likens to a “war” on the president. “The fact of the matter is that, in waging a scorched earth, no-holds-barred war of resistance against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law,” the attorney general said at the Federalist Society’s annual meeting earlier this month. “I don’t deny that Congress has some implied authority. But the sheer volume of what we see today, the pursuit of scores of parallel investigations through an avalanche of subpoenas, is plainly designed to incapacitate the executive branch and indeed is touted as such.”

-- This case could certainly end up on the Supreme Court’s docket. The justices, including two appointed by Trump, may soon weigh in on other major cases revolving around separation of powers.  Last night, for instance, the Supreme Court blocked a House committee from immediately reviewing Trump’s financial records after the president’s lawyers agreed to an expedited review of a lower court ruling granting access.

“The court’s action signals that, even as Congress considers impeaching Trump, the court will undertake a more complete consideration of the legal powers of Congress and state prosecutors to investigate the president while he is in office,” Robert Barnes reports. “The court instructed Trump’s lawyers to file a petition by Dec. 5 stating why the court should accept the case for full briefing and oral argument. If the petition is eventually denied, the lower-court ruling will go into effect. If accepted, the case probably will be heard this term, with a decision before the court adjourns at the end of June.”

-- In the meantime, Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the House investigations is likely to emerge as the basis for its own article of impeachment. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a letter to his colleagues on Monday that he plans to send a report summarizing the conclusions of his investigations to the House Judiciary Committee soon after Congress returns from Thanksgiving break next week. “We will catalogue the instances of noncompliance with lawful subpoenas as part of our report to the Judiciary Committee,” Schiff wrote, “which will allow that Committee to consider whether an article of impeachment based on obstruction of Congress is warranted along with an article or articles based on this underlying conduct or other presidential misconduct.”

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THE LATEST ON THE INVESTIGATIONS:

-- The federal investigators looking into Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are now scrutinizing the former New York mayor’s consulting business. They're also eyeing donations made to America First Action, the pro-Trump super PAC set up by his advisers and allies after his election. Devlin Barrett, Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Josh Dawsey report: “As part of the probe, federal prosecutors are examining a raft of other potential crimes, including foreign lobbying registration violations, destruction or alteration of documents, aiding and abetting federal crimes, and foreign contributions to U.S. candidates ... The list of possible crimes under investigation does not mean those charges will be filed. They do, however, indicate prosecutors are casting a wide net for wrongdoing as they examine the business and legal dealings of the president’s personal lawyer and two Soviet emigre business executives who have been assisting Giuliani in the efforts to dig up damaging information about [Joe Biden] on the president’s behalf. … Kelly Sadler, a spokeswoman for America First Action, said the group reached out last month to federal prosecutors in New York, offering to cooperate voluntarily. She said the group has received no subpoenas and follows the law, declining to comment further. …

"The October indictment of the two men does not mention Giuliani or suggest he was connected to the alleged crimes. But in the weeks after their arrest, prosecutors issued subpoenas to a number of people involved with Fruman and Parnas, asking for, among other things, any documents regarding Giuliani and his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners. … In 2017, the firm was hired by Pavel Fuks, a wealthy Ukrainian developer, to help update its emergency response system, according to Giuliani. Giuliani traveled to Ukraine in November to meet with top officials, including then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko … One person with knowledge of the investigation said there is a particular interest in interactions with three key figures in the saga of Giuliani’s pursuit of dirt on Biden and his son Hunter: Poroshenko and former Ukrainian prosecutors Yuri Lutsenko and Viktor Shokin."

-- Interviews with two Ukrainian oligarchs Giuliani singled out to help look for dirt on Biden – Dmitry Firtash and Ihor Kolomoisky – point to a new dimension in his exertions on behalf of Trump. From the Times: “In the case of Mr. Firtash, an energy tycoon with deep ties to the Kremlin who is facing extradition to the United States on bribery and racketeering charges, one of Mr. Giuliani’s associates has described offering the oligarch help with his Justice Department problems — if Mr. Firtash hired two lawyers who were close to [Trump] and were already working with Mr. Giuliani on his dirt-digging mission. Mr. Firtash said the offer was made in late June when he met with [Parnas and Fruman]. … Mr. Firtash’s relationship to the Trump-allied lawyers — Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova — has led to intense speculation that he is, at least indirectly, helping to finance Mr. Giuliani’s campaign ... In the interview, Mr. Firtash said he had no information about the Bidens and had not financed the search for it. ‘Without my will and desire,’ he said, ‘I was sucked into this internal U.S. fight.’ But to help his legal case, he said, he had paid his new lawyers $1.2 million to date, with a portion set aside as something of a referral fee for Mr. Parnas. …

Mr. Kolomoisky, a banking and media tycoon who is one of Ukraine’s richest men, is also known for financing mercenary troops battling Russian-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine … In an interview, Mr. Kolomoisky said the two men came ‘under the made-up pretext of dealing liquefied natural gas,’ but as soon as it became clear that what they really wanted was a meeting between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Zelensky, he abruptly sent them on their way. The exchange, he said, went like this: ‘I say, ‘Did you see a sign on the door that says, ‘Meetings with Zelensky arranged here’? They said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well then, you’ve ended up in the wrong place.' Mr. Kolomoisky, who has denied wrongdoing in the bank case, said he had not been contacted by the F.B.I.; a bureau spokesman declined to say whether the oligarch was under investigation.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I am a high functioning human being able to outwork people half my age. Compared to [Joe] Biden and [Nancy] Pelosi, I’m a phenom,” Giuliani told New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi.  

 

-- David Pecker, the head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, has spoken with prosecutors in the New York district attorney’s office as part of their investigation into the Trump Organization’s handling of hush money payments to women who allegedly had affairs with the president. From CNN: “The America Media Inc. chairman's late October meeting with prosecutors from the major economic crimes bureau could provide key details on discussions that took place involving Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who allegedly had an affair with Trump, and agreements that were made with former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen … The meeting between Pecker and the local prosecutors shows that investigators are still trying to connect the dots between Trump and the hush money payments. The meeting could result in Pecker being a potential critical witness down the road in any legal action against Trump or the Trump Organization … AMI, the parent company of the Enquirer, came under fire after it was revealed the tabloid purchased the rights to negative stories about Trump before the election and buried them. Pecker and Trump's relationship dates back years but prosecutors are focusing on the year leading up to the presidential election when the magazine publisher discussed how he could help the candidate.”

-- “My fellow Republicans, please follow the facts,” pleads former GOP senator Slade Gorton of Washington in an op-ed for the Times: “It’s not enough merely to dismiss the Ukraine investigation as a partisan witch hunt or to hide behind attacks against the ‘deep state,’ or to try to find some reason to denounce every witness who steps forward, from decorated veterans to Trump megadonors. History demands that we all wrestle with the facts at hand. They are unavoidable.”

-- After five days of public hearings, opinion over whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office remains the same as it was in October, a CNN poll found. Half of Americans say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 43 percent say he shouldn’t be.

-- Commentary from The Post's opinion page:

  • Dana Milbank: “Who but a demon could impeach God’s chosen one?”
  • Editorial Board: “Trump’s second act is rife with enablers of constitutional degradation.”
  • Michael Gerson: “The GOP’s galling accommodation of Trump.”
  • Max Boot: “For aiding Trump’s abuse of power, the GOP deserves to be voted out of existence.”
  • Gary Abernathy: “I asked myself one question during the hearings. Democrats won’t like the answer.”

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED:

-- Defense Secretary Mark Esper was “flabbergasted” to learn that Richard V. Spencer tried to make a secret deal with Trump involving a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes. Dan Lamothe and Josh Dawsey report: “Esper said that without his knowledge, Spencer promised the White House that the SEAL could retire as a member of the elite force if [Trump] stayed out of the case. That outcome aligned with Trump’s wishes, but Esper said that he and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, felt ‘blindsided’ by Spencer’s back-channel conversations. … Esper, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said Spencer’s plan contradicted what he had told senior defense officials in recent days — that he was considering resigning if Trump forced the issue. As a result, the defense secretary said, Spencer had to go.”

-- Spencer told CBS News he was fired before he could resign, downplaying the suggestion that he tried to make a deal with Trump. “‘I never threatened to resign ... I don't threaten,’ Spencer told CBS News correspondent David Martin ... ‘I got fired.’ … [Spencer said] he spoke with White House counsel Pat Cipollone on November 15 and proposed an arrangement in which Gallagher would be allowed to retire as a SEAL if the president agreed not to intervene in the case and ‘let the Navy do its administrative work.’ Spencer said Cipollone called back the same day to decline the offer, saying the president would be involved. … Spencer said Monday that he doesn't think Mr. Trump ‘really understands the full definition of a warfighter.’ ‘A warfighter is a profession of arms and a profession of arms has standards that they have to be held to, and they hold themselves to,’ he said. In his resignation letter Sunday, Spencer said he opposed the president's insistence that Gallagher be allowed to remain a SEAL.”

-- Trump wants the alleged war criminals he's absolved to campaign for him in 2020. From the Daily Beast: “Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency … Trump believes he has rectified major injustices. Two people [say] they’ve heard Trump talk about how he’d like to have the now-cleared Clint Lorance, Matthew Golsteyn, or Edward Gallagher show up at his 2020 rallies, or even have a moment on stage at his renomination convention in Charlotte next year. Right-wing media have portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by ‘political correctness’ within the military. ‘He briefly discussed making it a big deal at the convention,’ said one of these sources, who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. ‘The president made a reference to the 2016 [convention] and where they brought on-stage heroes’ like former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who refused to execute detained civilians ahead of a devastating Taliban attack.”

-- A growing chorus of decorated veterans are decrying the "dangerous precedent" set by Trump in this case. From the Independent: “‘Ever since Donald Trump became president he’s been tearing the military apart, putting troops in the difficult position of needing to choose between obedience to his unhinged orders, and staying true to our code of honour,’ said Alexander McCoy, a former Marine and political director of the veteran group Common Defence. ‘By pardoning war criminals because Fox News told him to, Trump showed he sees our military as a tool for massacres, not as the professional, honourable force we aspire to be.’ … The president’s demands could cause ‘significant long-term damage to the Naval Special Warfare community,’ according to James Waters, a former Navy SEAL platoon commander and White House staff member in the Bush administration. ... ‘The only people who weigh in on whether a Navy SEAL deserves to keep his Trident are people who have their Trident.’” (Karen Tumulty's column has more: "In Trump's military, the rules don't matter at all.")

-- Trump, frustrated with the lack of progress on one of his top priorities, has named his son-in-law Jared Kushner as the de facto project manager for constructing his border wall. Josh Dawsey and Nick Miroff report: “Kushner convenes biweekly meetings in the West Wing, where he questions an array of government officials about progress on the wall, including updates on contractor data, precisely where it will be built and how funding is being spent. He also shares and explains the president’s wishes with the group ... The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser is pressing U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the process of taking over private land needed for the project as the government seeks to meet Trump’s goal of erecting 450 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of 2020. More than 800 filings to seize private property will need to be made in the coming months if the government is going to succeed, officials aid. Kushner has told other West Wing officials that he is in charge of the wall, according to aides, and that it is paramount to Trump that at least 400 miles be built by Election Day. …

Mark Morgan, the acting CBP commissioner, said Kushner had expedited decisions on land acquisitions and construction issues and was key to bringing everyone together in the same room. ‘He doesn’t need to know the intricacies of the wall. He understands building stuff. He understands timelines,’ Morgan said. But Kushner has clashed with the career officials who have questioned some of his ideas, such as installing web cameras to live-stream construction. … Some of Kushner’s critics say he can be tone-deaf when it comes to politics and does not understand or respect the value of having multiple agencies work through an official process on a project. And they snidely joke that it is ironic that an aide Trump occasionally mocks as a Democrat is in charge of the project, which has attracted significant criticism.”

-- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that detained migrants be vaccinated against the flu, a push that Trump's CBP rejected. Now kids are dying. Robert Moore reports: “The CDC recommendation was revealed in a letter from the agency to Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes CDC. The agency’s director, Robert Redfield, issued the letter Nov. 7 in response to a series of questions DeLauro posed last month after the flu had taken a toll on migrants in U.S. custody during the past year. An 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died of the flu while being detained near El Paso in December, a month before CDC’s vaccination recommendation. In the months after CBP rejected the recommendation, at least two children — one in El Paso and one in Weslaco, Tex. — died after being diagnosed with the flu in Border Patrol custody, autopsy reports showed. Influenza outbreaks in Border Patrol detention facilities continued through May, sickening hundreds of people, including agents and detainees.”

-- Trump wants to start deporting asylum seekers to Honduras by January. From BuzzFeed News: “Critics say the Trump administration is forcing people who are fleeing violence and poverty to go back to countries that have weak asylum systems and are unable to protect their own people, let alone immigrants. … The discussions in Honduras appear to have hit a few roadblocks. First, Honduran officials have requested that no one convicted or accused of a felony be sent to their country, a proposal that was seen by DHS officials as ‘operationally unfeasible given the expedited nature of the removals.’ They also wanted asylum-seekers to ‘manifest their conformity,’ or express their agreement to being transferred — something DHS officials recommended rejecting or clarifying because it was ‘not legally or operationally feasible.’”

-- Caliburn International, a corporation with billions of dollars in government contracts that has profited handsomely off Trump's immigration agenda, has scrapped plans to host its holiday party at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. From CBS News: “The party at the Trump club had been scheduled for December 6 ... An internal email was sent Monday afternoon announcing the change of venue to employees … Caliburn has faced criticism for its expanding operations dedicated to holding unaccompanied migrant children in government custody. The decision by a government contractor to hold a party at a Trump property raised ethical questions that were unprecedented before Donald Trump's presidency..."

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will issue new rules giving universities clear but controversial guidance on handling accusations of sexual assault. Laura Meckler reports: “The final regulation will maintain contentious elements of a version proposed a year ago, including a provision requiring universities to allow cross-examination of those alleging sexual harassment or assault … It’s unclear when the new rules will take effect. Advocates for sexual assault survivors said they’re already planning to challenge the regulation in court. The regulations stem from a 1972 law known as Title IX that bars sex discrimination at schools receiving federal funding. Most of the attention is on higher education, but the rules also apply to elementary and secondary schools. …

"The Education Department’s final regulation is expected to make at least one significant change in response to critics ... Last year’s proposed version held universities responsible for investigating incidents only if they occur within the school’s programs or activities. That was interpreted by many as excluding activity in off-campus apartments or at parties at fraternities that are not recognized by the school. The wording of this provision was criticized by women’s groups and also, more quietly, by some Republicans.”

-- Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R), a lame duck, pardoned a man serving a life sentence for sexually abusing his 6-year-old stepdaughter 20 years ago. From the Louisville Courier Journal: “In his pardon and commutation order on Friday, Bevin wrote that Paul Donel Hurt had been wrongly convicted in Jefferson County in 2001 of three counts of sodomy in the first degree and two counts of sexual abuse in the first degree … In 2015, Hurt's accuser recanted her testimony in an evidentiary hearing. However, the trial court did not set aside the conviction, with Jefferson Circuit Judge Audra Jean Eckerle ruling that her recantation was an inconsistent, ‘shifting account’ that was ‘no more likely to be true than false.’”

-- The White House chief operations officer, Daniel Walsh, is leaving the administration. Josh Dawsey reports: “Walsh, whose title was deputy chief of staff, was in charge of the administration’s foreign trips, made decisions about the use of government resources by White House aides, oversaw the White House military office and played a critical role in the attempted planning of the Group of Seven summit at the president’s Doral resort, which was scuttled amid backlash over the emoluments clause. Walsh was in charge of the July 4 Celebration of America on the Mall in Washington, which was derided by critics but seen internally as a rousing success, and was involved in most presidential rallies. Walsh was one of the few officials in the West Wing who were present on Day One — and had been a federal government employee for 28 years, officials said. … He is expected to leave for the private sector, the White House said.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Chinese leader Xi Jinping is fighting fires on all fronts. Anna Fifield reports: “There was a bombshell from Australia: the defection of a man purporting to be a Chinese spy who had been trying to influence elections in Taiwan and Hong Kong and kidnap dissidents. Then there was a new trove of documents belying the Chinese Communist Party’s claim that mass internment camps in Xinjiang were not reeducation facilities for Muslims but merely vocational training centers designed to help them. And the most domestically seismic news of all: poll results showing that pro-democracy candidates had won a stunning victory in Hong Kong, swamping Beijing’s representatives in district council elections. The party is so opaque that it’s not publicly known whether Xi gets a morning briefing, let alone how he reacted. But the weekend’s triple whammy has reignited speculation about internal pressures in the ranks of China’s leadership, especially because it comes amid a trade war with the United States that appears unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. … There is no sign that Xi, who removed term limits so he can rule China indefinitely, is anything but entirely in charge.”

-- Stung by the repudiation at the ballot box from the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese regime is going after Reuters. Anna Fifield reports: “Reuters reported Tuesday that the Chinese leadership had set up a crisis command center in a luxury villa on the outskirts of Shenzhen, on the mainland side of the border with Hong Kong, to deal with the long-running political unrest in the semiautonomous financial hub. The report said Beijing was considering replacing its most senior official stationed in Hong Kong, liaison office Director Wang Zhimin, because it was dissatisfied with his handling of the crisis. … The Foreign Ministry’s office in Hong Kong said Tuesday that it had lodged ‘solemn representations’ with Reuters about the ‘false report.’ It said it had urged the agency ‘to uphold a true, professional and responsible attitude, and immediately stop spreading false information.’”

-- A new and bleak report from the United Nations says drastic action is the only way we can avoid the worst effects of climate change. Brady Dennis reports: “Global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, according to the United Nations’ annual ‘emissions gap’ report, which assesses the difference between the world’s current path and the changes needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord. … Should that pace continue, scientists say, the result could be widespread, catastrophic effects: Coral reefs, already dying in some places, would probably dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Some coastal cities, already wrestling with flooding, would be constantly inundated by rising seas. In much of the world, severe heat, already intense, could become unbearable.

"Global greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning 2020 — a rate currently nowhere in sight — to meet the most ambitious aims of the Paris climate accord, the report issued early Tuesday found. Its authors acknowledged that the findings are ‘bleak.’ After all, the world has never demonstrated the ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions on such a scale. … Tuesday’s report, which is viewed as the benchmark of the world’s progress in meeting its climate goals, underscores how the pledges that nations made years ago in Paris are woefully inadequate to achieving the goals of the accord.”

-- A study by the New York Federal Reserve Bank proves that Americans are almost entirely bearing the brunt of the Trump tariffs. From Reuters: “The prices Chinese firms charge have barely budged, meaning U.S. companies and consumers are paying the tariff costs, estimated at around $40 billion annually… As a result of the U.S.-China trade war, [the government] adds as much as 25% to the import price as Chinese goods enter the country. If Chinese companies were absorbing that cost, they would have to cut their prices as much as 20% - a level that would allow U.S. retailers, manufacturers, or wholesalers to keep their own prices and profits stable. That is not what is happening. Import data from June 2018 to September 2019 shows Chinese import prices fell only 2%, the Fed study found, in line with price declines seen in many other nations as global trade slowed.”

-- Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are blaming each other for the delay in finalizing a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. Erica Werner and David J. Lynch report: “Trump told reporters a revised version of the North American Free Trade Agreement was ‘sitting on Nancy Pelosi’s desk’ and claimed she was refusing to advance it under orders from labor unions. Several hours later, Pelosi described a much different process, saying she was awaiting final decisions from Trump’s U.S. trade representative after months of negotiations. ‘We are within range of a substantially improved agreement for America’s workers,’ Pelosi said. ‘Now, we need to see our progress in writing from the Trade Representative for final review.’ The discordant characterizations come as Democratic lawmakers have said they are very close to finalizing negotiations that would allow Congress to vote on the deal that Trump secured with Canada and Mexico last year.”

-- Follow the money: Trump ordered the Treasury and Justice Departments to look into the impact U.S. sanctions had on a Turkish state-owned bank after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lobbied him about it. From Bloomberg News: “The letter, sent in response to queries by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, outlined seven meetings Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had with senior Turkish officials from April 2017 through this month, but didn’t detail what was discussed or answer other questions posed by Wyden, who is the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. … Trump assigned Mnuchin and Attorney General William Barr to look into the issue after an April phone call with Erdogan. After the call, no action was taken against the bank for months. That changed in October, when U.S. prosecutors unveiled an undated indictment accusing the bank of fraud, money laundering and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.”

-- The U.S. has resumed large-scale counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State in northern Syria, nearly two months after Trump’s abrupt order to withdraw troops from the area. From the Times: “The new operations show that despite Mr. Trump’s earlier demand for a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Syria, the president still has some 500 troops in the country, many of them in combat, for the foreseeable future. … American commandos and their Syrian Kurdish partners conducted some low-level missions after the withdrawal order. But General [Kenneth] McKenzie said that since Americans and Kurds had regrouped in a much smaller area east of the Euphrates River and into Syria’s far northeast along the border with Iraq, they could resume bigger missions against ISIS. This past Friday, American soldiers and hundreds of Syrian Kurdish fighters — the same local allies the Trump administration abandoned to fend for themselves against the Turkish advance last month — reunited to conduct what the Pentagon said was a large-scale mission to kill and capture ISIS fighters in Deir al-Zour province, about 120 miles south of the Turkish border.”

-- An Argentine court found two priests and a lay worker guilty of sexually abusing 10 former students of a Catholic school for the deaf, the first legal victory for a community of victims whose complaints about one of the clerics to church officials – including Pope Francis – went unheeded for years. Anthony Faiola, Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli report: “The verdict was another stain on the church’s handling of sex abuse cases in Francis’s native Argentina. Prosecutors last week requested an arrest warrant for Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, a longtime associate of the pope accused of abusing two seminarians. … The three-judge panel in the northwestern Argentine province of Mendoza ruled against the three defendants in 25 instances of abuse. The Rev. Nicola Corradi, 83, who appeared in a wheelchair, averted his gaze as the court sentenced him to 42 years in prison. Corradi appeared on a list of alleged sexual-predator priests accused by former students of a Provolo Institute in Italy that was sent to Francis in 2014. Francis was handed another copy of the list a year later by one of the victims. But the church didn’t begin an investigation until 2017, after Argentine authorities had arrested Corradi and shut down the school.”

-- Singapore invoked its “fake news” law for the first time this week, making a citizen amend a Facebook post from Nov. 13 the government said used “false and misleading statements” to smear reputations. The post, from an opposition politician, accused the government of being responsible for a failing investment in the Turkish restaurant chain Salt Bae, Adam Taylor reports: “The move is likely to cause consternation among rights groups, which have already argued that anti-misinformation laws run the risk of hindering freedom of speech. Singapore’s ‘fake news’ law, officially the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), is one of the world’s most far-reaching of anti-misinformation laws over the past few years, and it has sparked imitators.”

-- A new poll shows that Germans are deeply worried about their relationship with the U.S., but Americans have hardly noticed. Taylor reports: “The poll, jointly conducted by the Pew Research Center and the German firm Körber-Stiftung in September, found that while three-quarters of Americans see relations with Germany as good, almost two-thirds of Germans say the relationship is bad. The responses also suggested that the two nations placed different levels of importance on the alliance. The poll found that Americans are more likely to prioritize greater cooperation with Germany, with 69 percent in favor, compared with 50 percent of Germans who say the same of increased cooperation with the United States.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump honored Conan, the military dog injured in the raid that took down Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, with a Rose Garden ceremony. "Trump identified the dog as male during the news conference. But confusion over the dog’s sex abounded after it concluded," Brittany Shammas reports. "A pool reporter, citing a White House official who spoke on background, said Conan was female. That claim was later contradicted by another official, who said Conan was male. Male or female, intrigue has surrounded the heroic canine ever since Trump disclosed that ‘a beautiful dog, a talented dog’ had chased Baghdadi into a dead-end tunnel during the Oct. 26 operation in northern Syria. … Trump told reporters he had presented Conan with a medal and a plaque for heroism. He said the dog had been ‘very badly hurt’ during the raid that killed Baghdadi, but has bounced back and gone on additional raids.”

No dogs for the First Family, the first lady said: 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) shared a pro-Trump video message that was built around a stock photo taken in Russia:

Fox News host Tucker Carlson said he's "rooting" for Russia, then claimed he was just joking:

"At the very end of his broadcast and after his comments had already made waves on social media, Carlson insisted that this was all just a joke that went over everyone’s heads. 'Before we go, earlier in the show I noted I was rooting for Russia in the contest between Russia and Ukraine,' he said, 'Of course, I’m joking. I’m only rooting for America—mocking the obsession many on the left have. Ha!'" (The Daily Beast)

Trump dubiously claimed credit, per a Post reporter:

A Republican senator walked back a suggestion he made over the weekend that we don't know for sure if Russians meddled in the 2016 election:

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert wonders why Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) doesn't want to answer questions about his trip to Vienna: 

Seth Meyers took a look at another conspiracy theory peddled by Trump and his allies: 

Ahead of the Christmas shopping frenzy, Hasan Minhaj shared some warnings about the fast fashion industry:

We collected some of the best turkey pardons in history: