With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: What emails about Ukraine does President Trump think, or hope, will never get out?

During two interviews with FBI agents and members of Bob Mueller’s team last year, former White House communications director Hope Hicks recounted the president’s reaction to the discovery of damning emails about the meeting his son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort took with a Russian emissary at Trump Tower in June 2016.

“Throughout Hicks’ conversations with Trump, it was clear to her that Trump did not think the emails would get out,” according to the FBI’s summary of her first interview, which was released on Monday night in response to an open-records lawsuit. “Hicks’ impression was Trump meant the emails would not get out to the press, but he did not say that explicitly.”

Hicks said she thought the messages would come out eventually and warned Trump that they would become “a massive” story.” She wanted “Junior” – as the FBI summaries refer to the president’s eldest son – to give an interview to a friendly media outlet, where he could take “softball questions,” to minimize the fallout. “The President said they should not do anything, asked why so many people had the emails, and said they needed to let the lawyers deal with it,” Hicks recalled to the FBI.

There are no fresh bombshells in these new summaries. The juiciest material appeared in Mueller’s 448-page report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But the memos about Hicks’s FBI sit-downs, which both occurred in March 2018, offer a revealing window into how Trump tries to control bad news. Trump’s unwillingness to rip off the Band-Aid and get out in front of bad facts has resulted in a drip, drip, drip of revelations that have clouded most of his tenure in office.

-- Hicks’s comments are newly relevant against the backdrop of the impeachment inquiry. The White House’s categorical refusal to comply with subpoenas for documents, from phone records to emails, has made it harder for investigators to corroborate sworn testimony from witnesses about the alleged campaign to coerce Ukraine’s new president to announce an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden in exchange for a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military aid that had already been approved by Congress.

A confidential White House review of Trump’s decision to freeze the aid has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal, three of my colleagues reported last week. But none of those emails have been turned over to investigators.

Trump appointees at the departments of State, Energy and Defense have also defied subpoenas and refused to produce documents that get at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. They have justified doing so by making absolutist claims of presidential privilege that have led to protracted litigation in the courts. The White House is refusing to participate at all in the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing on Wednesday.

For her part, Ivanka Trump repeatedly conducted official government business on her personal email account throughout much of 2017, sending hundreds of emails in potential violation of federal recordkeeping rules. The White House adviser did so after her father made Hillary Clinton’s private email use as secretary of state a centerpiece of his stump speech, egging on crowds as they chanted “Lock her up.” The House Oversight Committee has unsuccessfully sought to subpoena Ivanka Trump’s emails.

-- House Democrats are also quietly debating whether they should expand articles of impeachment to include charges stemming from the Mueller report, including the episode Hicks discussed with the FBI. “Members of the House Judiciary Committee and other more liberal-minded lawmakers and congressional aides have been privately discussing the possibility of drafting articles that include obstruction of justice or other ‘high crimes’ they believe are clearly outlined in [the Mueller report] — or allegations that Trump has used his office to benefit his bottom line,” Rachael Bade reports. “The idea, however, is running into resistance from some moderate Democrats wary of impeachment blowback in their GOP-leaning districts, as well as Democratic leaders who sought to keep impeachment narrowly focused on allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals … The debate is expected to play out in leadership and caucus meetings this week.”

When the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Hicks to appear for a closed-door interview this June about the possible instances of obstruction of justice outlined in the Mueller report, the former White House communications director refused to answer any question related to her interactions with Trump after Election Day in 2016. Citing a directive from White House lawyers, Hicks declined to answer 155 different questions from lawmakers, according to a transcript.

-- BuzzFeed News and CNN filed lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act to force the release of these FBI notes, known as “302 reports,” that were created as part of the two-year Mueller probe. The 295-page tranche that went out last night is quite repetitive, and the interviews are still mostly whited out. The media outlets pledged to challenge the heavy redactions as part of the ongoing litigation to obtain records.

Hicks left the White House last year and now works at the Fox Corporation in Los Angeles as a public relations executive. During another closed-door deposition in February 2018, while she was still employed by the White House, Hicks acknowledged that she occasionally told “white lies” for Trump. Hicks was advised at the beginning of both her interviews that it is a crime to lie to the FBI in the course of an investigation, which she acknowledged.

-- Hicks told the FBI agents that “Trump was angry, surprised, and frustrated” when Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May 2017. “The only other time she had seen Trump like that was when the Access Hollywood tape came out during the campaign,” according to the FBI notes.

“Trump thought the fact that the intelligence community assessed the Russians had interfered in the 2016 election was his Achilles heel,” she added, according to the summary. “Even if it had no impact on the election, Trump thought that was what people would think. He thought the assessment took away from what he did.”

-- Hicks was treated like family during her time as a member of the Trump inner circle. The president referred to her affectionately as “Hopey.” He called her more often than his chief of staff at the time. The onetime fashion model from Greenwich, Conn., whose dad was a top executive at the NFL, was tight with the president’s kids, who she had gotten to know during her work for the Trump Organization before the presidential campaign.

That’s how she ended up in the White House residence on the morning of June 22, 2017, with only Trump, Kushner and Ivanka Trump. “Kushner had a manila folder with documents with him and said to the President that they had found one thing that the President should know about, but it was not a big deal,” according to Hicks’ account. “Kushner told Trump that he, Don Jr. and Paul Manafort had attended a meeting during the campaign. When he started to open the folder, Hicks said, the president stopped him and said he did not want to know about it.” Hicks believed Kushner’s folder included emails about the June 2016 meeting.

The next week, on June 28, Kushner asked Hicks and his spokesman Josh Raffel to go to the offices of someone whose name has been redacted (perhaps a lawyer) to review documents. “Hicks was shocked by the emails concerning the meeting she and Raffel reviewed,” the FBI write-up says. “She thought they looked really bad.”

The next day, on June 29, Hicks joined Kushner, Ivanka Trump and the president in his personal dining room to discuss about the emails. “Hicks’ initial reaction was that they should get in front of the emails,” according to the FBI summary. “Kushner responded that it wasn’t a big deal, just a meeting about Russian adoption. Kushner reminded the president that he had previously mentioned a meeting, and the President said he did not want to know about it.”

When Hicks said the story was going to become “massive,” the FBI summary says, “the President did not want to talk about it and did not want details.” Trump then asked Kushner when his document production was due. Kushner told him it would be a couple of weeks. “Then leave it alone,” Trump told Kushner, according to Hicks.

Fast forward a week to July 7. Kushner and Ivanka Trump came to Hicks’s hotel room in Germany to confer about how to respond to a story the New York Times was working on about the Trump Tower meeting. The next day, while they were all at the G-20 summit, Hicks alerted Trump about what the Times was chasing. The president told her not to comment.

Hicks and Trump talked again later that day. “The President asked what the meeting was about. Hicks told him Kushner and Junior had told her the meeting was about Russian adoption,” according to the FBI summary. “The President said words to the effect of, ‘Then just say that,’ and dictated what she should say.”

When they got to Air Force One for the flight back, one of Junior’s representatives texted Hicks the statement that the president’s son wanted to provide to the media. “She took that to the President’s cabin and read him Junior’s statement,” according to the FBI summary. “He told her they should not respond. Hicks advocated for providing the full story. The President did not say what was wrong with Junior’s statement, but just felt they were giving the media too much. … After meeting with Trump about Junior’s statement, Hicks returned to a seat and started texting with Junior. They worked on the statement for a period and ultimately settled on the statement that went to the press.”

During that flight back to Washington, Hicks also went to Trump’s cabin to tell him that then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus knew about the emails. There are four redacted paragraphs about what happened next.

-- A reminder of what was in the emails: British music publicist Rob Goldstone, who Don Jr. knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, emailed the candidate’s son to say that he knew a person who wanted “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Goldstone explained: “This is part of Russia and its government’s support of Trump”

“[I]f it’s what you say I love it,” Don Jr. replied, “especially later in the summer.”

That’s how the Trump Tower meeting got set up. It wasn’t adoption.

During the transition, Hicks told reporters in a statement that the Trump campaign had “no contact” with “any foreign entity,” including the Russians. She told the FBI that she recalled talking about this with fellow advisers Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, Jason Miller and “probably” Kushner. “Hicks told the group she was planning to respond to the press and there was no hesitation or pushback from any of them,” according to the FBI notes.

-- Other takeaways from the FBI notes released last night:

1. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, told FBI agents in November 2018 that he informed Trump during the campaign that he had spoken with a “woman from the Kremlin” about the plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. “Cohen told Trump he spoke with a woman from the Kremlin who had asked specific and great questions about Trump Tower Moscow, and that he wished Trump Organization had assistants that were that good and competent,” according to the FBI summary.

“He also said that in his letter to Congress about the development, he initially wrote that he had ‘limited contact with Russian officials.’ But that line was struck from the letter. Cohen said he did not know who specifically struck it,” BuzzFeed notes. “It was the decision of the JDA to take it out,” the document says, referring to lawyers from the Joint Defense Agreement who represented the Trump family, Cohen, and Kushner, “and Cohen did not push back.” Cohen also told the FBI that he spoke with Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow about pardons after his home and office were raided. Sekulow told the AP that Cohen's statements were false.

2. Former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates told the FBI that, if Rudy Giuliani had been the attorney general, some in the president’s orbit believed he wouldn't have recused himself, as Jeff Sessions did, from the Russia investigation. “After the recusal, he recalled conversations where people offered their opinion that had Rudy Giuliani been attorney general, he would not have recused himself,” according to the FBI summary. “Gates knew Giuliani had been the first choice for attorney general, but turned it down because he wanted to be Secretary of State instead.”

3. Former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein told the FBI he was “angry, ashamed, horrified and embarrassed” at how Jim Comey was fired as FBI director. “Rosenstein said he was asked during a White House meeting one day before Comey’s firing to produce a memo laying out his concerns with the FBI chief. He said he knew when he left the office that day that Comey would be fired, though he said he did not expect for his memo to be immediately released, and was surprised by the portrayal in the media that the termination was his idea instead of the White House’s,” the AP reports. “Rosenstein said he expected Comey would be contacted by either Trump or Sessions so a meeting could be scheduled and he could be fired in person. Comey instead learned of his firing from television while speaking with agents in Los Angeles.

“At one point during the interview, as Rosenstein was describing how he had ‘always liked Jim Comey’ but disagreed with his decisions in the Clinton case, the deputy attorney general ‘paused a moment, appearing to have been overcome by emotion, but quickly recovered and apologized,’ according to the FBI.”

-- The Post just published a six-part digital series to go along with the illustrated Mueller report. This is drawn directly from episodes detailed in the report in which prosecutors found possible evidence of obstruction of justice, as well as congressional testimony and Washington Post reporting. Dialogue is taken from text messages, contemporaneous notes and interviews conducted by Mueller’s team and the FBI. The digital project pairs with a graphic nonfiction book being published today by Scribner.

-- Crowd-sourcing a Big Idea: I’m planning to write an edition of the Daily 202 later this week on the 10 biggest storylines of the 2010s, based on reader input. If you could sum up this decade in one word or phrase, what would it be? Besides Trump, what do you think was the single most important story or issue of the decade? How will history remember “the teens”? Message me at James.Hohmann@washpost.com, and I’ll highlight some of the most thoughtful emails. Thanks to everyone who wrote in yesterday. So many smart answers!


-- Attorney General Bill Barr has told associates he disagrees with the Justice Department’s inspector general on one of the key findings in an upcoming report about the FBI’s Russia investigation. Barr appears to disagree “that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign,” Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian scoop. “The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horo­witz, is due to release his long-awaited findings in a week, but behind the scenes at the Justice Department, disagreement has surfaced about one of Horowitz’s central conclusions on the origins of the Russia investigation. … The inspector general report, currently in draft form, is being finalized after input from various witnesses and offices that were scrutinized by the inspector general. Barr or a senior Justice Department official could submit a formal letter as part of that process, which would then be included in the final report.”

-- The Ukrainian government became aware of Trump’s freeze on military aid in July, according to former deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal. From the Times: “‘We had this information,’ Ms. Zerkal said in an interview. ‘It was definitely mentioned there were some issues.’ … Ms. Zerkal’s account is the first public acknowledgment by a Ukrainian official that senior figures in Kyiv knew about the aid freeze during the Trump administration’s pressure campaign — and that the Zelensky administration sought to keep that fact from surfacing to avoid getting drawn into the American impeachment debate. She said her own government blocked a trip she had planned to Washington to meet members of Congress in October, worried she would discuss matters related to impeachment and drag its president into an inquiry he has been eager to avoid. ‘They worried about this,’ she said of Mr. Zelensky’s advisers. ‘They said, ‘This is not the time for you to travel to D.C.’’ The cancellation of her trip was confirmed by Congressional aides.”

-- The Ukraine pressure campaign began as an effort to undermine the Mueller investigation. Rosalind S. Helderman reports: “As 2018 came to a close, the special counsel investigation was bearing down on [Trump.] … It was in this uncertain moment that [Giuliani] said he had the idea to focus on Ukraine. … The direct connection between the Mueller investigation and the Ukraine pressure campaign, often lost as the administration has reeled from controversy to controversy, shows the deep imprint the Russia investigation has had on the president. … Giuliani has repeatedly said the public does not appreciate the extent to which his work in Ukraine was driven by the Mueller investigation, rather than — as Democrats have alleged — as an effort to bolster Trump’s 2020 reelection.”

-- The Senate Intelligence Committee already investigated allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 campaign. From Politico: “Trump’s allies have defended his demand for political investigations from Ukraine by claiming that the government in Kyiv tried to sabotage his candidacy … But the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee thoroughly investigated that theory, according to people with direct knowledge of the inquiry, and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin’s efforts to help Trump win in 2016. The committee’s Republican chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said in October 2017 that the panel would be examining ‘collusion by either campaign during the 2016 elections.’ But an interview that fall with the Democratic consultant at the heart of the accusation that Kyiv meddled, Alexandra Chalupa, was fruitless, a committee source said, and Republicans didn’t follow up or request any more witnesses related to the issue.”

-- House Republicans said Trump acted out of “genuine” concern about corruption in Ukraine and wariness about foreign aid in a preemptive rebuttal to Democratic allegations that Trump abused his power. Mike DeBonis reports: “In a 123-page draft report, GOP investigators assert that Democrats failed to make the case that Trump committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors ... Nor, the Republicans say, do Democrats have a basis for impeachment in Trump’s decision to spurn House document requests and witness subpoenas pertaining to Trump’s Ukraine dealings. Instead, the draft GOP report contends, the impeachment effort is ‘an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system’ … The Republican report will serve as an initial blueprint for the GOP defense of Trump…”

-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said the majority’s report will be released publicly today. “We are putting the finishing touches on the report,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The panel is scheduled to vote this evening to approve its public release ahead of tomorrow’s Judiciary hearing.

-- Federal prosecutors will probably bring more charges against Giuliani’s associates Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas. From NPR: “A superseding indictment — which could add to or modify the existing charges — is likely, prosecutors said on Monday, but also adding that they're continuing to evaluate the case. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and FBI investigators are making their way through what prosecutor Douglas Zolkind called a ‘voluminous’ amount of evidence in the case — around 9 gigabytes' worth. Clearing their way through that material — which includes electronic devices, phone records, bank records and more — would set the stage for the next steps.”

-- The IRS whistleblower who raised concerns about political interference in the presidential audit program declined to voluntarily appear for a transcribed interview with the Senate Finance Committee, possibly because he was threatened with retaliation by his superiors. From CNN: “After raising concerns over the summer, the whistleblower met in November with Republican and Democratic staffers on the committee but has declined an invitation to appear for a follow-up … [T]he whistleblower declined the transcribed interview after an official informed the whistleblower that it could be considered a violation of IRS code to provide the committee with any information related to an individual taxpayer. Under IRS code 6103, IRS employees can be fired, fined or even jailed for disclosing taxpayer information. It is unclear what next step the committee will take. One option would be to issue a subpoena, but it is not clear that is the route the committee would take.”

-- Commentary from The Post’s opinion page:

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-- Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) plans to plead guilty to misusing campaign funds at a hearing set for 1 p.m. Eastern. “I think it’s important not to have a public trial for three reasons. And those three reasons are my kids," Hunter said in an interview with San Diego-based TV station KUSI. In July, federal prosecutors alleged that the congressman used campaign donations to finance extramarital affairs -- including trips, dinners and drinks -- with at least five women, including three lobbyists, a woman who worked in his congressional office and another who worked for a member of House leadership. Hunter told the local TV station that he “did make mistakes” but that “not a single dime of taxpayer money is involved in this.” He said he will plead guilty to only one of four counts against him as part of the deal. "Whatever my time in custody is, I will take that hit," he said.

When he was first indicted last summer, Hunter called this a politically motivated witch hunt and said he was looking forward to the trial so he could fully vindicate himself. Initially, Hunter and his wife were charged with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses including family vacations, theater tickets and school tuition. The couple allegedly agreed in electronic communications to claim that some of the expenses were intended to help veterans, even though they weren't. Then, in June, Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with her husband to spend $25,000 in campaign funds for personal use. As part of the plea deal, she flipped on her husband and agreed to testify against him. 

Today's plea deal means that the first two members of Congress to endorse Trump for president in 2016 will be convicted criminals. Hunter and Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) came out for Trump in February of that year, about a week before Jeff Sessions became the first senator to endorse Trump. Earlier this year, Collins resigned from Congress and pleaded guilty to insider trading charges. The crime he confessed to occured while he was standing on the White House lawn at a picnic hosted by Trump. These episode underscore just how swampy Trump's Washington has been.

Hunter didn't say whether he will resign as part of the plea deal, but that seems like a safe assumption. He's already facing serious primary challenges from former congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and former San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio, Felicia Sonmez notes. Hunter won the congressional seat after his father, Duncan Hunter Sr., retired from it to run for president in 2008.

-- The North Dakota company that Trump urged military officials to hire for border wall construction received a $400 million contract to build a span of new barriers across an Arizona wildlife refuge. Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report: “North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel won the contract to build in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Yuma County, Ariz., the Defense Department said, with a target completion date of Dec. 30, 2020. Trump has repeatedly pushed for Fisher to get a wall-building contract, urging officials with the Army Corps of Engineers to pick the firm — only to be told that Fisher’s bids did not meet standards. Trump’s entreaties on behalf of the company have concerned some officials who are unaccustomed to a president getting personally involved in the intricacies of government contracting.

"Trump has been enamored with Tommy Fisher, the company’s chief executive, who has made multiple appearances on Fox News to promote his firm and insists that it would do a better job than those the government had already chosen. ... Fisher has worked with some Trump allies — including former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach and ex-White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon — to build border fencing on private land using private donations. ... Trump has pledged to complete 450 to 500 miles of new border barriers by the end of next year. So far his administration has built about 85 miles of fencing, almost all of it in areas where tall steel bollards are replacing smaller, older structures that were there before he took office."

-- A new biography of Melania Trump by CNN’s Kate Bennett reveals that the first lady doesn't just live in her own bedroom. She actually lives on a different floor of the White House than the president: “Melania Trump has her own quarters in the White House. ... It is true the first couple doesn't share a bedroom, according to several sources, and the first lady prefers her own large, private space in a suite of rooms on a separate floor.” Bennett also reveals that the first lady was “beside herself with guilt” after her speech at the Republican National Convention was criticized for including parts from a speech given by Michelle Obama: “Not only did Melania Trump feel badly for her speechwriter, she also felt she had let down her husband on what should have been her most triumphant speaking engagement to date. The truth was, sources conclude, it was Donald Trump that let down Melania Trump. A skeleton staff of political neophytes neglected to read Melania Trump's speech, much less vet it for content.”

-- According to the new book, the first lady suspects that longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone was behind the release of nude photos from her modeling days during the 2016 campaign. From the Guardian: “Bennett also writes that the first lady ‘still refuses to believe’ her husband played a role in the release. ... Stone denied Bennett’s claim while the White House poured scorn on her book.”

-- The Supreme Court heard a Second Amendment case for the first time in a decade, but the debate ended up being on whether a case concerning gun restrictions is still worth considering. Robert Barnes reports: “The controversy involves now-rescinded restrictions unique to New York City about whether citizens who have a license to keep a gun in their homes may transport them to firing ranges outside of the city or to a second home in the state. After the Supreme Court took the case to decide whether those restrictions violated the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, the city got rid of them. Then the state of New York passed a law that would keep them from being reenacted. The unstated purpose of both the city and state actions might have been to make the case moot and deny conservatives on the court a chance to explore whether there is a right to carry a gun outside the home. … The arguments Monday suggested that New York would have had trouble defending the old regulations. But most of the hour-long discourse was consumed with questions about whether the court still has a live controversy before it, a requirement for rendering an opinion. The court denied New York’s earlier plea to dismiss the case as moot. It said it would consider the question after argument.”

-- Barr's Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to let federal executions proceed next week by “setting aside” a district court’s injunction that blocks it from carrying out lethal injections as planned. Mark Berman reports: “This request, which came hours after an appeals court blocked a similar application, marked an escalation of the administration’s push to restart federal executions after a nearly two-decade hiatus. …. The Justice Department argued in its 38-page filing Monday that the judge’s interpretation of the law is ‘implausible.’ The filing, signed by Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, dismissed what it called a ‘flawed injunction against the implementation of lawful executions.’ [Barr], in announcing plans to resume executions, had said the department owes it to victims to carry out the sentences, though some relatives of the first inmate facing execution have urged the administration to call off the lethal injection and sentence him to life in prison instead.”

-- The Senate confirmed Trump’s pick to replace Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Several Democrats joined Republicans in approving Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette’s promotion, 70-15. (AP)

-- Trump recently gave states the power to ban refugees. But deeply conservative and devout Utah wants more of them. Griff Witte reports: “The governor, a Republican who aligns with Trump on most issues, wrote the president a letter in late October. He didn’t want to keep refugees out. He didn’t want to reduce their numbers. He wanted Trump to send more. ‘We empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their homes and we love giving them a new home and a new life,’ Gov. Gary R. Herbert wrote. Such newcomers, he added, have become ‘productive employees and responsible citizens.’ They have been an asset to Utah, he said, not a liability. Republicans in the state legislature quickly backed up their governor, daring to defy a president who has repeatedly shown an unwillingness to tolerate intraparty dissent. So did Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation. So did Republicans in city halls. Democrats across Utah added their support. ‘I have to be honest: I don’t have any idea why it’s a partisan issue nationally. It’s never been one here,’ said Brad Wilson, the state’s Republican speaker of the House. ‘Regardless of political party, we value these people.’”

 -- Ballroom dancers say a clampdown on immigration is hurting business. From the AP: “When no Americans replied to her ads seeking a dance instructor, studio owner Chris Sabourin looked overseas. But she was stymied again by a federal tightening of visa application rules she and others contend is hampering the ballroom dance industry. … Federal records ... show a slight uptick since 2017 in initial denials of O-1 visa applications from individuals with 'extraordinary ability or achievement' — the visa that many of the foreign dancers seek — as well as for O-1 visa applicants who were given a second chance to meet eligibility requirements. Representatives of the dance industry say they’ve seen the processing times for those nonimmigrant visas, which allow the dancers to work in the U.S. for up to three years, increase from weeks to months, with uncertainty the application will be approved.”

-- A janitor working for the Border Patrol saved and photographed migrants’ belongings that were thrown away by U.S. officials. From the Los Angeles Times: “While working as a janitor at the same facility from 2003 to 2014, photographer Tom Kiefer secretly collected the belongings and later began shooting them. … The first items to pull Kiefer’s attention were 15 to 20 toothbrushes. At the time, he didn’t think about photographing them. He just felt compelled to remove them from the trash. ‘When I started seeing a rosary, or a Bible, or a wallet, I realized that no one would believe me if I had not collected these items.’ It took about six years of collecting — blankets, cellphones, toilet paper, depression medication, shoelaces — before Kiefer began photographing. … Kiefer estimates he has more than 100,000 items collected and stored in his studio and other spaces around Ajo. The word he uses to describe how he copes with the magnitude of his collection: compartmentalize. … ‘Our government is actually taking away a Bible or rosary,” he said. “I mean, how twisted is that?’

-- The United Auto Workers has bolstered its financial controls in an effort to prevent embezzlement and bribery that was uncovered as part of a federal probe of the union. From the AP: “The moves announced Monday by Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry come after last month’s resignation of President Gary Jones, who has been implicated in the scandal. Several other union officials have been charged or implicated in the probe, which embarrassed the union leadership and angered many of its 400,000 members when it became public starting in 2017. Curry says the reforms will put checks and balances in place to prevent financial misconduct.”

-- Former president Jimmy Carter was hospitalized again to treat a urinary tract infection. Michael Brice-Saddler reports: “The Carter Center says ‘he is feeling better and looks forward to returning home soon.’ The incident comes three weeks after Carter was hospitalized ahead of a procedure to relieve pressure on his brain caused by a subdural hematoma, a collection of blood outside the brain, spurred by his recent falls. He was released from the hospital on Wednesday, in time for Thanksgiving, and there were no complications from the surgery.”


-- Cracks in the Greenland ice sheet are producing massive waterfalls, raising scientists’ concerns for sea level rise. Andrew Freedman reports: “A cerulean lake consisting of glacial meltwater on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, located about 18 miles from where the Store Glacier meets the sea in west Greenland, briefly became one of the world’s tallest waterfalls during the course of five hours in July 2018. The waterfall, like many others on the ice sheet’s surface, was triggered by cracks in the ice sheet. In the case of this one meltwater lake that scientists closely observed in July 2018, the water cascaded more than 3,200 feet to the underbelly of the glacier, where the ice meets bedrock. There, the water can help lubricate the base of the ice sheet, helping the ice move faster toward the sea. The observations of scientists, armed with aerial drones and other high-tech equipment, of the partial lake drainage that resulted could help researchers better understand how surface melting of the ice sheet could affect its melt rate, and improve global sea level rise projections.

Scientists are keenly interested in how meltwater on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet — the largest contributor to global sea level rise — acts to speed up the movement of ice toward the sea by lubricating the underside of the ice surface. The new study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that scientists are underestimating the number of melt ponds that partially, and rapidly, drain into the ice sheet each year. This means tweaks may be needed to the computer models used to predict sea level rise from Greenland. This is the first study to show that partial lake drainage can occur through cracks in the ice, rather than overtopping or other mechanisms, which was previously the assumption. This means even more water is reaching the base of the ice sheet than previously thought.”

-- Trump revved up his global trade war yesterday by not only announcing tariffs on metals from Brazil and Argentina, but also by threatening even harsher penalties on dozens of popular French products. David J. Lynch, Rachel Siegel and Terrence McCoy report: “The administration said the moves were necessary because U.S. trading partners were acting unfairly to disadvantage both the country’s traditional economic pillars as well as its best hopes for future prosperity. … The unexpected announcement upends the Latin American countries’ 2018 agreement with Trump to accept quotas on their shipments to the United States instead of the import taxes. … Later, Robert E. Lighthizer, the president’s chief trade negotiator, released the results of a five-month investigation that concluded a French digital services tax discriminated against American Internet companies and should be met with tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in products such as cheese, yogurt, sparkling wine and makeup. The proposal, which awaits a presidential decision, threatens to intensify simmering transatlantic trade friction …

“Fallout from the president’s renewed embrace of tariffs could cloud prospects for future or ongoing talks with countries in Asia and Europe. … Administration officials worry that the French tax could set a precedent for other countries. Lighthizer said he may open investigations into similar taxes in Austria, Italy and Turkey. … The president’s enthusiasm for tariffs is not shared by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell, who has said they are making executives so uncertain about the outlook that companies are delaying investments and slowing the economy. … Typically, the United States provides businesses with some warning of tariff changes, delaying their effective date to allow goods in transit to arrive at American ports without being taxed. But the president tweeted that his tariff order was ‘effective immediately.’”

-- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, hit with the new tariffs, has learned the hard way what so many others have discovered before him: A good personal relationship with Trump has its limits. David Nakamura and Anne Gearan report: “Bolsonaro and his country’s diplomats in Washington were blindsided after Trump issued a pair of early morning tweets announcing punishing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports … For Bolsonaro, a far-right leader who had patterned his campaign after Trump’s and aggressively sought to ingratiate himself with the White House, the tariffs represented an embarrassing reality check on his strategy of gambling his administration's foreign policy largely on good personal chemistry with a president who craves validation — but who views virtually all relationships as transactional and, potentially, disposable.”

-- This is not the first time that Bolsonaro has gotten burned by Trump. Terrence McCoy reports: “Over and over in recent months, Bolsonaro has been surprised and stung by Trump’s slights and about-faces. Trump told Bolsonaro this year he would back Brazil’s bid to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — a promise Bolsonaro then touted as a political achievement. But then the U.S. recommendation letter leaked, showing that the Trump administration was supporting Romania and Argentina for membership, not Brazil. A few weeks later, the U.S. government refused Bolsonaro’s request to lift its ban on Brazilian imports of beef over safety concerns — again taking his administration by surprise. Now Trump is targeting one of the most important industries in Brazil, at a time when unemployment is above 10 percent and the economy has stalled.”

-- Stocks sank amid disappointing manufacturing and construction data and Trump’s escalating trade wars. Taylor Telford and Thomas Heath report: “‘All this trade friction is weighing on the manufacturing sector, reminding us that protectionism is not a victimless crime,’ said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco. Nine of 11 stock market sectors declined Monday, with industrials, information technology and real estate leading the slide. All but seven of the Dow 30 blue chips finished in negative territory, with Boeing, American Express and United Technologies the biggest drags.”

-- The Trump administration quietly released more than $100 million in military assistance to Lebanon after months of unexplained delays that led some lawmakers to compare it to the frozen aid for Ukraine that prompted the impeachment inquiry. From the AP: “The $105 million in Foreign Military Financing funds for the Lebanese Armed Forces was released just before the Thanksgiving holiday and lawmakers were notified of the step on Monday, according to two congressional staffers and an administration official. … The money had languished in limbo at the Office of Management and Budget since September although it had already won congressional approval and had overwhelming support from the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council. The White House has yet to offer any explanation for the delay despite repeated queries from Congress.”

-- China is using DNA to map faces as Beijing’s pursuit of control over a Muslim ethnic group continues pushing the rules of science and consent. From the Times: “With a million or more ethnic Uighurs and others from predominantly Muslim minority groups swept up in detentions across Xinjiang, officials in Tumxuk have gathered blood samples from hundreds of Uighurs — part of a mass DNA collection effort dogged by questions about consent and how the data will be used. In Tumxuk, at least, there is a partial answer: Chinese scientists are trying to find a way to use a DNA sample to create an image of a person’s face. The technology, which is also being developed in the United States and elsewhere, is in the early stages of development and can produce rough pictures good enough only to narrow a manhunt or perhaps eliminate suspects. But given the crackdown in Xinjiang, experts on ethics in science worry that China is building a tool that could be used to justify and intensify racial profiling and other state discrimination against Uighurs.”

-- North Korea said that dialogue with the U.S. has been nothing but a “foolish trick” and warned Washington that it could be on the receiving end of an unwelcome Christmas gift. Simon Denyer reports: “The North Korean regime has given the United States until the end of the year to drop its ‘hostile policy,’ come up with a new approach to talks and offer concessions in return for its decision to end nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in 2018. But a recent decision by the United States to postpone a joint air drill with South Korea clearly hasn’t satisfied Pyongyang. Ri Thae Song, vice foreign minister in charge of U.S. affairs, accused Washington of trying to buy time by calling for a ‘sustained and substantial dialogue,’ but he rejected this approach. … ‘The DPRK has done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps it has taken on its own initiative,’ he said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. ‘What is left to be done now is the U.S. option and it is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get.’ North Korea has a history of timing launches with an eye on international developments and even U.S. holidays.” 

-- On the first day of the NATO Summit, Trump slammed French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of NATO as “very, very nasty” and “disrespectful.” Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Michael Birnbaum report: Referring to comments Macron made “last month in an interview with The Economist — in which Macron described the ‘brain death’ of NATO due to lack of American support — Trump attacked Macron during his first remarks on the first day of the NATO 70th anniversary summit in London, calling the comments ‘very insulting.’ ‘You just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO,’ Trump said, sitting next to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders Tuesday morning. Though Trump himself has long been a vocal critic of NATO — a combative stance that has alarmed Western allies and seemed to prompt Macron’s comments — Trump took umbrage at the French assessment of the alliance, and depicted France as the beneficiary of American largesse. ‘I would say that nobody needs NATO more than France,’ Trump said.”

-- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a pair of bills. One requires all consumer electronic devices sold in the country to be pre-installed with Russian software. Another will require individual journalists to register as foreign agents. From Fox News: “Government officials say the law will help Russian IT firms compete with foreign companies, which dominate Russia’s mobile phone market, Reuters reported. Another law signed by Putin Monday is a bill that gives the government the right to register bloggers, journalists and social media users as foreign agents. The bill is an extension of an existing law adopted in response to the U.S. Justice Department’s 2017 decision to label the Russian state-funded network RT as a foreign agent. The new law applies to anyone who distributes content produced by media outlets registered as foreign agents and receives payments from abroad. Individuals registered as foreign agents will be subject to additional government scrutiny.” 

-- The American woman who claims convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein forced her to have sex with Britain’s Prince Andrew told the BBC that the episodes were “disgusting” and asked for support from the British public. William Booth and Karla Adam report: “‘This is not some sordid sex story, this is a story of being trafficked, this is a story of abuse, and this is a story of your guys’ royalty,’ Virginia Roberts Giuffre told the BBC in an hour-long documentary that aired Monday night. … Giuffre — now 35 and a mother of three — told the BBC that she was passed around to Epstein’s rich and powerful friends ‘like a platter of fruit.’ She said she was trafficked to Andrew three times in 2001 and 2002: once in London at the home of Epstein’s girlfriend, once at Epstein’s New York mansion and once on a private Caribbean island owned by Epstein. ‘It didn’t last long,’ she said of the first of three alleged encounters with the prince. ‘He got up, and he said thanks, I sat there in bed, just horrified and ashamed and felt dirty,’ Giuffre said.” The prince has denied that he had sex with her.

-- The rape and killing of a veterinarian on her way home from work have shaken India. Joanna Slater reports: “The killing of the 26-year-old veterinarian in the South Indian city of Hyderabad last week has provoked outrage and anguish across India, the latest in a series of gruesome, high-profile crimes against women and girls. Police arrested four men and said they had confessed to the killing. Speaking in Parliament on Monday, India’s defense minister called it an ‘inhuman’ crime that has ‘brought shame to the entire country.’ … After news of the veterinarian’s killing spread, demonstrations erupted in Hyderabad over the weekend. Thousands of people protested at a police station near where the woman’s body was found and outside the gated compound where her family lives. In New Delhi, a young woman was arrested for holding a sign in a high-security area outside Parliament that read, ‘Why can’t I feel safe in my own India?’

-- The Pacific island nation of Samoa will shut down government services for two days so civil servants can focus on a nationwide immunization drive as the country struggles to end a measles outbreak that has so far claimed more than 50 lives, most of them children. From NPR: “Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi announced the closure on Monday, saying the government is relying on ‘village councils, faith-based organizations, and church leaders, village mayors and government women representatives’ to persuade the public to get vaccinated. As a result, he said, all but public utility government services will be shuttered Dec. 5 and 6. More than 3,700 measles cases have been reported since the outbreak began in October, with 198 recorded within a 24-hour period. Fifty-three people have died and of those, 48 are children under 4 years old.”

-- The Post today launched the first episode of its Spanish-language podcast, “El Washington Post." Our podcast will round up a panel of renowned journalists who will explore the top international headlines in twice-weekly episodes.

2020 WATCH:

-- Joe Biden may lose the Iowa caucuses. But, by betting on strong support from black voters in Southern states and urban areas, he may still secure the 1,990 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. From the Times: “If Mr. Biden retains his strength with black voters, he’d have a structural advantage in the nomination race that is greater than his uneven lead in national polls suggests. … While Iowa and New Hampshire may generate political momentum for a winner because they vote first, the two states award very few delegates. By contrast, a candidate who is popular in California, Texas and predominantly black districts in the South could pick up big shares of delegates. A recent poll shows Mr. Biden at 44 percent among black voters in South Carolina, the early voting state with a majority-black Democratic electorate, and a historic harbinger for how the South will vote. The same poll had Mr. Biden’s next closest competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, trailing him by more than 30 percentage points among black voters. …

“Some of the most delegate-rich districts in Southern states like Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina have large shares of black Democratic voters. (Vermont is an exception; its population is largely white, but it has only one district with 11 Democratic delegates.) Under party rules, more delegates are awarded in districts with high concentrations of Democrats. Because black people overwhelmingly vote Democratic, areas with many black residents tend to have higher numbers of Democratic delegates. This is a big reason why black Democrats are so sought-after in the race for the party’s nomination. Historically, black Democratic primary voters have tended to back a single candidate, helping thrust the voting bloc to the forefront in Southern states where black voters make up the majority of the Democratic electorate. If a single candidate can get huge vote margins with black Democrats, like Barack Obama did in 2008 and Hillary Clinton did in 2016, he or she can amass a big delegate lead over other candidates.”

-- In a wide-raging interview aboard the “No Malarkey” bus, the former vice president said he doesn’t need Obama’s endorsement, scoffed at the idea that Elizabeth Warren is building enthusiasm and accused Pete Buttigieg of stealing his plans. From Politico: “Biden reiterated that he asked Obama not to endorse him, and he stuck by that stance even when asked whether he’d want Obama’s backing if the field narrowed to three people. ‘No, because everyone knows I’m close with him,’ Biden said. ‘I don’t need an Obama endorsement.’ … Biden was asked about a POLITICO Magazine article that recently reported how Obama had confided in another candidate that his former vice president ‘really doesn’t have it’ when it comes to an intimate connection with voters. ‘He may have said that. And if it’s true, and he said it, there’s truth to it,’ Biden acknowledged on Monday before saying that he has ‘mostly campaigned for other people in the time I’ve been here. And I’ve never been in a position seeking the nomination where I have had the money and the organization to be able to get open headquarters all over the state.’ …

“Biden lamented media coverage that he said initially dismissed the durability of his candidacy because he was too moderate and didn‘t embrace policies like Medicare for All. Biden said the field was now moving closer to his views and away from the left. When asked whether he unintentionally set the stage for Buttigieg, who is leading in the polls in Iowa, Biden grew animated. ‘Set it up? He stole it! Set it up?’ Biden said of the mayor of South Bend, Ind. … The former vice president then accused the media of going too easy on Buttigieg, saying his opponent had once supported a more liberal health care plan but then pivoted … When asked about another polling leader in Iowa and elsewhere — Warren — Biden dismissed her rise and the notion that she had momentum behind her. ‘Look at the polling everywhere. Tell me. Tell me where the polling has manifested itself,’ he said. ‘She lives in Massachusetts, she’s invested millions and millions of dollars in New Hampshire, why shouldn’t she be known there?’”

-- Three state lawmakers acknowledge that lobbyists helped craft their op-eds attacking Medicare-for-all. Jeff Stein reports: “Montana state Rep. Kathy Kelker (D) and Sen. Jen Gross (D) acknowledged in interviews that editorials they published separately about the single-payer health proposal included language provided by John MacDonald, a lobbyist and consultant in the state who disclosed in private emails that he worked for an unnamed client. Gross said MacDonald contacted her on behalf of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a multimillion-dollar industry group founded in 2018 and funded by hospitals, private insurers, drug companies and other private health-care firms. Additionally, an aide to Ohio state Sen. Steve Huffman (R) confirmed in a brief interview that the lawmaker’s op-ed criticizing Medicare-for-all was written with the help of Kathleen DeLand, an Ohio-based lobbyist. None of the lawmakers’ columns discloses that they were written with the help of a lobbyist.”

-- The Trump campaign denied credentials to journalists from Bloomberg News, accusing the organization of “bias” against the president. Kayla Epstein and Derek Hawkins report: “Bloomberg News faced a journalistic quandary when its owner, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, decided to jump into the 2020 Democratic primary last month. In a widely criticized decision, editor in chief John Micklethwait announced that the newsroom would continue its tradition of not investigating Bloomberg’s personal life and finances, and would extend the same policy to his Democratic opponents. The move was intended to avoid conflict of interest in the Democratic primary. Micklethwait noted, however, that Bloomberg News would continue to investigate the Trump administration. After the Trump campaign announced its decision Monday to bar Bloomberg News, President Trump took to Twitter to attack the news outlet and the New York Times for their coverage of him.”

-- The New York Times is overhauling its traditional closed-door endorsement process for Democratic presidential candidates and will instead conduct interviews with the contenders on the record and air parts of the discussions – along with the editorial board’s final decision – on its show “The Weekly.” (Politico)

-- A month after ending his presidential campaign, Beto O’Rourke is setting his focus on flipping the Texas state house. From the Houston Chronicle: “With Texas Democrats nine seats away from retaking the majority of seats in the Texas House, O’Rourke is trying to convince his donor base to send money to an organization called Flip The Texas House, which has targeted 17 House Districts in which Republican candidates won by fewer than 10 percentage points last year. More than half are districts in which O’Rourke won the majority of votes as he ran for U.S. Senate.”

-- With just a week remaining before the deadline to run for office in Texas next year, some of O’Rourke’s supporters are still hoping to see him jump into the race to unseat Sen. John Cornyn (R). They even commissioned a poll that shows he’d sail through the Senate primary were he to join the race. From the Dallas Morning News: “The poll also shows him in a near-tie, trailing Cornyn 46-42 at this point, which is far stronger than others already seeking the nomination. O’Rourke’s campaign operation has gone dormant. He didn’t respond to messages on Monday and hasn’t said lately whether he’s interested. … During his presidential campaign, O’Rourke said flatly and repeatedly that he would not even consider running for the Senate in 2020 … ‘I know it’s a bit of a longshot to try and convince Beto to do this, but it is clear to a lot of people in Texas that that would be the best thing for us,’ said Alan Metni, executive director of the Democratic Policy Institute, the group that commissioned the new poll."

-- Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp isn’t expected to nominate Rep. Douglas Collins, Trump’s pick, for a soon-to-be-open Senate seat. He’s now facing heavy backlash – including threats of a primary challenge. Seung Min Kim reports: “Kemp is expected to tap business executive Kelly Loeffler for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) … The public outcry against Kemp and Loeffler from Trump allies has led some of them to threaten a primary challenge against the first-term governor, and they have urged the president’s supporters to flood Kemp’s office with calls pushing him not to select Loeffler. … Conservative radio host Mark Levin derided Kemp as ‘another Romney,’ referring to the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and current senator from Utah, Mitt Romney, as he accused the Georgia governor of being on the precipice of appointing a ‘RINO,’ a Republican in name only … The formal announcement from Kemp is expected on Wednesday, the officials said, so as to not interfere with Isakson’s farewell address on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.”

-- In a big break for Republican hopes of holding the Senate, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) no longer faces a primary challenge in his reelection bid. From the News & Observer: “Raleigh retired businessman Garland Tucker is ending his campaign for the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate … Tucker invested more than $1.5 million of his own money to challenge Tillis, who is seeking a second term in 2020. Monday marked the beginning of the 2020 filing period in North Carolina. Tucker, who joined the race in May, opted not to file. … The letter cited the attention on the ongoing impeachment inquiry into [Trump] as well as Tillis’ role as one of his defenders in the Senate as a reason for Tucker’s decision to end his campaign.”

-- An outspoken Holocaust denier, activist anti-Semite and white supremacist filed again for a Chicago-area House seat. From the Chicago Sun-Times: “Arthur Jones, of suburban Lyons, won the GOP nomination in 2018 because he was the only Republican on the 3rd District primary ballot. In the general election, he was easily beaten by Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., but received about 26 percent of the vote even after his views were exposed.”


George Conway, husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway and a conservative critic of the president, replied to one of her tweets:

He also retweeted this:

A former Justice Department spokesman notes that Duncan Hunter's guilty plea will come as a relief to quite a few people:

From the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was fired by Trump:

Amy Klobuchar attacked Senate Republicans for not taking up bills that have passed the House, a talking point intended to push back on the GOP talking point that impeachment is distracting Democrats from getting anything done:

Trump once again went after the two FBI officials whose texts were selectively leaked by his appointees at the DOJ. A Los Angeles Times reporter noted the irony of the president's line of attack:

From a former federal prosecutor:

A former senior lawyer for the National Security Agency, who is now at Brookings, chastised Barr:

A former Republican congressman who is now an independent shared this thought:

And Trump's former national security adviser, who is now a convicted fellon, has a holiday wish:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "What would you have done to me? You would have torn my ears off," Joe Biden told reporters after accusing Pete Buttigieg of stealing his health-care plan. "I would be a plagiarizing, no good, old man who did bum bum bum.” (Politico)



Over the past three years, Trump and some of his allies have at times sounded like Vladimir Putin when talking about election interference:

Hasan Minhaj discussed why billionaires won't save the world:

Trevor Noah had a bit of fun talking about Joe Biden's "malarkey" bus: