with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: FBI Director Chris Wray’s response to the Justice Department’s independent watchdog was nuanced.

“The inspector general did not find political bias or improper motivations impacting the opening of the investigation or the decision to use certain investigative tools,” Wray told ABC News on Monday afternoon, “but the inspector general did find a number of instances where employees either failed to follow our policies, neglected to exercise appropriate diligence or in some other way fell short of the standard of conduct and performance that we … expect of all our employees.”

This is an accurate summary of what Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in his 434-page report examining the FBI's investigation of President Trump's 2016 campaign. Wray also announced that he’s ordered “more than 40 corrective steps” to address what the report identified as “serious performance failures.”

But Trump has little tolerance for shades of gray. You’re either with him or against him. The president lashed out Tuesday morning at Wray, whom he appointed in 2017 after firing Jim Comey. 

“I don’t know what report [Wray] was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump tweeted. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”

-- Asked whether he thought the FBI unfairly targeted the Trump campaign in 2016, Wray told ABC: “I do not.” While careful not to criticize the president directly, Wray said that calling FBI agents part of “the deep state,” something Trump has done, is “an affront to them.”

“I think it's important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization,” he said.

Asked about the latest conspiracy theory being pushed by Trump and his congressional loyalists, Wray answered: “We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election. As far as the [2020] election itself goes, we think Russia represents the most significant threat.”

During his first year as President Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr has at times used the same language as Trump on the Russia probe and impeachment. (The Washington Post)

-- Trump’s broadside against Wray puts in stark relief just how deeply in the tank Attorney General Bill Barr is for Trump. Breaking with Horowitz, as well as Wray, Barr disputed the IG’s conclusion that there was enough probable cause to launch an investigation.

“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” the attorney general wrote in a blistering statement. “It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory. Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration. In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source.”

FISA is short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Barr testified earlier this year that he believes "spying did occur" on the Trump campaign. Wray had previously said "spying" is "not a term I would use.” He reiterated that on Monday. “Again, different people have different colloquial terms, but we use terms like ‘investigation' and ‘surveillance,’” the FBI director told ABC.

-- Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham put out his own statement critical of the IG report. He’s been handpicked by Barr to conduct a probe, separate from Horowitz's, into how the U.S. government investigated Trump’s 2016 campaign. “Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.,” Durham said. “Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.” 

It is highly irregular for a U.S. attorney to release a statement like this in the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation.

After Horowitz implicitly debunked several arguments Trump espoused for years, the president has already turned his attention to Durham’s investigation of his investigators. “I look forward to the Durham report, which is coming out in the not-too-distant future," he told reporters at the White House on Monday. “It's got its own information, which is this information plus plus plus.”

President Trump on Dec. 9 said the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the Russia investigation was "far worse" than expected. (The Washington Post)

-- Wray appears focused on protecting the FBI’s reputation while Barr seems primarily focused on protecting, and placating, the president. Barr is managing up. Wray is managing down. This fits with a pattern. While Barr is the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, critics say he’s consistently acted more like the president’s personal lawyer than the nation’s lawyer. The attorney general wrote a misleadingly pro-Trump summary of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference. He cleared Trump of obstruction of justice, even though the special counsel had not done so. He even embraced Trump’s “no collusion” talking points. 

Barr’s Justice Department also intervened to help the White House’s initial efforts to conceal a CIA analyst’s whistleblower complaint that Congress was legally entitled to receive. And Barr’s underlings at DOJ also declined to investigate suggestions of criminal wrongdoing in the complaint. The attorney general declined to recuse himself from these deliberations, even though the whistleblower complaint – and the rough transcript of the July 25 call – showed that Trump brought up Barr during his conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

-- Barr planned to hold a 200-person holiday party at the Trump hotel in Washington on Sunday night, but he rescheduled the event. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to say when the event would take place, but she said it would still be at the Trump International. “Barr signed a contract with the Trump hotel over the summer that required a minimum of $31,500 in spending. He put up a $10,000 deposit,” Jonathan O’Connell reports. “The total cost of the party could be much higher depending on the menu Barr chooses to go with a four-hour open bar. Barr planned to pay for the party himself, avoiding concerns about the Constitution’s emoluments clause … 

Not publicly disclosing the event’s new date could help Barr and his guests avoid protests. On Sunday night, half a dozen protesters — thinking Barr’s guests would be arriving — held a sign on the sidewalk out front calling for Barr to be disbarred and told guests arriving at the hotel: ‘You’re on the wrong side of history.’”

Meanwhile, Justice Department attorneys are defending Trump in court this week against two lawsuits claiming that he’s unconstitutionally benefiting from his personal business, including the D.C. hotel, while in the White House.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) reacted to the Justice Department inspector general’s report into the Russia probe during a Dec. 9 news conference. (The Washington Post)

-- This is not the first time Trump has criticized Wray. This spring, the director testified that any campaign should alert the FBI if foreign agents reach out offering dirt on their political opponents. “My view is that, if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation-state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation-state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that is something that the FBI would want to know about,” Wray testified. Asked about this statement in June, Trump replied, “The FBI director is wrong.” The president insisted that “there isn’t anything wrong” with accepting “oppo research” from foreign powers. 

-- Wray has also previously dismissed Trump’s attacks on the FBI as “noise.” At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in February, Wray was asked about the president's criticisms of the FBI. “There's no shortage of opinions about our agency, just like every other agency up here — and just like the Congress,” Wray responded. “I'd encourage our folks not to get too hung up on what I consider to be the noise on TV and in social media.”

Last year, soon after taking the job, Wray privately warned the White House against releasing that memo by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who was then the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. When Trump overruled him, Wray signed off on a statement from the FBI that said: “We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.”

-- FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms. That’s intended to keep them insulated from politics, but they are accountable to the attorney general and can be fired by the president – as Trump fired Comey. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Trump publicly chastised his appointees in the law enforcement firmament. He routinely disparaged Jeff Sessions before firing him as attorney general and replacing him with the more pliable Barr. He also attacked former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, falsely accusing his own appointee of being a Democrat.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) reacted Dec. 9 to the inspector general’s report on the FBI’s Russia investigation. (The Washington Post)

-- The correctives: Responding to the IG report, Wray announced that the FBI will modify the processes for applying and renewing warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. For a sensitive investigation to be run out of headquarters, Wray said, prior approval from the FBI deputy director will be required and field offices will be consulted. He announced “significant changes” to how the FBI manages its Confidential Human Source program, related to how the FBI collects, documents and circulates information from its informants. 

Wray also established new protocols for the FBI’s participation in the strategic intelligence briefings provided to presidential nominees. Wray said the FBI’s role in these briefings should be for national security purposes and not for investigative purposes to ensure that candidates and their advisers trust the people who are talking to them about threats. In 2016, an FBI agent went to the briefing for Trump to keep an eye on how Michael Flynn reacted to certain information. 

Wray said he’s mandating specialized, semiannual training for all FBI personnel who handle FISA warrants or confidential human sources. He noted that he reinstated an annual ethics training program for all FBI employees that had been discontinued in prior years. Finally, Wray said that the FBI will take appropriate disciplinary action where warranted against any wrongdoing identified in the report.

“I am very committed to the FBI being agile in its tackling of foreign threats. But I believe you can be agile and still scrupulously follow our rules, policies and processes,” Wray said in an interview with the Associated Press. “As a general matter, there are a number of things in the report that in my view are unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution. … This is a serious report, and we take it serious.”

-- Barr said in his statement on Monday that he still has “full confidence” in Wray and praised these “proposed reforms.” “No one is more dismayed about the handling of these FISA applications than Director Wray,” Barr said at the end of the statement criticizing Horowitz’s core conclusion.

-- In an op-ed for The Post in response to the IG report, Comey demands an apology from the attorney general: “Barr owes the institution he leads, and the American people, an acknowledgment of the truth. Unfortunately, it appears that Barr will continue his practice of deriding the Justice Department when the facts don’t agree with Trump’s fiction. Pointing to his personally commissioned ‘review’ of the FBI’s case-opening, Barr has declared it is too soon to conclude that the FBI was right to start an investigation. If his goal is simply to support the president’s conspiracy theories, it will always be too soon to acknowledge the facts. As the leader of an institution that is supposed to be devoted to truth, Barr needs to stop acting like a Trump spokesperson.”

Comey, like his successor Wray, welcomed the IG’s recommendations. “Inspector-general reports are valuable because they offer the chance to learn,” he writes. But he argued that it would have been “a dereliction of duty” not to investigate a tip that Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had discussed with a foreign ambassador that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.

Comey also criticized “Fox News personalities” for smearing him. “There was no illegal wiretapping, there were no informants inserted into the campaign, there was no ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign,” he writes. “The painful part is that millions of good people believed what they heard. My 89-year-old mother-in-law, watching Fox News in her Iowa assisted-living facility, became convinced that I was going to jail. I repeatedly assured her that there was zero percent chance of that.”

-- Chris Christie recommended Wray to Trump in 2017 when he needed someone to replace Comey. Wray had defended the then-New Jersey governor as his personal lawyer throughout the Bridgegate investigations. A registered Republican, Wray had previously served as the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division under George W. Bush.

Here’s a fun fact: Back in 2004, when Comey was prepared to resign as the deputy attorney general over concerns about the legality of Bush’s domestic surveillance program, Wray approached him in a corridor at the Justice Department. “Look, I don't know what's going on, but before you guys all pull the rip cords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you,” Wray told Comey, according to a 2013 story in Washingtonian magazine.

-- A final thought: Don’t listen to spin from pundits and politicians. Read the IG report for yourselfThe executive summary at the top is only 19 pages. It’s a measured synthesis, with a summary of what each chapter concludes and Horowitz’s recommendations. Horowitz will discuss his findings on Wednesday during a public hearing before a Senate committee.

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Democratic and Republican lawyers on Dec. 9. (The Washington Post)


-- House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump this morning, saying he had abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress in its investigation of his conduct regarding Ukraine. The House Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the articles this Thursday, and the full House is expected to vote next week. This announcement means there won’t be any article of impeachment stemming from the Mueller report, which liberals had pushed to include but moderates balked at. (Read more on our liveblog.)

  • “We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference.
  • “The evidence of the president’s misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). “The argument, ‘why don’t you just wait?’ comes down to this: Why don’t you just let him cheat in just one more election?” 

-- "Democrats laid the groundwork for the charges Monday, lambasting Trump as a danger to the country during a contentious [nine-hour] hearing that foreshadowed a likely party-line vote on the articles," Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis, Elise Viebeck and Toluse Olorunnipa report. "Republicans on the committee sought to vigorously defend Trump, using parliamentary maneuvers, process complaints and occasional theatrics to disrupt the hearing and accuse Democrats of abusing the impeachment process in pursuit of a political vendetta. … The hearing did not reveal much new information about the underlying conduct at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, instead allowing committee lawyers to summarize the extensive existing evidence and present opposing sides of the case. With dueling staff counsel arguing for and against impeachment — and at one point questioning one another — the hearing showcased how partisan the proceedings had become ahead of the release of articles for ousting Trump from office. Trump said Saturday that [Rudy] Giuliani would be making a report to [Barr] and to Congress about his findings. On Monday, Giuliani said he wanted to present the information to congressional Republicans ahead of any impeachment vote."

-- The Senate is looking for a holiday truce on the impeachment trial. Senators from both parties aren’t likely to let an impeachment trial ruin their holiday plans. (Politico)

-- A surprising revelation from the IG report: Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, was friends with former British spy Christopher Steele, who wrote the dossier. Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “The [report] said Steele had ‘been friendly’ with a Trump family member, a relationship he described as ‘personal.’ Steele told investigators he had visited the Trump family member at Trump Tower in New York and had once gifted the person a family tartan from Scotland. A person familiar with Steele’s business Orbis confirmed that the family member was Ivanka Trump. After first meeting in 2007, they emailed over the years ... Between 2010 and 2012, Steele discussed with Ivanka Trump the possibility that the Trump Organization might hire his business to assist with projects in Russia and China. They remained friends through 2015..."

-- Appeals court judges expressed skepticism that members of Congress as individuals have a legal right to sue Trump to stop his private businesses from accepting payments from foreign governments without lawmakers’ consent. Ann E. Mariow and Jonathan O’Connell report: “Even as the judges seemed troubled that Congress may have no other viable way to enforce the Constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments provision, they did not seem prepared to allow the lawsuit from more than 200 Democratic lawmakers to move forward — and suggested the Supreme Court would have the final word. Judges Thomas B. Griffith and David S. Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit expressed doubt that past Supreme Court decisions permit individual lawmakers to bring lawsuits on behalf of the entire body, and they noted that Congress acts through majority votes in the House and Senate.”

-- Lawyers for former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to fraud and lying to prosecutors, asked a judge to spare him from prison because he cooperated with prosecutors investigating Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election. From the Times: “In their sentencing memo, Mr. Gates’s lawyers portrayed their client as the consummate cooperating witness. … It said that Mr. Gates had spent more than 500 hours in interviews with state and federal prosecutors and had provided additional information to Congress in response to subpoenas and requests for interviews. … Experts have said that under sentencing guidelines, Mr. Gates could receive a prison term of four years and nine months to six years for his crimes. But the judge overseeing his case is not required to follow those recommendations.”

-- The New York attorney general issued a new subpoena to the National Rifle Association, deepening her investigation into whether the pro-Trump organization has illegally diverted money from its charitable foundation. From the Times: “Because the N.R.A. is chartered in New York and the office of the attorney general, Letitia James, has a range of enforcement options, the investigation has alarmed N.R.A. officials already grappling with infighting and litigation. … Among the documents sought by the subpoena are records related to transfers among N.R.A.-controlled entities, including the N.R.A. Foundation, an affiliated charity. Recent tax filings show that the N.R.A. diverted $36 million last year from the foundation in various ways, far more than ever before, raising concerns among tax experts.”

-- Attorney Michael Avenatti -- best known for representing adult-film star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against Trump -- wants his expensive lifestyle and money troubles off limits at his New York trial on federal charges of attempted extortion and wire fraud. Shayna Jacobs reports: “Avenatti’s expensive habits do not belong at his trial because motive is not necessary to the government’s case and ‘his general financial condition and spending habits have no bearing on his motivations under the circumstances of this case,’ his lawyers Scott Srebnick and Jose Quinon argued in the filing. … Prosecutors say his troubles were a driving factor when he allegedly contacted Nike, a publicly traded sports apparel company, threatening to expose employee wrongdoing he claimed to have knowledge of, if Nike did not meet his demands for a $1.5 million payout to his client Gary Franklin, a youth basketball coach, and $15 million to $20 million for a retainer agreement for him to purportedly investigate the wrongdoing.”

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) earned nearly $2 million working as a consultant for corporations and financial firms, according to records released on Dec. 8. (Reuters)

2020 WATCH:

-- “Memo from 1990s pollution case shows Elizabeth Warren in action as corporate consultant,” by Annie Linskey and Matt Viser: “The memo from then-Professor Elizabeth Warren was written on Harvard Law School letterhead … Warren was not arguing on behalf of vulnerable families, nor was she offering the sort of stinging rebuke of corporate greed that would later define her political career. Rather, Warren was representing a large development company that was trying to avoid having to clean up a toxic waste site.The [eight-page] memo, which Warren wrote in 1996, used legalistic and often dense language to argue that businesses faced the ‘risk of the unknown’ from a growing threat of lawsuits, and that defended the company’s right to ‘maximize its returns to its unpaid creditors and to survive as an employer.’

“Warren’s compensation in the 1996 case was included in a summary released by her campaign late Sunday night showing that she had been paid about $2 million as a legal consultant during her time as a professor, most of it between 1995 and 2009. But Warren, who has released 11 years of tax returns, has not disclosed her tax records from most of that time period. And her campaign has provided few details about her private legal business beyond short descriptions … Among the corporations that hired Warren was Dow Chemical, which spent years trying to ward off liability after a subsidiary company’s silicone breast implants began to rupture. She also worked for LTV Steel, a firm that battled with the labor movement as it tried to avoid paying millions of dollars for retired coal miners’ health care.

“The 1996 case, in which she represented a real estate development company called CMC Heartland fighting in court to avoid having to pay to clean up a polluted old rail yard along the Puget Sound in Washington state, stands out … Warren was paid about $21,000 for the work, according to the data released Sunday by her campaign. … The Supreme Court declined to take the case, letting stand lower court rulings against Heartland and requiring it to finance the cleanup. Warren’s argument put her in line with other major corporations … CMC Heartland Partners’ counsel of record for the case was Kenneth W. Starr, who at the time also served as the independent counsel examining allegations against President Bill Clinton.”

-- Pete Buttigieg, bowing to days of attacks from Warren, announced that he will open his fundraisers to journalists and disclose the names of people raising money for his campaign. His campaign also announced that McKinsey, the consulting firm where Buttigieg used to work, will allow him to disclose the identity of his clients there. Amy B Wang reports: “Reporters will be allowed into Buttigieg’s large-dollar fundraising events starting Tuesday, and the South Bend, Ind., mayor will release a list of his ‘bundlers’ — those who funnel large sums of money to campaigns — within a week, according to Buttigieg campaign manager Mike Schmuhl. … McKinsey said in a statement that confidentiality is important to the firm … Any confidential, proprietary or classified information still must be kept secret, it added. The Buttigieg campaign promised a list of the client names ‘soon.’”

-- Ronny Jackson, the former White House doctor whose nomination to lead the Department of Veteran Affairs was torpedoed last year over allegations of professional misconduct, is running for Congress in Texas. Michael Brice-Saddler reports: “Jackson, a rear admiral who served in Iraq, was President Trump’s personal physician in April 2018 when he was nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. But he withdrew from consideration after Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, released a two-page summary accusing Jackson of improperly dispensing medication to staff members, drinking on the job and contributing to a hostile work environment during his tenure as White House physician. The report alleged that Jackson was known by the moniker ‘Candyman’ because he freely distributed medications to White House staff without paperwork, including the sleep aid Ambien. Jackson denied the allegations, and Trump later called the claims ‘false accusations against a great man.’ In February, Trump tapped Jackson to receive a promotion and to be his top medical adviser.

"CNN reported this month that Jackson had retired from the Navy despite an ongoing investigation into the allegations against him led by the Defense Department’s Inspector General. Jackson, who also served as White House physician under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, is one of 13 candidates vying for a seat in Texas’s heavily Republican 13th District, according to the Tribune. The seat opened when Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, announced in September that he plans to retire.”

-- Former representative Scott Taylor (R-Va.) will drop his challenge to Sen. Mark Warner (D) and run for his old seat in Congress. The Post revealed on Sunday that Giuliani was trying to get Trump to nominate him for ambassador to Qatar last year. (The Hill

-- A GOP House candidate whose failed bids against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) have made him a cause celebre on the right was arrested on three felony charges. From the Daily Beast: “Businessman Omar Navarro … faces significant legal troubles related to alleged stalking of his ex-girlfriend. San Francisco police arrested Navarro on Saturday night, after he was allegedly seen near ex-girlfriend DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero’s apartment. Tesoriero, a self-styled MAGA relationship expert who is running a quixotic congressional run of her own against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), told The Daily Beast that she saw Navarro skulking outside her home late at night. Tesoriero said she then received a text from an unknown number with the message, ‘[B----], I came to see you.’ ‘Clearly, he has a lot of screws loose,’ Tesoriero told The Daily Beast. ‘I think a lot of this power has gotten into his head. He has a lot of money now from campaign donations.’”


-- The Supreme Court said it will not review a Kentucky law requiring doctors who perform abortions to give a detailed description of the fetus’s development while the woman is shown an ultrasound image, even if she objects. Robert Barnes reports: “Without comment or noted dissent from any of its liberal members, the court said it was not taking up a challenge to the law filed by doctors at Kentucky’s only abortion clinic. The doctors contended the state’s requirements compelled their speech and violated their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court already has one high-profile abortion case on its docket this term. Next month, it will consider a Louisiana law that requires physicians to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. It is almost identical to a Texas law the court struck down in 2016 as medically unnecessary and meant to limit a woman’s access to the procedure. … The law forcing the physician’s words was a ‘compelled-speech mandate wholly unrelated to traditional informed consent and therefore presumptively unconstitutional,’ the clinic and its doctors argued. … Without the requirement, there is no reason to believe that abortion providers ‘do anything to dispel the mistaken beliefs of women who . . . are under the impression that their fetuses are simply masses of inanimate tissue rather than living beings that are assuming the human form,’ Kentucky wrote in its brief.”

-- The White House may appoint a former chemical industry executive as the next head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Todd C. Frankel and Juliet Eilperin report: “Nancy Beck would take over as chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a small but powerful agency that is responsible for the safety of 15,000 everyday products, from cribs and bicycles to refrigerators and trampolines. Beck is in the late stages of being vetted by the White House for the CPSC position, according to the government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. Trump still needs to formally nominate her for the commission’s top job, which requires Senate confirmation. Beck’s selection was expected to be announced in coming weeks, the officials said. Beck joined the Trump administration in May 2017, when she was tapped to be a top deputy in the EPA’s toxic chemical unit. She previously had been an executive with the chemical industry’s main trade organization, the American Chemistry Council. At the EPA, Beck has helped scaled back several policies aimed at curbing federal limits on toxic chemicals.”

-- Key congressional lawmakers announced their support for a defense bill establishing both the Space Force and paid parental leave for more than 2 million federal workers, as signs of Republican opposition to the measure appeared to fade. Jeff Stein reports: “House and Senate negotiators in both parties said they would back the bill granting $658 billion to the Department of Defense and other defense programs, a measure that includes dozens of national security provisions prioritized by the armed services. However, the measure faced at least some new opposition from liberals in Congress who quickly announced that they would vote against it because of its provisions related to U.S. support for Saudi-led efforts in Yemen … In a major deal struck late last week, the White House and congressional Democrats agreed to create the Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military in exchange for new parental-leave benefits for the federal workforce as part of the must-pass defense package.

If approved, it would be the biggest victory for federal employees in nearly 30 years. … The biggest remaining hurdle to the compromise appears to be Senate Republicans, who earlier this year rejected a measure to establish similar benefits for federal workers. But as of Monday afternoon, at least before the bill text was released, most in the Senate GOP caucus appeared prepared to approve the plan. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the committee that oversees government affairs, said he opposed the expansion of the federal benefit but does not expect to be able to stop it. … Several other Republican senators said they were prepared to support the deal, including Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Roy Blunt (Mo.).”

-- Good news for Washington: The Nationals and Stephen Strasburg, the reigning World Series MVP and pitcher who kick-started the team’s slow rise to relevance a decade ago, agreed to a seven-year, $245 million deal. The record-breaking contract is the largest ever for a pitcher in both total and average annual value. (Jesse Dougherty)

-- The North Dakota county poised to become the first in America to bar refugees under a new Trump executive order rejected the motion. Antonia Noori Farzan reports: “For four hours, sixth-generation North Dakotans and recent arrivals from Cameroon and Congo took turns delivering impassioned testimony in what was often a contentious debate. Ultimately, the commission voted 3-2 to keep welcoming refugees. The decision largely carried symbolic resonance. The Trump administration has slashed the number of refugee arrivals nationwide, and Burleigh County, which has roughly 95,000 residents, took in just 24 refugees during fiscal year 2019, according to the North Dakota governor’s office. The community — home to Bismarck, the state’s capital — is slated to receive a similar number of refugees in fiscal year 2020, and the measure that passed on Monday caps the number of new arrivals at 25.” 

-- Border arrests fell in November for the sixth consecutive month, new data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows. Nick Miroff reports: “The number of people U.S. authorities took into custody fell nearly 6 percent from October to November, to 42,649, the latest figures show. Arrests have dropped 70 percent since May, when U.S. authorities detained 144,116 amid a record influx of Central American families. Mark Morgan, the acting CBP commissioner, called the change ‘staggering, in a very positive way.’”

-- CBP denied access to a group of doctors trying to vaccinate migrant children against the flu. From the San Diego Union-Tribune: “About 40 people, including medical doctors licensed to practice medicine in California, marched Monday from Vista Terrace Neighborhood Park to the detention facility on Beyer Boulevard, calling for CBP to let them in or let the children out to participate in a free mobile clinic they set up outside. They were joined by at least another dozen medical students and supporters. … Holding signs saying ‘No more flu deaths’ and ‘Children don’t belong in cages,’ the doctors chanted and sang. Some of them spoke about their own personal journey to the United States as undocumented migrant children. … Though the agency did not respond directly to the doctors’ demonstration, a CBP spokeswoman replied to a media inquiry ... ‘It has never been a CBP practice to administer vaccines and this not a new policy,’ the official statement read in part. .... 'As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short-term nature of CBP holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible.’”

-- A Florida official told her deputy to act like a “white supremacist” when stopping a black murder suspect. Hannah Knowles reports: “‘We want it to look like you’re the grumpy old man,’ a woman, whom the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to be Capt. Penny Phelps, says in a recording now made public. ‘You have nothing better to do than, you’re the white supremacist, you’re messing with the black guy who’s riding his bike.’ The sheriff’s office, located in the Florida Keys, quickly took Phelps off the murder case last month and opened an internal investigation after receiving multiple allegations of misconduct, spokesman Adam Linhardt said. Last week, it also removed Phelps as commander of the major crimes and narcotics units, according to documents shared by the agency.”


-- Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to a renewed cease-fire and to exchange all known prisoners when they met for the first time in Paris. James McAuley, Robyn Dixon and Michael Birnbaum report: “The talks yielded enough progress to get the peace process moving, but as expected, there was no major breakthrough. ‘We haven’t found the magic wand, but we have relaunched talks,’ said French President Emmanuel Macron, who convened the gathering. He said the talks had made ‘practical, tangible progress.’ The parties agreed to meet again in four months to discuss one of the stumbling blocks: conditions for elections in eastern Ukraine, which would then lead to special status for the regions. The Ukrainian president has declared that there can be no elections in those regions until all military formations have withdrawn. … This is a lonely moment for Zelensky. Once-ironclad U.S. support for Ukraine is shrinking under Trump. German Chancellor Angela Merkel helped mediate Monday’s meetings, but she is distracted by her own roiling domestic politics.”

-- Trump will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today in the Oval Office for a conversation that could include the extension of the last major nuclear treaty between the U.S. and Russia. Lavrov will also meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. From the Times: “Considerable evidence suggests any conversation with Mr. Lavrov would include the last major nuclear arms control treaty still in force between the United States and Russia: the Obama-era New START treaty, which in recent days [Putin] has said he wants to extend for another five years. In any other presidency that would seem uncontroversial. Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have largely agreed that extending the accord would be good, avoiding a nuclear arms race at a time of heightened tension with Mr. Putin’s government … The result is that Mr. Trump, until recently, has dismissed the agreement as a ‘one-sided deal,’ and a failure by President Barack Obama. … At the same time, Mr. Trump has said he wants to avoid a nuclear arms race … If Mr. Trump can pull off an extension, it would be the first diplomatic breakthrough of his presidency with Russia.”

-- Russia called the Olympic committee’s ban “anti-Russia hysteria” that is politically motivated. Isabelle Khurshudyan reports: “Russia’s reaction to being banned Monday from the next two Olympics in the wake of one of the biggest international sports doping scandals has been to claim it’s the world’s punching bag. … Just as Moscow has repeatedly denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, claiming allegations were part of an anti-Russian narrative, the official reaction since the sports scandal first surfaced in 2015 has been to complain that this too was political. ‘It’s obvious in this case that there are still significant doping problems on the Russian side — I mean our sports community. This can’t be denied,’ Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at a conference Monday with deputy prime ministers in Moscow.”

-- The behavior of the trainee who killed three classmates at a Florida Navy base changed after a trip to his native Saudi Arabia, friends said. Souad Mekhennet, T.S. Strickland and Joby Warrick report: “Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani was described as ‘strange’ and ‘angry’ in the weeks leading up to Friday’s shooting rampage, but schoolmates and other acquaintances said he showed no outward sign that he was preparing to open fire inside a classroom building where he had been training to become a military aviator. The shooting, which also left eight people injured, is being treated by the FBI as a possible terrorist attack.” 

-- The White House blocked a U.N. meeting on North Korean atrocities in an attempt to salvage the faltering diplomatic effort to convince Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear weapons program. From Foreign Policy: “‘Once again, the U.S. has prevented the U.N. Security Council from scrutinizing North Korea’s abysmal human rights record, apparently because of President Trump’s special relationship with Kim Jong Un,’ said Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch. ‘By blocking this meeting, which was set to go ahead on Human Rights Day..., the Trump administration is sending a message to Kim that the U.S. no long considers arbitrary detention, starvation, torture, summary executions, sexual violence and other crimes again the North Korean people a priority,’ Charbonneau added. ‘North Korea and many other abusive governments can now rest assured that they have little to fear from the Trump administration when it comes to human rights.’ In response to a request for comment, a State Department spokesman said that the U.S. still plans to press for a council meeting on North Korea this week, but did not say human rights would be discussed.”

-- Trump and Pelosi are ready to pass a new NAFTA. From Politico: “The deal remains unofficial until Tuesday, when the top trade officials from the U.S., Mexico and Canada are expected to meet in Mexico City for an afternoon ceremony. Pelosi is also holding off on making a public announcement until she has briefed her caucus on the policy details of the pact, which replaces the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. … AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, whose support is crucial to getting Democrats’ approval, briefed his executive council Monday afternoon on changes to the pact and is now willing to let the agreement move forward ... The new trade deal keeps tariff-free trade among the three countries."

-- Poll numbers in the U.K. show Tories maintaining the lead over the Labour Party as the campaign enters its final days. (The Guardian

-- Jonathan Ashworth, the U.K.’s shadow health secretary, dismissed as “banter” a leaked tape showing him saying Labour, his party, will lose the election. In the recording, Ashworth also says Jeremy Corbyn is a serious problem for the party. (The Guardian)

-- After two elections in less than a year, Israeli leaders have less than 48 hours to stop a third. Ruth Eglash reports: “There had been a flurry of attempts to find a solution or form a new government over the past week, but as the clock ticked toward the final deadline, the only thing the sides appeared to agree upon was a date for the next election: March 2, 2020. After two rounds of voting, in April and September, and two 28-day stretches where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, attempted and failed to cobble together a coalition, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was given a final 21 days to find someone who might be able to solve the stalemate. If none among the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers comes forward with backing from 61 fellow parliamentarians by midnight on Wednesday, the next election cycle will automatically be underway.”

-- Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed won’t answer any questions when he receives his Nobel Prize, highlighting the Nobel Committee’s awareness that his victory would generate controversy. Max Bearak reports: “Abiy is refusing to engage with the international media when he receives the prize Tuesday in Oslo — refusing even to field questions from the young students who traditionally are offered that opportunity at an event hosted by Save the Children — and the Nobel Committee is scrambling to get him to change his mind and spare it a major embarrassment. … Although Abiy has soaked up public adoration during morale-raising events such as rallies and tree-planting drives, he has often stayed silent for weeks after incidences of ethnic tension, which have been frequent and often bloody over the past two years.”

-- A Chilean Air Force plane carrying 38 went missing on its way to Antarctica. Authorities believe it crashed. From CNN: “Its last known position was about 390 nautical miles from Punta Arenas and 280 nautical miles from the Antarctic base ... There were 17 crew members and 21 other passengers on board, who were on their way to perform ‘logistical support tasks’ such as repairing the floating oil pipeline that provides fuel for the base, said the Air Force. In addition to crew members, the plane was also carrying personnel from the armed forces, an engineering firm, and the University of Magallanes.”

-- At least six people were shot dead in a Czech Republic hospital last night before the gunman escaped and then shot himself. Loveday Morris reports: “Police hunted for the 42-year-old suspect for several hours before they tracked him to his vehicle, where he shot himself in the head as the police helicopter hovered overhead, according to regional police head Tomas Kuzel. He added that the gunman was using an illegal 9mm handgun.” 


A CNN host noted that, for many, yesterday's big news didn't come from the Inspector General's report or from the impeachment hearing: 

Comey's agent, Keith Urbahn of Javelin, replied to a conservative commentator who took Fox's denial at face value:

The former FBI lawyer, whose texts were publicized by Trump appointees at the DOJ and who has been a frequent target of the president, claimed vindication from the IG report:

Imagine what's going on in this young man's head:

A University of Texas law professor asked Americans to read the IG report after a top Republican shared a misleading tweet about it:

Can't say the latest impeachment hearing was boring, not with these posters:

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) announced she won't participate in a debate that she has not qualified for:

Elizabeth Warren's new campaign spokesman might have to update his Twitter bio:

Pete Buttigieg's term as mayor is ending:

And Monica Lewinsky had some life advice to share:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The most traumatic experiences of our lives didn’t have to happen, our friends didn’t have to die on the other side of the planet," said Marine Corps veteran Dustin Kelly, who said The Post's report on the U.S. government's distortion over the prosecution of the Afghanistan War reignites the agony of not knowing precisely what comrades gave their lives for. (Alex Horton)



Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo lashed out at three top Republican lawmakers, including two from his state, for not reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. One of his officers, Sgt. Chris Brewster, was fatally shot this weekend after responding to reports of a domestic disturbance:

Following the death of an officer, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo blasted three top Republican lawmakers on Dec. 9 for not taking action against gun violence. (Reuters)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remade a famous scene from “Love Actually” to create a viral ad for his reelection:

John Weigel, the veteran who told Bernie Sanders at a rally earlier this year that he was considering suicide because he could not afford his medical bills, told the candidate on Monday that he's received help and tried to offer Sanders his flight jacket:

GOP counsel Steve Castor walked into Monday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing not with a briefcase but a reusable grocery bag: 

Seth Meyers really, really wants Rudy Giuliani to testify before Congress:

Stephen Colbert thinks Trump’s understanding of the Inspector General report is further proof he lives in an alternate reality: