With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Documents and interviews provided by Rudy Giuliani’s former associate Lev Parnas expand the available body of evidence to answer those famous questions posed by Howard Baker during Watergate: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview broadcast on Wednesday night. “I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”

Parnas faces felony campaign finance charges unrelated to President Trump’s impeachment. 

“I am betting my whole life that Trump knew exactly everything that was going on that Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine,” Parnas told the New York Times in a separate interview.

The House Intelligence Committee released an additional 390 pages of material last night that was turned over by Parnas’s lawyer. A calendar entry shows Parnas had a scheduled breakfast with Trump in New York on Sept. 26, even after the whistleblower complaint jumpstarted the process that led to the president’s impeachment. Other photos, texts and calendar entries show Parnas exchanging messages with a top official at the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and someone else who is close to Donald Trump Jr. “I am officially part of team trump,” Parnas texted an associate at one point.

Parnas, as a Russian speaker, helped coordinate Giuliani’s outreach to Ukrainian sources and directly communicated with an array of top Ukrainian officials. One of them was Yuri Lutsenko, at the time Ukraine’s top prosecutor and an ally of then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who would lose his bid for reelection to Volodymyr Zelensky. Ukrainian officials had “no reason to speak to me” other than the fact that they understood him to be an emissary of the American president, Parnas told Maddow: “Why would President Zelensky’s inner circle … or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I? They were told to meet with me.”

The first tranche of documents released on Tuesday night by House investigators included a message from Giuliani to Parnas saying that he had involved someone he only referred to as “no 1” in efforts to lift a U.S. visa ban on a former Ukrainian prosecutor who was planning to come to the United States to make negative claims about Joe Biden. Parnas told Maddow that he understood “no 1” to be Trump himself. 

Giuliani also wrote this in a May letter to President-elect Zelensky: “In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you…”

-- Evidence of the president’s hands-on role bolsters the Democratic case that Trump himself abused his power, not outside advisers who were pursuing personal interests in the president’s name. Tying the president more closely to the efforts to coerce the Ukrainian government into announcing an investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma could help Democratic impeachment managers make the case that there was corrupt intent behind Trump’s decision to stonewall Congress’s investigation by defying subpoenas for documents and blocking aides from testifying.

-- In his July 25 call with Zelensky, in which Trump requested “a favor” when his Ukrainian counterpart brought up his desire to buy Javelin antitank missiles to fend off the ongoing Russian invasion of his country, the president also asked Ukraine’s president to cooperate with Giuliani. “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man,” Trump told Zelensky, according to the rough transcript released by the White House. “He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. … Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”

-- This is far from the only evidence directly linking Trump himself to the pressure campaign against Ukraine. One example: “Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold,” Mike Duffey, associate national security programs director at the Office of Management and Budget, emailed a Pentagon official on Aug. 30, according to Just Security, using the acronym for President of the United States.

-- Parnas said Giuliani told him after meeting with Trump at the White House that the message to deliver when he met with Ukrainians was that “it wasn't just military aid, it was all aid” that would be frozen until “the announcement of the Biden investigation.” Trump has strenuously denied that he ever authorized such a quid pro quo. “It was never about corruption,” Parnas told Maddow. “It was it strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.”

-- Giuliani, who remains one of the president’s personal lawyers, declined to offer specific responses to Parnas’s claims. “Who cares? Believe him at your peril,” he texted Josh Dawsey.

-- Parnas explained how they approached people in Kyiv. When he would meet with a senior Ukrainian official, he told Maddow, he would put Giuliani on the phone. “The first thing I did is to introduce myself and tell them, ‘I’m here on behalf of Rudy Giuliani and the president of the United States, and I’d like to put you on speakerphone,’” Parnas said. “We put Rudy on the phone. Rudy relayed to him basically that we were there on behalf of the president of the United States.”

-- Parnas said he knew that Giuliani wasn’t freelancing because he heard Trump talking to him on the phone. “I was with Rudy when he would speak to the president, plenty of times,” Parnas said, adding that he was “in constant contact” with Giuliani – four or five days some weeks – and that Trump phoned “a lot of times” when he and Giuliani were golfing. Parnas said Trump talks “very loudly” on the phone. That’s also what State Department Foreign Service officer David Holmes testified when he explained how he overheard part of U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland’s cellphone conversation with Trump as they ate lunch at a restaurant in Kyiv.

-- The president said after Parnas was initially indicted for unrelated campaign finance violations that he might have posed for a picture with him, but that he doesn’t know him. Parnas said Trump “lied” about this. “I mean, we’re not friends,” he said. “Me and him didn't watch football games together. We didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were. He knew exactly who I was, especially because I interacted with him at a lot of events.”

An email from October shows counsel to the president Jay Sekulow telling former Trump attorney John Dowd that he spoke with Trump about Parnas. “The president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. [Igor Fruman],” Sekulow wrote, referring to the other Giuliani associate who has also been indicted but has not spoken publicly. Dowd no longer represents Parnas.

-- “Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in November. Parnas recalled that quote when Maddow asked about whether Vice President Pence knew what Trump and Giuliani were doing. “He couldn’t have not known,” Parnas said of Pence, who has insisted he did not know.

Parnas also said “it’s impossible” that Attorney General Bill Barr didn’t know what he and Giuliani were up to in Ukraine. “Mr. Barr absolutely knew everything,” Parnas said. “Attorney General Barr was basically on the team." Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called this “100% false” in a statement.

And Parnas said he worked with House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and one of his top aides. “He knew very well that he knew what was going on,” Parnas said of Nunes. “He knew what’s happening. He knows who I am." When call logs showed that Nunes and Parnas spoke, the congressman initially claimed he “didn’t really recall” talking to Parnas. On Fox News last night, the congressman said he’s refreshed his memory and downplayed their conversation. “I remember that call, which was very odd, random, talking about random things,” said Nunes. “And I said, ‘Great, just talk to my staff,’ and boom boom boom.”

-- Stay tuned: Additional records that Parnas turned over to the House are still expected to be released. Investigators are reviewing them. And Parnas wants to testify during the Senate impeachment trial. “I want to get the truth out,” he said. “Things happened that need to get out, and I think the world needs to know.”

-- Two related stories that broke this morning:

1) The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress, concluded that the White House violated federal law in its hold on security aid to Ukraine last year. Jeff Stein, Ellen Nakashima and Erica Werner report that the GAO found that the Trump administration violated a law that governs how the White House disburses money approved by Congress. “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the decision states. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.” An OMB spokeswoman said the White House disagrees with “the GAO’s opinion.” (Read the eight-page legal opinion for yourself.)

2) Ukrainian authorities announced a probe into the possible surveillance of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch before she was dismissed from her post by the Trump administration. David Stern and Isabelle Khurshudyan report: “The statement by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry followed the disclosure [from Parnas’s files of] … messages with Robert F. Hyde, a Connecticut Republican who is running for Congress. In those exchanges, Parnas is informed about Yovanovitch’s physical location. … In a separate probe, Ukraine investigators said they were looking into a suspected Russian hack into computers at Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which is at the center of the impeachment inquiries. … Interior Minister Arsen Avakov met Thursday with an FBI representative based in Ukraine and officially requested U.S. assistance in the two cases.”

Parnas told Maddow he did not take Hyde’s claims seriously, and Hyde said in a televised interview with Eric Bolling that he was joking in his messages and did not monitor her. “Hyde, who told Parnas he was with a ‘private security’ team in Kyiv, was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital last year after police were called to Trump’s Doral resort outside Miami, police and court records show. Doral police said Hyde insisted his life was in danger and that he believed painters and landscape workers were trying to harm him. One week after the incident in Doral, a 34-year-old political consultant obtained a temporary protection order against Hyde because of ‘constant harassment and stalking,’ according to records in Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The consultant alleged that several incidents occurred at the Trump International Hotel in the District.”

MORE ON IMPEACHMENT: 

-- With pomp and circumstance, the House delivered the two articles of impeachment to the Senate last night, laying the groundwork for Trump’s impeachment trial. Elise Viebeck, Rachael Bade and Seung Min Kim report: “The impeachment managers’ brief ceremonial journey across the Capitol — a month after the House voted to impeach Trump — relinquished Democratic control over a process that is expected to end in the president’s election-year acquittal by the Republican-led Senate.  … House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared that Trump was guilty of ‘an assault on the Constitution of the United States’ and rejected criticism that his impeachment was politically motivated. … Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attacked the House’s inquiry as ‘unprecedented and dangerous’ and accused Democrats of ‘pure factionalism.’ … Privately, McConnell and other senior Republicans still hope a majority of senators will think they have heard enough … to move to a vote to determine whether Trump should be removed from office. Several closely-watched Republican senators declined to say whether they believed Hunter Biden was worthy of summoning … Democrats were unanimous in their view that Hunter Biden’s testimony would be irrelevant. … 

"The procedural formalities of the trial are expected to begin [this afternoon] with the reading of the articles; the swearing-in of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who will preside; and the swearing-in of the senators as jurors. After that, the Senate is expected to recess for the weekend; the trial will begin in earnest Tuesday, according to McConnell. … Asked whether Trump would go ahead with plans to deliver his State of the Union address on Feb. 4 even if the impeachment trial hasn’t concluded by then, a senior administration official told reporters, ‘I think it’s extraordinarily unlikely that we’d be going beyond two weeks.’”

-- Roberts will administer an oath this afternoon to every senator that's meaningfully different from the one they took when they joined Congress. Now, they are jurors in a trial, and they are pledging to “do impartial justice.” This oath is prescribed by Senate rules: “I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of [Donald John Trump], now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.”

-- Trump’s legal team, eyeing a swift trial, is aiming to block witnesses and cast doubt on the two charges against the president. Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey report: “The White House, which previously supported a more expansive trial in the GOP-led Senate, has now accepted the idea that senators should make quick work of acquitting Trump. … White House aides are also gaming out how to manage Trump during the trial, which they expect him to watch and possibly tweet about while it is underway, as he did during the House impeachment hearings ... Trump allies plan to have several surrogates on television defending the president during the trial. Republican House members, many of whom jockeyed for official roles on the defense team for the Senate trial, will instead fan out across television networks to ensure that the president’s message gets out and that Trump feels he is receiving a robust defense..."

-- The diverse, seven-member team of impeachment managers picked by Pelosi is smaller than the 13-member squad of white men that made the case against Bill Clinton to the Senate in 1999, reflecting the speaker’s more tightly controlled approach. Mike DeBonis reports: “All seven managers have professional backgrounds in the law. [Val] Demings, 62, is the only non-lawyer, but she is steeped in law enforcement, having served as the first female chief of the Orlando Police Department. … Three of the seven are women. Demings and [Hakeem] Jeffries are African American; [Sylvia] Garcia is Latina. Garcia and [Jason] Crow — besides representing a historic freshman class — also bring geographic diversity to a group otherwise drawn from coastal states.”

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2020 WATCH:

-- Elizabeth Warren accused Bernie Sanders of calling her a “liar on national TV” in a tense confrontation after Tuesday’s Democratic debate. Annie Linskey reports: “Their confrontation, visible to viewers, began when Warren walked toward Sanders and refused to shake his outstretched hand. ‘I think you called me a liar on national TV,’ Warren told Sanders. ‘What?’ asked Sanders. ‘I think you called me a liar on national TV,’ Warren said. ‘You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion,’ Sanders said. ‘Anytime,’ Warren said. ‘You called me a liar,’ Sanders said, adding: ‘You told me — all right, let’s not do it now.’ … CNN reported on Monday that Sanders had told Warren a woman could not win the presidency. Sanders denied the account.”

-- Liberal leaders are panicking that the Warren-Sanders rift is going to cause their faction to lose the nomination. Annie Linskey, Sean Sullivan and Isaac Stanley-Becker report: “Social media users identifying themselves as Sanders supporters used snake icons to symbolize Warren’s ostensible duplicity, played up her Republican roots and circulated a #Never­Warren hashtag. Warren’s backers, while taking a less aggressive tone, nonetheless revived questions of whether many of Sanders’s supporters are sexist and whether he contributed to the party’s disastrous 2016 loss with a display of self-centered petulance. … Increasingly alarmed liberal leaders scrambled to make peace. ‘Many of the voices in the progressive community are warning we cannot have a knife fight in a phone booth, or a circular firing squad,’ said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. That message, she said, is being sent to the Sanders and Warren camps ‘privately and publicly.’"

-- Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 in House GOP leadership, announced that she will not run for the open U.S. Senate seat in Wyoming, opting instead to stay in the House. (Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis)

-- The Post’s Opinion desk invited the Democratic presidential candidates who didn’t qualify for the debate – Michael Bennet, Mike Bloomberg, John Delaney, Deval Patrick and Andrew Yang – to answer a question they wish they would have been able to if they had been onstage. 

-- "There's still time to hear out Deval Patrick," inveighs the Editorial Board.

-- The two women still in the race are raising more money from women than their male opponents. (Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy)

-- Pete Buttigieg’s campaign cybersecurity chief resigned over differences with campaign leadership over how to manage information security. Buttigieg’s campaign was the only Democratic 2020 team with a full-time cyber staffer. (WSJ)

-- Individual donors are now able to give over half a million dollars directly to support Trump’s reelection, making a mockery of the intent of contribution limits. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “Under an agreement announced Wednesday by Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, a single donor can give as much as $580,600 this year to support Trump’s reelection — higher than the committee’s previous caps on contributions. That means the Republican National Committee’s biggest contributors could end up having shelled out as much as $1.6 million to support Trump’s 2020 reelection over the course of the four-year election cycle … Trump Victory, which had been raising money for Trump 2020 and the RNC, was able to raise the top giving level by signing up 22 state parties to raise money together, which allows the committee to raise its contribution cap. The number of state parties supported through Trump Victory could expand, raising the possibility that the maximum contribution could grow even larger.” 

-- Justin Amash – the sole Independent in the House – hasn’t committed to a presidential run. But he hasn’t ruled one out, either. From the Dispatch: “With the incredible volatility in American politics over the past two decades, marked by the record-low faith in Washington and the institutions of the federal government, taking such a leap seems less crazy today than it might have just a few years ago. As Amash himself put it last week: ‘Is there any better time to have a president who might be not from either party?’ … He wants to be clear that he’s not abandoning his re-election bid—yet. ‘Just to be clear, I am running for office as an independent for, you know, my congressional seat. And I've filed for that, and you know, we're, we're doing what it takes to, to win that race.’ One more time. He begins to speak more cautiously. ‘At some point you'll be at, we'll be at the point where I have to rule out, you know, running for president. And I'm not at that point yet. But, you know, we're probably getting closer to that point now.’” 

-- "On ordinary legislative matters, most members of Congress don’t think anymore," Amash told Rolling Stone. "I think a lot of members of Congress are used to that lifestyle and they like it. They don’t want responsibility. They want the job, not the responsibility."

-- Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, is on the cover of Time magazine talking about his relationship with the president: “The portrait that emerges from interviews with Kushner, current and former White House officials, lawmakers and people close to him is of an increasingly confident operator who is learning to pull the levers of power in the White House and throughout Washington in ways that may surprise critics. Listening to Kushner describe his role makes it clear that he was never going to be the moderating force that Democrats hoped for and Trump loyalists feared. He doesn’t see his job as steering Trump to a decision. He sees himself as the enabler of the President’s agenda.”

-- Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News personality and current girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., will serve as a national finance chair of the Trump Victory Finance Committee. (The Hill)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- A week before Germany, France and Britain formally accused Iran of breaching the 2015 nuclear deal, the Trump administration issued a private threat to the Europeans that shocked leaders in all three countries. John Hudson and Souad Mekhennet report: “If they refused to call out Tehran and initiate an arcane dispute mechanism in the deal, the United States would impose a 25 percent tariff on European automobiles ... Within days, the three countries would formally accuse Iran of violating the deal, triggering a recourse provision that could reimpose United Nations sanctions on Iran and unravel the last remaining vestiges of the Obama-era agreement. The U.S. effort to coerce European foreign policy through tariffs, a move one European official equated to 'extortion,' represents a new level of hardball tactics with the United States’ oldest allies, underscoring the extraordinary tumult in the transatlantic relationship.” 

-- Trump signed a partial trade deal with China. David J. Lynch reports: “The deal reflected the president’s distinctive reshaping of American trade policy, relying on government dictates rather than market forces and establishing a direct enforcement system outside the World Trade Organization. The 86-page agreement, which comes after a protracted standoff between the two nations, commits China to buy an extra $200 billion in American products over the next two years. Under a novel enforcement mechanism, the two sides have agreed to resolve any disputes through a process of direct consultations that will be backstopped by the threat of new import tariffs. … With Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and three other senior Chinese officials standing by his side, the president complained that China had taken advantage of the United States on trade for years. ‘It was pillage,’ Trump said. … The deal faces widespread skepticism about China’s ability to meet ambitious targets for buying $200 billion in American products over the next two years, as well as prospects for resolving compliance disputes. Robert E. Lighthizer, the president’s chief trade negotiator, said the deal contained important new Chinese commitments to protect American intellectual property, halt coercive technology transfers and refrain from using currency devaluation as a trade weapon."

-- A former senior White House adviser concluded that Trump was “at times dangerously uninformed” about foreign affairs and history. Ashley Parker writes up some of juicy nuggets from “A Very Stable Genius,” a new book by our Post colleagues Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig: “Trump reveals himself as woefully uninformed about the basics of geography, incorrectly telling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ‘It’s not like you’ve got China on your border.’ … [T]he authors write that ‘Modi’s eyes bulged out in surprise.’ … [O]ne Trump aide concludes Modi probably ‘left that meeting and said, ‘This is not a serious man. I cannot count on this man as a partner.’’ After the meeting, the aide explains to them, ‘‘the Indians took a step back’ in their diplomatic relations with the United States.’’

After Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg in 2017, Trump declared himself a Russian expert and dismissed the expertise of then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had negotiated with Putin for decades as an Exxon executive: “I have had a two-hour meeting with Putin,” Trump told Tillerson, according to the book. “That’s all I need to know. … I’ve sized it all up. I’ve got it.”

Follow the money: “In spring 2017, Trump also clashed with Tillerson when he told him he wanted his help getting rid of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1977 law that prevents U.S. firms and individuals from bribing foreign officials for business deals. ‘It’s just so unfair that American companies aren’t allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas,’ Trump says, according to the book. ‘We’re going to change that.’ … The book, the duo writes in an author’s note, is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 200 sources, corroborated, when possible, by calendars, diary entries, internal memos and even private video recordings.”

-- The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction told Congress that U.S. officials have routinely lied to the public during the 18-year war. Craig Whitlock reports: “‘There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue . . . mendacity and hubris,’ John F. Sopko said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. … ‘We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.’ As an example, Sopko said U.S. officials have lied in the past about the number of Afghan children enrolled in schools — a key marker of progress touted by the Obama administration — even though they ‘knew the data was bad.’ He also said U.S. officials falsely claimed major gains in Afghan life expectancy that were statistically impossible to achieve. In addition, Sopko criticized the Trump administration for classifying information that shows the war is going badly, including data on Afghan troop casualties and assessments of the Taliban’s strength. … The House Foreign Affairs Committee summoned Sopko to testify in response to a series of articles published last month in [The Post] that revealed how senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war.”

-- The Taliban is ready to reduce violence in exchange for a peace deal, Pakistan claims. Susannah George reports: “Shah Mahmood Qureshi said ‘a good development’ occurred Thursday and that the ‘Taliban have showed their readiness to accept the demand for reduction in violence.’ Speaking in a video statement released by the Foreign Ministry, Qureshi added, ‘I believe that this is a step forward towards the peace agreement.’ Separately, the Associated Press reported that Taliban officials said the group gave the U.S. envoy in the talks ‘a document outlining their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan that would last between seven and 10 days.’” 

-- The past decade was the hottest ever recorded on the planet, driven by an acceleration of temperature increases in the past five years. (Brady Dennis, Andrew Freedman and John Muyskens)

-- Major intrigue in the Kremlin: Three hours after Putin forced the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who once served as president, he offered the post to Mikhail Mishustin, the head of the Russian tax service, who is viewed as a possible placeholder. Isabelle Khurshudyan reports from Moscow: “The broad moves came shortly after Putin gave his annual address to Russian lawmakers and proposed major constitutional changes such as transferring more power to parliament, including the ability to name the country’s prime minister. Currently, the premier is selected by the president. Putin took advantage of that by promptly nominating Mishustin, who has not been part of Russia’s top-tier leadership before.”

-- Medvedev has long been part of Putin’s St. Petersburg inner circle, but Putin dropped him like a hot rock so he could scapegoat him for the country's domestic challenges. Robyn Dixon explains: “Putin reaped popularity gains inside Russia after he annexed Crimea in 2014 and rebuilt Russian global clout in the Middle East and elsewhere. But Medvedev, as prime minister, was left as a convenient scapegoat for Russia’s domestic problems: a stagnant economy, low wages and pensions, and enduring corruption. … One reason for [Putin’s] removal of Medvedev may have been fears that the prime minister’s unpopularity would drag Putin’s approval ratings down from their current position in the high 60s. An October opinion poll by the Levada Center found that 72 percent of Russians believed the government’s interests were not aligned with those of the population, and 53 percent thought the government lived off the people and did not care how they survived.”

-- Dozens were arrested as protests resumed in Lebanon following weeks of relative calm. Sarah Dadouch reports: “Authorities said 47 police officers were injured and 59 people were arrested during clashes on Tuesday, which came after weeks of calm. On Wednesday night, hundreds of protesters surrounded the facility where those arrested were being held. Since October, the country has been struggling with political turmoil and severe economic uncertainty.”

-- The Murdoch family’s discord is playing out publicly. Sarah Ellison reports: “It took an epic natural disaster to publicly surface the long-standing tension within one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful families. In an unusual, brief statement, James and Kathryn Murdoch voiced their ‘frustration’ this week with what they see as the Murdoch family empire’s role in climate change denial. The comments, while focused narrowly on the way Murdoch-owned media properties have covered the wildfires in Australia, highlighted the family’s underlying discord. (The fires have claimed 27 lives and an estimated 1 billion animals.) Since James officially left the company founded by his father Rupert Murdoch — after having lost out to his older brother, Lachlan, in a succession race — James and his wife, Kathryn, have become increasingly outspoken about their views. Many of their perspectives directly contradict the editorial direction of the Murdochs’ properties, including Fox News and News Corp. Australia, the most dominant force in the Australian media landscape.”

-- Prince Harry and Meghan’s decision to quit their roles as senior royals has put Queen Elizabeth II in the role of crisis manager – and family brand protector – once again. William Booth reports: “Of all the thinly sourced tabloid narratives about feuding royal houses and their woes, the one with zero traction is that Elizabeth is losing it. She is the epitome of cool under pressure, able to move from one challenge to the next, said Penny Junor, a royal historian. … It is worth noting that many of the challenges Elizabeth has faced have been generated by the family itself — through a long litany of affairs, divorces, sketchy financial dealings and drunken mischief.”

-- Europe is at risk of being torn asunder: Germany’s Angela Merkel, in a warning to the E.U., says Brexit must be “a wake-up call.” From the Financial Times: “Berlin worries a post-Brexit UK that reserves the right to diverge from EU rules on goods, workers’ rights, taxes and environmental standards could create a serious economic competitor on its doorstep. ... Europe must, she says, respond by upping its game, becoming ‘attractive, innovative, creative, a good place for research and education.'"

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULDN’T BE OVERSHADOWED:

-- A federal judge temporarily halted the Trump administration’s policy allowing local governments to block refugees, saying it is likely “unlawful.” Ann E. Marimow and Maria Sachetti report: “‘Giving states and local governments the power to consent to the resettlement of refugees — which is to say veto power to determine whether refugees will be received in their midst — flies in the face of clear Congressional intent,’ [District Judge Peter] Messitte wrote in a 31-page decision. The judge said the administration’s grant of a veto power is ‘arbitrary and capricious as well as inherently susceptible to hidden bias.’”

-- “The Trump administration is moving to strengthen protections for students who want to pray or worship in public schools and proposing changes that would make it easier for religious groups that provide social services to access federal funds,” Moriah Balingit reports. “Nine federal agencies, including the Education Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, are proposing rules that would reduce requirements for those religious organizations. The rules would lift an Obama-era executive order that compelled religious organizations to tell the people they serve that they can receive the same service from a secular provider. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said her department plans to remind schools that students and teachers have a constitutional right to pray in public schools, and that student-led religious organizations should get to access public facilities just like secular ones.” 

-- The Trump administration plans to impose several new requirements on billions of dollars in relief aid for Puerto Rico. Arelis R. Hernández and Jeff Stein report: “Under the parameters the Trump administration is proposing, Puerto Rico’s government will have to agree to give new oversight authority to the island’s federally mandated Fiscal Control Board — an appointed, independent government body — to receive funding for certain federal projects, officials said. Puerto Rico also will have to agree to pay federal contractors working on disaster relief less than $15 an hour, despite a recent executive order mandating the rate.”

-- The Treasury’s internal watchdog is probing the Trump administration’s Opportunity Zone program. From NBC News: “Richard LeFrak, a friend of Trump's, and the family interests of Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, among others, could benefit from possible projects in designated opportunity zones. … The program, which Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., added to the 2017 tax bill, was meant to spur growth in underserved areas, and it prompted the designation of 8,800 lower-income census tracts as opportunity zones where investors could reap significant tax benefits. Last October, Booker and Democratic Reps. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri sent a letter to the Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General asking how the zones were chosen.”

-- Virginia ratified the Equal Rights Amendment in a historic vote. Gregory S. Schneider, Laura Vozzella and Patricia Sullivan report: “Numerous legal hurdles still have to be cleared before the ERA, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, would become part of the Constitution. Critics say various deadlines for ratification have long since passed. But supporters were jubilant that Virginia, after years of failure, is poised to become the 38th state to approve the amendment. They pledged to mount a massive national campaign to enact it. ‘For the women of Virginia and the women of America, the resolution has finally passed,’ Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), the first female House speaker in the 401-year history of Virginia’s legislature, said in announcing the result of the House vote. … Republican lawmakers, who bottled up the ERA in subcommittee during their 26 years in control of the House of Delegates, tried to postpone action with parliamentary challenges. Several also said the vote was merely symbolic, because it remains unclear whether the amendment can actually be ratified so long after its initial approval.”

-- The Navy has concluded that no significant environmental harm would come from its proposed tripling of the size of a Nevada bombing range. From the AP: “Adding more than 1,000 square miles ... to the range at Naval Air Station Fallon 65 miles ... east of Reno is critical to meeting combat training needs for modern aircraft and weapons systems that have outgrown training capabilities over the past two decades, the Navy says. Critics say that in addition to adversely impacting fish and wildlife, the expansion would restrict access to public land for hunters, ATV riders and back-country explorers, including at a national wildlife refuge. The expanded range would cover an area half the size of the state of Delaware.

-- A new lawsuit claims Jeffrey Epstein trafficked girls in the Caribbean until 2018. From the Times: “Mr. Epstein, a wealthy financier who died by suicide in a Manhattan jail last year, was bringing girls as young as 11 and 12 to his secluded estate in the Virgin Islands, known as Little Saint James, and kept a computerized database to track the availability and movements of women and girls, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit, which was filed by Denise N. George, the attorney general of the Virgin Islands, broadened the dimensions of the wrongdoing in which Mr. Epstein was said to have engaged. … The suit was filed against Mr. Epstein’s estate and seeks the forfeiture of Little Saint James and Mr. Epstein’s second private island, Great Saint James, as well as the dissolution of numerous shell companies he established in the territory that officials have said acted as fronts for his sex trafficking enterprise.”

-- Trump will host college football national champion LSU on Friday to celebrate its perfect season. (Jacob Bogage)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The CNN audio of Warren confronting Sanders after the debate also featured Tom Steyer saying he just wanted to say hi. The billionaire joked after the tape came out:

Someone added the theme song of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" to the footage:

Sanders downplayed his clash with Warren to a CNN reporter who was assigned to stake out his office:

Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) backs Pete Buttigieg. Hers has been one of the most sought-after endorsements in the state that has the first primary:

A BBC reporter noted that there were no women at the table when Trump met with China representatives: 

Elsewhere, however, women are finally getting seats at the table:

And Virginia's first openly transgender delegate celebrated the state ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. It's the New Dominion:

The White House’s background press call on impeachment had some technical issues:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was criticized for dismissing the Parnas bombshells:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s like a foreign language,” Trump said as he struggled to read aloud the Constitution early in his presidency, according to Rucker and Leonnig’s new book. (Parker)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers went through the trove of evidence Lev Parnas turned in to Democratic investigators: 

Stephen Colbert decided that the new evidence doesn’t make Rudy Giuliani look good: 

Sam Bee reviewed Tuesday night’s debate drama: 

Andrew Yang wasn’t on the debate stage on Tuesday, so the “Daily Show’s” Ronny Chieng invited him to their own personal debate: