“Here, right is supposed to matter,” Schiff told senators last night in the 10 p.m. hour, wrapping up day two of his case against Trump, which he will conclude Friday afternoon. “It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on Earth. No Constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore. You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust that he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.”
The Democrat from California has repeatedly praised Vindman and others for “sticking their necks out” to answer questions about the president’s alleged Ukraine coercion campaign when his former bosses, including ex-national security adviser John Bolton, refused to come before the House. “I have such admiration for the fact they did,” Schiff said on Wednesday. “But what would really vindicate that leap of faith … is if we show the same courage. They risked everything—their careers—and, yes, I know what you are asked to decide may risk yours too, but if they could show the courage, so can we.”
Over the course of several hours earlier in the afternoon, Schiff had laid out 10 separate arguments for why Trump’s push to get Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden was intended for the president’s personal benefit and not to advance the national interest. “When we’re done, we believe that we will have made the case overwhelmingly that the president is guilty,” Schiff said. “Is there really any doubt about this? I mean, do we really have any doubt about the facts here? Does anybody really question whether the president is capable of what he’s charged with? No one is really making the argument Donald Trump would never do such a thing … because, of course, we know that he would.”
Vindman remains assigned to the White House, something that has drawn the continuing ire of pro-Trump commentators. Schiff thanked senators last night for “keeping an open mind about all of the issues we are presenting.” But, after Schiff spoke, Senate Republican leaders privately expressed growing confidence that they can win the vote next week to block additional witnesses from being summoned to testify. It’s not clear whether Schiff’s calls for courage have pushed any Republican senators toward breaking with the president and their party leaders on the key votes coming up next week surrounding summoning witnesses or subpoenaing documents.
-- Schiff spoke a few hours after Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), one of the jurors, questioned Vindman’s patriotism by propagating an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory from the fever swamps of the dark corners of the pro-Trump fringe Internet. Blackburn claimed that Vindman once badmouthed the United States to Russians while serving overseas. “Adam Schiff is hailing Alexander Vindman as an American patriot,” she tweeted. “How patriotic is it to badmouth and ridicule our great nation in front of Russia, America’s greatest enemy?”
Vindman’s lawyer, former ambassador David Pressman, accused Blackburn of defaming his client. “That a member of the Senate — at a moment when the Senate is undertaking its most solemn responsibility — would choose to take to Twitter to spread slander about a member of the military is a testament to cowardice,” Pressman emailed. “While Senator Blackburn fires off defamatory tweets, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman will continue to do what he has always done: serve our country dutifully and with honor.”
Blackburn isn’t backing down and tweeted another attack around 8 p.m. Trump himself retweeted her this morning. The senator, who won Bob Corker's seat after he retired in 2018, has also accused Vindman of being a “handler” for the whistleblower who filed the complaint. Vindman testified before Schiff’s committee that he spoke with an intelligence community official about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but he declined to identify the official on the advice of counsel because he said he didn’t want to blow someone’s cover. But no public evidence exists that he was a source for the whistleblower.
-- Schiff, a mild-mannered former federal prosecutor, has emerged as a surprisingly polarizing figure. Perhaps it’s because the president has accused him of committing treason, in addition to calling him “pencil neck” and “liddle.” Trump has now tweeted about Schiff hundreds of times. Schiff’s boosters say the right only loathes him because he’s so effective.
-- The president’s allies at Fox News have elevated Schiff this week into perhaps the biggest boogeyman for their audience. Arguably he’s a bigger target of their vitriol right now than Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders or even the four minority women in the Squad. If you’ve watched the network for even a few minutes this week, especially in primetime, you’ve probably seen hosts and guests attacking the man from Burbank.
Tucker Carlson continued his mockery last night of the man he’s taken to calling “Saint Adam,” a nickname intended to convey what he portrays as the congressman’s sanctimoniousness. “Say what you will, but as a piece of theater, it had literally everything,” Carlson said after playing a video clip of Schiff talking on the Senate floor about how Trump’s approach to Ukraine has played into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands.
“Adam Schiff has amnesia,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told Laura Ingraham.
“They accused us of doing nefarious things with this Lev Parnas character,” House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told Sean Hannity. “The truth is Adam Schiff and the Democrats have been doing nefarious things with Parnas!”
“Adam's ordinarily not that stupid, but when you tell the jury, the Senate, on one day that they're corrupt, and then you tell the American people they cannot be trusted to pick the commander in chief, that's just a wildly stupid trial strategy,” former congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told Bret Baier.
-- Rudy Giuliani appeared on “Fox & Friends” this morning to attack the Democratic managers. “It’s a complete show on the part of the Democrats, and they should be sued for conspiracy to defraud the United States, and they should pay for that hearing,” he said. “I’m going to present over the next two to three weeks shocking crimes at the highest levels of both governments while the Senate is listening to a totally phony group of stories about non-impeachable offenses.”
Giuliani has been promising for a while now to release said evidence. It has not been forthcoming, so take such claims with more than a grain of salt. The president’s lawyer also said for months that he was going to release a lengthy report rebutting former special counsel Bob Mueller’s findings on Russian interference and whether Trump obstructed justice. He never did.
-- Meanwhile, thought leaders on the left have effusively praised Schiff's performance. Esquire’s Charlie Pierce calls Schiff the Daniel Webster of our time. Walter Dellinger, who was acting U.S. solicitor general under Bill Clinton, said Schiff offered “one of the most impressive performances by a lawyer I have ever seen.” MSNBC legal commentator Jason Johnson called Schiff’s opening statement on Wednesday “a speech that kids will be giving in 2060 at university projects.” Actress and activist Alyssa Milano, who has been attending the trial, said “it felt like you were watching a one-man show on Broadway.”
Stephen Colbert offered an early valentine to Schiff during his show. “It was gratifying to see someone taking the constitutional responsibility of their office seriously,” the comedian told his viewers on CBS. Breaking out of character, he said that Schiff spoke “clearly, passionately, cogently, and, I believe, courageously.”
-- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Schiff “well spoken” and said “did a good job of creating a tapestry.” But other Republican senators have told reporters that Schiff was overly “smooth” or “slick,” which they meant as negatives. “In a way I do feel like I’m introducing myself to a number of the senators,” Schiff told the Associated Press, adding that they’re “finding I’m not the demon that I’m portrayed as on Fox.”
-- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed hope that four Republicans still might be persuaded to vote for witnesses. “Just about every Republican’s eyes were glued on Mr. Schiff,” he said. “It was a powerful rendition.”
-- All eyes are on Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Privately, senior Senate Republicans expect the vote to seek witness testimony to fail, but they are watching Alexander and several other Republicans closely. And wherever Alexander comes down is almost sure to be the majority position in the Senate,” Politico reports. “He's a retiring defender of the Senate as an institution who's occasionally bucked his party, but he also counts Mitch McConnell as a longtime ally. He's more hesitant to criticize Trump than are some other Republicans, but he also has said it was ‘inappropriate’ for Trump to ask foreign governments to investigate his political opponents. … [Democrats] are holding out hope that Alexander will be their hero in the mold of the late Sen. John McCain, whose extraordinary vote derailed the GOP’s effort to repeal Obamacare.”
-- Trump is keeping his distance from the Republicans who might vote to call witnesses after White House advisers warned the president that outreach wouldn’t help his cause. Democrats are also giving them space. Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey report: “Democrats say there is no serious effort to privately lobby the Republicans, with the party relying instead on public opinion and the House prosecutors to squeeze them into breaking ranks.”
-- Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) played with blue and purple fidget spinners. These are popular toys for children. In contrast, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who will potentially cast decisive votes on witnesses, almost never moved from their second-row desks. “Collins is a furious note taker, while Murkowski just stares intensely at the speaker,” Paul Kane reports.
|QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I am one pooped puppy," Murkowski said last night after Schiff's speech. She added that she was too tired to discuss the substance of the Democratic presentation right then. She said she might go home to draw a bath and enjoy a glass of wine. (Kane)
-- Collins sent a handwritten note to Roberts before his admonishment of the lawyers for both sides in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The senior senator for Maine, facing a tough reelection fight, told WCSH-TV in her state that the debate had become “too personal,” and she said she got mad when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler accused Senate Republicans of being part of a coverup. “I had heard both sides impugn the integrity of one another and also cast aspersions on the Senate,” Collins said. “That is just not appropriate.” Collins said she’s undecided on witnesses but added that the Nadler comments won’t affect her decision.
-- Fresh polling shows most Americans overwhelmingly think witnesses should testify. An AP-NORC poll shows that 7 in 10 Americans say Trump should allow his top aides to appear before the Senate, including most Republicans. The same survey found that 45 percent think Trump should be convicted, 40 percent said he should not be and 14 percent said they don’t know enough to have an opinion.
-- But, but, but: “Mitch McConnell doesn’t care what you think,” Ben Terris writes in a new profile of the majority leader. “He just wants to win.”
-- A growing number of Republican senators are pointing to Trump's threat to invoke executive privilege as an excuse to vote against even trying to call witnesses, CNN reports: “GOP senators are privately and publicly raising concerns that issuing subpoenas -- to top officials like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton and for documents blocked by the White House -- will only serve to drag out the proceedings. Plus, many say there's little appetite for such a time-consuming fight, given that legal battles may ultimately not be successful and could force the courts to rule on hugely consequential constitutional issues about the separation of powers between the branches of government.”
MORE FROM THE TRIAL:
-- Democrats used a significant chunk of time on Thursday to preemptively defend the Bidens, who they expect Trump’s lawyers to attack when they get the floor: “Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Tex.), another impeachment manager, sought to debunk the allegations that Joe Biden did anything nefarious in his dealings with Ukraine,” Seung Min Kim, John Wagner and Karoun Demirjian report. “But Republican senators said the focus on the Bidens by Democrats made the former vice president and his son fair game for Trump’s defense team. … Garcia noted that Trump and Republicans didn’t focus on Biden’s actions toward Ukraine until 2019 … She also referenced a letter from Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) … and other senators in the Ukraine Caucus to argue that Biden’s desire to see [prosecutor Viktor] Shokin removed reflected official U.S. policy … As Garcia spoke, a visibly upset and red-faced Johnson rose from his seat, approached Portman and whispered in his ear. Portman reacted impassively, but his comments did not appear to calm Johnson, who departed the floor for the Republican cloakroom moments later. Johnson, a fierce ally of Trump, said in October that he did not recall signing the letter. …
“Before the trial officially began Thursday afternoon, dozens of senators from both parties entered a secure facility in the Senate basement to view a classified document provided by Jennifer Williams, a national security adviser to Vice President Pence. … The document had been previously submitted to the House Intelligence Committee. Some senators spent only a few minutes in the facility; others stayed for the better part of an hour. Several Democrats emerged to say they didn’t understand why the document had been classified. ‘I don’t believe it’s being withheld from the public for national security reasons. It may be withheld for political security reasons,’ said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).”
-- The favorite talking point for most Senate Republicans continues to be that they’re learning nothing new because House managers are repeating themselves. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters during last night’s dinner break that it felt like “Groundhog Day in the Senate.” Ironically, he had repeated throughout the day that it felt like “Groundhog Day.” He said the same thing to CNN in the morning.
“For them to say they’re bored, it has a lot to do with them not wanting to hear evidence,” countered Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “They don’t want to hear that this president who they’re so busy supporting did these things. As I put it, the truth hurts.”
-- Tomorrow’s timing: Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) tells reporters that Saturday’s session will likely start and end earlier than the past few days. Party leaders are still trying to negotiate a deal to start the day as early as 8 a.m. so they can wrap up by noon. This would allow Democratic presidential candidates to fly to Iowa for campaign events. The trial has started at 1 p.m. during the week so that Chief Justice John Roberts can participate in pre-scheduled Supreme Court oral arguments before crossing the street to preside over the trial in the Capitol.
-- Pelosi may be half a world away from the Senate floor, but that doesn’t mean the speaker doesn’t have the trial under control. From the Times: “Even in her absence from the Capitol this week, as the speaker traveled through Poland and Israel … she had her hand firmly on the tiller. … In many ways, Ms. Pelosi is the eighth, largely unseen manager of the Democrats’ case. … Ms. Pelosi has dispatched her handpicked House general counsel to sit at the table inside the Senate chamber, with the prosecutors acting as her eyes and ears. She reviewed all the managers’ written briefs before they were filed."
THE LEGALITY QUESTION:
-- A core argument from Democrats yesterday was that the framers didn’t believe a president needed to break the law in order to warrant impeachment. “The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” said Nadler, one of the managers. “It does not leave us stuck with presidents who abuse their power in unforeseen ways that threaten our security and democracy. Until recently, it did not occur to me that our president would call a foreign leader and demand a sham investigation meant to kneecap his political opponents, all in exchange for releasing vital military aid that the president was already required by law to provide.”
-- The House’s lawyers filed a motion with an appeals court last night that says Trump’s defense lawyers have contradicted, and therefore undermined, the Department of Justice’s position on subpoenas. Ann Marimow reports: “The lawyers for [Pelosi] asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to rule quickly on the pair of separation-of-powers cases, which they said could affect the Senate proceedings. House Democrats went to court seeking testimony from former White House counsel Donald McGahn and access to secret grand jury evidence from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. Justice Department attorneys have urged the appeals court to stay out of what they say are political disputes between Congress and the White House.” But the president’s team is now telling the Senate that these are matters more properly left to the courts.
-- The White House also stonewalled the Government Accountability Office when the independent congressional watchdog requested information about the freeze on Ukraine aid. From Politico: “The White House responded to the [GAO’s] inquiry with a one-page letter on Dec. 20, citing a legal memo from the Office of Management and Budget that defended the hold on military aid as necessary to ensure spending the funds wouldn't ‘conflict with the President's foreign policy.’ … The correspondence is part of what led GAO to … conclude last week that Trump's decision to withhold military aid violated federal law.”
-- Follow the money: The documents turned over by Lev Parnas, Giuliani’s former associate, provide details about the web of dark money that helped fund Trump’s Ukrainian gambit. From Bloomberg News: “Money flowed to Giuliani and his cohorts from home loans, friends, relative strangers and wealthy businessmen, some with interests in the gas and energy sector. It even came from a lawyer for an embattled Ukrainian energy tycoon fighting extradition to the U.S. on a conspiracy charge. … The travel arrangements could brush up against campaign finance laws. While Giuliani [and Parnas] can volunteer as much of their time as they want for a campaign, any subsidy for such work by third parties would generally need to be reported as a contribution, and money from foreign individuals would be illegal.”
-- Commentary from The Post’s opinion pages:
- House GOP star witness Jonathan Turley: “Trump's impeachment defense could create a dangerous precedent.”
- Dana Milbank: "John Roberts comes face to face with the mess he made."
- Ruth Marcus: “A more assertive John Roberts would be a bad idea.”
- Brenda Wineapple, author of a book on Andrew Johnson’s impeachment: “If John Roberts is seeking a role model, let’s hope it’s not Salmon Chase.”
- Michael Gerson: “Republicans aren’t serving the country, or even the president. Just themselves.”
- Eugene Robinson: “Senate Republicans’ defense of Trump is as mushy as apple pie.”
- Josh Rogin: “Trump’s lawyers don’t understand how foreign aid works.”
- Jen Rubin: “House managers deliver a constitutional lesson.”
- Garret Graff, founding director of the Aspen Institute’s Cyber & Technology Program: “Trump won’t protect our elections, so private companies are doing it.”
- Dan Drezner: “When American political institutions give up: After three years of Trump, there have been some unhealthy adjustments.”
-- Regional radio hosts across the country have found themselves showered with attention by senior Trump officials, who have made accessibility to local conservative talking heads a central part of the president’s reelection strategy. Sarah Ellison reports: “Pouring attention on regional talk-radio hosts is a classic Trumpworld move: giving relatively unknown characters proximity to the White House has paid off with a disproportionate amount of attention and praise lavished on the president and his agenda. … The strategy has been particularly powerful as Trump and his team have engaged in what [Steve] Bannon calls ‘information warfare’ over the impeachment fight...”
-- Kamala "that-little-girl-was-me" Harris is weighing an endorsement of Joe Biden to boost her standing in the veepstakes. From the New York Times: “Such a move could lift Mr. Biden’s campaign and perhaps do even more to enhance Ms. Harris’s chances of becoming vice president, but it could also anger her liberal base in California. An endorsement by Ms. Harris, if she wades into the primary race at all, would be unlikely to happen until after the Senate impeachment trial … She and [Biden] have remained in contact since she exited the race and had a long conversation in the immediate aftermath of her departure.”
-- Anita Hill told an Iowa crowd last night that it’s too late for Biden to apologize for the way he mistreated and diminished her when she testified against Clarence Thomas in 1991. “The statute of limitations for his apology is up,” Hill said in response to a question from the audience at the University of Iowa, where she gave a lecture on ending sexual harassment. “What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do today? Will you promise as leader of this country … to use all of your energy to address the problem as it happened and to prevent it from happening to another generation? That’s what I want to hear. And I not only want to hear from him, I want to hear from every one of them who want to be the leader of this country.” (BuzzFeed News)
-- Bernie Sanders asked his supporters to cool it – but they don’t always listen. Sean Sullivan reports: “Campaign officials have been pressing surrogates and other allies not to escalate combustible disputes that have recently become more personal, ... including a tense fight with Joe Biden, a separate altercation with [Elizabeth Warren] and a renewed schism with Hillary Clinton. … But many Sanders supporters, and even some campaign aides, are inclined to take a more aggressive approach that they say will highlight important differences. … Some close Sanders allies acknowledged the difficulty of balancing the passions of his loyal backers, inspired by his calls for a political revolution and his staunchly liberal platform, with the need to demonstrate a broader unity.”
-- Sanders’s rise in the polls means he’ll be talking more about his electability than a revolution. While speeches he’s made over the past two weeks still feature his signature call to action, he’s spending more time explaining to voters how policies like Medicare-for-all would work in their daily lives, as well as how he could beat Trump. (Bloomberg News)
-- One in five women doubt that a woman can win the presidency, according to a new CNN poll. What’s telling about this news is that just 9 percent of men said the same. (Eugene Scott)
-- Mike Bloomberg may be lagging behind his Democratic competitors in the polls, but he’s attracted the president’s obsessive attention by baiting him with constant attack ads. Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer report: “The president has repeatedly attacked Bloomberg on Twitter, calling him ‘Mini Mike’ to insult his small stature, and frequently focused on him in conversations with campaign advisers and White House officials. ‘It’s very clear that the ads we are running have gotten under his skin because they are effective,’ said Howard Wolfson, a senior Bloomberg aide … Wolfson said to expect more blistering ads against the president in coming months. … Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey debuted a new ad on ‘Fox & Friends’ on Thursday that cited a new book by two Washington Post reporters, who chronicle how Trump lashed out at U.S. military leaders, characterizing them as ‘dopes and babies.’ Trump responded shortly after the spot aired.”
-- Former top supporters of Cory Booker accused Pete Buttigieg’s campaign of “chasing ambulances.” From BuzzFeed News: “The phone calls to Amy Nielsen came around two hours apart. It was last Monday around 12 p.m., not long after the news broke, when her phone lit up with his name. By then, Nielsen considered Cory Booker ‘part of [her] family.’ … So the end of his campaign felt … like ‘a death.’ … The next call came around 2:30 p.m., this time from an unknown number. It was Pete Buttigieg, calling to seek Nielsen’s support now that her candidate had made the decision to ‘step aside.’ … ‘It was a gut punch — like, really? He did not ‘step aside’ for you,’ she said. ‘Like, wow, that’s some nerve right there.’ Later that night, she said, Nielsen heard from one of Booker’s field organizers who said she had already been contacted by the Buttigieg campaign to go door-knock.”
-- Twelve years ago, Buttigieg spent the final week before the 2008 caucuses in rural southwest Iowa, trying to turn out voters for Barack Obama in one of the most conservative towns in the state. Holly Bailey spoke with him about what he learned: “‘This was a new experience to really talk to people like this,’ Buttigieg recalled. ‘And what I found was, first of all, you can’t assume where somebody is going to be. We were in an area where a lot of people weren’t Democrats to begin with, and those who were were more likely to be for [John] Edwards. But they would hear us out when we were talking about Obama. And sometimes, as you do when you go door-to-door, somebody, because you represent a presidential campaign, would just pour out everything that was on their mind, everything they were upset about."
-- Early voting means that millions are already eligible to cast their ballot. From the AP: “In Minnesota, in-person early voting began Jan. 17. Vermont’s deadline to mail out its absentee ballots was the same day. Many of the 14 Super Tuesday states will offer some form of early voting between now and mid-February.”
-- Howard County saw a bigger swing from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 than any other in Iowa. The Wall Street Journal's John McCormick took the pulse for 2020: “Recent interviews with dozens of voters here suggest that most of Mr. Trump’s 2016 supporters ... plan to stick with him, even though some said they have grown weary of his personal behavior and trade fights. Among those who previously voted for Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, many said they are reserving judgment until they see who wins the Democratic nomination. … What such swing voters do in 2020 will have national implications. Before Mr. Trump, Howard County hadn’t backed a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan in 1984. It is one of the 31 counties in Iowa—the most of any state—that backed Mr. Obama twice and then switched to Mr. Trump. The president won in 2016 partly because he ran up huge victories in small, heavily rural counties. While he is likely to win such areas again, margins could matter. If Democrats can keep him from racking up the kind of gains he did in places like Howard County in 2016, that could help determine whether he will again carry battleground states such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”
-- A new Iowa caucus app is sparking election security concerns. From NBC News: “The app will be used in Iowa and Nevada by caucus managers — local registered Democrats who sign up to organize and run the caucus process in each location — to expedite the process, calculate and assign delegates and report results back quickly. The app will also be used in satellite voting locations across the country and overseas. But questions about the app remain unanswered, including who developed it and whether it has been subjected to independent security testing. Security experts say that the app is a potential target for early election interference, particularly since it is downloaded on to the personal phones of the caucus managers. Party officials say operational security prevents them from disclosing specifics about the app.”
-- Big-money groups aligned with the Senate GOP raised $68.3 million in 2019, an off-year record. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “The majority of the money raised in 2019 came in the latter half of the year, particularly in the final two months, largely driven by the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.”
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULDN'T BE OVERLOOKED:
-- The ranks of scientists are growing thin in the Trump administration. Annie Gowen, Juliet Eilperin, Ben Guarino and Andrew Ba Tran report: “Dozens of government computers sit in a nondescript building [in Kansas City, Mo.], able to connect to a data model that could help farmers manage the impact of a changing climate on their crops. But no one in this federal agency would know how to access the model, or, if they did, what to do with the data. That’s because the ambitious federal researcher who created it in Washington quit rather than move when the Agriculture Department relocated his agency to an office park here last fall. He is one of hundreds of scientists across the federal government who have been forced out, sidelined or muted since President Trump took office. … In the first two years of the Trump administration, more than 1,600 federal scientists left government, according to Office of Personnel Management employment data … That represents a 1.5 percent drop, compared with the 8 percent increase during the same period in the Obama administration.”
-- The Justice Department conceded that it had “insufficient” cause to continue monitoring a former Trump campaign adviser during the Russia probe. Matt Zapotosky reports: “The concession was revealed in an order posted on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s website. In December, according to the order, the department told the court it had come to believe that in at least two of the four applications to monitor the former adviser, Carter Page, ‘there was insufficient predication to establish probable cause’ to believe he was acting as a Russian agent.”
-- The Trump administration will create additional new hurdles for pregnant foreign women seeking U.S. tourist visas. The administration said it's trying to crack down on what it calls “birth tourism," trying to reduce what conservatives call "anchor babies," by instructing consular officers to assess whether women requesting tourist visas are hoping to give birth on U.S. soil, which would effectively grant their children American citizenship. Starting today, the State Department will no longer issue temporary visitor visas to women hoping to travel to the country with the stated purpose of having a child. Foggy Bottom said consular officers cannot require pregnancy tests to make the determination but wouldn’t rule out a woman’s physical appearance when making the decision, per Abigail Hauslohner and Maria Sacchetti.
-- Trump's "national public health emergency" declaration on the opioid crisis expired because his people at the Department of Health and Human Services forgot to renew it. An HHS spokesperson said the nine-day lapse had been corrected and blamed a clerical error. The emergency status, first announced in 2017 as a measure deemed necessary to direct more resources toward the drug overdose crisis, needs to be renewed every 90 days. (Politico)
-- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, 17, needs to study economics before offering her thoughts on climate change. Heather Long reports from Davos: “Thunberg and Mnuchin are both attending the World Economic Forum this week. … At a news conference on Thursday, Mnuchin was asked for his reaction to Thunberg’s insistence on fossil fuel divestment. ‘Who is she?’ he tried to joke to reporters before taking a jab at Thunberg, suggesting she didn’t understand what she was talking about. … ‘Is she the chief economist or who is she? I’m confused. ... After she goes and studies economics in college she can go back and explain that to us.’”
-- Actress Annabella Sciorra, who played Gloria in "The Sopranos," testified that Harvey Weinstein raped her more than 25 years ago. Shayna Jacobs reports: “‘I was punching him. I was kicking him. I was just trying to get him away from me, and he took my hands and put them over my head,’ Sciorra told the jury in Weinstein’s sexual assault trial, her eyes welling up with tears and her voice breaking. … Weinstein, who had been watching her from the defense table, turned his gaze away from his accuser as she emotionally detailed the encounter. … In her five hours of testimony, she described freezing after the attack, adding that ‘It was just so disgusting that my body started to shake.’ She said she had no romantic interest in Weinstein. The film producer arrived at her Manhattan apartment uninvited one night.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- “A young, healthy man from Wuhan and a person living 1,500 miles from the epicenter of the coronavirus are among the latest victims of the outbreak, which has incited fear and anger across China as the important Spring Festival gets underway,” Anna Fifield reports from Beijing. “Reports of eight new deaths from the pneumonia-like virus, taking the total to 26, came as authorities enforced a lockdown across large parts of the province of Hubei, population 59 million. But they also came as the medical system clearly struggled to cope with the outbreak, with reports of crowded hospitals, stressed doctors and dwindling supplies. Adding to the stress, Friday marked the official start of … when China celebrates the arrival of the new lunar year. Authorities around the country, including in the capital Beijing, have canceled the temple fairs and festivals that accompany the holiday to avoid having large public gatherings where the airborne virus could be spread. …The Forbidden City in Beijing, which can admit 80,000 people a day and was already entirely sold out for the holiday, has been closed until further notice. Production companies have postponed the release of seven blockbuster films that were to be released over the holiday, leading Chinese cinema companies to close the country’s 70,000 movie theaters. …
“The National Health Commission reported Friday that there are now more than 830 confirmed cases of infection, and reports of new cases continued to roll in from around the country: from Xinjiang in the west to Shandong in the east, from Inner Mongolia in the north to Hainan in the south. A total of 8,420 were reported to be under observation. South Korean authorities confirmed Friday that a second person tested positive for the new coronavirus. … Japan also confirmed a second case, a man in his 40s from Wuhan who arrived in Japan on Sunday on a flight through Hong Kong. Other countries to have reported infections including Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States. In addition to a confirmed case in Washington state, Texas has reported a potential case of coronavirus in Brazos County, about 100 miles northwest of Houston. The patient contracted a respiratory illness within two weeks of traveling in Wuhan and is being isolated at home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“Some details about the latest deaths in China have raised concerns about the virus’s spread. Until now, the vast majority of the people had been older than 60 and almost all of them had existing health conditions. All of them had been in Hubei province … But the latest announcement said that 36-year-old man from Wuhan, identified only by his family name, Li, died on Thursday. He had no chronic diseases or other existing health conditions, and had been treated with anti-virus medication and antibiotics since being admitted to a hospital on Jan. 9.”
-- Wall Street stumbled yesterday amid fears that efforts to curtail the virus could further disrupt the global economy. (David Lynch)
-- The U.S. has officially refused to extradite Anne Sacoolas, the diplomat’s wife who fled the U.K. to avoid facing charges for killing a British teen by driving on the wrong side of the road. A State Department spokesman said extraditing Sacoolas would “set an extraordinarily troubling precedent” but did not elaborate. (Meagan Flynn)
-- Trump’s sanctions on Iran are fueling a new refugee crisis – in Turkey. Erin Cunningham and Mohammad Mahdi Sultani report: “Decades ago, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prompted thousands of people to flee to neighboring Iran. Now, many of these refugees are once again seeking a new home in a new land, Turkey, desperate to escape the dire economic conditions fueled by U.S. sanctions on Tehran. … Turkish authorities are grappling with nearly 4 million refugees. This is the world’s largest population of displaced people, according to the United Nations, including more than 170,000 registered Afghan refugees. Turkey has struggled to contain the influx even as aid agencies say the number of arrivals from Iran is on the rise.”
-- A critic of the Saudi Arabian government said a suspected Saudi agent tried to kidnap him on U.S. soil, a claim backed up by multiple U.S. and foreign sources familiar with the episode. From the Daily Beast: “Abdulrahman Almutairi is a 27-year-old comedian and former student at the University of San Diego with a big social-media presence. After Almutairi used social media to criticize the powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman over the October 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post contributor [Jamal] Khashoggi, an unidentified Saudi man accompanied Almutairi’s father on a flight to collect Almutairi against his will and bring him back to Saudi Arabia..."
-- The Trump administration has missed the deadline, established by law, to turn over to Congress an unclassified report on Khashoggi's murder and the role played by the regime in Riyadh. From BuzzFeed News: “In December, lawmakers passed a sweeping defense bill that included a provision ordering the director of national intelligence to send Congress an unclassified report identifying those responsible for Khashoggi’s death at a Saudi Arabian consulate in 2018. The legislation set the deadline for the report at 30 days, which passed earlier this week.”
-- A small team of FBI agents spent years trying to solve a stubborn mystery – whether officials from Saudi Arabia were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. A team of ProPublica and NYT Magazine reporters tell their story: “The FBI has disputed the idea that foreign-policy considerations significantly influenced its investigation. In interviews, current and former bureau officials and federal prosecutors insisted to us that they never would have hesitated to pursue any Saudi who could have been solidly linked to the 9/11 plot … But others who worked on the matter, including some at the FBI’s highest levels, say that the United States’ complex and often-troubled relationship with the Saudi regime was an unavoidable fact throughout their investigations. Even as the Saudi authorities became more cooperative with the United States in fighting al-Qaida after 2003, they were minimally and grudgingly helpful when it came to the 9/11 inquiry. According to current and former officials, requests for assistance that might rattle the Saudi security agencies were frequently balanced against FBI and CIA needs for Saudi help against continuing terror threats.”
-- Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival, Benny Gantz, next week to discuss his Middle East peace plan. The meeting comes amid Trump’s trial, as well as Netanyahu and Gantz’s own troubles at home, where they’ve both failed to form a government. (ABC News)
-- Hundreds of thousands reportedly protested the American troop presence in Iraq. Families and children marched along signs that read “no, no to America," as the White House ignores Iraq’s parliament’s vote to expel U.S. troops from the country. (CNN)
-- The top U.S. commander in the Middle East said the recent troop surge there may not end soon, despite what the president said. “You’re here because I requested that you come,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie told sailors and Marines aboard the USS Bataan amphibious assault ship. “I’m not sure how long you’re going to stay in the theater. We’ll work that out as we go ahead. Could be quite a while, could be less than that, just don’t know right now.” (AP)
-- Some Mexicans believe the Central American caravans might soon come to an end as the nation’s authorities strengthen their anti-migrant operations at the Guatemalan border. From the AP: “From the roadside stand where his family sells mole, barbecue and chicken stew, Miguel Ángel Vázquez has seen all the caravans of Central American migrants and asylum seekers stream past his front door in recent years… After watching armored National Guard troops and immigration agents break up the latest one right on his doorstep, loading men, women and wailing children onto buses and hauling them off to a detention center in the nearby city of Tapachula, he’s sure of one thing. ‘I can see that these caravans are no longer going to pass,’ said Vásquez, 56.”
-- East Africa is suffering its wort invasion of desert locusts in 25 years. (CNN)
-- Climate change will disrupt the global economy, but central banks aren’t ready. From the Times: “A report issued this week by an umbrella organization for the world’s central banks argued that ... central bankers lack tools to deal with what it says could be one of the biggest economic dislocations of all time. The book-length report, published by the Bank for International Settlements, in Basel, Switzerland, signals what could be the overriding theme for central banks in the decade to come.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Tim Miller, the former spokesman for the Republican National Committee and communications director for Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign who has emerged as a Trump critic, blasted Blackburn for her tweet about Vindman:
Stanford professor Mike McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia and a Post contributing columnist, demanded that Blackburn present evidence:
Mitch McConnell made lots of eye contact with Adam Schiff:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) suggested a drinking game:
Trump's vanquished 2016 rival also refused to answer questions from reporters at CNN and the Times about whether Trump's July 25 call was "perfect":
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tried to troll House impeachment managers during their presentation by reading this book on the Senate floor:
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) assured supporters that she can both do her day job and run for president:
Marianne Williamson, who dropped out of the presidential race earlier this month, said her appearance with Andrew Yang in Iowa does not constitute an endorsement:
Bernie Sanders hit back at the JPMorgan Chase CEO after he criticized socialism:
Pete Buttigieg launched his campaign one year ago yesterday. A senior adviser marveled at how far he's come:
Mike Bloomberg’s commercials are breaking through:
And Trump continued to tweet up a storm, sharing this picture that a supporter posted:
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
We looked at the different effects Trump’s immigration policies have had on migrant populations:
Stephen Colbert reviewed the many ways senators have distracted themselves during the trial:
And Seth Meyers listed a few times when the Senate wasn’t the “world’s greatest deliberative body”: