With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Ken Starr said Monday that “the rank criminality of the Nixon administration” necessitated the 37th president’s impeachment.

Speaking on the Senate floor in his capacity as President Trump’s defense lawyer, Starr held up the proceedings against Richard Nixon — not the Bill Clinton impeachment he’ll always be remembered for — as the gold standard.

He contrasted the House’s 410-to-4 vote authorizing a formal impeachment inquiry against Nixon in 1974 with the fact that no Republican lawmakers supported the Trump impeachment inquiry in October or his impeachment in December. Starr quoted Peter Rodino, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee back then, saying that impeachment must be bipartisan to be accepted by the American people. 

Trump’s emissary added that the article of impeachment charging Nixon with abuse of power laid out “a deeply troubling story of numerous crimes — not one, not two, numerous crimes — carried out at the direction of the president himself.” In contrast, Starr said, the article of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power does not accuse him of breaking any specific statutes. Nixon resigned before the full House could impeach him, so he never faced a Senate trial.

“Importantly, President Nixon's own party was slowly but inexorably moving toward favoring the removal of their chosen leader from the nation's highest office — who had just won reelection by a landslide,” Starr told the senators in a 54-minute presentation. “It bears emphasis: This was the first presidential impeachment in over 100 years. It also bears emphasis: It was powerfully bipartisan.

“Like war, impeachment is hell,” he continued. “Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment, including members of this body, full well understand that a presidential impeachment is tantamount to domestic war. … But it's filled with acrimony and it divides the country like nothing else. … I respectfully submit that the Senate should close this chapter, this idiosyncratic chapter, on this increasingly disruptive act.”

Democrats have hoped this process would become a Watergate redux. Lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has wondered aloud why GOP lawmakers aren’t turning on the president. “Where,” he’s asked, “is Howard Baker?” Reacting to news about John Bolton’s book manuscript, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared yesterday that this trial is unfolding “a little bit” like Watergate. “Every few days, there’s another revelation and another revelation and another revelation, and the case gets stronger and stronger,” he said yesterday afternoon during a break.

Thanks partly to the influence of longtime confidants like Roger Stone — who literally has a Nixon tattoo — Trump historically has appeared to identify more with Nixon than other Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. After all, Trump paid to run full-page ads in The Washington Post attacking Reagan’s foreign policy in 1987. 

But even the president’s strongest critics in the Capitol, who argue that his alleged abuses are more egregious than Nixon’s, concede privately that Trump will almost certainly be acquitted in a matter of days or weeks. I talked to several historians and veterans of that era, from the White House and Congress, about some of the differences. In addition to what Starr said, here are five other key differences between then and now:

1) Nixon didn’t have Fox News.

“Nixon never would have been forced to resign if you existed in your current state back in 1972, ’73, ’74,” Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera told Fox News host Sean Hannity in 2018 amid Bob Mueller’s probe. “It’s too bad for Nixon because nobody like you existed then. I say that because I believe that our prime responsibility now is to unshackle the 45th president of the United States.”

It’s a worthwhile counterfactual to consider, especially as Fox’s morning show and prime-time hosts stayed almost unflappably loyal no matter how bad the news. The late Roger Ailes, who founded Fox News, was Nixon’s media consultant and created the channel as an alternative to the mainstream media that he felt had been too harsh on Nixon. 

“There are other cultural and social factors, but our current media landscape is one of the key differences between the Nixon era and today,” said New York University’s Michael Koncewicz, author of “They Said No to Nixon: Republicans Who Stood Up to the President’s Abuses of Power.”

“Nixon always told his advisers that they needed to build a ‘new establishment,’ and that included media,” Koncewicz explained. “For many Nixon loyalists, the lesson of Watergate was that they didn't have the media on their side. Conservative media has played a crucial role in making sure that politicians and voters are loyal to Trump.”

Last night alone brought several fresh illustrations of just how much air cover Fox News provides for Trump, even after the kind of development that might have doomed previous presidents. For a moment, try to imagine the fallout if a former national security adviser in any previous White House wrote a book accusing the sitting president of linking military aid with investigations of his political challenger.

At the top of his show, Hannity declared that Trump’s defense team had obliterated the case against the president. “The Democrats' pathetic case is getting blown to pieces,” he said. “They should be embarrassed. … It's time to put this to an end. It's a charade.” 

Then House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) came on and told Hannity that no witnesses need to be called because the July 25 rough transcript totally vindicates Trump. 

During his show, Tucker Carlson likened Bolton to a snake for his “betrayal” of the president. “Will John Bolton testify? Who knows? Either way, it won't change the outcome: Trump will be acquitted,” Carlson reassured his viewers. “It's a totally stupid sideshow. We'll be embarrassed about it later.”

House Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Devin Nunes (Calif.) told Laura Ingraham that the National Security Council staff should be “quarantined across the Potomac” until damaging leaks for the president stop.

Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, told Martha McCallum earlier in the evening that Democrats impeached Trump because of his economic success. 

“The Five” co-host Greg Gutfeld claimed with a straight face that Bolton’s book “vindicates Trump” because it shows he cares about corruption. “It’s nothing,” Gutfeld said of the latest bombshell.

It’s like this every day. There are several very serious journalists at the network, especially Chris Wallace, but they occasionally find themselves at loggerheads with pundits. 

Koncewicz, who previously worked for the National Archives at the Nixon presidential library, pointed to some of the modern conservative media figures, including at Fox, who have defended Nixon, including Carlson. “There's definitely a split,” he said on Monday after watching Starr eviscerate Nixon. “Some are willing to throw him under the bus, but others view him as a martyr for the cause. I think a part of the conservative movement believed that Watergate was a political hit job against a president who won a landslide victory in 1972. That part of the movement has been emboldened by the similarities between Nixon and Trump.”

2) Nixon didn’t have an economy this strong.

Ken Khachigian was a deputy special assistant to Nixon in the White House from 1970 until the end, and he stayed loyal to help the former president write his memoirs. When I asked if Nixon might have survived with Fox News, Khachigian said that’s just part of the story. 

“You're right on point, we would have had a much better chance of survival with a different media environment,” he emailed. “We were stuck, basically, with three networks, wires, newspapers, etc., with no safety valves to release our side of the story in counterpoint with any volume. If there had been the equivalent of Fox, as well as talk radio, social networking PLUS a majority in the Senate, we would have had more national leverage to get our message across. We had plenty of ammo, but fewer guns.”

But Khachigian noted that they had “other obstacles” — “namely poor timing by defending Israel in the Yom Kippur War, inflaming the Arab states resulting in the Arab Oil embargo. Gasoline prices shot up; there were gas lines, shortages resulting in basic nightmares that affected voters every day beginning in the fall of ‘73 through the winter. Finally, America was exhausted after the long and divisive domestic battles over the Vietnam War — with Nixon getting the brunt. And we, in the White House — after slogging through the culture wars defending the unpopular policies of a wartime president, faced with the recession caused by international events, topped by Watergate and impeachment — were weary of the battle as well. Many in the staff didn't have the stomach for it, and without the proper level of legal defense, there was little hope — adding it all up — of having staying power. There's more, but that's my elevator version.”

The new Washington Post-ABC News poll published yesterday shows Trump is in a much stronger position to get reelected than he was in the fall, and the economy is a big part of why. This president’s approval rating has gone up during the impeachment process.

3) Nixon would have faced a much less loyal Senate if he had gone to trial. 

Republicans were in the minority, but the institution was different back then. 

“The rise of Fox News and its powerful hold on the Republican base is certainly an important factor in our increasingly tribal politics. But in my view, this Senate impeachment trial, and the failure of Republican senators to step up to their responsibility, reflects the long decline of the Senate, which has become an accelerating downward spiral in the last decade,” said Ira Shapiro, who served 12 years in senior Democratic staff roles in the Senate before serving as a trade negotiator in the Clinton administration. “If Nixon had been impeached, his trial would have occurred in a strong Senate that operated on the basis on bipartisanship, mutual respect and trust. … Republicans would not have been blind defenders of the president; nor would they have simply fallen in line behind any Senate Republican leader.”

Shapiro wrote “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis” about what the chamber was like in the 1970s. He said the Senate was eager to reassert its power against the “imperial presidencies” of both Lyndon Johnson and Nixon. He also notes that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell maintains much stronger control over his conference than Hugh Scott ever could have in 1974. 

Shapiro has been most surprised during this trial about how retiring Republican senators who will never face voters again, besides Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), have not appeared to waver thus far on voting to call witnesses. “My fear has always been that the broken Senate would weaken to the point where it could not perform its ultimate responsibility: checking a corrupt and dangerous president who threatened our constitutional system and our democracy,” said Shapiro. “That nightmare scenario is upon us. It would only take a few Senate Republicans to prevent it.”

4) Lordy, there aren’t tapes this time.

Presidential historian Tim Naftali, who as the director of the Nixon presidential library created the first objective exhibit on Watergate at the accompanying museum, said “the key variable” is the tapes.

“It is the damning nature of the White House tapes,” said Naftali, who wrote a chapter in “Impeachment: An American History,” an excellent summary of when the process has been used. “In August [1974], after he knew he would have to turn over the June 23, 1972 tape eventually, the president still delayed his resignation on the off chance that his defenders would swallow the revelation of the ‘smoking gun’ tape. But they didn't. I don't see that, even if they had had a friendly outlet at their disposal, their anger at being deceived would have been any less strong. This is not to say that relentless, shameless spin doesn't matter in shaping the pressures on elected officials, but even President ‘read-the-transcript’ Trump knows that his defenders like to believe that their faith in him is based on something.”

5) Trump’s acting White House chief of staff is stonewalling to protect him.

“Al Haig was not looking out for Nixon the way Mick Mulvaney is looking out for Trump,” said Ray Locker, the author of “Haig’s Coup” and “Nixon’s Gamble.” 

Locker says “one huge difference” is that the Trump White House is even less cooperative about requests for testimony and records than Nixon’s. “The Nixon White House did a terrible job of defending him,” he said. “You look at what they talked about during that time. They were not really hammering away. They made a halfhearted attempt to rebut John Dean when he testified. … They just weren’t going after these people the way that Trump is. They cooperated more. Haig was giving them documents.”

In a statement yesterday, the attorney for Mulvaney, Bob Driscoll, dismissed the charges in Bolton’s book concerning the acting chief of staff’s knowledge about alleged actions taken toward Ukraine as having “more to do with publicity than the truth.” 

“John Bolton never informed Mick Mulvaney of any concerns surrounding Bolton’s purported August conversation with the president,” Driscoll claimed. “Nor did Mr. Mulvaney ever have a conversation with the president or anyone else indicating that Ukrainian military aid was withheld in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation of Burisma, the Bidens, or the 2016 election.”


-- Trump and his team are still trying to contain the damage from Bolton’s book. Defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz dismissed the kerfuffle over the manuscript during a speech last night on the Senate floor. “Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” he said.

-- Defense lawyer Jane Raskin said Rudy Giuliani was doing what every defense lawyer is supposed to do when he pursued leads in Ukraine to help the president. “Mr. Giuliani is just a minor player, that shiny object designed to distract you,” she told senators. “You may not like his style, but one might argue that he is everything Clarence Darrow said: A defense lawyer must be outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rogue, a renegade.” 

-- Defense lawyer Jay Sekulow argued that Democrats are really trying to remove Trump over policy differences, not for abusing power. “If the bar of impeachment has now reached that level, then for the sake of the republic, the danger that puts not just this body but our entire constitutional framework in is unmanageable,” he said. 

-- Starr’s lecture to Senate Democrats about how presidential impeachments are terrible for democracy bewildered Democrats, via Mike DeBonis: “He has given new meaning to the term irony — maybe even hypocrisy,” said Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “It was really incredibly surreal to see him talking about impeachment as something that should be done with solemnity and restraint. If they had chosen a worse spokesman on that topic, they would have had to search very hard.” 

-- Who is paying all these defense attorneys? Ann Marimow, Beth Reinhard and Josh Dawsey report: “The Republican National Committee is picking up the tab for at least two of Trump’s private attorneys [Sekulow and Raskin] in the ongoing trial, an arrangement that differs from the legal fund then-president Bill Clinton set up, only to see it fail to raise enough to cover his millions of dollars in bills before he left office. … Because Trump is on trial as a result of his status as an officeholder or candidate, election law allows him to dip into campaign or party funds for his legal bills. … [Dershowitz] said he will not accept payment for his work … Starr declined to talk about his legal fees … Bondi did not respond to request for comment about her salary.”

-- Over the past four months, congressional Republicans have floated no fewer than 29 defenses of Trump’s actions on Ukraine. (JM Rieger rounds them up.)

-- “This is all a game,” Joe Biden told reporters last night In Iowa after the president’s attorneys attacked him and his son. “Even if they bring me up — no one has said I’ve done anything that was wrong, period. What is there to defend?” (ABC)

-- The bigger picture: Bolton’s book adds to the mounting evidence that the pressure Trump and his aides put on Ukraine was driven by a focus on his political rivals. (Paul Sonne and Roz Helderman connect the dots.)

-- The latest: Bolton reveals in the draft of his book that he expressed concern directly to Attorney General Bill Barr last year that Trump was effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China, the New York Times scoops: “Mr. Barr responded by pointing to a pair of Justice Department investigations of companies in those countries and said he was worried that Mr. Trump had created the appearance that he had undue influence over what would typically be independent inquiries, according to the manuscript. … Mr. Bolton’s account underscores the fact that the unease about Mr. Trump’s seeming embrace of authoritarian leaders, long expressed by experts and his opponents, also existed among some of the senior cabinet officers entrusted by the president to carry out his foreign policy and national security agendas. … 

Mr. Bolton wrote in the manuscript that Mr. Barr singled out Mr. Trump’s conversations with [Xi Jinping] about the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE, which agreed in 2017 to plead guilty and pay heavy fines for violating American sanctions on doing business with North Korea, Iran and other countries. A year later, Mr. Trump lifted the sanctions over objections from his own advisers and Republican lawmakers. 

Mr. Barr also cited remarks Mr. Trump made to [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] in 2018 about the investigation of Halkbank, Turkey’s second-largest state-owned bank. The Justice Department was scrutinizing Halkbank on fraud and money-laundering charges for helping Iran evade sanctions imposed by the Treasury DepartmentMr. Erdogan had been making personal appeals to Mr. Trump to use his authority to halt any additional enforcement against the bank. … For months, it looked as though the unusual lobbying effort might succeed; but in October, the Justice Department indicted the bank for aiding Iran. The charges were seen in part as an attempt by the administration to show that it was taking a tough line on Turkey.” 

-- Bolton, his publisher and his literary agency said “categorically” in a joint statement that they did not leak the manuscript to the Times. The Times says it does not discuss sources and methods. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec responded to the Times story: “There was no discussion of 'personal favors' or 'undue influence' on investigations, nor did Attorney General Barr state that the president's conversations with foreign leaders was improper.”

-- Follow the money: “An ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has hired a Washington lobbyist whose business has boomed under the Trump administration as part of a $12.5 million effort to ease sanctions and reset bilateral relations as the U.S.-backed campaign to oust the socialist leader stalls,” the AP reports: “The Maduro government’s top lawyer, Inspector General Reinaldo Muñoz, hired lobbyist Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group as part of a larger contract he signed with Foley & Lardner, a law firm with offices in Washington. … Muñoz’s contract with Foley, for a flat fee of $12.5 million, extends until May 10. Stryk’s share of the deal, as a consultant, is $2 million. Stryk, a winemaker and former Republican aide who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Yountville, California, is one of the top lobbyists in Trump’s Washington.

“A former unpaid Trump campaign adviser on the West Coast, his firm, Sonoran Policy Group, had no reported lobbying from 2013 to 2016 but has billed more than $10.5 million to foreign clients since the start of 2017. Like Venezuela, many of the clients have bruised reputations in Washington or are under U.S. sanctions, such as the governments of Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior, which signed a $5.4 million contract in May 2017. He also represents the scandal-plagued Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, who is fighting allegations that she accumulated vast wealth through state loans brokered by her father, Angola’s former president.

“This month, Stryk’s name showed up in handwritten notes released by the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry into Trump. [Lev Parnas] wrote a note to himself on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Vienna saying ‘hire Robert Stryk lobbiest.’ … One of Giuliani’s clients, Venezuelan businessman Alejandro Betancourt, hosted Trump’s personal attorney and Parnas at his castle outside Madrid last summer. … Stryk did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment.”

-- Notable commentary from The Post’s opinion page:

  • Barbara McQuade, University of Michigan law professor and former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan: “Trump waived executive privilege when he called Bolton a liar.”
  • George Conway, conservative lawyer and husband to counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway: “Bolton’s testimony would be devastating. Not even Republicans could look away.”
  • The Post’s Editorial Board: “If senators fail to call Bolton, their trial is a farce.”
  • Jonathan Turley: “The revelations about Bolton’s book may not be so devastating for Trump.”
  • Michael Gerson on Bolton: “Trump has finally met his match.”
  • Eugene Robinson: “If John Bolton doesn’t testify, it’s a coverup, not a trial.”
  • Dana Milbank: “Trump’s lawyers suffer from Bolton-induced amnesia.”
  • Catherine Rampell: “Our expectations for Republican senators are so low it’s astonishing.”
  • Max Boot: “Republicans’ lack of outrage — even after Bolton’s smoking-gun evidence — is outrageous.”
  • Jennifer Rubin: “Trump’s defense is irrelevant. Only Bolton matters now.”
  • Harry Litman: “Why ‘too much delay’ is such a bogus argument against bringing in John Bolton.”
  • Paul Waldman: “The Trump team’s latest impeachment strategy: Trolling.”
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-- Trump’s Middle East peace plan is expected to offer conditional statehood for Palestinians. Anne Gearan, Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash report: “Trump described his proposals for Middle East peace in private meetings Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the veteran Israeli leader’s challenger in upcoming elections, Benny Gantz. No Palestinians attended the White House preview of what is described as a highly detailed proposal for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that dates from Israel’s founding in 1948. … The package is expected to propose a redrawn border between Israel and the West Bank that would incorporate large Jewish settlements into Israel proper, while continuing some forms of Israeli security control over the territory Israel seized in 1967 and has occupied since. … It is expected to offer limited autonomy to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that would increase over about a three-year timeline if Palestinian leadership undertook new political measures, renounced violence and took other steps in negotiation with Israel.”

-- Bibi withdrew his request for immunity from prosecution on corruption charges hours before parliamentary proceedings on the issue were set to begin. From the AP: “The Knesset was widely expected to reject Netanyahu’s immunity request, which would have dealt a massive blow to the prime minister ahead of the March 2 parliamentary elections — the third in less than a year. Netanyahu’s Likud party was planning to boycott Tuesday’s Knesset session. Netanyahu’s retraction paves the way for legal proceedings against him to go forward. He was indicted on counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in November in three separate cases.” 

-- As fear over the spread of the coronavirus grows, the U.S. warned Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to China. Gerry Shih, Lena Sun, Simon Denyer and Joel Achenbach report: “In a rare public mea culpa, a Chinese official said Monday that the government had mishandled the early stages of the crisis, which has claimed at least 100 lives and infected more than 4,400 people. Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang, speaking with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, said his city did not release ‘timely and satisfactory’ information at the start of the epidemic, and he appeared to blame higher-ups in his chain of command. … The mayor said 5 million people have already left his city, some before and some after the official quarantine. … 

Late Monday, a top U.S. health official criticized Chinese authorities for not inviting U.S. and other international investigative agencies to join them in researching the new virus. While China has been more transparent than it was during the 2003 SARS outbreak, U.S. officials are still getting their information through press briefings rather than from direct transfer of scientific data, said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci pointed out that China’s health minister, Ma Xiaowei, said publicly Sunday that the virus could be transmitted by an infected person even before symptoms appear. … This could affect how the U.S. screens people traveling from China. …

Amid growing alarm about the disease’s fast spread, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is boosting staffing at 20 U.S. airports that have quarantine facilities. … Epidemiologists around the globe raced to understand how the virus spreads, how long it incubates before making a person ill, whether it can be contagious even when the person is asymptomatic, and how lethal it is. They said the public should not assume the worst about this outbreak. This virus does not appear to be as deadly as SARS or MERS, two similar coronaviruses that made the jump from animals to humans earlier this century and that were ultimately contained. … In the United States, 110 people in 26 states are being tested for possible infection, but only five so far … are confirmed to have the infection.”

-- Hong Kong and Russia announced dramatic restrictions on travel to and from China as governments across Asia struggle with an increasingly difficult dilemma: choosing between public health or economic vitality. Shih and Denyer report: “Do they stop people from traveling to their countries for business or vacation and risk a major hit to their economies or should they hope increased border screenings will prevent the epidemic from spreading further? … But China’s government can’t afford to shut the economy down indefinitely — not least because its political legitimacy and its expensive system of societal control rest squarely on economic growth and tax revenue. … Global stock markets took a sharp downturn Monday as investors grew increasingly anxious about the swift spread of the coronavirus beyond China. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 454 points, or about 1.6 percent.” 

 -- A U.S. military plane crashed in Taliban territory in Afghanistan. Sayed Salahuddin and Susannah George report: “It was unknown how many people were on board or whether there were survivors. … Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed on Twitter that an ‘enemy intelligence aircraft’ crashed and subsequently told The Post that ‘our mujahideen [fighters] tactically crashed the plane.’ He did not explain what tactics were purportedly used to bring down the plane.” 

-- U.S.-backed Afghan forces have been unable to reach the site of the crash. Afghan officials said bad weather and heavily mined roads have prevented forces from reaching the site more than 24 hours after the crash was first reported. U.S. officials have not said how many people were on board or whether there were survivors. (Sharif Hassan and Susannah George)

-- The U.S. dropped more munitions on Afghanistan last year than at any other time over the past decade. (Task & Purpose)

-- Syrian government forces launched a new attack against the final rebel-held pocket in northwestern Syria following a short-lived cease-fire. Sarah Dadouch and Asser Khattab report: “Government troops started pushing westward this week from near the city of Aleppo, prompting panic and flight among residents on the rebel-held side of the province living in what they considered a relatively safe area. … Various Turkish-backed rebel factions and Islamist groups have fortified themselves in Syria’s northwestern corner. These groups oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have been retaking territory across Syria. … Syria’s official news agency SANA said Monday that the Syrian army had expanded its operations into western Aleppo in retaliation for ‘repeated assaults by terrorist organizations’ on residential neighborhoods in government-held Aleppo, which SANA said resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries.”

-- The State Department removed an NPR reporter from a trip with Mike Pompeo days after the secretary of state got into a dispute with another reporter from the news organization. Carol Morello reports: “Michele Kelemen, a veteran State Department correspondent for NPR, was scheduled to be one of a handful of reporters flying on Pompeo’s plane to report on his week-long trip to Europe and Central Asia starting Wednesday. It was Kelemen’s turn in a rotation for a ‘pool’ seat on the plane representing radio reporters, and she got the needed visas. But … Kelemen was notified Sunday that she would not accompany Pompeo on his trip to five countries including Ukraine. … Kelemen was given no formal reason for being kicked off. … She was dropped after Pompeo got into a contentious exchange with NPR host Mary Louise Kelly and issued a statement accusing her of lying to him.”


-- “The helicopter pilot flying Kobe Bryant, the basketball star’s daughter and six other passengers Sunday grappled with poor weather, asking at one point for special permission to fly by sight in worse-than-normal visibility, but he displayed no signs of concern in his communications with air traffic controllers,” Ian Duncan, Luz Lazo, Justin George and Rick Maese report. “Shortly after he got special clearance to continue through controlled airspace, he veered from Highway 101 below and crashed into the Calabasas, Calif., hills. … On Monday, the investigation got underway, with a team from the National Transportation Safety Board arriving at a crash site guarded against curious eyes by sheriff’s deputies on horseback. … In air traffic control records reviewed by The Washington Post, the pilot requested permission to fly under the special conditions near Burbank Airport. [National Transportation Safety Board board member Jennifer] Homendy said the pilot circled for 12 minutes until the approval came. On the records reviewed by The Post, the Burbank controller responds that it will be a few moments and asks the pilot to hold. Seconds later, the controller tells the pilot that he can plan to transition to the north side of Van Nuys Airport. … 

Ara Zobayan, the pilot at the controls, was experienced at flying in the area and served as Bryant’s pilot for a number of years, according to the director of a Los Angeles aviation trade group. Zobayan had held a commercial license since 2007 and was qualified to fly in bad weather under regulations known as instrument flight rules, according to FAA records. He was also qualified to teach people to fly in those conditions, indicating that he had significant experience.”

-- The U.S. attorney in Manhattan said that prosecutors and FBI officials handling the Jeffrey Epstein sex abuse investigation had reached out to Britain’s Prince Andrew, but the royal who has faced allegations related to Epstein had so far provided “zero cooperation.” Matt Zapotosky and William Booth report: “U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman made the assertion outside of Epstein’s New York City mansion at a news conference meant to raise awareness about a state law that provides a window for those sexually abused as children to sue their abuser even if the statute of limitations has expired. In response to questions from reporters, Berman said the investigation into Epstein’s abuse and those who might have facilitated it was ongoing — even though he killed himself while in federal custody on sex trafficking charges last year. As a part of that case, Berman said investigators had reached out to Prince Andrew. One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, claims she was paid by Epstein for sexual encounters with the prince when she was 17 years old. Buckingham Palace did not immediately comment on the developments.”

-- A second Harvey Weinstein accuser took the witness stand to describe an alleged 2006 sexual assault. Shayna Jacobs reports: “Mimi Haleyi, 42, said Weinstein forced her into his bedroom after she accepted what she thought was a friendly social invitation to meet at his condominium in New York’s SoHo neighborhood on July 10, 2006. … Haleyi, who said she rejected prior advances by the powerful movie producer, testified that the visit quickly became a nightmare. … Defense lawyer Damon Cheronis suggested Haleyi was trying to exploit a relationship with Weinstein to help her career. She sent him her friends’ scripts and pitched him her own production called ‘Trash TV,’ while checking in with him periodically about whether he had any production gigs for her. … Weinstein is charged with a criminal sex act for allegedly forcing oral sex on Haleyi. He also faces rape charges related to aspiring actress Jessica Mann, who says Weinstein assaulted her at a Doubletree Hotel in Manhattan in 2013.”

-- The Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to begin implementing “wealth test” rules making it easier to deny immigrants residency or U.S. entry based on whether they have used or could use public-assistance programs. Robert Barnes and Maria Sacchetti report: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “was joined by conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh in lifting the injunction. All four of the court’s liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — noted their disagreement. … Under the new policy, immigrants would be suspect if they are in the United States legally and use public benefits — such as Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance — too often or are deemed likely to someday rely on them. The new criteria provide ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ factors for immigration officials to weigh as they decide on green-card applications. Negative factors include if a person is unemployed, dropped out of high school or is not fluent in English.”

-- Immigration judges are quitting or retiring early because of the Trump administration. From the Los Angeles Times: “Immigration Judge Charles Honeyman was nearing retirement, but he vowed not to leave while Trump was president and risk being replaced by an ideologue with an anti-immigration agenda. … He tried to ignore demands to speed through cases without giving them the consideration he believed the law required. But as the pressure from Washington increased, Honeyman started having stomach pains and thinking, ‘There are a lot of cases I’m going to have to deny that I’ll feel sick over.’ This month, after 24 years on the bench, the 70-year-old judge called it quits. Dozens of other judges concerned about their independence have done the same. … The precise number of judges who have quit under duress is unclear. Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the courts, said a total of 45 left their positions in the fiscal year that ended last September, but she declined to provide a breakdown of how many of those were deaths, planned retirements or promotions to the immigration appeals board. More information may become available Wednesday, when a House judiciary subcommittee is scheduled to hear testimony on the state of judicial independence and due process in the country’s 68 immigration courts.” 

-- A British man became the fifth immigrant to die in ICE custody since October. The 39-year-old man died at the Baker County Detention Center in Florida, and officials said the preliminary cause of death appeared to be “self-inflicted strangulation.” The case, however, remains under investigation. (BuzzFeed News)

-- An Iranian PhD student who planned on studying at Michigan State University was deported after being detained by Customs and Border Protection officers at the Detroit airport. Alireza Yazdani’s removal comes a week after another Iranian who’d arrived on a student visa was deported in Boston. (CNN)

 -- Wolfgang Halbig, a notorious tormentor of the parents of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, was arrested in Florida. From the NYT: “Halbig, a former contributor to Infowars, the online and radio show hosted by the far-right provocateur Alex Jones, has spread false claims for years that the [shooting] was an elaborate government hoax aimed at confiscating Americans’ firearms. When challenged or confronted by Sandy Hook families, Mr. Halbig has released their personal information, taunted them or emailed them photographs of what he claimed were their dead children ‘all grown up.’ … [Halbig] was arrested after a complaint filed by Leonard Pozner, whose son Noah, 6, died in the shooting. The arrest affidavit said that Mr. Halbig repeatedly emailed Mr. Pozner’s Social Security number, date of birth and other information to a long list of recipients. … Mr. Halbig was released after posting a $5,000 cash bond and will appear in court in late February. The charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Elizabeth Warren bet big on Iowa. Will it be enough? Annie Linskey and Holly Bailey report: “Warren officials appear to be lowering expectations for Iowa. Campaign manager Roger Lau issued a memo Friday warning against ‘breathless media narratives’ emerging from the caucuses. … In urban areas, her team assigned one organizer to a single county, while in rural regions, each organizer oversaw two or three counties at most. Meanwhile, staff members for other candidates were sometimes assigned as many as a dozen counties. … Although Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., is employing a similar type of one-on-one organizing, Democrats not affiliated with either campaign say Warren’s organizers have simply been at it longer. … Still, all this attention to detail has not defused the biggest question Warren faces as a candidate. Organizers mounting door-to-door efforts or reaching out to voters in remote locations regularly hear questions about whether she could beat Trump.”

-- A group of Democratic operatives are scrambling to fund an effort to attack Bernie Sanders should he win Iowa and New Hampshire. From the Daily Beast: “Big money Democrats have shown reluctance at funding such an effort, which could consist of ads attacking Sanders, and institutions associated with Democratic politics have largely shied away from being part of any campaign that goes after the senator, either out of fear over the backlash or growing acceptance at the prospect of him becoming the party’s nominee. … According to FEC records, the sum total of reported independent expenditures opposing Sanders—directly and by name—was just $32.72 as of Monday. And that was spent by Club for Growth, a conservative group that has also run digital ads that seem designed to actually boost Sanders among liberals and which supplemented those spots with a TV ad on Monday. That may very well change in the coming days. The organization Democratic Majority for Israel, which is run by pollster Mark Mellman, is buying tens of thousands of dollars in airtime in Iowa, according to documents filed with the [FCC] on Monday. … The group’s ads, it told the FCC, will focus on ‘electability in the General Election of potential Democratic nominee’—a common [charge] lobbied against the Vermonter.”

-- Impeachment and Iowa mean New Hampshire has largely been ignored by the Democratic candidates lately. In recent days, voters have been more likely to see a campaign surrogate than the actual candidates stumping in the state. Other than Buttigieg, most of the candidates in the top tier have had five or fewer events in New Hampshire since the start of the year. (AP)

-- Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) will wage a primary challenge against appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Rachael Bade reports: The move will probably trigger “an intraparty Republican brawl between a top defender of [Trump] and a business executive who was appointed to the post by Gov. Brian Kemp. Collins, a four-term Republican from northern Georgia, had lobbied hard for the position when Sen. Johnny Isakson announced his retirement last year. Kemp, however, chose Loeffler, against the advice of Trump, who backed Collins for the job. … The news comes as Democrats are eyeing Georgia as a top 2020 target in their bid to retake the Senate. Since the race would constitute a special election to finish Isakson’s last two years in office, it would not include a primary, allowing multiple candidates of both parties to run for the position.” 

-- Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group co-founded by Mike Bloomberg, announced a $60 million spending plan for the 2020 elections that targets Trump and other officials who have resisted new gun regulations. Michael Scherer reports: “A memo laying out plans for the spending names North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, both Democrats, as allies whom the group will defend. It names two Republican senators, Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.), as targets for defeat.” 

-- A local fissure in Pennsylvania politics is highlighting a national dilemma for the Democratic Party as it tries to address the environmental demands of the liberal activists while reaching out to voters who rely on the manufacturing industry. Tim Craig reports: “The hulking petrochemical plant is being constructed 30 miles from his city, but Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto worries it's just the sort of polluting industry that could threaten residents' health and drive away the white-collar jobs of the future. … But here near the developing complex on the banks of the Ohio River, local Democratic official Earl ‘Butch’ Shamp looks downstream at Peduto and sees the kind of politician he says is killing the Democratic Party in large swaths of southwestern Pennsylvania. … The petrochemical plant has become a political crucible. … Peduto said he is leaning toward Bloomberg and Buttigieg because the energy policy positions of [Sanders] and [Warren] — who support a ban on fracking — ‘would be devastating to the Rust Belt.’ Conversely, Biden’s positions, he said, ‘are more like Donald Trump’s than they are a pragmatic approach toward the middle.’ … In Beaver County, Shamp said Democratic residents feel Peduto cares more about ‘building bike lanes’ than workers’ ability to feed their families. ‘Democrats have just gone way, way too far to the left,’ said Shamp, 61, who voted for Trump in 2016 and probably will again.”

-- Rapid change is roiling Virginia’s Republicans. Gregory Schneider reports: “One Republican delegate warns that Virginia is splitting in two. Another would support returning liberal Arlington and Alexandria to the District of Columbia. Lawmakers in West Virginia have offered to annex rural Frederick County, outside Winchester, to liberate it from its rapidly urbanizing home. … There are ‘dramatically different values’ in Arlington and Alexandria than other parts of Virginia, [Republican Del. David A.] LaRock said. ... But the problem for Republicans is that the values LaRock sees in Arlington and Alexandria have spread throughout the state.”

-- A federal court ruled that Arizona's ban on mail-in ballots is illegal and appeared to be part of an effort to suppress black, Hispanic and Native American votes. From the Guardian: “Four years ago, Arizona Republicans made it a felony, punishable by prison time, for third-party groups to collect mail-in ballots during elections — a process often called ‘ballot harvesting.’ … ‘The adverse impact on minority communities is substantial. Without ‘access to reliable and secure mail services,’ and without reliable transportation, many minority voters ‘prefer instead to give their ballots to a volunteer’,’ the court said. And Hispanics and Native Americans make up nearly 37% of the state’s population — promising to be a key demographic in this year’s presidential election.”


There was much discussion on social media about Starr's sartorial choices:

And many pointed to the glaring hypocrisy between Starr in 1999 and Starr in 2020:

From a former Republican National Committee chairman:

Seemingly trying to bolster her standing as Doug Collins prepared a primary bid, Georgia's newly appointed senator ripped Mitt Romney for seeking witnesses. This is notable because, among other things, Loeffler was one of Romney's major donors when he ran for president in 2012:

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who spent last week attacking a Purple Heart recipient, endorsed Loeffler over Collins:

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said the quiet part out loud and suggested that the Trump attacks on Biden could hurt him in her state's caucuses:

And a Kentucky Republican appeared to forget that Trump blocked Bolton from testifying before the House:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “In the business world, when I was back in the business world, when a deal was tough, people would jokingly refer to it as, ‘This is tougher than Israel and the Palestinians getting together,’ ” Trump joked as he welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu for an Oval Office briefing on his Middle East peace plan. (Anne Gearan, Steve Hendrix, Ruth Eglash


A 90-year-old Auschwitz survivor returned to the camp 75 years after its liberation:

Seth Meyers reviewed the accumulating evidence against the president:

Riffing off Bolton’s book, Trevor Noah said the president seems to have many “disgruntled” former employees and wondered why no one ever seems to leave the White House feeling “gruntled”: