With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: After Alan Dershowitz helped convince a jury to find him not guilty on two murder charges, O.J. Simpson wrote a book entitled “If I Did It.” The former football star outlined a “hypothetical” account of the fatal stabbings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. “No matter how I write this, hypothetical or not, I’m aware that people are going to believe what they want to believe,” Simpson said in an interview for a special on Fox.

As a member of President Trump’s defense team at the impeachment trial, Dershowitz used some variation of “even if” 10 separate times during his presentation to senators on Monday night. The emeritus professor at Harvard Law School – who has also defended clients like Jeffrey Epstein, Mike Tyson and Michael Milken – used that “even if” construction as he advanced provocative legal theories that are outside the mainstream of constitutional jurisprudence. Most notably, Dershowitz argued that it would not constitute abuse of power even if the House impeachment managers proved that Trump directly conditioned the delivery of military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting for Volodymyr Zelensky on Kiev authorities announcing an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden. Dershowitz did this while dismissing the forthcoming book by former national security adviser John Bolton, in which he reportedly writes that Trump told him of just such a linkage.

“Nothing in the Bolton revelations – even if true – would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz declared. “Even if the president, any president, were to demand a quid pro quo as a condition for sending aid to a foreign country – obviously a highly disputed matter in this case – that would not by itself constitute an abuse of power,” he continued. “Quid pro quo alone is not a basis for abuse of power. It’s part of the way foreign policy has been operated by presidents since the beginning of time.”

After months of repeating over and over that there was “no quid pro quo,” a chorus of Republican lawmakers are now parroting Dershowitz’s line of defense. The GOP conference seems increasingly prepared to stipulate that there might have been a quid pro quo as a rationale to vote against calling Bolton as a witness. After all, if there was a quid pro quo but that’s not impeachable, or even inappropriate, then Bolton’s testimony might be considered moot.

“For the sake of argument, one could assume everything attributable to John Bolton is accurate and still the House case would fall well below the standards to remove a president from office,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement this morning. 

Compare that to what Graham told Axios in October. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” he said then.

“It would be troubling if any president did a quid pro quo with tax dollars,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said on Oct. 23 after then-acting ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified, “but so far we don’t have evidence that’s happened.” 

Asked about Bolton’s book yesterday, Cramer told reporters: “I think he sounds like a lot of the other witnesses, frankly. I don't know that he's got a lot new to add to it.”

There was a very similar moving of the goal posts during special counsel Bob Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, as Trump defenders went from insisting that there were no Trump campaign Russian contacts to arguing that there was nothing wrong with talking to the Russians.

“What I can say is that Professor Dershowitz said last night that even if the president asked for the aid to be delayed for, you know, the fact that he wanted an investigation of corruption, that's not an impeachable offense,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Paul added that it doesn’t matter if the investigation Trump demanded was into the Bidens or anyone else. “They think that rules should be written, that OK, you're allowed to investigate corruption, you're allowed to withhold the aid for corruption, unless that corruption involves a Democrat,” Paul said. “No one could write a rule that way. That would be saying to the local Republican sheriff, you're allowed to go after crime, unless your Democratic opponent's son commits the crime.” 

Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto asked this question to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.): “If the president did tell John Bolton that, indeed, there was a relationship between getting that information on the Bidens and aid to the country, that wouldn't be enough for you to say, let's look into this more?”

“No,” Cornyn answered. “Presidents always leverage foreign aid, particularly here, where there's concerns about corruption. … We basically know what the facts are. That's what the House managers said: They said the facts are uncontested.”

“In my view, additional witnesses are not necessary,” said fellow Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. “The president was entirely justified in asking for an investigation of corruption concerning Ukraine and potentially Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.”

-- When acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made a similar argument in the fall, essentially saying that presidents do quid pro quos all the time, he quickly walked it back. Mulvaney hasn’t been back to the briefing room since then. He refused to comply with a subsequent subpoena, citing an order from Trump, one of the grounds for the second article of impeachment pertaining to obstruction of Congress. 

-- Dershowitz also posited during his spirited defense of Trump that impeachment requires the president to violate a specific criminal statute. “Now, here I'm making, I think, a very important point: Even if the Senate were to conclude that a technical crime is not required for impeachment, the critical question remains,” Dershowitz said. “Do abuse of power and obstruction of Congress constitute impeachable offenses? The relevant history answers that question clearly in the negative.”

-- Lawyers and academics strongly disagreed with Dershowitz,” Rachael Bade, Karoun Demirjian, Mike DeBonis and Ann Marimow report. “Frank O. Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor and author of the book ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ said Dershowitz’s view is out of step with mainstream constitutional scholars and historians. ‘In making this argument, Alan is essentially alone, and I mean alone,’ Bowman said Tuesday, accusing Republicans of seizing on Dershowitz’s argument because it gives them cover not to convict a president in their own party. ‘What Dershowitz did yesterday was stand up and be a guy with Harvard attached to his name and spout complete nonsense that’s totally unsupported by any scholarship, anywhere.’

“Indeed, a statutory crime has never been required for impeachment, dating back to the 14th century, when the British Parliament invented the procedure as a mechanism for dealing with abuses of royal power. The American framers wrote ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ into the U.S. Constitution, he noted, to include noncriminal abuses of power, and since then, federal judges and a U.S. senator have been impeached for noncriminal conduct.”

-- The Trump team is asserting an extraordinarily far-reaching view of the presidential prerogative. It fits with a pattern: Trump himself has repeatedly said Article II of the Constitution lets him do whatever he wants. It doesn’t, of course. 

Trump’s surrogates said Tuesday on television that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not impeachable offenses. “It does not make any difference at the end of the day, as Professor Dershowitz explained so well yesterday,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), a member of Trump's impeachment defense team. “Abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not impeachable offenses, and it doesn't really matter what anybody says.” CNN’s Jake Tapper pushed back, noting that they were considered impeachable offenses during the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, but Johnson was unbowed.

There are major implications of what these senators are saying vis-a-vis Ukraine – and the precedent this will set. They’re saying abusing power is not grounds to remove a president from office, which effectively green lights this and future presidents to leverage their public powers for private political benefit.

-- Trump’s other defense attorneys took other tacks as they wrapped up their arguments. Jay Sekulow dismissed Bolton’s “unpublished manuscript” as “unsourced,” even though the source is Bolton. “If you want to call that evidence — I don’t know what you’d call that — I’d call it inadmissible,” he said. Sekulow maintains that “the president at all times acted with perfect, legal, authority.” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone suggested that, even if senators think Trump abused his office, the decision should be left to voters since this is an election year. “The election is only months away,” he said. “The American people are entitled to choose their president.”

But the rest of the defense team has also joined Dershowitz out on the limb he’s climbed out on. The White House hosted a conference call for reporters last night to discuss trial strategy. When “a source on the president’s legal team” – as they are required to be identified – was asked about witnesses, this person answered: “Well, I don't think that anything that we've said strengthens the case for witnesses. In fact, Professor Dershowitz made it very clear last night that even if everything that came out in the New York Times article were true, there would not be an impeachable offense there.”

WITNESS WATCH:

-- In a closed-door meeting after Trump’s defense wrapped up, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told colleagues he doesn’t yet have the votes to block witnesses. But he and his leadership team feel they’re making progress toward that goal. Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade report: “Just four GOP senators would have to join with Democrats … An initial vote to allow witnesses, expected Friday, does not ensure witnesses would actually be called, since the Senate would have to subsequently hold separate votes on summoning each individual witness. And Trump’s ultimate acquittal still remains all but assured, since a two-thirds vote in the GOP-run Senate would be required to remove him. … Democrats strongly oppose calling either of the Bidens or agreeing to any witness ‘trade,’ as suggested by some Republicans. Other plans floated by GOP senators have drawn similar Democratic resistance, including the idea of getting the White House to release Bolton’s manuscript for senators to review. … 

Several Republican senators up for reelection this November and facing tough campaigns — including Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — indicated during the meeting that they were ready to vote against witnesses and proceed to the final vote …  The defense rested at 2:54 p.m. But a few senators lingered [in the chamber], and those huddles showed the tension still left in the room. In chairs in the back, reserved for staffers, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) sat with freshman Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a moderate not prone to listening to leadership. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), a Democrat always in the mix, first huddled with moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) before moving on to a long one-on-one discussion with Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another key moderate who had previously been talking with Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). And, finally, Collins walked over to join a Republican scrum led by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), whose back-row desk has long been seen as a pivotal place, given his Bush-era political lineage.”

-- Three moderate Democrats – Manchin, Sinema and Alabama’s Doug Jones – are considering voting to acquit Trump but each supports witnesses. Politico reports: “All three senators remain undecided … But they could end up with a creative solution. One or more senators may end up splitting their votes, borrowing a move from Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who voted for the abuse of power charge but against the one on obstruction of Congress. … Manchin insisted Tuesday he hasn’t figured out where he will come down. And won’t until the trial ends. … There’s no chatter in the caucus about anyone other than Jones, Sinema or Manchin … although a number of other Democratic senators say they are still undecided.”

-- Manchin said this morning that Hunter Biden could be a relevant witness. “I think so, I really do,” the West Virginia Democrat said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

 -- The Des Moines Register’s editorial board rips Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) for her conduct during the trial and calls on her to vote for witnesses: “She might want to contemplate whether the process, and her comments, will influence Iowa voters when they go to the polls in November to decide whether she deserves a second term. Then there was her response in mid-January after the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office determined the White House violated the law when it withheld nearly $400 million in assistance to Ukraine … Ernst dismissed the GAO findings as ‘moot’ because the White House did eventually provide the aid to Ukraine. … The message from the junior senator seems to be: It’s OK to break the law as long as you later abide by it.”

HAPPENING TODAY:

-- Putting the lawyers on trial: Senators plan to use their chance to pose written questions to press the counsels from both sides about their personal involvement at pivotal moments in the process. Karoun Demirjian, Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade preview what to expect: “Senators have up to 16 hours, divided over two days beginning Wednesday, to pose questions to either the House managers or the Trump defense team. The lawyers will be given up to five minutes to respond to each query. Each side faces a balancing act in its allotted time. Senate Republicans must weigh the desires of moderates, who want to ask factual questions that could help determine whether to vote to call witnesses, against those of Trump loyalists, who want to pose questions that will allow defense lawyers to double down on attacks against Democrats … 

“For Democrats, the chief objective is ensuring that their questions create an opportunity for House managers to respond to the Trump team’s arguments. … But many Democrats also want to use their time to challenge Trump’s team on what they believe are a series of misrepresentations — including how much his lawyers knew about Bolton’s assertions that Trump held up Ukraine aid to secure an investigation of the Biden family, when they were claiming there was no quid pro quo. … Senators may direct questions at representatives on either side, but they cannot select which manager from the prosecution or lawyer from the defense answers them …  But part of the allure of turning the spotlight on lawyers is that neither side has at their disposal the testimony of fact witnesses they believe are central to the case.”

-- Former Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas cannot attend the trial because his ankle monitor prevents him from getting through security. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave Parnas tickets to the proceeding, but he won’t go after a federal judge denied his request to remove his monitor. (Shayna Jacobs)  

-- Giuliani told CBS News that he’d love to testify during the trial if he can get clearance from the White House. Don’t hold your breath. The president’s personal lawyer also said Bolton never told him he had a problem with the way he was doing business with Ukraine. “He’s a personal friend, I thought,” Giuliani said. “This is the only conclusion I can come to and it’s a harsh one and I feel very bad about it: He’s a backstabber.”

-- Oleksandr Danylyuk, the former chairman of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tells the Daily Beast that Bolton was the only person in the Trump administration he trusted to help secure a path forward between the two countries. Danylyuk claims to have maintained constant contact with Bolton in an attempt to secure a meeting between Zelensky and Trump – conversations that he says included reassurances that the U.S. would not freeze aid to Ukraine.

-- The Energy Department released a trove of documents related to former secretary Rick Perry’s Ukraine dealings. The documents show the department applauding Ukraine for its handling of corruption last May. But the new records don’t cover how Trump allegedly began pushing Perry in a different direction: to work with Giuliani to pursue a deal with Ukraine that would help the president politically. (CNN)

-- Trump’s legal team spent very little time trying to vouch for the legitimacy of the Ukraine conspiracy theories that the president pressed Zelensky to investigate. Aaron Blake calls this a gaping hole in Trump’s defense: “To the extent that Trump’s team tried to argue that the investigations were legitimate, it focused mostly on the idea that Hunter Biden’s employment at a Ukrainian gas company was problematic. It spent considerably less time arguing for the theory that Trump actually raised … on their July 25 phone call: that [Joe Biden] sought to help his son by pushing out Ukraine’s top prosecutor. Ditto the other investigation Trump sought. In fact, Trump’s legal team spent literally zero time talking about the one involving the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike and a server that was supposedly in Ukraine. Trump’s team didn’t utter the word ‘CrowdStrike’ once in three days.”  

-- House Democrats are using Ken Starr’s arguments to challenge the Trump administration’s position that Congress is not entitled to grand jury records. Ann Marimow reports: “On Monday, Starr, the former independent counsel who is part of Trump’s team, reminded senators they do not sit as jurors and are in fact a ‘court.’ … Trump administration lawyers have been arguing the opposite in a pending lawsuit, House lawyers told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a new filing Tuesday. In court, the Justice Department has argued that a Senate impeachment trial is not a ‘judicial proceeding’ and therefore not exempt from secrecy rules that shield grand jury materials from disclosure. ‘That argument has now been contradicted by the president’s counsel’s statements to the Senate, which confirm that the Senate sits as a ‘court’ rather than a ‘legislative chamber’ during an impeachment trial,’ according to the filing.”

-- Bolton has become a target of the pro-Trump Internet. Isaac Stanley-Becker dissects the anatomy of a smear: “The vilification of Bolton — branding him as a traitor and member of the ‘deep state’… — made use of misleading text as well as eye-catching memes. It moved from anonymous Twitter accounts with a few dozen followers to prime-time hosts on Fox News with an audience of hundreds of thousands. Finally, it made its way to Capitol Hill, when [Rand Paul] described the eyewitness to activity at the heart of the president’s impeachment trial as a ‘disgruntled, fired employee who now has a motive, a multimillion-dollar motive, to inflame the situation.’”

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

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton,” said former Trump White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general. (Herald Tribune)
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2020 WATCH:

-- A super PAC aligned with the Democratic establishment is launching a $680,000 ad buy to attack Bernie Sanders during the final five days before the caucuses. Among other hits, the commercial highlights his heart attack. From the Times: “While Democratic Majority for Israel is focused on raising support for Israel within the party, its spot targets the dominant concern among many Democrats in Iowa and elsewhere: beating [Trump]. Featuring six Iowa voters, the ad argues that Mr. Sanders would be unable to defeat Mr. Trump in the November general election, citing the senator’s heart attack last year and his left-wing ideology as evidence that he would be too risky ... The group made its ad reservations on Monday, booking ... a significant level of saturation over a short span ... The buy is heavily weighted toward Cedar Rapids and Des Moines markets, and the group is also airing the ad on cable, including on CNN, MSNBC and ESPN."

-- Sanders takes the 11th-hour attack seriously enough that he tweeted a straight-to-camera response: "The billionaire class is getting nervous, and they should," he said. "Under our administration, the wealthy and the powerful will begin paying their fair share in taxes. ... The big-money interests can run all the negative ads they want, but it's not going to work."

-- While top Democrats are increasingly alarmed that Sanders could gain unstoppable momentum from the early states, they also fear that any anti-Sanders effort would backfire, and that has sidelined a more significant stop-Sanders effort for now. Matt Viser and Annie Linskey report: “Even the hint of an organized anti-Sanders movement would risk alienating the Vermont senator’s sometimes belligerent supporters and play into claims that the process is ‘rigged,’ many Democrats say privately. Democratic House candidates in swing districts say they are nervous about running on the same ticket as Sanders, but they, too, are reluctant to say so publicly.”

-- Joe Biden's team pitched Amy Klobuchar's advisers on a possible alliance during next Monday night's Iowa caucuses, but the Klobuchar team dismissed the offer as not serious. The New York Times reports the plan would involve a pledge to help each other in precincts where one of them doesn’t meet the threshold of 15 percent support required to win delegates. People in both campaigns played down the conversation after word leaked.

-- A change to the byzantine caucus rules could leave uncommitted Iowans stuck in a viable group, which is panicking campaigns. From the Des Moines Register: “Democratic operatives are encouraging Iowa caucusgoers to declare support for a candidate in the beginning of the caucus-night process — even if they may not intend to see that candidate through to the end — to prevent the uncommitted group from securing viability. At a Democratic caucus, Iowans begin by breaking up into groups based on their candidate preference. Due to a new rule change outlined in the Iowa Democratic Party’s 74-page Delegate Selection Plan, if a group gains viability — reaches 15 percent of attendees’ support and earns a delegate for the county convention — those caucusgoers are locked in and unable to switch to another group.”

-- Biden wouldn’t say whether he thinks Sanders could unify the party if he wins the nomination. From the AP: “‘We have to unite,’ Biden told reporters in Muscatine, six days before the Iowa caucuses. ‘I’m not going make judgments now. I just think that it depends upon how we treat one another between now and the time we have a nominee.’ Biden has previously promised to support the Democratic nominee, regardless of who it is. … The Biden campaign said Tuesday afternoon that the former vice president would support the eventual nominee.”

-- “Trump advisers and supporters are split over whether to wage an effort to bolster Sanders," Politico reports. "While proponents think Sanders would be an ideal opponent, others are wary that the liberal firebrand could make for a dynamic challenger — with the ability to make inroads in the Rust Belt states likely to decide the outcome of the election. … Among those pushing for a pro-Sanders offensive is the anti-tax Club for Growth. On Monday, the pro-Trump group launched a TV ad in Iowa that attacks Sanders but does so in ways that could help him with Democrats. The commercial calls Sanders ‘too liberal’ [and] compares Sanders to Democratic heroes Barack Obama and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and says he would spend trillions to combat climate change. The Trump reelection effort, meanwhile, has spent much of the last several weeks focusing its attacks on Sanders — a gambit that two people close to the campaign described as a deliberate effort to draw attention to the Vermont senator. The campaign has used its Twitter account as an anti-Sanders messaging machine and urged prominent surrogates to train their fire on him. Their working assumption is that the presidential attention will only boost his standing among anti-Trump Democratic voters.” 

-- “Running [Bernie] against Trump would be an act of insanity,” New York Magazine liberal columnist Jonathan Chait writes in a piece generating a lot of buzz among Democratic elites. “In the months leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, the Democratic Party was the subject of bitter and widespread criticism from its left wing. The party’s strategy was to flip the House by recruiting moderate candidates who would avoid controversial left-wing positions and instead focus attention on Trump’s agenda, especially his effort to eliminate Obamacare. The left predicted the strategy would fail — only an inspiring progressive agenda could mobilize enough voters to win back the House. … Democrats flipped 40 seats. Tellingly, while progressives managed to nominate several candidates in red districts — Kara Eastman in Nebraska, Richard Ojeda in West Virginia, and many others — any one of whose victory they would have cited as proof that left-wing candidates can win Trump districts, not a single one of them prevailed in November.” 

-- New data from Quinnipiac shows that Elizabeth Warren is the top second choice for Democratic primary voters nationally, even as she has faded in the horse race. Biden is the top choice, followed by Sanders. If first and second picks are combined, Warren matched Sanders in the poll. (Philip Bump

-- Klobuchar has faced less media scrutiny over the past several months than anyone else in the top tier. That will change quickly if she performs well in Iowa. The Associated Press offers a taste of what's to come: She often talks about her role prosecuting the case stemming from a little girl who was struck by a stray bullet, which ended with the imprisonment of black teenager Myon Burrell. But the wire service uncovered new evidence and multiple inconsistencies in the police investigation: “With no gun, no DNA, no fingerprints, the case against Burrell revolved around a teen rival who gave conflicting accounts of the shooting. Later, police turned to jailhouse informants, some of whom say they were coached and have since recanted. Alibis were not questioned. Key evidence has gone missing or was never obtained, including a convenience store surveillance tape that Burrell and others say would have cleared him. And the chief homicide detective was caught on camera offering cash for information -- even if it was just hearsay. Burrell, now 33, has maintained his innocence.” Klobuchar's campaign defended her decision-making.

-- 2024 watch: Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) will spend $19,000 to air a Biden attack ad in Iowa ahead of the caucuses. He accuses Democrats of impeaching Trump as part of a "coverup." The senator says to the camera: "Biden got away with it, and his son got paid." (WSJ) 

-- The GOP won a closely watched Texas special election last night. From the AP: “The victory by Republican Gary Gates, who put more than $1.5 million of his own money into his run for state House District 28, is sure to bring a sigh of relief for the GOP in a race that was being tracked far beyond Texas. By the final weeks, the race had escalated into the first big special election of 2020. In final unofficial results, Gates polled 58% of the vote to 42% for Democrat Eliz Markowitz. [Biden and Warren] had endorsed Markowitz, and outside groups flooded the race with six-figure checks and television ads. Beto O’Rourke practically made the district a second home after ending his own presidential campaign in November, spending weekends knocking on doors in Katy’s affluent neighborhoods.” 

-- Democrats are preparing for a “hostile” Trump transition. From Politico: “At least one outside group that works with the 2020 Democratic campaigns has quietly launched a transition-related effort designed to offer an early look at the landscape that awaits them if they oust Trump. … That Democrats are making transition-related moves more than nine months before Election Day underscores not only their distrust of Trump but also the reality that taking over the U.S. government is a mammoth task with high stakes. … Every transition is tricky given the thousands of positions that need to be filled and the array of policy priorities a new team wants to pursue. But several Democrats attached to different 2020 campaigns mentioned very specific concerns about what a Trump departure could mean … The Democrats said they worry that Trump’s political appointees won’t meet with the incoming team, that there will be little, if any, paperwork left behind to guide them, and that what documents are shared will not be trustworthy.” 

-- A super PAC supporting Senate Democrats announced that it raised $61 million last year. The Senate Majority PAC haul is more than twice the amount its Republican counterpart reported raising in the same time, which is wild because the GOP controls the majority. (Michelle Ye Hee Lee

-- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, alarmed by these and other numbers, warned donors of a fundraising crisis. “They are kicking our a--,” the California Republican fumed at the Capitol Hill Club. (Politico)

-- Some lighter fare: An unexpected political matchup has shaken the Vermont town of Fair Haven. Incumbent honorary mayor Lincoln – a Nubian goat – has been challenged for her seat by Sammy, a German Shepherd police dog. (AP)

NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- “As the total number of people in mainland China infected by the new coronavirus surpasses those stricken by the 2002-3 SARS epidemic, Beijing has shut down schools indefinitely,” Simon Denyer and David Crawshaw report on a special live blog: “The World Health Organization said Tuesday that China had agreed to allow global health experts into the country and a top U.S. health official said he had offered to send a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to China to help with the coronavirus outbreak. … The death toll has risen to 132 in China, with 6,078 confirmed cases of infection as of Wednesday evening local time — a day-over-day increase of more than 1,000.

“Other countries in the region also are reporting more people infected — nearly all of them tourists from China. North Korea is calling the fight against the coronavirus a matter of ‘national existence’ amid fears over what an outbreak would do to a country with a rudimentary health infrastructure and a malnourished population. The UAE has reported its first cases — the first in the Middle East — members of a family traveling from Wuhan. Germany reported three new cases late Tuesday, while Thailand confirmed six more. Hong Kong reported two new cases Wednesday. … Two more coronavirus cases have been reported in Australia, bringing to seven the number of people in the country confirmed as having the virus that originated in central China. … 

Researchers with the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne announced on Wednesday that they have grown the coronavirus from a patient sample, potentially paving the way for more scientific breakthroughs. It was the first time such an experiment had succeeded outside of China, the scientists said. They hope that the sample — set to be shared with laboratories around the world — will help to speed up efforts to develop a vaccine and to diagnose the virus in patients without symptoms. … China has [also] handed over the genome of the coronavirus to Russia in a joint effort between the two countries to create a vaccine…”

A plane carrying as many as 240 American evacuees from the Chinese city of Wuhan landed overnight in the United States. David reports: “The U.S. government chartered the aircraft to retrieve American diplomats and others from the central Chinese city that is at the heart of the deadly coronavirus outbreak. The plane made a refueling stop in Alaska, where the passengers [will] undergo health screening, and would then head for southern California, the Associated Press reported. The aircraft is expected to land at March Air Reserve Base in California’s Riverside County, instead of at Ontario International Airport as originally planned." 

The White House warned airline executives the U.S. government may suspend all flights to and from China if the coronavirus outbreak become a bigger public health threat. Luz Lazo reports: “White House officials said they are not banning flights just yet, but said the U.S. government will assess the situation daily, leaving open the possibility of a ban on all flights from China … Airlines in recent days have already canceled hundreds of flights scheduled from China’s Wuhan International Airport, giving U.S. health officials a brief respite as they focused on the logistics of rerouting U.S.-bound travelers from the region to one of five airports for special screening. Travelers are being funneled to airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, where they are being screened for the virus. If cleared, they are allowed to continue to their final destination.” British Airways also indefinitely suspended direct flights today to Beijing and Shanghai.

Officials at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, have called off two college basketball games after administrators announced two students who had recently traveled to China were being tested for coronavirus. Reis Thebault reports:. “One of the students visited the campus health center on Monday and exhibited flulike symptoms, prompting staff to test him and his travel companion, a university statement said. The two students are now isolated in their off-campus residences while they await their test results from the CDC."

-- Experts still can’t say whether efforts to limit the spread of the virus will succeed. Lena H. Sun and Lenny Bernstein report: “Some early signs are discouraging: Six countries, including China, have confirmed human-to-human transmission of the infection. Those include four cases in Germany connected to a single person ... Cases in China continue to multiply, and five million residents of Wuhan, where the virus originated, have left the city, some of them surely carrying the disease. … Public health officials said Tuesday that they are grappling with a long list of unknowns that will determine how successful they are in limiting the toll of the widening outbreak. Those questions include how lethal the virus may be, how contagious it is, whether it is transmitted by people who are infected but show no symptoms, and whether it can be largely contained in its country of origin.”

-- Has Trump's isolationist mentality hindered the U.S. government's response? When a group of business leaders in Davos last week asked about the coronavirus crisis, the president suggested the matter was a world away from the United States, CNN reports: “Some of the assembled chief executives asked how Trump planned to confront the Wuhan coronavirus, which threatened to affect their global supply chains and spread into some of the world's most populous urban centers. Trump shrugged off their concerns, according to a person familiar with the conversation.”

-- Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal was quickly criticized for granting Israel most of what it has sought over decades of conflict while establishing a disjointed Palestinian state. Anne Gearan, Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash report: “Trump touted the plan as the potential solution to decades of bloody strife, but his administration did little to solicit the support of Palestinian leaders who had rejected it sight unseen and played no role in its drafting. The president presented the proposal as the best Palestinians could hope to get during a ceremony where he stood beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who eagerly embraced both the president and what he presented. … The plan would grant Israel vast license to incorporate Jewish settlements and maintain a yoke of security on land it now occupies — proposals that could have immediate consequences. Netanyahu plans to move forward with annexing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and parts of the Jordan Valley as soon as this weekend… The detailed proposal offers a four-year window for Palestinians to begin negotiations for what would amount to a smaller, weaker version of statehood than envisioned by past U.S. presidents. But the conditional sovereignty is still more than Palestinians have now, and more than many of Trump’s critics thought he would offer.” 

-- U.S. forces recovered the bodies of two American service members from the site of a surveillance plane crash in Taliban territory in Afghanistan. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but there are “no indications that the crash was caused by enemy fire,” the U.S. military command in Kabul said. (Susannah George and Missy Ryan)

-- The Pentagon now acknowledges 50 troops have been diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injuries as a result of the Iranian missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq. “That's an increase of 16 from late last week when the Pentagon said 34 cases had been diagnosed,” CNN reports. “Several Pentagon officials [said] that the number of diagnosed cases is likely to continue to change. Approximately 200 people who were in the blast zone at the time of the attack have been screened for symptoms. … Last week Trump said he does not consider potential brain injuries to be as serious as physical combat wounds, downplaying the severity of the injuries suffered in Iraq. … ‘I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it's not very serious,’ Trump [said].” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell sends this statement: “Of these 50, 31 total service members were treated in Iraq and returned to duty, including 15 of the additional service members who have been diagnosed since the previous report. 18 service members have been transported to Germany for further evaluation and treatment.”

-- A 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck between Jamaica and Cuba, one of the strongest on record for the Caribbean. Initial reports of damage in the region have been spotty. (Matthew Cappucci and Jason Samenow

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULDN’T BE OVERSHADOWED:

-- America is drowning in red ink: The federal budget deficit will eclipse $1 trillion in 2020, the Congressional Budget Office said, and the 13-figure shortfall is largely due to the Trump tax cuts. Jeff Stein reports: “A combination of the 2017 tax cuts and a surge in new spending has pushed the deficit wider. This year would mark the first time since 2012 that the deficit breached $1 trillion, a threshold that has alarmed some budget experts because deficits typically contract — not expand — during periods of sustained economic growth. Overall, the CBO projected that the federal government will spend $4.6 trillion in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 and bring in $3.6 trillion in tax revenue. … The CBO also projected the economy would grow by 2.2 percent in 2020, which represents a healthy clip but falls short of the 3 percent target set by the Trump administration. The projections were contained in the CBO’s annual budget and economic outlook.”

-- The Trump administration is inviting states to convert part of Medicaid into a block grant, a conservative goal Congress rejected more than two years ago. Amy Goldstein reports: “A letter to every state Medicaid director, to be dispatched Thursday, will offer the possibility of trading away an entitlement program that expands and contracts depending on how many poor people need the government health coverage. In exchange, for able-bodied adults in the program, states could apply to receive a fixed federal payment and freedom from many of the program’s rules, according to several individuals familiar with the plans. … Proponents and critics alike expect the block grant guidance will also face court challenges. … Allowing block grants in Medicaid has been a prime objective for [administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema] Verma since she arrived in Washington three years ago from a role as an Indiana-based health-care consultant whose clients included several states’ Medicaid programs. Within the administration, Verma has consistently argued for states to be allowed greater flexibility in running Medicaid, which is a joint responsibility of the federal government and the states.”

-- Trump will sign the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement during a ceremony at the White House today for about 400 guests, but he chose not to invite any of the key Democrats who shepherded the deal through Congress. “Guests invited to the South Lawn signing include lawmakers from around the country, workers, farmers, and CEOs, as well as officials from Mexico and Canada,” Reuters reports. “Not invited were House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal and other Democrats who negotiated for months to expand the pact's labor, environmental and enforcement provisions and ensure the approval of the Democratically-controlled House.”

-- A lack of a “black box” could hinder the NTSB investigation into Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash. Ian Duncan and Luz Lazo report: “While airliners and some other aircraft are required to have the recorders, which can gather technical data as well as audio and video recordings, many helicopters are not. The Federal Aviation Administration says it’s difficult to make the economic case for requiring the devices because they don’t prevent crashes. … NTSB investigators continued their work Tuesday, sifting through the crash wreckage, trying to understand what happened and beginning interviews with witnesses. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner said it had recovered all nine bodies from the crash scene, three of which had been recovered Sunday afternoon. Four of the people on board, including Bryant, were formally identified by fingerprints.” 

-- Retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher – who was accused of war crimes but championed by Trump – struck back at the active-duty SEALs who testified against him by highlighting their faces in a video published on social media. From the San Diego Union-Tribune: “In a three-minute video posted to his Facebook page and Instagram account … Gallagher, 40, referred to some members of his former platoon as ‘cowards’ and highlighted names, photos and — for those still on active duty — their duty status and current units, something former SEALs say places those men — and the Navy’s mission — in jeopardy. … [A] former SEAL from the platoon said publicizing the faces of active-duty SEALs — including one assigned to the elite Development Group, or SEAL Team 6 — could put the lives of the men and their families in danger. … The video appears to be a trailer for an unspecified future project. Tim Parlatore, one of Gallagher’s attorneys, declined to say Monday what that project is or when it will be published.”

-- Another Navy SEAL has been promoted four months after he admitted to choking a Green Beret to death. From the Daily Beast: Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph “was formally charged in November 2018 with felony murder, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, burglary, hazing, and involuntary manslaughter in the strangulation death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, a Special Forces soldier assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group. … Days after Melgar was strangled, DeDolph, at the time a petty officer first class, was sent back to his base in Virginia Beach under suspicion of murder. Despite that, DeDolph found himself on the promotion list for chief petty officer in August 2017.”

-- Meanwhile, Special Operations forces are stretched dangerously thin as the president’s interference in Gallagher’s case and two others comes with a cost to military ethics and discipline, writes columnist David Ignatius. "Special Operations Command (SOCOM) took an important step Tuesday to protect the integrity of its forces with the release of a comprehensive review of the 'culture and ethics' of these elite units. ... But the thrust of the report is clear: Special Operations forces (SOF) are badly frayed by nearly 20 years of war."

-- Lawyers for Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to death for killing nine black parishioners in a 2015 mass shooting, appealed the decision, arguing that the trial was “tainted” by mental health issues. (Katie Shepherd

-- Trump praised Mike Pompeo for his ugly attacks on NPR journalist Mary Louise Kelly. “You did a good job on her," the president told his secretary of state at the White House. Colby Itkowitz reports: “Trump, alongside [Netanyahu] for an event on the [Middle East peace proposal] acknowledged Pompeo in the audience. Pompeo received a round of applause. ‘Very impressive, Mike,’ Trump said, jovially. ‘That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you yesterday. I think you did a good job on her, actually.’ Trump was referencing a confrontation Pompeo had with [Kelly] after an interview in which she asked him why he did not do more to defend Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine … [Pompeo] proceeded to curse and yell at Kelly for asking about Ukraine … [He] did not apologize for his treatment of Kelly.” 

-- In an op-ed for today's Times, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo falsely calling her a liar wasn't the worst part of their contentious interview. She said the kerfuffle has diverted attention away from Pompeo's comments about Iran: "Here’s the relevant portion of the interview: KELLY: How do you stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? POMPEO: We’ll stop them. KELLY: How? Sanctions? POMPEO: We’ll stop them. He did not offer specifics. Nor did he elaborate, when pressed on how to square his resolve with what [the Iranian foreign minister] had just told me — that all limits on Iran’s centrifuge program have been suspended. ‘Yeah,’ Mr. Pompeo said. ‘He’s blustering.’ … The point is that recently the risk of miscalculation — of two old adversaries misreading each other and accidentally escalating into armed confrontation — has felt very real. It occurs to me that swapping insults through interviews with journalists such as me might, terrifyingly, be as close as the top diplomats of the United States and Iran came to communicating this month.”

-- Human-trafficking groups refuse to attend Ivanka Trump’s White House summit. Jessica Contrera reports: “Their decision comes after months of anguish over what they describe as an act of public deception. They say that although the president frequently invokes human trafficking, his administration is actively endangering a significant portion of trafficking victims: immigrants. ‘We have such a chasm between rhetoric and reality,’ said Martina Vandenberg, the founder of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, a network of attorneys who take on trafficking cases. ‘This administration is undermining protections carefully built for trafficking victims over two decades.’ The advocates are especially alarmed by increased scrutiny of T visas, which provide temporary legal status for immigrants who can prove they were trafficked while in the United States. At least eight organizations declined invitations to the summit because of their opposition to the administration’s policies.” 

-- Senators expressed a fresh round of frustration that Trump officials are so persistently unwilling to engage with Congress on military decisions. Karoun Demirjian reports: Senators blasted “State Department officials for holding a closed-door session when none of the information they shared was classified. … In the weeks since Trump ordered the strike in Baghdad that killed Qasem Soleimani, lawmakers in the House and Senate have rallied around measures to restrain the president’s ability to conduct hostilities against Iran absent explicit congressional authorization. … In the weeks since the strike that killed Soleimani, administration officials have given conflicting reasons for why they believed they had legal basis to carry it out absent congressional approval … Administration officials also did not commit to being more forthcoming with Congress, in deference to its war powers, than they have been in the weeks since the Soleimani strike.” 

-- A Maryland police officer was charged with murder after, police said, he fired seven shots at a man who was handcuffed in the front seat of a cruiser with his hands behind his back. Rachel Chanson, Dan Morse and Justin Jouvenal report: “Police Chief Hank Stawinski announced the charges less than a day after the incident, following the department’s investigation. Stawinski said bringing such serious charges against an officer within 24 hours of an incident is ‘unprecedented’ for the department. … He identified the victim as William Green, 43, of Southeast Washington. Green was killed while sitting in the passenger side of a police cruiser in the Temple Hills area. … Cpl. Michael Owen Jr. is in custody and awaiting a bond hearing, Stawinski said. He is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and associated weapons charges.” 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump lashed out at Bolton on Twitter this morning as he pleaded with Republicans not to go along with calling witnesses who could testify against him:

McConnell’s former chief of staff and campaign manager predicted that Hunter Biden will wind up testifying if Democrats get Bolton:

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) sent a handwritten letter to his local paper to explain why he dozed off during jury duty:

One of the more colorful moments from Tuesday's proceedings was when Mitt Romney showed up on the Senate floor with some chocolate milk:

There's so much footage of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) espousing the opposite of what he says now back when he was an impeachment manager making the case against Bill Clinton in 1998:

The former Republican congressman who left the party after endorsing impeachment replied to Graham’s new argument against witnesses:

Here’s a fun tidbit from the Clinton trial as Q&A begins later today:

From the Virginia congressional district once represented by Eric Cantor, here's a fresh illustration of how Trump has completely taken over the GOP:

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert broke down Pompeo’s attacks on NPR:

Biden crashed a reporter’s live shot during a town hall in Iowa:

And it looks like Mike Bloomberg forgot that dogs are really good at shaking hands: