with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Sometimes what’s not said turns out be most revealing.

Senators posed 93 written questions from 1 p.m. until a little after 11 p.m. on Wednesday as part of President Trump’s impeachment trial. 

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), two potential swing votes on whether to call witnesses, teamed up to ask a straightforward question of fact to the president’s defense team: Did Trump ever mention Joe and Hunter Biden in connection with corruption when he spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s predecessor -- “or other Ukrainian officials, President Trump’s Cabinet members, or top aides or others”?

This could shed light on whether the president’s motives were entirely partisan when he pressed his counterpart in Kyiv to look at the former vice president’s son on July 25 – three months after Joe Biden announced his candidacy against Trump. Theoretically, it could help the president’s case if Trump had brought up the Bidens and corruption to then-Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko when it was still unclear whether he’d run.

But Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin refused to answer. He said he would only talk about issues that were already in the record. “I’m limited to what’s in the record, and what’s in the record is determined by what the House of Representatives saw,” Philbin said. “So I can’t point to something in the record that shows President Trump at an earlier time mentioning specifically something related to Joe or Hunter Biden.”

This is a lawyerly tactic for evading questions, but it was a particularly dubious excuse because another of the president’s defense lawyers had introduced a new Daily Beast article into the record just minutes earlier.

Philbin also dodged when Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), possibly another key vote, asked Trump’s lawyers what specific date the president first ordered the hold on military aid to Ukraine and what his reasoning was at the time he did so. “I don’t think there is evidence in the record of a specific date,” Philbin said.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House impeachment manager, called Philbin’s dodges disingenuous. “You’re not confined to the record in the House, nor is the president,” Schiff told the White House lawyer in front of all 100 senators. “The president could call witnesses if they existed. There’s nothing to prevent them from saying, ‘As a matter of fact, tomorrow we’re going to call such-and-such, and they’re going to testify that indeed, Donald Trump brought up Hunter Biden to President Poroshenko!’”

Refusing to provide any new information is just the latest illustration of the stonewalling that’s been the centerpiece of the White House strategy to save Trump since word of the whistleblower complaint got out. The White House has not complied with any House subpoenas for witnesses or documents related to the Ukraine affair.

Trump perhaps felt emboldened to forcefully defy congressional subpoenas because of his experience with Bob Mueller. The president paid no discernable political price for refusing to give an interview to the then-special counsel. Eventually, he agreed to answer a limited number of written questions about episodes that occurred before he took office. Remember, Trump’s July 25 with Zelensky call came one day after Mueller testified before Congress.

Later in the evening, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) reupped the Collins and Murkowski query. He sent this question to the president’s lawyers: “Could you please give an accurate and truthful answer to the senators’ question?”

“So I can’t,” Philbin replied. “I’m not in a position to go back into things that the president might have said in private, so I can’t go telling now about things that the president might have said to Cabinet members.”

Trump defense attorney Alan Dershowitz then took it to the next level. In response to a separate question, the emeritus Harvard Law professor referred to what Collins and Murkowski asked. Then he argued that it doesn’t matter even if Trump only became interested in Ukraine investigating Biden after the Democrat announced a challenge against him. “His candidacy is a very good reason for upping the interest in his son: If he wasn’t running for president, he’s a has-been,” Dershowitz said. “He’s the former vice president of the United States, okay? Big deal. But if he’s running for president, that’s an enormous big deal.”

Dershowitz has overshadowed the rest of Trump’s defense team because he has such a flair for the dramatic and because his over-the-top arguments are so far outside the mainstream of constitutional jurisprudence. But the soft-spoken Philbin, 52, more subtly staked out a series of startlingly low standards for acceptable presidential conduct during the first day of questions.

For example, Philbin said a president asking Russia and China to look into his political opponents – as Trump has done publicly – would not violate campaign finance laws that make it illegal to accept or solicit a “thing of value” from foreign sources.

“Mere information is not something that would violate the campaign finance laws,” Philbin said in response to a question from Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “If there is credible information, credible information of wrongdoing by someone who is running for a public office, it’s not campaign interference for credible information about wrongdoing to be brought to light.”

This is consistent with Trump’s claim in June that “there isn’t anything wrong” with accepting “oppo research” from foreigners. The president told ABC News at the time – a month before his July 25 call – that he feels no obligation to alert the FBI if his campaign is approached again by foreign agents in 2020 with dirt on a Democrat, as the Russians did ahead of the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.

Democrats fumed. “Apparently it’s okay for the president to get information from foreign governments in an election — that’s news to me,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), one of the House managers, responding to Philbin. “As we go forward in this trial itself, we are creating additional dangers to the nation by suggesting that things that have long been prohibited are now suddenly going to be okay because they’ve been asserted in the president’s defense.” 

Philbin asserted earlier in the afternoon that that it “cannot possibly be the basis for an impeachable offense” if the president had multiple motivations for pushing Ukraine to announce an investigation of the Bidens – even if one motive was helping his 2020 reelection campaign.

“All elected officials to some extent have in mind how their conduct, how their decisions, their policy decisions will affect the next election,” Philbin said. “There’s always some personal interest in the electoral outcome of policy.”

The 16 hours allotted for Q&A will continue this afternoon, starting at 1 p.m. They’ll wrap sometime this evening. The Senate is on track to vote on witnesses tomorrow.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his lieutenants feel increasingly confident they can twist enough arms to block former national security adviser John Bolton from testifying under oath about Trump’s role in the alleged Ukrainian coercion campaign. 

“Trump is set to deliver his State of the Union address Feb. 4, and Republicans would like to have the impeachment trial behind them by that point,” Erica Werner, Karoun Demirjian and Elise Viebeck report. “‘My sense is we will get there,’ said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a key McConnell ally. … For his part, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) sounded glum about the prospect … ‘The president and Mitch McConnell put huge pressure on these folks,’ Schumer told reporters … ‘It’s an uphill fight. Is it more likely than not? Probably no. But is it a decent, good chance? Yes.’”

With the notable exception of Collins, the Republican senators who face tough reelection fights in November are falling in line with leadership. Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.) said he does “not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness.” “I have heard enough,” said appointed Sen. Martha McSally (Ariz.). “It is time to vote.” We’ve heard similar statements from Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa).

Democrats say the lack of candor in response to questions from Collins, Murkowski and Romney is all the more reason to call Bolton and other witnesses, such as acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who could speak to Trump’s motives. “The Senate can get to the truth by calling witnesses,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

Constitutional law professor Alan Dershowitz argued before the Senate on Jan. 29 that a quid pro quo for a president’s political benefit is not impeachable. (U.S. Senate)


-- Chief Justice John Roberts’s role in the trial may soon become less like a substitute teacher’s and more like an actual judge. Robert Barnes reports: “Wednesday marked a new phase of the impeachment inquiry, one more likely to reveal what Roberts believes it means for the chief justice of the United States to ‘preside’ over an impeachment trial of the president. He displayed no inclination to play a more active role. It is largely uncharted territory — only two chief justices in the nation’s history have been put in such a position. There is disagreement among those who have studied impeachment over such basic questions as whether he can break a tie vote, much less call witnesses on his own volition. … Roberts continued to play it straight. He quietly turned down a question from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that might have named the alleged whistleblower in the case, but he otherwise did not question premises or point out what might be inaccuracies. … Other questions from senators seemed almost designed to put into the chief justice’s mouth the most explosive charges about [the Bidens] or some of the most controversial comments from Trump.”

-- “Democrats are casting a nervous eye on a small group of publicly undecided senators in their ranks as Republicans target … a bipartisan acquittal,” Mike DeBonis reports. “Under the spotlight are two centrist mavericks who won election last year — Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — as well as Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who will face voters this year after a long-shot win in a special election in 2017.”

-- “Dershowitz — my professor at Harvard Law School — is flat-out wrong in his assertion that abuse of power is not a basis for impeachment,” former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.) writes in an op-ed for today’s newspaper. “His position contradicts his own prior views, as well as the views of almost all legal scholars, something that Dershowitz himself admits. Just as important, his assertion flies in the face of the articles of impeachment voted against President Richard M. Nixon by the House Judiciary Committee — of which I was a member — in 1974. These articles did not charge Nixon with a crime, a fact Dershowitz willfully ignores.”

-- The Post's opinion page is full of additional commentary on this theme:

  • The Editorial Board: “Republicans’ damaging new line of defense.”
  • George F. Will: “There is more utility than futility in the impeachment trial.”
  • Joe Scarborough: “Trump’s confederacy of dunces.”
  • Harry Litman: “Trump’s mixed-motive defense is a lousy argument dressed up in plausible legalese.”

-- Dershowitz told Esquire for a new magazine profile that working for Trump’s defense has led to more blowback than any of his previous clients: "Worse than Harry Reems. Worse than von Bülow. Worse than O.J. ‘No question,’ he says. ‘My life was a lot happier before I did this than now. I had a lot more friends. I got a lot of grief during the O.J. case. I defended that guy for murder, but it was nothing like this. This is much worse.’ Is Trump held in lower esteem than O.J. was? Dershowitz shrugs. ‘In the O.J. case, people disagreed with what I did,’ he says. ‘Here, people disagree with who I am.’”

Political investigations reporters Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman explain what John Bolton hopes to achieve by offering evidence in the Senate trial. (The Washington Post)

-- Bolton’s lawyer said his book does not contain classified material and asked the White House for an expedited review of the draft chapter about Ukraine in case he's called to testify. Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey and Karen DeYoung report: “The Jan. 24 email to the White House from Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, was in response to a letter from the National Security Council a day earlier warning that the manuscript contained ‘significant amounts’ of classified material that could not be disclosed publicly. … Ellen J. Knight, the security council’s senior director for records, access and information security management, said Bolton would be breaking his nondisclosure agreement with the U.S. government if he published the book without deleting the classified material. … Bolton’s team expects a lengthy fight over the issue.” 

-- The bigger picture: Trump demands fealty from those closest to him while inspiring very little. Former aides, advisers and associates turn on the president with thrumming regularity, Ashley Parker observes: “They are, en masse, all the president’s disloyal men and women — an unofficial club that includes Rex Tillerson, Trump’s former secretary of state, Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former White House senior adviser, and Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney and fixer … The culture, of course, is set from the top, with an Oval Office occupant who requires abject fealty but rarely returns it. Trump is known for his petty cruelty, for berating aides publicly and privately and for presiding over an intentionally gladiatorial West Wing, where advisers seem to expect to be betrayed at some point — and behave accordingly.” 

-- Rudy Giuliani’s indicted former associate Lev Parnas is unable to enter the Senate chamber to observe the impeachment trial because of his ankle bracelet monitor. That doesn’t mean he couldn't make himself its star anyway. Maura Judkis and Avi Selk report: “Around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, ... [Parnas] took a stroll from Union Station to the Capitol building. … If he couldn’t say it in front of the Senate, he could say it here, in front of the Union Station Ladurée macaron shop: ‘The president knew everything that was going on in Ukraine,’ Parnas said. ‘There was many quid pro quos.’ … Both [Parnas and his lawyer Joseph Bondy] wore gray suits. Both had American flag pins on their lapels. The pair were swarmed by TV camera crews. 'I’m not here to make a circus,’ said Bondy, but most circuses start with a parade … ‘I felt like a Kardashian for a few minutes,’ a law student accompanying the legal team remarked. … ‘Thank you, Lev!’ called out Jennifer Chartrand, 55, of Rockville. She was wearing a knitted pink pussy hat. ‘Thanks for speaking truth!’”

-- The Trump administration just issued new sanctions on top Russian-backed officials in Crimea. Carol Morello reports: “The sanctions targeting seven officials and a railway company connecting Russia with Crimea were handed down by the Treasury Department two days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to meet with officials in Ukraine. The United States has never recognized Moscow’s seizure of Crimea and still considers it a part of Ukraine. … Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said the U.S. action ‘reiterates our unwavering support for restoring free and fair democratic political processes in Crimea.’ … The action gave a subtle cold shoulder to the Crimean officials, preceding each one’s title with ‘so-called.’ Among them was Yuri Gotsanyuk, the ‘so-called Prime Minister of the so-called Republic of Crimea.’”  

-- Ukraine’s precarious attempt to balance Russian authoritarianism and Western democracy makes American attention critical to politicians there. For the Ukrainian president, the holy grail is a White House meeting, which is why Volodymyr Zelensky remains so focused on getting that one-on-one with the president. With Pompeo due to meet Zelensky tomorrow, Ukraine’s leadership is looking for a signal on its standing with Trump, Natalie Gryvnyak and Robyn Dixon report. “But the signs for Ukraine are worrying. [Former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt] Volker has not been replaced since his resignation in September. There has been no new U.S. ambassador appointed to replace Marie Yovanovitch … And a disquieting silence has descended over U.S.-Ukraine relations amid [impeachment]. … Even if Pompeo does deliver Zelensky a White House meeting, as Volker suggested, attention will inevitably turn to whether Zelensky offered something helpful to Trump in return.”

-- “The United States last year resettled more nationals from Ukraine, a country that barely registers in the United Nations’ assessments of the global refu­gee crisis, than it did almost any other nationality," Abigail Hauslohner reports. "Only people fleeing widespread violence and unrest in Congo and Myanmar outnumber the flow of Ukrainian refugees to the United States.” There is no indication that Trump’s special interest in Ukraine played a role in this rise. “But the demographic shift does appear to be the byproduct of Trump administration policies that have restricted access [from other countries] to the U.S. refugee program, experts said. … The 4,451 Ukrainians who arrived in the United States during fiscal 2019 made up 15 percent of the 30,000 total refugees who resettled in the country. In 2016, Ukrainians accounted for just 3 percent.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “I’m no fan of John Bolton, although I like him a little more than I used to," Schiff joked as he made the case for witnesses.
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Iowa hosts the first vote of the 2020 election season on Feb. 3. Here’s a guide to the complicated process of caucusing. (The Washington Post)

2020 WATCH:

-- Allies for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have spoken to Andrew Yang’s campaign about cooperation in Iowa on caucus night. And Tom Steyer's campaign was contacted by a representative from Pete Buttigieg's campaign to feel out whether they could work together in some way. Annie Linskey and Dan Balz report: “With just five days to go before the Iowa caucuses, several of the top Democratic campaigns and operatives are eyeing one another as potential, and limited, allies in their battle to win convention delegates. … Candidates who do not earn support from at least 15 percent of those in the room are not considered viable, and they do not earn delegates. Their backers are free to leave or to align with another candidate. That can lead to negotiations between campaigns over the fate of the supporters of nonviable candidates. … Those specific deals would be harder for campaigns to use this year because candidates who reach 15 percent aren’t able to shed voters. That potentially offers more power to less popular candidates. Some suggested that it was far-fetched to think an Iowan committed enough to attend the caucuses would be likely to make their second choice based on the recommendation of a campaign staffer. … 

“Biden’s campaign has also been courting endorsements from two candidates who have left the race — [Kamala] Harris and Cory Booker … Yet those discussions have been complicated by the Senate impeachment trial. Booker and Harris have appeared reluctant to make any endorsements while the hearings are ongoing, particularly when Biden is a focus in the proceedings and could still be subpoenaed to testify. … [Elizabeth] Warren’s staff made an early bet that they could identify Iowans who view her as a second choice, with an eye toward making a direct pitch to those people on caucus night if their first choice doesn’t have enough support. Warren’s campaign declined to speak about caucus night strategy. Yang spoke frankly on Wednesday about caucus strategy but also acknowledged the limitations of sharing supporters.” 

-- Figuring out who won the Iowa caucuses could actually be kind of hard. Philip Bump explains: “We’re used to knowing who won a race by looking at who got more votes. ... Iowa won’t be that simple. Nor is the state Democratic Party making things easier. It will release not one number on Monday but four:

  1. The results of the first alignment (which, in our example, Sanders won).
  2. The results of the final alignment (which we had Biden winning).
  3. The number of state-delegate equivalents each candidate earned.
  4. And, a bit later, the estimated number of national delegates each candidate won.

That’s four numbers all aimed at measuring the same thing — whom Iowa Democrats want to be the next president. It’s likely that all four metrics will point to the same candidate. But if there’s a candidate who’s the second choice for a lot of voters, it’s easy to see how the first two numbers could be in conflict. Add in the wonkiness of the calculations … and you can see how the other two numbers could throw another name into the mix, especially if the race is close.” 

-- Biden will deliver a closing argument in Iowa today doubling as a forceful rebuke of Trump as impeachment tensions grow. The former vice president's campaign shares this sneak peek at the speech: “Health care. Climate. Guns. National Security. All these issues and more are on the ballot. But something else is on the ballot. Something even more important. Character is on the ballot. America’s character. I don’t believe we’re the dark, angry nation we see in Donald Trump’s tweets. I don’t believe we’re a nation that rips babies out of their mothers’ arms. I don’t believe we’re a nation that builds walls and whips up hysteria over immigrant invasions. I don’t believe we’re a nation that embraces white supremacists and hate groups. I don’t believe we’re a nation that defers to Vladimir Putin. …

“The American people are a good and decent people," Biden plans to say. "They deserve a president who tells them the truth – not lie after lie after lie. They deserve a president who will put the country’s interest first – not his own self-interest. They deserve a president who appeals to the best in us – not the worst. They deserve a president who will bring us together – not pull us apart.”

-- But, but, but: Biden’s ground game in Iowa is unsteady in some areas, which could hurt him on caucus night. Trip Gabriel reports in the New York Times: “According to nearly a dozen county Democratic chairs and Biden activists around the state, Mr. Biden’s ground game has weak spots that threaten him with underperforming his polling in Iowa, where he has consistently been at or near the top…. In Des Moines County in eastern Iowa, Tom Courtney, the Democratic co-chairman, said last week he knew of ‘only a few’ Biden precinct captains in his 16 precincts. Asked about the likelihood that a candidate’s supporters would materialize on their own without an organizing staff, Mr. Courtney said, ‘I’ve not seen it before.’ His wife, Nancy Courtney, who is a Biden activist, said there was a ‘slim chance’ Mr. Biden wouldn’t reach viability in some caucuses, meaning his support would fall below a 15 percent threshold needed to earn delegates. ‘A lot of the campaigns have really good staffers and we only have one staffer in Des Moines County,’ she said. ‘That worries me.’” 

-- After a super PAC aligned with the Democratic establishment launched a $680,000 ad buy against Sanders, the senator's supporters responded by chipping in $1.3 million in a day. In an email to supporters on Tuesday, Sanders’s campaign warned that he was being targeted and alluded to an “outside spending group.” (NYT)

-- Documents show that Sanders’s team is preparing dozens of potential executive orders on a wide range of domestic policy issues, including immigration, the environment and prescription drugs. Jeff Stein and Sean Sullivan report: “Aides have presented Sanders with a list of possible executive actions, including more than a dozen options for reversing [Trump’s] immigration policy, such as lifting the cap on the number of refugees accepted into the United States and immediately halting border wall construction. Another option is the reinstatement of an Obama-era program that granted legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. … The list of potential executive orders includes unilaterally allowing the United States to import prescription drugs from Canada; directing the Justice Department to legalize marijuana; and declaring climate change a national emergency while banning the exportation of crude oil. Other options cited in the document include canceling federal contracts for firms paying less than $15 an hour and reversing federal rules blocking U.S. funding to organizations that provide abortion counseling. … The senator is reviewing the list of possible executive orders but has not signed off on when they would be released or their scope.” 

-- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will endorse Mike Bloomberg today, joining more than two dozen other current and former mayors. Paul Schwartzmann reports: “The second-term mayor is choosing the billionaire businessman [over Biden], who worked closely with the District during the Obama administration and whom she has praised in the past … In a statement provided by the Bloomberg campaign, Bowser touted Bloomberg as ‘the only candidate who will unify the country and defeat Donald Trump.’” 

-- Hillary Clinton refuses to be served with the defamation lawsuit by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii). Gabbard’s attorney said Clinton has now twice snubbed a process server attempting to deliver court papers. (New York Post

-- “Progressives and moderates: Don’t destroy each other,” columnist E.J. Dionne writes in an essay previewing his new book “Code Red”: “Judging from the tone of the Democratic primary on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, feuding seems to be winning. Some of this contention is inevitable; each of these candidates wants to win. The danger lies in fostering the idea that the divides between progressives and moderates are more important than their intense and shared opposition with [Trump] and a right-wing version of Republicanism that seeks to undo our nation’s advances since the New Deal. The triumph of this view would be — let’s not mince words — a social catastrophe. … 

"Like so many of the binaries in politics, the restoration/transformation optic captures something important but is also a false choice. The country can’t simply pick up where it left off before Trump took office. The radicalized conservatism that dominates the Republican Party will not go away even if he is defeated. The inequalities of class and race that helped fueled Trump’s rise have deepened during his presidency. You might say restoring the norms that Trump threatens requires transformation. And the majority that opposes Trump is clearly seeking a combination of restoration and transformation. They want to bring back things they believe have been lost as a prelude to moving forward. What they want most to restore is progress. Progressives and moderates need to realize that at this moment in history, they share a commitment to what public life can achieve and the hope that government can be decent again.”

-- Warren called for criminal penalties for spreading false information about voting online. From CNBC: “Warren proposed to combat disinformation by holding big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google responsible for spreading misinformation designed to suppress voters from turning out. …  It’s part of a broader policy to stop disinformation, requiring tech companies and the government to come together to solve the problem.”

-- Twitter users can now report tweets with misleading information about the election as well as voter suppression. The reports will be reviewed against Twitter’s terms of service, and offenders could face penalties. (Politico)

-- Trump allies are handing out tens of thousands of dollars to black voters at events where organizers lavish praise on the president. From Politico: “The first giveaway took place last month in Cleveland, where recipients whose winning tickets were drawn from a bin landed cash gifts in increments of several hundred dollars, stuffed into envelopes. … Trump’s campaign has been investing its own money to make inroads with black voters and erode Democrats’ overwhelming advantage with them. But the cash giveaways are organized under the auspices of an outside charity, the Urban Revitalization Coalition, permitting donors to remain anonymous and make tax-deductible contributions. The organizers say the events are run by the book and intended to promote economic development in inner cities. But the group behind the cash giveaways is registered as a 501(c)3 charitable organization. One leading legal expert on nonprofit law said the arrangement raises questions about the group’s tax-exempt status, because it does not appear to be vetting the recipients of its money for legitimate charitable need.”


-- The death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 170 in China, with more than 7,700 confirmed cases of infection — an increase of more than 1,500 on the previous day. Simon Denyer and Paul Schemm report: “About 100 cases have been recorded outside of mainland China, and four other countries have reported person-to-person transmission of the virus. … India and the Philippines reported their first cases on Thursday.” The World Health Organization will reconvene its emergency committee today.

-- “Stranded in Wuhan, frustrated Americans wait to be evacuated — or just hunker down,” Simon reports: “Doug Perez has a Chinese girlfriend and a Labrador puppy, and he is not leaving the virus-hit city of Wuhan without them. But other Americans in Wuhan are increasingly frustrated as they wait for their government to fly them out. ‘Many Americans do feel kind of abandoned,’ he said in a Skype interview from his home in the city. … The Chinese government imposed a total travel lockdown on Wuhan last week, leaving 9 million people … trapped in a city where the virus is raging, and hospitals are overflowing. Already 129 people have died in Wuhan with 2,261 confirmed cases and thousands more suspected of carrying the virus, official figures show, but experts say the real number could be much higher." But hundreds of Americans remain in Wuhan with little information, a growing sense of unease and, they say, inadequate communication from the consulate there.

“Perez, his girlfriend, her brother, and Chubby, the Labrador, are holed up in their two-floor apartment … He’s been watching ‘The Sopranos,’ reading, and learning computer programming. Wearing a face mask and rubber gloves, he takes the dog for a walk on the largely deserted streets, steering clear of the few other people about. Even Chubby has a mask, although he does not like wearing it … They venture out occasionally to stock up on supplies at local stores. … ‘We went to the grocery store and they were testing everyone’s temperature at the door,’ he said. ‘There was one guy panicking, he kept on touching his forehead.’ Perez said he kept his distance.”

-- The State Department announced this morning that it will arrange extra flights for private citizens to evacuate Wuhan, beginning on Monday. Those traveling would be subject to screening, health observations and monitoring.

-- University officials here in the States are scrambling to prepare for the arrival of the virus on their campuses. Schools like Arizona State University, where a member of the community tested positive for the virus, are issuing travel restrictions to China, and some with campuses in and near Shanghai have been forced to delay the start of their spring semester. Several schools, including Baylor University and Miami University in Ohio, have tested students, isolating them in some cases. (Susan Svrluga and Nick Anderson)

 -- Trump has had little to say in public about the growing virus, except to downplay its danger to the United States. From the AP: "We’re very much involved with them, right now, on the virus that’s going around,” Trump said yesterday at the White House. He said he discussed the situation with Chinese President Xi Jinping and added that the two countries are "working very closely."

-- In Brazil, days of deadly floods have left thousands homeless and the nation’s prevailing social inequality has only helped drive the number of casualties. Terrence McCoy reports: “The death toll rose to 62 on Wednesday after another round of battering rains and landslides across the states of Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais, where waves of mud have knocked houses off cliffs and buried dozens of people alive. Belo Horizonte, the Minas Gerais state capital, has been hit particularly hard. More than 100 municipalities have announced states of emergency. … Descendants of slaves and other poor migrants, unable to find housing in the cities, have historically been shunted into the communities known as favelas. … This feature of urban life has aggravated the annual scourge of deadly landslides, especially in the country’s heavily populated southeast, where studies have shown the threat of mudslides is greatest. … The government also plays a role. News reports show state and federal governments have consistently failed to meet funding goals to help mitigate the damage wrought by the annual problem."

-- Israel is rushing to capitalize on Trump’s peace plan after Palestinians condemned it as hopelessly biased. Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash report: “Even before the parties had finished poring over the map that described a possible Palestinian state on 70 percent of the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear he would immediately take steps to annex the other 30 percent — the location of more than 150 Jewish settlements — along with the Jordan Valley. … The dizzying pace of events left all sides scrambling to assess what was changing and what remained of the dogged status quo. … 

Groups of protesters turned out only in parts of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and in nearby Amman, Jordan. There were scenes of isolated rock-throwing and burning posters of President Trump and Netanyahu. More-serious clashes occurred in the West Bank on Wednesday, according to Israeli media reports, including the wounding of three protesters by Israeli security forces near Ramallah. … Israeli settlers were also sorting through the deal’s particulars, with mixed responses. They stood to achieve a long-cherished dream of having their hilltop towns and cities become normalized Israeli communities — ­patrolled by police instead of soldiers — but many balked at the price: a four-year freeze on building and the prospect of a Palestinian state.”

-- Netanyahu claimed another diplomatic victory after Vladimir Putin pardoned an Israeli backpacker. Ruth Eglash and Isabelle Khrushudyan report: “The pit stop in Russia immediately drew widespread speculation that he would return home with Na’ama Issachar, 27, who was sentenced by a Russian court last October to 7½ years in prison for drug smuggling. … Issachar had been returning to Israel from India via Moscow last spring when Russian police discovered less than a third of an ounce of hashish in her checked luggage. Since her case came to light last summer, Netanyahu, who often boasts about his warm ties with Putin, has faced mounting pressure to make a special plea to the Russian leader for her release. … Issachar’s mother arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, but authorities denied her request to visit her daughter, apparently in a bid to delay the pardon until Netanyahu’s detour through Russia on Thursday.” 


-- High winds blew over newly installed panels of Trump's border wall, landing on trees on the Mexican side of the border. A Customs and Border Patrol spokesman said the sections in Calexico, Calif., that fell had recently been laid so the concrete had not set. (CNN)

-- U.S. life expectancy is ticking up as the number of fatal drug overdoses declines and cancer deaths drop. Joel Achenbach reports: “A decline in the death rate from cancer is the single largest driver of the small increase in life expectancy, the CDC reported. Five of the other nine leading causes of death also showed declines in death rates, including the top cause, heart disease, as well as unintentional injuries (which include overdoses), chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Two more, diabetes and kidney disease, were essentially unchanged. Deaths from suicide and influenza and pneumonia increased. Despite the encouraging elements of the CDC mortality report, the broader pattern for American health remains sobering. Life expectancy improved by the tiniest of increments, from 78.6 to 78.7 years. That figure remains lower than the peak in U.S. life expectancy, at 78.9 years, in 2014.” 

-- Two former aspiring actresses testified that Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted them in the mid-2000s. The women – model Tarale Wulff, who testified that Weinstein raped her in his apartment, and Dawn Dunning, who said Weinstein assaulted her and months later offered movie roles in exchange for sex – aren't officially named as victims in the case because of the statute of limitations, but both were allowed to serve as witnesses to corroborate the stories of the other women. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is planning on calling a third supporting accuser, who is the subject of a case against Weinstein in Los Angeles. (Shayna Jacobs

-- The South Dakota House passed a bill restricting medical treatments for transgender youths. This is the first state to take action on the flurry of bills nationwide that would restrict medical interventions for transgender children. (Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Samantha Schmidt)

-- House Democrats unveiled a $760 billion infrastructure package that’s an ambitious and at times detailed attempt at getting Trump to back a long-awaited bipartisan priority. Michael Laris reports: The plan “came with a glaring — and strategic — omission: They avoided saying how the vast majority of it should be paid for, arguing that Trump should be out front on that issue. … A spokesman for [McConnell] referred to comments the senator made in April about the possibility of passing a $2 trillion infrastructure bill … He said an idea raised by Senate Democrats — paying for new infrastructure by rolling back some of the tax cuts — was a ‘non-starter.’ … House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said he thinks a bipartisan deal is possible — and that holding back Democratic declarations on how to fund infrastructure will help that process along.”


Alabama Senate candidate Jeff Sessions, fired by Trump as attorney general, attacked Bolton for speaking out about the president's conduct:

A former Justice Department inspector general cried foul as the Trump White House sought to censor Bolton:

A former lawyer for the National Security Agency, who is now at Brookings and runs Lawfare, reviewed Bolton’s options:

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) mocked Dershowitz's arguments:

So did Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.):

From a former FBI special agent who now teaches at Yale:

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted a suspicious, unexplained change in the DOJ position on former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn’s sentence for lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts:

The Department of Homeland Security’s acting deputy secretary celebrated the detention of another group of migrants: 

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law who is in charge of the Middle East portfolio, asked people to "divorce" themselves from all the history of the region. That's not how history works. You can't divorce yourself from it:

And Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s widow, shared an emotional message days after her husband and daughter died in a helicopter crash:


Stephen Colbert had a few questions about Dershowitz’s defense of Trump:

And a “Full Frontal” correspondent went to Iowa to find out if the Iowa caucus is a relic of the past: