Mueller gathers evidence that 2017 Seychelles meeting was effort to establish back channel to Kremlin
Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett, The Washington Post
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter. In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations.
Poll shows spike in GOP disapproval of Mueller
Darren Samuelsohn, Politico
Months of conservative attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation may be taking a toll on his public image, according to a new Morning Consult/POLITICO poll. The Justice Department’s lead investigator into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign has seen his unfavorable rating among Republicans jump by 14 points since late July, when the poll first began to track his public standing.
Russian Influence Campaign Extracted Americans’ Personal Data
Shelby Holliday and Rob Barry, The Wall Street Journal
All the Facebook account Black4Black asked for was some personal information about Ajah Hales and other Cleveland-area small-business owners. In exchange, she was told her cosmetics company, and her fellow African-American entrepreneurs, would receive free promotion on social media and in a new and influential directory of black-owned businesses.
Forest Service chief resigns in wake of sexual misconduct allegations
Catherine Boudreau, Politico
Tony Tooke, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, stepped down from his post on Wednesday following reports of sexual harassment and retaliation at the agency that revealed the Agriculture Department was investigating misconduct allegations against Tooke himself. Tooke, who was appointed by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in August, announced his resignation in an email to employees.
VA Secretary David Shulkin ousts three execs, consolidates oversight of 23 hospitals
Donovan Slack, USA Today
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced sweeping plans Wednesday to reorganize the embattled agency from top to bottom, beginning with national headquarters essentially taking over and consolidating oversight of VA medical centers in 12 states. Three regional directors who oversaw 23 hospitals serving nearly 3 million veterans are out, and their offices now will report directly to a new executive in Washington.
Planned Parenthood defunding threatens government spending package
Jennifer Haberkorn and Sarah Ferris, Politico
House Republicans are demanding a series of controversial abortion and health care policies in the annual health spending bill, setting up a showdown with Democrats and threatening passage of an omnibus spending package to keep the government open. Democrats are vowing to block the slew of long-sought conservative priorities.
Donald Trump Set to Sign Tariffs Decree Amid GOP Lawmakers’ Dissent
Michael C. Bender and Peter Nicholas, The Wall Street Journal
President Donald Trump is expected to sign a decree this week laying out his plan to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum, sparing both Canada and Mexico, after people on both sides of the issue made final pleas to either scuttle the measure or ensure he doesn’t back off. At the White House on Wednesday, aides began preparations for the ceremony ushering in a turn in trade policy that could recalibrate relations between the U.S. and its allies and trading partners.
Trump Spoke to Witnesses About Matters They Discussed With Special Counsel
Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times
The special counsel in the Russia investigation has learned of two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators, according to three people familiar with the encounters. In one episode, the president told an aide that the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, should issue a statement denying a New York Times article in January.
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen tries to silence adult-film star Stormy Daniels
Sarah Fitzpatrick, NBC News
President Donald Trump’s lawyer is trying to silence adult-film star Stormy Daniels, obtaining a secret restraining order in a private arbitration proceeding and warning that she will face penalties if she publicly discusses a relationship with the president, NBC News has learned. The new pressure on Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, comes a day after she filed a lawsuit in a Los Angeles court alleging that a nondisclosure agreement she made to keep quiet about an “intimate” relationship with Trump is invalid because he never signed it.
Trump says White House asked China for plan to reduce US trade deficit with country by $1 billion
Thomas Franck, CNBC
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he has asked China to develop a plan to reduce the current trade deficit between the two countries by $1 billion. “Our relationship with China has been a very good one,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Kushner Meets With Mexican President, Underscoring Shift in U.S. Diplomacy
Azam Ahmed and Nicholas Casey, The New York Times
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Mexico’s president on Wednesday, arriving just weeks after a planned meeting between the nations’ leaders fell apart because of a bitter phone dispute over Mr. Trump’s proposed border wall. Mr. Kushner’s meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto was meant to soothe tensions.
White House Staff Turnover Was Already Record-Setting. Then More Advisers Left
Tamara Keith, NPR News
President Trump insists his isn’t a White House in chaos, but it’s hard to deny the near constant churn of key aides, including Tuesday’s announced departure of economic adviser Gary Cohn. A full 43 percent of top-level positions in the Trump White House have seen turnover.
Wall Street Shut Out in Senate’s Latest Rewrite of Banking Bill
Elizabeth Dexheimer and Jesse Hamilton, Bloomberg
Wall Street banks don’t have much to celebrate in what’s probably the final version of a bill easing financial rules that is headed for a U.S. Senate vote. Late Wednesday, Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican, proposed some last-minute changes to his overhaul of the Dodd-Frank Act.
Cornyn ‘concerned who the president will turn to’ after Cohn exit
Vicki Needham, The Hill
The Senate’s No. 2 Republican is expressing concern about the direction of President Trump’s policies after Gary Cohn announced the day before he’s stepping down as director of the White House’s National Economic Council. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas) told reporters on Wednesday that the departure of Cohn leaves a major gap in the White House’s policymaking process.
Elizabeth Warren Just Made Donations To Dems In All 50 States
Dominique Mosbergen and Daniel Marans, HuffPost
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has donated more than a quarter of a million dollars to support the canvassing efforts of the Democratic Party in all 50 states. “I believe in partnership, and I believe in the work you do to reach out and connect people to the Democratic Party and to grow our party all across this country. I don’t want to leave anyone behind,” Warren said during a Democratic National Committee fundraiser held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
As general election begins, Cruz escalates battle against O’Rourke
Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune
For much of the past year, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz did not acknowledge Beto O’Rourke’s name — or even, for a while, the fact that he had a Democratic opponent for re-election. That abruptly changed Tuesday evening, when Cruz convened several state reporters for a conference call in the final hours before polls closed in the state’s primaries.
Hope Hicks told House Intelligence Committee she was hacked, sources say
Jonathan Allen et al., NBC News
A day before she resigned as White House communications director, Hope Hicks told the House Intelligence Committee last week that one of her email accounts was hacked, according to people who were present for her testimony in the panel’s Russia probe. Under relatively routine questioning from Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., about her correspondence, Hicks indicated that she could no longer access two accounts: one she used as a member of President Donald Trump’s campaign team and the other a personal account, according to four people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the closed meeting of the Intelligence Committee was supposed to remain private.
Republicans trash their candidate in Pa. special election
Alex Isenstadt, Politico
Shortly after the new year, Rep. Steve Stivers, the House GOP campaign chief, delivered a stern message to Rick Saccone, the party’s special election candidate in Pennsylvania. You need to start pulling your weight, Stivers implored Saccone, the mustachioed 60-year-old state legislator who is carrying the weight of the Republican Party in a crucial contest next week.
House Majority PAC Reserves $43 Million in Airtime for Fall
Simone Pathé, Roll Call
House Majority PAC, the group that helps House Democrats, is making $43 million in TV reservations in 33 media markets for the final weeks of the 2018 campaign. These initial reservations will be placed over the course of the month, which is the earliest the super PAC has booked time for the fall.
Veterans Running as Democrats Challenge GOP on Guns in Key Races
Arit John and Yueqi Yang, Bloomberg
From New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Denver suburbs, a new crop of Democratic congressional candidates is campaigning on what’s been a difficult topic for the party, especially in rural and conservative areas: gun control. But these aren’t the stereotypical Democrats portrayed by gun-rights supporters as elitists who haven’t held a firearm.
‘Cannabis candidate’ accused of abusing women and resume inflation
Natasha Korecki, Politico
Benjamin Thomas Wolf, an Illinois congressional candidate whose provocative campaign has captured national media attention, has smoked weed in front of an American flag, brandished an AR-15 in a campaign ad and is running ads on porn sites. But his turn in the spotlight — the former FBI employee has been featured in write-ups in Newsweek, CNN and appeared in an interview on Fox & Friends — has unearthed a troubled past, including accusations of abusive behavior toward women and claims that he inflated his resume.
Florida House OKs first gun controls in 20+ years; Gov. Scott won’t say if he’ll sign it
James Call, Tallahassee Democrat
The Florida House sent the state’s first gun control measures in 22 years to Gov. Rick Scott on a 67-50 vote. The measure that also creates a program that would arm some classroom teachers and staff comes three weeks after 17 were shot and killed at a Parkland high school.
Governor Hogan, state officials press Congress for help stabilizing Obamacare market
John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun
Describing recent health insurance premium increases in Maryland as “unsustainable,” Gov. Larry Hogan and the state’s legislative leaders on Wednesday embraced the idea of a federal reinsurance program that would help offset the expense of the sickest patients. In a letter to Maryland’s mostly Democratic congressional delegation, the Republican governor said the state is working to address premium increases caused by “recent federal actions,” but said the state has limited power to stem rate increases for the approximately 150,000 people buying private coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Back to school: West Virginia teachers return to classroom
John Raby, The Associated Press
At Stonewall Jackson Middle School in West Virginia, students filed past a sign that read: “Welcome back, let’s roll.” It’s been nine school days without class.
Banks Want a Bigger Piece of Your Student Loan
Josh Mitchell and AnnaMaria Andriotis, The Wall Street Journal
Private lenders are pushing to break up the government’s near-monopoly in the $100 billion-a-year student-loan market. The banking industry’s main lobbying group, the Consumer Bankers Association, is pressing for the government to institute caps on how much individual graduate students and parents of undergraduates can borrow from the government to cover tuition.
A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition:
Have you ever thought about what happens when you use a card at the register? Or when you order something online? Behind the scenes millions of times every day, a complex process plays out in just a few milliseconds. Four groups work together to make this complex transaction easy for you. Find out how it all works in our new video.
Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives
Go ahead, Mr. President. Bring it on
Editorial Board, The Sacramento Bee
Immigrants, with and without papers, are part of California’s economic and social fabric. This state has long experience in balancing that reality with the need for law and order – and with the perils of allowing divisive and cynical interests to use foreign-born people as political pawns.
Trade tariffs do not put America First – low barriers, expanded access do
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Fox News
President Trump’s America First strategy has been working. From his aggressive deregulation of burdensome and unnecessary Obama-era regulations to the continuing success of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the president’s agenda is securing much-needed economic victories on behalf of Americans.
Corporate leaders must reject Trump’s tariffs
Charles Koch, The Washington Post
By many measures, America’s economy is strong. Unemployment is down, the stock market is up and consumer confidence is rising. Although far too many barriers still keep a large portion of our population from fully participating in these benefits, we are making real progress.
The West Virginia Teacher Strike Was Just the Start
Steven Greenhouse, The New York Times
The statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia — one of the biggest in the nation in years — could signal the beginning of a new trend: a revolt against austerity policies. The nine-day walkout, which ended Tuesday, was highly unusual.
Research Reports and Polling
House 2018: 26 Ratings Changes, All in Favor of Democrats
Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s Crystal Ball
Amazingly enough, the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District now looks like a Toss-up. That’s one of 26 House ratings changes we’re making this week, all in favor of Democrats.