Washington Brief: Unverified Report Claims Russia Has Compromising Information on Trump

Washington Brief

  • BuzzFeed News posted a 35-page, unverified document Tuesday evening that alleged ties between President-elect Donald Trump and the Russian government. (The New York Times) As he prepares for his first news conference since July today, he called the report fake news, and Russia has denied it. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Senate Democrats failed to land a political blow against Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s pick for attorney general, during more than 10 hours of questioning on Tuesday. Today, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) will take the unprecedented step of testifying against his Senate colleague’s nomination. (Politico)
  • Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson is expected to face pointed questions about his lengthy career at ExxonMobil, which took actions at odds with U.S. foreign policy on behalf of corporate interests under his leadership. (The Associated Press)
  • In his farewell address, President Barack Obama reiterated his campaign theme, “yes we can,” Tuesday night, in a speech that mixed optimism about the future with his fears about threats to democracy abroad and in the U.S. (The New York Times)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds confirmation hearing for Secretary of State nominee Tillerson 9 a.m.
Senate Judiciary Committee holds confirmation hearing for AG nominee Sessions 9:30 a.m.
House convenes 10 a.m.
Donald Trump press conference in New York City 11 a.m.
Senate convenes 12 p.m.
House votes 1:15 p.m.
House votes 5 p.m.
Senate begins vote-a-rama 6 p.m.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot at AEI 9 a.m.
Senate Intelligence Committee holds hearing for CIA nominee Pompeo 10 a.m.
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee holds confirmation hearing for HUD nominee Carson 10 a.m.
No events scheduled



BuzzFeed Posts Unverified Claims on Trump, Stirring Debate
Sydney Ember and Michael M. Grynbaum, The New York Times 

BuzzFeed News became the center of a swirling debate over journalistic ethics on Tuesday after its decision to publish a 35-page document carrying explosive, but unverified, allegations about ties between the Russian government and President-elect Donald J. Trump. The document, a dossier prepared by a former British intelligence officer hired by Mr. Trump’s political opponents, had been circulating among high-ranking politicians and some journalists since the fall.

Russia Says It Has No Compromising Material on Trump
Laura Mills, The Wall Street Journal

Russia on Wednesday denied it has compromising material on Donald Trump, calling a dossier of unverified allegations an “absolute fabrication” and an attempt to damage U.S.-Russian relations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the report, which claimed that Russia has material that could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump, as “pulp fiction,” according to Russian news agencies.

U.S. seeks 2 year prison term for former vice chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff in leak case
Spencer S. Hsu, The Washington Post 

U.S. prosecutors on Tuesday sought a two-year prison sentence for a retired four-star Marine Corps general who served as the nation’s second-ranking military officer and who pleaded guilty in October to a felony count of lying to the FBI in a classified leak investigation. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before he retired in 2011, admitted to falsely telling investigators he did not confirm classified information to reporters writing about the Stuxnet computer worm and a covert U.S.-Israeli cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program.

Silicon Valley start-ups fall behind other US hubs in VC funding
Hannah Kuchler, Financial Times

Silicon Valley start-ups raised over a quarter less venture capital funding in 2016 than the year before, falling further than the global average and underperforming the other US technology hubs. The home of the world’s largest technology companies saw total VC funding fall 28 per cent to $24.9bn, with 21 per cent fewer deals than in 2015, according to the PwC and CB Insights MoneyTree report published on Wednesday.

Jury sentences Dylann Roof to death for Charleston church slayings
Kevin Sullivan, The Washington Post

A federal jury sentenced Dylann Roof to death on Tuesday for killing nine black parishioners during a massacre inside a church here in 2015. Roof was convicted last month of 33 counts of federal hate crimes.

Iraqi forces push further into northeast Mosul, military says
Stephen Kalin et al., Reuters 

Iraqi forces made new advances against Islamic State in east Mosul and fought the militants in areas near the Tigris river on Wednesday, seeking to build on recent gains, military officials said. The elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) pushed into the northeastern Sadeeq neighborhood, officers on the ground said.


Obama, Saying Goodbye, Warns of Threats to National Unity
Mark Landler and Julie Bosman, The New York Times

President Obama, delivering a farewell address in the city that launched his political career, declared on Tuesday his continued confidence in the American experiment. But he warned, in the wake of a toxic presidential election, that economic inequity, racism and closed-mindedness threatened to shred the nation’s democratic fabric.

Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him
Evan Perez et al., CNN  

Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN. The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump to square off with press after Russia bombshell
Shane Goldmacher, Politico

Donald Trump on Wednesday will step out from the relative safety of his Android Twitter keyboard to spar with the “dishonest media” he so often relishes disparaging. The long-awaited first news conference since Trump became president-elect took on added consequence Tuesday evening amid explosive new reports that U.S. officials are looking into allegations that Russia may have gathered compromising material on Trump.

Vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. says Trump asked him to lead commission on ‘vaccine safety’  
Abby Phillip et al., The Washington Post

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a proponent of a widely discredited theory that vaccines cause autism, said Tuesday that President-elect Donald Trump asked him to chair a new commission on vaccines. Hours later, however, a spokeswoman for Trump’s transition said that while Trump would like to create a commission on autism, no final decision had been made.

Trump’s Proposed Tax Cuts Could Boost U.S. and Global Growth, Says World Bank
Ian Talley, The Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump’s vowed tax cuts could goose global economic growth this year and next, the World Bank said Tuesday, fresh fuel for a world struggling with stagnant trade, weak investment and rising policy uncertainty. In its semiannual flagship economic report, the development institution said the global economy should expand by 2.7% this year, down a bit from the 2.8% predicted last June.


Russia friend and sanctions foe, Tillerson gets his hearing
Matthew Lee, The Associated Press

Friend of Russia and foe of sanctions in his corporate life, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, is an unorthodox choice for a Republican White House. He may feel perfectly at home in Trump’s iconoclastic administration.

Senators Warn Tillerson About Backing New Russia Sanctions
Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call 

Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson might face hurdles to getting confirmed if he does not back a bipartisan plan to impose new sanctions on the Russian Federation. Foreign Relations Ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland led a bipartisan group of 10 senators in introducing expanded Russian sanctions legislation Tuesday in response to what the intelligence community has concluded was Kremlin hacking of the Democratic National Committee and military actions including the incursion into Ukraine.

Trump Calls for Swift ACA Repeal, But Senate GOP Split on Timing
Mary Ellen McIntire, Morning Consult 

President-elect Donald Trump wants Congress to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act “probably sometime next week,” and replace the law “very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter,” he told the New York Times on Tuesday. But Republicans in the Senate are not on the same page when it comes to the timing for a replacement plan.

Top takeaways from Sessions’ confirmation lovefest
Seung Min Kim and Josh Gerstein, Politico

Jeff Sessions withstood a marathon grilling before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday with his chief goal mostly accomplished: Do no harm. The conservative Alabama senator and Donald Trump’s pick to serve as attorney general came prepared to rebut accusations of racism, address criticisms of his policy positions and discuss controversial views and even tweets from President-elect Donald Trump.

John Kelly shies from Trump’s wall and Muslim registry in confirmation hearing
Oliver Laughland, The Guardian

Donald Trump’s nominee for homeland security secretary distanced himself from some of the president-elect’s most controversial election pledges on immigration, potentially including the construction of a wall at the southern border and the implementation of a Muslim registry, during his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Former Marine Corps general John Kelly took cordial questions from senators on the homeland security and governmental affairs committee for a little less than two-and-a-half hours before his likely confirmation, which is expected to pass the Senate with little dissent.

Republicans, Facing Pressure, Delay Hearings for 4 Trump Cabinet Nominees
Jennifer Steinhauer and Steve Eder, The New York Times

Senate Republicans, under increasing pressure to ensure that President-elect Donald J. Trump’s nominees are fully vetted by federal authorities, have delayed the hearings of four potential cabinet members, three of whom have not been cleared by the agency charged with unraveling potential conflicts of interest. As frustrations over confirmations grow, a group that supports Republicans accused the ethics office and its leader — in a highly unusual attack on the nonpartisan agency — of politicizing a process long viewed by both parties as arduous but essential for anyone serving in government.


No. 4 House Republican: ‘No One’ Will Lose Coverage Over Obamacare Repeal
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers made a big pledge Tuesday on the GOP’s health care repeal plan, one that top congressional Republicans have so far shied from. “Let me be clear,” the Washington Republican told reporters after a House GOP conference meeting where lawmakers discussed how it would repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Freshmen Backed by Freedom Caucus Aren’t Committing to Joining
Simone Pathé, Roll Call

The House Freedom Caucus is currently down seven members from the 114th Congress — and possibly two more. South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney is awaiting confirmation as President-elect Donald Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Black caucus head threatens to ‘kick somebody’s ass’ over painting removal
Rachael Bade and Heather Caygle, Politico 

A spat between black lawmakers and Republicans over a painting on display in the Capitol got uglier Tuesday after a second GOP member removed the painting for the second time in a week — and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus suggested supporters of displaying the painting “may just have to kick somebody’s ass.” The painting, by a high school student from the district that encompasses Ferguson, Mo., addresses strife between African-Americans and police. It shows police officers with animal heads and faces pointing guns at black citizens.


Christie dedicates last year as governor to tackling ‘crisis of drug addiction’
Matt Arco, NJ.com

Forcefully declaring “our neighbors are dying,” Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday used his seventh annual State of the State address to promise he will fight drug addiction during his remaining time in office. Christie, limping into his last full year in office with an approval ranking him as one of the most unpopular governors in New Jersey’s modern history, called on state lawmakers to join him in his push to “fight this fight more aggressively.”

California Governor Brown proposes $179.5 billion state budget
Rory Carroll and Robin Respaut, Reuters

California Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday proposed a $179.5 billion state budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, a 5 percent increase over this year, but warned that the state must remain fiscally prudent ahead of an inevitable economic downturn. The Democratic governor also proposed a $122.5 billion general fund budget for fiscal year 2017-18, virtually unchanged from this year.

Governor’s $6.09B budget proposal calls for more belt-tightening
Andrew Oxford, Santa Fe New Mexican  

With New Mexico’s finances still mired in red, Gov. Susana Martinez on Tuesday proposed a lean budget for the coming fiscal year, calling on lawmakers to close the deficit with further cuts in government spending, including making public employees divert more of their pay to fund their own retirement accounts. Martinez reiterated her opposition to raising taxes to balance the books and called for lawmakers to pull funds from government savings accounts.


Boeing, lobby group team up to defend $8.7 billion in state tax breaks
Alwyn Scott, Reuters

A dispute over $8.7 billion in Washington state tax breaks is heating up after Boeing Co (BA.N) joined a new lobbying group set up to preserve the industry incentives, the biggest in U.S. history. The group, launched on Tuesday, opposes efforts to make the aerospace tax breaks, passed in 2013, dependent on Boeing maintaining minimum employment levels in the state.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Jeff Sessions Smooth-Talks the Senate
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

Jeff Sessions, the senator from Alabama who was once considered too racist to be a federal judge and is now President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, managed to skate through most of the first day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee with smooth talk and a conveniently faulty memory. When asked, for instance, whether grabbing a woman’s genitals without her consent constituted sexual assault, he agreed that it did — apparently forgetting that he had said the opposite only three months ago, after a leaked tape revealed Mr. Trump privately bragging about that behavior.

Some Republicans Try to Head Off a Health Care Calamity
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

President-elect Donald Trump and other Republican leaders may be determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act immediately, but a few more sensible members of the party are now trying to slow down this runaway train. They recognize the danger in destroying a program that directly benefits 22 million Americans — and indirectly millions more by controlling costs — without a plan to replace it.

Southern Republicans at AG Confirmation Face a Familiar Line of Attack–You Can Guess What That Is.
Andrew Clark, Independent Journal Review 

Apparently Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, isn’t just wrong on policy – he’s also personally a closeted racist and gay-hating misogynist. At least that’s what left-wing outlets are saying.

Russia Questions for Rex Tillerson
David Satter, The Wall Street Journal

With U.S.-Russia relations at a possible turning point, the confirmation hearings of Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson need to go beyond superficialities and weigh the true nature of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Senators should demand that the former Exxon Mobil CEO demonstrate an understanding of recent developments regarding three issues: the 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and the 1999 Russian apartment bombings.

Some Republicans Try to Head Off a Health Care Calamity
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

President-elect Donald Trump and other Republican leaders may be determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act immediately, but a few more sensible members of the party are now trying to slow down this runaway train. They recognize the danger in destroying a program that directly benefits 22 million Americans — and indirectly millions more by controlling costs — without a plan to replace it.

Research Reports and Polling

It’s Really Hard To Block A Cabinet Nominee
Nathaniel Rakich, FiveThirtyEight 

President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees are beginning to grace the hearing rooms of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, and they are likely to meet with plenty of opposition by Democratic senators and progressive activists. But most — if not all — of Trump’s picks will probably be confirmed. This year, for the first time, a new president’s Cabinet nominations can’t be filibustered, making Trump’s task much easier.


Correction: A previous version of the brief misstated when Obama gave his farewell speech and misspelled Hannah Kuchler’s name.