“Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general,” the Washington Post reports.
“The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.”
Chris Cillizza: “Where there’s smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, most reasonable people will assume there is fire — or that there should be an independent investigation to determine whether there is fire. Arguing that ‘there’s nothing to see here’ is simply not a tenable position for Republicans at this point.”
After a report that Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to Russian officials during the campaign, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) suggested an independent counsel on CNN last night.
“I suspect lots of Republicans will follow Graham’s lead over the next 24 or 48 hours. The details here — particularly given the Flynn resignation — almost certainly will force an act of political triage from GOPers. They need to find a way to wall themselves off from what, with each passing day, is becoming more and more toxic. Otherwise, the spillage could leak all over them.”
“Misleading the Senate in sworn testimony about one own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail.” — Bush White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter, quoted by The Hill.
Washington Post: “Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump at a time when few Republican lawmakers supported the candidate. His early and fierce loyalty — and his ability to translate Trump’s nationalist instincts into policy — helped him forge a bond with the president, and he now enjoys access whenever he wants it, a privilege that few get, an official said.”
“Two of Sessions’s former Senate advisers — Stephen Miller and Rick Dearborn — hold key White House roles, and one official said Sessions still talks to them regularly.”
“Advisers to President Donald Trump are urging him to purge the government of former President Barack Obama’s political appointees and quickly install more people who are loyal to him, amid a cascade of damaging stories that have put his nascent administration in seemingly constant crisis-control mode,” Politico reports. “A number of his advisers believe Obama officials are behind the leaks and are seeking to undermine his presidency.”
“In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald Trump and Russians — across the government,” the New York Times reports.
“Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.”
“American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump… Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Mr. Trump’s associates.”
“Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wants to tap the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, as his undersecretary of defense for policy, but the Pentagon chief is running into resistance from White House officials,” Politico reports.
“The skirmish surrounding Patterson’s nomination is the latest in a series of personnel battles that have played out between Mattis and the White House, with each side rejecting the names offered up by the other while the Pentagon remains empty.”
Stan Collender: “Donald Trump’s insistence that his tax and spending plans will provide an immediate kick to the U.S. economy and Wall Street’s belief that the new administration’s budget policies will lead to a quick boost in corporate profits now need to be tempered with a big dose of economic reality: The president’s promised fiscal stimulus isn’t going to be enacted or take effect any time soon. If it happens at all, the soonest the economy will begin to feel the impact of a Trump stimulus is in federal fiscal year 2018, that is, starting 7 months from now on October 1. And even October 1 is optimistic.”
“Part of the reason for this is how long it’s taking for Congress to do what the day after Election Day was considered to be a slam-dunk: repeal the Affordable Care Act. The controversy between and among congressional Republicans is now so multifaceted, heated and chaotic that the delay could soon make it far more difficult for the House and Senate to deal with both ACA and tax reform.”
Bloomberg: “Miller’s resiliency after fumbling the refugee ban offers a lesson in how to survive the Darwinian world of Trump’s White House. To win favor, you must amplify Trump’s belief that he’s already accomplished great things; defend even his most outrageous claims as self-evidently correct; and look sharp, while projecting unshakable self-confidence.”
“It helps, too, to have outside allies who have Trump’s ear. The chieftains of right-wing talk radio view Miller as one of their own—he got his start in politics as an enfant terrible on conservative shows while still in high school—and they don’t hesitate to give him air support.”
“More important, Miller has the unwavering backing of Bannon.”
“An internal White House review of strategy on North Korea includes the possibility of military force or regime change to blunt the country’s nuclear-weapons threat, people familiar with the process said, a prospect that has some U.S. allies in the region on edge,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“While President Donald Trump has taken steps to reassure allies that he won’t abandon agreements that have underpinned decades of U.S. policy on Asia, his pledge that Pyongyang would be stopped from ever testing an intercontinental ballistic missile—coupled with the two-week-old strategy review—has some leaders bracing for a shift in American policy.”
“House Republican leaders have a new version of their major Obamacare repeal and replacement bill. They just don’t want you to see it,” Bloomberg reports.
“The document is being treated a bit like a top-secret surveillance intercept. It is expected to be available to members and staffers on the House and Energy Commerce panel starting Thursday, but only in a dedicated reading room, one Republican lawmaker and a committee aide said. Nobody will be given copies to take with them.”
“The unusual secrecy is a reflection of the sensitivity — and the stakes — surrounding the GOP effort to rewrite the Affordable Care Act… Republican leaders are trying to avoid a repeat of what happened last time. When an outdated draft leaked last week, it was quickly panned by conservatives.”
“The Pentagon says Navy SEALs scooped up laptops, hard drives and cell phones in last month’s Yemen raid, but multiple U.S. officials told NBC News that none of the intelligence gleaned from the operation so far has proven actionable or vital — contrary to what President Trump said in his speech to Congress Tuesday.”
“Ten current U.S. officials across the government who have been briefed on the details of the raid told NBC News that so far, no truly significant intelligence has emerged from the haul. The Associated Press quoted a senior U.S. official as describing a three-page list of information gathered from the compound, including information on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s training techniques and targeting priorities. Pentagon officials confirmed that to NBC News, but other U.S. officials said the information on that list was neither actionable nor vital. One senior Pentagon official described the information gathered as ‘de minimis,’ and as material the U.S. already knew about.”
“Senior U.S. administration officials have lobbied President Trump to remove Iraq from a list of seven Muslim-majority nations included in an initial travel ban, and two sources said they were confident the country would not appear on a new executive order expected soon,” Reuters reports.
“Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security chief John Kelly all made the case to Trump to remove Iraq because of ongoing U.S. military and civilian operations in the country.”