Benjamin Wittes writes that the New York Times had been working on their bombshell story about the FBI investigating President Trump for weeks. “Observers of the Russia investigation have generally understood Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s work as focusing on at least two separate tracks: collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, on the one hand, and potential obstruction of justice by the president, on the other. But what if the obstruction was the collusion—or at least a part of it?”
“We’ve really never had ― and if we have, it’s classified and lost to history at least so far ― a president of the United States who is considered to be possibly an asset of a foreign government. This is what the founders were worried about in the 1790s.” — Historian Jon Meacham, quoted by the HuffPost, commenting on last night’s bombshell report revealing the FBI had investigated whether President Trump was working as a Russian agent.
“President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials,” the Washington Post reports.
“Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.”
“There is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader over the past two years… Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.”
“Renegade Republicans intent on upending President Trump in 2020 are keeping their powder dry, waiting to see if legal and political controversies drive him from office first,” the Washington Examiner reports.
“Political operatives and potential candidates that inhabit the loose-knit community of Republicans who oppose Trump’s re-election are eyeing June as the approximate moment for deciding on a primary challenge or independent bid. It’s a strategic delay. Some Republicans think the weight of multiple investigations could motivate the president to exit the White House after one term — especially if special counsel Robert Mueller issues a politically damaging report.”
Stephen Hayes: “In some respects, the quiet among Republicans isn’t surprising. The incumbent president is a Republican. Serious intraparty challenges at the presidential level are relatively rare and never successful.”
“But the Republican president is Donald Trump. If ever there were a time for a serious intraparty challenge, it’s now. He has strong support from elements of the Republican base, but he has alienated virtually everyone else, especially those segments of the electorate that are growing the fastest. The ideal challenger would be a committed, articulate conservative — maybe a governor, such as Maryland’s Larry Hogan, or a senator, such as Nebraska’s Ben Sasse — who would make a case for limited government that will otherwise go unmade, and who would show voters that conservatism and Trumpism are not one and the same.”
Playbook: “People in the White House ranging from President Trump to Vice President Pence have made clear they want to negotiate with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the wall. She has said no. She doesn’t believe the U.S. needs the wall, as described by the president, and has now kept that position for three weeks. They keep asking when she’ll put an offer on the table, but why would she? She doesn’t want what the president wants.”
Playbook: “Washington has been wrestling with this funding mess for more than a month now. White House aides have been making it up as they go along. They’ve said the president would be fine with spending bills without wall money, then he threatened to veto them, putting the government in shutdown.”
“The president has said he wants this fight. But this week he said he didn’t, and it’s the Democrats’ fault. The White House has been on every side of whether they’d be interested in a DACA-for-wall trade. There’s one guy who matters here, and it’s the president, and even he is shifting.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman slammed Donald Trump in a CNN interview, calling him a “disturbed” president who lies so often that “no one trusts this man.” Said Friedman: “If we face a crisis with a president who no one believes who’s surrounded by a C-team in a dysfunctional White House, then God save us.”
He added that the “core problem” is that “we have a president without shame who is backed by a party without spine that is supported by a network called Fox News without integrity. Fasten your seatbelt.”
“The United States has started withdrawing its troops from Syria, an American military spokesman said on Friday, further muddling the Trump administration’s plans for disengagement from one of the Middle East’s most complex battlefields,” the New York Times reports.
“As recently as Sunday, President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, had said that the pullout was conditional on circumstances that could leave American forces there for months or even years. That followed by less than a month President Trump’s announcement that he intended to pull out the roughly 2,000 American troops within 30 days.”
Susan Glasser: “For most of the last two years, the departure of Mattis from the Trump Administration under such circumstances was seen, even by many Republicans, as the sort of move that would prompt a destabilizing backlash, an outcome that would inevitably have severe political consequences for the President. Last spring, after Trump fired his first Secretary of State and second national-security adviser, the retired general Barry McCaffrey told MSNBC that the exit of the respected Secretary of Defense would, as the host Chuck Todd put it, ‘bring down the Trump Administration.’”
Said McCaffrey: “If you try and push out Mattis… I think the Republican leadership would finally say, ‘Whoa, now we’re in trouble.’ I don’t think it’s going to happen. If it does, we’re in trouble.”
“Well, on December 20th, it happened. But the Republican leadership has not risen up against Trump. The national-security establishment has not quit in droves, even if a couple of senior State Department officials have followed Mattis out the door. The President’s poll numbers have not collapsed, and the members of the G.O.P. in Congress who once said that Mattis was the only thing standing between Trump and utter chaos confined their protest over his departure to a few mildly critical cable-TV appearances and newspaper op-eds.”
“Texas Democrat Julian Castro, a former San Antonio mayor who went on to be the top U.S. housing official, was expected to formally announce his White House bid on Saturday, the first Hispanic in what looks to be a crowded field of candidates vying to challenge President Trump in the November 2020 election,” Reuters reports.
Timothy O’Brien: “Trump, in reality, was never a peerless or even a particularly skillful dealmaker, and many of the most significant business transactions he engineered imploded. Instead, he made his way in the world as an indefatigable self-promoter, a marketing confection and a human billboard who frequently licensed his name to buildings and products paid for by others.”
“In Trump’s professional life, his inept dealmaking often came home to roost in unmanageable debts and serial bankruptcies. In his more recent political and presidential life it has revealed itself through bungled, hapless efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act; forge a nuclear agreement with North Korea; wage trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada; retain control of the House of Representatives; turn military and diplomatic strategy on its head; lay siege to sensible immigration policy; and, now, force a government shutdown to secure funding for a prized project — a wall along the U.S.’s southern border.”
“The U.S. government shutdown over President Trump’s demand for border wall funding became the longest in the modern era as it stretched into its 22nd day Saturday with no end in sight,” Bloomberg reports.
“Negotiations are at a standstill and no more talks are scheduled for the weekend or early next week. The White House scuttled efforts to reach a deal on Capitol Hill on Thursday, and Trump’s budget team is drawing up contingency plans for a shutdown that extends through the end of February.”
Axios: “This could go on for a long time. Early in the 1995 shutdown, Clinton and Republican leaders were already talking about a deal to end their budget battles. But Trump isn’t talking to Democrats anymore.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) announced on CNN that she will seek the 2020 Democratic nomination for president. Said Gabbard: “I have decided to run and will be making a formal announcement within the next week.” She added: “There is one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace. I look forward to being able to get into this and to talk about it in depth when we make our announcement.”
Gabbard is a Putin and Assad apologist, so much so that I question her loyalty to the United States. She also defends social conservatives and once possessed very conservative views. In other words, she is a nonstarter in a Democratic Presidential Primary.
Joe Biden has told some top Democrats he’s definitely running for president, and even threw out Jan. 15 — next Tuesday — as a target announcement date, Mike Allen reports. Said Biden: “If I’m walking, I’m running.”
However: “Jan. 15 will come and go with no Joe-mentum — I’m told no chance of an announcement by then. No staff has signed up for a campaign, or been given a commitment of a job.”
“House Democrats are aggressively exploring a possible legal challenge should President Trump declare a national emergency to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, scouring federal law and court precedents — including a recent attempt by a Republican-controlled House to undermine the Obama-era health-care law,” the Washington Post reports.
“The preparation comes as leaders of both parties become increasingly convinced that Trump will see a national-emergency declaration as the only possible way to secure the billions of taxpayer dollars he is seeking to build the wall and end the three-week partial government shutdown, which has become the longest in U.S. history.”
White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said the PBS Newshour that federal workers furloughed because of the government shutdown might be “better off” after they return to work because they are getting a free vacation.
Said Hassett: “When the shutdown ends, they go back to work and they get their back pay. A huge share of government workers were going to take vacation days, say, between Christmas and New Year’s. And then we have a shutdown, and so they can’t go to work, and so then they have the vacation, but they don’t have to use their vacation days. And then they come back, and then they get their back pay. Then they’re — in some sense, they’re better off.”
“As he seeks to put behind him a series of damaging reports about the mistreatment of female staff members that threatens to undercut another likely White House bid, a political housecleaning appeared underway” in Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) campaign, the New York Times reports.
“Three top advisers from the 2016 campaign either will not return if Mr. Sanders runs in 2020 or will serve in different roles.”