“In the final days of his presidency, Donald Trump seriously considered issuing a blanket pardon for all participants in the Jan. 6 riot,” Politico reports.
“The previously unreported conversations show that Trump wasn’t simply musing when he told supporters at a Texas rally last weekend that he would consider pardoning people prosecuted for their role in the Jan. 6 attack if he runs for president again in 2024 and wins. Even in the immediate aftermath of the riot, Trump was expressing sympathy for those involved and weighing how he could shield them from legal consequences.”
“The Justice Department could pursue criminal charges related to the filing of Electoral College votes for Donald Trump from states that actually voted for Joe Biden in 2020,” NBC News reports.
“Certificates purporting to be from Trump electors were sent to Washington by Republicans in seven political battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But because Biden won the popular vote in those winner-take-all states, only electoral votes for him could officially be submitted and counted.”
“The Jan. 6 select committee has subpoenaed the phone records of Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward and her husband, Michael Ward, who both signed documents falsely claiming to be among their state’s presidential electors in 2020,” Politico reports.
The Washington Post reports on an explosive memo suggesting that then-President Trump should “invoke the extraordinary powers of the National Security Agency and Defense Department to sift through raw electronic communications in an attempt to show that foreign powers had intervened in the 2020 election to help Joe Biden win.”
Amber Phillips: The extreme ideas floating around Trump on how to steal the election.
“Top aides to Vice President Mike Pence did not discuss direct conversations with former President Donald Trump over several hours of questioning in recent interviews with the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection,” CNN reports.
“The witnesses did answer questions about conversations they had with the vice president.”
“Russian President Vladimir Putin is heading to Beijing amid the soaring tensions over Ukraine on a trip intended to help strengthen Moscow’s ties with China and coordinate their policies in the face of Western pressure,” the AP reports.
“The Kremlin denounced the United States on Thursday for deploying additional troops to Eastern Europe, saying the move was intended to ‘stir up tensions,’ even as American officials and satellite imagery indicated that Russia had not slowed its large-scale buildup of military forces that threaten an invasion of Ukraine,” the New York Times reports.
“The United States has acquired intelligence about a Russian plan to fabricate a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine using a faked video that would build on recent disinformation campaigns,” the New York Times reports.
“The plan — which the United States hopes to spoil by making public — involves staging and filming a fabricated attack by the Ukrainian military either on Russian territory or against Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.”
“Russia, the officials said, intended to use the video to accuse Ukraine of genocide against Russian-speaking people. It would then use the outrage over the video to justify an attack or have separatist leaders in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine invite a Russian intervention.”
“At key moments since the Ukraine crisis flared into the headlines two months ago, President Biden and his aides have worked to expose Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s plans, declassifying intelligence about his next steps and calling him out as an ‘aggressor,’” the New York Times reports.
“But the disclosures also raised the issue of whether, in trying to disrupt Moscow’s actions by revealing them in advance, the administration is deterring Russian action or spurring it on. The administration’s goal is to cut the Russians off at each turn by exposing their plans and forcing them to think of alternative strategies. But that approach could provoke Mr. Putin at a moment when American intelligence officials believe he has not yet decided whether to invade.”
Richard Haass: “While Biden and NATO have said they will not intervene directly on behalf of Ukraine, this is not the same as accepting Russian dominance. In fact, the US has organized a comprehensive response. It has sent arms to Ukraine to increase the costs to Russia of any invasion and occupation. There are plans to fortify NATO member countries closest to Russia. Substantial economic sanctions are being prepared. And rerouting gas to Europe would partly offset the possible loss of Russian supplies.”
“All of which is to say that Putin’s initial thrust failed to score a decisive blow. Those who say that Russia’s president has the West where he wants it have things backwards.”
“Democracies are usually terrible at information warfare, and American officials insist there is a difference between what they are doing and the dark arts that Mr. Putin made famous.”
Ivan Krastev: “Europeans and Ukrainians are skeptical of a major Russian invasion in Ukraine not because they have a more benign view of Mr. Putin than their American counterparts. On the contrary, it’s because they see him as more malicious. War, they reason, is not the Kremlin’s game.”
“Instead, it’s an extensive suite of tactics designed to destabilize the West. For Europe, the threat of war could turn out to be more destructive than war itself.”
New York Times: “Over the past several years, Mr. Putin, Russia’s president, has restructured his country’s economy for the specific purpose of withstanding Western financial pressure.”
“Russia has drastically reduced its use of dollars, and therefore Washington’s leverage. It has stockpiled enormous currency reserves, and trimmed its budgets, to keep its economy and government services going even under isolation. It has reoriented trade and sought to replace Western imports.”
Time: “Great wars sometimes start over small offenses. A murdered duke. An angered pope. The belief of a lonely king that his rivals aren’t playing fair. When historians study why armies began gathering in Europe during the plague of 2021, their interest might turn to a teenage girl, the goddaughter of Moscow’s isolated sovereign.”
“Her name is Daria, a young Ukrainian with a shy smile and big brown eyes. When she was born in 2004, her parents asked their friend Vladimir Putin, then a few years into his reign in Russia, to christen her in the Orthodox tradition they all share. The girl’s father, Viktor Medvedchuk, has been close to Putin for decades. They holiday together on the Black Sea. They conduct business. They obsess over the bonds between their countries and the Western forces they see pulling them apart.”
The kicker: “Medvedchuk was charged with treason in May and placed under house arrest in Kyiv.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he wants to stay in office until 2029 amid growing calls for him to resign over “partygate,” the Telegraph reports. Meanwhile, three more Tory MPs withdrew their support of Johnson yesterday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the wide availability of highly effective vaccines means the U.S. mentality needs to evolve, Politico reports.
Said McConnell: “It’s time for the state of emergency to wind down… What exactly are we doing here? Where are the goalposts? What’s the end game?” He added: ”Consider if this variant were its own separate virus that we were just meeting for the very first time without the scar tissue from the prior two years. Nobody would accept anywhere near this much disruption to fight the virus that we’re actually facing right now.”
A.B. Stoddard: “A pandemic Republicans have eagerly prolonged has pummeled Joe Biden’s presidency and he can no longer fight depravity with good will. There are no more marginal vaccine holdouts to be wooed. No more lives of people who just don’t know any better to be saved.”
“It’s time for Democrats to stop worrying about alienating the unvaccinated and start explaining to the rest of the country how the unvaccinated—and the Republicans who coddle and truckle to them—have screwed the rest of us.”
“To win this culture war, Biden and the Democrats have to actually fight it. Otherwise, the Republican Covid radicals are going to clobber them.”
Politico: “Emboldened by falling case counts, the Biden administration is plotting a new phase of the pandemic response aimed at containing the coronavirus and conditioning Americans to live with it.”
“The preparations are designed to capitalize on a break in the monthslong Covid-19 surge, with officials anticipating a spring lull that could boost the nation’s mood and lift President Joe Biden’s approval ratings at a critical moment for his party.”
“Biden and his top health officials have already begun hinting at an impending ‘new normal,’ in a conscious messaging shift meant to get people comfortable with a scenario where the virus remains widespread yet at more manageable levels.”
Daniel Henninger: “Mr. Biden’s approval ratings likely would rise, perhaps five points, if he did the following: State from the Oval Office that the Covid pandemic in the U.S. is over.”
“New Zealand is reopening to the world after shutting its borders almost two years ago in one of the strongest and harshest defenses against the pandemic,” the Times of London reports.
“Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have concluded that lockdowns have done little to reduce COVID deaths but have had ‘devastating effects’ on economies and numerous social ills,” WUSF reports.
The U.S. Army said Wednesday that it would immediately begin removing soldiers who have refused the coronavirus vaccine, the Washington Post reports.
“Retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has sued Donald Trump and several of his allies, including his son Don Jr., over what he describes as a conspiracy to shut him up ahead of his testimony in the former president’s first impeachment trial,” the Daily Beast reports.
The lawsuit describes Trump’s actions as an “intentional, concerted campaign of unlawful intimidation and retaliation against a sitting Director of the National Security Council and decorated military officer.”
Vindman explains his lawsuit in a USA Today op-ed.
“U.S. special forces carried out what the Pentagon said was a large-scale counterterrorism raid in northwestern Syria early Thursday,” the AP reports.
According to the Washington Post, the raid killed the leader of the Islamic State. There were no U.S. casualties.
Said Biden: “Thanks to the skill and bravery of our Armed Forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS. All Americans have returned safely from the operation.”
“This horrible terrorist leader is no more.” — President Biden, quoted by the Washington Post, on the U.S. Special Operations mission overnight in Syria that killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the Islamic State.
Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) is expected to return to the Senate in four to six weeks after suffering a stroke and undergoing brain surgery last week, CNBC reports. That is, of course, barring any additional medical complications.
“For months, Senate Democrats have quietly pondered an improbable but not unthinkable scenario — that their razor-thin majority, secured only by the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Harris, could be suddenly upended by the absence, incapacitation or death of a single senator!” the Washington Post reports.
“This week, that scenario became reality, with an unexpected twist: In a caucus with 16 senators over 70, including several with documented health issues, it was one of the youngest Democrats, Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, who suffered a stroke, leaving the Senate agenda in flux and Democrats pondering the fragility of their governing majority.”
“Top Democrats and Republicans inched forward Wednesday in pursuit of a deal that could fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, hoping to stave off a shutdown while potentially pumping new spending into health care, education, science and defense,” the Washington Post reports.
Punchbowl News: “There are just 15 days until federal agencies run out of money.”
Wall Street Journal: “The debate over whether Mr. Biden can wipe away billions in federal student debt with the stroke of his pen has divided some of his allies.”
“Some have argued that such a move would energize young voters. Others have urged caution and encouraged him to defer to Congress, while raising concerns about whether the administration has the legal authority to act on its own.”
“Mr. Biden has expressed skepticism about universal debt forgiveness, arguing against canceling debt for people who attend elite private universities. He has said he opposes forgiving up to $50,000 in student debt for all borrowers and has suggested his executive authority is limited.”
“Facing stiff political headwinds and a flagging election-year agenda, the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress have found a way to distance themselves from their leaders: demanding an end to stock trading for all members of Congress, including senior lawmakers who oppose the move,” the New York Times reports.
“The growing list of Democrats who have signed on to ethics legislation that would ban ownership of individual stocks is remarkably bipartisan, speaking to the political power of the issue.”
“The Biden administration is expanding a crackdown on untraceable guns and firearms trafficking along the East Coast ‘iron pipeline’ and elsewhere as police departments across the nation fight surging gun violence that’s left a trail of bloodshed already this year,” the AP reports.
Washington Post: President Biden, Mayor Eric Adams and the volatile politics of policing.
New York Times: White House moves to reset relationship with police leaders.
Politico: “It was inevitable that the new mayor would be focused on policing. He made combating crime a cornerstone of his campaign last year, winning over moderate Democrats by addressing the wave of violence the pandemic seemed to be bringing. But it’s been a series of high-profile and deadly incidents this year that have grabbed headlines and given momentum to Adams’ policy platform.”
Maureen Dowd: Rhapsody for a boy in blue.
Meanwhile, Fox News reports President Biden will travel to New York City to discuss the rising crime rate with Adams.
Washington Post: “Union leaders are increasingly wary of President Biden’s potential selection of Judge J. Michelle Childs as a Supreme Court justice, citing her time working on behalf of employers against worker claims.”
“The situation sets up a potential rift with Rep. James Clyburn, a top Democrat who has been pushing for her nomination.”
The American Prospect says Childs “has a history of tough-on-crime sentences” and that her “punitive criminal justice rulings were repeatedly overturned” by higher courts.
Playbook: “The Childs pushback suggests Biden might once again be forced to choose between pleasing his base and tacking to the middle. Childs would undoubtedly garner bipartisan support.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke to CNN about the secret, handwritten note he and Sen. Joe Manchin signed last summer ahead of Build Back Better negotiations, in which Manchin committed to a top line of $1.5 trillion.
Schumer insisted the document wasn’t an “agreement” but “part of his strategic way of listening to keep the process moving.”
Playbook: “Schumer also downplayed news that Pelosi didn’t know about the paper. It turns out, the White House wasn’t told either, according to the report. But Schumer said he had ‘no regrets’ about the way he handled it and argued that both the administration and the speaker knew Manchin’s parameters.”
“Mitch, I don’t want to hurt your reputation, but we really are friends. And that is not an epiphany we’re having here at the moment. You’ve always done exactly what you’ve said. You’re a man of your word. And you’re a man of honor. Thank you for being my friend.” — President Joe Biden, quoted by Politico, offering kind words to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at the National Prayer Breakfast.
“The FBI tested Pegasus spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group for possible use in criminal investigations, even as the FBI and Justice Department were investigating whether the NSO software had been used to illegally hack phones in the United States,” the Washington Post reports.
The surveillance company NSO Group offered to give representatives of an American mobile-security firm “bags of cash” in exchange for access to global cellular networks, the Washington Post reports. “Surveillance companies try to access cellular communication networks to geolocate targets and provide other spying services.”
FiveThirtyEight: “Virginia’s new governor, Glenn Youngkin, kicked off his term with a political magic trick. In the first of nine executive orders issued on Jan. 15, the day he took office, he banned the teaching of ‘inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory’ in K-12 public schools. It was a smart way to show his base he’s already jumping on issues they care about. Education policy, particularly the alleged role critical race theory plays in public school curricula, was a centerpiece of Youngkin’s campaign. But the impact of this executive order is less straightforward than it seems, because critical race theory isn’t actually taught in Virginia public schools.”
“This kind of tactic is increasingly familiar in politics today. Republican politicians, in particular, build entire campaigns around false or misleading information, then implement policies that respond to those falsehoods, cementing them further in our political landscape.”
“Jeff Zucker resigned on Wednesday as the president of CNN and the chairman of WarnerMedia’s news and sports division, writing in a memo that he had failed to disclose to the company a romantic relationship with another senior executive at CNN,” the New York Times reports.
Margaret Sullivan: “It will all eventually be revealed — teams of reporters are racing to dig into one of the biggest media stories in recent memory. But we already know one thing: When the dust settles, Zucker’s relationship with Donald Trump will define his legacy.”
“Zucker, as much as any other person in the world, created and burnished the Trump persona — first as a reality-TV star who morphed into a worldwide celebrity, then as a candidate for president who was given large amounts of free publicity.”
Tiana Lowe: “Back when Donald Trump was a washed-up businessman, tarnished by a decade of bankruptcies, it was Jeff Zucker, then the president of NBC Entertainment, who decided to resurrect him from the ash heap of history and reinvent him.”
The Ankler: “In the annals of media mysteries, a Who Killed Jeff Zucker’s Career would be the perfect crime because there are literally three cities populated by people who have been plotting it for years.”
“Jeff Zucker, a world-class sleazebag who has headed ratings and real-news-challenged CNN for far too long, has been terminated for numerous reasons, but predominantly because CNN has lost its way with viewers and everybody else… Jeff Zucker is gone-congratulations to all!”
Trump has apparently forgotten how much Zucker helped him.
Dylan Byers obtained a recording of a CNN staff meeting with WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar to explain the network’s sudden dismissal of Jeff Zucker.
“It did not go well. The meeting, which I obtained a recording of last night, highlights the profound sense of loyalty that CNN’s on-air talent have toward their longtime leader, despite his violation of company policy, and the anger they feel regarding the circumstances of his sudden defenestration.”