“The government has been monitoring a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been hovering over the northern U.S. for the past few days, and they have discussed shooting it out of the sky,” NBC News reports.
China said Friday it is looking into reports that a Chinese spy balloon has been flying in U.S. airspace and urged calm, adding that it has “no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country,” the AP reports.
China claims the suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon flying over the continental United States is a “civilian airship” used mainly for weather research that deviated from its planned course, CNN reports.
The Financial Times reports that Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing, making him the first U.S. secretary of state to sit down with the Chinese leader in nearly six years and the first of President Biden’s cabinet secretaries to visit China.
However, the “State Department has indefinitely postponed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing after what U.S. officials identified as a Chinese reconnaissance balloon was detected loitering above the continental U.S.,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“U.S. officials on Thursday said the craft was loitering over Montana having earlier crossed Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and Canada. The Pentagon scrambled jets and at one point considered shooting down the balloon, the officials said, though didn’t over concerns that the debris posed a risk to people on the ground.”
“House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Thursday night called for a briefing of the ‘Gang of Eight‘ — the group of lawmakers charged with reviewing the nation’s most sensitive intelligence information — following reports of a Chinese spy balloon flying over Montana,” Politico reports.
“The Biden administration is considering cutting off Huawei Technologies from all of its American suppliers, including Intel and Qualcomm, as the U.S. government intensifies a crackdown on the Chinese technology sector,” Bloomberg reports.
“The employment picture started off 2023 on a stunningly strong note, with nonfarm payrolls posting their strongest gain since July 2022,” CNBC reports.
“Nonfarm payrolls increased by 517,000 for January, above the Dow Jones estimate of 187,000. The unemployment rate fell to 3.4% vs. the estimate for 3.6%.”
“Rep. Matt Gaetz is trying to convince his fellow Republicans to demand new work requirements for Medicaid as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling,” Semafor reports.
“The Florida congressman, who has been enjoying new influence within his party after leading the surprisingly effective conservative revolt in last month’s House speaker battle, recently broached the idea on Fox News. He tells Semafor that he’s now ‘socializing’ the concept among colleagues, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy.”
“There’s no Republican plan, let alone a bill, to resolve the debt ceiling problem. But some GOP lawmakers are floating one idea to include in a package: rescinding approved but unspent Covid relief funds,” NBC News reports.
“Taking back the unused pandemic response money ‘certainly could’ be in a debt ceiling measure to avert default, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chair of the powerful Rules Committee, said.”
Said Cole: “I would hope we look at that. It’s something that ought to be on the table.”
House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) sent a letter to John Kerry saying that GOP lawmakers have an “insufficient understanding of your office’s activities, spending, and staffing,” Politico reports.
“President Joe Biden hasn’t announced a reelection campaign, but some of the themes likely to be the centerpiece of that expected run should be on display Friday night when he addresses a national Democratic Party meeting,” the AP reports.
“The president will focus on his administration’s accomplishments creating jobs and stimulating domestic manufacturing when he and Vice President Kamala Harris appear at a Democratic National Committee gathering in Philadelphia.”
“Before the speech, Biden will visit a water treatment plant and announce $160 million to upgrade Philadelphia water facilities and replace 20 miles of lead service lines — part of a larger effort to remove lead pipes around the country. An additional $340 million will go to upgrade the city’s water system.”
The Los Angeles Times caught up with former Attorney General Bill Barr after he gave a speech in Sacramento and asked him about the New York Times bombshell from last week on the Durham investigation of the investigator.
Barr was more revealing than expected.
One of the most surprising elements of the NYT story was that Barr had assigned to Special Counsel John Durham a previously unrevealed financial crimes investigation of President Trump himself. It was based on a tip from Italian authorities. The irony was the Barr and Durham personally traveled to Italy to pursue some of the more arcane and improbable allegations about the Mueller probe’s origins. The Italians had nothing for them on that, but they did have a something on Trump. Oops.
In his brief interview with the LA Times, Barr confirmed the previously unknown probe of Trump but denied it directly involved Trump and said it turned out to be a “non-issue.”
“Barr said Wednesday that the tip “was not directly about Trump” and that it was appropriate to fold into Durham’s inquiry because “it did have a relationship to the Russiagate stuff. It was not completely separate from it. And it turned out to be a complete non-issue.”
New York Times reporter Charlie Savage was practically giddy last night on MSNBC talking about Barr’s confirmation: “My first reaction was, Oh wow he confirmed that there was an investigation involving Trump that Durham handled. So that’s interesting. We didn’t have anyone on the record confirming that before, and so that was nice of him.”
Of course, Barr’s brusque waving of his hand that there was no there there hardly answers all the questions, as Savage detailed nicely: “Maybe he’s right that it went nowhere. We don’t know. We just don’t know what that thing was. We don’t know what steps Durham took. We don’t know what he found out. We don’t why he chose to bring no charges. Perhaps it was as Bill Barr says that there was no there there. Nevertheless, it’s extraordinary that it happened at all and that no one knew about it.”
Much more to be learned on this. After the explosive NYT report on the deeply corrupt Barr-Durham probe, Democratic lawmakers are asking the DOJ’s inspector general to investigate.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) told the Washington Post that he thinks the odds of lawmakers getting police reform done are “fair to good” and urged Democrats to compromise with Republicans following the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police.
Said Clyburn: “I said at the time — I got in trouble for saying it — there’s no perfect bill. There’s no perfect bill. To keep trying to get the perfect piece of legislation rather than a good piece of legislation — I just don’t know if that’s a good thing to do.”
Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended a U.S. Capitol Police officer who this week has been falsely accused by several Republicans of murdering Jan. 6 Capitol riot participant Ashli Babbitt, Politico reports.
Said McCarthy: “I think the police officer did his job.”
Donald Trump praised a rioter who was shot by police while storming the Capitol and rebuked Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for defending the officer, the HuffPost reports.
Said Trump: “I totally disagree with the Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, in that the Police Officer ‘Thug,’ who has had a very checkered past to begin with, was not just ‘doing his job’ when he shot and killed Great Patriot Ashli Babbitt at point blank range.”
House Democrats are raising concerns about Capitol security after House Republicans scaled back safeguards put in place after Jan. 6, Axios reports.
Rep. George Santos (R-NY) told Semafor he expects recordings by a prospective staffer they interviewed this week to be published this evening by progressive news site Talking Points Memo.
Said Santos: “He’s violated the trust that we had in him.”
It is legal under federal and local District of Columbia law to record your own conversation without the other participants’ consent.
“The Manhattan District Attorney’s super-secret criminal case against former President Donald Trump is largely a mirror image of the bank fraud lawsuit against him already filed publicly by the New York Attorney General, according to a tell-all book written by a frustrated prosecutor who quit the DA’s team,” the Daily Beast reports.
“That explanation casts doubt on the DA’s recent claims that the book, which is due to hit bookshelves on Tuesday, can severely damage the revived investigation. But it also explains what has boggled some Americans for months: why AG Letitia James’ lawsuit reads like a criminal indictment.”
“Manhattan prosecutors this week warned that they might file new fraud charges against Allen Weisselberg, a longtime top executive at Donald Trump’s real estate business — increasing pressure on Mr. Weisselberg to cooperate in a broader investigation into the former president,” the New York Times reports.
“Mr. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, is already serving a five-month sentence in the Rikers Island jail complex after pleading guilty to unrelated tax fraud charges. While he testified against the company at its trial on the same charges last year, he has for years refused to turn on Mr. Trump directly.”
“But as the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, jump-starts his office’s effort to indict Mr. Trump, his prosecutors are using the prospect of additional charges to exert leverage over Mr. Weisselberg.”
“A newly released audio recording offers a behind-the-scenes look at how former President Donald Trump’s campaign team in a pivotal battleground state knew they had been outflanked by Democrats in the 2020 presidential election,” two days after election day, the AP reports.
“But even as they acknowledged defeat, they pivoted to allegations of widespread fraud that were ultimately debunked — repeatedly — by elections officials and the courts.”
“The Wisconsin political operatives in the strategy session even praised Democratic turnout efforts in the state’s largest counties and appeared to joke about their efforts to engage Black voters.”
Andrew Iverson, Wisconsin state director for Trump 2020, on the audio: “Here’s the deal: Comms is going to continue to fan the flame and get the word out about Democrats trying to steal this election. We’ll do whatever they need. Just be on standby if there’s any stunts we need to pull.”
The U.S. Senate formally organized their session this week, nearly a month into the 118th Congress, Punchbowl News reports. They are slower over there.
“The 164-year-old Senate chamber was not designed for wires and screens. Senators aren’t even allowed to use their phones when they’re inside. But to help with freshman Senator John Fetterman’s stroke recovery, the chamber just got a digital upgrade,” Time reports.
“As Fetterman learns how to do his new job while struggling with lingering auditory processing issues resulting from the stroke, he’s relying on some extra tech. The new assistive technology installed in his workspaces requires some adjustment from colleagues in an institution known for its stagnancy. But in securing the devices that are helping him begin a new job during a very public recovery process, advocates say Fetterman is forging a path for people with disabilities and health challenges to make it in public office.”
Washington Post: “Harris’s tenure has been underwhelming, marked by struggles as a communicator and at times near-invisibility, leaving many rank-and-file Democrats unpersuaded that she has the force, charisma and skill to mount a winning presidential campaign.”
“As Biden passes the halfway point of his term, Harris faces a critical moment. If he seeks reelection as expected, she would be a central part of the campaign, making it a high-stakes dress rehearsal for her own potential bid in 2028. If Biden steps aside, she would instantly move to center stage as his potential successor, facing the heightened attacks and scrutiny that accompany such a role.”
“Many Democrats worry that Biden’s age is a liability — he would be 86 at the end of a second term — but also fret over the lack of an alternative with a demonstrated ability to capture the party’s imagination, let alone 270 electoral votes. For many, that was supposed to be Harris, the first Black or Asian American woman to win a nationally elected office.”
“A federal appeals court panel has put a secret hold on the Justice Department’s effort to access the phone of Rep. Scott Perry as part of a broader probe of efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to subvert the 2020 election,” Politico reports.
“In a sealed order issued earlier this month, the three-judge panel temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling that granted prosecutors access to Perry’s communications. The Dec. 28 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell was the product of a secret, monthslong legal battle by prosecutors who have been fighting the Pennsylvania Republican’s attorneys on the matter since August.”
“Donald Trump’s political operation has spent more money since he left office on lawyers representing the former president and a pair of nonprofits staffed by former Cabinet members than it has on Republican congressional campaigns,” the Washington Post reports.
“When Donald Trump left office in early 2021, he was apparently on much thinner financial ice than almost anyone knew,” the Daily Beast reports.
“That revelation, which three accounting experts confirmed upon reviewing Trump’s 2020 tax return, may help explain some of the financial and political moves the former president has made in the intervening years. Snowballing legal fees, along with other possible legal settlements and judgments, threaten to consume the cash pile he needs to bankroll his business activity, as well as fund a lavish lifestyle and maintain his image of excess—an emperor atop a golden toilet.”
“Former President Donald Trump’s golf courses will host three tournaments this year for the breakaway league that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is underwriting, deepening the financial ties between a candidate for the White House and top officials in Riyadh,” the New York Times reports.
“LIV Golf, which in the past year has cast men’s professional golf into turmoil as it lured players away from the PGA Tour, said on Monday that it would travel to Trump courses in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia during this year’s 14-stop season.”