There’s a “now hiring” sign outside the White House—figuratively speaking. After Vice President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff Nick Ayers announced he would not be the replacement for outgoing White House Chief John Kelly, the hunt has moved on for President Trump’s top aide. Trump is considering a handful of choices—among them, Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Others being looked at are Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and financier Wayne Berman. No one candidate is currently leading the pack for the notoriously difficult job.
—QUOTABLE: “I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff. Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!” -Trump tweet
Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina is changing her “not guilty” plea. The 29 year old Russian gun rights activist is preparing to admit that she worked as a foreign agent of the Kremlin, according to filings by her lawyers on Monday. In other words, she will admit she worked on behalf of Russia without registering as a foreign agent. Butina has been accused of posing as a conservative activists in order to get close to President Trump’s campaign with the intent of setting up a relationship between Trump’s operation and the Kremlin.
President Trump is fighting back against his former top legal counsel. Former Trump Organization lawyer and presidential adviser Michael Cohen has admitted to deeper involvement in a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and circumventing campaign finance laws than he previously admitted. Court filings indicate Cohen acted at the direction of an individual assumed to be Trump when paying off porn stars Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to keep quiet about their alleged affairs with Trump a decade ago. In a Twitter storm Sunday, Trump expressed his disapproval of the turning of the tables by Cohen.
—QUOTABLE: “Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking [sic] Gun…No Collusion…That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution…which it was not (but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s – but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!” -Trump tweets
The number of asylum claims at the border has skyrocketed by 67 percent in 2018, according to Homeland Security officials on Monday. There’s just not enough space to process all the claims and hold people who want to enter the country—in fiscal year 2018, 93,000 people took the first step in requesting asylum, which has become the new process for attempting to gain entry into the U.S. after tougher border enforcement by President Trump’s administration. 14 percent of those caught trying to jump the border used the asylum process to try and stay, along with almost one third of those who showed up at a port of entry without paperwork. That’s up from just over 55,000 claims last year. Federal officials say drug cartels are coaching the migrants on what to say to obtain asylum.
—QUOTABLE: “Migrants may have to need to stay and wait in Mexico until space opens up…This number would be higher, again, if not for the facility and resource constraints at the ports of entry.” -Anonymous Customs and Border Protection official
As Robert Mueller starts wrapping up his probe, damning details are starting to leak out. Mainly, the probe will connect President Trump with directing hush money payments prior to the 2016 election, which if true would be a federal crime. While it doesn’t look like there’s proof Trump knowingly and purposely directed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay porn stars Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to keep quiet about their affairs with Trump a decade earlier, prosectors in Cohen’s case clearly believe Trump knew about the payments.
MEANWHILE—Rep. Adam Schiff says President Trump might be facing the “real prospect of jail time” after prosecutors last week indicated he may have directed illegal hush money payments during the 2016 presidential campaign. That may not happen until he leaves office, Schiff said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” But it could also fuel Dems’ calls for impeaching the president.
—QUOTABLE: “There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him. That he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.” -Schiff
President Trump announced an extreme makeover to his White House leadership team over the weekend. Mainly, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will be out by the end of the year, the president told reporters on Saturday. While the two have clashed—and Kelly has clashed with some of Trump’s influential family members—Trump called Kelly a “great guy” while announcing the end of Kelly’s 17 month tenure in the infamously difficult job.
REPLACEMENT?—The word in D.C. circles had been that the president has already picked Vice President Mike Pence’s 36 year old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, as Kelly’s replacement, but on Sunday word got around that Ayers and Trump reached an impasse when it came to potential length of service—Trump wants his new chief to be around through the 2020 election. And Ayers himself then tweeted his thanks to Trump and Pence and that he’d be willing to help assist some other new chief of staff. No word on who Trump might have in mind besides him.
MEANWHILE—President Trump has announced his pick for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. Trump made the announcement Saturday. Milley, who has served in the U.S. Army for 35 years, will replace outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman Joseph Dunford, who has served in the role since 2015.
China has summoned the U.S. ambassador in a protest over the arrest of a bigwig of one of the country’s top electronics giants by U.S. authorities. The American Department of Justice arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of cell phone giant Huawei Technologies, in Vancouver last weekend for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on selling technology to Iran. In response, the Chinese government summoned ambassador and former Iowa governor Terry Branstad to have some words about the arrest on Saturday and said their government will take “further action” if needed. The action came just days after both the U.S. and China tried easing market tensions over a supposed trade deal struck between President Trump and his Chinese counterpart just over a week ago.
Former FBI Director James Comey says the FBI’s probe of Russia initially looked into the activities of four Americans. In newly released closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Comey said the counterintelligence investigation probed the four Americans with Trump campaign connections and their possible connections with efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, but he did not name who they were. Those investigations happened before the Steele Dossier came to light. Comey also denied having any personal connection with special counsel Robert Mueller, despite the insistence by President Trump that they’re practically golfing buddies.
—QUOTABLE: “I admire the heck out of the man [Mueller], but I don’t know his phone number, I’ve never been to his house, I don’t know his children’s names…” -Comey said, adding he has “never hugged or kissed the man…A relief to my wife.”
ALSO—Comey told the congressional panel during closed-door testimony on Friday that he ordered a leak probe into the FBI’s New York field office after he suspected agents were leaking top-level information to Trump supporter Rudy Guiliani. He suspected the leaking was happening after Guiliani made public statements indicating he had inside knowledge of the FBI probe at the time.
As the clock winds down on a Republican-controlled Congress, House members are rushing to load down critical spending bills with their own priorities. Proposals including a farm bill, Saudi sanctions, and prison reform are being considered as add-ons to a massive spending bill that would keep dozens of departments and agencies funded through the next year. But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said, “You don’t want to overload the truck,” but he might consider the farm bill. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham is pushing for a prison and sentencing reform proposal favored by President Trump, and the Democrats are insisting on a measure that would protect Robert Mueller from being fired by Trump—even though the Mueller investigation is in its final stages as we speak.
MEANWHILE—The GOP has passed just five of 12 spending bills necessary to keep the government funded, setting up another government shutdown showdown that will come to a head just before Christmas. Democrats are refusing to entertain even a red cent of spending on a border wall, even rejecting a “DACA” fix in exchange. Lawmakers need to pass seven spending bills covering NASA and the Justice, Commerce, Agriculture and Homeland Security departments to stave off a partial shutdown right before Christmas. Trump is insisting on $5 billion in funding for the border wall.
—QUOTABLE: “Over my dead body will we provide another nickel for these folks to do what they are doing here.” -DEM Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut
—QUOTABLE: “We want to protect Bob Mueller, and I’m not going to vote for any spending bill that doesn’t protect Bob Mueller.” -DEM Rep. Eric Swalwell
Sen. Joe Manchin is backing off his support for a key nominee of President Trump. The West Virginia Democrat is withdrawing his support for Robert McNamee to be on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after intense pressure from environmental activists in his party. Manchin unexpectedly voted against McNamee in a Wednesday procedural vote in the Senate. Despite being a Democrat, Manchin’s opposition was unexpected because he’s from a strongly pro-Trump state, he’s supported Trump’s energy agenda in the past, and he voted for NcNamee in committee just two weeks ago. Manchin cited recently released video of the Trump nominee trashing renewable energy as the reason for his no vote.
—QUOTABLE: “After viewing video footage, which I had not previously seen, where Bernard McNamee outright denies the impact that humans are having on our climate, I can no longer support his nomination to be a FERC commissioner.” -Manchin
The United States military flew an “extraordinary” mission over Ukraine in a show of aggression against Russia. The Department of Defense announced the flyover, conducted under the Open Skies Treaty, as a protest of Russia’s aggressive posture toward Ukraine—particularly its seizure of three Ukrainian ships several weeks ago. President Trump added that he is not happy with Russia’s latest actions, and cancelled a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit last weekend.
—QUOTABLE: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!” -Trump on Twitter
—QUOTABLE: “Today the United States and Allies conducted an extraordinary flight under the Open Skies Treaty. The timing of this flight is intended to reaffirm U.S. commitment to Ukraine and other partner nations…Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea near the Kerch strait is a dangerous escalation in a pattern of increasingly provocative and threatening activity.” -Dept. of Defense
CNN hack Don Lemon just can’t help himself. On Wednesday, the cable news host said that he would not have shaken President Trump’s hand at the memorial service for President George H.W. Bush if he had been in former president Barack Obama’s place. He’s not nearly as big a man as Obama, who did shake the president’s hand, Lemon proclaimed in a nauseating attempt at broadcasting his humility. But fellow CNN host Chris Cuomo condemned Lemon—it’s about showing respect in an important moment for the country, Cuomo rebutted. The Obamas don’t have to show respect, Lemon said—and shouldn’t, given Trump’s attitude toward Barack, he went on.
—QUOTABLE: “Nope, couldn’t do it. I’m not that big a person. I would hope that I would be, but I don’t — I can’t fake the funk as they say. I’m not saying the Obamas did that, but there they go, right there.” -Lemon
—QUOTABLE: “I don’t think it’s about faking the funk. I think it’s about showing respect for something bigger than them.” -Cuomo
Turns out the intelligence community had its suspicions about the infamous Steele Dossier. In a lengthy email thread from October of 2016, Justice Department and FBI officials discussed concerns about the propaganda document designed as a smear against President Trump, at the time a candidate. Top officials were aware that the dossier’s author, Christopher Steele, was in contact with reporters about his report—raising red flags about his motives. Republicans have long alleged the FBI used media reports about the Steele Dossier to justify court warrants to spy on subjects of the dossier using a fabricated ring of circular logic.
—QUOTABLE: “For months, we have been reviewing emails between FBI and DOJ and others that clearly show that they knew of information that should have been presented to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Court. It is real evidence that people within the FBI withheld evidence from the FISA court…Even though we know what’s in those emails, a lot of them are still redacted. So they’re still refusing to give Congress even in a classified setting this information.” -House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes
Former lawyer and top confidante to President Trump, Michael Cohen, is probably providing information to special counsel Robert Mueller…but it likely has nothing to do with Russian collusion in the 2016 election. Although that’s what Mueller is supposed to be confined to investigating, Cohen is on the record time after time denying any involvement in such a scheme. And Cohen was indicted for lying to Congress, but not for when he made those denials. Which means Cohen—who has worked for the Trump Organization since long before he became president—could be telling Mueller where the bodies are, figuratively speaking, buried.
President Trump’s rhetoric on trade with China may have caused a major stock market tumble on Tuesday, and now he’s trying to smooth things over. In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Trump expressed his optimism that the U.S. and China will in fact be able to work out a slate of trade disputes. And China also took aim at clearing up any confusion, stating it is “confident” a trade deal can be reached and that it will be working on an agreement over the next 90 days. The tumult came after days of silence by China following a summit of economic leaders in Argentina over the weekend. Trump announced afterwards that China had agreed to start buying more American products and ease the trade war.
—QUOTABLE: “Very strong signals being sent by China once they returned home from their long trip, including stops, from Argentina,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Not to sound naive or anything, but I believe President Xi meant every word of what he said at our long and hopefully historic meeting. ALL subjects discussed!”
Andrew Napolitano said Wednesday he expects President Trump’s son to be indicted by Robert Mueller. In an interview on SiriusXM, the senior judicial analyst for Fox News told host Dan Abrams that he expects the “substantial assistance” Mueller got from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn likely means Donald Trump Jr. will be facing an indictment for comments he made to the FBI and Congress about a June 2016 meeting he took part in at Trump Tower involving several Russians. Trump Jr. has been telling friends he expects to be indicted, too, Napolitano said.
President Trump is continuing his efforts to save coal country. The administration is reportedly getting ready to give the flagging coal industry a big boost by rolling back another Obama-era environmental regulation requiring all new coal plants to be outfitted with carbon capture technology, according to The New York Times. The 2015 Obama mandate sets a limit on how much carbon dioxide a new coal plant can emit per megawatt hour of energy produced—Trump’s EPA plans to raise that limit. Saying it makes building new coal plants more difficult, the coal industry hates the rule. Instead of the strict Obama rule, Team Trump plans to allow new coal plants to open if they install more efficient boilers and other technology.
George W. Bush eulogized his late father on Wednesday in a speech filled with tears and laughter. Family, friends, and world leaders from around the globe gathered at the National Cathedral on Wednesday to mourn President George H.W. Bush, the nation’s 41st president, who died on Friday at age 94. In his eulogy, the younger Bush shared memories of his father’s sense of humor and about how his dad and mom, Barbara liked to hold hands. She died earlier this year. He ended by tearfully saying his father is back with daughter Robin, who died at age 3 from leukemia, and Barbara—and that the two are holding hands again.
—QUOTABLE: “After mom died, dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was hold mom’s hand again…We’re going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever…So through our tears, let us enjoy the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great noble man. The best man a son or father could have,” Bush continued, choking up. “And in our grief, let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again.” -George W. Bush
ALSO—President Trump and First Lady Melania also attended the Bush memorial service. They sat in the pew next to former President Barack Obama and Michelle. In a showing that the moment goes far beyond petty politics, Trump shook both their hands. He also tweeted before the service a tribute to Bush, which was praised by Trump nemesis Sen. Jeff Flake—“Well said, Mr. President,” Flake replied.
—QUOTABLE: “Looking forward to being with the Bush family. This is not a funeral, this is a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life. He will be missed!” -Trump on Twitter
There’s no doubt that the Saudi Crown Prince was deeply involved in the murder of a journalist living in the U.S., according to top CIA officials who briefed senators on Tuesday. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was definitely deeply involved in the killing of Kamal Khashoggi, intelligence officials insist, even though President Trump’s administration says there is no “smoking gun” tying the key U.S. ally directly to the October murder and dismemberment. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for one, says there is indisputable evidence and that the Crown Prince and his behavior poses a threat to the critical alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
—QUOTABLE: “There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw (in reference to the dismemberment of Khashoggi)…It is zero chance — zero — that this happened in such an organized fashion without the crown prince.” -Graham
Robert Mueller is sparing the whip when it comes to Michael Flynn. The special counsel is recommending no prison time for Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump. Mueller cited Flynn’s “substantial assistance” with his investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 elections. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year about his conversations with a former Russian ambassador, but agreed to fully cooperate with the Mueller probe.
NASA is ready to go where only a few men have gone before. The space agency administrator Jim Bridenstine says the U.S. is now within 10 years of having a continuous, manned presence on the moon—laying the groundwork for exploration of the planet Mars. Bridenstine says NASA plans to parter with nine private American companies to travel to the moon again and develop a permanent human presence there, and do it within a decade. This is part of President Trump’s Space Policy Directive, which calls for new Moon exploration.
—QUOTABLE: “Right now we’re building a space station, we call it ‘Gateway,’ that’s going to be in orbit around the moon — think of it as a reusable command module where we can have human presence in orbit around the moon. From there we want reusable landers that go back and forth to the surface of the moon…We think we can achieve this in about 10 years, the idea being prove the capability, retire the risk, prove the human physiology and then go on to Mars.” -Bridenstein
Democrats plan to sue President Trump over his America First, “energy dominance” agenda. And they plan to use a report put out by the Trump administration on global warming to do it, a report using cherry picked information to paint an ugly picture about the future if so-called climate changes continues. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he plans to use every piece of the National Climate Assessment report that he can. Becerra alone has filed nearly two dozen lawsuits to thwart the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back Obama-era energy and environmental policies that hurt U.S. energy production. They’re also suing the oppose the border wall on the basis of environmental concerns. For Becerra and the coalition of liberal states he leads in lawsuit after lawsuit, the climate report is one more tool.
—QUOTABLE: “We’ll use every piece of that report that we can…It is not a matter of resisting, It is a matter of doing what we are doing. and as long as we are doing it according to the law, don’t get in our way.” -Becerra
Right wing conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi explains in a new book why he has a legal arrangement with President Trump. Corsi, who is a target of Robert Mueller’s probe, says he entered into a legal defense deal with Trump because he wanted the president to have a feel for what special council Mueller was up to. The joint defense agreement with Trump means Corsi gives the Trump legal team inside information about how Mueller is operating—possibly giving the president’s lawyers an edge. Corsi, who is suspected of being a middleman between Trump aides and WikiLeaks in 2016, denies that he struck the bargain with Trump’s lawyers because he’s angling for a pardon. He will continue supporting the president regardless of whether he gets a pardon, Corsi said.
—ON A PARDON: “I don’t expect one. I’m not angling for one. I’m not strategizing for one. I’m not asking for one…A pardon was not the objective of the talks. It was not the anticipation of the pardon, and I still do not anticipate a pardon.” -Corsi
—ON THE JOINT DEFENSE AGREEMENT: “I felt the information would be beneficial to the president’s attorneys in preparing their defense of Donald Trump.” -Corsi
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer for President Trump, pleaded guilty to one charge in the Robert Mueller investigation Thursday. Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about his efforts to build a Trump property in Moscow, and working on it through June 2016, much later than he’d previously admitted. Cohen has also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations as a result of the Mueller probe. Cohen’s plea puts a dent in Trump’s claims he has no financial ties in Russia.
MEANWHILE—President Trump is lashing out at Cohen. While denying his longtime lawyer’s claim Thursday that he was pursuing a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, Trump said Cohen is weak and not very smart. Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress about his involvement in the development project.
—QUOTABLE: “He’s a weak person, and not a very smart person…He’s lying about a project that everybody knew about.” -Trump
Failed former president Barack Obama is not only taking credit for the booming economy, but he’s also touting his climate legacy…while taking even more credit for the boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production. In a moment of irony only a former president could get away with, Obama bemoaned President Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, but said “that was me, people” about the doubling of U.S. oil production during his time in office. That production boom almost exclusively took place on private and state-controlled lands where Obama’s administration had precisely zero say-so.
—QUOTABLE: ““I was extraordinarily proud of the Paris accords because — you know, I know we’re in oil country and we need American energy, and by the way, American energy production…You wouldn’t always know it but it went up every year I was president…That whole, suddenly America’s like the biggest oil producer and the biggest gas — that was me, people.” -Obama