What The Fuck Just Happened Today?

Today's essential newsletter. Logging the daily shock and awe in national politics. Read in moderation.
by @matt_kiser

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Day 130: Backchannel.

1/ Trump is considering big changes at the White House in an effort to contain the escalating Russia investigation that threatens to consume his presidency. “Everything is in play,” an advisor said. Trump may bring back a trio of former campaign officials (Corey Lewandowski, David Bossie and David Urban) to handle communications and political duties related to the Russia investigation, and – shockingly – he’s even considering having lawyers vet his tweets. (Wall Street Journal / Washington Post)

2/ Kushner wanted a secret communications channel with the Kremlin so Michael Flynn could discuss strategy in Syria and other security issues directly with senior military officials in Moscow. The channel was never set up, but was proposed by Kushner during an early December meeting at Trump Tower with ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the US for the communications. (Washington Post / New York Times)

  • Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, including two phone calls between April and November last year. Kushner’s attorney said his client did not remember any calls with Kislyak between April and November. (Reuters)
  • Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker and “Putin crony” in December, who is also graduate of a “finishing school” for spies. (NBC News)

3/ Trump has “total confidence” in Jared Kushner, despite coming under fire that he tried to create backchannel with Russia to shield the Trump team from public view. Some Democrats are calling for Trump to revoke Kushner’s security clearances. (New York Times)

4/ NSA chief: “I would not be concerned” by backchannel communications with Russia. H.R. McMaster didn’t specifically comment on the controversy surrounding Kushner. (CNN)

5/ Kushner is under pressure to “lay low” and take a leave of absence from the White House amid reports that he is under FBI scrutiny. (NBC News / The Hill)

6/ Trump attacks “fake news” for reporting that Kushner had discussed setting up a secret communications channel with the Russians. (New York Times)

7/ The Senate Intelligence Committee wants all of Trump’s Russia-related documents, emails and phone records going back to his campaign’s launch in June 2015. It’s the first time that Trump’s official campaign structure has been drawn into the Senate committee’s ongoing bipartisan investigation. (Washington Post)

8/ The Trump campaign likely didn’t preserve digital documents. “You’d be giving us too much credit,” a former aide said. “The idea of document retention did not come up. The idea of some formal structure did not come up.” Failure to keep track of emails, messages and other records could expose Trump’s current and former aides to criminal charges down the line. (Politico)

9/ A Russian oligarch with ties to Paul Manafort wants immunity for cooperating with congressional intelligence committees. The Senate and House panels turned him down because of concerns that immunity agreements will complicate federal criminal investigations. The two did business together in the mid-2000s, when Manafort was providing campaign advice to Kremlin-backed politicians in Ukraine. Oleg Deripaska is a member of Putin’s inner circle. (New York Times)

10/ Trump privately said he plans to leave the Paris agreement on climate change, despite his public position that he hasn’t made up his mind. Leaving the Paris agreement is the biggest thing Trump could do to unwind Obama’s climate policies and signal to the rest of the world that climate change isn’t a priority for his administration. (Axios)

  • Exxon CEO urges Trump to keep the US in the Paris climate agreement in a personal letter. (The Financial Times)

11/ Angela Merkel: Europe can no longer “completely depend” on the US after G7 leaders failed to persuade Trump to back the Paris climate accord. “There are no signs of whether the US will stay in the Paris accords or not,” Merkel said. (New York Times)

12/ Trump tweets that North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test showed “great disrespect” to China. North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan. (The Hill)

13/ Tourism to the US has declined 11% since Trump took office, hitting a low of 16% in March. (NBC News)

Day 127: Disinformation.

1/ Comey acted on Russian information he knew was fake for fear that if it became public it would undermine the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email and the Justice Department. The Russian intelligence claimed that then-Attorney General Lynch had been compromised and suggested she would make the FBI investigation of Clinton go away. If the Russians had released the information publicly, there would be no way for law enforcement and intelligence officials to discredit it without burning their sources and methods. (CNN)

2/ Jared Kushner is now a focus in the Russia investigation. Kushner is being investigated for possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, as well as possible financial crimes. (Washington Post / NBC News)

  • Kushner is willing to cooperate with investigators. Kushner had meetings last year with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov. (Bloomberg)

3/ Trump called the Germans “bad, very bad” for selling a lot of cars in the US. He vowed to block German car exports to the US at a meeting with EU leaders, ignoring the fact that many “foreign” cars are actually made in the US, while many “American” cars are made in Canada and Mexico. (Der Spiegel / Slate)

4/ The FBI won’t provide Comey’s memos to Congress, until it consults with Robert Mueller, the new special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. (Politico)

5/ Senate Republicans are considering a plan to push the Obamacare repeal to 2020. They’re weighing a two-step process to replace Obamacare, as they seek to draft a more modest version than a House plan. (Bloomberg)

  • McConnell may have been right that it may be too hard to replace Obamacare. The meetings Republicans have held to discuss a Senate health care bill have exposed deep issues within the party. (New York Times)

6/ Trump told Macron that he did not back Marine Le Pen, contrary to media reports saying he liked the far-right leader. He added: “You were my guy.” (Reuters)

7/ John Boehner on Trump: “everything else he’s done has been a complete disaster,” other than getting the House to pass the health care bill. The former house speaker went on to say that Trump is “still learning how to be president.” (CNN)

Day 126: Street fighters.

1/ Trump’s prepping for a years-long war under the cloud of a special investigation. The White House is “getting street fighters ready to go” with legal, surrogate, communications, and rapid-response teams as part of a “new normal.” With Trump on tour in the Middle East and Europe, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus are at home, putting in place the means to keep his agenda moving ahead and avoid “paralysis.” (Axios / Politico)

2/ Trump chastises “obsolete” NATO about how it’s “not fair” some members don’t pay their share. He lectured 23 of the 28 member for what he called their “chronic underpayments” to the military alliance. The mutual defense pledge requires nations to contribute at least 2% of their GDP. (ABC News / New York Times / Washington Post)

3/ A federal appeals court will not reinstate Trump’s revised travel ban, saying it “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.” The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction, saying the executive order violated the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion – In this case singling out Muslims. (New York Times / Politico)

4/ Macron out-Trumps Trump in “fierce” handshake duel. Editor’s note: The descriptions are too good to summarize, so I’m quoting in full:

From the Washington Post: “…the two men shook hands for six long seconds. Their knuckles turned white, their jaws clenched and their faces tightened. Trump reached in first, but then he tried to release, twice, but Macron kept his grip until letting go.” (Washington Post)

From Bloomberg: “Trump’s trick is to go in strong and then hold on just slightly too long, often pulling the other man toward him. Meeting Macron for the first time before a NATO summit in Brussels, Trump went in firm as usual. But this time, it was Trump – not Macron – who tried to back out first. Macron simply wouldn’t let go as Trump tried to pull back once, and then flexed his fingers straight to get out. On the second try, he was able to pull away.” (Bloomberg)

5/ A group of 22 Republican senators are urging Trump to exit the Paris climate deal. They say the provisions in the Clean Air Act and the Paris agreement would create “significant litigation risk,” which puts fully rescinding the Clean Power Plan in danger. (Axios)

6/ Paul Manafort remained in contact and continued to advise the Trump team even after the FBI launched its Russia probe. Manafort called Priebus a week before the inauguration to tell him the dossier by a former British spy that alleged Russia had compromising information on Trump and his associates was “garbage.” Manafort was forced to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman due to his ties to Kremlin-aligned politicians in Europe. (Politico)

  • Russians had discussed how to influence Trump advisors last summer. Specifically, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who both had close ties to Russia. It’s unclear if Russian officials attempted to influence either. (New York Times)

7/ Sessions was advised not to disclose his meetings with Russian officials when he applied for security clearance. Democratic lawmakers are demanding for Sessions’s resignation. “He’s lied under oath,” Senator Kamala Harris said. “He’s misled on security clearance forms. It’s simple — he should not be the Attorney General.” (New York Times)

8/ Reince Priebus is sweating Comey’s secret memos. Three White House officials said Priebus has expressed worry about a memo involving one of their chats, and how it might play in the press and to investigators. (The Daily Beast)

9/ A Montana GOP House candidate was charged with assault after “body-slamming” a journalist. Greg Gianforte grabbed the reporter by the neck with both hands, slammed him into the ground, and then began punching the reporter. Misdemeanor charges were filed against Gianforte, who was “sick and tired of this!” – ”this” being a question. (The Guardian / Fox News)

10/ A Mar-A-Lago employee is doing work for Trump’s foreign trip. The guest reception manager at Trump’s “Winter White House” is in Italy helping Trump’s logistics team. (BuzzFeed News)

11/ Lieberman withdraws from consideration for FBI Director job. Once considered the front-runner to replace James Comey, he’s formally withdrawn citing the appearance of a conflict of interest now that Trump’s tapped his boss, attorney Marc Kasowitz, as outside counsel in the Russia investigation. (Wall Street Journal / Politico / ABC News)

12/ Trump condemned “leaks of sensitive information” after complaints From Britain. Manchester police said they would no longer share details of the investigation with the US after crime-scene photos and suspected bomber’s name were leaked to American media. (New York Times / Washington Post)

poll/ 40% approve of Trump job performance, with 53% disapproving. Pence, meanwhile, clocks in at a 42% approval to 43% disapproval rating. (The Hill)

Day 125: A madman with nukes.

1/ Trump called Kim Jong Un a “madman with nuclear weapons,” days before stating publicly that he would be “honored” to meet with Kim. In an April 29 call with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Trump asked for his input on whether Kim is “stable or not stable.” Duterte has been accused of presiding over the extrajudicial killing of thousands of drug dealers and users. (Washington Post)

2/ The US has two nuclear submarines off the coast of North Korea, Trump told Duterte during last month’s call. He revealed that “we have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all.” (New York Times)

3/ The Pentagon is in shock that Trump told Duterte about the submarines. The Pentagon never talks about the location of submarines on the belief that stealth is key to their mission. (BuzzFeed News)

4/ Trump congratulated Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job” in his war on drugs, where the government has allowed extrajudicial killing for drug dealers and users. “You are a good man,” Trump told Duterte. “Keep up the good work.” The State Department’s human rights report calls the Philippines “disregard for human rights and due process” one of the “most significant human rights problems.” (The Intercept / Politico)

5/ Pope Francis urged Trump to meet US commitments on climate change. He gave Trump copy of his 2015 encyclical (a type of papal document used for significant or important issues) calling for urgent, drastic cuts in fossil-fuel emissions. Trump has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. (Bloomberg)

6/ Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance. Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice last year, but didn’t failed to note those interactions on the security clearance form. (CNN)

7/ The House Intelligence Committee will subpoena Michael Flynn after he declined to appear before the panel. Flynn already rejected requests from the Senate Intelligence Committee for a list of his contacts with Russian officials, invoking his Fifth Amendments rights against self-incrimination. (Reuters / Associated Press / Politico)

  • Flynn hit with two Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenas and risks being held in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t comply. (ABC News)

8/ Trump lawyers up and retains Marc Kasowitz for the Russia investigation. Related, former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman joined Kasowitz’ law firm in 2013 and was Trump’s top choice for the FBI director job. The administration hit the reset button on the search today, wanting to see a broader list of candidates. (NBC News / CNN)

9/ Trump’s hotels are failing to track payments received from foreign governments despite his promise to donate all profits back to the Treasury. A Trump Organization policy suggests that it is up to foreign governments, not Trump hotels, to determine whether they self-report their business. (NBC News)

10/ The House health care bill would leave 23 million more uninsured by 2026, the Congressional Budget Office projected. If passed, 14 million people would lose insurance next year and would make coverage less comprehensive than it is now for those still insured. The Senate has already said it will make substantial changes to the measure passed by the House. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / Bloomberg)

11/ Mitch McConnell on Obamacare: “I don’t know how we get to 50 (votes).” The Senate Majority Leader has not asked the White House for input on the legislation being crafted to dismantle Obamacare. McConnell has promised to undo Obamacare “root and branch,” but Congress and the White House have struggled to come up with a consensus plan despite controlling both branches of government. (Reuters)

12/ Ben Carson called poverty “a state of mind.” He said he believes that government can provide a “helping hand” for people to climb out of poverty, but warned against programs that are “sustaining them in a position of poverty.” (Washington Post)

13/ Democrats flipped seats in two districts that voted for Trump. The new legislature seats in New York and New Hampshire won’t change the balance of power, but may signal a change in the country’s political climate. (HuffPost)

Poll/ 65% of voters believe there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media. 84% of voters said it’s hard to know what news to believe online. (Editor’s Suggestion: Get the fuck off Facebook.) (The Hill)

Day 124: Cuts for the poor.

1/ Trump’s first budget can be summed up like this: Cuts for the poor. The budget would boost defense spending by $54 billion for the next fiscal year and another $2.6 billion for new border security measures, including $1.6 billion to build the border wall. Medicaid, food assistance and other anti-poverty and welfare programs – which provide benefits for up to a fifth of all Americans – would be cut by more than $1 trillion. Spending overall would be reduced by $3.6 trillion over 10 years. Trump’s budget is based on sustained growth above 3%, much higher than the expectations of most private economists. (CNN Money / Washington Post / New York Times / Associated Press / NBC News)

By The Numbers:

State Department – 29.1% decrease

Homeland Security – 6.8% increase

Department of Education – 13.5% decrease

EPA – 31.4% decrease

Department of Transportation – 12.7% decrease

Department of Defense – 10.1% increase

Department of Housing and Urban Development – 13.2% decrease

Veterans Affairs – 5.8% increase

Corps of Engineers – 16.3% decrease

Department of Justice – 3.8% decrease

Department of Labor - 19.8% decrease

Department of the Interior – 10.9% decrease

Source: (CNN)

  • Republicans say the White House has gone too far with its proposed cuts to programs that help the poor. (Washington Post)
  • Trump’s first budget proposal calls on Congress to spend $4.1 trillion next year, a little more than what is being spent this year. But it would greatly reallocate where many federal funds go: spend more on defense, border security, and infrastructure, but cut safety nets and domestic programs that focus on everything from the environment and education to student loans and scientific research. (CNN Money)
  • Which budgets would see the biggest cuts – or boosts? Only three departments would see increases in their budgets. (NPR)
  • Trump wants to sell off half of the US strategic oil reserve in order to trim the national debt. By draining the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Trump’s would raise $500 million in fiscal year 2018 and as much as $16.6 billion in oil sales over the next decade. (Bloomberg)

2/ Trump’s budget will hit his own voters the hardest. The budget blueprint cuts taxes for the wealthy, boosts defense spending, and reduces programs for the poor and disabled – potentially hurting many of the rural and low-income Americans who voted him into office. (Politico)

3/ The budget is based on a $2 trillion math error. It appears Trump is double counting the benefits of economic growth: Once to offset the effects of lower tax rates and a second time to help close the budget deficit. (Wall Street Journal / New York Magazine)

4/ Russia may have successfully recruited Trump campaign aides and “brazenly” interfered in the election. John Brennan, the Former CIA Director, told the House Intelligence Committee that there was a “very aggressive” effort to intervene in the 2016 campaign, which he warned his counterpart in Russian intelligence about. Brennan said he didn’t know if the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but his confirmation that there was contact undermines Trump’s account of his campaign’s links to Russia. (Politico / Wall Street Journal / New York Times / Associated Press)

5/ Flynn was hit with two new subpoenas by the Senate Intelligence Committee in an effort to compel him to turn over documents about his contacts with Russian officials. Flynn invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to the previous subpoena attempt. The new subpoenas are aimed at Flynn’s businesses, believing they can’t plead the Fifth. (Politico)

6/ Comey’s public House Oversight Committee testimony postponed. He wants to speak with Robert Mueller first, who is investigating the ties between Russia and the presidential election campaign. Comey is also expected to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Russia probe later this month. (Reuters)

7/ ISIS claimed responsibility for the Manchester attack; Trump calls them “evil losers” and vows to “call them, from now on, losers because that’s what they are: losers.” (Washington Post / NBC News)

8/ Chris Christie gave Jared Kushner legal advice when asked if Trump should hire a lawyer. In private, Christie told Kushner that the president “better lawyer up and keep his mouth shut,” according to a person who recounted Christie’s conversation with Kushner. (Vanity Fair)

9/ Jeff Sessions narrowed Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities. A federal judge said Trump had overstepped his authority in attaching conditions to federal money. Sessions’ new memo says Trump’s order will only apply to grants from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security “and not to other sources of federal funding.” (New York Times) / Politico)

10/ Sheriff David Clarke is unsure if the Trump administration will still hire him. A review of Clarke’s master’s thesis found 47 examples where Clarke copied entire sentences, but credited them with a footnote – not quotation marks to indicate that he took the language verbatim. (CNN)

11/ Democrats warned Trump against a pre-emptive attack on North Korea. In a letter, 64 Democratic legislators urged Trump to talk directly to the North Koreans and warned that he would need congressional approval for any pre-emptive military strike. (New York Times)

Day 123: Will not comply.

1/ Michael Flynn will invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination as he notifies the Senate Intelligence committee that he will not comply with a subpoena seeking documents. His decision to invoke his Fifth Amendment right puts him at risk of being held in contempt of Congress, which can also result in a criminal charge. After Flynn rejected the subpoena, Elijah Cummings released a letter saying Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about his income from Russian companies when he applied for a top-secret security clearance last year. Separately, he also failed to properly register as a foreign agent while advising the Trump campaign. Both are felonies. (Associated Press / New York Times)

  • Chris Christie weighs in on Flynn: “I wouldn’t let General Flynn in the White House, let alone give him a job.” The New Jersey governor said he repeatedly recommended that Trump not give Flynn the job while on the campaign and as President-elect. (Washington Post)

2/ Trump asked two of the top intelligence chiefs to push back against the FBI investigation into possible collusion after Comey revealed its existence. Trump asked the director of national intelligence and the director of the National Security Agency to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election. Both refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate. (Washington Post)

3/ Trump: “I never mentioned the word or the name Israel” to the Russians. It was an off-script effort to push back and refute the damage he did to Israeli intelligence capabilities after revealing highly classified information to Russian operatives earlier this month. To add further insult to injury, he also told a room of Israelis that he “just got back from the Middle East.” (CNN / Slate)

4/ Trump’s budget is expected to cut $1.7 trillion from Medicaid and anti-poverty programs over the next 10 years. Assuming the GOP health care bill becomes law, the budget proposal will cut $800 billion from Medicaid leaving an estimated 10 million people without benefits. SNAP, the modern version of food stamps, will be reduced by $193 billion – about a quarter. During the campaign, Trump promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. (Bloomberg / Washington Post / CNN)

5/ Comey believes that Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment on the Russia probe. He initially thought he could teach Trump and the White House what was appropriate during their communications, despite noting that the new President was not following normal protocols during their interactions. (CNN)

6/ Trump is assembling outside counsel to help him navigate the Russian investigation now that Robert Mueller has begun work on the possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The outside legal team would be separate from the White House Counsel’s Office, which is led by Donald McGahn, who served as the Trump campaign’s lawyer. (Washington Post)

  • Priebus and Bannon returned to Washington after Saudi visit. Major issues await Trump back home, including the possible hiring of outside legal counsel in the Russia probe, the selection of a new FBI director, and the effort to pivot his domestic agenda. (CNN)

7/ The White House is trying to block the disclosure of ethics waivers granted to former lobbyists who work in the administration or federal agencies. Ethics watchdogs are concerned that former lobbyists are taking high-ranking political jobs working on the exact topics they had previously handled on behalf of private-sector clients — including oil and gas companies and Wall Street banks. The Office of Government Ethics was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to oversee compliance with federal ethics standards. The administration is challenging the legal authority to demand the information. (New York times)

8/ Sheriff David Clarke plagiarized portions of his master’s thesis on homeland security. Clarke will be joining Trump’s administration as assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. He denied the report, calling the journalist a “sleaze bag.” (CNN / Reuters)

9/ Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said he was pleased that there were no protesters with “a bad placard” during his trip to Saudi Arabia. American-style protest is illegal in Saudi Arabia and can result in a death sentence. (Washington Post)

10/ McMaster won’t say if Trump confronted Russian officials about election interference during the meeting at the White House. He said “there already was too much that’s been leaked from those meetings,” but wouldn’t deny that Trump called Comey “crazy, a real nut job.” (ABC News)

11/ The White House plans to ask a federal court for another 90-day delay in a lawsuit over Obamacare insurance subsidies, leaving the future of the health care marketplaces in limbo through late August. The suit centers on Obamacare’s cost-sharing program, which reimburses health insurers to help low-income people make co-payments at the doctor or hospital. House Republicans say the program was never legally funded in Obamacare and Trump has argued that the markets are fatally flawed and will collapse no matter what his administration does. (Politico)

12/ Students walked out of the Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony in protest of Mike Pence’s policies that “have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.” (NPR)

Day 120: Kept in the dark. Person of interest.

1/ A White House official close to Trump is now a person of interest in the Russia probe. The senior adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to multiple sources, who would not further identify the official. Investigators are also interested in people who were previously part of the Trump campaign and administration, including Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. (Washington Post)

2/ Trump told the Russians in the Oval Office last week that firing Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him. A document summarizing the meeting quotes Trump as saying “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” (New York Times)

3/ The Trump-Russia probe now includes a possible cover-up. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, “has been given the authority to investigate the possibility of a cover-up,” though that “does not mean that is part of the investigation” currently. (McClatchy)

4/ Mike Pence wasn’t informed about Flynn’s alleged wrongdoings, a source close to the administration said. It’s the second time that Pence claims he was kept in the dark about Flynn. The source said there is concern about “a pattern” of keeping the vice president distant from information about possible Flynn wrongdoings, calling it “malpractice or intentional, and either are unacceptable.” (NBC News)

5/ James Comey has agreed to testify in a public session at the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearing will occur after Memorial Day, committee leaders said. (Politico)

  • Comey tried to preserve distance between the FBI and the White House, by educating the administration on the proper way to interact with the bureau. Comey told Trump that if he wanted to know details about the bureau’s investigations, he should not contact him directly but instead follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the Justice Department. (New York Times)
  • Comey may testify as soon as next week despite the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling into last year’s election. (The Hill)
  • The FBI warned a Republican congressman in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him. Dana Rohrabacher of California, has been known for years as one of Moscow’s biggest defenders in Washington and as a vocal opponent of American economic sanctions against Russia. He is one of Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. (New York Times)

6/ Trump heads out on his first foreign trip since taking office, to meet with some of the most important figures in the Middle East and Europe during a nine-day, five-country journey. He’s bucking tradition by not visiting Canada or Mexico with his first visits abroad, which the past five presidents have all done. The trip will conclude with the president meeting with NATO and attending a G7 summit, where leaders have been told that he prefers short presentations and lots of visual aids. White House aides fear that a difficult trip might lead Trump to hand off future traveling duties to Pence. (ABC News / Associated Press / (Wall Street Journal)

7/ Kushner intervened to help seal a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis - just in time for Trump’s visit to the kingdom this weekend where he hopes to frame it as a symbol of America’s renewed commitment to security in the Persian Gulf. (New York Times)

8/ Trump said he is “very close” to choosing a new FBI director. A senior White House official said the odds of a selection coming today were “better than 50-50.” Former Sen. Joe Lieberman is his top choice. (CNN / NBC News)

9/ Trump’s attorney didn’t want him to sign his financial disclosure to certify the information was true, because he was filing voluntarily. Trump’s 2016 disclosures will span his general election candidacy, election, and transition to power, which would potentially shed light on the impact his nomination and election had on his Trump Organization. (Associated Press)

10/ Health insurers are planning rate hikes on Obamacare — and they blame Trump. State insurance regulators — both Democrat and Republican — have concluded they cannot count on the Trump administration to help them ensure that consumers will have access to a health plan next year, which is forcing them to make plans to raise premiums to account for the turmoil. (Los Angeles Times)

11/ Nearly 700 positions at the CDC are vacant because of Trump’s hiring freeze. Programs supporting local and state public health emergency readiness, infectious disease control and chronic disease prevention are all affected. At least 125 job categories have been blocked from being filled. (Washington Post)

12/ American warplanes attacked a pro-Syrian government convoy, which ignored warnings and violated a restricted zone around a base where US and British Special Forces train rebels to fight the Islamic State. The Syria and its Russian allies condemned the attack, which marked an escalation in hostile US action toward Bashar al-Assad. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal)

13/ Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice are telling lawyers to stop representing immigrants in deportation proceedings. They’re accusing immigrant-rights lawyers of breaking a rule that was put in place to protect people from lawyers who take their money and then drop their case. The cease and desist letter could dissuade law firms from letting their lawyers volunteer for these cases, scaring those firms away by convincing them that immigration-related projects are too risky pro-bono projects. (The Nation)

14/ White House lawyers are researching impeachment procedures in an effort to prepare for what officials believe is a distant possibility that Trump could have to fend off attempts to remove him from office. (CNN)