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 42: Misleading. Recused.

1/ Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia inquiry and from any future investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. His conversations with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, came amid suspected Russian hacking directed at Clinton’s campaign. (New York Times)

  • Top Republicans call on Sessions to recuse himself from Russia investigation. Some Democrats have called on Sessions to resign and have demanded an independent investigation. The calls from two of the House’s most prominent Republicans follow revelations that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador during election season. Under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions had said that he had not met with any Russian officials. (Washington Post)
  • Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer say Sessions perjured himself and demand that he resign. “For the good of the country, Attorney General Jeff Sessions should resign,” Schumer said. Pelosi took the same position: “Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign. There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians.” (New York Times)
  • Sessions met with Russians twice last year, but didn’t disclose the encounters during his confirmation hearing when asked about possible contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow. (Washington Post)
  • Sessions: “I will recuse myself” if necessary. Sessions confirmed he met with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the presidential election in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — not as a representative of the Trump campaign – and denied discussing the Trump campaign when he met with him. Kislyak is considered a top spy and is the same person who met with former national security adviser Michael Flynn. (NBC News)
  • Trump taps Putin critic for senior White House position as Trump administration draws fire for contacts with Russian officials. (Foreign Policy)

2/ Republicans continue to stick with Trump despite news that Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador, contradicting testimony he had given under oath. Republicans are resisting calls for a special prosecutor or select congressional committee to review the matter. (Washington Post)

3/ The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee accused FBI Director James Comey of withholding information on Russia probe. “In order for us to do our investigation in a thorough and credible way, we’re going to need the FBI to fully cooperate… to fully tell us the length and breadth of any counterintelligence investigations they are conducting,” Rep. Adam Schiff told reporters after emerging from a classified meeting with Comey. “At this point the director was not willing to do that.” Schiff raised the prospect of subpoenaing the agency. (Politico)

4/ Kushner and Flynn met with Russian envoy in December to “establish a line of communication.” The extent and frequency of their contacts remains unclear, and the disclosure of the meeting at Trump Tower adds to the emerging picture of how the relationship between Trump’s incoming team and Moscow was evolving to include some of the president-elect’s most trusted advisers. (New York Times)

  • Former Trump adviser Carter Page also met with Russian envoy. Sergey Kislyak and Page spoke on the sidelines of the GOP convention last July. (Politico)

5/ Pence used personal email for state business — and was hacked. As governor of Indiana, Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe. (USA Today)

  • New EPA head told Congress he never used personal email for government business. But it turns out he did. Senators are demanding a review of the personal email account of Scott Pruitt after he said during confirmation hearings that he never used that account for official business as Oklahoma state attorney general. The result of an Open Records Act lawsuit shows Pruitt using his personal email address to conduct official state business, something he was not honest with the Senate about this during his confirmation process. (Washington Post)

6/ Paul Ryan’s feeling confident about repeal-and-replace. McConnell not so much. Ryan and his top lieutenants are increasingly optimistic they will have the votes to pass their version of legislation to repeal the health-care law and replace some elements of it. In the Senate, McConnell can lose just two GOP senators and then use Vice President Pence to cast the tiebreaking vote to get the legislation to President Trump’s desk. (Washington Post)

  • Rand Paul protests outside room where House Republicans are hammering out an Obamacare replacement. Paul couldn’t get a copy because the bill is still being drafted in private. Paul has described the passage of the ACA as an opaque and secret-laden process and that that Republican Party shouldn’t act the same way. (Washington Post)

7/ Trump’s team nixed ethics course for White House staff that would have provided training on leadership, ethics and management. The program could have better prepared officials for working within existing laws and executive orders, and provided guidance on how to navigate Senate confirmation for nominees and political appointees, how to deal with congressional and media scrutiny, and how to work with Congress and collaborate with agencies. Sounds boring. (Politico)

8/ The White House intentionally misled reporters ahead of Trump‘s congressional address in order to generate positive press coverage as part of a “misdirection play.” The White House indicated Trump would embrace a more moderate tone on immigration in his speech. He made no such remarks. CNN’s Sara Murray called it a “bait-and-switch.” (The Hill)

BACKGROUND:

Trump went on background with reporters as a “senior administration official” ahead of his address to Congress night. Trump has taken issue with the use of anonymous sources in stories about his administration, saying “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name” on Friday. Four days later, he was one. (BuzzFeed News)

9/ The White House is fiercely divided over Trump’s campaign promise to “cancel” the Paris agreement. The 2015 accord binds nearly every country to curb global warming. Bannon is pushing for the U.S. to exit the deal, but Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump see a grave downside in pulling the rug out from under allies. (New York Times)

10/ Some of the EPA’s longstanding and best-known programs are facing potential elimination. Details of an Office of Management and Budget proposal would cut the EPA’s budget by 24% and reduce its staffing by 20%. (CNN)

11/ McMaster rolls back Flynn’s changes at NSC. McMaster did away with two deputy assistant spots. It’s unclear if Steve Bannon will stay on the principals committee of the NSC. (Politico)

12/ Ben Carson confirmed to lead HUD despite no prior government experience and a staunchly conservative view of public assistance. (Washington Post)

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