1/ Obama weighed pre-election retaliation against Moscow for the Russian assault on the US election. The Obama administration debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on infrastructure, the release of CIA material to embarrass Putin, and sanctions that could “crater” the Russian economy. Instead, he expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two compounds. Obama also approved an operation in late December to embed “digital bombs” in Russia’s infrastructure that could be detonated if the US found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project was still in its planning stages when he left office, leaving Trump to decide whether to use the capability. “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” a former senior Obama official said. “I feel like we sort of choked.” (Washington Post)
2/ Trump denied obstructing Comey’s FBI probe in a Fox & Friends interview. He said his tweet hinting of “tapes” was intended to influence Comey’s testimony before Congress, suggesting it was possible that anyone could have taped their discussions. “With surveillance all over the place,” Trump said in the interview, “…you never know what’s out there, but I didn’t tape, and I don’t have any tape and I didn’t tape.” (New York Times / Reuters)
3/ Trump called Preet Bharara the day before dozens of US attorneys were asked to resign. The now former US Attorney sent an email to the Justice Department expressing his concern about a voicemail he received from Trump’s secretary. “It appeared to be that [Trump] was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship,” Bharara said. “…It’s a very weird and peculiar thing for a one-on-one conversation without the attorney general.” Bharara refused to resign, and was fired the following day. (BuzzFeed News)
4/ The director of national intelligence told House investigators that Trump seemed obsessed with the Russia probe and repeatedly asked him to publicly acknowledge there was no evidence of collusion. At a Senate hearing earlier this month, Dan Coats said Trump never pressured him to do anything inappropriate, but refused to confirm or deny allegations that Trump asked him to push back against the FBI probe into collusion between the campaign and the Russian government. (NBC News)
5/ Trump: It’s “bothersome” that Robert Mueller is “very, very good friends with Comey.” He added that “there’s been no collusion, no obstruction, and virtually everybody agrees to that” and that Mueller’s team of lawyers are “all Hillary Clinton supporters.” (ABC News)
6/ Frustrated by the Russia probe, Trump loses patience with his White House lawyer. Trump took Don McGahn to task in the Oval Office for not doing more to squash the Russia probe early on despite having handed over the Russia investigation to his personal attorney Marc Kasowitz. (Politico)
7/ West Wing aides struggle to keep Trump calm on Russia. His new morning routine begins at 6:30 AM with a venting session with his outside legal team in an effort to prevent the Russia probe from consuming him all day. (Washington Post)
8/ Art of the Deal: Carrier is preparing to lay off 600 employees next month as Trump’s deal fails to live up to the hype. Carrier will continue to employ at least 1,069 people at their plant for 10 years in exchange for up to $7 million in incentives. But, only 730 of those positions are the manufacturing jobs that were at the heart of the debate. The rest are technical jobs that were never scheduled to be cut. (CNBC)
9/ The FBI is investigating business deals involving Paul Manafort and his son-in-law. Manafort helped finance a series of real estate deals by Jeffrey Yohai, who has been accused of defrauding investors. Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman until reports surfaced that he had received millions of dollars off-the-book for his consulting work in Ukraine. (New York Times)
10/ Trump proposed a law that’s existed for 20 years. During his rally on Wednesday, Trump called for a new law barring immigrants from receiving welfare for at least five years. Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in 1996. The law prevents immigrants from receiving federal benefits, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security for five years after entering the country. (USA Today)
11/ The White House is frustrated with Rex Tillerson’s deliberate approach to hiring at the State Department. Tillerson is more concerned about setting the State Department up for success, rather than satisfying the White House’s desire to place Republican appointees in the numerous vacant positions. (Washington Post)
poll/ 13% of US adults have a favorable opinion of Putin, down from 22% in February. Putin’s unfavorable rating stands at 74%. (Gallup)
poll/ More Americans believe Comey over Trump. 45% say they believe Comey’s version of events compared to 22% who believe Trump more. (NBC News)
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