1/ The acting attorney general told the House Judiciary Committee that he has not spoken to Trump about Robert Mueller's investigation. Matthew Whitaker testified that while he had "not interfered in any way" with the special counsel investigation, he wouldn't discuss his "private conversations" with Trump. Meanwhile, Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee, accused Democrats of engaging in "political theater" and a "character assassination" against both Whitaker and Trump. (New York Times / CNN / Wall Street Journal / Politico / Bloomberg)

  • After being asked if he had ever been asked to approve any moves by Mueller's team, Whitaker told Chairman Jerry Nadler "I see that your five minutes is up." Whitaker didn't answer the question directly, but added: "I'm here voluntarily. I agreed to five-minute rounds." (Daily Beast)

2/ Mueller's team accused Paul Manafort of lying to them about "an extremely sensitive issue" in hopes of increasing "his chances for a pardon." Prosecutors allege that Manafort worked on Ukrainian political matters from August 2016 to December 2018 – after his first indictment by the special counsel in 2017 – and that he tried to avoid providing information that could be damaging to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort business partner in Ukraine. Prosecutors believe Kilimnik is connected with Russian intelligence. Kilimnik also attended Trump's inauguration. (Politico / New York Times / Washington Post / Bloomberg / CNN)

  • A federal judge ordered the Justice Department to release redacted versions of its Michael Cohen search warrant and other documents related to the FBI's April 2018 raid. (Politico)

3/ Rod Rosenstein privately complained that Trump ordered him to write the memo justifying the firing of James Comey. Rosenstein made the remarks in a private meeting at the Justice Department on May 12, 2017, according to Andrew McCabe, who also said that Rosenstein believed the White House used him as a scapegoat for Comey's dismissal. At the time, Sean Spicer denied that Trump had directed Rosenstein to write a justification for firing Comey, saying: "It was all [Rosenstein]." (The Guardian)

4/ Ivanka Trump has "zero concerns" about any of her "loved ones" being caught up in Mueller's Russia investigation. She also insisted that the Trump Tower project in Russia – pursued during the 2016 campaign – is overblown and "there's nothing there." (Politico / Washington Post)


Notables.

  • Trump has appointed at least eight people to senior posts in his administration who are either current or former members at Mar-a-Lago. Becoming a member of one of Trump's clubs can cost $100,000 or more in initiation fees, plus thousands more each year in dues. (USA Today)

  • The Supreme Court blocked a Louisiana law that could have left the state with only one doctor eligible in a single clinic authorized to provide abortions. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court's four liberals. Only Brett Kavanaugh published a dissent. (New York Times / Washington Post)

  • House and Senate negotiators are close to a possible border security agreement that would fund new technology, additional border patrol agents, and fencing in certain areas along the southern border. The agreement could offer Trump between $1.3 billion and around $2 billion in funding for border security, but there is no mention of funding for a wall. Trump has told allies he would grudgingly accept a figure of around $2 billion. (New York Times / Washington Examiner)

  • Trump's inauguration committee overpaid to use event spaces at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., despite internal objections at the Trump Organization that the rates were too high. The committee was charged a rate of $175,000 per day. An event planner, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, suggested that an appropriate rate would be closer to $85,000 per day. Tax law prohibits nonprofits from paying inflated prices to entities that are owned by people who also control the nonprofit. (ProPublica)


The Showdown: 🤜 Bezos vs A.M.I. 🤛

I'd rather not be talking about dick pics, but this is such a weird story that reaches back into the Trump administration in unexpected ways. So I guess I'll include. Happy Friday…

  1. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, accused National Enquirer's publisher of "extortion and blackmail" for threatening to release embarrassing photos of him. In a blog post, Bezos laid out a theory that covers international politics, White House politics, nude photos, and text messages. Trump is longtime friends with American Media's chief executive, David Pecker. Trump has repeatedly tweeted about the "Amazon Washington Post," because of Bezos' ownership of the paper and what Trump claims is unfair coverage.

  2. Bezos launched an investigation to determine how the Enquirer obtained his personal text messages for the initial article it published about the affair.

  3. Gavin de Becker, the Amazon chief's personal security consultant, confirmed that his probe was looking at Michael Sanchez, the brother of Bezos mistress Lauren Sanchez, who is also a personal and business associate of Roger Stone, Carter Page, and Scottie Nell Hughes. "Michael Sanchez has been among the people we've been speaking with and looking at," De Becker said, but added that "strong leads point to political motives." (Daily Beast / Washington Post)

  4. Sanchez offered several of theories to explain how the texts between Bezos and his sister made it to the Enquirer. He suggested that foreign governments were spying on Bezos, or that the "deep state" – specifically the National Security Agency – may have been responsible for obtaining text messages from Bezos' phone. (Washington Post / Daily Beast)

  5. American Media demanded that Bezos call off his investigators, instructing Bezos to state publicly that he had "no knowledge or basis for suggesting that [American Media's] coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces." The tabloid threatened to keep his photos on hand and publish them in the future "if we ever deviate from [the] lie."

  6. Bezos suggested that the Washington Post's reporting about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi may have made him a target of Pecker, saying "It's unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy." The CIA concluded that the murder was likely ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (The Guardian)

  7. A.M.I. engaged in talks with Saudi financiers to help shore up its debt-laden business last year. (Wall Street Journal)

  8. American Media entered into a deal with federal prosecutors last year where Pecker and Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard cooperate with authorities, and acknowledge that the Enquirer worked with the Trump campaign to kill stories "about the presidential candidate's relationships with women": the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn star Stormy Daniels. (New York Times / Washington Post)

  9. The agreement stipulated that A.M.I, "shall commit no crimes whatsoever" for three years, and that if it did, "A.M.I. shall thereafter be subject to prosecution for any federal criminal violation of which this office has knowledge." (New York Times / Bloomberg)

  10. American Media said it "believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos" and that it was acting in "good-faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him." (Wall Street Journal)

  11. Federal prosecutors are reviewing the National Enquirer's handling of its story about Bezos to determine if the company violated the cooperation agreement. (Bloomberg)