1/ Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent of the Kremlin and influence U.S. politics from 2015 until her arrest in July. Butina tried to establish "unofficial lines of communication" with influential Americans in the NRA and in the Republican Party "under direction of" a former Russian senator and deputy governor of Russia's central bank, who matches the description of sanctioned Russian central banker Alexander Torshin. Butina is also expected to provide evidence against Paul Erickson, who helped her with what she called her "Diplomacy Project." Butina faces up to five years in prison but is expected to only serve six months based on "the sentencing guidelines cited as part of the plea agreement." (Washington Post / CNN / New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Politico) / NBC News)

2/ Trump claimed he "never directed Michael Cohen to break the law" and said he isn't responsible for any crimes because he acted on the "advice of counsel" and his former lawyer is "supposed to know the law." Trump also questioned whether any campaign finance violations even occurred, saying "Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me [โ€ฆ] which were not criminal and of which he probably was not guilty even on a civil basis." Trump suggested that Cohen pleaded guilty to the charges in order to "embarrass" him and to get a reduced prison term. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to violating campaign finance law when he made hush money payments ahead of the 2016 election to Stormy Daniels and arranged a similar pay-off to Karen McDougal at the direction of then-candidate Trump, which were intended to sway the election. (New York Times / Washington Post / The Guardian / Politico / CNN / NBC News)

  • ๐Ÿšจ CONFIRMED: Trump was the "other member of the campaign" in the room when Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could "help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women." In August 2015, Trump and Cohen met with Pecker in his Trump Tower office and asked how he could help the campaign. Pecker offered to use the National Enquirer to buy the silence of women if they tried to publicize alleged sexual encounters with Trump. (Wall Street Journal / NBC News)

  • โฎ At the time, Hope Hicks claimed the Trump campaign had "no knowledge of any of this," adding that Karen McDougal's claim that she had an affair with Trump was "totally untrue." The National Enquirer's parent company said that "AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump." (Wall Street Journal)

3/ Two Michael Flynn associates said he discussed a deal with Sergey Kislyak during the campaign about how Trump and Russia could work together if Trump won. According to Flynn's associates, the bargain he discussed with Russia's then-ambassador to the U.S. was that Moscow would cooperate with the Trump administration to resolve the Syrian conflict and in exchange the U.S. would end or ease sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. In mid-August 2016, Trump and Flynn received a briefing that noted the intelligence community had reached the preliminary conclusion that Moscow was behind the hacks of Democratic targets and the public disclosure of the stolen material. Flynn's "series of contacts" with Kislyak continued despite knowing Moscow was behind the efforts to subvert the U.S. election. (Mother Jones)

  • Trump claimed that Robert Mueller's prosecutors gave Michael Flynn "a great deal because they were embarrassed by the way he was treated." Mueller recommended Flynn serve no jail time due to his "substantial assistance" in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after the former national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. last December. (The Hill)

  • ๐Ÿ“Œ The Re-Up: Day 25: Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser after it was revealed that he had misled Pence and other top White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Flynn served in the job for less than a month. (New York Times)

  • ๐Ÿ“Œ Day 26: Trump knew Flynn misled officials on Russia calls for "weeks," the White House says. The comment contrasts the impression Trump gave aboard Air Force One that he was not familiar with a report that revealed Flynn had not told the truth about the calls. White House counsel Don McGahn told Trump in a January briefing that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia. (Washington Post)

  • ๐Ÿ“Œ Day 22: Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador, despite denials. Flynn's communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election. (Washington Post)

4/ Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether Trump's 2017 inaugural committee misspent the $107 million it raised and whether some of the donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions, or to influence administration positions. The committee said in its tax documents that it spent $77 million on conferences, conventions and meetings, $4 million on ticketing, $9 million on travel, $4.5 million on salaries and wages, and other expenses. Nearly a quarter of the money was paid to a firm led by a friend of Melania Trump that was formed 45 days before the inauguration. (Wall Street Journal)

  • ๐Ÿ“Œ Day 389: Trump's inaugural committee won't reveal what it's doing with tens of millions of dollars it pledged to charity last year. The committee raised about $107 million, but only spent about half of it. The rest, it said, would go to charity. (Daily Beast)

  • ๐Ÿ“Œ Day 392: Trump's inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by Melania's adviser and longtime friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. The firm was created in December 2016 โ€“ 45 days before the inauguration. Trumpโ€™s inauguration committee raised $107 million and paid to WIS Media Partners $25.8 million. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal)

  • ๐Ÿ“Œ Day 404: Melania Trump parted ways with her senior adviser and friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, after news surfaced that Wolkoff's firm had received $26 million to plan Trump's inauguration and surrounding events in January 2017. Wolkoff was terminated last week because the Trumps were unhappy with the news reports about the contract. (New York Times)

5/ The Senate passed a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, delivering a political rebuke of Trump's refusal to condemn Mohammed for the killing of Khashoggi. Last week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed senators in a classified session, claiming there is no "direct reporting" linking the crown prince to Khashoggi's death despite a CIA assessment reporting that Mohammed was likely responsible for the murder. The Senate also overwhelming approved a resolution to end U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen. (Washington Post / CNN / New York Times / Bloomberg / ABC News)

6/ Trump canceled the White House holiday party for members of the media, ending the decades-long tradition as his contentious relationship with the media continues to escalate. There was no announcement from the White House stating that the event was canceled. (Fox News)

poll/ 48% of Americans have confidence in the Democrats in Congress to deal with the major issues facing the country today, compared with 39% who said they have confidence in Trump, and 9% who say they don't trust either. (CNN)


Notables.

  1. Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma bought tens of thousands of dollars in stock in a top defense contractor days before he began pushing for an unprecedented $750 billion defense spending bill. When asked about his purchases, Inhofe had his financial adviser cancel the transactions, dump the stock, and avoid defense and aerospace purchases in the future. (Daily Beast)

  2. Trump removed Rep. Mark Meadows from consideration to be chief of staff. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump needs the House Freedom Caucus chairman in Congress. (Politico)

  3. Jared Kushner met with Trump about the chief of staff job. Trump told reporters that he is down to five finalists. (HuffPost)

  4. Jose Canseco volunteered to be Trump's "Chief if Staff," tweeting at the president that he is "worried about [Trump] looking more like a Twinkie everyday" and promising to "buff you up daily workouts" if he is given the job. (ESPN)

  5. Using backwards math, Trump claimed that the "money we save" from the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada would mean "MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!" Chuck Schumer told the Senate that if Mexico is funding the wall, then Congress doesn't need to spend any money on it. (Washington Post)

  6. Trump will spend 16 days at Mar-a-Lago over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The upcoming visit is longer than last year's 12-day visit. (Palm Beach Post)