“The long-simmering feud between President Trump and the Justice Department erupted into open conflict Wednesday when the FBI publicly challenged the president’s expected release of a contentious and classified memo related to the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“In a rare unsigned statement, the FBI cited ‘grave concerns’ with inaccuracies and omissions in the four-page memo, which was written by House Republicans and alleges abuses at the Justice Department connected to secret surveillance orders. Trump has told advisers that the memo could benefit him by undercutting the special counsel’s investigation and allow him to oust senior Justice Department officials—and that he wants it released soon, something that could happen as early as Thursday.
“‘We have grave concerns about the material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,’ the FBI said. The extraordinary statement pits the nation’s top federal law enforcement agency against a commander in chief who already has fired one FBI director and has repeatedly expressed a desire to remove the attorney general and others connected to the Russia investigation. That probe, led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, is aimed in part at determining whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and investigating any related issues.” (Washington Post)
TRUMP REELECTION MONEY. “Trump’s re-election campaign ended 2017 with $22 million in cash helped by $6.9 million in contributions in the fourth quarter of the year, his campaign announced on Wednesday. … Trump’s campaign spent $2.8 million in the final quarter of the year.” (Reuters)
LEGAL FEES. “Trump’s campaign spent more than $1 million on legal fees during the final three months of 2017, according to a new filing late Wednesday with the FEC.
“Combined with the Republican National Committee, Trump’s campaign paid a total of $5.5 million in legal bills during 2017 amid probes into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. The payments were made to law firms, as well as the company owned by the president’s family.
“The Trump campaign and the RNC have previously acknowledged they are helping pay legal bills for Trump family members who are under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees probing whether the Trump campaign played any role in Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election. The new disclosures, however, do not delineate which legal expenses were related to the Russia investigation and which were not.” (Politico)
PENCE. Vice President Mike Pence “saw fundraising for his political action committee surge to more than $1.26 million during the second half of the year as corporate interests stepped up to help him protect GOP majorities in Congress.
“Roughly 30% of the money that went to the Great America Committee since July 1 came from political action committees, including PACs tied to big drug makers, such as Novo Nordisk, Merck, Eli Lilly, Sunovion Pharmaceutical and Johnson and Johnson.”
“In all, the Pence leadership PAC has raised nearly $1.8 million since he launched it in last spring. First-term vice presidents don’t typically run their own political operations, but Pence, a former Indiana governor and congressman, has maintained close ties to his own donor network and to his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.” (USA Today)
“The vice president’s team has devised a unique ancillary strategy to support his cross-country campaigning: partnering with America First Policies — a Trump-backed public-policy non-profit group designed to boost the president’s agenda — to hold public events designed specifically to discuss legislative achievements like the tax bill.
“The goal is to have the group set up events to help voters understand what the White House sees as the upside of the Republicans’ legislative agenda. A senior administration official said Pence’s message at the events will provide a ‘blueprint for how to be successful in midterms.’” (Politico)
POLL: A Monmouth University poll (Jan. 28-30; 806 adults; +/-3.5%) released Wednesday indicates that “Trump’s job rating now stands at 42% approve and 50% disapprove. While his net rating continues to dwell in negative territory, this is an improvement from his December low of 32% approve and 56% disapprove. The current results mark a return to the ratings he received in the late summer and early fall of 2017. Positive signs for Trump include an uptick in public opinion that he has been successful in moving his agenda through Congress and increasing support for the recently enacted tax reform plan.
“A majority (55%) of Americans say that Trump has been at least somewhat successful at getting Congress to pass his legislative agenda, while 41% say he has not been successful. This marks a reversal from December - before the tax reform bill was approved—when only 42% said Trump had been successful with Congress and 53% said he had not been successful.” (release)
IOWA. “In October of 2013, the University of Iowa … held a ceremony in which Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn … was the guest of honor. He’d made a $25 million gift commitment to the school in support of its vision institute, which, in turn, was being renamed the Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research.”
“Now, nearly five years later, the university says it plans to remove Wynn’s name from the institute in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against him.” (Washington Post)
What We're Following See More »
"Special counsel Robert Mueller's interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the inquiry. This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner's discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China." At issue specifically is his quest for financing help on the beleaguered 666 Fifth Avenue building.
The indictment, filed in the District of Columbia, alleges that the interference began "in or around 2014," when the defendants began tracking and studying U.S. social media sites. They "created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts" and "purchased computer servers located inside the United States" to mask their identities, some of which were stolen. The interference was coordinated by election interference "specialists," and focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration, and other divisive issues. "By early to mid-2016" the groups began supporting the campaign of "then-candidate Donald Trump," including by communicating with "unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign..."
"Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a 'Queen for a Day' interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed."
"The Senate on Thursday rejected immigration legislation crafted by centrists in both parties after President Trump threatened to veto the bill if it made it to his desk. In a 54-45 vote, the Senate failed to advance the legislation from eight Republican, seven Democratic and one Independent senators. It needed 60 votes to overcome a procedural hurdle. "