Good Friday morning. TOP TALKER — ELIANA JOHNSON in New York: “An affair with Trump? Nikki Haley on ‘disgusting’ rumors and her rise to a top foreign policy role”: “Nikki Haley became a trusted member of Donald Trump’s inner circle over the past year, but she’s recently re-familiarized herself with a downside of professional success: rumors of an affair, this time with the president of the United States. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations calls the chatter ‘highly offensive’ and ‘disgusting,’ the result of what happens far too often to strong women.
“The online speculation was instigated by ‘Fire and Fury’ author Michael Wolff, who dropped hints on HBO’s ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ last week when he said he was ‘absolutely sure’ Trump is having an affair — just not sure enough to write about it in his book. Wolff went on to say that discriminating readers would be able to determine the president’s paramour by giving his book a close reading: ‘Now that I’ve told you, when you hit that paragraph, you’re gonna say, “Bingo.”’ …
Story Continued Below
“‘It is absolutely not true,’ Haley said, arguing that Wolff not only has his facts wrong, but that his insinuation is similar to other attacks that she and other successful women have faced when they’ve been forced to swat down suggestions they’ve slept their way to the top.
“‘I have literally been on Air Force One once and there were several people in the room when I was there,’ she said in an interview Thursday for POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast, referring to a flight from Washington to Long Island in late July. ‘He says that I’ve been talking a lot with the president in the Oval about my political future. I’ve never talked once to the president about my future and I am never alone with him.’
“‘So the idea that these things come out, that’s a problem,’ she said. ‘But it goes to a bigger issue that we need to always be conscious of: At every point in my life, I’ve noticed that if you speak your mind and you’re strong about it and you say what you believe, there is a small percentage of people that resent that and the way they deal with it is to try and throw arrows, lies or not.’ Wolff did not respond to a request for comment.” http://politi.co/2DDYAEc … Listen and subscribe to the full podcast https://apple.co/2lCPzCe
MIKE SCHMIDT and MAGGIE HABERMAN: “Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit”: “President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. …
“Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation, two of the people said.
“First, he claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May. …
“[White House Counsel Don] McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency. Mr. McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.” http://nyti.ms/2FiKMiD
— TRUMP’S RESPONSE: @jeffzeleny: “NEW: Asked about his order to fire Robert Mueller last June, Trump says: ‘Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical New York Times.’”
TOP TWEET — @NatashaBertrand: “To recap: Trump asked Comey for loyalty; asked him to drop the Flynn probe; fired Comey; pressured Sessions not to recuse; pressured Sessions to fire McCabe; pressured Coats, Rogers, Pompeo & multiple congressmen to say he wasn’t under FBI investigation; and tried to fire Mueller.”
ATTN. TOM FRIEDMAN — FT: “Riyadh seeks to take over private broadcaster in corruption purge” http://on.ft.com/2EcjWt9
BIG NEWS — “White House jumps back into Dreamer battle with citizenship offer,” by Rachael Bade, Burgess Everett and Lorraine Woellert: “President Donald Trump on Monday will propose a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — a key concession to Democrats that he hopes will win their support for a massive border wall with Mexico.
“In a call with White House surrogates and Hill staffers Thursday afternoon, senior White House adviser Stephen Miller outlined the new framework, which also calls for dramatic restrictions on legal immigration as well as $25 billion for border security.” http://politi.co/2rFbwI6
— UNPACKING THIS: Yes, it’s a concession. There are Democrats who will balk at the reduction in legal immigration and border security plus up. And, according to immigration hawks, this would be defined as amnesty. There will be many Republicans who are skeptical of a deal that looks like this.
— @jonathanvswan: “Sources tell me Stephen Miller had a pretty feisty conference call just now with immigration hardliners. Lots of them hate the proposal. Seems like the WH has managed to piss off just about everyone!”
BUZZ — FOR THE LAST MONTH, Democrats have held out on cobbling together a deal to set new spending levels because of the lack of progress on immigration legislation. We are hearing that Senate Democrats are now looking to decouple the caps deal and legislation that would give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship after coming to the conclusion that a shutdown isn’t a good strategy for DACA. Sources tell us that no final decision has been made.
THIS WOULD BE A BIG DEAL. Democrats’ only leverage to force Republicans to take up DACA legislation is the funding fight. Cynics are already saying behind the scenes that this would simply allow Democrats to pass legislation in the Senate, the House likely won’t act and then use it as a way to mobilize the Hispanic vote in November.
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GROUNDHOG DAY — “Trump bristles under some of his orderly chief of staff’s restrictions,” by WaPo’s Josh Dawsey, Bob Costa and Phil Rucker: “When White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly stopped by the Oval Office to see President Trump late Wednesday, Kelly said he couldn’t stay long because reporters were in his office waiting for a briefing on immigration policy. Deciding not to leave the session to his top aide, Trump walked down the hall minutes later and made a surprise appearance in Kelly’s office. The president proceeded to field a rush of questions on the Russia investigation with answers that rattled his lawyers and senior aides and left Kelly dealing with the fallout.
“The episode illustrates the unusual and sometimes strained relationship between the garrulous president and his second chief of staff, who has imposed sharp restrictions on many of Trump’s friends — and even his children — as Kelly seeks to direct the flow of information and influence in the Oval Office.Trump has at times bristled at the restrictions and, in recent weeks, has openly chafed at the idea that Kelly, not he, is effectively running the business of the White House, associates say. Kelly stayed behind in Washington this week while Trump traveled to the Davos global summit in Switzerland — a change of plans that prompted notice among those close to Trump.” http://wapo.st/2EboEHP
PRESIDENT TRUMP is slated to give a 15-minute speech in Davos to the World Economic Forum. Pooler Rebecca Ballhaus of the Wall Street Journal relayed a briefing on the speech from a senior administration official. THE THREE THEMES: 1) “America is open for business.” Trump will look to hit upon his accomplishments and positive economic indicators like economic growth and the stock market. 2) “America’s engagement in the world.” He will talk about trade and desire for “fair and reciprocal” markets. 3) “Issue calls to the international community.” He will talk about combating ISIS and North Korea’s pursuit for a nuclear bomb.
— BACK TO THE CROWD SIZE!: Trump in Davos: “‘We have a tremendous crowd, and a crowd like they’ve never had before. … It’s a crowd like they’ve never had before at Davos. I assume they’re here because of Klaus.’ He was referring to WEF founder Klaus Schwab, who stood next to POTUS as he spoke.”
— MORE TRUMP IN DAVOS, per Ballhaus: “Sitting beside Rwandan President Paul Kagame, POTUS said: ‘It’s a great honor to be with President Kagame. We have had tremendous discussions.’
“More POTUS: ‘Absolutely terrific. We have trade with Rwanda. And just generally I would say great relationships. I want to congratulate you, Mr. President, on being the new head of the African Union, that’s a great honor. It was just announced recently, and it really truly is a great honor. I know you’re going to your first meeting shortly. Please give my warmest regards.’ Kagame said he had ‘good discussions’ with POTUS and that they had talked about the economy and trade.”
SPOTTED having dinner last night at The Palm: Trump lawyer Ty Cobb and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (at separate tables).
SPOTTED IN DAVOS at Jamie Dimon’s annual Thursday night cocktail reception at the Davos Museum: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Al Gore, Tony Blair, Joe Kernen, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Maria Bartiromo and Tara Palmeri.
–FROM DAVOS PLAYBOOK: “SPOTTED: Benjamin Netanyahu cleared the terrace at the Schatzalp restaurant, after commandos with sub machine guns cleared the line at the funicular. Playbook’s sources said Mossad agents were friendly and apologetic about regular customers being bumped from their favourite tables. … Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster and Sarah Sanders, pushing to the front of the line at the Salesforce party [which Marc Benioff, Ray Dalio and Lloyd Blankfein also attended]. Steven Mnuchin and Phil Hammond looking chummy at the JP Morgan reception. Anthony Scaramucci, The Blairs and Peter Mandelson were among a big high-level crowd to join Jamie Dimon and Daniel Pinto at the event. Former Secretary of State John Kerry; Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, and Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubinstein formed the core of a Smithsonian-hosted dinner on the intersection of business and culture.” http://politi.co/2EcpzHI
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST — “Rep. Pat Meehan will not seek reelection after sexual harassment furor,” by Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tamari: “Rep. Pat Meehan will not seek reelection, he disclosed Thursday, about a week after news reports that he used taxpayer dollars to settle a former aide’s sexual harassment claim — and following the harsh response to his description of the woman as his ‘soul mate.’” http://bit.ly/2BuFIFw
HMM — “Sen. Johnson backs off ‘secret society’ claim,” by CNN’s Manu Raju and Veronica Stracqualursi: “The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee acknowledged Thursday that a reference made between two FBI employees of a ‘secret society’ could have been said in jest as opposed to evidence of an anti-Donald Trump plot. ‘It’s a real possibility,’ Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told CNN. Republicans have seized on the exchange between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, which was sent after the 2016 presidential election, as potential evidence of an anti-Trump bias at the agency.” http://cnn.it/2nc2IFd
THE JUICE …
— REP. JOE KENNEDY (D-MASS.) will give the Democrats’ State of the Union response. Heather Caygle and Seung Min Kim have the scoop: http://politi.co/2Fh0n24
— SEUNG MIN KIM is joining The Washington Post’s White House team but she will still be based mostly on Capitol Hill. http://wapo.st/2neu7Wd
RUSSIA WATCH — “Russians got tens of thousands of Americans to RSVP for their phony political events on Facebook,” by WaPo’s Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin: “Russian operatives used Facebook to publicize 129 phony event announcements during the 2016 presidential campaign, drawing the attention of nearly 340,000 users — many of whom said they were planning to attend — according to a company document released by the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday.
“It’s not possible to know how often people gathered in response to the sham announcements, but the numbers highlight how Russian operatives were successful in prompting Americans to express a willingness to act. In some cases, Russians allegedly working in an office building in St. Petersburg motivated at least some people to mobilize behind various causes, a striking accomplishment for a foreign influence campaign.” http://wapo.st/2FiUPUQ
— “Texts: FBI considered Patrick Fitzgerald as special prosecutor for Hillary Clinton emails,” by Josh Gerstein: “Senior FBI officials involved in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server considered naming former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as a special prosecutor for that probe, according to text messages released Thursday. The proposal for a special counsel appears to have arisen in March 2016, relatively early in the FBI’s inquiry into Clinton’s email use, based on a limited set of texts exchanged by senior FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page that were made public by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley. While it appears from the messages that the idea of a special prosecutor was discussed at high-level FBI meetings, it is unclear whether the thought of naming Fitzgerald to that job was as widely discussed.” http://politi.co/2DySyEF
— “The DNC’s New Chief Security Officer Knows All About Crisis,” by Wired’s Issie Lapowsky: “The [DNC] has hired Bob Lord, most recently Yahoo’s head of information security, to be its chief security officer—a brand new position, created in the aftermath of the historic hack by Russian operatives of the DNC’s servers during the 2016 presidential campaign. This is Lord’s first foray into the world of politics, having spent his career in Silicon Valley working at companies like Twitter, AOL, and Netscape. … Lord was responsible for detecting two massive data breaches that occurred prior to his arrival at Yahoo.” http://bit.ly/2DDJfTZ
FOR YOUR RADAR — “Ellison exploring Minnesota AG run,” by Isaac Dovere: “Keith Ellison, the progressive congressman and deputy chair of the [DNC], is exploring a run for Minnesota attorney general, according to four people he’s discussed the possibility with. Lori Swanson, the current attorney general, is expected to run for governor, leaving the race open. With his active organizing and fundraising base — amplified through his close alliance with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — Ellison would likely scramble a field of lesser known candidates that’s begun to take shape. Ellison did not respond to efforts to reach him directly, and a spokesman declined comment.” http://politi.co/2BtXWHi
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION — “EPA Withdraws Air Pollution Policy,” by WSJ’s Timothy Puko: “The Trump administration is withdrawing a decades-old air policy aimed at reining in some of the largest sources of hazardous pollutants like mercury and lead. The [EPA] said late Thursday it is getting rid of requirements that it forever keep sites classified as ‘major sources’ of hazardous air pollution once they meet that classification.
“This ‘once-in always-in’ policy punished industry by keeping factories and other sites under heavy regulation even if they made improvements that would prevent them from being major sources of pollution, according to the EPA and lawmakers who had requested the move. Environmentalists and congressional critics decried the change, saying it is one of the EPA’s bedrock environmental regulations that keeps polluters from trimming back to just below the major-source classification cutoff to avoid requirements that could further lower their emissions.” http://on.wsj.com/2rJ4l1I
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DESSERT — “The White House asked to borrow a van Gogh. The Guggenheim offered a gold toilet instead,” by WaPo’s Paul Schwartzman: “The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters. Instead, wrote the curator, Nancy Spector, another piece was available, one that was nothing like ‘Landscape With Snow,’ the 1888 van Gogh rendering of a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog.
“The curator’s alternative: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled ‘America’ that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country. For a year, the Guggenheim had exhibited ‘America’ — the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan — in a public restroom on the museum’s fifth floor for visitors to use.” http://wapo.st/2Bvrzrz
MEDIAWATCH — Alexandra Manzano is joining POLITICO as editorial director for strategy and operations. She previously served as director of audience engagement at the L.A. Times. From Carrie Budoff Brown: “In this new role, which is part of our ongoing work transforming the newsroom and the way we tell stories, Ali will be a driving force for innovative storytelling, helping us engage with our audience in new ways and develop strategies to boost the impact of our journalism.”
–“CNN reinstates Ryan Lizza,” by WaPo’s Erik Wemple: http://wapo.st/2ne2dKA
SUNDAY SO FAR – CBS’ “Face the Nation”: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) … Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) … Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) … immigration discussion with Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). Political panel: Rachael Bade, Dan Balz, Jennifer Jacobs, and Ed O’Keefe.
–ABC’s “This Week”: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
–“Fox News Sunday”: Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) … Panel: Karl Rove, Julie Pace, Jason Chaffetz, and Juan Williams. Power Player: Matt Zeller, former Army Officer and founder of No One Left Behind.
–CNN’s “State of the Union”: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) … Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Panel: Nina Turner, David Urban, Jen Psaki and Linda Chavez
–CNN’s “Inside Politics,” hosted by John King: Jeff Zeleny, Franco Ordoñez, Jackie Kucinich and Karoun Demirjian.
SPOTTED: John Podesta yesterday on the Red Line with a backpack, reading the Financial Times.
TRANSITION — Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) hired Shana Teehan as senior adviser/communications director. She most recently had been communications director for Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) and comms director for Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas).
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is 6-0. A trend he thinks deserves more attention: “Sex trafficking: it’s migrated from the street corner to the internet and the victims are getting younger every year.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: http://politi.co/2neA1Xn
BIRTHDAYS: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is 53 … Jim Papa, partner at Global Strategy Group and head of its Washington office … Eric Nelson, assistant managing editor for digital at the Kansas City Star, is 48 … Mike Luce (hat tip: Melissa) … Jarrod Bernstein, Obama and Bloomberg alum, now with CarePoint Health, is 38 … Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) is 67 … Mike Quaranta, principal at Cogent Strategies … Cristina Antelo (h/ts Jon Haber) … Justin Green, news desk editor for Axios, is 29 … Lindsay Bomar, senior comms. manager at AdvoCare International … Marisa Bellantonio of Waxman Strategies is 26 … Hauwa Otori … CEB’s John Fisher (h/ts Melissa Brown and Sophie White) … Isabel Lara, director of media relations at NPR … Jessica Phan is 27 … Brett Layson … Politico Magazine’s Tim Alberta is 32 … Nic Kipke, minority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates … Jen Hing, comms. director for the House Appropriations Committee (h/t Doug Heye) … Ditto PR’s Kendall Clark (h/t Team Ditto) … Jon Tomashoff of BlackRock … Chenyu Zheng …
… Sarah Pompei, celebrating on a state visit to D.C. (h/ts Blain Rethmeier and Tucker Bounds) … HHS lawyer David Naimon … Mala Parker, Federal Highways associate administrator for policy and external affairs (hubby tip: Richard) … Edelman’s Isabelle Furth … Derek Lyon … Lindsay Hayes … Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is 71 … CNN alum Daryn Kagan … IAVA alum Matt Miller … Donal Adams … Hess’ Joel Noyes … Grant Tomashoff … Cheri Jacobus … Christian Mesa … Margie Omero, partner at GBA Strategies … Susan Muntzing, celebrating with the whole family over French food at Anis Bistro in Atlanta (h/t daughter Lily) … Sabena Siddiqi … Christian Deschauer … Russell Krantz is 3-0 … Imelda Green … WashPost’s Robert Mitchell is 6-0 … Jeremy Settle … Chris Cook … Paula Wolfson Stevenson … Allie Carter … Jim Jordan (not the congressman) … Laura Kuhl … Sam Norris … Emily Hughes … Christina Spector (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)
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