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POLITICO Playbook: Trump on whether he’s worked for the Russians: ‘Most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked’

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President Donald Trump looks at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

President Donald Trump didn’t answer yes or no when asked Saturday if he was working or had ever worked for Russia. | Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

DRIVING THE DAY

SUNDAY SIREN — WAPO’S GREG MILLER: “Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration”: “President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

“Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

“The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

“As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. … Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.” WaPo

— PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP RESPONDS ON FOX NEWS WITH JEANINE PIRRO: PIRRO: “I’m going to ask you, are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?” TRUMP: “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written and if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing, but the headline of that article, it’s called the failing ‘New York Times’ for a reason.”

— FOR THE RECORD: Trump didn’t answer yes, or no.

HE LATER TOLD PIRRO: “I have a one-on-one meeting with Putin like I do with every other leader. I have many one-on-one, nobody ever says anything about it. But with Putin, they say ‘Oh, what did they talk about?’ We talked about very positive things because look, we are beating everybody. …

“I meet with Modi. I meet with — in Japan, I meet with Abe. I meet with all of them, but nobody says I did, but I mean with Putin, and they make a big deal. Anybody could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs.”

— ABOUT FEDERAL WORKERS NOT GETTING PAID: “We’re talking about the border and I have to say, a lot of the people that aren’t getting their checks, are letting us know we don’t care. You’ve got to solve the crisis at the border. It’s a humanitarian crisis and it’s national security. It’s very important.” Transcript of the interview

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SUNDAY BEST …

— MARGARET BRENNAN spoke with SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO on CBS’ “FACE THE NATION”: POMPEO: “The idea that’s contained in the New York Times story that President Trump was a threat to American national security is silly on its face and not worthy of a response.”

— JAKE TAPPER interviewed SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA.), ranking member of the Senate Intel Committee, on CNN’S “STATE OF THE UNION”: TAPPER: “Do you think the president of the United States ever worked on behalf of the Russians, against American interests?” WARNER: “Well, Jake, that’s the defining question of our investigation and the Mueller investigation. Was there collusion? … I do think it’s curious that, throughout that whole summer, when these investigations started, you had Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump.

“You had Trump say only nice things about Putin. He never spoke ill about Russia. The Republican campaign doctrines softened on Russia and decreased their willingness to defend Ukraine. There was a series of outside actions. I think we all remember when Trump, in his bluster, basically said to the Russians, if you have got more e-mails, bring them on. These are not actions of a traditional president of the United States.”

— TAPPER also spoke with SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WIS.) about the report: JOHNSON: “I do know that President Trump was burned earlier by leaks of other private conversations, so I can certainly understand his frustration from that standpoint. But you said earlier this is not a traditional president. He has unorthodox means. But he is president of the United States. It’s pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read into his conversations with world leaders.”

Good snowy Sunday morning. WAPO’S CAPITAL WEATHER GANG: “Generally we’ve seen 4 to 7 inches of snow since accumulation began in earnest yesterday evening … The snow combined with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 20s has left many side roads treacherous and snow covered. But main roads are starting to improve. There’s the potential for an additional 2 to 4 inches through the rest of the day.” WaPo

SHUTDOWN … DAY 23 … STILL NO END IN SIGHT …

— MARIANNE LEVINE and JOHN BRESNAHAN — “Republicans taking messaging hit on shutdown”: “President Donald Trump and Republicans are losing the messaging war on the government shutdown. The shutdown is now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, entering its 23rd day, and there appears to be no end in sight. As President Donald Trump repeatedly reiterates he will not reopen the government unless he gets funding for his border wall, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are adamant that they will not fund the project.” POLITICO

— NEW WAPO-ABC POLL: “Americans blame Trump and GOP much more than Democrats for shutdown, Post-ABC poll finds,” by Scott Clement and Dan Balz: “By a wide margin, more Americans blame President Trump and Republicans in Congress than congressional Democrats for the now record-breaking government shutdown, and most reject the president’s assertion that there is an illegal-immigration crisis on the southern border, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

“Support for building a wall on the border, which is the principal sticking point in the stalemate between the president and Democrats, has increased over the past year. Today, 42 percent say they support a wall, up from 34 percent last January. A slight majority of Americans (54 percent) oppose the idea, down from 63 percent a year ago.” WaPo

— “‘In the White House waiting’: Inside Trump’s defiance on the longest shutdown ever,” by WaPo’s Bob Costa, Josh Dawsey, Phil Rucker and Seung Min Kim

MORE SUNDAY BEST…

— SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) spoke with CHRIS WALLACE on FOX’S “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”: “I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug. See if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers. That’s my recommendation.”

ON TRUMP CALLING A NATIONAL EMERGENCY: “To my Republican colleagues, stand behind the President if this is his last option. He ran on this as a centerpiece of his camp — of his presidency – and it is a crisis. And if you don’t see the crisis, you’re not looking very hard.”

— SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA.) talked shutdown with CHUCK TODD on NBC’S “MEET THE PRESS”: “I will say this: we first should reopen government. Why punish people who are applying for food stamps because the president is having a temper tantrum? … What we don’t want to do is waste taxpayer money on a vanity project that’s ineffective, that the president said Mexico would pay for. But spending massive amounts on border security to keep us safe, Dems do it over and over again and it’s been Republicans that have been blocking it.”

— GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS spoke with SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-ILL.), the No. 2 in the Senate, and HOUSE MINORITY WHIP STEVE SCALISE (R-LA.) and their answer to how the government should reopen is emblematic of exactly how Republicans and Democrats are talking past each other:

DURBIN: “It’s time for those centrists to speak up in their own Republican Senate caucus and tell Mitch McConnell the party’s over. We want this to end, there’s no excuse for the shutdown. The Republican-controlled Senate and a handful of senators will make that decision.”

SCALISE: “The ultimate plan is for Congress to solve this. And the president’s been very clear. Congress needs to solve this. The only people that have been unwilling to put any kind of offer on the table have been Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The president’s put multiple offers on the table. We don’t want it to come down to a national emergency declaration. Clearly the president’s got authority under law but he’s said he doesn’t want it to come to that.”

— WHERE DEMOCRATS ARE AT … A NEW POINT OF ATTACK … LAUREN GARDNER: “Forget Mexico, Democrats turn focus to porous Canadian border”: “There are nearly 200 vacancies for Border Patrol agents at the Canadian border, and the Department of Homeland Security has warned that homegrown terrorists can easily — and legally — cross the U.S.-Canada border without being noticed.

“This terrorist threat has caught notice of Democrats now running the House Homeland Security Committee, which will investigate the porous nature of the Canadian border and whether the border agency has the right resources to catch would-be terrorists from slipping into the country unnoticed.” POLITICO

THE IMPACT — FIRST PERSON: “Working for the TSA is tough enough. Now I’m not even getting paid for it,” by Angel Stephensen in WaPo.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — ANNA spoke with STACEY ABRAMS for the WOMEN RULE PODCAST. The full podcast will be up Wednesday morning. Listen and subscribe

— ON RUNNING FOR SENATE: “I’m going to make a decision by the end of March. It’s going to be grounded in, ‘Am I the right person? Is it the right job, and is now the right time?”

— WHY GEORGIA MATTERS FOR 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: “Anyone who wants to make certain that we do not lose the White House as Democrats because of 70,000 odd votes spread across three states — Georgia is one of the states you want to look at —16 electoral votes available to transform an election.

“That is meaningful and that’s what we offer. And we’re pretty low—we’re not a heavy investment state. We don’t have the L.A. media market. We’ve got Atlanta and then you’ve got other media markets but they’re reasonably priced. So you can come and tell your story to a lot of folks at a very good discount.”

— WHETHER SHE’LL ENDORSE IN 2020: “Right now, I am focused on making sure that when they come to Georgia, we can roll out the welcome mat.”

2020 WATCH — “In A Private Meeting, Kirsten Gillibrand Signaled She Will Run For President,” by BuzzFeed’s Darren Sands: “Gillibrand on Saturday signaled to a group of about 20 influential women that she will run for president, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Gillibrand made her intentions clear …

“Gillibrand said that she needed their help if they would offer it to her. The closed-door gathering was attended by feminist Gloria Steinem … The multiracial and multigenerational group came from the worlds of art, academia, business, tech, and literature.” BuzzFeed

— “‘They heard the message’: Castro makes a play for the Obama coalition,” by Nolan D. McCaskill: “When Julián Castro laid out his vision as a presidential candidate Saturday, the language was subtle but unmistakable. The same held true for the optics of his formal 2020 campaign launch.

“The former Housing and Urban Development secretary’s bid is a play for the Obama coalition, the amalgamation of diverse constituencies — young, African-American, Latino, Asian — that the party sees as its future in a demographically changing America.” POLITICO

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THE INVESTIGATIONS — HOUSE OVERSIGHT CHAIRMAN ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD.) sat down with STEVE KROFT on CBS’ “60 MINUTES” where he talked about his plans for leading the investigative panel. CUMMINGS: “The Congress doesn’t meet but so many days in a year. And all I’m saying is that we’ve got to hit the ground, not running, but flying.” Video

THE JUICE …

— ADRIENNE ELROD is now an MSNBC and NBC contributor.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — TRUMP’S MONDAY: The president will give a speech at 12:40 p.m. at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th annual convention in New Orleans. At 6:30 p.m., he will welcome the Clemson Tigers football team to the White House.

PLAYBOOK READS

The White House

PHOTO DU JOUR: Snow falls on the White House on Saturday as a winter storm arrives in the region. | Alex Brandon/AP Photo

A SPLIT SCREEN ON HEALTH CARE … — DAN GOLDBERG: “Democratic governors steer party to the left for universal health care”: “Gov. Gavin Newsom wants California to be the first state to offer Medicaid to undocumented adults. Gov. Jared Polis wants Colorado to pioneer a multi-state single-payer system. And in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz wants residents to be able to buy into Medicaid.

“These radical moves by newly elected liberal governors reveal a new movement among Democrats on health care in advance of the 2020 presidential campaign to see just how far the party will go in pushing universal health care.

“The moves are inspired by the Trump administration’s attacks on Obamacare, the legal threats to the law arising from a court case brought by conservative-led states and the shortcomings of the health law itself.” POLITICO

— “V.A. Seeks to Redirect Billions of Dollars Into Private Care,” by NYT’s Jennifer Steinhauer and Dave Philipps: “The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to shift billions of dollars from government-run veterans’ hospitals to private health care providers, setting the stage for the biggest transformation of the veterans’ medical system in a generation.

“Under proposed guidelines, it would be easier for veterans to receive care in privately run hospitals and have the government pay for it. Veterans would also be allowed access to a system of proposed walk-in clinics, which would serve as a bridge between V.A. emergency rooms and private providers, and would require co-pays for treatment.” NYT

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ON THE WORLD STAGE … SCOOP — “White House Sought Options to Strike Iran,” by WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum: “On a warm night in early September, militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot, harming no one.

“But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where President Trump’s national security team conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful American response. As part of the talks, Mr. Trump’s National Security Council, led by John Bolton, asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran. The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, generated concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials say.

“‘It definitely rattled people,’ said one former senior U.S. administration official. ‘People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.’ The Pentagon complied with the National Security Council’s request to develop options for striking Iran … But it isn’t clear if the proposals were provided to the White House, whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a U.S. strike against Iran took shape at that time.” WSJ

AFTERNOON READ — “A McCain staffer and an institution within the institution bids farewell to the Senate,” by WaPo’s Paul Kane: “They don’t make staffers like Joe Donoghue anymore. Donoghue, 49, just ended a more than 31-year run working his way up from the mail room to the pinnacle of power in the U.S. Senate, almost all of it at the side of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). …

“He’s one of several congressional staff who left in recent months after decades of service. They are people like Mark Prater, who spent 28 years working for the Senate Finance Committee; or Jill Kozeny, who devoted 30 years to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa); or Hugh Halpern, who spent 32 years working for House committees and GOP leadership.” WaPo

BONUS GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Daniel Lippman:

— “Who Is MacKenzie Bezos?” by NYT’s Jonah Engel Bromwich and Alexandra Alter: “Her divorce from the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has made this novelist, and her private life, a public fascination. … Some independent booksellers refused to stock Ms. Bezos’s novels, according to a publishing executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.” NYT

— “Two Towns Forged an Unlikely Bond. Now, ICE Is Severing the Connection,” by Monte Reel in Bloomberg Businessweek: “For years, rural Guatemalans traveled thousands of miles for jobs in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. A series of immigration raids is creating havoc in a town desperate for workers.” Bloomberg Businessweek

— “How Cartographers for the U.S. Military Inadvertently Created a House of Horrors in South Africa,” by Kashmir Hill in Gizmodo – per Longform.org’s description: “When IP mapping goes awry dozens of strangers show up to the same home again and again looking for their stolen gear.” Gizmodo

— “Egypt’s President El-Sisi denies ordering massacre in interview his government later tried to block,” by 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley: “Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized control of Egypt in the wake of an uprising against Mohamed Morsi’s autocratic regime. Since then, Sisi’s regime has imprisoned opponents and killed protesters.” CBS News

— “Finer points of murder,” by Tom Stevenson in the Times Literary Supplement – per ALDaily.com’s description: “A history of assassination. Firearms and explosives are the most popular methods, but perhaps not the most effective. Sometimes it takes an ice pick.” TLS

— “What Driving Can Teach Us About Living,” by Rachel Cusk in the NYT Magazine: “How we respond to the rules of the road offers insight into being human.” NYT

— “The Bin Laden Attack That Two Presidents Failed to Answer,” by WSJ’s Warren Bass: The USS Cole bombing “was the last major al Qaeda attack before 9/11, and it remains perhaps the most troubling episode in the history of U.S. efforts against Osama bin Laden—for the simple reason that neither President Bill Clinton nor President George W. Bush ever retaliated for the Cole attack. … The State Department’s counterterrorism chief, Michael Sheehan, was livid, asking rhetorically of Defense Department officials, ‘Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?’” WSJ

— “Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?” by Rowan Jacobsen in Outside Magazine: “Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor of a similar magnitude as smoking, in terms of life expectancy.” Outside

— “‘They’re Gonna Rock It’: The First Day Native Women Served on Capitol Hill,” by Julian Brave NoiseCat in The Nation: “On the first day of the 116th Congress, atop a ridge known as Capitol Hill but that was once the domain of the Piscataway people, two Native American women—Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo and first district of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of the Ho-Chunk Nation and third district of Kansas—stood on the floor of the House of Representatives. There have been nearly 11,000 members of Congress, but this would be the first time that Indigenous women walked these halls as legislators.” The Nation (h/t Longreads.com)

— “America’s Electric Grid Has a Vulnerable Back Door—and Russia Walked Through It,” by WSJ’s Rebecca Smith and Rob Barry: “A Wall Street Journal reconstruction of the worst known hack into the nation’s power system reveals attacks on hundreds of small contractors.” WSJ

— “A New American Leader Rises in ISIS,” by Seamus Hughes, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Bennett Clifford in the Atlantic: “A two-year investigation identifies one of the very few Americans in the Islamic State’s upper ranks—and sheds light on the dynamics of radicalization.” The Atlantic

PLAYBOOKERS

TRANSITION — David Culver, who spent the past 15 years at the Distilled Spirits Council, is joining Canopy Growth Corporation. He will open the first U.S.-based office of the Canadian cannabis company where he will head up its U.S. policy.

OUT AND ABOUT IN NYC — Pool report: “The 5th anniversary of the Broadway hit ‘Beautiful’ (The Carole King Musical) brought out, in addition to Carole King herself (who finished the show as, well, herself — to the delight of a stunned audience), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), among others. New York Post’s Cindy Adams was overheard telling Gayle King [about Schumer], ‘I’m a Republican and he’s a Democrat, and I’m three rows closer to the stage and in a much better seat. You do the math.’

“Adams, who is a longtime Trump supporter, has also taken to referring to Schumer in her column as ‘Senator Schemer.’ When challenged by an audience member, the legendary columnist demurred, ‘This is New York, honey. We’re all friends and he’s been to my apartment like 30 times.’ For his part, Schumer greeted Adams jovially, and told songwriter King after the show, ‘this is the best three hours I’ve had in awhile.’” Pic by Bruce Glikas

— SPOTTED: James Comey at the sold-out matinee of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. He was greeted with applause and was seen signing autographs, according to a tipster. Pic

SPOTTED at a black-tie dinner party to celebrate the 90th birthday of Selwa S. (Lucky) Roosevelt, the former chief of protocol, on Saturday at the residence of Isabel and Ricardo Ernst: Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Jacqueline Mars, Barby Allbritton, David and Katherine Bradley, Christopher “Kip” Forbes, Tweed Roosevelt, Amanda Roosevelt, Winthrop Roosevelt, British Ambassador Sir Kim and Lady Darroch, Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar, Lloyd and Ann Hand, Diane Rehm, Mac and Donna McLarty, Kevin Chaffee, Buffy Cafritz, Sam Hornblower, Genny Ryan, Afsaneh Beschloss and Capricia Marshall.

BIRTHDAYS: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is 54 (hat tip: Ian Prior) … Nate Silver is 41 … Julia Tishman … Natasha McKenzie … Nick Butterfield, special assistant to the president and associate WH staff secretary, is 33 … Andrew Riddaugh of the WH advance office … Brian Scarlett … Jason Chung, U.S. alternate executive director of the Asian Development Bank and a Treasury alum (h/t Ninio Fetalvo) … Andrew Kossack, state director for Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) … Monica Notzon … Mary Podesta … WTOP’s Mike McMearty … Rich Gold … Ginger Zee … Chandra Hardy … Instagram’s Kristina Schake … Tali Stein Elleithee … Marc Thiessen is 52 … POLITICO’s Tim Noah and Alexandra Velde … Dick Sheffield is 71 … Robert Chandler … Rebecca Cathcart … Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) is 38 … Joseph Rodota, California political consultant and author of “The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address” (h/t Kaitlin Bruce) … NJ’s Mini Racker (h/t Hanna Trudo) …

… Fox News’ Christina Robbins … Deloitte’s Mollie Bowman … Natasha McKenzie … Ryan Murphy of the Texas Tribune … Antony Phillipson, the U.K.’s consul-general in New York and Her Majesty’s trade commissioner to North America (h/t Yvette Hodgson) … Maria Gavrilovic … Will Baskin-Gerwitz … Sam Cohen … Allan Rivlin … John Cole … Michelle Mowery … Casey Pierce Allen … Mia Walton … Liz Swiker … Gina Vailes … Laurence Wildgoose … FEMA’s John Allen (h/t Ed Cash) … Katie Murtha … USA Today’s Paul Singer … Robin Bravender … Liana Guerra … Carly Freedman … Heidi Krizer Daroff … BGR’s Kristin Strobel (h/t Fara Klein) … Ali Tulbah … Max Sanders … Rashid Dar is 3-0 … Ian Gilley … Kevin Kiley … Ian Chung … Vincent Pan … Nick Clooney is 85 (h/t AP) … Chris Taylor … Lisa Caputo … Anna Lidman … David Rosen … Liz Schilling … Dave O’Brien … Sally Pederson … Grace Cowie (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)

A message from Better Medicare Alliance:

21 million beneficiaries receive quality, affordable health coverage from Medicare Advantage. The 2020 Health Insurance Tax (HIT) will make beneficiaries pay more for their coverage, which they simply cannot afford. For 2019, the tax was delayed, resulting in lower costs for seniors, individuals with disabilities, and low-income Medicare beneficiaries. Without delay of the tax for 2020, these beneficiaries will pay the price. Congress, time is running out. Delay the 2020 health insurance tax now and preserve seniors’ access to Medicare Advantage. Learn More.

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