December 31, 2018

In a late-Friday ruling on Dec. 14, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Fort Worth ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, siding with a group of Republican state attorneys general. On Sunday, O'Connor wrote that he stands by his decision that ObamaCare must be ended nationwide because of the zeroed-out individual mandate, but he is staying his ruling because "many everyday Americans would ... face great uncertainty" if it went into effect before appellate courts and possibly the Supreme Court weighed in. Most legal scholars expect O'Connor's ruling to be overturned, though he does have his boosters, too. Peter Weber

10:05 a.m.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is out for revenge.

That's what former President Barack Obama's senior adviser David Axelrod thinks, at least. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that during Nielsen's tenure in Washington she tried to draw up a plan to prevent Russian election interference in 2020, but was rebuffed by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who said the subject should be kept below President Trump's level.

Axelrod, who has his fair share of White House experience, believes this story might just be the start of a slew of negative stories about the Trump administration following Nielsen's resignation in April after clashing with the president over immigration policies. Axelrod's theory is that the source may be none other than Nielsen herself.

The New Yorker's Susan Glasser also hinted at the idea in recent weeks after The Washington Post reported on the White House proposing to release immigrant detainees in sanctuary cities to hurt political opponents. That story also cited DHS officials.

That said, not everyone's on board with the idea of turning Nielsen into a Trump-fighting vigilante leaker. "Water cannon" or not, Union Veterans Council director Will Fischer says even a revenge plot won't make him a fan. Tim O'Donnell

9:21 a.m.

President Trump has a few intense details to add to reports of a Mexico-U.S. conflict at the border.

On April 13, Mexican soldiers confronted two U.S. troops in a remote part of Texas, as they apparently thought the service members had crossed the southern border and were in Mexico, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Trump took that account to the next level in a Wednesday tweet, saying "Mexico's soldiers recently pulled guns" on the service members, and that he was "sending armed soldiers to the border" in apparent retaliation.

The incident happened in part of Texas where the border wall is actually built north of the actual border, U.S. Northern Command told The Associated Press in a statement. Northern Command said there was a "brief discussion" between the soldiers, and that the Mexican troops eventually left. But Newsweek reports the American troops were searched, and that one reportedly had his gun removed from his hip and thrown inside a car. It's unclear if Trump means he'll send additional armed soldiers to the border, seeing as the Newsweek report suggests the U.S. troops involved were armed and at the border already. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:57 a.m.

President Trump on Wednesday repeated a conspiracy theory that British intelligence spied on his 2016 campaign, an idea that Fox News backed away from years ago.

Trump tweeted out a quote from a former CIA analyst, who on the right-wing One America News Network alleged that U.K. intelligence helped former President Barack Obama's administration spy on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Trump added that eventually, "the truth comes out."

If this sounds familiar, it should. This conspiracy theory was previously promoted by the White House in 2017, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer referencing it in a briefing. He got the idea from Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, who had used former CIA analyst Larry Johnson as a source, per The New York Times.

After this theory was elevated by the White House, Fox News pushed back on it, with Shepard Smith saying on air, "Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop.”

Napolitano was subsequently pulled from the network for a time, while Spicer defended himself as simply "passing on news reports." A spokesperson for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May called the claims "ridiculous," also saying that "we've received assurances that these allegations won't be repeated," per CNN.

Still, Trump repeated the allegations two years later on Wednesday, just one day after announcing his upcoming U.K. visit — a visit that likely just became a lot more awkward. Brendan Morrow

8:20 a.m.

House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week, and repeated on MSNBC Tuesday, that President Trump's "White House has refused to hand over any documents or produce any witnesses for interviews" this Congress. Trump, in fact, is suing Cummings to thwart some subpoenas and told the Post on Tuesday he doesn't want any of his current or former aides to testify before Congress.

Faced with this aggressive resistance to congressional oversight from Trump administration officials, Bloomberg reports, "some Democrats want to make them pay" — literally. "At a meeting of House leaders earlier this month, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler [D-N.Y.] suggested fining officials personally if they deny or ignore subpoenas," Bloomberg says, the idea being "to put teeth in his party's numerous investigative queries. ... Nadler even mentioned jailing administration officials as a consequence for contempt of Congress, though he surmised such a plan might be unrealistic."

House committees can vote to hold administration officials in contempt and take them to court, setting up a lengthy legal battle. But the House could also revive a mechanism called "inherent contempt" — voting in a new rule that allows it to fine people outside the court system for defying subpoenas. That process got its name "because courts have said the power is an inherent part of Congress' legislative powers," Bloomberg reports, though it "was mostly mothballed in recent years because it was politically unpalatable."

Now, given White House stonewalling, "it's political suicide to allow this to continue," said Morton Rosenberg, a longtime Congressional Research Service official who has proposed fining recalcitrant officials. Congress used to jail people it held in contempt, and the Supreme Court said that was fine, but Cornell University law professor Josh Chafetz tells Bloomberg that Congress has other remedies, like cutting funds for departments or individual federal officials who defy subpoenas. You can read more about House Democrats' options at Bloomberg. Peter Weber

7:50 a.m.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is apparently determined to keep grave warnings about Russian election interference from President Trump as not to upset him.

Mulvaney earlier this year told former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen not to bring up her concerns about Russian interference in the 2020 election, and her hopes to organize efforts to combat it, in front of Trump, The New York Times reports. This "wasn't a great subject and should be kept below his level," Mulvaney reportedly said, because Trump sees any discussion of Russian interference as undermining his 2016 election win.

As a result, the Times says, Nielsen gave up on a plan to organize a meeting of Cabinet secretaries to come up with a strategy for preventing interference in 2020, despite the fact that she had become "increasingly concerned" about continued Russian activity. In the past, Nielsen had assembled her own meetings on the issue after growing "so frustrated" with the White House's lack of response. She reportedly began to push for efforts to prevent 2020 election interference last year, although only after it became clear that she was falling out of Trump's favor.

Nielsen was ultimately forced out of the administration in April, reportedly over disagreements with the president on immigration.

This report comes one day after Jared Kushner, President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, publicly dismissed Russian interference in 2016 as just "a couple of Facebook ads," saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation actually had a "much harsher impact on our democracy." Brendan Morrow

6:37 a.m.

President Trump has been very active on Twitter this week, and on Tuesday he complained twice that he's not getting enough credit for the strong economy:

Trump also lobbed several attacks at the news media, including calling Joe Scarborough "Morning Psycho (Joe)" and mocking CNN's Chris Cuomo for his allegedly "unsuccessful prime time slot." On CNN Tuesday night, Cuomo accepted Trump's critique but argued that "the president should consider his own criticism," because "he is mired in the mud of minority approval."

Trump "has a tailwind economy from the past president, [Barack] Obama, a market-juicing tax cut, record unemployment, thank God no one has succeeded in hurting us horribly, he has a media that is totally attentive, he had both houses of Congress to start with, and he still isn't at 50 percent," Cuomo said. "I don't think any other modern president could boast more good fortune," and "almost all had spikes over 50 percent. Not this president."

Cuomo offered an explanation for Trump's perpetually middling polls: "His mouth and his moral judgments — days like today, attacking everyone, flouting law, not leading, not making anything great, let alone 'again.'"

Trump's "big challenge ... is whether he can get past his mouth, see his flaws, and find ways to do better," Cuomo said. "Most administrations obsess on this; his seems completely blind, deaf, and dumb to it." Peter Weber

5:28 a.m.

If you ignore President Trump's Twitter rants, his public reaction to last week's release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report has looked like a "no collusion, no obstruction" victory lap. But "backstage, Trump realizes the damage the report has done, and has taken a much darker view of the post-Mueller landscape," Gabriel Sherman reports at Vanity Fair.

Specifically, Sherman says, "Trump is lashing out at former West Wing officials whom he blames for providing the lion's share of damaging information in Mueller's 448-page report," a group "known as 'the notetakers' that includes former White House Counsel Don McGahn, McGahn's deputy Annie Donaldson, and staff secretary Rob Porter." McGahn, who is cited 157 times in Mueller's report, "is receiving the brunt of Trump's post-Mueller rage," Sherman notes — a fact Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has acknowledged publicly to The New York Times.

"The thing that pisses him off is the note-taking," a former West Wing official who spoke with Mueller told Sherman. "Trump thinks they could have cooperated with Mueller without all the note-taking." Other officials who spoke to Mueller "are angry that Trump is blaming them for the contents of the report when Trump's legal team told them to cooperate," Sherman reports.

Giuliani, meanwhile, insisted that Trump's "mood is good" and his angry tweetstorms are "all very deliberate," designed "to undermine the blind adherence to what's said in the report. The report is only the prosecutors' version of what happened." Giuliani and Trump's other lawyers released their own rebuttal to Mueller's report, but people don't seem to have found it quite as compelling a read. Peter Weber

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