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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Mulvaney: Shutdown Could Stretch into 2019
      •  Trump Fires Mattis
      •  Syria Withdrawal Is Official
      •  What Will 2019 Bring?
      •  Americans Don't Want Trump to Pardon His Associates
      •  Nonvoters Didn't Vote Because They Don't Like Politics
      •  Connie Schultz Will Leave the Carrot Cake in the Fridge
      •  Monday Q&A

PW logo Trump Questions Child’s Belief In Santa Claus
Time for a GOP Intervention
Flashback Quote of the Day
What Really Scares Me
Top Generals Have No Details on Trump’s Withdrawal Plans
GOP Senators Privately Say Trump Is ‘Nuts’

Mulvaney: Shutdown Could Stretch into 2019

Donald Trump's acting chief of staff (and part-time director of OMB), Mick Mulvaney, said yesterday that the partial government shutdown could stretch into 2019. Mulvaney is obviously a good man with a calendar, given that there is only 1 week left this year and Christmas and New Year's Eve are probably not good times for solving immigration, a problem the U.S. has wrestled with for decades. And that is ignoring the fact that to reopen the government, the Democrats have to agree and they have every reason in the world to refrain from agreeing until Jan. 3rd, when their position becomes immeasurably stronger after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) becomes speaker of the House. Yes, some talking is going on, but it is all Kabuki theater. It is very hard to imagine any circumstances in which the Democrats will make a deal 10 days before they achieve real power. The only conceivable deal is an agreement to kick the can down the road and fund the government for a couple of weeks, just so the furloughed federal workers can get paid.

But there is another and more important reason that the shutdown is likely to continue for a while. Donald Trump knows very well that 60% of the country doesn't like him very much so his only hope for a second term is to get his base tremendously fired up and try to suppress as many Democratic votes as possible in 2020. He probably also knows the Democrats will never give in on this unless he gives them some concession his base would abhor (such as citizenship for the dreamers in a few years). So given that he knows he isn't going to get his wall, his best strategy is to show his base that he fought like hell for it and then blame Nancy Pelosi for its not happening.

This strategy essentially gives up on trying to convince any people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to vote for him in 2020. That's probably a fool's errand to start with. So all he can do is double down on his "base strategy," which implies making a huge public effort to get money for his wall, even if he knows it is doomed from the start. (V)

Trump Fires Mattis

It is rare when any executive fires someone who has already quit, but Donald Trump is no ordinary executive. After Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that he was leaving and handed Trump his letter of resignation, Trump sent out a tweet praising him. Only afterwards did he either read the letter or hear about it on TV. It was a scathing rebuke of Trump's worldview and his entire foreign policy.

Trump couldn't allow that to stand, so he fired Mattis anyway, rather than letting him stay until Feb. 28 as Mattis wanted, to allow a smooth transition for the new secretary. One would think that given Trump's big plans for the next month or two (e.g., withdrawal from Syria), he would want someone experienced running the show, just to make sure all goes well. But the President puts his own needs above all else, in all cases, and so if a few additional soldiers die because their withdrawal got botched, well, that is not the Donald's concern.

On Jan. 1, the current deputy secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, will become the acting secretary instead of the deputy secretary. Shanahan has an M.S. and an M.B.A. from M.I.T. and worked for years as an executive at Boeing. He clearly knows a lot about military aircraft, but defining and procuring military airplanes is only a small part of the secretary's job. Unlike Mattis, a four-star Marine Corps general, Shanahan has no military experience and no foreign policy experience. To make it worse (from Trump's point of view), Shanahan got along with Mattis and believes in the need for working with our allies. He probably won't last long. (V)

Syria Withdrawal Is Official

With the caveat that nothing involving Donald Trump becomes official until it actually happens, given his propensity for changing course on a whim, the U.S. military has officially been ordered to withdraw from Syria. Details are currently scarce, but it's generally understood that the process will take several weeks, and will be concluded sometime in January.

The signature on the order is that of one Jim Mattis. Given the Christmas holiday, as well as the fact that he's been fired, there's every reason to think that this is the last order he will ever sign. It is surely a bitter irony for the General that the last act of his career might also be the one he finds most repugnant. It's not exactly going out on a high note, that is for certain. (Z)

What Will 2019 Bring?

No one knows what 2019 will bring, but that doesn't prevent political pundits from giving their considered opinions on things to watch. Politico asked 18 insiders what they will be watching closely in 2019. Here are their responses:

  • The economy
  • Whether the new representatives will go left or try to pass bills
  • Women on the rise
  • A presidential resignation
  • Cross-party coalitions to pass bills
  • Democrats' self-destructive race to the left
  • The U.S.-China relationship
  • What the House Democrats do
  • A new Great Depression
  • A primary that will help the Democratic Party find its voice
  • The unraveling of Trump
  • More gridlock at home and more aggression abroad
  • Congress' quest for common ground
  • How Republicans will deal with the new generation of Democrats
  • What happens when the economy stops working for Trump?
  • Anything substantial out of Washington
  • Momentum for Medicare for All
  • More bipartisanship

The breakdown by partisanship is interesting. The folks thinking there will be bipartisanship and common ground and kumbaya for all are Republicans. Democrats are thinking about Medicare for All. It is likely to be a very tumultuous year, with a lot of surprises and things not on anyone's radar now. (V)

Americans Don't Want Trump to Pardon His Associates

A new poll conducted by HarrisX for The Hill shows that 72% of registered voters do not want Donald Trump to pardon any of the people convicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump has dangled pardons in front of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and others, but doing so would get a very bad reaction from the public. Women are especially opposed to pardons, with 76% opposing the idea, compared to 67% of men. Democrats, not surprisingly, were not keen on pardons, but even 56% of Republicans oppose them. The only demographic group that does not oppose pardons are the "strong conservatives," who are split 50-50. The poll didn't ask specifically what people think about Trump pardoning himself, but given the very strong opposition to his pardoning other people, a self-pardon probably would not go over well. (V)

Nonvoters Didn't Vote Because They Don't Like Politics

After the election, PEW Research Center took a poll that asked a variety of questions to a cross section of the population, including people who didn't vote. As it turns out, in retrospect 61% wish they had voted. Pew also asked them for the major and minor reason they didn't vote. Here are the results.

Why people didn't vote

As you can see, for just under half the nonvoters, not being interested in politics was a major or minor reason to stay home on Election Day. But many of them had regrets later. Clearly many people do not connect voting and governing with, say, their health care or their taxes, when in fact, there is a clear connection. This may be ignorance, but it is how people are and there is probably no quick fix here. In the long run, educating voters to see a connection between voting and their lives is what needs to be done. The poll results linked to above also give a wealth of data about who voted and the voting experience. (V)

Connie Schultz Will Leave the Carrot Cake in the Fridge

Yesterday, we had a profile on likely presidential contender Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Politico Magazine did one on his wife, Connie Schultz. It is not Politico's habit of profiling politicians' spouses, but when you have one whose wife is a Pulitizer-Prize-winning columnist and professor of journalism, and who has a working-class background, a burning hatred of Donald Trump, and a fear of no one, it gets interesting. In 1992, Bill Clinton described Hillary, who wasn't planning to bake cookies in the White House, by saying: "Buy one, get one free." Same holds for Brown.

In her syndicated columns, Schultz has ripped Trump for "spewing racism and xenophobia to cheering crowds of white people," and called him a "chronic and unapologetic liar," and that's only a couple of samples. She has promised that if Brown runs, she will continue unabated. That could set up an interesting dynamic. Generally, politicians are careful about going after other politicians' families, but Trump will certainly not take this lying down, and his rash tweets may not help his standing among women voters. Her constant potshots at Trump and his replies could set the Browns apart from the field, especially since both of them come from a middle-to-working-class Midwestern background—Trump's base.

Another little fact about Schultz is that she is a practicing Christian who wonders out loud how evangelicals can support a man who so opposes everything Jesus preached about. She also notes that her husband is actually the person Donald Trump pretended to be (a populist who really cares about ordinary people).

Now about that carrot cake. She says that when there is a family gathering and racist Uncle Frank starts spewing venom, many hostesses rush to the fridge to bring out the carrot cake to try to distract everyone and bring peace to the gathering. With her, the carrot cake stays in the fridge. (V)

Monday Q&A

It was a pretty momentous week, and so the mail bag—well, the mail inbox—was heavy on questions about current events.

I've seen relatively little detail on the consequences of the government shutdown beyond the impact to federal employees. Who else suffers? Do contractors on road projects get paid? What about suppliers? Surely accounts payable always has a stack of obligations somewhere between purchase order and paid status. For that matter, what about accounts receivable—do payments to the IRS, SSA, and the like get processed? J.M., Norco, CA

You're right—since the obvious (and human) impact is on federal employees, that tends to be the focus of most reporting on this story. But, as you correctly assume, there will be many other impacts, particularly if this stretches on for a long while (that is to say, beyond the holiday season).

To start, the government will indeed stop paying for things. In some cases, that won't matter so much, since some businesses don't plan on immediate payment of bills anyhow. In other cases, it will matter a lot. For example, construction companies that work on federal projects generally operate with a fairly narrow window, cash-flow wise. If the payments stop, they won't be able to make payroll, and will have to lay off employees. There are also various kinds of assistance programs that will stop running pretty quickly if the government is (partly) shut down. For example, small businesses who are waiting on the fed to guarantee their loans would have to wait even longer. State-level programs that are funded by federal grants would also cease operations temporarily. Like, say, assistance for crime victims and sexual assault prevention, as provided for by the Violence Against Women Act.

On top of that, a sizable number of government services will not be provided. National parks and monuments will remain open (at least, the outdoor ones), but will be unstaffed. Farmers who would like to sign up for assistance provided by the recent farm bill will have to wait because there will be nobody available to process the paperwork. A lot of the administration in departments like Homeland Security will be furloughed, leaving the rank-and-file to do their jobs without certain kinds of support. If you're traveling abroad under an American passport, and you discover that your passport has expired, then you may be out of luck (unless you're one of those folks with dual citizenship and you also have another passport).

Then there are the collateral effects, big and small. The last time there was an extended shutdown (2013, a.k.a. the "Ted Cruz shutdown"), trash piled up at national parks and other sites because it wasn't being collected. A few animals protected by the Endangered Species Act were killed, as some hunters decided to do some unregulated hunting. Businesses that serve federal employees (say, a food truck that travels to construction sites, or a Starbucks across the street from a federal building) will see their revenues take a big hit. And, as we have seen, the stock market seems to be none too happy about this, either. Billions or even trillions could be lost there, depending on what happens.

This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but hopefully it gives a slightly fuller picture. Oh, and accounts receivable? A government shutdown is not a valid excuse for people and businesses not to pay their bills. Further, much of the collection is automated anyhow, and the folks who oversee the intake of money are deemed "essential." So, the government will still get paid, even if its employees and business partners do not.

How can federal government workers be expected to "work without pay"? Are these workers voluntarily donating their work in order to keep their jobs? I thought the 13th Amendment banned slavery. H.G., Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

In the end, these workers will not go without pay. Once the government is funded and functioning again (well, functioning as well as it ever does these days), they will receive back pay.

That said, one could make a strong argument that by delaying payment, the federal government is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (passed in 1938 and since updated many times). The law—among other things—requires timely payment of wages. That was the argument made by a pair of attorneys who put together a class-action lawsuit after the 2013 shutdown.

Although the case is still being wrapped up, the plaintiffs did win. However, only a few hundred of the tens of thousands of people potentially eligible to join the suit actually did so, and the amount of money they will get is pretty small (basically, a little bit of interest on their unpaid wages, plus any overdraft fees or other costs they can prove they bore due to a lack of money). Even the attorneys admit that the payment, which is now almost six years in coming, is "not a windfall." Given that the reward for rocking the boat, and for going through the various paperwork and other hassles of participating in a lawsuit, is a hundred bucks or so that you'll wait the better part of a decade to get, it's not surprising that not too many people took part. As they say, the only people who get real money from class-action suits are the lawyers.

Is there any chance that Congress gets so annoyed at Trump's shutdown that they pass a budget anyway and override his veto? Or does the Freedom Caucus control too many votes for that? L.K., Sherman Oaks, CA

This is not only possible, it may even be one of the more likely scenarios. It's certainly the only scenario in which (1) The Democrats get what they want, namely no wall, and (2) Trump can tell the base that he didn't back down. That is to say, it's the only plausible scenario that allows both sides to "win." (Another "win-win" scenario is that Trump gets his wall money, and the Democrats get protection for the dreamers, but as we note above, that is not going to happen, because Trump's base would be enraged).

If this is the path that things take, then it will require a master-level demonstration of the delicate art of whipping votes. Naturally, most or all Democrats would be happy to participate in overriding a presidential veto, but then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would have to find about 20 Republicans in the Senate, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) would have to find about 60 Republicans in the House, to make it happen. Presumably, these folks would have to come from places where Trump and/or his wall are not too popular among Republicans. There are certainly people like that—say, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) or Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX). But are there enough of them? That's the $5 billion question.

When I was studying political science, one of my lecturers commented that every other country that has tried the American system of government has struggled with the separation of powers and instituted some aspects of the Westminster System or fallen out of the democracy club. The third shutdown in 2018 seems to be a good example of why the American system is failing its people. Is there anything that can be done to provide serious reforms so America is a functioning democracy? How likely is a substantial rewrite of the Constitution? G.S., Auckland, New Zealand

In fairness, it should be noted that a lot of democracies (or democracy-like governments) have a version of the Westminster System because they were once a part of the British Empire. And among those nations that were not British colonies at some point, there is often a well-established tradition of scrapping the government and starting over when it becomes clear that things are not working out (France, for example, is on its ninth system of government since the U.S. Constitution was written).

The United States, of course, left the British Empire before the Westminster System was fully formed, and so did not inherit that. And the country has no history of tearing things up and starting over, the way that the French, or the Italians, or the Spanish, or the Russians, or the Koreans do. Further, the U.S. is probably the most conservative industrialized nation in the world, and Americans are generally suspicious of change. Add it all up, and there is simply no reason to believe that the country would be willing to tear up the Constitution and start over. Heck, on the one occasion where something like that did happen, namely the secession of the Southern states in 1860-61, mostly what the Confederates did was take the existing U.S. Constitution, replace all instances of the word "United" with the word "Confederate," add a clause limiting the president to one-six year term, give him a line-item veto, add a few sentences protecting slavery, and then call it a day. See here for a complete comparison, if interested.

That said, when (Z) teaches the second part of U.S. history (1877-present), he points out that a lot of the problems that became apparent during the Gilded Age (racial oppression, political corruption, wealth inequality, farmers going bankrupt) have made their return today. Back then, Republicans and Democrats who agreed that these problems needed fixing joined together to form the Progressive movement, and secured a sizable number of changes for America (including significant changes to the political system, like civil service reform, direct election of Senators, voting by secret ballot, etc.). So, probably the best hope is that the U.S. is on the cusp of a new era of heavy-duty reform.

On Sunday, you showed a tweet from the President asserting that General Mattis had been fired by President Obama, and that he (Trump) had given Mattis a "second chance." Is the President incorrect about Mattis being fired by Obama? Did Mattis resign or retire, or is the President accurate for once? R.S., Tonawanda, NY

Trump is almost never accurate, particularly when referencing Barack Obama. The spectrum really runs from "partly accurate" to "complete fabrication." This particular claim is somewhere between those two options; it's not a complete fabrication, but it's also minimally truthful, such that it probably goes too far to call it partly accurate.

What actually happened is that, under Obama, Mattis was Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which is one of the six U.S. regional combatant commands, and oversees much of the Middle East and western Asia. In other words, while he was in that position, Mattis' responsibilities included the war in Afghanistan, and the then-ongoing war in Iraq, as well as operations in other nations in that part of the world. Generally speaking, any person who leads one of the regional combatant commands serves for three years. Mattis, however, disagreed strongly with the Obama administration's approach to Iran. He made no secrets of that privately, and even made a few public statements that hinted at his views.

Public statements like that are a big no-no (which Mattis certainly knows), and given Obama's objectives in Iran, he did not have confidence in Mattis' ability to carry out his instructions. So, about six months before Mattis' time as CENTCOM was set to expire anyhow, Obama relieved him of that command. That's not the same as being fired, since Mattis remained a commissioned officer and continued to draw a paycheck. However, it was a pretty obvious public rebuke, and one that made clear that no other high-level commands would be forthcoming while Obama was in office. So Mattis chose to retire, and to go make money in the private sector.

There was much hand-wringing in conservative circles at the time. Not so much because Mattis was removed—after all, every soldier serves at the pleasure of the bureaucracy—but because Obama did not personally advise the General of the change in command. It's probably true that, all things being equal, Obama should have made a phone call to Mattis. However, it's a small enough oversight that the conservative media's response seems to be an example of making mountains out of molehills. And, in any case, whatever moral high ground Donald Trump had was completely ceded on Sunday. Not only did Trump actually fire Mattis, he did it via Twitter.

There are reports that Ruth Bader Ginsburg cast her vote on Donald Trump's asylum restrictions from her hospital bed. What is the legality of a Supreme Court Justice "voting" on a case while not physically present at the Court and, further, also being hospitalized. How often does this happen—at any level of jurisprudence in the United States? Does this open up the decision to challenge based on a presumption that someone who is hospitalized is "impaired" and, most likely, not able to make "informed consent" style/level of decisions? S.R.S., Marietta, GA

We saw this story, too, and we were suspicious that this was being reported correctly. And indeed, after you submitted your question, the various outlets corrected themselves and clarified that she cast her vote before she checked in to the hospital.

The issue here is not that a courthouse is some sort of sacred place, and that a hospital is not. In fact, it's not unheard of for legal proceedings to take place, at least in part, in a hospital room if a key player happens to be incapacitated (particularly if they are not expected to recover). (Z), for example, knows a few lawyers who had to herd a jury into a hospital room to hear testimony from a dying witness.

The problem, and the reason that the original story was suspicious, is that while Ginsburg does not particularly need to be present at the Supreme Court to cast her vote, she does need to be able to either hear oral arguments or read transcripts of them. Were she to skip that part, and then cast her vote, it would be rather unethical, and is not something she would do.

For the original reporting to be correct, then, it would have meant that the justices heard oral arguments, discussed them, and then for some reason declined to vote on the case for months and months. That part is not impossible, sometimes the Court conducts business with only some justices present, and then allows justices who are sick or stuck out of Washington to get up to speed later (such as Kelo v. City of New London, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist was sick, and Associate Justice John Paul Stevens was detained in Florida). However, the current story would also have required that the moment that Ginsburg entered the hospital, the justices cast their votes, with her voting from her bed, and one of her colleagues quickly writing up a majority opinion that was promulgated just a day or two later. This is just not how SCOTUS works. If the vote had not already taken place, John Roberts would surely have delayed it. And, in any case, the Court does not produce opinions that rapidly, unless there is some very pressing reason to do so.

It's not clear how this misunderstanding occurred. It's possible that the image of the notorious RBG voting from a hospital bed was just too good, and that some reporter just decided to go with it. More probable, however, is that someone misunderstood what actually happened. Before a majority opinion can be delivered, it has to be signed by all of the assenting justices to become official, which means RBG's signature was required. It's entirely possible that she signed (not voted) from her hospital bed. We can find no reporting that this was the case, but it seems plausible as a fact that could have been mangled into "she voted from her hospital bed."

You have mentioned several times that political betting is illegal in the United States. However, I recently met someone who bragged about betting on politics using the site Is this something that's on the questionable side of legality? Are there other workarounds for U.S. citizens to bet on politics? K.E., Peoria, IL

Let us start by noting that, quite often, betting concerns like this one operate in a legal gray area. Or, since PredictIt is based in New Zealand, a grey area. That is not to say they are illegal, because they are not. In fact, PredictIt specifically got a letter from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission promising they would not be prosecuted. What we mean is that they operate within certain limits that are somewhat informally defined. The betting sites don't push the limits too much for fear they will be put out of business. And the government authorities don't push back too much for fear that the courts will step in and legalize gambling much more broadly. In other words, the two sides grudgingly accept a status quo that makes neither entirely happy, nor entirely unhappy.

So, what does PredictIt do to keep the authorities from making a stink? There are basically four things. The first is that they are engaged in a form of parimutuel betting: When you gamble on PredictIt, you're not playing against the house, you're playing against other bettors, and the house merely takes a percentage for facilitating the action. This is the same reason that, for example, poker and baccarat are legal in many places while slot machines and blackjack are not. The second and third things have to do with the limits that are placed on any given bet: Only 5,000 bettors for any particular proposition (say, "Donald Trump will be impeached by 2020"), and no bettor may wager more than $850. By keeping the potatoes fairly small, this strongly discourages involvement from organized crime or anyone else who might want to commit fraud. The fourth is that the site is run by Victoria University of Wellington, and the data that is collected is made available to pretty much any academic who wants it. So, there is a veneer of legitimate scholarly research.

The only other legal alternative for U.S. citizens to bet on politics that we are aware of, short of visiting a country that allows you to place wagers on sites like PaddyPower and Bet365, is to use the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM). Essentially everything we said about PredictIt is also true of IEM, except that IEM is run by a university in the U.S. (the University of Iowa), as opposed to one in New Zealand.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec23 Shutdown Enters Second Day
Dec23 Economy Having a Bad Month
Dec23 Trump Is Thinking about Firing the Fed Chair
Dec23 Syria Withdrawal Began with a Phone Call
Dec23 A Mueller Mystery
Dec23 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Sherrod Brown
Dec22 Government Shuts Down
Dec22 Sanders: All of America Wants the Wall
Dec22 Supreme Court Hands Trump a Defeat
Dec22 Ruth Ginsburg Had Surgery for Lung Cancer
Dec22 Russia Actively Tried to Compromise the Midterms
Dec22 Gallup To Cut Back on Political Polling
Dec22 Bettors Think Trump Will Be Impeached
Dec21 Mattis: I'm Out
Dec21 Trump Changes Course, Won't Sign Short-term Funding Bill
Dec21 Meadows to Federal Employees Who May Not Get Paid: You Signed Up for This
Dec21 Trump Administration Will Lift Sanctions against Deripaska's Companies
Dec21 Ethics Officials Told Whitaker to Recuse Himself, but He Refused
Dec21 Perez Axes the Kiddie Table in 2020
Dec21 Should the Democrats Use Ranked-Choice Voting in 2020 Primaries?
Dec20 Trump Wants to Pull Out of Syria Immediately
Dec20 Shutdown Averted--For Now
Dec20 Michigan Power-Grab Partially Fails
Dec20 Cummings Is Already Sending Out Letters Requesting Information
Dec20 Trump Signed a Letter of Intent on Moscow Project during the Campaign
Dec20 Paul Ryan Bids Farewell
Dec20 No Sanctions for Kavanaugh
Dec20 Kasich Doesn't Think He Could Beat Trump in a Primary
Dec20 South Carolina GOP May Skip 2020 Primary
Dec20 Thursday Q&A
Dec19 Trump's Wall Collapses
Dec19 Washington Decides to Do Something Different, Passes Bipartisan Crime Bill
Dec19 Trump Foundation to Dissolve
Dec19 Flynn Sentencing Postponed
Dec19 Trump Launches Reelection Machine
Dec19 Will Trump Cooperate with His Campaign?
Dec19 McSally Wins by Losing
Dec19 Republicans Want to Create an ActRed
Dec19 Could Kansas Be a Senate Battleground in 2020?
Dec18 Republicans Are Waiting for Guidance from Trump over the Shutdown
Dec18 Much Drama on the Michael Flynn Front
Dec18 Takeaways from the Report on Russian Interference
Dec18 Pennsylvania Could Be Trump's Waterloo
Dec18 The Gender Gap May Haunt the Republicans in 2020
Dec18 GOP Has a Looming Evangelical Problem, Too
Dec18 Klobuchar Moving Up in Iowa
Dec18 Lamar Alexander Won't Run for Reelection in 2020
Dec18 We Know Where the Tax Break Went
Dec17 Leaked Senate Report Shows Massive Scale of Russian Election Interference
Dec17 Giuliani: Trump Will Meet with Mueller over My Dead Body