December 20, 2018

There's been a twist in the saga of whether Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, was told by ethics officials to recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Early Thursday, a senior Department of Justice official told The Washington Post Whitaker was told there's no need for him to step aside, but this person came forward later in the day to say that's actually not how it went down. Several other people familiar with the matter told the Post that a senior Justice Department ethics official did come to the conclusion that Whitaker should recuse himself, but his advisers told him he shouldn't, and he is following their advice.

Before becoming acting attorney general, Whitaker made several public statements critical of the probe. A Justice Department official told the Post Whitaker put together a team of advisers last month to explore whether he should recuse himself because of those comments and due to a friendship with Sam Clovis, a witness in the inquiry. Whitaker met several times with senior ethics officials, and on Tuesday, one told the group of advisers Whitaker should recuse himself in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. They didn't agree with this official, and told Whitaker on Wednesday he had no reason to recuse himself. Read more about the twists and turns at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

July 19, 2018

When Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats laughed during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, staffers back at the White House groaned.

Coats was onstage with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, when she broke the news to him that the White House had announced the Trump administration invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall. He chuckled, and revealed he knew nothing about this, adding, "That's going to be special." He also told Mitchell he would have advised President Trump not to meet with Putin in Helsinki on Monday, especially with only two interpreters in the room with them.

Trump advisers were "in an uproar," staffers told The Washington Post, with one senior official saying, "Coats has gone rogue." They are concerned that Trump will view the incident as Coats laughing at him in a public arena, and he'll feel betrayed, since he flattered Coats during an interview Wednesday with CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor.

One White House staffer told the Post Coats' comments could bother Trump more than the scandals that swirled around former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, but a senior intelligence official said Coats gets along fine with Trump, and they are in regular communication. "For someone in the White House to criticize Dan Coats for speaking truth to power is unfair," the official said. Catherine Garcia

May 23, 2018

Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is facing eroding support and confidence among his colleagues, who have reportedly floated the idea of replacing him before he retires, The Washington Post reports.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney mentioned earlier this week that he has talked with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) about replacing Ryan in the next few months, and last week Ryan was abandoned by more than two dozen Republicans on a farm bill vote due to infighting over immigration.

With administration support also waning and the midterms looming, Politico's Jake Sherman tweeted: "The White House should find someone who can get 218 then." Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R-Va.) admitted he was "totally frustrated" with the divided GOP, but added "I'm not sure that's all on" Ryan. Jeva Lange

March 7, 2018

The attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels told NBC News that President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, has "threatened my client in an effort to prevent her from telling the truth" about the intimate relationship she said she had with Trump in 2006 and 2007.

On Tuesday, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County, alleging that because the non-disclosure agreement she signed right before the 2016 election was never signed by Trump, it's invalid, and she is free to speak about their affair. In exchange for her silence in the matter, Daniels received $130,000, which was paid to the trust account of her attorney at the time.

On Feb. 27, Cohen obtained a temporary restraining order against Daniels from a private arbitrator, to keep Daniels from going public with "confidential information," NBC News reports. The arbitration proceeding was "bogus," her lawsuit said, and attorney Michael Avenatti told NBC News "we do not take kindly to these threats, nor will we be intimidated." Catherine Garcia

November 28, 2017

CNN and President Trump won't find themselves under the mistletoe at this week's White House Christmas party.

On Tuesday, CNN announced that it's boycotting the annual affair, which gives reporters and administration members the opportunity to sip punch and eat gingerbread together. "In light of the president's continued attacks on freedom of the press and CNN, we do not feel it is appropriate to celebrate with him as invited guests," a network spokesperson told The Hill. "We will send a White House reporting team to the event and report on it if news warrants."

Trump has attacked CNN since the beginning of his presidential campaign, and over the weekend, he tweeted that "Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly." CNN responded by telling Trump it is not a cable news network's job to "represent the U.S. to the world. Our job is to report the news." Catherine Garcia

August 2, 2017

During a July 19 meeting with his top advisers on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, President Trump suggested multiple times to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford that he might fire Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, because he is not winning the war, senior administration officials told NBC News Wednesday.

Trump, who has never met with Nicholson, also directed his anger at Mattis, saying the U.S. was losing ground in Afghanistan. During the two-hour meeting in the White House Situation Room, a frustrated Trump complained about China making money off of Afghanistan's rare minerals, charging advisers with finding a way to get American businesses in there quickly to get rights to the minerals, and had harsh words about NATO allies.

Trump left the meeting without signing off on a strategy, the senior officials told NBC News, and Mattis was "visibly upset" when he returned to the Pentagon. The meeting was also attended by Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon, son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Read the entire report at NBC News. Catherine Garcia

July 30, 2017

Saudi Arabia is pushing back against a demand it says Qatar made regarding the hajj pilgrimage made by Muslims to Mecca, calling it a "declaration of war."

The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television network quoted Saudi Arabia's foreign minister as saying Qatar's "demands to internationalize the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom. We reserve the right to respond to anyone who is working on the internationalization of the holy sites." Qatar's foreign minister told Al Jazeera his government has no idea what Saudi Arabia is talking about, as no one ever said anything about internationalizing hajj. "We are tired of responding to false information and stories invented from nothing," Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said.

What Qatar did say on Saturday is that it's worried Qataris will have a hard time attending hajj this year because of the severed diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Reuters reports. Earlier this summer, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain joined forces against Qatar, accusing the country of supporting terror groups, and demanded that Qatar meet 13 requirements before they would re-establish diplomatic ties. Catherine Garcia

July 12, 2017

The mood inside the White House is about what you'd expect — tense, dark, with some paranoia for good measure, more than a dozen officials, outside advisers, and friends of President Trump told The Washington Post Tuesday.

The administration is dealing with the fallout from Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer in June 2016, who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump is furious that now his eldest son is involved in the Russia scandal, and even people who support Trump Jr. call the situation a "Category 5 hurricane." At the same time, two senior White House officials and an outside ally said Trump is being pushed by daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and first lady Melania Trump to replace Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff, on the grounds there needs to be a staff shakeup; representatives for all three deny this, while friends told the Post Trump is hesitant to replace Priebus while Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

A constant question in the White House is, "Who's leaking information to the media?" and to change the narrative, some GOP operatives are planning on looking up old stories by journalists who write about the White House, finding any mistakes or perceived biases, then demanding corrections before blasting the stories on social media and conservative outlets, one person told the Post. Another admitted this might not work, since "the meeting happened. It's tough to go to war with the facts."

As for Trump Jr., people close to him say he has become defiant, and agreed to an interview Tuesday night with Trump friend Sean Hannity because, as the Post reports, he "saw the Hannity appearance as an opportunity to give his version of Richard Nixon's 'Checkers' speech, a 1952 address in which the then-vice-presidential candidate defended himself against accusations of financial improprieties." Some friends are distancing themselves from Trump Jr. as they wait to see what happens, and they say it's too bad he can't spend his days as he'd like: hunting and running the Trump Organization. "The kid is an honest kid," one friend of 39-year-old Trump Jr. said. "The White House should've never let that story go out on the president's son." Catherine Garcia

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