Kihuen will not seek reelection

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) won’t run for reelection, according to a Democratic source familiar with the Nevada congressman’s decision.

Kihuen came under fire after a former campaign staffer and a Nevada lobbyist both accused Kihuen of sexual harassment while he was a Democratic candidate and during his tenure as a state legislator.

On Friday, the House Ethics Committee announced that it planned to open an investigation into the allegations.

Kihuen told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he denies the sexual harassment allegations, "but it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek re-election."

Kihuen joins a string of other members of Congress to resign or not run for reelection, after a spate of sexual harassment scandals.

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Trump takes early victory lap on tax bill

President Donald Trump took an early victory lap Saturday as Republicans closed in on his administration’s first major legislative accomplishment and the biggest overhaul to U.S. tax policy in 30 years.

“It’s going to be one of the great Christmas gifts to middle income people,” the president told reporters outside the White House before boarding Marine One for a weekend getaway at Camp David.

“The Democrats have their soundbite, the standard soundbite before they even know what the bill is all about,” Trump added. “They talk about ‘for the wealthy.’ But this is going to be one of the greatest gifts for the middle-income people of this country that they’ve ever gotten for Christmas."

The GOP tax plan – set for a final passage vote in the House on Tuesday — is being celebrated for its increase in take-home pay for millions of Americans, while Democrats counter that the bill will benefit the wealthy, hurt some middle-class earners and add another $1.5 trillion to a national debt that already is at $20 trillion.

As Trump’s helicopter idled nearby, the president downplayed the extra debt by noting the broader state of the U.S. economy and growth projections that he said will come from other administration policies.

"Well this is going to bring money in,” he said. “As an example, $4 trillion will come flowing back into the country, that’s money that’s been stuck overseas for years and years. It was $2.5 trillion. Then it was $3.5. Now it’s probably over $4 trillion. This is money that’s been stuck there for years, and it’s going to come pouring back into the county. So that’ll be one.”

“And I will say that because of what we’ve done with regulation and other things, our economy is doing fantastically well, but it has another big step to go and it can’t take that step unless we do the tax bill,” Trump added.

The GOP tax bill currently edging to the finish line represents Trump’s first major win in Congress, a welcome sign after failing on repeated attempts to fulfill his top campaign promise to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It’s also seen as a major victory for House Speaker Paul Ryan, a former chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee who has made revamping the U.S. tax code an often-stated career goal.

Under the Republican bill, the individual tax rate will fall from 37 percent, from the current 39.6 percent, for earnings over $600,000. Six other brackets are also created for individuals.

Mortgage interest deductions are being pared back from a $1 million limit on eligible loans to $750,000. The child tax credit doubles to $2,000, and the state and local tax deduction is set to be capped at $10,000 for property taxes plus either sales or income taxes. Estate tax exemptions will be doubled.

Businesses will see their corporate tax rate fall from 35 percent to 21 percent in 2018. The Alternative Minimum Tax on corporations is set to be repealed. International tax rules are poised for the biggest rewrite in a half-century. And the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate will sunset in 2019.

Among the major criticisms of the bill: the individual tax cuts will expire while the corporate tax cuts are set to be permanent. But Trump downplayed that reality on Saturday. "Well, what will happen is at the end, whoever the administration is, years from now, they will make it, and maybe even make it more generous if we can get the economy like it should be,” he said.

Democrats lining up in opposition to the final GOP tax package have blasted away at the measure. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Friday called it a “deficit-exploding scam of a bill.”

“With each version, the GOP tax scam becomes an even more cowardly, outrageous, and brazen theft from middle class families to corporations and the wealthiest one percent,” she said, adding that voters will “hold Republicans accountable” for the bill’s final passage.

The Pentagon’s Secret Search for UFOs

The Pentagon, at the direction of Congress, a decade ago quietly set up a multi-million dollar program to investigate what are popularly known as unidentified flying objects—UFOs.

The “unidentified aerial phenomena” claimed to have been seen by pilots and other military personnel appeared vastly more advanced than those in American or foreign arsenals. In some cases they maneuvered so unusually and so fast that they seemed to defy the laws of physics, according to multiple sources directly involved in or briefed on the effort.

The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, whose existence was not classified but operated with the knowledge of an extremely limited number of officials, was the brainchild of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who first secured the appropriation to begin the program in 2009 with the support of the late Senators Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Republican Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), two World War II veterans who were similarly concerned about the potential national security implications, the sources involved in the effort said. The origins of the program, the existence of which the Pentagon confirmed on Friday, are being revealed publicly by POLITICO for the first time.

One possible theory behind the unexplained incidents, according to a former congressional staffer who described the motivations behind the program, was that a foreign power—perhaps the Chinese or the Russians—had developed next-generation technologies that could threaten the United States.

“Was this China or Russia trying to do something or has some propulsion system we are not familiar with?” said a staffer who spoke with POLITICO on condition of anonymity.

The revelation of the program could give a credibility boost to UFO theorists, who have long pointed to public accounts by military pilots and others describing phenomena that defy obvious explanation, and could fuel demands for increased transparency about the scope and findings of the Pentagon effort, which focused some of its inquiries into subjects such as next-generation propulsion systems.

Reid initiated the program through an earmark after he was persuaded in part by aerospace titan and hotel chain founder Bob Bigelow, a friend and fellow Nevadan who owns Bigelow Aerospace, a space technology company and government contractor. Bigelow was also a regular contributor to Reid’s re-election campaigns, campaign finance records show, at least $10,000 between 1998 and 2008. Bigelow has spoken openly in recent years about his views that extraterrestrial visitors frequently travel to Earth. He also purchased the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah, the subject of intense interest among believers in UFOs. Reid and Bigelow did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

According to a Pentagon official, the AATIP program was ended “in the 2012 timeframe,” but it has recently attracted attention because of the resignation in early October of Luis Elizondo, the career intelligence officer who ran the initiative. In his resignation letter, addressed to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Elizondo said the efforts of his program were not being taken sufficiently seriously. The Pentagon official could not confirm Mattis had actually seen the letter.

Shortly after his resignation, Elizondo was listed as one of the key players in a for-profit company called To The Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founded by Tom DeLonge, an entertainment mogul and former guitarist and vocalist for the rock band Blink-182. An April 2016 profile of DeLonge in “Rolling Stone” magazine described his fascination with theories about extraterrestrial space travel as an “obsession.”

In a video advertising the company, DeLonge describes To The Stars as a “public benefit corporation” that has “mobilized a team of the most experienced, connected and passionately curious minds from the U.S. intelligence community, including the CIA, Department of Defense, who have been operating under the shadows of top-secrecy for decades.”

The founders say they believe “there is sufficient credible evidence of UAP [unidentified aerial phenomenon] that proves exotic technologies exist that could revolutionize the human experience.”

The goal of the academy’s researchers, it says on its website, is “to use their expertise and credibility to bring transformative science and engineering out of the shadows and collaborate with global citizens to apply that knowledge in a way that benefits humanity,” adding “without government restrictions.”

Also helping drive the effort is Chris Mellon, a former Democratic staff director for the Senate Intelligence Committee and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence. Other members of the company include a former high-level CIA official and the former director of advanced systems at Lockheed Martin’s super-secret Skunk Works facility in California.

“I think we’re all frustrated by the fact that our government and science neglects some of the most interesting and provocative and potentially important issues out there,” Mellon says in the video.

POLITICO learned of the Pentagon program earlier this fall, shortly after Mellon and his colleagues rolled out their new private effort, which is now seeking investors with a minimum purchase of $200 in common stock shares. Its website claims 2,142 investors, who have purchased slightly more than $2 million worth of shares.

At a recent press conference for To The Stars in Las Vegas, Mellon described one of the sightings reported by U.S. Navy pilots: "It is white, oblong, some 40 feet long and perhaps 12 feet thick…The pilots are astonished to see the object suddenly reorient itself toward the approaching F/A-18. In a series of discreet tumbling maneuvers that seem to defy the laws of physics. The object takes a position directly behind the approaching F/A-18. The pilots capture gun camera footage and infrared imagery of the object. They are outmatched by a technology they’ve never seen."

“They did not exhibit overt hostility,” Elizondo, listed as director of global security and special programs for To The Stars, explained in a recent published interview of the series of reported encounters. “But something unexplained is always assumed to be a potential threat until we are certain it isn’t. On the bright side, I believe we are closer than ever before in our understanding of how it operates.”

The Pentagon’s AATIP program marked a 21st century effort to replicate some of the decades of inconclusive research undertaken by the Pentagon in 1950s and 1960s to try to explain thousands of reported sightings of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs by military and civilian pilots and average citizens—particularly an effort known as Project Bluebook that ran from 1947 to 1969 and still a focus of intense interest for UFO researchers.

The more recent effort, which was established inside the Defense Intelligence Agency, compiled “reams of paperwork,” but little else, the former staffer said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White confirmed to POLITICO that the program existed and was run by Elizondo. But she could not say how long he was in charge of it and declined to answer detailed questions about the office or its work, citing concerns about the closely held nature of the program.

“The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ended in the 2012 timeframe,” White said. “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change.”

White added: “The DoD takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed.”

But some who were aware of the effort in its earliest days were uncomfortable with the aims of the program, unnerved by the implication that the incidents involved aircraft that were not made by humans.

“I thought it was a little bizarre at the time,” recalled a former senior intelligence official who knew about Reid’s role first-hand. He asked those in the know: “Tell me what this is, and what we are doing and what is going on and that we aren’t doing something that is nonsense here.”

“I was concerned the money was being funneled through is to somebody else who was an associate of Harry Reid’s,” added the former official, who asked not to be identified. “The whole circle was kind of a bizarre piece.”

Reid enlisted the support of Inouye, then chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, as well as Stevens, who two sources involved in the effort were told had related to Reid that as a pilot he had personally witnessed similar unexplained aerial phenomenon.

There was also interest among some analysts at the DIA who were concerned that the Russians or Chinese might have developed some more advanced systems. Reid’s views on the subject were also shaped by a book about the Skinwalker Ranch, co-authored by his acquaintance George Knapp, the former congressional staffer said.

“When this was brought to Senator Reid he said, ‘There is enough here and I am obligated if this is a national security issue to invest some money in this,’” he explained. “Stevens and Inouye agreed with this.”

“I still remember coming back from that meeting and thinking of the implications of what Reid said,” the former senior official said. “I remember being concerned about this. I wanted to make sure it was supervised and we were using the appropriation to do actual research on real threats to the United States.

He said he was assured that the research being done was valid. “It was not a rogue individual out of control.”

The former staffer said that eventually, however, even Reid agreed it was not worth continuing.

“After a while the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance,” he recalled. “They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find. It all pretty much dissolved from that reason alone—and the interest level was losing steam. We only did it a couple years.”

“There was really nothing there that we could justify using taxpayer money,” he added. “We let it die a slow death. It was well spent money in the beginning.”

Theodoric Meyer and Gabriel DeBenedetti contributed reporting.

Judge clears path for Manafort release from house arrest, move to South Florida

Former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has moved one step closer to being released from house arrest and allowed to relocate to another property in South Florida.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued a four-page order Friday approving a $10 million bail agreement Manafort’s attorneys struck with special counsel Robert Mueller that will end his home confinement in Alexandria, Virginia.

Manafort has been at his condominium there since late October, when he pleaded not guilty after being indicted on a dozen charges including money laundering, income tax evasion and failing to register as a foreign lobbyist.

Under the bail deal, Manafort has pledged four of his properties: the Alexandria condo; the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, home where he’ll be relocating; a condo in Manhattan; and another property in Bridgehampton, New York.

Manafort can’t leave Virginia just yet, though. Manafort’s wife Kathleen must provide the court with bank or investment account records verifying she has cash or other securities worth $5 million in a separate account where she has sole authority. Manafort’s daughter Andrea Manafort Shand must meet the same criteria in an account worth $2 million.

After the documents are supplied, Jackson said she’d issue another order releasing Manafort from his permanent home confinement in Virginia to travel to his South Florida home, which is located about 15 miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach.

Once he’s in Florida, Manafort will still face several restrictions on his movements. He’ll be subject to electronic GPS monitoring. There will be a nighttime curfew from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. He can only travel between Palm Beach and adjoining Broward counties.

Manafort will be allowed to return to Washington for court appearances and meetings with his lawyers without court approval so long as he notifies pretrial services of his travel plans three days in advance. Any other domestic travel beyond Florida or Washington will require giving the court a one-week notice before he gets a green light. Manafort also can’t leave the U.S. and he can’t apply for additional passports or visas.

Manafort’s lawyers had wanted him to travel freely between his three homes without advance approval.

A Manafort spokesman declined comment on the bail agreement.

Jackson also ordered the longtime GOP operative to “stay away from transportation facilities, including airports, train stations, bus stations, and private airports” other than for any pre-approved travel.

Kathleen Manafort also must surrender her passports.

Jackson has yet to set a trial date in the criminal case for Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, though she indicated at a hearing earlier this week that she might set a date at the next hearing, currently scheduled for Jan. 16.

Historic tax reform vote lined up with GOP bill finalized

Republicans unveiled on Friday their final, compromise plan to rewrite the tax code, putting them on the brink of a historic victory in Congress that’s sure to reverberate into next year’s elections.

The legislation would cut both business and individual taxes as part of the biggest tax revamp in 30 years. It is poised to be carved into law next week when Congress sends it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Republicans are trumpeting the increases in take-home pay millions would see under the plan, while Democrats call it a giveaway to the rich while emphasizing some middle-income people would see their tax bills climb.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told Republican lawmakers on a phone call that the House will vote on the plan Tuesday, before the Senate, according to a person on the call.

The agreement came after last-minute haggling in which Republican leaders bowed to Sen. Marco Rubio’s demands to expand a child tax credit for modest-income families. The Florida Republican, who had threatened to oppose the plan, announced earlier Friday he would support it.

In a surprise decision, Sen. Bob Corker — who had opposed a previous draft over its $1.5 trillion cost — said he too would vote yes, which all but assures passage in the chamber.

At a celebratory press conference following the release of the legislation, a beaming House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) proclaimed that April 15 would be “the last time you will file under this monstrous, broken tax code.”

The plan, H.R. 1 (115), which generally hews more closely to a prior Senate draft than a competing House version, includes new details on how Republicans aim to finance the changes. Among them: higher taxes on multinational corporations. They’d face a higher-than-expected one-time tax on their overseas profits, with a 15.5 percent levy on liquid assets and an 8 percent one on illiquid things like factories.

The plan would also make it harder for businesses to use losses in one year to reduce their taxes in another.

Republicans aim to put the legislation to a final vote next week, though the precise timing is unclear with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) battling health issues. Republicans can only lose two votes in the Senate.

The agreement caps a remarkable legislative stretch in Congress. Facing the prospect of having no major policy achievements in the first year of a new administration, Republicans have pushed the plan through Congress with blinding speed, and in the face of both Trump’s unpopularity and polling showing much of the public is sour on the proposal. They unveiled the initial draft of the plan barely one month ago.

Along the way, lawmakers have been willing to accept things that, in the past, would have had them at each other’s throats. They’re settling for a much higher top individual income tax rate — 37 percent — than many wanted, and their plans to expend the child tax credit would effectively excuse millions of low-income people from paying federal income taxes.

The top individual rate, down from the current 39.6 percent, would apply to earnings over $600,000. There would be six other brackets of 10, 12, 22, 24, 32 and 35 percent. Most individual provisions in the bill would expire in 2025, but Republicans say they are confident they will be extended.

The hugely popular mortgage interest deduction would be pared back, with a new $750,000 limit on eligible loans, down from $1 million. The child tax credit would double to $2,000, with up to $1,400 being refundable — meaning people could get money back if the credit exceeds what they pay in taxes — thanks to Rubio’s efforts.

A long-standing deduction for state and local taxes would be capped at $10,000 for property taxes plus either sales or income taxes. The exemption from the estate tax would be doubled.

On the business side, the corporate rate would fall to 21 percent next year, from the current 35 percent. An Alternative Minimum Tax on corporations would be repealed. Companies would get expanded write-offs for investments and international tax rules would see the biggest rewrite in a half-century.

Other provisions would end the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to have health insurance, though not until 2019.

Republicans dumped a number of controversial proposals, including plans to end a deduction for medical expenses. Calls to tax tuition waivers for graduate students, change accounting rules so that investors have to pay more on stock sales, and a proposal to end private activity bonds all were nixed.

Tax experts say the speed with which the plan moved through Congress comes at a cost: inadequately vetted legislation, with multiple bugs and loopholes that may come back to haunt lawmakers.

Brady acknowledged that fixes would be necessary after it becomes law.

“I can’t imagine any major undertaking like this that doesn’t require technical corrections in the future,” he said.

Most of the legislation would take effect Jan. 1, which may leave some people feeling blindsided by sudden policy changes, including a raft of new tax increases. Payroll administrators meanwhile warn they wouldn’t have enough time to adjust people’s tax withholding from their paychecks to reflect the changes.

Republican leaders got a jolt of momentum earlier in the day when Rubio and Corker said they would support the overhaul.

“In the end, after 11 years in the Senate, I know every bill we consider is imperfect and the question becomes is our country better off with or without this piece of legislation,” Corker said. “I think we are better off with it. I realize this is a bet on our country’s enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make.”

Rubio came around after negotiators agreed to increase the refundable portion of the child tax credit was increased from $1,100 to $1,400, according to a senior Senate GOP aide.

“For far too long, Washington has ignored and left behind the American working class. Increasing the refundability of the Child Tax Credit from 55% to 70% is a solid step toward broader reforms which are both Pro-Growth and Pro-Worker,” Rubio tweeted Friday. “But there is still much more to do in the months and years to come. The progress made on the Child Tax Credit would not have been possible without the support of @SenMikeLee, @SenatorTimScott, and @IvankaTrump.”

Despite bringing Rubio and Corker on board, GOP leaders were keeping an eye on other swing votes.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who demanded the same child tax credit changes as Rubio, seemed closer to getting on board on Friday afternoon.

“Sens. Rubio, [Dean] Heller, and [Tim] Scott have done a tremendous job fighting for working families this week and they have secured a big win,” Lee said Friday. “I look forward to reading the full text of the bill and, hopefully, supporting it.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) remained undecided as he uses his leverage on the tax bill to push forward on a separate measure protecting young undocumented immigrants in the United States. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a perennial key vote, has yet to review the latest version of the tax bill and won’t likely announce her position until Monday, a spokeswoman said.

And following reports of the expanded child tax credit, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted his displeasure with the change — although a spokesman indicated that didn’t mean Graham would necessarily vote against the bill.

“While I support child tax credits I do not support the idea of using general revenue to pay for an individual’s Social Security contribution,” Graham said, referring to the fact that the child tax credit would be refundable for payroll taxes in addition to individual returns, a measure meant to target it toward more low- and middle-income families.

Week 30: Republicans Put a New Special Counsel (or Two) on Their Wish Lists

If the president’s most ardent supporters on the Fox News Channel, at pro-Trump websites and at other anti-anti-Trump outposts get their way, we might find five or six new special counsels under the tree on Christmas morning to investigate special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller’s critics aren’t ticked off by what he has accomplished—the guilty pleas (George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn) or the criminal charges (Paul Manafort and Rick Gates). Those cases seem rock solid. Nor did many of his current critics find fault with him when he was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. They found him to be of unimpeachable character and high credentials. But now that he’s drawing a noose around the president, they have turned on him, alleging behind-the-scenes acts of bias and conflict of interest by the Mueller team. The only correctives possible, they say, are new investigations to uproot all the Mueller bias and conflict. Mueller, once worshiped as a terrific Republican cop, must be taken down a peg.

Several stories broken by Fox have energized the investigate-the-investigators movement. One Fox story points to the connections between Fusion GPS and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and spouse, Nellie Ohr, connections the critics say taint the whole case against the president. Ohr was demoted last week, Fox implied, for meeting with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson and Christopher Steele (author of the Simpson-commissioned dossier) just after the 2016 election. Nellie Ohr, Fox continues, worked for Fusion GPS during the campaign and, in the eyes of Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, this cross-pollination constitutes “obvious conflicts of interest.” Sekulow demands a second special counsel to look into the matter. His call follows the November news about Attorney General Jeff Sessions contemplating a second special counsel to look into Clinton Foundation’s connections with Uranium One, the pseudo-scandal that has replaced Benghazi among Hillary-haters.

Earlier this month, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted a similar message: “It’s long past time for a Special Counsel to investigate Clinton email scandal, Uranium One, role of Fusion GPS, and FBI and DOJ bias during 2016 campaign.” In his Washington Post column, conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt has called for an additional special counsel to delve into the words and deeds of FBI agent Peter Strzok, sacked from the Mueller team last summer after the discovery of anti-Trump text messages he sent to another Mueller team member (and which the Department of Justice, in a controversial move, shared with reporters). Did Strzok “tilt” the investigation? Hewitt asks. “It’s time for Mueller to put up or shut up. If there’s evidence of collusion with Russia, let’s see it,” said Representative Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., this week. The Mueller show, concurs President Trump, is a waste of money, as he said—once again—in a tweet this week. His direct campaign against the investigation was captured in a Nov. 30 New York Times headline which read, “Trump Pressed Top Republicans to End Senate Russia Inquiry.” Meanwhile, former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy plugged in National Review for a special counsel to plunge into Iran’s nuclear weapons program to investigate “any Obama-administration collusion in that enterprise.” Not wanting to be left out of the game, Democrats claim that if any political bias contaminates the FBI, it’s anti-Clinton bias.

Given their way, Trump supporters will establish so many special counsels the offices will cease to be special. But they will have enough to field a reasonably competitive office softball team.

Of course, Trump loyalists in the House of Representatives have been advocating Mueller’s dismissal for months, insisting that only his departure will prevent his investigation from turning into a coup d’état. But for now the political balance appears to reside with Senate Republicans who, as the Washington Post reports, hope to “shield” him from interference. Mueller, these Republicans say, did the right thing when he learned of the anti-Trump texts. Even Senator Graham conceded that point, saying, “This FBI agent doesn’t taint Muller’s investigation, because Mueller’s going to be responsible for the final product. Mueller fired the guy, I liked that.” Mueller’s boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to Capitol Hill to affirm his confidence of the special counsel—“I believe he was an ideal choice for this task”—and to deny that he has asked for the special counsel’s removal.

Also backing Mueller was Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who wrote a convincing column sketching out the known-knowns of the Russia investigation. “There is a growing, mostly undisputed body of evidence describing contacts between Trump associates and Russia-linked operatives,” he wrote. Russian operative hacked the computers of Trump’s opponents; Trump expressed his affinity for Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign, and Trump aides echoed that affinity by taking or attempting to take Russia-friendly meetings. Russians made a pitch to deliver political dirt on Hillary Clinton to Trump’s son. Cambridge Analytica, hired to do research for the Trump campaign, asked WikiLeak’s Julian Assange to share the hacked emails with it. Trump and the Trump camp demonstrated a familiarity with the hacks that raise suspicions.

Just before Trump’s inauguration, the Washington Post reported in a jumbo-sized piece (7,000 words) this week, his inner circle begged him to publicly acknowledge the message U.S. intelligence agencies had delivered to the higher echelons of government—that the Russians had interfered in the 2016 elections, and done so at the bargain basement price of about $500,000. Trump bristled then as he does now at the thought that Putin’s people had helped him in any way. “If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference—that takes the [president’s daily brief] off the rails,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official told the paper. “Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account,” reports the Post.

Rob Goldstone, everybody’s favorite bit player in the Trump Tower scandal, reappeared this week. Goldstone, the publicist with a Russian roster, gained fame for scheduling the June 2016 meeting between Russian who claimed to have incriminating evidence on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. In a Washington Post story sourced to email “turned over to investigators,” the paper asserts that Goldstone worked as early as July 2015 to arrange a meeting between candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Goldstone, claimed that his client Emin Agalarov (son of oligarch Aras Agalarov) could act as the go-between. In a July 24, 2015, to Trump assistant Rhona Graff, Goldstone wrote, “Maybe [Trump] would welcome a meeting with President Putin.” Did Goldstone (or Agalarov) want Trump to meet Putin? Or did they want Putin to meet Trump. Or did they divine that Trump would want to meet Putin, so they sought to make it happen? And why?

The only way to find out for sure would be to appoint me as the umpteenth special counsel.

******

At the rate we’re going, I’ll either be a special counsel or be targeted by one. Send incriminating evidence to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts would cast the late John Candy as Goldstone in the movie version of the scandal. My Twitter blames all the election hacking on that mythic 400-pounder. My RSS feed, like Trump, sizzles whenever anybody mentions Russia.