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May 19, 2017
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The ongoing probe into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign has reportedly identified a current White House official as "a significant person of interest," The Washington Post reports. The individual was described by people familiar with the matter as being "someone close to the president," although the sources declined to name names.

So far, President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, have been the public centers of the investigation. Neither is a part of the current administration. "Current administration officials who have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials include Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Cabinet members Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson," the Post writes.

Kushner, for one, was a "prominent voice advocating Comey's firing," CBS writes. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Trump told Russian officials he had fired Comey in order to ease the pressure of the ongoing probe.

The White House also has acknowledged that Kushner met with [Sergey] Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., in late November. Kushner also has acknowledged that he met with the head of a Russian development bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014. The president's son-in-law initially omitted contacts with foreign leaders from a national security questionnaire, though his lawyer has said publicly he submitted the form prematurely and informed the FBI soon after he would provide an update.

Vnesheconombank handles development for the state, and in early 2015, a man purporting to be one of its New York-based employees was arrested and accused of being an unregistered spy. [The Washington Post]

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the Post that "as the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity."

The Washington Post adds that "people familiar with the matter said investigators on the case are more focused on Russian influence operations and possible financial crimes" and that "the probe has sharpened into something more fraught for the White House, the FBI, and the Justice Department — particularly because of the public steps investigators know they now need to take." Read the full scoop at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

12:50 p.m. ET

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sunday roundly rejected President Trump's proposal that the Senate GOP go "nuclear" to end the government shutdown without Democrat's help. "I can tell you that would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our founding fathers," Durbin said in an interview on ABC. "We have to acknowledge our respect for the minority, and that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and in its procedure."

When Democrats controlled the Senate in years past, Durbin did not seem to hold this view. In 2014, for example, he defended Democrats' 2013 decision to invoke the nuclear option with judicial nominees by arguing Democrats had "no choice" because of Republican obstructionism.

But this time, Durbin has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on his side; McConnell said through a representative Sunday he "opposes changing the rules on legislation." Watch an excerpt of Durbin's comments on ABC below. Bonnie Kristian

12:32 p.m. ET

The White House public comment line is not accepting calls during the government shutdown, and the voicemail message has been updated to blame this change on Democrats.

"Thank you for calling the White House," the message says. "Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today because congressional Democrats are holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate."

Callers are encouraged to contact the White House online instead, because apparently the internet is better suited to weathering the shutdown storm. Bonnie Kristian

12:19 p.m. ET

In an appearance on CNN's State of the Union Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went after both parties for their conduct during the government shutdown and throughout the bitterly partisan negotiations that produced it. "I think the blame game is ridiculous on both sides," he said. "I think the American people see through it."

Paul voted against his own party's proposal for a short-term funding bill on Friday, and he argues the GOP could secure a spending deal immediately if Republican leadership would guarantee — and Democrats would accept — an "open process" of votes on immigration policy, centrally including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

"The DACA issue has been held hostage to people on the left who want their perfect immigration bill or nothing, and people on the right who want nothing," Paul said on CNN. "And so, really, I'd say, let's vote on it. Let's just put it forward and vote on it. And I think the impasse could end today if Republicans would promise just to have a week of immigration votes, have a conclusion, let us all put forward amendments. I think the American people would like to see us hash out our differences through amendments and votes."

Watch a clip of Paul's interview below. Bonnie Kristian

11:58 a.m. ET

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) argued on CBS Sunday that blame for the government shutdown rests entirely with Senate Democrats. "We're waiting for the Senate Democrats to open the government back up," Ryan told host John Dickerson.

"This is solely done by the Senate Democrats. It's absolutely meaningless," he continued, accusing Democrats of posturing that undercuts their own political aims. "What's so baffling about this is we [Republicans] were negotiating in good faith on [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)]," Ryan said. "We actually want to solve this problem. So it's not as if we were saying, 'No way, no how, no discussions.'"

Ryan made similar remarks on the House floor Saturday, pledging the GOP is "willing to work together in good faith on immigration" policy. "You should not have to go through this uncertainty," he said to federal workers. "You deserve so much better than this needless shutdown. And we hope that it will end very soon."

Watch an excerpt of Ryan's CBS interview below. Bonnie Kristian

11:30 a.m. ET

President Trump tweeted Sunday that the GOP should change Senate rules to pass a funding bill to end the government shutdown without Democrats' help. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has never shown enthusiasm for this "nuclear option," and he indicated through a representative Sunday he does not support Trump's idea.

"The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation," McConnell's statement said. That means it is unlikely a spending deal will be passed with a simple majority of 51 votes (rather than the present 60), as Trump hopes.

That intra-party opposition did not prevent the White House from continuing to advocate the change. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney argued on CNN's State of the Union Sunday that Trump's proposal "responds to this constant criticism we hear" that Republicans should be able to fund the government because they control both the executive and legislative branches.

"The answer is, as you've just laid out, it takes 60 votes in the Senate," Mulvaney said. "We cannot open the government without Senate Democrat support. We don't have that support, which is why we are where we are." Watch his comments in context below. Bonnie Kristian

10:31 a.m. ET

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, implausibly but effectively played by a giggly Kate McKinnon in shoulder pads and facial prosthetics, visited Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update in a jovial mood to discuss his Russia investigation with host Colin Jost.

McKinnon's Mueller coyly insisted he could not discuss his ongoing probe into Russian election meddling and alleged Trump campaign collusion, but he was more than willing to offer a few hints of how well it's going. "Colin, you gotta understand, the guy didn't leave me a trail of breadcrumbs," Mueller said of President Trump. "He left me full loaves — fresh, seven-grain loaves straight from Panera Bread. I'm having a blast, man."

Watch the full skit below. Bonnie Kristian

10:16 a.m. ET
Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) removed Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) from the House Ethics Committee on Saturday in response to a New York Times report that Meehan used tax dollars to settle a case with a former female aide who accused him of sexual misconduct. Ryan also directed Meehan to repay the unknown amount out of his own pocket, and to submit to an ethics investigation.

The Times reported that Meehan, who is married, expressed romantic interest in the aide with a handwritten letter and "grew hostile" when she rebuffed him. After she left her position because of the harassment, the report says, the aide "reached a confidential agreement" with Meehan, including a settlement paid out of his congressional account.

Meehan has denied any inappropriate behavior. His office said in a statement he "has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism." Bonnie Kristian

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