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October 17, 2018

In an interview Wednesday with The Wall Street Journal, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is "appropriate and independent," and when everything is over, "the public will have confidence that the cases we brought were warranted by the evidence, and that it was an appropriate use of resources."

Rosenstein would not speculate on when the investigation might be finished, but he did note that it has already uncovered a massive effort by Russians to interfere in the election. "I have a solemn responsibility to make sure that cases like that are pursued and prosecuted, and I'm pleased the president has been supportive of that," he said. Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017 after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation.

Rosenstein also would not comment on reports that he suggested secretly recording President Trump, an allegation he has denied, or how that affected their relationship. "The president knows that I am prepared to do this job as long as he wants me to do this job," he said. "You serve at the pleasure of the president, and there's never been any ambiguity about that in my mind." Catherine Garcia

1:47a.m.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) finally put his foot down. On Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked a motion by Flake and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to force a full Senate vote on a bill protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, newly endangered by President Trump's appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Flake then announced that until the bill gets a floor vote, he will not vote for any of the 32 judicial nominations McConnell hopes to confirm before year's end or vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees awaiting a vote in the Judiciary Committee.

If Flake and the entire Democratic caucus vote no on the judicial nominations — probably McConnell's top priority — Vice President Mike Pence would have to step in to break the 50-50 tie. Flake can single-handedly block all nominees from being voted out of committee, assuming all Democrats vote with him. If Flake is joined by another Republican who supports his bipartisan bill — passed out of committee months ago — to give special counsels an avenue to contest their firing, no judges would be confirmed for the remainder of this Congress. Coons said he and Flake are confident the bill "would get 60 votes if given a vote."

McConnell and other Republicans, including some who helped write the bill, have argued the legislation is unnecessary because Trump won't fire Mueller. Flake wasn't buying that argument. “The president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it,” he said on the Senate floor. "Why? Why do we do this? To protect a man seemingly who is so incurious about what Russia did during the 2016 elections? ... Why do we do that? Do we have no more institutional pride here?”

The legislation, even if passed in the Senate, faces an uncertain future in the House, though senators could insist on including it in must-pass legislation before the end of the year. Peter Weber

1:11a.m.

He may be a professional rapper, but that doesn't make Kanye West a good communicator, his wife, Kim Kardashian, said Wednesday.

It seems like many millennia have passed since that fateful day when West, donning a red Make America Great Again hat, visited the Oval Office and briefly rendered President Trump speechless. It was only a month ago, though, and at Wednesday's Criminal Justice Reform Summit, Kardashian revealed that in the time since, she's "educated" her husband on Trump's policies. "I know it's very confusing because, when you see someone wearing a red hat, you think they support that," she added. "But he's just fighting for free thought. And for the freedom to like a person, even if it's not the popular decision."

West is "not very political, actually," she said. He "just happens to like Donald Trump's personality, but doesn't know about the politics." When they're at home, he'll say things that are "basically the opposite" of public statements he's made, which is why Kardashian thinks he's "very misunderstood and the worst communicator." Sure, she could have "corrected him" on social media, Kardashian said, but she believes "people have their own journeys" they need to take. West did change his tune after the meeting, saying he'd been used to "spread messages I don't believe in." Catherine Garcia

12:49a.m.

"That blue wave keeps crashing on the beach — in the last 24 hours, two tight House races have been called for Democrats, one in California, one in New Jersey," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. His audience appeared to appreciate those wins. "You know who's not enjoying last Tuesday's election? The guy who lost, Donald Trump," Colbert said. President Trump has reportedly "retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment," he added. "Yes, Trump is ending his larval stage, and in just a few weeks he will emerge as a hideous, race-baiting butterfly."

The White House is so mired in Trump's anger, his staff has apparently been avoiding him. "They're all holed up in the one place he will never go: a salad bar," Colbert joked.

"You can tell the midterm results were way worse for Republicans than they initially let on from the way they're behaving," Seth Meyers said on Late Night. "And the more results we get from last week's midterm elections, the clearer it is that this was in fact a massive blue wave." He showed Trump declaring victory right after the elections, rubbing it in by highlighting some big races Trump bet big on and lost.

"As the results get worse for Republicans, they're getting more desperate, and they seem to be focusing their desperation on Florida," Meyers said. "Republicans have been spreading lies about nonexistent voter fraud without any evidence, and you'll never guess who they're blaming for that nonexistent voter fraud." (It's Hillary Clinton. Meyers laughed.) "So why, why is Trump freaking out?" he asked. Special Counsel Robert Mueller. "For two years, Trump has acted like a guy who's afraid the walls are closing in, and that was when Republicans were in charge of everything. Now Democrats control the House and Mueller can make news again." Watch below. Peter Weber

November 14, 2018

After being arrested Wednesday on suspicion of domestic violence, lawyer Michael Avenatti called the allegations "completely bogus."

Avenatti, who represents adult film star Stormy Daniels, has been a cable news mainstay for the last year. After being arrested in West Los Angeles, Avenatti was booked into jail and released on a $50,000 bond. In a statement, Avenatti thanked Los Angeles Police Department officers for "their professionalism," and denied the "completely bogus" allegations. "I have never been physically abusive in my life nor was I last night," he said. "Any accusations to the contrary are fabricated and meant to do harm to my reputation. I look forward to being fully exonerated."

Avenatti also spoke to reporters, saying he's "not going to be intimidated from stopping what I am doing. I am a father to two beautiful, smart daughters. I would never disrespect them by touching a woman inappropriately or striking a woman." When the news first broke about his arrest, TMZ reported that a law enforcement official said Avenatti's estranged wife, Lisa Storie-Avenatti, filed the report on Tuesday night. Storie-Avenatti's lawyer released a statement saying she was not the woman involved, and "states that there has never been domestic violence in her relationship with Michael and that she has never known Michael to be physically violent toward anyone." Catherine Garcia

November 14, 2018

"After eight years of impotence, the House Democrats are back in command," Trevor Noah said on Wednesday's Daily Show. "And it turns out that they won the election so hard last week, that they're still picking up seats. Every day we learn of a new seat that the Democrats have won. Basically the elections have turned from a one-day event into the credits of a Marvel movie — it just never ends."

"So now that the Democrats are back in control of the House," bolstered by a freshman class so diverse "it looks like a stock photo in a college brochure," they're "making some big plans for next year," Noah said. "The Democrats will have the power to investigate the Trump administration, and they're definitely planning to use that power," even coining the new phrase "subpoena cannon." "Poor Trump," he said. "For the next two years, he's gonna be in subpoena hell. There's gonna be subpoenas popping out at him from everywhere."

And the Democrats say they plan to investigate everything, though Trevor said he hoped "the plan isn't just to run around investigating all of Trump's farts. Because although there are many issues worth investigating, things like Space Force don't rise to that level. And Democrats need to be strategic about what they investigate, because Republicans have already come up with a response" — turning "government oversight" into "presidential harassment." Noah laughed at the idea that "the most powerful man in the world be the victim," then pretended to get serious.

"We joke around, but presidential harassment is a serious issue in America," Noah deadpanned. "Which is why, before the Democrats take power, they're going to have to watch this video." Michael Kosta narrates, and you can watch it below. Peter Weber

November 14, 2018

The Camp Fire in Northern California's Butte County, the deadliest blaze in state history, has killed at least 56 people, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials said on Wednesday evening.

The death toll is expected to grow even higher, as dozens of people remain missing and crews with cadaver dogs are looking in the rubble of destroyed homes for remains. The fire obliterated the town of Paradise, where most of the victims lived. Officials said 10,300 structures have burned and more than 138,000 acres were scorched. As of Wednesday night, the fire is 35 percent contained. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but about two dozen people who lost their homes have sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co., claiming the utility did not maintain or properly inspect power lines, and their negligence led to the fire.

In Southern California, the Woolsey Fire continues to burn in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, but the Santa Ana winds are not as strong as they were, which has helped firefighters. The cause of that fire, which has destroyed 482 structures, remains under investigation. About 98,362 acres — roughly the size of Denver — have burned, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said. Despite a flare-up early in the morning, the fire is 52 percent contained. The death toll from the Woolsey Fire now stands at three. Catherine Garcia

November 14, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators are looking into whether Republican operative Roger Stone, one of President Trump's longtime advisers, attempted to intimidate a witness, people who have spoken with Mueller's team told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Stone has said radio host Randy Credico was his link to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Credico, who appeared before Mueller's grand jury in September, denies this. Before the 2016 presidential election, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. Mueller's probe is trying to determine if Stone was in contact with WikiLeaks and knew this was going to happen ahead of time. During the campaign, Stone said multiple times the emails were coming, but now says he was exaggerating and knew things because of Credico.

Witnesses told the Journal they were asked by the Mueller team about allegedly threatening messages Stone sent to Credico, telling him he was going to "sue the f—k" out of him and calling him a "loser a liar and a rat." One of the witnesses, businessman Bill Samuels, told the Journal Credico was rattled by the messages, and almost had a nervous breakdown. Credico, who interviewed Assange in the summer of 2016, said he told some people he was a "back channel" to Assange at the urging of Stone, and now, his former friend his having his associates "slime" him. Read more about the bad blood between Stone and Credico and the questions Mueller asked witnesses about them at The Wall Street Journal. Catherine Garcia

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