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February 11, 2019

A heavily redacted transcript of a closed-door hearing in a Washington federal courtroom released late Thursday contained "one of the most tantalizing" hints that Special Counsel Robert Mueller "is still pursuing the central question of whether there was some kind of deal between Russia and the Trump campaign" during the 2016 presidential election, The New York Times reported Sunday night. The hearing was about the Mueller team's assertion that Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign manager, had lied to prosecutors, voiding his cooperation deal.

The theory that Trump campaign officials were in talks to effectively cede Eastern Ukraine to Russia and maybe ease Russian sanctions while Russia was helping the Trump campaign "was offered almost as an aside by the prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann," the Times says. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson asked Weissmann why Manafort's alleged lies about discussing a "peace" plan for Ukraine with longtime Russian colleague Konstantin Kilimnik — beginning Aug 2, 2016, when Manafort was still running Trump's campaign, and continuing into 2018 — mattered. The Times continues:

"This goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think is the motive here," Mr. Weissmann said. "This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel's office is investigating." ... Jackson seemed to agree with prosecutors that whether Mr. Manafort lied about his contacts with Mr. Kilimnik was important, saying at one point, "I am, actually, particularly concerned about this particular alleged false statement." [The New York Times]

Mueller's office has mostly skirted the collusion question, racking up guilty pleas or convictions for Manafort and others in Trump's orbit for lying to investigators and financial crimes while laying out a case that Moscow interceded on Trump's behalf in 2016. But there have been hints of conspiracy, and Weissmann told Berman that whether any American even unwittingly engaged with election-meddling Russians relates to "the core" of Mueller's investigation. Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

10:00 p.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to leave the Department of Justice in mid-March, a department official told Reuters on Monday.

It was anticipated that he would step down after a new attorney general was chosen; last week, William Barr was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as attorney general. In May 2017, Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Catherine Garcia

9:30 p.m.

A coalition of 16 states, including California, New York, Maryland, and Illinois, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday over President Trump's attempt to use emergency powers to build a wall along the souther border.

In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the states argue that Trump cannot construct the wall without permission from Congress, and it is unconstitutional for him to divert money designated for other purposes. The suit also states that the "federal government's own data prove there is no national emergency at the southern border that warrants construction of a wall. Customs and Border Protection data show that unlawful entries are near 45-year lows."

The additional states involved in the suit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Virginia. All have Democratic governors, with the exception of Maryland. Catherine Garcia

8:41 p.m.

While testifying in front of the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Monday, a woman admitted to falsifying absentee ballots in November, after being hired by a political operative working on behalf of Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris.

Due to allegations of fraud, the race in North Carolina's 9th district is still undecided, with Harris ahead of Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. During her testimony, Lisa Britt said she was hired by her stepfather, McCrae Dowless, to collect absentee ballots, and when she came across one that was unsealed or not fully filled out, she checked off the Republican candidates.

Britt also admitted to signing absentee ballot as a witness, even when she did not see the person fill out their ballot. She testified that she does not think Harris knew what she was instructed to do.

The hearing is expected to last two or three days, and upon its conclusion, the board will decide to certify the election, or, if "irregularities" are found to have tainted the results of the election and "cast doubt on its fairness," a new one will be held. Catherine Garcia

7:16 p.m.

While speaking in Miami on Monday, President Trump said the Venezuelan military "must not" follow President Nicolas Maduro's orders to block humanitarian aid from coming into the country, and they are "risking their future" by supporting him.

Venezuela is dealing with hyperinflation, and many people aren't getting enough food, medicine, and other basic necessities. Trump said the U.S. delivered aid two days ago, but it's stuck in Colombia because "Maduro has blocked this life-saving aid from entering the country. He would rather see his people starve than give them aid. Maduro is not a Venezuelan patriot, he is a Cuban puppet."

Trump wants the military to start backing opposition leader Juan Guaido, who says that last year's election was a sham and he is the interim president. "We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open," Trump said. Catherine Garcia

3:02 p.m.

The 2019 Oscars may not have a host, but the Academy will carry on, carry on with a performance from Queen.

The Academy announced Monday that Queen and Adam Lambert will perform at the Oscars. It had previously been reported that the Academy was hoping the rock band would open the show, and the Academy seemed to confirm this on Twitter, suggesting in their announcement that the performance will take place at the show's start time.

Queen was asked to perform in light of the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic centered around Freddie Mercury that made more than $800 million worldwide and is nominated for Best Picture. The Academy has also been much more desperate than usual this year to boost ratings, especially given there's no celebrity host to draw in viewers.

The Oscars' producers previously told The New York Times they expect the first Oscar this year to be given out after six or seven minutes, meaning the show will probably transition right from this performance into the first award; a host's monologue typically lasts around 10 minutes. But although the Oscars may be shorter than usual, the Academy is no longer committing to a three hour running time as was its goal, having recently abandoned a plan to hand out some awards during commerical breaks.

The 2019 Oscars will take place on Feb. 24. Brendan Morrow

2:28 p.m.

President Trump is reportedly eyeing four possible candidates for the role of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after his pick withdrew from consideration.

Former State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert on Saturday unexpectedly said she wouldn't be taking the role, saying "the past two months have been grueling for my family," per The New York Times. She had reportedly dropped out because she had employed a nanny who didn't have a proper work visa.

With Nauert no longer in contention, Bloomberg reports Trump is looking at four candidates: former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Dina Powell, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, and businessman and former Republican candidate for Senate John James. Seeing Powell's name on the list is certainly surprising, though, considering she told Trump in October she didn't want the job, CNN reports.

This report also states that "top White House aides have also discussed nominating Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump if no front-runner emerges." The president had previously floated the idea of his daughter getting the U.N. ambassador role, saying "everyone" wants it and she would be "incredible," although he suggested this probably wouldn't happen because "I can already hear the chants of Nepotism!" Ivanka Trump in October reportedly "laughed" off speculation that she would get the job. Brendan Morrow

1:36 p.m.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won't confirm or deny nominating President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize after Trump himself said he did, CNN reports.

Trump had said as much Friday, revealing that "Prime Minister Abe of Japan gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize. He said 'I have nominated you, respectfully, on behalf of Japan.'" This was reportedly because of Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A report in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun subsequently suggested that Abe had indeed nominated Trump for the prize, but only after the U.S. government "informally" asked him to.

On Monday, Abe said that he is "not saying that it is not the fact." But he said that "the Nobel Committee has decided not to disclose nominators and nominees for 50 years. I would like to refrain from commenting on it." Abe did, however, say he appreciates Trump's leadership and the fact that he “decisively responded toward North Korea's nuclear and missile issues, and held the historic summit meeting with North Korea last year, per The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

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