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January 11, 2017
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FBI Director James Comey was personally aware of reports from a "credible" Western former intelligence agent about Russia's alleged "cultivating, supporting, and assisting" of President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign, The Guardian reported late Tuesday, because Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) personally handed them to Comey in a Dec. 9 meeting, according to "a source aware of the meeting."

The Russia-Trump dossier began as opposition research during the campaign, but "its author was sufficiently alarmed by what he discovered to send a copy to the FBI," The Guardian says, and McCain, who was informed about the allegations from "an intermediary from a Western allied state," then "dispatched an emissary overseas to meet the source," whom he was "sufficiently impressed" with to feel obliged to pass the allegations on to Comey. But FBI agents were already concerned enough about ties between Trump's inner circle and Russia that they had sought court approval to monitor campaign officials, The Guardian reports:

The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The FISA court turned down the application, asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation. [The Guardian]

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court is famously compliant with surveillance requests, declining just 11 of the more than 33,900 it had received in 33 years as of 2013 — or an approval rate of 99.97 percent (though that may be a slightly misleading number) — and no requests were denied in 2014 and 2015, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Comey, when pressed by senators on Tuesday, would not say if the FBI is still investigating any ties between Russia and the president-elect. Trump tweeted that the reports are "FAKE NEWS" and "A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!" You can read more about those alleged ties at The Guardian, and the unverified (sometimes NSFW) allegations themselves at BuzzFeed News. Peter Weber

10:18 a.m. ET

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are more unpopular with voters than ever, new poll results released by Fox News reveal. A majority of voters — 53 percent — do not approve of the job Trump is doing, and 43 percent say the same of Pence.

Trump's approval rate is at 40 percent and Pence's at 42 percent, suggesting the veep's milder disapproval numbers are more about voter ignorance or uncertainty than comparative enthusiasm for his performance. Last month, an earlier Fox poll put Trump and Pence's approval ratings at 45 and 50 percent respectively.

Thursday's poll also found issues of federal spending, infrastructure, North Korea, and the fight against the Islamic State topped voters' list of concerns. On the subject of Trump's fabled border wall, 64 percent of Trump voters believe the president will follow through with his promise, while only 36 percent of all voters say the same. Bonnie Kristian

9:31 a.m. ET

Just hours after Montana GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly body-slammed a reporter Wednesday evening, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already released an ad using audio of the incident.

"What happens when you ask Greg Gianforte a question?" the ad opens. What follows is the sound of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs being allegedly assaulted by the GOP candidate while Gianforte roars, "I'm sick and tired of you guys!"

"Greg Gianforte, charged with a crime. No business being in Congress," the ad concludes.

There is not much time for the disturbing ad to circulate, though: The Montana special election is today, and 37 percent of registered voters have already voted absentee. Jeva Lange

9:11 a.m. ET

Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough was quick to draw a line between the rhetoric of President Trump and Montana GOP candidate Greg Gianforte's apparent assault on a reporter Wednesday, on the eve of a special House election. "The fish rots, again, from the head," Scarborough said.

Scarborough added that while he is a Republican "for now," the current iteration of the party is not the one "I grew up in."

"I'm not just talking about now. I'm talking about the brutish behavior from the top. I want to hear Republicans speak out against it, starting with [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, and say this is not acceptable and, no, we do not want [Gianforte's] vote here. We want no part of this guy," Scarborough said.

But Trump was not off the hook either. "I guess the [Gianforte incident] should not be too surprising in an age of Trump, where he calls the press the 'enemy of the people,'" Scarborough said. "These reckless words have consequences." Jeva Lange

8:24 a.m. ET

Police overseeing the investigation into Monday night's suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester have stopped sharing information with American counterparts, BBC News reports, after U.S. officials allegedly leaked information about the attacker and his explosive to the press before British police wanted the information released. The Greater Manchester Police are "furious" at the leaks, BBC News says, and there is "disbelief and astonishment" across the British government at photos of the exploded bomb published in The New York Times.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she is "irritated" by the U.S. leaks, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said late Wednesday the information leaking "troubles him" and he's "made known my concerns about it to the U.S. ambassador," and in a statement on Wednesday, Britain's National Police Chiefs' Council said such "unauthorized" disclosures undermined this "major counter-terrorism investigation" and breached bonds of trust. Prime Minister Theresa May said, when she arrives in Brussels Thursday, "I will make clear to President Trump that intelligence shared between our security agencies must remain secure."

Britain has arrested nine people in connection with the attack, with eight still in custody, and Libyan authorities detained attacker Salman Abedi's father and younger brother. Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said Wednesday that "it's very clear that this is a network that we are investigating."

"The police decision to stop sharing information specifically about the Manchester attack with their security counterparts in the U.S. is a hugely significant move and shows how angry British authorities are," says BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani. "The information from the crime scene wasn't shared on a whim: The British and Americans have a lot of shared world-leading expertise in improvised explosive devices and scientists would be discussing whether the Manchester device tells them something new that could, ultimately, track down a bombmaker." Other British officials said Americans also leaked key information too early after the last major terrorist attack in Britain, back in July 2005. Peter Weber

8:10 a.m. ET
STEPHANIE LECOCQ/AFP/Getty Images

If you've been following President Trump's obsession with his election win, it should come as no surprise that he is boasting about it to world leaders while abroad, too.

Trump reportedly "brought up [the] size of his election victory" at the European Union headquarters with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday morning, an EU official said.

Ahead of Trump's trip, world leaders were reportedly advised to "praise" Trump's Electoral College win. Trump had compliments for more than just himself, though: Upon meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump admired the new president's "incredible campaign" and "tremendous victory." Jeva Lange

7:37 a.m. ET
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Montana goes to the polls Thursday to vote in a special election for the House seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. On the ballot is Democrat Rob Quist, a folk singer, and Republican multimillionaire Greg Gianforte, who has consistently led the polls despite Quist's recent gains.

The race, described by Gianforte as "closer than it should be," is an uncomfortable repeat for Republicans of a close, but ultimately Republican-won, special election in Kansas. Elections like Montana's could indicate how a deeply unpopular president in the White House could influence Republican victories nationwide in 2018.

Complicating matters, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter on Wednesday; 37 percent of registered voters have already voted absentee, the Billings Gazette reports. Read more about Quist's chance to win the deep-red state here at The Week. Jeva Lange

6:59 a.m. ET

On Thursday in Brussels, President Trump will meet for the first time with leaders of the European Union and NATO, the 27-member alliance he once dismissed as "obsolete." Trump arrived in Brussels on Wednesday, after a stop in Italy, and after meeting at the European Union headquarters with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday morning, Trump will have a private lunch with new French President Emmanuel Macron then gather with fellow NATO leaders.

Trump says he wants to get a NATO commitment to join the fight against the Islamic State, and NATO will almost certainly agree, though some members won't commit military support to the ISIS fight. Trump will also likely ask NATO members to commit to higher military spending, while other nations will be looking for a firm commitment from Trump to support NATO's Article 5 collective-defense pledge. Some 9,000 protesters greeted Trump when he landed in Brussels, and more protests are planned for Thursday, though tight security means the president won't have to confront them. Late Thursday, Trump departs for Sicily and a G-7 summit, the final leg of his overseas trip. You can watch Trump arrive at EU headquarters below. Peter Weber

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