September 21, 2017

As the Russia probe continues to expand, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has informed the Trump administration that he is interested in speaking to former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Of particular interest could be "notebook after notebook" that Spicer filled while working for the Republican National Committee, the Trump campaign, and in the White House, Axios reports.

Spicer, for his part, was not feeling too generous about discussing the topic with reporters, Axios' Mike Allen writes:

When we texted Spicer for comment on his note-taking practices, he replied: "Mike, please stop texting/emailing me unsolicited anymore."

When I replied with a "?" (I have known Spicer and his wife for more than a dozen years), he answered: "Not sure what that means. From a legal standpoint I want to be clear: Do not email or text me again. Should you do again I will report to the appropriate authorities." [Axios]

Word of Spicer's notebooks is making some people nervous — in the words of one official, "people are going to wish they'd been nicer to Sean." Another noted, "Sean documented everything." Read the full report at Axios. Jeva Lange

5:15 a.m. ET

On Sunday, during his shutdown-exempted trip to the Middle East, Vice President Mike Pence criticized Democrats for the partial government shutdown, telling U.S. service members they "shouldn't have to worry about getting paid" — which would happen if the shutdown lasts past Feb. 1 and Congress doesn't act. "Despite bipartisan support for a budget resolution, a minority in the Senate has decided to play politics with military pay," Pence said, explicitly telling NBC News that "it was the Democrat leadership and vast majority of Democrats in the Senate that decided to say no to government funding."

On CBS Face the Nation on Sunday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney noted that "traditionally every single time there's a shutdown, Congress has voted to go and pay [troops] retroactively, and we support that." On Saturday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), one of five Senate Democrats who voted for the stopgap spending bill (five Republicans voted against it), proposed paying the troops now, as Congress did in 2013; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked the measure.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Army veteran who lost both legs in Iraq in 2004, reminded Republicans later on Saturday that they had shot down the military pay measure, asked them to reconsider, and noted that President Trump was attacking Democrats on Twitter as "holding our Military hostage." "I spent my entire adult life looking out for the well-being, the training, the equipping of the troops for whom I was responsible," Duckworth said. "Sadly, this is something the current occupant of the Oval Office does not seem to care to do — and I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft dodger."

Duckworth even coined a nickname for Trump, "Cadet Bone Spurs," that sounds almost, well, Trumpean. Peter Weber

3:26 a.m. ET

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in Park City, Utah, on Sunday for the debut of a documentary about her at the Sundance Film Festival. Ginsburg, 84, talked about her life, career, family, friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and "Notorious RBG" nickname, and promised her health "is very good" and she'll stay on the court "as long as I can do the job full steam." At one point, moderator Nina Totenberg noted that the film crew on the documentary, RGB, had shown Ginsburg a clip of Kate McKinnon portraying her on SNL.

"So what did you think of your portrayal on Saturday Night Live?" Totenberg asked. "I like the actress who portrayed me," Ginsburg said. "And I would like to say 'Ginsburned' sometimes to my colleagues."

If you're not familiar with McKinnon's Ginsburg impersonation, here's an example:

Ginsburg also weighed in on some films winning big awards this year and said she was heartened by the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment, Deadline reports. "For so long women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could about it," she said. "But now the law is on the side of women or men who encounter harassment, and that's big thing." Totenberg asked about a #MeToo backlash, and Ginsburg didn't seem too concerned. "So far it's been great," she said. "When I see women appearing everywhere in numbers I am less worried about that." Peter Weber

2:19 a.m. ET

President Trump has no permanent "drug czar" — the Office of National Drug Control Policy is being led by Acting Director Richard Baum, who has worked in the ONDCP since 1997. In a Jan. 3 memo, The Washington Post reports, Baum said his office "recognizes that we have lost a few talented staff members" and "the functions of the chief of staff will be picked up by me and the deputy chief of staff." The deputy chief of staff, the Post notes, is a 24-year-old named Taylor Weyeneth whose only other post-college experience was as a paid member of Trump's presidential campaign and volunteer during his presidential transition.

Weyeneth rose quickly through the ranks, in part because of the aforementioned vacancies, and aside from the questions of whether a recent college graduate with no real experience should be helping to make drug policy during a devastating opioid epidemic, the Post now reports that Weyeneth fudged his résumé. For example, he said that he had worked as a legal assistant at the New York law firm O'Dwyer & Bernstien during college for eight months longer than he really had — a discrepancy the FBI picked up, leading to a second, then a third résumé. And that job apparently did not end well.

Weyeneth was "discharged" in August 2015, partner Brian O'Dwyer told the Post. "We were very disappointed in what happened," he said, adding that he had hired Weyeneth in part because both men belonged to the same fraternity. O'Dwyer & Bernstien had trained Weyeneth in expectation that he would work there for a long while, O'Dwyer said, but Weyeneth "just didn't show."

After the Post's first report, the White House said Weyeneth would return to being White House liaison to the ONDCP, but as of this weekend, he has remained deputy chief of staff, the Post said. You can read more about his exaggerated résumé at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

2:10 a.m. ET

With the exception of a quick trip back home to celebrate Christmas, Army veteran Jason Maddy has spent the last four months helping distribute much-needed supplies to people in remote parts of Puerto Rico hardest hit by Hurricane Maria.

"They are Americans," he told NBC News. "They deserve help, they deserve support, and they deserve not to be forgotten." Maddy, who served in the Army from 2000 to 2015, came to Puerto Rico not long after Hurricane Maria hit last September, wanting to help in any way possible. He began by getting supplies to people in rural areas of western Puerto Rico, and not long after arriving he launched the nonprofit Veteran Disaster Relief. "They say in the Army that you never leave a soldier behind and we can't leave these Americans behind," he said.

Maddy has since been joined by several other volunteers, including an Air Force veteran from San Antonio and a Cleveland police officer using her vacation time to participate. They are bringing food, water filters, and medical supplies to people who still don't have electricity and are living in structures not considered habitable; recently, Maddy installed a generator for a 70-year-old bedridden man who clapped when he finally felt his fan kick back on. "You just feel a joy in your heart that you potentially save their life, or at least improved it," he told NBC News. "And to be a part of that is incredible. It's something that I'll never forget." Catherine Garcia

1:44 a.m. ET

They came from different backgrounds — one was a UCLA student, another the organizer of blood drives at her office — and it was their selflessness that brought them together.

Recently, a celebration was held at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital for 2-year-old Skye Savren-McCormick and 24 of the 71 strangers who helped save her life. When Savren-McCormick was four months old, she had to undergo her first blood and platelet transfusion, and when she turned 1, doctors discovered she had a rare form of cancer called juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia. Without blood transfusions "she wouldn't have made it," her mother, Talia Savren-McCormick, told Today. "We used to call it life in a bag."

Over the course of her treatment, Savren-McCormick needed 77 units of blood, which were donated by 71 different people, as well as three bone marrow transplants. At one point, she was getting blood platelets daily and blood transfusions two to three times a week, which is why Talia Savren-McCormick was so grateful to the 24 donors she was able to meet. "Thank you doesn't begin to describe the gratitude we feel," she said. "They were a part of saving her life." Skye Savren-McCormick is cancer-free now, and once her immune system recovers, she'll head to preschool. Catherine Garcia

1:04 a.m. ET

As the government shutdown heads into its third day, there are two big questions about President Trump's role in the negotiations and underlying issues: Does Trump understand immigration policy, and is he being manipulated and undercut in his negotiations by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and policy adviser Stephen Miller?

On Sunday, Kelly "fielded most of the calls" about the shutdown from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), The New York Times reports, and "the president was urged for a second day to step back from the fray, and for a second day he vented to aides that he wanted to do more to get involved." Friday's shutdown-averting negotiations between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were "derailed" by Kelly and Miller, "whose stance on immigration, coupled with Kelly's position on defense spending, pushed Trump off any compromise," NBC News reports, citing senior administration officials.

Trump's "heart is right on this issue," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Sunday. "I think he's got a good understanding of what will sell, and every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members. As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He's been an outlier for years."

Mark Krikorian, a notable proponent of curtailing immigration, tells the Times he doesn't subscribe to this "Svengali theory" and says Trump's "inclinations are hawkish on immigration." In Congress, Democrats and Republicans are frustrated and confused at a president "either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve," the Times reports. The resulting "paralysis" in Washington has complicated shutdown talks and "raised questions not only about Mr. Trump's grasp of the issue that animated his campaign and energizes his core supporters, but his leadership." Peter Weber

12:59 a.m. ET
Pool/Getty Images

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is learning the hard way what happens when you make moves without consulting the White House.

Several people with knowledge of the matter told Axios that President Trump was upset that Zinke went "rogue" two weeks ago and promised Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) his state would be exempt from the Interior Department's offshore oil and gas leasing program. Zinke never spoke with Trump or anyone in the administration about the exemption, Axios says, and this could lead to legal problems — environmental groups and state attorneys general could sue the federal government, arguing it wasn't fair for just Florida to be exempt and not other coastal states.

The Eastern Gulf of Mexico next to Florida is filled with oil and gas reserves, and former Interior Department officials told Axios they believe the Trump administration will find a way to work around Zinke's promise. Trump and Zinke have had a good relationship, and while this isn't the end of Zinke's tenure, he's been knocked down several pegs as far as the administration is concerned, Axios reports. Catherine Garcia

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