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January 23, 2018
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Republicans start 2018 with full control of the federal government, at least one government shutdown under their belt, a historically unpopular president, and a potentially ominous sea change among white women. But "Republican strategists are plotting an election-year survival strategy to steer the midterms away from the dangerous terrain of Trump's tweets and Capitol Hill dysfunction," The Washington Post reports: "Talk up job growth, highlight the soaring stock market and, most of all, convince voters that the tax-cut legislation that stands as their only major accomplishment is bringing back the good times."

About 60 percent of U.S. adults in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll say the GOP tax overhaul favors the rich over the middle class, and 46 percent say passing it was a "bad thing," versus 34 percent who call it a "good thing." But there's a large swathe of persuadable voters, and Republicans, wealthy donors, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are throwing tens of millions of dollars into a full-court press to convince voters to love the tax cut.

"Answer this question and I will tell you if we keep the House or not," says Corry Bliss, head of the GOP-aligned American Action Network, which pumped $24 million into GOP tax-cut boosterism last year and plans to spend $10 million more this quarter: "In 10 months, does the middle class think we cut their taxes?"

Without a push, most people won't really notice a 2018 tax cut until they do their taxes in 2019, though a single person making $50,000 should see $35 extra in each paycheck this year — or about $3,600 a year. The top 1 percent of households will get a tax cut of about $50,000. Luckily, the wealthy donors bankrolling the tax pitch were already thriving before the tax cuts — 82 percent of all wealth created last year went to the top 1 percent, Oxfam says in a new report, and the three wealthiest Americans now have the same wealth as the bottom 50 percent, or 160 million Americans. Peter Weber

4:52 a.m. ET

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has mostly steered clear of the news media, but he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with CBS News foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan, which aired on 60 Minutes Sunday night. Tillerson spoke about the challenges dealing with North Korea, declined again to "dignify the question" of whether he called President Trump a "moron," and insisted that "there's been no dismantling at all of the State Department," despite 41 empty ambassadorships and numerous vacancies at the top of the department. He also talked about his relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin, forged when he was a top executive at ExxonMobil.

"You've said you had a very close relationship with Vladimir Putin," Brennan said. "You've done huge deals with him. Photos of you toasting him with champagne. And all that closeness raised eyebrows. It even inspired a Saturday Night Live skit. Did you ever see that skit?" Tillerson said yes, "my kids pointed me to it," and "I laughed out loud."

The SNL skit, with John Goodman playing Tillerson, made light of "this concern that you have a friendship with Vladimir Putin, and that because of that, you and the president aren't going to hold him to account," Brennan pointed out. "The relationship that I had with President Putin spans 18 years now. It was always about 'What could I do to be successful on behalf of my shareholders, how Russia could succeed,'" he responded. When he walked in to meet Putin as secretary of state, Tillerson said, "the only thing I said to him was 'Mr. President, same man, different hat.'"

"I said to him, 'I now represent the American people,'" Tillerson said of his Putin meeting, when asked to elaborate. "And I think it was important that that be said right up front. And he clearly got, I mean, he clearly understood that as well." You can read and watch the entire interview at 60 Minutes. Peter Weber

3:21 a.m. ET
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Scott Beigel, one of the three teachers and coaches shot dead in last week's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, was buried Sunday. During his funeral at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, his fiancée, Gwen Gossler, recounted a story about when she and Beigel were watching TV coverage of a previous school shooting. "Promise me if this ever happens to me, you will tell them the truth — tell them what a jerk I am, don't talk about the hero stuff," she recalled Beigel telling her, according to the New York Post. "Okay, Scott, I did what you asked," she added. "Now I can tell the truth. You are an amazingly special person. You are my first love and my soulmate."

Beigel, 35, was a geography teacher and cross country coach, and he was shot by the gunman while trying to protect students by locking them in his classroom. "He unlocked the door and let us in," student Kelsey Friend told ABC News. "I had thought he was behind me, but he wasn't. When he opened the door, he had to relock it so we could stay safe, but he didn't get the chance to. ... If the shooter had come in the room, I probably wouldn't be [alive]." Beigel "was my hero and he will forever be my hero," Friend told CNN. Sixteen other people were killed and 15 wounded in the mass shooting.

Beigel wasn't alone in contemplating being a human shield. "Across the country, teachers are grappling with how their roles have expanded, from educator and counselor to bodyguard and protector," The New York Times reports. "Last night I told my wife I would take a bullet for the kids," Robert Parish, a teacher at an elementary school just miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, told a union hall crowded with Broward County teachers on Saturday. Since the shooting, "I think about it all the time." Peter Weber

2:33 a.m. ET
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When Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Paul Manafort with financial crimes and conspiracy against the U.S. last fall, the indictment said that President Trump's former campaign chairman laundered $18 million and used the untaxed income to support his lavish lifestyle. But actually, "federal law enforcement officials have identified more than $40 million in 'suspicious' financial transactions to and from companies controlled by" Manafort, most of them flagged during an unsuccessful anti-kleptocracy effort in 2014 and 2015, BuzzFeed News reports.

The previous legwork by the FBI and Treasury Department's financial crimes unit "explains how the special counsel was able to swiftly bring charges against Manafort for complex financial crimes dating as far back as 2008," BuzzFeed says, "and it shows that Mueller could still wield immense leverage as he seeks to compel Manafort to cooperate in the ongoing investigation," as erstwhile partner Rick Gates appears to be doing. The FBI interviewed Manafort in 2014, but Justice Department leaders reportedly decided Manafort's apparent financial fraud was small potatoes compared with that of his longtime client Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. "We had him in 2014," one former officials said of Manafort. "In hindsight, we could have nailed him then."

From 2004 and 2014, eight banks filed 23 "suspicious activity reports" on accounts controlled by Manafort, and among those not included in Mueller's indictment are $5 million to and from Puerto Rican firm Maho Films Investment Co., where Manafort was one of two directors, and several smaller transactions that fraud investigators suspected might be pitched to avoid automatic fraud alerts, including two back-to-back $7,500 ATM withdrawals and an odd spending spree at a drug store: Officials at Wachovia "flagged $25,000 in 'fraudulent charges' at Duane Reade stores in New York City in September 2007," BuzzFeed reports. "Bank officials said the debit card was in Manafort's possession during that time." Read more about Manafort's financial history at BuzzFeed News. Peter Weber

1:33 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt

Al Hoffman Jr., a real estate developer and major Republican donor, is closing his wallet to any candidate or group that won't agree to renew the ban on assault weapons.

Hoffman, a Palm Beach resident and former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, told MSNBC on Monday that following the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school last week that left 17 people dead, he was trying to figure out a way he could enact change. A friend told him, "Why don't you start withholding checks until you find somebody who will support the advocacy for a gun legislation?" Hoffman said he thought that this was a great idea, and he decided to try to get other Republican donors on board. He's since sent "thousands" of letters out explaining his position and why he wants others to join his boycott. "No money, no guns," he said. "We got to do this."

Bill Clinton signed the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, but it expired 10 years later under George W. Bush, and it has not been renewed. The ban prohibited the sale of semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, which is used in many mass shootings. Hoffman said he knows that with many Republican lawmakers refusing to vote for new restrictions on guns this is going to be a tough road, but he's found at least one donor to join him in his boycott, The New York Times reports. Catherine Garcia

1:05 a.m. ET

"The president spent the weekend defending himself, misrepresenting the truth, and attacking others from his phone in Florida," Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said Monday afternoon, kicking off his look at President Trump's weekend of tweeting. Trump fired off angry, frequency inaccurate tweets against the FBI, the Justice Department, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calf.), and Oprah Winfrey, among other targets, Smith noted, but tellingly, "he did not attack Vladimir Putin or Russia, nor did he express concern that the Russians attacked the United States, nor did he pledge in any way to put measures in place to stop future attacks."

Smith read some tweets and did some fact-checking, noting, for example, that while Trump insisted he "never said Russia did not meddle in the election," in fact "the reality is the president has questioned the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election over and over and over again." Trump conflated Russian election meddling, now conclusively proved, with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's collusion investigation, Smith added. "The collusion investigation, according to our reporting, is ongoing," and "the extent to which Russian meddling did or did not affect the results of the election is an open question."

Smith seemed most perplexed by Trump's unwillingness to criticize Russia or Putin. "The president's spokespersons have been on television denouncing the meddling, the president has not," he said. "Not once, not on camera, not on Twitter, not anywhere." Watch below. Peter Weber

12:39 a.m. ET
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More than two years after Wanda Roberts and her family threw a message in a bottle into the Pacific Ocean, it was found by Edward Paulino, thousands of miles away in Guam.

Roberts' late father, Bob Mahan, loved to camp out by the ocean, and on Sept. 9, 2015, the family gathered on the beach in Navarro, California, sending a message in a bottle out to sea. It ultimately reached the shores of Malojloj, where it was discovered on Feb. 3 by Paulino. Paulino's daughter, Gerika, told the Pacific Daily News her dad likes "collecting interesting items on the beach," and when he found the bottle he urged her to contact Roberts. "It's amazing that the bottle traveled such a long distance," she said.

The faded pink bottle contained a letter from Roberts, explaining why she had thrown it into the ocean, and a small container of bubbles sporting a picture of Mahan's favorite cartoon character, Mickey Mouse. Gerika Paulino messaged Roberts, who lives in Washington, on Facebook to let her know the bottle had arrived in Guam, and Roberts was thrilled. "Social media is a wonderful outlet connecting us to another part of the world," she said. "This brought back fond memories, and all of the family agrees that my dad would have loved to know we did this." Catherine Garcia

12:08 a.m. ET

Sure, presidential historians have their own rankings of presidential greatness, but President Trump grades on a different scale, according to Late Night's "Donald J. Trump's Guide to U.S. Presidents, Vol. 1." Trump, naturally, ranks No. 1 and his predecessor, Barack Obama, was barely worth a mention, but Trump also weighed in on Grover Cleveland ("He always cracked me up when I would see him on Sesame Street"), George Washington's wife, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton's wife. Watch below. Peter Weber

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