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December 8, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly exploring how to turn his business over to his adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., but plans to keep a stake in the real estate empire and will not heed calls to divest, The New York Times reports. People who were briefed on the discussions said that Ivanka Trump would also leave the Trump Organization, likely to assume a role in Washington, and that Ivanka and her father are exploring a "legal structure" to separate them from the company.

Critics have pointed out that any way in which Trump might have a continued financial interest in his organization could result in conflicts and questions. The Office of Government Ethics has reportedly informed Trump's lawyers that ethical concerns can only be avoided with a divestiture.

Trump has defended himself to reporters, stating that "the law's totally on my side." Still, he will have to navigate laws that prohibit government officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments, with even foreign diplomats staying at his properties being a cause for scrutiny.

"There are ways to make it work legally, but the appearances are going to be terrible and it's going to be a four-year ethical challenge," said former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard W. Painter. Jeva Lange

11:27 p.m.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) revealed on Thursday night that Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to privately testify before the committee, with the transcript later made public.

When asked by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow why Mueller wouldn't want to testify publicly, Nadler said he's speculating, but it's likely because Mueller "envisions himself, correctly, as a man of great rectitude and apolitical and he doesn't want to participate in anything he may regard as a political spectacle." The House Judiciary Committee thinks it's "important for the American people to hear from him and to hear his answers to questions about the report," Nadler added.

The goal of the panel is to "open all of this up to the American people, and have everybody relevant testify so people can understand what was in the Mueller report, what wasn't in the Mueller report," he said. The White House has stonewalled the committee by not letting current and former staffers who have received subpoenas testify, but "we're going to beat them in court," Nadler said. "It's ridiculous from a legal point of view." Catherine Garcia

10:27 p.m.

The White House announced on Thursday night that President Trump has given Attorney General William Barr "full and complete authority" to declassify intelligence related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In a statement, the White House said Trump also "directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the attorney general's investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 presidential election." The White House claims this "will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions."

Trump has long called the Russia investigation a "witch hunt," and his allies insist the evidence used to launch the FBI probe was flimsy. Catherine Garcia

9:57 p.m.

Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie producer who has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, has reached a tentative $44 million settlement with the women, creditors, and the New York attorney general, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

The Weinstein Co. filed for bankruptcy last year, and lawyers told a bankruptcy court judge on Thursday that a deal has been reached, but not finalized. Under the proposed deal, the alleged victims, former Weinstein Co. employees, and studio creditors would receive $30 million, the Journal reports, with an additional $14 million going toward legal fees. The money would come from various insurance policies.

The New York attorney general's office filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2018, alleging that the Weinstein Co.'s board members and executives did not do enough to protect employees from Weinstein's misconduct; if the deal goes through, it would end the suit. Weinstein is also set to go on trial in September on rape and other sexual assault charges. He denies ever engaging in nonconsensual sex. Catherine Garcia

9:16 p.m.

The Trump administration is preparing to bypass Congress in order to sell $7 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, current and former U.S. officials and lawmakers told The New York Times on Thursday.

Right now, Congress has the sale on hold, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior aides are urging Trump to invoke a provision in the Arms Export Control Act that would let him circumvent lawmakers, the Times reports. This is sure to stoke tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which considers Saudi Arabia its biggest rival, and anger Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who are already upset with Trump over his reaction to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year and his support of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in the Yemen war.

"It sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) told the Times. "We have the constitutional duty to declare war and the responsibility to oversee arm sales that contravene our national security interests. If we don't stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to." Read more about the broad implications of Trump sidestepping Congress at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

8:06 p.m.

President Trump is angry that John Walker Lindh walked out of an Indiana prison on Thursday, telling reporters he was ticked off when government lawyers told him there was nothing they could do to stop Lindh's release.

Lindh, 38, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 after volunteering to fight with the Taliban. Dubbed the "American Taliban," Lindh converted from Catholicism to Islam at 16, and left his home in California to study Arabic in Yemen. He pleaded guilty in 2002 to supplying services to the Taliban, and during his sentencing, said he never planned on fighting U.S. forces and condemned "terrorism on every level."

Lindh served 17 years of a 20-year sentence, and as part of his release conditions, he cannot communicate with known extremists, have a passport, or use any device that can access the internet without permission from his probation officer. Leaked documents from 2016 show the government believes Lindh still holds "extremist views," and the Federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement it does have policies in place for monitoring parolees with links to terrorism.

Trump said what bothers him the most is that Lindh "has not given up his proclamation of terror, and we have to let him out. Am I happy about it? Not even a little bit." Catherine Garcia

6:50 p.m.

President Trump announced on Thursday that the Department of Agriculture is creating a program that will give $16 billion in aid to farmers affected by the trade war with China.

"We will ensure that our farmers get the relief they need — and very, very quickly," Trump said. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue blamed China for the launch of the program, telling reporters that "all of this would have been moot if China had acted appropriately and fairly."

Soybean farmers in particular have been hit hard by the escalating U.S.-China trade war. Soybeans are the largest U.S. export to China, with a value of $12.4 billion in 2018, USA Today reports. After Trump put tariffs on Chinese goods last year, China retaliated by putting a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybean imports, causing prices to drop.

Under the program, the Department of Agriculture will send payments to counties based on the number of crops planted and losses. The first payments will be sent in July or August, and Perdue said two additional payments will be made in the fall and early next year if the U.S. and China still have not reached a trade agreement. Most of the $16 billion package will go to pay farmers, while $1.4 billion will be used to purchase excess products, like milk and beef, which will be distributed to food banks. Catherine Garcia

5:24 p.m.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is chalking up a delay in putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill to bureaucracy. Her great-great-great-great niece isn't buying it.

In a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Mnuchin affirmed the long-awaited replacement of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill wasn't coming until 2028. He went on to blame the setback on addressing "counterfeiting issues," but Tubman's descendant Ernestine Wyatt told CNN's Newsroom on Thursday that Mnuchin's excuse actually "smacks of racism."

With the redesign first being announced in 2015, Wyatt declared that Mnuchin has “had time for this to happen." His defense is "just a nice way of trying to say we don't want this, we're not going to have this, under any circumstances will we have this," she continued. Kathryn Krawczyk

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