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January 3, 2018

President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was indicted in late October as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation, is suing Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and the Department of Justice, CNBC reports.

Mueller was appointed by Rosenstein last spring to oversee the federal investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and any possible collusion with President Trump's campaign or associates. Manafort stands accused of massive financial crimes, including tax evasion, money laundering, fraud, false statements, and "conspiracy against the United States." Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, who was also charged, "knowingly and willfully, without registering with the attorney general as required by law, acted as agents of a foreign principal, to wit, the Government of Ukraine, the Party of Regions, and [pro-Moscow Ukrainian politician Viktor] Yanukovych," the Mueller indictment alleges. Manafort has pleaded not guilty.

Manafort's lawsuit challenges the legality of the appointment of Mueller by Rosenstein and the Justice Department and singles out "the conduct of Mr. Mueller as beyond his jurisdiction under the appointment order. The actions of the Special Counsel are reviewable under the Declaratory Judgment Act and under the long-recognized authority of the federal courts to grant equitable relief to prevent injurious acts by public officers."

The charge against Manafort that is nearest to the stated scope of Russia investigation is that Manafort acted as an "unregistered agent of a foreign principal," although Rosenstein's order also states that Mueller is allowed to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." That clause, Manafort's lawyers argue, improperly gives Mueller "carte blanche to investigate and pursue criminal charges in connection with anything he stumbles across while investigating, no matter how remote from the specific matter identified as the subject of the appointment order." Jeva Lange

11:32 a.m.

The White House may be ready to accept that Democrats are unwilling to agree to $5 billion in federal spending for President Trump's proposed border wall, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Tuesday, per The Washington Post.

"We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion," she said. "At the end of the day we don't want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border." Trump was demanding the sum in a federal spending bill for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but Democrats said they were only willing to spend $1.6 billion on general border security. Without an agreement on federal spending, the government will shut down after Friday, which Trump said he'd be "proud" to do over the issue.

Sanders said the White House had "identified" different funding sources, "that we can couple with money that would be given through congressional appropriations," to find the $5 billion elsewhere. She said negotiations between the two parties are ongoing.

Read more at The Washington Post, and read more about the familiarity of the imminent shutdown here at The Week. Summer Meza

11:16 a.m.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is sending a failed candidate to the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who narrowly lost her midterm Senate bid to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), will now fill the seat vacated by late Sen. John McCain, Ducey announced Tuesday. Arizona had never sent a woman to the Senate before this year, and now it'll be represented by two.

After McCain's death in August, former Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) rejoined the chamber, only promising to serve until the end of the year. Kyl formally announced his resignation last week, leaving Ducey to appoint another replacement. McSally will now serve until a special election can be held in 2020.

McCain's wife Cindy McCain, who'd been loosely mentioned as a possible replacement, had a muted reaction to the announcement. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:12 a.m.

A federal judge has ruled neither the Broward County Sheriff's Office nor the local school district had a constitutional duty to protect students during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this past February.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed a suit brought by 15 students against the school district, the sheriff's office, school deputy Scot Peterson, and campus monitor Andrew Medina. Bloom held that because the students were not in custody — prison, for example — state agencies have no legal obligation to protect them.

"The claim arises from the actions of [shooter Nikolas] Cruz, a third party, and not a state actor," Bloom wrote in her ruling. "Thus, the critical question the Court analyzes is whether defendants had a constitutional duty to protect plaintiffs from the actions of Cruz," she said, concluding that "for such a duty to exist on the part of defendants, plaintiffs would have to be considered to be in custody."

Bloom's ruling is in line with the Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005), which held police do not have a constitutional duty to protect people from harm. In that case, SCOTUS determined the obligation does not exist even when police have been repeatedly notified of violation of a restraining order which is supposed to trigger a mandatory arrest. Bonnie Kristian

10:59 a.m.

From targeting black voters to encouraging Texan secession, Russians crafted memes on social media to push the 2016 election in President Trump's favor, a Senate report released Monday shows. But at first glance, it's not completely clear how some posts relate to the 2016 race.

In one of two reports shared Monday, cybersecurity firm New Knowledge documents how a Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency "leveraged social media to wage a propaganda war" during and beyond the election cycle. Posts got the most engagement on Instagram — like this June 11, 2017 post, which was IRA's most successful on the platform with 254,179 likes and 6,734 comments.

This kind of post wasn't explicitly about politics, but instead aimed to build an audience and viewers' trust, the report notes. The same was true of IRA's most-liked Instagram before the election, which it posted twice on the account @army_of_jesus_ in March and June of 2016.

Top-performing memes like this one were often reposted or recycled across different pages, seeing as IRA ran 133 Instagram accounts, 16 websites, and dozens of Facebook pages, the report says. Across all those accounts, just 18 percent of Instagram posts and seven percent of Facebook posts mentioned candidates Trump or Hillary Clinton by name.

You can read the whole disinformation report here, or get a quicker rundown here. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:33 a.m.

The Senate voted 82-12 Monday to close debate on the First Step Act and bring the legislation to a final vote in the upper chamber as soon as Tuesday. The House has already passed a different version of the bill and would have to vote again on this version before it could be sent President Trump, who has said he will sign it.

The First Step Act's main concern is sentencing reform, giving judges greater discretion in sentencing for some future convictions. It also makes retroactive a prior sentencing reform law and slightly expands the circumstances under which inmates can earn earlier transfer to pre-release custody. If passed, First Step will only apply to the federal prison system, which means about nine in 10 of America's 2.1 million inmates won't be affected.

Support for ending debate does not necessarily translate to support for the bill itself. Most Democrats are expected to vote yes, though some have criticized First Step for being too cautious a reform.

Some Republicans, meanwhile, have argued it is too lenient. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has penned a series of op-eds opposing the legislation and, with Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), will introduce amendments limiting the convictions eligible for early release and requiring public reports about those released. First Step supporters believe the amendments are a "poison pill" intended to divide the bipartisan coalition backing the bill.

"The amendments [Cotton] will propose tomorrow, the senator from Arkansas, have been opposed by groups across the board, left and right, conservative, progressive, Republican, Democrat — they all oppose his amendments," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "If he goes with the amendments we've seen, we're going to have to do our best to oppose him."

Bonnie Kristian

10:14 a.m.

One Republican lawmaker is calling President Trump's farm aid just another bailout that his party should not embrace.

Trump on Monday said he would be authorizing a second round of relief for farmers who have been hurt amid the ongoing trade war with China, reports Politico. In response, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said on Twitter he doesn't understand why his fellow Republicans are supporting this because his party "used to oppose bailouts." Many Republican lawmakers criticized bailouts for the auto industry in 2008, but few have publicly criticized Trump's farm plan. Now, Amash said, the GOP simply calls them "market facilitation payments."

Amash went on to say that Trump's "big-government trade policy" has hurt farmers and ranchers, and now, he's "responding with even bigger government."

With this second round of spending, Trump will have spent $9.6 billion on relief for farmers, per The Washington Post. Brendan Morrow

10:00 a.m.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham says former President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal looks a bit like what's happening today.

Meacham, who has written biographies on Thomas Jefferson and eulogized former President George H. W. Bush earlier this month, brought some historical context to MSNBC's Morning Joe Tuesday morning. He described how Nixon's downfall coincided with an ongoing investigation and falling markets — much like what President Trump is seeing right now.

In the two-year fallout after 1972's Watergate break-in, Nixon started out claiming he was "not a crook" — something that "would've fit on Twitter," Meacham noted. From there, the economy began "souring," Meacham said, suggesting the markets could be a "barometer of what's going to happen to President Trump."

Then, Meacham brought the conversation into the present day by discussing Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump. "If in fact Donald Trump knew about" these efforts, that raises the "live question" of whether these actions fit "the definition of treason in the Constitution," Meacham explained. It all makes for an "existential Constitutional crisis" in which a president could be an "agent of a foreign power," Meacham added.

Watch all of Meacham's conversation with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough below. Kathryn Krawczyk

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