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December 13, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller might be taking the Russia investigation south.

After more than a year of probing President Trump's connections to Moscow, the special counsel's office has moved into "Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics," sources tell The Daily Beast. Court filings detailing the first round of those findings are reportedly set for release early next year.

So far, Mueller's team has turned out charges against 33 different people — 26 of whom are Russian — and three Russia-based companies, per Vox. But as part of the team investigated the Trump campaign's involvement with Russia, another has reportedly been looking into any involvement with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These three countries "pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump's administration," The Daily Beast writes. The probe has reportedly found these countries sought to use social media to get Trump elected — something that's reminiscent of Russia's supposed actions.

After months of investigation, Mueller's Middle East team is just about ready to release its findings and even levy charges, sources tell The Daily Beast. These reported findings likely stem from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's cooperation with Mueller, seeing as he apparently spoke with Middle Eastern officials along with Russians.

Mueller only had authority from the Justice Department to investigate the Trump campaign's Russia ties. So Middle Eastern connections would either have to overlap with Russia, or Mueller would've needed additional authority from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to probe further, an attorney says. Read more about what Mueller could drop next at The Daily Beast. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:14 p.m.

More than 100 migrant children have reportedly been moved back to a border station in Clint, Texas, which independent monitors described as having "unconscionable" living conditions, after they were initially moved into the care of Health and Human Services.

Clara Long, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the children at the Clint facility did not have access to soap to wash their hands and were only allowed to shower infrequently, if at all, during multiple weeks of detainment. A Customs and Border Protection official denied the allegations about the lack of crucial amenities like soap and water — which CBP says are continuously available — but did agree with the reports from the monitors that unaccompanied minors should not be living in CBP facilities. "We do not want them in our custody, our facilities are not built for that," the official said in a call with reporters on Tuesday.

CBP reportedly transferred the care of 250 migrant children held in Clint to Health and Human Services to help relieve overflow, but 100 of those children are heading back to the border station because CBP says there are no longer capacity issues, CNN reports. Tim O'Donnell

1:05 p.m.

We have a new White House press secretary.

First Lady Melania Trump on Tuesday announced that her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, will take over for Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the new White House press secretary. She'll be serving dual roles in the administration, as Trump also announced that Grisham will serve as the next White House communications director, too. This job had previously been vacant.

In a tweet, Trump said she is excited for Grisham to work "for both sides" of the White House.

Grisham had been seen as a top contender to replace Sanders, with Axios having previously reported that President Trump "has told people he likes her and trusts her." Axios also noted that Grisham, who served as an aide during Trump's 2016 run, is "one of a tiny number of campaign originals left in the White House." The New York Times describes Grisham as "loyal and sometimes combative," adding that she's "known for defending Mrs. Trump and the Trump family, and for her ability to keep the East Wing relatively free of leaks." And a former senior White House official described her to CBS as "the ultimate Trump loyalist." Brendan Morrow

12:51 p.m.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) misused thousands of dollars of campaign funds during the course of multiple extramarital relationships, federal prosecutors said in new court filings.

Hunter was previously indicted for allegedly putting $250,000 in campaign funds to personal use, and the Justice Department now says this included funds he used to "pursue a series of intimate personal relationships" with at least five women, Politico reports.

Prosecutors said that all of these women were involved in politics in some way, and he allegedly carried out multiple affairs with lobbyists. The court filing, for instance, details a trip Hunter allegedly took with a lobbyist to Lake Tahoe, during which he put about $1,000 for his hotel bill on his campaign credit card, also using campaign funds to pay for airfare and a $7 beer, reports USA Today's Brad Heath.

The filing also describes additional alleged relationships with lobbyists, as well as a House aide, who prosecutors said he took out for drinks that he paid for using campaign funds. They said he had affairs with a woman who worked in his office as well, plus another woman who worked in the House of Representatives, The Washington Post reports.

“Carrying out all these affairs did not come cheap — Hunter spent thousands of dollars treating women to meals, drinks, and vacations, and traveling to and from their homes,” prosecutors said, The Daily Beast reports. They also said Hunter's use of campaign funds was "necessary for Hunter to satisfy his desire for intimacy" due to the Hunters' "financial difficulties."

Hunter has denied any illegal activity. His wife, who was also indicted, recently changed her plea to guilty, and prosecutors in their latest filing say that she may be called to testify. The trial is set for Sept. 10. Brendan Morrow

12:45 p.m.

President Trump's cough criticism was about much more than germs.

During an ABC News interview that aired last week, Trump's insistence that his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney "leave the room" if he was "going to cough" stole the show. It's true that Trump is a "germaphobe who does not like shaking hands or being around sick staffers," and some staffers saw the incident as a reflection of that, Politico reports. Yet other Trump allies saw it as "the public airing of Trump's newfound irritation with his acting chief," Politico continues.

Mulvaney has been Trump's top aide since John Kelly departed at the end of last year, but still hasn't lost his title's "acting" designation. Yet White House staffers insist that doesn't mean Mulvaney will be ousted soon, seeing as Trump "likes the hands-off approach Mulvaney has taken to his schedule, whims and decision-making style," Politico reports. Instead, that not-so-temporary title, along with the ongoing insults, seem to be the president's way of "assert[ing] his dominance over an ally or staffer who Trump feels has gotten too big for his britches," Politico continues.

Those pompous moves Mulvaney is allegedly making? Filling the West Wing with his former Office of Management and Budget staffers, piling his favorite aides onto Air Force One trips, and organizing three senior staff retreats to Camp David, to name a few.

Both Mick Mulvaney and outgoing White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond to requests for comment. Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:02 p.m.

Most Democratic voters want to hear less about North Korea and more about climate change in this week's Democratic primary debates, a new Morning Consult/Politico poll finds.

The Democratic voters said it was "very important" that the candidates discuss climate change, gun policy, and abortion, while U.S. tensions with Iran and North Korea, and trade issues concerning China and Mexico, take a back seat. Of those foreign policy issues, Iran leads the charge, but it still fails to reach the 50 percent threshold, coming in at 47 percent. North Korea, China, and Mexico all hovered in the thirties.

Meanwhile, climate change — which many voters want to serve as the sole topic for a single debate — led the field with 63 percent, followed by gun policy at 62, and the wave of recent restrictive abortion bills at 60.

All in all, it seems, Democratic voters don't want President Trump to take over the debate stage, at least not entirely — 44 percent of those polled said they think it's "very important" that he comes up as a topic of discussion.

The poll was conducted online between June 21-24 among a sample of 1,991 registered voters across the United States. The margin of error was two percentage points. Read more at Morning Consult. Tim O'Donnell

11:07 a.m.

Joe Biden is a candidate of habit.

When Biden was in the Senate, he was often its poorest member — a designation he's proudly touted even on the 2020 campaign trail. Yet Biden turned his finances around after his time as vice president, and seemingly hasn't figured out a creative way to use his fortune.

Since leaving office, the 2020 frontrunner has pulled in "millions of dollars largely from book deals and speaking fees that ranged to as much as $200,000 per speech," The Washington Post reports via public documents. And at every one of those events, Biden has maintained one very major demand: Pasta. Contracts required that his speech hosts serve him "angel hair pomodoro, a caprese salad, topped off with raspberry sorbet with biscotti," the Post reports. He'd wash it down with "Coke Zero, Regular Coke, Orange Gatorade and black coffee," all of which had to be in his dressing room, the Post continues.

Those requests only applied to Biden's paid speaking gigs, but his 2020 campaign stops have so far come with similar perks. Sponsors have so far picked up the tab for "VIP hotel suites, town cars and professional drivers, chartered flights and travel expense reimbursements," the Post reports.

Biden's campaign declined to comment to the Post on this story, or on why he's replaced his signature ice cream with a much more lavish dessert. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:02 a.m.

It's always nice to appreciate yourself and all your hard work, especially when nobody else does.

President Trump makes sure to do that when he can. In a Tuesday morning tweet, Trump boasted about the stock market's success in June. And who else was there to thank for such good fortune, but himself?

This is not the first self-congratulatory tweet Trump has posted about the stock market. The president sent out a nearly identical tweet on Saturday.

He has similarly deemed himself everyone's "favorite president" on multiple occasions. The presidency is a tough gig, after all, so a little self-esteem boost is warranted from time to time. Tim O'Donnell

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