December 31, 2018

About a quarter of the federal government is shut down indefinitely because President Trump is demanding $5 billion for a border wall, Democrats are countering with $1.3 billion for border security, and Congress has the power of the purse. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Sunday, outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly threw a little nuance into the standoff.

"To be honest, it's not a wall," Kelly told the Times in a sort of exit interview Friday. "The president still says 'wall' — oftentimes frankly he'll say 'barrier' or 'fencing,' now he's tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it." Kelly was Trump's first Homeland Security secretary, and when he first asked the border-security "salt-of-the-earth, Joe-Six-Pack folks" in U.S. Customs and Border Protection about Trump's wall, he told the Times, "they said, 'Well we need a physical barrier in certain places, we need technology across the board, and we need more people.'"

Kelly has downplayed Trump's wall idea before, drawing Trump's ire by telling House Democrats and then Fox News last January that the president's views on the wall had "evolved," after being "not fully informed" during the campaign. Trump tweet-responded that "the Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it." He has recently suggested he still means a coast-to-coast barrier, though he's testing out phrases like "artistically designed steel slats."

"Kelly was known to tell aides that he had the 'worst job in the world,' and frequently told people that Mr. Trump was not up to role of president," The New York Times reports, citing two former administration officials. Kelly told the Los Angeles Times that he stayed on the job for 17 months out of a sense of duty. "Military people," he said, "don't walk away." Peter Weber

3:59 p.m.

Lizzo has decided that it turns out a British singer 100 percent deserves some credit for her most popular lyric.

Singer Mina Lioness tweeted Wednesday that she's getting a writing credit on Lizzo's hit song "Truth Hurts" after claiming her tweet was plagiarized. Lizzo's song, released in September 2017, features the lyric "I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100 percent that bitch." Before those words would spawn thousands of memes, in February 2017, Lioness tweeted, "I did a DNA test and found out I'm 100 percent that bitch."

Lizzo has maintained that she never saw Lioness' tweet and that she was instead inspired by a meme, The Washington Post reports. But Lizzo said Wednesday she later learned that this meme was apparently inspired by Lioness' tweet, and so "the creator of the tweet is the person I am sharing my success with."

This case is separate from another plagiarism claim made against Lizzo by Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, who worked with her on an unreleased song that also featured a version of the DNA test line, as well as what they say is a similar beat, but didn't receive credit for "Truth Hurts". Jeremiah Raisen claims he was the one who suggested using the "100 percent" line after another writer shared the Instagram meme in a session, The New York Times reports.

But Lizzo said Wednesday that "the men who now claim a piece of 'Truth Hurts' did not help me write any part of the song" and had "nothing to do with the line." She's now suing the songwriters, saying they "expressly withdrew any claim to 'Truth Hurts,'" Variety reports.

Lioness thanked Lizzo by celebrating the line she has now been credited for, writing, "I just took a DNA Test, turns out I'm a credited writer for the number one song on Billboard." Brendan Morrow

3:40 p.m.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) has a few questions about Facebook's lesser-known employees.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the House Financial Services Committee to discuss his company's stake in the Libra cryptocurrency on Tuesday. And yet most of the committee's time didn't revolve around that development, namely a particularly tough few minutes of questioning from Porter.

Porter, a freshman Democrat, started her questioning by describing how Facebook's content monitoring employees are paid a minimum hourly wage to watch "murders, stabbings, suicides, and other gruesome, disgusting videos." Zuckerberg agreed with that characterization. Porter then mentioned how those workers don't receive health care benefits to treat the PTSD these jobs can saddle them with, and brought up a report saying those employees got "nine minutes of supervised wellness time" each day to "cry in the stairwell while someone watches them."

With that, Porter asked if Zuckerberg would be "willing to commit to spending one hour a day for a year" doing the job of content monitors. When Zuckerberg said he "wasn't sure" if that would be the best use of time, Porter took that to mean he's "not willing" to do the job. Watch the whole exchange below. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:18 p.m.

Ukraine's president reportedly knew more than he — and President Trump — are letting on.

After diplomat William Taylor testified Tuesday he was told aid for Ukraine was "dependent" on the country investigating Joe and Hunter Biden, Trump modified his "no quid pro quo" defense to suggest there could be no "quo" if Ukraine didn't know about the aid holdup. But as interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times reveal, senior Ukrainian officials knew about the holdup weeks before White House officials have admitted.

About two months into Volodymyr Zelensky's presidency and days after his infamous July 25 call with Trump, Ukrainian officials reportedly found out the $391 million in aid wouldn't be coming. They were told it wasn't a "bureaucratic glitch" and that they should talk to Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney about it, per the Times. And while the communications surrounding the freeze didn't explicitly tie it to Trump's Biden pressure, they did mention arranging a meeting between Zelensky and the senior aide who'd been "dealing with" Rudy Giuliani, who was backing a Biden probe, the Times continues.

Also fighting against Trump's innocence insistence is a Washington Post report saying Zelensky felt "pressure" from Trump to probe the Bidens even before he was inaugurated. Zelensky met with a group of advisers May 7 and discussed "how to navigate the insistence from Trump" and Giuliani "and how to avoid becoming entangled in the American elections," three people familiar with the meeting say. That happened about two weeks after Trump called to congratulate Zelensky on his victory. The report does counter Zelensky's own words that there was "no pressure" from Trump to investigate the Bidens. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:04 p.m.

Absolutely nothing could land President Trump in jail, or even under investigation.

At least that's the take of Trump's lawyer William Consovoy, who appeared before the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit on Tuesday. Judge Denny Chin modified Trump's old suggestion to ask if the president could "shoot somebody" in public and not face consequences for it, and Consovoy said that's true.

While Consovoy argued to bar a subpoena for Trump's tax returns in New York, he played up the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion that bars a president from being indicted while in office. But Chin asked Consovoy if that applied to a hypothetical murder, asking "Local authorities couldn't investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it?" Consovoy conceded that yes, authorities could take action once Trump leaves the White House, but for now, "no."

Chin's question drew from Trump's 2016 allegation that he could "stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody" without losing voters. Now, at least according to Trump's lawyer, he wouldn't lose a day of his life to prison either. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:28 p.m.

President Trump is lifting sanctions on Turkey after he says its government told him its ceasefire in Syria will be made "permanent."

Trump announced from the White House Wednesday that he was informed by Turkey's government that it's making its temporary ceasefire in Syria "permanent," although the president hedged this statement by saying "you would also define the word 'permanent' in that part of the world as somewhat questionable. We all understand that. But I do believe it will be permanent."

Vice President Mike Pence announced last week a temporary ceasefire in Syria following a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with this coming after Trump's decision to pull back troops, allowing for a Turkish military incursion into Kurdish-held zones. Kurds worked with the U.S. to fight the Islamic State, and Trump's move drew criticism and a bipartisan rebuke from the House of Representatives. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey on Oct. 14 in response, but Trump now says the sanctions will be lifted "unless something happens that we're not happy with." This announcement came after Turkey halted its Syria offensive following an agreement with Russia, The New York Times reports.

Trump also continued to defend his controversial pullback Wednesday, saying that while a "small number" of troops will remain in Syria, he plans to "let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand." Brendan Morrow

12:12 p.m.

The Trump Organization is giving Central Park the cold shoulder.

No, it's not giving up the two ice skating rinks it operates in Central Park. But it is largely removing the Trump name from both of them for an undisclosed reason, The Washington Post reports.

As the weather cools and skaters prepare to take the ice, they'll only see small reminders of the name that once coated the Wollman and Lasker rinks. The boards featuring "Trump" in bold red letters are gone, while only "T" peaks out from behind a white tarp in the area where people rent skates. And where a welcome sign used to read "Trump" at the top, it now features just fine print reading "operated by the Trump Organization," the Post reports. Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates calls it a "complete rebranding" where even workers' uniforms have ditched the name.

The New York City Parks Department said the Trump Organization informed it of the changes in August and didn't provide a reason. The Trump Organization also didn't comment to the Post. But an anonymous employee said the decision was made because the name was driving customers away and "hurting business."

The rinks are the latest Trump property to lose their presidential designation. "Trump" has been stripped from three hotels and six residential building in Manhattan since he took office, though that's because other people owned the buildings and only paid to license the Trump name, the Post explains. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:43 a.m.

A group of House Republicans reportedly just stormed into a secure impeachment hearing with their cell phones in what's being described as a "significant breach."

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) held a press conference Wednesday with a group of Republican colleagues blasting the "secret" impeachment inquiry into President Trump, contending Democrats are trying to "overturn the results" of the 2016 presidential election and declaring he and his colleagues would be disrupting the proceedings by barging into a closed-door hearing, The Hill reports.

"We're going to try to go in there, and we're going to try to figure out what's going on," Gaetz said.

About two dozen Republicans subsequently "stormed" a secure hearing room, reports CNN's Manu Raju, and they reportedly carried prohibited electronics. This delayed the testimony of Defense Department official Laura Cooper, who was on Capitol Hill a day after a diplomat Tuesday testified that he was told Trump was linking Ukraine aid to the country announcing investigations that might help him politically.

Gaetz even tweeted from "inside" the room.

Politico's Andrew Desiderio reports the room is now "being swept because of the cell phone violations."

"Phones in the classified area of the SCIF is a significant breach," Politico Kyle Cheney noted. "Rules on that are ironclad." He added, "unclear how this will be handled but this sort of thing just doesn't happen." Brendan Morrow

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