January 23, 2019

Last week, the White House budget office took the extraordinary step of classifying Internal Revenue Service employees who process tax refunds as "essential" and recalling at least 30,000 to return to work without pay. But hundreds of those un-furloughed workers are staying home, requesting and receiving "hardship" exemptions that, under their union contract, allow them to skip work during a shutdown if they can't afford to work for free, The Washington Post reports.

"Trump has expressed an interest in making sure that tax refunds are paid out next month, believing that if they are delayed he could face major public backlash," the Post reports. But IRS workers who help process refunds and answer taxpayer questions are among the lowest-paid at the agency. "They are definitely angry that they're not getting paid, and maybe some of them are angry enough to express their anger this way," said Tony Reardon, president of the 150,000-member National Treasury Employees Union. "But these employees live paycheck to paycheck, and they can't scrape up the dollars to get to work or pay for child care."

If the number of IRS workers staying home rises, as union officials say they expect it will, refunds will likely be delayed. The IRS won't say how many workers are out on hardship leave, and IRS spokesman Matt Leas tells the Post that the agency is busy preparing for next week's start of tax filing season, "we are continuing our recall operations, and we continue to assess the situation at this time." You can read about some of the hardships at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

12:18 p.m.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is ready to cross the aisle.

Graham, normally a loyal supporter, has been one of the leading critics of President Trump's decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria, which — as many predicted — led to Turkey invading the region, placing the U.S.'s Kurdish allies in danger.

Graham can't reverse the Turkish incursion at this point, but he is rallying support to impose sanctions on Turkey for its actions, and he's ready to work with Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to get the job done quickly.

Despite the negative reaction to his decision-making, Trump also appears to be on board after warning Turkey not to cross him following the U.S. withdrawal. Tim O'Donnell

Update: Pelosi later announced that she and Graham agreed to a "joint resolution to overturn the President's dangerous decision in Syria immediately."

11:33 a.m.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is running for president again — at least in Anthony Scaramucci's dreams.

The famously short-lived White House communications director has since turned on the president who appointed him, and has publicly said he's trying to knock President Trump off the 2020 ticket. Now, it seems Scaramucci has decided on his dream candidate, and has launched a website and line of T-shirts to persuade him to run.

Scaramucci started making his support for Romney known earlier this month, tweeting a poll that showed the 2012 GOP nominee beating the presumptive 2020 nominee in a hypothetical primary. He then revealed last week he'd launched Mitt2020.org, and on Sunday night, showed off that the site was offering "commit to Mitt" campaign T-shirts. They are being sold at $20.20 each to "test demand," and so far Scaramucci has seen an "overwhelming" response, he told ABC News.

While Romney hasn't even hinted at granting Scaramucci's wishes, the "Mitt Happens" shirt is sure to be a collector's item in a few years. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:16 a.m.

Disney just announced the entire library of movies and TV shows coming to its streaming service, and, well, they can't all be classics.

With less than a month to go until Disney+ officially launches, the streaming service's official Twitter account Monday morning fired off a massive tweetstorm over several hours revealing virtually every movie and TV show coming to the platform on Nov. 12, one by one. This included tons of all-time classic films like Star Wars, The Lion King, and Toy Story.

It also included movies that definitely sound made up, including The Biscuit Eater, Fuzzbucket, The Cat From Outer Space, The Shaggy D.A., and Sultan and the Rock Star among many others. Nearly every family-friendly Disney film looks set to come to the service, regardless of how weird and forgettable, and the result is one heck of a strange collection. Disney+ may ultimately not only offer the opportunity to watch some of the biggest blockbusters of all time but also revisit childhood movies you previously assumed were just weird dreams.

Still, the thread confirmed some omissions. Not every Marvel Cinematic Universe film will be available at launch, with The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War among those missing. The two most recent Star Wars films also won't be available at first, though they'll be added at a later date.

The most notable television addition is probably The Simpsons, every episode of which will be made available thanks to Disney's recent acquisition of Fox, not to mention the 1992 X-Men animated series. And with reboots of properties like Home Alone and Lizzie McGuire already announced for Disney+, one can only assume Sultan and the Rock Star: The Next Generation can't be far away. Look out, Netflix. Brendan Morrow

11:11 a.m.

The first White House official to be deposed by House investigators in the impeachment saga is heading to Capitol Hill on Monday to testify about Ukraine.

The testimony from Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia and Europe adviser, is reportedly highly anticipated, and although she may limit answers regarding any direct interactions with President Trump, she is expected to hit a few important notes, a personal familiar with Hill's account told The New York Times.

Hill will reportedly testify that she and other officials opposed the removal of former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, that she objected to a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and that she was cut out of the loop by Trump allies like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on matters concerning Ukraine even though she was Trump's leading adviser on the country.

Hill reportedly considered Yovanovitch's removal an "egregious abuse of the system," and she didn't get why Trump was hopping on the phone with Zelensky for a "congratulatory" call months after a similar conversation. Hill left her post a few days before the phone call, which wound up being the catalyst for Trump's impeachment inquiry. As for Giuliani, Hill reportedly viewed his activities as "essentially co-opting American foreign policy toward Ukraine."

The testimony reportedly will not include anything about a quid pro quo involving Trump withholding military aid for Ukraine until Kyiv investigated former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Read more at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:32 a.m.

Impeachment has President Trump more hooked on Twitter than ever before.

In the week before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) officially launched an impeachment inquiry into the president, he was still pretty addicted to social media, tweeting an average of 18 times per day. But the start of the inquiry has led Trump to double his tweet time, sending an average of 36 tweets a day, The Washington Post reports.

Trump set the single-day tweeting record of his presidency just five days after the impeachment inquiry began, suggesting across 48 tweets and retweets on Sept. 29 that his impeachment would cause a "civil war" and attacking Fox & Friends host Ed Henry 18 times. He then set another record last Friday, hitting "59 total tweets, including 33 in just 20 minutes," The Post writes. That included the announcement that Kevin McAleenan was leaving his spot as acting homeland security secretary.

Trump's tweet storm has coincided with another devastating new fact: He's now averaging more false claims per day than ever before. Throughout his presidency, Trump has averaged 14 false claims per day, with a graph from the Post showing the daily total has consistently increased as he approaches his 1,000th day in office. In fact, over the past 65 days, Trump has relayed an average of 22 false claims per day, per the Post. That's largely thanks to Trump's phone call with Ukraine's presidency and all the ways he's tried to cover it up in the weeks since. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:03 a.m.

NBC News' war with Ronan Farrow just keeps escalating.

Farrow's new book Catch and Kill hits stores Tuesday after a week of excerpts revealing some of the most damning allegations against the network, including that it paid settlements to Matt Lauer accusers years before his firing and that Harvey Weinstein may have pressured it to kill Farrow's investigation into his alleged sexual abuse using dirt about Lauer. Farrow's investigation into Weinstein was originally intended for NBC News, but he ultimately had to take it to The New Yorker.

Now, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim is out with a forceful response to Farrow's allegations, in an email accusing him of pushing conspiracy theories and smears.

"Farrow's effort to defame NBC News is clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an axe to grind," Oppenheim writes in the email, per journalist Yashar Ali. "It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies."

Oppenheim refutes Farrow's reporting that settlements were made to Lauer accusers before his 2017 firing, writing "there is no evidence of any reports of Lauer's misconduct before his firing, no settlements, no 'hush money' — no way we have found that NBC's current leadership could have been aware of his misdeeds in the past." He also refers to the suggestion that Farrow's Weinstein report may have been killed because Weinstein had dirt on Lauer as a "conspiracy theory."

"We have no secrets and nothing to hide," Oppenheim writes.

Farrow has continued to stand by his reporting amid criticism from NBC, telling Good Morning America on Friday it's "indisputable based on the evidence in this book that there was a chain of secret settlements at this company that were covered up ... this was a pattern." Brendan Morrow

9:57 a.m.

President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, which has given Turkey an opening to invade and launch an offensive against Kurdish forces in the region, has garnered a lot of criticism. Those critics include some members of the U.S. Special Forces who have worked closely with Kurdish soldiers over the years in a joint fight against the Islamic State.

Now, as the U.S. withdraws, Kurdish forces have struck an agreement with the Syrian government in the hopes of staving off Turkish forces. Here are three recent quotes from U.S. troops who are struggling to understand how things wound up the way they did.

1. "It's a stain on the American conscience," said one Army officer speaking on the condition of anonymity told The New York Times, referring to the U.S.'s Kurdish allies. "They trusted us and we broke that trust."

2. One U.S. Special Forces soldier criticized Trump directly in a phone call with Fox News last week.

3. "I'm ashamed," another officer told the Times. The officer echoed retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, who told CNN "There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies."

Read more at The New York Times and Mediaite. Tim O'Donnell

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