February 24, 2020

Since 2018, people close to President Trump, including "a well-connected network of conservative activists," have been putting together lists of government officials deemed "disloyal" as well as pro-Trump people who should replace them, more than a dozen people with knowledge of the matter told Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, leads Groundswell, the conservative network at the center of the lists. Thomas has passed along memos to Trump listing people who need to be replaced and suggestions as to who should fill their posts. Some recommendations have shaped Trump's opinion, Swan reports, and others have caused internal strife between Trump's outside advisers and White House officials in charge of personnel.

Trump has become convinced that every department in the government is filled with "snakes" who need to be fired, Swan writes. One person who became a victim of these memos is former U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, a person familiar with the matter told Swan. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had chosen Liu to become the department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, but after reading a lengthy memo listing allegations against her, Trump withdrew the nomination.

That memo was written by a member of Groundswell, a GOP Senate staffer named Barbara Ledeen, Swan reports. The memo claimed that there were more than a dozen reasons why Liu was unfit for the job, including because she dismissed charges against "violent inauguration protesters who plotted to disrupt the inauguration," belongs to a networking group that is "pro-choice," and signed the sentencing filing asking that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn serve jail time. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and Ledeen are friends.

You can read more about the lists and the suggested replacements, which include Fox News regulars and a controversial ex-sheriff, at Axios. Catherine Garcia

February 19, 2020

President Trump plans on naming U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence, three people with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times on Wednesday.

Grenell is known for being loyal to Trump, and one of his most vocal defenders. The director of national intelligence oversees the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community and advises the president and National Security Council.

Joseph Maguire, a retired admiral, is now serving as acting director of national intelligence, following last summer's resignation of Dan Coats. If Grenell steps into the role, he would be the first openly gay cabinet secretary. Catherine Garcia

February 18, 2020

Attorney General William Barr has let people close to President Trump know that he is contemplating stepping down in the wake of Trump's tweets about Justice Department criminal investigations, three administration officials told The Washington Post on Tuesday.

Barr has spoken with people inside and out of the White House, and has privately and publicly asked Trump to stop commenting on Justice Department matters, the officials said; Trump has ignored him. Last week, Trump tweeted about his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering. Trump said the sentence recommendation was too severe, and on Tuesday, he suggested Stone should receive a new trial.

Last week, Barr told ABC News that Trump's tweets "make it impossible for me to do my job." Barr hopes that by telling Trump's advisers he might quit, Trump will get the memo, officials told the Post. "He has his limits," said one person familiar with the matter, without elaborating on what line Trump would have to cross to get Barr to step down. Catherine Garcia

February 11, 2020

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will likely drop out of the Democratic presidential race on Wednesday, a person familiar with the matter told CBS News on Tuesday night.

Patrick is expected to announce his decision in an email to supporters. He joined the race late, entering the fray in November, and did not gain any traction. Patrick received little support in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary; with 77 percent of precincts reporting, he has 0.4 percent of the vote. Catherine Garcia

January 31, 2020

During a private event Thursday in Austin, Texas, former National Security Adviser John Bolton praised five government officials who testified in the House impeachment inquiry, KXAN reports.

During a question-and-answer session, Bolton said Fiona Hill, Tim Morrison, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Bill Taylor, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch all "acted in the best interest of the country as they saw it and consistent to what they thought our policies are." He also said members of the Trump administration should "feel they're able to speak their minds without retribution. The idea that somehow testifying to what you think is true is destructive to the system of government we have — I think, is very nearly the reverse — the exact reverse of the truth."

In her testimony, Hill, President Trump's former top Russia adviser, debunked a conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that meddled in the 2016 presidential election. Morrison, a former senior White House national security official, testified that U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland told him he let Ukraine know Trump would unfreeze military aid once leaders announced investigations into Democrats.

Taylor, the former acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, also testified that he was told aid to Ukraine was dependent on investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden. Vindman, the director of European Affairs for the White House National Security Council, was on Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and reported to his superiors that Trump requested Zelensky open an investigation into Biden. Yovanovitch testified that she was the victim of a successful smear campaign orchestrated by Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that in his upcoming book, Bolton contradicts Trump's claims that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine. Democrats want Bolton to testify during Trump's impeachment trial, and the Senate is expected to vote on calling more witnesses Friday. Catherine Garcia

January 27, 2020

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton writes in his forthcoming book that last year, he privately shared with Attorney General William Barr that he was worried President Trump was doing favors for autocratic leaders, The New York Times reports.

People familiar with the unpublished manuscript told the Times that Bolton also says Barr told him the Justice Department was investigating two companies in China and Turkey, and he had his own concerns that Trump hinted to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping that he had influence over these inquiries.

Barr reportedly brought up a conversation Trump had with Xi about ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications firm. In 2017, the company agreed to plead guilty and pay fines for violating U.S. sanctions on doing business with Iran and North Korea. ZTE was prohibited from buying American products for seven years, which hurt the company, but in 2018, Trump ignored objections from his advisers and GOP lawmakers and lifted the ban.

On Sunday, the Times reported that Bolton writes in his book that Trump said he wanted to withhold military assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into domestic political rivals. This is central to the impeachment charges against Trump, and a claim he has denied. Catherine Garcia

January 26, 2020

In an unpublished manuscript he has been sending to close associates, former National Security Adviser John Bolton writes that in August, President Trump told him he wanted to withhold military assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, The New York Times reports.

During a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked Zelensky to launch investigations into the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy that Ukraine, not Russia, stole documents from Democrats; Trump defenders have said his decision to freeze the aid, which was finally released in mid-September, had nothing to do with his request.

Bolton, who left his post in September, also writes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo privately shot down Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's claims that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was corrupt, calling them baseless and questioning whether Giuliani was acting on behalf of other clients, the Times reports. Bolton said after Trump's call with Zelensky, he went to Attorney General William Barr to share his concerns about Giuliani and let Barr know Trump mentioned his name to Zelensky. The Justice Department has said Barr didn't find this out until mid-August.

The manuscript offers insight into what Bolton might testify to if called as a witness in the Senate impeachment trial; during the House inquiry, Bolton complied with a White House ban on officials cooperating, blocking several people with firsthand knowledge of the Ukraine affair from testifying. Bolton has since said he will testify if subpoenaed. For more on what Bolton has to say in this draft of his book, visit The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

January 16, 2020

Federal prosecutors in Washington recently began investigating the 2017 leak of classified information to reporters at The New York Times and The Washington Post, and appear to be focusing on whether former FBI Director James Comey was involved, people with knowledge of the matter told the Times.

The Post and Times articles both mentioned a Russian government document that was obtained by Dutch intelligence officials and passed along to the FBI. The existence of the document and its collection method were both highly classified secrets. The document, which appeared to be part of a Russian disinformation campaign, played a role in Comey's decision to announce in July 2016 that the FBI did not plan on recommending Hillary Clinton face charges for her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Typically, leaks of classified information are investigated as soon as they appear in the media, not several years later. It's unclear if there is a grand jury, the number of witnesses interviewed, or what prompted the investigation, although the timing raises the question of whether it is motivated by politics, the Times notes. Federal prosecutors in New York already investigated Comey after he asked his personal lawyer and friend Daniel Richman to give a Times reporter contents of the memo he wrote about his interactions with Trump. It was retroactively determined that the memo contained classified information, but prosecutors declined to charge Comey with a crime. Catherine Garcia

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