The Hill's Morning Report — Trump shakes up staff with eye on 2020, Mueller probe




Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report and happy Monday! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi on the Mueller probe; WSOC-TV journalist Joe Bruno on the North Carolina 9th Congressional District allegations of election fraud; New Hampshire political journalist Paul Steinhauser, on Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerDespite Senate setbacks, the fight for voting rights is far from over Small ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-N.J.), who is eyeing a White House bid; and Rep.-elect Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), a newcomer to Congress.


A long-awaited shake-up at the top levels of the White House and administration is underway.

President TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE is rearranging his chessboard as the legal threats around him grow and as his allies prepare for a brutal campaign cycle.

The biggest headline from a busy weekend: Chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE will be gone by the end of the year. The president does not have a replacement in line at the moment.

Here’s a rundown of who’s in, who’s out, and who’s taking on new roles:

At the White House

> In the end, Kelly, a four-star retired Marine Corps general who was brought on to instill discipline in a chaotic West Wing, fell out of favor with the president.

Trump thought he might replace Kelly with Vice President Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, the 36 year-old wunderkind with a reputation as a sharp-elbowed political animal.

But The Hill’s Jordan Fabian and Brett Samuels report that Ayers took himself out of consideration on Sunday after he couldn’t come to an agreement with Trump about the terms of his service.

The president was seeking a long-term commitment from Ayers, who has decided instead to return to his home state of Georgia with his wife and children. Ayers will run a pro-Trump Super PAC.



That leaves the president at square one with the clock ticking down to Kelly’s departure.



One name Trump is throwing around? House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHouse has the power to subpoena its members — but does it have the will? Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump Jan. 6 committee asks Ivanka Trump to sit for interview MORE (R-N.C.), according to Axios. Meadows is a loyal Trump ally who would bring much-needed congressional experience to the West Wing. But remember, Meadows will be in the minority next year and someone else will be chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. 

Another possibility to replace Kelly: Former Rep. Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyTrump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Jan. 6 committee issues latest round of subpoenas for rally organizers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision MORE (R-S.C.), who heads the Office of Management and Budget.

The Associated Press: Trump looking at several candidates for chief of staff.

Bradley Blakeman: Trump needs a political chief of staff with eye on 2020.

> White House political director Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, the director of the office of public liaison, will leave to join Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Deputy White House political director Brian Jack is expected to replace Stepien, who kept a low profile at the White House. In addition, GOP Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseSarah Palin's defamation case against New York Times heads to trial Supreme Court handcuffs Biden on vaccinations House GOP campaign arm rakes in 0M in 2021 MORE’s (R-La.) floor director Ben Howard started on Friday as deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs.

> Pat Cipollone is now White House counsel, which might be the most difficult job in Washington at the moment. Cipollone, who replaced Don McGahn, will deal with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE and House Democrats, who are preparing a blizzard of investigations when they control the majority in January.

Within the Administration

> The president has tapped William Barr to replace Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE as attorney general.

Barr, 68, had this job before, albeit in a very different Washington under former President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993.

Expect senators from both parties to grill Barr at his confirmation hearing on his views of the special counsel investigation. They’ll be seeking a commitment from Barr to let Mueller finish his work, as pressure mounts on Senate Republicans to vote on a bill to protect the investigation.

The Hill: Five things to know about Barr.

>  State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, a former Fox News anchor, is nominated to succeed Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyBiden sparks confusion, cleanup on Russia-Ukraine remarks The 10 Republicans most likely to run for president Will — or should — Kamala Harris become the Spiro Agnew of 2022? MORE as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. That was a Cabinet-level position for Haley, but will not be for Nauert.

> Shortly before attending the Army-Navy football game on Saturday, Trump announced that he would nominate Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley to become the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If confirmed, Milley would succeed Gen. Joseph Dunford as the nation's highest-ranking uniformed officer.


INVESTIGATIONS: The special counsel probe is gaining strength and moving closer to “Individual- 1,” which is how Mueller’s team and prosecutors at the Southern District of New York referred to Trump in legal filings over the weekend.

The president faces legal threats on multiple fronts:

> Trump’s former attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations pertaining to election-year payments he made to bury stories from women who claim to have had extramarital affairs with the president. Cohen has said Trump directed him to make the payments. Prosecutors appear intent on pursuing this line of inquiry to the end.

The New York Times: Done with Cohen, prosecutors shift focus to Trump family business.

> Mueller’s team said in filings that Cohen and Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn have provided crucial information pertaining to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. It appears they’re homing in on conversations both men had with White House officials over the past two years, as well as the Trump Organization’s pursuit of a real estate project in Moscow in 2016.

The Hill: Five takeaways from the bombshell Cohen filings.

The Associated Press: Russia probe threatens Trump, those in his orbit.

Democrats reacted triumphantly to the news.

"There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him. That he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.” — Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House CIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee

Of course, Trump has not been accused of a crime and would mount a vigorous defense against any campaign finance allegations, which exist in a fuzzy legal zone.

Meanwhile, former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHillary 2024? Given the competition, she may be the Dems' best hope Trump draws attention with admission he 'fired Comey' Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE spent a tense day being grilled by House Republicans on Friday about the origins of the investigation into the Trump campaign.

The Associated Press: Comey says FBI probe initially looked at four Americans.

The Hill: Comey reveals new details on Russia probe in House testimony.

Comey will return for a second round of questioning on Dec. 17.

That might be the last chance for House Republicans to question a central figure in their investigation into allegations of political misconduct at the FBI and Department of Justice.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is poised to lead the House Judiciary Committee next year when Democrats are in control of the House, says he’ll shut down the GOP-led investigations.

“It is a waste of time.” – Nadler

Perspectives and Analysis

Dana Milbank: The utterly lawless `Individual-1.’

Prof. Clancy Martin: Why does Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortUS sanctions four Ukrainians for aiding Russian influence operations Manafort book set for August publication Accused spy's lawyers say plans to leave country were over Trump, not arrest MORE lie?

Chris Swecker: Comey is a disgrace to the FBI.

Andrew McCarthy: Why Trump is likely to be indicted by Manhattan U.S. attorney.

Harry Litman: Can Trump presidency survive latest court filings?

Ed Kilgore: House Democrats should probably learn from their opponents’ experience. There are investigations to pursue and Trump initiatives to kill.


CONGRESS: A bipartisan criminal justice reform bill in the Senate continues to be controversial this week. GOP backers say Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team McConnell says he made 'inadvertent omission' in voting remarks amid backlash These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Ky.) is bucking his Republicans colleagues, as well as Trump and Democratic senators who believe the bill could become law this year if allowed to come to the floor (The Hill).

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Kyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (R-S.C.), who supports the measure, says passage is possible this year, with Trump’s support.



"If they can attract the support of more Republican senators, there’s still an opportunity for that to be finished this year. If not, obviously, it will be taken up again next year." – Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSmall ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Watch: GOP leaders discuss Biden's first year in office MORE (R-S.D.), interviewed on CBS’s “Face the Nation”

Washington Post: McConnell resists action this year on a bipartisan criminal justice reform measure, infuriating some GOP colleagues.



House Republicans: House GOP women are facing a far tougher climb than their male counterparts as they seek to replenish their dwindling ranks on Capitol Hill (The Hill).

Saudi Arabia: Senators will vote on a resolution this week aimed at ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. With only days left in the congressional work year, senators are already laying the groundwork to revive the bill and a broader sanctions measure next year. House Democrats are also expected to push to crackdown on Saudi Arabia once they regain the majority (The Hill).

> Punish Trump: On a bipartisan basis, senators are edging closer to publicly rebuking the president this week over his refusal to distance the United States from the Saudi royal family following the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (The Hill).

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Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina seem intent on subverting the will of the voters, The New York Times editorial board.

Focus on Yemen, not the Saudi crown prince, by Dov Zakheim, opinion contributor, The Hill.


The Senate convenes today at 4 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Justin Muzinich to be deputy secretary of the Treasury.

The House meets at noon. Votes are scheduled at 6:30 p.m.

The president has lunch with the vice president.

Pence also participates in a swearing-in ceremony for the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at 5 p.m.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Pence to deliver keynote at fundraising banquet for South Carolina-based pregnancy center Russia suggests military deployments to Cuba, Venezuela an option MORE meets with Senegalese Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne at 9:30 a.m., and attends the signing ceremony for the Millennium Challenge. He delivers remarks to the Marine Corps Reserve at the Toys for Tots ceremonial presentation event at 1:30 p.m. at the State Department. At 3 p.m., Pompeo officiates at the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for the department’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs, Mary Elizabeth Taylor.

NASA’s Advisory Council meets today and Tuesday at NASA headquarters in Washington to discuss space policy. Members listed HERE gather today from 1:30-6 p.m.

The White House Historical Association holds its 2018 holiday book fair and shopping event from 11 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Location: 1610 H St. NW. Former White House chef Roland Mesnier and 13 other authors will sign copies of their books; Bill Barker of Colonial Williamsburg will portray former President Thomas Jefferson and the annual White House ornament and other gifts are available there and online:


> Amazon HQ a bonanza: The Washington, D.C., area will see $15 billion in new economic activity and 62,000 new jobs by 2030 with the arrival of Amazon’s corporate offices in Northern Virginia. The Virginia Chamber Foundation predicts in a new report that operations of the Amazon offices alone will produce an estimated annual $6.4 billion from 2019 to 2030, supporting an average 27,928 jobs each year in the region (The Washington Post).

> France: President Emmanuel Macron will address his country today as he seeks to placate “yellow vest” anti-government protesters who wreaked havoc in Paris over the weekend. Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said Macron is to announce “concrete and immediate” measures, but not a higher minimum wage (Reuters).

> China and trade: The Trump administration says March 1 is now the “hard” deadline on reaching a trade agreement with China, or new tariffs will be imposed (Reuters).

> Adenovirus: 30 cases of adenovirus have been confirmed at the University of Maryland, where eight people have been hospitalized and one freshman student died … (The Baltimore Sun) … Adenovirus has killed 12 people in Maryland and New Jersey. What is the common contagion that affects the respiratory system? (WebMD).


And finally … Holiday cookies ... ‘tis the season to bake!  From church bazaars, to holiday cookie-exchange parties, to office contests (The Hill’s employees have their second annual baking contest going on this month) — sugar is key.

“Cookiers” turn home-baked skills into edible art, successful businesses, personal therapy and social media fame (The New York Times).

There are royal icing artists and cookie portraitists who enjoy huge followings. Former art director Liz Joy is now a “sugar artist” and transforms baked goods into creative masterpieces (Twitter fan’s video is HERE).



Patti Paige and her custom cookie cutters have appeared in The Washington Post, her own cookbook and, of course, on Instagram.



The allure of holiday cookies enlivens fundraising events, publicizes grandmothers’ recipes and traditions, and reels in strangers. For example, Midwestern innkeepers devised a sweet gimmick this holiday season with the West Michigan Bed & Breakfast Christmas Cookie Tour (

And if you’re baking for friends, coworkers and neighbors, cookie tips and recipes are endless.

The Washington Post: Cookie perfection.  

Bon Appetit: Six holiday cookies to bake, swap, and share on repeat

Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Holiday cookie traditions for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

And the satisfaction is oh-so sweet!