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Steve Bannon's new group

Mary Schwalm / AP

Steve Bannon is setting up a new 501(c)(4) — aka a "tax-exempt social welfare organization" — to promote his agenda, and, he argues, the president's.

  • Such groups don't have to disclose their donors so long as — according to the IRS code — they can "be operated exclusively to promote social welfare" and so long as politics are not the group's "primary activity."

Bannon first publicly mentioned his new plans on billionaire John Catsimatidis' Sunday morning radio show, "Cat's Roundtable."

I asked a source close to Bannon to tell me more about the group. Here's what they told me:

  • The group has no name yet but will be set up this week.
  • Bannon plans to use the group to establish a "war council" to promote hawkish policies against China.
  • Bannon is obsessed with the rise of China and believes that Beijing will become a hegemon — sinisterly dominating America — if the U.S. doesn't aggressively confront it. (His detractors inside the White House say his ideas are reckless and would start a globally devastating trade war. Bannon, however, says China is already engaged in economic warfare against America, stealing the country's IP and technology, but the U.S. refuses to properly fight back.)
  • He also plans to use the group to "focus on grassroots efforts" so the base is "unified and energized to support the president's agenda."
  • Other policy issues that animate Bannon: trade, immigration, education, and inner city infrastructure development.

Why it matters: For all the speculation about Bannon's relationships with donors he's had no fundraising apparatus to date.

What we don't know: Which donors will fund the group. And we may never know because, under the law, Bannon won't have to tell us.

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U.S. v China in the race to weaponize space

Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Photo: Senior Airman Ian Dudley/U.S. Air Force via AP

I spent two days last week traveling with Defense Secretary James Mattis. The most memorable moment: inside Cheyenne Mountain, a Cold War-era fortress dug into the Rocky Mountains, and built to withstand nuclear attacks.

But the most illuminating session happened inside the Peterson Air Force Base, the hub for monitoring threats to the homeland. Colonel Todd Moore, who commands the 21st Space Wing, and his colleagues, told us about the escalating military space battle with China.

As one officer put it to us: America's superiority in space is why the 170 pound U.S. solider in Afghanistan is so much more lethal than the 170 pound enemy soldier he faces. The American soldier can look down at a screen and see the enemy on the other side of the mountain. The U.S. military has so much more information than its adversaries — provided by satellites, GPS, and other sophisticated systems.

Why this matters: A senior military officer summed it up in his briefing: "Our adversaries see space as a potential war fighting domain" and while Russia has always understood the importance of space, "it's really China that's growing incredibly [fast]."

What's next: America's adversaries are rapidly developing their military space capabilities. China is determined to dominate space, and is investing gobsmacking amounts of money to get the edge on the U.S. In 2007, China tested its first anti-satellite weapon, and its military space capabilities have grown substantially since then. These concerns will grow ever-louder as the Pentagon fights for a larger budget.

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Next wave of D.C. harassment allegations anticipated

Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Members of Congress with histories of mistreating women should be extremely nervous. Major outlets, including CNN, are dedicating substantial newsroom resources to investigating sexual harassment allegations against numerous lawmakers. A Republican source told me he's gotten calls from well-known D.C. reporters who are gathering stories about sleazy members.

Bottom line: Democratic Sen. Al Franken is the very tip of the congressional iceberg. Many more stories are coming and we wouldn't be surprised if they end several careers.

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Judicial appointments are the sleeper story that matters

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Tax reform and the end of year spending deal will consume all of Washington's oxygen until the end of the year. But quietly, a potentially far more important, though far less sexy story is unfolding.

If Mitch McConnell's schedule goes to plan, the week after Thanksgiving the Senate Majority Leader will confirm his ninth federal judge. That would beat President Reagan's eight in his first year — the most in recent history. And it triples the three federal judges President Obama appointed in his first year in office.

Why this matters: The federal courts affect almost every area of policy: gun rights, presidential executive orders like Trump's travel ban, social policy issues like abortion and freedom of religion, and tensions between regulation, litigation and private enterprise. McConnell's judges — who passed through a well-funded and organized conservative pipeline — will shape the U.S. over many decades in ways we can't yet imagine.

  • Smart Democrats are deeply concerned about this trend, and understand that these lifetime judicial appointments will have a much greater impact on the future direction of this country than any short-term spending deal or policy.
  • Example: "This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration," Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Business Insider. If conservatives have their way, he said, the Senate would "put judges on circuit courts all over the country, district courts all over the country, that will, given their youth and conservatism, will have a significant impact on the shape and trajectory of American law for decades."
  • As Congress becomes more and more dysfunctional, and more and more power accrues to the executive branch, it's the judges who increasingly decide policy. It wasn't Congress that blocked Trump's travel bans. It was judges in states like Hawaii and Maryland.

Inside McConnell's head: Leonard Leo, a top outside adviser on judicial appointments for President Trump and Republican leaders, told me McConnell places "an enormously high priority on the confirmation of judges" and has throughout his career. "His thinking behind that is that the federal judiciary has an enormous impact on the future direction of our country in ways that many pieces of legislation and public policy initiatives don't."

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Turkeys arrive to D.C. to await Trump's pardon

Two turkeys arrived in D.C. today ahead of the 70th annual turkey pardon. According to the White House, the two turkeys were raised in Western Minnesota, and after the pardon will join turkeys pardoned by Obama at Virginia Tech's "Gobblers Rest" exhibit. They will be staying in style at the Willard Hotel, as is tradition.

Past Pardons

President Barack Obama with his nephews Aaron Robinson and Austin Robinson, and National Turkey Federation Chairman John Reicks.Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

President Bush lets children from Campfire USA pet May,the National Thanksgiving Turkey, as he pardons the bird.Photo: Gerald Herbert / AP


President Clinton admires a 45-pound turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House.Photo: Doug Mills / AP

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Famine, cholera, and civilian casualties: The crisis in Yemen

Yemenis present documents in order to receive food rations provided by a local charity. Photo: Hani Mohammed / AP

On Thursday, the World Health Organization issued a statement requesting that Saudi Arabia discontinue its blockades in Yemen to allow food and medical supplies in to the country. "Together, we issue another urgent appeal for the coalition to permit entry of lifesaving supplies to Yemen in response to what is now the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The supplies...are essential to staving off disease and starvation. Without them, untold thousands of innocent victims, among them many children, will die."

Why it matters: While the Saudis said Monday they would begin opening ports to allow supplies in, NPR reports aid workers are still having difficulty getting food and medical supplies to millions of people in need. But it's not just famine and cholera that are a concern in Yemen; civilian casualties at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition have long been a concern.

Cholera

  • The U.N. reported at the beginning of the month that there have been over 2,000 deaths due to cholera since the end of April, and almost 900,000 "suspected cases" as of November 1.
  • Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen, Alexandra Faite, said "we could reach up to 1 million [cases] the end of the year."
  • An estimated 5,000 people were becoming infected daily as of September, per CNN.
  • Save the Children's country director for Yemen, Tamer Kirolos, told CNN that cholera is "easily treatable if you have access to basic healthcare," but the war in Yemen has left hospitals destroyed, health workers unpaid, and crucial aid delivery impossible.

Famine

  • The blockade initiated by Saudi Arabia has impacted millions of people who rely solely on imported food assistance, the U.N. said.
  • Around 3.2 million people "will be driven to famine, and 150,000 malnourished children are at risk of dying in the coming months," according to Time.
  • Per the non-profit Save the Children, "malnourished children...are at least three times more likely to die if they contract cholera," and there are more than 1 million malnourished children "living in areas with high levels of infection."

Civilian casualties

  • As previously reported by Axios, while the Saudi coalition assured the U.S. it would take steps to avoid civilian casualties, there has been no supporting evidence.
  • While the U.S. is no longer involved in supporting Saudi airstrikes, the U.S. did approve a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis earlier this year.
  • On Monday, the House passed a mostly symbolic resolution "explicitly stating that U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen is not authorized under legislation," per Politico. It does not, however, call for an end to support.
  • Politico also reports that there have been an estimated 10,000 civilians killed since 2015.
Featured

Publicist at center of Trump Jr.-Russia meeting breaks silence

Rob Goldstone. Photo: Irina Bujor/Kommersant Photo via AP

Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who helped arrange the June, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer and lobbyist has broken his silence in an interview with Philip Sherwell in the Sunday Times of London.

Key takeaways: Goldstone, who says he was in the meeting at Trump Jr.'s request, says after beginning under the premise of dirt on Hillary Clinton, the meeting shifted focus to the Magnitsky Act. He describes Jared Kushner as "furious," and says Paul Manafort seemed to be paying little attention to what was being said.

  • Goldstone: "First of all, if Russian intelligence had used me in some way, as people perceive, but which I don't believe, then they'll know I don't know anything. If Russian intelligence hasn't used me, but are intelligent, they will equally know I don't know anything and this is all nonsense."
  • Was he part of a Russian plot? "When people said that, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. That doesn't mean that maybe there wasn't any Russian interference or Trump campaign collusion in other ways. I don't know. But I'm sure I wasn't part of it."

The background

The interview took place in Southeast Asia, where Sherwell is based and where Goldstone has been traveling and trying to avoid the spotlight. Quick refresher:

  • June 3, 2016: Goldstone emails Trump Jr. saying the crown prosecutor of Russia wants to provide information that "would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father" as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Trump Jr. replies, "If it's what you say it is, I love it."
  • June 9, 2016: The meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya takes place at Trump Tower. Trump Jr., Manfort and Kushner attend.
  • July 8, 2017: NY Times reports that the meeting took place.
  • July 11, 2017: Trump Jr. publishes his emails with Goldstone.

Goldstone on how the meeting came together

  • He says client Emin Agalarov, a Russian singer and the son of an oligarch, called him wanting him to arrange the meeting. He "puffed up" the language Agalarov gave him and sent it in a message to Trump Jr.
  • "All I had to do was facilitate a meeting, he said, after which I walk away from it and whatever comes of it, thank you very much."
  • "I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn't get involved in this. It's politics, it's Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world."
  • "I should have listened to that little voice in my head. But I never thought in a million years that an email I wrote in about three minutes to Don Jr would be examined by the world many times over. I just needed to get him to respond. I could have said that the Russian attorney believes she found a black hole, or believes Santa is real, it didn't really matter. So when he replied, 'If it's what you say it is, I love it,' I just thought my teaser had worked."

Goldstone on the meeting

  • "I believe that she practiced a classic bait-and-switch. She got in there on one pretext and really wanted to discuss something else."
  • "It was vague, generic nonsense."
  • "Don Jr ended it by telling her that she should be addressing her concerns to the Obama administration, because they were the ones in power."

Goldstone on Goldstone

  • "So when people ask why some music publicist was involved in all this, well, I was always the conduit, the Mr Go-To, between the Agalarovs and the Trumps."
  • "If I'm guilty of anything, and I hate the word guilty, it's hyping the message and going the extra mile for my clients. Using hot-button language to puff up the information I had been given. I didn't make up the details, I just made them sound more interesting."
  • "I believe [Trump Jr.] acted like a son and not like someone who was versed in the world of politics. The campaign chairman, Manafort, was sitting there, so shouldn't he have said to him, 'We can't have this meeting'? Should Don Jr have sent this over to the FBI when I sent the email? And should they have said to me, 'Who is this woman and what did she know?' Yes, probably. Did he? No. So, you know what, I think he has already apologized. And I can apologize in some way for having sent the email in the first place.

Bonus, on the Trump-Russia dossier

"I can't comment about the contents of the Steele dossier, but I can tell you that there were only a few hours during a very busy schedule when Trump was back in his room at the Ritz-Carlton," Goldstone, who was with Trump for most of the trip, says.

What's next?

  • Goldstone has agreed to meet with Robert Mueller's team and congressional investigators. No date has been set for those meetings, and he's not under subpoena.
  • Goldstone says he is writing a book. The title: "Useful Idiot: How an Email Trumped My Life".

Featured

Mulvaney: Trump "doesn't know who to believe" on Moore allegations

Screenshot of Mick Mulvaney on "Meet the Press" with Andrea Mitchell.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, both attempted on Sunday to explain President Trump's silence on the accusations of child sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct against GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore:

  • Mulvaney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Trump "doesn't know who to believe," and "thinks that the voters of Alabama should decide."
  • Short said on ABC's "This Week" that "the president has expressed his concern" about the allegations against Moore: "As you noted, the president has not gone down to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore since the primary concluded. We have serious concerns about the allegations that have been made, but we also believe that all of this info is out there for the people of Alabama."
Why it matters: The RNC has pulled its support from Moore and most high-ranking Republicans have repudiated him. Trump hasn't, but he has weighed in on the allegations against Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
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Zimbabwe's Mugabe refuses to resign in speech to nation

Zimbabweans sing and pray at a Christian peace and prayer rally Sunday in Harare. Photo: Ben Curtis / AP

Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old dictator who led Zimbabwe for 37 years, was expected to resign in an address to the nation Sunday afternoon. He didn't.

He was removed as the leader of his party and was reportedly negotiating his resignation with military leaders earlier in the day, but said in his speech that he planned to preside over next month's party congress. Party leaders have said he'll be impeached if he doesn't resign by early next week. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is known as a ruthless strongman and was Zimbabwe's vice president until Mugabe precipitated the coup by placing his wife next in line for the presidency, appeared poised to take control. After Mugabe's speech, it's unclear what will happen next.