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Murkowski backs ACA individual mandate repeal

Photo: Jose Luis Magana / AP

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican who broke ranks over the summer to vote against GOP plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, has written an op-ed declaring her support for a repeal of the ACA's individual mandate. She writes, "I believe that the federal government should not force anyone to buy something they do not wish to buy in order to avoid being taxed."

Why it matters: The Senate tax plan includes a repeal of the mandate, which helps stabilize insurance markets by incentivizing healthy people to buy coverage. This may be a signal Murkowski intends to vote yes on the plan.

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Military personnel reassigned over conduct on Trump Asia trip

President Donald Trump, center, and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Three military personnel who worked for the White House Communications Agency are being reassigned for alleged "improper contact with foreign women" during President Trump's Asia trip, according to the Washington Post. The service members are responsible for providing "secure communications" to the president, vice president, and secret service.

Flashback: Four members of the same team faced similar allegations in August while in Panama ahead of Vice President Pence's arrival in the country.

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Russia-friendly Congressman under scrutiny

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Photo: Paul Holston / AP

California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has come under scrutiny in recent months from special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee for his close ties to the Kremlin, according to the New York Times. One eye-catching line: "the F.B.I. warned him in 2012 that Russia regarded him as an intelligence source worthy of a Kremlin code name."

Why it matters: Rohrabacher, a Republican, had no role in President Trump's election, but there have been several instances of him "showing up" at moments relevant to the Russia investigation, per the Times. His position as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats is also a point of concern for some.

  • He accepted a "confidential" memo including accusations against Democratic donors in April 2016 in Moscow, which later resurfaced in the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya.
  • He met with last August at the Ecuadorean Embassy with Julian Assange , who is believed to have "acted as a conduit for Russian operatives seeking to release a trove of hacked Democratic emails."
  • He had dinner with Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of a Russian central bank that tried to set up a "backdoor" meeting with then-candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Rohrabacher said "none of the meetings were untoward or inappropriate," per the Times: "I want to treat Russia as if it is a nation state that deserves to be judged as all other nation states are judged."
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Report: Mueller probing Kushner contacts with foreign leaders

Kushner arrives on Capitol Hill in July to meet behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are looking into contacts Jared Kushner had with foreign leaders, including over a December UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, before President Trump took office, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: It's illegal under the Logan Act for a private citizen to communicate with a foreign government to attempt to influence U.S. policy, but no one has been convicted under that law and it's unclear whether that's what Mueller is investigating. What is clear is that the Mueller investigation is going far beyond collusion with Russia to influence the election.

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Court files show allegation of "daily" harassment by Conyers

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. Photo: Carlos Osorio / AP

A former scheduler in Rep. John Conyers' office said she was the victim of "unwanted touching 'repeatedly and daily'" according to court documents from this February, BuzzFeed reports.

Why it matters: This woman was not a part of the sexual harassment settlement made in 2015, which Conyers admitted to making on Tuesday while denying claims of sexual harassment. The victim of the new incident sued Conyers for over $100,000, but later withdrew the lawsuit after the court denied her request to keep the complaint private.

  • According to BuzzFeed, the staffer describes daily harassment by Conyers from May to July 2016, including "rubbing on her shoulders, kissing her forehead, covering and attempting to hold her hand," and more.
  • She said this caused "insomnia, anxiety, depression and chest pains," which was made worse after Conyers' wife Monica called her a "whore."
  • The staffer "eventually became so unwell" that she attempted to take sick leave in 2016, and was fired after Conyers' chief of staff Raymond Plowden "demanded" proof that she was sick.
  • She filed a motion in February to file a lawsuit kept private from the public because she wanted to avoid "irreparably [harming]" the Congressman. It was ultimately rejected, and she "sought to withdraw her lawsuit with prejudice," which would keep her from re-filing later, per BuzzFeed.
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A new obstacle to Mideast peace talks

President Trump meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House in May. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

The Jerusalem Post reports: "Palestinians have frozen ties with the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and American officials visiting the West Bank ... If Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior adviser, or Jason Greenblatt, the administration's main peace envoy came to the West Bank, PA officials would not be able to meet with them."
Why it matters: A senior adviser to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said they're freezing communications because the State Department won't renew the certification of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's representative office in Washington, D.C. If the office is forced to close, it would almost certainly derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations being brokered by the Trump administration.

The details:

  • The PLO office is the de facto Palestinian embassy to the U.S. and was an important symbol for Palestinian diplomatic achievements.
  • The Palestinians say closing the office would be the equivalent to cutting diplomatic ties between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority, and would be a proof the Trump administration can't be an honest broker in future peace talks.

Between the lines: There's been speculation that the Trump administration's refusal to certify the Palestinian office was a tactic to gain leverage over the Palestinians in the peace talks. That's false. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had to sign a letter of decertification regarding the PLO office because the law obliged him to notify Congress if the Palestinians are encouraging the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes (which Palestinian President Abbas did in his UN speech in September).

  • Until now, the Palestinian actions and rhetoric regarding their relations with the U.S. had been mostly symbolic.
What we're hearing: Both sides are still talking to each other, and the office is still open — for now. Relations are not suspended yet. State Department officials tell us they're still in contact with Palestinian officials about the status of the PLO office, as well as about the administration's larger efforts to advance a lasting and comprehensive peace.

The bottom line: The Trump administration is sorting through its political and legal options to navigate this tense — and potentially disastrous — situation.

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Trump: AT&T merger "not good for the country"

Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

President Trump reiterated his stance against AT&T's merger with Time Warner on Tuesday, the day after the Justice Department sued to block the deal. While he didn't wade into litigation, he added, "personally, I've always felt that that was a deal that's not good for the country."

What's next: AT&T is expected to request an expedited trial to fight the Justice Department's lawsuit. The case has been assigned to Judge Richard Leon, a senior judge on the District of Columbia District Court, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, Reuters reports. Some observers see that as a good sign for the deal, as Republican-appointed judges are typically more business-friendly.

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Trump breaks from RNC, Ivanka in supporting Moore

Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

President Trump has broken with his party leadership and his own daughter, telling reporters that Roy Moore "totally denies" the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him and "you have to listen to him also."

The RNC and NRSC have pulled all support for Moore. Multiple senior Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said they believe Moore's accusers. Ivanka Trump told the AP: 'There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I've yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims' accounts.'"

More from Trump:

  • "We don't need a liberal Democrat in that seat... we don't need somebody soft on crime like [former prosecutor Doug] Jones."
  • "Women are very special. I think it's a very special time, a lot of things are coming out and I think that's good for our society and I think it's very very good for women and I'm very happy" these things are coming out.
  • Reminder: Trump faced multiple harassment and assault allegations of his own during the presidential campaign.

Other developing storylines:

  • CBS fired broadcaster Charlie Rose after a Washington Post article detailed multiple claims of harassment, including several on the record. PBS ended their relationship, and Bloomberg terminated their retransmission of his show.
  • Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) initially denied the BuzzFeed report that his office settled with a former worker after he allegedly fired her for turning down sex. He since admitted the settlement, but continues to deny the harassment allegations. He now faces a House Ethics Committee probe.
  • The New Yorker's latest by Ronan Farrow exposed how Harvey Weinstein allegedly used non-disclosure agreements, opposition research and favorable ties with the New York district attorney to evade prosecution.
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Russian billionaire arrested in France for tax evasion

Suleiman Kerimov. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

A Russian lawmaker and businessman with a net worth of $6.3 billion, was arrested in Nice, France, on Monday for connection to a tax evasion case, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: The investigation "centers on the purchase of several luxury residences on the French Riviera via shell companies," Reuters reports. Suleiman Kerimov's family controls Polyus, the largest gold producer in Russia. Since the Panama Papers, Kerimov's arrest is another example of someone losing the relative immunity he previously enjoyed, and being forced to face potential prosecution.

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Trump gives Roy Moore his de facto endorsement

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

While departing the White House en route to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving, President Trump signaled support for Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been plagued by sexual allegations from 9 different women. "We don't need a liberal Democrat in that seat," said Trump. "He totally denies [the accusations], you have to listen to him also ... we don't need somebody soft on crime like [Doug] Jones."

Why it matters: This signals a major shift in the president's position. The White House had previously said that Moore should drop out of the race if the allegations are true. But this afternoon, Trump all but told Alabamians they should vote for Moore.

More Trump quotes:

  • Are you campaigning for Moore? "I'll let you know next week."
  • More on Moore allegations: "I do have to say, 40 years is a long time. He has run eight races and this has never come up."
  • What is your message to women in this pivotal moment on sexual assault? "The women are trump voters. Most of them are trump voters ... Women are very special. I think it's a very special time, a lot of things are coming out and I think that's good for our society and I think it's very, very good for women."
Take note: Trump has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault and harassment.
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