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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with Trump in April. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Getting a cranky, stubborn President Trump to belatedly sign the COVID relief bill, after unemployment benefits had already lapsed, was like being a hostage negotiator, or defusing a bomb.

Driving the news: The deal was closed on a Sunday afternoon phone call with Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. "This is good," Trump finally said, an official familiar with the call told me. "I should sign this."

How it happened: Over many days, Mnuchin and McCarthy — aided by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who golfed with Trump in West Palm Beach on Friday — indulged the president's rants, told him there was great stuff in the bill, and gave him "wins" he could announce, even though they didn't change the bill.

  • Playing to his vanity, they invoked his legacy, and reminded him he didn't want to hurt people.
  • They convinced the author of "The Art of the Deal" that he had shown himself to be a fighter, and that he had gotten all there was to get.

Trump's sweeteners, from his 8:15 p.m. statement: "[T]he House and Senate have agreed to focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud which took place in the November 3 Presidential election."

  • "The Senate will start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud. Big Tech must not get protections of Section 230! Voter Fraud must be fixed! Much more money is coming. I will never give up my fight for the American people!"

Reality check ... Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who worked hard to understand Trump, told me: "It may be too late. Too late for him, too late for the economy, too late for Covid, and too late for the Georgia senators."

  • 📄 Go deeper: Updated highlights of what's in the bill.
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Go deeper

DOJ watchdog to probe whether officials sought to alter election results

Donald and Melania Trump exit Air Force One in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Jan. 20. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department's inspector general will investigate whether any current or former DOJ officials "engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome" of the 2020 election, the agency announced Monday.

Driving the news: The investigation comes in the wake of a New York Times report that alleged Jeffrey Clark, the head of DOJ's civil division, had plotted with President Trump to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen in a scheme to overturn the election results in Georgia.

Bernie Madoff dies in prison at 82

Photo: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bernie Madoff, a former investor sentenced to 150 years in prison for perpetrating the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, died Wednesday at age 82, AP reports.

The big picture: Madoff pleaded guilty in 2009 to a multibillion-dollar scheme that investigators said began in the 1970s and defrauded as many as 37,000 people in 136 countries — including high-profile victims like Steven Spielberg, former New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon and actor Kevin Bacon, according to CNBC.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - World

John Kerry and China's long road ahead on climate

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Brian Snyder/AFP via Getty Images

Yes, special climate envoy John Kerry's really in China and no, don't look for a huge breakthrough between the world's two largest carbon-emitting nations.

Driving the news: The State Department yesterday announced Kerry's visit this week, confirming plans that began emerging Saturday.