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Is Trump team using the shutdown to shiv civil servants?

Federal employees rally at the Capitol in Washington

Federal employees rally at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday to protest the impasse between Congress and President Donald Trump over his demand to fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Photo Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Shutdown-sizing

Many Americans are saddened, disturbed and even outraged over the plight of 800,000 federal workers who haven't been paid for going on four weeks. But do some in the upper echelons of Donald Trump's administration see the furloughs and no-pay labor as an opportunity?

That's the thrust of a piece by an author described as a Trump administration "senior official" that appeared in the conservative Daily Caller, which vouched for writer's legitimacy. (It was a takeoff on the anonymous senior official (still unidentified) who wrote a New York Times Op-Ed in September about internal "resistance" to Trump.)

"A few words of advice for the president’s next move at shuttered government agencies: lock the doors, sell the furniture, and cut them down," the writer said. "Federal employees are starting to feel the strain of the shutdown. I am one of them. But for the sake of our nation, I hope it lasts a very long time, till the government is changed and can never return to its previous form."

The writer said "roughly 15 percent of the employees around me are exceptional patriots serving their country" while a majority "actively work against the president’s agenda." "Essential employees" should get paid, but "furloughed employees should find other work, never return and not be paid," the item said. 

Is that what the president thinks? Here's one clue: On Tuesday he retweeted a tweet of the article by his son Donald Trump Jr., who called it "worth the read."

Efforts to end the shutdown are still going nowhere, writes Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. A group of centrist Democrats rebuffed Trump's invitation to come to the White House to hear his wall pitch. One of them, Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), said they felt “that whoever goes to the White House is kind of setting themselves up to be used as a stunt.” 

Like The Daily Caller writer, there are a number of Trump officials and allies who also see the shutdown as advancing their cause of smaller government, The Washington Post reported. However, on the shutdown's 25th day, the definition of who is essential grew more expansive, with the IRS recalling 46,000 workers, the FAA bringing back more than 3,100 and the FDA telling 150 to return. All must work without pay.

Barr: Mueller's virtually fireproof

William Barr, the president's nominee for attorney general, sought to assure the Senate Judiciary Committee that he will maintain independence from Trump and let special counsel Robert Mueller complete the Russia investigation. While he said it was his goal to make public as much information from Mueller's findings as possible, he didn't offer an absolute pledge. But he said the White House won't have a say in it.

"I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong by anybody," including the president, Barr said. If Trump asked him to fire Mueller without good cause, Barr replied he "would not carry out that instruction." Barr also told the committee that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions "probably did the right thing" in recusing himself from the Russia investigation — the reason Trump turned against Sessions.

Some Democrats remain concerned about a memo Barr sent to the Justice Department before his nomination questioning Mueller's look into possible obstruction of justice. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Barr the memo showed "a determined effort, I thought, to undermine Bob Mueller."

Barr said his memo did not in any way question “the special counsel’s core investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Janison: The Gilli brand

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's focus on gender and promotion of female candidacies started years before the onset of #MeToo movement and the election of Trump, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. That could be the New York senator's signature marketing strategy in a Democratic presidential field in which, as she noted last year, "You’ll have many women running. It’s not going to be just one woman running." 

Gillibrand announced her candidacy  during an appearance on CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Tuesday night, saying, "As a young mom, I'm going to fight for other people's kids as hard as I would fight for my own." For more on that, see Newsday's story by Matthew Chayes

Shock to the census

A federal judge in Manhattan shot down the Trump administration’s attempt to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, which critics called a scheme to scare noncitizens into not cooperating and suppressing their count.

Judge Jesse Furman found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross committed “egregious” violations of proper procedures by adding the question.

Furman concluded the citizenship question would depress responses in households with noncitizens by at least 5.8% and likely more, costing states and localities where they live seats in Congress and federal funding based on population. The case will likely end up before the Supreme Court.

Chris Christie's revenge

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is settling scores in a soon-to-be-published new book, "Let Me Finish," over getting frozen out of a prominent role as the Trump administration prepared to take power, according to an advance look from The Guardian.

Christie charges Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, carried out a political “hit job" to get him removed as chief of Trump's transition team as an act of revenge for prosecuting his father, Charles Kushner, and getting him sent to prison a decade ago. Christie said his replacement for the transition, Vice President Mike Pence, made bad choices "over and over again." 

Other wrong calls by Kushner, according to Christie, included the notion that firing FBI Director James Comey wouldn't set off a firestorm.

Trump is relatively unscathed in the book, but Christie shared some anecdotes about their relationship. Trump had scolded him in the past about his weight and told him during the 2016 campaign to wear a longer tie because it would make him look thinner.

Standing up for sanctions

Eleven Senate Republicans joined with Democrats on Tuesday to move ahead with a measure intended to stop the Treasury Department from softening sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. It passed 57 to 42, but 60 votes will be required to keep it alive on Wednesday.

Senate Democrats argued that the Trump administration should instead be standing firm against Russian aggression and that lifting sanctions sent the wrong message.

The test vote came after The New York Times reported that Trump in private has repeatedly brought up the idea of leaving the NATO military alliance, a move that would be wildly welcomed by the Kremlin.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said on CNN that if Trump attempts that, it would justify removing him from office. “I think that act would be so destructive to our country and to our ability to protect the national security of every American that it would be a ground  for some profound effort by our part, whether it is impeachment or the 25th Amendment,” she said. 

What else is happening:

  • The nation's 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members missed their scheduled paycheck Tuesday, as the only military branch to work without pay during the government shutdown. A short-term solution kept them from being cast away from the payrolls in December.
  • Gillibrand isn't the first Democratic hopeful to make Colbert's show a key stop and she likely won't be the last. Others who appeared recently to make a play for the comedian's liberal fan base included Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, as well as former HUD secretary Julián Castro, CNN reports.
  • Trump added to his long list of misspellings and typos on Twitter Tuesday with a tweet boasting about serving “over 1,000 hamberders” to the Clemson football team at the White House. That earned him a McRibbing from Burger King, which tweeted: "due to a large order placed yesterday, we're all out of hamberders. just serving hamburgers today."
  • Rudy Giuliani's Twitter feed has gotten more miss than hit. While attacking the FBI over reports it launched a counterintelligence probe of Trump in 2017, Giuliani wrote, "Gee Hillary wanted to fire Mueller." That made no sense. Mueller was appointed six months after Clinton lost the election. Maybe he meant Comey?
  • Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had been threatened with a subpoena, has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 8. The chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) said he wants to question Whitaker even if Barr has been confirmed by then.
  • What's wrong with Trump's right hand, which was covered with a bandage and has blood seeping through in recent appearances? Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Politico: "The president was having fun and joking around with his son Barron and scratched his hand.”
  • Trump's presidency has taken a no-divot pivot. NBC News notes it's been more than 50 days since he played golf — the last round came on Nov. 25 at the end of his Thanksgiving vacation at Mar-a-Lago. He has visited his golf properties more than 160 times since taking office.

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