POLITICO Playbook: TRUMP to lunch with RICK SCOTT

 In Politics

WELCOME TO THE DOORSTEP OF 2018 — @realDonaldTrump at 8:36 a.m.: “Why would smart voters want to put Democrats in Congress in 2018 Election when their policies will totally kill the great wealth created during the months since the Election. People are much better off now not to mention ISIS, VA, Judges, Strong Border, 2nd A, Tax Cuts & more?”

— FRONT PAGE OF THE L.A. TIMES (and other Tronc-owned papers like the Hartford Courant): “GOP faces Democratic wave in ‘18: For all their successes, Republicans end 2017 confronting bad signs for keeping control after midterm vote” http://bit.ly/2C0O213

Story Continued Below

Happy New Year’s Eve! SPOTTED LAST NIGHT, at Wilbur Ross’s birthday party in Palm Beach: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and wife Louise Linton, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Tom Quinn and Lynly Boor, David Koch, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and wife Mila, Christopher Ruddy and Talbott Maxey, Dr. Mehmet Oz and wife Lisa Lemole, Bret and Amy Baier, David Rubenstein, U.S. Ambassador to Morocco David Fischer, Ken and Jackie Duberstein and Nelson Peltz.

THE PRESIDENT will eat lunch today with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and they will “discuss ongoing hurricane recovery efforts, the need to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure and other matters important to Floridians,” per the White House, via WSJ’s Mike Bender.

THE STORY EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT … NYT’S SHARON LAFRANIERE, MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZO: “How the Russia Inquiry Began: A Campaign Aide, Drinks and Talk of Political Dirt”: “During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign. Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear.

“But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role. … The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election? It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.” http://nyti.ms/2CgehEW

— @tomgara: “Alexander Downer, the Australian diplomat at the center of this new Papadopoulos story, is from my home city, and here’s the best photo of him in his lesser political years (he went on to become Australian foreign minister)” http://bit.ly/2lppSqM

THE INVESTIGATIONS … WAPO’S KAROUN DEMIRJIAN: “Devin Nunes, targeting Mueller and the FBI, alarms Democrats and some Republicans with his tactics”: “‘I’m interested in getting access to the information and not the drama,’ Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said earlier this month, when Nunes began threatening contempt citations for FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in the wake of revelations former Mueller team members had exchanged anti-Trump texts.

“More recently, Gowdy said that his ‘heart would be broken’ if Nunes follows through on reported plans to issue a corruption exposé about the FBI, citing concerns that issuing such a report outside the context of a comprehensive investigation of the Justice Department could prove damaging to law enforcement.” http://wapo.st/2CqajJa

–POLITICAL FALLOUT — “Republican Attacks on Mueller and F.B.I. Open New Rift in G.O.P.,” by NYT’s Nick Fandos: “A growing campaign by President Trump’s most ardent supporters to discredit the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the law enforcement agencies assisting his investigation is opening new fissures in the Republican Party, with some lawmakers questioning the damage being done to federal law enforcement and to a political party that has long championed law and order. … [S]ome Republican lawmakers are speaking out, worried that Trump loyalists, hoping for short-term gain, could wind up staining the party, dampening morale at the F.B.I. and Justice Department, and potentially recasting Democrats as the true friends of law enforcement for years to come.” http://nyti.ms/2CroevP

BULLETIN FROM AP IN TEHRAN at 7:55 a.m.: “Iran state TV says authorities temporarily block Instagram, messaging app Telegram to ‘maintain peace’ amid protests.”

— THE LATEST: “2 protesters in Iran killed as social media apps blocked,” by AP’s Amir Vahdat in Tehran and Jon Gambrell in Dubai: “Iran on Sunday blocked access to Instagram and a popular messaging app used by activists to organize and publicize the protests now roiling the Islamic Republic, as authorities said two demonstrators had been killed overnight in the first deaths attributed to the rallies. The demonstrations, which began Thursday over the economic woes plaguing Iran and continued Sunday, appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since the protests that followed the country’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

“They were fanned in part by messages sent on the Telegram messaging app, which authorities blocked Sunday along with the photo-sharing app Instagram, which is owned by tech giant Facebook. Many in Iran are learning about the protests and sharing images of them through Telegram, a mobile phone messaging app popular among the country’s 80 million people. On Saturday, Telegram shut down one channel on the service over Iranian allegations it encouraged violence, something its moderator denied.” http://bit.ly/2CgHCPB

— REUTERS/LONDON: “Iran warned of a crackdown on Sunday against demonstrators who pose one of the biggest challenges to both the government and clerical leadership in power since the 1979 revolution. Tens of thousands of Iranians have protested across the country since Thursday against the Islamic Republic’s unelected clerical elite and Iranian foreign policy in the region. …

“Videos posted on social media showed people chanting: ‘Mullahs, have some shame, leave the country alone.’ … ‘Those who damage public property, violate law and order and create unrest are responsible for their actions and should pay the price,” state media quoted Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli as saying.’” http://reut.rs/2CuiMsc

— @realDonaldTrump at 8:03 a.m.: “Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

ON THE UPHEAVAL IN IRAN — @AlirezaNader: “As opposed to 2009, Iranians have this time lost trust in reformists as well. This is also directed at Rouhani. #iranprotests have lost hope in the entire system because conditions in Iran are so terrible and life is so difficult.” …

… @farnazfassihi: “A first in #IranianProtests #Rasht crowds chant: ‘Death to Revolutionary Guards.’ #Iran #IRGC”. 1-min. video http://bit.ly/2DCFUnE … “#Tehran Azadi street today: ‘Death to Khamenei.’ #Iranianprotests #Iran”. 30-second video http://bit.ly/2Crw1MA … @ragipsoylu: “BBC video from a small town Abhar, Iran shows protestors taking down Iran Supreme Leader’s banner”. 41-second video http://bit.ly/2lsoIe1 …

… @ColinKahl: “Clearly the Iran Deal didn’t legitimize the ayatollahs, nor was it a sufficient windfall to save the economy from corruption. It didn’t empower reform either. What it DID do was open up Iran more to the world & take away the regime’s ability to blame problems on sanctions.” …

… @BillKristol: “Here’s a crazy idea: The foreign policy/Middle East/Iran experts who are taking shots at each other for alleged past Iran policy mistakes might spend just a little of their time helping figure out what the U.S.–the administration, Congress, others–could usefully do now.”

****** A message from Google Year in Search 2017: In 2017, the world asked “how…?” From “how to move forward” to “how to make a difference,” the questions we asked showed our shared desire to understand our experiences. Watch the film and see top trending lists from around the world at g.co/2017. ******

IN PUERTO RICO — “‘We have a big problem’: Puerto Rico seeks aid for tens of thousands of squatters,” by Lorraine Woellert in San Juan, Puerto Rico: “When Hurricane Maria ripped across Puerto Rico, it revealed the damage wrought by years of government neglect. It also exposed an open secret generations in the making: Tens of thousands of island residents are in fact squatters, living illegally on abandoned or government land.

“For years, squatters were ignored or used as political pawns as the bankrupt central government swung from crisis to crisis. That changed with Maria, which tore through these low-lying barrios with particular ferocity. Now, with no legal claim to their homes or the land they’re built on, squatters find themselves unmoored from federal aid — and high on the government’s list of priorities.

“Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who took office in January, wants to fix his squatter problem by embracing it. He’s proposed giving 48,000 illegal settlers legal title to their land, a plan that could cost up to $30 million. He needs federal disaster aid to make the project work. ‘Before the emergency, it was something we needed to do; now it’s a more ambitious project,’ said Puerto Rico Housing Secretary Fernando Gil. ‘It would be helping out 48,000 people who thought that they couldn’t get any help.’” http://politi.co/2lyYFB8

HIDDEN WINNERS IN TAX BILL — “Tax cut on booze triggers fears of more abuse and drunken driving,” by Brian Faler: “People hoisting a beer mug or tipping a champagne glass to ring in the New Year have an extra reason to celebrate: Congress just slashed taxes on alcohol for the first time in decades. But public-health advocates fear the effects of the Republican tax law will be dire — more drunken driving, underage drinking and other alcohol-related programs. …

“Though the issue drew hardly any debate during the dash to pass the once-in-a-generation tax-code overhaul, the alcohol industry is one of the biggest winners of the Republican plan President Donald Trump signed into law Dec. 22. It cuts taxes on wine, beer, whiskey, vodka, tequila and other forms of alcohol. That translates to $1.6 billion in savings next year for MillerCoors; Diageo, the maker of such brands as Captain Morgan rum and Ketel One Vodka; and smaller beer and spirits operators that had pushed for the cut.” http://politi.co/2Chq6dI

BIG READ — NYT’S PETER BAKER, “For Trump, A Year of Reinventing the Presidency” as part of the paper’s “Trump’s Way” series: “When President Trump meets with aides to discuss policy or prepare for a speech, he may ask about the pros and cons of a new proposal. He may inquire about its possible effect. He may explore the best way to frame his case. But there is one thing he almost never does. ‘He very seldom asks how other presidents did this,’ said John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff.

“Under Mr. Trump, it has become a blunt instrument to advance personal, policy and political goals. He has revolutionized the way presidents deal with the world beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, dispensing with the carefully modulated messaging of past chief executives in favor of no-holds-barred, crystal-breaking, us-against-them, damn-the-consequences blasts borne out of gut and grievance.

“He has kept a business on the side; attacked the F.B.I., C.I.A. and other institutions he oversees; threatened to use his power against rivals; and waged war against members of his own party and even his own Cabinet. He fired the man investigating his campaign and has not ruled out firing the one who took over. He has appealed to base instincts on race, religion and gender as no president has in generations. And he has rattled the nuclear saber more bombastically than it has been since the days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“The presidency has served as a vehicle for Mr. Trump to construct and promote his own narrative, one with crackling verve but riddled with inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies, according to fact checkers. Rather than a force for unity or a calming voice in turbulent times, the presidency now is another weapon in a permanent campaign of divisiveness. Democrats and many establishment Republicans worry that Mr. Trump has squandered the moral authority of the office.” With cameos by Michael Beschloss, Bill Daley, Andy Surabian, Ron Klain, Jon Meacham, Robert Dallek, David Axelrod, Chris Ruddy, Pat Caddell, Stuart Spencer, Eliot Cohen, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Martha Joynt Kumar http://nyti.ms/2q55LCH

— CHANGING D.C.: “How the Trump era is changing the federal bureaucracy,” by WaPo’s Lisa Rein and Andrew Ba Tran: “Nearly a year into his takeover of Washington, President Trump has made a significant down payment on his campaign pledge to shrink the federal bureaucracy, a shift long sought by conservatives that could eventually bring the workforce down to levels not seen in decades.

“By the end of September, all Cabinet departments except Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Interior had fewer permanent staff than when Trump took office in January — with most shedding many hundreds of employees, according to an analysis of federal personnel data by The Washington Post. …

“The White House is now warning agencies to brace for even deeper cuts in the 2019 budget it will announce early next year, part of an effort to lower the federal deficit to pay for the new tax law, according to officials briefed on the budgets for their agencies. One possible casualty: a pay raise that federal employees historically have received when the economy is humming. … By the end of September, the federal government had 1.94 million permanent workers, down nearly 16,000 overall since the beginning of the year, according to the most recent OPM data. …

“During the first six months of the administration, 71,285 career employees quit or retired. That’s up from 50,000 who left during the same period in 2009 … The Presidential Management Fellows program, a prestigious internship for top graduate students, has been unable to place many recruits because of a lingering hiring freeze at many agencies, according to a half-dozen current fellows.” http://wapo.st/2lwGyf3

FROM PALM BEACH — “Who is using the Trump corporate chopper at Mar-a-Lago?,” by the Palm Beach Post’s Sarah Elsesser and Christine Stapleton: “For over a week, a private helicopter bearing the Trump logo and name has sat on the helipad at Mar-a-Lago — a helipad that is supposed to be used only for presidential business.

“Until Donald Trump became president, aircraft were forbidden from landing in the exclusive island town. But the town agreed to allow a helipad to be built and helicopters to land at Mar-a-Lago with certain conditions: The helipad must be removed when the president leaves office. Until then, the helipad can only be used for official presidential business.

“The helicopter currently sitting on the pad is co-owned by DT Connect II and DT Connect II Member Corp. The president’s sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., are executives at those companies, according to state corporate records.

“The Secret Service referred those questions to the White House. White House spokesman Raj Shah said on Saturday that neither the White House nor the Marines requested the helipad or were involved in building it or paying for it. Local officials said they don’t know who is using the helipad. ‘I wish I could answer that,’ said Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio about who was using the helicopter and why. ‘If that’s the case and it’s being used for official business, so be it.’” http://pbpo.st/2DBGCBJ

–SPOTTED in the lobby at the Breakers yesterday (separately): David Rubenstein and Bret Baier

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