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Inside Trump (Jan 4th, 2018)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated he would roll back the Obama-era rule that opened the door for states to legalize marijuana. The "Cole Memo" de-prioritized marijuana prosecutions among US Attorneys in states that had already legalized the drug. Sessions argued that individual US Attorneys should make these judgments on a case-by-case basis. A number of Democratic lawmakers were critical of the announcement, which New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called "a direct attack on patients." Though Sessions has been critical of loosening marijuana laws since joining the Justice Department, President Trump in the past has indicated that he would not regulate the drug at the federal level. – WAPO

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President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have jointly agreed to postpone annual military exercises until after the 2018 Winter Olympics in February. The Games will take place in Pyeongchang, a mountainous region of South Korea that's only 60 miles away from the border with the North. The Foal Eagle exercise will eventually involve 200,000 South Korean troops and 30,000 Americans, and will determine the readiness of air, ground and naval operations. Moon first requested that the US delay the exercises in December. The hope is that delaying Foal Eagle will also prevent North Korea from launching any more ballistic missile tests prior to the Olympics, though it's unclear if North Korea's leadership had agreed to such a compromise. On Twitter, meanwhile, President Trump took credit for the re-opening of diplomatic communications between North and South Korea, arguing his "firm, strong... willing[ness] to commit our total 'might' against the North" was instrumental. – WAPO

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Senate Republicans met at the White House with President Trump on Thursday, in the hopes of working out compromises on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and border security. Attending the meeting were Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, chairman of the Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford. Though the group includes some border "hawks," who want to enforce tougher immigration policies, some members favor compromise with the Democrats on key issues. Graham has co-sponsored a bill with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, for example, that would allow undocumented immigrants protected by DACA to remain in the country. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake was apparently also invited to the meeting, but did not attend, as the group did not include any Democrats. Two-year DACA permits - which allow undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children to remain - begin expiring on March 5. Some Democrats have implied that they will hold up any future government spending packages until the issue is resolved. – CNN

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On Thursday, the Interior Department announced a plan to massively expand the amount of territory set aside for off-shore oil and natural gas drilling. The proposal would open up new areas for drilling on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. Last year, President Trump had ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to consider new areas for drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, near Alaska, but this new proposal goes much further, putting nearly all the offshore area around the US up for consideration. Zinke described the proposal as a necessary step toward "American energy dominance." A number of environmental groups were strongly critical of the proposal, describing it as a giveaway to the oil and gas industries. – THEHILL

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President Trump released a statement on Wednesday disbanding the voter fraud panel he established in the wake of the 2016 election. Trump had claimed that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton due to millions of fraudulently-cast ballots, and set up the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate these allegations. Though the panel was intended as bi-partisan, Trump had difficulty finding Democrats willing to sign up, and the concept of the commission was heavily criticized before it had met for the first time. (Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had run the group.) Despite its disbanding, both Trump and Kobach continued to insist that voter fraud is a real problem. Trump tweeted on Thursday that "System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D.” and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed there remains “substantial evidence of voter fraud." However, many news sources have reported that there's no real indication of widespread voter fraud in the US. – POLITICO

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The Labor Department will institute a rule change making it easier to buy and sell cheap, low-coverage health insurance plans across state lines. The proposal would allow the self-employed and small businesses to take advantage of the plans, despite concerns that they may not meet all the benefit guidelines set forth by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some insurers have also expressed concern that the availability of the plans would destabilize the current insurance market. As well, state insurance commissioners would have no power to regulate these plans. According to the Labor Department, the new interstate plans would not be allowed to charge higher premiums due to health issues, or the refuse coverage due to pre-existing conditions. However, higher premiums would be permitted for other variables, such as the customer's age and gender. – ABCNEWS

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IN-DEPTH: ON "FIRE & FURY"

The forthcoming book "Fire & Fury: Inside the Trump White House," by Michael Wolff, has stirred controversy with its insider's view of the current administration, after an excerpt was published in New York Magazine. The excerpt contains a number of surprising revelations, but primarily focuses on the Trump team's belief - in the closing days of the campaign - that they would lose the election. Wolff chronicles how many Trump campaign staffers - including Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner and Trump himself - had already started planning their post-politics careers. (Trump apparently had hoped to set up his own media empire, inspired by former Fox News chief Roger Ailes.) Wolff claims that Melania Trump was decidedly against her husband becoming president, and was in tears on Election Night.

He also describes Trump's bewilderment at gaining support from top conservative donor Robert Mercer, who donated $5 million to the campaign and brought in both Conway and campaign chairman Steve Bannon. 

The book - which was based on more than 200 interviews with Trump and those closest to him - features a number of explosive, critical comments about Trump and his administration from former strategist Bannon. An excerpt previewed by The Guardian finds Bannon referring to the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic." Bannon also told Wolff that the focus of Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump White House has centered around money laundering, and refers to ongoing deals between Deutsche Bank and the Kushner family as "greasy." 

On Wednesday, after the Guardian excerpt was released, Trump fired back at Bannon, accusing him of losing his mind in an official statement. He also implied that Bannon had not been instrumental in the day-to-day operations of his campaign. (For a time, Bannon served as the campaign's chief executive.) On Thursday, Trump noted that, Bannon had referred to him as a "great man" in a Wednesday night conversation on Breitbart Radio, accusing him of "chang[ing] his tune pretty quick."

In the Washington Post, Callum Borchers notes that the rift puts Bannon and Breitbart in an awkward position. Should they abandon Trump support, the site would require "a whole new identity."

On Thursday, President Trump's legal team sent an 11-page letter to Wolff and top executives at Henry Holt & Co, his publisher, threatening a libel lawsuit should the book be released as planned. Bannon also received a letter from Trump's lawyers, who claimed that his comments violate his signed confidentiality and non-disparagement agreements. 

"Fire & Fury" is scheduled to hit shelves next week.

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