According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser for President Donald Trump, has informed the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees that he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Flynn was privvy to information about foreign policy deliberations and was involved in the discussions around possibly lifting Russian sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. Flynn was forced to resign after acknowledging he misled White House officials including Vice President Mike Pence about the topic of his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition period.
Roger Stone, a friend and former adviser to President Donald Trump, will not have to testify in Manhattan Supreme Court in the immediate future, after a defamation trial in which he is named was delayed on Thursday. He was set to take the stand and address the allegation that he had orchestrated the distribution of a 2010 campaign mailer in which Libertarian candidate for governor Warren Redlich was called a “sick twisted pervert” and “predator.” “The man has no evidence whatsoever,” he said referring to Redlich, whom he has called “a crackpot.” Stone has also been eager to testify before the Senate and House Intelligence Committee, which are investigating alleged ties between Russia and associates of Trump during the presidential campaign.
Two White House officials reportedly provided House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes with the intelligence information he claimed as proof there was “incidental” surveillance of Trump associates prior to inauguration. Nunes has been under fire over his credibility and integrity surrounding the committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia. The California-based lawmaker had been unable to explain why he decided to travel to the White House the night before making the revelation about “incidental” surveillance, fueling concerns that he might have colluded with the White House to release information that allegedly vindicates Trump for his own unverified claims he was “wiretapped” by President Obama. The officials were identified to the Times as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, an intelligence director at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a national security lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office and former intelligence committee staffer. Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said in a statement that Nunes “will not confirm or deny speculation about his source’s identity, and he will not respond to speculation from anonymous sources.”
President Nicolás Maduro further consolidated his one-man rule over Venezuela on Thursday as the loyalist Supreme Court effectively dissolved the legislature, seizing power to write laws itself, The New York Times reported. According to the high court’s ruling, lawmakers were “in a situation of contempt” in opposition to the leftist ruling party, and that the justices would need to take over in order to “ensure that parliamentary powers were exercised directly by this Chamber, or by the body that the Chamber chooses.” According to the Times, one opposition legislator declared that the court “kidnapped the Constitution, they have kidnapped our rights, they have kidnapped our liberty.” Another lamented: “It’s demonstrating before the world the authoritarianism here. The people chose us through a popular vote.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) revealed on Thursday that he has accepted a White House invitation to review intelligence information—although it is unclear whether that information is the same as those provided to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) to allegedly prove that Trump’s team was “incidentally” surveilled. As the top Democrat on the same committee, Schiff said in accepting the invitation that he has “deep concerns” about the White House’s handling of these intelligence materials. If the information is the same as the ones shared with Nunes, he wrote, “this raises profound questions as to why those materials were given to the Chairman for the purpose of providing to the President instead of being shared directly with the White House.”
Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) told the Charleston Post & Courier on Thursday that President Trump threatened to support a primary challenge him if he refused to back the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. According to Sanford, the president sent his budget director Mick Mulvaney to make the threat: “The president asked me to look you square in the eyes and to say that he hoped that you voted ‘no’ on this bill so he could run against you in 2018,” the congressman recalled being told. Sanford explained to the Post & Courier: “I’ve never had anyone, over my time in politics, put it to me as directly as that.” The revelation comes the same day the president tweeted an open attack on the Freedom Caucus—of which Sanford is a member—for its refusal to support Trump’s health-care law. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast,” Trump wrote. “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng reported Thursday that the president is in “a vengeful mood” against the caucus, according to White House insiders.
North Carolina’s legislature on Thursday moved to repeal the state’s unpopular “bathroom bill,” or HB2, which requires individuals to use the public bathroom matching the gender on their birth certificate, regardless of their actual gender identity. The state’s house and senate voted in favor of HB 142, the new measure, and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to sign it. The legislation was crafted as a result of negotiations between Cooper and top Republican lawmakers. In the aftermath of the initial bill’s passage and signing by ex-GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, prominent corporations threatened to leave the state, including the NCAA. LGBT rights groups said the initial bill discriminated against transgenger individuals, and some have raised concerns with the compromise legislation, saying it would still allow for discrimination because it leaves bathroom regulation to the legislature. Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union are calling for a full repeal with no strings attached.
Russian President Vladimir Putin again denied that his country waged an influence campaign targeting the 2016 U.S. election, telling reporters Thursday: “Watch my lips: No.” Putin mistakenly attributed the phrase to Ronald Reagan, but it was actually used by George H.W. Bush when he famously said, “read my lips: no new taxes.” (The claim famously ended up untrue, as new taxes were levied during his presidency.) Putin called the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment a “lie” aimed at pushing an agenda. “All those things are fictional, illusory, and provocations, lies. All these are used for domestic American political agendas. The anti-Russian card is played by different political forces inside the United States to trade on that and consolidate their positions inside,” Putin added.
According to a report in Upload VR, Palmer Luckey, the co-founder of Oculus and the Rift creator, is leaving the company which he sold to Facebook three years ago. This will allegedly be Luckey’s last week with the company. “Palmer will be dearly missed," a statement from Facebook read. "Palmer’s legacy extends far beyond Oculus. His inventive spirit helped kickstart the modern VR revolution and helped build an industry. We’re thankful for everything he did for Oculus and VR, and we wish him all the best.” The Daily Beast has reached out to Facebook to confirm this information.
Last September, The Daily Beast revealed that Luckey had been involved in funding a pro-Trump political organization called Nimble America, a self-described “social welfare 501(c)4 non-profit." It was intended for the purposes of shitposting about Hillary Clinton and circulating offensive memes about her. Luckey got involved in the project after meeting Milo Yiannopoulos. Shortly after the story, Luckey essentially disappeared and skipped the Oculus Connect (OC3) developer conference. He has kept a low profile over the past few months with no posts to his Twitter or Facebook accounts since September.
Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote Thursday in the Senate for a procedural vote on legislation that allows states to defund Planned Parenthood. The initial rule, passed during the Obama administration, said states could not pick and choose where to distribute its Title X funding for women’s health care, including contraception and cervical cancer screenings. This means states can now withhold funding to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) blasted the GOP, tweeting: “[Pence] is on his way to break a tie on #TitleX funding. Just in case we didn’t already have enough men making decisions on women’s health.”