January 23, 2019

President Trump has officially recognized Venezuela's opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as the country's legitimate interim president.

Guaidó, leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, on Wednesday declared himself interim president over Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power since 2013. Maduro was re-elected in 2018 in a disputed election, which sparked protests and was decried as illegitimate. Maduro was sworn in for another term on Jan. 10, but the National Assembly called him an illegitimate president and said that his office is therefore vacant, reports The New York Times. The body then invoked an amendment in Venezuela's constitution to allow Guaidó to take power.

The United States previously sided with the anti-Maduro protesters, with Vice President Mike Pence earlier this week calling Maduro a "dictator with no legitimate claim to power," The Washington Post reports. Trump in his statement recognizing Guaidó, per The Guardian, reiterates this sentiment, saying the National Assembly is the "only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people." Guaidó will now move toward holding new elections. Brendan Morrow

11:24 a.m.

Democrats are already Berning some cold, hard cash.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced his Democratic bid for the presidency on Tuesday, and 24 hours later, his campaign had already pulled in a massive $6 million. Those donations came from 223,047 different people, each donating an average of $27, the campaign tells The New York Times.

Sanders' campaign haul looked promising just 12 hours after his announcement, with his campaign saying it had raised $4 million by 8 p.m. In fact, it took him just four hours to trounce Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) earlier one-day record of $1.5 million for this cycle. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), meanwhile, reported a $12.8 million Senate fundraising stash in early January — a near-record for a senator that far from Election Day.

It seems likely that Sanders will continue to beat out current candidates' fundraising totals, seeing as $600,000 of Tuesday's donations will recur every month. That means "the campaign can easily factor into budget planning," the Times' Shane Goldmacher writes — and that Sanders may end up with more than the $228 million he raised in his last primary run.

Check out how Sanders' cash stash compares to other 2020 Democrats at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:22 a.m.

Man-made climate change has completely eradicated its first mammal species, reports CNN.

The Bramble Cay melomys, a small brown rat, once inhabited an island off northern Australia and had not been seen for the last decade, per CNN. A 2016 report suggested the animal had gone extinct, but that finding was not confirmed by the Australian government until this week.

According to the report, the extinction's cause was "almost certainly ocean inundation" due to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

As many as several hundred rats lived on the tiny island in the 1970s, but the population rapidly declined in the following decades and the melomys was classified as endangered by 1992, reports CNN. Now that the species has been declared extinct, the Australian government will end its endangered species protections. Marianne Dodson

10:14 a.m.

President Trump's favorite bank apparently doesn't think he's too good with his money.

Deutsche Bank, "Trump's go-to lender for decades," grew very "concerned" that Trump wouldn't repay his $340 million in loans after he was elected, Bloomberg reports. So concerned, sources say, that the bank considered extending his repayment deadlines until after a "potential second term in 2025."

Trump had long had a problem finding banks who'd lend to him after several bankruptcies, Bloomberg notes. But Deutsche Bank kept working with the Trump Organization, providing funds for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. — one loan reportedly included in the $340 million total. When Trump was elected, though, Deutsche Bank's management board immediately feared he'd default, and stressed over "the public relations disaster they would face if they went after the assets of a sitting president." To avoid that, managers reportedly considered stretching loans with 2023 and 2024 due dates for another year or two.

Deutsche Bank eventually decided against the repayment extension, but did elect to stop working with Trump while he was in office, one source told Bloomberg. And even during the Trump campaign, Deutsche Bank denied a loan request for a similar reason: If Trump defaulted, "Deutsche Bank would have to choose between not collecting on the debt or seizing the assets of the president of the United States," The New York Times reported earlier this month.

Deutsche Bank declined to comment on the story, and the White House didn't respond to requests for comment. Eric Trump, the president's son, called the story "complete nonsense" in an email. Read more at Bloomberg. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:09 a.m.

Following a new bombshell report from The New York Times, one former prosecutor is breaking out the Richard Nixon comparisons.

CNN on Wednesday morning discussed a report from the Times that President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to get an ally installed as head of the Southern District of New York's investigation into the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen. The ally in question had already recused himself. This, CNN analyst and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Elie Honig concluded, is a big deal.

"If this is not an attempt to obstruct justice, I don't know what is," Honig said. "This is old-school, textbook, almost Nixon-style obstruction."

Honig said the only "rational, reasonable read" on Trump's reported request is that he wanted to "put a lid on the investigation" before it affected him. He also pointed to Trump's previous berating of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his recusal from the Russia investigation, saying this all adds up to a "fairly obvious pattern of obstruction." Trump has denied the reported conversation with Whitaker took place.

It wasn't only CNN analysts concluding this report looks bad for Trump — Fox News' Andrew Napolitano said that if the report is true, it clearly shows an "attempt to obstruct justice." Some did come to Trump's defense, though, with former Republican senator Rick Santorum saying the attorney Trump wanted to appoint was "not someone who would not normally be someone you would suggest would be in charge." He also said Trump's reported conversation with Whitaker was not "improper," although it also was not "wise."

Watch Honig's comments below. Brendan Morrow

9:46 a.m.

The Trump administration is launching what the The Washington Post calls "the most recent attempt to question the findings of federal scientists and experts on climate change" by assembling a panel dedicated to determining whether or not climate change poses a national security threat.

It turns out that William Happer, President Trump's top choice to lead the panel, is quite fond of carbon emissions.

So much so, in fact, that he said that people deserve to learn "the scientific truth, that more CO2 is actually a benefit to the earth" rather than a pollutant. In a 2014 appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box, Happer told host Andrew Ross Sorkin the "demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler."

Happer's views were unchanged as of 2017, as shown in an email published by Jezebel that year. He wrote that attacks on carbon dioxide "differs little from the Nazi persecution of Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies or ISIL slaugher of infidels."

Happer is a renowned physicist known for his work on laser technology used in missile defense and the interaction between light and atoms, but does not have a formal background in climate studies or history. Tim O'Donnell

8:44 a.m.

One might expect some of the recent revelations from former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's new tell-all book to send the White House into turmoil. Not so.

Axios reports White House officials see McCabe's new book — The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump — as an "opportunity." McCabe has in recent television interviews made a number of jaw-dropping statements, including confirming that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed whether Cabinet officials might come together to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. McCabe also said he opened an investigation into Trump and that he thought it was possible the president was working for Russia.

That's all pretty damaging, but according to Axios, White House officials and those close to Trump "plan to keep promoting" stories like these because "Trump and his allies view this as vindicating his narrative that there's a Deep State 'coup' afoot." This explains, Axios writes, why Trump allies and even the president himself have been putting some of McCabe's anecdotes out there rather than trying to suppress them or claim fake news.

Trump, after all, has been tweeting up a storm about McCabe in recent days, on Monday tweeting a quote from Sean Hannity claiming that McCabe "admitted to plotting a coup (government overthrow) when he was serving in the FBI." Trump added, "Treason!"

According to Axios, the White House's plan is to argue that stories like these from McCabe are true while at the same time everything else he says is "a pack of lies." Brendan Morrow

8:19 a.m.

President Trump is looking to take back more than $3 billion in federal money from California, and the state's governor is calling the move "political retribution."

The Trump administration on Tuesday said it will cancel a $929 million federal grant for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, saying the state's Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train project has "failed to make reasonable progress," per The New York Times. The administration also wants California to pay back $2.5 billion in federal money it's already spent.

This comes after California said it would be scaling back the $77 billion rail project, saying the version it had planned would "cost too much" and "take too long" but that construction on the 119-mile Central Valley rail link will still be completed, per Reuters. Upon making that announcement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he was "not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump."

Now, that's exactly what he's fighting against, and Newsom claims this is a direct response to his state's lawsuit against the administration for its declaration of a national emergency to secure border wall funding. "This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won't sit idly by," Newsom said. "This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it."

Trump on Twitter previously compared the high-speed rail project to the border wall, saying it is "hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed wall!"

Brendan Morrow

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