Mueller Steals Focus Back From Trump Wall War

(Bloomberg) — Questions about whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe will personally implicate Donald Trump are back at the forefront after three weeks of partisan strife over the president’s proposed border wall.

Even as the U.S. government shutdown officially clocks in as the longest ever, Democrats are refocused on Mueller’s 2016 election-meddling inquiry, insisting the investigation be completed without interference. They say they’ll be seeking those assurances from Attorney General nominee William Barr when he testifies this week before a Senate panel.

The FBI opened a probe in 2017 to determine whether Trump had worked, knowingly or unknowingly, on behalf of Russia, the New York Times reported Friday. The next day, the Washington Post said he went to great lengths to hide details of his discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump, whose demands for money to build a U.S.-Mexico border barrier prompted a partial government shutdown now in its fourth week, unleashed a torrent of tweets criticizing the FBI following the new reports.

For a president who views the border wall as a winning issue with his base, the shutdown has provided what might be considered a welcome reprieve from the focus on the much more perilous Mueller probe. But that could change this week.

Brexit brink | Prime Minister Theresa May will make a last-ditch attempt to save her Brexit deal in the U.K.’s most pro-Leave city during a speech warning that lawmakers voting against her could mean Britain stays in the European Union. It’s a reflection of how Parliament has mobilized to try to prevent a no-deal Brexit and comes as pro-EU lawmakers step up efforts to force a second referendum. Expect a tumultuous 48 hours.

Trade war carnage | China’s exports slumped in December, adding pressure on Beijing to strike a deal with the Trump administration to end a months-long trade war. The numbers raised fresh concern about global growth, prompting a fall in global stocks – one of the benchmarks the U.S. president is also watching closely.

Greece’s acid test | The political class in Athens is about to test the idea that the years of turbulence over a severe economic crisis are a thing of the past. While Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may win a confidence vote this week triggered by the defection of an ally, there’s an election due by the fall and he’s struggling in the polls. So one way or another there’ll probably be a political transition to negotiate.

Scratchy Communications | Huawei axed a sales director arrested in Poland on suspicion of espionage, saying he’d brought the embattled Chinese telecoms giant into “disrepute.” The company has become a lightning rod for U.S. fears about China’s economic and technological rise, and the case may fuel concerns that Huawei helps Beijing spy on Western governments.

Congo’s vote dispute | The Democratic Republic of Congo’s neighbors are urging the government to conduct a new count of last month’s presidential vote in a bid to head off unrest in the world’s biggest cobalt producer. One opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, is challenging the victory of his rival, Felix Tshisekedi, in the Constitutional Court, while a key Catholic bishops body says the official results don’t reflect the findings of its observer team.

What to Watch

Mike Pompeo is cutting short his Middle East tour and will return home early due to a death in the family. The U.S. Secretary of State sought to reassure critics when he said he told Saudi rulers in Riyadh today that the U.S. expects the country to get to the bottom of the murder of columnist  Jamal Khashoggi.  Zimbabwe’s main labor-union confederation started a national strike at midnight after the government more than doubled fuel prices to the highest in the world. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will deliver his state of the union address to the Constituent Assembly around noon in Caracas, and is expected to make some economic announcements.

And finally… A quartet of young Democratic women, new to Congress and unafraid to push boundaries, is making an audacious attempt to set their party’s agenda and shape the 2020 presidential campaign, Sahil Kapur writes. Chief among them is New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s floated tax rates as high as 70 percent on top incomes to fund a “Green New Deal” and end fossil fuels.

 

–With assistance from Karen Leigh and Stuart Biggs.

To contact the author of this story: Kathleen Hunter in London at khunter9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Caroline Alexander at calexander1@bloomberg.net, Karl Maier

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