12 p.m.: President Donald Trump will meet in the Oval Office with National Economic Director Gary Cohn.
2:50 p.m.: Trump will welcome Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the White House. The two will have a short meeting in the Oval Office before an expanded bilateral meeting in the Cabinet Room.
3:45 p.m.: Trump and Santos will hold a joint press conference in the East Room.
OTHER HAPPENINGS: Trump will have an off-the-record lunch with network anchors, POLITICO’s Hadas Gold reports.
TRUMP’S TWITTER THIS MORNING: “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel [sic] appointed! … This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
SO MUCH NEWS: A ton of news broke Wednesday night that could have serious implications for the administration. Here’s a rundown.
SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: From POLITICO: “The Justice Department on Wednesday named former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel investigating Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election, including any possible involvement of President Donald Trump’s campaign in that effort. Meeting the increasingly strident demands of Democratic lawmakers, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped Mueller to oversee the probe, despite recent White House statements that they viewed the appointment of a special counsel as unnecessary.”
FLYNN, PART 1: From the New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti: “Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case. Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies. Mr. Flynn’s disclosure, on Jan. 4, was first made to the transition team’s chief lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation, and another one two days later between Mr. Flynn’s lawyer and transition lawyers, shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Mr. Flynn far earlier than has been previously reported.”
FLYNN, PART 2: From McClatchy’s Vera Bergengruen: “One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent. The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president. Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months. If Flynn explained his answer, that’s not recorded, and it’s not known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team before rendering his verdict. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces – and which was his undeclared client. Trump eventually would approve the Raqqa plan, but not until weeks after Flynn had been fired.”
BACK TO THE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: From POLITICO’s Josh Dawsey and Annie Karni: “A battalion of White House aides entered the Oval Office together to present a unified front after the bombshell. The Justice Department had appointed a special prosecutor to oversee the probe into Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election, White House counsel Don McGahn had just told President Donald Trump. Many of Trump’s top aides gathered with the president Wednesday evening just after deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein signed the order and called McGahn — and just before the news exploded publicly in Washington. Trump handled it better than anyone expected, according to a person in the room. His reaction was ‘extremely measured,’ another said. He didn’t yell or scream. He told the assembled crowd they had nothing to hide. The mood in the room appeared to be one of resigned acceptance even though they were blindsided. ‘Everyone knew this wasn’t good news,’ this person said. The announcement marked yet another severe blow to the 45th president just 118 days into his term.”
DAMAGE CONTROL: From POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and Josh Dawsey: “The Trump White House has done essentially no damage control in the aftermath of reports that ousted FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo alleging that Trump tried to kill a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. No talking points have been distributed, and few reassurances have been given to Republicans, leaving frazzled and exhausted lawmakers to freelance their own response.”
INSIDE THE WEST WING: From the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Abby Phillip: “Some White House staffers have turned to impeachment gallows humor. Other mid-level aides have started reaching out to consultants, shopping their resumes. And at least one senior staffer has begun privately talking to friends about what a post-White House job would look like, according to two people close the staffer.”