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First Read's Morning Clips: Russian Ambassador and Sessions Met Last Year

A roundup of the most important political news stories of the day
Image: Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the U.S.
Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the U.S. speaks with reporters following his address on the Syrian situation, on Sept. 6, 2013.Cliff Owen / AP, file

TRUMP AGENDA: Sessions’ meeting with Russia’s ambassador

The big story, from “Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before the presidential election last year, his spokeswoman confirmed, raising questions about whether he misled senators who inquired about the Trump campaign's ties to Moscow. Sarah Isgur Flores told NBC News that Sessions did have a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year. The meeting was first reported by The Washington Post. But she said "there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer" because Sessions was asked during the hearing about "communications between Russia and the Trump campaign" and not about meetings he took as a member of the Armed Services Committee.”

From the Washington Post, which first broke the story: “Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general. One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.”

And from The New York Times: “In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators. American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”

Democrats are demanding that Sessions resigns over the reported meetings.

Leigh Ann Caldwell writes that hardliners are pleased with Trump’s immigration plan. “Trump's immigration plan has nothing to do with a path to citizenship, according to White House allies that includes people who consult with the administration and members of Congress. The expectation is that any "compromise" would not grant legalization to those here illegally but would likely include relief for a small number of the undocumented: the Dreamers. But before Dreamers would be offered sanctuary, Trump has a list of immigration related measure that must be enacted first, including reforming the legal immigration system, which allies say, is intended to dramatically REDUCE legal immigrations.”

What’s the state of congressional negotiations on health care? The New York Times: “House Republican leaders would offer to help people buy insurance on the free market with a tax credit that, for some low-income households, could exceed the amount they owe in federal income taxes. Some of the most conservative Republicans say the tax credit should not be more than the amount of taxes consumers owe. If the government makes payments to people with little or no tax liability, they say, that would amount to a new entitlement program, replacing one kind of government largess from President Barack Obama with another from Mr. Trump.”

The White House ethics office says that Kellyanne Conway’s public urging that Americans buy Ivanka Trump’s products was “inadvertent.”

And from POLITICO: “The White House's top ethics lawyer held two meetings with Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway to instruct her on ethics rules after she used a Fox News interview to urge viewers to purchase products from Ivanka Trump's fashion line. However, White House officials decided that Conway's endorsement was inadvertent and lacked any "nefarious motive," according to a letter sent to a government ethics oversight office and members of Congress.”

The Washington Post writes that the White House is eyeing a plan to cut EPA staff by a fifth.

Matt Kibbe writes in POLITICO that Republicans shouldn’t dismiss the big Democratic town halls.

The Wall Street Journal: “Peace talks between Syria’s regime and opposition face a formidable obstacle: Until President Donald Trump’s administration decides how to approach the six-year war, it makes little sense for anyone to compromise.”

The New York Times, on Tuesday night’s speech: “This does not represent a pivot, it is not a fundamental change of approach, and it does not mean that Mr. Trump plans to abandon his tweet-first-and-ask-questions-later style. But it is a recognition by the White House, from Mr. Trump on down, that what it had been doing was not quite working and that a softer sales tactic was needed to sell the same hard-edge populist agenda he campaigned on, people close to Mr. Trump said.”