MARK MEADOWS (ONCE AGAIN) MAY BE KEY DRIVER OF GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: As Republicans in Congress scramble for the votes needed to pass a fourth temporary funding bill to avoid a government shutdown, House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows wants the House to look beyond the four-week measure. “At what point are we going to have a plan on where we’re going to land or are we just going to hope Feb. 16 is better than Jan. 19 because it’s in a different month?” said Meadows, a western North Carolina Republican. Meadows said he and members of the conservative Freedom Caucus were willing to vote no – against the wishes of House leadership and the White House, which came out in support of the funding bill Wednesday. The measure includes funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but not a fix for young immigrants brought to the country illegally.
AS SNOW ACCUMULATED FASTER THAN EXPECTED, COOPER ADVISES PEOPLE TO GO HOME EARLY: Acknowledging that some people in the central part of the state had gone to work before the heavy accumulation began, Cooper urged them to "go ahead and go home from work because it's going to get a little nasty out there." He said that most of the state's 115 school systems had canceled or delayed classes. James Morrow, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Raleigh, said some parts of central North Carolina could see snowfall totals of as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) before the snow tapers. The storm is expected to blow offshore after dumping on North Carolina. Cooper said the state Highway Patrol responded to more than 1,600 crashes, and Charlotte police reported nearly 200 more by late afternoon. State roads had been treated with more than 2 million gallons (7.5 million liters) of anti-icing salt brine. "We cannot stress it enough for everyone to stay off the roads unless you have no choice," Cooper said in a prepared statement.
EVIDENCE MOUNTS THE NRA TOOK MONEY FROM RUSSIA TO HELP ELECT TRUMP: The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy. FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections. It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.
TRUMP ADMIN USES "EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE" TO BLOCK TESTIMONY BEFORE CONGRESS: As lawmakers in the closed-door session probed Bannon's time working for Trump, his attorney got on the phone with the White House counsel's office, relaying questions and asking what Bannon could tell Congress, according to a White House official and a second person familiar with the interview. The answer was a broad one. Bannon couldn't discuss anything to do with his work on the presidential transition or later in the White House itself. The development brought to the forefront questions about White House efforts to control what current and former aides may or may not tell Congress about their time in Trump's inner circle, and whether Republicans who hold majorities on Capitol Hill will force the issue. It was also the broadest example yet of the White House using executive privilege to limit a witness' testimony without making a formal invocation of that presidential power.
TRUMP IN 2017: A LITANY OF EMBARRASSMENTS: Before dawn in a windowless room in a Seoul hotel, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gathered a group of reporters sworn to secrecy to inform them of their next destination. Sanders held up a slip of paper, saying this was how she was told to convey the sensitive information. It read: “DMZ.” Ever the showman, Trump had hoped to punctuate his war of words with Pyongyang with a surprise Nov. 7 visit to the Demilitarized Zone, the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea. But he never made it. His convoy of helicopters was just five minutes from the border when heavy fog forced them to turn back. Trump urged another try but, after nearly an hour of waiting, military pilots and the Secret Service deemed it unsafe to make another try. In a rage, Trump told an aide he thought the failed flight made him look weak. “He’s pretty frustrated,” Sanders, wearing pearls and a borrowed military jacket, told reporters later.