ESSENTIAL #1: “4 TAKEAWAYS FROM MICHAEL COHEN’S SENTENCING” WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM AND BENJAMIN WEISER, THE NEW YORK TIMES
From the article: “Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday, telling a judge that he initially admired Mr. Trump’s business acumen but ended up in a job where ‘I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.’
The prison sentence was for what the judge called a ‘veritable smorgasbord’ of crimes. They included arranging hush-money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump, tax evasion, making a false statement to a bank and lying to Congress.”
ESSENTIAL #2: “RUSSIAN MARIA BUTINA PLEADS GUILTY IN EFFORT TO FORGE KREMLIN BOND WITH U.S. CONSERVARIVES” SPENCER S. HSU AND TOM JACKSON, THE WASHINGTON POST
From the article: “A Russian gun rights activist pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate the conservative movement in the United States as an agent for the Kremlin from 2015 until her arrest in July 2017.
Maria Butina, 30, became the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy in the run-up and through the 2016 election as a foreign agent, agreeing to cooperate in a plea deal with U.S. investigators in exchange for less prison time.
Butina admitted to working with an American political operative and under the direction of a former Russian senator and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank to forge bonds with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders, and 2016 U.S. presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, whose rise to the Oval Office she presciently predicted to her Russian contact.”
ESSENTIAL #3: “FORMER HUD CHIEF JULIAN CASTRO MOVES TOWARD PRESIDENTIAL RUN” PAUL WEBER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
From the article: “Former Obama housing chief Julian Castro says he’s taking a step toward a possible White House campaign in 2020 by forming a presidential exploratory committee. The Texas Democrat tells The Associated Press that he will announce a decision Jan. 12.
The move Wednesday gives the 44-year-old former San Antonio mayor an early start to what’s shaping up as a crowded Democratic field without a clear front-runner to challenge President Donald Trump.
Castro indicated in an AP interview that his mind was all but made up.”
ESSENTIAL #4: “GOOGLE CEO HAMMERED BY MEMBERS OF CONGRESS ON CHINA CENSORSHIP PLAN” RYAN GALLAGHER, THE INTERCEPT
From the article: “During a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee, Pichai faced sustained questions over the China plan, known as Dragonfly, which would blacklist broad categories of information about democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.
The hearing began with an opening statement from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who said launching a censored search engine in China would ‘strengthen China’s system of surveillance and repression.’ McCarthy questioned whether it was the role of American companies to be ‘instruments of freedom or instruments of control.’
Pichai read prepared remarks, stating “even as we expand into new markets, we never forget our American roots.” He added: ‘I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.’”