1/ The FBI rejected a White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Trump’s associates and Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. Comey rejected the request for the FBI to comment on the stories, because the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation. The White House did issue its own denial, with Priebus calling The New York Times story “complete garbage.” (CNN)

  • Paul Manafort faced blackmail attempt while he was Trump’s campaign chairman last summer. Stolen text messages from his daughter’s phone appear to be threats to expose relations between Russia-friendly forces, Trump, and Manafort. Manafort confirmed the authenticity of the texts and added that, before the texts were sent to his daughter, he had received similar texts to his own phone number from the same address. (Politico)
  • House Republicans plan to derail a Democratic resolution that would force disclosure of Trump’s potential ties with Russia and any possible business conflicts of interest. Democrats have blasted Trump for failing to make a clean break from his real estate empire, accusing him of being vulnerable to conflicts of interest. They also are suspicious of his campaign’s relationship with Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that top Russian officials orchestrated interference into the 2016 presidential election on Trump’s behalf. (Politico)

2/ Trump touts recent immigration raids, calling them a “military operation”. The effort to ramp up deportations are aimed at ridding the U.S. of “really bad dudes.” Under the administration’s guidelines, any immigrant who is convicted, charged or suspected of a crime is considered a priority for removal. (Washington Post)

  • Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly promised there will not be any military force used in immigration enforcement. The statement contradicts what President Trump had said hours before when he referenced Kelly’s and Secretary of State Tillerson’s trip to Mexico. (CBS News)
  • Spicer: Trump didn’t mean “military operation” literally. Spicer added that “the president was clearly describing the manner in which this is being done.” (The Hill)

3/ Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly head to Mexico amid deep strains in bilateral ties in what is expected to be the first in a series of high-level meetings focusing on drug trafficking, trade and immigration. Twin threats hang over the frayed relationship between the two nations: Trump’s new orders to round up and deport immigrants who are in the United States illegally, and a separate effort to take a hard look at all American aid to Mexico, possibly using it to pay for a border wall instead. (New York Times)

  • Mexico’s foreign minister drew a sharp line against “unilateral” U.S. immigration policies before the top-level Trump administration team could cool tensions that threaten to derail trade and other agreements. (Washington Post)

4/ Trump wants to make sure U.S. nuclear arsenal at “top of the pack”, saying the United States has fallen behind in its weapons capacity. Trump said in the interview he would like to see a world with no nuclear weapons but expressed concern that the United States has “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.” (Reuters)

5/ Trump has largely benched the State Department from its long-standing role as the pre­eminent voice of U.S. foreign policy, curtailing public engagement and official travel and relegating Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a mostly offstage role. Tillerson has also been notably absent from White House meetings with foreign leaders. (Washington Post)

  • Tillerson looking for ways to raise his public profile. The secretary of state’s lack of visibility has worried diplomats who fear it suggests Tillerson may lack sway with Trump. (Politico)

6/ Trump has assigned the Department of Homeland Security, working with the Justice Department, to help build the legal case for its temporary travel ban. Some administration intelligence officials see the White House request as the politicization of intelligence. One of the ways the White House hopes to make its case is by using a more expansive definition of terrorist activity than has been used by other government agencies in the past. (CNN)

  • White House punts new travel order to next week. No explanation was given for the delay, and it remains unclear how the White House will tweak the travel ban to avoid future legal pitfalls. (The Hill)

7/ Repeal of Obamacare face obstacles in House, not just the Senate. Conservative Republicans are pushing for a fast repeal with only a bare-bones replacement plan, but moderates are interested in coming up with a clear and robust plan. It’s becoming increasingly likely that a consensus in the House may be just as hard to reach. (New York Times)

  • John Boehner: a full repeal and replace of Obamacare is “not going to happen.” He said changes to former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement would likely be relatively modest. (Politico)

8/ Protests break out after an off-duty LAPD officer fired his gun in a scuffle with teens. No one was shot. The officer detained a 13-year-old boy after he allegedly threatened to shoot him. The officer has been placed on administrative leave while the Force Investigation Division conducts an investigation to “determine whether the use of deadly force complied with LAPD’s policies and procedures.” (CNN)

9/ New research suggests that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. Voucher advocates often cite poor test scores in public schools to justify creating private school vouchers in the first place. The new evidence on vouchers does not seem to have deterred the Trump administration, which has proposed a new $20 billion voucher program. Secretary DeVos’s enthusiasm for vouchers, which have been the primary focus of her philanthropic spending and advocacy, appears to be undiminished. (New York Times)

10/ McCain made a secret trip to Syria to meet with U.S. troops and Kurdish fighters amid their longstanding battle to defeat ISIS. The trip comes as Trump administration continues to re-evaluate the U.S. plan to defeat ISIS. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently criticized Obama’s policy to defeat the group, which controls territory in both Syria and neighboring Iraq. ISIS has lost significant territory in the last two years. (ABC News)

  • Iraqi forces storm Mosul airport in a push to recapture the city from Islamic State. The advance into the airport will allow Iraqi troops to launch operations into the fortified western suburbs, where several thousand of Isis’s most seasoned fighters have prepared defences. (The Guardian)

11/ Trump’s plan to hire 15,000 border patrol and ICE agents won’t be easy. The time to recruit and hire Border Agents, administer medical exams and drug screening, polygraph tests, fitness tests, and training could take a year or more to bring a new agent on board. Customs and Border Protection has also had a problem retaining Border Patrol agents: the agency is down some 1,600 agents from the 21,000 it’s authorized for. (NPR)

  • Arizona Senate votes to seize assets of those who plan, participate in protests that turn violent. The bill expands the state’s racketeering laws to include rioting and redefines it to include actions that result in damage to the property of others. (Arizona Capitol Times)
  • Trump campaigned as the populist protector of federal programs for the working class, yet he has surrounded himself with traditional small-government conservatives bent on cutting back or eliminating many of the programs he has championed. Many of his aides and cabinet members have expressed views that are fundamentally opposed to those he campaigned on. (New York Times)

12/ Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he won’t designate China a currency manipulator… yet. Mnuchin wants to use a regular review of foreign-exchange markets to determine if the U.S.’s largest trading partner is cheating. The decision contradicts a pledge by then-candidate Trump to direct his Treasury secretary to name China a manipulator on the first day of his administration. (Bloomberg)

13/ Ivanka and Kushner publicly silent as White House rolls back transgender protections. The couple is seen as a moderating force on social issues, but transgender allies want them to take a stand as the new administration rolls back Obama-era policies on school bathrooms. (Politico)

14/ Air Force stumped by Trump’s claim of $1 billion in savings on jet. Trump has boasted that he’s personally intervened to cut costs of two military aircraft – the F-35, the fighter jet built by Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing’s Air Force One, but the Air Force can’t account for this alleged $1 billion in savings. (Bloomberg)

15/ Chaffetz is investigating a months-old tweet from his state’s Bryce Canyon National Park instead of Trump. The House Oversight Committee Chairman’s probe comes amid criticism that Chaffetz is not aggressively investigating the Trump administration for potential conflicts of interest or collusion with Russia. Chaffetz recently launched a probe into Trump’s handling of classified intelligence information while on an open patio at his private Mar-a-Lago resort. (The Hill)

16/ Donald Trump returns to CPAC six years after he was loudly booed there. Trump will take the main stage with some new allies at the conservative confab. In 2011, Trump told the conservative political action conference that prominent libertarian Ron Paul “can not get elected”. He was loudly booed for taking a shot at one of their heroes. (The Guardian)

  • Bannon: Trump administration is in unending battle for the “deconstruction of the administrative state” — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty. (Washington Post)