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Today: Firing Mueller? ‘No, I’m Not’

Today: Firing Mueller? ‘No, I’m Not’
President Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn at the White House. (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

Emails. Texts. Rumors. Denials. The drama over the special counsel’s Russia investigation has ratcheted up as the days toward Christmas wind down.

TOP STORIES

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Firing Mueller? ‘No, I’m Not’

“No — no, I’m not,” was President Trump’s response Sunday when asked if he was considering firing Robert S. Mueller III, as rumors have swirled on Capitol Hill and some Republicans have urged him to do so on Fox News. Still, a Trump lawyer accused Mueller of having illegally obtained tens of thousands of emails from the Trump transition team. That drew a rare public statement from Mueller’s spokesman, who said any emails were either obtained by “the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.” Conservative media have also homed in on text messages from an FBI agent disparaging Trump, saying they show bias in the investigation; Mueller removed the agent from his team in the summer after learning of the texts.

And the Trump Doctrine Is …

Other than “America first” and his tweets, can you define the Trump national security strategy? Today the president will give a speech based on a document that has been months in the making. The main idea goes back to the old GOP slogan “Peace through strength” in its aims of projecting U.S. military and economic power overseas, as national security advisor H.R. McMaster has outlined. Trump’s critics would say he’s done the opposite through erratic tweeting and undermining the State Department.

More Politics

-- Thanks all around: The Kremlin said Vladimir Putin phoned Trump to thank him for CIA help in foiling a terrorist attack. Last week, Trump is said to have called the Russian president to thank him for praising the U.S. economy.

-- Republicans say they have enough votes to pass their tax overhaul, even with Sen. John McCain ailing. Some economists say the bill could put a drag on the California economy.

-- “We were vindicated”: Roy Moore’s accusers look at his defeat in the Senate race.

Grave Injustices in Iraq

When civilians are killed in battle, the U.S. and Iraq have compensation programs to pay the victims’ families. Such is supposed to be the case in west Mosul, where more than 100 died in a U.S. airstrike in March. One man who lost 50 family members told The Times’ Alexandra Zavis and Molly Hennessy-Fiske that Iraqi officials pressed to have his loved ones dug up from a mass grave to prove their identities, only to say Iraq had no money. As for the American program, The Times found almost no one who had been visited by a U.S. investigator or offered compensation. A review of Pentagon data from the last three years shows only three U.S. condolence payments in Iraq.

-- Plus: Islamic State’s self-styled capital is in ruins and its population scattered. Who will rebuild the Syrian city of Raqqah?

To Some, the Fires Say, ‘Don’t Rebuild Here’

The Thomas fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties has grown to be the third-largest wildfire in modern California history, adding to the state’s most destructive year of wildfires ever recorded. After more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 40 people killed in 2017, the idea of compensating property owners to not rebuild in fire-prone areas has begun to gain some traction. But it is one fraught with emotion, and some say the thought is insensitive and impractical.

A home on Park Hill Lane in Montecito, Calif., that was destroyed by the Thomas fire.
A home on Park Hill Lane in Montecito, Calif., that was destroyed by the Thomas fire. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

-- Tribute: People standing on freeway overpasses paid their respects to engineer Cory Iverson during a multi-county funeral procession for the firefighter killed in the Thomas fire.

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Will Chinatown Ever Be the Same?

For decades, the French Hospital was a fixture in L.A.’s Chinatown. (It was named for the first generations of immigrants it served and called that long after it had become the Pacific Alliance Medical Center.) But this month, after 157 years of operation, its lease expired and the doors quietly closed. Now it’s not only more difficult for locals to get healthcare, but for some it’s also a sign of the area’s changing identity. “Chinatown doesn’t feel like a place for Chinese people anymore,” says one 50-year resident.

OUR MUST-READS FROM THE WEEKEND

-- Think your work commute is bad? Carolyn Cherry has been commuting six hours a day for years, and she told columnist Steve Lopez that the rent savings are worth it.

-- How do you hire 5,000 new Border Patrol agents? The government has awarded a $297-million contract to a private company to help recruit and hire new agents and other workers.

-- An L.A. court mistakenly destroyed three-decade-old evidence that a death row inmate says would free him. Now what? One juror was shocked to hear he might get a second chance.

-- Tweets, sexual abuse and racial divides shook the entertainment industry and beyond in 2017.

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-- Need a holiday cookie recipe? Our five Holiday Cookie Bake-off finalists can help.

MUST-WATCH VIDEO

-- This hike in Taiwan is for you, if you’re not afraid of heights or large spiders.

-- Holly Hunter explains why “The Big Sick” is more of a rom-com than “Broadcast News.”

-- Santa Ana Mater Dei players celebrated being the No. 1 high school football team in California, if not the nation, after completing a 15-0 season.

CALIFORNIA

-- State officials have for years warned against building homes within 500 feet of freeways because of pollution, but they keep funding it anyway.

-- All this pot money and nowhere to stash it? The state may have a solution for banks to handle money from the state’s multibillion-dollar legal marijuana industry.

-- Baldwin Park’s police chief has a pretty sweet deal: He can be terminated from his $234,000-a-year job only if he commits a felony.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

-- In “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” writer-director Rian Johnson set about creating one of the more inclusive films in the franchise’s 40-year history.

-- That paid off at the box office too: The “Star Wars” movie had the second-best opening of all time.

-- Anita Hill will lead a commission to combat sexual harassment in Hollywood.

-- Eminem has a new album called “Revival.” Our music critic says that, despite some good intentions, it hits clunker after clunker.

CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD

He played an inspirational speaker who lived in a van down by the river; a dancer who competed with Patrick Swayze for an unlikely job at Chippendale’s; and a Chicago superfan who loved “Da Bears.” Chris Farley died on this date in 1997 at the age of 33. The year before, he said he sometimes felt trapped “by always having to be the most outrageous guy in the room. In particular, I'm working on trying not to be that guy in my private life.”

Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley tries to inspire David Spade and "Saturday Night Live" host Christina Applegate
Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley tries to inspire David Spade and "Saturday Night Live" host Christina Applegate (Edie Baskin / NBC)

NATION-WORLD

-- Travel nightmare: A power outage in Atlanta brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill, grounding more than 1,000 flights days before the start of the Christmas rush.

-- Track Palin, the oldest son of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was arrested on charges of domestic violence for the second time in two years.

-- Businessman Sebastian Piñera coasted to victory in Chile for a second presidential term by promising to kick-start the country’s stagnant economy.

BUSINESS

-- 21st Century Fox has been trying to tamp down a furor over Rupert Murdoch’s comments minimizing the magnitude of Fox News’ sexual harassment scandal.

SPORTS

-- Olympic officials have been dogged by questions of whether North Korea’s provocations might depress ticket sales or directly affect the Games in South Korea. In 1988, they dealt with them too.

-- The Lakers will retire both jerseys Kobe Bryant wore, Nos. 8 and 24, during his 20-year career at a ceremony tonight.

-- The Carolina Panthers announced that owner Jerry Richardson is selling the NFL franchise amid an investigation by the league into allegations of sexual and racist misconduct.

OPINION

-- A Duke University professor emeritus writes that America still hasn’t reckoned with the election of a reckless con man as president, and he sees a lesson from Chile.

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-- What do you think of the term “Latinx”? Writer Daniel Hernandez makes the case against it.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

-- The truth is out there: Inside the Pentagon’s UFO investigations. (New York Times)

-- What was going on with the now-closed Russian Consulate in San Francisco? Some mighty weird things. (Foreign Policy)

-- Mileva Maric Einstein, Albert’s first wife, was a physicist who might have given him some overlooked help with his work. (Scientific American)

ONLY IN L.A.

One is an abstract fish dish that looks as if it came from the film “2001.” One is a mozzarella stick with a “transition from shattering crunch to suave ooze [that] is shocking even the tenth time around.” One is downright ugly but delicious. Take a look at restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s top 10 dishes of the year in L.A. — if you dare.

If you like this newsletter, please share it with friends.Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.

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