Power couple ‘playing government’
Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are Washington's ultimate power couple after the President and First Lady, influential through both bloodline and their official senior adviser roles.
But the pair are not universally popular in the White House, and are at loggerheads with exiting chief of staff John Kelly.
Mr Kelly joked the couple was "playing government" and thought they did not have to follow the rules, according to the Washington Post. They should never have been brought into the White House, he added.
The chief of staff is reportedly "furious" with Ms Trump and Mr Kushner, according to the New York Times. One senior administration official said Mr Kelly deliberately left written notes about the couple and things they had done or requested on his desk in view of his staff.
The couple appears on a list of 16 Trump associates named by US media as having had contact with Russia during his 2016 presidential campaign or transition.
The damning list includes Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort - who are awaiting sentencing on criminal charges.
Each of them spoke with Russians in person or via phone calls, text messages and video chat.
The US President and his senior staff repeatedly denied any contact with Russia during the campaign. Mr Trump has now admitted there may have been business talks, but insists that does not amount to the "collusion" in Russian election meddling that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating.
On Friday, Mr Mueller released a series of filings that linked Mr Trump to criminal activity - trading political advantage for a lucrative business opportunity. He could face impeachment or even jail time over it.
"It is no longer journalistically sound to report on the Trump investigation as if it is a matter that may, or may not, yield damning information about the President," wrote Adam Davidson in the New Yorker - saying that it already has.
But Mr Trump refuses to acknowledge this, posting a fresh barrage of tweets on Monday, in which he referred to his former lawyer Mr Cohen's $180,000 hush payment to Stephanie Clifford, aka porn star Stormy Daniels, as "a simple private transaction".
Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat set to take over the House Judiciary Committee, said this would be an "impeachable offence".
Mr Mueller's filings claimed Mr Cohen "acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election" at the direction of Mr Trump when he paid women to not go public about their alleged affairs with the presidential candidate.
Mr Trump argued the payments, which he initially denied knowing about, were not campaign contributions because they came from his own funds. Federal law requires disclosure of payments made "for the purposes of influencing" an election.
“Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun...No Collusion.” @FoxNews That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2018
....which it was not (but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s - but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2018
The filings also revealed Mr Cohen spoke about Mr Trump's campaign with a Russian in November 2015 and lied to Congress over an ongoing Trump Tower Moscow deal, while former campaign chairman Mr Manafort lied about his contact with a Russian official linked to Democrat email hacking.
Mr Manafort, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in September, will face a court hearing on Tuesday afternoon.
"What is obvious is that, despite Trump's denials, he and his campaign were involved in repeated, serious efforts to develop deep connections to Vladimir Putin's regime from the very beginning of Trump's run for the presidency," wrote James Risen in The Intercept.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump also lost Mr Kelly's expected successor as White House chief of staff, Nick Ayers, who announced on Sunday he would instead be resigning. Two sources told CNN Mr Ayers had left because of Melania Trump, who has become increasingly vocal in West Wing staff matters.
The President now urgently needs to work out who to install in the chief of staff job, according to reports, and is reportedly considering chairman of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus Mark Meadows.
Other potential names included Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, budget director Mick Mulvaney, former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who as an ex-government lawyer could help Mr Trump in an impeachment fight.
On Sunday, the President tweeted that the "Fake News Media" was "totally out of its mind" and the "enemy of the people", that former FBI director James Comey's testimony was "untruthful" and that the "whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President".
I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff. Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2018
But with Mr Mueller cracking down, the loss of yet another staff member is bad news for Mr Trump. The Democrats will take the majority in the House of Representatives in the new year, and are planning promised multiple investigations into the President's finances - again involving his family members.
"The President has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning the office," Senator Chris Murphy told the US ABC on Sunday. "President Nixon was an unindicted co-conspirator ... certainly a different set of facts."
With the country set to head into recession, Mr Trump needs all the support he can find before 2020 arrives.
California Democrat Adam Schiff said there was a "very real prospect" he could be indicted on the day he leaves office and the "next president could have to decide whether to pardon him".
And his tainted gang of 16 may soon no longer be able to help him.
The Trump Administration has accomplished more than any other U.S. Administration in its first two (not even) years of existence, & we are having a great time doing it! All of this despite the Fake News Media, which has gone totally out of its mind-truly the Enemy of the People!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 9, 2018
Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful! This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President. They are now exposed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 9, 2018
THE TRUMP 16
1. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort
2. Former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates
3. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn
4. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner
5. White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump
6. Trump Organisation executive Donald Trump Jr.
7. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen
8. Former Attorney-General Jeff Sessions
9. Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos
10. Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page
11. Former Trump campaign aide Roger Stone
12. Trump associate Erik Prince
13. Trump campaign adviser JD Gordon
14. White House official Avi Berkowitz
15. Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo
16. Trump business associate Felix Sater