Epstein document release and a Keith Haring AI debate: Morning Rundown

What’s in the newly released Jeffrey Epstein documents. Donald Trump fights the Colorado Supreme Court’s ballot ruling. And a 16-year-old darts player captures the world’s attention. 

 Here’s what to know today.

Big names but few new details in new Jeffrey Epstein documents

The first batch of documents unsealed in a settled lawsuit involving the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was released — containing important names but little in the way of new information.

They are part of the civil defamation lawsuit first filed in 2015 against British socialite and Epstein confidant Ghislaine Maxwell by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who said she was a victim of sex trafficking and abuse. Maxwell is serving a 20-year prison sentence for recruiting and grooming teenage girls to be sexually abused by Epstein.

According to a transcript of her deposition, Giuffre said at different times that she was directed to have sex with Prince Andrew, another prince, the unnamed owner of a large hotel chain and Glenn Dubin, a billionaire hedge fund manager.

A request for a response from Prince Andrew was not immediately returned Wednesday night. He has strenuously denied the claim previously. A spokesperson for Dubin in 2019 and again Wednesday said he “strongly den[ies] these allegations” and described them as unsubstantiated statements.

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Former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump also were mentioned in depositions by Maxwell and one of the girls she hired for Epstein, neither of which includes allegations of wrongdoing.

Read the full story here.

Trump asks Supreme Court to overturn Colorado ballot ruling

Donald Trump has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling in Colorado that would prohibit him from appearing on the state’s primary ballot and instead let voters decide on “their candidate of choice.” Yesterday’s filing is in addition to an appeal already filed by the Colorado Republican Party, which allowed Trump to remain on the ballot until the Supreme Court weighs in. 

The state Supreme Court’s ruling last month claimed that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which prohibits those who “engaged in insurrection” from running for various federal offices, means Trump is ineligible to appear on the ballot. In their appeal, Trump’s lawyers argue that Trump has presidential immunity, and even if the provision could be applied, he did not engage in an insurrection on Jan. 6.

Ramaswamy suggests he’s a better choice for Trump fans

With less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is trying to strike a complicated balance, as he praises Donald Trump and his policies while suggesting that he can push them further and implement them better. And with the forces lined up against Trump, Ramaswamy believes he’s the best choice for Trump fans. 

In an exclusive interview, the businessman also repeatedly shared fringe theories, touted an endorsement from former Iowa congressman Steve King, and pledged to pardon Trump if he were elected. Read more highlights from the interview.

This is the first piece in a series called “Closing Arguments: Iowa,” in which NBC News teamed up with The Des Moines Register to jointly interview Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy. To learn more and watch the full interviews, visit NBCNews.com/politics.

Blinken heads to Middle East for fourth trip since start of Israel-Hamas war 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading for his fourth trip to the Middle East since the war began, a senior administration official said, in a new round of crisis diplomacy. 

His trip comes days after the killing of a senior Hamas leader in a strike in Lebanon that has stoked fears of escalation between Israel and the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah. 

Meanwhile, desperately-needed aid has not been able to make it to parts of northern Gaza for three days now, the United Nations said, as civilians face dire conditions in the Palestinian enclave even as Israel signals it may be moving to a new phase of its military operation.

Follow our live blog here.

Biden officials mull military options over Houthi attacks

Members of President Joe Biden’s national security team met yesterday at the White House to review possible military options amid repeated attacks by Houthi rebels on shipping in the Red Sea, according to two current administration officials. The meeting comes as calls grow for a tougher response to the Yemen-based rebels, which launched their most direct attack on the U.S. military over the weekend, firing on Navy helicopters from small boats. The White House has not approved any of the options that have been prepared by the military, current and former officials said. Here’s what else to know.

Eli Lilly, maker of recently approved weight drug, joins the telehealth game

Drugmaker Eli Lilly has become the first pharmaceutical company to launch a service that will allow patients to get a weight loss drug prescription through a telehealth provider. The company’s own weight loss drug, Zepbound, received FDA approval less than two months ago. 

Lilly’s LillyDirect joins platforms like Weight Watchers and Ro in offering weight loss drugs through telehealth at a time when such drugs are becoming extremely popular, albeit pricey. And some experts are already expressing concerns about the platform and raising questions about Lilly’s financial motives.

Today’s Talker: Is an AI-altered Keith Haring painting…

…unethical? Many online have said yes after a post showing a faux version of the artist’s work went viral. The real painting, called “Unfinished Painting,” is a mostly white canvas except for one corner, left incomplete because Haring died. The post on X has triggered backlash, with critics calling the use of artificial intelligence to pick up where Haring left off tone deaf and even “a disgrace to humanity.” 

Politics in Brief

Budget negotiations: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said congressional leaders are “getting quite close” to a budget agreement, raising optimism that Congress can avert a government shutdown. One deadline is on Jan. 19, and the other is on Feb. 2.

Immigration: House Speaker Mike Johnson and dozens of House Republicans headed to Eagle Pass, Texas, yesterday to draw attention to record migrant crossings and bash the Biden administration. Meanwhile, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green announced a new push to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. 

Israel-Hamas war: Tariq Habash, a Palestinian American and senior Biden education official, announced his resignation, citing the administration’s “blind eye to the atrocities” in Gaza as the reason for his departure.

Death threats: A Florida man was arrested in connection with threats to kill Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, and his children.

Staff Pick: Tackling Navajo Nation’s ‘home-heating crisis’

Tribal elders in the Navajo Nation often live in modest homes with no electricity or running water and rely on wood stoves for heat in the winter. But the recent shutdown of a power plant, combined with the coronavirus pandemic created a “home-heating crisis” on the reservation. Now, a program that salvages wood leftover from fire prevention efforts in national forests is helping bridge the gap. — Amanda Covarrubias, news editor

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