Retired Major Gen. Giora Eiland thinks Israel is making a big mistake in its weeks-long Gaza offensive. In an opinion column in Israel's Ynet News, the former head of Israel's National Security Council argues Tuesday that his country should not "feel obligated to supply Gaza's residents with food, fuel, and electricity," because "in Gaza, there is no such thing as 'innocent civilians.'"
Purposefully punishing the entire population of Gaza, instead of targeting Hamas, may sound harsh, Eiland concedes, but the Gaza residents "are to blame for this situation just like Germany's residents were to blame for electing Hitler as their leader and paid a heavy price for that, and rightfully so." He continues:
Hamas is not a terror organization which came from afar and forcibly occupied Gaza. It's the authentic representative of the population there. It rose to power following democratic elections and built an impressive military ability with the residents' support. Its power base has remained stable despite the suffering.... Because we want to be compassionate towards those cruel people, we are committing to act cruelly towards the really compassionate people — the residents of the State of Israel. [Ynet News]
Eiland's column isn't the first controversial opinion on Gaza published in Israel — on Friday, The Times of Israel posted, then pulled, an op-ed exploring the idea of "When Genocide is Permissible." But Israel, in fact, appears to be attempting to wind down its ground incursion into Gaza, with or without Hamas sticking with the new 72-hour ceasefire scheduled to start Tuesday morning.
Israel has faced some pretty strident criticism over its shelling of civilians, including from the U.S. "We struck a very severe blow at Hamas and the other terrorist organizations," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, citing the destroyed network of Hamas tunnels into Israel. "We have no intention of attacking the residents of Gaza." Peter Weber
Early Friday morning, a strong earthquake struck the Agean Sea between the Greek island of Kos and the Turkish coastal town Bodrum. At least two vacationers, one from Turkey and the other from Sweden, were killed in the old town of Kos when a popular tourist bar, the White Corner Club, collapsed. At least five other people were seriously injured, and there were some 70 minor injuries and significant flooding reported in Bodrum. Greek officials said the earthquake was a magnitude 6.5, with the epicenter 6 miles deep, 10 miles east-northeast of Kos, and 6 miles south of Bodrum. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was a 6.7-magnitude temblor.
"There was banging, there was shaking, the light was swinging, banging on the ceiling, crockery falling out of the cupboards, and pans were making noise," Christopher Hackland, a Scottish diving instructor, told The Associated Press. Tens of thousands of vacationers spent the rest of the night outside, sleeping on beach sunbeds or wherever else they could find a resting spot. Along with the tourist bar, the ferry terminal, several churches, a 14th century castle, and an old mosque were also damaged in the quake. You can see some of Hackland's raw video of the damage in the AP clip below. Peter Weber
Thursday night was the penultimate night of The Late Show's Russia week, and "my favorite night," Stephen Colbert said. He has been showing reports from his Russia trip all week, but "the piece we're showing tonight is really the whole damn reason why we went," he said. Colbert explained that when his executive producer pitched the idea of a trip to Russia back in December, Colbert thought nobody would still be talking about Russia six months into Trump's presidency. "I was a dummy," he said. What changed everything was the leaked dossier on Trump by a former British spy alleging that Trump has deep financial ties to Russia, that the Kremlin was supporting Trump's campaign, and that other part.
In his New York Times interview on Wednesday, Trump claimed that the dossier was "made-up junk" and "a phony deal," and said he had a witness, Phil Ruffin, to disprove the most salacious detail, involving urination and the presidential suite at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton. He showed a photo of Phil Ruffin. "Now, the wildest accusations in that dossier have never been confirmed," Colbert said. "But as far as I know, nobody has tried to confirm them. And here's the reason why: The real news, while reporting on the dossier — your CNNs, your MSNBCs, your Fox's — they said, 'Oh, that's too salacious for us to even look into.' But it's the only part we care about!"
In his sometimes giddy report, Colbert asked Andrei Soldatov, a journalist and surveillance expert who has been critical of the Kremlin, what Russians had been told about the alleged "pee-pee tape" (a lot), and whether he thought it plausible that the Kremlin had such compromising evidence on Trump. Colbert then gave a tour of the Ritz-Carlton presidential suite, which is pretty impressive, and tried his best to find evidence to support the dossier's claim. He didn't exactly leave empty-handed. Watch below. Peter Weber
Stephen Colbert does an annotated dramatic re-enactment of Trump's colorful New York Times interview
Stephen Colbert kicked off Thursday's Late Show not with President Trump, but rather the news that O.J. Simpson was granted parole. He made some wry comments about O.J. and murder, then turned the monologue toward Trump. "Say what you want about O.J., he never met with [Russian Ambassador] Sergey Kislyak — unlike his buddy here," Colbert said, showing a photo of Simpson and Trump in happier days. "That was back in 1993, when it was still a coin toss which one of those guys would be president and which one would end up in jail." Colbert said he was surprised that Trump has only been president six months — it seems much longer — and turned to Trump's freewheeling interview with The New York Times.
Colbert, of course, had quite a bit of fun reading excerpts of Trump's Times interview — the "bad people" Trump knows, his triumphs (and hand-holding) in France and Poland, and his impression that his English-speaking G-20 dinner neighbor, Japanese first lady Akie Abe, doesn't speak English. "Sir, I think she was faking it," he said. Colbert arched an eyebrow at Trump's warning to special counsel Robert Mueller that investigating Trump's finances would be a "violation." "Oh, that's not a red flag at all," he said, noting that it also didn't work. That gave him an idea: "Mr. Trump, could you please warn Mueller not to subpoena your taxes?"
Colbert read all of the other Times interview excerpts in his Trump voice, but he played the actual audio of Trump saying he wouldn't have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he'd known he would recuse himself on the Russia investigation. "That is 90-proof crazy," Colbert said. "It would have been impossible for Jeff Session to recuse himself because the thing he recused himself from hadn't happened yet." That led to a Back to the Future reference, followed by a fake Trump review of The Wire, because Trump apparently doesn't like Baltimore (or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.) Watch below. Peter Weber
The U.S. fined Exxon over Russia sanctions, Exxon sued back, and 2 Trump Cabinet secretaries are on opposite sides
On Thursday morning, the U.S. Treasury Department fined ExxonMobil $2 million for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Russia in a series of eight business deals in 2014 with Russian state oil giant Rosneft and its CEO, Igor Sechin. At the time of the deals, Rex Tilllerson, now secretary of state, was Exxon's chief executive, with a long relationship with Sechin. The U.S. had sanctions against Sechin but not Rosneft.
The relatively modest fine, levied after a years-long investigation, "gives the message that they're going to do what they have to even though Rex Tillerson is secretary of state," Hal Eren a former official in the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), tells The New York Times. "Perhaps it was a bit of assertion of independence by the staff of OFAC."
Exxon quickly sued the Treasury Department, naming Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin as the lead defendant and calling the fine "unlawful" and "fundamentally unfair" because the agreements were signed with Sechin in his official capacity, not personal. In its complaint, meanwhile, the Treasury Department said top Exxon officials showed "reckless disregard" for the sanctions, that Exxon's "senior-most executives knew of Sechin's status," and that the eight deals signed by Exxon and Sechin "caused significant harm to the Ukraine-related sanctions."
Regardless of the merits of the fine or lawsuit, the strange legal battle now essentially pits two of President Trump's top Cabinet secretaries against each other, The Washington Post points out. "I can't think of another case where that's happened, where you've had a senior government official on both sides of the 'v,' essentially," former OFAC official Adam Smith tells the Post. Peter Weber
Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah gawk their way through Trump's incriminating interview with The New York Times
With his dreams of repealing ObamaCare on the rocks and his firstborn son keeping Russia in the headlines, President Trump on Wednesday "decided that it was time to do some damage control, by talking to Public Enemy No. 1," The New York Times, Trevor Noah said on Thursday's Daily Show. He played, then made jokes about, the parts of the madcap interview where Trump talked about his second meeting with Vladimir Putin, shared his warm feelings about French President Emmanuel Macron, and gave an odd revisionist history on Napoleon and Russia.
"As strange as that all was, that was the amusing part of the interview," Noah said. "It's how Trump puts the 'fun' in 'fundamentally unfit to be president.' Then there's the other parts of the interview, the parts that remind us that, if he could, Donald Trump would dismantle the rule of law like it was one of his marriages." He played Trump's comments about regretting hiring Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"I am still stunned at how Donald Trump can make the most damning admissions as a 'By the way...'," Noah said. "Because you realize, Trump just admitted he only picked Sessions because he thought he would quash investigations into Trump. And he just says it." What Trump's saying is he believes the presidency is meant to serve him, regardless of law or ethics, Noah argued. "The only thing more shocking than his autocratic view of power is his willingness to talk so openly about it. In a strange way, Donald Trump is both the most honest and dishonest president of all time." He suggested a new nickname, Abraham Nixon.
On Thursday's Late Night, Seth Meyers gave a little more background on the Trump-Sessions bromance and how it unraveled. Then Meyers, too, played Trump's comments to the Times about Sessions, and like Noah, he was confused. "How would he recuse himself before he got the job?" he asked. "That would be like someone trying to get a construction job and saying their best skill is workers' comp." Meyers also looked at how Trump and his allies on Fox are laying the groundwork to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump's continued trash-talking of former FBI Director James Comey, and how Trump will throw any ally — ahem, Chris Christie — under the bus to save his own skin. Watch below. Peter Weber
President Trump and some of his lawyers are actively looking at ways to undermine, discredit, or fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading a broad investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election, including compiling a list of potential conflicts of interest that might be used to force out Mueller or some of his investigators, The New York Times and The Washington Post report, both citing people familiar with the effort. That effort has apparently ramped up as Mueller begins digging into Trump's financial history.
"Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face," The Washington Post reports. "He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns."
A conflict of interest is one potential reason an attorney general can use to remove a special counsel, and the Trump team is casting its net wide, including whether Mueller is close to fired FBI Director James Comey, an alleged dispute over membership fees between Mueller and Trump National Golf Course when Mueller resigned in 2011, and political contributions to Democrats by some of his team's prosecutors. "Prosecutors may not participate in investigations if they have 'a personal or political relationship' with the subject of the case," The New York Times explains. "Making campaign donations is not included on the list of things that would create a 'political relationship.'"
In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with The New York Times, Trump also suggested that Mueller has a conflict of interest because he interviewed for the FBI director job before he was appointed special counsel, though he did not explain how that is a conflict of interest. Trump and his lawyers are also making the argument that Mueller could be sacked for exceeding what Trump sees as the scope of the Russia investigation. When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who would have to fire Mueller, appointed him, he gave Mueller broad authority to investigate any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government plus "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation" and any crime committed in response to the investigation. Peter Weber
As President Trump becomes increasingly concerned and angry about the Russia investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which has reportedly expanded into Trump's financial transactions, he has been talking with aides and his legal team about the president's power to pardon aides, family members, and even himself, people familiar with the effort tell The Washington Post. One of those people described the discussion as being mostly among Trump's lawyers, and two people familiar with the conversations said the discussions are purely theoretical at this point, largely to satisfy Trump's curiosity. "This is not in the context of, 'I can't wait to pardon myself,'" a close adviser told the Post.
Presidents have broad powers to pardon people for federal offenses, as laid out in the Constitution, but no president has tried to pardon himself — though Richard Nixon explored the question, CBS's John Dickerson points out — and it is unclear if that would be legally permissible. "This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question," Michigan State University constitutional law expert Brian C. Kalt tells the Post. "There is no predicting what would happen."
It would certainly spark a political firestorm, as would any pardon related to the Russia investigation. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned Trump in a statement Thursday night that "pardoning any individuals who may have been involved would be crossing a fundamental line." He called the possibility that Trump is "considering pardons at this early stage in these ongoing investigations ... extremely disturbing." You can read more about Trump's pardon deliberations at The Washington Post. Peter Weber