The Obama administration used the U.S. Agency for International Development as a front to send young Latin Americans undercover into Cuba to foment political unrest, according to an Associated Press report released Monday.
Begun in 2009, the program secretly recruited and deployed young people from Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Peru to the cloistered island. In one instance, the young agents staged an HIV-prevention workshop to network with disaffected locals — an event that a memo obtained by the AP called "the perfect excuse" for the group to pursue its secret goals. What's more, the spies worked for as little as $5.41 per hour.
More from the AP:
[T]heir efforts were fraught with incompetence and risk, an Associated Press investigation found: Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travelers. The young workers nearly blew their mission to "identify potential social-change actors." One said he got a paltry, 30-minute seminar on how to evade Cuban intelligence, and there appeared to be no safety net for the inexperienced workers if they were caught. [Associated Press]
The revelation comes four months after the AP reported that the Obama administration, also via USAID, tried to create a Cuban Twitter network to destabilize the country. At least USAID did not, as far as we know, take a cue from the CIA and try to topple Cuba with a Castro demon doll. Jon Terbush
Track's father Todd Palin told police that the incident occurred after he told his son that he could not retrieve a pickup truck from their home because "he had been drinking and was on pain medication." Per a police report filed after the incident, an intoxicated Track arrived at the home anyway and assaulted Todd, beating him so violently that he "had blood from several cuts on his head and had liquid coming out of his ear."
Upon arriving at the home, police attempted to engage with 28-year-old Track, but that approach failed after he called the officers "peasants" and demanded they surrender their guns. Sarah Palin was the one to contact police and authorities found her "visibly upset" at the scene, per the report.
Track eventually surrendered to police and admitted to the officers that "he had consumed a few beers earlier," the report says. Track additionally told police that when he arrived at his parents' home, "Todd had a gun in his hand. ... When the door did not open, [Track] looked through the window next to the door and saw Todd pointing a gun at him."
Track was arrested and charged with assault and burglary. Last year, he was also arrested on domestic violence charges after he reportedly punched a woman in the face. Read the full police report here. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Former Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova reportedly gave birth to twins with her longtime boyfriend (or possibly husband), musician Enrique Iglesias, this weekend, TMZ writes — but no one had even known she was pregnant. The children, reportedly named Lucy and Nicholas, are the first for the famously private couple.
Kournikova's surprise pregnancy is an oddity in a world of social media rumors and prying paparazzi, although TMZ notes "the last photo we can find of the 36-year-old in public is … on a boat in Miami ... from November 2016." On the twins' alleged birthday, Kournikova posted photos of herself on a boat to Instagram. Jeva Lange
Paul Manafort has apparently been dreaming of a white Christmas — by the beach, that is.
On Monday, Manafort's legal team filed a motion to modify the terms of his house arrest to let him spend four days in the Hamptons between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26. President Trump's former campaign chairman was indicted in October on charges including tax evasion, fraud, and "conspiracy against the United States," as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Manafort asks judge to let him go to the Hamptons for Christmas pic.twitter.com/ys1w7iCkkU
— Stefan Becket (@becket) December 18, 2017
Manafort is currently under house arrest in Virginia. His motion to travel to the Hamptons would seem a little far-fetched if his legal team had not already succeeded last week in petitioning for him to be relocated, pending trial, to his residence in balmy Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, instead of his Virginia condo.
The new motion filed Monday proposes that the conditions of his Florida residency — which include GPS monitoring and an 11 p.m. curfew — now be transferred to his home in Bridgehampton, New York, over the Christmas holiday. Manafort's lawyer notes that the former Trump campaign chairman has old and infirm family members who would not be able to attend a Manafort Christmas in his Virginia apartment, which "would splinter the family's regular religious celebration." That's why Manafort is also requesting to be allowed to travel between Bridgehampton and East Hampton, where his in-laws live, "to celebrate Christmas together as best they can."
For good measure, Manafort's lawyer also asked that the curfew be lifted on Christmas Eve, "should the family decide to attend a midnight religious celebration of the holiday." Read the full motion here. Kelly O'Meara Morales
An Amtrak train derailed Monday morning in Washington state, causing "multiple injuries and fatalities," local officials said. Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, said the incident is under investigation.
Troyer said that no motorists were killed in the derailment, and deaths "are all contained to the train. It's pretty horrific." The incident caused a train car to dangle over the major Interstate 5 thoroughfare. Thirteen of the train's 14 cars jumped the track, and on the freeway five cars and two semi-trucks were also involved in accidents because of the crash.
All SB lanes of I-5 blocked near Mounts Road in Pierce County due to derailed train car. Avoid area! pic.twitter.com/SBH7dCc6yg
— WSDOT Tacoma Traffic (@wsdot_tacoma) December 18, 2017
The train was carrying 78 passengers and five crew members when it derailed roughly 40 miles south of Seattle, near Tacoma, just before 8 a.m. local time. It was the inaugural run of a new, high-speed route connecting Seattle and Portland. Amtrak said it was "aware of an incident involving Amtrak train 501." Kimberly Alters
This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.
FBI officials warned Donald Trump that foreign countries like Russia would try to "infiltrate" his campaign as far back as August 2016, NBC News reported Monday. Then the Republican presidential candidate facing off against Hillary Clinton, Trump was apparently briefed on the possibility just weeks after he officially won the GOP nomination.
NBC News reports that counterintelligence officials asked both Clinton and Trump to tell the FBI about any unsavory outreach from foreign actors. Trump most likely received his briefing after Aug. 17, 2016, NBC News reports, by which point several Trump campaign officials had already had the type of interactions that the FBI would be curious about; Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting at Trump Tower with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, for example, occurred in June of that year, even though it was not publicly known until The New York Times reported on it this past July.
Former FBI counterintelligence agent Frank Montoya told NBC News that the intelligence community was "aware of contacts" between Trump campaign officials and Russia prior to Trump's briefing, and claimed officials downplayed that knowledge to Trump so as not "to compromise the investigation." Montoya additionally claimed that if Trump's team was indeed warned of potential foreign interference and then stood by as it appeared to occur, that could be a problem. "If we're telling these guys stuff and they are not acting on it, then we're going to keep that as evidence," Montoya said.
A White House spokesperson downplayed the report and said it was "hardly a news story," citing the fact that both Trump and Clinton were briefed on the matter. Clinton's team did not respond to an NBC News request for comment. Read the full story at NBC News. Kelly O'Meara Morales
One of President Trump's judicial nominees has withdrawn from consideration, the White House said Monday, after a clip of him struggling to answer basic legal questions went viral last week. The development marks Trump's third failed judicial nominee, after the nominations of Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer also stalled.
Matthew Spencer Petersen, tapped by Trump to be a federal district judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, endured a brutal period of questioning by Republican Sen. John Kennedy (La.) during his Senate confirmation hearing last week — a performance that critics seized on as evidence that Petersen was unqualified for the job.
In a letter to Trump, Petersen wrote that he was withdrawing from consideration because "it has become clear to me over the past few days that my nomination has become a distraction — and that is not fair to you or your administration." In the letter, Petersen recounted his legal background; he has been a commissioner of the Federal Election Commission since 2008, including serving as that body's chairman as recently as 2016.
"I have practiced law for almost two decades — in both private practice and public service. I have worked as an attorney in both bodies of Congress," Petersen wrote. "I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television." Read his full withdrawal letter below. Kimberly Alters
Matthew Peteresen’s withdrawal letter to the President pic.twitter.com/wmGrJpCLF0
— Sam Stein (@samstein) December 18, 2017
President Trump tweeted that a devastating train crash in Washington state on Monday illustrates why his infrastructure plan "must be approved quickly":
The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly. Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2017
A timeline for Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul — one of his major campaign promises — has been unclear, although it remains a possible next step in early 2018 after the GOP votes on a tax plan, Politico reports.
There are still an unknown number of casualties from Monday's crash. Trump followed his initial tweet up ten minutes later with another to offer of his "thoughts and prayers" to everyone involved. Jeva Lange
My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident in DuPont, Washington. Thank you to all of our wonderful First Responders who are on the scene. We are currently monitoring here at the White House.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2017