July 17, 2014

When Michael Sulsona's wheelchair broke inside a Staten Island Lowe's, his wife, Frieda, was concerned. That was before her husband reminded her: "We're in Lowe's. We're in the tool capital of the world!"

The couple planned on purchasing the equipment needed to repair Sulsona's wheelchair at home, but three employees refused to let them leave the store until he was comfortable and his wheelchair was fixed. "They tore the wheelchair apart," Sulsona told WABC. "They tried all different types of bolts. I was thanking them and they said you're not leaving here until the wheelchair is like new."

The Staten Island resident lost both his legs above the knee when he stepped on a land mine during the Vietnam War. He was just 20 years old. Sulsona has been using a wheelchair ever since, and was waiting "for longer than he could remember" for a new chair from the VA. Once his story went viral, the VA got involved and delivered a custom wheelchair to his house, telling Buzzfeed, "Too many veterans wait too long to receive their care and benefits, and this has never been acceptable."

As for the Lowe's employees, manager Troy Goins is not surprised that the trio went into action when they saw Sulsona. "Our associates go above and beyond to take care of the community," he said. "They think of them as family." --Catherine Garcia

11:37 a.m. ET

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made an on-camera appearance Friday on Fox News to discuss President Trump's recent admission that he has no tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey. Spicer denied Democrats' claims that Trump had falsely indicated on Twitter that he'd recorded his conversations with with Comey to "intimidate" the FBI director.

Spicer said that actually, by making these claims, Trump was pursuing his truth-finding mission — not, say, lying to coerce a witness. "I think the president made it very clear that he wanted the truth to come out," Spicer said. "He wanted everyone to be honest about this and he wanted to get to the bottom of it. I think he succeeded in doing that."

Spicer argued that by referencing the non-existent tapes, Trump "made Comey in particular think to himself, 'I better be honest. I better tell the truth.'" The White House press secretary seemingly suggested that if weren't for Trump's baseless threat of tapes, Comey might not have been truthful about the fact that Trump was not personally under investigation in connection to the ongoing probe into Russian election meddling.

Watch it below. Becca Stanek

11:02 a.m. ET

Senior U.S. defense officials admitted that American troops have been involved in the interrogation of suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen where horrific, extreme torture is reported to take place in more than a dozen secret prisons, The Associated Press reports. The American officials "denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses," AP adds.

Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of men are held in the prison network, which is run by Yemeni forces and by the United Arab Emirates. The Associated Press' report is based off of interviews with 10 former detainees as well as officials in the Yemeni government and military. No one interviewed by AP said Americans were involved directly in the torture of prisoners, although a Yemeni officer recalled at least two detainees being brought to American "polygraph" and "psychological" experts for interrogations, an accusation U.S. officials have denied.

The account of torture in the prisons is extremely disturbing:

At one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the "grill" [in which "the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire"] and sexually assaulted. According to a member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, American forces were at times only yards away. [...]

"We could hear the screams," said a former detainee held for six months at Riyan airport. "The entire place is gripped by fear. Almost everyone is sick, the rest are near death. Anyone who complains heads directly to the torture chamber." [The Associated Press]

In response to the AP report, chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White said: "We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights." Read the full findings here. Jeva Lange

10:51 a.m. ET

In an interview Friday on Fox & Friends, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) refused to say whether Senate Republicans' new health-care bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, actually makes the nation's health-care system better.

Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy noted that the Senate bill, which was unveiled Thursday, "gets rid of a lot of taxes." "Ultimately it's got to be cheaper and it's got to be better," Doocy said. "Is it?"

Cassidy agreed that it was cheaper, but he wouldn't say whether it was better. "[I]t depends on how you define better," Cassidy said. "ObamaCare had bells and whistles on all of their policies."

Cassidy said that he supports the bill, which calls for deep cuts to Medicaid, the elimination of ObamaCare's individual mandate, and the creation of more tax credit options to subsidize premiums. However, he refused to commit to voting for the bill until he's read the whole thing.

GOP leaders are eyeing a vote next week, though already four Republicans have announced their opposition.

Catch Cassidy's interview on Fox & Friends below. Becca Stanek

10:13 a.m. ET

President Trump is a little bit obsessed with the evils of wind energy, a topic that did not go over so well at his rally in Iowa earlier this week. "I don't want to just hope the wind blows to light up your house and your factory as the birds fall to the ground," Trump told the crowd. His comment "didn't go over well across Iowa, where the rapid growth of the state's wind energy industry has been a bipartisan success story," The Associated Press writes.

Additionally, "environmentalists and politicians said the president's suggestion that wind is unreliable was outdated and off-base," AP adds. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), a longtime supporter of wind energy in his state, said that Trump's anti-wind ambitions would only be enacted "over my dead body."

And as for the bald eagles? Just 134,000 to 327,000 birds die in wind turbine collisions annually compared to a minimum of 365 million that die from window collisions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates.

"There are way more bird deaths from birds striking tall buildings, like the type of towers that the president owns, than there are from birds striking wind turbines," said Environmental Law and Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum, who is based in Des Moines. "If the president's concerned, maybe he should take a look at his own portfolio." Jeva Lange

9:48 a.m. ET

The Department of Homeland Security is jump-starting a $10 million Obama-era grant program aimed at "countering violent extremism," but it is withdrawing funding from a group that combats white supremacists, Politico Playbook reports.

When former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the program just days before President Trump's inauguration in January, he explained that 31 anti-extremism groups would be getting funding and "among the awardees are organizations devoted specifically to countering [the Islamic State's] recruitment efforts in our homeland, and Life After Hate, an organization devoted to the rehabilitation of former neo-Nazis and other domestic extremists in this country." The Trump administration, though, will not be giving Life After Hate the $400,000 grant the group had been promised under the Obama administration.

Whatever the reason, it isn't for a lack of need. Life After Hate "has seen a twenty-fold increase in requests for help since Election Day 'from people looking to disengage or bystanders/family members looking for help from someone they know,'" the organization's founder, Christian Picciolini, told Politico. DHS did not comment to Politico when asked why Life After Hate's grant was rescinded.

In February, though, five people briefed on relevant conversations told Reuters that the administration wanted to rename the "Countering Violent Extremism" grants as "Countering Islamic Extremism" or "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism."

In June 2015, the nonpartisan New America Foundation think-tank concluded that "since 9/11, white right-wing terrorists have killed almost twice as many Americans in homegrown attacks than radical Islamists have," Time writes. The Intercept reported in May that the news of the Trump administration's intended swap of "violent extremism" for "Islamic extremism" specifically prompted the editor of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer to gloat: "Donald Trump is setting us free." Jeva Lange

9:35 a.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Every morning, before he watches the morning news shows, President Trump talks to a member of his outside legal team on the phone about the latest Russia headlines. The Washington Post reported that the 6:30 a.m. phone calls are "part strategy consultation and part presidential venting session," during which Trump's team goes over the latest developments in the Russia probe and talks through "their plan for battling his avowed enemies," which range from the media to Trump's own Justice Department.

But his team also has another motive behind the early morning calls:

His advisers have encouraged the calls — which the early-to-rise Trump takes from his private quarters in the White House residence — in hopes that he can compartmentalize the widening Russia investigation. By the time the president arrives for work in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, he will no longer be consumed by the Russia probe that he complains hangs over his presidency like a darkening cloud. [The Washington Post]

When the Post asked how that was working out, a top White House adviser "paused for several seconds and then just laughed."

Read more on how Trump's team is adjusting to balancing governing with managing the president's "combative and sometimes self-destructive impulses" at The Washington Post. Becca Stanek

9:07 a.m. ET

On Friday, The Washington Post published an extraordinary, comprehensive report of the Obama administration's actions in the face of mounting evidence that Russia severely affected the U.S. presidential election last year. "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," one senior Obama administration official confessed.

Read some of the biggest revelations below and the full report here. Jeva Lange

1. The initial August 2016 intelligence report that linked Putin directly to a cyber campaign to throw off the U.S. election was intensely secretive:

The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President's Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report's distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid. [The Washington Post]

2. Obama's most severe response to the hacking hinged on hidden cyber "bombs":

Obama ... approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia's infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project ... was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability. [The Washington Post]

3. When eventually told about the hack, key congressional Democrats and Republicans split on how to react:

"The Dems were, 'Hey, we have to tell the public,'" recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia's aim of sapping confidence in the system. [The Washington Post]

4. The assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election dulled the administration's response:

"Our primary interest in August, September, and October was to prevent [Russia] from doing the max they could do," said a senior administration official. "We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures."

The assumption that [Hillary] Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency. [The Washington Post]

5. Russia is on the verge of getting away with everything:

In political terms, Russia's interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy [...] And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences. [The Washington Post]

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