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April 9, 2014

On Tuesday night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart gave President Obama and his administration a pat on the back for enrolling 7.1 million people in private health insurance plans under ObamaCare. That number is suspiciously close to their goal, he noted, and Obama's claim that "we didn't make a hard sell" made Stewart laugh in disbelief — Obama and his team did everything from going on Ellen and Between Two Ferns to teaching a pug to rap.

But Stewart was unimpressed with the conservative conspiracies, voiced on Fox News, about Obama essentially cheating to make the numbers. One theory, involving Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo, brought out Senior Latino Correspondent Al Madrigal. His revelations about scantily clad Spanish-language weather forecasters are pretty unpersuasive, but that wasn't really the point. --Peter Weber

6:40 p.m. ET
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With government troops closing in, Islamic State militants entered the Syrian town of Qaryatayn in late September, knowing exactly who they wanted to kill, one former resident said Monday.

Syrian forces, who drove the militants out of the city over the weekend, said over the last three weeks ISIS killed more than 70 civilians, shooting and beheading them and throwing their bodies into ditches. The former resident told The Associated Press of the 50 militants who took control of the town last month, 35 were originally from Qaryatayn, and they came "with a hit list," targeting victims they claimed collaborated with the government.

A senior Syrian official called the massacre "shocking," and said it would take time to identify all of the dead. The former resident told AP one of his relatives had to walk for miles to find cell phone reception, and called him to say his uncle, two cousins, and another family member had been killed. Catherine Garcia

4:56 p.m. ET

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the media Monday regarding the deadly ambush on Army soldiers in Niger. Four U.S. service members were killed in the Oct. 4 attack, when Dunford said American forces were ambushed by nearly 50 local militants who were likely affiliated with the Islamic State. Five Nigerien soldiers also died in the battle.

Critics noted information about America's presence in Niger had been scarce, prompting Dunford to acknowledge that "we owe you more information." He confirmed that there are roughly 800 U.S. soldiers stationed in Niger — the highest contingent in a single African country — who are working "as part of an international effort, led by 4,000 French troops, to defeat terrorists in West Africa." The U.S. military has maintained a presence in Niger "off and on" for nearly 20 years, Dunford added.

Among those killed was Army Sgt. La David Johnson, and President Trump's condolence call to Johnson's widow has been a source of controversy over the last week. Watch a portion of Dunford's press conference below. Kimberly Alters

3:11 p.m. ET

The Tennessean's sports columnist, Joe Rexrode, was one of 139 passengers aboard Delta flight 1474 when it lost one of its engines en route to Cleveland from Atlanta on Sunday. In a gripping account of the episode, Rexrode recalls being paralyzed by what to write to his wife and kids in the face of what he believed was certain death (the plane ultimately made an emergency landing in Knoxville, Tennessee).

"[T]he engine on the right side of the plane blew, creating a loud, awful screeching noise and a worse, burning smell in the cabin," Rexrode writes. "The plane wobbled and dipped, not like a typical instance of turbulence. The flight attendants looked as stunned as everyone else — my eyes went directly to them after the jolt — and quickly wheeled the drink cart back to the front of the plane and gathered near the cockpit. They started looking through an emergency manual. I'm no expert, but I'm thinking that's not a great sign."

Rexrode goes on:

It felt like the plane was going down, and below us were mountains. And then it got worse. Another loud, awful noise, followed by silence and the feeling that we had no more engine propulsion in the air. It's the most quiet I've ever heard a plane. At that moment, I thought the other engine was gone. The only sound among 139 people was a couple of them whimpering and a couple of young children babbling.

That's the first time in my life I've been certain I was going to die. [The Tennessean]

Read Rexrode's full account — including what he morbidly decided would have been the subject line in a last email to his wife — at The Tennessean. Jeva Lange

3:05 p.m. ET

Drudge Report's Matt Drudge called for a public questioning of President Trump on Monday in a tweet:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election. As of Friday, Trump claimed "nobody [has] asked me" to be interviewed, although Politico has reported that the president's legal team may choose to offer an interview of Trump's own volition. "There has — there is no collusion I can tell you that," Trump recently told Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo. "Everybody's seen that. You know, you have Senate meetings, you have Senate hearings, and nobody has asked us to do interviews anywhere. They have found no collusion."

Mueller has interviewed a number of officials close to Trump, including former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and ex-Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Of particular interest to investigators is Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower last year, and Trump's alleged involvement in putting together a misleading statement about the substance of the discussion that took place, CNN reports. Read more about the intrigue of Drudge's Twitter feed at The Week. Jeva Lange

2:07 p.m. ET

Jemele Hill returns to SportsCenter on Monday night, her first appearance on The Six, which she co-hosts with Michael Smith, since being suspended for two weeks over a second violation of ESPN's social media guidelines.

Hill was suspended after responding to the news that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told players they would be benched if they kneeled during the national anthem. She tweeted on Oct. 8 and 9 that "change happens when advertisers are impacted" and urged a "boycott."

ESPN had previously deemed Hill's tweets "inappropriate" after she called President Trump a white supremacist in September. The Ringer writes: "Hill's [most recent] suspension brought up a larger question, which Bill Simmons wrote about here: Can ESPN carve out an apolitical space while Trump is president? 'The tension is not that they want to be apolitical,' said one ESPN employee. 'The tension is that they want to be fashionably political. They want to be Oscar-speech political.'"

On Monday, following a meeting with ESPN's president John Skipper, Hill tweeted: "Thank you all for standing with me and by me. Trust me, you did not do so in vain. My heart is full. See you tonight." Jeva Lange

1:19 p.m. ET

President Trump called for the deportation of Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese businessman living in New York City, but was talked out of the plot by aides who, amongst other things, noted that Guo is a member of Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Some U.S. national security officials view Mr. Guo, who claims to have potentially valuable information on top Chinese officials and business magnates and on North Korea, as a useful bargaining chip to use with Beijing," The Wall Street Journal adds.

Guo has been a thorn in the side of Chinese authorities, publicly alleging the corruption of high-up officials. Because the U.S. and China do not have an extradition agreement, Beijing has gone so far as to send agents on fraudulent visas to put pressure on Guo at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, where he lives.

The Chinese government has tried to reach Guo in other ways, too — by sending Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn to personally deliver a letter denouncing Guo to Trump:

"Where's the letter that Steve brought?' Mr. Trump called to his secretary [in an Oval Office meeting in June]. "We need to get this criminal out of the country," Mr. Trump said, according to the people. Aides assumed the letter, which was brought into the Oval Office, might reference a Chinese national in trouble with U.S. law enforcement, the people said.

The letter, in fact, was from the Chinese government, urging the U.S. to return Mr. Guo to China.

The document had been presented to Mr. Trump at a recent private dinner at the White House, the people said. It was hand-delivered to the president by Mr. Wynn, the Republican National Committee finance chairman, whose Macau casino empire cannot operate without a license from the Chinese territory. [The Wall Street Journal]

Read the full report at The Wall Street Journal. Jeva Lange

11:54 a.m. ET
ALEX BRANDON/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Monday, where he signaled the U.S.'s desire for a peaceful resolution to the 16-year war in the country. Tillerson appealed to "moderate voices among the Taliban" during the unannounced trip, going so far as to hypothetically offer government posts to such individuals.

"There are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. ... So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government," Tillerson said, per The Associated Press. "There's a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence, and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan."

Foreign Policy notes that Tillerson's covert trip is likely a reflection of the Trump administration's larger plans for the country:

Tillerson said the United States wanted to make it clear to the Taliban and other militants that the United States was in Afghanistan for the long haul and the militants would not prevail militarily. [...]

The diplomatic overture signals the Trump administration's eagerness to wrap up the longest war in U.S. history. In August, [President] Trump pledged open-ended support for Afghanistan following fierce internal debates and foot-dragging after having campaigned on ending the costly 16-year war. [Foreign Policy]

Read more about Tillerson's trip at The Associated Press. Kimberly Alters

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