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April 4, 2014

George W. Bush famously claimed that he had peered in Vladimir Putin's soul. And this, apparently, is what he saw. It's one of two dozen portraits of world leaders that were unveiled today. --Ryu Spaeth

2:09 p.m. ET

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was directly told in 2014 not to take money from foreign governments without explicit permission, documents released Thursday reveal. Flynn, who resigned from the Trump administration in February, took $34,000 in December 2015 for a speaking gala concerning Russian TV and more than $500,000 for lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests ahead of the November election. A defense intelligence official said Thursday that no record of Flynn asking for permission or approval "for the receipt of money from a foreign source" could be found, NBC News reports.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — the ranking member and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, respectively — jointly criticized the White House for denying their request for documents related to Flynn. "I don't understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn," Cummings said.

Facing accusations that Flynn's vetting process by the Trump team was insufficient, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted Thursday that the Obama administration was responsible for giving Flynn his security clearance years prior. Of course, it was still the Trump team that named Flynn as the administration's national security adviser, a role he filled for just 24 days. Jeva Lange

1:24 p.m. ET

An asparagus blessing at Worcester Cathedral went awry last Sunday when Gus the Asparagus Man joined the procession while dressed as a giant asparagus spear, BBC reports. Many of the Anglicans in attendance for the crowded St. George's Day service called the display a "pantomime," with the lobby group Christian Concern complaining that Gus' inclusion "made a mockery of Christian worship."

To mark the start of the British Asparagus Festival, a bundle of asparagus spears had been brought to the cathedral from the town of Evesham to receive a blessing. Canon Precentor of Worcester Cathedral Rev. Michael Brierley called the plant "a sign of the abundant provision and generosity of God" and he defended Gus' inclusion, saying it added "a bit of color."

Canterbury priest Rev. Peter Ould disagreed. "I think the service itself is a good idea — there isn't anything wrong in praying for a good growing season," he told The Telegraph. "But someone dressed up as an asparagus and a bloke in a St. George costume behind him holding a sword — that just looks a bit silly."

Others expressed concern about the lack of inclusion of other produce. "Why only adoration of asparagus?" a post on the Church of England blog Archbishop Cranmer said. "Where's the sprout liturgy, or equality for mushrooms?"

Gus is one of several asparagus characters that help celebrate the annual asparagus festival. He attended the St. George's Day service absent of Asparamancer, Eve the AsparaFairy, and the Asparagus King. Jeva Lange

12:13 p.m. ET
David McNew/Getty Images

President Trump has famously dismissed climate change as a hoax and his administration is reportedly debating how to walk back the United States' participation in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. But far from Washington, members of the president's party are quietly bridging partisan divides to work with Democrats on climate change legislation, The Los Angeles Times reports.

California Republicans voted last year against legislation that set an aggressive new benchmark for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 2030. But the Democrats' legislation has since become law and now Republicans are exploring their own approaches to limiting emissions and using the freed-up revenue of a cap-and-trade program for tax credits and rebates. The proposed cap-and-trade program would require "companies to buy permits to release emissions into the atmosphere," the Times explains.

Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes said: "Californians, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, are different from the rest of the country. What they're doing back in Washington, D.C., is not what we're going to be doing in California ... It would be foolish not to engage."

Still, it's a shaky new relationship; there is some question about the legality of the program, and Democrats might not be willing to give up certain parts of their proposal in a compromise, such as their wish to regulate public health pollutants along with greenhouse gases in the program. In one heated exchange with Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong (Bakersfield), Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown snapped: "You're not going to vote for cap-and-trade anyway. Look, cap-and-trade is about climate change, which you don't believe in and your president says is a hoax."

But Assemblyman Rocky Chávez (R-Oceanside) indicates things are changing. "You look on what's going on in the Antarctic, in the North Pole, you look at the issue of sea-level rise. It's an issue that we need to be concerned about," he said. "We want to be part of the solution." Jeva Lange

11:03 a.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Fox News co-president Bill Shine may be the next big network figure to get the ax, New York's Gabriel Sherman reports. While the network deals with the fallout from dismissing its top host, Bill O'Reilly, and a raft of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and racial intolerance, Shine is reportedly feeling the squeeze. Citing three sources familiar with the conversation, Sherman reported Thursday that Shine "recently asked Rupert [Murdoch]'s sons James and Lachlan — the CEO and co-chairman, respectively of network parent company 21st Century Fox — to release a statement in support of him, but they refused to do so."

Shine wanted the backing of the Murdochs to solidify his position at the helm of the company at a time of "withering press coverage," Sherman writes. He adds: "By refusing to back Shine at this tumultuous moment for the network, the Murdochs may finally be signaling that they're prepared to make the sweeping management changes they've so far resisted after forcing out CEO Roger Ailes last summer." Ailes left the network amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment, all of which he has vehemently denied. (O'Reilly has also denied all accusations against him, calling them "completely unfounded.")

Through a network spokesperson, Shine denied to New York that he had personally approached the Murdoch brothers for a statement. A spokesperson for the Murdochs also told New York that Shine never directly made such a request.

The trouble with dismissing a top network executive is two-fold: Shine has been a beacon of stability for a network mired in controversy over the last year, and he also "may simply know too much about Fox News' inner workings," Sherman says. Read his full report at New York. Kimberly Alters

Editor's note: This post originally misstated Shine's title at Fox News. It has since been corrected. We regret the error. The post has also been updated to include statements made to New York on behalf of Shine and the Murdochs.

10:55 a.m. ET

President Trump's former campaign adviser, Carter Page, is one of several characters to have fallen under intense scrutiny as authorities investigate Russia's influence on the 2016 presidential election. Page had been on the FBI's radar since a Russian spy tried to recruit him in 2013, and when he convinced the Trump campaign to allow him to travel to Moscow to give a Russia-friendly speech in July, the FBI took notice and began to dig into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.

But Page claims the FBI's investigation made him "the victim of one of the most horrendous civil rights violations in recent U.S. election history." Speaking with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Thursday, Page said that his rights were violated by the legal FISA court warrant that was obtained, he alleges, based on information in a "dodgy dossier" — a reference to the widely-circulated but unverified espionage document that claims Russian President Vladimir Putin ran a secret campaign to get President Trump elected.

Mediaite adds that "for some reason, the ex-Trump adviser also brought up the recently released book about Clinton campaign dirt, Shattered, to further make his case that he was unfairly targeted, something that left Cuomo a bit confused." Watch Page's oddball defense below. Jeva Lange

10:44 a.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Two American soldiers were killed overnight in the eastern Afghanistan province of Nangarhar in an operation against an Islamic State affiliate, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Thursday.

The operation targeted the Afghanistan wing of the terrorist group, known as ISIS-K. An additional Special Operations Forces soldier was wounded in combat, but is expected to live, CNN reports.

The Nangarhar region is a hotbed for ISIS, and has been the site of many U.S.-Afghan joint counterterrorism operations. It is also near where the U.S. dropped the so-called "mother of all bombs" earlier this month. Jeva Lange

10:37 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The next generation of American spies may be difficult to find, said James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, on Wednesday. The trouble is twofold.

First, young Americans aren't exactly keen on mass surveillance. "We need to attract new people, new young people, to the intelligence community," Clapper said, but "they're going to say, 'You know, there's too much Big Brother. There's too much invasiveness and intrusiveness in my life, so I don't think I'm going to work here.' I worry about that."

Second, as FBI Director James Comey has complained, young Americans do like marijuana, for which intelligence agencies have little tolerance. "I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," Comey said in 2014. Any recent marijuana use, even in states where recreational or medicinal consumption is legal, runs afoul of hiring practices at the FBI as well as the CIA, a policy that shrinks the recruiting pool considerably in an age when 4 in 10 Americans will cop to trying pot. Bonnie Kristian

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