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March 24, 2014

American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy has used the past three seasons of his FX drama to explore a modern-day "murder house," a 1960s asylum, and the centuries-long history of a New Orleans witches' coven. What stereotypically creepy setting will American Horror Story explore in season four? The most stereotypical of all: a carnival. On Monday, Ryan Murphy took to Twitter to unveil the official title for the upcoming season:

We can presume that American Horror Story: Freak Show will position itself in the same grand tradition as Tod Browning's Freaks, Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, and HBO's Carnivale, which delivered any number of spooky carnival scenes in the two seasons before its cancellation. (Seriously, go watch Carnivale. It's on HBO Go and everything.) Scott Meslow

8:40 a.m. ET

The White House is denying that President Trump handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel a bill for over $350 billion when the two leaders met earlier this month, as the Times of London reports. Trump reportedly claimed the bill was for the money Germany owed NATO. The Times apparently learned of the bill from anonymous German officials, including one who described Trump's move as "outrageous."

"The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations," the minister said.

NATO countries agree to spend two percent of their GDP on defense, although only the U.S., U.K., Greece, Poland, and Estonia are meeting those goals at this time. "It is believed that Mr. Trump's team calculated the amount Berlin has fallen short of the two percent target from that point then added interest," The Independent writes.

Former President Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, tweeted in response to the news: "Trump is an international embarrassment. To our allies around the world: He doesn't represent most Americans, and we're doing all we can."

The White House denied Trump offered Merkel the bill. "This is not true," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told Business Insider.

Whether Trump handed Merkel the bill or not, there's no doubt their meeting was an awkward affair. Trump has additionally made a point of chasing down Germany for the money: "Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!" he tweeted. Jeva Lange

8:11 a.m. ET
Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate Intelligence Committee will question President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, over his meetings with Russian officials as part of its ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, The New York Times reports. Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December and later, at Kislyak's request, with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Russian bank Vnesheconombank, which suffered sanctions from the Obama administration after the annexation of Crimea.

Kushner was a member of Trump's transition team and on the surface there are no red flags about his meetings with foreign officials. A government official told the Times that the Senate plans to ask if Kushner "discussed ways to secure additional financing for [the Kushner Companies' office tower on Fifth Avenue] during his meeting with the Russian banker." Kushner had not yet stepped down as chief executive of the company when he met with Gorkov.

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed Kushner's meetings, and said Kushner spoke with Kislyak about improving relations between the U.S. and Russia and cooperating on the Middle East. Kislyak later asked for a second meeting with Kushner to "deliver a message," and Kushner sent a deputy in his place. Kislyak told the deputy that he wanted Kushner to meet with the banker, Gorkov. In that meeting, Gorkov discussed the desire for an open dialogue, but Kushner's building and American sanctions did not arise as topics, Hicks said. "It really wasn't much of a conversation," Hicks added.

Notably, "the Senate panel's decision to question Mr. Kushner would make him the closest person to the president to be called upon in any of the investigations, and the only one currently serving in the White House," the Times reports. Earlier revelations about the Trump administration's conversations with Kislyak have led to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's resignation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal from Russian inquiries.

Kushner "isn't trying to hide anything," Hicks said. Jeva Lange

7:32 a.m. ET
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

With the death of the Republican health-care bill on Friday, both parties are acknowledging that the standing Affordable Care Act will still need tweaks. "With the demise of the House bill, there's a real window of opportunity for a bipartisan approach to health care," Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) told The New York Times.

Many Republicans have signaled intentions to reach across the aisle for the next phase of health-care reform, with White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus expressing a desire to "get some Democrats on board" in an interview on Sunday. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) explained: "The reason why ObamaCare failed was because it wasn't a bipartisan bill," and Republicans are also "very frankly guilty of that" in their failed American Health Care Act push.

Other Republicans see an opportunity to nudge ObamaCare toward President Trump's promise of an explosion. Republicans "could sabotage the Affordable Care Act's insurance markets, betting that Democrats would be blamed for collapsing coverage choices and spikes in insurance premiums and would then come to the negotiating table ready to toss the law and start fresh," the Times writes.

Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of HealthCare.gov, explained: "The comments by President Trump and Speaker Ryan predicting the collapse of the ACA and health insurance exchanges could become a self-fulfilling prophecy." Jeva Lange

6:13 a.m. ET
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, President Trump is unveiling a new office, headed by senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, that will attempt to draw on the business world to revamp the federal bureaucracy, potentially by privatizing some government roles. The White House Office of American Innovation has been meeting informally twice a week and reaching out to top business leaders since shortly after Trump's inauguration, and Kushner's list of targets is ambitious: Overhauling the Veterans Affairs Department, modernizing the IT infrastructure of every federal agency, transforming workforce training programs, and tackling America's heroin and opioid problem, among other goals.

"Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants," The Washington Post says, "the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind, and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements." Kushner, a 36-year-old former real estate and media executive, will add the role of innovation SWAT team leader to his already substantial portfolio, which includes acting as a key adviser on foreign and domestic policy and White House personnel, and point man on relations with Mexico, China, Canada, and the Middle East.

The innovation office includes White House National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, strategic initiatives adviser Chris Liddell, technology adviser Reed Cordish, deputy National Security Adviser and economic adviser Dina Powell, and Domestic Policy Council director Andrew Bremberg. Kushner will report directly to Trump, and he describes the council as a non-ideological innovation factory, with a focus on technology and data. "We should have excellence in government," Kushner told The Washington Post, adding a novel twist to the idea that the government serves the public. "The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens." Peter Weber

2:51 a.m. ET
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

This week, the Trump White House and Republican-led Congress plan to dust themselves off from a bruising self-defeat on a GOP health-care bill and begin work on reforming the tax code, something that hasn't been done in some 30 years. The failure of the health-care plan will likely curb the ambition of the tax overhaul, for both political reasons and because of their decision to use the filibuster-proof Senate budget reconciliation process. "They have to have a victory here," Stephen Moore, a Heritage Foundation economist and Trump adviser, tells The New York Times. "But it is going to have to be a bit less ambitious rather than going for the big bang."

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his lieutenants have been working on a tax plan since at least last summer, but it's not clear that, after the health-care debacle, the White House will follow Ryan's lead this time. One positive sign for Ryan is that the deficit hawks on the House Freedom Caucus, which helped sink the health-care bill, have expressed flexibility in accepting tax cuts that are not offset by spending cuts or some rise in revenue.

Before they embark on tax reform, however, Republicans have to pass a new spending bill, or risk a government shutdown. The big political fight is expected to be over the insistence by House conservatives to include defunding Planned Parenthood in the spending bill, a nonstarter in the Senate. The current government spending resolution expires April 28. Peter Weber

2:04 a.m. ET

Russians turned out on Sunday for anti-corruption demonstrations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and about 100 other cities throughout Russia, in the biggest show of force since a wave of anti-government demonstrations in 2011 and 2012. Anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, whose Foundation for Fighting Corruption called for the protests after publishing information about Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's allegedly ill-gotten luxury lifestyle and properties, was one of the 500-800 people arrested in Moscow alone. There were no overall numbers of arrests or official estimates of how many protesters turned out across Russia, and Russian state news TV channel Rossiya-24 ignored the protests completely on the evening news.

On Sunday evening, the U.S. State Department condemned the crackdown on the peaceful, unsanctioned protests. "The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve a government that supports an open marketplace of ideas, transparent and accountable governance, equal treatment under the law, and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. The department also tweeted that it "condemns detention of 100s of peaceful protesters" in Russia, calling it "an affront to democratic values."

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer retweeted the State Department's condemnation, but so far President Trump has remained silent. Protests and arrests were reported in Siberian towns, the far-east port of Vladivostok, Dagestan, and large cities like Novosibirsk, Tomsk, and Krasnoyarsk. You can watch CNN's report of the Moscow protest below. Peter Weber

12:58 a.m. ET

On CBS Sunday Morning, veteran TV news journalist Ted Koppel presented a 10-minute segment on the fracturing of the news media and how that has contributed to the widening, chasmic political divide in America. One of the people he spoke with was Fox News host Sean Hannity. Hannity argued that Koppel was selling the American public short in not being able to distinguish between news programs and opinion shows like Hannity. "Do you think we're bad for America?" he asked Koppel. "You think I'm bad for America?" "Yeah," Koppel said.

When Hannity looked surprised, Koppel began to explain, saying, "In the long haul I think you and all these opinion shows..." Hannity cut in and called that "sad," and amid a few more interruptions, Koppel told Hannity that "you're very good at what you do" but what he does features attracting "people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts."

Hannity hit back on Twitter later on Sunday, slamming CBS News for only showing what was probably the most interesting two minutes of a 45-minute interview and "daring" the network to release the entire video.

None of the other guests Koppel spoke with — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, New York Times editor Dean Baquet, and AEI scholar Norm Ornstein — complained on Twitter about their edited interviews. The whole 10 minutes is worth a watch, and you can view Koppel's report at CBS News. Peter Weber

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