March 20, 2014
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As Russian President Vladimir Putin works quickly to consolidate Russia's new hold on the Ukrainian province of Crimea, the West is trying to come up with a united and appropriate response. Most people are trying to find the right middle ground between sending in U.S. Marines to liberate Crimea and ignoring Putin's naked expansionist aggression. --Peter Weber

Kneecap Putin's cronies
The sanctions leveled against Russian officials by the U.S. and Europe are too weak and irrelevant to make any difference, says Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny in The New York Times. To get to Putin, "Western nations could deliver a serious blow to the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Kremlin's cronies who shuttle between Russia and the West." After naming names, Navalny adds:

The invasion of Ukraine has polarized members of Russia's elite, many of whom view it as reckless. Real sanctions, such as blocking access to their plush London apartments, will show that Mr. Putin's folly comes with serious costs. [New York Times]

Meet Putin's fire with a thick blanket
The West needs to isolate Putin completely until he pulls out of Crimea, says Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in The Washington Post. "The Russian people should see that Putin's actions will bring about a decline of Russia's status as a global power, not a return to supposed Soviet glory." The U.S. and its NATO allies should also impose an arms embargo and open up NATO membership to "all interested partners in Europe." Finally, Rubio adds, Obama should up his reassurances to the former Soviet satellites nervous about Putin's neo-imperialist actions, providing "lethal military support" and deploying "additional military assets and even U.S. personnel to our allies, including Poland and the Baltic states."

Walk softly but carry a big stick
The point of U.S. and European actions should be to keep Putin out of the rest of Ukraine — Crimea is already in Russia's hands, says Fred Kaplan at Slate. But the key to boxing in Putin is understanding that his "actions have been driven less by a belief that the West is weak than his knowledge that Russia is." That doesn't mean the West can ignore Putin — "a bitter autocrat with a head full of grandiose daydreams can be a dangerous creature." What's needed is a ratcheting up of penalties while leaving room for diplomacy, he says:

Draw up plans for containing and countering Russian troops in the event of an incursion into Ukraine — not sending U.S. or NATO troops, but shipping arms, maybe some advisers and black-bag Delta forces — and talk about these plans with the allies, and Ukrainian officials, on open phone lines. Putin surely knows the limits of his army.... Over those same unencrypted phone lines, a senior official should also talk about some moves that would really isolate Russia from the rest of the world.... These are threats of actions to take place if Russia goes deeper into Ukraine — not reprisals for the seizure of Crimea, which would have no effect and probably wouldn't be enforced anyway. [Slate]

1:08 p.m. ET
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Republican lawmakers are pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a second special counsel besides Robert Mueller, this one to investigate the FBI and the Justice Department for how they handled the 2016 election. Of particular interest is surveillance of a Trump campaign aide and the probe into then-candidate Hillary Clinton's email server.

"The FBI and the Department of Justice were corrupt, in my view, when it came to handling the email investigation of Clinton," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued on Fox News in support of a new counsel. "And the entire FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant application process was abused."

Graham was referring to the allegation in the memo compiled by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that the FBI acquired FISA permission to spy on Trump campaign aide Carter Page based significantly on the Steele dossier, whose creation was partially funded by a Clinton campaign lawyer, without telling the court the source of the information. The counter-memo released by House Democrats from the committee says the FISA court was properly informed of the dossier's political provenance.

Graham sent a letter to Sessions Thursday asking for an additional special counsel, and other House members including Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (S.C.) have made the same request.

A Justice Department inspector general investigation is already underway, but that has not satisfied President Trump and many of his allies. Bonnie Kristian

12:41 p.m. ET
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President Trump's personal attorney, John Dowd, said Saturday it is time for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election meddling to end.

"I pray that Acting Attorney General [Rod] Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by [fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier," Dowd wrote in a statement to The Daily Beast.

Dowd first stated he was officially speaking on the president's behalf, but then reversed himself, saying he was only giving his personal view. President Trump reportedly attempted to fire Mueller last summer before he was talked out of the plan, and Mueller reportedly has obtained memos about that decision. Bonnie Kristian

11:49 a.m. ET
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Lawyers representing President Trump in the suit brought by adult film star Stormy Daniels on Friday filed motions asking to move the case to federal court. The switch may be intended to get the suit into arbitration via the Federal Arbitration Act to maintain a lower public profile.

Daniels is suing to be released from a non-disclosure agreement she signed with Trump attorney Michael Cohen shortly before the 2016 election, a deal intended to buy her silence about an affair she claims to have had with Trump.

The Trump team's Friday filing also claims Daniels violated the NDA as many as 20 times and could be liable for up to $20 million in damages. "Mr. Trump intends to pursue his rights to the fullest extent permitted by the law," the motion concludes. Bonnie Kristian

11:40 a.m. ET
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Facebook on Friday suspended political data firm Cambridge Analytica from its network, accusing the company of violating the platform's privacy policies. Cambridge Analytica worked with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, using "behavioral microtargeting" for digital ad campaigns.

In a blog post explaining the decision, Facebook said the firm lied about deleting user data it obtained in violation of the social network's rules. "We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people's information," the statement said. "We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior." The post did not mention the Trump campaign. Bonnie Kristian

10:31 a.m. ET

President Trump rejoiced on Twitter Friday night after news broke of the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe:

Trump has repeatedly targeted McCabe for criticism over his wife's Democratic congressional run, alleging corrupt campaign practices linked to McCabe's position. The FBI has released documents showing Trump's allegations are unfounded.

McCabe, meanwhile, issued a lengthy statement slamming the "false, defamatory, and degrading" allegations to which he and his wife have been subject, and which Trump's "tweets have amplified and exacerbated."

"The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people," he argued, labeling his firing "part of this Administration's ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of [Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia] investigation," as well as evidence of the investigation's necessity. Bonnie Kristian

10:12 a.m. ET
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The engineer who oversaw construction of the footbridge that collapsed in Florida Thursday, killing multiple people, left a voicemail with the state Transportation Department two days prior reporting cracks in the structure. The employee the engineer called was out of the office and thus did not hear the message until Friday.

However, it is not clear that the tragedy would have been prevented even if the voicemail were received more quickly: The engineer said the cracking would be repaired but was not a safety risk. "We've taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done, but from a safety perspective we don't see that there’s any issue there, so we're not concerned about it from that perspective," said the message from engineer W. Denney Pate. "Although obviously the cracking is not good and something's going to have to be, you know, done to repair that."

The specific cause of the collapse remains unknown. Two of the firms involved in its construction were previously accused doing of shoddy, unsafe work. Bonnie Kristian

8:26 a.m. ET

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers pulled off a historic upset win against the top-seeded University of Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament Friday night. UMBC's 74-54 win is the first time a No. 16 seed has bested a No. 1 team in the championship's history.

"We didn't know what seed we would be when we won the America East championship," said UMBC guard Jairus Lyles, who scored 28 points in Friday's game. "Once we saw that No. 16 seed we knew we had a chance to make history. It's a very surreal moment."

UMBC next faces No. 9 Kansas State on Sunday for a shot at the Sweet 16. Bonnie Kristian

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