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March 17, 2014
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Many analysts — including me — have suggested that Vladimir Putin's Russian regime should pay an economic cost for the ongoing invasion of Crimea, not least to discourage further Russian expansionism into Eastern Europe. Yesterday's "referendum," in which 97 percent of those who took part voted to join Russia, does nothing to change that. After all, having Russian soldiers on the streets and pro-Russian mobs intimidating non-Russians hardly makes for a free and fair vote.

Yet already, the economic consequences of Russia's invasion of Crimea may be coming back to haunt Putin. Reuters reports that Russia's deputy economy minister Sergei Belyakov warned on Monday that the country's economy is in crisis. The Russian economy was already in a perilous state, having shrunk for two consecutive quarters. And now Russia's currency, the ruble, is weakening, causing expectations of growth in inflation. Russia's stock market has fallen significantly during the Ukraine crisis, down over 20 percent already this year.

Will continued economic weakness stop Russian expansionism? Perhaps. The threat to Russian business interests may motivate Russia's oligarchy to rein in Putin. But maybe the opposite happens. Viewed through an economic lens, Putin's takeover of Crimea seems like a diversionary tactic to bolster Putin's support with nationalist fervor while the previously strong Russian economy weakens. If the Russian economy continues to weaken, it's possible that Putin may become more desperate and reckless to maintain his regime's grasp on power. John Aziz

12:26 p.m. ET

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned his post Friday, The New York Times reported, shortly after President Trump offered Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci the position of communications director. Spicer apparently vehemently opposed Scaramucci's appointment, and despite being asked by Trump to stay on in the administration under Scaramucci, Spicer resigned.

In light of the news, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.) on Friday offered her kudos to Spicer for not being the most invertebrate member of the Trump administration:

Trump publicly criticized Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, in an interview with The New York Times earlier this week. On Thursday, Sessions vowed to remain at the Justice Department for "as long as that is appropriate."

Spicer's tenure at the White House lectern was not quite the shortest in history; that dubious honor belongs to Jonathan Daniels, who served 19 days under President Franklin Roosevelt. Kimberly Alters

12:05 p.m. ET

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday after telling President Trump that he "vehemently disagreed with the appointment" of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, The New York Times writes. Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier and longtime Trump supporter, was named communications director earlier Friday.

Trump reportedly asked Spicer to stay on, although Spicer turned down the invitation, calling Scaramucci a mistake. Scaramucci has been working at the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and Trump has told aides he appreciates how he defends him in his appearances on Fox News. The communications director job has been open since Mike Dubke's short tenure ended in May. Read more at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

11:45 a.m. ET

You might call it downright surreal. Twenty-seven years after Salvador Dali was buried, his body has been exhumed — and his mustache is still entirely intact, The Associated Press reports.

Dali's embalmed body was dug up to test a tarot card reader's claim that she is the famous painter's daughter. It was necessary for Dali to be exhumed because there are no known biological remains of the artist.

Experts removed samples of Dali's hair, nails, and "two long bones" for testing, AP reports. His famous mustache was reportedly still in the "ten past ten" shape when forensic experts opened the coffin. Jeva Lange

11:25 a.m. ET
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Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested the White House keep all documentation related to the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked lawyer, a person familiar with the decision told CNN. "[T]he Special Counsel's office is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump," Mueller's letter read. "Information concerning the June 2016 meeting between [Trump Jr.] and Natalia Veselnitskaya is relevant to the investigation."

The request covers text messages, emails, voicemail, and other communications.

Meanwhile, President Trump and some of his lawyers are actively looking at ways to undermine, discredit, or fire Mueller, including compiling a list of potential conflicts of interest that might be used to force him out, The New York Times and The Washington Post report. The effort has apparently ramped up as Mueller begins digging into Trump's financial history, and Trump is reportedly especially concerned that Mueller can access his tax returns. Jeva Lange

10:55 a.m. ET
Victor Fraile/Getty Images for Calvin Klein

It would appear it's too late for Justin Bieber to say sorry to China. Beijing's Culture Bureau on Thursday posted an announcement to its website that the Canadian pop star will be banned from performing in China from here on out because of his "bad behaviors." "Justin Bieber is a gifted singer, but he is also a controversial young foreign singer," the bureau said in its statement.

The bureau explained the decision was made "to maintain order in the Chinese market and purify the Chinese performance environment." "We hope that as Justin Bieber matures, he can continue to improve his own words and actions, and truly become a singer beloved by the public," the statement said. Bieber was slated to perform in Hong Kong this fall as part of the Asia portion of his Purpose World Tour.

The bureau didn't cite any specific examples of said "bad behaviors," but The New York Times noted back in 2014 Bieber "caused a diplomatic row when he posted photos of himself visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japanese war dead." The year before, Bieber was photographed "being carried up the Great Wall of China by his bodyguards," the Times reported. On that same trip, he also caused chaos when he skateboarded through Beijing's streets "while being frantically chased by his bodyguards."

At least Bieber can commiserate with Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, Maroon 5, and Björk — all of whom have faced similar bans in China. Becca Stanek

10:08 a.m. ET

President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton 255 days ago, but he clearly still has his opponent on the mind. The Washington Post on Friday released an analysis of Trump's 19 interviews so far as president, and it turns out he can't talk for long without bringing her up:

In 17 of 19 of his interviews, Clinton came up, on average about 36 percent of the way in. That's more frequently and earlier than his mentions of Obama, who made it into only 16 interviews, about 43 percent of the way in.

The two interviews in which Trump didn't mention Hillary came, interestingly, at the beginning of his time in office. The second was his Super Bowl interview with Bill O'Reilly. His introduction of the subject in that Times interview released this week was the earliest she'd come up. [The Washington Post]

Trump was just 20 words into his latest interview with The New York Times when he mentioned Clinton.

Even Trump's well-worn lines about the media, the election, and the vote don't get nearly as much airtime as his one-time Democratic opponent. Trump has only mentioned the "Fake News" media in 14 of his 17 interviews, and he's usually able to make it halfway through before it comes up.

Check out the full analysis of Trump's favorite interview topics at The Washington Post. Becca Stanek

10:08 a.m. ET
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As anyone with a brother or sister knows, it's always great when your parents are mad at your sibling because then your own shenanigans go unnoticed. It just so happens it works that way in politics, too.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson admitted to The Washington Examiner that he has found the silver lining to the Trump administration's ongoing scandals: "Let me put it this way," Carson said. "I'm glad that [President] Trump is drawing all the fire so I can get stuff done."

Carson knows something about drawing unwanted attention — he has been accused of elaborate exaggerations and brow-raising claims. But in this case, you've got to admire the man for his honesty. Jeva Lange

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