March 3, 2014

The White House said today it won't be sending a presidential delegation to the upcoming Paralympic Games in Sochi. The decision is a result of Russia's military invasion of Ukraine, a National Security Council spokeswoman told National Journal. American athletes will still participate in Friday's event.

"President Obama continues to strongly support all of the U.S. athletes who will participate in the Paralympics and wishes them great success in the Olympic competition," a statement said.

The six-person delegation that will no longer attend had included Rep. Tammy Duckworth and three administration officials, including Celeste Wallander, the senior director for Russia and Central Asia on the National Security Council.

The news comes after Britain said it won't be sending a group of government officials to Sochi because it would be "wrong" to attend. Jordan Valinsky

8:44 a.m. ET
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For an entire week, Fox News lagged behind both MSNBC and CNN during primetime with the essential 25-to-54 demographic, the first time that has happened in nearly 17 years. "As the pro-Trump network, Fox is forcing itself to ignore or downplay major stories," Dylan Byers writes for Reliable Sources. "I'm guessing some Fox viewers are changing the channel just to find out what's actually happening in Washington."

While Fox News is likely concerned by the slump, the network still has the top primetime ratings and all-day ratings over the course of the month, Fortune adds. But Fox is certainly feeling the squeeze after a rough several months that have included the ousting of its top primetime host, Bill O'Reilly, and the departure of top talent Megyn Kelly.

Additionally, "we're not having this conversation if [Rachel] Maddow isn't hosting 9 p.m. at MSNBC," Byers writes. MSNBC was first in primetime, and was the second most-watched cable network behind TNT, which is airing the NBA playoffs. Jeva Lange

8:21 a.m. ET
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The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the explosion at a Manchester Ariana Grande concert that killed at least 22 and injured dozens of others, The Associated Press and SITE Intelligence Group report. A statement from the terrorist group claims the attack was "in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims."

Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Greater Manchester Police said that the deadly explosion was likely caused by one man who used an "improvised explosive device" and died in the blast. Local police have additionally confirmed the arrest of a 23-year-old man in south Manchester in connection with the attack.

A former intelligence officer told BuzzFeed News that it is "highly unlikely" such an attack could be carried out by a single terrorist. "Explosives are sophisticated and prone to failing, so whoever prepared the device knew what they were doing," the former intelligence officer said. Jeva Lange

8:06 a.m. ET
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Sean Hannity's colleagues at Fox News are growing increasingly irritated and embarrassed that the host is continuing to promote conspiracy theories about the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

"ARE WE STILL AIRING THAT S---?!" wrote one Fox News political reporter when The Daily Beast asked for a comment. Washington, D.C., police say Rich was likely killed in a botched attempted robbery, although Hannity has promoted the discredited theory that Rich was mysteriously killed after allegedly being in touch with WikiLeaks.

Rich's family has denied the conspiracies and begged internet sleuths and Hannity to stop spreading the unfounded theories, which they say injure "the memory and reputation of Seth Rich and have defamed and injured the reputation and standing of the members of the family." The family additionally said Hannity has not reached out to them.

"I'm disgusted by it," one Fox News employee told CNN's Oliver Darcy. Another said the conspiracy "drags the rest of us down," while a third suggested Hannity is focused on the Seth Rich story in order to distract from President Trump's ongoing scandals.

"It hurts those of us who are legitimately focused on journalism," one employee said. "We have a chance to turn the corner at Fox, and perpetuating this conspiracy theory damages our integrity." Jeva Lange

7:59 a.m. ET

Stephen Colbert welcomed MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Monday night's Late Show by noting that all of a sudden, she is the No. 1 star of cable news. She pointed to her unusual format. "I definitely feel like the most important thing that I can do right now is just try to explain stuff," she said. Colbert asked her what she thinks of Trump's trip abroad so far, and she started by laughing at this moment right after he arrived in Israel from Saudi Arabia:

"Presidential trips can go either way when there's a president in a time of crisis," Maddow said, noting that when Richard Nixon was fighting the release of his Watergate tapes, he took a trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, too. Colbert pointed out that Trump has been quiet on Twitter since he left the U.S. Maddow shrugged. Trump doesn't get to make his own news anymore, she said. Now, "the news of the Trump administration is the news of people investigating it and figuring out what's really going on."

Colbert asked Maddow if Trump could be right, that this really is a "witch hunt." She was skeptical. "It's possible it was totally anodyne, that it had nothing to do with the Russian attack on the election that was happening at that same time, it's possible there was nothing nefarious about it at all," she said, but at this point it's up to the Trump White House to explain all the mysterious contacts with Kremlin officials and why Trump's attempts to end the FBI investigation wasn't obstruction of justice.

Is there any chance Republicans would impeach Trump, or would he only face justice if Democrats win Congress in 2018? Colbert asked. "I try not to see it in partisan terms," Maddow said. If it is proved that Trump tried to quash an investigation into his campaign, "it is hard for me to believe that Republicans would not rise above their party in that instance." Colbert wasn't convinced. "My worry is that Donald Trump will just degrade everyone's standards and morals as we pick sides," he said, citing examples. "We're going to have to decide if we're that country or not," Maddow said. "And I think we're not." Watch below. Peter Weber

7:36 a.m. ET
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Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Monday that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be held in contempt after his lawyers said he will plead the Fifth and refuse to comply with the committee's subpoena, Politico reports. "It does us no good to have people insist on pleading the Fifth if you're out trying to get information. The only thing I can tell you is immunity is off the table," Burr said, adding that "all I've asked him for is documents. I don't know how you can plead the Fifth on a document request."

Other Republicans are hesitant to fall in line behind Burr, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) saying "you can't criticize anybody for invoking a constitutional right."

"The subpoena needs to be enforced, and hopefully it will be," a noncommittal Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added.

Flynn's lawyers have cited "escalating public frenzy against him" as his reason for refusing to honor the subpoena. Flynn is at the heart of the ongoing investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. Jeva Lange

6:37 a.m. ET
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Well, crazier things have happened. On a visit to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, on Tuesday, President Trump told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he is "committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians," adding: "And I intend to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal. I look forward to working with these leaders for lasting peace." Such an agreement, long sought by American presidents, could "begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East," he said. Abbas welcomed Trump's "noble and possible mission," and said he is eager to "keep the door open to dialogue with our Israeli neighbors," while reiterating the Palestinian demands, including a capital in East Jerusalem.

Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Trump was similarly upbeat. He said he saw a new willingness among Sunni Muslim leaders gathered in Saudi Arabia to view Iran as more of a threat than Israel. "There's a great feeling for peace throughout the world," Trump said. "I've seen such a different feeling toward Israel from countries that, as you know, were not feeling so well about Israel." Netanyahu welcomed Trump's push for peace. "I also look forward to working closely with you to advance peace in our region, because you have noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partners," he said. "It won't be simple. But for the first time in many years — and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime — I see a real hope for change."

The Trump White House says it is trying new approaches to brokering a peace deal that has eluded numerous predecessors, and Trump has given the task to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a former Trump organization lawyer, Jason Greenblatt. Middle East experts note that the same old issues are preventing an agreement, including mistrust between Abbas and Netanyahu and their own citizens, territorial disputes, and the right of Palestinian return. During his visit to Bethlehem, Palestinian protesters were clashing with Israeli security forces.

After his trip to the West Bank, Trump has a brief stop planned at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum then a speech elsewhere in Jerusalem. He leaves for Rome later Tuesday for a meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday, before a NATO summit in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily. Peter Weber

4:47 a.m. ET

At a news conference in Bethlehem on Tuesday morning, President Trump joined the chorus of world leaders offering condolences to Britain over the presumed terrorist attack by a lone suicide bomber at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on Monday night, which killed at least 22 people, including children, and wounded at least 59 more, according to police. "We stand in absolute solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom," Trump said, adding that the dead were "murdered by evil losers in life." The ideology of those responsible must be "obliterated," he added. British police have not released any information yet about the man they say detonated an "improvised explosive device" at the end of the concert.

In a statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the attack "incomprehensible" and said it "will only strengthen our determination to keep acting together with our British friends against those who plan and carry out such inhuman deeds." France's president also offered sympathy, solidarity, and aid. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe mourns with Britain today and will help it "fight back against those who seek to destroy our way of life," adding, "It breaks my heart to think that, once again, terrorism has sought to instill fear where there should be joy, to sow division where young people and families should be coming together in celebration."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the explosion at a concert primarily for teenage girls a "brutal attack on young people everywhere." He added, "This incident, this attack, is especially vile, especially criminal, especially horrific because it appears to have been deliberately directed at teenagers." Peter Weber

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