On Wednesday, CBS announced that media mogul Sumner Redstone is stepping down as executive chairman, replaced by CBS chief executive Les Moonves. Redstone, 92, controls about 80 percent of voting stock in both CBS and Viacom — parent company of MTV, Comedy Central, and Paramount Pictures, among other media brands — and Viacom's board is meeting Thursday to discuss Redstone's tenure as Viacom's executive chairman. The board is expected to tap Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman to replace Redstone, but Redstone's daughter, CBS and Viacom Vice Chairwoman Shari Redstone, opposes his appointment, as do some activist investors.
Redstone, who often said he expected to live forever and would never retire, has not publicly laid out a plan of succession. Dauman and Shari Redstone are among the seven trustees charged with running his holding company, National Amusements, should he die or be declared incapacitated, and Dauman is also Redstone's primary health care agent. That's only the tip of what The New York Times' Emily Steel calls the "Shakespearean twists and turns" in the battle for control of Redstone's media empire. He is also facing a legal battle from former companion Manuela Herzer, who alleges that Redstone is a "living ghost" suffering though an "ineffable tragic mental collapse." Redstone denies that charge.
Starting in the 1950s, Redstone started turning his family movie theater chain, National Amusements, into a media giant, buying Viacom in 1987, then Paramount, and finally merging CBS and Viacom in 1999, before splitting them up again in 2006. He submitted his resignation to the CBS board on Tuesday, The New York Times reports, and the CBS board offered the position to Shari Redstone, who declined and nominated Moonves. Moonves was reportedly approved unanimously. The succession at Viacom is expected to be much messier. Peter Weber
President Trump video-called the International Space Station on Monday, as one does, and he had some pretty pressing questions he wanted answered. "Um, Mars," Trump began. "What do you see [as a timeline] for actually sending humans to Mars? Is there a schedule and when would you see that happening?"
On the other end of the line was astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has just broken the record for logging the most time in space of any American. Casually bobbing in the ISS, she told Trump: "Well, I think as your bill directed, it will be sometime in approximately the 2030s."
She added: "Unfortunately, space flight takes a lot of time and money, so getting there will require some international cooperation, to get it to be a planet-wide approach, in order to make it successful … but it is so worthwhile doing."
That wasn't cutting it for Trump. "Well we want to try to do it during my first term, or at worst during my second term," he said with a smile. "So we'll have to speed that up a little, okay?" Jeva Lange
Trump asks when the US could send people to Mars.
Whitson: We're aiming to do in the 2030s. https://t.co/wBb8tJLDtA
— Daniella Diaz (@DaniellaMicaela) April 24, 2017
Space is really cool but it also definitely has its uncool parts, like having to drink your own urine. President Trump found that out the hard way when he called the International Space Station on Monday to talk to NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.
"Water is such a precious resource up here that we are ... cleaning up our own urine and making it drinkable," Whitson explained to the commander-in-chief. And because you were obviously curious, she added: "It's really not as bad as it sounds!"
The camera cut back to a giggling Trump. "Well that's good, I'm glad to hear that," he said. "Better you than me." Jeva Lange
— CNN (@CNN) April 24, 2017
Some of the prisoners freed in Obama's Iran deal were accused of 'posing threats to national security'
Former President Barack Obama announced in December that the Iranian-born prisoners released under the Iran nuclear agreement were "civilians" who were "not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses." But a Politico report published Monday revealed that might not have been the case:
In reality, some of them were accused by Obama's own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran. [Politico]
The prisoners were released in exchange for the freedom of five Americans. In addition to the seven men who were released, court filings reveal the Justice Department also "dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives," Politico reported. Three were charged with trying to lease a Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that allegedly supports Hezbollah; another was accused of attempting to buy and import thousands of assault rifles into Iran; and another was believed to have helped a network in "providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED." But "the biggest fish," Politico reported, was Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who was charged with getting "thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China," including "hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran."
Experts contend the Obama administration went ahead because it was so concerned with the success of the Iran deal. "There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime," said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate. "The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage."
How do President Trump's first 100 days stack up against the presidents of yore? Not so great, as it turns out. Presidential historians who spoke with NPR ruled Trump "an entry-level president" and practically unfit to even be a White House intern.
"This man is without experience, and it's showing," said historian Robert Dallek, who has studied leaders ranging from Roosevelt to Reagan. "Particularly in his dealings with Congress, he's been an utter failure in the sense that he's gotten nothing passed. He's issuing all sorts of executive orders, like immigration limits; they're failing. The attempt to get health-care reform failed. I'd give him failing marks for his 100 days."
Richard Norton Smith has written several presidential biographies, including one on Herbert Hoover, who, like Trump, was a businessman before taking office. But "the problem with people who say we need a businessman is that the government isn't a business," Smith said, adding: "Profit-loss statements don't take into account the irrationality of Kim Jong Un. Corporate budgets don't have to allow for military defense. All these kinds of perfectly rational expectations that apply in a corporate world are rarely applicable in the less-than-rational world of politics."
The director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia, Barbara Perry, said it is even too generous to call Trump an "entry-level president." "Unless he would be an intern, he would not have a position in the White House — with no educational experience, no military experience, no government, no political experience, most of it was running for president."
When the White House and top military officials gave erroneous information about the whereabouts and intentions of a U.S. aircraft carrier earlier this month — and then failed for days to correct reports — some critics claimed that the U.S. had jeopardized the safety of some of its closest allies. But how could such a monumental mistake happen?
Defense officials who spoke with Navy Times revealed that "over the course of 10 days, a series of gaffes and missteps throughout the entire national security structure to its highest levels would raise the specter of a nuclear showdown, send the U.S. and Chinese governments into crisis mode, and expose alarming communication deficiencies within the American military at large."
With North Korean aggression mounting in early April, the original plan had been to shorten the USS Carl Vinson's planned exercises with Australia and cancel its port visit to Perth, which would get it up to North Korea by the end of the month. But because an Australian port visit is "the holy grail" for sailors, many families had already planned trips to the country to visit their relatives. "The easiest thing to do, PACOM officials decided, would be send out a press release announcing the canceled port visit — making it easier for families to get their money back from airlines and letting all parties know why the Vinson wouldn't be visiting the Land Down Under," Navy Times notes.
Instead, "the media just went nuts," a defense official with knowledge of the situation said. Adding to the confusion, Reuters reported the Vinson was leaving Singapore for North Korea, although it was in fact headed south, to the truncated Australian training exercises. "Everyone from [U.S. National Security Adviser H.R.] McMaster and [Secretary of Defense James] Mattis to the president himself inaccurately stated what Vinson's intentions were," Navy Times writes.
"It's really shocking that they let this go for nearly two weeks without trying to correct the record," added retired Navy officer Bryan Clark.
President Trump kicked off one of his biggest weeks yet in Washington by tweeting about his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and the general election, which he won 167 days ago. He did not mention his fast approaching 100-day benchmark or Congress' Friday deadline to approve a budget or face a government shutdown.
His first tweet of the morning, about polls by ABC News and NBC News released over the weekend, was a carryover from his tweetstorm Sunday in which he slammed the "FAKE" media while simultaneously admitting some bits of its polls about him were actually pretty good. He highlighted that the ABC News/Washington Post poll found that "almost all" Trump supporters stand by their vote for him and 53 percent said he was a "strong leader."
He still wasn't ready to let either ABC or NBC live down their "totally wrong" polls from the general election though, after insisting Sunday he "would still beat Hillary [Clinton]" in the popular vote:
The two fake news polls released yesterday, ABC & NBC, while containing some very positive info, were totally wrong in General E. Watch!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2017
Trump then pivoted to boosting his plans to build a border wall, which he hailed as crucial to protecting our nation's youth:
The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)! If
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2017
As for that "if" dangling at the end of Trump's tweet? At the time of publishing, 58 minutes had passed and the president of the United States had yet to complete his thought. Becca Stanek
President Trump bragged he helped CBS's Face the Nation news program earn its highest television ratings since the September 11 World Trade Center attacks during an incredible interview with The Associated Press published Sunday evening. Trump called the achievement a "tremendous advantage."
"It's interesting," Trump said. "I have, seem to get very high ratings ... You know, Chris Wallace had 9.2 million people, it's the highest in the history of the show. I have all the ratings for all those morning shows. When I go, they go double, triple. Chris Wallace, look back during the Army-Navy football game, I did his show that morning."
Trump went on to put his ratings in some questionable context:
TRUMP: It had 9.2 million people. It's the highest they've ever had. On any, on air, (CBS Face the Nation host John) Dickerson had 5.2 million people. It's the highest for Face the Nation or as I call it, "Deface the Nation." It's the highest for "Deface the Nation" since the World Trade Center. Since the World Trade Center came down. It's a tremendous advantage. [The Associated Press]
The interview saw Trump at what the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale called "the most honest [he] has ever been about his TV obsession," too. "I don't watch CNN anymore," Trump told the AP. "I don't watch MSNBC anymore. I don't watch things, and I never thought I had that ability. I always thought I'd watch." Read the full interview at AP here. Jeva Lange