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February 9, 2016
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After Donald Trump called Texas Sen. Ted Cruz a "pussy" on the campaign trail Monday for his stance on waterboarding, he played off the inflammatory comment as just a crowd having a good time. "We were all just having fun," Trump said Tuesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe, clarifying that he was simply repeating what a supporter shouted out during the rally so "everybody could hear."

Making off-the-cuff remarks and apologizing later isn't a new strategy for the outspoken real estate mogul. Here, five other times Trump has made a controversial comment and then later cast it as nothing but a joke. Becca Stanek

The issue: Cruz's hesitation on whether he would support waterboarding
Trump's comment: "She just said a terrible thing. You know what she said? Shout it out, 'cause I don't want to. Okay, you're not allowed to say — and I never expect to hear that from you again — she said... he's a pussy."
The excuse: "We were all just having fun. I was just repeating what she said so everyone could hear. I was doing everybody a favor. I got a standing ovation [and] the place went wild. You're talking about close to 5,000 people. It was a great moment. The world is politically correct."

The issue: His unshakeable popularity with voters
Trump's comment: "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
The excuse: "That comment was said with me laughing and thousands of other people laughing. It was said as a joke — obviously it was a joke."

The issue: Climate change
Trump's comment: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
The excuse: "Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change. I'd be — received environmental awards. And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything you could burn; they couldn't care less. They have very — you know, their standards are nothing. But they — in the meantime, they can undercut us on price. So it's very hard on our business."

The issue: His daughter, Ivanka
Trump's comment: "Yeah, she's really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren't happily married and, you know, her father..."
The excuse: "I said on a certain show — my daughter's a beautiful young woman — so I said, and I said it joking, everybody laughed, everybody laughed. I said, 'My daughter's so beautiful that if I weren't married, etc., etc. I'd be dating her.' Cute. It was cute. Everybody laughed... The next day [the headline was] 'Trump Wants to Date His Daughter.'"

The issue: Trump's treatment of women
Trump's comment: Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly referenced Trump's past remarks about women during the first GOP debate, asking him to explain why he has called women "fat pigs," "dogs," "slobs," and "disgusting animals."
The excuse: "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. Frankly what I say — and oftentimes, it's fun; it's kidding; we have a good time — what I say is what I say."

9:48 p.m. ET
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On Wednesday, President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen told a federal judge he will assert his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself in the Stormy Daniels case, The Washington Post reports.

Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump in 2006, was paid $130,000 by Cohen right before the 2016 presidential election, and is suing to get out of a non-disclosure agreement she signed with him. Cohen's home, hotel room, and office were raided by FBI agents earlier this month, and Cohen, who is requesting to pause proceedings in the case, said they seized electronic devices and documents containing information relating to the payment to Daniels.

Lawyers for Cohen, Trump, and the Trump Organization are asking to see the material before it goes to prosecutors, and Trump's attorney said the president would be available "as needed" to review the documents. Catherine Garcia

5:39 p.m. ET
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Why would George R.R. Martin give the people what they want — the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series — when he can give them something they never even asked for?

The author announced Wednesday on his website that he will be releasing a new book on Nov. 20, and it's not The Winds of Winter. Instead, the new work will be a history of the Targaryen family titled Fire & Blood — and at 989 pages, it's sure to keep readers busy for a long, long time.

The book is the "first half" of the Targaryen family history, Martin wrote, and will cover "all the Targaryen kings from Aegon I (the Conquerer) to the regency of Aegon III (the Dragonbane), along with their wives, wars, siblings, children, friends, rivals, laws, travels, and sundry other matters." But unlike his previous works, this will read as an "imaginary history" book instead of a novel, Martin said, adding that "there are dragons, too. Lots of dragons."

While Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on Song of Ice and Fire, is coming to an end in 2019, there will be a spin-off series. Unfortunately, Martin wrote that he is not allowed to divulge whether it will be based on Fire & Blood.

The news of his project may come as a shock to fans, considering they've been waiting on the release of The Winds of Winter, the next installment in his original series, for seven years now; its prequel, A Dance with Dragons, was released in 2011. Martin has been working on The Winds of Winter since early 2010, but it remains unclear when the book will finally be released.

At least there will be "lots of dragons" in the meantime. Amari Pollard

5:27 p.m. ET
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White House physician Ronny Jackson was apparently not a very popular coworker.

Jackson, whom President Trump has nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, has been the subject of concerning allegations all week, and the Senate has postponed his confirmation hearing indefinitely in light of the rumors. On Wednesday, the situation worsened, as current and former colleagues of Jackson's detailed allegations of serious workplace misconduct in a damning new report gathered by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and published by NBC News.

The allegations, which were previously reported more generally, paint a picture of a "flat-out unethical" leader who created a hostile work environment and engaged in medical malpractice while drinking on the job. In Tester's report, 23 military colleagues say that Jackson would prescribe drugs "like candy" without paperwork or examinations, while also writing himself prescriptions and pressuring others to recklessly hand out sleeping pills. Jackson served in the Navy as a rear admiral.

Additionally, colleagues recall Jackson as being "volatile" and "vindictive," working his way up the food chain with "belittling" and "abusive" behavior. To top it all off, the report says that as presidential physician, Jackson was on one occasion out of reach while on call because he was "passed out drunk in his hotel room," and on another occasion so drunk at a Secret Service party that he "wrecked a government vehicle."

Jackson's confirmation hearing has yet to be rescheduled, and Trump on Tuesday suggested that while he supports Jackson, he wouldn't blame him if he decides to withdraw from consideration. Jackson denied to Reuters that he wrecked a vehicle, and said that he plans to move forward with his nomination. Read Tester's full report here. Summer Meza

4:36 p.m. ET
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt isn't going down without a fight.

The EPA chief has had a fraught couple of weeks, plagued by numerous ethics scandals that are sure to be a focus when he testifies before Congress on Thursday. But he's ready to tell lawmakers that there's plenty of blame to go around, according to talking points obtained by The New York Times on Wednesday.

Pruitt and his staff have reportedly prepared a list of responses to "hot topics" that may come up during his hearings with a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee and the House Appropriations Committee. If lawmakers ask about his taking lavish first-class flights that racked up massive taxpayer-funded travel bills, for example, Pruitt plans to say that his security team advised him to do so, and point out that he has "been flying coach" more recently. In response to questions about controversial raises to his favorite aides, he'll say that someone else handled staffing logistics, reports the Times.

Pruitt's opening statement focuses on his work on environmental policy and makes no mention of his ethics issues, but he is apparently expecting quite a grilling regarding the 10 investigations he is currently facing by government watchdog groups.

The document's veracity was not disputed by the EPA, the Times reports, but it's possible that Pruitt's answers will change between the time of creating the talking points and his hearing Thursday. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

3:04 p.m. ET

The Milky Way galaxy contains about 300 billion stars — way more than any one human could possibly hope to see. But the European Space Agency wants to help intrepid stargazers try.

The ESA's Gaia mission has been collecting data on the stars in the Milky Way since 2013, NPR reported. On Wednesday, the group used that information to release the most detailed star map of the galaxy we've ever had.

Over the past five years, the Gaia spacecraft has captured images of the sky roughly every six months, allowing scientists to understand information about some 1.7 billion stars by comparing images when they're at different positions in the sky, Popular Mechanics reported. Now that the database is publicly available, scientists from all across the world can use that information in their research.

Gaia's data barely scratches the surface of what's out there, but "the exact brightness, distances, motions, and colors" of all those stars is valuable information for astronomers, NPR explained. "We're really talking about an immense change to our knowledge about the Milky Way," said David Hogg, an astrophysicist at New York University and the Flatiron Institute.

You can visually explore our galaxy below, or look through the data Gaia has collected on the ESA's website. Shivani Ishwar

2:20 p.m. ET
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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is poised to propose tripling the minimum rent for some of America's poorest families, a move that comes as the White House has pushed for adults to "shoulder more of their housing costs and provide an incentive to increase their earnings," The Washington Post reports. While tenants receiving federal housing assistance are required to pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward housing, with a $50 cap for the poorest groups, Carson would push for a 35 percent contribution with a cap of $150.

The legislation, which is already opposed by some groups, would have to be approved by Congress. "When we are in the middle of a housing crisis that's having the most negative impact on the lowest income people, we shouldn't even be considering proposals to increase their rent burdens," said Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The White House and Carson have made a number of adjustments and proposals concerning federal rental assistance recipients, citing the goal of encouraging "work and self-sufficiency." Jeva Lange

2:03 p.m. ET
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Users of gay dating apps like Grindr and Hornet are at risk of entrapment in countries like Egypt where police seek to crack down on LGBT citizens, The Verge reports.

Undercover police officers will chat with Egyptians on a dating app, The Verge explains, and then arrange for their arrest once they agree to meet in person. While homosexuality isn't illegal in Egypt, government officials often target LGBT individuals with debauchery charges and use arrests and raids as a way to create a public statement, The Verge reports.

App developers have taken steps to help protect users from falling prey to these traps, sending out alerts and encouraging users to keep their profiles anonymous. Grindr, which usually displays how far users are from one another, keeps distances private in the Egyptian version of the app. It has also made options to password-protect the app and make it look more inconspicuous on a phone's home screen.

But more extensive safety features would take major engineering work, The Verge notes, and wouldn't necessarily prevent users from being targeted by law enforcement anyway. LGBT advocacy groups in the region are encouraging users to know the risks, and are additionally providing attorneys for meet-ups in case things go wrong.

The cultural differences between app developers in California and users in Egypt make it difficult to overcome the regional challenges, a digital rights group worker, Dia Kayyali, told The Verge. "You have to address the fact that governments have people who are specifically manipulating the platform to hurt people," Kayyali said. Read more at The Verge. Summer Meza

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