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January 11, 2017

Donald Trump's plan to remove himself from his businesses without divesting ownership doesn't even come close to solving the problem of potential conflicts of interest, the director of the Office of Government Ethics said Wednesday.

"We can't risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit," Walter Shaub said at the Brookings Institute. "That's why I was glad in November when the president-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, 'in no way have a conflict of interest' with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal." The Office of Government Ethics is independent and nonpartisan, and works with executive branch officials to prevent conflicts of interest. Last week, the office sent Democrats in the Senate a letter advising them that they were still waiting for many of Trump's Cabinet nominees to send over their proper ethics packages.

Shaub said one major problem with Trump's "wholly inadequate" plan is that he will have his sons, Eric and Don Jr., run the Trump Organization, and that will involve communications that wouldn't take place in a blind trust. Sheri Dillon, a lawyer for Trump, said on Wednesday a blind trust was impossible to enter into because "you cannot have a totally blind trust with operating businesses." If they were to sell off the business or divest, she added, it would cost the Trumps millions of dollars, and that just wasn't fair. Shaub was unmoved. "It's important to understand that the president is now entering the world of public service," he said. "He's going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He's going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don't think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America."

You can watch Shaub's short address on government ethics and why Trump should change course below. Catherine Garcia

5:34 p.m. ET

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez has requested all DNC staffers submit their letters of resignation by April 15, NBC News reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the organization. While turnover isn't unusual when a new chair takes over, Perez's complete house-cleaning signals how drastically he plans to reorganize the Democratic Party.

Perez was elected in late February to replace interim chair Donna Brazile, who filled the position after former chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) stepped down just before the Democratic National Convention last summer. NBC News reported the "top-to-bottom review process" is intended to discern "how the party should be structured in the future," after it was pummeled in the 2016 elections.

One aide told NBC News to expect the announcements in "coming weeks." The DNC declined to comment. Becca Stanek

4:52 p.m. ET
Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images

Actor Alec Baldwin has hosted Saturday Night Live a record 17 times, but if you ask him, he doesn't think he's funny. In an excerpt adapted from his upcoming book, Nevertheless: A Memoir, published Tuesday in Vanity Fair, Baldwin said his first stint on Saturday Night Live in 1990 made him realize what it really takes to be funny:

Whenever anyone told me I was funny, I was reminded of when people in high school tell someone that he can hit a fastball or shoot a basketball well. Then he gets to college and everyone is big and fast and strong. After that, if he turns professional, everyone around him seems inhuman. They're the biggest, fastest, and strongest. That's what Saturday Night Live was like for me. The worst idea the writers there came up with was funnier than the best thing I could think up. My definition of funny changed while working with them. If people think I can say a line in a way that gets a laugh, I'll take it. But I'm not funny. The SNL writers are funny. Tina Fey is funny. Conan O'Brien is funny. You're only funny if you can write the material. What I do is acting. [Alec Baldwin, via Vanity Fair]

Baldwin admitted Fey's funniness swept him off his feet the first time he laid eyes on her. "When I first met Tina Fey — beautiful and brunette, smart and funny, by turns smug and diffident and completely uninterested in me or anything I had to say — I had the same reaction that I'm sure many men and women have: I fell in love," Baldwin wrote.

Read the rest at Vanity Fair. Becca Stanek

3:23 p.m. ET
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MSNBC just celebrated the biggest quarter in its 21-year history, and leading the charge is Rachel Maddow, whose Rachel Maddow Show ranked as the top cable news program among adults between the ages of 25 and 54 in March. As TVNewser observes, "Maddow, the dominant voice for progressives on cable news, may be benefiting the most from the Trump administration's first 100 days."

Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight is the usual winner in Maddow's time slot. MSNBC has never before earned a 9 p.m. win over Fox News in the coveted 25-54 demographic. Maddow's show also celebrated its biggest audience ever in March when Maddow teased a scoop about President Trump's tax returns.

Other shows on MSNBC are also doing well, including Morning Joe, which celebrated its most-watched quarter ever and ranked second in total viewers among all cable news programs in the time period. MSNBC is now the fastest growing cable news network, TVNewser reports. Jeva Lange

2:57 p.m. ET
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The creators of the popular true crime podcast Serial released the highly-anticipated seven-episode audio documentary S-Town on Tuesday. Hosted by This American Life's Brian Reed and Serial's Sarah Koenig, the podcast follows Reed as he befriends a man who claims to have information about an unsolved murder in a rural Alabama town. "While [S-Town] boasts the seamless audio production of Serial, it's tonally a very different beast — equal parts Twin Peaks-style quirky-small-town portraiture and the unsettling Southern Gothic of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood," writes Quartz.

As the podcast's executive producer, Julie Snyder, told Wired: "With Serial, we were experimenting with using television as a model. With this one, we looked to novels. In a novel, you're entering into a hermetic world. That's what we were trying to do, that we hadn't yet done with a podcast: where you can enter their specific world, and you don't know really know what it's about or where it's going, but hopefully you're compelled to stay in it the whole time."

The podcast took three years to make and Vulture raves it is "unnaturally sophisticated." The entire series can be streamed here. Jeva Lange

1:58 p.m. ET
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

The next time you spot a spider and are headed for it with a shoe, ask yourself if you really want to be squishing a critter that could theoretically band together with all of its arachnid brethren and wipe out the entire human race in a single year.

No, this isn't a scene from Tarantula — it's a new study published in Science of Nature, which found that the world's spiders consume between 400 million and 800 million tons of prey every year. The total adult human biomass on Earth is estimated to be 278 million tons. You do the math.

Part of the spider's power is that it is everywhere. Everywhere. A recent study of homes in North Carolina, for example, found that 100 percent contained spiders, with 68 percent of bathrooms and 75 percent of bedrooms housing an eight-legged buddy or two, The Washington Post reports. If you piled all the spiders in the world on a scale, the terrifying swarm would weigh the equivalent of 478 Titanic ocean liners, or about 25 million tons.

To read more about how the researchers calculated the weight of the global spider population's annual diet, visit The Washington Post or read the study here. As for that spider you've run into, consider gently setting a cup over your arachnid overlord and escorting it outside. Jeva Lange

1:28 p.m. ET
ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

The British government on Tuesday rejected Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's request for an independence referendum. The announcement came shortly after the Scottish Parliament voted 69-59 in favor of backing Sturgeon's bid for a vote on Scotland's independence.

In a statement, the British government said it would not engage in negotiations with Scotland because it would be "unfair to the people of Scotland to ask them to make a crucial decision without the necessary information" about the U.K.'s "future relationship with Europe," or about "what an independent Scotland would look like."

Sturgeon has argued that while the U.K. may have voted to leave the European Union last year, Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favor of remaining, and thus Scottish citizens deserve an independence vote before the Brexit process begins. "The people of Scotland should have the right to choose between Brexit — possibly a very hard Brexit — or becoming an independent country, able to chart our own course and create a true partnership of equals across these islands," Sturgeon said Tuesday ahead of Parliament's vote.

Britain is slated to exit the EU in 2019. Becca Stanek

1:19 p.m. ET

The White House spent over an hour under lockdown Tuesday after a suspicious package triggered a bomb threat warning, International Business Times reports. The Secret Service announced that a man approached 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. claiming to have a bomb around 10:25 a.m. ET, and White House staff were subsequently ordered to shelter in place. The alert was lifted at 11:37 a.m., although the suspicious package investigation — involving a bomb robot — continued.

The suspect had a warrant out for his arrest prior to the incident. He was caught just east of the White House and taken into custody:

Security concerns have plagued the Trump residences, with a Politico report Tuesday indicating that protection of the first lady and her son at Mar-a-Lago is apparently lacking. As recently as Sunday, a woman who said she wanted to talk to the president was arrested for jumping the White House fence. The suspect cited other recent fence jumpers' successes as her inspiration for attempting the unlawful entry. Jeva Lange

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