January 12, 2017

"I wish circumstances were different and I didn't feel the need to make public remarks today," said Walter Shaub, the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE), to begin his address Wednesday at the Brookings Institute about government ethics and why President-elect Donald Trump should take them more seriously. "You don't hear about ethics when things are going well. You've been hearing a lot about ethics lately." Trump had laid out his plan to distance himself from his business interests to avoid conflicts earlier in the day, and Shaub said that plan is "wholly inadequate." "Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts," he explained.

The point of speaking publicly about the fixable ethics shortcomings of the incoming administration, Shaub said, is to defend the post-Watergate ethics structure built to safeguard the public good and to urge Trump to change course. "I've been pursuing this issue because the ethics program starts at the top," he said, and it is hard to persuade other officials to comply if the president does not.

And he's been trying to get his message to Trump, particularly. He started with some tweets, Shaub said, because "I was trying to use the vernacular of the president-elect's favorite social media platform to encourage him to divest." His speech on Wednesday included Biblical scripture, an appeal to patriotism, and the advice of Trump's favorite Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia:

Back when he was working for the Justice Department, the late Antonin Scalia also wrote an opinion declaring that a president should avoid engaging in conduct prohibited by the government's ethics regulations, even if they don't apply. Justice Scalia warned us that there would be consequences if a president ever failed to adhere to the same standards that apply to lower level officials. [Shaub, Brookings Institute]

At Trump's press conference, his conflicts-of-interest lawyer, Sheri Dillon, had noted that "the conflicts of interest laws simply do not apply to the president or the vice president and they are not required to separate themselves from their financial assets." That's true. But as Shaub noted: "The sheer obviousness of Justice Scalia's words becomes apparent if you just ask yourself one question: Should a president hold himself to a lower standard than his own appointees?" The jury is still out. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:07 a.m. ET

"For weeks now, Republicans have been pushing their ObamaCare replacement plan, but the bill has a pre-existing condition," Stephen Colbert said Wednesday on The Late Show: "Everybody hates it." Having trouble selling TrumpCare to Republican lawmakers, much less Democrats or the public, GOP leaders are "rebranding, they're introducing the 'three-bucket strategy,'" Colbert said. "So no health care, but with all those buckets, think of how much you'll save on urns."

"Maybe it's not literal buckets," Colbert said. "You know, since so many people are losing health care they're just saying, 'Quick, do the first three things on your bucket list.'" The "failing" health-care bill isn't Trump's only problem, he added, noting that to soothe Trump's anger after a federal judge halted his second travel ban order, aides played him a news report suggesting it won't survive Supreme Court review. They treat the president like a 5-year-old, Colbert said, "but if positive coverage helps calm down the big angry man with the launch codes, I say do it." He played a clip form his delightful "Real News Tonight" team.

"But you know, I talk to much about Donald Trump," Colbert said. "I talk about him every night, it makes me miss out on some other aspects of my life. There's so many other things to talk about." He spent the rest of the monologue joking about the "Fat Leonard military sex scandal" — which suggest that, once again, Colbert taped this show last week. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:26 a.m. ET

With Megyn Kelly no longer on the air occasionally pushing back against President Trump's treatment of women, Fox News viewers are channeling their ire toward Shepard Smith, who anchors the news and opinion network's afternoon and breaking news coverage. "Smith's persistent fact-mongering has made him persona non grata among some parts of the Fox News faithful," says Paul Farhi at The Washington Post.

Smith's past comments affirming human-influenced climate change, supporting same-sex marriage, urging reasoned calm on terrorism and disease, and defending rival network CNN from "fake news" attacks from Trump have raised hackles among some network viewers, but it was this throwing cold water on Andrew Napolitano's theory about Britain wiretapping Trump that really "made him an apostate to the conservative Fox News orthodoxy," Farhi says.

Neither Fox News nor Smith, who has been with the network since 1996, responded to The Washington Post's request for comment, but as Smith-haters are pushing for his firing on social media, two theories are gaining traction: Smith is on his way out and feeling free to speak his mind, or Fox News actually wants Smith to put a bit of space between the network and Trump.

"If I'm Fox News, I would view [Smith's commentary] as a good thing right now," said Dan Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson University political scientist who wrote a book on Fox News, espousing the second theory. "It builds the credibility of a news organization," as the Murdoch clan wants for their network. Besides, he adds, since Trump fans have no other cable-news options, "Fox isn't worried about its ratings."

Subscribing to the first theory is Tim Graham at the conservative Media Research Center, who argues that Smith is set to bolt to CNN or MSNBC. "His aggressive defense of the liberal media suggests he's looking at Greta Van Susteren and saying, 'Yeah, I could do that,'" Graham told The Post. "To me, it sounds like he's advertising to other networks. It just seems bizarre for him to be sticking up for CNN and MSNBC. It's like Jif peanut butter taking an ad sticking up for Skippy." You can read more about the war on Shep at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

2:51 a.m. ET

When he was campaigning, President Trump reassured some skeptical voters that he had "the smartest, the sharpest, the greatest minds," and "the best people" on his team. Samantha Bee asked, rhetorically, where all those people are now that he's in the White House. And on Wednesday's Full Frontal, she focused on one of those "best people," senior counterterrorism adviser, Fox News regular, and "Trump whisperer" Sebastian L. v. Gorka. "Gorka's got a cruise ship magician's facial hair and the president's ear," she said.

"So who is Sebastian v. Gorka, and how the heck did he get promoted from Breitbart panic blogger to presidential national security adviser?" Bee asked. The answer to the second part of the question is almost certainly his frequent, jihad-panic-stoking appearances on Fox News, but as for the first part, he's a British-born self-proclaimed counterterrorism expert who got a doctorate from a Hungarian university a few years ago. "I am not a counterterrorism expert, but people who are, think Gorka is full of shit," Bee said. "It turns out Dr. Gorka has published as many papers in peer-reviewed academic journals as Dr. McStuffins: Zero."

"Trump's ISIS expect has never lived in a Muslim-majority country," Bee noted, and "he doesn't read or speak Arabic." In fact, "for his thesis, Gorka read the Quran in English, and some secondary sources, and watched Charlie Wilson's War, which makes you an authority on Islam in much the way that watching a Chinese bootleg of Rogue One makes you an astronaut."

He was born and raised in London, but "members of the Hungarian far-right nationalist movement were super psyched when Gorka celebrated inauguration night going on Fox News wearing the regalia of the Hungarian Order of Vitézi, which the State Department lists as a Nazi-linked group," Bee said. "Gorka claims he never swore allegiance to the Vitézi group, whose members adopt a lower-case v as a middle initial," she said, but "Gorka's right-wing bling" isn't the real issue here. "This is not playtime now. Shit is real, and the White House needs real counterterrorism experts, not a poor man's Stewie Griffin whose extremist nonsense could get people killed." Watch the NSFW, not-fair-and-balanced Gorka primer below. Peter Weber

1:57 a.m. ET

During the day, Marvin Hatchett is a security guard at Wilson Middle School in Pasadena, California, but once the bell rings, he becomes a music teacher, mentor, and champion of the arts.

The school does not have enough money for a music program, and since 1983, Hatchett has served as a one-man performing arts department, teaching students at Wilson everything from the drums to the violin. Many of the students can't afford to purchase their own instruments, and when he's able to secure funds, Hatchett uses the money to buy them for the kids. "Everything that involves drums, Marvin has taught me," student Dillon Akers told NBC Los Angeles. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be doing this right now."

Some of his former students have gone on to become professional musicians, and Hatchett gets excited when he sees natural talent. "That's what gets you to keep going, and that's what makes you say, 'I got to do it again,'" he said. Hatchett's role as a music teacher is strictly voluntary, and he receives nothing in return except the knowledge that he's making a difference in the lives of many students. "He has integrity and he has a humbleness that is just a rare quality," Principal Sarah Rudchenko said. Catherine Garcia

1:21 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz

On Wednesday, the number of Republicans in Hawaii's 51-seat House of Representatives dropped from six to five, when former Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto quit the party and applied to become a Democrat. Her Republican colleagues removed her as House GOP leader in early February after Fukumoto, 33, spoke out against President Trump at the Women's March in Hawaii.

Fukumoto, a self-described political moderate of Japanese and Irish descent, said she was bothered during the election when she "saw members of my party marginalizing and condemning minorities, ethnic or otherwise, and making demeaning comments toward women," but the final straw was Trump's talk of a Muslim ban and starting a Muslim-American registry, which she called "one step away" from internment camps. "I wanted very badly to see the Republican Party denounce his comments, and that didn't happen," she told Reuters.

Fukumoto said that before leaving the GOP, she had polled her constituents in a middle-class section of central Oahu, and 76 percent of the people who responded to the questionnaire said they would support her regardless of party, with most of the rest opposing her switch. All 25 seats in the Hawaii Senate are held by Democrats, and the state's governor and entire U.S. congressional delegation are Democrats, too. So Fukumoto's defection, notes poll-cruncher Will Jordan, cost Hawaii's Republican Party 17 percent of their elected officials. Peter Weber

12:45 a.m. ET

President Trump, bogged down in investigations about his campaign's possible ties to Russian intelligence, "is apparently desperate for literally any good news these days," Seth Meyers said on Wednesday's Late Night. So on Tuesday night, Trump brought up old Abraham Lincoln at a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser, sharing what he believed might be useful trivia. "Trump wants a super PAC to take out an ad to let people know Lincoln was a Republican," Meyers sighed, breaking out his Trump voice. "'In fact, make sure he's wearing one of our hats.' Also, this can only mean one thing: Trump just found out Lincoln was a Republican. Dude, the Republicans literally call it the 'Party of Lincoln.' Did you think they were talking about the car?"

But Trump could be focusing on actual good news, the confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, Meyers said. Instead, he's trying to swat down the Russia allegations and defend his unfounded claim about former President Barack Obama tapping his phones. With FBI Director James Comey publicly shooting down the Obama wiretapping claim, Republicans are urging Trump to apologize to his predecessor and move on. Meyers was skeptical: "It also doesn't hurt normal people to say 'I'm sorry,' but it might kill Trump. I don't even thinks his mouth can make those words."

He ran down the news about the investigation, including the new reports on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, news from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — "You're supposed to be conducting the investigation, you don't go tell the guy you're investigating," Meyers reminded Nunes — and texting between a Russian election hacker and Trump confidante Roger Stone.

But Meyers returned to Trump's should-be happy place to close out. The Gorsuch hearing is the "one thing that kept Republicans from abandoning Trump," he said. Meyers played some of the hard-hitting small-talk from GOP senators at the hearing, then put it in context: "Republicans were probably so giddy during the hearings because they knew they were getting away with one of the greatest thefts in modern politics, the stealing of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court from President Obama. And on top of that they got a conservative nominee who's shared very little about his actual views." He ended with a Lincoln joke. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:26 a.m. ET
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Energy Secretary Rick Perry isn't letting being in charge of the nation's nuclear weapons programs stand in the way of getting involved in a college's student government election.

Before he was the governor of Texas and a failed Dancing With the Stars contestant, Perry was a student at Texas A&M, where he was twice elected as yell leader. On Wednesday, he used his alumnus status to write an op-ed in The Houston Chronicle about the university's recent student body president election, which left him "deeply troubled." As Perry explains it, when he first read that junior Bobby Brooks was elected, he viewed it as a "testament to the Aggie character" that students elected an openly gay peer. That all changed when he discovered Brooks actually came in second, but was named president after the winner by 750 votes, Robert McIntosh, was disqualified on charges of voter intimidation and not providing a receipt for glow sticks used in a campaign video. This move "at best made a mockery of due process and transparency," Perry wrote. "At worst, the SGA allowed an election to be stolen outright."

As Perry tells it, McIntosh was cleared of the voter intimidation charges, but the Judicial Court upheld the glow sticks ruling, and Brooks is still the winner. This is too much of a coincidence for Perry to handle. "Now, Brooks' presidency is being treated as a victory for 'diversity,'" he wrote. "It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for 'diversity' is the real reason the election outcome was overturned." Aggies need to ask themselves "how would they act and feel if the victim was different?" Perry continued. "What if McIntosh had been a minority student instead of a white male? What if Brooks had been the candidate disqualified? … We all know that the administration, the SGA, and student body would not have permitted such a thing to happen." He finally called on the election commissioner and chief justice to explain why they disqualified McIntosh over what he says are "anonymous complaints and flimsy technicalities."

What Perry forget to mention in his impassioned plea is that McIntosh's mother, Alison McIntosh, is a longtime Republican fundraiser, the Chronicle reports. Empower Texans, a conservative political organization, said her business, The McIntosh Company Inc., raised money for several presidential campaigns, including those of Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and John McCain. Perry, probably now very interested in getting back to work, has not commented on this connection. Catherine Garcia

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