On Friday evening, Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy spent half an hour drinking with President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe retired to bed, Ruddy said on Twitter (Trump had Diet Coke, he noted). On Sunday, Ruddy — a member of Mar-a-Lago and a longtime friend of Trump's — went on CNN to share his impressions of President Trump's first few weeks in office. "I think he is a little sensitive to the press criticism," Ruddy told Brian Stelter, adding that Trump is "battle-tested" after facing down the New York media for decades. The real problem, Ruddy argued, is White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
"There's a lot of weakness coming out of the chief of staff," he said. "I think Reince Priebus, good guy, well-intentioned, but he clearly doesn't know how the federal agencies work. He doesn't have a really good system. He doesn't know how the communications flow." Ruddy said he thinks White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is doing a good job under tough circumstances, but "the president is not getting the backup he needs in the operation of the White House, and sometimes the pushback that he needs, which you would have with... a stronger White House chief of staff."
After his CNN appearance, Ruddy elaborated to The Washington Post, stating that personally, "it's my view that Reince is the problem. I think on paper Reince looked good as the chief of staff — and Donald trusted him — but it's pretty clear the guy is in way over his head." He specifically blamed Priebus for botching "this whole immigration rollout," and said he's actually "hearing from a lot of people on the inside" that Priebus isn't pushing back like Trump needs him too. "He just doesn't have the gravitas that Donald would respect at the end of the day."
By the end of Sunday, Ruddy was softening his critique a bit, tweeting: "Reince just briefed me on new WH plans. Impressive! CNN today my personal view. Told him I have 'open mind' based on his results." He also said Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, "tells me COS Reince is doing 'amazing job.' Disagrees with me!" Peter Weber
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the White House he may quit if his second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is fired by President Trump, The Washington Post reported Friday evening. Because Sessions has recused himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, Rosenstein oversees it, which has made him a target of the president's ire.
One of the Post's sources said the message was not a threat but a communication of "the untenable position that Rosenstein's firing would" create for Sessions in an already tumultuous administration. Sessions himself has been in Trump's crosshairs in the past, reportedly as recently as this month. Bonnie Kristian
North Korea "no longer needs" to test nuclear weapons and missiles, leader Kim Jong Un said Saturday, and will shut down the site of the past six nuclear tests.
Kim cast the decision as a practical matter because Pyongyang has already achieved "the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons," but the announcement was hailed by many as an important gesture of goodwill in advance of Kim's upcoming meeting with President Trump. However, Kim gave no indication he is willing to surrender his current nuclear arsenal, which he views as a bulwark against forcible regime change.
The president responded to Kim's statement on Twitter:
North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2018
A message from Kim Jong Un: “North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.”
Also will “Shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s Northern Side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests.” Progress being made for all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2018
Beyoncé's music has been metaphorically taking fans to church for years — but now it's going to do it literally.
The Vine at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco is planning to host a Beyoncé-themed mass on April 25, NBC Bay Area reports. The service won't push parishioners to literally worship Beyoncé, but they will be invited "to sing your Beyoncé favorites and discover how her art opens a window into the lives of marginalized and forgotten — particularly black females." The special event comes on the heels of the Houston singer's legendary Coachella show last weekend, and will follow her second festival performance Saturday.
The founding pastor of the Vine, Rev. Jude Harmon, explained in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that the Beyoncé-centric mass is "designed to be" a "conversation starter." The April 25 service will serve as an introduction to a three-part series called, "Speaking Truth: The Power of Story in Community." "We felt a need to lift up the voices that the church has traditionally suppressed," Harmon said.
Rev. Yolanda Norton, an assistant professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary who teaches a course called "Beyoncé and the Bible," will be joining in on the fun as a speaker at the mass.
While unique, this is not the first time a church in the Bay Area has used music to connect with parishioners: The African Orthodox Church of Saint John Coltrane was founded in honor of the late saxophone legend John Coltrane and uses jazz to show devotion. Amari Pollard
When Michael Cohen wired $130,000 to a former adult film actress in October 2016, the point was that everyone would stay quiet.
Instead, the transfer has blown up in his face, as President Trump's personal attorney has found himself in the center of a sordid scandal that has played out in television shows, front pages, and FBI raids. The actress, Stormy Daniels — real name Stephanie Clifford — had spoken publicly in 2011 about an affair she says she had with Trump, but Cohen's acknowledgement in February that he paid her to keep quiet just weeks before the election sparked a tabloid firestorm.
Daniels says the affair occurred in 2006, just one year after Trump married his third wife, Melania, and just a few months after the birth of their son, Barron. Trump has denied the relationship. In a somewhat somber picture of Cohen's place in the Trump orbit, The New York Times on Friday said that Cohen at one point even tried to make amends to the first lady for making the Daniels story national news:
In a Fox News interview last year, Mr. Cohen declared: "I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump." He told Vanity Fair in September that "I'm the guy who would take a bullet for the president," adding, "I'd never walk away."
At a Republican fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, Mr. Cohen went so far as to approach the first lady, Melania Trump, to try to apologize for the pain he caused her with the payment to [Daniels], the adult film actress who has claimed to have had the sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. [The New York Times]
The Times goes on to list many indignities reportedly suffered by Cohen at Trump's hands. As longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone told the paper: "Donald goes out of his way to treat [Cohen] like garbage." Read more at The New York Times. Kimberly Alters
Mike Pompeo: former Kansas lawmaker, current CIA director, and possible future secretary of state. But Gulf War veteran? Despite it being widely reported that Pompeo served in the 1991 Gulf War, the CIA confirmed Friday to Splinter News that, well, he didn't. "Director Pompeo was in the U.S. Army at the time of the Gulf War — serving until 1991," the CIA said. "He was not deployed to that theater."
Pompeo's "participation" in the Gulf War has been reported in numerous reputable publications including The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and at the time of publication, it has not been corrected on his Wikipedia page.
While the mix up is relatively inconsequential — and not apparently Pompeo's fault — Ned Price, formerly of the CIA, explained the importance of correcting the record. "This could all stem from sloppiness between having served 'during' the Gulf War vs. 'in' the Gulf War, but — if this is to be our secretary of state — we need a clear understanding of his background and record," he tweeted. Jeva Lange
Swedish DJ Avicii, 28, was found dead in Oman on Friday, his publicist confirmed. "It is with profound sorrow that we announce the loss of Tim Bergling, also known as Avicii," the publicist, Diana Baron, said in a statement.
Avicii had retired from performing in 2016 after suffering "very public health problems for the past few years, including acute pancreatitis, in part due to excessive drinking," The Hollywood Reporter writes. In an interview, Avicii told The Hollywood Reporter that he "took on board too much negative energy" touring and that since quitting, "I'm happier than I have been in a very, very long time. Stress-free more than I have been in a very long time. I can't say I'm never going to have a show again. I just don't think I'm going to go back to the touring life."
Avicii's hits include "Levels," which went platinum in the U.S., and "Wake Me Up," which hit #4 on the Hot 100, Rolling Stone writes. "Devastating news about Avicii, a beautiful soul, passionate and extremely talented, with so much more to do," tweeted fellow DJ Calvin Harris. "My heart goes out to his family." Jeva Lange
President Trump allegedly pressured his attorney general and FBI director to find "derogatory information within the FBI's files" about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two senior FBI officials who exchanged disparaging text messages about the president, in order to discredit and fire them, Vox writes. The meeting between Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director Christopher Wray reportedly took place at the White House on Jan. 22, and in it Trump allegedly expressed his ire that Strzok and Page still have their jobs.
Both Strzok and Page were briefly a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia. They also badmouthed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, although Trump and his allies have pointed to Strzok and Page's anti-Trump texts as proof that FBI agents are biased against the president.
Several months before his meeting with Sessions and Wray, Trump had been told by his then-defense attorney John Dowd that Page was "a likely witness against him in [Mueller's] investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice," Vox writes. "That Trump knew that Page might be a potential witness against him has not been previously reported or publicly known."
Trump has been known to demand loyalty, allegedly telling former FBI Director James Comey, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty," in a conversation last year. Comey described the president's words as "very concerning, given the FBI's role as an independent investigative agency." Jeva Lange