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February 15, 2017
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump called reports that his 2016 campaign team was in "constant" contact with senior Russian intelligence officials "non-sense," alleging that the news "is merely an attempt to cover up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign."

U.S. officials told The New York Times and CNN that they intercepted phone calls by members of Trump's campaign, proving the connection, a revelation that came just hours after former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned from his post following The Washington Post's reports that the Justice Department warned the White House that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Russia's ambassador before Trump's inauguration, and could be subject to blackmail.

Trump has argued that the "illegal leaks" are the "real story," and on Wednesday added: "Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia." The Kremlin also called the reports "not based on any facts." Jeva Lange

1:22 a.m. ET

On Wednesday, word came that "President Trump might be supporting a ban on bump-stocks and the strengthening of background checks — which is weird, right?" Trevor Noah said on The Daily Show. "Trump might do something good. You know you don't know how to feel about that." Maybe Trump is softening his opposition to gun laws because "he's watching the same kids we've all been watching over the past few days — survivors of the shooting" in Parkland, Florida, Noah suggested.

"Most people who see those kids are impressed by how articulate they are and they're inspired by their passion," Noah said, but others "think it's suspicious that these kids say they don't want to be shot in the face." He focused on that second group, swatting down their various conspiracy theories.

"Here's what I find funny about this whole debate," Noah said: "Most of the arguments boil down to one idea — teenagers are too young, too emotional, too inexperienced to talk about guns. But as soon as they turn 18, they can own as many of those bad boys as they want. And I guess in a way, this is now you know these students having an effect: You've never seen gun advocates so desperate that they'd start attacking the victims of a mass shooting."

"There are always crackpots in situations like this who come out of the woodwork with this irrational, this paranoia-fueled nonsense — it happened after Sandy Hook, too," Jimmy Kimmel said on Wednesday's Kimmel Live. But it isn't normal for people like Donald Trump Jr. and NRA board member Ted Nugent to be "perpetuating this kind of stuff."

Kimmel asked viewers, especially Trump supporters, if they believe these students "are actors who are part of some kind of deep-state, left-wing conspiracy," and if the answer was yes, he had "some bad news": "You're crazy. You're a crazy person." If not, he said, "you can't just sit there and let these scumbags spread these lies about these kids." Peter Weber

12:08 a.m. ET

For about an hour on Wednesday afternoon, President Trump sat and listened as students, parents, teachers, and others directly affected by school shootings begged him to act before the next mass shooting. The participants in the White House meeting had ties to the shootings in Parkland, Florida; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; and Columbine High School in Colorado. They offered solutions including limiting assault rifle sales to people 21 and over, arming teachers and other school employees, ramping up mental health screening, and drilling students for active-shooter situations. "It's not going to be talk like it has been in the past," Trump told them. "Too many instances, and we're going to get it done."

Trump did not commit to any of the proposals, though he said "we're going to be very strong on background checks" and "we're going to go strong on age of purchase and the mental aspect." The proposal he seemed most enthusiastic about was arming teachers and coaches, an idea that got a mixed reception. Arming teachers "is an emotional response that we have heard before," Richard Myers, head of the law enforcement group Major Cities Chiefs Association, told Trump. "I don't know of any police chief who believes this is a good idea." The NRA, meanwhile, opposed raising the age limit for purchasing AR-15 and other assault rifles, on the grounds that doing so would deprive people 18 to 20 of "their constitutional right to self-protection."

The listening session was mostly polite and frequently emotional. "It's very difficult, it's very complex, but we're going to find the solution," said Trump, holding notes reminding him to say "I hear you" and ask participants about their experiences. "There are many different ideas. Some, I guess, are good. Some aren't good. Some are very stringent, as you understand, and a lot of people think they work, and some are less so." Peter Weber

February 21, 2018

It seems there are some fans of the world's most beautiful game lurking on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, a group of nearly 50 senators sent a letter to President Trump asking him to support an effort for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to jointly host the FIFA 2026 World Cup. In the letter, the bipartisan group wrote that the so-called "United Bid" is "an exceptional opportunity to showcase our nations' shared passions for soccer" and praised soccer's "positive impact on our local communities and on the international stage."

The joint North American bid is expected to include at least 12 cities across the three countries, and the senators wrote that "[dozens] of U.S. cities that we represent have conveyed their interest in being part of the United Bid." The 2026 World Cup will expand from a 32-team bracket to a 48-team bracket, which the website for the United Bid notes "will require world-class facilities and infrastructure to ensure a successful tournament."

Some of the letter's more notable signatories include Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The deadline for bid proposals to be submitted is March 16, and FIFA will vote on the submissions June 13. Read the senators' letter below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 21, 2018
iStock.

What does a star look like just before it explodes? Scientists have been asking this question for a long time — and thanks to the efforts of a self-taught astronomer from Argentina, they're one step closer to the answer.

Victor Buso, a locksmith from the Argentine city of Rosario, managed to capture an image of a rare, momentary celestial phenomenon known as a "shock breakout." It's the moment that marks the transition from a star into a supernova — something that scientists have theorized about but never actually witnessed before.

During a shock breakout, energy travels from the core of the star to its outer edge, creating a burst of light that directly precedes the star's explosion. Buso happened to be in his self-constructed observatory on Sept. 20, 2016, taking images of the night sky, when he noticed an extra blip of light in his pictures that didn't match up with any known celestial body. After confirming his suspicion that the bright spot was a shock breakout with another amateur stargazer, the two alerted professionals and sent along what they had seen. The discovery was finally published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

Buso's findings could help to answer "the fundamental question," said Melina Bersten, the lead author of the report: "What is the structure of the star at the moment of explosion?" Bersten added that Buso had only about a 1 in 10 million chance of capturing an image of a shock breakout like he did. Read more about the discovery at The Washington Post. Shivani Ishwar

February 21, 2018
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Life after the White House has been kind to Keith Schiller, President Trump's former bodyguard and close confidante.

CNBC reported Wednesday that the Republican National Committee is paying Schiller's private security firm, KS Global Group, a handsome $15,000 a month. CNBC noted that Schiller's pay is apparently coming from the RNC's convention fund, rather than its campaign coffers, though former special counsel for the Federal Election Commission Stephen Spaulding warned that such accounts "are notorious for being operated as slush funds."

The RNC's most recent financial disclosure reveals that Schiller's firm has received $75,000 from the party since October, CNBC reported, which is apparently for "consulting on the site selection process" for the 2020 Republican convention. Spaulding said the sum was more akin to "a fat payout from the RNC and its deep-pocketed donors."

KS Global Group got its gig with the RNC only a few weeks after Schiller left the White House in September, CNBC said. The firm is apparently providing the RNC with "security services" in addition to its purported assistance with the 2020 convention. Read more about Schiller's cushy gig at CNBC. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 21, 2018
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's in-laws may have benefited from one of his least favorite immigration policies.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Melania Trump's parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, are green card-holders with legal permanent resident status, which they very possibly received through their daughter's sponsorship. The sponsorship policy is known as family reunification — but the president prefers to call it "chain migration."

Under current U.S. immigration law, U.S. citizens can sponsor close relatives like their parents or siblings for green cards. President Trump, however, wants to restrict green card sponsorship to only the spouses and non-adult children of U.S. citizens. "Chain migration," the president recently tweeted, is an "outdated [program] that [hurts] our economic and national security."

Although the Knavses could have been sponsored for permanent residence by an employer, this is "unlikely," the Post reported, given that the first lady's father, 73, and mother, 71, are thought to be retired. Immigration lawyer David Leopold told the Post that sponsorship through Melania Trump, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, would have been "possibly the only way" to get the Knavses their green cards.

Neither the White House nor a spokesperson for the first lady commented to the Post. An attorney for the first lady and her family confirmed to the Post that the Knavses had obtained permanent legal status, but declined to elaborate on how that status was obtained, citing privacy concerns. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 21, 2018
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President Trump's administration apparently sees political opportunity in the deaths of Russian mercenaries.

Bloomberg Politics reported Wednesday that the White House is thinking about touting the deaths of "scores" of Russian fighters, who were recently killed by U.S.-backed forces in Syria, as proof that the president is, in fact, hard on Russia. The U.S.-backed forces reportedly killed the Russian troops in self-defense in an encounter on Feb. 7, after they were attacked by a "battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars."

However, the attack by the Russians "may have been a rogue operation," Bloomberg reports, and the U.S. apparently believes that this attack was not done with the permission or prior knowledge of the Russian military. It is also "unclear when the White House learned of the attack," Bloomberg notes — all of which could make it difficult to claim the counterattack as proof of the president's tough stance towards Russia. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referenced a vague "incident" in her Tuesday press briefing that was "another way that this president was tough on Russia," but she did not offer details.

The strategy reportedly stems from the fact that the Trump administration is feeling the squeeze to stand up to Russia after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians last week for meddling in the 2016 election. The president has long called the idea of Russian meddling "a hoax" and has been reluctant to criticize Russia. Kelly O'Meara Morales

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