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February 21, 2017

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that President Trump's personal legal counsel, Michael Cohen, met last month with a colorful Russian-American former Trump business associate, Felix Sater, and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian lawmaker, then delivered a sealed envelope from them to Michael Flynn, Trump's then-national security adviser, with a "peace plan" for Ukraine. The peace deal, proposed by Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko, would lead to formalizing Russia's occupation of Crimea as a lease and lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Cohen and Sater confirmed the meeting and the envelope delivery. Then on Monday, Cohen backpedaled, telling The Washington Post and NBC News that "the brief meeting took place," but "emphatically" denying "discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn." He agreed to meet with Sater for coffee, he added, because he's "known Felix for years," and didn't know Sater's friend "would be a guy who wants to run for president of Ukraine." The Times stood by its story, telling The Washington Post that Cohen said "in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn's office at the White House."

The back-channel diplomacy effort is not illegal, though it is unusual and maybe inconvenient amid federal investigations into Trump's business and political ties to Moscow. The reappearance of Sater is interesting, in any case, not least because he has a colorful history that includes arrests for stabbing a man in the face with a broken glass in a bar fight and for a Mafia-linked stock-fixing scheme, and avoiding jail by working for the CIA and FBI.

Sater's long business history with Trump includes working on several Trump-licensed projects, including the Trump SoHo building and — a decade ago and again in 2015 — a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Sater's name has popped up a couple of times in the campaign, but despite evidence of their close ties, Trump has sworn in depositions that he wouldn't even recognize Sater's face, as shown in this December 2015 report from ABC News.

The peace proposal did not meet with a positive response in either Kiev or Moscow; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the plan "absurd," and Ukrainian Ambassador Valeriy Chaly said that Artemenko "is not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine to any foreign government." Peter Weber

October 22, 2017

The first half of President Trump's two-part interview with Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo aired Sunday and saw the president suggesting the difficulty he has had in repealing and replacing ObamaCare will somehow make major tax law revisions happen more smoothly.

"I do believe we have the votes for health care at the appropriate time," Trump said, "and I think we're going to have the votes for taxes, and I will say the fact that health care is so difficult, I think, makes the taxes easier." He did not explain why delays on health-care reform would make taxes easier other than to add that "Republicans want to get it done, and it's a tremendous tax cut." There is, at present, no completed tax reform bill.

Later in the conversation, in an exchange that came under scrutiny as soon as an advance transcript of the interview was available, Trump described himself as "representing rich people" in the tax reform process:

The second half of the interview will air Monday. In the meantime; you can read a full transcript here, check out The Week's selection of Trump's seven most noteworthy comments about his own social media habits; or watch today's segment below. Bonnie Kristian

October 22, 2017
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Actor Tom Hanks weighed in Saturday night on President Trump's allegedly insensitive condolence call to the widow of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger earlier this month.

"I'm only knowing what I read in the newspapers and what have you, and it just seems like it's one of the biggest cock-ups on the planet Earth, if you ask me," Hanks said to CNN. "This is a tragedy of the utmost consequence, and it goes much longer beyond who's going to come out on top of the news story. I think it's very sad."

Hanks was in Washington, D.C., to be honored at the National Archives Foundation gala with the annual "Records of Achievement Award." In a speech at the event, he struck a more positive note. "As we continually move towards a more perfect union, [the U.S. Constitution] might be the only self-correcting, open-ended document anywhere on the planet Earth [that] keeps us going," Hanks said, "that keeps saying that we're going to learn how to do that one thing we've already sort of done. We're going to become better and better and better." Bonnie Kristian

October 22, 2017
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a resounding victory in Sunday's snap election. His Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition is set to retain its two-thirds supermajority in Japan's lower house of parliament, and Abe is likely to secure a record-setting third term next fall.

With a fresh mandate from voters, Abe is expected to push for changes to Japan's "pacifist" constitution, in which Article 9, drafted by the United States government in the wake of World War II, prohibits the maintenance of armed forces. In practice, the clause has served as a mandate for a strictly defensive military; Abe wants to move toward a more interventionist pose.

"First, I want to deepen debate and have as many people as possible agree," Abe said of his plans. "We should put priority on that." Bonnie Kristian

October 22, 2017
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Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who pleaded guilty last week to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for his decision to leave his base in Afghanistan in 2009, said in an exclusive interview published in Britain's Sunday Times that coming home to the United States was as difficult as his years spent as a prisoner of war in Taliban hands.

"At least the Taliban were honest enough to say, 'I'm the guy who's gonna cut your throat,'" he said. "Here, it could be the guy I pass in the corridor who's going to sign the paper that sends me away for life."

Bergdahl's goal in leaving his base was to alert other officers of perceived mismanagement; instead he was kidnapped and held captive for five years until the Obama administration negotiated his release. His homecoming has been marked by vicious political controversy, including attacks from President Trump, who has suggested Bergdahl should be thrown from a plane without a parachute. Bonnie Kristian

October 22, 2017
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on CNN Sunday he is prepared to call a vote on the bipartisan health-care proposal negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) if President Trump is prepared to sign it.

The proposal has the support of all 48 Senate Democrats plus 12 Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on NBC Sunday. "This is a good compromise," Schumer argued. "It took months to work out. It has a majority."

The Murray-Alexander bill would appropriate funds for two years of the insurance subsidies Trump recently ended while loosening some ObamaCare rules, including allowing "insurance companies to sell less comprehensive plans to all customers, not just those under age 29 as is the case under current law."

Trump has sent mixed signals about the plan, calling it both "a good start" and "a short-term fix." Bonnie Kristian

October 22, 2017

President Trump returned to familiar stomping grounds on Twitter Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. He claimed Facebook supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election and painted himself as a triumphant underdog:

Later Saturday, Trump turned to the record of his presidency so far, promising tax reform and health-care progress while boasting of mostly unspecified accomplishments on a litany of issues:

On Sunday, Trump reiterated his belief that journalists habitually "FABRICATE STORIES" about him and promoted an interview with himself airing that day. Bonnie Kristian

October 22, 2017
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Fox News renewed host Bill O'Reilly's contract in January of 2016, promising him $25 million per year for four years, even after he settled a sexual harassment lawsuit for $32 million with the network's knowledge, The New York Times reported Saturday.

While Times reports from earlier this year revealed O'Reilly and Fox together paid around $13 million in the pundit's various harassment settlements, this larger agreement was previously unknown. The settlement was paid over a woman's allegations of "a nonconsensual sexual relationship" and other repeated harassment including the sending of unwanted pornography.

Fox fired O'Reilly in April of 2017. He denies all wrongdoing. Bonnie Kristian

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