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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

January 19, 2018
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Facebook apparently has a new weapon against fake news: Facebook users.

In a post to the site Friday, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg explained that in an effort to surface only trustworthy news content, the social media giant will allow its users to opine on which news sources they believe are most credible. These results — culled via customer surveys — will help Facebook determine which content deserves to show up in users' news feeds.

The change is part of Facebook's ongoing effort to revitalize its news feed after it came under fire for promulgating false news stories from untrustworthy sources during the 2016 presidential election. "There's too much sensationalism, misinformation, and polarization in the world today," Zuckerberg wrote, adding that the "objective" solution is to have the "community determine which sources are broadly trusted." "We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that's not something we're comfortable with," Zuckerberg wrote.

Adam Mosseri, the Facebook official tasked with overseeing the news feed feature, told The Wall Street Journal that Facebook executives can't "decide what sources of news are trusted and what are not trusted, [in] the same way I don't think we can't decide what is true and what is not."

Of course, Americans have had quite a tough time determining what is and is not fake news. BuzzFeed News reported shortly after the 2016 presidential election that fake news did better on Facebook than real news in the final months of the election. Mosseri emphasized to the Journal that user opinions would be "just one of many [methods used] to order posts in users' news feeds."

Facebook will begin prioritizing posts by user feedback in the U.S. next week. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 19, 2018
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Investigators still do not know why Stephen Paddock shot and killed 58 people during an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas last October, CBS News reports. In a press conference Friday, authorities conceded that three months of investigation had not yielded any findings on Paddock's motivations, though Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo did emphasize that Paddock acted alone and that his girlfriend — who was at one point suspected of helping him — would not be charged with any crime.

During the press conference, Lombardo also discussed a newly released 81-page report that examined Paddock's actions in the months leading up to the shooting, which was the deadliest in modern American history. The evidence indicated Paddock had been planning an attack for a while; investigators found he purchased over 50 firearms in the 12 months leading up to the shooting, and that he had studied the response strategies of various law enforcement departments.

Lombardo noted that "disturbing" internet searches Paddock had conducted indicated he may have considered carrying out the attack at other concerts or at beaches in California, CBS News reported. Investigators also found child pornography on Paddock's computer.

Read the full report at the Las Vegas Review Journal. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 19, 2018
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The Justice Department said Friday that it intends to retry Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) after his corruption trial ended in a mistrial in November. Menendez, 63, was accused of taking luxury gifts, trips, and campaign donations from his friend and donor, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, in exchange for government favors. One juror afterwards told reporters that the deadlock was 10-2 in favor of acquittal, Politico writes.

"An early retrial date is in the best interests of the public, and the United States is available to schedule a retrial at the Court's earliest convenience," the Justice Department wrote in its filing Friday.

Menendez's 11-week trial was the first prosecution of a sitting senator in decades. He is up for re-election this year. Jeva Lange

January 19, 2018

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has responded to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dismissively referring to him as "sort of the Steve King of the Senate," a reference to one of the House's most outspoken immigration hardliners.

"All I can say is we're not going to end family immigration for DACA," Graham had told MSNBC earlier Friday. "The Tom Cotton approach has no viability here. You know, he's become sort of the Steve King of the Senate."

Cotton was not amused. "The difference between Steve King and Lindsey Graham is that Steve King can actually win an election in Iowa," he told reporters, jabbing at Graham's short-lived campaign for the Republican nomination. "He didn't make it off the starting line, he didn't even make it off the kiddy table debates."

"Donald Trump won our party's nomination," Cotton added. "The voters have made it clear that they want Donald Trump's approach to immigration." Jeva Lange

January 19, 2018

President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met in a rare private meeting Friday afternoon in a last-ditch attempt to negotiate a budget ahead of the looming midnight deadline. Aides said that Republican congressional leaders were not in attendance.

"We made some progress but we still have a good number of disagreements," Schumer told reporters afterward. "The discussion will continue."

While the House passed a bill Thursday to keep the government funded until Feb. 16, it is widely thought that the measure will not pass the Senate, where it needs 60 votes. Democrats have refused to support a funding measure that does not protect young undocumented immigrants.

Congress has nine hours to agree on a budget before the government shuts down at midnight. Jeva Lange

January 19, 2018
BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

The Supreme Court confirmed Friday that it will consider the legality of President Trump's travel ban, which restricts travel to the United States from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, and North Korea, and for certain government officials from Venezuela, The New York Times reports.

Six of the eight nations targeted by the ban are predominately Muslim. A lawsuit filed by Hawaii legally challenged the ban, which was issued in September, and succeeded before a federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Supreme Court has signaled it could be amenable to Trump's ban, which is the third of its kind to be issued by the Trump administration. Oral arguments could begin as soon as April. Jeva Lange

January 19, 2018
Courtesy image

Compared to a pet rock, a marimo moss ball ($14 for six) might strike you as a lively companion. Each small green orb is made of living algae that grows in a sphere, and when cared for, it will grow larger ever so slowly and can live 100 years. Though marimo, or "ball seaweed," grows in lakes throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the Japanese led the way in bringing the balls home and nurturing them. Legend has it that the first marimo balls were the hearts of two star-crossed lovers, and every one since supposedly has the power to discern true love. "All you need is one touch of the plush, velvety surface to get hooked." The Week Staff

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