×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
February 23, 2017
Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, might have faced a blackmail attempt from a Ukrainian parliamentarian last summer, Politico reports. The purported evidence comes in the form of hacked communications from Manafort's daughter's iPhone, which includes a text from Ukrainian Serhiy Leshchenko demanding to reach Manafort and threatening the release of damaging information:

Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to "bulletproof" evidence related to Manafort's financial arrangement with Ukraine's former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.

"Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise," reads the note. It is signed "Sergii" — an alternative transliteration of Leshchenko's given name — and it urges Manafort to respond to an email address that reporters have used to reach Leshchenko. [Politico]

Leshchenko denied that the texts were from him, telling Politico: "I've never written any emails or messages to … Manafort or his family." Manafort denied brokering the meeting beween Trump and Tulub but confirmed the texts to his daughter are real and said that he had also received texts to his own phone from the same address. A White House official raised questions about the timeline, pointing out that Trump had not partnered with Manafort before the 2016 presidential campaign, muddling the allegation that he had brokered a 2012 meeting between Trump and Tulub.

The hacked text messages were published by a hacktivist collective apparently as an anti-Trump move, although the group "seems like randos, not the nation states we usually track," a cybersecurity analyst noted.

In August, The New York Times published documents from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine that indicated $12.7 million in cash payments was set aside for Manafort, with Leshchenko serving as a key source for bringing the documents to light. Manafort denied the documents are real: "I find it coincidental that I got these texts, and then he released these phony journals," Manafort said. Jeva Lange

3:29 p.m. ET

President Trump signed a directive Monday aimed at refocusing "America's space program on human exploration and discovery." The directive signals the administration's intention to send "American astronauts back to the Moon, and eventually Mars," spokesman Hogan Gidley clarified earlier in the day to Reuters.

Despite America having already checked the moon off its to-do list in 1969, Trump said "this time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond." Watch Trump's full comments below, and read James Poulos explain why the most important thing Trump can do is take us to Mars at The Week. Jeva Lange

3:12 p.m. ET

The White House responded to several of President Trump's accusers coming forward on Monday for a "round two" of sexual harassment allegations by saying that the "American people knew this and voted for the president" anyway.

The White House has firmly and continually denied that Trump sexually harassed women even though U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told CBS on Sunday that Trump's accusers "should be heard." In a statement Monday, the White House added: "These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year's campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory."

In response to a question on the same topic Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "In this case the president has denied any of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses and several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the president's claim in this process. And again, the American people knew this and voted for the president and we feel like we're ready to move forward in that process."

Despite denying the women's accusations, Sanders also said: "This took place long before [Trump] was elected president. People of this country had a decisive election, supported president Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process." Watch below. Jeva Lange

2:39 p.m. ET

The America First Project, a self-described super PAC of attack dogs for President Trump's agenda, sent a 12-year-old girl from Virginia to interview Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in a move described by Bustle as "somewhat questionable." Moore is accused of having pursued, and in one case assaulted, teenage girls as young as 14.

The America First Project's Jennifer Lawrence says in the video that "after everything that's happened in this Alabama Senate race up until this point, we thought it was important … to bring Millie [March] here to show that there's a wide range of people who support Judge Roy Moore." It's not the first time the young interviewer, Millie March, has appeared in an America First Project video — her rave review of Trump's agenda at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) went viral last February.

March wanted to know if Moore would help Trump build the wall, what issues are important to Alabama voters, and what characteristics make a good senator. Some parts went better than others:

Watch the full interview below. Jeva Lange

1:56 p.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A Nebraska Republican National Committee member submitted her resignation Monday in protest of the RNC's support of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Politico reports. Moore is accused by a number of women of having pursued — and in one case assaulted — them while they were teenagers.

"I strongly disagree with the recent RNC financial support directed to the Alabama Republican Party for use in the Roy Moore race," said the committeewoman, Joyce Simmons. "There is much I could say about this situation, but I will defer to this weekend's comments by Sen. Shelby."

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said this weekend that while he'd "rather see the Republican win … I couldn't vote for Roy Moore."

Simmons submitted her resignation to RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Friday. "I will miss so many of you that I knew well," Simmons said in her email to colleagues Monday, "and wish I could have continued my service to the national Republican Party that I used to know well." Jeva Lange

1:46 p.m. ET
RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

Watch out, windmills.

A new report published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience warns that wind farming could be seriously affected by climate change, as high rates of carbon emissions lead to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus trapping more heat on the Earth's surface. The resulting increased temperatures would reduce wind output in the global north while likely increasing it in the south, the scientists explain.

Using climate models and projections employed by the U.N., the researchers predicted that Japan, the central United States, and the U.K.'s wind energy industry would see significant losses in wind output if carbon emissions continued at high rates. The central U.S. would lose nearly 20 percent of its power alone, while Japan and the U.K. would lose 10 and 5 percent respectively.

The study did note "substantial regional variations" in its calculations, explaining that the "northern mid-latitudes" experienced more "robust responses" to carbon emissions, while wind power in the southern hemisphere was less distorted by climate change. The Guardian notes that wind in the northern hemisphere is fueled by severe temperature differences between the cold Arctic region and the warmer tropics, which means that a warmer Arctic would reduce wind output.

In the southern hemisphere, however, climate change could actually lead to more wind in regions like eastern Australia, eastern Brazil, and West Africa because of the temperature increase of coastal lands in comparison to ocean waters.

"We found some substantial changes in wind energy, but it does not mean we should not invest in wind power," said Kristopher Karnauskas, an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Read the full study at Nature Geoscience. Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:19 p.m. ET
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

A 32-year-old private investigator in Louisiana has pleaded guilty to attempting to use President Trump's Social Security number to access Trump's tax returns through a U.S. Department of Education financial aid website, The Associated Press reports. Jordan Hamlett was indicted in November 2016, arguing in court that he had no "intent to deceive" when he made an effort to access then-candidate Trump's tax records several weeks earlier. Hamlett claimed that his attempts to obtain the returns had been motivated "out of sheer curiosity."

Federal agents initially questioned Hamlett two weeks before the presidential election and were unaware at the time if his attempts to access Trump's tax returns had been successful or not. The agents "feared a public release of Trump's tax returns could influence the election," AP writes.

Trump's tax returns have remained a tantalizing mystery for many opponents of the president, as Trump is the first commander in chief in decades to refuse to release the forms. Hamlett's lawyer, though, argues that his client was operating as a "white hat" hacker, and that Hamlett had tried to notify the IRS about the vulnerabilities in the system. Hamlett faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Jeva Lange

11:59 a.m. ET
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Kim Jong Un is building an arsenal to rain missiles from the sky — and apparently those aren't his only celestial ambitions. USA Today reported Monday that North Korean state media claims Kim has the ability to manipulate the weather.

After the supreme leader made his way up to the peak of Paektu Mountain, an active volcano on the border of China and North Korea, a blizzard apparently stopped in its tracks. North Korea's state newspaper Rodung Simun said that the "fine weather" atop the volcano was so paradisal as to be "unprecedented" — proof that the "peerlessly illustrious commander" could bend the weather to his will. Perhaps even more impressive was that Kim's black leather shoes apparently remained unscuffed after his arduous climb.

The Kim family has a special connection with Paektu Mountain. It is said that when Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was born, so too was a new star, while a double rainbow appeared in the sky over the volcano. In 2009, snow apparently melted on the mountain's peak during Kim Jong Il's birthday, prompting observers to claim "that even the nature and the sky unfolded such mysterious ecstasy in celebration of the birthday of leader Kim Jong Il."

The younger Kim, then, has apparently inherited some of the superhuman abilities of his father, who was supposedly the author of more than 1,500 books and six of the world's superior operas. Kelly O'Meara Morales

See More Speed Reads