House intelligence panel chairman blames media for taking political 'neophyte' Trump's tweets 'literally'
Republicans have not exactly rushed to defend President Trump over his tweeted accusation that he'd "just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory," but the Republican leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees agreed to at least look into Trump's claims. On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of Trump's presidential transition executive committee, reframed Trump's accusation as the president publicly questioning whether he or his campaign had been targeted. "I think it's a valid question," he said in a press conference, "if indeed it was a question."
But even Nunes wouldn't back up the specific allegations Trump made, suggesting instead that the press cut Trump a little slack. "As you all know, the president is a neophyte in politics," Nunes said. "He's been doing this for a little over a year. And I think a lot of the things that he says, you guys sometimes take literally. Sometimes he doesn't have 27 lawyers and staff looking at what he does, which is, I think, at times refreshing and at times can also lead us to have to be sitting at a press conference like this answering questions that you guys are asking. But at the end of the day, I think tweets are a very transparent way for a politician of any rank to communication with their constituents."
On CNN Tuesday evening, Jake Tapper played that part of the interview for his panel of guests, and they were not especially sympathetic to Nunes' argument.
Nunes sounded like he wasn't necessarily happy to be answering for Trump's tweets, either. "My only request of the president would be, I don't want him to be completely lawyered up," he told the reporters, "but at the same time, I want him to be clear in what he's asking and the assertions that he's making." Peter Weber
House Democrats have a new slogan, and it's no "Where's the beef?"
Actually, that would be a good question for Democrats' midterm election catchphrase, which is actually "For the People." Because it seems to invoke Lincoln-esque memories from 155 years ago, not provide the meat Democrats need to win back the House in a few months.
The tagline was unveiled during a private meeting Wednesday, Politico reports, presumably because Democrats haven't figured out how to explain that they borrowed the title of ABC's new law drama. It's been a journey to get to this point, as Democrats have toyed with "A Better Deal" and some variations of draining the swamp as their slogan since the 2016 presidential loss, Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur pointed out on Twitter.
Still, a series that's already been renewed for a second season makes for a better slogan than a Lady Antebellum song that peaked at nowhere on the charts. That seems to be where Republicans stole their catchphrase, "Better Off Now," which they couldn't even be bothered to buy the domain for.
We'll just have to see who's better off in November. Kathryn Krawczyk
Mark Zuckerberg seems to think Holocaust deniers don't realize they're lying when they spread that hoax on Facebook.
In a wide-ranging interview with Recode founder Kara Swisher published Wednesday, Zuckerberg was questioned about why Facebook doesn't remove objectively false information, like claims that the Holocaust or the Sandy Hook shooting didn't happen. His response? "I don't think that they're intentionally getting it wrong."
Facebook recently came under fire for allowing InfoWars, a consistent spreader of false information and hoaxes, to stay on the site. Swisher asked Zuckerberg why such conspiracy-peddling sources are granted a presence on Facebook. Zuckerberg responded that while Holocaust denial is "abhorrent" and "deeply offensive," it can be hard to "understand the intent" of those who post false statements such as Holocaust denials.
"Everyone gets things wrong, and if we were taking down people's accounts when they got a few things wrong, then that would be a hard world for giving people a voice and saying that you care about that," Zuckerberg said. So when Facebook's fact checkers identify a hoax, the site simply moves them down in users' News Feeds instead of removing them altogether.
Something that would be removed? "Going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, 'Hey, no, you're a liar' — that is harassment," Zuckerberg explained. Read or listen to the whole interview at Recode. Kathryn Krawczyk
For those of you currently shopping for an engagement ring, here's some good news: There are a lot more diamonds hiding in the ground than we thought.
By measuring seismic waves rippling through Earth, scientists have discovered a quadrillion tons of diamonds about a hundred miles below the planet's surface. That's as much as a thousand times more than previous estimates, National Geographic reported.
A quadrillion — which is about the number of ants that are alive worldwide, to give you some perspective — tons is still only a small percentage, as it turns out. The newly discovered diamonds amount to only about 2 percent of the layer of Earth where they were found. "It was unexpected," said Joshua Garber, the author of the study, "but not unprecedented."
The study, published in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, isn't perfectly conclusive; there's a possibility that the seismic waves measured could be caused by other compounds. But it presents "an exciting and elegant result," said Maureen Long, a seismologist at Yale University.
The rarity of diamonds has always been a little exaggerated by jewelry markets — and now, it's even more so. But it might be too much to hope that this new discovery will make getting that bling any cheaper. Read more about this study at National Geographic. Shivani Ishwar
Trump contradicts intelligence community again, saying Russia is no longer currently targeting the U.S.
President Trump on Tuesday was forced to walk back his controversial statements about Russia's election interference, clarifying that he accepts the "intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place." But on Wednesday, he suggested that the issue was a thing of the past.
When ABC News' Cecilia Vega asked Trump whether Russia is still targeting the U.S., Trump reportedly shook his head and simply said "no."
— ABC News (@ABC) July 18, 2018
After Trump held a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, critics condemned his failure to side with the U.S. intelligence community on its findings that Russia meddled in the election. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, directly disputed Trump's defense of Putin, issuing a statement that reaffirmed his confidence in Russia's "ongoing" attempt to "undermine our democracy."
Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden expressed shock over Trump's claim that Russia is no longer attempting to interfere in U.S. election systems, writing "OMG. OMG. OMG." on Twitter. Whether Trump will walk back his walkback on the walkback remains to be seen.
Update 3:05 p.m ET: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump was saying "no" to answering more questions, not to Vega's question. But as The Guardian's Sabrina Saddiqui notes, Trump continued answering questions about Russia after he said "no" following Vega's inquiry. "We believe that threats still exist," said Sanders. Watch her full explanation here. Summer Meza
Most school districts in the U.S. are not testing their drinking water for lead, a Government Accountability Office report published Tuesday found.
The finding, reported Wednesday by Stat, paints an alarming picture for water safety. Just 4 in 10 school districts conducted tests in 2016 and 2017, but 37 percent of the schools that ran tests found elevated levels of lead in drinking water.
While 43 percent of schools conducted lead tests, 41 percent of schools did not, and 16 percent didn't know whether the water had been tested. Congressional Democrats, who requested the report, called the findings "disturbing and unacceptable" and called for "immediate action" from the Trump administration.
"The administration should finalize a stronger Lead and Copper Rule and issue protective guidance requiring lead testing for all public schools," said the lawmakers in a press release. The GAO also recommended that the EPA implement new guiding rules on how schools test lead levels.
Elevated lead exposure is linked with numerous health concerns, reports Stat, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says lead can have severe consequences on brain development and children's nervous systems. Summer Meza
Coal lobbyist-turned-EPA chief Andrew Wheeler's first act as administrator is to roll back standards on coal ash disposal
Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, just signed his first major regulatory amendment — making it easier for corporations to discard coal ash however they see fit.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday finalized a rule that rolls back standards for disposing of the toxic ash produced by burning coal, The Hill reports. The amendment was in the works for several months, but when Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt earlier this month, he took the reins. Pruitt resigned as EPA administrator following a string of ethics scandals.
The amendment backpedals on regulations put in place by the Obama administration, which mandated strict federal standards for coal ash disposal in 2015. In a statement, the EPA said relaxing the standards would save $31.4 million a year in regulatory costs, as states are given authority to loosen or waive requirements for companies.
"These amendments provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash, while ensuring human health and the environment are protected," said Wheeler in the statement. Environmental groups disagree, reports The Hill, and immediately condemned the measure as dangerous to groundwater and air pollution.
Companies with lax standards may not be required to monitor whether coal ash leaches into surrounding groundwater and will have extended deadlines to reduce coal ash disposal. The EPA has also loosened pollution standards on acceptable levels of lead, lithium, cobalt, and molybdenum in groundwater. Read more at The Hill. Summer Meza
Is Canada ready to move on from America?
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday added a single word to the position of "minister of international trade," renaming it the "minister of international trade diversification." Adding "diversification" might seem like a small change — but it could signal a massive blow to the U.S.-Canada relationship, The Toronto Star suggests.
Trudeau has renamed Canada's trade minister position, from Minister of International Trade to Minister of International Trade Diversification. Adviser Gerald Butts said today: "We need to get Canadian resources to markets other than the United States." https://t.co/I0kvYsegSi
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) July 18, 2018
America is easily Canada's biggest trading partner, accounting for $207 billion of the country's $389 billion in imports each year. That relationship has become complicated, however, after President Trump began announcing a series of tariffs on America's northern neighbor in March. Canada, along with the EU, China, and other tariff targets, has retaliated with its own tariffs on the U.S. Trudeau went so far as to blast Trump's "totally unacceptable" charges in a particularly harsh press conference on May 31.
And Wednesday's change wasn't just a hint. Trudeau adviser Gerald Butts tweeted exactly what "diversification" really meant: "We need to get Canadian resources to markets other than the United States."
Talk about stating the obvious. Kathryn Krawczyk