March 20, 2017

Last Thursday, the White House provoked a diplomatic spat with America's closest ally, Britain, when Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated a claim from Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that Britain's GCHQ spy agency had wiretapped President Trump during the presidential campaign at the behest of former President Barack Obama. By Friday, Britain and the White House were sparring over whether the Trump administration had apologized for repeating the claim, and if so, how much, and Napolitano had pointed The New York Times to one of his "intelligence sources," Larry C. Johnson.

Johnson, who was a CIA analyst before leaving the government about 30 years ago, is perhaps most famous, The Times notes, for spreading "false rumors in 2008 that Michelle Obama had been videotaped using a slur against Caucasians." On CNN Sunday, he told Brian Stelter where his information had come from and said he was actually not "knowingly" a source for Napolitano, adding that the retired judge "didn't get it right, accurate either." "I'm not saying the British GCHQ was wiretapping Trump's tower," Johnson said. Napolitano "shouldn't have used the word 'wiretap.' I call it an 'information operation' that's been directed against President Trump."

Johnson explained that the day after Trump's tweets about Obama wiretapping him, he went on RT, the Kremlin-funded news channel, and talked about how "the British through GCHQ were passing information back-channel," then shared that on a discussion board for former intelligence operatives. "Apparently one of the individuals there shared that with Judge Napolitano," he said. "I don't know what his other sources are." Johnson said two people "who were in a position to know" told him about the back-channel communications, but "this was not done at the direction of Barack Obama — let's be clear about that."

Napolitano is reportedly standing by his claim, but Fox News anchor Shepard Smith noted tartly on Friday that "Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary" and "Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop." Peter Weber

12:57 p.m. ET

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Fox News Sunday chastised President Trump's personal attorney, John Dowd, for saying Saturday it is time for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation to end.

"If you look at the jurisdiction for Robert Mueller, first and foremost [it is] what did Russia do to this country in 2016. That is supremely important, and it has nothing to do with collusion," Gowdy said. "So to suggest that Mueller should shut down and that all he's looking at is collusion — if you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it."

The GOP representative also offered a warning to Trump himself. "When you are innocent ... act like it," Gowdy said to the president. "If you've done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible." Watch a clip of Gowdy's comments below. Bonnie Kristian

12:32 p.m. ET

Sen. Lindsey Graham on CNN's State of the Union Sunday sought to distinguish between Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and the circumstances surrounding the firing of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the latter including the allegation, as President Trump once put it, that the FBI became "a tool of anti-Trump political actors" in 2016.

McCabe's actions have "absolutely nothing to do with the Mueller investigation," Graham said, arguing that a new special counsel should be appointed to investigate the FBI.

He warned Trump against firing Mueller, suggesting that to do so "would be the beginning of the end of his presidency." Graham added that he believes Mueller is "doing a good job," pledging "to make sure that Mr. Mueller can continue to do his job without any interference — and there are many Republicans who share my view."

Watch an excerpt of Graham's interview below. Bonnie Kristian

11:29 a.m. ET
Nazeer Al-Khatib/Getty Images

Turkish troops and their Free Syrian Army allies on Sunday declared victory over Kurdish YPG militia fighters in the northern Syrian city of Afrin.

"Most of the terrorists have already fled with tails between their legs," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, though enclaves of Kurdish fighters remain outside the city center. Activist groups in Afrin say about 280 civilians were killed in the fight to control the city, but Erdogan's government denies their report.

Turkey's war on the Kurds creates tension with Washington, which is allied with both sides. The YPG joined the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State, but Ankara, a NATO ally, considers the Kurds terrorists because of their links to Kurdish rebels in Turkey. Bonnie Kristian

11:20 a.m. ET

North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il traveled to Finland Sunday for negotiations with American and South Korean representatives, notably including former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens. The talks are seen as a preliminary step toward the direct meeting President Trump has said he will have with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this spring.

The South Korean foreign ministry compared the Finland negotiations to the indirect and secretive "Track 2" dialogue Pyongyang maintains with Washington. Choe declined to comment on his agenda. Bonnie Kristian

11:13 a.m. ET
Alexey Nikolsky/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin faces seven challengers as voters go to the polls Sunday, but he is expected to easily win a fourth term for another six years in office. Advance polling suggests Putin boasts about 70 percent support, though critics say Russian elections are a pseudo-democratic exercise with a predetermined outcome.

"I voted for Putin," said Ust-Djeguta resident Lyubov Kachan, a teacher, in an interview with Reuters. "If anything is not going our way right now, that's thanks to the world which treats us so negatively, while he is trying to stand up to that."

Apathetic voters are under increased pressure to turn out this year, with some employers asking workers to provide proof that they voted. The mayor of the city of Yekaterinburg told The Associated Press officials "received orders 'from higher up' to make sure the presidential vote turnout is over 60 percent." Bonnie Kristian

10:10 a.m. ET

Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader hosted this week's show, and he was joined in the cold open by frequent SNL host John Goodman.

On the set with Anderson Cooper (Alex Moffat), Hader's former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and Goodman's fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commiserated about the chaos in the Trump administration. "It's just crazy how one day you're the CEO of Exxon, a 50-billion dollar company," Tillerson muses, "and the next you get fired by a man who used to sell steaks in the mail."

Kate McKinnon also showed up as Attorney General Jeff Sessions reflecting on the Friday firing of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. "I'm just a simple man who wanted to make things bad for immigrants," Sessions says, "and now here I am taking away the pension of a Christian white. It ain't right!" Watch the full sketch below. Bonnie Kristian

8:46 a.m. ET
Justin Tallis/Getty Images

Cambridge Analytica, the data firm suspended by Facebook Friday over violations of the network's privacy policies, was in contact with Lukoil, a Russian oil company, in 2014 and 2015, The New York Times reported Saturday. When questioned last month, the head of the firm's British parent company denied knowledge of any business ties to Russia. A Lukoil executive told the Times the meetings "involved a promotional campaign with local soccer teams," denying any "contracts were signed."

Also Saturday, The Observer of London reported the company harvested 50 million American Facebook profiles for electioneering, a major data breach. "We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles and built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons," said former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie. "That was the basis the entire company was built on." Wylie attended the meeting with Lukoil and said the oil company repeatedly asked about "political targeting in America."

Cambridge Analytica was a Trump campaign contractor in 2016, though Facebook did not mention President Trump in its suspension announcement. Bonnie Kristian

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