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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

2:50 p.m. ET
George Frey/Getty Images

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) left office Tuesday, but not before he signed a Democratic-sponsored bill that bans the sale or possession of "bump stocks" in his state, NJ.com reports. The divisive legislation comes in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting last year, when the gun accessory was used to murder 58 people and wound some 489 others. Bump stock owners in New Jersey now have 90 days to turn over the items to authorities.

"These are simple, easy-to-use devices that increase the firepower and killing power of firearms," explained former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who retired last week. "There is no legitimate need for these devices." Residents of New Jersey were not previously allowed to use bump stocks — the accessories weren't even allowed in the "vicinity of a weapon," NJ.com writes — but Christie's law officially requires the devices be removed from the state altogether.

The legislation passed unanimously in the state Senate and Assembly, which are both controlled by Democrats. Democrat Phil Murphy was sworn in as Christie's replacement just before noon Tuesday. Jeva Lange

2:08 p.m. ET

Lindsey Graham misses the good old days.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, the South Carolina Republican lamented that President Trump had changed in a disturbing way over the last week, clearly referencing the president's disparagement of Haiti, El Salvador, and unnamed African nations as "shithole countries."

"[Last] Tuesday we had a president who I was proud to golf with, call my friend, who understood immigration had to be bipartisan ... but he also understood the idea that we had to do it with compassion," Graham said before making a plea to the president: "I don't know where that guy went. I want him back."

After he made his remarks, Graham ran into reporters outside the hearing and told them he believed the president's staff was to blame for this whole ordeal: "I think someone on his staff gave him really bad advice between 10 o'clock and 12 o'clock on Thursday." He added: "We cannot [make a deal on immigration] with people at the White House who have an irrational view on how to fix immigration." Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:56 p.m. ET

Japanese officials are using emergency loudspeakers normally reserved for earthquake alerts to warn residents of the city of Gamagori not to eat potentially deadly fish sold from a local supermarket, The Japan Times reports. The local store allegedly sold five packages of fugu without removing the fish's liver, which can contain an extremely dangerous neurotoxin. "Eating fugu liver can paralyze motor nerves, and in a serious case cause respiratory arrest leading to death," officials warned.

Fugu is an expensive delicacy, but it is also so dangerous that it must be prepared for consumption by specially licensed professionals. There is not an antidote for its poison, which can be more toxic than cyanide and is also found in its skin, intestines, and ovaries, the BBC reports.

So far, three of the five packages sold by the store have been recovered "but we still don't know where the remaining two are," said local official Koji Takayanagi. Jeva Lange

12:56 p.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Swiss food and beverage company Nestlé announced the sale of its American candy businesses, including brands like Crunch, Gobstopper, and Butterfinger, to the Italian confectionary company Ferrero for $2.8 billion, CNBC reports. The sale will evidently make Ferrero, which owns Nutella and Ferrero Rocher pralines, the third-largest chocolate company in the world.

"With Ferrero we have found an exceptional home for our U.S. confectionery business where it will thrive," said Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider. "At the same time, this move allows Nestlé to invest and innovate across a range of categories where we see strong future growth and hold leadership positions, such as pet care, bottled water, coffee, frozen meals, and infant nutrition.”

Nestlé's chocolate brands have reportedly been struggling in the U.S. due to "consumers' preference for healthier snacks like fruit and nut bars and premium brands like Lindt," CNBC writes. The sale will not include Nestlé's Toll House products or candies it produces globally, like KitKat. Jeva Lange

12:33 p.m. ET

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and faced some tough questions about President Trump's recent disparaging remarks about Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, which he reportedly called "shithole countries."

In his round of questioning, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Nielsen what the president meant when he expressed a desire for the U.S. to take in more Norwegian immigrants. Nielsen replied that Trump was discussing immigration "from a merit-based perspective" and that he wanted immigrants "with skills who can assimilate and contribute to the United States, moving away from country quotas and to an individual merit system."

A little later, Leahy asked Nielsen, "Norway is a predominantly white country, isn't it?" After stuttering, she replied, "I actually do not know that sir, but I imagine that is the case."

Nielsen's interrogation, however, was far from over. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — who was in the room with Nielsen when Trump reportedly made the comments during a meeting on immigration — wasted little time in asking, "How did [Trump] characterize those countries in Africa?" Nielsen claimed to not remember exactly what the president said because of "cross conversations" and "rough talk by a lot of people in the room."

Durbin pressed on: "Do you remember the president saying expressly, 'I want more Europeans, why can't we have more immigrants from Norway?'" Nielsen said that she remembered Trump asking about "the concept of 'underrepresented countries'" but her memory failed her in regards to the president's alleged profanity. Durbin did get Nielsen to admit that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) used "tough language" as he quoted the president, but Nielsen did not explicitly confirm the use of the word "shithole." She would only say, "I remember specific cuss words being used by a variety of members." Kelly O'Meara Morales

12:28 p.m. ET

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West welcomed their third child, a daughter, early Monday morning, Kardashian announced on her website Tuesday. The daughter, whose name has not yet been announced, was born via a surrogate due to a life-threatening health condition Kardashian experienced during her first two pregnancies, placenta accreta. A surgery to allow her to safely have a third child had been unsuccessful, the New York Daily News reports.

"Kanye and I are happy to announce the arrival of our healthy, beautiful baby girl," Kardashian wrote. "We are incredibly grateful to our surrogate who made our dreams come true with the greatest gift one could give and to our wonderful doctors and nurses for their special care. North and Saint are especially thrilled to welcome their baby sister." Jeva Lange

12:13 p.m. ET
MIKE THEILER/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's former chief strategist and campaign CEO Stephen Bannon was reportedly subpoenaed last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury, a person familiar with the decision told The New York Times. This is the first known instance of a grand jury subpoena being used on someone in Trump's inner circle, and "could be a negotiating tactic," the Times writes, noting that Mueller "is likely to allow Mr. Bannon to forgo the grand jury appearance if he agrees to instead be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of the special counsel's offices in Washington."

But as Solomon L. Wisenberg, who served as a prosecutor for the independent counsel that investigated former President Bill Clinton, observed: "By forcing someone to testify through a subpoena, you are providing the witness with cover because they can say, 'I had no choice — I had to go in and testify about everything I knew.'"

Bannon testified behind closed doors Tuesday in front of the House Intelligence Committee which, like Mueller, is looking for evidence of Russian interference in the election. Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News that he has questions for Bannon about Trump-related money laundering, among other inquiries. Jeva Lange

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