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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

8:32 a.m. ET
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Violence broke out at a Make America Great Again rally south of Los Angeles on Saturday as supporters of President Trump scuffled with counter-protesters. About 2,000 Trump fans were gathered in Huntington Beach, California, when multiple fights erupted in the crowd.

At least one Trump supporter was pepper-sprayed by a Trump opponent wearing a black mask, who was then tackled, punched, and kicked by multiple rally attendees. Four counter-protesters were arrested, local law enforcement said, three of them for illegal pepper spray use.

Attendees described the event as a celebration of Trump plus Vice President Mike Pence, veterans, first responders, and patriotism in general. "Thanks you for all of the Trump Rallies today," Trump tweeted Saturday night. "Amazing support. We will all MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" Bonnie Kristian

8:15 a.m. ET
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"Watch @JudgeJeanine on @FoxNews tonight at 9:00 P.M.," President Trump tweeted Saturday morning — hardly an unusual post for a president known for his love of cable news shows. But in that evening's episode, Judge Jeanine Pirro kicked off her program with a demand for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to resign.

"Ryan needs to step down as Speaker of the House. The reason, he failed to deliver the votes on his health-care bill, the one trumpeted to repeal and replace ObamaCare," she said, insisting the de facto demise of the bill — backed by Ryan and Trump alike — "is not on President Trump" because "no one expected a businessman to completely understand the nuances, the complicated ins and outs of Washington and its legislative process. How would he know on what individuals he could rely?"

Pirro said she did not discuss her message with the president before the show.

While Trump has not explicitly blamed Ryan for the defeat, the House speaker is in a difficult position after his legislation alienated the most conservative and moderate wings of his party alike. Bonnie Kristian

7:34 a.m. ET
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At least one person is dead and another 14 injured after gunfire broke out in a Cincinnati, Ohio, nightclub around 1 a.m. local time on Sunday. Police are actively investigating the incident at the Cameo Night Club and say they have no reason to suspect terrorism.

"It's a large and complicated homicide scene," said Cincinnati Police Department Sgt. Eric Franz. "At this point we have multiple witnesses we're interviewing and we have nobody in custody." "It's going to be a long night for our homicide units to investigate this incident, but right now things are stable," Cincinnati Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate told NBC News.

Early reports suggested multiple shooters, but police later indicated there may be just a single attacker. Several victims are undergoing emergency. Bonnie Kristian

March 25, 2017
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President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and other GOP supporters of the failed American Health Care Act cast the vote as a strict with-us-or-against us scenario: Either support this plan or you're stuck with ObamaCare while the White House "agenda moves on" to other issues. More than 30 House Republicans had other ideas.

As The New York Times details in a breakdown of which GOP lawmakers in the lower chamber opposed the AHCA and why, the proposal came under a diversity of criticism from left and right alike — and that's just within the Republican Party. It's a scenario which leads Paul Kane at The Washington Post to observe the rise of a new paradigm of power in the GOP:

[The AHCA's de facto defeat] suggested a new dynamic in which both the right and left flanks of the Republican conference are emboldened to challenge leadership. And that could make each future negotiation more difficult as the issue matrix gets more complicated and the pockets of internal GOP resistance continue to grow, not shrink, in the new era of Trump’s Republican-controlled Washington. ...

This new combination, with Ryan’s right and left flanks willing to buck him and the new president, presents deep concern for the long-term effort to take up the more complicated effort to overhaul the corporate and individual tax codes. [The Washington Post]

Read the rest of his analysis here, and for more context, check out this piece from The Week's own Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on why the AHCA defeat can be good for the GOP. Bonnie Kristian

March 25, 2017

President Trump reiterated on Twitter Saturday his argument that the health-care system set up by the Affordable Care Act will "explode" of its own accord — after which, he added, Republican lawmakers will successfully pass the replacement plan they could not swing without the added pressure of political explosion.

Trump's tweet echoes his Friday suggestion that the "best thing politically speaking is to let ObamaCare explode" so Democrats are forced to "come to us." Bonnie Kristian

March 25, 2017
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Leaders of the 27 European Union nations that will remain in the organization following the United Kingdom's forthcoming exit met Saturday in Rome on the occasion of the 60-year anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Community, an EU forerunner. "Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all," said EU President Donald Tusk. "Only a united Europe can be a sovereign Europe."

The conference adopted the Rome Declaration, a brief statement affirming mutual "pride in the achievements of the European Union," including "common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare."

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who did not attend the meeting in Rome, is expected to begin the formal Brexit process Wednesday by triggering Article 50. For more on how that process will work, see this explainer from The Week. Bonnie Kristian

March 25, 2017
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Two men remain in custody Saturday for questioning in connection to the deadly attack at Westminster Bridge in London on Wednesday. The attacker, a 52-year-old English native born Adrian Russell Ajao but known as Khalid Masood, was fatally shot by police at the scene of the crime.

Police are now investigating whether Masood "acted totally alone inspired by terrorist propaganda, or if others have encouraged, supported, or directed him." The two men currently detained were among 11 people arrested so far; of the others, seven have been released without charges and two women have been released on bail.

Londoners meanwhile have deluged the area where the attack occurred with a veritable sea of flowers. "You will always be in our hearts," said a note from London Mayor Sadiq Khan to Masood's victims. "Londoners will never forget the innocent people who lost their lives." Bonnie Kristian

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