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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

3:29 a.m. ET

On Thursday, ABC News reported that Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and "fixer," has spent hours talking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators about Trump's dealings with Russia and whether he had offered Cohen a pardon, which could amount to obstruction of justice.

The ABC News report cited "sources" for its scoop, but ABC's Meridith McGraw captured a tweet from Cohen's account, quickly deleted, seeming to confirm (in the third person) that Cohen had volunteered "critical information to the #MuellerInvestigation without a cooperation agreement."

Journalist Yashar Ali suggested that Cohen had been test-writing a tweet for someone else, and he appeared to be right, when Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis posted the tweet from his own account.

But Davis had a different explanation:

The bottom line would seem to be firsthand confirmation that Cohen is cooperating with Mueller. And that's potentially bad news for Trump. Peter Weber

2:05 a.m. ET
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As Terry Lauerman can attest, there's no better place to enjoy a cat nap than at an animal rescue.

Lauerman, 75, visits the Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Green Bay, Wisconsin, every day. The shelter's founder, Elizabeth Feldhausen, told HuffPost on Thursday that Lauerman walked into the facility about six months ago, armed with a cat brush, and said he wanted to help with grooming. Safe Haven rescues cats with disabilities that otherwise would likely be euthanized, and Lauerman spends about three hours a day there. During each visit, Lauerman will pick up a cat, start brushing it, and then doze off, still holding the feline.

Lauerman will sleep "for about an hour, then he'll wake up and switch cats," Feldhausen said. He knows all the cats, she said, and told her volunteering is "as great of an experience for him as it is for them." On Facebook this week, the shelter wrote a post praising Lauerman, and it immediately went viral. Lauerman said he hopes the attention will result in more donations to Safe Haven, and he also praised his fellow volunteers. Safe Haven is grateful for his dedication, writing on Facebook, "We are so lucky to have a human like Terry." Catherine Garcia

1:58 a.m. ET
Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang died Friday from a "serious illness despite efforts by domestic and international doctors and professors,” state-run Vietnam Television reports. He was 61. Quang was appointed president in April 2016, and he last appeared in public on Wednesday, at a Politburo meeting and a reception for a Chinese delegation. He was one of three top leaders in the nation, along with the prime minister and Communist Party chief, and experts described his role as largely ceremonial. Before becoming president, Quang served as minister of public security, and before that he was a police general. He grew up in a small farming community south of Hanoi. Peter Weber

1:37 a.m. ET
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Republican activist Steven Alembik wants the world to know he's not a racist, and he used a bunch of slurs to prove it.

On Sept. 8, Alembik tweeted that former President Barack Obama is a "F---ing MUSLIM N----r." When asked about this tweet by Politico on Wednesday, he at first said he didn't think he wrote it. After looking at the tweet, which he deleted after speaking to Politico, Alembik acknowledged he use the N-word after Obama made an unflattering remark about the Republican Party. But he is not a racist, Alembik explained. "When I write anything inflammatory, it's because I'm seriously pissed off. I'm an emotional human being."

On the apparent theory that digging a gigantic hole is better than a small one, Alembik kept talking. "So somebody like Chris Rock can get up onstage and use the word and there's no problem?" he asked. "But some white guy says it and he's a racist? Really?" Alembik grew up in New York in the '50s, he told Politico, and then proceeded to use a string of racial slurs against Jews, blacks, and Latinos to show that back in the good old days, everyone was calling each other names based on their religion and ethnicity.

Alembik has donated more than $22,000 over the years to Ron DeSantis, Florida's Republican gubernatorial nominee, and hooked DeSantis up with a speech at Mar-a-Lago. In a statement to Politico, campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson called the tweet "disgusting rhetoric" and said DeSantis condemned it. When asked by The Associated Press if DeSantis would return any of the money he received from Alembik, Lawson said no, it has already been spent, but DeSantis will not accept any additional donations from him. For more on Alembik and DeSantis' own controversial statements, visit Politico. Catherine Garcia

1:18 a.m. ET

It's starting to look like Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who says Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her in high school, might testify next week, though probably not on Monday, the date set by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The "geriatric meerkat" Grassley has also scotched Ford's request that the FBI investigate her allegations, saying "it's not the FBI's role to investigate a matter such as this," Stephen Colbert noted on Thursday's Late Show. "Of course not, I mean it's right there in their name: the Federal Bureau of I-don't-know-what-that-last-letter-stands-for."

Grassley set a 10 a.m. Friday deadline for Ford to decide if she will testify Monday, and Colbert said that makes sense. "The U.S. Senate is known for two things: Moving at lightening speed, and not caring what abused women have to say about Supreme Court nominees." He pantomimed what he imagined Monday's hearing would look like, complete with 5-second countdown clock. Monday is "a totally artificial deadline that they are setting for themselves," he reminded the audience. "It's like when you say to your friend, 'Okay, if we're not married by the time we're 30, we'll meet up and confirm an accused sexual predator to the Supreme Court. At least we won't be lonely.'"

Meanwhile, President Trump has ordered the declassification of sensitive documents relating to the ongoing federal investigation of his presidential campaign, despite warnings from the intelligence community that doing so would jeopardize U.S. intelligence assets. "But he's the president, and I would certainly hope he has a good reason," Colbert said. "But I would certainly be wrong," because Trump says he hasn't reviewed the documents and he's releasing them because Fox News pundits begged him to, including "the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful, great Jeanine Pirro." Colbert had some thoughts. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:07 a.m. ET

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) kicked off his debate against Democratic opponent Archie Parnell at a local Kiwanis Club on Thursday with a joke he apparently borrowed from right-wing memes. It was a topical joke — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh stands accused of trying to rape Christine Blasey Ford when both were teenagers, and Washington is consumed with the allegations — but that's probably the best that can be said for it. "Did y'all hear this latest late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings?" Norman asked. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln."

Accused of making light of sexual assault — not to mention Justice Ginsburg's age — Norman said in a statement that "people really need to learn to lighten up." He said his joke was "meant to add a bit of levity to a very serious debate" and "clearly my opponent understood it that way since for the next hour we engaged in a substantive discussion about our many differences without mention of my comments." His opponent, Parnell, won his primary after losing support from his party due to newly released records from his 1974 divorce showing he had assaulted his ex-wife and threatened her with a metal bar. Parnell did not deny the allegation but said he's become a changed man over the past decades.

Nevertheless, Parnell said later Thursday that Norman "apparently thinks sexual assault is a joke. It is not," and alluded to an incident from April: "I guess that's the best we can expect from someone who pulled a loaded gun on his own constituents." Norman tweeted back that "perhaps we should have a debate about your own abuse and harassment of women, Parnell," and this is why you should probably stick to inoffensive knock-knock jokes during campaign events. Peter Weber

September 20, 2018
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Ed Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center think tank and a friend of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, used photographs of a stranger's home, Google Maps, floor plans from Zillow, old yearbook pages, and Facebook posts from 2012 to bolster his theory that Kavanaugh did not sexually assault his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, in high school.

Whelan, an adviser to Kavanaugh's confirmation effort, dumped all this on Twitter Thursday evening. Ford had told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh tried to rape her in a Maryland house that was "not far from" the Columbia Country Club. She identified four people as being at the party, including Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, but "none of the four lived in the vicinity of the Columbia Country Club," Whelan tweeted. (Kavanaugh, for the record, lived 3.6 miles away.)

Whelan then produced a photo of a home "barely a half-mile" from the club, along with the house's floor plan, and revealed that a classmate and friend of Kavanaugh's had lived there in the early 1980s. Sherlock Whelan described this man as a "good friend" of Judge's, produced side-by-side photos of Kavanaugh and the man, and said people "have commented on how much they resembled each other in appearance." He reasoned that the host of the party was most likely to use the upstairs.

Although inferring otherwise, Whelan said he's not insinuating that the man he publicly named and shared photos of did anything wrong, or that Ford is now "mistakenly remembering" this man as Kavanaugh.

Ford responded late Thursday, saying she knew and had "socialized" with both Kavanaugh and Whelan's Kavanaugh doppelgänger, and "there is zero chance I would confuse them." The Post said the man is now a middle school teacher, who, to no one's surprise, did not respond to requests for comment. A Senate Judiciary Committee staffer tweeted that the panel "had no knowledge or involvement" in Whelan's folly. Catherine Garcia

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