Before firing Comey, Trump was reportedly so angry about the Russia case he'd 'scream at television clips'
If you were shocked by the news that President Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, you were in good company — so was James Comey, everyone at the FBI, most members of Congress, and apparently almost everyone in the White House. Trump and his top advisers who did know, Politico reports, were mostly surprised that not everyone thought firing Comey was a great idea. "White House officials believed it would be a 'win-win' because Republicans and Democrats alike have problems with the FBI director," Politico says, citing a person briefed on their deliberations. "By Tuesday evening, the president was watching the coverage of his decision and frustrated no one was on TV defending him. ... Instead, advisers were attacking each other for not realizing the gravity of the situation as events blew up."
In fact, Trump had been planning to oust Comey for at least a week, The New York Times and CNN report, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been charged with finding a good pretext. The president was increasingly incensed at the FBI's investigation into his orbit's ties to Russia during the election, Politico and The Wall Street Journal report. With understaffed investigations languishing in Congress, the FBI's investigation was the most active and serious.
Trump specifically "grew unhappy that the media spotlight kept shining on the director," and "questioned whether his expanding media profile was warping his view of the Russia investigation," White House officials tell The Wall Street Journal. "A person with knowledge of recent conversations said they wanted Mr. Comey to 'say those three little words: There's no ties,'" and he did not. Trump was also angry that Comey "wouldn't support his claims that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones in Trump Tower" and refused to prioritize inquiries into the leaking of information that made Trump look bad, Politico reports, but the main irritant was Russia:
[Trump] had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn't disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said. [Politico]
Texas Republicans ask Indian-Americans celebrating festival of Ganesh if they'd 'worship a donkey or an elephant?'
The Republican Party in Fort Bend County, Texas, is apologizing for an ad it ran in an Indian-American newspaper during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, celebrating the birth of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesaha. "Would you worship a donkey or an elephant?" the ad asked. "The choice is yours." The suburban Houston county is home to to a competitive congressional race between incumbent GOP Rep. Pete Olson and Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni; about a fifth of the 22nd Congressional District is, like Kulkarni, Asian-American.
"While we appreciate the Fort Bend County GOP's attempt to reach out to Hindus on an important Hindu festival, its ad — equating Hindus' veneration of the Lord Ganesha with choosing a political party based on its animal symbol — is problematic and offensive," said Rishi Bhutada at the Hindu American Foundation. The foundation asked that the Fort Bend Republican Party "apologize for the offensive and inaccurate reference" and "not run the ad again."
"Pete agrees" that the ad "should have been more respectful," said Olson campaign manager Craig Lewellyn. "The ad was not meant to disparage Hindu customs or traditions in any way," the Fort Bend GOP said in a statement. "This ad was created with input from those of Hindu faith so that we could properly pay respect to the sacred festival. ... We offer our sincerest apologies to anyone that was offended by the ad. Obviously, that was not the intent." Peter Weber
An FBI probe of Kavanaugh assault allegations would be routine, take 2-3 days, ex-White House officials say
President Trump and Senate Republicans are insisting that an FBI investigation of Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her in the 1980s would be impractical and unnecessary. If Ford doesn't agree by Friday to testify on Monday, Republicans say, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to confirm Kavanaugh next week anyway. Ford wants the FBI or other independent, nonpartisan investigators to gather facts and testimony in the case before she testifies. FBI involvement would require White House consent.
"It would seem that the FBI really doesn't do that," Trump said Wednesday, a day after saying the FBI doesn't "want to be involved" and "this is not really their thing." Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who was also on the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, when the FBI investigated Anita Hill's claimed of sexual misconduct against Clarence Thomas, said: "The FBI does not do investigations like this. The responsibility falls to us."
"But several officials who have had direct roles in the nomination and background check process said it's common, as part of the FBI's vetting of presidential nominees for judicial posts and executive branch jobs, to investigate matters that do not qualify as federal crimes," Politico reports. When the FBI investigated Hill's allegations against Thomas in 1991, it took only three days.
"What happened here is actually not unusual," said John Yoo, a senior Justice Department official under former President George W. Bush. "The Judiciary Committee will often say to the Justice Department: 'Can you send the agents back out and find out if this is true, find out what happened with this?' ... You could have this done in a day or two." Having the FBI investigate "is a quick process, I don't think it needs to take more than a couple of days," agreed former Obama White House lawyer Sarah Baker. "The only reason you don't ask is if you don't want the answer." Peter Weber
As part of Amazon's continued quest to be involved in every aspect of your life, the company is considering opening up to 3,000 new Amazon Go stores by 2021, Bloomberg reports.
There are no cashiers at Amazon Go stores, which sell snacks, drinks, sandwiches, and salads. Shoppers gain access by scanning an app, and cameras and sensors can tell what items they take off the shelves. When they're done, customers just walk out and get charged automatically. The first Amazon Go opened in Seattle in 2016; there are now two other stores in Seattle, as well as one in Chicago.
People with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg that Amazon is trying to decide if it wants these new Amazon Go stores to compete against convenience stores like 7-Eleven, offering prepared food and a limited selection of groceries, or fast-casual restaurants like Panera Bread. One plan the company is considering involves opening 10 Amazon Go stores by the end of 2018, 50 more in major urban areas in 2019, and as many as 3,000 by 2021, Bloomberg reports. Catherine Garcia
Trump doesn't feel like anyone is protecting him, they said, and he remains angry over an anonymous senior official writing a critical op-ed for The New York Times, as well as unknown staffers feeding unflattering information to Bob Woodward for his new book, Fear. It's not just Trump wondering who has his back — his family members and longtime friends are also looking at everyone suspiciously. "Everybody in the White House now has to look around and ask, 'Who's taping? Who's leaking? And who's on their way out the door?' It's becoming a game of survival," a Republican strategist who works with the White House told the Post.
Trump may not have a clue who wrote the op-ed or spoke to Woodward, but he does know that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself last year from the Russia investigation, leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and that's why he directed so much of his ire toward Sessions on Wednesday. "I don't have an attorney general." Trump lamented. "It's very sad." He told Hill.TV that Sessions was "mixed up and confused" in his Senate confirmation hearing, and even though the attorney general has taken a hardline approach to immigration, Trump is "not happy at the border, I'm not happy with numerous things." Catherine Garcia
Stephen Colbert does not think Republicans are handling the Brett Kavanaugh assault allegations very well
Senate Republicans are willing to hear Christine Blasey Ford's testimony about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's alleged rape attempt when both were in high school, but they won't delay the hearing until after the FBI investigates. "Oh, so the hearing comes before the investigation, just like on the classic TV show Order & Law," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. And President Trump won't even authorize an FBI investigation, saying that's not really the bureau's thing, he added. "Yeah, the FBI really doesn't have time to investigate sexual assault — that takes precious time away from finding real criminals like the author of the anonymous op-ed."
There's clear precedent for the FBI investigating sexual misconduct claims against a Supreme Court nominee, Colbert noted. "I guess all Dr. Blasey Ford's asking is that Congress treat her with the same respect and dignity they gave Anita Hill. The bar could not be lower if you dropped it in the Marianas Trench."
Colbert walked through the various, sometimes suspect defenses of Kavanaugh from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and the Judicial Crisis Network official who referred to Kavanaugh's alleged rape attempt as "rough horseplay" — which, Colbert said, "raises the question, What has Brett Kavanaugh done to horses?" And he took special exception to the anonymous lawyer close to the White House who said if Kavanaugh can be sunk "by accusations like this," then "every man" should be worried: "No, no they shouldn't. Not 'every man' goes through a sexual assaulter phase. And, to anyone out there who's saying 'boys would be boys,' you should not be allowed to raise boys. Or girls. Maybe a plant." Watch below. Peter Weber
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings "were already controversial and contentious" before Sunday, when a woman stepped forward to accuse him of attempted rape in the early 1980s, Trevor Noah said on Wednesday's Daily Show. Kavanaugh denies the allegation, but "this is like the fifth prominent person Donald Trump has supported who's been accused of mistreating women," Noah said. "It's almost like he doesn't realize it, but if he likes someone, it's because they have a shady history with women."
Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, wants the FBI to investigate the incident before she testifies, and the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee Republican majority says that while they want to get to the bottom of this, she'll testify Monday or they'll just move on, Noah said. "How tone-deaf is it that in the case of an alleged sexual assault, the woman is saying 'I think you guys are moving too fast,' and these dudes are like, 'Well, we're ready, so we're doing this!'"
Noah explained why he had little patience for the people questioning the timing of Ford's accusation, a tiny bit of empathy for those questioning her motives, but zero tolerance for the "boys will be boys" defense from those who conceded Ford's allegation may be true and don't care. "All I'm saying is I think it's worth taking the time to try and find out the truth," he said, "because if it turns out that this allegation is true, would you want a guy making decisions about all women's rights if he couldn't even respect one woman's right to choose?"
Between the on-air segments, Noah had an incisive look at Sen. Orrin Hatch's (R-Utah) particular argument that the Kavanaugh he knows wouldn't try to rape a girl, drawing on Bill Cosby, Oscar Pistorius, and other people with skeletons in the closet. You can watch that below. Peter Weber
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban apologized on Wednesday to women who were sexually harassed while working for the organization, following the release of a report that detailed numerous cases of improper conduct over the span of 20 years.
The independent investigation took seven months to complete, and found, among other things, that former team president Terdema Ussry made inappropriate comments and forcibly touched and kissed 15 female employees, while former ticket sales executive Chris Hyde made unwanted sexual advances, viewed and shared pornographic images, and made unsolicited comments of a sexual nature, The Dallas Morning News reports. The report found no wrongdoing by Cuban, who has owned the Mavericks for 18 years, but stated he made "significant errors of judgment."
"This is not something that just is an incident and then it's over," Cuban told ESPN. "It stays with people. It stays with families. And I'm just sorry I didn't see it. I'm just sorry I didn't recognize it." Cuban said he "wasn't as focused on the business as I should have been," and "never in my wildest dreams did I think that this was happening right underneath me." Cuban will make a $10 million donation to organizations that support domestic violence victims and women in the workplace, and said he has to "recognize I made a mistake, learn from it, and then try to fix it." Catherine Garcia