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May 18, 2017
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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's memo was cited by the White House as the impetus for President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey — but apparently Rosenstein knew Comey was going to be axed before he even wrote the memo. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told reporters Thursday that Rosenstein made that admission in an earlier all-senators meeting about Comey.

"He did acknowledge that he learned Comey would be removed prior to him writing his memo," McCaskill said, referring to Rosenstein's memo urging Trump to oust Comey. Trump muddied the White House's original story for Comey's abrupt firing last week when he told NBC's Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey "regardless of recommendation," days after the White House had already said said Rosenstein's memo was the catalyst.

There has been no explanation offered yet as to why Rosenstein was asked to write a memo justifying a decision that Trump had already made — and was going to make with or without Rosenstein's blessing. Becca Stanek

3:16 p.m. ET

If Tom Hanks had gotten his way last fall, the world would've been a very different place. Former Saturday Night Live castmember Bobby Moynihan has revealed that Hanks didn't really want to play the now iconic role of David S. Pumpkins, and tried to talk his way out of wearing the pumpkin suit. "He thought it was very bizarre and was like, 'Hey, I think Chris Hemsworth [the following week's host] would make a great David Pumpkins,'" Moynihan recalled.

Hanks, who obviously ended up playing the haunted house character flanked by dancing sidekick skeletons, has since come to his senses about how bizarrely good the sketch is. The official SNL YouTube video of the sketch has racked up more than 8.3 million views, and rumor has it Hanks might reprise his character again this fall.

Breathe a sigh of relief that Hanks didn't get his way as you watch the brilliant Halloween sketch below. Becca Stanek

2:42 p.m. ET
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Republicans have just days left to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with only 50 votes and no Democrats. With two no votes already — Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — "undecided" Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) could cast the decisive vote against it. As a result, one Republican Senate aide told Independent Journal Review on Thursday that the bill's sponsors, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), are potentially considering "buying" Murkowski's vote by letting her state more or less keep ObamaCare.

The draft is by no means final, nor is it certain that Murkowski would accept the revision. For her part, Murkowski has told reporters that when it comes to the Republican legislation, "what I'm trying to figure out is the impact on my state."

Independent Journal Review lists three provisions that could benefit Murkowski's state. "Alaska (along with Hawaii) will continue to receive ObamaCare's premium tax credits while they are repealed for all other states" and the draft "delays implementation of the Medicaid per capita caps for Alaska and Hawaii," IJR reports. Politico also reports of a potential "Medicaid delay" that would "apply to Alaska, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, based on their low-density populations."

For the rest of America, Graham-Cassidy would convert ObamaCare's subsidies and Medicaid payments to block grants to states, allowing each state ample leeway to decide coverage rules and patient protections, plus cut Medicaid sharply and change its structure. Read the full details at IJR. Jeva Lange

1:30 p.m. ET
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A new study in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, water contamination crisis uncovered unsettling trends in fertility rates and fetal deaths during the time period the city was grappling with high levels of lead in its water supply. The working paper by West Virginia University's Daniel Grossman and University of Kansas' David Slusky concluded that "between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water."

Fetal deaths, when pregnancies last longer than 20 weeks but don't result in a live birth, rose 58 percent from April 2014 to 2016. Fertility rates dropped by 12 percent during that time period. "Either Flint residents were unable to conceive children, or women were having more miscarriages during this time," Slusky said.

The timing of these shifts is notable, as it was in 2014 when Flint's water was contaminated with dangerous levels of lead after the local government, under a state-appointed emergency manager, changed the city's water sources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that lead "can damage a developing baby's nervous system, causing miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as infertility in both men and women," USA Today reported.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, however, concluded in July 2015 that there was no "evidence that indicates the water switch" affected fetal death rates. Becca Stanek

1:17 p.m. ET

President Trump announced a new executive order on Thursday that will allow the Treasury Department to target companies and individuals that trade with North Korea, CNN reports. "It is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal rogue regime," Trump said during a press conference with the leaders of Japan and South Korea.

The order will allow Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "discretion to target any foreign bank knowingly facilitating specific transactions tied to trade with North Korea," Trump said.

Trump also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping's decision to limit financial relations with North Korea through Chinese banks as being "very bold" and "unexpected," The Washington Post reports. "I must tell you this is a complete denuclearization of North Korea that we seek," Trump added.

Earlier in the week, Trump told the United Nations General Assembly that he might "totally destroy" North Korea if Pyongyang continues to menace the United States and its allies. Trump has also warned that "talking is not the answer" for dealing with the regime earlier this month. However, when asked at Thursday's press conference if a dialogue with North Korea is still possible, CNN reports that Trump answered: "Why not?"

Watch Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange

12:09 p.m. ET

Director Wes Anderson returns in 2018 with Isle of Dogs, his first film since 2014's Grand Budapest Hotel, and the highly anticipated trailer has just landed. Isle of Dogs marks Anderson's return to stop-motion animation — his first since 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox — and the voice roles are stacked: Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Greta Gerwig, Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono, and Edward Norton are just some of the names on the bill.

Set in a dystopian future where Japan has banished canines, Isle of Dogs follows a boy, Rex (played by Norton), as he searches for his lost dog on a radioactive garbage island. Anderson has cited the influential Japanese director Akira Kurosawa as one of the inspirations for the film, although Isle of Dogs has sparked backlash for "whitewashing" its Japanese characters with white voice actors. Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton, both a part of Anderson's cast, have faced such allegations before, for rolls in Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange, respectively.

Isle of Dogs will be in theaters in the U.S. on March 23, 2018. Watch the trailer below. Jeva Lange

11:19 a.m. ET
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North Korea's top diplomat didn't seem fazed by President Trump's vow to "totally destroy" the country if it threatens the U.S or its allies. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters Wednesday evening, the day after Trump bluntly called out North Korea's nuclear activity in his debut address before the United Nations General Assembly, that Trump's speech was like the "sound of a dog barking."

"There is a saying that goes: 'Even when dogs bark, the parade goes on,'" Ri said, in what marked North Korea's first response to Trump's remarks. "If [Trump] intended to scare us with the sound of a dog barking, then he is clearly dreaming."

Asked about Trump's new nickname of "Rocket Man" for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Ri simply said he "feels sorry for [Trump's] aides." Becca Stanek

10:54 a.m. ET

An undocumented mother and father living in North Brownsville, Texas, were told by their local hospital that their 2-month-old son needed emergency stomach surgery that required them to travel to the only capable nearby facility, Driscoll Children's Hospital, in Corpus Christi, Texas. In order to get to Corpus Christi, Oscar and Irma Sanchez would have had to pass through a Border Patrol checkpoint. But even before they decided to go, a Border Patrol agent showed up at the hospital, likely summoned by a nurse, and told the parents that he would escort them through the checkpoint but arrest them and put them in deportation proceedings afterwards, NPR reports. The Sanchezes agreed to go:

The Border Patrol followed the ambulance, the night of May 24, as it raced to Corpus through desolate ranchland, carrying Oscar, Irma, and tiny Isaac — with an IV in his arm and a tube in his stomach. Once they arrived at Driscoll Children's Hospital, the green-uniformed agents never left the undocumented couple's side. Officers followed the father to the bathroom and the cafeteria and asked the mother to leave the door open when she breast-fed Isaac.

"Everywhere we went in the hospital," Oscar says, "they followed us." [NPR]

Oscar and Irma Sanchez have no criminal records and "advocates are puzzled why the Border Patrol chose to put the Sanchezes under such intense supervision, which one would expect for higher-value targets like drug traffickers or MS-13 gang members," NPR writes. Additionally, the Sanchezes' case raises immigration advocates' concerns about the Trump administration's treatment of "sensitive locations," or safe zones. Under President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security avoided arresting immigrants at hospitals, schools, churches, or public demonstrations.

"That's how you treat criminals that are harmful, and that's understandable for our own protection," said immigrant advocate Ana Hinojosa. "But [the Sanchezes are] a family that's just here trying to make a living, provide an education and a future for their children." Read or listen to the full story at NPR. Jeva Lange

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