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June 27, 2017
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The White House appeared to draw a new red line on Syria Monday night, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer warning that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been caught making "potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack" that "would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children," and if he "conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price." The rest of the government, including the military, appears to have been caught off guard by the announcement.

Five U.S. defense officials "said they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from, and were unaware the White House was planning to release its statement," BuzzFeed News reports. "Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn't appear to be discussed in advance with other national security agencies," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon, and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals."

Various agencies and departments referred reporters to the White House for comment. It's "unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was," The New York Times notes, after similarly reporting that "several military officials were caught off guard by the statement" from Spicer. "While the White House's motivation in releasing the highly unusual statement is uncertain, it is possible that Mr. Trump or his advisers decided a public warning to Mr. Assad might deter another chemical strike," the Times suggests, adding that the president has "absolute power to declassify anything he chooses to release," including intelligence on chemical weapons.

At least one Trump administration official appeared unfazed by the statement:

After U.S. intelligence pointed the finger at Assad for an April 4 chemical weapon attack on Syrian civilians, Trump ordered 59 missiles fired at an Assad air base; Russian blamed the anti-Assad opposition, claiming Syrian warplanes had hit rebel stockpiles. Last week, the U.S. shot down a Syrian government warplane after it targeted U.S. allies fighting the Islamic State. Peter Weber

4:47 p.m. ET

There are more people working "gig economy" jobs than ever — but most are making less money than they used to.

A Monday analysis by Recode found that people employed by rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft made 53 percent less in 2017 compared to 2013. The same was true for people working for the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Postmates.

An Uber driver used to make about $1,469 a month, but a few factors — fewer hours, lower demand, lower trip prices, and lower wages — have pushed the average monthly income down to $783, says Recode. An Uber representative attributed the change to the number of workers who drive part-time. A Lyft spokesman told MarketWatch that hourly earnings have remained steady.

Other gig economy jobs, which include many temporary or contractual jobs, haven't been hit quite as hard as the transportation sector. For example, people who rent homes using Airbnb have seen the opposite effect, with incomes rising 69 percent in the last five years from $662 to $1,736 per month.

Overall, online gig economy jobs have become more popular. In 2013, less than 2 percent of the working population participated in the industry, which also includes companies like the car-share app Turo and freelance work platforms like TaskRabbit. Now, nearly 5 percent of the working population works at least one "gig" job. See more data at Recode. Summer Meza

4:33 p.m. ET
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With its ephemeral messages, Snapchat is good for impulse communication. Now, it's getting into impulse shopping.

Snapchat and Amazon announced a partnership Monday that will allow users to point their phones at products, using the Snapchat app, and be redirected to an Amazon link for the same or a similar product, Axios reports. Snapchatters using the feature will be taken to the Amazon app, where they can purchase the item being photographed, per Axios.

The feature is currently available to a small number of users in the U.S., Bloomberg reports, and could help generate revenue for Snapchat. The company hit a record low in its share price at the beginning of the month but saw a 5 percent uptick following Monday's announcement. It's unclear whether Snapchat will receive revenue from Amazon for any purchases made, Bloomberg reports. Marianne Dodson

4:20 p.m. ET
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Apple is the latest multi-billion dollar company to branch into television production. But unlike their streaming competitors, who have basked in the freedom from cable television's restrictions, it seems that Apple will be shying away from more risqué content.

The Wall Street Journal reports that about a year ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook watched Vital Signs, a semi-autobiographical series about rapper Dr. Dre that was expected to be the company's first scripted television series. But after watching the show, Cook decided to cancel it, determining that the contents were too graphic.

"The problem?" Entertainment Weekly explains: "Characters doing cocaine, gun violence, and a rather explicit orgy scene." In addition to scrapping Vital Signs, Apple has been quite diligent about ensuring nothing that could be considered controversial ends up on its platform, the Journal reports — even when there aren't massive orgy scenes involved. The company reportedly told director M. Night Shyamalan that he had to remove the crucifixes from the main characters' house in a show he is developing, as Apple doesn't want any religious or political material, either.

The Journal also reports that when Apple removed the showrunners from a forthcoming series starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, the move was partly motivated because the company "wanted a more upbeat show and took exception to some of the humor proposed." When Apple made the same change to the upcoming Amazing Stories, it was reportedly because the show's material was shaping up to be too dark.

Per one agent who spoke with the Journal, Apple sees its TV service as less like another Netflix and more like an "expensive NBC." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Brendan Morrow

3:37 p.m. ET
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The Russian government will supply Syria with a long-range missile system within the next two weeks, The Wall Street Journal reports. The announcement comes one week after a Russian aircraft was downed in Syrian airspace, killing 15 Russian servicemen and prompting the Kremlin to place blame on Israel.

Russia previously announced plans to send Syria an S-300 missile system in 2013, but the delivery was postponed at Israel's request, the Journal reports. The defense system can intercept multiple targets within 250 kilometers, per the Journal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin previously labeled last week's aircraft downing as the result of "tragic circumstances," Israeli news outlet Haaretz reports, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it was Syria who took the plane down. But Russia's Defense Ministry on Sunday rejected claims presented by the Israeli Air Force last week labeling Syria as the responsible party, the Journal reports, instead asserting the fault was Israel's.

Netanyahu and Putin spoke on the phone after Monday's announcement, with the former warning that the missile transfer would "increase the dangers in the region," per the Journal. Marianne Dodson

2:55 p.m. ET

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Monday wrote a letter calling the sexual assault allegations against him "false," "uncorroborated," and "grotesque."

In the letter, written to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking member, Kavanaugh defended himself against new allegations from Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while they were in college. He also reiterated his denial of the wrongdoing alleged by Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh forcibly groped her while they were in high school.

"There is now a frenzy to come up with something — anything — that will block this process and a vote on my confirmation from occurring," wrote Kavanaugh, who said these "smears" threaten to "debase our public discourse."

"Such grotesque and obvious character assassination ... will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service," he predicted, asserting that he would "not be intimidated into withdrawing." Kavanaugh additionally said the allegations were part of a "coordinated effort" to destroy his reputation, which he said is based in his dedication to "the equality and dignity of women."

Kavanaugh and Ford are set to testify Thursday about Ford's allegations before the committee. Read the full letter below, via Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur. Summer Meza

2:11 p.m. ET
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On Sunday, Deborah Ramirez alleged in an interview with The New Yorker that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party while they were both students at Yale University. But rumors of the incident have swirled for months in Yale circles, New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer said Monday.

Ramirez's allegation came after Christine Ford told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh forcibly groped her in high school. Kavanaugh has denied both allegations.

The timing of the New Yorker's report has invited questions from critics who wondered why the news broke so close to the end of Kavanaugh's confirmation process. But the article's co-author, Jane Mayer, told NPR on Monday that a group of Yale graduates emailed about this alleged incident back in July, after Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump but before any other sexual misconduct allegations had emerged.

During the course of her reporting, Mayer read these emails, she told NPR. And speaking to the Today show on Monday, she explained, "The story broke overnight [Sunday], but it dates back 35 years." Ramirez didn't come to The New Yorker, Mayer said, but rather "the classmates at Yale were talking to each other about it, they were emailing about it ... and eventually word of it spread. It spread to the Senate. It spread to the media. And we [at The New Yorker] reached out to her."

A participant in that email exchange was one of the individuals mentioned in the New Yorker piece, Mayer said — a classmate who declined to be named but who said that he recalls hearing about the Ramirez incident at the time it happened. He was not actually at the party, but "independently recalled" many of the same details Ramirez provided, per The New Yorker.

Mayer and co-author Ronan Farrow noted that they were not able to confirm the alleged incident with any eyewitnesses. You can watch Mayer's Today appearance here. Brendan Morrow

1:30 p.m. ET

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is apparently keeping his job for now.

After rumors swirled that Rosenstein would be leaving his position Monday, the White House disputed accounts that he would resign or be fired. At Rosenstein's request, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN, "he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories." Rosenstein attended a previously scheduled meeting at the White House on Monday.

Trump has criticized Rosenstein, who appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller, for his oversight of the investigation into his campaign's involvement with Russian election interference. The deputy attorney general last week denied a New York Times report that he had advocated for invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

Trump is in New York on Monday for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Sanders said that Trump would meet with Rosenstein in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. It's sure to be a busy day in D.C. politics — Thursday is also the day that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. CNN reports that Trump has been advised not to shake up the Justice Department until after Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings are complete. Summer Meza

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