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June 28, 2017

When President Trump, a month after effusively praising a House Republican health-care bill, dismissed it as too "mean" last week, some people began to suspect that Trump was more interested in getting a legislative victory than in the policy details of the victorious legislation. "I don't know that he ever understood exactly what the provisions of ObamaCare were, or what we're trying to accomplish in our health system today for more affordable quality care," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on MSNBC Tuesday, after Nicole Wallace asked what specific ObamaCare policies Trump actually opposed.

Before he delayed a vote on the Senate GOP plan to replace ObamaCare Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked Trump to invite all 52 Senate Republicans to the White House for a meeting on the legislation. When reporters asked McConnell outside the West Wing if he believed Trump had command of the details of the health-care negotiations, "McConnell ignored the question and smiled blandly," The New York Times reports. Trump has been pretty hands-off in the Senate health-care talks, at McConnell's request, so only a few senators had interacted with Trump on the legislation before Tuesday's meeting, the Times says, setting up this anecdote:

A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange. Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later. [The New York Times]

About 45 percent of the tax benefits from the Senate bill would go to the top 1 percent of U.S. households by income — those earning $875,000 a year and upwards would get a $45,500 annual tax cut, and the top 0.1 percent would pocket an average tax cut of $250,000 by 2026 — according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. The middle class would get a 0.4 percent raise in after-tax income, the analysis found, versus a 2 percent bump for the top 1 percent. You can read how the Senate GOP bill stacks up to Trump's health-care promises at The Week. Peter Weber

3:23 a.m. ET
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Late Thursday, a dozen former U.S. intelligence chiefs dating back to the Reagan administration joined retired Adm. William McRaven in openly criticizing President Trump's decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance for what appear to be political reasons. The six former CIA directors, five deputy CIA directors, and one director of national intelligence said in their open letter they felt compelled to respond after Trump's "ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions" regarding Brennan's security clearance.

The intelligence officials defended Brennan as "an enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual" and said "insinuations and allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Brennan while in office are baseless." They noted pointedly that not all of them have chosen to "speak out sharply" on Trump's perceived "threats to our national security," as Brennan has. But, they added:

Regardless, we all agree that the president's action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech. You don't have to agree with what John Brennan says (and, again, not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information. We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case. ... Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views. [Letter from intelligence chiefs]

Trump is clearly sending a signal to other government officials, they wrote, and "that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable." Officials typically retain their security clearance after they leave the government "in order to ensure institutional continuity and in the event their expertise proves useful to their successors," CBS News explains, and some also use it to obtain jobs in the private sector. Peter Weber

2:02 a.m. ET
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It all started with one tree.

In 1979, Padma Shri Jadav "Molai" Payeng came across several snakes on Majuli Island in Assam, India. Flooding brought the snakes to the island, but due to erosion, there wasn't any shade and the snakes died from the heat. Payeng was 16 at the time, and he decided he was going to do something so this never happened again: he planted a sapling, and continued to plant one a day for the next 35 years.

Majuli is the world's largest river island, and 39 years after Payeng planted his first sapling, the trees cover more than 1,360 acres. Named Molai Forest in his honor, it's about 1.6 times larger than Central Park, Travel and Leisure reports, and has several thousand varieties of trees. Elephants, Bengal tigers, rhinos, wild boars, and reptiles call Molai Forest home, and Payeng wants to plant 5,000 more acres. Payeng, who received one of India's highest civilian awards in 2015, arrives in the forest at 5 a.m. every day to care for the trees. He also teaches children how to care for trees, and pushes for more environmental protections. Catherine Garcia

1:47 a.m. ET

In 2015, when Stephen Colbert was hosting the Kennedy Center tribute to Carole King, Aretha Franklin sang King's "Natural Woman" just a few feet away from him, Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show, paying his respects to Franklin, who died Thursday. "And as she started, I said to the man standing next to me, one of the stagehands, I said, 'Man, I wish I could have seen her when she was younger, when she was in full voice.' And boy am I stupid. Because this is what happened."

"There is no queen of soul right now, and she can never be replaced," Colbert said. Aretha Franklin is certainly a hard act to follow, but on The Tonight Show, Ariana Grande paid tribute to Franklin by singing the same song with The Roots.

If that seems unfair to Grande, Trevor Noah sang a few bars of "Natural Woman" during his Daily Show between-the-scenes homage to Franklin, too, explaining how he'd sing the song as a kid in South Africa before he really understood that he was singing about being a woman. Then he talked a bit about Franklin's life and legacy and grit. Watch below. Peter Weber

1:19 a.m. ET
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Elon Musk's nonstop work schedule is fracturing his relationships with friends and family, plus taking a toll on his health, the Tesla CEO told The New York Times on Thursday.

Musk spoke with Times reporters for an hour, and he would sometimes laugh before switching to crying. "This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career," he said. "It was excruciating." Musk, 47, said he often works up to 120 hours a week, and he barely made it to his brother's recent wedding, only to leave right when it was over. Spending so much time at work "has really come at the expense of seeing my kids, and seeing friends," he said.

Musk made headlines last week when he tweeted: "Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured." Tesla shares went up, and investigators from the Securities and Exchange Commission have since asked Musk to explain the tweet, people familiar with the matter told the Times, and sent subpoenas to Musk and Tesla's board. Musk said he sent the tweet while driving to the airport, and no one else knew he was going to post it. People with knowledge of the matter said funding is not really secured, and it could be coming from a Saudi Arabian government investment fund, but nothing is set in stone.

They also said the Tesla board is concerned about Musk's workload, his use of Ambien, and his strange tweets (he called a British diver who volunteered to help rescue the children stuck in a cave in Thailand earlier this summer "pedo guy"), and they are searching for someone to come in and work as Musk's No. 2. Musk, meanwhile, is certain that "the worst is yet to come" for him, and he's worried about short-sellers who are "desperately pushing a narrative that will possibly result in Tesla's destruction." Read more of the bleak interview at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

1:04 a.m. ET

Omarosa Manigault Newman's Unhinged book tour has really gotten under the president's skin, Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show, wondering if President Trump regrets having fired her (again). Trump has reportedly told advisers he wants Manigault Newman arrested, though it's unclear what the charge would be. "What law did she break?" Colbert asked, in Trump voice. "Is my heart a law?"

He turned to Omarosa's new secret recording, this one involving Lara Trump offering Manigault Newman "$15,000 a month to hush, to work for the campaign in a job as assistant secretary of keeping your trap shut." Omarosa has made it clear she has a lot more recordings, she's not going away, and her tapes are better than their tapes. "Maybe, but I bet Russia has you both beat," Colbert said. In her maudlin response, Lara Trump tried to shame Omarosa, saying there are some things, like friendship, "you just can't put a price on." Colbert agreed, "but silence is about $15,000 a month."

"You think you can arrest Omarosa?" Seth Meyers asked on Late Night. "This is a person you tried to fire four times, and you still can't get rid of her." Still, Trump's first attempt to silence her was hiring her for a fifth time, with that $15,000-a-month job offer, he noted. "So first they hired Omarosa, then they fired her, then they tried to hire her again to buy her off. This is how Trumpism works: Everyone is conning everyone else, and in the process, they're conning the rest of us, too," Meyers said. Even Fox & Friends, Trump's favorite feel-good TV show, is "telling you that it's all just a giant grift."

At The Daily Show, Trevor Noah and Michael Kosta looked at the booming, sometimes grift-y business of hating on Trump. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:07 a.m. ET
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A state of emergency has been declared in British Columbia, as thousands of firefighters battle at least 566 wildfires burning across the Canadian province.

More than 3,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes, and 18,000 have been told to prepare to leave at a moment's notice. So far this year, there have been more than 1,800 fires in the province, scorching 939,000 acres. Firefighters have come from as far away as Mexico and New Zealand to help battle the blazes.

"We're going to throw everything we've got at these fires, but in a lot of cases, Mother Nature is going to be in the driver's seat," Kevin Skrepnek, British Columbia's chief fire information officer, told reporters Thursday. There isn't any rain in the forecast, and the smoke is causing a layer of haze across British Columbia and into Seattle. British Columbia's public safety minister, Mike Farnworth, told reporters the fire season is starting earlier, and "the bulk of the fires, what we have seen this year, have been lightning-caused." Catherine Garcia

12:02 a.m. ET
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President Trump has a list of current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials he's apparently excited to strip of their security clearances, all of them critics of his actions and all of them, not coincidentally, involved in the investigation of Russian election tampering and possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Not on the list is his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has pleaded guilty to federal charges of lying to investigators and is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation. Yes, Flynn, it appears, still has his security clearance.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is among those who doesn't think that's a great idea. "I've always liked Gen. Flynn but he's now pleaded guilty to a federal offense," he told reporters on Thursday. "I think he should lose his security clearance." At the same time, Graham appeared unconcerned with Trump's actions against Brennan, who led the CIA for four years — "I can't imagine sharing anything with Brennan given his hatred toward President Trump — I don't think he'd have any constructive input" — and said he's concerned about two former FBI agents, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, still having security clearances.

The reaction to Trump's use of security clearance access against critics has fallen largely along party lines, with former intelligence officials agreeing with Democrats that this is an authoritarian-style effort to stifle dissent and Republicans shrugging or cheering. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), for example, called Brennan "a butthead" and said he doesn't "see why he would need a security clearance, I really don't." When Trump was floating the idea in July, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was incredulous the idea was even explored, telling MSNBC that "when you're going to start taking retribution against people who are your political enemies in this manner, that's the kind of thing that happens in Venezuela. ... I mean, it's a banana republic kind of thing." Peter Weber

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