Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was Jimmy Kimmel's main guest Wednesday night, and the crowd welcomed him warmly. "If I'd known I would get that kind of applause, I would have left earlier," Spicer joked, referring either to his adversarial job with the media or the unpopularity of his former boss. Kimmel said that White House press secretary is a hard job, but in this case it was also "kind of funny in a lot of ways," and Spicer jumped in: "For you! I'm not so sure I see it that way." He explained how President Trump tapped him for the job, and laughed uncomfortably as Kimmel reminded him of his first outing, lying about Trump's inaugural crowd size.
Spicer said in order to understand Trump's crowd-size fixation, you have to understand that people in the Trump camp felt they were battling constant attempts, "in the media in particular," to "undermine the validity" of Trump's win. "But the validity of the election compared to looking a photos of the crowd at an inauguration?" Kimmel said, asking Spicer if he tried to talk Trump "out of that line of defense." Spicer said it's the press secretary's job to "represent the president's voice" and articulate "what he believes" on policy and "other areas that he wants to articulate," and "whether or not you agree or not isn't your job." So "then you have to march out there and go, 'Yeah, he had a bigger crowd, everybody,'" Kimmel said. "Look," Spicer said, "as I said, he's the president, he decides, and that's what you sign up to do."
Kimmel turned to Spicer's relationship with the press, serendipitously playing a clip of Spicer promising Jonathan Karl, a longtime acquaintance, that he would never knowingly say something that wasn't true from the White House podium. Spicer gave a brief discourse on reaching different conclusions with the same facts, and said it hurt when reporters questioned his integrity on Day 1. "Yeah, well, I'm sure, though when you brought that crowd size thing out, you opened this terrible Pandora's Box," Kimmel said. Spicer said it was his job to be Trump's voice, never really explaining how that's different than Twitter. Watch below. Peter Weber
Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive beginning in June of next year, the kingdom announced Tuesday. The extremely conservative country, which is ruled according to Shariah law, has justified its ban on religious grounds for years.
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) September 26, 2017
— واس (@spagov) September 26, 2017
To get around, Saudi women have relied on private cabs or Uber, which can get costly and discourage them from taking a job that requires expensive travel to get to work, The New York Times reports.
The kingdom's decision comes as Saudi Arabia is trying to change its reputation abroad, but making the switch will not be easy: "The kingdom has no infrastructure for women to learn to drive or to obtain drivers licenses," The New York Times writes. "The police will need to be trained to interact with women in a way that they rarely do in a society where men and women who are not related rarely interact." Jeva Lange
President Trump's former adviser and longtime friend Roger Stone characterized his conversations with a Russian government-linked hacker as being "limited" and "benign" after appearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.
As part of his defense, Stone also released screenshots of his August and September 2016 conversations with the entity Guccifer 2.0, an alias that took credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee. U.S. officials have linked Guccifer 2.0's materials to Russian government hackers. In August 2016, Stone argued for Breitbart News that Guccifer 2.0 acted alone and was not working with the Russian government.
[…] Mr. Stone sent a private Twitter message to the Guccifer 2.0 account, saying he was "delighted" the entity was back on Twitter, according to the material he released. Twitter had briefly suspended the account.
"F--- the state and their MSM lackeys," Mr. Stone added, using a common disparaging term for the mainstream media.
According to Mr. Stone's release, Guccifer 2.0 responded: "thank u for writing back, and thank u for an article about me!!!" The entity then asked if Mr. Stone found anything interesting in the documents posted — a question to which Mr. Stone’s release suggests he didn’t reply. [The Wall Street Journal ]
The screenshots indicate that Guccifer 2.0 attempted several more times to talk to Stone although Stone offered limited replies.
"[Stone's] significance starts and ends with the question as to whether he worked with Russians while they were interfering in our election," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told Mother Jones on Monday before the hearing. "He demonstrated at least a willingness to work with the Russians. Was this just willingness or was this an active working relationship? That is still unresolved." Jeva Lange
Iraqi Kurds have voted in favor of a referendum for their independence, the Kurdish region's president, Masoud Barzani, announced Tuesday.
Countries in the region viewed the Kurdish vote with hostility. Iraq was opposed to the vote because a redrawing of its borders to accommodate Kurdistan would mean the loss of its oil-rich northern territory. In Iran and Turkey, "leaders feared the move would embolden their own Kurdish populations," The Associated Press reports.
Barzani declared Kurdistan would be "diverse and democratic," Al-Hayat's Joy Karam reports. Barzani said Sunday, ahead of the vote, that "we are ready to pay any price for our independence."
"We will take measures to safeguard the nation's unity and protect all Iraqis," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned in response.
The Kurds have been a major regional ally for the United States in the fight against the Islamic State, although America opposed their vote, citing the threat of "instability and discord." In fighting ISIS, though, Kurdish forces captured territory they claim they have a right to, including northwestern Iraq and the Iranian border to the east, AP adds.
"I feel so great and happy. I feel we'll be free," said one Kurd, Suad Pirot of Kirkuk, after voting on Monday. "Nobody will rule us. We will be independent." Jeva Lange
Senate Republicans decided Tuesday that they will not vote on their health-care bill after efforts to garner support for the legislation fell short, Politico reports.
The bill, named for co-sponsors Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), appeared doomed on Monday when moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in opposition. With three Republicans as solid no votes, the GOP can't muster the 50 votes it would need to pass the proposal with the help of Vice President Mike Pence as a tie-breaking vote. Republicans have a Sept. 30 deadline for passing a health-care bill with only 50 votes, with no Democrats.
In a speech Tuesday, Graham said he has not given up on the bill. "We're coming back to [health care] after taxes," he said. Watch below. Jeva Lange
'We're coming back to (health care) after taxes," Sen. Graham says after GOP opposition tanks his health care bill https://t.co/Z5gpVVjNBP
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) September 26, 2017
North Korean government officials have been reaching out to Republican analysts in Washington to try to get a better read on what is going on in President Trump's head, The Washington Post reports. "My own guess is that they are somewhat puzzled as to the direction in which the U.S. is going, so they're trying to open up channels to take the pulse in Washington," former State Department official Evans Revere told the Post. "They haven't seen the U.S. act like this before."
Bruce Klingner, a North Korea expert who is now with the Heritage Foundation, said that Pyongyang reached out to him but he declined their invitation. Still, Klingner observed the country is "on a new binge of reaching out to American scholars and ex-officials."
At a recent meeting at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Switzerland, North Koreans attendees additionally "displayed an 'encyclopedic' knowledge of Trump's tweets, to the extent that they were able to quote them back to the Americans present." But as anyone who has tried to parse Trump's tweets and actions knows, just following the president on Twitter doesn't necessarily give any insight into what he might say or do next.
The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2017
Asked if dialogue is still possible with North Korea, President Trump responds: "why not?"
— Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) September 21, 2017
Reflecting North Korean officials' confusion are the questions they're bringing to Americans: "Why, for instance, are Trump's top officials, notably Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, directly contradicting the president so often?" The Washington Post writes as one example. Read the full report at the Post. Jeva Lange
Assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State, USC arrested in massive college basketball corruption case
The FBI arrested assistant basketball coaches at four NCAA Division I universities — Arizona, Oklahoma State, Southern California, and Auburn — overnight on charges of taking cash bribes "to deliver star athletes to a financial adviser or an agent," NBC News reports. Six other people were also charged, including a senior executive at Adidas, managers, and financial advisers.
One of the coaches, Chuck Person of Auburn University, played for 13 years in the NBA. Person stands accused of accepting approximately $50,000 "in return for his agreeing to direct certain of the school's players to [a particular] adviser when they entered the NBA," The New York Times reports. The adviser, who is unnamed in the complaint, is reportedly cooperating with the government.
Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State, Emanuel Richardson of Arizona, and Tony Bland of USC are also accused of accepting money to funnel certain players to specific agents. "Many … coaches have enormous influence over the student-athletes who play for them, in particular with respect to guiding those student-athletes through the process of selecting agents and other advisers when they prepare to leave college and enter the NBA," the complaint said, as reported by ESPN. "The investigation has revealed several instances in which coaches have exercised that influence by steering players and their families to retain particular advisers, not because of the merits of those advisers, but because the coaches were being bribed by the advisers to do so."
Awaiting a press conference in New York where U.S. Attorney Joon Kim will break down the NCAA corruption schemes. The flow chart: pic.twitter.com/blEb2NGnoK
— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) September 26, 2017
Additionally, Adidas' head of global sports marketing, James Gatto, stands accused of paying $100,000 to a family to send their son to what details indicate was the University of Louisville. The indictment "says contemporary news accounts described [the player's] college decision, announced this past June, as a surprise" and that "this summer, Louisville signed a 10-year, $160 million apparel contract with Adidas," the Times writes. Jeva Lange
The GOP plans to raise the lowest individual tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent while dropping the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, Axios reports, based on conversations with five senior Republicans.
The White House intends to sell the plan as a "tax cut" for the middle class by doubling the standard deduction, which will leave many people paying no taxes: "The standard deduction would almost double to $12,000 for a single filer and $24,000 for married couples, meaning Trump can accurately argue that many more low-income earners would pay no tax under his plan," Axios writes. The seven tax brackets would be collapsed down to three.
"We have a tax plan that is totally finalized," Trump boasted Sunday. "I think it'll be terrific. I think it's going to go through." While Trump will introduce the proposal in Indiana on Wednesday, he is expected to leave details intentionally vague so congressional tax-writing committees have the flexibility to negotiate and maneuver. Read the full scoop at Axios. Jeva Lange