Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in Sochi, Russia, on Monday, the Kremlin announced Tuesday. Assad thanked Putin "and all Russian people" for "the efforts that Russia made to save our country," and Putin said Russia's "joint operation to fight terrorists in Syria, this military operation is indeed coming to an end." Putin and Assad use the word "terrorists" to describe both Islamic State militants and Syrians who oppose Assad in the civil war that has roiled Syria since March 2011.
More than 400,000 people have been killed in the war and millions of Syrians fled to Europe and elsewhere, and Russia's use of military force on Assad's behalf starting in 2015 tipped the war decisively in Assad's favor. This was only Assad's second trip out of Syria since his harsh crackdown on protesters led to war, following an October 2015 visit to Russia. On Wednesday, Putin is hosting the leaders of Iran, which also backed Assad, and Turkey, which supported the opposition.
Video and photos released by Russia show Putin and Assad embracing and meeting with Russian generals and other military leaders. "I would like to introduce you to people who played a key role in saving Syria," Putin told Assad.
Former FBI Director James Comey evidently walked back what was initially planned to be a much harsher condemnation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, The Associated Press reports, prompting the White House to claim Friday there is an "extreme bias" in the bureau against President Trump.
Comey's draft of his highly-scrutinized remarks on July 5, 2016 — obtained by the Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — used language such as calling Clinton and her aides "grossly negligent." That phrasing was later changed to the now-famous declaration that Clinton was "extremely careless" with her emails, a shift in tone that eliminated "language also contained in the relevant criminal statute," AP writes.
In another case, Comey changed phrasing claiming that it was "reasonably likely" that a hostile entity had gained access to Clinton's server to "possible," and deleted a phrase about the "sheer volume" of classified information shared on the server. The Senate Homeland Security chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said Comey's draft shows that he appeared to edit "the tone and substance" of his remarks. Johnson additionally requested FBI Director Chris Wray name the official who suggested the changes to Comey.
Separately, the Justice Department turned over to the House Intelligence Committee some 375 text messages on Tuesday between two FBI officials that referred to Trump as an "idiot" between Aug. 16, 2015, and Dec. 1, 2016. One of the officials, senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia over the summer, immediately after such messages were discovered. The other, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, had already returned to the FBI.
On Friday, the White House commented on the Comey draft and the text messages, claiming there is an "extreme bias" against Trump among the FBI. Trump, meanwhile, is due to attend an FBI National Academy graduation service later Friday morning. Jeva Lange
Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi brought in a near-record $45 million in Thursday previews ahead of its official open on Friday, according to early estimates. The latest installment in the Star Wars franchise earlier in the week topped Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which was released in March, to become the year's biggest ticket pre-seller on Fandango. The Last Jedi is the online movie-ticket site's top seller in advance sales since 2015's The Force Awakens, which made $57 million in previews and went on to make a record $248 million on its opening weekend. The Last Jedi, the Star Wars series' eighth installment, is on track to bring in roughly $200 million over its opening weekend. Harold Maass
Russian President Vladimir Putin does not think too highly of the U.S. Congress, The New York Times reports. During his annual national news conference on Thursday, Putin openly mocked American "spy hysteria" and the hypocrisy of wanting Moscow's help on issues like North Korea while simultaneously treating the Kremlin like the enemy.
Putin's comments followed a brief Thursday phone call with Trump. The White House said the pair talked about "how they can work together to resolve the situation involving North Korea's nuclear program," Politico writes.
"You are interesting guys," [Putin] said with a smirk. American lawmakers appear to be good-looking, well dressed, and smart, he said, but they "are placing us on the same shelf with D.P.R.K. and Iran while simultaneously pushing Trump toward solving the North Korean and Iran nuclear problems through joint efforts with us. Are you normal at all?" [The New York Times ]
About once a week, Shira Josephson grabs one of her favorite books, snuggles up to her stuffed animals, and records herself reading out loud so children who are too sick to leave their hospital beds can enjoy hearing stories.
The videos are part of her series Shira's Story Corner, posted to her YouTube page. The 8-year-old came up with the idea to read to seriously ill kids via YouTube after going through training to become a junior ambassador at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. While at the hospital, she learned there is a special area for kids who are too sick to leave their rooms. It bothered her to think that they couldn't even visit the hospital's reading area, and she thought it would make them feel better if she recorded videos for them to watch. "It's been exciting to watch her come up with all these ideas and to help her make them come to life," her mother, Brooke Josephson, told People.
Josephson reads classics like Corduroy, Paddington Bear, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and also takes requests. When she's not reading, Josephson is raising money for Children's Hospital Los Angeles and writing her own books, and she has a message for the kids she hopes she's helping: "I will do everything I can to make the videos special for you, so you don't feel alone." Catherine Garcia
On Thursday, the government did something most Americans opposed and there was chaos and drama at the White House — so, just your average day in Washington.
On Thursday's Late Night with Seth Meyers, the host examined the Federal Communications Commission's deeply unpopular decision to repeal former President Barack Obama's net neutrality rules, as well as Chairman Ajit Pai's love of gigantic coffee mugs and the term "light touch regulation." While this is huge news, it's being overshadowed by the drama surrounding former Apprentice villain Omarosa Manigault Newman's exit from her role as director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison.
The White House announced her departure on Wednesday, and it's been reported Chief of Staff John Kelly made the decision to fire her, with President Trump signing off. In an interview Thursday, Manigault Newman said she notified Kelly she was resigning while in the Situation Room, which impressed Meyers. "Wow, the Situation Room," he said. "Though I have a feeling any room Omarosa goes into becomes a Situation Room. You know it's bad when they have to fire you in the same place they killed Osama bin Laden." He then played clips of pundits reacting to the news of Manigault Newman's exit, plus a bonus of Good Morning America's Robin Roberts giving her the shadiest "bye Felicia." "I wish all news anchors signed off that way," Meyers said. "That's how Edward R. Murrow should have signed off during the McCarthy era. 'Good night, good luck, and bye Felicia.'" Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia
The Wall Street Journal reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that worked for President Trump's campaign, turn over the emails of all employees who were involved with the campaign.
WSJ says it was a voluntary request, as was another from the House Intelligence Committee, which the company went along with. The paper also reports Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee via video call this week as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
In October, The Daily Beast reported that Nix sent an email to a third party that said he contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about how he could assist his website with releasing some of Hillary Clinton's deleted emails. Assange told The Daily Beast he was able to "confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks." Catherine Garcia
Three women have come forward to accuse actor Dustin Hoffman of sexual misconduct, including one who said he exposed himself to her when she was in high school, Variety reports.
Cori Thomas said in 1980, she spent an afternoon with Hoffman and his daughter, her classmate Karina, in New York City. Instead of picking her up at a restaurant, Hoffman changed the plans and told the restaurant to tell Thomas' parents to pick her up at his hotel room. Karina left and Hoffman decided to take a shower, coming out in a towel and then dropping it. "It was the first time I had ever seen a naked man," Thomas, who was 16 at the time, said. "I was mortified." Thomas said he asked her to massage his feet, which she did because she "didn't know that I could say no," and he made suggestive comments, which she ignored.
Two other women told Variety Hoffman sexually assaulted them while filming 1987's Ishtar. Melissa Kester said her boyfriend at the time was working on the movie's music, and brought her to the recording studio several times. During one visit, Hoffman called her into the recording booth, Kester said, and he "just stuck his fingers down my pants. He put his fingers inside me. I didn't know what to do." Variety also spoke to a woman who was an extra in Ishtar, who shared a similar story. While shooting in New York City, Hoffman offered her a ride home with several other people, the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said. In the back of the station wagon, Hoffman "just took his hand and stuck his fingers right up inside of me," she said. "I didn't know what to do." He asked her to go to his hotel room, and there, they had intercourse.
The woman told Variety she considered the station wagon incident non-consensual, and when asked if the hotel encounter was, she said, "I don't know." Hoffman's attorney, Mark A. Neubauer, called the accusations "defamatory falsehoods." Earlier this year, Anna Graham Hunter accused Hoffman of groping her in 1985, while she was a teenager. Catherine Garcia