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December 15, 2017

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 ]

The American public might wonder the same: In an average of polls between Nov. 29 and Dec. 12, RealClearPolitics found just 14 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Jeva Lange

3:09 p.m. ET
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Fox News host Sean Hannity reportedly used a burner phone while he was in Singapore covering President Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un out of fear that China might try to bug his personal device, BuzzFeed News reports. "He talks to the president regularly, so I'm sure it's a target," said Ryan Duff, formerly of the U.S. Cyber Command.

Part of the fear stems from the lack of security on Trump's own device — he allegedly finds it "too inconvenient" to use a properly secured phone. Fox News said that it is "standard operating procedure … to secure communications whenever our teams are overseas covering major events," although BuzzFeed News writes that "the paranoia runs so deep that Fox sources say they are also cautious when talking to Hannity himself — because you're never sure who may be listening." Jeva Lange

2:44 p.m. ET
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When Trump advisers Roger Stone and Michael Caputo testified before the House Intelligence Committee on their contacts with Russians, they "lied through their teeth," claims a Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). Speaking on Yahoo News' Skullduggery podcast, Swalwell said he and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), have been pushing to send transcripts of Stone and Caputo's testimonies to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but that the pair have been "shielded by Republicans" like the committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Swalwell's accusation follows the revelation that "at Caputo's instigation, Stone met during the 2016 campaign in Florida with a Russian immigrant and sometime FBI informant named Henry Greenberg who offered 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton," Yahoo News writes. Caputo and Stone both failed to mention the meeting when being interrogated about their contacts with Russians before the House committee. "[T]o say that there was 'failure of memory' by both individuals to recall this meeting, I just don't buy it," said Swalwell.

Stone has since said he rejected the "dirt" on Clinton, which Greenberg allegedly wanted to sell for $2 million. Swalwell, though, argued that Stone "was communicating with individuals associated with the Russian hacks. It would be very hard for me to believe that if he was in contact with Donald Trump regularly throughout the summer of 2016 and the fall, that he would not be passing along to Mr. Trump his efforts to obtain Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails — or efforts that were passed along to him that others were taking to obtain the emails." Listen to the Swalwell's full comments on Yahoo News' podcast Skullduggery here. Jeva Lange

2:36 p.m. ET
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Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen found it "offensive" to suggest President Trump's administration intended to split up immigrant families, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders thought it was "absolutely ridiculous" to ask whether Trump would step down, and now United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is refuting the notion that the U.N. should concern itself with American poverty.

Haley on Thursday said it was "patently ridiculous" that the U.N. was interested in analyzing poverty in the U.S., writing a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that denounced his suggestion that Trump review a recent U.N. report that blamed poverty on "political will," reports The Hill.

"The Special Rapporteur wasted the U.N.'s time and resources, deflecting attention from the world's worst human rights abusers and focusing instead on the wealthiest and freest country in the world," wrote Haley, who withdrew the U.S. from the U.N.'s Human Rights Council on Tuesday. "It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America."

The report, which Haley criticized without evidence as "misleading and politically motivated," concluded that American democracy "is being steadily undermined" by politics that allow poverty and wealth inequality to continue. "With political will, it could readily be eliminated," the report reads. Sanders wanted the Trump administration to work with the U.N. to craft new policies based on the conclusions of the report, but Haley accused the researchers of "purposely [using] misleading facts" to publish a "biased" document. Summer Meza

1:37 p.m. ET
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The House overwhelmingly passed a massive package meant to address the opioid crisis by a vote of 396-14 on Friday. "This is costing us lives. This is why we're so focused on ending this opioid epidemic," said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in comments last week. "This is all hands on deck."

There are 58 individual bills in the package, including Jessie's Law, which will require medical records to list addiction histories so doctors can avoid prescribing opioids to such patients, NBC News reports. Privacy advocates have expressed concern that opening up medical histories to doctors will prompt addicts to avoid seeking professional medical help, but some still say the legislation does not go far enough: "I do question if this bill will have a meaningful impact on the opioid crisis," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

Experts say the opioid epidemic could claim 1 million lives by 2020, with the CDC reporting an average of 46 deaths due to prescription drugs every day in 2016. Jeva Lange

1:35 p.m. ET
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The escalating economic conflict with the European Union is proving dangerous for American car companies.

After President Trump announced Friday that he would impose a 20 percent tariff on all cars imported from the EU, shares for both European and American car companies plummeted, reports Bloomberg.

Trump sought to punish the EU for its retaliatory tariffs, which included tariffs on about $3.3 billion worth of American goods, including bourbon, orange juice, peanut butter, and motorcycles. The tariffs, mostly at 25 percent, are designed in part to "make noise" by targeting politically important states like Kentucky, Florida, and Wisconsin, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.

Trump punched back by commanding that U.S. car companies "build them here," but investors were wary of his move. The president wants the EU to walk back its import barriers to U.S. goods "soon," but it seems market-watchers aren't holding their breath. Shares of Ford, Tesla, Chrysler, and General Motors fell rapidly after Trump announced the forthcoming tariffs, and Bloomberg reports that Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW each fell in Frankfurt. Lawmakers have criticized Trump's decision to target the auto industry, arguing that his claims that auto imports threaten the country's defense capabilities are baseless. Read more at Bloomberg. Summer Meza

1:21 p.m. ET

Iceland, a country with a population smaller than Wichita, Kansas, stunned World Cup audiences around the globe last week with its massive victory over Argentina. While Strákarnir Okkar could have sealed its place in the Round of 16 with a victory over Nigeria on Friday, the magic just wasn't there: Iceland fell 2-0.

One particularly brutal moment came in the 83rd minute, when Iceland's Gylfi Sigurdsson sent his penalty kick high, missing a badly-needed goal for his team. Nigeria's fans erupted in the stands, while on the field the team celebrated their nearly-assured first victory of the 2018 World Cup.

One player wasn't celebrating with the rest, though. Nigerian defender William Troost Ekong trotted over to Sigurdsson after the missed penalty, and in a moment of true sportsmanship, appeared to comfort his opponent. "That Nigeria player consoling the Iceland player after he missed the penalty is the best thing I saw this World Cup," tweeted one fan. "That is what football is about. Respect." Watch the moment below. Jeva Lange

12:24 p.m. ET
FREDERIC J BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump this week signed an executive order designed to roll back environmental regulations that protect the world's oceans — and handed himself a business win in the process.

The executive order aims to "facilitate the economic growth of coastal communities and promote ocean industries," which, incidentally, include his own Trump-branded hotels and golf clubs. "Growing the ocean economy" could also grow his own profit margins, as many of his businesses rely heavily on coastal and ocean regulations, research gathered by Citizen Vox shows.

Trump loves to boast about his properties all over the world, some of which offer "spectacular panoramic Pacific Ocean views," and many of which are affected by environmental regulations that the golfing industry has vociferously opposed, deploying lobbyists to push against water and pesticide rules that rack up expenses for business owners.

Environmental groups in Chicago moved to sue one of Trump's hotels just days ago, accusing the company of violating clean water regulations and endangering fish and other wildlife in the area. Tuesday's executive order eliminates several regional planning bodies that were designed to keep an eye on local bodies of water and apply federal laws accordingly.

Critics like Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) have decried Trump's regulatory rollbacks, explaining how much Trump stands to profit from his time in office given that he has refused to divest fully from his business empire. Scrapping rules designed to protect bodies of water is explicitly intended to benefit the business community, and Trump explains as much in his executive order — without including the little detail that that community is one to which he belongs. Summer Meza

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