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January 21, 2018

Congressional Republicans might want to say spasibo to the thousands of Russian bots working to make #SchumerShutdown a trending hashtag.

The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan project led by former top national security officials, says that on Sunday night, Russian Twitter bots and trolls were out in full force, and their No. 1 hashtag was #SchumerShutdown, HuffPost reports. The Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks the activity of 600 Twitter accounts that are linked to Russian influence operations, says these users are often spreading false information about U.S. politics and tweeting conspiracy theories.

Republicans are blaming the government shutdown on the Democrats, using #SchumerShutdown on Twitter as a way of pinning this all on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his demand for a compromise on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Democrats, meanwhile, say the shutdown is due to President Trump's shifting demands and other Republicans, who have control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, refusing to work together on a bipartisan bill. Catherine Garcia

8:12p.m.

The Interior Department's inspector general's office has found that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated the department's travel policy by bringing his wife, Lola, on an overseas trip and letting her travel in government vehicles.

In a report released Thursday, the watchdog said Zinke violated additional policies by allowing his unarmed security detail drive an associate to the airport. The report also said it cost taxpayers $25,000 for the Zinkes to travel with a security detail during a vacation to Turkey last summer. The inspector general's office is conducting at least four investigations into Zinke.

Also on Thursday, Interior Department officials said they never approved the hiring of Suzanne Israel Tuft, a political appointee to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as the Interior Department's watchdog, despite HUD Secretary Ben Carson announcing her move last week. This was "100 percent false information," Interior Department Press Secretary Heather Swift said in a statement. "Ms. Tufts is not employed by the Department and no decision was ever made to move her to Interior."

She confirmed to The Washington Post that Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall is still leading the office, and said that while the White House did refer Tufts to the Interior Department "as a potential candidate" for a position in the inspector general's office, "at the end of the day, she was not offered a job at Interior." Catherine Garcia

7:04p.m.

It was another day in paradise for White House chief of staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton, as they got into a screaming match outside of the Oval Office on Thursday.

Three people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg the argument revolved around immigration, border crossing, and how Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is running the agency. Nielsen was at the White House for meetings, they said, but she was not present for the profanity-filled argument. Several White House aides did hear the intense fight, Bloomberg reports, and were convinced one of the men would resign on the spot.

Bolton was critical of the Department of Homeland Security, while Kelly, who previously served as the department's secretary, defended Nielsen, his former deputy. Over the last several days, President Trump has been angrily tweeting about migrants headed for the border from Honduras, and threatened to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border if the caravan isn't stopped. One person told Bloomberg Trump sided with Bolton, although he later told reporters he didn't know there was an argument. Catherine Garcia

5:43p.m.

A group called "Black Americans for the President's Agenda" says that Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) is the lawmaker who will keep America from going "back to the bad old days of race verdicts, life sentences, and lynchings when a white girl screams rape."

A radio advertisement in support of Hill has reportedly been aired in Arkansas to promote support for the congressman among black voters. In the ad, two women discuss the sexual assault allegations that confronted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ahead of his confirmation, and warn of the dangers of abandoning the presumption of innocence, "especially for black men."

"If the Democrats can do that to a white Justice of the Supreme Court with no evidence, no corroboration, and all of her witnesses including her best friend say it didn't happen, what will happen to our husbands, our fathers, or our sons when a white girl lies on them?" asks one woman.

"Girl, white Democrats will be lynching black folk again," the other responds. Listen for yourself below. Summer Meza

5:15p.m.

It "certainly looks" like missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, President Trump said Thursday, and there will be "very severe" consequences if Saudi Arabia is responsible.

Trump's assertion puts him in line with many White House senior officials — attorney Rudy Giuliani told The Washington Post that many in the administration believe Khashoggi was murdered. Turkish officials have said they have proof Khashoggi, who disappeared after entering Turkey's Saudi consulate on Oct. 2, was murdered by Saudi operatives. U.S. intelligence is likewise reportedly leaning toward blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi's apparent death.

But Trump has largely avoided discussing Khashoggi's disappearance, urging the public to wait for a completed investigation. Reports suggest Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has pushed the president to avoid blaming bin Salman for Khashoggi's suspected death.

Khashoggi's disappearance was the subject of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit with bin Salman in Riyadh earlier this week. During their meeting, bin Salman apparently phoned Trump to say he had no knowledge of what happened in the Saudi consulate. Trump on Wednesday said he will wait "for some results" before making a "very strong statement" regarding who was responsible for Khashoggi's death. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:09p.m.

U.S. immigration agencies are so overloaded with the influx of arriving migrants that they're housing detainees in Arizona motels, The New York Times reported Thursday.

A record 16,658 migrants were apprehended by Border Patrol in September, in part due to the skyrocketing number of people arriving at the southern border, and in part due to the Trump administration's effort to detain and prosecute a higher proportion of migrants.

"So many people are crossing the border — for the first time ever, we're putting them up in hotels,” Teresa Cavendish, director of operations for the nonprofit group Catholic Community Services told the Times. “I've not seen this in all my years working on this effort.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement coordinated with the nonprofit to drop 140 migrants at a "seedy motel" between two highways in Tuscon, Times reporter Miriam Jordan explained. The motel was transformed into a makeshift migrant shelter, offering the same services to migrants that other detention facilities do. Most migrants, who arrived at the motel in unmarked ICE vans, only planned to stay for one or two nights, just until relatives in the U.S. could send them bus tickets elsewhere.

Migrant shelters have quickly reached capacity in recent weeks in Arizona, prompting churches and nonprofits to open their doors to travelers. Advocacy organizations say hundreds of detained immigrants have been released every week because of the shortage of space and beds. "At this stage, there is no telling when this will slow," said Cavendish. "It doesn't feel like it's going to go down any time soon." Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

4:20p.m.

President Trump undeniably dominates Twitter. But when it comes to Facebook and Instagram, Democrats are running the game.

So far this election cycle, Democrats are drawing in far more shares, comments, and likes than Republicans on the two platforms, analysis from The New York Times found. Yet in some of the the closest Senate and gubernatorial races, Republicans tend to end up on top.

Across a 30-day period, Democrats running for the House, Senate, and governors' seats got a combined 15.1 million Facebook interactions to Republicans' 5.4 million, per the Times' analysis. Democrats running for Senate propelled that lead, drawing 10 million engagements to Republicans' 2.2 million. That's mostly thanks to a few superstar candidates — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) — who tallied 86 percent of Democratic Senate candidates' Facebook engagements. Instagram, meanwhile, tips even further in Democrats' favor.

But in a few Senate races that are down to the wire, Republicans have managed to topple Democrats' Facebook advantage. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) got 15,000 more Facebook likes, shares, and comments than her opponent, former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), the Times shows. Blackburn leads Bredesen by an average of 6.5 points across polls, per RealClearPolitics. Tight Senate races in Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, and Arizona similarly saw Republicans on top. And in many of those same races, Republicans saw a 94 percent boost in Facebook engagement after Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Senate testimonies.

The Times looked at more than 53,000 posts from nearly every Republican or Democrat running for the House, Senate, or a governor's seat to complete its analysis. Check out more data at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:00p.m.

Jared Kushner seems to think the mounting international tensions sparked by Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance will blow over.

President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser has urged him to stand by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, thinking the outrage sparked by the suspected murder of a Washington Post columnist "will pass," The New York Times reports.

Kushner reportedly pointed to other recent incidents that the public largely moved on from, such as when 40 children were killed in a Saudi-led airstrike last month. CNN reports that Kushner and the crown prince have a close relationship and have communicated privately on WhatsApp.

Saudi Arabia is considering placing blame for Khashoggi's suspected death on one of the crown prince's advisers, reports the Times. Officials will reportedly admit that bin Salman ordered General Ahmed al-Assiri to capture Khashoggi so he could be brought to Saudi Arabia for interrogation, but will say he didn't authorize Assiri to kill him. Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month to obtain a marriage document and has not been heard from since. The United States has reportedly been briefed on the Saudis' plans to blame Assiri.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the United States would give Saudi Arabia a few more days to complete its investigation, at which point they will examine the facts before deciding whether to respond. Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

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