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January 25, 2018

It sounded pretty nefarious when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) brought it up on Fox News Tuesday night — a "secret society" at the FBI that an "informant" told him about. Other Republican lawmakers fanned the flames, and some Fox personalities sloshed fuel on the fire, none of them knowing exactly what this "secret society" was but only that it was mentioned in a text message between FBI officials and conservative bêtes noires Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

The text in question, ABC News reported Wednesday night, was from Page, sent on the day after President Trump was elected, and it says this: "Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society." The text message is one of more than 1,000 between Page and Strzok that the Justice Department gave the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Friday, and it "stands alone in the series of messages obtained by ABC News — with no apparent tie to other messages sent before or after it," ABC News said.

Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, walked back his "secret society" tease Wednesday, saying "that's Strzok and Page's term" and acknowledging he doesn't know what happened at the "off-site" meetings his "whistleblower" told him about. "Everything I take with a grain of salt," he said. "I've heard from an individual that ... there was a group of managers within the FBI that were holding meetings off-site," so "when Strzok and Page had described a secret society, that didn't surprise me because I had corroborating information."

He did not explain why Page and Strzok would have violated the first rule of secret societies: You don't talk about the secret society on government-issued cellphones, not even in obvious jest. Peter Weber

May 25, 2018
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Summer weather has arrived, and people are evidently planning to make the most of it over the upcoming long weekend.

A huge number of Americans are planning to hit the road over Memorial Day weekend, AAA estimated on Friday. Around 42 million people are expected to take some kind of trip, a 5 percent increase from last year's holiday weekend and the highest estimate in more than a decade.

"A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Americans all the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season with a Memorial Day getaway," said Bill Sutherland, senior vice president at AAA.

About 37 million will be driving to their destination, despite gas prices surging to their highest level in the last four years, reports Reuters. Airfare prices are also slightly down, likely a factor for many of the three million who will be flying for Memorial Day weekend. AAA expects that air travel will see an even bigger jump this year, with a 6.8 percent increase compared to last Memorial Day. Summer Meza

May 25, 2018
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First lady Melania Trump hasn't been seen in public in 15 days, The Washington Post reported Friday, but President Trump says his wife's White House life is business as usual.

Reporters asked Trump about the first lady's absence on Friday, and the president pointed at a White House window, responding that "she's doing great. She's looking at us right there." But Melania was nowhere to be seen.

Melania's unusually long disappearance from public life follows a five-night stay in the hospital for a kidney operation on May 14. She was last seen on May 10. The first lady has had "several internal staff meetings in the past week around a variety of topics, including her initiatives," her spokesperson told the Post, but her office didn't say when Melania would next venture into the public eye.

The first lady hasn't attended several other recent events where she would ordinarily be expected, but according to the president, she's just "doing great" in private, watching her husband interact with reporters from on high in the White House. Summer Meza

May 25, 2018
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White supremacy, white nationalism, white separatism — with all the neo-Nazis and alt-right personalities in the news these days, it can be hard to keep the terms straight. Facebook, though, has determined that two of the three are just fine in its book, Motherboard reports.

The social media giant has faced recent outcry regarding its censorship of hate speech — or lack thereof. Earlier this year, ProPublica revealed that Facebook trains its censors to recognize "white men" as a protected category, although "black children" are not.

In new slides obtained by Motherboard and published Friday, Facebook has apparently gone as far as to determine that it is a-okay to say "the U.S. should be a white-only nation," but if you say "I am a white supremacist," you have crossed a line.

Keep trying. Jeva Lange

May 25, 2018
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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio isn't backing down from his open disdain for the media outlets that cover him.

City Hall released a trove of more than 4,000 pages of de Blasio's emails on Thursday, and several addressed his complicated relationship with the local press.

The mayor called local papers like the New York Daily News and the New York Post "sad" and "pitiful," the Daily News reported. He accused The New York Times of bias against him, calling one article about his plan to help boost underperforming schools "disgusting" for its lack of balance. He emailed aides about "the sad state of media" over stories that focused on his politics rather than "real problems" affecting New Yorkers, reports Politico.

In an interview with WNYC on Friday, de Blasio stood by his comment calling the Post a "right-wing rag." No, said de Blasio, "I will not shed a tear if that newspaper is no longer here." He called for a "better civil discourse," saying that the Post is "not like everyone else," in that the publication is "harmful" to the city.

The mayor would prefer the discourse seen on the other side of the pond, he said. "I'm a big fan of alternative media and subscription-based media, like The Guardian," he told WNYC, describing the U.K. publication as less dependent on clicks for revenue.

De Blasio added that he never would have badmouthed the press via email if he had known the emails would one day become public. Summer Meza

May 25, 2018
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Wealthy Chinese businesspeople are apparently gaining access to President Trump by paying middlemen to get them into political fundraisers, as a way of dodging U.S. election law, The Washington Post reports. It is illegal for anyone but U.S. citizens to contribute to a political campaign, such as an upcoming official Trump fundraiser in Dallas on May 31, although at least three Chinese companies are offering VIP trips to the events that cost thousands of dollars and promise a handshake and photo with the president.

"[T]he solicitations, if offering a legitimate service, raise questions about whether attendees are indirectly paying for their tickets through a U.S. donor, which would be illegal," writes the Post, which adds that foreigners may attend fundraisers only if "they do not pay their own entry."

One Republican Party official confirmed that a group of Chinese citizens attended a similar Trump fundraiser last December through one such company in the capacity "as guests of a U.S. citizen donor." Sun Changchun, the "the head of a Chinese cultural exchange company" who allegedly arranged that New York trip and is apparently working on the Dallas one, said he gives the ticket proceeds to the RNC, and that the RNC would donate them to charity.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation includes tracking if any foreign money flowed into the presidential campaigns. "What a regulator or prosecutor would be interested in is whether this is essentially the foreign national making a donation through a U.S. person," explained Matthew Sanderson, who served as a campaign finance lawyer for the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign. Read more about the sketchy scheme at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

May 25, 2018
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President Trump delivered a commencement address at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday. He congratulated the graduates on their accomplishments, and congratulated himself on a job well done as commander in chief, touting renewed respect for the military thanks to his administration's policies.

"We are respected again, I can tell you that," said Trump, hailing the Navy's ability to vanquish all enemies. "In recent years and even decades, too many people have forgotten that truth," Trump said. "In recent years, the problem grew worse. A growing number used their platforms to ... weaken America's pride." But Trump said America has once again decided to speak the truth of our military's strength: "In case you have not noticed, we have become a lot stronger lately. A lot."

Amid full-throated patriotism, Trump squeezed in a few asides about his effort to launch "the great rebuilding" of the military. He applauded his push for the "largest-ever" military budget, which he said would lead to "the strongest military that we have ever had. And when did we need it more than now?" He also patted himself on the back for giving troops pay raises "for the first time in over 10 years," even though the military receives pay raises every year. "I fought for you," said Trump of the raises. "That was the hardest one to get. But you never had a chance of losing. I represented you well. I represented you well."

"The best way to prevent war is to be fully prepared for war," said Trump, hoping that the grads would never have to use their "beautiful, new, powerful equipment." The president promised to shake the hands of every Naval Academy graduate following his speech. "America is back," he said.

Read the full transcript of his commencement address at The Atlantic. Summer Meza

May 25, 2018

Lawmakers are forbidden from using their congressional staff for anything other than official political duties, which means running personal errands is definitely a no-no. That apparently didn't stop Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) and his wife, Flanna, whose former staffers told Politico they had to do everything from unload groceries to fetch Garrett's daughters from Scottsdale, a three-hour drive away.

The congressional staffers were even asked to take care of the Garretts' dog Sophie, a Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix that IJR says "comes to the D.C. office every other day."

Staffers were expected to watch the dog during office hours, and one aide did so over a weekend. Several aides said the couple would sometimes seem to forget the dog was in the office. When that happened, at the end of the day, aides were responsible for transporting it back to Garrett's Washington apartment.

One source said the dog occasionally defecated on the floor and aides had to clean up the mess. [Politico]

The Garretts denied their ex-staffers' claims, telling Politico: "It is easy to spread untruths and even easier to exaggerate and imply wrongdoing when none exists." Jeva Lange

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