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February 23, 2018

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, President Trump bashed the "fake news" media, reiterated his support of the Second Amendment, and joked about his "bald spot" during a freewheeling, high-energy address. Calling his speech boring and admitting to going off script, the president was frequently interrupted by chants of "USA," "lock her up," and "build the wall."

In addition to discussing job growth and the border wall, Trump doubled down on his divisive proposal to arm schoolteachers. Addressing reports that the armed guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School didn't engage the shooter as the attack was unfolding, Trump claimed that an armed teacher "would have shot the hell out of [the gunman] before he knew it."

The president explained: "I'd rather have somebody that loves their students and wants to protect their students than somebody standing outside that … doesn't know the students." While he also called for stricter background checks on gun purchases, Trump warned the audience: "If [Democrats] get in, they'll take away your Second Amendment, which we will never allow that to happen."

Trump wrapped up his address with the recitation of an anti-immigration poem called "The Snake," a staple during his 2016 campaign rallies. "We are going to make America great again," he said just before he walked off the stage. "And I will never, ever, ever let you down." Jeva Lange

5:26p.m.

A Russian woman who was working for a Russian oligarch-funded project intended to conduct "information warfare against the United States" was charged Friday by the Justice Department, reports CBS News. She is the first person to be charged in relation to interference in the 2018 elections.

The woman, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, allegedly spread content online that sought to fan the flames of "political intensity through supporting radical groups" and inciting racial tension. The project, dubbed "Project Lakhta," leveraged social media to spread divisive messages. A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin's, oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, is allegedly behind two companies that ran the ongoing project to export political discord.

Separately, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that U.S. intelligence officials haven't seen any evidence that foreign countries are working to interfere in any specific race in the upcoming midterm elections, The Daily Beast reports. Russia, China, and Iran "may seek to influence voter perceptions," he said, but no specific races have been targeted. Read more at about Project Lakhta at CBS News. Summer Meza

4:29p.m.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is still very intent on returning as House speaker — but she doesn't want to stick around for long.

As Democrats look more and more likely to retake the House this fall, Pelosi has constantly asserted she'll retake Congress' top spot if that's the case. Meanwhile, many progressives have been reluctant to support — or have even outright challenged — that assumption. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Friday, Pelosi gave her first indication that she's listening to those concerns.

If and when she retakes the speakership, Pelosi says she sees herself "as a transitional figure." After all, she has "things to do" that don't include leading the House: "Books to write; places to go; grandchildren, first and foremost, to love," she tells the Times.

Pelosi would've stepped down earlier had Hillary Clinton been elected, she tells the Times, saying she feels "a very strong responsibility to stay in this office for at least the next two years" while President Trump is president. But she's not about to "make myself a lame duck" and explicitly reveal when she'll step down, she continued. And when she does leave, Pelosi says it's "not up to me" to choose a successor — though she would like to see another woman on top.

Read more about Pelosi's possible exit strategy at the Los Angeles Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:08p.m.

An estimated 4,000-person caravan of Honduran migrants is preparing to push over Guatemala's border with Mexico on their way to America, despite Mexican and U.S. government efforts to hold them back.

After a smaller initial group crossed a river into Mexico on Thursday night, the remaining migrants left a nearby town and reached the Mexico-Guatemala border Friday afternoon. They have since torn down gates at the closed border crossing, but failed to power past police forces and cross a bridge connecting the two countries, The Associated Press reports.

Migrants in the massive caravan, which includes young children and pregnant women, are fleeing dire economic circumstances and in some cases violence in their home country. The group that's at the border has spent nearly a week walking through Honduras and Guatemala on its way to the U.S., while a separate caravan is currently traveling through El Salvador on its way north, reports NBC News.

President Trump on Tuesday threatened to cut off aid to Honduras and any Latin American countries who fail to stop the caravan from reaching the U.S., and on Thursday he pledged to close the southern border. But on Thursday night, the Trump administration agreed to work with the United Nations to identify which of the migrants had "legitimate" asylum claims, and will likely reject the rest, reports USA Today.

BuzzFeed News' Karla Zabludovsky, who is traveling with the caravan, reports that Mexican officials are barring all entries, and some migrants have given up and turned back. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:51p.m.

President Trump received plenty of criticism for celebrating a congressman's assault on a reporter, but Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) is standing by him.

On Friday, Scalise, who survived a politically-motivated shooting in 2017, said "it's obvious" Trump was not "encouraging his supporters to engage in attacks" during his Thursday night rally. The president had heaped praise on Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who in 2017 pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for body-slamming a journalist. Although Gianforte has since apologized, Trump seemed to approve, saying, "any guy that can do a body-slam ... he's my guy." He also gleefully pointed out that Gianforte's assault may have helped him win his election.

Now, Scalise says that Trump was "clearly ribbing" Gianforte for the incident, claiming that "not one [Trump supporter] harassed the numerous media reporters who were present." He also argued that it's "irresponsible" for the media to equate comments like Trump's with Democrats "regularly using threatening rhetoric to call on their supporters to harass Trump officials, supporters, and Republican members and candidates."

Scalise criticized former Attorney General Eric Holder for saying, "when [Republicans] go low, we kick them," calling this a "dangerous call to action." He has, however, also sometimes criticized violent rhetoric from Republicans, saying that a GOP gubernatorial candidate's threat to "stomp" on his opponent "with golf spikes" was "totally unacceptable."

The White House Correspondents' Association said that "all Americans should recoil" from Trump's comments about Gianforte's assault, but Scalise is completely certain that they were nothing more than "a joke at a rally." Brendan Morrow

3:22p.m.

Michael Cohen's 2017 pledge that he would "take a bullet" for President Trump continues to age poorly.

The president's former lawyer on Friday made his first on-camera remarks since pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and saying he broke these laws at Trump's direction. His message? Vote against Republicans, and his former boss, in the midterm elections. Cohen told CNN that Americans should get to the polls this November, because "if not, you are going to have another two or another six years of this craziness."

Cohen changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat last week, just a few months after he left his post as the deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. At the time, Cohen's lawyer said this was another example of him "distancing himself from the values" of the White House, and from the man who retained his legal services for 12 years. On Friday, Cohen said that he has really always been a Democrat at heart, and only briefly changed his party registration to Republican so he could work for the RNC.

CNN also reports that Cohen is prepared to stump for Democrats this November and in 2020 — although, considering Cohen will be sentenced on eight criminal charges this December, it seems unlikely anyone will take him up on that offer. Watch Cohen's comments below. Brendan Morrow

2:07p.m.

Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) is under fire for comments made during his radio show days — again.

This time, CNN uncovered audio from 2011 that includes Lewis mocking women who at the time were accusing Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment. Lewis questioned whether the alleged harassment was really so "traumatizing," asking, "is that really something that's going to be seared in your memory that you'll need therapy for?" Two women had accused Cain of unwanted advances and suggestive remarks when he was the CEO of the National Restaurant Association. Cain denied the allegations but soon dropped out of the race.

On his show, Lewis suggested the allegations against Cain weren't such a big deal because plenty of women experience something similar in their lives. He then began mockingly imitating one of the accuser's voices and pretended to become emotional. "Come on! She wasn't raped," he said of one of the accusers. During other segments resurfaced by CNN, Lewis argued that current sexual harassment law is unconstitutional and "ridiculous" because it "distorts our free speech rights."

This is not the first time Lewis has faced criticism over comments from his old radio show, which ran from 2009 until 2014. In a clip flagged by CNN in July, he bemoaned the fact that he couldn't call young women "sluts." A representative for Lewis at the time said "it was his job to be provocative while on the radio." More recently, a law firm representing the radio network demanded that CNN "cease and desist" its use of the audio soon after CNN contacted the lawmakers' campaign for comment.

The Minnesota congressman is running for re-election this November against Democratic challenger Angie Craig in a race that the Cook Political Report classifies as a "lean Democratic." Brendan Morrow

12:00p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to do things his way, and he's not going to let a little thing like legal advice get in the way.

Justice Department officials are frustrated with Sessions' effort to push a hardline immigration agenda and policies regarding LGBT rights, The New York Times reported Friday. Sessions quickly took a deeply conservative approach to transforming the DOJ, officials told the Times, and often disregarded advice from staffers who opposed the rapid shift.

The attorney general reportedly sought legal advice from career attorney Stephen Buckingham, asking him to find a way to eliminate sanctuary city laws that protect undocumented immigrants. Buckingham told him there was no legal ground for such a crackdown, but Sessions reminded him that he wanted ultra-strict immigration laws, and asked him to reach a different conclusion, reports the Times. Buckingham resigned soon after the exchange.

Sessions also declined to consult with career experts and lawyers before eliminating protections for transgender people, and his insistence on finding ways to dismantle the Affordable Care Act despite legal guidance sparked significant internal tension.

His circumventing of legal advice is allowed, the Times notes, but a former DOJ official said that, while legal, "it would be inappropriate to ask people to tailor legal judgments to policy preferences." Several of Sessions' policy changes have been challenged or blocked in court. The determination to transform the department despite dissent has caused morale to sink, officials say. The "underlying message" from President Trump and Sessions, said Norman Eisen, a former special counsel for government ethics, "is that department employees are either enemies of the White House or vassals doing its bidding." Summer Meza

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