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August 28, 2018

On Monday, President Trump called in the TV cameras to record a speakerphone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on NAFTA negotiations. Specifically, Trump called to congratulate Peña Nieto and himself on replacing NAFTA with what Trump called the United States–Mexico Trade Agreement. (Peña Nieto called it NAFTA.) After a politically brutal week, Trump was claiming victory. He said he was "terminating" the $1 trillion trade deal that has reshaped North America's economies for 25 years, saying the name NAFTA "has a bad connotation" and the "incredible deal" he'd just reached with Mexico is probably open to Canada, too, if it wants to join.

"But what he went on to describe seemed like more of a rebrand than a revolution," says Krishnadev Calamur at The Atlantic, and the end result will likely be "some tweaks to the existing agreement." In fact, "it's not clear Trump can actually terminate NAFTA without congressional approval," and Congress — which has 90 days to give any deal an up-or-down vote — has only authorized trilateral negotiations including Canada, he added. Monday mostly "showcased a strategy where Trump bluffs, rebrands, and claims victory."

Monday's call wasn't about the details. It was showmanship, "a reality show playing out in real time," said David Nakamura at The Washington Post. "Parts of the conversation were so stilted that it took on the air of a hastily arranged photo op. ... Peña Nieto promised Trump, who doesn't drink, a tequila toast," and Trump concluded by saying he'd just sealed a deal with Canada. Then there's this awkward spectacle of Trump trying to patch through the call.

The text of the deal — the Trump administration calls it a "preliminary agreement in principle" — hasn't been released, but the details disclosed Monday contain some significant concessions sought by the Trump administration, notably regarding the auto industry. You can read more about the deal, and the hurdles it still has to clear, at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

11:54 a.m. ET
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump began the week by ordering that certain documents related to the Russia investigation be declassified. He's ending the week by walking that demand back.

On Monday, Trump ordered the Justice Department to declassify some materials related to the Russia investigation, including pages of the warrant the FBI obtained to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in 2016, The New York Times reports. He also called for the release of text messages between DOJ and FBI officials who the president has accused of being biased against him. Trump faced criticism for pushing the release of documents related to an ongoing investigation that his campaign is the subject of, and Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the Justice Department would still heavily redact the documents before releasing them.

Now, Trump is walking the order back entirely, saying on Twitter that the Justice Department feels releasing the documents "may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe." Trump also said that "key Allies" have asked him not to release the documents, echoing his statement in an interview on Thursday that he's "dealing with foreign countries that might have a problem" with the declassification order. Therefore, Trump has instead asked the inspector general to "review these documents on an expedited basis." But the president concluded by teasing he may change course yet again, writing, "In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary." Brendan Morrow

10:57 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

It's easy to win a battle when your opponent isn't in the room.

That was reportedly senior adviser Stephen Miller's strategy for convincing President Trump to cap refugee admissions at 30,000 in 2019. Miller pushed for the record-low limit in a meeting with top Trump administration officials, NBC News reported Friday — but didn't invite colleagues who he thought might make his job more difficult.

Miller reportedly left U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and other officials out of the meeting. The ones who weren't invited, curiously, were officials who have consistently voiced opposition to further lowering the refugee admission ceiling. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the change Monday, not commenting on whether he had had a change of heart since his previous preference for a higher cap. Sources told NBC News that Pompeo eventually bent to Miller's will. "Pompeo got rolled," said one former official.

Miller also headed up the Trump administration's efforts to strictly limit immigration from several Muslim-majority countries, as well as the zero-tolerance policy that lead to migrant families being separated at the southern border. He is an increasingly powerful voice on immigration, reports Politico, gaining favor with Trump with his hard-line views. Read more at NBC News. Summer Meza

10:34 a.m. ET

It wasn't quite the Butt Fumble, but still: Thursday night wasn't a great one for fans of the New York Jets.

The Jets relinquished a 14-point first-half lead to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, eventually falling to the home team 21-17. The Browns' victory was their first since Dec. 24, 2016, when they defeated the San Diego Chargers 20-17. Over 635 winless days, Cleveland had failed to prevail in 19 straight games, the NFL's second-longest winless streak since the AFL merger in 1970, per The Boston Globe. In Week 1, the Browns managed a 21-21 tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which technically ended their losing streak at 17 games.

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield entered the game for Cleveland in the second quarter after starting signal-caller Tyrod Taylor exited with an injury, with the Browns trailing by two touchdowns. Mayfield, the first overall pick in the 2018 draft, threw 17-23 for 201 yards and caught a two-point conversion to seal Cleveland's win. The Jets were led by a rookie of their own under center in Sam Darnold, but Darnold completed just 15 of his 31 passes and threw two picks.

Cleveland fans were understandably a little excited after their team finally, finally picked up a victory:

See more footage of jubilant Browns fans here, or check in on sad Jets fans here. Kimberly Alters

9:43 a.m. ET

Former Vice President Joe Biden still has regrets over the way Anita Hill was treated by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While speaking to Today on Friday, Biden addressed Christine Ford's sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, saying that Ford "should not have to go through what Anita Hill went through." Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991 and was questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden was the chairman of the committee at the time, and he has been criticized by his fellow Democrats for not putting a stop to questions that impugned Hill's character, as well as for not bringing in witnesses who could have backed Hill's claims, Politico reports.

"What the devil have we learned [from the Hill hearings]?" Biden asked rhetorically. He pointed to "some of the questions [Hill] was asked" and the way her integrity was questioned as mistakes not to be repeated in the Senate's handling of Ford's allegations.

Biden didn't totally let himself off the hook for his handling of the Hill hearings, either, saying, "I wish I could've done more to prevent" senators from engaging in "character assassination" when Hill came forward. "I hope my colleagues learn from that," Biden said. "[Ford] deserves to be treated with dignity."

Watch Biden's full appearance on Today below. Brendan Morrow

9:35 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Christine Blasey Ford stepped forward Sunday afternoon to detail to The Washington Post what she described as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempting to rape her at a high school party in the 1980s. By Tuesday morning, several Twitter accounts had posted her address, a different Christine Ford had been harassed after being fingered by a conservative news site, and by Tuesday evening, Ford's lawyers wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley that Ford had been the target of "vicious harassment and even death threats," her email had been hacked, and she was being impersonated online.

Ford and her family "moved out of their home as a security precaution, and she and her husband are staying apart from their two children," The San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday. "Judge Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, also has faced threats, which are being investigated by the U.S. Marshals Service," The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing a senior administration official. "She has received two profane notes on her work email account in recent days" from the same account, one of which suggested Kavanaugh tell her husband he should "put a bullet in his ... skull." CNN also saw some abusive emails to Ashley Kavanaugh.

At least two Senate Judiciary Committee members, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), have also reported getting vulgar and threatening messages, including sexual violence against staffers. "In one case — and we are going to turn this over to the police, but unfortunately, of course, the person didn't leave a name or number — but they actually threatened to rape one of my young female staffers," Collins told the Journal. Feinstein reported similar threats against specific staff members. Peter Weber

9:27 a.m. ET

President Trump has broken his streak of restrained, on-message commentary regarding the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Whereas Trump has previously chosen to merely praise Kavanaugh's "unblemished record" and feign confidence that the whole controversy will blow over, he switched gears Friday to instead call the matter an attempt to "destroy and delay" Kavanaugh's confirmation. The process has been upended by allegations from Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were in high school.

Trump alleged a different kind of "assault" — one from "radical left-wing politicians" who want to baselessly attack Kavanaugh's "impeccable reputation." Ironically, Trump said that for those politicians, "facts don't matter."

"If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says," continued Trump, "charges would have been immediately filed." He said she should "bring those filings forward." Kavanaugh and Ford are set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Summer Meza

8:47 a.m. ET
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When Attorney General Jeff Sessions meets with state attorneys general next week to discuss whether tech companies are suppressing free speech, it seems he'll now have one more thing to talk about.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that in the wake of President Trump's 2017 travel ban, Google employees discussed tweaking the company's "search-related functions" to direct users towards pro-immigration groups to which they could donate money, as well as to tell them how to get in touch with lawmakers.

This report is based on a series of leaked emails obtained by the Journal, which also show that Google discussed ways to "leverage" search results in order to counter "islamophobic, algorithmically biased results" for certain words, such as "Islam" and "Muslim."

Google says none of these concepts ever went into effect and that the emails simply show a "brainstorm of ideas." The company added that it has "never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology." Even in the email exchanges themselves, one executive warned that "we need to remain fair and balanced" and said that if they were to do this, it must also promote organizations that support the ban, suggesting the plan received some internal pushback before ultimately being discarded.

Nevertheless, Trump supporters, some of whom have argued without evidence that Google manipulates its algorithm to damage the president, seized on the report, with Donald Trump Jr. tweeting it out to his followers on Friday. Brendan Morrow

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