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May 16, 2018
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The person who leaked some financial records about Michael Cohen last week told The New Yorker they did so because two other important documents related to Cohen's banking activities were missing from a government database and they were concerned information was being suppressed.

The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow says the leaker is a law enforcement official. Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, opened an account at First Republic Bank for his shell company Essential Consultants LLC. The leaker released a suspicious-activity report filed by the bank, showing that Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Novartis, AT&T, and other companies after Trump's election. The leaked report mentions two earlier suspicious-activity reports the bank had filed, detailing more than $3 million in other questionable transactions from unknown business and other entities.

The person who leaked the report told Farrow that these two suspicious-activity reports are not in the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) database. Banks are legally required to file suspicious-activity reports with the government, creating records of possible fraud and money laundering. While not proof of criminal activity, those reports do go into the permanent FinCEN database, and law enforcement officials and other federal government personnel have access to the database.

The leaker told Farrow they had "never seen something pulled off the system" like this, which was concerning. "The system is a safeguard for the bank," they said. "It's a stockpile of information. When something's not there that should be, I immediately became concerned." Farrow spoke with a government official who speculated that access was restricted due to the sensitive nature of the documents, but it would be a nearly unprecedented move. For more on the missing documents and why it's worrisome, visit The New Yorker. Catherine Garcia

January 11, 2018
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On the same day Walmart announced it is raising its minimum wage and giving one-time bonuses to certain employees, the company quietly closed 63 members-only Sam's Club stores across the United States.

In announcing the new $11 minimum wage and bonuses, Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon said on Thursday that "tax reform gives us the opportunity to be more competitive globally and to accelerate plans for the U.S.," with Walmart shelling out $300 million for wage increases and $400 million for bonuses. After this was reported with much fanfare, Sam's Club announced that following "a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we've decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy."

At many Sam's Club locations, employees showed up to work to find out their store was shutting down. "The store closures with no notice is a bit out of character for Walmart and not the best way to treat your employees," Ken Perkins, founder of research firm Retail Metrics, told NBC News. He estimated that under the new tax plan, Walmart could save $2 billion in taxes. Walmart spokesman Greg Hitt estimated that about 9,450 people are employed in the 63 stores, but did not say how many will lose their jobs. Catherine Garcia

January 10, 2018
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The No. 1 word Americans used to describe President Trump's first year in office was "disaster," a new Quinnipiac University poll found using an open-ended question that garnered the same unhappy answer from 69 different people. The second most popular word was "chaotic," with 62 people using it, followed by "successful," "horrible," "great," "good," "terrible," "embarrassing," and a diplomatic few who said "interesting." Twenty-one people enthused that Trump's first year was "awesome," while five others went ahead and called it a "catastrophe."

Asked to give the president a grade, 39 percent of voters gave Trump an "F" and 16 percent gave him an "A."

In May, Quinnipiac ran a similar poll asking voters to answer with the first word that came to mind when they thought of President Trump. The first three most popular words were "idiot," "incompetent," and "liar."

The Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday surveyed 1,106 voters between Jan. 5-9 and has a margin of error of 3.6 percent. Read the full results here. Jeva Lange

September 9, 2016
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The Clinton Presidential Library has released 22 pictures of Donald Trump hanging out with Bill Clinton in 2000, following a Freedom of Information Act request from Politico. The pictures come from a June 2000 visit then-President Clinton paid to Trump Tower for a fundraiser, and from the September 2000 U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens, New York.

The pictures are an awkward complement to a previously released photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton laughing with Donald and Melania Trump at the Trumps' 2005 wedding. Hillary Clinton has since said she did not know Trump well and had attended the wedding "because it's always entertaining."

Clinton's husband appears to have been on more familiar terms with the Republican nominee, at least judging by the new photos. In one from the tennis tournament, Bill Clinton stands with his arm around Melania Trump, with Donald Trump posing beside an unidentified woman wearing a Playboy shirt:

Fifty-nine photos of Hillary Clinton at a 1994 fundraiser Donald Trump attended were also found but not released by the National Archives, having been deemed "personal records" and thus not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Jeva Lange

September 9, 2016
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Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein should be excluded from the general election debates, Republican nominee Donald Trump told Larry King in an interview Thursday. "I'd rather it be Hillary and myself," he said, because "we're the only two with a chance at winning."

Though Trump allowed that the poll numbers that control debate participation aren't yet determined — "We'll see what happens," he said — he is probably correct that the third-party nominees will not poll high enough to meet the 15 percent national support threshold required by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Before joining a major party establishment himself, Trump sang a different tune. "It's disgraceful. It's amazing that they can get away with it," he said of the CPD's exclusionary rule in 2000 while considering a Reform Party run for president. "I just think it's unfair," Trump continued, "to have such a high standard, a high criteria. For a party that's a legitimate party, that has a substantial amount of federal funding, that's recognized — and, at some point in this process, [the Reform nominee] is gonna be in all 50 states. Very unfair."

The Libertarian Party is the biggest third party in the country, and its ticket is currently on the ballot in 49 states plus the District of Columbia. The party is actively pursuing ballot access in the final state, Rhode Island. Bonnie Kristian

June 23, 2015
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Research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that conservative political leanings are correlated with a higher degree of self-control. The paper's authors worked with 300 people, observing that participants' levels of self-control were better predicted by how conservative or liberal they were rather than other demographic indicators, like wealth, race, or sex.

Lead researcher Joshua Clarkson of the University of Cincinnati disavowed any notion that the study's authors intended to make a value judgment about people of different political beliefs. "We've got liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and people who aren't sure [on the research team]," he said. "We are not saying that conservatives are better in general. We just think this study gives us a novel way to think about self-control." Bonnie Kristian

March 17, 2015

As the human population of Nagoro, Japan, continues to decline, the number of scarecrows in the small village is rising rapidly.

About 13 years ago, Tuskimi Ayano created a life-sized scarecrow in honor of her father after he died. In the years since, Ayano has made more than 350 scarecrows, which are on display in the streets and buildings of the village. Nagoro was never a large place, and there are just 35 people living there today, after many members of the younger generation took off for bigger cities. The scarecrows are now replacing those who left — the village's school closed in 2012 after its last two students graduated, so Ayano created scarecrows to fill the empty classrooms and hallways.

At 65, Ayano is one of the youngest people in Nagoro, and she has no plans to leave or stop making scarecrows. "I enjoy it," she told NBC News. Her goal is for the scarecrows to look so realistic that when "people look at them they have to look twice and say, 'Oh, that wasn't a person!'" —Catherine Garcia

May 27, 2014
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On May 31, a funeral like no other will be held in the Mantua neighborhood in Philadelphia. It won't be in honor of a person, but rather, a house that has stood at 3711 Melon Street for at least 114 years.

The boarded-up row house will be knocked down as part of the cultural project Funeral for a Home. The program, based out of Temple University's Tyler School of Art, seeks to "honor neighborhood history," The Associated Press reports, especially in impoverished areas like Mantua. It is a symbolic gesture that gives dignity to now dilapidated but once proud homes.

Instead of a somber funeral, the event will be a joyous "home-going." A dumpster taking away debris will be followed by a parade of drill teams, bands, and residents, who will then gather for a meal. Organizers are hopeful that the idea will resonate in other neighborhoods. "When you see these blighted homes, you forget that they were a thriving part of the community at one point," Tyler School of Art administrator Robert Blackson told The Associated Press.

City officials said that 600 homes are torn down every year in Philadelphia, and 25,000 are vacant. The Melon Street lot won't be empty for long; the developer who purchased the house in 2012 for $15,000 plans on building affordable housing. Catherine Garcia