May 17, 2018

It turns out that the White House isn't the only place that leaks. During a recent Gates Foundation meeting with staff, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates talked about his two encounters with President Trump, according to video obtained by MSNBC, and Gates showed that he's both surprisingly funny and not too impressed with the current president.

Gates explained that he first met Trump in December 2016, but Trump had met his and wife Melinda's daughter Jennifer, now 22, before at an equestrian event in Florida. "So when I first talked to him, it was actually kind of scary how well he knew — how much he knew about my daughter's appearance," Gates said. "Melinda didn't like that too well." A big advocate of vaccinations, Gates said he tried to talk Trump out of forming a commission to study the debunked claim that vaccines cause autism, as proposed by Robert Kennedy Jr. Trump did not seem too well-versed on vaccines, or viruses, he added. "Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV, so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other."

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and there is no vaccine for it yet; there is a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., though many social conservatives oppose that vaccine on the theory that vaccinating teenage girls will encourage sexual promiscuity. Trump is increasingly pushing abstinence-only education. Gates had a parting shot, too, recalling the first thing Trump said to him, and his reaction: "'Trump hears that you don't like what Trump is doing,' and I thought: Wow, but you're Trump." Peter Weber

May 17, 2018
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On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released 2,500 pages of interview transcripts and documents about the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting between top Trump campaign officials and Russians promising "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. Not all of the witnesses were super helpful — Donald Trump Jr. said "I don't know" at least 72 times, "I don't recall" or "can't recall" 67 times, and "I don't/can't remember" 25 times. But Rob Goldstone, the British producer who helped set up the meeting, was quite loquacious.

Goldstone acted as an intermediary between the Trumps, his client Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, and Agalarov's father, billionaire developer Aras Agalarov, who worked with Trump to stage the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013. Goldstone's testimony, say Michael Isikoff and Dylan Stableford at Yahoo News, shows "that the relationship between Trump and Agalarov was far cozier than previously known, helping to explain why top Trump campaign aides jumped at the chance to meet — at Agalarov's request — with the visiting Russians" on June 9.

By all accounts, that meeting was a bust. But the day after the meeting, Goldstone emailed Trump's secretary, Rhona Graff, with a "delivery question": "Emin and Aras have a fairly sizable birthday gift for Mr. Trump and I would like to know exactly how and where we should deliver it on Tuesday." The gift, Goldstone later explained, was a large painting.

But Aras Agalarov was unable to give Trump what he really craved: a meeting with Russia President Vladimir Putin, Goldstone said. Paula Shugart, president of Miss Universe, saw the problem as soon as Agalarov and Trump settled on Moscow for the 2013 pageant. "Oh God, he's going to want to meet Putin," Goldstone recalls Shugart saying. Trump was so insistent on meeting Putin that it became what Goldstone called "the gorilla in the room" during the Moscow trip. You can read more about that missed connection, and Trump's consolation prize, at The Washington Post or in Goldstone's transcript. Peter Weber

May 14, 2018

The U.S. is ceremonially moving its embassy to Jerusalem on Monday. Palestinians are protesting, Israel is celebrating and boosting security along its borders with the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and U.S. Senate candidate and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is criticizing President Trump's choice to lead the embassy christening's opening prayer.

There are few Mormons in Israel, but about 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Muslim, including 40 percent of Jerusalem's residents, Haaretz notes. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, did say all those things on TV in 2011, and he didn't back down Sunday on Jews and damnation. "Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone," he tweeted. "The fact that I ... espouse that belief, is neither bigoted nor newsworthy."

On Monday's Fox & Friends, Jeffress brushed off Romney's criticism as based on comments "ripped out of context from years ago," and he glossed over some dark periods in Israeli history, like the nearly 1,900 years between Rome's destruction of Jerusalem and the founding of modern Israel 70 years ago Monday. "I'm going to take some time to thank God for His faithfulness to Israel for 4,000 years," Jeffress said. "God has supernaturally protected Israel from all of her enemies." He said he will also thank God for Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are leading the U.S. delegation. Peter Weber

May 11, 2018
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John Kelly, President Trump's chief of staff, is glad he's in the White House despite "times of great frustration." In fact, he wishes he'd arrived earlier, he told NPR on Friday.

Kelly is on board with the administration's new "zero tolerance" policy on illegal immigration, which will prosecute any undocumented immigrant and separate some children from their parents upon crossing the border. He doesn't make the rules, Kelly argues, he just follows them, even though he claims to be sympathetic to immigrants' plight.

"The vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people," said Kelly. "But they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They're overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English."

Kelly additionally told NPR that he spends up to eight hours a day with Trump and thinks he's a "super smart guy" who made the right move in withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. Regarding the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian interference in the 2016 election, Kelly said the president is "somewhat embarrassed" that it's still going on.

His views diverged from Trump's in that he believes immigrants who have been in the U.S. for many years under Temporary Protected Status should be given a path to citizenship, but alas, "the laws are the laws." Undocumented immigrants in general "don't integrate well," he said, and simply "don't have skills." Listen to the full interview at NPR. Summer Meza

May 10, 2018

Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) opposition to CIA director nominee Gina Haspel, because "her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying," has apparently pushed some Republicans to some dark places. Not long after a Fox Business guest, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, claimed Thursday morning that torture works and that it "worked" on "Songbird John," a White House press official reportedly joked during a meeting about McCain's likely terminal brain cancer. McCain's opposition to Haspel "doesn't matter, he's dying anyway," said Kelly Sadler, who focuses on immigration as a special assistant in the press office, two people told The Hill. Her comment was apparently meant as a joke, the sources say, but it caused "discomfort" in the room.

Other media outlets confirmed the comment by Sadler, a former opinion editor at The Washington Times, though the reaction to her comment is contested:

Sadler reportedly called Meghan McCain, John McCain's daughter, to apologize, and the White House put out a statement saying "we respect Senator McCain's service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time." McCain's wife, Cindy, tweeted Sadler directly:

But Meghan McCain will respond Friday on The View, The Daily Caller reports. McCain and President Trump have a fraught relationship; Trump said in 2015 that McCain, who was tortured as a POW in Vietnam, "was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured," and McCain has apparently requested that Trump not attend his eventual funeral. Peter Weber

May 10, 2018

In October, an avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein began. In the months since, dozens of women have come forward with stories about being abused by Weinstein. But there was one person who had yet to speak out: his estranged wife, Georgina Chapman.

That changed, as Chapman sat for an emotional interview with Vogue, published Thursday. The 42-year-old designer and Marchesa owner opened up about her feelings of shock and betrayal, saying, "There was a part of me that was terribly naive — clearly, so naive." Chapman was "shocked" by the allegations against her husband, she said, adding: "I have moments of rage, I have moments of confusion, I have moments of disbelief!"

Chapman told the magazine that in particular, a big part of her grieving process has been mourning for her two children, 7-year-old India and 5-year-old Dashiell. They adore their father, the designer said, and she worries about what terrible things people will say to them about Weinstein — who despite it all, Chapman said, is an incredible father.

For five months, Chapman refused to be seen in public because she didn't think it was appropriate. "I thought, 'Who am I to be parading around with all of this going on?' It's still so very, very raw." In January, she canceled Marchesa's runway show for its fall 2018 collection and decided to stop offering clothes for awards season because she "didn't feel it was appropriate, given the situation."

But that didn't stop people from supporting Chapman and her work. Scarlett Johansson wore a Marchesa gown to the Met Gala on Monday, and two days later, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour guest-starred on Stephen Colbert's late-night show and showed her support for Chapman. "Georgina is a brilliant designer, and I don't think that she should be blamed for her husband's behavior,” Wintour told Colbert.

Read more of Chapman's interview with Vogue here. Amari Pollard

May 7, 2018
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The embattled chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, reportedly gave energy executives a wink at a closed-door meeting just a month after taking his position last year, The New York Times reports, telling them: "Whoever said you can't have your cake and eat it too, doesn't know what to do with cake." The comment, which segued into a discussion of his efforts to walk back the Clean Power Plan, which reduces emissions from coal-fired plants, was made at one of dozens of Pruitt's secretive, selective appearances before "friendly" audiences as the EPA has struggled to keep information about Pruitt's travel and meetings out of the public eye — and out of headlines.

Pruitt's staff, for example, apparently sorts potential audiences into categories of "friendly" and "unfriendly," documents retrieved from the agency by a Sierra Club Freedom of Information lawsuit reveal. "He didn't want anybody to question anything," said Kevin Chmielewski, the former EPA deputy chief of staff.

One memo, for example, noted that the National Association of Homebuilders' top executive "will moderate Q&A on industry issues set forth in advance and possibly from the audience — who are all industry-friendly and supportive of Mr. Pruitt and his efforts." The EPA's efforts also often extended to avoiding the press, holding meetings in private, and issuing announcements about events only after they'd already concluded. In another instance, the vice president for government affairs at Toyota Motor North America wrote to the EPA, "We just received an inquiry from a CBS News reporter in Dallas about [Pruitt's visit to a Texas auto plant]. We won't reply until the visit is over."

The Times notes that such measures are unprecedented, and were not taken by EPA administrators under former Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush. Read Matthew Walther on Scott Pruitt's cartoon villainy here at The Week. Jeva Lange

May 7, 2018

There are three competitive candidates in West Virginia's GOP Senate primary, which goes to a vote Tuesday, but only one of them — Don Blankenship — has dubbed fellow Republican and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "Cocaine Mitch" and called McConnell's father-in-law a "wealthy Chinaperson" and then tried to defend the term by speaking of "Africapersons."

Blankenship's style is a bit much even for President Donald "sh--hole countries" Trump, who tweeted early Monday that West Virginians should support Blankenship's primary rivals for the sake of general election viability:

Blankenship promptly took this denunciation as proof that the student has surpassed the teacher. "As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump, and this morning proves it," he said in a statement responding to the tweet, adding that Trump "is a very busy man and does not know me." Bonnie Kristian

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