September 22, 2017
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Stephen Bannon secretly met with "the second most powerful Chinese Communist Party official" last week, The Financial Times reports. The 90-minute huddle with Wang Qishan in Beijing followed Bannon's speech in Hong Kong calling for stricter U.S. policy on China at a conference hosted by a state-owned brokerage and investment group.

Wang, 69, serves as the head of the Communist Party's anti-corruption campaign but is "expected to step down during the Communist Party's five-yearly congress next month, in line with informal retirement rules," the South China Morning Post reports. Nevertheless, there is some speculation he might stay on anyway.

Wang reportedly had questions for Bannon involving topics like "economic nationalism" and "populist movement," the South China Morning Post adds. "[Wang] must have had a reason to meet Bannon, and the topic doesn't seem relevant to his current job," said Zhang Lifan, a Chinese political commentator. "It's possible his political career will be extended, though maybe in a different area."

Bannon has claimed that America is in an "economic war with China" and he is a subscriber to the "Thucydides Trap" theory, which suggests that historical indicators show the U.S. is on an unavoidable path to war with China. "A hundred years from now, this is what they'll remember — what we did to confront China on its rise to world domination," Bannon said in a recent interview with The New York Times. Jeva Lange

September 18, 2017

President Trump was dazzled by a military parade on Bastille Day in Paris earlier this year, and during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, he suggested America will hold its own military parades on future Fourths of July.

Trump's proposal initially drew laughs from the crowd, but he doubled down on the idea after the snickers subsided. "We're actually thinking about Fourth of July, Pennsylvania Avenue, having a really great parade to show our military strength. You know, this year, we've spent $700 billion, more than we've ever spent, on the military," Trump said. "And I think we're really looking forward to doing that. Speaking with Gen. [John] Kelly and all the people involved. And we didn't do it this year but we certainly will be beginning to do that."

Trump has flirted with the idea of making military parades great again before. While president-elect, he told The Washington Post "that military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C. for parades." Trump additionally hadn't planned to visit France for Bastille Day until he reportedly heard there would be a military parade to watch.

Watch Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange

September 18, 2017

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into whether or not three Equifax executives who sold $1.8 million in stock just days after a massive cybersecurity breach broke insider-trading laws, Bloomberg reports. "The three executives who sold a small percentage of their Equifax shares on Tuesday, August 1, and Wednesday, August 2, had no knowledge that an intrusion had occurred at the time they sold their shares," an Equifax spokesperson previously said.

"To run afoul of laws that prohibit insider trading, a seller has to be aware of nonpublic information," Bloomberg writes.

Equifax said it discovered the breach July 29, and that hackers may have gained access to company databases in mid-May. Jeva Lange

September 15, 2017
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Taxpayers have been stuck with the bill for a government official's $1,092 two-day stay at Mar-a-Lago in March, The Washington Post reports. "The receipt, which was obtained in recent days by the transparency advocacy group Property of the People and verified by the Post, offers one of the first concrete signs that Trump's use of Mar-a-Lago as the 'Winter White House' has resulted in taxpayer funds flowing directly into the coffers of his private business," the Post writes.

Trump-affiliated properties have remained a major concern for government ethics watchdogs, including a case in April when the United States embassy in the U.K. appeared to promote Mar-a-Lago. "Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in [West Virginia] or a single mom in Detroit to pay for promoting Mar-a-Lago?" Hillary Clinton's former national spokesman, Josh Schwerin, tweeted at the time.

The Post adds that in regards to the March charge, "it is not clear whether the invoice stemmed from a one-time occurrence or represented one of many Mar-a-Lago rooms that have been booked at government expense for presidential aides or other officials since Trump took office and began traveling there on a regular basis."

"The choice to stay [at Mar-a-Lago] and have the government pay the $546-a-night rate seems imprudent," said ethics and law professor Kathleen Clark. "If it were not owned by the president, it would still seem problematic. The fact that it's owned by the president makes it doubly problematic." Read the full report here. Jeva Lange

September 12, 2017
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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had some explaining to do Tuesday morning after Twitter users discovered his official account had "liked" a tweet containing a pornographic video overnight. (While Cruz's staff finally "unliked" the NSFW tweet, it was not before @SexuallPosts thanked the senator "for watching.")

Cruz — who once wrote a 76-page legal brief calling for sex toys to be banned in the state of Texas — seemed to take things in stride and with a sense of humor. A one-time 2016 presidential candidate, Cruz joked to the press that "perhaps we should have done something like this during the Indiana primary."

Of course, that still leaves open the lingering question of who liked the "porn tweet" from Cruz's account. "There are a number of people on the team that have access to the account and it appears that someone inadvertently hit the 'like' button," Cruz went on to explain, as reported by NBC News' Frank Thorp V.

"It wasn't you?" someone asked.

"It was a staffing issue," Cruz replied, "and it was inadvertent, it was a mistake, it was not a deliberate action."

Ah. Jeva Lange

September 8, 2017

The acting assistant administrator of USAID for Asia, Gloria Steele, greeted a question about climate change with conspicuous, cringe-inducing silence during a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting Thursday, BuzzFeed News reports.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) wanted to know if the devastating floods in Bangladesh "have anything at all to do with, I don't know, the warming of the climate?" Under former President Barack Obama, Steele had spoken at length about the disastrous consequences of "changes in climate" in Asia, but on Thursday she said … nothing at all.

"An issue with vacancies at [the State Department and] USAID is you have more acting officials who are reluctant to speak openly [because] they have less job security," BuzzFeed News' John Hudson wrote on Twitter. "Still, if you had a political appointee in that spot, it's possible they would deny the role of climate change (depending on the pick)." Watch below, and read more about the strange moment at BuzzFeed News. Jeva Lange

August 31, 2017
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On Thursday, NBC News revealed some alleged details of the notes that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort took during the June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, arranged by Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower. Two people familiar with the evidence claim that Manafort's notes contain the words "donations" and "RNC" (which could stand for either "Republican National Committee" or "Republican National Convention") in "close proximity," NBC News reported.

The complete context of Manafort's notes is unclear, but there are implications to be made. Manafort's spokesperson Jason Maloni wholeheartedly denied that Manafort's notes suggested any discussion of donations to the Republican Party by the Russians took place, and he also noted that Manafort handed his notes over to the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It is 100 percent false to suggest this meeting included any discussion of donations from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party," Maloni told Talking Points Memo. "This speculation and conjecture is pointless and wrong."

While the meaning of Manafort's notes remains in doubt, it was previously reported by Mother Jones that "the head of the American subsidiary of a Russian conglomerate owned by a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Vladimir Putin" made donations to President Trump — and to the Republican National Committee. Becca Stanek

June 16, 2017

A week which began with President Trump's Cabinet members pledging their loyalty to him is now wrapping up with the vice president abruptly sharing that "it is the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president to … Trump."

The tweet — which was repeated by Pence in Miami ahead of President Trump's Cuba speech — comes amid White House turmoil, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly in the hot seat.

Pence is walking a "tightrope" in the White House, Politico writes, with former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell describing the vice president as having "a very full and complex portfolio in his briefcase. And he has to carry it like there's a bottle of nitroglycerin inside." Jeva Lange

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