May 2, 2018

During an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, Rudy Giuliani said President Trump reimbursed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, the $130,000 he paid adult film star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006.

Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and one of the newest members of Trump's legal team, told the Fox News host that the money was "funneled" through a law firm, and Trump "knew the general arrangement" but not the "specifics." The money was "paid by his lawyer the way I would do it," he continued, "out of his law firm funds or whatever funds, it doesn't matter, and the president reimbursed that over a period of several months."

Hannity said he "distinctly" remembered Cohen saying "he did it on his own," to which Giuliani responded, "He did?" Quickly, Giuliani added, "Look, I don't know, I haven't investigated that, there's no reason to dispute his recollection." Trump has said he knew nothing about Cohen's payment to Daniels. Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell he was rendered "speechless" by Giuliani's admission. Catherine Garcia

April 11, 2018
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A Missouri state House committee released a report on Wednesday detailing an extramarital affair Gov. Eric Greitens (R) had with his hairdresser, who testified under oath that he groped her and was violent during sexual encounters, slapping and calling her names.

The panel, which includes five Republicans and two Democrats, said it finds the woman, whose name was not released, to be an "overall credible witness." The woman has accused Greitens of taking a photo of her without consent while she was semi-nude and blindfolded, then threatening to release it if she ever told anyone about their encounter. She also said she felt coerced into performing oral sex on Greitens, and that he slapped her when she told him she had been intimate with her estranged husband. The alleged incidents took place before he was elected in 2016.

In February, a grand jury indicted Greitens on one count of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking and transmitting the picture of the woman, and he goes to trial on May 14. The committee began its investigation on March 1, and the report could be used to set off impeachment proceedings. Greitens turned down an opportunity to testify or provide documents to the panel, and on Wednesday called it a "political witch hunt." He also accused the woman of lying, and said the affair was "a private mistake." Several Democrats have called on him to resign. Catherine Garcia

March 29, 2018
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Some U.S. intelligence officials fear that the Chinese government is conducting sophisticated "kidnapping" programs in the United States in order to spirit their nationals back to the mainland, where they face arrest and imprisonment on political and corruption charges. Beijing has openly admitted to repatriating more than 3,000 people "who had escaped overseas" since late 2012, Xinhua reports, although the U.S. intelligence community believes China's strategies in Western nations often involves pushing the definitions of coercion and kidnapping.

In one example cited in the report by Foreign Policy, a Chinese-Canadian billionaire was snatched from his hotel in Hong Kong in 2017 and was loaded — likely sedated — into a wheelchair and rolled out through the lobby with a sheet covering his head. Similar stories have also come out of Australia, a U.S. intelligence partner, including one about a man who was allegedly drugged by Chinese security forces and transported back to the mainland on a state-owned shipping vessel.

Chinese nationals living in the United States have also begun to disappear under suspicious circumstances, although unlike previous targets, "they were not high-profile folks," said one former U.S. intelligence official.

"There were multiple reports of people observing Chinese intelligence operatives materializing around the schools or residences of the missing people," the intelligence official went on. "One theory was that they were strong-arming them in person, saying, 'We're here. Your flight back to China is tomorrow.'" The official stressed that there is still a difference between "kicking in a door and taking a guy forcefully away and saying, 'Come with us or we'll kill your family in Inner Mongolia.'" Still, in one case involving a Chinese graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, there was "evidence of this person being taken against their will."

The fear is that just because China has not brazenly kidnapped anyone in the United States yet, it "doesn't mean they won't eventually." Read the chilling investigation at Foreign Policy. Jeva Lange

March 27, 2018

Christopher Steele, the former British spy responsible for a controversial unverified dossier about President Trump, also wrote a memo for the FBI alleging that Russian President Vladimir Putin's former media czar was beaten to death in a Washington, D.C., hotel room on the eve of scheduled meeting with the Department of Justice, BuzzFeed News reports. The memo contradicts the U.S. government's official finding that said the man, RT founder Mikhail Lesin, died in an "accident."

"DOJ was investigating RT," said one FBI agent. "These are the types of meetings we have with people when we want to recruit them as informants.”

The news about Steele's report comes as governments around the globe are taking a second look at the suspicious deaths of Russian figures on their soil. In Britain, that number is as high as 14. The U.S. and U.K. have both blamed Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter with a nerve agent earlier this month.

Steele's report claims that "the thugs had been instructed to beat Lesin, not kill him, but they went too far," BuzzFeed News writes. The attackers were apparently working on behalf of a shady oligarch with ties to Putin. At least three other intelligence sources independent of Steele also told the FBI that Lesin had been beaten to death, further complicating the American government's claim his death was accidental.

"It is not inconceivable that the Kremlin could use its security services in the United States as it has elsewhere," mused Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January. "The trail of mysterious deaths, all of which happened to people who possessed information that the Kremlin did not want made public, should not be ignored by Western countries on the assumption that they are safe from these extreme measures." Read more details of the Steele report at BuzzFeed News. Jeva Lange

February 8, 2018

Jennie Willoughby, one of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter's ex-wives, told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday she's concerned about the safety of Porter's current girlfriend, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, and "if he hasn't already been abusive with Hope, he will be."

Willoughby and Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness, both came forward this week accusing Porter of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, with Holderness sharing a photo of herself with a black eye, which she said she received from Porter while on a 2005 vacation. Porter resigned on Wednesday, calling the allegations "outrageous" and "simply false."

During her interview with Cooper, Willoughby, who married Porter in 2009 and divorced him in 2013, called her ex-husband a "troubled man with issues that needs help." He began belittling her within the first two weeks of their marriage, and it escalated, with him eventually grabbing her while she took a shower and punching through the glass in her front door. By the end, Willoughby said, she was in "constant terror of not knowing what I might do to set something off." But while they were dating, he was "quite charming and chivalrous and romantic," she said, and it took her awhile to realize she was in an abusive relationship.

That led Willoughby to Hicks. "I don't think he's changed," she said, adding, "If he hasn't already been abusive with Hope, he will. Particularly now that he's under a lot of stress and scrutiny; that's when the behaviors come out." She said she doesn't think he's done "the self-reflective work to acknowledge this issue," and "hasn't really taken the time to deconstruct why it is that he behaves this way, and until he's able to do that, I don't know that he has control over it." Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia

January 31, 2018

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) became the ninth Republican leader to announce he will not be running for re-election in 2018, following colleagues like House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). Gowdy's resignation comes as a particularly startling surprise, as his district, South Carolina's fourth congressional district, is considered safely Republican. Gowdy beat his Democratic challenger by 67 percent in 2016.

Nearly 40 House Republicans have now said they are retiring. The last time there was such a massive departure from Congress was when 28 Democrats left in 1994, and Republicans subsequently seized control. Take a look at the exodus of committee chairs below. Jeva Lange

November 15, 2017
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After a 20-minute bidding war Wednesday night, Leonardo da Vinci's painting of Jesus Christ, "Salvator Mundi," sold at Christie's in New York City for $450 million, making it the most expensive piece of art to ever sell at auction.

The painting was commissioned by France's King Louis XII more than 500 years ago, and was presumed lost until early this century; in 2005, an art dealer purchased "Salvator Mundi" at an estate sale in the United States, and had it restored, authenticated, then unveiled at London's National Gallery in 2011. The buyer had not yet been identified.

The sale was the talk of the art world, since finding a new piece by da Vinci "is rarer than finding a new planet," Christie's Loic Gouzer said. "Salvator Mundi" soared past previous record-holders, including Pablo Picasso's 1955 "Women of Algiers (Version O)," which fetched $179.4 million at auction, and Amedo Modigliani's 1917-18 "Reclining Nude," which sold for $170.4 million. Catherine Garcia

November 3, 2017

Russian agents ran a sophisticated campaign to bait reporters into covering stories aimed at swinging the 2016 presidential election, The Associated Press reported Friday. The entity Guccifer 2.0, an alias that took credit for hacking Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta as well as the Democratic National Committee, reportedly "airbrushed" a batch of emails released in June 2016 to say they were "CONFIDENTIAL" even though they were not, in order make them more appealing to reporters trawling for a story.

By October 2016, the emails had everyone's attention:

[J]ust as the American electorate was digesting a lewd audio tape of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, WikiLeaks began publishing the emails stolen from Podesta.

The publications sparked a media stampede as they were doled out one batch at a time, with many news organizations tasking reporters with scrolling through the thousands of emails being released in tranches. At the AP alone, as many as 30 journalists were assigned, at various times, to go through the material. [The Associated Press]

The AP report is just one of several recent stories about how the media became an unwitting tool for Russian agents. "[N]ew data show that many news publications — from established outfits like the [Washington] Post, the Miami Herald (owned by McClatchy), Buzzfeed, CBS, and even Vox, to controversial alt-right hubs like InfoWars — were duped into citing ... nefarious tweets in their coverage, perhaps unwittingly amplifying the reach of Russian propaganda," Recode reported Friday.

In a separate report, The Daily Beast writes that websites like The New York Times, CNN, and HuffPost were fooled into citing Twitter user @Jenn_Abrams, an alt-right personality that was crafted by a troll farm in Russia. "Abrams' pervasiveness in American news outlets ... illustrates how Russian talking points can seep into American mainstream media without even a single dollar spent on advertising," The Daily Beast writes. Read the full AP story here. Jeva Lange

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